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[personal profile] gwyllion
Title: Blackbird
Author: gwylliondream
Pairing: James Bond/Q
Rating: R
Words: 54,694
Warnings: Identity theft, cyber-crime, terrorism, brief non-consensual touching.
A/N: Blackbird was written for NaNoWriMo 2015. Please see chapter 1 for additional notes.
Disclaimer: I did not create these characters. No disrespect intended. No profit desired, only muses.
Comments: Comments are welcome anytime, thanks so much for reading.



Bond stepped off the water shuttle and scanned the MI6 entrance on the Thames for Q. In the time it had taken him to get to Mallory’s office and back down to Q-branch to procure Q’s laptop with Tanner, the entrance had become deserted, aside from Reggie and his team of armed guards. Bond thought that Q might meet him back here if he was unable to reach his office, but Q was nowhere in sight.

Bond dug his mobile from his pocket and tried to ring Q. According to the automated message, Q’s number was out of service. He pocketed his mobile and decided against circling the streets that bordered MI6 on foot. Instead, he’d make a pass in the Aston Martin and hope that he found Q quickly. He didn’t think Q was in imminent danger since he hadn’t gained access to his guarded office, but it was best to not take any chances.

Making his way to the MI6 garage, Bond kept his eyes open for Q’s red jumper. Since Q left the office with only the clothes on his back, he wouldn’t be difficult to find. Besides, Q might be looking for Bond to help sort out the mess with his credentials.

Bond shifted the Aston Martin through her gears and sped out of the garage, Q’s messenger bag safe in the boot. Traffic in Westminster was light for a Thursday afternoon. The rush hour hadn’t yet begun. Bond drove slowly along Parliament Square, down Tothill Street, turning onto Broadway. It was here that he found Q, standing outside the St. James Park tube station.

Bond pulled up beside Q and rolled down the window.

“Q?” Bond called.

Q barely looked up from where he was stood. A weak smile crossed his face when he recognized that Bond had come to find him.

“Get in,” Bond said. “I’ll give you a lift.”

Q rounded the Aston Martin and climbed in the passenger’s side.

He slumped into the seat and buckled in.

“I wish I knew what was going on,” Q said as Bond pulled away from the kerb.

“It’s bad,” Bond said, swerving back onto the road.

“I got to my door from the maintenance building that I told you about,” Q said. “I couldn’t get in. My keypad had been reprogrammed.”

Bond exhaled. He was glad Q didn’t get in. With MI6 on red alert for a trespasser, the denial of entry may have been what kept him from being shot or killed.

“As far as I can recall, there were only two people who knew the door existed, besides me,” Q said.

“Mallory?” Bond asked.

“Him and possibly Hammond,” Q said, mentioning the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

“I tried to meet with Mallory, but he had locked himself away,” Bond said as they turned onto the A3212 and drove straight past MI5. “Eve will get him to talk to me when he comes out of his cave. She showed me a message that had been sent to all MI6 staff. I’m sorry to say that it looks like they’re washing their hands of you.”

A sprinkling of rain had begun. Q turned away from Bond. He rested his head against the window and watched the raindrops splash down into the placid Thames, each drop creating a widening circle as it landed.

“When I couldn’t get in, I decided I’d go home and make some calls to try to get this cleared up. I got to the tube station, thinking to catch the train since it’s not likely I could use the MI6 car service,” Q said. “But my Oyster card wouldn’t work in the stiles. I didn’t have enough money for the train because I used what cash I had to pay for lunch. I was about to start walking home when you turned up.”

“You could have tried busking for tube fare,” Bond said, trying to lighten the heavy mood.

“I have a terrible singing voice,” Q said, without missing a beat.

“In that case, try juggling,” Bond said. “Besides, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s raining now and you’d get soaked.”

Bond turned on the windscreen wipers.

“Why is this happening to me?” Q asked earnestly.

Q sounded genuinely innocent, either a victim of very bad luck or an intentional plot to ruin his life. Bond wanted to reach over to comfort him, to pet his hair the way he had done for R, to hug him like he did Moneypenny. He wished he could wake Q up from this bad dream.

“Where are we going?” Q asked when they crossed the Battersea Bridge.

“Thirty-four Putney Heath Lane,” Bond said.

Q snorted. “If you know my address, maybe you can figure out why this happened to me. Use your secret agent skills. They must be good for something other than stalking the Quartermaster.”

“That’s the idea,” Bond said.

“I’m glad I can rely on you for assistance,” Q said. “Do you have any idea what I could have done that would have me in so much trouble? It’s a mistake, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” Bond said turning onto A3205. “But we’ll get this sorted.”

“You believe me, then?” Q asked. “You believe that I didn’t do anything that warranted this?”

“Yes, Q,” Bond said. “I believe you.”

Q settled back into his seat.

After a few moments, Q said, “If I find out you had anything to do with this—”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bond said with a scowl. “You’re smarter than that. You should know I’d never do any such thing.”

“No, Bond,” Q said. “I’m actually not smarter than that. This whole ordeal, beginning with you luring me into taking you to lunch, seems like just the sort of thing that you might pull as part of an enormous prank to yank the Quartermaster’s chain. Perhaps I was stupid enough to fall for it.”

“If you think that, you’ve gone mad,” Bond said, pulling up to stop at the end unit of a neat row of attached houses. It wasn’t as posh as Putney Hill, but the freshly painted exterior and tasteful architecture befitted the Quartermaster of MI6.

The rain fell on the shrubbery outside Q’s door. Spring’s bloom of fresh leafy foliage sagged under the weight of the raindrops. The trees were in need of a trim, but with the long hours Q spent at MI6, Bond could understand that gardening was low on his list of priorities.

Before Bond could threaten Q with the EJECT button, Q got out of the car and said, “Thanks for the lift.” He slammed the car door shut before Bond could respond.

“Any time,” Bond said, angry that Q would think that he had anything to do with his excommunication from MI6, even as a joke.

Q jogged to the low white picket gate that bordered his dooryard.

Bond waited until Q got the gate open.

As Q walked through the raindrops to his front door, Bond shifted into gear and drove away.

Between wondering if Q had really cocked something up that led him to be cut loose as Quartermaster, and worrying that Q would be assassinated by the MI6 juggernaut, Bond had his fill of stress for one day. He was hurt. How dare Q accuse Bond of tampering with his credentials when he was genuinely concerned about him?

Fuck Q.

Well, there was that….

Bond nearly made it all the way to Branford Gardens before he realized he had left Q’s laptop in the boot. He hit the brakes and narrowly avoided a collision when he turned around in the middle of the A3 to start backtracking to Putney. Q had better damn well appreciate it.

