“New security measures,” Mallory had said a week ago, and tossed a file down on his new desk in his new office. “Living in a hotel is too insecure.”
“We have a list of approved properties,” Tanner had added, always helpful, and set down a much smaller stack of printouts. “Judging by the cost of your last flat — which you’ll be compensated for — the first is likely to be the most... amenable.”
To date, Bond had been living out of suitcases and his storage locker — and he was not going to think about the empty Aston Martin-shaped hole there, because it was one step from there to thinking about other losses. Now, he followed an estate agent around an open space.
“Of course, we can have a crew come in to make any changes you’d like,” she said, gesturing around with a steel pen. The flash of sunlight on metal made Bond think of a half dozen ways he could use the pen to kill her. “Walls, new flooring — but I like the open floorplan. Isn’t it lovely?” She turned the full force of her bright, too-white smile on Bond.
The flat was an entire half of the building, a structure suffering from a severe identity crisis. It wanted to be a warehouse, judging by the exposed concrete pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows, but had accidentally turned into a skyscraper in miniature. The floors were dyed, polished concrete done in rust brown like old blood. The rooms flowed one into another — well, what ‘rooms’ there were. The kitchen was marked by its granite countertops, island, and cupboards. The bathroom had proper walls and a door. Everything else, though, was open.
Bond idly thought about shoji screens to give the illusion of privacy. They crumbled so easily under the force of a body. Gunshots made neat little holes in the paper.
“I’m not sure lovely is a term I’d use,” he said somewhat idly, walking over to investigate the view. There was no direct line of sight from the neighbouring buildings’ windows, which was certainly a factor in the flat’s favour. In fact, it was a relatively unobstructed view of London rolling out from his position on the thirteenth floor. His heart tugged a little, and Bond wished he had a drink in his hand. London, England. Home.
He turned back to look at the kitchen, as if he actually gave a rat’s arse about it. But he’d already made up his mind. “It’s serviceable.” The unobstructed lines of the interior and the fact that it only shared the floor with one other flat were excellent considerations, but it was really the view that made up his mind. “Where would I park?” he asked, presuming that one day he’d actually get another car, when he forgot about the loss of the Aston Martin.
“There’s a carpark in the basement. I’d be happy to arrange a spot. I can include it the purchase price, if you’d like, just to keep the finances simple. One spot or two for your... Wife? Partner?” she hinted strongly.
“A second one won’t be necessary,” he said before turning to smile suggestively at the estate agent. Early forties, did yoga or Pilates or something boring like that. Probably looking for her next rich ex-husband so she could stop working. If she was an assassin, she was a good one.
“Well. Shall I just write you up, then?” she asked, tapping her iPad. “If you’d like to put in a down payment to hold the flat, we can start the paperwork straight away.”
Bond watched her for a moment, evaluating the bonus flexibility she’d probably have in bed versus the efficiency of getting settled into his new flat quickly. Of course, the current empty state of the flat presented a logistics problem, though the kitchen counter would be good enough if she were adventurous. But practicality won out; the idea of once again being able to set up his own security trumped an easy conquest, which wasn’t difficult to secure. As much as he enjoyed his five-star hotel’s amenities, there was something to be said for being in control of the comings and goings of strangers.
He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “Excellent,” he said, handing over a black Barclaycard.
Money smoothed the way for almost anything. With no plans for living to retirement age, Bond paid hefty fees to expedite paperwork. Within a week, a vetted crew of moonlighting MI6 security guards emptied his secure storage unit and moved everything into his new flat, leaving Bond with a stack of packing crates, disassembled furniture, and bags in an otherwise empty space.
“Well. Love what you’ve done with it.”
Bond didn’t bother to turn, nor to ask precisely how his uninvited visitor had got hold of a key. He’d be changing the door locks, at any rate. “You’re just in time to help move furniture.”
“Good. Let’s start with the sofa. I need somewhere to stay,” Alec Trevelyan — 006 — said as he let himself in. He went right for the kitchen, and Bond heard bottles clink. “Have any glasses?”
“Absolutely. Of the finest shape to properly enjoy what had best be Macallan. But I’m holding their location ransom until you put in the effort necessary to earn their use.” Bond was fairly certain that the glasses were in the box under his coffee pot, but it wouldn’t hurt to ‘accidentally’ name the wrong one in order to expedite the unpacking process. He straightened and looked at the couch. It needed to face the windows.
“Christ, you’re a right bastard,” Alec accused. He took off his jacket, though, and tossed it over the counter. “So, where do we start?” he asked, rolling up his sleeves. “And why here? Since when do you like... What is this? Hipster-chic?”
“Clean lines, easy cleanup if someone bleeds out on the floor, high potential for advanced security.” Bond shot a half grin Alec’s way as he pushed boxes away from the centre of what he decided was going to be the living room. “Have you looked out the windows yet?”
He knew Alec would understand as soon as he saw the view. As much as they both appreciated crossing Xs on a map to mark their adventures, London was home.
Alec navigated around the boxes and went to the windows, walking left to right to take in the half-circle view. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, pushing open one of the windows. The panel of glass squares opened out at an angle, with hinges at the top. There was only a simple latch, as if the architect had thought the building secure enough not to need locks. Bond would change that.
The flat was shaped like an L, rather than a U, only because one arm was cut off for utilities, the emergency staircase, and a cargo lift. The smaller passenger lift pierced the centre of the building. The large double doors to the tiny foyer were sturdy metal and easily secured.
“I’m surprised, James. It’s not your style, but it’s nice. Very nice,” Alec approved. He grinned and went to the boxes. “Is the flat across the hall available? Could be useful if we pick up twins. I may have had an incident at my place.”
Bond thought about Alec’s levels of descriptions for his ‘incidents’. Alec had once called a street brawl in Morocco over an admittedly beautiful woman a ‘scuffle,’ so Bond wondered if this particular incident actually meant bloodshed of the more serious variety. “I haven’t met anyone yet, but the door lock is high tech and active, so I assume someone lives there. Shouldn’t be too much trouble to scare them away, though, if you like.” Bond smiled wickedly at Alec and walked back to the couch, waving at his friend to follow.
Alec grinned and picked up his end of the couch. The piece was a solid wood antique with the guts redone with proper springs and cushions; they had no difficulty at all manoeuvering it into place to Bond’s satisfaction. “Sounds perfect. And convenient,” Alec said, looking up at the high ceiling. “There are some elements of hipster chic that are practical, despite what the hipsters would like us to believe.” He nodded at the overhead sprinkler system, giving a clue as to the ‘incident’.
“Did any of your furniture survive, or do you need the number of my interior decorator?” Bond wondered briefly if Alec was even insurable anymore, or if he had to start from scratch out of his own bank account. Not that it would have hurt Alec’s bottom line too much — there were advantages to having 90% of your salary deemed ‘hazard pay.’ Bond picked up and handed his toolbox to Alec and started moving the pieces of his bed to the appropriate corner. He preferred having at least one solid wall to his back when sleeping.
Obligingly, Alec followed. “Some. The fire was actually limited to the bedroom. She rather thought the candles were romantic, until... well.” He shrugged and looked back. “This won’t do, James. You’ll need to move the bed or the sofa. God knows I don’t need to see your bed from mine.”
Bond chuckled. “I don’t like the view that much, Alec. I’ll get privacy screens.”
“You have a DVR, right? And decent speakers? I think we’ll have to use those two columns for the rear speakers, unless you have stands.” Distracted, Alec put down the tool box and wandered back to the living room. “Do you have a Wii? Call of Duty 5,” he hinted.
Bond shook his head, remembering what he now considered an awful moment of stupidity when he’d wandered into HMV to investigate video game systems at Alec’s last suggestion. He’d taken one look at an orange plastic ‘shotgun’ with its accompanying duck hunt game, and turned around to walk right back out the door. “That’s not my idea of downtime, Alec. What little time I spend here, I’d rather not spend pretending to be able to defy the laws of physics in a video game. Unrealistic expectations and all that. We can’t put up the television until I get a wall mount that works on brick, anyway.”
“James,” Alec sighed, shaking his head. “No proper glasses, can’t mount the telly, probably don’t even know where your speakers are... Let’s face it. I’ll need to move in across the hall. You’ll be lost without me.” He looked over at the two pieces of the bed — side rails — that Bond had carried into the appropriate space. “Are you sick of this yet? There’s a Chinese place not too far away that looked good. We can hire some of the techies from Technical Services Section to put all this together while we supervise.”
Bond straightened, narrowing his eyes at Alec. He didn’t like the idea of other people having their hands all over his possessions, but the idea of coming back to a perfectly put-together flat was damned tempting. “We can do that?”
“We shoot people for a living, James. We can do whatever the bloody fuck we want.” He took his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and opened it. “How much cash do you have? For a couple hundred quid and the chance to get in good with two Double O’s, we’ll have our own pack of minions.”
“Why didn’t I think of that years ago?” To hell with this. Life was too short to be spent putting together furniture for what might have been the eighth time in four years. He pulled his wallet out, handed it to Alec, and walked over the box with the glasses. “There is plenty of cash for an incentive to have them done by sunset, I think,” he said, carrying the box with the coffee pot on top over to the kitchen. He plugged the coffee pot in, then tore the tape off the box to get at the glasses.
“Brilliant. I’ll make some calls, we’ll let them in, and then we can get dinner while the minions build us a better world.” Alec grinned and retrieved the bottle of scotch from the shopping bag, along with two bottles of whisky and one of vodka. “Care to start over as supervillains?”
“I think I’d need a cat for that,” Bond said with false ponderousness. He carefully pulled out his glasses from the packing material and took them to the sink to rinse. “And you’d have to wear a cape.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. When’s the last time you shot anyone who was wearing a cape?” Alec opened the bottle, shoved it across the counter, and took his mobile out of its belt holster. “How many minions do we want? Think eight will do? They’re awfully scrawny, most of them. Unless I tell them to get some extras from the motor pool or security, just to help carry things.”
Bond set the glasses on the counter. Deciding a little water couldn’t hurt, he chose not to hunt for a flannel to dry them. “Eight to do the work, plus an extra to evaluate for security upgrades.” He poured them both a scotch to start. “And here I thought you’d be impressed with my pop culture references.”
“If it were 1980, I would be,” he said, taking his glass after he sent his text. “There. In three hours, we’ll have ourselves a nice little home. Perfect timing. I didn’t want to live at Claridge’s.”
“You’re blacklisted from Claridge’s.”
“There’s that, too.”
When the security camera video feed changed, Q actually noticed. He pulled off his headphones and stopped the treadmill, panting slightly as he let the belt drop him on the floor. He went around to the security monitors and watched as eight people — eight — exited the lift not thirty feet from where he stood.
His system would automatically identify faces and run them through facial recognition databases, starting first with local drivers before expanding to passports, military IDs, and Border Agency records. Standard security procedure, really, given the circumstances.
They all went across the hall, rather than coming to his door, and he felt a flicker of irritation. He’d just got set up in this new flat, and the last thing he needed was to pack away all of his gear and move because his neighbour threw parties or something. Not for the first time, he debated simply disappearing. He had a dozen identities and three times that many bank accounts that no one would ever trace.
Soon, he thought guiltily. Mum’s health was declining, and once she was gone, he’d be free. His brothers certainly didn’t need him here in London.
The security camera was motion-activated. Up until recently, the sole feed to that monitor had been a tap off the lobby security cameras — the default setting. Only when someone pressed the lift button for the thirteenth floor did the lift camera actually switch on. He had similar precautions for the emergency stairwell (motion sensor on twelve) and cargo lift.
He watched as facial recognition failed to turn up anything from the drivers’ database, which was... odd. Very odd.
Curious, he switched to the lobby camera and watched the automated process come to life. It took two minutes to identify the man standing by the reception desk — a local deliveryman of some kind with a commercial licence. So it wasn’t a problem with the search algorithm or his hack into the system.
Eight unidentified people? Christ, did he have human traffickers living next door? That would bring far too much attention from the Met.
He switched back to the upstairs feed in time to see two men emerge from the flat. One he vaguely recognised as presumably the tenant: slightly taller than average, blond hair, striking blue eyes, and the type of body that implied he spent a great deal of time lifting heavy things over his most-likely-empty head. The one with him looked equally big, dumb, and gorgeous. Partners, Q assumed, curiously going back through his security logs.
Both men had been noted in the system. This was the first time number two had shown up, but number one had first appeared a week ago with an estate agent. The system had no difficulty identifying her.
Both men, however, were listed as No Record Found.
Q understood the math behind what humans perceived as coincidences, random chance, and fortune. Throw a die enough times and you’d get a sequential string of one through six, in order. There was nothing magical about it; just math.
Ten people — ten — with No Record Found?
That wasn’t math. That was his bloody interfering brother.
“Red Queen, wake up,” he said, going back to the treadmill for his water bottle.
A female voice sounded from the speakers overhead. “Good afternoon, Q.”
“Red Queen, call my interfering arsehole of a brother.”
“Dialling Mycroft Holmes,” the computer answered.
“I have two minutes,” Mycroft answered calmly. “I suggest you be efficient with your complaints.”
“Why is there a flat full of non-persons across the hall from me?”
“Cats, crows, or mice? I suggest you take it up with your landlord, not me.” The faint clink of ice hitting the glass filtered through the phone, and Q frowned. Bad day, then. It meant a deeply uncooperative older sibling. Q scanned his memory of the day’s news for any headline which might give him a clue into Mycroft’s mood. Nothing tracked.
Still, he needed information, and unfortunately when computers failed Mycroft was often his sole resource. So he pressed: “Non-persons, Mycroft, not creatures. As in, am I dealing with a ring of human traffickers? Smugglers? Prostitutes?”
“I suppose they could be considered all that and more, when the occasion calls for it. MI6. No need to hack my databases for all ten of them — only one is actually moving in. Good taste in scotch, I hear.” The ice chinked again. “One minute left, dear brother.”
Anger crackled through Q, hot and fierce and sudden. “One of your spies,” he accused. “Damn you, Mycroft. Why can’t you leave me the hell alone?”
“What makes you think this has anything to do with you? James recently returned from the dead, so to speak, and needed a new place to live. Your building was the last on record to be thoroughly vetted by us, and thus the first shown to him. That he took it immediately simply means he wasn’t picky.” Mycroft sighed. “Do give me some credit.”
Q closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Fine. I want his complete dossier. Either you can give it to me, or I’ll fetch it myself.”
“Busily doing something other than sitting in front of your computer for a change, are we? If you check your email, you’ll see a secured digital copy awaiting your perusal. Fifteen seconds. Anything else?”
“No. Ring off,” he ordered.
Instead of Mycroft, the Red Queen answered, “Call terminated.”
Irritated, Q uncapped the water bottle to take a drink as he went to his computer. The secured copy meant he’d have to crack the file’s encryption — child’s play — before he could have the Red Queen read it to him, but he probably wouldn’t bother. He saved that option only for ebooks and only when he was exercising. Otherwise, he could read a page of text at a glance, and he always favoured efficiency over laziness.
He woke the computer, scanned in using the biometrics readers, and opened his email. The file naming convention was MI6 standard, though with a new designation appended to the end: 007. Three-digit code... That was new.
Wondering what it meant, he opened the file in a sandbox — he didn’t actually trust Mycroft, after all — and started to skim the contents. James Bond. Born in West Berlin, Germany, and educated in Switzerland and Germany. Orphaned, expelled from several schools for behaviour issues. Commander, Royal Navy. MI6 field agent. That was something. MI6 operated exclusively overseas, which meant he’d frequently be out of the country.
Q smiled, thinking that perhaps he’d have a cat and ask Q to look after it, giving him the perfect excuse to snoop and plant surveillance. That could be convenient. And worst case, if he did have wild parties, Q had methods of taking care of those.
Wasn’t it convenient that the building’s fire sprinklers were computer-controlled?
Three weeks later, Bond sat on the sofa, suspiciously watching Alec unfurl a complicated array of wires attached to the telly and the amplifier. “You’re taking that thing with you when you move out,” he warned.
“It’s been raining for two straight weeks, the world is at a disgustingly high peace level — given the bloody insane number of wars going on — and if either of us sits in MI6 waiting for something to explode for another minute, we’ll both be sacked,” Alec said, tossing a remote control at Bond. “It’s either this or we go on a truly epic pub crawl that doesn’t stop till they arrest us, and you know that won’t end well for anyone.”
Bond looked down suspiciously at the remote in his hand. Alec had once told him they were designed to withstand frankly ridiculous amounts of pressure and stress, but the white controller didn’t scream well-constructed to him at all. He wondered how easily he could break the thing, and then set the thought aside for when he got frustrated enough losing to Alec before putting the theory to test.
“If you’ve chosen a golf game, I’m kicking you out,” he warned.
“Don’t be ridiculous. What would you rather kill? Aliens or humans?” Alec asked, powering everything up.
“Let’s start with aliens,” Bond decided after a moment’s consideration. At least with aliens, he wouldn’t be tempted to disagree with the game’s inaccuracies. He looked again at the remote, wondering how in the hell he was supposed to hold it anything like he’d normally hold a deadly weapon.
“Let me just get this thing on the internet,” Alec said, blocking Bond’s view of the telly. “Get us a drink, will you?”
Bond set the remote carefully down on the couch to walk over to his new kitchen. The ‘minions’ from TSS, as Alec had taken to calling them, had done an excellent job of setting it up, though a small amount of rearranging did have to happen. He wondered what sort of mind thought it was appropriate to have glasses in the lower cabinets. He’d made the mistake of asking and got a complicated explanation of drop-velocity, tensile strength, and shatter range. It takes all kinds, he’d thought to himself over and over as he spent twenty minutes reconfiguring the cupboards. Now he listened to Alec curse as he pulled out two glasses. At least the techs had gotten internet set up for him properly. Alec was a pain in the arse when he wasn’t occupied.
“Vodka or scotch?” he called back.
“Vodka. In space, you can distill vodka, but getting decent ageing casks out of the gravity well is a bitch and a half. Let’s stay thematic, James.”
Bond chuckled. “Let’s not sign me up for any space missions, then.” He poured Alec his vodka, but stuck to scotch himself. “You know that I’m just going to make fun of the damn game the whole time, right? I wouldn’t want my laughing at things exploding in masses of green guts and blood interfering with your kill count.”
“You’ll like it. When was the last time you got to freely shoot everything that moves? And I’m talking not somewhere in Australia. There.” Alec walked over to the couch, flopped down comfortably at the other end, and picked his glass up off the coffee table.
Bond smiled at the memory of their latest expedition to Australia. Normally, insects didn’t bother him, but neither God nor England could command his loyalty to the point of having him stay in a house with that many scorpions, and Alec had felt the same way. Especially when Alec swore he shot one and it didn’t die. Fortunately, Alec’s pyrotechnic skills came in handy. Slash-and-burn was a perfectly valid response to that sort of infestation, and they’d done MI6 a service, the way they both saw it. Obviously that safe house was anything but.
If there was ever a mark in Australia again, he’d just go to Bali and wait for the various deadly things there to kill his target and save himself the effort.
The controller still felt too light in his hand, but he sat on the couch and tried to mimic Alec’s method of holding it. “All right. Let’s have some good clean fun.”
“And then we get drunk and find a nightclub that hasn’t blacklisted us, and find twins,” Alec suggested, doing something to his controller. “Oh, bugger. Forgot we have to set up identities. You go first. Your house and all.”
Identity? Australia still in the forefront of his thoughts, he reached for the first idea that came to mind. “Scorpion?” What the hell. It was just a game.
“I’d ask about Mortal Kombat, but you’d just give me that ridiculous look — That’s the one,” Alec said, chuckling, and ignored Bond’s glare. Smirking, he talked Bond through the process, and then quickly set up his own identity — “Spider, since we’re choosing cuddly critters,” as he put it.
He gave Bond a quick overview of the controls, which involved one remote with a small trigger to shoot, another to move, neither of which was in the least bit intuitive. Bond snapped and complained until Alec said, “For god’s sake, James, grandmothers use this thing for physiotherapy. Would you rather start with golf?”
“Find me a bloody paintball arena where we haven’t been blacklisted,” Bond muttered, and picked up his controller again.
Alec huffed. “We’ll have to go to Germany for that. Ready?”
“Far too sober to be ready for this, but there’s no sense delaying.”
Network traffic monitoring was another of those automatic functions the Red Queen handled in her sleep. Now, she woke up according to Q’s preset parameters and interrupted him as he was poking around the STAR system of cashpoints.
“Q, I have network traffic news, node 13-B.”
His neighbours. “Red Queen, specify,” he directed, leaning back in his chair.
“New network device attached. Identified as a Nintendo Wii.”
Q blinked. His neighbours had, three weeks ago, set up a delightfully difficult home network with a top-tier internet connection identical to Q’s own. It had taken him four days to break in, and he’d nearly considered a physical tap before he finally broke the encryption. Government-level stuff, and not the common low-budget we-report-to-a-committee-for-every-biro type government stuff, either.
Even Q had been impressed, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been impressed by tech someone else had configured.
So why the hell would they have a Wii on a secure network?
Gleefully, Q said, “Red Queen, telly and Wii to on. Let’s see what our happy couple are playing.”
“Television and Wii powering on,” the Red Queen confirmed.
He set his STAR network search to automated and padded barefoot across the loft. He had three substantial LED TVs arranged on stands where the sunlight wouldn’t cause glare, and virtually everything in the flat was cabled to them. Now, his Wii login showed on the centre screen: Q10.
“Red Queen — Never mind,” he said, picking up one of the wireless keyboards he kept around the house. It was hooked up to his primary computer, through which he could control all of his other computers. He brought up the left-hand TV and accessed the neighbours’ systems, and a moment later, he saw Dead Space 2.
Interesting. Not exactly what he’d pictured for them.
“Red Queen, login Wii, cooperative mode,” he directed as he typed. He couldn’t take over their Wii without a bit of effort, but he could at least figure out if they were playing a local game or if they were looking for multiplayer.
They were. Humans versus necromorphs.
“Were we just slaughtered?” Bond asked, though the answer was obvious in all its bloody, gory detail.
“Horribly,” Alec agreed, eyeing the controls in his hands sceptically.
Text appeared beneath the dismal scoring window: RED QUEEN. Then a female voice spoke, curiously lacking intonation: “Would you care to switch for the second round?”
Bond sat up and leaned forward. “Is it supposed to do that?” he asked, his heart rate picking up at the unexpected vocal intrusion into his flat.
Alec shrugged and moved, abandoning his controller to go for the packing box he’d tossed aside earlier.
“You might find aliens easier to play,” the female voice said. It sounded unnatural — flatly robotic. A function of the game? Someone using a voice-alteration program?
“Aliens? As opposed to what?” Bond asked, wondering if he was out of his mind, potentially questioning a video game’s interface. He waited for Alec to sneer at him for being ridiculous, but no such response came from where Alec was looking through the boxes.
“You died rather horribly playing humans,” came the answer without hesitation.
Not a function of the computer then. Bond doubted the innocuous white box had the sort of artificial intelligence that TSS would salivate to get its hands on, or MI6 would be full of the damned things.
“Who are you? And how are you...” Bond waved his hand before realizing what a ridiculous gesture it was. Unless a video feed accompanied the mysterious audio feed. He glared at Alec, not quite willing to say what the hell out loud, but knowing it was written all over his face.
“We are Red Queen and Q-ten,” she answered, again without any pause to analyse or consider. “Voice chat is a feature of this model.”
Bond relaxed marginally, remembering Alec saying something about cooperative playing. He wondered if they were supposed to have to accept incoming messages first, but dismissed the thought. He assumed Alec would speak up if there were a security issue. “I suspect I’ll be just as terrible, human or alien. This is the first time I’ve played.”
“Obviously. You hesitated too often. You and your partner need to work together better,” Red Queen said. “Have you been together long or was it a random multiplayer match?”
Bond chuckled and set his controllers down in favour of reaching for his drink. “Did you hear that, Spider? We need to work together better,” he said, finishing the last of the scotch. “And I’ve just been accused of hesitating.” He got up and took both his and Alec’s glasses back to the kitchen to refill them, laughing as he went.
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Alec answered, barely concealing his laughter. “There’s a mic I suppose I hooked up. Want me to disconnect it?”
“Don’t,” Red Queen said. “Or would you rather we kill you both again?”
“A request wrapped in a threat? How can we resist?” Both he and Alec were experienced enough at secure communication to not give anything away. Besides, he was bored, and the introduction of a random element to their game play might make it more interesting. He set Alec’s glass back down and raised an eyebrow at him, silently asking what he thought.
Alec shrugged. “All right. Aliens it is,” he said, taking a drink before he picked up his controller.
“Here’s a hint: The Lurker can walk on walls,” Red Queen said as the screen changed to a confirmation that Alec and Bond were, in fact, playing —
“Necromorph?” Bond asked Alec.
“Seems that way,” Alec said. “Ready when you two are.”
“Confirmed,” Red Queen answered — a surprisingly non-civilian answer. But then the screen changed again, and it was too late for Bond to ask.
Muting the hijacked audio connection, Q said, “Red Queen, set skill level to four.”
“Confirmed, skill level four,” the computer answered, immediately becoming far less proficient at slaughtering the neighbours. Q also held his own skill back, not wanting to scare them off just yet. This was the first actual communication he’d had with either of them, and he couldn’t help but be curious.
Thank god neither of them had the first clue how technology actually worked.
Bond wasn’t his concern. He was a low-ranking field operative who apparently wasn’t even worth the cost of plane fare to send out of the country. Possibly he was on medical leave or in training. Governments did so love their requalifications and recertifications.
No, it was the other one — Spider — who worried Q. Mycroft had been adamant in insisting that Bond was living alone, so who the hell was the other man who was spending almost every night and most days there? A lover? An MI6 security breach? Both?
Not that either actually concerned Q. As long as Spider wasn’t actually investigating Q, he couldn’t care less who the man was. He just hated an unsolved mystery.
Best guess was that he was MI6, like Bond and presumably the eight one-time guests from three weeks ago. Still, best not to take chances.
They were doing absolutely horrid as the aliens — worse than they had as humans. Q bit back a sigh, watching them leave clear lanes of entry to behind their own lines. They had no instinct for overlapping avenues of fire and no tactical sense for using stealth or hit and run tactics. Were they both paper-pushers?
Finally, he said, “Red Queen, set skill level to one.”
“Confirmed, skill level one.”
Throwing the match was actually harder than he’d anticipated simply because twitch-reflex had him firing headshots whenever he saw an opening. He finally had to let go of the controller, and the neighbours squeaked past to win through sheer numbers. No sense of elegance, these two.
Pretty and dumb. Lovely.
Q opened the audio connection and spoke through the Red Queen’s vocal filter. “Well done. That seemed a bit easier.”
“You expect us not to realize that you threw the game? Bloody hell, mate, you must be as bored as we are,” Bond said with a chuckle. The sound of the controller hitting a hard surface punctuated the laughter.
Well, not quite so dumb after all. “We rarely play humans,” Q answered. It was mostly true, but only because he’d mastered human tactics in about six hours. “You’re still not working together, though. The key to winning multiplayer is to know what your partner is thinking.”
“I think I’d rather lose than get inside your head when you’re a — what was it? necromonger? — Spider. Actually, I take that back. Your tactic of shooting everything that moves means you’re probably not thinking about it at all.” Q heard the distinct sound of two glass being refilled from two different bottles.
“Shooting everything that moves is a perfectly valid tactic,” Spider declared confidently. His voice was closer to the mic, and Q absently typed out a command to record the audio. He might be able to use echolocation to get a layout of the flat, just out of curiosity. “Well, shooting and spitting. The aliens have a serious lack of proper guns.”
“Perhaps we’re better off in that other one,” Bond said, moving closer to the mic again.
“You just need practice,” Q assured them. About twenty years of practice, he thought wryly.
“And that sounds like a bloody brilliant idea.”
“Well. Yes, yes it does,” Spider answered with sudden happiness in his voice. “Cheers, Red Queen. Have fun slaughtering the bugs.”
“Wait —” Q protested, as their Wii went offline.
Irritated, he tossed down his controller and cracked his back as he got up off the floor. If this was going to become a habit, he’d need a sofa, or at least a second chair. He rose and went to his main computer to see what he could extract from the audio files. Now that he had a sample of Spider’s voice, he might be able to find a match, unlikely as it was.
Before he could get a good sample, though, his security feed flashed. He looked over to see both of them emerge from the other flat, carrying matching black rucksacks. They went to the lift and pressed the call button.
Q was momentarily tempted to go out there, perhaps using the excuse of going to the lobby to fetch his mail, but he was wearing nothing but pyjama bottoms and hadn’t bothered even running a hand through his hair. Not that normally he’d be self-conscious; this just happened to almost precisely match his latest booking photo, though he’d taken the precaution of deleting it from the Met’s files.
Well, damn, he thought, and almost dismissed the puzzle from his mind. He’d get them next time they turned on the unsecured, vulnerable machine.
And then he realised this might be a good opportunity to introduce some new vulnerabilities.
“Red Queen, review security footage 13-B. Entry/exit log. Total body count present,” he said, trying to recall if he’d seen anyone enter and not leave.
The computer was faster, which was why she was his primary assistant. “Unit 13-B, body count zero.”
Q smiled and went to find his screwdriver.
“Learn to work together,” Bond muttered, unzipping the rucksack on the firing bench. “We’ve only been working together for fourteen years.”
“You’re starting to sound like a jealous girlfriend,” Alec warned, slapping a magazine into his Walther. “This could be why you and Eve broke up.”
“Failing to repeat a one-night stand isn’t a break-up,” Bond said, annoyed. “Though I suppose that doesn’t exactly work in my favour, does it?” As soon as the gun was in his hand, Bond felt a little better, though somewhere in the back of his mind he allowed a small fantasy of escorting the probably pale and skinny gamer through a warzone just to prove how good he really was.
“Nor mine, mate. She says sleeping with me would be the same as with you, so she won’t even give it a shot. At least if you were stuck with one night only, you could’ve bloody well shared,” Alec complained over the steady rhythm of his first shots.
“Sorry for failing to discern what effect one night would have on your future prospects before delving in,” Bond answered with a smile. He emptied a clip into the target, watching with satisfaction as the centre disintegrated. It was only because he was turning to load another one that he saw his mobile, resting on the firing bench with the rest of his ammunition, light up with a text. Hoping that it would be a request from M to report for duty, he pulled off his ear protection and picked it up with his free hand.
Keypad entry to 13B confirmed, entry code 0000.
Bond rapped on the plastic pane between him and Alec. He held up the mobile so Alec could read the text. His entry code for the keypad, which was there strictly for visitor access (he and Alec used the biometric scanner), changed every six hours, according to the TSS tech who installed it. Bond was certain 0000 would never have been allowed in the rotation. Intruder, his bored mind whispered gleefully.
Alec pulled off his own hearing protection and leaned around the wall. “That’s not an entry code we’d use, is it?”
“Unlikely. Even if it were, who would be using it?” He raised his eyebrow speculatively. “None of your so-called minions are pretty twins by any chance, are they? You didn’t happen to invite them over for a fun evening some time?”
“Christ, I wouldn’t touch one of the Technical Services geeks,” Alec said, dropping the magazine out of his weapon. He started loading it again. “Care to hunt something more interesting than paper targets or aliens?”
Bond grinned and snapped a new magazine into his own gun. “Let’s.”
They left the MI6 shooting range less than ten minutes after arriving, stunning the rangemaster-on-duty into silence. Usually, they were good for an all-day visit. As they took the stairs down to the garage at a run, Alec said, “You realise we should report this to Security and let them handle it, don’t you?
“Where’s the fun in that?” Bond asked cheekily, suddenly deeply missing his Aston Martin. “If it’s someone interesting, we can bring them back later. If not, we’ll have a good time scaring the holy hell out of them. And if anyone in Administration complains, we can use it as ammo against keeping us in country so long again.”
Alec grinned fiercely and fished his keys out of his rucksack. “Think she’s Russian? God, I hope so. They’re always professionals about this sort of thing. We can skip through the interrogation to the aftermath.”
Bond wondered what kind of person it made Alec that he desperately hoped it was a Russian spy, and not hot twins from Technical Services. Then again, he felt the same way.
“Bloody pointless, London traffic,” Alec complained, reining in the excessively over-engineered sportscar at yet another stop light.
“It’s not meant to be driven in Britain,” Bond pointed out from what should have properly been the driver’s seat, on the right. The Bugatti Veyron came left-hand-drive only. “It’s not even meant to be driven round a track.”
“I’ll never get it mixed up in a carpark,” Alec pointed out, tapping his foot on the floor mat. “Cargo lift, passenger lift?”
“I’ll take cargo,” Bond said, knowing it would be the faster way up to the thirteenth floor. Technically, he and Alec weren’t supposed to have keys to the cargo lift, but technicalities rarely stopped them.
“Damn. Right. You going in alone or waiting for backup?”
Bond snorted. That didn’t even deserve an answer. “See, now aren’t you glad I selected the hispter flat with hard floored, easily washed everything?”
Alec grinned fiercely. “You may have redeemed yourself with this one,” he admitted. A moment later, the car leaped away from a dead stop, and Alec swerved to overtake the two cars ahead before he eased back over a lane. Bond ignored his driving — he trusted Alec, and any car race that didn’t involve shooting wasn’t worth the effort — and instead unbuttoned his coat and suit jacket. Taking the cargo lift meant almost no chance of seeing a resident, so he didn’t have to cover up.
Bond took the last few minutes of the drive to wonder at the odd timing of having someone break into his new flat. He hadn’t been on a mission since... He closed his eyes and cut off that train of thought. There was no one left, that he was aware of, who would come after him after that. He had enemies — what Double O didn’t? — but no one that he’d aggravated in months. He let his mind drift to recent unusual circumstances, and nothing stood out except for the odd conversation during today’s video game. But that didn’t make sense — why would a random internet gamer break into his home? Even more importantly, how would said person know when Bond and Alec left, and get there so quickly?
An enemy spy or Quantum agent seemed far more likely.
Hampered as the Bugatti was by London speed limits, Alec still made it into the carpark in record time. He let Bond off at the cargo lift and tore off to the parking spot Bond had purchased with the flat — fortunately, he had yet to buy a car of his own.
Turning the key summoned the cargo lift. As he’d expected based on delivery traffic patterns, it was at the carpark level already, and the doors opened at once. He stepped in, turned the key again, and pressed the button for the thirteenth floor. The distinctive growl of the Bugatti’s engine stopped as the doors began to close, and he estimated Alec would be between five and twenty seconds behind him, depending on how busy the main lifts were.
He refrained from checking his weapon out of habit; the cargo lift had a camera. There was a thought, actually. He could have Technical Services acquire the security feeds from the building and look into any non-residents — though of course he’d prefer to do this the old fashioned way.
When the lift doors opened at the thirteenth floor, Bond stepped out and pushed open the doors to the tiny foyer by the passenger lift —
And nearly ran down what he at first assumed was a skinny teenager. Bond took him in with a single glance, from his desperately-in-need-of-a-cut hair to bare feet covered with fraying threads from his blue jeans. His T-shirt was an eye-searing shade of royal blue that said Keep Calm and Don’t Blink.
He scrambled out of the way, scattering envelopes that he’d been feeding to the little rubbish bin. “God!” he said, blinking at Bond through glasses.
His first thought was that this obviously couldn’t be the intruder — the bare feet, if nothing else, were a dead giveaway. His second thought was the clothes were tight enough on his skinny frame to reveal any weapons, should they be any larger than a pen knife; a careful scan told him the kid was clean. Finally, he realized this must be his neighbour.
“Sorry,” Bond said with a smile that he felt was probably edged with too much adrenaline to be purely charming. He tried to subtly tug his jacket over his gun. “I’m in a bit of a hurry. Trying to catch my friend. Have you seen anyone leave the flat?”
The kid shook his head and crouched down to retrieve his mail, never quite looking away from Bond. “No, but I was...” He gestured back at the passenger lift. “You were looking for your friend on the cargo lift?” he asked sceptically.
Without being obvious, Bond looked at the mail: M. Holmes, unit 13-A. “The other lift was in use, and I like I said, I was in a hurry.” Still was, actually. If the kid, either M. Holmes or a younger relative, hadn’t seen anyone, the odds of the intruder still being around went up favourably. “If you’ll excuse me.” He stepped quickly around the boy, his attention focused back on his door. It was probably exceptionally rude, but Bond didn’t particularly care for being a good neighbour anyway. He turned to face away from Holmes, scanned his thumb on the reader, and discreetly pulled his gun from its holster.
The door unlocked with a snick, and Bond looked back at the kid, who was heading to the other door. Just in case this was a lookout — after all, he might have been clever enough to hide his shoes and make it look like he belonged — Bond waited until he entered a code on the electronic keypad for the other flat. When the door opened, Bond turned back to his own flat, satisfied that the kid actually was one of the unseen residents of 13-A.
Bond entered aggressively, picturing the terribly convenient cover offered by the concrete pillars — cover that the enemy could use just as easily as he could. At first glance, he saw no one, and nothing appeared to be out of place.
Behind him, he heard the passenger lift doors open. With his left hand, he signalled that he’d go right, hoping that it was Alec and not the kid’s father.
Right led to the space given over to the equally important tasks of computer use, in the form of two large computer desks, and throwing weapons in the form of a large, thick cork target, currently studded with knives, darts, and three crossbow bolts. None of the weapons had been moved.
Bond heard footsteps on concrete and recognised Alec’s cautious stride. Admittedly, he felt better having Alec at his back, and he moved into the right side of the flat more confidently. Methodically, he searched every inch of the flat and found no trace of any intruder. Nothing seemed disturbed or missing.
“Clear!” Alec called, his voice echoing from the bathroom.
“Clear,” Bond answered, holstering his Walther and relaxing.
“Well that wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could’ve been,” Alec complained, walking out of the bathroom. “Glitch in the security system?”
It seemed unlikely, but Bond didn’t answer. He pulled out his mobile and forwarded the alert text to the security check number for Technical Services Section. He followed it up with a request for full investigation. “I’ve got the geeks on it. We’ll know soon enough. Let’s assume it isn’t, though.” He nodded to the left to indicate where he would be sweeping for bugs.
“Can we set traps? I can pop back round to MI6 and pick up some flashbangs,” Alec said with a fierce grin, though he headed for their computer desks, obviously prepared to do the same.
“Remember what happened last time you set up flashbangs in a flat we shared in... what was it, Singapore? Did that poor woman’s eyebrows ever grow back?”
“It’s an exotic look, no eyebrows, and you shouldn’t have had her sneaking out of your room at three in the morning.” Alec crouched down by the desks and started searching the underside. “Maybe we should get a dog. We can have our minions watch it while we’re away.”
“If I remember correctly, the lease I signed forbade certain breeds — all the fun ones, at least. Unless you secretly want to play ball in the park with a Golden Retriever and didn’t tell me...” Bond paused from where he was running his hands on the underside of the kitchen light fixture to raise an eyebrow at Alec.
He got a huff in response and a quick shake of the head before Alec picked up his computer’s keyboard. “What about one of those African hunting cats? Serval, civet, something like that?” He put the keyboard down and went to check Bond’s.
“Ah, still trying to get me to convert to supervillain?” Bond grinned a moment before a thought occurred to him. “You know, Alec, cats use litter boxes.” He let the thought hang in the air for a moment as he moved his search to the entertainment systems. He wasn’t entirely certain he’d be able to spot foreign devices among the mess of cables and devices, but looked for handprints and disturbances in the dust anyway. Nothing seemed particularly out of place, and the wires all seemed to plug in somewhere, at least.
“Minions,” Alec muttered, moving his search to the computers themselves. “Do you have a ladder?” He pointed up at the high halogen light fixtures and the half-shadowed air conditioning ducts.
Bond shook his head. “The cleaning crew brings one in to dust that high up, but it doesn’t stay in the flat. The geeks need to verify that all the cables here actually belong here, anyway, so we’ll leave the hard to reach places for them, shall we?”
Last, and certainly least, was a check of the bathroom. Though spies weren’t notorious for valuing privacy even in those matters, bathrooms were terrible places to plant surveillance. Too much background noise, too much moisture, too little return. Still, he swept the shower, tank, sink, and light fixture before washing his hands and coming back out to watch as Alec finished. “I met the neighbour, though. Skinny, young thing. Shouldn’t be too hard to scare away to free up the flat for you. He almost had a fit when I nearly ran him over on my way out of the lift.”
“Well done,” Alec approved. He went back to the front door, where he’d dropped both rucksacks. “Since we were interrupted, do you want to cook or clean?” he asked, holding up the rucksacks.
Bond only hesitated for a moment, wondering if getting out of the task of cooking was worth suffering through whatever concoction Alec came up with. Good alcohol usually would fix those sorts of ills, however; Bond grinned took his kit out from the middle drawer of his desk. “Leave off the eggs this time, though. I’m afraid your last experiment put me off them for a while.”
“You’re thinking tactically, not strategically,” Alec said, heading right for the kitchen without protest. “You know who’s working remote TSS support calls tonight, don’t you? Lisbet. And women love a man who can cook. Cleaning guns is a poor secondary skill by comparison.”
“She’d better be taking you back to her place,” Bond replied with a glare as he set the kit down on the desk; his gun followed shortly after, safety reengaged. He walked back to the kitchen to take Alec’s gun from him. He let disappointment crash over him briefly as he stared down at the Walther, but brushed it off. If Alec did get lucky with Lisbet, perhaps he’d try out Call of Duty without Alec around to make fun of his poor controller-handling skills.
Interesting, Q thought, leaning back in his chair, one foot braced against his desk. He was supposedly back to cracking the STAR network, but most of his attention was on the audio feed from 13-B.
So ‘Spider’ was ‘Alec’, and he and Bond apparently weren’t a couple — or Bond was incredibly blase about Alec’s planned cheating. The mention of grenades might’ve been meant to scare off anyone with surveillance devices, though they seemed a little too casual and confident about the idea, and Q made a note to reconsider breaking in a second time. Not that a second break-in would be necessary.
For now, he said, “Red Queen, wake up.”
“Good evening, Q,” the computer said.
“Red Queen, system-check 13-B surveillance devices. Run.”
“Running system check 13-B,” she confirmed.
Q got up and went to the kitchen. The fridge was stocked with bottled water, soda, and energy drinks. The cabinets were empty of dishes; he used the storage space for computer components and books. Crammed between the modern science fantasy novels and quantum physics texts was a folder of menus.
“System check 13-B complete,” the computer said.
“Red Queen, results of system check 13-B,” he prompted, opening the folder. He picked up the top menu without looking at what it was. Three dishes were highlighted in bright yellow. He chose the third one and dialled the speed dial code on the front of the menu.
“All 13-B devices functioning within normal parameters,” the Red Queen said.
“Red Queen, 13-B devices to sleep-mode, wake-on-command.”
“Confirmed. Powering down 13-B devices,” she answered. “Devices powered down.”
He put the mobile to his ear and quickly placed an order for dinner. Then he hung up, saying, “Red Queen, twenty-minute alert.”
“Twenty minute alert confirmed.”
He pocketed the mobile and put the menu in the back. Tomorrow’s lunch and dinner would be the top two menus, guaranteeing minimal variety in his diet through the rotating system. Holidays, restaurant closures, and delivery delays introduced a random element, preventing him from falling into too much of a routine.
He went back to his computer desk, thinking about cashpoints and his neighbours. With a name and a face, he should be able to identify Alec — and his first stop would be the MI6 databases.
But not now. They were calling for an MI6 team, which meant they’d be on alert. With the devices powered down, the team would have to physically locate them; they’d have no electronic return at all. They were a bit more noticeable because of the logic behind the wake-on-command circuit he’d designed, but he’d taken care to hide them in inconspicuous, unusual places. After all, he wasn’t interested in playing voyeur. He just wanted to make certain that his government neighbours really did have zero interest in him.
Bond spent twelve days in Costa Rica, hunting down a rogue former KGB agent looking to sell secrets acquired from Rosatom, the Russian Federation’s atomic power agency. He came back tanned and with a new respect for Costa Rica’s birds, who’d managed to keep him awake for thirty hours straight with their screeching.
Alec was gone from the flat, on a much less appealing mission in Ethiopia. Gun runners were the bane of their existence, these days: They were dangerous, not worth sending a full strike team, and unpredictable as rabid dogs. Bond just hoped the gun runner didn’t turn into a full-fledged arms dealer selling tanks and rockets. That happened more often than any of the Double O agents liked.
There had been no anomalous entries into the flat. Technical Services Section had declared the incident with the 0000 security code to be a glitch — which Bond trusted as far as he could throw TSS. So it was with a certain level of suspicion that he took the lift up to the thirteenth floor and stepped out, only to smell the enticing odour of grilling steak. And not over a stove — there was actual wood involved, unless he was mistaken. Mesquite, to be specific.
Steak. His stomach rumbled. He hadn’t had a decent steak for far too long.
He was just entering his security code when he heard a loud, metallic slam from the other flat. He looked back, trying to identify the sound, but the closest he could come was metal falling on concrete. Very heavy metal.
Someone could be injured. Now was as good a time as any to find out if the kid he’d seen earlier was the sole occupant of 13-A, so he let the door lock click back in place before stepping back across the hall.
His knuckle-rap on the heavy metal door wasn’t loud, but it was the most he could manage with his bruised hand. He looked at the double doors and noticed, with some surprise, not one but two cameras at the upper corners. Small ones, good quality — as was the security keypad that took the place of a conventional lock.
He heard the heavy thunk of magnetic solenoids before the door swung open. There was the kid, hair looking like he’d lost a fight with a cat in a wind tunnel. He wore an inside-out T-shirt over badly torn blue jeans. Apparently he got zero exposure to sunlight, since his knees were the same shade of pale as his face and hands.
“Evening, Mr...” the kid hinted. His voice was soft and light.
From behind him, the smell of a wood-fired grill and browning meat was even stronger. Bond held his hand out, smiling. “Bond. James Bond. I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I heard your distress and wanted to make sure you weren’t catching the building on fire.” He couldn’t see anything around a decorative screen of painted silk, the sort of expensive antique that properly belonged in an expensive hipster-chic flat. He focused his observations on Holmes instead, automatically scanning for identifying features such as scars, tattoos, birthmarks, and so on. “Mr...”
“Ah. Call me Q,” he said, taking Bond’s hand. His fingers were long and cool, nails clipped very short but neglected and ragged. His hands were covered with very fine scratches. No calluses. “I’m, ah, cooking dinner. Sorry if it disturbed you.”
Feeling as if he could dislocate Q’s arm with a rough tug, Bond shook his hand carefully. He wondered where the nickname Q came from, and if the ‘M’ on the mail meant he was living with someone else. “You didn’t disturb me at all. I wouldn’t have heard if I didn’t happen to be walking past your door at the time.” He stepped back regretfully, then paused as an idea gave him another opportunity to possibly satisfy his curiosity. “I don’t suppose you’re willing to share your secret set up, are you? I thought fire codes here forbade indoor grilling.”
Q’s smile turned slightly guilty. “It’s entirely safe...” He glanced back, then stepped out of the doorway and gestured Bond inside. He went to the right — towards the kitchen, if Bond assumed their flats were mirrored — and said over his shoulder, “It’s a bit of an unconventional solution is all. Watch where you step.”
Bond looked down and saw a pile of shoes shoved up against the wall beside the double doors. There was no control pad or even doorknob on the inside of the door and no hint of the locking mechanism. When he let the door swing closed, the solenoids engaged loudly, and he couldn’t help but shiver. It reminded him a bit too much of prison doors.
He followed Q into the flat — and why the hell was something about that name nagging his memory? Then, as he came around the end of the privacy screen, he stopped and stared at what looked like the bargain basement of Technical Services Section. Four separate racks of heavy, reinforced steel shelving covered with computers and printers. Flat-panel monitors hung everywhere. A very redundant U-shaped computer desk held a sleek white computer with rounded edges and a paper-thin keyboard, a more conventional laptop, and an array of tablets in stands.
Other than the desk and chair, there wasn’t a single piece of normal furniture that he could see.
He came around to the kitchen, where there was indeed a barbecue made from half a steel drum, sand-blasted to a smooth, high polish. Above it was a ducting system attached to the flat’s ductwork overhead. Most of the smoke went out into the duct.
Bond stared, giving himself a moment. He let his logical brain process the relevant information — Q, living alone, obviously in the computer business (probably a work-from-home type, judging by his wardrobe and the interior of the flat), and relatively paranoid — while his emotional brain hummed happily and soaked it in.
A single steak was grilling, along with what looked like a couple of foil-wrapped potatoes buried in the wood chips. Under the wood, Bond could just make out charcoal briquettes. Every single window in the flat was open, adding the smell of London rain — the smell of home — to the mix.
“I don’t say this often, Q, but I’m impressed. That’s an incredibly clever solution to the problem of getting a good steak in London. How did you tap the ducts without being caught, and how do you filter the smoke to prevent grease buildup?” Bond stepped closer, admiring the seamless work that attached the hood to the ducts.
Q’s eyes lit up. “Staged charcoal filters — the kind from cat boxes, actually — and two additional fans to maintain proper air —”
He was interrupted by a chime that sounded everywhere, a soft sound that startled Bond. Q just turned to the counter, picked up a long fork, and lifted the steak, giving it a couple of quick twists to extract a thin metal probe on a wire that went over the side of the barbecue. Confused, Bond followed the wire back up to the counter, where it plugged into what looked like a speaker jack. A deft flick with the steak sent the wire bouncing to the floor, out of the fire.
“Most duct systems have an air pressure monitoring system to detect problems. I’ve got baffles and fans set up to maintain pressure,” he said as he eased the steak onto the plate. “It’s not simple, but I don’t actually cook. I do this once a month or so, just to keep in practice.”
He switched out the long fork for a pair of tongs and a heavy silvered glove. He used the glove to remove the metal grate. “We had a similar setup in the dorm, though we had to vent to outside air, which presented its own challenges. We actually had to route the duct through three rooms in order to avoid setting off any thermal alarms. Of course, this was more than ten years ago, so detection technology wasn’t quite up to speed.” He set the grill aside on the counter, with no care for the heat, and used the tongs to pull out the two foil-wrapped potatoes.
Then he turned and looked at Bond as he set down the second potato. “Um. I’ve only got the one steak, but you’re welcome to half, if you’d like to stay.”
Bond watched Q, wondering how he’d managed to misjudge his age so badly. If he put Q’s university story in the middle of when an average person would attend, that would make Q presently around thirty. On one hand, it opened up possibilities — Bond was never very good at turning away from the potential conquest of a lovely, intriguing creature. It had been a while since he’d invited a man into his bed, and if Alec kept true to his plan, they’d have Q moving out and away in no time, solving the problem of uncomfortable hallway encounters. On the other, more practical hand, Bond wondered what else he might be missing about his neighbour. Either way, there was no reason to turn down the invitation.
“I wouldn’t want to intrude, but I’m curious about why you go through all the effort if you don’t like cooking. I would also love to hear more about how you solved the problem of drilling through dorm walls which, unless I’m very much mistaken, are usually made of very thick brick.” Q’s eyes had brightened earlier at the prospect of explaining his engineering; he hoped a second opportunity would garner the same response.
