Bond boarded the airship at Devon.
The landing was at a garden party at a private estate, well outside the outskirts of London and by invitation only. Bond flowed through the clusters of vibrant gowns and spectacular hats. Exotic feathers and jeweled embroidery ornamented the women, while the men all wore the black and white uniform of formality.
The airship was owned by a man wealthy and eccentric enough that he’d changed all records of his name to Q. And now he spent his time flying around the world in an airship of his own design, conducting business and providing a luxurious neutral space where others might do the same.
“What kind of man changes his name to ‘Q’ and creates a one-airship floating nation?” Bond had asked, while Eve was trying to brief him.
“We don’t know,” she had said, her normally pristine demeanor rumpled by her frustration at the information she didn’t have for this briefing. “His files have all been sealed. It’s above our security clearance.”
Bond had given her a puzzled frown. “How is one private citizen above the security clearance of MI6?”
“Do me a favor,” Eve had said, pushing the rest of the files on the briefing into his hands. “When you meet him, ask.”
The ship hovered at the end of the lawn, as near to the main house and pavilions as the airship could get without crushing any of the statuary. Gleaming electrum framework covered the main body of the massive ship. Bond judged it was the size of a Hawkins-class heavy cruiser somehow suspended beneath a bundle of air sacs.
“Is it safe?” a female voice asked nearby. Bond glanced over, amused by the mousy woman in the expensive dress.
Her husband, in a puffed suit that looked like it needed to be let out an inch around the waistline, lifted his chin and prepared to enlighten her on a topic he knew nothing about. “Of course it’s safe, darling,” he huffed. “This man Q is a genius, you see. The old girl’s been in the air for years without incident. Perfectly safe.”
“I still don’t understand why it’s called the Bumblebee.”
“Because it can’t fly,” her husband explained.
“But it does fly, Walter,” the woman pointed out.
“Yes. Precisely. Bumblebees don’t know that they can’t fly. It’s faith that keeps them aloft, see? I don’t suppose I’ve ever seen faith move mountains, but it does float bumblebees.”
“If I may,” Bond interjected, having trouble keeping his amusement politely stifled. “I believe that it’s called the Bumblebee because no one knows how it flies.”
“Here, now,” Walter huffed, indignant at no longer being the most knowledgeable man in this conversation. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
His wife patted his arm. “It isn’t that it can’t fly, Walter dear, it’s that we don’t yet understand how it flies. Is that it?”
“Yes,” Bond said, looking admiringly up at the impossible ship. “I imagine that someone, reasonably, told the inventor that it would never fly, and he named it the Bumblebee out of cheek.”
“That makes rather more sense,” the woman decided, and set to scolding her husband now that she felt it had been proven that she was the most sensible person in this conversation.
Bond smiled and left them to it.
Servants had begun lighting the chinese lanterns around the garden as the afternoon deepened into twilight, and a few clumps of people had started wandering toward the airship. A man stood at the bottom of the airship steps, checking invitations.
Bond inclined his head politely as he held out his invitation, and tucked it back into his pocket with a smile once he was waved on past. He’d taken the place of the top government scientist who had received the invitation, once the government had decided that their continued efforts to understand how the thing flew were less important than stopping a certain set of plans from being sold to the Japanese.
Inside the airship, the guests were even more exquisitely dressed, and they were overall considerably less English. Q’s floating palace was a melting pot of the rich and powerful from a dozen nations. The women existed to be beautiful while the men conducted business and corruption in world-class staterooms and gilded halls.
Bond smiled, feeling a familiar electric thrill at being in his element. He mingled and flirted his way through the airship. His stateroom could wait. There was a reception on the upper deck which promised to be far more interesting, and he had far more interest in finding the stateroom of the mysterious Q himself.
Echoing the gold and silver of the rest of the ship, the grand hall was a vaulted room of art deco design. Shimmering drapery wafted in loops and cascades from the ceiling, adding to the sensation of loftiness and space even in a room where heavy electrum pillars towered over the guests like skyscrapers.
He’d barely stepped into the room long enough to acquire a drink and a few hors d'oeuvres when a young man caught his eye.
The youth moved as though he had his own orbit. Power and influence flowed around him, with a constantly shifting medley of important people making themselves available for conversation in his immediate vicinity, but none of them were so crass as to impose upon his silence. He had the ability to wander alone through a crowded room.
Bond knew how to navigate such social eddies. He placed himself so that when there was a momentary part in the crowd, it was just when the young man happened to look over. Their eyes locked.
Bond lifted his glass to him in a silent toast. Then the crowd shifted, filling the space between them.
So that was Q. He was remarkably young for a genius inventor of such incredible influence and power, but the effect he had upon a room full of the most powerful and influential people in the world was unmistakable.
In any other crowd, he would be ordinary and forgettable. His dark hair was combed into a pristine mop that threatened at any moment to fall into his eyes or--more scandalously--to curl. Eyes too deep-set, nose too peculiar, figure too slight to be commanding. Even his exquisite suit did nothing for him. He seemed dwarfed by its perfectly tailored lines. Only his lips were memorable: red and sensual, they were a whore’s lips etched on a librarian, all the more exquisite for being out of place.
Bond wanted him at once.
He wanted to see the tension in that body melt across the covers. He wanted to make those bored eyes sparkle, and to wring gasps from those perfect lips. The genius looked at once so unreachable and so vulnerable that Bond ached to possess him.
Q drifted through the room like a stranger at his own party. He spoke to no one and ate nothing. He held a drink like an accessory, and it never touched his lips. There was a sense of lonely ennui about him, that particular brand of young and fabulously wealthy that had been too early embittered. Bond knew the type. More importantly, he knew how to seduce him.
Blind to all other occupants of the room, he watched his target. While Bond let himself be swallowed into the crowd, Q was visible at all times. He might as well have had a spotlight on him, from the way the room’s focus followed him, which allowed Bond to observe the young kingpin at his leisure.
The longer he watched, the more he wanted. His first thought that the boy’s appearance was ordinary had been long since discarded. He moved like an ethereal creature, something so shy and soft that it might spook at a touch. Though he kept his chin high and his demeanor prim, the attitude read like a mere facade that he used as armor. Bond was entranced.
After a few minutes, a servant cut through the crowd and murmured something in Q’s ear. The young genius looked relieved, and immediately made his way out of the room.
Bond picked up an unattended tray of drinks and followed.
With the tray of drinks, he became invisible. No one took note of him as he trailed Q down a hallway and through a door that was as imposingly spectacular as every other door.
The room he entered was a lavish reception chamber, with men conversing in little tangles of power and negotiation. Their focus turned to Q the instant he appeared, and he was drawn into discussion regarding trade rights and smuggling. No one paid attention to Bond unless they wanted a drink.
It was several minutes before Q turned at the right angle to see him, and he blinked once in surprise before pressing his lips together to hide a smile.
Bond lived for this kind of cocky gamble. Inclining his head politely in acknowledgement and fighting his own grin, Bond continued serving his drinks, standing unobtrusively to one side of the room unless someone signaled him for another.
