"I'm your national anthem
Boy put your hands up
Give me a standing ovation"
- Lana del Rey, National Anthem
God's in His Heaven
It is like one of those dreams within a dream: they start out completely absurd, fragmented and surreal, yet while you're dreaming you're somehow blind to the crimes against all laws of logic and nature and fully convinced that this is real life. Then you wake up, and you're in your own bed, and there are familiar walls around you, and you know what day it is, and you wonder how you could ever have believed that the previous dream was real. You go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, and you head to the kitchen to have breakfast, not even questioning that you're awake until the floor moves under your feet – and then you truly wake up, and you remember in an instant what reality feels like.
James wakes up for the first time when he hears Q's voice. For a second, he barely knows where he is or what he's been doing. His chase after Jeunet seems chaotic and ill-conceived, his belief that Q was dead seems inexplicable. Q's obviously alive and well.
He answers Q's questions automatically, responding to the calm, professional tone almost by instinct. It's not until Q's voice wavers at the words "He's not heading towards Muswell Hill" that James truly wakes up. He snaps back into his business frame of mind so quickly it's almost dizzying. Of course he hasn't been wasting his time chasing Jeunet – Jeunet is the mark, for god's sake. A mark that has now gotten even further away.
James knows Q's present address (he makes it his business to know these things, and while it was even harder to find than old M's address, he still found it) but he doesn't know Q's father's address. Q gives it to him, and quickly starts listing different routes to get there, apparently looking for the quickest and most strategic one. James is already moving in the general direction of East Finchley, listening to Q's voice in his ears as he walks.
"Bond," Q says, and James knows he's serious when he's no longer addressing him as 007, "my father doesn't know I work for MI6. If at all possible, I would like you to keep it that way."
"Understood," James replies. This would have been his basic assumption either way.
"But more importantly, I would like you to keep him alive."
It's odd, but the slightly strained note just below the superficial calm of Q's voice somehow makes James respect the Quartermaster even more. A memory flashes through his head, not of the days spent in the priest hole at Skyfall, but of his more recent visit: the memory of M dying in his arms, of closing the grey eyes that had lost their steel, of holding back tears for the first time in years, and of not entirely succeeding in doing so. It's not something he thinks of often; he doesn't like to dwell on his weaknesses. Even so, he remembers the pain, how unexpected it was, and how it cut through his bones.
"Of course," he says. He doesn't let the emotion seep through. Q knows that James knows what it's like to lose a parent. That's more than enough information.
Mallory speaks, and James can tell by the way the sound carries even when M whispers that he must be standing right by Q.
"Are you sure you can handle this, Quartermaster?"
"I'm not sure anyone else can," Q replies. "Not fast enough."
James can't keep from smiling. Cheeky little brat. Unfortunately he doesn't get to hear M's reply, because Q speaks up again:
"I've got him! Bond, I have Jeunet's location. It's like I thought, he chose the slower route. He's half a mile ahead of you."
James speeds up, jogging past the next couple of buildings.
"Bond? He's almost there."
"I'm on it, Q!" James snaps, blood pumping rapidly through his heart and his head. "I can see him now."
A bit ahead, he sees Jeunet cross over to the other side of the street. They're only a few doors away from the address Q had given.
"Don't let him get away."
James crosses the street as well.
"I wasn't intending to."
There's a rush of static as Q takes a deep breath on the other end of the line.
"All right," Q says, and his voice has dropped a couple of notes. James didn't notice it going up before. "I can't turn off the lift from here, so I'm going to shut down the electricity of the whole sector for a while. Hold on."
James doesn't even have time to count to five before the lights go out all around him. It's not as impressive as it would have been at night, but the sky is cloudy and grey and it's still a very distinct transformation. James hears a few angry voices, and further away a few cars screech to a halt where a traffic light has gone black.
"Q, I bloody love you."
"Careful, 007, you're on speaker."
James is smiling, and although he can't see him he could swear that Q is too.