“Grilling, I don’t mind. Much easier to control the variables.” Q abandoned the glove and inched around the barbecue, which took up most of the free space between the island and the conventional, somewhat dusty cooktop. “As for the dorms, we went through the floor. We followed the joists and spaced out where we drilled our holes so we didn’t create a weak spot. It meant some odd bending, but it was worth it to have a room for grilling.” From between the refrigerator and the counter, he slid a heavy metal lid with two cutout handles padded with electrical tape. “Watch yourself,” he warned, lifting it.
Bond grabbed hold of one side and helped Q fit it over the barbecue. “And you managed to not burn down the dorms? Like I said, impressed. Was it the offer of steak that convinced the other dormers to let you cut holes through their ceilings?”
Q laughed — a light, uncontrived sound that had at some point become unfamiliar in Bond’s life. “It was the challenge. Why else bother? There was a perfectly good steakhouse not two miles away.” Bond grinned as he watched Q open a cupboard and take two paper plates off the top of a stack. Every other shelf, Bond noticed, was covered with plastic bins, all of them identical except for the fuzzy view of whatever was within them. There were no labels.
Q offered the plates to Bond, who cast a sceptical glance at the steak. It was also on a stack of two paper plates, he realised.
“You’ve heard of the egg drop engineering challenge? Grilling temperature speed challenge?” Q was saying as he opened and closed drawers. The contents rattled, and Bond saw open multi-chamber plastic boxes full of electronic components — resistors, tiny lights, capacitors, and so on.
Then Q turned, opening a folding knife. Bond was still armed from his return trip, having not yet actually had the time to put his gun in the safe in his flat, and it was with tremendous effort that he managed not to pull it on Q. Not a threat, not a threat, not a threat, he told himself. He wasn’t sure if Q noticed his sudden tension, but he relaxed when Q brought the knife to the sink to give it a rinse under the steaming hot water tap. Bond noticed that the tap turned on automatically, without a touch.
“I’m certain there are applications other than indoor grilling,” Q was saying as if nothing had happened. “Confined space heating, for one, as long as there’s a source of fresh air and a return. Oxygen displacement is always a problem with any combustibles, so it’s not foolproof, but at least the weather’s nice enough this time of year. I won’t be doing this during the summer.”
He gave the folding knife a shake and set it aside, then inched past the barbecue to get beside Bond. A single conventional fork and knife sat near the steak. He used those to cut the steak in half — it was, Bond noted, cooked to a perfect medium rare. Half the steak went onto the other paired set of paper plates, and he used the tip of the fork to roll one of the ashy, foil-wrapped potatoes beside it.
Then he hesitated, looking around the flat. “I usually eat at my desk,” he said apologetically. “There are drinks in the fridge. Help yourself.” He picked up the second plate and the folding knife, and went over to the desk. He left the seat open, and instead hopped up onto the surface, crossing his legs.
Though Bond was used to eating in strange and inhospitable places, this ranked as one of the odder ones while being within London city limits. He watched Q with soft amusement as the young man settled, wondering if he had something against chairs in particular or simply didn’t want to risk getting food residue on any of the objects on the desk. “Would you like a drink as well?” Bond asked, heading towards the fridge. He was unsurprised when opening it revealed little in the way of actual nutrition; Q looked skinny enough to be snapped like a twig without much effort.
“Oh, yes, thanks,” he said, sounding surprised by the offer. “I’m sorry — I tend to talk a lot. I didn’t mean to be rude. What do you do?”
Bond pulled waters out of the fridge, and picked up his plate on the way back to where Q sat. “Don’t apologize — I’m enjoying the conversation. I’m in international sales,” he responded, opting to set the water down next to Q rather than force him to juggle his dinner and the drink. “You?”
Q laughed again and turned on the desk to face Bond as he sat. The computer chair was one of those types that had a dozen different levers, with a seat and back made solely of netting. “This would be one hell of a hobby,” Q pointed out, gesturing at the array of computers with the folding knife. The blade was notched as if he used it consistently to hack at something difficult, like metal. “I’m a consultant. Network engineering, programming, security, web services — though god, if I get one more request for a storefront, I’ll strangle someone. There are perfectly good commercial services that don’t require me to waste my time, and yet everyone thinks that customised is more secure. As if selling ten-quid beaded bracelets requires MoD-level security? I also do builds and installations, though not often.”
Bond nodded as he listened. Some of the language was familiar, but not all of it. What he found most interesting was Q’s suggestion that he was familiar with MoD security — which, presumably, meant he knew how to break it. “Sounds fascinating. I take it from the grill that you like some engineering as well as programming?”
Q nodded, biting a piece of steak off the end of the folding knife. He looked around, scanning the floor, which was a trip-hazard nest of wires, some of them in flat cable covers, others duct-taped in place or draped between shelves. “Ah. There’s one,” he said, pointing with the knife at a small, flat box that was moving slowly across the floor. “They’re modified commercially available floor sweepers, but I created a learning swarm-program so they all work together. I have twenty or so around here. It’s the only way to keep ahead of the dust.”
“You use them just for keeping the dust at bay? If I had an army of robots that worked like a pack, I’d be tempted to use them for much less... conventional means,” Bond chuckled, trying not to stare at the pale, bare knee mere inches from him. “I can just imagine unleashing them, with some interesting modifications, in Hyde Park at midday.”
“Well, yes, but you can cause a panic with paper airplanes, if you’re creative about it,” Q said dismissively. “These aren’t very stable over non-flat terrain. I need so many in part because the wires present a solid border for them in some cases. But there are others — most often a six-wheeled, triple-wishbone axis design — that can go into all sorts of confined spaces and difficult terrain. And for that, you can use detection equipment. Infrared body heat sensors to pick up traces of survivors at a crash site. Chemical detection, if you release them into vents or a drop ceiling. Endless possibilities, but not really my field of expertise. What do you sell?”
The steak was actually impressively done for someone who said he only cooked it once a month. Bond didn’t actually have to pretend to prolong chewing it to keep from answering immediately; the steak was delicious enough to warrant the treatment anyway. As he took his time, he watched Q’s face, intrigued by the spark behind his eyes that spoke of more fire than the usual brand of computer expert he was used to working with at MI6. Q wasn’t speaking as if these were theoretical possibilities worthy of more adventurous engineers, but concrete realities that weren’t actually interesting enough to hold his attention.
“Could you really? Cause a panic with paper airplanes?” he asked, watching Q’s eyes, hoping to see the spark burn a little brighter. “How would you do it?”
Q’s grin seemed to light up his eyes. “Simple. Launch a few hundred of them, all with identical print: don’t move.”
Bond laughed, not holding back the deep mirth he so rarely shared with anyone. It caught him off guard, and he held onto his floppy paper plate to make sure his meal wasn’t dislodged as a result of his mirth. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure he wanted Alec chasing off this entertaining slip of a neighbour. “Clever. I think I’d enjoy watching that. Watching you, laughing at the foolish masses.”
Q’s cheeks went dark and he looked away, cutting another piece off his steak. “If it ever happens, you never heard the idea from me,” he said, not quite hiding his grin. “Of course, the launch equipment needed for enough paper airplanes to be effective — and it’d have to be indoors, perhaps at a train station. God, imagine what it would do at Heathrow. The air traffic snarl would be global.”
“You know, I think I recall an article from a couple years ago about a performance art project in America that had something to do with releasing thousands of paper airplanes in an array of colours on a city. Perhaps I’ll send you the link, in case it would help you firm up the logistics.” He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “Not that I’m encouraging chaos, of course. It would simply be for research’s sake.”
“Not that you’re encouraging chaos?” Q challenged, recovering a bit from his embarrassment. “Does your boyfriend know what a potential menace you are when allowed out in public unsupervised?”
Bond tried not to smile into his plate, but wasn’t entirely successful. For all his intelligence and wit, Q was definitely not subtle. “Alec and I have worked together far, far too long to be anything but friends. And I’d like to think that my potential for causing mayhem is one of my more attractive features.” He took the final bite of his steak and watched Q.
Q met his gaze steadily, still smiling, though very faintly. “You never did say what you sell,” he said, finally switching the plate for his water bottle so he could take a drink.
“Investment funds,” Bond said dismissively. “I’m afraid my job isn’t nearly as interesting as yours, though it does mean I travel a lot.” He speared his potato with his fork, watching the tendrils of steam curl out. Bond couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a wood-baked jacketed potato. He took a bite and smiled. “This is delicious. Thank you for sharing.”
“I never have guests — if you can’t tell,” he added with a quick grin. “It’s technically my brother’s flat, but he gave it to me a couple of months ago. I’d rather not have either of them here. This sort of technological chaos puts them off, so it works out for the best.”
“Well, you shared with me; it’s only fair that I return the favour,” Bond replied, filing away M. Holmes for later investigation as Q. Holmes’ brother. He had more questions, but it wouldn’t do to turn the pleasant, flirty conversation into an off-putting interrogation. Bond had plans of the old-fashioned seduction variety, so he could afford to be patient. “Would you like to come to my flat for dinner? I can’t offer steak, but I excel at curry and rice. And further conversations about the potential for bedlam, of course.”
Q smiled. “I’d like that. And next time, if you give a bit of warning, I might actually be able to be a proper host. I’m certain I can scavenge a second chair, if nothing else.”
“Or I can just come prepared with a chair of my own.” Bond stood and, after taking the last bite of his potato, deposited the plate in the trash. “Perhaps I’ll even take a risk and bring in a ceramic plate or two.” He watched Q set aside his plate and uncross his legs, and felt a strong urge to walk up and kiss him senseless where he sat. He refrained, though, and instead tried to think of what topics of conversation might reignite Q’s spark.
“I actually use the dishwasher for cleaning componentry,” Q said, sounding embarrassed. He speared the last bite of his steak and bit it off the knife, leaving the potato untouched. He hopped down from the desk and followed Bond to the kitchen. “Paper plates and takeaway are easiest for me. I’ve mapped out every takeaway restaurant in London that delivers to this address, if you ever need a menu,” he offered as though hoping that somehow made up for his odd lifestyle.
Bond had a sudden vision of Q hunched over one of his laptops, feeding takeaway restaurant addresses into a mapping program, adding his own calculations for traffic patterns and other factors to calculate delivery time. The thought made him smile. “That sounds delightfully useful. Here.” He pulled his silver business card case out from one of his inner jacket pockets and handed one of the cards to Q, being careful to choose one with ‘James Bond’ instead of his cover name. “Email me any time. I answer from mobile when I’m out of town, but I always answer.” A blatant lie, but useful as far as hints went.
“Oh. I don’t actually...” He trailed off, looking around. “Sorry. I’m not even sure I have any working pens. Here.” He unholstered a slim black mobile and held it up, looking directly at it — as if it were scanning him. After a few seconds, he swiped at the screen, glanced at Bond’s card, and then hastily dragged a finger back and forth. “There. You should have my card in your email,” he said, turning off the mobile before he holstered it.
“I’m not even going to ask, because you’ll explain, and I’ll have to pretend to understand, and I really just need to go shower and sleep off this jet lag,” Bond said with an admiring grin. He turned to leave, only to realize that he didn’t actually know how to open the damn door. “You could call, too, by the way. I wasn’t suggesting you restrict yourself to email.” He was buying time, trying to figure out how to let himself out.
“I prefer to email, though I’ll keep that in mind. I’m up at all hours. After a few late-night incidents after losing track of the time, I tend not to make phone calls.” He smiled at Bond, and then he seemed to falter, opening his mouth before holding up a hand. “Right. Door,” he said, navigating the tangle of wires to get back to the computer desk. He picked up one of the tablets.
A moment later, a heavy thunk sounded inside the door, and the door swung open a quarter inch, enough for Bond to grab the edge and pull it open the rest of the way. Q put the tablet back down and hurried around the privacy screen to see him out. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I find your attention to security quite attractive, actually.” Bond stepped through the door and turned back, gratified to see Q was blushing once more. Smiling, Bond said, “Thank you again for dinner. I’ll see you later.”
“Sleep well,” Q said, lurking just inside the doorway. Then he stepped back and pushed the door closed. The solenoids engaged immediately.
Thinking about Q, Bond couldn’t hide his smile as he walked to his own door. He had about eighteen hours to catch up on sleep before he was required to check in with M and finish his after action report. Then he decided to head down to TSS to better familiarize himself with the sorts of projects that made computer geeks excited.
Bond decided coffee and donuts would probably be the way to secure their cooperation.
He strode through the door and headed straight to the bathroom.
Shower first. Then sleep. Then seduction planning. At least it wouldn’t be boring.
Q moved the lamp over the fork and knife, positioning his camera to try and minimise glare. His mobile was the strongest camera he had, which said something significant about standalone camera technology. He had it mounted in an armature so he could support it hands-free.
He rolled his chair to the computer and zoomed in on the fork first. He had to play with the contrast until he could just see a faint impression of fingerprints. He took several shots and isolated what he thought was a complete or near-complete print in each one. Then he rolled back to the lamp and flipped the cutlery over by the tips, careful not to smudge any prints, and started the process over.
In the end, he had what he hoped would be three usable prints and a half dozen partials. The water bottle wouldn’t be bad, but he’d have to manually lift those prints; photographs wouldn’t work. He hoped he wouldn’t have to go to the bother.
This had to happen tonight? He’d finally decided to take a night off, and now he was going to have to break into MI-bloody-Six. “Red Queen, wake up,” he said, rolling away from the desk. He walked over two of his bots and went to the kitchen. Starved of oxygen, the fire would be out, though the barbecue would be too hot to actually clean for some time.
“Good evening, Q,” the computer said.
“Red Queen, three hour alert,” he said, needing a bit of sleep. MI6 was perilously close to Mycroft’s domain, and while there wasn’t a system in the UK that Q couldn’t eventually crack, Mycroft could be a right pain in the arse about it. He’d have to have Q arrested (again) to stop him — something he’d hesitated to do only because of their mother’s condition.
“Three hour alert confirmed,” the Red Queen answered.
Q took a water bottle from the fridge, cracked it open, and drank half of it as he walked across the flat. He undid his jeans, put the water bottle on the bedside table, and let his blue jeans fall as he lowered himself onto the futon. “Red Queen, lights to zero percent.”
Obligingly, the computer turned off all the overhead lights, leaving the flat in a colourful haze from all the LEDs scattered throughout. The lights-to-zero command was accompanied by a shift in thermal regulation, and cool air began to pour out of the vents over the bed. Q rolled up in his blankets until he had a comfortable nest.
James Bond, he thought, wondering what had possessed him to actually let Bond into the flat. There was nothing normal about how Q lived, a cross between the classic absent-minded engineer and the world’s worst bachelor. But Bond hadn’t reacted badly, for all that he lived a posh lifestyle with his not-a-boyfriend-and-probably-not-casual-shag, Alec.
Too bad Q hadn’t got hold of Alec’s fingerprints. Still, now that he had Bond’s, he could hope to eliminate one set, assuming he went back across the hall to actually dust. Really, it seemed like a waste of time. James had been acting more interested in getting Q into bed — something he might have tried if he’d actually seen the bed, which was mostly hidden behind a server rack.
Q laughed at that, wondering what would be more interesting: inviting James back here, into Q’s domain, or venturing across the hall into the posh, artfully empty flat where James and Alec apparently lived. At least James hadn’t been tediously unintelligent, or Q would’ve set off an alarm and shooed him out after just a few minutes. He’d been surprisingly charismatic and hadn’t asked a single stupid question.
He’d have to keep Sherlock away from James. Lack of stupidity was at the top of Sherlock’s most-attractive list. And if anyone was going to have first crack at the definitely-not-stupid James Bond, it would be Q.
Q paced, looking back at the large monitor over the server before he switched the display to the central telly. Infrared pickups along all four edges tracked the motion of his hand as he swiped through the pages too quickly to read, just fast enough to see the faces. Young and old. Male and female. Every race and nationality.
All of them dead, attributed to James Bond.
Interesting, that. Mycroft had left quite a lot out of Bond’s file, it seemed.
Once he’d broken into MI6, he’d had little difficulty finding not just James Bond but Alec — as in Alec Trevelyan, yet another MI6 agent with a kill list equally as impressive as Bond’s. He doubted they were here for him — Mycroft wouldn’t be so blatant, and really, if Q died under questionable circumstances, Sherlock would investigate.
Impulsively, on Tuesday afternoon, he sent Bond an email: Is the offer for curry still open?
The response from Bond came quickly: Tonight, 7 pm. You’re not allergic to shellfish, are you?
Startled, Q looked back at the monitor. Why tonight? He’d been about to propose Friday night — a civilised duration, enough notice... Or perhaps Bond was planning around his flatmate’s schedule. He considered refusing.
“Red Queen, schedule, next twelve hours.”
He gnawed at a fingernail and stared at the response email. It had come very quickly. Finally he answered: No allergies. Tonight, 7. Should I bring anything?
Bond responded: No. You may even leave your shoes at your flat, given your obvious disdain for them.
Q laughed and put his mobile away. “Red Queen, save and close all open files,” he said, and the list of the dead disappeared.
“Files closed. Twelve files updated.”
“Red Queen, shower to forty-three degrees.”
Three hours later, Q put the Red Queen into security overwatch, idly hoping that James wasn’t going to use the date as an excuse to send his friend, Alec, into the flat. Overwatch meant lethal countermeasures, and the last thing he needed was to explain to one assassin why his partner was dead in Q’s flat. Hopefully the door would stop Alec if he tried anything. The electric shock of touching it would be painful but not fatal unless he had heart trouble.
When he left his flat, he wore slightly more intact dark blue jeans — though not by much; he’d caught how Bond had stared — and a plain black T-shirt. He’d considered his one suit, an admittedly nice designer piece from Mycroft’s nightmare of a tailor, but Q associated the damned thing with tedious court dates and technophobe judiciaries. Better to be underdressed and comfortable. Besides, he had no intention of changing who he was for anyone.
A bit nervously, he knocked on the door to 13-B.
The sound of more standard door locks disengaging was almost instantaneous, and Bond pulled it open without hesitation. He looked Q up and down, and his grin was approving. “Excellent timing. You can crack the wine while I set the table.” Bond stepped aside to let Q in and shut the door behind him; the locks re-engaged automatically.
Q took a steadying breath. He reminded himself to look around as if he hadn’t actually spent twenty minutes adding video and audio surveillance and keyloggers that had frustratingly revealed nothing but online banking information, an unhealthy obsession with trawling for cat videos, and hours upon hours of solitaire.
He couldn’t help but feel more out of place with every step. The flat was quiet, without the background white noise of a dozen computers. He was used to formal — no Holmes would dare reach adulthood without knowing the difference between a dozen types of forks, how to pair wine with multiple courses, and so on. But god, he’d left all that behind for a reason.
He had the sudden urge to give his remote monitoring system interrupt code and ‘have a business emergency’ that required him to go back home.
But sometimes, just having the escape at hand was enough, without the actual need to use it. He followed James to the kitchen, sniffing unobtrusively at the spicy steam rising from the hob. Bond had set out two bottles of white wine; Q checked the labels and chose the dryer one, thinking to save the sweet wine for dessert, if they got that far. He turned, and as expected, he found glasses racked neatly over the counter. He took two down, trying not to be obvious about looking at James, dinner, and the apartment as a whole.
Maybe Q should have dressed more formally. James was apparently treating this as a date — wool trousers that had been fitted to him if not actually made for him, a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, not barefoot... That little sense of social wrongness crept through Q, an unpleasant reminder of a childhood in which none of the three brothers really fit in — not even Mycroft, though he at least could fake it.
Hoping that this didn’t turn into some badly blocked play, Q brought the glasses to the island, turned them over, and opened the bottle he’d chosen. He was tempted to pour some now, but he didn’t drink very often — it interfered with coding, and drunk engineering was never a good idea. He’d save it to go with dinner and then stay as moderate as he could.
“I’m glad you were able to make it tonight despite the short notice,” Bond said, stirring something that released the distinct aroma of basil and green curry more heavily into the kitchen before turning to pull a couple of plates from the cabinet to his left. “I’m very often called away on business, so I’ve found making plans more than a day or two ahead means that I inevitably end up having to reschedule endlessly.” He pulled open a drawer and pulled out two forks, which he set on the plates. He walked back to the table, openly admiring Q’s outfit from the opposite side of the table.
“One advantage of working from home,” Q admitted. “I can set my own hours.” He picked up the glasses and the open bottle of wine, carrying them to the table. He kept a careful eye on where James was setting the plates, trying to determine what mood he was hoping to create. With no open statement of intent for the evening, he was starting to fall back on old lessons, picking up subtler social cues. The table was intimately small without the leaves installed. No matter how Bond laid out the place settings, Q could safely assume that this was meant to be a date, not neighbourly friendship.
“That must be nice. No such luck for me, I’m afraid. I didn’t even have a chance to change out of work clothes tonight. I hope you don’t mind.” He waved at his trousers with a rueful grin. “I like yours, though I do confess I had a fondness for the last pair — and the missing bit of fabric at the knee in particular.” Bond grinned charmingly before walking back to the kitchen to empty the contents of a rice cooker into a glass bowl.
Well, that was a relief, at least. Q followed Bond back to the kitchen and leaned on the island. “Feel free to take off anything you’d like.”
“Hmmm...” Bond didn’t turn back to look at him just yet — he transferred the contents of the pan on the hob into a bowl identical to the first. “Well then, we may have a slight dilemma.” He shook the bowl a bit to settle the contents, then turned back to Q with a predatory grin. “We can eat first, trading suggestive smiles and heated remarks the whole time, or endeavour to equalise the clothing situation first, then bring dinner with us into bed when we’re done. What’s your preference?”
Q held back his answer at the last instant. How many people actually said no to this man? He was admittedly gorgeous — the eyes alone would make anyone look twice, and it was obvious that he took wonderful care of his body. Q had no doubt that choosing the second option — or the first, for that matter — would be a very pleasant diversion.
Fortunately, Q depended on computers to provide his diversions. He certainly didn’t need people for that.
“After all the trouble you went to, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a home-cooked meal,” Q said smoothly, not moving from where he stood. “As for anything else, we’ll have to see what the evening brings.”
Bond’s smile edged towards delighted. “I do so like a challenge, and you’re the best conversational partner I’ve had in a long while.” He reached over to a jar filled with wooden utensils and retrieved a spoon that he stuck in the rice. Then he turned to face Q fully, handing him the bowl. “I hope you don’t mind that it’s not fried rice. I’ve recently taken a disliking to eggs.”
There was a story there, but Q chose to riposte, rather than following Bond’s lead. “I’m certain you’ll find a way to make up for the lack,” he said, turning away. He carried the bowl to the table, set it down, and sat.
Bond followed, carrying the curry. “I hope you don’t mean with an actual dessert. I’m afraid I didn’t actually have the time to attempt one. Not that I would have succeeded anyway — I’m terrible at anything that requires more than five ingredients. You should probably consider yourself spared.”
Q hid a smile, wondering if Bond realised that Q had pushed him out of his confident top-dog spot. “Considering my last attempt at cooking involved two ingredients — three, actually, with the salt — I hardly think you have any worries,” he answered, conceding to keep them on equal footing, rather than pushing harder. He didn’t have a gauge of how Bond would respond. He didn’t want this to turn into a conflict; he just needed enough tension to keep Bond from getting too cocky.
Bond poured Q another glass of wine on his way back from rinsing their plates, smiling. Q, it turned out, wasn’t just witty, but challenging. He seemed to hover carefully on the line between putting him and Bond on equal footing in terms of conversational give and take, but he also seemed reluctant to push enough to actually risk bringing Bond’s ire.
Somewhere between spooning the curry over the rice and finishing off their latest glasses of wine, they’d discussed the state of privacy laws, the politics behind NATO import/export controls, and the big oil spill in America. Q was always careful to disagree politely, but not vehemently argue. Even their discussion of the best Doctor Who doctors felt like a negotiation. Bond couldn’t wait to get him into bed to see if he’d keep the same attitude there. God he hoped so. And he hadn’t even begun the robotics discussions the TSS techs had all told him would be certain to spark an animated conversation.
“Would you like to take any of this home with you?” Bond asked, as he took the half-empty bowls to the kitchen to wrap up. “Leftovers are often wasted on me, due to the travelling I mentioned earlier.” It was, in fact, a subtle attempt to get Q to clarify his plans for the rest of the evening, and he knew Q would see right through it.
“I think I’d actually prefer it for lunch tomorrow,” Q answered. He’d twisted in his seat to watch Bond walk to the kitchen. Now, he stood and walked quietly to where Bond was standing. He lifted a hand to his glasses and removed them, frame pinched between his index finger and thumb.
Barefoot, he was only an inch or two shorter than Bond. He rested a hand lightly on Bond’s chest, fingertips just touching his collarbone. He leaned in, holding his glasses out of the way, and brushed his lips over Bond’s, in no hurry at all. His body seemed to mould itself to Bond’s from knees to chest. He backed off and then kissed again, lips parting so he could lick at Bond’s mouth.
Bond let him have his way for several long, delicious moments before he did what he’d wanted to do since having steak at Q’s flat several days ago. He leaned in, wrapped his arms around Q’s thin body, and hoisted him up onto the countertop. Q laughed softly but didn’t protest. His legs hung over the edge wide enough for Bond to press his way back into the curve of Q’s body. He slid a hand under Q’s knee to hitch it to his side. “Any interest in allowing me to rip these trousers of yours a bit further?” he asked, fingers dipping into a hole on the side of Q’s thigh.
“It’s something to consider,” Q said thoughtfully. He let his hands skim down Bond’s body to rest at his waist, watching the way his fingers pulled Bond’s shirt tight over his muscles. Then he looked up and smiled, with the slightest edge to that smile. “You’re very sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Is there any right way to answer that question?” Bond asked with a smirk before leaning in to show Q that he had damned good reason to be sure of himself. He used his leverage on Q’s leg to pull him close enough to bring their hips and chests into close contact, marvelling at how quickly Q’s heart was beating, despite his cool exterior. He wondered at how much experience the young programmer actually had, and revised his approach to something a little less overwhelming.
Gentle kisses were always a reasonable start — he’d let Q push the tempo if he wanted, but Bond was in no hurry. He started with small, light nips to the jaw gradually moving their way to the corner of Q’s mouth, free hand slipping slightly under the black T-shirt to caress the skin of Q’s lower back.
As Bond had hoped, Q relaxed and inched forward to the very edge of the counter, closing the slight space between their bodies. He wrapped his arms around Bond’s shoulders and combed one hand through Bond’s short hair as he took gentle control of the kissing. Without hesitation, he licked into Bond’s mouth before drawing his tongue back as though teasing Bond to follow.
Bond did, slowly and careful not to exert too much speed or pressure. He explored Q’s mouth, immediately pulling back some whenever he felt the tiniest bit of tension creep back into Q’s frame. He kept his hand above the waistline of Q’s jeans, only occasionally dragging a finger along the band, waiting for a signal to move forward. He still had every intention of carrying Q to the bed, legs wrapped around Bond’s waist, but there was no rush.
Q inched closer, and Bond felt a little thrill of victory when Q hooked one leg behind Bond’s hips of his own accord. He let Q pull their bodies together, let Q break the kiss to nudge at his throat. The feel of Q’s lips and tongue on the side of his neck was enough to spark the fires inside him even hotter. Bond’s arms tightened, and he began to think that it was definitely time to move out of the kitchen.
Then Q lowered his leg and slipped down off the counter, dragging their bodies together as he forced Bond back a half step. Somehow, he was still holding his glasses. Now he put them back on and looked at Bond, hazel eyes gone dark and wide with interest in a way that couldn’t be faked.
He rested his hands on Bond’s chest, fingers pressing into the muscles. “You know, when I first saw you, I thought the only thing capable of holding your attention was the ungodly boring act of lifting successively heavier things,” he said, sliding his hands up over Bond’s shoulders, watching in open appreciation, despite the shirt Bond still wore. “I’m pleased to find that for once I was incorrect.”
“I’m happy to continue proving you mistaken whenever you like,” Bond practically hummed, “or lift you instead.” He gripped Q’s waist suggestively, but didn’t actually lift him back up again yet. Instead, he leaned down to plant more gentle but nipping kisses on Q’s neck and shoulder, pulling his T-shirt as far to the side as he could.
Q shivered, tipping his head to the side to give Bond better access. “You also underestimate your skill at cooking. Next time, you should try dessert.”
“If you’d like,” Bond promised. He moved back up to Q’s ear, dragging his teeth carefully along the edges before whispering, “May I take you to bed?” It was only a few metres away, but he didn’t want to scare Q away by lifting him and carrying him without so much as a warning.
“No,” Q answered, though he didn’t push Bond away.
Surprised by the answer, Bond stilled his hands, but he didn’t cease kissing. He waited — for permission or dismissal, he wasn’t sure. But Q just turned, reclaiming Bond’s lips to kiss him carefully, still wearing his glasses. His hands came up, skimming over Bond’s throat to his jaw, as his body pressed close. He was interested — he was definitely, obviously interested — and he showed no sign of wanting to end the kiss.
Mentally, Bond shrugged. Q was beautiful and intriguing — an apparently introverted but challenging intelligence wrapped over a core of fire he rarely let escape. Bond settled in for the ride, willing to take what Q would give him. Not that he wouldn’t do his best to nudge Q forward, of course — he allowed his hands to wander back to his waistband as they kissed, letting the tips of his fingers nudge under it.
Q pushed Bond back, just a half step, moving himself away from the counter where he’d been sitting. He ducked his head to kiss under Bond’s jaw, scraping his teeth down Bond’s throat. His hands slid back, combing through Bond’s hair with a gentle tug. He fitted his body close against Bond’s and pushed him back another step, intentionally grinding his hips against Bond’s. He nipped lightly, breathing faster.
Then, reluctantly, he moved to press a kiss to Bond’s cheek, simply leaning close as he made some effort to catch his breath.
“Thank you for dinner,” he said, his voice still soft but rough at the edges.
Bond only let himself stare, somewhat disbelieving, for bare seconds. Then he straightened, turned, and tugged his clothes into place. Once he felt a bit more in control, he reached for clingfilm and wrapped both bowls. He turned back to Q, smile firmly in place, and handed the bowls over. “For your lunch tomorrow. Don’t worry about returning the bowls — I’ll collect them next time I’m in town.”
And if it sounded something like a challenge, well, Q didn’t seem the type to shy from it.
Q pressed the door keypad and lifted his face so the cameras could scan him. The door clicked open, allowing him to retreat into the sanctuary of his flat. He leaned back against the door — his biometrics cancelled the security overwatch condition automatically, making the door safe to touch.
“Red Queen, shower to forty-three degrees.”
Q pushed away from the door, staring down at the two bowls in his hands. He briefly wondered what in hell he was supposed to do with them. He’d meant his ‘lunch’ hint as a suggestion that Bond either invite him back tomorrow or stop by Q’s flat for lunch. It wasn’t often that Q was outmanoeuvered like this.
He’d made contact with his neighbours specifically to assess how much of a threat they posed to Q. He hadn’t intended to end up snogging Bond in the kitchen or actually wanting another date. God, he should’ve just let Bond take him to bed for a good shag to get it out of his system, but no. Q always had to complicate his own bloody life.
Bond was a challenge, and Q’s weakness had always been his inability to let a challenge pass unanswered. Whether it was high scores at video games, robot-design contests, or a supposedly unbreakable firewall, Q couldn’t resist proving himself superior to said challenge. And apparently now his brain had fixated on Bond — on making Bond actually want him, on driving Bond fucking insane with desire, which meant not giving in to Bond.
Q carried the bowls to the kitchen, where he made room for them in the fridge. Knowing his tendency to forget about leftovers for weeks at a time, he said, “Red Queen, two new appointments.”
“Recording new appointments,” the computer confirmed.
“Red Queen, first appointment, fourteen hour alert. Lunch in refrigerator. Second appointment, sixteen hour alert. Wash lunch dishes. End appointments.”
“Two new appointments confirmed.”
That done, Q started for the sanctuary of the shower. He pulled off his T-shirt and dropped it on the floor for one of the floor-bots to pick up. The bathroom was already full of warm clouds of steam. He took off his jeans, tossed his glasses on the counter, and stepped into the huge shower, thinking how easy it would’ve been to stay at Bond’s, to shower with company instead of alone.
But he wouldn’t be a one-night stand. He wasn’t a conquest or a notch on someone’s bedpost, not even someone as surprising as his assassin neighbour.
The next time Bond made it up the thirteen floors to his flat, he didn’t even slow down as he passed the door to 13-A. As much as he might have enjoyed his neighbour’s not-so-easy smile, it had been a hell of a week. Even the most understanding friend would have raised an unhappy eyebrow at Bond knocking at their door at 4:22 a.m., evidence of foreign mud still under his fingernails, a split lip, a knot on his head from the butt of a gun, and an impressively obvious boot-shaped bruise over his collarbone.
Not that Q would have got around to seeing the boot print after all, it seemed. But it was the principle of the thing.
His right hand was still slightly tingly and numb from the way it had been tied behind his back for so long, so it took three tries to get the scanner to let him in, and another two to manage the rucksack, doorknob, and coordination of the feet to let him through.
Before he’d gone a single step, though, he heard the thunk of solenoids at his back. “James?” Q asked.
Bond looked back to see Q cross the hall, wearing those nearly shredded jeans, his glasses, and nothing else. He looked awake and alert despite the hour.
“Q,” Bond replied with a smile small enough to keep the cut in his lip from reopening. “Sorry if I disturbed you. Late flight. Or early, depending on how you look at it.” His arm gave out and he dropped the rucksack, with no grace whatsoever, just inside the door jamb.
Q’s eyes went wide, and his steps quickened. “God, what happened to you?” he asked, touching Bond’s sleeve before his hand moved up to hover by his split lip. “Do you have a first aid kit? Get inside. That’s bleeding. You need ice on it,” he said, slipping past Bond to let himself in the flat.
A proprietary protest bubbled up, but Bond squashed it before it had a chance to escape. It would probably take more effort to send Q back across the hall than it would to simply do whatever he wanted to do. Besides, Bond thought — it might be nice to, if not pick up where things left off, at least confirm that it would be a possibility later. Might help soothe some of his current ire.
“Kit’s in the loo. And you know how the travel advisories always tell you to avoid certain places? Trust me. They’re right.” It wasn’t a lie, merely a misdirection. He supposed to a lay person he probably did look like he’d been mugged.
Q huffed, went to the freezer, and scooped a couple of pieces of ice out of the dispenser bin. He turned and opened the drawer beside the sink to find a tea towel, which he wrapped around the ice. “Sit down,” he said, pulling out one of the dining chairs.
Bond sat and let Q tip his head back so he could gently set the ice against the split lip. Idly, he wondered if Q had guessed at the location of the tea towels or if he should be suspicious at how quickly he’d found one. Or maybe Bond had just taken one out the night of their dinner date, and now he was just being paranoid. Job hazard, that.
“Hold that, don’t talk, don’t move,” Q said as if expecting an argument. Then, once he was satisfied Bond was going to comply, he walked off in the direction of the bathroom.
Bond watched as Q walked to the bathroom, unashamedly admiring the rather impressively large tear right below the seat of his jeans. As soon as Q was out of sight, he took the opportunity to unhook his gun and holster from his belt — with his bruised, possibly fractured collarbone, he couldn’t wear the shoulder rig — and slide it into one of the drawers behind him. Bond didn’t do junk drawers, so it was empty and waiting. He’d just slid it closed as he heard Q shut the bathroom cabinet; the sound of bare feet padding back to where Bond sat made him smile.
He switched hands to hold the ice to his face; his other hand was still having trouble gripping things. “Find —”
“Did you miss the ‘don’t talk’ part, James?” Q scolded. He set the first aid kit down on the table and opened it. As he bent to survey the contents, Bond had a perfect view of ribs pressed against thin white skin. He barely had a spare ounce on him, making Bond wonder if it was metabolic or if he simply didn’t bother to eat.
He started taking out choice items: the little bottle labelled paracetamol that actually contained codeine, gauze pads, antibacterial gel. Then he looked critically at Bond and asked, “What else did they do to you? Don’t bother trying to hide it. I have two older brothers.”
“Nothing terribly impressive, all things considered. Though I do have an actual, honest-to-god bootprint on my chest, I think. You could probably even see the tread if you looked carefully enough.” His smile was wry but his wince was honest. It seemed slightly unfair that his first opportunity to remove his shirt in Q’s presence wasn’t likely to end in anything truly fun — broken collarbones were a bitch if you started breathing too hard.
“This is not what I had in mind,” Q muttered as he went right for Bond’s shirt, apparently thinking along the same lines as Bond. As soon as he had four buttons undone, he parted the shirt and stared. “God. Well yes. Would you like me to photograph it for evidence? Analyse the tread pattern?” he asked wryly.
“I think the local police did their best, but they weren’t hopeful. Given that my kicked-puppy look helped me close the deal on the assignment I had there, I’m not too heartbroken over it.” It sounded a lot more plausible than I killed them all, and their boots were incinerated, so there really isn’t any point, Bond thought. He leaned back to give Q more access and tipped his head back, enjoying the sensation of long, smooth fingers on his bruised skin.
“Kicked-puppy, my arse,” Q muttered as he made fast work of the rest of the buttons. “Kicked mountain lion, more like. Christ, you really do spend far too much time on —” He made an indistinct gesture at Bond’s chest. “Don’t you have any other hobbies? Less exhausting, perhaps? Sit forward.”
Bond sat up again and let Q pull the shirt down, though there was an awkward moment when he realised Bond actually buttoned his cuffs. He chuckled when Q looked at them as if they were offensive. “Yes, well, they probably would have killed me if I didn’t have as much muscle as I do,” he answered honestly, with a grin. “And as you probably have discovered, I don’t really have time for other hobbies. Though I think you have me convinced to try my hand at expanding my efforts on the hob.” Bond reached forward to trace a hand along the side of Q’s exceptionally thin frame. “Could pay off in more ways than one, I think.”
“As in keeping you out of trouble? I highly doubt that.” Q gently touched the back of Bond’s shoulder before he gave a little press to encourage him to lean back down. “I hope you’re at least well-paid for the risks. As far as I’m aware, sales isn’t supposed to be quite this hazardous. What else did they do?” he asked as he went for the alcohol swabs.
Bond leaned back forward, allowing his head to rest on Q’s stomach for a moment. He tried to bring both hands up to rest on Q’s hips, but he couldn’t actually move the right one well enough to do the job properly, so he returned it, and the ice, to his face. “Lump on the head. And my hand hurts.” Breathing Q in, the playbacks of knuckles and cricket bats and blood calmed, pushed from the forefront of his mind by gentle touches. He took several deep breaths, enjoying the rare respite.
Q sighed and gently rested his hand on the back of Bond’s neck. “Red —” he began, before he twitched as though surprised. “I’ll need more light,” he said, and moved away, leaving Bond to shiver in his sudden absence. He went to the switch that the MI6 geeks had wired for the dining area lamp. Bond blinked against the sudden brightness, and Q quickly said, “Sorry. Cover your eyes — and don’t drop that ice.”
He came back to Bond, standing in front of him, and encouraged Bond to lean against him. He started to search through Bond’s hair, asking, “Did you actually get examined, or do I need to worry about a concussion? How long ago did this happen? I can get my useless brother to send a physician over, if you’d prefer not to wait at A&E.”
“I’m fine. No need to fret.” Bond’s voice was slightly muffled; the combination of gentle, soothing touches and the realization that his bed was mere metres away were working against his jet-lagged exhaustion. He wondered if Q would protest being used as a human pillow, obvious as the answer seemed. Instead of actually asking, he reached around Q to seek out the bottle of codeine in the kit. He popped the lid off one-handed, tipped a couple into his mouth to dry swallow, and put the bottle back.
Q watched him, brows raised, and then asked dryly, “Shall I get you some water for that?” He took the bottle away and set it out of Bond’s reach. “What did you do to your hand?” he asked, though he went back to searching Bond’s scalp.
It had been wrenched at a horrible angle behind him, strapped too tight to the chair with a cable tie. He didn’t think there was any permanent nerve damage, but it still wasn’t being cooperative, nearly a day later. But, of course, he couldn’t tell Q any of that. “It got twisted, I think. I don’t really remember.”
Q’s sigh bordered on exasperated. “Right. Of course you don’t,” he muttered. He crouched down and started to pull off Bond’s shoes. “Is there anything else? Punctured lung? Ruptured spleen? I’m really not putting anything past you, James.”
Bond chuckled. “I thought you hated your brother. You’d actually call him on my behalf? Not that I’m asking you to, of course — in fact, I’d be rather put out if you did. I’m just curious. And what kind person just has physicians at his disposal for five a.m. home visits?”
“A very interfering one with far too much money and power for anyone’s good,” Q said, standing up enough to get at Bond’s belt. He gently unbuckled it as though worried Bond really hadn’t mentioned additional injuries. “And I will call him if I suspect you’re incapable of exercising good judgement regarding your own medical care. He could probably have you sectioned, or at least held for seventy-two hours for observation if necessary. So I suggest you do as I say and avoid the unpleasantness.”
“I’d like to say something dirty and suggestive, but I’m afraid your timing is poor, and the codeine is kicking in,” Bond chuckled, wishing he was in the proper place to enjoy Q’s hands on his buckle.
Q looked up sharply as he started to pull the belt free. “Codeine? That wasn’t paracetamol?”
Bond grinned ruefully at Q’s hands. “I guess this means you won’t bring me a scotch?”
“I’ve dealt with far worse than you, James,” Q threatened. He stepped back and reached his hands out. “Stand up. You need to lie down, and I doubt I can carry you to bed. I’ll get some ice for your head, and then deal with everything else you’ve managed to do to yourself.”
“Worse than me?” Bond asked, dropping the now-wet tea towel on the table and taking Q’s hands. He stood slowly, unable to hide his wince. “I don’t know which is more alarming — the fact that you think I’m really all that terrible, or that you’ve dealt with worse. You can give me names, you know. I’ll show you what else my muscles are good for.” He tried for a growl, but was certain the exhaustion took the threatening edge off it.
“I have two brothers,” Q answered cryptically. He got his arms around Bond and started walking him slowly towards the bed. “You’re not expected at work tomorrow, are you?”
“I’m fine, Q. All I need is sleep and painkillers.”
“Oh, of course. Shall I let go of you, then?” Q challenged, though his grip around Bond’s waist tightened. “When you’re healthy enough to get to the phone to call the Met and have me arrested, feel free. Until then, I’m going to take care of you, so stop arguing. You’ll make your lip start bleeding again.”
Bond leaned into Q’s surprisingly strong grip, but left off arguing for the moment. He knew he would need to eventually, though. As pleasant as it would be to have Q tuck him into bed, perhaps even share it, it wasn’t a good idea on an evening like this. Exhaustion and painkillers coupled with being within twenty-four hours of fighting free from temporary captivity meant nightmares. He couldn’t scare Q off before they really had a chance to get off the ground.
“I appreciate the help,” Bond said honestly, in a voice with no playful inflection whatsoever. “But I’m just going to fall asleep and stay that way for about twelve hours, most likely. I’m sure you have better things to do.” They made it to the bed, and Bond sat on the edge as lightly as possible to avoid jarring his injuries.
“Yes, and then I can show the medical examiners where I left your body.” He took hold of the waistband of Bond’s trousers and looked up, meeting his eyes. When Bond said nothing, Q unhooked and unzipped and said, “Lie back so I can get these off you. You’ll be more comfortable. Socks on or off?”
Bond settled back. “Just arm one of your sweepers with a motion sensor. If I stop breathing, which I won’t, it can trigger an alarm.” He closed his eyes, wishing he could properly enjoy the feeling of being stripped of his clothing. “I already owe you a four-course meal for your help. You don’t want to put a proud man even more in debt, now do you?” Go, go, go, he thought behind eyelids that became harder to keep open. I don’t want to hurt you in my sleep.
“You do realise — Oh, never mind. You’ll never remember it anyway.” Q worked the trousers down over Bond’s hips, pulled them off, and debated for a moment before removing his socks as well. He helped Bond to get his legs up onto the bed and managed to get him under the blankets. “I’m going to take a look at your hand first. I’ve done more than enough damage to my own. Just stay awake long enough to tell me where it hurts and if it’s numb. Can you do that?”
Bond tried to take stock of his physical abilities. Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly a peculiar situation for him — he could fairly accurately judge, based on past experiences, how much more consciousness he had left for Q. “I’d say you’ve got about ten minutes. Then you have to go.”
Q made a noncommittal noise. “Let’s not waste it, then,” he said, and pulled the blanket down a few inches so he could gently take hold of Bond’s injured hand.
It took close to thirteen minutes before Bond was unconscious despite how the alcohol swabs must have stung. There was no immediate danger to Bond’s hand as far as Q could tell; given how much he typed, tinkered, and tended to stick his hands into machines, he was something of an expert. The injury to Bond’s chest was more worrying, and Q spent a full minute with his ear pressed close against warm skin, listening as best he could to the sound of Bond’s breathing. It seemed fine — or so Q guessed — so he started to clean up the dirt crusted in the bloody scabs from what definitely had been a single impressive kick from a booted foot.
Really, MI6 had to have a medical department or an authorised hospital to deal with this sort of thing. Of course, Q couldn’t ask because the idiot man had taken two codeine — two — without any warning at all.
Sadly, Q had more than enough experience with self-medication as well.
In short order, he had Bond’s wrist bandaged carefully in an elastic wrap and plasters on the worst of his wounds. He left the bedside for the dining area, where he tidied up the first aid kit. Then he turned off the lights (thinking again that manual light switches were very twentieth-century) and went to the other side of Bond’s bed.
He had enough pillows for a harem — a thought that made Q smile wryly. Q piled up the extras against the headboard so he could sit up. He took the mobile out of his pocket, let it scan his face to unlock, and then swiped in his security code. “Red Queen remote, ten minute alert, volume one,” he told his computer through the always-on remote link. It ran down the battery like mad, but Q preferred to be connected to at least one friendly — or, well, controlled — voice.
00:10:00 confirmed flashed on the screen, and the timer began to count down.
Q swiped the timer aside and opened his ereader software. Fortunately, he didn’t need his computers to keep him entertained for just a few hours.
After ten minutes, the mobile chimed very softly. Q swiped back and turned off the volume. “James? James, I need you to wake up now.”
Bond twitched, and his breathing picked up slightly, but he didn’t wake up.
“James,” Q said more sharply. When there was still no response, Q switched his mobile to his left hand and reached out with his right, touching Bond’s arm — well away from his injured shoulder and collarbone. “James —”
The response was swift and surprisingly well-coordinated for someone who was, in all likelihood, still mostly unconscious. He twisted, uninjured left hand snatching at Q’s wrist faster than Q could respond. Fortunately, Q was sitting up, which meant Bond couldn’t get the right angle to actually break Q’s wrist, but it was a close thing. He held on with bruising force — too tightly for Q to free himself.
Somehow, Bond didn’t wake up.
“Ow. James,” Q said tightly, not quite daring to try and pull away. His heart was pounding; he’d seen violent reactions during nightmares, but never anything like this. When Bond still didn’t let go, Q automatically said, “Red Queen,” but then faltered. What the hell could his flat’s computer do here?
“Standing by,” she answered via his mobile.
At the unfamiliar voice, Bond’s body apparently decided it was time to wake up. The death grip on Q’s wrist eased as Bond sat up quickly, right hand scrambling for what Q could only assume was a handy weapon. The pain of his injuries must have been enough to snap him out of his autonomous reactions, however — he let out a groan and pulled his hand back to his chest protectively. “Q?” he asked, blinking owlishly at where Q sat next to him. “What...?”
Surreptitiously flexing his wrist, Q said, “Lie back down before you hurt yourself even worse. I’ll wake you in another half hour.” He reached for Bond’s bandaged right hand and wrist. “You’ll be fine.”
Bond seemed to lose some sort of fight with his exhaustion, and slid back down onto the pillow. “You shouldn’t be here. I’m fine.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Q said, politely refraining from adding idiot. He deliberately tucked the blanket up around Bond and set a hand on his head. He combed his fingers through soft, short hair and picked up his mobile, manually silencing the alerts. Typing in a thirty-minute alarm seemed incredibly inefficient, but he didn’t want to use voice commands again — not with Bond in this state.
Whether it was exhaustion, the codeine, or Q’s hand in his hair, Bond eased into sleep almost immediately. Q moved a bit closer, thinking that all things considered, this wasn’t bad at all. The last time he’d spent the night watching a patient, it had been Sherlock alternating between vomiting, dry heaving, and cursing Q in four different languages. By comparison, Bond was a harmless kitten.
A warm body in bed was nothing new for Bond, though the feel of this one was wrong. Too thin, for one — not properly imprinted on his memory from the night before, especially given that ‘the night before’ must have involved ridiculously strenuous S&M, something that wasn’t particularly at the top of Bond’s to-do list. He felt like he’d been run over by a lorry, actually.
He shifted and realised part of the problem was that he was cuddling a leg, head pillowed on a thin, muscular thigh. Long fingers were idly combing over his hair. He was tangled up in blankets — apparently he was under them, but his bed partner wasn’t.
Then, from above, he heard a familiar, soft voice ask, “How are you feeling?”
If Q was in his bed and he couldn’t remember it, that couldn’t be good. Worse, it was dreadfully unfair. Bond pressed his face into Q’s thigh for a moment, trying to give himself time to remember before he said anything stupid. He shifted his shoulders, and the sudden sharp pain in his collarbone shocked him back into full consciousness with a groan of displeasure.
“Like I got mugged,” he finally responded as he gingerly pulled himself into a sitting position. He looked down at his bare chest and saw plasters stuck to the worst scabs around the edge of the bruise. His right wrist was wrapped in an elastic bandage.
He looked over at Q, rubbing at his eyes to clear his vision. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m not grateful to see your gorgeous face first thing in the morning.”
Q stared at him, openly shocked. Then he shook his head and turned his attention to the mobile in his left hand. His fingers seemed less dexterous than expected as he swiped the screen. “Keeping you alive through the night,” he said. His right hand moved to the back of Bond’s neck and went still. “If you can let me up, I’ll get you one codeine. One,” he added sternly. “And I’d really like to use the bathroom, if you don’t mind.”
Ah, codeine. Whether scotch had been involved or not, if he were exhausted that particular brand of pain medication tended to have that effect on him. Made for some very interesting post-mission mornings with strangers in the past.
That thought brought him up short, and he sat up with sudden intent, looking over Q carefully. “You stayed next to me all night?” he asked with some disbelief. “Are you all right?” Q was still wearing only his torn jeans, which left plenty of skin revealed. Thankfully, at a first (not fully awake) glance, none of it seemed bruised.
“I barely got here in the night. It’s tomorrow afternoon, as far as you’re concerned. Let’s see if you can stand up.” He slid carefully off the bed and shoved his phone into the back pocket of his jeans as he walked around the footboard. “How are you feeling?”
Bond swung his legs around the edge of the bed and took stock. His collarbone still hurt like a bitch, but his head didn’t hurt as much as it had yesterday, and most of the feeling had returned to his hand. “Better,” he replied honestly. He wiggled the fingers of his right hand experimentally, wondering when Q had wrapped it in an elastic bandage. “Much better, actually. I suppose I have you to thank for this,” he said, gesturing to the wrap.
