When Bond asks Q one night, “How old are you, really?” Bond does not seem to expect an answer. Bond is on a stakeout with Q his only company, a voice in his ear, and is murmuring into his throat microphone for the sake of passing the time.
Back in his nest, Q slides a hand along the computer monitor in front of him, feeling the thrum of the tame lightning that feels so akin to himself. It’s only another kind of magic, after all, and the type that humans these days will accept.
“I’m not sure. At least a few hundred years.” He usually would not reveal so much, even to one he is bound to serve, if he were not directly commanded to give full disclosure. But it’s dark and late. He gets tired of so many secrets. He yet again feels a growing tenderness for a new master. He really should stop doing that.
Bond grunts in fond derision. “Imp.”
“Sprite, actually.” Then it’s back to business.
He’d grown bored with his island, that was the truth of it. What was the point of his freedom if he stayed in a self-imposed prison?
But the world was strange beyond his little shores. He had to be wary of those who would press him into slavery again. As a solution, he learned ever more effectively to mimic mortality, humanity, ordinariness. To blend in.
This accomplished, he set off to see what the flesh had to offer. His adventures would fill many books - books longer than the ones written by an elderly playwright he met once, and loved, and whispered to in his sleep until the man wrote down a version of his tale, believing it to be his own invention. Though because of the prejudices the man remained entangled in, due to his time and place, Ariel’s mistress Prospera had become his supposed master Prospero.
Since he doesn’t need to eat he consumes food and drink only for appearance’s sake - though he likes the warmth and steam of tea - and dismisses the substance of it from his illusory insides. He never really got the knack of giving himself working genitalia, though, given how complicated the things seem to be, and how little useful information he could find on how they are supposed to feel.
This is a problem, suddenly. Bond has returned from a mission in which he was very nearly killed, where timely action on Q’s part saved him, and consequently now that the agent has returned to MI6 and managed to get Q alone in a shower stall just off the employee gym, Bond has gone full-throttle in seduction mode.
The terms of this binding to Bond allow Q to object, to protest, but never to outright deny if his master - who doesn’t even know what has been wrought on his behalf, of what sway he holds over what he thinks is a colleague - insists upon anything. And it’s hard to think when the man is running rough kisses along his jaw, growling sweet filth and rumpling his cardigan. Q’s been so curious, so wondering, but was always afraid to accept propositions from those not knowing his nature. Bond is the first to have power over him that remains in the dark, yet also the first to try such a thing.
“There’s something…nnn…something I should tell -“
Bond pauses and says softly, “I won’t be angry if you don’t want this. Just tell me. I’ll stop everything.”
“The problem is I do, but it’s not about what I want.” Q speaks in shuddery breaths.
A slight retreat, for safety’s sake, and Bond asks, “What do you mean?”
Nothing for it. He would have to know sometime, at any rate, or else Q has no possibility of liberty until Bond’s death. Which death he increasingly has no desire for, and has been actively preventing beyond the call of obligation.
So he undoes his own belt and lets his trousers drop to the floor. “Problem - problem with the hardware,” he quips in his adopted 21st-century patois, though what facsimile of a heart he has is aching.
Seconds tick by before Bond gathers himself together. “How about you put your clothes back on, I’ll buy you a drink, and you explain. Because while I’m aware of people who have unconventional workings, I don’t think having nothing at all is medically possible.”
Q clings to him on impulse. “It’s a long story, but I’ll try.”
M had not been M when they met, but she never told him her name. In a remix of another life-changing episode in his life, so many years ago, she found him trapped in a torment just as bad as a cloven pine. In this case it was a Soviet Union laboratory where they were trying to figure out how he worked. Whether more of him could be found or made.
She had the Art, he knew immediately when she came within a few miles, and he called out to her with all his strength.
“And here I was expecting a superweapon,” were her initial words to him, even as she wiped blood off her staff of rowan wood.
(Even more secret than the double-ohs of Her Majesty’s Secret Service were the spellcasters of Her Majesty’s Supernatural Service. Unbeknownst to the former, members of the latter group often rose to leadership over those who had no idea the brave new world had such people in it.)
His initial words to her were, “You would not be the first.”
Then, “Would you - would you be so kind as to break this force field? It hurts very much. I’ll be yours if you do.”
It was life-debt that connected them, and he had to admit he found it comforting to be owned again by someone who cared for him. She kept him for several years as a purely domestic quasi-servant quasi-companion, confiding in him, relying upon him, teaching him all sorts of ways to adapt his abilities to the modern age. He was even allowed to roam about London, sometimes even further afield, if he came when called.
Swiftly the years passed and he was for the most part content, at least enough not to demand to know when, if ever, he would be released. Then she went from “Mistress” to “M”, and she spent much less time at home.
“Good thing I don’t need feeding,” he commented once, one of his rare grumbles.
Instead of chastising him, M apologized. “You must be getting frightfully restless. I have a plan to make you a part of the greater world, if you’d like.” That was how they’d built him a set of fictitious selves, going to universities, traveling, soaking up life as he did before but this time with guidance.