Bond was barely surprised when he found Q sitting on the steps outside his front door.

Bond left the Aston Martin running and strode through the white picket gate, raindrops landing on the shoulders of his jacket. Q shivered in the cold, his jumper soaked through.

“Q?” Bond asked.

Q didn’t move. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said, his wet hair nearly obscuring his eyes. “The lock… sometimes it sticks, but never like this.”

“Oh Christ, do you believe me now when I tell you that I had nothing to do with this?” Bond said. He went to the door.

Q’s key dangled from the lock. Bond gave it a try, but the tumblers wouldn’t turn. Bond worried that the key would snap off if he really put his back into it. Worse still, he worried that breaking down the door would call attention to Q’s location. It was no secret that a government asset like Q could be a target for enemy operatives who would try to use him as a hostage or torture him for inside information. Someone clearly wanted to make sure Q couldn’t enter his own home. If someone was watching, knowing that Q was no longer under the protection of MI6, Q wasn’t safe here.

“Tell me this is the part when you come clean and say, I got you, Q! I’ve really put one over on you today,” Q said.

“I’m sorry, Q,” Bond said. “I wish I could.”

“Tell me the lock is only stuck, Bond,” Q said.

Bond wanted to shake Q. He wanted to make him understand that if something had been done to the locks of his own home, he was in danger. In the time that it had taken to have lunch today, all of this horrible plan had been put into motion. Q’s life, as he knew it, had been destroyed.

Bond knew the feeling all too well, but for Q, this was likely the first time he had ever experienced such a thing. Bond had suffered so many losses in his life that he almost welcomed the next one, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. He was an old pro at reinventing a life for himself. His parent’s death, Eton, the Royal Navy, Vesper, being shot by Moneypenny, M’s death, Blofeld, Madeleine—each time Bond had accepted his losses and moved on as a stronger person, more calculating and more keen. He waited stoically for the next bullet to rip through him, his resolve toughened from all the deflections he had weathered in his lifetime.

Standing outside Q’s house in the rain, Bond wracked his brain trying to think of what Q could possibly have done to send such an alarm through MI6 that their only option was to burn him.

“Q,” Bond said. “You can’t stay here. Someone will call the police if they see you loitering and we can’t break the door down in broad daylight without someone reporting it. We don’t know what forces MI6 or the enemies of England will use against you. I think you’d prefer not to find out.”

“But this is my home,” Q said. “Where else am I going to go? I can’t very well sleep in my office at Q-branch.”

“You’re going to need help to figure this out,” Bond said. “And by the way, I’ve stolen your laptop. It’s in the boot. I only came back because I had forgotten about it. I know you’ll need it—we’ll need it… if we are going to sort things out. And I know a place where you can stay until we get you out of this mess.”

Q glanced at his front door and reluctantly got to his feet.

~

Bond used his remote to open the garage. He pulled in and parked the Aston Martin as the door automatically slid closed behind them.

“Where are we?” Q asked.

“Somewhere you’ll be safe if anyone decides they want to put a bullet through your head,” Bond said, getting out of the car.

Q opened his door. Bond observed how he was careful not to hit the wall of the garage with it, not that its bulletproof finish could be damaged by a bit of plaster.

Bond opened the boot and pulled Q’s messenger bag out. Q met him at the rear of the car.

“I suppose a thank you is in order,” Q said, taking the bag from Bond.

“Look, I don’t know what you’ve done or why MI6 has all but eliminated your existence,” Bond said, closing the boot and locking the car doors with the fob. “But you need to believe that I had nothing to do with it.”

“I’m sorry. I should know you well enough to realize that this goes beyond what you would do to prank me. You’ll help me figure this out?” Q asked.

“That’s why I stole your laptop,” Bond said, relieved that Q believed him. “I know you’d have done the same for me.”

“We’ve been through a lot of unofficial missions together,” Q said with an apologetic smile. “I suppose it would be prudent for me to look at this situation as if it’s simply one more.”

“Come on,” Bond said, refusing to acknowledge that they had reached a truce. “You’re going to catch your death in that wet jumper.”

Bond led Q up three wooden steps to a doorway that opened into a dark hall. The scent of old newspapers and damp socks was one with which Bond was still unfamiliar. After all, he had chosen this flat, sight unseen, a day after M kicked him out of her house when he returned from the dead. The months that passed since that night didn’t make the flat seem any more like home, not that Bond cared. He’d be moving on soon enough. He always did.

Bond switched on a light and Q followed him up a flight of stairs.

“You’ve saved my life a hundred times,” Bond said as they clambered up the steps. “I know you want nothing but the best for MI6. You need to use your resources to figure out who turned MI6 against you so we can plan your next action.”

At the top of the stairs, Bond stood on a small all-weather rug where the WELCOME had faded to the point of being nearly unreadable.

“Should you need to re-enter, the code to the security system is simple enough,” Bond said, tapping the code into his alarm where Q could observe it.

Q nodded and hiked his messenger bag more securely onto his shoulder.

Bond opened the door and turned on the light. In his kitchen, the island countertop was covered with usual assortment of newspapers and mail that had accumulated while he was on mission. He had started to sort through it when he returned home the previous evening, but he left the job incomplete. The grocery list he had begun compiling over his morning coffee lay unfinished by the sink which contained his dirty plate from this morning’s toast and a butter-crumbed knife. A half-dozen lemons that he smuggled into Heathrow from the Middle East had rolled to the edge of the counter.

“You haven’t had much time to unpack,” Q said, nodding at the cardboard boxes that lined one wall of the room.

“You don’t have to say that to be polite,” Bond said, resetting the alarm and dead-bolting the door behind him.

It was true. He hadn’t had much time to unpack since he retrieved the boxes M had stored for him when his old flat was sold. Still, he expected to be further along in sorting through the boxes than he was when Moneypenny visited him six months ago, before the SPECTRE ordeal.

“I wasn’t,” Q said. “It looks lived-in, I suppose… lived in by you.”

“I’m not going to ask what that’s supposed to mean,” Bond said with a snort. Bond took off his jacket and draped it over a high-backed barstool.

Q pulled the second barstool out from the island and set his messenger bag on the seat. He undid the clasp and looked inside.

“I’m not used to having guests,” Bond said, opening the cupboard above the stove. “But I want you to make yourself at home while you’re here. You’ll probably need this.” He pulled an electric kettle from the cupboard and set it on the countertop. He could open a bottle of Scotch later, although he craved a drink, or six, now.

