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The Mating Dance of Wolf and Fox

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“What the hell are you watching?”

Q looked up from the screen in his private office. Only one person ever barged in there without knocking. “You’re early, 007. O miraculum de miraculis—and it isn’t even Christmas. I’ve got your equipment right here—“

007 advanced on him. “What. Are You. Watching?” he repeated.

He blinked. That bit of Latin should have gotten Bond scoffing at his ‘posh public schoolboy roots’. “I should think it would be obvious. Surely there’s no need for me to explain the birds and the bees to you, 007.” There was a moment of silence, and he heaved a sigh.

“All right, then. When a man and a woman love each other very much—or, actually, I’m fairly sure there isn’t love involved in this particular situation, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a man and a woman…”

Bond pinched the bridge of his nose—a tell that he would never have indulged in out in the field, but was safe enough here with just him and Q—as he attempted to ignore the sight of writhing flesh onscreen, blown up to larger than life proportions.

The girl’s arm was about the size of a small horse, for heaven’s sake.

To be fair though, only about three-quarters of the screen was devoted to skin. There was a game of solitaire lurking on the lower left corner.

 Thankfully there was no audio to go along with the visuals. Judging from the look of things, the girl involved tended towards the ‘noisy and enthusiastic’ end of the spectrum. “Are you even old enough to be watching this?”

“You proposition me on a regular basis, and yet you choose now to ask whether or not I’m a minor?”

“I’m going with plausible deniability.”

“Your morals are appalling.”

“If you’re old enough to make me weaponry and be the little voice in my ear during missions, you’re old enough for me to flirt with you.”

“Your morals are still appalling.”

“I never claimed otherwise.” He looked once again at the screen, hoping that it would morph into something innocuous. Perhaps a children’s programme. He wasn’t opposed to adult entertainment, but it didn’t coincide at all with his mental analysis of the quartermaster. “Also, it seems rather unprofessional of you to be watching this at work.”

“This is work,” Q said, gesturing at the screen where things were… Bond forced his eyes back to the quartermaster and kept his tone even.

Professional porn-watcher does not fall under the quartermaster’s job description.”

“Sadly not, but I shall be petitioning M to have that changed at the soonest possible date.”

“Q.”

“Bond,” he parroted. “I never pegged you for a prude. You have to admit that your penchant for making dick jokes was terribly misleading.”

“You’re the only person I know who would use both ‘penchant’ and ‘dick jokes’ in the same sentence.”

“You don’t know enough people,” Q said pityingly. “Or the ones you know are woefully dull.”

“I do not make dick jokes.”

“Tuesday after lunch—“

“—was friendly, playful banter between two colleagues.”

“With a healthy dose of groping.”

Bond smirked. “Merely trying to improve our workplace relationship.”

“I’m going to sign you up for all the sexual harassment seminars from now until your untimely demise.”

“We have sexual harassment seminars?”

Q raised an eyebrow. “Bi-annually, occasionally more often if the need arises. I’m certain that there’s an entire section dedicated solely to the Double-Os.”

He had never been to one of the sexual harassment seminars, but he’d heard stories of how enthusiastic HR was about organizing them. Their HR department found comfort in the more conventional aspects of their job.

When your profession meant that you were tasked to find ‘someone who doesn’t mind getting shot at, preferably an orphan’ and laying someone off usually entailed having their corpse disposed of, it was the little things that helped you hold onto your sanity.

Still, if those tales about condom bingo were true, let alone the horrors they’d done to apple bobbing, he felt he was quite justified in thinking they were going overboard. One of his members reported that role-playing harassment scenarios involved a complete musical score and full stage makeup. Q made it a point to schedule meetings with other intelligence agencies whenever HR decided to put on another seminar, because hell would freeze over and Bond would bring back all of his equipment intact before they ever managed to get him into a wig, no matter how much they claimed that the part of ‘Rhonda, the secretary who learns to stand up for herself’ supposedly suited him. He would have to stab the next person who brought it up.

 “Lovely. While I’m there, I shall be sure to ask the lecturer what to do when you walk in on your quartermaster wanking in the middle of an office day. Should I report him or just help him finish himself off?”

Q held up a hand. “Firstly, it’s past midnight, Bond. Hardly the middle of the office day.” Fair enough; only a couple of the Q-Branch staff were still hanging around, and it wasn’t like they could see what was going on in Q’s private office.

“Secondly, that is not friendly banter between two colleagues. I had no idea you could be even more of a walking lawsuit than you were before, but you’ve managed it somehow.”

“I try to exceed expectations.”

“The only thing you try is my patience, 007. And third, I’m not sure what kind of magical wanking powers you think I have, but as you can see, I do not have my hands down my trousers. My zip’s not even undone.”

“Shame, that,” murmured Bond.

All the sexual harassment seminars,” Q promised darkly. “I will make you sit there until you’re old and gray, listening to them explain what a no-no touch is.”

007 squinted at the images. The hands were vaguely familiar, and that hair… “Is that 006?”

“Yes,” Q said with a shrug.

“You’re watching porn of 006.”

“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, though he’s hardly in the frame at all. You could jump to that conclusion. Or you could realize that 006 is on an op and as quartermaster, it is very much part of my job to be eyes and ears and prepared for any contingency.”

“While he’s having sex.”

“At all times,” Q replied calmly. “I’d rather not have one of our agents murdered mid-coitus if we can help it.”

Bond frowned. “Have you been watching us all this time?”

Q shrugged again. “Well… yes. Excepting you, of course.”

“…hmm.”

“What?”

007 leaned into his space, breath warm against Q’s ear. “I don’t know whether to be honoured or offended, being the chosen one for your selective bashfulness.”

Ignoring the invasion of his personal space, Q turned his attention back on screen. Bond was learning rather more about how 006 could use his tongue than he had ever wanted to know. “Hardly being bashful, and your special snowflake status is your own fault. You destroy the comms well before you start seducing anyone, taking the choice completely out of my hands and ensuring that I will never give you a camera for a mission. You would only feed it to the local wildlife.”

“Do the others know about this?”

Q pursed his lips, considering the question.”Isn’t it somewhat obvious? I suppose I assumed from the start that they were aware, since I’m always on comm for vital missions. I make it a point not to talk during these times, though. I’d really rather not risk distracting them or worse, having them accidentally say something to me while they’re still… in the middle of things.”

Bond tried not to imagine someone calling out Q’s name, whatever it was, in the middle of things, as the quartermaster so eloquently put it. “At least there’s no audio,” he finally said, noting that 006 was wrapping things up.

“Oh, there is,” Q said, gesturing to a device plugged into his ear.

Bond’s expression didn’t change. “You listen to agents having sex.”

“I merely cut the feed from this end. The audio on the other side is perfectly clear.”

007 reached out, plucked the comm from his ear, and crushed it in his hands.

Q looked down at the remains. “That was built to withstand extreme pressure, 007.”

“Needs more testing, then,” Bond said, striding out of the room.

***

The next day, the phone rang in his private office just as he got in. Either the civilized world was coming to an end, again, or Moneypenny’s copier was jammed.

It was a flimsy excuse; she jammed it herself half a dozen times a week just to lure him up for biscuits, gossip, and shameless ogling at the fit new field agent who wore his trousers just the perfect shade of too-tight.

He jabbed at the button as he started taking off his coat. “Q here.”

“Q, it’s Beatrice.” He wondered briefly why HR was calling him and whether he should make a run for it before they came to kill him.

“Are we having another one of those workplace seminars?” he asked, already moving towards his emergency kit. He actually felt a bit bad for whoever it was that they sent after him. Especially because he was high enough on the importance scale to merit a Double-O personally seeing to his demise. A shame, seeing as he’d gotten rather fond of them, but he’d also catalogued all their weak points and would have no trouble taking them out if they forced his hand. “Because I keep telling you, Q-Branch won’t sit through one. You remember what happened during the Respecting Authority session.”

“Your objections have been duly noted. Again. You’re never going to let that go, are you?”

“They changed my official title to Grand Supreme Kitten Overlord for eight months. It was on all my memos. They had calling cards made. I accidentally sent an e-mail to my brother with that as the signature, and now he’s convinced I’m a closet furry. So no, I’m not going to let it go.”

“Listen, I’ve been getting some complaints.”

He sighed and tucked away his kit for another day. “Whatever blew up, it’s eighty-five percent likely that it wasn’t my fault.”

There was a long silence. “Dare I ask what the other fifteen percent would be?”

“I’m head of Q-Branch. I could go into detail, but I think that explanation should suffice.”

“Fair point. Fifteen’s not bad, all things considered. At any rate, nothing’s blown up—“

“That’s a first.”

“But I’ve been told that we’re in violation of child labor laws as well as engaging in workplace practices against common decency. Apparently we’ve been exposing a minor to pornographic material.”

Q fought the urge to slam the phone down. “Beatrice. If I killed 007, would I be fired?”

“It would reflect very poorly on your quarterly assessment,” she deadpanned.

“Possibly worth it.”

She sighed. “You ought to know, though, that 007 isn’t alone in this. You know how it is—Bond didn’t bother with a closed door meeting, and other people were milling about, and. Well. Some of the other agents also raised concerns once they found out.”

What.

“Apparently you are very young and corruptible, o Grand Supreme Kitten Overlord.”

“I despise you, and you are very close to making me despise kittens. I’ve been reliably informed by my staff that despising kittens is the first step to becoming a supervillain.”

She chuckled. “When your plans for world domination succeed, I’ll be sure to remember that I was the catalyst for you turning to the dark side. If you’re really so miffed about it, go ahead and file a complaint with HR. I could send down the appropriate forms if you’d like.”

 “You’re enjoying this far too much.”

“I finally have a legitimate personnel issue to deal with that doesn’t involve copious amounts of blood. Let me savour it.”

“It doesn’t have copious amounts of blood yet,” he corrected her. “007 might have flown out to Sri Lanka last night, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“I’ll have clean-up crews on standby.”

***

Q scowled at his monitor, hopping through the woefully insufficient number of CCTV feeds in Sri Javawardenapura Kotte. Of course Bond was his first mission to be handled for the day, because the universe didn’t consider that phone call to be enough to ruin his morning.

“This is your fault.”

“I’m on another continent. How is anything my fault right now?” He didn’t even sound winded, damn him, despite the fact that he was currently running for his life.

“I’m not sure how, 007, but you always find a way. Watch out for that flying ninja on your left. What on earth are flying ninjas doing in Sri Lanka? Couldn’t they at least find something culturally appropriate for the region?” Bond always had the most interesting missions. Even milk runs somehow involved gambling dens, sexy assassins, and villains who monologued endlessly. Q was fairly sure that attracting trouble was his mutant superpower. Although to be fair, the off-the-charts levels of strangeness on this one were largely due to the fact that he was dealing with some sort of illegal genetic experimentation ring.

Two shots. “What’s got you throwing tantrums this time, princess? Did some unwitting bystander accidentally use an Apple gadget in front of you?”

Q glowered. “I had a call from HR this morning, 007.”

“Ah.”

“I should teach you a lesson and turn over your comm to Cora.” The girl, hearing her name, visibly cringed.

“Cora’s the one with the…” Bond made an obscene gesture towards his chest. “Isn’t she?”

Q sighed. “Yes, you juvenile monkey. She’s the one with those.”

“She’s only been there two weeks and she’s already put in a request to be transferred to the Finance department.  Putting her in charge of me would just be cruel. You usually wait at least a month before inflicting flying ninjas on your minions, let alone someone who’s running away from the madness of Q-Branch.”

“It’ll be a character-building exercise for her. Oh look, now you have a winged… I’m not sure what that is. Is that a Valkyrie?” A thud. “Cora, do you feel up to dealing with Valkyries?”

“Stop sulking just because the agents don’t want you to see their bits.”

“I am not sulking,” he huffed. “Sulking is undignified and unattractive. If you turn the left corner there’s some sort of beast lying in wait. It looks like some sort of flaming canine… a hellhound? Really? If you take the door to the right I don’t know what’s lurking behind it.”

Bond took the door, of course.

“Lovely, more Valkyries. Now, while I am most assuredly not sulking, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to be upset with the situation. I’m upset because you’ve clearly infected the others with your madness, and the moment you get back I will strangle you with your own tie.”

“Kinky.”

“Stop turning my death threats into come-ons.”

“If you wanted an anatomy lesson, you could’ve just asked me. I could plan a detailed curriculum. Perhaps some practical demonstrations. And of course I’d test you on the subject matter after.”

“CORA,” Q called. “Get over here.”

Bond laughed. “You wouldn’t really, would you?” After a long silence (well, on Q’s end, anyway; his side was filled with shouting and gunfire and the clang of bullets on Valkyrie armour).

“D-d-double-O S-s-s-seven, this is Q-Branch,” stammered a female voice on the other end, the sound of pages frantically being flipped clearly audible. “Q h-had to step out. Is that a Valkyrie? Oh God, I thought he was j-joking about that. The m-manual doesn’t say how we should handle a V-Valkyrie situation.”

Bond swore and prepared to pull the comm out of his ear before Q came back on the line. “Kidding,” he said blithely. “Cora, pull yourself together, please. Really, do stop crying—all right, all right, I’ll talk to Beatrice about speeding up your transfer application.”

“You’re a despicable human being,” 007 said.

“Compliments will get you nowhere, Mr. Bond.”

***

Despite what he’d told Beatrice and 007, Q hadn’t really had any interest in pursuing the matter. It was hardly the first time Bond had needled him on some aspect of his professional capabilities, and they’d always blown over in the past. Besides, murdering 007 wasn’t on his schedule for the day, and he disliked superfluous changes to his routine.

Exceptions were made for things involving blood, explosions, angry criminals, those pralines that 008 sporadically bribed him with, and on one memorable occasion, all of the above.

The Bond situation, however, was woefully praline-free, so he gave the issue no further thought until one of the field agents suddenly requested a change of handler mid-mission.

