R’s voice is quiet and strained on the line, almost completely blanketed in static. “James, you need to come home. My brother is really sick.” He hears her harsh swallow. “The might not make it kind. Please come home. I know you’re busy but, please.”
He’d blown his targets to kingdom come, not caring that he wasn’t quiet and had made quite the scene.
Getting back to Q was all that mattered. No one knew where he was anyway and so he picked one of his unregistered port-keys and grabbed it, barely noticing the world twist around him.
When he gets into the private medical room he’s surprised to find R asleep on Mallory. He has his arm around her as she breathes, uneasy even in sleep, against his chest.
Mallory is awake and looks up in greeting at Bond.
“003.” But he’s heading straight for the curtain.
Q lies just beyond it. He looks gaunt, his skin grey and his hair limp around his head. There are tubes coming from his mouth and nose, an IV and other tubes in his arm.
James has never seen him look fragile before. But right now that’s a generous assessment.
The bed he’s on is large enough for another person and James takes off his shoes, jacket and trousers and climbs up next to him, one hand resting carefully over that of his husband’s.
M comes down to find the tableau much the same. 003 keeping watch and everyone else either asleep, pretending to be or sedated.
“Ma’am,” Mallory greets her.
“How is everyone?”
He grimaces as she takes the only other seat in the room.
“Bond is asleep. There’ve been no change in Q’s vitals and R crashed out from exhaustion. Medical have offered to sedate her if she needs it but she’s been out for about 5 hours now.”
“And there wasn’t anywhere else she could be sleeping?” She asks pointedly.
003 gives her a look she’s all too familiar with and she thinks he might actually retire after this.
“The fact that she’s asleep at all is a blessing. She is, after all, one of the two people who saved him.”
“Is anyone going to tell me how she did that?”
Mallory shakes his head. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“What is it with Q Branch?” She says, exasperated by it all. “And by Q Branch I mean Q, R and a few of the others who’s files are partially redacted from me, of all people. Then there’s you, 004 and 007.”
Mallory doesn’t say anything, choosing to focus on the young woman asleep on him, dark red hair in a messy bun atop her head and her eyes moving rapidly in sleep.
“Will he recover?” M asks finally.
“We still don’t know. We’ve contacted some specialists in this area, the same ones who apprehended the prisoner, and they said they should have an update for us within the next day or so. They’re taking this as seriously as we are.”
“These contacts wouldn’t happen to be from the same agency Q, R and 004 transferred from would they?”
“A part of it, yes.” Neither need him to confirm that he and Bond also came from the same place, albeit much earlier.
“Well, let me know when you know something, anything.”
“Thank you, Mallory.”
Then she leaves, wondering what unearth has been happening in her agency.
R wakes up a few hours later, her awareness coming back in snippets. Mallory has her in his arms, they’re in medical. She’s also both physically and magically exhausted. Her wand is safe under her sleeve and her protection spells are still active within the room.
“Laura?” Mallory asks quietly.
“I’m awake. How’s Q?”
He strokes her hair and squeezes her tighter for a moment.
“No change. I transfigured the bed so that James could stay with him. All the potions are already disguised.”
“Good.” She feels anything but but it’s good to focus on the small victories.
“M came down to talk to us. I told her what we can.”
“Alright. Any updates?”
Mallory shakes his head. “Bethany, from Draco’s emporium called to let us know they’re working on it and that the leak in the ministry has been found. And arrested.”
“Good. I’m glad we don’t have to deal with them directly. So many reasons why I’m glad I work here instead.” But her eyes go to Q and James on the bed. “Current incident not with standing.”
“No, this... this was carefully planned and executed. At least it wasn’t personal.” A fact that brings none of them much comfort right now.
“At least they didn’t demand to take him to St. Mungos.”
Mallory sighs. “He can’t be cared for better there at the moment anyway.” He pauses. “Laura, I know Q’s health is our biggest priority but are you okay? What you and 004 did to save him... even if I’d been there quick enough I’m not sure I’d have thought of it.”
R gives him a weak smile. “Professor Potter was very through with his defence lessons at school.”
“Ah, after my time, I’m afraid.”
Laura lays her head back on his chest. “Almost after mine. He started when I was in sixth year.
You’d have thought of something. And, it really might not be enough.”
“Whatever happens, you’ve done all you can for now.”
She nods but feels the sorrow burst open again in her chest.
“Oh, Laura,” Mallory soothes, holding her closer to him and kissing the top of her head.
Q is still in the same state when James wakes up. He takes his wand from his arm holster and quickly runs through all the diagnostic charms he knows. They all say the same; critical but stable. Whatever the spell is that did this it’s damage is extensive.
He reaches for Q’s wand on the bedside table next to his glasses. It’s undamaged and thrums slightly in his fingers. He did what he could, then, to protect his Branch and himself.
As he sits up he notices R at the edge of the curtain. It looks as though she’s back from her shower - Mallory must have insisted - and the other agent is absent, likely doing the same.
She walks towards the bed and James pulls her into his arms.
She cries silently into his chest as he holds onto her, knowing she and 004 were all that stopped his husband from being killed. And, more than that, she’s family.
When she’s calmed down, he moves further up on the bed so she can join him and keep her brother within her sights.
