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The Courting of Cats and Rabbits

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“This is insanity, Q,” the voice of one of his older sisters piped up, sharp with worry.  At least she was keeping her voice down, although Q imagined that the whole warren shared her sentiments.

Honestly, so did he.  This was insanity.

He kept buttoning his shirt, not replying.

Another of his sister’s chimed in from where she was sitting on the edge of the bed, “Yeah, Q, be serious.  You’re talking about… about being with a predator here.”  

Her voice was a lot softer than the first had been, but Q still heard it.  He had ears as good as any rabbits’ - even though his were slicked down against his neck now.  He told himself it wasn’t a fear response, just like he told himself his hands weren’t trembling on the buttons of his shirt.

His little brother had to make himself heard, and also tried to get into Q’s line of sight by leaning against the standing mirror, “You don’t have to do it!”  His ears were up straight, vivid white like their mother’s - genetics that Q hadn’t inherited.  Clearly upset, the younger leveret turned to the others beseechingly, “Come on, guys, tell him - he doesn’t have to marry the damn cat!”

“I do, Timmy,” Q finally spoke up.  He’d gotten the last button up at his throat.  He looked pretty good - like all rabbits of his clan, he was naturally small and lean, and the tailored shirt and trousers accented that.  The subdued olive green of the shirt picked up the different shades of hazel in his eyes and the black trousers matched the shoes he still needed to pull on.  His youngest sister had told him to wear all black, as if for a death.  “If I don’t do this, we’ll all be in trouble.”

“You mean that dad and his gambling habits will be in troub-” one of Q’s siblings started to snipe but the rest of the litter hushed her even as Q saw someone in the mirror as the door to his room opened.  Every leveret went smartly silent and still, a natural reaction that had served their breed well as humanity had grown from nomadism to tribes to towns and now to modern cities.  Rabbits were still rabbits, no matter where they hutched.  

Their mother stepped in.  She hadn’t inherited the ears of their kind, although Q knew she wore a full skirt so that she could hide the white puff of her tail.  She also had a slight harelip, but a lot of other clans had that - even some panthers, Q had heard, although not the fellow he’d agreed to marry.  

Looking austere and impenetrable in a way that had helped her make a place for herself in the business world despite her animal clan, Q’s mother looked him up and down.  She had animal traits that could be hidden - that meant she’d always had prospects.  Q had the ears and tail, meaning that if he hadn’t become a bargaining chip to pay off their father’s debts, he would have struggled to rise above mediocrity.  Now he would be extraordinary if only by dint of the fact that cats and rabbits did not mix.  

Q knew that some of his many siblings were taking bets on how long it would take for his extraordinary existence to end in him being eaten.  Sometimes the downside to the large litter of rabbits was that they didn’t take the potential loss of a sibling as seriously as they could.

“Wear your best coat,” was all his mother said.  Her voice sounded clipped and strained; she hadn’t shown emotion since Q’s childhood memories, because women were already discounted in the workplace for being emotional.  For rabbits, it was worse.  “I’ve already shined your shoes.”

“Do you want me to start the car and warm it up?” said the sister who had talked about Q ‘being with a predator’ and stuttered because none of them could imagine saying ‘being married to one’ or ‘fucking one’ or possibly even ‘being torn to shreds by one.’  She had inherited incredible legs but no other rabbit traits, and would likely do very well in society somewhere - at least so long as this was the last time any of them had to pay for their father’s gambling.

The glint in their mother’s eyes said that it would be.  

“No,” said Q’s mother, her voice suddenly very subdued, “They already sent a car.”

~^~

The drive was silent.  Uncomfortable.  To be fair, it could have been worse.  When someone had brought up the idea of an alliance as a way to alleviate the family debt, the cats gathered in the room had laughed uproariously.  They’d joked - quite loudly - that rabbits were worth “a few mouthfuls and more than a few fucks,” but that Q’s father owed more than that.  The cat in charge (an honestly terrifying individual with pale hair, wide-set eyes, and a too-wide grin that showed off canines and carnassials in a horrifying way) had added that Q’s father wasn’t much to eat or to fuck.  

Then Q’s father, looking just as desperate as a hare surrounded by cats should be, had remembered that he’d brought his son with him, and he’d wildly offered him up.  

