gwyllion: (Default)
[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.



“And you just left them in the car while you picked up the take-away?” Q asked. He petted the fluffy orange cat that purred contentedly in his lap—Copernicus, as Bond had learned, when Q introduced them formally, after letting the cat out of his carrier.

Bond leaned over the coffee table to tear a slice of Carbonara pizza from the piping hot pie. “Did you expect me to take them into Pizza Express with me?” he asked.

“I suppose not,” Q said.

“I did worry that the car would smell of cat vomit if they had an accident,” Bond said.

“It’s bad enough that the leather will reek of pizza for a week,” Q said.

“And garlic,” Bond reminded him, before taking a bite.

“A bit of cat vomit may have dissipated faster. Sorry, next time, you can choose the take-away,” Q said as he dipped a round ball of baked dough into the melted garlic butter.

Q had taken the liberty of making a fire in Bond’s fireplace. The tiger-striped cat named Galileo sat on the rug in front of the hearth. Bond couldn’t remember the last time he had bothered to make a fire, but Q had figured out the quirks of the flue and found the small stack of wood that Bond’s landlord had left as a sort of housewarming gift when Bond first moved in. The fire added some charm to the desolate flat that Bond had barely begun to unpack and call home. Flickers of firelight reflected off the French doors and banished the evening chill from the flat’s plastered walls.

The telly droned in the background as the BBC news reported yet another suicide bombing with twenty dead and ISIS taking responsibility. The news didn’t mention a MI6 department head that had been mysteriously abandoned by his organization earlier today, thank goodness. The less attention that was brought to Q’s situation, the safer he would be. Bond hoped Q could get information off the shattered mobile he brought him. And he looked forward to getting some answers from M in the morning.

“What happened to your hand?” Q asked, from where he sat at one end of Bond’s sofa.

Bond examined his bloody knuckle. “I must have split it when I scuffled with the blokes who were watching your house,” he said.

“Such a brute,” Q said, petting his cat gently. “I’m surprised you didn’t kill them when you discovered they weren’t going to give you any solid information.”

“Please, Q,” Bond said, raising his palm. “Not in front of the cats.”

Q laughed and passed Bond a napkin to wipe the blood from his hand. “When I first noticed it, I thought it was pizza sauce,” he said.

“Apparently not,” Bond said sucking his knuckle into his mouth.

“That’s a filthy habit, you know,” Q said.

“What’s that?” Bond asked.

“Your vampirish tendency to suck blood whenever you see it,” Q said, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, that?” Bond said, fighting back a smile and remembering how he had instinctively sucked Q’s injured finger into his mouth when it bled. “It’s all part of a deep-seated oral fixation, according to Psych.”

Q snorted. “Frankly I’m surprised you ever manage to pass your evaluation.”

“What makes you think I do pass?” Bond asked. He lowered his voice and added, “Anyone can study for a test if they put their mind to it.”

Q shook his head, undoubtedly appalled at Bond’s lack of concern for his psychological health.

Bond disregarded Q’s insistence that sucking a body part was a filthy thing. There was disgusting filthy and there was exciting filthy. Bond decided that Q hadn’t experienced the exciting kind of filthy in a very long time.

“I made some progress on my laptop while you were away,” Q said, savouring the buttery dough ball. “I thought you might like to know.”

“Of course,” Bond said, taking another gulp of Scotch, the ice tinkling in the glass. “I knew you’d work on it, despite being worried about the cats.”

“Some things are inevitable, as you know.”

Bond rolled his eyes. “And what did you find?”

“Well, I usually keep things locked up tight,” Q said, leaning over carefully to grab another slice of pizza without disturbing the cat on his lap.

“That goes without saying. I’ve heard you threaten your minions for violating the most inconsequential standards of security,” Bond said. “They fear you.”

“And rightfully so,” Q said, snagging a piece of pancetta before it fell onto the orange cat.

Copernicus had enough of the disruptions and jumped off Q’s lap to wander around the flat. Bond hoped he wouldn’t find his bedroom. He imagined the cat shedding all over his pillows or eviscerating his favourite bowtie.

“As it turned out, someone recently hacked into one of my email servers,” Q said.

“That can’t be good,” Bond said with a frown. He was surprised that Q didn’t seem more alarmed about it.

“It was completely unconnected to MI6. I had partitions and firewalls in place,” Q said, as if it explained everything.

“Of course,” Bond said, knowing that Q was too clever by half and he’d have to pay close attention to keep up with his technobabble.

“You remember in the American election, that drama over Hillary Clinton’s emails?” Q asked. He obviously registered Bond’s confusion and took care to break it down into terms he could understand.

“The Benghazi thing?” Bond asked, remembering. He did try to keep up with American politics in his spare time. “Her adversaries claimed that she had released classified information, but they couldn’t prove it because she sent her emails from a server that wasn’t affiliated with the government. Yes, I remember that. The Republicans tried to use it against her.”

“Only, she wasn’t doing anything illegal. However, she was using a different email server, outside of her governmental office,” Q said. “When you think about how many email addresses we acquire in the course of our lives, it’s astonishing that we never use more than one or two of them. Most of them are forgotten shortly after they’re created.”

“Like when you give an alternate email address to subscribe to a porn website,” Bond said.

Q dipped his chin to look at Bond over the rims of his glasses. “Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, exactly,” he said. “Pass that bottle over here.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m not a child, Bond. Besides, I should be entitled to something more than sparkling water for all I’ve endured today.”

“Very well,” Bond said, passing the bottle of Scotch to Q. “But don’t retch this 30 year-old Scotch into the toilet an hour from now, or I’ll regret giving it to you.”

Q scowled at Bond. He took the bottle and added a splash to his glass.

“So,” Q said. “The hacking I suffered was on an old email address from uni.” He took a sip of the Scotch and made a face.

“At MIT?” Bond asked.

“The school maintains email accounts for their alums. I don’t know of anyone who would ever use such an account,” Q said. “Maybe if you were unemployed and homeless after graduation, but no, no one ever uses them and the accounts stay dormant.”

“But yours wasn’t dormant?”

“I should have closed it,” Q said. “I really have no excuse, except that it would have taken a few minutes of my time.”

“So what now?” Bond asked.

“I’ve closed it tonight, but I’m running some diagnostics to find out where the hack originated,” Q said. “My guess is that it could be from a former classmate. Mind you, we have no idea if the hack is in any way related to what went on at MI6 today. I have to do some more research before I know more about that.”

Bond startled when Galileo suddenly leapt from the rug and ran to the French doors.

“I’m going to have a hard time getting used to having cats in the flat,” Bond said. “I nearly thought that one was a rat.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Q called to the cat. “He has no appreciation for how lovely you are.”

