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Nodus Tollens

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Planes were unbearable, but really, voyage by sea wasn’t much better – Quinlen Fluke hated both, to varying degrees. As he disembarked on French soil, the boffin wobbled on his accursed ‘sea legs’ and leaned up against his rolling luggage. Others going from ship to land giggle at him, and he put on a weak smile and waved gamely back. By now he had ‘tourist’ written all over him in neon, but at least he was finally on vacation.

For a workaholic like Quinlen, his hatred for traveling wasn’t much of a hindrance until he truly got stir-crazy. Working for the technical help department eventually got pretty dull, even when he now fixed gadgetry within the vaunted halls of MI6. Just thinking about his new job at Q-branch made Quinlen’s heart to an excited little flip – he’d only just been working at MI6 long enough to warrant vacation time, and was both relieved and secretly sad that he didn’t know enough about MI6 business to warrant excess watching now that he was out in the world. When he’d gotten the job at MI6, he’d had unrealistic ideas of decoding encrypted messages, engineering the downfall of evil criminal organizations, and being involved in undercover espionage. Instead, he did a lot of troubleshooting when computers stopped working – a lot of the times in the accounting department, which must have been manned by the technologically incompetent.

Then again, compared to Quinlen, most people were.

So here he was. All of the ‘I promise not to talk about my job’ paperwork signed, all of his things packed, and finally away from London and work. He had a hotel room booked in Paris, and even a few fun events to go to in the next week. All of his fellow IT friends had laughed and joked at his inability to leave work, but now Quinlen thought that he was ready to just take a breather. He’d just about given himself carpal tunnel last week and computer-screen blindness, so he figured he deserved some relaxation.

Snugging his layers of coat and windbreaker tight against the chill autumn weather, Quinlen regained his equilibrium from being on the boat, and strode purposefully off to find a taxi.

~^~

“This vacation business isn’t half bad,” he murmured to himself, approaching the Salle Gaveau and clutching his concert tickets close. Everyone was flowing in, a leisurely river of humanity eager to listen to Russian piano virtuoso Alexander Paley. Quinlen himself wasn’t precisely an expert on the matter, but he enjoyed classical music, and when the opportunity arose to get these tickets, he’d jumped on it.

He had also possibly done a bit of hacking to make sure that he got floor seats up near the stage.

The hotel room was nice and the wifi was passably fast. If Quinlen had been planning to do a bit of hacking this week (which he was not), it would quickly become a bother, but he’d come here to just enjoy himself. Therefore, Quinlen was carrying the minimum amount of technology on him as he now slid into his seat, struggling to get his coat off. “Bugger all,” he groused, finally wriggling his arms loose without elbowing anyone else. He almost dropped his messenger bag in the process, but managed to maneuver it onto his lap. Someone dressed officially in the aisle eyed him disapprovingly, but Quinlen waved him off with his most benign smile, making little hand motions that hopefully indicated that he had no plans to take pictures or cause any ruckus. The usher narrowed his eyes at the smaller man a bit longer before nodding and walking off to get everyone else settled for the concert.

Then, in a show of expediency rarely seen before concerts or shows, everything was getting under way. The house lights went down, Alexander Paley with his serious complexion stepped out and settled at the piano under tasteful blue lighting, and Quinlen breathed out a little sigh of contentment as music filled the hall right up to the balconies. It rang out beautifully, with nary an echo out of place, so that if Quinlen just closed his eyes he could almost see it like a pulsing, multi-colored ocean…

The music stopped like a severed head and Quinlen snapped his eyes open, hearing the staccato bark of gunshots. He immediately jumped up like everyone else around him, and only a quick grab of his hands kept him from dumping his messenger bag again. The young techie’s eyes widened as he stared ahead of him to see Paley swiftly exiting the stage, clearing the way for a balding man in a red shirt and denim jacket to come barreling across the stage. Split seconds later, a second man followed: slightly taller, clearly honed with muscle beneath an impeccable ash-grey suit, blond-haired. It was him that the gunshots were coming from. Quinlen had a second to register a bolt of visceral, almost surreal fear before the whole crowd bolted, and it was all the boffin could do to keep up with the stampede.

For a heart-stopping blur of time, it was all he could do to keep on his feet and keep his glasses on his face as people screamed and jostled, trying to run full-pelt in a room so cramped that only shoving and shuffling was possible. Thankfully, Quinlen’s floor seating put him closer to the exits, and he was being spat out into the street a few moments later. The air was crisp and cool, reminding him that he’d left his coat behind, and was still filled with the sounds of screaming and shouting. At least the gunshots had disappeared like lethal ghosts.

Until another one rang out.

It was instinct to run, as deep and animal as the kind of fear that made a person back away from fire or lightning. Not giving it a second thought, Quinlen took to his heels, calculating how far he’d have to go to actually grab a cab – the nearby ones were already being filled with frightened people. Anyone not fighting for a cab was standing in the way and staring like a whole herd of deer in the headlights, but Quinlen wasn’t foolish enough to do that. If there were gunshots, he wanted to be out of range and preferably within a metal vehicle.

Lamenting the loss of his coat, the dark-haired young man scurried down the street, trying to do nothing more at the moment than move away from the chaos. His single-minded movement paid off a few minutes later as he finally managed to hail a taxi that no one else was trying to get into yet. Quinlen slid in, taking a deep breath as he finally escaped the insanity. “So much for a calm vacation,” he said, not caring if the driver heard him.

The man was just turning around, asking, “Qu’est-ce que vous disez?” when suddenly his own door was yanked open, and there was much yelling in French followed by heavy hands grabbing the driver and bodily removing him. Quite before Quinlen could even react, the balding man from the concert stage was replacing the cab driver. Said driver was still yelling from the other side of the door when the vehicle was slammed into gear and peeled away from the curb.

Quinlen was still in the backseat, unnoticed and quite horrified. “Hey!” he yelled, grabbing the door handle but realizing that they were already moving too fast for him to think about leaping out – maybe a more daring soul would have, but Quinlen liked all of his pieces intact.

The car swerved as the fugitive driver jerked a look over his shoulder, wide-eyed to find that he had a passenger. Then he apparently decided that it didn’t matter, because he stepped on the gas again, and took off down a side-street to avoid the traffic.

“Hey! You can’t do this!” Quinlen yelled, and then, after a pause to collect his adrenalin-shot wits, repeated the phrase in French in case he wasn’t being understood. Languages were a pet hobby of his (along with about a million other technological things), but he’d never considered using what he’d learned in a situation like this. “Let me out!”

Quinlen nearly got his wish as the driver suddenly slammed on his breaks to avoid a car stopped in front of him – having not thought to buckle his seatbelt, though, Quinlen was thrown forward, and felt a crunch of pain in his left wrist. The technician cried out and crumpled over against the back of the passenger seat. His messenger bag fell down onto the floor next to him with a little thump, and then suddenly the passenger door was being thrown open, too – apparently the red-shirted fugitive hadn’t learned from his own stunts. Now the blond-haired gunman was back, too, lunging into the vehicle like a lion.

It all happened in vicious slow motion: the blond-haired man had his gun drawn, but instead of firing it, he pinned the other man against the door, pushing the gun under the balding man’s jowls. “All right, now would be the time to talk. To be frank, I’m hoping you don’t, because after making me chase you across the whole bloody city, I just want to put bullets in you,” the blond gunman growled menacingly, his threats unrepentant.

The balding man snarled back, but his accented voice sounded desperate even to Quinlen, “I’ll give you nothing!”

“Fine then.” As quickly as that, the blond-haired man switched his gun so that instead of aiming at the man’s throat, it was somewhere lower, out of Quinlen’s range of view. What he could see was the way the balding man’s eyes went horrendously wide, and he actually whimpered, which made Quinlen suspect that the weapon was now pointed down somewhere between his legs. “It’s a small target, but I’ll try not to miss,” was the almost pleasant rejoinder.

At that point, now that he was well and truly trapped with depleted options, the thickset man began babbling. “I do not know much! But I do know that the shipments will be delivered Friday at Warf #33. Go there at 7:00 PM, and you’ll see the drugs you want. That is all I can tell you!” The balding man was trying to reach behind his back subtly for the door-handle, but it was hard to tell from Quinlen’s position.

Eyes like laser sights saw the effort, and in a smooth, unhesitant motion, the blond-haired man raised the gun up to chest-level. His prey’s eyes widened, but then there was a torrent of movement and the two men were grappling.  Just as Quinlen thought he saw the balding man slide something from the waistband of his pants, the blond-haired gunman grew grim and almost scarily calm.  Then his gun moved, as easily as poetry.  Raise. Shoot. Lower. As quickly as that, and Quinlen was seeing a dead body. The blond-haired man hadn’t even noticed Quinlen’s presence yet, and no more than two minutes had passed.

Things were happening too fast. Shocked at the realization that he’d just witnessed cold-blooded murder from scant feet away, and had heard information he shouldn’t have besides, Quinlen couldn’t move, and didn’t dare make a peep. The blond-haired gunmen, from this close, looked like frigid determination personified, with an expression that was as flat and hard as if chiseled from stone. He hadn’t even flinched when depressing the trigger, or when there had been the thunk of the bullet burying itself in the door. His lack of remorse was chilling. Now the gunman moved with the efficiency of much practice – not to mention a helluva lot of strength – to drag his victim over to his side of the car, freeing up the driver’s side for himself. “Bloody…” the gunman growled, letting the words trail off as he eyed where the bullet had ended up. There would no doubt be people coming to see what was wrong soon.

Quinlen got himself moving right then. He might have been slow to react before, but the shock had worn off like a shot of alcohol becoming a slow burn in his veins, letting him think. He lurched for his door, and probably would have made it out if not for two things: one, he still had his messenger bag strapped over his neck and shoulder, and the bag itself had gotten wedged under the seat when they’d stopped, and two, his left arm chose then to remember that he’d damaged it. The slender young man yelped and swore as his attempts were stymied by circumstance.

Immediately, in a repeat of two minutes earlier with the other wrongful driver, the gunman swiveled around. Blue eyes like pale chips of glass widened in surprise before realization set in. Quite suddenly, Quinlen realized that he was a witness.

Quinlen sensed more than saw the gun suddenly aimed in his direction, a lethal presence zoning in on him. The dark-haired man froze, his good right hand on the door handle, his left hovering over where it had been fumbling painfully with his blasted messenger bag. Fear curdled in his stomach and made him want to disappear into nothing as a low and lethal voice ordered him levelly, “Just take your hand off that door, nice and easy.”

Although Quinlen’s voice shook, somehow it was still coming out of his mouth, brittle and cutting like shale. “And what? You’ll shoot me?”

“I’ll sure as hell shoot you if you don’t do as I say. So be smart, and you’ll live that much longer,” was the answering growl. Tension had entered it.

The only thing that Quinlen knew for certain was that this man was entirely serious, and in this close range, there was no way for him to miss. Taking in a deep, shuddering breath, the boffin pulled his hand back, and then slowly settled back into his seat. He mutely regarded the gun now aimed at his chest, thinking of the deceased body in the front seat that had faced this weapon only seconds ago. Quinlen’s heart tried to beat its way out of his chest.

Blue eyes narrowed and a muscle flicking in his cheek, the blond-haired man glared past his gun, clearly unprepared for this eventuality and not liking it. Even if Quinlen had never heard of MI6 in his life, he would have known what happened to random strangers who heard about drug deliveries at random docks – if the blond-haired man was willing to chase a man down and shoot him for that information, he wouldn’t stop to silence a second person. Quinlen didn’t have it in him to ask again what his fate was, so he physically sagged in relief when the gun was withdrawn. Quinlen tugged his messenger bag free to return it to his lap, and received a sharp warning for his troubles, “Try anything else, and you’ll get a bullet in your leg. Move too quickly towards me, and you get one in your skull. This is the only time I’m going to warn you, and I will shoot you.” He turn forward and got the car moving again, swiftly returning to traffic and once again making it impossible for Quinlen to just leap safely out. Even if he were reckless enough to find jumping from a moving vehicle appetizing (and he was learning swiftly that he wasn’t, unfortunately), there was the memory of that gun and the body now bloodying up the passenger seat. The blond-haired man was probably twice his weight in muscle, but clearly fast, especially with his weapon. “Buckle up,” the gunman ordered almost disinterestedly, glancing edgily at him in the rearview mirror and scowling.

While Quinlen was about as far from brash as anyone could get, the driver was the opposite: soon they were sweeping through traffic as if driving laws didn’t exist. In fact, a few times it seemed that physics didn’t either, and Quinlen was forced to scramble to get the strap buckled across his torso. “So you’re not going to shoot me – but you’re going to kill me with the car?!” Quinlen gasped spontaneously, gripping at the door and the seat and forgetting entirely his damaged wrist. They jumped the curb and nearly took out a dog-walker before reentering traffic again.

“If you’d prefer the other, I’d be happy to oblige,” the larger man retorted through gritted teeth.

Quinlen forced himself to be silent. Gulping as they dodged what was clearly a police vehicle, Quinlen’s counted off seconds in his head, because he was shocked with every new one they lived through – or, more specifically, that he lived through. Already, somewhere behind the fear and adrenaline, a part of Quinlen was screaming that this was not what he’d signed up for.

“Shit,” the gunman hissed as another police vehicle swerved in front of them, blocking their path. For a wondrous second – second number 143, counted off as evenly as clockwork – Quinlen thought that salvation might be at hand. It would take but a moment to explain what had happened, and that he had nothing to do with his madman except being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then Quinlen would be effectively safe and free.

Suddenly, the blond-haired killer in the front seat made up his mind about something, and he stepped on the gas instead of slowing down. Before Quinlen could so much as say “Holy shit!” they were picking up speed and devouring the road as if this were a racecar instead of a taxi. The crunch as they hit the nose of the police car radiated through the body of the taxi, and Quinlen slammed his eyes closed and gritted his teeth against the fearful crash.

“Barricade that,” the gunman muttered with grim challenge in his voice as he just kept moving. He’d aimed well: instead of just totaling his stolen car, he’d hit the nose of the police vehicle, twisting it out of his way just enough to slip on past with a nasty grinding sound of metal on metal. By now, Quinlen could hear all sorts of people shouting and yelling at them from outside, and he wanted nothing more than to shout back that he was not involved. Actually, he wanted nothing more than to wake up and find out that this was all a very bad and elaborate dream.

“You’re a lunatic!” he found himself accusing breathlessly, straightening out his glasses with a shaking hand. He found hysteria rising like a fizzing sensation in his veins. “An absolute, fucking lunatic!”

“Sure, now you raise your voice, when I’m too busy driving to point a gun at you,” the other man snapped back, irritable but on-task. He kept driving at an unhealthy speed with only a quick glance back to check that his prisoner/hostage was still as he’d left him. He took a hard right that sent him right into oncoming traffic, and Quinlen was sure that they’d die – as it was, he himself nearly had a heart-attack, but they ended up somehow avoiding oncoming traffic long enough to slip down another street. This one was less populated, and the gunman nearly ran the beaten taxi up onto the curb to park it. Instantly, he was out the door and opening up the backdoor just behind the driver’s seat. “Get out,” he ordered, the beckoning muzzle of his gun providing the added emphasis to hurry Quinlen along. Heart tight and painful in his throat, Quinlen scooted reluctantly closer, and his upper arm was grabbed as soon as it was within reach.

The blond-haired man was just as strong as he looked, and Quinlen felt like a toy as he was dragged along. “No, no noise,” was the immediate, calm warning almost before the smaller man had opened his mouth. “Let’s keep in mind that I’m still the armed one here.” They were already circling around the car and heading down the pavement, which was so abandoned that it was almost eerie after the noise of the car-chase. Quinlen yelped as he was pushed against a little white car, but quickly remember the order to be quiet as he saw the gun, pointed at the ground but still near him. One hand now free, the larger man fished something out of his pocket and jammed it into the car’s lock, and there was a rapid clicking noise. Despite the circumstances, Quinlen found curiosity rising up in him, but just as he was leaning to get a better look, the shooter glanced at him. One pale eyebrow raised in a faintly challenging fashion, and then the door popped open. “Get in. Go.”

“Please, I don’t actually know enough to be trouble. If you just-”

“I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t have time for it. Now get in.”

The techie did as he was told as a strong hand pushed him down and in. “No, guess I didn’t think that would work anyway,” he sighed to himself, and was subsequently ignored. The larger man followed him into the car quickly enough that there was really no option of escaping out the far door.

Immediately, the gunman began a quick search of the car, pulling out cup holders, CD compartments, and even reaching past Quinlen into the glove compartment. In the overhead visor, he found what he was looking for, and grinned. “Spare keys,” he murmured appreciatively and with a shake of his head at whoever was foolish enough (or altruistic enough) to hide keys where someone else could find them. Losing the smile and growing wary again, he glanced over at Quinlen, who eyed him with tense, alert green eyes in return. “Different car, same rules,” he informed the smaller man briefly, showing with a flick of his jacket that he’d stowed his handgun within easy reach.

While the fear of being kidnapped hadn’t exactly worn off, now that Quinlen was removed from the utter chaos of the car chase, he felt as though he had room to think a bit. Of course, that meant he just had more opportunity to think about how bad a situation this was and how much he wanted to get out of it. In an effort to fix this problem, he wet his lips and said quickly as the gunman started up this new stolen car, “Look, whatever is going on, I have – and want – nothing to do with it, and it would be better for all involved if you just let me go.”

The car came to life with a healthy purr. “Believe me, I hate this situation as much as you do,” the gunman grunted.

“Good, then we’re in agreement. I’ll just leave now-” Quinlen froze with his hand on the door and let out a breath that was almost a whine when he heard the click of a gun safety right behind his head. He’d just turned away to make his exit, but now realized that there was no hope in that course of action.

There was a sigh that sounded half like an irked growl, but finally the gunman spoke, “I’m sorry, but I can’t just let you leave.”

Quinlen still didn’t dare move from where he was facing the door, the presence of the gun like a chill behind him. “Why? I don’t know anything.”

“You do. Clearly you’re not deaf, and you were most definitely in the car listening when I learned about the drug delivery,” the gunman argued back sensibly. When something touched Quinlen’s shoulder, he jumped horribly and bit his lip, but the gun must have been removed – it was only a hand gripping his sleeve to turn him back around and then push him back against his seat. “So put on your seatbelt, sit back, and relax – and don’t touch that door-handle again.”

At least the blond-haired shooter wasn’t angry. Quinlen reminded himself that a calm captor was at least less likely to fly off the handle and plug him full of bullets, and he clung to that small assurance of safety like a lifeline. Hands shaking, he once again buckled in, and fisted his hands on top of the messenger bag he was still carrying. His phone was still in his coat pocket, he realized suddenly – left in his seat at the Salle Gaveau. That knowledge hit him like a punch to the sternum, and suddenly he was lamenting the loss of his coat for more reasons than it made him cold right now. All he had in his messenger bag were his iPad, MP3-player, and maps, as well as his wallet – things that were either too unwieldy to use for sending a call for help, or utterly useless in that respect. Feeling more defeated than before, he thumped his head back against the seat and sighed while his captor pulled away from the curb and began driving. By how quickly he moved them along, he knew that pursuit couldn’t be far behind. “We’re going to trade cars again soon,” the gunman informed unexpectedly.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not getting comfortable.”

“Just don’t get any smart ideas about running or calling attention to yourself,” was the implacable end of the conversation, and with that, they were back in traffic again. Quinlen’s wrist was throbbing, and now that he stopped to look, it appeared swollen.

Great. Just his luck. Not only had his vacation ended in overhearing criminal – or at least sensitive – information, but he’d possibly gotten a broken wrist in the bargain.  Now he was sharing space with a coldblooded killer and well on his way to being an accessory to car theft.

Multiple car thefts, at this rate.

They drove in tense silence, Quinlen trying to become invisible and think of a plan for escaping alive.  The gunman was driving less insanely but no less defensively, slipping deftly through traffic and putting distance between this car and their last.  “You realize that when they find that car with the body in it, it will be all over,” Quinlen made himself say, keeping his voice level and his eyes forward.  He sensed more than saw the blond-haired man’s attention switch to him, heavy like the heat of a fire as the wind shifted.  Quinlen closed his eyes deeply and took in a steadying breath.  “You shot a man for no reason.  Don’t make it worse for yourself.”

“What’s your name?” the driver shot back unexpectedly instead of addressing any of Quinlen’s words.  It was an almost flippant question, idly curious.  It caught the boffin off-guard, and she spun to stare at the gunman’s rugged profile.

“Q-Quinlen,” he answered shakily.

“Hmm,” the gunman hummed, nodding.  “Quinlen, I think you should stop talking about things you know nothing about,” was the more vexed response, “Although, for the record, I had a reason.”

Apparently now that his mouth was moving, stopping it was a problem, because Quinlen narrowed his eyes fractionally and challenged quietly, “Really?”

Pale blue eyes slashed his way, a little surprised and a lot irritated (which should have worried Quinlen), but before he could answer, the driver caught sight of something in his rearview mirror and his expression soured more.  “Shit.”  He picked up speed.

“What?” Quinlen asked, twisting a little to look back.  He wasn’t precisely part of his criminal enterprise, but for a split-second he felt the same sort of nervousness that would probably be felt by an escaping convict sensing pursuit.

“You ask an awful lot of questions.”

They were racing through traffic yet again, eliciting a lot of honking horns and squealing brakes, but this time Quinlen couldn’t see any police vehicles, which puzzled him.  Having been berated just now on his constant queries, the smaller man kept his words behind his teeth this time, but he couldn’t help but wonder who they were running from now.  Maybe he just couldn’t identify the official vehicles?

“Gun!” Quinlen yelled suddenly, the words popping impulsively out of his mouth, followed by two more words that were probably more useful, “Red car!”

Although if he’d had more time to think about it at a leisurely pace, the bespectacled young man would perhaps have reconsidered giving tactical information to his own kidnapper.  Did this count as aiding and abetting?  Barely seconds later and Quinlen wasn’t questioning his decision any longer, as the blond-haired man caught sight of the indicated car and swerved – a bullet thudded into the body of their car somewhere.  More swearing from the gunman.  More irate drivers trying not to end up in a wreck as Quinlen and his lethal companion zigzagged as if this were an obstacle course and not a busy road.  More bullets followed them.  ‘Those are not the police,’ Quinlen labeled in the part of his head that wasn’t exploding with fright.  Another bullet shattered the rear, driver’s side window.

Through all of this, the gunman in Quinlen’s car was remarkably calm, like he did this every other day.  His jaw was set in a hard line and his whole body was tense, but he maneuvered the car ferociously through traffic, making impossible turns and near-misses look almost easy.  When there was a thud somewhere that made the whole car jerk, and suddenly Quinlen’s kidnapper looked ten times more annoyed.  The car grew exponentially harder to control after that, but the gunman still managed to make a sharp right that their pursuer couldn’t keep up with.  “It just couldn’t be easy,” the blond-haired man growled as he parked the car clumsily.  Although Quinlen specialized in more detailed electronics, he knew enough about cars to be sure that something had been seriously broken in this one – which hopefully meant that his kidnapper couldn’t run him down with the car if Quinlen made a break for it…

Quinlen was pushing his door open and bolting as soon as he could, hearing curses behind him that were almost as sharp as knives themselves.  Not sparing time or breath to make a bunch of noise, Quinlen just ran, hoping that the killer wouldn’t follow him into a crowd.  Unlike last time, when the gunman had apparently chosen his parking location at leisure, they were in a fairly populated spot, and Quinlen dashed for where he heard the most speaking.  He had to clutch his bag awkwardly to keep it from bouncing against his leg, his left wrist still hurt, and now he was cold without his coat and out of breath – but at least he was free, which felt spectacular for all of two minutes.  Then something wrapped like steel around his right bicep, and Quinlen was pulled to an abrupt and complete halt with a little ‘Urrk!’ noise of surprise.  He was in a crowd of people by this point, but before he could drag in a much-needed breath to call for help, he felt a sharp pain on his ribs just to the right of his lower spine.

“One noise, and we’re going to no longer get along,” the words came with an annoyed, gravel edge directly into Quinlen’s ear.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Quinlen’s split-second response was to mutter truthfully, “I hate you.”

Fortunately, all the gunman cared was that the sentence was quiet.  With a gun poking at him, Quinlen wasn’t about to yell like he so dearly wanted to.  He did, however, glance around desperately in the hopes that someone had noticed what was happening, but apparently the gun was hidden between their bodies, and the sight of tourists running around wasn’t worthy of attention.  The gunmen, when Quinlen twisted his head around to stare (glare, really), was actually smiling the most benign smile ever invented at passersby.

“Now, if you don’t want to get shot, I’d kindly suggest you walk with me,” the gunmen went on between teeth clenched in a smile.  Quinlen shuddered and went tense as the larger man shifted around him, maintaining close contact while solidifying his grip.  The gun, surprisingly, was tucked away, although the blond-haired man immediately added in a murmur, “I can get that back out in seconds, if you’re wondering.”

“Fantastic,” Quinlen snarked as a knee-jerk response, then grudgingly began to walk forward as the arm wrapped around his back bade him to.  They began moving through the crowd like fast friends, albeit a slightly winded one on Quinlen’s part – unfairly, the blond-haired man was barely out of breath.  Fit as he appeared to be, maybe that shouldn’t have been surprising, especially compared to Quinlen’s sparse frame.

The gunman picked up his pace and forced Quinlen along with him.  “Move, if you don’t want a bullet.”

“You know,” Quinlen hissed, heart-rate ratcheting up, “threatening to kill me really doesn’t convince me not to run.”

“I’m not threatening to kill you, I’m saying that the blokes in the car behind us will likely kill you,” was the growled reply, even as the gunmen looked back over both their shoulders, the weak sunlight catching his short hair and turning it to a hard, metallic gold.  “Just so we’re clear,” he continued to mutter as he sped them along, Quinlen nearly trotting to keep pace, “I’d love to just let you go, but not only do you know things you shouldn’t, but by now, Santiago’s men have seen you with me.”

Quinlen’s mind put things together quickly, and he whipped his head around to affix his impromptu companion with a horrified look.  “They think that I’m with you?!”

The blond-haired gunman turned slightly to meet Quinlen’s look, but instead of being offended, he flashed a slow and sensual grin.  “Well, you might not be my usual catch, but it’s not beyond belief.”

That Quinlen was a bit slower to follow, and then when he caught the undertone of intimacy he nearly skittered away with an offended noise.  The muscular arm around his ribcage and locked onto his left upper arm kept him from getting far.  “Easy there, Q.”

“It’s Quinlen, not ‘Q’.”

Instead of continuing the argument, the larger man steered Quinlen sharply to the right, nearly making him stumble as they wove through a thick crowd.  Feeling increased tension in the muscular frame against him, Quinlen looked around, and just noticed someone else a ways behind them doing his best imitation of a hunting hound: moving alertly, head swivel as he clearly scanned the crowd.  Quinlen only got a quick looked before he was being dragged along again, a quick sideways movement that pulled them into another bunch of people like fishes switching currents.  Then they slowed.

“I thought you said gunmen were after us?” Quinlen deadpanned dryly under his breath as they carried on at an almost lazy pace.

“Well spotted,” was the drawled reply, but at least the blond-haired man continued, “and they’ll notice us ten times faster if we’re running and making a scene.”  Steadily, the crowd was swallowing them, a mass of humanity that was both smoke and shield – hiding and standing between them and danger.  Of course, part of the danger was right there, pressed against Quinlen’s side and also providing just about the only warmth he had right now.  The chill autumn air was biting, but at least Quinlen had a button-down beneath his cardigan.

The gunman apparently saw something ahead of him he didn’t like either, because he suddenly growled and they swerved again, Quinlen swearing softly this time as he was nearly tripped by the swift change in direction.  This man had the light footing of a housecat even if he was built like a lion, and he took Quinlen’s weight easily when the smaller man stumbled.  He pulled them both to a quick stop at an open-air coffee-shop, the smell of coffee beans and vanilla curling through the air around them.  The gunman used the momentary pause in motion to dig into his jacket with his free hand, pulling out a phone.

Said phone was rather worse for wear, Quinlen could tell instantly.  In fact, it looked like perhaps it had been run through a particularly vindictive washing machine, and no amount of button-pushing got its screen to light up.  “Damn.”  The gunman put the phone back in his pocket, although he looked like he wanted to toss it across the street in frustration.  Quinlen felt a mean-spirited little thrill of pleasure at his kidnapper’s loss, and turned his head to hide his small smile.  He got his feet in motion again as he was once more prodded to.

Of course, as soon as his compliance led to a loosening in the hand around his upper arm, Quinlen got his feet moving faster than ever and miraculously slipped free, ducking into the first open door he saw.  He heard a snarl behind him and actually felt the hand that tried to regain hold of him, missing by so little that the air was rustled at Quinlen’s nape.  Then Quinlen was exploding into a kitchen, swerving around a cook and a waitress and nearly slewing into a stove as he did so.  “Stop him!” the gunman’s roar filled the area so fully that Quinlen flinched, and the adrenalin kick to his system was like a punch in the Solar Plexus.

“Don’t stop me, stop him!” Quinlen yelled back, voice less intimidating but no less sharp as he skidded around a cook, who was wielding broccoli and a knife.  The floor wasn’t doing his shoes any favors, and he kept slipping like a dog on linoleum.  “This is just not my day…!” he hissed furiously to himself as he came to another door and swung it open, only to find himself in darkness.  He’d been moving so quickly and frantically that only now did he realize that the doorknob had been less of a knob and more of a latch…  

Quinlen spun around to retreat only to find broad shoulders and blond hair in the doorway, slamming the door shut on him again.  

Quinlen pounded on it in the pitch black (careful to use his good limb only), feeling like the most witless of idiots for getting himself locked in a freezer less than five minutes after getting free.  “Let me out!!” he roared, not sure if he was talking to the gunman or to the cooks, but he quickly switched to the latter to implore, “He’s a killer!  An assassin!  I saw him shoot someone and now he wants to do the same to me!”  He wasn’t entirely sure that was true, but it was as good a thing to yell as any.  Already Quinlen was getting colder, and he didn’t want to think that he’d finally convinced the blue-eyed man that murdering him was easier than dragging him along on this chase.  This was not how he wanted to die.  He pounded harder on the door and strained his voice as valiantly as he could, “Call the police!”  If these people only spoke French, he’d be in trouble, because his language skills felt like they were scattered to the winds, what with the panic rattling in his head like a downed power line.  Still, he repeated some key phrases in very passable French before finally falling silent, wondering what was happening.  Had the gunman already shot everyone in there?  Was there anyone left to call for help?  Or let Quinlen out?  It was too dark, but he could all but feel his breath pluming in front of him, a deathly chill cloud.

Now that he was quiet, he could hear voices – French, but he could understand some of it.  He could hear the by-now-familiar tones of the blond-haired killer, presently smooth and incredibly charming-sounding.  Quinlen listened and translated long enough to hear something about Quinlen having taken bad drugs…  “Hey!  Don’t listen to him!  Ne l’écoutez pas!”

Merci,” he heard the gunman say, and then the door was opening, and Quinlen stumbled quickly back.  This wasn’t good at all.  Clearly, his captor was not only an accomplished gunman, but an accomplished liar, because the people in the kitchen were merely standing back and watching curiously, no help in sight.  Quinlen stubbornly dragged his eyes back to the blond-haired man, scowling at him and backing up further.  A few glances around him said that there wasn’t a lot in here that could be used as a weapon, but he spotted a few frozen entrees that could be turned into projectile weapons.

“If you throw a frozen chicken at me, I swear to God I’ll ask these nice cooks if they’ll keep you in here awhile to improve your temperament,” the gunman threatened smoothly, and some of the people behind him actually giggled.

“They think you’re joking,” Quinlen retorted as bitterly and humorlessly as he knew how, a short snarl of noise.  There didn’t seem much more point in calling out if everyone was convinced that he was off his head on drugs.

The gunman merely smirked a crooked smirk, a handsome expression on his rugged face, even if his eyes remained as flat and snide as his voice as he addressed Quinlen alone, “Maybe I am.”  He stepped further in, but Quinlen noticed that he kept a wary eye out for anyone shutting him in.  The smaller man backed up further.  “Do you really want to take the chance?”

“Die of hypothermia in a walk-in freezer…or you shoot me.”  Quinlen pretended to weight the odds, even as he felt his hysteria rise up, because he couldn’t see a good way out of this.  “Wow, I wonder why I can’t make up my mind?”

By now, Quinlen had reached the back of the freezer, his shoulder-blades bumping up against cold shelving.  He tensed but couldn’t move anywhere else as the gunman approached to just a pace away, staring at him impassively, watching the smaller man start to shiver.  Finally, the gunman cocked an eyebrow.  “Ready to come out?”

“No.”

“I’ve bribed the cooking staff.  They don’t actually believe that you’re insane, although it’s a good cover-story.”

Somehow, that deflated the last of Quinlen’s hopes as efficiently as a pin into a balloon, and he sagged a bit.  “You’re a psychopath, you know that, right?” he snapped exhaustedly and without much bite.

The other man’s mouth twisted downwards in a grimace, but he reached out gently enough to once again grab Quinlen’s upper arm.  “It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you’re probably rather right.”  Quinlen blinked in confusion, having never heard someone accept that kind of assessment in such a way.  He allowed himself to be pulled away from the wall (away from the throwable frozen things), and tucked into the same position he’d been in before, only now the gunman’s body-heat felt like a kiln and it was just about the most wonderful thing Quinlen had ever felt, and he nearly groaned and folded into him.  He wondered if Stockholm Syndrome could set in more quickly when heat was used as a strategic incentive.

With another smooth thank-you in French, the gunman herded Quinlen out, and another large bill changed hands.  Everyone seemed to be finding better things to do in distant parts of the kitchen, stoically moving away from the two foreigners, who actually stopped just before leaving.  Quinlen yelped in protest as his right arm was tugged away from his body, and suddenly an honest-to-God handcuff was being snapped onto his good wrist.  The other went around the gunman’s left.

“I’m sick and tired of you bolting, and if this is what it takes to keep you with me-” the blond man stated bluntly, leveling Quinlen with a look that said he truly liked this about as much as the smaller man did.  It was a look that could have melted lead.  “-Then this is what we’re going to do.  Now keep up.”  He jerked both of their sleeves so that they covered the dull silver of the cuffs, and then grabbed Quinlen’s unwilling hand in a crushingly tight fist.  While Quinlen was still gaping at him, he turned and pulled them back into the opening again, glancing out warily while he got two hazel, outraged eyes burning holes in the back of his head.

It was just his luck that Quinlen got the kidnapper whose mood was actually improved by handcuffs – or maybe it was just because this little detour had actually managed to shake their pursuers.  Either way, Quinlen was still cold and now he had to deal with a highly amused man who was physically attached to him at the wrist.  He tried to wriggle his hand free to just walk next to the gunman, with no hand-holding, but that didn’t work.

“Come on, Q, crack a smile,” the gunman teased, far too amused by all of this.  He was striding along with easy confidence, and now smirking at his unwilling companion as he finished optimistically, “You didn’t end up stuck in a freezer.  Quite a win, I’d say.”

“You’re a comedian,” the smaller man griped, shivering.  He added as an irked afterthought, “And stop calling me ‘Q’.”

“Right.  Quinlen,” the gunman corrected without actually seeming all that repentant.  His blue eyes were scanning the crowd again, and unexpectedly he shifted their connected hands, making Quinlen squeak in surprise even as a muscular arm looped around behind his back.  Now their hands were linked in front of Quinlen’s middle, like two lovers out for a stroll.  “Do you want to be embarrassed, or do you want to get shot?” the gunman snapped under his breath as the smaller man wriggled.

Starting to actually get used to the threats (which said something about his emotional state right now, no doubt), the boffin huffed out a sigh and settled, although he couldn’t do a bloody thing about the flush rising up his face.  The close proximity was unsettling, and he could feel the gun holster under his companion’s jacket.  Fortunately, he could also feel his body-heat again.  “Is this you threatening to shoot me, or should I still worry about those blokes following us taking a shot at me?” he asked in a deadpanned voice, shivering as a wind cut through his clothing.  

Either unconsciously or in a reflexive response to the minute shudder, the gunman’s arm tightened around him for a moment. Heat seeped into Quinlen’s skin while the blond-haired man continued to watchfully take in everything around them, face a perfect, pleasant mask.  “The second.  I told you already that I don’t like this any more than you do.”

“Did you?  Hm.  That must have gotten lost in translation somewhere, right about when you told people that I was high on drugs.”

Glacial eyes snapped back to his, a frown evident but also a certain amount of flummoxed surprise.  “You’ve got a real smart mouth on you.  Has anyone told you that?”

Ironically, no.  Usually, Quinlen was like any other computer nerd in the lower ranks of MI6: quiet, efficient, and decidedly unlikely to talk back.  He was a bit disturbed that getting kidnapped was the sort of thing to apparently turn off his common-sense while also turning on his mouth.  Fear cramping into a hard knot at the bottom of his stomach and leaving a sour taste in his mouth, Quinlen turned his head away, lips pursed to make it clear that he had no intention of continuing the conversation.

With arms looped around him, Quinlen got to continue his walk in the deepening gloom.  There were still a lot of people out, but with every stretching shadow, Quinlen realized that the chances of anyone noticing something amiss would lessen - shadows hid a lot of things.  Quinlen didn’t have to be a criminal to know that.  His heart rate began to pick up despite his best attempts to stay calm, the darkness making him increasingly blind and increasingly aware of the danger he was in.  ‘You’re okay, you’re okay...’ he repeated to himself in the confines of his head, and somehow managed to at least not do anything stupid.  Running away was clearly out of the question at this point, and he hadn’t exactly been spoiled with options even before then.  At his side, the gunman kept moving along, looking so natural and relaxed that even Quinlen had eerie little moments where he believed the fond and doting look on the dangerous man’s face.  When no one was looking, and once the night got deep enough, the look faded, leaving a calm blankness that was almost more worrisome than the utter lie the gunman had been wearing earlier.  

When they approached what Quinlen recognized belatedly as a hotel (by now he was thoroughly lost on top of everything else, although his photographic memory meant that he’d probably be able to wind his way back pretty well...if it weren’t so bloody dark and cold out), the facade returned, although the smile had a jaded sort of edge.  “Look alive, Q.  Time for a bit of acting,” the man murmured, jostling Quinlen like he was giving him a joking hug.

The smaller man’s eyes widened with alarm before setting into a very, very worried scowl.  “Acting?  What are you bloody going on about now?”

“Let me say this clearly,” the gunman dropped the act of friendliness for a second, and Quinlen was faced with tired, tense, deeply displeased eyes.  It was shocking to see the true expression that had been tucked away so perfectly until now beneath layer upon competent, seamless layer of lies.  “The better you play along, the better you and I get along.  Now, we’re going to go inside-”

“And you want me to act like this is totally okay with me?” Quinlen mumbled back with resigned realization, leaning away as much as he could with an arm around him and his wrist cuffed.  

“Precisely.”

“And not shout that you’re a kidnapping psychopath who just murdered someone?”

The gunman let out a sigh that sounded more like a growl, and his eyes narrowed further.  “Quinlen, did you say it was?” he clearly took a moment to control his exasperated temper before speaking.

The smaller man was honestly surprised that the gunman remembered.  He’d been blithely shortening his name up until now.  Warily, he replied, “Quinlen Fluke, yes.”

“I don’t know how many ways I can say this, Quinlen, but today you managed to be very much in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the blond-haired man went on, patience thin but somehow still present.  Quinlen could feel through the arm around him that this man had the strength to seriously hurt him, but he hadn’t.  Yet.  “And no matter how much you hate it - no matter how much I hate it, and believe me, I do…”  His voice had dropped to a very sincere growl that had Quinlen clenching his jaw and holding very still.  “You’re stuck with me, doing exactly what I tell you, until Friday.”

And after that?’ the boffin wanted to demand, but the words got lodged in his throat.  Instead, he spent an uncomfortable minute locked in a glaring match with a proven killer, before finally gathering his calm and trying to sound diplomatic, “Fine.  What do you want me to do?”

It was unsettling, the way a crooked smile cracked across that handsome face.  “Play along.”

~^~

It was an older sort of hotel - not seedy, but definitely not new or high-class.  It was also immediately apparent that the gunman had since convinced the woman at the front desk that he was a genuinely nice guy.  Quinlen was beginning to see a pattern.  Said pattern revolved around the fact that this man apparently had a silver tongue and enough charm to infect a whole room - except for Quinlen, who couldn’t forget how he looked with a gun in his hand.

Pulling Quinlen closer and flashing a bright and slightly self-deprecating smile, the gunman meandered towards the front desk.  While Quinlen did his best not to look as though he were just about wrung out from panic and stress, the middle-aged woman smiled fondly and greeted with familiarity, “Monsieur Bond!” finally giving Quinlen a name.

From there, Quinlen had to follow the conversation in French.  The woman was clearly a native, and Bond spoke like he was.  Quinlen’s wasn’t the best judge, but the gunman’s words were smooth and the accent indistinguishable from the woman’s.  He smiled as he spoke, and wove some story about…

Quinlen blinked and balked, twisting his head to stare at the blond-haired man.  Bond had just said they were a couple.

Giggling, the woman noticed Quinlen’s scandalized face, but misinterpreted it - as she was no doubt meant to, because Bond shifted their hands a moment later, revealing a tiny glimpse of the cuffs.  Mischief lit the woman’s eyes, as she asked about it in careful, circuitous questions.  Any hopes that Quinlen had had about someone noticing the handcuffs and being suspicious flew out the window.

In English that still clung to a Parisian accent, Bond flashed an absolutely ravishing smirk, and replied, “Everyone has...how do you say it?  A kink.”  

That made the woman flush but her eyes danced, and before Quinlen could absolutely die of shock and embarrassment, she was shooing them away, her words lost on Quinlen as his brain tangled itself in horrified knots.  He barely noticed, actually, as he was pulled in a little closer and his hand caught in a tight squeeze for a moment - little signs of faked affection between an apparently adventurous couple.  If the woman manning the desk noticed Quinlen’s expression, she probably attributed it to excitement or - god forbid - first-time jitters.  Bond waltzed them out of the room before anything could be done to remove those ideas, and soon they were in the lift.  

Bond started chuckling.

“Oh, yes, you’re hilarious,” Quinlen found it in him to snark, even though his cheeks were still burning.  He wriggled until he wasn’t under the gunman’s arm anymore, but instead standing at the furthest length the handcuff would allow.  Sadly, all that did was make him realize how bloody cold he still was, without actually lessening the mortification.  “Funny how you convinced her we were sexual partners when I didn’t even know your bloody name until two minutes ago.”  He shot an accusing look.  “That’s not even your real name, is it?”

Still smirking like a cat that had eaten the canary, Bond let the smaller man get his distance, unconcerned by the tug on his own wrist.  “It is, actually.  Bond.  James Bond.  Nice to meet you, Quinlen Fluke.”

“You’re a bloody maniac,” Quinlen grumbled, looking away again and fuming a bit.  He still had his bag, and now thought about finally digging around in it, but realized that it was most likely useless.  Any escape attempts would have to wait until he wasn’t a mess of desperation and nerves, and could think a bit.  “And a bloody good liar.”

“Thank you.  I try.”

“Not a compliment.”

Blue eyes slanted cattily Quinlen’s way.  “Loosen up, Q-”

“Quinlen.”

“Quinlen.  Being stuck with me doesn’t have to be horrible, you know,” the other man shrugged.  

The lift dinged as it came to a stop, and Quinlen decided not to even honor that with an answer.  Besides, the comment combined with the little charade at the reception lounge made a new sort of fear spike up the smaller man’s spine, and he had to work to control his breathing while more adrenalin filled his system.  He exited the lift with only slight hesitation, moving before he was tugged.  

Bond had a key, but held Quinlen back a moment as he leaned into the darkened room, demeanor serious again as he glanced around it with eyes that looked accustomed to such searches.  He moved forward carefully, and Quinlen hid his tension as the gun was drawn - but not pointed at him.  When he was apparently sure that nothing untoward was in the room, the door was nudged shut behind them and the gun re-holstered.  It was a simple room, with one bed and minimal furnishings, and a bathroom and closet.  “Well, at least not everything has gone belly-up on this mission.  Santiago’s men haven’t found my room at least,” Bond grumbled as he fished in his pocket for the key to the cuffs, and Quinlen actually sighed with relief.  Being stuck with a murderer was bad no matter how he looked at it, but it was worse when he was handcuffed.  

Unfortunately, the blond-haired man only seemed interested in releasing his own wrist, and then pulled the smaller man forward sharply enough that he stumbled and nearly fell on his face.  There was a sliding snap as the cuff was reattached to the metal head-board that curved in a forgotten fashion at the head of the bed.  “Hey!” Quinlen yelped, aware logically that it was already too late.  Seconds later - before he could recover - deft hands were relieving him of his messenger bag, swiftly moving it, and Bond, out of reach.  Quinlen quivered with exasperation and anger as he glared after him.  “I suppose there’s no point in telling you that that’s mine?”

“None at all,” was the level, flat reply.  Bond was done playing ‘friendly devoted lover’ then.  He sat at the little desk provided, proceeding to go through Quinlen’s things.  

Shivering now as much from useless temper as from the coldness of the outside that had sunk into his bones, Quinlen stood awkwardly against the side of the bed and gave the cuffs a tug. No give, of course.  Fear was crawling up his throat again.  “And if I scream?” he asked quietly, not turning his furious eyes away from the cuff, because he was sure there was terror in his gaze, too.

“Marta already believes that you and I are into roleplaying, or at least bondage,” was the all too easy reply, said in a low, confident, and even absentminded tone, “A bit of yelling wouldn’t be out of place.  Hell, it would sell the story more.  Besides that, I’m not above gagging you.  I just don’t think it’s necessary for me to be quite that inhumane.”

“ ‘Quite that inhumane’?” Quinlen parroted in an angry voice that was getting hard and brittle around the edges, “You’re willing to kill someone, kidnap me, and then drag me all around the city - not to mention your threatening to let me mellow out in a walk-in freezer - but suddenly you’re worried about how humane you’re being?”  He thought that he’d been doing awfully well up until now, staying calm and mostly trying to keep the gunmen from getting angry enough to kill him - but his nerves were frayed nearly to the point of nonexistence, he was tired, and now he was handcuffed to a bed with virtually no hope of anyone finding him.  He wasn’t even expected back at work for days.  

He was expected back before Friday, though.  That was a small hope.  A very small one.  He could be dead or worse long before then.

On the verge of hysteria, Quinlen flinched and backed up a step (about as far as he could go) as the gunman abruptly stopped pawing through his satchel and stood, rugged face foreboding and eyes like blue chips of glass.  The boffin met his eyes, but couldn’t get his mouth to move - which was perhaps for the best.  Not talking had proved safer up until now.  

After a long minute of tense stillness, however, the gunman took in a deep breath and sat back down.  The effort it took him looked a lot like the effort it took a lion to ignore a foe taunting it, and merely hold his ground instead.  With his blond hair, tanned skin, and obviously muscular build, Bond sure looked like a lion.  “I had a reason for killing that man, just like I’ve got a reason for holding you,” he finally said patiently, or close to patiently. The tightness at the corners of his mouth gave away the sizzling discontent with all of this formality and manners.

Quinlen said nothing.  The exhaustion and stress was bringing him hazardously close to tearing up, which was the last thing he wanted to do right now.  He looked away, breathing in short, shallow breaths through his nose, and pressed his lips together stubbornly.  

Low, still a bit gruff, but irritatingly logical sounding, Bond went on, “The fellow in the cab was a drug-smuggler with a rap-sheet as long as my arm.  I still wouldn’t have shot him, but he pulled a gun on me.”  Quinlen’s eyes snapped back up, finding a calm blue gaze already waiting and looking back at him.  If this was a lie, it was a very good one.  “Pardon me for being pragmatic, but I like to shoot first and ask people to kindly spare my life later.”

Frankly, Quinlen wasn’t sure he couldn’t argue with that.  He had some words in his head about how Bond had forced the man into that position by cornering and threatening him, and how there were solutions that didn’t involve corpses, but he suddenly felt too tired to elaborate on them.  Right now, he was cold and drained, and the balance between too-scared-to-sleep and too-tired-to-care was tipping precariously towards the latter.  It was hard to even focus on being outraged at the way his things were now spread across the table, keeping company with the gunman’s battered phone at the moment.  

“You should sleep, Q.”

The words caught the bespectacled young man off-guard.  He looked up from his tablet and laptop to those dangerous - but right now steady and calm - blue eyes, correcting tiredly, “Quinlen.”

“Whatever.”  Now the gunman rolled to his feet, and began switching off lights, going back to the door to check the locks again as Quinlen skittered back a bit and watched him.  Broad shoulders flexed and the gunman winced as he pulled off his jacket, hanging it with weary movements.  He removed his gun-harness, too, but put it down within easy reach of the far side of the bed.  “You’ve got nowhere to go and nothing to do, and neither do I, so you may as well make the best of it.”  And then, before Quinlen could properly process that, Bond was dropping onto the other side of the bed, shoes being discarded off to the side.  The handcuff barked against the metal rail of the headboard as Quinlen jumped and backed up, heartbeat picking up and lodging itself quite immediately in his throat.

Just one blue eye opened, looking more tired than Quinlen had expected, but mostly just mildly irked as it took in the way the smaller man was warily trying to put distance between them.  With another of those low, almost-growled sighs, Bond closed his eyes again.  It was shocking how the man could take up so much space simply by being in it.  “I’m not going to do anything to you,” the surprisingly soft words came without any more attempts at looking at the smaller man, “You can trust me on that.”

“I don’t even know you.  Forgive me if trust seems like a far away and impossible thing,” Quinlen replied succinctly.  

“Suit yourself, but this is the only bed, since I never planned on sharing, and I’m going to get some sleep while I can,” Bond replied with a shrug, and then, quite unceremoniously, seemed to settle down to sleep right there on top of the covers.

Quinlen was shaking.  Again, he could have blamed it on body temperature, but that would be lying to himself.  No, it was because he was contemplating lying next to a blond-haired killer twice his weight in muscle and more than ready to threaten him.  For a petrified, stubborn moment, Quinlen actually considered just sitting down on the floor and sleeping like that, but the thought of being cold for much longer made his stomach almost queasy.  Feeling very trapped and very cornered, the boffin took one more long look at the big man stretched out across one half of the bed, and then reached forward to pull back the sheets on his own side.  At least Bond didn’t seem interested in taking the time to either undress or get under the blankets, leaving those flimsy barriers between them.  Movements hurried, noticeably shaky, and clumsy because his cuffed wrist had a very limited range of motion, Quinlen drew back the covers and just paused long enough to toe off his own shoes before squirrelling under the layers of cloth, which were blessedly thick and already making his day marginally better.  After a long moment of hesitation, he took off his glasses and placed them near enough on the floor that he could grab them without feeling around - the risk of bending or breaking them by sleeping on them was greater than his fear of being nearsighted right now.  Still, the sudden fuzziness of the barely-lit room nearly made his heart stop for a moment, and he had to take in a deep breath, hold it, and then let it rush out slowly (he was beyond caring if Bond noticed).

Lying on his left side, back to the lethal human being who’d dragged him here, Quinlen buried himself under the covers so that only the top of his head and his manacled arm stuck out, and then he waited.  Waited for trouble.  Waited for a million things that he tried not to let his mind ponder over, but slunk through his head anyway.  With every quivering, utterly still second, Quinlen expected to feel the bed shift, a larger frame turning over - towards him - and a hand falling on his shoulder, side, waist, a powerful body looming over him, pinning him…

But nothing happened.  He could hear deep, even breathing from behind him, and the bed was small enough that Quinlen was soon feeling radiant heat from very, very near him, but no move was made to hurt him or take advantage of him.

And before Quinlen knew it, that body heat had seeped into his bones and sent him straight to sleep.

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

When Quinlen woke up, it was impossible to tell exactly at what point the memories of terrors of the past day rushed into him - probably it all hit at once, during the muddled period in which he realized that he was awake, and ached so much that he couldn’t do anything but hiss in an angry breath and squirm.  His hand pulled against the cuff still around his right wrist.  For a long moment, Quinlen just huddled there, still under the blankets except for his cuffed arm and hoping he could just hide from the various pains in his body as well as the rest of this horrible situation.

