That's 007? Of course, he's seen photographs, and video footage that made his ribs ache in sympathy or that one thing that made him want to wear gloves for a month, and he's heard enough around what shouldn't actually be such a gossipy office, all things considered, to know precisely who and what 007 is, and what he should expect. He hadn't been expecting this squat troll, face like a saggy old boot, stubbled and tired, broad as he is short and looking like he's been hit directly in the broken nose by the ugly stick one too many times. Come to think of it, he looks more like he's been run over by the big fucking ugly bus, the one that's reversed back and forth over him a few times to finish off the job.
So this is what a literal ladykiller looks like. He's not that far off one of those blood-chilling dolls that Q's sister had massed ranks of on her tallboy, the ones she'd cut all the hair off, leaving behind blank eyes and scalps full of scraggy blond tufts. The ears are unfortunate, as is the mouth which is making a pouty, floppy moue of dissatisfaction, a bit like those one sees on American women who have had too much plastic surgery. One that reminds Q he should get moving if he wants to maintain his carefully-upheld reputation for punctuality.
He maintains it carefully because he must, because he's not an organised person by nature and these things don't come as easily as they should. He straightens his shoulders, wonders again briefly if he should take the parka off before deciding again that, no, the parka's infinitely better than his horrible suit and of course it had to be this morning that he drops his toast all over his favourite cardigan and now he's meeting 00-bloody-7 dressed like the work experience boy at a small branch of a local bank . . . and he breathes in and out and walks over to sit next to a man who looks more blunt object than skilled lethality, and Q knows before he even opens his mouth that whatever he says is going to be horrible and smart-arsey and something he'll mentally flog himself over later.
“It always makes me feel a little melancholy.” Oh, God. He's decided on the painting like he's some dreadful hairy-nosed art teacher, and it's going to be painful, he can already tell, and he can't stop. “Grand old warship, being ignominiously hauled away for scrap. The inevitability of time, don't you think?”
That's right, rub your smart-arse fucking goitness into the serial killer's face. Marvellous idea. It's always surprised Q that he didn't get beaten up more at school, because he'd have kicked the crap out of himself had he been more able. But mind back on the job, Mr. Quartermeister. Engage with the psychopath.
“What do you see?”
“A bloody big ship. Excuse me.”
Bugger, he's blown it. 007's leaving. Q plays it remarkably cool, though, his voice not quite hitting the nervous pitch he fears when he next speaks, worried that he'll have to tag along at 007's heels until he gets the chance to make contact again.
“007?” The little bench shifts under the weight of 007's lead-dense bulk as he notes Q's query and sits back down with a sigh. “I'm your new quartermaster.”
“You must be joking.”
Afterwards, back at home at night over a microwaved M&S korma and half a packet of semi-stale bourbons that he dunks in, one by one, it's the pyjamas comment that Q ends up flogging himself over most. Who else would meet up with one of the world's most dangerous men and choose to illustrate that meeting with a little description of themselves cosily attired in their jim-jams? But Q manages it, because he's so hugely fucking talented when it comes to being the world's most enormous knob-end.
“May I help you, 007?”
Q pointedly lifts the tablet out of those stubby, rough-looking fingers and replaces it in its dock as 007 does that squinty thing at him, mouth so pursed its almost disappearing into itself. Then Q pulls up his department's data-stream to have a look at how long it took a cro-magnon like Bond to break the lock on his office door, because the lock's programed to continuously renew itself and should be as near as uncrackable. Theoretically speaking.
“Just wondering if my exploding pen's ready yet.”
Q feels himself relax as he rewinds through the footage of 007 disabling the door with a biro and a hefty shoulder rather than with a working knowledge of the tricky little script Q's got running on all his more important locks. “Not quite. There have been a few small hiccups retro-fitting the mine launcher. Put it down, please.”
“I need a new phone.” 007 tosses what looks like an obsolete iPhone 3G, but what is actually a piece of technology worth five times the tailored suit that Bond's wearing, back into the small pile of tech that's been building up on Q's workbench. “You could fit the mine launcher into that.”
“But where would we put the flame thrower?”
“Do you honestly need me to tell you where you can stuff your flame thrower, Q?”
There's that smirk again, the one that makes it quite clear that 007 is a big, bored tom cat and that Q's a mouse who has been rolled up into a ball, currently being batted back and forth, paw to paw, for the lack of something better to do. Then Bond folds his arms across his chest and leans back, half-sitting half-standing against the work bench as he watches Q complete a maintenance request for the lock on his office door, and Q's aware now that he doesn't need to look at what he's typing but that he's going to anyway because that's very much better than paying attention to how 007 is watching every single thing he does, without blinking.
“Don't you have anything or anyone to go bludgeon?”
“Not at this precise moment. Why? ” Q looks up at that, then wishes he hadn't as the squint's lessened and the ball-shrivelling glacial blue of Bond's eyes is blazing out of it at him. “Are you offering to assist?”
“Oh, yes, of course I am, because that would be the best use of my skills and I have absolutely nothing better to do. After all, it's not as if a psychotic cyber-terrorist bent on revenge made a recent mockery of my predecessor's safety systems . . .”
Or the improvements I thought I'd made. Fucking cunting Silva arsebag. Q's thoughts slowly skid to a halt as he becomes aware of a silence stretching on, and steels himself to look up again, Bond observing him in the same manner as before, steady and snake-like. The eyes themselves are as swagged with lines and bags as dusty velvet curtains in an Edwardian hotel, bruises long faded to a pale yellow that almost matches 007's greying blond hair. It's as if Bond could sit there and watch him all day like this, unmoving and solid as a statue, and Q starts to feel itchy all over and like his tie's too tight.
“Um. Well. If you've finished breaking and entering, and there's nothing else one of the minor techs can't sort out for you that you couldn't manage yourself by popping 'round the corner and into the nearest Carphone Warehouse, I really must get on . . .”