Everyone wanted Q’s attention, and his guests engaged in friendly competition through words like sheathed daggers. Bond listened as Q refused to use the airship to transport goods or slaves, and objected with polite indignation that such traffic might sully his pristine ship, but he consented to transporting a case or two and a passenger or two of exorbitant value. By the end of the conversation, he’d agreed to reorganize the airship’s schedule in order to provide safe passage for, variously; a deposed ex-prince, a tame ocelot, and a case of emeralds.
When the discussion was concluded, Q thanked the men and watched them trail out of the room until only Bond remained.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Q said, calm, curious, and amused.
“Bond.” He set the tray down on the table and took the two last glasses as he crossed the room, holding one out for Q. “James Bond.”
“Q.” His host accepted the glass, although his eyes never left Bond’s face. “There’s just a sliver of your accent which you forgot to leave behind in Scotland.”
“You have an excellent ear,” Bond said, taking a sip from his own glass.
“MI6,” Q concluded, but Bond knew it was a guess.
Bond gave him his best mysterious half-smile in return, amused and impressed.
“Welcome to the Bumblebee, Mr. Bond. Is it my business that you’re here to disrupt, or that of my guests?”
There was something endearing about the way Q smiled. It pressed his lips together and curled up more than out, which made him look like a cat with a saucerful of cream.
“I noticed that you made no objection to my presence earlier,” Bond pointed out, watching Q with open interest and admiration.
It was even more delightful when Bond’s continued attention made Q blush and drop his eyes. Thrilled by his success at cracking open Q’s perfect facade, Bond drank in the knowledge of the sweet, shy youth hidden behind the illusion of the eccentric genius.
“It’s not often that my spies are so openly shameless,” Q said, once he’d recovered himself. Armor renewed, he met Bond’s eyes with a challenging smile.
“I thought you’d be older,” Bond commented, trying to make it personal again. He leaned back against the edge of the table, legs spread just enough to distract Q’s attention while remaining within the bounds of propriety. “What sort of thing inspires a such young man to erase his own history and cut his ties with his nation to this degree?”
“Are you here for me?” Q asked, lifting his brows with interest. “Perhaps I guessed wrong. Are you a reporter? Come for the scoop on Q’s marvelous flying circus and its freakish young ringmaster?”
“Maybe I was just looking for a source of wonder in a bitter world.”
That brand of idealism wouldn’t have worked on anyone else. An older man would have laughed at the line; a less damaged man would have scowled. But Q drew back an inch in surprise, revealing that Bond had hit a mark.
His target was a bitter, damaged young optimist. It was almost heartbreaking. But Bond couldn’t afford to break his heart on this particular blade. Not while the Japanese were snatching up parts of China and redeveloping their national discipline into technological industry. And here Q was preparing to give them the keys to the world.
Q set down the half-empty glass and took two steps in retreat. His cheeks were flushed, and he knew enough to realize that he couldn’t afford to let Bond destabilize him further. “Enjoy your visit, Mr. Bond,” he said, and then fled with as much polite decorum as he could maintain.
Bond let him go, mindful of the fine line between progress in seduction and getting himself thrown off this ship.
Instead, he sought out his own stateroom. It was a gorgeously appointed room in the belly of the ship with a set of broad glass windows lining the walls. The ship had lifted off while he was busy stalking Q, and the world drifted by in miniature beneath them.
According to his intel, the airship’s next stop was Japan. Floating along at a steady pace and allowing for navigational variation, he had about a week to complete his assignment.
Changing out his dinner suit for evening wear, Bond set out to explore the ship. He let himself into crew-only areas and was amused by how calmly he was ejected each time. The whole ship was accustomed to dealing with spies and reporters sneaking around. It was no wonder that Q had been so calm about the threat that Bond posed.
He found Q again at last on the upper deck, standing by the rails and watching the stars.
The upper deck was windy and bare, with nothing more than a set of secure guardrails to keep its passengers within. Although the ship seemed to be built steadily enough that there was little risk of anyone falling accidentally overboard, it certainly took no precautions against jumpers. Bond supposed that Q took a singularly liberal approach to his passengers: for the most part, there was nothing to prevent them doing as they pleased on his ship. The only thing he’d yet seen in design or word that had offended Q’s sensibilities was the suggestion of mess on his perfect ship.
“May I join you?” Bond asked, as he stepped just inside Q’s personal space with his voice at a low rumble.
Q looked up quickly, surprised and blushing, and was forced to haul his facade up on the spot. “Mr. Bond.”
Pleased at his success in ruffling Q’s fur, Bond leaned against the rail and gave him a smile. “Pleasant evening.”
“You take pleasure in unnerving me,” Q observed, giving him a scolding glance before settling himself against the rail and putting on an unaffected demeanor.
“You’re adorable when unnerved,” Bond replied, and had the pleasure of seeing his tactic succeed again.
Q clenched his jaw and looked away.
“Dine with me,” Bond pressed.
Q glanced over, annoyed and amused in equal parts. “I’ll have you know that I have breakfast plans with the ambassador of Brazil.”
“Why haven’t you thrown me off the ship yet?” Bond asked.
Looking him over, Q smiled. His eyes glittered with mirth and pleasure at Bond’s tactics. “You know why.”
“You’re enjoying the attention.”
Grin widening, Q looked off at the stars to help hide it. “I’m enjoying the attention,” he confirmed.
They stood in silence for a moment, with Q tolerating his presence and Bond waiting for Q to decide how he wanted to proceed.
“Are you a honeypot?” Q asked, considering Bond’s face again.
“Your theories are getting increasingly convoluted,” Bond teased instead of responding. “An MI6 honeypot reporter?”
“Well, you’re too damn flirtatious to be an assassin.”
Bond burst out laughing at that, genuinely surprised and delighted by the declaration. “You’ve never met any flirtatious assassins?”
“You would be the first,” Q said, eyeing him again and re-evaluating whether or not Bond could be an assassin. “Who is your target?”
“Are your interrogations always this forthright?” Bond asked, grinning.
“They don’t need to be,” Q said. “People tell me what they want, and I tell them whether or not it’s possible. The only secrets I have are my own, and those aren’t worth anyone’s interest.”
“What would you do if you wanted someone else’s secrets?”
“Buy them,” Q said.
“Do you have any idea what kind of secrets you could pry out of people with a drink and your shyest smile?”
Surprised, Q looked over at him, blinking as he tried to process that. “I’m not some coquette with an hourglass figure.”
Bond believed the act. “You don’t have any idea,” he said, more gently now. “Have a drink with me and I’ll give you your first lesson on how to do it.”
Tempted, Q narrowed his eyes. “Fine. The Imperial Bar, on the second deck.”
“Somewhere quiet,” Bond amended, guessing that Q had chosen just the opposite.
“I’m not going anywhere alone with you,” Q informed him.