Then one day, M beckoned him to her, and he crouched at her feet. When it was just the two of them he often didn’t bother maintaining the appearance of solidity, or clothes. “Ariel, I have a new name and job for you, if you don’t find it too upsetting. If you want badly to go free I’ll let you. Do this, though, and I’ll pull some strings to make sure the island you came from is forever preserved as a wildlife sanctuary. So it’ll always be yours to go home to.”
She knew him well - his soul sang at the prospect. “Tell me first what it is.”
“The people I work for now have agents that need protecting and care. One of them in particular. If you agree, and if I die without letting you go, he will be your new master.”
When she finished explicating, telling him of the very-appropriate codename Bond - the finest yet most fragile of the double-ohs - he rose to his feet. “I’ve always liked the letter Q since I learned how to read. It sounds so funny, and it stays so faithfully to U. That little tail that quirks off-kilter, as well.”
She smiled. “There’s my darling.” She looked and sounded so much like Prospera at that moment he could burst.
In the living room of Q’s little flat Bond takes a long draught of beer after hearing the story. “That’s a bloody strange yarn, that’s what it is.”
Q shrugs and makes his clothes, glasses, and pretense of being mortal flesh vanish. And then he shrinks down to the size of a puppy and crawls into Bond’s lap. “You’ve been one of my better masters, though I do miss her.”
Bond keeps his noise of surprise quiet and passes his hand straight through Q’s materialization. “I suppose I should ask you what name you prefer. Though I like it better when you’re full-size, frankly.”
Q nods and returns to his usual appearance - if not working quite so hard to be opaque - grown, in the clothes he was wearing moments earlier. “I haven’t liked being called Ariel ever since that children’s film made people associate it with a redheaded nymph who has worse codependency issues than even I do.”
“Even the way you talk changes, when you’re pretending - to be human, I mean,” Bond muses, fiddling with a napkin.
“All about the acting,” Q says, taking Bond’s hand. “So’s the disdain, you know. It’s not in my nature.”
Bond stares at the flickering, translucent hand that nevertheless has a firm grip. “Selective solidity?”
“At will.” For once Bond seems to have no idea what to do next. Though Q supposes that is understandable. “I’ve been working on a procedure to experiment with carnality. There was no way to do it without you figuring out something odd was going on, though.”
Q smiles and his voice is like a clear-running spring. “Don’t be frightened. I’m here for you.”
“But you’re here for me because M demanded it of you.”
“She offered me a position, and I took it. Like any other job, only with stricter rules, and one I entered into with eyes wide open.” Q edges closer to Bond. “Selective solidity is promising. First off, though, I would very much like to pleasure you if I may. The way the connection works is that I get vicarious, joyful feedback whenever I make you happy, and even if I didn’t..”
“This is by far the most bizarre prospect I have ever faced,” Bond says, but he does not prevent Q unbuttoning his shirt and placing featherlight kisses on scarred skin.
“I know what it’s like to fly through the clouds.” (A quick peck.)
“What it’s like to dive down, down deep where the water is dark and heavy, and the creatures you find there make their own light.” (He nuzzles at a bit of exposed chest.)
“The tickle and vitality of flames all about me. The rage and wonder of a storm. And as my new self…” (He tries a delicate bite, and Bond grips his hair and makes a gorgeous sound.)
“As the Quartermaster, I’ve learned to not just send my mind down the paths of computer to computer, bits and bytes through glowing circuits, but while you think I am sitting in my lab talking to you it is only a shade of myself that sips from the mug and orders around employees. I am actually flowing through the wires and beaming through the waves, with you everywhere always…Now may I take you in my mouth?”
Afterwards, Q curls against Bond like a sleepy cat, making the fireplace ignite with a wave of his hand. The real clothes are scattered; the illusory clothes have been done away with. When Q notices raised hairs on Bond’s arms he conjures a blanket to cover the both of them.
“I don’t know if I can love you,” Bond warns him, even as he languidly caresses every bit of Q’s pristine body within reach. “No matter how wonderful or immortal or mystical you are. I don’t know if I can love anybody.”
Q arches into Bond’s palm. “That’s all right. I don’t know if I can either, though I like the idea of being loved. I am pleased enough to be here. To have done well.”
“That…that you have. God, I’m going to fall asleep if you keep being so cozy. Do you sleep?”
“No. But I like silently pondering for hours at a stretch. Helps keep me steady. Spending so much of my days in false skin, it makes me start seeing time as you lot do, and that’s not always good for me given the pace of my life as opposed to yours. Contemplation is even better in my master’s arms.”
Bond stirs, clearly his conscience troubling him. “About that arrangement…”
“We can discuss that after you’ve had some time to get used to it, to have a better idea. I have eons to be on my own. Sleep.”
Q does not move a particle of his being the entire span of Bond’s slumber, for it is good to be here, now. Grounded, after so many summers everywhere and anywhere, after so many summers alone.