After his interview, MI6 asked him to hack into their systems. His interviewer was a smug man, expensive tie, expensive watch, wedding ring cutting into a swollen finger, and his smile was nothing short of irritating: they wanted him to fail, wanted to impress upon him just what it was that he was walking into.
He already knew what he was walking into; he’d been into their files before. This time, though, he’d need to trip something so that they’d know he was doing it. This was purely about the performance.
The laptop they gave him needed some serious modification and the keys were just a little sticky, but he ignored its shortcomings and instead flexed his fingers and started typing. His interviewer watched, eyes glittering, mouth twisted into a smile that had a little too much sadism in it.
Just for that, he sped the process up, encryptions cracking easily beneath his hands, and the security breach alarms were blaring before the impassive-looking secretary who’d been standing silently by the door could even bring him a glass of water.
“I want twice the salary you were offering me,” he told his astounded interviewer, clicking out of the window and opening up solitaire. “And some help with real estate. I’m sick of living in a cupboard in Camden.”
While the man gaped at him and running footsteps echoed outside the doors, he sighed and set himself to getting into the alarm systems too: that sound was starting to give him a headache.
“Unexpected item in bagging area,” the Tesco Metro self-checkout machine chirps.
Q attempts to stare it down. “No,” he says.
“Unexpected item in bagging area,” the machine repeats happily.
There’s a queue of people behind him, all with the worn expressions of people who don’t leave work until 9 p.m. Technically, Q has left work early today, but he does intend to turn up at 4 tomorrow morning, so he hasn’t exactly got a set schedule.
He refuses to be defeated by a supermarket checkout machine. He refuses. He spent today developing a camera that can be fitted into a contact lens, this cannot be happening to him.
“Unexpected item in bagging area,” the checkout continues to announce. It’s starting to get a sadistically gleeful tone, Q thinks. There’s a screwdriver in the bottom of his messenger bag that he’s just itching to reach for, but there are too many witnesses, and he’s had a lot of emails about not publicly dismantling things that don’t belong to him.
Teeth gritted, Q removes the packet of penne that he’d just put into his bag.
“Item removed from bagging area,” the machine intones.
Next time he goes food shopping on the way home, Q is going to take a couple of hand grenades out of the weapons lock-up.
He glances around, but the shop assistants are busy and the people behind him are starting to get restless.
“This is ridiculous,” he tells the checkout.
“Item removed from bagging area,” it replies.
Q sighs, and presses the button marked Store Login. There’s no keyboard and the touch screen doesn’t respond as quickly as he’d like, but the whole thing runs on Windows and it doesn’t take him too long to tweak a couple of things.
The machine stays silent for the rest of the transaction, and Q gives it a distracted pat goodbye as he leaves.
Eve brings him a Pret packaged salad at some point on what Q is fairly sure is Thursday. He’s had three cups of coffee and twelve cups of tea since the last time he checked what day it was, anyway.
“You’re not my secretary,” he says, as she firmly pulls his mug away from him, pushing the food into his hands. “Shouldn’t you be saving the world as we know it with expenses forms or something?”
“I can spare five minutes,” Eve replies, pushing aside a tangle of unused wires and hopping up to perch on his desk. “And I wouldn’t be so glib about expenses forms, considering your department is over a month behind.”
“Paperwork,” Q mutters, fumbling with the stupid labels sealing the salad closed. Eve watches him struggle for a moment before sighing and opening it for him, handing him a plastic fork.
“This goes in your mouth.”
“Ha ha,” he says flatly, spearing a mouthful of rocket.
Eve smiles at him anyway, soft and fond, swinging her feet in their stiletto heels.
“I can rig those with a security mechanism if you like,” he suggests, gesturing with the fork. “In case someone breaks in to see M.”
He reaches for a pen, but Eve smacks his hand away.
“Don’t make these blow up,” she says, “I like them.”
They are rather nice, it’s true. Q makes sad eyes at his mug, which Eve is still holding out of reach, but she glares at the salad until he obediently eats a piece of avocado.
“I don’t always make things blow up,” he murmurs, but she ignores him.
Whether in the official MI6 building or in their bunker, Q’s department is always in the basement, so he’s used to living without daylight in what amounts to a cardboard box with glass partitions. He’s pointed out on multiple occasions that you probably shouldn’t shut the department most likely to explode in the foundations of the building, but nobody ever listens to him about these kinds of things, and anyway when MI6 finally did go up in flames it wasn’t him who was responsible after all.
Q is both relieved and a little piqued about that.
He’s starting to quite like his new office, anyway, all the exposed brickwork and shadowy air of proper secrecy. There were rats when they started, of course, but it didn’t take long for them to rig up a few things to keep them far, far away.
It’s a pity that there’s no such device that will work on agents. At least, not one that anyone will sign off on, anyway.
Bond looks… complicated, is maybe the best way to sum up the determined lack of emotion on his face, and he’s in what he thinks of as casualwear, which is still a suit far nicer than anything Q will ever own.
“Don’t touch anything,” Q warns him.
“I thought you didn’t go in for exploding pens anymore,” Bond replies, arching an eyebrow, though he hesitates and leaves Q’s Parker ballpoint alone after all.
“Things have a habit of lingering,” Q replies. His pen actually administers an electric shock to anyone who clicks it wrong, which is why it’s his favourite pen, but he’s not going to admit to it aloud.
Their new M is not allowing Bond back on active service until he actually passes all his tests: the medical and shooting ones worked out fine, but people have started queuing to get in and watch Bond’s psych evaluation sessions behind the two-way glass. Unfortunately, until he manages not to storm out like a petulant teenager or say something disturbing in response to a Rorschach test, Bond can’t go into the field, which gives him lots and lots and lots of time to wander around getting underneath people’s feet.
Even the threat of personal injury isn’t enough to stop Bond from curling his fingers around a lightweight crossbow Q is designing to fold up into an umbrella, tilting it this way and that with a curious expression.
“Project Everdeen,” Q says, and watches the pop culture reference go whistling over Bond’s head.
Eve is going to love this when he tells her later.
Q knows you’re not supposed to think thinks like “machines are easier”, because that’s what gets you put on Lists, but in a way it’s true. Machines don’t have guilt complexes – which is probably going to lead to actual problems sometime in the future – and you can cheer them up with a depression of keys or a line of code.
He didn’t know what to do about Eve’s long silences, her fingers closing nervously about her wrists, her glassy eyes reflecting sleepless nights. She took her lunch breaks in his department, black coffee and Tic Tacs and tapping nervous tattoos against his lightboxes, while Q experimented with sympathetic silences and googling what to say to a friend when they have technically killed a very important double-oh agent.
“Will it help if I offer to design you a new gun?” he offered eventually.
She shrugged, shoulders thin beneath her sheer shirt. “Can you make the bullets know who to hit?”
“They shut down that project,” Q said apologetically. “I think I accidentally made the bullets evil.”
Eve’s mouth finally quirked into something that was almost a smile. “Of course you did.”
It’s three a.m. and there isn’t much point in going home now. Q wanders down to their staffroom, an enjoyably soulless place despite the beautiful architecture, with strip lighting and ugly sofas and a coffee machine that makes the most vile stuff he’s ever drunk, including that time at university when he got so poor he had to reuse the grounds.
Q puts his mug underneath the spout anyway, selects the latte option, taps the front of the machine with the heel of his hand, hits the side of it with his hip, and then presses down the mocha, hot chocolate and decaf options while the coffee pours. This marginally improves the coffee, emphasis on the marginally.
