“You’re a terrible person, you know that?” James says when Q comes back home. “You know how I am with secrets.”
Q drops his bag on the floor and turns a considering look on him. For all that he tries, he can’t quite hide the pleased smile on his lips when he catches sight of the warmth that James lets seep freely into his expression. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
James crosses his arms, leaning against their dinner table with a playful smirk. The dinner dishes next to him are still hot and steaming, his new art supplies safely tucked away in a corner of their living room. “No?”
“No.” Q takes off his coat and pads up to James to kiss him in greeting. It’s quick and chaste, and when Q makes as if to pull away, James brings him back with a kiss that’s slow and drawn-out, sweet with his gratitude and heavy with his desire to lavish his appreciation on Q’s bare skin.
“I did warn you,” Q murmurs smugly when they part, a pretty flush on his cheeks. He snuggles up to James, warm and languid. “I make the best plans.”
James chuckles, wrapping his arms around Q’s waist. “Since your plans have saved my life more times than I’ve bothered to count, I can’t disagree with that. But you do realise that now you have me at a disadvantage, and I hate being at a disadvantage.”
Q tilts his head back to peer at James through his eyelashes, looking perplexed. It’s a very beguiling look, so James sneaks two kisses in before letting Q mumble out, “What disadvantage?”
“I still don’t know your birthday,” James points out. Frustration threatens to turn his tone tart but he’s all too easily mollified by Q’s warmth and proximity. It’s hardly the first time he’s brought this up; he’s asked before, many times. Q always deflected, ignored, or outright refused to answer the question.
“Oh, that.” Q relaxes with a dismissive air. He eyes James for a moment before smiling impishly. “It’s a secret.” But the glint in his eyes says that it’s not so much a secret as a challenge.
James growls and nips lightly at his ear in punishment. How dare Q use his weaknesses against him. Perhaps the rest of their life together will be a series of chases, one right after another, mischievous and bright without the acrid desperation of their courtship.
He can’t wait.
“You cheeky little sod. Fine.” His grin is wild and thrilled, a predator picking up the scent of the hunt. “You’re on.”
James sits on the sofa and stares at the collection of art supplies in front of him.
He...doesn’t know what to do. How to start.
What the hell does he really know about art? Nothing. He knows lines and angles, blueprints and escape routes. The only reason he ever even started doodling in the first place was because of his mother, because of Q.
Now, confronted by the masses of paints and brushes and canvases that Q saw fit to give him for his birthday, James is suddenly overwhelmingly aware that he’s probably in way over his head. He isn’t the artist Q seems to think he is. For fuck’s sake, he barely knows how to draw a building!
How is he supposed to create anything close to the magnificent pieces they admired in the National Gallery or even the lovely paintings that hang from the walls of their home? Just thinking about trying to draw a human face frightens James more than live grenades ever did.
If only the other Double-Ohs could see him now, he thinks with a wry smirk. They’d never let him live it down.
A meow breaks his concentration. James glances down as Rayleigh butts his head against his shin. He meows again, peering up at James with wide eyes. Days of being left alone with the demanding beasts mean that James has no problem picking up on what he wants.
Snorting, James picks Rayleigh up and deposits him in his lap, ignoring the blue fur that instantly coats his white t-shirt. It’s just as well that there’s no need for him to wear suits at home. The amount of dry cleaning that would be needed would be downright ridiculous.
Stroking a hand down the cat’s back in a familiar motion, James looks out the window, shoulders relaxing as Rayleigh purrs quietly. It’s brilliantly sunny in that way it only ever is during the colder seasons, and while some leaves still cling stubbornly to their branches, most trees are bare.
A far cry from the last time he considered art, but…
The memory of it - cool moonlight and the taste of champagne on his tongue, the irresistible stretch of Q’s pale, beautiful skin beneath his pen and Rome’s soft bed sheets beneath his knees - sparks a strange sort of want in his chest.
James returns his attention to the pencils waiting patiently for him. His fingers itch.
Slowly, tentatively, he removes a graphite pencil from a pack. It’s slim and fragile in his palm. His hands are used to grasping pens and pulling triggers; his fingers have been broken half a dozen times. This level of delicacy and detail he normally leaves to disarming bombs and touching Q.
The pencil is unsharpened, although the words on the side inform him that it’s meant to be of a certain thickness. He spots a small, elegant knife included in the package, not meant for lethal intent although fully capable of it in James’ hands, and this - this, he knows how to do.
James gently shoos Rayleigh off of his lap but lets the cat curl up at his side while he expertly sharpens the pencil over the table. The pencil shavings fall in graceful long curls, testament to his skill with blades of all kinds. James finds the work soothing, a step back into his comfort zone.
Minutes later, James holds the pencil tip up to the light. It gleams, pointed and fine. A job well done if he says so himself.
He hesitates, the moment of familiarity gone, but even so, he can only hesitate for a second or ten before the silliness of it all catches up to him. He’s hesitating over a pencil and paper. James normally eschews delay, especially when he knows what the next step is; the first one to shoot walks out alive.
He picks a sketchbook at random. It’s a “mixed media pad” and when he tests the paper between his fingers, it’s heavy and slightly textured. A pleasant sensation overall. When he draws an experimental line across the page, the colour comes out light and grey, the sharpness of the pencil a foreign satisfaction.
James has seduced many an artist in his time, listened to their dreams in their beds and flirted with them over their lifelong works. Abruptly, he recalls something a sweet lady from Vienna once told him and drags his finger over the pencil line.
It smudges, and he hums thoughtfully. He can work with this. Surely it can’t be so difficult.
A lifetime of bullshitting and winging it leads him through the rest of the day, and when Q gets back, he finds James with a small mountain of pencil shavings in front of him, working on a half-decent sketch of the table.
Morgana and Rayleigh entwine themselves around Q’s feet, disgruntled. James has barely paid attention to them all day! The nerve of him.
Making sympathetic noises, Q pets their sorrows away and wonders out loud, “Are we getting takeout tonight then?”
“In a second,” James mutters, squinting at his work. “Let me get this shading right.”
By the time he looks up again, attention caught by the delicious smells in the air and the grumbling of his stomach, it’s an hour later and Q is shoving Chinese food under his nose. “Nice role reversal, this,” he comments with an amused smile.
James is faintly disconcerted. It’s been years since he was so blind to time and his environment. He consoles himself with the fact that the cats are only a minor danger and he never was able to categorise Q as even the slightest threat. “I like coffee,” he deflects smoothly.
Q looks absolutely appalled by the implication that he’s now meant to leave James cups of coffee all over the table. “We don’t have a coffee machine,” he says at once.
“That can be fixed.”
“Don’t you dare, James Bond.”
James takes it back. He takes it all back. Can’t be so difficult, his arse.
“Fuck.” Scowling, he glares at the sketch he’s been working on for the past hour. James just can’t get the damned angle right. And he’s already erased so much that his kneaded eraser is more dark gray than white.
Sighing and giving this one up for a lost cause too, he tears the page off and crumples it into a ball. Leaning back, James easily throws the ball into the recycling can, where it joins its many brethren with only a soft noise of complaint.
The new blank white page mocks him with its leftover indentations. His pencil, thinner and darker than the one he first picked up, is blunt once more. The angle of the sun has changed again, and Morgana, seated primly on the very table he was staring at, gives him an unimpressed look.
“Oh, shut up,” he tells her and puts the sketchbook and pencil on the table. Picking Morgana up with the ease that comes of experience, James gets up from the sofa and heads to the kitchen. They have a deal, these two devils and him. He’ll give them treats and they won’t break his pencils.
They renege on the unspoken contract more often than not, but James is a desperate man these days and he’s even willing to admit it from time to time.
Leaving Morgana happily placated, James deftly snatches a red pen from the kitchen counter. The set that Q gave him is slowly being distributed throughout the flat so he never has to look far when he wants to talk to Q.
Pushing back his left sleeve, he enquires on his arm: Lunch?
Sometimes, when Q isn’t preoccupied, James can coax the Quartermaster out of his den for a lunch break at a nice restaurant nearby. So far, he’s triumphed four out of nine times but he’s confident that he’ll be able to improve his success rate over time.
While he waits for Q to either respond or ignore him, James drinks a mug of milk. Rayleigh pads up to butt his head against his shin, meowing insistently for attention. James rolls his eyes and bends down to stroke a hand down the cat’s spine. “You’re too needy,” he informs him.
Rayleigh purrs louder in response.
It’s quiet but for Rayleigh’s purrs and the tap of Morgana’s claws against the kitchen floor. James closes his eyes, drinking in the peace. After years of gunshots and death sounding in his ears, this sort of quiet is still rare, still beautiful enough to kick him in the heart.
He honestly never expected to adjust to civilian life so well.
A familiar, gentle warmth brushes his arm a few minutes later.
Busy, Q’s written, letters sloppy and slanted, clearly in a hurry. He could be busy with any number of things but at the top of the list is a Double-Oh mission. And James will never be so removed from MI6 and his former colleagues that he’d place his own desires above their safety.
But if Q-Branch is so active that they can’t spare their Quartermaster for an hour, it’s not likely that Q will get his own lunch in the meantime.
Well then. James smirks and grabs his coat. He’ll just have to bring lunch to Q.
As expected, Q-Branch resembles nothing so much as a riled-up wasp’s nest when James arrives. He does so with a thoroughly self-satisfied air and a cocky swagger to his footsteps. Moneypenny certainly came through with that new security clearance.
A baffled silence and a few dozen stares follow him. Just as Q-Branch’s doors close behind him, the muffled whispers start.
“I heard he retired!”
“What’s he doing back here?”
Knowing the MI6 grapevine, the news will reach M within the next twenty minutes. Maybe ten if Moneypenny isn’t busy. Grinning like the cat that got all of the cream, James saunters into Q-Branch, nearly unnoticed in the chaos.
He’s come at a good time, relatively speaking. All of that time spent watching Q has made James well-versed in gauging the moods of Q-Branch, and he can say with assurance that while the situation - whatever situation that’s going on - is high-priority, it hasn’t exploded yet.
Or possibly, it’s exploded already and now the minions are doing clean-up. Regardless, although everyone’s either typing madly or running around with tunnel vision, a few minutes of distraction on Q’s part won’t kill someone.
James has made it halfway to Q’s base of operations before someone notices him. It helps that he’s wearing a black coat and black trousers instead of the sharp suit that most of the boffins have grown used to seeing him in. People see what they want to see.
Inevitably, though, the minion he blackmailed a few weeks back accidentally drops all of the files he was carrying in his arms upon spotting James. “Dou - Double-Seven?” he splutters, promptly alerting everyone around him to James’ presence.
It only takes a few seconds for the news to spread through the branch like wildfire. Half of the boffins stop working to stare at him, wide-eyed, while the other half are far too busy to do anything but dismiss him like an irritating fly.
James ignores them all, making his way forward with stubborn tenacity. Q, brilliant, mulish Q, hasn’t even noticed the wave of surprised silence sweeping the room, much too absorbed in his work. A single mug of steaming tea has been set down at his side, along with an unopened granola bar.
James huffs out an amused breath. Of course. Stepping forward on silent feet, he approaches Q, who has his head bent and eyes focused on his screen, oblivious to his lover standing half a metre away and the Indian takeout he places discreetly near his elbow.
Even after all of this time, even after knowing, it still unravels James a little to watch Q angle his body slightly in James’ direction, an instinctive acknowledgement of his soulmate that goes far beyond the conscious.
Madeleine said he does the same but James almost can’t believe it.
Very, very briefly, James considers being subtle and letting the rest of MI6 think what they want. He drops the idea like a hot potato. He doesn’t want Q to be known as available, doesn’t want to be thought of as the single, womanizing bachelor himself.
No, what he really wants to do is show Q off to the world.
“Darling,” James says, soft and dear but just loud enough for the nearest minions to hear. The low-level murmur instantly rises to a buzz across Q-Branch.
The easy dance of Q’s fingers falters as he jolts, the coding on the screen gaining a red squiggle underneath to indicate a typo. He looks up to squint at James, blinking rapidly as if worried that his vision is failing him. “...James?” he asks incredulously. “What are you doing here?”
James knows he’s smiling smugly, but he can’t help it, not when the whispered interest has lifted sharply into sotto voce gossiping. Q couldn’t have confirmed their relationship any more blatantly than if he’d shagged James in the middle of his de-facto throne room.
“Bringing you lunch,” James says, rather pleased with the world at the moment, and leans in to brush a soft kiss on Q’s lips. “Hello, my Quartermaster.”
Q-Branch finally explodes into loud exclamations, congratulations, and questions, the minions frantically speaking over each other and competing for coherency. Q catches on half a second later and flushes a gorgeous pink.
“James!” he hisses. Only after James grins like the devil himself does he seem to realise what he just said. Again. The minions nearby are all but twittering, their fingers dancing with hummingbird speed across their keyboards.
Q swivels his head around to glare darkly at James, who raises his hands, palms out, lips still twitching. “You said it, not me,” he points out, adopting a perfectly sensible tone only because he knows it’ll irritate Q.
For a moment, Q’s expression vies between embarrassment, annoyance, and resignation. To James’ delight, Q decides to settle on a grumpy sort of acceptance. He’ll be allowed to stay then, disruption or not.
With a small sigh and a roll of his eyes directed at James, Q turns to address his subordinates. “That’s enough,” he orders firmly. “Everyone back to work now. We don’t need a war with Spain anytime this century.”
It’s a measure of Q’s authority and the respect he wields within his domain that there is only mild groaning at such a command and everyone actually turns back to their monitors after a second or two, albeit with a good majority sneaking glances at them every two minutes or so.
“Oh, shut up,” Q says when he spots the look of self-satisfaction on James’ face. “You’re such a smug bastard. Look at what you’ve done; I’m never going to finish my work now.”
“Mmm, but look at what I’ve brought you.” James leans forward to tap the takeout on the table pointedly.
Exaggerated suspicion draws Q’s eyebrows together, and his eyes dart from the container to James and then back again. “It had better not be the remains of another gun,” he threatens even as he reaches for the box.
James waits with an easy kind of patience, cocking his hip against Q’s desk with anticipation a slow burn in his blood. He spies the exact instant Q recognises what’s in the containers by the way he smiles with startled brightness, seemingly almost despite himself. “You got me curry!”
“It’s the good kind, too,” James supplies with a slight tilt of his head. The half-smile that lingers on his lips is softer, warmer than his previous grins, the predator that lives deep within his soul basking in the light of Q’s happiness with a purr. “Authentic.”
