The first time that Q was stuck in cat form and chased by a dog was actually in rather controlled circumstances. Unfortunately, those ‘circumstances’ were not in James and Alec’s dorm, or the whole bloody thing probably wouldn’t have happened at all.
Q was getting better at controlling his gift, in a one-sided sort of fashion. He could almost change into a cat at will now! Sadly, he seemed quite stumped when it came to turning back, and whenever he managed to turn himself into a feline, he was inevitably stuck for hours if not an entire day.
“Quincy, dear, you’re going to have to change sometime - that’s what these classes are for,” the matronly Gift-tutor prodded, although her gentle tone was getting the frosted edge of impatience, seeing as this was their twelfth session, and Q had yet to transform in her presence. Being stuck as a cat, Q had learned before even being enrolled in this mandatory Gift-mastering class, was not fun at all when he didn’t have a Telepath around.
Mrs. Morris kept talking and coaxing while the other five students looked on with various expressions of contempt and boredom, “You’ve told me that you can control the human-to-animal shift, and you’re safe here.” She gestured to the area around them, which was actually the lawn in front of the Electrical Science building - the day had decided to get sunny, so Mrs. Morris had in turn decided to take her class outside. Q didn’t quite believe in her methods of teaching in a natural, earthy setting.
“Yes, Mrs. Morris,” Q said carefully, trying to bite back his growing exasperation at a conversation that he’d had with his tutor dozens of times, but always in private before now. Q felt cornered with everyone staring, and gripped his ankles tightly where he sat crosslegged in the grass. “But like I told you, the problem is getting stuck. And I have a physics class in two hours.”
At least two other students new to their Gifts snickered, word having got around that Q was a bit of a nerd, and loath to skip even the dullest of classes. Q resisted the urge to snap a glare in the direction of the stifled laughter, but his jaw clenched as he kept his focus on Mrs. Morris. The woman was still wearing her patented sympathetic look that was starting to seem falser and falser with every second she kept pushing him to change. “And that’s what we’re here to work on, Quincy. I can’t help you with your animal-to-human transformation if you won’t become an animal first.” There were at two other student at this session who were also Gifted with the ability to shape-shift, but they were both animals that were a lot bigger than Q, which only added a level of vulnerability and self-consciousness to the mix that made the boffin more reticent. One girl could turn into a dog, and another boy could transform into an impressively large raccoon - and all of them had more self-confidence in their abilities than Q did. “Come now, Quincy - you’re safe here. Give it a try.” She gestured around them, at the manicured lawn and old stone building nearby, students wandering between classes, although none of them were too near, or more than passingly interested in the little group circled up on the green.
Q took a deep breath, and tried to avoid the situation again. “I’d really rather not. I’m learning quite a lot just by watching,” he assured.
Since Q and Mrs. Morris had also had long talks about Q’s predilection towards visual learning - and how Mrs. Morris clearly believed that kinetic learning was the only way to go - the woman’s round face grew increasingly pinched with exasperation. When her face got stiff like this, trying to maintain its facade of friendliness, it showed just how much make-up she caked on to hide the age-wrinkles that were slowly but inexorably taking over her aging face. “None of that now. I’m being paid to teach you, and you’re here to learn - and you’ve learned all you can by just watching,” she said with more sharpness now, enough to make Q jump and tense as if stung. He felt his exits being cut off. The cornered sensation crawling up his spine reminded him of that night on the road, penned in by cars, only this time, he happened to know that James was back at the dorms with a cold. He wouldn’t be driving in to pluck Q out of this situation.
Finally, one of the sniggering students in the group couldn’t keep her mouth shut, and Q’s head jerked towards the girl who could shape-shift into a dog as she sniped, “Come on, pussy-cat. You’re not a scaredy-cat, are you?”
“Miss Whittleby, there’s no need for cat-jokes,” the tutor had the kindness to berate the girl, but Q was already blushing to his ears with humiliation and frustration as everyone looked at him, hiding smirks and now avoiding the teacher’s eyes. Q had gone through his share of teasing as a child, but usually it was for his prodigious I.Q., and this new direction of attack finally had him snapping.
“Fine then,” he huffed, throwing caution to the wind and already having an inkling that he’d regret this, “I’ll change.” He wanted to add, ‘Just don’t let me run off somewhere,’ because even lately he found that he had a tendency to black out in the first few moments of transformation - sometimes not really thinking like himself for whole minutes. James and Alec were pretty sure that just such a black-out explained how Q had ended up in the middle of traffic with no memory of the events leading up to that.
