The first time he notices it is when he stands over his console, fingers typing line after line of code, and some part of him registers that Bond is hovering somewhere near his elbow. He's close enough to read the screen – more than close enough to read the screen – and he's also close enough that when Q inhales he registers hints of Bergamot and cedar. Bond shifts on one foot, perhaps impatient in how long it's taking to crack this map open to the point of legibility, and it's startling how clear – loud – the sound of his leather shoes against the clean floor sound; the shift of neatly pressed linen against the folds of his blazer, the very light (exasperated) exhale of breath.
He doesn't stop typing, but it's in that moment that he becomes aware of Bond as a whole. His senses feel overstimulated and hyped on every detail in a way they haven't before, or perhaps in a way he hasn't acknowledged before. Part of him feels tense at the proximity, whereas he maybe wouldn't have given a second thought to it as recent as yesterday. There is something strangely threatening about the realization that he finds James Bond attractive.
The map loads, Bond moves away, and Q wonders if it isn't just a passing fancy. He wonders if perhaps it's simply trendy to think 007 attractive, to imagine what it might be like to catch his eye for an evening.
It doesn't get worse – not right away – but neither does it go away. He feels as though he is standing in the doorway to a room he's never been in, with the lights a low enough dim that he's a little concerned of stubbing his toe against a table or stack of books he can't see, and that's really what keeps his feet firmly planted instead of venturing forward. The unknown is a mystery and he's not in the habit of stumbling through the dark without so much as a match. He won't say he's scared, but there's little else to call it; he doesn't want to mince words, but he also doesn't want to admit that in a career of international espionage his greatest fear is a pawn smaller than himself.
Which is not to say that his fear is unwarranted. As inconsequential as James Bond is in the scheme of things, he's a surprisingly powerful force that Q is still learning how to accommodate. James is a storm, violent and unpredictable. He leaves devastation and breathless throats in his wake, just a trail of broken property and water logged lungs, and Q isn't running away – but he's not yet ready to stand in the eye and demand a challenge.
James is charming in ways he shouldn't be capable of – not with his track record, not with the things Q knows about him – and handsome in a way that should be old hat at this point, but it's not – it's not. Because there's a class about him that Q gets taken in by, even as he knows the names of women on Bond's list is something tragic, and maybe he likes the idea that this is a safe bet. There's something irrationally safe about the attraction he unwittingly cultivates for Bond, because Bond is entirely off limits; rarely within the same office walls, flirting incessantly with Eve when he is, and overall the picture perfect image of someone who Q would never be involved with.
Being nearly twice his age is one thing, and being a field agent another one entirely, but it's his personality that leaves Q assured in how things will never turn out. Because if it isn't his arrogance then it's his brashness, and if it isn't his complete disregard for the state he leaves everything in then it's his absolute ineptitude when it comes to following orders to a T. He is insufferable, infuriating, and he's an absolutely safe bet because he's far too consumed in himself to ever notice that he's consumed someone else.
He's a harmless fantasy until Q looks up from a keyboard, when he notices the lapse in their conversation is on Bond's end and not his own, and James is watching him with blatant interest. It's not the curiosity of someone who wonders about things they're not sure they want, nor is it the confusion of someone who is discovering something that has been right underneath their nose from the beginning; it's something burning, dark and low, and confident. James looks at him like Q is a well-tailored suit he wants to try on, wants to wrinkle and let fall onto the floor of his apartment, and Q's fingers falter against the keyboard – mistype – for just long enough for it to completely change everything.
Bond is a safe bet until he's not; until he looks at Q like he wants to take him apart piece by piece, and it leaves Q breathless, and angry, and terrified.
There's a slow, steady, downward spiral that starts with the pull of attraction and ends with the sharp drag of your heart through your throat. The attraction is passive and simple; it's basic human instinct. The attraction manifests in appreciation, in arousal, in a hundred things that could remain something controllable; it's the slow burn of something else that makes it worse, makes it harder to keep underneath your thumb.
The passive attraction Q feels is easy and harmless, until the moment he wakes in the middle of the night, sweat cold and body hot, to the imagined memory of Bond's teeth scraping across his hip bones. He wakes up uncomfortable, disoriented, and curling his fingers so hard into the sheets that it's easy, for the moment, to focus only on the numbness in his hands. The heat coiling in his stomach, clawing its way down his spine, is frustrating and traitorous. He stares at his blurry ceiling, extends his leg further across the mattress just to ensure himself that he's there alone, and he tries not to dwell on treacherous lines of thought.