“Is there a problem?” he asked, frowning. He usually only handled agents of a certain clearance level and above; he’d only really taken up this one on a whim, since he’d just finished his latest project and all the other Q-Branch members were busy. It was considered a privilege to have the quartermaster as your mission contact.

“Look, I need to approach Jackson. He’s our best bet as a source.”

“All right, then.”

“But I’m not comfortable having you listen in on the… conversation.”

His brow furrowed. She’d never had a problem with it before. No one had ever had a problem with it before. Damn Bond. “So you want to go off-comm?  Our dossier indicates that he has a history of paranoia and violent tendencies with his partners—“

She hesitated. “Actually,” she said, “I understand the need to have it monitored. I’d just like to ask that it be… by someone else.”

He straightened. “I see.”

“Q—“

“It’s all right. I’ll come back once you’re finished conversing with Jackson.”He handed the comm over to one of his underlings and stalked over to the testing room to get his hands on the new, supposedly super-strong material that they were planning to turn into body armour.

By the time Q was finished with it, the material was riddled with holes, cracks, and scorch marks. He sent it back to the lab for improvements and made a mental note to have a long talk with whoever was handling material durability—considering this, in addition to Bond’s easy destruction of a comm last night, whoever it was would be lucky to keep their job—before he went back to guiding the agent through her op.

He dutifully opened locks, disabled alarms and directed her towards an available vehicle for a good getaway, because he was a professional.

If he happened to flirt outrageously with one of the post-mission handlers until said handler booked her a roundabout trip back—from Sydney to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Washington, Washington to Brazil, Brazil to Tokyo, Tokyo to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to London… Q was simply ensuring that no tail would connect her to British intelligence. Being careful was part and parcel of being quartermaster.

If all of those flights happened to be economy class, he could honestly say that M had been after them to cut down on unnecessary costs.

And if he smiled at the sight of the agent staggering into headquarters an untold number of hours later, bitching about flight delays and screaming toddlers and the unholy hell of airplane food, well. Q was a professional, but he wasn’t a saint.

***

Q and Moneypenny had a standing date for lunch at the rooftop whenever the weather was good and the two of them weren’t too busy keeping MI6 from falling to pieces without them. At quarter to one, he stood up from his table and stretched, working the kinks out of his neck.

He’d already given up bringing his own food to work, because this inevitably happened:

“Taking your break, then?” asked Ivy, looking up from the design she was tinkering with.

He pointed out where a decrease in the diameter would lighten the weapon without compromising the structural integrity. “In a bit. Don’t let anything blow up while I’m gone.”

“Of course. We’ll wait for you. Don’t want you to miss anything going boom, do we? Here.” She handed him a little paper bag. “I overpacked a bit, and you really need to gain more weight, Q.” When he opened his mouth, she held up a finger to stop him. “We’ve had this argument a million times. I’m a mother and my teenage daughter weighs more than you—though if I ever let that slip to her, she’d probably murder me.”

“Please don’t get killed, I like the way you code.” He thought for a moment. “And also you’re a lovely human being.” He winced. “I should have led with that.”

She laughed. “Tech trumps humanity on your sliding scale of value, I know.”

Not really. He just didn’t have much use for most of humanity, as opposed to tech which could at least be scrapped for spare parts if they became obsolete. He’d often wished that he could scrap humans for parts as well. Then again, he supposed that he technically could.

Even he knew better than to tell her that, though, so he kept mum as she continued. “Your priorities might need a bit of sorting.”

“But robots,” he said helplessly.

He’d had this conversation with MI6’s in-house psychologists once, when he still took Medical seriously and cared enough to be semi-honest. After they’d made noises about sociopathic tendencies, he’d started responding with pop song titles during the word association test they were all so fond of.

Though that hadn’t made it much better. Answering with ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ when presented with the word ‘Love’ was not a good idea. The horrified looks on their faces had been vaguely amusing at the time, but not worth the gossip that spread through MI6 that he wore cardigans to conceal bruises from domestic abuse.

And definitely not worth the way Bond had come up to him and asked him outright, “Do you need me to kill anyone?”

His mind had briefly wandered to the person who’d pushed into the queue at the cinema yesterday evening, but he’d supposed that murder might be a bit of an overreaction even if 007 promised to make a clean job of it. “No more than usual, no.”

“I could, for you.”

“Very sweet of you to offer, but I think your grasp of basic courting rituals needs work.”

Bond had still stalked him for ages, until he’d confirmed that Q wasn’t in a relationship. Though unfortunately not before he’d managed to threaten Q’s landlady’s son, the owner of the chip shop Q liked to frequent, and a homeless person Q had given a fiver to.

Q had had to move out of his flat, tip outrageously whenever he came by the chip shop, and resolve never to give money to the homeless again, though he did occasionally send anonymous donations to Shelter.

It had taken weeks for the rumours to die down, and afterwards Q had quietly hacked into Medical’s file on him and changed the psychological profile to ‘a pleasant, charming young man who is completely sane’. Obvious, he knew, but they didn’t dare tell M about it when he could just as easily complain about them leaking confidential patient information.

Ivy pushed the package at him again. “Just take the food, Q. Let it go.”

He would never argue with her, because he knew quite well that she belonged to one of the scariest organizations known to man (also known as the PTA of her daughter’s school—he’d overheard some of their phone conversations, and they were more terrifying than some of the hostage situations their agents had faced). “Thanks, Ivy,” he said, allowing her to smile and pat him on the head, though he did manage to duck away before she could pinch his cheeks.

Of course, heading up to the roof meant that he had to go past quite a few other offices. By the time he got to Moneypenny, he was loaded down with an armful of food.

“I see your adoring fans managed to corner you once again,” she commented, plucking one of the wrapped containers out of his hands and setting it down on the ledge beside her. “Ooh, quiche. Eloise from Medical?”

“No, Kyle from Economic Intelligence. Said he made too much food and thought I might want some. I didn’t know that he could even cook.”

“He can’t. He just fancies you.” She offered him the quiche, but he waved it away and dug through everything until he unearthed the mini peanut butter sandwiches he’d been looking for. He grabbed the madeleines, chocolate chip muffins, and red velvet cupcakes in quick succession before he pushed the rest towards Moneypenny.

She eyed him with concern. “What’s wrong?” Q usually made at least a token pretence of eating something that didn’t have sugar before he inevitably abandoned the effort.

He didn’t answer for a long moment. Instead, he proceeded to rummage through the pile of food for some berries and breadsticks, which he began assembling into a halfway decent representation of a sesquiterpene molecule.

“Should I grow a beard?”

She didn’t even raise an eyebrow. “I’m not sure what happened, but growing facial hair won’t keep Bond from pulling your pigtails.” She smirked when he glared at her. “What? Of course it’s 007. It’s always 007. Now eat this.” She passed him a container of fruit salad. “At least pretend to be concerned about vitamins while you tell me everything.”

He took one of the berries he’d been playing with and held it up. “This is a blueberry. It has nutritional value.” Then he popped it into his mouth.

“I live in fear of the day that you show up to our lunch date with nothing but a bag of sugar and a funnel to get it down your throat.”

“The funnel wouldn’t really be necessary.” Still, he humoured her by taking the fruit salad, and Q picked at a few apple chunks as he got her up to speed.

“You were listening in on agents having sex?!”

He sighed. “Why is everyone so surprised? I thought it was obvious.”

“Yes, well, I suppose selective blindness was in full swing on that one. None of us really stop and think, ‘And now, in the middle of the mission, my handler is going to listen to me going down on this informant’.”

“So you all expect that the comm just magically stops existing when you begin having relations?”

“It’s adorable that you use the word ‘relations’.”

He scowled at her. “I’m not adorable.”

“It’s adorable that you think you’re not adorable.” She chewed speculatively on her sandwich. “By the way, I’ve always had 0011 pegged as a screamer. Can you confirm or deny?”

“Moneypenny!”

“What? If you’re going to get all the dirty details, the least you can do is share them with me.”

“No. Giving you any more ammunition against unsuspecting mortals would just further upset the balance of the universe.”

“Which means that yes, he is absolutely a screamer.”

“He nearly shattered my eardrums,” Q agreed. “But also I’m not giving you any more information.”

(Except yes he would, because it was Moneypenny, who was clever and wicked and had at least some measure of success in preventing him from dying of malnutrition.)

“I suppose I should just talk to the agents,” he said finally. “They’re rational men and women. Surely we can get this all sorted out.”

Her eyes were sympathetic as she leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, Q.”

“What?”

“This isn’t a good time for you to forget how stupid people can be,” she said pityingly. “Present company excepted, of course. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you need more sugar.”

He reached for another cupcake. “Well. I’m not about to argue with that last part, at least.”

***

For the record: agents were not rational men and women.

“Good Lord, what was I thinking?” Q later lamented to Moneypenny as she sympathetically patted him on the shoulder. “They willingly put themselves in front of guns every day, most of them don’t even know what an algorithm is, and they have no problems with getting on those rattling death traps you all call aeroplanes. Of course they aren’t rational.”

“There, there.”

“Your comforting skills are terrible, Moneypenny. I don’t think you got hugged enough as a child.”

“I’m accompanying M to a meeting in two minutes, Q. This is all the comforting I can spare at the moment.”

***

“This is ridiculous,” Q said at the impromptu gathering he’d called.

“You lured us here under false pretences,” protested 005. “You said there would be doughnuts.”

Q folded his arms across his chest. “I implied that there might be doughnuts. You all drew your own conclusions. As you can clearly see, there are no doughnuts. I was going to attempt to bait you all with cake, but I don’t think I can take another one of those ‘the cake is a lie’ jokes. Those should have died back in 2007, and yet some people are still bandying them around.”

“We aren’t going to stay if there are no doughnuts.”

“Oh yes you will. Or I let everyone know that our brilliant and respected operatives were duped with promises of baked goods. Starting with Tanner.”

The thought of what Tanner would say was enough to keep them all in the room. Every single one of them had been subjected to the ‘You know what you did wrong? Everything, you did everything wrong, how are you even existing right now’ talk with him and the previous M at least once.

 “I’m not certain what it is that 007’s told you all, but I’m not a fainting maiden. I think it would be obvious, considering that I managed to get you all in here and I know twenty ways to kill you all with only a handful of wires.”

“Yes, but we know fifty,” pointed out an agent.

“Rookie,” snorted a Double-O. “Who needs wires?”

“Come now, Q, be reasonable,” 001 coaxed. “So we’re not into exhibitionism. Is that such a big thing to ask?”

His gaze was flat. “Good try, Edward. But it doesn’t seem as though you’ve actually any problem with someone listening in on the encounters—it’s that it’s me.” They shifted guiltily under the weight of his eyes. Trained men and women who had no problem whatsoever keeping calm under brutal interrogation, and a single scowl from the quartermaster had them quailing.

(“It makes no sense,” one of the newly-hired secretaries had said, watching in morbid fascination that time when an agent had blown up the coffee machine and Q had unleashed the unholy hell of his displeased expression. Work had ground to a standstill as everyone gathered to stare. Seeing Q verbally castrate someone in three perfectly polite sentences was a favourite MI6 pastime. “Didn’t that agent just face down the Russian mafia?”

One of the older secretaries had laughed. “The Russian mafia doesn’t pout as prettily. No one’s immune to that pout.”

“Not even our top agent?”

Especially not our top agent.”)

“It’s strange, all right?” another agent finally burst out. “It’s like having my kid brother listen in.”

Q’s fingers twitched. “Your brother is three, Roxanne.”

“Exactly!”

“Are you all going to stand there and pretend you haven’t peeked at my files?” he asked flatly. “You all know how old I am.”

“Your file also calls you ‘a pleasant, charming young man who is completely sane’,” one of them quoted. Q inwardly cursed himself. “You obviously can hack your dossier anytime you like, Q. How can we trust anything in it? Especially when you look like—like—“

His eyes narrowed. “Like what?”

0010 jumped up. “Oh, look at the time, I’ve got a mission in Nigeria I need to prep for.”

“I have a debriefing with M.”

“Left the kettle on at home, how silly of me.”

“I have—a thing.” The others looked at him incredulously. Agents should be able to come up with something better than ‘a thing’. Q had a feeling that one would be switched to desk duty soon enough.

004 smirked at Q with a flippant, “And I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t want to, and because you don’t actually have doughnuts, you lying liar who lies,” before she took off. Q gave her points for honesty.

“Look, 007’s on his way back anyway,” an agent called over his shoulder as he made a run for it. “You can sort it out with him.”

At the end of it, he was standing alone in the room and resolving to leave a five-minute tirade on Bond’s voicemail. “What do I look like, damn it?” he muttered, running a hand through his hair.

***

“Like a scowling infant,” Moneypenny informed him when he asked her.

“Why are we friends again? Also, are you certain that I shouldn’t grow a beard?”

***

006 paused as he shrugged his jacket on. He felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle, and his hand drifted to his gun. Before he had a chance to draw it, though, warm breath puffed against his ear.

Jack.”

He started to make a run for it, but his assailant had timed it well. A tall, slender body pressed against his, shoving him into the wall despite his resistance. He could struggle out of the grip, but—

“You could break my arm and escape, but I think we both know you aren’t going to do that.”

“Q,” he sighed, words muffled against the wall. “This is unfair. Also, I know for a fact that James is back in the building, and he’ll shoot me if he sees us in this position. And then you’ll pout at me until I go to Medical, and I hate Medical. You hate Medical, but you’d make me go anyway, because you’re a filthy hypocrite. And also I’m heading out for Shanghai in half an hour, so I really don’t have time for this.”

He wriggled experimentally, but Q was too canny; every time he fidgeted, the quartermaster would just press in closer to him. Good God, Q’s hips were bony. “I need a favour.”

He groaned. “This isn’t going to end well, is it?” Not for him, at least.

“Jack. You could argue with me until I inevitably start pouting, and then you cave. Or we could save ourselves time and skip to the part where you just agree with me.”

