- *No Site Warnings Apply
James supposed Mallory was right, though he was loath to admit it. Living in a hotel for three months wasn’t ideal with the comings and goings of the cleaning staff, not to mention the expense of it. At this point, his living situation in London had taken a backseat to the job, a distraction if he was honest with himself, to submerge his guilt over the death of M and the destruction of his childhood home, Skyfall. The job was all he had, all that he’d had for a very long time. He needed the distraction of it. Without it, the ever-present thoughts of what he could have done differently continuously itched in the back of his mind.
The cool spring breeze from the waters of the Thames shifted, caressing his face as he sat facing the river across from the destroyed hulk of Vauxhall Cross. The powers that be were still undecided on whether to rebuild the behemoth, or start anew in a different location. James figured at this moment, he felt like that poor burned out building, singed black and dower.
A scrape of a shoe against the paving stones brought him out of his contemplation. It was horrifying to realize he’d been so immersed in his thoughts that his normal awareness of his surroundings was non-existent.
He settled almost instantly at seeing the mess of his Quartermaster’s inky locks out of the corner of his eye.
“007,” Q greeted sitting down. He was wearing a high collared cashmere lavender jumper with blue and yellow striped trousers. James often wondered if Q was colorblind, the clashing hue of his clothing choices was enough to cause the occasional grimace in the face of them. “I hear you’re grounded for the foreseeable future. Care to tell me why?”
James snorted. “As if you haven’t already hacked into my files to find out for yourself.”
“Well… I hardly need to hack in my position, but I was going to give you the opportunity to share, if you wanted.”
Q’s sniff of affront brought a twitch to the corner of James’ mouth. Q had a way about him that James found delightful, no matter how black his mood. Q was at once proper and improper, often at the same time, but with a formality that lured the unsuspecting into shock when he was inappropriate. James liked that about him.
“So… house hunting.”
“Unfortunately,” James replied.
“Any particular area you’re keen on?”
“I haven’t thought about it, Q.” James shook his head, watching Q take in the river and the empty shell of MI6, glad he wasn’t taking in the empty shell that was James Bond at the moment.
“I might have a solution to your problem, if you want to hear it,” Q said, his emerald eyes mischievous behind his spectacles, his normally white cheeks below pink from the brisk wind, stilled James as they landed on him. With Q’s slight smile, James experienced a bit of déjà vu. Only their surroundings were different to their first meeting in the National Gallery, when Q had discomfited him where he’d sat.
Raising a brow, James asked, “A solution?”
“Yes, it will give you time to find a house or flat, and with my help, get you back out in the field in the meantime.”
Q turned his gaze back to the river. “I have a house on Hampstead Heath with an unused bedroom. The commute can be trying, but you don’t really commute.”
“Are you asking me to move in with you, Q?” James said, unable to keep the teasing lilt out of his tone. “A bit sudden in our relationship, isn’t it?”
“I’m being serious, 007.” Q glowered at him. “I’m offering you my second bedroom, not my bed. You’re not irresistible, you know.”
James sobered a bit when he realized Q was serious. “Why would you make the offer, Q?”
Q shrugged. “You’re the best field agent MI6 has, and you won’t be cleared by M or psych until you stop your transitory ways. I could also do with a bit of help with the mortgage.”
James doubted that statement was true, knowing the Quartermaster earned a decent enough salary, probably more than decent, since he was so talented in his work.
“I’m not sure my moving in with you will appease Mallory’s concerns,” James replied, still unable to think of Mallory as M. No one could ever truly replace her, or at least not yet in James’ mind.
“Leave that to me,” Q said, assured.
He was a confident bugger, James would give him that, he thought. All his things were in storage; it would be nice to have some of his familiar possessions around him, finally and the intrusion of strangers into his space would be resolved. He doubted Q let just anyone into the house willy nilly, his position was too important and secretive not to be wary. James was itching to be busy, and the process of moving would give him something to occupy his mind while he waited for Mallory to give him the green light.
“I suppose, I could give your place a look,” James hedged.
Q raised an imperious black brow, which made James’ lips twitch again fighting a smile. “A question before we proceed.”
“Do you like cats?”
Typical, Q would be a cat person. James couldn’t hold off his smile. “I haven’t been around them since I was a child, but as I recall… I did enjoy playing with the stable cats when I was a boy.”