Q tapped on the arm of the sofa, and as if by magic, Galileo gracefully leapt onto it.

“There’s a good kitty,” Q said. “I’m sure your day was very scary too, but now, thanks to Bond, you’re safe and sound.”

Bond appreciated the gratitude. Besides, Q was beautiful when he spoke to the cats. Bond could understand why he had such an affinity for them. They were alike in the elegance of their movements, the quickness of their minds, and in the skilfulness of their hunting. Bond had no doubt that Q would figure out what had happened to get him removed from MI6. Like the proverbial cat chasing a mouse, Q would catch his prey and dispatch them swiftly for the harm they had done to him. Q might not have many kills to his name while using a traditional weapon, but with a keyboard, he was just as deadly as Bond.

Perhaps a former school acquaintance was jealous of Q’s success and laid a trail of Q’s past misdeeds for MI6 to follow, Bond speculated. Q was right, he wasn’t a child. Everyone had skeletons in their closet. Why not Q? Bond only hoped that Q could find a way to resolve the recent drama so he could be reinstated to MI6.

“I’m so tired,” Q said with a yawn. “Mmmm, this drink is making me feel fuzzy.”

“I always knew you were a lightweight,” Bond said. He rose from the sofa and collected the half-full bottle and the empty pizza box. Before taking them to the kitchen, he poured himself another two fingers of Scotch.

In the kitchen, Bond nearly tripped over the cat’s food bowl. After he binned the pizza box, he grabbed the bag of cat food he had taken from Q’s house and refilled the cats’ dish. The cats came running as if there was something new to see. Ridiculous animals.

Bond stooped down to pet the cats who purred delightedly as they dove into their full bowl. He supposed it was sort of fun to have a pet in the flat. Q certainly got a lot of comfort from them, judging the way he relaxed when Copernicus sat on his lap.

Bond noticed the bag of kanafeh on the kitchen table, so he brought it with him when he returned to the living room.

“Dessert?” he asked, shaking the bag at Q.

While Bond was in the kitchen, Q had moved from the sofa. He stood in front of the brown leather chair where Bond had deposited the rucksack of Q’s clothes. On top of the rucksack, the bundled duvet of framed photographs perched precariously.

“That would be perfect,” Q said, his hand going to his belly. “But I don’t think I can eat another bite.

Bond dropped the bag on the coffee table and went to help Q with the duvet.

“I worried I’d drop it on the street and the glass would shatter,” Bond said as he and Q each took an end of the parcel and lowered it to the floor.

“You didn’t need to do this,” Q said, unrolling the corners of the duvet and spreading it wide on the floor in front of Bond’s fireplace. “But I’m glad you did.”

“They seemed to be something personal that shouldn’t be left behind,” Bond said.

“As far as personal effects go, I had most of my important projects in my lab at work,” Q said, lowering his head. “But everything, except the raw materials—the designs are saved to my laptop if I have to start over again.”

Bond hadn’t realized what a brilliant idea it was to steal Q’s laptop for him. Even though Q now had possession of his files, Bond couldn’t bear to hear the distress in Q’s voice. Someone was going to pay for hurting him like this.

“I’m glad you’re such a stickler for making us save our files,” Bond said. “But for someone whose work lab looks like a bomb went off in it, I must say your house is the complete opposite of what I expected.”

“You think so?” Q asked.

“I felt like I walked into an architectural magazine. Neat, organized, but with a cosy feel to it,” Bond said, waving a hand at his own dishevelled home. “Homey, in a good way—nothing like this place.”

Q looked around at Bond’s cardboard boxes and the artwork that he had never bothered to hang on a wall. “I like to keep it neat,” Q said. “That way, I can relax when I’m at home.”

“It had a lot of atmosphere,” Bond said.

“Thanks, I guess,” Q said. “It’s really just decorated with the odds and ends that I’ve picked up over the years since uni.”

“Well, I hope you’ll be able to relax here, despite the mess,” Bond said, looking around.

“The cats help,” Q said, laying a hand on the duvet. “And having these pictures makes a difference.”

Bond walked back to the sofa and sat. “I’m just going to sit here and enjoy my whisky and kanafeh while I watch you unwrap them,” Bond said.

“Not exactly Christmas,” Q said with a weak smile, “but close enough.”

Q began to unwrap the duvet, pausing at each photograph, obviously enjoying having them back in his possession.

“Let me guess,” Bond said. “That one is of you and Emily.”

“They don’t call you a secret agent for nothing,” Q said.

“You look very much alike,” Bond said. “You have the same eyes and the same wild hair.”

“It’s not that wild,” Q said, running a hand through his fringe and twisting it out of his eyes.

Bond caught himself enjoying the view of Q’s pert arse while he set the photograph aside and reached for another. He savoured the taste of the kanafeh with a mouthful of whisky.

“And these are my parents,” Q said, lovingly lifting the photograph from its nest on the duvet. He knee-walked over to Bond so he could hand him the frame. “Emily has copies of all of our parent’s photographs, so this could be replaced, even if you never got into my house.”

“That’s reassuring to know,” Bond said. He had precious few photographs of his own parents, and no sibling to keep them safe, so he never became particularly attached to the sepia-toned memories stuffed in a notebook somewhere in his flat. He couldn’t miss what he never had. “It must have been fun growing up with a sister. You two seem close.”

“It had its pros and cons,” Q said. “I like Emily much more now that we’re adults. To be honest, I couldn’t stand her when she was a teenager.”

Bond smiled. “I can understand that,” he said. The disdain for a sibling, biological or adopted, was something he was all too familiar with, although he doubted Emily would bear a grudge the way Blofeld had for Bond.

“And here’s a picture of my graduation from uni,” Q said. “There’s Joe—he’s an executive at Intel now. And Jamie—he works for Google as some kind of education evangelist. He’s got a bunch of TED talks and he has a great sense of humour. My flatmate, Tim—he’s a genius and very involved with Anonymous, but no one is supposed to know that, including me.”

“And who’s that?” Bond asked, pointing to a figure proudly standing behind Q and his friends at graduation.

“That’s my advisor, Professor Morgan,” Q said of the dark-haired gentleman with blue eyes and high cheekbones. “He was absolutely brilliant.”

“Was?” Bond asked, sensing the loss in Q’s voice.

“Trevor moved away, right after graduation,” Q said. “And here’s a picture of Emily holding me when I was a baby. Surprised she didn’t drop me on my head, the little witch.”

Bond leaned closer to see that Emily was dressed as witch for Halloween. And Q was dressed as an adorable little frog.

“Cute,” Bond said. “It looks like you and Emily had a happy childhood.”

“We did,” Q said. “Thanks for getting these photographs for me. I wouldn’t have thought to ask for you to save them.”