Q hums, already rooting for a spoon in the plastic bag. He finds one with a triumphant look and promptly digs in with a moan that makes James twitch and two nearby minions blush to the tips of their ears.
He probably hasn’t eaten anything since the croissant James managed to shove at him in the morning while Q was basically already out the door, babbling about the latest cybersecurity threat. Typical.
“Am I forgiven then?” James asks with a cajoling smile the next time Q has his mouth mostly free.
Q’s responding look is droll. “Well,” he sighs, achingly put-upon, “I suppose I must for curry this good. How do you always know where all the best restaurants are?”
“It’s my best quality,” James agrees, deadpan. “My encyclopedic knowledge of excellent restaurants around the world.”
Q laughs, and that’s exactly when Moneypenny bursts in, Tanner hot on her heels.
“James!” Moneypenny exclaims before narrowing her eyes, her high heels clicking on the floor as she stalks across Q-Branch. Minions, ever intelligent, dive out of her way. “I should have known you were the one causing all this ruckus.”
Turning to acknowledge her with a hand absently placed on the small of Q’s back, James greets her shamelessly. “Moneypenny. You look as beautiful as ever.” That magenta dress really is a statement.
Coming to a stop before them, she plants her hand on her hip. “And you look thoroughly besotted,” Moneypenny teases lightly.
“Can’t imagine why,” James replies, staying exactly where he is. Tanner, whose eyes seem magnetized to the point of contact between James’ hand and Q’s back, looks torn between approving and pained.
On the other hand, Moneypenny beams, blatantly delighted. “About time.”
Tanner coughs and seems to recover his composure with a small smile. “Bond, M wants to see you,” he says politely, apparently having decided that avoiding the topic altogether is the best way to approach the situation.
“I’m busy,” James claims, knowing full well it’s futile but perfectly willing to make as much of a terror of himself as he can. He gleefully makes no attempt at hiding the lie.
Before Moneypenny’s eyebrows can rise too high, Q, who’s been preoccupying himself with his curry this entire while, huffs out a breath and puts his spoon down. “No, you aren’t,” he disagrees, charmingly unamused. “And I have work to do so if we could all vacate my Branch before another national monument gets blown up by 002…”
James grins, impervious as always to disapproval. “Come now, Q, we all have our little vices.”
“No, a vice would be the amount of expensive alcohol in our mini-fridge,” Q retorts with a pointed frown. “A blown up national monument is mountains of paperwork and no equipment brought back and a two week stay in Medical.”
“It’s all just a matter of degrees, really.” James rocks back on his heels, slipping his hand into his pocket. “I’ll pick you up at six?”
“Is this what you guys are like at home?” Moneypenny asks with open fascination.
Tanner just slaps a hand over his eyes like he can’t bear to watch.
The meeting with M goes about as well as James expects. M hems and haws and tries to chew out James for his unorthodox method of resigning but ends up just throwing a file of paperwork at him and ordering him out of his office with a warning to behave.
James walks out of MI6 with a spring in his step and a thousand pleasant rumours brewing behind his back and a bribed secretary.
Later that night, James positions himself purposefully on the sofa and stares down the window. Q’s typing at his laptop at the dining table, a familiar white noise. Even after prying him from his work at 1845, the Quartermaster of MI6 never rests.
He picks up his pencil and begins again.
James is staring down two potatoes in Waitrose when John Watson bumps into him.
“Bond? Commander Bond?” Watson blinks at him, the surprise on his face as genuine as the six tubs of ketchup in his cart, before a wide grin stretches across his mouth. “Fancy seeing you here! Glad to see you survived Afghanistan, mate. And not badly off, too.”
James rapidly masks away his own surprise and smirks back, pulling on the persona of a sailor of the Royal Navy like an old but well-worn suit. “Good to see you again, too, Watson. You’ve...got a lot of ketchup there.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure why those are there either,” Watson shrugs, rueful. His gaze scans over James, the motion quick and skilled and familiar, and James knows the exact second Watson takes note of the gun holster, the knives, and the markers of a combat-ready fighter.
James wonders when he’ll begin to lose those. Whatever conclusion Watson comes to, his eyes narrow slightly, but he continues on without a hitch, without any defensiveness lining his body language. James can respect that.
“I figure Sherlock will tell me eventually. It’s probably for some ill-begotten experiment.”
Ah. Q did warn him a few days ago that his brothers are ‘smart, tricky bastards with no sense of boundaries.’ “Sherlock?” James repeats with a meticulously calculated dose of question in his voice.
“You haven’t spent a lot of time back here, have you?” Watson raises his eyebrows. “Sherlock’s been in the newspapers a few times now, but I guess you haven’t really had the chance to read those.”
“Not particularly,” James says drolly, and Watson chuckles.
“Thought not. Sherlock H - ”
A sharp baritone cuts in, the timing too perfect. “Sherlock Holmes. Nice to finally meet you, James Bond.” The man who strides up to stand beside Watson and offer his hand is unforgettable in a fascinating kind of way, not beautiful in the conventional sense but certainly eye-catching.
James observes the dark curls, cutting cheekbones, and indomitable air with familiarity. The hazel eyes and tall, lean figure are new, as is the professionally-made coat he swirls around and the near aggressive boldness.
“I would introduce myself, but you already know my name,” James murmurs, shaking Sherlock’s hand once before letting go.
“You already knew mine,” Sherlock returns at once.
Watson has gone quiet and still, eyes darting between them. “Sherlock,” he says slowly, “what’s going on?” But regardless of his confusion, he’s shifted immediately to both include Sherlock in the conversation and subtly insert himself between the two of them.
A guard against what he perceives as a possible threat and a shield in the event of an attack. All utterly subconscious. Is this what he’s like with Q?
As Sherlock turns to answer Watson’s question, his eyes soften. “This is Q’s soulmate and the cause of all that whinging,” he says, waving a hand dismissively at James. “Thankfully, they finally got their acts together and made up over a month ago. I don’t think I could have stood any more stupidity.”
Watson’s eyes have widened in abrupt comprehension. “Bond is Q’s soulmate?” he says with clear disbelief.
“Yes, isn’t that what I just said? Do keep up, John.” Looking back at James, Sherlock opens his mouth to fire off another comment, likely one not anywhere near as indulgent as the ones to his soulmate, but the beep of a phone cuts him off.
With a dramatic groan, Sherlock fetches out his phone and peers at the screen. He instantly looks highly disgruntled at whatever he finds there.
“It’s Mycroft, isn’t it,” Watson says.
Sherlock nods with a petulant roll of his eyes. “Yes, sadly. My meddlesome brother says not to cause a scene in Waitrose since Q is too busy to erase footage for us. Hah! As if he doesn’t have secretaries who do that for him on a daily basis!” He starts to text back furiously.
The quirk of Watson’s smile is more exasperated than anything else. “That sounds like Mycroft, alright.” He glances at James with a sympathizing tilt of his head. “You don’t have to come with us; it’ll just be easier if you do.”
James is familiar with these situations. “Don’t mind if I do,” he says, almost glibly. It’s not as if he has any other plans for the rest of the night, and he may as well start casing out what sort of family he’s getting himself into. But first - “After checking out.”
Sherlock glances up from his phone to cast him a quick once over, snorts at whatever he finds, and takes off for the checkout with a theatrical swish of his belstaff. “Whatever you’re assuming, don’t. You’re wrong.”
Watson, when James glances at him, can only offer a vaguely apologetic smile and a shrug before trotting off after Sherlock, frowning vaguely at all of the ketchup.
They all pile into a black taxi, sleek and pretty, whereupon Sherlock preoccupies himself with his phone, presumably in a texting war with his brother, and Watson leans over Sherlock’s shoulder to read and chuckle occasionally.
James just stares out the window, orienting himself on his mental map of London. Even without Q’s warnings, there are rumours about Mycroft Holmes when one cares to listen for them and old habits die hard.
Absently, he hopes that the food he bought will actually get back to the flat. The other, far more normal-looking cab took everything, including all those tubs of ketchup, and the cabbie cheerfully assured James that she knows where she’s going and what to do.
Maybe it’s just his paranoia but James very much doubts that. He has a feeling he’ll have to go back to Waitrose tomorrow. He might as well drag Q along, too, for getting him all but pseudo-kidnapped by his brothers.
They pull up at the Diogenes Club, which fits perfectly with what James knows about the Holmes family. Sherlock stuffs his phone back into a pocket of his jacket and sweeps off, Watson his calm shadow. James follows them both, unsurprised when the black taxi peels away at once.
They’re waved through briskly, yet another sign of power and wealth, and encounter a beautiful woman with long, curly brown hair in a perfectly-tailored grey suit. She smiles politely at them, makeup done with a delicate touch. “He’s waiting for you.”
Sherlock sniffs and sails past her to enter the room, John only a minute behind with a respectful nod, a returning smile, and a friendly, “Anthea” to offset his partner’s brusqueness. James follows them more sedately, hands in his pockets. “Nice to meet you,” he offers as he walks by.
Her hum is equal parts uninterested and knowing. “And you.”
He keeps an eye on her until the doors shut behind him. She was armed with two guns, one in a shoulder holster and one in a thigh holster under her skirt. He suspects the other thigh holster held a knife. Clearly not just a secretary then but also a bodyguard.
He hopes she never makes an acquaintance with Moneypenny.
Mycroft Holmes is sitting behind a large mahogany desk, a familiar cane in his hands. The equally familiar tapestry hung behind him somewhat undercuts his menacing image. So that’s where those little drops of Rome went.
“Sherlock. John.” He nods to each in turn and then smiles blandly at James. “Mr Bond. Please, take a seat.”
It’s not a request.
“Mr Holmes,” Bond returns. He sits in the chair placed directly in front of Mycroft with all the nonchalant insolence he can muster, which, after years of pissing off both Ms, is more than enough to make Mycroft twitch. “What can I owe this pleasure to?”
“Who,” Mycroft corrects, leaning back in his swivel chair. “It’s ‘who’. And I think we both know the answer to that question, Mr Bond. This talk has been a long time coming.”
Watson, who has followed Sherlock to one of the side sofas, snickers. “Yeah, well, if the ‘Holmes Shovel Talk’ was normal in my case, then it’s been several years late.”
“Two years and a month to be exact,” Sherlock imparts nonchalantly. “Technically, Q first laid eyes on him around seven years ago, but he probably didn’t even know Q existed back then.”
Mycroft frowns at them both, equal parts chiding, exasperated, and resigned before turning his attention back on James. “While, as always, I must ask you both to refrain from conducting yourselves like children,” he says, “they are correct on this matter.”
He places his cane against his desk and leans forward, placing his folded hands on the table. “You broke our brother’s heart seven years ago and left it broken until very recently,” Mycroft states mildly. “Are we meant to leave him in your hands with the assumption that you’ll be gentler this time around?”
James swallows down the automatic anger, well aware he’s being provoked, and falls into the calm, detached mental state he’s developed for stressful situations with unknown parties. He doubts Mycroft - because in the end, Mycroft holds the power in this room - will actually have him hurt, not when it would harm Q in turn, but there are other ways to impact a life.
“You underestimate Q’s agency,” he tells them coolly. “Those were all his decisions. Respect them.”
Sherlock makes a derisive noise. “Q has a streak of stubborn martyrism for people he’s emotionally attached to,” he snaps. “His ‘agency’, as you call it, might very well get him killed one day.”
“You’re one to talk,” Watson mutters, frowning at Sherlock.
Sherlock clearly pretends not to hear.
James crosses his legs, projecting careless arrogance. “He’s tougher than you believe,” he replies, starting to grasp the surface level of the dynamics between these brothers. “And if he gets in over his head, that’s what I’m here for.”
“You,” Mycroft says, silkily calculating, “do not have a good record for protecting assets, Mr Bond. Your lovers have had ever shorter life spans.”
James takes the hit without flinching. He was expecting something like this. On the other end of the table, he would have gone for that pressure point without hesitation, too. “I have one life to give, and I’d give it,” he vows bluntly. “Name someone who could do better.”
There’s a beat of silence. “He’s got a point,” Watson admits cheerfully. Both Holmes throw sulky looks at him, but Watson merely shrugs in response.
“Besides,” James adds, “anyone who tries to bypass Q’s security systems wouldn’t need me. The cats would take them.”
Watson laughs. “Alright, mate,” he says. “I’m not here for whatever game those two are playing this time and I don’t have half of Mycroft’s confidential information, but I do want to know three things.”
To James’ surprise, instead of continuing the conversation with him, Watson turns to Sherlock, who has his arms crossed but is evidently listening. “Does he love him?” Watson asks.
“...yes,” Sherlock mutters.
Watson nods, looking unsurprised. “Will he take care of him?”
Another grumpy affirmative.
“Does he make Q happy?”
A long pause.
Sherlock heaves a dramatic sigh. “I don’t know why, but yes.”
“Then we’re good.” Watson grins at James, who smiles back. There’s that solid pragmatic nature that Bond found so admirable back in the war. He’s glad Watson hasn’t lost it. “Welcome to this utterly insane family of genii.”
James waits a few seconds for Sherlock and Mycroft to protest. Sherlock huffs, and Mycroft has a sour look on his face, but neither says anything. Not so much of an interrogation, he thinks, as it is a farce of one. They wanted to see how he would react, yes, but only for entertainment and out of pettiness.
If they had any doubts, they came to their conclusions about him a long time ago, and nothing he could have said or done today would have changed that.
“Thanks,” James replies wryly just as the phone rings.
Mycroft sighs. “Excuse me,” he says and turns his chair so it faces away from them. He takes the call.
“Lestrade.” Sherlock gives a put-upon groan. “That or Q, if he’s not busy enough with incompetent agents to keep an eye on what Bond’s doing.”
“Gregory Lestrade’s a Detective Inspector with New Scotland Yard,” Watson informs James. “He’s Mycroft’s...uhh...I guess boyfriend is the right term.” His frown is somewhat disturbed.
Sherlock makes a truly aggrieved noise. Watson rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, stop that. Anthea - that was the woman back there - is Mycroft’s platonic soulmate. You’ll probably see them both around.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” James says as Mycroft ends his conversation.
He turns around to face them again. “That was Q. I’ve been told that I must end this kidnapping within the next ten minutes or all of my electronics will begin to suffer from viruses.” Mycroft somehow manages to make it clear that, regardless of the threat, the only reason he’s considering obeying the order is because it’s his baby brother doing the ordering.
