Title: Lay It Down
Summary: Bond and Q agreed: their relationship was nothing more than physical. Until it suddenly isn't.
(Or alternatively: The one in which Q gets sick, Bond takes care of him, and the truth comes out.)
Author's Note: So I haven't written anything in a long while, but Skyfall has been on my mind and I couldn't resist. Cross-posted from archiveofourown. Not Brit-picked, so let me know if you find any glaring errors. Also, a big thanks to Bwans for taking a look at this for me before I posted.
Title taken from Aerosmith's "Lay it Down"
Q should have seen it coming, but then again, hindsight is always 20/20.
The ache had been in his chest for several days. It was nothing serious, just a weight that rested heavily on his sternum that sometimes made breathing a bit more of a chore than usual. He did not think much of it, attributing it to the cold rains of winter and the to-the-bone chill that pervaded MI6's underground headquarters. Bond thought more of it than he did, that much was certain. One morning, Q woke to find the double-oh watching him, looking for all the world as if he had not slept the entire night. The dark circles under his eyes were deep. They had not been there the night prior, when Bond had returned from his mission to playfully corner him in the shower and shag him senseless. Q wondered if he had nightmares, but didn't dare ask.
"Couldn't sleep?" Q asked, turning in Bond's arm to squint at the clock. When he couldn't make out the numbers properly, Q reached out and grabbed the device, bringing it closer. 6:41am. He shoved it back onto the nightstand before burrowing further into his pillow. He could sleep for another hour. The arm around his waist pulled him closer, until the other man was a line of warmth against his back.
"You're not breathing right," came Bond's answer against his shoulder, his two day old stubble prickly even through Q's pyjama fabric. "And your body temperature is wrong." His warm breath came heavy with disapproving accusation, as if it were Q's fault entirely.
Q felt unsure if he should be annoyed or flattered at these observations. It had only been a few months since they started...whatever it was they had. Bond still left for weeks at a time and still had sex with beautiful women while on missions, but whenever he returned to London, he would inevitably end up in Q's flat, in his bed, in no matter what condition the field had left him. The Quartermaster truly did not mind the company, though he never said anything of the sort out loud, and had even allowed for Bond to keep a few changes of clothes on one side of the wardrobe. It was more for convenience than anything else, or at least that was how Q justified it. Bond seemed just suited with the arrangement, about which they almost never spoke. They did not truly have to, after all, because their personal relations were separate from MI6 and they acted with the same amount of semi-professionalism as they always had.
So nothing had truly changed, except for the shagging, which was excellent, by the way. And that's all it was: shagging. There were no strings attached, none of the complications normal entanglements had. They were adults who had reached a mutually beneficial understanding about what sort of relationship they wanted. It was simple and physical and nothing more. Or that was how it was supposed to be. Maybe it started to become something more without them realising it. There were the sort-of small things, like the shared wardrobe and Q keeping Bond's preferred brand of coffee in his flat and the extra toothbrush near the sink in the bathroom. There were also the middle-of-the-way things, like when Bond would cook breakfast in the mornings and they would watch telly before Q went to work. Then there were the not-so-small things, like when Bond would come over some nights and slip into bed with him, just to hold onto him as if Q were the only thing keeping him in the world. Q did not mind these things; in fact, he liked them a bit too much. But it was a problem when Bond was away, because it was much harder to go to bed by himself and wake up alone, surrounded by small reminders of Bond's presence in his life. It all but shouted that Q was getting attached when he was not supposed to. Yet, he liked it and that scared him more than he wanted to admit. And maybe he was not the only one getting too close: Bond knew which side of the bed he preferred and how he took his tea and where exactly Q needed a massage after a long day hunched over a keyboard. And apparently, Bond had also memorised Q's breathing patterns and normal body temperature, immediately aware of any fluctuations or deviations in either. It brought Q back to wondering if he should be annoyed or flattered, but he could not decide.
"Q," Bond said, in a way that indicated he had called to him several times beforehand. He must have dozed off without noticing. Q had not even realised his eyes had closed. He struggled to open them again.
"Hmm," was Q's reply. He had a feeling he had been thinking for a while, but the clock stood too far away for him to check the time again. Outside, it was still dark. He could hear rain against the windows. His chest felt heavy. He closed his eyes again.
"You should go to Medical," said Bond.
"You should go to Medical," Q mumbled childishly into his pillow. He did not have to have his eyes open or be facing Bond to know that the other man wore a smirk at his half-hearted retort.
"You're lacking your usual rapier wit," Bond said, sliding his hand under Q's shirt. His fingers brushed over his skin like cool water. Q shivered despite himself, feeling suddenly chilly.
"It's early," Q grumbled, pulling at the duvet in hopes of gaining more warmth. Bond's fingers pressed gently into his side.
"You're coming down with something."
He sounded...concerned? Q had just enough awareness to hear something like it straining in his voice, clinging onto the consonants. Did Q sound like that when Bond was out on a mission, about to do something stupid that might prevent him from coming home?
"I'm fine." He turned around in Bond's arm again, putting the clock and the window and the rain to his back. He did not want to think about their rules and how they were breaking them, because he liked having Bond's things in the wardrobe and the coffee in the kitchen and the toothbrush in the bathroom. And because he liked when Bond made breakfast and when they would watch the news in the mornings. And because he especially liked when Bond would come to bed and hold onto him like he was the only thing that mattered. It was selfish, he knew, but Q liked it. He would take all that he could while he could, their agreement be damned.
Q tucked his head under Bond's chin; he knew how much Bond liked when he did that. The other man slid a hand up his back and threaded his fingers gently through the hair at the base of Q's scalp. If Q could have purred, he would have. Instead, he nuzzled at Bond's throat, lips brushing over his warm skin. "It's nothing... It's just the weather."
Bond did not say anything, but Q knew that did not mean he believed him. Regardless, his silence and the rain and the fingers in his hair put Q right back to sleep.
That afternoon, Bond was informed that he would be shipped out to Spain.