“There is one thing, while I'm here.”
The silk-mohair of Bond's suit bunches around his fist as he searches in one of his pockets for something, fishing it out and thrusting himself off away from the workbench as he drops it into Q's outstretched hand. It's a . . . oh, Christ. It's a tooth with fleshy, sticky, gummy stuff still attached to it, lightly dusted with a scattering of pocket fluff. Q's skin starts to crawl as he tries not to look too disgusted, dropping the tooth onto his desk and wondering how long he'll need to boil his hand to get the feel of the weight of it off.
“Thank you, but you really shouldn't have.”
“You don't recognise your own department's work? Granted, it's a few years old, so it was probably implanted right around the time you were potty training.”
Q ignores 007's verbal jab because Christ knows he hasn't the time to take offense at each and every spotty teenager joke, and he pokes at the tooth with the end of his pen, the smooth round capsule fashioned out of stained dental compound coming into view as he does so. “Oh.” Then he realises that this is Bond's tooth, and why it's been handed to him. “Ah. Right. Been to the dentist, I see.”
Bond huffs derisively, as if it's at all important Q understands that Bond's far too tough for novocaine. “If you can call two fingers of scotch and a mole grip dentistry, then yes. Make me something that'll complete the job when I need it to. You understand?”
He does understand. Not just the antsy feeling of horror he'd had, watching as Silva's face had caved in on taking the plate out of his mouth, but how it hits Q again that this was on his job, his watch, and he missed it. Not a single one of them had figured out what it meant to those they were working to support, nor had they seen that this was old tech needing the touch of the new as much as anything else in this dreary mausoleum. It must've been sticking in 007, a thorn in his side, a niggle that wouldn't go away until he'd bodily ripped it out.
There's not much Q can do except stare at the tooth and curse himself for not having preempted this so he'd have been able to rather smugly direct 007 downstairs to get a newer, far more lethal implant fitted. He nods mutely in silent apology instead, then waits to see if the lock on the door will click back into place as 007 leaves. Only once it does, does Q realise that Bond said 'when I need it', rather than 'if.'
“Do I have to? It tastes like lavatory cleaner.”
“Yes, you do. There's no way I'll be able to finish it off then be able to outrun M in the morning when he's chasing me round the desk.”
“We don't have to finish off the entire jug, and he does no such thing.”
“No, he doesn't.” Moneypenny's eyes are vague as she looks off into the middle distance, already pissed. “Not so far, anyway. I suppose it gives me time to figure out if I'm going to let him catch me or not.”
“Really?” She nods. “Him?” Another nod as she tops up Q's glass with something that was supposed to be margaritas but manages to be far worse. Q half-expects the table to start smoking where it's spilled. “Can't see it myself. Isn't he married?”
“Oh, fuck me, you actually are a virgin, aren't you?” She ruffles his hair until he smacks her fingers away, finger-combing it back off his glasses. “I can almost see it, that stiff upper lip melting away, buttons loosened, cufflinks popping. I bet there's a real tiger lurking underneath all those pinstripes.”
“I'll have to take your word for it.” He tries to finish his drink in one gulp but it's utterly rank, and he has to give up with a grimace. “I can't. Sorry, Moneypants, I've tried but it's vile. I'm off.”
“Don't go. Please? It's so quiet when you're not here. Sodding London.”
She's actually clinging to his leg, turning beseeching eyes up into his, and Q slumps back down onto the floor beside her again, dropping the parka he'd snagged off the back of the room's one armchair. “It's because this place is far too nice for the likes of you. You should get somewhere by mine. Trust me, it's wall to wall knife fights, prozzies and traffic.”
“That sounds perfectly lovely.”
Her head's resting on his shoulder, and Q knows he should probably work his arm around hers for a quick hug or something because she's lonely, and sad, and probably as single-mindedly fucked in the head as any of the other ex-field agents he's met so far. But instead he passively lets her rest there while he picks up his margarita and tries to take an interest in the soap operary thing she's watching.
“Just out of curiosity . . . Are you a virgin, Quenty?”
“Hardly, not that there'd be anything wrong with it if I were. And, please, enough with the Quentin.”
“It suits you. It's that or Qbert.” She drains her glass then takes his from him to start on that, slumping down deeper against him with a hiccup. It's been nearly a month since Mawdsley died and half of SIS has been wrapped in a melancholy alcoholic fug since. “You don't fancy a bit, do you?”
“A bit of what?”
“Of a fuck.”
He hopes that he doesn't sound quite as horrified as he feels. “With you? What, now?”
She shrugs, her thin shoulders lifting against his ribs. “There's bugger all on telly.”
“Oh. If you don't mind, not really, ta very much.”
“Didn't think so. Do you like girls?”
Q feels a flicker of uneasiness, unsure of how honest he should be with her. They're slowly becoming closer, and it's not that being a flaming woofter should be that much of a handicap inside SIS because, so far as he's been able to find out, it was practically considered essential during the early days of the Cold War. But he's never been much good at declaring things from the rooftops or taking part in parades, and it's tough enough being the service's youngest Branch Q department head without everyone imagining him dropping trou and bending over every time anything with muscles enters the arena.
“Trust me, I must be terminally uninterested if I'm not jumping all over one as gorgeous as you.”
“Aw, you're sweet.” She squeezes his knee, then tucks into him closer. “I'm so fucking bored, though.”
He'd take that as an insult from anyone else. “They say it's difficult, coming out of the field and back into what the rest of us might call reality.”
“They do, do they?” Even half cut, her eyes are shrewd and see almost all the way through him as she sits up and gives him a sour look as he takes the glass off her for another drink. “They say that?”
“You know what I mean and, honestly, I don't know what you've put in these but they're quite revolting.”