That admittedly childish plan was banished when a by-now-familiar voice drifted to him from across the room, “Good.  You’re wake.  You can tell me what the password to your computer is, and where you’ve put your bloody phone.”

Grand, Quinlen was aching and he had to deal with a stroppy gunman he barely knew.  It sounded like neither of them had woken up on the right side of the bed, if the abrupt, irked tone was any indication.  Quinlen sighed and gave up on the idea of sleeping anymore in ignorant bliss, but let out another small noise of pain as he moved his left wrist.  Although it was free of restraint, it wasn’t much more useful, because it felt as though the injury of yesterday had turned into ground glass in his wrist-joint overnight.  Still, the boffin did his best to not make the weakness obvious as he moved groggily, maintaining enough use of his arm to pick his glasses up off the floor and slip them onto his nose.  As he sat up, he catalogued all the other things that ached - mostly muscles that weren’t used to so much exercise.  The back of his mouth tasted horrible, and probably similar to whatever old, fetid adrenalin tasted of.  “I don’t have a phone.”

Blue eyes looked up at him incredulously from where Bond had been bent over the keyboard to Quinlen’s beloved laptop.  “Very funny.  Everyone has a mobile phone these days.”

“Yes, well, not everyone is caught up in a stampede out of a crowded theatre, leaving it behind,” Quinlen retorted, although he was still too tired to real snark.  He idly rotated his right wrist in the handcuff, and pulled together the best glare he had this early in the morning.  “Along with my coat, I might add.”

The gunman’s glance dropped from Quinlen’s face to his torso, with its rumpled cardigan and button-down shirt that had done precious little to keep him warm outside yesterday.  It could have been a trick of the light, but Quinlen thought he saw apology flash across the other man’s features, as if he sincerely hadn’t thought about how his prisoner would be taking the temperature.  Considering that Bond was not only better dressed but clearly a more hot-blooded breed of person than Quinlen, perhaps this was unsurprising.  “Fine then.  I’ll grab a burner phone at the next opportunity.  That still leaves your laptop, and believe me, you and I will live much happier - and longer - lives if you just tell me your password to let me into it.”

“No.”

The reply startled both of them equally.  Quinlen was unsure where the rebellious courage had come from, and in fact blinked a bit owlishly even as Bond looked up to stare in surprise.  Quickly, though, before he could lose this tiny advantage of surprise, Quinlen scrambled to get his words together, sitting up straighter and wetting his lips.  “It’s my laptop, and I’d rather not have a criminal with unlimited access to it.  Besides, just one password won’t get you very far - there are several layers of security.”  As Bond’s face grew harder and more foreboding, Quinlen lifted his free hand calmingly, and hurried to add, “That being said, if you uncuff me, I’ll get on myself.”

Bond paused, but thankfully seemed to consider the alternative.  “That would be the difference between aiding and abetting, and merely giving in to threats,” he reminded, seemingly caught between curious, bitter, and amused.  It was an improvement on his previous demeanor.

Quinlen had thought of that, but he still didn’t want anyone touching his laptop.  It was his, damn it, and he was less protective of his house than he was of his tech.  “Yes, well, that stills sounds better to me than writing out a list of my many passwords and telling you what each one goes to.  I can live with a bit of aiding and abetting.  And technically, I’m still giving in to threats regardless.”

“You have some truly odd priorities.”

“I’m paranoid.  There’s a difference,” Quinlen snidely commented back, then wriggled the fingers of his cuffed hand.  “Besides that, I’m right-handed, so I can’t write anything like this anyway.”

That finally seemed to do it - he could see when the arguments broke down and receded from the gunman’s mind, his expression shifting and becoming resigned.  As he moved away from Quinlen’s laptop and pushed to his feet, he mumbled, “Go figure I get stuck with an eccentric, paranoid hostage… just my bloody luck.”  

Quinlen shrunk back reflexively against the headboard as he was approached, his previous calm shown for the paper-thin mask it was as he grew tense in Bond’s looming presence.  His right hand fisted unconsciously as calloused fingers wrapped around his forearm to hold it still, other hand wielding keys close enough that Quinlen could see many old scars against the strong, tanned fingers.  He could feel calluses rasping against the soft skin on the underside of his arm.  “Make a run for it and this goes right back on,” was the warning, but it held no more or less foreboding that would be expected, and Bond backed off again (although he kept between Quinlen and the door).  

Wanting to rub his freed wrist but instantly knowing just how impossible that would be with the other one damaged, Quinlen slid off the bed and came stiffly to his feet.  He felt unsteady, as if he’d pulled about a million muscles yesterday, and now everything was re-attached badly.  “And do you have any problem with me taking a piss?” he asked dryly, tipping his head towards the bathroom and trying to act like these kinds of inconveniences happened every day.  

Blue eyes didn’t shift, but the corner of Bond’s mouth tipped upwards the tiniest bit.  He moved aside a half-step more, and Quinlen took that as permission.  As he nodded and moved past the gunman, however, a hand faster than most feline paws swept out, catching Quinlen’s left arm and the elbow and making the smaller man yelp in surprise.  “What the bloody-?” he snarled, fresh adrenalin trying to tear his heart from its moorings in his chest.  He twisted to defend himself against whatever this murderer had planned, but Bond’s other hand easily snagged Quinlen’s right wrist, too, as it swung his way.  To be fair, Quinlen was pretty sure that hitting Bond would only have made things worse anyway.

“Steady on, there, Q,” murmured the gunman, showing no signs of being all that excited by the situation.  He maneuvered Quinlen’s left arm up until the swollen, bruised wrist was held between them.  Only then did Quinlen really notice the puffiness and bruising.  “I’m just checking this, not planning to cut your bloody arm off.  This happen yesterday?  Trying to get out of that freezer?”  Blue eyes met Quinlen’s and a pale eyebrow arched incredulously.

Quinlen’s temperament soured at the memory, but he was glad that at least Bond wasn’t attacking him (although his right wrist was still trapped in Bond’s grip, pinned to the wall by Quinlen’s head).  “No, before that.  It got jammed in the cab...right before you came in and shot a man.”  Wanting to be off this subject as soon as possible, and preferably in the bathroom where he could lock the door and hide away for at least a little while, Quinlen tried to yank his arm free, but found the gunman’s grip too tight.  Then, alarmingly, he was being dragged by said grip towards the bathroom.  Suddenly, the idea of going in there was less appetizing.  “Hey!  Let me go!” he demanded, words growing quick and anxious again, his breathing shallow and fast by the time he was pulled into the bathroom like a cat towards a bath.   He was then released to stand next to the toilet, body tense and heart hammering.  It was a decent-sized bathroom, but still too small for Quinlen to slip past the gunman back to the relative safety and openness of the hotel room.  The blond-haired man unexpectedly grabbed a white box on the sink, tipping his head towards the edge of the toilet.  “Sit.”

Quinlen was quivering.  “Let me out,” he demanded lowly, like a counter-offer, proud that his voice barely wavered.  It still felt as though it were made of little chips of brittle, hard-edged shale.  

Abruptly, blue eyes snapped up to him, and after narrowing for a second in confusion, a light seemed to dawn in them.  Bond looked back again to what he was doing with a jaded sort of chuckle that was barely a rumble in his broad chest.  “I’m just going to see to that wrist of yours, Quinlen, because it looks sprained.  Badly.  And before you ask why in the bloody hell I care, remember that you promised to open up that laptop for me - something that I assume includes typing.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but you won’t be doing much typing with that.”

Quinlen cradled the limb closer to him, feeling the vulnerability like a crack in armor that was already terribly thin.  “I’m fine,” he replied in a final sort of tone, very quiet.  

The gunman turned back.  Being the focus of his attention was swiftly becoming one of Quinlen’s least favorite things, along with the nickname that he kept being tagged with.  Halting his movements (which Quinlen had recognized now as the organization of a first-aid kit), Bond turned to face his prisoner again, this time leaning a hip against the sink and crossing his arms, muscle flexing under the new button-down shirt he was now wearing.  He looked clean, fit, and in control (no doubt having showered before Quinlen got up), and looked far better than Quinlen’s sleep-rumpled, panic-sharpened, injured appearance.  The contrast was just about enough to make the smaller man truly fly into a panic, or maybe rage.  “Really?” the gunman made it worse with his sardonic voice and unimpressed expression, adding, “Flex the fingers of your left hand for me then, Q.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“It’s the only thing that seems to get you to listen,” snapped Bond back, eyes still focused on Quinlen’s wrist, “Now, flex your fingers, and then rotate your wrist.  If you can prove to me that you’ve got full range of motion, I’ll drop it, and admit that you’re as healthy as a horse.”  His eyes wandered up and down Quinlen’s body a little, and the boffin fought the urge to straighten in quiet outrage.  “As a pony, maybe.”

“This is ridiculous,” Quinlen snapped back, and then - because clearly he was more defiant sometimes than smart - he tried to indeed prove that he was fine.  It was a knee-jerk response to being taunted, and could perhaps be blamed on the fact that he’d only awoke under half an hour ago and hadn’t had food since an early supper the night before.  If Quinlen had paused even a second, his brain would have caught up and told him (in no uncertain terms) to not move his wrist in any way.  

Instead, he stubbornly did, and the result was a ragged bolt of pain that jarred right to his fingertips and up to his shoulder, making him swear and see spots for a second.  Folding over his arm - a source of utter agony right now - Quinlen didn’t even care that the gunman had moved in with lightning quickness to stand in his personal space.  Quinlen could smell gun-oil and aftershave, and easily hear colorful cursing to match his, even though said under Bond’s breath.  

“You crazy shit,” Bond breathed, and this time, when a calloused hand took hold of Quinlen’s left forearm, he didn’t protest, and in fact moved quite meekly to the edge of the sink when pulled in that direction.  The sink spanned one whole wall of the bathroom, and gave him something to lean against.  He felt flushed and tight with the aftermath of the pain, and even his brain was shying away from thinking about it.  Bond held Quinlen’s arm out, pushing it down into the sink as he ran cold water.  “Don’t put it under the tap, but submerse it in that.  I’ll go call for some ice in a minute - stay put,” the blond-haired man ordered.  He gave a hard squeeze and a sort of firm press to Quinlen’s shoulder as if to stick him in place, and the boffin decided not to argue.  Clearly, he wasn’t awake or levelheaded enough at the moment to make smart decisions.  Maybe that was also why he’d refused to give Bond his passwords earlier, too.  

“I’m not usually this brash,” he found himself saying, a weak defense of his actions.  His voice sounded thready.  The gunman turned from where he’d stepped out of the bathroom, heading for the room’s phone by the bed.  Quinlen’s wrist chose that moment to throb, and the smaller man pulled his lips back from his teeth in a hissing wince.  Gingerly, he lowered his hand into the growing pool of numbingly-cold water in the sink.  Across the room, the gunman let out a slow and heavy breath.

The words sounded like they protested coming out, but were markedly more polite than the sentences of earlier, as Bond said, “Well, I doubt you’ve ever been kidnapped before either, so this is probably a special case.”  His voice changed abruptly as he talked on the phone, bright and pleasant as someone’s next-door neighbor.  He even smiled, the blithely light expression transmitting into his harmless words.  He spoke mostly in English, his French accent once again wonderfully faked.  “Allo, is this the front desk?  Do you think you could bring us some ice?  I’ve got some wine, you see…”  Apparently that lie worked, because soon the gunman was nodding, making agreeing sort of noises, and finally hanging up after a perfectly sincere-sounding, “Merci.”  The smile fell to a distasteful look as he hung up, and then he was returning to the bathroom.  Quinlen had to admit that he appreciated the slower pace the gunman decided to move at, as if approaching something worthy of caution.  Bond stopped in the doorway, leaning against it with his arms crossed again and eyes wary.  “Are you allergic to any of those?” he said suddenly, nodding to the open first-aid kit.  Quinlen followed the look, then leaned over closer when he saw the pain medication.  

With his free hand, he pointed, “Not really allergic, but that one doesn’t work very well, and that one…”  He considered hiding the information, but decided that it could only hurt him in the long-run.  “That one works a bit too well.  It slows me down.  My body doesn’t respond with any sort of allergic reaction, but seems to have a hard time processing it.”

“I’d rather have you alert than foggy.”  Quinlen sagged in relief when Bond chose not to take advantage of the information given to him.  Shuffling back just a little bit - as far as he could while still keeping his wrist under the cold water - Quinlen watched as the first bottle of painkiller was opened and two white, oblong pills tipped out.  A cheap, plastic hotel cup momentarily interrupted the flow of tap-water before Bond just turned it off and then offered both medication and water to his damaged and hapless companion.  “Come on,” he hurried him up, and the smaller man had enough guts left to give him a look from under his messy bangs, but then gingerly picked the pills up like a bird delicately stealing seeds.  He swallowed them dry out of spite, but still gave in and grabbed the water a beat later, deciding that hydration was probably for the best.  Plus, his mouth tasted like something had crawled in there and died.  

“Thanks,” he said, words sounding loud in the quiet, even though his voice was soft.  The gunman had returned to leaning against the doorframe as if it needed his weight to support it.  

Eyes unreadable but at least not overtly threatening, Bond nodded shallowly back, eyes never leaving Quinlen’s face.  “You’re welcome.”

Uncomfortable silence followed as the two of them digested the idea of being civil to one another, which was apparently possible, but about as palatable as a cat and a dog sharing a bed.  Just those few sentences had been hard, and neither man was happy.  Fortunately, a knock at the door denoting room service with their ice had Bond turning and backing off again.  “Stay there, and stay quiet,” he commanded with the same firm, simplified words generally used on slow children or stubborn pets.  Quinlen rolled his eyes but made a show of pursing his lips.

Looking irked at the rebelliousness but unwilling to argue so long as Quinlen wasn’t making a real nuisance of himself, the gunman frowned slightly but turned to the door, glancing through the peephole but seeing nothing to stop him from opening the door.  He’d barely opened it when suddenly the person on the others side barged through, using momentum and the element of surprise to barrel right in.  There was a sharp noise that Quinlen had only ever heard on bad spy movies, and he wouldn’t have recognized it here and now if he didn’t see the gun and silencer that had just spat out a bullet.  Quinlen immediately tensed and backed up, wrist still numb and cold as he dragged it out of the water with a trail of messy droplets following behind.  He barely felt like he’d taken two steps and blinked twice before Bond’s shoulders were being slammed up against the side of the doorframe, and the man who’d attacked him - a large but otherwise unremarkable fellow dressed like any other staff-member at the hotel - caught sight of Quinlen with a start.  Bond and his attacker were presently wrestling for control of the gun (Bond’s knuckles were white where he had hold of the shooter’s wrist), but now, seeing a second option, the interloper suddenly snarled with effort and tried to aim the gun at Quinlen.

Apparently, Quinlen and Bond were one and the same to him.  If he couldn’t kill the one, he’d kill the other.  

With a yelp, the bespectacled young man tried to move aside, but the bathroom didn’t have a lot of options and this was all happening too fast.  Fortunately, Bond’s blue eyes snapped to the side and back towards Quinlen, widening in split-second realization before reacting, seemingly on instinct, to neutralize the danger.  He stopped trying to push the gun out and away from himself, and instead visibly put all of his strength into jerking it down.  There was another muffled report of the gun going off, and the bullet buried itself in the wall off to Quinlen’s right, although not before Bond snarled and let out a hail of curses.  Something in that second had thrown him off, and he lost control of the fight right then, the two men falling away out of view suddenly.  At least Bond had gotten the gun out of his attacker’s hand by then, the weapon spinning away to the floor to be forgotten in favor of brute violence.  There were hard, heavy thuds and more cursing, some in French, and then crashing about on the floor while breaths were expelled heavily from lungs, all out of Quinlen’s line of vision.  

With no thoughts in his head besides the fact that he didn’t want to die, and that Bond had actually just saved his life, the boffin wasted no more time before looking around and grabbing the most obvious weapon he could find.  Picking up the gun didn’t even occur to him - his mind just didn’t think on a level that included lethal, projectile weapons and deadly force.  Stepping awkwardly over scattered ice (apparently their attacker had built up his cover pretty well, right up to the ice he’d dropped before charging Bond), Quinlen came out of the bathroom, turning into the room further instead of going for the open door.  Later, he’d look back on that moment and sigh, thinking of the perfect escape attempt it would have offered.  Hindsight was always twenty-twenty, though, and now all of Quinlen’s vision was fixed on the two men duking it out in the tiny hotel room, the stranger having pinned Bond to the floor on his back.  Quinlen’s blood chilled as he stared at their attacker’s beefy, straining shoulders and heaving chest from behind, muscles bunched and flexing as he sat on Bond’s stomach and bore down on his neck with both hands.  Already the blond-haired gunman’s struggles were lessening, his powerful frame heaving less and less often to try and throw his opponent off.  There was also bright red blood, smearing against the blanket that had been yanked haphazardly off the bed and now lay underneath the two men like a backdrop to the violence.  

Quinlen pulled himself together and swung his weapon - the ceramic cover for the water tank behind the toilet - bringing it cracking down against the stranger’s head without further consideration.  

It was satisfying and more than a little terrifying to see the man drop like a stone, the momentum of Quinlen’s wild strike actually toppling him to one side, off Bond.  Quinlen’s left wrist protested the whole event, sending bright flashes of pain spiking up the dark-haired young man’s arm, and he dropped his unorthodox weapon with a hiss of pain.  It fell on the attacker’s legs, but the man didn’t move.  

Neither did Bond, though, and for a moment, Quinlen thought they both were dead.  “Bond.  Bond!” he found himself barking out, alarm shooting through him and letting him forget his sprained wrist for a moment.  He scrambled forward - nearly tripping in his attempts to avoid the blood last-minute, which appeared to be coming from Bond’s side, on the lower right portion of his ribcage - and dropped to his knees by the blond-haired head, just in time to see Bond spasm and jerk with a sudden, hoarse cough.  Vivid handprints ringed his neck, but he was wheezing in air now and choking painfully.  Quinlen settled back on his knees, unsure why he was so relieved, considering that this man was his jailer.  Maybe this was what Stockholm Syndrome felt like.  

The second one of Bond’s blue eyes managed to open a slit, his tanned hand shot out, clumsily but strongly latching onto the nearest thing - Quinlen’s shirt-collar, coincidentally.  The smaller man made a sharp noise of indignation and surprise as he was hauled closer, but at least the other man seemed to recognize him then, eyes opening a bit more and focusing.  “Q?” he rasped disbelievingly.

“Quinlen, actually.  Quinlen Fluke.  But this once, since you’re suffering from oxygen deprivation, I’ll let that slide,” the smaller man retorted dryly, leaning over Bond thanks to the fist still tangled in his shirt.  Hesitantly, with his good right hand, Quinlen touched the warm knuckles.  “Any chance of you letting go anytime soon?  This is awkward, and I…”  He craned his neck up uncomfortably, forcing himself to look at the other body in the room - which remained unnervingly motionless.  Quinlen’s stomach threatened to upend right then and there, and he could feel himself blanch as reality hit him.  “...I think I might have just killed a man,” he got the words out thinly.

Bond focused entirely then.  He was still coughing sporadically and breathing rather raggedly, but his brows lowered and he stared up at his smaller companion for just a fraction of a second more before sitting up - without letting go of Quinlen’s shirt.  Oh well, Quinlen hadn’t been too hopeful about being turned loose anyway.  Sitting now with Quinlen kneeling resignedly by his side, held there quite firmly unless he wanted to test his strength against Bond’s grip, the blond-haired gunman looked over at the man who had nearly killed them both.  “He’s not dead,” he judged quite quickly, and Quinlen felt himself relax.  It was as if he’d been unable to breathe until now, but his lungs were opening up and accepting oxygen again (which was ironic, because it had been Bond, not Quinlen, who’d just survived a good, old-fashioned strangling).  Bond’s look grew perplexed and a bit impressed as he leaned slightly closer, peering at the unconscious body.  “What did you do to him?”  

Quinlen just pointed, and Bond’s blue eyes widened comically as he saw the lid to the tank.  Then he glanced a bit further and, noting something else, changed tactics to ask slowly, “Quinlen… you do realize that there was a gun right there?”

“Points to you for remembering my actual name,” the smaller man replied, sagging a bit more as the adrenalin left him.  He used his good hand to paw at the wrist near his collar a little more, but to be honest, he’d given up on that.  He glanced at the gun with its silencer in distaste.  “I’m not really a gun person.”

Eyes returning to stare in fixed disbelief at the weapon Quinlen had actually used, the blond-haired gunman deadpanned back pointedly, “Then what kind of person are you?”

“The kind who didn’t have a lot of options - now can you let go, please?” Quinlen huffed back as his irritation finally broke through.  He glared, then added, “Also, you’re bleeding.”

The words had the effect of making Bond look down, and he grimaced and swore once again as if he hadn’t noticed the pain until right that second.  “Just fucking fantastic,” he murmured, but then actually dismissed the wound in favor of standing.  He let Quinlen go, but not before dragging him up with him.  The gunman’s eyes were on the door, already as alert as the laser sights of a gun.  “Come on.  I doubt that this fellow was alone, and I’d rather not test my luck against any more surprise killers.  Grab your laptop and this blanket.”  He nodded briefly to the blood-stained sheet beneath him before stepping off it and moving to the man that had attacked them.  For a moment, Quinlen feared that he’d see another murder, but all Bond did was remove the man’s belt and use it to bind his wrists tightly behind his back, tearing a strip of the bedsheets for a gag.  “I figured that you were difficult enough without lecturing me on murder again,” was the slightly tetchy explanation when Bond noticed him watching.  Then the blond-haired man stood, clearing his throat with an obvious wince before starting to rapidly move about the room packing.  “By all means, ignore me - the longer you dawdle, the higher the chances of another visitor with bad intentions,” called Bond irritably from his duffel-bag across the room.

Quinlen shook himself out of the last of his shock, scrounging up another glare.  “I’m not dawdling.”  In fact, right now he was obeying, possibly because he believed Bond, and possibly because he still couldn’t see any other option.  He kept his eyes pointedly away from the unconscious man on the floor who’d been as eager to shoot him as shoot Bond.  Actually, it seemed like the bullet meant for Quinlen had winged his surly companion, and maybe - just maybe, if there were no more handcuffs or threats in the next while - he’d thank the man for that.  “Why the sheet?”

“It has my blood on it.  I’m wiping this place down, and that means all traces of either of us have to go,” was the easy answer.  It was disturbing to be faced with a man who thought this way, and Quinlen had to keep himself from staring again - this time because it felt like being presented with an exotic and slightly unsettling puzzle.  Still, after he’d gotten his things back into his laptop bag (as well as Bond’s broken mobile, swiping it off the table as subtly as possible), the boffin folded up the sheet as best he could, hiding the ruby-redness inside and trying not to think about where it was or what it had come from.  Bond had already hidden his own wound effectively by throwing on a jacket, which also hid the gun he was now wearing - too late to be helpful.  Bond also fished around in their attacker’s pockets, grinning predatorily when he found a mobile.  

Still, at the last moment when he started leading Quinlen to the door (all of this having taken shockingly little time, because Bond clearly knew what he was doing and had practiced it down to an art), the gunman paused.  Blond head tilting thoughtfully, he hooked a hand-towel from the bathroom and wrapped it around some of the ice slowly melting into the carpet.  He turned and handed it to Quinlen, saying with no particular inflection or even looking at him for long, “Hold that to your wrist while you can.  Next time we stop, I’ll wrap it.”

With no more words than that, the larger man left the room, half his attention on checking the way ahead and the other half on making sure his companion stayed close.  Quinlen briefly considered running… and then just puffed out a little sigh and followed.  So long as people were shooting at him, too, it seemed that James Bond was the safest person to stick with.  At least he clearly knew what to do when faced with lethal situations.  

~^~

“Have you ever driven a car that wasn’t stolen?” Quinlen asked in exasperation, afraid he already knew the answer as he settled into the passenger seat of yet another car that wasn't theirs.  He was beginning to itch to look at the little tool Bond kept using to break through the locks.  

“Where would be the fun in that?” was the glib answer he got as the gunman efficiently hotwired the car and pulled out of the parking lot.  “Besides, every time I go to a respectable car dealership, I stand still long enough for people to try putting bullets into me.”

“Maybe that problem has more to do with your lifestyle,” Quinlen minced back with delicate sharpness.  

Blue eyes favored him with a sharp look that had Quinlen remembering just what kind of a man he was dealing with: a dangerous one.  Still, Bond didn’t show any other visual signs of anger other than that slight glare.  “You may as well get comfortable.  A friend of mine has a bolt-hole around here.  He’s not using it, and I know where the key is, but it’s a bit of a drive.”

Quinlen tensed at the thought of getting even further away from where people just might be looking for him.  He remembered the broken phone in his bag, and wished he knew just how extensive the damage was, and whether he could fix it without his usual tools.  “How much of a drive?” he asked, wishing his voice sounded less anxious.  

“An hour, traffic permitting.  We’re not going all that far, Q - just taking a winding route so no one follows us,” Bond answered easily enough.

Putting on an irked face, Quinlen hid how the reply calmed him by snarking back, “And once again we’re back to forgetting my name.”

“To be fair, I was strangled unconscious.”  Bond was somehow smirking, making light of things even as one of his hands left the steering wheel to touch his throat.  The high-collar of his jacket was hiding the worst of a ring of bruises.  “And I could always blame my bad memory on blood-loss.”

With a jolt, the boffin remembered Bond’s gunshot wound - still untreated.  Sitting up sharply, Quinlen’s eyes got large, but just as he was opening his mouth to say something harsh and probably panicked, the gunman was talking again.

“Easy there, Fluke, it was just a graze.  I gave it a quick look while packing up the first-aid kit in the bathroom.  I’ll have to patch it up better later, but I’m not bleeding out.”

Contented with the knowledge that Bond wasn’t going to keel over and send them careering off the road - and with the knowledge that Bond apparently did remember Quinlen’s whole name, even if he continually nicknamed him instead - the smaller man subsided.  His wrist still throbbed, and he pressed the hand-towel full of melting ice closer, holding it so that any wet droplets would spotter the floor at his feet.  The painkiller had finally kicked in, just enough so that he was aware that it could be worse.  “You seem rather nonchalant about this,” he couldn’t help but comment, pretending to focus on his wrist even while his eyes flicked over to watch the gunman’s face.

The clearing of Bond’s throat could have been an effort to ease the discomfort in his damaged throat, or it could have been a sign of his dislike for the question.  Either way, the edges of his mouth turned down a bit.  “Well, this is the second time in two days that you’ve seen me face someone with a gun.  Wouldn’t it be plausible to assume that I’ve got a track-record for that kind of thing?” he replied ironically.  

“Normal people do not have track-records like that.”

“They indeed do not.  Now, can you behave while I stop and fill this car up with petrol, or am I going to have to test whether that other painkiller really does make you foggy enough to be easily handled?” Bond replied and changed the subject abruptly enough that Quinlen felt physically jarred, and then understandably threatened.  

Still leaning over his knees, the smaller man tensed, leaning away against the door a bit.  “You wouldn’t,” he stated, a glower already making his straight, fine features hard and rebellious.

Bond merely arched an eyebrow at him, blue eyes inscrutable but his demeanor proven to be unscrupulous.  “Wouldn’t I?”

Quinlen held out for a moment more before he admitted that, yes, James-bloody-Bond probably would.  Letting out a breath and hating the mixture of rebelliousness and helpless fear that coiled and uncoiled behind his sternum, Quinlen dropped the hand-towel on the floor (it was really more soggy water than ice now) and curled up against the door.  “I’ll behave,” he informed Bond in succinct, perfectly enunciated words and a sullen tone.  

Fortunately, Bond didn’t feel the need to push it further than there.  “Good.  If we have to make a fast run from Alec’s place, I don’t want the nearest car to have an empty tank, even if it is stolen.”

~^~

 

Chapter Text

The adrenaline had worn off and the painkiller was working just enough that, somehow, Quinlen fell asleep before they reached the gas station.  He was leaning against the door and nearly jumped out of his skin when a door slammed shut, awakening him.  He blinked bleary, startled eyes to see the gunman getting back into the car away, already finished at the pump.  “Here,” he handed something across the way, “Cold pack.  We’re almost there, but that wrist of yours is bad, and it really should be iced.”

A bit cautiously, Quinlen took the proffered item.  It was a simple chemical reaction contained within a square plastic bag, already activated and turning chill - not something that a person would find at just any gas station, so apparently Bond had sought one out.  “Thank you,” Quinlen felt compelled to say, a bit stiffly, also remembering the bullet he’d be spared.  He was still a bit too flustered and annoyed at the threatened drugging to speak anymore gratitude, though, especially when he was still being kidnapped.  “You really think that we have to take such a circuitous route just because someone broke into your hotel room?”

Pulling into traffic again, Bond chuckled.  “Now you’re the one who’s taking this lightly.  How many people have broken into your hotel rooms?  Plus, this isn’t my bolt-hole.  It would be impolite to drag unwanted company to someone else’s place.”

Quinlen grumbled as he hunched against the door again, ice-pack to his damaged wrist, “So polite of you.  And yet you’re dragging me there.  Will I have to be blindfolded so as to never reveal the super-secret location of this fabled bolt-hole?”

“Wow, I didn’t know words were capable of literally drowning in sarcasm.”

“Just wait until I get going,” Quinlen snipped back sardonically, but got himself to hold off then, well aware of what tenuous footing he was on.  After all, he already knew Bond’s face, and if he knew one of his hiding places, too, how likely was it that he’d end up dead at the bottom of the Rhine before this was all over?  The buzz of the earlier adrenaline had left him with a bad taste in his mouth, and a grouchy mood that reminded him of how he felt after he hadn’t had caffeine in too long - like coming down hard from a rather nice but subtle high.  Now he just felt tense, uneasy, and in more than a little pain, although at least he wasn’t missing his coat again, thanks to the car’s delightful heating.  

Bond hadn’t been kidding about taking the long way to their destination.  He’d taken so many random and seemingly unnecessary turns that anyone but Quinlen would have been helplessly lost (or thrown off his trail, for sure), and even the dark-haired man’s internal map was struggling a bit.  It was almost noon by the time they arrived at an unremarkable but tall series of buildings, and Bond parked the car in an alleyway nearby.  Even once people started looking for the vehicle, it would take ages to find.  “Leave the bedsheet from the hotel,” Bond commanded before getting out, “I’ll deal with it later.  Come on.”

Sighing wearily in a put-upon way, Quinlen picked up his messenger bag and slipped out, too, just managing to juggle the cold-pack and the door handle without misusing either.  When he closed the car-door behind him, it was to see Bond stretching up to drag down the bottom rungs of a fire-escape, muscles flexing and the ugly stain of dried blood showing on his shirt as his coat rode up.  “We’re on the top floor,” the gunman explained with a jerk of his chin, only the tightness around his blue eyes showing that he hurt anywhere.  He’d picked up his bag again already, slinging it over his shoulder.  “Boffins first.”

Quinlen could immediately see that this was not going to be fun or easy in the slightest: he wasn’t going to adroitly climb to the first level with a bang-up wrist.  “Um...Bond?” he got ready to argue, lifting his left arm, sleeve falling back to show the mottled, puffy skin.  

Looking sympathetic but ultimately unmoved, the gunman shook his head.  “I know, but you’re going to climb anyway.  Here, hand me your bag.”  He put his own back onto the concrete of the alleyway before reaching out with a beckoning hand.  “I’ll help you up, and this can all come up with me.”

If Bond weren’t standing between him and the mouth of the alleyway (and other end turned off deeper into the warren of buildings, and looked foreboding), Quinlen would have bolted right then.  It must have shown on his face that he was considering it regardless, because Bond’s expression hardened warningly, and he growled lowly, “Q…”

“I’m not going to answer to that.  We’ve had this conversation.”

Quinlen Fluke, step up to the bloody fucking ladder.”

“Fine, fine,” the smaller man gave in with bad grace, making himself step forward and once again hating his lack of coat and the weather’s lack of sympathy - it was just as cold as yesterday evening had been, and he already hated leaving the warm interior of the car behind.  He lowered his laptop bag very carefully to the ground, hating letting it sit there, but then swallowed thickly as he lifted his head to view his new challenge: the ladder.  It looks rusty and unreliable.  It also looked like an impossible feat for a man with one working wrist and no athletic skills to speak of.  “You’re insane.  I’m never getting up that, even if I wanted to.”

“ ‘Wanting to’ is not required.”  Bond’s voice was patient again, and he merely sighed and beckoned, urging Quinlen forward.  “Go on, step up and grab it with your good hand.  I’ll bear your weight onto the next rung.  You look like you weigh about as much as a scarecrow anyway.”

“Wonderful.  You’ve have unrealistic goals, and you’re condescending,” Quinlen quipped, but did as he was told.  He was swiftly beginning to wonder where he’d picked up this habit of mouthing off to dangerous people in horrible situations - he seemed to be doing it with increasing frequency, too.  Placing his right hand on the highest rung he could reach, feeling the rust flake off beneath his fingers, the tech-analyst placed his feet and even managed to drag himself up, right until there came the need for his other hand.  Just wiggling his fingers twinged.  “Far as I can go.  Hap-?”

He was just about to nervously finish with a thinly sarcastic ‘Happy?’ when two large hands fitted themselves against his hips, lifting upwards.  It was more reflex than anything else that had Quinlen releasing his one-handed grip and snatching upwards for another hold, releasing a thin noise of surprise.  He was quivering and taut as a cat on a unsteady fence-top even as he became aware of Bond heaving himself up onto the ladder behind him, close and steady.  He crowded upwards until Quinlen half feared that he’d be pushed right off, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen, because what Bond’s body was really doing was pinning him there.  

“Okay, this is already going better than expected,” said the gunman quite airily, just a bit lower and a touch behind Quinlen.  The cold was suddenly a lot less prevalent, but now the smaller man was unsure whether to be embarrassed or nervous or downright panicked by having Bond so far into his personal space.  When Quinlen stared fixedly ahead, trying to decide if this was really happening and not some bizarre dream, he could hear the gunman shifting around and looking, checking out everything.  “Think you can reach up to the next rung if I keep you from falling back?”

“You are bloody.  Fucking.  Insane.”

“Never took you for someone afraid of heights,” was the wry reply, “especially considering we’re not even one story off the ground yet.”  

“Make fun one more time, and-!” Quinlen started to sincerely threaten with growing hysteria in his voice, sharp as little shards of glass, and his body starting to tremble.

“All right, all right, easy,” the gunman finally backed off, sounding more like he was taking things seriously again.  He shifted his weight, and while he still kept a steady grip on the rusty rungs, one hand came to Quinlen’s hip again, warm and supportive, perhaps having felt the boffin’s shaking.  “No more joshing.  Just keep moving upwards.  I swear I won’t let you fall. All right?”

“I still hate you.”

“Noted.  Can we move now?”

Somehow, that jaded, resigned tone of voice managed to calm Quinlen down enough that he could take a few deep breaths, realize that he was being perhaps a tiny bit unreasonable, and try to climb again.  Stepping up was easy, except for the part where it moved him back against Bond’s athletic body, but the gunman didn’t seem to mind or even notice.  When it came to letting go and reaching for a higher handhold, however, he didn’t move until he once again felt that hand squeeze against his side, and Bond moved up a bit higher, so his torso was all but wrapped around Quinlen’s lower back and hips.  Perhaps falling wasn’t as likely as he’d at first calculated...  With a quick, slightly wild movement, Quinlen went for the next rung and grabbed it before more than a fraction of his weight had slipped back against Bond’s body.  He heard the gunman grunt, both hands on the rungs again and clamped down tight, but Bond was muscled enough to hold effortlessly.  “Good.  Keep going.”

Quinlen did, grumbling a bit but mostly just for show - plus, snarking helped distract him from the reality of the situation, and that the only thing keeping him from a rather painful and embarrassing fall was a man who clearly had a very busted moral compass.  Busted moral compass or not, though, Bond was true to his word and soon had the smaller man safely onto the first level platform.  Shaking and going boneless with relief, Quinlen just sat against the side of the building with his knees drawn up and head back, and didn’t open his eyes again until he felt the metal shift under Bond’s weight again.  Soon, carrying all of their things without any apparent trouble, the man was standing over him with a charming look of amusement on his face that put crows’-feet around his eyes.  “See?  I told you that you could do it,” he said as contentedly as could be, and Quinlen’s lax expression turned into an irked one again.  Before he could think up some cutting reply, though, a hand was being stretched down to him, which he took reflexively with his good right hand.  He was dragged to his feet.  “After you,” Bond urged him towards the stairs, and soon the two of them were trudging upwards, not stopping until they’d reached the highest level, where Bond seemed to magically produce a key and let them in.  

This time, notably, it was the gunman who went first, and he was as alert as he’d been when the two of them had first been tossed together.  The moment he’d stepped in, Quinlen had watched Bond reach down to unhook something that looked disturbingly like a tripwire, and a few more spots were checked and obviously disarmed before Bond seemed to relax, tipping his head and ordering, “Come on in.  No one’s home.”

“And clearly, it’s meant to stay that way,” Quinlen noted uneasily as he skittishly stepped in, cradling his damaged arm against his chest and shivering again.  He didn’t argue the gesture beckoning him to shut the fire escape entrance behind him.  “Maybe it’s different in whatever circles you frequent, but most friends I know don’t booby trap their house against invaders.”

“Alec’s a bit paranoid,” Bond admitted with a shrug, wincing and pulling his jacket away from his side as he put their bags down.  Some new blood was starting to seep through the cloth, mixing with the rust-colored stains of what had already dried.  “I am, too, but I usually don’t use any sort of alarm system at all.”

Quinlen blinked, surprised and curious despite himself.  “Why?”

The grin he received was wolfish and jadedly dangerous - the smile of an old wolf who knew all the tricks.  “Because there’s nothing to steal at my flat, and when I’m in it, I’m more dangerous than any alarm system.”

“Ah,” Quinlen nodded uncomfortably, clearing his throat, “Of course.”

“Make yourself at home, Q.  You’re stuck with me for a few more days yet, and we should be considerably safer here than at the hotel, if that’s any consolation.”  Already moving further into the loft-like space - high ceiling, open areas, a few half-walls partitioning the room but leaving space to see a kitchen and beds beyond the sprawling living room they’re standing in - the blond-haired man turned and caught sight of the uneasy look Quinlen was favoring him with, and seemed to miss a step.  Bond paused, a frown catching his mouth again and turning his eyes from wry to crystalline and serious.  “I’m not going to hurt you, Fluke,” he said lowly, the last name coming out with only the slightest hint that he’d almost said ‘Q’ again instead.  “Actually…”  His eyes darted pointedly to Quinlen’s wrist, meeting the boffin’s eyes again meaningfully.  “I still mean to patch you up a bit, just as soon as I make sure I’m not going to bleed anywhere.”

Feeling off-balance - still wary, still very flustered, but unable to deny that the gunman sounded sincere - Quinlen wavered, standing where he was a moment before finally just deciding that it was too cold just standing here.  He strode further in and sat down gingerly on the battered suede couch, nearest the kitchen.  This just so happened to allow him to watch as the gunman lost interest in him and strode into said kitchen, lowering all of their bags at his feet.  Quinlen stared longingly at the laptop bag, but knew that it was effectively out of reach so long as it was at Bond’s feet.  At that point, he was distracted by Bond shucking off his jacket and then doing the same with the shirt under it, leaving him bare from the waist up except for a shoddy bit of bandage-work taped to his side.  Even if Quinlen hadn’t been off-put by the sudden half-nudity, he would have paled a bit at the sight of blood seeping through the tape, so it was with morbid fascination that he watched Bond just peel it away without so much as a flinch.  Back to Quinlen, Bond looked down at it, swearing forcefully under his breath before digging for the first-aid kit.  Meanwhile, the graze continued to sluggishly leak blood, smearing down tanned skin over an insanely fit physique.  Quinlen felt inadequate just watching, but he continued to stare silently as Bond cleaned the wound with antiseptic (and then possibly alcohol, for good measure, which lead to more swearing) and then considered the wound for a moment before suddenly putting water on to boil and pulling out…

“You’re going to sew that?” Quinlen finally blurted, and the gunman’s blond-haired head turned to look over one shoulder at him.  The smaller man just continued to blink at him as if watching madness unfold, sitting forward a bit.  “Bond - James,” he tried to appeal, the first name slipping out and almost catching him by surprise, even though his photographic memory made sure he hadn’t forgotten it before now, “Unless you’re a doctor or a seamstress beneath the rogue gunman facade, sewing up your own bloody hide is not-”

“Well, unless you want to volunteer…”  Bond offered up the curved needle, already threaded.

Quinlen paled even more, and curled back behind the arm of the chair like an offended cat.  “No.”  He snorted out a bit of a hysterical chuckle, then lifted his battered right wrist, adding, “The only thing more insane than you doing it would be me doing it.  No.”  

Instead of being offended or irritated by Quinlen’s derision, Bond looked as though he were fighting a tiny smirk, a ghost of an expression that he seemed surprised to be wearing.  Sterilizing the needle in the boiling water, he shifted around until he was leaning back against the counter - facing Quinlen instead of standing with his back to him.  It should have been a paranoid change in position, a desire to keep his eyes on the man he’d kidnapped and coerced into his company, but instead it seemed more like a social decision.  Bond was indeed watching Quinlen, but it was the idle sort of watching that came with normal chatter and conversation.  “Normally I wouldn’t bother with stitches at all, but if I have to go chasing drug-runners and random shooters, I’d rather not have this opening up and bleeding all the time,” he explained ruefully.  It was a ridiculous explanation, but at least Bond grimaced and shifted restlessly when he finally had the needle and thread prepared - odd as he was, clearly James Bond was not entirely a man of steel.  “I bloody hate doing this,” he admitted to that with a tight sigh.  

Quinlen turned away and decided it best not to watch as Bond literally stitched himself up.  It was done quickly and nearly silently, which was almost worse than hearing some sounds of pain, because the more the silence stretched, the more Quinlen had to think about what kind of life molded a man who knew how to stitch himself up and not cry out.  Bond grumbled and growled a bit on occasion, the sounds low and rough.  It made shivers run up Quinlen’s spine.  Only the last sharp curse sounded like a normal human response, and it let Quinlen know that Bond was done, torso flexing as he twisted around to drop the needle back into the boiling water to clean.  The muscles along his torso bunched in lingering discomfort before he seemed to forcibly shake it off - or at least shook it off enough to go for the cupboard and find something bottled and alcoholic.  He had a tumbler of amber liquid in one hand as he picked up the fire-aid kit to approach his bespectacled companion again.  

Looking between the shirtlessness, the alcoholic drink, and the rather gory three stitches that Bond had endured without complaint, Quinlen leaned away from him, intimidated all over again.  This was a man who had already shown that his inhibitions were… abnormal, to say the least, and possibly not to be trusted if he was drinking.  This was also a very good-looking man whose attractive musculature, combined with a clearly impenetrable pain tolerance, meant that if he wanted something from Quinlen that Quinlen didn’t want to give, there was little to nothing the boffin could do to stop him.  Quinlen didn’t realize that he was closing his hands into fists until pain jolted up his left arm and forced an involuntary whine out of him.  Cheeks flushing with humiliation and hot fear, he looked down at his wrist, even if every shred of his attention remained otherwise fixed on the soft padding of Bond’s footsteps coming his way.  

Even with his head ducked, Quinlen could see when Bond sat in front of him on the sturdy wooden coffee-table.  One hand extended expectantly.  “Wrist.”  He clicked his fingers once as if to hurry the other man along, and that got Quinlen to look up from under his hair with a patently displeased look.  The gunman was merely smiling challengingly back, unflinching, and a moment later Quinlen gave in.  Looking off somewhere else so he didn’t have to see so much bare torso and intimidatingly blue eyes, he tried not to twitch as a warm hold enfolded his forearm and drew his wrist out from behind the wall of his bent knees.  Already, he was missing the cold-pack, which had ultimately ended up in one of the outer pockets of his messenger bag.  

Quinlen did a good job of pointedly ignoring Bond until the man prodded at his wrist, and then he turned back with an offended hiss.  The gunman was already soothing, “Easy, Q, sorry.  Just testing to see if anything’s broken.  I stand by my first assessment, though, of badly sprained.”  The hand that had been poking opened up, and formed a surprisingly gentle cushion for Quinlen’s limb to rest on while Bond fished around in the first-aid kit next to him, drawing out a roll of bandages.  With his coat no longer hiding it, the bright colar of bruises formed a collar of mottled coloration around Bond’s neck.  He coaxed the trailing end of the bandage between Quinlen’s thumb and forefinger, and proceeded to wrap things quickly and efficiently from there, until the joint was immobilized.  Quinlen bit his lip through most of the process, because while the bandages were loose enough not to cut off circulation, they were still snug, pressing down against tender, swollen skin.  When Bond finished, he flicked a lingering speck of rust off Quinlen’s palm, and then stood - belatedly realizing that he was still shirtless.  

“Sorry,” he actually grumbled grudgingly, the tone of a man who apologized rarely and never liked it.  Still, it meant something to Quinlen that Bond had, perhaps, recognized the origins of some of his tenseness.  The gunman went back to the duffel bag in the kitchen, squatting down to hunt through it, eventually pulling out a dark-grey tee.  “You hungry, Q?”

“You mean there’s food in this place?” he replied with a touch of faked awe, which earned him a bit of a look - but not a threatening look.  It urged Quinlen to continue, “I didn’t even think this place had electricity or heating.”

It was true: the loft was still cold and lit only by the sunlight filtering through the windows.  Bond snorted as Quinlen’s sass and walked over to something on the wall out of Quinlen’s range of vision, and shortly thereafter, there was the hum of a heater starting.  When Bond went around flicking on a few lights, he also pulled a bundle of cloth from deeper inside the duffel bag before approaching Quinlen again.  As he held it out to him, he listed in a stern, no-nonsense tone, “There aren’t any phones hooked up here, so you may as well not waste your time looking for them.  If I catch you going for the fire escape or the door-”  So apparently there was a way out of here that didn’t involve secrecy and rusted ladders.  “-You can happily spend the rest of your stay here locked in the closet.  Believe me, it’s served that purpose before.”  When Quinlen’s eyes widened, Bond merely grinned a roguish, daring grin, so it was impossible to tell whether he was bluffing or not.  Still, he gentled the expression just a fraction, and went on with less foreboding, “Behave, and I’ll make sure you don’t starve, and are as comfortable as I can make you.”

“And I get to leave when this is all over?” Quinlen asked, because he had to.  He distinctly felt the power difference as he sat on the couch, Bond standing over him.  

The reply was surprisingly unhesitant, and sounded sincere, “Yes.  After Friday, I don’t care where you get to.  Go to the police if you want.  I’ll be quite out of your hair by then.  Now put this on before you freeze.”  The bundle of cloth was dropped on Quinlen’s lap.  “The heater up here is a bit slow.”

As Bond walked back to the kitchen to use the boiling water for something other than needle sanitization, Quinlen found himself looking at a black jumper, the material thick and pleasant against his fingers, fashionably understated with white collar, cuffs, and hem.  It smelled of metal, detergent, and a bit of something like cologne, but after a rebellious little moment, Quinlen tugged it on before sagging into the couch with a defeated sigh.  At least he wasn’t freezing anymore.

~^~

Despite the expert wrapping and the pain meds from earlier, Quinlen’s wrist was driving him to distraction by the time he finished picking at his food.  He’d eaten… some of it.  Considering the strain he’d been through today and the evening previous, he thought he was doing rather well.  The food was actually rather good, too, especially considering that all of it had come from either a frozen package or a can, so far as he could tell.  Quinlen didn’t realize that he was just sitting and staring forward at nothing, slouched in his seat, until Bond walked past him and deposited another painkiller next to his glass of water.  “Thank you,” Quinlen said a bit sluggishly, on reflex.  Equally reflexive was the hand that reached out and took the vague little white circle, downing it with a quick mouthful of tepid water.  

Then, suddenly, his brain caught up with him, and he jerked.  Tense as a bowstring, he snapped his eyes up to Bond, who was leaning against the kitchen counter and merely watching - no doubt waiting for his reaction.  “That was the other one,” was all Quinlen could think to say, shocked and accusing.  The pain-pills had looked nearly the same - nearly.  But now, too late, Quinlen was recalling the differences, the slight deviations in size and shape.  This was definitely the one that worked better (it would snuff the pain right out of him), but it would also make him fuzzy and dizzy before long.  

The blue eyes watching him were unrepentant and flat, barren of emotion.  Bond nodded once.  “You’re too much of a risk otherwise.”  He pulled something out of his pocket, and it took Quinlen a moment to recognize the broken cell-phone that he’d secreted away into his computer bag.  Apparently, it hadn’t gone as unnoticed as he’d hoped.  “You look like you’re in a helluva lot of pain anyway, so this seems like a win-win situation.”

“Except for the part where you just drugged me!” the smaller man shot back with rapidly rising volume, panic backing up in his throat until it felt like it was pushing the words out of him.  He hadn’t even realized that he’d gotten out of his seat, hands braced on the table and chair scraping back behind him.  Bond hadn’t moved, but something in his blue eyes had sharpened.  It made him look more dangerous, and Quinlen pulled back abruptly, reality hitting him like a slap.  He swallowed, suddenly mute, and backed up a few steps.  “So this is how this is going to go then?” he said with fragile aplomb, wishing his hands weren’t shaking - wishing all of him weren’t shaking.  

“Quinlen-”  At least the gunman made an effort to remember his name this time.

“No.”  The smaller man cut him off, slicing his good had through the air as if to bat aside whatever the oncoming words were.  “Just-!  Just bloody shut up before I start yelling again.”  With what thin self-control he still felt he had, Quinlen glanced around, looking for inspiration of some sort.  Finally, he said stiffly, “How much trouble can I get into in the bedroom?”

“Practically none,” was the even answer.  

“Fine, then I’m staying there.”  Realizing that he’d be dizzier than a drunk stork within the hour, he made a few quick calculations, and added with a quick, angry flush of embarrassment, “After I take a shower and try to convince myself for a bit that this is not happening, that you are not a totally amoral arse, and that this is just some bloody horrible bad dream.”  He stalked off towards the bathroom without turning, hiding the way that he was falling apart all over the place.

Bond didn’t stop him, thank god.  Quinlen was entirely left alone to go into the bathroom, lock the door, and figure out the shower until he had it running fast and hot.  “Bloody Bond,” he growled to himself, angry and ashamed to find that there were frustrated tears pricking the corners of his eyes.  He pulled his glasses off to rub at his lashes, then left them off by the sink as he stripped quickly, totally forgetting about the steady throb of his wrist until he was in the shower already and the bandages were getting soaked.  “Great.  The day can get worse,” he muttered down to the offending limb, and then just gave up.  There were some half-used bottles of shampoo sitting in the shower, and he got them open clumsily with one hand before setting out to do exactly as he’d promised: pretend that none of this was real.  

His skin was red from scrubbing and his hair a mass of damp curls by the time he stepped out and finished toweling it.  It seemed that, like the rest of the flat, the bathroom was set up to be used whenever someone dropped in - towel on the rack, hygienic supplies, etcetera.  Honestly, Quinlen would have just stayed in there and groused inside the fluffiness of the towel if it weren’t for the bit of unsteadiness he was already starting to feel.  He quickly pulled on his pants and trousers again, but after a moment, forewent his shirt because it was a wrinkled disaster from being worn all of yesterday and last night.  He just slipped on the jumper instead, purposefully ignoring that it wasn’t his, and that it felt wonderful.  By the time he got his glasses on, the room was tipping drunkenly back and forth, and a quick glance in the mirror proved that his pupils were dilated unhealthily.  

The pain in his wrist was also nonexistent, but it was hard to be grateful for that.  

When Quinlen left the bathroom, his intention was to go straight to the bedroom that he’d seen without any more encounters with James-bloody-Bond, but the swaying of the room stopped that.  He tottered, barely steadying himself, and yelped when he used his left hand to brace his weight.  Feeling fuzzy and annoyed, he glared down at the offending wrist, even as the discomfort faded immediately beneath the soggy bandages.  

Bond was there immediately.  He’d approached from somewhere while Quinlen was looking elsewhere and leaning heavily against the wall.  