“It’s no trouble. You’re a terrible patient. Did they throw you out of hospital?” Q asked, holding out his hands to help Bond to his feet.
“Have you ever been to a foreign hospital?” Bond said with a chuckle that he hoped effectively hid his wince. He took Q’s hands and stood, only gripping too tightly for a moment as his body readjusted to being vertical again. “It wasn’t worth the trouble. Breakfast? I’ve got bagels, cheese, and salmon.” The pain was an effective distraction from other physical concerns, and perhaps for the first time in their short acquaintance, Bond didn’t actually feel like tackling Q back into the bed. “Tea or coffee?”
“You’re going to go to the bathroom and brush your teeth if you can manage without passing out. Then I’ll call for a breakfast delivery. You’ve been gone more than a week. If you had salmon in your fridge, it’s named itself and is now attending primary school,” Q scolded. He got an arm around Bond’s waist and started walking him towards the thankfully-nearby bathroom.
“You never did show me those takeaway menus of yours. But I really shouldn’t. I need to go in to work.” Bond pulled away, tottering for only a moment before he found his centre of gravity. “Coffee and shower and I’ll be right as rain.”
“Yes, you will — on Monday. You can call the office yourself, or I can break the passcode on your mobile and do it for you. Which would you prefer?” Q asked, following Bond, only inches away, up to the bathroom doorway.
“Are your brothers also bullies, or is it just you? I can’t imagine three of you. Terrifying.” Bond grinned and, with his right arm still tucked to his chest and the left seeking support from the doorframe, made his way to the linen cupboard.
Q stood his ground in the bathroom doorway, poised as though prepared to charge in and rescue Bond if he lost his balance. “I spent three weeks getting one of them through cocaine withdrawal. You’re hardly a challenge,” he said. “So, shall you call your office or shall I?”
Bond pulled a towel out of closet and straightened. “I’m sorry. About your brother. And a simple phone call won’t get me out of going. I was technically supposed to check in yesterday before coming home. Chances are they’re already irritated. Why don’t you let me go make coffee so you can use the restroom before I shower?”
Q stared at him, less than impressed by Bond’s insistence on going to work. “Go shower,” he finally said, and disappeared from the doorway.
Once Q was out of sight, Bond let himself lean more heavily on the counter. What the hell was wrong with him? He’d had a beautiful young man in his bed all night, half dressed in his bathroom in the morning, and he hadn’t even invited him to join in his shower?
He started the shower and then turned to do a quick check of his body, taking stock of the very impressive array of plasters and bandages. He unwrapped his right wrist and moved his hand; the ache had lessened, and he suspected that he’d be fine with ice and painkillers. More carefully, he ripped off the plasters on his chest, and he smiled at the idea of Q tending to him while he was nearly unconscious, carefully applying antibiotics and bandages to cuts Bond himself would normally ignore.
A part of him rankled at being coddled, but he could admit to himself that a much larger part truly enjoyed the gentle treatment. In the face of Q’s kindness towards someone who was essentially a stranger, Bond had to suppress a sudden urge to track down his cocaine-addict sibling and throttle him for forcing Q through the deep unpleasantness that was addiction withdrawal.
For several long minutes, Bond let the hot water wash over him, loosening his tense muscles and soothing his bruises. He considered his potential for actually getting out of reporting to MI6 today, and found it unlikely. Sadly, the CTMPD actually had got involved when someone found Bond passed out in the back of a burned-out car, so there was some minor damage control to be done. It wouldn’t take him long, and he’d reported in with much worse injuries before, but of course he couldn’t tell Q that.
Finally, he couldn’t find a good deal of incentive to actually stay in the flat. As refreshing as the protective treatment was, it meant that Q would be absolutely uninterested in testing his stamina in bed or allowing him to do anything that might actually capture the interest of the clever programmer. The last thing he wanted was to sour their developing relationship with a dull afternoon of silence and caretaking reminiscent of what was probably a very unpleasant time for Q. No, that seemed like terrible idea.
Bond quickly showered, wanting to get back to Q. As soon as he was rinsed clean, he turned off the water, stepped onto the bathmat, and towelled briskly dry. Then he wrapped the towel around his waist and walked slowly back to his bedroom to dress.
Q was sitting on the edge of the bed, speaking on his mobile. “No, I’ll watch him,” he said, looking up at Bond through his glasses. “There’s no need — Yes, fine. No, not this weekend, obviously. I’m going to be here. I’ll go see her Monday,” he said, his expression going shuttered and tense. “Don’t be a child,” he warned into the mobile, though it could just as easily have been for Bond, judging by the stern look and the way he pointed first at Bond and then at the bed. “Fine. Monday and Tuesday. I have to go.” Without waiting for a response, he took the mobile from his ear and stabbed his finger at the screen. “You, back in bed.”
With a grin, Bond turned, facing away from Q, to his drawers to look for a pair of soft, well broken-in workout trousers. He took off his wet towel and hung it on the hook over the cupboard door, and pulled the trousers on. Any sense of modesty he’d ever had had been thoroughly eradicated in the military, and now he hoped it would earn him, if nothing else, a blush of admiration.
“Brother?” he asked, pulling the drawstring tight before turning back Q.
Q nodded, watching Bond, albeit in a tense, distracted way. “More than happy to bargain, unfortunately, but that’s how we’ve always been. You’re here with me until Monday — longer if you need.” He got up from the edge of the bed and walked over to Bond. He set his hands on Bond’s waist to hold him still and looked at his chest. “God, you really are in inhumanly good shape, aren’t you? Lie down and I’ll bandage these again. Coffee’s brewing — your pot needs descaling, by the way. I’ll order breakfast once I’m done here. And don’t try to leave,” he added, releasing Bond reluctantly so he could go to the bathroom. He closed the door but didn’t lock it as if prepared to chase Bond down, should he try to escape.
The smell of coffee hit Bond in a wave of delicious distraction, but he frowned down at Q’s phone on the bed. As far as Q knew, Bond worked for Universal Exports. What sort of sibling would have enough influence to call the switchboard and ensure that Bond would get time off? And what had Q offered in exchange? Who had he promised to visit?
With one last glance at the phone, Bond went to the dining area to dig through the med kit for more painkillers. Even if he wanted to get caught invading Q’s privacy, he was almost certain a computer person like Q would have enough security measures in place to keep people from accessing his data.
A quick perusal through the kit turned up no bottle of painkillers. Bond couldn’t suppress a grin. Cheeky little bastard. He turned instead to the coffee pot.
Q emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, hair damp and only partially tamed. He walked out to the kitchen and said, “You’re not in bed. I can bring you coffee there, you know.” He put a hand on Bond’s waist and kissed his good shoulder.
Bond closed his eyes at the contact, thankful that the events of the day and night before hadn’t extinguished whatever spark there had been between them. He turned slowly, broadcasting his intentions clearly, before leaning in for a less chaste kiss. Though Bond preferred to kiss with his whole body, in this case he held back just enough to ensure Q couldn’t protest based on his injuries.
Q seemed to welcome the kiss, though his hands came up to hold Bond’s face with gentle force. He ended it too soon, saying quietly, “Bed, James, or I swear, I’ll chain you to that antique in such a way that even you can’t break out. I’m going to order us lunch, since we’re hours past breakfast. Is there anything particular you want?”
“I’m not picky. Order your favourite.” Bond stepped back to finish his coffee. Something about that phrasing — even you couldn’t get out of it — tugged at his curiosity, but he let it go in favour of giving the task at hand enough attention to both carry the coffee and himself back to the bed without incident. “How exactly did your brother convince my employers to not call me in?”
Q stopped at the dresser and looked across the open space that qualified as a bedroom in a flat without walls. “I suppose you’d find out eventually,” he murmured. “Have you heard of the Security and Communications Committee?”
Bond nearly dropped the coffee mug on the bedside table. He had, yes, but only because he’d been in M’s office during a call from one of its members. After nosing around a bit, all Bond had been able to discover was that they, like M, reported directly to the PM, only without parliamentary oversight. They advised on policy, emergency matters, had the PM’s ear —
“It’s a very small committee, as I understand it. My brother’s the chairman,” Q continued, interrupting Bond’s thoughts. “He’s quite familiar with your ‘employer’.”
Bond didn’t freeze, exactly, but locked involuntary movement completely out of his muscles. He set the coffee cup down on the table and watched Q carefully. “Oh?” He refused to think about any of the consequences of Q’s knowing Bond’s identity until he heard more about his brother and Q’s own security clearance. The thought of Q being cut out from his life was... undesirable.
Q just nodded. “Bed, James,” he repeated, pointing helpfully on the off chance that Bond had forgotten where it was. “I’ll be back in ten minutes at most. Oh —” He shoved a hand in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the ‘paracetamol’ bottle. He opened it and shook one pill out into his hand. He brought it over to Bond, saying, “Let’s not have you unconscious for another ten hours.”
Bond stared down at the pale, thin, uncalloused but scarred hand that offered the painkiller. He traced the blue veins with a fingertip, making Q shiver. Bond continued tracing down the side of his palm, then brushed Q’s knuckles with his fingertips. “Thank you, Q. For being here.” He took the pill, swallowed it quickly, then pulled Q’s hand up to brush the knuckles with his lips. Bond turned, carefully arranged himself on the bed so as not to jostle his injuries, and closed his eyes.
Q stayed beside the bed for a moment. Then he leaned down, without touching Bond’s body, and gently kissed his hair. “Try to sleep. I’ll wake you when lunch is here,” he said, and left the side of the bed. After a moment, Bond heard the front door open and close.
Being used to injury didn’t actually negate the effects of it, and Bond felt his exhaustion creep up on him again. His mind wasn’t quite ready to rest yet, however, and he found three thoughts circulating over and over again. First, he hadn’t given Q a visitor’s code to the front door. Second, his gun was poorly hidden in an unsecure drawer in the dining area — he should really go move it to the safe. Third, there seemed to be every possibility that Q knew who he really was, and who he really worked for.
He was still trying to debate the merits of dealing with any of those issues — right now, like he should — when sleep overtook him again.
“Red Queen, wake up,” Q said as soon as he was in his flat.
“Good afternoon, Q,” she answered.
“Red Queen, update.” He pulled off his glasses and pressed his hands to his eyes. His head was pounding from lack of sleep.
“You have two voicemail messages, one text message, and fifty-two emails.”
Q sighed and went into the kitchen instead of the bedroom. “Red Queen, transcribe text message.”
“M furious. Well done. Details? S. H. Text message ends.”
Unsurprised, Q opened the fridge. “Red Queen, call Sherlock,” he said, taking out one of the energy drinks. He opened it, listening to the phone ring as he drank the contents as quickly as he could to avoid actually tasting anything. The phone was still ringing when he binned the can and took out a soda to get rid of the taste.
Sherlock finally answered on the seventh ring. “What?”
“Do you really not even have your phone ring to voicemail after four rings?”
“If people want me, they text me.” Then, in slightly less irritated tones, Sherlock asked, “What did you do to Mycroft?”
“I made him work, of course. What else would I do?”
Sherlock huffed. The top-quality speakers conveyed every nuance of his deep-seated irritation. “What exactly did you do?”
“I have a” — friend, Q thought, but flinched, picturing Sherlock’s reaction — “useful neighbour who’s in government. The favour was for him, that’s all.”
“Well, he’s disgusted that’s the only way he can get you to visit Mother.”
Q gritted his teeth, opened the soda, and went for the bedroom. Then he turned back and picked up the folder of menus, making a mental note to bring it with him to James’ flat. He looked longingly at his computers, but the urge to go to them wasn’t quite as strong as the instinct to get back to the other flat.
He really wasn’t prepared to examine why.
Sherlock finally broke the silence as Q was finding clean clothes. “He said you’ll be there Monday and Tuesday.”
“For visiting hours,” Q clarified. “Fortunately, I don’t have a government identification card that lets me bully hospital administrators into allowing me to completely disregard protocol.”
Sherlock had no immediate answer. Q set down the soda can and went into his wardrobe. He left his ripped jeans on the floor for one of the bots to bring to the laundry bag, though the mechanisms to lift heavy clothes weren’t quite up to speed. Generally, he ended up with a laundry pile on top of the mesh bag, but at least the targeting was spot-on.
As Q found fresh jeans and a T-shirt, Sherlock asked, “Do you want me to come with you? I could bring my violin —”
Sherlock sighed. “Brainwave analysis —”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Q interrupted stiffly. “I’m sorry I didn’t do anything entertaining to irritate Mycroft this time. Next time, I’ll try harder.”
“Did you want to talk to John?”
Q blinked up at the ceiling speaker by the wardrobe doorway, though it was ridiculous. “What? Why? Did you irritate him into spending the night at a girlfriend’s again?”
“No! He doesn’t do that anymore. It just might... help,” Sherlock said uncomfortably. “It does, me.”
Some of his prickly irritation eased at the thought of how socially inept his brother was. “No. That’s all right,” he said, strangely touched that Sherlock would offer, no matter how inappropriate it was. But then, they’d always been close — closer than either of them were with the much older Mycroft. Perhaps it would’ve been different if their mother had managed to carry any of the interim children to term. Then again, Q and Sherlock likely wouldn’t be alive if she had.
“If you change your mind...”
“I’ll let you know. Thank you. Ring off,” he said, and turned his attention to getting dressed.
This time, it was the sound of fast, light typing — not Alec’s vicious hunt-and-peck style — that pulled Bond out of a light doze, free of nightmares. He opened his eyes and saw Q sitting at the foot of the bed, facing Bond. He was now wearing a T-shirt and different jeans, and he had a laptop across his legs.
“Lunch is here,” he said, glancing up over the screen.
Bond hummed and leaned up to watch Q. “For once,” he murmured, “I’m the one who is underdressed. I’m not sure how I feel about that.” The pressure on his collarbone quickly became too much, and he lay back down to stare at the ceiling.
Q laughed and closed the laptop. He set it on the bed and twisted like a cat to stand. “You can have some more plasters for your chest, if you need, and I’ll replace the strapping around your wrist and hand. Would that make you feel better, or are you going to insist on a proper shirt?”
“Q,” Bond said quietly, still staring at the ceiling. He shifted his arm out, and Q diverted at the foot of the bed, walking to Bond’s side instead of towards the kitchen.
“Does it hurt badly? You’ve only been sleeping for an hour or so. You shouldn’t have another codeine.”
“No, I don’t want another painkiller. And I promise to behave. But will you...” Bond moved to the side a bit and gestured for Q to join him. He had a lot of questions, and wouldn’t be comfortable, shirt or no shirt, until he got some answers. “Please.”
Concern flickered through Q’s expression. “You should eat. It’s been at least twelve hours, and that’s assuming you actually did eat dinner last night. Can I bring the food in here? I wasn’t going to let you near the dining table, anyway. You shouldn’t be sitting up.”
Bond hoped to hell that whichever of Q’s brothers had conditioned Q to worry so much about him was still clean, or he’d have to have words — among other reactions — with the unfortunate arse. “I’m not hungry at the moment. We’ll eat after we talk.”
Q sat close enough that his hip touched Bond’s. He took hold of Bond’s injured arm and gently pressed his fingers into the muscles below his elbow. “Have you always been this hopeless at taking care of yourself?”
“You tell me,” Bond said quietly, pulling Q closer. “What do you know?” He was careful to slide his fingers over Q’s arm and hand, rubbing gentle circles on the top of his hand. Under his touch, he felt Q’s pulse jump, though no hint of it showed in his expression. Bond was good at appearing non-threatening, even as he calculated flight risks and time to access the nearest weapon.
“Everything.” Q looked up and met Bond’s eyes. “I’ve seen your files — yours and Alec’s.”
Bond was careful to maintain neutrality, still smoothing his hands over Q’s addictively smooth skin. “Through your own investigations, or through your brother’s access?”
Q couldn’t quite hide a contemptuous little snort. “Even my brother would have to be onsite at MI6 to access your full records from a secure local terminal. He doesn’t do computers. He does people and politics.”
As much as he thought it might break something fragile between them, Bond couldn’t help a slight chuckle at the phrasing. When Q raised his eyebrow, he said “I’d ask how many people he ‘does’ for politics, but I don’t actually want to know the answer.”
Q blinked at him and then went wide-eyed with something like horror. “Oh. Oh, god, no. Not Mycroft.” He visibly shuddered and shook his head. “He’s always threatened to get married and carry on the family name, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
Bond filed that tidbit away for future reference, but focused on the task at hand. “Do you have clearance?” Then he shook his head. “Never mind. I don’t think I want to know. What do you really do?” Are you a criminal? Bond closed his eyes, tipping his head down to press his lips to Q’s skin. Another question he probably didn’t want to know the answer to. Normally, he would assume that being the brother of a high ranking government official meant leeway, but genius and substance addiction threw him off.
Q shrugged easily. “Whatever I want. My skills are in high demand. There isn’t a network I can’t crack or secure. I have a dozen patents sold for enough stock options that I’d never have to work again, if I chose.”
Bond had been sent after enough mad geniuses to know that being financially secure wasn’t always enough to keep them within the boundaries of the law. Add to the mix Q’s disdain for his siblings, and there was actually incentive for Q to push the limits of what was strictly allowed. He was no stranger to breaking the law out of sheer boredom and bloody-mindedness, but it was the results of those rebellions that really mattered. Was Q a danger to England?
He took a deep breath. “Do I need to worry about your name showing up on my desk, Q?”
Q glanced away, looking embarrassed. “Actually, that would most likely be impossible. I prefer not to be bothered. Technically, I no longer exist. My brother periodically tries to rectify this, but really, even his best are amateurs. I even automated the process to make it easier for them to counter, but it’s been two years since any of them figured it out.”
“A beautiful answer, and I am impressed with your nonexistence. But it doesn’t get to the heart of the question.” Bond moved his hand to Q’s face, stroking his cheekbone and watching his eyes.
Q met Bond’s eyes and shook his head. “No. And before you ask if it’s a matter of geography, neither does MI5. Perhaps the only thing all of us can actually agree on is that we’re not traitors to the crown.”
There was no reason to believe him, no evidence to back his claim up, and yet Bond felt every last bit of tension leave his body. Thank god. Thank god. He hooked a leg to pull Q closer — as a matter of practicality, not seduction technique, given his current condition — and kissed him breathless, despite how Q tried to hold back. Q finally braced a hand above Bond’s shoulder so he wouldn’t put any pressure on his body and allowed the kiss for a few seconds more before he pulled back abruptly, and Bond tasted blood.
“I warned you,” Q scolded, shifting to take hold of Bond’s face. Carefully, he kissed the corner of his mouth opposite the split lip. “Your files included your medical reports. I’ve seen what you’ve done to yourself. Please let me at least take care of you now?”
Bond sighed, but nodded. “I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to finding out what your favourite food is. I can’t decide whether my guess is something ridiculous, like an overly complicated French dish, or something as embarrassing as pepperoni pizza.” He released Q and sat up slowly, grimacing. “And whether we eat in bed depends entirely on your selection.”
Q helped him, though he looked ready to tell Bond to lie back down. “Just for that, we’re having pizza for dinner, no matter what’s scheduled next.” He looked back down at Bond’s bare chest as though drawn. Carefully, he touched the bruising under his collarbone. “I suppose no one’s ever taught you to not get hit?”
“Scheduled?” Bond grimaced. “Pizza is only acceptable if you order it from an actual, honest-to-god Italian pizzeria, with suitable alcoholic accompaniment. And yes, I can indeed avoid getting hit. Can you imagine what I’d look like if they’d landed more than the one in ten attacks they tried?”
Q shook his head and leaned in to kiss the corner of Bond’s mouth again. He touched the split and looked at his finger; Bond tasted blood again. “I’ll get more ice, and you can look through the menus while I reheat food. Or... was there more you wanted to know?”
“Well, I’d like to know more about your family, and who I should throttle for using you instead of a treatment centre as a caretaker during cocaine withdrawal, and what bargain you made to keep me here all weekend, but I don’t want to come off as greedy. Perhaps I should offer you a blank cheque for questions about me as well,” Bond answered with grin that he hoped communicated honest, caring curiosity rather than interrogation. He hadn’t looked at his MI6 files since... before... but he suspected they were well-maintained. Even if Q already knew everything about Bond, as he suggested, it seemed right to offer anyway.
Instead of answering, Q rose and left the bedroom area. Bond heard him open the freezer, followed by a kitchen drawer — and he hoped it was just to get another tea towel, since he still hadn’t moved his gun to the safe. Then he heard the rustle of plastic, followed by the low rumble of the microwave oven.
Q came back into the bedroom carrying the tea towel and a plain manila folder, dog-eared and battered. He handed Bond the wrapped ice cubes and set the folder on his lap. “Since I don’t bother to cook, except when I grill, I just order from the menu at the top of the stack, then shift it to the back. Feel free to re-order it to your preferences, if you’d rather.”
“Look at that,” Bond said with a smile, pressing the ice to his lip. “Hard copy. I wouldn’t have guessed.”
The contents of the folder were, fortunately, representative of the slightly higher class takeaway restaurants within delivering distance of their building. The one on top was dim sum, which Bond had no objection to. He thumbed through the rest of the menus, and they were in no discernible order that he could see. Italian, Indian, Chinese, pub fare, five-star restaurants that delivered through third-party services — and, yes, the promised pizzerias — offered a much more tempting variety than his own drawer of menus. Bond, as a habit, preferred to eat out — but he’d never had someone worth staying at his flat for yet, either.
“How do you feel about pub fare for dinner?” he asked, thinking of Q’s nervous reaction to Bond’s last attempt to seduce with just the slightest measure of elegance. The pub menu was safely in the middle of the stack, too.
“If you’d like,” Q said with a slight shrug. “I don’t — No...” His eyes went distant for a moment. Then he focused back on Bond. “Mycroft is ten years older than I am; Sherlock, only three. He and I are far more like each other than Mycroft. We’re all... intelligent,” he said, sounding slightly embarrassed. “We apply it in unconventional ways. Mycroft followed our family’s chosen career path in politics — he’s desperately unsuited for military service.” Q rolled his eyes at the thought.
Bond watched Q, amused at the reaction but not interrupting. He sat carefully still, observing Q’s tenseness, his slight embarrassment. He didn’t know what it was like to have siblings, but it seemed complicated, at the very least. He waited, watching for any clue that he should offer comfort or understanding.
“I suppose they stopped paying attention to Sherlock when I was born. Mycroft was already in school. Sherlock and I were close, but he was allowed — Well, he was very good at being unnoticed. He never really... latched onto anything, until he read about a boy who drowned in a swimming pool. He was the only one who recognised it was a murder, not an accident,” Q said, a hint of pride coming into his voice. “He was ten years old.”
Bond immediately put money on Sherlock as the drug user. Even a genius would have to have a certain kind of inner landscape to look at the death of a fellow child and point to such a conclusion.
“Crime was the only thing that interested him — well, crime and mysteries.” Q shrugged again. “He occasionally works with the Met, when they need outside help. But before that —” He cut off and looked distantly away. “Imagine — Well, what do you need to do? More than anything else, what do you live for?”
Bond carefully sat back, instinctually knowing the answer, but not knowing exactly how to say it. He served England, but he could never find fulfilment at a desk, even in the government. And he needed the rush of adrenaline and adventure, but weekend base jumping or skydiving would be a poor substitute.
“My purpose is to protect England, using my particular brand of skills to the best of my ability,” he said, hoping that the genius in front of him had read his files thoroughly enough to understand.
“Now imagine that you couldn’t. You were injured” — he pointedly looked at Bond’s chest — “or blind or had been sacked. Imagine losing that. Or imagine never having found it at all. Knowing that there was something you were meant to do, but whatever it was — whatever let you be at peace — was out of reach.”
It wasn’t worth thinking about. That’s why he threw himself into his missions so completely — better to be dead than left broken and useless. And if he hadn’t found service? Bond shook his head. “I can’t imagine.”
“For years, Sherlock tried to get the police to listen to him. They refused. He’d never learned diplomacy, you see. Mycroft — that was his expertise, and anything Mycroft was good at... it didn’t matter to Sherlock. If Mycroft could do it, then it wasn’t important. So Sherlock went the other way. He angered everyone — the family, teachers, friends. And the police. He had nothing to give him what he needed, so he turned to drugs: morphine when he needed to be quiet, cocaine when he needed the rush.”
Bond set the menu folder aside and settled back against the headboard. He didn’t gesture Q over, but shifted and held himself in open invitation for physical contact. “That’s a somewhat extreme reaction,” he said, careful to keep any judgment from his voice.
“Mycroft became first assistant to the PM when he was twenty-two. I had my Ph.D. before I was twenty-one. We don’t do anything in moderation.”
Christ. Intelligent didn’t cover it at all — genius was obviously the more appropriate phrase. But it didn’t bode well for the rest of the story, and Bond was glad he knew the ending: that Sherlock was alive.
“After our father died, Mycroft tried to take control of the family, with our mother’s blessing. He failed,” Q said bluntly. “He has a far easier time controlling nations than me or Sherlock, and that’s never sat well with him. But because his strength is negotiation, he’s found ways to make himself useful to both of us.”
Bond was no expert, but that didn’t sound healthy in the slightest. He wanted to ask again what Q had traded in this morning’s negotiation, but didn’t want to interrupt the flow of Q’s thoughts. “Go on.”
“There’s not much more to tell,” Q said with a shrug, looking away. “I work on whatever catches my interest. Sherlock and his flatmate take investigative cases that interest him — anything, really, though he especially likes murders. And Mycroft...” He shrugged again. “I think he’s busy being smug that the EU is failing as he predicted. Probably laying contingency plans to recreate the British Empire,” he said in a perfectly serious tone.
Bond carefully shoved aside the thought that he was involved with someone whose eldest brother had so much power in the British government and focused instead on the addict. “Is Sherlock still clean?” Not that it would necessarily keep him from getting his arse kicked.
“Now he is, I’m certain. John would never tolerate Sherlock actually using drugs. He doesn’t even let Sherlock smoke, as far as I’m aware — though last I saw him, he was wearing three nicotine patches.”
“What did Mycroft bargain with you for to get M to let me have the weekend off?” Bond asked.
Q darted a tense look at him. “I’ve read your file,” he said tentatively. “There was... a psych report about your parents.”
Though he could sense it happening, Bond couldn’t quite stop the subtle shifting away from open body language to closed. “And?”
“Sherlock and I aren’t close with our mother. We have a very bad relationship with her, for very... complex reasons.” Another look, barely long enough to meet Bond’s eyes. “She’s dying.”
Q was too far away for Bond to take his hand, so Bond swung his legs over the side of the bed, and got up only long enough to sit more closely to Q. He rested his hand on Q’s thin knee. “I’m sorry —”
“No,” Q interrupted. He looked away, his eyes narrowing. “This will sound terrible — especially to you — but I’m relieved. Sherlock is, as well, I think. We’ve never come out and said it — not to anyone.” He glanced at Bond.
Bond had known the stories of too many broken men to offer any judgement. He nodded and took Q’s hand. “I understand how that could be. You can tell me about it, if you like.”
“It’s over. She’s been comatose for weeks. When she went into hospital, Mycroft gave me the flat in hopes I’d be amenable to playing at having a normal family. It’s very important for his image.”
Mycroft was fast falling to below Sherlock’s level in Bond’s estimation. At least Sherlock had ceased to be an involuntary tormentor. Mycroft’s manipulations were just... distasteful, to put it mildly. Bond wouldn’t shoot the man, but his protective instincts had been roused; giving Mycroft a sound thrashing in a dark alley somewhere sounded very appealing right now. “Would you like me to go? On Monday and Tuesday?”
“Mycroft would probably have us both killed,” Q said, and it didn’t sound like he was kidding. “It’s his way of making this unpleasant for me, expecting me to be there at all. Sherlock offered, but there’s no point. And there would be no acceptable way — in his mind, not mine — to explain your presence.”
“He doesn’t understand the concept of support? Some genius,” Bond said, frowning. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think I’m going to get along with him very well. I’m still willing to go if you’d like. I don’t die that easily.”
“You mean you don’t stay that way,” Q said, a hint of humour returning to his voice. He squeezed Bond’s hand. “I’ve seen your medical records. You’re lucky not to have cardiac damage from using a makeshift defibrillator on yourself. Twice.”
Bond laughed, then used to his free hand to tip Q’s face back to a light kiss that wouldn’t result in Bond bleeding all over him again. “I think between our two very impressive skill sets, we can get through a hospital visit with minimal casualties.” He shook his head as Q opened his mouth to protest. “We have time. Think about it.”
Q nodded, holding tightly to Bond’s hand, though his expression was calm and thoughtful. Then he glanced sidelong at Bond. “Can I have a gun?”
His instinctive reaction was an emphatic no, but Bond bit it back. “Do you know how to shoot?” he asked instead, hoping that the answer was no. Something about the idea of being the one to teach Q was deeply attractive.
“An actual gun or an electronic simulation?” Q asked tentatively. “We weren’t actually allowed guns after Sherlock shot Mycroft, even though he’d reloaded the shells with rock salt.”
Bond didn’t even know where to start with that. They were allowed guns before? How old, exactly? And Sherlock had shot his own brother? Bond knew from experience how much rock salt could sting and how much damage it could cause. “How about we spend some time together at the range, and revisit the subject after some practice?” Bond hedged. Then another thought occurred to him. “Why exactly do you want a gun? If you need someone shot, perhaps you ought leave that to me.”
“Mycroft has his people at the hospital in shifts, but he makes a point to go every day,” Q said evasively. “It wouldn’t be fatal, and it would hardly even count, since he’d already be in a hospital...”
There was a strain of twisted logic in there somewhere, Bond thought, but he couldn’t tease it out. “I don’t think that’s a wise idea for either of us. If you’d like to shoot him, preferably with rock salt again, I’m sure we can come up with a plan with bit more tactical advantage.” He reached his good arm over to pull Q closer to him. “I do have a knack for that sort of thing, you know.”
Q let out a breath, and Bond felt the tension leave his shoulders — tension that had apparently been there all along. “You need to eat,” Q said quietly, though he made no attempt to move away. “I’m not going to owe Mycroft only to have you pass out from hunger, James. That’s ridiculous.”
Bond hummed and kept his hold on Q. “I’d offer my first-hand experience with my tolerance limits — which we’re nowhere near, by the way — but I suspect you’ve probably seen similar information in my file.” Bond thought about offering an exchange — lunch now in return for staying in bed with him for the rest of the afternoon — but instantly decided to avoid it. Both now and in the future. He be damned if he used the same tactics as the hated older brother.
“I want you to meet someone,” Q said over dinner — the promised pub fare, which Q had allowed Bond to order. Perhaps it was a bit of a cheat, given that Q had gone through all the menus to highlight dishes he preferred, but the choice of shepherd’s pie had been a good one, especially from this particular restaurant.
The offer came out impulsively, and Q wondered for a moment why he’d made it at all. Years ago, when he’d first developed the prototype of the Red Queen, he’d considered showing it to investors, but something had always held him back. The more he’d developed her, the more he’d kept her secret. Not even Sherlock or Mycroft knew, despite their prying and spying and the rare, occasional moments of sibling closeness — moments that hadn’t happened for three years or more, honestly.
Bond shifted from his comfortable position on the couch — damaged wrist on the arm, feet propped on the coffee table, plate perched precariously on his legs — to better face Q. He raised an eyebrow, though his face was good-humoured. “Someone else I have to shoot?” He smiled mischievously and took another bite of the pie.
“You can try, but she has defence systems,” Q said, grinning back. “She’s my house AI, though she’s not a real AI. She has no learning systems or adaptive programming. Just an advanced vocal command interface and some tricky logic.”
“Ah. Is she the one responsible for getting you a code to my keypad?” Bond asked, genial humour still lifting the corners of his mouth.
Q couldn’t help but flinch, realising he probably should have done something about the keypad.
"I didn't realize it was you right away, of course," Bond continued. "I thought it was a security system glitch. It actually didn't occur to me that it was you - or your AI, anyway - until you told me about how you make your living. That was when I figured out that you would be one of the few people able to hack the system and plant devices that TSS wouldn't be able to detect."
Q cursed the fact that last night he had been too exhausted to deal with covering his tracks, and all day today he’d been too relaxed to even think about it. “That’s all me, I’m afraid. Your keypad is a modified commercial model — government modified, I assume, but really, you’d think they’d change the housing. If you hit the underside with a flat screwdriver, it pops off and gives access to the circuit. It’s easy enough to override.”
“You know I get a text every time you do it, right? I’m going to have to get you an actual access code, just to stop the excessive messages.” Bond took another bite, still smiling. “I look forward to meeting her.”
Silently cursing himself — he hadn’t thought about text notifications after that first break-in — Q turned his attention back to the mostly-demolished dinner. “She’s just a hobby, really. She could be useful, and I’ve modularised most of the parts, but to install her properly, you really need to plan her in with the building. Here, I have so much exposed wiring that it was hardly an issue, except for the plumbing. I’ve been working on wireless components, but the problem with wireless is it’s not really wireless unless you want to go changing batteries every few months or sooner. And then there’s the security issue, if an outside hijacker can take control of the system. Hardwired is always better.”
Bond chuckled. “I don’t mind, though I really think the geeks in the Technical Services Section are going to want to know how you managed to completely evade their system, and not leave any trace behind.” He got a sudden thoughtful look. “Which, by the way, begs the question. What did you plant here the first time?
Q flinched guiltily. “I didn’t intend to — I just needed to know —”
Gently, Bond interrupted, "That neither Alec nor I were here as spies on behalf of your brother."
Relieved that he understood, Q nodded. “I wouldn’t put it past Mycroft to do just that, to keep an eye on me.”
"Bloody hell, Q. Mycroft and Sherlock? Dare I ask what your name is?"
Q hesitated. “I don’t use it. I’ve never liked it. I was named after our father — though why they waited for me instead of naming the firstborn — but then, Sherlock would be Mycroft and I’d be Sherlock.”
“That’s not quite an answer. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. I’m curious by nature. Call it a job requirement.”
With a little laugh, Q shook his head and said, “Siger.”
"Siger? Not as bad as the other ones," Bond chuckled. "Where did you get the nickname Q from?”
“Scrabble,” Q answered. He was curious about this Technical Services Section of theirs, but hoped not to have to explain everything he’d done during his first break-in. “We had three language sets, and I memorised the markings on the high-score letters. I was able to calculate when it would be worth discarding a common letter for them, for maximum score. Q was my favourite. I can probably still list every legitimate Scrabble-dictionary word in English, French, and Russian that begins with Q. Or, well, a similarly rare letter.”
“I think we shall have to test that theory some time. I don’t have a board, but you must. I know some very interesting” — Bond’s expression turned positively wicked — “variations on the game that might spice it up.”
Q held back the yes and the right now that threatened. Instead, he finished the last bite of his dinner and reminded himself that no matter how close they seemed right now, Bond had a grand total of two important relationships in his life: Alec Trevelyan and Vesper Lynd. One of those, he apparently wasn’t involved with, and the other one had betrayed him, tried to steal a fair amount of money from the British Treasury, and had done it because of her boyfriend. After Bond quit MI6 for her.
Everyone else was a one-night stand (or, in some cases, a two-week stand). At first, Q’s sole interest in Bond had been simple threat-management. Now, though, he was determined that even if they only slept together once, he would be the one person whose affections Bond had actually earned.
“Two-layer security,” Q said, operating the keypad at his front door — though he wasn’t punching multiple numbers. He was pressing and holding several buttons, but it was impossible to tell which ones with any accuracy. He glanced up and said, “Button combination and facial recognition from two angles,” as the solenoids in the door disengaged. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. “The solenoids are normally open, so if there’s a power failure and a battery backup failure, the door won’t stay locked, but certain countermeasures will remain enabled. Please don’t cut the power and attempt to break in.”
The first time Bond had been in the flat, he’d looked at it through the lens of evaluating a stay-at-home computer nerd, albeit a highly intelligent one. Now, Bond had to look at it through the lens of a genius-level, doctorate-possessing programmer/engineer who was obsessed enough with keeping his fellow genius-level (and high-level-agent controlling) brothers away to implement potentially fatal security. It made him more than a little nervous.
“While I have no intention of breaking in, perhaps I’m best informed of your countermeasures,” Bond said calmly, unhappily picturing the possibilities for a metal door. “Just for emergency purposes, of course.”
“When on building power, the door carries a mild charge — no danger, so long as you don’t have a pacemaker,” Q said, looking up to the dark ceiling. “Above here, there’s a concrete slab painted to match the roof, obscured by the shadow from the two lights to either side. That’s enabled only in a power-off situation. Otherwise, the magnets holding it could support a lorry.” Casually, he turned and headed for the kitchen. “Did you want anything to drink?”
A concrete slab? That could be... messy. “No, thank you,” he answered, trying to keep his voice even.
He wandered around while Q dug around in the fridge. A well-used treadmill — with a laptop mounted over the control panel — proved that Q did get some exercise. A closer inspection of the server rack didn’t reveal any suspiciously named processes (like ‘hammer’ or ‘black death’), but it did reveal the location of Q’s bed — a futon that had the slightly lumpy, handmade look of one made with actual batting, rather than concealed springs. Bond vowed to keep their carnal efforts, if they ever finally got that far, to his much more sturdy and comfortable bed.
“Oxygen depletion and possible thermal issues through cryogenic and gaseous argon as part of the fire suppression system,” Q continued. “I would have gone more exotic, but I’ve only been here a few months, and Halon is virtually impossible to get since they stopped making it in the nineties.” He opened a can of Coke — Bond had noticed what he guessed was Q’s caffeine addiction — and walked over to Bond, navigating the wires on the floor with ease. “Would you like to meet her?”
Bond smiled, feeling like he should react as if he were meeting someone’s child rather than one of their projects. “Absolutely,” he said, resting his hand on Q’s arm.
Q smiled at him and said, “Red Queen, wake up.”
The words teased at Bond’s memory, but he was jarred out of his thoughts by a female voice saying, from everywhere, “Good evening, Q.”
“She runs all the systems in the flat. Lights, water, air conditioning, heat. She’s also connected to my network” — he gestured to the racks of computers — “and monitors all communications. Red Queen, lights to twenty percent.”
“Lights to twenty percent,” she said as the lights in the flat dimmed, leaving only the Christmas tree glow of the computers to shine brightly.
“Red Queen, system check 13-A, all devices. Run.”
“System check 13-A complete.”
“You start all commands with her name,” Q told Bond. “Red Queen, results of system check 13-A.”
“All 13-A devices functioning within normal parameters,” the computer reported.
“Bloody hell, Q,” Bond said as the curiously flat voice finally teased the memory of the damned video game of Alec’s — when he and Alec had been thoroughly trounced by Red Queen and Q10. Q10. Bond shook his head at the obviousness of it. “I should have guessed earlier. Did you have fun, kicking our arses so thoroughly?” He grinned. “Nice shooting, Red Queen,” Bond said to the room at large.
Q held up his hand, then started folding his fingers as though counting down from five. When he folded in his thumb, the computer said, “Sorry, I don’t understand that command.”
“After saying her name, you have five seconds to give a recognisable command or the system defaults. Otherwise you could accidentally wake her by saying her name, then give part of a command in conversation, and then another part. Such as Red Queen...” He turned and slid his hands over Bond’s jaw, meeting his eyes. “You have lethally beautiful eyes, James.” Over the Red Queen’s response, Q said, “No countermeasures against them —” He leaned in and kissed Bond lightly, careful of his split lip. “And then we’d be dead as soon as we triggered the motion sensors.”
Perhaps it was indicative of how insane Bond’s mind was, but the combination of compliments and talk of lethal countermeasures, coming from his gorgeous genius, was one hell of a turn-on. He wrapped his good arm around Q’s waist and tugged him close. “You think of everything, don’t you?” he whispered in Q’s ear before nipping and kissing it.
Q made a soft, quiet sound and pressed close to Bond before he caught himself. “Someone has to — including thinking of your current state,” he said quietly. His hand slid up the back of Bond’s neck, holding him. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself. And I haven’t even given you guest security level access,” he added with a faint laugh.
“Well, unless Red Queen gets jealous, I think it can wait a few minutes,” Bond said quietly before continuing his gentle kisses. He kept his hand soft at Q’s waist, not pressing or pushing. Q didn’t seem skittish, exactly — more reluctant. Bond didn’t think it actually had anything to do with his injuries; Q had acted the same way at their dinner in his flat. That left some other reason, and Bond just needed time to figure it out. In the meantime, he wouldn’t push.
As he kissed, he learned just how far he could go before Q tensed so subtly that he probably wasn’t even conscious of it. Bond could touch him anywhere above the waist, even push his T-shirt out of the way to feel skin, but anywhere below the belt, other than his hips, made him tense up again. And yet he felt comfortable with Bond, comfortable enough to press their bodies close — until he remembered Bond’s injuries and backed abruptly away, though only a few inches.
“You are very, very distracting,” he accused a bit breathlessly. One hand was flat against the uninjured side of Bond’s chest; the other was low on his back, holding him close.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Bond replied, keeping his own hand lightly wrapped around Q’s waist. “Does Red Queen have a holographic projection to go with her charming personality?”
Q’s eyes lit up. “You’ve seen the movie, then? God, I thought you’d be strictly the action-adventure type. No hologram, though I was considering it. Projection technology isn’t where I want it to be, though, and having her appear on flatscreens, while useful for scaring idiots, would generally take up space where I’d rather display relevant data.”
Bond didn’t have the heart to tell him he had no idea what movie Q was talking about; he was far too charmed by the excited whoosh of explanation that came out in one rushed breath. “I suppose that if you didn’t program her to react to compliments, you wouldn’t program her to have facial expressions either.”
“Is that your subtle way of asking me to set you up with my flat AI?” Q teased. He kissed Bond’s cheek and said, “I promise, I won’t be jealous. I actually spent far too much time and energy getting her voice perfect. I didn’t want the creepy-little-girl sound.” Q shuddered.
“Perfectly understandable,” Bond said, still nuzzling the side of Q’s face. He made a mental note to do a pop culture search for Red Queen when he was back at the office, and suffer through whatever movie Q was so gleefully referencing. “And I have no interest in dating an AI. I’m far too enchanted with someone else at the moment. Someone with actual, physical dimensions, which have a distinct advantage in my book.” He brushed his hand lightly up and down Q’s back as he kissed Q’s jaw.
Q’s breath hitched, and this time, when he pressed close to Bond, he didn’t move away. The bruise twinged in warning, but he wasn’t near the fractured (or badly bruised — Bond still didn’t know) collarbone, so Bond let it pass in favour of holding him more tightly. His reward came when Q pressed his lips to Bond’s earlobe before nipping gently.
“We shouldn’t do this here,” Q warned. “I have no furniture at all. And we’re not doing this now. You’re in no condition.” Deliberately, he licked over the curve of Bond’s ear in defiance of his own words.
Bond hummed agreeably even as he backed Q up carefully to one of exposed beams in the room. He still kept his hands above the waist, but pushed in for a much more filthy, full-bodied kiss, pressing hips and chests together even as tongues tangled messily. Q’s hand went tight on the back of Bond’s neck, holding him still so Q could turn and bite at the unmarked side of his mouth. Q’s other hand dropped, fingers catching in the elastic waist of the light tracksuit bottoms he’d been casually wearing all day. Q’s fingers skimmed over bare skin for a moment before his nails scraped.
Bond groaned in Q’s mouth and thrust his hips forward before his brain could catch up with his body. He backed off and relaxed as much as he was able, careful to watch for signs of tension returning to Q’s body, but he saw none. In the dim light, Q was watching him, still wearing his glasses. He let his hands drop to rest on Bond’s hips, absently fixing the waistband of the tracksuit bottoms, though it seemed more an excuse to pet bare skin just hard enough to avoid being too ticklish.
Then he took a deep breath and said, “Red Queen, input new resident user.”
The computer immediately answered, “Awaiting new resident user input. User identity?”
Q looked at Bond and said, “Think of what you’d like her to call you. Then say her name and ‘user identity’ and your name.”
“Red Queen, user identity James,” Bond said with a smile. He was briefly tempted to go with Scorpion, in reference to their first (if not official) meeting, but he didn’t know if he could handle hearing a robotic feminine voice calling him that with any frequency.
“Resident user identity James accepted. Admin level confirmation required,” the computer answered.
“Red Queen, confirm new user,” Q said. Then he grinned at James. “Go on. Turn up the lights or something.”
“Red Queen, turn down the lights,” Bond said with a grin. “Do I have to specify percentages?”
Q laughed, and over Red Queen’s ‘apology’, he said, “Yes. I’m sorry — I didn’t program her with variant commands. I never anticipated giving access to anyone else. I built in the additional functions so I could set myself up with secondary identities to test security. It’s parsed as ‘lights to X percent’ where X is between zero and one hundred.”
Bond looked down at Q, suddenly hit with a strong sense of hesitation — though he made sure it didn’t show up in his expression or body language. What the hell was he doing? This was beyond simple seduction. Q had taken care of him when he was injured with no prompting. He’d allowed himself to be manipulated by a brother he hated to ensure that Bond could stay home and heal. He’d shared parts of himself with Bond that he hadn’t shared with anyone. And now he was giving Bond access to his extremely well-protected flat. He was trusting the assassin.
Despite his injuries, Bond gathered Q’s incredibly thin frame into his arms and wrapped him in a fierce, affectionate hug. “Q,” he murmured, not willing to say much more for a long moment. “Thank you.”
He heard Q murmur his name as he put his arms around Bond to hold on just as tightly. Bond buried his nose Q’s neck and hung on for dear life as he processed what he realized was deep, genuine affection. Fuck.
This was foolish. No, not foolish. This was absurd. Q didn’t let anyone in — that was the point of building a fortress between himself and the world, a fortress not just of walls but of power. And suddenly he was willing to share that power? And at resident level, not guest level?
God, was he so addled with hormones that he couldn’t think straight? Or was it the stress of his family?
It could well be the idiot in his arms. Q had no idea what Bond had been doing overseas, though he could find out easily enough. And for a moment, he was tempted to do just that — to show off his skills in a tangible way. Red Queen was built of simple parts crafted into a complex system. Yes, her programming was elegant, allowing her to execute complex decision trees in microseconds, but in the end she was little more than a programmable logic controller — a machine that turned things on or off — and a fancy voice simulation.
He tried to summon up the distrust that came so easily to him, but some time last night or this morning, it had slipped away. If Bond had got himself beat up specifically to engender feelings of sympathy in Q as part of his caretaker nature, then his entrapment plot was far more complex than Q could reasonably predict.
He had the feeling — and he had no reason to doubt that feeling — that he could trust James.
Careful of Bond’s injuries, Q slipped to the side, breathing easier once he was away from the concrete support post. (And dear god, James had no right to be that strong despite being that badly hurt.)
“Let me show you,” Q said, surprised at how unsteady his voice was. He went to his desk to pick up one of his tablets. Bond followed, wrapping his arms around Q from behind, watching. Q logged in, absently saying, “Red Queen, telly on.” In the dim light, the large centre television created a huge splash of light, even with no picture displayed. Q pulled up Bond’s file and routed the display to the television. “There,” he said, pointing it out to Bond.
“My file?” Bond asked, squinting, still holding tightly to Q.
Q nodded. “It’s the one from MI6, but it has links to all your others — Royal Navy, NHS, foreign and domestic school transcripts.”
“Impressive,” Bond said impassively. “You know, I did tell you — you only have to ask.”
“Your flat was listed — Well, now you know why I’m here. It’s a secure location.” Q carefully leaned his head back against Bond’s shoulder. “I needed to know you and Alec could be trusted.”
“Understandable, given what I’ve learned about your brother. I would have done the same, if I had your ridiculously impressive capabilities.” Bond’s arm tightened briefly around Q before relaxing again.
Q took another breath and thought about the surveillance devices in 13-B. He knew he should offer to disable them, but they could be too useful. If nothing else, he could program a basic interface to the Red Queen’s systems, similar to the one he used with his mobile. “I’d —” He shook his head and turned in Bond’s arms, still holding the tablet. But then he looked into Bond’s eyes, and his courage faltered. He thought quickly and recalled the offer to go with him to the hospital. “If you want to come with me on Monday — It won’t be pleasant, but it’s only for visiting hours.”
Bond smiled. “If you want me there, I’m happy to go with you. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave my gun behind, just so I’m not tempted to shoot Mycroft, I think.” A dark smile flashed across his face.
Q pushed into Bond’s arms before he could stop himself. His hands went up under the back of Bond’s T-shirt, splaying flat over warm skin and obscenely tight muscles. Going home with a one-night stand was never like this — more gratifying, at least physically, but not satisfying.
“He wasn’t always wrong,” Q admitted quietly, burying his face against Bond’s neck. “Sherlock was deliberately cruel to everyone. He knew exactly what he was doing the first time he shot up — what it would do to all of us, not just him. And I’m no better than they are.”
Bond wrapped Q closely, but apparently he was nearing his physical limits. He pulled Q down to the floor, leaning against the side of the desk, and gathered Q in a tangle of limbs without putting pressure on his injuries. “What makes you say that?” Bond asked quietly, tucking Q close.
“None of us are genuinely good with people,” Q said. Guiltily, he stayed close to Bond, even though he knew he should get Bond into bed — Q’s or Bond’s, it didn’t matter. He was tired and probably needed another codeine or at least some gentler painkillers. He didn’t want to move, though, and reluctantly decided a few minutes wouldn’t do irreparable harm. “Mycroft took after our parents and learned to manipulate. Sherlock drove them away. I just... withdrew. All three of us test as introverts. I took it to extremes.”
“That doesn’t make you a bad person, Q. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being an introvert. You’ve done well.” Bond sighed and slipped his good arm under Q’s shirt, staying carefully above the waistband of Q’s jeans. “Equally importantly, you don’t use your talents for chaos and destruction, though you clearly have the imagination for it.”
Q sighed. “Not destruction, no,” he admitted quietly. “But there isn’t a database that I can’t infiltrate. No firewall can keep me out. Strip out all outside network connections, and I’ll find a way in. False employee ID, pose as a janitor, even just put on a suit and pretend to actually work there...” He looked over at the brightly glowing television, still displaying Bond’s MI6 folder. “I never sold information, but it’s so easy... It’s what I do.”
“There’s a big difference between being curious and capable and actually being a problem. Every time I walk into a building, I plan its destruction. I calculate entrances and exits and strategic placement of incendiary devices and body count. It all happens in my head — I don’t usually actually kill anyone, but it’s there.” Bond tipped Q’s head up so they could meet each other’s gaze. “And there are ways to be legal. If you ever wanted, I could bring you to MI6. Give you a tour of Technical Services. See if they have anything there to hold your attention and curiosity. I’m sure they’d love to recruit the likes of you.”
“Me?” Q didn’t know what was more shocking — the thought that Bond didn’t mind or that Bond actually would want to bring him into MI6. After what he’d just said about getting his hands on computers... “I couldn’t. Not to you — You’d get in trouble,” he said, feeling overwhelmed. “I mean, I erased my records, but still, I’ve been arrested enough that you shouldn’t even let me in the same city as MI6.”