“I know, but it's doing the job and that's all that's necessary.”
Q's fairly certain that he's probably one of the finest logical minds of his generation, but he's not sure what they're talking about any more. A warm wave of tequila is breaking over him, his glasses sliding down his nose where he's starting to perspire. “Tell me something. Is that all that matters these days? Getting the job done?”
“I know, you're a craftsman, I've been through this lecture three times already this week alone.”
“That's not what I'm saying.”
Q pulls his glasses off where they're sliding down again and pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to force his sluggish brain into action before shoving his glasses back into place. It's as if her apathy, the drunk and depressed apathy of all of them, is contagious. It's not like he knew the old M well or at all, really, beyond a few comments made in such withering tones that he'd wanted to hide under his desk, but he's been pulled into mourning her along with everyone else. He's never understood why people are so afraid of dying and death. As a child he'd known that when you're dead, you're dead, so where was the use of feeling sorry for someone once they'd gone? He'd explained it patiently to his mother after his grandmother had died, because he'd thought it would help her to feel better, but she'd looked at him like he was some kind of monster.
“But it's late.” He checks his wristwatch then groans. “Christ, later than I thought. I really must fuck off.”
She lets him pull her up then hugs into him quickly, stronger than he is, though not quite as tall now she's out of her heels. “I suppose I'll let you go, if you must. Will you be alright getting home, my boychick, most boffinist of boffins? I can call you a cab . . .”
“The telephone? How primitive. There's no need, I promise. You forget I work with dangerous types who know how to shoot people.” He kisses her on her cheek but she swings her head around and catches him on the corner of his mouth with hers, wiping the smudged remains of her lipstick off him with her thumb. “Even if the aim's a bit off now and then.”
He's drunk enough that the cold's not too cold and that it's easier to ignore the blaring, raucous Friday night crowds out on the piss, groups of lads who take instant offense over Q's glasses and his general crime of existing within their territory, or over whatever else passes as reason enough in their barely-primate group think. There's a few times when he nearly tips over into being too drunk, an odd feeling that's almost deja vu, but almost that feeling of forgetting something important, something you need to do or something that's slipped your mind. But he can't think of anything at work he's forgotten, and patting down his pockets proves that he's got everything he needs on him, the few items he carries with him because, even half-drunk, he's not nearly thick enough to carry work materials on his actual person.
It's once he's home and dropping his keys into the shrub beside the entrance hall to his flat for the second time that he notices a flash of something in his peripheral vision, a movement that his tequila-addled mind doesn't think should be there. Stooping to retrieve the keys again, Q squints off towards the far streetlight, but sees nothing there. Must've been a cat or those foxes back again. Whatever it was, it's gone and he needs a piss something rotten, and as soon as he manages to work the correct key into the correct keyhole, it's forgotten.
Bond's been away for two weeks. Fifteen days, to be more precise, but Q's absolutely not counting and is so busy continuing to repair Silva's damage and replace the systems that had been so easily cracked that he barely notices the lack of thuggish thick-set psychopath poking at him for entertainment's sake alone. He could, he supposes, find an excuse to pop over to talk to the analysts to find out what's going on, or even take a nonchalant stroll around his new information streams to have a look, but that would mean he's noticed Bond's absence, which, of course, he hasn't. Not even a little bit. Besides, he's always gone more for tall, dark, slim, poetic and handsome, not . . . whatever the hell it is about Bond that Q hasn't been able to get out of his fucking head since those calloused fingers had first brushed against his.
“Shitting balls.” He closes out the algebraic logarithm he's been tinkering with, then rubs the fingers of both hands up under his glasses. “Stop it. He doesn't belong in there. Just do your job, you total fucking arse-face.”
It's been two months since he met Bond and, Q thinks, probably two months since he's managed to sleep more than an hour or two without waking, panic clogging his throat, either from a nightmare of truly horrific proportions involving Bond and torture and death and pain, or from the most excruciating erotic dreams where Bond's stripping him down in every way possible.
Q can't remember how it was possible he'd first thought Bond ugly. A battle-scarred brute, certainly, a thug in a good suit, a walking weapon and metaphor for ruthlessness bound up into one muscular figure with a head like a block of wood and ears like the handles on a football trophy. You'd look at him and think him unbreakable, except Q's one of the few people in the world close enough to see where cracks have formed. So Q wakes up now in the night after dreaming of Bond, and he can't remember how he'd have ever missed how beautiful Bond is, hypnotic and undeniable. Even those ears, which Q has repeatedly dreamed of biting, nibbling, licking and sucking, gasping into, moaning into, begging into . . .
“ – And, frankly speaking, if your lot aren't on top of it, well, we might as well all pack up and go home.”
“Hmm?” Q blinks himself back into the room to find Tanner and three of the other department heads waiting for his input. “Oh, the Mahdi systematisation? It's done, finished last night. Which you're all aware of, because you'll have checked your BSRs first thing.”
A guilty, naughty-schoolboy look flits across Tanner's face along with those of Q's colleagues, and Tanner might be Q's immediate superior but Q gives an exasperated tut, leaning back in his chair to fold his arms across his chest defensively. “Fine. If you're going to push me on this, I'll halt the trial and petition M to make the BSR system compulsory. If anyone in this room had the slightest notion of how vulnerable the construct of email is . . .”
“Aren't you Armoury?” Spragg's gone purple, his rosacea flaring up as he puffs through his moustache in umbrage. “Can't see what email's quite got to do with bullets and whatnot.”
“Information's our best weapon, most secure defense and greatest weakness. Its protection is paramount and I'm dismayed that I'm having explain that to our head of counter intelligence.”