“How about dogs?”
“How many animals do you have, Q?”
Q stood up languidly, saying drolly as he stretched a bit, “Don’t worry, 007. I’m not a deranged collector of furry creatures. I have two cats and one dog, which is more than enough.”
“Dogs are fine, though again, I haven’t been around them in years.”
“Well then, meet me in the garage at five-o’clock,” Q said, and James knew it was an order rather than a suggestion. Q didn’t wait for an answer, just gave him a nod before turning to stroll leisurely down the pavement.
Well, at least I have something to do tonight, James thought watching his Quartermaster walk back over the bridge.
It was still light out, the winter darkness slowly retreating with the promise of summer, by the time they turned onto a long winding tree lined drive. Q had picked him up in a vintage two-door dark green Land Rover, completely decked out for off-road driving and potential camping, with a large roof rack for supplies. James couldn’t quite see Q as the outdoors type, so the choice in vehicle had surprised him.
The foliage opened to reveal a very modern single story house with an asymmetrical roof. Glass was prominent, outlined by brick and slate vertical pillars with white stucco walls placed intermittently between them. Slate paving stones opened to the attached garage, as well as the steps up to the front door, that was protected by a straight square roof piece, it’s edges again in white stucco. All in all, the architecture was appealing to James’ own tastes that lent toward the Brutalist movement of the fifties and sixties.
“It’s very retro, Q.”
Q, grimaced. “I know, it was built in the fifties and it’s not really what I would’ve preferred. I bought it for the location, rather than its ascetics. I would have liked a more traditional turn of the century cottage to be honest, but the property beat out all other considerations.”
“I like it.”
“You would,” Q stated, halting the car in front of the garage, waiting for the doors to finish opening before pulling in. “There’s room for two cars in here, so whatever ridiculously expensive sports car you own will be protected.”
“I don’t currently own a vehicle,” James murmured taking in the finished garage, before exiting the vehicle and following Q to the door leading into the house.
“Well, that’s surprising, 007.”
“I just haven’t had the time, Q, and there didn’t seem to be much point, I’ve been traveling so much.”
“When you move in, you’ll need to get one,” Q stated. He found Q’s confidence that he would be moving in terribly endearing for some reason James didn’t want to examine to closely.
The door opened into a large foyer hall with the front door to their left and slate under their feet. James didn’t take in much else besides warm wood paneling on the walls before he was distracted by the large Irish setter who was wriggling in excitement under Q’s hands. His Quartermaster was cooing to the beast, it’s happy dance and whining excitement resounding off the high ceilings.
James grunted when he received a quick nose in the crotch before the dog licked his hands in greeting.
“He’s not much of a watchdog, is he?” James said, holding off another intimate sniff.
“Ethel stop,” Q said softly, not really scolding the dog at all, while he disarmed the alarm. “And no, she’s quite useless in that capacity, though she does keep my feet warm during winter.”
Ethel proceeded to push between his legs, standing still with her tail still wagging madly. James’s dignity was non-existent with Q’s dog between his thighs, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
Smiling, Q instructed, “Pet her back and bottom, then she’ll go through all the way, 007.”
He did as he was told, not willing to upset Q by being dismissive of his pet. Her fur was silky warmth under his fingers and he couldn’t help but smile when she did indeed finish pushing through with a final swipe of her tail.
“She’s done that since she was a puppy, you just have to indulge her. Come along, I’ll show you the rest of the place.”
Following Q and his bouncy dog, James took in the spacious living room off the hall. The wood and slate motif continued, but for the wall of floor to ceiling windows that overlooked a brick garden courtyard and thick woods beyond. A large mantled fireplace was hulking in the center of the far wall set off by the wooden walls, it’s facade matching the exterior slate pillars. The room was a huge open space lacking wall hangings of any sort, and with the bare minimum of furnishings with a long green suede sofa, love seat, and coffee table facing the fireplace and the wall of windows. The furnishings were offset from the walls in the center of the space atop a colorful plush Persian rug. There were no pictures hung, but shelves with various glass and stone sculptures interrupted the empty milieu along the walls.
Q let Ethel out through a seamless glass door housed within the windows on one side. “Don’t worry, I replaced the glass throughout the house, it’s bullet proof.”