Theoretically, though, Mrs. Morris was supposed to be prepared for events like that and keeping everything under control with newly GIfted students, so Q took a deep breath and gather his courage and trust… and willed on the transformation.
Events got fuzzy after that, but Q knew one thing: his next memory was standing less than a foot tall, aware that his back was arched and everyone’s yelling hurt his ears, and that he had a dog in his face, barking. Beneath the total terror and shock of the situation, Q recognized the girl - this was her shape, a leggy, adolescent golden retriever, and everything Q had ever heard about the even tempers of such dogs went out the window. Both he and she were somehow across the green already, or at least Mrs. Morris was huffing as she shouted and tried to run after them. Barking at deafening volume to Q’s delicate ears, her doggy grin full of teeth, the retriever made a go for Q’s head, and he spun and ran.
Thanks to much practice with Alec, Q was actually quite agile now. Instead of tripping over his own paws, he fled across the grass like a little blur of black and white, the wind whistling past his whiskers as he put all of his energy into the effort. He’d just made it to one of the low stone walls surrounding the grassy lawn when he felt a the dog’s breath close on his heels, and the shock of it made Q hesitate. He skidded on the grass, crying out in a high-pitched cry as he realized that the dog was going to run right into him.
It was the instinctive desire to curl into a ball that probably saved Q. As he ducked down, the dog overshot him, the sound of her crashing into the wall rather satisfying - if Q had been in any state to notice. Instead, he gathered his little paws beneath him again, sprinting along the wall until he slid under some bushes. Behind said bushes was a corner in the wall, cutting off most of his exit options, unless he wanted to see how high he could jump vertically from a stand-still. The wall suddenly looked a thousand miles high, and Q froze again instead of jumping. By then, there was raucous, gleeful barking from the other side of the bush, and there was the girl-turned-dog trying to burrow her way through the foliage to get him. Her main issues with her Gift, Q recalled, was a decided lack of human intellect when in her animal form - she was probably running on instincts, while Q was perfectly sane, alert, and aware that a dog this crazed would instinctually want to play with him until he stopped moving. Horror a storm in his heaving little chest, Q puffed up, tail standing up straight and all of his fur lifting, desperate to make himself look like a less viable target.
When a snapping snout and black nose got close enough, Q hissed with all he was worth and lashed out. The girl-turned-dog absolutely shrieked as claws lashed unprotected skin. Q could just hear Mrs. Morris shouting impotently from some distance away, so out of breath that her voice was really just a series of monosyllabic exhales between gasped inhales. Other students were shouting as the dog, Whittleby, but before anyone could do anything about Q’s situation, something black dropped a fleeting shadow over Q’s hiding spot before there was a harsh, furious cawing noise. The dog yelped again, and again, and Q just huddled where he was in confusion even as his ears twitched at the sound of moving feathers. Seconds later, he was aware of a much bigger shadow, and a familiar voice shouting with more viciousness than Q had ever heard, “Get your mangy arse out of here before I separate it from your witless head!”
“Young man-!” Mrs. Morris gasped out, sounding closer, “That was un-” Pant. Pant. Gasp. “Uncalled for.”
The tiny part of Q’s mind that wasn’t still drowning in fight-or-flight instincts recognized Alec Trevelyan’s voice, a bit calmer now as the canine noises retreated under the hushing noise of other student voices - kids were dragging Whittleby away. “I saw what happened. Was that Q the dog was chasing?”
“That dog is a girl named Susanna Whittleby,” Mrs. Morris tried to regain her authority, even as she somehow got past Alec enough to lean over the bush. Q, completely on reflex, backed up until his spine hit the stone corner, and scratched the hand she reached down to him. She was so shocked she nearly overbalanced into the bush. “Mr. Quincy Boothroyd!” she scolded him in a shocked voice, and for once, Q didn’t care what a teacher thought of him, because he wanted this to all be over, and this was starting to feel like the middle-of-the-road incident all over again. His feline voice did a good job of voicing his unhappiness, as he noisily promised to claw off the first thing that came near him - even if he was only about the size and weight of a large loaf of bread.
