“What time is it?”
“A little after five.”
“Euh. Feels like I've been asleep five minutes.”
Q looks absurdly young without his glasses, hair fuzzed up, rubbing the balls of his hands into his eyes then blinking several times trying to bring the dark room into focus. Bond's been watching him over the last half hour, knowing he should get up and out of bed, forcing his mind and body back to the fact he's running for his life and needs to get to work. But Q's been curled in sleep so comfortably, so intimately with his hip against Bond's crotch, his back against Bond's chest, that it'd take a saint to drag himself away. Of the many things Bond knows he is, a saint is laughably far from being one of them.
“So much for the chair. Sorry. I was freezing and couldn't get back to sleep.”
“It was your bed in the first place.”
“Yes, I noticed how neatly you outmaneuvered me into giving it up.” Q begins the complicated, creaky process of turning over in the bed meant for a single occupant that they're both crammed into.
“You're my quartermaster.” Bond stops his breath from audibly catching as Q's arsecheek shifts against his groin. “I was acting on your orders.”
Q moves onto his back, his head flat against the single pillow, dark strands of hair clinging to the pillow case as he stares up with the slightest, sleepiest smile at where Bond's propped himself on an elbow next to him. He looks so fucking angelic in the room's small amount of light, which is coming from the bars of the electrical heater's bars glowing bright orange. It aches to look at him, right down to bone level. It's almost as if Bond's atoms are pulling him apart, bit by miniscule bit, tugging him inextricably towards where Q's mouth looks warm and soft, to the area of skin beneath Q's ear on his neck where it's velvet and musky with a scent that sends Bond's senses corkscrewing in on themselves until he's hard enough to break bricks. He knows better than to lie cocooned in a narrow, warm bed with this one person, more than anyone else. He very much knows better than to allow himself to get this distracted when his life's on the line.
“Mine?” Q yawns so widely it seems his jaw will dislocate, one hand smothering it as he tucks himself more comfortably into Bond's side. “Bollocks. You're infamously shit at taking orders.”
“No, I'm not.” Q raises both eyebrows at him, and Bond smiles. “Not where it counts. Any good operative's a product of his or her training, and the ability to adhere to it.”
A sideways glance and a sniff suggests that Q doesn't believe it for a minute. “You think you're a good operative? Given the situation we find ourselves in?”
“Experience and intuition count for more than you realise.” Bond's not bragging. That he's free and alive at all says everything it needs to about his level of skill.
“I suppose we'll see, won't we? Besides, I'm not your quartermaster on this trip. I'm on holiday.”
Q's knuckles brush against the front of Bond's jumper as he pushes his sleeves up, and it feels like an invitation, Bond's body waking up further from the state of semi-arousal it's been since waking in the early hours and finding a slim, shivering body climbing into the bed beside him. Wrapping an arm around Q's waist and spooning into him before slowly allowing himself to drift back to sleep had felt as normal as breathing, as everyday as a shave or brushing his teeth.
“Bearing that in mind, looks like you're in charge.” Q pushes himself up, leaning back on his elbows, his mouth inches from Bond's, his face vulnerable without the horizontal frame of his glasses providing its usual barrier. A watercolour wash of stubble's apparent at this angle, making the already-slender face more gaunt, more its proper age now than the rumpled, bleary-eyed fallen angel who woke a few minutes ago.“What's the plan?”
“Seeing as I'm assuming command, is there any chance I can persuade you to call me sir?”
Q's eyes crinkle in amusement. “Nope. Volunteers don't subscribe to archaic hierarchical terms of address.”
“They don't?” When he smiles this time, Bond notices Q's line of sight is firmly glued to his mouth, and that Q unconsciously tilts his head and parts his lips as if he's preparing to be kissed, his tongue making a brief appearance at the corner of his mouth. “That's a shame.”
He's been asked for a kiss. Q's body language is screaming it at him in the way Q's left himself a passive inch below Bond's posture, and there's no way in hell Bond's going to cross that line. He waits with patience honed over many years waiting on rain-soaked rooftops for the perfect shot, using the same breathing techniques to hold steady, because it can't come from him this time. Not after last night and his impulsive, anaesthetised jump into a kiss he had no right to after how he'd left things between them before.
“We should get up. Things to do. Lives to save.”
“You're right, we probably should.” Almost there. Bond can see it in Q's eyes, how they're looking back and forth between his, trying to figure out why he's waiting. Then Q's mouth stretches out in the flat line of a dry smile, and Q brings up his hand to run the pads of his fingertips along the bristles of Bond's three-day beard as he decides to take action.
“Let's hope for the sake of queen and country that you're better at following orders than you are at giving them.”
Bond notices vaguely that Q's knuckles are pink in comparison to his pale hand as it bunches in the front of his sweatshirt, then he's tugged into a kiss, that snitty too-smart mouth opening his with a strength and confidence he acquiesces to immediately. A shudder passes between them as their tongues touch but Bond can't tell if it comes from him or the body that's moving over his, pressing him back into the narrow bed. He allows it to happen, as he does the tongue pushing his back into his mouth, the circular thrust of slim hips against his pelvis, and he's harder faster than a man of his age can usually manage. More passive than he remembers being in years.