"Oh, trust me; if I weren't already aware of that I'd be saying something else entirely."
"And you felt the need to censor yourself?" Q says with mock surprise. "I think you underestimate how well the people here know you."
"Maybe I just wanted to be tactful," James replies as he enters the building.
"Hm. Seems unlikely, but we'll go with that for now." Q's voice is already distracted again. "I see you," he adds. "Jeunet is on his way to the second floor, you're going to the fourth. The lift should be on your floor."
The light goes back on. The doors to the lift open in front of James, and he dives in.
"Better hope this thing's quick," he says as he presses the button. The doors close.
"Don't scowl at me, 007," Q replies. "You could have been upstairs already if you had run faster."
"How do you ..." James looks around for a surveillance camera in the lift, but finds none. "Is there CCTV in this building?"
"No, I'm using my own cameras," Q says as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
He hears the sound of typing in the background and remembers what Q's face looked like bent in concentration over Jeunet's laptop, yesterday. It was only yesterday.
"You've installed cameras in your father's block of flats?"
James can't keep the disbelief out of his voice.
The doors open.
"I knew they'd come in handy some day," Q replies.
James steps out of the lift and immediately scans the hallway. It's empty. There are three doors on this floor, marked "Eastwood", "Schellenberg" and "Boothroyd". It's strange to think one of these names belongs to Q. James looks around for Q's cameras. He's about to give it up as impossible when Q says: "One o'clock," and now James detects the glint of a lens where he'd thought there was only a screw head.
"Bond?" M says. "The intelligence agencies of several countries would be grateful if you could bring Jeunet in alive."
James smiles slightly at the unspoken "which would mean MI6 gets to call in a few favours later" when, like the devil called forth by the mention of his name, Jeunet appears from the stairs. Their eyes meet. Jeunet glances at the gun in James' hand.
"Hello again," James says.
"Monsieur McEwan. Congratulations. I was sure I had ... shaken you off some time ago."
Jeunet glances at the door behind James. Boothroyd it is, then, James thinks. It suits him a bit; it sounds like that strict, unshakeable, tea-drinking side of Q.
"I guess you're not as good as you think," James says. "Show me your hands. No sudden movements."
Jeunet raises his hands above his head with exaggerated slowness.
"What will you do?" he asks. "Kill me? It will not bring the young man back."
In James' ear, Q simply replies with a "hm," and James has to smile.
"I wouldn't be so sure," he says, stepping closer.
"Ah, but not all things that are lost can return. You took from me my money and my business, this I can get back. But I took the boy from you and you will not get him back. Not even if you shoot the werewolf with a silver bullet. That is my victory."
Jeunet grins. James wonders if his smile was always so feral and unattractive and James simply didn't see it, or if the loss of his position and the murder of his lover have pushed Jeunet over the edge.
"This is what happens when you trick the devil," Jeunet says.
James keeps his gun trained on Jeunet's forehead, reaches over and takes the gun Jeunet hides under his jacket.
"You think you're the devil?" he asks, and gestures up at the little lens near the ceiling. "Smile at the camera, then. God sees you."
Then, because he believes in justice, he punches Jeunet in the gut and watches with satisfaction as the grey-haired man folds up in pain.
"Thank you," Q states, as calm as if he had been sipping a martini at the poolside all day and not both been the witness of murder and killed a man to save his life in the same morning. James barely knows if Q is sincerely thanking him for intercepting (and punching) Jeunet, or jokingly thanking him for indirectly calling Q God, but he thinks it might be a bit of both.
A man and a woman arrive in a car to take Jeunet away. The man has sat down in the backseat with Jeunet and the woman is closing the door when James notices that someone is standing in the doorway of the building they just vacated, studying the proceedings.
