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Falling Sideways, Downwards, Up

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“No,” says Q firmly, “No, I will not be issuing you another gun until you fill out the paperwork. I understand that fieldwork is unpredictable, these things to happen, but our policies exist for a reason and frankly your excuses have been increasingly unbelievable since the alleged ‘komodo dragon’ incident - ”

- and then Bond shoves Q back against the pillar, just hard enough that Q’s head rebounds slightly off the concrete.

Q’s eyes widen with surprise and a touch of pain. He’s just starting to panic, mouth opening to shout the activation key for emergency protocol 62b, rogue double-oh agent - 62a is rogue Q-branch agent, 62c is rogue field agent below double-oh status, and frankly he has an emergency protocol for almost every scenario imaginable, including 138f, Dalek invasion, because it seemed like a good idea at the time - when Bond leans forward and kisses him.

Q is fairly sure he’s just squeaked in surprise, although he’ll deny it later if anyone asks. Bond’s grips pins him against the pillar, the stubble of a three-day mission scraping against Q’s lips as his tongue does something that Q can’t quite quantify but that will certainly be featuring heavily in what is sure to be an embarrassing redux of wet dreams in the nights to come, good Lord.

Q thinks he should probably be saying something. Something like, hang on just a minute. Or, what the hell are you doing, do I look like an enemy agent in need of seduction? Or, excuse me, but I prefer it when people buy me a drink first, thank-you. But his body has other ideas, and he finds himself fisting his hands in the already-rumpled fabric of Bond’s suit, pulling him closer as he returns Bond’s kiss with slightly less skill, but plenty of enthusiasm. He thinks he can taste blood in his mouth, and he’s slightly shocked to realise just how much of a turn-on that is.

When Bond stops kissing him, all Q can do for a several moments is gasp for air.

“Just give me the bloody gun,” Bond growls - no, practically purrs. He flashes Q one of those infamously charming double-oh-grins, and then he’s gone.

“Wait,” says Q, to the empty room. His glasses are still askew on his nose, his cheeks red with the faint warmth of beard burn. “Wait, what?”

* * *

So Q does what any good Quartermaster would do under the circumstances: he collects data.

Espionage has never been his strong suit. There’s a reason he doesn’t work in the field. He makes it through only two questions of his “follow-up debriefing” before Moneypenny narrows her eyes at him, her expression somewhere between curious and threatening.

“Q. Are you trying to ask me if I’ve ever fucked Bond?”

Q considers for a moment the probability that he can successfully bluff her, and then says, “Essentially, yes.”

In any other workplace, Q supposes that this would be the beginning of a sexual harassment suit. But this is MI6, and so Moneypenny’s lips draw back in a slightly predatory grin and she says, quite easily, “Not yet.”

A quick tap notes her answer in the spreadsheet on his tablet. He’s slightly disappointed. As an ex-field-agent who’d worked in close proximity with Bond, the data he’s collected thus far suggests that her answer should have been a resounding yes. “Physical activity of a sexual nature, stopping short of intercourse?”

“Does shaving count?”

Q pauses. It seems there’s a certain level of nuance here that his data categories fail to reflect. “Only if the shaving was, in and of itself, a sexualised act,” he decides, after a moment. “Otherwise, I suppose it would it fall under the category of flirtatious interactions with heavily sexual overtones.”

Moneypenny sighs, and holds out her hand for the tablet. “Give it here,” she says, and after a moment’s consideration, Q does. She flicks through his charts and tables with a practised hand, then shakes her head. “Well, this is ridiculous,” she informs him.

He feels himself stiffen, slightly, his posture drawing up and his face slipping into that serene and slightly amused expression he’d spent quite a number of years perfecting. “Believe me, Ms. Moneypenny, when you’re working with double-oh agents, data like this - ”

“No,” she interrupts. “I mean your methodology. You’re not going to get any meaningful results like this.”

Q toys with the idea of being offended. “You have a better idea?”

“Yes,” she says, quite promptly. “Several.” She hands him back his tablet, and then turns to her own computer. A few clicks and a handful of keystrokes, and then she says, “We’re meeting for lunch tomorrow. We’ll go over it then.”

“We’re meeting for lunch,” he repeats, racking his brain. He doesn’t think he would have booked a lunch meeting, in large part because he doesn’t tend to ‘eat lunch’ - or dinner, or breakfast - so much as he gulps down food at a series of intervals dictated by his body’s distracting demands for caloric intake.

She turns the computer screen, showing him his official schedule, which he uses mostly to keep track of when he’ll be fabricating an emergency sufficient to beg off from the worst of the bureaucratic nonsense M expects him to participate in. Sure enough, there, Wednesday from 1100 to 1300, he’s scheduled for “Lunch Meeting, Moneypenny, re: field agent behaviour and tactics.”

“Rank hath its privileges,” she tells him.

He purses his lips. “I’ve never thought of ‘secretary’ as a particularly high-ranking position,” he says, the words coming out a little meaner than he’d intended. He’s a busy man. He’s the Quartermaster. She’s an executive assistant.

She laughs, not at all offended. “Please,” she says. “You think I let them stick me at just any old desk? Power behind the throne, Q.”

She grins at him, and he finds himself smiling back, awkward and a little hesitant.

* * *

From there, things get a little out of control.

And by a little, he means that between the two of them they quickly accumulate over three terabytes of video, image, audio, and text data on the topic of 007’s sex life.

“The thing is,” Q confesses to Moneypenny one evening, when they’ve had a few drinks and now they’re just watching a looped mash-up video of Bond getting kicked in the balls by enemy agents - Q is easily bored, a little bitter, and has access to thousands of hours of 007 combat footage - “the thing is, I think rather like him? He has very good, good fingers. And lips. And eyes. Very good...” he waves his hands vaguely up and down, attempting to indicate an entire body. “Very good everything.”

“But you’re upset that he kissed you,” says Moneypenny. She’s had three drinks to his every two, but thanks to the preternatural alcohol tolerance of field agents, former and otherwise, she’s barely showing it. On the screen behind her, a particularly vicious blow to the family jewels actually lifts 007 a short ways off the ground. Q was particularly fond of that one.

“I’m upset if he only did it because it was more expedient than filling out paperwork!”

“You like him, don’t you,” says Moneypenny.

“I like a lot of people,” say Q. “I know a lot of people with very good everything. You, for example, you have very good everything.” He stares morosely into his bottle. He doesn’t even really like beer. “But people with good everythings don’t generally kiss me and then run away. It’s very confusing.” He takes a swig of beer, emptying the bottle. “I need more data.”

“I think you mean more alcohol,” says Moneypenny, twisting open another bottle and handing it to him.

He takes it. “That too,” he agrees, and takes another swig.

* * *

“Wallet,” says Moneypenny. She’s given up on scheduling lunch meetings and begun simply appearing when she has something to discuss, or new data for their research. Or when she’s bored.

Q rummages it out of his pocket and tosses it to her, not really looking. She has to lean to catch it. “Canteen food inedible again?”

“Macaroni and cheese,” she says, darkly.

Q makes a faint noise of disgust. The canteen manages to make pasta and dairy taste like cardboard and paste. With a sprinkle of breadcrumbs on top. “Curry?”

“Curry,” she agrees. The nearest edible take-out to MI6 is the place around the corner that does a surprisingly passable rogan josh. “Your turn to pay.”

He nods assent, already drawn back into his work. He’d pay for all the meals she claims they can’t expense, if she’d actually let him. He hacks the employee records of almost everyone he interacts with, which is how he knows he makes significantly more than her - something that increasingly strikes him as an injustice. Q has an unpleasant suspicion that MI6, or M’s office at the very least, would collapse into chaos without her.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Johnson watching them with an expression Q can’t quite read, but which he instinctively feels is patronising.

Q grits his teeth, checks to ensure that his mask of cool inscrutability is firmly in place, and carries on with his work.

* * *

The first time Bond follows Moneypenny down into Q-branch, Q honestly isn’t quite sure how to react.

“He’s between missions,” says Moneypenny, in answer to the look on Q’s face. “And he won’t stop bothering M. I’m babysitting.”

Bond smiles serenely, but there’s a tightness around his eyes, hardly there; the first microscopic fatigue cracks in the barrel of a gun, threatening failure under field conditions.

“Well, for god’s sake don’t let him near any of the prototypes,” says Q at last, gesturing at the half-assembled guns on the nearest table. “Some of them still explode when you handle them wrong.”

Bond looks faintly interested at this, in a way that Q finds concerning. He also doesn’t say anything, which Q finds more concerning still. 007 has never been a talkative man, but nor is he one to resist an opening for a sarcastic quip. Whatever Moneypenny’s threatening him with to keep him quiet, Q wants to know. That kind of information might come in handy someday.

“And keep him out of the way,” Q adds, probably unnecessarily. “We have work to do down here.” Behind Bond, the Q-branch agents are trying to pretend they aren’t avidly watching the little drama playing out at the front of the room.

“I’m giving him your list of proposed firearm upgrades,” says Moneypenny, rolling her eyes. “He’s just going to do exactly like I did: review it, and highlight the ones he thinks will be useful in the field. Review it quietly,” she adds, to Bond.

Q purses his lips for a moment. “I’m finding you another mission before the week’s out,” he says, turning back to his computer. “You get twitchy and pathetic when they leave you out of the field too long.” It’s an uncomfortable feeling, knowing Bond is looming right behind him. He makes his screens large enough to read from halfway across the room specifically so that people won’t come loom behind him. Q-branch understands, and keeps their distance. Bond and Moneypenny don’t seem to care.

No looking away from his screen, Q gropes blindly for his mug. With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Bond presses it into Q’s grasping hand.

“Thank-you,” says Q, distracted, and takes a sip.

* * *

Q peers at the map on his screen. “Left,” he says. “Now, quick.”

 

The little dot that represents 003’s GPS transponder promptly veers west. What Q wouldn’t give for a dozen agents like 003: quick, efficient, and obedient. None of this nonsense about thinking they know best when they are, in fact, lacking the full picture.

Q, with the world’s data at his fingertips, never lacks the full picture.

“No witnesses,” he warns. He reaches behind him for his tea, skimming it with his fingers and almost knocking it off the table, not willing to take his eyes off his screens. “Don’t be seen, or - ”

“I won’t be seen,” she says. Her voice, somehow richer for the slight rasp left by decades of cigars in shady back-room dens and cigarettes smoked in elegant ballrooms, is calm. Almost preternaturally so, given that she’s currently slipping and skidding through layers of refuse in back-alley Beijing, closing in on her quarry.

“Good.” Q fumbles for his mug again, and manages to secure it. He takes a sip of what had at one point been quite a nice Earl Grey. It’s moved past lukewarm into tepid, and he makes a face.

“Eyes,” says 003, and Q almost drops the tea. “I have eyes.”

“When you have the shot, take it,” Q orders, leaning in. The hand not holding the mug flies over his keyboard, still trying to find an accessible camera in her vicinity. Too many of them run on film for god’s sake, the kind of low-tech nonsense you can only access by ejecting the tape and watching it on a VCR.

There’s a slight grunt of pain, and then an almost delicate, “Shit.” Scuffling noises fill his ear, and then a deeper masculine voice growls out what Q distantly recognises as some very foul language in Mandarin.

“Status,” Q snaps.

“Got a little too close,” she growls, sounding out of breath for the first time. There’s a whoosh of air, and then she gasps, “Fuck!”

“Backup?” Q asks. There isn’t really anyone in the area, but someone might get there fast enough to retrieve her body before the authorities arrive.

“Not yet - nnnngh!”