Q stood and dragged his duvet to the sofa. He stretched his arms out and yawned.

“I’m tired myself,” Bond said, wiping the crumbs from his fingers.

“It’s been quite a day,” Q said. “I’ll sort through my clothes tomorrow. At least I have my comfort blanket to fall asleep beneath tonight.”

“Such a baby,” Bond said with a smile. “I’m glad it will be of some help.”

Bond wasn’t surprised that Q was exhausted. It made him angry that someone had deigned to destroy Q’s life. How could anyone hurt this man who was so loyal and devoted, so kind and sweet, so wise and clever? He knocked back the remainder of his drink and clicked the remote control to silence the telly.

“And knowing the cats are safe will help me get to sleep,” Q said. “Tomorrow I can start putting together what happened today.”

Bond got to his feet. “We’ll get it sorted out,” he said. “There’s got to be something we can do to put things right again.”

Q tossed the duvet onto the sofa. He bit his lower lip and tugged at the hem of Bond’s old hoodie.

“I just….” Q said, his voice breaking. “I just don’t know how I can thank you enough. You broke into my house to get my cats, for God’s sake.”

Bond couldn’t help but feel a rush of affection for Q. He took one step forward and wrapped his arms around him. He wanted to whisper words of comfort to him, but he could only hold him gently and hope that his problems could be resolved soon.

Q’s hands went to Bond’s back and pulled him closer.

Q felt warm and wiry beneath Bond’s fingers as he rubbed Q’s back through the thick hoodie. In Bond’s embrace, Q seemed to relax.

“Thank you,” Q whispered into Bond’s neck.

Bond held him tighter, wanting to shelter him from any harm.

Q tilted his head back. Through his glasses, his pale green eyes danced over Bond’s face.

Bond slid two fingers under Q’s chin and tipped his face so their lips could meet. He leaned forward an inch or so until their lips touched. At first, he feared that Q wouldn’t kiss him back, that he’d shove him away and deem Bond’s action as entirely inappropriate. But Bond was delighted when Q moved closer, their lips meeting in a soft kiss which Q accompanied with a slight moan. Bond let his fingers side up Q’s cheeks to bracket his face with his hands and contain the actions that ensued. The smacks of lips and clash of noses competed with barely audible murmurs and giggles as they first touched so intimately.

For Bond, it was a welcome change from his usual style. There was no motive to get information from an operative, no rushed passion because he was so damn happy to be alive. There was no attempt at seduction. No need for finesse. No, this was kissing for the pure enjoyment of it, and it felt so very wrong.

“I’m sorry,” Bond said, pulling away first, his breath thick with want. He hated that he overstepped the bounds of his friendship with Q. “It’s wrong of me to take advantage of your gratitude.”

Q’s chest rose and fell slowly as he caught his breath. It made Bond want to rest his hand over Q’s heart to both calm him and to feel the wave of his chest under his hand.

“Blame it on the whisky, but if a kiss is what it takes to repay you for what you’ve done tonight, then it’s not only the easiest way for me to show my gratitude,” Q said, straightening his glasses. “But also the most pleasant,” he added, diving in quickly for one more taste of Bond’s lips on his own.

Bond smiled and stepped back. He left it at that, unwilling to do anything that he would surely regret in the morning. He and Q parted company with Q sleeping on the sofa, a purring cat on his chest.

Bond hoped that tomorrow, Mallory would have some answers.

~

Gareth Mallory was no pushover.

His years of being held as a prisoner by the IRA had made him tough as nails, decisive, and ever respectful of his superiors. So when notice was sent down by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, he had no choice but to follow through with the orders, no matter how painful they were to obey.

Bond listened to Mallory drone on and on about how much he respected Q, apologizing that he had no choice when it came to suspending him from MI6 without notice. Despite Mallory’s support for Q and the presence of an audience of Q’s fans in his office, there was no convincing Mallory that he could act otherwise.

“But this is Q, we’re talking about,” Tanner argued. “Hasn’t he got the double-oh program out of hot water enough times that he warrants special consideration?”

“And what about his years of service?” Moneypenny added. “That should count for something. I killed Bond and only got a slap on the wrist.”

Bond scoffed at her statement.

“I understand that we all have close relationships within the MI6 personnel ranks,” Mallory said, “but when one of our colleagues has been suspected of aiding the enemies of Her Majesty’s Government, the line must be drawn.”

“You’re talking treason. What proof do they have of this?” Tanner asked. “You’re not just going with word from the Secretary of State’s office?”

“I’ll remind you that I report directly to Secretary Hammond,” Mallory said. “And consequentially, so does all of MI6. It behoves us to follow his office’s protocol for such matters. You remember last year when Max Denbigh threatened to do away with all of our jobs? We’ve been under the scrutiny of the Secretary’s office ever since. A department head being convicted of treason could be the last nail in our department’s coffin. We can’t take any more chances.”

Bond stood and silently listened to Mallory’s rationale. So far, this meeting hadn’t shed very much light on the exact reasons why Q was dismissed. Watching the sweat pool on Mallory’s forehead, Bond got the feeling that the meeting had already lasted twice as long as he had intended.

“I’ve heard enough of this,” Moneypenny said. “I’ll never believe any of the charges against Q. He’s our Q. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone commit treason against his own government.”

“These charges, as you call them,” Bond said, “Are we to understand that Q will be brought to trial?”

Mallory looked wearier than Bond had ever seen him. Surely he had been up all night asking the very same questions of his superior that Bond, Tanner, and Moneypenny now asked in his office.

“No, no, no,” Mallory said. “I was given the option of dismissing Q by eliminating his position here and invalidating his work for MI6, or a trial before the high court. I think you’ll agree that I saved both Q and our department considerable embarrassment by keeping the news of Q’s illicit activities private.”

“That seems rather unfair to me,” Bond said. “What kind of evidence of illicit activities do your superiors have against Q?”

“I think that’s what we’d all like to know,” Mallory said. “Unfortunately, the Secretary of State was less than forthcoming. It seems that the only information his office is willing to share is that they have proof of Q negotiating to supply arms and funding to feed terror cells in Raqqa, Mosul, Baghdad—”

“ISIS,” Tanner said, massaging his temples. “You think our Q is working for ISIS?”

“Nothing could be more ridiculous,” Moneypenny said, gripping her biro in a shaking fist.

None of this made any sense to Bond. He knew Q as well as any of the people in Mallory’s office, and if his years of service had been worth anything to him, he knew that Q was not a terrorist, nor was he aiding a terrorist, nor was he an enemy of the government of England. To even suggest it was absurd.

