Graphics by milky_heaven
RAT UNDER THE APPLE TREE
[PART I] [PART II] [PART III]
NOT SUCH A CLEVER BOY
Q reads on the blazing screen before him.
This is all it takes to make his world go tumbling down.
The sky above him is grey and cloudy. There is a brisk wind cutting at his cheek and hard drops of rain breaking on his forehead. The icy air rushes into his lungs and mingles with the burn already there. If he would be the type for sentiment, he would say that even the sky is mourning for M. But he isn’t sentimental. This is just how London is, this time of the year.
Bond can’t actually tell why he comes back here, why he is crossing the street now, nodding at one of the guards, as he makes his way down to the old Bunker that is still the home of MI6. He knows that the people inside are already packing up, “strategically vulnerable” seems to be the word of the hour. There is nothing that awaits him down there, really.
He will return eventually, return for good, he is sure of that. Of course he will. But it will be into new Headquarters, in a new suit, meeting a new M and accepting a new mission. At least he thought it would be like that.
Now he finds himself ignoring the second set of guards as he steps through the security door. And he is dressed in jeans that don’t actually belong to him, given to him by some paramedic. Combined with a shirt that sits wrong in all the right places it paints a rather shabby picture.
Bond starts walking along the shady tunnel even though he knows that there is no mission to accept for him at the end of it. And no one waiting. And really, just 24 hours after “Skyfall”, he would wonder if there was.
But then, he wonders about a few things, lately.
How the world’s still turning, for one. Shouldn’t it, and there, he sees, lies some of his sentiment, be at least shaking a bit? Rattled at the loss of the woman holding it together?
And how is he the one hearing his steps echo from the decaying walls and breathing in their moldy air?
And as he can see the end of his way looming up before him he wonders why he can’t step out of the shadows to walk into the building that once held his whole life.
He takes a deep breath. Then another.
Then he looks down at his feet. The toes of his shoes are neatly lined up with the last bit of shadow that the tunnel behind him provides. He takes another breath and turns his back on the light before him. A sharp turn to the left leaves him in front of a staircase hidden behind a column. Well, not that hidden for everyone who ever used it to get down to the training rooms. As Bond climbs them down now, they are blessedly deserted.
The training room that opens up before him is dipped completely in darkness. Bond ghosts his fingertips over the light switch, considering, but then he drops his hands to his sides. Step for step he lets the dark of the old masonry evolve him. He is, after all, a creature of the shadows. Now that M is dead, they are the only sanctuary he has left.
Ah, sentiment again, he recognizes. This is stupid.
But, as he carefully slips around unused training equipment and waits until his eyes adjust to the dark, he still can’t tell why he came back here. It’s not like there is anything left. There is no one to give him a purpose. And he is well aware of the fact that he won’t be able to find one on his own. Not anymore. Not when he is not sure, if the last bit that was left of him bled away at Skyfall, or drowned in Venice.
There is really, literally, nothing le-
The loud bang of a door being thrown open rips him out of his thoughts.
Bond reaches for his Walther on pure instinct, but his hands come away empty. The bloody thing is still somewhere in Macau. With his usual fight response not working, he ducks behind the closest column and presses himself against the icy bricks. It only takes mere seconds and is completely soundless. The few seconds are all he needs to establish that the intruder probably poses no real threat. The fact that said person hasn’t turned on the light yet, disconcerts him though.
Frantic footsteps echo along the walls and Bond realizes it is not the training rooms the person aims for, but the locker rooms that stretch out behind them. Whoever it is, his mind must be somewhere else, because he overlooks Bond completely as he passes the agent. Bond stays pressed to the wall as the intruder steps past him into the locker room. A second later light flashes through the small passage, followed by the sound of a cubicle being ripped open.
Then all that echoes from the walls is a horrible retching noise.
Bond freezes in confusion. Who on earth would go to the trouble of retrieving down here, just to vomit? Medical is located precisely at the opposite direction and there were definitely more charming lavatories along the way.
So who on earth is this?
He skids along the wall carefully, leaning around the corner slowly, but the door of the cubicle is closed. There is no way of identifying the person from his position. Bond shakes his head slightly while the awful sound dies down to a rough panting. Maybe this is just one of the female agents, desperate to keep up their appearance. He isn’t even supposed to be here, he definitely won’t meddle with this.
Bond listens in to the breathing of the stranger for a second before he turns to leave. It sounds a bit anxious but not life threatening. He is nearly at the stairs, when a sob echoes from the walls. It is so small he might have overheard it weren’t it for the acoustics of the old arches. Small and utterly broken.
"Damn it.", Bond murmurs to himself as his feet turn around on their own accord.
A streak of protectiveness that goes against all self-preservation. That’s something the psychologists should have picked up on. Not that he was likely to annihilate everything around him, including himself, because of psychopathic tendencies.
The light burns lightly in Bonds eyes as he walks into the locker room with full purpose. He knocks at the cubicle door softer than he actually thinks is necessary.
"Hey, are you ok in there?", Bond asks and lets himself fall back against the wall.
There is a muffled sound and he thinks it sounds like shit.
Bond knocks again, “Should I call medical?”
There is a long silence at the other end. The only sound that fills the room is the still hectic breathing of the stranger. Just as Bond contemplates knocking again a rough voice speaks up.
