His mission was supposed to be simple. Find Geoffrey Boothroyd’s son, who had developed a reputation for being quite the fearsome inventor, and convince him to come to MI6 to serve as quartermaster. He was given an address, a description, and a starting salary figure so high that he seriously questioned all his past career decisions. He was assured that Frederick Boothroyd was intelligent, practical, and yes, maybe a little prone to shooting people, but only if they insisted on disturbing his work. Altogether, simple.
James Bond knew better though. They didn’t send him on simple missions.
The address was predictably wrong, the description matched a local drug dealer with a propensity for gnawing on strangers, and the mission brief utterly failed to mention that not only was Frederick Boothroyd an excellent shot, he was rather more trigger-happy than the report would suggest. Only years of training, significant experience cheating death, pure instinct, and sheer good luck prevented James from having his head blown clear off after he politely introduced himself after he had picked the lock to the front door.
Years of training, significant experience cheating death, and pure instinct were also the reasons why James could now be found pinning the young man to the wall, after a struggle that was surprisingly difficult considering how damned skinny Frederick was.
Given their circumstances, Frederick was taking it quite well, his voice calm (if slightly muffled by the wall he was being pressed against) as he said, “Well, this is all very compromising.”
“That’s why you shouldn’t shoot at people,” James replied unsympathetically, still a little sore over the use of deadly force. He briefly entertained breaking a limb or two in retaliation (M would probably be upset if he broke an arm, but less so if he broke both legs), but if he went about causing physical harm to every person who shot at him, half of MI6 would be on disability.
Frederick huffed, equally unsympathetic. “Coming from the person who tried to break into my home, I think I am justified, thank you very much. Besides, haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”
“And give you the opportunity to shoot me through the door? I think not.”
The young man turned his head as best he could to glare at him. “MI6, I presume.”
James wasn’t too surprised; he was Major Boothroyd’s son, after all. “You presume correctly.”
Frederick squirmed, which only prompted Bond to tighten his grip. The young man quickly got the message and stopped, his head drooping resignedly as he said, “Has she ever considered just sending an e-mail instead of an agent? This is really quite tiresome, and I thought she would have got the message after I poisoned the last one of you to show up uninvited.”
James’s automatic response was to frisk his captive for needles, causing Frederick to yelp in protest at the blatant invasion of his privacy. But James didn’t have the luxury of worrying about privacy when he had a job to do, so upon confirming that his captive didn’t have any other obvious weapons, he allowed the man to turn so that they could address each other like civilized beings.
“Mr. Boothroyd,” he said. “Your country needs you.”
Frederick let out a sharp, slightly hysteric laugh at the thought of that. “Does it really? Good for it, but I don’t want to. And don’t-” he continued, before James could open his mouth, “-bother trying to appeal to my sense of loyalty to Queen and country. I can assure you that I do not have any.”
James couldn’t help but feel slightly perplexed at that. “Your father-”
“I am not my father,” Frederick cut off sharply. “And you will do to remember that.”
That was true, although there was something about the young man that reminded him sharply of the Major. Despite the rather short (and hostile) nature of their meeting, Frederick Boothroyd clearly shared the same intelligence and intensity that his father had, and would accomplish great things if given the proper resources and appropriate goals to focus it. He should have been jumping at the opportunity, not recoiling from it, which might have been why James said what he did, although in his defense he did realize his mistake a split-second after the words left his mouth. “I knew your father.”
Frederick was beyond unimpressed by this revelation, his expression almost incredulous that James would say such an idiotic thing. “Good for you. That’s more than my mum and I could say.”
“Is that what this is about?” he demanded before he could help himself because the thought of that outweighing something as important as duty to England was simply astonishing. “Resentment and daddy issues.”
“That is part of it,” Frederick said with a small shrug. “No use in denying it, so I won’t. But it certainly is not all of it. I’ve seen the lives your lot have, Mr. Bond. I cannot say the ever-present prospect of torture and grisly death appeals.”
“The quartermaster is a different matter entirely.”
“And yet I seem to recall a certain funeral having to be closed-casket because of the state he was left in.” The words were harsh, yet the young man’s expressed softened ever so slightly as he took in James’s expression. Frederick wasn’t the only one who remembered the Major’s funeral, and attended with regrets for his ugly fate. “You may live for the glory of Queen and country, but that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way. That doesn’t mean everyone else is able or even willing to make the sacrifices that you are.”
James stared at Frederick, the words echoing in the now silent room. He didn’t know how to respond because this wasn’t the reaction he tended to get. Upon discovering that he was an agent, most people (the ones who didn’t immediately try to kill him, at least) were impressed, wanting to hear stories of epic adventures with beautiful women and dangers around every corner. There were always a few who reacted with disgust at imagining the atrocities he had committed to protect their home, suspicious of what he had become after dirtying his hands so, but he’d never received something so like… sympathy.
Sympathy was not something he was used to. MI6 rarely had the time for it, and their enemies even less so. He didn’t know if he appreciated it, but at the same time, it convinced him of one thing, and one thing only.
It took a while for the man he had already dubbed “Q” to realize what James saying, but once he did he immediately shook his head. “No. No, I don’t-”
“I’m not leaving until you agree to come with me,” he cut off calmly, letting go of the skinny limbs. Q was too much in shock to realize that he was being freed, staying where he was against the wall as he watched in horror as Bond made his way to the wardrobe.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Q finally demanded, the words high and panicked.
“Moving in,” he answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. It wasn’t the most conventional of negotiation tactics, granted, but he did have a reputation for wearing people down in the end. He had the feeling (and likely M had agreed) that this was the only option that might work, as the young man had to be convinced, not bullied or forced. Also he knew that if he left now, he would never manage to get through that front door again (or any of the windows, since Q seemed like the type to booby-trap his windows).
Q was outright gaping at him now, barely managing to sputter, “You most certainly are not!”