Months of observation had led MI6 to the conclusion that Q’s expressions were 55 percent deadpan; 5 percent fury—which was surprisingly hard to distinguish from deadpan; 10 percent fondness, only ever seen around Moneypenny and perfectly coded viruses; and 30 percent cuddly and adorable.

It was the last 30 percent that doomed them all on a regular basis.

Of course, Bond was the exception. When he was around, it was usually some strange and complicated mixture of all of the above.

Q-Branch had a data sheet complete with photos, a table of contents and a bibliography.

(“Jesus, this is better-researched than my senior thesis,” one of them had marvelled as he’d added footnotes.)

Jack snorted. “I’m not even facing you. I can close my eyes. There are ways to resist that pout, you little fiend.” Of course, that probably would have worked better if ‘little fiend’ wasn’t his pet name for the quartermaster.

Q sighed. “Of course, there’s option three,” he murmured, before he spun Jack around, leaned in and kissed him for a long moment.

006 melted into it on instinct before he squawked and pulled away. “Q!” He winced. “It isn’t that you aren’t damnably attractive, but, well, you’re like a little brother to me. And Bond called dibs.”

“Oh look. A security camera,” Q said, gaze flicking upwards.

What?” 006 said, horrified.

“Now, we could ensure that this doesn’t spread through the gossip network as it usually does. And by that, I mean that I could ensure that. If I chose to. I still rather find myself in need of that favour.”

He blinked. “You mean that wasn’t it?”

Q raised an eyebrow. “You thought I would corner you and set up this whole thing just to beg a kiss out of you?

“Well, I thought that maybe you didn’t know what kissing was like, and so you hoped to experiment and have your first kiss… er…”  He winced at the expression on Q’s face. That one definitely fell under the five percent fury category.

“006.” Q never referred to any of them (except Bond) by their code names outside of missions.

“That favour you wanted,” he said hurriedly. “I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”

***

Q didn’t even startle when he felt the hand at his nape. “Paws off, Bond,” he said, eyes not flickering up from the screen. He was bent over his table as usual, concentrating on the video feed in front of him. “I’m in the middle of a mission.”

“You should be thankful,” 007 replied. “The way you’re standing, I could have just given in to the temptation of smacking your arse.”

He didn’t give him the satisfaction of straightening his position. “Still in the middle of things. Turn over your equipment to Ivy or Nick or whoever’s available. I’ll yell at you about their condition later.”

007 raised an eyebrow and glanced at the monitor, where 006 was leaning into a leggy brunette. “What have you done to Jack?”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Q asked, looking up at him through his lashes.

“You pouted at him, didn’t you.” Q continued giving him that innocent look, the tease. “The last I heard, Jack was planning on joining an order of Carpathian monks because he’d found out that he was the one you’d been caught watching onscreen.”

“Perhaps 006 realized that this is all being done in a purely professional capacity, and that he shouldn’t question my age or qualifications, especially given that the source of the complaint was you.

“Or you blackmailed him.”

“Or I blackmailed him. But as always, pictures or it didn’t happen.” Q shot him a beatific smile.

Bond looked back at the screen, where Jack had put his hand on the small of the woman’s back, leading her through a hotel hallway. “Jack was a good choice,” he conceded. “He’s second only to me on the Double-O line-up. Theoretically, the others should follow his lead.”

“And he has a better reputation for sanity, too. But then, who doesn’t?”

“You.”

Q frowned, considering. “…no, I think I’m considered marginally more stable. They think that Moneypenny is a calming influence.” At Bond’s incredulous glance, he just gave his best ‘I’m surrounded by idiots’ face. “Whyever not? You all seem to think I’m a Disney princess. That they’re all naïve enough to believe that she isn’t secretly evil is just an extension of that.”

“The ‘secretly’ part is debatable.” Bond shook his head. “As I said, Jack was a good choice. At face value, of course.”

Q looked sharply up at him. Bond had adopted the tone of voice he used only when he was absolutely certain he was going to drive Q’s blood pressure up again. “What do you mean?”

007 let out a hum of amusement. “You have a habit of passing out from exhaustion, you know.”

“I’m aware,” Q said flatly. Eight hours of sleep were for those who didn’t hold national security in the palms of their hands. It wasn’t that he thought that sleep was for the weak, despite what Medical thought about his opinions on taking care of himself.

Beds were soft. Pillows were fluffy. Rest prevented him from hallucinating, accidentally spilling things on his jumpers, or missing important details that held the lives of his agents in balance (yes, they were his agents, thank you very much). He felt that it was rather obvious that sleep was a lovely, lovely thing. Though unfortunately it was something that he usually found in too-short supply.

There were times when he would have a proper sleeping schedule, when nothing of immediate import was happening—but inevitably they would be interrupted by a spate of disasters that would have him running on caffeine, sugar, and stolen catnaps.“I have a cot and spare clothes in my office for that reason, despite your accusations of impromptu workplace shags.”

“Those weren’t accusations. More of invitations, really. Life is short.”

“Irritate me further and I’ll show you just how short yours could be. Does this conversation have a point, 007?”

“Whenever you fall asleep, an agent comes to stand guard by your bedside.”

Q pursed his lips. “I always thought that a bit odd, but M’s orders, so.”

“Ah. I had wondered what they’d told you to get you to agree,” 007 murmured.

A beat. “M never told them to watch over me, did he?”

“Not at all.”

Q pinched the bridge of his nose, ignoring the sight of 006 backing the woman against her room’s wall. “So.”

“The agents collectively decided to guard you when you sleep, to make sure someone doesn’t come to wake you up.”

“Nick?” Q asked the nearest Q-Branch member for confirmation.

“If by ‘someone’ you mean ‘Agent Bond’, and if by ‘wake you up’ you mean ‘molest you’, then yes, sir. Pending the refinement of our anti-Bond forcefield, anyway.”

“Ah yes. How’s that coming along?”

“It’s still a bit overenthusiastic at the moment.” He shrugged apologetically as Q sighed. He supposed it would be too much to hope that they’d finally gotten of the hang of stopping it from actively blowing up the agent instead of merely keeping him out. Still, they’d at least managed to calibrate it to recognize Bond’s DNA, as opposed to the early stages when it would attempt to kill anything that crossed its path.

Coincidentally, that was the same day that M decreed that they were no longer allowed to have ‘Bring Your Pet to Work’ day. Jocelyn from the Foreign Liaisons division never did find out what happened to her darling Sammy.

“Carry on, then. At least until M finally makes up his mind whether to scrap the project because it could fall into the wrong hands, or just have us make one for him.”

007 disregarded them, knowing full well that even if they did manage to create an anti-Bond forcefield he’d just find a way around it. “Seven out of ten times, it’ll be Jack guarding you, you know.”

“So I happen to be Jack’s favourite,” he said with a shrug. “It’s hardly a surprise. I’m everyone’s favourite.” MI6 people all seemed to be the same brand of crazy that considered ‘willing to knife you if you say that robots have no feelings’ to be endearing.

Because they did. And no one would ever dare to say otherwise within Q’s earshot again, not after what happened to Trevor.

“And yet you fail to realize that by now, he’s completely conditioned to guard your virtue.” Bond nodded towards the screen, where 006 had paled as he helped the woman out of her dress. His breathing was the slightest bit off-rhythm, and not in a good way.

Q scowled. “That’s—not—“

“Is something wrong?” the woman onscreen asked, frowning at Jack.

To his credit, 006 smiled at her as though nothing was the matter “Wait for me right there,” he murmured, nipping at her ear and pulling her to the bed. “When I get back, I want to see you all laid out just for me.”

He darted into the bathroom. “I can’t do this,” he blurted out without preamble, running a hand through his hair. “Q, this is even more awkward than the time my nan caught me and my cousin in her kitchen. And while I’m really sorry about earlier, and I know you’ve got leverage on me—“

Bond pointedly cleared his throat. “So, ‘pictures or it didn’t happen’?”

Q just as pointedly ignored him.

“—but it’s impossible. I can’t finish the mission like this. She’s going to think I have erectile dysfunction. I think I might actually develop erectile dysfunction.”

Q exhaled and turned the audio on his side of the comm back on. “All right,” he said at last. He wasn’t going to jeopardize an op just to get his way. “All right. Do what you have to do to get the information. I’ll come back in half an hour, shall I?”

006 let out a half-hearted chuckle. “Half an hour? That’s the best you think I can do? Really, Q.”

“You forget I actually have firsthand knowledge. Well, secondhand. Secondhand-ish. What does watching you through a camera count as?”

The chuckle died a quick death. “Oh God, don’t remind me.”

“Oh, very well. But when you return, 006, I’m going to need to have another talk. With all of you. Even if I actually have to buy doughnuts this time.”

Jack let out a reluctant grunt. “Fine. I’ll put Scott on the line.” Q pulled out his earpiece and tossed it to a passing Q-Branch member, who immediately reassured 006 that yes, “Q’s precious virgin ears can no longer hear what you’re about to do”.

Bond was smirking knowingly, damn him.

“I hate you,” Q said. This was why he preferred robots. AI might try to turn rogue and kill their creators, but he understood them. People, on the other hand, made him want to bang his head on the nearest available surface.

“So what time is your little meeting? We ought to have Moneypenny pencil it in, make sure that the world doesn’t try to end while you’re lecturing us.”

“No. You’re not invited. You don’t deserve doughnuts,” he snapped. “Get out of my department. Why are you even here?”

A faint smile played on his lips. “To see you, of course,” Bond said with a little salute before he left.

***

“Wow,” Jack said as he walked in, the last one to arrive. “I thought you said you’d be buying doughnuts, not…” He waved a hand at the laden tables, which were covered with an assortment of different foods. “Is there anything left for the rest of England?”

“I was ‘the boy who cried doughnuts’, so.” Q shrugged. A few of the agents had muttered about ‘not giving in to any more imaginary baked goods’, and he’d decided to make it up to them by going above and beyond this time. “Understandable.”

Nobody had the heart to tell Q that they’d originally meant to ignore him anyway. It was just that his eyes had gotten so wide and sad and…

And…

Well. Occasionally agents got into trouble—often of the Bond-smashing variety—and were brought to M for reprimanding. Said agents would just say something about “Q’s face, you know which face we’re talking about”.

M would sigh in exasperation and understanding, because yes, he did in fact know which face they were describing. That face had gotten him to sign off on more than a few strange project requests for the quartermaster, like the one with the blue telephone box that everyone was pretending not to be privately squealing over.

Q took a seat at the front of the room, neatly crossing his legs and folding his hands under his chin. “Gentlemen, ladies.” He gave them a small smile. “Let’s start, shall we? To begin with, you are now all trapped in this room.”

There was a moment of silence. 0012 finished chewing his strudel before he spoke. “I could break out of a cage inside a safe inside a tank. That’d been tossed underwater. With a shark waiting outside for me. In fact, I’ve actually done so.”

“Very impressive, Sam. I didn’t mean to cast any aspersions on your shark-punching skills. But I’ve got Q-Branch outside, and they haven’t had caffeine in the last thirty-six hours.”

They blanched.

“Oh, and Moneypenny volunteered to come join me here.”

She appeared out of nowhere, leaning against his—throne, for lack of a better word, nothing more than the faintest staccato clack of her heels to announce her presence. “At your service, Grand Supreme Kitten Overlord.”

He shot her a glare, but turned back to the agents. “Let’s start over. You are now all trapped in this room.”

No one disputed the statement.

“This would be a really good time for someone to threaten national security,” 005 said hopefully.

Criminals, being the contrary bastards that they were, failed to try to take over the world at that precise moment.

“Now none of you can run away making excuses when I ask uncomfortable questions. So.” He laced his fingers back under his chin. “Why do you all act like I’m mystical unicorn-bait?” Silence greeted him. “Moneypenny—“

A dozen voices answered him at once, a jumble of “We can’t help but think of you as a foul-mouthed toddler” and “Your office cot’s blanket has little penguins printed on it, for fuck’s sake” and “We found a pack of crayons in your man-purse.”

“IT’S A LEATHER SATCHEL,” he yelled over the noise. “And those ‘crayons’ are drafting pencils, what is wrong with all of you?” Also: that blanket was completely Tanner’s fault, but he refused to apologize for penguins. Penguins were adorable, and they understood that flying was overrated.

As to the first one, he would do them all a favour and pretend he’d never heard it.

Moneypenny shrugged. “You’re all bollocks at deflecting, by the way, so why doesn’t someone just come out and admit what the real reason is?”

“Of course he’s an underage, skittish virgin,” 009 finally said. “Why else would he turn down Bond?”

The temperature in the room noticeably dropped as Q unclasped his hands to grip his chair’s armrests. “I beg your pardon?”

Now that someone had come out and begun, the others seemed to have no qualms about revealing the rest of their rationale—no matter how horribly, horribly wrong it was. “You keep rebuffing 007,” piped up one of the field agents. “The only reason we could think of is that you’re obviously very young and bashful.”

Q’s eye twitched. “Bashful.”

“If you were asexual you’d just have told him flat-out. You two aren’t secretly related, since Medical already checked the DNA for us.” Q took a deep breath and plotted all the ways he could destroy that godforsaken department, which apparently had never heard of things like the Hippocratic Oath or doctor-patient confidentiality. “We thought at first maybe you’d had some kind of traumatic incident in your past, and we were all planning a manhunt, but your reactions are inconsistent with that line of thinking. Bit of a let down, really. Er, not that we wanted you to be suffering from trauma,” the operative amended, catching the expression on the faces of everyone around him. “It was just that we were all getting along when we were plotting to off your hypothetical abuser. We had pizza and everything. A bit of team-building.”

Q twitched again. “You used my theoretical abuse as a bonding session. Have any of you considered that maybe I just don’t find him attractive?”

They all looked at him in disbelief. Moneypenny smacked him upside the head.

