Many thanks to chibichibit for the beautiful 00q manip!
I'm on tumblr here saturn-in-retrograde
December - Paris
Q hears the soft fall of feet on the hard surfaced floor, feels the air move and swirl around him; feels the jolt of contact as an expensive dark wool coat brushes against his black nylon parka. The other man sits down next to him on the bench, shoulders just touching.
They sit on the grey bench in the center of the softly lit white oval room, the beautiful vista of Monet’s Water Lilies in their 360 degree splendor all around them. The flowering plants, grasses and tree fronds in the paintings all blend into the rippled surface of the water, disappear into the unseen depths below.
Q’s been working with James now for several months, since he started as the new Head of Q Branch. This is only the second time they’ve met like this, alone, outside of MI6. James Bond is attractive in photos, but in real life, he is devastating. Not just because of his body and facial features, which are a perfect study of chiseled, masculine perfection; it’s his eyes, how blue they are, how they look at you; often disconcerting, always arousing. And it doesn’t stop with the physical traits; James is extremely intelligent, worldly, multilingual...and extremely deadly. It all turns him on to near distraction.
But James knows all that, too, and uses it to his advantage, always the master strategist. Q is never quite sure what’s real and what’s not where James Bond is concerned. That's probably what keeps 007 alive...and Q at a distance.
Regardless, his attraction to him is growing by the day. By minutes and seconds, now that he’s sitting right next to him, shoulders touching. He imagines electricity arcing between them in the millimeters of space between wool and nylon, like actual sparks of fire; he wonders if James feels anything. Then feels stupid for thinking that.
Q tries not to stare at him. Keep it together, Q, he thinks to himself. You’re just a colleague to him, nothing more. And technically, as Head of Q Branch he outranks James Bond at MI6, which seems almost absurd, considering the gulf between them in age and experience. But not intelligence; he is his equal there, and then some.
Q searches for something conversational to say. He knows he’s not particularly likable; he’s been called arrogant by some, introverted by all, and many others have found his particular brand of razor sharp sarcasm too cutting. With James, though, it seems different. James is arrogant as fuck, too, always gives back as good as he gets. He’s an adversary worth verbally sparring with; sometimes James gets the better of him, once he turns those blue eyes on him and Q’s words die on his lips as he imagines kissing him. But he’s not going to let James know that.
“Sorry to hear about Skyfall,” Q finally says, pretending to study the painting. “By all accounts, it was a grand old house.”
“It was just a house. Things can be replaced.” James also stares straight ahead at the painting. “Sometimes it’s good to burn down the past.”
Q thinks of what happened there and offers his condolences. “Sorry about M.” He knows that James and M had been close. That was obvious to everybody, even him, only having just arrived to Q Branch. “I wish I’d known her better.”
James stiffens a bit, takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, too. There will never be another like her. Can’t replace that.”
They stare at the painting in silence for a while, each lost in thought.
Q tilts his head, points straight ahead, changes the subject. “Humor me. What do you see, when you look at that?”
James laughs then, the melancholy tension broken. “We’ve been down this road before. I see a bloody big pond, is what I see.”
Q turns to him, a serious look on his usually serious-looking face. He knows better. He knows those eyes never miss a thing, knows that brain never stops working.
“I think you see a lot more than that. But you just don’t want to say because you might reveal something about yourself. Beautiful art usually does that to people. Makes them feel and say things they don’t even know is in them.”
James moves his eyes from the painting, then unexpectedly trains them straight on him. Q freezes, feels his breathing stop for a moment. Q wonders what James sees when he looks at him like that. Just another forgettable office techie, probably doesn’t even take him seriously as Head of Q Branch. Probably he sees nothing at all.
“How old are you, Q?”
“My God,” James says, doing the math in his head as he rubs his hand over the day-old stubble on his chin. “I’m only 12 years older than you. Christ, I look old, compared to you. I think I’m having an existential crisis.”
“I know I look young.” Q bristles a little. He’s entirely aware of his regretfully youthful appearance. All the suits and ties and mature cardigans he owns don’t age him up a bit. “It’s not easy to get people to respect me. But I’m eminently qualified.”