It was indeed Alec who leaned forward to peer between the wall and the bushes next, and Q was too far gone to be friendly. He bared his pearly teeth and arched his back. Alec raised one eyebrow. “Yeah, that’s Q. And judging by his bottle-brush tail, I’d say that Miss Whittleby scared him out of his mind,” Alec opined, glancing aside, presumably to Mrs. Morris. The edge of politeness on Trevelyan’s voice was thin indeed, like a veneer of honey over an icicle. “Did he get you just now?” Alec, wisely hadn’t reached a hand in; Q growled anyway. His paws were getting muddy standing on the damp earth under the bush, but it was safer than anywhere else, and he decided right then that he wasn’t leaving.
“Just a scratch,” Mrs. Morris admitted.
Because Alec had turned back to Q and dropped his voice, lips barely moving, only the boffin heard the approving, “You should have done worse, boffin.” Raising his voice to talk to the tutor again, Alec began lying smoothly, “I’m Trevor Vince, his roommate. I’ve handled him like this before, and at this point, I think I should just take him home.”
Mrs. Morris sounded doubtful. “Trevor Vince?”
Fortunately, Alec lied as easily as most people recited the alphabet, and he smiled charmingly before replying without hesitation, “Yeah, I should be in his records. Both live in the big dormitories on Barber Street.”
That was correct, and both Q and Mrs. Morris knew it. Alec cinched the deal by adding with apparent acceptance, “Unless you want to get him out and calm him down?”
Q wasn’t thinking straight, but he knew he hated that idea - if only because it included leaving his besieged little stronghold. He made a truly spiteful, hateful noise then that was no doubt clearly audible from anyone within nine meters.
Mrs. Morris, perhaps realizing that this lesson had not gone as planned at all, wisely decided to cut her losses. “No, no, young man, that will be fine. Have him email me as soon- Well, as soon as he can.”
No one could resist Alec’s smile, and he cast it winningly upon the woman even as he began shrugging out of his jacket for no reason Q could see. “I’ll make sure he does. Ta, Mrs. Morris.”
While Q was still wondering what in the world the woman had done to deserve any gentlemanliness from Alec Trevelyan, who made questioning authority an art form, Alec stood up suddenly, jacket in hand, and tossed it down in the gap between the wall and the bushes. Before Q’s angry, frightened brain could realize what was happening, he’d been enveloped in heavy cloth like a weighted net.
“Sorry, Q,” Alec sighed, even as he bundled up his angry, squalling, struggling passenger, knowing that the boffin was unlikely to turn back within the next hour, and unlikely to be friendly to anyone but James.
“I got there just in time to see this bloody manic dog chase him under the shrubbery,” Alec said, back in the dorm-room he shared with James, “So I attacked the dog.”
Q had been carried the whole way here, still encompassed in Alec’s coat, and now the material made voices a bit muffled - but he nonetheless recognized James’s as the other man asked, “As a raven?”
“Yes. Bloody near took the dog’s eye out, but apparently the dog was actually another shape-shifter, so maybe it’s good I didn’t.”
As Q sensed himself being handed over, he hissed shallowly, still strung as tight as a piano wire and in no better mood for having been cooped up in a coat.
James seemed to consider the noise, and said back in a low, ominous tone, “And maybe you should have. This was during his Gift-mastering class?” Alec must have nodded, because Bond continued in a more concerned voice, “Is he hurt?”
“Not so far as I could tell, but to be honest,” Alec sounded worried and uncomfortable, “I didn’t get much chance to check. He’s mad a blazes. You’re going to want gloves.”
There was silence, and Q tried fruitlessly to wriggle loose as James (who seemed to be supporting him right now) tried to process this last bit of information. “For what?”
“For handling him. There’s a reason he’s wrapped up in my coat - I wanted to keep my hands intact. Your boffin is usually a feisty fellow, sure, but right now-”
“I see,” James cut him off, and then Q felt himself being set down, and tensed as he felt the jacket around him being unwrapped. He didn’t know what had gotten into him, but he’d been given a real scare, dammit! When a hand reached in, Q realized that James had indeed taken Alec’s advice only when his little claws needled into black, leather gloves, and then he was being drawn out into the open air. Q gave his throatiest hiss yet, realizing that he was improving on that skill at least, in leaps and bounds with all of the practice today. “Bloody hell, Q, you sound like a snake!” James accused, but besides frowning and keeping Q carefully at arms-length, didn’t seem too troubled. It was then that Q got a good look at the other young man’s face, and stopped wriggling altogether.
