Q stretched out on the sofa, head resting in James’ lap, and sighed deeply.
“It’s a shame that we rarely get an evening home together, James. Such a treat; I could get used to this.”
“Relax and enjoy it, I’m off to France this week,” Bond replied, fingers sensuously fondling his partner’s scandalous hair.
Q turned lazily to face him. “Hmm, France - so lovely. I haven’t been is quite a while. Maybe I should come with you? We could visit my family’s cottage.”
Bond kissed him softly. “I suppose I could delay an extra day or two. We can leave in the morning.”
The Aston purred quietly as Bond and Q waited for the intricate heavy cast iron gates to open.
They motored at a sedate pace along the winding road through the woods, emerging among manicured lawns, complete with topiary garden and fountains. The great house came into view, spectacular, with classic proportions, elegant and refined.
James gave a soft whistle. “So, the ancestral home. Not exactly the ‘cottage’ you mentioned. “
“Well, no,” Q replied, “the name remained when the old house was replaced. It is quite lovely, though, isn’t it? I have many fond memories of visiting Grand-mère here; Sherlock, Mycroft, and I often spent the summers when Mummy and Father traveled.
He paused, remembering. “I was her favorite, I think. She would smile and give me a hug; ‘You’re the smart one, Quentin. Such a clever boy.’ She called me her woodland creature.” He grinned.
“Will she be receiving us, then?” Bond queried.
“I’m not sure, it depends on her health; she has not been well and may not be taking visitors.”
“I’d hoped to meet her; she must be quite the dowager now.”
Q smiled, “Oh, yes, she does relish the role.”
The valet, Sidney, unloaded their cases at the main entrance, and took the Aston to the carriage house. Lyon, the head butler, escorted them up the grand staircase to their adjoining rooms - Q in his old room, complete with his childhood Paddington bear and pictures of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland on the walls; Bond in the room that had been Sherlock’s.
Q offered an apology. “Grand-mère is a bit old-fashioned, I hope you don’t mind. You can sneak into my room later if you’d like.” He slyly eyed James from under his dark lashes.
Bond fondled Q’s arse and whispered in his ear, “You can count on it.”
“James, you’re incorrigible,” Q laughed, then added, “Drinks are served in the drawing room at 6, dinner is at 7 in the main dining room. Wear what you’d like, no need for formal dress. I thought we could relax and have an early night, tomorrow I’ll show you around. “
The next morning after breakfast, they began their tour on the first floor. Huge carved wooden doors opened into the fully paneled library, the enticing scent of books and old leather inviting James and Q to linger.
Numerous photos and mementos were displayed throughout the room; an old whaling harpoon mounted on the wall caught James’ eye. A prominent shelf contained various World War I military items - sidearms, some medals, spent gas canisters.
A climate controlled glass case in the center of the room held several rare books, including a first edition of Keats’ poetry and an early manuscript of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Q explained that the harpoon was a memento brought to England by a relative, Ishmael, who had booked passage on a whaler in the mid 19th century. The militaria belonged to cousin René, who served in the trenches in the Battle of the Somme. Q’s great -uncle Arthur had combed dusty bookstores in Rome and Paris for many years seeking rarities; the priceless tomes in the case were the jewels of his collection.
A soft knock on the door was followed by a quiet voice. “Excuse me, sir…”
“Ah, Mrs. Hudson, please come in,” Q beamed a smile. “Meet my partner, James Bond. James, our indispensible housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson.” Introductions complete, Q continued.
“Mrs. Hudson has been with us for many years, and runs Palais L’Esprit practically singlehandedly. We’d be lost without her.”
She gazed fondly at Q, quipping “Thank you, sir, you are very kind. We’ve certainly missed having you and your brothers visit. Your grandmother sends her apologies that she has not been able to see you yet, she has been feeling a bit unwell, but she hopes to come down for dinner. “
“That’s fine,” Q answered, “Please tell her we are looking forward to spending some time with her. “
Mrs. Hudson left, and Q led James down the hall to the music room, a large, tastefully decorated area with sunlight streaming through the 10 foot windows. A beautiful Steinway grand piano dominated the far end, while cabinets and closets lined the perimeter, providing storage for other instruments and musical accoutrements. Comfortable chairs were arranged informally throughout the space.
Q moved about the room slowly, pausing at the piano.
“We were all encouraged – I say encouraged, I mean commanded – to learn to play at least one instrument. Mummy insisted. And of course, Grand-mère supervised our practice every day while we were here, even on holiday, and she is a tough taskmaster.
Sherlock is highly gifted on the violin, he plays for enjoyment even now, but Mycroft has little talent and his practices were hellish. He tried the bass, then clarinet and oboe, finally settling on French horn. To this day he hates playing, and despises musicals. “
Q grinned wickedly. “Mummy and Father always make Mycroft attend musicals with them when they’re in London. They even made him accompany them to Les Mis.”
Bond nodded his head slowly, commiserating with poor Mycroft. “And you, Q, what was your instrument of choice?”
Q ran his had lovingly over the Steinway. “Ah, I play the piano. Not very well, I’m afraid, although Mummy is quite pleased. She particularly loves to hear ‘My Cloud Atlas Sextet.’ It’s a beautiful piece, but a little melancholy. I do love playing it, though; it’s one of those pieces that seems to flow from my heart. Sometimes I miss playing, it relaxes me.”
Bond considered for a moment. “I’m sure we could fit a small piano in our flat if you’d like. “
“That’s very thoughtful of you, James, but, there’s precious little time for that when I’m working.
How about you? Any musical inclinations?”