Q was at least mostly certain that this hadn’t been done with any real expectation of anyone accepting.  The wild guffaws had certainly increased.  A few long, feline tails had even lashed, clearly offended.  At that point, Q had been so scared that he was going numb to it all, because the only road he saw out of this was with cats doing what cats did to stupid rabbits: kill them.  

But then a well-dressed fellow with almost no animal-traits at all (a sure sign of someone who blended well with any society, even if his expensive business suit didn’t hint at that already) stepped up and said that he’d buy the debt for that price.

The laughter had stopped, at least.  

And neither Q nor his idiot of a father had ended up as cat-food.

And now Q was sitting in the back of a car with two cats chauffeuring him, both sneaking obvious glimpses back at him in the rearview mirror.  He pretended not to notice, because they looked both curious and confused - and he didn’t have either the means or the interest in alleviating either of those conditions.  

Q got the sense that something like this had most definitely never happened before, and he could understand why.  London was truly a mix of many clans nowadays, but certain divides remained: predator and prey animals did their utmost to avoid each other, and while intermarriage was not illegal, it was certainly less common between certain clans.  One of Q’s older sisters had married into a clan of deer; he had two inlaws who were mice.  One of his brother’s had brought home a girlfriend covered in feathers, a parrot likely.  Predator and prey, though…?

Chances were still high that Q wouldn’t live out the night.

Especially since the cat at the head of the meeting, with the wide-set eyes and too-wide smile, Raoul Silva, had said that one of the conditions of the deal was that Q and the well-dressed cat - Bond, Q had heard him called, never even learning his first name - consummate their pairing.  There was definitely some rivalry between the two.  Q was quick enough to notice that a mile away.  Somehow Q had gone from a pawn in his father’s debt issues to a pawn between two rival tomcats.  

Sighing quietly and shifting so that his tail was more comfortable against the seat, Q wished for a moment that he was less of an obedient son.  Unfortunately, as soon as he thought of that, he imagined the whole family in jeopardy because of their father’s habits - the very thought made a shiver crawl down Q’s spine, and he closed his eyes tightly for a moment.  ‘Just breathe,’ he told himself, ‘Just breathe.’  From here on out, his mother would keep his father in line, and the family would no longer be in danger; thanks to Q, they were debt-free again, and owed these predators nothing.  

Well, Q owed one of them his arse, but he was honestly pretty sure that he’d get his face clawed off before anything else could happen.  The demand for Bond to ‘consummate their pairing’ honestly felt more like a power-move than anything else, an attempt to outmanoeuvre this Bond fellow in some way.  Since Q was unlikely to live long enough to learn more about that, he should have stopped pondering the matter.

Instead he obsessed over the rivalry between Bond and Silva for the whole car-ride.  In his defence, Q had always had a hyperactive brain, and it was best to keep it fixated on something.  

~^~

It was almost like an out-of-body experience to be led right into the depths of feline territory, to the point where Q felt like he was dreaming - or at least in some sort of waking nightmare.  Q knew London well, and likewise knew what places were strongholds of what clans.  Therefore, he knew exactly what highrise he was being walked into, his two chauffeurs now being joined by a whole plethora of other gawkers.  For the first time in Q’s life, there was not a single rabbit - not even a single prey-animal - within sight, sound, or scent of him.  All he could smell was cat, and it had his instincts screaming at him to run like he’d never felt before.  His heart hammering in his chest, he somehow still managed to walk forward, reminding himself that he hadn’t inherited the athletic legs that his sister had - and he wasn't all that good at running.  And even if he was, he hadn’t dressed for it.  

Reminding himself that this was for his family and that it would be uncouth to start screaming and (literally) rabbiting like a spooked kit, Q walked between what now felt like his bodyguards right into the building.  He was stared at the whole way, and definitely heard plenty of whispers.  Even with his ears slicked down with anxiety, he had excellent hearing.  What he heard wasn’t encouraging, but it wasn’t surprising either: everyone expected Bond to take him apart piece by piece.  Apparently this Bond fellow had inherited cat claws - Q just hadn’t seen them because they’d been retracted the whole time before.  As the elevator doors closed, Q closed his eyes and gulped, unable to stop the heavy shiver that went down his entire body.  He clasped his left hand around his right wrist in front of him to still the shaking.  