He’d gotten a text from Alec yesterday saying James was sick, but on hindsight, Q should have found that suspicious. James had Q’s number, too, after all, and could speak for himself even if he had a cold - that, and Alec had already proven his penchant for lying today. Right now, Q was finally jerked out of his anger and panic by the realization that James did not look sick, but neither did he look well. In fact, he looked like he’d gotten into a fight, and Q stopped trying to pedal his back-paws up towards James’s unprotected forearms to just stare in concern instead. There was a heavy bit of bruising on James’s jaw, and where the sleeve of his button-down had ridden up a little, Q thought he could see neat, white bandaging. What had happened?
“He all right?” Alec asked, breaking the silence that finally lacked any feline growling or hissing as Q blinked at James, mute and wide-eyed. James hadn’t met his gaze yet, his own blue eyes calm and critical and he clinically looked Q over. Where he had his hands up under each of Q’s forelimbs, one gloved thumb absently rubbed at the front of Q’s left shoulder, a soothing gesture made electric and strange by the added layer of leather.
Ignoring Alec for a moment, James finally met Q’s eyes, blond brows quirking as if he was picking up some of Q’s jumbled - but swiftly focusing - thoughts, which he probably was. “He…” James started, seeming unsure how to finish, “He’s a bit hard to read.”
“Or your Telepathy could be malfunctioning,” Alec pointed out glibly.
To which Bond replied with no fuss at all, “Or my Telepathy could be malfunctioning. Q, you in there?”
There was the knee-jerk response hiss again, but now that he was back in James and Alec’s room, held by hands that were pretty familiar by now, and being spoken to by two people who probably knew him as well as his family did, Q was settling down. So with a deep inhale and a slow exhale, Q nodded and let out a less cantankerous mew than before. Then he kicked his legs a little, indicating that there was no need to dangle him in the air.
Alec had wandered around until he was within view, and it was almost comical - but also unexpectedly heartwarming - to see relief flash across both his face and James’s. Hoping that he could prove that he really was coming down from his height of mindless panic, Q focused on James, thinking very hard, ‘Please tell Alec thank you. For saving me from the dog.’
By now, Q was quite good at watching for the little tics of James’s expression that showed he was listening telepathically. Usually, it showed in an added stillness to his face and body, and the faintest lack of focus in his eyes for a second or two. This time, Bond did manage to hear Q’s words, and flashed a smile before looking to his roommate, “Q says thanks.”
Immediately, all of the lingering worry fled Trevelyan’s face, replaced by a broad grin. “Don’t mention it, kitten. I love attacking dogs,” Alec assured him as cheerily as could be, reaching forward to drag a finger down Q’s spine in a teasing pet. Q squirmed, making a disgruntled noise as he failed to escape the ticklish sensation.
‘I’m not really a cat, you know!’ he yelled at Alec in his head, ‘I’m a person in a cat’s body, and that felt bloody weird!’ Alec was walking towards the door, though, picking up his coat again and slinging it on.
“I’m going to go grab something to eat, Jamesy. Should I grab the usual for you and your illegal dormitory pet?”
Now Q hissed. He was getting rather good it it. James sighed resignedly even as he shifted Q until he was resting against his body, something that seemed to pain him for a second before he shifted Q into the crook of his other arm. Wanting to know what had caused the wince (not to mention the other injuries Q had taken note of), the boffin tried to twist and look up at him, but James put his other hand on Q’s scruff, tightening his grip just a bit. “If anyone here qualifies as an ‘illegal dormitory pet,’ it’s you, Trevelyan. Or at least you’re more trouble,” James joked back.
“That’s why they keep me around!” was Alec’s enigmatic parting shot before he departed, presumably to get Chinese from the place that all three of them seemed to love. As soon as he left, James seemed to… sag a little. He released a breath that sounded tired and pain, and Q made an interrogatory noise that came out sounding like ‘mrrrrrp?’ There were quite a few questions behind it, but either James didn’t feel like answering, or his Telepathy was fading out again. Either way, the blond-haired young man turned to head towards his bed, still holding Q, and giving away that he was limping. As soon as James collapsed onto the bed with another sigh, Q was wriggling out of his grip and climbing up his chest until he could get a good, worried look at Bond’s face. Hindpaws braced on Bond’s sternum and forepaws on his clavicle, Q put their faces together, trying to make it clear how anxious he was and how James needed to bloody talk to him, because he was stuck as a cat again and couldn’t talk if James didn't help him, and-!