Even though he had just returned from a two week-long mission in Syria and had earned a small reprieve, M had wanted him back out in the field. And Bond was not one to say no to taking down a major player of a long-standing terrorist organisation, especially when Mallory had assigned the mission personally. At least it meant that he did not think Bond ready to be put to pasture just yet.
Folder in hand, Bond took the lift down to Q Division to be kitted. When he arrived, he found the main area to be filled with only a handful of employees, who barely glanced up at him when he arrived. Q was neither at the main workstation nor, upon further investigation, in his corner office. It left Bond with no other place to look except R&D. Double-Ohs were rarely seen in Q Division except to pick up their weapons and whatever other gadgets were assigned to them based upon their mission. It was even rarer to find them in R&D, where said weapons and gadgets were designed and tested before they were issued into the field. Most people wore lab coats in this area and depending on how far back one went, facial masks and latex gloves. Q once told him that he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of biochemical research labs in the depths of MI6. But the way he said made Bond wonder if he should be fearful of what R&D could cook up down here.
He had just passed a glass room of boffins working on what appeared to be some sort of high-tech rocket launcher, when he spotted Q in the corridor up ahead. He had just turned the corner with researcher in a white coat. She spoke quickly, but succinctly, while Q typed things out on the tablet in his hand. When she caught sight of Bond, she promptly stopped and quieted, causing Q to pause in his stride and look up. His gaze moved from her to settle on Bond. If possible, he looked worse than when he had left the flat that morning; there was absolutely no colour to him at all. It took all his training to school his features to not look as concerned as he felt.
"007," he said, by way of greeting.
"Q," Bond replied. He held up the folder and Q gave an almost imperceptible nod before turning back to the researcher.
"You have my authorization to continue with Project Mondal," Q said, tapping a few things on the screen of his tablet. "But please stay within budget this time. The Eiago fiasco nearly bankrupted us for the year." She had the decency to look a little cowed as she pulled her own computer from under her arm and began taking notes.
"And Project Cardwell?" she asked hesitantly, after a moment of typing.
"Get me more data on its precision and efficiency. If it exceeds the standards set by Boothroyd, I will revisit your proposal in a few weeks," Q replied.
"Yes, sir," she said, her voice giving away her disappointment more than her expression.
"Impress me and you'll get all the funding you need," Q said, and her eyebrows went up to her hairline. "I want at least five of those for the Double-Oh Programme." He looked over at Bond and then went back to his tablet. "Perhaps double that number. 007 never brings anything back in one piece."
"Occupational hazard," Bond replied. He saw Q fighting a smile.
"Anything else, Miss Hersland?" he asked.
"Nothing else, sir," she said, closing the cover of her tablet. "Thank you." And with that, she turned and disappeared the way they had come. Q waited until she was out of sight before he let out a sigh and pinched at the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. Bond had seen the gesture a few times, mostly after he had brought back broken equipment, but this one seemed a bit more exhausted than usual. It made Bond want to close the distance between them, maybe rub at Q's shoulders like he knew the other man enjoyed so much. But they were at work and they had agreed on propriety, so Bond did not act on this impulse.
"So am I getting new toys soon?" Bond asked instead, grinning at Q.
"Absolutely not," Q said, dropping his hand from his face. He already looked spent and the day had not even begun, but Bond could tell he made an effort to smile a bit anyway. It was Bond's favourite: the little one that pulled at his lips when he was amused. "You're not getting anywhere near new equipment until you bring something back that isn't broken beyond repair. Anything, 007. Even the bloody earpiece at this point would be an improvement."
For the onlookers, they engaged in their usual bout of banter about equipment and the perils of fieldwork as they left R&D in the direction of Q's office. Once they were inside, Bond closed the door behind them. He hit the second light switch on the wall, which turned the only window in the office dark. They could still see down into the bullpen, but no one could see them. Bond liked the privacy.
"Don't even think about it," Q said. He kept his back to Bond as he put down his tablet to sift through some folders on his desk.
"Think about what?" Bond asked, smiling as he dropped his own folder onto the nearest chair and moved closer to Q. He rested his palms on Q's shoulders and began rubbing his thumbs in gentle circles along his upper spine. Almost immediately, Q stopped what he was doing and relaxed under his hands. A small, pleased sound escaped him, and Bond did not know whether to classify it as arousing or adorable. Perhaps a bit of both. "I wasn't thinking about anything but this. What were you thinking about?" He moved to Q's shoulder blades, massaging with more than just his thumbs now. Q's head dropped forward and he made that sound again. Bond did not have to see his face to know that his eyes were closed in enjoyment. "Well?"
"Nothing at all..." Q sighed out, some of the tension leaving his body as Bond worked out a particularly nasty knot in his right shoulder. "Which is what I'll be able to accomplish for the rest of the day if you keep doing this."
"Good. Go home. Call it a day," Bond said, sliding his hands down Q's back and then around his front, pulling the other man to his chest. He felt smaller than usual in Bond's arms. A few more meals and a lot less tea would do him a world of good. But Bond didn't press it, because he knew by now that doing so would only make Q resist. Instead, he buried his nose in Q's soft, unruly hair. He smelled like that morning's heavy rain. "You need some sleep."
"I slept perfectly well," Q replied, leaning his head back to rest on Bond's shoulder. "You're the one who needs the rest. You're off to Spain on barely, if any, sleep. God only knows what sort of destruction you'll cause."
"I'll keep it within reason," Bond answered. He saw the corner of Q's mouth twitch in a smile.
"Liar," Q said.
"I'll try to keep it within reason," Bond amended, moving his hand to let his fingers creep up under the hem of Q's cardigan.
"You're lucky you're handsome," Q replied, but swatted at Bond's hand anyway as he moved away from him. He took up one of the folders on his desk and removed an envelope from inside, which he then gave over to Bond. "Your passport and boarding passes."
"First class?" Bond asked, not opening it.