“Get your trousers off.”
Q stops biting at Bond's bottom lip long enough to back off and look at him, the beginnings of a genuine smile subtly colouring his smirk. “Mine? Why's that?”
“You ask too many questions. It's bloody annoying.” Bond's voice is gruff with embarrassment, which is laughable to the point that it makes him grin. This is what his admittedly intricate psyche chooses to get flustered over?
“Say it.” Q's moving up, straddling Bond's stomach and sitting heavily across Bond's erection very deliberately. “Go on.”
“Just say it. 'I want your lovely big quartermaster cock in my mouth so I can blow you into next Tuesday.' Like that.”
Clever hands push themselves up beneath Bond's sweatshirt and grubby t-shirt, gliding over his tired, scarred muscle until he hisses in need, grinding his cock up against Q's bum and grabbing Q's wrists. “The moment's passed.”
“Has it? You're quite sure?”
All it takes for Q to shake off Bond's hands is a quick twist that Q's probably picked up in the support staff's self-defense training. Had Bond intended his grip to imprison Q's hands any longer, it would've taken rather more effort or injury into making him let go, but Q's triumphant grin shining down through the darkness at him provokes an alien flutter of something that's almost happiness to bubble around Bond's gut like a trapped fart. Then Q lifts his own shirt out the way and starts to undo his belt, unzipping his jeans while his eyes don't budge from looking directly into Bond's, and the moment's right back where it should be.
Bond's not sure if this is something he'd ever get used to, provided with the opportunity. There's the same unfamiliar terrain of Q's cock and his furry ballsack to maneuver around, different to the tastes and scents that Bond's accustomed to with oral, and the sensation of his mouth being slowly filled and stretched will always be as new as it was the first time, as will the instinctual lurch of his stomach reflecting his throat's fight against a potential obstruction. He thinks he likes it, as much as he believes he could be risking addiction to the flavour of Q's prick and the liquid salt it leaks over his tongue. He knows he's wanted this and missed it more than he should miss something that's only happened a few times. Q's fingers cradle his head and stroke over his cheekbones, under his eyes as Bond opens them to look up along the stretch of Q's body and into his eyes as Q's prick twitches and drools inside his mouth.
“Fuck. You're getting better at this.” Q closes his eyes and shivers as Bond softly sucks before backing off to slide his tongue over Q's piss slit. “Been practising on Polish dockers?”
He grunts a negative around Q's cock as he pushes down further, Q's fingernails raking through the bristles of his hair. The tastes grow stronger, the dick in his mouth harder and thicker, and it's almost as if he can feel the sting of approaching climax himself as he continues to pump his head, lips tight, the tip of his prick throbbing and soaking the front of his briefs.
Q moans, grabs Bond's ears and thrusts against the back of his throat in jerky movements that are near impossible to coordinate a rhythm with. The thigh muscle under one of Bond's hands is clenching and rising, the balls his other fingers are circling pulling tighter to Q's groin as Q leans across Bond's face to grab the grimy padded headboard and fuck harder into Bond's mouth. The continuous litany of grunts, curses and surprised exclamations of oncoming ecstasy Q's making would've made Bond smile if his face wasn't so smothered in the coarse pubes massed around his nose and chin, his nose pressed into Q's concave stomach. Then the hips pounding at his jaw freeze, the prick in his mouth stiffening then jumping against his tongue as Q makes a desperate gurgle somewhere above and starts to come.
It's only minutes later, the taste of Q's cum thick in his mouth and Q's tongue exploring his tonsils, the scent of Q's sweat liberally daubed across his lower face, that Bond's coming himself as his cum seems to erupt boiling from the depth of his guts, his arsehole clenching so hard it feels like cramp as he spurts a few days' worth of spunk over Q's speeding knuckles. It's too explosive and out of control, nothing like the reined-in, disciplined climaxes Bond's become used to after years of fucking for reasons other than those of purely personal desire. The shivers don't leave him for beyond the time it takes for Q to wipe his hand off on the sheet, kiss Bond's jaw then roll out of bed yawning, wiping spunk off his fingers on the leg of the trousers he's tugged up, already in search of the kettle.
Bond's barely out of his pants, his worn workman's jeans and his pants shoved down only far enough to have let his cock out, his hands shaking as he hikes his hips to pull them up and tuck himself in. Even with only his softening dick exposed, the only time he'd felt that stripped bare before was sitting tied naked to a chair, waiting for an enemy driven by desperation to rain agony on him with a knotted rope. The awareness of that is horrifying, and welcome in a way he doesn't care to explore too deeply anytime soon.
“There's nothing here.”
“There's nowhere else to look.” Q glances back at Bond from where he's been glued to his laptop, fingers stuttering out an incomprehensible Morse code. “I've accessed every drive and file structure on their servers, including the ones they don't know are there. Beyond the security footage they haven't got a thing placing you at the scene, let alone connecting you with her death. If there's anything more, it'll be stored on one of their individual machines.”