People had always whispered, with a kind of avaricious glee, that Bond was a terribly dangerous fellow.  Apparently everyone was taking bets on how fast the screaming would start.  And how slowly it would stop.  

Q didn’t open his eyes until the elevator door dinged open, and then only opened his eyes when one of his two guards nudged his shoulder.  He jumped at the touch, ears springing up for the first time, but the cat looked almost embarrassed and retracted his hand quickly as if not sure what to do with it.  The other favoured the first with a jaded sort of look.  The tail flicking behind the less jumpy cat was tufted at the end - a lion.  His tousled golden hair matched that, although the eyes that moved to Q were green.  “Door at the end of the hall,” he said, accent British but a bit thick and rolling with something else, “Don’t knock.  You’re expected - and it’s not like your arrival hasn’t raised quite a bit of fuss already.”

For a second Q had the ridiculous urge to say something like, “Well, it’s not my fault that this whole thing got arranged” or “Sorry to raise such a fuss. I’ll do my best to at least die quietly.”  He bit his tongue before he could say something stupid, though, instead just satisfying himself with a glare - that glare would be his one last brave thing before he died, he decided.  Having just survived the biggest confrontation he’d ever had with a cat (after having spent more time with more felines than his whole family put together, probably), Q straightened his back, spun on his heel, and strode off down the hall like he wasn’t quaking in his shoes.

His bravado left him rather quickly once entered the room. Honestly, he’d felt his courage failing him the moment he’d touched the doorknob - he’d barely managed to make himself push it open, having to repeat fervently to himself that he was doing this to save his family, that they were all lucky that this arrangement had served to erase his father’s entire (and considerable) debt.  

As Q closed the door behind himself, however, taking in the dimly lit penthouse suite, he for the first time admitted that he wasn’t at all sure why Bond had done that in the first place.

“Hopefully you didn’t have any issues arriving,” a voice to Q’s distant left surprised him into jumping and twisting around.  His ears snapped up and forward, to his embarrassment - ears were the most obvious of rabbit traits, and he always felt as though they made him even more vulnerable, somehow.  It broadcasted him as one of the smallest of prey-animals, even if his slim, unintimidating frame didn’t.  

Bond was at what looked to be a minibar, pouring himself a drink of some sort.  It was still daylight out, but the curtains were closed, and only what light slipped past them illuminated the room - that and the screen of the big cat’s mobile phone.  It was then that Q realized Bond had more feline traits than he’d previously thought: blue eyes glinted and reflected the light as they turned from the phone’s screen to Q, a startling reminding of what a nocturnal predator the sharply-dressed man was.  Seemingly unaware of how Q tensed up, Bond finished his previous thought, “I told Alec to keep a close eye on you.”

“Alec?” Q found himself parroting back numbly, feeling almost as if he were having some sort of out-of-body experience.  Nothing in his life had prepared him to be here, in a shadowy room, alone with a predator.  He might have made a move to turn on the lights if he didn’t feel frozen to the spot; not bolting was already hard enough.

The phone screen blinked off; Bond moved so that he was leaning one elbow against the bar, looking relaxed and powerful.  He shrugged one shoulder.  “The green-eyed lion who picked you up.  He works for me.”

“He works for… you.” Q swallowed thickly, words feeling like foreign things in his mouth for a moment longer before he finally managed to swallow again and then form an actual sentence of his own, “As opposed to Silva?”

Blue eyes flashed as Bond’s head lifted a bit more sharply, clearly caught off-guard by the question.  Q wanted to slap himself.  Of all the things to say, why had that been the thing to fall out of his mouth?  Sure, he’d noticed the strange power dynamic between the two big cats when his father’s debt had been called up, but hyper-focusing on it in the car was very different from saying it out loud in front of a cat who was essentially meant to be his husband now (but who was more likely to become his murderer in a moment).  

Even as Q lifted a much-too-late hand to press it over his mouth, however, blond eyebrows were raising and Bond was answering, “Yes, actually.  Very astute of you.”

If Q were at home with his family or even another prey-animal, he’d have said something snide about how he hated being patronized, but right now patronized seemed very much better than being attacked.  He let out a shaky breath and dropped his hand to his side again.

Bond had cocked his head to one side.  He looked the very picture of a thoughtful, dashing businessman now, if one ignored the occasional way his eyes reflected the light.  “Come sit down,” he said, extending a hand towards one of the barstools in front of him, “I want to talk with you.”