“You packed the kanafeh in here?” Q said in disbelief as he pulled the bag of sweets from the messenger bag.

“Damned if I was going to leave it on your desk to rot,” Bond said. He didn’t have to look at Q to know that he should scold himself for his callousness. After all, he and Q were in this together now that he had stolen Q’s laptop and decided to harbour a discredited MI6 department head. He ought to be more sensitive toward Q about his predicament.

Q had pulled his laptop from the bag and he worked to untangle the power cord.

“There’s an outlet up here,” Bond said, indicating the power strip that was hidden behind a small microwave oven. “I need to get you the wifi password. It’s written down somewhere.”

Bond watched Q plug his laptop into the outlet. Q’s fingers were shrivelled from standing in the rain. The car ride seemed to have done nothing to warm him up. His hair, normally so bouncy and fluffy that it made Bond want to touch it, stuck to his forehead in a damp clumpy mat.

“You must be freezing,” Bond said, waving a hand at Q’s bedraggled self. “While you figure out how this kettle operates, I’ll find you something dry to wear.”

“Thanks,” Q said, raising the lid of his laptop and pressing the Power button. He began to tug his wet jumper off as Bond left the kitchen.

In the bedroom, Bond rummaged through his dresser drawers, looking for something that would fit Q’s skinny frame, something warm enough to make him stop shivering. He settled on a pair of softly worn navy blue track pants and a white T-shirt that was still in its wrapper. His fingers bit through the plastic and he pulled the shirt free. In his wardrobe, he found a light grey hoodie that would fit Q although Q would certainly disapprove of its boring colour.

From his bedside cabinet drawer, Bond pulled a scrap of paper with his wifi password written on it. When he returned to the kitchen, Q had added water to the kettle and turned it on to boil. His damp shirt clung to his chest and his tie had been loosened.

“Here’s something dry for you to wear,” Bond said, passing the clothes to Q.

“Thanks,” Q said. “I’ll just umm….”

“Go ahead,” Bond said. “The bathroom is the first door on the right.

“I’ll try to find something for us to eat, although I haven’t had time to shop since I got back,” Bond said.

“Tea is fine, if you have any,” Q said.

“I’m afraid all I have is some Barry’s,” Bond said, finding the red box in a kitchen drawer. “We’ll get you some proper Earl Grey when I make a grocery run.”

“Thanks Bond,” Q said. “I appreciate how you’re trying to make me feel better about all of this. Your efforts are actually working.”

Bond tended to agree. In fact, Q was handling the situation rather well. Even in the most traumatic circumstances like an agent’s kidnapping or life-threatening injury, Q could be relied upon to remain cool and level-headed. He was pleased that Q’s own personal drama today wasn’t too much for him to handle. He’d need Q to be at the top of his game to figure out what had happened to his identity at MI6 and beyond.

“If you want a hot shower, it may warm you up,” Bond said as Q headed for the bathroom. “The tea will keep. There are fresh towels in the cabinet next to the sink. Take whatever you need.”

Bond hoped that Q would feel at home in his flat. There was nothing worse than having a houseguest who needed to be coddled. The more polite ones always asked where they could find things, a cheese grater, a corkscrew, a coaster. Frankly, it was a pain in the arse. It was so much easier for a guest to settle in and feel comfortable enough to simply look until they found what they needed. It’s not like Bond had anything to hide among his meagre possessions. He certainly didn’t have anything to hide from Q.

When the kettle sounded its whistle, Bond tossed a teabag into a chipped blue mug and poured steaming water over it. He could hear the shower running in the bathroom. He hoped the shower would melt some of the inevitable stress off Q so he could start his investigation refreshed. Bond was sure Q would want to get to work right away—Bond certainly would, if he were in Q’s situation.

He checked his mobile and replied to only one of Moneypenny’s numerous concerned texts. Q safe. See you tomorrow. He hoped it would put her mind at ease, but his mobile rang the moment Moneypenny received his message.

“Is he with you?” Moneypenny asked.

“You know better than to ask that,” Bond said.

“Can I speak to him?” Moneypenny asked.

“He’s in the shower.” Bond said.

“So help me, if anything happens to him,” Moneypenny said. “Who could have done this?”

“I don’t know, but it seems that whoever is responsible for his MI6 issue also changed the locks on his door at home,” Bond said.

“You must be joking,” Moneypenny said.

“I’m afraid not,” Bond said. “Is there any news from Mallory?”

“He’s called a meeting for 8:00 AM tomorrow,” Moneypenny said. “I’m sure you’ll want to be there.”

“Of course,” Bond said. “I’ll see you then.”

“Promise me you’ll take care of him, James,” Moneypenny said. “The poor poppet, he must be so distraught.”

“He’s holding up surprisingly well,” Bond said.

“Well thank heavens you’re there for him,” Moneypenny said. “Give him my love, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bond pocketed the mobile and tucked the paper with the wifi password under the corner of Q’s laptop. He could do with a hot shower himself when Q was finished. He was exhausted from his late night flight from Damascus as well as the stress of Q’s predicament. Although he had the next two weeks off from active MI6 duty, a requirement for all agents after action, Q’s situation would mean that Bond had little time to relax.

The water stopped running before Bond could find anything suitable that might pass for a meal. He supposed they could order take-away tonight and he could make a run to the grocer tomorrow.

Bond pulled out a barstool and sat at the island. He had sorted through a week’s worth of mail, tossing most of it into the bin, when Q emerged barefoot from the bathroom, wearing the clothing Bond had loaned him. His shower-damp hair stuck up at all angles, making him look deliciously shaggable, if the circumstances were different.

“Comfortable?” Bond asked.

“Yes, thanks,” Q said. “Feeling much better.”

“That’s good to hear,” Bond said. “I’m going to have a shower and try to shake off some of the cobwebs from not getting enough sleep last night. Take-away menus are in the bottom drawer if you want to look for something for dinner.”

“All right,” Q said with a nod. “I can do that.”

“And the wifi password is next to your laptop,” Bond said.

“Thanks,” Q said lifting the paper from where Bond had left it for him. “I’m going to see what information I can retrieve. I hope there’s a clue somewhere as to why I’ve been effectively terminated.”

“And we need to figure out how I can best approach Mallory about your situation,” Bond said. “Miss Moneypenny called to give you her regards. I’ll go into the office to see M tomorrow, but it probably won’t be wise to tell him that you’re staying here.”

Q nodded and entered the wifi password on his keyboard.

“And I mean it,” Bond said before he left the room. “Make yourself at home. Your tea is on the counter.”