"I’m fine", comes from the other side of the door and it sounds strangely muffled, "You can leave."
And utterly familiar.
"Q?", Bond asks in astonishment, and if it shows it’s only in his features, not in his voice.
"I - I said you can leave now.”, Q grits out between pants. His breathing obviously gets worse by the minute. Bond furrows his brows.
"You don’t actually sound good, I’m getting someone from medical-"
“No.”, Q cuts him off briskly. His voice edges on panicked. “I’m fine.”
Bond draws his lips into a thin line. This is getting ridiculous. He can hear a rustle of fabric and he thinks Q is probably trying to stand up. The small thud that follows indicates he doesn’t actually get far.
"Shit." Q’s voice wavers dangerously. It sounds as if he can’t quite inhale enough air. "Shit, Shit, Shit”, comes out more like a hiss.
"Sod this …", Bond rumbles, because he is surely not going to let Q asphyxiate right in front of him, really now. He rips open the door.
The young Quartermaster is huddled on the floor, leaning heavily against the wall, his feet drawn up towards his body. His hair sticks up in all kind of directions, his glasses are askew and his tie hangs loosely around his neck, as if he tried to rip it off. Most alarming, though, is the fact that his chest rises in frantic irregular breaths and that the hand he has clasped over his mouth is shaking so hard it rips through his whole body.
"You are not fine …", are the first words that fall from the agents lips, because god, Q is a mess.
Bond kneels down and brushes some of Q’s fringe out of his eyes. His hand comes away covered in cold sweat.
"I’m getting you to medical right now", he announces and stretches one hand out to help Q get up, "Whatever you caught it doesn’t look good."
The younger man grabs his wrist with a strength Bond didn’t thought he possessed. At least not in this condition. Q shakes his head curtly.
"Not medical", he bites out. It would sound vicious, if not for the fact that he is struggling so hard to breath, Bond thinks he can see his lips go blue.
“Don’t be a prat. This was not a suggestion, you need medical attention”, the agent bites back as Q’s fingers dig deeper into his skin. Bond tries to haul him up but Q is limp like a potato bag.
"I don’t-", Q starts, but clearly doesn’t have the energy to finish the sentence. The grip on Bonds wrist tightens a fraction. It’s only now Bond realizes that, despite his current state, the Quartermaster’s expression is determined. Like he would rather die than let his body drown out his mind. Which is, given the situation, a bad comparison. Bond has to admit that.
"I’m not sick …", Q breaths out and something really angry crawls its way into the young man’s expression, "This is just a-",another strained breath,"- bloody-“, breath,”-panic attack.” There is so much contempt in the last two words, Bond is sure this isn’t his first.
"Just go”, Q tells him through gritted teeth and Bond watches as the other screws his eyes shut in an attempt to regain his composure. There is a sudden feeling of helplessness nagging at the bottom of Bonds stomach. A picture of M’s lifeless body flashes at the back of his mind. Bond feels his fingertips run cold the same instance and he has to take a steadying breath, because he won’t, under no circumstances, deal with that now.
"No.", he tells Q, his voice like a rock. "Tell me what you need."
Q makes a sound that’s somehow both distraught and resigned and for a second Bond is sure he is going to push him away, but then Q’s eyes flutter open again. “I just need to calm down”, the young man finally pants. “I need-“, he starts again, but there is another frantic intake of breath that makes him stutter. Bond watches the irregular rise of Q’s chest for a moment before he continues to act on pure instinct.
With the hand that Q is not currently digging his fingers into, Bond loses the buttons of his shirt until his chest is bare. The Quartermasters gaze immediately focuses on his movements, obviously contemplating what is going to happens next, and Bond feels the younger man’s body stiffen minutely. “I really don’t think-“, he starts, but all the air seems to rush out of his strained lungs as Bond gently takes Q’s free hand and places it on his chest.
Bond exhales slowly as Q’s ice cold fingers come to lie right over his heart. The Quartermasters breathing seems to have come to a complete halt. Bond links his own fingers with Q’s as he catches the others gaze.
"You’re going to have to breathe with me now, Q", he says, inhaling deeply and then exhaling slowly. "Can you do that for me?"
The only answer Bond gets is a strangled gasp, but Q’s eyes stay fixed on his as the agent takes another deep breath. There is strength in the Quartermasters eyes that he knows he himself misses at the moment. At the sixth try Q finally starts falling into the breathing pattern Bond provides.
Their fingers start drawing tighter around each other with every exhale they take together, pressing harder against Bond’s chest with every inhale. When Bond can finally feel the tremor smoothing out of Q’s hands he slowly draws his wrist from where Q is still gripping it and brings it up to Q’s neck instead. His pulse is still a bit elevated, but definitely calmer. Their chests rise and fall in unison.
"Better?", Bond asks quietly, never loosing the grip on the hand lying on his chest.
"Better", Q whispers, his eyes drifting shut slowly. Now that the exhaustion sets in, Bond thinks that he suddenly looks incredibly young. The Quartermasters hand starts drifting off his chest sluggishly and Bond takes it and places it in Q’s lap.
"I’m getting you home now", Bond murmurs and Q doesn’t object.
[READ FULL CHAPTER]