Talking was honestly the last thing that Q had expected to happen here, and it was in a state of bewilderment that he found himself walking forward, mostly on reflex.  He slid into the farthest barstool from Bond, and just watched, totally confused now, as the cat removed his jacket and took a seat as well.  It was almost like they were just two individuals settling down for a polite business transaction.

Perhaps it was the weirdness of it all that had Q blurting out before Bond could break the silence, “So this is how this is going to go?  I don’t even know your first name and now we’re…”  Paired up?  Married?  Different clans used different words and Q couldn’t get any of them out of his mouth.  So after a moment with his mouth hanging open he just finished awkwardly, “...Just going to sit and talk?”

“Well, we’ll actually have to do more than talk, if only because Silva is technically in charge,” Bond replied smoothly, and then waved a hand at the room, “and there are cameras in the room.  Don’t look for them.”  The last command was said smoothly, just as Q’s neck had tensed to turn and do just that, ears once again lifting - they dropped in frustration now.  Bond looked unperturbed, although Q caught a definite hint of pearly claws on the man’s hand as it moved.  If Q’s ears were giving away his mood, so were the claws on Bond’s fingertips, slipping faintly into view.  Q felt his heart-rate ratchet up again.  “I was hoping that closing the curtains would make it dark enough to obscure what they could see, but apparently the penthouse suite doesn’t come with blackout curtains,” Bond added, grimacing now.  His claws arched out further and Q couldn’t tear his eyes away from them.  Rabbits like himself were not built for durability, and while not all cats had claws, this one certainly did - and he was built with the power to use them.  “You can call me James, by the way.  And you are?”

This was getting more and more surreal by the moment.  Q tore his eyes away from the claws tapping lightly at the bartop (with the dim lighting, it was like watching the silhouette of a demon’s hand, powerful fingers tapering into slim talons) and managed to meet cool blue eyes.  What kind of cat had blue eyes?  “Q,” the boffin answered on reflex.  

Eyebrows startled upwards again.  “Really?”

Now Q felt some of the ruffled temper that had flared up in the hallway.  “Really,” he deadpanned back, then pressed his lips together and made a promise to stop antagonizing predators.  

Surprisingly, instead of being offended, the cat - James - coughed out a laugh.  His smile was small, but even in the greyness of the room Q could see the corners of his eyes crinkling with amusement.  “You just keep getting more and more surprising,” James mused, perhaps to himself.  The claws, somewhere between now and when Q had last looked, had disappeared.  Perfectly normal looking fingers splayed on polished wood.  “Do you want something to drink?”

“I want to know what you’re going to do to me.”  So much for not back-talking dangerous creatures…  Q wished his voice hadn’t come out so soft, fissured and fragile like a layer of shale.  He knew that his ears were down against his head again, sleek and dark against his hair, making his glasses shift on his nose.  

The humour faded out of Bond’s expression, and Q braced himself.  ‘Here it comes.’  The violence he’d been expecting.  His instincts screamed at him to run, but he reminded them that he’d come here of his own accord because he had to - running now would be counterproductive.  And probably pointless, seeing as he was in the middle of feline territory.

James lifted the drink he’d apparently poured for himself earlier, taking a sip from it with pale eyes never leaving Q.  When he put the tumbler back down, he clenched his hand around it for a moment - and then relaxed his grip.  The claws that had briefly extended disappeared again.  “I’m not going to slaughter you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” the larger man surprised Q by saying.

Patently disbelieving, Q gave his ears a swivel and somehow managed to croak out, “Really?”  The word was perhaps meant to sound hopeful, but it came out sounding sarcastic.  Damn.  

Bond’s response was another brief chortle - at least Q’s lack of a filter was amusing for one of them.  “Really.  I’m not as barbaric as many of my clan.  If anything, I’d really like it if there was less animosity between predator and prey.”

Now Q was growing suspicious.  Eye’s narrowing, he said more slowly this time, “Is that so?” and didn't try to hide the wariness in his tone. 

“It’s bad for business,” was James’ answer to that, and Q realised then that he had no idea what James actually did.  Raoul Silva ran all of the major gambling dens in London, and many of his clan were in on that - but none of them dressed quite like the cat in front of Q did.  