Watching the dog streak into the woods, wondering about privacy with the lack of curtains, James asked, “Other security features?”
Q’s chest puffed out and James found his assured pride at once silly in his garish clothes and charming. “The woods back up to the forest of the Heath. I’ve installed cameras, motion sensors, and facial recognition throughout the ten acres surrounding the property. You don’t have to worry about anyone looking in, 007. Only myself and my pet sitter, fully vetted of course, are allowed in the house. I’m alerted to anyone who comes on the property, and I have the system set for allowing my normal letter carriers to approach. Any strangers are alerted in the system, which is on a secure line to Q-Branch.”
James relaxed, he should’ve known Q would have a fortress for a home, including an electronic moat to detect an attack. At least, Ethel’s lack of guard dog personality was explained somewhat.
“How long have you lived here?”
Q waved him along through a doorway to the left of the fireplace behind the sofa. “About a year or so now. It really is too big a house for just one person, even though it only has two bedrooms.”
The place was sprawling, James agreed moving into a spacious kitchen with original cabinets and stainless steel counters. The dining area was set against more windows at the far end of the space. Only the appliances and modern marble topped dining table were new. James could see himself having a morning coffee in front of those windows, taking in the lush woods while he read the paper. It was a lovely space really, quite large enough for two people to work preparing food without being underfoot.
A place like this, with the acreage and location, definitely meant Q didn’t need help with the mortgage and was most likely wealthier than James, and his own fortune wasn’t anything to sneeze at. So the question of why Q would make the offer was still in the back of his mind. He couldn’t imagine Q helping him to get approved for field work again was really the reason. Q, who seemed to support him no matter what trouble he got into on mission or with Mallory. Whatever Q’s end goal was, James didn’t think it was nefarious. He’d have to wait and see, a familiar state he was use to after all this time of being in the spy game.
Q took him through another doorway that was placed in middle of the space dividing the kitchen from the dining area. At the end of the short hall were three doors, two on either side and the third directly in the center. The wooden paneled wall design seemed to be standard throughout the house.
“There’s only one full bath, so we’ll have to share it. I’m sure we can work out a morning schedule if we need to,” Q said, allowing James to take in the bath. It too was original in light green and black decorative tile, the sink, tub and toilet fixtures were also in the same light green. The tub was deep and softly rounded, nestled into an alcove for showering. The room was a lovely piece of design history that James found himself coveting.
“This is beautiful, Q.”
“It is the one room in the house that I do really like. The bath actually covers all my bits. It’s just lovely after a long day.” Q smiled. Q was so slight and delicately framed, James could see he’d be completely covered up to his shoulders. There was enough room for two people to soak comfortably, though why that thought popped into head while he was taking in Q’s smile, James didn’t know. “There’s a matching half bath off the foyer, as well. Come along, I’ll show you, your room.”
The bedroom Q lead him into was the one facing the forest, one whole wall was window again, but this time the glass wrapped around one corner at the far end, before the wood panelling began. It was twice the size of a normal bedroom, and completely empty.
“When you said the house was too big for one person, you weren’t kidding, Q.”
“I always say what I mean, 007. There’s plenty of room if you want to have a sitting area and add some bookshelves or desk,” Q said. “The closet goes along the whole wall, and since I never see you in the same suit twice, it should hold most of your clothes horde.”
James snorted in agreement. The closet did indeed run the length of the wall it shared with the bath. Unable to help himself, James opened the doors to admire the custom shelves, drawers, and hanging space. There was additional storage on top that went all the way up to the high plastered ceiling. He’d need to get a ladder to get up there. It was an amazing closet and James would agree, he did have a fetish for nice clothing, and he had a lot of it. He wasn’t sure how he felt about walking around buck naked with that wall of window and no curtains, but he supposed he’d get use to it. He really wasn’t all that body shy in the first place.
Ethel was wagging her tail patiently waiting on the other side of the glass to come in, panting with her tongue lolling out of her jaws. Dusk was settling over the foliage beyond and Q flicked on some lights inset into the walls and ceiling when he let her in through another seamless door James hadn’t noticed yet. She came over and sat in front of him and James couldn’t in good conscience not give her a pat. He was relieved she didn’t try to go through his legs again, though.
It occurred to him, he hadn’t seen the other furry residents. “Didn’t you say you had two cats?”