The man is thin, and his shoulders are a bit hunched with age and bad posture, which is at least partly to blame for making him slightly shorter than his progeny. The eerily familiar mop of hair, on the other hand, shows only a few strands of grey. The glasses are an older model than Q's – but modest, not some huge 1970's glasses – and the dark brown suit looks equally well-chosen and well-used. A man who's spent his life in an office, following other people's orders, James imagines.
Boothroyd senior catches James looking and seems a bit embarrassed. He shifts his weight a couple of times, as if he's trying to decide whether to back off or step forward, and then he cautiously walks up to James.
"Excuse me, has there been some kind of trouble?" the man asks. His voice is as soft as Q's, but without the natural confidence and command that Q possesses as he says "Bond" in a warning tone in James' ear.
James instantly warms to the older man.
"Only some displeased customers trying to sabotage the power grid," he replies with his best public-servant-smile.
For a moment the man shows no reaction, and James wonders if he doesn't believe him. This close James can see the dark rings under his eyes, and detect the smell and skin tone of a lifelong smoker. The facial structure is similar to Q's, but not so much as to be striking. James finds himself wondering what Q's mother looked like. Or looks like – James doesn't even know if she's dead or just out of the picture.
"Will we be having problems with the power?" Mr Boothroyd asks.
"Don't worry," James says. "It's being taken care of by some very competent people."
Once he's in the passenger seat and has closed the door behind him, he smiles and says:
"Well, I guess now we know what you'll look like in twenty years' time, Quartermaster. I can't say it's very reassuring."
"Have you looked yourself in the mirror lately?" Q instantly replies. James only chuckles. "I dread to think what twenty more years will do to that face," Q continues.
"I'm flattered you think I will still be alive in twenty years time," James says.
"I'm beginning to suspect we'll have to bury you alive and run a stake through your heart."
Meeting with M and being debriefed takes longer than usual. When James stands by Eve's desk again it's late in the Sunday afternoon and the MI6-building is unusually quiet, but James is still wound up after the chase.
Behind Eve, rain is drumming against the window.
"Miss Moneypenny," he greets her.
"Mr Bond," she replies.
Her smile is as mischievous as ever. James likes her. He thinks he sees a bit of himself in her: the cheek, the warm charm she exudes, the stone cold steel visible just underneath which prevents any real insight – and the way she clearly enjoys it all.
James is a better shot, though.
"Do you happen to know if the Quartermaster is still around?" he asks.
She studies him for a moment.
"Why do you want to know?"
"Now, what kind of tone is that? After a day like this one, I think it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye, don't you?"
Eve is clearly unimpressed by this excuse.
"I heard the way you talked to him earlier, you know." Her gaze is stern, now. "You shouldn't flirt with him, Bond. It's not nice. He's not a woman."
James raises an eyebrow.
"Eve! Are you really that conservative or are you just jealous?" he asks in mock concern.
This earns him a proper glare.
"That's not what I meant. Women are used to being flirted with – especially women who look like the kind of women you usually flirt with."
"Like you?" James says, but she ignores him and goes on:
"They know how it works. They know when it's not serious. Most men don't."
"You don't think I'm serious?"
He smiles at her and she scoffs.
"Suit yourself. Do you know where he is?"
She surrenders and replies:
"He has finished his debrief and he hasn't clocked out yet, so either he's still with the counsellor – which wouldn't be surprising; after a weekend with you he's probably ready for the straitjacket – or he's gone back down to Q-branch."
He tips an imaginary hat at her. She shakes her head at him, but smiles.
The main hall of Q-branch is partly in darkness, but a few brave souls are still scattered around the room, seated by their screens. In the silence James can hear the humming of the fans in every computer in the room, as well as the faint, muffled sounds of someone using Q-branch's own firing range further down the halls coming from the open door to the armoury.
Q stands in the middle of the room by his laptop, still clicking away. The suit jacket has been thrown over a nearby chair, and James takes a moment to study Q's form, which is usually hidden under cardigans and anoraks, but which is now highlighted by the grey trousers that fit like a glove and by the well tailored waistcoat. Q has opened the top button and rolled up the sleeves of the white shirt underneath. His hair has once again rebelled against Q's attempts at keeping it brushed back. James had hoped to find Q in his office, away from spying eyes and big ears, but he can improvise.