“Which means –”
“Inaccessible outside of office hours when the individual workstations aren't powered up, because these fuckers are prehistoric enough to bother shutting down. If we wait till the office opens and they all switch on to check their email, the security on which is likely to be astonishingly poor, from the look of things . . .”
“I don't have that kind of time.” He gets up and starts to pull his jacket on as Q watches him, closing out his laptop.
“We don't, you mean.”
“I appreciate the support, but your temple's not the one Mitch will be aiming at when he finally pulls his head out of his arse and makes it here for breakfast.”
“006?” Q glances towards the window. “You think he's that close behind us?”
Bond pulls on his knitted hat, tugging it down over his ears. It's not light yet but the frost's so thick on the windows that it's obvious in darkness, and the cold's making every old injury ache before he's out into it. “Even 006 can only spend so much time fannying around Krakow before the obvious smacks him around the face one time too many to ignore.”
“So much for professional courtesy. You don't like him?” Q's copying him now, starting to bundle himself into his coat and scarf without Bond telling him where they're off to next. Usually Bond's worst nightmare is the handicap of someone else working alongside with him, requiring constant bum-wiping, but Q's keeping up without effort, mentally keeping one step ahead without the need for a prompt.
“006? Not particularly, no. I suppose he's slightly more tolerable than his predecessor, which isn't saying much.”
“Weird. I always imagine you lot all sitting around swilling scotch in some secret club comparing scars in your down time.”
“You've seen yourself how much down time we're allocated.”
“Besides,” Gloves next, then Bond buttons up his coat, taking a quick look around to make sure he's left nothing behind that'll place him here too quickly. Ready to go. “Beyond the fact we're all aware that the few other double-ohs are the ones who'd be sent after us in exactly these circumstances, Mitch is a cock of the most colossal proportions.”
“What, literally?” Q's eyes twinkle at him from behind the glasses.
“Doubt it. Shall we?”
“Where are we going?” The same hand that only a few hours back tugged his cock to a pulverising climax wrestles Q's laptop into his messenger bag, Q looking for all the world like a student running late for a seminar as he shakes his hair out of his eyes and closes his bag, swinging the strap over his head to lie diagonally across his body. “You're aware that I'll literally shit myself to death if anyone actually shoots at me? There's several reasons I avoid field work, and that's one of them.”
“Nobody's going to shoot at you.”
“No. I'll make sure that they're aiming at me.”
Q pauses on his way out of the door, slim fingers curled around the door jamb, one side of his mouth lifted as he looks the scant inch up into Bond's eyes. “In a fucked-up sort of way, that was probably the most romantic thing anyone's said to me.”
Bond pushes Q out the door, pulling it shut and listening for the lock to click into place before carefully placing a small strand of wool pulled from the bed's blanket in between the top of the door and the frame, tucking the remainder out of sight. “I'm known for my charm.”
“It's pathetic, I know. It is, though. Romantic.”
He knows better than this, he does, but Q's right there and it only takes the smallest effort to fist his fingers into Q's coat to pull him into a short, brutal kiss, before moving away to speak against the mouth lingering at the edge of his. “Being in the line of fire is my job. If you want to talk romance, how about someone shit-scared of flying getting on a flight anyway to rush to the assistance of someone who's done plenty to ensure that he doesn't deserve it.”
“I helped myself to a prescription for Diazepam using Schiller's printer, so was thankfully zonked out for the flight itself. Besides, you do deserve it.” It's a damp mutter, Q's nose butting against his, Q's forehead rubbing against the brim of Bond's hat briefly. “I know you do.”
“No, you don't.”
“I trust it, for some reason.”
“Then you're more of a cretin than I first thought. Which is saying something.”
He's pushed Q against the peeling wallpaper of the hallway wall, a dim green glow coming from the fire escape light now the timed switch has turned the hall's one light out. Q's won't stay passive in his embrace, tucking his face into Bond's neck, glasses jutting into Bond's jaw as Q noses around his ear, fingers tight in his coat. Again it seems like a moment Bond's taking by force, a concealed lift, something he's not entitled to, a comforting, perfect respite that the universe begrudges him. The fit of Q's body, scruffily bundled though it is into what's probably a fashionable coat, is achingly precise, slotting into Bond's arms as if built for the process. They don't have time for this and Bond feels his pulse skitter in panic, his throat tightening at the thought of pushing Q out of his arms once and for all. All the more reason to get it done.
“We can't do this. You're a distraction.”
He sets his mind to the task and steps away. Q follows his few steps and tackles him like an unusually skinny rugby player, using all his weight to shove Bond against the opposite wall. Despite his best intentions, Bond allows himself to be pinned.
“For a supposed cold-blooded killer, you're such a total fucking poof.”
Bond gives Q the smirk that manages to get under the skin of all but the most deranged megalomaniacs. “That's not very PC.”
“Get knotted.” Q looks furious, an honest, unguarded emotion broadcast clearing across those defined features for the first time, so nakedly that it's clear in the semi-darkness. “I don't know what it is about me that you keep getting antsy-pantsy about, but whatever it is, either deal with it or leave me alone.”
“I've been trying to do precisely that.”