“I think there’s some brandy hidden in the back of the cleaning products cupboard,” offers Tanner behind him, and Q nearly jumps out of his skin. This is why his form of espionage is pretty much limited to living in a basement with a comm permanently in his left ear.
“You get that, I’ll make you a coffee,” he responds, putting his own drink to one side and reaching for a new mug.
Once he’s finished literally beating the machine into submission – someday he’s going to remember to bring a wrench and some spare fuses with him and get this thing to work properly – he turns and finds Tanner waving a bottle of brandy in one hand and a deck of cards in the other.
“Bugger,” Q says, “is it poker night?”
It’s not a good idea to have a poker night with people whose job is to keep secrets of national security, but on the other hand it is a good way for those with desk assignments to practice impassive faces and bluffing. The fact that most of them – Q included – are perfectly capable of counting cards is not one that ever gets mentioned, though most games often become a case of who can cheat better.
“It is,” Tanner confirms.
His exhaustion is apparent in his haunted face, his slightly unsteady hands, but they’re all grieving to one degree or another and Tanner won’t thank him for mentioning it.
“Who’s still here?” he asks. “I sent my lot home an hour ago.”
Tanner shrugs, and places the pack of cards and the booze on the table. “Start shuffling,” he orders. “There’ll be someone still around: there always is.”
This week, Q is learning Chinese, developing a clip that will hold twice as many bullets as a usual one without compromising either the bullet size or quality, knitting an afghan for Eve’s new flat, and attempting to read The Master and Margarita in its original language. All in all, it’s quite a quiet week.
He’s almost relieved when a little message box pops up on his computer screen: his home security systems informing him that someone’s broken into his flat.
Q thinks about it for a moment, then picks up his phone. Bond answers on the second ring.
“I think this might be an unforgivable breach of privacy,” Q says, conversational, while he starts the decryption of a harddrive brought back by agents from Pakistan. “I know you double-oh agents don’t idle well, but this is ridiculous.”
“You collect vinyl?” Bond asks, and there’s a swishing sound, like he’s flicking through Q’s collection.
“Better sound quality,” Q tells him, breaking through the first layer of security on the drive and wondering whether he should call up the cameras he has stationed all over his flat for situations like – well, not quite like this, admittedly.
“And books.” It’s impossible to read Bond’s tone. “I thought you’d be all digital by now.”
“New doesn’t always mean better,” Q tells him, “unless I designed it. In which case it invariably will be.”
Bond chuckles softly, and another layer of encryption breaks down. Q really needs to put a stop to this before he does something stupid like try and touch the laptop he left in his living room this morning.
“Look, go into the kitchen. There’s milk and sugar and things, and tea in the cupboard with the blue handle.”
He can hear rustling, and Bond says in a tone of mild disbelief: “there’s nothing in here but earl grey. Fifteen different kinds of earl grey.”
“I thought you liked earl grey,” Q replies distractedly, fingers flying over his keyboard as he hacks the next password.
“Not as much as you seem to.” He hears the cupboard close again. “I don’t particularly want a cup of tea,” Bond adds.
“Well,” Q replies, “you might later, you’re going to be there for a while.”
There’s a very long, very quiet pause.
“Q,” Bond says, in a tone of menace.
“Didn’t you find it suspiciously easy to break into my home?” Q asks, stepping away from his laptop and nodding at Fred until he steps in to take over: the tricky bit’s done now. “My security systems don’t stop people from getting in.”
“They stop people from getting out,” Bond realises flatly. “Very clever.”
“I thought so,” Q replies. “So make a cup of tea, and for God’s sake don’t go within six inches of any of the windows.”
Bond hangs up without saying anything; Q hopes he listened to him. He really doesn’t want to go back to the flat to find an electrocuted spy on his living room floor. It’ll be murder to clean up.
He gets home to find Bond reading his copy of A Clockwork Orange.
“Are you enjoying it?” he asks, because he already knows there’s no point in asking how Bond got hold of his address or why he thought this was a good idea in any way, shape or form.
Bond is frowning a little at the page, but he’s nearly halfway through the book. “It’s… interesting,” he says at last.
“Horrorshow,” Q mumurs, and goes to work out what he did with all his spare fuses.
Later, he goes to sit at Eve’s desk and relay the whole horrible afternoon to her, head in his hands. She isn’t particularly helpful – in fact she mostly laughs at him – but Q has to vent at someone just so he doesn’t rig Bond’s next specialist gun to blow up in his face. Maybe if Bond knew what it was like to go through weeks with no eyebrows then he might stop breaking into people’s homes for no logical reason.
“You’re supposed to know how field agents feel,” he half-wails at Eve, who is still giggling. “Why is this happening to me?”
“I think Bond’s trying to be your friend,” she tells him.
“…well,” Q says slowly, “this is a new and disturbing development.”
“Isn’t it,” Eve agrees. She looks positively gleeful.
No matter how many times Eve has recommended that someone get Q a personal assistant – not just to make him turn up to meetings on time and looking vaguely ironed, but also to make him eat, sleep and leave when necessary – no one has ever listened, which is why he’s picking up his own dry cleaning this Friday evening.
Mrs Giang, who runs the place, does her usual loud tutting at him when he walks in. She disapproves of his haircut, his crumpled clothes, the circles under his eyes and the fact he’s so thin. Q has tried to tell her multiple times that he’s naturally skinny and he really isn’t that underfed, but she never listens to him.
“You need to get yourself a girl,” she tells him firmly. Her eyes flicker up and down his messy form, and adds: “or a boy.”
“Even my dry cleaner is judging how dateless I am,” Q complains later when Eve turns up with Chinese to watch two weeks’ worth of The Great British Bake-Off. “This stupid job is eating my life, it’s been ages since Alex.”
“Zie was a bitch,” Eve says bluntly, which, yes, Q doesn’t miss Alex like he probably should. Still, someone would be nice.
“I could have someone not a bitch,” Q reminds her, leaning over to steal a handful of prawn crackers, while onscreen Paul Hollywood tears a woman’s apple, ginger and parsnip pie to pieces. “I mean, you at least have the sexy secretary thing going on. You meet people.”
“Briefly,” Eve responds, her voice edging bitterness for a moment. “Do you want to make a marriage pact?” she adds, her smirk slipping back onto her features a moment later. “You know, if we’re both still single at forty…”
“I think you’d probably get the raw end of that deal,” Q tells her, while Mary Berry tells someone they’ve put too much salt into their pie.
Eve arches a perfectly-plucked eyebrow at him. “I’d be marrying someone with the capability of making the world’s best vibrator.”
Q pauses mid-laugh, reaching for the moleskine that lives in his pocket and a pen. “Actually,” he says thoughtfully, “it could be useful for agents to get through airport security, if I added a grenade into-”
“No,” Eve says, taking the pen out of his hand, “that is something that nobody wants to explode if they push the wrong button. Nobody.”
Q pictures it. “Ouch.”
They stay silent, as the Great British Bake-Off contestants prepare for their technical challenge. Next year, Q thinks, maybe he’ll compete. It can hardly be more stressful than his life is right now.
When you work for MI6, they want you to be able to take care of yourself in any eventuality. So all personnel have some specifically-tailored first aid training – including how to deal with shrapnel, bullet wounds, and electrical burns – and some basic self-defence classes – go for the eyes, the solar plexus, and the instep, basically – and they have regular emergency evacuation drills, which always seem to come just as Q is getting down to the delicate part of dismantling something.
