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00Q00Q00Q

James Bond never looks at Q unless he wants something.

Q knows this, because it’s become a habit after Skyfall. Bond will stay away for weeks without a word or a whisper, and then something will blow up halfway round the world and, like clockwork, he’s back at Six, strutting about like he owns the place.

It shouldn’t be distracting, but Bond’s got a presence that draws eyes and attention; all he’s got to do is walk into the lab and Q can’t help but stop whatever he’s doing to look at him. And it’s then that Bond glances at him just so while he hands over another kitschy souvenir or an exotic blend of tea. It sends Q’s heart stuttering pathetically when he smiles and it’s not difficult at all to give in to whatever Bond asks, even if he has run Q’s department budget nearly bankrupt with his negligence.

He berates himself often for giving in, because Q knows he ought to be better than that. He ought to know that Double-Ohs manipulate and use people for their own ends, but Bond’s smile is like that one he wore the day in the gallery when he’d said Q like he respected him, and Q honestly wants to believe that it’s so. It also doesn’t help that he’s always been a bit weak for blue eyes, and Bond’s are so very, very blue.

Sometimes Q thinks that maybe he sees something else in Bond’s eyes when asking for favours, but maybe it’s just wishful thinking. After all, Bond’s never propositioned him or touched him suggestively, even when he’s had ample opportunity to do so. He had the opportunity when Q stitched him up after the incident in Cairo (and subsequent incidents in Buenos Aires and Oslo and Milan and a dozen others) and all those long nights he’d loitered in branch when Q had been working instead of sleeping. Still, Bond hadn’t acted, or hadn’t noticed, and so Q has to tell himself over and over again that nothing is ever going to happen.

Besides, Bond travels to the most exotic of places and makes love to some of the most beautiful and interesting women in the world. He’d never be interested in someone like Q, who is neither beautiful nor interesting.

Well, aside from his gadgets. Bond is very, very interested in those.

It should make Q bitter or angry to be used in such a way, but he wants to think that maybe he’s special, even just a little bit, in Bond’s life. He wants to think that Bond respects him and trusts him more than anyone else. But most of all, he wants to think that that sometimes smile Bond gives is just for him.

Wishful thinking, all of it.

Q tells himself he should be more firm, especially after the debacle in Mexico. He’s branch head, after all. He ought to be keeping his agents in line, even if he has a particular weakness for Double-Oh-Seven. So he tells himself he’s not going to give in this time. He’s going to show off and not give in to Bond’s smile or his electric gaze. Double-Oh-Nine gets the car; all Bond’s getting is a watch that tells the time (and also explodes, but that’s for him to know and Bond to find out if he’s clever enough).

Well, that had been the plan anyway.

The moment Bond’s in front of him, Q feels his intensity like the heat of the sun, the draw of a magnet, and his admonishment for playing with experimental weaponry dies on his tongue at the smirk that Bond aims his way.

It takes all he has not to tremble when he eases Bond’s arm into position to administer the Smart Blood prototype. Even through his nitrile gloves, Q feels the heat of Bond’s skin, and it kindles an ache of desire in him that he desperately tries to ignore. It’s been a while, he supposes. A very long while, actually.

Concentrate he tells himself.

But it proves difficult at the hiss Bond lets out after the injection pierces his flesh, at the appreciative little breath that Bond lets out at the sight of the car (he still manages a barb magnificent isn’t she? Assigned to Double-Oh-Nine). But it’s even harder to focus when he sees the way Bond’s fingers caress the face of the watch that Q built especially for him, as if touching a lover. It makes Q giddy for some reason. So giddy that he laughs at his own attempt at a poor joke. When neither Bond nor Tanner laughs with him, Q hurriedly sobers and hopes that the embarrassed heat doesn’t show in his cheeks.

What is he doing, anyway? Imagining himself being touched by those fingers? Like he’s a prepubescent girl?

Mentally berating himself, Q offers a formal farewell to Bond and goes to his workstation so that he doesn’t have to watch the other man leave. But Bond doesn’t go. He comes up beside Q and leans his back against the table, so close that their elbows touch. Q watches him from the corner of his eye as Bond scans the room, then looks down at something in his hand.