“They tell me they have proof,” Mallory said. “There’s nothing I can do to refute it. I already have my hands full with budget cuts and cost overruns. We are talking about one employee… one very talented employee…. If there was anything further that I could have done to make them consider another option, I would have done it already. I thought I was doing the right thing by saving Q from having to go through a lengthy inquisition that could have landed him in prison for treason. In fact, I can’t even guarantee that he won’t be imprisoned, given the current situation with ISIS these days.”

Mallory looked at the faces of Q’s friends that had gathered for the meeting.

“I don’t suppose any of you know where Q fled to?” Mallory asked.

No one answered him.

“I’m sure they have agents from MI5 watching him to make sure he doesn’t leave the country,” Mallory said. “It will only be a matter of time before they find him if they want to interrogate him.”

Fortunately, Bond’s years of training helped him give nothing away. Moneypenny gave Mallory a blank stare as well. Bond knew he could count on her to protect Q. Bond couldn’t be sure if Moneypenny had told Tanner that Q was at Bond’s flat, because he simply shook his head as if he did not know Q’s whereabouts.

“Now, I believe most of you have a job to do, and at least one of you is overdue in medical. You’re all dismissed,” Mallory said. “And don’t even think of aiding and abetting Q. Put those thoughts right out of your heads. If you need anything from Q-branch, you’re to contact R.”

Tanner and Moneypenny reluctantly filed out of Mallory’s office.

Bond stood and buttoned his jacket.

“M?” Bond said.

“Yes, Bond,” Mallory said, looking at his watch. “What is it?”

“You don’t believe for a minute that Q is a traitor,” Bond said.

“No, of course not,” Mallory said, his expression grim. “That’s why I haven’t said anything about Q’s laptop that’s gone missing. But I have to take the word from the Secretary’s office as the truth.”

“This alleged correspondence Q had with these terror cells,” Bond began. “Do we have any details? Any names?”

“No, no further details came out of Secretary Hammond’s office, besides the news of Q’s involvement,” Mallory said.

“Someone must know who he’s been communicating with,” Bond said. “Who is their leader?”

Mallory walked Bond to the office door and said, “That’s the problem. Hammond believes Q is their leader.”

~

“Hello, darling,” Bond said, as he leaned against Moneypenny’s desk. “Have I told you how ravishing you look today?”

“I could say the same for you, but then, you always look ravishing. Trying to get on Mallory’s good side?” Moneypenny asked, having none of Bond’s shenanigans. She waited until Mallory had closed the door to his office before dragging Tanner and Bond down a corridor and into an unused conference room.

“You’re in this with us, too?” Bond asked as Tanner closed the door behind them.

“Anything for a friend,” Tanner said.

“If we’re wrong about this, all of our jobs will be on the line,” Moneypenny said. “I’m sorry Bond, I told Tanner that Q is staying with you. We need all the help that we can get.”

Tanner had already helped Bond steal Q’s laptop, so knowing Q’s whereabouts hardly made a difference. With a few high-level MI6 insiders working on Q’s case, their odds of exonerating Q multiplied. Still, they needed to keep their allegiance to Q among themselves, even if Mallory seemed willing to play along to some degree.

“What’s going on?” Tanner asked. “Does Q have any idea how this could have happened?”

“How is he holding up?” Moneypenny asked. “I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of how he was cut loose by MI6.”

“Considering he’s out of a job and none of his credentials work anywhere, he’s holding up remarkably well,” Bond said.

Bond couldn’t shake the image of the Quartermaster drinking his tea and eating his toast in his kitchen this morning. His sleep-rumpled hair and Bond’s clothes keeping him warm seemed like something out of an Eton boy’s wet dream.

“What do you mean by credentials?” Tanner asked. “Has his identity been compromised as well?”

“The locks on his house have been changed,” Moneypenny said.

“Not only that,” Bond added, “but his Oyster card was voided. His credit card was declined… He doesn’t know about his bank account yet and he doesn’t dare try to access it online. I should have acted faster at lunch yesterday, but there was just no telling how deep this went.”

“You knew this was happening as it unfolded?” Tanner asked.

“They were out to lunch when the email came through that Q was no longer employed by MI6,” Moneypenny said.

“And he’s staying at your flat, not a safe house?” Tanner asked. “If he’s no longer affiliated with MI6, it’s the perfect opportunity for someone to go after him.”

“He’s staying at my flat, indefinitely,” Bond said. “He’ll be as safe there as anywhere, at least until we figure this out. There are people watching his house. I want to know who they are and why they’re watching.”

“What can we do to help him?” Moneypenny asked. Then, as if she had just remembered, she clasped her hand to her mouth and said, “His cats! He’ll be a wreck without his cats.”

“Not to worry,” Bond said. “I broke into Q’s last night, with his permission, of course, and I retrieved the cats, along with a collection of other odds and ends, clothing, pictures, things with some sentimental value.”

“You don’t think he’s going to see the inside of his home again,” Tanner said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This is even more serious than I thought.”

“I told you so,” Moneypenny said, and then she turned her attention to Bond. “James, you’re a star to have saved Q’s kitties, an absolute star.”

Moneypenny wrapped her arms around Bond and hugged him tight. Bond hadn’t realized she would become so emotional over the pair of felines who did little else but shit in a plastic tub and track litter all over the flat, but he’d accept Moneypenny’s praise when he could get it.

“It’s bad, but here’s what we know,” Bond said, after Moneypenny released him. Perhaps if he laid it all out they could brainstorm to figure out how to help Q. “We know the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs believes Q is responsible for trafficking arms and funds to ISIS. Assuming Q is guilty, how would he do such a thing?”

“The Internet, of course,” Tanner said. “Q is afraid to fly. Not only that, but he couldn’t very well be travelling back and forth to the Middle East while he’s right under our noses at MI6 every day. We would have noticed something.”

“He’s the first one to arrive in the morning and the last to leave. If he is guilty, he would have used email to communicate with his traffickers,” Moneypenny said.

“He’d do it from his home or when there weren’t many people in the office—either early morning or after seven or eight o’clock when most of the staff were gone for the day,” Tanner added.

“Q’s a genius. He’d have everything encrypted so no one could crack the code,” Moneypenny said, “not even his own staff.”

“Unless they’re working for him as part of the plan to supply the terrorists,” Tanner said.

“I think you’ve jumped the shark there, Tanner,” Moneypenny said.

“I’d have to agree,” Bond said. “With that many people involved, he would have been caught sooner and the entirety of Q-branch would be looking for new jobs, not just one Quartermaster.”

“Right,” Tanner said, “And R wouldn’t have been promoted.”

“We have to assume Q was a lone wolf,” Moneypenny said.