“All right, fine, stupid question,” Q muttered, rubbing at the spot she’d hit. The pictures of a shirtless Bond rising up out of the ocean still fetched high prices around MI6, even if they were from ages ago. He decided to switch tacks. “You don’t all fall into bed with any attractive person you see.”

The faces looking back at him showed only confused looks or arched eyebrows. “But it’s 007.”

“Right, because you’d all just drop your trousers the moment he’d hit on you.” He paused, studying them. “Oh God, of course you all would.”

“His mission debriefs read like porn,” pointed out a field agent. “There is no one in this room who doesn’t know or wouldn’t want to know if he lives up to the legend.”

“There is no legend!”

“There is. In his trousers.

“Amen to that,” said one, smugly. “I can personally vouch for that statement.”

Q blocked out the chorus of voices seconding the motion. A suspicious movement caught his peripheral vision, and his eyes widened. “No. No, because you’re the last bastion of sanity. Please tell me I’m wrong.”

Moneypenny shrugged lightly. “I didn’t drop my trousers.”

“Oh thank God.”

“I was wearing a skirt.”

He put his head in his hands. “Not better, Moneypenny. Not better at all.”

“No slut-shaming,” she said, flicking him on the forehead.

“I am not,” he said fiercely. “You’re all free to… to plug your cords in whatever outlets you deem necessary.”

She sighed. “Q, if you want to stop them thinking that you’re precious and unspoiled, you ought to skip the awkward metaphors and just say the word ‘sex’.”

The agents wondered whether Q’s twitching would become permanent.  “I could just have excellent self-control.”

“Q, you made grabby hands at M over the last scone at the last departmental head meeting. Your self-control is for shit.”

“Perhaps you should all know that I’m straight?” he tried.

More disbelieving looks, but at least this time he managed to duck when Moneypenny moved to hit him again. “All right, all right! I hate you all.”

“Look, there are some lines we aren’t willing to cross,” 003 said, quiet and serious. “Not… not to a kid. All right?”

He would almost have been touched. Except that he was most decidedly not ‘a kid’. “I am not Oliver Twist, for God’s sake.”

“Of course not,” one said soothingly. “You’re more of a Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

“Do you want me to kill you? It’s none of anyone’s bloody business anyway. My sex life shouldn’t be a subject of debate.”

004 shook her head. “We’re not discussing your sex life. We’re discussing the lack thereof.”

“Besides, you’re a bit late to the party. It’s a frequent topic of water cooler conversation. ‘Q’s virginity or non-virginity’. It’s the Schrodinger’s cat of MI6.”

There was a rap on the door. “There were some Q-Branch kids doing excellent bloodthirsty zombie impressions outside,” 007’s dry voice called from outside. “I gave them coffee and led them away by laying out a trail of teabags.”

Q ground his teeth as everyone rushed out. Bond sauntered in and snagged one of the martini glasses left on the tables. “What?” 007 asked with a raised eyebrow. “It’s not one of your precious doughnuts.”

“You know what? I don’t care. Eat them all. I hope you gain fifty stone and sprout warts and everyone eventually realizes that Mr. James ‘Resurrection-Is-My-Hobby’ Bond is not God’s gift to sex. I can be an adult without wanting to sleep with you. in fact, I think it makes me more of an adult than the rest of you all. Not everyone wants to shag you, no matter what everyone else says.” Q waved his hand at the food. “So go ahead. Have at it.”

007’s raised eyebrow went up even higher. Deliberately, he reached out and bit into a jelly-filled one.

Q scowled when he failed to balloon to twice his size. “Traitorous doughnuts,” he muttered, glaring as Bond licked jelly off his lips.

007 put a hand on his nape and squeezed lightly. Q just sighed and leaned into the touch. He allotted himself two minutes before he pulled away. “Right. Work calls.”

“The Ghostbusters proton pack?” asked Bond, because Q was a creature of habit and Bond was his ‘stalker is a very harsh way of putting it, Moneypenny’.

“Shut up, I’ve no active missions at the moment,” he muttered as he stalked off.

The back of his neck was still warm.

***

Moneypenny found him later, face screwed up in a look of manic concentration. She sighed. Q always did his best work when he was upset, and this was one of the ‘sanctioned by M because of that face he does’ projects. And with this kind of stress to vent, he’d apparently had some sort of breakthrough. On the one hand, that was good, because he could go back to finding proactive solutions for the little problem he had with the agents. On the other hand, it was terrible, because Q’s breakthroughs often literally broke through things.

The Q-Branch kids—newly recaffeinated, although she saw two of them fighting over a used coffee filter like vultures over a carcass—had called her for back-up when his laughter had reached the ‘evil cackling’ stage. “Q—“

He turned to face her, grinning as he held up what seemed to be no more than a polished metal hilt. “Behold my genius, Moneypenny.” He hit a button on his computer and the sound of the Imperial March filled the air.

She stared. “No.”

A few of the Q-Branch members crowded around. Cora gawked. “Is that…?”

Ivy sighed. “Oh good Lord.”

“No,” Moneypenny repeated.

Yes.” He swung out with it, producing a glowing blue blade that made a familiar hum as it swished through the air. “The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master!” With a neat flick of his wrist, he sliced apart Cora’s desk chair.

Moneypenny’s expression didn’t change a bit as Cora let out the kind of high-pitched squeak they normally associated with animated chipmunks. “Call office supplies and request a new one, will you?”

It took three hours of talking with M for Q to sulkily agree to give up the world’s first working lightsaber. There was a lot of pointless blathering about ‘weapons of untold potential for abuse and destruction’ and ‘the safety of the world as we know it’.

“How is that different from every other weapon we have?” Q pointed out.

But apparently England had signed a treaty with China stating that they would never ever create and employ lightsabers.

“Why would they stipulate that?” Q demanded, nearly tearing out his hair.

“They’re thorough,” Moneypenny said with a shrug. “And really, can you blame them, now that they can be all smug and say ‘See, and you all thought we were mad for putting that in the treaty’?”

Somewhere in Beijing, a government official with a Yoda tattoo on his left ankle was saying “I told you so” to his superiors.

“Besides, you should just be thankful that M didn’t bring up the time with that invisibility ring,” pointed out Moneypenny.

He winced. “I blame sleep deprivation. In retrospect, forging the One Ring really was a mistake.”

Tanner comforted Q by patting him on the back and saying, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

“You quoted Vader at me. Tanner, we’re soulmates,” Q said solemnly.

“Also, I want one of those.”

“I know. I already promised Moneypenny one that’ll change colour to match her shoes. But don’t tell M.”

Tanner let out a laugh. “You already made others, didn’t you.”

Q smirked. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

***

Q carried on as best as he could, considering the situation. A few of the more sensible ones didn’t have a problem with it, and Q thanked God that not all of MI6 was off their rocker, but they were still unfortunately the minority. For a while, he managed to get away with still overseeing the ops while pretending that it was another Q-branch member on the line, but the agents finally cottoned on.

“Cora, you double-crossing cow! You told 008?”

She’d sniffled but stood her ground. “YOU MADE ME DEAL WITH VALKYRIES, Q!”

“For all of five seconds! Get your arse over to HR.”

She’d paled. “Oh God, you’re going to have me taken out back and shot like an old racehorse, aren’t you?”

“How terribly lacking in finesse. No, your transfer was rejected from the Finance department and I had to pull strings to find a department with a vacancy for you that didn’t involve too many explosives. Not that you deserve it.” He took a deep, calming breath. “Now you’re going to HR instead. I hope Beatrice eats your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

As it turned out, Cora had finally managed to unearth a backbone under her flowery jumper, and she took sadistic glee in corralling unruly agents and Q-Branch members. She and Beatrice got along like a house on fire.

After that, the agents just took to crushing or tossing away their comms a la Bond, until Q swore on pain of Moneypenny that he wouldn’t watch or listen anymore if they didn’t want him to, just so long as they stopped wasting his tech.

He’d been too distracted by that particular problem to see another one.

“The potential informant is at your six,” Q said into the comm. He knew well what was coming. “Shall I turn over to another Q-Branch member?” He was thoroughly sick of having to say that line.

“No need,” said the voice on the other end.

Q smiled reflexively before he let out a hum of agreement, because he appreciated the sane ones.

This agent was not one of the sane ones.

It took about half an hour for Nick to notice. “Q, are you all right?” he asked. Q was silent, as he always was during this part of the mission. But there was something unnatural about the way he held himself—and then he flinched when Nick put a hand on his shoulder. Nick’s brow furrowed. “Which op are you handling?”

Q didn’t look up. “Fletchley in Davao del Sur.”

Nick stilled as his mind raced before coming to a stomach-turning conclusion. “Q, give me the comm.”

“No.”

“Q—“

“Go finish the specs for the new sniper rifle,” said Q in a tone that brooked no disobedience. Nick’s hands balled into fists before he stalked away.

It seemed like ages before Q started speaking into the comm again, clipped tones directing Fletchley to clear paths and evacuation points. Finally, he confirmed mission success and took out the earpiece. His hands were steady, but the tension in his shoulders hadn’t relaxed a bit.

“Here,” Nick said, handing him a cup of tea.

“Thank you.” But Q didn’t move a bit, just let the cup sit cooling on his table for hours while he kept his head down and went through some paperwork.

In retrospect Q should have anticipated it—Q had personally recruited Nick and blackmailed Beatrice into hiring him, and Nick had sworn allegiance to Q and his coding skills the moment Q had beaten him at Team Fortress.

The moment 007 walked into Q-Branch, Nick punched him.

A tiny smile curled up the edge’s of Q’s lips. “Nick, you darling. Marry me.”

“Are we duelling for your hand now?” Bond said through a mouthful of blood. “I’d have appreciated being informed first.”

Q kissed Nick on the forehead. “I need a drink,” he announced to the room at large, ignoring Bond. “Nick, you’re in charge. You can even use the Q mug.”

“Ooh, indirect kiss,” Nick deadpanned as Q left. He turned on Bond, who appeared to be contemplating punching him back. “Fletchley.

“Fletchley?” 007 echoed. He straightened. “He hasn’t been near Q, has he?”

“What do you think?” Nick said bitterly. “Fletchley didn’t give Q a second look until he got wind of all the stupid ‘Q is a knee-socked infant’ madness you infected MI6 with. And until you spoke up, no one even knew that Q was monitoring that part of the missions.”

007 looked at the comm Q had abandoned, feeling vaguely ill. Fletchley was competent, but there had been an incident a few years back. MI6 had busted an overseas child trafficking operation after a minister’s son had been taken.

Fletchley had seemed to enjoy the ‘scenery’ a little too much for his fellow operatives to stomach.

“I’m going to kill him.”

“Get in line,” said Nick, already reaching for a screwdriver. “I think I’ve got first claim.”

Ivy cut in. “Gentlemen, you’re both delusional. Q will have had him castrated by the time his plane lands.”

One of the comms blinked, and they all turned to look as Ivy hit the speaker button.

“Q-Branch, this is the Evac team. Agent Fletchley’s had… an accident.” Evac didn’t sound terribly bothered.

Nick snorted. “What kind of accident?”

“The kind where there’s enough left for you lot if you want to take a crack at him. Stupid fuck was shooting his mouth off about Q, but that has nothing to do whatsoever with the unfortunate way he fell out of the car. Twice.” A thud. “Thrice.” Another. “Actually, we’ll keep you posted as to how many times he fell out, all right? He’s rather clumsy.”

“Evac, we’re going to make you a new helicopter. A shiny one.”

***

“There you are.”

Q looked up. His legs dangled over the edge of the roof. “Where else would I be?”

“Well, you did say you’d be getting a drink.”

Q held up a flask. 007 reached over and took a long swig from it.

(It wasn’t that he was sulking over Nick’s crack about an indirect kiss from Q or anything… no. It wasn’t that at all.)

“Oh yes, by all means. Help yourself. Share your germs with me, go on.”

“I don’t have any diseases, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

“No, I’m just worried that idiocy is contagious. God knows you managed to infect everyone else with it.” Q turned back to look out at the London evening.

“I didn’t mean for it to get this out of hand,” Bond said. It was the closest thing he was going to get to an apology, Q knew.

“I know.” It was the only reason why he hadn’t kneecapped him yet. “This incident shouldn’t have been any different from the usual. It’s the way we operate—you find new and creative ways to raise my blood pressure, I attempt to kill you with my brain and sadly discover that I still haven’t acquired the powers of telekinesis, and then at the end of the day we’re still… amiable colleagues.”

He tipped back his head, eyes closed. Bond was silent above him.

“Oh, shut up.”

007 raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You’re thinking very loudly. It’s annoying.”

A hand brushed the unruly curls off his forehead. Q didn’t open his eyes, not even when lips pressed to his brow.

“Amiable colleagues.”

“All the sexual harassment seminars, Bond.” Cora had done some fearsome overhauls to them, he’d heard. He was already plotting to sign Fletchley up for them.

007 huffed out a laugh. “Right.”

“You make my life so very, very messy, Bond.”

“I know.” The fingers stroking through his hair abruptly disappeared. Q waited a moment longer before he heard the creak of the roof access door and the soft snick of it closing.

***

Life was neater, after that.

While there was no change in the issue of agents refusing to have Q listen to their honeytrap operations, 007 had done a complete one-eighty. Missions ran more smoothly—as smoothly as they could with Bond on the active mission roster, anyway; there were still Valkyries and flying ninjas and something strange involving a high-stakes game of tiddlywinks with guns, but there was no more teasing over the comms. There were no unexpected visits to Q-Branch, no hands wandering anywhere near his personal space, and absolutely no more ‘friendly, playful banter between two colleagues’.

Bond didn’t get rid of his comms mid-mission anymore. He didn’t request a different handler or ask to go off-comm when he was honeytrapping, but Q would turn it off anyway.

“The eagle has not been to the nest in weeks,” whispered Peter to Nick as they worked together on an improved radio. “It’s skewing the data on our ‘facial expressions’ study. There’s been more deadpan in here than Tanner and Moneypenny at a Twilight convention.”