Look at me he thinks, and Bond does for just a moment when he asks: “Will you do something for me?”

At those words, Q’s heart sinks, just a bit. He had known it was coming, but still. He’d hoped, just in that instant, that it might be different this time.

He sighs.

“What did you have in mind?”

00Q00Q00Q

Q’s never felt more idiotic in his life.

Yes, he’d practically gift wrapped the car--because he knew the moment Bond laid eyes on it that he wouldn’t be leaving London in anything but the DB10--but then Bond had gone and crashed it and made a scene, and all after Q had lied to M about everything.

And Q panics.

He can’t lose his job, not after he’d fought so hard to earn it, then to keep it after the Skyfall disaster. Not when he’s got a mortgage and two cats to feed and several agents out on assignment that might need his assistance at any moment. Not when he’s got a potential threat of Nine Eyes going online and completely destroying all that MI6--and the free world--stands for.

So he makes a rash decision and takes the next flight to Austria, downing anti-anxiety pills without heeding the proper dosage so that he can sleep instead of panic at the probability of a painful death by engine malfunction while 35,000 feet above solid ground.

He’s shaky when the plane lands and definitely not looking his best after spending hours on a windy, snow-covered road trying to pinpoint Bond’s precise coordinates. But eventually, Q finds Bond in a beautiful mountaintop resort clinic, at the bar, of course, trying to get a drink even though it’s still too early to be a respectable hour.

Q sits next to him and orders a drink, half in an attempt to act natural, half to get something in his stomach to stop the tremor in his hand that sometimes manifests when he forgets to eat for too many hours. Despite his shakiness, when he speaks, he injects a bit more firmness than he usually employs just to drive the point home that the situation is serious. But it’s all very hard when Bond looks just as good out of a suit as he does in one.

Look at me, Q thinks, and that’s when Bond’s eyes meet his as he puts a body-warm ring in his hands and says: “Do one more thing for me, then you’re out. Find out what you can from this.”

“I really, really hate you right now,” slips past Q’s lips before he can stop himself.

But it’s the truth in part. Q honestly hates his weakness, hates the way that he will do anything and everything for Bond when he asks, hates the way he can hardly breathe when Bond smiles and says thank you, Q, like he means it. But most of all, he hates the way his heart flutters when Bond says he’ll be at Q’s hotel in an hour, as if they’re lovers arranging a tryst.

Of course, getting to the hotel proves more complicated than Q imagined.

See, Q’s not cleared for fieldwork, though technically his marksmanship is on par with the top agents and he’s got a decent knack for figuring his way out of difficult situations. But he’s also nearly blind without his glasses and borderline anaemic and about a stone too light to do much in a fight.

So he feels like an idiot when he’s cornered in the ski lift, when there’s nothing he can do but set up an automated system shutdown on his laptop to start in twenty minutes, just in case they take him. There’s some relief in knowing his work will be destroyed rather than fall into the wrong hands if he dies.

Q’s throat is dry at the prospect.

The threat is very present and very dangerous and if Q doesn’t think of something before the lift touches down at the resort, he’s in very big trouble. He suddenly very much wants to be in his flat in London, in his pyjamas with his cats and tea where it’s safe. The thought of never going home again--of being being taken and tortured and killed--makes his mind blank with fear. But then he remembers that Bond is counting on him and that’s he got to survive because there’s no one else.

So Q does what he does best--what he’s been best at since he was fourteen years old and running away from a family that never had any affection for him--and finds the perfect opportunity to disappear.

00Q00Q00Q

It seems like it’s only been a few seconds since he arrived back at the hotel when suddenly there’s a knock at the door.

The knowledge that it’s Bond makes Q pull down at his jumper self-consciously. His hand shakes with the motion, and it’s then that Q realises he never did get a chance to have that drink. His blood sugar is probably in the tank, but he’s got a job to do and he hopes he’s not sweating or trembling or looking pathetic. After all, this is his chance to prove to Bond that he’s reliable and someone to be trusted, someone to be respected, maybe even someone to take out for drinks if he felt so inclined.

