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Before and After

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Q is...quieter after James is gone.

Eve doesn’t think many people notice it. Q carries on the same way he always has, professional and competent, corralling his Branch into efficiency and nudging his agents towards whatever safety he can offer them. He dresses in the same horrible cardigans, goes home at the same atrocious times, and continues to subsist on tea.

Most people aren’t Eve, though, and she sees it. It’s in the small things, as most things are, because Q may not be a field agent, but he’s a leader in espionage and a genius, and there are some mannerisms you just pick up after spending enough time in the shadows like hiding vulnerabilities and pretending everything is okay when it isn’t.

There’s less fire in Q now. Less of that formidable conviction behind his words, although his steel spine remains as unbent as before. Q has the respect of all the agents, including the Double-Ohs, for a reason, but his presence seems a bit muffled now, the line of his shoulders less straight.

He doesn’t speak up as often in meetings, preferring to sit and listen. And he walks into meetings in the same rumpled clothes he wore to work that morning, and to Eve’s trained eyes, it’s painfully obvious how the professional touches from before are missing: the straightened and sometimes better-matched ties, the smoothed-down hair, the clean lines of his trousers.

Q works later into the nights these days. He comes in later, stays later. His work is as impeccable as always, all boasting of the serrated, razor-sharp edges that Q’s own mind uses to shred and rip problems apart, but somehow, Q seems to be getting work done twice as fast as before.

Eve doesn’t even have to walk down to Q-Branch with an armful of papers for him to sign under the threat of more board meetings anymore. It’s scaring her.

He banters less with the agents over comms. Well. That’s not strictly accurate. 98% of Q’s unprofessional conversations over comms was with one Double-Oh in particular. The other 2% was Q threatening agents with death threats and idle talk during slower missions.

Certainly, Eve has heard less of M’s sighs when mission transcripts land on his desk. She’s not certain that’s a good thing. Dealing with the merger remains a headache and a half for them, although with C gone, there’s less tension involved directly.

Finally, after two months of this moping has passed, Eve has had enough. On a nice Friday night, she wraps up her work for the day, bids farewell to M, and grabs her things before striding to down Q-Branch. The few employees still lingering in the halls part for her like the Red Sea before Moses, and she feels a lingering satisfaction that she’s lost none of her touch, no matter how stressful the last six months have been.

Q-Branch is a skeleton of its usual self. There are only three boffins remaining, and one is packing up for home. The other is talking to Q, but from the frown on Q’s lips and the firm shake of his head, she isn’t having much luck.

Eve sympathises. But that doesn’t mean she’ll give up on her mission.

Waiting patiently by the doorway for the two minions to leave, she walks right up to Q’s desk the instant they’re gone. “We’re going out for a drink,” she informs him.

Q blinks up at her, a bit startled but still dulled over with the bleakness that she’s grown so tired of seeing. “Miss Moneypenny - ”

“No excuses. Come on. It’s Friday, there hasn’t been an international incident all week, and you can stand to leave your laptop for a few hours. Grab your coat, and shut everything down. A drink will do you good.”

Through a combination of weedling, ordering, and outright steamrolling, Eve manages to get Q out of his office and into a bar, ignoring his protests all the while. And when he orders a martini, she doesn’t say a word.

An hour later, his head is leaning against her shoulder, and she’s stroking his hair. He’s so thin, she thinks, eyeing his cheekbones, which have always been sharp but now look as if they’re cutting into his skin. Thinner than he was, well, before. She doesn’t know if it’s because his appetite is poor or if it’s because someone used to leave tea and meals on his desk before.

Before. She’s starting to hate that word. Soon, she’s going to start thinking of Q in two stages: Before James and After James. It’s almost enough for her to start wishing that James will come back just so she can sock him a good one.

“I know who you’re thinking of,” Q says suddenly, breaking their companionable silence with the elephant in MI6 they’ve so far been able to avoid talking of.

Eve smiles weakly. “Yeah?”

Q stares ahead of him at the wall blankly. “You’re thinking of Bond,” he says, and there’s nearly an accusation in his voice.

Eve doesn’t try and deny it. “So are you,” she replies instead.

Q’s laugh is bitter and cracked. “When am I not?” he asks, and she doesn’t know how to answer that without bringing up truths they swore to never so much as acknowledge on one drunk night months ago similar to this one.

So, Eve just continues to stroke his hair and orders him another martini. Later, she manoeuvres him into a cab she called for them and goes with him to his flat, where his cats, well-fed and brushed to perfection, pad up to them with concerned meows.

She manhandles Q into his bed and places a bucket beside him for the morning. Q’s utterly smashed by this point, and even Eve’s agent-tolerance is a little stretched. Despite her tipsiness, though, she knows she’ll remember tomorrow the way Q mumbles into his pillow, “I thought he cared.”

Eve closes the bedroom door behind her silently and slumps against it with a sigh.

“I thought he did, too,” she murmurs to herself.