Bond removed his tie as he walked to the bedroom. His suitcase from his Middle East mission still sat packed on the floor. He scrubbed his hands across his face, thinking of the dirty laundry he had stuffed inside before he hastily departed Syria. He’d add a trip to the dry cleaners to his list of things to do, along with the grocery run tomorrow. Still, his top priority was to meet with Mallory so he could get a sense of what was going on with Q.

For MI6 to cut a devoted department head like Q from their ranks was unprecedented. Bond vowed he would find out why, even if there was little hope of the decision being overturned.

Bond removed his shoulder holster and left his pistol on the bed.

Unless Q had done something bordering on treason, it seemed implausible that MI6 would have disposed of a talented Quartermaster. If they had eliminated the Quartermaster position, in a situation like last years’ unsuccessful coup to shut down the double-oh program, Q would have been notified and offered another position at MI6, Bond was sure of it. Q simply knew too much for MI6 to wash their hands of him.

This went deeper than MI6 alone. It was most concerning that Q’s personal life had been affected as well as his professional life. Q’s unusable Oyster card and changed locks on his house hardly seemed the work of an organization that was committed to keeping people safe from harm.

Bond stripped to his boxers and left his clothing in a heap beside his suitcase.

If Mallory could provide any insight, Bond would have to wait until tomorrow. Then, he would know what Q was up against.

A haze from Q’s shower fogged the bathroom mirror. Bond kicked off his boxers and tossed them into the hamper. He noted that Q had left his clothes draped over the heated towel rack where they could dry. If Q wanted to add them to the laundry tomorrow, he’d be welcome to do so. Bond had already decided that Q could do what suited him during his stay. Fighting over the remote control wouldn’t be conducive to solving Q’s dilemma. Bond wasn’t about to make a fuss over domestic issues that might arise from them sharing a space together. Besides, Q wouldn’t be here for very long.

Bond turned on the shower and stepped inside.

He let the hot water run over his face, washing away the cares of the day and reviving him to a more wakeful state. It would be a couple more days until his internal clock recovered from the jet lag suffered during his most recent mission. He grabbed the shampoo and worked it through his short hair, giving it a light scrub with his fingers.

He thought about Q, sitting in his kitchen, wearing his clothes, all warm and cosy.

Bond’s hands worked up a lather with the bar of soap. He groaned when he realized that Q had likely used the same bar when he had showered. His thoughts drifted to Q, naked in his bathroom. Q, massaging the soap over his skinny body. He wondered if Q’s chest was decorated with dark hair, like that on his head, or if he was as smooth as a nubile bedslave.

Bond stifled a groan at the thought.

Bond pondered whether Q had a dalliance with his right hand while he was in the shower, but he decided that Q handled stress with too much economy of emotion to let the human need for release sway him from his resolve.

Still, thinking of Q’s damp spiky hair and his pretty arse that was warmed by Bond’s own clothes sent his mind straight to the luxury suite of any five-star hotel on the planet. He didn’t care which, as long as it was far from MI6.

It had been a while since Bond slept with anyone on a mission. It wasn’t that the opportunity didn’t present itself. It often did. However, sex was unnecessary for the recent missions he had accepted. There were only arms traffickers to interrogate, enemies of Queen and Country to dispatch, but no lonely wives to seduce for vital information.

It had been months since he and Madeleine had parted ways. They had fun while they were together, but he should have known it wouldn’t last. It had been nearly perfect, until her ex invited her back to Switzerland and she left with the promise of a research position at the university and a warm bed to come home to at night. His promises outweighed anything Bond could give her. As always, Bond was heartened that he managed to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of his time with a female companion, despite the sad ending.

That was how it went with Bond. Nothing ever lasted—not the way it always did at the end of a film romance. Those stories were for other people, not Bond.

Bond rinsed the soap from his body, his arms, his chest, his legs. Bond’s hand lingered on his cock, realizing that the thoughts of a naked Quartermaster had distracted him again. He hoped he could control himself with Q staying in his flat. He needed to resist the temptation. Q was a colleague in distress. Flirting with Q was always fun at work and Q accepted it in good humour, often giving back as good as he got. But he would be furious if Bond tried to seduce him when he was at his most vulnerable. And Bond would be furious with himself for trying it.

Bond turned the faucet until the water ran icy cold.

~

When he finished rinsing off, Bond grabbed a fresh towel from the cupboard. As he towelled himself dry, he hoped that Q had made some progress with the laptop. Any information he gleaned would bring them closer to learning the truth of why Q was burned by MI6.

He wrapped the towel around his waist and walked out of the bathroom. The flat was eerily silent, considering Q was in the kitchen. Bond wasn’t one to surrender to paranoia, but a horrible thought ran through his head. What if an enemy operative had followed him and Q to his flat?

Any enemy of the British government might want to recruit Q to serve their cause. If Q didn’t go willingly with his captors, they might have unpleasant ways to persuade Q to join them.

What if they got past Bond’s alarm? Bond was certain he remembered to set it. But what if Q was gone? What if he left of his own accord? The re-entry from a mission always made Bond more paranoid than strictly necessary, but he still acted on his instincts.

“Q?” Bond called.

No response came from the kitchen.

Bond ducked into the bedroom and retrieved his gun. Wearing only a towel, he crept down the hallway. With his back flat against the wall to shield his presence, he called into the unusually silent kitchen.

“Q?”

Bracing himself for the worst, Bond peered around the corner. A trickle of condensed water ran down his back and slipped into his towel. Bond didn’t let it distract him.

Q’s laptop was still perched on the countertop. The blue glow from the screen reflected off the living room window. A toolbar indicated that a scan was running.

A glance at the door confirmed to Bond that it was still locked and bolted from the inside.

Bond took two steps toward the kitchen and from the corner of the room, a movement caught his eye.

“Q?” Bond asked with a relieved sigh.

He found Q sitting in a foetal position on the kitchen floor.

“Q,” Bond said, lowering his weapon. “I worried the unthinkable happened to you.”

“I’d say this whole situation is pretty unthinkable,” Q said sadly when he looked up at Bond.

It was then that Bond noticed the blood.

“What happened?” Bond asked, setting his weapon on the counter. He dropped to the floor, where Q cradled his bloody hand.

“What have you done?” Bond asked, hoping that Q hadn’t intentionally harmed himself.

Q clasped his hands closer to his body. His glasses were fogged.

“I was slicing a lemon, hoping to improve my tea,” Q said.

Bond knelt in front of Q and slid a hand under both of Q’s hands as if he could contain the injury as well as Q’s mental state. There was so much blood. Bond hoped that Q didn’t need stitches. He reached up to the counter and grabbed a tea towel.