“Try and stop me,” James challenged, pleased to find that the wardrobe did contain what he wanted and pulling out the spare blankets before tossing it onto the sofa. It didn’t look very comfortable, but it would have to do since he doubted Q would be willing to share the bed.
(He wouldn’t mind if the other man had been willing to share.)
Q stared at him helplessly, face contorting between rage and confusion at the thought of having a MI6 agent as his new, completely unwanted flatmate. But then he finally settled for shaking his head, snapping, “Fine, do whatever you want. See if I care. It hardly matters; the first national emergency that arises, you’ll be on your way, thanks to patriotic duty.”
“It’s not like those come up every other day,” James pointed out with far more confidence than he actually had. “We’ll just have to see who manages to hold out longer.” He could only hope that England could stay out of trouble long enough for him to convince the young man to accept MI6’s employment offer.
“For the last time, Bond, get your feet off the goddamn table before I cut them off!”
“You’ve said that so many times that I’d actually like to see you try,” Bond drawled easily, making Frederick want very much to punch the bastard in the face. The only reason why he did not was because he had already tried that once before, and nearly broken his hand in the process. The agent’s face was so hard that he was almost convinced Bond was actually an android in disguise, and it was becoming increasingly difficult not to take a soldering island to a limb to find out for certain.
For now though, he had to settle for turning away from the food he was preparing with a knife held threateningly in one hand. No doubt it was a pathetic sight compared to the dangers Bond had faced before – dangers the agent would not stop bragging about, as if he expected Frederick to swoon like a love-sick teenager – but it was enough to make the man remove his feet from the table. Not that he had the opportunity to feel smug, as Bond’s smirk made clear that he was only being indulged.
In an attempt to rise above, Frederick turned his attention back to mincing parsley. If he put more force than strictly necessary into each knife stroke, he thought it justified. It had been two goddamn weeks since Bond had so graciously invited himself into his flat, and Frederick had spent each and every one of those days in increasing disbelief that the agent was still there. Not only did the agent show zero interest in leaving voluntarily, but there weren’t even any national emergencies to force him away. It was reaching the point where he was wondering if a minor nuclear strike in Antarctica would be worth the risk of lifetime imprisonment if it worked to get James Bond out of his flat.
Putting aside the world’s annoying good behavior, he would have expected Bond to get bored or, at the very least, run out of clean clothing. But he was thwarted even there, and one could imagine his rage when the day after the agent moved in, a MI6 employee had shown up with a number of freshly laundered suits – as well as some other articles of clothing that Frederick was very, very careful not to even glance at – for the man. He supposed he was lucky that Bill Tanner hadn’t decided to move in too, although considering the completely bewildered expression on the man’s face when he realized what was going on, Tanner would definitely have been an improvement over Bond.
Of course, just about anyone would have been an improvement over Bond. That would even include his dearly departed father.
Not that he hated his father. On some level, he understood the logic of putting patriotic duty before everything else, including family. He even understood that protecting the country might have been his father’s way of protecting his family too. But just because he understood it didn’t mean he had to agree, and now here was someone intruding in his life, demanding that he do the same thing he had resented his father for doing. It was absurd, and he had said just that many times already, although expecting a brute like Bond to listen was akin to asking a seal to tap dance, and nowhere near as-
“That looks good.”
He yelped, automatically striking out with the knife. If it was anyone else, Bond would have been cheerfully disemboweled but instead he just expertly dodged the knife. As if his ineffectual display of force wasn’t embarrassing enough already, the agent just had to follow up by taking hold of his wrist and tightening just enough to force him to drop the knife into Bond’s other hand. Frederick glared at the knife, cursing it for dropping so neatly instead of doing a convenient 180 degree turn and landing blade down. Surely even Bond would have to go to the hospital in that situation, and he could take the opportunity to change all the locks. Possibly set a few traps too, designed to lock onto a certain agent’s DNA and vaporize him.
“Steady now,” Bond whispered directly into his ear. Frederick told himself very firmly that the reason why he did not try to slap the man was became of the continued grip on his wrist, and most definitely not the treacherous shiver that ran up his spine. “Wouldn’t want you hurting yourself, now would we?”
It’s not my health that you should be worried about, he wanted to grow, but settled for snapping, “You should have thought of that before you snuck up on me.”
“I wasn’t sneaking up on you,” Bond protested, an injured look on his face. It made him look about as innocent as a hellhound with blood dripping off its fangs, courtesy of the eviscerated corpse just behind it.
He groaned, wanting to bury his head in his hands except that one was currently being occupied, and he didn’t need to invite any additional ridicule to that already being heaped upon him. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“I told you,” Bond said patiently. “I have a mission to complete.”
“So did the last few people who came by, and they didn’t seem to mind leaving when I asked politely.”
“You? Asked politely?” Bond repeated, eyebrows raised. Skepticism was a polite way of describing his tone.
The agent had a point, although he wouldn’t admit it even under pain of death. “Well, they left eventually.” They hadn’t even left in body bags, although one of them might as well have been asking for it. Frederick eventually had to settle for tasering him and leaving his twitching, unconscious body in a ditch for MI6 to find.
He was increasingly tempted to do the same to Bond, except that the man seemed the type to enjoy a good jolt of electricity, the fucking masochist. Still, it was very difficult not to give into temptation when Bond grinned, “Why do you think M sent me this time?”
“Because she was hoping I would get rid of you for her?”
Bond’s grin widened. It showed off all of his (perfectly white, damn him) teeth, and was not the least bit amused. “That too, quite possibly.”
“And you wonder why I don’t want to work for MI6,” he muttered, losing all patience and wrenching his wrist out of Bond’s grip. He wanted to go for the knife too, but not only was he likely to fail before he started (no doubt Bond could see the homicidal impulse in his eyes), he didn’t really want to spend an entire afternoon disinfecting his kitchen for the third time that month. So he forced himself to turn back to the pasta even as he complained for the twenty-fourth time, “I also don’t understand why I’m feeding you.”