James smiles. “As I’m sure you know, he’s perfectly capable of it.” He stands up and nods goodbye to Watson, who returns the gesture. Before he goes, though, he adds, “I do have one question.”
“Go ahead,” Mycroft says, twirling his cane.
James absently murders another sketchpad and throws it across the room. It lands in the recycling bin perfectly. He says, “Your brothers are just like you.”
Q looks positively aghast. “Why would you say that.”
“Is the rest of your family like this, too?”
“Mummy invited us to dinner in four months, so you’ll get to find out for yourself.”
James pulls out another pencil to sharpen. The pocket knife he’s taken to using gleams sharp and sweet in his hand. “...look forward to it.”
“Believe me, James Bond, no, you don’t.”
A day later, James drags Q back to Waitrose and proceeds to buy wildly extravagant ingredients for the dishes that he’s always wanted to try out and never had the chance to while Q wanders around, looking for the tea and snacks and biscuits.
When he was an agent, James never really touched the money in his bank. Not significantly anyhow; expensive scotch doesn’t count. He wasn’t ever in England for long enough to buy anything material he could theoretically enjoy for longer than a week.
Now that he’s factoring in his near-mythical retirement fund, apparently having peacefully accumulated interest while 007 didn’t know it existed, he can basically spend money as they like without fear of living on the streets, so long as they don’t try to buy the palace on a whim.
Q has taken recently to doing James’ finances as well, because the one time he found James bent over their dining table, scowling at tax forms, he proclaimed it “disgraceful” and “ridiculous” and promptly absconded with the papers before James could blink. When questioned about it, he said something about an algorithm and overbearing big brothers.
Having now met them, James doesn’t doubt that he doesn’t want to know.
“Is that salmon?” Q demands when he wanders back over to James with his hands full of digestives.
James continues pushing their cart along without breaking stride. “Yes, it is.”
Q dumps his goods inside the cart and side-eyes James. “Why are you buying salmon? You don’t like salmon. I don’t like salmon. Whom is the salmon for?”
“You don’t have to sound so suspicious, love,” James says, deadpan. He scrutinizes the organic brown twelve-pack egg cartons. “There’s no other woman. You know you’re the only one for me.”
“Git,” Q says with great dignity. “Don’t change the subject. I’m not nearly insecure enough to feel threatened by salmon, of all things.”
“Nobody and nothing,” says James.
“You know, the recycling guy complimented me on how hard we’re working to keep our house in order. Saving the trees, he said. Saving Mother Earth. Doing our duty to help the planet.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Q snickers as another ball of paper joins its fellows in the nearly-full recycling bin.
“It didn’t look that bad this time,” he protests. “I think you’re getting that cubist style.”
“I was trying to draw the London Eye,” James points out. “Realistically.”
“Ah.” A pause. “Fancy a cuppa?”
“Earl Grey, it is.”
“James fucking Bond!”
“How many times do I have to tell you that my middle name isn’t ‘fucking’?” James wonders as he walks into the living room, hair still damp from his shower. “Although I am exceptional at the act, if I do say so myself.”
Q glares at him, bent protectively over his laptop. “Your humbleness is astounding. And don’t try to change the bloody subject,” he says darkly. “Why the hell were you trying to hack into my system?”
James leans against the wall and deliberates this for a few seconds, eyeing Q’s steadily growing irritation with well-hidden amusement. “...no, I don’t think I did,” he says at last with a virtuous look that he knows very well drives Q crazy.
“What do you mean you don’t think you did?” Q demands, crossing his arms. “You either did or didn’t, and I know that you did, so there’s no use arguing otherwise.”
“Well then, if there are only two options and you’ve already ruled out one, I guess the other one has to be right,” James says. Having faced far more severe and heartfelt death threats in his life, it’s child’s play to maintain a light composure before Q’s ire.
Q narrows his eyes. “So you admit you were trying to hack into my laptop?”
“Now, I said nothing of that sort.” Bending down, James scoops up Morgana, who puts up a token protest in the form of a growl but then subsidizes happily into purring as he pets her down her back. Everyone looks more innocent with a cat in their arms, he knows.
As expected, Q’s face softens a bit, although the suspicion in the set of his mouth only deepens. “Why?” he demands again.
James decides to dig his feet in and be stubborn. “Why what?”
Q makes a growl that sounds remarkably similar to Morgana’s. “You are infuriating,” he proclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “What was so important and secretive that you tried to break into my systems instead of just asking me?”
James exhales gustily with more than a little drama. “Do you really want to know?”
Now, Q just looks downright wary. But he’s as stubborn as James and pushes through firmly with a, “Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Honestly,” and here James pauses for effect, “I was only looking for your birthday date.”
For a good minute, Q is struck speechless by sheer outrage.
James takes off before he can recover.
“James Fucking Bond, get back here!”
Q audibly pops a red cherry tomato in his mouth. There was an entire bowl of the stuff on the table last James looked. There’s barely four left now.
“You know, I didn’t buy you all of that stuff because I thought you would become an expert at everything,” he says, gesturing at the overflowing recycling bin with something like indulgent amusement. “You could try out some of the other mediums, see which one you like best.”
James, who spent the majority of their Sunday morning in bed, trying to sketch a respectful cat silhouette and failing miserably, hums doubtfully from where he’s chopping up an onion. This, at least, he knows how to do perfectly well.
Morgana sniffs at an onion piece from the kitchen stool and sneezes.
“That’s like saying I should try on a machine gun for size when I don’t even know how to use a handgun,” he replies. He takes the onion piece away from their much-too-adventurous cat and throws it away.
Morgana makes a protesting noise that he ignores. Insulted beyond human comprehension, Her Highness hops off the stool and stalks away, tail held high in contempt.
What a spoiled beast, James thinks. “No point in trying out more advanced materials when I can’t even handle a pencil.”
“Your metaphors are the worst,” Q informs him. “That’s not really the way art works, you know. Sketching takes precision and angles and shading. As far as I know, watercolour is just splashing paint on a canvas.”
“That seems like a vast simplification,” James comments, throwing in the carrots with an oily sizzle. “I hardly think I’m going to get a watercolour-style Fighting Temeraire by throwing paint on a canvas, Q.”
Q waves a hand dismissively and eats another tomato. “That’s what the internet is for. Have you looked on YouTube for video tutorials yet, instead of blundering about trying to learn everything yourself? They’ve got some pretty detailed stuff.”
“Is that how you learned coding?” James asks rather than admit that looking up resources online had come second to his pride and he hadn’t really thought about it.
“‘Course.” Q crunches audibly. “And speaking of guns, Moneypants wants me to remind you that your first session with your new students is coming up.”
James sweeps all of the remaining chives into the frying pan. He grabs some spices from the cupboard and turns to Q with a well-perfected clueless look. “Sorry, what was that? Couldn’t hear you over the stove.”
Q braces his chin on his palm and raises his eyebrows, unfazed. “You really think you can run from this forever? Moneypants will track you down, and she won’t be nice about it.”
“So long as she doesn’t rope in Marian again, I’ll be fine,” James decides wryly and shifts to add some pepper. “I’ll just barricade myself in this nice little hideout you’ve created out of our flat and never leave.”
“Coward,” comes the soft, taunting mutter behind his back.
James pauses for a short second before continuing to add the white wine and salt to the rice. It’s only after he’s done stirring them in that he wipes his hand on a cloth and turns to face a blank-faced Q. “What was that?” he inquires politely.
Q blinks at him with the innocence of a man who would never dream of lying. “What was what?”
Fighting the pull of the delighted grin he can feel on the corners of his lips, James turns off the heat and turns to stalk across the kitchen, quickly adopting an air of offended indignation. “Don’t play coy,” he chides. “You planning on backing up that statement?”
Q narrows his eyes, shuffling back in his chair in clear preparation for bolting. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, mirth dancing through the bland tones of his voice like a mischievous butterfly.
James smiles as he steps out of the kitchen area. “No, I’m sure you don’t,” he allows graciously.
Q watches him approach with a wary look, steadily moving backwards in small increments. “What about lunch?” he asks without taking his eyes off of James.
James chuckles at the blatant diversion. “It’ll keep,” he assures...and lunges as soon as he’s within grabbing distance. He misses Q by a few centimetres only because Q threw himself off of his chair as soon as he saw James move. Laughing, he proceeds to run around the dining table.
Not one to be denied, James runs after him with a thrilled grin. They dash around the flat like a pair of children - to the open fascination of their cats - until James corners Q in the bedroom. There’s only one exit, and he’s standing in front of it.
A genius escaping into a dead-end - well. There’s only one way he can interpret that, right?
Q stands next to their bed, chest heaving and smiling with such joy that James’ heart, already pounding in his ears, gives a smitten little skip. “James…” he starts in what’s obviously meant to be a cautioning voice but merely sounds out-of-breath and elated.
James can feel his cheeks hurting from how wide he’s grinning. “Q…” he mirrors teasingly.
Q takes a step back. “Let me go,” he demands.
James takes a step forward. “Hmm.” He pretends to think about it. “No.”
“James!” If Q was aiming for a scolding Quartermasterly tone, he failed. Another step back.
Another step forward. “Q!” James mimics and watches Q’s faux frown instantly fold into an irresistible smile.
“Don’t,” Q warns. His eyes dart to the right for a fraction of a heartbeat as he takes another step back, and somehow, James manages to grin even harder.
“No,” James says shamelessly and pounces. Q leaps for the bed, probably aiming to roll off of it on the other side and out the door, but James is far ahead of him. He grabs Q around the waist and pins him to their already-messy sheets with his body weight.
“Get off of me!” Q insists, pushing weakly at James’ shoulders. His giggles, however, easily prove lie to those attempts, and James can only drink in the bright, gorgeous noises with wonder sparkling bright and bubbly in his chest like good champagne.
This wasn’t something he ever thought he would get to have.
He would, he thinks with sudden detached understanding, do anything, absolutely anything, to keep it. James isn’t entirely sure why Q is happy with him, doesn’t know for certain what he does that makes Q happy, only that he’s a damn lucky bastard, but he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Q happy.
Q’s laughter has faded, his smile puzzled and a little concerned. “James?” he asks, lifting a hand to cradle James’ cheek.
James smiles and leans forward to nuzzle their noses together. “I love you,” he says and the words fall off of his tongue lightly, easily, with none of the torment that he always thought would weigh down his heart if he ever expressed the sentiment again.
It feels a little like freedom, like the wings that a Mexican man once promised would be his.
Q freezes underneath him. His eyes are enormous, the surprise written across his face blatant and vaguely insulting. Christ, James hasn’t been that bad at making his feelings known, has he? “I - you - really?” Q blurts out and promptly cringes in embarrassment.
James opens his mouth, his first instinct one of baffled terseness. Whatever he was expecting, that wasn’t it. Before he can say a word, however, the whisper of vulnerable insecurity he hears in Q’s words finally catches up with him, and he shuts his mouth.
Oh. He’s loved Q for so long that he’s forgotten that Q’s spent even longer thinking the opposite to be true.
“Of course, love,” James breathes against Q’s lips, feeling a little melted. He brushes a kiss against those parted lips and then against his cheeks, his eyelids when they instinctively close, murmuring each time, “Of course. Of course. Of course.”
In the midst of pressing kisses to Q’s bare back, James decides that he’ll just have to remind Q often so he doesn’t forget. And then he stops thinking.
Much, much later, just as he’s on the cusp of sleep with Q in his arms, there’s a whisper in the dark, soft lips moving against his collarbone. “I love you, too.”
James falls asleep with a smile.
Two weeks later, the first thing Q says when he gets home is, “What is that?”
James pretends ignorance. “What is what?”
Q walks into the kitchen to jab an accusing finger at the shiny new appliance on the counter. “That.”
“Oh, that.” James smiles, oblivious and innocent. “It’s my new coffee machine. You said we didn’t have one, so I took it upon myself to fix that. Do you like it?”
Q looks at him with his blandest poker face and then directs a dark glare at the poor thing. “It’s an abomination,” he judges mercilessly.
“Now, now,” James says. “Just because it isn’t your beloved tea…”
“It produces bean juice,” Q derides, full of disgust, “that’s bitter and horrible and vile.”
James arches an eyebrow. “You do know your tea is just leaf water, right?” he points out mildly, leaning against the counter with a slight tilt of his head. “And that some blends - especially those so-called nutritious and herbal ones - are even more inedible than my coffee?”
Q mutters something uncomplimentary under his breath and continues glaring death at James’ new coffee machine. Sensing imminent engineer-minded destruction in the future, James quickly switches gears and turns around to busy himself with a spatula, all casual sensibleness. “I made turkey pot pie for dinner. Would you go set the table?”
This is sufficient as a distraction for the next two hours, although James notices Q sneaking glances at the coffee machine between bites of turkey and carrots. After doing the dishes, Q ever-so-nonchalantly cocks his hip against a kitchen drawer and stares down the machine.
“Oh, calm down. I’m just curious,” Q defends himself.
“You tend to take things apart when you’re ‘curious’, love.”
And, indeed, the next morning, when James comes back from his morning run - which has slowly been pushed back from 0500 to 0700 to 0900 - he finds his coffee machine missing. A sticky note has been left in its place.
James supposes Q didn’t write it on his palm because he didn’t want James to catch on too early and interrupt his nefarious plans for his poor, likely-doomed coffee machine. It’s going to die an untimely death, having only been used once.
Idly grabbing a green pen from a drawer, he scribbles on his arm, I am very worried. Should I buy a new one?
The reply comes barely ten seconds later, in bright pink. Below his question appears, NO. Trust me.
James sighs, because he’s a weak man and Q knows all of his weak spots. He goes about his day as usual, although by mid-afternoon, he’s browsing the web for highly-rated coffee machines without all of that fancy shit. Who needs foam in their coffee?
He’s half-heartedly decided on one and has finished cooking a pasta casserole when Q stumbles home.
“James!” he calls.
James obediently pokes his head out of the kitchen. “What is it?”
Q’s blinking like he’s been staring into bright lights all day, and the curve of his mouth is both tired and proud. The ghostly streaks of dark on his face and his hands indicate R&D, but the gift-wrapped box he offers to James says something else.
“I didn’t do it,” Q explains while James is a tad breathless. “R insisted, said she’s a pro at wrapping. So - ”
James swoops in and swallows the rest of the nervous, caffeine-infused sentence in a soft, gentling kiss. He takes the gift with careful hands as he offers Q his delight and gratitude in small caresses. The box is unexpectedly heavy, and a suspicion seeds itself into his mind.