“You told me to make myself at home,” Q said. “I should have known that double-ohs keep their kitchen knives quite sharp.”

Bond gave Q a weak smile.

“Let’s have a look,” Bond said, arranging the tea towel under Q’s hands. “I want to see how badly you’re hurt.” With his free hand, he coaxed Q’s fingers into loosening their grip. Crimson droplets of blood seeped from Q’s left index finger. It was a clean cut at least, without any ragged edges. There was something to be said for keeping one’s knives sharp.

Bond gently wiped the wound clean with the tea towel. With most of the blood absorbed, it didn’t look too bad. Bond was thankful that he didn’t slice through an artery. He imagined Q might be relieved to see how minor his injury was when compared to all he had been through this day. But instead of Q being relieved, tears leaked from his eyes.

“What have I done to make them do this to me?” Q asked, the sobs wracking his upper body.

Bond sighed. Treating Q’s injured hand was going to be more complicated than he thought.

“You’ve done nothing. We’ll get this sorted out,” Bond said softly. He squeezed the tea towel around Q’s injured hand, maintaining the pressure while he lowered himself to the floor. Carefully, he scooted over so his bare back rested against the dishwasher as he sat beside Q. He wrapped an arm around Q’s shoulders, letting him know it was all right to feel this way. Q could let it all out, if he needed to. Bond would be here for him. He remembered sitting in a similar position, comforting Vesper in a hotel shower a thousand lifetimes ago. The gravity of the situation wasn’t so different from this one with Q.

Without giving it another thought, Bond unwrapped Q’s injured finger and took it into his mouth. Q inhaled sharply.

Bond closed his eyes, not wanting to give too much away of what he was feeling for Q at that moment. The sympathy he felt for him, the empathy that he wanted so badly to exhibit, but hardly dared, and the genuine affection for Q that fuelled it all.

Q’s skin tasted like spiced tea, mixed with the subtle tang of blood. Bond imagined that perhaps his willingness to get Q’s blood in his mouth would convince Q that he was still trusted a great deal—by Bond, if not by MI6. Indeed, Bond would trust Q with his life. He remained certain that Q hadn’t done anything to deserve the way he was treated by those responsible for his demise as Quartermaster.

“My cats,” Q said, his voice breaking.

Bond had forgotten about Q’s cats during the crisis. He knew how utterly devoted Q was to them.

“I’m sorry,” Bond whispered against Q’s fingers.

“Now that I’ve had time to think, I can’t believe I left them behind,” Q said, wiping his nose with the back of his uninjured hand. “I can deal with everything I had to leave, but….”

“You’re under a lot of stress. You weren’t thinking straight when I found you on your doorstep,” Bond said, still holding Q’s injured hand.

“Petting an animal is supposed to be a great stress reliever,” Q said hopefully.

Bond wanted to laugh. The cats... they were the only family Q had, besides Q’s sister in Paris. Maybe if Bond could get the cats out of the flat, Emily would adopt them—at least for the time being. Bond was not fond of cats and couldn’t imagine harbouring them in his small flat. He pressed a light kiss to Q’s finger and released his hold on Q’s hand.

“Q,” Bond said. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll go to Putney and break your cats out.”

Q drew back from Bond’s embrace. He looked as if he couldn’t believe what he had heard.

“You don’t have to,” Q said. “In fact, that’s insane. We’ll be caught. Whoever is responsible for this may try to torture me for information. I’m not a very good fighter and I’m not fond of physical pain.”

Bond clasped his hand to Q’s shoulder.

“That’s why you can’t come with me,” Bond said.

“But I must go,” Q said. “The cats don’t know you—not that they’re aggressive or anything, but what if you can’t catch them? What if you accidentally let them outside? They’ve never been outdoors before. Too dangerous on my street. They wouldn’t know how to defend themselves if they got away from you, and—”

“Q,” Bond said.

Their lips were only inches apart and it would have been so easy for Bond to lean forward and kiss Q to get him to stop talking.

Q’s eyes flickered over his mouth. “Yes?” Q said.

Bond reined in his desire. Besides, he was quite amused at how Q seemed to forget his bigger problems when talking about the safety of his cats. Bond hoped that the creatures were still inside Q’s house and hadn’t been dispatched by Q’s unidentified enemy.

“First, I’m going to find a bandage and some antibiotic ointment for your finger,” Bond said. “Then, you’re going to choose some take-away.”

“Then, what?” Q asked.

“Then, I’m leaving to get the cats and I’ll pick up the take-away on my way back home,” Bond said.

“That would be amazing, and so very appreciated,” Q said. “It’s really not necessary. It’s too much. But I’ve been thinking that if I wasn’t worried about the cats being killed or abused or taken to the pound even….” Q exhaled long and hard. “I think I’ll be able to focus on whatever information I can get off the laptop. I’m sure it seems utterly ridiculous to you.”

“No, not ridiculous at all,” Bond said. He realized how much he truly wanted to make Q happy, to make him forget some of the horrors that went on at MI6 today. “No more ridiculous than the way I’m sitting half-naked on the floor with you.”

“You’re more like three-quarters naked,” Q said.

“Your prowess for mathematics is wasted on calculating percentages of nakedness,” Bond said.

With that, Bond left the tea towel wrapped around Q’s hand and got to his feet. He rose carefully to keep his bath towel from losing its battle with gravity. He offered Q an outstretched hand and Q accepted it with his good one. They stood inches apart in the kitchen for a moment, too close to be friends, too distant to be lovers. Q’s green eyes blinked at Bond from behind smudged glasses.

It was Q who broke the tension by looking over Bond’s shoulder at his laptop. “Ahh, my program has finished scanning,” he said. “Let me see if I can learn anything from the data.”

“And while you have your laptop running, see if you can get this working again,” Bond said. He reached into a kitchen drawer and dug through a collection of half-charged batteries, mechanical pencils, and broken calculators. Eventually, he pulled out an earpiece he had neglected to return to Q-branch after a long-forgotten mission.

“Bond,” Q said. “You fail to return my equipment just to drive me crazy. Don’t you?”

Bond smirked as Q took the earpiece from him.

“It must have slipped my mind to return it to my Quartermaster,” Bond said.

“Well, he appreciates getting it back now. He’ll be sure to return it to its original working condition,” Q said.

“For the sake of the cats,” Bond said.

“Especially because of the cats,” Q said.