“Q, calm down!” Bond commanded, looking startled as the rant reached him. He tried to push Q and his quivering whiskers further away from his face, but Q made a crying sort of noise that he’d have to remember for later, because it melted James’s defenses. The blue-eyed man stopped trying to hold Q back and instead relaxed back further with a small huff. When Q shifted his weight to keep from accidentally sliding off (he was quite good at working this body, but catlike balance was still something he was working on), Bond bared his teeth in a wince. “Watch your paws, Q.”
‘I would, if I had the faintest idea-!’
“Fine, fine, I’ll explain,” James gave in, sounding tired and at the end of his metaphorical rope for a moment - but at least he was telepathically listening now. “You weren’t supposed to know about this.”
His brain coming back online now that his scare was seeming further and further away, Q sat down carefully on Bond’s chest and hazarded, ‘Like I’m not supposed to know you’re a Telepath?’
“Exactly. Now, let me move you a bit, okay?” James actually pleaded, and now it was Q’s turn to be helpless to argue. He made himself limp and accommodating as James reached for him, although he flattened his ears back and rolled his eyes when the blond-haired man decided to lift him by his scruff again. It continued to be an odd feeling, one that Q had yet to categorize as either good or bad, and either way, James only used the grip to scooch Q swiftly and easily down onto James’s stomach. Then Bond began undoing the buttons on his shirt.
Quite a few of Q’s daydreams started like this, although they usually didn’t include Q being stuck as a cat, a terrible day just barely put behind him, and James looking like he’d just come out of a fight. Uneasy and worried, Q found himself mewling quietly, to which Bond hushed him in a tone that always seemed vaguely surprising coming from such an intimidatingly muscled young man. “Shhh, shhh. Easy, Q.” Continuing to undo buttons one-handed, James stroked Q with the other, and Q let him push his ears back with the slide of his hand, even though that usually annoyed him. He snapped his ears forward to attention between every pet, intently concerned even as more and more skin became visible.
There was a lot of bruising was what Q noticed, and for a moment he thought he’d be sick. And then, without warning, he startled them both by shifting back into human form. Before James could get over being startled by that, Q was exclaiming, “What the bloody hell happened to you?”
Grunting and cocking one eyebrow as he just accepted the change in circumstances - a quick glance sliding from Q’s crooked glasses, messy hair, down to his slightly mud-stained trainers now up on Bond’s bed - Bond recovered enough to answer, “Sometimes when things are advertised as ‘routine,’ it’s a lie.”
Q glared. “That’s not an answer.”
At that exact moment, the door opened, and Alec walked in while already speaking, “Hey, so you’ll be amused to hear that I don’t actually have cash- Oh.” He caught sight of Q, quite human now and quite rumpled, presently straddling James, who was reclining on the bed with his shirt undone. “That was fast. Aren’t you usually all small and fluffy for a lot longer than that?” Alec recovered with incredible speed.
Flushing from his throat to his ears, Q belatedly realized what this looked like, and tried to scramble off so fast that he fell off the bed. James, the chivalrous sod, tried to catch him, twisting fast enough that he actually managed to catch Q’s upper arm at about the same time Q’s arse hit the floor. Q winced at the jolt to his tailbone; Bond froze all over and cursed as he apparently upset one of those many bruises dotting his torso, or perhaps bothered the bandaged wound on his arm. All in all, it was a big mess of good intentions and great awkwardness, but thankfully Alec just shut the door and strode over to them. “Okay, I suppose this is the part where you spill more state secrets to your boyfriend is it?” Alec asked with his humor wearing thin, even as he grabbed Q and lifted him bodily to his feet.
“I’m not-!” Q protested even as James’s blue eyes got wide and he said simultaneously, “He’s not-!”
“Riiiiight,” Alec rolled his eyes, giving Q an uncharitable little shove that sent him tipping onto James’s bed again. Q sat down hard with a little whuff of exhaled air, tensing and giving Alec a tightlipped glare even as he decided to stay put. Feeling slightly like the second victim in a tense hostage situation - with James, now propped up on his elbows, probably being the first victim - Q eyed Alec as the man paced to his own bed and back, rubbing a hand over his face. “All right, I’m not going to comment on what I just walked in on, but-”
“You didn’t walk in on anything,” Q tried to defend, straightening out his glasses with nervous fingers even as he became super-aware of James’s knee near his back, and how small the bed was with the two of them on it. “I just-!”