“Shit,” the gunman grumbled, perhaps at seeing the wet bandages - perhaps at seeing the boffin barely standing upright.  “Come on.  Just because I’m okay with drugging you doesn’t mean I want you to fall and crack your skull open,” Bond murmured, sliding up under Quinlen’s right side before a protest could be mounted.  Quinlen slammed his eyes shut as the world gave an awful rotation - or maybe that was just the blond-haired man shouldering his weight and maneuvering the two of them away from the wall.  Bond’s strength was a palpable thing as it wrapped around him, pressed flushed to Quinlen’s side with one arm curled around his back.  It was incredibly intimidating, but it was also reassuring to know that he wasn’t going to end up crashing to the floor as the dizziness got worse.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

It was a silent walk, with Quinlen pretty sure that he’d sound like a slurring drunk if he tried to talk, and Bond uninterested in making conversation either - there was the chance that he perhaps felt a bit remorseful about switching pain-meds on Quinlen after all.  Either way, they got to the bedroom, and it looked like it had been cleaned up a bit recently.  “Alec actually has a horrible habit of hiding sharp or deadly things in the bedroom, so I did a quick sweep of the place,” Bond admitted, sounding roughly embarrassed.  He started to ease the smaller man down onto the bed, but even letting go of him for a moment resulting in staggering.  Now Quinlen made a bit of noise, in the form of furious swearing that he’d been holding behind his teeth stubbornly this whole time; his feet didn’t seem to understand how the ground worked.  His face ended up pressed into the crooked of Bond’s neck as the gunman caught him, the two of them nearly falling thanks to Quinlen’s utter lack of coordination right now.  The gunman’s heavy, masculine scent filled his nose, a combination of faint cologne and the warm smell of worked muscle.    

“You weren’t kidding when you said that stuff would put you on your arse,” Bond commented, a bit stunned as he finally released Quinlen, letting the dark-haired young man sit unsteadily on the edge of the bed, glasses a bit askew.  

Quinlen managed a foggy, lackluster sort of glare.  “Did you think I was kidding?” he asked back incredulously.

“Exaggerating, yes - kidding…”  Bond shook his head, shifting from foot to foot where he stood and definitely looking a bit ashamed of himself now.  “No, I didn’t think you were kidding.  Look Q, I really am sorry.  I have to run a few errands, and I can’t have that paranoid brain of yours combining with your obvious running skills.  It was this or handcuffs.”

“For the record, ask next time,” Quinlen growled, leaning over his thighs and resisting the urge to just flop back on the bed.  He felt vulnerable enough already, and the world would spin just as badly with him lying down.  “I can hardly say that I enjoy handcuffs, but…”  He groaned and grimaced, pressing a hand tight against his brow as if in an effort to keep his brain in.  “...But I might prefer it to this, if there aren’t any other options.  What kind of errands?”  The abrupt subject change was because he suddenly realized that he was not only dizzy and drugged, but was going to be left alone like this.  In that moment, Bond’s company seemed preferential, because at least the gunman had expressed an interest in keeping him safe.  

“I need to get a phone,” was the miffed answer, but the information was given unhesitantly.  Bond seemed unwilling to leave, and instead lingered in the bedroom, arms crossed and shoulder against the wall.  It showed off the curve of his biceps and the chorded strength of his forearms.  “The one you swiped is busted, and the one I took from our would-be murderer is passworded.  I can’t get into it.  I’ll grab a burner phone and trade out cars again while I’m at it.”

Fighting to stay alert with the painkiller making overactive loops in his system - his oversensitivity to it made him feel light and floaty, immune to pain but also incredibly hazy, as if all of his nerves were simply falling asleep - Quinlen blinked and gripped the edge of the mattress.  “Give me the phones.”

“Not likely, Q.”

“What, afraid that I can get them to work when you can’t?”  Quinlen had to pause to get his words in order, because his tongue felt as disconnected as the rest of him - it was bloody hard not to slur.  Still, he managed, “You said yourself that they were useless.”

Something about Quinlen’s tone, with its water-down bite and the little edge of challenge that shone through even though he was dizzy and foggy, had Bond’s attention sharpening on him a bit.  The gunman shifted, blue eyes narrowing just a bit in thoughtfulness.  “You really think that you can get one of those phones to answer to you?” he asked skeptically after a moment, but his posture gave him away, showing that he was interested in the same way that the pricking forward of a dog’s ears would have.

“I don’t know about the broken one, but the locked one I can get into,” Quinlen replied, with only some of his bravado faked, “No problem.”  He looked up, and took the effort to firm up his glower a bit, adding with carefully enunciated (but still slightly slow-sounding) words, “Even though someone thought it would be wise to drug me.”  By now, he was pretty sure that his stiff pronunciation of things made it sound like he was overcompensating...which he was.  

Sighing out a harsh, sharp breath and looking away, the gunman gave in visibly, hand going behind his neck to rub at it before brushing up over his short, golden hair.  Then he was twisting out of the room, grumbling something about bad moods and snarky tech-geeks and his own bad luck for finding a combination of both.  He returned moments later, though, with two mobiles, dumping them on the bed next to Quinlen before dragging in a chair from the kitchen so that he could sit across from the boffin and keep an eye on things.  It was also an obvious assurance that Quinlen wouldn’t be calling anyone if he did get one of the mobiles working.  

Only now did Quinlen relax enough to push back and lean against the headboard, wanting all of his focus to be on the work of his hands and not the distracting of staying upright.  He had to squint his eyes and take a few deep breaths to get his vision not to sway or double, but he managed it, picking up the broken mobile first.  

“Are you able to fix it?” came Bond’s skeptical tone after about five minutes of Quinlen merely turning it over in his hands, taking a moment to peel off the battered outer casing.  

“Hmm, no’ withou’ the right tools, no,” Quinlen admitted distractedly and trippingly, although he pulled it apart a bit more, just to figure out exactly what was wrong with it.  Yes, definitely fixable under better circumstances - but not here and not now.  

“I meant with your head not glued on straight,” elaborated Bond maddeningly.

This time, Quinlen didn’t rise to the bait, having accepted the fact that this was as good as the situation was going to get: he was drugged, yes, but he had a task to focus on and a gunman who was presently no threat to him at his side.  His brain wasn’t quite connecting, but he was sure that later he’d be able to diagnose the broken phone’s problem better.  As it was, he just knew that it was beyond his drugged skill-set.  Quinlen picked up the other phone, the one they’d stolen from the fellow who’d tried to shoot Quinlen and had winged Bond instead.  “I’ve worked through worse.  I’m a workaholic, you see.  T’ be honest, this is about how I feel after staying awake for… for four days straight working on’a tough bit of programming.”  He felt ridiculously proud of making his way through that many words with the minimal amount of verbal slipping.  

Bond made a scoffing noise as if he didn’t think that Quinlen was serious, but then he went silent, realizing that he was.  “You’re an odd one, Q,” he finally decided.

“That’s hilarious, coming from someone who is unashamed of shooting, kidnapping, handcuffing, and drugging people.”  Quinlen’s mouth was moving even though nearly all of his brainpower was on the phone, looking at the screen that presently was demanding a password he didn’t know.  

There was silence next to him for a moment - long enough for Quinlen’s brain to catch up with the idiocy of his vocal cords, and his eyes snapped up.  “I didn’t mean-” he started to stammer.

“No, it’s okay,” a scarred hand lifted, Bond looking more tired than angry.  “I’d love to tell you that I feel bloody awful about all of that, but I’d be lying.  A lot of that was necessary.”  He clenched his jaw and looked away before uncomfortably adding, “Except maybe taking advantage of your reaction to pain meds.”

“You can make it up t’ me by giving my laptop back.”

“Not a chance.”

“Well, you’re going t’ have to anyway,” Quinlen sighed, sitting back and lowering the phone - still locked - onto his lap, finishing frankly, “Because I can get into… into this phone, but it will take a program that’s on my…”  He trailed off, actually losing his train of thought and just rubbing at the bridge of his nose for a moment before grasping the topic again to finish, “...Laptop.”

Blue eyes sharpened suspiciously, even if he seemed mildly amused by Quinlen’s distraction.  “Sorry to say this, Q, but I really don’t trust you not to get into trouble with access to the internet.”

Quinlen scoffed and rolled his eyes in a fashion that was probably exaggerated because he was a bit doped up.  His body felt light and fluffy.  His brain felt more and more like a slightly dysfunctional marshmallow by the minute, although he was forcing a certain amount of coherent focus out of it.  “How much trouble can I honestly be?” he demanded in exasperation, “I’ve got one busted wrist and I’m mostly seeing threes of ever’thin’!”  He winced as he made to gesture with said busted wrist, and the movement managed to briefly cut through the thick haze of painkillers.  The bandage was still wet, and he stared at it in consternation until a tanned hand came into view and gently gripped his forearm.  Some part of Quinlen wanted to tense up and pull away, but his efforts to do so were uncoordinated at best by the time the command made it from is foggy brain to his numb limb.  By then, the gunman was already unwinding soggy gauze wrappings, clearly stalling and buying himself time to think.  

Quinlen didn’t realize that he’d said that last observation out loud until Bond looked up at him from under his eyebrows.  The smaller man blinked back in response, startled with himself.  “Sorry.  That was suppose’ to stay in my head,” he murmured, a bit mortified.

That earned a chuckle instead of an annoyed look, surprisingly.  Bond finished removing the bandages that Quinlen had ruined in the shower and got up.  “Fine.  I’ll get your laptop.  Can you do anything with it one-handed?”

“If you wrap up my wrist again,” Quinlen supposed tentatively, knowing that the injury should be immobilized even if he didn’t feel any of the pain right now, “Maybe.”

“Then it looks like I’m going to be babysitting a slightly damaged, slightly high-”

“ ’m not high.  I’m dizzy.  There’s a diff’rence.”

Bond was already out of the room, the sentence finishing out of Quinlen’s hearing range.  He huffed, then pressed the fingertips of his good hand up under his glasses, against his eyes, desperately willing the unsteadiness and fogginess in his brain and body to recede.  It was a good feeling, in a way, but so long as he was alert enough to realize that this wasn’t normal, it would scare him more than relax him.  “I need the cord in the outside pocket, too!” he shouted belatedly, cursing under his breath at how easily he forgot important things like that.  And how slippery the words all felt in his mouth right now, sliding crookedly off his tongue.

Still, he felt better when he had his laptop again.  True to his word, Bond did give it to him - and true to the gunman’s distrust, he then perched himself against the headboard, still standing where he could watch everything that Quinlen did.  The ironic part was, on a good day, Quinlen could do things that even a watchful eye like that couldn’t follow - sadly, Bond’s tactic to subdue him was paying dividends now, because even after his wrist was re-wrapped, the phone was hooked up to the laptop, and Quinlen had entered in the twenty-digit, ever-changing password to open everything, he didn’t have the mental capacity to pull any elaborate stunts.  Finally, he just sat back with a tired sigh.  “There.  Give it… give it a minute.  The program is running some algo… algo…”  He snarled exasperatedly before forcing the word out of his mouth in one rough piece.  “-Algorithms that should find out the phone’s password before long.  Mobiles like that, in my experience, are rarely very well guarded.”

“You’ve done this before?” Bond asked, tone unreadable.

Seeing no point in lying, Quinlen nodded.  “ ’Bit in Uni.  A lot now that I work in IT.  Mos’ of the time it’s because people can actually lock themselves out of things like this, and not have the wits to reset it.”

“Have you ever dealt with more complicated passwords?”

Some little section of Quinlen’s brain began buzzing a warning that the questions were getting too pointed, but with the room tilting lazily around him and his thoughts like molasses now that he wasn’t forcing them into order, he didn’t notice.  “Yes.  If this program can’t find the password, I know another one that breaks down or bypasses the locking mechanism itself.  It’s not one-hundred percent effective, but it works for the most common locking mechanisms.”  The last word sounded horribly garbled, as if Quinlen had tried to chew it in his mouth like gum.

There was silence until the program suddenly lit up a green ‘Complete!’ sign, and Quinlen rocked forward again.  The movement was too much for him, and he groaned as the bed rocked like a ship.  He squeezed his eyes shut against the vertigo that tossed his stomach, but didn’t tip off the bed because strong hands caught his shoulders.  “Dammit.  I hate this.”

“So you’ve said,” was the remarkably tolerant answer.  The hands on his shoulders shifted slightly, and then they were pushing him back, impervious to Quinlen’s half-hearted little struggles.  “Just take it easy, Q.  Your job’s done.”  Bond’s tone turned impressed.  “Your clever little program got the phone open for me.”

“Ah, yes, now you can go do criminal things with it.”  Why was his mouth still moving?!  At least all of the letters and words had come out right…  Quinlen snapped his jaws shut with a little, painful click of teeth, and rolled away on the bed so that he could curl up into a ball and feel miserable out of Bond’s reach.  He didn’t have to be a genius to know that his laptop was being picked up and removed again, but it hardly mattered, because he was pretty sure that he was going to be largely incoherent for the next few hours.  He growled and ran a hand back through his hair in frustration, letting his fingers get caught in the thick, wavy strands that were finally completely dry, but still very unkempt.  

“You going to be all right, Q?”  

The question surprised him with its low sincerity - it also did a lot to pop the balloon of the boffin’s temper, letting it all rush out in a sigh.  He’d never been very good at holding onto anger anyway.  “Yes, yes,” he waved his left hand limply over his shoulder, dismissive, “This will wear off ’ina few hours.  Fortunately…”  He paused, wetting his lips and sternly telling them to separate vowels and consonants for just a bit longer.  “...My sensi- sensitivity and odd reaction do not stop my body from processing the drug...fairly quickly.  So it’ll all break down in the time-limit on the bottle.  This is hardly the first time I’ve taken it.”  Besides the ‘t’s being a bit weak and some of the ‘s’es sounding like ‘z’es, the sentence came out fairly well.  Quinlen was proud of himself.

Bond still seemed eager to talk, though.  “You take it even though you know that it knocks you sideways?”

“Migraines,” he admitted it, not knowing why he was spilling more information, when the last bit of info had led to...well...this.  Bond was clearly the type of man who made note of and use of any data he was given about a person.  “This is abou’ the only thing tha’ works, and I’d rather be laid out with dizziness than with my skull splitting open.  Oh, and by the way…”  Quinlen steeled himself again, swallowing, focusing as much as he could so that the next words came out crystal clear and almost competent in their annoyance, “I might have unlocked my laptop, but it’s set to re-lock itself periodically.  Good luck making it work.”

Again, those words were probably more daring than they should have been, but Bond didn’t get angry.  He snorted from the vicinity of the door, and said in low wryness, “I suppose I deserve that.”

“Damn right you do.  Now let me sleep this off.”

~^~

Bond’s voice as he talked on his stolen phone was a low drone in the background, and it probably wouldn't have kept Quinlen up at all if he’d truly been able to sleep.  As it was, he still felt a lot like he was rocking on a ship, the vertigo making sleep untenable until at least a few hours had passed.  Quinlen was just starting to actually drift deeper than an uncomfortable doze when Bond stopped talking on the phone, and instead, his voice appeared from closer - probably the doorway.  “Q?”

“Quinlen,” the boffin correctly stubbornly, glad that the slurring was at least under control.  Now, the dizziness would start to fade, too, he knew, until the only symptom he had was an unsettled queasiness in his stomach.  

“Fluke,” Bond refused to take the first name, but went on talking anyway, “I still have to trade out cars.”

“Ah,” Quinlen tried to sound snarky while really he was scrambling to decide what this meant for him, “So is this your way of telling me that I’m about to be stuffed in a closet, handcuffed, or drugged again?”

“None of those,” was the surprising answer, making Quinlen finally turned over and sat up (slowly, because moving too fast was still a good way to make his vision waver) with a suspicious look.  Bond simply regarded him levelly back from his perch against the doorframe, all muscle and poise.  “I’ve locked the inside door so your only option is the fire-escape.  Am I right in assuming that you won’t be leaving via that route?”

Quinlen stifled a mortified groan at just the memory.  His wrist didn’t hurt, but he knew he wouldn’t be using it for climbing - and jumping even that last distance sounded foolish.  With his luck, he’d break his ankle and Bond would come back and find him there an hour later.  “Touche.”

“Good,” Bond perked up a bit, face looking less stony and more mobile - a cheeky smile even nestled at one side of his mouth, the only warning Quinlen got before he added smoothly, “As charming as you look in handcuffs, I think something just might spontaneously combust if you give me another glare like I got last time.”

It was almost impossible not to gape at the sheer unprofessionalism of this man…  Quinlen had to clench his jaw and sit very still for a moment just to keep his entire self from melting with embarrassment.  “For that,” he said very quietly, but with very real threat in his voice, “I’m going to rig the toaster to catch fire.”

Bond snorted as if he didn’t believe him - or as if he found the threat charming instead of discouraging.  “Stay out of trouble, Q.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.  Any requests while I’m out?”

The offhand domesticity that Bond was effectively radiating made Quinlen roll his eyes and scoff, “Oh, I have plenty of requests.  None of them nice.”

The gunman’s smile grew more interested, more cheeky.  “At this rate, I’m going to think you don’t like me.”

“I believe I’ve told you that.  Repeatedly.”

“I’m a slow-learner.  Ask anyone.”

“I hardly think I need a second opinion to believe that.”

Unexpectedly, a deep and rolling chuckle cascaded past Bond’s mouth, even white teeth just showing as his smile widened and his blue eyes lightened to a sapphire shade.  Clearly, Bond was a king amongst liars, but this was so genuine that it changed the very mood of the room.  “I mean it, Q - stay out of trouble,” the gunman finally sobered enough to say, although his tone was still friendly and his demeanor less imposing as he pushed away from the door, “I’m not as bad a man as you think I am, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

A million retorts hovered on the edge of Quinlen’s tongue, comments about how Bond was clearly as bad as people got, and that if he didn’t want Quinlen hurt, he should have left him out of his...but for some reason, the smaller man said nothing.  He told himself it was because his vision was swimming a bit again, a slight relapse in the drug making his tongue feel heavy, but really, it was because he’d liked the gentleness and sincerity in the room.  It was an ambiance he didn’t want to be rid of.  

“Fine.  Scout’s honor that I’ll stay put, if only out of gratitude for you not handcuffing me,” Quinlen waved him off, “Just get me a coat when you’re out.  I’m tired of freezing.”

“Can do, Q.”

“Quinlen.”

Bond was already walking off, although Quinlen knew that the gunman had heard him.

~^~

Of course, as soon as he was sure that Bond was gone, Quinlen found his feet and went hunting for his laptop.  It was a long shot, but he hoped to be able to find it and send out a few panicked messages to people, outlining how his little vacation had turned into a kidnapping situation.  Not surprisingly, though, the gunman had either taken all of the tech with him, or had hidden it very, very well.  Feeling a bit lightheaded and nauseous in the last throws of the painkiller, Quinlen sagged against the wall in the open closet, defeated in one category.  He’d been defeated in another category when he’d confirmed that the door leading to the building’s interior stairs was also secured in such a fashion that he couldn’t get it open, just like Bond had promised.  

Still, Quinlen wasn’t done yet.  His brain was pretty much back online, so with something like his usual acumen, he turned to the breaker box and began to consider his earlier threat about the toaster…

Maybe Bond wasn’t one-hundred percent the merciless serial killer that Quinlen had originally thought him to be, but Quinlen was likewise not some dustbunny that could be swept under the rug and kept compliant and out of the way.  “Nothing personal, Bond,” he murmured to himself as he began to dig around in the kitchen drawers until he found a screwdriver and pliers in a junk drawer, “It might be your job to keep me here, but it’s my job to try and escape.”  Bond had done a good job of also hiding all of the knives, but Quinlen was far more dangerous with other things.  

Bond was going to come back to a surprise or two at the flat.

At least, that was the plan, which went spectacularly wrong an hour or so later when a not-so-subtle weight hit against the locked door.  It made Quinlen jump, startled and then confused, because Bond would have remembered the condition of the locked door, and either opened it or come up the fire-escape again.  Only someone else would come up against the door so hard, and that had Quinlen scrambling to his feet and darting to the breakers - throwing them and putting the flat in darkness.  He’d closed all the windows, so even though there was still daylight left, it basked the place in darkness.  

Quinlen had spent the time since Bond left booby-trapping the house...he had expected Bond to be the one suffering for it, though.

Instead, the door splintered under muffled gunfire, and no fewer than five strangers swarmed into the flat.

Quinlen had found himself a flashlight pretty quickly in the flat, and with his fingers wrapped over it so that only the faintest red glow showed past skin, he was nearly invisible but not helplessly without light.  There were low shouts in French that he didn’t have time to translate, but none of it sounded familiar - most of it sounded startled and angry, however, at finding the place dark.  Perhaps if they had deemed it empty and left, things would have gone better…

As it was, the foremost one kept his gun up and trained, and Quinlen was just able to understand him saying in French, “I know the dog is here.  Stay alert, and search everywhere.”  Then they all moved forward, and the last among them was the unfortunate, foolish soul who reached out unthinkingly to touch the damaged doorknob as he went past.  The wires Quinlen had hooked up to said door immediately electrocuted him.

All hell broke loose.  The intruders were trained enough that they didn’t just start shooting wildly (which would have been nice - maybe they would have even had the decency to shoot each other), but there was a lot of yelling and diving for cover.  At that point, the tiny machine Quinlen had cobbled together out of the toaster was triggered and began shooting sharp bits of glass from where it was tucked under the coffee-table.  Bond’s toaster had enough spring-power in it that it launched the shards of Bond’s glass tumblers quite effectively into the ankles and shins of two intruders, some deflected by heavy boots but more than a few clearly cutting through cloth and into skin.  Two gunshots were immediately aimed down in the vague direction of the Frankenstein toaster (although the real Dr. Frankenstein was still hiding in the kitchen), and Quinlen spared a moment to wonder with the neighbors thought...or if they were in danger of having bullets raining down through their ceiling.  

Deciding he had to do something, Quinlen pushed down the lightheaded feeling he still had thanks to the painkillers.  One of the plus-side of that drug, ironically, was the dilation of his pupils that he’d noticed earlier - so the darkness wasn’t quite as complete for him, even if he felt rather nauseous.  He gripped a clutch of objects in his hand that were the bastard children of the microwave, an alarm clock he’d found, and at least two remotes that were missing their batteries now.  It looked egregiously ugly, but in Quinlen’s defense, he was a bit high and working with decidedly subpar tools.  

Things were happening just a little bit too fast for him to be properly afraid, so before he could get terrified - his heart was already hammering like a piston behind his sternum - Quinlen ducked out of the kitchen to toss them through the air like grenades.  Unlike grenades, they made no noise, but like the door, they packed a hard kick of voltage as soon as they hit their targets.  Quinlen had electrical burns on his damaged right hand from when he was trying to rig a safety on them, and he winced in sympathy as two more men dropped screaming.  The amount of electricity was by no means deadly, but it sure hurt.  The last one hit the television, and there was an almost explosive blast of sound and light as the two pieces of technology met like mechanized tigers, roaring and destroying each other.  Quinlen yelped, having not expected that at all, and ducked back into the kitchen.  He’d lifted his arms to protect his face, but was still a second too slow to avoid the shrapnel entirely, and felt burning lines and dots of pain erupt across the front of his torso.  

I see him!”  Clearly, this was going downhill fast.  Looking down at himself and releasing enough light past his fingers to inspect himself - seeing that most of the barrage had been stopped by his borrowed sweater, although a few slivers of glass had torn through to bite at the skin over his belly, all superficial - Quinlen began to admit that now he was panicking.  He’d used up pretty much all of his tricks, and now, no matter how he mentally scrambled, he couldn’t think of anything else.  Snarling silently, he blamed the painkiller, still clinging to his system like heavy hands dragging at his bones, nerves, and thoughts.  He’d been alert enough to make quite a lot of dangerous little things, as was already apparent, but now he felt sick and hollowed out, like he was on the verge of the flu but didn’t have the promise of vomiting the illness out of his system.  Backing up until he could grab the nearest weapon - the pliers he’d been using earlier - Quinlen prepared to make some sort of last stand.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

He figured that this end would be more valiant and glorious if he weren’t shaking from his head to his toes and starting to forget how to breathe.

Suddenly there was a familiar noise, and another.  Gunshots muffled by silencers.  The intruders had silencers, but this time, following the sounds, there were hard thuds - bodies dropping?  Someone made a noise of dismay that was cut off in infancy by another silenced bark.  Another thud.  

Then silence.  Utter silence.  

Quinlen held very still, panting, his back behind the half-wall to the kitchen but his entire attention focused on the living room beyond that.  Curiosity had always been a terrible failing of his, and now it was clawing at him like a dog locked on the wrong side of a door - it was incredibly hard to make himself wait a minute, and then two, and then three, before moving slowly.  He peered around into the dark room, picking up residual sparks from his little toys and from the poor television, which lit the shape of the furniture and...lumps...on the floor.  

“What the devil…?” Quinlen murmured to himself, seeing his opponents on the floor and no sign of what had done it.  He came out further, saying just a fraction louder and more sure, “Bond, are-?”

A split second too late, Quinlen noticed movement, previously hidden to him on the opposite side of the very wall he’d been pressed up against, patient enough to wait him out.  Before the bespectacled man could even fully register the standing shadow that he saw, it was surging towards him, as fast as night falling.  Quinlen yelped but only got the sound halfway out of his throat - then all he could comprehend was muscle and iron strength, shaped in an arm hooking around his neck.  The attacker’s other hand came out with speed and accuracy usually found only in falcon’s claws and sniper’s bullets to catch Quinlen’s right wrist in a crushing grip, rendering its weapon useless.  As the arm around his throat pulled up and back, Quinlen tried to struggle and grab on so that he could support himself and snatch more air, but he only had his left arm to work with.  The painkiller was good, but the agony of his wrist stabbed right through it when he tried to claw and scrabble at the arm folded across his windpipe.  Panic bubbling in his brain, the smaller man realized with dread horror that he couldn’t even make a sound - his air was already that cut off.  The man behind him was slightly taller, too, enough so that Quinlen felt his body stretched taut between his strained neck and his feet tripping for balance on the floor.  

“You don’t really fit with the rest of the party, do you, myshka?” noted a low and calm voice in Quinlen’s ear, the only threat in it conveyed in the perfect coldness, like iron left out all winter.  The hand around his right wrist tightened and gave an expert twist, and Quinlen gasped out a breathless sound of dismay and pain as he was harshly relieved of his makeshift weapon.  The pliers clattered to the floor.  The voice stayed next to his ear, rough and almost pleasant, but speaking now in the same language as the foreign term of address he’d just used.  Quinlen was in no condition to translate or even place it, but it sounded thick and rolling, like honey poured over a gaping wound…

Quinlen didn’t realize that he was blacking out until another voice snapped him out of it: sharp, commanding, more familiar than gunshots.  Bond.  “Alec!  Don’t kill him!  He’s with me.”  

The arm let up without actually releasing him, and as Quinlen sucked in greedy breaths, light poured into the room.  “Don’t…” he croaked, voice sounding embarrassingly reedy and week, “Don’t touch...the window frames.”  Bond must have come through the doorway that was already kicked in, and so far, hadn’t touched the metal window frames when he’d opened the blinds just now to let in the fading sunlight.  Otherwise, he would have been electrified like the unfortunate fellow at the doorknob...  Simply grateful to be breathing again, Quinlen let his eyes slide shut, not caring or particularly noticing as this put his head lax in the newcomer’s - Alec’s - grip, the back of Quinlen’s skull resting against a muscled shoulder waiting there.

“When you said you were in town, this isn’t what I expected,” Alec said, sounding largely unperturbed by the dead guys on his floor or the slim boffin he still had trapped in a loose headlock.  

“You should have called me back,” Bond growled in a far less forgiving voice, and then there was glass crunching as he stalked forward.  He stopped, and Quinlen whined and groaned as he felt fingers prod his middle.  He started to try and rouse himself to protest, because that hurt, thank you very much.  Seeing as he’d just survived a warzone in the flat, however, he found it very hard to motivate himself to do anything but regularly inhale, exhale, and not go rather boneless.  

“Shit,” Bond hissed succinctly.  “Hold him a sec longer, would you, Alec?”  Not bothering to take the time and ask Quinlen’s opinion, the gunman apparently knelt down, and this time Quinlen made a noise more like uncertain alarm as his borrowed jumper was peeled away, a callused hand on his abdomen pushing it up along his ribs.  Pain hit Quinlen in little stings from somewhere other than his wrist.  “Not a lot of blood.”  Bond sounded more relaxed than he had a second ago, and finally asked, “What the bloody hell happened?”

“Are you talking to me, or this krolik I found fending off gunman in my flat?” Alec asked, jostling Quinlen just enough for him to really regain his equilibrium again.  The room came back into focus, as did the hand on his right wrist and the arm casually curled around his throat.  At least Bond had stood up and backed off, no longer with his warm hand pressed rough and flush against the pale skin just over Quinlen’s Solar Plexus.  Every breath still twinged, though, and it took some effort not to think about glass slivers in the skin over his abdominal muscles.  Seeing as Quinlen had very little body-fat to blunt damage like that, he was rather worried, but trusted that Bond would be more alarmed if his shrapnel wounds merited it.

Clearing his throat and gingerly tapping Alec’s forearm so as to neither jar his own wrist nor incite the stranger behind him to tighten his grip again, Quinlen pulled the attention back to himself.  His throat still felt a bit compacted, but hopefully he wasn’t going to get a ring of bruises to match Bond’s.  “Some people of the lethal persuasion came in,” he explained as steadily as possible, his tone actually coming across as dry, “I tried to stay alive.”

“He was actually doing rather well before I came in,” Alec added ambivalently, and his shrug moved through the smaller man pulled up against him, “Who the hell is he?”

Bond’s expression did something funny, where it tried to settle between rebellious, still annoyed at all of this, and rather flatly unreadable.  “Q,” was all he answered, settling on rebellious.

“No!” the boffin immediately struggled, stepping accidentally on one of Alec’s boots as he tried to get a bit more balance and leverage, although he should have known there was absolutely no hope of him slipping Alec’s hold.  Still, he wriggled his right wrist free, and managed to level a warning glare at Bond over Alec’s forearm.  “No, you bloody forgetful bastard, my name is Quinlen Fluke.”

“Quin…?” Alec repeated slowly, as if this meant something to him, and suddenly...suddenly he was roaring with laughter.  Quinlen was turned loose so fast that he almost fell, spinning in place a bit and stumbling like a startled stork.  Apparently, any caution Alec had felt towards him was wiped away now, and he found himself facing a man with rugged, angular features that were handsome in a more wolfish fashion than Bond’s, the blond hair above them somewhat longer.  Alec’s green eyes were crinkled as his laughter showed all of his teeth like an over-eager, playful shark.  Quinlen tried to exchange puzzled looks with Bond, but the gunman was ignoring him, a muscle in his jaw ticking as he waited for Alec to shut up.  

“Well, then,” the newcomer said once he’d gotten himself under control, although he was still smirking broadly and unashamedly, “Nice to meet you, Quinlen Fluke.  Care to explain how you came to be here, destroying my flat?”

“Wait, you didn’t do all of this, Alec?” Bond suddenly grew alert again, and now he was looking at Quinlen.  

Trying to hide his nervousness, Quinlen rolled his eyes, moving to cradle his bad arm in close again before he remembered that he had other injuries.  There were spots of blood almost invisible against the black of the jumper, and he studiously tried to ignore them.  “You left, and I saw an opportunity,” he hedged defensively.

“So when you said just now not to touch the window frames…?”

“They’re electrified.  Any other power in the house is down until someone throws the breakers back,” Quinlen decided that there was no point in hiding this.  Besides, he felt a little bit proud, especially when he saw the very, very shocked look on Bond’s handsome face.

Alec was chuckling again.  “Now this is a story I have to hear.  Regrettably, I’ve got corpses on my carpet, and I specifically recall telling you, Bond, not to bring your nastier business back here with you.”

“I didn’t,” Bond said, low and focused again, but eyes bemused as he looked around at the five men on the floor, “I know when I’m being tailed, Alec, and I wasn’t.”

Quinlen had taken the moment to pull the hem of his shirt up himself, to get a look at the damage, and the sight of little gashes and pinpricks...and even some bits of glass still imbedded… made him suddenly nauseous.  The aftereffects of the painkiller were not helping.  Closing his eyes and breathing through his nose, he stumbled back to sit in a chair.  Only when he opened his eyes again did he realize that he had both of the other men’s undivided, slightly worried attention.  Quinlen glowered and was about to give a lecture about cruel treatment of hapless kidnap victims when everything just… clicked in his head.  Suddenly, he was painfully alert, sitting up and forgetting all of his little aches and pains in favor of looking around and thinking.  “Bond, where’s the phone?  Your broken one?”

“Q, I’m not-”

“Stop it - I don’t want to use it.  I want to know where it is, because I think you hid it here in the flat, and I think that it’s being tracked somehow,” Quinlen began to speak rapidly, going over memories in his head like files, “I saw something a bit funny about it earlier, but my head was too muzzy to make much of it until now - but it all fits. I need to see it to be sure, though.”

“James…” Alec growled, low and slow and unsure, but he did nothing to impede the other man as Bond immediately moved, disappearing out of sight.  Wherever he’d hidden the mobile, the spot had been a good one, but now he returned just minutes later with it in his hands.  

“Give it here,” Quinlen beckoned, but it was already being placed obediently in his palm, and while the boffin bent his head over it, he was flanked by two tense and curious gunmen.  Left wrist still puffy and stiff with bandaging and swelling, Quinlen managed to compensate with his other hand, gaining enough dexterity to take off pieces of the phone with quick little twists and tugs, dropping bits on the floor without blinking.  

“Hold on…”  Bond’s hand caught Quinlen’s upper arm, grip firm without being painful.  Quinlen had already paused, his prize found.

“Shit, your little boffin’s right,” Alec picked up the conversation then, looking on approvingly from over Quinlen’s other shoulder.  “Haven’t seen a locator like that since Beijing.”

“That’s how they found us - here, and at the hotel,” Quinlen agreed, flushed with more pride than he’d expected.  

Alec, of course, immediately raised one eyebrow, his expression going from idle to leering with disturbing speed.  “Hotel?  Wow, James, I thought you were classier than that.  And more into leggy things with breasts-”

“Shut it, Trevelyan,” Bond snarled over him, and Quinlen filed away the last name, mostly to distract himself from the blush trying to immolate his face, ears, neck… pretty much all of him.  He desperately tried to change the subject before the embarrassment got any worse, and got his mouth working just in time to pull the broken mobile away from Alec’s reaching fingers.

“You should keep it,” he blurted.  The teasing stopped, and once again, two heads turned to him.  Quinlen hurried to explain, the idea forming naturally in his head as he went, “Not on you, obviously.  But instead of just destroying it and showing your hand, toss it onto a boat or something, or… I don’t know… flush it into the sewers!  That way they may be distracted for longer, if no one knows that you’ve found the tracker.”

Alec stared at him and blinked a moment, green eyes flat until suddenly he was saying, “I like him.  Where can I get one?”  

“At the Salle Gaveau, trying to watch a piano concert,” Quinlen sighed resignedly, “and then suddenly realizing that he bought tickets to a shooting.”

While Quinlen was sitting there with a martyred expression on his face, Alec took the phone, still grinning a fox-in-the-henhouse grin that was honestly a bit scarier than a scowl would have been.  “Okay, now I have to hear what happened.  How about this - I’ll take care of the bodies, and you can take Fluke here to a second hideout I’ve got?  I’ll give you the address.”

“You have two flats in France?” Quinlen asked in surprise.

Alec put on a wounded face, even as he rolled over a body with his toe.  “I like France”

“You like French women,” Bond corrected, but had the decency to otherwise stay on topic, “What about the tracker?”

“I’ll play a bit of hide-and-seek, like your cunning little friend suggested, and then meet you two at my other place.  Now, if Fluke here could kindly tell me what’s going to electrocute me and what’s not…?”  He flashed a charming smile that was only half predator.

Quinlen sighed and moved to get up and fix the things that he’d rigged, but Bond’s heavy hand on his shoulder kept him in place, and the little slivers of glass nipped at his skin.  “Just tell him what to do,” he suggested with weary patience, “Alec’s a quick learner when it comes to disarming things anyway.  Aren’t you, Alec?”

Alec shot Bond a nasty look, but stood patiently enough as Quinlen - hesitantly at first, but then more smoothly as he got on a roll - began to list all of the things he’d done, modified, and hooked up to a current.  By the end, Quinlen was looking upwards as he probed his memory, and therefore missed the significant, surprised looks exchanged by the two larger men in the room.  

“All right then,” Alec said when Quinlen had finished.  He sounded significantly less sure of himself, even with the gun still holstered at his side and enough muscle on him to take the boffin down twice over.  “You’ve turned my flat into a bloody landmine.  How long did you leave him alone?” he demanded of Bond.

“An hour and a half,” was the winced answer.

Alec’s eyes got wider for a second before he abruptly turned away.  “I’m going to make sure the neighbors don’t call the cops.  James, patch up your terrifying little friend and then lend me a hand.”

~^~

“Do you and Alec have dead bodies in this flat often?” Quinlen asked with the barest quaver firmly controlled in his voice, as he walked gingerly ahead of Bond, back into the bedroom where he’d spent most of the day.  Now he had shrapnel needling at his skin and two killers instead of one at his back, and a large portion of the house was littered with evidence of his rather malicious tinkering.  So far, neither Bond nor his friend, Alec Trevelyan, had shown any personal offense at any of it, even though Quinlen wasn’t exactly hiding the fact that he’d hoped to catch Bond off-guard and incapacitate him.  

Now Quinlen was hurting again and felt ruddy awful on top of it all, and Bond was once again carrying the first-aid kit.  

“No, but Alec pays the neighbors well to pretend this entire floor doesn’t exist,” Bond decided to tell him, before flicking on the lights - they worked this time, proof that Alec had taken the time to visit the breaker box.  “Any more traps I should be aware of in here?” he asked with a quirk of his lips.

Quinlen sighed, “I’m afraid the entirety of my arsenal was spent on the overzealous intruders that Alec is now disposing of.”  He shivered at the finality of that sentence, and swayed on his feet.  

“Whoa - hey!”  Bond was immediately there, his free hand encircling Quinlen’s bicep firmly and arresting the wobble.  His other hand found Quinlen’s back as soon as he’d deposited the first-aid kit, his palm warm and steadying between the boffin’s shoulder blades.  “Easy does it, Q.  You’re all right.”

“All right?!” Quinlen parroted back mockingly, a chuckle escaping that sounded too sharp to be anything but manic as he turned incredulous eyes Bond’s way, nearly startled into silence by how close that put them.  He barreled onwards anyway, trying not to get swallowed by shadowed blue, “I just assisted in multiple murders, and offended two more proven killers to do so!  I think that I’m about as far from ‘all right’ as anyone could possibly be!”

It was surprising to hear sounds of comfort coming out of Bond’s mouth; he just seemed so much more capable of violence and gruffness, but now his tone gentled and turned low and deep.  A soothing sound that was felt as much as heard, as if Quinlen’s ears were missing some subsonic component of it all.  “Shh, shh.  Calm down, Q.  No one’s mad at you - not me, and definitely not Alec.  I destroy his flats on regular occasions, and usually with less cause than you had.”

“My cause was trying to take you out of commission.”  Quinlen immediately bit his tongue, which didn’t seem to know when to quit when it was ahead.  Bitterness and fear made his mouth taste like copper and rot.  He held himself frozen and tense, still in Bond’s grip and body a bit too weary to try and fight his way loose.  

Bond just eased him closer to the bed, the guiding hand on Q’s back briefly sliding up and down in a familiar sort of stroke.  A faint, rueful smile was teasing at the corner of his mouth.  “You’re hardly the first.  By this point, it’s almost rather funny.  Now come on - take the jumper off.  I’ve got to get the splinters out of you before you hurt yourself more.”  Immediately Bond was helping, somehow maneuvering Quinlen to sit on the edge of the bed without him realizing it before gripping the lower hem of his jumper to ease it upwards.  Quinlen was honestly too surprised that he was being forgiven to put up any resistance, although he hissed in his breath as the subtle shift and stretch reminded him that he had new injuries.  “Lie back,” Bond commanded, mouth twisted downwards in a pensive frown as he stared at the speckled mess of tiny cuts like a nasty constellation on the smaller man’s stomach.  “I’ll grab the tweezers.  How the hell did you manage this?”

“Accidentally blew out the television.  There was already glass on the floor, too.”  Quinlen eased himself back nervously and slowly, pulling his feet up onto the bed and staring at the ceiling, wondering what in the world his life was coming to if he was saying things like this.  “Nobody tells you that when you cover your face, you leave most of the rest of you rather undefended from shrapnel.”

Bond’s snort drifted from nearby, and then he was easing down to sit at Quinlen’s side, putting a hand almost reflexively on the sharp line of his hipbone when the boffin showed signs of wriggling away.  The sudden contact made Quinlen freeze, every inch of him going still in the instinctive way that mice in the presence of hawks did, his breathing careful and shallow.  It took a heartbeat, but then Bond, his other hand reaching to grab a bit of spare gauze from the first-aid kit (perched on the nearby chair), noticed.  His brows lowered in a silent ‘What the hell is wrong with you now?’ sort of look, no words necessary to interpret his expression.  Fortunately, before he decided to ask verbally, Bond seemed to understand, and then his look just got flat and a bit irked.  All he said was, “Don’t move,” in a brief and unfriendly growl.  Quinlen spent a brief moment feeling bad for hurting the feelings of a proven killer before wincing and squeaking embarrassingly in pain.  Bond had pulled out the biggest piece of glass with his bare fingers.

“I said hold still,” Bond reminded uncharitably, somehow juggling the bit of shrapnel without it cutting him, and managing to toss it into the trashcan.  It was possible that he was showing off, although he still looked awfully grouchy.  “I thought you were still up to your eyeballs in painkiller?”

“Painkiller isn’t the same as numbing agent, you arse,” Quinlen snarled back gamely, but fisted his hands in the bedsheets to keep from moving again - or reaching up and pushing the gunman away.  He looked down warily, though, as Bond situated the gauze in one hand and the tweezers in the other, feeling a flash of embarrassment at his own unimpressive physique and pale skin.  Quinlen didn’t work out much (although he balanced that out by working  frenetically and frequently forgetting food...making him underweight instead of packed with any extra fat), and he got equally little sunlight.  His skin tone was at best a creamy sort of color, and Bond’s large hand looked almost obscenely tanned against his skin.  The faint blush of Quinlen’s veins beneath his skin seemed sharper, like the vaguest touches of watercolor paint, pulsing with Quinlen’s increased heart-beat.  

There were more little flares of pain like sharp sparks of fire - quick to ignite and slow to burn out - as Bond deftly began to pull out shards of glass.  They were all tiny, small enough that many would probably have been impossible to find if it weren’t for the pain and the little drops of blood.  More blood welled up as each was wrangled carefully loose, but Bond patiently mopped it up with the gauze in his other hand, eyes focused and untroubled.  In fact, he barely looked alert enough not to be bored, as if this were something he’d done many times before.  When he wasn’t wiping away droplets of red as they welled up, however, he merely rested his hand against Quinlen’s skin, the side of his hand warm and heavy, often coming to rest just above the curve of Quinlen’s pelvic bone on one side or the other.  Eventually, despite the overall lack of fun in the situation, Quinlen found himself fighting the urge to shift a little, flustered and unsure exactly what he was feeling.  

“Bond...uh...I think I can do that,” he tried to get out of the situation.  

Eyes like winter skies lifted to him, patently disbelieving.  “If you sit up or more around to look at yourself, you’ll dig these in deeper before getting a single one out,” he made very clear with no particular inflection in his voice besides brutal sincerity.  “Believe me, I know.”

“But I-”

“Q, kindly shut up, okay?”  For a moment, Bond’s face remained impervious and unchanged, but then a tiny fleck of a smile ghosted in at the corner of his mouth, softening his expression.  “You’ve clearly got a brilliant brain, and it terrifies me when some of that genius spills out of your mouth, now that I’ve seen what it does with your hands,” he went on glibly while Quinlen flushed, a flush that got worse when Bond put down the stained gauze briefly to grab one of those hands for emphasis, his own calloused fingers encircling Quinlen’s unbandaged wrist.  At least Bond was smiling in earnest now, albeit wryly.  “Besides, as I’ve said before, I got you into this mess, so believe it or not, that makes me feel responsible.”  He let go of Quinlen’s wrist to frown down at his wounds again, the good mood disappearing in favor of an unhappy glower as he finished more glumly, “So stop arguing and let met patch you up.”

This was all just too confusing - and overwhelming.  Quinlen started to wonder if more of the painkiller was in his system than he thought, although he was pretty sure that the only symptoms he still had revolved around a generally sore stomach.  Obeying in a rather flustered fashion, the smaller man purposefully looked somewhere else - anywhere but at Bond and the little bits of blood - while the gunman went back to work.  The whole procedure still hurt, making him bite his lip and twitch from time to time, but with his hands fisted at his sides, he actually managed to stay reasonably still and quiet.  Finally, there was only the careful stroke of the gauze against his skin, and then the surprising slide of something else, which had him looking back to see some kind of cream being transferred now from the gunman’s fingertips to Q’s torn skin.  “Special recipe Alec and I use,” Bond explained without prompting, holding up a small bottle and turning it to show no label, but something translucently colored inside, “Prevents infection and stops bleeding, at least in tiny things like this.”

“We don’t use it much,” Alec surprised them both from the doorway, where he’d snuck up to lean somehow without them noticing.  The man was smiling again, a disturbing expression that seemed to be his natural setting.  “Usually, whatever Jamesy and I get is a bit too serious for just a bit of cream to fix.  You about finished fixing your boffin up, James?”

Bond’s back was to Alec, so the latter didn’t see the eyeroll.  Quinlen did, however, and had to smother the bubble of amusement that rose up in him suddenly, the emotion so startling that it was almost inebriating.  To hide it, the smaller man propped himself up quickly on one elbow and reached out to pull the bottle out of Bond’s hand.  “Your concern is noted,” he said in a perfectly clipped but polite tone, “Although I’m not even going to ask about what else you to get into.”

“What we get up to is confidential, what we get into is really more a case of who we get in-” Alec started replying back far too casually, but thankfully Bond had had enough of his friend’s sexual innuendos.  He cut him off by standing abruptly, leaving Quinlen to finish up with the cream.  

“Don’t you have better things to do?  Like not being a pain in the arse?”

“Touchy today, aren’t we?  And for your information, I’ve already cleaned up as much as I can on short notice.”  Alec shrugged broad shoulders, but sobered up a bit.  He lifted a hand to show keys dangling from his fingers.  “Keys to the other flat.  Last time I let you get in without keys, I had to replace broken locks, and I’m already fixing up enough things, thank you,” he finished with a smile that was less full of humor and more just a baring of teeth in warning.  Now Bond was the one trying out a small smirk.  Quinlen just shook his head and gingerly dabbed cream on a sluggishly leaking cut about as wide as his smallest fingernail, resigning himself to the fact that he’d fallen in with two men who clearly competed over who could break the most things.  

“Let me tape him up a bit more,” Bond had the good grace to stop the taunting first, being sensible again, “and we’ll head out.”

“ ‘Him’ continues to be in the room, and does not appreciate plans being made over his head,” Q quipped, cutting in without looking up from his own little job.  He’d be glad to have something covering these little marks, though, because just looking at injuries on his own body was making him queasy… or maybe that was still the painkiller.  He added under his breath, “Not that I can do anything about it, but still.”

There was silence, and Quinlen looked up to see complicated expressions turned back at him - the most notable emotions being faint surprise, and maybe a close cousin to apology.  It looked rather unnatural on the two gunmen’s faces.  “Sorry, Q,” Bond surprised apparently everyone by saying.  

One of Alec’s brows had shot upwards towards his hairline, and he glanced between Quinlen and James a few times before backing out of the room.  “I’m off to play a game of tag with your latest criminal admirers,” he called back over his shoulder, something deadly joining the playfulness in his voice now, “Call if you need anything.  Don’t let Fluke weaponize any more of my toasters.”

While Quinlen flushed in embarrassment, the remaining gunman returned quite naturally to the first-aid kit, fishing out small bandages with practiced hands.  He once again took up a perch on the bed by the smaller man’s legs, and Quinlen watched him warily, fingers still a bit gooey.  The boffin said nothing, making it quietly clear that the previous apology wasn’t enough to fix a kidnapping.  Regardless of his remaining temper, Quinlen couldn’t keep up his aloof silence very long with Bond touching him again, hands warm where they pushed his hands out of the way and started pressing down the adhesive edges.  “I really am sorry, Q.”

“Quinlen.”

“You wouldn’t be interrupting me if you knew just how rarely I apologized,” the larger man retorted with an irked downturn of his mouth.  Notably, he still didn’t say the first name, which was not so much bothering Quinlen but making him curious by this point.

Instead of getting fussy about titles, however, what came out of the bespectacled man’s mouth was, “I can tell it must be rarely indeed, because you’re bloody horrible at it.”  When he got a proper, more prolonged look of surprise for that, Quinlen’s brain caught up with his mouth, and he cringed back.  “Shit,” was all he could think to add, in response to his over-eager (and rather rude) mouth.  Tensing in a fashion that had to be visible with his shirt off, hands fisting in the bedsheets until his wrist gave a half-hearted throb, Quinlen looked away.  He jumped a little and bit the inside of his lip as a heavy, calloused hand fell on his shoulder.

“Look at me, Q.”

Seeing honestly no other option jumping out at him, the smaller man considered for a moment how much danger he was still in, and then sighed and turned his head back.  For all intents and purposes, he was completely patched up again, but still sharing space with a dangerous fighter.  Bond’s expression was candid, though, and while it was intense it showed no signs of anger or even irritation.  “I’m going to make you a promise, all right?” he went on, low and slow, squeezing the curve of Quinlen’s shoulder just enough to give a hint of his strength, “You will get through this, and life will return to normal.  Now, it’s shit luck for both of us that you got tangled up in this, but hurting you is the last thing on my mind.”

Something about the word ‘last,’ or the slight shift in Bond’s tone that combined ruefulness with something else - something more secretive, harder to distinguish - had Quinlen’s skin flushing.  It was a totally unexpected reaction, and immediately embarrassed the hell out of him, as he sat with his skin mottling a rosy red and Bond’s hands and eyes both on him.  

Quickly, to hide himself, Quinlen scrambled to grab the jumper he’d been wearing, not caring if it presently had little rips and dried speckles of blood on it - the dark color hid the damage, and the expanse of cloth hid his flush.  “All right then.  I believe you,” he said, mostly to bring the whole terrible conversation to a close...and partially because he was tentatively beginning to believe Bond.  

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Another car.  Another tense and awkward drive through France.  Disturbingly enough, Quinlen was almost starting to get used to it, and probably would have even dozed off (because apparently rigging the house and jumping villains had taken a lot out of him, despite his earlier, drug-assisted napping) if Bond weren’t constantly glancing at him with a slightly perturbed look on his handsome face.  

“What is it?” Quinlen finally asked, realizing almost as he spoke that he was fiddling with the newly-made holes in his shirt - no doubt the focus of Bond’s eyes when they weren’t on the road.  “Look, sorry about-” he started to make himself apologize.

“No, no.”  The blue-eyed man surprised him by interrupting, voice smooth and polite, as if they were friends - or at least coworkers, “If you’re thinking about the holes, don’t be.  Like I said, Alec and I have caused worse messes.  I’m just not…”  He paused, a muscle in his jaw working as he eyed the road and seemed to choose his words, finally laying them out with more care than Quinlen expected, “I’m just not used to seeing that jumper on someone of your build.”

And because being around James Bond made stupid things come out of Quinlen’s otherwise logical mouth, he retorted dryly, “Oh?  And what kind of build are you used to seeing in it?”

“Mine.”

Hindsight was twenty-twenty, and in retrospect, Quinlen shouldn’t have been surprised.  He’d received the sweater upon arriving at Alec’s flat, but it had come out of Bond’s duffel bag.  Now all Quinlen could imagine was broad shoulders and tanned skin filling out the material he himself was swimming in, the black cloth with its understated white trim in stark contrast to the golden tones that made up just about everything about Bond, except for his stunning eyes.  All of that was quite too much for Quinlen to think on without feeling suddenly flustered and rather… warm… so he merely murmured, “Oh,” in a rather flustered voice and curled his long limbs up against the window.  Moodily contemplating how well this Stockholm Syndrome business was going, he picked at the new bandages around his right wrist and stalwartly ignored his companion in the car.