And, no matter how skinny and gangly and lacking in hand/eye co-ordination you look, they still expect you to have had some gun training.
Tanner took him down to the shooting range the first time. Q knew how guns worked – could probably design a better one than the model he was holding in an afternoon, provided he was given several whiteboards and a vat of earl grey – but there was something slightly different about holding one with the intent of firing it. He knew about the kick, but it still caught him a little by surprise when it actually happened, and he found himself closing his eyes in response to the shot.
When he opened them again, he’d managed to hit about a foot to the left of the target, and Tanner was wearing the expression of someone who knew he had a long afternoon ahead of him.
Q glowered at the bullet hole, taunting him with his own inadequacy, and raised the gun for another shot. This one went too far right.
“It just takes practice,” Tanner told him in a tone that was very nearly patient.
“You’d think my prowess at Angry Birds would help,” Q sighed, aware that his hand was starting to shake and that he was already making plans for a gun that would compensate for his apparently lousy aim, and didn’t turn to look at Tanner putting his head into his hands.
It’s pissing with rain and Q’s just spent nine hours talking three agents in Mombasa through defusing a series of complex bombs. His head is killing him and all he’s digested today are four neurofens, six cups of coffee, five cups of tea and a shot of vodka that Tanner slipped him when M wasn’t looking. His hands are still very steady and his voice isn’t shaking but he’s not altogether sure how he’s standing upright.
He fumbles his favourite jumper out of his locker – he knitted it himself last winter in deep blue, with too-long sleeves and holes in the cuffs to hook his thumbs through – and pulls it on over his no-longer-crisp shirt, the tie abandoned somewhere around diffusion number four. He could go home, but the adrenalin hasn’t stopped fizzing yet, and somehow his flat with its Hitchcock and Liechtenstein posters isn’t appealing right now.
“Everyone here is really bad at going home,” he observes when he gets back to his department to find the lights still on and half the personnel still hanging around. Someone’s gone out to Starbucks and the whole place smells like pizza; Q accepts the Papa John’s box that’s pushed at him with as broad a smile as he can still manage.
Kimberley, Sanjit, Fred, Ally and Serge all clocked off hours ago, though they stayed long enough to check that nobody got blown up, and now they’re huddled around a table with a battered Dungeons & Dragons book and a handful of multi-sided dice. Q sits back, kicks his feet up on a chair, and watches them play while the shivers drain out of his system.
“Do you want to join in?” Sanjit offers at one point.
Q waves a hand. “Maybe I’m trying to climb out of my nerdy pit.”
Sanjit smirks. “Let me know how that works out for you.”
He falls asleep eventually, and finds himself later on one of the staffroom sofas underneath a blanket, a post-it with go the fuck home and don’t come in tomorrow written in Eve’s tidy print stuck to his forehead.
Things were different before, and Q misses Eve now she’s become Miss Moneypenny, spending her life organising M’s. He misses when she could come and hang around his lab whenever she felt like it, instead of being chained to a desk, chained to a specific duty.
Apparently, Q now gets Bond instead.
“You should just tell them what they want to hear,” Q tells him when he walks in to find Bond fiddling with a very sensitive gun prototype, making a mental note to find out who gave Bond security clearance for down here and then send their computer every single virus he can think of, and a few he’s invented just for this situation. “Then they’ll put you on a plane somewhere warm and sunny.”
Bond nods, giving no indication he’s really registered anything Q has said. “This has good balance,” he offers, raising the gun and staring along the barrel.
“You could get a hobby, you know,” Q suggests, pulling out his moleskine to make a note about the trigger system.
Bond puts the gun down, taking a moment to uncurl his fingers, and Q thinks: Jesus Christ.
“Isn’t this your hobby?” he asks, gesturing to the half-built weaponry that surrounds them.
Q shrugs. “Sometimes I take down popular websites – you know, youtube, facebook, twitter – for fun.”
Bond’s mouth twitches, like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or not. “Cyber terrorism as entertainment.”
“I don’t suppose you have a lot of very long Sunday afternoons, do you,” Q says mournfully.
Bond is still looking at him like he’s trying to work out if there’s something wrong with him. There isn’t. He’s checked. And Q is fairly sure psychiatrists aren’t supposed to write things like is probably not a sociopath in people’s files anyway.
“If you’re as dangerous as you claim you are-” Bond begins.
“Oh, I am,” Q interrupts. “I’m King of the Internet.”
Bond is looking openly amused now, which is at least a nice change from the stoic mask he’s been attempting to wear of late. “Is that your official title?” he asks.
“It’s on my business cards,” Q deadpans, “and they sent me a badge. It has enamelling and everything.”
“Oh,” Bond says, “well, if it has enamelling.” And then he frowns slightly.
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Q says, sweeping the gun prototype away from Bond and locking it into a box for its own protection, “I flirt with everyone. And so do you, for that matter.”
Q’s problem, really, is that he fancies everyone. He imagines that, to a certain extent at least, Bond can empathise.
It’s nice when Q gets out of work early enough that the tubes are still running. This probably says a lot about his work/life balance, but at least he doesn’t have to deal with the conventional rush hour that other commuters do. By this time of night, the tube is mostly empty, littered with abandoned copies of the Evening Standard and tired-looking people heading home, mascara bleeding down their faces. Q turns up his music – playing on what is still technically an ipod, although most of the technology inside the apple-created shell bears no resemblance to what was originally in there – and leans his head against the window behind him and closes his eyes and lets the train rock him half to sleep.
He gets into his flat to find Eve is cooking in his kitchen.
“It’s nearly midnight,” he says, dropping his bag in the doorway and coming over to find out what she’s been making.
“I brought over Nigellissima,” Eve explains, waving a hand at the cookbook open on his sideboard. His kitchen isn’t very big but it is very well-equipped: Q is a better cook than he can ever be bothered to be, because he likes learning new things even if he doesn’t want to utilise them very often.
Q takes this to mean that she can’t sleep, but it’s okay: this isn’t the first time this has happened and he’s never been one to turn down free cooked food.
“You should get a car,” Eve observes after a moment, reaching for a bottle of wine and tipping half of it into the pan she’s got on the stovetop, “you smell like the tube.”
“I can’t pass a driving test,” Q reminds her. “Too easily distracted, the last instructor said.”
“I thought the last instructor was the one you hospitalised after triggering an underlying heart problem,” Eve says distractedly, stirring the pan with one hand and sprinkling herbs in with the other.
“Oh, maybe it was,” Q says, and: “we mostly missed that bus, you know.”
Eve laughs softly, turning the heat down under the pan to leave it simmering, filling his flat with a gorgeous smell. Q goes to find a couple of clean glasses for the rest of the wine, before pressing light fingers to the small of Eve’s back.
“Everything alright?” he asks, barely above a whisper.
He can feel the break in her inhalation, but all she says is: “yeah. Yeah, it is.”
For now, he’ll have to be content with that.
“More?” Tanner asks, waving the bottle of Russian Standard at him.
It’s nearly four in the morning; Q has a stack of plastic chips in front of him that’s considerably higher than anyone else’s stack, though the booze is starting to get to him and he’s bluffing on a really bad hand. Eve is sitting opposite him, wearing a slightly lumpy cardigan he knitted her when he was still getting the hang of the whole knitting thing and a smirk, drumming neatly manicured fingernails on the table.