Grainy security footage comes up on the screen as Q finally finds a camera hooked up to a larger network. A few keystrokes and the view rotates jerkily, showing him the scene from behind. 003’s unmistakable silhouette is grappling with a short, stout man; Q sees the flash of a knife. It’s hard to tell with the image quality so low, but it looks bloodied to him.

“Distraction?” he asks, his voice sounding distant to his own ears as his point of focus narrows to the screen. He flicks a glance to the window where he’s monitoring police traffic, then ignores it again; law enforcement is on its way, but she has plenty of time.

“Count-down.”

“Ten seconds. He took a heavy blow to the right knee eight days ago,” Q adds, then flicks off his comm for a moment. “Jones.”

“Yes, sir?” asks the voice from behind him.

“Get a medevac team on standby,.”

“Yes, sir.”

He flicks his comm back on. His fingers fly over the keys, calling up the controls for the nearest power station. This is going to get messy, but cleanup belongs to Propaganda and her P-branch agents. “Six seconds,” he says. “Shield your eyes.”

“Copy,” she gasps.

“Three. Two. One. Now!”

The lights just outside the alleyway - and across several city blocks - explode with bright flares of light and showers of sparks. The distant sound of startled screaming reaches Q’s ears through the comm, and he quickly withdraws from the power plant’s internal systems, before some too-clever employee figures out how such a large power surge managed to get past the safeguards.

The man in the alleyway flinches. 003 snaps out and lands a vicious blow to her opponent’s weak knee; he staggers, off balance, and she lands another to her shoulder, shoving him backwards, out of arm’s reach. He whirls, slashing out - Q can hear his enraged howls in his ear - but her gun comes up and she fires once, twice. The man staggers, and drops the blade. He falls to his knees. She stares down at him for a moment, and one hand rises, almost hesitantly, to her face.

Q frowns. With the lights gone, it’s difficult to see what’s happening. “Double-oh three, what are you - ”

The gun fires again, and Q can just barely see the spray of gore as the back of the man’s head blows out. He collapses sideways into the grime, and 003 lowers her weapon.

Q lets out a slow breath. “Mission objective achieved,” he says, the adrenaline begins to ebb from his system. “Do you require evacuation?”

“Yes,” she says, and half-turns.

Q sees her face, and his eyes widen ever so slightly. He sees her injuries not in themselves, but in the gleam of dim light on wet blood. There are two, maybe three gashes, bleeding in the copious way of all head-wounds. It might just be a trick of the camera, but he thinks the tip of her nose is missing, hacked away. “Medevac is on its way,” he says, gesturing silently for Jones to speed things along. “Lay low at Safehouse Epsilon.”

“I may be unconscious from blood-loss by the time they arrive,” she says, matching his businesslike tone. “Inform the medical team that I will require urgent intervention to avoid the loss of my left eye.”

“Will do. Excellent work, double-oh three.”

“Thank-you, Quartermaster.”

Q disables the camera feed, and spares a moment of regret for 003’s face. There was nothing more he could have done, but - still. Hard to live the double-oh lifestyle with that kind of scarring. Especially not if she loses the eye. Medical may be able to repair some of the damage, in time, but not all of it. He supposes she’ll end up retired to a desk job.

Could be worse, all things told. 003 will be forty-nine in a few months; by the standards of double-oh agents, she’s positively ancient. She’ll probably be grateful for the chance to bow out gracefully while she’s still alive.

He stretches, rolling his shoulders - and two more gunshots ring in his earpiece. His eyes snap open. “Double-oh three, report.”

“Witnesses,” is all she says.

* * *

Bond is lurking again, looming in Q’s space and making a nuisance of himself. Q isn’t quite sure why Bond is here. To be honest, he’s not sure Bond knows either. Habit, perhaps.

What does Bond even do with his spare time, Q wonders idly. The evidence points to drinking, fucking, and cleaning his guns. Under the circumstances, that’s perilously like bringing work home in the evening. Bond needs a hobby.

It occurs to Q that pestering Q-branch might actually be the closest thing Bond has to a hobby. Now that’s a terrifying thought.

He reaches absently for his mug of tea, fingers skimming the air. The data feed streaming across the top of his screen tells him that there’s been a suspicious incident in Trafalgar Square, that Q-branch needs to build more communicators for a new batch of recruits, that a minor but sympathetic political figure was just assassinated in Guyana, that the medical team was forced to enucleate 003’s damaged eye, that M has called a meeting for department heads (Q makes a note to manufacture an urgent crisis), that a team is being dispatched a team to Lewisham to investigate a possible terrorist cell, that...

With a long-suffering sigh, Bond picks up the mug and presses it into Q’s seeking hand.

“Anything for you,” Bond purrs.

Q pauses to stare at him askance. To his amazement and secret delight, Bond shifts his feet and glances away, looking almost... uncertain? Q takes a pointed sip of his tea, and Bond retreats, muttering something uncomplimentary sounding under his breath.

The man flirts with everyone, Q thinks, bemused. It’s like he doesn’t know how to stop.

* * *

When 003 goes rogue, she does it with a quiet, ruthless efficiency that makes the whole mess with Silva seem positively Vaudeville by comparison. Double-oh rogue rates have always been high compared to other field agents. Q knows this. Leave them in the field too long and something snaps; more often than not, the first job of a new double-oh is to take out their predecessor. Q should have seen this coming.

He should really, really have seen this coming.

It takes Q and Q-branch an embarrassing five hours and forty-two minutes to realise what’s happening, and then MI6 erupts into chaos. Q-branch hunkers down for the long haul. They remember all too well, Q more than anyone, the chaos they’d inadvertently allowed Silva to wreak. And Silva hadn’t even been a double-oh.

They’re somewhere in the middle of the second day - or possibly the third night - when a voice calls “Delivery” from the back of the room, and the smell of grease and melted cheese hits Q’s nose like a solid right hook, the shockwaves trembling down his spine and setting his stomach to rumbling.

Mouth suddenly full of saliva, Q turns away from his increasingly futile efforts to track 003’s movements through privately owned security cameras and fuzzy camera-phone instagram feeds. An agent he only vaguely recognises is standing just inside the door, his tie hanging loose and his suit rumpled, with three boxes of pizza in his arms. “Courtesy of Moneypenny,” the agent adds politely, as several other besuited figures stagger into the room, over-laden with boxes of pizza and carafes of coffee and tea.

Q blinks, then glances at the time. Six in the morning; over ten hours since they’d been able to stop working long enough for anyone to dart out to the nearest hole-in-the-wall restaurant and grab them some food. Moneypenny certainly hasn’t had time to leave M’s side. Which means, Q realises with a touch of awe, that she somehow managed to arrange for a pizza delivery to a top-secret intelligence base in the middle of a security lockdown.

One of the agents hands him a paper plate, with two slices. “She said to make sure you ate at least this, sir,” he says, “before we let you have anything caffeinated.”

“Mother hen,” Q mutters, but he takes the plate, waving the agent away.

The Q-branch agents are the picture of desperate relief as they help themselves to piping hot mugs and heaping plates. Jones looks close to tears when she takes her first sip, and Brown appears to be having some kind of religious experience with a slice of mushroom and green pepper. Q’s tempted to snap a quick photo of it, for future blackmail and revenge purposes, but he restrains himself.

For all that they’re an annoying bunch of incompetents who can barely string together two lines of code unsupervised, they’re his incompetents. It rankles Q’s pride just a bit, that it’s Moneypenny providing them this little moment of relief. That’s Q’s job, and he can do it just fine without her help. On the other hand, considering how much more productive they’ll be with caffeine and calories in them, Q finds he can forgive her. Not only for her meddling but also for the horrible whole-wheat crusts and veggie-laden toppings with small pieces of chicken, nary a chunk of ham or a pepperoni in sight.

He takes a bite of his own slice, and makes a face, even as his grateful stomach demands he take another.

Typing one handed, he sends her a quick e-mail.

I’m perfectly capable of feeding myself and my agents, Moneypenny. I’m not a child.

A moment later, she replies:

You’re welcome.

He smiles despite himself, and eats his food.

* * *

There is a soft noise of someone clearing their throat.

Q’s head slowly lifts up. He’d thought he was alone in the room. He wonders vaguely if he should be startled, but it appears that his body has reached its adrenaline limit for the day, and all he can manage is to turn his head, eyes bleary, and blink a few times at the apparition of Agent James Bond standing before his desk.

He’s holding something metal. It looks familiar. Q blinks, trying to remember what kind of accelerant he’d used in that particular bomb. Wait, is Bond threatening him? He wishes he could remember how big of a blast radius to thing has, but somehow he can’t even remember why he’d chosen such an unsubtle stainless steel for the casing.

Somewhat belatedly, he succeeds in identifying the object as one of those shakers for making alcoholic drinks.

Bond holds up the silvery thing, condensation beading on the cold metal. “Martini? It’s been a bloody long week all around.”

“When did you get back?” Q asks, still not quite following. Bond had tidily ended the whole nightmare with a bullet through 003’s left temple. That had been... at least five hours ago, Q was fairly sure, although his sense of passing time was a bit shaky at the moment.

“A few hours ago,” Bond says, producing a martini glass seemingly from nowhere.

“No, no. Into the mug, if you must,” says Q, tossing back the last of his cold Earl Grey and then holding it out. This mug, he knows from experience, is virtually indestructible. He doesn’t trust his shaking hands with glassware.

“Philistine,” Bond mutters, but he pours out the shaker into Q’s mug.

Q takes a tentative sip. It’s... surprisingly good, actually. He tries to remember if any of the more-or-less approved uppers he’s on might react badly with alcohol, and then gives it up as a lost cause. “You got back a few hours ago, and the first thing you did was mix me a martini?”

“No,” Bond corrects. “First I had a shower. Then I sat through an hour-long initial debrief. Then I had a bit of a chat with Moneypenny, then I got myself a martini, and then I brought one for you.”

“Hmm,” says Q, only half listening. He’s dimly surprised Bond had managed the debrief so quickly. M had specifically requested that 003 be brought in alive, in order that she might be asked questions like ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘where exactly did you stash the assistant minister’s body.”’ Personally, Q unreservedly approves of Bond’s decision. They couldn’t possibly have secured her well enough. M could stand to learn a few lessons from the demise of his predecessor.

Q’s frayed attention drifts back to his screen, and he sets the mug down absentmindedly on a crooked pile of pizza boxes. At some point, the Q-branch agents had stacked the leftover pizza right where his elbow kept bumping against the cardboard. He keeps vaguely intending to move them.

“Still working on this?” Bond asks.

“Not quite done yet,” says Q. “A few loose ends to tidy up.” M’s not the only one who wants to know how and why; Q’s just smart enough to know that technology is significantly more obliging, in these respects, than a rogue double-oh.

“I thought you had minions for that kind of thing,” says Bond, looking around the empty room.

He waves a vague hand. “Sent ‘em home,” he says. “Brown started weeping, honestly, it was embarrassing for everyone. Sixty-three hours on high alert and they just fell all to pieces.”

“Most people would,” says Bond. “They’re not field agents, after all.”

Q huffs out an annoyed breath. “They’re MI6 agents. I let them sleep in shifts.” Not long shifts, admittedly, but there had been work to do, and he personally hadn’t slept at all.

“Biggest crisis since you came in as Quartermaster, wasn’t it,” says Bond, voice so neutral that Q shoot him a suspicious glance. Bond shrugs. “You’re not a field agent either. Moneypenny says you were something of a wonder down here. She also says you haven't slept in days.”