“Your selling point is your vulnerability,” Bond said, to pique Q’s curiosity. “You’re trying so hard to hide it. Use it, instead. If your aloof facade isn’t giving you the results you want, then just flash them a glimpse of how scared and lost you feel and you’ll trigger instinctive protectiveness in anyone with a heart.”
“Does that work for you?” Q asked, scathingly.
Bond smirked at him. “I have a hard time looking convincingly vulnerable and waiflike.”
Turning his face away as if irritated, Q mulled over what he’d said, and then gave Bond a look that was hurt, scared, and just a little bit accusatory. It was perfectly genuine, and Bond felt his heart flop over in his chest with the need to protect his clever little kitten from all the world.
“That’s the one,” Bond said, not showing any expression but an impressed raise of an eyebrow.
“I’m in the middle of an airship of cutthroat diplomats and businessmen. If I show an ounce of weakness, they’ll flay me,” Q snapped at him.
“Learn which ones can be seduced.”
Q swallowed, fighting a blush. “No.”
“Dinner,” Bond said, switching smoothly back to his earlier tactics as a way of giving Q a way out of the corner he’d been backed into.
Puzzled as his brain tried to switch tracks again, Q shook his head, reverting to his earlier response by default because he couldn’t yet process what it meant or how to deal with it.
“Breakfast,” Bond said.
Q smirked a little, shaking his head. “You’re incorrigible.”
“I’ll see you at breakfast,” Bond said, smoothly nodding his head in farewell and turning away.
“I didn’t say yes!” Q called after him.
Bond turned up to breakfast the next morning on the arm of the Brazilian ambassador’s daughter.
Q stared at him, mouth open in shock for a moment before he remembered himself.
Over the course of breakfast, Bond dodged inquiries of everyone at the table regarding his own identity, and regularly nudged the conversation in Q’s favor. Once he figured out what Q’s stake was in Brazil--it turned out to be some sort of raw material that Bond had never heard of but Q evidently found extremely valuable--he used every trick he had to subtly tilt the scales of the deal until the Brazilian ambassador made an offer that Q accepted.
When breakfast was ended, Bond lingered behind while the other guests trailed out. Q stayed seated, arms folded and brows raised. “You are a honeypot.”
“Your bluntness remains endearing,” Bond responded, amused.
“Tell me what you want,” Q pressed, irritated. “I’ll tell you whether or not I can make the deal.”
Weighing his options, Bond accepted the gamble. “What are you selling to the Japanese?”
Surprised, Q considered him for a moment before leaning forward to play the game. “What they’re paying me for.”
“England will pay double,” Bond bluffed, knowing he had nothing behind it.
“England’s bankrupt from the war and has lost half her colonies in the past two decades. England can’t afford my services.”
“No sense of national loyalty?” Bond prompted.
Q’s eyes narrowed. There was something there he didn’t want to talk about. “No.”
“What you’re doing is treason.”
“Private citizens are allowed to conduct international business,” Q said, proving better at this game when Bond wasn’t flirting to disarm him.
“England doesn’t care if you barter for rubber tree rights in Malaysia. War mongering is another matter.”
Q’s eyes flashed with anger. “I am not selling weapons.”
“No, but you are selling them the industrial power to defeat any other nation in the world if they were to apply that power to an arms race.”
“England can’t afford me,” Q said, standing up. “Good day, Mr. Bond.”
Bumblebees fly due to turbulence, yes, I know. The Bumblebee does not fly due to turbulence, it flies due to science fiction.
Q’s suit: http://marlowe-tops.tumblr.com/image/53469843252
Bond left him alone for the day to cool his temper.
Instead, he spent the day investigating other intrigues. There were plenty to be found in the ballrooms and jazz halls of the Bumblebee.
Eyes now followed him everywhere he went. Crew and diplomats alike had noticed his interest in Q. He was no longer anonymous now that he’d broken the silent pact that no one was to approach Q without an appointment. Since Q hadn’t disposed of him, no one else would dare to make the suggestion, but it did put a damper on Bond’s other interests.
After dinner, he had already begun to miss Q’s wry banter. An hour’s wandering discovered him in one of the finer dining halls. Q had one of the tables near the front to himself, where he stared unseeing toward the stage and the lovely jazz singer in her glittering dress.
Bond marvelled at Q’s ability to remain alone in crowded rooms while he was the most sought-after man on the ship. He guessed that Q’s guests had learned that business was conducted by appointment only, and that bothering the genius from his thoughts was highly discouraged.
Fortunately, Bond hadn’t gotten the memo.
He trailed a hand along the back of Q’s chair as he walked up, holding out the other hand in offering. “May I have this dance?”
Consternation crossed Q’s face a moment before it turned into an amused smile. He sighed up at Bond, but ignored the hand. “You dance with traitors to the realm?”
“Even warmongers, from time to time.”
Unable to resist him, Q took the hand and let himself be pulled out of his chair and onto the dance floor.
Q was not a skilled or experienced dancer, but he followed a lead well. Bond led him carefully, making certain that his signals were clear and that Q stayed relaxed and willing in his arms. He knew that the attention of the entire room--and possibly the entire ship--was on them.
“What’s your game, Mr. Bond?” Q asked him, as they danced. “Do you think that seduction will get you the information you want?”
“Are you not accustomed to being seduced?”
“I am,” Q answered, tone calm and even. “Handsome men, beautiful women... they’ve tried every type they can find to throw at me.”
“You’re not accustomed to having seductions succeed,” Bond concluded.
He felt the way Q tensed for a second in his arms, as well as he tried to hide it, and saw the light blush that tinted Q’s pale cheeks.
“You’re very self-assured, Mr. Bond,” Q said, indignant. “Is this what you do? Seduce lonely millionaires into giving you all their secrets?”
Bond smiled and leaned in, murmuring in his ear. “I thought you didn’t have any secrets.”
Q shivered, his grip on Bond tightening at the breath in his ear, but when he spoke again his words were as cool and scathing as ever. “Is it my national diligence you hope to inspire, Mr. Bond? You think that you shall win my heart and I will surrender myself and all my skills to England?”
“Why the airship?” Bond asked.
Q faltered a step in surprise. “What?”
“Why an airship? You could have built yourself a ship, a submarine, a sea city, a caravan, a tower, an arctic palace. You’re capable of it. Why an airship?”
Q stopped dancing. “Don’t ask me that.”
Bond stopped as well, keeping his hands where they were on Q’s slender frame. “Shall I guess?” he said, voice gentle, because he suspected that he already knew.
Q held his eyes, defences faltering again to show the scared and lost young man within, and he shook his head in mute plea.
Unable to bear spooking him further, Bond released his grip. Q shored up his walls in an instant, back to the cool, untouchable genius he pretended to be. “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” he said, each word crisp, before he turned and walked from the room.
Under the curious gazes of half the ship, Bond made his way back to his stateroom alone.
In the morning, Bond bought a bouquet of white lilies from one of the luxury shops on board, and asked a server for directions to Q’s stateroom.
The servant smiled at him like he knew a secret, and instead provided directions to the ship’s concierge.
