Summary: Post Skyfall. Avengers remix. Loki never fell off the Bifröst – he was put on Midgard with his powers bound. As a member of a counterintelligence agency, he tries to save the Earth. 00Q on crack. Epic QxTony bromance.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avengers. I don't own Avengers' quotes either, and I've taken them from the movie and put them in where I liked them. If you recognise them, I'm happy for your taste in cinematography. I don't own Skyfall. I viewed all the Craig!Bond movies mostly for the purpose of criticising them, but I adore the new Q (and it shows). I'm not aware of having quoted Skyfall anywhere, but shit happens. In that case, it's not mine. ;-))
Warnings: hints of slash, het and polyamory; violence; mind-control; sociopathic mentality (cheerfulness about real tragic events!); implied child abuse; genii at play; Anthony Edward Stark (he gets his own warning, because he really deserves it this time)… now, looking at it, I should have just put in 'Avengers' and 'Skyfall' and I think that's covered each of those warnings. Polyamory debatable.
A/N: I had the idea of Q being actually you-know-who and thought – that sounds like fun! I'll write it. There will be five pages of it, short and to the point… And then Q happened. Which I maybe could have dealt with, but Tony happened, too, and against Tony I am powerless. So, thank Tony for the story. Or blame Tony if you don't like it. It's a bit more plot-heavy than my usual fare.
I swear they write themselves – Q, Tony, Pepper, JARVIS, James… even Phillip. I adore Phillip. And he just insisted on his own romance.
I am still a die-hard Stony fan, but I found that I could be convinced of basically any pairing involving Tony, as long as his partner(s) are good to him. Because he so deserves that someone love him.
xChapter One: Cyberdating
- Absolutely not, Mr Smith. Those files are confidential. –
Q should have expected it. He checked the other screen and, indeed, the AI was now hacking back.
It was welcome to. After the Silva debacle-
(And how Q regretted the worm's death, so quick and easy compared to the plan he had built up in his head for when he would get his hands on him! He had had weeks, perhaps months of pain prepared for the invertebrate! Few dared to oppose Q, fewer yet succeeded, and those all came to dearly regret it in the end.)
-he had gone over every switch, every router, every slot and port in the Headquarters, and disabled all non-critical connectivity. He had banned WiFi at the premises and physically removed all wireless adapters from the servers' hardware. He could not access any sensitive files from this computer.
There was not anything more interesting on it than his Tetris high scores which, all silly humbleness aside, were phenomenal.
- I am impressed. – Q typed in.
- I shall relay that to Mr Stark. I am sure he will be flattered that the British counterintelligence thinks so much of him. –
Q had expected that the machine would discover as much. The location of the MI-6 building was nowhere near as secret as the Executive Branch would like to pretend that it was, and localising a known IP address was trivial. Q had, of course, rerouted through several servers worldwide, but his opponent this time had the skill to go toe to toe with him on the field of programming, so it was mostly just a formality.
- Not so much him personally, as his accomplishments on the field of computer security. – Q replied to the sentient machine on the other side of the conversation. – You may inform him that he has become a source of frustration to me. –
The Stark Tower was one of the very few places on the planet he could not access. He was quite impressed with Stark's sentient machine, and similarly impressed with its creator. He had made forays into assembling a dossier on Anthony Stark, but quickly found that most of publicly available information was either of pornographic nature, or data Stark wanted people to know (or both). Useless.
If he ever lowered himself to admiring a mortal (not that he would ever admit to it), it would be Anthony Edward Stark. He would have been the ideal disciple, were Q the type to take disciples. Alternatively, were Q anything like his brother (which to him seemed a fate worse than death), he would have wanted to call Stark… a friend. His skin crawled just thinking it.
"Look at you, Q. Fanboying?"
Q cursed himself for not paying sufficient attention to his surroundings. Ordinarily, his office was one of the safest places for him, outfitted with locks that counted as pinnacle of technology, but there had to be allowances made for the emergencies, and the double-oh agents were walking emergencies.
- That, I am certain, will make sir very happy. – was written on the screen, on the background of a picture of the Iron Man armor in flight, which the machine had managed to install as desktop background without Q's knowledge. Credit where credit was due: Q might have met his match in programming.