Q makes a pissy tut around such an expression of annoyance that Bond gets the hysterical urge to laugh, even with the one and only thing that masquerades as his personal life imploding in his face. “You can't have been trying very fucking hard.”
I didn't ask for your help. I don't want or need you here. He can't say it, won't. “I'll be out of your hair once we've finished this.”
But Q's anger crumples, his mouth softening, his eyes hollowed-out and worried beneath his drawn-down brows as Bond gives in to temptation and smooths a wayward lock of hair back off Q's forehead. Q tilts his face into it, cupping his own cheek into Bond's hand.
“That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying . . .” Q goes silent for a moment, and his eyes close as Bond brushes the pad of one thumb across Q's cheekbone because it'll be good for Bond to memorise the exact moment when he constructed a pyre of his own self-pity then struck the match to drop on himself. “I'm saying if you're going to be with me, then fucking be with me. Knob-end.”
The pain induced by such the simple, vulnerable offer within Q's challenge hurts like a knife, exactly like a sharp blade slicing into skin and setting nerves alight, only deep inside his chest, like he's having surgery and someone forgot to put him out. Bond feels his hands shake as he grips Q's elbows and removes Q's arms from holding onto him. He's borne pain worse than this a hundred times over. “I can't.”
“Don't talk bollocks, of course you can.”
“I can't. I'm toxic.”
“They cleared you of radioactivity. You're fine, I've read the report.”
“Listen to me.” He wants to hold Q's face with both hands and look at him forever, thumbs placed against the corners of that wide, welcoming mouth, his fingers touching in the nape of Q's neck, the pads of them stroking upward into the soft hair there. Instead, they remain hanging impotently at his sides. “Everyone I touch dies. Anyone who's been worth more than a second thought to me is dead, as you'll be if I keep allowing this to happen. Get it into your head once and for all that I'm poison. I'm a contagious disease.”
Q scoffs, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. “Oh, break out the fucking violins.”
“It isn't self-pity. It's the truth, and a warning.”
“I suppose if you're really a disease, it's just as well we used protection . . .”
“This isn't a joke.”
“No. Guess not.”
Q sighs, all the piss and fight leaving him, and Bond feels his mind compressing under the pressure of a grim sense of accomplishment. Time to stick himself back in the deep freeze.
“Plus someone young enough to still get spots shouldn't be wasting their time on a corpse, which is what I'll soon be if we don't get our arses into gear.”
“One! One single, solitary spot, and it's your fault anyway. Stress breaks me out.” Q elbows his way out of Bond's hands, his fingers rising up to cover the blotch on his chin as he turns his back and starts off towards the front door, his voice wafting back over his shoulder to Bond in the cold hallway, the front of Bond's torso smarting and outraged at the sudden lack of Q pressing against it. “Alright, then. Might as well go get your name cleared so I can start badmouthing it to everyone in earshot. Because you, 007, are not a nice man.”
“No. I'm not. Keep that in mind.”
What Q thinks of him, non-professionally at least, shouldn't matter. The fact that it does demonstrates neatly to Bond how out-of-control he's allowed this to become.
The rest of the day goes entirely as expected. It's a howling shitstorm, increasing in severity incrementally with every passing hour. At first, it's a few aggravations here and there, meaning they have to trudge through the freezing winds and growing snowfall between offices and warehouses, Q moaning about the cold with every step, the tip of his nose glowing red through the haze of drifting flakes.
The files Bond's sure must exist somewhere aren't to be found in the ABW offices once they've broken in. Q checks every individual machine as Bond keeps an eye on the time, security, and scours the underside of each desk, cabinet and drawer for hidden storage systems. The technology is archaic compared with even the crappiest Mi6 field office and, between occasional eruptions of frustration from Q at processor speeds he christens 'glacial as a polar bear's chuff', they both come to an agreement that the involvement of a corrupted local branch of the national intelligence agency is probably one theory to cross off the list. Time wasted: one point five hours and counting, and the sun's beginning to rise, the streets becoming more crowded with dock workers leaving shifts or on their way to begin a new one.
A cup of tea and a quick check on Q's laptop on a dockers' cafe stinking of boiled sausage allows them to check the layout of the closest police station in the area. Again, there's nothing on their network, but they agree to make their way to the station after the primary day shift's over, Bond deciding to get himself arrested on a minor offence to give them an entry if no other opportunities arise, the idea of fighting his way in something he needs to keep in check for whatever final showdown he's hurtling towards. Instead of instantly making some quip about Bond's eagerness to experience a Polish jail cell, Q's quiet, a lightning-fast worried expression flitting its way behind the glasses as he buries his attention in his tea and says nothing. The silence between them seems to grow with each minute, the weight of it hanging off Bond's shoulders. Can't be helped. He ushers them outside soon as he can, surreptitiously checking the road and the roofs of the surrounding warehouses for signs of covert surveillance before placing himself in front of Q so he bears the brunt of the winds, curtly instructing him to follow.
Bond doesn't take his eyes off the warehouse's doors, a weak sun shining through a crack in the clouds, glowing a dirty yellow off the pale grey asbestos. “What?”
“This might be the one we're looking for.”
