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First Cup of Tea

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Q could hardly be blamed for his disorientation upon waking. The surface beneath him was soft and warm, without the scratchy upholstery and broken springs of the sofa tucked into a corner of his office. No fluorescent lights glared through his closed eyelids. More telling, there was no hum of computer fans to blanket him with white noise. And the smell that teased at his nose was neither acrid solder nor gunpowder. Rather, it was a subtly floral fragrance of rich, dark tea touched with oil of bergamot and a hint of lavender.

The word bed crept into his mind, followed by tea.

The computational error that caused made him frown, eyes still closed. He was in bed, which was unusual enough these days, but that didn’t explain the tea. Earl Grey, in fact. From his private stash in his kitchen, easily twelve metres away, through one door and around two corners.

He inhaled again, this time analysing the breath that slid through his senses. Fabric softener. Earl Grey. And there it was. Gunpowder and scotch.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, rolling not onto his back but his stomach so he could bury his face in his pillow.

“There’s my darling,” said James Bond, Double O agent, Q’s entirely accidental boyfriend, and colossal pain in the arse.

“I am not,” Q insisted, though the words came out muffled. He was no one’s darling. Not at the bloody crack of dawn or noon or whatever time it was. Certainly not after shepherding his suicidal, insane agent-turned-lover out of yet another bloody mess — literally, knowing James. He didn’t consider a mission successful unless it ended in stitches for someone. Usually himself.

The dogged persistence that made James such a damned success on mission was fatally irritating in most other circumstances. He had the audacity to actually sound cheerful when he said, “I brought you tea, love.”

Q moved, but only enough to slide one hand up under his pillow, unerringly finding the gun holstered between the headboard and the mattress. He was certain that James was fully aware of both the movement and the weapon, especially since he’d been the one to present it to Q as a gift after the mission in Dallas. It hadn’t been the gun Q had issued to him, but that was no surprise.

But because agents were very bad at taking hints, Q felt obliged to articulate his thoughts: “I will shoot you.”

There. Chivalry satisfied.

“But I’m back,” James said as the mattress dipped under his weight, canting Q to one side and throwing off the alignment of his spine. Two thousand bloody quid for a perfect mattress, and James was fully capable of ruining it in seconds. “Didn’t you miss me?”

“I never miss.”

Instead of taking the hint, James cheated, the bastard. He laughed that deep, rich laugh, a little gruff and dangerous, a little bright and infectious. He reserved that laugh for two types of people: those who were about to kill him and Q.

Resigned to actually waking up, Q turned his head enough to crack one eye open. James was grinning at him from a face mottled with bruises and the expected stitches closing a gash that went from hairline to eyebrow. Q let his gaze drop lower, taking in the perfect suit and pristine white shirt. James had apparently had the courtesy to go home and change before intruding on Q’s desperately necessary sleep.

As was his habit when he thought Q was ignoring him, James repeated himself: “I brought tea.”

Q rolled over, pulling his hand away from the concealed gun, and leveled a glare at James. “We’ve talked about you breaking into my flat.”

“It could be our flat. Or, well, my flat could be our flat. Yours is too small.”

“No.” Q twisted so he could drag a couple more pillows over to the middle of the bed, where he slept when James was gone. Inefficient as it was, he started to arrange them in a pile so he could sit up. He wasn’t going to give James the satisfaction of getting out of bed. That path led to a shared shower and morning sex, which Q loathed, at least when it wasn’t actually happening.

In the moment, it was something else entirely, as his treacherous body attempted to remind him.

“No,” he repeated, both to himself and to James. He put up his knees, in part to cover his body’s treachery with the blanket and in part to balance against the teetering pillows that never provided proper support. He put out his hand and crooked a finger. Tea was on offer, so he would accept. Then he could deal with the rest of the world.

Like all agents, though, James was utterly untrained and untrainable. Instead of handing over the tea, he grinned and asked, “What, no kiss?”

“Hand over the tea, or I will shoot you and go back to sleep.”

James let out a dramatic sigh that Q forgave only because the tea came in reach. He wrapped his fingers around the handle of the mug and drew it close, eyeing the surface warily. More than once, James had committed the cardinal sin of likening tea to swamp water and mud, and Q had no faith in his ability to brew a decent cup even with written instructions.

Not that James — or any other agent — was capable of following written instructions.

And Q’s brain was getting off-track. No surprise, given the unholy hour, whatever it was. He hadn’t awakened naturally, which meant it was Too Bloody Early, no matter what the clock said.