"I do hope you have a valid reason for invading my sanctuary, double-oh-six," Q said, typing at the same time to figure out which weakness the machine used to change his settings.
"James trusts you," the agent claimed.
Q was sure it was not anything nearly as clear-cut, but there had been certain undeniable… synergy between him and the double-oh-seven from the first moment they had touched – the handshake at the gallery. The agent had become a constant distraction, to the point that Q had let Silva momentarily get the better of him. Admittedly, there had been many other factors in that situation (like the fact that Q had taken over the whole branch mere days before the snafu, that he had insufficient premises, technologies and personnel), but they all felt like excuses, and the rage simmered just under Q's skin.
He had wanted all the processing power – but that processing power was redundant. He could – and had – requisitioned enough technology to keep the servers safe from another Trojan horse of the metaphorical sort. Nowadays the MI-6 had an established system of quarantine for any new data and a roster of techs employed to safeproof all information before it was allowed to be downloaded. It might have been too late, but Q made damn sure it wasn't too little.
Even so, every time he so much as glimpsed James Bond, every time he heard or read his name, he recalled his failure.
"He has his reasons," Q allowed eventually.
"Whatever they may be," Alec Trevelyan replied. He was very obviously trying to incite a reaction in Q, not even putting any effort into it, thinking he was hunting easy prey.
"I do not kiss and tell, double-oh-six." With Bond's reputation, it was enough of a suggestion to sell the implications.
Trevelyan snorted, as if that had been completely predictable. Q briefly wondered what kind of a fairy tale Bond had spun for his colleague about them, and whether wild sex was a part of it. By the look on Trevelyan's face, it probably was.
Q decided to tentatively take it as a compliment. Bond was, professionally and personally, an unrepentant manwhore, but he did have standards, so his interest was generally assumed to be flattering.
- I would be interested in continuing our conversation later. – Q wrote. He had spoken to various sentient constructs before, but never a machine without a slightest spark of magic, and never one built by a Midgardian.
- That would be my pleasure, Mr Smith. –
"People James sleeps with tend to die a lot," Trevelyan said once he realised that Q was sufficiently amused by his online chat and was not going to play a waiting game with a field agent, much less with a field agent that had already lost his own game by virtue of being the one who needed something from Q rather than the other way around.
"Have you come to discuss existentialism, then?" Q responded, glancing over his shoulder to this man, tall and strong for one of his race but within his mind still a child. "I will happily give you directions to Medical. I hear MI-6 has an excellent psych department."
A tremor ran through Trevelyan's body – not quite a full-fledged shudder, but perhaps a suppressed one.
Double-ohs were predictable.
Q stood up from the computer, turned to face the agent and leant back against the desk. He took note of the appraising look Trevelyan ran over his body – assessing threat level and physical appeal at the same time, as if trying to see what Bond had seen (and failing, quite possibly because there had never actually been such an encounter between Bond and Q) – and waited until the man met his eye.
Trevelyan's shoulders sank. He let out a harsh exhale and pulled out a mobile phone. He stabbed at the keys for a few seconds and then offered the device to Q.
Q took it and read the displayed text message.
- Join me in Stuttgart, Sashenka. –
It was followed by a string of numbers that Q quickly interpreted as date and time. It was in five days.
Q pulled out his own phone and checked. Bond was supposed to be in Pottersville for another week, pending any pesky mishaps like him being discovered or him discovering an immediate threat to the British nation. If anything of the sort had happened, he had a slew of methods for contacting the Headquarters, the foremost of which was the radio Q had equipped him with. The radio had not been used, and it had not been destroyed, either. Bond was a competent pickpocket, and there were still payphones in the USA, weren't there? There were internet cafés. Also, he had a known contact in the CIA.
He had once called in from the middle of a damn rainforest. If he had intentionally gone off the grid, he would not have sent a text message to his colleague.
Well, possibly. If it was a person whom he trusted. But such a person would not have come to Q with it.
"Are you sure Bond wrote it?" he inquired, checking on the status of Bond's tracer on the other computer, the one connected to the servers, but not to the internet. The status was displayed as inactive. Q, in frustration, refreshed the page, even though it updated automatically every thirty seconds.
