- *No Site Warnings Apply
He’d known Q was a bit different. James had figured living with a genius might be a challenge, and that not having cohabited with anyone since university and the Navy would take some getting use to. He’d been right, though he’d been very naive as to the extent of Q’s eccentricities. All the same, Q’s ability to entertain James wasn’t disagreeable in the least.
He was unpacking and organizing his clothes while Q, instead of sitting on the sofa or armchair James had set up in his bedroom, was situated cross legged in the middle of his bed, with Ethel sprawled along side, knitting. This had been going on quietly for about ten minutes before James’ curiosity couldn’t be contained any longer.
“Very observant of you, 007,” Q replied, not lifting his bespectacled eyes from the long needles in his hands. Ethel’s tail thumped lazily when she saw he was looking in her direction. Her behind was comfortably ensconced on his pillows and James, not comfortable yet in disciplining her, had kept silent about the issue. He anticipated he’d have to be wary of choking on fur when he went to bed.
“What are you knitting?”
“A jumper,” Q blithely returned, the click of the needles soft under his pale fingers.
“It’s spring, soon to be summer, Q.”
“Yes, that will give me plenty of time to finish before winter returns.”
Exasperated and intrigued, James sat on the bed, suit jacket forgotten in his hand. “How long have you been knitting?”
The needles paused with Q’s sigh. “Since I was about eight years old, 007.”
James had figured out when Q was a bit irritated with him, at least when away from MI6, he called James by his designation. Another quirk, James had no problem encouraging in Q, it was almost like they were an old married couple already. It was amusing to see Q trying to be dignified when he was in a most undignified state.
The needles started their work again on the soft gray wool. James was sure at some point an obscene color of some sort would make an appearance to ruin the fine gray hue.
Q dropped the needles in his lap, blinking at James. “Very well, 007. If you must know, my mum taught me to help me sleep.”
“You have trouble with insomnia?” James got back up to hang his suit. “Keep talking, Q.”
“Well, I did have a lot of trouble falling asleep as a child, and occasionally do now. Knitting is meditative, as much as it is a challenge, and helps calm my thoughts before I go to bed. So, I’ll often work on my projects for an hour in the evenings.”
James could understand, sometimes his own thoughts swirled in his head, his brain racing when he was trying to fall asleep. Often, it didn’t matter how tired he was, or how ready he was for rest, his mind just wouldn’t shut down enough to drift off.
“Well, I occasionally have bouts of insomnia myself. Perhaps, you should teach me how to knit,” he teased. “We could make matching jumpers.”
Q snorted, making James’ smile widen. He pulled another suit from a box, while the click of Q’s needles started up again.
Back turned to his housemate, James confessed, “You should know… don’t shake me awake in the middle of the night. You’re liable to get a fist in the face for your trouble.”
James swore he could hear one of Q’s black eyebrows rise. “Good to know. Should I just holler at you from the doorway then, if I need to get you up?”
“That would probably be best,” James acknowledged. He couldn’t in good conscious not inform Q of his reactions to being awoken from a dead sleep. He’d been in peril too long to not react with violence to someone disturbing him in the night.
“Well…” Q cleared his throat. “In the interest of full disclosure, I do occasionally sleepwalk.”
James’ tension eased when he realized Q wasn’t going to call him out on the evidence of possible PTSD. Turning he raised a brow, but Q was again immersed in his knitting.
“I tend to… occasionally, forage for food in the middle of the night. Just steer me back to bed, if you find I’m wandering ‘round.”
“Should I wait until you’re done snacking or head you off at the fridge, before you get to the spoils?”
Q sniffed, his needles vigorous. “Let me have my cheese, then take me back to bed, if I don’t go on my own.”
James laughed and got a bespectacled glower for his trouble.
“What! It’s perfectly natural, 007!”
Ethel’s ears were velvet under his fingers, her muzzle resting on his thigh a sweet, heated weight. James enjoyed the morning with only the rustle of the paper, the clink of his coffee cup on the marble top, and Ethel’s lazily swishing tail an accompaniment to the contented glow of the dawn kissing the trees beyond the kitchen window.
Ethel’s company while James drank his coffee and read the morning paper had become a routine between them in the week since the move.
The contented quiet was disturbed by shuffling feet and yowling meows, Q—and Merlin and Arthur—were up.