“He’d only communicate with his contacts online,” Tanner said, as he paced back and forth in front of the whiteboard. “A phone would be too easy to trace. It would be trackable through the networks. Online, he’d use some kind of cloaking software.”

“Software he developed,” Moneypenny said with a nod.

“And here’s another piece that may or may not be related to this situation,” Bond said. “Last night, Q discovered that one of his old email accounts had been hacked.”

“You’re just telling us this now?” Tanner asked, stopping in his tracks. “That seems to solve the problem. It might explain everything, might it not?”

“You think someone simply hacked Q’s email and is using his address to communicate with ISIS?” Moneypenny asked.

“And the PM’s office caught wind of it and shut him down,” Tanner said.

“I’m not sure I want to believe that MI6 would let someone as talented as Q go, over some half-arsed attempt like that,” Moneypenny said.

“Hold on. Not so fast,” Bond said. “Tanner has a good theory, but it doesn’t explain Q’s issues with things that aren’t in any way related to MI6, like his Oyster card and the locks on his doors.”

Moneypenny folded her arms across her chest.

Tanner looked at the floor.

Bond would swear he could see the cogs turning in Tanner and Moneypenny’s heads.

“I don’t know. What can we do to help him?” Tanner asked. “What would we want done if any one of us were caught up in the same mess?”

“We need to know more about the incriminating information. Unfortunately, it’s buried in the PM’s office,” Bond said.

“I know people,” Tanner said. “I can put some feelers out and see if anyone is willing to give up some details.”

“I can hack into the PM’s servers and try to find the addresses that Q’s emails went to,” Moneypenny said.

Both Tanner and Bond swivelled their heads to look at Moneypenny.

“What?” she asked with a shrug. “Q is my friend. He’s been teaching me some of his mad hacking skills.”

“You’re a star,” Bond said. He took Moneypenny by the shoulders and planted a kiss on the top of her head.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I learn anything,” Moneypenny said.

“Same here,” Tanner said.

Bond headed for the door. “Q will be pleased to know that he has such talented friends looking out for him.”

“And where are you going?” Moneypenny asked with a gleam in her eye.

“Rest assured, I’m working on Q’s behalf as well,” Bond said. “Only he’s reduced me to taking care of his cooking and laundry.”

~

Bond spent the rest of the morning running errands. He dropped off the laundry at the dry cleaners and stalked the aisles of Waitrose, filling his cart with enough food to last two men and two cats a week or more.

Bond usually dined out, but he couldn’t very well keep up the habit of restaurant dining while Q could be in danger. As a double-oh agent, Bond already looked over his shoulder enough without having to worry about someone taking Q out over his Tikka Masala. And if they ordered take-away every night, Bond feared that he’d gain so much weight that he’d never pass his physical before being cleared for a new mission. He wasn’t anxious to go out on a new assignment, anyway—not when Q was holed up in his flat, but it was no excuse to order take-away every night.

With his cart full, he began to make his way to the cashier. Chicken and fish, fresh vegetables and fruits, rice and whole grain pasta would be on the menu for the next week. It was not much of a bother because Bond liked to cook, although cooking for himself alone made him lazy and uninventive. Having company would allow Bond to tap his creative side, not that he was consciously trying to impress the Quartermaster—God knew Q had enough problems of his own to manage without having to worry about preparing his next meal. Still, Bond flushed with warmth when he remembered that Q kissed him last night.

Bond wondered if Q liked asparagus.

When Bond arrived home, Q greeted him from behind his laptop. He had shaved and changed into clean clothes from the rucksack that Bond had taken from his house. A white t-shirt peeked out from the hem of a soft fuzzy jumper with green and grey stripes. A pair of faded jeans looked oddly out of place on the Quartermaster who usually only wore office attire in Bond’s presence.

The cats were flopped onto their backs, lounging lazily in front of the French doors that led to a small balcony overlooking Stanley Crescent. They blinked their eyes open when Bond arrived. He supposed they were trying to catch the sunlight that filtered through the hazy London cloud cover. That’s what Bond would do if he were a cat with a day off.

“Let me give you a hand,” Q said, when Bond deposited an armload of groceries onto the counter.

“Thanks,” Bond said, leaving his jacket on the back of a kitchen barstool. “We should be able to get it all with one more trip.

Q followed him down the steps and into the garage where they gathered the rest of the groceries from the car.

“Have you eaten lunch yet?” Bond asked when they set the rest of the shopping onto the countertop.

“I’m not complaining, but I was nearly ready to make a toastie out of leftover dough balls when you arrived,” Q said.

“We can do a bit better than that,” Bond said, taking food from the bags. “You have your choice of ready-made cottage pie or we can put together some turkey sandwiches. I’ll warn you not to spoil your appetite, though. I’m planning to take over the kitchen a bit later when I prepare dinner.”

“Bond cooking dinner? I never knew you had it in you,” Q said, his eyes wide.

“Why?” Bond asked. “I’ll have you know, I’ve watched my share of Hell’s Kitchen.”

“And here I thought you survived on pizza and toasties alone when you weren’t in the field,” Q said shaking his head.

“You’ll soon learn otherwise, I assure you,” Bond said. He looked forward to meeting Q’s backhanded challenge. He was sure he could impress most young boffins who hadn’t made anything more elaborate than pot noodle since uni.

And tea.

The flat smelled of tea. A steaming mug sat atop the island countertop where Q’s laptop worked overtime. If Q were a fashionista, bergamot would be his signature scent.

Q helped unpack the food, putting away the eggs and cheese, while Bond handled the dry goods of oatmeal and bread. Their coordinated efforts made quick work of the task and Bond was pleased to see that Q knew his way around the kitchen already.

“I didn’t forget your feline friends,” Bond said shaking a bag of kibble.

Hearing the familiar sound, Copernicus and Galileo scampered to their feet, their little nails scraping the wooden floor as they raced to the kitchen. It was then that Bond noticed what had changed in his living room.

Bond stopped what he was doing, his eyes scanning the room from one side to the other. “You’ve been busy today.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Q said, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

Bond walked into the living room and spun around. The room had an entirely different feel from when he left in the morning. Q had presumably used the tools he had found in the bottomless junk drawer to mount the telly above the fireplace. It no longer sat on makeshift blocks on the living room floor.

A half dozen pieces of art that Bond had leaned against the walls of his flat when he moved in, had been hung above the sofa. He stopped to admire the images that must have taken some thought and care to arrange.

“I don’t mind at all,” Bond said.

His books were neatly stacked on the wide shelf beneath the coffee table. The scatter rug lay beneath the table. The chairs had been positioned on each side of the fireplace and turned to face the sofa at an inviting angle. Q’s duvet was draped along one arm of the sofa.

There was not a cardboard box in sight.

“It looks like a completely different room,” Bond said.