~^~

Alec’s second flat turned out to be also up off the ground, although this time only on the second floor.  “High enough to jump out of, but enough to deter the lazier burglars,” Bond explained without prompting, shrugging.  They’d gone past the old couple who ran the bread shop downstairs, with Bond once again playing the pleasant, charming friend.  He’d said a few things (in French, with Quinlen tentatively following along where he was tucked under Bond’s arm) that had apparently convinced the couple that he was a true friend of Alec’s, and after that they had been gladly ushered to the back stairs and then left alone.  Unlike the last occasions when Bond had been putting on a smiling face to the public’s benefit, it hadn’t really faded all that much once the need for it was gone.  

“Here.  Sit and eat this while I make sure that Alec hasn’t left any nasty surprises lying around the flat,” Bond ordered, a ludicrous amount of cheer in his voice - he may as well have been saying, “Sit down, love, while I see if we have a bit of bourbon tucked away!”  Instead, he steered Quinlen to the table and placed a still-warm loaf of bread (about fist-sized and smelling deliciously of hidden cheese and greens) in his possession.  As he padded away, he added over his shoulder with a wry chuckle, “You’re not the only one who booby-traps things.”  

Feeling unexpectedly touched by the edible gift (partially because he was starving...partially because he’d never even seen Bond grab the loaf, although he recalled a bit of currency being left on the counter as they’d passed it), Quinlen sat, quietly inspecting the room.  It wasn’t as fancy as the first, although there was still a kitchenette and a television, as well as a nice large couch.  Bond was making his way through what looked to be two bedrooms and a bathroom, movements efficient and agile even when all he was doing was checking the place out.  Quinlen was already munching halfway through the bread by the time Bond’s attention returned to him.  

“God, this is made of heaven, isn’t it?” the smaller man was unable to hide his opinion, barely swallowing his present mouthful before talking.  The bread was actually almost too warm to hold for prolonged periods, and the insides sent up aromatic curls of steam as he bit into it.  “How is this shop not on all the brochures?”

“Possibly because the downstairs couple like to live out of the way,” Bond shrugged, but he was watching Quinlen curiously and with the definite start of a smile, “and possibly because Alec lives upstairs.”

“Ah.”  That should have sobered Quinlen - the reminder of just what kind of people he was dealing with - but the bread and the sensation of a filling stomach was just too good.  After frowning for a moment, he simply went back to eating.  The blue-eyed man chuckled.  “What?”

“Nothing.  It’s just so odd to see you doing anything but glare and snark at me.  You look positively euphoric.”  Bond leaned his weight against the counter, all power and easy grace, fitted together with a smile that looked all too good on him, even in Quinlen’s biased opinion.  

Unsure for a moment how to answer in a way that wouldn’t bring attention to how his face was flushed again, the smaller man looked back down at his food, taking a smaller, nibbling bite.  The stalling worked pleasantly until he’d swallowed the newest mouthful.  “Don’t think you can bribe me with food,” he cautioned, managing to somehow capture a dry tone.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”  Of course, Bond never stopped watching and grinning faintly as he said this, making the words such an obvious lie that Quinlen merely rolled his eyes before turning back to eating.  He had every intention of finishing this before it got cold, regardless of the gunman across the room teasing him.  Fortunately, Bond seemed to lose interest in the game, and moved off to get out of his coat and shoes, an indicator that they’d be there awhile.  Quinlen started to relax, feeling full, warm, and as safe as he’d felt in days.  He almost didn’t realize that he’d finished eating and was simply resting his forehead against his folded forearms on the table until Bond’s voice ghosted over him like a gentle caress.

“Tired, Q?”  There was no teasing this time, but perhaps some breed of understanding or sympathy.  

Quinlen looked up to find Bond occupying the couch, sock feet propped at one end and head at the other, watching Quinlen with inscrutable blue eyes.  The bruises around his neck just peaked through the collar of his button-down shirt.  “A bit.  In case you haven’t noticed, I am not only unathletic but rather untrained in stalling surprise attacks by armed men,” Quinlen replied offhandedly as he lifted his head to return the idle look.

It was a novelty to be in the same space as James Bond and yet not feel tension crawling over his skin, filling the air like muted warnings.  At the moment, everything felt...remarkably calm.  Quinlen was feeling the weight of fatigue starting to tug down at him like an increase in gravity, and the blonde-haired man seemed likewise inclined not to move around, giving the small flat a feeling of stillness and languor.  If Quinlen looked, he could see Bond’s gun still close within reach, but he’d removed the harness that he wore it on, and now looked less like a ready killer and more like a normal bloke, if eyes that stunning could ever be called normal.  

“Guest bedroom’s all yours,” Bond finally replied, not moving, voice benevolent for once, “Which actually means you get your pick of either one.  Alec doesn’t tend to personalize rooms when he only crashes in them once in a blue moon.”

Quinlen was levering himself to his feet without really thinking about it, as if the offer were a delightfully baited hook and he the hungriest of ignorant little fishes.  He couldn’t bother to be offended by his own comparison.  Besides, for once, he didn't think he was being threatened or manipulated.  “So you’re not going to do a sweep of the room for sharp, dangerous things, like last time?” he asked wryly.

The responding chuckle was a low grunt of breath, brief but amused as blue eyes glanced disinterestedly towards the two bedrooms.  “No, I don’t think I’ll bother this time.  Unless you have grand plans of trying to kill me in my sleep?”

Snorting, Quinlen replied as he made his way to the nearest room, “I don’t think I could kill you even if you were in a coma.  My I.Q. is more than high enough to know when I’m beat.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.”

Those words unexpectedly warmed something in Quinlen’s chest, and he stopped walking to turn and look at the dangerous man sprawled on the couch, looking as elegant as he did any other time.  He cocked his dark-haired head, lips tugging down in an ‘I don’t get you’ sort of frown.  “You don’t believe that my I.Q. is very high?” he hazarded.  Damn, he was too tired for this already.

Bond didn’t seem to mind the questioning, or the puzzled look directed his way.  “I don’t believe that you ever admit that you’re beat, even to yourself,” was all he said, low and quiet.  Then he purposefully closed the conversation with a pointed glance towards the bedroom, “Have a good nap, Q.”

If Quinlen’s fatigue hadn’t suddenly grown exponentially - everything that had happened crashing into him - the smaller man might have stayed put and pondered Bond’s words for hours after that.  Instead, he stumbled into the bedroom, gave the door a half-hearted push that only closed it halfway, and managed to tug off socks and shoes and remove his glasses before losing his momentum altogether.  He had just enough direction to crawl under the covers and roll away from the soft light that fell through the half-open door, coming from the room where Bond still waited, awake and more real than any dreams that chased Quinlen deeper into sleep.

~^~

It was probably something of a miracle that Quinlen woke up and almost instantly recalled where he was, what he was doing here, and what sort of mess he’d spent the last few days tangled up in.  Blinking his eyes open muzzily, hearing Bond’s voice somewhere in the background, Quinlen couldn’t even bring himself to be all that alarmed.  He huffed out a silent sigh as he realized that this was becoming normal.  He only jolted slightly under the warm covers when he heard a second voice, but recognized it quickly enough as Alec Trevelyan's, no doubt returned from his dangerous travels.  

“I’m telling you, James, they’re going to change up the schedule.  Even if they were dumb as stumps, they realize that a good number of their men are dead, and you’re still breathing.”

“Fine.”  Bond sounded more reasonable than irked at the candid assessment, his tone all business.  The levelness of his voice was almost chilling compared to the way it had softened earlier, when speaking with Quinlen.  “What do you suggest?”

“Stop playing a defensive game.  I finally had to break that tracking device when they got too close, but I think I might know where they’re holed up,” Alec replied.  Still lying in bed, Quinlen’s brow beetled, and his nearsighted eyes narrowed: this plan didn’t sound particularly sane to him.  

Alec went on, explaining the location that he knew.  He hadn’t tracked Bond’s problem directly to it, per se, but apparently Alec knew the area just a little bit better than Bond did, and knew where trouble raised its ugly head the most often.  “Shouldn’t be too hard for you to just pop over and give the place a look,” the shrug was evident in Alec’s tone, and Quinlen was already sitting up quietly and putting his glasses on while the planning continued, “If you’re lucky, you find your drug-runners. If you’re unlucky, you find some other sonsofbitches who deserve it just as much.”

“What kind of plan is that?”

Neither Bond nor Alec jumped out of their chairs in alarm, but the way they twisted showed that they’d forgotten him - or at least hadn’t heard him until Q’s bare feet had scuffed the floor outside of the bedroom.  Any sort of surprise became another sort of emotion as they took in the glare Quinlen was giving them - or, more specifically, giving Alec, who bristled faintly.  

Walking forward, looking like a dark-haired crane striding forward (all straight back and limbs), Quinlen continued brazenly, “I haven’t been eavesdropping long, but unless I’m mistaken, you want Bond to just waltz right into what you know is trouble.”  Quinlen wasn’t defending Bond...he told himself he wasn’t.  He merely couldn’t stand idiocy of this level, and he found himself shaking internally at how badly he could see this plan going.

“Watch yourself, krolik,” Alec replied too evenly, eyes hooded but somehow as intense as jade knives, “For someone who doesn’t know anything, you’re showing quite a few opinions.”

“I may not know anything,” Quinlen admitted, holding tightly to his courage and refusing to back down, “but even I know that this sounds idiotic - a child’s reaction.  Can’t catch the hornet buzzing lazily through the house?  Fine, let’s go attack the entire nest.  Without protective gear.”  Alec was clearly getting more angry, and Quinlen wasn’t turning away from him to check Bond’s reaction.  The smaller man held his hands in tight fists and went on before someone could override him or just stuff him into a closet where he could be conveniently ignored, “It almost sounds like you want someone to get killed-!”

Trevelyan was fast.  Quinlen had known that from his first encounter with him, when he’d ended up in a headlock before he could blink.  This time, Alec was up and pushing Quinlen against the wall with a hard thud of impact before Quinlen could even think.  The distance between himself and Alec seemed to have disappeared like magic.  With a jolt, the air was forced out of him, and for a moment Quinlen saw nothing but stars as the back of his head connected sharply with the wood behind him.  He actually missed the first words snarled at him, vicious and low, but he could guess with reasonable certainty that he was being threatened in new and unique ways - possibly not in English.  The only real shock came a heartbeat later as he realized that Alec was strong enough to lift his weight, and the hands fisted in Quinlen’s shirt-collar were starting to drag upwards with steady, petrifying ease.  

Then the pressure was gone, and instead of having Alec boxing him in, Bond was there.  Quinlen’s full weight slid back to his feet, and he panted to get his lungs working again, swaying without meaning to.  Blinking back spots, the hand he stretched out for balance landed on a muscular shoulder-blade, which didn’t twitch in the slightest at the contact.  “Back off, Alec,” Bond’s voice came out like drawn steel, slicing into the tension of the room, but being too much menace itself to alleviate it, “You don’t want to do this.”

“Like hell I don’t,” was the snarled response.  Quinlen had been ready to remove his hand from Bond’s back, but fear of that voice kept his hand where it was.  He’d...he’d perhaps gone a little too far.  To be honest, now that his head was one big ache and he could still feel the impression of Alec’s knuckles against his collarbones, Quinlen didn’t know what he’d been thinking.  All he knew was that he’d heard a foolhardy plan and it had made him outraged, because it really, really did sound like a plan to get someone killed.  To get Bond killed.  Regardless of his opinion towards Bond, the idea of listening to someone planning what was basically a suicide run…  Quinlen just couldn’t sit back and take it.  

So he’d come storming out of his room and had proceeded to insult and enrage a man twice his size and capable of snapping Quinlen’s neck.  

Suddenly, Quinlen wondered if he was the suicidal, stupid one.  His other hand found Bond’s back numbly, and Quinlen felt his breathing pick up on the start of a panic-attack.  He lowered his head between his forearms out of instinct, but already wasn’t sure what to do with himself as he realized just what new insanity he’d dove into, head first.  

“He was trying to make you angry,” Bond reasoned.  The two men were still talking, adrenalin like a coppery taste in the air - like blood.  

“It worked.”

“So go do what you usually do when you get angry.  I’ll take care of him.  It’s my bloody fault he’s here anyway.”

Perhaps Bond’s jaded tone got through to Alec, because the other man sighed, and seemed to deflate.  “I hate it when you’re right.”

“I know.”  There was, perhaps, the faintest glint of humor returning, like an old joke.

“You take care of the mouthy little shit,” Alec waved him off, footsteps already turning and receding towards the door, “I’m going for a drive.”  Almost immediately after, the door clicked shut, with just enough force that it was clear that he’d considered slamming it.  

Quinlen was still trying to figure out when he’d decided that dying sounded fun, while his heart and lungs did their level best to rip themselves apart in his chest.  His hands slid away to empty air as the remaining gunman turned to face him, and Quinlen’s eyes found themselves focused somewhere at the level of Bond’s bruised throat, which didn’t help matters at all.  It was shockingly hard not to hyperventilate when he’d already gotten such a good start at it…

“Q.  Q.”  Bond’s voice had gone very quiet, barely loud enough to fill Q’s ears and somehow not surprised.  “Deep breaths, Q.  That was a bloody stupid move on your part, but you’re fine.”  Hands were on Quinlen’s shoulders, strong but not tight, and he sucked in a lungful of air.  “Easy does it.  There you go, Q.”

“How the hell did I get myself into this mess?” the smaller man pushed out, shakily and desperately, the instant he had enough control over his lungs to speak.  He wasn’t sure if he was talking about the latest tiff with Alec, or this whole debacle to begin with.  He also found himself talking into the material of Bond’s shirt right then, because the larger man had unexpectedly pulled him in close.  Quinlen jerked as if to pull away, but was still trying to come to grips with the unbelievable fact that Alec Trevelyan had not actually hurt or killed him.  

One powerful arm was wrapped around Quinlen’s lower back, and the other soothed up his spine, eventually setting off a sharp spark of pain as it got as high as the back of Quinlen’s skull.  In a mindless attempt to avoid the pain, Quinlen, of course, wriggled forward, which pressed his face into the solid slope of muscle between Bond’s neck and shoulder.  It shouldn’t have felt so good there, but it did.  This had finally been one shock too many for the day.  Bond’s put-upon sigh ghosted against the tangled mess of Quinlen’s hair (probably still tousled from sleep), but seemed to be directed to the absent Alec, “He cracked your head against the wall harder than I thought.  You dizzy, Q?  Hey.”  When the slender young man didn’t answer, Bond jostled him, just a bit, making it clear that he intended to get his attention.  “It’s just a question, Q. I’ll leave you alone if you answer.”

That sounded heavenly…  “No.  Maybe a little.”

Fingers were sliding carefully into Quinlen’s hair, unavoidable but thus far not setting off any more sharp jolts of pain like before, as they explored the edges of the no-doubt-impressive goose-egg that was developing.  “Seeing double?”

“You said if I answered-” Quinlen got his voice together to retort with brittle words.

“I know what I said,” Bond cut him off remarkably gently, although there was rueful logic in there, too, as he continued, fingers of one hand buried in Quinlen’s dark hair while the other hand remained clasped to the small of his back, “But I know how strong Alec is, and if he gave you a concussion, we’ll have things to discuss.  Now, come on.  I’m going to sit you down on the couch… Come on.  Eeeasy does it.  Good, good.”

Bond was surprisingly good at coaxing when he wanted to be.  The fact that Quinlen could feel the impressive strength of him - pressed this close, physically leaning against muscles that flexed and relaxed with every minute movement - meant that he knew Bond could have just forced him to go where he wanted.  He could have probably just picked him up, really, like a sack of bespectacled potatoes.  Instead, the blond-haired man used words and gentle nudges, as if walking a partner through a dance done on untrustworthy ice.  Bond seemed to know where the ice was thinnest and maneuvered them both smoothly around each metaphorical patch, all the while keeping Quinlen close, which somehow staved off the encroaching panic attack.  Usually such events (tied largely to plane-trips) left Quinlen feeling painfully claustrophobic, but this time was different, and he found himself clinging to the front of Bond’s shirt without realizing it.  

His mind kept playing over the last five minutes like a scene from a bad movie.  Now, though, as he went back over it, he could see the hurt beneath the anger on Alec’s ruggedly handsome face; he’d been outraged at what Quinlen had said, and furious that someone could think that about him.  It didn’t do anything to erase the recollection of Alec charging him like a runaway train, but somehow it helped settle the utter terror clawing at the back of Quinlen’s throat, knowing that Trevelyan was human, too.

At least Bond wasn’t forcing him to go over it anymore.  He could have spent his time lecturing Quinlen on how monumentally witless his actions had been, or saying that he wasn’t surprised Alec had gone berserk on him, but instead he just sat down silently, still providing the physical contact Quinlen hadn’t realized he needed.  The change in altitude made Quinlen’s head throb like one big gong being struck, and he groaned, but the calloused hand curled firmly around the back of his neck (holding it all still) helped.  He found himself at war between the urge to pull back and put up a good front - pretending he was fine to avoid the embarrassment and vulnerability - and the urge to keep hiding his face against Bond’s shirt.

“Okay,” Bond’s voice patiently rumbled, “Now are you dizzy or seeing double?”

Quinlen pulled in a shaky breath, hating the act of talking... mostly because he wanted to curl up and hide somewhere.  It was a terribly cowardly mindset, but he figured that since he’d been a prisoner for nearly two days, he was allowed to break down a little.  “No,” he answered, finally.  When Bond began to push him back, however, the bespectacled man winced and clenched his teeth against the sloshing sensation in his head.  

“Shh, shh, just move nice and slow,” the gunman cautioned, letting Quinlen sit on his own but moving one hand to his shoulder and the other to the back of Quinlen’s jaw, as if to keep his head properly connected to his neck.  The heat of the man’s hand was both comforting and unsettlingly intimate, and Quinlen would have thought about that more, but his bloody head hurt too much.  “Open your eyes, Q.  If Alec really gave you a concussion, I’m going to give him one, too.”

Blinking his eyes open grudgingly to find the gunman studying him with a tense but controlled expression, Quinlen felt the need to reply, “You say that so calmly, it’s ridiculous.  You’ve done this all before, haven’t you?”  His voice sounded pathetically thin and wavery, and maybe like it was considering hysteria.  Clearly, Bond noticed, because he started shushing him again.  He also took Quinlen’s head carefully in both hands, tipping it until Quinlen was staring down at his own lap, the back of his skull in Bond’s range of vision.  

“Checked for concussions, yes.  Far too many times.  Dealt with someone like you?”  There was a pause, then, “Never.”  Bond seemed to be considering something besides Quinlen’s head, as his hands shifted.  Quinlen twitched a bit and his breath caught as the hand previously at the hinge of his jaw migrated to fold under his lower jaw entirely, callused thumb still brushing the soft skin at the base of Quinlen’s left ear.  Bond’s other hand began sifting through the smaller man’s dark hair, working its way ever closer to where it had been cracked up against the wall.  “You’re brave at the oddest of times.”

“You mean the most inopportune of times.”

“No, I mean what I said,” was the firm response, and Quinlen quieted, uninterested in arguing.  It was unsettling and frustrating to be stuck staring down at the couch and one folded leg while the hands of a killer touched his face and skull.  When Bond finally pushed down right around the site of injury, Quinlen yelped and pulled free, feeling as if he’d had a spike driven through his head for a second time.  It faded, though, and he glared halfheartedly at Bond, who was sitting with both hands raised harmlessly.  James Bond would never look harmless, but Quinlen appreciated the gesture.  

“Luckily for you - and for Alec - I don’t think you’re concussed,” was Bond’s verdict, as he stood carefully, telegraphing his movements more than he had before now.  Perhaps he realized that Quinlen had finally been pushed too far, too fast, and didn’t have any more reserves of tolerance in him.  He left the beleaguered young man gingerly massaging his scalp, turning into the kitchen but returning not long after with a glass of water and a pill-container.  He showed Quinlen the label pointedly.  “No more drugging.  Promise.”  

Quinlen hummed in weak appreciation and took both, only to realize that his left wrist was still uncooperative - he could hold things passively, but the act of torsion needed to untwist the child-proofed cap on the painkillers was enough to instantly give him a second locus of pain to think about.  He gasped as his efforts brought tears to his eyes, and felt so frustrated that he could have sobbed.  Getting the pain under control was hard, and he didn’t realize that he’d folded over his left wrist until Bond carefully pried the container from his right hand.  There was a light popping noise, and then skin against the knuckles of his clenched uninjured hand.  “Here you go, Q,” came Bond’s voice, no evidence of judgment there.  

All of this kindness made Quinlen feel a lot like he’d fallen down Alice’s rabbit-hole, but he swallowed the proffered pain-meds nonetheless, saying nothing because he still felt fragile and ready to cry.  It was a miracle, really, that he’d lasted this long... and Quinlen was surprised to hear Bond saying so.  

“You’re doing really well, Q.  Most people would not be handling this situation as well as you are.”

“Ha,” the boffin replied humorlessly, pulling both legs up so that he could fold himself against one arm of the couch.  He carefully kept the back of his head from resting against anything, and squinted a little past the pain, sharpening his eyes on the gunman standing not far away.  “How kind of you to say so - although I think you perhaps missed the part where I decided to lecture your dangerous companion.”

Bond’s expression grew tight and pained, and if it wasn’t already obvious before now, he clearly looked upset by Alec’s behavior.  He didn’t try and defend him, but merely sighed, looked away, and then turned to pad back into the kitchen with the eerie, silent grace of a panther.  “You allergic to any foods?” he asked suddenly, voice back to being pleasant again, as if he’d flipped a switch on his personality as he began opening cupboards, “I forgot to ask before.”

“No.  But I’m not hungry,” Quinlen informed him with a little scowl from the couch.

Bond snorted.  “You’re impressively smart, but a bad liar, Q.  Pasta or soup?”

“Pasta,” the smaller man gave in, and despite what he’d expected, started to feel a bit better as Bond simply left him alone, the smells of cooking things filling up the flat.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

The pasta and sauce was good.  Clearly, Bond’s cooking skills were on par with his deadlier skill-set, and by the time it was finished Quinlen didn’t feel so much like he was coming apart at the seams.  He even walked over to the table without shaking or skittering at the slightest provocation, although he still felt the teensiest bit handshy.  Bond was behaving himself impeccably, however, his movements all controlled and slow like it was natural.  Perhaps subliminally aware that Bond wasn’t the one who had lunged at him (but had instead held him, soothed him, checked him over carefully as if it was his responsibility), Quinlen was soon at ease and sharing the table with the other man.  He only started paying attention to his companion again when Bond finished first, and sat back to simply look at him.  

“What is it?” Quinlen asked, suspicious.  

“You said Alec’s plan was a bad one.”  Bond raised a hand before Quinlen could even tense, not wanting the reminder.  “Did you really think about it?  Because to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why you decided to fight so hard for that cause.”

Glad that he’d finished eating (because now food had about as much appeal as rocks to him), Quinlen slowly put his fork down and placed his hands in his lap.  He took in a few slow, deep breaths, staring at his emptied bowl and wishing it would tell him the best way to answer this.

“I’m not going to get angry, Q.  I’m just…”  Bond shrugged.  He looked as sincere as he sounded when Quinlen glanced up at him.  “...Curious.  You’ve only sounded that passionate before when you were talking about the tracker in the mobile.”

Deciding to take the risk, depending on Bond’s enduring good mood and the patience he’d shown for his smaller companion thus far, Quinlen wet his lips and started to answer, “Like I said, it sounded foolish.  Something like that…  It seems to me like you should have more planning.  More intel.  Running in blind sounded-”

“Too stupid for you to stomach?”

“Something like that.”

Bond nodded, surprisingly satisfied with that assessment.  “Alec and I do things like that for a living, but if you had an idea that sounds more palatable, I’m all ears,” he replied unexpectedly, lounging back easily in his chair.

Quinlen just blinked at him for a second like a bewildered owl, honestly startled by this reaction.  While Bond had made it quite clear by this point that he wasn’t going to get angry - the worst of his temper had really only been shown towards his captive back when they’d both been running from enemy shooters, and even that had been more annoyance than real anger - it still seemed impossible for him to be sincerely interested in Quinlen’s ideas.  “You’re serious?”

“Entirely.”  Bond continued to wait patiently, folding his hands over his stomach in a way that didn’t bother the graze he’d received just the day before.  

Recalling the bullet that had missed him but caught Bond, Quinlen felt a renewal of that inexplicable… something.  Whatever it was, it had driven him out of his room, head rumpled and barefoot, to demand whether Alec Trevelyan was trying to get Bond killed.  “You need intel.  Rushing in blind is foolhardy.”

“Usually, I’d agree.” Bond shrugged.  “But we don’t have time.  Alec was right about everyone getting antsy - I don’t have until Friday anymore, unless I want to let three weeks of work go to waste and start from square one again.”  

Since the agent still seemed like he was listening, all of his posture radiating patience, Quinlen once again touched his tongue thoughtfully to his upper lip, thinking for only a second.  “I could get you the intel in time.”

~^~

It was fairly late by the time that Quinlen got to bed again, the world outside the blinds growing darker and quieter.  He pretended not to notice when Bond stretched out to sleep on the couch, and Bond pretended that he wasn’t doing it to keep Quinlen from escaping - the silent understanding was something new that had blossomed while Quinlen was explaining just how unorthodox some of his computer skills were, and Bond was grudgingly giving him his laptop back again.  He’d made Quinlen swear not to try anything smart, and Quinlen (clearly growing more trusting of Bond’s motives just a little) had tried on a little smirk and said that everything he did was smart.  Nonetheless, he hadn’t tried to send off a secret S.O.S. or a call to the local authorities, although he considered giving his employers at MI6 a call to see if they had any tips on exactly how to handle this kind of kidnapping situation.  

Quinlen never slept so well as when he’d just given his brain a good workout, and after hours of hunting down information for Bond, he was tired enough to fall almost immediately asleep.  

Of course, being something of an insomniac was a curse.  Quinlen woke up again barely hours later, squinting his eyes to find everything still dark but with his stomach doing irritating little flips that said it wanted food.  The fact that he’d had a full meal earlier didn’t matter, but Quinlen was used to it - working IT was theoretically supposed to be a nine-to-five job, but Quinlen somehow ended up working all hours of the night, too, at MI6.  

Hoping that he didn’t startle awake Bond sleeping on the couch, Quinlen put his glasses on and padded out into the main living space.  It was almost too dark to navigate, but photographic memories occasionally came in handy - the boffin made it to the kitchen section of the room, and flicked on one of the dim, yellow lights situated beneath the cabinets over the counter.  He twitched as he heard movement behind him on the sofa, but mentally labeled the sound as Bond moving.  Only when he heard Alec’s voice saying, “Kettle’s on the left,” did he jump a foot in the air and spin like a cat with water dumped on it.

Alec had apparently replaced his friend on the couch at some point, and now lifted his hands in the dimness - the same sign of ‘do no harm’ that Bond had given Quinlen earlier, although Quinlen had far less reason to trust Alec.  The fact that he trusted Bond at all was already something of an oddity…  Breathing picking up, slim muscles tense like a cornered rabbit’s, Quinlen rapidly tried to decide what to do about the situation.  Before he could weigh the pros and cons of calling out and hopefully waking up the second gunman in the house, Alec spoke again, in the same unexpectedly careful, lowly quiet tone, “I’m not going to hurt you, myshka.”  He went on in a wry voice that sounded more natural on him, lowering his arms to his knees as he sat at the edge of the couch, “I’m pretty sure James would break my arm if I touched you again anyway.”

Still trembling imperceptibly, but determined not to show it, Quinlen clenched his jaw and then stubbornly turned to find the kettle and fill it with water.  He waited with taut shoulders and straining ears for any sounds of Alec getting up and approaching him, but by the time water was boiling - Quinlen catching it just as it started to hiss, avoiding the whistle - and he was steeping the tea he’d seen earlier on the counter, nothing untoward had happened.  A mug of steaming Earl Grey cupped between both hands like a possible weapon, Quinlen turned around to find Alec just as he’d left him.  “Do you intend to just sit and watch me then?” he asked, quiet and tetchy.

“Actually,” Alec said, sitting back, leaving half the couch as open space, “I was hoping to - what do people call it these days? - oh, yeah: apologize.”

Quinlen couldn’t help but snort, recalling Bond’s atrocious apology skills - of course Alec would be no better.  Not budging from his place at the counter, Quinlen sipped his tea, warily watching the broad-shouldered man still silhouetted in the dark.  The dark abruptly peeled back a bit as the television was turned on, muted.  “Guest of the house picks the show,” Alec said unexpectedly, just a small smile playing on his face, revealing a playful canine as if he were just a big dog.  

As ludicrous as it sounded, it seemed like Alec really did expect Quinlen to go over and watch television with him.  Uneasy, the smaller man glanced towards the second bedroom, the door of which was open just a crack.  

“Don’t worry, Fluke, Jamesy is in there - and will definitely hear you if big, bad Alec does anything he shouldn’t,” Alec huffed out a slightly overdramatic sigh.  Then, glancing out of the corner of one eye at Quinlen with a look of perfect mischief, he added in a voice barely above a rough whisper, “Hey, does it count as an apology if I tell you why Jamesy hates to call you by your first name?”

Now Quinlen couldn’t resist.  He was walking towards the couch already, fear pushed aside for the moment.  This was probably where the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ applied, but Quinlen was in too deep now for it to matter anyway.  Sitting with his tea at the far side of the couch, feeling a bit like a bird perching at the farthest reaches of a branch, Quinlen folded his legs up in front of him and glanced at the television.  “If I really get to pick the television, no sports please,” was all he said, quiet and polite.  Alec chuckled at him, looking incredibly pleased with himself for having lured over the elusive boffin.  

“Anything for the person who makes James think twice,” he said, and Quinlen was left blinking, puzzled, at that.  He hadn’t a clue what Alec was getting at.  Hopefully the explanation forthcoming would shed some light on it all.  

The channel ended up settling on some nondescript nature program, all birds and tropical leaves, and Alec surprised Quinlen yet again by reaching to grab something off the nearby coffee-table.  “Peace offering,” he said, placing it with exaggerated care on the cushion between him and Quinlen.  Since he was still smirking faintly, Quinlen gave him a glare, but at least the larger man had the decency to add, “I was an arse.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Quinlen replied at a murmur, shivering just at the memory and rubbing at his collarbones absently.  Avoiding Alec’s alert green eyes, he nonetheless reached forward, taking something wrapped carefully in plastic. It turned out to be flaky, edible, and sweet-smelling.  

“James might have mentioned that you had a soft spot for Bellerose’s cooking downstairs,” Alec admitted, without seeming at all embarrassed by the clear form of bribery.  Then he actually sobered, noting the way Quinlen was holding himself: very tense, very far away from him, and avoiding eye-contact like a mouse avoiding a snake.  It seemed to put a crack in the playful mask Alec was wearing, and he looked to the television, unsmiling.  “I do owe you an apology, Fluke.  I shouldn’t have gotten angry like that, and I sure as hell shouldn’t have physically threatened you.  There were just some things you said that I didn’t want to hear, and certain ways I’m trained to react to shit like that.”

The rough tone of sincere confession did a lot to soothe Quinlen’s nerves, and he relaxed (just a fraction) and said, “You can call me Quinlen,” to aloofly show that he maybe, just a little, was considering the apology.

That, of course, had Alec grinning his shark’s grin again, and his eyes cut amusedly back to the other man on the couch.  “Oh, no, I won’t - not after this story.  James definitely doesn’t have fond associations with your first name.”

“What do you mean?” Quinlen’s brows lowered, perplexed.  He took a bite of the peace-offering, and found that the sweetness of the cream inside veritably melted on his tongue - it had a faintly cream-cheese flavor, but with just the right amount of sugar or honey mixed in, a perfect blend of savory and sweet with the breading wrapped around it.  

Alec went into storytelling mode, hands gesturing occasionally, body relaxing.  “Bond had a… a job, sort of like this one, some years ago.”  A wave of a hand showed that this wasn’t important, and Alec was as eager as a puppy to get to the next part.  It was very, very hard to reconcile this cheery, childishly amused man with the steel-sharp, iron hard figure that had actually attacked Quinlen twice now.  “Anyway, he kept getting thwarted at every turn, and the whole thing was one big fucking debacle.  A few people actually started to think that James was doing it on purpose - selling out information and all that, except the person getting hurt most was him.  Still…”  Alec shrugged again, a roll of powerful shoulders, and his grin bordered on manically jovial as he added, “...Mostly it was just his pride.  Basically, James had someone working against him who was smarter than he was, but had no interest in killing him, which was really just insulting.”

Quinlen couldn’t help but snort into his tea at that moment.  Something about sitting in the dark, the smell of tea in his nose and sugary-buttery-bread sweetness on his tongue, all combined with this friendly, companionable version of Alec was calming.  Actually, it was like its own form of apology, but one that was less shallow than words.

“For ages, James actually thought it was a girl - some leggy femme fatale,” Alec changed his voice as if waxing poetic, and it was nearly funny enough to laugh at, even though the larger man was still keeping his voice down so as not to draw attention from the flat’s third occupant.  “It took months to find out that it was actually an old man.  The fellow was spry enough to get around still, and smart and experienced enough to avoid a young pup like Bond - because he sure as hell couldn’t outrun or outfight him.  Basically, he was like us, only he’d actually managed to grow old.”  Alec shook his head, looking off into the distance with an openly impressed look of wonder on his face.  Then, more somberly, he added, “The fellow was dying of cancer, you know?  When James finally did catch him, the old codger wasn’t even scared, just impressed, and I think he laughed a bit.  Basically, the whole experience was like one big joke on James, and didn’t even have a satisfying ending, because the old fellow died only days later.”  Alec turned and stretched out a hand to flick Quinlen’s knee before it could be retracted further.  “The fellow that so embarrassed James was called Quinlen Robineau.”  Grinning like a fox in the henhouse, Alec added wickedly, “Just saying the name sort of makes our friend James wince.  Ergo, you get to be ‘Q’ or ‘Fluke’ so long as you’re with us.”

~^~

Quinlen woke up, jarringly, to a hand pressed across his mouth.  As his eyes snapped open, however, it was to find none other than James leaning over him, the owner of the hand.  That single glance informed Quinlen of three things: firstly, that he was not a morning person, but woke up awfully fast to startling things like this - secondly, that he still had his glasses on, because James faintly amused face was in perfect focus - and lastly, that Quinlen had apparently fallen asleep curled into a ball against one arm of the couch.  

Before the boffin could do anything more than reach to grab Bond’s forearm, the gunman was lifting a finger to his own lips, the universal sign for silence synchronized with a flick of his eyes to the other side of the couch.  Brows pulling together, Quinlen followed his glance and immediately flushed from head to toe with mortification.  Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who’d unceremoniously passed out on the couch for the night: Alec was stretched out against the other side, taking up nearly three-fourths of the space and providing a reason for Quinlen to be tucked up in the remaining fourth.  Alec still appeared to be completely unconscious, one arm across his eyes and his broad chest rising and falling steadily.  

Quinlen looked back up at Bond (probably with a rather beseeching, alarmed face, because he had no idea what to do about this, and his legs were almost tangled up with Trevelyan’s) just in time to do a quick bit of lip-reading, as the blue-eyed man queried soundlessly, “Breakfast?”

How in the world can you think about breakfast at time like this?’ Quinlen wanted to snap back, but the moment he started moving his lips to speak, he was reminded of the palm flush across the lower half of his face.  Bond arched a maddeningly knowing eyebrow.  Hysteria gave way to more familiar annoyance as Quinlen noted the look, and huffed a breath out his nose.  Still, he nodded (feeling the slight give in Bond’s grip), but also crossed his arms stubbornly across his chest to show his discontent.  In response, Bond’s faint smirk didn’t budge an inch, but his blue eyes lit up with increased amusement as if Quinlen had said something funny.  Bond’s hand retreated entirely and he began circling the couch, beckoning Quinlen to follow towards the door.  

For a moment, Quinlen looked between James and Alec, two men with a decidedly dangerous track-record regarding Quinlen, but the former being more likable in the boffin’s books - if only because he’d been hanging around the damned man a sight longer, and was reasonably sure that Bond sincerely guarded his prisoner’s safety.  Feeling as though he were disengaging from a waiting bear-trap, Quinlen sat up slowly and slipped his legs free of the couch, somehow managing not to jar its other, larger occupant in doing so.  By then, Bond had already eased the door open, slow and silent.  

Quinlen scrambled to catch up, and had to gather the nerve to grab James’s shirtsleeve.  He needed the man’s attention, and apparently he had to do it quietly, lest they wake Alec.  A question on his face, Bond obligingly paused and turned, barely glancing at the presumptuous, long-fingered hand on his arm.  

Mouth opening and closing as he battled with the need to stay quiet and the need to get his point across, Quinlen finally sighed tightly again, and indicated his state of dress: oversized sweatpants and a tee Bond had found for him the night before.  Nothing else.  ‘Not outdoor-wear,’ Quinlen tried to drive the point home with his eyes, stubborn hazel meeting unaffected blue.

By way of answer, all James did was gesture to himself in turn, and Quinlen realized that the only difference between them was that James had apparently taken the time to pull on shoes.  Just as Quinlen tried to puzzle over this, James’s hand came out, snagging the nape of Quinlen’s neck so he could pull him in close enough to whisper, “We’re not going far, Q.  No one will see your fashion-statement except the owners and myself.  Now come on.”  And with that, he was turning away with a lingering, cheeky look that was just challenging enough to prickle at Quinlen’s skin, and slipping out the door.

The smell of baking bread decided it: Quinlen gave one last glance at his attire, then at Alec starting to snore in the room behind him, and darted out after Bond.

Quinlen didn’t catch up to him until they were nearly at the ground floor.  By then, talking was apparently okay, because the blue-eyed man turned and noted in a normal, almost lazy tone of voice, “Alec’s probably faking with the snoring.  He hates mornings, though, so even if he heard us, he’d feign sleep as long as humanly possible.”

“And it didn’t cross your mind to let me do the same?” Quinlen had to ask.  The smooth boards of the steps were cool beneath his feet, and he felt unprofessional and anxious about walking around like this.  Bond looked as self-assured as if he were wearing a three-piece suit.  Then again, he was the most gifted man Quinlen had ever seen at pulling off the ‘nightwear’ look - his chest and shoulders filled out the soft grey T-shirt splendidly, and the sweatpants looked comfortable and hung low on his hips.  Quinlen stopped himself and jerked his eyes away when he realized that he was walking behind the gunman and looking at his arse.  “I am also not a morning person,” he returned to the subject at hand with barely a catch in his tone.

Bond still seemed to notice, and the glance he cast over his shoulder started out being questioning, then surprised, and then something that made Quinlen’s face flush red before the gunman turned mercifully to look forward again.  “Fine then - next time I’ll let you sleep in and miss those delightful stuffed rolls you like so much.  And I’ll let you wake up to Alec pressing his cold feet against your shins.”

Entirely sure that Bond was laughing at him - but also fairly sure that the threat was sincere - Quinlen huffed and tried to come up with a suitable response.  All he could think of was, “Arse.”  As retorts went, it was unoriginal, but it set Bond to chuckling in front of him, a low and pleasant sound.  

Quinlen barefoot and both of them still in nightclothes, the two men halted in the back of the bakery.  While Bond had seemed unfamiliar with the place the day before, he seemed relaxed and in control now, a sure sign that he’d been down here checking the place out at some point without Quinlen noticing.  In fact, a young girl with curly hair held up in a tight bun waved shyly as she rolled out dough, and another girl who had to be her sister scampered immediately to the front of the shop.  James slipped a hand naturally around Quinlen’s lower back to guide him to a low wooden table at the back of the room, the least flour-covered surface in the room and equipped with two well-used but serviceable stools.  The easy politeness actually extended to Bond pulling out the stool for him, and Quinlen was left staring at the unexpected gentleman he was suddenly dealing with.  The blond-haired gunman narrowed his eyes as he circled to his own seat.  “What?”

Instead of asking why in the world Bond was taking the time to treat him like a friend, Quinlen found something smart to say, brain working overtime for just a second or two before he got a reply to come out dryly, “You’re one of those dreadful morning people, aren’t you?”

Fortunately, Bond seemed unaware that this wasn’t the sentence Quinlen had planned to say all along.  Bond’s smile stretched his mouth handsomely, and the morning light just coming through the windows only added to how genuine the amusement looked.  It also gilded his hair in places, turning it from tawny to almost metallic gold while his eyes became chips of pale-blue glass.  “I might be.  Does that put me at an advantage?” he teased.

The cheeky tone was unexpected, but something about the smooth way Bond said it was like honey, making it not only palpable but enjoyable. Quinlen found his lips quirking traitorously, and he replied before he realized he was doing so, “I believe you’ve had all of the advantages for quite some time now.”

“Really?” Bond frowned, feigning ignorance.  He even looked vaguely affronted, but despite the playfulness, Quinlen noticed the way Bond’s eyes regularly moved to take in the room, a smooth and alert surveillance that didn’t interrupt his joviality or put a dent in his easy smile.  Always prepared for trouble.  

“Do you want me to write up a list?”

Bond feigned a wince, but ruined the effect by smirking directly afterwards as he replied, “God, no.  But you’re a helluva lot smarter than me.”

The flattery seemed quite sincere and well-meant, surprising Quinlen, and he was still just sitting and blushing when the woman who had to be Bellarose came walking up to them.  The girl that had run up to the front was following, hiding just a bit behind her skirts.  James immediately switched his attention to them, speaking French in a fluid, congenial tone that was as warm as a summer day was long.  Bond clearly knew the right words to say and the right time to say them, as he chatted to the older woman (who turned out to be the main owner of the shop, over her husband, and mother to all of the young, helpful employees) while also deflecting most any need for Quinlen to talk.  It was tempting, right then, for the dark-haired young man to simply speak up and declare what was really going on: that he’d stumbled upon a murder and had been subsequently held against his will ever since, by the murderer himself.  From what Quinlen knew about Bond already, he doubted the gunman would injure children, but that knowledge of Bond’s possible benevolence also made Quinlen reluctant to speak up.

Either Quinlen already had a very, very bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, or he was beginning to think that there was more to this than a simple killer keeping him hostage.

Quinlen was forced to talk a few times, and he tested out his own French, aware of James watching him out of the corner of one eye.  The questions were simple, and mostly pleasantries.  Bond had already made up an excuse for Quinlen’s bandaged wrist.  Ultimately, all Quinlen ended up saying was that this weather was a bit cold for him, but that he was head-over-heels for Bellarose’s cooking.  That had made the woman laugh and her rosy cheeks turn rosier, and she immediately sent one of her many daughters to grab some breakfast for the two polite men who joined the other polite man who lived above her.

When they were left alone again, Quinlen spoke first: “Alec is considered a polite person?”

Bond chuckled wickedly, relaxing back on his stool with his shoulder-blades to the wall and one muscular forearm draped on the table.  In profile, he looked like a great cat reclining.  “Alec is exactly as polite as he needs to be - which means not at all around people who already know him.”

“Hey, you’re dirtying my good name,” came the voice of the man in question, so close behind Quinlen that he jumped.  Alec was just walking past, however, and the hand that Quinlen felt on the his shoulder seemed more like an idle, acknowledging gesture than anything meant to keep him in his seat.  Alec threw a glare at Bond that looked mostly faked, and walked up to one of the flour-smudged youngsters.  

Quinlen grew uneasy, watching, and didn’t realize that he’d tensed in preparation for trouble until he felt a warm hand wrap around his right wrist.  James was eyeing him knowingly, but his words were calm and quiet as he said, “Just watch.”

Alec, instead of using his size and height to advantage, bent over with his hands on his knees almost as soon as he had the little girl’s attention.  At a less intimidating height, he spoke softly and jovially in French, and soon the young girl was giggling.  She darted off, and a moment later returned with another stool, having to lift it awkwardly because of her small size.  Immediately, with a gallant sweep of his arms, Alec took it off her hands.  His grin was all teeth, as always, but it seemed less threatening right now - certainly all of Bellarose’s little helpers seemed to find it encouraging and funny.  Alec came back to the table and set down the stool on the side of the table between Quinlen and Bond.  “So - you were saying something about my politeness?” he challenged, baring his teeth at James.

The blue-eyed gunman merely looked back at him, eyes lazily hooded and lips twitching in an approximation of a less toothy grin.  Quinlen was surprised to recognize amusement beneath the facade of lazy indifference.  “That wasn’t politeness just there,” Bond tipped his head to the children, words designed not to carry past their table as he teased his friend, “That was charm.  You just want them to wait on you hand and foot.”

“No, I don’t,” Alec protested, seeming to bristle but never radiating danger the way he had the previous evening.  “I want them to feed me, too.  That makes perfect sense - back me up here, Fluke.”

Surprised at being included in the conversation, Quinlen sat up a bit straighter, finding himself rather tongue-tied.  Social interaction was not his forte at any time, much less when in such strange company.  Bond saved him from stuttering out an insecure answer.

“Q is already biased.  Bellarose has seduced him with her stuffed bread.”

“Like you wouldn’t kill for some of her cooking, too,” Alec retorted, and there was a brief scuffle under the table as they kicked at each other like overgrown children themselves.  It was immensely odd to watch.  Right about then, Bellarose herself walked up, bearing a tray of various warm baked goods - clearly freshly made.  Quinlen then got to sit back and watch as both gunman turned the brunt of their friendliness and charm on the owner of the establishment, who berated them smilingly for their flattery.    

You are both incorrigible,” stated the woman in laughing French, swatting Alec, whom she knew best from his stays here, “Only your dark-haired companion knows manners - look, he appreciates my food while you both try and overwhelm an old woman with flattery.”

All eyes turned to Quinlen, who had thought he was being ignored, having found a savory roll almost exactly like the one Bond had found for him yesterday, only this one seemed to have something spicy and meaty in it.  He quickly swallowed and tried on a smile, while also enduring the exaggerated glares that he was getting from both Bond and Trevelyan.  While Alec went back to praising Bellarose’s cooking skill, Bond followed Quinlen’s example and tucked in to breakfast.  

It went almost unnoticed the way he took every one of those savory rolls and pushed them Quinlen’s way, even batting Alec’s hand when he tried to take one.  Alec, of course, shot him a nasty look, but Bond just kept on eating without seeming to notice.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

As he sat on the couch and watched some rather bland news, Quinlen realized that if he weren’t the victim of a prolonged kidnapping, this would all be very enjoyable right now.

Bond was taking a turn in the shower, and Alec, having had one, had taken up a position at the other end of the couch again.  Like before, he was dominating the space, but with so much good food in his belly, Quinlen found it harder to be bothered.  In fact, with Alec’s constant disparaging, humorous commentary on the wardrobe choices of all the news anchors, it was hard to be intimidated at all.  Alec was merely a grouchily amused companion dripping water from tousled hair, sharing space and keeping Quinlen entertained.  

Exiting the shower not long after, Bond wandered up and tapped two fingers on Quinlen’s shoulder.  “Shower’s yours, but only if you take the bandages off your wrist first this time,” he made clear.  

It took a moment for the words to register, as Quinlen was taking note of Bond’s muscled, athletic figure in only sweatpants and a towel thrown haphazardly over his broad shoulders.  Scars he hadn’t noticed before marred the tanned skin, the newest being the one on his side, pink and still raw-looking beneath the stitches.

Alec noticed, too.  “Cut yourself shaving, James?” he asked with lazy impudence, “Or was that from jumping fences?”

“It was from a bullet, you arse,” James shot back, throwing the towel at his friend.  Alec batted it off easily while James continued, “The fellow who felt the need to shoot at me actually ended up being taken out by Q here.”

That got Alec’s attention.  With an easy curl of his torso, feet planted on the middle couch-cushion, he sat up, eyes lasering in on Quinlen.  “You’re fucking with me.”

“Nope,” Bond seemed pleased to reply.  

Alec was still eyeing their third companion with an increasingly dubious expression as his green eyes raked over Quinlen from tousled head to bare toes, and all the slim, unintimidating frame in between.  It made Quinlen shift uncomfortably, but also feel the urge to draw himself up to look bigger.  “How?” Alec demanded.

Spine finally stiffening a little at the disbelief he was being shown, Quinlen stated with prim pride, “Have you forgotten everything I rigged up in your flat?  I’m not helpless, you know.”  He pointedly diverted the discussion from how exactly he’d incapacitated the enemy shooter in the hotel.

Bond had to ruin it.  Clapping Quinlen on the shoulder with one strong, damp hand, he cheerily updated Alec, “Q cracked the fellow over the head with a lid to the toilet tank.”

While Quinlen’s cheeks went red and he glared up at Bond for destroying the facade of heroism, Alec lasted exactly three-point-five seconds before he burst out laughing.  They were loud, belly-deep guffaws, and he fell back against the couch with tears nearly falling down his face before long.  Quinlen kicked him.  Bond smirked evilly down at the whole thing like the cat who’d taken the cream, and Quinlen might have glowered at him more, but every time he did, he got distracted by how good the man looked half-naked.  

Finally, 007 just reached out, catching Quinlen’s right forearm and dragging him up and around the couch without warning.  Quinlen squeaked, stumbled, and came to an awkward stop nearly standing on the larger man’s toes, blushing furiously as he also realized how close he was to all that bare, tanned skin.  Bond seemed not to notice, instead turning his focus to the bandages over Quinlen’s damaged left wrist.  Quinlen winced a bit as they were removed, and shuffled uncomfortably in place while he tried to find somewhere else to look besides Bond’s chest.  He ended up looking back at the couch, which meant looking at Alec, who was sitting up again and presently watching Quinlen’s face with interest and just a bit too much canniness in his green eyes - Alec was glancing between Quinlen’s red complexion and Bond’s notable state of undress.  

Suddenly, Alec’s grin broadened.  Quinlen looked away as swiftly as possible, even as his face heated up more, and mortification twisted in his belly.  

“Hey, James,” Alec said, and his voice was so off-hand that Quinlen closed his eyes and stifled a resigned groan.  This was not promising.  “Are you going to take off the gauze on his stomach, too?  Can’t have your new favorite boffin getting gangrene from splinters.”

Bond was still patiently unwrapping the last of the bandaging around Quinlen’s wrist, and seemed unaware - or unbothered - by the increased fidgeting of the smaller man.  “I’ll get to it in a sec, Alec,” he murmured absently, and Quinlen just wanted to scream - and maybe scratch Alec’s eyes out, because the man was now grinning like a demon.  Quinlen wasn’t even sure what he was so mad about, except that they were talking over his head again, and he was being more or less moved around like a doll.  

Although, on closer thought, he wasn’t sure why he minded that, because James was surprisingly careful when he wanted to be.  

“I can check my own injuries, thank you very much,” Quinlen said as soon as his wrist was free.  It was still puffy and sore, but improving, and he pulled it back to his chest gingerly to run his fingertips over it.  He cut a glare Alec’s way, but the man only stopped smirking when it looked like James might notice it.  

James was presently looking at Quinlen with one raised eyebrow.  He folded his brawny arms.  Fortunately, he also decided to stop being mothering.  “Fine,” was all he said, fairly magnanimously, and wandered away towards his room.  

Quinlen very determinedly did not look back to the remaining gunman in the room, and beat a quick retreat to the bathroom.  He did as he’d been told, pulling the little bandages off his flat stomach and checking the small wounds as much as he dared, but most of his mind was on the fact that the shirt he’d just pulled off most certainly smelled like Bond, and the sweatpants likewise had to belong to one of the two men in the room.  Quinlen hadn’t worn other people’s clothing since he’d gotten hand-me-downs as a child, having never dated anyone long enough for clothing to be exchanged - and yet here he was, stuck in a house with two charming madmen who looked too handsome for words and were also capable of killing.  The way that Quinlen’s life had flipped upside-down was truly rather alarming.  

He slipped into the shower as soon as possible and tried not to think about it.

~^~

In a surprising turn of luck, Quinlen managed to bump into neither Alec nor James until he’d gotten out of the shower and dressed again.  In fact, he’d gone back to the bedroom designated as his to find a new shirt on the bed - another sweater, this one dark grey.  Like everything else, it was too big, but it was clean and warm, and Quinlen slipped it on with only token hesitation.  It was either this or run around without clothing, after all.  

When he slipped back out, he found both gunman at the kitchen table, immediately looking up to him.  Quinlen tensed defensively only when he saw his open laptop in between them, though.  “Q,” Bond broke the silence, calling him over, “Care to unlock this thing for us?”