"He's the only one who would risk calling me by that pet name," Trevelyan explained.
Trouble, then, Q concluded. Was Bond trying to warn them about something that was about to go down in Germany? That seemed the most likely conclusion, but still insufficient. Bond wasn't talkative by nature, but if he had valuable intel, he relayed it without the need for additional questioning.
Q checked the outgoing messages. Trevelyan had replied. He had tried to call Bond, repeatedly. Bond had turned off his mobile.
What for? Had there been any news? If so, it would surely be featured world-wide, because about the only time Bond hadn't left behind a huge mess in the wake of his explosions was when he had died.
Q could, of course, just Google it, or even go outside and ask, but it was faster this way.
- Has there been any breaking news in the USA over the past twenty-four hours? –
Stark's machine replied instantly.
- There has been several, but I believe that the only one British Secret Service would be interested in is this one. –
A media player window opened on the screen, covering the lines of text, and Q recognised it as news footage. It concerned the sudden evacuation of a research complex in New York, preceded by unexplained meteorological anomalies and followed by the rapid implosion of the whole complex. It would have been mildly interesting, if not for the fact that it was supposed to have happened mere miles from Pottersville.
The timing was important. Q checked the news, decided that the most likely time of the destruction of the complex was eleven twenty-two, and compared it with the time when the text message had been sent. Oh-one, oh-eight. Almost two hours later. Bond had been compromised. Strange, how uncomfortably warm the cool underground office suddenly became.
It was now close to six, and Q was irritated that it had taken Trevelyan that long to come, but the human might have chosen to not do anything at all, or to escalate the problem through the 'proper channels' instead. Therefore Q took a deep breath and counted his blessings. If James Bond was compromised, blessings might be very helpful.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention, double-oh-six," Q said, sitting down to do a bit of a hack on another of his side-projects. "You are dismissed."
The big burly blond straightened, assuming an intimidating poise that, frankly, was hilarious when compared to a drunken Ás trying to get to the next horn of mead. "My phone-"
Q would have waved his hand, but he needed both for coding. He mentally thanked the Norns that he had already pre-written this program (because he knew to anticipate some situations, and it was as good as inevitable that he and this Division would cross paths), and mostly it just needed to be executed. "Tell the techs on your way out. They'll equip you with a new one."
Then he was inside the SHIELD database. He started a search for everything related to the incident near Pottersville, found PEGASUS, and started downloading as fast as the processor could. He would not have much time. SHIELD had to have a brilliant sysadmin.
"But I need that number!" Trevelyan protested.
Q looked at him.
Trevelyan noticed, of course, but not fast enough to hide that he had been intently staring at the device, as if to will it to come back into his possession. He seemed to be quite a loyal friend, to risk that he would be considered traitor for his effort to help a colleague.
Loyalty was an emotion, or a characteristic, for which Q did not have any place in his life anymore. He had tried. He had given his best, and he had been repudiated for it – well, then that was how life was. Once bitten, twice shy, as the mortals said.
"You are dismissed, double-oh-six."
Trevelyan went. He cast a wrathful scowl at Q, and Q was nearly certain that he had made the mortal hate him, but he did not particularly care. What he, despite himself, cared about, was Bond's return. He suspected that to accomplish that, he would need the phone.
Now, regulations stated that he would have to inform Tanner, who would, in turn inform M – bureaucracy at its most primitive – and then would follow a committee made up from members of the Executive Branch, the Q Branch, Intentions, Logistics, Archives, Legal, Accounting, HR and a representative of the Cabinet. They would outline the protocol for this occasion, and decide whether any effort would be made to retrieve the possibly compromised agent, whether he should be neutralised or if there even was an operative who could be expected to achieve the neutralisation of James Bond.
Q interrupted the download, scheduled himself a plane ticket, disconnected his laptop, packed it up into his rucksack together with a few technological toys he had hidden in the locked drawers in his office. He selected an appropriate set of documents that were technically genuine, but had been issued specifically for MI-6, and for the next few days would identify him as John L. Smith, instead of the 'Anderson' ones he carried on day-to-day bases.
Then he clocked off and left just as the sun began to rise above London.