A sharply-coiffed young woman behind a gleaming desk greeted him with a polite smile. “How may I help you, sir?”
Amused by the run-around, Bond smiled at her. “I’d like to deliver these to Q.”
She held out her hands. “I can accept that delivery, sir. What name shall I put with the gift?”
“Bond. James Bond.”
The young lady consulted a ledger. “My mistake, Mr. Bond. It seems that Q has raised your security clearance to a level two.”
“Has he?” Bond leaned an elbow against the counter. “And what, precisely, does a level two security clearance get me?”
She handed the flowers back across the counter. “It means you are to be given no aid from any of the staff or crew. But also no hindrance. Q’s stateroom is on level two, aft compartment, stateroom number one.”
Gathering up his flowers again, Bond grinned at her. “Wish me luck.”
The concierge gave him an unreadable smirk in reply.
Taking the boon of his new ‘security clearance’ without question, Bond made his way to the indicated deck. The housekeeping staff and other guests in the hallways glanced at him, but no one moved to stop him.
A doorman with raised chin stood in his way, looking Bond over as though he found him lacking. “Sir.”
“James Bond to see Q.”
“Sir,” the doorman said coolly, but he stepped aside to let Bond pass.
Inside, the vast, high-ceilinged stateroom was filled with a scattering of notes and half-built creations. A legless automaton sat at a desk, turning a stack of assorted parts into a little stack of assembled components, and a winged contraption hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room.
One door off the main room led into what looked like a bedroom, while the other led into a room that was floor-to-ceiling books. Bond chose the library.
Q had abandoned his usual fine suits in favour of a pair of work coveralls. Sitting on the floor, he was holding a pair of screws in the side of his mouth. His hands were full of a screwdriver and some manner of delicate and complex machinery, and he seemed to be oblivious to Bond’s arrival.
“Good day, Q,” Bond said, crossing the room and setting the flowers into Q’s lap.
“James!” One of the screws dropped from Q’s mouth in surprise, and he quickly set his screwdriver aside. Starting to get up, he found himself stymied by the lapful of lilies and stared from it to Bond in confusion.
“It’s a delight to see you as well,” Bond teased, taking a seat by him on the floor. “May I ask what you’re working on?”
“You may not,” Q replied. He made no effort to conceal the contraption he’d been building, which was just as well, since Bond had no clue what the thing was. “Why have you brought me flowers?”
“When was the last time someone brought you flowers?” Bond asked.
Q opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again, blushing. Bond almost felt a little bad at how easy it was to ruffle his feathers.
Despite all the seductions Q must have weathered, from the most beautiful people of a dozen nations, it seemed that all it really took was appreciation of Q’s wry humour and a few genuine romantic gestures.
“Why are you here?” Q tried instead.
“Why did you tell your doorman to let me in?” Bond countered, smiling.
Letting him win that round, Q gathered up the flowers and stood. He seemed honestly baffled about what to do with an armful of flowers.
“Have you got a vase?”
“No, I...” Looking around the room, Q upended a ornate cylindrical container full of mechanical components and settled the flowers into it. He looked at it proudly.
“Water,” Bond prompted.
“Water!” Q echoed, quickly finding a pitcher full of water and emptying it into the container. It proved to be watertight, and Q looked over with a smile, like a child seeking approval.
Bond’s heart ached for how desperately Q needed approval, and how brightly it shone every time he forgot to keep his guards up around his personality. Sliding an arm around Q’s waist, he pulled him in close.
Q looked frightened and surprised for a second before accepting Bond’s touch and relaxing into it. Sliding his arms up around Bond’s neck, he rested his head on Bond’s shoulders and let himself be held.
“Thank you for the flowers,” Q murmured.
Bond settled his cheek against Q’s hair, feeling warm and protective towards the little inventor.
They stood like that for several minutes, as Bond internally berated himself for being emotionally compromised regarding his mission, and Q clung to him, absorbing the physical comfort James offered.
“Don’t make the deal with Japan,” Bond said, into the quiet of the room. “It’ll endanger you.”
“I have my defences,” Q responded, not moving.
“I don’t think you understand. It will make you a target on an international scale.”
Q drew back from him, irritated. “You think I’m not already a target? You don’t even know what Japan has asked for. You’re only assuming that I’m selling them the ability to become a world power because you know that I can. Every day of my life is a juggling act of bartering myself and my services so that I can keep every country in the world interested and solicitous.”
“Why fight so hard to stay neutral?” Bond asked, keeping his distance so that Q wouldn’t spook. “If you chose one country, they could keep you safe.”
“I won’t whore myself for the ability to sleep safe at night.”
Q paced, restless and indecisive in the wake of his furious statement. Dropping at last into a chair, he hid his face in one hand. He looked devastated, like a man hiding behind a vast network of barely stable defences.
“Why the airship?” Bond asked again, gently.
“You know why.” Q laughed, hurt and bitter.
Bond crossed the room to stand in front of him. “You don’t like being tied down.”
“I don’t like being tied down,” Q confirmed, and Bond could see a corner of his self-deprecating smile.
He reached down to lift Q’s chin and bent to kiss him.
Whimpering with need and surprise, Q returned the kiss. His lips were soft and sweet, and he kissed with lonely desperation. Bond returned it generously, luring Q’s heart in for both his mission and his own selfish desires.
After a minute, Q launched himself at him, clasping at the front of Bond’s lapels and pulling himself close. Not hesitating, Bond wound both arms around Q, keeping him in the kiss.
His shy and vulnerable genius had turned very suddenly wanton. It wasn’t such a surprise--Q seemed bitter and experienced as frequently as he seemed fresh and innocent, and James hadn’t expected him to be a virgin.
Q’s lips parted, tongue flicking hesitantly at Bond’s mouth. Taking the invitation, Bond let his tongue push between Q’s lips to possessively explore his mouth.
Lifting him by his hips, Bond felt Q’s legs lock around his waist, possessive and clingy at once. He broke the kiss so that they could both catch their breath, and trailed a few soft kisses down the side of Q’s neck. “Are you certain?” he asked, while he could still bear to stop.
“Yes,” Q begged, finding James’ earlobe and suckling on it with an enthusiasm that threatened to make James’ knees buckle.
He wondered how many of the beautiful young men and women who had been sent to seduce Q had succeeded after all. James wished he had time to unravel Q’s secrets.
Tempting. Too tempting, really, when James was supposed to be the one in this situation who wasn’t emotionally compromised.
Groaning, James turned his head and caught Q’s eager mouth for another kiss. “Bed,” he breathed against Q’s lips, hoping to get Q to rein in his enthusiasm long enough for James to walk them to the other room.
“Yes,” Q agreed, peppering soft, light kisses along James’ throat and jaw as he was carried to the bedroom and laid across the covers.
As soon as they were on the bed, Q prioritised kissing. He captured Bond’s mouth in another kiss, all of his limbs tangled around James’ torso. Tempted irresistibly by the lovely genius beneath him, Bond gave him everything he wanted from the kiss.