But when Q opens the door, there’s a woman with Bond, and his heart twinges with that familiar, broken feeling when he realises what her presence means.

“Enchanted,” Q says to her, then looks at Bond, but he’s turned away, and Q’s left to glare at the corner of his shoulder instead.

He shouldn’t be surprised or hurt or much of anything, because Q should know by now that he is nothing to Bond but the person who lets him do what he wants. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but there’s nothing for it, not now.

“You were right,” Q tells Bond, back to business as usual. It’s not the place or time for this sort of love sickness anyway.

But the moment he sits, Bond is there at his back, standing as he has done so many a night in the lab while Q worked. He can feel the heat radiating from Bond, even through his jumper, through Bond’s winter coat. It’s comforting, Q thinks, to have him so close, standing with his hand resting against the back of his chair, leaning in so near that Q can smell the sweat and musk of him.

Look at me he thinks, when they’re through, but it’s nothing more than a glance and a smile that doesn’t reach Bond’s eyes when he says, “Go back to London.”

And Q does.

00Q00Q00Q

Q’s been sick with anxiety since he left Austria.

It’s mostly due to the fact that he hasn’t been able to sleep well since Mallory told him to stop tracking Bond for his own safety, since Q trashed the Smart Blood programmes at work and wiped the server. He’s been actively trying not to worry about Bond and the fate of their jobs and the looming threat that Nine Eyes poses to every person in the entire world.

Out of all of those things, Q can only do something about one of them, so he goes home and rebuilds the Smart Blood programme from the original source code he salvaged. Then he protects it with an uncrackable algorithm of his own design and builds it into an innocuous app on his mobile phone.

When he’s through, it’s three in the morning and he’s more exhausted than he can ever remember being before, but he can keep tabs on Bond again without fearing surveillance. Double-Oh Programme or no, Q has to make sure his agents are safe until they return home.

It’s the least Q can do before they all become obsolete.

The app looks like a fitness tracker and Q spends the day watching it out of the corner of his eye in between projects and meetings and putting the finishing touches on the new Aston Martin. He watches the screen at lunch as the dot moves about, Bond’s vital signs strong and alive. At night, he watches those same vitals spike once or twice with hard activity, and Q’s heart aches with the knowledge that it’s the company of that woman that causes it.

He tries not to think about it, because there’s too much to think about without worrying about Bond, especially when Mallory sends Moneypenny to him in the middle of the night with a mission. They’re going to commit treason so come expediently and Jesus buggering fuck, he might actually be in over his head.

But then Mallory says we’re going to need Bond and Q knows he can’t be anywhere else.

Not even two days later, Q finds a postcard in the box at his home address. It’s written in a code that he has to crack with an old cipher MI6 spies used during the Cold War and it’s so clever that it has Q grinning for the first time in what feels like forever. He knows it’s Bond, even if he can’t trace the source, and it makes him giddy knowing that, out of everyone, Bond contacted him first.

The message has that evening’s date and the words: HILDEBRAND 2300.

Q’s never heard of Hildebrand before, and he’s not about to Google it or look it up on a server somewhere Nine Eyes can see it. The delivery screams safe house to him, though its location is a mystery. The only people who would know the Capital “S” Safe House locations would be Tanner or Mallory, but Q knows enough to be careful about how to go about getting the message along to them.

He manages to arrange a brief meeting during lunch hours with Moneypenny. They have a pastry and then take a shortcut back to Six through a dead zone where there are no cameras. Q gives Moneypenny the details. She’s serious for a moment, as if she’s debating what it all means, but then there’s a security camera winking at them from the bank across the street, and she’s smiling and putting her arm around him like they’ve just shared a joke.

But Q can barely smile for his anxiety. It persists all day as he waits for word from upstairs, and when none comes, he worries that something might have happened. But that evening, there’s a car waiting for him outside that drops him at another car that drops him across the street from Tanner, who drives him to another location to acquire Moneypenny. They meet Mallory just off The Mall on a conveniently dark street with no security cameras. It’s only then that it truly sinks in.

They’re going to commit treason.