"You'll be in coach, with the rest of the peasants," Q said, but he smiled in a way that indicated otherwise. Bond smirked. Q always arranged for Bond to fly first class, even if the mission did not require that sort of cover, and since his methods were most likely not MI6 sanctioned (or legal), Bond enjoyed the special treatment and kept his mouth shut.
"So does this mean I'm your favourite?" Bond asked, closing the space between them. Q moved back a bit onto his desk, but did not push Bond away when he moved his hands up his thighs.
"I don't play favourites," Q said. His expression remained neutral even as Bond's palms moved higher.
"Really?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. He clutched at Q's narrow hips with the tips of his fingers as he leaned forward. Almost simultaneously, Q tilted his head back, exposing more of his pale throat. It was a blatant challenge. Bond loved Q's neck, but knew he could not leave marks, which was half the fun.
"It would be unprofessional to have favourites," Q replied, looking down at Bond beneath his lashes. He was tempting and he knew it. If it were not for a pressing flight and the fact that Q looked so tired, Bond might have pushed him down on the desk and had his way with him. Twice.
"Thankfully we're both professionals here," Bond said, unable to resist just a few more moments of indulgence. His fingers loosened Q's tie with an expert tug, then made quick work of the top two buttons. Then Bond brought his lips to that place just under Q's jaw that he liked the most, breathing in the scent of Q's aftershave and heated skin as he pressed open mouthed kisses there.
"Thankfully," Q repeated; his subsequent breath hitched when Bond scraped his teeth over his Adam's apple. The sound went right to Bond's cock. Self-control be damned. He coaxed Q to lie back on the desk, taking full advantage of that position to begin deftly unbuttoning his dreadful cardigan. He kissed at Q's throat again, letting his lips linger over the pulse there. Then he swept his tongue over that point, leaving a wet stripe upon hot skin. Q's hands came up to grip at his shoulders, but still, he did not push Bond away. "You are a very bad man," Q murmured, voice low, as Bond finished the last button and then proceeded to pull up the shirt he had tucked into his trousers.
"I never claimed to be a good one," Bond replied, devil-may-care smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth, which he promptly put back to work, kissing down the column of Q's bared throat. He could not resist biting at Q's collarbone. Fingers gripped at Bond's short hair in a silent reprimand, but the way Q's body arched against Bond's mouth encouraged him to continue. A moment later, he had a nice, raised mark on Q's right clavicle. "You're not a saint either," Bond said, licking at the bruise, which made Q tremble under him. Knowing that Q would have it for some of the duration of Bond's deployment gave him a feeling of deep-seated satisfaction. Q would see the mark every day upon dressing and undressing and think of him. And though it could be hidden easily under his shirt, if anyone saw it, they would know Q belonged to someone. The thought was nothing short of intoxicating.
"Never claimed to be one," Q answered, shifting his left leg beneath Bond. It brushed against Bond in just the right place and in just the right way to create a deliciously electrifying burst of pleasure.
"Good. I wouldn't want you any other way," Bond said, biting again at Q's clavicle as his hands slid up under the Oxford determinedly. Beneath him, Q's body responded immediately and Bond began to think that it would be well worth it to catch a later flight, but then he took pause. He stopped halfway along Q's abdomen, fingers splayed over raised protrusions of his ribs. The skin under his palms burned a degree too high to be pleasurable. It was much like the night prior, when Bond had awoken after only an hour of sleep to Q's overheated body pressed against his. Concern crushed his arousal faster than if someone had overturned a bucket of ice water over his head.
Q had propped himself up on his elbows to look at Bond questioningly. Although normally he would like Q in such a debauched state-pupils wide, shirt half-open, a love bite darkening on his collarbone-Bond could now only see the indications of illness clinging to him. It chased away all want to bed Q, replaced by an overwhelmingly desperate need to care for him. That want should have terrified Bond: reminded him of the feelings he had harbored for Vesper and the despair over her death. But with Q, it strangely did not feel as unsettling as he thought. It came easy and felt right, more so than with anyone else in the past, and Bond found himself willingly sinking into it rather than pulling away.
When he entered into this thing with Q, they had agreed: it would be purely physical. Most of the time, that meant sex, but some of the time, it just meant a warm body to lay next to at night. Regardless, it did not mean getting entangled past a certain point, and Bond was already far past that. He knew it weeks ago, when he had stopped slipping out of bed during the early hours of the morning to return to his flat, all so that he could wake up and spend quiet mornings with a sleep-tousled Q under his arm. He knew it when he found that he enjoyed making breakfast for two instead of one and felt the satisfaction of making sure Q had at least one square meal in him a day. He knew it when he would wake in a strange hotel room half-way around the world and wish that Q was there beside him. He knew all of these things, and yet, they did not frighten him. In fact, Bond enjoyed them more than he would ever say.
"James?" Q said again, palm sliding up along Bond's arm. His touch brought Bond back to himself.
"You're warm," Bond said. He still had not moved his hands from Q's middle, where the flesh felt nothing short of feverish.
"That is usually what happens when the body is stimulated," Q replied. An amused smile danced on his lips. It faltered when Bond retracted his hands and began to pull Q's shirt back into place. Q sat up a little more, preventing Bond from tucking the tails into his trousers. "You're really going to pass up the opportunity to shag me on my own desk?" Q asked incredulously. "Who are you and what have you done with James Bond?"
"You have a fever," Bond said by way of explanation. Although shagging Q on his desk was high up on his list of fantasies, he would not allow himself to act on his desires while Q was ill.
"This again?" Q asked with a weary-sounding sigh. He pushed himself up all the way to sit up straight, swatting Bond's hands away from him again. "It's nothing to worry about. I told you. It's just the weather. I'm fine." Bond watched as Q did up the buttons of his shirt, hiding the mark from view, and then tied his tie back into place. He wanted to do it, but knew that Q would not let him. Although he was not angry-not yet-Bond could detect an emotion in Q's stiff motions that fell somewhere between irritation and embarrassment. "Now, if I'm not mistaken, you do have a plane to catch."
He obviously did not want to talk any more about it, but Bond was not one to stop beating a dead horse.