“Not really, no,” Quinlen admitted warily, but walked closer.  

Bond rolled his eyes, frowning in annoyance, but deigned to explain further, “I’ve been telling Alec what you told me last night, and I want to take you up on your offer.”

Grinning his usual shark’s grin, although more mildly than usual as if in deference to Quinlen’s present wariness, Alec added, “If you can get us intel as easily as you say you can, that will make you more useful that even James here.”

While Bond snorted, unamused, Quinlen came the rest of the way up to the kitchen table and edged his way to the remaining chair presently seated between the two men, right in front of his open laptop.  It only took a moment for Q to deduce the cycling, changing password, and he obediently came to the home-screen of his computer before putting his hands back in his lap.  Without the bandaging, his wrist felt cold and sensitive, but if he moved it carefully, he could type sparingly.  He was still uneasy about what the two men wanted of him.  “Okay,” he said slowly, “What are you needing then?”

“Just do what you told me you could do last night, Q,” James assured, leaning forward a bit, seemingly unconsciously, to watch the screen as he instructed, “Just go where I tell you to.”

And so began a slightly tedious process of point-and-shoot: James pointed Quinlen in the desired direction, and the smaller man promptly took down any firewalls in evidence and began digging up information on demand.  This included everything from websites he’d never known existed, to security and traffic cameras.  For Quinlen, this was fairly minor stuff, but the more quickly and efficiently Quinlen worked, the more shocked the two men flanking him became.  Even James, who’d heard Quinlen’s so-called boasting last night, was gobsmacked by how effortlessly the boffin navigated areas of the internet he shouldn’t have had access to in a million years.  Quinlen started wincing after a time, his wrist bothering him, but even working with one hand from time to time while he let his left one rest left the boffin supremely dangerous to technology.  In fact, it took very little time before Quinlen himself was leaning forward and putting together the big picture that Bond had thus far denied him.

“You’re hunting smugglers?!” he demanded, and suddenly was typing with both hands again, going off the beaten path James had designated for him.  The blue-eyed gunman seemed quite beyond stopping him, and was still just staring in disbelief.

“What in the world is this kid, James?” Alec asked in a slightly panicked undertone.

Bond decided to answer Quinlen first, a bit glassy-eyed as he did so, “Drug smugglers, technically.  There are a lot of people dead thanks to what they’re trading, and the next shipment is Friday.”  Finally he reached forward and grabbed the smaller man’s forearm just as he started to bring up multiple screens of background information on the smugglers’ leaders.  “Q…” he started with tired warning.

It was too late: the information was already up on the screen, and even with his left arm in James’s firm but careful grip (mindful of the injury, as always), the boffin was absorbed in reading.  His hazel eyes swept back and forth with lightning speed, even as he started to look sick.  Before long, he pulled back, as if the data before him were poisoning the air.  “God, these men…” he started.

“Aren’t nice men,” finished Bond grimly, unconsciously tightening his hold on Quinlen’s forearm until even his wrist began to ache just a bit, but somehow the discomfort was more grounding than anything else.  There was something unaccountably comforting about looking over to see Bond’s face somber with controlled anger as he, too, looked at the screen; his knuckles were starting to whiten against the tan of his hand.  

Suddenly Quinlen twitched, the tendons probably shifting under Bond’s grip for just a second before the smaller man then leaned forward to point at the screen with his other hand.  “That’s the man you shot in the cab.”  Neither James nor Alec said anything, letting Quinlen read, growing more and more disgusted with the dead man as he read about past records of assault, selling drugs to minors, and even jail time for attempted murder.  “How was this bastard even out on the streets?” Quinlen demanded with a little growl in his throat, glaring by this point.

“Friends in high places,” James supplied, belatedly releasing his hold and pointing to another window with another face.  Quinlen obediently brought it to the fore.  “Herald Santiago.  The leader of this particular lot of bastards.”

Alec decided to put his two cents in, although he’d been sitting back and quietly watching the other two men without comment up until now, “Considering Santiago’s background, I’d say friends in low places.”  Without any more comment, he got up, heading to the cupboards for something.  

Turning to Bond, eyes narrowed in unexpected hurt and confusion, Quinlen wanted to know, “Why didn’t you tell me this in the first place?”

One eyebrow rose above impassive blue eyes.  “Would it have made a difference that I killed someone with a record?  That’s a fine line to draw there, Q.”

By now, Quinlen had gotten used to the title so much that it wasn’t making a blip on his radar, and he was immediately retorting, “I’d still like to be given adequate information to draw that line as I wish.  For the record, I’m a lot less bothered that you shot a man who looks to have been in some way responsible for all manner of despicable activities.”  

007 growled and looked away as if not entirely pleased with Quinlen unilaterally drawing such lines, which only encouraged the dark-haired young man to turn a bit more towards him and lecture more fearlessly, “You know it would have been easier on both of us if I knew that you were actually hunting people who deserved it.”

“By some definitions, I deserve hunting as much as they do.”

“Beside the point.  I can only judge people by what they show me.”

“And I’ve shown you that I have very little trouble shooting people,” Bond bit back meanly, leaning back in his chair in one of the most elegant slouches Quinlen had ever seen.  The sulky look on Bond’s face - heavily tinged with anger - was likewise a rather good look on him, and Quinlen was for once not intimidated by the stormy expression.  

“You’ve also shown me kindness,” Q found himself calmly shooting back.

There was a blunt-edged, stunning sort of silence then, as Quinlen and Bond simply stared at each other, the slimmer man keeping up a pursed-lipped, determined glare, and his larger companion down-right scowling by this point.  Alec chose then to stop ignoring them and walk up with a sigh - and two tumblers of something clear.  “And this is where the conversation reaches a point where alcohol is required,” he decided quite blithely, and ignored the looks he got in response.  

Quinlen gave in pretty quickly to lift the glass and eye it.  He had embarrassingly little experience with alcohol, but right now…  Without much more than a sniff at it, he lifted it and knocked back a mouthful, surprising both his present company and - a moment later, as the burn kicked in - himself.  James’s tight look eased a bit as he chuckled, watching as Quinlen gasped and coughed.  Alec went ahead of guffawed, swearing in between, “Bloody shit, Fluke!  You’re a laugh and a half, mate!”  Fortunately, he also took the time to rescue Quinlen’s remaining beverage from his hand, also giving his back a few hearty pounds.  It was unclear whether the latter helped at all, but before long Quinlen was breathing again, wiping under his glasses at watering eyes.  Bond was now smiling at him, blue eyes dancing while his mouth canted crookedly.  

Then he pointedly sipped at his own drink, unaffected.

“Bastard,” Quinlen wheezed, then stubbornly lifted both hands to his laptop.  He began typing frenziedly, the sinking heat of the alcohol having the benefit of dulling his brain to the ache of his wrist, if only because he was still rather dazed by the punch it packed.  More screens and windows began to appear.  Programs ran visibly on some of them, although just what those programs were eluded the two gunman.  

“Q…”  This time it was Alec who gave into the urge to use the nickname, tone as wary as the look Bond was once again wearing.  As both blond-haired men leaned in to try and get a better look at exactly what the boffin was doing, Quinlen merely grew more focused.  By this point, he had a facial recognition program up, already running images from a vast array of locations at speed the eye couldn’t follow - and that was the simplest thing going on.  

“Q, is that-?” Bond eventually asked slowly.

Q cut him off in a thoughtful tone, barely realizing that he was starting to identify with the title himself, “Nooo. That would be illegal.”

~^~

It was an hour later and Quinlen’s programs were still running.  It would probably be quite a while before they turned up any useful information, despite the tight parameters Quinlen had managed to put on them, after some more input from James.  The blue-eyed gunman had mostly been shocked by all of this, but had eventually deigned to helpful, too, while Alec had merely dropped back into his chair and stared, drinking when he remembered the glass in his hand.  

Back on the couch and away from all of his devoted typing, Quinlen was quite wondering what had come over him.  Clearly, whatever it was, it was masochistic, because now his wrist hurt nearly as much as when he’d busted it to begin with, and he was holding it tenderly in the cradle of his other arm, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes as he pressed his head against the back of the couch.  

“Q,” came Bond’s voice from where there had been only silence (and presumably empty space) earlier.

“Shit!” Quinlen exclaimed, eyes snapping open and head lifting with a jerk to find the blue-eyed gunman standing only about half a meter in front of him, looking down at Quinlen with a bland expression that looked mildly more rueful now that he’d startled the boffin.  “Has anyone ever offered to bell you?”

Bond’s one-sided smirk appeared and swiftly widened.  “Offered? Yes.”  He stretched forth a hand, and Quinlen took the offered drink from it on reflex.  “Succeeded?  No.”  He grew cheeky as he dropped onto the couch to Quinlen’s left, tossing out, “You’re welcome to try, of course.”

Flushing a little at the inviting tone, Quinlen hid behind his new drink - or probably his old one, since Alec had taken it and hadn’t given it back. “Pass,” he retorted, “I like living.”  A bit more hesitantly than last time, he sipped at the clear liquid, and felt the burn trail more slowly down his throat before spreading a slight but languid heat through his system.  It was a brief blush of warmth in his stomach, but it felt nice, so Quinlen took another mouthful.  “What is this?” he finally thought to ask.

“Vodka.  I prefer Scotch myself, but if Alec’s providing the alcohol, I’m not one to complain.”

“Hm,” the smaller man made a concurring noise, trying and failing to resist the urge to look to his left.  It just seemed so anomalous, somehow, to be sitting here sharing a drink with a man who had dragged him all around the city against his will.  Then again, it seemed equally improbable that Quinlen would have just now used both his legal and illegal computer skills to help out this man, all with the knowledge that Bond was going people-hunting.  Bond had made no secret of the fact that he’d kill the drug-runners if he had to, although he also expressed an interest in merely bringing them to custody.  

After a few more mouthfuls of vodka - perhaps more than a few, considering the buzzing beneath his skin and lowering level in his glass - Quinlen decided that his life has simply gone down the proverbial rabbit-hole and there was nothing to be gained by overanalyzing it.  He was alive and seemed quite safe, and that was all that mattered, right?

“Right,” Bond answered, startling Quinlen, because that meant that last thought had been voiced aloud.  Swirling the liquid in his own tumbler, James seemed to be thinking about something, but his tone was easy and inspired confidence, “At the end of the day, sometimes that’s all that matters.  And I’ve already promised you that I won’t let you get hurt.”  James downed the rest of his drink in one go, and grimaced.

The alcohol had numbed Quinlen enough that he was no longer longing for painkillers, and he found himself relaxing back into the couch.  The sleeves of the sweater he was wearing were a bit long, and he stared in momentary fascination at the way only the last few knuckles of his longer fingers extended past the grey material.  “I remember the promise,” he said, wondering if the warmth spreading through him was entirely thanks to the vodka.  Quinlen decided that he had a very, very low tolerance for alcohol a moment later as he found his mouth still moving to add, “Do you normally make kind promises to kidnappees?  I’m having a very hard time figuring you out.”  

There was  a sound from the kitchen - where Alec still was - that could have been a stifled snicker or a small choke, and Bond stiffened noticeably even as he twisted to look at Quinlen more fully.  

Quinlen gave his drink a betrayed look.  He’d finished off nearly all of it without noticing, which was more alcohol than he could remember drinking in a go before, and he hadn’t even fancied the taste.  Usually, he disliked the flavor of it enough that he lost interest very quickly, but this time he’d distractedly downed quite a lot.

“You want some more, Fluke?” Alec called jovially from the other room, moving into view with a broad grin smeared across his face.  James must have glared or something from Quinlen’s other side, because Alec lifted his hands and shrugged, seemingly innocently, “What?  He’s getting more interesting with every second, and I'm still shocked by those stunts he pulled on the computer, not to mention the booby-trapping of my flat.  What else are you having a hard time figuring out, myshka?”  

Apparently alcohol also made him brave, because Quinlen scrounged up a haughty glare (or the closest thing he could get to it) and retorted archly, “How you can be such an utter berk.”

Instead of being bothered, Alec got a sly look to his smirk and tossed back easily, “Hey, James is the friendly one.”

“This is ridiculous,” Bond grumbled in an exasperated tone, standing up.  More or less on reflex, Quinlen made to do the same, but only made it to his feet to realize that his glass had been rather full, and he’d drained it rather quickly.  When the room gave a brief, swooping tilt, the floor suddenly became absurdly hard to balance on.  The bespectacled young man quickly overbalanced and ended up staggering right into the nearest object, which happened to be Bond.  Thankfully, powerful arms immediately locked around him like a warm steel cage, the reflexive strength of a startled cat - if the cat weighed thirteen stone and had fingers instead of claws to clutch at Quinlen’s right upper arm and left shoulder-blade.  “Q!” Bond grunted out in a startled tone as he quickly worked to balance them both.  

Alec was laughing again, full and loud, but stopped and said suddenly, “Hey, I think your laptop found something, krolik.”  

Quinlen immediately went from trying to stand on his own to alertly angling himself to walk to the kitchen.  That was the plan, at least: in reality, he was somewhat less adroit than he was used to, and ended up swaying.  Still, he would have made his best effort to check his computer had James not kept his arms hooked around him, and all of the boffin’s best wriggling and struggling were for naught.  “Oh, no you don’t,” the gunman muttered, arms snug around Quinlen’s chest, the smaller man’s left shoulder and side butting up against his broad chest, “Your skills scare me enough when you’re perfectly sober.”

“I am sober,” Quinlen protested petulantly, pushing at the arms wrapped around him and trying to move forward.  

Bond just resettled his weight and kept them in place without effort.  “Sorry to break this to you, but you’re a lightweight.  You’re definitely at least tipsy.”

Quinlen twisted his head to glare, unperturbed for once by the nearness of Bond’s face.  “I can still work.”

Blue eyes rolled, and some of the same alcohol that Quinlen had consumed was evident on Bond’s breath as the larger man sighed and glanced away from from him.  “Alec, I blame you for this.”

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

“Alec, I blame you for this.”

Alec reminded as James supported Q, “You’re the one who gave his drink back to him.  I was the one who took the alcohol away from your boffin earlier, remember?”  Looking entirely too pleased with all of this, the green-eyed man made a dismissive motion with one hand.  “So I’m going to say that any drunkenness is mostly your fault - and he’s definitely smashed.”  

By now, James had a strained, martyred sort of look on his handsome face, a face that Quinlen suddenly found he couldn’t stop staring at.  Maybe he was a bit tipsy after all (maybe more drunk than tipsy, depending on where one wanted to make the distinction), but for the first time in what felt like ages, his wrist didn’t hurt, and he was having a hard time worrying about things like he used to.  “It’s unfair how blue your eyes are.”

Everyone stared.  Quinlen would have stared at himself, if that were physically possible; as it was, he made a supremely perturbed and startled face as he realized what had fallen out of his mouth.  “Okay,” he admitted weakly, “Maybe I’m not… precisely… up to working.  Not that that was a lie!”  It suddenly felt incredibly important to make this point clear, and he scrambled in Bond’s grip again - perhaps to get free, or maybe just to twist around and face him more fully. “The bit about your eyes, I mean.  They’re like… stained-glass windows.  Only with just blue glass, I suppose.”  Quinlen frowned at himself again, trying to find eloquence, but it was suddenly very elusive.  His attempts to squirm around had been partially successful (something that probably had a lot to do with the stunned, mortified look on Bond’s face), and now Quinlen had two strong arms locked around his back, and one of his own hands was gripping James’s right bicep.  Quinlen’s sprained wrist made no protest as the boffin’s other hand lifted to clutch at the man’s shirt-collar quite of its own accord.  

Bond shifted his weight, a distracting little movement, because suddenly quite a lot of him was pressed up against quite a lot of Quinlen, but he didn’t loosen his grip where his hands pressed firm and hot against Q’s spine.  Of course, if he had, Q likely would have fallen flat on his arse.  The gunman looked over to Alec with a trapped expression.  “I’m going to take him to bed,” James ultimately made the decision.  

“You know, this is making you seem easy, Jamesy.  If all a bloke has to do is compliment your eyes-”

“Shut your mouth, Trevelyan, or I’ll shut it for you.  That’s not what I meant by ‘take him to bed’.”

Alec just laughed, shaking off the threat with such ease that Quinlen couldn’t help but look over at him.  When Alec noticed the attention, he actually had the sense to look nervous, because no one - Quinlen included - had the faintest idea what would come out of the boffin’s mouth next.  “You have pretty eyes, too,” felt like the most logical thing for his loose lips to say.  

Now it was Alec’s turn to look as if someone had just offered him a plate full of scorpions and told him to eat them.  “Uh… well, that’s nice, Fluke-” he started awkwardly in return.

Quinlen talked over him, sort of folding into Bond when his own legs got finicky about the idea of standing.  “Windows of the soul.  Eyes are, that is,” Quinlen went on to explain the kaleidoscope of thoughts in his head, although he feared he only got them vaguely straightened out before ejecting them from his mouth.  He cocked his head, startled to find that it was now resting on Bond’s shoulder; that pinned Q’s left limb between them, which for the first time felt slightly uncomfortable.  But he had more important matters to think about: “Do you both have pretty souls?  Or just pretty windows?”

Alec looked cornered and like he wanted to run away somewhere.  “Yeah, putting him to bed sounds like a good idea, James - before he philosophises anymore,” Alec said in what sounded like a pleading tone or a sad one.  

The boffin wasn’t done yet, though - he was thinking a lot of thoughts, and they definitely seemed worthy of discussion - and he wriggled his left arm around to relieve the dull ache in his wrist.  He ended up with that arm thrown around Bond’s neck instead, and sort of tried to climb the man to get a better look at Alec when Bond turned to walk away.  “I’m not sleepy.  It’s barely noon!” he protested.  

“I know, Q,” soothed the gunman who was slowly walking him backwards, while Alec beat a quick retreat deeper into the kitchen.  Bond continued when Quinlen struggled a little, “But I think that if you stay awake and keep talking, you’re going to scare Alec out of his ever-loving mind.”

That just seemed absurd, and Quinlen said so, even as he dropped his chin down onto the slope of muscle between Bond’s shoulder and neck, which was warm and comfortable, “How in the world could I scare Alec?!  He’s three times my size, and I know he’s got enough muscle to snap me in half.  You both do.  All… all muscle.”  As if to prove it, he let his hand dangle down, fingers extending to brush against the muscles of Bond’s back while they continued their slow, awkward walk.  The gunman jumped noticeably at the touch, which only made his musculature grow taut beneath Quinlen’s fingertips.  It was like feeling a puzzle redefine itself.  Quinlen huffed against the side of Bond’s shirt-collar.  “This is just unfair.  I think I’m suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, you know?” he babbled, finally saying it out loud.  He still let himself be moved backwards, because it was Bond doing most of the work and coordinating anyway.  “Funny, it’s a lot more pleasant than movies and psychology papers make out.  And technically, there are logical reasons for me to trust you.”  They were in the guest bedroom now, but Quinlen was still clutching at Bond’s back and generally clinging to him.  “I do, you know.”

“Do what?” Bond’s low voice finally asked back.  He sounded a bit like he expected to regret asking, which was puzzling.  Quinlen had yet to feel a single ounce of regret for most of his words, but a distant part of his brain suspected that the vodka was helping with that.  

“Trust you.  Even Alec, a little.”  Quinlen seesawed his hands to show his wavering doubts, even though the motion was behind Bond’s head where he’d never see it.  At that point, the gunman finally made efforts to remove Quinlen from his person, his hands gripping Quinlen’s smaller frame and prying him off; Quinlen figured that this was what limpets felt like when they were removed from their rocky homes.  He scowled and flailed a little, even as the backs of his knees brushed up against the bed.  “I don’t trust your hands, though,” he grumped, then asked more seriously, “Your hands have done things, haven’t they?”  

When Quinlen switched from glaring at the large, scarred hands gripping him (one curled around his upper arm, the other firmly curved around his ribcage) to looking with curiosity at Bond’s face, he was met with a grim, torn expression.  James’s mouth was set in an unreadable, flat line, but a muscle was taut in his cheek, and Quinlen saw pain he hadn’t meant to put in the man’s winter-sky-blue eyes.  Without having to think about it, Quinlen reached up and, after the briefest flutter that was due more to lack of coordination than hesitation, brushed his fingertips against the other man’s cheekbone.  “I’m sorry,” he said with a sigh, meaning it.  He suddenly felt horrible.  “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”  

Briefly, surprise surfaced past the pain in Bond’s look, and Quinlen wished he could wash it all away; Bond had eyes like crystals, and it seemed a shame to see them darkened.  Without giving any conscious commands to his body to do so, Quinlen forced his legs to balance a bit on their own again, if only so he could step forward, step closer.  His hand was still on Bond’s face, first two fingers resting beneath an arctic eye, while Q’s thumb stretched to brush his mouth.  Quinlen was just a bit too drunk to be surprised by the fact that James hadn’t pushed him away yet.  “I’m sure your hands can do good things, too,” the smaller man encouraged artlessly, mouth stretching in a smile that couldn’t have kept a secret if it tried.

Unexpectedly, Bond smirked back, albeit in a more grudging fashion.  “You do realize that you’re drunk, don’t you, Q?”

Quinlen nodded rapidly, although he had to close his eyes because that made the world spin.  “Totally.  Very aware.  Yes.  Everyone keeps repeating it.  I also think that I like it when you call me Q.”  Quinlen opened his eyes again when he heard a chuckling noise.  “Are you laughing at me?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Because it sounds and looks a lot like you’re laughing at me.”  Suddenly, Quinlen… Q… went from frowning to smiling again.  He shrugged carelessly, even as he lost his balance again and ending up stumbling out of Bond’s grip to sit down with a thump on the edge of the bed.  “It’s okay.  You can laugh at me.  I’m eminently hilarious, and you look good when you laugh anyway,” he volunteered magnanimously.

The laughter increased, and it looked like James was having a hard time keeping a handle on it.  His eyes were dancing now with amusement instead of shadows, even as he continued to stand over Q - stepping up into his personal space, in fact, knees touching and strong arms crossed.  “I do, do I?” the gunman asked with an impish tone.

“Yes.  Very.”  This business of telling the truth was really quite lovely; it was less confusing than telling a lie, and came more easily than dancing between the two options.  Besides, Bond was gorgeous to look at.  Q’s brows quirked down together in puzzlement.  “You didn’t know that?”

“I know it,” was the unabashed answer, “I just didn’t expect to hear you say it.”  Bond cocked his head.  “You’re an enigma, Q.”

“Thank you.  Is that the sort of thing I’m supposed to say thank you for?”  Words just kept tumbling out of Q’s mouth, even as he fought to stay upright on the bed - the result was him teetering back and forth like a cobra before a snake-charmer.  It wasn’t precisely the most flattering comparison, but James was charming.  Q thought he found the right thing to say, and his face was pleased as he said, “You’re an enigma, too!”

Bond snorted, but played along like a good sport.  “Oh, really?”

“Yes,” Q answered with finality.  “You switch back and forth between deadly and gentle so fast that my head spins.  Both are good looks on you, oddly enough.”

“You’re amazingly flattering when you’re drunk.”

You’re amazingly drunk when you’re-!  Okay, I admit, that made a lot more sense before I started to say it,” the smaller man deflated a bit, but when he slouched forward his middle twinged a bit.  Like his wrist, the pain was pleasantly numbed by the alcohol, but Quinlen remembered his other injuries with a start.  “Hey, you said you’d look at these,” Q accused, even as he tugged up the hem of his borrowed jumper to get a look at the scratches on his stomach.  “I look like I was attacked by a cat.  You were distractingly unclothed when you offered.”

Chuckling again and definitely smirking, the gunman reached forward to gather Q’s wrists in both of his hands, being as careful with the damaged one as Q had come to expect.  Less expected, however, was how the agent pushed back gently, tipping Q slowly backwards as he sat down himself, right next to him.  The smaller man went willingly, curiosity and a bubbly sort of carelessness making all of him feel warm and invulnerable, so much so that he didn’t care how much larger and more powerful the other man was for once.  Instead, he found himself watching Bond’s eyes, which were darkening in a different sort of way now.  A good way, Q thought.  As Q’s shoulder-blades and head touched the comforter beneath him, Bond stayed close, eyes moving over Q’s face in a way that made the smaller man’s skin feel hot before turning to where the jumper was still hiked up around the lower edges of Q’s ribs.  After stroking a thumb along the edge of a wrist-bone, James removed one hand to touch careful fingers to Q’s flank instead; the texture of calluses on his bare skin made Q hold his breath, simply focusing on the sensation like one holding a chocolate to melt in their mouth.

As a general rule, Q didn’t date - either there was never someone he liked, or no one who liked him, or simply no time - so this was a novel sensation, and the alcohol seemed only to be heightening it.  So when Bond started saying something about how Q was honestly healing up very nicely, Q used his now-free hand to push off from the bed, and impulsively seek out Bond’s mouth with his.  

It was awkward, and clumsy, but altogether delightful in Q’s books.  He would have been deliciously proud with even this small, stolen kiss, but then Bond’s startled breath became a growl, and the hand on Q’s torso suddenly moved to reappear around the back of Q’s head.  Fingers that Q had seen wrapped around a gun as often as wrapped around his arm, tugging him somewhere or other, now tightened in the thick, dark hair at the  back of Q’s skull.  The smaller man held his breath, lips still tingling with contact and buzzing with an indefinable desire for more, as he waited to find out whether this was a warning or something else.  Usually, noises like that combined with such a show of strength were warnings of some sort, weren’t they?

Bond seemed to be deciding that, too, but then his grip softened marginally instead of tightening to pull Q away.  He angled his head, and while the kiss was still closed-lipped, it became more skilled for a moment.  Just a moment.  Q gasped and mewled at the sensation of kissing and being kissed, liking the slight tug of Bond’s fingers in his hair, too, and all of that warm, muscular weight poised so near.  

The hot exhale of Bond’s breath against Q’s mouth hinted that he was perhaps enjoying this likewise.

James!” the bark of Alec’s voice from the doorway abruptly cracked across the room.

Blue eyes immediately flew open, and at that moment, all Q could think was that he hadn’t seen anything spring backwards that fast since his next door neighbor had tried to spray an alleycat with the watering hose.  Q likewise felt his good mood rather doused as Bond swiftly retreated from the room, and the door was closed between them, leaving Q feeling a lot more like plain little Quinlen and rather bewildered.

~^~

Quinlen did end up taking a nap.  Naps were simple, straightforward things, and the room spun less when he lay down and closed his eyes anyway.  Unfortunately, when he eventually woke up again, his pleasant high was replaced by a raging headache and a picture-perfect memory of the preceding hours.  

‘Damn,’ he summed up the entire experience to himself.  Logic (which was once again back in the building) told him that he couldn’t just hide in the bedroom forever, however, unless he wanted to suffer from dehydration and this worsening hangover headache.  Deciding that he may as well face the repercussions for his actions, Quinlen found his glasses where he’d haphazardly dropped them on the beside table, and got up with a little wobble and another vibrant curse.  After repeating to himself at least a half dozen times that his little… altercation… with Bond was in no way Quinlen’s own fault (Quinlen refused to blame drunk people, especially when ‘people’ was himself), the boffin straightened his spine, braced himself, and pushed the door open.  

He refused to sigh in relief when he noted first off that Bond was not there.  Good.  That meant he could deny what had happened a bit longer.

Putting a kink in that plan was the fact that Alec was still present, sitting at the table next to Quinlen’s laptop and reassembling a gun of some sort.  Transparently worried green eyes lifted up to Quinlen as the bespectacled young man walked into the kitchen, wincing at the light.  “First off,” the boffin said, raising a finger and making his voice imperious, “Yes, I remember everything perfectly.  And no-”  Quinlen flopped down into a chair, folding his arms on the table and burying his head in them to avoid the eye-searing brightness of the overhead light.  “-I don’t want to discuss it.  But if you could be so kind as to get me-”

“Water.  Yes,” Alec obliged without being told, and Quinlen focused on how the pain in his head was not actually blotting out the pain in his wrist until the other man came around to his side of the table a few moments later.  A hand hesitantly tapped his shoulder.  “Water and Aspirin.  James is out chasing some leads on foot.”

Quinlen didn’t have it in him to comment, but sat up and downed both the provided pills and the entire glass of water - by now it was second-nature to make sure that the pills weren’t ones that he was allergic to.  “Give it here,” he requested, stretching his arms out and making gasping motions at his computer in an admittedly childish fashion, but he figured he deserved to be humored.

Alec just eyed him for a sec from where he stood at Quinlen’s shoulder.  “You’re hungover and you want to work on your laptop?”

“You can either keep looking at me like I’m crazy, or you can push my laptop over to me.  If you pick the first option, I just might decide to start asking you why you thought it was such a good idea to get me drunk in the first place.”

The solid evidence of just how much Quinlen remembered of earlier seemed to finally galvanize Alec, and he circled the table to do as ordered.  If he hadn’t, Quinlen would have just gotten up and moved over to his laptop, but this was easier, and the less he moved, the less his head hurt.  He immediately turned down the light on his screen until his eyes weren’t trying to burn in their sockets.  The various programs he’d had running had already turned up dividends, and Quinlen began to sift through the data to distract himself from the fact that he’d drunkenly babbled about Bond’s eyes and then had later brazenly kissed the man, too.  the worst part was probably that he couldn’t call anything he’d said a lie: Bond was incredibly easy on the eyes, and Quinlen did indeed have mixed feelings about the man’s hands.  He now had mixed feelings about the man’s mouth, too, but those were tipping traitorously towards the positive side of the equation.  Without thinking, Quinlen ran a tongue across his lower lip, imaging he could still feel the brush and slide of Bond’s chapped lips.

Alec cleared his throat.  “You sure you’re all right, Q?”

“Ah, so you’ve picked up the nickname, too,” the boffin replied wryly, avoiding the question, eyes still on his screen.  “And I’m pretty sure that my raging headache doesn’t fall under the category of ‘all right,’ but thank you for asking.”

“James shouldn’t have done that,” Alec pressed on, impervious to Quinlen’s dodging of the topic and about as subtle as a sledgehammer, “I’m not going to lie and say that he or I are particularly moral, but taking advantage of someone who’s had a bit too much to drink isn’t something that either of us make a habit of doing.”

“I kissed him, Alec.”  In for the pence, in for the pound.  It was rather worth the embarrassing truth to see the shock on the other man’s face.  

“What?” Alec finally demanded.  “You actually-?”

“Didn’t I say I didn’t want to talk about this?” Quinlen whined, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.  He leaned closer to his laptop as if to bury himself in data, and hide from the reality sitting across from him with a gaping mouth.  

“You actually caught Jamesy on the mouth?” Alec asked back with a growing grin on his face.  It was honestly a rather demonic look, and didn’t bode well.  “Wow, this is rich.  You’re a braver soul that I thought, Q.”

“Brave and drunk are not mutually exclusive.”

“James was definitely kissing you back by the time I got in,” Alec opined cheerily, “He was downright apologetic when I called him out, but he never mentioned that-!”

Quinlen lobbed the nearest piece of dismantled firearm at Alec’s head, and effectively ended the conversation, although it didn’t stop Alec from looking impishly amused even as he dodged.  “The surprises never cease with you,” Alec still felt the need to comment.

Quinlen raised gimlet eyes over his laptop, and replied, “You really like to push your luck, don’t you?  You want me to throw things at you.”   

“I want to know if you and James-”

“Stop talking,” Quinlen ordered, but suddenly it was a different tone - and it actually worked to gain obedience.  Alec Trevelyan instantly tensed and snapped his mouth shut, the joking light leaving his eyes as he saw the way Quinlen was suddenly looking tight-lipped at his screen.  “Alec, I need you to tell me where James is,” the boffin demanded suddenly.  

“I would if I could, but if he’s tracking down information on his own, he’ll be covering a lot of ground,” was the sober response, “Why?  What did you find?”

“I found his target, and apparently his friends,” Q said, voice swift and grim and fingers soo tapping out a hummingbird rhythm on the keys.  He hissed and briefly pulled back his left hand, but then ignored the pain in his wrist and kept typing.  “You said that James is after drug-dealers?”

Alec’s eyes had grown wary, and he eyed Q unblinkingly from across the table, stiff and still.  “Yes.  By this point, you know that as well as I do.”

Leaning further over his laptop, Q kept working furiously as he spoke, “The programs that I’m running managed to get a few hits, but I was running other facial recognition programs, too.”

“What did you find?”

“That Santiago is smuggling more than drugs,” Q shot back with growing anxiety.  He pulled up a window and then spun his computer around, grimacing again as his wrist spasmed but firming up his grip to make sure the screen was tilted Alec’s way.  The gunman immediately leaned forward, surprise on his features as he took in the slightly grainy but identifiable image of two men: one was Herald Santiago, and the other one had a face identical to a mug-shot open up alongside it.  “Don’t ask me how I got the picture,” the boffin immediately said, eyes giving a quick roll before returning candidly to Alec’s face, “It was illegal.  Not that that seems to matter to you or James.  But please tell me that you know Santiago was palling around with a known terrorist.”

Alec’s eyes were like chips of emerald as he rested his hands on the table, fingers curling into fists and muscles bunching beneath his shirt in a way that had Q reflexively drawing back a bit.  The larger man answered lowly, “No, I don’t think that that piece of information has come to light.  Where was this picture taken and when?”

Immediately, Q was turning his laptop back to him, and this time Alec circled the table, too.  Q got over his nervousness regarding Alec’s foreboding presence and kept working while the gunman watched fixedly over his shoulder.  “This picture is old - a camera caught it about a week ago according to the time-stamp, but I’m going to look for more recent meet-ups,” Q clarified as he tapped keys and moved rapidly between screens, seeming to just nudge one before moving to a new program and doing likewise.  “You said that you’d managed to find where Santiago and his men might be holed up, and I think that I’ve been getting some footage near there...”

The faintest twist of Alec’s hands on the back of Q’s chair was the only indication that he recalled the last time they’d talked about Santiago’s supposed home-base – that conversation had started with Alec suggesting an impromptu raid of the place, and had ended with Q shoved up against the wall and severely regretting his defensive nature.  Q was focused on his work, however, and with no grudge floating in the air, Alec settled down to await what would come from the computer in front of them.

Most of Q’s programs had turned up dividends while he’d been drunk, and now it was a matter of ignoring his hangover while sorting through and analyzing all of the data.  It wasn’t long before Alec and Q both were swearing, the full import of what they were seeing coming to light.

“Damn,” Alec summed it up, “I wish that James had let you work drunk.”

Q agreed grudgingly, sitting back and rubbing his wrist gingerly while never removing his eyes from the screen, “Yes.  Then we might have realized that his drug-smugglers are really just acting as mules for terrorist weapons.”

“I’d call James and tell him, but I don’t think he’s gotten another burner phone since losing his last one,” Alec sighed, clearly frustrated.  A bit more swearing followed as he pushed away from Q’s chair to pace instead.  Q glanced over and arched an eyebrow delicately as some of the words clearly slipped into another language.

“I could find him, if you like,” the boffin offered after a beat.  He shrunk in his seat just a little when Alec suddenly spun around to face him, surprise but also intensely alert.  Fixed by that laser-green look, the boffin elaborated, “It would include hacking the CCTV feeds, but since I’ve… sort of… been doing that already, I figured that no one would mind…”

“Do it, Q.”

The bespectacled young man immediately swiveled back to his computer, wrist forgotten, as well as any thoughts about laws and repercussions.  “On it.”  He deadpanned a moment later, feeling a little bubble of insane amusement, “Will you arrest me if I commandeer a nearby phone to call him on, once I find him?”

Alec pulled up a chair to Q’s left, turning it so that he could straddle it backwards and fold his muscular arms across the back.  It was the perfect place to watch Q work and understand precisely nothing of what he was doing.  “You know what, myshka?  You somehow manage to get scarier every time I turn around.”

“Is that a no?”

The green-eyed gunman just chuckled, a low, amused sound reminiscent of amused lions.  He nudged Q with a foot and said only, “Just find James.”

Q’s hands froze, and instead of twitching his foot out of Alec’s reach, his body went still and tense.  One click more and a picture filled the screen – and nothing on it was good.  “I already did,” Q stated in a shadow of his previous tone.  Commandeering phones and calling Bond with a forewarning of danger was no longer an option – he’d already found it.

 

Chapter Text

“Fucking shit,” Alec growled, sounding almost as resigned as he sounded furious.  He added a few words afterwards that Quinlen was, by this point, pretty sure were Russian, “Kak on umudryaetsya tak legko vputyivatsya v nepriyatnosti?”  He switched back to English to say, “Go figure James would manage to drop in on villains before he’d been properly introduced.”

Quinlen was thinking that that was something of an understatement.  The image he’d caught was from a security camera that he most definitely wasn’t supposed to have access to, and the still he’d captured showed a group of men surrounding someone who could only be Bond.  There were guns involved, and Quinlen was already recognizing a few of their opponents’ faces – some smugglers, some terrorists.  Fingers flying and the pain in his head and wrist forgotten, Quinlen pulled up the live feed and made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat when it showed nothing but an empty warehouse.  It took him mere seconds to switch to another camera on the same system.  Alec whistled his approval.  “Dammit, I’m having a hard time finding him,” Quinlen hissed, growing increasingly agitated.  All he could imagine was the single image that his search programs had first pulled up, showing James at gunpoint.  It would take more time to get hold of the rest of the video from around that time, and Quinlen feared that he didn’t have time.  “Was there blood on his face?”

“Easy, myshka, James is hard to kill,” Alec reassured, but the hand he had braced on the table was still clenched, making the plethora of scars on his knuckles and forearm stand out stark and white against his tan.  Quinlen’s eyes fixated on the testaments to survived violence, drawing unexpected strength from the reminder that men like Alec – and James – were designed for durability.  Alec helpfully added as Quinlen hunted through video feeds, “Plus, that looked less like a slaughter and more like a stand-off.”

“It was ten against one, not counting anyone out of viewing range,” Quinlen snapped back, still working.

“More chance of some idiot shooting one of his own,” was the gunman’s reply to that.  He actually had the audacity to shrug, but when Quinlen shot him a look, he also had the good grace to grimace.  Further discussion about how unreasonably well Alec was taking all of this had to wait until later, however, as a faint ringtone sounded across the room.  The green-eyed gunman immediately looked up alertly.  “Not a lot of people know my number,” he explained quietly as he left Quinlen to fetch his mobile.  He called back over his shoulder as Quinlen craned his neck to watch him hopefully, “Maybe I spoke too soon about James not getting a new burner-phone!”  Alec fished a phone out from between sofa-cushions like a regular bloke, but something about his expression was alien and almost bestial as he put the phone to his ear and answered simply, curtly, “Yes?”

Quinlen’s hopes faltered and fell as Alec’s expression went from a cool wariness to a Siberian cold, the hot anger in his eyes a burning counterpoint.  Just from the way his jaw clenched, muscles in his cheeks bunching, Quinlen knew that it wasn’t Bond on the other end of the line.

Suddenly, however, a thought came to him, and Quinlen scrambled out of his chair so quickly that he nearly fell flat on his face.  It startled Alec enough that he didn’t say anything back to the speaker on the phone, and then the boffin was by his side, too reckless to be afraid as he pulled the mobile right out of Alec’s hand.  “Hey-!” the larger man protested, and there was a brief scuffle that thankfully wasn’t translated down the phone-line, because Quinlen had a thumb over the receiver.  Alec was a fair sight bigger than Quinlen and no doubt far better in a brawl, but he stopped trying to get the mobile back after just one frostbitten glare from the boffin he was trying to put in a headlock.

Still making sure that they weren’t overheard, but aware that there was someone speaking on the other line, the dark-haired young man murmured quickly and efficiently in defiance of the heavy arm hooked around his collarbone and the other one tightening on his elbow, “These people don’t even know that you exist yet.  They know about James – obviously – and if they’re calling, then they clearly know about me, but if you answer, then what ace-in-the-hole do we have left for later?”

Alec’s lowered brows said he didn’t like this logic, but the fact that he released Quinlen and didn’t go for the mobile again said that he saw it as a logical conclusion nonetheless.  The smaller man immediately pulled the phone to his own ear, took a breath, and interrupted with a snap, “What do you want?”

The phone was silent for a moment as the person on the other line got over the rude abrogation of whatever they’d been saying.  During that time, Trevelyan sidled closer to Quinlen, until he was uncomfortably close but also obviously eavesdropping, which Quinlen allowed rather gratefully – just because he was willing to maintain Alec’s anonymity did not mean he wanted to be alone in this.  An unfamiliar male voice floated down the line, belatedly picking up the new conversation, “As I was saying before you so rudely cut me off, what I want is a trade.  It would be in your partner’s best interests if you complied.”

So they did think he was Bond’s partner – or they at least made assumptions based on the call thus far.  Quinlen tensed and felt his heart-rate pick up, but he managed to reply after one thick swallow that felt like it stuck in his throat, “I won’t interrupt if you won’t be vague.  What kind of trade are you suggesting and how do I know…?”  Quinlen’s voice nearly broke on him, but for once, Alec was helpful, his warm hand on the boffin’s nape imparting a reminder of his support as he listened in.  Somehow, despite the horror of the situation, Quinlen managed to continue firmly, “…That you haven’t killed my partner already?”

“I’ll send you a picture now as proof,” was the willing reply, and both Quinlen and Alec held their breath as they looked at the phone’s screen, awaiting the next message.  A few seconds later and an image arrived that, when Quinlen downloaded and opened it, revealed a rather battered James looked balefully at the camera through one cerulean eye.  He had blood caked over the other, and more redness was smeared from his jaw down to the collar of his shirt on the same side.  A clock was purposefully visible behind where Bond was handcuffed to a chair, and Quinlen couldn’t see any reason to distrust the time it read, which matched the current timestamp on the photo.

Covering the receiver again, Quinlen turned to Alec beseechingly, hissing, “We need to turn this in to the police.  This is proof of-”

Alec sighed resignedly, “Q, you’ve got to realize by this point that James and I don’t exactly get along with law enforcement.  Here, give me the phone, and I’ll handle this our way.”

“No.”  Quinlen bristled.  Although frustrated, he digested the fact that Alec was probably right about the police, and went back to the phone stubbornly.  “I got the picture.  Now what kind of trade do you want?” Quinlen stated in clipped tones he hadn’t known he possessed, a definite edge of anger in them, carefully controlled, “Keep in mind that if you hurt him any further, I’m going to be very unwilling to cooperate.”

“Oh, I think that you’ll cooperate, because there’s a lot more hurt we can put Mr. Bond through-”

Behind him, still eavesdropping, Quinlen heard Alec swear, “Fuck.  Why does he always give out his name…?”

“-Before he’s of no more use to us.  So how about you keep that in mind?” was the rough but cheery reply, “Now that we’ve got all of our threats out of the way, how about we get down to business?”

Yobanyiy v rot!” Alec swore again in heavy Russian, but kept it quiet enough to not be overheard even as Quinlen steeled himself and replied, “Of course.  You’ll have my full cooperation.”

The voice in his ear gave a chuckle that made Quinlen’s spine crawl.  “Good.  Because, you see, it’s come to my attention that while Mr. Bond has been hunting down my associates, it’s you who’ve breached quite a few of our firewalls.  I’m willing to forgive good, old-fashioned leg-work, but it’s your skills that unsettle me.  So what I’m proposing is a trade: you for your partner.”

~^~

Ya ne mogu poverit, chto tyi dazhe rassmatrivaesh eto. Tyi krutilsya vokrug Dzhaymza slishkom dolgo i podhvatil ego suitsidalnyie povadki. Poluchiv tebya, oni ne otpustyat Dzhaymza i zarezhut vas oboih,” Alec’s growling accompanied pacing while Quinlen stared unseeingly at the mobile in his hands, now quiet and dark.  The caller had hung up, saying that he wanted to give Quinlen time to think about it.  Mostly, it just seemed an exercise in sadism.

“Please speak in English, Alec,” the boffin pleaded halfheartedly, rubbing a hand over the lower half of his face and closing his eyes for a moment.  “Or don’t speak at all.  I’m trying to think.”

“Well, I hope you’re trying to think about what an insane demand that is, because you have to know that they’re not going to just take you and let James go,” Alec retorted, back in a language that Quinlen could understand, although his voice was no less rough-edged, “They’re going to kill you both.”

“I read the criminal records of most of the men involved, so I’m well aware of the danger,” Quinlen admitted with a sigh that sounded dangerously like a whine.  The tension was getting to him, but beneath it all, he forced his brain to keep turning.  Sitting with the phone on his lap (because he feared that Alec would snatch it, and he wasn’t ready to give up the other gunman’s anonymity yet), Quinlen lifted both hands to rub at his pounding temples.

“It’s a trap,” Alec stressed, but more quietly.  Quinlen lifted his head to see the remaining gunman leaning against the wall across from him, looking somehow wrong without James for his blue-eyed mirror-image.

Something like fire roared up in Quinlen’s gut, flushing him with heat and determination.  He stood suddenly and began pushing buttons on the phone even as he also started moving about the house with hurried steps.  Before hitting the ‘return call’ button, he looked at Alec’s startled eyes and muttered, “Fine.  It’s a trap – but we know that, and so far, they don’t know that there are two of us.”

The larger man shifted, something predatory glinting in his eyes.  “So you’re going to let me handle this?”

Quinlen nestled the phone between his shoulder and ear, freeing up his hands to rifle through the kitchen drawers, looking for something as he phone rang.  “No, that means we’re going to plan this out without Santiago and his friends being any the wiser until we spring a trap on them,” was Quinlen’s clipped reply, before his body tensed and he started talking on the phone, “I’ve thought about it long enough.  There’s really no choice for me, is there?”

The same voice as before answered immediately, so smug that it was dripping from practically every word, “Not if you want Mr. Bond to live until tomorrow.”

“And what assurances do I have that you’ll let me live?” Quinlen bargained tensely as he finally found what he wanted: pliers, apparently, although he grabbed a few other things out of the junk-drawer and then began eyeing the toaster.  Alec’s eyes got conspicuously wide as he noticed.  “I’m not exactly keen on dying either, surprisingly enough.”

Laughter ricocheted into Quinlen’s ear.  “Well, don’t you have balls?” was the snide but pleased remark, “How about this then?  You have my word that I won’t hurt you.  I might even hire you.  Today’s world puts a lot of value in hackers like you.”

Quinlen made a face at being called a hacker, and ignored the way that Alec was emphatically shaking his head at all of this.  “Fine.  Deal,” Quinlen said, much to his companion’s exasperation.  He made no attempt to hide the tremor in his voice, hoping he sounded just as inexperienced and naïve as he was, “When and where will this trade occur?”

“Half an hour,” was the prompt reply, followed by the address which Quinlen already knew.

By now, Quinlen was busily at work, and he almost distractedly laid the phone on the kitchen table and put it on speakerphone so that he could keep moving around without the hindrance.  Instead of going for the mobile as he would have earlier, Alec merely watched with curious bewilderment.  “Too soon,” Quinlen snapped back to their antagonist.  He circled around to his laptop and began deftly looking things up – schematics, it looked like.  “I’ll never make it that far, that soon, with traffic.”  Quinlen was up and off his chair again in seconds, and this time he started climbing up onto the table of all things.  It looked like he was going for the light fixture hanging above it, and Alec jumped forward with a jolt to grab the table with one hand and Quilen’s calf with the other, steadying both.  Quinlen was too focused to notice.  “Please, give me more time than that,” the boffin kept talking, infusing a pleading note into his voice that actually had as much to do with his aching wrist as anything else as he grabbed and began messing with the fixture.  Abruptly, the kitchen got darker, although at least no one was electrocuted as the bulb stopped working.  Something in his hand (not the light-bulb), the bespectacled young man got off the table, unabashedly using Alec like a hand-rail as he did.

“Fine.  You have one hour.  But if you don’t turn up exactly on time – alone, I might add – I’m going to start cutting pieces off your teammate,” was the warning given.  Quinlen visibly missed a step but kept moving gamely towards the toaster, his next victim, pliers now in a white-knuckled grip like he wanted to stab someone with them.  “He looks like a tough man, but he’ll most certainly be a less handsome one if I take off his nose and ears.”

“Enough,” Quinlen pleaded in a voice gone thin and sharp.  He attacked the toaster with far more vigor than was necessary, just barely keeping quiet enough so as not to make their caller suspicious.  “You’ve got my attention, and I’ll be there.  You’ll get me and you’ll let my friend go.”

Another chuckle, slightly crackling through the phone-connection.  “Glad we had this talk.  Au revoir.”  The phone clicked, the call ending like a last breath to create a deep and hollow stillness.  Quilen filled that quietude with his own low grunts of effort and the sounds of a toaster being swiftly lobotomized for parts.

After a few moments, Alec finally spoke, “You shouldn’t have said ‘friend.’  They’ll go for the throat now.”

“That’s what I want,” Quinlen gritted right back, then yelped as the pain in his bad wrist finally got too strong for him to ignore.  He dropped the pliers to massage the offending limb shakily, a rictus expression of discomfort momentarily taking over his features.  “The more emotional they think I am, the less they’ll expect of me.  Being underestimated is in my best interests.”

Alec stepped forward, took up the pliers, and twisted loose the offending piece that Quinlen had been struggling with.  He looked at the boffin askance and asked in a carefully neutral tone, “Are you emotional?”

Instead of answering, Quinlen sagged against the countertop next to bits of wiring and screws, forearms supporting him and head hanging between them as he drew in a deep and ragged breath.  However, after holding it for a few seconds, he puffed the exhale out sharply and straightened as if his spine had become a steel rod.  His hazel eyes were a bit too bright, but they held about as much emotion as his computer screen.  “Let’s get to work.  By any chance do you have one of those nifty tools that James is always using to get into locked cars?”

~^~

Quinlen wished that he could have had more than an hour of time, but he was also sure that every second of waiting brought him closer and closer to worrying himself into an ulcer.  Now he was standing in front of a warehouse, alone and petrified, with the day growing cloudy and dark as night rolled in like a black fog.  He pulled his borrowed coat more tightly around himself, cursing the cold and the fact that he only had one working hand at the moment – the other one was sending screaming reminders to him not to use his unhealed wrist anymore.  He’d already overworked it, and before they’d left the apartment, Alec had patiently rewrapped the boffin’s left wrist until it was now immobilized in a thick layer of bandaging from palm to mid-forearm.

It was promising to be another cool evening.  Quinlen couldn’t see his breath pluming, but he shivered nonetheless before walking further away from where the taxi had dropped him off and closer to the looming, seemingly empty building.

He wasn’t particularly surprised when someone stepped out of the shadows before he even reached the door, but he jumped anyway.  The man was clearly a guard and clearly ready for him, a semiautomatic poorly hidden against his side.  Quinlen gulped audibly but also lifted his hands.  “I’m here for my teammate,” he managed to say, telling himself that the more harmless he looked, the better chance this plan had.  To be honest, however, he was simply scared out of his mind, and didn’t have to work at all to act that part.  The black-haired guard smiled, revealing a gold tooth, but when he reaised his gun it was only to gesture Quinlen ahead of him.  “Come on then, boy.  You’re expected.”

As Quinlen did as directed, the guard’s partner stepped out into view but didn’t follow, giving up his hiding place in the shadows just to cast a nasty leer at the new arrival.  When Quinlen and the guard were inside, however, a third shadow moved in and virtually swallowed the remaining guard whole.  There was not a peep of sound as the man was dispatched.

Quinlen walked forward on shaky legs, wondering over and over again how he’d gotten himself into this mess – not just the kidnapped part, but the part where he was essentially being double-kidnaped now.  He was hyperaware of the gun at his back and the fact they were far on the outskirts of the city, where there wouldn’t be anyone to hear (or willing to report) a bit of gunfire.  He didn’t have to walk far, fortunately, before he went from a dark hallway to a large room filled with crates, the fixtures hanging from the high ceiling casting a yellowed, sickly light on the assembled party below.  Quinlen unexpectedly found his spine straightening and his gait becoming less hesitant, a kind of fury that was unknown to him banishing his fear almost completely – like a sun snarling and chasing at the heels of shadows.  He no longer needed the guard herding him along as he strode towards the collection of men situated around one lone, sitting figure: James Bond.

“That’s far enough,” Quinlen’s escort grunted at him, catching his coat-collar and forcibly halting him.  The boffin gasped as the barrel of a gun dug painfully into the back of his ribs, the sensation barely muffled by his coat.  All eyes turned to him.