“Yes, you’ve proven that.” James is silent for a moment, then smiles as he remembers something. “The first time I met you, I thought you were just some Uni art student hitting on me.”
“Apparently, I was remarkably easy to resist. You were getting up to walk away.” Q tries to make a joke, but somehow it falls flat; sounds more like a complaint than a joke. Embarrassing. Christ, he should never try to be funny.
“Well.” James smiles again, still looking at him. His eyes slide over his face, studying him like he had just been studying that painting. “Just so you know…it wasn’t easy.”
Q feels heat creep up the back of his neck. Shit, it was hot in this suit and parka. He reaches up and rubs behind his collar, searches for a comeback but finds nothing. James is a flirt, everybody knows that. No reason to think he’s any different from anyone one else James ever flirts with recreationally. He tears his eyes away, looks back at the painting.
“Do you always choose museums for a meeting?” James asks, nonchalantly, keeping the conversation going for the both of them.
Q sneaks a sideways glance at him, admires the handsome profile. “Why not?” He shrugs. “Sometimes it’s nice to mix business and pleasure.”
James glances back at him, raises an eyebrow. “Is it, now?”
Q quickly snaps his eyes back to the painting. “That’s not what I mean.”
Or is it? Q wonders, flustered by his own revealing gaffe. Second one in the past minute, in fact. God, it’s almost like he’s awkwardly flirting right back, despite his best efforts not to.
“Why do you know so much about art?” James asks. “I thought you were some sort of army demolitions expert and computer genius sort.”
“Oh. Well. The army supported my way through school. I have a PhD in computer science. But I also got a dual degree in Art History. The army taught me all the weapons tech. Some I taught myself.”
“But why the art degree?” James probes.
Q shrugs again, racks his brain for a suitable explanation. “Art is about finding meaning in lines and dots, colors and context. Making sense of patterns. What's shown is just as important as what's not shown. Computer code isn’t really so far from that.”
James turns back to the painting, gestures at it. “What do you see, then, when you look at that?”
Q thinks for a moment. “I see something beautiful on the surface, but there's something deeper, something mysterious and deadly, just underneath. Something that lures you in but could drown you if you’re not careful.”
James looks at the painting for a few more seconds, then directly back at Q again, his eyes roaming almost imperceptibly over his face. “That’s exactly what I see.”
The heat from Q’s neck is creeping upwards. He pulls at his collar again; his tie is much too tight. He clears his throat. “We’re both a little dark, then, aren’t we? I think these paintings are supposed to be uplifting.”
James laughs, dispelling the darkening mood once again. “Oh, Q, you’ll make a philosopher of me yet.” He claps Q good-naturedly on the shoulder, changing the subject yet again. “So have you got anything for me?”
Q’s shoulder burns under James’s hand, which still rests there. Yeah, I’ve got something for you, his mind says automatically, saucily. But he puts that thought straight out the door. He has to be careful, he could definitely drown in James Bond. He tosses his head to get a curl out of his eyes, digs into his messenger bag on the bench beside him to distract himself from his thoughts.
“Here’s the latest and greatest from Q Branch.”
He hands an envelope to James, full of the documents he will need for his next mission. James has to remove the hand from his shoulder to take the documents, which he stuffs into an inside pocket of his suit jacket. Q misses its heat and weight.
Next Q hands him a watch. “I had this retrofitted for you. Press the button on the side, just there, and a needle comes out the other side. Prick your mark with this, and they’ll be out in seconds, won’t wake for hours.”
James takes the watch, inspects it, then slides it on his wrist without comment.
Then Q hands him a small metal box, long and thin. James opens it up, raises an eyebrow again, unimpressed.
“Not just any pen. An exploding pen. I know your generation likes the retro stuff.”
Q can’t help himself, it's his own dark sense of humor; a joke to mark the first time they met. The pen is fully functional, though, and very, very deadly.
A slow smile creeps over James’s face. “Very funny. That simple radio you gave me last time was actually quite helpful.”
“Oh, the pen is also a radio. Just click it. Yes, just like that. Don’t twist the cap, though. Because then it will explode. If you twist the cap you’ll have a fifteen second delay. I must warn you, it could take out this whole museum so don't play around with it. And also, I, ah, I had your initials engraved on it. Makes it look more, you know…not lethal.”