Bond looked distinctly uncomfortable before answering. It crossed his mind to lie, but realized that would set a bad precedent in their relationship. If he expected honesty – and Q was nothing If not honest – he should offer the same. He took a deep breath, and muttered, “Um, bagpipes. It’s a Scottish thing.”
“Bagpipes? Really, James?” Q doubled over with laughter. “Oh, I’ll have to check the attic, I’m sure there’s an old set around here somewhere. ‘Pipe me a tune and watch me dance, James Bond’.”
“Not a chance in hell,” Bond growled.
They continued their walk, moving leisurely through the numerous halls and drawing rooms, filled with antiques, fine paintings and objects d’art, and stopped in to visit the family chapel.
“Our family was Catholic, and like many French families of the era, kept a personal chaplain,” Q explained. “Father Sebastian still comes from the village once week to say Mass for Grand-mère and the staff. Some family members have funeral s here, there’s a small cemetery beyond the gardens; I’ll show you after lunch.”
Bond halted on the way out. On the lintel was an incised Latin phrase: Non Sufficit Orbis.
“Q,“ he asked, “what does this mean?”
“It’s our family motto, the literal translation is “Not Even The World Is Enough.”
Q turned. Bond had a puzzled look on his face. “Something wrong?”
“No,” Bond answered, “Not really, just…that is somehow familiar, I can’t place it. Never mind. It must be lunch time soon, we should go.”
Luncheon was served in small conservatory off the main dining room, since the weather was fine.
The doors and windows were open, and a slight warm breeze ensured a perfect temperature.
The chef, Denis, provided a lovely light meal, with fine wine, and delicious pastries for dessert.
“No wonder Mycroft has a weight problem, the mille fuielle and religiuese are superb,” Bond quipped.
“Let’s walk these off.”
Q agreed. He had eaten sparingly, as always, but he did enjoy a nice macaron occasionally, and had splurged and had three.
They passed through the great hall, stopping to view the two immense portraits that dominated the room.
“This one is Richard II, I believe, but who is the formidable lady at the other end?” Bond asked.
“Correct,” Q replied, “that one is indeed Richard II. The “formidable” one is Grand-mère’s maman, Georgette. She was active in the suffragette movement in England in the early 1900’s – a very tough lady. She went on hunger strike with the other protesters, was force fed and placed in an insane asylum. Fortunately, Aunt Irene’s husband, Lord Adler, used his influence to have Georgette released. “
“Impressive,” Bond commented, with a wry smile, “Remind not to cross your Grandmother.”
Q snorted. “You’re a double-0, James, you hardly need fear an old woman. Her tongue, however, is no blunt instrument,” he grinned. “She can cut you to ribbons.”
They continued down the West Hall, passing the indoor pool.
“It’s rarely used anymore, “ Q commented. “It’s where I learned to swim as a baby. I think Sherlock used to spend some time at the pool as well. Mycroft never liked getting wet – he still carries an umbrella everywhere, although I’m pretty sure it doubles as a sword with some obscure poison on the tip.”
Bond chuckled. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” He had met Mycroft on several occasions, none of them social, nor particularly pleasant.
At the far end of the hall they entered the huge glass Main Conservatory, where the Master Gardeners grew flowers for the arrangements in the house and cultivated rare specimens that were entered in international shows. There were also several detached greenhouses where the bedding plants for the formal gardens were started.
Q described the staff. “Eduard is the head gardener; he has a team of four additional gardeners for the main gardens. He also has some part-time helpers for the harvesting season, when he collects flower essences for Jean-Baptiste, a world renowned perfumier who comes on-site to make some unique perfumes. Grand-mère wears only fragrance grown here.”
Bond nodded, saying nothing. It seemed a bit odd to him, but better to keep quiet. He knew from the start that Q’s family was not ordinary. That was fine with him.
They moved along the gravel path outside, past the formal gardens, the Mermaid fountain, past the little patch behind the beehives where Sherlock had successfully grown marijuana and gotten himself and Q high regularly until Mycroft grassed on them. They continued through the tall grassy fields, stopping briefly at the family cemetery where Q was surprised to see a newly mounded grave with no headstone yet. He made a mental note to ask Grand-mère about that at dinner. The hill beyond sloped gently down to the lake. The rowboat the children had commandeered as a pirate vessel was still moored alongside the dock, though it didn’t look particularly seaworthy, and the oars were missing.
“Come on, James” Q urged, taking off his shoes and dangling his long, pale feet in the cool water. Bond followed suit, and they sat quietly for a while, enjoying the sun, smoking Bond’s ridiculously expensive cigarettes.
“Look,” Q pointed up, “balloons!”
They watched the colorful crafts float above them in silence until they could see them no more. As if by mutual agreement, they moved up the hill under the trees, and made love, urgently at first, then tenderly, listening to the drone of the bees afterwards as they fell asleep. A snippet of song played in Q’s head: “Where the bee sucks, there suck I….”
Q awoke with a start. “Christ, James, it’s almost dinner time. Come on, get up, we’ll be late. “
He turned to shake James by the shoulder. He put his glasses on …
It wasn’t James lying next to him. There was a warm body, yes, but not James.
He wasn’t in a grassy field, but in a soft bed.
Q was fully awake now.
The sleeping man next to him was indeed, impossibly, Rufus Sixsmith.
Q looked down, and his own clothes were covered with blood.
Something was very wrong.
Or was it? Was he awake? Dreaming ? Hallucinating? Possibly even dead?
Perhaps, though, it was simply a lilting swing, a gentle swell in the rhythm of life, the inevitability of time circling back upon itself. What do you think?
Rufus stirred, turned and reached for him. “Robert?”
Q smiled, “I’m here, my love, right here with you.”