“You’re trying to put me off,” Q tells her, pushing his Scrabble mug over to Tanner, because it’s too late now to sober up in time for work anyway.
Eve gives him the smile she cultivated for field work: the secretive one, the one that doesn’t have any tells in it. “Maybe,” she allows.
“Raise.” That’s Jake from accounting, who is a much more confident poker player than the rest of them put together, despite having never been held at gunpoint on any occasion at all.
Well, Q’s only faced down a gun once and it’s not even a good anecdote, but it still ups his espionage credentials a little.
“Fold,” Tanner sighs, handing Q back his mug and pushing his cards into the centre of the table.
Possibly a regular MI6 poker game should be more glamorous than this, Q reflects, more exciting than knitwear and vodka out of mugs, trading favours and fivers. Bond’s infamous poker game against Le Chiffre was before his time, of course, but Q’s read the file about it and, well.
He can really only hope that Bond doesn’t decide to crash their poker night.
“Check,” he says, pressing fingertips to his shitty cards, meeting Eve’s gaze without blinking. When you hold people’s lives in your hands for a living, nothing else is ever quite as nerve-wracking again. In a way, it’s almost a relief.
Most of Bond’s mission files feature a lot of fade-to-blacks, ellipses and intriguing blank spaces. Q thinks Villiers was the one who described them as reading like Belle du Jour on acid.
Q misses Villiers actually; he was in Hong Kong last he heard, but the only kind of up-to-date gossip they get in Q branch is the stuff that involves explosives and radiowaves.
Anyway, he’s mostly outgrown the phase of reading stacks of Bond’s files with popcorn – one everyone goes through once they get to a certain level of security clearance, apparently – but it’s always a sharp reminder that someone is managing to live a glamorous cliché spy-movie life.
“Maybe I’ll get a cat,” Q muses. He’s due for a briefing with M but he always comes a little early to have a cup of tea and watch Eve trying to get some work done while he idly flips through his notes on his tablet. “I’d call it… Lovelace. Or Gandalf. Or, ooh, or Smiley.”
“Oh God, you would call it Smiley, wouldn’t you,” Eve says.
“I take my popular culture very seriously,” Q tells her solemnly. “And I’ve always liked Gary Oldman.”
He bought himself all the Le Carré novels for his kindle when he first got this job; of course he did.
“You’re going to get a cat that looks like Gary Oldman.” Eve’s tone is flat, but her eyes twinkle amusement before she turns her attention back to the email she’s trying to write.
“Why not?” Q shrugs. “I’m warming to this idea, I think. I’m going to get a cat.”
“You’d electrocute it,” Eve replies without looking up.
Actually, Q reflects, it would probably starve to death first since he isn’t home for more than about eight hours every few days, but he thinks it’s probably morbid to voice that aloud.
“Not intentionally,” he offers.
“No,” Eve agrees. “And that’s definitely the important part.”
Psych evaluations happen on a basis regular enough to be laughable, because apparently that’s how they’re going to weed out psychos, murders and traitors. You go in, you play a handful of psychological games, and then wait a week for the results.
Q technically doesn’t need to take these because he did a little experiment last year where he memorised an issue of Watchmen and then gave Rorschach’s responses to all the tests. Then there was an emergency the next day where no one could run communications but him, and suddenly no one minded that he’d turned into a maniac overnight. He doesn’t push it, mostly because once the crisis was over M gave him a very eloquent look before she left to tell the prime minister that nobody was dying today, and while Q is irreplaceable he is fully aware that he is not quite unpunishable.
Tanner brings him his mobile, which is awkwardly glitching; Q starts a software patch and then asks Sanjit to take over for him.
“Somewhere more important to be?” Tanner asks, raising a teasing eyebrow.
“Psych eval,” Q explains, “need to assure them I’m not going to set the place on fire. Which is ridiculous, by the way, because why would I set this place on fire? All my work is in here.”
Tanner looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Don’t say that to the psychiatrist.”
They want to hear about the sanctity of human life and things, which, yes, but Q hasn’t built any of his colleagues by hand from scratch. And, no, he isn’t going to say that to anyone either.
“God,” Q sighs, “can’t you just go and have some casual sex to fill your time? I’ll take you to the National Gallery myself, if you like.”
Bond looks incredulous. “The National Gallery?”
“I’ve been known to hit on people at the National Gallery,” Q replies, bristling just a little.
“Do you talk to them about the inevitability of time too?” Bond asks, amusement threaded through his voice.
“Well,” Q says, “no. That only really gets you a date with a certain kind of person.”
Bond continues to lean casually against the bench in one of his sharp suits, looking like someone’s going to appear out of nowhere with a martini glass for him. Q hasn’t slept in two days and his hair is literally standing on end and he’s got green tea soaking into the knee of his trousers.
“So you do get out of the lab occasionally,” Bond observes, gaze flickering over Q’s dishevelled appearance.
“I haven’t spent the last twenty-seven years entirely in front of a computer screen,” Q assures him.
“Glad to hear it.” Bond hesitates a moment before he smoothly adds: “does a shag every now and then heighten your creativity?”
It’s crude, and ridiculous, and Q owes Bond nothing. Still, he might as well be truthful. “Not shagging.”
Bond’s eyebrows raise. “Not shagging?”
Q shrugs. “Not really a big fan of shagging.”
It’s simplistic and not quite true, but now isn’t really the time to get into the complexities of sexuality, attraction and just what Q gets up to when he isn’t, well, Q.
Bond is looking thoughtful, and Q briefly wonders if he’s going to have to get out his Liking Someone Is Not The Same As The Whole Genitals Thing powerpoint that he ended up making to save time when having this conversation.
“Fair enough,” Bond says lightly.
Oh, Q thinks, you understanding open-minded bastard.
“I think it’s sweet,” Eve says. He’s on her sofa this time, cheap chardonnay and another episode of The Great British Bake-Off.
“You have a skewed view of the world,” Q informs her, grimacing as someone’s puff pastry burns at the edges. “And you’re only saying that because you fancy him.”
“And you don’t?” Eve’s voice is light, but there’s a whole thing she isn’t telling him, a whole layer of emotions locked away somewhere quiet. Q could probably hack the firewall, but he doesn’t want to.
“I fancy everyone,” Q replies, waving a hand. “Why can’t we get him back to active service, ship him off somewhere exotic, and not have him hanging around my lab touching things.”
Eve laughs. “I told you, I think he just wants to be friends.”
“Why?” Q thinks he might be wailing. “What can Bond and I even talk about? It’s not like he watches TV, I haven’t had sex since my first year of uni, he wouldn’t know binary code if it hit him the face, I don’t know how to hit people in the face, and I can hardly ask him how that slightly unsettling masochism is getting on.”
“Maybe don’t lead with that,” Eve agrees, a smile twitching her lips.
Eve knows twelve ways to kill someone with a knitting needle, keeps a gun under her pillow and holds most of the secrets of the world in her head. She now spends her days in stiletto heels, could bring down an organisation with nothing more than paperwork, and still terrifies Q a lot of the time.
Perhaps Q already knows how to weather a dangerous and slightly unpredictable friendship after all.
They’re still rebuilding MI6, but Q is already considering asking if he can keep his department down here when everyone else moves back. They’ll need someone to head up the technical department on site, of course, but Kimberley is smart and capable and probably due some kind of promotion considering how long she’s been putting up with him and his whims. He likes the melodrama of the dark corners, the dank brickwork, the old-fashioned air of purpose around the whole place.