Figuring that there was no harm in asking when he was already in the worst situation imaginable for a rabbit, Q queried, “And what business would that be?”

What he got was a secretive little smile and an oblique, “Different business from Silva.”  More information was forthcoming, however, as James raised a hand to wave it vaguely towards their surroundings, “Or, at least, I’d like it to be.  Silva and I don’t see eye to eye on how things should be run, and it’s started to become a point of contention.”

“So is… this-”  Now Q was the one gesturing, this time between them.  “-His way of punishing you for these...points of contention?”

“To a point, yes.  Well, he didn’t force me into it, but he’s certainly making the best of it now - forcing us to go through with it and all.”

“That’s fucked up,” Q felt the need to clarify.  If his last day alive was going to be as a pawn in a feline rivalry, he felt he had a right to say that.

James was chuckling again, this time while also shaking his head as if he found something about Q’s attitude to marvel at.  “Welcome to the political machinations of felines,” he said with a dark sort of humour in his voice.  He picked up his glass and took another mouthful.  Q belatedly wondered if maybe he needed some, too.  The glass was empty when it hit the bartop again, though.  “Silva’s hoping to degrade me a bit in the eyes of those who favour me - I’ve got too many of our kin who like me for Silva’s liking, so he’s hoping that video proof of me fucking a rabbit will hurt my standing.  There’s no one else really to challenge him, so that would make Silva’s entire day.”  James’ voice was light, but his eyes kept catching every bit of light and glinting like eerie fires - and his claws were out again, gently scratching the bartop in a way that Q couldn’t help but be nervous about.

But suddenly Q’s thoughts were derailed as an early comment rammed through to the forefront of his thoughts.  Off-balance, Q dragged his eyes away from James’ fearsome hands to stare in puzzlement at his handsome face instead.  “Wait… then why did you do this?  You just said yourself that Silva didn’t force you to do this - to accept my offer when I made it.”

Something in James’ face softened in a way Q wasn’t prepared for.  The dim lighting made it hard for Q to really scrutinize it, but he could see more than well enough to know that Bond didn’t look upset by the question or even surprised by it.  “Well, it didn’t seem like anyone else was going to step up and accept your offer.”

“That’s not an answer,” Q shook his head, stubborn despite the looming danger of his situation, “You just said yourself that this is the equivalent to political suicide for you.”  And now that James had laid the situation out, Q could see it clearly himself: Bond and Silva, both powerful and charismatic beings in their clan - Silva wanting to crumble Bond’s power-base before it could become a proper threat to his.  And James had not only walked right into it, but he’d basically handed Silva the tool to destroy him: a little rabbit named ‘Q’.  “Why did you really do it?  Did you just want to dig your claws into a rabbit that much?”  If Bond was vying for power with a man like Silva, then surely he had to be able to match him in lethality - the whispers Q had heard once he’d entered the building supported that.

Q’s voice had been rising and maybe getting a bit hysterical around the edges, and only now did James frown and raise his own voice in kind, “No!”  The one word was enough to shut Q up like a slap to the face, and James seemed to realize it.  Taking a deep breath he went on, no longer shouting, “I did it because you didn’t have any other options, and I thought you deserved a chance.”  

For a moment Q just stared at him, then lost the fight with his instincts and stared at James’ hands instead, which had once again sprouted curving pale claws.  “Bullshit.  You don’t just throw everything away for someone you’ve never even laid eyes on before,” he said very quietly, voice hushed now with fear.

Q couldn't look at the cat’s face now, and felt himself start shaking again.  But when Bond spoke it was in a voice gone suddenly very soft and gentle.  This time when he said, “No, Q,” it was almost pleading.  The increasing darkness around them - the sun was setting, albeit slowly - felt suddenly intimate and fragile.  “Look, you’re right - we don’t know each other.  But when you walked in there with your father and offered yourself up like you did, you showed bravery like I’ve never seen.”

“I didn’t have a choice-” Q started to snap back at him.

Bond interrupted firmly, “You certainly did.  You could have kept your mouth shut.  You could have run.”  Now Q looked at him, uncertain, something in his chest so tight that it hurt - and while a lot of that was fear, some of it, for the first time, wasn’t.  James’ eyes were unblinking and steady on Q’s, his body language open.  “I don’t know if you were paying attention, but your father did try to run.  You, though, stood your ground - and that’s something I’ve never seen anyone do to Silva, much less a rabbit.”  While Q was trying and failing to come up with a response to that (feeling his cheeks heat up and his ears flicker in sudden embarrassment), James unexpectedly smirked and added, “Hell, you even stood up to Alec outside the elevator.”