Alec walked right over and cupped a hand over Q’s mouth, startling the boffin enough that his head jerked back, but the other man’s grip was surprisingly tight as Alec leaned in close and said quite pleasantly, “Q, sweetheart, it’s been a long day for all of us, and I’ve been the one covering for both of you - and I haven’t eaten yet.”
It was a gentle warning, so far as warnings went, but Q’s eyes still widened a bit. Alec was quick to let go and back off, however, as James sat up the rest of the way with a clearly painful grunt. For a moment, the room was filled with the tension of three uneasy young men and a lot of question-filled silence. James must have shot Alec a truly nasty look, because the green-eyed shape-shifter had the good grace to shoot Q an apologetic look, burying his hands in his pockets. “Sorry about that, boffin. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
Feeling shaken, out of his depth, and suddenly very, very confused, Q looked between Alec’s strained expression - it looked as though his usual humor had been stripped away, revealed for the thin mask it was, something raw-boned and stressed underneath - and Bond’s battered, tired frame, finally he looked down at his own hands, which still had mud on them from being under the bush. And, he noticed, blood under the fingernails.
“I think I’d like to turn into a cat now,” he said, voice very soft and very shaky.
Alec exchanged a quick, worried look with Bond, shoulders flexing, but James merely stayed perfectly still and murmured sincerely, “Whatever you want, Q. No one’s going to stop you here, or hurt you.”
Q just nodded, closed his eyes, centered himself… and when he opened them again, the colors of everything had subtly shifted, and the world had that unpleasant brightness that came with eyes that worked so well at night. He looked around, utterly disoriented, but then realized that he’d lost time again - Alec was gone again, and somehow Q had ended up under James’s bed. He shuffled quickly out, mewing and realizing that he didn’t see James either. A moment ago, and Q would have said that he wanted space from the two other men and their damned secrets, but now the thought of being away from James squeezed Q’s heart painfully. He’d only cried out twice, however, before James came back into view from the direction of the bathroom, looking tense and on the alert. He eased when he looked down at Q, tail a bit fluffed up but scuttling up to his feet.
James stood there, looking down at him, shirtless now with all of his bruises on display. The bandage on his arm was off, revealing a short line of stitches and some raw skin. “Can I pick you up?” Bond asked after a moment, gentle politeness softening his words to an easy rumble. “You might have to nod or shake your head or something. I got my bell rung pretty hard night before last, and the pain meds make my Telepathy less dependable than usual.”
Desperate for answers now at almost any cost, Q hurriedly nodded, although he shuffled around as James loomed down over him, eventually curling a hand under Q’s middle. Grunting at the movement, Bond nonetheless picked Q up like he weighed nothing, and once again they ended up on James’s bed. They were actually there quite often, now that Q thought about it. Whenever Q came over to fix something technological or mechanical, he usually ended up transforming when he was finished, saying that he wanted to practice in a confined space where he couldn’t get into much trouble. Then, being unable to change back, he was always allowed to stay while James and Alec did homework or just lounged around or wasted time on the internet. Somehow, Q was always on James’s bed, sometimes tucked up next to him, sometimes actually on him, in a way that had somehow become normal despite the human, sexual connotations that came with it - as proven by what Alec had seen only minutes ago. Now acutely aware of that, Q wriggled uncomfortably when James laid back and let Q settle on his bare stomach, but when the blond-haired young man winced, Q realized that moving too much might hurt James. The boffin mewled in apology. James’s telepathy must really have been ‘off,’ because he just continued to lay as he was for a moment, eyes closed, one hand curled near Q. His knuckles, Q realized with belated shock, were raw and split.
Unsure what to do with bruised, naked skin under him and so many questions in the air, Q tucked his paws up under him and prepared to wait James out.
Finally, it seemed that Bond managed to collect his thoughts, because he opened his eyes again, staring at the ceiling for awhile before lifted his hand and folding one arm behind it, so that he could look at Q frankly. “Whatever I tell you, Q, is the true, and you can’t tell any of this to anyone - except Alec, because he already knows,” James said with a seriousness that Q had only heard once before, back when he’d talked about his Gift. Something almost like a smile quirked up one side of his mouth, but instead of making James look boyish, it made him look sad, and older. “I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you’re thinking, it’s not what actually happened. I didn’t get mugged or into a bar-fight.”