“You say that every time, but then you always insist on making servings for two.” The low, rumbling chuckle made his fingers twitch, as if wishing he could sprinkle in an emetic instead. He had a few that he had been developing (just for fun, really), and if Bond insisted on being a nuisance, the bastard might as well be a useful one. He settled instead for adding extra parsley to Bond’s serving, smirking inwardly at the man’s grimace.
“Because I was raised to be polite,” he replied, picking up the dishes and carrying to the kitchen table. If he not so accidentally kicked Bond in the shin on his way over, well. “And you could at least chip in, you know.”
“I don’t get paid that much,” Bond said, before promptly inhaling Frederick’s serving.
That said, the following day Tanner arrived with several Fortnum bags.
“This really isn’t my job, you know,” Tanner said mildly as he handed over the bags to the grinning agent as Frederick stood to the side, fuming. “I really am sorry for this, Mr. Boothroyd.”
“If you were sorry, you’d make him leave my flat,” he replied bitterly. He wondered if he could shove Bond out the door and bar it before the man caught his balance. It would be a bit childish, but if it worked….
Just as he was about to place his hands on the man’s back, he found them occupied by a smaller bag. Unlike the others Tanner had brought by, this one was not bulging with foodstuffs, but clanked discordantly thanks to the tins of loose leaf tea, which included three varieties of Earl Grey. He shot Tanner a look but the man just shrugged and said, “Bond said you’d want those.”
Frederick could feel the blush crawling down his neck, but turned to face Bond. Considering how the man had simply bulldozed his way into his life, he hadn’t expected such a thoughtful gesture. But it was a relatively small one compared to housing and feeding the agent, he had to remind himself, so he growled, “Don’t think this means I won’t be throwing you out the first moment I can,” before quickly retreating to the kitchen with his new treasures.
A few days later, he was enjoying one of the Earl Greys in his workshop when Bond turned up, having finally made his way past all six of the specially designed locks. He studiously ignored the man, focusing on the lines of code that when perfected could be used to decrypt a 3072-bit RSA key in record time, and-
“Why do you make all of this if you don’t plan on using it?”
“Who says I don’t plan on using it?” he muttered because becoming supreme overlord of the world was starting to sound like a worthwhile endeavor if it meant he could have Bond boiled in oil. When he received no response, he turned to glare at Bond, who was studying on his blueprints even as a hand started to reach out for- “Don’t touch that!”
He jumped to his feet, in the process spilling tea all over his trousers and probably giving himself a couple of second-degree burns in the process. He couldn’t waste his time worrying about that though as he reached Bond, batting the wandering hands away from the small, prototype explosives he had made when extremely annoyed at the man for using all of his hot water. Not that he was in any need of hot water now, the reminder of which made him wish that he hadn’t prevented Bond from blowing them both up. “Shit, it’s like you want to get your fingers blown off.”
“You shouldn’t leave them lying around then,” Bond said.
“This is my workshop, and I’ll leave grenades where I please!” he snapped, not caring that he sounded like a precociously destructive child. “You’re the one who is not supposed to be here! I don’t even know why you’re here.”
“You know exactly why I’m here, Q.”
Q. He remembered when he’d visited MI6 once, and seen how easily his father had interacted with everyone from the technicians to deadly agents. The man who could barely remember his own child’s birthday had certainly acted like a child whenever anyone asked him to demonstrate a device, displaying an enthusiasm that Frederick had never seen at home. His own tinkering was the only time he could get his father to look at him for more than a few minutes, although they always seemed interrupted by the latest national emergency that required the quartermaster’s immediate assistance. As much as he had tried to convince himself that he didn’t care about that anymore, a rush of anger burned through him as he snarled, “Call me that again and I’ll strangle you in your sleep with your own tie.”
Bond must have known that he was on shaky territory now, but sheer arrogance had clearly addled his brain as he replied, “If that’s the type of foreplay you enjoy, I’m good with that.”
Frederick choked, and the next thing he knew he was doubled over in a coughing fit as the agent patted his back comfortingly. “Sorry about that,” Bond apologized, sounding almost sincere. “And sorry about this too. I was just curious what you’ve been doing in here. You have a lot of interesting ideas.”
“Interesting,” he echoed. His voice was raspy and sore, but thankfully not bitter as he continued, “You mean nothing compared to my father’s work.”
“I didn’t say that.” Bond spread a blueprint out, pointing at it. “A Walther PPK with a palm print reader. Not the flashiest thing, but it would be dead useful in a firefight. At least you would know that you wouldn’t be shot by your own weapon.”
“That was the point,” he admitted. “Although the problem with you agents is that you’re always getting hurt. I’ve been wanting to design it so that it would recognize the palm print even if there were injuries, such as a deep cut or burning. After all, it wouldn’t help if the user couldn’t fire it either.”
“Oh, we agents are good at improvising,” Bond said with a cheeky grin. It wasn’t the usual arrogant smirk that made Frederick want to cut his legs – literally – out from under him, but one that made him feel like they were sharing an amusing secret, known only to them. It made him feel important and special, and even though he knew this was just another way for Bond to get what he wanted, it was very difficult to resist.
He coughed, desperate for a distraction no matter how flimsy. “Yes, well, the goal of this sort of technology is always so that you aren’t put in a position of having to improvise in the first place.”
“Trying to replace us with technology, you mean?” Bond laughed, but it wasn’t a happy laugh. “Soon you won’t have need for any of us then.”
Frederick started to point out that he didn’t have any need of Bond even now, but before he could open his mouth, a soft beeping filled the room. In an instant, the agent went from relaxed to alert, the transition so quick that it seemed like it was a different man entirely who was pulling out the phone and staring at it intently.
“I have to go,” Bond said simply, and before Frederick could fully realize that the national emergency he had wanted so desperately was finally happening, the man was striding out. It took him a moment to realize what was happening, and several more to check his security system, which confirmed that he was now the only person in his flat. In the span of what felt like seconds, his prediction had come true; one mission alert and the agent would be out of his life for good. But it wasn’t just a prediction; it was what he had been waiting for, but then why did he feel disappointed as he slowly walked out of his lab, as if he needed to confirm with his own eyes that Bond truly was gone?