Q turns back to his screen. “Moneypenny is an interfering busybody who should mind her own business.” As an afterthought, he reaches back for his mug of martini, and it’s there in his hand, right where he expected it - passed to him by Bond, as it always was when Bond was there. Such a little thing, the passing of a mug when he reaches for it. And yet.

He pauses, the mug partway to his lips.

“Bond,” he says, after a moment, because the only real way to handle double-oh agents is to be as blunt and straightforward as possible and refuse to get sucked into the mind-games that they eat and breathe, “are we friends?”

“Double-oh agents don’t have friends,” says Bond, and it’s the easy, untroubled way that he says it that sends an unexpected pang through Q’s exhausted heart.

“Well,” he says, blinking, “just because we’re whatever you lot of maniacs have instead of friends, don’t think I’ll be handing over any weaponry without the proper paperwork.”

“Heaven forfend,” says Bond, dry as dust.

Q blinks again. The room seemed to be getting kind of wavery. “Oh. Dear. I think I shouldn’t have mixed alcohol with...” he fumbles, clumsily, for the empty bottle of uppers sitting on his desk.

“You’re fine,” says Bond, gently prying the mug of martini from Q’s grip. He sets it on the table, and slings his arm around Q’s back, steadying him. “Nothing unexpected.”

“Did you... was there something in this drink?” Q asks, slowly, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth. His knees decide they’re done holding him up, and he sags into Bond’s grip. Does he still have enough time to activate protocol 62b? He tries to speak, and gets nothing but a slur of vowels.

“Moneypenny’s fault,” says Bond, his smiling face starting to fade into blackness. “She can be quite persuasive when she puts her mind to it.”

When Q wakes up fourteen hours later in his flat, naked but for his boxers, there’s a glass of water and two aspirin on his bedside table. Under the water glass is a note informing him that he’s banned from MI6 property for the next 36 hours, but he should probably call in before the end of the day to let everyone know he’s still alive. In the fridge, the note informs him, is a variety of nice healthy fruit, and the leftover cold pizza from Q division. It’s signed by both Moneypenny and Bond.

Q, his stomach grumbling as he levers himself upright and reaches for the aspirin, can’t decide if he wants to kiss the two of them, kill them, or deliver a very serious lecture about the nature of consent and the vast difference between acceptable behaviour during the execution of a mission as compared to acceptable behaviour when you think your friend-or-friend-alternative needs to catch some shut-eye.

Maybe all three at once. With powerpoint slides.

* * *

There’s something soothing about the simplicity of physical tools and physical tasks.

The Quartermaster doesn’t do this, not really. He sends out designs, and prototypes are returned. They are tested to his precise standards using his carefully outlined procedures, and the data is delivered to him. They are then modified as per his instructions. Q lives in the world of thought and data, the elegant equations of electricity and force. The rote, time-consuming work of tools and testing is best left to Q-branch agents of a lower pay-grade.

Q coaxes out the interior mechanisms of the swingline stapler he nicked from Johnson’s desk, careful not to damage anything. He’s smiling, almost in spite of himself. It’s all rather... nostalgic, to be honest. Memories of late nights spent cobbling together homemade surveillance equipment from scavenged supplies because he hadn’t yet worked out the trick to convincing banks you had quite a lot of money in your account, actually. The old days, before M made her first offer: us, or jail.

He’d been about fourteen.

Q hums as he tries to fit his rough prototype into the empty stapler casing. Not quite right, yet - still too clunky. But he can probably cannibalize some parts from the original mechanisms...

“Um.”

“Add it to your expenses for the month, Johnson,” says Q, not looking up. If he doesn’t get the spring clamped down properly there’s a slight, a very slight chance that the whole thing will explode. Also, if he looks Johnson in the eye, Q might have consider feeling guilty. “Feel free to overcharge exorbitantly.” It’s not as if M will even notice, not amid all the extra expenses they accrued for equipment lost during 003’s swan song.

A heavy sigh. “Yes, sir.” And then, mournfully, “It was a nice stapler.” Johnson wanders away. The office is empty, but for the two of them. To be honest, Q isn’t sure why Johnson’s here at all. Everyone else went home hours ago.

Johnson’s footsteps wander their way to Q desk again, and Q glances sideways on time to see him drop a fresh tea bag in Q’s mug. Johnson upends the kettle he’s carrying, and Q inhales the smell of Earl Gray.

“Drink it while it’s hot, this time,” Johnson says, and wanders off again.

* * *

Q tosses the package to Moneypenny, and she catches it automatically. “What’s this, then?”

“Open it,” he says.

She does, and a look of puzzlement crosses her face. “Um.”

“Blowdart,” he says, as she pulls out the sleek-looking pen. “Twist the cap twice clockwise to slot the dart in position. Dart comes out the ink end; it’ll knock a grown man out for five hours, maybe six.”

She sets the pen down carefully, then holds up the stapler.

“Gun,” he says. “Here.” He takes it from her, and demonstrates how to pop it open. “Squeeze here, and it fires here. Two rounds, mildly explosive. Enough to kill a man, or at least get a door open. Not much good at staples anymore, mind you.”

Raising an eyebrow, she indicates the letter opener, incongruously equipped with a sheath.

“Be careful of the edge,” he warns. “Very sharp. It’s weighted for throwing.”

There’s a cordless mouse with a built-in taser, a desk light that explodes if you flick the right combination of buttons, a pencil caddy with garrotte wire built into the base, an answering machine with a panic button, and a capsule of wide-effect knockout gas hidden in a paperweight.

“Isn’t this all a bit retro?” she asks, examining the activation mechanism on the mouse.

He shrugs one shoulder. “I thought you might like retro,” he says. “Besides, it’s a dangerous place to work, our MI6.”

“Q,” she says. “I have a Sig Sauer P238 strapped to my thigh right now, and two Q-branch modified Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns hidden in the desk.”

“You can always use an edge,” he insists. “Anyone who’s coming for you will be expecting a gun. You were a field agent. Even if they’ve done their research, they’ll still know I think all this...” he waves a hand “this, exploding stationery nonsense, it’s ridiculous. So I made it all on my own time, off the records. Officially speaking, none of this exists.”

“That was a waste of time,” she says. “I can take care of myself just fine.” But she’s already swapping out her regular mouse for the taser hybrid.

“You’re welcome,” says Q, with a smile.

* * *

It occurs to Q, later, that 003 and Bond might have been to each other whatever it is that double-oh agents have instead of friends. Certainly they slept together more than once. For the first time, Q feels vaguely ashamed to know this. To know that he has footage of at least one such encounter.

Bond knew her, he slept with her, he might have been her almost-friend. And then when his country asked it of him, he put a bullet in her head, then came home and slipped Q a drugged martini.

Q’s not quite sure what to do with that data. Humans are complicated; code and computers, weaponry and technology, those things are simple. He could build Bond something, like he did for Moneypenny, but he’s not sure that ‘sorry you had to execute a colleague in the line of duty’ can be expressed through the same gesture as ‘thank-you for feeding my agents and plotting benevolently on my behalf’. Besides, what do you get for the double-oh who has virtually nothing, but seems oddly content to live that way?

Weaponry, probably. Perhaps an old-fashioned exploding pen. But so help him, not until Bond fills out his paperwork.

* * *

It becomes increasingly likely that in those rare quiet times when Bond is between missions, Moneypenny will drag him down to Q-branch for at least one visit. Every now and again he drifts down on his own.

Sometimes Bond and Moneypenny bring work. More often, they just sit around a lab table, ostensibly on their lunch or coffee breaks. Bond idly burns chemicals over the bunsen burner just to see the colours they make, and somehow miraculously manages never to ignite anything toxic and kill them all. It starts to feel less stilted and more... social. Q has never really had a social life, before. Although in fairness he’s not actually sure that this counts.

They talk, certainly, in ways that are more-or-less social. The three of them gossip and complain. They compete fiercely for the title of Snarkiest Bastard in MI6, and Bond always wins, despite hardly saying a word. The snark that man can convey with the tilt of an eyebrow is truly astonishing. Sometimes Moneypenny is a close second. Q comforts himself with the thought that he’s holding his own, at least, in the Driest Wit of MI6 category.

The Q-branch agents tiptoe around them, faint smiles on their faces, and Q tries his best to ignore them. Let them laugh. He’ll give them boring projects and terrible shifts for their trouble. It would never be said that Q was above the blatant abuse of his power.

The ‘Bond’s Sex Life: ???’ project drifts by the wayside. It becomes something for Moneypenny and Q to pore over when they’re particularly bored or drunk, or when Bond has done something even odder than usual. On the whole, though, they all but forget about it.

It turns out, in the end, that speculating about Bond’s sex life is somehow less interesting than hunkering down in a lab with him and carefully outlining a precise recommendation as to where the bureaucrats in the Intelligence and Security Committee can shove it.

* * *

“Double-oh three, reporting to Q-branch as ordered.”

Q blinks. She seems... young. So very young, although her files reveal her to be several years older than himself. As the youngest Q in MI6 history, he’s not unaware of the irony inherent to the surge of protective emotion he’s feeling towards her. It’s her size that does it, he supposes; the new 003 is a petite woman, with dark hair and dark eyes and dark skin. Her head barely comes up to his shoulder, although he’s not foolish enough to think that doesn’t mean she could beat him into the floor without a moment’s pause. She stands lightly on her feet, more a dancer than a brawler, and the easy beauty and sexuality that all double-oh agents exude has a veneer of innocence, fresh and untainted.

It’s an illusion, carefully crafted, and one that will serve her well in the role she’s assumed. He tries to remember that.

He swallows, hard, and manages to keep his voice calm and level as he says, “I just need a DNA sample and a few basic scans. We’re issuing you with biometric weaponry.”

* * *

When things next go to hell, they do so quite thoroughly. A terrorist attack on English soil. A threat delivered of more attacks yet to come, targets chosen specifically for their potential to cause maximum civilian damage. Several key government figures kidnapped, in very public, flashy venues.

Somebody, it seems, is making a statement.

Moneypenny might not technically be a field agent anymore, but it’s all hands on deck and her marksmanship scores still rank her among the best. They can’t spare a current agent to guard M, so Q signs out a set of guns and three grenades all custom built to respond only to her biometrics. The look she gives him when she realises how long ago he must have arranged for their manufacture is gratitude tinged heavily with irritation. And then she’s off, armed and fierce and furious, standing at their new M’s side as he races about the city, pleading with bureaucrats and elected officials and co-ordinating the MI6 troops as he goes.

The new M is more hands-on than the old lady had been. Q sits and works and seethes bitterly at the man’s idiocy. He should be back here, at MI6, where he’d be safe. Where Moneypenny would be safe. More importantly, if Q has to lurk here in MI6’s underground lair, seeing through cameras and speaking through radios and never ever dirtying his hands, M should damn well have to be here with him.

His agents works harder than they ever have before. He’s proud of them, in a distant and distracted way. Someone, probably Patel, drafts up a shift schedule, along the same theme as the one Q had haphazardly attempted to implement during the last crisis du jour. They rotate out, quietly, to catch cat-naps and use the lavatory. Every hour, someone fetches food and hot drinks. No one is stupid enough to try and slot Q in for a break, but his mug is always brimming with fresh tea, and every hour or two a little plate of food appears at his elbow, bite-sized morsels suitable for eating with his fingers.

At least they’re bright enough to know they need him working at peak capacity if MI6, not to mention Britain itself, is going to get through this disaster intact.

Bond has lost (or discarded) his transmitter and his radio, and with every available agent out in the field at once, the only thing they’d had left for Moneypenny was an archaic piece of equipment that didn’t even come equipped with GPS. Q feels blind, and useless, and very, very angry.