Q exhaled through his nose, making his whiskers rustle, because those had been his two main assumptions. ‘Are you sure you’re not reading my mind?’ he thought pointedly, giving James his driest cat look.
Briefly, James’s brow furrowed as if he were listening, but apparently Q’s mind was just out of reach. Shifting a little and resettling himself (something that did funny and interesting things to Q’s perch on his stomach), James returned to his narrative, “Look, Q, you already know that Alec and I have been hired by the government. They found me originally, and thought that my Telepathic gift would come in handy, and agreed to keep it off the records if I worked for them. Alec and I were already best mates, so he was offered the same deal, with the knowledge that we’d be trained as partners. That started a little under half a year ago.”
While he talked, Bond’s right hand - the one next to Q - moved a little, and then the boffin-turned-cat felt a fingertip rubbing at his ribs. Since James was staring resolutely up at the ceiling, determination on his face and his attention clearly on getting his story out in one coherent piece, Q suspected that he wasn’t thinking too much about the fact that he was petting another boy right now. Then again, despite his annoyance at Alec for stroking him down the back, Q let James pet him all the time just like one would a regular cat. Clearly, Q had double-standards. Just as clearly, he didn’t feel prepared to think about why.
Fingertip still buried in Q’s black-and-white fur, stroking one of the contours of Q’s little ribs, James finally just blurted, “Alec and I are being trained for the information-gathering business. We’re being taught how to spy, Q.”
When the boffin jumped, James’s reflexes were as fast as ever, hand flexing and stretching to land on Q’s back. Q hadn’t moved all that much, merely a reflexive jolt as the information had startled him - still, it felt like he needed to be grounded by something solid. Eyes huge and ears perked alertly forward, Q crouched between Bond’s diaphragm under him and callused palm above him. James finally glanced down at him, expression surprisingly open. “I really wish I were better at mindreading right about now,” the young man half-joked ruefully, “Any chance you feel like changing back again?”
Q actually really did, but after closing his eyes and concentrating for a minute - fur fluffing up and tail lashing over James’s navel in frustration - he was still a cat. Letting out a disgruntled mrrrrpp, Q shook his head regretfully. James flashed a more natural-looking smirk. “Worth a try,” he said for both of them, and (this time after a conscious bit of thought and a surprisingly hesitant, musing look) ran his hand over the arch of Q’s back, the fur sticking a bit with static to his palm.
“Yesterday was my first ‘exam,’ so to speak,” James went on, watching Q without seeing him, or perhaps just concentrating on his story with the texture of silky fur as a counterpoint, “Alec’s job was to cover for me, while I worked. Believe it or not, this-” Bond tipped his chin down at himself, unwilling to remove either of his hands from where they were now, one propping his head and the other caressing. “-Is what a successful first mission can look like. It’s got Alec rattled, and that’s why he’s a bit rough right now. He knows that he’s next to take exams, and I’ll be the one lying and making sure no one notices him missing, and he’ll be the one possibly coming back like something the cat dragged in.” Realizing that he was talking to a feline shapeshifter, James’s eyes came suddenly into focus, and the most adorable expression of embarrassment slid across his face. “No pun intended.”
Despite how floored he was by what James was telling him, humor managed to get through, and Q released a delicate little snort of amusement. Then he rolled his slit-pupiled eyes for good measure.
James smiled in response, the muscles under Q’s paws and belly easing, but the other young man still asked, “So, do you believe me?”
After a pause… Q nodded. He hardly knew what to think, with words like ‘spy’ floating in the air like some mythical thing, but the way James was looking at him spoke of sincerity - in fact, James looked almost desperate to be believed. Q briefly considered the fact that James’s training probably included lessons in lying, but discarded the possibility that Bond was lying now. Both Alec and James were apparently new at this, and if nothing else, the boffin had ample proof that both of them were unsettled by the events of the past two days. Suddenly, Alec’s flash of near-violence made sense, and Q felt a wave of sympathy for him. Being helpless while your partner was put through the gauntlet, coming out the other end battered and bruised, was torture in its own right.