But as they make their way to the safe house, the fear leaves Q. They’re doing the right thing for Queen and Country. They’re going to shut down Nine Eyes for good and save the entire world from unlawful, invasive surveillance. They’re going to reinstate the Double-Oh Programme and everything will go back to the way it was: Bond blowing things up and then coming round asking for favours with that smile and those eyes and Q not being able to say no.

Q really ought to learn how to say no.

That thought leaves his mind the minute they arrive in the upstairs safehouse at Hildebrand. Bond’s there in the dark, Q knows, even if he can’t see him immediately. Q’s out of breath from climbing the stairs and his bag is digging into his shoulder painfully and he’s a right mess from not sleeping for days, but Bond’s presence puts his nerves at ease, quells the shaking in his hands. But she’s there too--that beautiful woman from Austria--and Q tries not to think about what her presence means because he can’t, not right now.

Look at me he thinks instead, and Bond does just out of the corner of his eye before assuring Mallory: “If anyone can do it, Q can.”

00Q00Q00Q

Q does, somehow.

After getting shot at and nearly killed, he manages it with seconds left. His attack is ungraceful and brutal, but, in the end, it works and that’s all that matters. It’s only after, when Denbigh’s dead, that Q realises they’ve done it.

They’ve won.

But Bond is still missing and it doesn’t feel at all like a victory. Q is just about to check his mobile app to see where they’d taken Bond, but then the demolition warning sirens start across the Thames and Q’s heart climbs into his throat because he knows.

“Shit,” Tanner says.

Moneypenny looks at him, then at Q, finally at Mallory, who has this grim sort of look on his face like there’s nothing for it. Q’s arm trembles round his laptop. He might be able to do something, anything, to help, but he’s barely thought this when the old Babylon-on-Thames disappears right before their eyes.

“He might have made it out,” Moneypenny says weakly, and Q doesn’t know if she’s saying this for them or for herself, but it hurts all the same.

And it hurts even more when they’re standing on Westminster Bridge and Q can see through the dark and smoke and flame that Bond is alive. Bond’s there with his gun and that determination that makes his body look dangerous, like the weapon everyone considers him to be. And he is a weapon, yes, but no one’s seen Bond like Q’s seen him at two in the morning when he’s just back from a mission, looking for all the world like a man in need of comfort and a kind word, a reminder that he’s a person and not a blunt instrument to be used and discarded. He loves the work like Q loves the work because it’s who he is, but not all he is.

And all Q can think is Look at me.

But Bond doesn’t.

Instead of taking the shot, he drops the gun and turns away. And then Q sees her standing there, sees the way Bond is drawn to her, moth to flame, and Q averts his eyes because he can’t watch them embrace. He just can’t. And he’s not crying though he wants to so very, very much, because he honestly had hoped against all hoping that Bond had felt some measure of affection for him.

But in the end, James Bond only looked at Q when he needed something, and that was all.

Moneypenny puts a hand on his arm.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just...the smoke,” Q says, and blinks to clear the wetness away.

Moneypenny puts a hand on his cheek and Q just can’t look at her, but he knows she knows just by the way she sighs.

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m fine,” Q says again, even though he swears his heart is breaking. “I’m fine.”

00Q00Q00Q

He doesn’t go home.

There’s too much to do, too many loose ends to tie up, so Q goes to his lab and sets up his computer and works and works and works. He doesn’t think about the app on his phone or where Bond is or what he’s doing, because then he knows he’ll be unable to do anything else.

So he works until he can’t anymore, then goes home on a mandatory week leave and sleeps for three days. When he wakes, he discovers that the milk’s gone off in his fridge and all of his leftovers have to be binned, but if there’s one saving grace it’s that his inventions have kept the cats fed, watered, and their box clean, so they are overly affectionate with him just when he most needs it. But even their purring and kneading doesn’t soothe that hurt, broken thing in him that despairs knowing Bond is gone and will never look at him like he wants something ever again.

There’s nothing for Q but the job now, so on the fourth day of his leave, Q goes into work long before the sun rises, ahead of all other administration that might send him back home. He doesn’t go to the tunnels to check on TSS like he ought to. Instead, he goes to the lab filled with half-finished prototypes, broken equipment, and gadgetry in need of repair.