Q, with his cats weaving around his feet, was a sight, with his pajama bottoms slung low on his slim hips and a long sleeve white t-shirt covering his willowy frame. The most subdued shirt James had yet to see him in, though his Einstein-esque hair pushed back off his forehead and crooked spectacles made up for the unexpected lack of color.
“Good morning, Q.”
Q grunting at him through a yawn was all James received for his chipper greeting.
Ethel’s warm weight left James’ thigh for her own pleasant good morning ear rub from Q. The three animals were now milling about underfoot while Q multi-tasked tea making and food preparations for his pets. It was a wonder he didn’t trip over them, but James figured he’d been doing this for a number of years. Q seemed to know instinctively where everyone was around his feet.
“Do you want a warm up?” Q asked, holding the coffee carafe aloft.
“Yes, thank you.”
Q finished his preparations and left his horde of fur happily eating their breakfasts. James’ coffee was topped up with a small smile before Q settled in at the table to hover over his own steaming cup.
“Did you submit in your change of address?”
“Yes, a few days ago.”
“I’ll talk to M today and see if we can’t get you cleared,” Q said, before savoring his first sip with his eyes closed.
“I was going to go in and talk to him, myself today.”
“Best let me do it, James,” Q returned. “You’re just liable to irritate him, and then he’ll send you to psych for another eval.”
James raised a brow at his companion, but couldn’t refute the statement. It was somewhat true that he and Mallory did seem to be at odds most of the time. The man just rubbed James the wrong way, for some reason he didn’t want to examine more closely.
“Unless you need more time off to settle in?” Q asked.
“By the time I get cleared it will probably be another week or two until a mission gets scheduled, so it’s fine. I can talk to him myself, Q…you don’t need to, really.”
“I’ll do it, he usually does what I want anyway.”
It was unique to have someone managing his life right in front of him. Q did it both in subtle and not so subtle ways. James wasn’t sure quite what to do about it, or if he actually did want to do anything about it.
James gave a brusque knock to the door of the bath. “Q? Are you going to be long? I have to shave and pack my kit, my flight’s in three hours and I need to leave soon.”
“You can come in, I’m decent.”
James wouldn’t categorize the Quartermaster up to his white shoulders in bubbles decent, but he didn’t want to be late for his flight.
James had discovered that Q was somewhat of a creature of habit, which was a bit of a worry with the high-level position he held in the SIS. James had been informed recently that Wednesday evenings, unless there was a mission he was managing, was Q’s night for a glass of red wine and a bubble bath in his absurdly extravagant green tub.
James felt eyes on his back, catching Q’s green gaze running over him in the mirror. Though, James wasn’t sure how much Q could actually see without his glasses.
James enjoyed the ritual of shaving, preparing foam, sharpening the blade with the strop, the damp heat from a hot cloth opening his pores, and a warm towel over his bare shoulder. It was a routine that was ingrained in him, calmed him when the anticipation of missions and the weight of his duty during them settled on his shoulders.
“Have you ever cut yourself badly using that razor?”
He glanced at Q in the mirror again. His spectacles were now on his nose, watching James run the soft brush of foam along his cheeks. Q was sitting up instead of leaning back in relaxation, his wine seemingly forgotten between his damp fingers.
“A few nicks when I was first learning how to use it, but no I’ve never cut myself seriously with it.”
“It looks old, inlaid with ivory.”
James returned his attention to what he was doing, lifting the blade to his cheek. He’d shaved in front of any number of women over the years, but this was the first time since the Navy his ritual was done in front of a man. Perhaps it was the setting, but shaving with Q so focused on him sent a fluttering thrum through his chest. It was fleeting with a deep breath and another pass of the blade, but James made note of the feeling before setting it aside.
He paused to wipe the blade and surprised himself when he answered Q’s unasked question. “It was my father’s, and my grandfather’s before him. It’s been used by the men in my family since 1740.”
“Did you teach yourself how to use it?”
He knew Q was well informed as to his full history and that his father hadn’t been around to teach him. James finished the last stroke under his chin before satisfying Q’s curiosity. “No, my Lieutenant Commander admired it during the first year of my Navy service. He showed me how to use and care for it.”
Cleaning the blade and packing his kit, James realized that besides his superior officer, Q was the only other person he’d ever told about the history of his straight razor. It was a personal tidbit you’d tell a close lover or friend.
The zipper of his kit rasped closed, and James terminated the uncomfortable thought before turning to lean back against the counter.
Q was back in position without his glasses, head resting back, eyes half-mast. James figured his wine was going to end up in the bath if his fingers got anymore lax around the glass stem.