Tanner clears his throat and Q feels his ears burn at the implied censure, so reaches out for his tea and sticks his nose into that because he's right and he won't sodding apologise for trying to drag this place out of the days of sending memos via semaphore. The rest of the meeting's a blur and he can't wait to get back down into his safe haven, his comfortable bunker full of numbers and wires and patterns that he can follow like a child with a join-the-dots picture book. He's beginning to feel little more than a complex set of figures bouncing around a hollow hardware shell, information and input frazzled almost to the point of catastrophic loss, all because Bond's off playing silly buggers and Q has no idea if or when he's likely to see him again. Or those stupid, distracting, delicious ears of his, the ones Q wants to chew on like a dog with a Bonio.
“You wanted a word?” Tanner kicks the conference room door shut once the others have left, then leans over to start picking through the leftover biscuits in the middle of the table. “And lay off Spragg before he pops a blood vessel, because the last thing I need right now is another management shuffle.”
“Just a quick one.” I'm losing my mind because of an out-of-proportion crush on one of our agents and, additionally, must have developed a vastly over-inflated sense of my own importance as I'm fairly certain someone's been following me. He couldn't say it. He'd be shunted off into a portacabin somewhere permafrosty if there was the slightest question over his mental well-being and resulting professional capability. “We've finished phase one of the new dental implant, but cracked the foundations in west corner testing it.”
Tanner's expression is half-impressed, half-appalled. “You blew up the foundations trying out the new suicide pill? You don't think that's overkill? Literally?”
Q shrugs. “Only the tiniest bit. I need M's okay to relocate phase two to a military facility. A reinforced nuclear bunker, maybe. We must surely have access to some of those.”
“A nuclear bunker?” Tanner's expression is now queasily horrified. “And this is something you're planning to insert inside people's heads?”
“Do you honestly need me to tell you where you can stuff your flame thrower, Q?” Bond would've said something flip, as though carrying an explosive device powerful enough to level small building, inside a back molar, only a bite away from oblivion, is no matter of particular concern. Instead Q nods tautly, because this is something that needs to be taken seriously.
“For those who may need it, yes, I'm planning exactly that.”
He's not drunk this time, as he hasn't been any of the other times recently, but it could be one of so many different things. His on-going lack of sleep, for one. The stress of keeping a million and one different information streams running in his head because he doesn't dare keep notes of any kind on some of this stuff other than purely mental ones. His tendency to occasionally give in to egomania and allow himself to imagine the world revolving around himself, maybe.
Someone's following him. Q wasn't sure at first and keeps telling himself that he must be imagining it, because who would want to follow him and why? But when he hears footsteps one quiet evening behind him which halt when he does, and follow him across the road towards his flat, and make a quick scuffling sound before disappearing when he dares to turn around and look for their source . . .
“Is someone there?” His voice is unsteady, quavering around the lump of fear stuck in his throat. “I'm trained in self-defense, you know, and if you're looking to mug someone, it might be worth your while hopping onto a bus because everyone around here's skint.”
There's nothing, no answer, nobody around at two in the morning save a wary-looking cat that flicks up its tail and shows Q its arse before trotting away. It's true about the self-defense thing. Everyone working for SIS goes through it yearly, but he's buggered if he can remember a single bit of it now, so instead Q fumbles in his pocket for his keys, picks up his pace, and decides to play dead while pissing himself in terror should anyone decide to actually attack him.
He thinks he hears footsteps again as he speeds up, almost jogging across the cul-de-sac that leads to his block while whimpering under his breath. He's too young to die and he really doesn't like pain, not even a tiny bit in a kinky way, and he knows he should've listened to his mum about moving to somewhere like London but the headhunter was convincing about how SIS looked after their people and where's the fucking headhunter now? His key's in the door and there's definitely someone coming now, he can hear their feet, each step, and imagines he can hear their breathing, and he's through the door, wrenching his keys out of the lock and pushing the door shut when a hand appears from behind it, and Q thinks the noise he makes when he sees it can only probably be heard by dogs but his training kicks in unconsciously and he drops his entire weight against the door and shoves –
“Stop squawking and open the bloody door.”
It breaks through the pounding of his heart and the sweat that's burning his eyes. “. . . 007?”
He's slowly but surely pushed out the way even though he's leaning his whole body into it, and Bond appears, stepping to one side and finally allowing Q to shut the door. “You were expecting somebody else?”
“I wasn't expecting you!” The adrenalin’s pumping around his body so fast he's trembling, and the fear's starting to turn into annoyance as the cold sweat Q's broken makes his glasses slip all the way down to perch on the end of his nose. “What in the name of Jesus fuckery do you think you're doing barging in here like a –”
“Someone's been following you.”
“Yes, you, apparently. Have you gone entirely round the bend?”
“No, not me. Someone else.” Q watches silently, his whole body shaking and his breath sour in his mouth, as Bond crosses to the living room window and twitches the nets back, staring out at the darkened street beyond. “Some great big bugger. He's been tailing you for at least the three days I've been back.”
“You've been watching me?” A tickle of some sort of awareness slithers its way down Q's spine. “Why?”
Bond snorts and lets the nets fall back into place before turning to smirk at Q, eyes disappearing into creases. “Somebody has to. Attacking me with your own front door? Surely Q branch must've discovered the concept of tasers.”
“You honestly think someone's been following me? I mean, I suppose I thought I saw . . . a few times . . .”
“And you didn't say anything to Tanner.” It's a statement, not a question, but Q shakes his head in answer and pushes his glasses up as he lets his bag and coat drop to the floor, his arse following soon after as his legs give out in belated shock.
“No. I didn't want to seem like some sort of paranoid headcase.”
“Oh, for the love of . . .” Bond stares at the ceiling for a second like it'll explain Q's behaviour to him. “This is where you being barely out of puberty becomes a problem. You're one of very few people in the world privy to secrets that have a sizeable black market value. Paranoia is not only understandable in that position, but probably an extremely good idea. Someone more experienced would've known that.”