Something will need to be done about the coffee machine, of course, but Q can always threaten to go rogue and he’s sure he’ll get some more funding. Maybe they could get their own branch of Costa down here or something; they certainly have enough personnel.
M told him in person when he was promoted to Quartermaster; he had a real name before that, but he was happy enough to slough it off in favourite of an initial, a symbol, a new identity. He wasn’t unhappy before, of course, not really unhappy, but it was still kind of nice to start over again as someone known for his intelligence, not for being the kid who spent his early years getting his face smashed into playground tarmac, his teenage years swishing through classes faster than they could keep up with him, and his uni years fumbling between genius and a phase of deeply uncomfortable promiscuity before someone sat him down and pointed out that it was actually okay not to enjoy sex after all. Q is something else; something more streamlined, if not better.
So, M told him in person that she was making him Q, and gave him one of her rare smiles. Then she flicked her gaze over him, and added: “you might want to think about dressing better.”
No matter what he does, Q is destined to look permanently rumpled, but he enjoyed picking out pinstripe trousers, ties, shirts, suit jackets. He refuses to get rid of the cardigans or the ugly parkas, because he likes them; they’re comfortable, they’re his, and anyway he’s not the one getting judged on how he looks.
Really, everyone just needs to be grateful that he stopped cutting his own hair; that was a terrible time for all concerned.
His mum looks proud when he remembers to go home, adjusting his collars, fretting over his body weight, his hair, whether she’s getting grandchildren any time soon. Q is pretty sure that he’s going to work for MI6 until it kills him – all evidence points to the fact that it really, honestly will do that, and he’s living with it anyway – but he tells her the necessary lies and she at least pretends to believe him.
She’s the only person left who still calls him by his real name.
“I’m sure hitting the hypothetical evil person who’s broken into my lab in the arm would at least slow them down a bit,” Q said hopefully. He’d been aiming for the heart, but, well, a hit of any description was an improvement for him.
“They won’t be standing very still directly in front of you waiting for you to hit them,” Eve pointed out. She was in jeans, flat shoes: clothes for fieldwork, not for gliding around MI6 filling out paperwork.
“I bet I could construct some kind of forcefield around my lab, actually,” Q mused, and Eve sighed while he made the basic notes in his moleskine before she handed him the gun again, raising an eyebrow.
“You asked me to help you,” she reminded him.
Q doesn’t like not being good at something; it leads to a lot of sleepless nights and occasional periods on strongly unpleasant medication that grinds his thought processes to a halt, but it also got him here. It isn’t all bad.
Q sighed, fired off three shots – one of which clipped the edge of the cutout figure, one of which managed to just about hit the target, and one of which embedded itself in the wall – and then surrendered the weapon to Eve again.
“Just think of this as payback for the time you changed all the settings on my iPad to ‘improve it’ and then spent four hours patronising me,” she told him, winking, and then fired the rest of the clip into the chest of the target.
“Show-off,” Q murmured, but he couldn’t quite hide his smile.
Eve slotted a new cartridge of bullets into the gun, handed it to Q, and then stepped up behind him to help him aim it, fingers around his wrist, pressed up against his back.
“I bet you do this to all the boys,” Q observed at last, leaning back into her, and their combined laughter threw the ensuing shot further off than ever.
It’s a wet Thursday night and Q isn’t allowed into the building tomorrow unless the world tries to end – apparently not leaving your office except to pee for more than sixty hours makes people stage an intervention – so he’s drinking cocktails under Eve and Tanner’s watchful eyes.
“If the world collapses and all three of us get called in now it’s going to be a complete fucking mess,” he reflects, tracing a fingertip through spilled gin.
“Probably,” Tanner agrees, but he doesn’t look all that concerned about it. He should really have had some compassionate leave, but either no one offered or he refused to take it, so Q is waiting for his breakdown and trying to figure out what one does when someone who is sort of nearly a friend folds in on themselves like that.
“I was thinking about inviting Bond,” Eve says, because Eve is terrifying.
“Yes,” Tanner agrees dryly, “because pouring booze into Bond and then taking him to The Village is a great idea.”
“Village?” Q sits up a little. “Nobody said anything about Village.”
“So naïve, sweetheart,” Eve says on a smile, and Q reflects that her dress is probably a little more sparkly than the ones she wears as M’s secretary.
“What if I say I just want to go home and put on some pyjamas and maybe fuck with flickr’s servers a bit?” Q suggests without much hope.
Eve nods to a nearby waiter, teeth glittering in her smile. “Three more, please.”
“I hate you,” Q tells her, petulant but without much bile.
“Yes,” Eve agrees calmly.
Q’s spent enough nights with them to know that he isn’t going to get away with any of this; it’s going to be one more night like a handful of others, Eve’s fingers tangling with his as she drags him through Soho, leading him on through bright lights and laughter.
He sighs heavily. “Next time, I’m wearing pyjamas, and we’re bringing Bond anyway.”
“That’s the spirit,” Eve says, as their drinks are placed in front of them. “Drink up.”
“Drink up,” Tanner echoes, and in the dim bar lighting his smile is almost real.
Everyone knows Q, whether it’s because they’ve needed tech or their computer suddenly stopped working or they needed help pranking a colleague by making every single one of their web bookmarks lead to porn and/or Rick Astley videos. Q has developed a fast-action programme that helps him achieve the latter, because there’s only so much effort he’s willing to expend when it comes to breaking down certain aspects of the network he’s spent so long building.
They think they pay Q to behave, but in reality they’ll have to pay him a lot more to stave off the inevitable boredom. And really, they’ll have to quantify just what behaving really means and devise a lock that he can’t open before he’ll think about consenting to being told just what to do.
What this all means, what this all actually means, is that he gets far too many e-cards every Christmas, and there isn’t anyone in the whole bloody building who doesn’t owe him some kind of favour. Eve calls him the Godfather of MI6, which isn’t entirely true – although Q could get hold of a horse’s head if he wanted one enough; don’t ask – but it does mean that he has connections.
M insists on flying him out to Hong Kong to oversee a wide-scale bugging operation; sometimes being the best at things is frustrating because then there’s no excuse you can use. Still, Q did a not-strictly-legal software patch for one of their medical department earlier this year, so it’s easy to get his hands on the good tranquilisers.
“If you’d just get back out into the field I wouldn’t have to do this,” Q complains at Bond, who’s watching him pack his surveillance equipment into specially-lined boxes.
Bond’s response is to smirk and pick up one of the bugs. “How do you turn these on again?”
Q swipes it out of his hand and puts it back into its container, tutting at him.
“I assumed Moneypenny was lying,” Bond says. “Do you really have a problem with flying?”
“I do. Because, unlike most people who go up in a plane, I know every single thing that can go wrong with it,” Q replies calmly. “Every single thing.”
Bond is looking thoughtful. “Do you have a lot of experience with aircraft?”
“No,” Q says, “no, I am not going to build you your own plane, M would mount my head on the wall.”
He thinks Bond’s smile is real, and there’s something terrifying about that. It bothers him halfway to the airport, until he downs his in-no-way-sanctioned pills with half a cold coffee and turns the trip to Hong Kong into a soft-edged blur.
Being head of his division means that Q has to go to a lot more meetings than he’d really like. He always looks much younger and much more badly-dressed than everyone else there, and while he’s proven his worth a hundred times over there’s still something slightly disdainful in the eyes of half the other department heads.