Bond chuckled. “I would clear it with M first, of course. But you wouldn’t be the first, or last, MI6 employee to come in with a criminal record. Hell, if any of the criminal acts were in any way favourable for the UK, that would be a good thing. And having your brother being such an essential part of the government would probably work in your favour as well.”
“He wouldn’t touch MI6 if I were there,” Q said, surprised at the sudden, vicious rush of territorialism that came over him. He lifted his head and looked at Bond, but then he focused entirely on the mental challenge of disentangling Mycroft’s hooks from MI6. With little more than a suggestion —
“What the hell is ‘M’?” Q asked, his thoughts momentarily derailed.
Bond’s laugh was sudden and genuine. “Oh, something tells me that having Mycroft as your brother will definitely work in our favour,” he said mirthfully. “Make sure to react just like that when M speaks to you about it. M isn’t a ‘what’; he’s a ‘who.’ The director of MI6, in fact.”
“Oh.” Q shook his head and filed that information away in the back of his mind. At the very least, he’d need to find a way to protect Bond — or to separate himself from Bond entirely. Otherwise, Mycroft’s potential influence over MI6 would put Bond — someone who was all too quickly becoming important to Q — right in his line of fire. Mycroft wouldn’t hesitate to order Bond transferred to Antarctica or dropped in the middle of some desolate third-world nation where they still ate people, all to keep Q in line.
He couldn’t let that happen. He could handle himself, but he couldn’t take care of Bond, too — not that Bond would leave Mycroft’s domain, if it came to that. He’d said it himself earlier: The one thing that gave his life meaning was his service to England.
He turned and kissed Bond’s cheek, refusing to indulge his emotional needs for one minute longer. “You need to be in bed, James — not on a cold floor,” he scolded, getting to his feet. He held out his hands to help Bond stand.
Bond held out a hand to Q, but actually used the desk more for leverage getting off the floor than Q. “I won’t object to your dragging me into bed.”
“Red Queen, save and close all open files,” Q instructed.
“Files closed. Zero files updated,” the computer responded.
“Your bed or mine?” Q asked, turning back to James. “And that’s only for sleep.”
“I’m relatively certain that thing back behind the server rack isn’t a bed in the strictest sense of the term. Let’s go back to mine. It’s by far the better option if you let me talk you into other scenarios.” With that, Bond pulled him into one more kiss before they left the flat. “This is very impressive, Q. You’re incredible. Red Queen is incredible.”
“It’s a perfectly serviceable futon, James, and it’s much better for one’s back than springs and foam. Red Queen, open door.” When the solenoids disengaged, he said, “Red Queen, overwatch standby. Engage signal outer door lock.”
“Overwatch standby. Goodbye, Q.”
“Can you tolerate a bath? It’s that or you’re going straight back to bed. And before you say you’re not that badly hurt, your collarbone affects your posture and your gait, which affects your spine. You need to stay relaxed.”
“You’re doing an excellent job of relaxing me,” Bond said with a smirk. He led Q back through the door to his flat, pausing only to say, “They didn’t actually tell me how to get a new person programmed in. I’ll put a request in for you.”
“Have you not heard anything I’ve said?” Q pushed the door closed and started herding Bond towards his bed. “I’ll fix your security system. Do you really want your safety in the hands of hacks whose ‘best work’ can be bypassed with a screwdriver and a colour-coded wiring diagram you can download off the internet?”
Bond didn’t respond with more than a grunt, and allowed himself to be herded. He carefully tugged his t-shirt off, then collapsed onto the bed, pulling Q down with him. Before Q had a chance to protest, Bond was arranging Q into the best position to act as a human pillow. “Stay with me?” he asked.
Q lifted his head enough to see blond hair obscure his view of half the room. He pulled off his glasses, folded the arms in, and gave them a gentle toss at the bedside table.
“Lovely timing for that question,” he muttered as Bond wrapped himself around Q as best he could, careful to cradle his injured arm out of the way. Q cuddled him close automatically, feeling a bit as if a lion had walked up to him and flopped across his lap. “Note that if we were at my flat, I could just tell the Red Queen to turn off the lights and drop the temperature five degrees, rather than having to deal with primitive switches and wall controls.”
Bond yawned and nuzzled at Q’s neck. “Sleeping with the lights on in a comfortable bed big enough for both of us is better than the opposite.” Bond paused. “Did that make sense? I’m not sure that actually made sense.” Another yawn. “Besides, you’ll fix it in here, you said. Just be patient.”
He wanted to protest. At the very least, he wanted to take off his jeans. But he’d been up for at least thirty hours, possibly more, and Bond would eventually roll over and let Q escape long enough to get rid of his clothes. Besides, he couldn’t picture Bond cuddling anyone like this. The thought was disturbingly pleasant, that he could be Bond’s first.
“James,” he said abruptly. He told himself his curiosity was just that — curiosity, not jealousy. “Where does Alec sleep?”
“Couch,” Bond mumbled. “Or at his latest conquest’s. But he’s on mission. A lot. He’s very straight, you know.”
“Unlike you,” Q said. Even disregarding the obvious evidence, Bond’s file had made it clear that anything was fair game, as long as it was between the ages of twenty and sixty.
Bond hummed. “Got you now, though.” He paused. “If you do, I mean.”
Ignoring the way his chest went tight, Q said, “That made even less sense grammatically than your previous attempts.”
“Sleep with people.” Bond’s grip tightened for a moment. “You don’t have to. Having you like this is fine.”
“You’re a terrible liar. I do, and it wouldn’t be fine for very long. But I appreciate the gesture,” Q said, kissing Bond’s hair. “Go to sleep.”
“Oh good,” Bond said with obvious, if sleepy relief. “Then bath. Together. When we’re awake.”
Q slept like the dead.
He’d sprawled over two-thirds of the bed, head burrowed almost under the pillow. He’d kicked up the blankets to cover himself from the waist-down, and at some point, he’d rid himself of his T-shirt. Bond was sorely tempted to see if he’d done the same with his blue jeans. Q’s back, like his chest, was absolutely free of scars. Apparently neither of his brothers had shot him at any point, which was a rare point in their favour.
Bond was thoroughly sick of sleeping, but couldn’t find it in him to wake Q up just yet. If Q had actually sat in watch over him while he was out the night before, keeping an eye out for the effects of a concussion, the programmer really needed his sleep. As carefully as he could, Bond disentangled himself from the sheets and duvet and slipped out of bed. Q didn’t move.
Bond put on a shirt, finding that his right arm was moving much more freely — bruised, not broken, after all. A glance at the clock told him he’d slept about six hours, which probably meant he had about six more before Q woke up.
With the carefully silent movements he’d had decades of practice perfecting, Bond soon had coffee, leftovers, his laptop, his gun, and his gun kit spread out on the table in front of him. Even if he had been dismissed from reporting in-person to M, he expected they’d want his after-action report in as soon as he was able to type it up. The soreness of his hand and shoulder meant he was slow to type — and Q, the charmingly overprotective bully, had hidden the codeine — so it was nearly two hours before he’d managed to get it coherently written and uploaded to the secure MI6 server.
Bond wondered if Q would think any less of him if he rewarded himself with stupid cat videos to watch while he cleaned his gun, and decided not to risk it. Instead, he navigated to his favourite internet radio station and let the very, very soft sounds of classical symphony float in and out of his consciousness as he focused on the gun.
With the clarity of thought finally afforded to him with enough sleep and a welcome reduction in physical discomfort, Bond went back to the puzzle that was Q. He was falling very fast, and very hard, for the fey-like creature now sprawled handsomely across his bed — and Bond wasn’t sure that was the wisest thing to do. Despite Q’s excellent handle on the broader concepts of who (what) Bond was, there was something deeply vulnerable about him that Bond didn’t want to be responsible for breaking. For his own part, Q didn’t seem to have much to keep him here in London, and his ability to work from anywhere made Bond wonder if he’d even want to be tied down to a single location when the reason for it would be gone, on mission, for weeks at a time. Especially if proximity to his siblings was such a disincentive.
But the thought of Q picking up and leaving was a deeply unpleasant one, igniting a selfish possessiveness Bond wasn’t sure he had any right to.
Once the gun was clean, and both it and the kit were packed away properly (the gun in the safe, this time), Bond reopened his email to send a request to M. Perhaps seducing Q with the shiny opportunities for endless hacking challenges at MI6 would be a better way to keep his genius anchored.
Q opened his eyes without seeing much at first. What he did see registered only dimly in his consciousness. He was far from his best first thing in the morning — defined as whenever he opened his eyes, rather than when the sun rose. Half the reason the Red Queen existed was to protect Q when he slept.
Without moving, he catalogued his surroundings: soft sheets, unfamiliar mattress, minimal light coming from elsewhere. The windows were in the wrong place for his flat, but they teased at his mind all the same, until he realised he was in the mirror-image of where he should have been.
James, he thought, and flopped over onto his other side, only to find an empty space where he should have been. Q frowned. If Bond had gone to work in his condition, Q would strangle him.
He sat up, pushing the hair out of his eyes, and crawled over the bed to where he spotted the blurry shape of his glasses. By the time he had them on, Bond was walking over to him, looking inhumanly attractive in boxer-briefs and a T-shirt.
“Good morning,” Bond all but purred as he caught Q before he could actually get up, pulling him into a kiss that lasted only for a few seconds before Bond pulled back with a comedic wrinkling of his nose. “I’ll give you a moment to brush your teeth before I wake you up properly, shall I?”
Q tried to summon up the energy to speak, but standing was currently taking all of his energy. He nodded and extricated himself reluctantly from Bond’s arms before saying, somewhat nonsensically, “I’ll look later. Red Queen, shower on, forty-three degrees,” as he headed in the wrong direction — going to his bathroom — before he caught himself.
Bond chuckled. “The Red Queen isn’t here, Q. I have an extra toothbrush under the sink,” he hinted.
Toothbrush. God, yes. Q nodded, went into the (backwards) bathroom, and pushed the door closed. He hated mornings — ‘morning’ being defined as the period between him waking up and him getting enough caffeine into his system to be conscious.
He found the toothbrush and waved a hand under the tap. Then he waved his other hand, trying to trigger the motion sensor.
“Fuck,” he muttered, and walked back out of the bathroom to find a screwdriver. He kept hand tools in the kitchen drawers, but the kitchen — Right, he thought. Bond’s kitchen. “Screwdriver?” he asked, heading for the coffee pot. He put the toothbrush down on the counter and stared at the coffee pot (not his coffee pot) and added, “Mug?”
“Q,” Bond said with soft amusement, running a gentle hand up his back. “How about I give you a mug for the coffee, a more traditional spoon to stir in your milk and sugar, and get the shower started for you? The handle does get a bit stuck sometimes.”
“The sensor’s not working,” Q said, turning to bury his face against Bond’s chest. God, he felt good. He closed his eyes and pulled off his glasses, dropping them behind his back onto the counter. “What time is it?”
Bond’s low laugh was a deep rumble in his chest that Q felt as much as heard. He wrapped his arms around and hugged him close, mouth close to Q’s ear. “The bathroom fixtures here are still manual, I’m sorry to say. No sensors to fix. And it’s about ten in the morning.” Instead of letting Q pull away to make his own coffee, Bond offered his own mug.
“Primitive,” Q complained, taking the coffee. He sipped it and was torn between handing it back for having not enough sugar and drinking it anyway. The need for caffeine won out, and he lost himself standing against Bond’s body long enough to finish the coffee completely. It wouldn’t be hard to put in the sensor. He could get his Dremel to rout out a proper space for it. He had the motion sensor circuitry. He’d tap off the electric in the bathroom, so he’d need to cut into the wall behind the cabinet. And he might as well do the shower at the same time.
“Do you have a ladder?”
Bond took the now empty mug out of Q’s hand and set it on the counter next to the coffee pot. “As much fun as it might be to watch a nearly unconscious genius tear into my wiring, I have plans for after you brush your teeth, remember?” He walked Q backwards against the counter and lifted him enough to get easier access to his bare neck and shoulder without having to bend over. Bond started with gentle nips and kisses at the jawline before working his way down. He didn’t bite hard enough to leave marks, but it was definitely enough to wake Q up a little more.
“Coffee,” Q muttered, which was as close as he could get to suggesting that ‘plans’ wouldn’t happen unless coffee was heavily involved. Really, mornings were incredibly inconvenient without the Red Queen. How the hell had he managed before her?
Still, he made no effort to escape. Bond was definitely far too good at making himself a very attractive alternate to consciousness. It was unfair that Q couldn’t get the energy to do more than hold onto him, but he didn’t seem to mind. Bond hadn’t shaved, and the faint rasp of stubble against Q’s throat was just enough to tease.
“Did you really poison the CEO of Quantum Avionics?” he asked, suddenly remembering. He’d been irritated when QA had gone out of business; they made fine-range motors that he’d intended to use in his bots, except they were strictly government contract vendors.
Bond froze for a moment before pulling back, letting Q back down. His face was a careful mask of nonchalance, though Q could see his eyes sharpen. “Not a friend of yours, I hope,” he responded calmly, raising an eyebrow.
“They made these little motors,” Q said. He shivered a bit, missing Bond’s warmth, and burrowed up against him. “And then there was the whole investigation and their inventory got liquidated. I had to go with a substandard model,” he complained. “You couldn’t have waited?”
“You know,” Bond said, smoothly wrapping his arms back around Q, “MI6 acquired much of their inventory. Technical Services Section has a rather large storage room devoted to some of their more interesting components, I believe. I’ll show you when you visit.”
That woke Q up. He grinned, thinking back to some of the other things he’d seen in Bond’s file. MI6’s engineering division — TSS, apparently — was ridiculously, hopelessly old fashioned in some ways, like idiot children playing with explosives and Legos all at once, but if Q had a few hours’ access to their stocks, he could accomplish things.
A proper AI, even, if he had the processing power. Surely they had computer components, perhaps even prototypes. Liquid cooled, of course — perhaps he’d do a prototype build submerged in isopropyl alcohol. He’d done that once back in uni, though the cooler they’d used for the build had eventually been repurposed for its intended use and the uncooled components had caught fire. Idiot fraternity.
“As much as I’m curious about what’s going on in there,” Bond said, moving a hand up to comb it through Q’s bed-crazed hair, “I think I’d rather have you focused on me.” And with that, Bond pulled him back into another kiss before suggestively passing the toothbrush back to him.
“Morning,” Q explained, thinking that about summed it up. He took the toothbrush, reminded himself that everything was backwards because he was in Bond’s flat, and went to find the bathroom again.
Bond gave Q forty minutes before worry finally prompted him to go knock on the bathroom door. The shower was still running, but with on-demand water heating, Q would be able to stay in there forever if he chose. Bond certainly had taken advantage of that, especially after particularly difficult missions.
There was no answer to his knock, so he cracked the door — it wasn’t locked — and steam billowed out. Through the cloud, he could barely make out a pale shape standing, unmoving, beyond the glass doors. He could barely hear the sound of humming, punctuated now and then with what sounded like Latin.
“Can I get you anything?” Bond asked softly, hoping not to startle Q.
Enough steam had escaped so that he could see when Q turned to face him. “Coffee? God, what time is it?”
Bond stepped into the room, closing the door behind him to keep the steam in. “Are mornings always like this for you, or does my bed have the ability to render you insensate?” he asked with a chuckle. “It’s nearly eleven. Were you singing?”
“Yes. And mornings are horrid.” Q turned, splashing water against the door for a moment. “Sleep in general is horrid. Of course, it’s been years since I’ve had to worry about sleep, except in jail, so there’s that. Before, it was bored engineers pranking — or not-quite-homicidal brothers.”
A few more puzzle pieces slotted into place about Q’s odd personality. Bond didn’t know where to start, torn between asking what sort of things Q’s brothers would do that would make him afraid to sleep (and what the hell was wrong with his parents that they let it happen?), and how he’d ended up in jail. Apparently, however, Q was exceptionally compliant and forgetful in the morning — Bond wondered if it counted as manipulative if he waited to ask his questions for that window of opportunity. “You’ll always be safe in my bed, Q. Were you singing in Latin?”
“Yes. How long have I been in here?” he asked, sounding surprised. “Red —” He huffed audibly and reached out to shut off the water.
Bond smiled and pulled his fluffiest towel out of the linens closet next to the sink. “Not too long,” he lied smoothly. “When were you in jail?” He held the towel open for Q to step into, grateful for Q’s unscarred, smooth skin. “It seems like the sort of thing your brother would have got you out of.”
Without hesitation, Q snuggled right into the towel and against Bond. His hair, even slicked back, dripped water everywhere, saturating Bond’s T-shirt. “A few times. Well, eight. And he did, once he had easier access to facial recognition. I wasn’t stupid enough to use my actual name. And before you claim that’s excessive, I’ll remind you I’ve seen your file. Contrary to what you might have been taught, getting yourself captured is not the most efficient way to infiltrate an enemy’s organisation.”
Bond wrapped the towel tightly around Q and frowned. “Apparently I need to teach you some better evasion techniques. You’re a bloody genius; how did you manage to land yourself in jail eight times?” For all Q’s protestations about not being a danger to England, Bond made a mental note to pull his file and see if anything needed to be done to make sure there was no delay in getting Q into MI6.
“Weapons possession, five counts of hacking, trespassing, and stealing two horses.”
As soon as Q was snug in the towel, Bond turned him watched Q’s face closely. It was still more or less a sleepy, dazed mask with no hint of teasing. “Please tell me it wasn’t a gun loaded with rock salt. And horses? How? Where?” He guided the comically zoned out Q to the sink and passed over the toothpaste. Then he leaned back against the counter and waited.
Seemingly on automatic, Q found the toothbrush and waved a hand under the tap. After a moment of scowling, he manually turned the taps and gave a little huff. “Primitive. They were our horses. We just didn’t tell anyone before we left for the weekend. Not that we were planning to come back,” he admitted. He started to brush his teeth, continuing to speak, though the words were somewhat muffled: “The weapon was a crossbow I built. It wasn’t so much jail as it was sitting at the station handcuffed to a chair because I snuck out four times. They really didn’t pay much attention to me, but I was eleven.”
Bond nodded, wondering if it was too early to actually hate Q’s parents. Then the image of an eleven year old Q, riding on a horse and wielding a homemade crossbow took over his imagination. It surely wasn’t the same weapon that he’d been arrested later for, but he couldn’t imagine even a young Q doing a shoddy job of it. “You know,” he said finally, stepping behind Q to watch him in the mirror. “I’ve never actually fired a crossbow. An egregious oversight if you ask me. Maybe you could build me one, if you’d like.”
Q ducked his head under the tap to rinse, disdaining anything so civilised as a cup. He splashed water over his face and stood back up, grinning at Bond in the mirror. “In uni, we built a ballista out of a truck’s leaf spring. It could fire rebar through a concrete wall. Would you like that more?”
Bond stared for a minute, looking for any evidence that Q was joking and, finding none, weighed the possibly disastrous consequences against the joy he’d get unleashing Q on a project he enjoyed. God, he really needed to get this man into the well-protected subterranean labs of TSS.
“Tough decision,” he said instead, waiting for Q to put the toothbrush in the holder next to the sink before he herded Q out to the bed. “Let’s decide later.”
He gave Q a gentle push onto the bed. Laughing, Q twisted away to sit next to Bond, rather than lying comfortably underneath him. “Coffee,” he insisted. “Besides, a ballista is even more impractical for you than a crossbow. You need better knives and safer guns. And don’t tell me you were ‘only’ shot with your own weapon once. That’s one time too many,” he scolded. “Why the hell don’t you have a biometric trigger lock?”
“I assume it has something to do with the cost of the technology versus its return,” Bond guessed, pulling the duvet over Q before walking back towards the kitchen. “Double O’s aren’t exactly known for bringing equipment back — we tend to burn it out in the field.”
Q followed him, wrapping up in the duvet. King-sized, it trailed behind him. “I can fix that as well,” he muttered distractedly.
Bond’s coffee pot was the kind that used a metal carafe for a pot with no heater underneath — a switch made after one too many evenings spent falling asleep after making coffee, leaving a hideous burnt smell lingering in the air. Now he grabbed their mugs, the sugar bowl, and a spoon in one hand and the carafe in the other. “What would you like for breakfast?” he asked. He set everything down on the bedside table next to Q.
He watched as Q loaded his coffee with an unhealthy amount of sugar, disdaining even asking for milk or cream. “This is fine. Technology isn’t expensive anymore, James. This isn’t 1975. I’m talking a simple recognition circuit.” He gave Bond a suspicious look. “You do have actual trained technicians working for you?” he asked tentatively.
“You’ll find out for yourself soon enough. Leftovers or shall we order out again?” Bond tried to remember if there was any cereal, bagels, muffins, or other signs of what Q would eat in the morning in his flat, but nothing was coming to mind. “Do you have anything at your place you’d like me to get for you?”
“I brought my laptop and charger. It’s fine. I’ll start work on the circuit once I’m more awake.” Q frowned, blinking, and focused on Bond. “Did you sleep enough? Are you feeling better? God, I should have asked earlier. I’m sorry. I’m really not at my best in the morning.”
That was an understatement, Bond thought with a smile. “Nearly good as new,” he said, looking around for Q’s laptop. He brought it over to the bed, resigning himself to Q’s distraction. He plugged the charger into the wall and poured his own cup of coffee. He thought about retreating to the dining room table to drink it, and work on his own laptop, but even if he didn’t get to touch, the lure of Q naked under the blanket and towel was too much too resist.
He retrieved his computer and settled carefully on top of the blankets next to Q, who had his laptop out and was opening what looked like a drawing program. Being in the centre of the bed meant that Bond didn’t have anywhere to set his coffee, so he shifted carefully to hold the mug on the bed in his slightly weaker hand, resting the other one on Q’s duvet-covered knee.
“Fetch your gun, will you?” Q asked, opening a library of shapes. He stared at them, reaching out to pick up his coffee with his left hand.
“Oddly enough, that’s not even close to the strangest thing someone’s asked me in bed,” Bond replied with a rueful chuckle. He took several long swallows of his coffee to reduce his likelihood of spilling it and set the laptop aside. At least bringing the Walther over would reduce the strange sense of domesticity that had threatened to settle at two half-dressed people sitting in bed, more engaged with their laptops than with each other.
He fetched the newly-cleaned (and unloaded) gun and brought it back to Q. “Hold it properly,” Q told him, and as soon as Bond had it fitted in his right hand, Q took gentle hold of his wrist and started to examine both his hand and the Walther in minute detail.
Bond let him, watching the thoughtful and sometimes satisfied expressions that crossed Q’s face as he worked. Bond revelled in the sensations of Q’s uncalloused hands running between Bond’s skin and the gun, telling himself it wasn’t appropriate to get aroused. He put getting Q into a shooting range back on the top of his list of things to do once he decided he didn’t need to be under house arrest anymore.
After a few minutes, Q gently removed the weapon, sliding one finger between Bond’s hand — right at the base of his middle finger — and the grip. “It’s not ideal...” He eyed Bond’s hand again, then shrugged and absently worked the slide open, locking it in place, before he turned the weapon over so he could see the front of the grip. “I should be able to, without interfering,” he muttered, dropping the magazine out. He glanced at it before handing it idly to Bond. Then he turned the weapon upside-down and peered inside the magazine housing. “Red Queen, locate — Damn,” he interrupted himself, looking at Bond. “Where’s my mobile?”
Bond tried to remember what happened to it, but last night was mostly a blur. He finally got out of bed to fetch his own mobile; out of habit, he took the unloaded Walther with him, absently closing the slide again. He paused, wondering how Q could be proficient with firearms safety, and yet hadn’t actually fired a gun. He wondered what sort of modifications Q might have dreamed up on his own, in moments in boredom, that had nothing to do with practicality or efficiency. The thought made him twitch.
“Here, use mine,” he said, returning to the bed. He unlocked the mobile — it was his personal phone, not his secure work mobile — and offered it to Q.
Q took the phone with a smile and quickly dialled. He put the phone to his ear, trapping it with his shoulder, and went back to typing. “Red Queen, identity confirmation,” he said.
Bond raised a brow curiously.
“Red Queen, location ping, personal mobile,” Q said.
Bond heard a distinct sonar ping from under the bed.
“Red Queen, resume previous state.” Q hung up and handed the mobile back to Bond. “Thank you,” he said, putting the laptop aside so he could get off the bed in an ungraceful, duvet-wrapped heap.
Amused, Bond waited for Q to return, this time with his mobile. “You are a genius...”
“Well, yes —”
“So why didn’t you just call yourself?”
Q stared at him.
“Didn’t even occur to you, did it?”
A slow blush rose as Q flopped back onto the bed. “This is why I have a helper program,” he muttered, curling up against Bond’s side before he picked up the laptop again. “Be nice to me, or I’ll program your gun to shock you whenever you draw it,” he threatened sulkily.
“Somehow I doubt that, but point taken,” Bond said with an amused grin, leaning down to give Q a brief kiss. Then, out of habit, he checked his email.
Siger Holmes cleared for guided Technical Services Section visit for potential recruitment purposes. Four days. No record available; clearance came from Home Office? I want details. Sleeper agent? — Eve Moneypenny
Q apparently hadn’t underestimated his own ability to erase his name and background from government databases. It worried him that the Home Office clearance was a direct result of Mycroft Holmes’ interference, but the bastard would have another thing coming if he thought he could use it in one of their family ‘negotiations;’ it was Bond’s request after all, not Q’s.
Four days until he could release Q into the technophile’s candy shop. Bond grinned.
Over the next seventy-two hours, Bond learned that Q, for all his mothering instincts when it came to Bond’s injuries, had no sense of his own self-preservation. Bond would doze off beside Q only to wake in the morning and discover Q had hardly moved and was still working on his laptop. He forgot to eat, though when Bond finally dug into the folder of menus to order, he ate what Bond brought him without protest.
He also drank more coffee than could possibly be healthy, never bothered to comb his hair with anything more than his fingers, and sang in the shower — not just in Latin, but in French, German, Russian, and Gaelic. He went back to his flat only once, for more clothes. Bond went with him, and a check of his wardrobe showed a graveyard of broken electronics, two dozen T-shirts, a single grey three-piece suit, and a dinner suit, of all things. Surreptitiously, Bond examined it, raising a brow at the labels. What the hell was Q doing with a bespoke dinner suit hiding like a black swan among the pigeons that made up the rest of his wardrobe?
He also was entirely receptive to kissing and cuddling, though he never did accept Bond’s hints that they shower together, nor did he let Bond’s hands or lips progress beyond a certain point. Bond never pushed, knowing that if they ever did get to go further, he’d be so well versed in knowing how to interpret every flex of muscle and shift in breath that it would be fantastic for Q.
Bond might have expected Q to wear the grey suit on Monday, but when Q’s alarm — Red Queen, actually, broadcast through Q’s mobile — went off, he just stood up from Alec’s desk, which he’d commandeered, and said, “You really don’t have to do this, James.”
“Do what, exactly?” Bond asked, heading over the coffee pot. He’d learned that though Q might sometimes seem functional and rational in the morning, like an Alzheimer’s patient having a moment of clarity, it was best not to have conversations that actually should be remembered. Only lots and lots of coffee would bring Q from amusing fogginess to actual awareness.
“Come with me to the hospital.” Q shrugged, holstering his mobile. “Hospitals are never pleasant under the best of circumstances, and I know you spend far too much time in them — and avoiding them — as it is.”
Well, that was true. But it was different when no one was coming at you with stitches, X-rays, threats of surgery, and other so-called ‘necessary’ interventions. Besides, there was no way in hell he was going to let Q walk alone into a potential trap set by Mycroft — especially given the recent clearance for Q from the Home Office.
“Better to present a united front. Besides, I’m probably a good deal more adept at deflecting doctors, nurses, and whatever MI5 thugs your brother might have hanging around than you are.” Bond watched Q’s unhappy, tense body language and briefly reconsidered bringing his gun.
Q nodded. His hand inched towards his laptop — another nervous tell, Bond had learned. It was no surprise that technology comforted him. Then he shrugged it off and circled the desk to put his arms around Bond. “Thank you,” he said quietly, before he stepped back, a calculating light coming into his eyes. “We’ll have to go out the back. Mycroft’s probably sent a car for us.”
Evading the Home Office wouldn’t be a problem, but Bond would be damned if he was going to drag Q into a taxi when there was a much more suitable form of transportation available — one that might actually serve to pleasantly distract Q from where they were going. “Shall we leave now, so you have enough time to poke around the engine compartment? No tinkering, though; it’s Alec’s car, not mine.”
Q didn’t even have to ask how Bond planned for them to get to the hospital. His eyes went wide, and he grinned with genuine happiness for the first time all day. “The Veyron?” he all but purred. His fingers actually twitched, and Bond wondered if it was possible to be jealous of a car.
Apparently, as he discovered not ten minutes later, it was. Of course, the side benefit was that he could lean against the opposite wall and stare at Q’s arse as he bent over the engine compartment. He was actually petting the engine components as if he needed to touch as well as see, and he was talking softly to himself in sentence-fragments.
Bond wondered briefly if Q was a kinaesthetic learner — the type of person who required the sense of touch to fix things in their memory. He watched as Q’s fingertips dragged over the surface of the engine, reverent but insistent, and how his eyes always followed the path his fingers traced. It was fascinating and sensual.
“I myself preferred my Aston Martin — much more practical in city limits — but mine...” Bond broke off and shook his head. “When I get another one, I’ll let you have a crack at it.”
Q turned away from his barely-platonic love affair with the car. The look on his face told Bond that the ‘Skyfall incident’, as it had come to be known, was also covered in his file. “Jaguar F-Type,” he said, stepping back to close the bonnet. Then he crossed to where Bond was standing, took hold of his face, and kissed gently, eyes flicking down to the faint cut that remained on Bond’s lip. “I’d say something by McLaren, but that’s too flashy.”
Oh, there was no way Bond was going to let him get away with that. He pulled Q in for a much dirtier kiss, moving quickly from Q’s mouth to his jaw before Q could protest on the basis of reopening his split lip. “Hmmm... it’s probably best not to engage in dirty talk when we’re on our way somewhere, or I might be tempted to drag you back to bed.”
Q laughed. “There’s a scandal for the society pages. Youngest Holmes misses visiting mother in hospital due to interfering MI6 assassin. An interfering male MI6 assassin,” he corrected. “Don’t tempt me.”
Bond didn’t let him go immediately. Instead, deciding that Q’s already wrecked-looking clothing wouldn’t suffer for it, Bond tugged the t-shirt aside to suck on Q’s collarbone — not enough to leave a bruise, but enough to make Q groan. Only then did Bond pull back with a grin. “If you insist.” He opened the passenger door for Q with a smirk.
Q got in and immediately leaned across the centre console to examine the instrument panel. “Once I’m done with your biometric recognition trigger lock, feel free to take me anywhere you’d like in this car,” he murmured, barely moving enough for Bond to get into the driver’s seat. “Just as a comparison for when you pick a car for yourself, of course. Or we could just spend a week or two test driving.”
The image of Q, with his ripped-up jeans and unkempt hair, grinning like a loon as he fondled one of the most expensive cars on the market made Bond’s heart beat a little faster. He’d buy the same car if it meant he could see Q smile like this every time he got in, pressing this close in genuine enthusiasm. “I can’t imagine what’s going through your mind right now, what sorts of modifications you’re dreaming up,” he said, starting the car. “Tell me about them.”
Q’s hand slid over Bond’s thigh, though he moved away just enough to avoid interfering with Bond’s ability to safely drive. “I rather prefer to keep it as a surprise. Besides, Alec hasn’t impressed me nearly as much as you have.” He shot a sly grin at Bond. “He hasn’t earned the right for me to upgrade his car.”
“Damn right,” Bond growled as he pulled out of the parking spot. “Let’s not encourage him to start thinking of you as one of his minions as well. I’d hate to have to hurt him.”
Q laughed, his hand sliding an inch higher on Bond’s thigh. “And I’d hate for either of you to mistake me for a minion.”
Bond took a deep breath, trying not to shift in what would be a small but still screamingly obvious way. “I’m pretty sure you’re much closer to Evil Genius than mere minion,” he mumbled, ripping his focus back to navigating the Bugatti through the maze of poorly parked cars. Alec would be very cross with him if he scratched the paint.
“Mmm, so I’ve been told,” Q agreed. Bond hoped the other references were made in jest, not in honest appraisal. For a moment, he was exceptionally glad Q was far too introverted to have minions of his own (beyond Red Queen, of course).
Q didn’t move his hand for the rest of the drive.
Intellectually, Q had no objection to hospitals. Other people feared them or were uncomfortable even visiting them, but not Q. Apparently not Bond, either — he was alert but not nervous, a key distinction that was most likely rooted in his work. He probably avoided hospitals on a professional basis simply because hospitals meant he’d waste time on inconsequential things, like healing.
Q huffed at that thought. As if Q hadn’t put up with that attitude enough from Sherlock.
He had yet to visit this particular hospital, but he’d done his research. He brought Bond through a delivery entrance that was unsecured, propped open with a rock. The ground outside was littered with cigarette butts, proving that doctors were as hypocritical as anyone else. Down a corridor, security door to the back stairwell, and up five flights. Thankfully, Bond hadn’t injured his legs on this last mission of his.
“You seem to be very familiar with this rat’s maze,” Bond commented lightly.
“Research,” Q answered, pushing open the fifth-floor door just enough to look out. The hospital was a private one — the best money could buy, and to hell with NHS standards — which meant it was generally quieter than most. Of course, that also meant there was more security, but he’d never been one to let that stop him. “If I’d been doing this on my own, I might’ve created an employee security badge and worn scrubs.” Then he glanced back at Bond — such a gorgeous contrast in his usual style of suit, jacket, and tie, mismatched to Q’s jeans and T-shirt. “Remind me to get you in scrubs one day,” he said, momentarily distracted by the mental image.
“Scrubs? Really?” Bond made a face at the idea, and it occurred to Q that Bond might have too many negative associations with being in hospitals dressed in scrubs to really get any good mileage out of that fantasy. “Also, I feel I should point out that while my jurisdiction is firmly outside the borders of the UK, your casual disregard for NHS security might cause you some trouble with other, less understanding characters.”
“Says the man with how many cover identities?” Q teased, stepping out into the hallway. He walked with confidence, having learned that a confident attitude did far more to make a person invisible than any other disguise. Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t belong there, and technically he had a government escort — just not one from the branch the hospital staff might have expected.
He counted doors and went right into his mother’s room without pause. No dramatic deep breath, no squaring of the shoulders. He simply wanted to get this over with.
He identified the bedside machines by guess; medicine wasn’t his specialty, despite the emergency first aid he’d learned over the years. Then he looked around the rest of the room. Though the bed took up most of the available space, there was a guest chair upholstered in easily cleaned vinyl. A laminate counter occupied one corner, supported by a cabinet. Q went there, leaving the chair for Bond, and hopped up onto the countertop. He took out his mobile, wishing he’d brought a tablet with him, and started to check his email.
Bond followed Q quietly into the room, his breathing slowing in an obvious effort to be mindful of his reactions. He tried and failed not to stare at the person under the wires and blankets and monitors. Though Bond knew from experience that people didn’t always look how the way you thought they should based on your assumptions about them, it was still hard to reconcile the pale, desolate looking creature with the monster Bond thought she would be.
“Her living will requires all possible measures be taken,” Q said, not looking up from where he was seated sideways on a counter, leaning back against the wall. One foot was on the counter — he’d put on the oldest Converse Bond had ever seen, an indistinct brown that might have started as any other colour. The other foot kicked lightly at the cabinet door underneath. “She’ll stay alive until the last instant, no matter what hassle it imposes on everyone around her. It’s a wretched thought, that sort of condition.”
The fear of death that caused this sort of clinging was something Bond was all too familiar with. Not for himself, of course; one couldn’t be in his job and not be just a little in love with death. But he’d seen the desperation of those who would have endured anything, even a life of severe, painful disability, to cling to this world. They were usually the type of people who felt they hadn’t achieved anything worthy of being remembered.
Bond looked at Q — beautiful and breakable and remarkable — and hated the soon-to-be late Mrs. Holmes.
Still, he walked to the bedside, seeing the subtle hint of Q’s own features there: the same fine bone structure, the same pale skin, the same curved lips. Her eyes were closed, of course, and she had that fragility that came with death, but he could picture her in life...
He’d seen her before.
Suspicious, he studied her more closely. Despite her age, her hair was mostly raven black, streaked with just enough silver to hint at her age. It was cut short in a somewhat archaic style, and he could imagine that the nurses who attended her didn’t just see to her body but to her grooming as well. Even dying, image was important, and money could make damn near anything happen.
Then he remembered — a photograph of a Royal event, in the old M’s office. M had been there, of course, as had her old chief-of-staff, pictured with twenty-odd people surrounding the Queen and her husband. And this woman had been one of them, twenty years younger, standing next to the Princess of Wales.
Several more pieces clicked into place — intelligence and connection and the kind of childhood that included horses and the resources for small children to build things like crossbows. Bond also would have put money on the fact that Mycroft’s manipulations were learned behaviours. The people in the photo had to be important, well-connected, and politically savvy. Bond wondered if Q’s father was in the photo as well.
He wasn’t going to ask, though. It wasn’t the right time, or place. He stood next to Q and put a hand on his forearm, not sure how Q would react to obvious displays of affection. “Do you need anything?”
“I’m afraid this —” Q began, and then tensed, staring at the door, his eyes going wide. “No,” he whispered.
Bond looked up sharply at the alarm in Q’s voice. His hand tightened on Q’s arm, and he prepared for a confrontation.
Before he could ask, the door opened abruptly. A tall man swept in, and Bond immediately recognised the resemblance to both Q and the dying woman. Sharp blue-green-grey eyes went first to Q, then to Bond, and then back to Q. One dark brow twitched up.
Then a second man rushed in, a good half foot shorter, saying, “Jesus, Sherlock, why —” before he cut off, spotting Bond and Q.
“I told you they’d be here,” Sherlock said smugly.
Q glanced at Bond. “My brother, Sherlock, and Dr. John Watson.”
“That’s who has Mycroft in such a snit?” Sherlock asked, looking Bond over.
The shorter man, Watson, gave Sherlock a death-glare and murmured his name just sharply enough to distract him. Taking advantage, Watson pushed past the taller man and extended a hand. “Ignore him. Hello, Siger, and you must be Mr. Bond?”
Almost immediately, Bond realised that Watson was military. His shoulders were stiff and straight, his hair was army neat, and his movements were controlled. Bond reached to take his hand and was rewarded with a familiar, perfunctory shake. “Dr. Watson.” He wondered if this was the personal physician Q had mentioned a few days ago.
Bond turned his attention back to Sherlock, who was engaged in some sort of staring contest with Q. After a few long, silent seconds that were awkward apparently only for Bond — Watson just turned and gave Sherlock a flat glare — Q’s shoulders relaxed and he nodded to Sherlock.
Without a word, Sherlock crossed the room, taking off his long overcoat to reveal a tight white button-down and black suit, no tie. He threw the overcoat over the single guest chair before he sat, long legs crossed at the ankles. He never once looked in the direction of the bed. Only Watson seemed to show the dying woman any concern at all, though that might well have been professional, rather than personal, as he went to the monitors rather than looking at the woman herself.
Q went back to his email. “You didn’t bring your violin.”
“No,” Sherlock said accusingly.
“Because we don’t do that sort of thing in a hospital where the guards are looking for an excuse to throw us out,” Watson added without turning around.
Sherlock sniffed. “No Mycroft sightings? I didn’t see any blood in the hallway.” He looked sidelong at Bond, a knife-sharp smile curving his lips up. “Or are you not quite fast enough, Bond?”
“Let’s hope you never have to find out, Mr. Holmes,” Bond said shortly. The mad, razor glint in Sherlock’s expression was somewhat off-putting, but Bond wasn’t intimidated. Though Sherlock was slightly taller than Q, he was very nearly as thin — Bond was quite certain he could break him in half without much difficulty. The thought gave his smile a dangerous edge. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Watson’s rueful shake of the head. Apparently, Watson had seen this behaviour from Sherlock before; he looked both apologetic and unsurprised. Bond decided it meant he shouldn’t take it personally. Well, too personally.
“Don’t bait him, Sherlock. He bites,” Q said blandly.
“We could try something new,” Watson suggested, turning to face them, a hint of steel in his backbone. “Being polite, perhaps? Or just seeing who can stay silent the longest?”
Q snickered. “Please, never change, doctor.”
Sherlock stared at Q, and for one moment, Bond could clearly see suspicion turn to jealousy, then hostility, before he looked away as though unconcerned. “John, at least, is consistent,” he said. “How is she?”
“As stable as can be expected,” Watson answered. He shrugged out of his coat and hung it over the back of Sherlock’s chair, covering one of Sherlock’s shoulders. Sherlock looked annoyed but didn’t push it away. “So, have you two known each other long?” Watson asked pleasantly, looking over Sherlock’s head at Bond and Q.
“I moved in across the hall a few months ago,” Bond answered honestly, smiling. “Are you military, by chance? I’d recognise the stride of a soldier anywhere.”
Watson seemed pleased by the question. “Afghanistan, Royal —”
“You can’t recruit him, so don’t bother,” Sherlock warned.
“Shut up, Sherlock,” Watson said, not even blinking. “Royal Army Medical Corps, though I was mostly out in the field. You?”
Bond watched Sherlock’s grimace at being told off and smiled. Oh, he and Watson were going to get along just fine. “Royal Navy,” he hedged, wondering how much Q had actually shared. An odd thought caught him off guard — if both Sherlock and Q had latched onto not-so-ex soldiers for companions, he wondered what Mycroft’s partner was like, and what it said about them all. “What do you do now?” he asked carefully.
“My blogger,” Sherlock said.
“Something of a writer,” Watson corrected wryly. “I do a bit of locum work, but mostly, I work with Sherlock now.” Sherlock looked smug at that.
Bond wondered whether Watson acted as investigator or bodyguard, and decided not to ask. He looked back over to Q, who’d gone still and silent, except for occasional taps on his mobile. It was the sort of stillness that allowed him to fade into the background — a talent that Bond himself had never quite mastered, no matter how useful it might have been in his career. He remembered Q’s comments about being invisible and left off talking with Watson to take his place back at Q’s side, brushing against him with his shoulder.
The next hour that passed was perhaps the strangest Bond had ever spent in a hospital. Watson wandered out and came back after about ten minutes with a medical journal, which he read in silence, standing by the door as though on guard. Q never looked away from his email. Sherlock just stared at the wall, fingers steepled together in front of his chin.
Bond would have felt completely out of place and unneeded if it weren’t for the fact that if he shifted away from Q at all, Q would ever-so-subtly lean back into him. So Bond stood, keeping quiet watch, letting his mind drift from topic to topic. No small amount of mental energy was spent on thinking about a new car and what sorts of ‘upgrades’ Q could make.
This time, Bond was warned by the way Watson’s head came up, like a dog catching a scent. He dropped his left hand from the medical journal — he was, Bond had absently noted, left-handed — and Bond immediately guessed that he was carrying a weapon, probably a back-of-the-trousers holster, judging by how he shifted his weight forward, away from the wall.
“Siger,” Sherlock said quietly.
Q looked up.
The door opened, and in walked the one person with whom Bond should have immediately felt comfortable. Gieves & Hawkes three-piece suit, overcoat neatly carried over one arm, umbrella in hand. He looked civilised, compared to the two thin, almost feral Holmes brothers and the dangerous-despite-looking-harmless Watson.
He smiled a slick politician’s smile, nodded graciously to all four of them, and went to the bed. Unnoticed in his wake came a woman who took up a position by the door. Not a soldier, this one, but a secretary or assistant of some kind.
“Quite a crowd,” the man said after a perfunctory look at the dying woman. While a kiss on the cheek or even a brush of hands would have been appropriate, he never touched her. He turned instead to face the others, looking at each of them in quick succession.
“Hello, Mycroft,” Watson said, sounding almost friendly.
“Lovely to see you, John. I hope you’ve been well?”
“Just fine, thanks.”
“Must we?” Sherlock interrupted sharply.
Mycroft gave him a disappointed look. “Civility separates us —”
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Sherlock snapped. “Aren’t there rules on how many people can be crammed into here? Fire codes or the like?”
“Sherlock,” John said.
“No, John, he’s quite right,” Mycroft answered. “Not to worry. I’m actually here to speak with Siger’s guest.”
Q went tense, and Bond straightened but didn’t move away. There was absolutely no way Bond was going to step outside with Mycroft. Mycroft was a master manipulator, from what he could tell, and he didn’t want to get caught in whatever power play was being carried out here.
“How can I help you, Mr. Holmes?” he asked calmly.
“I’m afraid it isn’t something we can discuss here,” Mycroft said, his smile never wavering. “But please, call me Mycroft. There’s no need for formality — especially not when you’ve been kind enough to come here in support of the family at this time.”
“I’m not here to support the family, Mycroft. I’m here to support Q — a task I would fail at if I left him behind for whatever conversation you have in mind. Something tells me Dr. Watson and Sherlock here have exceptional clearance levels. What can I do for you?” He kept his tone light and non-confrontational and his posture still favouring Q.
Mycroft gave him a gently scolding look. “Is it really wise to make such assumptions, James?”
Bond carefully didn’t react to Mycroft’s use of his first name, but returned his unimpressed gaze. Something told Bond that the argument that Sherlock was their brother, and Watson his brother’s partner, thus negating the need for privacy, wouldn’t go over well with this man.
Bond met his gaze levelly. “No, we wouldn’t want that, would we? Trust is such a terrible thing to waste.”
“What an interesting —”
“Mycroft,” Q interrupted quietly.
For a moment, genuine surprise showed on Mycroft’s face. He looked at Q with a puzzled little frown. “Q?”
Mycroft’s gaze flicked to Bond, then back to Q. Then, as if nothing had happened, he turned and nodded to Sherlock. “Kind of you to stop by, Sherlock.”
“Delighted,” Sherlock said flatly.
“John.” Mycroft gave John a warm smile that went a bit frosty when he nodded to Bond. “James.”
Bond didn’t return the nod, keeping his expression and body language completely neutral. “Nice to have met you.”
Without a backwards glance at Mrs. Holmes, Mycroft turned for the door. His unnamed secretary pulled open the door for him. John tossed his journal down with a faint sigh, gave Sherlock a slightly worried look, and slipped past her to follow Mycroft out into the hall. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, but he made no effort to follow.
Bond watched with interest, and hoped he wouldn’t be expected to grow into the role of mediator between Q and Mycroft the way Watson seemed to be for Sherlock. He wasn’t nearly nice enough for that, nor did he have enough patience. Not to mention he wouldn’t be around enough to do the job properly.
Of course, he did find it interesting that Mycroft was the only one, besides Bond himself, who had called Q by his nickname. He’d also cleared Q for access to MI6 without asking for anything first. But he had no doubt Mycroft would track him down to have whatever conversation he’d wanted to start today.
Bond mentally shrugged, looking down at the infirm Mrs. Holmes. Families.
“Well,” Sherlock said, sitting up a bit. He crossed one leg over the other and twisted to look at Bond. “That was fascinating.”
Q sighed. “He wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said quietly, and Bond couldn’t help but wonder if ‘he’ referred to Mycroft or Bond himself.
“Neither was I,” Sherlock pointed out.
Watson came back into the room after just under ten minutes. “Visiting hours are almost over,” he said, not bothering to hide the profound relief in his voice.
“Wonderful.” Sherlock rose, offered John his jacket, and picked up the overcoat. “Maybe if we’re lucky, someone will die before we get home.”
Watson flinched visibly and looked right at Bond. “He doesn’t mean it quite like that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Yes, but we don’t say that,” Watson scolded, a fond edge in his voice. He took his coat and put it on. Definitely a back-holster, Bond decided. “Sorry we had to meet like this,” Watson said to Bond as he put out his hand. Bond wondered if it was prolonged exposure to Sherlock that gave him this odd edge, but filed it away for further consideration later.
Bond shook his hand, and turned to look Sherlock. Something told him his efforts would be scorned, so he didn’t bother extending the same courtesy. “Nice to have met you, Sherlock,” he said, offering a nod instead.
The look Sherlock gave him was assessing and curious and suddenly very, very intent, setting off all of Bond’s internal alarms. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, and he quietly said, “Perhaps.”
Q sighed again. “Take care, John,” he said softly, not looking up from his mobile.
“Siger.” Watson gave him a sympathetic smile. With one last nod to Bond, he left the room. Sherlock went after him.
Bond wanted to relax but was suddenly concerned that perhaps he hadn’t handled this well. He hadn’t won points from either of the brothers, as far as he could tell. At least now he understood Q’s earlier comments. “Ready to go?” he asked softly, watching Q.
The look Q gave him was one of profound relief. He shifted and dropped down from his countertop perch, spine cracking loudly. He winced and holstered his mobile, saying, “I’ll come alone tomorrow.”
“If that’s what you prefer,” Bond answered calmly, moving towards to the door. “I hope I didn’t cause any trouble for you.” He cast one last look at the figure on the bed before holding the door open for Q. Even comatose, the woman was still causing problems for her sons. He wondered what she had been like in life.
Q glanced out in the corridor before he stepped out and walked quickly towards the stairs they’d taken earlier. His earlier confidence was gone; now, he just seemed to want to escape.
Only when they were in the stairwell did he answer, saying, “He can’t do anything to me. He knows I’d just disappear.” He gave Bond a worried look. “You’re the one who works in government.”
Bond gave that some thought as they headed down the stairs. If he pissed off the elder Holmes, how much trouble could he actually get Bond into? Mycroft could have him sent on long term missions to Siberia or central Africa, he supposed. Ground him in London. Probably even have him shot if he wanted. But oddly, he found it easy to shrug off. Before Skyfall, Bond had been disenchanted. Now, he supposed he was simply apathetic.
He glanced at Q. “I’m not worried,” he answered honestly.
Q refused to meet his eyes. “All right. I still should come alone tomorrow, though. He won’t come at all, if you’re not with me.”
“Like I said, whichever you prefer. He doesn’t bother me, if you want me there. Though I think I’d bring a book next time.” He chuckled. “Sherlock obviously isn’t the conversational type. I can’t imagine what discussions with him must devolve into, anyway. Dead bodies aren’t really my thing.” He paused. “Well, you know what I mean.”
That got him a faint, false smile that disappeared as soon as they reached the downstairs hallway. “The day after he and John met, Mycroft —” He shook his head. “He had a talk with John.”
“Oh?” Bond firmly hoped that he wasn’t about to hear that Watson was under Mycroft’s thumb. He thought they might have gotten along.
“Sherlock had been living alone. He moved into a bigger flat, and John moved in with him. That night, they went after a serial killer, and Mycroft... had questions.”
“What sort of questions?”
“We never knew if Sherlock had relapsed. He’s very private,” Q said as they pushed through the propped-open delivery door. They walked into a cloud of cigarette smoke and past three men, two wearing scrubs, one in a suit. All gave them an odd look but said nothing. Q waited until he and Bond were some distance away before saying, “He wanted John to keep him informed — to spy on Sherlock. Apparently John had no money — he wasn’t working at the time — so Mycroft offered to pay.”
Bond thought about Sherlock’s narrowed gaze after Watson had followed Mycroft out. “He didn’t take it,” he said with confidence. “And neither would I.”