Q's sitting on the floor next to his front door, the shakes beginning to subside and his bolshy side starting to re-assert itself as he starts to push himself upwards. “But Q Branch has never had a serious problem with staff security before. I'd be aware if that were the case.”
“Perhaps Q Branch has never had a department head with such saleable skills before. Here, take a look, see if you know him. I haven't been able to get a clear enough shot for recog software.”
“I'll be the judge of that. The system's been upgraded.”
“Don't tell me – your invention?”
His pulse had been levelling out, but it spikes again as Q reaches out and takes the phone from Bond, their fingers brushing like they had at that first meeting. Q knows he's imagining it but it's as if Bond's touch hesitates a moment, his eyes piercing as he looks directly into Q's, his skin rough and dry with none of the lingering cold of Q's own. The phone's one Branch Q supplied prior to Bond leaving on his last assignment, and it's mostly undamaged, Q notes, a few scratches and one corner marked with a heat bloom. He unlocks it and thumbs his way through to the camera's files, opening up the first and squinting to make it out and . . .
“Marcus? What the fuck's he doing in London?”
“You recognise him?” Bond's moved close to Q's shoulder to take another look, standing behind him close enough that his breath's teasing Q's earlobe. “Who is he, and is he a threat?”
“He's my –” Q pauses, swallowing on a suddenly dry throat. “Um, an old friend. From uni.”
“Yes. I mean, last I heard, he was in Ghana.”
A small voice at the back of Q's brain pokes at him, pointing out that Bond shouldn't know where he went to university, but he's too caught up with looking at the picture of Marcus and trying to figure out why on earth he might be here.
“You're sure he was following me? You took this?”
“Yes. He wasn't on you twenty four hours a day, but he's definitely been keeping track of your movements. Who does he work for?”
“What?” There's something about Bond's tone that makes Q swing around to look at him, and his nose halts an inch from Bond's, his mouth close enough now that he can feel the damp cloud of Bond's breath against his lips. “No, you've got it wrong. Marcus is . . . well, he's not a risk. I don't know what he wants, but it won't be my work secrets.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
Bond's breath smells of bitter coffee, an espresso, a double, and Q can't help but wonder if he'd taste the same. He lifts the phone out of Q's fingers, his eyes not leaving Q's as they stand there, separated by inches, the lapel of Bond's jacket brushing against the front of Q's parka. Q feels frozen in place, mesmerised by Bond's proximity and the scent of him, the harsh wintery beauty of the deep lines carved into his face, how broad he is, the jut of his jaw and lower lip. The warmth pouring off him, which Q is vaguely aware comes from a metabolism in overdrive.
“I'm sure. He was a, uh, close friend, I knew him quite well. The most exciting thing he ever did was try to eat an entire deep-fried Mars bar, and he couldn't even manage half of it.”
“Hmm.” Bond's eyes narrow as he searches Q's face, and Q is now sure that if Bond were ever to seriously interrogate him for any reason, he'd cave immediately. “I don't believe in coincidences. You're recruited to head up Q Branch, and then your friend turns up unexpectedly to start covertly tracking you? No. I think I'll go have a word with him. He's still out there, freezing his arse off. Stick the kettle on and I'll take him a cup of that over-perfumed muck you drink.”
“You'll do no such thing. Stand down, 007. I'll go talk to him myself.”
The expression in Bond's eyes is unreadable, but Q's technically his superior so Q straightens his shoulders and tries to act like it, holding Bond in position with his best Paddington-Bear stare until he gets to the door. At which point he has to ruin the effect by asking,
“I mean, if you wouldn't mind pointing me in his direction?”
Bond starts making his way through the small living room towards where's Q's watching him from the tiny hallway. “I'll do better – I'll show you personally.”
“No need. This is a private matter.”
“And you'll find me the very soul of discretion.” Bond's smirk is firmly in place, his eyes mischievous and lit up from within, and he opens the door, gesturing for Q to go first. “After you.”
“You alright, mate?” Q refrains from making the kissy noises he usually would when first talking to Clive after work, but his voice automatically goes into a sing-song and he coughs, clears his throat and starts again in a more normal tone. “Want a cricket? Yeah, you do. There you go.”
Clive reacts by standing extremely still as usual, and follows that by blinking then licking his own eyeball. The black cricket hops off into the plastic creepers Q's squirting with water, and a lone neuron fires in Clive's tiny brain, making him tilt his head in the direction of the now-disappeared insect. Q replaces the lid on the vivarium, switching off Clive's light as he does so. “Happy hunting.”
Bond's perched with his arse leaning against the breakfast bar that divides the kitchen from the living room, watching the whole thing over his mug of instant coffee, bleached-out eyebrows drawn down over deep-set eyes that are giving the vivarium a suspicious look.
“What're you feeding in there?”
“A leopard gecko.”
The suspicious look turns revolted. “Huh. Lizards. I've gone off them recently.”
“I'm sure Clive's devastated.”
“Here's your tea.”
The world's most dangerous man is in Q's living room, expensive jacket thrown over the back of the sofa and shirt sleeves rolled up over muscular forearms, handing him a mug of Earl Grey that hasn't brewed long enough. It's getting on for one am and Q's ready to drop, but the night's been so strange and unexpected so far, and he's not sure if he should simply order Bond to leave, or . . . or what?
“Drink up, you look like you need it. You okay?”
“Just tired.” He sits forward where he's planted himself on the sofa, placing his tea down then pulling off his glasses for a second, rubbing over his eyes with his fingertips. “I'm sure all this drama is completely pedestrian to someone like you, but I admit I'm not used to it.”
“Someone like me?” There's a huff of laughter from Bond's direction, but Q doesn't open his eyes, letting his head lean back against the back of the sofa.
“You have to admit that a common domestic argument between exes must come extremely low down on your list of stressful incidents. Somewhere between a missing cufflink and an ingrown toenail?”
