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Q builds his life around potential. The ability to look at what is and picture what can be earns him his position at MI6, and later a promotion to quartermaster. Of course, along the way he has the occasional brush with the wrong side of potential. Hard not to when strong guides seem to be in short supply. He's cautious about contact with the sentinels who ping on his radar and makes sure to never allow the potential develop into something more. It's the one area in his life where he's perfectly alright with being subpar.

And it works, right up until he walks into a museum and sits down beside 007.

It all goes to hell then, as so many things involving James Bond do, but Q doesn't even know by how much until he's wrist-deep in MI6's security systems, trying to come up with a temporary patch to fix what Silva's done. There's been a low buzz in the back of his head since Bond left, but he hasn't paid it any attention. He's too busy trying to fix what he can on short notice, and the rest of MI6 is in a tizzy, and Bond's still missing, and really Q does not have the time to deal with the buzzing just now.

Perhaps that's why the explosion of grief and anger takes him by surprise. It slices straight through his shields as though they're rudimentary, slamming into him with all the force of a car. Q's knees buckle and he goes straight down, hitting his head on the side of the console.

"Q!" R says in alarm, stopping her frantic typing to rush over to him. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Q says through gritted teeth, overwhelmed, struggling to breathe through the agony. It's not his, he knows that much.

"Q -"

An alarm starts blaring. One of Q's minions yelps over in the corner. "Oh my god! They know where Bond is! Major explosions in Scotland!"

Bond. Bloody hell. As the rest of Q-branch launches into a flurry of excited murmurs, Q tries to gather himself. He has trouble getting his legs under him, so R grips his arm and literally pulls him up, steadying him with an arm around the waist. She leans him back against the console and gently touches the side of his head. He thinks the touch stings, but it's hard to tell under the weight of these crushing feelings.

"I have to go to Scotland," he says.

"You're crying," says R at the same time, and he turns to look at her. She brushes a tear from his cheek and holds her fingers up as proof. Q blinks at the sight of the wetness on her fingertips, causing more tears to fall.

"Scotland," he says again.

"To Bond?"

"I think - oh hell - I think we've bonded."

R looks staggered. "You and Bond? I didn't know you were that close!"

"We're not. We've only spoken a handful of times." But sometimes, if a sentinel and a guide fit just right, that's all at it takes. Bond is an exceptionally strong sentinel - all the 00s are - and that means that all of MI6 will soon know exactly how strong a guide Q is. Damn it.

He puts a hand to his head, still trying to breathe. "Tell them to hold a plane, R."

Giving him a concerned look, R obeys. Q staggers to the door and makes it out into the hall. The dampness on his face tells him he's still crying, but he's far more concerned with Bond. If this is just overspill, then Bond must be halfway mad with grief. And considering the events of the past few weeks - the past few years, really, given what Q's read in Bond's file - that's a perfect storm for a zone that Bond will never come out of. He has no idea what could cause James Bond this much pain. Q's almost afraid to find out.

Moneypenny meets him at the lower entrance, wearing a heavy coat over her gun and a concerned expression. Tanner's with her, and Mallory, and a bunch of other agents Q doesn't recognize firsthand. He ignores the lot of them and stalks over to a car with as much dignity as he can muster when he hasn't slept in four days, has been wearing the same jumper for three, and can't stop crying.

The drive to the airport is both quick and silent, which Q appreciates. Now would normally be the time where he'd be freaking out at the prospect of getting on an airplane, but his mind is too preoccupied with trying to soothe Bond from a distance. It's hard. Their bond is faint, barely there, and he has to struggle to reach out across the distance. There's just no room for panic, not when he's so deep inside himself that Moneypenny has to guide him onto the plane and fasten his seatbelt for him.

Fortunately, either everyone knows what's happening or they recognize that this isn't the time for chatter. Q opens himself up as much as he can, trembling as Bond's sorrow sinks deep into his bones. Bond doesn't even seem to realize he's there; he's too caught up in whatever is happening. Because the grief is still there, yes, but it's being devoured by emptiness as Bond gets overwhelmed and starts shutting down. He's slipping into a zone, and Q wills the bloody plane to move a little faster.

Just as the wheels touch down on grass, a harsh landing that jolts everyone around, Q feels a rush of fury. He stands up blindly and half-falls from the plane, running towards a church. As soon as he gets in the doors, he spots Bond kneeling in the middle of the aisle. Paramedics are loosely gathered around him. Three of them have a body - M's body, Q realizes with a fresh jolt of shock, recognizing her hair and face and clothing, even if all of the above is stained with fresh blood. There's no sense of urgency amongst them, and Q knows now what is causing Bond's breakdown.