Q’s voice came from a speaker near them. “The eagle? Really? That’s what you’re calling him?”

“Q!” Peter yelped. “What have we said about you at least pretending not to be Big Brother? We’ve discussed this!”

“But really? ‘The eagle’? We’re an intelligence agency, we already have code names. Better ones that aren’t stolen from every American spy movie ever.” Peter swore he could hearQ rolling his eyes from his private office and made a mental note to expand their data sheets to explore the audibility of Q’s facial expressions. “Besides, life’s just. It’s tidier, now.”

“We love you to death, Q, but you’re really quite thick sometimes,” Nick said. “No one who makes lightsabers in their spare time wants a tidy life.”

There was no response for so long that they thought that Q had just ignored them.

“I never said I wanted tidy.”

The two of them exchanged looks. “Er,” Peter said, fidgeting. “D’you… want to talk… about it?”

“No, I want you to change his code name, because ‘the eagle’ is cliché. Do I even want to know what my code name is?”

“Grand Supreme Kitten Overlord,” they said in unison.

“…I should have listened to my mum when she told me to be an accountant.”

***

Things could have gone on like that for years. 007 and Q would have been allowed to “flail around each other like the stupid, emotionally impotent men you are”, as Moneypenny put it, until Bond was inevitably killed on some mission and Q met some nice girl or boy to share the rest of his life with (or more likely, was found dead at his desk, still elbows-deep in machinery.)

“Really, Edward. You’re such a drama queen. If you wanted attention you could have just said.”

001 smiled weakly at Q, who was sitting pale and thin-lipped at his bedside. “But where would be the fun in that?”

 “Getting stabbed in the middle of sleeping with someone isn’t really my idea of a good time. Please don’t do that again. I don’t care if you managed to get the information; that was far too close to hitting your lung.”

“It’s just a flesh wound,” he said with his most winning grin.

“Even quoting Monty Python won’t make me stop scolding you. You’ll ruin my perfect mission record if you get killed.”

“Technically you weren’t handling me at the time, so…”

Q let out a soft laugh. “That’s the problem. I should have been.”

He’d known that something was wrong. He’d tried to insist, for the first time in a long while, that the agent allow him to monitor the situation. Edward had refused, Q had argued... and now Edward was lying in Medical.

“No.” Edward glared at him before he could object. “No, you don’t get to do this. Everyone will have my head if they hear I made you feel terrible. I removed the comm on my own. Also, your guilt is making me feel guilty. If you want to make yourself useful, you can break me out of here. I don’t care if she says that it’s part of my treatment, Genevieve’s a little too enthusiastic about the idea of strapping me down to the bed.”

“As though you couldn’t get out on your own,” Q snorted. “Also, Genevieve bribed me with chocolate biscuits, so I’m helping keep you here.”

“You whored me out for biscuits?” 001 squawked.

“There are worse things to be whored out for.”

001 thought it over. “Fair enough. But you’re sharing.”

Four hours and eight family-sized packets of biscuits later, 001 finally fell asleep. Q got up and looked at him. His first week as Q, 001 had come to Q-Branch, laid eyes on him and laughed so hard that Q had tasered him. Edward had been delighted. For Q’s last birthday, he’d gotten him a paper crown and a hooker called Melissandra. Q had worn that crown all day. He’d also had some interesting conversations with the girl, real name Mary; she was a Psychology student who enjoyed long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and getting paid for sex.

“This is really your fault, Edward,” Q said quietly. “Because you were the one who tossed the comm. And you got me a hooker for my birthday, would you really give that sort of present to a minor? No, would you really give that to anyone? Of course you would, you’re mad. But the fact remains that I wasn’t handling you at the time…” He watched the slow rise and fall of 001’s bandaged chest.

He sighed. “And I should have been.”

***

Bond opened the door to see a slightly rumpled but perfectly composed quartermaster standing outside his flat, hands tucked into his pockets.

“I need you to sleep with me.”

007 looked at him carefully. “Well. That escalated quickly.”

He blinked. “You’re the last person I expected to know about Internet memes.”

“Did you say maims? I thought that the politicians were just being narrow-minded when they said that the Internet was violent.”

“They said that about video games, your definition of violent is hardly that of the average person, and stop trying to distract me.” Q stepped close. “Let me in.”

“No. I know the rules for vampires.”

Q sighed and pushed him back, slamming the door behind them. “Please tell me that wasn’t an attempt to set up cheesy pornographic dialogue about sucking things other than blood.” He scowled. “The fact that I even had to think about it because of you is upsetting me.”

“Come on,” Bond said, tugging his arm and leading him into his bedroom. Q followed without complaint.

Bond led him to the bed and sat him down, then bent and removed his coat and jumper. He batted Q’s hands away when he moved to do the same for him. “No,” he said, moving to hang up Q’s clothes once he’d gotten him down to just his trousers and undershirt. 007 gently pushed at him until he was lying down, then spread the duvet over him.

“What are you doing?”Q tried to remember if any of Bond’s past mission debriefs had talked about this kind of foreplay. Generally speaking he seemed to recall a lot more passionate kissing and frenzied tearing of clothing, not… this.

Bond didn’t reply, simply reached out and took off Q’s glasses.

Q peered at him. Years of staring at screens had wrecked his eyesight, and he could barely see anything. Then again, some small part of him wondered if it was better that he make it through the whole ordeal without being able to look 007 in the face. “Bond?”

“You know, I’ve had sex with people who hated me,” Bond said conversationally. “I’ve slept with people who wanted to kill me. And that’s fine. Quite enjoyable, under the right circumstances.”

There were so many things wrong with that, Q didn’t even know where to begin (also, he was having some difficulty biting his tongue to hold back his curiosity as to what those ‘right circumstances’ were). “That’s... lovely. I’ve always wondered why Medical kept straitjackets in your exact dimensions on hand, but I suppose you just solved the mystery. Now that you’ve established that you’re all right with hatesex, would you mind hurrying things up? Let’s get this over with.”

The silence went on for so long that Q couldn’t help but squirm. His skin prickled.  He realized then how vulnerable he was, practically blind as Bond watched him.

He felt Bond’s weight on the bed disappear and felt something like panic rising up in his throat. Q hated not knowing what was happening in a situation.

Finally, Bond spoke; his voice came from some distance off. “Edward texted me.”

Q squinted in his general direction. “No, don’t tell me. He’s already escaped Medical and gone on the run, hasn’t he?”

007 let out a strained chuckle. “Well, to be specific, Edward dictated while someone else texted me the message. He’s apparently tied down to his bed, though he didn’t sound like he minded much.” Good old Genevieve.  “He said you might come here, and proceeded to describe just what he’d do to my bits if I touched you. In graphic detail. The words ‘castration with a tea strainer’ may have been mentioned, and that wasn’t even the worst of it.”

“You must be joking. The man’s bleeding to death because of me, and he’s still trying to protect my maybe-virginity? And everyone thinks my priorities are skewed?”

He sighed. “He isn’t bleeding to death, and it’s not because of you.” There was a creak; a sliver of light came into his view, showing that Bond had opened the door. Before Q could open his mouth to ask where he was going, he cut him off. “I’m not sleeping with you.”

“...what?” He let out a quick laugh. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of Edward. I’ll protect you from the big, bad tea strainer. Come on.”

“No.”

“007?” What did I do wrong, he resisted asking, biting his lip and feeling very young and stupid all of the sudden.

Bond’s voice was flat, unemotional. “It’s one thing to sleep with someone who hates you. It’s another thing entirely to sleep with someone who not only hates you, but hates himself even more.”

“I—“ He needed to see Bond’s face. If he could just see what kind of expression he was wearing, he’d know how to react, he was sure of it.

“Goodnight, Q.” The door shut behind him, plunging the entire room into darkness.

Q lay there, staring at the ceiling as he rewound the night in his head.

He winced. “Oh, Christ.”

***

 Bond had been steadily working through the contents of his liquor cabinet when his bedroom door creaked open.

“I’m sorry.”

“Took you long enough to come out here,” 007 noted. A good ten minutes had already elapsed since their little talk, and he’d thought that it would only have taken Q a moment or two to sort out his thoughts. Though he’d also half-expected Q to have escaped out the window. “I’d imagined you would come running after me at the soonest possible opportunity.”

“Well, I would have,” he said acidly, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. “Only Mr. James ‘All-I-Want-For-Christmas-Is-An-Exploding-Pen’ Bond nicked my glasses. As you might imagine, I had some difficulty getting around the room without knocking anything over.”

“Ah.” Bond produced the spectacles from his pocket and handed them over. The quartermaster promptly slipped them back on. “You know, we’ll need to have a talk about that. Anyone who wanted to neutralize you would only have to snatch your glasses.”

“If they could ever get close enough.”

“I did.”

“I let you,” Q said simply.

“It’s still a weak spot.”

“Which one? The glasses, or letting you get that close?”

Bond raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps both.”

“Look,” Q said, shoulders slumping, “Could you please stop talking tonight? Just tonight.”

“I’m still not sleeping with you,” he said.

“I know. And tonight, I’m not going to fight you on that point,” he said wearily. “Tomorrow may be a different matter.”

“You have a certain peculiar expression,” Bond observed, apropos of nothing. “Occasionally you’ll have a terrible day, or something happens, and then you’ll let me touch you for a minute or two. Then abruptly you pull away and get back to business as usual.” On one particularly memorable day, the coffee machine had broken down just when Q had had five back-to-back Double-O missions to handle, and Q had actually rested his head on Bond’s shoulder for an hour. At least until Nick had come up with a cappuccino he’d gotten from the cafe down the street. Q had been exceedingly prickly to 007 for at least a week after that, resulting in the now infamous “I didn’t actually mean to slap you, I was merely going for a high-five and your face got in the way” confrontation.

The fact that Bond tended to lose the equipment that Nick made more often than anyone else’s had nothing to do with that incident. Nothing that anyone could prove, anyway.

Q didn’t bother addressing the statement. “I asked if you could stop talking.”

007 eyed him for a long moment before he nodded.

“Good.” Q pulled him back into the bedroom and efficiently began undoing the buttons on Bond’s dress shirt. Bond warily allowed it to happen. Q rooted through his dresser and tossed a pair of pyjama pants at him to change into.

“I need you to sleep with me,” Q said quietly, tugging him towards the bed.

At the look on Bond’s face, he clarified, “Just sleep.”

007 relaxed a fraction and draped an arm around him. Q tensed before fitting himself against his chest with a sigh. He fell asleep after only a short moment; considering the day’s events, Bond had been anticipating it. Q was predictable in many ways.

Which was why Bond was dreading tomorrow.

Because if Q was letting himself have this, have tonight... he was sure that tomorrow would be hell.

***

007 wasn’t the least bit surprised when he woke next morning to find that Q was gone. His side of the bed was still warm, the indent of his head clear on the pillow. There was a note left on the bedside table.

I don’t hate you.

“As if that was the only problem,” Bond muttered, carefully tucking the slip of paper away.

***

Moneypenny silently prayed for strength as she came down to Q-Branch early that morning, having been summoned by a worried Nick. Apparently Q had appeared at five a.m. and barricaded himself in his private office for hours. She’d have protested being used as their Q handler whenever they felt that he’d gone off the rails, but Q was her best friend and made her lightsabers.

She came to a stop. “That is... that’s not on, Q. Whatever’s happened, I would like to remind you that I told you that I was terrified of this day and I really do not appreciate what this is doing to my stress levels.”

Q shot her a wild-eyed look from where he was hiding under his desk, still wearing last night’s clothes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Q. You’re hugging a bag of sugar. A half-empty bag of sugar.”

“Told you I wouldn’t need a funnel,” he mumbled.

“Right. That’s quite enough. Any more and you’ll wreck your girlish figure.” There was a bit of tug-of-war before she succeeded in pulling it out of his grip. She handed him a cup of herbal tea as a replacement. “I’ve a clean shirt for you, too.”

“Why, Miss Moneypenny, are you trying to get me out of my clothes? How scandalous.”

“Just for that, I’m taking back the shirt and lending you one of Cora’s spare jumpers instead.”

“God, no. She has frills on everything.

Moneypenny bit back her quip about his ability to pull off frills. Given enough time, he would tell her what was on his mind; but if she kept bantering, they’d be stuck there for the rest of the day in an endless loop of snark.

Of course, she’d snark at him no matter what was on his mind, but at least it would be productive snark.

He took a slow sip of his tea and looked at her. “Do I act like I hate 007?”

She raised an eyebrow. Of course. 007. It was always 007. She wondered what it was exactly she’d done in a past life to deserve having to listen to the tangled web that was his and Q’s non-existent romance. “No, you act like you think you should act like you hate him even if you don’t.”

It took him a long moment to parse that out. “That sounds ridiculous.”

“The pair of you are ridiculous, so that makes perfect sense.”

“He thought I hated him.” Q sighed, resting his head on his knees.

“When honestly the problem is that it’s the exact opposite.”

He made a face. “Would you stop knowing everything? It makes it so tempting to kill you.” He took another sip. He was too tired to go to the effort of denying it, especially since plausible deniability flew out the window when one was found crouched under a desk and covered in sugar. “Does everyone know, then?”

“Only the ones who aren’t idiots.”

“Which really only means you and Tanner. Brilliant. Possibly M, though I don’t think he’d care enough to know.”

“Oh, he knows. And some of the more sensible ones around MI6—Beatrice and your loyal minion Nick, for example. None of us were surprised when he started hitting on you,” Moneypenny reflected. “You’re exactly his type—clever, attractive, and far too proud to treat his advances with anything more than bland sarcasm.”

He snorted. “What do you mean ‘advances’? That’s a polite fiction. All he’s ever done is compliment my bum. And his compliments tend to be more of the hands-on variety.”

Moneypenny shrugged. “It’s a lovely bum.”