He wonders, as his fingers fly and he shouts commands, just when two reckless agents became this important to his life.

They both bloody well owe him a martini if - when - they get back.

* * *

003 returns in more-or-less one piece, with all her weaponry intact. There’s a slash across her jawline, still oozing slightly around the carefully applied butterfly stitches, that sends an unexpected jolt of panic through Q’s chest.

She laughs at the look in his eyes. “The blade was good and sharp,” she tells him easily, ejecting the clip from her gun before sliding it across the desk to him. “Medical says it’ll hardly scar.”

Q checks the gun over with hands that won’t, can’t, don’t dare to tremble. It’s intact; she’s even taken the time to give it a quick clean. The radio and tiny taser are in similar condition. “You may be the first double-oh agent to ever return the entirety of their equipment in one piece,” he says, mildly. “Congratulations.”

Normally field agents would return their weaponry to whichever Q-branch agent drew armoury duty that day; since they lost the old 003, all double-oh agents report directly to Q.

009 come swaggering in an hour or so later. He’s a heavy-set man of indeterminate race, with scars seaming his face and arms, the relics of a long-ago encounter with a human smuggling ring. Unusually and unfairly, they make him look more dashing rather than less. On some missions, he does magical things with putty and foundation and a broad makeup brush, and reduces the marks to faint, almost negligible lines from anything but a lover’s distance. Today, sooty and sweaty and covered in dust and grime, he hasn’t bothered.

“Lost the thingamabob,” he says, flashing a grin. He’s harbouring movie-star good looks behind the scars and dirt and three-day stubble, and Q clenches his jaw to avoid smiling back. God save them all from the charms of double-oh agents.

“You mean the remote detonator,” says Q, blandly. An alert pops up on his computer screen, and he spares a moment to glance at it. Moneypenny is safely back in the building. Q takes his relief and buries it to deal with at some future point.

“That’s the one. No fear, it got stepped on a good few times first. It’s nothing but little bitty scraps in the street.”

“Imagine my joy,” said Q, sighing. Still, better that than having to track down a functioning remote detonator before it fell into the wrong hands.

“I thought you’d feel that way,” 009 says easily. “Brought you back the guns.” He slides a handgun across the table, then passes over a larger automatic weapon.

Q takes them both. “I expect the paperwork for the detonator to be on my desk within forty-eight hours,” he says, examining a bit of unusual damage on the automatic’s barrel. He has a sneaking suspicion 009 has been using it as a blunt weapon. “And a copy of your mission report to go with it.”

009 sighs, but doesn’t object.

Three, nine, and seven had been the only double-oh agents close enough to recall from their previous assignments for the duration of the crisis. He’s just waiting on Bond, now.

He waits for a very long time.

* * *

When Bond finally deigns to stroll back into MI6, dirt-covered and scruffy and having successfully completed his mission objective, it’s the middle of the night and Q has sent most of Q-branch home with the most enthusiastic jobs-well-done that he could manage. The glances they’d all exchanged suggested that his most enthusiastic had not been quite enthusiastic enough, but not a one of them quite dared to ask if he was okay.

He’s still an unknown, to so many of them. Young, and just a little odd even by Q-branch standards. He doesn’t quite... fit. It’s like being back in uni. They listen, because he’s the smartest one in the room, and maybe they even respect him a little, but they don’t have to like him.

He stands at his station, straight-backed and dignified, and wishes Moneypenny were here. But she’s upstairs with M, mopping up the day’s last loose ends.

Clunk.

Q looks down. There, on his desk, is the gun he sent Bond out into the field with. It looks like it went through a fire, and possibly got chewed up a bit by a large and angry dog, but it’s here and it’s more-or-less intact.

Something new coils in Q’s gut.

“I brought it back,” says Bond, looking about as roughed-up as his gun. “Does this mean you’ll finally give me the nice toys?”

“I don’t know,” says Q. “Maybe you should make me.”

There’s a pause, and then Bond steps forward. “Maybe I should,” he says, reaching one hand up to cup Q’s cheek. There’s a smirk on his lips, and he grinds his hips none too subtly against Q’s leg as he leans in for a kiss.

His eyes, so close to Q’s face, are empty.

“Fuck off,” says Q, shoving hard. Bond isn’t expecting it; he stumbles slightly, surprised. “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off. Get out of my division. Right now!” he snaps, when Bond looks like he wants to argue. “I mean it. Get out.”

He can’t quite read the look on 007’s face before the Agent turns his back and stalks away.

The door clicks shut behind him. Q takes a deep breath, and picks up the phone. “Bond tried to kiss me again,” he says.

There’s silence from across the line.

“In a way, I suppose... No. It was my fault, utterly. Nonetheless.”

There was a crackling rush of static in the speaker against his ear, the sound of Moneypenny sighing into her receiver.

“So I was thinking I’d go home and spend a few hours watching that video of him getting kicked in the bollocks,” Q concludes.

“I’m coming over,” she says, after just a moment’s hesitation. “We’re almost done here anyways. I’ll bring the gin and vodka, if you have whatever else goes into that monstrosity you and Bond call a martini.”

“Kina Lillet and lemon,” says Q automatically, and then, “maybe not tonight.”

“Okay,” she says, hardly missing a beat. “Strawberry daiquiris, then. If we’re going to spend the night helping you get over some bloke, we’re going to do it properly.”

Q makes a face, but doesn’t complain.

He beats Moneypenny to his flat by nearly an hour. When she finally arrives, she’s got some kind of bucket full of pre-mixed alcoholic slush, a bag of take-out curry, and a pint of chocolate ice-cream. “I’d suggest we watch a sappy movie,” she says, ladling him a mug of something slushy and red that smells promisingly intoxicating and only vaguely of strawberries, “but you do seem to have already selected the evening’s entertainment.”

Q takes the mug, and raises it in a grim salute. On the screen of his laptop, a Russian operative takes a swing with a baseball bat, and Bond folds like the proverbial cheap umbrella. Moneypenny settles down beside him on the couch, shoves a styrofoam takeout container of curry into his hands, and pours herself a finger of scotch, neat.

The sickly-sweetness of the daiquiris makes Q feel faintly ill, but he keep drinking them, tossing them back steadily over the evening. After a few hours he’s drinking syrup instead of slush, but it’s still nicely alcoholic, so he chokes it down anyways.

The video plays three times as they sit and watch it in utter silence, evening creeping into night, and then at last Moneypenny leans forward and closes the laptop lid with a click. “Q,” she says, “are you drunk?”

“A little,” he admits.

“How drunk?” she asks.

Her tone makes the question sound important, so Q forces himself to stop and focus. “Not that drunk,” he says, after a moment. “Maybe don’t ask me to hack any banks, but I could certainly break you into a few American intelligence agencies.”

And then Moneypenny leans forward, and they’re kissing. It’s like kissing Bond, but also not. She pins him against the couch arm with her body, but her hands are up, tracing the contours of his face as her tongue flicks across his lips, her teeth lightly scraping his skin. All the same aggression - and it’s doing the same thing to his traitorous groin - but with a little more finesse, and the sense that this isn’t one brief attack, but rather a leisurely bit of combat that she’d be quite willing to drag out for hours.

Adrenaline jolts through his system. She tastes like the scotch she’s been drinking, and the flavour cuts through the strawberry stickiness in his mouth like a stiletto blade sliding home between his ribs. Suddenly he feels a good deal more sober than before.

“Drunk enough to regret this in the morning?” she asks, pulling back. Her hands still hold his face. Her breath is warm on his lips, and the rich brown of her eyes seems to fill his entire field of vision.

“Not nearly,” he says, setting his mug of daiquiri syrup aside as he leans in for another kiss.

“Good,” she says, plucking off his glasses and setting them safely on the coffee table. She drops backwards, pulling him down on top of her on the cushions. It’s an oddly possessive gesture, and it sends a flush of heat down the length of Q’s cock. “Then you can tell me more about that ‘good everything’ you claim I’ve got.”

“If I’d been aware that this was going to happen, I would have prepared a presentation, or - ”

“Improvise,” she orders him.

“Your eyes,” he says, as she starts unbuttoning his cardigan, and then his shirt. “And your nose, god, your nose is perfect.” He kisses it, and she laughs, twisting her head to nip at his neck. “Your - ngh - your lips. The way you smile. It lights up rooms.”

“Your neck,” he adds, as she slips the fabric off over his shoulders. He starts on the buttons of her shirt, in turn, as she runs her hands over his chest, dipping them down beneath the waistband of his trousers, finger fumbling with the zipper. “Don’t expect poetry, Moneypenny, but your neck - it’s like a perfect piece of coding, elegant, refined, not a single character more than it needs. Form ideally suited to function. I could stare at it all day.”

Her shirt slips off her shoulders, and she shakes it free of her hands then reaches back to unclasp her bra herself, which Q appreciates. He’d never quite got the hang of those little hooks. And then the bra falls away too, and he manages, “Your breasts, they’re - ”

He find himself incapable of speech for some time after that.

“Moneypenny,” he breaths in the aftermath, naked and sticky with sweat and come, and utterly, utterly content. “Eve.” And then, emboldened by the alcohol and endorphins flooding his brain, “Evie. Dear Evie.”

“It’s Moneypenny to you, mister,” she says.

“Penny, then,” he counters. “Come, now, surely we’ve reached the point where I’m allowed an affectionate nickname?”

She purses her lips. “Then I shall call you... Quinten. Or Quincent. Quin for short.”

“Isn’t ‘Q’ enough? It’s short for Quartermaster,” he points out, quite logically in his opinion.

“And Moneypenny,” she replies, “is short for Evelyn Jane Moneypenny. And don’t you forget it,” she adds, pulling him closer.

“Why now,” he asks, against her skin.

“I almost died today,” she says. “Again. And I thought, you know, life’s just too damn short.”

* * *

“Here,” says Q, sliding the gun across the table.

Bond, a terrible MI6 canteen sandwich in one hand, looks down at it. “I haven't filled out the paperwork, yet,” he says. The bland tone of his voice is a masterpiece, somehow witheringly scornful without needing to add so much as a sarcastic lilt to the words.

“Paperwork gets you the usual,” says Q. “This is of the nice toys. Biometrics, obviously, but it can also be modified in the field to fire heat-seeking bullets - ” he slides a small cardboard box across the table to rest beside the gun “ - which work best at long range. It can’t easily be reverted, so use as much common sense as you possess. With regular bullets, you can safely fire multiple shots underwater and still be sure the damn thing will work afterwards. Given, well, physics, I recommend you don’t bother attempting an underwater firefight unless you’re at rather close range.”

The heat-seeking bullets, ridiculously difficult to engineer though they were, were one of the features Bond had indicated would be an asset that first time Moneypenny brought him to the lab. What he doesn’t say, and rather hopes Bond knows, is how many of Bond’s case files he read back through to realise that a close-range gun safe to fire repeatedly underwater would have come in handy a disproportionate number of times over the course of Bond’s rather unusual career.

“Thank-you,” says Bond, after a moment. “I’ll swing by Q-branch this afternoon. You can run over the specs with me.”

“Good,” says Q, only somewhat awkward. “Good.”

Bond loses the gun on his very next mission. Q can’t quite bring himself to care.

* * *

At the end of long hard days - and there are many long hard days, in MI6 - Moneypenny and Bond trickle down through the tunnels by unspoken agreement, and land in Q-branch. Q, who has eyes and ears everywhere that matters, always knows they’re coming. He makes sure there’s at least one room cleared for the three of them to use.