“You should try it, Q.”
“Oh, no…,” Q murmured with a languid flap of a bubbled coated hand. “I’m the type of person who trips on air just walking across a room. I’m liable to slash my own throat. You’d come home to a dead Quartermaster, two cats and a dog feasting on my flesh, and drinking out of the toilet to stay alive.”
“You’re just full of hyperbole.” James replied, the brief discomfort gone in the face their normal repartee.
“I know, a defense mechanism from my youth.”
James could hear the blare of the music before he’d even shut the rental car’s engine off. The sound was vibrating through the entrance into the house. He winced, stepping into the warm wooden and slate hall when the blast of it, with the addition of a mechanical rumbling, hit his ears.
He had to drop his bags to deal with Ethel’s enthusiastic greeting, her face already pressing hard between his knees, pushing. Grinning, he softened his knees a bit to allow her to go through his legs, rubbing her wiggling bottom along the way, noting the amount of fur she deposited on his bespoke trousers. The residual tension in his shoulders from the mission eased with the warmth of the dog’s welcome. James still planned to have a drink, but with Ethel’s friendly weight against him, realized he probably didn’t really need one now.
James straightened and grabbed his bags. Besides the noise of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and the rumble, which James had identified as a vacuum cleaner, there was the scent of cooking meat wafting in the air, causing his stomach to give a little gurgle.
Q was running the vacuum, though he was doing more arse jiggling than Hoovering when James paused to take in the sight. Dressed in soft, slim, but baggy jeans, and an orange t-shirt, Q seemed to James to be making an unfortunate attempt at finding a rhythm. James set his bags down again, and lean against the door jamb to enjoy the show.
Q’s arse was just fine, James mused, with a lovely dainty curve, though it was not conducive to successful arse jiggling. He noted Merlin and Arthur were nowhere to be seen, though with the racket going on, James couldn’t blame them.
Legs kicking, his arms flying, Q turned. “James! I’m cleaning!”
He decided he like the deer-in-headlight look of Q. It was very entertaining.
“Dancing, Q… you were dancing,” he said trying not to smile. “Though, I don’t suppose what you were doing could be categorized as dancing, more along the lines of a fit of some sort.”
Clicking the vacuum off, Q huffed. “Well, I’d like to see you try it, 007.”
“No, Q you’re quite right,” he replied. “I’m more of a clutch and grab dancer myself.”
Q snorted before shutting the vacuum off and turning the music down to a more reasonable level.
“How was your flight?”
“Well, I’ve got a roast in the oven,” Q replied winding up the machine’s cord. “It’ll be ready in about thirty minutes.”
“It smells delicious, Q. Thank you.” It did, making James realize how hungry he actually was.
Taking his bags through the house to his bedroom, Ethel following on his heels, the strain of the last week abated. Working around Ethel’s sprawled form on his bed, he started to sort through his things. James had figured out that it was a futile exercise to try and keep her off his bed or furniture. Q gave her the run of the house with any and all surfaces she could fit her large form onto allowed, basically catering to her every doggie whim. At this point, trying to re-train her when her owner undermined his efforts was just a waste of time and energy.
Q was just as undisciplined as his pets, James thought watching the man flop down on his bed beside Ethel. James adjusted the suitcase to accommodate Q’s slender legs.
“Are you okay?” Q asked.
“Yes, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, you had to kill your mark after sleeping with her,” Q said, meeting James’ gaze watching him take off his suit jacket. “I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy.”
Gently, laying the jacket in the dry cleaning pile, James replied, “Killing is never easy, Q. It doesn’t matter who it is, though some kills are more difficult than others.”
She had been beautiful, but deadly. A true psychopath. The use of his body to get what he wanted was nothing new, but it was a rare occurrence when he had to kill a woman. Killing always left a sour taste in the back of his throat, but assassinating a woman, no matter how quick or painless, always seemed to James akin to murder.
“Do you need to talk about it?”
James shook his head, pulling a shirt from his case.
“I’m here, though if you want to talk,” Q said, “I wouldn’t tell anyone about anything you tell me in confidence.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I’m fine.”
“Alright.” Q gave Ethel a final pat before scooting down to the end of the platform bed to stand. “I’ll leave you to your unpacking then.”
Hand on the door jamb, Q gave him a somber smile.