“He wouldn’t offer you money. You don’t need it.” Q looked at Bond as they walked through the parking lot. “And he doesn’t need you to spy on me.”
Bond stopped walking and turned to face Q, gently resting his hands on Q’s upper arms. “What are you afraid of, Q?”
Q closed his eyes a moment too long for it to be a blink. “I asked what you love; your answer was obvious. Mycroft will know it. What happens if he threatens to take England from you?”
“Q,” he said softly, moving a hand to lightly trace his jawline. “Why go through the effort? What do they want from you so damn badly that they’re willing to manipulate a well-connected SIS agent?”
“Not here.” Q pulled away, looking towards the car. “Take me home.”
Bond felt a tug as he took Q’s hand and led him to the car. He had no right to think Q meant 13-B, but he wanted it anyway. “All right.”
As soon as the lift doors opened, Q caught Bond’s sleeve and headed right for 13-A. He shoved his hand against the keypad and pressed three of the keys, twitching impatiently. For an instant, he felt a surge of anger at himself: Why hadn’t he optimised the facial recognition algorithm on the door security systems?
The door opened, and he dragged Bond inside. “Red Queen, overwatch-in-residence,” he ordered as soon as the door closed behind Bond.
“Red Queen, initiate surveillance countermeasures.” He toed off his shoes and kicked them into the pile by the door.
“Surveillance countermeasures initiated.”
Q let out a nervous breath and went for the kitchen. “There isn’t a computer system that I can’t crack. MI6, CIA, China’s Ministry of State Security, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service — all of them.” He pulled open the fridge and took out a can of Coke. “Red Queen, coffee,” he added, and the coffee grinder immediately started to whirr.
Bond startled at the noise of the grinder and gave it an annoyed look. “Yes, but you’re not the only one. Technical Services has several hackers who spend their time doing the same thing for us.”
Q huffed derisively; really, Bond needed to learn the difference between gifted amateurs and a true gift. “I defeated them in my spare time, James. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see? The aftermath of your work in Beijing in 2007? Your friend Leiter’s high school transcripts?” he asked sharply, and barely held back crueller offers: Quantum. Vesper Lynd.
Bond might have sensed it anyway; his eyes narrowed fractionally. “All right, point taken. Your brother wants you to work for him. Couldn’t you just consult for them the way you do for other organisations?”
“What would MI6 do to you if you went freelance?” Q asked, his voice sharp — too sharp, and he knew it. He took three swallows of his drink in quick succession and ignored the tightness in his chest. “The point is, they could never make me do anything. I’m not talking about Mycroft’s childish power games. You can’t force someone to do what I do.”
“Q,” Bond said softly, watching him carefully.
Q finished the can of Coke and tossed it into the sink. He walked past Bond to go to his computer desk, thinking he remembered seeing his mug there, a lifetime ago. “Don’t come to the hospital with me tomorrow,” he said. He found the mug behind his second iPad. It was furry on the inside. Had he really been out of his territory that long?
“All right,” Bond conceded. He watched as Q stared desolately at his mug, then touched his shoulder lightly, making Q flinch in surprise. “What shall we have for dinner?” he asked, not pulling his hand away, but not moving it any further, either.
Q looked from his mug to his main computer, mind racing. If he could crack into Mycroft’s email and servers, he could find out if he had plans for Bond — specific ways Mycroft planned to manipulate the situation to control them both, actually.
He held out the mug to Bond as he sat down. “Coffee, four sugars,” he said, waking up his computer with a tap of the mouse.
Bond stared down at the mug, and then back up at where Q was settling in to start on whatever project had suddenly taken him. Bond assumed he was looking for whoever was attempting to manipulate Q while he was in here London for his mother — his fingers twitched in anger at the thought. Running hackers who had previously been working for the bad guys was one thing. Pulling someone like Q, who wasn’t hurting anyone, was something entirely different. But he didn’t have a target for his anger at the moment. The best he could do was let Q work, help him in whatever way he could, and wait to be given a direction.
The mug, however, was beyond saving. “I need to go across the hall for a minute,” he said, looking up. “How do I get back in without getting electrocuted?”
“Red Queen, deactivate overwatch-in-residence.”
“Press and hold one, three, and six. She has your face recorded with your access,” Q said without ever looking up. “Press and hold them all — not in sequence. Poking at individual buttons will just get you shocked.”
Bond chuckled and leaned over to press a kiss to the top of Q’s head. Q didn’t react at all. Bond had no idea what he was actually typing or reading on the screen. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he promised, and carefully manoeuvred through the wire-laden minefield that was the path to the door.
“Red Queen, disengage outer door lock,” Q ordered.
The solenoids clunked loudly. “Outer door lock disengaged,” she confirmed.
Once safely back in his flat, Bond stood in the doorway for a few minutes, letting himself process. They went from discussions about the merits of including biometric scanners on handheld technologies and leisurely kisses in bed to worrying about shadow conspiracies in the matter of a morning. Reassuring himself that there was nothing to be done about it at the moment, Bond took the mug to his sink and retrieved the bleach from the cabinet underneath the sink. He poured a capful into the mug, filled the rest with water, and put the bleach away.
He turned to the bed and wondered if it would be ridiculous to haul some of his pillows over to the lumpy nightmare that was Q’s futon. Something told him he’d be there for a while as Q worked, and he was still a little sore.
Instead, he found a duffel bag and deposited both of their laptops and chargers, the folder of menus, and a clean pair of tracksuit bottoms. He then carefully stacked two sets of plates, silverware, and mugs on top and, after a moment’s thought, dish soap and a flannel. After one last quick look around, he grabbed a single large cushion that would serve either as a seat or a pillow if needed, and left.
Bond looked suspiciously at the door for a moment before deciding to brave it. He put everything down and followed Q’s directions for typing the code into the keypad, and was relieved when he didn’t get a shock.
Q hadn’t moved. Bond had the feeling that he wouldn’t move until he was finished the task at hand, whatever it was — which really wasn’t so different from Bond’s own ingrained behaviour. Remembering Q’s brusque request, Bond poured a cup of coffee for him and went to search out the sugar.
He made the mistake of starting in the logical places — the cabinets by the oven, where one would do such mundane tasks as baking desserts. Then he tried where the mugs might be, by the coffee pot. Every cabinet had those neat plastic boxes full of electronic componentry, except for the lonely stack of paper plates.
He had to work his way around the barbecue set up in front of said oven, placed in such a way that the oven door couldn’t even be opened.
He finally found the sugar in a bottom cabinet under the coffee pot. For some reason, it shared a shelf with some of the largest magnets Bond had ever seen. There were also about half a hundred packets of red pepper flakes from several different pizzerias — presumably an emergency stash.
He had to use the spoon he’d brought over, of course.
When he brought the coffee to Q, he got a brief, “Ta,” before his long fingers wrapped around the handle of the mug. He sipped at the coffee despite the heat, typing one-handed nearly as fast as he’d done with both.
Understanding that he was largely redundant, Bond went to go sort through the menus.
Looking through the menus for things that could be eaten one-handed, Bond recalled certain words about the virtues of pepperoni pizzas. He flipped through the menu, taking note that pepperoni was highlighted — he’d sorted out Q’s ordering code at a glance — but so were sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and basil. Bond looked over at Q, thinking about pale skin stretched tight over ribs, and decided to order two. He could probably feed Q another slice every half hour or so and get him to eat an entire pizza on his own before bedtime.
He had no desire to search the flat for a phone, so he got out his mobile, only to find he had zero bars. Surveillance countermeasures, he thought, and remembered what Q had said about the Red Queen controlling communications.
“Red Queen, I need you to call... Salvatore’s Pizzeria,” he said tentatively.
When the computer answered, “Dialling Salvatore’s Pizzeria,” Bond grinned. Not so difficult after all.
He felt a bit foolish speaking to the air, but apparently the clerk had no difficulty taking his order. Q’s address was already in their system, pulled up by his phone number, though the name on the account was Ian Bradley. Bond refrained from asking and said he’d pay in cash, rather than giving them a card. There was an awkward moment when he realised he had no idea how to ring off, but apparently detecting a disconnection on the other end was good enough for the Red Queen to figure out what to do next.
Bloody genius, Q.
Bond walked over to him and leaned on the desk nearby. His presence didn’t seem to bother Q, so Bond indulged himself, studying the way Q stared at the screen almost blankly. His movements were confined to his fingers, blinks, and breathing, with only a few subtle shifts when he needed to move his right hand from the keyboard to his mouse.
England, Bond thought, and shivered.
Bond’s guess was right. If he slid a plate of pizza onto the desk beside Q, he’d simply add occasional pick-up-a-slice-and-bite movements to his routine of typing, mousing, and breathing. Bond brought him more coffee, cleared and washed the plates, stacked the pizza on top of the racks of Coke cans in the fridge, and eventually coaxed one of the tablets into letting him browse YouTube. He alternated between gun reviews — mostly American uploaders, of course — and cat videos, just to see if Q would react. He didn’t.
He brought Q more food two more times, gave the coffee pot a rinse, and then told the Red Queen to brew another pot, since there were no buttons on the pot — just wires fed into the wall, tethered to where the control buttons used to be.
As he was debating the merits of a cup of coffee versus risking Q’s futon, the Red Queen abruptly spoke: “Priority incoming call. Caller identity: Sherlock.”
“Fuck,” Q said, his voice a bit hoarse. “Red Queen, answer incoming call.” Bond heard a distinct, unnecessary click. “Sherlock?” Q asked.
“It’s done,” Sherlock answered.
Q let out a sigh. “Thank you.”
“Mycroft wants us there.”
Sherlock’s huff sounded amused. “The funeral won’t be for another week at least. It’s going to be an Event,” he said, and Bond could hear the capitalized letter in it.
“London or the estate?”
“No idea. John,” Sherlock shouted loudly enough that Q and Bond both flinched.
After a moment, Watson came on the line. “No, Sherlock, you don’t — Hello?”
“Hello, John,” Q answered.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” It sounded a bit automatic. “What — Yes, Sherlock,” he said distantly. “Look, I’m going to see what I can find out. Do you want me to call you back tonight or should I wait until morning? It’s already late.”
“Morning’s fine, thank you.”
Distinctly in the background, Bond heard Sherlock complaining, “John, let’s go.”
“I’m sorry, but —”
“Go ahead,” Q interrupted.
“Thank you. Good night.” Before Watson disconnected, Bond clearly heard him say, “You are not autopsying —” Bond closed his eyes in sudden disgust, hoping like hell that wasn’t the case. There was wrong, and then there was wrong. He didn’t want to have to revise his opinion of Sherlock down to actual, certifiable insanity.
Q didn’t even blink. He just went back to typing, though he did absently say, “That does save us the trouble of another hospital visit tomorrow. Unless Mycroft gets you assigned to guard the body.”
Bond walked over to where Q sat, standing behind him. He knew that though Q had been expecting this, even waiting for it, there was likely to be some sort of delayed reaction. “I’m sorry, Q,” he said softly, gently settling his hands on Q’s shoulders.
Q’s thanks seemed perfunctory at best, an automatic, polite reaction that Bond could all too easily imagine having come from years of being told to thank people for courtesies. Really, Q had no soft skills to speak of, though he could mimic them very well — much better than, say, Sherlock.
“Will your brother really assign MI6 agents to guard her body?” Bond asked, wondering if, in the crazy logic that seemed to run in the family, that would be sweet or horribly cruel.
“Oh, yes, if he can. Well, no. MI5 most likely — but he’d get you assigned to make a point,” Q answered, eyes still fixed on his screen. “It was poison.”
“Well, I have two questions, then. What would the point he’d try to make be? And what was poison?” He leaned down to give Q a quick kiss on the temple — not enough to distract, but enough to let him know he was there.
“The point would be that you’re not family. You’re not one of us,” Q answered. “The poison was what finally did her in. She was already dying, but she had years left at it. They thought it was arsenic at first, but they ruled it out too late. We don’t know what it was. Sherlock wants to find out.”
“What about John? Is he considered part of the inner circle?” Bond asked, wondering how the doctor had managed to win Mycroft’s genial smile at the hospital.
Q nodded. “He refused Mycroft’s offer.” Then he looked away from his screen for a moment. “Mycroft doesn’t trust spies.”
Bond chuckled. “I suppose that’s fair. I suppose I’ll just have to shoot some people for you, help Mycroft along in his affections.”
Q actually hesitated at that, a calculating expression crossing his face. “If it comes up, that would possibly work,” he said, and turned back to his monitor. He was absolutely serious. “Though you don’t want to be too efficient. Mycroft doesn’t need any more assassins working directly for him.”
“Just how many does he have?” Bond couldn’t help but ask.
Q turned to look steadily at him. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Mycroft has an emergency plan to restore the British Empire to her glory, should the European Union fall.” He looked back at the laptop screen, jaw tensing. “An ambition in which my skills would be very useful, as you can imagine.”
Bond slid a hand around to Q’s jaw in order to tip his face up so he could better see it. The lack of humour in his expression was worrying. “My god. It’s a good thing you three don’t get along. The world wouldn’t stand a chance if you ever decided to band together to take it over.”
“That was the intent, yes,” Q agreed, meeting Bond’s eyes. “Our family — both our parents’ branches — has been in government for a very long time. There’s still a list at the house that I’m certain Mycroft will attempt to use to set up appropriate alliances for us, either domestically or internationally.”
“I suppose I should be grateful, then, that Sherlock is an abrasive arse and Mycroft doesn’t have enough charm to win you over naturally.” No wonder someone had poisoned Mrs. Holmes. It now seemed more like the act of removing a chess queen than simple murder. “Did you find out who poisoned your mother?”
Q shook his head and turned back to the computer. “I wasn’t interested enough to look. Sherlock probably would have been, but whatever Mycroft offered apparently wasn’t enough. I’m certain Mycroft has people on it, but they won’t be as effective as Sherlock,” he said confidently.
Bond smiled at that; it sounded as much like a little brother admiring his older sibling as he could ever expect from Q. “Are you making progress?” he asked, nodding towards the computer.
“Mobile calls — numbers only, currently, but I also have voicemails, for Mycroft’s personal and encrypted devices. I’m working on MI5 now,” Q said calmly, as if he hadn’t just confessed to potential treason, albeit family-related treason. “I’ll do the Home Office after I crack MI5. They’re more likely to have the information I want, but their systems are a bureaucratic nightmare. No standardisation.”
He’s not the enemy, Bond found himself repeating mentally. He turned away to refill Q’s coffee cup. “I’d say let me know if I can help, but that seems rather pointless.” He refilled the mug, mixed in the frankly ridiculous amount of sugar Q preferred, and set the mug back by Q’s hand.
“No matter his intentions, my brother presents a threat to us both, James. He won’t hesitate to use either of us, so long as he has the leverage. To make matters more difficult, he can persuade you. The only thing he loves is what you love — England. But if that isn’t enough, he’ll find some other way. He’ll break you if he must, no matter what it takes.”
Q had read his file. He’d seen Bond broken, even if only on paper, described in unimaginative language and simple, straightforward words. Bond stepped back, meeting Q’s eyes. “You know exactly what it would take, Q. And if you have any real questions, I meant what I said earlier. You can just ask.”
Q blinked, silent for a moment too long, as if his thoughts had derailed. Then he looked away, eyes flicking over the electronics on his desk as his brows slowly drew down into a frown. “There was nothing in your file,” he finally said, looking back at Bond. “There wouldn’t be. You’re still here. If you were broken, you wouldn’t even be in England. You might not even be alive.”
Bond sighed. Where would he even start? He crouched in front of Q, thinking about how little he actually knew about Q, how little time they’d actually spent together. But it didn’t matter, it seemed. Q had won him without even really trying. “I’m loyal, Q.” Whether it was earned or not, he thought. Deserved or not.
As if Bond’s words confirmed something, Q nodded. “That’s why you came back. That’s why you’ll always come back,” he said, standing slowly. He cracked his back and said, “Red Queen, current time.”
“Current time is 0209.”
“God. James, go to sleep. You’re still healing,” Q scolded gently. “You can help with the data analysis in the morning, if you’d like.”
Bond smiled. “I’m fine for a while, especially if I don’t have to kill anyone tomorrow. Besides, if I go to bed, who will bring you your coffee?” He reached up to stroke Q’s now-stubbled jaw before standing back up with a wince. Time to find a place to put that cushion.
Before Bond could go get it, Q reached out and caught his sleeve. He flicked a glance down at Bond — he was still wearing the jacket and tie, a severe contrast to the technophile’s lair where he stood, and the technophile himself. With a little smirk, Q said, “I won’t let anything happen to you, James. I promise.”
Bond’s unexpected fit of laughter seemed to break whatever tension remained in the room. “I’ll just change then, shall I?”
Q smiled, relaxing as he turned his attention back to the computer. “I said it that first night. Feel free to take off whatever you’d like.”
Bond stepped out of Q’s flat and nearly jumped out of his skin when his secure mobile rang. It was five in the morning — never a good sign.
“Bond,” he answered quietly, moving to standing in front of his door but not opening it yet.
“Sir, we have a report for you. Please come to headquarters at your earliest opportunity.”
A report, Bond thought bleakly, picturing the slate blue folder that would have his designation as assigned agent, his target’s name, and all relevant information. Somewhere out of the country.
“Acknowledged,” he answered, and ended the call. Shit. Bond didn’t know whether to suspect Mycroft’s hand in this or not — but he supposed it didn’t matter. Even if it were Mycroft’s doing, he couldn’t say no.
He looked down, frowning. Then he turned to let himself back into Q’s flat.
Q was still typing. He’d moved once, to go to the bathroom. Other than that, Bond had been feeding him a steady diet of sugared coffee occasionally supplemented with pizza. Now, he frowned and looked over at Bond as he came out from around the privacy screen. “That was less than twenty seconds, wasn’t it? You don’t have the blanket you were getting. What’s happened?”
“I’ve been called in,” he said, holding up his phone for a moment. “I have to go to the office, but I can see if someone else can take the mission in my place.”
Q frowned even more and pushed his chair away from the computer. When he stood, the sound of his joints popping was incredibly loud. “You’ve been written up eight times by Medical for not taking sufficient rest between missions. You’ve never turned down a mission.”
“We’re already on a mission,” he pointed out, gesturing to the computers. Knowing Q, trying to tell him that Bond wanted to be there for his mother’s funeral wouldn’t be an acceptable answer.
“Investigating my brother isn’t a legitimate mission,” Q scolded, walking towards Bond. “If you stay, he’ll find something worse to do to both of us. And if it isn’t — Is it legitimate?”
Bond held up his phone again. “It came through my secure mobile.” He handed the phone over to Q. “Can you trace the call to verify?”
Q’s eyes lit up with sudden pleasure. He took the phone and leaned in to give Bond a kiss — the first he’d actually initiated since the hospital. Then he was gone, back at the computer, saying, “I can also find you data on the mission, if it’s in the systems — which it should be. Your ‘M’ person has access to everything. I suggest you not use your login to browse pornography, by the way.”
Bond laughed, watching Q come more alive than he had in hours. He really needed to get him down into Technical Services, just watch him run around like — well, analogies of children, caffeine, and sugar came to mind, but that was practically what he was seeing now. “I’ll take it under advisement,” he promised.
It took Q a frankly alarming time — barely minutes — to ask, “Who’s Farid Ghazi?”
“They’ve found him?” Bond asked, a grin spreading across his face before he could stop it. “A terrorist who was behind a plot to bomb the London Olympics. We barely stopped him. He’s one of MI6’s most wanted.”
“According to Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure,” Q said, the French pronounced smoothly and naturally, with a Parisian accent, “he’s in Tunis? Tunisia?”
“North Africa,” Bond said, this time managing to keep his predatory smile internal. He leaned in to look over Q’s shoulder. There he was, the bastard — in a surveillance photo Bond had never before seen, though he’d studied everything they had on him. The photo’s date stamp was less than thirty hours old, too. “We haven’t had intel on him in months, since I lost him in the Sudan. This is fresh. Look at that date stamp.” It was only because of Q that he wasn’t out the door and in the car already. He hesitated, flexing his hand unconsciously. “I’ll call Alec. See if he’s available.”
“I can check,” Q said, already typing. A search of Alec’s name — which he spelled correctly on the first try, Bond noted wryly — brought up a file for a weapons dealer in Seoul. Q paged through the file, skimming quickly, as if he’d been reading reports all his life. “He still hasn’t found his target. This — This is for a meet he has set up?” he asked, tapping an inventory transfer request on letterhead for a false company.
“Fuck,” Bond said, scanning the file. “All right. I need to go to HQ, check in, see if there is anyone else available. But Q —” Bond paused, looking down at Q with a frown.
Q turned and got out of his chair, standing close to Bond. “I don’t plan on going to the funeral. I don’t plan on seeing either of my brothers at all. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Bond hesitated, something in Q’s face not quite sitting right with him. A sudden wave of want crashed over him, and he scooped Q up for a none-too-gentle kiss, not caring about the tug in his still-injured shoulder. Q’s startled gasp turned into a low sound, full of desire, and his arms circled Bond’s neck to hold him close. His fingers dug into the back of Bond’s neck hard enough that his nails left little stinging half-circles. He stepped forward and shoved Bond back against the side of his desk, one leg pressing between Bond’s.
After all their gentle dancing around each other, the unexpected forcefulness was incredible. Bond groaned and shoved his hands under Q’s shirt, only rubbing between his shoulder blades for a minute before dipping down to Q’s waistband. He waited for the expected, familiar tension to return to Q’s body, ready to pull back, but it didn’t come — not right away. Q just pushed closer, reaching up with one hand to claw his glasses off. He tossed them onto the desk and twisted his fingers in Bond’s short hair to pull him back into a kiss just as fierce as Bond’s had been.
His free hand dropped to Bond’s waist, and he twisted his hips, writhing against Bond’s body, making just enough room to slip his hand lower, down over the front of Bond’s trousers. Days of snogging Q with no actual release were probably responsible for Bond’s slight overreaction. His groan was positively ecstatic, and his hips bucked forward without conscious will. He bit at Q’s mouth, finally sliding his hand inside the back of Q’s trousers.
Q’s breath hitched. He lifted his hand enough to work at Bond’s belt as he moved to kiss along Bond’s jaw. “May I?” he whispered roughly.
Bond’s laugh was ragged. He managed to refrain from saying he’d been waiting for bloody days and just nodded. “Yes,” he said as politely as he could manage, and considered asking if he could return the favour — Q’s jeans were damned tight — but Q’s hand slid down over Bond’s erection, scattering his thoughts.
“How much time do you have?” Q asked as he unbuckled the belt.
“I don’t —” Bond cut off as Q’s teeth closed on his throat, just enough to sting. “Fuck. Not long,” he said as steadily as he could as Q unhooked his waistband. “They’ll be sending a car.”
“Early morning traffic. Twenty-five minutes,” Q said without hesitation as he unzipped Bond’s flies. “I’ve seen your medical files. Do you want to see mine?”
“What?” Bond met Q’s eyes, and then watched him kneel down as he pulled Bond’s trousers open. “Oh. No,” he said, thinking of how long it took him to finally get this far, how shy Q was. “If you say you’re clean, I’ll believe you.”
Q smiled up at him. “I’m perfectly healthy,” he said, pulling Bond’s hips forward enough to ease his trousers down. Bond’s pants followed, and without hesitation, Q licked up the side of his cock almost playfully.
“Oh, god.” Bond let his head fall back, but only allowed Q to stay crouched in front of him for a moment longer. He pulled Q back up, wanting more. He’d been fantasising about this for long enough — he didn’t want it to be over sooner than it had to be. “I don’t suppose Red Queen can turn down the bedding for us?” he asked with a growl, leaning moving his hands up only long enough to pull Q’s shirt over his head.
“We don’t have time for that,” Q said, shaking the hair out of his eyes. “Please. Let me?”
Bond leaned back, watching Q carefully. “We have at least twenty minutes. I can get dressed in five. The driver won’t mind waiting. I can take a shower back at HQ while I wait for my kit from TSS.” He leaned forward to give Q a kiss. “Please. I want this.”
Evasively, Q looked away, pulling back with the tension Bond had hoped not to see. “No. I’m sorry — You’ve been — I’ve already kept you awake all night, and now you need to go to work, but I — No.”
Bond could feel Q’s pulse pick up in a way that had nothing to do with the proximity of their bodies. Worried, he pulled Q close, only to have him push back hard, trying to twist free. Startled, Bond let go.
Instead of answering immediately, Q came back for another kiss, though it was one he controlled carefully, one hand on Bond’s cheek, the other on his chest as though holding him at bay. Then he answered quietly, “I don’t want more than this.”
Bond nodded and swallowed back disappointment. “Of course, Q. Anything you want,” he said, watching Q carefully. Maybe later, when they had more time, they could discuss whatever had happened to Q and who Bond had to kill to make things right. But for now, he didn’t want to leave regretting anything. He pushed a hand through Q’s hair. “All right?”
After a moment, Q nodded and leaned in to kiss Bond, though it lacked the spark from just minutes ago, as if he’d reverted to the sweet, interested-but-tentative partner he’d been this whole time.
“I’m sorry,” he said again when the kiss broke. Carefully avoiding Bond’s collarbone, he moved his hand over Bond’s chest and uninjured shoulder. He leaned in to kiss over Bond’s jaw.
“Don’t be,” Bond said, pulling back just enough to adjust his trousers. After a few deep breaths to get his heart back under control, Bond coaxed Q close for their more usual brand of kiss, all touching and tongue, but less full body contact. It was comforting in its familiarity, even if it meant he was definitely going to need a shower before he got in the car from MI6.
Q sighed and stepped back uncomfortably. “This isn’t —” He shook his head and looked around. “I shouldn’t have started anything like that.”
“What’s wrong?” He shook his head when Q opened his mouth, needing to clarify. “Not this,” he said, waving his hand between them. “Something else is wrong. What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” Q lied; it was all too easy for Bond to read him. For someone who broke laws as easily as most people breathed, he really was terrible at hiding his tells. “You need to go. It’s fine.”
Like hell he was leaving it like this. Last time Bond had chased after Ghazi, he’d been gone for two months with nothing to show for it; he could easily be gone for half a year on this hunt. Bond slid to the floor against the desk pulling Q down with him. He let Q settle beside him and then wrapped an arm lightly around his shoulders. “I’m not leaving for at least fifteen minutes. What’s wrong?”
Q let out a sigh and turned away, glancing around the flat. “I know about — Even before I read your file... I didn’t want to be another conquest for you,” he said quietly. “Convenient as one-night stands are I don’t particularly like them.”
Well, that was awkward, but nothing insurmountable. “All right,” he said slowly. “We can discuss this more when I get back, then.”
Q refused to meet his eyes. “You need to concentrate on not getting hurt, this time. Please be careful.”
Bond chuckled. “I promise to do my best. And you need to stay out of sight. Keep your door locked at all times; don’t let your brothers anywhere near the flat. You have my numbers — will you keep me updated on what you find?”
“I’ll give you copies of everything,” Q promised. “The number to the flat is in your mobile. The computer will respond to limited voice commands remotely.”
“I’d better not end up talking to Red Queen more than I talk to you,” Bond joked, kissing Q’s ear playfully.
Q smiled and turned so he could kiss Bond properly. Then he backed off enough to look into Bond’s eyes, and quietly said, “Be safe, James.” Before Bond could answer, Q stood and stepped away. “Red Queen, disengage outer door lock,” he ordered, and the door solenoids thunked.
“Outer door lock disengaged,” the computer confirmed.
Q held out a hand to help Bond to his feet. “Remember, the door buttons are one, three, six.”
Bond nodded and rose, still feeling less than reassured. There was still something flickering behind Q’s expression that concerned him, but he was out of time. “I’ll be back after I take that bastard down.” He stepped back over the cushion where he’d been sitting before, picking up his laptop and charger and putting them back in the rucksack. He walked back to Q and gave him one last kiss. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Goodbye, James,” Q answered, turning away reluctantly to sit back down at his computer. He started typing at once.
Bond stood watching him from the door for several long moments, his concern growing. But there was nothing to be done at the moment; maybe he’d ask Eve to check in on Q while Bond was gone.
He let the door swing shut behind him, listening to the locks click back into place. Yes, Eve would be perfect.
The mission lasted nine weeks, ending with a clean, verifiable kill. For the first four and a half weeks, Bond had received irregular reports from Q that proved to be more useful than the intel from the Technical Services Section. If not for those reports, he would’ve been worried about Q. He’d asked Eve to stop by two or three times, but Q had never answered the door, and even if Bond had been willing to give her the door code, she wasn’t in the Red Queen’s database.
He’d heard nothing for the last four and a half weeks, but that was partially Bond’s fault. Communications in Africa were spotty at best even in some cities.
As soon as he reached the thirteenth floor, he was tempted to go to Q’s flat, but he needed to drop off his bags, change, and shower. He’d barely managed to escape a visit to Medical in his rush to get back home. Reluctantly, he turned to 13-B, only to see at once that apparently Q had taken steps to alter Technical Services’ original door security. The keypad was now identical to the one on 13-A, as were the two cameras.
Bond smiled, and wondered if his door was now fully electrified, complete with a cement block hanging overhead. He used the same code and listened with some amusement as the scanners kicked in. As soon as the door unlocked, he walked inside and let the door close.
“Red Queen?” he asked out of curiosity, wondering just how many changes Q had made to the inside.
After a few seconds, the Red Queen said, “Sorry, I don’t understand that command.”
“Bond?” Alec called, and Bond saw him come around from the bedroom area, wearing a dressing gown — Bond’s, in fact. “You’re back! Did you get yourself shot up again?”
“Only a little,” he responded with a grin. “Flesh wound. It was worth it though. Our most wanted list is now down another soul, may he burn eternally.”
Alec grinned and went for the kitchen. “Reason enough to celebrate. So did you get the command list or something? I was hoping to surprise you. Or scare the crap out of you.”
“Command list?” Bond asked, dropping his bags over by his bed — which Alec had apparently been using. He dug through his drawers, pulling out whatever was on top to put on when he went to see Q; Q favoured his soft workout clothes to his suits any day. Then Alec’s words sunk in more fully. “Surprise me? Q told me he was going to upgrade the flat.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose, you being the owner-of-record and all.” Alec came out of the kitchen and brought Bond a scotch and a piece of paper. “Keep that on the fridge, will you? Some of these are a little esoteric.”
The scotch was Bond’s preferred brand. The paper was a spreadsheet list of commands — everything from the familiar ‘disengage outer door lock’ to instructions on programming phone numbers into the Red Queen’s systems. At the bottom was a file path — a local one, Bond noted, since it started with C: — that went to a help file.
“Nice of him to bring this over for you, instead of letting you just try to fumble your way through. Seems like the sort of thing he’d do just for laughs.” Bond set the note on the bed — he’d return it to the fridge when he got out of the shower. “Have you seen him?”
“Not for a few weeks,” Alec said after a moment’s consideration. “He was here the first day I got back — and I got the bastard, thanks for asking. I guess he was just finishing up the install. Not like I go down there looking for them.”
“Them?” Bond asked, distracted by the realization that he didn’t know how to turn on the shower. He turned back for the list, scanning it for shower commands.
“Technical Services Section,” Alec said.
Holding up the list, he turned back to the bathroom. “Red Queen, shower to —”
Bond grinned. “Forty-three degrees.” Then he stopped. “Wait, TSS? Why was TSS in our flat?”
“Who do you think installed this?” Alec asked, confused.
“This is Q’s design, not Technical Services,” Bond said, confused. “He would have installed it.”
Alec’s eyes went wide. “Fragile little thing? Maybe eight stone soaking wet? He had ID!”
“Q? Our neighbour, Siger Holmes? Only an inch shorter than me, skinny, crazy brown hair? He had an MI6 ID card?” Bond smiled at the thought of it, wondering if he’d tamed his hair for the fake ID’s photograph.
But Alec shook his head. “Name on the card was John Barrow, but the rest, that’s him. Fuck. The ID was legit — and he had a door code. We need to sweep.” He headed for the dresser where he was ‘temporarily’ storing his clothes.
Bond laughed, forgetting that Alec hadn’t actually met Q yet. “It’s all right Alec. I gave him a code. Told him he could install the system. We... uh...” He tried to think of an appropriate way to describe their relationship. “We starting seeing each other while you were on mission. I’m heading over to his flat as soon as I shower. He’s a computer genius with a brother in the Home Office — no need to report the ID.”
Alec let out a breath. “Good, because I’ve become bloody lazy with her around.”
Bond shrugged. “I’ve been trying to talk him into joining TSS. We were supposed to tour it a day after I left to get Ghazi. Maybe he’s trying to show off.” Bond leaned over to strip his shoes and socks, then straightened to start working on his cufflinks and buttons.
“Well, fuck, this would do it,” Alec said. “She’s a bloody genius herself, this system. And that does mean I’m moving in permanently, by the way.”
“I’ll get screens for the bed, but you might need noise-cancelling headphones to block out the sounds of all the fun we’ll be having now that I’m back,” Bond replied with a grin. “He has a futon a college student wouldn’t lay claim to, Alec. Afraid you’re stuck with us.”
Forty minutes later, showered and shaved and dressed comfortably, Bond went across the hall and opened the door to 13-A. He was surprised to see that the painted silk privacy screen had been taken down, and the flat was oddly quiet; he’d expected to hear the white noise of dozens of fans.
“Q?” he called into to the uncharacteristic silence. Even if Q weren’t humming or singing, the background noise of computer processes acted as a steady soundtrack to the strange setup. It didn’t take long to see why the sound was so greatly diminished, however — the flat had been all but emptied. There was exactly one row of servers left on the shelf, and they were hardwired to the only remaining computer. The futon, the treadmill, the plastic boxes of components, the desk and chair... even Q’s mug was gone.
Bond’s heart dropped.
Where was Q? Bond’s immediate thought was that Mycroft had got to him, but if that were the case, he probably wouldn’t have had time to pack.
He went into the kitchen, where he found the barbecue disconnected from the overhead ventilation. It was disassembled into a compact, semi-portable form. The folder of menus was on the counter. The cabinets and drawers were completely empty of Q’s plastic component boxes and his library of books.
“Red Queen,” he tried desperately. “Call Q.”
“Invalid call entry,” she answered from just two speakers mounted over the server rack. Even her diminished voice made Bond uncomfortable. At first, Bond wasn’t surprised that there was no number for Q in Red Queen’s system — he wouldn’t have called himself. Except, Bond realized, he often did. But Bond remembered with perfect clarity when he’d had Red Queen find his mobile. Which, of course, gave him a second idea.
“Red Queen, location ping, Q’s mobile.”
Shit. Bond pulled out his mobile and called Q’s, only to get an invalid number.
What the fuck?
“Red Queen, where is Q?” he tried.
“Sorry, I don’t understand that command.”
Bond pushed down his panic and did a quick, professional scan of the flat, looking for a note or signs of distress, only to come up empty-handed. Time to call MI6 and track him down.
Mallory ran a hand through his thinning hair and looked across his desk at Bond, Alec, and Tanner. “Siger Holmes,” he said, glancing at the notes he’d taken the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. “Youngest brother of Mycroft Holmes, Chairman of the Security and Communications Committee.” He glanced at the computer screen that had, thus far, been unhelpful despite M’s elevated security access. “Siger Holmes, who apparently doesn’t exist, and who is capable of infiltrating any computer system in the world — hostile, friendly, or our bloody own — has gone missing.”
“Sir, do you want me to put in a call to Mr. Holmes?” Tanner offered.
“No,” Bond interrupted before M could answer. “They don’t get along at all. If Q has vanished, I’m certain he doesn’t want his brother to know where.” Bond thought he would probably have more luck talking to Sherlock and John, but he’d do it personally, rather than throwing the weight of an official government inquiry at them. Sherlock would probably end up getting arrested by the end of the conversation, if it were official.
Tanner looked to M, who shook his head. “You’re certain this actually is Holmes’ younger brother, 007?” M asked.
“Absolutely. I met Q’s brothers when they were all visiting their ill mother before I left.” He smiled humourlessly. “Mycroft doesn’t care much for me, I don’t think.”
M was too diplomatic to sigh openly, but it was there nonetheless. “Find out if a security alert’s gone out — discreetly,” he told Tanner, who was taking notes on a much more modern tablet computer that reminded Bond of the row of tablets missing from Q’s flat. “This could be anything from kidnapping to defection.”
“Do we have an image of him?” Tanner asked Bond. “For facial recognition?”
“No,” Bond said, the word defection bouncing around in his head uncomfortably. He’d thought about snapping a photo on his mobile of Q while he was sleeping, or in the wonderfully pliant space he was in in the mornings before coffee, but had never actually got around to it. He thought he had time. Lots of time.
Tanner’s smile was anything but cheerful. “Well, let’s see if I have this all. We’re tracking someone who’s apparently smarter than our entire Technical Services Section, who’s erased himself from every public and secure server in the UK, with no biometrics, voice recording, or even a bloody name we can use to check the border crossings, but who has most likely left the country. And we have no idea whether he left of his own accord or due to hostile outside forces. Does that about sum it up?”
Mallory looked slightly ill. “Anything to add, gentlemen?”
“Well, he’s no physical threat,” Alec said. “I’m fairly sure a stiff wind would break him in two. I don’t exactly see him as a stealth specialist in krav maga.”
Bond thought back to the few minutes before he’d left for Africa. The nagging feeling that Q wasn’t telling him something.
“Q is a genius and an introvert. We won’t find him unless he wants to be found,” he said quietly.
“Then you’d best hope he’s been kidnapped, Bond,” M answered. “Otherwise, god knows what the fallout will be, if Holmes decides we were somehow involved.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m pretty sure Mycroft had a hand in getting me on Ghazi’s trail. He’s not going to bother us and risk triggering any further involvement of mine.” Bond didn’t add the slimy bastard to the end of that sentence, but it was a near thing.
Mallory stared at him across the antique desk. “As for this untested technology, this” — he looked down into his notebook — “‘Red Queen’, we need to have it checked.”
“It’s my personal residence,” Bond warned.
“And mine” Alec added. “Look, I was there when he was installing it —”
“You’re not TSS,” Mallory interrupted sharply. “Full lockdown on the flat, until our techs have verified it’s safe.”
“Send the TSS people whenever you like, but I’m not going to avoid it. Q wouldn’t have installed anything harmful.” Bond looked over at Alec with a raised eyebrow. It had been installed for weeks, and Alec hadn’t noticed anything amiss so far as he’d said.
Alec nodded at once. He didn’t know or trust Q the way Bond did, but he was a lazy hedonist when he wasn’t on a mission. He’d probably lie without a second thought just to keep the Red Queen’s conveniences online. “Entirely safe. Unless MI6 has an objection to excellent coffee.”
Mallory gave Alec a bleak sort of glare that lacked his predecessor’s fire. “Tanner, send them as soon as possible. I want a preliminary report within twenty-four hours.”
“Sir,” Tanner confirmed. He looked at Bond and Alec and added, “One of you will be able to liaise with the technicians.” It wasn’t a question.
If it were left to Alec, he’d be calling them minions and probably have them tweaking the system rather than taking it apart. But Bond felt a sort of possessive jealousy over Red Queen, odd as it seemed. She was Q’s creation, almost his child. His sole companion for years (or, at least, an incarnation of her). He needed to make sure she’d be left in exactly the same condition Q had left her in. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you,” Tanner said, making some more notes. “I’ll have the team get in touch with you. It may be late this evening, so expect not to get much sleep, unless you’d like to get a hotel.” He lowered the tablet and stood. “I’ll get started on all this. Mind if I borrow Moneypenny? We’ll have to do a bit of priority reshuffling.”
“Go ahead,” M said with a nod. “And you two” — he looked at Bond and Alec — “stay ready to go on a moment’s notice.”
Bond said nothing until they were in the Bugatti, tearing out of the parking garage under the sound-cover of sixteen cylinders. “You wouldn’t care if Q were watching you dance around naked, as long as you got to keep your newfound laziness, would you?”
Alec gave Bond a steady look. “And you couldn’t give a toss about the Red Queen. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
Bond sighed and looked through the windscreen, watching the parked cars. “We haven’t even had sex yet, Alec. I’m just worried about him. It might be something more, if given time.” But Alec’s words made him think about the alarming possibility that he might... might be in love again. After everything that had happened with Vesper — with Skyfall — not that long ago? He hadn’t let himself think anything beyond affection and attraction. Not yet.
Alec grunted noncommittally. “Anything else you weren’t saying back there?”
“Q isn’t just your run-of-the-mill genius, Alec. He’s something special. Special enough for people — organisations — to want to track him down and catch him in their nets.” Bond pulled his mobile out and did a search for Dr. Watson’s website. The mobile version of Watson’s blog loaded, with both Sherlock and John’s numbers prominently displayed. Bond saved them both to his contact list.
“Wonderful. So we may have a rogue genius who designed our flat’s bloody security system and who can walk into MI6 servers any time he bloody well likes.” Alec shot Bond an unhappy look. “Does this mean we have to turn over the coffee pot to TSS?”
Bond shrugged. “We can give them a tour, but if they want to take Red Queen, they can have what Q left of her in 13-A. And don’t worry about Q. He won’t go rogue. He loves England. An enemy could never force him to do what he does.” Bond instantly swallowed back the images of ways someone could try to force Q’s hand; the thought made him twitch his fingers over his Walther. It had been two weeks since anyone had heard from Q. He hoped he wasn’t too late.
What had Q said? The point is, they could never make me do anything. I’m not talking about Mycroft’s childish power games. You can’t force someone to do what I do.
Bond frowned, looking out the window as Alec aggressively slipped into spaces three inches longer than the Bugatti. There was something there — something in Q’s words that he was missing.
“Where are we going?” Alec asked. “Home? The Met? Not to be grim, but the morgue?”
“Head to the area of St. Bartholomew’s,” Bond said, remembering Q saying something about how close Sherlock lived to it. Then he dialled the number from the website.
“Holmes,” answered the deep baritone after two rings. “Don’t be boring.”
“Where is Q?” Bond asked without preamble.
“Hmm. His assassin doesn’t know?”
In the background, Bond heard Watson ask, “Sherlock? Who’s that?”
“Bond,” Sherlock called back. Then he spoke into the phone again: “Have you gone and lost him?”
“I was sent on assignment to Africa, Sherlock. I’ve been gone for nine weeks. He was gone when I got back.”
“He wasn’t arrested again? No, Mycroft would know by now. Did you... upset him?” he asked as if the concept were distasteful.
“His flat was cleaned out, so I doubt he was arrested again,” was the easy answer to the first question. The second one was more difficult. “As far as I’m aware I didn’t upset him. Did he tell you about the search he was running when I left?”
“I haven’t spoken to him since the hospital. Were you boring? He doesn’t like confrontation. Is this his way of breaking up with you? You were shagging, weren’t you?” he asked, ignoring John’s exasperated-sounding, “Sherlock!” in the background.
Bond let his head fall back against the seat in exasperation. Bloody Holmeses. “He was in communication with me for half my mission, before I ended up out of reliable mobile range.”
After a moment, Bond heard a clattering sound, followed by, “Sherlock, what —” from John, now much more close to the phone. Then John said, “Hello? Bond, are you still there?”
“I’m here. And on my way. What’s your address?”
“221-B — Yes, I am,” John said distantly. “What? Where?” Then he huffed and said, “We’re going to Siger’s flat, apparently. Do you know where it is? We can meet you there.”
“13-A, the one that used to be Mycroft’s?” Bond asked. He didn’t know if he hoped John confirmed the address or not.
John repeated his words, and then said, “Yes. We should be there in a half hour, give or take. Sherlock will probably have questions for you.”
“If he phrases any of them as questions rather than barely-concealed insults, I’ll be impressed,” Bond said without amusement. “See you there.”
As he rang off, Alec glanced at him. “Change of plans?”
“We’re going to meet them at 13-A. Sherlock and John are detectives; maybe they’ll have better luck than I did.” Bond kept his eyes closed as he thought about all the spectacular ways this could blow up in his face.
Secure building or not, Bond wasn’t surprised to find Sherlock and John standing in the hallway outside 13-A, arguing softly. At first, Bond thought they were holding hands; then he realised John had hold of Sherlock’s wrist and was trying to examine his fingers, though Sherlock was apparently too caught up in trying to poke at the numeric keypad.
“Then you do it, Bond,” Sherlock demanded.
“The door’s shorted,” John warned.
Bond walked over and slipped his hand over the numeric keypad, pressing the appropriate buttons. The cameras focused on him, and the door opened.
“What did you do?” Sherlock demanded, sounding profoundly offended.
“He means thank you,” John said.
“Q gave me access,” he said simply, holding the door open for everyone to follow him into the flat. Once the odd group was inside, Bond let the door close, then — partially to ensure privacy, and partially to show off Q’s incredible design — Bond said, “Red Queen, initiate surveillance countermeasures.”
“Surveillance countermeasures initiated,” Red Queen confirmed.
“What the hell?” John asked, immediately coming alert, shedding the somewhat harmless, friendly doctor-appearance.
“Computer,” Sherlock said, looking around. “His security systems. He built an artificial intelligence. And he gave you” — he stared at Bond — “security access.”
“He also installed a version of her in my flat.” Bond felt a twinge — a sharp uncomfortable tug that he pushed aside. Later, he could think more about where Q might be. Now, he needed to focus on what Sherlock could figure out.
“He gave you the whole system?” Sherlock asked sharply.
“He spends a lot of time with me, and doesn’t like the ‘primitive’ requirement of fiddling with switches and handles,” Bond said, refusing to use past tense. Refusing, in fact, to think of Q’s installing the system with anything other than Q’s own future comfort in mind. Any other explanation would be... Bond mentally dismissed that train of thought. Q wasn’t gone, he assured himself.
“John. Go look,” Sherlock said.
“Look for what?”
Sherlock stared at him. “Anything out of place. Incomplete. Anything potentially lethal.”
“Lovely.” John gave Bond an apologetic look. “Mind if I go search your flat for, I dunno, Skynet?”
Bond turned to Alec. “Would you mind?”
Alec nodded, gesturing at the door. “Security, mate. It’s a bloody shock collar for humans, these damned doors. You learn not to go touching them.”
“Red Queen,” Bond said, “disengage outer door lock.”
“Outer door lock disengaged,” she acknowledged.
Sherlock didn’t say another word to him. He just started poking through the flat, examining everything: the floors, the cabinets in the kitchen, the barbecue, and the servers. When he got to the computer, he tapped the keyboard. The monitor powered up with a blank login screen. “Do you have the password?”
“No,” Bond answered. “I can hazard a few guesses if you like.” He suspected that because Q had left the computer here with Red Queen, he would have chosen a password that Bond would be able to guess.
Sherlock stared at him as though trying to read his thoughts. “How close were you?” he asked, gesturing Bond to the computer. He went back to examining the flat in minute detail.
Bond focused on the keyboard, first trying his own computer’s password, which didn’t work. “He gave me access to his home’s AI,” he replied absently. “I think that means we were close.” He tried ‘England’, and that didn’t work either.
Sherlock hummed thoughtfully and crouched down where the treadmill had been — exactly where it had been, in fact. He rubbed his fingers over the polished cement floor. “He donated everything,” he said. “That” — he pointed at the rack of servers — “is the minimum required to run the flat’s AI. You’ll have to decide what you want done with it.”
Bond lifted his head to glare at Sherlock. “I’m getting him back,” he answered with complete conviction. “Red Queen will be waiting for him when he moves back in.”
Sherlock stood to face Bond. “And if he doesn’t want to come back?”
“Then it’s because he doesn’t want to deal with you or Mycroft, and I’m sure I can find ways around that.” Bond would be damned if he let them push Q back out into the world, alone with an AI for a companion who couldn’t bring Q coffee or make him laugh. On a whim, he tried ‘loyalty’ as the password and was pleasantly surprised when the system unlocked.
“That’s not what I asked,” Sherlock said in warning. “If he doesn’t want to come back, what are you going to do?”
“I’ll go to him,” he said simply, though it was, of course, far more complicated than that. He wouldn’t waste a moment in tracking Q down to find out what had happened, to try and reason with him, to tempt him back with kisses and coffee and pizza and long weekends in bed. And if he wasn’t actually in trouble but still wanted to stay abroad, Bond could probably manage to spend some time with him between missions, as long as he made a point to formalise travel plans and work around MI6 regulations. It wasn’t as if Bond spent all his time in London, anyway. It could get complicated, but Bond was adaptable.
And if Q didn’t actually want him?
They barely knew each other. They’d spent only a few days together. But Bond, for all his experience, had never met anyone like Q. If Q didn’t want him, Bond would leave, but just the thought hurt like a bullet to the gut.
Bond sighed and turned to the computer, staring at the files on the desktop. There was a folder called Red Queen, but also one titled England. Bond opened it and found a single text file.
There’s no room in your life for me. If I stay, you risk losing what you love most. I won’t let that happen.
Don’t blame my family. This goes back generations. It just seems to have skipped us. But really, if it wasn’t them, it would be someone else. I’m a liability to you and everyone else.
Watch your back, and please take care of yourself.
Bond frowned. Read it again. Repeated the process.
He got up to stare at what remained of the server rack. Fact One: Q was alive. Fact Two: He probably wasn’t under someone else’s control. Fact Three: He thought Bond was in danger and believed that disappearing was the best way to protect them both.
Despite Q’s words, he was awash in sudden, vehement hatred for Mycroft. What sort of bloody genius allowed his family members, his brothers, to exist like this? Never able to make a permanent connection for fear that it would be tugged on like a puppet string? Utter rubbish.
It didn’t mean he wasn’t right, of course. Q was a liability to Bond; someone who wanted to hoard the genius like a trophy could very well throw Bond into harm’s way just to get Q to dance. Even if Bond was willing, what sort of position did that put Q in?
Two obvious answers to the problem immediately came to mind. First, Bond could find and eliminate the threat. It wouldn’t cause Bond any logistical problems — it was what he did, after all. That complicated matters. Second, he could find a way to make Q immune to such threats. Bond thought about how Q would fit in with Technical Services and the comforting weight of having MI6 at your back.
Bond sighed and turned to Sherlock, who was reading the note from Q. “Where would he go?”
Slowly, Sherlock shook his head. “You’re not asking the right question. He doesn’t live in this world,” he said gesturing absently through the air. “All he needs is a computer. That’s where you’ll find him,” Sherlock said, looking directly at Bond.
A computer, Bond thought, remembering the racks of computers, all linked together. If Q had donated all of his computers — if Q was traveling lightly — then he’d have a laptop, maybe some of his tablets, but nothing more. That put his computing power at a much more normal, accessible level.
He’d be detectable.
More to the point, he’d be making himself a target. Q couldn’t keep off the internet. Bond had seen how twitchy he’d get without at least checking his mobile. Bond considered sending him an email, even a false email with a virus, but Q would never fall for that.
He went back to reread the note from Q, seeing both sides of the subtext. Yes, Q was a vulnerability for Bond: All someone had to do would be to take Q hostage, and Bond would be crippled, unable to do anything but try and retrieve him. But it cut both ways. A threat against Bond would achieve what a threat against Q wouldn’t: It would force Q to take the work he didn’t want, whether for a friendly government or an enemy.