Because for a moment, Bond straightens up as though he might attack them. Then he suddenly slumps, and Q's body moves of its own accord. Before the paramedics can be so foolish as to reach out and touch Bond, he's dropping to his knees in front of his sentinel. He cups Bond's face and looks into the glazed blue eyes. They're so blank, with no emotion whatsoever, pupils shrunk to the size of tiny pinpricks.

"Bond," Q says, desperate, and then softer, "James. James, I'm here. Please don't do this." He spreads his fingers, touching as much of Bond's cold, wet skin as he can. "I'm here, my darling. I'm sorry it took me so long."

Bond doesn't react to the touch or to his voice. Q moves on instinct, pulling him closer, tucking Bond's nose into the hollow of his throat. He's freezing, and Q can't help the shiver even as - for the first time in his life - he drops all of his shields. He lets them go, leaving him wholly exposed to the world, and the amount of heightened emotion that slams into him actually hurts in a physical way. He whimpers, and Bond stiffens against him.

The too-strong hands that clamp onto his upper arms aren't unexpected. Bond heaves himself up, unfocused eyes on Q's face, and Q tries to smile. Everyone around them tenses, though no one moves to intervene - yet. Q keeps his body loose, position open and inviting, and sends feelings of comfort across their bond as best he can. The sentinel just blinks slowly, top lip curled back just enough to show a hint of teeth. He thinks Q might be a threat, but not enough to attack.

"You know me," Q says, because Bond needs his voice, too. Bond needs everything, and Q is afraid to find out what will be left of him in the end, but at the same time he thinks that what he'll get from Bond will be worth it. "I'm a guide. Your guide."

"Mine?" Bond asks, the first word he's spoken since Q arrived. Probably since M collapsed.

"Yours," Q confirms, biting his lip as Bond's grip tightens to the point where he knows he'll find bruises later. The second the awareness of pain slips across their bond, Bond's grip immediately eases. Q can smile then, lashes heavy with tears.

"Mine," Bond says again, a little more sure this time.

"Yes." Q tips his head up, unashamedly bearing his throat, as he starts to rebuild his shields. This time, he draws from Bond to make them stronger and centred uniquely to them.

It will bond them forever, this act of shielding, even if they didn't go through with the rest, and yet Q doesn't think that there could be any other way. This will be an extra bit of protection for Bond, an anchor for his elevated senses, to keep him from falling into a zone. He just hopes it's not too late. He closes his eyes, breathing out shakily when Bond shifts closer to him. Instinct and nothing more; the sentinel knows what it needs even when Bond is too far gone to know what's going on. He slips his fingers into Bond's saturated hair and holds on.

"You are fine, Darling, I'm here and we are safe. You've protected your territory, my powerful sentinel, and I'm sorry for not being there when you needed me. But I need you now," Q murmurs, words meant for Bond alone, and presses a sightless kiss to Bond's temple. He can feel Bond starting to shiver as he warms up, which is a good sign.

They need privacy and quiet and time so that they can learn each other. Q needs to open their bond fully and invite their spirit animals out, and Bond needs to imprint on him.

It takes effort to open his eyes, but Q manages. He's surprised to find Moneypenny standing guard, arms crossed over her chest, staring down the group of paramedics. Her back is to Q and Bond, but she still says, in a tone that implies great stupidity, "They wanted to touch the two of you."

"Perhaps you should have let them," Q says carelessly, cradling his sentinel closer. It would be the last thing Bond needs right now, and MI6 hardly needs the work of hiring new medical staff because a sentinel's gone and killed these ones, but Q has no pity for those stupid enough to try and interfere with a bonding.

Moneypenny's smile, when she looks over her shoulder, is grim. "I've got a car ready to take you two to a nearby hotel. Do you need help?"

"No," Q says, not wanting anyone to touch Bond, and somehow makes it to his feet. It's difficult to walk when they're so intertwined, but Bond's hands on his hips and lower back have taken on a possessive edge that's promising. Q coaxes him along with whispered praise, letting the sound of his voice deafen the rest of the world, wanting Bond to listen only to him.

As promised, there's a car waiting right outside the church. Bond sits and pulls Q into his lap, his tongue flicking out to taste Q's skin. Q twitches at the sensation, a shiver that runs all the way down into his core. He hopes, somewhat distantly, that the hotel room Moneypenny's got for them will be fully stocked. He and Bond will be spending the next several days sequestered so that the bond can fully form. They won't be able to part for weeks yet, and that's not even taking into account the grieving Bond will go through when he's back to himself.

"We can do this." Q breathes into Bond's hair, trying to convince himself as much as his sentinel, and feels Bond's fingers skate up his back in acknowledgement. Out of the corner of his eye, on the seat beside them, Q catches a glimpse of a blond wolf. The sight startles him until he spots the black bunny, around which the wolf is curled. Prey and predator look back at him placidly, perfectly content, and Q has to wonder, with a hint of hysteria, if they've been like that since day one.