James clicks the pen on and off several times, deliberately playing around with it. He rolls the gold metal cylinder between his fingers to bring the initials to the surface, admires the JB etched in a fancy, masculine font.
“I like this very much. Does it work like a pen, too? What if I just need to sign a receipt for my expense account?”
Q sighs dramatically. “Luddite. It works just like a pen, too.”
Still smiling, James clicks it once more, but then puts it back in the box and stows it in a pocket. “It really is Christmas."
Q is ridiculously pleased, tries to keep his face straight. He actually put quite a lot of thought into it, maybe more than needed. Probably a little overkill with the initials, which were not strictly necessary. Suddenly needing to move around, to move away from James’s warm and solid shoulder, he stands up. James follows his lead and stands up, too.
“It really is almost Christmas, just a week away,” Q remarks, attempting normal conversation.
"So it is." James pauses while pulling on his gloves, then asks an unexpectedly personal question. “So you’ll go home for the holidays, then? Spend time with your family? Or your...partner?”
Q frowns. “I don’t have any family.” He blushes against his will. He knows it's obvious, his pale skin hides nothing. “Or partner.”
“Ah. So you’re another member of our illustrious club of agents with no ties." A wistful look crosses James’s face, then he laughs a little sarcastically. “We’d probably all be good company to each other, if we weren't such a pack of unsociable, irritable pricks.”
A smile finally creeps across Q’s face. “You’re not so bad. Moneypenny’s ok, too.”
“You’re not so bad, yourself,” James says, his smile deepening, still lingering.
Suddenly flustered, Q holds out his hand, trying to act like an adult; like the goddamn Head of Q Branch conducting important espionage business, not a starstruck, stuttering teenager. He pulls his shoulders up straight and projects his voice, just like he’s practiced. "Good luck, 007.”
James reaches out to take it, the warm black leather of his glove enveloping Q’s long-fingered bare hand, gripping it firmly, hanging on just a moment or two longer than necessary. “Thank you, Q. Same to you.”
James leaves then, moving away with an easy predatory glide to his walk. Q wills him to turn back, a sudden wave of uncontrolled desire flooding through him, his hand still tingling from the feel of James’s glove pressing into it.
Look at me. I’m right here. See me. See how I look at you.
And then he quickly looks down to hide his face as he pulls out his own gloves, just in case James actually does. From under his eyelashes, Q watches him pause in the doorway to take one last look at the paintings before he walks out, but he does not turn back, does not even spare him one last glance.
“Cheers,” Q says out loud to no one in particular. With a heavy sigh he slowly sits back down on the bench. He falls back into an absorbed, melancholy study of the paintings, thinking of his past.
Christmas isn't really a thing for him, not since he was nine. Not after his mother died, and his father disappeared into a bottle of whiskey and then disappeared for real. Not really a lot of great memories for a skinny, troubled, abnormally intelligent kid who acted out in all kinds of inappropriate ways from behind a keyboard, exercising power and control in the only way he knew how - or so the endless parade of kindly but unhelpful therapists had explained to him over the years.
He had spent most of his youth passed from one foster home to another or in juvenile offender institutions, one or two of which he had particularly disliked. Places which might have, perhaps, suffered extensive damage from a fire or an explosion they could not explain; enough damage to require rehoming somewhere else that had sometimes been better, or sometime worse. And so the cycle had continued; lather, rinse, repeat. Until he’d finally aged out of the system, recruited right into the military. Which might be the best thing that could have happened to him, certainly better than other more likely alternatives.
That’s all far behind him now. Time to forget all that. Now he has a stellar job, an excellent future ahead of him, and he needs to concentrate on that. He needs to forget this thing he feels for James Bond. He knows that playing any kind of game with James, verbal or otherwise, is playing with fire; but then again, he’s always had a hard-on for all things hot and dangerous. Thinking back to the conversation with James about Skyfall, though, he can’t help but feel a connection to him, an understanding deeper than just physical attraction.
Q, too, knows all about burning down the past.