Q was willing to sacrifice what he and Bond might have had — along with everything he’d built here, including his beloved Red Queen — so that Bond could stay at MI6 without interference. If that wasn’t love, Bond didn’t know what was.
Bond paced away from Sherlock, suddenly conscious of the tall man’s intense stare. Bond couldn’t tell TSS to track ‘a computer logging onto the internet to do something’. But he could tell them to look for an expert attempt to get into MI6 systems specifically to pull information on him.
He turned back, and for the first time, unexpectedly, he saw something like respect in Sherlock’s expression.
“He’s afraid of flying,” Sherlock said.
Bond took a sharp breath. Four words eliminated easily three-quarters of the world, because he couldn’t picture Q traveling overland through the internet-free Siberian steppes or taking a cargo ship to Australia.
It only took a quick moment to mentally formulate his plan of action. He’d go back to MI6, give TSS his narrowed-down parameters, and talk to M about what kind of protections they would be able to provide Q — anonymity itself, from within MI6’s well protected walls, not being the least of them.
“Thank you, Sherlock,” he said honestly. “I think I know how to fix this.”
Sherlock nodded. He looked around the open-plan flat again and said, “You’ll need to unlock the door again,” as he headed that way.
Bond followed, saying, “Red Queen, disengage outer door lock.”
“Outer door lock disengaged,” she answered after the door clicked open.
Sherlock pushed the door the rest of the way, and then turned to look directly at Bond. “Before you go after him, make me one promise, Bond.”
“What?” he asked carefully.
“Never try to force him to behave as you want him to. Let him stay free — even if you disagree with his choices.”
Bond thought about a lifetime of manipulation from everyone around Q — his parents, his brothers, the bloody government itself. Determined not to be one of them, even if it cost him Q, Bond said, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t want him any other way.”
Watching the TSS site-team go over every inch of the flat’s systems, old and new, made Bond recall the implication that Sherlock had wanted to autopsy his own mother to investigate her poisoning. Was that how Q would feel if he were here, watching them tear into the Red Queen’s systems?
Bond clenched his hands at his sides, but didn’t say anything. He couldn’t very well start shooting — Red Queen was just a computer system. He wasn’t actually concerned about Red Queen herself. She wasn’t a real AI. How had Q put it? Something about her having no ‘adaptive processes’ or the like. But it was what she symbolized: the best gift Q could possibly have offered. Not because Q thought Red Queen was valuable, but because it was a part of him.
Alec’s shout made him look up from the armchair where he was leaning perhaps a bit too heavily on scotch and cigarettes to get through the night. “And what the bloody hell do you think’s been done to the fucking coffee pot? Lasers in the filter basket?” he demanded, his voice taking on that hot, dangerous edge that warned his temper was almost at a breaking point.
Right now, Bond might have welcomed a brawl, if not for the fact that he would end up on disciplinary leave — and probably would lose Red Queen in the process.
He got up and saw Alec had backed one of the techs up against the fridge. The site supervisor was inching nervously forward, compelled by rank and authority to try to intervene, though no one in MI6 really enjoyed poking at even the mildest Double O agent when tempers ran high.
What hell was the TSS tech doing? Even MI6 employees who didn’t deal with the Double O’s with any frequency should know better than to piss one off. “Alec,” he warned quietly. He shot him a look, hoping he would see ‘don’t get fired over a coffee pot’ written in it.
Alec exhaled slowly and turned to Bond, holding up his hands. “I’m going out for a bit,” he said wisely. “Anything you want? Coffee, perhaps?” he added, and even though he didn’t turn, the tech behind him flinched anyway.
Bond was actually more than a little hungry, but it was midnight and he was upset. Food wasn’t in any way attractive. He raised his glass instead. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Alec nodded and glared around the flat like a wolf whose territory had been invaded by fang-proof sheep. Even without the Red Queen incident, Bond could sympathise; he and Alec got along so well in part because they thought alike. The flat had become theirs, and this was an unwanted encroachment. Then Alec left, hiding his shoulder holster under a tailored jacket, keys to the Bugatti in his hand. Bond gave him another moment’s thought, and when he recalled that Alec hadn’t had more than a splash of scotch earlier, when they’d come home from the office, decided that he’d be fine driving.
Bond retreated back to his armchair, perfectly all right with not being fine. Over the course of his mission, he’d given idle thought to a car, and had considered asking Q to actually leave the building long enough to visit a few dealerships. Now, he found he had little interest, though eventually he’d need a car.
He was halfway through his next cigarette when there was a knock on the entry door, which was propped open and gutted so the techs could examine the (hazardous, in violation of health and safety regulations as well as building codes) defence circuit as well as the door locking circuit.
“Mr. Bond?” a voice called — an unfamiliar woman’s voice.
If it was another tech who had forgotten something, Bond was going to have to get unpleasant. He got up and headed for the door, regretfully saying, “It won’t shock you anymore.”
Then he came into sight of the hallway where she stood, and he recognised her: the woman who’d come to the hospital with Mycroft Holmes. She wore a smart navy blue skirt suit under an expensive coat, and despite the late hour, she looked perfectly done up for the office.
As if his day hadn’t been awful enough. Whether Q had run or had been taken, it was tied to Mycroft, and that left a very bad taste in Bond’s mouth. His hand twitched for the gun he wasn’t wearing. “Is your boss far behind you?”
With exaggerated care, she opened her coat to show a white envelope peeking out of a very non-standard pocket sewn to the inside. She used two fingers to remove the envelope and extended it to him. “Please give this to the Technical Services onsite supervisor, Mr. Bond.”
The envelope's flap was unsealed. Bond stood his ground and took out a single page, skimming it quickly. It bore MI6 letterhead, and was an order — signed by Tanner — to restore ‘all system functionality’ to Bond’s flat and then cease the TSS investigation.
Bond didn’t know what to think. Mycroft could be trying to get whatever trojans might be in the system back online for Q (or himself). He might be trying to protect his brother’s work, without a care at all for its recipient. He might be trying to extend an olive branch to make up for whatever nefarious hand he’d had in the whole ugly business of Q’s disappearance. But Bond couldn’t find it in himself to care. He was too overwhelmingly relieved.
He tucked the page back into the envelope and met the PA’s blank gaze. “Thank you.”
She inclined her head. “If you’re free tomorrow morning at seven, Mr. Holmes would like to extend an invitation to breakfast at his club.”
Extend an invitation? Bond wondered just how voluntary his presence there would actually be. Still, it seemed worth the time, just to try to get a better handle on what he was dealing with. “What club?”
“The Diogenes, Mr. Bond,” she said, naming one of the few clubs Bond hadn’t visited in his time — one restricted to only those with the highest political and business connections in London. “A car will collect you twenty minutes prior.”
“Very well.” He gave the envelope a minute wave. “Thank you.”
She nodded, turned on her (very expensive) heel, and walked back to the lift without another word.
The unnamed woman was back promptly at 6:40 the next morning. Building reception called up from the lobby to let Bond know that his car had arrived. Fortified by coffee (brewed perfectly by the Red Queen), Bond headed for the lift, sending Alec a brief text: No need to pick up breakfast. See you at the office.
Alec’s response was equally brief. See you there, then.
It was confirmation that he was in position, eyes on whatever car had been sent to collect Bond. Despite having only had four hours of sleep, give or take, and driving a car that might as well have had flashing neon lights around it, Alec was entirely capable of tailing anyone in London, virtually unnoticed. Bond trusted Alec — and only Alec — to have his back.
Bond met the woman in the building lobby, where she gave him a polite nod and said, “Good morning, Mr. Bond,” before she led him out the front door. The car that waited there was a nondescript black sedan with windows a touch too dark to be innocuous. She opened the door for him, and then took her seat in the front.
The ride was uncomfortably silent, punctuated only by the soft sound of the motor and the tapping of the woman’s fingernails on the keys to her BlackBerry. Bond resisted the impulse to look back over his shoulder for the Bugatti or distract Alec with a text, though in the end it proved unnecessary. As promised, the car delivered him to an upscale white building marked only by a brass plaque beside the door.
When the woman opened Bond’s door for him, she said, “Please refrain from speaking until you’re brought to the Stranger’s Room. The car will wait to take you to your office after breakfast.”
He’d heard about the club’s odd no-speaking rule before, but the Stranger’s Room? That didn’t sound ominous at all. At least his Walther was nicely concealed under his jacket, should Mycroft try anything. “All right. Thank you.” He hoped the intel he gathered would be worth speaking with Mycroft without Q. It felt perilously like going behind Q’s back.
The door was opened before he could knock, and Bond was somewhat surprised to be confronted by a man in improper dinner dress — the old fashioned uniform of a servant. He gestured Bond inside and held out a hand, not quite reaching for Bond’s coat but indicating it all the same. Bond allowed him to take his coat, and then another servant smoothly stepped up, gesturing Bond through the foyer and into the building.
It was silent. Eerily, absolutely silent. The runner underfoot was unnaturally thick, muffling his steps, and when he looked down, he saw the servant’s polished black shoes were covered with thick white shoe covers — an excessive precaution against making the least noise, in Bond’s opinion, but most clubs in London had odd traditions.
Bond was escorted to a back room. The servant didn’t knock — of course he didn’t — but simply opened a door on silent, oiled hinges, and gestured Bond inside. The door was every bit as thick as the secure doors leading to M’s office, complete with quilted leather to hide anything from bulletproof composite plates to noise-cancelling foam. Possibly both, given the rank and political power of the club’s members.
He entered and found himself in a sitting room, with a small dining table laid out beneath a window looking into a tiny garden. Mycroft Holmes was there, seated in an armchair by the cold hearth. He folded a newspaper and rose, speaking only when the door closed at Bond’s back.
“So good of you to join me this morning, James. Tea?” he asked, his tone smoothly friendly.
Bond observed him out of the corner of his eye as he sat. Mycroft didn’t strike him as the type to actually be armed, and a glance at the open jacket and properly buttoned waistcoat proved him correct. Not that he thought Mycroft wouldn’t have someone in here in an instant if Bond turned the least bit threatening.
So Bond smiled falsely and said, “Yes, thank you.” He unbuttoned his own jacket as he sat.
The tea was laid out nearby. Mycroft rose and poured a cup, offering it to Bond black — without asking how he took it. He handed the cup and saucer to Bond with the sort of deft silence that said he’d played host to the elite before, and Bond recalled Q’s bespoke dinner suit, his reference to owning horses, and the expense of their mother’s private hospitalisation. Mentally, he revised his estimate of the family’s wealth upwards by quite a bit.
“I do apologise for yesterday’s unpleasant misunderstanding regarding my brother’s gift,” Mycroft said, jumping right past formalities to get down to business. “Had I known what he’d done for you, I would’ve ensured that the proper authorities understood he’d put you in no danger.”
“Yes, it was unpleasant. Thank you for your intervention.” He sipped the tea. “Do you know where he is?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Mycroft said, his expression turning slightly pinched. “Regrettably, both of my younger brothers are adept at not being found, when they choose to exert themselves. I was able to have him tracked to a car rental agency at Heathrow, but there was an issue with the cameras inside” — instinctively, Bond knew the ‘issue’ was Q’s doing — “and we were unable to determine which car he acquired. We’re currently looking into the whereabouts of every vehicle, but he has yet to return his rental. And as one might expect, there are database complications. Inventory problems, apparently. The agency is giving its utmost cooperation, of course, but...” He lifted his free hand as if to indicate the scope of the problem.
“Do you have a sense of whether he was” — Bond refused to look away — “under duress?” Simply leaving alone and renting a car didn’t mean there wasn’t something sinister behind the departure.
“I believe he left of his own accord. This has all the hallmarks of prior planning,” Mycroft said thoughtfully. “His gift to you was timed to be completed well before you’d returned to London, for example, giving him something of a head start. And I’ve long suspected he planned to leave London immediately after our mother’s funeral. So no, I do not believe he left under duress.”
Bond didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. At least Q was safe, with no one chasing him. But knowing that he’d left of his own volition hurt, tugging his heart in a way he hadn’t fully expected. Q hadn’t given any indication he’d planned to leave, had he?
Something must have changed, Bond assured himself. Maybe Q had been scared off by whatever he’d found in Mycroft’s files. Genius though he was, Q was also, well, twitchy.
Bond could feel Mycroft’s eyes on him, so he put off thinking further about what might have happened for later. For now, he took another sip of his tea.
“Q said something about your wanting him to work for you, in some capacity.” It seemed strategic not to pose a question — let Mycroft take it as he would.
Mycroft nodded, unruffled. “My brothers both have skills that are in high demand, as I’m certain you are aware. Sherlock is no longer as vulnerable to outside influence as he might once have been. However, Q...” He shook his head. “He has little regard for the consequences of his actions. Without someone watching him, he has a tendency to find trouble unwittingly.”
Bond thought about Q’s story of literally riding away on a horse, and the fact that he’d been arrested as many times as he had. How he’d casually thrown around the fact that he was hacking national security databases in front of a government assassin he’d only known for a short while. “So your interest in his abilities extends merely to keeping him out of trouble? Forgive me, but that sounds dangerously like an old-fashioned ‘for his own good’ speech.”
Mycroft’s sigh held an edge of regret. “Both of my brothers have talents that would be best used in our national interests, James. But if Sherlock prefers to expend those talents solving petty crimes, or if Q enjoys video games more than securing our intelligence services from outside threats, at least I would like the reassurance of knowing they are safe. They are my family.”
Bond took another sip of his tea. He didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Mycroft did everything just right — regretful sighs, subdued body language, appropriate facial expressions. But everything about the man was so damn controlled that it made him nearly impossible to take at face value. After all, a genius like Mycroft should instinctively understand that the kind of pushing he was doing, the manipulations, were only going to serve to force Q away. In fact, a genius and master manipulator surely could find a way to pull him in. For all his arrests and illegal activity, there was a vulnerability and innocence about him that made him light up when you talked about high quality components or tempted him with R&D labs. Bond suspected that if Mycroft just wanted to keep an eye on him, he’d build Q his own electronic wonderland and leave him alone.
Also telling was Mycroft’s mention of Sherlock. It didn’t take a massive intuitive leap to make the connection between Sherlock and John. Q himself had talked about what a good influence John had been on his brother. Solving ‘petty crimes’, as Mycroft called it, clearly didn’t impress the elder Holmes. And Sherlock obviously disdained Mycroft — though Bond honestly thought Sherlock was just like that with everyone.
In broader terms, Sherlock had a handler in John, and it stabilized him. If Mycroft only had Q’s best interests at heart, wouldn’t he sit back and wait to find out if Bond could have the same effect on Q, instead of shipping him off to Africa?
No. Bond was certain Mycroft didn’t simply have Q’s best interests in heart.
“What efforts are you using to find him?” he asked, watching Mycroft.
“I’ve instructed my secretary to send all relevant data to your Technical Services Section, and am ensuring the full cooperation of all appropriate government branches,” Mycroft said easily, as if he hadn’t just turned a dozen or more government agencies upside-down in an effort to find his little brother. The power he wielded was staggering. “I suspect he’ll leave the country with all possible speed, which would make MI6 the natural agency to lead the investigation.”
Interesting how Mycroft had told him how information was to be shared, not how it was collected. “Is there anything in particular you want from me?” Out with it, he thought grimly.
“I hardly think this is a typical investigation for an agent in the Double O programme,” Mycroft answered. “I simply thought it best for you to understand a bit more of my brother’s psychology, given your involvement with him.”
Well, that was interesting. Unless he was reading the situation wrong, Mycroft was opening a door here. Bow out, let the experts do their jobs — let Q go. Or go beyond the typical investigation, and find Q as his... Bond’s mind stuttered for a moment.
‘Lover’ wasn’t the right word, at least not yet. Though when Bond thought more about Sherlock and John’s relationship, he realized he didn’t get a ‘lovers’ vibe from them, either. They seemed more like friends. No, not exactly friends. A snappish circus lion with his exasperated lion tamer. (Bond’s mind steered him away from throwing in the whip and chair imagery to complete the thought.)
Nonetheless, Bond was going to do everything in his power to find Q — but he wasn’t going to tell Mycroft that. The last thing he needed was to be under surveillance by whoever Mycroft’s lackeys were.
Bond set his cup down and stood. “Thank you for the tea and enlightening conversation. I’m sure it will be very helpful.”
Graciously, Mycroft didn’t look back at the untouched table. He also set down his tea and rose. “A pleasure, James. Should there be anything further I can do to assist, please don’t hesitate. My secretary will give you my contact information,” he said, extending his hand.
Bond shook his hand and smiled before turning to leave. Sherlock had been exceptionally useful, and Bond felt like he had a pretty good chance of finding Q. He didn’t think he’d need Mycroft’s help — though, if he was honest with himself, he’d take it if it were his only option.
The rental car was a let-down after the Bugatti, but Q couldn’t risk flashy. As it was, he drove straight from London to the Continent the very night he finished installing the Red Queen at 13-A. After refuelling — cash only — he drove east, looking for unsecured wifi on the emergency mobile that was now his primary.
As soon as he found a good signal, he stopped the car and used his laptop to erase as much footage of himself and his vehicle as possible. The car was an internet booking, and before actually entering the rental facility, he’d disabled their cameras. The next night, he did the same before he went and returned the car; he wasn’t a car thief, after all.
Luck was with him. It was raining when he checked into a motel, so he kept his hood up. In the room’s tiny, rusty sink, he dyed his hair a deep auburn and hoped it would be enough of a change without leaving his dark eyebrows too mismatched. Then he slept for twelve hours, leaving smudges of ruddy brown on the pillowcase.
A change of wardrobe turned him into a gap year student from France, traveling through Europe with no particular destination. He hitchhiked, took trains, and even walked when the weather was nice, thankful for the hours he’d spent on his treadmill. He kept himself clean-shaven, both to look younger and so he didn’t have to dye his beard.
He ended up in Nuremberg, where he spent two weeks arranging new identities and dealing with banking issues. He liked Germany, and he began to give some thought to where he’d end up living. He refused to consider what he was leaving behind. Q needed his freedom, James Bond needed England, and... that was all. This was the only way.
From Nuremberg, he went south to Munich, where he paid cash for three months’ rental of a flat with all services included. He spent some time securing his connection.
Then, caving to the need to reassure himself that Bond was all right, Q went shopping. He needed a secure way to break into MI6’s systems.
The next news came on Bond’s sixth day home after his mission — after he came home to find Q had disappeared. A knock on the door to his floater office warned him a moment before the door opened and a woman peeked inside. She was older, in her fifties, with short blond hair and a cheerful smile.
“Glad to catch you, 007,” Danielle Marsh said as she let herself into the office unbidden. She’d been working for MI6 for most of her life, down in Technical Services. She’d started as a codebreaker and had kept up with computer technology better than most people half her age. Bond liked her.
“Come in, Danielle,” he invited, standing politely.
She walked to his desk and passed him a tablet before she sat. “We’ve had a system breach. I was asked to bring it to your attention.”
The tablet was of no help. He recognised the first column of numbers as a listing of IP addresses, but nothing else. He handed it back with a rueful smile. “Perhaps it’s best you explain as if I can’t read meaning into those numbers.”
She reclaimed the tablet with a fond smile. “Someone remote went looking up your file,” she said, perhaps oversimplifying a bit, “and only yours. Tanner told me this most likely wasn’t a hostile contact, and that you’d have the details. This relates to that priority search that’s had the department scurrying like rabbits in the spring, doesn’t it?”
Bond felt his stomach do a curious little flip. “Do you have a location?” Maybe they’d already traced it and tapped the CCTVs. God, Bond hoped it was Q, predictable and foolish as that might be.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. We’re working on it. We think it may be Germany, but this person is very, very good at hiding his or her traces. We’ve already had a dozen or more false leads from every continent but Antarctica.”
That was a good sign; Q was indeed very, very good. Bond briefly considered following Danielle back down to TSS just to see what they were doing. But the majority of the techs didn’t have much contact with the infamous Double O’s — his presence might hinder more than help. “How long?” he asked instead.
“As long as it takes. I’m sorry,” she said, holding up a hand, “but that’s the best I can do, dear. I might as well ask how long it’ll take you to kill someone. I promise, we’re doing everything we can.”
Bond smiled at her frankness; it was one of the things he valued about her. It negated the fact that she kept calling him ‘dear,’ even. “Is there any chance that this person will realize that you’re using his signal to trace him, and run?”
“It’s a risk,” she said bluntly. “But we were told to find him, so it’s a risk we have to take.”
Bond nodded, deciding it was time to start planning for a trip out of country. “Tell me when you’re close.”
She nodded and stood. “I take it you’ll want the usual travel package prepared before I interrupt again? Will you be going under your own name? We haven’t received an op-file on this.”
“Yes, please. And I’d rather the travel arrangements were not under my name, or any of the aliases listed in my file. He might be looking for them, and I don’t want him to bolt.”
Danielle studied him for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully. “I won’t leave a single electronic trace.” Her eyes lit up as she added, “The Border Agency is being delightfully cooperative on this one. They won’t mind fast-tracking a passport or two. Maybe I’ll make a list.”
The house was neat and white, with a brown roof and shutters. It was divided into multiple flats for lease, making it easy for Bond to gain entry in the middle of the workday. He’d watched the flat for four hours that morning and had seen five people — all student-age — leave, and no one had arrived. By his best guess, the building was empty.
After pinpointing the location of Q’s rental, Station M had investigated and learned the identities of the six students who rented rooms in the house. Five were German; the sixth was French. Bond immediately determined that Rémi St. Ores was the most likely alias for Q to use.
There was no alarm on the main door, which led to a narrow foyer. There were entry doors to the left and right, a narrow staircase leading upstairs, and what looked like a back exit beyond the stairs. Bond considered going upstairs first, but he didn’t want Q, if he was downstairs, to hear his footsteps.
As it was, he was taking a chance with the entry. For all he knew, Q had concealed cameras in the yard and was already out a window, leaving the area.
His lockpicks made short work of the cheap interior locks, and he began to get the feeling that Q wasn’t here — not in one of these flats, with such poor security. Wary of lethal countermeasures, Bond searched for any traps before he actually entered, as silently as he could.
He immediately realised Q lived in neither flat. Q’s chaos had been restricted simply to electronics, and even that had been less chaotic and more cluttered, with computers, components, and wires everywhere. The two downstairs flats, though, were typical student housing — perhaps a bit on the neat side, with less takeaway containers and more books.
After locking the doors — no sense in announcing his presence — he went upstairs.
When he unlocked the next door, every sense came alive. The flat was military-neat, if a bit mismatched, with outdated furniture and absolutely no sign that anyone lived here at all, except for a tangle of green and blue network cables on the sofa. The window frame was scored as if something had been clamped tightly to the wood, and Bond thought about what Danielle had said in his pre-mission briefing: something about satellites.
Bond went into the kitchen and found it untouched, even a bit dusty. The rubbish bin lacked a liner, and Bond made a mental note to search the skip for any sign of Q’s distinctive caffeine-and-takeaway habits.
In the bedroom, the bedding had been stripped off the mattress and folded into a neat nest on the floor.
Though there hadn’t been any CCTV footage to place Q here, and the TSS techs were only about seventy percent certain that this, rather than the hundred other location bounces, was where the signal originated, Bond was almost certain this was Q’s flat. Sherlock was right — Q had started from scratch, so nothing was immediately identifiable, but it was similar enough to be right.
He looked down at the futon-like arrangement of blankets and smiled. If their relationship were any different, he would have taken delight in waiting naked on it for Q to come back.
The thought passed as quickly as it came, however, and Bond continued looking around without disturbing anything, thinking about what to do next.
Waiting in the dark for the flat’s owner to return had always been his favourite tactic, but unlike most of the others he’d tried that with, Q didn’t actually need to come back for anything. He could turn around and run and disappear again if he wanted. Bond couldn’t let that happen.
The more Bond looked around, in fact, the more he wondered if Q even planned on coming back at all. There was nothing to indicate that he was, except for some easily replaced network cables. If Q was smart — if, Bond thought wryly — he’d take his necessary possessions with him every time he left. The flat had been paid up for three months, but Q had admitted that he was rich. Three months’ rent on a student flat was nothing for him to lose.
Indecision tore at Bond. Hide somewhere in the flat and wait? Leave and take the risk that some unknown security system would alert Q to an intruder?
As he hesitated in the bedroom, a male voice called out from the hallway, “Rémi?” Bond heard the flat door creak open. “Are you there?” he continued in German.
Bond quickly shed his default subtlety and took on the expressions and body language of someone who was exactly where he belonged. He allowed his feet to make significant noise as he rounded the corner from the hallway towards the front door. “Hello there,” he called in flawless German, smiling. “He’s not here at the moment, I’m afraid. He gave me the key to do speed tests,” he said, waving at the mass of cables on the sofa, “but we must have gotten our messages mixed.”
The young man who pushed open the cracked door was twenty at most, with far too much hair flopped in his eyes. He was dressed for going outside, with a rucksack over one shoulder. “So he’s coming back?” he asked, giving Bond’s suit a brief, sceptical look before he smiled uncertainly. “We were wondering.”
“What makes you think he isn’t coming back?” Bond asked, stomach sinking.
“He borrowed my phone almost a week ago. Gave me his key so I could come in and get it back,” he explained. “I haven’t seen him since I gave it to him.”
“Come on in; I’m sure it’s around here somewhere,” Bond replied, waving the kid in. He stood back and pretended to fiddle with cables without actually jostling them while he thought. The servers had been accessed less than six hours ago. Either Q had been here six hours ago and left immediately when he was finished, anticipating the trace, or he rerouted the signal through his old flat to cover his tracks. He wished there was a way to let Q know it was him, not Mycroft, doing the tracking. At least, he flattered himself in thinking it might make a difference.
The kid gave a little laugh and went to the scarred window. “You sure he’s done with it?” he asked, unlatching the window and pushing it open. “I mean, for what he paid, I don’t want him to think he got cheated or anything.” He twisted and ducked to lean his upper body out the window, feeling up towards the edge of the roof.
It occurred to Bond too late that kid might actually be a scout for Q, signalling him that it wasn’t clear. “No, I’m not sure,” he said, walking up to the window to look out. If Q were watching, he wanted Q to know Bond was there before he bolted.
The kid finally fumbled down a plastic shoebox. There was a hole on the bottom with a rubber grommet tightly pressed against another network cable dangling from the box like a tail. The box was cloudy white, but Bond could just see a black mobile, a circuit board, and a thick, somewhat bumpy cube wrapped entirely in black electrical tape.
“What the hell?” the kid asked, prying open the box — contaminating trace evidence with his fingerprints. When the lid came off, they both saw that the phone was wired to the circuit board and both were hooked up to what looked like a block of batteries wired together.
“Would you look at that,” Bond said with false awe. He snatched the box away from the kid before he unplugged it. “Impressive, isn’t it. I need to test the network conditions before you unplug this, all right? Come back in about fifteen minutes?” He needed to call TSS — see if they could get a new location off this.
The kid hesitated. “I was going to go to class,” he said uncertainly. “I’m already late.”
“It will still be here when you get back from class,” Bond reassured him with a smile. “Keep the key on you; I’ll lock the door on my way out.”
It still took a moment before he finally agreed, and he left reluctantly, suspicions aroused. As soon as he was gone, Bond went to the windows, searching for him. When he saw the kid walking down the sidewalk, Bond took his mobile out to call TSS.
When he was connected with Danielle, he moved away from the window to survey the apartment. “He’s gone, has been for a week. I’ve got some interesting tech here, though — care to tell me if it’s useful?”
“Go ahead, dear, and be as detailed as possible,” Danielle replied, and he could hear her tapping on a tablet.
Bond gave a brief rundown of the number and placement of ethernet cables which, as it turned out, weren’t actually connected to anything anymore. There were no modems or routers to be seen anywhere at all, and they didn’t plug into the jacks in the wall.
When Bond started to describe the modified phone, however, Danielle perked up.
“You’re chasing a clever one, aren’t you 007?” she asked, and Bond could practically hear her smile. “I’m not going to be able to do anything for you from that,” she continued, the awe somewhat tainted by reluctance.
“Should I bring it back?”
“Absolutely. But what I suspect has happened is that he’s used the mobile as a modified relay station. He probably has dozens of them, bouncing signals back and forth between them, recycling IPs regardless of the network that’s handing them out.”
“If you say so,” Bond said, frowning. No Q. Damn.
“Let me put it this way. The device you’re holding right now could tell our computer it’s in Saudi Arabia, and everyone — the laptop, the phone company, other computers — would all believe it to be true. Not only that, but we could take down half of them, and the rest of the network would still be fully functional. Clever.”
Bond shook his head. “So there is no way to use this to trace back to the source?”
“No.” Danielle said. “But if you send me photos, I can run down where everything was most likely purchased.”
Thanks to his past experience with MI6, Bond knew where to dine in Munich. He was just finishing an excellent early lunch when Danielle sent him an email listing a half dozen electronics component companies in the area around Q’s (former) flat that could have provided components to build his circuit board, along with a gentle reminder for Bond to stop by Station M at some point to courier the board itself to MI6 for analysis. Danielle’s ‘Mark it to my attention, 007, to ensure that it doesn’t get lost’ carried the weight of a royal command, and he made a mental note to get to Station M some time later — after he ran down as many of the component leads as he could.
The first place on the list (which Danielle had thoughtfully organized by distance from Q’s flat), was Hartnagel Elektronik. Since Hotel Präsident wasn’t too far from the flat, Bond hadn’t bothered with the environmental pass required for a vehicle. Hartnagel wasn’t too far, so he decided to walk down Schwanthalerstraße to Schillerstraße. Bond could see what might have attracted Q to it — the storefront was two glass panes filled with gadgetry of all sorts, their haphazard clustering arrangements reminding Bond very much of Q’s own kitchen cabinets. Below the green and white name signs, there were bright blue banners describing the store’s offerings which, despite Bond’s fluency in German, still didn’t make much sense to him.
An electronic chime over the door sounded with a ping as he walked in the front door, and he immediately felt like he was in a giant magpie’s den of wired shiny prizes. There were rows and rows of cables and components and devices of varying shapes, sizes, and colours lining the small shop, and here and there were small cafe-style metal tables and chairs — presumably for sitting and sorting through the shop’s bins of components. At the back, a short, rotund, freckled cashier was chatting animatedly with a what looked like a teenager in a hoody. Bond pretended to be interested in a wall of what looked like every battery known to man until the teenager left, a bag full of copper wire under his arm.
It took only a minute for the cashier to size him up, then wander over to stand next to Bond. “Can I help you find something?” he asked.
“A friend of mine, Rémi St. Ores, recommended I come here for a project. Do you remember Rémi?”
“What project?” he asked, frowning in thought.
“Extending the battery life of a mobile phone to last for at least a week of running wifi access,” Bond replied, smiling. He picked up the lithium ion battery that had been one of the several packed into the shoebox Q had left, flipping it to read the tech specs on the back.
“Oh, yes. With the random number encryption,” he said, eyes lighting up as he took in Bond’s suit. “Are you his manager? He said it was for a company. Rémi, you said his name is?”
“Not his manager; we are on a project team together.”
The young man seemed a bit disappointed. “Ah, I was hoping you knew if the company had made a final decision on a branch here in Germany.”
“Ah,” Bond said, smiling as if the cat had got out of the bag. “Rémi mentioned that did he?”
He winced and lied, “Not... precisely. Just that, you know — asked about other cities, that sort of thing. He, uh, asked where I might want to live, if not here...”
Oh god. It couldn’t be this easy, could it? For all of Q’s exceptional intelligence, it didn’t surprise Bond that he had neglected to consider the human factor — that conversation could be just as useful to tracking down a hacker as leaving the wrong ports open. “Rémi does like having lots of time to explore his options, as do I,” Bond said smiling. “Care to share with me as well?”
“Um. Hamburg, actually,” he said, patting down his pockets. He finally found a stack of business cards and pulled one out. “It’s very tech-friendly, good incentives for new businesses. Good for international businesses. Enough tourism that people speak fluent English, even in the tech sector. Rémi’s German —” He cut off as though worried he was saying too much, making Bond wonder if all technophiles had the same problem with keeping secrets.
Bond chuckled. “I know what you mean,” he said, holding out his hand for the card.
He handed it over and quickly said, “If you have a card as well, I can email you my CV. Rémi said there are always opportunities for a good electronics technician, and I’m working on my masters.”
Bond thought about the stack of Universal Exports cards in his pocket, but decided against it. If ‘Rémi’ had left his email, he didn’t want this overexcited salesman to send him a note about his encounter with a Mr. Richard Sterling. “I’m afraid I don’t have any on me,” Bond said with just the right amount of regret lacing his words. “If we get the official go-ahead on the new location, I’ll let you know.”
That got him a hopeful smile. “Thanks. So, uh... Let’s see if I can remember. Do you want product cut sheets or should I just show you — Oh! I can find the invoice. Would that help?”
Bond’s answering grin wasn’t faked in the slightest. “That would be marvellous.”
“You sound all perky, 007,” Danielle said approvingly. “Have you got information for me or are you calling to let me know you slipped a present in with my circuit board?”
Bond hesitated at a street corner and tried to think of the fastest way to get to Station M. “He paid cash at the store, but I have the invoice. I just emailed you a photo. Are there any components listed that weren’t used —”
“One step ahead of you, dear. I’ll run it down. Fortunately, it’s George’s pub night, so he doesn’t expect me home till late.”
Bond wondered if there was anyone else, anywhere in MI6, who was able to honestly use that sort of line in justifying overtime. The idea that he and George would probably get along popped into his mind for no reason as he listened to Danielle type.
“Well,” Danielle said just as Bond started walking again. “Well, your boy’s very clever, now, isn’t he? I expect he’ll be trying this little trick again. And you might want to be a bit careful with your next break-in. He can wire up five motion detectors with what he purchased. Could hook them to a fuse, a buzzer, or a camera. Take your pick.”
“What about all three at once?” he asked, thinking of the block over the door. Q didn’t subscribe to the notion of overkill when it came to personal security.
“Since it’s just a switch, he could, if he treats it as a relay. Tricky business, though, depending on his power source. A magnetic switch, I could help you defeat, but this... As soon as you push open a door or window, you’re in trouble. Looks like you’ll need a portal gun.”
Bond prided himself in his extensive knowledge of armoury, but drew a blank at Danielle’s words. “What kind of gun?”
She sighed. “Never mind, dear. Your young man will explain it to you, I’m cer— Bond,” she said abruptly, just as his mobile chimed an incoming email.
“What is it?” he asked as he pulled out his mobile, daring to check his email even as the throng of fellow pedestrians grew the nearer he got to Station M.
“Email with attachment, headers scrubbed. Don’t open it,” she said, just as he opened it. He winced and said nothing, but... nothing dire happened. It was a blank email with a file attachment that didn’t even have the ‘open’ option.
“Are you looking at my email?”
“Of course I am. You’ve been compromised, however benign that was... oh,” she breathed softly, even reverently. “Bond... You haven’t gone and lost your Walther, have you, dear?”
Bond’s instinct was to reach up to pat his shoulder holster, but repressed it before he alarmed anyone. “Of course not. Why?”
“Because this is your Walther,” she said enigmatically. “I recognise the modifications for your grip. But this... Oh, James, this is elegant. Biometric recognition with a trigger lock?”
Bond squashed his irritation as he dodged a skateboarder only to nearly run into a fuchsia-haired teen girl covered entirely in black leather. “Danielle,” he huffed. “What are you talking about?”
“CAD drawings, electronic schematics, the program... It looks like everything we might need to build this. I’ll have to run it through our security, but who exactly got hold of your Walther long enough to take precision measurements of it? We couldn’t do better in our own shop here. It’s your Walther. Even if it wasn’t sent to you, I’d know it. You’ve actually managed to hang onto the thing for more than three months — and I’m so proud of you for that, dear. I’m trying to find the sender, of course, but little hope there.”
“He sent you the plans for the scanner?” Bond stepped out of the flow of foot traffic for a quick moment of overwhelming relief and affection. Q was still designing for him. Q was thinking about him, keeping a promise. That was an excellent sign. He smiled to himself as he stepped back onto the sidewalk, making his way more quickly than before. “I’ll be damned.”
“Language, dear,” Danielle scolded, though without any particular sharpness to her voice. “I’m going to get on this straight away. Do you need anything else from us tonight?”
“A ticket to Hamburg, and a hotel once I get there.” Why did the bastard have to scrub all identifying information from the email? Bond would have liked to reply with a ‘thank you.’
“I’ll get someone on it immediately. I’ll see if there’s a plane available; if not, I believe there’s a direct train that runs frequently. Whichever it is, I’ll send a car round. I’m not certain I’ll be able to get you into the Sofitel on such short notice. You may have to slum it at the Park Hyatt,” she said wryly.
“If that’s the best you can do,” he responded, knowing she’d hear the smile in his voice. He tucked the mobile back into his pocket and walked faster. He could be in Hamburg in less than two hours. Finding Q in a city of about two million people was, in all likelihood, going to take much longer than that, but Bond felt like he was getting close.
He couldn’t get excited yet, though; he reminded himself that this could be just another dead end. But the prospect of being in the same city with him again was tantalising, especially knowing that Q was still thinking of him. Bond fervently hoped that Danielle would go home tonight, and not work on the assembly of the new gun. He wanted, irrational though it was, for Q to be the one to build it.
Upon reaching Hamburg, Q stopped at a business centre with top-quality printers, and Rémi St. Ores became Nikita Ivanovich Travkin, graduate student from the Moscow State University of Instrument Engineering and Computer Science. He spent a few days looking into flats before he finally chose a second-floor rental in a new building in sight of the river. He would’ve preferred something higher, but he was suddenly leery of depleting his resources before he could get himself established again.
He tried not to think of how much he could’ve got for the biometrics plans on the black market. He’d designed that for James, not for profit.
He secured two new mobiles and used one to phone his bank to arrange for a cashier’s cheque to secure the lease. A very helpful clerk arranged for him to pick up the cheque at a local bank for a nominal fee, though he wouldn’t have it in hand until Monday.
Once that was done, he stripped the blankets off his soft hotel bed, piled them in a heap on the floor, and let the fatigue take him into unconsciousness.
Late Saturday evening, he woke feeling half-dead. He dragged himself into the shower and stood in silence under the hot water, humming snatches of old songs under his breath to clear his mind. Running was mentally exhausting, but he was almost finished. Even if MI6 managed to trace his borrowed mobile in Munich, there was nothing to link him to Hamburg. He was safe.
But was James?
The need to reassure himself was a constant background urge, tempting him to ignore security protocols. And had James worked for any organisation other than MI6, Q might well have given in and checked up on him daily.
Tonight, though... tonight was Saturday night, when MI6 IT security would be at a low point, desks staffed by interns or new hires or anyone but the barely-competent eight-to-fivers who had to report to managers and take the kids to football practice after work. And Q was in a city where no one would think to look for him.
He could check on James — just a quick look in his records to reassure himself that James was all right. He could verify that James had received the schematics, in fact. Maybe Q shouldn’t have sent it directly to James, but he was wary of trusting anyone else with the design.
For the system infiltration, Q chose a coffee shop-turned-bar. It was far from his hotel, but according to Yelp it had unrestricted high-speed internet. He dressed in keeping with his status as a graduate student, slightly stuffy and very focused on spending Saturday night hard at work on his education. He infused his sketchy German with enough smooth Russian to add verisimilitude and avoided English at all costs.
The espresso was excellent, as was the corner table to which he was directed, where two others had their laptops already set up. They exchanged nods, made room for Q, and fell into a little bubble of silence punctuated only by typing.
He was careful, refusing the temptation of a direct link in favour of taking a slow, roundabout tour of the world before he ever got anywhere near England. Only when he’d finished two shots of espresso and half a rich, sweet cappuccino did he allow himself to start the direct attack on MI6’s security. His laptop wasn’t up to his usual speed, and he knew that he was still running on fumes from his international travels. He had to be careful. He couldn’t afford to make mistakes.
The mobile snapped Bond awake with the first ring. He rolled over and snatched it off the bedside table. “Bond,” he answered, noting the time: just past midnight local, an hour ahead of London time.
“You were right,” Danielle said, her voice sharp and alert.
Bond sat up, blankets falling from his bare chest. “Have you found him?”
“I’ve found his signal. I think he must be a bit distracted. He’s using a tunnel into a supposedly anonymous server in Russia, but he allowed a software upgrade request to go through on the same tunnel. A silly mistake, really. He took the bait, James. I have his IP address.” She paused. “Which means I have his real address.
Bond grinned fiercely and threw off the covers to go get dressed. He’d had an hour’s sleep, which was more than enough. “Where am I going?”
“Kopiba. It’s a coffee shop and bar. According to their reviews, it’s open until three in the morning. It’s in a commercial district, Beim Grünen Jäger 24, off Neuer Pferdemarkt?” she said tentatively, mangling the pronunciation. “I’ll send you an address for your GPS.”
A coffee shop. Of course it would be a coffee shop — caffeine and internet. “When was he there, exactly?”
“He’s there now.”
Bond’s heart rate picked up in a familiar beat of anticipation, though the usual predatory edge was missing — replaced by the very odd sensation of hope. Bond wasn’t going in for the kill, or even a capture, really. He’d meant what he’d said to Sherlock: He was going to bring back Q willingly or not at all.
He dressed as quickly as humanly possible, throwing his suit on in a practised set of motions that left it hanging perfectly in place despite the rush. Once his shoes were tied, he paused only to quickly scrub his teeth and call the valets for his car before he was out of his room.
While an Audi A7 was splendid in its own right, it wasn’t nearly as captivating as the Bugatti. It did have the advantage of a lower profile, however, and as Bond sped towards the cafe, he was grateful for the ease with which it would blend into its surroundings. One look at the Bugatti and Q would have bolted.
The two and a half kilometres to Kopiba weren’t overly crowded, and Bond had no trouble slipping in between and around cars that had the audacity to go at or below the speed limit. The engine purred soothingly as he thought about what he was going to say.
The truth was, he had no idea what to say. No small part of him hoped that he would simply show up, proof of his affections in the chase itself, and then Q would smile and laugh and allow Bond to take him home.
The more practical part of Bond knew words of some sort would be necessary, but what could he say? He thought about Q’s letter and what it came down to: the assumption that Bond would choose England over Q, and that the choice was inevitable. Bond had to convince Q that neither of those things was true.
Before he could get much further down that mental path, the business centre came into sight. Despite the late hour, it was busy, the crowds a mix of what looked like young professionals and older locals. Bond slowed down to find his way to the a parking spot near the cafe, grateful for the Audi’s small size as he slipped into a space between a Humvee and a beat-up Volvo covered with university stickers.
He turned off the engine and removed the Bluetooth earpiece he’d been wearing in case Danielle called back. He shoved it into his pocket, and then took out his mobile to set the ringer to vibrate. The last thing he needed was an ill-timed call that might spook Q.
There was a small crowd outside the front door, taking advantage of the nice evening to enjoy their food and drinks in the crisp but not unpleasant air. Most of the crowd, however, was inside — heads turned to watch the young blonde singer currently wooing the crowd with sultry vowels and magnificent hips. It was perhaps a testament to his focus on his search for one wild-haired patron that he didn’t give the singer a second glance.
He knew better than to stalk through the bar. Instead, he went to the bar, and immediately realised how perfect this place was for Q. It was a blend of upscale, elegant decor and skulls, and most of the drinks looked like they were built with coffee. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised, even though Q wasn’t a heavy drinker.
The bartender — shaved head, cheerful grin, black skull-head T-shirt — suggested a Black Russian, house-style. Bond agreed and asked, “You don’t happen to have wifi here, do you?”
“We do, yes,” he said loudly as he expertly pulled a shot of espresso. “Just search for open wireless networks. It’s unrestricted.”
“I’ll grab my laptop, thanks. Do you mind if I plug in? My battery’s probably run down. I’ve been driving all day.”
“Outlets in back.” He poured the espresso carefully over the layer of vodka, swirled kahlua on top, and slid the drink over. Bond paid, tipped very generously, and thanked him.
Then he headed to the back of the cafe.
Only one table was occupied by computers — three laptops, in fact, all crowded corner-to-corner in a triangle by three unspeaking people who never even looked at one another, much less at the rest of the bar. There were a couple of empty glasses between the laptops; their current drinks ended up held or balanced on their legs.
At first, Bond didn’t recognise Q, until he realised Q had dyed his hair and combed it back. He was clean-shaven and more suntanned than he’d ever been in London. His glasses were new as well, rimless rectangular frames that changed the shape of his face. Instead of a T-shirt, he wore a white button-down shirt with a dark blue tie loose at his throat.
Bond swallowed back the entirely inappropriate rush of want that suddenly thrummed through his veins, and then did the same with his immediate desire to run his hands through Q’s hair to ruffle it back up. Q didn’t notice him at all — even as Bond stood six metres away, staring, wrestling his possessive desire back into place. Q frowned at whatever he was doing that had him so engrossed.
Bond thought about what Danielle had said. Q was accessing Bond’s MI6 files — the files that Danielle had altered as bait. Fixing Bond’s gun. The thought propelled Bond forward.
Q didn’t seem to be interacting at all with his tablemates, which gave Bond some hope that they weren’t friends or even acquaintances who could complicate matters. Q moved only to type and occasionally lift the heavy ceramic mug of very dark coffee that was balanced on his left thigh so he could sip the contents. Bond didn’t want to estimate just how much sugar he’d probably put in it; with that much coffee, he’d be wired for hours.
On a whim, Bond turned to make his way quickly back to the front. Though the bar didn’t actually offer food in the strictest sense, there was a tiny pastry cabinet sitting at one end of the counter. He ordered the healthiest option — a slice of carrot cake frosted with cream cheese. The carrots, raisins, and walnuts wouldn’t slow the sugar rush, but perhaps they’d balance out the caffeine just a bit. He paid quickly and quietly, unwrapped the clingfilm, and then set a fork on the edge of the plate.
Q was just as engrossed in his project as before; if the foam in the coffee cup hadn’t lost its dragon design, Bond would have guessed he hadn’t moved at all. Bond nearly silently stepped next to him, and set the plate down at Q’s hand with a quiet clink.
“Spasibo,” Q murmured automatically, the Russian ‘thank you’ coming to him naturally. He moved his right hand off the touchpad to pick up the fork, then lifted his head abruptly in confusion. Still speaking Russian, he said, “Izvineetye,” — an apology — before he looked up and actually saw Bond.
His eyes went wide, and he shoved his chair abruptly back, toppling the coffee balanced on his lap. It splashed on himself and the young man sitting to his left, and he swore in Russian — proficiently, again.
Bond’s grin was irrepressible as he reached for the napkin dispenser on the table next to them, ripping out a handful to toss to Q’s neighbour. A second handful he held up like a peace offering, gesturing to Q’s wet trousers. “Such language,” he chastised humorously, matching Q’s Moscow accent.
Fumbling now, Q snatched at the napkins, darting somewhat wild-eyed looks around the cafe as if expecting Bond had brought a commando team with him. Instead of speaking directly to Bond, he nervously apologised to his neighbour. Then he yanked his laptop’s power cord out of the wall and slammed the lid.
“Can I get you something else?” Bond asked as gently as he could. He wanted to block the aisle to keep Q from fleeing, but knew that would be a terrible idea. Q on a normal day was skittish; Q caught unaware was beyond high-strung.
As Q fumbled the laptop and power cord into a backpack, he gave Bond a desperate, almost heartbroken look. He snatched up the bag without bothering to zipper it and circled around the table, avoiding tripping over his seatmates’ power cords at the last instant with some ungraceful hopping and a hand on the wall.
“It’s chilly outside — especially with your wet clothes. Do you have a jacket?” Bond walked parallel to Q, careful not give the impression of giving chase so much as keeping up. He kept his movements fluid and loose, avoiding any of the more controlled body language that signalled intent. He hoped Q got the message.
“You cannot have found me this quickly,” Q muttered in Russian as he pushed through the crowd and out the cafe door. He looked at Bond, but only for a moment. “Why? Couldn’t you have just stayed at home?”
“Something’s not quite right here,” Bond said equally quietly, jogging ahead a few steps, then turning to walk backward in front of Q for a few paces. He stopped, and raised a hand gently. “Can I just...?”
Q stared at him. The night turned his auburn-dyed hair to a much more familiar dark brown. “James...”
Bond took advantage of Q’s temporary stillness to slowly reach forward and not-so-gently ruffle Q’s hair so that it more closely resembled the wild tangle Bond was used to. Q tensed and stopped breathing, but he didn’t pull away. He just closed his eyes, and his two-handed grip on the strap of his backpack went white-knuckled.
Bond still didn’t like the effect of the glasses, but the return of his more familiar hairstyle was comforting, and Bond grinned. “Much better.”
Q started to step forward, just a little shift of his weight, before he hunched back and pulled away. “You’re supposed to be in Mexico,” he accused quietly, lapsing back into English.
“That is the sort of thing you make the databases say when you don’t want your favourite, if skittish, mad genius running in the opposite direction,” Bond replied, also in English. He let Q pull back, not even trying to catch just his wrist or fingertips.
“You shouldn’t be here, James. It’s not safe for either of us.” Q pulled on the backpack strap, fidgeting. Had he been MI6 trained, Bond would’ve thought of concealed weapons, explosives in the backpack, even just a hidden release-catch that he could use to swing the backpack at Bond as a weapon. With Q, though, he could read every nuance of his posture — wanting to turn and run, but wanting even more to stay.
It gave Bond hope.
“I think I’ve made some progress on that front,” Bond replied honestly. Logic. Rationality. Those would be much more welcome than emotional pleas, and much more easily explained, Bond thought. “Please give me the opportunity to explain what I’ve learned. And after that, if you still want to go, I won’t stop you.” The effort not to step forward was excruciating. “Please.”
Q stared at him, and finally he nodded. “Not here,” he said, looking away as if with effort. He started walking quickly in that sharp, sugar-fuelled way he got after too much time spent coding and neglecting himself.
“I have a car, a secure hotel room, and a room service menu. I skipped dinner this evening, and I have a feeling you did the same,” he said softly. “Danielle told me they serve fantastic pasta.”
With a sharp, almost pained laugh, Q said, “You want me to go back to your hotel room with you.” He shook his head in disbelief, hands twisting at the backpack strap. “Are you trying to kill me, James?”
“I’m trying to keep you from crashing after your sugar high, which would severely impede a civilized conversation,” Bond replied. “Though, of course, I’m open to suggestions for alternative locations for dinner.”
Q took a deep breath and kept walking. “I’ve thought it all through,” he said tightly. “Don’t you think that’s all I thought about for weeks? There’s no winner in this. If I go back to London with you, one of us ends up used to leash the other.”
Bond didn’t react to passing the Audi, not wanting to spook Q with anything resembling a plan. “You did the best with the data you had available to you at the time,” Bond said instead, watching Q’s expression out of the corner of his eye. “But you didn’t have all the information. You can’t solve an equation without all the factors, and I have new data for you.”
For a few more steps, Q walked in silence, scowling down at the sidewalk. Then he gave a tense, jerky nod and let go of the strap with one hand to push his hair back out of his eyes. “All right,” he said quietly.