On the accursed plane, on his way to JFK, New York, Q reviewed the information he had… borrowed from SHIELD.
PEGASUS, he learned, was a project ostensibly dedicated to energy, but requiring many strategy and weapons experts from all over the globe, because that was not suspect in the least. Also, it employed several leading experts in various fields, including a Dr Selvig, with whom Q was, unhappily, personally acquainted. There were leading physicists and engineers by the dozens, and none of the documents mentioned anywhere just what it was they were researching.
The official project proposal had stated reactors, similar to Stark's arc reactor (which, yes, Q admitted it in the privacy of his mind, was a marvel). Glaringly, Stark's name was absent from all reports and invoices and payroll sheets. As little as Q knew about the most hated American darling – including that he consulted for SHIELD on a recurrent basis – he did not believe for a second that Stark had done any work for them gratis.
They were developing a new kind of weapons on the Adirondack. Someone had found out and stopped them. Only, Bond had gotten caught in the impact and now was… what? Collaborating with the enemy?
The first breath of the New York air at the airport felt like inhaling from the exhaust of a car, and while remaining inside the flying tin can would have been worse, it was all Q could do convince himself to keep breathing. Not that London was that much better, most days, but at least Q didn't notice the stink anymore.
His phone rang.
Q glanced at the caller ID, only perfunctorily interested in whom he was going to ignore. Later they might sack him for this, or put him in front of a disciplinary board – but right now he was getting his agent back from what he suspected was either magical or alien threat. The MI-6 were not authorised to handle anything that originated from space.
The caller was a name he had not programmed into his mobile. Someone had hacked him. Judging by the blinking word 'JARVIS,' he had an idea about the perpetrator.
He picked up. "Smith."
"It is a pleasure to welcome you on the US soil, Mr Smith," replied a voice that did not sound computerised at all.
"I have lost something around here. I do not suppose you know where it might be?"
"I could not even guess at what it might be, sir."
After a while of consideration, Q admitted: "A colleague."
"My condolences," the machine replied, misinterpreting Q's statement of 'losing someone' as them having died rather than Q literally losing them, as was the case.
Bond was not gone – he was simply temporarily misplaced.
"Mr Stark instructed me to invite you for the grand opening of the Stark Tower."
Q was tempted. Q was so tempted it sent a shiver down his spine. He wanted to get inside that building and discover its secrets, not to destroy it or replicate it, but simply to know. He wondered if Stark understood that motivation. It was likely.
"I would be delighted," Q said with rare sincerity, "but my original purpose takes precedence."
"I understand," the machine replied in a tone that suggested it truly sympathised, "but I am afraid that Mr Stark cannot be relied on for an equal amount of empathy. Please, do not take offence. It is his way of expressing appreciation."
The call disconnected, and Q felt a little bemused as he stepped out of the throng of travelling humans and toward the taxi services to secure transportation.
A shiny dark car blaring obnoxious music swerved in between the parked taxis and braked to a halt inches from a concrete pillar. The door opened and a small man wearing glasses and a goatee stepped out of it. For a second Q thought it was a car thief – someone who drove a car that expensive would not do it in ratty jeans and a band t-shirt, but then it all clicked together in his head, and he realised it was too late to run and hide.
"Mr Stark," he said, stepping forward and ignoring the gasps and shouts of surprise behind him. Celebrities. Q hoped no one would try and take a photo; the last thing he needed was his face on the front pages.
"Mr Smith," Stark replied with an ironic twist of his mouth. "Get in before the hounds eat you."
"Are you abducting me?" Q asked, tightening his hold on the strap of his rucksack.
Stark tapped the roof of his (beautiful) car. "It's not abduction if you go willingly. And believe you me, at this point going is much less hazardous to your health than staying. Plus, if you go, I won't tattle on you to Fury. You are here about the you-know-what, right?"
Technically, Q wasn't. Not 'about.' Perhaps 'because.' Yes, that was more the case. He was racing against time, both due to the unknown force that had compromised Bond and because of the MI-6, which would start hounding him soon enough. He didn't have the leisure to play around with Stark.