Greedy, skilled fingers pounced at Bond’s buttons, opening his shirt and jacket and creeping beneath. When those fingers spread across his muscles, Q purred appreciatively. Grinning at the admiration, Bond broke the kiss and lifted up enough to shed his shirt.
Whining once in complaint as the kiss broke, Q’s eyes opened and then went wide at the sight of Bond’s scarred, muscular torso. Bond was enjoying his own view of Q sprawled back across the bed, lips wet and cheeks flushed. His thick dark hair was rumpled now, curls tumbling around his head.
“What are you?” Q asked, reaching up to touch him. His fingers hesitated over one of the scars, eyes wide and nervous.
“Naval Commander,” Bond answered, taking his time unbuttoning Q’s jacket and shirt.
Q giggled beneath him. “A Naval Commander on an airship? I don’t think that will help you much.”
“I’m doing just fine,” Bond said, running a tickling fingertip up Q’s side. The young man under him shivered, blushing with arousal, and Bond grinned at the reaction, doing it again just to see Q writhe and shiver.
“I’d like to be ravished now, Commander, Sir,” Q breathed.
More than happy to indulge him, Bond opened the top of Q’s coveralls, letting his fingers roam freely over Q’s skin. Ticklish, Q shuddered and giggled as he dropped back onto the covers. Impatient fingers went for Bond’s fly, unfastening it and reaching inside.
Laughing breathlessly at Q’s sweet impatience and the feel of those cool, talented fingers clasping around his cock, Bond trapped him in an appreciative kiss. Q’s fingertips caressed his length, light and slow and damningly skilled. It very quickly became overwhelmingly distracting, and Bond caught his wrist, pinning it to the bed above his head.
“Please.” Breathless and wanton, Q arched beneath him, impatient.
“Wicked thing,” Bond breathed, admiring. Pulling back, he stripped Q of his coveralls and parted his thighs, enjoying the sight of him spread and willing on the bed.
“Oil in the drawer,” Q informed him, one outstretched hand pointing. Reluctantly drawing away, Bond fetched it.
“Hold your thighs up,” Bond coaxed, rumbling with approval as Q pulled his knees to his chest to expose himself. Pouring oil over two of his fingers, he slid one of them inside, testing Q’s tightness and reaction.
Smiling widely, Q sighed and lifted his hips up into it, eager for more. Satisfied that his partner wasn’t a virgin, at least, Bond grinned back at him and twisted the finger within him. Seeking out his prostate, Bond was rewarded by a very sensitive Q dissolving into happy little sounds of appreciation.
“You’re breathtaking,” Bond assured him, adding a second finger and watching Q’s reactions closely as he started undulating his fingers within him, massaging them each time over his prostate.
Vocally appreciative, Q gasped and moaned beneath him, begging for more even though Bond could feel that he was still tight.
“Not yet,” Bond soothed him, leaning over to distract him from his begging with deep, lingering kisses. Q melted beneath him, kisses wet and messy but exquisitely sweet.
When Q’s gasps started coming quicker and his writhing more desperate, Bond eased off of his prostate. Pushing a third finger into him, Bond thrust them slowly in and out so that they just brushed against his prostate, coaxing him open and keeping him eager and aroused.
“Please,” Q begged, as Bond started trailing wet kisses down his neck and shoulder. “James, please. I want you inside.”
“Yes, lovely,” Bond acquiesced. Removing his fingers, he lined himself up and slowly started to push within.
Q purred with pleasure, letting his legs tangle around Bond’s waist to encourage him in deeper. “More.”
“Patience,” Bond scolded, charmed by his eagerness. It took all his self-control to keep his thrusts slow and shallow, working himself in a little deeper every time.
“I don’t want to be patient,” Q said. “I want all of you.”
“You sweet, desperate thing,” Bond growled, thrusting deeper and making Q yelp and writhe in response.
Burying himself to the hilt, Bond covered Q with his body, clasping his arms beneath him and holding him there. He could feel Q’s muscles flexing around him, breath coming in little gasps as he adjusted to the feeling. “Good?” Bond asked, as Q lifted his head and nuzzled against his throat.
“Good,” Q agreed, taking another kiss and relaxing as Bond returned it.
Slowly, Bond started to roll his hips, rutting smoothly into him and enjoying the sounds Q made as his body relaxed and opened.
“More,” Q begged, all pliant smiles and playfulness.
Bond was happy to indulge him. Prioritizing Q’s pleasure, Bond took his time wringing out all the sweet sounds he could get from his partner. He grinned as Q writhed and begged beneath him, and gave Q everything he asked for.
Q came hard and sudden, crying out for Bond as he came, and it didn’t take much longer for Bond to follow him over the edge. Growling low and possessive as he came, Bond spilled himself into Q’s body.
Pulling out, he gathered Q into his arms and held him.
Making soft, pleased little sounds, Q nestled into the embrace, cuddling him like a lover. After a few minutes, Q pulled him over for a sweet, lingering kiss.
When it broke, their eyes met, and Q grinned. “Now get out of my rooms, Mr. Bond.”
Surprised, Bond sat up and stared back at him, not certain he was serious. Q raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for Bond to comply.
“You madman,” Bond grumbled at him. Getting up, he dressed himself again while Q watched from the bed with a lazy grin.
“You look lovely like that, I hope you know,” Bond said, taking his time with his tie as Q watched. “Shameless and satisfied. I like your hair better messy.”
“Admiring your handiwork?” Q teased, grinning as he nodded toward the door. “Go on. Out.”
“I wish you a good day, Q,” Bond said, disappointed and amused by being so unceremoniously thrown out.
He gave the doorman a smirk as he walked out, and headed back to his stateroom to clean himself up more thoroughly.
Bond had no idea how the situation had suddenly taken this turn. His shy, vulnerable waif had just used him for sex and then thrown him out on his arse.
It was a comfort that Q hadn’t been cold or manipulative about it, and Bond preferred to think that it was simply another step in Q’s game. Q was trying to keep space between them to protect himself, and with good reason.
If Bond achieved his goals, it would put Q in danger and deeply threaten his international balancing act.
If Bond didn’t achieve his goals, the whole world could be at threat of war with Japan.
He had to find those plans, which had to be in Q’s room. That alone was a good reason for throwing Bond out of the bed.
Haunting the ship, Bond was aware that his presence was no longer in any way anonymous. More and more of the passengers and crew were aware of his interest in Q and had reason to suspect that he was a spy, even though they didn’t yet know for whom or for what. It helped that most of the rest of the ship was also filled with diplomats and spies, so none of them had ground on which to be judgemental.
He managed to acquire rumours that Q was mediating a border dispute meeting that evening, and waited until it was likely to have started before returning to Q’s stateroom.
The doorman frowned at Bond and his roses. “Q is not present.”
Since the door to Q’s stateroom was not visible from the other staterooms down the hall, Bond knew that he could knock the doorman unconscious if necessary. He hoped instead that his ‘security clearance’ would get him through: neither helped nor hindered by the staff, although Bond wasn’t certain that applied to Q’s private rooms.