“So, room service, or do you have an alternative?” Bond asked, not trying to hide his relief. He deliberately phrased it as an ‘either / or’ question in an attempt to keep Q from floundering in indecision, though that plan backfired.
Q just shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets, steps faltering when his coffee-soaked trouser leg hit his skin. He stared down at it as if wondering what had happened, and then he resumed walking. “Either. I need internet. I need to deal with the CCTV footage.”
“Definitely the hotel room, then,” Bond said. “Wouldn’t do to have you caught hacking government databases at some random street corner cafe.” He hid his grin. Danielle had secured the room’s connection, too, but there was need to tell Q that yet. “The car is back a ways, by the bar.”
Q stopped and turned, looking back in confusion. “You brought Alec’s car?” he asked, sounding baffled.
“I flew here and rented an Audi to get me around,” he said, noting the way Q visibly flinched at the mention of flying.
When Bond started back towards the car, Q followed. He didn’t move close to Bond or make any effort to touch him, but the fact that he wasn’t running away counted for something. Small steps, Bond reminded himself.
Q huddled into his seat, torn between the urge to climb over the centre console and into James’ arms and the desperate need to open the door at the next stoplight and run. He resisted the urge to take out his laptop only because he couldn’t risk his mobile connection — though obviously there was something wrong, something he’d missed. There was no way Bond could have found him. It wasn’t possible. And yet, here he was.
How? No, that wasn’t as important as why. Was this an operation? MI6 had to be in on it. According to their files, Bond was cooperating with the CIA on a joint mission to take down a cartel that sold drugs in Mexico to finance ties to Al Qaeda and a dozen other terror groups. Rumours of smuggling dirty bombs through drug tunnels. Felix Leiter was involved. Q had even checked the bloody CIA database and confirmed the operation.
Thankfully, James was quiet for the car ride, leaving Q to his thoughts as if knowing how badly his mind was racing. He was right, damn him, that Q couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten a meal that didn’t get most of its calories from sugar. God, how the hell could James make him feel like a damned child, unable to take care of himself? Worse, when Mycroft did it, Q wanted to hit him. Or ruin his credit rating. (Which he’d done twice.) When James did it, though, Q just wanted to curl up in his arms and let someone else take care of him for a change.
Not that James should even be here. There was no way he could have new data. James had no idea of the influence the Holmes family wielded. Allies and favours and enemies stretched back a half dozen generations or more.
Suddenly, Q found himself sympathising with Sherlock. Q had fled England out of fear not for himself but for James. Now, having him back, Q could only imagine this was what a cocaine relapse felt like, that sense of satisfaction — of need — that made him wonder if he’d survive running away again.
He barely noticed when the car stopped. He let the valet get his door, kept his backpack close, and walked with James into a grand hotel lobby that Q noticed only to glance around for security cameras that he’d have to wipe. He noted them (make and model as well as a count) and went with Bond to the lift. His heart felt like it was beating deafeningly loudly.
The lift was very, very confined. He stood close to the doors, wondering why the hell Bond didn’t just run him up against the wall and kiss him breathless, and praying that he wouldn’t.
Q wasn’t surprised that Bond had a suite — no normal hotel room for him, of course. As soon as Q spotted the desk by the window, he went to it, feeling a sense of relief that he could do something other than flail around in a helpless mental panic. He had the laptop out and was scanning for networks in under a minute, and he gave a little huff when he noticed the encryption — definitely not hotel-standard.
He cracked it as a matter of course, and was impressed that it took his tools several minutes. Absently, he heard James speaking, but it didn’t seem to be directly to him, so he let it pass. Once he was in, he started two parallel tasks: erasing all local CCTV footage of himself and James, and getting back into MI6 to find out —
“You bastard,” he said softly, looking around. He blinked in surprise that James had moved a chair beside him. “You wrecked my schematics intentionally.”
“Technically, it wasn’t me, though it was my idea. I needed to find you, Q. This equation needs to be solved before I’m willing to accept defeat.” James sat down and leaned on the corner of the desk. “I ordered cacciatore, with the chicken on the side.”
With a little huff, Q started pushing good copies of his design schematics over the old files. The MI6 servers immediately protested the unsecure file upload, so he switched his attention to convincing the security system that he was physically at the MI6 building. That would bypass most of their tedious checks.
“Your being here doesn’t change the fact that each of us is a liability to the other,” Q said, rather proud that his voice was steady. Concentrating on MI6 security helped. They’d done some upgrades — pathetic, predictable upgrades, but at least someone was paying attention.
“That depends on your definition of liability,” Bond said, watching Q’s fingers flying over the keyboard. “But that’s irrelevant to this particular conversation, I suppose. I think I have a solution. Or, at least, a trial run for a possible solution. If you’re interested.”
A trial run? Q couldn’t help but glance over at Bond, wondering if he’d misheard. “Are you —” He faltered and looked back at his laptop, finding it difficult to meet those sharp blue eyes for too long. “It’s a bit of a teenaged concept, James, but if you’re asking me to ‘date’ you, I can’t see how that would be any more safe for either of us.”
Bond stared at him for a long moment before he burst into a small fit of laughter. “I thought we were a little past that point, Q.” He moved his chair closer and looked at the laptop screen. “Why don’t you finish that, and we can talk after dinner?”
Relieved, Q nodded, feeling as if he’d been granted a reprieve. It was cowardly, but he never pretended to courage. “Thank you. I’ll feel better, once this is finished,” he said gratefully, and went about the process of rendering himself and Bond invisible, at least for the night.
Q said nothing else, but Bond was coming to expect that sort of thing from him. His primary concern, unnecessary as it was, naturally was to look into their immediate security.
Difficult as it was, Bond let him work. When room service came, Bond checked the waiter’s credentials, allowed him to enter, and kept a close eye on him as he set the table. As soon as he was gone, Bond took apart the careful arrangements of plates, silverware, napkins, and stemware so he could bring their food to the desk. As he’d expected, Q nodded absently and thanked him — in Russian, to Bond’s amusement — and then ate while he continued to work.
Bond didn’t want to just sit there, waiting and watching. It was in his nature to fight — both against the unfair and for what he wanted. But giving Q the time to relax, to make sure they were both safe, was important, so he tried to be patient. Q wasn’t running away, which was a significant improvement.
Bond recognised the MI6 system in the right-hand window of Q’s laptop only because he knew the file naming structure. Q dealt with that one quickly, copying files over, presumably fixing the schematics for his biometric upgrade. He left the CCTV search running on the left side and finally turned to face Bond, arching his back with a crack of vertebrae.
“All right. I’ve fixed my design schematics,” Q said in a warning tone, “and the rest of the process is automated. We’re as safe tonight as we can be, but really, these are excessive precautions I’ve had to take. Even I wouldn’t be able to do this every day.”
Bond nodded, telling himself not to be nervous. He’d given this far too much thought, even memorising what he could say. He wanted to make his case emotionally — he knew Q had feelings for him, whether Q would admit it openly or not — but nothing less than perfect logic would sway Q.
“MI6 has procedures in place for threats against an employee’s family,” Bond said, not mentioning that those threats were one of the many reasons most of the agents were orphans or estranged from their families. “No one can use you to influence me.”
“Please, let me finish,” Bond interrupted gently. When Q nodded, Bond continued, “Most Double O programme agents chose not to get involved in long-term relationships. We spend most of the year in the field. We have to be ready to go on a moment’s notice.”
“I know that,” Q said. “It’s —”
“And I don’t think that’s a concern that will affect us,” Bond pressed on. “When I’m in the field, you’d have as much security as was deemed necessary, including bodyguards and safehouses if there’s an active threat. And you’d have me doing everything possible to eliminate that threat.”
Q’s eyes narrowed, and Bond hid his surprise. This was meant to be reassuring, after all. “Go on,” Q said tightly.
Uncertain now, Bond said, “MI6 also has a policy that no threat will coerce any employee into taking any unapproved action. We don’t negotiate like that. That’s why we keep our civilians safe — so it doesn’t come to that.” Evasive wording, all of it, but for some reason, Q relaxed a bit.
“Nothing I haven’t heard before. Remember how I grew up,” Q said, even though he hadn’t given Bond much in the way of detail about his family. “There’s the greater liability, though —”
“The threat to my employment,” Bond said guiltily. Did Q think so much of Bond to put his job at MI6 before even his own safety?
“If forced to choose between you losing your place at MI6 and me taking a job I didn’t want, we’d both be miserable, James, no matter what decision I made.”
“Misery is a state of deep unhappiness,” he said, meeting Q’s questioning gaze with no hesitation. “In my experience, relationships with people you care about, not employment, cause happiness.”
Q sat back, pulling away from Bond, his body language turning closed — almost hostile. “Who sent you after me? Mycroft?”
“Is it really so hard to think I care more about you than my job?” Bond asked gently. Thank god he hadn’t used the word love. If the mere mention of affection could cause this reaction...
Q’s shuttered expression slowly gave way to bewilderment. “You’re not —” He looked away, eyes distant, and finally turned to glance at his laptop, studying the screen in an absent sort of way, frowning deeply. Then, uncertainly, he asked, “This isn’t...” He faltered again and took a deep, frustrated breath. “This isn’t a job offer?”
“There’s no job at all, Q. The only thing I have to offer you is me.” Inwardly, Bond cringed at the ridiculous phrasing. But it had the advantage of being absolutely straightforward, and true.
Q stared at him for long, silent seconds as though processing Bond’s words. “But... this is what you do, James. It’s what you are. If Mycroft decided to threaten you...”
“He won’t,” Bond interrupted, feeling as though he were on stronger footing now. “He offered me a way out, Q, and I refused. I’m here, and I’m not giving up on” — it was his turn to falter, as memories of the risk he’d taken with Vesper surfaced — “on us.”
“But that doesn’t —”
“What did you tell me about Mycroft and Watson?”
Q frowned. “They get along now, but not at first. Mycroft wanted him to spy on Sherlock.”
“And he refused. He put Sherlock ahead of money, even though he needed it,” Bond said slowly, hoping Q would follow the logic to the next step.
“You think... by coming here...”
“I know it. He offered to help me find you, and then told me it wasn’t my job. A rather clear statement of how he feels, wouldn’t you say?”
“Why, though?” Q protested, though he still seemed more confused than upset by the revelation of Mycroft’s involvement. “He gets nothing out of this.”
“You’re his family. He’d know you weren’t alone.”
Q huffed and shook his head. “That’s sentiment. Mycroft doesn't believe in sentiment — only logic and power.”
“Then why are Sherlock and John working as detectives together, without Mycroft’s interference?”
Q fell silent, turning to look at the laptop again, though Bond could see he wasn’t focusing on it. His fingers idly traced the front edge with a soft, quiet sound. “I don’t want you to give up MI6 for me,” he finally said, darting a glance Bond’s way.
“I won’t,” Bond said without hesitation. He inched closer and put a hand on the back of Q’s chair, barely resisting the urge to touch his shoulder instead. “I wouldn’t ask you to give up computers. We can find a way to do this, Q.”
“James...” Q met his gaze and reached out to touch his cheek. “It’s too much of a risk — and for what? You barely even know me.”
Bond felt relief wash over him at the touch, and he smiled, pressing his own hand on top of Q’s. “It’s a calculated risk. We may not know everything about each other yet, but I know enough — understand enough — to know that it’s worth the risk to figure out the rest.” He understood Q both in the broad strokes and in the little details; the rest, he would learn in time.
“And how do you suggest we stop my brother? He can’t afford to let this slip by without taking advantage. He’d say it was for England’s sake, and how could you refuse?”
“There’s one thing he puts before England, though,” Bond said, wondering if all three brothers were blind to certain truths about one another. “John Watson was in the army. Why hasn’t Mycroft used his loyalty to England to force Sherlock into government service?”
“But —” Q began, before his eyes went distant. Bond watched him consider, searching his memory and what he knew of John and Sherlock. Slowly, Q frowned, glancing away. “Why?” he asked, looking back at Bond.
“I don’t have siblings, but I think it’s a significant factor.” Bond avoided phrasing that dryly, though he was tempted. “In Mycroft’s analytical mind, where his love for his brothers is a factor, the risk of completely shattering his relationship with Sherlock isn’t worth the benefit of whatever he could get out of John Watson. He loves Sherlock, and you — enough to stand back and let you be happy, even if it means he lets the opportunity of easy manipulation pass him by.”
Q reached out and took Bond’s hands, watching as he carefully laced their fingers together. “Are you really willing to risk everything on my brother’s sentimentality?” he asked softly. “He took after our father. He always said sentiment was a weakness to be avoided at all costs.”
“Where you and Sherlock are concerned, I think there is evidence that he indulges in it. Perhaps he learned from your father’s mistakes.” Bond squeezed Q’s hands gently and held his gaze, letting his quiet confidence assure him. “And yes, I am.”
Q sighed and leaned close, resting his forehead against Bond’s. “I’ve read your file, James. I know for a fact that you’re insane. This just proves it,” he said with a smile.
“Pot, kettle,” Bond said, grinning, before leaning in to give Q his first proper kiss in what felt like an eternity.
All his life, Q had been very good at making decisions. Others thought him hesitant or weak-willed because sometimes he waited too long and sometimes he chose to do nothing at all. In truth, he preferred to have all of the facts at hand if possible; often, a seemingly unrelated element weighed heavily on his decision in ways that only came clear in the end.
This time — this one time — he admitted that he might have acted too quickly. He balanced on the edge of his seat, needing to be closer to Bond, and thought of all the time he’d wasted running from England. Telling himself that he’d done the best he could with the facts he’d known too long ago was little comfort now.
He finally stood and shoved the desk chair away, freeing his hands so he could take hold of Bond’s face. The kiss was a lifeline that he didn’t dare break; it was the only thing silencing the whispering, doubting voice that wondered what would happen to them both if Bond was wrong about Mycroft.
He broke long enough to say, “Bed,” and shifted back a half-step, trying to pull Bond up with him. To hell with waiting and taking things slow, he thought, until he remembered that it was deep into Saturday night — or, more properly, Sunday morning. “Are you tired?” he asked, before he clarified, “Too tired?”
Bond actually laughed, standing from his chair. He tugged gently on Q’s hand for him to follow. “I’d carry you to the damn bed if I thought you wouldn’t object,” he said in a pleased, low growl. He didn’t try to undress on the way, too intent on his goal, but he did toe off his shoes before letting go of Q’s hand long enough to open the door to the suite’s bedroom. He turned before Q could follow, catching him in a kiss that was much less gentle affirmation and more hotly suggestive. His hands wrapped around Q’s waist to rest on his lower back, tugging him close.
With decisions came impatience, at least for Q. He backed away enough to get his hands on Bond’s clothes and started pushing at his jacket. “You’re never to carry me anywhere,” he complained, wondering what on earth possessed the man to wear this many layers. A tie for going to a coffee bar on a Saturday night? Really? Bond was interfering with removing the jacket, but the tie, Q could handle. He undid the knot and tossed the tie away so he could get at his shirt buttons.
“And what about throwing you bodily onto the bed?” Bond growled into his ear, his sudden proximity nearly crushing. He kissed Q again, moving from his mouth to his jaw and neck, fingernails digging into the skin of his sides. Frustratingly, Bond’s hands still stayed above the waistline even as he walked them backwards towards the unmade bed.
“I knew I should’ve taken more self-defence classes,” Q muttered, giving up on stripping Bond’s clothes and going instead for his own. He was hardly dressed any more conveniently — damned disguise — and pulled at his shirt’s buttons without concern for tearing the fabric. When Bond got in the way again, he insisted, “Will you take off your bloody clothes already, James? Or at least help me with mine?”
Bond stopped Q’s hands for a moment, holding them still as he pulled back, watching. He didn’t say anything, though, until they were right next to the bed. “We don’t have to rush anything,” he said, sitting on the edge and pulling Q down beside him. “I know you’re...” Bond trailed off, dragging his hand down the side of Q’s face to rest over his collar bone.
Baffled, Q stared at him, trying to slot words onto the end of his sentence and failing. “I’m what?” he asked, wondering if there was any possibility that he’d misread all of this, from the interest in Bond’s eyes that very first day, when he’d taken his time looking Q over in the hallway.
“Hesitant,” Bond finished. He pushed Q backwards onto the bed to lie next to him, their legs still dangling off the edge. He tangled one hand in Q’s hair as he leaned forward for another kiss.
Even then, it took a moment for Q to put everything together. With a frustrated huff, he pushed Bond over onto his back so he could climb on top, straddling him. The feel of Bond’s solid, strong body was almost enough to distract him from his irritation. “I told you, I’m not one of your one-night stands. I meant to make you earn this. I just never thought it would take leaving the country for it,” he finished more gently. “I’m sorry.”
Bond stared up at him for a long moment, searching Q’s expression for some hint of... what, Q didn’t know. But whatever he found obviously satisfied him, and he pulled himself into a sitting position, wrapping Q’s legs around his waist. “Anything I should know?” he asked even as his hands started working on Q’s shirt buttons.
Feeling like he’d just skirted some dark, disastrous pit, Q let out a relieved sigh and undid his cuffs. “I’m sick to death of being patient,” he answered, failing to entirely hide the petulant tone from his voice. “And you know just how bloody attractive you are, you bastard. You show off simply by breathing. Don’t even get me started on your damned clothing.”
Bond didn’t respond, watching Q’s face as he finished the buttons and started to pull the shirt off. Instead of tugging Q’s arms free, he kept the shirt twisted around Q’s wrists, holding them immobile at the small of Q’s back. Q shuddered under the possessive touch, petulance disappearing under a rush of need.
With a quiet laugh, Bond leaned up to bite Q’s neck before whispering in his ear. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. You’re going to answer me before we go any further.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, saying, “No.” He took a breath and said, “I’ve been careful. Healthy, I mean.” He managed another breath, wishing he’d got rid of his glasses before, at the desk. “Whatever you’d like — if I haven’t, I’ll try it. Most likely, that is. Your file wasn’t specific in most cases.”
Bond, with that same damn watchful look, only held him for a few moments longer before releasing his arms to let the shirt drop onto the floor. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” he asked in a more teasing voice before finally allowing his fingertips to dip beneath Q’s belt to flick his thumbs over the sharp hip bones underneath.
Q reached for Bond. He remembered his glasses, pulled them off, and gave them a gentle toss in the direction of the bedside table, missing horribly. “Don’t step on those,” he said, wondering how the hell to get Bond out of his clothes. Bond seemed determined not to cooperate. Instead of doing something about his layers, he leaned up to suck a mark onto Q’s collarbone as he let his fingernails dig into Q’s skin.
This, Q reflected, was why people carried knives. A couple of torn seams would teach James to stop playing games when they had more important things to do, and a decent tailor could repair the damage later. After.
He settled for kneeling up over Bond’s lap to hint that at least taking off his own trousers would be a good next step, only to have Bond shove him back down again, hands locked to his hips. Q bit back his frustrated growl only because he knew it would come out as a whine. He settled for tugging at Bond’s too-short hair and saying, “James.”
Bond hummed but his hands continued their slow path deeper into Q’s trousers, fingertips pressing at the soft skin at the top of Q’s thighs. He moved his mouth from Q’s collarbone to the base of his neck. “All this time, and now you’re in a rush,” he said with a dark chuckle before biting, hard, while he simultaneously gripped Q’s hips hard to hold him in place as he thrust up.
This time, the sound that slipped out was definitely close to a whine. Q’s fingers twisted and lost hold of Bond’s hair, leaving him clutching at the back of Bond’s neck instead as the bite drove away rational thought. It was almost too much, but he wanted it — he needed more — and he made no effort to fight free.
Bond’s responding growl was deeply self-satisfied, and he repeated the action, this time biting at the tendons where Q’s neck and shoulder met. He held on tightly with his teeth as he rolled his hips up and down into Q’s, the hardness of his cock pressing against Q’s with every movement. By the time he stopped, Q was squirming, trying to fight free of Bond’s grip.
Then Bond moved his hands, though he kept his teeth locked against Q’s flesh, holding him trapped. Bond’s hands slid in along Q’s waistband to rest on the catch as he released the bite, moving his mouth up to trace the shell of Q’s ear with his tongue.
More than a little desperately, Q breathlessly threatened, “If you don’t — I’ll delete you. From MI6. Not even a bloody visitor’s pass, James.”
Bond didn’t respond, except to slip his hands out of Q’s trousers so he could splay his palms over Q’s back instead. Q opened his mouth to object, but Bond didn’t give him the chance.
Abruptly Bond moved, spreading his legs just enough that Q knelt up over Bond’s lap to keep from falling. As soon as Q was off-balance on the soft mattress, Bond leaned forward to push Q backwards, and only the strong hands on Q’s back kept him from an ungraceful fall. Startled, Q clawed at Bond, grabbing hold of the jacket he was still wearing.
“James!” Q snapped tightly as he grabbed at Bond’s upper arms, before realising he wasn’t going to fall. He caught his breath and glared.
Bond’s answering smile was positively villainous. He raised his eyebrow as if waiting for an objection.
Q still had his knees bent, and the muscles in his thighs strained. He considered demanding that Bond put him down, but he reconsidered. Obviously Bond was strong enough to support him safely. More important, though, was that Bond was no longer treating him as if he were a fragile, reluctant lover.
Instead, Q challenged, “If this is your way of asking if you can fuck me, the answer is not if you take all bloody night about it.”
With a startled, approving laugh, Bond leaned forward to lick at Q’s lips. His body pressed down onto Q’s cock at precisely the wrong angle to give him any sort of satisfaction. Bond silenced Q’s protesting moan with a swipe of his tongue, teasing into Q’s mouth.
Q twisted, squirming to straighten out his bent knees. Bond was no help, taking advantage of Q’s distraction to duck and kiss his chest before licking over one collarbone. Q got one leg around Bond’s waist and flexed to pull their bodies closer together. Pleasure spiked through him at the friction and the feel of Bond’s cock, even with all the damned clothing in the way, and Q scrambled to get his other leg around Bond, locking them together.
Bond hissed and nipped at Q’s skin in warning. “I know you have patience, Q. You’ve tested mine often enough,” he said, and slowly, deliberately licked a line down to Q’s nipple.
The sharp, hot rush of pleasure drove away Q’s words. Dazed, Q realised Bond was serious. He was actually serious about teasing, when they could simply both have exactly what they wanted.
“James,” he said. No, not said. That was definitely a whine.
Bond chuckled again, but didn’t go any faster. His mouth and body moved on a slow but steady path across Q’s chest. “I’m not hurting you, am I?” Bond asked just before he bit at Q’s other nipple, cutting off Q’s response — Q’s sharp, snarky response to a ridiculous question, because yes, he was, and if he stopped, Q might just have to kill him.
Q settled for clutching at the back of Bond’s neck, holding him in place. He reminded himself to breathe only because if he quit long enough, he’d pass out, and then Bond would definitely stop. Bond backed off the bite just enough to lick at the sensitive skin, and then blew over the damp trail, causing Q to shiver.
“James! Fucking hell,” he panted, trying again to sit up. “I swear — I’ll ruin your credit. Empty your bank accounts. God, James, please. You won’t be able to buy a bloody Ford Fiesta when I’m through with you.”
“Hmm, we’re going to have to do something about this, I think,” Bond said calmly. He threaded one hand through Q’s hair again, tugging to pull his head back enough to completely expose his neck. Q threw his arms around Bond’s shoulders, hanging on, trying — and failing — to think of any way to turn the tables on Bond.
Mercilessly, Bond licked a stripe up the side of Q’s throat before saying, in a low growl, “Perhaps some incentive to keep quiet and still, just for a moment?” Without releasing Q’s hair, Bond shifted to support his weight with one arm. His free hand slid between their bodies to toy with the clasp on Q’s waistband. Rough, callused fingertips brushed over Q’s sensitive abdomen just hard enough to keep from tickling.
He didn’t attempt to actually undo the clasp. Bastard.
“James.” Realising that he was going to have to be the one to move things along, Q let go of Bond’s shoulders and reached down to start getting rid of his trousers.
Impossibly fast, Bond let go of the clasp to snatch at Q’s hands, and though Q was generally dextrous and had two hands free to Bond’s one, he still ended up with his fingers trapped in Bond’s strong grip. “Something wrong?” Bond asked smugly.
“James, damn you —”
Bond cut off whatever he was going to say next with another hard bite to the throat. While Q was still gasping, Bond eased his grip on Q’s fingers and said, “Hands out of the way, or I stop.”
Q didn’t even realise he’d complied until his fingers curled over Bond’s shoulders. He thought about demanding that Bond let him go so they could get properly on the bed, but then Bond undid the waistband and went a step further, unzipping Q’s flies, and even that light touch made Q shudder. He’d wanted Bond for what felt like forever.
“Better,” Bond said approvingly before he licked at the hollow of Q’s throat. His hand pushed aside Q’s trousers just enough to let him curl his fingers over Q’s cock. Q’s hands slid up to Bond’s hair and he bucked his hips up, needing more, even if his damned pants were still in the way, but Bond just held his hand perfectly still.
“Fucking bastard,” Q said tightly, fingers twisting in Bond’s short hair. “James —”
“Do I need to remind you that you did, in fact, say I could have whatever I want?” Bond said, teeth scraping Q’s neck. Bond’s hand, still pressed flat, pushed up along Q’s erection with delicious friction — only to continue up and over the head, to rest flatly, unsatisfyingly, on Q’s abdomen. “Too late to take it back now.”
Q groaned, giving serious thought to actually begging, but Bond saved him from the indignity. His hand dipped back down, thumb lifting the waistband of Q’s pants out of the way. He lowered his head to watch, not even noticing the pull of Q’s fingers in his hair, as he slipped his hand into Q’s pants to grasp Q’s cock.
Pleasure sparked white hot through Q’s body, and he forgot about everything but Bond’s hand, callused and strong. “Fuck, James. Right. Yes,” he said, shifting as best he could to encourage that hand to move. “James. Don’t fucking not move.”
Bond’s thumb brushed across the tip again, teasingly. “I love you like this. I could keep you here for hours, wanton and begging.” He moved his hand down and up while the other gripped Q’s hair tighter. But the effect of his words was somewhat lessened by his own thrust up into Q’s arse, followed by a groan — the first sign that he was just as deeply affected by this as Q was.
Q could work with this.
He scrambled to recover enough of his wits to say, “Wouldn’t you rather fuck me, James?” He tried to move, but all he ended up doing was squirming — good enough, even though Bond’s hand went still again. “You’ve waited. Thought about it. Haven’t you? Imagined how it would feel?”
Bond’s entire body stilled for four or five long seconds before he twisted to throw Q on the bed, only passingly careful to keep him from falling. As Q bounced on the mattress, Bond stood and, instead of following him down, went to the wardrobe.
Freed, Q tore at his clothing, toeing at his shoes as he shoved his trousers and pants down over his hips. He bent to kick the fabric off and strip his socks away just as Bond turned back, took one step towards the bed, and stopped. The look in his beautiful blue eyes, usually so hard and cold, blazed through Q like fire.
Trying not to smirk, Q pushed himself farther back onto the bed. With one hand, he reached up to touch the bruises and bitemarks Bond had left on his neck and chest.
“A bit late for second thoughts, isn’t it?” he challenged, reaching down with the other hand. He brushed his fingertips lightly over his cock, and even that soft touch made his breath hitch. It took effort for him to ask, carelessly, “Or would you rather just stand there and watch?”
When confronted with a situation that immediately sparked an overwhelming reaction, Bond’s first act was always to stop whatever he was doing and wait. He hadn’t lived as long as he had, survived what he’d managed to survive, by allowing his emotions to get the better of him — ever. He had a core of fire running through him, but it was wrapped in so many layers of self-control that he very rarely let the fire consume him or push him to irrational conduct.
But now, standing over Q, watching him explore the marks Bond had left on him, open and wanting, Bond felt desire, need, and possessiveness all crash through his barriers. He’d earned this — fought for Q, chased him, and finally won him. Now he wanted to take his prize, growling his victory and pleasure into Q’s ears as he fucked him hard and fast.
But even as he was the lion and Q was the deer in this hunt, he marvelled at how Q watched him, waiting, not even the slightest hint of fear in his body language or eyes. Bond was used to an edge of fear from his conquests, and rightfully so. But with Q, there was trust, and it was... intoxicating.
Bond crawled gently back over Q, letting the snarky, impatient words roll off him. Q wanted him, and the teasing words were a poor attempt to hide his desperation and naked lust. He set the bottle of lube that he’d retrieved from the wardrobe on the bed and took Q’s hands in his own, threading their fingers together. Q whined in protest but didn’t try to pull away, just staring up at Bond, eyes full of need. Carefully, Bond pushed Q’s hands back to the mattress and pressed their bodies together from hips to chests.
It was almost frightening how much he wanted this man — his sharp mouth and quick fingers and sugar addiction. For weeks now, he felt like he’d been sitting still, waiting as Q circled closer and closer, and now he could finally have him. And he wouldn’t break that trust by hurting him.
It didn’t mean he had to be gentle, exactly. He just had to be careful not to overwhelm him with his strength. He leaned down to kiss Q, bracing himself so as not to crush him, and thrust hard.
“James!” Q gasped, the name breaking softly at the end. He writhed under Bond, sharp hips digging into Bond’s abdomen, and got his legs spread enough for Bond to settle between them. “Fuck, why are you wearing clothes?” Q demanded, fingers clenching hard around Bond’s as he thrust back up, eyes closing.
“Busy,” he muttered, biting Q’s ear before releasing Q’s hands long enough to push back up onto his knees. He nearly ripped off the top three buttons of his shirt in an attempt to unbutton them quickly. Cuffs were next. From the first button to throwing the shirt off took less than ten seconds, but it was still too long. Ten seconds was long enough for his body to go cold from the absence of Q’s heat. Long enough for Q to regain his composure and tear at Bond’s belt and flies.
Bond turned his head to hide a smirk at Q’s sudden and amusing loss of grace — his usually talented fingers were scrabbling now, though Bond didn’t mind. He held still, letting Q push the fabric down. Q struggled up onto one elbow and worked his hand down into Bond’s pants, and for the first time since that night at Q’s flat, before Bond had left the country and Q had just left, he felt Q’s fingers skim over his cock, light and cool.
“I can’t decide what I want more,” Q said, pushing himself ungracefully back up the bed as his hand forced the waistband away from Bond’s body. Q ducked his head, but Bond couldn’t let that happen. Not only would it shift the focus away from where he wanted it to be; it would probably bring this to an end far, far too quickly.
Reminding himself he didn’t need to be gentle, he grabbed Q by the hair and tugged so Q was forced to look up at him. “I have better plans for you.”
Q caught at his hips and looked up to meet his eyes for a moment. Then he leaned forward, tugging at Bond’s grip on his hair, and licked at Bond’s stomach. “Now would be good,” he said somewhat haltingly as words failed him again.
Bond closed his eyes to suppress a shudder. He let go of Q’s hair to rest his hands on his shoulders, giving him a light shove backwards. He finished shoving his trousers and pants down, leaning up one knee at a time to kick them off. He leaned back down over Q, capturing his hands again, delighted to feel Q’s heart thudding beneath him. “Better?”
Q stared at him as he arched his back, wrapping his legs around Bond’s body to better thrust up against him. “Inside. Now, James,” he said, punctuating his words with another thrust. “Please.”
Bond reached over to retrieve the bottle, uncapping it with a quick flick of his thumb. He sat back, letting Q’s legs fall back to the side, taking in the sight before him with a predatory grin. Finally.
Impatiently, Q shifted back on the bed and bent his legs, feet flat on the mattress. He folded one hand back behind his head so he could better watch Bond, meeting his eyes. Again, the other hand slid down his body, reaching for his cock.
“If you’re in that much of a rush,” Bond started, sliding a finger over Q’s entrance before he leaned down, shoved Q’s hand aside, and pressed his tongue to Q’s cock. There was no rule saying he couldn’t tease and prepare at the same time, he thought smugly, finger working in a slow rhythm as he teasingly licked.
“Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck, James,” Q whispered, nails scratching at Bond’s scalp. He moved, trying to push up into Bond’s mouth and down against his finger all at once. “God, please, James. Fucking hell, please.”
Bond wasn’t going to take the time to bother with a response — feeling Q fall apart underneath him was far too satisfying. He wondered briefly if he would ever be able to rob Q of his words entirely, and filed it away for later consideration. As it was, just hearing Q’s filthy swearing was satisfaction enough — something he’d never expected from his innocent-seeming technophile. Tonight, his efforts weren’t to see how far he could push Q; he was simply distracting him while he worked on the slow but necessary process of opening him up.
When he pushed a second finger in, Q didn’t stop moving — never showed a hint of discomfort or pain. The only change was the way his words lost their demanding edge, until he was pleading, “James, please. You — now, please. Inside me, now, James.”
Bond knew that if there was anything he wanted from Q, anything he wanted to ask for, now would be the moment. He could have bargained for a promise for Q to stay with him, to never leave again — and oh, how the possessive creature inside of him wanted to do it. But, with effort, he didn’t demand anything. He simply withdrew his fingers and pulled his mouth off Q, only to have Q whine in protest and scratch at his shoulders.
“James,” he gasped out, nails digging into Bond’s arms and back as Bond crawled up his body. Bond gently pulled Q’s hands away from his shoulders, not wincing even as Q’s nails scored his skin. He resumed his earlier positioning, holding Q’s hands on the mattress above his head as he settled his hips in between Q’s legs.
Watching Q’s eyes go wide as he pushed in was incredible. Q stopped breathing; he tensed, wrists twisting in Bond’s grasp, before he let out a shaky exhale and pulled his legs back further, opening up to Bond’s slow, steady thrusts.
There it was — what Bond had been waiting for all evening. Surrender — not to Bond, but to his own pleasure. Bond watched Q, his breathing, his widened eyes, his trembling frame. He had to remind himself that this wasn’t it for them, that there would be more, that Q was coming back with him to England. He didn’t have to drag this out — there would be more.
As he started thrusting more quickly, more intently, Bond realized he wouldn’t last much longer anyway. Q never looked away as a flush spread across his face and chest and his breath came in shorter, panting gasps. He watched with such intensity that his eyes, as much as his body, pushed Bond closer to the edge.
Then, in a soft whisper, Q said, “Harder, James. Please.”
At that, Bond’s self-control started cracking around the edges. Harder, faster... He complied, closing his eyes at the feeling, nerve endings sparking. With his eyes shut, he could feel every subtle shift of Q’s body underneath him, the sharp bones pressing hard into Bond’s skin.
Abruptly, Q pulled one hand free and closed his fingers around Bond’s forearm, clutching tightly as his body tensed. Much to Bond’s surprise, Q was all but silent, barely whispering his name — which was incredibly erotic. Q was shuddering and trembling beneath him, muscles pulling tight around Bond’s own cock, and it was almost overwhelming. His entire world narrowed to Q, who was pulling Bond with him over the edge.
Bond wasn’t as quiet when the fire took him, shouting into Q’s skin. He wanted to live in the moment of perfect euphoria forever, where nothing existed but Q’s body and his, but all too soon it was over. Bond collapsed over Q, breathing hard and listening to Q’s own racing heart for several long moments.
“That was...” Bond trailed off; there were no words for how he felt.
Q wrapped his free arm around Bond’s shoulders and made a low sound of assent. His fingers traced idle patterns over Bond’s back. “I knew it would be,” he said, the words slurred together, lazy and ineloquent and very, very smug. “You wanted to wait.”
Bond chuckled, knowing he should get up and find something to clean them up with. But Q’s arm was tight around him and his other hand was trapped in Bond’s grasp, and Bond couldn’t summon the energy to move just yet. “Is there anything you need to do here before we go back to England?” he asked instead.
“Shower,” Q answered. “Default on my lease, I suppose. I have some clothes at my hotel —” Suddenly he went quiet and tense, and gave Bond a look that wasn’t quite suspicious, though it was close.
“What is it?” he asked, unable to keep a hint of alarm out of his voice.
“I don’t fly.”
Bond almost laughed in relief. “I’m not averse to trains if you’re not,” he responded, squeezing Q’s hand. It would certainly take longer to get back, nearly ten hours, but it was acceptable. He had never had much luck with sleeper cars, but Q was small and flexible.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Too many people,” Q said with a faint shudder. “We’ll rent a car. You need to buy one, don’t you? We can get a Porsche or Audi.”
“I’ve enjoyed my time with Audi, but I’m afraid my heart lies with Aston Martin,” he responded with a grin pressed into Q’s shoulder. “We could rent a Porsche, though.” He had a vision of a convertible, driven with the top down, Q’s hair being all but destroyed by the wind. “We can buy me a new car when we get back. Does Red Queen do cars?”
Q pulled away from Bond with a faint, sated sound. He twisted around, grinning fiercely. “And motorcycles, which I want. I don’t need a car in London, though I don’t trust you with a motorcycle — not after three incidents with driving on rooftops. Really, James.”
“None of those ‘incidents’ were for fun or showing off, may I remind you,” Bond said with a nip at Q’s skin. “They all served an essential function. I doubt such stunts need be repeated in London.”
“Yes, unless you’re tempted, or bored, or think someone’s chasing you.” Q turned and nipped back, still grinning even when his teeth closed on Bond’s shoulder. “If you’re very nice to me, I’ll weaponise Red Queen —” He stopped, his grin fading as his eyes went distant. “13-A is Mycroft’s flat.”
“Alec has already made him an offer. Do you think he’ll take it?” Bond had been surprised when Alec mentioned it, though pleased at his friend’s subtle way of telling him he had confidence in Bond’s ability to bring Q back. And, of course, he was delighted at the idea that Alec would occasionally be around, nearby, should either of them need him.
“I don’t know.” Q frowned and sat up, looking around as though searching for a distraction. When he turned towards the bathroom, he got up off the bed and headed that way.
Bond sat up, stretching before he followed. “When you move your things into 13-B, we will have to find more creative ways to deal with cables, however. I’ve already asked Danielle for some hints. She said something about strategically placed rugs and duct tape?”
Q shot Bond a startled look. He failed to hide it when he turned back to start the water. “I’ve never had trouble finding a flat. The only reason I took Mycroft’s was because it was convenient. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have dramatically different lifestyles, James.”
“True. And we didn’t seem to have any trouble merging them before.” Bond watched Q, the way his shoulder flexed as he leaned forward to test the water. “You don’t have to stay with me, of course. But I would very much like you to.”
“The last person I lived with for any length of time was Sherlock.” He glanced back over his shoulder. “You can imagine how well that worked out. I have a list of” — he hesitated momentarily — “bad habits. I wouldn’t expect anyone to put up with me. Especially not someone important.” He stepped into the shower, holding the curtain open to look out expectantly at Bond.
Bond stood in the doorway, watching the silhouette of Q’s body under the spray for a moment. He sighed and crossed the tiny bathroom to climb in behind Q, telling himself that this is what he should have expected. He was quickly learning that Q’s default was to fight him, tooth and nail, until he finally gave in to tell Bond what he really wanted.
He grabbed the tiny bottle of hotel soap, rubbing it between his hands before spreading it over the skin of Q’s back. “I want all of you, Q, including your ridiculous obsession with energy drinks, your appalling sleep habits, your utter dependence on takeaway, and that wonderful grill of yours.”
Q huffed, though the irritation was softened by how he arched, catlike, under Bond’s touch. He leaned forward, hands braced on the wall under the shower head, and Bond’s thoughts immediately went to surveying all that pale, wet skin and the shadow of Q’s bones.
“I’m up for days at a time,” Q said. “I rarely leave the flat. I’m absolutely worthless for an hour or more after waking up. I don’t cook. I don’t clean unless I can automate the process. Things occasionally catch fire. Intentionally, sometimes. And I hate your bed.”
“I’m gone for weeks at a time for missions,” Bond said quietly. He would rather have had this conversation back in London when there was less of chance Q would bolt, but it had to be done. “I have nightmares that sometimes turn physical. I hire people to do whatever I can get away with — cooking, cleaning, laundry. I smoke. And sometimes, when I get back from a mission that didn’t go well, I won’t talk for a while.”
Q tossed his head, splashing water over Bond before he turned. He pushed his hair back out of his eyes and slipped past Bond to trade places, pushing him into the warm water. “That will happen less, I assure you,” he said fiercely. “It’s a wonder England isn’t part of the Soviet Union, given the so-called intelligence you’re forced to work from. Was my data helpful in Tunisia?”
Bond felt an overwhelming tug of affection for the earnest promise in Q’s voice. He turned and wrapped Q in a hug. Yes, the data itself was flawless, but the knowledge of who sent it warmed him in ways he wasn’t used to. It wasn’t just data — it was an expression of concern. “Yes,” he answered quietly.
Gently, Q took the soap from Bond’s hands and poured some out into his palm. “You won’t go out alone anymore,” he said, setting the soap aside. He rubbed his hands together and ran them up over Bond’s chest. He lowered his gaze to watch, and his eyes took on the same fascinated intensity as when he’d watched Bond ease into his body. “I’ve seen the schematics of your communication devices and trackers. They’re lovely — 1995, very retro.” He huffed and dropped his hands lower, leaving ticklish lines of soap over Bond’s abdomen. “I’ll deal with that as well, once I have a proper workshop built again.”
“Alec can help us move furniture around if we ask him to,” Bond promised. Just because Q was distracting him didn’t mean he couldn’t stay on point. He watched Q’s hands as they skimmed his skin. He wondered absently if Q had any freckles.
Q looked up to meet Bond’s eyes as his fingers reached farther down, between his legs, teasing softly over the hair. “We can try,” he said quietly. “But you must promise that if you get sick of me, you’ll be honest. I won’t take offence, I promise. And I wouldn’t go far.”
Bond grinned. “Your terms are acceptable.” First thing when they got back was figuring out the bed situation. Everything else would be easy.
“You probably haven’t slept. I’ll find us a car and make the arrangements to go back home.” Q stepped closer to Bond, sliding his hands up Bond’s back, pulling their bodies together. “Is there any particular way you’d like me to wake you up, or can I use my imagination?”
“I think I can trust you to use your judgement.” Bond kissed his shoulder as he reached for the shampoo. He wanted to warn Q about the consequences of waking him up when he had a nightmare, but decided they’d slept in the same bed together enough for Q to figure it out. “Keep weaponry out of it and we should be fine.”
Bond pushed open the door to his flat — their flat — and was nearly run down by a shin-height robot chasing a tennis ball.
“Oi! Watch it!” Alec shouted, voice echoing in the open space. Bond looked around the door to see the robot scoop up the tennis ball in the dust catcher, spin around on its recessed wheels, and start back across the room.
Q wormed past Bond and set down his bag. “Is —”
“You found him,” Alec said. “Well done, you. There are some problems with the system here, you know.”
Bond stepped inside and closed the door. The flat looked much as he’d left it — a bit surreal, with the small army of cleaning-bots humming over the floor. Alec was sitting up on the sofa, a muted news station on the telly. He had a rubbish bin full of tennis balls beside him.
“Develop a new hobby while I was gone?” Bond asked with a raised eyebrow, nodding towards the tennis balls. “Or are you trying to teach the cleaning crew how to play fetch?”
“I’m bloody bored,” Alec complained, pitching another tennis ball across the flat. Obediently, all the robots swarmed after it, though most of them diverted elsewhere, leaving only one to pursue. “I was stuck here, waiting for a ransom call or a courier to deliver your ears or something. You neglected to let anyone know you’d actually completed your mission.” He gestured over at the kitchen, looking to Q. “Can you take a look at the coffee pot? It’s not letting me change the grind. I think she’s prejudiced against lighter roasts, only there was a breakfast blend I wanted to try.”
After one startled moment, Q said, “She shouldn’t be,” and headed for the kitchen, entirely distracted.
“Good lad,” Alec approved, turning to Bond. “So? Shoot anyone? Start any wars?”
“We did have a small incident with border control that could have led to something interesting, but no such luck. Q insisted on hacking security to keep our passports from being flagged.”
“You’re welcome,” Q called from the kitchen.
Bond shook his head fondly. “It isn’t actually necessary or even wise to have three passports, from three different continents, on you at the same time. At least, not where a bloody guard can easily find them.” He walked over to the bin and experimentally tossed two of the tennis balls, watching with amusement as the bots seamlessly split into two equal groups to chase them. “How did you get them to work together like that?”
“No idea,” Alec admitted. “I may have lowered the throwing target to floor level hoping they’d retrieve the knives for me, but when that didn’t work, I just started throwing whatever was at hand. I think it’s just one that’s doing all the fetching, but it’s bloody hard to tell. You can’t put post-it notes on them. They treat them like rubbish.”
“They’re not sentient,” Q said. “And why did you try to clean the grinder — Is this from a rifle cleaning kit?” He held up a cotton bore brush, covered with coffee grounds.
“I thought it was clogged.”
“James.” Q gave him a do something about this look. He tossed the bore brush on the floor for the bots to retrieve and started disassembling the grinder.
“Right, so since he’s not dead and you’re not dead, I’m going the fuck out,” Alec interrupted before Bond could say anything. “I’ve been stuck here for three days, which I’m sure is M’s way of having a little laugh at our expense. Oh, and since you’re home safe, you’d best report in before they send out rescue teams.”
“Don’t get into too much trouble. I plan on ignoring my phone for the rest of the evening,” Bond replied with a grin. “So try to stay away from the Athenas with husbands or boyfriends.”
Alec shot a knowing look Q’s way and lowered his voice. “That’s a new attitude,” he said, turning back to Bond, searching his face. He was too discreet to come right out and say what he was thinking, but they’d been closer than brothers for half their lives. Not too long ago, they’d both shared a marked preference for the easy, uncomplicated affairs that came with finding women who were bored with their current marriages, looking for nothing more than a night or two of fun.
Bond shot a soft smile in Q’s direction before meeting Alec’s eyes again. “Yes, it is,” he agreed. “Have any suggestions on a compromise between a scruffy, lumpy futon and a high quality but soft mattress?”
After one shocked moment, Alec grinned. “Absolutely. I need furniture, so I’ll take the bed when I go. No offence, but I’m not staying here.” He turned and called towards the kitchen, “Sig— uh, Q? You can install the Red Queen anywhere, right?”
Q looked up, eyes sharp. “Not for assassins who use gun cleaning equipment on her modules.”
“Are you getting stroppy at me?” He turned back to James, repeating, “Is he getting stroppy?”
“What do you mean, ‘getting’?” Bond laughed. “Did Mycroft take your offer?”
Alec huffed. “No. Said he wanted to wait.” He tipped his head questioningly in Q’s direction. “I would’ve been looking elsewhere, but one of us has practically been under house arrest because of the other two of us. Which is your cue to apologise, tell me I can have the bed — and the dresser, since it matches — and maybe suggest a decent nightclub that doesn’t have us on its blacklist.”
“I’m sorry, Alec,” Bond said with a smirk. “The bed and dresser are yours, but not the duvet. I’m quite attached to it, I think. And 0011 was just telling me about this relatively new place called ‘Motion’ — an old skatepark converted into a music venue. Apparently, on any one night, they have several bands playing in different rooms. Odds are you’ll find something interesting to do there.”
“Good enough. With luck, you won’t see me for two or three days. Call M,” he added firmly. “Q, don’t let him forget.”
“Did neither of you read my instruction sheet?” Q asked. “Red Queen, one new appointment.”
As the flat’s computer answered him, Alec took Bond’s arm and pulled him over to the front door. “You’re really all right?” he asked Bond quietly. “This isn’t because of that arsehole brother of his?”
“It’s really in spite of the arsehole bother,” Bond said in a low growl. “So far it seems to be working out, but I’ll reserve judgement on whether extraordinary measures need be taken against him later.” Bond was going to enjoy this reprieve as long as it lasted, but as soon as Mycroft tried anything...
Alec glanced in the direction of the kitchen, then gave Bond a brief nod. “Let me know,” he said — an unconditional offer of support. He clapped a hand on Bond’s shoulder, pulled the door open, and left, calling back, “Don’t wait up.”
Bond watched Alec leave, the door shutting behind him with a quiet thunk. “Red Queen, overwatch-in-residence.”
“Overwatch-in-residence engaged,” came the automated reply.
Leaving Q to tinker with the coffee pot, Bond walked over to the area that served as the bedroom. He stripped the bed quickly, taking advantage of Q’s distraction to prevent any arguments. The sheets, pillows, and duvet fell the the floor in a pile, and — recalling the almost-nest of Q’s makeshift futon at the Nuremberg flat — he crouched and folded them until a similar look was achieved. He added a few extra pillows for his side before turning to visit Q in the kitchen.
“Is it salvageable?” he asked, nodding at the grinder Q was tinkering with.
“Of course it is. Alec can’t break anything beyond my ability to repair it unless he uses weapons,” Q said as though complaining, but there wasn’t a hint of tension in his shoulders and his eyes were bright. “I’m not letting you sleep on the floor, James.” Without letting go of the mechanism he’d extracted from the coffee machine, he leaned against Bond’s chest and tipped his head back so he could kiss Bond’s cheek. “I’ll just put a board on my side of the bed or something. Only one of us needs back problems — though how you’ve managed to escape them, I’ve no idea, given what you do to yourself.”
“I’ve slept on worse,” Bond said truthfully; he doubted he’d even notice the discomfort much as long as Q stayed wrapped up with him under the covers. “And we can find something we both agree on tomorrow.”
Q huffed and turned his attention back to the coffee pot. “Mycroft probably already knows. Border Agency reports that you’re back in the country, with ‘unknown male subject’.” The tension crept into the lines of his back, and he focused more closely on his dismantling efforts.
Bond stepped closer, not necessarily getting in the way of Q’s work, but certainly making his presence felt. He rested his hands over Q’s hips and kissed his neck softly. “I have to call M. Would you like me to call Mycroft? Perhaps throw a few not-so-subtle threats in with my gratitude for his assistance?” Now that he’d had Q in a collared shirt under his hands, he could appreciate the easier access to Q’s skin his more customary t-shirt offered him. He slipped his hands inside the waistband, following the V over his hipbones down just a few tantalising inches.
Thoughtfully, Q stopped his work to lean back against Bond’s body, and the thought that Q was paying attention to Bond rather than one of his machines made him grin. “No,” he finally said with a sigh. “I’ll deal with him. He’s my brother. And if he did mean to help...” He let go of a nested assembly of gears to cover Bond’s hand with one of his, scattering coffee grounds everywhere.
Bond pressed his hand a little lower, continuing to his neck a little more roughly. “If you insist. But if you’re going to invite him for dinner, make sure to warn me. I’ll make sure Alec is close by to help me deal with the fallout. The city might survive, as long as you keep Sherlock out of it.”
“Oh, god no,” Q said, and his shiver wasn’t entirely at the horror of that thought. Bond had learned that soft, gentle touches got him nowhere when Q was distracted by computers or machines; sharper bites and rougher handling, however, almost always did. “Don’t expect anything like a normal” — he cut off as Bond moved back up to his ear — “a normal family. We don’t do birthdays or Christmas or the like, except when Mycroft and Sherlock went to the morgue one year.”