“It is, isn’t it,” Q said. “But it would have been nice to be asked out for dinner instead of getting groped in the elevators all the time.”

She winced. “Oh, Q...”

 “It isn’t that I never wanted to sleep with him... it’s just that I never wanted to only sleep with him.” He supposed he’d gotten that last night, though. That was enough.

It had to be, at any rate.

“And now Edward and all the agents are mixed up in this mess. It’s gone on for too long, hasn’t it?” Q scrubbed at his face. “Well. I told him I didn’t hate him, so that’s sorted. And it’s hardly a hardship to go to bed with him.”

Moneypenny hoped she was wrong, but she wasn’t particularly optimistic as she asked, “Do you mean to say you’re just going to go up and proposition him?”

“Well, yes.”

“After he did the same thing to you, and you kept ruthlessly rejecting him? You’re going to do the exact same thing? Do you know what the definition of insanity is?”

He frowned. “But I’ll be sleeping with him for the greater good.”

“Well, if it’s for the greater good, then of course. Why not? How could I ever have doubted your strategy? He’ll be absolutely thrilled to hear that you’re prostituting yourself for the greater good.”

Q huffed at her. “Edward was fine with me prostituting him for biscuits.”

Men,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’d be amused by how selectively obtuse you are, if it wasn’t so infuriating. Right, I give up. I have governments to terrorize on M’s behalf. I’ll be back to help you fix it when you’ve bungled things further.”

“There will be no bungling. I know what I’m doing!” he called after her.

“You really, really don’t,” she called back.  “And it’s salad for you at lunch today. You can’t seduce Bond if you’re dying of vitamin deficiency.”

***

Bond’s deadpan expression gave Q’s a run for its money. “No.”

“That’s rather selfish of you,” Q observed as he pushed the regulation gun and radio towards him. He knew that Q-Branch was listening in, and didn’t bother lowering his voice. They were loyal to him, and he figured that the faster the news went out that he’d done the necessary, the better it would be for all concerned. “All I ask is one night of passion. Actually, not even that. Passion is optional. You can lie back and think of England.”

“You make it sound so appealing.”

“Oh, I see how it is. You’ve simply decided that I’m no longer attractive, now that I’m practically throwing myself at you?”

“I’ll admit that I liked you better when you weren’t.”

Q gave him a steady look.  “I see. I can pretend to struggle if that’s what you prefer.”

The Q-Branch members stiffened. Almost as though they’d choreographed the move, all of them began reaching for their screwdrivers.

Bond’s face went hard and dangerous, and he stalked towards him. “Do not,” he said softly, “even joke about that.”

He didn’t even flinch. “Why not tell me what you want, then?” he asked. “I’m capable of a great many things.”

“Perhaps I want you to back off.”

“Back off or bend over?”

“You remember what you told me about friendly, playful banter between colleagues? I believe I’m starting to see your point.”

“How interesting. And of course, as you persisted despite all warnings I made at the time, I see no reason why I shouldn’t do the same.” He flashed him a cheeky smile. “I’m quite stubborn.”

“You’re a menace,” Bond said wearily. “Perhaps you should have been a Double-O agent instead of quartermaster. God knows you’re dangerous enough.”

At that, Q-Branch snorted. “Oh no, Mr. Bond,” Q drawled. “I’ll think you’ll find that we’re the most lethal of MI6. I’m right where I ought to be, really. For example, if I were—strictly hypothetically, of course—to offer a lightsaber to any member of MI6 who could help me put an end to this ridiculous impasse, well. I’m fairly sure that it would be someone from Q-Branch who’d succeed.” He picked at his cuffs. “On the understanding that this is all strictly hypothetical, naturally, because of course I didn’t manage to make more lightsabers, and of course it wouldn’t be a loophole in the agreement with China for me to offer it to whomever I like exclusively for civilian, recreational purposes.”

Bond stared at him in horror. As one, Q-Branch turned to Bond like zombies scenting fresh meat. “You little sod.“

“I suggest you run, 007,” he said gleefully, as Q-Branch started to converge upon him. 007 glared at him before he made his escape.

“Dibs!” Peter yelled, jumping to his feet and tearing out the door. “Dibs, oh my god, I’ve slept on Star Wars sheets since I was ten—

“No dibs,” snapped Scott. Good Lord. Scott had consistently low scores on all the physical exams, and there he was, diving over desks like a Double-O. “There is no such thing as friendship when lightsabers are at stake. Blood will be shed.

“No deadly force,” Q called out after them as they swarmed out the door. “Don’t think I don’t see that Semtex, Nick.”

“Spoilsport.”

Luckily the mission roster for the time being was rather sparse; nothing he couldn’t handle himself. “I mean it, boys and girls, if you get him killed, the prize is forfeit. My mandatory psychological evaluations are complicated enough without introducing necrophilia into the equation.”

Personally, he put his money on Ivy. The woman was on the PTA of her daughter’s school, after all. As far as he was concerned, that was only one step away from organized crime; capturing Bond would practically be a yoga retreat for her.

***

It only took two hours for MI6 to divide itself into three camps. One was the ‘Q looks like something you’d find mewing in a cardboard box on a street, needing to be adopted and taken to a good home; there is no way we’re going to let him have sex, ever’ group. All of the Double-Os were part of it, which made them a force to be reckoned with. It was thanks to this group that Bond had managed to evade the vicious hordes and get on the plane to his mission. At that, Q had declared a cessation of all hostilities, because there were still terrorists out there and even 007 couldn’t fight criminals and MI6 at the same time.

Well. He probably could, but Q wasn’t overly eager to have him break his current mission body count record.

The second group was ‘Yes, Q is a wee and adorable baby otter, but lightsabers.’ They were working on capturing Bond with the single-minded ferocity they usually reserved for child molesters. Which, now that Q thought about it, was not a very good analogy. He also made the mistake of mentioning it to a few people in the second group, which resulted in them taking a long look at him, turning a sickly shade of whey, and defecting to the first camp.

The third group was Moneypenny and Tanner, who looked at Q with the kind of expression teachers wore while talking to a child who thought crayons were a food group.

“Now, yes, we have had some... minor incidents lately,” Q said carefully, “but the important thing, the thing we should really focus on, is that no one has been seriously hurt, everyone’s getting a bit of exercise, and the world isn’t ending. Yet.”

Moneypenny’s face didn’t twitch a bit. “Semtex, Q.”

“You’re not focusing on the important thing,” Q complained. “I managed to intercept Nick before he used it.”

Tanner gave him the look. “We have civil war in MI6.”

“It’s under control,” Q insisted.

“Later, I’m going to remind you that you said that. And then I will laugh,” Tanner promised.

“I love how the two of you act completely above it all.”

“Because we are.”

“Because you already have your own lightsabers.”

Moneypenny perched on his desk and stole his mug of tea. “I’m tempted to toss you into therapy. We can’t have you this emotional over every agent getting hurt, Q.  Today it’s Edward getting stabbed and you having everyone hunting down Bond, tomorrow it might be 0011 with a papercut, and then the next thing we know you’ll be draping yourself all over M’s desk, dressed in a chain mail bikini.”

 “Chain mail would probably chafe. Perhaps I could engineer some sort of metal alloy that would be supple and durable at the same time.”

She sighed. “You keep making the psychologists cry.”

“They’re the ones who keep telling me that crying is cathartic. It’s good for them. Look, just keep running interference with M, would you please? We can’t have him wrecking the game this soon.”

“He’s not dumb, Q.”

“Well, no, but he also wants a lightsaber,” Q said. M wouldn’t be much use at his job if he didn’t know exactly what was going on with his subordinates bounding around trying to capture their top agent, after all; but in the end, he was only a man. A man who’d watched the film masterpiece that was Star Wars and held a deep-seated love for shiny weapons that could cut through anything. “You just have to make sure that his professionalism doesn’t get in the way of that.”

“Oh, you are evil. God forbid you ever turn against MI6.”

“Who, me?” he asked, all innocence.  “Certainly not. Take over it, maybe, but not turn against it.”

“At any rate, the point is moot,” Tanner said. “I already got him to sign off on it as a training exercise.” He shrugged at their incredulous faces. “It’s been a slow day, and at least the children get to enjoy themselves. On a completely unrelated note, 007 may have boobytrapped M’s office the last time he was refused mission clearance on the grounds that he’s bloody insane. Not that M holds a grudge, of course.”

Q snorted. “I think Tanner’s the one we should be worrying about taking over MI6.”

“Oh, he already has,” Moneypenny said airily. “Shame that most people don’t know it yet.”

***

Q didn’t startle when he felt hands drop to his shoulders. He also didn’t object when the person behind him reached out to press the mute button on the comm, but he still made sure to keep a wary eye on 007 jumping from one window ledge to another.

The hands started massaging his knotted muscles, drawing out a soft purr of contentment from the quartermaster. “I’m busy, you know.”

“I’m sure 007 can go a few minutes without listening to your dulcet tones,” Nick said. “He doesn’t seem like he’s being shot at. Which is odd. What date is it? We have to mark it on the calendar.”

“I know. Usually he collects bullets like postage stamps. It’s a personality flaw of his. Anyway, how goes the battle?”

“Escalating. Since you and M both decreed that no one’s allowed to get killed for reasons other than sickness, old age, or sugar overdose, the Double-Os are resorting to honeytrapping our camp over to their side. Bit awkward, really, but it was about time Scott got laid. He was in such terrible need of a good shag that it was starting to give me lust pangs by osmosis.”

“How about you, Nick? Don’t tell me that none of them proposed to ease those secondhand lust pangs for you,” Q teased, leaning into the pressure on his back. “0011 is rather vocal, if that’s what you prefer.”

“Ah, no, I’ve already got someone else in mind.”

“Anyone I know?”

Nick smirked. “Is this you actually asking, or are you finally complying with our agreement to pretend not to know all our dirty little secrets?”

“Now that would be telling,” he said idly, only half-listening to what was going on with Bond’s mission.

“You know, quartermaster, I noticed that you said that the lightsaber goes to ‘anyone who puts an end to the situation’,” Nick said, pausing now. “Not specifically that it should be to play matchmaker with you and 007.”

Q raised an eyebrow. “By all means, if you can create a brainwashing machine to make all the agents kiss my feet, feel free. That more than falls under the scope of the agreement.”

“Not that you really need a machine for it.”

“Apparently I don’t know all your dirty secrets after all. I hadn’t guessed that you had a foot fetish.”

“Badly mistaken there. I have a competence kink, not a foot fetish. And my type seems to run towards tall, dark and snarky creatures.” Nick’s hands slid down to cup his elbows. “Does it have to be Agent Bond, Q? If all you need is a warm body to convince the agents that you’re of the age of consent...”

Q let out a soft laugh. “Very droll, Nick. Your pretence at seduction is terrible, by the way. As though you aren’t fully aware of my feelings for him. If you’re just trying to get me to say it, then yes, it has to be Agent Bond.”

Nick grinned. “I know. And as much as I hate to echo the agents, you’re like family to me.” He paused. “Not really a brother, though. Maybe more of an attractive cousin. The one that I might actually have a go with if I got drunk enough. Or bored enough. Or excited enough by your latest invention. If you actually finish that TARDIS I might have to throw you to the floor and have you right there.  Technogasms are the best.”

“Voyeurism has its appeals, but I only see you as my loyal minion,” Q said, patting him on the arm. “Maybe if I got it into my head to convert you all into my harem of sex slaves. Technogasms are best enjoyed at technorgies. Now, are you going to tell me who’s actually caught your eye?”

“I wasn’t lying about my type,” Nick said with a cryptic little smirk.

Q thought it over for a moment. “Oh Lord. You’re mad.”

“Well, into the valley of death and all that,” Nick said with a shrug. “What do you think of my odds?”

“You just compared it to the charge of the light brigade. I don’t think you need me to tell you about your odds.”

The voice that cut into their conversation was smooth, measured, and downright horrifying. “I can’t decide whether the two of you are talking about Tanner or Moneypenny, but I have to say that either way you’re doomed.”

Q stared in shock down at the comm.

“Oops?” Nick tried to look as innocent as possible. “Seems I may have neglected to press that pesky mute button properly... Q?”

Bond had heard him.

Bond had heard him say that horrible, lovesick, stupidly languishing statement about feelings and how it has to be Bond, no one else would do, and...

He was vaguely aware of both Nick and Bond saying something, their tones getting increasingly worried, but Q’s brain didn’t seem to be processing anything that his ears were hearing. It was as though his body was moving on autopilot, getting up from his chair, shaking off Nick’s hand, muttering a yes—though he had no idea what he was replying to; he thought perhaps it was Nick asking if he was all right, but for all he knew he’d just agreed to adopt a baby or assassinate the Prime Minister...

He stopped.

“Q?” Nick ventured, horror and guilt written all over his face.

Turning to his minion, he put a smile on his face. “Gullible,” he said, flicking Nick on the forehead. “I designed those comms. Do you really think I wouldn’t notice something as simple as the light still being on?”

Nick was silent a moment. He’d seen Q’s expression. The quartermaster was a fantastic liar, but pretending that that hadn’t been real... no one could fake that. “Good of you to go along with it so that we could pull one on Agent Bond,” he said with a weak chuckle.

“Nice try, but that isn’t actually going to get him roaring back home. So no lightsaber for you. You’ll have to do better than that.” Q pushed Nick towards the screen. “And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been running ops for eight hours while you lot have been playing around, trying to make glorified mousetraps for 007. I think I deserve a break.”

Nick slowly exhaled as Q fled. “Moneypenny’s never going to go out with me now.”

As he was reloading his gun, Bond snorted. “What’s amusing is the fact that you thought she ever would have.”

***

Q didn’t come back that day.

Bond got drunk in his hotel room in Sweden.

***

The day after, Q was back and feeding the comms his usual amount of snark.

“That thing with your underling the other day...”

“Moneypenny’s never going to go out with him.”

“That’s what I said. But the part before that—“

“Oh look, sniper.”