“I’ll just leave the flowers for him, then,” Bond proposed.
Scowling, the doorman considered his orders and duty--and stepped out of Bond’s way.
Bond dropped the roses into a container by Q’s bed, adding water and arranging them quickly before starting to case the room.
There were secret compartments aplenty, half of which Bond couldn’t figure out how to open. If the plans were inside there, he’d have a harder time of this. Swiftly searching the three rooms, Bond found priceless valuables and scattered inventions. In one secret cupboard, he found a dusty teddy bear holding a crumpled hot air balloon in its lap.
He did find a hidden array of pigeon holes filled with blueprints. Many of them were written in different languages, and they represented some of the greatest inventions that had emerged across the world in recent years. Others looked fantastical, and Bond wasn’t sure if they were inventions or dreams, but none of them were in Japanese or represented the kind of industrial advancement Bond expected to find.
Frustrated at last, Bond let himself out. The doorman gave him a scathing look but said nothing.
Getting himself a drink at one of the bars, Bond tried to plan and regroup. Q was the only one who knew where those plans were, and Bond was the only weakness he’d shown. While he could be--and had been--seduced, it was not at all clear whether Bond would be able to coax Q into giving him the plans in the next four days. Finding the plans on his own had turned out fruitless, and he didn’t have any intel or indication that Q had any other weakness that could be exploited.
If he had, he wouldn’t have lasted this long juggling the alliances of the entire world all by himself. Q was far too intelligent and independent to trust anyone but himself with the location of his plans, and so far he’d demonstrated that despite his attraction he had no intention of being emotionally compromised enough to hand them over.
The best hope Bond had was to try to coax him back into a sense of national loyalty, but that plan was feeble at best. Q obviously valued his freedom well above his life. Without his airship, he couldn’t keep his freedom, and without his tentative balance of the world powers, he couldn’t keep his airship.
When Bond returned to his room, he found a gorgeous naked woman in his bed.
Stopping in the doorway from surprise, Bond immediately came to two conclusions. Either Q had sent her, or she was an agent from one of the other governments who had some business with England.
“Good evening,” Bond said, amused. “Are you certain you have the right room?”
“Quite certain,” she purred, long dark hair doing nothing to conceal her full and shapely breasts.
Bond fetched a dressing gown from the closet and laid it out for her on the bed. As tempted as he normally would be, he couldn’t risk the possibility that she’d been sent by Q. “Shall I ring for coffee, if you’re staying to chat?”
Irritation flashing across her face at the rejection, she snatched up the dressing gown and wrapped it around herself, chin high. “Forgive the misunderstanding, Mr. Bond. Coffee would be ... pleasant.”
Her accent sounded East Asian, but James couldn’t locate it for certain. He rang the bell for service, and within a minute a waiter appeared to take their order.
“You’re making quite the waves on our little airship,” she commented, once the waiter departed. “What does England want with Q, Mr. Bond?”
He smiled enigmatically at her. “I never discuss espionage until after introductions have been made.”
Her smile was chilly. “I am Lee Jeon-Suk. I represent interests in Korean independence.”
It was the right thing to say to him to garner sympathy, that was for certain, and his suspicion that she was one of Q’s agents dropped sharply. Few governments in the world were more invested in slowing Japan’s progress than Korea. Korean pleas for international aid had been ignored for almost two decades, because no other country wanted to risk provoking Japan.
If she was what she claimed.
“England has no stake in Korean independence,” Bond said, curtailing any hope of sympathy. The success of his current mission would help Korea more than anything he could say, and there was no chance he could risk trusting her.
“You’d have to ask him.” Bond gave her a polite, impenetrable smile.
“I see. If you--or England--change your mind, Mr. Bond, Korea would be happy to negotiate.” Dropping the dressing gown, she dressed herself brusquely while Bond watched and sailed out of the room.
Bond encountered Q in a hallway the next day.
Catching him with an arm around his waist, Bond pulled him in for a kiss. Q melted into it, not putting up any resistance, and smiled at him once the kiss broke.
“Why haven’t I thrown you off this ship yet?” Q asked, sweet and relaxed in Bond’s arms.
“No opportunity. You have yet to put into port anywhere along our route.”
“I don’t see that as a problem,” Q said, sliding his fingers under Bond’s lapels and admiring the hard body beneath his suit.
“You’d miss me,” Bond suggested.
“I would miss you.” Sighing, Q kissed him again.
“Come back to--”
“No,” Q said, laughing.
Bond growled low in his throat, frustrated and possessive.
“Don’t growl at me, you’ll get me all hot,” Q scolded, leaning in for another kiss while other passengers edged around them in the hallway.
A light crash sounded from somewhere around the corner, and Q drew back, grinning. “I’d best go see to that.”
“You insufferable tease.”
“Good day to you, Mr. Bond,” Q flirted as he disappeared down the hall.
“Q isn’t in his rooms at the moment, Mr. Bond,” the doorman said as Bond approached.
“I’ll wait.” Stepping around him, Bond let himself in to Q’s rooms. They were starting to feel familiar. More familiar than his own, for certain. His rooms were just another hotel suite in a string of hundreds that made up his life. Q’s were cozy and cluttered, filled with a sense of Q’s presence even while the inventor was away.
The unfinished automaton in the main room was sitting today in front of a chess board. Bond wandered over to inspect the game, taking the seat across the table and considering how it had gotten to that point. Intrigued by the inherent puzzle, Bond moved one of the pieces, tempted by the possibility of playing against Q.
The automaton across the table reached out and moved a piece.
Bond was five steps away from the table with his gun out before he was able to even consider the possibility that the mechanical device had moved of its own volition. But it had moved in response to Bond’s play.
A superstitious chill went up Bond’s spine, faced with technology that he couldn’t comprehend. The automaton was now still as ever, hands back to resting at the edge of the table.
Awed by the invention, Bond put his gun away and circled carefully around it. Still no motion. It seemed to react only to the chess board.
He skimmed his hand over the panel at its back, which was closed with four screws. Bond was tempted, but he didn’t have a screwdriver at hand, and he knew that even if he opened the automaton he wouldn’t be able to comprehend the mechanisms inside.
Relaxing at last, he returned to the front of the table and moved another piece. The automaton made its move in return.
Bond had heard of chess-playing automatons before. They always gathered huge crowds at the World’s Fairs, but the copies he’d seen had always turned out to have a petite chess master tucked inside the mechanism box. It seemed that Q had done it for real.
When the game ended--in Bond’s favour, but he’d been unfairly advantaged by the opening Q had played out--the automaton reset all the pieces back to their starting position.
He was still playing against the automaton when Q returned.
The airship owner looked between the two of them, amused, and came over to kiss Bond. “Oh, you’re losing. That’s delightful.”
“Don’t look so smug,” Bond grumbled, pulling Q down into this lap.
“I shall indeed look smug if I please,” Q retorted, kissing him again.
Lifting him, Bond carried him off to bed.