"Q," he began, but the other man silenced him with a single look as he slid off the edge of the desk to stand. Q was almost tall enough to be at eye level with him. Behind the lenses of his glasses, his green eyes shone fever-bright. Bond wanted to lay him down on the couch nestled in the far corner of the office and hold him until he fell asleep. Instead, he brought both hands up to rest on Q's narrow shoulders, then upwards a bit more, so that his palms rested on either side of Q's neck. His fingers tangled into dark hair as they moved to cradle the back of Q's skull. The tension eased from Q's body in the hold, his eyelashes fluttering as his lids closed. The pulse in his neck beat calmly with no trace of fear or apprehension. It was at odds with how normal people would react when a double-oh had their hands practically wrapped around their throat. But Q was not a normal person and Bond could have kissed him senseless for it if it were not for the pressing situation. "I'm just... worried about you."
The tension returned to Q's body before he even opened his eyes. Bond felt the sharp jump in his pulse against his palm.
"Stop," Q said firmly, but made no move to try and release himself from Bond's hold. He glared levelly at Bond, who returned his stare without flinching. "Stop all of this, James. We agreed."
"On not doing this."
"You know what."
Bond did, but wanted him to say it. Q pointedly turned his eyes away, his gaze focused and unseeing at Bond's right shoulder.
"Getting emotionally attached," Q said finally. "You don't want it." He paused a bit too long before he added: "I don't want it." His next breath came sharply, as if it hurt. Maybe it did. "We agreed."
"We did," Bond replied, moving his thumbs to gently sweep along the underside of Q's jaw, then chin. If Bond knew anything after their few months together, it was that Q was a very responsive lover. The subtle pressure against his skin served as all the encouragement Q needed to tilt his head back to look up at Bond again. "But this isn't breaking any of the rules."
Q gave him a dubious look that almost made Bond laugh, but he held it back.
"We aren't," Bond said. "I'm not asking you to be exclusive. We're not dating and we're certainly not going to get married and move out to the countryside together after we retire." Q made a disgusted face at the mention of such hateful things as marriage and the countryside. Bond actually did chuckle, conjuring a mental image of Q roaming along a desolate Scottish moor with his laptop in an attempt to find a decent wireless network. "Neither of us is looking for something that serious. You're busy running the department and I'm-"
"Too busy breaking all my equipment and constantly creating paperwork for me?" Q finished for him. Bond fought a cocky grin and opted instead for a charming smile.
"All because I care about you?" Bond said unconvincingly.
"Mmhmm," was Q's noncommittal response.
"Anyway...what I'm saying is, there's nothing in our agreement that says I can't be concerned about your health," Bond said. Q closed his eyes as he let out a long-suffering sigh. "You worry about me all the time," Bond pointed out, before Q could think of something else to say.
"Yes, but that's my job," Q replied.
"Just your job?" Bond asked, raising an eyebrow. Q cracked open one eye to regard him.
"If you weren't so reckless, it wouldn't have to be my job," Q said, and there was a trace of a smile in his voice.
"You're just grumpy because you're sick," Bond said, only to be met with the full force of Q's glare.
"I'm not grumpy," Q growled, offended.
"Ah, but you admit that you're sick, then."
"James Bond, so help me, I will send you into the field with only thumbtacks and a yo-yo."
Q's sore look was nothing short of adorable. James laughed in a good-natured manner and kissed his brow.
"Fine, don't admit anything," Bond said, pulling back to look at Q seriously. "But promise me that, if you don't go to Medical, you'll at least take it easy." Q regarded him for a moment before crossing his arms over his chest.
"I'll do my best," he replied. It was not a yes or a no, but it was the best answer Bond would get for now. He pulled Q into his arms and held him against his chest for a moment. At first, Bond thought he might hesitate, but Q's arms came round him almost immediately. Despite what people might think of Q, he craved touch as much as the next person, perhaps even more. When offered, Q accepted as though starved for it, which, in a way, he had been. Although Bond had been back for two days, because of his debriefing and Q's work schedule, they had only gotten about twenty hours together after being separated for over a fortnight. Half of that time had been spent physically engaged, their hungry desperation fueled by a basic need for reassurance and release; the other half they spent sleeping. Now, feeling Q against him, thinner than before Bond had left and warm with fever, instantly filled him with regret. He should have noticed earlier, should have taken care of him, made him rest. But there was no time for that, now that Bond had only a few minutes before he had to walk out the door again. He fought down the overwhelming desire to stay. Work came first, they both knew that, both agreed, but that did not make it any easier to leave.
"Good," Bond said eventually, once he could speak without giving away his thoughts. "I'll be back in a few days."
"If you ever leave," Q said, poking him in the side playfully.
"Are you kicking me out?" Bond asked, releasing Q with an expression of mock hurt.
"Absolutely," Q said, pulling back from Bond. He picked up the discarded folders with Bond's mission assignment and papers, holding it out to him with nothing short of the highest professionalism. "You'll need these."
"My Walther?" Bond asked, taking the folders. "And earpiece?"
"Thumbtacks and a yo-yo, remember?" Q replied, and Bond considered calling him out for being cheeky, but did not, and grinned boyishly instead. Q rolled his eyes, stoicism depleted, and pulled open his desk drawer to retrieve a gun case, which he then passed over to Bond. He did not ask that it be returned in one piece.
"Where's my usual lecture to play nice with my toys?" Bond asked.
"Why should I even bother? You don't listen anyway," Q said, coming forward to straighten Bond's tie and the top button of his jacket. Even though the words came out scolding, it was with nothing but affection.
"You wound me. I always listen to my Quartermaster," Bond replied.
"That will be quite a day," Q said, stepping back from Bond to see him off in a much more formal manner. They almost never embraced or kissed farewell; that was for the privacy of their own bedroom, not the office. That was another part of their agreement, but a much more silent one: that they would never have that kind of goodbye. In their line of work, it just did not bode well. "Report at 2200 CET."
"It's a date," Bond said with a wink, as he made his way out the door.