Herald Santiago was immediately recognizable from photographs, burly and definitely past his prime.  Another familiar and notorious face stood next to him, lean where Santiago was putting on pounds – Kory Banis, known terrorist and resident ringmaster.  As he stepped forward and spoke, he also revealed himself to be the man who’d threatened Bond’s life over the phone and was standing in front of him now, “Ah, the mysterious partner appears.  You know, I never asked your name, and your friend still refuses to give it.”

“I’ll give you my name and anything else you want after our business is finished,” Quinlen promised, wishing his voice didn’t sound so much like brittle glass, close to breaking.  He also wished that he could keep his eyes from going to James, who was still perfectly conscious, it seemed, but also very much worse for wear.  He had an awful lot of blood all over the right side of his face and throat, and where his wrists were handcuffed to a heavy steel chair, there were red smears, too – evidence of sincere and repeated escape attempts.  It looked like his ankles were handcuffed, too, although anything less and he’d likely be causing chaos, if the murderous look in his eyes and the heaving of his chest were any indication.  He was also gagged, which did a lot to contain the width and breadth of his wrath as his eyes drilled holes into the back of Banis’s head but occasionally flashed to Quinlen.  Deciding that a quaver in his voice was a good thing, the bespectacled young man gathered his courage and jerked forwards against the grip on his shirt-collar, begging, “Please, I just want to be sure he’s all right.  Look-”  He pulled at his coat until he could actually slip right out of it, which the guard dropped in favor of taking Quinlen’s arm when the article of clothing no longer served to restrain him.  “-I’m unarmed,” Quinlen finished fervently, then even waved his obviously bandaged arm for good measure, “I’m not even fit to use a gun if I had one.”

A few chuckles circulated the room as this was generally accepted as truth, and with a sneering glance to his partner, Santiago, Banis stepped aside with a sweeping gesture towards Bond.  A nod to the guard and Quinlen was released, whereupon he immediately dashed towards James, nearly tripping in his haste, to everyone’s amusement.  As Quinlen approached, Bond made another effort at jerking loose, eyes clearly betraying frustration when the chair barely jerked and the handcuffs only dug deeper into his limbs.  Bond’s exhale came as a furious gust out of his nose, and Quinlen nearly flinched, imagining what this kind of temper would look like without the restraints.  He had a plan, though, and that plan did not include backing down now.

Instead, with a deft hand, he pressed against something small through the fabric of his pocket, the gesture lost on everyone except Bond, whose brows lowered fractionally as he saw the ghost-light movement.  Quinlen met his eyes with a significant, hopeful look, and then mouthed, ‘Trust me,’ before lifting his hands and laying them over James’s face, covering his eyes.

Not a second later, Quinlen’s coat exploded into a mass of retina-searing light.

Everyone screamed, and even with his back turned and his own eyes squeezed tightly shut, Quinlen saw whiteness as if he were facing the noonday sun.  He counted to two in his head, and sighed in relief as the light abruptly dimmed – and then disappeared altogether.  Alec had gotten the timing right, finding the fuse-boxes that Quinlen had shown him on the blueprints, so now the whole building was in darkness.  Even if some of the men around Quinlen hadn’t suffered permanent eye-damage from his flash-bomb (an explosion that was all bark and no bite, but devastating nonetheless to anyone not prepared), they would be blind now.  Quinlen finally dropped his hands from James’s face, dragging his fingertips over the man’s cheeks – feeling blood flake off under the fingernails of one hand – until he could snag the gag and drag it out of his mouth.  “What the bloody-?” Bond immediately started muttering.

“Distraction,” Quinlen gasped breathlessly, adrenalin making him feel shakier than when Bond had drugged him.  Still, he was able to feel his own left wrist, and only winced a little bit as he dug something out that had been previously hidden by the bandages – Bond’s car-unlocking tool, now tweaked to hopefully work on handcuffs.  More fumbling in the dark found Bond’s ankle as Quinlen knelt next to him, and after the briefest fumbling, gadgetry met lock, and the handcuff gave way with a satisfying snick.  Sighing in relief and nearly sagging against James’s knee, Quinlen attacked the other ankle even as the sounds of disoriented, blinded villains rang like music to his ears.

“Where’s Alec?” James demanded, keeping his voice low even as he shifted restlessly, like a stallion eager to break out of its paddock.

Quinlen’s eyes were already becoming accustomed to the darkness, so as he moved to Bond’s side he didn’t have feel his way like a blind-man to the next cuff, which also gave way.  “He’s the one who cut the power.  I dearly hope that he’ll be here any second to provide back-up.”  In that second, Quinlen caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye, but before he could turn, James was already handling it – he still had both hands restrained, but the incoming villain received two feet squarely to the chest.  Bond kicked him hard enough to send the poor fellow ears over arse, and also nearly toppled himself over backwards as the chair skidded with the force of impact.  Quinlen yelped and swore, catching the chair's back suddenly enough to jar his wrist.  “Stop moving!” he demanded in a voice getting dangerously panicky.  Jamming the unlocking tool into the cuffs, Quinlen finished his work jerkily but quickly, and felt wave of relief that was nearly euphoric when Bond’s hands – now totally free – swept up to grip his shoulders.

“You are going to explain this entire, idiotic plan later,” Bond threatened in a growl, but wasted no time in getting up and making a beeline for the door, dragging his companion along with him.  They dodged human-shaped shadows on the way to the door, some of them now nearly screaming in distress as they realized that their eyesight wasn’t coming back.

Despite his promise to ask for explanations later, Bond demanded in a wary undertone, “What did you do to them?”

“It was quite simple really,” Quinlen replied breathlessly, “Making something explode really isn’t that hard, although making it an explosion of light instead of physical force took a bit more tinkering.  I wanted to make a distraction, not kill us.”

“Q, you’re a madman.”

“Alec said the same thing.”

Further banter was blocked by a silhouette suddenly surging there way.  Someone either hadn’t been fully blinded or was doing a good job of improving, because a man nearly more muscular than James hit him from the side.  Quinlen, on Bond’s other side, bit back a sound of surprise in favor of ducking low and skittering away, not wanting to be dragged into a fight he couldn’t handle.  He kept imagining the blood on James, though, and felt that insane protectiveness coil in his gut like a hot fist.  Quinlen could see enough to note that Bond was holding his own, grappling with his opponent and giving more punches than he weathered, but when another shadow arose to their right, Bond wasn’t able to split his attention.

Not even when the lean, male silhouette braced itself and raised the dark, ugly shape of a long-barreled gun.

Quinlen didn’t hesitate.  He barely even realized that his body was moving until he was racing, low and determined, right at the newest threat – which meant right towards a loaded weapon.  The would-be-shooter was perhaps not at the top of his game either, as he didn’t notice Quinlen until the boffin was right in front of him, and by then, he had ducked down under the gun’s long nose.  An incoherent shout went ignored by Quinlen as he instead stood to his full height, his shoulder jamming the gun upwards even as his hands fought for control of the trigger.  Quinlen realized that he’d lost the latter battle when an explosive crack went off right next to his left ear, so loud it hit his eardrum like an thunder-crack, but the bullet went high and ricocheted off the far wall, three meters up.  Quinlen’s world was consumed by the ringing in his ears, and for a moment, he lost his focus.  As if detached from his own body, he felt his arms being shoved aside, felt his opponent gain the upper hand, realized that if he was shoved back so much as a pace, then he would be perfectly situated to be shot at point-blank-range-

In just one ear, Quinlen heard another, much quieter pop, and then something wet speckled his face.  The man who’d nearly shot Bond and had no doubt wanted to shoot him suddenly fell away.  Quinlen was left standing dazedly, looking down at a body in the dark.  He was distractedly aware that the shot seemed to have come from off to the right (since that was the ear that was still working instead of screaming), which made no sense because James was behind him, which meant that Alec-

“Q!”  The shout of his nickname was distorted, but the hand that grabbed his elbow was firm, pulling the young man around to see Bond.  The blood drying on his skin looked like ink in the shadows, but instead of recoiling from the sight, Quinlen followed him gratefully as Bond tugged him the rest of the way out of the building.

Night had fully fallen around them.  The sky above was speckled with the most beautiful of stars.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

“Ow!”

Alec sighed, sitting back down on the coffee table and giving up on his bespectacled patient.  “Bond, how about you come over here and do this?  He always behaves better for you.”

While Quinlen made a face at being talked about like he was the household pet, Bond called out from the bathroom, “Will he die in the minute it takes me to wash the rest of this blood off and put some liquid adhesive on these cuts?”

“I’m not even that badly hurt!” Quinlen protested instead of letting Alec answer.  The larger man in front of him just smiled indulgently, then extended a hand as if to reach for Quinlen’s still-ringing ear, which made the smaller man shy away.

“Sure you’re not.  You just won’t let me touch your wrist or your face,” Alec deadpanned, then added in a somewhat underhanded blow, “The latter of which had blood on it, by the way.  And you’re welcome for me saving you there at the end.”

The memory of Alec shooting the man right in front of him was half the reason Quinlen was so hand-shy right now, and he mentally skittered away from the memory, and pulled his glasses off.  They did, indeed, have a few fine speckles of red, which made him feel nauseous for a second even as the skin over his cheeks and nose itched.  Fortunately, the persistent ringing in his left ear was a decent distraction from his rioting stomach and the adrenalin-high that he was coming down from so unpleasantly.  Instead of responding to Alec, he moodily used the corner of his shirt to clean his lenses, even though that stained the cloth.  It wasn’t his shirt anyway.  Across from him, Alec eventually gave up with another belly-deep sigh, getting up.  He did, however, return long enough to put a glass of water down in front of their team’s newest member, along with an already opened bottle of paracetamol.  Quinlen fished out two pills and downed them along with the entirety of the glass, feeling marginally better but still very out of sorts once the liquid settled into him.  Hugging his arms around his body and holding his head gingerly because he’d fooled himself into thinking his ear rang less if he tucked it against his shoulder, Quinlen closed his eyes and tried to process everything that had happened.

He’d mounted a rescue mission of a man who’d kidnapped him only days ago… he’d gotten caught hacking a group of smugglers and terrorists… he’d made a bomb and worked in concert with another gunman to cripple said group of smugglers and terrorists… and then he’d almost gotten himself shot, which was no surprise since he’d run directly towards an armed killer.  If this was who ‘Q’ was, then Quinlen doubted he’d live long enough for anyone else but James and Alec to learn the nickname.

Said nickname reached Quinlen’s… Q’s… good ear a moment later, accompanied by a hand on his shoulder that made him jump and twist around, eyes blinking open owlishly.  He found himself staring up at James, who was standing behind the sofa and leaning over him with a painfully understanding look, sympathy deepening the laugh-lines around his keen blue eyes.  With all of the redness now washed off him, it was clear that he wasn’t too badly hurt: he had one long cut that curled viciously around the outer edge of his right eyebrow that had contributed to most of the blood, while another on his jawline had created the gory curtain down his throat.  Both were now sealed over with a thin coating of liquid adhesive.  James must have ditched his previous clothing because now he was dressed in just a sleeveless white undershirt and jogging pants, all lacking in blood, which made him look relaxed but also showed off the last fading bruises from when he’d been choked back at the hotel – which felt like eons ago.

The hand that had touched Q’s shoulder remained where it was long enough to give a squeeze before Bond circled the sofa to take Alec’s place on the coffee-table.  Briefly, the two gunman exchanged looks across the room, their eyes saying quite a lot – Q caught at least an expression of worry before the silent communication was broken and Alec said, “I’m going to go out and make sure that Banis and Santiago’s men are all cleaned up.”  When Q twitched and frowned involuntarily, the green-eyed gunman paused on his way to the door to add with a small smile, “Don’t worry, krolik, I’m not talking about corpses – thanks to you, most of them were as easy to subdue as drowned birds.  Some of them might even make it out of this without any lasting injuries besides their own stupidity.  I just need to ask them a few questions before packaging them up for the police to find.”  He paused, glowering suddenly, before he added, “I should probably also buy new kitchen appliances to replace those that you took apart.”  With a sigh, Alec waved his hand and with a murmured, “Do svidan'ya,” left the flat.

Bond’s eyes hadn’t left Q this whole time, but now, without any other distraction, the boffin was forced to look back and meet his gaze.  Q pursed his lips as he did so, wondering if he looked as much a mess as he felt.  “I really am fine,” he stated again, scratching idly at the thick bandaging still around his wrist, now somewhat disheveled thanks to the gadget he’d pulled out like a magician’s trick.  He noticed that James’s wrists were tightly bandaged now, too, the white strips pale and neat against his tanned skin.

Q’s eyes distractedly followed one of those contrasting cuffs of white as James stretched one hand forward, having produced a wet cloth from somewhere.  Perhaps he’d been holding it all along but Q hadn’t noticed, because his whole world felt fuzzy and at the same time too sharp, like sunlight reflected off ice.  Unlike with Alec, however, Q sat still as James dabbed at his face.  The young man’s hands barely twitched on his lap, making no effort to either push the assistance away or take over for himself.  He felt the material slide across his nose, trace his cheekbones, then fall away.

Bond was smiling just a little with the completion of his work.  “There.  Well, at least now you look more yourself.”  Expression becoming just a bit more oblique, partnered with a challengingly raised eyebrow, James added, “Are you ready to stop lying about being perfectly fine now?”

Realizing that there was no avoiding the mother-henning, Q finally felt his defenses buckle and looked down at his lap, admitting, “I… I can’t actually hear anything out of my left ear.  It’s all just…”  He shook his head, annoyed and a little scared.  He gestured vaguely at his ear with one hand.  “Ringing.”

Bond’s wry smile immediately became a frown, and he looked at Q with more focus even as he reached for him again.  The boffin tolerated the callused hands that touched his skin, cupping his face for a moment with a hand on either side of his jaw before one slid back gently until fingertips were just brushing the skin around his ear.  “This happened when you struggled with that shooter?” the blue-eyed gunman wanted to know, tone low and cautiously flat even as his thumb skimmed the lobe of Q’s ear in an unexpectedly soothing, petting gesture.

Letting his head be cupped in the supporting curve of James’s other hand, Q nodded a little but replied with tired exasperation, “It was either divert the bullet or let you be shot.  I didn’t have time to weight the pros and cons of having a gun go off right next to my ear.  Stupid, I know.”

“Well, there’s no blood running out of your ear, so we’ll count that as a good sign, eh?” Bond managed to infuse a bit of humor into his tone even as his smile slipped playfully back into place, and then Q’s head was being tilted forward just enough for chapped lips to press against his forehead.  James froze a millisecond later, with a sort of physical stutter that translated through his hands still on Q’s head; they went statue-still against his jaw.  The gunman quickly drew back, looking off-balance and uncomfortable as he searched Q’s eyes.  “Sorry, Q.  Reflex,” he defended himself with clumsiness so unlike him.  Usually, when Q thought of James Bond, he thought of inveterate guile and unfaltering charm, but he seemed to be off his game right now.

However, the gunman didn’t pull away or escape the situation as he had last time, which Q tried his best to encourage by staying still and smoothing anything negative out of his expression.  The younger man had the sneaking suspicion that if James fled from this kiss like he had the last, the results would have been far less humorous and far more along the lines of Q crumbling a little on the inside.  He felt fragile, like a vase already sewn through with cracks.  The light brush of Bond’s mouth was hardly even a kiss, after all, and since Q had instigated their last unprofessional ‘altercation,’ he figured that James had permission to return the gesture.

When it looked like James was teetering between apologizing and going away, Q wet his lips and got his words together, although it came out as a soft whisper as he said, quite sincerely, “No apology necessary.  Could you please look at my ear and assure me that I won’t be deaf in one ear for life?”

Tension bled out of Bond’s shoulders and his smile returned, mischievous and familiar again like a sun coming out.  “I’m not a doctor,” he cautioned, but hooked a thumb around the side of Q’s chin so that he could turn his head aside, looking at his ringing ear as best he could.  Ultimately, Q simply appreciated the attention and care.  It also helped that, when James let go, he offered reassuringly, “As someone who’s been too close to quite a few firearms without proper ear-protection, and who still has decent hearing, chances are good that you’ll just have this annoying ringing for a bit longer, and then you’ll be right as rain again.”  His hands slid away from Q’s face with a dry caress of scarred, callused fingers that somehow managed to communicate gentleness.

“Well that’s good,” Q tried to express his relief, a nervous, still-edgy smile flirting with the corner of his mouth.  He found Bond’s blue eyes, but it was as if they were too bright to look at, and Q dropped his gaze again with a shy flush, reaching over to touch his bad wrist in an involuntary gesture.  The healing process was going to take twice as long, he feared, since every time he tried to let it heal, he found himself furiously putting his hands to work and straining his wrist all over again.

Q’s worry over his various but mild injuries was halted when a large hand slid into his range of vision and gently cocooned his bandaged wrist.  The grip was gentle, meticulously so, just as James’s voice was almost painfully soft and quiet as he said words he obviously didn’t say often, “Thank you, Q.  You didn’t have to get involved in any of that, much less divert a bullet meant for me.”

“Banis was pretty specific in demanding I turn myself over for you, so I could hardly stay on the sidelines.  And besides, you took a bullet for me,” Q immediately reminded, feeling his ears redden more and more with the praise even as his eyes diverted briefly to Bond’s side – where a bullet had kissed flesh, and could have done so much damage.

Q told himself that he let his arm in Bond’s grip because he feared the pain in his wrist if he moved, but the reality was, he didn’t even try and slip loose.  He liked the warmth of Bond’s hand slowly seeping through the bandages like a comforting summer heat.

Apparently being grazed by a bullet didn’t mean much in Bond’s line of work, because the man merely scoffed, actually tugging up the hem of his undershirt to show the healing injury.  It looked like it had a few less stitches before (and that the missing ones had been unkindly torn out), but despite having clearly been exacerbated, it was healing.  Q also got a good look at Bond’s muscular side, the curve of his hipbone making a graceful line above the hem of his trousers and drawing the eye naturally to the other muscles playing beneath Bond’s skin.  The blond-haired man deadpanned, “I face off with guns and overeager villains for a living, Q, whereas I’m pretty sure you don’t.”

Willing himself to stop staring, Q dared to lift his head and sniff archly, “How do you know?  Maybe I do.  You don’t know where I work.”

For a moment, Q got worried that he’d baited the other man too much, because the gunman’s head cocked and his eyes narrowed in increased curiosity.  If he started asking Q about MI6, the boffin feared that national security would swiftly become… a bit compromised.  “You’re right, I don’t,” James fortunately gave Q that point, then smiled disarmingly and moved his hand so that it curled around Q’s to brush ticklishly at his palm and the undersides of his fingers.  It made the younger man twitch and curl down around the other man’s hand reflexively.  “But you’d have more calluses in my line of work, so I feel safe in assuming that you were out of your comfort zone back at that warehouse – so my thanks still stand.”

Pulling his hand away self-consciously and laughing a little, Q for the first time that evening relaxed entirely, sitting back against the sofa and simply smiling.  He’d done it, he realized.  He’d really done it.  Not only had he come to care quite fiercely for a man who’d drugged and handcuffed him, but he’d followed that man into danger and taken him back out alive.  It was an adrenalin rush unlike any Quinlen had ever known, and the sense of pride and reward he was feeling was likewise unparalleled, now that the lingering, sour fear had died down.  It also helped him ignore the fact that he was either a closet-adrenalin junky or quite stupid to be doing all of this, coercive circumstances aside.

It was easier to release his horror over his memories when proof of Bond’s survival was right there in front of him: the man was larger than life, as he always was.  As James dropped the topic of owed debts, near-deaths, and Q’s mysterious day-job, he went to work on Q’s wrist with practiced diligence.  The bandages were removed with quick efficiency but more touching than expected, Q feeling himself growing happier and happier as strong hands alternated between cradling his arm and keeping it still and unwinding rolls of bandages.  Of course, when the last bit fell away and the cool air hit Q’s skin, he hissed and resisted the urge to fist his hand, pin-pricks of pain dancing up from the disgruntled joint.  When the gentle heat of Bond’s hands cuffed Q’s wrist, however, the pain seemed far away, and the boffin barely flinched as his wrist was carefully prodded at and even rotated to test freedom of motion.

By the time Bond declared Q’s wrist on the mend despite this set-back, Q even fancied that the ringing in his left ear had faded a bit.

“Do you think you could sleep?” Bond asked.  He let his arms drape over his knees as Q poked with wary curiosity at his own bare, slightly bruised wrist.  “You’ve had quite a day, Q, and gave me quite a scare,” the gunman admitted frankly, and for the first time Q really stopped to digest the concern in Bond’s blue eyes.

Hesitantly, thinking over his actions as carefully as he’d design a length of code, Q stretched out his hand.  Very lightly, his fingertips danced along the hard angles of Bond’s knuckles; James watched without moving, as if viewing the gentle actions of a shy moth.  “It’s all right – I’m all right,” he stressed, curling his hand back up in his lap again and then tucking his bare feet up onto the sofa as well.  Tiredness hit him as if on cue, and he felt a slightly manic giggle come out before he slanted his eyes James’s way and added, “You know, considering all that’s happened, I should be demanding a stiff drink at the very least, but I suppose I’ve learned my lesson about drinking.”

Bond snorted and turned his head, but not before Q caught the amused quirk of his lips.  “If you want to get drunk again, I promise not to take advantage of your mouth again,” he murmured with wry humor.

“That’s a terrible promise,” Q retorted, and was rewarded by blue eyes swinging his way again instantly.  Bond didn’t seem like he was going to say anything, so Q – feeling suddenly shy again but with a fizzing buzz of excitement in his veins not unlike the adrenaline from earlier – scrunched up his toes against the sofa-cushions and scrounged up his best off-hand voice, “I wasn’t perfectly sober, of course, but my memory was working fine, and the kiss wasn’t half-bad.”

Q couldn’t help but peak at Bond’s expression, and was elated to see the beginnings of a leering smirk just playing at the corner of the older man’s mouth.  “Not half-bad?” the gunman parroted back, cocking one eyebrow challengingly.

“Considering my condition and the fact that I instigated the whole thing, I might even call it passable.”

Another repeat echoed back to Q, “Passable?” with a bit more incredulity, before Bond shifted a little bit further forward on the coffee-table as if he couldn’t help it.  This put him close enough that his knees nearly touched the edge of the sofa, personal space shrinking.  “You really know how to hit a man where it hurts.  Passable?  Really?”

Q scoffed, flushing, “Don’t try and tell me you were really trying.  Come now, James, your ego can hardly be damaged by a critique of drunken attack-snogging that you didn’t even instigate.”

“Like hell it can’t,” Bond growled, and then he was surging forward, and Q had time for just a breathy squeak before powerful hands were cradling his jaw, firm but gentle fingertips hooking against the hollow beneath his ears and dragging his head forwards to meet warm lips.

Kissing James Bond while sober was much better than while drunk.  Q ceased flailing after the initial moment of imbalance, his feet sliding off the sofa and his hands slowly coming to alight on the nearest solid object – which felt like Bond’s shoulders.  Since Q’s eyes were blissfully closed as he enjoyed the mouth moving against his, he wasn’t certain, but he could feel hot skin beneath his palms and the hint of cloth against just his thumb where it caught at the edge of Bond’s sleeveless shirt.  If Q tightened his grip, he could feel the iron strength of muscles beneath his fingertips, and it made him shiver even as one of his feet thumped to the floor.  The other one remained hovering, Q’s knee caught over Bond’s and urging Q to lean forward a bit – to be more comfortable, of course. The two hands still cupping his face felt like they’d hold him steady enough on their own, and James shifted, too, allowing Q’s thigh to remain slung over one of his, Bond’s other knee pressing against the inseam of Q’s trousers in a way that made him gasp involuntarily into the kiss.  When Q felt the wet slide of a tongue against his parted lips, he reacted on instinct, suckling on it and feeling a hot coil of delight in his groin when James’s groaned in response.  

The kiss got hungrier from there, Bond accurately interpreting Q’s actions as encouragement and lapping deeper into Q’s mouth, angling Q’s head and licking against his tongue and palate.  It was a lot like being devoured, but all Q did was pull Bond closer – hands sliding from his broad shoulders to arms, curving his fingers around biceps that flexed with every minute movement the gunman made.  It was arguably more exhilarating than having a gun in his face, and in an inexpressibly better fashion.  The experience only got better as Bond gave up his grip on Q’s head to drop his hands instead to the boffin’s trim waist, the strong fingers of one hand pressing into Q’s flank and making his skin tremble and his breath hitch.  Bond’s other hand slid up to press against delicately arching ribs, power meeting fragility for a moment before pulling Q closer.  Feeling Bond’s knee pressing maddeningly next to his groin, Q arched his back and rolled a little bit nearer still, taking the repositioning of Bond’s arms as a perfect opportunity to reach up and touch James’s face himself.  He felt stubble and warm skin as he stroked a thumb up to the base of one ear, fingers buried in short blond hair and imagining themselves buried in silken gold.  The one leg still hooked over Bond’s lap bent inwards as if to coax more out of his unexpected partner, and James responded with a low, pleased noise that sent shivers up and down Q’s spine.

“Q.”  Bond barely had room to breathe out even that one syllable, his mouth was so occupied.  Q was decently sure that he was getting drunk on kisses alone, no vodka necessary.  “Q.”  Annoyingly, Bond’s tone was getting slightly urgent, and not in the pending-sexual-lust kind of way.  Finally, Bond pulled back enough, his big hands tightening on Q’s sides, to rasp out quickly, “Quinlen.”

Hearing his full first name was like a dash of cold water, and Q – Quinlen – sat back and blinked owlishly.  It was like being woken up suddenly, a sensation that the boffin had never appreciated, and it helped only a little that Bond’s face looked pained.  Clearly he hadn’t wanted to drop the nickname either, preferring the endearing title.

Searching the younger man’s face and looking torn, James pulled words out as if it hurt him, “Now that we’ve caught Santiago and his men – and more besides – that means you can go home now.  You should go home now, before people start worrying too much.”

Reality sank in, killing the euphoria in Quinlen’s system.  Belatedly, he realized that one of James’s hands was still rubbing his side in a soothing gesture, and he sat back and pulled away from it.  The flopped against the sofa and exhaled like a popped balloon.  “I’m not your prisoner anymore,” he said, stunned, mostly just to hear the sound of the words out loud.

“Correct,” Bond concurred wincingly, “although I have to ask you not to go to the police with this.  There’s not a jury in the land that could convict me – or at least catch me – but the less trouble you cause for me, the less my employers will cause for you.”

“So… you’re telling me to forget this ever happened to keep both of us out of trouble?” Quinlen summarized in a rather uncharitable tone, feeling stymied, not to mentioned frustrated.  He was also feeling deeply confused, because instead of feeling relieved and elated for this to be over, he felt… sad.  Like an adventure had ended.  Instead of jumping for joy, his heart felt heavy, which was painfully unfair in Quinlen’s opinion.

It was slightly rewarding to see the man across from him wince.  His hands returned to his lap – although he made surprisingly little effort to hide the hard-on he was sporting through his trousers – and he looked away, huffing, “Don’t be difficult, Q.”

“Then don’t call me Q in such a familiar tone.”

Bond snapped his attention back, actually looking angry at the snide tone, but after the two men glared at each other for a moment, they both deflated.  Q sighed and rocked his head back, burying his fingers deep into his hair and squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to catalogue and understand everything he was feeling.  Ultimately, he decided that he was doomed to stay confused.  “So I really get to go home now?” he eventually asked, after James left him to his silence for easily a full minute or two.

Q hadn’t opened his eyes yet, but he heard Bond’s soft hum which became a gentle, “Yes.”

“Just like that?  Catch-and-release?”

The chuff of breath he heard might have contained wan humor.  “Just like that.  I couldn’t let you throw a wrench into my plans, and now my plans are all played out.”

Opening one eye, Q looked down his nose at Bond and frowned, threatening with a kitten’s valour, “I could go straight to the authorities, you know.  I know powerful people, too.”  In all honesty, he had no idea how MI6 would take the kidnapping of a low-level tech-analyst.  In all honesty, the past few days had been so insane that Q barely believed that it had happened himself.

Surprisingly, instead of assuming a threatening posture, Bond’s mouth ticked up on one side.  “I’ve already explained that your running to the authorities will lead to more trouble than I want and you need, but I can’t make you do anything.”

Now Q opened both eyes, and lifted a foot to give Bond’s broad torso a little nudge – making a point of how muscular the man was, and how immovable, because he barely grunted at the push.  “Oh, I rather think you could,” Q told him pointedly.

Before Q could retract his leg, James reached out and grabbed it.  He expressed some of that before-mentioned strength for a moment, tendons flexing in his hand and arm as he caught and held Q’s ankle.  But as Q held his breath, tensing, the grip gentled.  He held it, still with the sole of Q’s foot pressed to his chest, and met Q’s eyes squarely, “I’m not a man of my word very often, Q, but today I’m going to be – you’ve earned it.  Even before you kept me from getting shot, you’d earned it.”  His face earnest in a way that Q had only seen it a few times before, James went on, “I’m not your keeper, Q.  I won’t force you to do anything.  I’ll only ask.”

“And right now,” Q said slowly, surprised to find his voice very small, “you’re asking me to go home like this never happened.”

Pain swam behind blue eyes, but Bond blinked it away, simultaneously releasing Q’s ankle.  “I am.  This should be the last time you see me.”

~^~

Alec returned to the flat three hours later, a spring in his step from an unexpectedly easy job well done.  “Fuck, if someone had told me that two criminal organizations would be dumped at my feet, half-blinded, I’d have called them mental,” Alec declared, stepping inside and quickly looking around.  He saw only James, sitting on the sofa and looking lost in thought, chin on folded fists.  There was no Quinlen Fluke in sight.  “Where’s the boffin?  I was going to thank him.  Preferably with more alcohol than his pretty little head can stand.”

Bond didn’t look up or move.  There was something terribly unnatural about his athletic frame being so still, especially to someone who knew him as well as Alec did.  After a moment, however, Bond inhaled, exhaled, and murmured soberly, “Q’s gone.  I sent him home.”

~^~

 

 

 

 

 

Translation:

'Do svidan'ya' (до свиданья) - literal translation would be "see you" (do - "to""till" "before" "until" etc.; svidan'ya - "would/will see" )

Chapter Text

Quinlen’s return to MI6 was… strangely uneventful.  With the memory of Bond’s mouth so vivid in his head alongside the jarring memory of being released into a taxi-cab, it was actually painfully uneventful, making Quinlen wonder when his life had become so dependent on action and excitement.

Probably when hegot used to the nicknamed of ‘Q’.

With lots of memories and a new title packed in alongside his laptop and the items very belatedly salvaged from his hotel room, Q was soon booking his way home (a ship this time, still mindful of his ear even if the ringing was, indeed, almost gone) and rubbing a hand absently across his lips as if it could soothe the very foreign ache in his heart.

People asked about his wrist, of course – even if he didn’t keep it wrapped, the damage was obvious in the way he still moved it with wincing care.  Besides, even those who worked the lowliest IT-desk in MI6 were observant people.  For a brief, heart-skipping second, Q felt the truth of it all hanging on his tongue.  What came out instead, however, was a surprisingly smooth lie: “Oh, this?  I fell down and sprained it, actually.  I was on my way to a concert but ended up staying home with a bag of ice and some Paracetamol instead.”  As smoothly as that, he removed any connection of himself to the shoot-out at the piano concert, and the striking blue-eyed gunman who had been involved.  Q’s coworkers had a good laugh, showing sympathy as well as agreeing that he was a clumsy fellow, and barely batted an eye when he started signing everything with just a ‘Q’ instead of his full name.  Within a week, the nickname had stuck, and only then did Q realize that he’d been missing it like a phantom limb.

Some things did change, and Q blamed it on the fact that he’d become more paranoid than he was before his whirlwind kidnapping.  Generally speaking, Q worked from a tiny little nest of cubicles in one of the most forgotten corners of MI6, where even gossip had a hard time leaching into, but he still heard rumors that Q-branch-proper was having some issues with privacy.  Unasked, but finding he couldn’t resist, Q found himself digging into the problem, asking questions that he wouldn’t have asked before and perhaps postponing the healing of his wrist by a few more days by overworking it on his computer.  Thanks to his ability to multitask and a decreased fear of being castigated for nosiness (after dealing with kidnappers, gunman, smugglers, and terrorists, his direct superior suddenly seemed less daunting), Q managed to keep up with his own work, even as he learned that MI6’s Quartermaster was dealing with hackers.  Anxious to put his little… whatever-it-was… with Bond out of his memory before it drove him mad, Q flung himself into pondering this problem, even though he had neither the clearance nore the invitation.  In Q’s defense, IT wasn’t keeping him busy enough, and if even he could hack his way around the MI6 servers, perhaps the Quartermaster did need a bit of his assistance.  So far, nothing vital had been compromised, but there were metaphorical wolves at the door, and Q was just as eager to fend them off as the next person.

Of course, he got caught doing this about two weeks later.

“You say your name is Quinlen Fluke?” the old man across from Q asked.  His eyes were as bright and sharp as a man a fraction of his age, but his face was weathered and his greatest density of hair appeared to be bushed around his ears and extending in gravity-defying strips above his eyes.  The appearance was that of a canny gnome, aged but spry.

Q started to fidget, then recalled that he’d charged head-on into a gun and realized that this was hardly the time to lose his nerve.  Hands and body going still, he met the Quartermaster’s eyes squarely but spoke politely, “Yes, sir.”

“And people call you Q?”

That made Q’s mind stutter slightly.  The nickname always felt like a lock to his memories of Paris, giving him a spark of adrenalin or a tiny taste of a high he doubted he’d ever get again.  Right now, of course, the rabbit-beating of his heart was coming close to being a similar rush.  He swallowed and then nodded firmly again.

The old Quartermaster sat back, big, gnarled hands folding on his desk.  The knuckles were starting to grow knobby with arthritis, but folded easily around the well-used drawing compass that had somehow escaped the clutter on the majority of the Quartermaster’s desk.  It was really quite a homey office, and if Q weren’t nervous he’d have felt right at home amidst the detritus of projects and gadgetry – although he preferred wiring and circuit-boards himself.

“It has come to my attention,” the Quartermaster said after a long pause, sharp eyes watching Q’s uncertain face, “that you’ve hacked into MI6’s main servers.”

“Yes, but only from the inside.  From my own desk,” Q tried to defend, realizing that he wasn’t doing a very good job but pushing onwards anyway in as sincere a voice as he could manage, “If any of your experts follow my data-trail, they’ll see that nothing was compromised or copied.  I was just testing theories.”

“Did one of those theories include leaving a bread-trail so that one of my experts would try to track you down?”

Q sunk in his seat a little.  “Yes.”

When Q’s eyes dropped to his folded hands, he missed the tiny smile that added a few more wrinkles to the Quartermaster’s craggy face.  “And that when they found you, they’d find nothing at all, because you’d so expertly hidden the entirety of your file?”

“My entire cybernetic footprint, sir,” Q couldn’t help but correct.  When he received a raised, bushy-white eyebrow, the boffin elaborated, “If you expert had looked further, there still wouldn’t have been anything to find.  I was…”  Q finally stopped, taking in a deep breath but unable to quite muster the nerve to continue.

Fortunately, the Quartermaster heard his last two murmured words and pressed in an expectant but surprisingly calm tone, “You were…?”  It was enough to get Q’s courage back, and he straightened his spin and firmed up his expression before speaking with clarity and certainty.

“I was making a point not only in regards to the abysmal status of MI6’s firewalls but also in regards to how well data could be hidden if we just reformatted some of the systems.”  His words now gone from him in a rush of air, Q deflated, and actually slouched.  Looking up subserviently over his glasses, he mumbled in a decidedly more pathetic tone, “Please don’t fire me.”

After a heartbeat of firm glaring, the Quartermaster’s whole face transformed in the wake of a belt of laughter.  The jovial noise was so sudden that Q jumped like a wetted cat, and he could only stare as he was smiled at instead of berated.  The old man shook his head and put down his drawing compass to fold his rough hands one over the other on his desk, leaning forward conspiratorially – urging Q to hesitantly do the same.  The Quartermaster (still smiling) whispered when he did, “My second-in-command wants very badly for me to not only fire you but arrest you for endangering MI6, but seeing as he’s also my so-called ‘expert’ that you’ve been running circles around, how about we ignore his opinion for a while, eh, boy?”  Flabbergasted, Q opened his mouth and closed it a few times, speechless, until the Quartermaster said more briskly but still with the pure excitement of a partner-in-crime, “Stop gaping like a codfish now, and tell me how you did it.  After R gave up, I had a few more of my techies look into you, but you’d still be a ghost in the systems if you hadn’t left a calling card.  I want to make all of MI6 as difficult to find.”

Relief nearly flattened the boffin, but for the first time since receiving the inevitable message to report to the MI6 Quartermaster, he managed to smile.  “Certainly, sir.  In fact, I have a few ideas to improve the… er… invisibility of MI6’s more sensitive files…”

~^~

One Week Later

~^~

“Something on your mind, James?” Eve’s voice floated into James’s ear as he slipped down another alleyway, working together with his partner to flush out a source who would no doubt give them some useful intel if only they could find him.  He hoped that Moneypenny was having better luck, back at the party she was staking out – he could hear the hum of it alongside her voice through the earpiece.

Gait smooth and unhurried while he was on the open streets but increasing quickly to a ground-eating lope as soon as he was away from prying eyes, 007 covered more ground as he answered sharply, “No, but there’s a voice in my ear that’s not doing anything for my concentration – unless you’ve something for me.”

“I take back my question.  Considering how tetchy you are and how tetchy you have been since we boarded the plane, I know there’s something on your mind,” Eve retorted wryly.  “Come on, James, spill.”

The man cracked an edged, mean little smile that he knew the woman couldn’t see, although he imagined she heard it in his quick reply, “If I were that easy, I wouldn’t be much of a spy, now would I?”

“This is going to devolve into a joke about how easy you are to get in bed, though, isn’t it?” Moneypenny sounded both resigned and charmed.  The ambient sound around her showed a change in the party’s tempo, songs switching out.

“Only if you can give me some info I can use.”

“See – more proof that there’s something on your mind.  You never miss an opportunity to hit on me,” Eve accused.

Bond finally gave in with a huff, “Fine.  What’s on my mind is that this would be less bloody tiresome if we could just get some good intel.  We’re both flying blind as we know it, and we’ll be lucky if we get so much as a scent for our target before tomorrow rolls around.”

“MI6 gave us the best intel they had,” Eve tried to mollify him.

“It could have been better.”  In no mood for more banter now that his mood had taken such a sour turn, James quickly added, “Going dark.  Will contact you if I get anything,” and pocketed his earpiece before Eve could contradict him.  This was a fairly low-risk mission, so even if Eve weren’t trained to handle herself, he didn’t need to worry about her for the few hours that he planned on being out of reach.  The problem was, she was right: he was distracted by something on his mind.  He wasn’t lying, either – he was annoyed at how slowly this mission was progressing because they were essentially flying blind.  Of course, this wouldn’t be nearly so bad if 007 hadn’t had a taste of good intel – namely, the support of a certain boffin who was able to hack into CCTV footage and traffic cameras.  Who knew that it only took a few days to get spoiled by unexpected help like that?

Not for the first time, Bond got the nagging desire to hunt Q down – only to remember that he’d already given in and tried that, barely a week ago, only to find the there wasn’t a single Quinlen Fluke in all of London.  Of course, James hadn’t had much time to do a thorough search before being shipped out on another mission, but he promised to look a little harder as soon as he got back.  He hadn’t made any mention of Q in his post-mission report, but told himself that he was still concerned about the little fellow even if he otherwise wanted to leave Q alone to recover from the trauma of being kidnapped.

Well, not entirely alone.  007 very much wanted to ask for his help in hunting down a certain elusive stool pigeon right now, because there had to be a way for this to go faster.

Reminding himself that the last thing Q needed was to see his face again (it would be a miracle if the boffin wasn’t scarred for life after the week James had put him through), Bond pushed aside the very, very tempting thought of having Q’s assistance and went back to good, old-fashioned legwork.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this sort of hide-and-seek game before, and with Eve working another angle, he had even more back-up than he could have hoped for.

The problem was, he wanted Q’s back-up.

And that was just about the most selfish thing he’d thought since leaving Paris.

~^~

One Week Later

~^~

Q had not been fired.

Actually, he had been promoted.  The Quartermaster freely admitted that he was from an older age where technology meant cogs and wheels rather than gigabytes and coding, and the Quartermaster’s second-in-command, R, was in much the same position (although he refused to admit it).  It felt very strange to leave his dingy shared office to instead be integrated into the white-washed, pristine expanse of Q-branch under the title of ‘personal assistance to the Quartermaster.’  The name was more flowery than the job description – in reality, Q continued to do what he did best, which was tear apart and rebuild computer systems.  He continued to get the evil eye from R, who maintained that Q was a threat to national security, but it was the Quartermaster’s opinion that carried the most weight, and he saw the dark-haired young man as an asset instead.  To prove that he was trustworthy, Q kept well away from the sensitive information that he was presently building a cybernetic vault for, and reassured his new boss that he hadn’t read anything that he’d broken into beforehand – he’d been testing security, not secret-hunting.  He was a boffin, not a spy, after all.

In his new job of increasing MI6’s computer security, Q also got a closer look at the work of their nosy hacker.  Whoever it was, they were more bold than skilled, and Q told the Quartermaster so – much to the old man’s amusement.  “You don’t think very highly of this individual, despite the fact that he or she has been getting past our defenses left and right,” the Quartermaster said at one point.

Q blinked and pursed his lips for a second, but was quick to opine back, “Only the outer defenses, and only because those aren’t very good.  Brute force can do some of the things that dexterity can do, but it only takes one so far in the hacking world.”

“You speak from experience?”

Blushing but realizing that there was no foxing this man who had worked with and outfitted spies for possibly as long as Q had been alive, Q admitted, “I might have… dabbled… in hacking in the past.  But only out of boredom or when I was drunk!”

While that excuse made perfect sense to Q, it made the Quartermaster laugh uproariously, and Q’s job description was expanded further: he was given more leash to back-hack their latest attacker, and before long he was writing strings of code for hours on end.  His wrist was by now fully healed, and he worked to the exclusion of everything else around him, to the point where he became something of a hazard.  To keep people from walking into him and to keep him out of the way, Q was soon given his own little corner of the Quartermaster’s office.  At one point R commented snidely that this was much like ensconcing a pet under one’s desk, but Q didn’t hear the comment, as he was already deep into his work and enjoying the otherwise total silence of the Quartermaster’s closed-off office.  R’s distaste for Q continued, but it was barely a ripple in the ocean that Q was now gleefully swimming in.

Besides, for every time he offended R by breathing, he gained a new fan from amidst the other Q-branchers.  Many were in awe of what he was doing, or at least pleased with the fact that Q was quiet, hard-working, and friendly when he wasn’t consumed by work.  Perhaps there were a few mothering types who also saw Q as something rather pathetically pet-like, but this attitude only expressed itself in the form of food appearing as if my magic at Q’s elbow when he hadn’t left his computer in over six hours.  It was the most useful and involved Q had ever felt, and he was thriving.

It took no time at all for Q to rebuild, reinforce, and reinstall an entire new system to make MI6’s information as secretive and hard to capture as her agents.  The day it was up-and-running, their hacking problems ceased to exist, and all the techies got gloriously drunk and hugged Q like a long-lost King Arthur.

The Quartermaster watched approvingly while R sulked.

Q, meanwhile, drank just enough to remember the last time he’d gotten drunk, and then quietly excused himself, saying that he needed to sleep.  In reality, he was wishing that the champagne was vodka – not because he really liked vodka, but because the memories attached to the harder liquor involved a warm body wrapped around him and the smell of musk and aftershave, and a kiss that had been the sloppiest, stupidest, and most wonderful thing he could remember.

Q went home, and for the millionth time, considered getting onto his computer and searching ‘James Bond.’  The name was probably an alias, and it probably really was dangerous to go after a man who lived like fire – always burning, bright and dangerous, as liable to hurt others as to die himself – but Q still would have finally gone and done it… if he hadn’t passed out first.  He really was exhausted.

~^~

One Week Later

~^~

Bond and Eve’s mission ended in fire, an extravagant amount of damage to private and government owned property, and a fracture to Eve’s arm that Bond took partial (but not full) responsibility for.  They also managed to achieve their mission objective, if only because that much destruction would have flushed out even the most hardened criminal.  007 counted this as a win, and while Eve was sent off to Medical, Bond was called into M’s office to discuss his life-choices.

“Mr. Bond, would you like to hazard a guess as to how many complaints I have on my desk right now with your name on them?” M asked as soon as 007 was seated lazily across from her.  The man affected an uncaring look with the merest hint of a questioning expression just to be polite.  M obligingly answered her own question in a harsher tone, “I’ve got more complaints about your behavior in the past month than I’ve seen in the past six months, and I can’t fail to notice that this sharp increase in your intractable behavior coincides with your return from the Paris mission.”

Bond didn’t blink.  “I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” M sighed defeated before going on, “Since the mission itself was a complete success and even managed to involve your favorite partner in crime, Trevelyan, I can only assume why you’re being such an arse now.”

This time, Bond’s mouth slanted into a crooked smile.  He perched one ankle over his knee and did his best work on a languorously decadent pose – something he had a disturbing amount of practice at.  “You know what they say about the word ‘assume.’  It just makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and-”

“Yes, thank you, that’ll be quite enough of your cheek,” M cautioned, cutting him off and earning herself a lewd but pleased grin.  The older woman arched one eyebrow, making a mental note that James was truly not behaving well at all – he was naturally impish, but usually had at least more restraint and composure than Trevelyan.  To say that he wasn’t playing well with others would be a felonious understatement as well, according to the reports on her desk.  “007, far be it from me to treat you like a child, but this has got to stop.  Whatever woman you got yourself tangled up with this time-”

James’s eyes sharpened and he lost his smile, brows lowering instead.

M continued, “-You need to kindly get over her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bond protested with a glower settling on his handsome features and turning his tone ugly.

Unperturbed, having faced far worse tempers, M went on, “I can only be grateful that this time your dalliance hasn’t landed you on the evening news, but your lovelorn behavior is unacceptable.  You’re a professional, James, and a notoriously promiscuous one besides.”

“It wasn’t a dalliance,” the man snapped back, getting further riled by the second.  He was actually settling from irked to truly anger-looking, and M watched the nuances in his posture and expression carefully.  “And I’m not acting ‘lovelorn,’ as you so poetically put it.”

“Oh, I wasn’t the one who put in that exact word,” M assured, “Moneypenny did.  But I have to agree with her.  As I have yet to find the perfect solution to your tom-cat predilections-”

Bond surged up with a roar, fists slamming down on M’s desk, “That’s not what this is!”

Silence reigned.  If the head of MI6 had flinched, the reaction had been so slight and brief that it was already totally sublimated, but M was also sitting very, very still.  Her cat-sharp eyes were fixed unblinkingly on Bond’s face, as cold as ice while his arctic-blue eyes had warmed to a more fiery temperature.  Anger had his cheekbones mottled, and powerful muscles flexed fitfully under fitted clothing.  It took a long count of five before he released a breath and seemed to forcefully make himself relax, breaking eye-contact.

“James,” M said, more quietly but still firmly, “I’m not a fool.  I know that you left quite a lot out of your report.  You always do.”

“I made a few mistakes.”  The way he said it back made it sound like he was trying to make a joke, to toss out a scrap of ego as bait to distract from something larger.  It was a meager attempt, however, and James pushed away from the desk to pace.  Energy was rolling off him in waves that veritably crackled in the air.  “It wasn’t a dalliance,” he repeated stubbornly, dragging his hand back through his hair frustratedly and facing away.

“Then what was it?” M sighed.  This was going to be a long evening; James was all trouble but also a remarkably stable agent, and bursts of explosive temper like that only happened when he was truly rattled.  He hadn’t come back excessively injured, so she wasn’t suspecting torture, but there were many terrible things that could knock even the best men and women off their game.  Broken hearts were high on that list.

For a moment, it seemed that Bond would give in an answer.  His posture slackened and his hands dropped to his sides, foot shifting as if to turn back to M.  When he did turn, however, his expression was closed off, although not before M saw something troubled and painful slip behind the glacial vault of his eyes.  He peeled the words out like shards of glass through his smile, “It was nothing.”

Eventually, M had no choice but to let Bond go back to his duties.  He already had another mission lined up, and looked worrisomely eager to dive into it.  After he’d strutted out, however, playing the self-assured bastard to the nines, M let the door shut behind him.  Then, sighing primly, she muttered, “You’re a bloody liar, 007.”  Whatever girl he’d found in France, M could only hope it had been worth it, because James hadn’t been this tangled up since Vesper.

Sending off a quick email to the psych department with a warning that they might have to brave the gauntlet of 007’s mind and moods soon (because she was not letting him go on that mission until his head was screwed on straight), M sent off a little prayer to anyone listening that this would end with her 00-agent intact.  Dangerous men made dangerous messes when their hearts were involved and things ended poorly.

~^~

Three Days Later

~^~

Life was looking up for Q.  It was still missing something that smelled like gunpowder and moved like a predator, but for the most part he managed to bury himself in his work, or else in the praise he was getting for his work – today he was getting more of the latter, as well as a rare opportunity to leave his nice little Q-branch nest.  The Quartermaster was going to an inventor’s convention.  It was a small and rather select meeting of minds hosted this year in the heart of London, but all of the most creative and analytical minds would be there, and the Quartermaster – who Q now knew very well as Major Geoffrey Boothroyd – had hinted that some of these ideas might shape the future gadgets used by the agents.  Q had always been most famous for his computer abilities, but apparently Major Boothroyd had noticed his interest in inventing as well, because when five of the Quartermasters underlings were chosen to accompany him on this foray, Q was among them.

The Quartermaster got out about as much as Q did – meaning, never.  This had the added bonus of making him very safe security-wise, because not only had Q locked down all of his personal information, but there was virtually no one outside of MI6 who even knew what the Quartermaster looked like.  Boothroyd in fact joked that the Russians had thought he was a woman for awhile a few years back, and possibly still did.  Therefore, it was with free spirits and a relaxed mood that their group took an MI6-issue car to the convention.  An added shot of metaphorical whiskey to everyone’s demeanor was the knowledge that they were the Quartermaster’s favorites, and that the old man was likely to pick a protégé someday – and considering his failing relations with his present R, that protégé could come from anywhere.

The inventor’s convention was perhaps not massive, but it was jumping with activity, and from the moment they arrived, Q was entranced.  He’d gotten more used to sharing space with people whose brains worked in the same way that his did, but sometimes he still felt like he wasn’t understood – as if his language were subtly more complex than others wanted to interpret.  Boothroyd always kept up with him, of course, but the man was the head of an entire branch, and hardly Q’s keeper.  Walking with their little group of Q-branch’s best and brightest, however, amidst some of the most flexible minds in all of Europe, made Q feel like a flower in full sun – it was fantastic.  He immediately found himself making plans in his head, looking at other people’s eyes and turning them in his thoughts.  He had no intentions of stealing, of course – but a million ideas of how to improve.  Boothroyd encouraged the whispered chatter on design specs, improved efficiency on vital tools, out-of-the-box brainstorming on gadgets that could make or break missions if only Q could get his hands on something stable yet reactive enough to make an exploding pen that was both useful and safe…

Q was in the middle of pontificating the usefulness of an exploding pen (voice kept low so that they didn’t attract odd looks, of course, because no one sounded quite as scary as Q when he started talking about explosives) when a rapid series of shots dragged everyone’s attention around.  In an instant, Q was transported to less than a month ago, recognizing the bark of gunfire and feeling the electric fire of adrenaline surge in his belly.  A few people screamed, but no one appeared hurt as hooded, armed figures blocked the exits.  The one who had just now fired into the ceiling shouted above the panicked din, “Hands away from your phones, everybody!  If you do as instructed, this can end without bloodshed, but if I so much as see a mobile, you’ll see what bodies look like with bullets through them.  So everyone – hands empty and in the air.  Now!”

Cries of fear turned to whimpers, but obedience was swift.  There were at least eight hooded men that Q could see, penning everyone in and ensuring that any attempts at escape would be swiftly met with oppressive gunfire.  Q lifted his hands into the air with everyone else, snapping a quick glance towards the Quartermaster to find the old man’s expression hard and grim, although he was playing along, too.  The room became a sea of fear and uplifted, shaking hands.