“I did not!” Q immediately sputtered.

The grin grew more crooked and amused.  “You very much did.  He was texting me before you even came into the room.  He was impressed by you, too, by the way.”

That finally seemed to break the backbone of Q’s terror, snapping it into more manageable pieces.  He was still in a room with a cat - something that he’d been taught to fear since childhood - and his place in the world was entirely in limbo.  But even though nothing made sense right now, at least there was something warm to cling to in James’ humour - and the recollection of the guard, Alec, who had apparently been impressed by a rabbit snapping at him.

Looking down and trying to stifle a stupid little smile at the thought of that, Q pulled himself together again to ask, “So what do we do now?”

“Now… well, now we have to at least follow through on our deal.  By the rules of my clan, I can subsume someone’s debt by bringing them into the family,” James said, some of his words overly formal but also bored-sounding, as if he were repeating something he’d been taught ages ago but didn’t necessarily agree with.  “Which, according to Silva-”  Now James actually rolled his eyes, and for the first time Q admitted that the man was perhaps a little bit handsome… albeit in a terrifying way, “-Means consummating a marriage.  I think we can do that without… er…”  If the lighting had been better, Q suspected that he would have seen James blush uncomfortably before he went on, “Well, without taking things further than you’re comfortable with.  I am not, nor have I ever been, interested in killing or raping a rabbit.”

To hide just how much of a relief that was to hear, Q tried to put on a smile and joke, “Just not worth your time?”

The response was surprisingly quick and easy: “Oh, you’re definitely attractive.  I’m just a bit too refined to kill for my supper and too classy to sleep with anyone who doesn’t want it.”  Suddenly that crooked smirk was back, but this time it was broader than before, and there was something wicked in the way James’ feline eyes caught the light.  “And a lot of people want it, from just about any clan you can think of.”

Unsure what to make of that and certainly not prepared to deal with sexual innuendo, Q just blinked stupidly for a second or two before managing a squeaked, “I’m glad that you’re so… broadly popular.”  Honestly, now that he wasn’t blinded by pure terror, Q could look and say frankly that James was appealing - his white button-down did little to hide his athletic physique, and his intense eyes and silver tongue added to that to make a truly killer combo.  In Q’s case, ‘killer’ was too apt a descriptor, and he couldn’t do anything to stop another little tremor of fear going through him.  He wanted to get off this emotional roller-coaster now, please.  

Surprisingly, instead of preening at the new praise, James sobered and he became quiet again.  He looked younger as he canted his head to the side, hands moving so that he clasped them between his knees and leaned forward a bit.  Q wriggled in his seat, unsure what to do with this new level of attention, as James took him in wordlessly and solemnly for a moment.  “I’ve never had the pleasure of being this close to a rabbit before, though,” James admitted softly, “They’re a bit too afraid of me, and there’s never been much I could do to change that.”  

For the first time Q wondered how old James was.  He was no child, that much was obvious, but as he spoke now Q wondered if perhaps Bond acted older than he was.  Casting back in his photographic memory, Q recalled Bond’s face under better lighting, earlier that day.  The man couldn’t have been much past thirty, maybe five, six years Q’s senior at most.  Just like Q had been today, though, James was having to make decisions that many folks twice their age never had to lose sleep over.  

Bond was extending a hand Q’s way now, and the boffin felt his breath catch in his throat as he remembered those claws.  They were sliding beyond his range of sight - past his cheek, towards the satin finish of Q’s dark ears - before Q could see if there were five pearly sickles extended towards his skin.  It wasn’t until he felt a soft touch against his left ear, and that touch never escalated into a rending pain of his ear being shredded, that he started breathing again.  James’ fingertips slid down the back of Q’s ear while the man’s thumb pressed softly against the inside, an unexpectedly gentle stroke that made Q tremble again.  This time he wasn’t sure that it was all from fear.