Eve meets him before today’s meeting, hands falling to tug his skinny tie free of his neck and replace it with a much more respectable one, tying it in an elegant Windsor that Q could never manage on his own.
“This looks suspiciously like the one from the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey,” Q complains, but Eve isn’t listening, trying to flatten his perpetually untidy hair instead. “You’re worse than my actual mother,” he adds.
“Maybe if your mother had taught you what a comb is for then I wouldn’t be doing this right now,” Eve teases, stepping back. “Lose the cardi.”
Q rolls his eyes but complies, and lets her swap his favourite Scrabble mug for one of the normal ones with nothing on it. Eve will be in the meeting to take minutes and to do an intelligence presentation, and Q always likes getting the chance to see the side of Eve that so rarely surfaces around him: she’s a good agent, a competent aide to M, and he thinks he might have forgotten to tell her that he’s proud of her, but he really is.
This doesn’t stop him from sliding into boredom within twenty-five minutes of the meeting starting, of course, trying to nod sagely at every point made, not catch Tanner’s stern gaze, and make M think he’s paying attention.
After he’s checked his stocks, updated his twitter feed – he doesn’t talk about his actual life, of course, but he does have nearly a million followers. Many of them aren’t exactly aware how they started following him, but, well, sometimes you just need perks – and utterly failed to distract Eve, Q sighs and turns on Fruit Ninja on his tablet. He might get a talking-to later, but he has little to say this week – nothing’s exploded, which is frankly a magical occurrence and possibly a sign of some kind of impending apocalypse – and no one’s got anything to offer that is of any interest to Q branch at the moment.
Swiping his fingers across the screen, exploding coconuts and passion fruit everywhere, Q muses that maybe there’s a reason why they generally don’t promote people as young as him to this sort of level, and then he just lets the surrounding conversation wash over him, oddly soothing even if they are all that stands between the world and destruction.
Q has never really had a reason to use the gym, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know where it is. He quite likes the gym in their new location, actually, which is much less full of glass and glittery new machines, and much more full of shadows and quiet.
He doesn’t know how long Bond has been running, but it’s half-three in the morning and Q has opinions about people on running machines after midnight. Bond isn’t looking at him, so Q leans over to push the buttons to slow down the programme and waits.
All of this is complicated, too complicated, and MI6 doesn’t exactly hire people who can deal with their emotions in a healthy fashion in the first place. Q’s already trying to figure out if Eve is still struggling with some kind of PTSD, if someone should hold an intervention for Tanner, and how he actually feels about losing M himself. He doesn’t have space for the train wreck of Bond, except that Bond is never going to talk to a psychiatrist, and he lives a life of determined isolation.
If Eve’s right and Bond really is attempting some kind of friendship, then Q should probably do something about all this. Of course, Bond could just be about to try and persuade Q to actually make him an exploding pen, but, well, he’s going to have to try harder if he is. Eve has an entire drawer of them in her desk, but then Eve is Eve.
Bond is still running, slower now, staring straight ahead.
“Have you thought about getting a cat?” Q asks.
That at least startles Bond into a reaction, a handful of emotions tumbling across his face.
“You could call it C,” Q adds, ever helpful. “Or Galore. Or Felix.”
“Did you want something, Q?” Bond asks. It’s not a snap, but there’s something sharp underneath the words, something uninviting.
Oh, Q thinks, fuck it.
“Come on,” he says, “we have a somewhat erratic weekly poker game.”
“It’s nearly four in the morning,” Bond points out.
“Someone will still be around,” Q shrugs. “We’re not exactly Montenegro, but no one ever sleeps here, either.”
Bond finally steps off the running machine, and Q is kind enough not to mention his slight stagger.
“You realise I’ll probably win,” he says.
Q shrugs. “It’s okay, I’m brilliant at cheating,” he replies, and a ghost of a smirk flickers over Bond’s mouth in response.
Q branch isn’t exactly awash with significant others: all of them work ridiculous hours, spend a little too much time in front of computers, and have to keep truly insane amounts of secrets regardless of their level of security clearance. Serge does alright for himself, due to being both Russian and stupidly attractive, and Kimberley is in some kind of complex long-distance thing with a member of the CIA’s tech department, but most of the rest of them remain sadly dateless.
The level of excitement caused by Fred’s new girlfriend making them all cupcakes is therefore slightly disproportionate.
Q comes back from their Q branch firing range – designed not so much for target practise as for making sure that their new weaponry isn’t going to explode in anybody’s face – with his hands full of bits of Project Everdeen to find everyone covered in frosting and discussing last night’s Cupcake Wars.
“The crossbow doesn’t work yet,” he announces, dropping bits of it onto one of their tables, but no one pays any attention to him.
“Alice made cupcakes,” Fred explains, slightly apologetically.
If he really wanted to, Q could make cupcakes for his colleagues – Eve unashamedly bought him the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook last Christmas – but there’s a certain degree of fiddly when it comes to cupcakes that both appeals and really doesn’t, and until he’s made his mind up about that nobody’s getting desserts.
“Hundreds of agents’ lives in our hands and we shut up shop for bloody cupcakes,” Q murmurs. He’s really only annoyed because he can see the Tupperware box the cupcakes came in from here, and it’s already empty.
Fred smirks, and hands him a tiny box, one of those ridiculous ones you can buy nowadays to actually transport cupcakes around in – Q is maybe only sulking because he missed out on the patent – and he obediently opens it.
This cupcake has a fondant Q on it, with a little 10 in icing to the right of the tail.
Q refuses to smile. Refuses.
“Fine,” he allows, “I’m sure the world can spare us for half an hour.”
He only ever encountered M on the firing range once, and they both looked as startled as each other at not finding the place empty.
“Ma’am,” he said automatically as he turned to leave, because while there are few people Q would bother to show deference to, M was definitely one of them.
She huffed, gun in hand, and offered: “you might as well stay, Q.”
His gun training was officially over: he’d scraped through the tests, Eve had pronounced him not entirely hopeless, and Tanner didn’t want to get involved with any of this ever again. Still, the fact he was barely adequate continued to pique Q, because he wasn’t used to being barely adequate at anything, hadn’t been since mandatory P.E. stopped being a part of his education. So he was still sneaking down to the shooting range when he could, because sooner or later he was going to be able to get the hang of a kill shot. He was.
For a while, both he and M fired off shots in silence, not looking at one another, not acknowledging anything. Q had come to understand from various agents and colleagues that this sort of thing could be comforting, soothing, but he’d yet to come down here and shoot anything with an emotion other than irritation.
After a while, sneaking sideways glances, Q came to realise that M’s shooting was basically on a par with his. And that was… interesting, if not entirely reassuring.
His fingers fumbled when it came to putting a new clip in, and he blamed it on having an audience, given that his job mostly depended on having very, very steady hands. When he looked up, though, M was watching him with a carefully blank expression, eyes almost kind.
Q smiled sheepishly at her, and she returned it; a spark of real, honest emotion spilling out from behind the mask that still haunts him sometimes, especially now.
“You rigged my computer to explode.”
Eve is doing the kind of shouting that means her hands are on her hips and her face is all screwed up but her voice is hardly above a whisper, because M is having a meeting of some description in his office and Eve is a shining paragon of professionalism. Q is not, which is possibly why they’re having this argument right now anyway.
“It’s a security measure,” he hisses back. “If someone breaks in here, you get under the desk, you blow up the computer, they don’t have time to shoot you.”