“You think so?”
Q's earnest tone makes him smile for the first time in hours. “Explain to me why.”
“I don't know.” Q blows on his fingers to warm them up, ducking out of the wind behind Bond's right shoulder again. “There's the scapel-tipped razor wire. The weapons towers disguised as fence supports. The guards on the gate with matching armpit bulges that indicate they're either strapping MP7s or share some sort of nasty glandular problem.”
“All that spells evildoing to you? Looks like you've actually learned something.”
“They might as well put a big glowing eye on the roof.” Q's stepping from foot to foot, the leather of his inadequate shoes soaked through. “Are we going in? I'm about to lose important bits to frostbite.”
“No, we're not. I'm going in to have a look around while you go back to that cafe to warm up.”
“Bollocks, am I. You won't have any clue what you're looking for and the clock's ticking.”
“I'm well aware of the time, thank you.”
“But nothing.” Bond turns, doing what he's been avoiding all morning and looking directly into Q's eyes, his hands curling in on themselves and making fists in his jacket pockets as he again resists the desire to touch. “There will be gunfire, and I'd rather not have you around shitting yourself to death while I'm busy dodging bullets, if that's quite alright with you.”
“There might be gunfire. Might not. You armed?”
“Not at the moment.”
Q tsks in a manner common to every quartermaster Bond's met. “Christ. What's happened to the PPK this time?”
“I gave it back to you, if I recall correctly. Which I'm certain I do.”
“Oh. Right. So you did.”
“And, surprising though this may seem, I don't have a personal arsenal at my fingertips in every city around the world. Doesn't matter.” Bond squints at the warehouse again, mentally clearing his mind, preparing himself for what lies ahead. The hairs on his arms and neck rise, a shiver of cold sweat breaking across his skin as he accesses the memory of shots racing past him, the deafening blast and ringing ears resulting from weapons fire in an enclosed space, the sour stink of discharge. He's done this a hundred times before. He knows too well that it's foolish to go in without a healthy dose of fear to persuade his body to keep on its toes. “It's sometimes simpler to borrow whatever I need.”
“I'm coming, too.”
“No, you're not.”
“Wind shear. Crosswinds, tailwinds. Wingtip vortexes. Ice-induced rolling on short-haul winter flights, altitude loss, catastrophic instrument failure, plunging uncontrollably for thousands of feet to explode on impact into a fireball fed by the metric shitload of fuel you're expected to calmly fucking perch on top of, all the while casually drinking lukewarm pond-swill masquerading as tea as if the slightest problem doesn't mean certain, screaming death for everyone on board . . .” Q's eyes narrow, his mouth taking on a peevish cast. “I didn't potentially subject myself to all that to go put my feet up in some grotty cafe while you go get yourself thoroughly perforated. I am with you on this, and you're not going to stop me.”
The urge overwhelms him before Bond's aware of it, and his hand twitches, his thumb readying itself to rub over Q's bottom lip before Bond gains control of himself. “First time I met you, I thought you were an aggravating little shit. Have to say that you're not doing much to change the perception.”
“And I thought you looked like a typical educationally-challenged, aging ex-squaddie, more muscle than sense.” Q steps closer to Bond, close enough that Bond can feel his shivers through both their coats, the skin stretched across Q's cheekbones almost translucent with cold. “You know we're on borrowed time and that two of us will work more efficiently to find the real footage than you alone can manage. Prove my first impression wrong. Use whatever passes for common sense within that inch-thick skull before I smack you around it with my sodding laptop. I'm here to help and it's not up to you to permit me to do so.”
It's a tragedy. He's reduced to this, trying to out-stare someone he could easily over-power physically, a slim dagger of a person who reminds him right now in all that obstinacy and flippant, scornful intensity so much of Vesper that he's certain he'd smell her perfume if he inhaled. It won't do, having a fatal weakness. Maybe he can cut it out of himself if he digs deep enough.
“If I allow you to tag along –”
“When. When you capitulate to best judgment and admit that I'm right . . .”
“Don't hold your breath.” Bond steps away from Q, the show an inch over the sole of his boot, more of it coming down thickly, creating a slippery layer over last night's ice. Making a run for it in this will be tricky. “Keep out of trouble. Locate and maintain cover if anything starts.”
It's not too difficult for them to slip unnoticed around to a side door. There's so much activity in and out of the warehouse now the morning's business has begun in earnest, just two more indistinct figures, heads down, shrouded in swirling snow. The electronic reader on the door's lock is less than a minute's work for the thumb-sized digital device Q's got tucked in his inner pocket, and they're in, Q's teeth worrying his bottom lip as he gazes past Bond down the freezing hallway, his breath freezing in front of him now it's not whisked away by the outside winds.