On the other hand, tripping over his own two feet while trying to get to his agent would not help anything. Sometimes the shortest way wasn't the fastest one. And Stark had resources.
He also had an intermittent consulting job with the SHIELD, and Q wanted to avoid them very much.
"What is your gain?" Q asked.
Stark was as inscrutable as only a madman could be. Even most of the double-ohs were easier to read and predict.
"I get a playmate for a few hours," he said and then paused. "That came out wrong. I want to play, and I want to not be alone. Usually when I play, people get mad or bored, but you wouldn't, because you would understand, and anyway – you started it when you tried to hack JARVIS!" He punctuated this exclamation by pointing a finger at Q's chest.
Q was inadvertently charmed. This always happened to him. It had happened with his brother many, many times over the years, and it had happened much more recently with Bond. That was his most secret and most terrible weakness: he found this kind of behaviour endearing.
Obviously, he was cursed. Not in his right mind. An arrow short of a quiver – or a bullet short of a magazine.
Q put on his best 'let us be friends from now unto forever' smile, which he had perfected for use on the courtiers in the Valaskjálf and said: "I know something you might be interested in."
Stark laughed with his entire body – chest and belly shaking, hands gripping hard onto the open door of the car, head thrown back.
Q strode to the other side of the car, let himself in, took a seat and settled his rucksack on his knees.
Stark overcame his fit of mirth and climbed in, slamming the door with gusto and starting the car. He maneuvered them out of the car park and onto the streets, which at this time were not quite as horribly busy as to call them jammed, but which raised Q's pulse anyway. Stark did not seem affected in the least. He was nattering on about the car's make, model and specifications, which Q listened to – because it was interesting – but which he did not want to focus on right now.
There were yellow taxis, street vendors and McDonald's. There were thousands upon thousands of people walking out in the red light of the setting sun.
It was worse than London.
Stark somehow found the time, in between dodging swerving vehicles, to observe Q.
"You don't look like a secret agent."
Q blinked. He was wearing his usual office clothes (slacks, shirt, cardigan) plus the parka, which really was too hot for this weather. Only, if he tried to shrug it off now, he would probably plant some of his extremities in Stark's face and they would have a fatal accident. A little magic would be handy now, but nothing for it.
"You've met enough secret agents to be able to make such a claim."
Stark shrugged. "They seem to like me. At least, they keep coming around, and while my coffee is great, it's not that great. But they all wear black – suits and catsuits and so much leather they would give PETA a collective aneurism. One wore a dress that one time, but she was undercover, so it doesn't count."
"I'm undercover, too," Q informed him.
Stark glanced at him and frowned. "Undercover as what?"
"As a secret agent," Q replied, curious about what the man would make of that. He really was as engaging as his programming indicated.
"No, really?" Stark said.
"No, really," Q agreed.
There was another while of silence, and Stark took a sharp left turn into a narrow alleyway that was unusually empty of rubbish and vagabonds.
"JARVIS told me you work for the British Secret Service. Intelligence optional."
Q chose to observe the system of ramps and hydraulics that transported the car to what apparently passed for garage in Stark's reality, but which Q couldn't help but classify as amusement park for technophiles. It was truly a place out of a fairy tale – only it had to be a fairy tale from Midgard's future, because this kind of place could not have ever existed before.
"Bugger," he muttered, feeling quaintly colloquial in the middle of New York.
"Ah," Stark agreed, magnanimous. "You don't have everything back over the Pond, do you? Come in. I'll introduce you to Pepper, and then I'm going to disconnect the transmission lines and go all… fiat lux."
"You have an arc reactor in here?" Q deduced, craning his neck to see the ceiling and try to extrapolate the architecture of the building. He was used to magnificence and opulence, but Stark had created something new, something he had never seen before. It made his fingers itch to touch, explore, understand.
"You're cute," Stark concluded, grabbed Q by the flapping rucksack strap and dragged him over to a lift.
Once they were inside, a disembodied voice spoke: "Welcome to Stark Tower, Mr Smith."
"I have been abducted," Q protested. He might have had a case, had he not been practically vibrating with excitement. Arc reactors were like the Casket of Ancient Winters, only without magic. His eyes, unbidden, strayed to the muted blue glow under Stark's t-shirt.