Bond thought about the very real possibility that Sherlock had been somehow involved with his own mother’s autopsy and decided not to ask. He thought about asking Q to take it slow with the revealing of Holmes family’s quirks — perhaps start with with minor issues such as their criminal records or any weapons of mass destruction they had in their houses. Instead, sticking to the faster and rougher idea, he pulled his hands out of Q’s jeans only to reach around, undo the button and pull the zip. Q dropped the gears and shifted back against Bond’s body, intentionally provocative, as Bond shoved one hand inside his pants, stroking.
“You don’t need to fix that tonight. I’ll have someone bring us coffee in the morning,” he growled suggestively, pushing his free hand under Q’s shirt and up over his chest.
“You need to call M,” Q said in a rush. “Then — after — whatever you want?” He let his head fall back against Bond’s shoulder as he pushed his hips forward, trying for more friction from Bond’s hand. “Red Queen’s going to keep alerting — God, James — every twenty minutes.”
Bond sucked Q’s earlobe into his mouth as he looked over Q’s shoulder at the command list still hanging on the fridge. He flicked Q’s nipple with one hand, sped up the movement with his other. He released Q’s ear and said, “Red Queen, nevermind alert.”
As the Red Queen went through her ‘apology’ answer, Q laughed roughly. “Not an idiot, James,” he said, deliberately pushing his arse back against Bond’s cock, proving that there was far too much fabric between them. “I have sysadmin overrides. And you didn’t parse it correctly. Call. Your. Boss.”
Bond huffed with amusement. “All right, if you insist.” He slowed his hand in Q’s pants and gentled the one under Q’s shirt, but he didn’t release him. Q swore under his breath and tried to squirm free.
“Hmmm, you may want to quiet down just a bit. Red Queen, call Mallory,” he said, not letting Q go. Q’s struggles were half-hearted at best, and Bond pulled him closer for more delicious friction. The flat filled with the sounds of a call being dialled, and Bond tried not to chuckle at Q’s reaction as he started playing with the head of Q’s cock.
Apparently, Q was just as good at Mat — Russian profanity — as he was with conversational Russian.
“Report.” It wasn’t Mallory but Tanner who answered. It sounded like he was driving.
“I achieved my mission objective,” Bond said, pulling his hand down and up, adding a quick twist at the end. Q made a strangled sound and twisted to bury his face against Bond’s neck, biting into his own hand. “I’m back in London.”
“Good. We were wondering,” Tanner politely reprimanded. “Danielle reported that she’d lost contact with you. You can clear that matter up with her tomorrow.”
Bond grimaced. Oops. He’d forgotten to get back in contact with Danielle, thanks to the best kind of distraction from Q. He resolved to bring her coffee and a pastry when he went in next. “Will do, sir. Thank you.”
“Sir?” He bit at Q’s neck again, increasing the pressure on Q’s cock. A hint of Q’s whine slipped out as he tried to twist away.
“I suggest you contact your principal’s brother with an informal notification of his current status. Best not to wait any longer than necessary.”
“Duly noted.” Then, realising the flaw in his plan, he very quietly asked, “How do I —”
“Ring off,” Q said, his voice strained.
He listened a moment to verify that the call had been disconnected and stilled his movements without letting go. “Q?”
Growling under his breath, Q said, “Red Queen, mass text.”
“Mass text addresses?” Red Queen prompted.
“Red Queen, send to Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes. Text follows: I’m in England. Don’t bother me. Don’t bother James.”
“Text to Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes. I’m in England. Don’t bother me. Don’t bother James. Text ends. Confirm?”
“Red Queen, confirm text message. Send delay zero.”
“Sending text to Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes.”
Q pushed back hard, and Bond chuckled. “How eloquent.” He walked Q forward, moving the hand from Q’s chest to his back. He gave Q a light, suggestive push towards the dining table. “Any objections?”
Obligingly, Q went to the table, though he turned and leaned back against it, glaring at Bond in a way that would have been fierce if he hadn’t been panting, pupils dilated, and had the imprint of his own teeth marks in his hand from trying to keep quiet. “I spent ten hours in a car with you finding excuses to not let me drive, except for the hour I spent telling you to stop going through my bag and laptop. If anyone’s getting fucked over the table, James, it’s you.”
Bond raised an eyebrow, then stepped forward into Q’s body, arms wrapping around his waist. He pulled Q into a kiss, shoving his hips forward, before pulling back long enough to whisper in his ear. “Does that mean it’s your turn to do all the work?”
“I didn’t say that,” Q answered raggedly, taking hold of Bond’s hips. He gave a little shove back. “And you’re wearing far too much for this discussion.”
“Then go ahead and do something about it,” Bond suggested, trying not to smile. He took hold of Q’s jeans and pants to push them down, only to have Q grab hold of his wrists with both hands.
“Get undressed, James,” he said, pulling Bond’s hands away, though with more than a little reluctance, even uncertainty.
Bond stepped back, observing the combination of lust and determination that had taken over Q’s features. It sent a small thrill through his body that this normally quiet man, who he’d come to think of as the prey to his predator, was fighting back for some control. He had seen flashes of it — Q didn’t seem capable of doing anything without some verbal or physical wrestling, first. He knew he could push, of course, and overwhelm Q into submitting, but that would tip the equality of the relationship too heavily in Bond’s favour. That would be unacceptable and might even scare Q off. He hadn’t fought as hard as he had for Q to lose him over a matter of who got to top.
Finally, Bond started undoing the buttons of his shirt. Something like surprise flickered in Q’s eyes, as if he hadn’t been certain that Bond wouldn’t push back. He watched, resting back in a falsely casual posture, hands tight on the edge of the table.
“Before you suggest it, I never intend on going to the gym with you, unless it’s to watch you while I code,” Q said softly, not trying to hide the way he was staring at every inch of revealed skin. “The treadmill is more than sufficient.”
“What makes you think I was going to ask that?” Bond raised his eyebrow. “I’m quite addicted to your body just the way it is,” he said honestly. Not that he wasn’t going to try and help Q adjust his eating habits to something healthier, of course. But Q had a wiry strength that Bond appreciated and, more to the point, the willingness to run when he thought he was in danger.
“A body like yours doesn’t just happen. It’s a bloody work of art. Not to mention damned exhausting just to look at,” Q said with a small laugh, watching Bond drop his shirt to the floor. “It’s deceptive, you know. At first glance, one would think that’s all there is to you. Alec, as well. Are all assassins like that?”
“It’s one of the few factors we can control,” Bond admitted. He was amused at Q’s allowing himself to be distracted by intellectual curiosity, but he didn’t move to curb it yet. “Even if we lose our guns or our backup, or our vehicles get blown up, or get into a fight we weren’t ready for. It makes sense to have the one tool you’ll always have available to you in the best shape it possibly can be.” He stopped talking just as he started working on his own belt and flies, the sounds of the buckle and zipper being undone filling the temporary silence.
“You’re not at all anyone I ever would have pictured being interested in me. Aside from the fact that our social paths normally would never cross, I’d imagine you could have anyone you like. From that first time we spoke outside the cargo lift, I knew no one ever really said no to you.”
Bond paused, watching Q. He seemed... nervous. It was endearing. “We don’t have ‘social paths’,” he said quietly before stepping back into Q and tugging him into fierce kiss. He bit at his lips first, hands digging into Q’s arse to pull their bodies together.
“Which makes even less sense that you want me,” Q insisted, wrapping his arms around Bond’s shoulders. “I mean, look at you. I couldn’t —”
“Incoming call,” Red Queen interrupted, making Q tense in surprise.
“Red Queen, identify caller,” Q answered.
“Caller identity Sherlock Holmes.”
Q blinked as though surprised. “Red Queen, accept call. What?”
“You’re back,” Sherlock answered. “Why are you back?”
To hear Sherlock’s voice through the room speakers while standing mostly naked in the dining area was... awkward, to say the least — less a matter of body shyness or self-consciousness than an overwhelming desire to fall into Q’s earlier pattern of profanity.
“Because James convinced me —”
“Do I need to have John shoot him?” Sherlock offered.
As much as he wanted to tell Sherlock to bugger off, Bond held his tongue. Though he didn’t know him well, Bond was starting to realise that Sherlock had the habit of asking the right questions. And Bond wanted to hear Q’s answers.
For his part, Q let out a sigh and rested his forehead against Bond’s chest as though exasperated. “Please don’t. I’m rather fond of him, and he’s been shot too many times already.” Bond rubbed his hands gently up Q’s back, leaving them to rest between his shoulder blades.
“I can have him arrested. I can arrest him. I have a warrant card.”
“Stolen or forged?”
Q sighed again. “My return was based on a perfectly sound, logical decision.”
“Mycroft was annoyed.”
“Do you mean worried?” Q asked.
Bond smiled. This was progress.
Sherlock’s huff was eloquent.
Q took a breath and leaned back enough to look into Bond’s eyes. “We should meet under better circumstances — you and James, at least. And John.”
Bond tried to picture it — the four of them, having a conversation around takeaway at his kitchen table. He nearly snickered at the idea, but at the last moment caught himself. If nothing else, he could trade tips with Watson about the proper care and handling of a Holmes.
Q rolled his eyes. “Because John appreciates meaningless social rituals, as you’ve complained more than once. This is one of them.”
“As if we didn’t have enough of those growing up?” Sherlock challenged.
“Fine. I’ll just invite John. Ring off,” he instructed. Then he gave Bond an uncertain look, asking, “Do you mind? I should have asked before, but I was a bit distracted.”
“As long as you don’t expect me to cook for them, and there will be alcohol involved, I’m sure it will be splendid,” he said, with only the faintest hint of sarcasm edging his words. “Now, shall we get back to distracting you?” He raised an eyebrow and waited.
Q held up a hand and instead said, “Red Queen, call John Watson.”
“Dialling John Watson,” she answered.
A moment later, Bond heard John answer: “Hello?”
“Evening, John. It’s Q.”
“Ah. Yes, Sherlock wants to know if your boyfriend knows you’ve asked me on a date.” Bond could hear the eyeroll in his voice.
“God, I should hope so. He’s standing right here,” Q said, giving Bond a grin. “Is Friday night acceptable? You can bring Sherlock, if he behaves himself.”
“I’ll be coming alone then, most likely,” John said with a laugh. “It sounds fine. Can I bring anything?”
“No, but you might want to take steps to ensure your safety. Enough high-profile targets live in this building.”
Very, very carefully, John answered, “I’m always careful, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Of course. Friday, then. Chinese?”
“That’s fine. Extra egg rolls for Sherlock — if he behaves!” John added loudly, away from the phone.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Q said with another grin. “Cheers. Ring off.”
“You know, for being geniuses, the lot of you...” Bond shook his head.
“Really, there’s no point in keeping it secret. If not for John, Sherlock would have been dead years ago,” Q said, stepping away from the table and into Bond’s arms. He grinned, adding, “Besides, you’re not MI5. It’s not your concern what John does here in London.”
“That’s not what I meant, but I will admit to curiosity.” Bond wrapped his arms more tightly around Q and touched a light tongue to his neck.
Shivering, Q insisted, “Then what did you mean?” His hands slid up Bond’s back to comb through his hair, holding him in place. He was still far too dressed for Bond’s liking, but made no effort to leave enough room for Bond to remove his clothes.
How did you all turn out so self-destructive? he wanted to ask. What the fuck was wrong with your parents? How is Sherlock such an abrasive child for being someone so smart? Why are you so goddamn skittish? None of those seemed appropriate for the moment, though, so he held his tongue. “Does Mycroft have his own pet assassin, too, like you and Sherlock?” he asked instead.
“John’s a doctor, not an assassin,” Q corrected, backing up with Bond, tugging him along until they were back at the table. He let go long enough to push up onto the surface, sitting on it as naturally as someone else would’ve sat on the chair just a few inches to the side. “Mycroft prefers to ruin people and leave them alive as object lessons. It’s more efficient, he says.”
“Lessons for whom?” Bond watched Q, trying to do the maths in his head. Q was thirty-one; Mycroft was in his forties. Even if Mycroft hadn’t actually raised his brothers, he would have had a powerful influence over them, both emotionally and intellectually — especially if he’d developed his power in government young. It suddenly seemed even more remarkable that Q had managed as well as he had.
“Diplomats, generally. Incompetents. Traitors, he usually manages to” — Q made an awkward gesture with one hand — “make disappear. Mycroft started work with the diplomatic service, though, and there are laws against killing those, even the ones who apparently deserve it. They usually bring those matters to Mycroft’s attention even now.”
“By which you mean, MI6’s attention.” Bond looked down at Q, considering. “We’re going to be fine, Q.”
“I —” was as far as Q got before Bond leaned in to kiss him. After a startled moment, Q relaxed into the kiss and skimmed his hands down Bond’s sides, just firmly enough not to tickle.
When Bond stopped, leaning back just enough to let them breathe, he could feel Q draw in a breath as if to say something again. But frankly, Bond was sick of talking about Mycroft and Sherlock — he was standing half naked in the kitchen with much more pressing matters on his mind. So, falling back on what he knew from experience would work, he threaded his fingers through Q’s hair, pulled it hard enough to earn a gasp, and started to nip and bite at Q’s neck. He wrapped his free arm around Q’s waist and pulled, bringing their hips back together again.
Q’s breath hitched, and as Bond pulled him to the very edge of the table, he wrapped his legs around Bond’s waist in a reminder of what they’d done back in Bond’s hotel room in Hamburg. His nails scratched at Bond’s ribs just hard enough to sting. “James —”
“Incoming call,” Red Queen interrupted.
“Fucking Christ,” Q snapped viciously. “Red Queen, identify caller.”
“Caller identity Mycroft Holmes.”
If Bond was irritated with Q’s siblings before, he was feeling positively murderous now. “Can we mute her? Block all incoming calls?” he growled into Q’s ear, refusing to loosen his grip. He pulled Q’s hair again, baring his throat even more so he could kiss him under his jaw.
He could feel Q hesitate; perhaps old habits were too strong. His shoulders slumped as he said, “Red Queen, accept call. Mycroft.”
“Are you safe, Q?” was Mycroft’s immediate question.
“Of course he is. He’s with me,” Bond answered with a growl, hoping Mycroft would interpret the tone as the threat it was and not just frustration at the interruptions. He hated the thought that Q would feel so defeated by a simple phone call from his interfering older brother. He slid his arm up from Q’s waist to push between his shoulder blades and tugged on Q’s hair, bringing him out of a slouch and into a more assertive posture. He met Q’s eyes, knowing that his own were probably burning with intensity.
“Q?” Mycroft pressed.
Q leaned in to kiss Bond briefly, silencing him. “It’s quiet, Mycroft,” he said, with peculiar emphasis.
“Very well. If you need anything —”
“No need. James, I’m in your debt.”
Bond smiled at Q, though he was disappointed to see that Q wasn’t surprised — merely expectant. “I didn’t do it for you, Mycroft,” he answered, keeping his tone genial. “But the sentiment is appreciated.”
“Of course. Good night, gentlemen,” Mycroft answered.
“Ring off,” Q told Red Queen.
As much as Bond wanted to pick up where they left off, the lingering defeat in Q’s shoulders was a little alarming. “Are you all right?”
“He wanted to verify that I was all right,” Q said, sounding irritated. “That was... ‘Quiet’ is a codeword. As if I couldn’t — As if you’d do anything.”
A codeword, Bond thought with some surprise. He had a memorised assortment of codewords and duress signals, but he was meant to get himself into trouble. That Mycroft and Q had worked out a duress signal of their own... A bit of Bond’s irritation with Mycroft slipped away at the thought that Mycroft really did want to protect his brother, and put foresight and consideration into the matter.
“You’ve read my file. I’m sure he has, too. It’s a fair concern,” Bond admitted, stroking his hand more gently through Q’s hair.
Q huffed in annoyance. “Red Queen, Wintermute protocol.”
Instead of verbal confirmation from the Red Queen, there was a single, soft chime.
“No more calls or texts — not from anyone. I’m afraid our mobiles won’t work, either,” Q said without lifting his head from Bond’s shoulder. “Can we just go to bed now?”
Bond grinned, charmed at how shy and sweetly innocent Q sounded. “Are you sure I can’t just keep your legs wrapped around me and carry you there?” he asked, smirking.
Q laughed briefly. “Positive.” He shoved himself forward, driving Bond back a step, clearing space for him to drop down off the table. “If you want to carry something, get a sugar glider or one of those — No, no irritating little dogs,” he corrected with a shudder. “Damn. I should’ve asked Mycroft about the other flat. I’m sorry.”
Bond stared at Q incredulously for a moment before spinning him so his back was to the bed, wrapping his arms around him for balance, and kissing him as hard as he could without drawing blood. He took a careful step forward, forcing Q to walk backwards, and when neither of them lost their balance, he did it again. Q clung to him, backing up as best he could without letting go, until they reached the nest of blankets on the floor. Only then did they get tripped up, as Bond tried to steer Q towards the blankets while Q went for the bed.
This time, Q’s laugh was more relaxed. “If you’re going to insist on sleeping on the floor, we’ll at least do this on the bed.” He actually grinned as he added, “I rather liked the bed at your hotel, at least while we were both awake.”
Finally, that was exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right moment. Bond growled as he twisted them to fall onto the bed, reaching for the hem of Q’s shirt as they landed. “You couldn’t have told me that before I took off the sheet?” he asked before he ripped Q’s shirt off over his head, finesse giving way to impatience.
Q pulled off his glasses — still the unfamiliar frames that Bond had yet to get used to — and threw them at the bedside table. “You’re the one who decided to nest without consulting me,” he protested with another laugh as Bond shoved him down to his back. “Besides, Alec’s probably been sleeping here. He did for the weeks you were in Tunisia. Changing the sheets is a wise idea anyway.”
“If you think we’re going to stop for anything else anymore, you’re very sadly mistaken,” Bond muttered, kissing his way down Q’s chest as he started to work on his jeans and pants again. This time, Q lifted his hips to help, and ran his fingers through Bond’s hair once the jeans were out of his reach. Bond yanked them off completely, without hesitation, pausing only long enough to rid himself of his own trousers and pants before climbing back over Q.
“Fuck, yes,” Q said softly, wrapping one leg around Bond’s. He relaxed back against the mattress and scratched his nails over Bond’s scalp, looking up at him. “I’m sorry they’re so interfering.”
Bond had completely lost his patience with that line of conversation. He needed Q to be completely his, to be thinking only of the pleasure Bond could bring him. He pushed up to meet Q’s eyes, bit Q’s lower lip gently, then slid down.
Q had obviously lost some momentum due to the interruptions and subsequent fretting, but Bond could fix that. He leaned down to lick a long, hot line up the side of Q’s cock, and Q’s response was immediate and beautiful. He arched up off the bed in surprise with a low, needy moan, tugging at Bond’s hair before he caught himself.
“Fuck. James, god,” he whispered. “You don’t have to.”
Bond didn’t dignify that with an answer, instead concentrating his efforts on robbing Q of his ability to think and speak clearly. He reached down to cup Q’s balls with one hand, the other pressing Q’s stomach to keep him from bucking into Bond’s mouth. Not that Bond would mind it — he just needed to adjust first.
He teased the tip of Q’s cock first, letting his tongue explore the sensitive skin without hesitation. “Shit. God, James,” Q said, the sibilant in Bond’s name clipped and shortened by his abrupt inhale. “Fuck.”
Bond would have grinned if he could have; instead, he focused on moving his hand away from Q’s stomach to gently and slowly pull the foreskin back one teasing centimetre at a time, gliding his tongue down the underside as as he went. Q was deliciously responsive, his self-control entirely shattered, and Bond felt a moment’s guilt. Q had tried to take charge, but his surrender was too tempting for Bond to relinquish control again.
He sucked at the sides, dragging his tongue up and down, listening carefully for Q to reveal his favourite spots. Somehow, Bond wasn’t surprised that Q responded best to intensity. Hard licks and suction and even the gentle scrape of teeth all made Q writhe, fingers clawing at Bond’s hair and shoulders. When Q’s profanity slipped from English to Russian, Bond had no idea if he should take credit or if it was simply that Q had been too caught up in his Russian false identity.
Bond spared a brief thought to wonder how long it had been since anyone had done this for Q; by Q’s responsiveness, he guessed it had been a while. Deciding that it wasn’t in his best interest to torture Q tonight — it was early yet; if he was lucky, he might be able to pull more than one orgasm from Q tonight — he made his way back up to the top and slowly started to take Q fully into his mouth.
“Oh, fuck,” Q gasped, hands going to the bed, clawing at the mattress. “God, James. You can’t — Don’t —” he protested faintly.
Bond stopped. He pulled off slowly, though he rested his forehead on Q’s hip, and moved his hand from where it had been wrapped around the base of Q’s cock to reach up and grasp one of Q’s hands. “I’ll stop if you want me to,” he said carefully. “Do you?”
Q’s hand clutched at Bond’s. He tugged anxiously and lifted his head enough to stare down at Bond, wide-eyed. “I’m too close. God. James. It feels too good.”
“We have time. Even more time tonight, if you like. Let me finish.” He squeezed Q’s hand reassuringly.
Q didn’t answer immediately. He took a deep breath, swallowed visibly, and nodded. “Can I, after? With you? You stopped me, that morning you left...”
Bond chuckled. “Absolutely. If you recall, my only objection at the time was your not letting me reciprocate.”
With a little huff, Q answered teasingly, “As I recall, you were more interested in fucking me, but we’ll let that pass.” He grinned at Bond and let his head fall back to the mattress. With a wicked laugh, he added, “Get on with it, then.”
“Oh, may I?” Bond asked dryly, grinning at the knowledge that soon Q would be back to a trembling mess. He decided that the interruption merited more teasing, so he went back to light licks and the soft press of teeth until he had Q swearing at him all over again.
Bond started out with every intention of swallowing. If he was going to be in a long term relationship with a man, it seemed like something he was going to have to get used to. But the closer Q got, the more pre-ejaculate he tasted, the less likely he thought he would actually be able to do it.
His nerve broke, but he told himself not to worry — that Q didn’t expect this at all. He was perhaps the most undemanding lover Bond had ever had, and when Bond replaced his mouth with his hand, Q just reached down to scratch at Bond’s shoulder and try to tug him up, and the fact that they could kiss while Bond felt the shudders of pleasure pass through Q was almost good enough. Q was unrestrained, silencing his moan only when he bit into Bond’s lip hard enough to sting, one hand at the back of his neck to hold him close.
Then, as Bond slowly eased his hand out from between their bodies, Q released his teeth and licked Bond’s lip as though in apology. “God, you’re fantastic,” Q whispered roughly. With his eyes closed, body entirely relaxed, he seemed younger and more fragile than he normally did.
Bond smiled, even though Q couldn’t see him, and tugged Q close, feeling his heartbeat as it slowed. There was no blanket to cover them — the bedding was all still in a nest on the floor — but Bond didn’t want to leave Q in the vulnerable moment between orgasm and the return of thought as their bodies cooled. When Q returned to his usual snark, Bond would take it as a sign to go get something to clean them up with.
Q curled up against his side, head pillowed on the hollow of Bond’s shoulder, one thin leg thrown over his knee. He kept his hips back, politely conscious of the mess, and rested his hand on Bond’s stomach before he teased his fingers down over Bond’s cock, making him hiss in surprise at the touch. “Can we move — Would you mind — if we did this in the shower?” he asked hesitantly.
“You don’t have to do anything, Q, but I wouldn’t mind,” Bond replied, pulling into a sitting position. He smiled down at where Q was looking up at him, a strange enthusiasm showing in his eyes.
Q got up and tugged Bond after him, stepping over the nest of blankets. Absently, he complained, “Your flat’s entirely backwards.”
Bond chuckled as he stepped over the fabric on the floor. “At this point, I think it’s your perception that’s backwards, Q.” He was about to step towards the shower to turn it on when he realized handles had become obsolete here now. He couldn’t remember the exact command, however, so here merely leaned against the sink and raised an amused eyebrow.
Q took a breath, and then gave Bond a sly grin. He pushed Bond back against the counter and ran his hands down Bond’s chest, watching the trail of his fingertips. “You probably want to start the shower, James,” he said as the light touch slipped over Bond’s cock and down to his balls.
Bond fought against closing his eyes at the exquisite feel of Q’s hands over his very neglected erection. “Red Queen, shower at forty-three degrees,” he tried, going for the obvious first. If Q wanted to play this game, he’d let him — but he was bound to hit on the right words eventually, just by guessing.
“Sorry, I don’t understand that command,” Red Queen answered.
Q’s smile turned wicked, and he lowered himself to kneel at the edge of the bathmat. “Try again, James,” he prompted, replacing his fingertips with his tongue, a slow, hot drag up over Bond’s balls to the base of his cock.
“Oh, fuck,” Bond said with a shudder, mind scrambling. He pulled a careful hand up the base of Q’s neck into his hair, not pushing or pulling, merely resting. “Red Queen, forty-three degree shower,” he tried again, pleased with the lack of tremor in his voice.
This time, the lick was all the way up the underside, followed by a swipe across the tip. Q’s hands pressed at the insides of Bond’s thighs before he swept his fingers up. One hand cupped his balls; he pushed the other farther back between Bond’s balls, one fingertip curling up to press up against his body, just as Q’s lips closed around the glans.
The list of possible commands that had been scrolling through Bond’s mind abruptly vanished in the sudden, red-hot awareness of Q’s mouth — an awareness that was there and gone again as Q abruptly pulled back. He looked up at Bond, eyes wide and innocent, and asked, “Are you all right, James?”
“Fucking hell, Q,” Bond growled, staring down. He wasn’t sure if the intensity in his eyes looked like impatience or something else, but Q’s smirk told him it couldn’t be too intimidating. “Red Queen,” he tried again, hoping his rough voice would still be recognised by the software.
Q interrupted, abruptly taking Bond’s cock into his mouth, as far as he could. He backed off, inhaled, and pushed back down, this time fighting to swallow around the head.
“Sorry, I don’t understand that command,” Red Queen added inanely.
“Son of a...” Bond cut off as he shuddered, fighting not to hold Q’s head in place this time, instead sliding his hand to cup Q’s jaw, removing the temptation. “You don’t have to, so deep,” he said with a shudder. “Red Queen, shower forty-three degrees.”
Relentlessly, Q backed off only enough to take a breath before he swallowed again, tongue pushing up hard. His hands pushed Bond’s legs apart a bit more, enough for him to press his finger up again, lighting sparks behind Bond’s eyes. Twice more, Q slipped back and down again, before he knelt back, breathless, and gently released Bond’s cock.
“You really need to keep trying, James,” he said, his voice rough and low, full of desire. He moved his hand up to the base of Bond’s cock again, holding him steady for another slow, hard lick over the slit.
Did he? He wondered if Q would actually be content to keep teasing him like this for long — the floormat didn’t offer much protection for Q’s knees from the cold, hard tiled floor. But he thought about the blankets on the floor, and Q’s habit of ignoring discomfort whenever it inconvenienced him, and thought better of it. “Red Queen...” he started, glancing over at the shower.
With sudden clarity, he realised that the handle was still there, still operational. (Probably a redundancy in case the power went out, or Red Queen was compromised.) He grinned, the sense of having an alternative restoring some sense of control. If he was going to play the game, he might as well have fun with it. “Red Queen, turn the fucking shower on to forty-three degrees!” he shouted in his best exasperated voice.
Abruptly, two things happened: The shower actually started, and Q pulled off and glared up at Bond.
“She’s programmed to ignore extraneous words, but really, James, you don’t need to swear at her,” he said, his voice far too indignant and reserved and controlled for someone on his knees, eyes lust-dark, lips swollen from Bond’s cock.
Bond laughed, tinged with the slightest desperation as it was, and pulled Q to his feet. “Apparently I did,” he growled before pulling Q up to his feet and into a rough kiss, savoring the temporary state of Q’s mouth. He kissed, hard and demanding, while backing Q into the shower. Thankfully, it was large enough for two — three, even — and had no threshold to trip them.
Q’s shoulders hit into the shower wall, making him gasp and go wide-eyed. Then, with a shudder, he let his head fall back, baring his throat, and reached down to stroke Bond’s cock, hard and fast.
Bond growled and bit the offered throat as he thrust hard into Q’s hand. He’d been patient long enough, and the combination of feeling Q’s breath flutter under his teeth, Q’s smooth hand over his cock, and the heat of the shower was enough to bring him nearly over the edge. Q didn’t let go as Bond slammed his hips forward and scored his teeth over skin — he just whimpered softly and worked his hand up against the pressure of their bodies as best he could, twisting his palm over the head before he pushed back down again.
Bond released his bite, licking over the mark before moving his mouth right over Q’s ear. “Fuck Q, you’re perfect like this. Perfect on your knees. Perfect under...” Bond closed his eyes at the imagery.
Then, with a whispered, “Yes,” Q twisted and pushed Bond back just enough to drop to the shower floor, kneeling awkwardly over Bond’s feet. He worked his hand over Bond’s cock just once more before he followed his fingers back down with his mouth, taking him fast and deep.
Bond shouted, thrusting before he could remind himself that this was Q’s mouth, not his hand anymore. Q let out a desperate moan. His hands circled Bond’s legs, pulling him forward again, encouraging him.
“Fuck!” Bond groaned, selfishly allowing himself to thrust again, though he lasted only a few more exquisitely infinite seconds before his orgasm overtook him entirely. His fingernails scratched at the shower tiles, a sharp contrast to the pleasure that had him shaking over Q, strangled cries dying only when the fire receded. He pulled back, still trembling, before he sank in front of Q.
“Are you all right?” he asked regretfully, tracing hand over Q’s jaw.
Q’s lips curled up in a smirk, and he shook his hair back out of his eyes — it didn’t help — before he blinked them open. “Mmm. Are you?” he asked, using one hand to push his hair back. With the other, he touched Bond’s face.
Bond grinned, turning to fall back against the shower wall next to Q. “Fuck Q, that was...” he shook his head, still grinning. He tugged Q a little closer, enjoying the different feel of the shower from this low. He reached up to the shelf in the corner, pulled down the soap, and poured some into his hand. He rubbed his hands together and then turned just enough to scrub his hand over Q’s chest.
Q laughed, closing his eyes. “Logistically, this probably is less than optimal, but I’m finding it difficult to actually care.”
Bond smirked as he moved the soap in slow circles over Q. “That might possibly be the sweetest thing you’ve said to me yet.”
“Well, I had to sedate twenty-three geese, after Sherlock figured out that one of them ate a countess’ — What was it?” Watson asked, glancing at Sherlock. “That blue gem?”
“Carbuncle,” Sherlock said, pushing his food around on his plate. He seemed to be moving his chopsticks idly, but he’d managed to separate the lo mein into its component ingredients, one at a time.
“Right.” Watson grinned across the table at Bond. “Then we had to x-ray them to figure out which of them swallowed it, only to find out that the countess is big on animal rights. So it’s either surgery to remove it, or, well...” He made an indistinct gesture with his fork.
Sherlock huffed. “Sentiment makes for inefficient —”
“It was nice of her,” Watson interrupted without looking to the side. “She ended up buying the whole lot of them for her estate.”
Bond looked down at his beef and mushroom dish and frowned. “As much as I appreciate these odd cases of yours, I’m not sure my appetite can survive further discussion of this particular topic.” He stole a glance at Q, who was looking down at his own plate, which he’d filled with samples from all the takeaway boxes. When not distracted by computers, Q had a ferocious appetite — probably making up for day-long bouts of self-starvation.
He’d been worried about Q, who had fallen into what Bond was coming to learn was a customary silence when anyone other than Bond (or Alec, as it turned out) was around. However, this was a comfortable, relaxed silence, punctuated occasionally with unrelated phrases directed at Sherlock, who seemed to understand the non sequiturs.
Bond reached over and rubbed Q’s arm lightly before turning back to his meal. “And how does said lady intend on keeping track well enough to find the gem when it, uh, emerges?” he asked, stabbing at a large chunk of beef. He personally would have shot the goose, but he wasn’t known for his light touch.
“Servants,” Sherlock said with a quick shrug. Deftly, he twisted up a couple of noodles and bit them off the ends of the chopsticks, throwing a glance Watson’s way. Bond had caught Watson glaring at Sherlock twice as if to silently warn him that food was for eating, not playing.
“When you’re that rich...” Watson looked around the flat and then grinned across at Bond. “Wish I’d known that being a spy pays so well, though. I might’ve bothered Mycroft for a proper job.”
“Securities and investment fraud pays better,” Q observed softly.
“Yes, but to do that properly, you need to be able to type with more than three fingers,” Sherlock said.
“Sorry, I was taking classes in surgery instead of learning how to type,” Watson said, absolutely unruffled. “What skillset gets you an interview as a” — he gestured at Bond with his fork — “what you do?”
Bond smiled across the table at Watson. “Steady shooting hand, willingness to do stupid things, a lack of concern about getting into messy situations. Sounds like it wouldn’t be too much different for you from what you do now.” He resisted the temptation to add and with fewer insults by aggravating flatmates, but he’d mentioned (even if it wasn’t an actual promise) to Q that he’d try not to rise to his brother’s bait.
“Not nearly as fun,” Sherlock said, darting a quick look at Watson. “And you wouldn’t be able to write up anything you did.”
Watson made a show of thinking about it before he nodded. “True enough.”
Bond caught the hint of relief in Sherlock’s expression, hastily concealed but there all the same. Mercifully, Bond let the subject drop, and instead gave Watson an easy, comfortable grin and asked, “So, do you follow football?”
Over Sherlock’s irritated huff, John said, “When I can. Usually I make it about halfway through the match before someone texts me with the latest crisis...”
Q left the table first, wandering off with his plate to the couch, where he sat on the floor, laptop on the coffee table. Sherlock lasted five minutes longer before he followed, and threw himself across the couch in a dramatic sprawl. Watson just looked after him affectionately before he spoke just loudly enough to be heard over the soft music the Red Queen was playing: “I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did, honestly.”
“You two certainly seem to have an... understanding,” Bond said, standing to collect the plates and motioning Watson to follow. He did, taking some of the plates away to help. Though Q had protested, Bond had managed to convince him not to order paper and plastic utensils to go with the takeaway, under the condition that Bond would do the washing up. For now, he left the dishes in the sink and opened the fridge to take out two beers.
“Ta,” Watson said, accepting one. More quietly, he continued, “Let me guess. Yours will have a glass of wine with dinner, but not much else?”
“Yes. And does yours forget to eat most of the time, too, unless he just happens not to be distracted?” Bond twisted the cap off and threw it in the direction of the sink, watching Watson.
He laughed. “For days at a time. They’ve all got” — he hesitated thoughtfully, opening the beer — “addictive personalities.”
Bond thought about it for a minute. He’d never thought about Q as being addicted to anything, but when Watson phrased it that way, it slotted into place. Sherlock and drugs. Q and stimulants of the legal variety — sugar and caffeine and the rush of solving his computer puzzles. He wondered if Mycroft was addicted to something other than power.
“How does yours handle... overload?” It was the best way Bond could think of to phrase the way Q would sometimes bury himself in a single project, to the exclusion of all else, until exhaustion overtook him. And the way he would sometimes freeze when too much input overwhelmed him, and he looked like he wanted nothing more than to run away rather than deal with it.
“Badly.” Watson’s smile faded, and he glanced in the direction of the sofa, though neither Holmes brother was actually visible beyond the high back. “It’s not so bad if we have a case. About half the time I can get him to stop long enough to eat or sleep for a few hours. The rest of the time, I just wait till he’s almost passed out and get him then. If not...” He shook his head and took a long drink, his gaze going to the window, eyes shadowed with worry. “Either he goes manic — harasses the Yard for a cold case to solve, starts on his damned experiments.” He stopped and looked at Bond. “Most of which are biological. As in, body parts in the fridge, stolen from the morgue.”
“Suddenly, Q’s tinkering with the much-less-bloody internal organs of machines doesn’t seem nearly so bad,” Bond said, though he didn’t smile. “He doesn’t seem to experience mania in the same way — it’s more of an absolute focus on whatever he’s working on. When he gets in that space, he won’t even talk to me, even if he is practically vibrating with a sugar and caffeine overdose.”
Watson sighed and touched Bond’s arm to guide him to the other side of the kitchen, farther away from the couch. The distance wasn’t much, but between the music and the sound of the ventilation system, their voices would be muffled.
“I don’t know Sig— Q very well, but... well, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, medically,” he said a bit awkwardly. “Sherlock’s got symptoms of a half dozen conditions, but who doesn’t? I think it has more to do with how they were raised.”
“I’ve heard references to it, but I don’t actually know anything. Q’s files are locked tight — the few he hasn’t deleted altogether.” Bond took a drink and looked towards the Holmes brothers before looking back at Watson. There was no need to approach the subject as carefully as he might were this a mission, he thought — he and Watson were both trying to figure out their respective partners. “Do you know anything?”
“No. I never met her, before she was already in hospital. Their father died early — suicide, I think. The family’s...” He got a faint, grim smile. “‘Well-connected’ doesn’t begin to cover it. We were dragged to Buckingham Palace, you know. Pulled onto a case. Incriminating photos. And that idiot” — again, he shot a fond smile in Sherlock’s direction — “just to get back at his brother, he shows up in a bedsheet and not a damned thing else.”
Bond held his bottle up to his mouth to help suppress a laugh. “Does that speak more to familiarity with the environment or a complete and total lack of respect? Or both?” He shook his head, trying not to picture it. “I think I would have had a real problem with it if Q had done the same — I’d be tempted to drag his naked arse right back out. Though some of his more ripped-up jeans don’t leave much to the imagination either, to be honest.”
Watson blinked a couple of times and shook his head. “You, ah — Sherlock and I aren’t... involved,” he said awkwardly. “He’s not actually... interested in anyone. ‘Married to his work’, the way he puts it. And anyway, I don’t think it was lack of respect so much as... he really just doesn’t give a rat’s arse. It’s sort of freeing, in a way.”
Bond raised his eyebrow at Watson, wondering just how much of that he was meant to believe. He thought about Q’s long, nearly hands-off version of the courting process, which had happened even though Bond had been very interested. True, he didn’t feel the same sort of sexual tension from Watson and Sherlock, but that didn’t mean anything. “You know,” he said, pausing to take another drink. “Q and I didn’t sleep together until after I brought him back. For most of our early relationship, I was all but convinced he wasn’t sexual at all.”
“Yeah, but he’s dated a couple of times,” Watson said. “Well, once, at least. Sherlock wanted to check her out, make sure she was safe. Which basically amounted to scaring the hell out of her when she realised two blokes were following her between work and home. Turned out she was selling drugs, though, so it was for the best, I suppose.” He shook his head and said, “Sherlock’s never dated anyone, so far as I can tell.”
Bond shook his head, though it took effort to drag his mind away from the drug dealer story. “You’re missing the point, Watson. I was okay with it.” He took another drink. “You can be in a relationship without sex.”
Instead of immediately protesting, Watson glanced over at the couch. “God knows I can’t keep a bloody girlfriend when he’s around. He sees to that,” he said with a wry, resigned laugh. “I’ve tried to leave, but... I just come back. He’s absolutely incredible, even when he’s an infuriating arse.” He turned back and gave Bond a sharp grin, asking, “How are you coping with knowing you’ll never be able to keep up with a tenth of what yours says?”
Bond’s responding grin was more rueful. “It helps that I’ve been putting up with the rambling band of misfit geeks down in TSS for years. And because most of his more animated conversations are about computers or gadgetry, I often get the benefit of a visual aid.”
Watson shuddered visibly. “The last time Sherlock did that, they had to call a HAZMAT team to scrub us down, even though he swore there wasn’t enough toxin to do any damage. Which reminds me, don’t ever let Q open a suitcase, on the off chance that something’s in there.” He took a swallow of his beer and looked at it with some disappointment. “This conversation calls for something stronger — which I had bought, until someone used it to sterilise his scalpels.”
Increasingly glad that Q’s bent was of the hardware variety, Bond shoved aside his horror at the idea of Sherlock wielding scalpels and walked over to the bar. Sherlock abruptly sat up, fixing Bond with a sharp-eyed glare. “This isn’t some obligatory toast, is it?”
“You don’t get any,” John answered.
“Pointless social rituals,” Sherlock said as he flopped back down out of sight.
Quietly, Q laughed, though his typing never paused.
“And that about sums up life with mine,” Watson said, giving Bond a grin.
Bond chuckled as he pulled down the scotch and a couple of glasses. “HAZMAT?” he prompted as he poured for both of them. He left the bottle on the counter and slid Watson’s drink toward him. “What toxin was it?” He’d had his own share of bad luck with suitcases of unknown content, though he was usually smart enough to have them scanned first — even, in one memorable incident, using airport security.
“Biological weaponry, or so everyone thought. Turned out to be flea powder — yes, dangerous in sufficient quantity, but not exactly anthrax.” Watson picked up the scotch, muttered, “Cheers,” and sipped. His brows went up. “Christ, that’s good. If Sherlock had used this on his scalpels, I would’ve throttled him. Now I don’t feel so bad.”
Bond made a mental note, in case he were ever expected to buy Watson a birthday or Christmas gift. “Sherlock is self-employed, correct? But he still works with the authorities?”
“If you could call it ‘employed’. I’ve sort of taken over handling the fees, since he gets distracted.” Watson shrugged a little guiltily. “Except from Mycroft. He’d extort thousands of quid from Mycroft to find a missing kitten, given half the chance. As for the authorities, it’s more a few detectives with the Met who find him useful enough to put up with his...” Watson shrugged again, this time more eloquently.
Bond let himself be momentarily distracted by wanting to question Watson about Sherlock’s and his relationship with Mycroft, but temporarily set it aside. “I’d like mine to consider working with, or even for, MI6 some day,” he started. He didn’t know how they’d fallen into using ‘mine’ as a substitute for names, but he found himself quite enjoying it. “But he’s very skittish. Very afraid of... being under someone’s thumb.”
“‘Someone’ or ‘someone stupid’?” Watson asked bluntly.
Bond shrugged. “That’s a good question.” He’d never thought to ask for reasons for Q’s limitations — he assumed they were all-encompassing instead of specific.
Watson gave him a sage nod. “All three of them aren’t very tolerant of people... I don’t want to say people who are ‘stupid’ — I mean, compared to them, look at us,” he said. “They look for something in a person. If it’s there, you’re fine. You’re in. God, am I making any sense? It’s like there needs to be a whole new language for this.”
“So what you’re saying is that I should find the person he’s most likely to... accept on an interpersonal level, who isn’t stupid.” Bond immediately pictured the old M, who would have been perfect for the role. Boothroyd also would have been an excellent choice, but he’d died in Silva’s explosion. He didn’t think Mallory or Tanner fit the description. Bond took a long drink of scotch. He would have to think more about it later.
“And just don’t let him talk to anyone else,” Watson said with a nod. “Though really, yours has always been very polite, the few times we’ve met. I wouldn’t have have believed he’s their brother at all, if not for that... way they have, when they stare at each other and each just knows what the other’s thinking.” He took a deep breath and turned the glass in his hand, frowning at the contents thoughtfully. “They’re not a conventional family, but I don’t think they’d be able to work in one. I’d... well, be careful introducing him to yours. Other people might not understand. God knows Harry doesn’t like Sherlock at all.”
Bond smiled sadly. “That’s one problem I won’t have to deal with. No family to speak of.” Then he looked up with, the corner of his mouth twitching. “Did Sherlock happen to be wielding a scalpel when he met your brother?”
“Sister.” Watson grinned. “And I haven’t actually let them meet. Harry’s an alcoholic — constantly relapsing, I’m afraid. She’s insecure enough without Sherlock cutting her off at the knees with five words or less. Knowing Harry, she’d just deck him. Which he’d deserve, but a family brawl isn’t the best way to spend Christmas. And they don’t do Christmas,” he added.
We don’t do birthdays or Christmas or the like, except when Mycroft and Sherlock went to the morgue one year, Bond briefly remembered Q saying. “Perhaps,” he said noncommittally. He wasn’t a particular fan of holidays himself, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to leave it open for a new tradition to develop, if Q ever changed his mind. And this dinner had been pleasant enough — useful, even. “Thank you, Watson. You’ve actually been very helpful.”
He smiled warmly. “It’s nice to get out for a civilized evening that doesn’t involve jumping off rooftops or the morgue, for a change. And look... He might be a complete bastard about it, but he really is happy for you two. It’s hard to tell, I know, but if he wasn’t — well, he’d be charming and polite. That’s when you know you’re in trouble, with Sherlock.”
“I can believe it,” Bond laughed. He set his scotch down on the counter and walked out to the living room to see Q and Sherlock still in the same places, and still not talking. Apparently the less-than-social siblings had met their conversational quota for the day. Much to his relief, while Q’s silence was still uncomfortable for Bond, Q still didn’t seem tense or upset. Sherlock, sprawled as he was, looked utterly bored and irritated. Bond chalked it up to it being his default setting and didn’t take it personally.
“Thank you for joining us for dinner, Sherlock,” Bond said, moving to stand beside Q. He was too low for Bond to rest a hand on his shoulder, so he just smiled. “It’s been interesting.” He shot Watson a grin.
Sherlock actually paused for a couple of seconds, looking from Q to Bond, before he sat up and turned unerringly to Watson, knowing precisely where he was standing, even out of his line-of-sight. He arched a brow questioningly.
“Yes,” Watson said with a sigh. Sherlock kicked his legs over Q’s head to stand.
Q looked up at him for a moment, then sat up on the couch, got on one knee, and turned to look over the back, saying, “Take care, John.”
“You, too.” Watson gave them both a friendly smile, ignoring the way Sherlock was already heading for the door. “I’d offer to reciprocate, but we don’t actually have a table most of the time.”
“John,” Sherlock complained.
“A pub, next time,” Watson asked Bond, deliberately not looking at Q. Any other time, it would’ve been rude; now, it just showed that Bond knew Q wasn’t the type to go to pubs.
“Absolutely,” Bond replied, pleased at the willing informant Watson was turning out to be. “Red Queen, disengage outer door lock.”
“Outer door lock disengaged,” came the automated response.
After one last “Good night,” Watson caught up with Sherlock. The door closed behind them with a loud thunk, the locks automatically clicking back into place behind them. Q reached up and put his hand on Bond’s arm, smiling at him.
“Thank you,” he said. “Difficult as it may be for you to believe, that actually went quite well.”
“Yes, it did, didn’t it?” Bond said, smiling down at Q. “I wasn’t more than passingly tempted to take out your brother, and Watson turned out to be a useful conversational companion. Not bad.”
“He’s good for Sherlock.” Q reached out and closed his laptop before he stood and kissed Bond’s cheek. “No, you don’t have to do this with Mycroft. And when he invites you to dinner, you don’t have to go.” Q’s smile turned just a bit vicious. “If he tries to have you kidnapped, feel free to shoot anyone in the way — only to wound, though, please. They’re probably MI5.”
“He’s logical enough to know better,” Bond answered thoughtfully. “I suspect he knows full well I’m always armed.” He realized he’d forgotten to ask Watson about their relationship with Mycroft, but pushed it aside. Perhaps a pub, without either brother and with enough noise to make long-distance listening devices nearly impossible to use, would be the best place for that sort of conversation anyway.
“I’m not entirely averse to going out, you know,” Q said. He crossed to the charger where the sweeper-bots lived and manually disengaged the latch. Immediately, they whirred to life and began to disperse, chasing down any dust and debris dropped by their guests. Q continued to the bar, where he picked up the glasses and beer bottles.
Bond moved over to the sink, pulling open the dishwasher and turning on the water. “A pub doesn’t seem your style. Lots of people, lots of alcohol, no wifi.” He shot Q a fond smile as he rinsed the plates and stacked them in the dishwasher, which Q had agreed not to use for electronics — at least not with an acid rinse.
“I’m not agoraphobic,” Q complained with an indulgent smile. “I don’t like most people, that’s all. And it’s more efficient to stay in and have food delivered.” He intentionally got in the way while Bond’s hands were full of dripping dishes, and got his arms around Bond’s waist. “Most restaurants have minimal dress codes.”
Given the choice between cleaning up dirty dishes or getting his hands on Q... well, there was no choice at all. He dropped the dishes back into the sink, gently as he could. “How about we start slow and work our way up?” he suggested. “A coffee shop for breakfast — tablet, no laptop. A sandwich shop for lunch that doesn’t have wifi. Then a nice restaurant for dinner; no dinner jacket required, but no jeans allowed either. Not all in the same day, of course.”
“I don’t own a jacket anymore,” Q said with a shrug. “I gave everything away, remember? But the rest, we can do. If” — he deliberately pressed close, sliding his hands down over Bond’s arse — “you really want me wearing anything at all, that is.”
“Only you would donate a gorgeous bespoke suit like that.” He slid his still-wet hands into Q’s back pockets. “What a bloody waste.”
“I never even wore it. Mycroft gave it to me, with a season ticket to the opera. I think he hoped to distract me from staying at home.” He sniffed derisively and nipped at Bond’s throat. “Besides, it was Gieves and Hawkes. Too conservative for my liking. If I’m going to put on a damned dinner suit, it’ll be my choice.”
Bond looked at Q with surprise. It shouldn’t have come as a shock that Q knew so much about bespoke suits, given what he’d slowly been learning about the Holmes family. But it was hard to reconcile the wild-haired, ripped-jeans and Star Wars T-shirt-wearing creature in his arms to one who could turn out flawlessly in Richard James bespoke or Dolce and Gabbana for casual wear. The thought was nearly intoxicating.
He pulled Q close, kissing him roughly, holding him tight enough to let his interest be felt. “If you still have that season pass, I think I’m going to have to take you to my tailor very soon for just that reason.”
Q laughed. “It’s one ticket. He wouldn’t want me seen with a string of dates — not on the off chance that one of the family’s old friends would recognise me. Besides, I can’t stand most opera. And the last time you were at an opera, didn’t you throw a diplomat’s bodyguard off the roof? Are you even allowed anymore?”
“As long as I can remember which one of my many IDs is blacklisted, we’ll be fine,” Bond said with a chuckle. “It’s not as if they recognize me on sight. So unless you have an alternative idea for my excuse to get you into a black silk necktie...” He raised his eyebrow.
“Other than bondage?”
Bond stepped back with a strangled, choked sound, stared at Q for a long, surprised moment, then grabbed his hand. “I think it’s time we broke in the new bed, don’t you?”
Q laughed quietly. “You know that most silk doesn’t hold knots efficiently, don’t you?” he asked, abandoning the kitchen to go for the new bed. They’d purchased it yesterday, after too many nights of arguing politely over sleeping on the floor (too hard) or the bed (too soft). The solution was two air mattresses in a complex frame of foam with a feather bolster over the top. They’d bought new furniture to match, with sleek, clean lines.
“You’re lecturing an MI6 agent on what will and will not hold a sturdy knot?” Bond asked with amusement. He tugged Q towards the bed, then let go long enough to lie down on it, arms under his head, waiting expectantly for Q to climb on top of him.
Unhurried, Q took his mobile from his belt and plugged it into the bedside charger, and then did the same for Bond. His glasses joined the phones, and he pushed his hair back out of his eyes before he crawled up over Bond, ducking his head for a kiss. “Thank you for coming to find me,” he said quietly.
“I’d say anytime, but I’d really rather not encourage a repeat,” Bond replied with a grin. He pulled Q down to continue the kiss, meeting his gaze when they pulled apart. “Every time,” he promised instead. For as long as Q would have him.