Bond cursed, long and colourfully. “Stop changing the subject.”

“I’m not making him shoot you,” Q pointed out with an unnecessary amount of cheer. He really was the sort of charming that was only seen in very small children or serial killers. “He just happens to conveniently be preventing pointless conversations, purely by coincidence. Now focus before you get any more holes in your head. God knows you can’t afford to lose what little brain matter you have now.”

007 didn’t get shot, but he never quite managed to ask Q anything either.

He decided then that it was perhaps time for some drastic measures.

***

“You know, this would all be solved if you two would just talk,” mused Ivy as they ate, three days after Q’s lightsaber announcement. MI6 had descended into levels of madness the likes of which had only been seen when the Maintenance people had decided that it would be a capital April Fool’s Day prank to turn off every single A/C in the middle of a heatwave. Though the sight of the Double-Os strolling around in just their underwear had more than made up for it.

Moneypenny had gone off to parts unknown and wasn’t available for their lunch date, and besides, “it’s good for you to eat with the peons sometimes, Q. Let them know you’re not actually a robot.”

Judging by their horror at his sugar choices, it wasn’t doing an excellent job at convincing them he was human. “There’s no way you still have teeth,” Scott said suspiciously as Q polished off another candied apple. “Those are dentures, aren’t they?”

Q raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Scott. These are dentures. Go ask Medical all about it, they seem to delight in broadcasting my personal details to everyone.”

“They also say that you’re completely sane,” Peter snorted. “Though they always sound like they’re being held at gunpoint when they say it.”

“Why is everyone hacking my file?”

“It makes for entertaining reading. Next best thing to curling up with the Double-O mission logs. You should publish it and make a fortune.”

“I already have a fortune,” Q pointed out.

“Yes, but you can get another one, and then you can give me a cut of it for being the one to come up with the idea.”

“As I was saying, boys,” Ivy said ‘boys’ the same way most people would say ‘psychopathic serial killers’. “Communication.”

“Are you really saying this to me?” Q asked incredulously. “Look around you, Ivy. You’ve half of MI6 convinced that you’re some sort of deadly assassin because you’re part of your daughter’s PTA Board. Not only do you not bother quashing the rumours, you actively encourage them. Peter told his parents he was terminally ill and had joined a cult just so he didn’t have to go home for the holidays. Scott uses Chat Roulette at work and everyone disconnects on him because he tries to talk to them in Klingon. And Margaret ‘forgot’ to talk to her boyfriend for a year while she was testing nuclear weapons in the desert. He thought she was dead.

“Hey!” Margaret protested. “We worked through that.”

Q pinched the bridge of his nose. “Your boyfriend is a Double-O. When I say ‘he thought you were dead’, I mean he went MIA to Russia at around the three-month mark and started hunting down criminal organizations.”

‘Yes, but we still worked through that,” she said, glaring at him.

“When you get him drunk enough, 009 cries about it and starts shooting people.”

She fumbled her fork. “What? I didn’t know that.” She looked at him in consternation. “You’re kidding.”

“No, really, ask Scott. Make him show you the scar on his right buttock.”

Scott groaned. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to come up with a creative war wound story for the ladies when the scar’s on your bum?”

Margaret stared down at her congealing pasta. “I’m an insensitive idiot.” She turned blankly to Q. “I’m you.”

“Congratulations, you’ve just earned yourself inventory fetching duty for the foreseeable future. And while we’re on the subject of the inventory, would you all stop trying to ferret away the equipment? Stop using my budget for your Bond-hunting.”

“I can see it now,” Ivy said ominously. “The civilized world collapses all around us in your quest to get shagged.”

“Stop overreacting. A little apocalypse never hurt anyone. Women always exaggerate,” complained Scott.

Margaret hit him on the arm. “This is why you never get laid.”

“I think it has to do with all his first date attempts at conversation in Klingon, actually,” Q commented. “I don’t understand why. You always hear the ladies go on and on about sexy French accents, but the moment you break out the tlhIngan Hol they can’t get away fast enough—“

They’d all gone worryingly quiet. Peter’s hands moved to cover his crotch. He blinked once, then turned around to see Moneypenny, Beatrice and Cora all standing behind him.

Well, now he understood Peter’s reaction. He approved wholeheartedly; it was a perfectly natural and sane response around the three furies.

“But I didn’t even talk about any of you,” he complained. “I thought that you had to speak of the devil before it came.”

“That’s our Q, all right,” muttered Margaret. “Always rushing in where angels fear to tread.”

Moneypenny stared down at him, and Q froze. “What—what’s happened?”

“Bond’s returned,” she said crisply.

“Yes, I see, but. Your face—Moneypenny, what happened?” He was vaguely aware of upsetting the remains of his lunch and spilling syrup everywhere as he got to his feet.

Beatrice put a hand on his arm. “He was injured, Q. By the Evac team. Who wanted to cash him in for your lightsaber bounty.”

Q stood there for a long moment. He had no idea what expression it was on his face that made Cora flinch and step towards him. “Q, no, wait, we’re sorry, please stop looking like that—“

“Shut up, Cora,” Moneypenny said sharply. “He needs to hear this. Come on, Q.” She yanked on his arm. “You’re coming with us.”

***

It took Q ages to snap out of whatever haze had come over his thoughts when Beatrice had said he was injured, so he didn’t immediately register where they’d bodily dragged him to.

“You three are pathological liars,” he snapped, taking in the sight of candlelight and posh table settings, and a very whole, uninjured Bond sitting at an intimate table for two. The whole restaurant had been cleared out just for them, and—oh. Bond really was unexpectedly sentimental; Q’s ears warmed as he remembered the first time they’d met in the National Gallery, visible through the window and just a  hop and a skip away. The idea that he’d deliberately picked out such a place instead of taking him to some other trendy, probably overrated location, did strange things to his stomach. “The Portrait Restaurant? Really? Could you be any more of a cliché?”

“It was either that or actually getting a ship and having it done up to look like the Fighting Temeraire, but that seemed a little overdramatic.”

“Whereas emptying the restaurant which requires a six-week waiting period for a table and not-very-subtly alludes to our first meeting isn’t dramatic at all,” Q said blandly. “Not to mention my abduction, but then again I suppose that’s par for the course with you. I came here expecting to walk right into the setting of a horror film, and instead it’s a romcom. Where’s the blood? The missing limbs? Why are you still breathing?”

Bond shrugged. “I stubbed my toe while Evac was chasing after me.”

Q turned around to run back out, but Beatrice stepped into his path. And while Q considered hair-pulling a valid fighting tactic, he was pretty sure that Cora would smother him with her fluffy scarf if he tried anything. His death by fleece wasn’t a topic he wanted to be bandied about at his funeral. Also, his brother already thought he was a closet furry; he didn’t need auto-erotic asphyxiation to be added to his supposed kinks.

He blinked before piecing it together. “You apologized. You felt guilty because—oh, for the love of God. This was your plan, wasn’t it, Cora? Really?”

“I like lightsabers,” she said firmly, though there were still residual traces of guilt in her tone. “And it was a good plan.”

“Yes you do, yes it is, and you oughtn’t let him make you feel bad about it. Never apologize for conniving to obtain lightsabers. He’d have done much worse in your shoes, believe me. Now, Q, either you stay or the TARDIS goes up in flames. Tanner’s rigged up bombs in your private projects lab,” Beatrice said, kissing him on the cheek. “Have fun, play nice, and remember—if you’re feeling spunky, wrap your monkey. Safe sex always.”

“I’m signing you up for one of those harassment seminars,” he threatened as they exited. “No, you know what? I’ve been a good boy about filling out HR paperwork properly, but from now on there’ll be lots of blank sections and the words ‘007’S FAULT’ scrawled on every other page.”

He turned back to Bond with a scowl. “And I suppose you expect me to talk?”

His lips quirked up into the ghost of smile. “No, quartermaster, I expect you to dine.”

***

Q hadn’t even been offered a menu, but he made no objections since a waiter had placed eight different desserts in front of him before vanishing. He poked at the pistachio crème brulee with his spoon. “Is this poisoned? M will be very cross if you poison me.”

“If I was going to kill you, I would shoot you.”

“Yes, but you might not be trying to kill me. You might poison me with something slow-acting. Then, while I’m in the process of dying, you withhold the antidote until I agree to stop trying to get you to have sex with me.” As a side note, his psychological profile had, once upon a time in an innocent world where quartermasters didn’t apply creative editing skills to their files, stated that he suffered from severe paranoia, but obviously that wasn’t true. They’d only written that because they were conspiring to make him seem crazy before they killed him.

“That assumes that I want you to stop trying.”

“Oh.” Q blinked. “Does that mean we’re having sex now?”

“Your responses to situations are... worrisome.”

“I had a unique childhood,” he said with a shrug, starting on the sorbets before they could melt. “I would prefer if we didn’t have to talk before we got to the naked and sweaty part of the evening.”

“Not a fan of discussing things like grown-ups?”

“Not a fan of being lured here under false pretences and blackmailed into staying. It’s a dirty tactic even for you, 007.”

“Whereas recruiting MI6 to kidnap me is a legitimate strategy.”

Q put down his spoon. “It isn’t so much the kidnapping and blackmailing that bothers me, I’m used to that sort of thing.” He ignored Bond’s muttered, “I think unique isn’t exactly the best term for your childhood” and pressed on. “What makes me angry is the way you engineered it. You made me think you were hurt, even dying.”

 Bond paused in the middle of cutting his trout. “And you cared, quartermaster.”

“For God’s sake, Bond, I stayed by Edward’s bedside and held his hand like he was a pretty, pretty princess even when I’d heard his condition had stabilized. Of course I cared, you imbecile. Did you think it helped, hearing that another thing was my fault?”

“Well, when you put it that way, it does sound rather bad, doesn’t it?” He reached out and gently pulled the spoon out of Q’s death grip. “There’s something you aren’t asking.”

Q’s eyes narrowed. “May I go now, please?” he bit out.

“Wrong question.”

“Does Tanner really have bombs strapped to my pet projects?”

“Never doubt that Tanner has bombs. Also, still the wrong question.”

“What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?”

“It’s rather a novel situation for me not to be the most awkward person in a conversation about feelings,” Bond mused. “No one will ever believe it.”

What do you want?”

“You.”

He sat back in his chair, resisting the urge to stab him with the cutlery. “Fine,” he ground out. With a swift motion, he yanked his jumper over his head.

“You,” clarified Bond. “Not just sex with you. Do keep up, quartermaster, it isn’t like you to be this slow.”

“Ah.” Q went still. “You could have led with that.”

“In retrospect, that would have been faster.”

“Probably would have been.” They ate in silence for a few moments.

Q tapped his fingers against the table, the sound muffled by the cloth. “Well, I can’t really see M letting you all put me on a reality show, what with the secret intelligence organization thing. And Moneypenny would object to having me appear on the telly without at least combing my hair first.”

“You’re really determined to make this difficult, aren’t you?”

“You’re the one changing all the parameters, Bond.”

“You’re the one who set them without telling me. Tell me, is it that you have such low self-esteem that you think that no one can want more than just to sleep with you, or do you really think that I’m so sex-obsessed that I would repeatedly subject myself to your very cruel rejections for the sake of a quick shag?”

“The latter,” Q replied without hesitation. “Mission records don’t lie—unless I want them to, anyway. You’re obviously mad. And masochistic. And you’re possibly the first person I’ve ever met who’s accused me of having low self-esteem. Well done, that’s got something crossed off my bucket list.”

Bond gave him a withering look. “Glad to be of service.” He placed a hand over Q’s, stilling his restless fingers. “We can dance around this all night, or you can just tell me what ridiculous thing you want me to do so you believe that I’m not just after your virginity. Unless you’re going to ask me to kill the Queen, in which case I’ll have to safeword out of this liaison before it’s even started.”

Q blinked, staring at their linked fingers, then moving his gaze upwards to his face. Because he knew what 007 looked like when he was working on a mark, he’d catalogued all his facial expressions the same way that Q-Branch had catalogued his (and wasn’t it charming that they thought he didn’t know about it) and... oh.

Bond was just as nervous as he was.

He let out a short laugh. “For the record, you can’t be after my virginity. You’re about a decade too late for that.”

“A decade? So you were... about six or seven? You must have been a precocious infant. Not that it’s really that surprising, considering you still are one.”

“Shut up, Bond, I believe you. Now quit while you’re ahead or you’ll have to wait a decade until I decide to let you near me.”

“I could try waiting,” Bond muttered.

“Would you?”

“I wouldn’t make promises. But I’d probably manage, if only to prove you wrong. And also because you’re lovely despite being a pain in the arse. Just to be clear, though, you really do believe me? You aren’t allowed to take it back, Cora’s got her heart set on that lightsaber and Moneypenny will be very annoyed if she has to pull another one of these stunts.”

“Well. Mustn’t disappoint Moneypenny, after all. So yes. I believe you, and there’ll be no taking it back.” He rolled his eyes at the expectant look on Bond’s face. “By the way, in case I’d forgotten to say, I rather like you too.”

Bond was, of course, still Bond. “That much was obvious.”

“I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: shut up, Bond.”

***

The silence lasted for all of five minutes, broken only by the soft chink of cutlery on china, before Bond spoke again. “You’re smiling.” He touched the upturned corners of Q’s mouth. “And for once, it isn’t because something just blew up.”

(Cora discreetly took a photo on her phone from where they were hiding in the kitchen. “What?” she asked, raising her eyebrows when she caught the disapproving looks Moneypenny and Beatrice were shooting her. “It’s for the ‘Q’s Facial Expressions’ study. You can’t disapprove of me if it’s for science.”

“We’re disapproving because you’re not getting the best angle,” Moneypenny corrected. “A little to the right.”)

Q quickly schooled his face back into blankness. “Don’t think that this excuses what you just did, Bond. This is a What The Hell, Hero moment and I’m not letting you be even more of a Karma Houdini than you already are.” Q might have been too much of a professional to randomly watch porn at work, but he felt that surfing TV Tropes was not only justified but necessary after having to deal with MI6 for twelve hours straight.