“It didn’t take long,” Q said, his toes twitching in his stocking-feet. “Besides, you’ve given me such a warm welcome into your flat. It’s the least I could do, to show my appreciation by making it feel more like an actual home.”

“I like it,” Bond said. “Even the floor looks better.”

“I can only do so much,” Q said. “But I’m glad you like it.”

“Of course,” Bond said, taken aback by how much the appearance of his flat had improved with just a few small changes. The only thing that looked out of place was his rucksack from which Q’s clothing exploded. “You know, I have an empty trunk in my bedroom. If you’d like, we could move it out here and you could store your clothes in it so the cats don’t shed all over them.”

“If it’s no bother,” Q said, as he scratched his head in considering the offer. “I use my share of lint rollers all day long anyway.”

“No bother at all,” Bond said. He rested his hand on Q’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. His jumper was soft beneath Bond’s fingers and he could swear that Q leaned into his touch.

Bond felt something brush against his knee. When he looked down, he was delighted to see Copernicus stand on his hind legs. With his front paws, he reached up to knead at Bond’s trouser leg.

“Someone is impatient for his lunch,” Bond said. He reached down and stroked the cat’s head.

“Looks like you’d better deliver on your promise,” Q said.

In the kitchen, Bond refilled the cats’ community bowl. The pair had no qualms about sharing a dish from the ragtag collection of dinnerware that M had salvaged from Bond’s old flat. Like Q and Bond, the cats made do with what options were available to them.

With the cats fed, Bond and Q resumed putting away the food.

“Planning something special?” Q asked, holding up a bottle of champagne that had made its way into Bond’s grocery bag.

“Only your reinstatement as Quartermaster,” Bond said.

“I like the sound of that,” Q said wistfully.

“We’re not uncorking it just yet,” Bond said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and you’re quite lucky to have so many friends who are willing to help you.”

“I’m relieved to hear that,” Q said. “And here I thought everyone at MI6 hated me.”

Bond snorted, but Q remained serious.

“You didn’t really think that, did you?” Bond asked. He was surprised that Q had lost quite a bit of his usual confidence, although he could hardly blame him. It wasn’t every day that the Secretary of State accused him of treason.

“If they think I’m guilty of something, how else might they be expected to react?” Q asked.

“On the contrary,” Bond said, pausing with a box of cereal in his hand. “You have allies that are willing to put their own jobs on the line in order to help you.”

“That’s very reassuring. It sounds as if you have been quite busy on my behalf,” Q said with a sigh. “I’ve made some strides toward resolving this nasty situation myself, while you were away gathering sustenance.”

“Speaking of sustenance, I’m starving, so it’s time for you to make your first decision as my flatmate,” Bond said. “Cottage pie or sandwiches?”

“Is the cottage pie microwaveable?” Q asked.

“It is, if we want it to be,” Bond said.

“That’s settled then,” Q said. “Considering we’re both hungry, we’ll take the easy route.”

Bond tore the wrapping off the package. “Hand me a… oh never mind, you’re not allowed to use the knives anymore,” Bond said, reaching for a knife. “How’s the finger?”

Q held his hand up. “I put a fresh bandage on it when I got out of the shower,” he said, “but it looked like it was well on its way to healing, thanks.”

“Good,” Bond said. “We have to believe that there are people looking for you who may not have the best of intentions. We can’t risk you injuring yourself so badly that you need to go to the hospital. A visit to MI6 medical is out of the question for now, so please, no more accidents.”

“I promise, I’ll be more careful,” Q said.

“Take a look in that middle drawer and see if you can find something useful to serve this with,” Bond said.

Q dug through the drawer and found a serving utensil while Bond carved out two hunks of pie. “How’s this?” Q asked holding up a spatula.

“That will do nicely,” Bond said. He reached into the cabinet to find two plates. “It looks like you tidied up the kitchen.”

“I washed our dishes and put away the ones that were in the strainer,” Q said, plopping the food onto their plates. “I need to do something to earn my keep.”

Bond instantly thought of a thousand filthy things that Q might do to earn his keep, most of them involved Q on his knees. He fought back a growl, tamping down the thoughts as quickly as they came.

“No, not at all,” Bond said. “If you keep that up, you’ll spoil me with efficient housekeeping as well as the pleasure of your company.” He set the plates in the microwave and punched the buttons to heat their food.

“I can’t help it,” Q said. “My mother raised me to behave properly in such circumstances.”

“She did,” Bond said, not knowing what it might have been like if his mother had survived long enough to raise him to adulthood. “I bet you were a joy to have as a flatmate in uni.”

“I was a fucking delight,” Q said insistently.

Bond rolled his eyes. He had no doubt that Q was the perfect uni flatmate. He not only cleaned up his flatmate’s messes, but he also probably provided them with fake identification so they could buy alcohol.

Bond guessed that Q also perfected the art of receiving a blow job as thanks for his services. He wondered what it would feel like to have Q’s long clever fingers massaging his scalp as he explored Q with tastes and touches while cradled between Q’s legs. He licked his lips and imagined what exotic scents Q liked to bathe in. He dreamed of the inviting taste of Q balls as he licked at Q’s sensitive skin. He wanted to see the flushed shade of his cock with its pink tip nestled shyly beneath his foreskin. He wanted all the time in the world to explore—

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Bond nearly slid onto the floor when the microwave announced that lunch was ready.

“Do you want tea?” Q asked.

“It will help me stay awake,” Bond said. “I’m still not sleeping properly after that last mission.”

“Do you often have difficulty when you return?” Q asked. “I’m sure the suicide bombing can’t have helped matters.”

“Of course,” Bond said. “That’s one of the hazards of being a field agent. You never know when the mission may become your last. It usually takes me a few days to adjust to the time difference, even when I’ve been to a time zone that’s only a few hours off.”

While Q prepared the tea, Bond took the plates from the microwave. He cut a slice down the middle of one portion of pie and tested the food with his finger to check if it was hot.

“That’s why MI6 gives its agents a mandatory two weeks off between such missions,” Q said. “You can always take a nap after lunch, if you think it will help. There’s no need for you to devote your every waking moment to my dilemma when you have issues of your own.”

“It’s no worry at all,” Bond said, pushing a plate of cottage pie across the counter to Q. “Without you there, MI6 seems strangely unfamiliar to me.” Bond stabbed his fork into his pie. The mashed potatoes were thick and lumpy like the cottage pie he had as a child.

“I appreciate the sentiment,” Q said, his pink tongue darting out to test the temperature of the food on his fork. “But it won’t serve you in the long run. I intend to find out why this happened to me so I can get back to work.”