Today is particularly bad. There’s a bandage wrapped around Bond’s head, and a splint holding three of his fingers stiff. Going by the slightly drugged look in his eyes, Q suspects he only got out of the medical wing through some combination of blackmail and double-oh witchery. Moneypenny is on edge, tapping her fingers irritably on the table. She has a slight smile on her face; it’s the polite, blank expression that Q thinks of as her diplomat’s smile. He wonders if she’s wearing it on purpose, or if her face has been frozen that way for so long that she’s just forgotten how to stop.

Q sets out three mugs, and into each of them he carefully dribbles two fingers of the vodka that he keeps in his desk for moments just like this. He’s painfully aware, even as he screws the lid back on the bottle, that the three of them are rapidly on their way to functional alcoholism. But his much-lauded brain fails to offer up any helpful alternatives. Based on his observations of field-trained agents, the other options are a good round of fucking, or something too bloody to be roughhousing and too aggressive to be fisticuffs. Vodka seems the least traumatising of the available choices.

Bond picks up his mug without looking, and tosses it back, a few seconds too late for Q to wonder if he should really be giving hard alcohol to someone who’s probably on heavy-duty painkillers. Oh, well. Too late. It’s not as if 007 hasn’t mixed painkillers with alcohol before.

Moneypenny stares at her own mug for a moment, then makes a face and downs it in one go. She wrinkles her nose in displeasure - it’s cheap vodka, and it burns going down - but at least the blank smile is gone now, replaced by something decidedly more disgruntled.

“I assume none of us want to talk about it,” says Q.

Moneypenny nods immediately. A moment later, so does Bond.

“Excellent,” says Q, breaking out a deck of cards. “I’m fairly sure they’ve got you on the good drugs, Bond, so I propose that Moneypenny and I take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fleece you thoroughly at poker.”

* * *

“Come with me,” Moneypenny says, waving the tickets in Q’s face. He pushes her hand aside, irritable. “You like classical music. I know you like classical music.”

“What’s the point?” he says, not-so-patiently. He’s hunched over a laptop, pecking irritably away at the keys and wishing that there was no such thing as projects too sensitive to splash across his giant screens. Q-branch is filled with the quiet hum of shift change, day-shift briefing night-shift on recent developments as bags are packed and projects saved. “M could need us any second. I don’t care to be pulled out and miss the end. You can’t pause a live concert.”

“Come on,” she says, leaning forward, her hands drifting down to rest almost possessively along his hips. She leans her weight against the back of his chair, her chin on his shoulder, her breath tickling his cheek. “It’ll be fun. And then we can come back here afterwards... make a night of it...” The tip of her fingers creeps below the waistband of his trousers, a subtle little movement, unlikely to be seen by any of his minions.

He hums softly in pleasure. “Well, I suppose... oh my god,” he says, whirling around in his chair, dislodging her. “You’re doing it,” he accuses, standing as she straightens up.

She wrinkles her nose. “Doing what?”

“The, the Bond thing! The sex thing! You’re trying to seduce me into going to the damn concert with you!” It’s possible he sounds a little hysterical. It’s possible he doesn’t care. The soft noise of Q-branch falters momentarily and then resumes, pointedly a little louder than before.

She takes a step back, looking a little sheepish. “Oops. Sorry.”

“Oops?” He rises from his chair, angry. “Sorry? I can’t believe you - ”

“Excuse me,” she interrupts, visibly annoyed now, her voice dangerously quiet. “You don’t hear me complaining, when you’re fiddling with your laptop while we watch movies, or when you compare me to computer code - ”

“I thought you liked it when I compared you to code,” he says, stung.

“I do!” She makes a sharp exasperated gesture with her hands, like she wants to toss them up in irritation. “But you’re always the Quartermaster. Always!”

“I am the Quartermaster,” he snaps. “But you’re not Bond!”

Her diplomat’s smile slams down over her anger, a blank, pleasant portcullis between them. “No,” she agrees. “I’m not.”

“I’m sorry,” says Q, immediately, not understanding, but knowing that something has gone very wrong. “I shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have...”

She’s still smiling that untruthful smile. “That’s quite all right, Q.” She turns to go.

“No,” he says, reaching out to snag her wrist. She could break his grip - she could break his fingers - but she stills at his touch. Encouraged, he says, “It’s not all right. I’m sorry. Please, stay.”

She looks down at his fingers, curled around her wrist. He can feel her heartbeat fluttering where his fingertips rest against her pulse point.

The diplomat’s smile fades into something a little tired, a little sad. “Q. If I’d said, ‘this is really important to me’, would you have agreed to come?”

“Of course,” he says.

“That was my way of saying it was really important,” she says.

“Oh,” he says.

Moneypenny reaches out, and gently unwraps his hand from her wrist. She twines her fingers between his, and squeezes gently. Somewhat belatedly, Q recalls that Moneypenny may not be Bond, not a double-oh, but there was a time when perhaps she wanted to be. A time when that was what she was training to be.

“What was it like?” he asks, without thinking. “Being out in the field.”

“Insane,” she says, without pause. “Utterly mad. Everything buried under six layers of lies and sex and violence, alcohol and fake papers. Flirting and fighting and fucking, and never quite sure you’ll be alive when tomorrow comes.”

“You miss it,” he says.

“I do,” she answers.

“You could go back.” He doesn’t want her to go back.

“I could,” she says. “Maybe I will. But I don’t think so.”

Q wants to ask. Instead, on impulse, he leans in and kisses her. There’s a sudden spike in the volume of chatter behind him. He tries to ignore it, although it makes him cringe inside. “You’re still you, in the field or behind a desk. Still Moneypenny.”

“Maybe,” she says. “Maybe not. Q, I can’t promise you I won’t change. I can’t promise you that I will, either. But I promise that if I ever stop wanting you just for you, I’ll tell you. Until that day, it doesn’t matter what else I want or how I try to... I want you, too. Just for yourself.”

Q sighs, and rests his head against her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. We are what we are.”

“I wonder what Bond was,” he says. “Before being a double-oh was just... another day at the office.”

“You kind of love him, don’t you,” Moneypenny says.

“Yes,” he admits, drawing back slightly, averting his eyes. He can’t quite read the look on Moneypenny’s face. “But in fairness, I think I kind of love you too.”

She smiles. “Then I suggest, Mr. Q, that as long as we’re breaking the fraternization regs - ” quite blatantly, in fact, and Q just hopes that his minions are too terrified of his wrath to report them, or that M is too busy to care if they do “ - we might as well do this properly.” Reaching out, she grabs his tie and reels him in. The noise of shift-change dies away completely, and someone starts applauding before being loudly shushed by several voices.

“I feel like you just asked me to go steady,” he says, when he finally has the breath to speak again.

She laughs at that, loud and genuine and he can’t believe, in that moment, how beautiful she is. “Sure,” she says, “if you like. And then you and Bond can take me to the prom.”

“At the same time?”

Her eyes gleam, and she leans in, voice lowered. “You’re not the only one who’s noticed that our Agent Bond has a good... everything.”

Q considers this for a moment, then turns to look at Q-branch. They’re staring back at him, two full shifts of agents no longer keeping up any pretense of being distracted by their work. Q feels heat bloom high on his cheeks, and hopes he isn’t blushing. This little lapse of judgement has probably ruined months of progress in getting them to take him seriously.

“Anderson,” he calls, scrambling to project some illusion of detached competence. His tie is crooked. His glasses are smudged.

“Sir?” she replies, snapping to attention. The expression on her face reminds him, incongruously, of his mother on his first day of highschool, at the age of nine. Proud and happy but nervous, and just a touch bewildered. Not sure what to make of Q.

“You have the night shift,” he tells her, gesturing at his usual workstation. “Keep them focused.”

“Sir?”

He gives in and reaches up to straighten his tie. “I’m going to the theatre.”

* * *

Q is markedly unsurprised when his MI6 emergency phone begins to ring, shrill and impossible to ignore, right in the middle of the second movement of Vivaldi’s “La Primavera”. The solo violinist looks murderous; at least one member of the quartet, a delicately-boned young man with short-cropped hair, looks ready to cry. The basso continuo harpsichordist just looks baffled. They play on, but it’s quite evident that the soloist, at least, would very much like to put down her instrument and give them a piece of her mind.

“Oops,” says Moneypenny, silencing her own phone with a guilty fumble at the keypad.

Q sighs, and stands. “Medical emergency,” he says, in a hushed, apologetic voice. He wonders if he should try to put a theatrical bit of choke into his voice, then decides not to push his luck. “I’m sorry - my gran, she wanted us to go, she didn’t want us fussing, but she - and the hospital said they’d call, if, if...”

Moneypenny, by far the better actor, wraps an arm around his shoulder. “Come on,” she says. “We have to move quickly.” She bustles him from the theater. Q keeps his head down, not entirely certain he’ll be able to keep a straight face if he makes eye contact with anyone, but he can hear sympathetic murmurs from their fellow concert-goers.

“That was a terrible idea,” he says as soon as they’re clear of the theatre. He fumbles in the pocket of his suit jacket for his earpiece.

“I’m going to treasure the look on the harpsichordist's face for the rest of my life,” Moneypenny says, jamming in her own earpiece. “Q and Moneypenny here. We are en route to MI6. Situation?”

“Slacking off, I see,” drawls Bond’s voice in their ears.

Q sighs. “Halfway around the world, double-oh seven, and still doing a remarkable job of ruining my date.”

There’s a pause. “You were on a date,” says Bond, flatly.

Q draws himself up, prepared to take quite thorough offense, when the sound of an explosion rips through his earpiece, and Bond is cursing, and it’s just another night at the office.

* * *

Q starts rewatching the footage in their old Bond files - and not just the endless kicks to the groin. As Quartermaster he has a perfect right to the footage, legally speaking. But he still feels like a voyeur as he watches everything MI6 has regarding Bond and the women (and occasional men) with whom 007 would later go on to have documented sexual encounters. He becomes, to be honest, a little obsessed - well, more obsessed - but that’s all right. Q-branch is running smoothly, for once, but Moneypenny is busy helping M with some upcoming parliament meeting, and he discovers he has the time to spare.

To his surprise, he finally finds something new.

* * *

“Hypothesis,” says Q, one day. “You’re primarily attracted to members of the opposite gender.”

“Hypothesis confirmed,” Moneypenny says, rolling her eyes. She pulls a greasy carton of lo mein and sesame chicken across the table towards her.

“Hush,” he says. “I’m not done. 003, she’s primarily attracted to members of the same gender. And 009, he’s... bisexual? Pansexual? Doesn’t much care about gender.”

Moneypenny is giving him a look. “Are we going somewhere with this?”

“Yes,” says Q. “All of you, regardless of preference, will undertake sexual encounters as necessary, regardless of the participants’ genders, when out in the field.”

“Ye-es...?” Moneypenny tilts her head. “I mean, it’s not like it’s ever a romance thing. It’s all business and make-believe and getting close enough to grab their gun.”

“And so, my hypothesis: Bond isn’t attracted to any gender.”

“Mmm?”

“He doesn’t like sex.”

Moneypenny pauses, chopsticks halfway to her mouth. “But, sex,” she says, sounding almost bewildered. “I mean, there’s sex, and then there’s sex. He has to like sex. Everyone does.”

“Childhood trauma?” Q suggests. He knows it’s not anything physiological; he more-or-less has Bond’s entire genome mapped out in his databases. Double-oh agent medical data is nothing if not thorough.