Except he wasn’t, not entirely. The blankets were still thrown onto the sofa (Bond never could be bothered to fold them neatly), and there were suits that did not belong to him hanging in the wardrobe that the agent had appropriated for his own use. In the kitchen, that evening’s dinner (servings for two) were being warmed in the oven, and the mug that the agent had left on the counter was still half-full, a ring forming on the tile beneath.
Frederick gingerly picked up the mug, eyeing the ceramic as if he could still see the palm print of the hands that had cradled it that morning. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to use his equipment to pull the print, but why would he want to do such a thing in the first place? He had no intention of inviting Bond back into his flat or his life, so why design something for a man he would never have to see again?
He closed his eyes, remembering the small thrill that had gone through him as he discussed his palm-print technology with Bond. He desperately wanted to know if such a thing would work, but more than that, he had enjoyed discussing it with someone who immediately understood the practical benefits. The question was whether that enjoyment was worth everything else.
Biting his lip he set the mug back down, staring at it. He knew, deep down, that this wasn’t just a matter of intellectual curiosity; if he went through with this, there were other reasons, reasons that he did not want to accept.
It would be those same reasons that would drive him to get spectacularly drunk that evening, before putting himself to work on a brand new Walther PPK the following day.
When James rang the doorbell two weeks later, he was surprised when he was greeted by an exhausted not-quite-yet quartermaster rather than laser beams. Survival instinct immediately demanded that he shove Q against the wall and frisk him for weaponry, but in the interest of keeping the peace, he simply asked, “You’re letting me back in?”
Q gave him a long look, probably wondering the same thing himself. James felt like he was getting the once-over from M all over again, which was unfair because he had finally escaped MI6’s clutches just a few hours earlier. They’d kept him for three days, between the medical examination and post-mission psychological exams and a debriefing that mostly consisted of M berating him for destroying three buildings, seventeen vehicles, a dock, and six street stalls. And where did you even get those explosives? she had raged at him for three hours straight. Those were not issued to you by Q-branch.
Improvisation, he had told her, and left before she could have him locked up in Belmarsh for the rest of eternity. Or worse, make him fill out a post-mission report. Neither of which would have allowed him to pick up the order he’d had Tanner make – still not part of my job description, Tanner had murmured, rather more tetchily than before, but the alternative was asking Moneypenny and James liked not being shot at when he was summoned to M’s office – an order he now tossed at Q. The other man automatically reached out to grab it, and while he was suitably distracted, James waltzed right by and back into the flat.
“You need to work on your security system,” he said as he looked around. In the time he had been gone, not much had changed; half-read books were still strewn everywhere, the air smelled faintly of tea and citrus and oil, and there were the occasional grease stains despite Q’s best efforts to keep the place neat. That made the few changes all the more apparent, specifically the blankets that were neatly folded on the sofa, and the previously dirty suits that were now freshly pressed in the half-open wardrobe.
“I’ve read your profile,” Q said tiredly, the door closing behind him. “I know better than to try and keep you out if I want this building to still be standing. And that wasn’t me,” he added quickly, following James’s stare to the clean clothing. “Tanner came by.”
“Did he?” James couldn’t suppress the flare of annoyance at Tanner as Q walked by him, setting the Fortnum bags onto the counter. The annoyance quickly turned to a smile when Q’s eyes widened adorably as he pulled out the Dalreoch White Scottish Tea (which made the forty quid per twenty ounce price tag well-worth it). “I’ll have to thank him later. As for the tea, that’s a thank you for the explosives.”
It took Q a moment to tear his eyes away from the Tregothnan Cornish Tea (and even then he didn’t quite manage to look away) to say, “I didn’t give them to you. You stole them.” It lacked his usual ire though, especially when he couldn’t stop stroking the packets of tea with his long fingers.
“Tested,” he corrected. “I tested them for you. How else were you going to find out their effectiveness?”
Q glared, but he clearly didn’t have an adequate response for that. James suspected that it wasn’t just the tea that was silencing him; it was no coincidence that one of the only times Q had responded to him with less than outright hostility was when they had started discussing the Walther PPK blueprints. Based on what he knew about the younger man, James doubted that the sole reason for his inventing and coding was because of unresolved father issues. It may have been part of it, but Q had displayed genuine passion during their short conversation. It was an enthusiasm that James wouldn’t mind seeing more of, so he asked, “Anything else you want testing, now that you’ve got a taste for your gadgets in action?”
“Gadgets that aren’t supposed to be used,” Q protested weakly, his words belied by how quickly he was sliding away from the kitchen counter and towards his workshop. He didn’t invite James to follow, but he didn’t protest either as they both entered.
James had to fight the urge to whistle when he saw the array of tech, none of which had been there the last time he was around. But his attention quickly focused on the gun in the other man’s hands, none other than the Walther PPK. There were three lights on it, glowing a steady red, but they were nowhere near as bright as Q’s eyes as he explained, “I may have to readjust the grip as the print I used was… barely adequate, but at least we can start to test it out.”
“I thought these weren’t supposed to be used?” he reminded Q. The man just shrugged, never taking his eyes off the gun as he handed it over. James had no idea where Q had got his palm print, but he was not the least surprised when the red lights turned green as soon as he had a firm hold on it; he suspected that all of Q’s inventions worked like a dream. Not that it stopped Q from grabbing his hand, turning it back and forth as he examined it with a critical eye. The slip fingers had a good, steady grip, and the many callouses spoke of long hours spent putting together equipment with precision and care. They danced over his hand, touching and examining and making James feel a little bit breathless.