“So far so good!” the ringleader bellowed out jovially, “Now let’s get the show on the road – we’re here for a reason, and that reason is the Quartermaster of MI6.  Act as ignorant as you like, but we know he’s here.”  Everyone was growing more panicked again, looking around wildly, and for a moment Q’s heart nearly stopped with panic.  Their little group was standing in full view, and there was nothing to hide Boothroyd in particular as the Quartermaster stood in full view of the leader of these dangerous men.

But even though shadowed eyes swept the room constantly, the old Quartermaster was never picked out.  Q found his fear faded just a tiny bit to confusion, and then to slow realization: these men had somehow been tipped off that the Quartermaster would be here, but they didn’t know what he looked like.

The ringleader took barely half a minute to grow impatient, and every flinched as he stopped pointing his gun at the ceiling and instead swept its muzzle like a seeking eye around the room.  People cried out and flinched as he yelled, “I’m not a patient man!  Either you give yourself up, Quartermaster, or I start a process of elimination-”  His gun game to a halt directed at the face of a girl little older than a child, part of a school group, it looked like.  “-Until you finally start taking me seriously.”

Seeing that girl, so terrified that she wasn’t even making a sound, shaking so hard that she was liable to come apart at the seams, Q felt something inside of him snap.  He didn’t realize that he’d dropped his hands until his feet moved forward and his voice crawled up his throat in measured syllables, “I’m the Quartermaster.  I’m the one you want.”

Dozens of sets of eyes swiveled his way, full of fear and surprise.  It took a force of effort not to glance behind him, at the real Quartermaster, but Q also took another purposeful step forward so that his own companions couldn't reach out and grab him – this plan wouldn’t work if they tried to shake the nobility out of him.

Even with the man’s face covered, it was pretty easy to imagine the look of derision that swept across the ringleader’s features.  Q, however, analyzed the too-long pause before that – a sign of indecision.  The lead gunman barked a somewhat forced laugh, “Very funny, boy, but we know you’re no more the Quartermaster of MI6 than I am.”

“Oh really?”  Q had no idea how he was keeping his voice this smooth; his hands were quivering like mad, and he had to fold them behind him to hide the fact.  He used the posture to his advantage, forcefully molding his stance into something professional and self-assured even while his heart quaked.  “And how do you know?  My face isn’t advertised anywhere, is it?”  With every passing second, he was more and more sure that this hunch was correct: these terrorists were attacking blind.  “How do you think that I’ve managed to stay so anonymous?”

“Stop playing me,” the leader growled, but finally moved his gun away from the girl – but towards Q.  It took a massive effort to hide his flinch and hold his ground, aware that people were backing away from him like he’d suddenly become radioactive.  Fortunately, the shifting tide of people also pushed Boothroyd further back, which let Q release just a tiny sigh of relief.  “You’re barely out of your spots, and you expect me to believe that you’ve got access to the heart of British intelligence?”

Q thought fast, struggling to find ways to legitimize his position when really he wasn’t legitimate at all.  He stalled as he thought, “So you’re expecting someone from your generations then, hm?  When it’s my age-group that is known as the computer-generation.  Tell me…”  Q cocked his head, hoping that his flippantness wouldn’t get him killed out of reflex.  “Who did you think has been keeping your hacker locked out all this time?”

Q saw the moment that he hooked the terrorist’s attention – the way the man focused on him was unsettling, and the way he started to wade forward through the cowering crowd made Q want to run and hide.  Somehow, however, the boffin stayed rooted in his spot even as the hooded shooter stopped right in front of him and pressed the the muzzle of his assault rifle to the hollow of Q’s throat.  “What you’re telling me sounds a whole lot like bullshit, boy, and I already told you that I’m not long on patience,” was the low, warning snarl that Q was given, “And if you push me any further, I’m liable to tell my men to start some target practice.”

His courage had been splintering, but the renewed threat strengthened it.  Q clenched his right hand around his left wrist until he imagined the old ache of his sprained joints, and somehow the reminder got low, steady words to shoot out of his mouth, “If you touch a single person in this room, you lose all of my cooperation.”

“Cooperation I hardly need if you’re just some brave kid.”

“Fine.  You want me to prove it to you?”  Q’s mind finally locked on an option; he unfolded his hands to indicate a computer terminal sitting to his right.  It was presently running a slide presentation on high-efficiency engines, but it no doubt had an internet connection, which was really all Q needed.  “You want me for my access to MI6’s servers, and I can do that – but in return, you let all of these people go.” Grey-black eyes narrowed through the mask’s eye-holes, and Q heard a gasp behind him that sounded dangerously like a protest from his fellow MI6 associates, so Q hurried on in a firmer, louder tone to drown everything else out, “You can either stop looking a gift-horse in the mouth, sir, or we can sit around here until the police arrive and the situation grows truly untenable – because if you truly believe that no one in this room had managed to spread word to either social media or directly to the police, then you’re more stupid than I thought.”

The blow, Q expected.  The fact that it didn’t knock him right to the floor was pure luck, but he did stagger back until he caught himself against the nearby table – the one with the laptop on it.  People were screaming again and the gunmen were all bellowing to regain order, but when Q looked up and dragged a hand across his mouth (smearing blood across his knuckles), he saw that he still had the ringleader’s utmost attention.  He also still had a gun pointed his way, but that only lasted until the masked man barked, “Do it.  Prove your credentials and be quick about it,” and swung his gun towards an innocent bystander.

Since said ‘innocent bystander’ was the real Quartermaster of MI6, Q swallowed thickly but straightened and circled to the laptop, fingers immediately tapping out a staccato tune against the unfamiliar keys.  It took Q only seconds to get the feel for the system he was working with, but after that, everything got harder.  He fully believed what he’d said about the police being on their way – the villains hadn’t taken the time to relieve everyone of their phones, and the ratio of gunman to hostage was too low to watch everyone at once.  Help was on it’s way.  What worried Q was the possibility of hostages being killed if the police arrived before these people got what they wanted.  So instead of stalling, Q increased his pace, all the while aware of the gun pointed at his back.

The threat of the gun made Q nearly as anxious as Boothroyd’s eyes on him, however, because for all the skills that Q had freely flaunted since his promotion, he had failed to mention that he was capable of hacking into MI6’s systems from an outside computer… and that he knew Boothroyd’s login information.  He knew it because he’d been tinkering with a data-worm encoded to find such information in enemy computers, and had perhaps tested it out a few times.  In his defense, he hadn’t expected it to work as well as it had, but Q was a prodigy at coding.

“There.”  Q didn’t move except to lean aside a little, carefully scrolling just a little so that ‘Quartermaster Geoffrey Boothroyd’ became visible across the computer screen, but not the specifics regarding his age (fortunately, there was no picture even in the file).  Q thought he heard a gasp from the direction of his MI6 fellows, and felt a guilty spark of pride at what he’d just accomplished.  The ringmaster moved closer, and Q heard the man’s avaricious little sigh as he realized that he was looking at data usually stored at the heart of MI6 – he also thought that he was staring at the Quartermaster of MI6, but one correct assumption out of two wasn’t bad.  Knowing that he had the man now – hook, line, and sinker – Q tapped three more keys with lightning swiftness, and the screen returned to an empty desk-top.  Q spun around to the growl of outrage directed his way.

“You want me to bring that back up?” Q challenged, clenching his fists until he felt his fingernails pressing painfully against his palm.  His jaw ached and he felt another dribble of blood descend from his split lip, but he kept his spine spear-straight.  “Then let everyone go.  You’ve got the person you wanted, and I’m not going to cooperate while you’re threatening people.”

The ringleader’s eyes narrowed, and Q held his breath, hoping that his bravado wasn’t about to get people killed.  So far, everyone was unharmed, but all it would take was the capricious pull of a trigger-finger for a corpse to be made – and Q had no idea how to stop that.  He was a thinker, not a fighter, his one-time charge towards a gun notwithstanding.  The one small miracle was that neither Boothroyd nor the other five Q-branchers had ruined Q’s playacting with the truth, perhaps realizing that this was the best chance they had at the moment to get the real Quartermaster out of here.

Getting Quinlen Fluke out would be another problem entirely.

After a stretch of time that felt like forever, the ringleader switched his gun to hang from one hand – his other hand reached out and gripped Q hard by the upper arm.  “Fine then,” the masked man growled, sounding almost giddy with pleasure that was reflected in his dark eyes, “We’ll play it your way – but everyone stays here.”  As Q opened his mouth to protest, he was jerked roughly to the left, and before he knew it was being dragged.  His captor pulled him close as they walked, husking in his ear, “You, Quartermaster, get to come with us.”  Raising his voice, the man shouted, “Thanks to MI6’s gracious cooperation, you all get to live, but only so long as you can obey orders!  Me and mine – and our new friend here-”  Q was given a rough but blessedly brief shake.  “-Are going to take our leave, but if anyone tries to follow us or leave the premises, we will open fire.  This is the only warning you’re going to get.”

Said warning was released in the form of a spray of bullets over the heads of the crowd, close enough that it was reflex for everyone to dive for the floor.  Q just saw his fellow boffins drag Boothroyd down with them before the hooded brute at Q’s side jerked him around and towards the nearest exit, hauling him off amidst the chaos.

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

~^~

How did this happen?  How did he, Quinlen Fluke, generally-uninteresting tech-person, get kidnapped twice in as many months – three times, if one could count the almost-hostage-exchange with the smugglers and terrorists that had captured Bond.  Before his ill-fated vacation, Q would have labeled himself as a boring person destined to live a boring life and die a boring death by either old age or lethal tea consumption.

Sometimes Q really missed the old him, the boring Quinlen Fluke.

The lead smuggler, whom Q was starting to simply identify as Hood, kept tugging him along at a rapid pace, leaving no time for anyone else to play the hero or react.  Q himself barely kept up, afraid to fall lest he be dragged like the slowest dog in a sled-team.  He yelped as he was suddenly brought up short, his forward momentum making him spin with his arm as a pivot as Hood pulled back on it suddenly.  “One last matter of business, Quartermaster,” the man growled through his mask, dark eyes so self-satisfied.

Through his spectacles, Q’s own eyes were narrowed as he hid fear with frustration.  “One last matter before you abscond with me, you mean,” he translated stiffly.  His mouthiness was treated by a hard squeezing of his arm, the pressure enough to make him grimace and hiss.  It wasn’t enough to distract him from the other hooded men moving around them, though, and he barely needed Hood’s next sentence to realize what was going on.

“Come with us and do as I say, and we all get what we want – including a bunch of unharmed hostages.  Give us any trouble or refuse to assist us in getting away from here, and the explosives that my associates are putting up around the doors go off.”  When Q shot him a horrified look, the dark eyes behind the mask crinkled, and Hood went on, “I doubt that it will bring the building down, but we are going to similarly treat all the doors, and then seal the hostages inside.”

Including the Quartermaster that I’m impersonating,’ Q realized with a terrified jolt.  The various crazy escape plans fomenting in his head immediately shriveled and died, but before the last spark of his fight went out, Q made sure to get a good look at the work the hooded men were doing as they secured and rigged the doors.  He could already hear people yelling on the other side.  Hood finally yanked on his arm again, spinning him away and breaking his line of vision.  The young boffin yipped in surprise as his other arm was gripped, too, and both were twisted sharply behind him.  They were zip-tied behind him in seconds, and he felt a new layer of panic as his body registered the lost freedom of motion.  A few men around him chuckled as they noticed the anxious look on his face, but Hood merely grunted before pushing Q forward again.

“Let’s get moving, Quartermaster.  I don’t need to tell you how badly it would go for everyone if we were to get importuned by the police,” Q’s new kidnapper reminded, jerking his chin back towards the men still working behind them.  Q got the picture, all too clearly: he had to do everything he could to make sure they weren’t stopped, because that would give these criminals an excuse to threaten the other hostages again.  Threaten and possibly kill them.  Nodding stiffly to show that he understood, Q let himself be pushed into motion again, trotting to keep the pace and struggling not to stumble, overcoming a lifetime of natural clumsiness through determination alone.

Beneath his submissive actions, however, Q was thinking.  He had an eidetic memory, and with his glasses on, sharp eyes – plus, he happened to know a lot more about bombs than any decent young man should.  He’d been studying explosives for work-related purposes ever since his promotion, and ironically had learned quite a lot in just the short span of time he’d been with the gunman Alec Trevelyan, when they’d been putting together the hidden flash-bomb to save James.  All of that knowledge combined with the idle studying that Q had done before all of this meant that he now knew that the bomb behind them was remote controlled.  Ergo, if Q tried to stall and make things easy for rescuers or otherwise affect his own escape, all it would take would be a phone call to the right number and suddenly Q would be responsible for the death of many innocent lives.  The reality of it all constricted like a fist around his throat, and it took an effort for him not to physically choke.

He had to remind himself that one of the MI6 coworkers he’d left in there was very nearly as knowledgeable as he was about things that went ‘boom.’  In fact, she and Q were occasionally pitted against each other – one postulating on the incendiary device and the other on ways to stop or mitigate its detonation.  Q had to trust that Boothroyd and the other Q-branchers would be knowledgeable enough to realize what was going on and react accordingly.  If Q’s associates did make something to block the detonator’s signal, it would still take time, however, meaning Q couldn’t do anything reckless or allow his captors to get too upset.

His thoughts embroiled in a mess of impossible plans and a repetitive lecture of risk-assessment, Q was stumbling along on autopilot, and almost didn’t notice the man that stepped out in front of them and forced a swift and sudden halt.  Q was accompanied by three men besides the ringleader (the rest presumably spread around the building, setting up the last of the impressive-looking but range-inefficient bombs), and they all stopped with warning shouts and raised weapons while Q was nearly overbalanced backwards by the sharp tug on his arms.  Startled out of his thoughts, Q raised his eyes, and very nearly had a heart-attack at what he saw.

To be fair, the set of blue-eyes staring back at him looked paralyzed with shock as well.  “Q?” Bond said in evident disbelief.  It sounded like the word had be pulled involuntarily out of his mouth.

“Don’t be a hero,” Hood commanded, emphasizing his words by angling his gun towards Q’s ribs – a shot that would tear through his lungs and heart in one messy channel.  “We’ve got the Quartermaster of MI6 here, and as much as we want the information in his head, we won’t hesitate to mess up the rest of him if you don’t back down, sharp-like.”

At the threat, Bond actually seemed to relax, like a pin sliding into place or gears locking comfortably together.  He did seem notably surprised at Q being called ‘Quartermaster,’ but sublimated that expression quickly in favor of a cool, emotionless one, his face as flat and unreadable as the surface of a cold mountain lake.  The gun in his hands was unsettlingly familiar to Q, as was the immovable posture the man maintained with his weapon raised and body balanced perfectly behind it – the same killing machine that Q had first seen racing across the stage of a crowded theater, soon to kill his target.  While Bond didn’t back down, he didn’t press forward either, eyes flicking with little snatches of uncertainty between the multiple weapons trained on him but always returning to the one pressed against Q’s ribs.

Then Hood spoke again, something cocky entering his rough voice, “By your lack of surprise, I’m going to guess that you’re Agent Bond.  James Bond, yes?  We were warned that you were in town, but I’m surprised at your quick response.”

Bond’s mouth slanted down into an immediate frown even as Q's eyes rounded out like dinner-plates all over again.  “Agent-?” he started to exclaim, but was hushed by a sharp jab of the gun against his side.

Misinterpreting the start of a rant for something more official, Hood chided, “Now, now, Quartermaster – you’re not the one giving orders around here anymore, remember?  Now, Agent, unless you want your Quartermaster to have a few more holes in him than necessary, I’d suggest you drop your gun and kick it over.”

Noticing that Hood hadn’t bothered to mention the bomb and the hostages yet (perhaps guessing that Agent Bond would care more for his Quartermaster than some random hostages, a possibly correct assumption considering the steely look overcoming Bond’s gaze), Q struggled to push aside his surprise and confusion and act before something went terribly wrong.  Recalling in a snap that Bond could lipread, Q looked him in the eye and mouthed as soon as he had pale eyes directed his way, ‘Play along.  There’s a bomb. Remote detonator..’

Everyone was watching blue-eyed gunman in the smartly-tailored suit ahead of them, so no one noticed the movements of Q’s lips but Bond, who’s eyes widened fractionally before he masked his expression again.  The man was just as efficient and quick as Q remembered him to be, and alongside the fear Q felt at being on the wrong end of Bond’s handgun right now, he felt a warm throb of yearning happiness at seeing him again.  This was one familiar face that he honestly hadn’t even expected to see again, much less here… under the title ‘Agent.’

Agent?  Really?’ Q couldn’t help but continue speaking soundlessly, lowering his brows into a furious frown.

Bond ignored him quite purposefully, the wanker.  Q hoped that he survived this so that they could have a long and involved talk, one that hopefully included James standing still long enough for Q to slap him for not mentioning that he was part of MI6.

“Fine then,” Bond acquiesced, voice calm and steady, clearly designed not to cause trouble.  In a swift but smooth movement, he went from crouching, gun raised, to standing straight and easy with his weapon pointed away and loosely gripped in one hand.  His eyes flicked briefly to Q, who dared not respond in any way, but then back to Hood.  A muscle jumping in his cheek being the only indicator of his inner tension, James bent slowly, telegraphing his movements and dropping his gun with a brief clatter to the floor.  

“Kick it over,” Hood reminded.

To the casual observer, James was taking this surprisingly well, but to someone like Q (who’d been handcuffed to James for the better part of an evening, to say nothing for the other mandatory ‘bonding exercises’ they’d endured together in Paris), the tension in the blond-haired man was evident.  Q imagined he could see the man’s tensed muscles right through his suit, and it was like watching a monster prowling contained beneath a thin skin.  Bond wanted to move, to act - but he was following Q’s lead, and instead of bursting into motion, he kicked the gun across the floor until it was out of his reach.  For that, Q was immeasurably grateful, feeling both sick and relieved at the same time as he squirmed slightly against his restraints.  

Hood made a pleased noise from behind him.  “Good to see that you’re a sensible chap.”

Bond smiled a thin smile.  “I hope that the same can be said about you.”  Q winced, because there was a world of hurt behind that mild voice - a razor-blade hidden within a coating of idle charm.  

“I like to think that I’m a sensible, reasonable man,” Hood replied in a tone that said he clearly didn’t know that he had a tiger by the tail - or at least that he didn’t know the flexibility of tigers, captured tail or not.  Unfortunately, the ringleader also held all of the cards, so he went on, “That’s why I’m going to leave you alive, although I can’t have you following us.  Drake, zipties.”

Another hooded man, Drake, pulled out two zipties on command, and at his master’s nod, tossed them Bond’s way instead of risking getting within range of him.  Q had mostly seen Bond dressed in casual clothing, but he had to admit, the man could pull off ‘stone-cold killer’ even when dressed to the nines, as he was now - no wonder no one was eager to lay a finger on him.  With Bond glaring at him balefully now, Hood commanded, “Now, how about you put those on, nice and tight, before I change my mind and leave your corpse for the EMTs to find?”

Another glance at Q, another gritting of Bond’s jaw.  Q couldn’t think of any other plan that didn’t risk the hostages he’d left behind, Quartermaster included, so he could only watch with helpless apology as Bond took his lack of response for assent, sighed gustily through his nose, and bent the first plastic tie around one wrist; everyone watched avidly as he slipped the other tie through so that it was looped with the first before repeating the process, creating conjoined cuffs, tightening them down with an expert pull of his teeth.  His glare was something to behold as he glanced up and gave his hands a jerk to demonstrate his work, the ties holding him firm.  Q swallowed thickly, heartbeat becoming rabbit-fast again in his chest as he hoped desperately that he wasn’t setting Bond up for an execution.  

Fortunately, Hood’s next orders maintained his promise of no killing.  More of Hood’s compatriots were converging on them, making Q think that the bombs were all set up and live, but his main focus right now was on the alert shifting of James’s eyes as they noted the worsening odds.  If James really was an MI6 agent, then he was no doubt quite dangerous, but any actions on his part could lead to a detonator being depressed and a massive explosion going off.  Therefore, when two men were ordered to step forward and back James into an adjoining room, Q felt himself torn up inside with battling desires - all of which boiled down to: Save the many, or save the one?  

The many might even be safe now, if Boothroyd and the other Q-branchers had managed to decipher the danger and react accordingly, but Q had no way of knowing that.  The one happened to be a man that Q still fell asleep thinking about at night, and whom he’d thought gone from his life forever, only to be faced with him being removed now from life in general.  Permanently.  Bond was bound and disarmed, vulnerable even if the murder in his eyes said otherwise.  With two armed men pacing towards him, James was backing up steadily, a wolf at bay.  

Pale-blue eyes slid one last time towards Q, and for a second, Q almost shouted at him.  But what was he to say?  Ordering James to fix all of this and save himself wasn’t going to magically materialize a gun back into Bond’s hands, nor was it  going to cut those zipties.  So when hazel eyes met blue, all Q was able to give Bond was a sort of agonizingly sorry look, and then a third hooded gunman moved forward, and James’s full attention was riveted on his opponents even as they forced him out of sight into the adjoining room.  His opponents swiftly followed, like hounds on a blooded fox’s red scent, but no sooner had the door shut behind them then Q’s straining ears caught sounds of a scuffle followed by a gun-shot.  

Q’s vision went red around the edges.  He suddenly forgot about the other hostages, the bomb, the threats being made to himself and others - entirely.  “Nooo!” he shrieked, and for a moment also forgot that his hands were tied as he threw himself forwards, towards the closed door.  Hood’s hands closed around his arms, but Q didn’t feel the pain of being jerked back; he thrashed harder, pulling.  “Let me go!  Let me go, you fucking bastard-!” Q snarled a litany that went on an on, virtually spitting with painful fury.  Eventually, his struggling grew so violent that his kidnapper had to wrap his arms around his chest, and Q’s feet slashed at the air as he bucked and tried to get free.  He saved his breath temporarily for fighting, only to realize that he was being pushed and half-carried down the hall anyway, and then he opened up his lungs to cry, “James!”  

His keen was lost in the hail of three more bullets.  

~^~

When James had gotten a call out of the blue saying that there was a situation at the Haverton Convention Center and that the Quartermaster was involved, this was not how he’d expected things to go.  

Kicking the broken zipties away with a negligent nudge of his shoe, Bond reached up with a grimace, assessing the damage that first bullet had done when it skimmed across his right shoulder and also noting, with jaded irritation, that he’d need to visit his tailor again.  The wound was just a graze, but between the ripped material and bloodstains, his jacket was probably a loss.  He’d heard Q - Quinlen Fluke, whom he’d had plans to eventually track down, but hadn’t expected to find impersonating the Quartermaster of MI6 - shouting his name, but the heart-rending sound had come second to avoiding bullets when Bond had used the first opening he saw to rush his opponents.  The fact that he could still hear Q shouting was a relief, because if the little shit still had that much air in his lungs, he couldn’t be too badly hurt.  Shaking off the pain from his shoulder and picking up one of the guns that he’d ‘borrowed’ for escape purposes, 007 stepped over the corpses of three men who’d been stupid enough to think that an unarmed MI6 agent was a helpless MI6 agent.  

To be fair, Bond had had at least three weapons on him besides his Walther, and lately he’d been told that his most lethal weapon was the massive temper he’d been building up.  A few people (while foolishly thinking themselves out of MI6’s best spy’s hearing range) had intimated that Bond’s mood would improve if he just returned to the source of his frustration, and while they consistently got the gender wrong, they were probably right.  Even if Bond thought that seeing Q again was a monumentally bad idea when he’d already probably scarred the young man for life, he was pretty sure that it would release the knot that had been tied in his chest ever since watching Q walk out that door.  

Now, however, he’d seen Q… and the cranky simmer of his bad mood had roared up into a full-grown conflagration, and he barely spared a glance for the three men he’d just killed.  He had an inkling that the body-count was only going to increase from here anyway.  

Still in an utterly unreasonable mood that the Psych department would probably have something to say about, but feeling somehow more centered in his soul as if his world had found something to pivot around once more, 007 slipped out the door, raised his gun to a ready position, and stalked down the hallway in the direction where he could still here Q raising Cain.  

The next man that Bond got was a straggler, and the fellow nearly got lucky and got Bond instead as he came up from behind, trying to catch up with his masked compatriots.  Fortunately for Bond and unfortunately for the slow minion, 007 was capable of being wrathfully reckless and alertly observant at the same time, hearing footsteps approaching swiftly at his six o’clock in time to halt, pivot, and meet a new target face-to-face.  Partially because his new foe was already very close when he rounded the corner and partially because James had a lot of negative energy to burn, 007 forewent the use of projectile weaponry and instead charged, head and shoulders down.  The other man didn’t even had time to lift his own gun before he was being bowled over, the wind knocked out of him.  Even with his own weapon clutched stubbornly in his right hand, 007 was able to make good use of his left fist, taking two blows to knock his opponent out instead of one just because this wasn’t his dominant punching hand.  

Giving a satisfied, gruff little exhale of air, Bond pushed back to his feet and returned to his previous course.  Four down.  He judged that there were still four ahead of him, plus a certain bespectacled boffin who had a lot of explaining to do about how he came to be in the same location as MI6’s Quartermaster and how he came to be impersonating said Quartermaster.  

And how he was such a magnet for kidnapping.  

When Bond caught up to the remaining idiots who thought that taking Q hostage was a good thing, Bond slowed, remembering what Q had said about a remote detonator.  Q had gone quiet but was still making small noises, and those noises sounded so sad that 007 felt like something was being opened up in his chest - a deep and bleeding tear.  ‘Fuck,’ 007 swore mentally in resigned realization, ‘He thinks I’m dead.’  While this would hardly be the first time that people had thought 007 killed in action, Q was unaware of exactly what Bond did for a living (although some of the truth was out now, thanks to that bastard calling Bond ‘Agent’ and Q putting two-and-two together like the lanky genius he was).  From Q’s point of view, the logical answer would be that Bond just might be dead right now, not knowing that there was nothing logical about the nine lives of 00-agents.  

As much as Bond wanted to pick up the pace and reassure Q that he was still living and breathing, 007 instead hung back, keeping out of sight but within hearing range even as he pulled out his mobile and called MI6.  He quietly but hurriedly gave his identification code and waited for it to be authorized and his call to be put through.  From there he expected to get Eve or Tanner at best, and was therefore surprised to immediately hear M’s voice on the line, “007.  I bloody hope you have something positive to report, because I’m getting very contradictory reports about the Quartermaster of MI6 being taken hostage.”

Making an uncomfortable face and picking his words carefully, deciding what to say and what to keep behind his teeth until later, Bond answered cautiously, “I can safely say that it’s a case of mistaken identity.  However, I’ve reason to believe that there’s a bomb on the premises, so if the Quartermaster is still here, I’m going to need back-up.”

There was a pause.  Then M said with understandable caution, “And what are you going to do in the meantime?”  Everyone knew full-well that 007 had some rather decent experience with disarming things that went ‘boom.’  

“Teach some people a lesson about taking things that don’t belong to them,” 007 snapped back shortly and then hung up, freeing up both hands for his gun again.  He purposefully did not think about what he’d just said, and that it implied that Q was very, very much his.

~^~

Q was calming down a bit, but it was hard, because no matter how many times he reminded himself that he had to keep a cool head or risk the lives of the other hostages, he just kept hearing those gunshots echoing in his ears.  Once again Q was being pulled and pushed along, trotting clumsily but under his own power, but for at least the stretch of two hallways he’d been struggling so madly that he’d gotten both feet off the floor twice to kick people, and Hood had had to let him go entirely once (albeit not for long).  One of those men was still walking with a limp, but Q was also sporting a bruised cut along his cheekbone to match his split lip - for kicking one man in the groin he’d received a punch with a ring-decorated hand.  Q thought that it was entirely worth it, even though some of the fire had left him again with Hood’s meaty fist once again bruising his bicep and his threat renewed in Q’s ear: “Keep fighting and I will bring down that room on everyone inside.  Do you understand?”  Q had been forced to nod numbly, sucking in his lower lip to clean off the blood that had restarted its slow, sticky trickle towards his chin.  

Shaking and a bit shocked by his own violent reactions, Q let the furious fog clear out of his head and filled the space with productive thoughts instead - namely, the fact that he hadn’t noticed Hood’s three executioners reappearing yet.  Everyone else seemed to be focused forward, but Q snatched glances back whenever he could as they neared the door to the outside world.  The man he’d kicked the hardest was still lagging behind, but no one was catching up to them and swelling their ranks.  That fact alone gave Q hope, as did his memory of Alec saying with iron-strong steadiness, “Easy, myshka, James is hard to kill.”  James was definitely dangerous and durable, and Q had to hope that the man wouldn’t have allowed himself to be backed into a suicidal situation just because Q gave him begging-eyes.  

Q glanced back again, and this time Hood noticed, curling his fingers into Q’s hair and giving his head a rude shove forward.  “No point looking back, Quartermaster,” he grunted between breaths as they moved at an ever-increasing pace.  His words were sure but his actions denoted growing anxiety as the clock ticked down, each second exponentially increasing the chances of something going awry in this bold, kidnapping venture.  “You won’t be getting assistance from that direction.”

The thing was, Q thought the man was wrong.  In the quick look that he’d been allowed, Q had realized that the slowest member of their posse was now absent entirely.  Hope making his heart stutter in his chest, Q risked another craning of his neck, just to see if the lagging member had been slow around the last corner - but no, there was still no sign of them, and Q thought he heard a thud and a whimper that wasn’t quite hidden by the pounding of their own feet.  

Unfortunately, the ringleader noticed, too, aware of Q’s persistent rearward curiosity.  His steps slowed for just a moment as he twisted to peer backwards, and in that moment, Q caught what was definitely a choked-off sound of pain.  Then a gunshot.  Everyone jumped and twisted around in fear, but Q was soon being pushed into forward motion again.  “Hollands, Michaelson,” the leader barked, the white showing vividly around his pupils now even as he jerked his chin at his two remaining compatriots, “Go see what the fuck is going on!”  

The two men seemed reluctant, but when Hood stopped he raised his weapon at them, holding Q with a firm grip on his nape like an ungentle bite from a mother cat on her helpless kitten.  Through this grip, Q could feel the man’s hand shaking, even if his strength was still a force to be reckoned with.  While Q squirmed and grimaced at the pain radiating down his neck, Hood menaced his men and snarled, “Either you go back there and contain whatever shit is going on or I’ll remove you from this endeavor right here.”

That solved the issue speedily.  Q gave a little yelp as he was pushed forward, the hand releasing him even as he nearly lost his footing and fell.  Hollands and Michaelson went in the opposite direction, guns raised and bodies tense, but they were soon out of sight as Q was forced around another turn and through a doorway.  Before the doors closed behind him, however, he heard the one gunshot multiplied into dozens of them, harsh, spitting barks of violence accompanied by shrieks and screams.  

A fierce thrill of elation went through Q as his mind immediately took those hellish noises and condenses them into one thought: James Bond was hard to kill.  

But right now he was proving that he was quite skilled at returning the favor.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Q liked to think that he wasn’t a naturally violent person, but he was definitely lethally serious when he twisted his head to glare back over his shoulder at Hood, stating in clipped tones, “That man you just failed to kill is going to make a messy end of you, and I’m going to celebrate when he does.”

Of course, in return for Q’s vicious little comment, Hood went from startled to furious in one second flat, and then Q was shoved ingloriously into the boot of a car.

It was just Q and the ringleader by the time they exited the building, Q behaving just the bare minimum necessary to convince Hood not to detonate the bomb.  When they left the building through a side-door to arrive at an alleyway empty of useful witnesses, Q finally lost his temper again, leading to his inadvisable antagonism.  The shove into the boot was rough enough that Q felt his right arm jarred, pain spiking up from his shoulder hard enough to make him cry out, but he didn’t truly get scared until he looked up to see Hood looming over him, a mobile held purposefully in his hand.  “This is what you get for not respecting the power I have now,” Hood growled, and Q realized that he was looking at more than a phone – he was looking at a detonator, one call away from massive destruction, “You think that you’re in charge of this situation, Quartermaster?”  Over Q’s shout for him to stop, Hood’s eyes grew vicious, and he snarled, “Think again,” before hitting ‘send’ on the signal that would wipe out dozens of lives.

Q shouted, “No!” in a desperate yelp and lurched up clumsily in the boot of the car, but fell back again and subsided in shock when… nothing happened.  There was silence.  Hood seemed similarly stunned as he stood there, then turned his phone back towards himself to try again with more focus this time, although a whole lot of nothing continued to be the result.  Realizing that either Hood’s men were incompetent with setting bombs or else Q’s coworkers and Quartermaster really had managed to jam the signal, Q went limp with a sigh, head thumping against the floor of the boot.

Good.  One threat neutralized.

That just left Q with his own problems.

“It doesn’t matter,” Hood spat, looking over his shoulder either in hopeful expectation of his men or in fear of the one man who hunted them, Bond – none were in evidence.  “I’ve still got you, and that was my goal all along.”

Q opened his eyes to glare and tensed up again, even as he tried to think of a way to easily sit up and do something with his hands tied and his balance compromised.  “You’ll never get away with this,” he ended up saying, largely as a stalling tactic.

Hood laughed at him, then pulled a rag out of his pocket that Q recognized as a potential gag in seconds.  “That’s quaint.  Do you have any more cheap phrases to spew at me?”

“Would you prefer that I remind you that you’re being chased by an MI6 agent?” Q retorted with growing desperation, then started thrashing and kicking as Hood reached for him with the gag.

Unfortunately, Q kicked the inside of the boot more than anything else, and then his antagonist was too close to kick, and pressing a cloth against his mouth.  Hood grunted as a few knees and wild feet hit him, but persevered for the seconds it took him to knot the rag at the back of Q’s head, making future attempt at calling out impossible.  “I’d prefer silence,” Hood said pleasantly as he stood back and brushed off his shirt, which now had a few partial shoe-prints, “Besides, my source told me that your 00-agent was on leave for injury, so how terrible can he be?”

Q would have perhaps answered with a glare or a muffled growl, but he was too shocked at the title ’00-agent’ to do anything but stare, flabbergasted, before the boot was closed with a heavy thunk.

00-agent?!’  It just kept echoing in Q’s head, combining with all of the other shocks of the day until he started to shake, panic darkening the edges of his vision in a way that had nothing to do with the lightless interior of his new, cramped prison.  The combined tight space, threats to his life, and the sudden return of a man that he’d thought was a hired mercenary but was actually one of MI6’s top assassin-spies – it all closed in on Q like a fist clenching around the muscle of his heart, threatening to crush it.  The rumble and jerk of the car starting and roaring into motion made Q squeak against the gag, because the motion rocked his body over his left shoulder.  He began to fear that he’d more than jarred it as the pain lanced outwards like a firework under his skin.  For a second, the agony nearly whited out his senses, combining with the oncoming panic attack to halt his breathing and every thought in his head – but just as tears spread along Q’s tightly closed eyes, he found a calmness in the center of that pain and clung to it like a limpet.

In his head, he was remembering a parallel situation, also filled with helplessness and fear and a sharp flash of pain, culminating in a panic attack – he was recalling his experience with infuriating Alec Trevelyan (who was quite likely an MI6 agent as well, Q connected dully).  The emotions, the sense of danger, the iron band around his chest were the same, but what centered Q was the memory what came after: sharp agony had exploded in his head, but then a stalwart body had interspersed itself, protective and immovable.  The danger had ended, and the pain had been mitigated by callused but gentle hands.

That body and those hands weren’t there now, but last Q had known, James Bond had been alive and kicking… and killing, if Q was being frank about the sounds he’d heard in their wake.  So if Q could stay alive long enough, and maybe give Bond a bit of assistance in the matter, then Bond could find him and provide the same back-up he’d provided against Alec.

New determination flooding through his veins like a shot of whiskey (which he was definitely going to demand when this was all over), Q opened his eyes and took in a deep breath through his nose as the car rumbled along.  Ignoring the throb in his right shoulder, he rolled awkwardly until he could lift his feet up and feel the inside of the boot above him, although no amount of pushing jarred it loose.  Kicks were likewise ineffectual, but Q hadn’t held much hope that Hood would be stupid enough not to properly lock him in.  That left precious few other options.  Also wriggling ineffectively against his gag, Q twisted his wrists, renewing his efforts to slip out of them and bracing himself against the stinging bite of the zipties against his skin.  Finally, he had to give up on that, too, lying on his side and panting for a moment.  ‘Now what? Now what? Now what…?’ the question rolled through his head on repeat, but this time it was a mantra that kept him going instead of knocking the wind out of him with every succession.

With little or no warning, an idea surged up from the back of Q’s thoughts, and Q would have whooped with eagerness if there wasn’t a foul-tasting rag pressed between his teeth and making his jaws ache.  Q, of course, couldn’t see a bloody thing, but from working alongside Boothroyd, he’d learned a thing or two about the designs and inner workings of cars – enough so that he thought there was a weakness he could exploit.  Grasping those vehicular schematics in his head, Q began to kick, legs flailing in the cramped confines but aimed in a specific direction.  He was more than a little grateful that he appeared to be the only thing in here, because he surely would have hurt himself as he thrashed.  As it was, a few of his kicks did nothing but jar his legs and push his body back, and he was going to have all manner of bruises, but suddenly he heard the crack of glass and hard plastic, and something gave beneath his feet like a stubborn shell.  Weak, watery, diffused London light also spilled in, and Q nearly collapsed with relief.

Something was going right today.

He just had to hope that either Bond saw the little toes of his shoe waving out at him or the local police pulled Hood over for having his left taillight busted.

~^~

Bond would have loved to string these bastards up not only for what they’d done but for wasting his time - but, sadly, excessive payback would also waste more time.  So he left a mess of dead or crippled men behind him for MI6 to clean up and raced off in the direction that Q had been taken.  He was already falling dangerously behind, and all he could think of was what would happen if he didn’t catch up, and Q was taken away from him.  The boffin had already been sporting a split lip, red smeared down his chin, and if these men thought they had the Quartermaster they’d no doubt be thunderously mad when they realized their mistake.  ‘How the hell did you get tangled up in this mess, Q?’ Bond growled, exasperated but also afraid, in his head.  Villains like these never liked to find out that they’d been duped, and Bond had years of experience that made imagination unnecessary when he thought about what would become of Q when his real identity got out.

Of course, to be honest, 007 was now somewhat at a loss as to what Q’s real identity was.  It most certainly wasn’t the Quartermaster of MI6, however, because while Bond may not have been in Q-branch in ages, he was still pretty sure that crotchety old Boothroyd still ruled the roost there.

Thoughts of just who and what Quinlen Fluke was would have to wait until later.  007 all but skidded around corners, and his various accrued injuries tried to slow him down to no avail as he barged his way through doors, speed taking a back seat to caution as he moved.  He couldn’t hear Q anymore, and even that small silence seemed to be pressing in on his ears, a pressure so fierce and wrong that it was an almost physical threat, like an icepick hovering at each eardrum.  Silence could mean a lot of things, but in Bond’s experience, silence meant death.  Sometimes he was the one bringing it on silent feet or from a sniper’s silent nest, but that didn’t make him feel any better now as he yearned for the sound of Q shouting and struggling – even the steady sound of him breathing would have been heavenly, but instead Bond ended up hearing nothing but the squeal of tires as he exploded out into an alleyway.

Head jerking towards the sound, 007 wasn’t fast enough to see the vehicle, and swore as he ran again.  The alleyway opened up onto a busy street, so there was hope that a high-speed chase would be anything but speedy – it was hard to gain momentum in traffic.  Unfortunately, instead of hearing angry honking horns or complaining breaks as people tried to maneuver around one fleeing vehicle, all Bond saw when he finally exited the alleyway was a smooth, uninterrupted flow of cars.

“Dammit,” Bond growled under his breath, tucking his recovered Walther beneath his jacket again.  Q’s kidnapper had finally decided to play things smart instead of reckless, and had realized that stealth would be better than speed.  Scanning quickly, James couldn’t see any single car that looked alarming, and he felt his heart begin to hammer in his chest at the prospect of losing the scent here, when he was so close.

Something caught at the corner of Bond’s eye, and he zeroed in on it reflexively with a falcon’s predatory acuity.  When he didn’t know what he was looking for, anything out of the ordinary would do, and now he saw the scuffed back of a simple black taxi marred by one broken taillight – more than broken, quite shattered.  That on its own was enough to snag Bond’s interest, but the hint of movement behind the jagged remnants of plastic were what had James flying into motion again like a horse from the starting gait.

It was ironic, really, that his first meeting with Quinlen had started with a commandeered taxi-cab, and their second meeting after a supposedly permanent separation was going to involve another carjacking.  Bond felt only the briefest flicker of guilt as he forced his way into a passing cab, the vehicle slowing down to turn and only speeding up again once Bond had forced both driver and hapless occupant out onto the sidewalk.  The approaching whine of sirens meant that the two ejected riders would soon have plenty of police to complain to, and M would doubtlessly have a bit more paperwork to fill out as complaints were filed.  Caring not a whit for any of that, 007 oriented himself on his target – the black taxi was too far ahead for him to simply race up behind it, not unless he had a tank and was willing to drive over top of a half dozen cars in between – and tried wildly for a second to recall the streets around him.  At least this was all happening in London, which he knew like the back of his hand.  At the first opportunity, James peeled out of traffic, taking a hard right into a less crowded street and immediately gunning the engine.  He’d never catch up by running along behind, but if he could outflank his target, he had a chance.

His phone started vibrating.

It was a good day when 007 actually answered his mobile, and today was certainly not a good day, so he honestly had no idea what drove him to take one hand off the wheel and grab his phone instead.  “Yes?” he gritted into the device, all of him crackling with tension as he tried to map out his path in his head, along with all the ways that the black taxi could turn.

He expected M, but got Boothroyd.  “007.  I understand that you’re in pursuit of my doppelganger?”

“Yes,” Bond replied shortly, in no mood for pleasantries and honestly ranking his own Quartermaster very low on his list of priorities right now, “MI6 has been alerted to your position as well as the presence of a bomb at your location, and will be sending back-up.”

The old Quartermaster did not seem ruffled by 007’s tone, and in fact seemed quite calm and focused.  “It’s already arrived, actually, so I’d like to offer some assistance.  The man you’re trying to recover is my protégé.”

Bond took a hard left even as that new information hit him like a careless slap – not enough to hurt, but enough to clear his head for a second and startle him.  “Protégé?” Bond echoed incredulously as he continued to try and outmaneuver his prey, coming dangerously close to running over a few pedestrians as he made better use of the sidewalk.

“As of the first of this month,” was the immediate answer.  Boothroyd was sounding slightly bemused by the fervor in Bond’s tone, but chose not to follow up on it, “And thanks to that Mr. Fluke and his creative programs, we already have you on camera.  How can Q-branch assist you?”

There was no way that Boothroyd was already back in MI6, which meant that Boothroyd was pulling strings and probably accessing things like Q did – efficiently but illegally.  Bond would have been lying to say that he cared about anything but the results.  “I need you to find a car for me.”  Swiftly rattling off the make and model as well as the licence plate, James finished with, “And it’ll have a taillight out.”  He grinned, small but proud, and finished in a pleasant rumble, “Courtesy of your protégé.”

“We’ve got it,” said another voice a second later, someone talking nearby, and then Boothroyd’s gruff but confident voice was back on the phone, “He’s on Howell Street heading south.  We’ll direct you.”

“No, actually, just keep me updated,” James disagreed with a lion’s politeness, predatory excitement surging in his veins as a plan formed.  So long as he knew where his prey was, he could hunt it down on his own turf.  Getting his bearings in seconds, 007 changed course, continuing to take back-streets and open paths, massacring the distance between himself and Q.  Whoever was helping Boothroyd must have been watching James as well as the other car, because when 007 took another detour through a park and scattered a flock of joggers, he heard yelped warnings.  Unable to contain a smile, 007 continued his reckless driving, eminently pleased that Boothroyd made not a sound to stop him.

“Your target is on Baker Street now, heading north.  We haven’t seen Mr. Fluke on any of the CCTV feeds,” Boothroyd cautioned, his low rasp of a voice revealing worry, “Which either means you’ve got the wrong car or else Mr. Fluke is being kept in the boot – and I don’t want to question your judgment on targets.”

“It’s Q all right,” 007 maintained.  He missed the surprise on the other end of the line, where Q’s boss and coworkers were used to being the only ones who called Quinlen ‘Q’.  “Can you see the driver?”

“Yes, and since he’s not wearing a mask anymore, we’ll be running his face through facial recognition program at the first opportunity,” Boothroyd promised harshly.  James had never had feelings towards the Quartermaster one way or another, but he was steadily deciding that he liked him.  “What are you planning, 007?  You’ve overshot your target and are still one street over.” the older man dared to ask.

Bond just grinned.  “Curiosity killed the cat,” he reminded, before translating for himself, “You don’t want to know.”  With that, he ran a red light, swerved so hard that he felt his vehicle fishtail, and zeroed in on the familiar black taxi that he could now see just across the way.  Of course, he was seeing the front of the vehicle now, as well as a startled-looking driver with thinning black hair and a stubbled face.

“What did you say the driver looked like?” Bond demanded, aware of a million things at once even as he felt the brunt of his focus slowly narrow down to one thing and one thing only, like the world of a bullet condensed into the barrel of a shotgun.

Boothroyd’s voice answered obediently and speedily, “Fourteen stone, one-point-seven meters tall, fair skin, black hair, brown-eyes-”

“I think we have a winner,” the 00-agent murmured under his breath, as he began to dodge the last few meters of traffic, assuring himself that Q was nowhere in sight but this man – this bastard who liked to kidnap things tangled up in 007’s complicated heart – was.

At full-speed and just avoiding at least four other vehicles, 007 collided at right angles to the front of his opponent’s car.  Metal crunched as everything in front of the windshield wipers on the black taxi became impacted violently to the right, and the nose of Bond’s car likewise crumpled, the snapping pop of expanding airbags joining the general cacophony.

Let it never be said that 007 didn’t know how to bring a car-chase to a swift and total halt.

~^~

Q was starting to actually get bored (which was an improvement on panicked) when suddenly everything jerked to one side and his ears were filled with a pandemonium of noises that the eyes didn’t need to see to comprehend as a car accident.  The fact that his prison was involved in said car accident came a split-second later, like a delayed reaction, although for a moment the boffin was startled by the way his body was suddenly sliding.  Since he’d still been stubbornly pushing the toe of his shoe through the busted taillight, he immediately felt a bolt of pain in his ankle as his body was wrenched one way and his foot remained caught – but only for a second, fortunately.

Then Q was thumping feet-first into the side of the boot, hard, creating a whole new set of aches and bruises as the world around him was tossed askew.  He cried out more in shock and fear than pain, sound muffled by the gag, and then froze like a rabbit in the grass when everything went still and silent again.  Where seconds ago he’d heard tires screaming and metal shearing and bending against metal, now he heard nothing but his own fast, shallow panting – and then a car-horn, almost comically belated.  Unsure what was happening or if he was even hurt beneath the heavy dose of adrenalin pumping through his system, Q strained his ears, almost immediately flinching back as he heard indistinct shouting and hollering, a few more car-horns, and then a single gunshot followed by a long string of profanities.

The profanities were fading to pathetic crying when Q heard shoes on asphalt outside the boot.  He hunched in on himself, unsure what was about to come but painfully aware that he was in no condition to face it – he was still bound and gagged, and now his right ankle hurt on top of everything else, making kicking sound less appealing than before.  Fear gathered in his heart and he felt himself starting to shake, even as he held himself tensely and tucked his legs in like springs…

The boot popped open and Q kicked, a wild flail of his limbs that possessed no aim whatsoever, but still nearly caught the arm of the man who’d just opened the lid to Q’s temporary cage.

“Q, what the fuck-?  Q, steady, it’s me,” Bond’s voice cut through Q’s mounting anxiety like a sun through fog.  The gunman – agent – was standing over Q, and had possessed good enough reflexes to dodge the kick and also catch the offending ankle in a startled but firm grip.  Bond looked a little wild, and there was blood running down from his nose even though it didn’t look broken.  Evidence of a recent close encounter with an air-bag was all over him.  Pale-blue eyes swept over Q with naked worry and darkened with something raw and angry when they landed on Q’s cut cheek, his gagged mouth, and the zipties still restraining his arms.  “You’re all right Q – easy,” Bond finished in a quieter tone a second before he relinquished his hold on Q’s sore ankle and instead ducked down towards him, familiar, warm hands all over Q’s back and sides.  They were probably checking for injuries, but all Q felt was the physical comfort of a gentle touch, and he almost whimpered in relief as one callused hand came up to bury itself in his hair, a soothing tug against his scalp before James hooked his fingers under the gag and began to work the cloth loose.  Q coughed a little and made a face when the rag was dragged from his mouth, not caring that it still sat around his neck like an ugly scarf so long as he didn’t have it pressed against his teeth and tongue anymore.  “All right, Q?” Bond asked lowly.

“I’m-”  His voice sounded so hoarse and breathy that he barely recognized it.  Q nodded and tried again after a thick, dry swallow and an attempt at licking the taste out of his mouth.  “I’m all right.  I’m not hurt.”  That was proven for a lie as James’s forefinger pushed against the skin near Q’s cheekbone, and the boffin jerked away and hissed.  “Okay, I’m not seriously hurt.  That’s just a bad cut.  And my mouth tastes like dirt and copper.”

“That’s probably from your cut lip,” Bond judged cautiously, and he stood a bit straighter just long enough to give a leery left-right glance at their surroundings.  Apparently there was no one dangerous approaching, because he gave a dismissive grunt before leaning into the boot again, thumb gently pulling Q’s lower lip down until he could assess, “You cut it against your teeth pretty badly.  Did someone punch you?”

“I might have tried to stop a fist with my face, yes,” Q somehow joked, only realizing how funny he was a beat later, prompting a frankly hysterical laugh into crawling up his throat.  He wriggled a little, but couldn’t even bring himself to be frustrated by his continued bound state when faced by his relief at being found.  “Is the situation under control?”

Sirens were audible, partially answering the question, if Bond’s nod and intense but calm blue eyes didn’t.  Actually, ‘calm’ was the wrong word: they weren’t glancing back and forth like he expected trouble, but they definitely looked like they were hiding the exasperated thought of, ‘What the hell am I going to do with you?’  Instead of speaking that supposed thought, James cupped Q’s face briefly between both of his hands, slid one down to stubbornly check his pulse, and then sighed, “You and I are going to have a long, long talk about withholding information, but not until after I get you out of this car.  Come on – I’ll untie you when I have more room.  Here we go...”

Bond’s coaxing was largely useless, as Q couldn’t get anywhere on his own, but Q did his best to cooperate as capable hands gripped his arms and lifted.  Q’s bashed shoulder was discovered then, as Q flinched, leading to Bond apologizing profusely but in a low, hushed whisper that sent happy shivers down Q’s spine.  Unwilling to so much as touch Q’s right arm now until he could determine if it was broken or dislocated, James hooked an arm around the boffin’s middle and lifted him bodily until Q’s legs could slither out of the boot and let him sit on the bumper without tipping.

Out in the open air again, Q took in a deep breath, let it go, and assessed the situation from within a bubble of relief that made him feel positively invincible.  With James’s hands still on him, the boffin swiveled his head alertly, taking in the traffic stalled all around them, and the wreck that he himself had been part of.  Looking between the driverless taxi and Bond, Q lowered his eyebrows, his brain working a bit slower than usual but still working.  “You purposefully caused a vehicular collision!” Q accused, the words leaping out of his mouth in offended disbelief.

To avoid Q’s look, Bond pretended to be deaf while leaning behind Q, grunting, “Hold still and let me cut you loose.”

Q wasn’t done yet, shocked at the insanity of this man before him.  Nonetheless, he leaned forward, twitching a little as he heard the sly snick of a knife snapping open.  “You could have died – you could have gotten people killed, me included!”  Bond was taking his sweet time with getting Q free of one simple set of zipties, so Q craned his head around as best he could, mostly lecturing Bond’s back and totally ignoring the people getting out of their cars all around to stare at them.  “You virtually kick me out of France – mid-snog, thank you very much – and now, without warning, you come waltzing back into my life to try and get me killed in a car accident!  You’re insane!  When I first met you I called you a crazy-person, and now it’s like you’re going out of your way to prove me right.  Was this really the best way that you could see to-?”