The pain in his palms, and his resolve to think otherwise, does very little to keep his mind from contemplating the slide and pull of Bond's body on top of his own. He grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes, but all he can see is himself pressed into the mattress, burning skin against his own, and the low growl of promises, promises, promises. Q thinks, for a maddening moment, that this fantasy is still harmless; it doesn't have to become a reality, it doesn't have to affect anything. This is human instinct, plain and simple, and he can't control what his mind dreams in his sleep – can't control what his body responds to.
He tosses his sheets to the side, hands sliding against his torso – hips – to pull his pants down and away from his boiling skin.
Completely harmless, he thinks, over and over and over, and arches into his fist with a loud groan.
Q's next of kin is a petite, auburn haired architect who lives in Brisbane and who believes he is an engineer working for Halcrow in London. Her name is Felicity and they were step-siblings for three months, but if he were to call anyone family he might start with her. She is stable, and kind, and she doesn't pry enough to be a liability; he trusts her, for whatever that's worth.
She asks after his health, his social life, and his happiness. They chat about the weather, about the train closures, about the holiday she's taking to Brazil in two weeks. She's engaged to a man Q has never met – doesn't care to meet – and, like the mass majority of people who have been overcome with their own personal happiness, is fairly active in poking and prodding his own lack thereof.
They sit side by side at one of the wooden community tables in Cocomaya, sharing a pain au chocolat that is so sweet it makes Q's toes curl, and their cups are still too hot to sip when the wheels in her mind start whirling so loud he can practically hear them.
“Jeremy was a nice fellow,” she says, and it's a fair assumption for her to make with what very little she knew of him.
“Jeremy was two and a half years ago,” Q reminds her, because that particular ship set sail so long ago that it may as well have been attacked and eaten by a kraken for how little it remains an option. “Honestly, I've too much work right now to meet anyone.”
He can tell he's made a mistake when her eyes light up, as though she is hearing words he's not actually speaking. “Work is a lovely place to meet someone! Why, I met Phil while we were pouring over blueprints for renovation at Brunel-”
“Not an option,” he insists, splaying his hands out on the table as though relieving himself of a hand of cards he's not particularly pleased with. “Mixing work with pleasure is your own mistake – not mine.”
“I know you take perverse pleasure in your work,” she says, with a smile. “If you were to meet anyone it would be in your own field. Have you not been swept off your feet by a handsome chap, whispering sweet strings of code into your ear?”
He rolls his eyes at her, even though her nonsense always tugs a smile at the corner of his mouth.
“You're very secretive, and very stubborn,” she says, fondly.
“There is no one,” he assures her, but he's been repeating that verse a lot lately and it doesn't seem to be making a noticeable difference.
It has been forty eight hours, across three different countries, since Bond has indulged in proper sleep – something more than he could gather on a train between two dialects – and it's been closer to seventy two since he's been in the same time zone for longer than a day. There are dark circles underneath his tired eyes that are accentuated by the lines and wrinkles that come from his job – his work – his age. Something is wrong with his left calf, if the way he's putting pressure on his right is anything to go by, and it's likely minor – perhaps a stab wound, or torn muscle, or something else that he'll walk off and refuse to have treated.
These moments where Bond is cut down to skin and bone and human fragility – where Q is reminded, like a slap to the face, the stark differences between them – do more harm than he thought they might. Seeing Bond in his element, with all of the aces in his hand and the world underneath his feet, should be the image that sets him apart and makes Q's blood turn hot. The cracks around the edges, and the parts where the seams are coming undone, and the world weary face holding everything together should not be the thing that leaves his breath constricted and his pulse racing.
Bond seems more approachable when he is 007, because he's someone who Q knows. This man run ragged before him, who exudes exhaustion and world weariness, is intimidating; 007 is all but a persona, but James Bond is real. There is some glimmer of both in this moment; there must be, because Q is confident enough to approach him.
He grabs his trench from the back of his chair and says, casual as you please, “Take it you're not up for a scotch or two then?”
Q invites him because he knows, with absolute certainty, that he'll say 'no'; there's really no two ways about it. Because he's been in this position several times and he's weighed all of his options and found them all equally lacking. James Bond is not the sort of disaster he should let himself become embroiled in, but, regardless of what he should or shouldn't do, Q wants. He wants to throw caution to the wind, wants to let James wreck him with disregard for consequences and obligations, and he wants to acknowledge that doing everything he should do – everything that is good for him – is squandering his life away. He wants it with a desperation that annoys him; still, he's hoping Bond says 'no', because he doesn't know what he'd do with him if he were to say 'yes.'