"Try not to die, 007," Q called after him.
After Bond left, Q did not have much time to think about their conversation and its possible repercussions. Immediately, he met with Tanner for their hastily scheduled meeting they had agreed to earlier that morning. Eve joined them and took very professional notes the entire time, not saying a word until the very end of their hour-long session, when she stopped to ask Q if he was feeling well.
"You're looking peaky," she said, after Tanner was out the door.
"I'm alright," Q assured her. She had become a sort of friend after Skyfall, and even more so in the past few months. In an organisation made up of spies, Q found her to be one of the most trustworthy...and the most observant. She knew about Q and Bond perhaps even before they did.
"If it's Bond, I can hurt him for you," Eve offered. "These are not just for walking, if you know what I mean." She gestured at the severe points of her heels and Q could not tell right away if it was in jest or in complete seriousness.
"As lovely as that mental image is, I assure you, I'm fine," Q said, and he managed to smile at her. "I'm just a bit tired."
"Bond keeping you up at night?" she asked, and her smile turned sly. Q prided himself on absolutely not blushing.
"Something like that," he mumbled, rubbing at his shoulder where Bond's mark ached pleasantly when he pressed his thumb against it.
"Lunch?" she asked, and Q checked his watch. He had only about thirty minutes before his next appointment and Eve's lunchtime excursions were never short affairs.
"Already ate," he lied, making for the door. "Rain check?"
"Absolutely," Eve said. "Take care of yourself, Q."
He nodded and retreated from the room, heading downstairs. On his way to the canteen to grab something small and fast for lunch, he received an email that indicated his next meeting had been rescheduled to start in five minutes. Q turned right back around and took the lift up to the floor he had been on previously and entered the appropriate conference room. The budgetary meeting lasted far too long and was then followed by two back-to-back official research proposals with the R&D board that stretched into the early evening. The only moment he had to think about Bond was when his mobile pinged with an automated alert that confirmed his flight to Valencia had arrived seven minutes late, but safely. After the proposals, Q met with one of his senior staff members to discuss the benefits of utilizing a new algorithm for improving the GIS they used primarily for the Double-Oh Programme and other forms of monitoring international activity for national security. Although Q could usually talk backwards and forwards about computational geometry, he found himself struggling slightly to keep up a fluid conversation. He blamed it on the headache that had been sitting behind his right eye since the budgetary meeting.
By the time he made it back to his office, it was 1730 and the day staff in Q Division were packing up their things to go home while the smaller night shift shuffled in. Q then proceeded to take two too many Panadol for his headache, choking them down with the last dregs of his cold and terribly bitter Earl Grey. The aftertaste made him cough, which hurt both his head and chest more than he wanted to admit. He cursed his weak lungs; this always happened when the weather turned colder. Bond had been right about his coming down with something, but damn if Q would say it aloud. It made him take pause. For the first time in several hours, Q thought about Bond for more than just a fleeting second. It hit him suddenly: they had engaged a semi-serious conversation about That Thing Which They Never Talked About. Q realised then that he had brought up the one thing he had not wanted to bring up, which was the complicated bit as to what fell within and outside of their arrangement. He felt like a hypocrite, accusing Bond of being overly attached. If anything, Q was the one violating their agreement. He selfishly enjoyed being the only one Bond returned home to, for more than just sex, after every mission. He liked being the person who knew just how hot and sweet Bond took his coffee in the mornings, just as much as he liked knowing what brand of toothpaste he preferred. He liked the arm around him at night and the still-warm sheets in the morning and the way Bond would sometimes kiss his eyelids very softly when trying to encourage Q to fall asleep. He liked all of these things that should have terrified him, did terrify him on some level. After all, Q did not do commitment, and neither did Bond. That was the whole point. But, for a moment, Q found himself traitorously thinking it might not be so bad...
A voice cut through his thoughts, giving Q a start. He did not think he had zoned out quite so badly, but his computer monitors sat dark in front of him in hibernation. His watch said it was nearly 1800. A hesitant night-shifter stood in the half-open doorway to his office. He carried with him a stack of folders nearly up to his chin. Q could not remember his name, but knew that he was quite skilled in numerical analysis, which was all Q truly needed to know.
"I take it those are for me," Q said, not asked, as he took in the impressive girth of the files with an expression of long-practiced indifference. Internally, he was screaming. When would MI6 learn the value of doing things electronically? He already had enough clutter to deal with concerning current projects, let alone the backlog of paperwork that needed official read-through and sign-off for auditory purposes. On the last batch, M had already told him he could not get away with having someone stamp the sheets for him, and even requested that Q make a database with all the old information to then sync with the new spreadsheets Q Division analysts had created. As if Q did not have enough to do, M wanted to add mind-numbing data entry to his never-ending list of responsibilities. The headache flared up with new force as he asked the man to put them down on the corner of his desk. After he left, Q leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his eyes, taking particular care with the right that had been aching all day. Although his job had its perks, this was not one of them. Q considered going behind M's back to steal an intern from HR or something to work on the backlog. But one glance at the letter enclosed at the top of the stack and Q found himself grumbling: only someone with the highest security clearance could look through them. Level One also meant they could not leave the premises, so he would be unable to work on them at home. On top of that, he had until the end of the week to finish everything.
He would need a lot more tea.
Choosing to do that first, Q left his desk and took up his cup. He went down to the break room nestled between Technical Services and R&D. There, he waited what seemed like an obscenely long time for water to boil before finally stealing back to his office with a hot cuppa. Once seated at his desk, Q did not have time to enjoy anything but the first sip, already launching into his next task. Bond would be calling at 2200 CET which meant 2100 London time, giving Q only a few hours to work on the raw intel he had been virtually gathering all day using a new sweeper program.