The ancient sofa creaks and sags as the world's most dangerous man sits down on it a foot away from Q. “I've had my share of domestics. Believe me, I'd much rather face a machete-wielding guerrilla. Several of them, in fact.”
“I'm sorry, 007.” There. He hadn't wanted to say it, but it needed to be said, blurted out, even if he didn't have the energy to open his eyes to do it. “You shouldn't have been dragged into all that.”
“Nonsense. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. Your face was a picture when he threw himself at your feet and starting wailing.”
Q snorts, his mood lifting briefly for the first time all day. “I'm a real heartbreaker.”
“That's certainly how it appeared from my perspective.”
“Bet you're surprised I had it in me.”
“You're always on the attack, aren't you?”
“Look who's talking. I'm relieved you found it entertaining, at least.”
“I wouldn't say that.”
“No?” Q opens his eyes, turning his head where it's resting against the back cushion to find Bond gazing up at the ancient, peeling Rubik's Cube on the mantel, Bond's back shifting beneath the thin cotton of his shirt as he lifts his mug to take a drink before speaking.
“I suppose I felt sorry for him. It's not easy.”
Bond's eyes flicker, wreathed with fanning lines, the bags beneath them heavier than ever. Then he looks back at Q and gives the smallest shrug, one corner of his mouth lifting in a smile he doesn't mean. “Filling the space left behind when somebody leaves.”
What the hell's he supposed to say in reply to that? Q knows Bond's file backwards, knew it before he'd even met the man, and that one little sentence is loaded with things that they both know are in that file. But Bond breaks the silence first, turning to face the mantelpiece again, his back and shoulders so heavily built that Q can see the individual shape and size of each dense muscle, along with a thin strip of bandage stuck over Bond's ribs.
“Ah, indeed.” The coffee's placed down and pushed away. “But you're sure you didn't want to invite him in? I didn't mean to intrude . . .”
“Oh, God, no. I broke up with him for several very good reasons, and begging's never really done it for me.”
“Never?” Bond's lifted one eyebrow suggestively, and Q's cheeks heat up.
“Is there anything you won't reduce to base innuendo?”
“Not really, no.”
The sudden grin's disarming, slightly daft, full of easy charm, and that's all it takes for Q's body to start waking up and taking notice of how close Bond is, how thinly the fabric of his shirt's stretched across that wide expanse of muscular back. Now they're simply sitting there, mugs ignored and cooling on the coffee table, knees almost touching from where they're turned towards each other, and Q finds himself smiling back, hope flaring deep inside his belly.
Bond's smile slowly drops, and the seconds tick past, and Q takes a breath to steady himself before allowing the fingers of his right hand to graze Bond's knee. The pale blue eyes gazing at him soften slightly, and Q imagines that he can see some of the longing he's got reaching out inside of him reflected there, below the notched, lined forehead and over-hanging brows. There's something so desolate about how Bond's simply looking at him, more passive than Q would've thought him capable of. So Q scooches forward the minutest amount, both his knees knocking against Bond's, and reaches up to wrap the fingers of his left hand around the back of Bond's thick neck, which is warm, prickly from a recent hair cut.
He's half-expecting for his arm to be knocked away, for a punch on the nose or a smirk and a 'Fuck off'. But Bond's mouth opens a half-inch on an intake of breath, and his line of sight drops to where Q's certain he's staring at Q's lips, and then when Bond looks back into his eyes, it's so desperate and bleak and filled with need that Q says 'Oh, fuck' and leans forward to press his mouth to Bond's without a second thought.
The lips against his are dry and chapped, the jaw he's rubbing his thumb along clean-shaven. He can sense Bond's hesitation so presses into the kiss deeper, opening his mouth enough to run the tip of his tongue into the corner of Bond's mouth. Then Bond's breathing out through his nose in a short blast as if he'd been holding it in, and Q's name, his real name, the diminutive that his family and old friends use and which people at work absolutely do not, is murmured against his lips the second before Bond decides to take over the kiss entirely.
Hands full of lethal strength clasp around his ears and face and tug Q closer towards Bond, deeper into the kiss which is opening up now, Bond thrusting his tongue into Q's mouth and giving him such a thorough, toe-curling kiss that Q wouldn't be surprised to find his socks halfway peeled off. The taste of Bond's mouth is intoxicating, all coffee, darkness and heat, no sweetness to it at all. Then the hands move to his hips to dig in, and Q is being expertly lifted into Bond's lap as they suck and bite at each other's mouths as if they'd been starved for each other. Q's bloody-minded personality traits protest and decide to take control, curling Q's fingers into Bond's shirt front to try to push him down.
“This shirt cost more than the entire contents of this apartment.” It's growled out around another kiss.
“Then take it off.”
And Q's heart cramps, falters then beats hard once to regain its former rhythm, because a taciturn, brooding Bond is something to look at, beautiful, rough hewn and rugged, but Bond's grin breaking out into a full smile, eyes bright, a gurgle of laughter escaping his spit-smeared lips, is fucking awe-inspiring.
“Typical Q Branch – always so pragmatic.”
Then Q's pulled down on top of Bond entirely and they're stretching out kissing on his sofa, Bond's knuckles banging against Q's chest where he's struggling to get his shirt unbuttoned and where Q's sprawling inelegantly because he can't seem to get quite enough of his mouth into contact with Bond's at any one time. His glasses have been knocked off to God knows where, his jumper's rucked up and his hair mussed as Bond manages to pull the open sides of his shirt apart before weaving his hands into Q's hair to direct him into a slower, deeper, less frantic kiss.
“What do you want?”
“Isn't it obvious?” Bond hikes his hips to rub a solid length of well-proportioned hard-on against Q's hip as he bites his way around to suck on Q's earlobe. “You.”
“No. Ooh, that tickl– No, I meant, is this a bed-type situation?”