This time, when they were finished, Q stayed cuddled against him, quiet and thoughtful.
“Would you ever leave this life?” Bond asked.
Q snorted. “Would you?”
Thinking it over honestly, Bond played his fingers through Q’s curls. “Yes. For the right person.”
“And then what would you do?”
“Travel the world. Just my lover and myself. Anonymous, independently wealthy, free.”
“If you ask me to come with you, I will indeed throw you off my ship,” Q warned him.
“You won’t,” Bond said, although he didn’t ask.
Another few minutes passed between them, with Q’s hand on Bond’s chest and Bond’s hand in his hair.
“You never answered my question,” Bond nudged him at last.
“You are being manipulative.”
“Indulge me anyway.”
Q cast a smile over at him. “I can’t, James. Even if I would, I can’t. Either I’d have to accept some government’s protection and live my life within that stricture, or I’d be hunted and found within days and then kept prisoner to whatever government caught me.”
“If you let me, I’d cut your hair, change your attire and grow you a beard, and hide you away in a rural manor in Scotland. No one would look for you among the shepherds and woodsmen.”
“What rubbish you talk,” Q scolded, smiling. “Have you fallen in love with me, Mr. Bond? Is this your attempt to save me?”
He had two days left before the ship landed in Japan.
Q let Bond trail along as his escort, and fell into bed with him at every opportunity. They slept, ate, and fucked, only to stumble into Q’s busy schedule of meetings and diplomatic assignments.
Sometimes Q let him linger in the meetings, like a bodyguard or mediator to the proceedings, or a flat insult in a deal that Q didn’t want to make. Other times he tossed him out cold.
Disposable. That was a new feeling.
Bond let himself out to the upper deck of the airship. Sleet whipped through the air, clearing the deck for everyone but a little cluster of Russians holding a muttered conversation to one end of the deck.
Ignoring them, Bond wandered around to the fore deck. The rain was worse there, without the upper envelope of the ship to protect the deck, and it was occupied only by one stout, hatless man leaning too far out over the rail of the ship.
“Long way down,” Bond commented, coming to stand against the rail near him.
The man pulled back a few inches, completely calm. “They say that from a height like this, you won’t feel a thing.”
“From a height like this, you have a long time to regret it on the way down.”
The man laughed. He didn’t seem desperate or upset. He seemed like a man with nothing left to lose who had found a solution to his problems.
“Are you old enough to remember England before the war?” he asked.
Bond nodded, keeping his eyes out into the asphalt skies. “I served in His Majesty’s Navy.”
“When I was a young man, Britain was an empire. It was true, what they said. The sun never set on Victoria’s realm.”
“She’s still an empire,” Bond said, although he understood what was meant.
“For now.” The stranger shook his head. “Piece by piece, that empire’s been dissolving. People don’t think of us the same way anymore. Now we’re just a wet island, still trying to regain our feet from the war.”
“We’re getting by,” Bond said, thinking about the Japanese and the blueprints that he still couldn’t find. If he didn’t find them, then they wouldn’t be getting by anymore. The second war that had been lurking for years in the scars of the first would come, and Britain would still be crippled.
“When I was a young man, I had a thriving business. Then, it was a matter of pride to talk about British workmanship. The economy was strong, and revenue flowed. After the war, there was no money. Customers had no money to spend, investors had no money to share, and the company went threadbare. Year by year, I’ve kept those books, and every year the numbers are smaller. I’ve been dining on potato soup in grand halls like these. And now they say there’s another war coming. It’ll end me. It’ll end us all.”
“I’ve never been an optimist,” Bond confessed, hands folded against the rail. “But I don’t believe we’ll go down that easy.”
“They say that Germany is starving. We won, we’re not so bad off, by comparison. Germany, though. She’ll never recover.”
“Go back inside,” Bond advised. “Let a bartender with bright eyes pour you a glass of something expensive. Britain needs its businessmen, if we want to fight another day.”
“We can’t afford to fight another day.”
Bond pushed off the rail and turned inside. “That’s never mattered.”
He had one day left, before the ship landed in Japan.
Bond’s security clearance had risen again. The staff of the ship moved eagerly to fulfil any request he had and answered any question he put to them.
As he got desperate, once or twice Bond asked one of them where Q kept his blueprints, but not one of them seemed to know anything more specific than ‘in his room.’
There was one option yet that he hadn’t yet exhausted.
Q allowed him alone and unguarded in his rooms, even allowed James physical control over him, and no one ever came to investigate Q’s gasps and cries.
Bond had the knowledge and ability to force the information from him. Q was self-made: he had no training to withstand torture, and his body was unscarred. It would take less than an hour to break him.
And then, the blueprints would be accessible within the suite and the emergency parachutes that every room had would would be all Bond needed to make his escape.
He knew that he’d be leaving physical and emotional scars on Q for life, but he could at least try to minimize the damage. If he played the situation right, he could manipulate the attachment that Q had to him so that Q’s breaking heart would take more damage than his body and mind.
It was his duty to complete his mission and bring home the plans for England, or at least keep them out of the hands of the Japanese. To that end, he would do whatever necessary.
He watched the genius millionaire from across the room. Q laughed and shone in his suit, a lovely young star at the height of his glory. Bitter, innocent, and breathtaking.
Q stole glances at him while he conducted business. Sometimes he smirked, and sometimes he blushed. Bond wondered which of the expressions was genuine.
When the night was full, Q excused himself from his guests and made his way over. “Mr. Bond,” he murmured, tucking himself close.
Bond led him from the room, not saying a word as he took Q down the hall to his stateroom.
It had to be now. Tomorrow, the ship would land and Q would hand the world over to the Japanese. For England, for duty, and for the world, he had to sacrificed his own honor and the trust of a man he adored.
As soon as they were in Q’s bedroom, Bond slammed him back against the wall. Q gasped, breath knocked out of him, and Bond pinned his hands above his head while he was stunned. He had no rope available, so he pulled off his tie and secured it tightly around Q’s thin wrists while Q’s tense body gasped and shuddered.
And then Q relaxed.
Surprised, Bond looked at him, and found Q gazing steadily back. His breath was still ragged, but he was alert and intelligent, and offering no resistance.
Bond kept one hand pinning Q’s now bound wrists as they watched each other. He couldn’t tell if Q thought this was the prelude to sex or if he knew what Bond had intended, but all he saw in Q’s eyes was trust.
He could call the guards on Bond and end this all now. If he knew, he still had a chance to scream. Instead, he was looking into Bond’s eyes with an expression of absolute devotion.
Bond felt his resolve crumble. He couldn’t hurt anyone who looked at him like that. If he’d done this earlier, while he could still think of Q as an enemy, it might have worked. But all he saw now was a sweet, gentle youth who had let down all of his defenses for Bond, and was offering body and soul--as long as he never had to sell his freedom.
Vesper had looked at him like that once. She’d betrayed him, and she’d died for it.
He blamed himself: not for letting her get away with the betrayal, but for letting her die.
Bond pushed Q against the wall and kissed him.