“Looking at the wiring conduits, I think I'd be better off looking for an office in that direction. Are you coming with me? Don't feel you have to say yes. ”
The moment it goes completely tits up will stay with him forever. There's a few hairy moments prior to the moment itself, questions from gruff, over-sized security guards that Bond manages to grunt his way out of in the few words of Polish he scrapes together from the dusty back rooms of his memory. There's Q, slipping in his wet shoes and almost throwing himself down a flight of metal stairs, Bond's shoulder wrenched painfully as he catches Q by the collar and yanks him back to his feet. Then Q again, exclaiming with a whoop of triumph as he locates the non-doctored footage in the depths of a Byzantine information system that, to Bond's eyes at least, appears far too sophisticated to be the database of a consortium as lumpishly twentieth century as he knows the Vincenzo family's usual operations to be. Too many niggles, too many questions and side roads for him to disappear down, so instead he concentrates on the present and claps his hand firmly over Q's mouth, tugging him into a storage cupboard next to the administration offices as a clatter of heavy footsteps outside confirm that they've attracted unwanted attention.
The footsteps continue, too many armed bodies outside the thin cavity door, shouts and the slamming of doors as a security alert goes into full swing. His fingers drop away from Q's lips, his palm damp from Q's breath, which is coming fast and uneven as the skipping, racing pulse thundering through Bond's ears, bringing a rush of blood and fight-or-flight response that's too familiar. It's only a matter of time now. Time to act. Bond pats sightlessly around the cupboard to feel out its contents, grabbing what feels like a broom handle with one hand and pushing Q back into the cupboard itself.
“007? What're you – ?”
“Stay put. I mean it. No misplaced heroics.”
His whisper's as harsh as Q's hiss had been. Bond grabs the door handle and takes a deep breath, waiting for the voices to subside for a second before he pushes his way out, the presence of three surprised-looking goons staring at him prompting him to slam the door shut behind him, closing Q off in some form of safety as Bond brings up the broom that's actually a string mop to strike the first heavy around the jaw as hard as he can, bringing up his elbow in the follow through to slam the second man's nose up to break it as viciously as possible, spinning through the complete arc to dip down and take out the third man's legs with a mop handle to the back of his knees. An efficient jab of the handle's end into a waiting eye socket puts that threat out of action, splattering the far wall with a decorative spray of dark red, then Bond completes the job by throwing his full weight into slamming the mop's head into the first man's throat before head-butting the one nursing a terrifically bloody nose hard enough to drop him like a sack of spuds.
Once an instant's dizziness clears, Bond shaking it out and blinking it away, he breaks the handle over his thigh after a couple of tries, ramming one splintered end of it into the cupboard's door frame to keep Q put for as long as possible, before hefting the other one in front of him like a katana as he stoops to scoop up one of the MP7s that Q will no doubt be vastly impressed with himself for correctly identifying sight unseen. There's a hammering coming from the inside of the cupboard door as he watches a group of four, no, five men appear around the corner, firearms raised and aimed at his head, and there's only so many bullets he can dodge in such a narrow corridor, his only means of escape either back into the cupboard with someone he's not willing to risk, or back through the growing throng of a security detail who seem to know exactly what sort of threat he is. They've been waiting for him, and the smile of the lead man as he tightens his trigger finger tells Bond they've been promised a nice bonus for tidying up this one loose end.
So close. The job at hand is keep them busy until 006 turns up and spirits Q away, back to safety, back to clear Bond's family name and ensure they mourn him with a little more sincerity this time. Not that his name matters. All that's kept him going over the past few days is that singular instinct to stay alive, to keep on the run and push the boundary of his projected life expectancy ever further past its limits, but it's fading away, pushed out by the realisation that his only remaining objective is the safety of the individual in the cupboard beside him, data-key in a coat pocket, smart-alecky mouth shouting a last few futile threats through the door.
The first of many shots whizzes past his ear as he ducks, the bullet nicking his neck, trajectory whining as it splits the air. He's been accused of bullishness in his actions often enough in his career, so Bond uses it, surging forward with the shoulder charge tackle that kept him in the First all through school, his body knocked sideways as he takes a round in his hip, another grazing his thigh as he ploughs into the mass of bodies and aims rapid bursts of suppressing fire at anything dark looming up into his line of sight.
One's down, a lucky shot between the eyes. A blow catches Bond in the kidney with what has to be the butt of a PDW, a line of pain drawn in fire directly from his back through his spine and down into his pelvis as he roars in pain, pulling out tufts of hair as he tugs down a head within his reach, firing up underneath the chin and watching the man's nose half-disappear in a mist of blood. The odds are heavily against him but he's fighting them down, biting hard on a thumb hooked into his mouth, taking an upper cut with the heel of an MP7 with a loud crack that tells him his jaw's gone before driving his head back into the nose of the thumb's owner and managing to take out the ribs on a pale blond much his own age who's about to take a pop at his neck.
The deafening thunder of weapons' discharge is joined by more feet, more shouts, and Bond's eyes smart because he's so close now, his desperation only able to carry him so far. He twists in the countless hands grabbing at him, ignoring the pressing defeat of his body long enough to squint through a bloody black-eye at a new team raising their weapons. And then the moment comes, because he notices with a sickened groan of distress that they're not trained on him, but, wrenching his head around and kicking a torso out of his way, that their focus is Q, who has finally battered his way out of the cupboard and who is staring at Bond with huge, serious eyes the colour of lichen through a haze of wood smoke as he shouts something to Bond that he can't hear, his ears ringing too loud.