It’s the sight of the beautifully restored Aston Martin that gets him. Q had been hoping to give it to Bond as a gift, believing that maybe he’d take better care of his things if they were things he cared about. But now there’s no Bond and the car will go to another Double-Oh who wouldn’t appreciate it like Bond would have.

Q covers the car with a tarp so he doesn’t have to look at it, then tackles his emotions like any upstanding British person and makes some tea. It’s the expensive kind--some blend that Bond had brought back from some mountain on the other side of the world--that he saves for particularly bad days in need of improvement. But the taste of it isn’t soothing, the scent a reminder of what Bond had smelt like when he’d returned from that far away place. The knowledge that he won’t be returning this time turns him off entirely. So he sets the steaming cup down at his elbow and gets to work.

For the first time in what feels like forever, it’s quiet.

It’s so quiet that Q loses himself momentarily. There’s no sadness, no ache of betrayal, no heavy tiredness or weariness. It’s blissful not having to think about what happened, about what will happen, about never seeing Bond again, about never allowing himself to fall in love with someone like that ever again.

The jostle of the lift startles him out of his work, making Q frown and blink at his watch. It’s only just come on six in the morning and there’s no staff scheduled to the labs until at least 0900. Truly he can’t imagine any of his subordinates coming in at such an hour when not in a state of emergency, so the list of possible persons dwindles down to the single digits.

And then the doors open and Q swears his heart stops beating because he’d know that silhouette anywhere.

“007?”

“Q.”

Q swallows the hard thing in his throat, because Bond is looking at him--really looking--and it threatens to crush the remains of his weary, wounded heart.

Don’t look at me he thinks, because he doesn’t think he can stand it this time.

“I-I thought you’d gone,” Q says, his voice wavering as Bond comes to a stop before him: pristine, smooth lines of muscle and silk and wool and those dangerously blue, blue eyes.

“There’s just one more thing.”

Q looks at his shoulder instead of at him.

“What’s that?” Q asks.

And then Bond’s there in front of him, so close that Q could touch him if he dared to close that space between them. But Q moves away.

“What do you need?” Q asks, fighting back that terrible, hurting thing in his throat with all of his self-control. He will not cry in front of James Bond. He will not shout. He will give Bond whatever he wants, one last time, before he disappears forever.

“There’s a car if you need it,” Q keeps on, when Bond doesn’t say anything. He turns away while he still has the strength. “It’s yours anyway, just take it.”

“That’s not what I was going to ask.”

Q begins stacking things on his desk for something to do.

“You can’t have the grenade launcher, Bond.”

“I don’t want the grenade launcher, Q.”

Q slams down a binder on top of the stack before picking it up and bringing it over to his spare workstation.

“And for the last time, I’m not making you an exploding pen.”

“That’s fine. The exploding watch is my new favourite.”

Q drops the stack onto the table.

“What do you want, then?”

The words come out cross and Q thinks he should be proud of it, because he should have stood up to James Bond a long time ago.

“You.”

Q breathes out and rests his hands on the desk. Trust Bond to hit him right where it hurts.

“You can’t say things like that, Bond. You can’t just--”

“I’m not.”

At those two words, Q can’t help but turn round, because he’s stupidly, desperately hopeful that Bond’s not lying to him. What he sees is nothing like what he expected, because Bond’s standing before him like a man and not a weapon and he’s looking at Q like he never wants to look at anyone else again.

“I’m not just saying it.”

Q blinks back the tears threatening at the corners of his eyes.

“I’m too exhausted to play your game right now, Bond. Just tell me what it is you want this time and be done with it.”

Bond touches Q’s hand tentatively. It’s shocking to think that James Bond can be tentative, but he is in that gesture, in the soft press of his fingertips against Q’s.

“Look at me,” Bond says.

Instead of looking at Bond, Q focuses on those fingers pressed gently against the delicate bones of his hand and knows that Bond could hurt him if he wanted to, but that he never would. Q wonders what that says about him when the person he trusts most is one of the most deadly assassins in the world.

“Q.”

“Bond.”