Bond is predictable in his unpredictability; Q may not know what damage he will cause on a mission, but he knows it will be severe and require several strenuous conversations with an embassy of some sort. Q invites him because he's completely mad – because Bond is all he can think about – because he's completely fucking lost over a man he doesn't even really know. He doesn't know what he's doing.
“I think I can find the time,” Bond replies, and Q thinks he should stop placing bets, because it's turning out, more and more, like 007 is actively trying to prove him wrong.
One or two turns into three or four. The burn of the scotch is all but numb now in the back of his throat, on the tip of his tongue, and it reminds Q why his preferred drink of choice has always been brandy. Though he can appreciate the edge scotch takes off of Bond's smile, the way it relaxes the tension in his fingers as they curve around the glass. He imagines if his own hands were so rough, so worn and callused from years of abuse, and how they might feel against the cold, smoothness of the snifter.
It's a disastrous line of thinking. Because the smooth of the glass quickly becomes the smooth of his face, his neck; he thinks of the press of those fingers against the pale of his thighs and, just like that, he tips headfirst from wanting into longing. The alcohol makes it difficult to keep the flush from his face, from his neck, when he looks from Bond's fingers to his face and finds he's been caught staring. Bond's lips are curved at one side, relaxed and confident, and Q wants to prove him wrong – aches to prove him wrong – but he wants, more than that, to admit defeat.
His mind tells him that defeat makes him a statistic; another notch in a bedpost that resembles a scratching post more than anything else. It is getting harder and harder to decide whether or not he cares about the state of Bond's affairs, or where he ranks on a long list of names, and whether or not this has to be anything but give and take.
None of this, he reasons as he drains his glass, has to be anything more than it is.
Bond doesn't hide the way he watches Q's throat moves as he swallows, while he finishes his own scotch. He lives his life from day to day, with the assumption that there may not be a tomorrow to
wait for with subtlety and patience. He stares until Q feels dizzy with arousal, with memories of a night he hasn't had. Desire has been clawing at him for so long that he feels frayed and loose, like all he needs in this world is to have this man for one bloody night.
“Your bill,” Q says, because if he's going to ignore propriety and common sense then he's not also going to pay for the means by which he came to that decision.
“And I thought you were against being wooed,” Bond says, and orders another round. If his voice is a little rougher than normal then, well, Q can't blame him.
Bond's hands are everywhere from the word 'go' and Q doesn't know how he thought this would calm him any, because it feels as though he is coming out of his skin. There are lips against his neck and it's the combination of mouth and hands that pin him against the hallway wall. Q lets his head fall back against the wood with a thud he doesn't feel, and everything he has is focused on the drag of teeth that move up his throat, across his jugular, and to the curve of his ear.
His breathing feels labored, and heavy, and he wonders how he thought he could imagine this into existence. There's a horribly distinct difference between beating off in his own bed and the way Bond's erection feels pressed against his thigh, how his hips feel grinding against Q's own. There's a difference in the way Q undresses himself and the way Bond loosens his tie – the way he's unbuttoning Q's shirt and pushing it off his shoulders, quickly, like there's nothing he wants to see more than what's underneath. Despite his best attempts, there's no way he could have dreamed the heat in Bond's eyes, or the desperation in his movements; there's a hunger there that he hadn't anticipated and it leaves him panting and flushed.
“Don't be quiet on my account,” Bond says, against the shell of his ear.
“Fuck you,” he replies. There are hands working at his belt that make him feel lightheaded, drunk in a way the alcohol doesn't. “How's that?”
There is a surprised laugh huffed out against his skin, and Q's heart is a traitorous muscle that stutters in his chest. Lips press against his cheek, his jawline. “Anything you want, Q.”
Anything, he thinks and finds himself grasping at straws and taking hold of nothing. His mind is barely functional – too much alcohol and too little bare skin and far too many regrets already – and being asked what he wants merits a better answer than 'everything.' The word gets caught in his throat, like he might have considered saying it, and he swallows it in a groan when hands push his trousers past his hips.
His shirt is pulled down to his elbows and waist, arms stuck at the perfect angle to get two hands on Bond's shoulders. Bond's mouth is working down his navel when Q lets his head thump back against the wall again, because if he watches the man sink to his knees then this will all be over before it even begins, and he says, strangled, “I think I dreamt this.”
There is a groan against his skin, the vibration of it enough to send chills down his spine, and then Q forgets how to breathe, how to speak, how to make any noise at all.