“Thank you, Q,” he murmurs when he can bear to break contact.
Q beams at him, destabilizing his heart further, and says, “Open it.”
He does so at the dining table, trying to unwrap the box without tearing the paper until Q says laughingly, “Go ahead, I don’t mind.” The delicate wrapping paper falls to shreds at his hands, and he lifts the box to find -
A coffee machine.
A gleaming, sexy, state-of-the-art coffee machine.
“I upgraded it,” Q tells him helpfully. “And made a few adjustments here and there. Had to do some researching but now it’ll roast and grind up coffee beans on its own. I added my own filter, so you don’t have to keep buying the disposable ones, and the overall brewing should be better.”
“...you just couldn’t resist, could you?” James asks, somewhat dryly, in an awful attempt to cover up the tightness of his throat and the wicked warmth pushing at the limits of his chest.
Q smiles like he can see it all anyway. “How could I?”
James laughs and steps back from the table to tug Q into a hug. He noses gently at the soft, secret place behind his ear and breathes in the familiar, grounding scent of Q - tea and citrus mixed with the rarer touch of oil and wood - and hums, pleased and elated.
“Thank you,” he whispers again in a warm breath that makes Q shiver and then again, later that night, against the divot of Q’s back and the sensitive curve of his hip bone.
A month later, Q slaps a patent on his new invention, and they end up making quite a bit of money off of it, to James’ everlasting amusement.
“Not so bad for bean juice, right?” he’ll tease every so often.
And every time, Q will roll his eyes and scoff and try not to smile. “My leaf water is still better,” he’ll say, his nose in the air.
“Did you - ” Q splutters, incredulous and disbelieving and starting to smile widely like James is the absolute worst, “did you make food for our cats?”
“No,” James says and sets the two salmon plates down, where the cats instantly converge with eager meows.
Q pushes him against the kitchen wall and kisses his smirk off of his face.
“Nice place,” Marian says, slipping her red stilettos off at the doorway. Her eyes sweep the flat, openly speculative, and James has to suppress a twitch. Inviting a fellow assassin into his home isn’t exactly what he wants to do on a Thursday afternoon, but needs must.
Morgana pokes her head out from beneath the table when he walks by. “Drink of choice?” James asks, pouring himself a glass of scotch.
“Mmm, I’d love me a White Russian if you’re taking orders.”
James snorts. Leave it up to 004 to make James play bartender. She’s lucky they even have coffee-flavoured liqueur at all. He had to discreetly sneak in it when Q was distracted by the peppermint bark on sale.
While he starts setting everything up, he hears an inquisitive meow faintly behind him. Marian inhales audibly and then coos in the same honey-sweet voice she uses on her marks, “Why, hello there. And who might you be?”
James grimaces a bit, deeply uncomfortable with this state of affairs. It feels like watching a great white shark nuzzle a goldfish. “That would be Morgana,” he says without looking away from what he’s doing. “Don’t let her con you; she’s an absolute demon.”
Morgana hisses and then purrs. Marian laughs. “Oh, nonsense. Look at her, she’s nothing but a pretty sweetheart. Aren’t you, hmm?”
More purring. James rolls his eyes.
When he steps out from the kitchen with a glass of scotch in one hand and a White Russian in the other, Marian is sitting on the sofa, petting Morgana and praising her all the while in that disconcerting voice. Morgana is purring up a storm but pointedly throws James a smug look when he joins them.
Ridiculous beasts, the lot of them.
“As the lady requested.” James hands over the drink with a polite smile.
Marian’s responding glance is abruptly sharp, a scalpel set to glide under his skin and rip it off. He fights not to tense - this game is one he gladly left - but her “thank you” is equally polite and inscrutable.
Leaning back but keeping her hand on Morgana’s back, Marian sips at her drink and smiles crimson. “Delicious. My compliments to the bartender.”
“I’ll be sure to pass it on,” James says and drinks his scotch. They sit in silence for a few minutes as they nurse their drinks, and James watches Marian canvas the flat with her gaze. It takes more effort than expected to maintain his composure and resist giving into his defensiveness.
He’s always known that this is the trade-off of having vulnerabilities that others can target.
When she breaks the quiet, it isn’t to talk about the message he sent her. “You really have given it all up, huh?”
He knows better than to mention the trace of wistfulness hidden in her words. “I have.” The only things he murders now are sketchpads and charcoal pencils.
Marian shakes her head but there’s admiration in the curve of her painted lips. “You lucky old dog. Of course you would be the one that got away.” A pause, while she carefully doesn’t look at him. Then, like a pebble dropped into a pond, “Do you regret it?”
James doesn’t hesitate. “No.”
Marian blows out a breath through her nose. She shakes her head again. Finishes off the rest of her drink in one gulp. When she looks at James again, she’s 004, one of the Queen’s Best, a merciless killer and seductress. “So.” She smiles coldly. “James Moriarty. That’s what he’s calling himself now?”
James doesn’t do her the insult of dwelling on that brief whisper of weakness. He nods, short and curt. “My sources say he’s in the process of taking control of what remains of SPECTRE.”
“Well, we can’t have that now, can we?” Marian leans forward to place her glass on the table James just cleared an hour ago and crosses her legs. There’s nothing but ice in her regard when she leans towards James. “Where is he?”
James smiles, drinks the rest of his scotch, and tells her.
“You sure about this?” he asks as he sees her off.
Marian laughs and flicks her fingers at him. "He got away from me once. It's not going to happen again."
He believes her.
When Q gets back home at 1920, James is watching a teenager on Youtube show him how to properly blend and shade drawings on a tablet he stole from Q-Branch a few years ago. “Now, hopefully, you can see it’s much darker on the edges here…”
Q sighs. “Another piece of equipment that I’ll have to re-label as ‘broken beyond repair’ I see.” He takes off his shoes and throws his bag on top of the table. So begins the inevitable cluttering process all over again.
“You don’t have to worry about it,” James says absently, frowning at his right shadow. “I’m fairly certain Boothroyd labelled this one as ‘fell into an active volcano’ years before your tenure.”
Q makes a noise that’s all indignation. “The Mount Etna incident?”
“That’s the one.” James smiles wistfully. “Those were the days. All of the villains lived in deep underground caverns and enjoyed melodramatics so much that they tripped over their own feet and fell into active volcanoes all by themselves.”
Wandering into the kitchen to investigate the fridge, Q snorts laughter and shakes his head. “If they did that these days, I wouldn’t have to work so late. 001 nearly froze to death in Moscow today. Is this pasta for me?”
“Mm-hm. Pop it in the microwave for a minute, and it should be okay.” James, irritated with this current YouTuber and her squeaky voice, vindictively clicks on another video.
A middle-aged woman with a motherly smile holds up a pencil and tells him that perspective is key.
“This way,” Tanner says as they walk down a hallway that James only barely remembers from his own training days.
He was just completing a routine in the MI6 gym - which is the best gym he’s ever going to have access to in all of London - when Tanner cornered him and told him that his students were ready for him. The perfect timing of it all is more than a little suspicious.
He suspects Moneypenny bribed Q with something.
Maybe those little Earl Grey cupcakes Q was ogling in the bakery down the street a week ago. It’s a good thing James still keeps a spare suit in MI6 for such occasions. Years of being an agent have taught him that it’s best to be prepared.
James strolls down the corridor with his hands in his pockets, signature swagger exchanged for a more leisurely stroll. No need to rush, after all, regardless of Tanner’s exasperated looks. In his wake, he leaves behind furtive glances and soft whispers, but the fervour has mostly died down by now.
There’s always new and more interesting gossip at MI6. No doubt the secretaries are more preoccupied by 009’s latest affair with a cute millionaire and his wife.
At last, they stop in front of an observation room and Tanner shows him in. James finds himself in front of a large two way mirror that shows the next door ‘classroom’. Ten trainees have been paired together and are taking turns tying each other up with miscellaneous materials.
James watches for five minutes and comes to the flat conclusion that, “They’re cannon folder.” He could wiggle out of that attempt in maybe thirty seconds. It wouldn’t hold a hardened criminal, and it’s going to get that kid killed if someone doesn’t fix it.
“It’s your job to change that, Internal Field Specialist,” Tanner tells him with far too much cheer. He drops a stack of folders on a nearby table. “Their files. If you have any questions, you can probably ask the other trainers. Good luck, Bond.” And with that spectacular piece of advice, he leaves.
James doesn’t turn his head to watch the door slam shut. He continues watching the newbies, so green, greener than grass, and wonders - knows - that he was once that naive. How did he survive? How is he alive?
Because he had good teachers. Because he had the devil’s good luck, because he had a guardian angel with genius level intelligence and terrifying technological competence. Because he was good enough and cold enough and enough at everything to survive.
A shiver of unease crawls up his spine. James is now responsible for these ten kids. He’s to teach them how to lie and how to spy and how to kill. If they die in the field, if they die from a training accident, if they die - it’ll be because of his incompetence.
And everyone knows that James was never the best at protecting assets. His expertise laid in exploding bridges and slitting throats. Protection is an ideal he reaches for but never quite touches.
The trainee closest to the door tugs too hard on his rope, and the whole thing falls apart. James grimaces. Watching them is almost painful.
Why the hell did M give him this assignment? He’s berated James for his lack of responsibility often enough. Did he think that going from barely taking care of himself to taking care of ten grasshoppers was the only logical leap?
His phone rings.
James rolls his eyes. But he’s smiling when he raises the phone to his ear. “Still stalking, Q?”
“You did give me permission.” Q’s voice is pithy, but James is certain that he’s blushing a little. Probably a flush of pink right at the top of his cheekbones, maybe a little on the tips of his ears. “Besides, you’re one to talk.”
“This is surveillance,” James protests with a weak attempt at innocence. “Information gathering.”
“Stalking,” Q ascertains. And then, softer, like it’s just the two of them in their bedroom, “What’s wrong?”
James closes his eyes briefly. When the words come, they come slow and hard like he’s pulling out shards of bullets from a wound, “I’m not exactly teacher material, Q.”
Q makes a musing sound. “Why not?”
“Why not?” James repeats with a scoff. “I’m impatient, reckless. I don’t like explaining myself, and I’m stubborn as fuck. I’m going to lead these kids to their deaths. Q - ”
“Hey,” Q says sharply, cutting him off at the first tint of panic. “That’s enough. Don’t - I don’t think you know just how much your experience speaks for you, James. This isn’t primary school; they don’t need someone to coddle them. They need someone to teach them how to survive and what the field is like. You can do that. You do that well. You’ve had junior partners, and you’ve worked well with them. It’s the same concept.”
A pause, and then while James soothes himself with the sound of his breaths over the phone, “I didn’t think I was ready when M appointed me Quartermaster either, you know. But a lot of it comes naturally after a while. It’s just another mask, James. Wear it long enough, and you’ll become it.”
James lets the words sink into him, a cool balm that lets him take a deep breath. He tenses up his shoulders and then relaxes, centring himself like he would before a difficult mission. “How do you know just what to say?” he asks with a wry smile.
A laugh. “It’s a skill that comes from hours of talking to annoying Double-Ohs who won’t listen to orders,” Q says. “Now, are you ready to proceed as scheduled, James?”
“Once a Quartermaster, always a Quartermaster, huh? Yes, sir,” James murmurs cheekily and ends the call on Q’s startled inhale. He’ll thank him later with an extravagant dinner and that thing with his tongue that Q particularly enjoys.
Pushing such distracting thoughts out of his head, James steps into that calm, confident space and draws authority around him like kevlar. Q’s right. He does know how to do this. He’s pretended to be business tycoons and server boys; what’s an MI6 trainer?
Striding out of the observation room, he walks into the classroom without warning.
The room instantly goes silent. Ten pairs of eyes swivel to look at him. The smart ones go still as they register his identity.
James smiles, and it’s hardly forced at all. “Good afternoon,” he greets mildly. “My name’s Bond, James Bond. You may know me as the last 007. And from today onwards, I’ll be your new trainer.”
“Honey, I’m home,” James calls out dryly as he slips out of his shoes and closes the door behind him. He flips the lock and rearms the security system, breathing a quiet sigh of relief as tension unwinds itself from his shoulders.
The training session...wasn’t terrible. His trainees were all too awed by his former codename to try and bullshit him or talk back, and by the time he dismissed them, he’d gotten that one baby agent to successfully and securely tie up his partner.
Sure, he still feels like a bloody imposter who has no idea what he’s doing, but faking bullshit and pretending he knows what he’s doing is second nature to any agent. He’ll make it.
“Welcome home,” Q returns with equal dryness. He’s lying on the sofa with the cats and a paperback when James walks into the living room, but he sits up straight when he catches sight of James, staring at him blankly.
James blinks back at him. “Something wrong?”
Snapping the book shut and placing it on the - crowded - table, Q stands up and prowls over, the heated look in his eyes rooting James to the spot and sending silken shivers down his spine. “Not at all,” he murmurs and grabs his tie to yank him into a searing kiss.
When James is breathless and burning, he pulls back and smiles, lips swollen and red and entirely too much temptation. “I really like this suit,” Q whispers, low and sly, dragging a finger lightly down his chest and leaving sparks in his wake, “but you should take it off. Right now.”
James huffs out a laugh, leaning forward so their foreheads touch. It’s been a while since he was in anything but casual wear, and he supposes the visual impact is unfamiliar now. “Your wish is my command,” he purrs and makes true on his promise to thank Q for his support.
Later, with Q snoring on his chest, James makes a note to keep this suit in his repertoire for the next time he accidentally pisses Q off by misplacing one of the tools that he leaves on their coffee table in the first place.
Honestly, the things he does for love.
Once and only once, James comes home late, with bruises on his ribs and vodka on his breath. Q is waiting at the dining table, CCTV feeds open on his laptop screen.
“I’m sorry,” James says. “I lost track of time.”
Q looks at him with dark eyes stark on a pale face and says nothing.
James never does it again.
For all that James is now an “Internal Field Specialist,” he’s still home far more often than Q. It’s more of a part-time position than anything else, really, and when he throws his pencil at the wall for the fourth time, he suspects it’s time he does something else.
He doesn’t want to go wandering around London, since Q mentioned on his inner wrist that he should be home in about an hour, and James is surprisingly excited to show Q the painstaking sketch of Rayleigh he drew today. It still looks rather unrealistic, but at least it looks like a catloaf now, instead of just a breadloaf.