Bond's mouth pauses, then Bond's pulling away to give Q a look of disbelief, which at least gives Q the opportunity to finally check out the pure, molten-hot-lava, glory of all glorys that is Bond's bare chest. “Must you analyze everything? I'm up here, by the way.”
“You've got a lot of scars.” They cover him, nicks and grazes, some of them fresh, some aged silver lines that are barely visible, and a couple of puckered purple knots that Q recognises as healed gunshot wounds.
“And you've got a talent for stating the obvious. Do you need to have a chat about about all this or can we get going?”
“No, I'm just not sure if you usually do this sort of thing. With other blokes, that is,” he finishes lamely, pulling away from Bond, who halts him with both hands around his throat. He could snap Q's neck in an instant if he wanted.
“Does it matter?”
“Suppose not. Not to me.”
“Then shut your fucking mouth and attend to your agent's needs. After all, you are my quartermaster.”
Two months' of dreams added to Bond lying there under his hips, thumbs stroking up Q's sides under his shirt and the solid mass of Bond's broad chest there, naked and dazzlingly sublime, should be reason enough to get moving, but in the end it's the squashy little protuberances of his ears that force Q into action with a groan, kissing his way along Bond's jawline to attach his teeth to the outer shell of one of them. Bond makes an amused, aroused sound and tilts his head into it, thrusting against Q's hip again once Q fills his ear with warm, wet tongue.
The air heats to flashpoint between them fast. Q's jumper is whipped off over his head with blinding ferocity, catching his nose on the way, but there's no time to complain now because Bond's thoroughly kissing him again, grunting into it each time Q's thumbs dip down to brush over his nipples. Then Q's shirt's being pulled off, and his tie gets caught in his collar, stuck over one eyebrow, and one of Bond's heavy hands is brushing along where the length of Q's erection is pushing against his trousers while he struggles to escape his shirt . . .
“Alright! Keep your sodding hands to yourself for five fucking seconds. Stupid fucking tie.”
“That's what you get for settling on a polyester mix.”
“Actually, it's probably extremely expensive.” Q struggles out of his shirt, aware his hair must resemble a building storm front from the way Bond looks up at it and smirks. “It's from my sister, who's In Fashion.”
“That explains the abominable brown cardigan.”
“I'll have you know it's very on-trend.” Which the first and last time Q thinks he'll ever use that particular phrase. The primary reasons he likes it is because it's comfortable and doesn't show tea stains.
“It's obnoxious.” Bond's running confident hands up and down over Q's back. “You should reconsider a lab coat. Or give up on clothes altogether.”
“What, in the development of a new form of psychological warfare?”
Fingers stroke up his side, painting a shiver in their wake, then direct his chin so he's looking into Bond's eyes from an inch away. The ice blue's warm with affection now, the pale lashes lending an aura of light to them. “You've certainly blown me away.”
“Me? I have not.”
There's that smile again, and Bond's thigh is pressed between his, Bond's heart thudding against Q's ribs, the incredible heat of Bond's skin scorching everywhere it touches him. Q knows enough from Bond's file and from his inestimable reputation that this is a one time thing, and that Bond's smiled that smile for countless women and, Q's now realising, probably several other men, too. But they're embracing, chest to chest, the fingers of one of Bond's hands caressing Q's back while the other shapes itself to one of his bum cheeks, and their kiss is slow and loud, and more intimate than some of the actual sex Q's had in his time.
Q kisses over Bond's chest, tasting his skin, a salt-smokiness under the layer of recent shower, and signals his intent by shifting on the sofa as he starts to move downwards. Unlike the other couple of straight guys Q's blown, drunken incidents after misjudged nights out in a dingy student union bar, Bond doesn't seem satisfied with simply lying back and taking it.
“You don't have to.”
“Maybe I want to. Besides, you're injured.” Q kisses and nips around the bandage clinging to Bond's ribs, then down to kiss the appendectomy scar, his fingers unbuckling Bond's belt.
“I'm always injured.” But Bond lifts his hips and allows Q to slip his trousers down over his hips, revealing a taut, muscled belly and tuft of pale brown pubic hair as Q begins to work on his briefs. “It's only a few stitches.”
“You consistently display a casual disregard for the care and guardianship of assets valuable to Her Majesty's Secret Service.” Q noses the thick rod of Bond's cock through his briefs before pulling them down enough for it to spring out, fully hard, as vital and beautifully built as its progenitor. “As your quartermaster, I'd be negligent not to take the situation in hand.”
Which he does, wrapping his fingers around the pulsing base of Bond's prick as he mouths at its tip. Bond curses at his first soft suck, then again when Q flicks his tongue back and forth across Bond's tight frenulum, his fingers burying themselves in Q's hair.
It feels like it's been forever that Q's been waiting and dreaming of this, forever since he's had a cock in his mouth, although he knows it's only been a matter of months. But Bond's more responsive than he'd ever imagined, moaning with a deep bodily shudder as Q takes him into his mouth, alternatively swearing and complimenting in a throaty, gravelly voice that sounds like it's on the edge of a gasp. Q's own arousal's on a knife's edge, his prick harder than he remembers it being before, his skin burning with every touch of his body against Bond's. He's having to fight for every breath as he draws it in through his nose and pulls Bond's scent into himself until he's dizzy.
He pushes down slowly, swallowing Bond every inch of the way, when the fingers in his hair begin to pet his head, stroking over his eyebrows and eyelids with a tenderness he doesn't quite understand. But Bond's hips are impatient, thrusting up into the depths of Q's throat.
“Come on, Q. Put your back into it.”
Q doesn't pause in what he's doing, but flips a quick middle finger at Bond, who laughs then grunts as Q manages to take him all the way down. Now he's used to Bond's size, his lips tight around the root as the tip nudges the back of his throat, Q starts to speed up, sucking harder as sweat begins to break across his forehead, pumping his mouth and moaning in rhythm with Bond's increasingly loud cursing.