Bond's attempted warning is little more than a mumble thanks to his jaw and, as he's slammed to the floor under the weight of too many lucky escapes having finally caught up with him, he hears “James!” called out in Q's voice for the first time, the first fucking time, followed by other words. Sounds he's no longer able to comprehend as his entire head's thrown to one side by the explosion of what he's distantly aware is probably a bullet to his temple, darkness claiming him for what must now be the last time.
“Fuck. Smart arse.”
Five minutes' work on the lock, and nothing's budging. The easily-pickable deadlock on the back exit has been replaced with a digital maglock that's refusing to let go, even once Bond's laid down in what had been a very nice suit on the damp ground to locate and rip out the lock's power cabling. He steps back from the door after it fails to respond to a few well-placed kicks, and looks upwards, the wind lifting his hair and reminding him that summer's a good month gone, each and every strut, railing or cornice on the darkened building covered with a faint sheen from the rain earlier.
“Seven stories.” He cricks his neck back and forth, straightens his tie. “Walk in the park.”
What had been their personal game of chess, testing each other's professional prowess simply as part of their eternal contest for the upper hand, had first been played on much lower stakes. At least, while injuries healed. The little shit's pushing him harder these days and it's privately beginning to piss him off, Bond muses to himself as he boosts himself up off a lower windowsill to grab a balcony railing, taking a few tries to swing himself up. Hadn't been that difficult at first. Almost fun, especially considering he always wins. This evening, after two weeks of running around Ivory Coast after a certifiable billionaire with a penchant for nuclear arms, it's less fun. Much less fun. Bond's left foot slips on the railing as he finds finger holds in the architecturally-interesting brickwork and begins to slowly work his way up. He's missing two fingernails on his right hand, the remnants of the rain soaking his plasters through, the tender flesh beneath bitching at him with every move.
“Good evening, 007. Nice night for scaling an entire bloody building.” He's muttering it to himself under his breath, which is coming faster now he's warming up, his thighs and shoulders starting to grouse at him at the unexpected exercise, when they quite rightly think they deserve a rest. “A warm bath together while I massage out some of your muscles, before taking care of various other, rather personal aches? No, I thought you'd enjoy this far more. Being as I am a git.”
It had been a flash bang. Nothing more, no bullet to the temple. No everlasting darkness. Instead, it'd been a small incendiary device, cobbled together in the dark with a few bottles of cleaning chemicals and whatever gadgetry the service's Armoury head had stuffed his pockets with. That Q managed to build a bomb in a pitch-black cupboard, under threat, under fire, and in very little time, before plugging his ears with spit-dampened tissue, closing his eyes and blasting everyone and everything in that corridor into smoking unconsciousness, is impressive, to be fair. However, it's been an ego boost to the person least in need of one, something Bond's not managed to fuck out of him so far. Not that he's unwilling to keep trying.
I won't tolerate you playing fast and loose with our assets, 007. I'm handing this to you on trust. I expect due care to be taken, and its loss or damage will come with serious consequences that, I can assure you, will be dire.
Yes, sir, he'd replied two weeks ago, seeing in the depths of M's eyes that they definitely were not talking about the invaluable sapphire the size of a duck egg M had placed in his custody. Well, perhaps a bit. A message about Q had been in there somewhere. And Moneypenny's expression had been far too bright as he'd left the inner office, her mouth giving him a polite smile and a request for a postcard with an elephant on it as her eyes had communicated her utter glee at knowing something about him that she shouldn't. You dirty old man! they'd called him, approvingly rather than with any reproach. Nobody had secrets in the Secret Service. Why he'd thought he might be immune to it for once was beyond him.
Two floors to go, and Brightwater from Ground Resources gives Bond a surprised, horrified look as Bond takes a breather on his balcony, obviously catching Brightwater in a late night living-room wank before bed. He gives Brightwater a weary nod before stretching out the cramp in his shoulders and using the balcony's rusty barbecue to continue his way up the corner of the building towards the closest thing to home that exists. A corner penthouse, currently inhabited by two residents, one silently stalking prey though its creepy little tank on the built-in bookcases, the other tucked into bed in crumpled pyjamas like a prep school boy.
One thought of bed and the last reserves of his energy nearly give out. He's got less in the tank these days. A desk job beckons. It's already been mentioned, soon after Q had dragged him out of the warehouse as little more than a bloodied pulp. Bond hangs off the bottom cornice to his floor, foot slipping again in its grip, taking a moment to look down and across London, over two streets away to the river, clouds hanging too low to make out much but barely muffling the distant traffic sounds. Someone slamming a taxi door down the road, a black one, the cadence of the thunk too heavy for a minicab. The repetitive thumping of music oozing out of the walls of a nightclub half a mile away, the wind carrying the scent of Mista Zorba's spicy potatoes down the road all the way up here to the seventh floor. The pavement beside the building, which he'd hit at near enough maximum velocity to finish himself off for good if he let go, simply letting himself lean back to welcome the void.
“You took your time.”
“What's next? Electrifying the entire building?”