It was pretty.
"So I gathered," the machine replied with a tone of fond exasperation, as though Stark was its errant child. "I shall refrain from calling nine-one-one for the time being; I am certain that, should you indulge sir, he will be glad to help you on your mission."
"Why?" Q demanded. That was what he still didn't understand. "There must be hundreds of hackers trying to infiltrate your computers. Maybe thousands."
"But none of them succeed!" Stark exclaimed excitedly. "You actually got in! JARVIS had to stop you – that means you got in through all the firewalls, all the trapped honey pots, all the encryptions! You know how many people ever successfully hacked me? Two – that's how many. And one of them was me."
Q couldn't stop a gratified smile from spreading. He hoped this detour would not bring more harm to Bond, but fretting as if he were Bond's bloody nanny wouldn't bring him any closer to recovering the agent.
The reaction still seemed strange to him. When Silva had compromised the security of his servers, he hadn't been angry – he had been incandescent. Later on, shame and frustration had set in. The experience had been terrible.
Stark reacted in the very opposite way. He was happy. Amused, satisfied and downright giddy. It might have had something to do with the fact that Q had not actually managed to get in – as opposed to Silva, who had infiltrated and promptly started killing people. The worm.
"I wanted to see inside," Q professed.
"And now you can," Stark replied just as the lift dinged. The man stepped out into a sitting room that was only partly furnished – lavishly – and partly used as a security center; he walked into the middle of the empty space, spread his arms and spun on the spot. "Behold, the fruits of my genius. And Pepper's. Pepper's and my genius. She goes first because she's first alphabetically. That okay with you, Pep?"
Q finally followed his host into the open space.
A woman, attractive by human standards, in shorts and a white blouse came toward them. Her barefoot steps softly smacked against the hardwood floor. She smiled at Q – the smile of a politician or a business shark.
"Mr Smith," she said and offered her hand. "Tony told me loads about you."
Q obediently gave it a shake, observing her observe him. He had not missed the leading statement. He was not sure if she was lying because Stark had made up some story about their prolonged acquaintance, or because she was trying to catch him out. Whichever the case, she was being hostile.
"Pepper Potts, John Smith. John, Pepper," Stark spoke over their mutual assessment, and just like that they were supposedly all on the first name basis.
Q liked how slick Stark could be.
"Does he really have an arc reactor powering the Tower?" he asked to divert Potts' attention.
"You didn't believe him?" she inquired, startled.
"He didn't say so much. He let me guess and never confirmed."
She nervously bit her lower lip and then nodded. "Come on, then. Let's see the specs. Tony's-"
They looked over, but Stark was already gone. He had walked through a glass door out onto a terrace; Q needed a minute of taking in every detail to put together that Stark had re-engineered the terrace into a take-off and landing pad for his armour, and installed units capable of disassembling and reassembling it.
Potts pressed her hips to the side of the desk and stared at the running numbers on the holographic projection. Q hovered a little to the side, trying in vain to watch everything at once, to retain every scrap of information. It was too much, too fast. Stark must have known it – otherwise he would not have invited a foreign counterintelligence agent into his home to watch a procedure that was as arbitrary as it was momentous. A little step for Anthony Stark, a great one for Midgard.
"Two more minutes, Pep, and we're offline," Stark's voice said from the speakers.
"Crossing my fingers," the woman replied.
"You having fun, Johnny-boy?"
It took Q much too long to realise that he had been addressed, but at least he had the excuse of staring at the running numbers and fluctuating graphs. On a second thought, maybe Stark didn't care one way or another that his guest was supposedly a foreign counterintelligence agent, as long as he could brag to someone who understood the magnitude of his accomplishments.
"Doesn't have enough eyes to watch everything at once," Potts said for Q, unfortunately hitting the nail on the head.
Stark's laughter filtered in. "That is fun."
"I'm surrounded by strange people," Potts complained humourosly. "Wait, no! You are surrounded by strange people. I only have the misfortune of frequently standing next to you."
"You're good on this end," Stark informed her moments later. "The rest is up to you."
Potts, nervous, pressed her palm into the projection over a big red circle labelled with the power button pictogram. The picture disappeared and was replaced by a graphic depiction of the energy output of all technology within the building. It was horribly wasteful. Also, pretty.