While Q tinkered with the communications device, Bond went to his bedroom and changed into a set of tactical clothing: black trousers, a black turtleneck that could be pulled up to cover his face, black boots, a watch cap, and of course, his shoulder holster. He packed a set of lock picks and night-vision goggles into an empty mountaineering rucksack.

Bond felt much better since Q seemed to get himself together after his momentary lapse into despair. He knew that Q was as tough as they came when manning comms or giving the order to dispatch an enemy. He could handle whatever was thrown his way and Bond was willing to help him get back some of the spirit he had lost in the past day.

When Bond returned to the kitchen, Q handed him the earpiece.

“I found some tools in your drawer of miscellaneous junk. This seems to be in perfect working order now,” he said. “And I ran some tests on my machine. It’s strange, nearly everything is intact as it should be, although I don’t dare check my bank account on any device. I had locked down my workstation before we went to lunch, but I discovered some unusual tracking activity from a program that I didn’t install. I disabled it, and I’m analysing its source now. In the meantime, let’s test our comm link.”

Bond inserted the earpiece and Q’s fingers skated over the keyboard as he made adjustments to the controls. Finally, he spoke into the microphone on his laptop.

“Testing, one, two, three,” Q said.

“Loud and clear, Quartermaster,” Bond said, assuring him that they would remain in close communication for the duration of this mission to rescue Q’s cats.

Bond left with the rucksack, with his earpiece in place, and with explicit orders from Q to retrieve a Carbonara take-away from Pizza Express on his way home.

It was good to have Q smiling again, with a bandage wrapped around his finger that told him that someone cared, even if MI6 didn’t.

~

After spending nearly an hour in traffic, Bond arrived at the house on Putney Heath Lane. He discretely parked the Aston Martin a few blocks away in the parking lot of the Putney High School, where classes were not in session. Shouldering the rucksack, Bond walked the distance to Q’s house, doubling back through the adjacent streets, making certain he wasn’t being followed. Darkness fell, but at least it had stopped raining.

“I’m going to try to get in the back way,” Bond said.

“If you have to break a window, I’ll understand,” Q said over the comm.

Bond rolled his eyes. He worried that Q might never see the inside of his home again, but apparently Q was more concerned with broken glass. Bond attributed it to the stress Q was under. He could try to remain his calm and cool self, but underneath it all, something had to give. Perhaps if the cats were safe, Q could function more efficiently and they could get to the bottom of what had happened at MI6.

The centre of Q’s block contained an expanse of terraces divided by neat fences that separated each one from its neighbour’s. It was all too easy to find Q’s house, the only one whose lights did not illuminate the inside of the home. While other families watched the telly and children did their homework in the surrounding homes, Q’s house sat silent and dark. No doubt the cats were wondering when they were going to be fed.

Under the cover of darkness, Bond jumped the fence and made his way through Q’s terrace, the wet grass squishing under his boots.

Q’s outdoor deck stood a few feet off the ground. Bond crouched low and dug the night-vision goggles and the lock picks from the rucksack. He shoved the picks into his pocket and donned the eyewear. When they were in place, Bond leapt over the deck’s railing, landing with a thud on the wooden floor.

“Bond?” Q asked over the comm. “Are you there? Is everything all right?”

“Yes,” Bond whispered. “I’m at your back door.”

Somewhere, a dog barked.

Bond paused for a moment and listened to Q’s breathing until he was certain no one else heard his boots hitting the deck. When all was quiet, he crept past Q’s outdoor furniture. Bond imagined happier days when Q would step out onto the deck to sit and enjoy his first cup of Earl Grey before the city was awake. Lush vegetation surrounded the small table and pair of chairs. Bond wondered if Q ever had company to sit in the second chair, an overnight guest, perhaps, to share his morning tea. Q’s private life was a mystery to Bond. Fortunately, Q’s secluded retreat allowed Bond to remain undetected by surveillance or curious neighbours.

Across the deck, a sliding glass door offered an entry point to Q’s kitchen. Bond took the picks out of his pocket and went to work. With a few twists of metal, he was in.

He stepped onto the floor which was comprised of expensive Italian tiles arranged in an art deco pattern.

“Q, I’m standing in your kitchen,” Bond said. “You’re a MI6 department head, for heaven’s sake. You should definitely have better security than this.”

“You forget, Bond,” Q said. “Whoever was responsible for my ousting must have changed my locks. I suppose they disabled the alarm system too.”

“It would appear so,” Bond said, examining the remains of the alarm system that had been torn from the wall. “I should have known you were smart enough to not rely on a key alone.” It was easy to lose focus on Q’s bigger problem when Bond was focused on whether Q’s cats were still alive.

Still, Bond promised himself that even if they never got this problem straightened out, he would make sure Q was safe from those who would do him harm, whether he was reinstated as Quartermaster of MI6 or whether he had to settle for a job as a cashier at Tesco’s.

A single thump disturbed Bond from his reverie.

He paused and listened. From out of the darkness, a cat appeared and twined around Bond’s ankles. Bond breathed a sigh of relief. At least one cat was here, and quite alive.

“I think I’ve just met one of your furry little friends,” Bond said as he watched the green image of the cat, its eyes iridescent through the night-vision goggles.

“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that,” Q said. “Which one is it?”

The cat let out a soft mewl and got onto its hind legs, stretching so its front paws touched Bond’s knee.

“How on Earth should I know?” Bond said. “A cat is a cat.”

“It’s probably Copernicus,” Q said. Bond could tell that Q was hiding his exasperation. “He’s very friendly.”

“Well, this one’s friendly all right,” Bond said.

“He’s not a good deterrent to a burglar. Especially when you’re there as a cat burglar,” Q said, with a laugh. “Get it? A cat burglar?”

Bond listened to Q giggling at his own joke. He smiled when he remembered how much he liked having Q on comms when he was on a mission. Not only was Q effective, but he kept Bond in a positive state of mind. When Q stopped laughing, Bond said, “I hope the other cat turns up soon.”

“I’m sure he will. Galileo is frisky and playful,” Q said, “Copernicus is older and sleeps most of the day, preferably in a warm lap.”

Bond knew the feeling. Some days he felt like an old cat, wanting to stretch out before curling up to sleep for the day. He supposed it was his age telling him that it was time to slow down. He pushed the thought aside. It wasn’t a realistic option for a double-oh agent.

“You’ll need to get their travel carriers. They’re upstairs,” Q said. “Can you see without turning the lights on?”

“I can,” Bond said. “But let me clear the house first to make sure no one is lying in wait for you.”

Q’s breath quickened through the comm link.

Bond moved through the kitchen with his gun drawn, mindful of Copernicus and the hiding Galileo. It wouldn’t bode well if he shot a cat dead while he was trying to help Q.