Their target was Alesander Velasco, a Basque national who left Spain for France six years prior to marry a French national. He held dual citizenship in both countries and worked for an import-export firm in Paris. He spoke five languages, held a degree from Paris-Sorbonne University, and owned two Bichon Frise purebreds. On paper, Velasco appeared as clean and successful as they came. But in reality, he was a high-ranking member of the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna terrorist organization, which had been violently fighting for Basque independence since the late 1960s. The ETA engaged in everything from arms trafficking to extortion and had routinely bombed populated areas in the Basque country as well as Spain's capital, Madrid. They were responsible for over 800 deaths, approximately 350 of which were civilian casualties, and declared a terrorist organization by Great Britain, America, and most members of the European Union. Although the ETA had called a ceasefire in 2010 and had adhered to it so far, Velasco and other radical members of the Nationalist Left did not seem to want to lay down their arms without guarantee of independence. Spain was not helping the matter, its government officials still weighing the heavy options of granting independence versus reigniting the terrorist attacks on their most populous autonomous communities. Velasco was taking advantage of the situation and his high position in the import-export business allowed him to move virtually whatever he wanted from anywhere to the Basque Country. He did not want a ceasefire; he wanted a war. And there were plenty of people interested in following him.
Which is why Bond was there to put an end to things before they escalated.
Spain had been rid of the ETA's random bombings and other acts of terrorism for almost two years. The country agreed to full cooperation with Great Britain to prevent further turmoil, allowing MI6 legal access to its security feeds. It had taken one month to identify Velasco as the lynchpin and then another to document his schedule and acquire a list of known associates. Surveillance indicated his return to Spain, but he had deviated from his normal stopovers in Bilbao and Barcelona and opted instead for Valencia. Q had not been able to figure out why just yet, but he had a few ideas, everything from simple presumptions such as port access to the possibility that Velasco was looking to do business with other nationalist terrorist groups from Northern Africa.
Rubbing at his aching head, Q pulled up the video feed for the past thirty-six hours at the Westin Valencia, where Velasco had checked in with his wife (trailed by four conspicuous body guards) for a five day stay two nights before. Q had already manually gone through the first 12 hours and found nothing of significance. Further investigation showed Velasco rarely left the hotel. He ordered room service or ate at the hotel restaurant. He drank only the most expensive wine at the hotel's many bars. The majority of his days were spent poolside with his wife. The longest Velasco had been away from the Westin was for a three hour boat tour and scuba diving excursion along the coast. Q had live video, photographs, and receipts to prove it. It seemed that Velasco was just on vacation, but Q knew that was not the case. There had to be a reason for it, and he would find out. He hacked into the Westin's computer system easily and looked up credit card transactions, incoming and outgoing mail, messages, phone calls, the laundry service, rental car information, and all dining reservations and other appointments. He left the figures and dates up on one monitor before going back to the CCTV footage on the other.
He took pause for only a moment to have a sip of now-cold tea before returning to the video. Going back to about 1600, Q monitored the front entrance camera to watch Bond enter the hotel. It was with a twinge of jealousy that Q noticed several women turn their heads to look at him, and he returned their interest with a small, yet seductive smile. As someone who had been on the receiving end of that same smile, Q knew just what it could do to the knees. He bitterly choked down the rest of his tea to not think about it. They were not exclusive; Bond could do whatever he wanted.
Which is why he felt a bit of heat creep into his face when, after checking in and getting into the elevator, Bond turned his head slightly to look at the overhead security camera and winked, as if knowing Q would be watching.
"You will be the death of me," Q muttered to himself, looking away from the screen. He slid on his Bluetooth headset and picked up his Scrabble mug, intent on getting another cup of tea. The break room was mercifully empty, allowing no one to judge just how much sugar Q dumped in his cup. He felt nothing but regret at having hacked his personal electric kettle for parts, forcing him to utilize the one in the break room more often than he would have liked. On his never-ending mental list of things to do, Q added buy a new kettle.
On the way back to his office, Q fell prey to an ambush by two techs, who were in need of his signature and verbal authorization to switch over to evening protocol. The new M was proving to be a stickler for following all audit processes, which only served to increase Q's work tenfold. Right as Q started to imagine ways to implement some creative form of revenge that would not get him sacked or thrown in gaol, his headset beeped, indicating an incoming call.
"This is Q," he said, before taking a sip of his tea.
"Hello, darling, how are you?"
Bond's charming voice came through as a purr in his right ear. Q was very proud of himself for not spitting his tea back into his cup.
"It's been absolutely wonderful having you gone, dear. You won't believe the amount of work I actually accomplished today," Q replied, glad he was not within earshot of his staff so that he did not have to fear sending someone into a conniption at his words.
"I miss you, too," Bond said, and then sighed a bit dramatically. "But you know how it is with work."
"Oh, yes, you do have it so rough. How was your first-class flight? And the newest model Audi that I had waiting for you at the rental car pickup?" Q asked, stepping into his office and around the corner of his cluttered desk. "You better not have put a scratch on it or it'll come out of your paycheque."
"I'll do my best to be home in a few days," Bond said, ignoring his warnings. "And how are the children?"
"Oh, so I'm the stay-at-home wife?" Q asked, waking his computers from hibernation. "What if I want to feel fulfilled and take a job?" He took another sip of his tea as he searched the hotel for his agent. It took only one guess and two different cameras before he found the right angle. Bond sat at the bar with his Bluetooth headset and a tumbler of whiskey. He looked like all the other travelling businessmen in the place. Two empty seats down from him, Velasco sat alone. When Q went back about ten minutes, he noted that Velasco had been with his wife, who appeared disinterested in talking with him. Right about the time Bond made his phone call was when she left the bar.
"When is Gertrude's recital?" Bond inquired.
"Gertrude is a terrible name for a girl," Q replied, switching one feed to watch the footage of Velasco's wife. She went into the suite. The alert that Q had put down in the hotel's computer for Velasco's room lit up when she phoned for room service.
"Tell her I'll be there," Bond said.
"What an excellent father," Q replied, using the cameras to sweep for the four faces he had identified as Velasco's bodyguards. Only two were in the bar with him, at the far end, pretending to watch a football game.
"How was Elijah's rugby practice?" Bond asked.