But dinner is already done and being kept warm in the oven. The table is halfway cluttered with Q’s stuff, but James was instructed very sternly to keep his hands off it this week because Q is in the middle of designing some revolutionary taser. There’s nothing for him to do.
There’s nothing for him to do.
James paces about their flat for a good twenty minutes, glaring at tiny specks of dust and the little screws on the ground. He feels like he’s going to vibrate out of his skin by the fourth loop.
The cats keep out of his way, although he’s well-aware he’s being watched suspiciously from the safety of the kitchen. Tch, like they aren’t both little monsters in disguise.
Blowing out a breath, James throws himself back on the sofa. He doesn’t want to watch the telly. If he picks up another pencil, he’s going to break it. He’s read most of the fiction books on the bookshelf, but by this point, he’s frustrated enough to consider just about anything.
Not that he has much choice. He doesn’t want to learn the intricacies of C++, ta. The fine scientific details of electricity and light are right out the window. Why the fuck does Q even have a five centimetre thick book on the Great Molasses Flood?
That book on soulmates, he’s still too terrified to touch. But...
The Biggest Book of Riddles sits innocently on the far right of the third shelf.
James smiles and goes hunting for some post-it notes.
(If Q notices the bright pink post-it note slapped onto the cover of his laptop that night, he makes no mention of it. Two days later, James finds it hiding in one of his socks. The other sock has a green post-it note curled up snugly inside.
In no time at all, their house is absolutely flooded with post-it notes. The cats are Not Pleased.)
What costs nothing but is worth everything, weighs nothing but lasts a lifetime, that one person can't own but more can share?
Love, you bloody romantic.
Meeting the rest of the Holmes family...is an entire Affair. One that James will never forget and quickly resolves to avoid at all costs in the future.
Q seems to approach the dinner with a mix of exasperation, dread, and annoyance. “Dress formal,” he orders, staring down their closet with a frown. “And pretend you’re classy.”
James snorts. Still lazing around in bed behind Q, he rolls onto his stomach and braces his chin on his palm. “Pretend? What do you mean ‘pretend’? I’m the classiest man you’ve ever met.”
“You threw popcorn at the telly last night because your favourite ice skater didn’t win.”
At that, James scowls. “He was bloody cheated of his victory! 2.82 points, really? Really?”
“There, there, honey,” Q says patronisingly. “I’m sure he’ll win next time.”
Just for that, James makes sure to wear the grey suit Q stripped him out of a month ago. He smirks at the smouldering look Q pins him with when he sees but swaggers out the door before anything can be made of it.
Mr and Ms Holmes are every influential high-society couple he’s ever met combined with the icy brilliance of the intelligence that characterises their sons. It makes for an intimidating experience, even for someone like James.
But he’s been in this position before: seated at a massive table in a mansion that seethes with wealth, surrounded by the beautiful elite, being served small portions of masterfully cooked food. With champagne glasses and forks on the left side and no elbows on the table.
James knows exactly how to behave, how to pull on that well-practised mask until even Ms Holmes smiles at him with a touch of approval.
On the other hand, Watson and Lestrade - who was introduced to James as Mycroft’s chosen partner - display their uncertainty in more overt ways, and James briefly feels sorry for them. He can tell at a glance that they come from more middle-class circumstances and are certainly not used to this sort of decorous behaviour.
And if he’s somewhat uncomfortable, they must be ready to throw themselves out the window.
The Holmes brothers, well. They’re another story altogether. Mycroft is cool and distantly affectionate with everyone, whereas Sherlock is sharp and disdainful. Q is polite and almost professional, and all three are so self-contained, it almost hurts James to watch.
He would have expected them to jab and insult each other, and perhaps they do. Outside of their childhood home and out of sight of their parents. Here, however, they behave like perfect, showcase children, and Mr and Ms Holmes smile like this is all that they ever wanted.
Beneath the tablecloth, James curls his fingers around Q’s wrist as they wait for the next course to be brought out.
Next time, James vows to himself, he’s going to make sure Q’s in Canada when his parents come calling.
What is it that given one, you'll have either two or none?
A few weeks later, Q comes home at 2300 with only a brief message on James’ arm - “Emergency, be back late” - to explain why.
“What are you doing?” Q asks.
From the corner of his eye, James can see him hanging up his coat as Rayleigh comes streaking up to him with a meow. He frowns. James doesn’t like the rigid line of Q’s shoulders.
“Experimenting with watercolour,” James answers, directing his frown towards his canvas. Sometimes, pushing Q only makes him clamp up all the harder. Better to let him tell James in his own time.
It helps that he legitimately didn’t expect the red paint to spread everywhere.
Q hums and steps forward with Rayleigh in his arms. There’s stress in the wrinkles of his forehead, the set of his mouth, but James is glad to see his expression soften with amusement when he catches sight of the canvas. “You mean splashing paint on canvas? Is that a sunset?”
“A melting one.” James sighs. “I don’t think I like this medium very much. It’s a bit too flimsy and delicate for me.”
“Fun to play with, though,” Q points out with a weak smile.
James observes him for a moment before putting his paintbrush down, taking care not to stain the tablecloth with orange paint. “You ate dinner, right?”
“How could I not when you went to the trouble of getting it delivered to my desk?” Q drops the feeble teasing to smile at James with genuine gratitude. “Thank you for the Italian, James.”
“It was my pleasure,” James murmurs, abandoning his chair to lie down on the sofa, arms outstretched. “Come here, Q.”
Q sighs quietly and seems to slump all of a sudden, like all he needed was James’ permission. He drops Rayleigh - the cat landing easily on his feet with a disgruntled noise - and splays himself out on James, squirming a bit until he’s comfortable.
James calmly waits him out and wraps his arms around Q’s waist tightly when he’s settled. For a long time, Q just curls up against James’ chest, his head tucked securely in the crook of James’ neck, breathing deep and rhythmic.
James doesn’t say a word but strokes a hand up and down Q’s back and lets his thoughts wander. Trying to guess what happened can lead to nothing good, so he contemplates the dishes that still need washing from his solo dinner and how best to clean up his art supplies and what he’s supposed to do with his streaky sunset.
He could probably get away with throwing it away. He’d have to do so behind Q’s back, though. Q is sentimental about the strangest things like that.
When Q starts talking, he does so without moving a muscle from his position. “005 - Michael Gomez - went rogue today.”
James doesn’t flinch at the break in silence nor the subject topic, although he does blink and furrow his brow. “Michael went rogue?” he repeats, honestly staggered. “What the hell happened? He was the most well-behaved of all of us.”
Q fists his hand in James’ shirt and stays silent for a beat. Two. “You know how in the past few months, things have been so busy on the administrative side, what with the merger and the un-merger all?”
James makes a noise of agreement, staring blankly at the ceiling as he tries to absorb the unexpected blow. He was never friends with Michael, but they were coworkers, comrades as everyone in the Double-Oh program are comrades because no one else can possibly understand just what being a Double-Oh means.
Betrayal is never an easy pill to swallow, even if James has grown used to the bitter taste after years as a spy.
“M’s been too busy to really pay attention - and he’s always been more lenient than she was. There have been less ink detector tests recently. Last year, you went through three in six months,” Q continues, voice distant, “whereas before, the average was two in one.”
James has the feeling he knows where this is going. He was aware, of course he was aware, but at the time, he couldn’t have cared less, too distracted by Q. In hindsight, another clue he blithely waved away, but he’s grown tired of chiding himself with each realisation.
There’s no point in dwelling in the past.
“You’re right in that 005 was always thought of as the most well-behaved one,” Q says. “He’s had one ink detector test in the past six months. He’s never broken a rule before, much less one of hers.”
“But he broke this one.”
It’s more of a statement than a question, but Q nods minutely anyway. “Today, we found out that he’s been in contact with his soulmate for months. She...she was a Chinese spy. And he met her on his undercover mission.”
A chill goes down James’ spine. The use of the past tense tells him all that he needs to know. “Did he kill her?”
“Yes. He had to; she would have killed him otherwise, and with his cover blown, it would have jeopardized the three agents we had in the region,” Q rationalises. His tone is flat but James hears the horror behind his words nevertheless. “He completed the mission and told me goodbye before destroying his earpiece.”
James closes his eyes. It’s not a new story; he heard much of the same from as far back as his days in the Britannia Royal Naval College, and among MI6, such tales are the bread and butter of late night in pubs. “He could come back,” he suggests halfheartedly.
James can’t reply to that. He recalls thinking that he didn’t need a soulmate in his teens, then convincing himself that he’s conversing with his soulmate for their benefit not his, and then finally resigning himself to a life without his soulmate with pain but only slight hesitance.
Now that he has Q, however, now that he has a taste of the happiness that is loving and being loved by his soulmate, James is of the belief that losing Q doesn’t bear thinking about.
In this, he really can’t blame 005.
Q nods as if James gave him a verbal answer. “It was cruel,” he says morosely, “what she did, but I never fooled myself into thinking it wasn’t necessary. Bad enough that you were a spy, a Double-Oh to boot, but the thought that I might be what would lead you to your death in the end was intolerable. I didn’t care what I made myself suffer through as long as you were still alive.”
This, James supposes, is that martyr streak Sherlock mentioned. He wants to say alive is an overstatement of what I was without you or I dreamed of you when I was lonely. Or maybe the closest I ever came to hating M was when she made me leave you.
Instead, he asks, “Don’t you know it’s the same for me?”
“I know it was,” Q says. “That was what I was counting on.”
The eight of us go forth, not back, to protect our king from a foe’s attack. What are we?
An unknown caller lights up his phone.
“It’s done,” is all that Marian says.
He doesn’t do her the offence of saying thank you. “And the rest?”
“We’re working on it.”
James picks up the acrylic paints at noon. The colours are vibrant, the texture firm. There’s no spreading, no falling. The red dot he puts as the base of the sun stays perfectly still on the canvas, like a sniper’s target against mountain snow.
He starts again.
“Can I draw on you?” James asks one night, slipping in bed after doing the dishes. The cats are taking a nap on the sofa, the rest of their flat silent and dark. Their bedroom is soft and smoky with shadows but for the single lamp lit on Q’s side and his ever-present electronics.
Q looks up from his tablet, the glow giving his face an awful pallor. The tilt of his head is both surprised and pleased. “Of course. You’ve had that right since I was born.”
“Well.” A smile tugs at James’ lips. What is he supposed to say to that? “I didn’t want to presume, now did I?”
Q snorts. “You can presume all you want, Mr Bond, as long as you keep on feeding me that apple pie you made today.”
“Why, Q, I didn’t know you liked it that much,” James teases, picking out the colours he wants to use from a pouch he stashed in the bedside table earlier. “You only ate three gigantic slices and spooked the cats into hiding in the bathroom.”
Q lazily brushes aside the accusation with a “lies and slander.” He puts his tablet aside and turns onto his front, displaying a mouthwatering stretch of unmarked skin. “What are you drawing tonight?”
“Hmm.” James smirks. “It’s a secret.”
What's at least 15 centimetres long, goes in your mouth, and is more fun if it vibrates?
A toothbrush, love. Do keep that dirty mind of yours in check.
“Moneypants has invited us to dinner on Saturday,” Q announces when he gets home. “If we say no, a dreadful accident will befall us before tomorrow’s sunset.”
“That’s hasty of her. I would have expected more professionalism from Miss Moneypenny.” James lounges on the sofa with a sketchpad and a cat on each side of him. Morgana, the vicious little beast, has been kneading at his calves with her sharp claws for the past ten minutes.
“A good three month undercover mission? Luring us into a false sense of security? Ambushing us when our guard is lowest? No evidence left behind, not a single suspicion pinned on her?”
Q snorts and heads towards the still-warm bowl of soup out on the table like a compass towards true north. “I would pay to see you say that to her face,” he says through a mouthful of carrots and celery.
“Then it won’t even look convincingly like an accident,” James points out and adds some shading as best he can without elbowing Rayleigh in the ribs. He gets a grumble nonetheless. No one appreciates him in this household.
Q waves his spoon in the air, probably splattering their table with grease. Ah, well, he’s the one on clean-up duty today. “She’d still get away with it,” he says sagely.
James doesn’t doubt it. “Is it just going to be us?”
“No, apparently she’s bringing her mysterious boyfriend along, and 003 and 004 have also been given an invitation they can’t possibly refuse.”
A former Double-Oh, two current Double-Ohs, the Secretary and the Quartermaster of MI6, and a man who’s somehow managed to catch the indomitable Eve Moneypenny’s eye. James grins. And here he had been thinking he would be bored this weekend. “Sounds like fun.”
“I had hoped you wouldn’t say that,” Q comments philosophically and returns to devouring his bowl.
England doesn’t fall that night. But it’s a close thing.
James smiles until his cheeks hurt, and part of that is probably the vodka. The other part may or may not be the police chasing after them for defacing public property and the impromptu swim in the Thames.
But a good portion is definitely because Q is shouting and cursing at all of them as they sprint back home, dripping wet and hiding in the shadows of dark alleys.
“We should do that again sometime,” James comments when he crawls into bed.
Q hits him in the face with a convenient pillow.
I am a word. If you pronounce me correctly, it is wrong. If you pronounce me wrong, it is right. What word am I?
I have no bloody clue.
“For fuck’s sake, Q!” James yells.
It’s rare nowadays that James will have a nightmare. Sleeping with Q is something of a soporific, a peaceful easing into the world of dreams. But there are nights where Q gets home far too late, and then there are nights where the demons are simply too loud.
Today, he wakes up at 0547. It’s not one of those silent-gasping, cold-sweat, heart-racing, burning-freezing awakenings. He just opens his eyes from one heartbeat to the next, training coming to the forefront in a way it hasn’t for a while now.
Vesper’s dead, canal-stained eyes incriminate him from beyond the land of the living.
James slowly blows out a breath. Q is curled into his side, sleep-warm and beautiful and tired after a 12 hour-long shift. It’s unusual for them to sleep in the same bed without entangling themselves irrevocably in the other, but Q came back late and James was probably deep in the nightmare already.
If there’s anything James’ grateful for, it’s that despite his tendency to wrap himself around Q in his sleep as if protecting him from foreign bullets and crashing steel, he has yet to hurt Q whilst in the throes of a nightmare.
His instincts, it seems, are powerful even in unconsciousness.
James doesn’t want to taint their bedroom with his past, doesn’t want to disturb Q either, and so he gingerly slips out of bed without waking Q up.