“You really are gorgeous to look at,” James said - soft again, like earlier when he might have been talking to himself, “And I don’t think I’m just saying that because you didn’t back down in front of Silva.”  He’d reached nearly the tip of Q’s ear now, watching avidly the whole time as if trying to commit it all to memory, or that it was so unbelievable that he was touching the softness of a rabbit’s ear that he thought the moment would pop like a bubble if he looked away.  A bit more serious (or at least in a tone that made it clear he was talking to Q and not just musing to himself), Bond went on, “To seal this deal - at least for the sake of the cameras - I’m going to have to touch you a bit more.  Is that okay?”

“I… I think I’ll be all right with that,” Q answered a bit shakily.  He wasn’t sure when he’d gotten breathless.  Bond had reached the end of his ear and was just holding it, a light pinch between thumb and forefingers, as if he didn’t want to let go.  Q, to his own surprise, didn’t want him to.  “I imagine that… well… that this might require losing some clothes?”

“Probably on both our parts.”

“I can handle that,” Q nodded with more surety.  He was trying to get a grip on himself, and ignore the strange adrenaline rush of realizing that James, far from wanting to kill him, seemed utterly entranced by him.  As the middle child in a family of thirteen, Q wasn’t used to undivided attention under any circumstances.  It was remarkably heady to realize that he had the utmost attention from a top predator.  “If you can promise not to scratch me, I think I can put on a good enough show for Silva’s cameras.  Will that help you maintain some of your status?”

“I think that any true ally I have will survive all of this,” James assured, and went on to promise with surprising eagerness, “And I can certainly keep my claws to myself.  May I?”

Bond’s hand finally left Q’s ear, and skimmed to Q’s jacket - which he was still wearing, he realized for the first time.  Of the two of them, he was the best dressed, and for some reason that brought a hot flush to Q’s cheeks.  That flush got worse as he for some reason gave in and said, “Of course,” without giving it a thought.  

A beat later and James was surprising him by standing, gripping Q’s lapels to bring him to his feet in front of him.  The easy application of strength made Q squeak, and James was quick to murmur, “Sorry!  Sorry.  You’re just very… light.”

“I’m a rabbit,” Q reminded, sounding peeved to hide that he was flustered.  Then he got more flustered as James took that as continued permission to slide Q’s jacket off his shoulders.  In the quietness of the room, the sound of the material hitting the floor seemed almost offensive, and Q twisted around with his ears snapping up in alarm. 

Somehow having a cat hushing, “Shhh, shh.  Easy,” was reassuring rather than annoying.  Q turned forward again, embarrassed at his own jumpiness, and tried to make up for it by bravely lifting his chin when James went for the buttons of his shirt.  

Feeling more and more vulnerable again as he felt the skin of his neck and then chest being revealed - with cameras watching, no less - Q found himself pleading very softly, “You, too?”

It wasn’t a very eloquent sentence, but to his credit, Bond’s brows only beetled for a moment before realization smoothed over his expression.  He shifted his posture a bit even as he encouraged, “Of course, have at it, Q.  I don’t embarrass easy, so you can take off whatever you like of mine.”

That didn’t help the hot flush that Q could feel spreading from his cheeks to his neck to his chest, and he gave Bond an irked little pout before gathering his courage in both hands and preparing to echo what James was doing: undressing him.  They were meant to be consecrating a marriage of sorts, after all, or whatever society felt like calling a joining between a cat and a rabbit.  It was incredibly difficult to keep his hands steady, and Q ended up having to lean his hands against Bond’s collarbones to steady himself.  The immediate, radiant heat of the man’s skin through his button-down nearly took Q’s breath away - and almost distracted him from the hand that Bond slipped past the gaping collar of his shirt.  Q’s buttons had been undone enough to allow James to press a warm, calloused palm right down over Q’s heart.  

For a moment they were silent.  James looked entranced again, like he was seeing something he’d never thought he’d get a chance to in a million years - Q felt embarrassed.  “Rabbit-fast, I imagine?” he tried for humour again, knowing that he missed the mark when his voice came out sounding awkward and shy.  

Blue eyes lifted immediately to meet his.  A smile favoured him a beat later.  “Steady,” James chose his own descriptor.  Then he let a finger trace the smooth arc of Q’s right clavicle before returning to the task of undoing buttons.  Q’s skin felt afire, and it took a deep breath before he even realized that he’d stopped tackling James’ buttons.