Summary: Bond must interrogate Q. Hyoscine pentothal, the (thankfully fictional) pain-causing drug, has been borrowed from 24. Actually, the whole premise of this story was inspired by 24.
I also want to take this opportunity to explain something. It's more so I don't feel like a complete hypocrite, so please bear with me. I have never been a fan of the James Bond franchise. There are certain things I like about the movies (the gadgets, the music, Judi Dench, well-fitting suits), but at the same time these are movies that have a history of portraying women horribly. But then came Ben Whishaw's Q, with his floppy hair and his Scrabble mug, and I...may have tripped over my principles a bit and fallen face first into this fandom. So, I am not writing this as a fan of the franchise, but as a fan of what fic writers have done with this franchise. Okay, thanks for indulging me. Moving on...
Warnings: Non-graphic torture. Swears. Also I am neither British nor a good map reader, so I may have butchered a few things.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to the James Bond franchise. Although if my prayers are answered someday I will own that cardigan. You know the one.
To Salvage One Inch
It was not a question of whether or not he had the ability.
Bond knew that, given time and enough caffeine, the slim young man he watched through the one-way glass could bring down governments with his laptop.
The question was whether or not he actually would.
This isn't happening, Bond thought. This was Q. He had not gotten along with a quartermaster so well in years. Their success rate was through the roof. They had inside jokes. They bantered for god's sake. There was no way Q could be responsible for the cyber attack that had allowed hackers to devastate the firewall and slip in and out of MI6's system with the schematics of a new British-Afghani military base. The base, in the early stages of construction, had exploded two days prior, reduced to nothing but ashes and craters and death.
Then why did Q look so goddamn suspicious?
"Look at these dates," M had told him. "Q-Branch logbooks state Q was on MI6 grounds for every one of them, but he wasn't. We've got security footage of him leaving. He's good; wiped almost every camera, but he couldn't get all of them."
"And you've got him in a holding cell based on this?" Bond had asked, eyebrows raised in disbelief. Yes, the list was substantial, with the dates increasing rapidly over the past few months, and the bit about the erased footage was troubling, but really? Q was a traitor? He had the highest security clearance after M and Tanner, commanded an army of hackers and weapons makers, and could probably write unbreakable codes in his sleep. For MI6 to suspect Q of anything was to admit they had been careless enough to throw a live grenade into a warehouse of fireworks.
"Bond," M had sighed, "it's not only that. Q refuses to tell us where he's been." Bond stared. M continued, "I sat down with him in my office and asked him what's been going on; if he's in trouble, if there's been a family emergency. He flat out told me he didn't know what I was talking about. So I showed him this list, and he looked me in the eye and said he didn't know what it was."
"Huh. The little shit," Bond said mildly. Now it was M's turn to stare. "Agent, do you understand how serious this is?"
Bond sighed. "Yes, M, I do. I suppose you want me to find the hacker."
"No, Bond. I want you to question Q."
Bond froze; anticipating as usual, he had been on his way out the door. "What?" he asked, believing he surely must have heard wrong. "He's my quartermaster. In what possible way is this a good idea?"
"Bond, someone stole intelligence from us and sold it to terrorists. We are incredibly short on time here. There could be another attack coming, something much worse. And if Q is involved..." Here M paused, mouth working as though it did not know how to form the next words. "I've given clearance to use hyoscine pentothal."
Hyoscine penthothal. The torture drug. On Q. "You honestly believe that is necessary?" he asked, his voice suddenly cold and deadly. M sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I don't want to, Bond. God, please believe that. That's why I want you to question him. He works more closely with you than any other agent. He'll talk to you."
"And if he doesn't?" Bond asked.
M's eyes hardened. "It's an assignment, 007. Treat it as such."
Q did not sound surprised to see him, or angry, or afraid, or anything for that matter. His greeting was as calm and pleasantly polite as ever, just as though Bond had stepped into his lab. As though his wrists and ankles were not currently strapped to a chair. As though a technician was not searching his pale forearm for a suitable vein.
"Hello, Q," Bond responded, just as blandly. As though this was not a horrific mockery of what he otherwise considered a routine part of his job. "Mind telling me how you managed to get yourself accused of treason?" He did not smile, there was no lightness to his voice, because there was nothing funny about this. On the contrary, Bond was having difficulty reconciling what he was seeing. The interrogation room was one he had been in many times, possibly. MI6 contained several rooms like this, and they all looked the same. Gray walls, sparse florescent lights, steel tables and chairs. No curves existed to gentle the architecture expect for a drain in the floor. It was a bleakly predictable room, one that never held any surprises, except for today's occupant.