The ship would land in Japan by nightfall.
“Don’t,” Bond said, simply. He stood against the windows, watching China spin by beneath them while Q lounged in bed.
“I want my fleet.”
Surprised, Bond turned. “Your fleet?”
“That was the bargain I made. In return for the invention they wanted, and the base design for my airship, they would build me a fleet.”
A fleet. An entire fleet of luxury airships under Q’s command. “You can’t possibly trust them.”
Q laughed, but his heart wasn’t in it. “I can trust everyone in the world exactly as far as what they want from me.”
“And when you land, they’ll have you, the blueprints they wanted, and the fleet of airships that they built for themselves. Exactly what more will they want from you, Q?”
He saw Q tense his jaw and turn his face away.
“It’s the fleet,” Bond said, shaking his head as the pieces fell into place. “That’s what got you to take this risk. All your life you’ve been making deals and selling your inventions in exchange for the next step up the ladder of power and influence. And as long as there’s another rung above it, as long as you can keep making the next deal, you’re safe. That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?”
“Leave it,” Q said, turning an annoyed glare at Bond as if that would hide the hurt and the fear behind his eyes.
“This deal is a mistake, Q.”
“Get out of my room.”
Bond left the bedroom, but he stayed in the suite.
Dropping into a chair, he frowned around the room at all of Q’s breathtaking designs. The plans had to be somewhere easily accessible. Q trusted nothing and no one in the world but his own mind and his own inventions. He’d grown to trust Bond alone in his rooms, because Bond hadn’t found the plans yet, and Q had to think that Bond wouldn’t be able to comprehend the mechanism of wherever it was hidden.
Irritated with himself and his lover, Bond paced the room. As he passed, he made a move on the chessboard, and the automaton politely made its move in response.
Q trusted nothing in the world but his own mind and his own inventions.
He stared down at the automaton. Glancing back at the quiet bedroom, he let himself into Q’s workshop for a screwdriver.
It was less than a minute before he had the panel on the back of the automaton open. The interior was a maze of wires and clockwork gears, none of which Bond understood, but attached to the panel was a thin, cylindrical container. Within that Bond found a set of blueprints for a simplified version of the automaton. Written in meticulous Japanese were instructions on how to program the automaton in order to complete simple, repetitive tasks.
“No,” Q breathed.
Bond looked up to see Q standing in the doorway, half-dressed and pale.
There was a ready parachute at one end of the room, by the windows. Bond could take the plans and jump. It would be easy to disappear into China and make his way back to England, prize in hand.
“James, please,” Q begged, not daring to approach.
“With this, England could finally recover from the Great War. It would be a world power again,” Bond said, thinking of the possibilities.
“And I’ll be ruined,” Q said. “Japan will flay me, I’ll lose my fleet, and England will banish me at best for attempted treason and warmongering. I will have assassins out for me, after that.”
“Come with me,” Bond said. “I’ll protect you.”
“I can’t.” Q’s voice broke, and he turned his face away.
Torn, Bond watched him. He didn’t have much longer, or his parachute would be opening over the East China Sea.
“Goodbye, Q,” he said at last.
“I’ll trade you for it,” Q blurted.
Tempted, Bond looked back. Q put his hands up, keeping them where Bond could see them. Across the room, he picked up a little gold bumblebee, the kind that Bond had seen repeated decoratively around the ship. “My ship is filled with recording devices,” Q explained. “Every deal that’s ever been struck on my ship is recorded on this, although I’ve seen to it that all discussion of my own involvement in anything has been excised from the record. It would give England the advantage in espionage over every nation in the world.”
Q pressed a button on the bumblebee, and it began to murmur the sound of quiet voices discussing trade rights.
Espionage or industry.
Bond knew that England was in greater need of the latter, but his nation had always been a country of hard work and hand-crafted quality. The industry wouldn’t suit them, and if he took the blueprints, it would give England hard evidence to prosecute Q. If he took the espionage, it made Q an ally.
But if he left the blueprints to Japan, they’d use it to sweep across the globe.
“No one gets the blueprints,” Bond negotiating.
“They’ll have the fleet, then,” Q pointed out miserably.
Crossing the room, Bond put a hand on Q’s arm. “Come to England. I’m at MI6. We’ll keep you safe. I’ll keep you safe. One way or another, you’ve set in motion plans to change the world, and not even you can stop that now. Japan is going to start a war, and you’ll be one airship against many, while every other country in the world will suspect that you’re one of Japan’s fleet. Come to England.”
“I can’t,” Q whispered.
Plucking the bumblebee from his hand, Bond tucked it into a pocket and kissed him one last time. Then he tossed the blueprints into the fire and went to get the parachute.
Q stayed where he was, face wrecked with despair. “Stay,” he begged. “Please stay.”
Bond paused at the window and held out his hand to Q.
Closing his eyes, Q shook his head.
Bond opened the window and jumped.
Scowling over a set of reports that he was supposed to be filing, Bond only barely put a civil smile on his face before lifting his head. Moneypenny stood in the doorway, giving him her best ‘I know what you’re up to’ expression, which Bond thought was unfair since he wasn’t actually up to anything.
“There’s a young Frenchman here. Insists he’ll only speak to you.”
A visitor. That was highly unusual. “Is he here to kill me?” James asked, wryly.
“He looks harmless,” Moneypenny teased.
“Send him in, then. By all means.”
The young man who replaced Moneypenny in the doorframe was slight and pale. His neatly combed curls were arranged forward on his head in a dark mop, and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of thick, black-rimmed lenses. Wearing a heavy anorak, he hesitated in Bond’s door like a lost lamb.
“May I--” Bond started to say, polite despite his ignorance, and then he saw those perfect, unforgettable lips, and he studied the face again, seeing his Q behind the heavy hair and thick glasses.
“Don’t,” Q said, holding up a hand before another letter escaped him. He smiled, warm and sweet, shyness dissolving into pleasure.
Speechless, Bond stared at him, overwhelmed with hope.
“Why don’t you call me Geoffrey?” Q suggested.
Grinning, Bond stood, crossing the room and pulling Q in for a kiss. “Geoffrey?”
“Geoffrey Boothroyd,” Q elaborated.
Bond shook his head. “Doesn’t suit you.”
Q laughed and rolled his eyes. “Oh, go fly a kite, you cretin.”
“Moneypenny!” Bond called, fetching his jacket. She reappeared, giving the two of them a knowingly raised eyebrow. “I’ll finish those reports tomorrow. Something has come up.”
“You’d best not forget,” Moneypenny threatened him, tone warning but eyes amused.
“He’ll probably forget,” Q sympathised.
“Shush,” Bond said. “The two of you are not allowed to gang up on me.”
Q laughed brightly, letting Bond pull him against his side. “It was very nice to meet you, Miss Moneypenny.”
Bond cast her a wink. Tomorrow, he could file reports and talk his superiors into offering Q both amnesty and employment. Today, the city and Bond’s bed were waiting for them, and Bond intended to celebrate.