“I can shoot them back!” Eve snaps. “Remember? I’m not the one who took six tries to scrape through his manual gun training!”
It’s a stinging blow, and later, when they aren’t cross with each other, Eve will possibly apologise for it. They’re both MI6, though, so maybe not.
“Forgive me for not wanting you to die,” Q spits between his teeth.
“You rigged my computer to explode and didn’t tell me,” Eve insists. “I had to find out when I took the front of the server off and found it full of explosives!”
“Why were you taking the front of the server off?” Q demands.
“That is not really the issue right now!” Eve snarls.
“I think it is!” Q protests. If people are going to start pissing around with their computers then his job is going to get even more difficult and time-consuming. “You could have blown yourself up.”
“This wouldn’t be an issue if you just left things you can’t work alone!”
“Do you really want to get into that?” Eve arches an eyebrow. “Do you really want to get into that?”
Someone clears their throat behind them and they both jump, Eve hastily assuming her Miss Moneypenny expression and Q realising he doesn’t have a Miss Moneypenny expression and trying to smooth today’s cardigan down instead. He turns to find Bond is leaning in the doorway, a lazy smirk playing around his mouth.
“I have a briefing with M,” Bond offers, though his expression clearly says I wish I’d brought popcorn.
“How long have you been standing there?” Eve asks, managing to sound much calmer and less paranoid than Q would be able to.
“Oh, I don’t think you want me to answer that,” Bond replies smoothly, because he’s a bastard. An attractive, charming, strangely-endearing-despite-the-blatant-issues bastard who might be nearly Q’s sort-of friend, but, well.
“This isn’t over,” Eve informs Q quietly, though he’s pretty sure it is. It wouldn’t be the first time this kind of thing has arisen. “I’ll go and inform M that you’ve arrived,” she adds to Bond, clicking on very, very high heels over to the office door.
“So,” Bond says conversationally after a moment, “what have you rigged to explode on my person?”
Q shrugs, leaning over to pick up Eve’s half-finished coffee. There’s no sugar in it, but it’s not bad, and still just about hot.
“Oh,” he replies, “I don’t think you want me to answer that.”
He can’t carry it off as well as Bond can, but he thinks he’s quietly a little proud of himself nonetheless. He’s getting better at all of this espionage, bluffing, smoke-and-mirrors stuff.
Bond jerks his head towards the closed office door. “She can kick your arse, you know.”
Q nods sadly. “Believe me,” he says, “I really, really do.”
“I wouldn’t have actually let you blow yourself up,” Q offers Eve. She turned up at his flat with three bottles of rosé half an hour ago: they still haven’t watched the Great British Bake-Off final. It’s over a month after it aired, but their chronology doesn’t quite match other people’s, after all.
“I believe you wouldn’t do it intentionally,” Eve responds, while a contestant onscreen rolls out pastry, hands shaking. “But there is a reason you don’t have a cat, Q.”
“Well,” Q says, “I’m also not quite a spinster, and Sanjit’s allergic so if I turned up at work covered in cat hair he’d probably die.”
“It’s nice that you think that’s the reason,” Eve says, patting his knee as she reaches for the wine bottle on his Ikea coffee table.
“I’m getting you a puppy for Christmas,” Q warns her, even though he wouldn’t because MI6 employees can’t even keep plants alive – Ally’s got a cactus on her desk that they all try to remember to look after, with indifferent success – let alone actual living creatures.
“I’ll name it Q,” Eve replies, topping up her glass and passing him the wine bottle.
“I’ll knit it things,” Q counters. “Little cardigans and so forth.”
Eve sighs. “When did we become an old married couple?”
Somewhere around the time she took a desk job, or maybe somewhere around the time that mortality ripped a chunk out of MI6 and made them realise that they don’t have enough, not nearly enough.
“You’d be lucky to land a catch like me,” Q says easily, to defuse the moment.
“Yes,” Eve deadpans, “because guys who look like twelve-year-olds are what every girl dreams of.”
“You’d be surprised,” Q replies, mild, and then adds: “that sounds a little wrong, doesn’t it?”
Eve shrugs, attention already back on Paul Hollywood. Q thinks about it, and then takes a swig straight from the wine bottle. It’ll be one of those nights, he can already tell.
The call comes at three in the morning. Q knocks his glasses to the bedroom floor fumbling for his phone, briefly thinking something along the lines of this is why I never fucking come home before he manages to swipe the Call Answer button.
“Q,” he croaks. He really needs to make his bedroom lights respond to him sitting up or something, this dark is annoying.
“Morning,” Eve says, sounding a little sheepish but surprisingly awake for someone who’s got to have been up for at least twenty hours by now. “We’ve sent a car, it’ll be downstairs in about six minutes.”
“Oh good,” Q sighs, and adds: “I’m going to need a vat of coffee, Moneypenny.”
“Somebody’s already on that,” she tells him, and hangs up.
Q keeps a plethora of spare clothes at the office, so he just shoves his feet into the first pair of converse he trips over and pulls a jumper over his head before he goes down to meet the car, already logging into the MI6 network on his tablet to find out what the emergency is.
He’s escorted to one of their secure boardrooms when he gets in for debriefing, where he finds M, Eve and Tanner, an assortment of techs and personnel, half of Q branch in various degrees of exhaustion, and Bond.
Bond isn’t wearing a tie, but apart from that he looks irritatingly well put together. Q hasn’t looked in a mirror yet or brushed his teeth and his jumper has a hole in the elbow that he burned while trying to create a laser that would fit into a wristwatch. Really, Bond needs to be shipped off to more exciting places before Q starts taking this all personally.
“So, just how much damage can you do in your pyjamas?” Bond asks, eyes raking easily over the horrible mess Q must look.
“We don’t all need to wear Armani to save the world,” Q replies.
“Gentlemen,” M says, in his save the pissing contest until after national security as we know it has been restored voice.
Q’s never going to win a pissing contest with Bond, but he’s also not willing to admit defeat either. His stubbornness is probably going to get him killed one day, but, well, it’s a hazard of the job, isn’t it.
He sighs and sits down in front of the hastily-constructed bank of screens and keyboards that’s presumably for him, pushing his glasses up his nose and blinking his bleary eyes a few times.
“Well,” he says, shoving up his sleeves and flexing his fingers, “let’s see what’s gone wrong this time, shall we. And I’m going to need that vat of coffee I asked for.”
He thinks Bond sniggers behind him but he’s already typing in the handful of passwords that will give him access to his own area of their network and doesn’t look back.
Around eleven-thirty a.m. things calm down enough that Q can take a shower and put on something other than his striped pyjamas – why yes, 007, maybe I was attempting to look like the children in Peter Pan – though it turns out half the clothes left in his locker have gunpowder on them, thanks to his tendency to shove half-finished things in there and forget about them.
The shower is hot and has decent water pressure, because there are some things that MI6 gets right, and Q shuts his eyes under the spray and let it all pound down on him for a few blissful minutes, trying to wash away the fogginess and the clamour of his brain running at a hundred miles an hour, adrenaline and determination tangling around his thought processes.
Eve’s holding a towel for him when he gets out.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she points out, but Q can still feel himself blushing blotchy and awkward down his chest, as he wraps the towel around his waist.
“Shouldn’t you be trying to get some sleep?” he asks.
Eve shrugs. “Some eyedrops and a clean shirt work miracles,” she replies, while Q scrubs another towel over his hair.
