Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Bond was not a patient man.
It had been weeks, months really, since he had bothered to break pick the lock on his Quartermaster's flat. It took too bloody long. He chose instead to use the key Q had left on his desk before one long forgotten mission that had been life-threatening at the time. 007 hadn't been able to decide if he was surprised or flattered or incredulous at the boy's insolence at assuming that the agent would continue to turn up bloody and bruised at the technician's doorstep.
It felt like all three.
Whatever his feelings – and he shuddered at the word, double-oh agents were meant to be cold, unfeeling, a blunt instrument of lethality, he wasn't meant to have feelings – he kept the cold metal tucked deep in a pocket. The Quartermaster had stopped looking impressed when he got past the increasingly complex locks, so Bond used the speedier option. Besides, it was damn cold outside. A quick entrance into the warmth of central heating was worth the smug tilt of the younger man's lips when he saw the key in Bond's calloused palm.
Q was a very patient man.
He had to be. Kilometers worth of poetic lines of code did not come quickly. Cutting-edge espionage weapons meant to save the lives of agents and take those of the enemy were not speedily made. Developing the skills necessary to topple governments and raze cities from the comfort of one's own laptop took more than one afternoon.
In the months following the tragedy at Skyfall, he had become accustomed to applying his hard-earned patience to 007.
His top agent was infuriating. Bond showed a blatant disregard for the mission instructions Q lilted in his ear. The agency's best operative seemed incapable of returning equipment in the condition it was issued to him, if and when he returned it at all. The Quartermaster had still yet to forgive him for the time he fed such a beautiful, personalized gun to a komodo dragon. 007 also had a fondness for disappearing completely from Q's carefully constructed maps, destroying the trackers hidden in his clothes and weapons.
It never failed to scare Q halfway to his grave.
Despite these things, and for reasons unknown to him, the head of Q branch found himself sighing and giving the man another chance. Again.
Certainly the other double-ohs never received such leniency. On one memorable occasion, he had spent the better part of an afternoon berating 003 up one side and down the other for losing a phone that had consisted of over twenty hand-made-by-Q, one-of-a-kind parts and almost a quarter of the department's yearly budget. Q had intended to share it between all the agents, sending it where it was needed most. The staff of Q branch still refused to speak of the incident.
And yet, 007 received barely more than a long-suffering sigh and a hateful look when he returned from Bangkok with half of a radio and a request for yet another personalized gun.
Considering his easy treatment of the man, Q thought that he really ought not to have been surprised when a broken James Bond broke into his living room.
Bond never went home when M told him to.
This was partially because 007 hadn't felt at home in a very long time. A life earned with the death of others didn't lend itself easily to homecoming.
He had a sparkly new MI-6 commissioned flat, of course. Someone had even taken the thought to have it decorated in his preferred masculine, upper-class style. After spending one night in the king bed surrounded by neutral grays and blacks he had never gone back. Everything about it, the bare wood floor, the generic framed prints on the walls, and even the walls themselves, had felt cold.
It was partially because he dreaded sitting quietly, making coffee, and hearing men die in his hands as he replayed murders he made over and over. The first night after a mission, especially foreign missions, was the most difficult. Every ache was new all over again, since he never listened to medical and never took the pills and stitches they offered. Scenes were still fresh. The smell of blood and the taste of bile still clouded his senses. There wasn't enough alcohol in his system yet to dull thoughts of his mistakes, how he could have saved the faceless girl and retrieved the nameless data.
So he wandered.
In the morning, he would wonder why he knew where his Quartermaster lived, why he bothered to memorize the address tucked deep in a top secret file.
Q glanced up from the newest development taking shape on his laptop to see a very much worse for wear James Bond standing hunched in his entry way. He was impressed – not many could have found their way around a lock like his – if not surprised. He had received a warning on his screen and a visual on the intruder picking his front door long before he had heard the slide of tumblers in the lock.
Now he was merely curious. Why was MI-6's longest standing threat, the man with a government-issued license to kill, bleeding on his rug? As 007's handler for most foreign missions, he already knew the details. He could place a gunshot with the tear in the agent's gray tailored suit and he could picture in detail the knife that had caused the sluggishly leaking wound in Bond's thigh. Absently, he noted that Bond had refused medical's assistance.
Setting aside his laptop, he unfolded from his position in a corner of the couch. Q wasn't sure yet how to handle this version of Bond. Not many had experience with the man who was little more than just a man, getting old and wearing out. This person before him was not the barely contained power of the lion who paced through nations to deliver death when ordered. This was not the gruff old dog that showed up in his office at odd times to demand toys and bite at his leash. Nor was this the panther at rest in between missions, seemingly idle but still deadly.
The agent before him appeared human to Q in a way that none of the double-ohs had before. Bond's wide shoulders were hunched inward and his breathing was subtly hitched. Upon closer inspection, Q noticed a wide bandage peeking through the undone top of the agent's shirt. Broken ribs then, Q thought. He added the injury to the list quickly forming in his mind. Bond gazed blankly as his Quartermaster ran eyes up and down the older man, assessing.
He not only appeared human to Q; he looked damaged.