Bond was surprised that Q’s kitchen was so strikingly different than his own. White cabinetry with glass doors displayed Q’s fine china. The light from the night-vision goggles reflected off stainless steel appliances. There were no dishes in the sink, nor was there a pile of mail cluttered on the granite countertops or on the handsome farm table.

“The kitchen is clear,” Bond said. “On to the next room.”

“There’s a bathroom on your left as you leave the kitchen,” Q said.

“Got it,” Bond said, checking the tiny room that contained only a toilet and a sink. Half the room accommodated what was presumably the cats’ litterbox. The soles of Bond’s boots crunched in the litter that the cats had shovelled onto the floor.

“The cats found their litterbox,” Bond said, noting their woefully empty food dish. At least there was some hope that empty-stomached creatures wouldn’t vomit all over the interior of the Aston Martin.

“We’ll need to get some litter,” Q said. “You’ll never be able to carry everything out of my house in your rucksack.”

“I’ll get what I can,” Bond said, moving on to the living room. “We’ll have to make do with what I can get today.”

“That’s fine,” Q said. “And Bond, I’ll be so pleased to have my cats, if nothing else.”

Bond shook his head. He could never understand why people were so obsessed with their pets. He certainly found them useless, but alas, if Q wanted them back so badly, he’d see to it that he helped to reunite Q with them.

Bond left the bathroom and headed into the living room, which was connected to the kitchen in an open concept design that was popular in gentrified buildings such as the ones in Q’s neighbourhood. Although he wore night-vision goggles, Bond was taken aback by the interior décor of Q’s home. He found it exceedingly minimalist, but tastefully so. For as messy as Q kept his workstation and office at MI6, he kept his home as neat. No clutter filled the corners of the rooms. There were no gadget guts strewn on any countertop, no half-completed projects awaiting adjustment, and no tools of any kind visible to Bond.

Instead, a pure white sofa sat adorned with a cashmere throw on one side of the room with two simple black leather hassocks arranged across from it. On one long wall behind the sofa, a collection of photographs were displayed in matching frames. On the opposite wall, a flat screen television was hung above a small black cabinet that presumably contained electronics. The walls of the room were painted a stark flat white. Each piece of furniture and accent reminded Bond of an architectural design book, one that featured an eclectic mixture of shiny chrome with antique white and black. Underfoot, a highly polished hardwood floor made every strand of shed cat fur stand out in high detail through Bond’s night-vision goggles.

“Your living room is clear,” Bond said.

“Upstairs, then,” Q said. “I hope you can find Galileo.”

“Found him,” Bond said as the second cat noisily bounded down the steps.

Q’s voice broke on his next transmission over the comm link. “I’m so pleased with you right now,” he said. “Well done, Bond.”

“I’ll try to keep them in sight so I can get them into their carriers,” Bond said. “I’m at the top of the stairs now.”

Holding the pistol steadily in front of him, Bond checked the upper level of Q’s house. Three walls of the office were lined with built-in bookcases. A white drafting desk stood in the centre of the room, Q’s tablet neatly resting beside a marble box that served as a pen holder.

“I’ll grab your tablet, if you’d like,” Bond said, no longer bothering to be quiet. If anyone were lying in wait for Q, they would have made their presence known by now.

“If there’s room for it,” Q said.

“It’s a bloody big rucksack, Q,” Bond said. “That’s why I brought it.”

Bond picked up the tablet and wandered down the hall to Q’s bedroom. Before he reached the bedroom door, he found the second bathroom. He swept inside and checked for an intruder, but there was nothing that caught his attention, besides the walk-in shower. Bond stared through the clear glass door and recounted some of the same lustful thoughts he had earlier about Q.

This was where Q got naked.

Bond bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself focussed.

“Upstairs bathroom is clear,” Bond said.

“There’s a closet across from the bathroom door,” Q said. “You’ll find the cat’s carriers in there.”

Bond slid the door open and looked for the carriers. Q seemed fond of white linens and towels, Bond thought, as he perused the shelves.

“They’re on the floor, far over to the left,” Q said.

“Got them,” Bond said. “Let me take care of the bedroom first before I try to herd the cats into these.”

Q’s bedroom was filled with the aroma of Q, his shampoo, his tea, the faint scent of his come. A shiver went down Bond’s spine.

The room was decorated in the same minimal style as the rest of the house. A four poster bed covered in a plush white duvet stood in the centre of the room. Bond swung open the wardrobe door, making one final exploration of the room before he could confirm that the house was empty.

“All clear, Q,” Bond announced. “There’s no one here.”

Q let out an audible sigh of relief.

“I’m turning on the lights and getting to work,” Bond said.

“Just get whatever you can,” Q said. “And the cats, of course.”

Returning his gun to its holster, Bond flipped on the lights. The effect of Q’s interior design was magnified by the lighting. In some ways, it was more posh than the most lavish hotel room, yet the simple lines and sparse details beckoned for Bond to collapse into a comfortable chair, put his feet up and spend the next few hours lazing with a good book. At once, Bond could see why Q called this place his home.

With no time to spare, Bond unshouldered the rucksack and set about shoving in as many hideous jumpers and ugly trousers as he could. When he was sure he had several changes of clothing for Q, he went to the dresser, a polished oak monstrosity with three enormous drawers opened with antique brass handles.

In the top drawer, Bond grabbed an armful of while t-shirts. In the middle, he took multiple pairs of colourful boxers. The bottom drawer contained socks, some striped brightly, others solid in tones of red grape, neon yellow, and lime green. The careful organization of the drawers made Bond laugh. Clearly Q had put a lot of thought into this top, middle, bottom, drawer plan. Bond could barely unpack his dry-cleaning, let alone keep it organized.

Satisfied that he got as much of Q’s clothing as he could, Bond shoved the tablet into the top pocket of the rucksack and dragged it into the bathroom. He filled the remaining space with Q’s toiletries, his razor, and as many hair products as he could manage. He felt sure that Q would appreciate the effort. The cats looked on with classic feline curiosity.

When the rucksack was full to bursting, Bond hauled it to the upstairs landing and brought the cat carriers from the closet. The cats were having none of it, so they promptly fled down the stairs, their curiosity satisfied for the moment.

Bond shoved his arms through the straps of the rucksack, took a carrier in each hand, and followed the felines downstairs. Leaving the rucksack by the kitchen door, he herded the cats into the bathroom by waving the empty cat carriers at them and taunting them with threats of a trip to the veterinarian. The life of a MI6 agent had prepared him for all manner of dangerous actions in the field, but none that compared to getting Q’s cats into their carriers.