"How does it look?" Potts asked.
"Pretty," Q heard himself say. Of course, he was talking about the numbers rather than the visual experience of the fully lit Tower.
"Like Christmas, but with more… me."
JARVIS, dryly, announced: "It feels tingly."
"No comments from the peanut gallery, J," Stark replied, but he sounded amused. Moments later he landed on the pad, and this time Q took the chance to observe the disassembling process – only that, too, was much too fast with too many processes happening at once.
"Sir," JARVIS spoke despite the curtness he had just been treated with, "Agent Coulson of SHIELD is on the line."
Potts noticed, and so did Stark. They both must have figured out that whatever Q was there to do, he did not want SHIELD to know about.
"That information I mentioned I had for you-"
"Not for SHIELD?" Stark asked, frowning.
He made an incomprehensible gesture toward Potts, which she interpreted and complied by moving off to the table and bringing back three glasses and a bottle of champagne. She had dexterous hands.
"SHIELD already knows this," Q explained. "They, however, don't want you to know."
"That could be a reasonable executive decision," Stark pointed out, taking his glass from Potts' hands and ignoring the trilling telephone.
"How about the difference between clean energy research and weapons manufacture?" Q inquired. "Does that not blur the line of 'lying by omission' a little too much?"
Stark's face closed. He exchanged a look with Potts. Potts nodded, hesitant but willing to play along.
Stark had known, Q realised. Or, at the very least, he had had an idea. Otherwise he would not be accepting Q's assertion nearly as easily. He might have found out by hacking the SHIELD servers, too – it had not been as difficult as it should have been, considering what kind of a shadowy Big Brother of an organisation they were dealing with – and he also might have known more about the snafu that had happened at the Pottersville complex yesterday.
"Close the line, JARVIS," Stark ordered.
"Sir," the machine protested.
"I know." Stark grabbed Q's wrist and dragged him toward the sofa, where he pushed him down and took a seat plastered to his side.
Potts' sat down and leaned on the man from the other side mere moments later.
"You should be used to this, Agent," Stark said to Q. "Briefing. We're lovers. We've met online and had a few great cybersex sessions, I hacked your webcam, found out you were eatable, and invited you for drinks and a little tête-à-tête with me and Pep. How 'bout it?"
Q noticed that he was still holding his half-empty glass of champagne. So was Stark. Potts' glass was still full, and she was holding the bottle in her other hand. He had never wanted to be a field agent.
"Sir," the machine spoke again, voice filled with sarcasm, "my protocols are being overwritten."
Q felt Stark's chuckles against his ribs. Obviously, that was not a concern, so it must have been a code between the creator and his creation.
"Too late to protest," Potts informed Q and smiled at him. It was a new smile, much different from the one before. It was smaller and warmer and teasing – the kind of an expression one might bestow upon a lover.
Q found that he liked her, too.
The lift door opened and closed behind someone with a light step. The reflections in the glass windows showed a man of average height, dressed in a generic suit and carrying one of those futuristic tablets that cost more than a house on the beach and were about as practical as the average Ming vase. He stopped at the stairs leading down to the sofa and, exasperated, spoke: "We need to talk."
"Look, Agent," Stark said lackadaisically, sniffing at Potts' neck, "I've told you it was just that one night. You're a good guy; I'm sure you'll find a nice boy or a girl – or both, why limit yourself? Look at me, I've got one of each and I'm perfectly-"
"Stark!" the Agent cut in. "I'm flattered by your interest, but you're not my type."
"How's the cellist?" Potts asked, twisting around so that she could look at Coulson over the backrest of the sofa while not completely dislodging Stark, who tensed. "Is that still a thing?"
Q snuck a hand under Stark's shirt, ghosting his fingers over the skin of his stomach, and nosed at the man's collarbone. The man did not smell repugnant – the wonders of warm water and soap – and while warm, his body was not uncomfortably hot to touch. In different circumstances, Q might have considered doing this for real. As it was, he had the hope of keeping his face hidden for the duration of the SHIELD Agent's presence and being dismissed as one of Stark's endless line of brainless bimbos.