Moneypenny snorts, and brings the chopsticks up the rest of the way. “Please,” she says, through a mouthful of reheated chinese takeout. “Find me an agent without childhood trauma.”

Q acknowledges her point with a tilt of his head. “Some other reason, then.” He taps a finger on the closed case of his laptop. “Or give me another theory that fits the data.”

“There was Vesper,” she points out. She swallows, and chases the chicken down with a hefty gulp of scotch.

“I’ve accounted for that. Whatever he had with her - ” love, or so the office gossip mill proclaims, but Q refuses to use such an imprecise and hypothetical designation to describe a data point in an ostensibly scientific undertaking “ - can you prove he was enjoying the sex?”

“Prove he wasn’t,” she counters.

“Can’t,” he admits. “But I can prove he uses it to obtain mission objectives, and I can prove he uses it for personal gain. All unaccounted-for data points can be explained by a sense of... of social scripts and obligations. Such as to Vesper.”

Moneypenny pops a piece of chicken in her mouth, and chews thoughtfully for a moment. “We need more data,” she says, finally.

“I’m not sure there’s any more to be found,” Q admits. He is nothing if not thorough in his research.

“Then we need to generate some more,” she says, quite reasonably.

“How?”

“We could seduce him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

* * *

Q goes first. He’s not sure why, since it was Moneypenny’s crack-addled idea in the first place. Nonetheless he clears out of Q-branch early the next day, not caring for a repeat of the shift-change Moneypenny incident, and makes sure he has all the best toys out to tempt Bond with. He has a suspicion that if he’s going to seduce Bond even the slightest, showing off his most swoon-worthy guns is the way to do it.

He wears his nicest shirt for the occasion, the one he usually wears to funerals. In retrospect that might not have been the best choice, from a portentous standpoint. On Moneypenny’s advice, he foregoes the cardigan. It’s cold, down in the bowels of Q-branch. Just one of the perils of hiding your workplace in the depths of a WWII-era bunker.

In short, when Bond finally emerges Q is already nervous, uncomfortable, and utterly convinced of the inevitable disaster that will be this plan.

“You sent for me?” Bond says, in a tone that would perhaps have approximated ‘respectful’ to someone who didn’t know him as well as Q now seemed to. “And what on earth are you wearing?”

Q takes a deep breath, and puts on his best serene-yet-slightly-amused, I-am-Q, call-me-a-child-at-your-peril expression. “We have some new prototypes we’re considering sending out into the field. I thought you might appreciate having the first look at them.”

As Bond hunches over the table, examining the guns with a slightly greedy look in his eyes, Q mentally girds his loins and steps up beside Bond, just a little further into his personal space than he’s ever been before, aggressive kisses notwithstanding.

Bond stiffens, ever so slightly. If Q hadn’t been watching for it, he’d never have noticed.

“This one,” Q says, reaching across Bond’s chest with studied carelessness to grasp a gun across the table, “has a surprising amount of PE4 in the handle. If you run out of ammo in the field, you can press this button here, twist the barrel, and throw it. Six seconds later, I think you’ll find the resulting explosion quite satisfying. The PE4 itself is well insulated from fire and electricity, but if you expose it to excessive heat or pressure, toss it under a steamroller or what have you - don’t look at me like that, Bond, I’ve read your case files - you’d do well to start running.”

Slowly, as Q fills the silence with guns and explosives, Bond relaxes.

Five guns later, Q decides that the time is either right, or it will never be. Reaching up, he rests a hand on Bond’s cheek, and leans in for a kiss.

For just a moment, everything seems to be going well. Bond freezes, and then his hands come up to fist in Q’s shirt, and it’s as good as he could ever have hoped. Their kissing takes on a more desperate note, Q whining slightly in the back of his throat, panting into Bond’s mouth as Bond twirls him around, and shoves him up against the table. Q wants.

And then he opens his eyes, and looks into Bond’s. There’s a terrible sort of deadness staring back at Q from behind those brilliant blue depths, not quite disguised by the languid droop of his eyelids.

“Fuck,” says Q, feelingly. Reaching down, he untangles Bond’s hands from his shirt, and pushes him very gently away. “I am so terribly sorry, Bond. So very, very sorry. I have to go.”

“I’m getting mixed signals here,” says Bond, and there’s a hint of genuine anger under the amusement in his voice.

“I know. I know. I’m sorry.” And then, abandoning dignity in his wake, Q takes the coward’s route and flees.

* * *

Moneypenny only mocks him just a little. “I bet you twenty quid I do better than that,” she says.

“Sucker’s bet,” says Q, hunched unhappily over his computer.

He feels like a traitor - to Bond or to Moneypenny, he’s not sure. Somewhere along the line, the thrill of discovery has come crashing up against something that feels rather more important, and Q doesn’t quite dare look at the wreckage for fear of what he’ll find.

“Hey,” she says, after a moment. “you had an off day. It happens.”

Q shrugs, half-hearted. He doesn’t feel like his seduction failed, precisely. The failure was earlier, when he set mission parameters. Or perhaps even earlier, while gathering intelligence. The seduction of Bond was a mission correctly and properly aborted because - his brain skips over that thought too, unwilling to pause long enough for the answer.

He stares at his code, wanting to sink into its comforting order and logic. “Don’t try,” he tells Moneypenny, eyes locked on his computer screen.

“Afraid of a little competition?” she asks, teasing again.

Q doesn’t know how to tell her that’s not it at all.

* * *

Moneypenny does indeed have better luck, in that she successfully spends several sweaty, enjoyable hours in Bond’s bed.

“Perhaps he’s closer to a Kinsey one or two than we thought,” says Q. “Or perhaps ‘beautiful agent and dashing double-oh’ simply fits Bond’s preferred sexual narrative better than ‘genius Quartermaster and dashing double-oh’ does.” He tries to keep his tone light, but he’s not sure whether he succeeds.

Maybe it really is just a Q thing, not a Bond thing. Maybe it’s just been wishful thinking all along, this idea that the way Bond looks at Q is something universal rather than the look of a man who’s using seduction to get what he wants in spite of the fact that he doesn’t actually care to sleep with men. Or department heads. Or people more than ten years his junior. Or Q, in particular and in the specific.

“Or it could be because I’m way sexier than you,” says Moneypenny, still slightly tipsy from the night before. As Q had previously observed, field agents - even ones now working a desk - seemed to share a universal alcohol tolerance that baffled Q’s knowledge of human biology. Nonetheless: keeping up with Bond drink-for-drink was no trifling matter.

“Geek chic is in, so they tell me,” says Q, not looking up from the schematics on his screen. He’s fairly sure that he’s looking at a tube of lipstick rigged to explode, which begs the question of what on earth the previous Quartermaster had been thinking. “Your blatant wiles are the way of the past. My nearsightedness and love of cardigans make me the sex god of the future.”

“It could be because you’re a blushing virgin,” she says loftily, “and I am a woman of the world.”

“I am not!” says Q, his head snapping up, pride stung.

She gives him a look.

“Okay, well, yes, obviously you knew that,” he says, turning back to his computer. “Right.”

She hums softly for a moment, and then, “It bothers you,” she says. “That people think that.”

“No,” he lies.

“Q,” she says. “Quincent. Quinny. To hell with them.” And then she’s behind him, her chin resting on his shoulder, her arms wrapped affectionately around his waist. “To hell with them even if you really were a blushing virgin.”

He makes a noise, annoyed mostly with himself. “Really, it’s just another way to say they think I’m too young for the job.”

“To hell with them,” she says again, nibbling gently at the curve of his ear. He sighs involuntarily, and relaxes back into her arms. It’s possible she’s using her ex-field-agent wiles on him. At this moment, he doesn’t particularly care. “Life’s too short. Come on. Let’s pull up the old spreadsheet. I’ve got some new data points to enter.”

“Was the sex good?” Q can’t help but ask. He feels more nervous than he thinks he should about the answer.

She pauses. “Yes. And no. He’s good at it, of course. And so very considerate of my needs.” A faint smile ghosts across her lips. “Very considerate indeed. Your needs, too.”

“Mine?” he asks, surprised.

“Wanted to make sure I wasn’t cheating on you. Had to reassure him that you knew, and didn’t mind.”

Q can’t help but smile, just a little, at that.

“But he wouldn’t tell me what he wanted. Not even when I asked.”

“Not very like our Bond,” Q murmured. “I never saw him as shy of asking for what he wants. He certain never hesitates to demand that Q-branch hand over the latest oddments.”

“Or shy of sleeping with anyone willing,” Moneypenny agrees.

Q’s fingers falter on the keyboard.

“Well,” says Moneypenny, in tones of faint wonder. “Well, I’ll be damned. Maybe there’s something to your theory after all.”

* * *

If it weren’t for the evidence of his own eyes, Q would have said it was impossible for Moneypenny to pull it off. He’ll think twice before doubting her again.

“Popcorn?” he asks politely, offering Bond the bowl.

Bond takes a single kernel, and gives it such a profound side-eye that Q has to smother the urge to laugh. He takes a pointed handful of his own, and sets the bowl on the coffee table beside their untouched martinis. Moneypenny is crouched on the floor, fighting with the cables that connect one of Q’s laptops to the television she’d bullied him into buying. Q knows better than to offer to help her.

He and Bond sit on the couch in awkward silence, broken only by the crunch of popcorn kernels, and faint sound of Moneypenny growling curses under her breath.

The static resolves itself abruptly into a list of files. She makes a satisfied noise, grabs the remote, and joins them on the couch. Taking a quick swig of her scotch, she starts scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling.

Q may have panicked slightly and downloaded every single one of the two hundred and fifty highest rated movies of all time according to the International Movie Database. If challenged on this point, he will neither confirm nor deny.

Moneypenny sets down her scotch, making an amused noise. And then, still scrolling, leans over an unabashedly drapes herself across Bond’s shoulder, her free hand landing quite casually on his thigh.

Q takes a deep breath, then leans in and snuggles himself against Bond’s side. He can feel the stiffness in Bond’s body for a just a moment, before 007 relaxes. One hand creeps pointedly down towards the hem of Q’s trousers, and Bond’s head twists, leaning in towards Moneypenny’s mouth.

“Nope,” says Moneypenny cheerfully, interposing a hand between Bond’s lips and her own. Her eyes stay fixed on the screen, still busily flicking through files. “This is a cuddles-only zone. Leave your work at the office, for once.”

There was a pause, and the warmth of Bond’s hand against Q’s stomach withdraws. Q swallows hard, careful not to let his pang of disappointment show. Bond looks annoyed, and confused, and - is it Q’s imagination, or does he look slightly relieved as well?

“Here,” says Q kindly, reaching forward to snag one of the martini glasses, and pressing it into Bond’s hand. “Drink up. It will probably help.”

Bond tosses back the martini in one rather excessive gulp, and Q pours him another from the shaker. Moneypenny makes a face, and takes a pointed sip of her Glenfiddich.

Q nudged the popcorn bowl with his toe. “Eat,” he says. “I imagine that won’t be your last drink of the night. I don’t intend to clean the contents of anyone’s stomach off my bathroom tiles.”

“Not everyone has the alcohol tolerance of a fourteen year old girl, Quinzel,” Moneypenny says sweetly, taking another pointed sip of scotch.

Q rolls his eyes. “Just queue up a movie,” he says.

She smiles.

The Warner Brothers logo sweeps on screen, tinted green, and he makes a faint noise of distress. “The Matrix? Must we? Do you have any idea how ridiculous the entire premise of - ”

A popcorn kernel bounces off the side of Q’s head. When he looks up, spluttering, Bond is very nearly smiling.