“Q!”  Bond – restraints still unattended to – straightened with a snap so that he could glare from close range at Q, who glared right back, puffing angry breaths through his nose.  That actually seemed to set the agent back a bit, but he still held his eyes as he said in a tone straining against his efforts to keep it to a whisper, “I’m not the one who just got kidnapped for pretending to be the Quartermaster of MI6.”

Suddenly wondering when his argument had gotten away from him just when he thought he was winning, Q leaned back and furrowed his brows before looking shiftily away.  “It was the only plan that came to mind,” he defended weakly and with his volume dropping back down to a mumble.  Police cars were arriving now, having to park some ways off but now divulging officers who made their way quickly to the scene of the accident.

That seemed to decide things for Bond, who grew alert again, eyes narrowed and cool and the tendons in his hand flexing before he leaned around behind Q with more intent this time.  “Hold that thought.  We’re not done with this discussion yet,” he grunted, as Q felt the coolness of the flat of Bond’s blade just kiss his wrist-bones before the knife’s cutting edge freed him with effortless skill.

Q grimaced as he moved his stiff arms forward again, his right one particularly stiff and displeased with everything; he was unexpectedly warmed by the way Bond’s own hand followed that limb, a careful touch on Q’s right forearm to guide it forward.  “Agreed.  We have a helluva lot to talk about, Agent Bond,” Q sniped, then winced and cried out as he tried to stand and had his left ankle buckle.  There was one thing that Q would forever be grateful for: James’s quick reflexes.  The man caught him before he could fall.  Panting past the spike of pain, Q rasped resignedly, “But I could be convinced to shelve this debate for now.  Maybe after we’ve handled the police.”

“I’ll handle the police.”  Somehow, when Bond said it, it sounded like a threat.  His eyes were moving across the surrounding people, and when he seemed to see someone he recognized, the blond-haired man relaxed minutely – going from actively dangerous to merely foreboding.  He exchanged a meaningful look with someone Q couldn’t quite see before taking Q’s left arm and ducking under it.  “Come on, Q.  I think there’s a car waiting for us.”

Ankle throbbing and the rest of him aching like an all-over bruise to match, Q stubbornly decided to stick to Bond’s side like glue.  If chance had put him in this man’s hands twice, he didn’t think he’d be so lucky again – and he wanted answers, dammit.

And, after the day he’d just had, another kiss like the one in Paris wouldn’t go amiss either.  


 

Chapter Text

With Bond’s steely glare to keep people at bay, the agent and Q walked and limped respectively to a white Prius manned by a round-faced, nondescript man with thinning hair and eyes that said he was already totally resigned to whatever it was Bond wanted.  “Tanner,” James greeted him, already moving around to the driver’s side of the vehicle.

The other man sighed shallowly, looked between Bond and Q in an unreadable sort of way, but then said, “Is this the fellow from Q-branch who drew the kidnappers away?”

“Yes.”  If Q wasn’t mistaken, underneath James’s put-out tone, there was the tiniest sliver of pride that he was doing an imperfect job of hiding.  Q continued to ponder Bond’s tone as the blond-haired man eased him down into the driver’s seat only to nudge him over into the passenger’s side, freeing up the former spot for, presumably, himself.  His insistence of staying in physical contact with Q would have been annoying if it weren’t both reassuring and heartwarming.  “And I’m going to get him some medical attention.  I assume you can handle things here?”

Another small sigh from Tanner.  Q mostly lived in his own little world at the heart of Q-branch, but he’d heard this man’s name before alongside M’s, and clearly the man had seen it all because he didn’t argue now.  “Despite your best efforts to cause a scene, yes, I think I can.  Check in with M, please?”  The pleading note at the end was hardly manly, but Q could understand the sentiment when dealing with James – having barely known the blue-eyed agent for a week, Q already guessed that he drove people insane on a regular basis.

Bond, of course, merely smiled, hummed, and slid into the car.  He left the door open as he sat there giving Tanner an expectant look until the other man tossed him the keys after a brief pause and a long-suffering look.  Q just heard Tanner say, before James shut the door and turned on the engine, “I’ll tell the Quartermaster then that his protégé has been recovered safe and sound, barring minor wounds that need to be looked at personally by a 00-agent.”

If Q wasn’t mistaken, there was a bit of sarcasm in that otherwise jaded tone.

Fortunately for Q’s nerves, it seemed that James had used up his desire to drive like a maniac – apparently one collision was enough for today, as he pulled the car away smoothly, somehow escaping the angry knot of traffic that was deadlocked around the accident.  Q twisted around in his seat long enough to see a man being pulled out of the car he’d been stashed in – his kidnapper.  The man didn’t appear to be dead, but he had an awful lot of blood on him and wasn’t walking under his own power.  Thinking about the gunshots and shrieks he’d heard immediately prior to James letting him out of the boot, Q shuddered, putting two-and-two-together and looking involuntarily towards the MI6 00-agent sitting next to him in the car.

James kept his eyes on the road but didn’t miss the scrutiny.  “I’ll explain who I am but I won’t explain why I did that,” he defended himself quite coolly, the only thing giving him away being the whitening of his knuckles as he tightened his hands around the steering wheel.

“I rather think that explaining what you are will explain what you did to that man,” Q dryly observed, but then sat back in his seat again with a tired exhale, facing forward again and letting his aching body go limp on the comfortable seat.  “But there’s no need – I understand.  I’m struggling right now myself between relief and vindictive happiness to know that there’s one criminal who won’t be trying to kidnap anyone else anytime soon.”

“I shattered his femur,” James volunteered, either because he saw an opportunity for winning points via truthfulness or else wondering if Q might be proud of him – like an attack-dog returning, blood-jawed, to its owner.  “I doubt he’ll so much as loot a petrol station, assuming he gets out of jail before he’s an old man.”  Perhaps admitting to himself that very few people would be remotely pleased with what he’d done save other agents like himself, James deflated a little, frowning and sighing much like Q had.  He went on in a murmur as he took a right, “It’s what I do, Q.  I’m an MI6 spy, and we all get our hands dirty.”

Gingerly lapping at his cut lip while thinking, Q answered when he knew that his voice would be calm, which wasn’t as long as he’d thought it would be, “As a double-oh, I imagine that you get your hands dirty even more than most, yes?”  Now it was Q’s turn to watch the road as his companion’s head swiveled to look at him.  Q explained without prompting, using his sleeve to smudge some of the drying blood from his chin, “My overzealous kidnapper called you a 00-agent at about the same time that I imagine you were eliminating his comrades.  He was telling the truth then?  You’re a 00-agent?”

“007,” James admitted without a fight, although the growl in his voice spoke of disgruntlement.  A glance over showed the blond-haired man looking forward again, his expression torn and troubled.  Instead of belaboring the topic of his unorthodox and amoral job, James bristled a little and fixed sharp eyes on Q to accuse in turn, “And since when are you the Quartermaster’s protégé?!”

“As of the first of this month,” Q unknowingly echoed Boothroyd’s words exactly, with a little offended sniff to show that he didn’t appreciate Bond’s tone.

Surprisingly, matters did not improve as Bond continued to voice his bewildered frustration, his driving becoming more reckless by small but noticeable increments, “And how does someone go from being a nobody to the favorite of MI6’s Quartermaster since I last saw you?”

Now Q’s glare was on full-force, his expression cold enough to match his suddenly frosty tone as he stopped cataloguing his various injuries to face James instead, “One doesn’t.  One works their way up from the technical help department of MI6 over the course of nearly two months, and manages to earn a surprise promotion or two after somehow surviving being kidnapped by a mercenary psychopath.”

Crackling silence filled the car, and when Q looked forward again, cheeks flushed and anger sitting uncomfortably in his stomach like nettles, neither looked at each other.  After only a few such uncomfortable heartbeats, James dredged up the courage to speak again.  This time, however, his tone was much quieter and more respectful, and there was sincere apology in his tone as he said, “I’m sorry, Q.  I shouldn’t make assumptions just because I was caught off-guard.”  He added after another, more brief pause, his tone warming a little more still to show that he meant these next words very much, “And you’re not a nobody.”

Q’s sigh made it sound like he was a balloon that had been punctured, letting all of the angry air out, and he slouched before returning gracefully, “And I suppose you’re not a mercenary psychopath.”

“You haven’t seen my file yet,” 007 quickly cautioned, but when Q looked over, he was met by smiling blue eyes.  The tension melted and Q found himself smiling in relief, not knowing how much he hated being mad at James until the feeling had passed.  “So,” 007 turned his tone brusque again, but the playfulness was still hovering around his mouth and tone, “We’re both MI6 employees?”

“Yes,” Q summed, smiling a bit goofily as he nodded.

“And that was as much the case back in Paris as it is now?”

“Yes again.”  Q paused, considering, then teased within the growing sense of camaraderie permeating the air, “We’re rather foolish, aren’t we?”

“I prefer to think that we’re both simply very, very good MI6 employees,” 007 countered wryly, “Do you think that M would give us both raises if she heard how good we were at secret-keeping?”

That set Q to laughing, his bright laughter mixing well with 007’s lower, more contained chuckles.  It was all just so ridiculous that he could hardly even look back upon his memories the same way, imagining the whole Paris debacle with the knowledge that he’d been with a coworker the whole time – a dangerous coworker, clearly, but an ally nonetheless.  In return, Q was more than a little bit chuffed at his ability to hide his job description from one of London’s best spies.  He would have to rub that in later, because at that moment Q took note of the streets and cocked his head with a frown.  “Er… James… 007, did you bump your head in that collision, by any chance?” he asked.

“No.  Why?”

“Because MI6 is that way and you just turned this way instead.”

Bond grinned mischievously before answering, “Well, seeing as I couldn’t find any serious injuries on you, and you haven’t complained about any pains that I might have missed, I think that taking you to Medical in MI6 might be a bit… hasty.  Impractical.”  He picked his words with exaggerated care, which only made Q more suspicious, but also perhaps a bit excited.

“Impractical, you say?  What, pray tell, is practical in this situation?  In your esteemed opinion,” Q took the bait and asked, leaning his left elbow on the edge of the window and moving to prop his cheek on his palm before being reminded, sharply, that said cheek was bruised and scabbed from being punched.  He hoped that whatever Bond’s destination was, it included at least a pack of ice and some Paracetamol.

Flashing Q an impish look that tried and failed to look offended, James asked, “Are you getting sassy with me?”  When Q looked out the window to hide a smile, James gave in an answered the question in a tone that was still jovial but perhaps a hair more straightforward, “I thought perhaps that I’d take you back to mine.  I have just about as many medical supplies as most hospitals, and I can say with assurance that I’ve a better bedside manner than the staff at Medical who are trained to deal with stroppy 00-agents.”

Perhaps it was something about the way James talked about his ‘bedside manner,’ but either way, Q found his heart doing a little skip in his chest at the proposition.  He agreed to the plan embarrassingly fast, but at least managed to hide his unexpected excitement behind a professional tone and a polite smile.

~^~

Even before they’d reached Bond’s flat, the 00-agent’s phone started vibrating.  When 007 merely growled at it, Q hesitated only a moment before reaching over and taking the liberty of liberating the phone from Bond’s jacket-pocket.  It felt far more erotic than it should have to reach into the man’s inner pocket, the backs of Q’s knuckles brushing Bond’s shirt and sensing toned muscle and warm skin beneath, so Q had to clear his throat once before answering the phone. Someone must have briefed the caller on Q’s identity or present location in close proximity to the phone’s actual owner, because with barely a blip at getting a Q-brancher instead of a 00-agent, the voice at the other end began rattling off information.  Q listened steadily, said that he himself was fine when asked about his condition and no, he wouldn’t be checking in to Medical as there was no need.  Very little else was necessary, and soon Q was hanging up again, letting Bond’s phone rest in his lap.

“So it sounds like R was the leak,” Q immediately began to relay the phone call, sighing and lifting a hand to rub at the the headache forming right between his eyebrows.  The stress was gone, and now he was getting progressively more tired despite the anticipation of going home with James.  “I’d known that the sorry sod was jealous and unhappy with various promotions in Q-branch – mine especially – but apparently when he realized that he wasn’t at the top of the list to be the next Quartermaster, treason suddenly became his best option.  He only gave out snippets of information, which was good for us.”  Eyes still closed. Q let his head rock back against the seat, exhaling deeply again.  “It meant that our villains – a group of malcontents lead by a man called Galvin Tucker, who is now being treated for a bullet that broke his femur and nearly caused him to bleed out – knew where the Quartermaster would be but lacked an actual physical description.”

“Allowing you to brush up on your acting skills,” 007 deadpanned.

Nodding dully, Q went on, “Semantics aside, R is now under arrest.  No word yet on whether I’m going to be charged with hacking into Boothroyd’s personal account in front of armed criminals, but I suppose that it was enough to know that I was in the custody of 007.”

“You hacked…?” James started to echo in amazement but finally just started laughing.

Q cracked and eye open and slanted it his way, accusing, “You sound entirely too delighted by that.  You weren’t there when I hacked MI6 and promised to give out government secrets.”

That only made the agent laugh harder, finally pulling up to a building with a nondescript brick front and a parking space blessedly close to the front entrance.  “Q, I’m a 00-agent – I’m naturally inclined to being impressed by anything clandestine and illegal, provided that you get away with it, which you did,” James quieted himself enough to say around a broad smile, getting the car into park so that he could turn to face Q directly, one forearm draped lazily over the wheel.  He gave his head a marveling shake and then added in a lower tone that was pleased in an entirely different sort of way, blue eyes wandering, “I’m also delighted to know that I’ve got you in my custody.”  While Q’s eyes got a bit big and he felt a blush rising up his throat at Bond’s blatantly suggestive voice – warm as summer night, smooth as silk slipping off naked skin – James continued to muse, “A fresh-faced young hacker who’s so bold that he’d call himself the Quartermaster of MI6.  Clearly you’re dangerous, with an ego like that and skills to back it up.  Whatever should I do with you?”  007’s smile unfurled a bit more, making his eyes dance devilishly.  “Clearly you’re good at keeping secrets.  Seeing as I’m specifically trained to coerce secrets out of people by any means necessary, then MI6 must expect me to interrogate you thoroughly.”

Q swallowed thickly and somehow found the breath to interrupt weakly, “Can I make a request regarding this interrogation?”

Surprise shone in 007’s eyes, but he nodded easily.  “Of course.”

“Can this interrogation come after some painkillers, ice, and a shower because I smell like the boot of a car?” Q pleaded.

Surprise and then embarrassment flashed across Bond’s face, expressions that Q bet were as uncommon as summer snow for the man, although he recovered quickly to put on a wry and self-deprecating sort of grimace.  “Take this as a compliment, Q, but for a moment there I forgot that you’re not a 00-agent.  Come on – let’s get you put to rights,” 007 acquiesced graciously, this time trusting Q to stay safe long enough for him to get out and circle the car instead of pulling him across the seats.  Q appreciated Bond’s support as he got out and wincingly tested his aching ankle, finding it still sore and unhappy about bearing his weight, but also finding James more than willing to accommodate.  As they started towards Bond’s building, the agent finished, “Just because I have a chronic disregard for my own personal health doesn’t mean I should let you suffer.”

~^~

They took the lift as Q didn’t think that he could navigate the stairs, even with help.  His shoulder throbbed, too, to say nothing for the two cuts on his face.  He could sense James looking often at the latter injuries, a glance always accompanied by a glower so dark that Q was half surprised the man didn’t growl audibly.  As the lift made its slow progress to the third floor, Q took a little risk, leaning into Bond and hoping that he was allowed to take liberties like that – he figured he was, after James’s blatant flirting in the car.  Proving Q’s assumption right, James not only let Q lean on him but moved his arm so that his broad hand slid across Q’s back to finally curve around the far side of the boffin’s ribcage in a gentle embrace.  Neither said anything, but it was a companionable sort of silence as they continued to digest what they’d learned about each other as well as the unexpected excitement of the day.

Coworkers,’ Q marveled for at least the millionth time even as the lift opened as he limped alongside James again.

Q made a few disparaging remarks about James’s security system that made the agent snort; Bond made a few comments back regarding how boring Q-branch must be after running alongside two 00-agents, at which point Q nearly jumped away from him in shock.  “Trevelyan is a 00-agent, too?” he ended up shouting, almost losing his balance as his left ankle gave a painful twinge.  “That humorous shark of a man belongs to MI6!?”

007 had hushed Q (all while smiling) and gentled him with slightly patronizing pets to his person, which ultimately accomplished Q clumsily backing up to topple onto Bond’s worn couch.  The apartment was a crazy mix of new and chic and old and comfortable, painting the picture of a flat that was updated rarely save when some piece of furniture was utterly ruined by blood from slowly healing wounds.  This couch had a few circumspect dark flecks on it, but the suede finish was soft to the touch, and Q immediately loved it a little.  Gingerly reaching down to take off his left shoe to better assess the damage done to his ankle, Q grunted, “I can’t believe that I spent days in the company of not one but two world-class MI6 spies and didn’t realize it.”

James was around the corner in another room, but his voice drifted back, “The feeling’s mutual, but I assure you that said world-class MI6 spies have more reason to be embarrassed than you.  Alec wasn’t even undercover at the time.”

“So Alec’s his real name?”

“Just like James Bond is mine, yes.”  The blond-haired man reappeared, first-aid kit under one arm and a glass of water in the other.  His eyes seemed to constantly skim over Q, as if worried that more injuries would have appeared in the mere moments that he’d left him unattended.  Sitting down next to Q he handed the glass of water over before reaching down to grip Q’s damaged leg and carefully but firmly (leaving no doubt that this was a non-negotiable move) pull it up onto his lap.  Q shifted positions obediently, unable to think of any reason to argue.  Shoe already absent, Bond rolled Q’s sock down, shushing the boffin absently as he sucked in a pained breath at even the small brush of contact, then rolled back Q’s pant-leg to reveal Q’s ankle.  A bit of gentle rotating and prodding later, and James declared, “I think it’s just sprained.  We’ll ice it and see if it improves in a few hours.”

Slouched back against the arm of the couch, eyelids sinking a bit now that James had stopped poking at his sore ankle and was just letting him soak in the older man’s body heat, Q murmured back, “I’m liking the ‘we’ in that sentence, especially since I don’t know where a bloody thing is in this flat, and I don’t fancy walking around to find ice.”

Chuckling under his breath, James gave an almost absent stroke to Q’s socked foot before shifting, moving a bit closer and necessitating both of Q’s shoeless feet sliding across his thighs before he beckoned impatiently for Q to sit.  “Shoulder, remember?  Or has it miraculously stopped hurting?”

“No,” Q said with assurance and pushed himself forward with his good arm, ducking his head and making a small mewl of pain when 007’s questing fingers pushed a little too hard against the joint.

“Sorry, Q.”  The apology was low and gentle, and 007’s touches softened likewise.  One hand wandered to the buttons on Q’s cardigan, hovering for just a few seconds in silence before he began undoing them one-handed right under Q’s nose.  It wasn’t sensually done, but there was still something affectionate in the motion – something as familiar as an old married couple taking liberties without the need to ask.  Left shoulder nestled against the cushions beside him, Q merely watched the nimble workings of Bond’s fingers while the agent’s other hand cupped his right shoulder like a brand of soothing warmth.

Neither spoke as James helped Q out of his cardigan and then the layer of clothing beneath, rendering the dark-haired man naked from the waist up, blushing shyly at his revealed skin.  James was on a mission, however, and as focused as a bird-dog on point as he went right back to checking Q’s shoulder for damage.  Truth be told, Q was beginning to feel a little bit like a newly-minted doll as its joints were tested, but nothing clicked or popped alarmingly as James put the slender limb through its paces.  Already, in fact, the pain was fading, especially with the warmth of Bond’s hand.

“You like that, don’t you?”  After the silence, even the soft words were sudden, and Q glanced up to see a smile full of mischief over 007’s handsome face.  Illustrating his point, the agent folded his palm over the curve of Q’s shoulder, making the smaller man shiver in involuntary pleasure.  “Your luck is holding.  How did you hurt this arm again?” James reassured and then asked.

Eyes closing as he focused on the warmth that was muffling the last remaining ache in his shoulder, Q replied automatically, “I was yanked around a lot, and then my landing in the boot of that car was less than graceful.  I didn’t dislocate it then?”

“If you did, you popped it back into place yourself somehow,” Bond answered, before startling Q with a sudden brush of lips to the tip of his nose.  James’s smile was slightly rueful, but his voice was a bit huskier as he said, “Sorry.  Couldn’t help myself.  Besides, you’re going to like me a lot less after I clean your cheek with antiseptic.”

Bond’s words were, alas, entirely true.  The sting of the alcoholic wipes on Q’s laceration was enough to make him pull back and squirm until James threatened to sit on him, at which point Q glared but complied.  His legs were still thrown over James’s lap and the couch was more or less cradling the rest of him, so it wasn’t entirely terrible, but still a chore to endure.  The salve went on with a little less fuss, James cracking a few jokes about scars to brag about before reassuring Q that this cream would actually do wonder to prevent that – especially on a cut so small.  James had definitely had worse that had healed and faded completely.

By the time this was finished up, Q was feeling downright sleepy, the high of adrenalin well and truly gone to leave nothing but a hollow exhaustion behind.  He didn’t realize that his neck had curled forward to deposit his head on James’s shoulder until he smelled copper beneath the scent of fabric-soap and sweat in his nostrils.  Q jerked his head up, blinking in bewilderment and wondering if it were somehow possible for Bond to develop an injury by magic.  “You’re bleeding,” he stated flatly, sitting back and lifting a hand to the torn material of Bond’s jacket.

Twisting to look, Bond grimaced but didn’t get too excited.  “Was bleeding,” he corrected, unruffled, “I was going to take a closer look at it while you showered.”

Waking up again with a vengeance, Q glowered and gave a hard poke to the center of Bond’s firm chest.  “Why didn’t you say something?  That’s a bullet-wound, isn’t it?  Someone did shoot you!”

Carefully taking Q’s hand by the wrist to prevent more poking (the skin under his grip a little raw from the zipties, but nothing serious), James hedged, “I’d hardly count it as getting shot when the bullet practically missed me.”

“ ‘Practically missed’ should not include blood,” Q maintained, pursing his lips until they were white before breaking eye-contact to push his fingertips up under his glasses and press hard against his eyeballs.  “I thought you were dead, you know, so the blood is definitely not reassuring.  How many other bullets ‘practically missed’ you?”

Blinded by the press of his own fingers, Q didn’t see 007’s expression, but he heard the noise he made, frustrated and uncomfortable all at once.  A hand landed on Q’s thigh and gave a gentle squeeze, like a reminder of the man’s presence and continued life.  “It’s what I do, Q,” was all James could say.

After a few more moments of battling with his emotions – not to mention exhaustion that was making him unreasonable – Q released all of the air in his lungs slowly and then counted to three as he breathed in again.  “I know,” he finally admitted, dropping his hands and giving his companion a helpless but less frantic look than before, “It just takes some getting used to.  I mean, until now I just thought that you did stupidly suicidal things if the money was right, but now I know that it’s your day-job.”

Q’s dryly sarcastic tone slipped in perfectly to cut the uncomfortable tension in the air, and both men managed to crack smiles again.  Before any sort of argument could resurface, 007 stood, offering his hands down to Q as he decided firmly, “I’ll patch myself up if you’ll wash.  I’d love to make some sort of comment about sharing the shower with you, but right now I’ll settle for finding out if I need stitches while simultaneously sticking close enough to make sure you don’t fall asleep while washing.”

Accepting the hands that pulled him to his feet (with the painkillers fully active in his system now, he already felt much better), Q arched a brow and tipped his head enough to look down his nose.  “Maybe I want you in the shower,” he dared to say, feeling his heart surge in his chest, his own audacity surprising even him.

By the upward tick of both of Bond’s brows, he’d been caught off-guard, too, but pleasantly so.  “I never had you pegged for the fast type,” was his reply, however.  The slight tilt of his head bespoke interest, however, as was the way his eyes flicked up and down Q’s bare torso.

Unable to stop the flush that heated his skin, Q tried to keep his new suaveness from slipping away, cobbling together words on the fly, “Alec thought the same thing until I corrected his uninformed assumptions regarding who had kissed whom in his guest bedroom.”

Bond’s smile spread a little more.  One hand slid loose of Q’s to dance lightly up his wrist to his forearm, a light caress that made Q’s skin hypersensitive in an instant.  “You’re a constant surprise, Q,” 007 observed with increasingly obvious interest.

“I’m also incredibly sexually frustrated because someone thought that a kiss-and-run was an awesome way to end our last encounter with one another,” Q said in an exquisitely professional tone, then extricated his arms fastidiously from Bond’s grip, prayed that his ankle was better with painkillers and wouldn’t dump him on his arse, and strode off towards the shower with a noticeable but completely manageable limp.  All the while, of course, his ears were straining for sounds of the man he’d left in his wake, knowing that James could be as silent as a cat but hoping that he’d stop being irksomely noble and just follow him already.

He needn’t have worried.  Bond had accused Q of taking things quickly, but 00-agents naturally lived their lives in the fast-lane, so darting after Q was as easy as breathing for Bond.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Q didn’t fall asleep in the shower, but to be fair, 007 did a stellar job of keeping him very much awake.  

Rising slowly from the sleep that he’d fallen into after the escapades of the shower were finished, Q found the soft sheets of a bed beneath him, a quilt sliding against his bare skin and keeping him warm as he moved.  His shoulder and ankle gave a mild twinge, but an ace-wrap had been put around the latter and the former was no more painful than a new bruise.  Pleased as punch by the lack of pain, Q sighed and closed his eyes again, unthinkingly snuggling back and finding more warm skin behind him, chasing away the last chill of damp skin.  

Since the last few hours had been so surreal, Q twisted just enough to look back over his shoulder.  His heart felt like it held still in his chest as he waited to see if he really had dreamed up everything, but…  Q relaxed, a smile blooming goofily across his face.  James Bond, agent 007, was in the bed behind him, soundly sleeping.  

In retrospect, Q was pretty sure that he couldn’t have dreamed up any of this.  Having sex in James’s shower was a particular highlight that Q would’ve never been able to imagine in such exquisite, mind-blowing detail, and he felt his stomach muscles clench at just the memory.  A less pleasant but no less vivid recollection was that James had indeed needed stitches, but unlike the last time that had occurred, had let Q help.  The experience made Q’s smile fall into a sad, troubled frown even now.

Rolling over very, very carefully - not wanting to wake his newfound bed-partner - Q watched 007’s face for signs of waking as he reached out.  The light was dim in the room and the blankets shadowed things even more, but a combination of touch and sight showed Q when his fingers were just barely brushing over the neat knots of thread that bristled from James’s shoulder.  The two of them were like badly matched twins, Q’s shoulder bruised and James's healing from a bullet-wound.  Even with his fingertips hovering over the wound - not wanting to cause more pain - Q couldn’t help but revisit the memory like someone falling through thin ice and into a frigid pond.  The graze had been ragged and ugly.  Mostly, what Q recalled was that Bond was sickeningly skilled at giving himself stitches, although since it was in his arm he seemed grateful when Q offered his hesitant assistance.  Bond had also dug up a little ampule of what turned out to be a numbing solution, proving that he was indeed as well-equipped as a small medical facility.  Q had managed to be helpful without either gagging, fainting, or anything else that he’d have been embarrassed by later, but he’d still been undeniably upset by it all.

James had made it his personal mission to fix that.  

The man had a mouth that was sin and blessing combined.  Q wondered if all 00-agents were trained to kiss like that or if he’d just gotten lucky by getting attached to this one.  Even now, with his palm coming down to rest on the biceps muscle a hand’s-width beneath Bond’s wound, Q couldn’t help the shuddery little exhale at the memory.  Bond had done a very, very good job of combining a bad memory with a good one until Q was hard-pressed not to get a bit excited just at the memory.  His body was a bit too exhausted still for more fooling around, especially since there’d definitely been a lot of ‘fooling around’ in the shower, but Q felt like his hand was moving of its own accord as it left James’s arm to drift over his defined chest, the hard line of his clavicle, stopping with one finger touching Bond’s chin.  It only took a quick glance up to find blue eyes open and watching him as if they’d never been sleeping.  

“Find something you like?” Bond asked, voice low and sleep-rough like the drag of a cat’s tongue.  

Flushing for a moment before he realized that this was hardly embarrassing compared to what they’d gotten up to in the shower (and the fact that they were still quite naked), Q flashed another smile.  “Just checking your stitches,” he extemporized.  

Since Q still had the pad of one finger lingering on the stubbled angle of Bond’s chin, the half-lie was rather obvious, as 007’s raised eyebrow attested to.  The agent didn’t immediately call him on it, however, instead choosing to open his mouth and expertly catch Q’s fingertip between playful teeth.  Q sucked in a breath, his initial reflex being a coder’s instinct to keep his hands safe, but the spark of surprise faded into enjoyment as James remained gentle.  Just like everything else about James, he was capable of being very, very dangerous… but with Q, he chose not to be.  The spark of momentary adrenalin left Q feeling buzzed and flushed, and he shifted a little bit closer to Bond without thinking until their knees touched.  

Bond, of course, smirked around the finger he’d caught.

“You smug bastard,” Q accused, pulling his hand back but feeling a traitorous smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.  

Licking at the finger as it left, James continued to grin insufferably, and promptly slung an arm around Q’s shoulders while burrowing the other one under Q’s squirming body.  A bit of wrestling later and Q was under Bond’s weight, neck cradled atop Bond’s folded forearm with one hand playing in his hair.  

“What is it to be smug?” Bond asked, punctuating his philosophical tone with a downright wicked kiss to the back right corner of Q’s jaw, keeping far away from Q’s cut cheek.  Kissing on the mouth had been largely avoided thus far, thanks to Q’s split lip, but Bond was entirely capable of pulling Q’s strings regardless of where he applied his mouth - now, he applied teeth and tongue to the base of Q’s ear before sucking hard enough to make Q’s back arch and a little noise lodge itself in his throat.  This put his stomach flush to Bond’s, groins together, too, in a pleasant rush of more skin-on-skin contact than Q was used to.  

“I haven’t… That is…” Q had stumbled his way through an explanation back in the shower, trying to express how boring his life was in the sexual department, both before and after Paris.  

Instead of teasing him for his lack of sexual experience, James had stared at him with something like wonder and an increased, almost ravenous hunger in his eyes.  He’d very, very carefully kissed the undamaged side of Q’s mouth, then pulled back to say with every evidence of total sincerity, “It’s like everything that comes out of that mouth of yours makes you even more addictive.  You’re a marvel, Q.”

Bond was looking at Q with interest yet again now, as he settled into place over Q and left off sucking bruises onto his jawline.  He added on to his previous thought, “If smugness really just means being excessively self-satisfied, than I’m about as smug as I can get.”  

Unable not to laugh at just how shameless James could be, Q let the muscles of his neck go slack, eyes fluttering closed as he smiled and rocked his head back into Bond’s arms.  It indicated (he hoped) that he was still a bit too tired for a second round of sex, but that his bared neck was totally fair game.  The slow throb of his half-hard cock was like a pleasant harmony beneath what his sense of touch was telling him: lots of warm skin on his, one of Bond’s arms still crooked under his neck, the other sliding loose so that it could more easily card the still-damp tangle of Q’s hair.  “Well,” Q admitted, as Bond’s mouth added more sensation, applying itself more gently but no less vigorously to Q’s throat, “I suppose that I must be smug, too.”  He felt Bond’s forearm shift beneath his neck, muscles and tendons flexing against his nape, an unconscious expression of power.  Q hummed softly in appreciation of it all, feeling as if his mind was peacefully floating away on a cloud of sensation, everything wrapping around him and muffling logical thought.  In the shower, their arousal had peaked, musky and sharp and wild as a fox’s eyes.  Now…

“Are you falling asleep on me, Q?”

“Hm?”  The boffin’s eyes fluttered open, one leg sliding up on the bed so that his inner thigh rode up along 007’s hip.  The man had moved, and was still lying on top of him but was now propped up with his forearms alongside Q’s shoulders.  The amused, almost fond look on his face indicated that he’d been watching Q for a while now - just like Q had been watching him sleep.  Realizing that James might have been expecting more sex when they wrestled their way into this position, Q flushed with embarrassment and started to verbally trip his way through an apology, “Oh, I’m so sorry - I didn’t mean to-!”

“Relax, Q.”  007’s lazy command was accompanied by a soft kiss, again to the right side of his mouth.  Q wondered if he’d become a lopsided kisser at this rate.  Regardless, it relaxed him, and he took comfort in the way Bond moved so easily and familiarly against him - but without any urgency that he could find.  “I’ll take it as a compliment that you’re trusting me enough to fall asleep around me,” James continued, then made a brief face as he murmured, “despite our rather catastrophic introduction to each other.  I keep feeling like I should apologize for that.”

“Alec hinted to me that you’re not the apologetic type.”

“Oh, did he?” James said with wry amusement that didn’t bode well for Alec’s talkativeness later.  He let it go at that because they both remembered him saying as much himself, no hinting to it.  Muscular shoulders flexed in an easy shrug.  “You’re fun to apologize to,” he defended.  

Unsure what to do with that, Q breathed out a short laugh, looking at the little signs of mischief in Bond’s expression before shooting back in all fairness, “If you’re counting what we did in the shower as an apology for dragging me all over France, threatening to leave me in a freezer, handcuffing me, and drugging me-”  James’s face had gotten stiff and closed off during the harsh reminders, and Q could feel the steeliness radiating down every inch of him.  Therefore, Q took great pleasure in smiling gently and lifted a hand to stroke his fingertips across the larger man’s ribs, a ticklish gesture as he finished playfully, “-Then you ought to know that repeat performances will be required before we’re even.”

James held it together for all of ten seconds before laughter started escaping past his teeth.  Then he growled, “You smart-mouthed little minx!”  

So far as retributions went, Q thought that it could have gone worse than a whole necklace of love-bites that he’d have to hide later.  Needless to say, it was quite a bit longer before either of them thought to get out of bed, much less report in to MI6 as promised.  

~^~

That next day found them finally checking in, James and Q calling their respective handlers and communicating with their people - Q mostly reassuring his fellow minions that he was alive and well, Bond mostly reassuring M that he’d neither injured nor emotionally scarred the Quartermaster’s ‘favorite’ by dragging him home and sleeping with him.  Apparently as retribution for Bond stealing his car, Tanner had taken it upon himself to report various observations he’d made regarding 007 and Q’s closeness, and that combined with Bond’s sexually omnivorous and famously ravenous nature… well, conclusions had been drawn.  Largely correct ones.  The only thing wrong was that 007 did not deserve to be verbally berated, because Q was not only happily well-fucked by morning but also well-fed, tended to, and feeling safer and more at home than he’d felt since… about as long as he could remember.  He’d always felt safe, technically, but there was an added feeling of security now that he knew he had a protective 00-agent in his corner - who had put his last kidnapper in the intensive-care unit at the hospital.

Galvin Tucker would live, at least by the doctor’s reports.  R was already under arrest and the information leak had been contained.  All in all, it was like this whole mess had been swept under the rug - as if nothing had changed, even if everything had changed in Q’s world.  It was as if he’d pulled on special glasses and revealed a new reality, one in which he had a companion who happened to be a spy and who also happened to love being Q’s personal hot water bottle (among other things).  Dating in the workplace had always seemed like quite a terrible thing in Q’s book, but now he couldn’t find a bloody thing wrong with dating an MI6 spy.  Perhaps Boothroyd sensed some of this, or gleaned it from Q’s words and tone over the phone, because without even asking, Q was given a long weekend of leave.  

“If you get kidnapped this time, please make sure that it’s by the same agent who kidnapped you the first time,” the old man said, then promptly hung up, leaving Q gaping like a codfish and James shooting him a questioning look from where he was ordering takeaway across the room.  

Despite Bond being heavily told off for his actions, he was allowed to ‘keep’ Q and also given a bit of leeway himself - Q suspected that Boothroyd must have vouched for 007 for some reason, because Bond was given exactly the same amount of time off that Q was.  Therefore, day two of their unexpected leave was spent eating takeaway in Bond’s kitchen and revisiting memories of Paris, armed with new knowledge.  The whole experience was tenfold funnier that way, although whenever the narrative passed through moments when Q had been genuinely afraid (that first night sharing a bed, later when Bond had drugged him, again when Q’s booby-trapping had made him fear retribution from two men he didn’t know or trust) the joviality faltered and died.  Ultimately, of course, they agreed that this would all have gone a lot more smoothly if they hadn’t succeeded so well in being secretive.

Bond had also coaxed Q back into the living room with him, and had insisted on bundling the boffin up in his grip as they'd sat on the sofa.  Q took a midday nap that way, breath puffing against the hollow of Bond’s throat and legs tangled together, wiping away old memories of fear and distrust with the bone-solid reality of the arms locked securely but gently around him.  Over Q’s head, James pretended to watch an old Western on the telly, but his attention never swayed from the lithe figure stretched alongside and half over him, occasionally pressing his warm palm to Q’s sore shoulder (letting the heat seep in until Q sighed in his sleep) or ducking his head down to press lips into the dark tangle of his partner’s hair.  

James could count on one hand the number of people he was attached to, but now he had one more.  

~^~

The next day had a late start by dint of having a late night.  Q was an insomniac and Bond was nocturnal - it made for quite a night between the sheets, and also a delightful bout of laziness the next morning.  Already Q’s various injuries were fading, and as noon approached and finally woke them, Q leaned over on Bond’s broad chest to initiate the true, mouth-to-mouth kiss that he’d been wanting ever since his last one had ended so abruptly.  By the way James groaned into the kiss, he was equally eager, sounding like a man bereft of water getting a taste of it for the first time in a long, long while.  For all of their combined eagerness, it was a gentle kiss, Q relaxing onto James’s chest and changing the tilt of his head when James’s hand nudged his chin; in return, James kissed carefully, aware that mouth wounds healed quickly but also that they stung if reopened.  They mapped each other’s mouths with intent and patient care before finally admitting that they needed to either get up or starve.  

“Damn,” James muttered as he looked through his stores of food.  His tone indicated more resignation than anger, and he closed the refrigerator and straightened while Q did the same with a bare cupboard.  “I suppose I can provide a breakfast of leftover Thai, but only at the expense of feeling like a terrible host.  Usually I’m barely home long enough to catch up on my sleep between missions, so my supplies suffer.”  He picked up a can of soup that also didn’t look particularly appealing.  

“Well, we could always go out to eat,” Q offered slowly.

James made a face not unlike the preemptive snarl of a dog when someone reached for his bone.  He said simply and succinctly, “I dislike sharing you.”

Q immediately felt his cheekbones pink, but couldn’t help the smile that leapt onto his face.  He’d been hoping that James would say that.  “Well, in that case, you could go out and buy groceries.  I actually have been wanting a few spare minutes to check in on my own flat and pick a few things up - at least a toothbrush or something.”

“Why, Q, it sounds like you’re moving into my place,” James observed with such evident pleasure that the knot of anxiety immediately loosened in Q’s chest.  The boffin wasn’t exactly sure what they were to each other - he was sure they were something, but since he didn’t know if 00-agents had boyfriends or girlfriends in the traditional sense, he hadn’t found a title for what that ‘something’ was.  Apparently, it was the kind of something that allowed extended stays at Bond’s flat and small migrations of Q’s personal items into James’s space.  Before Q could think of a clever comeback, James tossed the Thai into the microwave and went on, “How about a compromise: I’ll feed you a sub-par breakfast to make sure you don’t starve-”

Leaning a hip against the counter, Q folded his arms and retorted drily, “I’m hardly a pet goldfish that will go belly-up if not properly tended to.”

“Fine then,” James changed tactics without a hitch, watching the takeaway rotate slowly on the turntable, “So that I don’t starve-”

“Like a bloody big goldfish,” Q couldn’t help but needle, starting to grin again.

James finally turned and looked at him then, directing a finger at him like the muzzle of a gun.  “Watch it.  You’ve got a smart mouth that I’d just love to shut up, but I think that that would only serve to make us miss breakfast and dinner.”  James’s eyes grew thoughtful but also a helluva lot more wicked as he turned his back on the microwave completely to lean against the counter, facing Q with a considering look.  Something about the way he settled his body and rested his hands behind him on the counter in a lazy pose drew Q’s eyes unconsciously towards his crotch at about the same time that James purred, “Of course, if you didn’t have a split lip, I could feed you something else, but I suppose I can’t get my every wish.”

Unconsciously lifting a hand to his healing mouth, Q had a temporary break from sanity and wondered if he maybe was up for a bit of deepthroating,  before he recalled that even kissing had got a bit uncomfortable at the end - and as for oral sex, he was out of practice.  Flushing in earnest this time, Q finally managed to drag his eyes up to James’s face, which was wearing a look that said, ‘I’m the fox that’s about to eat the entire henhouse.’  Mimicking Bond’s stern finger-pointing, Q ordered in a voice that was only a little hoarse from the way his mouth had gone dry, “You: groceries.  I’m going to mine to get whatever I bloody well please.”

“And to have a cold shower?” James guessed with more of that evilly vulpine grin.

There was no point in arguing: “And to have a cold shower.”

~^~

The memory of the look on Q’s face when he was teased would be a memory that James would carry with him for a long, long time.  Or at least until he could yank Q’s chain again and win another such look, which he was already more addicted to than he’d admit.  There were an awful lot of things about Q that were as addictive as heroin, and perhaps he could blame Q’s particular brand of high for the moment of distraction that caused James - hands full of groceries - to drop his phone.  Even double-oh reflexes weren’t enough, not when Bond was embarrassingly occupied by other things that he could say (and do) to turn Q’s ears (and other body parts) pink, and the mobile took a dive from his trouser-pocket to the pavement.  The groceries were saved, but by the time James had juggled the majority of them into one hand and the others on his arm to free up a hand, it was already pretty obvious that yet another piece of tech had suffered at his hands.  “Dammit,” he muttered, seeing the cracked screen.  

To be fair, considering how little James used his mobile, it was hardly much of a loss.

Or, at least, he thought that until he got walking again and the damaged device buzzed and lit up with a text.  Apparently the phone wasn’t entirely broken, because a message from Alec came up immediately, and James read between the spiderwebbed cracks: ~I just got back in town.  Sorry I have been out of touch.  Let me get a good night’s sleep and I’ll help you look for Q tomorrow.~

Realizing suddenly that he’d been so tangled up in Q that he hadn’t even thought to text his best mate, James fumbled with the groceries again, finally stopping at a bus-stop bench and putting the bags down so that he could text back.  James felt a little bit better when he recalled that Alec had been gone on a mission, and when he said ‘out of touch’ he meant ‘deep-cover’ - so it wouldn’t have been possible to reach him anyway with news that Q had indeed been found… and closer to home than expected.  

After a few pokes of his fingertip, however, James realized that the world was determined to foil him today.  “Fuck,” he growled able to see texts easily enough, but unable to respond in any way - the broken screen refused to listen to the taps of his fingers, and since the device was a new one without a separate keypad, he was shit-out-of-luck.  

Bond was still trying ineffectually to get his phone to do something when he suddenly received another text, still from Alec but decidedly more interesting: ~I may be hallucinating from lack of sleep, but I swear I just saw Q at the shops.  I’ll try to get a closer look.~

Unsure whether to laugh or go back to swearing, Bond punched harder at his screen until he just about jarred one of the pieces loose.  Muttering imprecations under his breath, James sagged back and gave up on the fact that he had no way to fill Alec in, and this was an impending storm of chaos that he had no hope of halting.  

Another text.  Alec informed Bond: ~I’m pretty sure that it is Q that I’m following, but I have some bad news for you.  I think he has a boyfriend.  He just bought two bottles of lube and the largest box of condoms the place carries.  I know you had a crush on him, but apparently he had a life (and love) to return to.~

Reading, Bond felt his frustration and trepidation falter, instead becoming a ludicrous sort of humor that forced a shocked bubble of laughter up his throat.  He read the text again, laughing more loudly this time, and also muttered, “Just going home to get your toothbrush and a shower, eh, Q?”  Filing away Q’s ability to surprise him for later (just when he thought he had the boffin figured out, he did something new), James sat back and patiently waited for more texts.  Because there would be more, he was sure of it.

Bond was not disappointed.  

Alec’s tone was very nearly audible through the typed characters: ~What the hell?  Maybe-Q just got a ride from Tanner.  How does he know Tanner?  Was Q Tanner’s boytoy all along?  Or was he an agent?  He didn’t act like an agent.  But I wouldn’t have thought that he would be Tanner’s lover, either.  I really hope I am hallucinating.~

By this point, James was folded in half laughing over his phone, and he didn’t care that people were no doubt staring.  He had a brief recollection of Tanner saying that he wanted to speak to Q about the kidnapping at the convention, but that conversation had been buried behind M’s berations, and James had forgotten to pass on the message.  Apparently Tanner and Q had met up for a quick chat.  The circumstances of that meetup, combined with Alec’s wild speculations, had James laughing so hard his chest was aching.

Alec: ~I’m going to the off-license shop to buy the biggest bottle of single-malt scotch and I’ll be by your place so we can drown our sorrows and sleep our pain away.~

Bond wheezed in a breath and dragged his hand over his eyes, which were tearing up so much that he feared he wouldn’t be able to see the texts before much longer if he didn’t wipe the wetness away.  Oh, how he wished he could text back - if only to say that he’d take that single-malt scotch, but perhaps Alec would need something even stronger when they sat down to explain all of this.  

It was inevitable that, about ten minutes later (Bond having hailed a cab and loaded himself and his groceries into it), Alec texted again - having figured things out.  In all honesty, James was a little surprised that 006 hadn’t kidnapped Q on sight, if only because the boffin was eminently kidnap-able and to make sure he didn’t disappear before Alec could hand him over to James.  It was worth admitting that James had been an absolute scourge without Q, so Alec would do that for him - acquire Quinlen Fluke at the first opportunity.  Instead, the text explained how things had gone: ~Oh my god!  I hate you so much.  I let myself into your place and who was there, in your bedroom?  Q….with the lube and condoms.  I’m only surprised he wasn’t naked.  I hate you BOTH so much.  He explained everything to me.  At least I think he did, but my brain wasn’t working.  You two are together and he was MI6 the whole time?  And he got kidnapped again???  I hate my life.~  While Bond muffled renewed chuckles against the back of his hand and sent silent apologies to his friend, another text came that had James’s laughter escaping without warning: ~Where is my adorable, MI-6 cleared, useful genius?  Don’t I deserve one, too?~

The taxi driver was looking at James with a mixture of curiosity and wariness by the time the laughing 00-agent exited the vehicle and paid him.  He wondered if he should really return to his flat so soon or if he should give Alec time to cool off - but apparently that had been decided for him: ~I can’t decide whether to go looking for love at the bar or in Q-branch…and that’s NOT a sentence I thought I would be saying.  Q took away my bottle of scotch and thanked me for my thoughtfulness in providing it, then shoved me out the door and told me not to come back until he gave me the all-clear.  I hate you both so much.  I think I’m just going to look for sex tonight and save looking for love until my brain is clearer.  Besides I need a bed somewhere to sleep tonight because I think your couch might be too noisy.  I hate you both.~

Shaking his head and marveling at how his life had gotten to this point - this insane, hilarious, glorious point - James finally fumbled his phone into one of the grocery bags and began to make his way up to his flat.  He’d have to see Alec later and make things up to him, because he really hadn’t meant for the man to be left in the dark.  Circumstances had worked against them, however, and now James resigned himself to his fate of smoothing down Alec’s understandably ruffled feathers.  The repeated ‘I hate you’s were mostly bluster, if James knew Alec, but he’d be well within his rights to lob a tumbler at James’s head.  Still, James couldn’t help the smile from spreading across his face, because Alec’s texts had also served another purpose.

Q’s attempts to catch Bond off his guard were going to backfire.

Spectacularly.

~^~

After postponing their meal yet again for purposes that would doubtlessly have Bond’s neighbors complaining of the explicit noises, and after finally managing to put together a home-cooked meal between seeking touches and stolen kisses, after Q flopped onto the couch for an after-meal nap (daring Bond to interrupt it), Bond finally looked at his phone again.  This time, he saw that it held a voicemail from Alec instead of a text.  

Postponing his plans of joining Q in his boneless sprawl, James stepped out of the room on soundless feet and tried again to make his phone see reason.  “Yes!” he cheered briefly and quietly under his breath when a miracle happened, and the tapping of his fingertips on the screen elicited enough of a response that the voicemail started playing.  There was some noise of a crowd in the background, but it didn’t do anything to muffle the sincere and heartfelt tone of Alec’s voice, which made Bond stand still and listen with a soft smile: “I’m not putting this in writing, but I am very happy for both of you. Don’t fuck it up.  Treat him well and protect him with everything you’ve got.”  Alec’s tone changed into something more boisterous and familiar, as if he’d run out of forthrightness for the moment, and the message went on more threateningly “If you don’t find a way to deserve him, I’ll be waiting to take him away from you, because that boffin is a rare treasure.  I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted one.”  Bond couldn’t help but laugh, but listened to the last, as Alec finished with a careful mix of cheeky and fond, “Give the boffin my best…before you give him your best.”

Those were orders that 007 could happily follow.  He put his phone down on the bed with a mental promise to find another one to call 006 with at the soonest opportunity, then padded back to where he’d left Q back in his living room.  

~^~

Three Years Later

~^~

Bond was sitting in the Museum of National Art, feeling a little worse for wear but not quite as dead as he’d felt when Moneypenny had shot him off that bridge.  When James rubbed at his shoulder, Alec - sitting a space away from him on the bench - leaned over and murmured, “Have you considered becoming left-handed?”

Grumpily, James muttered back without looking over, eyes on ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ in front of him, with its strokes of oil-paint and aged color, “I can clock you just as well with either hand, just remember that.”

Alec’s eyes crinkled in a way that said he was about to push his luck when both of them picked up footsteps coming up behind them - familiar footsteps, to match a familiar voice, “Always makes me feel a little melancholy. A grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away for scrap.”  Q, dressed in a way that either befitted a mad history professor or the new Quartermaster of MI6, slipped lightly over the bench and settled down to sit between them, as bravely and cheerily as a sparrow perching between two falcons.  Hazel eyes blinked alertly at both of them from behind his thick spectacles, and he finished with a faint quirk of his lips, “The inevitability of time, don’t you think?”  He fixated on James, the smile attempting to run away on him.  “What do you see?”

James stared for a moment more at the painting, realizing that his annoyance (over coming back from the dead and having to be recertified) couldn’t last even seconds when in the company of MI6’s youngest Quartermaster.  Still, he managed to keep a straight face and reply in his best foreboding tone, “A bloody big ship.”

It took a few moments, but Alec cracked first, startling the genteel crowd at the museum with his bark of laughter.  Q’s chuckles that followed were like music, and James finally dropped the act to flash a slantwise smile, glancing playfully at the man who still managed to surprise him - both in bed and out of it.  

Q elbowed him lightly and retorted with a dryly ironic tone that he’d perfected to an art by the time of his most recent promotion, bestowed upon him the day that old Boothroyd retired, “If I’d known you were such a connoisseur of art, I’d have taken you here earlier.”

“If we’d known about your most recent promotion, we’d have taken you out for a pub crawl earlier,” Alec opined, bumping shoulders with Q from the other side.  The green-eyed agent affected an offended look.  “I thought we three were over this secret–keeping business, but then you don’t even tell us that you’re the lord of the minions now?”

“May I remind you, this is the secret business,” Q archly replied, but that impish little smile was sneaking out onto his expressive face again, insuppressible, full of happiness and pride.  James knew the feeling; he’d figured out that Q had become his Quartermaster last night, but had waited until this morning to tell Alec and wait to see Q and hear the news in person.  “Speaking of ‘the secret business’,” Q returned to the matter at hand, spine straightening and demeanor shifting subtly but skillfully, like a chameleon changing colors, suddenly their professional Quartermaster instead of Alec’s friend and Bond’s lover, “It seems that a trigger needs to be pulled.  In fact, considering recent events, it’s long overdue.”  Q produced an envelope and flourished it.  “Tickets to Shanghai - if the two of you are up for it?”

James and Alec exchanged looks, smiled like the pair of wolves they were, then turned to look at Q, who was waiting with a smile of his own.  

“More than ready.”