"I'm sorry, Pepper," the man said, serious. "We'll talk when I next have a free moment."
"Won't be anytime soon," Potts guessed with palpable regret.
"I'll do what I can," Coulson promised, and turned to Stark, offering him the tablet. "We need you to look this over."
"I don't like being handed things," Stark dismissed him without looking his way.
Potts handed Coulson her glass, took the tablet, handed over the bottle, and settled the tablet on her thighs. Stark leant over and activated the screen with a touch of his left hand, while his right had somehow become buried in Q's hair.
Coulson remained standing above them with a glass and a bottle, like a waiter. Who was waiting on them.
Q found it humorous. He tried to read a little of the files on the tablet, but that was tricky to accomplish with an Agent hovering and two clever humans probably aware of his every move.
Potts softly sighed. "I take it the date is over."
"This is not a consultation," Stark protested. "You're reviving a project you've worked very diligently to scrap. I should know – I was being assessed by your Madam Web."
The Black Widow, Q interpreted. There were files on her in the MI-6 archives. Interesting reading. Improbable, but not much more so than some of the more memorable double-oh stunts.
"It was scrapped for many reasons," Coulson said stiffly, depositing both the bottle and the glass onto the nearest flat surface.
That meant that SHIELD was beholden to someone else, someone who had the authority to dismiss projects. Q would have to hack them again, lest his own curiosity torture him.
"I'm not sure I want to invest this much into a project that is designed to fail." Stark's fingers tightened in Q's hair.
Q preemptively grabbed the man's thigh, ready to bury his nails in flesh the instance Stark would cause him pain.
"We need you," Coulson professed. He did not even bother trying to hide his desperation. "Yes, more than we realized we do. You were right."
"You're shit out of options and shit out of luck, Agent. You broke my fragile heart when you said I was volatile, self-obsessed and didn't play well with others. Now you get to deal with my frowny businessman face."
"What do you want?"
"What do I ever want? Money, contracts, licenses… a good close look at PEGASUS."
Coulson closed his eyes and hid his them under his palm, swallowing down a curse. When he looked up again, to meet Tony's expectant expression, he seemed defeated.
"At this point," he admitted, "we don't have a choice. As you said, we're out of options. I merely hope that you understand we're doing this to protect the mankind."
"I understand perfectly," Stark replied.
"You do?" Potts inquired, tongue-in-cheek.
"I do. However, if they wanted me to sympathize, they shouldn't have told me I wasn't worth it when I was looking for friends. Now that I've risen up in the world, they come knocking on the door thinking… what? I owe them something?"
"They did help you with the palladium poisoning," Potts reminded him.
"Which is why I gave JARVIS permission to let the Agent into the building. And why I'm even talking to him. He wants my tech, my expertise and me risking my life for him?" He gestured toward the tablet, where the video recordings of several superhuman individuals were replaced with the static picture of a blue glowing cube.
Q went warm. He felt heat creep through his marrow, blood speeding up. He knew that thing. That was a thing that most certainly should not have been on Midgard. It had been lost, but to think the mortals had found it… Now he knew what the SHIELD used to create their weapons, and he knew what the attacker had come to steal.
"Phil," Potts spoke, "you've got a free place in your car? Tony has a lot of homework, and that means I'm off to get the files on the PEGASUS…" she paused. "Which, of course, I know nothing about. And neither does Tony." She gave the Agent a beatific smile that was met with an unamused, almost hurt downward twist of lips. She sighed and climbed to her feet, leaving the tablet on her spot on the sofa.
"Be good," Stark told her.
Potts patted him on the shoulder, did the same to Q – some sort of warning, undoubtedly – and padded over to the lift.
Coulson followed her, only to come to a halt just before exiting the room. He turned back and zeroed in on Q. "It was nice to meet you."
"He's deaf," Stark said quickly, before Q could think of an appropriate response that wouldn't require him to raise his head and give the SHIELD Agent a good look at his face. "And mute. Deaf and mute. And narcoleptic."
Coulson gave him a truly epic what-the-Hel look.
Stark shrugged and explained: "We met online."
The lift door closed, and Q heaved a sigh of relief. That could have gone worse.