* * *

“We’re going to mess it up,” says Q, after Bond leaves. He doesn’t quite mean to, but they’re curled up on his couch when suddenly some unpleasant emotion lances through his gut, and the words leap from his lips. “We don’t even know what to call it, and we’re going to mess it up. We’re flying without a map, here. Debriefing without a report. Building bloody complicated delicate bits of weaponry without so much as a rough blueprint scrawled on a used napkin, and we’re - ”

“We never knew what to call us, either,” said Moneypenny, with a vague gesture that encompassed the two of them. She pokes idly at the bowl of popcorn, trying to find the last few butter-soaked fragments amid the unpopped kernels.

“Yes, but man and woman, sex and movies, we had options, we could be lovers or partners or boyfriend and girlfriend, fuckbuddies or friends with benefits or, or I could propose and then we’d be fiances and then - ”

“What,” says Moneypenny, looking just a little alarmed. “No, you couldn’t propose, because I don’t want - ”

“The point it, there’s a place for this kind of thing, it’s tidy even when it’s messy, it works, but what we’re doing now, it’s... it’s...” Q pauses. There’s a funny tingling feeling in his hands and feet, like they’re going numb. He flexes his fingers, confused, and then abruptly becomes aware that his chest is heaving, his breath coming in panicked little pants. “Something’s wrong,” he says, fumbling for his phone as the tingling spreads across his lips and nose.

Moneypenny glances at him, and curses softly. “Q. Quinny, look at me. You’re hyperventilating, you need to calm down.”

“No, no, something’s wrong,” he insists. “I’ve been poisoned, I’ve been - ”

She gathers him up into her arms, gently removing the phone and pulling him close so that his back rests against her chest. “You’re hyperventilating, Q. Calm down. Breathe with me, okay?”

He tries. He really does. But she’s breathing too slow, and there’s just not enough air in the room, and when he matches the rise and fall of his chest to hers his lungs begin to scream. “No,” he manages. “No, it’s something more, I need to go to medical, I need - ”

“Shh,” says Moneypenny, rubbing his arms. “Shh. You’re fine. In through the nose, out through the mouth. You’re fine.”

Q glares at her. “I need more air,” he snarls. Or tries to. It comes out more as a wheeze.

“No, you don’t,” she says patiently. “You need less air, and I don’t have a goddamn paper bag, so breath through your nose.”

I can’t -

She claps one hand over his mouth, and the fear explodes like a grenade in his chest. He lashes out wildly, but her other arm clamps down across his chest, pins his arms to his side like a vice and he can’t dislodge her hand long enough to shout out the emergency protocol activations that will bring MI6 forces racing to his home. Panic is a living things; it claws its way out of his chest, roaring in his ears, and crushes his windpipe in its claws.

A soft voice drones in his ear, barely audible beneath panic’s roar. “...becomes faster or deeper than normal breathing patterns, expelling excessive carbon dioxide from the system. The brain correlates CO2 levels to oxygens levels, and lowered CO2 is taken to indicate lowered oxygen levels. Blood vessels in the brain constrict accordingly, resulting in reduced blood flow to the brain, causing lightheadedness and tingling in the extremities. At the same time, reduced CO2 levels in the blood cause bicarbonate to combine with hydrogen ions, increasing the blood’s alkalinity, further causing blood vessels throughout the body to constrict. Alkalization increases the calcium binding properties of the blood’s plasma proteins, which in turn...”

Q lets the stream of technical terms wash over him. If he closes his eyes, he can picture it happening; each symptom placed in a tidy box, understood to be harmless and therefore unimportant.

Slowly, the pins-and-needles recede from his fingertips and face. He can feel his pulse begin to slow. The tips of her fingers, resting on his carotid, flutter lightly against his skin - and she lets her hand falls.

“I hate you,” he rasps out. He reaches up and tries to rub some life back into his squashed lips and the still-tingling tip of his nose. “Your bedside manner makes Harold Shipman look professional.”

Moneypenny presses a kiss to his temple, surprisingly gentle. “I’m not trained to be nice.”

“Lair,” he says, burrowing further back into her arms. He’s still trembling.

She hums an agreement. “I thought you wanted to real me. No charm, no manipulation.”

“I’m just saying, a little coddling now and again. You could try it.”

“I’ll think about it,” she says. Q’s fairly sure she’s not even trying to hide the lie in her voice. There’s a moment’s silence, and then she says, “You build things without blueprints all the time, you know.”

“When you break a machine,” says Q, “you just swap out parts and keep going. Or scrap it and try again. Humans are so much less... durable.” He flexes his jaw, testing the muscles. He thinks Moneypenny might have left bruises.

“But the nice thing about humans,” says Moneypenny, running her fingers gently through his hair, “is that if you give us enough time, and a little bit of help, sometimes we can fix ourselves.”

* * *

Q frowns at his monitor. It’s not that the technology he needs doesn’t exist, per se. Electronics in the consumer market can take commands from hand gestures, for heaven’s sake, and that’s not even touching the advancements not yet available to the public. The problem is one of scale and finesse. How to get the nuance he needs within a fairly small range of movements? How to get blanket coverage of large areas, with no dead zones?

Just because Moneypenny wasn’t actually trying to kill him doesn’t mean he’s willing to be that helpless ever again. Just because a certain part of him likes it when she steps in and takes charge doesn’t mean he won’t insist on leaving himself a way to tap out.

He could probably built something portable - sensors integrated into his glasses, the buttons on his clothing, a discreet ring. Some integrated weaponry of some form. A side project for later, perhaps; a sensible redundancy measure. But for now he wants something a little more broadly applicable. It would be ideal if Bond and Moneypenny could help him test the system, and it would be comforting to know they could use it to signal for help if they needed. Perhaps a few codes could be added just for the use of Q-branch. He has his minions trained to his exacting specifications, now. It would be... disquieting, to begin from scratch with new staff.

Well, nothing for it. He’ll just have to design the tech himself. Annoyingly time-consuming, but nothing new.

He holds out his hand, and Bond presses his mug into it. Q tightens his fingers, just for a moment, holding the warmth of Bond’s thumb between Q’s fingertips and the smooth surface of the mug. It’s a momentary indulgence, but Bond huffs gently - amusement or fondness or annoyance, Q can’t say.

On Bond’s other side, Moneypenny bumps her hip against him gently. “Budge over,” she says, not looking up. “You’re in my light.”

Bond obediently shuffles a few inches closer to Q.

Moneypenny closes the gap, her hip bumping up against his again. “Further,” she orders.

Bond rolls his eyes, and then plasters himself up Q’s side in an exaggerated motion, his arm draped over Q’s shoulder, his right leg nudging the back of Q’s knee. “Better?”

Moneypenny moves quickly, pressing up against Bond’s left side before he can step back. “Yes, perfect,” she says. She hooks her arm through the crook of his elbow to anchor them together, then continues typing away at her tablet as if nothing has changed.

Q feels his face heating, and tries to look as unconcerned as Moneypenny does. They must look ridiculous, the three of them pressed together here at the front of the room. He imagines the Q-branch agents snickering behind their backs, and he keeps his eyes fixed on his own tablet as he strains his ears for the sound of minions not sufficiently focused on their tasks.

Instead, he hears something unexpected: Bond is laughing softly.

Q almost doesn’t recognise it for what it it. It’s not a cynical chuckle, or a faux-giggle of an ostensible unthreatening drunk, or the rich peal of perfectly sincere-sounding amusement that makes the whole room want to touch him. It’s a breathy quiet sound, as much the fwuh-fwuh of sharp exhalations as it is the sound of actual laughter. It’s unpractised, and a little silly, and utterly genuine.

Q catches a glimpse of Patel out of the corner of his eye. The Q-branch agent is watching the three of them, while trying rather inexpertly to look as if she’s busy doing something else. There’s something almost like fondness in her eyes.

The feeling in Q’s chest is something like jealousy, and something like pride, and something like an impossibly slow explosion, thermonuclear warmth expanding out from his heart to the tips of his fingers at the drowsy golden speed of flowing honey.

He lets himself tilt until his chest rests against Bond’s back. He wants to feel Bond’s soft laughter along his spine. He wants the warmth spreading through him to touch Bond, too.

Bond’s laughter fades, and for a moment Q thinks he’s ruined it. And then Bond hums softly, the sound buzzing against Q’s ribs, and the arm around Q’s shoulder drifts down to Q’s waist, anchoring, holding him steady as he works.

There’s a smile trying to sneak out from behind Q’s calm facade. He pulls up his schematics again before it creeps out. He wonders, for a moment, if Bond will be bored. Moneypenny has his one arm trapped in hers, and his other is around Q’s waist. Whatever Bond was working on, he can’t do it like this.

Tilting his head slightly, he manages to find Bond’s face in the reflective patch in the corner of his glasses. The double-oh agent looks a little confused, a little annoyed. But he also looks... happy.

Q purses his lips harder against the incipient smile, and turns back to his work. Happy is good. And confused is acceptable, too. Bond is a double-oh agent, and you don’t get the designation by being stupid, regardless of how Q feels when they break his technology and get themselves killed or injured by simple dint of refusing to listen when he’s talking to them. Bond will figure it out eventually.

* * *

Two weeks later, they lose Bond’s transmitter signal during a routine mission.

A week after that, Q is forced to confess that there’s nothing left for Q-branch to try that they haven't already tried. Twice.

Agent 007 is officially listed as missing. ‘Presumed dead,’ unspoken yet very much present, hangs over everyone’s heads. A part of Q is convinced, convinced, that if he just thinks a little harder, he’ll imagine some solution that he hasn’t yet tried. It makes him reluctant to leave MI6, his feet dragging every time he forces himself out the doors. After the third day, Q commandeers a lab, disables the cameras, and retreats to this makeshift solitude with Moneypenny. She brings a few changes of clothes with her. Q doesn’t bother. He has a single spare set that he keep in his desk, for emergencies, and the Quartermaster can get away with wearing the same shirt for a few days in a row, even if M’s personal assistant can’t.

He leaves just long enough each day to co-ordinate the double-oh missions and review the daily intelligence reports. Everything else, he delegates carelessly to whichever hapless Q-branch agent happens to be standing closest. He requires every possible spare moment for devoting himself to the twin tasks of tracking Bond and touching Moneypenny as often as possible, to reassure himself that she’s still there. Q-branch rises to the challenge, and Q supposes he’ll be proud of them, when this is all over. For now, all he has for them is curt nods and blank stares.

Someone is filling his mug with protein shakes and fruit smoothies, a fresh one waiting for him whenever he emerges; he drinks them almost unthinkingly. He picks the mug up just once per shift, when he arrives; he types one-handed, and sets it down again when he leaves. Sometimes a Q-branch agent presses real food into his hands before he can escape back to the lab: fragrant curries and greasy fried meats that taste like so much cardboard in his mouth.

He’s not sure where or when Moneypenny is eating. Perhaps someone upstairs leaves smoothies in her mug, curries on her desk. Or perhaps not. He assigns Anderson the task of making sure she gets fed. It’s a blatant misuse of Q’s authority. Anderson does him the courtesy of not pointing this out.

M, perhaps understanding more than they give him credit for, leaves them largely to their own devices. So long as the bare minimum of work continues to be done, he lets them be. The old M would have hauled them back to their posts by their ears. Q wonders if that might be preferable.