Tugging on a pair of grey slacks, James pours himself a glass of whiskey and steps onto their small balcony. It’s late April, so the early morning air is chilly but nothing he can’t handle. The sunrise is peaking over the horizon.
He takes a sip of whiskey, and it burns as it goes down. The burnished-red of the clouds reminds him of embers, the blaze of Vesper’s dress as she fell, and he closes his eyes to better hear the crackle of the flames.
For James, love has always been fire.
Vesper, for all that she attempted to hide it behind a civilized mask and icy words, burned. It was what drew James to her in the first place: that fierce, stubborn flame in her eyes, the raw passion in her, hot enough to match him.
They were an inferno together, and it may be only fitting she died in the deep blue, that their light and heat flickered out as quickly as it burned.
The brightest fires are the shortest, after all.
He was never so much of a fool as to love a target, but they loved him sometimes, drawn to the danger and death of him. Marks taken in by the womanizing agent, charges who mistook him for a hero.
If not a romance, it was a one-night stand that was brisk and rapt with lust and love so entangled, there was no way to separate them. Like the clash of flint and steel, what arose could only be sparks. Sparks that grew into a wildfire, raging out of control, and inevitably, they were burned.
Occasionally, he was, too.
And yet -
“James?” Muffled footsteps behind him, the cadence one he could easily pick out in a crowded room. Warm arms wrap around him, a slender body presses into his back, and messy hair brushes his collarbone so Q can say, “What’s wrong?”
James luxuriates in the sincere concern in Q’s voice, the implicit care offered without reservation or expectation. Q...
Q doesn’t love like fire, like James is used to. Since the very beginning, their courtship has been slow and damn near inexorable, and in a similar fashion, Q loves like James’ first sweetheart, the ocean.
It’s somewhat of a shock for James, who has grown used to the concept of like draws like, who loves like an explosion himself. Q’s not one for big gestures in their day to day lives, but it’s impossible to miss the fact that Q loves James.
It’s there in his every move, every glance. Perhaps another, louder, more brazen man wouldn’t catch it, but James was a spy, and he knows how to listen for the spaces between words and the intent behind a touch. It’s there if he looks for it, and he looks for it, oh, does he look for it.
Q’s love is a perpetual shower that’s become white noise. Easy to take for granted, yes, but James has lived in an endless desert for so long. He’s happy to curl up beneath the raindrops and soak in all the water he can, well aware of how precious it is.
It’s with this knowledge that James answers quietly, “I had a dream. Vesper was there.”
When he glances at Q, there’s no pity or jealousy in his eyes, only concern and understanding. Q presses closer, as if he can ward off the ghosts with his own body as a shield. “Did she say anything?”
“No. She just...looked at me.” James blows out a breath and throws back the rest of the whiskey. Nowadays, he doesn’t drink as often as he once did; the alcohol’s burn settles hotly in his blood. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Q reassures, pressing a kiss to James’ cheek. “I was dreaming about piloting a Jaeger with you when Tanner drifted down from the sky like Mary Poppins and stabbed a Kaiju with his umbrella. The surreality of it all woke me up.”
Faced with the utter ridiculousness of that, what can James do but huff out a laugh? And from the half-smile that quirks Q’s lips, that’s exactly what he was aiming for. No one else has ever acted as if James’ laughter is worth more than his secrets.
In the gentle light of daybreak, it’s in this soft generosity of love that James breathes the story of Vesper and Venice and lost dreams.
Q doesn’t offer pity nor condolences. There’s unending patience in his green eyes as he listens, an undemanding passion in the kisses he presses to James’ throat when he needs to stop and gather himself before going on once more.
But even the darkest shadows are banished by the light, and when James stops, it’s with a sense of relief, cleansed with all of his regrets spilt out into the air and Q a warm, cuddly presence at his side.
In return, Q says, “I don’t like being in the dark on my own.” And when James turns to look at him, a silent question in his eyes - because he’s observed this before but never quite understood - Q adds, “I was taken once. By some drug dealers. They kept me in pitch black for days.”
James pauses. He takes a deep breath to quell the molten anger beneath his skin, because that isn’t what Q wants or needs from him right now. He asks only, “Are they dead?”
Q tilts his head with an indulgent little smile. “Yes.”
“Good.” James picks up Q’s hand and presses a kiss to it. He waits. If Q wants to tell him more, then James will listen. If not, he won’t push no matter how much he might long to know.
But this is their push and pull, the rhythm they’ve settled into after so long living as a one-sided story, and Q moves to sit in James’ lap. With his head resting against James’ heartbeat, Q speaks of the uncertainty of the black, the cold terror of voices in the dark, the neverending dread of what was to come.
So, this, then, was why Q knew how to deal with sensory deprivation torture.
It’s an ugly thought, and James holds Q closer for it.
When Q falls silent, the sky is a masterpiece of pinks and yellows, the sun radiant without the cover of clouds. They remain outside for another hour, simply basking in each other, in a house without secrets, before James rouses enough to guide them back to bed.
He sleeps with Q tucked into the lee of his body and doesn’t dream again.
I can crack. I can hurt. I can be attacked. I can be given. I can be kept. I can be broken and yet be whole at the same time. What am I?
Some months later, James is lying nonchalantly on their bed with his hands tucked behind his head when Q storms in. There’s a dark look in his gorgeous eyes, his tie is crooked, and his cheeks are flushed. James is a lucky, lucky man.
“What,” Q says, in a dangerously soft voice that makes James’ pants a bit tight, “the hell is this?” He waves three slips of paper at James.
James doesn’t even bother plastering on an innocent look. He just grins in that way he knows infuriates Q and says, “It’s your birthday present, of course.” Off to the side, two fully packed suitcases are being investigated by the cats.
Q makes an incoherent noise. Of frustration, delight, or arousal, James can’t tell. Maybe all three. That’s one of his favourite combinations. “You - you - ”
“Don’t worry,” James adds. “Ms Moneypenny’s already given you leave, and Tanner’s agreed to put up with the cats. Says his children will love them. We leave first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Oh my God,” Q says. “I hate you.” With that, he throws the papers away and tackles James with a war cry. The air is punched out of James with an oomph, but he gamely flips Q over with a fluid twist of his spine. They grapple on the bed, flinging pillows and sheets everywhere, which, well, quickly turns into something else entirely.
Left to drift desolately to the floor, a neon pink sticky note proclaims:
What day is the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be again?
Attached are two tickets to Mexico City.
Morgana, ignoring all of the ruckus on the bed, pads over to nudge at the papers with her nose. Then, she swats at it with a paw. The papers prove to be no match before her power but the insult alone is enough. Disdainfully, she huffs and unsheathes her claws.
“Get away from that, you little hell beast!”
“James! Ah - language!”
“I’ll show you language.”
“Just put your back into it, old man.”
Later, Q asks, “How did you find out?”
James tucks his hands behind his head. “I have my sources.”
There’s a pause.
“Sherlock told you, didn’t he?”
“Well, Mycroft offered to in return for a favour. I wasn’t satisfied with his terms. Eventually, Sherlock got tired of our haggling and spit it out so he and Dr Watson could leave.”
“He’s going to regret that,” Q promises darkly.
James would spare a second to feel sorry for Sherlock Holmes, but he really doesn’t care.
Somehow, they do manage to get to Mexico City, even with slightly ripped tickets.
“I’m not sure I trust that face,” Q says with narrowed eyes over a restaurant table. The slight breeze blows his dark curls away from his face. In a simple t-shirt and shorts, he’s still the most beautiful man James has ever seen.
James grins around his mouthful of taco. They slept in, courtesy of Q’s exotic mix of drugs, and it’s more brunch than breakfast at this time of day. “What face?”
“The one on your face right now.” Q crunches on a tortilla chip. Makes a face of his own and then double dips into the salsa.
“This is my normal face.”
“Yes, and I’m always suspicious of it.”
James chuckles and steals a chip from Q’s plate. “It’s your birthday tomorrow,” he says. “Who would I be if I didn’t have a trick or two up my sleeve? Be patient. Good boys wait for their presents.”
“At this rate, the only present you’re going to get is a dunk in that fountain in front of our hotel,” Q threatens and then promptly gets distracted by the dessert menu.
James takes the opportunity to sneak another tortilla chip and gets an irritated growl for his troubles.
Q really does take after his cats, he thinks idly and steals the bill before Q even sets eyes on it.
They spend the afternoon touring the sites and walking through art galleries. It’s odd to be looking at art through a beginner artist’s eye. Mostly, he just grouchily squints at colour play and wishes he could absorb the skill through spite.
Their last stop for the night is Coyoacán, which Q finds delightfully charming. For his part, James admires Frida Kahlo’s spirit but finds her paintings somewhat boring. He’s more of an...action-person.
When he informs Q of this, he’s told to his face that he’s an “uncultured swine” and then kissed passionately.
Master of mixed messages, his lover is. James is more than happy with this state of affairs.
Back in their hotel, James presses a kiss to that hidden spot behind Q’s ear. A wet curl tickles at his forehead. “Ready for your birthday tomorrow?” he murmurs and has the thrill of feeling Q shiver.
“I’ll have you know that Sherlock’s laptop is now unsalvageable and their kettle only heats up their water to lukewarm,” Q says without bite. “So you can stop looking so smug, lest you befall their fate as well.” He runs his fingers through James’ hair and tugs gently at a clump.
James laughs. “Good try but you’d collapse without tea in a day and you’d drive yourself crazy if a broken electronic dared exist in our flat.” He mouths gently at Q’s earlobe before drawing back with a leer. “Now, if you would. Strip.”
“Lazy bastard,” Q mutters, as if he doesn’t have a flush of red across his cheeks, an answering pleasure in his eyes. He turns towards their bed and pulls his t-shirt over his head, and oh, it’s embarrassing how the clean stretch of his back inspires James as nothing else does.
Still, if this is to be his lot in life, there are worse things.
James removes the bag of pens from their suitcase and yanks off his own shirt. The moon is absent in the sky tonight; laughing Spanish drifts through their open balcony. He can scarcely remember the agony of his last trip to this playful city.
Tonight, he’ll give Q the blazing sun and the misty moors of his homeland in the peak of summer, the fields where he ran wild in his childhood, so that Q knows he is James’ home, past, present, and future.
James is no longer 007, no longer Agent Bond. If he wants to give all of himself to Q, there’s hardly anyone who can stop him, now is there? If he wants to make vows, all he needs is for Q to say yes.
He’s almost ready. The promise lingers in the back of his mind. Forever isn’t so long, really.
There’s a rectangular thing leaning on the wall in front of the bed when Q wakes up. James is nowhere in sight, although the pillow next to his is warm. The sunlight slants gently over his hands, over the carpet, over the new object in the room.
Q very nearly closes his eyes and goes right back to sleep. He’s on vacation. Surely, an hour more of sleep won’t bring the sky crashing down.
But - oh! It’s his birthday today! It’s his birthday, and James has been so annoyingly self-satisfied all week, and -
Q is reaching for the bedside table before his eyes are even fully open yet. His fingers glance off a glossy brochure, a pile of pens, and finally land on his glasses. He jerks up, jamming his glasses on his face, and then forgets how to breathe.
It’s a painting.
A painting on one of the canvases he bought James, big enough that he has to wonder where James hid it in their flat. The length of one of his arms, at least. Leaning idly against the wall on the opposite end of the room, sheened in the glow that slips through the curtains.
Depicted are the backs of two figures in light and gold, sitting on a bench with their arms brushing ever so lightly. The world around them is soot and shadow, variations of grey, but the two of them together, oh, they gleam.
Q is brushing the thick brush strokes with the very tips of his fingers before he even realises he’s on his feet. He traces the lines of his own chin, the curve of James’ ear, the rectangular picture frame that the two men are facing.
In the distance, there’s something that could almost be a ship.
“Do you like it?”
And, of course, James is standing behind him now, without even a whisper of a sound to indicate his presence. Old habits die hard. Through something like delayed shock and stubborn habits, Q manages not to flinch.
He reluctantly turns half of his body to glance at James, his pointer finger still lightly resting on a bench leg. James has a cup of coffee in his hand, sweatpants hanging perilously off his hips, and nothing else but a tentative look in his eyes and a hopeful smile.
Q’s nearly forgotten the question. “Do I like it?” he repeats, and - James is a former spy, one of the best, and he must be able to tell that Q is just about ready to float off his feet with the amount of helium swelling within his chest. He must, so smiling like that at him is just an unnecessary and aggressive attack, and Q isn’t going to stand for this, he isn’t!
James opens his mouth, presumably to reply. Before he can say a syllable, Q whirls around all the way and grabs James’ coffee, chugging it back in two gulps. It’s bitter and disgusting, but it clears his head of drowsiness in a jiffy and the look of flabbergasted disbelief on James’ face is worth it.
What, did he really think Q survived uni during his middle teens with just black tea on hand? Q is meant to be the slow one in the morning.
Taking advantage while James is still speechless, Q tackles him back into bed and enthusiastically and incontestably communicates how much he “likes” his birthday present.
“So,” James gasps, with a sound that’s half laughter and half moan, “is this a yes?”
“Shut up, James,” Q commands and makes sure he does just that.
“Want to know a secret?” James asks much later, combing his fingers through Q’s absolute mess of a hair. His usual bedhead is bad enough; adding their morning activities to the equation has turned his curls into an efficient birdnest.
Q opens an eye and squints at him from where he’s using James’ chest as a convenient pillow. “You’re going to hold that over my head forever, aren’t you?”
“You should have known better than to wave that particular lure in front of a spy,” James says, unrepentant.
Q huffs but doesn’t disagree. “Fine, what is it?”
“Come on, up you get.” James tugs gently at his handful of hair and coaxes Q, groaning and whining, to his feet. He leads them to the painting he spent months working on and nudges Q in front of him, wrapping his arms around his waist.
James nips at Q’s earlobe in playful reprimand of his impatience. “What do you see in the Thames?”
Q leans forward to get a better look. After minutes of close scrutiny, he says with an air of deep suspicion, “Nothing, but if you let me scan your painting and upload it to my computer, I bet I could find something.”
James laughs. “Nothing so drastic, love. All you need is a microscope. You can look at it when we get home - ”
“I,” Q declares in tones of grave insult, “have a Q-Branch phone.”
And, indeed, he wiggles out of James’ embrace to grab it from the bedside table, only to come back and lean against him while he dances his clever fingers across the screen. Once past his seventh password - James smirks to himself - he zeros in on one of his many, many apps and the screen turns into a magnifying glass.