Q, like the room, was familiar to Bond, even without his cardigan, and with his untucked white shirt hanging loose around his body. He looked smaller and more washed out than usual. Q and this room did not go together in Bond's head. This room was made of straight lines, and squares, and unforgiving grays. Q, with his flowing, cultured voice, his delicate bones, the swatches of color in his eyes and cheeks and ridiculous jumpers, did not fit this room. No part of Q fit this room.
In spite of the severity of it all, Q quirked his lips. "Multitasking, I suppose."
Bond remained impassive. "I didn't come here to make jokes, Q." Q's face softened into a sort of quiet resolution. "No. I know that."
"Then you understand what's going to happen next. You understand what they've sent me in here to do."
"I've been told I'm a genius, so yeah, I get it," Q responded dryly.
"Then you also know this, all of this, can be avoided."
"You could just try believing me when I say I had nothing to do with the breach."
Bond pointedly ignored that, because Q knew better. He stood at the table across from the quartermaster, and flipped open the file in front of him. "Whoever did this was able to bypass every trap you set up. Who else might know your system as well as you do?"
Q sighed roughly and dropped his head back. "I don't know, Bond," he groaned at the ceiling.
"I'm trying to help you, Q. If there's no one outside of MI6..."
Q cut him off. "I am not incriminating any of my people." He glared solidly at him across the table. "I thought you trusted my judgement."
Bond has been expecting this to get personal, but he uncomfortably noted that the quartermaster's statement stung more than it should have. Returning his focus to the task at hand, he pulled a sheet of paper from his file and pushed it across the table. "Where were you on these dates?" Q glanced at the sheet and said nothing.
"You covered your tracks well, but you were not in MI6 on any of these days, nor were you cleared to be out on official business. So I ask again, where were you?"
"I don't remember," Q said evenly.
Bond did not buy that for a second. He sighed in frustration. "Q, you have an eidetic memory. You somehow manage to remind us of it every other day. You know where you were. Just tell me and we can end this nonsense." Because, he told himself, there was no way Q was involved in this. No way.
Q looked straight into Bond's eyes. "I. Don't. Remember."
"Goddammit Q!" Bond flung the file against the wall, stalked around the table, and roughly grabbed Q's arms. He was angry now. Suddenly, frighteningly angry. Because this was Q. The man who led him through missions. Who created weapons for him that were as elegant as they were deadly; weapons Bond knew would never fail him because they had come from Q's hands. Who knew exactly what he did on every assignment because he was in his goddamn ear, but still greeted him with a patient, nonjudgemental smile every time he stepped into the lab.
He trusted Q. And Q had just lied to him.
For the first time since Bond had walked in, he saw fear in Q's eyes. The quartermaster accompanied him on every mission, tucked safely behind his screens and satellites. He was familiar with the brutal intensity with which Bond handled his anger, but never before had it been directed at him.
Now, with his face so close to his quartermaster's that he could feel the ends of brown curls brushing his own forehead, the agent drew in a deep breath. He reminded himself that while Q was a colleague, a friend even, only one person had ever held the most guarded piece of him in her hands. This was not history repeating itself. He could salvage this.
"Q," he said softly. "Come on. Help me fix this." Q said nothing. He stared at Bond as though he was seeing through him, his mouth pressed tight, his fingers flexing on the steel armrests.
"007, I'm ready to call it," said M in Bond's ear. His voice was regretful, but firm.
"Q." Bond hissed again, squeezing the thin arms insistently. Q still said nothing. Bond released him with a sigh.
"Just...could you please..." The quartermaster swallowed dryly and shrugged one shoulder, indicating his glasses. Realizing, with a kind of dull horror, what he wanted, Bond reached out and slid the black frames off his face. He did it carefully, so as not to touch skin and feel Q's heart pounding in his temples. He folded them and set them carefully on the table, then stepped back to the other side of it.
"Do it," he said to the technician, without taking his eyes off Q, because if nothing else he could do him the courtesy of looking him in the face as he made this happen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the tech insert a syringe of hyoscine pentothal into the IV line that trailed from his black briefcase to Q's left arm. Bond began to count.
It took three seconds. Q's body went ridged, arching away from the chair, his mouth opened wide in a frozen expression of shock. It was always a shock at first. The body never knew what to do with the pain that seemed to hit every muscle and nerve ending at once. Q held that posture for an impressive four seconds more before he pitched forward, doubling over on himself with gasping cries that jerked his body from shoulders to hips.