The shadows cast around the room are a product of the streetlamps outside the bedroom window. Q doesn't usually give in to the whims of shamefulness or cowardice; he's not ashamed of his body or what he enjoys. Still, he can't help but wonder if all of that might change if the lights were all on now, with all the smooth lines of muscle and scarred skin underneath him that isn't typically available to judge him. Q wonders if some part of him feels self conscious in front of James – if he isn't a little glad to have only part of his figure outlined in the light from the window.
Although it doesn't feel as though the shadows are hiding anything at all. James' hands slide up and down his body as though they're mentally mapping every bone and joint individually. There's a slow appreciation in his movements, in the way he grips Q's hips tightly as he moves, and if he didn't know better he might think he's not the only one who has gotten in way over his head.
“Move,” James says, against his mouth, to the roll of his hips.
“Bossy,” Q notes, and he wants to lick the smirk that curves across that mouth. There's something so easy about this, so pleasant, that he might think they were other people entirely. “Make me.”
Even though he knows what will happen, there's still a part of him that enjoys the clench of muscles in James' biceps, the ease in which he lifts Q off of him and has them flipped, has Q pressed into the mattress, in one fluid movement. Q isn't sure what sounds he makes when James slides back in, easy and smooth, but it feels choked out of him.
It's nearly four in the morning when a mobile phone goes off. Q curls further into the warmth of the blankets – not at all into the heat of James' body – and wills the noise away; it doesn't go away, not until there's fumbling in the sheets to find it and the sleep-heavy, “Bond,” very near Q's ear. He doesn't hear the reply – hears the warbled sound of a voice but nothing else – and it's only because he feels Bond pull the phone away from his face that he looks up.
Bond holds out the phone to him and, even though it's little more than a blur without his glasses on, Q realizes that it's his phone. Which means there's maybe forty minutes before all of MI6 knows that James Bond is in his apartment at four in the morning – but it will have to wait, because work comes first.
He doesn't bother sitting up, or even so much as digging himself out of the blankets. He gets the phone as close to his face as he can manage and mutters, “Q speaking.”
“Terribly sorry, Q,” the voice on the other line says, and it sounds remarkably like Emily, who is just a new hire, and who has everything riding on her performance so perhaps she'll reconsider spreading rumors like wildfire, but perhaps she won't. “There's been a security breach.”
He wants to tell her to handle it, then hang up and sleep for the rest of his life, but they obviously can't handle it if they've already called him. Next to him, Bond's breathing has already evened out and Q hates him as severely as he possibly can.
The first shirt that Q picks up off of the floor does not belong to him. The fit of it is loose in the chest and under the arms, and the cuffs land just enough over his wrists to be irritating. The shirt is the wrong size, the wrong cut, the wrong material – but it fits on him easily enough, and he doesn't need to wear it for long.
The floor is cold against his bare feet. A window in the kitchen is open a crack, enough to let him know from the sound of water against the sill that it is raining, and it sweeps in an extra chill as he fills a kettle from the tap. Birds are sitting on the windowsill across from his own, as though they don't care that it's raining nor that the sky is just an endless expanse of grey and black; they're still tweeting, incessantly, and it's too early for that without caffeine in his blood.
He powers on his laptop and logs into the system, ignoring the dozen security warnings that pop up, and wonders if he should time how long it takes to fix someone else's mess from miles and miles away.
It takes forty minutes.
It could have been sooner, but at twenty minutes on the dot James finds him standing at the island, fingers flying across the keys, and he's incredibly difficult to ignore when he presses himself all along the length of Q's backside. He's absurdly comfortable in his own skin – and there's far too much of it on display for Q not to notice the words on his screen are blurring sort of disastrously.
“I am working,” he hisses, and it may have something to do with the fingers moving underneath the hem of the shirt he's wearing.
“I need this,” James says, of the wrinkled linen, and Q wants to tell him that he can have it – just so long as he leaves and lets him finish what he's doing – but then there are teeth grazing his shoulder and he's holding onto the countertop to keep himself upright-
It takes forty minutes to stabilize the system, but to be fair it isn't his fault.
Bond goes to Mumbai for two days, then to Dijon for four, and Q stays in his office and works. He works later than perhaps he needs to, because there are things that need to get done and progress that needs to be made. He works late, and sometimes falls asleep on the couch in one of the windowless conference rooms, and it has nothing at all to do with the fact that his flat is the single most annoying piece of his life at the moment.
He washes the sheets, he scrubs bruises and marks, and he doesn't think about who James is fucking in France or how many times he told himself this was the worst of ideas. He tries not to think about how naïve he must have been to think this could end so easily, because scratching a rash never makes the itch go away.