He touches Q’s wrist, just the outside at first, then round to the inside where his callused fingers press lightly against Q’s pulse point.

“Look at me,” Bond says again.

“Why?”

“Because,” Bond clasps his hand loosely round Q’s wrist and holds him there with a tenderness that Q can’t quite believe, “I want to see you.”

“Maybe,” Q says, unable to keep the tremble from his voice, “I don’t want you to see me.”

Bond’s free hand caresses the side of Q’s jaw, and it makes his breath stutter and nearly stop, because Bond is touching him like he would touch a lover, and even if it’s dishonest and unfair, Q doesn’t pull away or berate Bond for his atrocious behaviour. Instead, Q closes his eyes and leans into it, because even if it’s a farce, a lie, a manipulative manoeuvre, Q wants to believe it’s real, just for a moment.

“It’s hard not to see you.”

Q looks at Bond’s tie, at the lines of his suit, the stitch of his collar, anything to keep himself from thinking hopeful, foolish thoughts. Bond wants something, that’s all. He has no concept of how cruel his words are. None at all.

But then Bond sighs gently, like he does sometimes after a mission when it’s late and just the two of them, like he wants to say something but can’t find the words.

In the cold, grey morning, he seems to find them:

“You’re the only one who looks at me like that.”

Q swallows.

“Like what?”

“Like you love me.”

Q has to force himself to breathe, to arrange the syllables neatly so they don’t stumble and fall over one another, because this is a game and not real and he can’t say what he truly means, not to Bond, not ever.

“I don’t love you,” Q says.

“Prove it,” Bond says, and tips Q’s chin up. “Look at me.”

And Q does.

Bond’s overwhelmingly everything dangerous and beautiful, his eyes piercing, perceptive, and so, so blue. Of course, all those times he wanted Bond to look at him and he hadn’t and now, the moment he wishes to hide away, to let the raw hurt abate, now is when Bond chooses to look at him.

“Say it,” Bond says.

Don’t look at me Q thinks, because he wants to cry at the lie that tumbles past his lips:

“I don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“I don’t,” Q says again as a shameful tear escapes his right eye, “I don’t love you.”

Bond releases the grip on Q’s wrist, and then suddenly there are two warm hands cradling his face, a rough thumb brushing away the errant tear on his cheek. In that moment, Q feels unbelievably safe and loved, because no one’s ever held him like this before, and maybe no one ever will again. And that’s okay because it’s Bond and he loves him.

He loves him so much.

Q’s not sure what does it, but something clears in Bond’s expression and then he smiles in a way that makes Q’s knees weak.

“Liar,” Bond says, and kisses him.

It’s not what Q expected at all. He’s heard Bond kiss--quite a bit actually--over the comms, and he’s heard some very detailed first hand accounts on what it’s like to be kissed by him, but it’s nothing at all like any of that. There’s no aggression in it, no demand for submission, and Bond’s not backing him into a wall or furniture and trying to rip off his clothes like he does on (and sometimes off) missions.

This is different. Slow, sweet, affectionate, like Bond’s telling him I’m here and I’m looking at you and only you now and Q feels his head go light with disbelief and pleasure because he’s never been kissed quite like this before.

When it ends--and it does end, all too soon for Q’s liking--Bond’s eyes have gone dark and Q’s sure he’s forgotten how to breathe.

And then Bond looks at him and smiles and says:

“There’s just one more thing.”

00Q00Q00Q

Q wakes in Bond’s bed.

The terrace door is cracked slightly, just enough that Q can feel the cool brush of night air against his bare shoulder, hear the steady flood of traffic on the street below.

He’s alone, that much he knows. There’s no weight or warmth of another body beside him, only the fragrance of sweat and sex upon the cool sheets. Q closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, because he’s been here before, left alone by countless lovers who always took and never stayed. He frowns at the ache in his chest. He ought to know better by now that when people say love they don’t mean it, especially people like Bond.

Q turns over and curls into the place where Bond had been before, where they’d finally come together, where they’d belonged since that first moment they met in the National Gallery and spoke of grand old warships and the inevitability of time.