"You would make your male progeny engage in some sort of violent sport, wouldn't you?" Q inquired. "What if he wanted to be a theatre actor?" Velasco started typing angrily on his phone. Q used that opportunity and his link to Bond's connected mobile to intercept a copy of his SMS message, which he translated from Spanish. It said: 130 at the pool. Be discreet.
"I'll talk to him when I get home," Bond said.
"See that you do. He most certainly gets his stubbornness from you," Q replied. Velasco finished his drink and paid his tab. As he left, his two henchmen stood up and left as well. Q monitored the cameras, following him through the hallways until he came into the lounge reserved for the highest paying guests. There were no hotel cameras inside and Q frowned for a moment, but then managed to get a grainy picture from another CCTV inside, most likely as security in case of any incident. Q noted that Velasco went in and sat alone; his bodyguards took seats in a lounge area just outside the main doors.
"Like I said, dear, a few more days, then I'll be home," Bond said, waving the bartender over to settle his bill.
"So not only am I the stay-at-home wife, I'm a nag, too?" Q asked, searching the hotel for the remaining two bodyguards.
"You're not a nag," said Bond. Even with the lower-quality cameras, Q saw the bartender give Bond a sympathetic sort of look. Q shook his head and remained silent, drinking his rapidly cooling tea as he watched Bond get up from the bar and make his way towards the lifts. "Darling, I've got to run. I'll ring you in the morning," Bond said, just as he made the motion of ringing off in the monitor. The connection, however, had not been severed. Q took the opportunity to fill Bond in on the data surveillance provided, giving his agent integral hotel room numbers, dates, names, and times. He told him exactly where Velasco and his wife were at that moment, as well as what he had on the two bodyguards. It was nice to not have him interrupt.
"Connect from your laptop in the room; you'll be able to find all of this on the secure server," Q told him, watching as Bond exited the lift and walked down a long, carpeted hallway to his room. Once Bond was inside, he did not immediately begin talking. Q could hear rustling on the other end, indicating Bond had begun his search for bugs. There had been no activity in Bond's room all day, not even a maid, but it was good to check anyway. "I'm going to trace the number Velasco messaged," Q informed Bond.
Five minutes later, he spoke.
"Anything?" he asked.
"It's a burner phone," Q replied, typing out a string of coded commands. "Based on what I can get off the towers, I've narrowed it down to someone in a two kilometre range."
"That's not very helpful," Bond said.
"Yes, I'm aware," Q replied.
"What was the message?" Bond asked, and Q told him. The agent sighed. "So much for an early night."
"You? Have an early night? Excuse me, I think I'm going to have a fit," Q said dryly, and Bond chuckled on the other end of the comm.
"Long day," Bond said.
"Oh? And what, pray tell, did you do today?"
"Drove the Audi around for a bit. Went for a swim in the pool. Had a few drinks at the bar..."
"Sometimes I envy your job."
A soft thump came from the other end of the line. It sounded as if Bond just fell back onto the bed. At 400 quid a night, Q could only imagine what the mattress felt like. His body ached with jealousy.
"What have you been doing all day?" Bond asked. Q heard the sound of his laptop booting up.
"Much more work than you," Q said, and then added: "Don't put your laptop on the bed. It will overheat and I am not authorising you a new one."
"Tetchy," Bond said.
"You would be, too, if you were here. While you were out playing today, I've been drowning in a sea of paperwork. I can't even see my desk anymore. For God's sake, why can't everything just be done via email? It would only make life so much easier," Q ranted, and it was only after all the words came out that he realised he had been whinging. Bond must have noticed, but he did not say a word. Despite this, Q could almost hear him smirking on the other end of the line. "007, so help me if you find this entertaining."
"No, not at all," he said, and Q could tell he was lying. He grumbled to himself as he finished up the last bit of his tea. The undissolved sugar irritated his throat and Q coughed, wincing when it pulled from deep in his chest.
He muted his headset and coughed until he felt dizzy. The cough rattled his lungs, but at least it cleared up his throat. After that, it took him almost a full minute to recover and be able to draw breath without his entire body hurting. The cough was getting deeper, settling further down in his chest, wet and heavy. Q could not deny the fact that he was sick, but resolutely told himself that he would not let it interfere with work.
"Q?" Bond said again. Q wiped at the wet corners of his eyes before connecting back with him.
"Still with you," Q replied, pleased that his voice did not give out.
"You're alright?" Bond asked.
"Of course," Q said. "My tea was too hot." He pulled up the secure MI6 server and looked for Bond's computer. It was not registered. "Why haven't you logged in yet?"
"Too busy wondering if my Quartermaster was going to cough up a lung." Bond replied, and Q could detect that undercurrent of worry again. Q had to stop Bond before he veered off course. If he was distracted during the mission, that could be the difference between life and death. "Are you sure you're-"
"Please focus on the task at hand, 007," Q said, in a no-nonsense tone. "Login to the server." Bond did as he was asked and remained cooly professional as Q talked him through the last few things he would need to know about Velasco. It was not very much, but by the end of it, Q's voice felt hoarse. He blamed it on the coughing fit from earlier.
"Q," Bond said, after he had logged out of the mini-briefing report Q sent his way. "You weren't coughing when I left."
"I told you, it was the tea," Q replied, not wanting to have this conversation. It had gotten late and he still had a heap of paperwork to process. His headache started creeping back and Q wondered how many more Panadol he could take without permanently damaging something important.
"No it wasn't," Bond said.
"You sound so sure of yourself," Q replied, pulling up his email. 1209 unread messages waited for him, almost all labelled important. He suppressed a groan. At this rate, he would be there all night.
"I am," Bond said. "You've been sitting at your desk this entire time. I could hear you typing. Your tea would have gone cold by now. The only kettle is in the break room because you stripped the one in your office two weeks ago for parts. You told me about it when I was in Syria."
Q paused a beat too long before replying:
"I got a new one."
"No you didn't."
He closed his eyes and rubbed at them beneath his glasses. He debated on another lie, wondering if Bond would believe that one of the staff brought it up to him, but did not bother.