"Working late again, Quartermaster?" he asks.
Q starts and turns around, as does everyone else in the previously quiet room.
"Apparently," Q replies.
James walks up to him with his hands in his pockets and a slight smile on his lips. The smile grows when he sees Q's eyes flicker over his body before they quickly return to the screen. He noticed Q looking at him like that in the morning, before all hell broke loose. He's flattered it hasn't changed.
"I suppose you find it hard to leave, now that you're back in your kingdom," he says.
"And all's right with the world?" Q quips.
James moves around to stand at the other end of Q's desk, to be able to get at least some eye contact.
"You might be the ruler of your little realm, Q, but you're hardly God."
This makes Q look up at last.
"That's not what you said before."
God help him, but the glint in Q's eyes and the slight quirk of his mouth sets fire to James' insides. Is Q really flirting in front of his employees?
But Q's people are used to Q's witty remarks, and to James flirting with all and sundry, and they don't look particularly shocked or suspicious. Of course they can't see the little nuances in Q's expression that tells James that this is more than a battle of wits.
"I was only replying to Jeunet's mad remarks. Don't let it go to your head."
Q only smiles in reply, and resumes his work.
"Eve said you'd been to see the counsellor," James says.
Q's smile fades.
"Yes, people usually think that's necessary when you've watched someone get executed in front of you because a sadistic bastard is trying to get to you."
James wants to tell him it's not his fault, but he knows the counsellor has already said it, and he knows Q understands it too, at least on an intellectual level. He also knows that believing it takes longer. James is not so sure he's fully mastered that art, himself.
"She also told me you've been cleared to leave," he says instead, returning to his initial subject.
"I need to finish this first," Q says, his eyes on the screen.
"What are you doing, exactly?"
"In layman's terms? Erasing my past."
"I'm surprised you haven't done that before."
"I had, to an extent. But I also laboured under the false assumption that it had already been done when I joined this organisation," he says in a surly tone.
"If you want something done properly you have to do it yourself, eh?"
"And why does this have to be done tonight?"
This time Q doesn't answer by flirting, even though it's a perfect opening.
"Because I want it to be over with," he says instead. "And it's hardly night yet. I'd be grateful if you let me finish before it is."
James wants to say: "come with me instead." He wants to pull Q into his arms and into his bed. Just one more time – who could it hurt?
He considers his options. He could keep up this waning discussion in hopes of reaching a point where he can ask it in such a roundabout way that the other people in the room won't understand that he's propositioning their boss, but he doesn't think he has the patience. He could disregard their audience and ask straight out, but even if he doesn't believe M would fire either of them, sleeping with the Quartermaster would still land him in a long, uncomfortable disciplinary talk that he'd rather avoid – not to mention he doesn't believe Q will be inclined to just accept the offer and walk away with James in front of his underlings.
He fingers the keys in his pocket and a strategy occurs to him, but he hesitates. It's a gesture that could easily be misconstrued as meaning more than it does, and maybe Eve was right – maybe he should be careful about leading Q on. But then, Q hasn't shown any signs of misreading him so far.
He makes up his mind, walks around the desk and drops his home key in the pocket of Q's waistcoat.
"To help you sleep tonight, if you need it," he says.
Q looks surprised and glances down at his pocket, as if he actually expects to find sleeping pills there, but before he can look up again James has begun to walk away. He will go home, change out of these clothes and take a shower. Then he will fill up a glass of single malt, and wait for Q.
A/N: The End! What did you think? There's a plot for a sequel, but if I write that it will not be mission-based-fic anymore so there will be a change of tone. And also, I want to get back to writing Merlin-fic soon. Gah, I'm torn! What would you guys like to see?