He wasn’t sure when his interest in the other man had gone from strictly professional to improperly personal. James was used to falling for people hard and fast, but that was usually just sex. When it came to Q… well, he would have to be dead to not want Q that way too, but there was something else. There was a familiarity, an easy trust that he had not expected to have with anyone. On one hand, the people he interacted with outside of MI6 usually fell into two categories: targets for information and targets for killing. On the other, the people within MI6 were all spies whose first and foremost loyalty was to the mission, not each other. Neither was conducive to intimacy, yet somehow Q had managed to fall into an odd gap between that he hadn’t known existed. Technically the young man was the mission, and he also had ties to MI6 through his father, but he was still… different. He was someone that James could understand and relate to, but was not actively trying to kill him (most of the time, anyway; he wasn’t about to forget the time when Q had nearly set his head on fire, claiming there was a spider in his hair).
“Alright then,” Q said abruptly, jolting James from his thoughts. The words were clipped and professional, but James wasn’t about to overlook the way the young man’s cheeks were starting to turn a little red, or how quickly his hand was dropped. “That’s enough of that, I think. Leave the gun on my desk over there, and don’t touch anything else.”
James did exactly as instructed, as long as Q was willing to overlook the fact that he took the gun with him the next time he was called away on mission.
“The only reason why I’m letting you back in is to get my gun back,” Q informed him crossly when he showed up after a relatively short mission in Italy. The mission could have been twice as short and one-hundred percent more fatal, but the henchman who had tried to shoot him with his (or rather, Q’s) Walther had not figured out the problem with the gun until it was too late.
“You’re not even supposed to have guns,” James admonished as he shut the door. “It worked perfectly, by the way.”
“Of course it did,” Q snorted. “All of my tech works perfectly.” But for all the bravado, James had to smirk because there was that pretty blush again. Seeing how their hands were nowhere near touching, he didn’t think it had to do with their accidental intimacy, but he also didn’t think Q could get so embarrassed by praise when he was such an arrogant sod. It also made him wonder – not for the first time – about Major Boothroyd. Praise had come easy with him, as the old quartermaster could get excited over just about anything. Q shared that enthusiasm, the younger man already turning away and chattering on about the new equipment he had been working on during James’s absence, but judging from the way Q practically basked in the compliments (he hid it well for the most part, but James now excelled at spotting those small, private smiles), Boothroyd’s son had never earned the approval that MI6 had always taken for granted.
But if the Major had been disappointingly unaware of his son’s accomplishments, M was not nearly so oblivious.
“You do remember,” M remarked rather sourly at the end of his Prague mission debrief, “that you were tasked with bringing Mr. Boothroyd into our employment, not bribing him with expensive teas so that he would act as your unofficial quartermaster.”
James had not forgotten, although he’d rather hoped that M had. Clearly he had underestimated her tenacity. “I presented him with your offer,” he pointed out, careful not to sound defensive. “He declined.”
“And since when has that ever stopped you?” she shot back, unimpressed. “If I just needed someone to ‘present him with an offer,’ I could have sent Tanner.”
“Considering how often I have been there at 007’s request, you might as well have,” Tanner agreed blithely.
Instead of pointing out that Tanner could also have sent his own minion, but had chosen not to because of the Chief of Staff’s own curiosity with the younger Boothroyd (and more specifically, how James could have survived for so long), he shrugged. “It seemed a better alternative to torturing him until he agreed. I assumed the bureaucrats would frown on that sort of thing.”
“I could have him arrested,” M said. Clearly she had no qualms about forcing someone into MI6’s employ. “Obtaining firearms illegal, storing explosive devices, hacking foreign agencies… I could order a raid on his flat, and Mr. Boothroyd would soon find himself a guest of the penitentiary if he doesn’t agree to our terms.”
“No,” he snarled automatically. He immediately regretted his impulsiveness when M leaned back, her expression placid yet somehow oozing a smugness that made James want to shoot something. Or preferably, someone. He swallowed, forcing himself to calm even though it was too late to hide this new weakness of his. “Q… Frederick Boothroyd is not the sort to be intimidated. If you want to get his best work, it has to be voluntary.”
For a moment, he was sure that M would ignore him and do as she had threatened. But to his (and possibly M’s) surprise, it was Tanner who intervened.
“007 has a point,” Tanner said smoothly. “This is the first time anyone has managed to get Mr. Boothroyd to listen for more than five minutes, not to mention supply them with valuable equipment-”
“Equipment that 007 won’t allow Q-branch to even touch, let alone study and reverse-engineer,” M interrupted.
“Nevertheless,” Tanner continued, composed as always. “It is better to have him on our side, even in an unofficial capacity, than poisoning the agents you send his way.”
“That only happened once,” James felt obligated to protest on Q’s behalf.
“You’re not helping your cause,” M scowled. But he could tell that she was backing down, despite any lingering irritation. “Fine. I will leave it to your discretion, 007. But be aware that I am growing impatient with the current state of affairs, and won’t hesitate to pull you out if I come up with a more effective alternative.”
“Understood,” he nodded, excusing himself quickly before she could change her mind and have them all arrested.
Despite M’s impatience, she apparently never came up with her ‘more effective alternative’ because the next few weeks passed without incident. Well, with the exception of the time when Q’s tech failed spectacularly, nearly sending James to an early demise. The stun gun and fingerprint scanner on his mobile had worked fine, but while the laser cutter in the Omega watch (“And how did you get this?” he had made the mistake of asking, only to be shut down by an icy glare) had activated perfectly, its companion grappling hook had not. James was lucky to escape with just the broken arm, but considering the look on Q’s face when he had shown up at the flat, he might as well have broken his spine.
The look was a hauntingly familiar one. Major Boothroyd had not taken failure well either, which was understandable when equipment failure could be the difference between life and death. James was prepared for death, knowing that all the tech in the world couldn’t prevent the inevitable, but Q was not so ready. Even though he know that Tanner had assured Q that his injures were less than fatal, Q had not even been able to look him in the eyes, let alone take his usual proffering of expensive tea.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he murmured as he watched Q clean up the broken pieces of the mug.