"Fine, I didn't," he said, leaning back in his chair.
"Go home," Bond told him firmly. "You've been there since nine this morning. You need rest."
"I'm fine," Q said sharply. It made his chest hurt. He winced and bit his lip at the pain, glad that Bond could not see him. "Really."
He swallowed, hating when Bond used his no-nonsense tone. It was low and dangerous, promising consequences that Q would not enjoy.
"Alright. I'll go home," Q said, folding to Bond's demands.
"And eat something," Bond told him, in the same voice. Q's stomach growled weakly. He had forgotten to eat almost all day. That morning's toast and egg breakfast seemed suddenly very, very far away.
"Okay," Q said, propping his elbows up on the edge of the desk. He put his forehead into his palms so that he did not have to look at the pile of work or the unanswered emails in his inbox. Selfishly, he wished Bond was there and standing at the door like he sometimes did, Q's coat in hand as a silent cue that it was time to go home. That meant a cab ride together where Q almost always took advantage of napping on Bond's shoulder. It was nice and warm and safe with Bond; it had become a place where he did not have to think about all of the pressures and responsibilities of his title. Feeling under the weather, Q wanted that now more than ever. He knew he must be sick when he did not feel any sort of repulsion at his desires.
"Q," Bond said. The silence must have stretched on too long. Q straightened in his chair.
"Report in tomorrow morning at 1100 CET," Q replied, as if the lull had not happened. "If you need any support, I have staff here."
"I doubt this will be difficult," Bond said, and Q could almost see his smile. It was the nice one that made his face look ten years younger. Q was one of the few people privy to it. "Go home and get some sleep."
"Okay," Q said again. "Good night."
"Good night," Bond said, and rang off.
Q sighed and leaned back in his office chair for a long time. Going home meant getting up and putting his coat on, walking all the way to the end of Q Division and then taking the lifts up, passing through security, walking a block to the tube, and then taking the tube for six stops, getting off and then walking another two blocks to his flat. From there is was five flights up and a long walk to the end of the corridor. The thought of the exercise made Q feel physically exhausted. He did not have the energy yet, and resolved to do a bit more work before attempting to go home. Maybe if he sat down long enough, he would feel a bit more inclined to stand up again.
He started with some of the emails, then got fed up with some of the requests and gave up, turning his attention instead to the stack of paperwork that had been living on his desk long before the new pile of folders. Q went through and signed off on some things, declined others, performed some impressive calculations to make a project fall within budget, and then placed them in their respective outgoing trays. He made a mental note to take them with him when he left so that they could be dropped in the delivery area, where one admin assistant or another would take care of making sure they got to where they needed to go. Then he went back to the emails for a bit, felt frustrated again, and moved to the new pile of paperwork. The first one almost made him flip his desk over. It was patently infuriating that he had to do all of this menial work... He then spent the next ten minutes coughing himself into a painful fit. The burn in his chest only added to the rage he felt at the entire audit procedure.
The phone rang as he flipped through pages upon pages of horribly hand-written notes that made him painfully cross-eyed. But it was like a trainwreck and he could not stop looking through it, despite the headache that made him feel as if his right eye were about to liquify in its socket. The phone rang again and Q picked it up on his Bluetooth automatically.
"This is Q," he said.
"Are you still at work?"
The moment Bond's voice came through his earpiece, Q cringed and looked at the clock. It was nearly two in the morning. He had only expected to stay an hour at the most, but time had gotten away from him.
"No... I have my work phone forwarded to my mobile..."
"I'm leaving now. You caught me walking out the door."
Even to Q's ears, it sounded like an outright lie.
"Whatever you're doing right now, put it down," Bond instructed. Helpless when Bond used his Navy Commander Voice, Q did as he was asked and closed the folder. There was only so much resistance he could manage against a double-oh after all. And he was very tired... "Now, turn off your computer, put on your coat, and clock out. Take a cab home."
"Fine..." Q said, logging out of his email, the server, and everything else. He powered the machine down with a sigh and stood up. When he stretched, his back made sounds that were probably not good for someone his age. "Oh, what about Velasco's poolside rendezvous?" Q asked.
"Prostitute," he said.
"Programmed in his phone?" Q asked, feeling as though under water when he walked around his desk and grabbed for his coat. His headache made him feel off-balance, so he leaned against the nearest filing cabinet to combat the dizziness. "And with his wife around?"
"People have done crazier things," Bond said.
"I suppose," Q agreed, pulling his arms into his jacket once the spell passed. He cared fuck all about the buttons, feeling the weight of exhaustion heavily on his shoulders from all the movement. "Is she worth investigation?"
"Who?" Bond asked.
"The call girl," Q said.
"It was a man," Bond replied, and Q paused only momentarily, not one to judge.
"Oh," he said, picking up his bag from the floor. "Is he worth investigation?" He shoved his phone and tablet computer inside and then latched it.
"No," Bond said. "Now, go home."
"Going..." Q replied tiredly, pulling his bag over his shoulder. "1100 CET tomorrow. Don't forget."
"Good night, Q," Bond said, with clear finality.
"Good night, 007," Q replied and rang off. He removed his headset and put it back onto the charger on his desk, then picked up the pile of paperwork to go out and shoved it under one arm. Afterwards, Q locked his office and bypassed the bullpen to drop off the paperwork in the appropriated area for such things. Without even bidding farewell to the evening crew, Q slipped out and made the long trek topside. At half past two in the morning when it was bitter cold and raining, it was hard to find a cab. Q managed to hail one down about a block from MI6, where taxis loitered near a cluster of pubs around closing time. Q hopped in one and, too tired to worry about his usual safety procedures to prevent being tailed, gave the driver his address. It took only twenty minutes before Q finally arrived home, where he dropped his bag, coat, and soaked umbrella onto the floor in the cluttered foyer. He had the presence of mind to lock his door and activate the alarm system before kicking off his shoes and stumbling the length of the hallway towards the bedroom, where he bodily fell into the mattress and into a deep sleep.