The tea’s colour, though, was satisfyingly light, with just the right amount of milk. He sniffed again and failed to detect any strong bitterness. A cautious sip confirmed that either James had followed instructions or, more likely, he’d stumbled into the proper steeping time through the same impossible luck that kept him alive despite his repeated attempts at suicide in Her Majesty’s service.

Were all agents secretly able to brew a decent cup of tea? That would be useful knowledge to have. Q could institute a fee for meetings every time they tried to bypass his underlings and come to him instead with their complaints and requests. Of course, then they’d expect to bother him while he was enjoying his tea, and that wouldn’t do.

Case in point. This particular agent, beloved though he was, had little patience for civilised matters. Q had barely taken a second sip before James was already interrupting, “Aren’t you —”

“No,” Q warned, glaring over the rim of his mug.

Beautiful sky blue eyes blinked in a false show of wounded innocence. “But, Q, I’m —”

“No.” Q lowered the mug an inch to show precisely how serious he was. “Not one more word, 007.”

And because James Bond was, well, himself, he actually opened his mouth to speak again.

“Do you know what I have tucked away against my headboard?” Before James could even think of answering the rhetorical question — especially since he knew the answer — Q continued, “A gun, 007. Specifically, a compact Ruger SP101 five-shot hammerless revolver. Hammerless for fast draw. Revolver for reliability and so there’s no chance of scattering brass everywhere. The barrel is under five centimetres, reducing accuracy at distance, but given that you’re right bloody here, I don’t believe accuracy is a concern.”

Instead of taking offence, James gave him a fond smile. “You don’t actually think you can out-shoot a Double O —”

“No. I don’t think. I know I can,” Q said, resting the mug atop one knee, trusting the blankets to keep the heat at bay. “I’ve already exceeded your firearms scores on the short- and medium-distance ranges, so I know.”

James’ brows shot up towards his admittedly receding hairline. “You’ve what?

“Precisely who do you think tests all of your gear before we send you and your cohorts out to wreak havoc in Her Majesty’s name? Every single piece of kit — every weapon, every radio, every automated lockpick or grappling hook or even a bloody fork — goes through my branch before we give any of you lot the opportunity to break it, lose it, or misuse it in ways that defy logic. My branch, Bond. My people.”

“Q —”

Warming to the subject, Q ran right over whatever James was about to say. “Between us, my technicians and I could take the bloody Olympic gold in every shooting category for the next twenty years and still have time to repel every would-be supervillain and script kiddie attempting to hack our servers.”

“I had no —”

“Idea? Yes, I’d imagine not, considering that by your negligent mishandling of government property and your utter lack of interest in filling out requisition forms or the proper paperwork we require to ensure next year’s budget is sufficient to keep your arse intact in the field for another bloody mission, you risk the enmity of an entire branch of invisible people, beneath your notice, who can both shoot the eye out of a target at half a kilometre and destroy your credit rating.” The words tumbled out in a rush that left Q’s heart pounding, threatening to turn his sleepy headache into a migraine. He took a deep breath of scented steam and closed his eyes, willing himself to calmness.

This time, James had the common sense — uncommon for an agent — to remain silent until the mug was half-empty. Then, fondly, he said, “You’re adorable when you’re stroppy, love.”

“I hate you,” Q retorted, though without any particular heat in his voice. The tea had worked its magic, soothing his nerves, calming his temper. Yes, the agents would do well to learn this trick of bribing Q before they unleashed their chaos, rather than resorting to fumbling efforts at damage control after the fact.

Only after Q took the last sip of tea did James move from his perch on the edge of the mattress. He reached for the cup and slid it out from between Q’s fingers so he could set it on the bedside table. Q considered reprimanding him for not using a coaster, but the mug was empty, and James had that charming, engaging smile again.

“Did you miss me?” James asked, infuriatingly smug.

Q gave him a sullen glare. “Yes. Of course I did.”

James ran a hand over the blanket and up to Q’s knee. “Aren’t you glad I’m back?”

Suspiciously, Q said, “That depends. Did you get those stitches done professionally or did you do them yourself?”

James leaned in close so he could brush a kiss, feather-light, over Q’s lips. “Why don’t we discuss that later, love? Perhaps after a shower?”

Treacherous, treacherous body. Q lifted his hands to cup James’ face, feeling a hint of stubble and tanned, weathered skin. Time to surrender while he still could do so gracefully. “I love you,” he murmured, claiming a kiss of his own, one that was interrupted by a soft laugh.

“Thought you hate me,” James said smugly.

“With you,” Q said, smiling for the first time that morning, “the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”