“I know that,” Q snapped back, but those pale hands were still shaking just as much as when the young man had dropped the mug in the first place. After a while, Q had excused himself with ceramic still underfoot, and had locked himself in his workshop. When he didn’t emerge for two whole days, James had been forced to manhandle him to bed, where he slept like the dead. As a result, Q hadn’t noticed when James had pushed back a greasy (literally, to match the oil stains on his nose) lock of hair and watched as exhausted features finally softened into deep if not entirely restful sleep.
It wasn’t in his nature, to appreciate these quiet moments. Yes, he always had down periods between his missions, but before Q, he’d spent most of his time waiting impatiently for the next mission. Now he was, in a way, always on mission, tasked with convincing Q to work for MI6. But there was none of that impatience now, no eagerness to leave in an attempt to escape the boredom of civilian life. He wouldn’t call life with Q exciting, but there was a certain level of comfort that he hadn’t been expecting. Then again, he hadn’t been expecting anything when he had moved in. Q was supposed to give up and agree to MI6’s terms, and they would go their separate ways, interacting only on a professional level. But now it occurred to him that he didn’t want that. He didn’t want to move out as promised, returning to an empty flat that lacked any amount of personality because he couldn’t be bothered to furnish it properly when he didn’t know if he would ever be coming back. He didn’t want to spend his days alone, after these last few weeks with he and Q taking meals together, watching television, and poring over Q’s sketches and designs. At some point, he’d accidentally built himself a life that he looked forward to coming back to, and Q had let him. He wasn’t sure he would be able to let it go when the time came.
James tried not to think about it, even after his arm healed and he started going on missions again. He didn’t know what Q was thinking, as the young man gave him new equipment, although he couldn’t help but notice that said equipment was increasingly less experimental and more to keep him safe. In thanks, James would always bring Q tea, but it was getting harder and harder with each homecoming to not give those dark red lips a kiss as well. But he controlled himself, if only because their arrangement worked so well that he didn’t want to risk ruining what they had between them, no matter how tempting those small smiles made it.
Although in retrospect, Q might have preferred that kiss to the six armed terrorists that he had just led to their doorstep.
Frederick Boothroyd was feeling rather displeased with his houseguest at the moment. Granted, this displeasure was his default setting when it came to James Bond (or so he told himself), but right now it was rather heightened by the bullet that narrowly missed taking up permanent residence in his skull. Only Bond’s quick actions prevented him from being shot, although any gratitude he might have had was tempered by the minor detail that the agent had brought armed terrorists to his flat in the first place.
“What’s going on?” he asked, wishing his voice wasn’t so damn shrill. It was not only embarrassing, but it made his head ring, although that might have had more to do with Bond enthusiastically slamming him into the floor. Again, he realized that the agent’s actions had saved his life, but he wasn’t about to overlook the fact that his life wouldn’t have needed saving if not for the armed terrorists bit. “Who are they?!”
“That’s classified,” Bond answered helpfully, and Frederick had to resist the urge to scream. Considering how there were men who, having apparently decided that shooting through his door wasn’t rude enough already, were now trying to break the whole thing down, he couldn’t give a toss about the Official Secrets Act. “All you need to know to now is that they followed me, and would very much like to kill the both of us right now.”
“No, really?!” Frederick replied, and if he wasn’t so terrified he would be glad that his sarcasm function was still working. After all, if he was still being sarcastic, he had to still be alive, a state of affairs he wasn’t sure would be continuing given the number of men with worryingly high-powered weaponry outside his flat. And that wasn’t even the most frightening bit; this brazen attack on an occupied building in the middle of London – something he didn’t even know was possible – meant the men were either very confident or very desperate, and he started to ask which was the case when he noticed the blood staining Bond’s sleeve. He hadn’t noticed it before, between the dark fabric and being shot at, but now he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out, “Fuck, you’re hurt. Did they-?”
“The hell you mean it’s nothing?!” And just when he had thought his voice couldn’t get any higher. He wanted to grab Bond’s arm, the same arm that had been broken when his equipment had failed so miserably, something he still could not forgive himself for. It hardly mattered that Bond was not his responsibility or that he owed his unwanted guest nothing; he would never forget how his entire world had seemed to spiral when Tanner had informed him of the injury. Even though Tanner had been sympathetic rather than justifiably judgmental, offering a steadying hand when he thought he was going to vomit, he had never felt so useless in his entire life. Bond could have died, and maybe Frederick should have exulted at the prospect of finally having his flat to himself again, but if the agent had died it would have been his fault. He didn’t know how he could have lived with that, and he didn’t know how his father had either, working with all those agents who would pay the ultimate price if their tech failed.
At the rate things were going, he might never find out.
“Q. Q!” A hand grabbed his arm and shook it, not roughly but with some force. “Q, I need you to focus on me, alright?”
Frederick stared at the agent, aghast. Focus on him? Wasn’t that exactly what he was doing, focusing on Bond and his injury and- “Q.”
“Not Q,” he muttered because the alternative was to let out a deranged giggle. Not Q, oh, who was he kidding? He’d been acting as Bond’s quartermaster since the man had moved in, and now look at what it had got him. A hoard of people just outside his door wanting to kill him dead, the very thing he had been hoping to avoid.
Well, he thought as he realized that he was staring at Bond’s wounded arm again, one of the things I had been hoping to avoid.
He started when the hand that was on his arm moved up to his face, and calloused fingers forced him to look away from the seep of blood to startling blue eyes. “Q,” Bond said, the words as gentle as the touch on his cheek. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep you safe. But I need you to help me out, alright?”
Frederick nodded numbly, even though he was still processing the man’s words and was incapable of agreeing. But Bond probably realized it was as much an acknowledgment as he was likely to receive under the circumstances, and continued, “Okay. Now that door is not going to hold out long enough for MI6 to get here, so what is the most secure place for us to go? Your workshop?”
“Yes, but given how determined your pursuers are, I’m not convinced that door will last much longer than this one.” Because shit, what were they using, battering rams?