Sometimes Bond wondered if the things coming out of Q’s mouth were even English. “Does that mean yes or no to sex?”

“Depends how convincing you are.” He fiddled with his napkin and decided that double-checking wouldn’t hurt. “Does the sex come with feelings?”

“Many, many feelings,” Bond deadpanned. “Of the long-term variety.” He squeezed Q’s hand and gave him a slight nod.

I’m serious.

“Really now.”

“There will be cuddling and hand-holding and no kicking you out when we’re done. I could even be persuaded to make you breakfast in the morning.”

“You know how to cook?”

“I could even be persuaded to buy you breakfast in the morning,” he amended. “I have to warn you though, sleeping with me won’t magically heal Edward and prevent your flock of pet agents from ever getting hurt again. I know you’ve all heard good reports, but I think that you’re overestimating what my cock can do.”

“How disappointing.”

His eyes didn’t waver. “Are you really disappointed, quartermaster?”

“No, James.” The smile was back. “When I’m disappointed you’ll know. There’ll be killer robots all over the city. Don’t worry, we’ll be brilliant—we have an excellent foundation of alcohol, sleep deprivation and sarcasm to fuel our...”

“Relationship,” Bond finished when he hesitated. “I’ve been reliably informed that things like these are called relationships.”

The smile was threatening to become a full-blown grin. “Well, then. If sexual healing isn’t on the table, what can your cock do, Agent Bond?”

He smirked, reaching down to pull Q’s face to his. “Didn’t they teach you at your posh little public school? Show, don’t tell.”

***

“...and that’s how the expense report reached the final sum,” Moneypenny concluded, folding her hands neatly in her lap as she explained to M the following day.

He rubbed at his forehead. “I understand the smashed dishes and eight broken tables,” M said. “I accept the small fire, the ‘cleaning fees due to contamination from biological materials’, the cost of having the hole in the wall repaired, having to pay for the lost revenue until the restaurant is operational again, the therapy bills for the chefs and waiter... nothing less than expected. What I don’t understand is that after all that, they still managed to relocate themselves to the National Gallery and cause nearly as much destruction there. Don’t give me that look, Eve. You may not pull field duty anymore, but you’re more than capable of keeping them corralled in a single location.”

She huffed out a half-laugh, half-sigh. When he called her Eve, she knew it was time to be honest. “Blame Cora’s romantic streak,” Moneypenny said. “Bond and Q wanted their first time to be on the bench where they first met. Cora got sentimental and wouldn’t shut up until we let them go.” What she didn’t admit, however, was how she and Beatrice might have gotten the slightest bit misty-eyed themselves.

(And if Cora had also happened to point out that there were enough cameras in the National Gallery to let them view the whole thing from all angles... well.

Q found out almost immediately after when he hacked into the gallery’s records, but he figured that the trio deserved a reward for their deviousness. Besides, his arse looked particularly fantastic in the video, so he had no complaints.

He also saved a copy for himself and Bond, so Bond had no complaints either.)

***

Epilogue:

 When the two of them walked past the security and into MI6 together the following morning, two things happened simultaneously:

“Oh damn, I knew I’d forgotten something,” said Q.

A steel cage fell over their heads, and Peter grinned maniacally at them. “I want my lightsaber to be purple, quartermaster.”

“You should have issued the memo last night,” Bond said flatly. He poked at one of the steel bars and let out a hiss of pain.

“Maybe if Mr. James I’ve-Never-Heard-Of-A-Refractory-Period Bond had let me,” Q sniped, thumbs flying over the screen of his smartphone (if it could still be called such; with all the tinkering he’d done to it, it was practically a palm-sized Death Star). The chimes of text alerts went off everywhere in the building. “Peter, did you finally perfect the anti-Bond forcefield?” He tossed a pen at it and winced at the crackle of energy. “Ah, no, you didn’t. Which means you’ve got your department head sitting inside a glorified taser. And check your bloody inbox.”

Bond pulled out his own mobile and read aloud. “We shagged, Cora wins. No lightsabers for you.”

Cora?” Peter burst out, wide-eyed. “Fluffy kitten Cora?”

“I do like fluffy kittens.” The air filled with the sound of the familiar hum as a glowing red blade appeared a bare inch or two away from Peter. With a controlled yell, he scrambled backwards; the cage fell apart after a few quick slashes.

“Red,” Q said with a little nod of thanks as he and Bond stepped over the debris. “The colour of the dark side.”

She smiled, straightening her flowery skirt. “I named it Glamdring. It makes a very nice pizza cutter.”

Peter stared after her as she walked away. “I think I’m in love.” He trailed off after her, looking ready to propose marriage.

“Your minions forget that there was a reason why she was originally assigned to Q-Branch,” Bond said.

“Her computer skills are solid and deep down, she’s One of Us,” Q agreed. Underneath her flouncy petticoats she was hiding a true geek’s heart. And Captain America boxers, but he’d rather not have to explain to anyone how he found that out. “But she’s not much good under my particular brand of leadership, I’m afraid. She and Beatrice suit each other much better.”

“Probably because your particular brand of leadership would be called workplace harassment by anyone of sane mind.”

“Thankfully, no one is quite of sane mind here.”

Bond’s phone beeped.

And beeped.

And beeped.

And—

“Lots of messages?” Q asked innocently.

He frowned as he went through them, then lifted his gaze to meet Q’s eyes. “Death threats,” he said.

“How shocking.”

“You don’t seem very shocked. Most of these seem to be some variation of ‘You slept with Q, prepare to die’.”

“Any of them from the Double-Os?”

It took him a moment to scroll through his messages, new alerts pinging all the while. “No.”

He laughed. “Well, they’d hardly be courteous enough to let you know in advance, right?” Even as he spoke, Bond ducked and a bullet went whizzing above his head. “Apparently not. Very kind of Scarlett—she’s not usually in a good enough mood to fire off warning shots.”

“That was a warning shot?” 007 reached up and felt where the bullet had taken off the barest quarter-inch of hair.

“If she didn’t hit you, it was a warning shot.” He blinked as 006 dropped from the ceiling. “Hullo, Jack.”

“Morning, Q.” Jack’s eyes lingered on the love bites scattered above his collar, swept to where the cuffs of his shirt had ridden up to reveal finger-shaped bruises, and finally stuttered to a stop at the missing buttons on his cardigan. He reached out a hand to place on his shoulder, but seemed to think better of it. Instead it drifted to the hip holster Q knew he concealed under his jacket. “Slept well?”

“Didn’t get any sleep,” Q said, looking up at him through his lashes. His lower lip quivered. “Everything hurts.”

“Five rounds will do that to you,” Bond said neutrally, not bothering to point out that Q had been far from complaining last night.

“So will being twisted in unnatural positions on a bench for all five rounds.”

“A. Bench,” Jack repeated, flat. He turned to Bond. “His first time, and you had him on a bloody bench!

Bond had already broken into a run, turning the corner before Jack could even take a step.

Jack looked about five seconds away from an aneurysm. “It was a romantic bench?” Q tried. The expression on Jack’s face was more psychotic than the mosaic of serial killers their profiling team liked to play darts with. He sighed. “Oh, very well. Do try not to make too much of a mess, at least. You’ve no idea what our poor cleaning staff has to deal with.” He paused. “Oh yes, now will you all stop being such arses about me monitoring the honeytrapping?”

With a pained look, Jack pulled him tightly into a hug. “You poor thing.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Your innocence, gone,” Jack said mournfully. “We’re going to avenge you.” Giving Q one last squeeze on the arm, he took off after Bond.

“I’m taking that as a yes!” Q called after him.

***

Q’s phone beeped later that day, the name Austin Powers flashing on the display. In what universe does ‘it was a romantic bench’ ever work? He had to give credit where it was due: texting with proper capitalization and punctuation was difficult when people were trying to assassinate you.

I did tell you that I wasn’t going to let the emotional manipulation slide.

So your answer was to sic all the Double-Os on me.

Attempted murder seemed like the appropriate response.

One of these days you and I are going to have a chat about your ‘unique’ childhood.

***

Bond opened his eyes an untold number of hours later in Medical. “Am I dead?” Q was perched on the side of his bed, tapping away at a tablet. “You’re here. This must be hell.”

“Rude. And to think I told Genevieve not to strap you down.” He tipped a wink at Genevieve, who was bustling around and making notes on Bond’s chart. “I’ll let her break out the chains and whips next time.”

“You do spoil a girl, quartermaster,” she drawled. “You’ve a concussion, 007, but other than that you’re miraculously fine. Considering how many people were gunning for you today, I’d chalk it up as a win.”

Bond sighed. “Who got me?”

Q didn’t look up from his tablet. “Kyle.”

“I don’t even know who that is.”

“Economic Intelligence?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“He’s the hopelessly lovestruck one who attempts to feed Q on a regular basis,” Genevieve said.

“Very helpful. That narrows it down to about three-quarters of MI6.”

“Looks like a horse?” she tried.

“Oh, that one. Quiche boy.”

Q fought not to smile. “You’re both horrible.”

“You love it,” Genevieve said breezily. “I’ll leave you two now. I’m obligated to tell you not to shag here, but if you do, be polite and clean up afterwards. Remember that you’ve a concussion, so if you get dizzy and pass out while having sex, Q had better put some clothes on you before calling me.” She contemplated Bond’s biceps. “Or don’t, actually.”

Q batted at her. “Paws off, Viv. I gave you Edward already.”

“You sold him, you mean. Fair trade—those biscuits were the good kind.” She grinned, blowing him a kiss as she sashayed off.

“Of course you use Double-Os as currency,” Bond said resignedly. “So, how come no one murdered me in my sleep?”

“M issued a no-kill order. It was getting boring anyway. I managed to convince most of them I wasn’t too traumatized by the loss of my chastity, though at least they’ve all agreed to stop being so ridiculous about my mission-monitoring. Something about how nothing they ever do can scar me as badly as being in a relationship with you? Your reputation precedes you, in any case.”

“I’m a fantastic shag.”

“You’re also a notorious womanizer. They’re circulating a petition to have you fired if you don’t put a rock on my finger and make an honest man out of me.”

“You? Honest? Perish the thought.”

“I know. Silly agents. Not that they’d really ever get you fired. They’re far more likely to just outright kill you. Oh, but we both have to show up for another round of ‘mess with the psychologists’.”

“Mandatory evaluations. Perfect,” he muttered. “Do I at least get a lightsaber for my troubles?”

“Of course not,” Q sniffed. “You wouldn’t properly appreciate it, you Luddite.”

Bond shook his head. “Well, I see how I rate in your books.”

“...I may have made something else.” Q slid over a small contraption with a multitude of buttons. “Not that it means anything. It was just something I’ve been working on in my spare time. It’s a Type 2 Phaser 2371... not that you’ve even heard of Star Trek, but. I know you prefer guns. I thought you wouldn’t have much use for a light saber, it isn’t really your style, so...”

Bond looked down at it as Q babbled on. “You made me a gun.”

“It’s not just a gun, you heathen. You’re holding a directed-energy weapon that can shoot non-lethal or lethal energy at a target without any projectile, and I coded it to your palm print, and I will kill you if you happen to lose it—“

He was cut off by Bond kissing him silent. “Thank you for the gun,” Bond murmured.

Q rolled his eyes. “Phaser.”

“Is this the Q-Branch equivalent of ‘I love you’?” Bond teased.

“No,” Q groused, shoving at him.

***

Except yes, it completely was.

A few missions later, Bond would use it on the field, and all of Q-Branch would let out a collective scream when they saw it. “YOU GAVE HIM THE TECHNOLOGICAL EQUIVALENT OF ASKING TO HAVE HIS BABIES AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN TELL US.”

Nick would give Q a toaster as a ‘belated wedding gift’. Q would give it artificial intelligence and teach it how to shoot bread projectiles at recalcitrant minions. Bond would ignore the fact that everyone would end up calling the sentient toaster James Jr., though secretly he would play toast-catch with ‘Jimmy’ whenever he was free.

Three months later, Bond would just tell Q flat-out one night in bed: “I can’t make you a gun. But I love you.”

“It’s a phaser,” Q would whine, even as he settled into his arms.

***

Extra:

“Late, quartermaster,” Nick sniped, holding out a mug of tea for him to grab as Q dashed by, hair a mess and coat haphazardly thrown on. “0011’s been waiting ten minutes for you already.”

“A wizard is never late,” Q muttered, gulping down the tea. “He arrives precisely when he means to.”

“By which you really mean to say, ‘my dangerous secret agent man kept me in bed for round three of morning sex’,” Ivy corrected.

“Yes, that was exactly what Gandalf meant to say.” Q skidded to a stop in front of his customary tables at the very front of the room. “Cederic, so sorry. I’ve already got your equipment ready. Or it should be ready, otherwise I’m appointing Margaret tea slave for the rest of the year.” He plucked the necessary items off the metal tray she handed him. “Very good. Looks like Nick’s stuck being my caffeine source after all. Palm-print gun, bulletproof vest, miniature earpiece, radio—“

He trailed off, realizing that 0011 was gawking at him. “What?”

“You have... something. On your face.”

Q rubbed self-consciously at his chin. “Right. I was in a hurry.” He would have cursed Bond and his ridiculous stamina, but. Well. Obviously, sex.

“What is that?” he demanded.

“A gun, Cederic. I know you’ve seen them before.”

“No, no, on your face. There’s some sort of strange... cancerous growth? Do you need to go to Medical?”

He rolled his eyes. “Does stubble look that awful on me?”

“Stubble? You’re old enough to grow facial hair?” he said incredulously. “Well, Christ, Q. Why didn’t you just tellus that you weren’t a toddler? It would have made things so much easier.”

“...oh for fuck’s sake. I knew I should have just grown a beard.”

<3 End