“It might take him a week to wake up. It all depends on how he recovers and if we find anything else that might help.”
James nods and takes Q’s hand in his. His wedding band is on his finger and it’s warmer than the rest of him, whereas James’ matching one is cool to the touch. Magic is a strange and wonderful thing, even now after all the years he’s spent in both worlds.
“I take it those responsible are being punished?”
“How bad is the damage to Q Branch?”
“Bad. We put all the quartermasters to sleep and blamed a gas leak, then explosion. No one can tell spell damage from anything else with the state it’s in. I’m guessing clean up has already started but it’s not like I’m needed for that.”
“Is there anything I can do to help him?”
“Aside from be here?” R shakes her head. “No. Not unless we find something else. I might head to Draco’s Emporium, if they think I can help with their analysis but the data is still being collected and it’ll be sent to me then anyway.”
“True.” He feels the need to lighten the mood, and if Q can hear them he’s sure he’ll want hear this next topic. “So, you and 003. Decided to make it public?”
R rolls her eyes, a momentary flash of her usual self. “If you count M as public, then yes.” She shrugs. “It’s way past the time for being ‘professional’ in this kind of situation.”
“Oh, come on, you’ve not said anything to us either,” he says, gesturing between himself and Q.
He’s sure R would blush if she had the energy.
“I’ve not not said anything, either. And we’re certainly not hiding it when we’re out in more magical places.”
“No, that’s true.”
She shrugs. “I love him. And we took it very slowly, when he realised we all went to the same school and that I’d be open to getting to know him.”
James nods. Their age gap isn’t so odd within wizarding culture. Those with magic tend to live into their early to mid hundreds so 20 years, as long as the younger is at least mid twenties, doesn’t cause much of a stir. R was 26 when she and Mallory met five years ago so no one so much as batted an eyelid. But here, well, it’s not just that she’s with a double oh that draws attention; so they’d been very careful at work.
“It was different with us. Me and Mallory had worked together a few times. He’s why I eventually transferred. I needed to help people but with a change of scenery.”
“And then you met Q.”
“You gloss over my history almost better than I do.”
R shrugs. “Eh. We both knew who you were.”
“How? I didn’t make much of a name for myself, given my work back then.”
“You were on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team for six years, Bond. I’d heard of you.”
“You were in Slytherin.”
“Yes, but you were one of the best Beaters the school had ever seen. Right up there with the Weasley twins from Gryffindor. So I studied your plays when I was on the team, best position to play by far.”
James is pleased by this, she’s never mentioned the link before. He’d always thought she and Q were given a briefing when they were transferred to MI6; Moneypenny was.
“Laura?” He asks when their attention focuses back on Q.
“What was he like at school?”
R winkles her forehead. “I know he’s talked about it with you,” she says.
“I know he has. But I’d rather hear about it from someone who was there. It can’t have been as boring as it seemed when the war was over.”
“We are five years apart in age, you know. My first year and his fifth were awful. But he did pass his O.W.Ls with Os in all subjects during the late summer exams. Always found time and a place to study.” She looks at her brother fondly and places her hand on his leg. “Did he tell you the hat offered him Ravenclaw or Slytherin?”
“Yes, he did.”
“He says he chose Ravenclaw because there were more books and easier access to charms related resources, which is true, partially. But I still think he’d have been amazing in Slytherin with me.”
James nods his agreement. Rubbing his thumb very gently over Q’s skin.
“Still,” she continues. “Those last two years he was at school with me were awesome. I was always so proud of him and he was the best big brother I could hope for, even back then he made the effort to come to my matches when he was at university.” She’s quiet for a while and James gets lost in his own thoughts and worry for his husband.
“I can tell you about Mallory, if you want? He was a few years above me but I remember him. On the rowing team rather than Quidditch. And the orchestra. One of the best students in the duelling club and ignored all mention of house ‘loyalties’. Only Gryffindor I knew with friends in all the other houses back then.”
James nods. “First war with you-know-Who was not pretty and people are people. You know how they can be. Mallory didn’t care at all. Neither did I, but I didn’t get on too well with many of the Ravenclaws. It was before I realised how attracted I was to people with intelligence. Though that’s an odd house stereotype as well.”
R smiles. “Yup. It’s better now. McGonagall is pretty firm on Inter-house-unity. So I had friends in all houses too. Which is how I know Bethany, her best friend was in Slytherin with me and she took no shit from any of her fellow Gryffindors about it.”
“I did wonder how you knew her.”
“Q knows Draco so I’d have met her eventually.”
The door opens and Mallory comes through. He’s freshly showered and shaven but there are large circles under his eyes. He, out of all of them, needs some rest. James glances R’s way in silent communication.
She keeps her hand on Q’s leg for a moment more before sliding off the bed.
“You need to sleep,” James hears her say as she walks away from the curtain.
He hears Mallory’s rumble of protest, then the sound of chairs being transfigured into a bed.
R will take this watch, he knows. So he lays back down and curls himself as close to Q as it’s safe to.
“Q, if you need anything from me, anything, find a way to let me know. I love you.” His husband’s hand still feels cool to the touch but at least that means he’s still holding on. For now.