“Why didn’t I know about that?” James asks, disgruntled. That could have come in handy during one of his missions. Probably. He would have found some use for it somewhere.
Q is already leaning forward on his tippy toes to get the phone as close as possible to the painting. “I explained all of the functions when I gave you your Q-Branch phone,” he says absently. “It’s not my fault if you didn’t listen.”
“That’s hardly my fault.” James grabs Q’s hips to steady him before he collides head-first with the 007-shaped silhouette.
“And why not?”
“You were the one telling them to me. And you’re much too distracting.”
Q glances away from his phone squinting to throw a dour look at James. “Really? That’s your excuse? How many models and femme fatales have you met during your missions?”
“None of them were you, now were they?” James smiles his most charming smile and digs his thumbs into the hollow of Q’s hips.
Q squeaks. Before he can jab James in the chest with his elbow - who was already shifting to soften the blow - he stills and goes, “Oh!”
James curves his body over Q’s, feeling a bit like chocolate melting in sunlight, relaxed and liquid and oh so contented even as his heart races inside his chest. “What do you see?” he murmurs in Q’s ear.
“...what makes you think I know Latin?” Q asks weakly, a soft pink flush already creeping onto his cheeks.
“Do you not?”
Q rolls his eyes and turns in his embrace. Despite everything, there’s still something like surprise in his eyes. Before James can frown, worry, he sways forward and kisses James.
It’s a good kiss, James’ favourite type of kiss. Soft, slow, an open exchange that pours warmth down his throat, spiralling around his heart like a hug. It leaves a tight feeling in his chest, a tender ache that hurts so good.
They’re no good with words, either of them. James has spoken in lies for most of his life, and Q was raised in a den of genius vipers. But nonetheless, when Q pulls back, he whispers into the quiet between them like it’s the greatest secret of them all, “Thank you, James.”
James - smiles. It feels like the only smile that’s ever mattered in his entire life. “You’re welcome, Q.”
(Hidden in the quiet waves of the Thames, in minuscule text and enshrouded by the ever so slightly sheer black paint, are the carefully-written words: serva me, servado te.
Save me and I’ll save you.)
“I have somewhere I’d like to take you for dinner,” James says.
“Do I need to wear a suit?”
At that, Q does him the favour of glancing away from the National Palace of Mexico City to eye him warily. “You never pass up the chance to see me in a suit,” he accuses. “What are you up to now?”
James smiles with all of the innocence in his soul. Which is to say, none. “Have I ever led you astray before?”
“You got the spiciest salsa for us during lunch and didn’t tell me,” Q deadpans.
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“I nearly died choking.”
James slides his hands into his jean pockets and rocks back on his heels. He wishes he packed sunglasses. There does seem to be a handy street stall over there selling knock-off Gucci bags and Dior sunglasses... “As if I would ever let you die on my watch, darling.”
“You were too busy laughing to do anything more than shove water at my face.”
James pauses. “I stand by what I said.” And the face Q had made when the taste first hit his tongue was just too funny and adorable to resist. His partner has the unfortunate luck to possess the spice tolerance that most Londoners do.
He shifts his weight towards the left. There’s a particular pair of neon orange glasses that he thinks Moneypenny would really appreciate, but he knows better than to drag Q away from architecture before he’s ready.
“Don’t think I don’t notice you changing the subject.” Q sighs and snaps a picture with his phone. “Alright, I’m done. Let’s go get those sunglasses you’ve been drooling over.”
“No suit. I’ll take care of everything else. And I would never do something as undignified as drool,” James insists and leads Q over to the stall with a hand on his lower back.
“Fine. But my pillowcases say otherwise.”
They get the neon orange sunglasses for Moneypenny. And a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag for Marian.
“They’re going to kill you,” Q says. Because of course they would never place the blame on Q.
James grins so sharply that the stall owner backs away a step. “They’re welcome to try.”
Part of James was worried that the Castillos would have disappeared into the wind, into time, like so many other good things in his life. But here they are, worn-brick and crooked sign, light spilling out the window into the dusky evening, a bare five-minute walk from their hotel.
His shoulders fall, just a little. The air is rich with spicy, marinated meat and freshly cooked tortillas, and there’s a comforted note to his anticipation now. Warm chatter fills his ears, overlaid with roaring laughter and good-natured ribbing. Someone down the street is strumming a guitar.
“I’m not sure what I was expecting,” Q says, snug and gorgeous at his side, “but this isn’t it.”
James chuckles. “I do take pride in my unpredictability,” he reminds him and wraps an arm around his shoulders. “Shall we?”
“We’d better.” Q is all prim posture and posh diction. “I’m starving.”
The interior is exactly as James remembers, exuberant paintings on the walls and creaking chairs to uneven tables. A young woman bustles around, hands full of dishes, giggling and joshing her customers. There are familiar dimples in her cheeks.
A server comes out to greet and seat them, wiping his hands clean of flour on his apron and grinning from ear to ear. “Two, Señores?” A ring dangles from his neck, and it only takes one quick glance for James to find its partner on the waitress’ finger.
“Sí,” James says and wonders if they’re married already.
They’re ushered over to a corner table near the kitchen, awash in candlelight and with tortilla chips already on the table. Before the server can leave, James graces him with a charming smile and asks, “Are Señora Castillo and Señor Castillo in today?”
“They’re in the kitchen,” he responds, a curious glint in his eyes. “Is there a problem, Señor?”
“Not at all. When they have the time, would you let them know that James is here?” Assuming they still remember him, that is. But domestic life must be good for him, Q must be good for him, because James finds that he thinks - hopes - that they do.
“Of course, Señor,” and from the snap to his stride as he strolls away, their server is more liable to barge in and loudly spread the word than to wait for a quiet moment.
Q is radiant in the soft glow, tousled obsidian curls and cat green eyes. There’s the tiniest arch to his eyebrow, but his smile is fond and oh so sweet. He picks up a tortilla chip and says, “Are you going to tell me what’s going on yet?”
“Not yet,” James replies and reaches across the table to take Q’s free hand in his own. “Are you feeling up to a margarita tonight? I have to warn you; they make their drinks strong here.”
From the way Q’s eyes narrow, he may have taken that as a challenge.
They talk over the menu for a bit, which then somehow devolves into a lively debate over global politics on climate change, and then -
There are, it must be admitted, very few people capable of calling his name with such genuine delight. James turns to see Katia marching towards him, parting the crowd with effortless grace and not just a little bit of terror in the eyes of her customers. Ernico trails after his wife, a smile wrinkling his face.
“There you are!” Katia scolds as she approaches. “It’s been much too long! And who is this you’ve brought to me?”
Q looks a bit flabbergasted, a chip pressed against his closed lips. Whatever he was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this.
James stifles a laugh and says, “This is Q, my… partner.”
“Oh,” Katia says. Her smile is so gleeful that Q’s expression slides towards apprehension. Not that there’s any chance to escape before Katia sets upon him with a barrage of welcomes and questions and potent margaritas.
Ernico sits down beside James and says to him, quiet but proud, “I see everything worked out.”
“Yes.” James looks at Q, who has been drawn into a conversation about the Tube of all things, and smiles, more honest than he’s been all his life. This is his heart on his sleeve; this is leaping off a bridge and knowing there’s a safety net underneath.
To be secure in someone else’s love is a privilege he hasn’t had since childhood.
Ernico favours his wife with a glance that’s much the same. “Good,” he says. “Hold on to that.”
“A lifetime isn’t nearly long enough,” James agrees.
“By the way,” Q says during a sudden spike in the crowd that draws the Castillos away to tend to their new customers, “I don’t suppose you know anything about what happened to Max Denbigh? His corpse washed up on the shores of Japan two days ago; it was such a wreck that they had to use DNA to identify the remains.”
James crunches on a tortilla chip. “No. Although that is one less thing to worry about. I hope you don’t expect me to shed any tears for that bastard.”
“Uh huh. What a coincidence that 004 took a two day off-grid detour after her North Korea mission a few weeks ago, right after Moneypants spent a solid hour in the Spectre file during her lunch break.” Q sucks pointedly at his margarita.
James watches the process of his mouth very closely. “An amazing coincidence,” he agrees.
Q favours him with a sardonic look through his eyelashes, which he doesn’t seem to realise would instantly fell a lesser man. “Is it going to happen again?”
“Of course not,” James says smoothly. “That would require the accumulation of certain specific circumstances, which seems improbable.”
For the amount of alcohol he’s sucking through his straw, Q’s voice is remarkably dry. “Noted.”
They stumble out of the restaurant to a bright full moon and a gentle breeze. Q leans against James, adorably tipsy. “I feel like I just found my long-lost grandparents,” he says and giggles. “Literally.”
James laughs. And then he pauses. “Literally?” he repeats.
Q is silent for a beat too long. “Maybe we should have this conversation when I’m sober,” he says.
James is fairly certain he should be worried. He’s not. His heart is too full of dreams and hopes and all the things he never thought could be his for anything so trivial as worry.
What the Castillos have - that’s what he wants. A lifetime together, infinity in his love.
Almost a full year later, James presents Q with another painting. It’s one of the most gorgeous things he’s ever seen, all vibrant colours and blurred lines. A scene in a park somewhere, it seems, with the lamps aglow and the walkway glistening as if it’s just rained, the leaves and bushes a whirlwind of rainbow hues.
In the distance, two male silhouettes walk towards the pale sunlit sky as if on an evening scroll, arms linked together. Within the light and the magic, they are the only focal point, and Q’s breath catches at the dreamy wonder of the scene, so different from what James usually creates.
“Did I miss an anniversary or something?” Q jokes, because he hasn’t yet found the words to convey how instantly and deeply he loves this painting. He knows he hasn’t - he’s got calendar notifications for everything.
James smiles. There’s a glint of anticipation in his eyes that makes Q wary. It’s a Pavlovian response by now. But there’s also something almost nervous in the touch of his hand to Q’s cheek. “Only a future one, I hope.”
Q wrinkles his forehead. “What?”
“There’s a secret in the painting,” James tells him, and it’s a repeat of his birthday all over again, the delight and the suspicion. “Come find me when you figure it out.”
And before Q can say anything more, he turns and leaves for a night exercise with his newest group of grasshoppers.
Q stares at his new gift and hopes it doesn’t explode. He thinks he might cry if he doesn’t get to keep it.
Nine hours later, James comes home to Q with his hands on his hips and the painting he slaved over for months hanging on their wall, right above their dining table. The special Q-Branch ink he persuaded the new third-in-command of Q-Branch - who still plays Minecraft when he’s bored - to “lend” him glows under the light of the candle that Q has placed on the table.
Neatly written binary spans the painting from frame to frame, covering the entirety of the yellow sky and curving around the two figures. As promised, the ink slides gracefully from yellow to orange to red, setting the canvas aflame.
The effect is even more stunning than James could ever have hoped for.
But it’s the look on Q’s face that James can’t tear his eyes away from. At last, the thundering anxiety leaves his chest, the quiet fear that still lingers at times evaporating away. Despite his exhaustion, despite his night of unbearable nerves, James feels filled to the brim with joy.
“Yes?” he asks.
Q’s smile is its own answer. Still, he answers, “Yes. Yes.”
(The binary is just a single word and a question mark, repeated over and over and over again.
Their binding ceremony is quiet and intimate, held in the splendour of a Russian chapel and memorialized by the painting James creates during their honeymoon, a work of shadows and light that invokes that specific way the heart stutters a beat.
Later, it hangs over their bed, and the cats sometimes bump their heads on the corners.
The tattoo they choose for themselves is simple. A small familiar ship that sails towards the sunrise, the dream that brought them both together at last. Hand-drawn by James himself, inked in gold and blue and a luminous green that James insisted on working in.
Just to be petty, Q countered by choosing the shade of blue.
That night, James presses a kiss to the centre of Q’s tattoo. Located on his right shoulder blade, leaving more than enough room on his lower back for James to draw to his heart’s content. His bonded will never be able to see his own tattoo but for in the mirror.
But then, that’s why James is here.
“Let me see,” Q says.
Obligingly, James lies down on his front. The special tattoos of the binding ceremony heal within the hour and will last on the skin until they’re dust and bone. Q’s fingers are cold as they glide across his back, and he shivers.
Q’s lips touch his tattoo, gentle and possessive. Oh.
James sighs and lets his eyes close. His heart aches in the sweetest of ways.
This, he wants to remember until the day he dies.
I can bring tears to your eyes. I can resurrect the dead. I can make you smile. I can reverse time. I form in an instant but last a lifetime. What am I?
“You’re set to infiltrate a socialite party in two days,” James says to a sea of fresh-faced wannabe agents. “Attendance is invitation-only, and all 50 invited guests are friends of the host. You have no supplies, no suitable cover, and reason to believe that communications with Q-Branch have been tapped. What do you do?”
The clock ticks.
James idly plans out his weekend date with Q. He’s hoping to cajole him into attending a motorcycle show with him and then dining at the new Mediterranean restaurant that opened a few blocks over. The weather forecast looks good, although they’ll have to bring an umbrella.
He’s moved onto laying out his intended bouquet when the cockiest boy in the class says, “I would sneak into the venue, find a concealed location, and gather the information necessary to complete the mission.”
“Too risky,” the girl behind him disagrees immediately. “If you’ve got no supplies, then you’ve got no hope of fighting off 51 criminals if you get caught, and in backing yourself into a concealed location, you have no escape route.”
The boy sneers. “Yeah? Then what would you do?”
She thinks it over. “Find a spot near the entrance of the party location and wait for a guest of similar appearance to pass by. Then, knock them out with the advantage of surprise, assume their identity, and go on from there.”
“That’s also risky,” another newbie comments. “What if none of the guests are close to you in appearance? Then you’ve waited for two hours in a bush somewhere, and the party’s going on without you.”
James waits out the following ten minutes of aggressive discussion and then cuts in with, “Enough.” His voice, mild and even, cuts through the noise immediately. All eyes turn to him, and it’s gratifying, in a way. He felt the same rush when he was infiltrating the same party he laid out to these kids as a hypothetical scenario.
“You’re all thinking too rigidly,” he tells them. “Just because you have no supplies doesn’t mean you can’t get some. Just because the official line back to support is tapped doesn’t mean that you can’t find one that isn’t. And just because you don’t have a cover doesn’t mean you can’t make one.”
James pushes himself off the table he was leaning against and waves a hand at the materials laid out behind him. There’s more than one confused face as his students stare at the mess of wood, steel, rock, and wire, most of which he picked up on his way to MI6 and from the table at home.