“You think you're joking . . .” The figure in the bed's rumpled, hair mussed in the low light, words softened by sleep as Bond starts to efficiently strip out of the damp suit, tossing it, followed by his tie, over the armchair next to the floor to ceiling windows. “That's actually eminently doable.”
He places his cufflinks on the bedside table next to Q's ancient iPod, its earplugs hanging down in knots, then out of his trouser pocket the sapphire, which he's imagined rolling across Q's chest and down his stomach in the morning, catching rays of sun to throw lines of deep blue across the pale skin. That can wait. It's too dark now, and he's done in, collapsing onto the bed in his pants to pull off his socks before he leans back into a pair of arms wrapping around him from behind.
“You know what this means, don't you?”
“Hm?” He's half-asleep already, the feel of Q's skin and its familiar scent as soothing as warm water, as waves carrying him away. “What does what mean?”
“Sleeping together in a bed without having a bit of a shag first.”
“I'm sure you're planning to tell me, and I'd frankly rather you didn't.”
He feels Q smile against his ear before a kiss is pressed against his jaw. He's so tired that he barely winces on catching his injured fingers on the waistband of Q's pyjama trousers along his way to finding a soft cock that's fast waking up, pressing against his palm as Q wriggles further down under the duvet beside him. “I'm sure you can find a way to shut me up.”
“Nothing's worked so far.”
This he could get used to, lying on his stomach across two pillows bunched up under his hips as Q fucks into him slowly, Bond's eyes closed, his prick leaking onto the pillowcases with every thrust against his prostate.
“Don't be so fucking lazy. Move your arse around a bit.”
“Bugger off. I'm tired.”
Another thrust, harder this time as punishment, fingers gripping his hips tighter as he spreads his legs and grins into the bed sheet. “I suppose this is what I get for screwing such a geriatric . . . best make sure you don't put a hip out.”
It's yet another challenge he can't let go, and he groans as he pushes himself upwards to sit across Q's legs, starting to fuck himself down deeper on Q's cock as he twists backwards for a kiss. Q's fingers find him, beginning to stroke him fast in time with their movements, and as soon as he's done gasping into Q's mouth and sucking on his tongue, Bond opens his eyes to watch their reflections mirrored in the bedroom's huge windows now they've turned on the bedside light. It's a pornography of ghosts, half-images of themselves with the skies and lights of London beyond, Q's slenderness in stark contrast with Bond's bulk as he starts to bite across Bond's shoulders, slamming up into him as they both get closer to the final fall. Bond's shaking all over, exhausted muscle in his thighs protesting, old injuries complaining as nerves begin to hum beneath his skin. It only takes one, two more backwards thrusts before his arsehole starts to spasm and he comes with a ragged moan.
“Go on, then.”
Q's trying to push him out of the bed with one foot. Bond slaps it away, pushing his head back under the pillow where he's been comfortably dozing for the last few minutes. “Sleeping.”
“I realise you like to think of yourself as the font of all worldly experience, but I can promise you that, after such a, if I say so myself, colossal shafting up the bum, you're about to shit for Britain.”
“Don't need to.”
“James . . .” It draws his head out from under the pillow, his name on Q's lips still a rarity used only as an occasional reward. Q's half-smiling down at him, propped where he is against the bedhead, smoking a spliff since the last round of random employee drug tests were over a month back. “You've already had your bone, so go have a pooh like a good boy.”
Bond props himself up on one elbow, not too tired to bask in a minute's smugness. He takes the spliff from Q, then draws deeply on it before tugging Q's head down towards him, blowing the smoke directly into Q's mouth before following it with his tongue. It's as heady as any fire fight, the cold a million miles away, the planet turning beneath their building undisturbed, a dizzying moment of peace. One that he hates to end.
“The lock was beatable, if I hadn't been in something of a hurry. The climb wasn't exactly Everest in proportion. Once you've been in the service for more than a handful of weeks –”
“– Months, now, thank you, and you're welcome, again, for saving your life.”
“– You'll realise that seasoned agents are able to anticipate upcoming obstacles,” he hands back the spliff, letting the dead weight of his body carry him back to the pillow, throwing an arm over his eyes against the light. “Including the necessity of timely lavatory visits.”
There's a second's pause as Q thoughtfully takes a drag on the spliff, the exhaled smoke pooling downwards and worming into Bond's nose. “You seriously went to the loo just in case I was planning to fuck you when you got back? Fuck off. We hadn't, so far.”
“And I, font of all worldly experience, anticipated that we eventually would.”
Bond reaches out, flicking off the light and settling deeper into the pillow. Another pause, another drag, and Bond almost groans as he can tell Q's not letting it go.
“Nobody shits on demand. Not even you.”
“The PPK's within reach. I'm more than willing to shoot you with it if you don't shut up and let me sleep.”
“That's because you're not a nice man.”
“No.” Bond turns onto his side, a slender thigh moving to lie across his legs as he throws his arm across a soft, flat belly, closing his eyes and pushing his face into a willing armpit as a nose nuzzles into his scalp, all the time aware that he unfathomably and quite unjustly hasn't run out of luck yet. “You're right. I'm not.”