“That’s fine,” Bond said. Even though it clearly was anything but fine, there was something reassuringly confident about the declaration that Frederick almost could believe him. Almost. “I’ve already alerted MI6 and they’ll be here soon. We just need to buy some time for now.”
“Is that all?” he asked, the sarcasm once again coming in full force to cover for the rising hysteria. Unfortunately, the hysteria quickly overcame his natural preference for mouthing off when the door went crashing to the floor, followed by a burst of gunfire. It would only occur to him later that he was screeching like a banshee as Bond dragged him towards his workshop with one hand, while using the other – the injured one – to shoot the first man who got in. Then the door was slamming shut as the agent expertly set all the locks, before turning back to Frederick.
“Activate your other defenses,” Bond ordered.
“You’re not the boss of me,” he shot back automatically. The agent looked momentarily surprised, before breaking into a grin that, despite the immediate danger they were in, made him weakly smile back. It was a much-needed reminder that he was in control of this situation because this was, despite what those men and MI6 and especially goddamn James Bond thought, his flat, and it seemed like it was time to give everyone a refresher course in that important fact.
Pushing past Bond, Frederick sat down in front of his computer. It was a matter of seconds before he had the security feeds in his flat on his screen – and to think mummy had thought him paranoid when he installed all those cameras – allowing both Bond and himself to analyze the situation as the intruders fanned out into his flat.
“Those two,” the agent said, pointing at the top right corner and smudging the screen in the process. “You have those lasers set up there, right?”
“Clearly someone has been going through my blueprints without permission again,” he grumbled, although his fingers were already flying across the keyboards, entering in commands.
“Like I needed to go through those to find all your little traps,” Bond scoffed, that dangerous(ly intoxicating) grin still dancing across his face. “I had to know where the trouble spots of your flat were, didn’t I? But honestly, Q, lasers?”
“Don’t mock the lasers,” he retorted, and it was not a complete coincidence that said lasers went off at that exact moment, cutting through the two men. They screamed, although it was mercifully brief. He couldn’t help his shudder, despite knowing that now was not the time to feel sorry for people who wanted to murder him. But death was not something that was supposed to come easy, and it didn’t. Not for him.
It did come more easily for someone else though, and it took Bond’s hand on his to realize how badly he was trembling. “There’s still three more,” Bond reminded him gently. “And we’ve lost the element of surprise now.”
That was clear enough. The remaining men were not shooting at everything, convinced there were traps around every corner (which to their credit, there were, as he had been rather bored a few months back). He watched in horror as his flat was ruthlessly destroyed, furniture and electronics shattering in the onslaught of bullets. One of the security cameras was caught in the fire, causing that part of the screen to go ominously black. He knew he should have protected the damn things with polyurethane, but that would have obscured the camera lens, rendering the entire exercise pointless. But if he could design a more transparent version, then perhaps-
“There,” Bond said, startling him out of the comfort of his experiments and back to the horror show that was happening in his home. “That one, he should be in range of your remote control gun, if you can re-angle it.”
He knew Bond was right, and should have jumped to obey. Instead, he could feel vomit crawling up his throat at the thought of ending another life, even if it was to save his own. “Shouldn’t MI6 be here by now? Or even the police?” he asked, wishing he didn’t sound so plaintive. He didn’t even know what difference it would make; considering the reckless abandon with which those men were shooting, the police would just end up collateral damage (like himself) while MI6 would… well, if Bond was any indication of what those agents were capable of, then MI6 would surely kill them. So what did it matter if it was him or someone else bringing about their deaths?
Except it did. Maybe he was being naïve, but killing was… he couldn’t. He just couldn’t, and he honestly didn’t know how Bond could either. He didn’t know how Bond could cope with any of this, both the grisly specter of death or the act of taking another life.
“They’re on their way,” Bond said, but he didn’t sound quite as reassuring as before. “As for the police, you know as well as I do that they’ll just end up getting slaughtered.”
Like we’re about to, Frederick thought gloomily, and as if fate itself heard and harbored a special hatred for him, two more men entered the scene. “Shit, shit, shit. They’ve brought reinforcements. Exactly what did you do to piss them off this badly?”
“It wasn’t on purpose.”
He let out a sharp, desperate laugh. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“No,” was the quiet, honest reply. Q stared at the agent, who in turn kept his eyes on the screen. The bullets had finally (temporarily) stopped, as the newcomers consulted with the others as to the best method to slaughter them. “And I’m sorry, for bringing you into this. I know you didn’t want this life, and now I’ve brought it to your doorstep.”
“You should be sorry,” he agreed automatically, except that he… he didn’t know if he meant it. Even though it was precisely what he had been saying to Bond all this time (or at least had in the beginning, the topic coming up less and less as the weeks went by), hearing the agent admit it made him feel strangely dissatisfied. Yes, Bond had forced his way into his life, but Frederick was the one who let him keep coming back. Maybe he could tell himself that it was because the agent was so stubborn that there was no point in denying him access, but they both knew that if Frederick had wanted him gone, he would be, just like all the other agents MI6 had sent. But there was something different about Bond, and it wasn’t just the wonderful teas he brought with him. He almost wished it was because that would be simple, at least, rather than this complex mix of emotions he had towards the person who had somehow become such an integral part of his life. Rather than confront that stark reality though, he whispered, “I don’t… I don’t even understand why you came here.”
He hadn’t actually meant Bond to hear his despair, but of course the agent did. “I know,” Bond said again. “I’m sorry. I had no right to put you in danger, and-”
“That’s not what I meant,” Frederick cut off. His common sense screamed for him to stop because this, this was his opportunity to truly make the agent go away and get his life back. More importantly, it was a way to take away his own responsibilities to the other man, responsibilities that he had never wanted yet now weighed so heavily on him every time Bond went out into the field. Yet all of that paled in comparison to Bond’s guilt, even if the guilt was well-deserved. James Bond had enough on his shoulders, as Frederick had lost count of the number of times he’d seen the man toss and turn in the throes of a nightmare (of the past) when he’d wandered to the kitchen for water to drink in the middle of the night. He was not about to compound it further. “I just… I meant I don’t understand why you would come here, instead of MI6 or somewhere you would be safe.”