From Dijon to London, with a week's time between them, and nothing has changed. There is work to be done, reports to be filed, and a level of professionalism to maintain. James is standing outside the building when Q finally leaves for the night, leaned against the stone like a man waiting for something, and there is some sort of indescribable relief that curls tightly in him at that.
“Your place?” Bond asks, then offers. “I may even let you in my car.”
“I somehow get the feeling you're still without a flat of your own,” Q says, teases, and it's too comfortable.
There's the nagging in the back of his head that says no one crawled out of a downward spiral by continuing to freefall, but it feels like he's been going through withdrawals and, suddenly, everything is clear again. James tastes bitter like gin, and he's not so tired that he can't support both of their weight when Q wraps his legs around his waist. James' face is in his hands when he kisses him, open mouthed and filthy, and he smells of gunpowder and second-hand smoke; there's no hint of perfume on his clothes, no tint of lipstick on his mouth, and whether it's for his benefit or not he'll take it.
There is a wall against his back, then two broad palms against the plaster by his head, and it feels like he's going to suffocate.
Teeth nip at his lips, painful and wonderful, and one of those strong hands pushes his jaw to the side to lick a quick stripe all along his throat.
“Just bloody kill me,” Q mutters, fingers digging into James' scalp. “Fuck, I hate you-”
There is laughter, against his throat, low and fond and it settles pleasantly in his chest in a way that is terrifying.
The thing about lending part of yourself out to someone else is that there is really no insurance they'll keep tabs on it. Honestly, there's hardly any reassurance they'll take care of themselves.
Completely harmless attachment, Q thinks to himself, when the tracker in 007's arm blinks off the screen and his heart drops impossibly into his stomach.
“Are you sleeping?” Felicity asks on the weekend, and she has to mean the dark lines underneath his eyes that no amount of scrubbing in the sink seems to take care of. He sleeps, at one point or another, every night and there's no reason to be concerned. Even if the sleep he has is restless, even if it leaves him waking up with an itching in his fingers and a desire to accomplish a goal that hasn't been set. He sleeps, even if that sleep is interrupted by the ideas and resources that won't stop churning over and over, like a stock ticker, in his mind.
When he returns to his flat it's dark, and cold, and empty. He eats soup and rechecks the forty security cameras in Champagne that saw glimpses of an agent that no one has seen since. He watches them again, and again, and again, and learns absolutely nothing new. There is a familiar prickling in the back of his mind, because he's gone through these motions before and he knows the only thing to do is wait; if Bond is alive – and he is alive – he'll be found when he wants to be found.
His bed is cold, and empty, but familiar.
“Go home,” Emily says, on the second night he finds himself sleeping standing up at his computer.
He's awake enough to look startled. “Excuse-”
“Did I stutter?” she asks, as though she is something more than a very replaceable assistant in a very competitive position. She is already handing him his bag and, strangely, her eyes brook no argument. “To be quite honest, you are a mess.”
He can't argue with that.
It takes two weeks.
The ones who know James Bond best know how to play this waiting game, but Q doesn't know him at all.
“Absolutely not,” Q says, when he drops his keys on the table and very nearly eats his own heart as it leaps into his throat. He has one hand on his chest, and he's both annoyed and stupidly, stupidly relieved. There's a familiar shadow in his dining room. “You do not get to scare the bloody hell out of me and then expect me to be happy to see you, you pompous ass.”
“I would never expect your happiness, Q,” James assures him, and there's humor in his voice, in his eyes, even though so much of him looks so, so tired. “I know you'll have me work for it.”
To be honest it takes thirteen days for Bond's status to change from 'MIA' to accounted for, but if no one of worth knows of it until the fourteenth then who is to say it happens any earlier?
“I can feel your disapproval from here,” Q says.
“You'll find no judgment from me,” Eve assures him, and she huffs out a fond sigh. “Though if I've ever seen a hopeless case then this would be it.”
“My work is impeccable,” he says, without looking up from his screen. “My personal life has no effect on my performance.”
“Oh, I'm sure,” she replies, and leans in close to him and lets her eyes wander to the end of the room. “I was talking about him.”
Q does look up then, because he feels eyes on him and it's a familiar feeling. He's not surprised to see 007 watching him, as he talks to someone completely different, but perhaps he should be. He is a little surprised at her comment, when she leans in closer and says, voice low, “Go easy on him.”
Q wakes up, sometimes, to the sun filtering in through sheer curtains. Sometimes his sheets smell like Bergamot and cedar, and sometimes there's still another body stretched out along them.
Sometimes there isn't anyone else there, but these days it's more often than not.