“Well?” he says, with a smile that only shows a little teeth. “Have at it. You have ten minutes. First come, first serve. Nothing that won’t heal within three days allowed. I expect good construction and a reason why. Maybe a demonstration if we have time.”
There’s a beat. And then a screech of chairs, the pounding of shoes, and a rush forward. Elbows are applied judiciously. One girl goes straight for the groin.
Ruthless, these brats. He likes that.
James contemplates the contrast of azaleas and baby’s breath. He takes out his phone to look up which flowers are toxic to cats.
“Break the table, and I’ll treat you to a tour of Q-Branch,” he calls out without looking up.
Someone lets out a war cry.
“How do you have a forty-five percent passing rate?” Tanner demands, baffled. “The other trainers have thirty percent, at maximum.”
James smirks. “What can I say? I’m just that good.”
“Every last one of your students cussed you out in their final evaluations. Then they gave you the highest ratings possible.”
“I know. They told me.”
Tanner eyes him with a measure of deep concern before visibly deciding that it’s not his problem with a shrug of his shoulders. “Well...if they’re passing, they’re passing.”
James clasps him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit.”
I look flat, but I am deep, Hidden realms I shelter, your world I nourish. Lives I take, but food I offer. At times, I am beautiful. At times, I am frightening. Often, I am both. No man can own me, yet I encompass what all men must have. What am I?
“James,” Q calls mid-afternoon.
There are figures taking their existence on the blank white canvas, beings of movement and grace and an aching, quiet humanity. James doesn’t look up from where his brush dips into black paint, thoughts on a night in Berlin. “Hmm?”
“I have an idea.”
“Mmhm.” He adds a flourish of bright red, shocking this world that knew only of shadows. Like the gunshot that had shattered that night, the blood that had spilt onto the age-old streets. He can still see it all so clearly…
“...James, are you listening to me?”
“Of course, love.” A gentle grey that’s more suggestion than reality, a play on the buildings that arch about the figures like silent witnesses.
A sigh. And then a kiss pressed gently to his cheek and the familiar scent of coffee on the table. James relaxes into the affection and continues painting.
Hours later, with the paint drying and a box of pizza on the counter, Q stands before him, hands on his hips. “You didn’t hear a single thing I said, did you.”
Uhh. James dries his recently-washed hands and tries to think back. He does remember Q’s voice somewhere in the interval, but whatever he said, it clearly didn’t hold enough fear or anger to kick James’ instincts into gear.
So...no. He didn’t.
“Not at all, love,” James agrees and siddles in up-close to place his hands over Q’s. He presses a sneaky kiss to that sensitive spot behind Q’s right ear and smiles charmingly, hoping it gets him out of trouble.
Q mock glares at him, but there’s an upward twitch of his lips, so he’s definitely just pretending to be mad. James presses a few more kisses to his ears and cheeks just in case. Then, to his mouth, to be thorough.
When he leans back, Q rolls his eyes at him. There’s a definite smile on his face, though, so James smugly counts that as a win. “So tell me, what’s this brilliant idea of yours?”
“I said that I have an idea about all of the paintings that we’re slowly compiling.” Q gestures at the paintings hanging from their walls, stacked up on the table, being used as a cat-box by two rebellious beasts…
James has been trying to keep them out of the way, but they really do only have so much room in their flat.
“Not that I don’t adore them all,” Q continues, “but I’m afraid the cats are going to start using them as scratching posts soon.”
Well. True. It’s like a dumpster in here. And it’s not as if James is terribly attached to them. There’s not one that he’s completely satisfied with, and he’s only spent a few hours of his life on each. Once they’re all gone, he won’t have to wander around the flat every so often, spending a few minutes staring down each painting and scowling at its flaws.
All of his mistakes will be gone; a clean canvas for him to start over with.
“You’re right,” James says evenly. “I’ll toss them out tomorrow - ”
“What,” Q all but shrieks.
James stops. They stare at each other.
“Who said anything about bloody throwing them out?” Q demands, eyes sparking with outrage. “If you try, I swear to fucking God that I’ll tell Moneypenny about the Marmalade Incident of May 2016!”
James takes a step back in betrayal. A very small step. His hands don’t leave Q’s. “Q!” he hisses. “We both agreed that never happened!”
“Yeah, well, don’t test me!” Q very deliberately takes a deep breath and relaxes his shoulders. He ruins the impression of calmness by glaring though.
“Now, before someone decided to jump to conclusions,” he says tartly, “I was going to suggest selling some of your paintings online. If you were interested. If not, I was thinking about building a display case. If you notice, neither option included any tossing!”
James is so surprised that a chuckle escapes his iron-clad control. Q glares harder. This has the unfortunate side effect of making James laugh louder, until he’s burying his incredulousness into Q’s shoulder.
“James Bond,” Q announces, “I don’t care if you’re my soulmate. I’m going to pour marmalade over your unsuspecting head come witching hour, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
James can only laugh louder. After a few moments, Q sighs and seems to resign himself to his insane partner. He even gently pulls one hand away to pat James on the head like he would the cats.
Finally, James pulls away and shakes his head. His cheeks bloody hurt. “Q,” he says, “who the fuck would want to buy this useless crap of mine?”
Q narrows his eyes. “Wanna bet?”
Five days later, the mysterious J. B. has an official professional website, an account on every social media site, and is known to every art enthusiast in London. Whether this was done through illegal means or not, no one seems willing to say.
All three of the paintings that were put up for sale are bought. At a price that James considers exorbitant for what basically amounts to trash.
“I win,” Q crows, somewhat redundantly.
James grumbles and continues sorting through the remaining paintings. “Yeah, yeah. What do you think of this one?”
“I like it. Let’s keep it.”
“You’ve said that about the past ten I’ve shown you,” James points out.
“Yes, and we’re keeping all of them. See?” Q turns his tablet to show James blueprints for a lovely and very sturdy display case.
James wisely does not attempt to argue. The only stipulation he offers up is that they keep all of his paintings of and for Q. His other paintings are all odd plays of dark and light, full of harsh lines but for something indistinct in the background that stirs up a primal sort of wariness.
But Q. His paintings of Q are soft and out of focus in bright, saturated colours. Most of his face is always obscured, there’s no question of security there, and yet this is a Q that James wants to keep hidden from the rest of the world.
This is a Q that James keeps for their home.
Hard at work day and night, it counts the numbers over and over. Although it counts all its life, it never gets past twelve. What is it?
They spend all of their anniversaries and birthdays travelling. Q has his calendar permanently blocked off for three weeks a year, and Eve - M - just smiles with bared teeth whenever agents ask why.
“Why don’t you ask him directly?” she says, silken, and laughs them out of the room with her eyes. A painting of Macao ablaze with lanterns and fire dragons hangs behind her desk and echoes the bright orange of her dress.
But, of course, if any of the newbies happen to be brave enough to walk up to the Quartermaster with grey streaks in his hair and crow lines about his eyes, elegant and aristocratic, the only answer they receive is an arched eyebrow and, “Go ask James Bond if you really want to know.”
And no one wants to approach the legendary retired agent, hair all silvery white and eyes piercing blue, well known both for his ability to thrash any of his students and his habit of flirting with Q, for something like this.
After all, most of them are his students, and none of them are eager for “remedial training”.
Just the thought makes their calves ache in horror.
In James’ opinion, all of his most beautiful masterpieces are on Q’s skin. The ones he recreates on canvas just don’t have that same magic. Sometimes, he tries to compensate by painting Q himself, the most beautiful subject he knows, but his paintings are never quite perfect, never quite Q.
Looking at his work, he can't imagine why someone would spend money to buy his pale imitations of life and death and Q. But Q somehow makes it happen, and James has learned to shrug and accept it. He isn't involved in the transactional process at all, and that's how they both like it. Q takes care of the posting and the bargaining and the maybe less-than-legal dealings with a glee that probably bodes poorly for the good citizens of London. James just does the painting part of the job.
That’s probably why he’s entirely unprepared when Q wanders over and announces, “So. A local museum is interested in having you be part of one of their exhibits.”
James drops his brush. It leaves a splatter of bright blue paint on their floor.
“...don’t let the cats lick that,” is all that Q comments.
“What,” James says. His head hurts. He wonders if maybe he heard wrong. His hearing has been somewhat on the frizz lately. The doctors at Medical told him vindictively that this was karma for all of his past torment.
“Don’t let - ”
“No, I got that part.” James holds up a hand. “I’m talking about the other part.”
Q merely shrugs. His grin is as self-satisfied as can be, pride softening the edges. “I told you your art is good. This is what you get for not believing me.”
“Bloody cheek,” James replies affectionately on reflex. He still doesn't believe it, bloody museum or not.
I can crawl, I can fly, I have hands but no legs or wings either. What am I?
One day, the new 001 walks up to James after a class with the grasshoppers. "I don't remember being so green," he comments with a jaded smile.
"You were," James responds. "I was there." And this seasoned agent was once incapable of tying knots.
He laughs. "I just wanted to come and thank you. You were the best instructor I ever had, even if you were also the worst. Without you, I would have died a long time ago."
James looks at him steadily. "If you really want to thank me, keep on surviving. Retire. That'll be the ultimate testament to my teaching."
He does. He's one of the rare ones.
They fight sometimes. Over the dishes Q didn't do, over the table Q clutters. Over James's military strictness, over his fondness for onions, which Q hates. They fight over the rearranging of the living room, over closet space and cold feet at night.
They fight, and Q locks himself in the bedroom to sulk with his laptop, and James throws himself onto the sofa to brood and watch the Great British Bake-Off.
But never do they argue so sharp as to prickle insecurity into James's heart, and so, even in the buzzing silence, he is not afraid.
Just irritated and a touch fond for all that because only Q could be so pedantic about the ventilation and the heat levels of his electronics.
They always make up eventually. One shuffling behind the other to press an apology kiss on the neck. An offering of the chocolate mocha cake that is a well-known favourite. A bag of coffee beans that can be found only in a very specific little town of Sicily.
They find their way back to each other. They do.
What’s at the end of the tunnel?
“I’m scared,” Q whispers. They’re in bed, warm and snug under the blanket that smells of them both, and their hair is greying, their strength waning. Wrinkles line their face, the loving touch of time to denote lives full of pain and joy, anguish and love.
The sun is setting on the horizon. They sleep so early these days.
James hums with a note of concern and draws back to look earnestly upon Q’s face. “Of what, love?” he asks. There are more laugh-lines around his eyes than ever, and they crinkle in that beautiful, familiar way when he smiles at Q.
His eyes are still so brilliantly blue, and beyond his limp, beyond the glasses and hearing-aids, he’s still the man Q fell in love with, all those years ago.
A thousand answers spring to Q’s tongue, no longer as agile and quick as before. Of death, he could say. Of pain, of succumbing slowly to heart failure or being stolen from this world with a single unexpected stroke. Of the mystery of what happens after death, uncertainty still his most hated-enemy.
But - “Of losing you,” Q says. “Again.” James is older than Q, suffers from more ailments, and fights daily with a body that spitefully remembers all of the abuse it was made to endure in his younger days.
Q faintly recalls a time when he could live separated from James, when he could subsist on glimpses through a monitor and encounters in the hallway. He’s no longer that brave boy, so resilient, so alone. Loneliness is the monster that lurks in his nightmare, and if James goes first, he will be the loneliest man in the world.
They are old and fading, and he is afraid.
James makes a wordless, comforting noise of understanding and presses closer to kiss away the tears that have sneaked their way down Q’s cheeks. Golden light spills through their wide windows, throwing gentle emphasis on the paintings that line their walls, all in honour of Q.
“Don’t be,” James says finally, brushing his lips against Q’s. He does so again and again, sipping away his acrid fear and replacing it with the sweetness of a love that has been so strong, so steadfast, so indisputably, irrevocably there that Q can’t possibly doubt the existence of it. “Don’t be.”
“Because we’ll find each other again, remember?” James’ smile is the one he shows only Q, his kiss so very warm. “We’ll always find each other again. You won’t lose me, Q. You won’t ever lose me. I promised you forever, remember?”
The promise is one that sinks into him like warm molasses, unravelling the cold, hard ball in his chest at long last. Q closes his eyes and sighs, settled and rooted once more. He feels safe, cherished, loved. James is right; of course he’s right.
And looking into James’ beloved face, he knows what his bonded needs in return. Knows that for all his consoling words, James is not without his own fears. “And you won’t ever lose me either, James.” He manages a smile through his tears. “Stuck with me for all eternity, I’m afraid.”
“Not nearly long enough, but a good start,” James says, gathering Q close. He presses a kiss to Q’s forehead, the steady thumping of his heartbeat Q’s favourite lullaby. “Go to sleep, darling. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Q closes his eyes just as the sun sinks below the horizon.
They slip into the great unknown together. When found by their friends, they’re tucked into each other, legs entangled, hands intertwined. With the small, peaceful smiles on their faces, they almost look like one of James’ paintings.
The ageing Director of MI6 herself speaks at their funeral, dressed in a resplendent golden gown, wearing stilettos that seem just a little too sharp. If there are tears in her heart, she does not shed them. Every Double-Oh who can make it is in attendance; half of them are former students.
As per their wishes, their ashes are flung into the ocean, where the waves claim them.
This is the end of James and Q.
But this is also their beginning.
In another time, in another place, it’s sunrise, and two young men - reckless, wild, strangers - meet in a local art gallery in front of a painting. It’s done in an old style, a relic, all soot and dusk. Two silhouettes created from words and the spaces in between.
“What do you see?”
“A sappy old man in love. What do you see?”
“I see a riddle.”
“James Bond, the artist here, is somewhat well-known for the riddles that he includes in his art. The general consensus among the local academic community is that they're love notes to his long-time partner, whose name has unfortunately been lost to us.”
The soldier’s smile is mocking. “So a sappy old man in love. What's the riddle here then?”
“Right up there, in the corners, you see. It's old, old Gaelic. ‘What is the greatest treasure that can’t be bought,’ would be the rough translation.”
“And you just know all of this off the top of your head.”
“Well, I've studied his work for a good portion of my life,” the art historian says. “If I didn't know, that'd be rather foolish of me, wouldn't it?”
“What's the answer then?”
“The answer to what?”
“You know what. The riddle.”
A soft laugh. “To love and be loved in return.”
“And pray tell, where exactly did you get that sort of ridiculous, besotted answer from?”
“It's in the title of the artwork, of course. Redamancy.”