The crunch of the leaves beneath their feet was loud, echoing under the mist coated trees. It was early, cold, though sweat was working its way down the middle of James’ back at the briskness of their pace. James enjoyed the amicable silence, just watching Ethel’s spiraling happy tail as she caught the scents of the forest in front of them. His enjoyment of watching her, with Q’s quiet presence at his side, added to the peace thrumming through his body.
The harmony of his and Q’s habitual morning hike brought calm to James’ mind, and he relished the lack of churning thoughts that often plagued him. He was rarely quiet within, though outwardly he portrayed a facade that was undisturbed, unflappable, and confident. It was exhausting.
Ethel buzzing by them set Q to chuckling softly at her antics.
“Did you have a dog growing up, James?”
“Yes, a black lab, Iris. She had to be left with the caretaker when my parents died.”
Q nodded to himself, as if James had answered some unasked question. He didn’t say anything further. Q’s fits of personal questions seemed to James to be harmless enough, though often they made him think about things he hadn’t in years. He could still see Iris in his mind’s eye, his loyal companion on the many adventures he’d sought out around the estate as a young boy. Ethel reminded him of her often.
Q’s gentle inquiries often stopped after James had shared, restrained from continuing on into uncomfortable territory. It didn’t trouble him to share such things with Q, even if it was foreign to his nature to do so. James had an awareness that if he didn’t answer, Q wouldn’t be bothered or offended. He could participate in their talks or not as he saw fit. It was strange, but nice in a way James couldn’t describe.
The firelight glowed over the skin of his hands, its soft heat embraced him. There were no words, only the crackling of the fire, soft breathing, and Alan’s knitting needles to break the quiet. The shadows of the woods beyond the windows were barely visible with the fire and lamplight reflecting off the glass. James couldn’t remember a time in his life when his surroundings were so peaceful. Perhaps, when he was a small boy in the presence of this parents, this type of contentment had shown itself, though he couldn’t remember it now, it was so long ago.
He placed his fingers in the pages of the book he was reading, holding his place while he took a sip of scotch. The burn of it down his throat, it’s buttery taste a pleasure on his tongue. Serene evenings with Alan had become commonplace now, after more than a month of living together. In some ways, James was still expecting things between them to become trying in some fashion, but that hadn’t happened. Even Alan’s curious queries weren’t irksome, James’ responses were occasionally disquieting, though only to himself.
Alan was concentrating wholeheartedly on the lump of cable knit in his lap, ignoring everything around him, including Ethel curled between them, and James’ turning of the pages. Merlin and Arthur had also graced them with their presence, aloof as only cats could be on the back of the sofa.
“Do you have a family?” James asked. Alan was still a bit of a mystery, his quirks aside, and James was less interested in his novel this evening than usual. He wanted to talk, which was in it’s own way an aberration he wasn’t completely comfortable with. Not one to waffle on a course of action, James continued breaking Alan out of his knitting zone. “Brothers, Sisters?”
Alan’s hands stilled, his needles silent. His green eyes were assessing for a moment before he said, “Yes, I do. Both parental units and an older brother, two twin nephews, who are unholy terrors, and a third baby on the way. Why the curiosity, all of a sudden?”
James cleared this throat. “I just figured since I’m living with you, I should know a bit more about you, Q.”
“Huh, okay, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for an interrogation for weeks, 007.”
Alan’s snooty tone was so reminiscent of his droll sarcasm at Six that James snorted out a laugh.
Turning to face Alan, pushing his knee under Ethel’s behind, James’ apprehension eased. “So, tell me more.”
“Well, it’s a bit embarrassing, but my family is landed gentry in Gloucester, though Daddy works as a barrister, while Mummy actually manages the estate.”
“What’s embarrassing about that? My family were landed gentry, as well you know.”
“Yes, I do know, James. I’m just uncomfortable being known as part of the Tully family of Gloucester, which always seems to precede me when I meet anyone knew. Severn Park, our family estate was built in 1520, and still retains early Renaissance decorative motifs, and the estate was placed on the National Trust in the fifties. Social class shouldn’t matter in this day and age, but it still does.”
James couldn’t disagree in the least with that assessment.
“Did you go to Eton?” he asked. James had hated it there, but he’d been a grieving boy at the time.
“No, Harrow is a tradition in my family.” Q picked up his needles again. “Though, Mummy comes from a long line of hippies and free thinkers, she didn’t want to send me or my brother there. Daddy convinced her, probably through pouting excessively.”
James laughed. “Go on, Alan, tell me more.”
James just listened late into the night, enjoying Alan’s stories and his colorful turn of phrase.