He’d honestly thought it might work out, because Bond kissed him like the world would end tomorrow and worshipped him like no lover ever had before. But, that’s what Double-Ohs did, and falling for Bond was just guaranteed heartache. He had been naive to believe anything else.

But just as Q is thinking this, he hears a step from the terrace, the soft tread of bare feet moving toward the bed. And then the mattress dips as Bond slides behind him and curls round Q’s body like he’d been made to be there. Q leans back into him, into the lips that drag along the back of his neck into his hair and send gooseflesh down his arms.

“I thought you’d gone,” Q says, for the second time that day.

Bond hums contently.

“This is right where I want to be.”

Q calms the erratic beating of his heart by sheer force of will.

“What about Dr. Swann?”

“What about her?”

Q swallows.

“You...left together.”

“We did.”

At those two words, Q recalls that night and the way Bond had gone to her, been drawn to her, and his eyes feel hot.

“Why did you come back?”

“You sound angry.”

Q turns his cheek into the pillow.

“I’m not.”

Bond kisses at the wing of Q’s shoulder.

“I made a promise to her father that I would protect her,” Bond explains. “I took her somewhere safe.”

“Are you going back, then?” Q asks, round the hard thing in his throat that quivers with each gentle press of Bond’s lips to his skin.

“No,” Bond says. “She wanted out of this kind of life.”

Q closes his eyes.

“And you?”

“I told you,” Bond murmurs, as he trails kisses up the back of Q’s neck, “this is right where I want to be.”

Q feels his heartbeat pick up, a heavy thump-thump-thump of anticipation and hope at Bond’s words.

“Since when?”

“Since you told me to put my back into it.”

Q wants to laugh, but words tumble past his lips instead.

“That long?”

Bond nuzzles at the place just behind Q’s ear.

“Maybe before that, actually. It was all that flirty talk about what you could do in your pyjamas.”

Q actually does laugh at that, and Bond does too.

“But honestly,” Q says.

“Honestly.”

“You certainly took your time.”

Bond presses his forehead against the back of Q’s neck and breathes like it hurts. It’s a long time before he says anything, and when he does, the words are not at all what Q expected.

“I was afraid.”

It’s a revelation that feels incredibly intimate, even more intimate than sex. And Q understands without Bond having to explain. There had been too many people he’d loved and trusted and then ultimately lost.

Q puts his hand over Bond’s.

“And now?” Q asks.

“Still afraid,” Bond admits.

And he’s not the only one. Q’s afraid--terribly, awfully afraid--of all of this, of the potential of what they could be, of falling even more in love with Bond and the feel of him against his back, the weight of him on the mattress, the breath against his shoulder. What will become of him if Bond leaves? If Bond dies?

“I’m sorry,” Bond says, and it takes Q a moment to realise it’s because he’s started shaking. Bond smooths his warm palm down Q’s back in a comforting gesture. “I shouldn’t have come back.”

Bond makes to move away, but Q grasps onto his hand. He’s afraid, yes, but more so of letting this go.

Of letting Bond go.

“No,” Q says, twining their fingers together. “I’m glad you did.”

Bond kisses the back of his neck, and it’s reverent, adoring, and Q suddenly can’t imagine a future without Bond in it. He turns under Bond’s arm and kisses him, very softly, on the mouth, because Bond’s never been more of a man and less of a weapon than in this moment, and Q loves him so very much for it.

“Could you do one more thing for me?” Bond asks.

Q closes his eyes and sighs.

“What’s that?”

“Look at me.”

Q does, and Bond’s eyes are so blue that he can hardly breathe.

“Ask me to stay.”

There’s something vulnerable there, in the way Bond wants to be wanted so ardently, and Q knows, as he has known from the beginning, that he can never resist when Bond asks him for anything.

“Stay,” Q says. “Stay with me.”

Bond’s fingers card through his hair, then fall down to rest at his neck, his thumb resting at the place where Q’s pulse thrums beneath his skin. It won’t be forever, they both know that, but it will be for as long as they’re able. And that will be enough.

“Okay.”

Bond no longer seems apprehensive or afraid. If anything, he sounds like he’s content, like he’s happy, and for the first time in a long time, Q thinks he might be too.

“I’ll stay.”