"Breathe Q," Bond heard himself say. "You are putting too much pressure on your need to sit up and breathe." He could not look away from the thin hands squeezing the chair arms, skin stretched so tightly he swore he could see bone. An agonizing seven seconds more, and Q managed to force himself upright and pull in a solid breath of air.
"October 26th. First date listed. Where were you?" Bond asked.
Q fought with himself for a moment. "Out," he finally grunted between clenched teeth. Obviously, Bond thought, but this was no time for sarcasm. Q was controlling himself well, but the cracks were beginning to show. The sooner he broke through them, the sooner this would be over. For both of them.
"Out where, Q? I need a name."
"The - the Rose."
"All right. Good, Q. The next date? October 30th?"
"You were at The Rose every time?"
"No. Other places."
"The-the Porterhouse. Wagamama's. The bloody McDonalds around the corner-" The last word ended on a sharp cry that Q managed to suppress into a shudder. Worry gnawed at Bond's stomach, and not just from the sight of the quartermaster again gasping for breath and doubling over as far as his restraints would allow. Q was a creature of habit. Everything from the brand of tea he drank to the way he arranged his desk had never changed as long as Bond had known him. Such fastidiousness was especially noticeable in someone so young. Yet the handful of eateries Q had just named were scattered across central London.
Desperate to not prolong this, Bond jumped to he most likely conclusion. "Who were you meeting?" Q looked up, chest heaving. His eyes were wide and naked for a moment before he slammed the remains of his composure back into place. His hands clenched into fists. He was holding on with everything he had, but Bond had seen the fleeting desperation in his face.
"Q, if you're being coerced you have to tell me." At that, Q barked out a laugh so jagged it seemed to rip the air in two. "Don't insult me 007," he ground out. Bond remained stoic even as the last of his hopes withered away. One did not become the youngest head of Q-Branch in M16 history by being easily intimidated. Q had always made sure his every action, his every decision, told the world that everything he had done and would ever do would be of his own free will. Even betrayal. Bond knew him well enough to know that. He heard a faint curse in his ear; M must have come to the same conclusion. "007, we're going to have to go one higher."
"No," he said automatically, but M continued insistently. "007, either he stays at this level in agony for god knows how long, or we go one higher and get this over with sooner."
Bond looked at his quartermaster. "Q, you have to tell me now."
"No," Q said. "Don't-" He stopped himself, but Bond knew the sentence would have been, "Don't make me."
"Two cc's more."
Three seconds later, Q's head whipped back and he screamed. Bond clenched his hand into a fist to stop himself from pulling the needle out of his quartermaster's arm. The sharp dig of his nails into his palm reminded him to keep his voice steady, measured, controlled.
"Who were you meeting?"
Q was hunched forward now, staring into a middle distance Bond had never contemplated this young man would ever have to see. He raised his head, eyes wrecked.
"James," he gasped horsely. "James, please-"
And that almost did him in, more than anything else. He could count on one hand the number of times Q had called him by his first name. None of them had been good. "Q," he said softly.
Q fought. He fought hard, screwing is eyes and mouth shut, locking his shoulders, but in the end the word was torn from him. "Becky!" he screamed. Then, a broken gasp, "Rebecca Green. My sister."
"007?" M asked.
There was nothing left to consider. At this point, Q was no longer capable of telling a lie. Bond knew that from experience. "We're done," he said shortly, striding around the table and kneeling in front of the quartermaster's chair. He pulled the needle out as swiftly as he could before taking Q's face in his hands, ignoring how his fingers slid against the mixture of sweat, tears, and snot that streaked the young man's face. "Q, it's over. We're done. It's done," he said, over and over, but Q did not hear him because Q was sobbing.
Suddenly, the empty space was sucked out of the room as a medical team entered, and Bond was brushed aside. They worked rapidly, undoing Q's restraints and lifting him onto a gurney. When they were finished, Bond made to follow them, but a hand to his chest stopped him and he found himself looking into the storm cloud eyes of the team's head doctor.
"I need to see him," Bond tried to explain.
"After." The doctor firmly cut him off. "After we're finished and if he wants to see you, we'll send for you."
Bond opened his mouth to protest, but the doctor stopped him with a shake of her head, her eyes a clear reflection of everything she had seen come out of this room.
"Trust me," she said. "Wait for him to ask to see you." With that, she left Bond alone in the square gray room, with papers scattered across the surgically clean floor, and Q's glasses lying forgotten on the steel table.
A/N. Part two coming soon. Thanks for reading!