At MI6, Bond had learned to control himself around Q’s posh voice and his riotous curls, but he worried that living in such close proximity might make it difficult to resist his allure. Q deserved so much better than Bond could give him, so he had to keep his hands off the Quartermaster and his mind off what he would do to him if given an opportunity. Bond was a monster—the kind of person who would use sex as a favour, a repayment for information or assistance. Bond didn’t want Q to know the monster he had become in his years as a double-oh agent. Q deserved not to know. He banished all thoughts of bedding Q from his mind.

Over lunch, Bond told Q what he had learned from his meeting with Mallory. They both agreed that it was for the best that Mallory not know that Q was staying at Bond’s flat.

Q was pleased to learn that Tanner and Moneypenny were willing to help with researching into what exactly happened at the Secretary of State’s office that led him to believe Q was assisting a terror organization.

“I’ve done some research on the mobile you brought me,” Q said. He glanced across the countertop to where the mobile lay connected to his laptop.

“And?” Bond asked, taking a bite of pie.

“It was a burner, like we suspected,” Q said. “But I was able to retrieve the last number that was dialled.”

“Do you think that will be helpful?” Bond asked. He knew Q was talented enough to get information from a device, but whether it would be useful or not had nothing to do with Q’s abilities.

“It went to a number that last pinged Canary Wharf,” Q said. “My best guess is that the recipient did business in one of the warehouses on the waterfront.”

“You won’t get any accurate names there,” Bond said. He had lived in London long enough to be familiar with the transient businesses that set up shop in the Docklands only to turn over after a few months of low profits.

“No, but I made further modifications to my methods and now we know that whoever was on the other end of that line last night was receiving the message from here in London,” Q said.

“So it wasn’t answered by some unknown entity in another country?” Bond said.

“Whoever you met outside my home was communicating with someone in London,” Q said. “That’s as far as I’ve gotten with it.” He took another bite.

Bond scraped the last of the pie from his plate with the side of his fork.

“You’re safe here, in my flat,” Bond said, worried that Q would think of leaving for some place that was perceived to be safer. “You know you need to stay here until we find out who has targeted you.”

“I’ll try not to worry,” Q said. “I trust you. And I trust Tanner and Moneypenny. I know you’re all doing your best.”

They finished off lunch and Bond set the dishes in the sink to be taken care of later.

“Show me what else you’ve been working on,” Bond said. “It looks fantastic, but you can’t have spent all morning rearranging my flat.”

“No, I’ll show you my laptop,” Q said. “I think you’ll be fairly impressed.”

“I usually am,” Bond said, truly meaning it.

Q unplugged his laptop and carried it into the living room. Bond joined him on the sofa, where they needed to sit side by side to view the screen. Galileo followed the pair and made himself comfortable on the arm of the sofa.

“Let me just pull up the search I ran, and I’ll show you the results,” Q said. He set the laptop on the coffee table and began to type.

Bond settled back in his seat. He watched Q’s fingers move over the keys with familiar confidence. Bond observed that Q’s moods had fluctuated erratically throughout the ordeal of his banishment from MI6. Although Q seemed confident now, Bond was well aware that Q was in a fragile state of mind and he could exhibit signs of despair without warning. Bond vowed that he would do whatever it took to help Q maintain his calm nature, which was undoubtedly shaken.

Whether Q was guiding an agent out of harm’s way, or searching for an enemy target to destroy with a few keystrokes, he demonstrated strict professionalism and single-minded determination. He rarely made a mistake, and if he did, he was the first to admit it. This was part of the reason why the accusations made by the Secretary of State’s office were so disturbing to Bond. Even if Q had dealings with terrorist organizations for the benefit of MI6, he would have been the first to suggest that his actions were a misinterpretation of the communication.

But no such suggestion was made. Bond worried that Q was doomed.

“Ah, here we go,” Q said. He lifted the laptop from where it rested and sunk back into the sofa beside Bond. Balancing the laptop on his knees, Q tipped the screen so Bond could see the search he had pulled up.

Bond hooked a finger over the lid of the laptop and adjusted the angle.

“Sorry,” Q said, shifting a bit in his seat. He bent his knees further and rested his feet on the coffee table. “Can you see better now?”

“That’s good,” Bond said. “What are we looking at?” He scanned the screen which contained row after row of names and dates, which were displayed chronologically by the year of graduation. “It looks like a school search.”

“That’s right,” Q said. “It’s everyone I went to uni with, whose profile has indicators similar to a terrorist.”

“You went to school with a lot of terrorists,” Bond said.

“Not quite,” Q said, nudging him with an elbow. “These are the people who fit a profile.”

“Profiles aren’t always accurate,” Bond said.

“Now you’re catching on,” Q said.

“I’ve always tried to be a good student,” Bond said.

Q smirked. “Somehow, I doubt that.”

“These are all from MIT?”

“And every one of them attended during the years I did.”

“Because of the email that was hacked,” Bond said. “But what if the hacker wasn’t from MIT?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Q said.

“Because the profile is filtering for someone who would be likely to go after you or whether they would help an outsider to MIT to do the same,” Bond said, pleased with himself for keeping up.

“You’ve got it,” Q said. “Using the profile I created, we’ve narrowed down the hacking suspects to these forty-two individuals.” He tapped on a few more keys and a thumbnail for each of the forty-two suspects appeared on the screen.”

“Hmmm… which one of you is the baddie?” Bond asked, pondering aloud as he studied the images on the screen.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Q said, settling himself comfortably next to Bond. He scrolled through each of the forty-two profiles, pausing to study each face, each set of data.

Bond could feel the heat rising off of Q’s body as he brought up name after name on the screen. None of them were familiar to Bond, but they could have been anyone he passed in the course of a day in London or abroad. It infuriated him that there were so many people who might sabotage Q’s reputation.

Was it Kenneth Lucien or Leonard DeMille? Christoph Woods or Dav Litner? Paul Fallun, Miyuki Fong, or any of the dozens of suspects that remained to be examined?

“None of them scream out to me as the obvious infidel,” Q said, scrolling to another suspect.

“Did you have a lot of enemies at uni?” Bond asked sleepily.

“No more than the average genius,” Q said, taking time to examine another former classmate.

“Competition must have been fierce in your classes,” Bond said.

“It was brutal, but I made a game of it,” Q said, studying another face for signs of deceit.

“Of course you did,” Bond said. He stretched his arms over his head and listened to his knuckles crack when he intertwined his fingers and squeezed.

“I can narrow the search further, so we only see suspects with ties to the Middle East,” Q said.

Bond rolled his shoulders and slung his right arm over the back of the sofa.

“Let’s see,” Bond said.

Q tapped his fingers across the screen to refine the search. “There’s Kishan Rehm, Nathan Figg, Harold Holt,” Q said.