Trying to prove that he was all right with all of this, even if he was still shaken and shocked, Q made a show of settling down a bit more comfortably. He rather failed at the attempt when he tried to curl his tail comfortably around his body, because of all the things he’d learned about being a cat, it was that the human body really had no equivalent of a feline tail, and thus his brain had yet to fully reconcile with it. If Q’s tail ever did what it was supposed to, it was a matter of either reflex or blind luck. Now was not one of those times.
James, surprisingly, despite how his painkillers were hampering his Gift, didn’t even pause before reaching around and gently gripping the tip of Q’s black tail between his fingertips. Very gently but confidently, he drew the furry appendage around until he’d drawn it up alongside Q’s haunches. He smoothed it in place, and Q didn’t realize that he’d let out a thankful purr until he felt the last echoes of it thrumming in his throat.
“You look adorable, you know,” James said with a cheeky smile, apropos of nothing besides a desire to change the subject. The larger man seemed more relaxed now that he’d told Q everything, and the tightness around his muscles and eyes was all but gone, leaving him looking his age again.
Q started to growl, but then James reached up and rubbed down the back of Q’s neck to that spot between his shoulder-blades that he liked. Closing his eyes, Q decided to enjoy the sensation instead of getting fussy. He needed a moment to process everything anyway, and he saw no reason not to enjoy a comforting, enjoyable touch as he did so.
“You’ll keep this a secret? Even if you think I’m lying to you?”
Although he’d already informed James that he believed him, Q went ahead and nodded, feeling a bit sleepy. He rarely transformed more than once a day. He hoped that Alec had actually left for food this time, and would return with something filling. A vibrating purr was starting up again in Q’s small chest.
“Thanks, Q,” said James, very softly and very gratefully.
He continued to smooth out Q’s fur down his upper back like a sort of physical gesture of apology and gratitude all mixed into one, until James fell asleep. Knowing what he knew now - that James was a spy-in-training, and had just gotten the hell beaten out of him in his first actual mission - Q was both shocked, humbled, and worried to see the blue-eyed young man fall asleep so fast. He looked worn and exhausted, and Q couldn’t think of a single reason to move if it meant possibly waking up his companion. James’s right hand had finally gone limp so that it was simply looped over his lower stomach, so Q only moved enough so that he could tuck himself up against it, refusing to admit how much he loved James’s body-heat.
He’d just sit here and think things over until either James woke up or Alec came back…
Of course, both Q and James would be fully asleep by the time Alec came back. The third member of their little group would ease into the room as if on eggshells, unsure of his welcome after being so volatile and sharp earlier. His green eyes would soften and his posture relax, however, at the sight of his roommate stretched out asleep with a tiny, black-and-white cat balled up on his middle. Alec would smirk smugly and knowingly even as he put down the Thai take-out he’d brought, pausing briefly to find one container and opening.
As a raven, Alec would hop-skip up to the edge of the bed, and then use a quick flap of wings to get up onto it. James would be too exhausted to notice - a bad sign for a spy, but a perfectly normal sign for a young man still in uni, his body’s limits being tested - but Q’s cat-eyes would open with a start.
They would stare at one another for a long moment, Q wary, still remembering the hard hand locked over his face. Then he’d notice the bit of cookie trapped in the Alec’s beak, and the entreating look in his gleaming black eyes. Seeing a victory, Alec would step forward until he was right at James’s flank to deposit the offering in front of Q - and the hunger in Q’s eyes would give him away before he even made a little throaty noise of acceptance.
And then James would say, voice sleep-thick but quite awake, “Getting crumbs in my bed is one thing, but getting crumbs on me is quite another matter. You’re lucky I’m too tired to care.”
While Q would look faintly embarrassed (but still tempted by the piece of cookie before his white-tipped paw), Alec would croak out a raven’s gruff laugh then launch himself into the air again. James would grimace and turned his head a little without opening his eyes, feeling feathers on his face and the raven’s weight depressing his pillow.
Ultimately, James would go back to sleep with black feathers against his blond hair, forgetting about crumbs or secrets or half-hearted threats. Q would decide that Alec was forgiven and also give in and eat the cookie in one neat, kitten-sized bite - and just maybe lick up the last crumbs with a rough lathe of his tongue that would make James twitch in his sleep and Alec seem to smile.
Without secrets in the air anymore, the distance between the three young men would seem to shrink until there was nothing between them but the light snores of one weary Telepath, a genius cat patched all in white-on-black, and a raven as gleaming black as obsidian.