“Oh, yes… they don’t actually greet me, I greet them,” Q said wiry. “They’re horribly demanding, come on and meet them.”
Q’s bedroom was exactly the same, just opposite overlooking the front of the house, part of the drive and more woods. If was furnished minimally with a queen size plain platform bed, which two cats were curled up together in the middle. They were like a Yin and Yang symbol.
They stretch greeting Q with sleepy meows before heading over to crawl in his lap as he sat on the end of the bed. “The black is Merlin and the white is Arthur.”
James sat as well when Q patted the mattress beside him. “Merlin and Arthur? So this is Camelot, is it?”
Q returned a soft smile. “Perhaps, but without the tragic ending, I hope.”
Both cats yowled loudly in complaint when Ethel jumped on the bed, though they didn’t move from Q’s lap. Ethel flopped down next to James, offering her belly. He couldn’t help but grin at her ecstasy when he slowly rubbed the softness of her pink belly.
Other than the bed, there was a desk reminiscent of a rustic workbench in the far windowed corner with a large screen computer. It struck James, that besides the security system, he’d not seen much tech in the house.
“You don’t have as much tech in the house, as I thought you would.”
“I’m around it all day,” Q replied, his pale hands buried in his cats fine fur, just watching James absently stroke his dog. “Half of my closet contains the security system, and if I need to handle something remotely in the middle of the night, it gives me fully functional access to Q-Branch. I do some coding projects here, but in general I try to stay away from it at home. You look surprised… there’s more to life than work you know, 007.”
Not for him, there hadn’t been, at least in recent memory. “You can call me James, Q when we’re not at Six.”
“Alright, James.” Q gave him a nod. “So… what do you think? Do you want to stay here until you find your own place?”
“It’s a beautiful place, Q,” James said. “It’s certainly better than living in a hotel.”
“You don’t need help with mortgage.” James frowned. “Why are you really offering to put me up?”
Q shrugged, avoiding James’ eyes. “It’s like I said, you can’t get cleared for duty until you have a more permanent living situation.”
Q was a terribly liar, but his intentions seemed harmless enough, James mused. He was an attractive man with his green eyes, fine jawline, high cheekbones, and porcelain skin. James knew underneath the blue-black thick chaotic locks atop his head was a brain that burned brightly with genius. He really didn’t know what that genius brain’s game was, but he was comfortable around Q, even though he really didn’t know him at all. Hadn’t ever met him prior to the mission to Shanghai.
“Did you work under old Boothroyd?”
Q seemed relieved the heavy silence had been broken. “No, I was doing consulting, though MI6 tried on multiple occasions to recruit me. I never intended on getting into spy craft.”
“What changed your mind?”
“My best friend, Samantha was badly injured in Silva’s attack,” Q murmured, hugging Merlin to his chest. “She asked me to help and I couldn’t say no.”
“Samantha? You mean R?” James asked in surprise.
Q gave him a smug grin. “Yes, R the lone Q-Brancher who’s impervious to your damnable flirting… excluding me of course.”
Samantha did indeed treat James’ attentions with a sardonic brow and long suffering patience. She’d been in the hospital for months, having only recently returned to work. She had to still use a cane, and would probably at some point need a hip replacement, her pelvis having been shattered from the rubble that buried her alive in Vauxhall Cross. She had been one of the lucky few to survive. Q-Branch had lost five people that day. James had worked with her for about five years prior to the explosion and he’d been relieved to find upon his return that she’d survived.
“You’re best friends with R?” He said in disbelief. “R, that gorgeous blond creature.”
“We’ve been friends since uni, James,” Q scoffed. “You and the other field agents just underestimate her all the time.”
“We’ll… I haven’t since the first time she ran one of my missions.”
“She’ll be happy to hear it,” Q replied standing with his cat in his arms. “Anyway, do you want to move in or not?”
With Ethel’s warm belly still under his hand, and Q’s expectant face, James figured at least it would be something different if he did move in.
“If I’m going to move in, shouldn’t I know your real name, Q?”
Holding out a hand, Q said formally, “Alan, my name is Alan Tully.”
“Oh wipe that grin off your face, 007,” Q fussed at him with a hand flap. “Like your name isn’t totally boring.”
James laughed, he couldn’t help it and took Q’s hand in a firm grip.
“Nice to meet you, Alan.”