Time passes. In their solitude, Q and Moneypenny fuck, sometimes, and other times just lie there, curled up on the uncomfortable tile floors with only their jackets for padding, feeling each other’s closeness. On the fifth day of their self-imposed exile, Parker shows up with an armful of blankets and a sheepish expression. Q doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

They talk, sometimes, of trivial things. Bond’s name goes unmentioned when sober, but Q’s terrible emergency vodka eases their nights, along with a bottle of smooth whisky timidly donated by Jones, who’ll be getting a pay raise this year if Q has anything to say about it. Q drinks in silence, and nods sagely as Moneypenny rails drunkenly at the unfairness of the world, and the damned temerity of Bond to have wormed his way into their lives and so carelessly gone MIA like this. He’s not sure he entirely follows Moneypenny’s line of reasoning, but then, he’s fairly drunk himself.

“I won’t believe he’s dead until I take the pulse off his corpse myself,” says Moneypenny, grimly. “And even then, maybe not.”

Q raises his glass. “I’ll drink to that,” he says, enunciation a little too precise for any illusion of sobriety.

“He always comes back. Do you know how many times we’ve thought he was dead?”

“Sixteen,” says Q, who keeps track of these things. “Although the time you shot him was the only time MI6 actually got as far as declaring him legally deceased before he managed to claw back up out of the grave. Sorry,” he adds, off the look on Moneypenny’s face.

“When he turns back up,” she swears, “I’m going to kill him myself.”

“I’ll help,” Q promises. “And afterwards, do you think we can ask him to go steady with us? Officially?”

“Absolutely,” says Moneypenny, eyes blazing.

* * *

“Double-oh seven back yet?” 003 asks him, her voice a crackle of static. She’s holed up in an abandoned building in the south of Cuba, waiting for a tropical storm to blow over so she can get back on her mark’s trail.

Q is in his little lab, curled up on a pile of blankets, Moneypenny sleeping restlessly beside him. 003 took a blow to the head a few hours ago, and Q has a nasty suspicion she’s teetering on the edge of hypothermia - there’s a slur in her voice, behind the static’s distortion - but he can’t get a medevac team to her in this weather. Can’t do anything at all, really, but to talk to her. Keep her awake.

“Not yet,” he says.

“You ever think, maybe he doesn’t want to be found?”

Q shakes his head and says, “No. Not this time.”

“Still, maybe he - ”

“If he’s done this on purpose, so help me, double-oh three, I will find him and bring him home if only for the immense satisfaction of explaining to him in person exactly how many MI6 resources were wasted in his recovery. There will be charts, and spreadsheets. A powerpoint with every irritating transition effect in my arsenal. Long, dry briefing reports. Mandatory training sessions with the most pompous paper-pushers MI6 has to offer. Psych evaluations. Decaffeinated coffee.

She laughs softly. “That’ll teach him,” she says.

“Indeed.”

There’s a long pause. His hands, curled up in his lap where no one can see them, tremble slightly. All he can hear through his earpiece is the gusting rain. Is she still awake, or - ? He doesn’t quite dare speak, doesn’t know if he wants the answer.

Just as fear’s cold iron claws begin to prick his flesh, she speaks. “Q,” she says, almost kindly, “the double-oh life expectancy, it isn’t...”

“You’re coming home,” he tells her. He’s angry, suddenly, but he keeps his voice steady and calm. Beside him, Moneypenny stirs uneasily in her sleep. “And so is he.”

“You should look up the statistics,” she says. “How many double-ohs the average Quartermaster goes through during their tenure. You’re going to have to accept it, sooner or later. I have. So has double-oh seven.”

“I’m not your average Quartermaster,” says Q.

* * *

When Bond drifts back into the country two weeks after he’s officially declared missing, looking significantly worse for the wear, Q is half convinced that Moneypenny really is going to kill him. Or at least take a swing at him. Instead, she punches the wall. It’s concrete, and her fist impacts it with a crunch that makes everyone in the immediate vicinity flinch.

Three beds down from Bond, 003 is a dark shadow on crisp white sheets. Her long, sleekly styled hair has been cropped close to her skull, leaving it soft-looking and tightly curled. It makes her look older. He can see angry-looking stitches in her scalp. The hair will cover them, if she grows it out again.

“Don’t you ever do something like that to us again!”

Alone of the inhabitants of the hospital ward, 003 doesn’t cringe at the sound of Moneypenny’s fury. She’s still unconscious, although the doctors say she turned a corner today. She’ll probably recover.

Bond blinks up at Moneypenny. There’s an IV in his hand, and Q is fairly sure he’s been drugged out of his tiny double-oh mind. “I promise?” he ventures, after a moment.

“I mean it,” she says. “You could have called. I don’t care how many enemy agents you were trying to dodge! You pull a stunt like that again, and next time I shoot you I sure as hell won’t hit you shoulder.”

There’s a long pause. Q watched Bond from the corners of his eyes. His expression looks slightly glazed. “...I promise?”

She exhales sharply out her nose. “Q and I are having a talk with you once they let you out of here. A serious talk.”

“I... promise?”

Q is fairly certain Bond is doing it on purpose, now. He wants to laugh, in spite of everything Moneypenny snarls, throws her hands up in the air, and stalked out of the room.

Q pauses, just for a moment. “It’s good to have you back, Agent Bond,” he says.

“Good to be back, Quartermaster,” Bond murmurs, his eyelids sliding shut.

Q sighs, then follows Moneypenny out of the room. He finds her in the hallways, slumped against the wall, cradling her wrist.

“Q?” she says, tiredly.

“Yes?”

“Do you know anything about setting bones? I think I broke my motherfucking hand.”

* * *

They finally corner him in the gym, two weeks later. Moneypenny’s hand is still in a splint. “You,” she says, with no preamble. She reaches out and jerks the safety cord that Bond has of course not bothered to clip to his shirt. The treadmill whines to a slow halt. “You have been avoiding us.”

“In my defense,” says Bond dryly, “you did threaten my life the last time I saw you.” His smiles blandly, but his eyes dart to the door, and Q can see him calculating escape routes.

“Sit,” says Moneypenny, pointing at the floor

Bond sits, perching on the edge of the treadmill. Q finds a seat on a rowing machine, in solidarity. A moment later, Moneypenny sighs, and plops down on a weightlifting bench. “You have an unfortunate habit of vanishing,” she tells Bond. “Q and I think you need some motivation to get yourself back home in one piece.”

And then, inexplicably, she falters. Maybe it’s the look in Bond’s eyes, like a cornered animal. Maybe it’s the surreality of it all.

Q takes a deep breath, and says, “So, would you like to go out with us?”

There is a long silence. Bond stares at them. Moneypenny says, “You know, dating. Movies and popcorn. Spending the night. Going out for dinner together.”

“Holding hands,” Q offers. “Looking after each other. Sex.”

“But not,” says Moneypenny. “for you. None. No sex for you.”

“Unless you ask for it,” Q says

“Ask because you want it,” Moneypenny adds. “Not that you feel like you just ought to.”

“So you’re asking me to be your third wheel,” says Bond, finally. He’s still smiling, but it’s a smile that Q recognises from a million surveillance photos. It’s a smile that has nothing in common with the smile of a Bond who’s throwing popcorn at his head, or insulting his shirts.

“Third leg of a tripod, perhaps,” he says, his eyes lingering on the contours of Bond’s mouth.

“We want you,” says Moneypenny. “Not what’s between your legs. Not that it isn’t interesting to us, but the only things we want are the things you want to give.”

Bond doesn’t say anything.

Q sighs, then points to Moneypenny. “We’ve got each other for the squishy parts, Bond,” he says.

Moneypenny nods, then adds, “Also.” She holds her hand out, palm down, then curls her fingers under and makes a deliberate twitching motion with two of them.

Bond glances at Q, who shrugs. “We’re adults. We can... handle ourselves.” He holds his own hand out, palm up and thumb pointed outwards, then curls his fingers up and makes an awkward jerking movement of his own. Crude, but to the point.

For the first time since this conversation began, a genuine smile twitches at the corner of Bond’s lips.

“You and Moneypenny can go play with guns on the range together,” Q adds. “Unless we’ve got the same slot for marksmanship qualifications, I’ll not be joining you. I design them, I don’t fire them. That’s what minions are for.”

“And so help me,” Moneypenny adds, catching Q’s drift immediately, “but I will never, ever drink those godawful martinis the two of you like.”

“Think of sex as a hobby,” Q suggests. “Moneypenny and I quite enjoy it. You don’t. It’s hardly, shall we say, a deal breaker.”

“I don’t hate sex,” says Bond, eventually. “Not exactly. I like to make the other person...” he grinds his teeth together, and gives up on that sentence. “I just don’t enjoy it much for its own sake.”

Q is struck by the realisation that if they’d asked Bond to talk about how much he loved a good, old-fashioned fucking, he could have flashed them a grin and gone on for hours. With the truth, though, and he runs into unpractised territory.

“Then you can watch us,” says Moneypenny promptly. “Talk dirty, if you like. You’ll be doing me a favour. Q’s terrible at it. He always ends up comparing me to code. Or weaponry.”

“I beg your pardon,” says Q, quite mildly.

“Or we can try mutual masturbation all around and no touching,” Moneypenny forges onward. “Or you can read a book while we go at it, and just join us for the cuddling. Or we can arrange to only have sex when you’re out of the country, honestly, you’re gone half the time anyway. It wouldn’t be that hard.”

“Tell us what you want,” says Q. “And we’ll make it happen.”

“And if I don’t want... this? Any of it?” There’s a challenge in Bond’s voice.

Q swallows hard. “We can make that happen too,” he says again, the promise catching unpleasantly at his throat. “We swear. Anything you want, we’ll make it happen.”

“It’s past time someone did,” Moneypenny agrees.

“Changing your mind is allowed,” adds Q, wanting Bond to understand. “You can want it now, but not later. Or not now, but then later - it’s allowed. We’ll understand.”

“Although,” says Moneypenny, “I feel the need to point out that your idea of fun is a firefight. Surely you can handle a little bit of casual dating.”

“A little bit of sex-highly-problematic, polyamorous, completely-against-regulations dating,” Q feels obligated to point out, in the name of fairness.

“Shut up, Q. Besides, when has he ever cared about regulations?”

“All right,” says Bond, before they can devolve entirely into bickering. “Q. Penny. I’ll give it a try.”

“Why does he get to call you Penny and I don’t?” Q asks, plaintively.

Moneypenny throws up her hands. “Fine! Okay! Everyone can call me Penny now, are you happy?”

“Very,” says Q, smugly.

“But we’re all calling you Quincent.”

“Wait, hang on - ”

* * *

“I lost my gun,” says 003. Her voice is faint, and still prone to wandering. The drugs haven't quite cleared out of her system. Her eyes drift, tracking something that isn’t there. “My communicator. I lost all of it.”

Her hands are tracing anxious patterns on the bedsheets, and without thinking Q reaches out and takes her hands in his own. He holds her fingers lightly enough to let her slip free, if she wants to. For the first time since he sat down beside her bed, she meets his eyes.

She’s lost weight, too much weight. She ought to look frail. Instead, it’s sharpened her angles, given her a lean and predatory look even with the vagueness of her gaze.

“It’s going to be all right,” he tells her firmly. His voice is his Quartermaster’s voice, confident and calm. It’s less of an act that it usually is. 003 is home. She’s safe.

“I failed to complete my mission objective,” she tells him, her hands flexing slightly in his grasp. “I lost valuable assets. I had to be extracted.”

“Your life is the most valuable asset we send with you into the field,” he says. He squeezes her hands, gently, then relaxes his grip again. She still doesn’t pull away. “Nor are you the first double-oh I’ve had to extract.”

She takes a deep breath, then exhales without speaking.

“Everything,” says Q, “is going to be just fine.”

-THE END-