“Because I do feel safe here.”
There was a certain delicious irony to this statement when there were men trying to shoot through his walls, but Frederick found himself completely unable to appreciate it. He wasn’t sure which was more pathetic, the heat in his cheeks or the way his voice became quiet and quivery as he said, “Bond….”
Luckily (perhaps), Bond was distracted by their rapidly devolving situation and his own self-reproach to notice. “I know I don’t have the right,” Bond said. “I know that I’ve just been a nuisance to you. But coming here when I was on the run… it was automatic, in a way. It’s the one place I feel like I can belong in since joining MI6, and it’s because of you.”
Frederick swallowed before admitting regretfully, “I don’t know how to reply to that.”
“Now doesn’t really seem like the time,” Bond agreed, finally meeting his gaze so that he could see the regret in those blue eyes. “But then, this might be my only opportunity.”
And without hesitation, Bond leaned in to kiss him.
Contrary to conventional wisdom about skinny boffins who spent most of their time cooped up in workshops playing mad scientist, Frederick had in fact been kissed before. He had just never been kissed like this. It wasn’t even the imminent death hanging over their heads that distinguished the situation, or the slightly embarrassing recognition that Bond was much, much better at this than him, but. But something, something unidentifiable, something that made his heart beat faster and his mouth go dry, something that made him want to grab Bond by the collar of that perfectly pressed (if now bloody) shirt and drag him as close as possible. The closeness that he’d found suffocating and awkward with other people quickly gave way to his entire universe narrowing down to a single fixed point that made him feel not so much complete as more than just himself, a feeling he had never known he was looking for.
Of course, just as he came to this revelation, Bond pulled away. Logically, he knew the agent had to, considering how the rest of the world (and five men in particular) was not about to pause just so that they could act on their feelings. But that didn’t mean those feelings weren’t there, which was why his heart fell as Bond said, “You stay here. I’ll take care of this.”
“You idiot,” he snapped, but with far less heat than Bond’s bold and decidedly ludicrous proclamation deserved. “You can’t. You’re hurt!”
“It’s the only way to ensure your safety in time for MI6 to control the situation.”
“You don’t have to do this alone,” he retorted, turning away to slam his hand on the keyboard. One of the men had wandered back into range of the remote controlled gun, and paid dearly for it before Frederick looked back at Bond, letting the man’s presence steady him from the way his stomach turned at what he had just done. But he couldn’t push all of the responsibility of what had to be done to ensure their safety onto Bond, not anymore. “Haven’t you learned anything in the past weeks? You’re not in this alone.”
“So what do you propose then?”
The question could have been condescending, a way for Bond to more politely point out that of the two of them, only one had experiences dealing with armed terrorists and that person was unsurprisingly not the one who had never been in the field. Instead, it asked only that Frederick do what he was offering already.
“Right,” he said. “I’m going to kill the lights, and then you and I are going to work together to take them out and keep you safe.”
“Are we really?” Bond asked, a slight smile playing on his lips.
Frederick could not decide if he would rather kiss that mouth again or punch Bond in the face. But first, he had to make sure that there would be a chance in the future for him to do one or the other, once he made up his mind. “Yes, we are.”
Frederick stared at the ruins of his flat. He knew he looked ridiculous, with his gaping like a goldfish as if he hadn’t seen all the destruction happening in real time, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Most of the people MI6 had sent were occupied anyway, dealing with the bodies or consulting with Bond. The agents had arrived only seconds after he and Bond had killed the last terrorists, proving that the age-old adage ‘Better late than never’ had no real place when it came to a promising career in espionage.
“I’ve spoken to Tanner,” Bond said from behind, his presence foretold by the crunch of his Crockett & Jones shoes on the glass that now littered his floors. “He wanted me to assure you that MI6 will compensate you for your losses and help you find a new place to live. In the meantime, we’re going to put you up in one of our safe houses.”
“A safe house,” he repeated. “Lovely.”
Bond stepped closer, and it was difficult not to give into the temptation to lean into that warmth. “I am sorry.”
“So you keep saying,” he replied dryly, closing his eyes. He didn’t want to look at all the broken things anymore. This had been his home for years, and it was like he was being forced to start over. It wasn’t fair, and he knew precisely who was to blame for this. But blame, although assuredly deserved, was the last thing on his mind. What he wanted to know instead was, “What are you going to do now?”
“Find a place of my own, I suppose. I think I’ve imposed on you long enough.”
You have, Frederick wanted to agree, but the lie stuck in his throat. Having Bond invade his life had been so damn frustrating, as a not at all comprehensive list of the agent’s bad habits would include the bastard’s tendency to use all the hot water, watch television late into the night, walk around his flat naked (well, maybe he didn’t mind that one too much), destroy his equipment, and, worst of all, know exactly when he needed a mug of perfectly brewed tea because he was busy or tired or upset. He had become used to waking up with a blanket thrown over him when he fell asleep at his computer, and it was those infuriatingly unnecessary gestures of kindness that not only meant more than all the expensive teas the man brought put together, but made his home about more than just the place he lived in. Home was now another person as well.
He looked down, and miraculously, the day’s paper was at his feet, still intact if slightly soaked with blood. If that was not a sign, he didn’t know what was.
Bond was still going on about something or another, but Frederick didn’t bother to listen as he reached down to pick up the newspaper, grimacing at the flecks of blood that got on his fingertips. Not that it was about to stop his feeling of immense satisfaction at Bond’s shock as he turned and thrust the paper into the agent’s chest, cutting off the apologies.
“You better start looking for our new flat then,” Frederick ordered, wanting to laugh at the way James’s eyes widened as the agent processed what he was saying before they crinkled into a smile of his own. “We’re not staying at a MI6 safe house for a second longer than we have to.”
Thank you to everyone for reading; I hope you have enjoyed the fic! :)