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Before and After

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R is worried.

She does not let it show on her face. Q is not here - and that’s the problem, isn’t it? - and so leadership falls on her shoulders. It’s become a more familiar weight these past few months; she is worried.

Jeremy glances at her for the third time in five minutes. There’s an unease that hums in Q-Branch. R sits resolute at her station and keeps her head high, her face confident and her gaze strong. Jeremy turns away to focus on his screen, shoulders tight.

To the far right, Susannah types sporadically, frowning. Next to her, Kevin taps his fingers on the desk, over and over and over again. Across from R, Melissa won’t stop looking at the doors. R’s fingers twitch; she corrects the resulting error in code.

Q is not here. Q is late. Q is later beyond all previous standards, and R is five minutes away from hacking into the CCTV cameras near his flat.

Q has been late before, of course. More and more often lately. They are Q-Branch and he is Q; of course they know. But they are Q-branch and he is Q, so they say nothing, pretend as if they haven’t noticed, don’t breathe a word to outsiders.

They understand unity. R understands loyalty.

R checks the time again. Q was meant to be in an hour ago. Should she inform M? Miss Moneypenny? Q has left instructions in the event of his disappearance, but she is hesitant to admit that he’s undoubtedly in danger. It's almost as if the second she succumbs to such fears, they will turn true.

Q is armed with three tracking devices he can activate in the case of emergency. Surely he would have done so. Surely -

The doors fly open, and Q walks in.

An audible sigh sweeps through Q-Branch. R relaxes. She smiles before she realizes she shouldn’t. The look on Q’s face makes her want to call up 004 and press five explosives in those elegantly-manicured hands and point and say shoot him, shoot him.

He looks like a lost child, hiding in the vast bulk of his jacket. Nothing like the competent, brilliant leader and genius she knows he is, that he’s proven himself to be. There is no sunshine in his eyes, no joy in his unsmiling lips.

“Good morning, everyone,” he says, and Q-Branch deflates as a whole. Q’s voice is too soft, too flavourless. He heads to his station, shoulders slumped and steps small, and R doesn’t stop herself from walking up to him hesitantly.

“Q,” she says and falters. Somehow, “Are you okay?” doesn’t seem appropriate. Doesn’t seem to encompass the desperate tired sadness that’s swallowed Q whole. “What can I do?” she asks instead.

Q blinks slowly at her. There’s something very fatigued in the sluggishness of his every movement, but after a second, she’s rewarded with a faint smile. “If you could outfit all of the agents due to leave today, that would be marvellous.”

R nods, already going down the list she keeps locked up inside of her brain. That’ll be 006, 009, and 004 today. “Of course.” And then because there is one universally known antidote to anything Q-related, “I’ll get you some tea, Q.” She turns to leave.


R turns to look over her shoulder, and Q says simply, “Thank you.” The immensity of the drained appreciation knocks the breath out of her lungs, and she instantly resolves to do more, to ask after Q more, because these small favours shouldn’t warrant such gratitude.

Outwardly, however, she says, “You’re welcome,” and marches off to make Q’s tea exactly how he likes it.

In the late afternoon, Marian places a gentle hand on R’s elbow, and R pauses.

“Have you heard?” Marian asks, and the severe meaning that entangles itself with her words and the thin line of her lips concerns R at once. Despite the soft touch, there's more 004 in her intent green eyes than Marian Martinez, and that's never a good sign in the relatively safe zone of Q-Branch. 

“Heard what?” R answers truthfully. She's been preoccupied with instructing agents and outfitting agents and shouting at agents all day. In-between, she checks on Q and corrals the rest of Q-Branch, who are off-task and making sure Q’s teacup is always filled.

Marian only looks more apprehensive. “Oh dear,” she says, almost as if to herself. “I thought...well. How has our dearest Q been today?”

R doesn’t understand the question. It merely makes her more wary. “The usual,” she says with a shrug. It’s an innocuous answer. Any eavesdropping ears learn nothing. This is MI6, and R knows how to play the game well, especially with Double-Ohs.

But this particular Double-Oh is fond of Q, and Q is fond of her in turn. Marian, who is R’s confidant, who is awake at night to hear R fuss over the increasingly darker circles under Q’s eyes and his ever later hours, frowns delicately. “Only that?” she says.

“Well.” R pauses for but a second. “Maybe a bit more than the usual.”

Marian nods as if she expected this. “I suppose he does know, after all,” she says with an unfortunate mix of sadness and resignation.

R is well-versed in secrets, and yet, still, she is impatient. “Know what?”

Marian looks at her with vague pity. “Know that James Bond is back, love.”

The world falls out from R’s feet.

“No,” she hears herself say from a distance, and even to her, her voice sounds small and cold.

“I’m sorry,” Marian says. “I would offer to kill him, but I don’t think that would help, because he’s just that much of a bastard.”

R isn’t quite listening. “No,” she insists again, and now, her voice trembles with indignant anger. “No, how dare he?”

Because R was the one who walked into Q-Branch that one early morning to find Q sitting listlessly in his chair, staring at his screen without typing a key. Because R asked why and Q shrugged and there was an empty space in the garage and pain in Q’s silent rocking.

Because R has worried after Q and tried to nudge him into his previous vibrance and made him his tea and where has James Fucking Bond been?

“Is he here?” she asks, clear and low. Two desks away, Brian pokes his head up, looking alarmed. R doesn't care.

Marian, however, smiles like she approves. “Not if he has any sense. You look like you would murder him given a breath’s provocation.”

“Damn right,” R says and outfits 004 while coding up several new and searingly fatal modifications to Q-Branch’s security system.