He shut the bathroom door, trapping himself and the cats in the tiny room. He tried to keep the ruckus to a minimum so as not to alarm Q through his earpiece, but it was futile.

“Bond, are you all right?” Q asked when the howling subsided.

“I will be in a minute,” Bond said as he hovered over a fluffy orange cat, eventually frightening it into running into the carrier.

“There may be some cat litter in the cabinet under the sink,” Q said. “They’ll need to use something as a litter tray while they’re at your flat.”

“I’ve got it covered,” Bond said, folding over the top flap of the bag of cat litter and pushing it through the door of the carrier to the chagrin of its feline occupant. He took care to latch the door shut, lest his charge escape.

“And food,” Q reminded Bond.

“Food,” Bond repeated with a sigh.

He found a full bag of kibble beneath the sink and used it to lure the second cat, a fuzzy beast with dark tiger stripes, into his carrier.

“I’ve got them,” Bond said finally, exhausted from his adventure in cat wrangling.

“You’ve probably got everything you can carry in one trip,” Q said.

Bond agreed. He set the cat carriers beside the rucksack by the kitchen door and listened to the cats’ pitiful meows.

Taking one last look through Q’s house, he lamented that Q might never see his home again. There was something strikingly comfortable about the house. The gentle scent of tea and spice wafted through each room. Bond decided that the house reminded him of Q himself, with the rich textured fabrics that begged to be touched, the calming atmosphere that invited exploration. In the short time that Q lived there, he had made it his own, a peaceful place where he could escape from the pressures of MI6.

While the cats pleaded to be released, Bond had a rush of sentimentality that urged him to bring a few more of Q’s belongings to his flat for him. He rushed to Q’s bedroom and tore the white duvet from the bed. Taking the stairs two at a time on the descent, Bond noticed the pictures Q had framed above his sofa. Certainly they meant something to Q.

Bond spread the duvet out, and one by one, he swept the photographs into the centre of the duvet. He then took all four corners together and wrapped it into a bundle that he was sure he could carry under his arm.

The cats continued to sing their angry song.

Bond hauled the rucksack onto his back. With the duvet under an arm, he took the cat carriers outside to the back deck. The weight was strangely heavy and awkward, but Bond reckoned he had enough stamina to get his parcels back to the Aston Martin he had left in the parking lot a half mile away.

He locked Q’s kitchen door behind him and left the place that Q called home, sad that he would not be returning.

“I’m on my way back to the car,” Bond said.

“I’m relieved to hear it,” Q said.

The cats mewled their disapproval. Bond couldn’t blame them for not wanting to leave their home. He took the stairs from Q’s terrace, cursing that he hadn’t seen them when he first arrived. In the dark, he trudged across the wet grass and arrived at the border of the property.

“Hey, you!” someone shouted as Bond stepped from Q’s terrace onto the pavement.

“It looks like we may have trouble,” Bond said.

“Do what you need to do, Bond,” Q said. “But I don’t want you to kill anyone over a rucksack full of jumpers.”

“Really?” Bond asked. “To think that I took such care to pack your favourites.”

Bond set the cats down on the pavement. The duvet fell out of Bond’s grasp and settled on top of one of the carriers.

“Stop right there!” the man shouted.

“I think one of your neighbours has an aversion to pussy,” Bond said. He could almost hear Q rolling his eyes over the comm link.

The man got out his mobile. Bond gave him the benefit of doubt, thinking he might be a nosy neighbour intent on calling the police. Still, he approached him cautiously, ever-conscious that it would only take him a split second to draw his gun.

“No, it’s not him,” the man said into the mobile.

“Looking for someone?” Bond said.

“Mind your own business,” the man said, turning away.

Bond weighed the pros and cons of getting into an altercation with a neighbour and decided against it. Besides, he had to get the cats to Q, but something about the man sparked Bond’s interest.

“What did you mean when you said it’s not him?” Bond asked.

“I told you to mind your own business,” the man said.

“Who were you speaking to?” Bond asked.

Without warning, the man took a swing at Bond. Bond blocked it easily, knocking the man’s mobile out of his hand. It fell to the ground as Bond twisted the thug’s arm around his back.

“I asked who you were speaking to,” Bond said, wrenching the man’s arm.

“I don’t know the bloke’s name, I’m just supposed to call him if the owner of the house tries to break in,” the man said through gritted teeth.

With one hand, Bond patted the man down, searching for a weapon or more clues about his identity or the identity of whoever he worked for. There was nothing, except the broken mobile lying on the pavement.

“They’re looking for me, aren’t they?” Q whispered through the comm link.

The squeal of tyres rounding the corner pierced the night. A black sedan pulled up beside them and another thug got out of the car. Bond ducked the first punch, but he wasn’t so lucky with the second. Bond landed a few punches of his own, but he was torn between pursuing the altercation with the men and getting the cats safely back to Q.

“Let’s go,” the owner of the broken mobile shouted as he scrambled into the car.

Bond didn’t give chase. These ordinary thugs wouldn’t have been provided with any valid contact information that would lead to whoever was behind Q’s removal from MI6. There was a good chance that they left Bond with the best information he could hope to have pried from them.

“What’s happening?” Q asked through the comm.

Bond picked up the broken pieces of the mobile.

“I’m bringing you a present,” Bond said.

He shoved pieces of the mobile into his pocket, sure that Q could scour it for information when he got home.

Bond returned to where the cats mewled angrily in their carriers. Checking both ways on the street to make sure he wasn’t being followed, Bond made his way back to the high school parking lot.

When Bond reached the Aston Martin, he arranged the carriers awkwardly in the passenger’s side of the car, one on the floor and the other on the seat. He hoped the cats didn’t mind too much, but they certainly seemed to, as they both increased their efforts to be freed, their little claws raking at the metal bars of their carrier doors.

The duvet served as padding to keep the cats from being jostled around. Bond hoped that the picture frames didn’t get damaged in his escape from Putney Heath Lane. He dropped the rucksack into the boot and pounded on it until it closed. One didn’t simply lash a bungee cord around their parcels that wouldn’t fit in the boot of their Aston Martin.

“The cats are safe and you’re on your way home,” Q said knowingly, when the engine roared to life.

“But first, pizza,” Bond said, relieved that he had done the best he could for Q.

“And, while you’re there, get an order of those dough balls with the garlic butter dipping sauce,” Q said. “I love those.”

“Whatever your heart desires, Q,” Bond said. “I’ll see you soon.”

~

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