“How many different ways can you filter them?” Bond asked. He didn’t want Q to stop speaking. He wanted Q to tell him his stories, the smooth tone of Q’s voice lulling him to sleep.

“Here, let me try this,” Q said. He modified some of the filters and applied new ones from a drop-down menu of hundreds of characteristics.

“Hmm…” Bond murmured. “Look at that.”

Q busily typed away at the keyboard. “Now, I narrowed it down so only the people without families will show in the search,” Q said. “With these filters in place, we’ve cut our original list down to thirteen suspects in all.”

“Thirteen, you say…?” Bond said.

“Assuming that people with families are less apt to commit cyber-crimes,” Q said.

“I see,” Bond said.

“And if we narrow it down even more and take away the people who aren’t CEOs of their own companies—considering they would have the most to lose,” Q said. “We get these five. Do any of these guys look evil to you?”

Q turned his head to look at Bond, but Bond’s eyes were half-closed as he drifted off to sleep. Bond breathed evenly, warmed by the physical connection of Q’s body resting by his side.

Q frowned, sensing that their conversation was over. “I’ll just have a look at the rest of these while you catch up your beauty sleep then,” he said softly.

Without thinking, Bond murmured something, which was thankfully unintelligible, and slid his hand from behind the sofa to Q’s shoulder. Bond’s fingers skimmed across the soft warmth of Q’s jumper.

This was the blissful sleep that had eluded Bond for so many nights. He let his head slump to the side, seeking out a comfortable spot in the space between Q’s neck and his bony shoulder.

Q raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t push Bond away or jostle him awake.

Content that he was not going to be disturbed, Bond closed his eyes fully and drifted off. He woke momentarily when he felt Q shift against him. Q reached up to close the lid of the laptop. Beside Bond’s sleeping body, Q stretched his legs, taking his feet off the coffee table and tucking them underneath him on the sofa.

Bond sensed the movement, and in his slumber he wrapped his other arm around Q. Q felt solid and warm in his arms.

Q relaxed against Bond’s chest without protest.

In his sleep, Bond dreamed that Q had been reinstated at MI6. The worries of the past day were over. Every time a stressful thought entered Bond’s mind, he needed to remember that Q was in his arms. Bond let one eye peek open to admit a tiny sliver of light. He needed to prove to himself that Q was really there, soft dark curls tickling Bond’s nose, the scent of bergamot on his clothes, under his skin. Assured that the day’s crisis had ended with Q asleep, Bond closed his eyes again. There was only peaceful sleep to enjoy now, sleep shared with Q.

And so they slept, taking their little nap until Bond’s mobile rang.

Bond jolted awake.

Q lurched forward, out of Bond’s arms.

Bond felt the chill seep into his chest where Q had kept him warm.

“Bond here,” he said, leaning forward to touch his feet to the floor.

“Good afternoon, Bond,” Moneypenny said. “I do hope you’re enjoying your day off.”

“I was, before you rang,” Bond said. He cast a glance sideways to where Q had moved further down the sofa, out of Bond’s reach. “What do you have for me?”

“Tanner has talked to a few of his contacts in the Secretary of State’s office,” Moneypenny said. She lowered her voice and whispered, “And I’ve done what you asked of me. Everyone here is so upset about Q, but we have a name, and from what I could tell, it’s legitimate.”

“Go ahead,” Bond said.

“It’s Ahmadali Tabatabati,” Moneypenny said. “He was a professor at MIT. Q most likely took a class from him. He was in charge of the computer engineering department until 2011, when he resigned from the school and moved to Saudi Arabia.”

“You’re sure about this?” Bond asked, sitting up straight.

“The data doesn’t lie,” Moneypenny said.

“Very well then,” Bond said. “Thanks for all your help. I think we can take it from here.”

“Good luck,” Moneypenny said. “And do keep our Q safe.”

“I will,” Bond said before ending the call. He set the mobile on the coffee table and looked at Q.

“You’ve got news?” Q asked. “Will it be helpful?”

Bond worried about breaking the news to Q.

It was clear that Q revered his uni professors. They held a special place in Q’s life. Professor Morgan was a friend to Q and his classmates. Bond was certain that other professors left their mark on Q as well. Q would feel terrible to have his trust betrayed by someone who should have had Q’s best interests at heart.

“It might hurt,” Bond said.

“Go ahead and give it to me,” Q said. “I’m not going to blame the messenger, if that’s what you think.”

“Does the name Ahmadali Tabatabati sound familiar to you?” Bond said the name without preamble, as if ripping a bandage off a wound. He hoped the speed would allow for the healing to begin sooner.

Q closed his eyes.

“Trevor,” Q said.

“I’m sorry, Q,” Bond said.

“Trevor, what have you done?” Q asked. He didn’t move from his position on the sofa.

“Who’s Trevor?” Bond asked.

Q’s fingers twitched as if he urged to have the keyboard under his hands, as if that would somehow make everything all right. Bond shifted closer to Q on the sofa. He remembered the times in his own life when he received devastating news. There was seldom a comforting hand that reached out to him in those rare and awful times. Perhaps he could provide for Q what he had longed for himself.

“Trevor Morgan… he changed his name when he converted to Islam,” Q said.

“He was the professor in your photograph,” Bond said, remembering.

“No,” Q said, holding up his hand to stop Bond from venturing closer, to prevent him from providing the comfort that Bond knew he could give. The comfort he could have used when times were dark.

“You were on the right track when you searched through your old classmates,” Bond said, sitting back in his seat, hands fidgeting across the sofa fabric, looking for something to do.

Q remained silent.

“It must feel pretty infuriating to learn that your professor hacked you,” Bond said. “Perhaps he was after some information? It doesn’t have to mean that he was the one who led to your being dismissed from MI6. He may not have had anything to do with it. It could be a mistake.”

Bond watched Q swallow, his eyes glassy with tears. He wished that Q would talk to him, that he would say something so Bond could act, so Bond could comfort him in whatever way he could.

Q took off his glasses and held them in his hand.

The intentional distortion of his vision made Q blind to all of his surroundings. It seemed to Bond that Q wanted it that way. He wanted to retreat into his own darkness without the sense of sight to distract him with the comfort that he thought he didn’t deserve.

The flat was quieter than Bond could remember it being in the past day. Even the cats slept somewhere unseen and didn’t venture close to Q, who was in need of their special brand of comfort.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Q said.

And in that moment, Bond never had felt so lonely.

He knew Q would feel better if he could talk about this professor and the ramifications of the hacking. But Bond wasn’t going to be an arsehole by pressuring Q into doing something he didn’t want to do.

“I’m here when you want to talk,” Bond said. He went to the kitchen and started preparing dinner.

~
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