“Don’t I know it,” he sighs, and leaves the towel draped around his shoulders while he sorts through the heap of clothing he dumped onto their lockerroom bench in the hope that something would magically become wearable while he was in the shower. He’s got a pair of jeans that don’t look too bad, though he doesn’t have a clean shirt – it’s possible he spilt acid on it the last time he wore it; most of the front seems to be actually missing – so he’s going to have to wear one of the t-shirts that have accumulated themselves in the bottom of his locker.
“Go with the Pac Man one,” Eve suggests, sitting down on the other bench and slipping off her shoes to press thumbs into the arch of her foot. “I think the Game of Thrones one will go over most people’s heads.”
“I don’t even know where the Game of Thrones one came from,” Q complains, grateful that he at least has clean underwear; he doesn’t always. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought a House Lannister t-shirt.”
Eve smothers a smile, and Q mentally bemoans the fact that he made her watch the first two series with him over a weekend.
“Come on,” he sighs, “it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve fucked everything up in the twenty minutes we’ve been gone.”
Eve slips off her shoes and then accepts the arm he holds out to her. “That’s why they have us,” she reminds him, ruffling his damp hair, and well, yes, it is.
Having learned that getting onto the roof is not that difficult, Q and Eve have started taking advantage of having somewhere to hide. It’s possible to reach them both by the variety of phones they carry, but being difficult to actually find is somewhat nice.
Bond is the only other person who knows how to get up here, which is how he finds them sharing a very, very secret cigarette and bitching about Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface In Accounting.
“I wasn’t actually setting this up to be a members’ club, Moneypenny,” he says, an odd mixture of sharp and fond.
“If you’re going to keep hanging around here this much we’re going to have to invite you to the Christmas party,” Q sighs, shifting over to make room for Bond on the wall where they’re sitting, feet dangling over London far below. Q used to get vertigo before he started here, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in being afraid of heights when there are far more immediate things to be afraid of. Bond frowns a little at the wall, as though concerned it’s going to ruin those embarrassingly nice trousers, before he sits down next to Q, leaning across to take the cigarette from Eve.
“You have Christmas parties?” he asks.
“They’re quite classy now,” Q informs him. “I think they got bored of us just spending the night in Nando’s getting pissed by spiking jugs of sangria.”
Bond looks politely bemused, probably because his life has never needed to contain Nando’s; he really does need to get back out into the field, to his world of five star hotels and flashy cars.
“That was only ever Q branch,” Eve reminds him.
“Don’t tell tales on me,” Q says, making a face at her as he accepts the cigarette from Bond.
“Everyone’s got a tale about you, Q,” Bond shrugs. “I don’t even need to ask to hear most of them.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” Q tells him, “except that I’m not a dick.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” Bond says, but he’s smiling as he says it.
“Play nicely, boys,” Eve murmurs, sounding weary.
Q stubs out the cigarette, letting the end flutter over the wall and down towards the street in a handful of sparks.
“I don’t think 007 knows what that means,” he remarks.
“Q definitely doesn’t,” Bond adds, and Q thinks: oh good grief, how did I allow this to happen, but he’s smiling anyway.
It’s never a good sign when M comes to tell him off in person; Q’s much more used to getting random emails telling him he’s been a bad boy and could he cease and desist from whatever he’s been doing recently, especially when he’s doing it from the government’s IP address.
Q hacked his first satellite when he was nineteen. It’s really a miracle he isn’t in prison by now.
Ally and Serge are still here, though they disappear pretty sharpish when M appears, looking dapper as ever and sadly not bringing Eve with him. Q attempts to straighten his tie and flatten his hair, though he suspects it’s too little too late.
“Sir,” he says, clutching the edge of the table so that he can’t accidentally bow or something equally ridiculous.
“Q.” M picks a stool and sits down on it, and Q fights not to take a step back, endeavouring to keep his expression innocent.
Eve’s always said that his innocent expression isn’t much good.
“I’ve just had a call from the CIA,” M says after a moment.
Oh God. Oh bloody fucking God.
“How… nice?” Q hazards, and knows he’s overdone it when M’s expression becomes sharply disapproving.
“What exactly were you doing inside their most secure servers?” he asks.
Well, at least this time Q won’t have to reply with it was a bet, because that’s never the answer anyone wants to hear.
“I was testing their new firewall for them?” he says hopefully.
“Had they asked you to?”
“No. That’s just what a great asset I am.”
M sighs, and for a moment Q thinks about feeling sorry for him, picking up the fractured pieces of MI6, agents and staff alike struggling to come to terms with the change. It’s not the graceful changeover that anyone would hope for.
“You’re a clever man, Q,” he says, and Q knows not to take it as a compliment. He was hired by the last M, and it would be perfectly easy for this M to get rid of him, if it weren’t for the fact he’s so dangerous it’s almost laughable. “But that cleverness does need a certain amount of responsibility.”
Q nods, and wishes that he looked less like a teenager living in his parents’ basement.
M’s face softens a little, and he stands up. “Don’t get caught next time,” he says.
“I won’t,” Q stumbles, and manages to wait until M’s gone before he drops his head into his hands.
Eve is waiting for him with a couple of kilos of flour and Paul Hollywood’s latest baking book, but Q still takes his time firing shots into the paper target. It’s a dull, wet evening outside, sticky leaves everywhere and bad-tempered commuters, and Q’s developing a frustrating pressure headache because he still can’t get their crossbow to work properly.
“You’re better than I expected,” a voice says behind him, and Q jumps, turning the safety on just in time.
“You should know better than to sneak up on someone holding a loaded weapon, Bond,” he scolds.
“I said you were better than I expected, that doesn’t mean I expect you to be able to hit me,” Bond replies, stepping into the light. He’s holding Q’s scrabble mug, steam rising from it in delicate curls.
“You should be nicer to me,” Q warns him, “I design your equipment.”
Bond puts the coffee down on the ledge in front of him, next to the next cartridge of bullets. “You’re overthinking it,” he says, nodding towards the target.
“That is what they pay me for,” Q sighs, picking up the coffee and taking a sip. He makes a face.
“I asked Moneypenny how you like it,” Bond says.
“And then you made it how you like it?” Q guesses.
“I’d never have made a good teaboy,” Bond agrees, unconcerned, and Q takes another drink of the horrible coffee anyway.
“Was there something you wanted?” he asks.
Bond, eyes still on the target, says: “they’ve cleared me for fieldwork.”
Q can’t figure out if he’s relieved or disappointed, and decides not to look too deep into this.
“Good,” he says, takes aim, and fires a shot that manages to hit the target’s shoulder. “I’ll get started building you a new radio. Maybe you’ll even bring it back this time.”
“Maybe I will,” Bond agrees softly, putting a hand on Q’s shoulder. “You’re too tense,” he adds, pressing until Q drops his shoulder a little.
Trying to loosen his grip around the gun a little, Q fires again.
It’s a clean shot; it goes straight through the target’s heart.
“Fucking hell,” he breathes, turning his head, but Bond’s already alone.
Double-oh agents: laws unto themselves.
“What am I supposed to do with this coffee now?” he asks no one in particular, but he’s smiling despite himself.
His phone starts ringing, sharp and bright, and he remembers to dismantle the gun before he answers.
“I’m going to burn your flat down,” Eve announces.
“Alright.” Q feels tired all of a sudden, lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “You get on with that, I’ll be back soon.”
It’s not quite the life he expected he’d end up living, and it’s not quite perfect and there are huge swathes of it that don’t make much sense, but, well, whose does these days anyway?