“Fuck. Fuck. I've been trapped inside industrial bilge pumps with less suction power than this. I'm getting close if you don't want to . . .”
Q can tell precisely how close Bond's getting from the intensity of pre-cum pouring out of Bond now, the taste of which makes his own cock twitch and drool into his pants, his balls tightening up as if he's the one getting blown. He sucks deeper and harder, massaging Bond's balls in a circle with the palm of his hand before he presses beneath them with his knuckles, as hard as he can as Bond chokes out one last curse and starts to come.
The strength of the thighs trapping his head is unbelievable, fingers twisted painfully in his hair as warm, thick cum hits the back of his throat. Q swallows then pulls back enough to let the next shot coat his tongue, and a rush shoots through him, up his spine and through his balls and the tip of his dick, almost like the dry climaxes he used to have before he hit puberty. He works the last of the cum out of Bond with his tongue and lips, then shaking hands are cupping his face, pulling him up and along Bond's lean, naked torso for a kiss that confirms to Q that Bond's at the very least accustomed to the taste of jizz.
“You,” Bond smooths away the strands of hair clinging damply to Q's forehead, “Are a bloody marvel, and far too talented for your own good.”
“I don't know. It seems to be working in my best interests so far.”
“Which reminds me . . . Come here.”
Arms that are still covered in that expensive shirt, biceps and deltoids rippling and bulging, reach around Q to pull him up until he's straddling Bond's naked hips, and those thick-knuckled hands that have been the primary cause of death in more men's lives than Q cares to currently remember are working on his trousers, tugging the fly open and shoving within to lift out Q's desperately aching dick.
“Do you want to come?”
Q looks down his pale, pigeon-chested body, at how his ribs are standing out after too many late evenings at work where he's forgotten to eat, at Bond's strong hand stroking his prick and beginning to pump it, and then down further into Bond's eyes, which are mellowed with after-glow. “What the fuck does it look like? Yes, of course I want to come.”
The thumb that rubs over his slit has a hard, calloused bump on it that Q's mind helpfully reminds him comes from repetitively thumb-cocking the hammer on a semi-automatic. Bond uses his other hand to circle and tug Q's balls, shifting beneath Q's body until his face is directly beneath the fingers jerking Q's cock fast and hard. Q can feel himself lifting as he looks down at Bond helplessly, each breath a lungful of fire that roars in his ears, his muscles coiling and clenching as he moans and lets his head drop back.
“Good boy. Then come on me, over my face, so that every time you look at me from now on, that's what you'll see.”
Then Bond opens his mouth and waits, pumping his hand faster, and it hits Q like a speeding train as he looks down at this man who he's wanted since the first time their fingers touched and, in a thin, reedy gurgle he'll take with him to his fucking grave, he says 'Oooh, 007!' and ejaculates, sending spurt after spurt of cum across the face and waiting mouth of the world's most dangerous man, and probably all over his sofa.
Q shifts where he's fallen in a boneless slump across Bond's torso, blinking and trying to bring the room into some sort of focus, and to get his pounding pulse under control as the aftershocks of a truly massive orgasm continue to chase each other around his stomach and thighs. “Pardon?”
“For next time. My name's James, not 007. Although, if that's something you're into . . .”
“There's going to be a next time?”
Everything in Q's body jumps up, throws its arms in the air and crows, 'There's going to be a next time!' Two heavy arms move into position around him as a blunt, once-broken nose rubs along the length of one of his eyebrows, smudging him with his own cooling spooge.
“Give me twenty minutes and a bed, and I'll see what I can do.”
“Twenty?” Oh, marvellous. The smart arse is recovering quicker than any of Q's nicer qualities. “Christ. You're so fucking ancient.”
“Yes, a relic, as I've been reliably informed. Speaking of which . . .”
That's his shirt Bond's wiping over his face, but Q's too relaxed and wallowing far too deeply in his crush to care, and he props his chin on the hot, solid chest in front of him, allowing his head to be lifted up and down, up and down with every breath.
“What? And can you grab my glasses? You're nothing but a big blur.”
“Oh, yes. Here. Sorry to talk about work, but there's been one other thing on my mind that only you can relieve.”
It shouldn't seem so natural to be lying here like this, liberally daubed with spunk, tousled and sweaty, sprawled half-naked with his trousers around his ankles while he discusses matters of national security with an international spy. Bond brushes the scarred knuckles of his right hand across Q's cheekbone, touching one of them to trace the upper line of Q's mouth.
“Have you come up with something I can rely on?”
Q knows the suicide pill's Bond's only safety net out there when he's truly alone and unassisted, in a foreign land that doesn't know he's there or want him there. It's not fair that it falls on him to provide it.
“And you're sure it'll do the job? Call me picky, but I don't fancy the idea of living with half a head.”
“I'm sure. I made sure. It'll take your head off your shoulders and liquify the remains, along with those of everyone within a twenty metre blast radius.”
Unbelievably, Bond's cock jumps against Q's stomach. “I'll have to take back what I said about your spots at this rate.”
“Yes, you will. The explosive compound's actually very exciting, with many potential applications.”
He's aware now, as he has been for weeks, that Bond's no cro-magnon, probably as smart if not smarter than he is, more impossibly inventive with the ability for lightning-speed lateral thought in the field. Bond's looking at him, eyes lit up from inside with the humour nothing seems to kill off, no matter what Bond sees or what is done to him, and Q can already tell Bond's mentally beaten him to the punchline as Bond starts to kiss his way across Q's throat. But, being the world's most enormous smart-arse knob-end, he's got to say it anyway like the smug fucking goit that he is.
“It means that, if you play your cards right, you might just get your exploding pen after all.”