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What A Pity You're Not Earnest

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What A Pity You’re Not Earnest

 

It started when Bond left.

That’s a lie, but it’s what Q lets them think. Bond leaves them on a bridge, leaves him without so much as a backwards glance. Moneypenny glances at him in concern.

“How about a drink?” she suggests sunnily, nudging at M without an ounce of subtlety, because he can’t say no to the boss right? Wrong.

“Great idea,” M says, and “fucking hell I need a beer.”

Moneypenny turns back to him in success, but Q contorts his face into a grimace and begs off without offering an excuse. Eve’s fake cheer slides right off, making way for what is probably pity with a healthy dash of disappointment, but Q can’t be bothered pretending anymore.

*

Later, after he’s actually given the bastard a car, his car, and the bastard drives off in it with the woman he only just met , Q resolves himself to get back to work - his real work - now the other door has been slammed in his face. He writes the Aston Martin project off as ‘ended in abject failure’ in his reports, chucks a few pieces of burnt metal in for evidence and writes cause of loss as ‘James Bond’. Nobody questions him.

That’s when things actually change, after Q has taken the evening to cry about it. More accurately, that’s when things return to how they should have been all along, and Q adds his several year detour into legitimate work into a box in his head labelled: reasons not to fall in love on a job, and resolves to forget all about James bloody Bond.

***

When Bond gets back to MI6 - again - he barely recognises his Quartermaster.

He’s only been gone three months in total. In hindsight leaving England after the first month had been a mistake, but once Bond had got the Aston it seemed a pity not to test it out. They’d meandered through France without incident, but after Germany Madeline had wanted to put down roots, and Bond had ached for home. Three months was hardly a blip, he’d had assignments longer than that, but apparently it had been enough to destroy the friendship he’d built with Q in between missions and hunting down Spectre over the last few years. 

There’s no banter when he checks in, there’s no covert (or blatant) favours or rule bending. There’s no cheeky grin or smug smile as Q shows off his latest gadgets, certainly no late night takeaway or drinks, definitely no crashing on the other’s sofa because it's arse o'clock in the morning and you can’t find your keys. 

There’s no interaction at all.

Bond sees Q in corridors, heading into meetings that he would have thought above his clearance. He sees Q at the head of his lab, his path blocked by Q-branch minions, the occasional robot, and once or twice even a Moneypenny.

“Don’t bother him,” she says bluntly. “He has enough to deal with without you getting in the way.”

“What exactly is he dealing with?” Bond asks, slipping his usual flirtations into his tone considering Eve’s been amenable in the past. She does not look impressed.

“Need to know,” she says snappily, “and you don’t.” She marches him out of the door before he has time to flutter his eyelashes.

He tries to hunt Q down outside of hours a number of times, but either the man has actually gone home - unlikely - or he’s deliberately avoiding Bond. The problem with finding the man who finds people is that, well...the house always wins.

***

“Bond is still making an effort to get back in your good books,” Moneypenny says apropos of nothing, a month and a half after said agent’s return. They’re having lunch, or Eve is having lunch and has chosen to crash Q’s workstation to do so while Q works. “Today he brought me cupcakes from Lily Vanilli,” she continues, “and you know how exquisite they are. I would have brought them to you but you wouldn’t have appreciated them like I did.”

“Bond is no longer in any of my books, good or bad,” Q says curtly, not bothering to look up from his laptop. “R is perfectly well trained to deal with him when required; I do not wish to see him.”

“Okay,” Eve agrees, although he detects more than a glimmer of disappointment in her tone. “Let me know when you do.”

Q gives her a smile, making sure there’s a tremor to his lip as he places one hand briefly on her arm. “Thank you,” he says gently, trying to ignore how easy it is to play the lovesick fool to Eve’s concerned friend. Maybe he is just a lovesick fool. Maybe she is just a concerned friend. Maybe she’s not reporting all of this back to M, but as long as she keeps Bond busy that’s fine with him.

He likes Eve, he really does. He hopes nothing he’s doing fucks her over considering he’s memorised all of her passwords.

***

Bond gets orders to return to London three days after being sent out on his current mission, just when things are getting fun. He doesn’t listen, because there’s explosions to deal and be dealt with, but he does wrap things up after only another two days.

He still hasn’t managed to speak to Q properly in the two months he’s been back from his second (or third if you count being legally dead) retirement, but he had left a new mug on the man’s desk after he heard about an accident with the dishwasher. The mug had been a ridiculous thing Bond had bought months ago, before he’d returned even, but there had never been a good time to present it. Originally he’d planned a whole thing along the lines of ‘ sorry I went road tripping in a car you worked on for months and then left it behind, have a crappy mug? ’ but after it turned out Q had maybe taken that to heart he’d just kept it hidden in his locker until last week. It was a silly thing, a black mug with ‘Digital Queen’ spelt out in a green, pixelated font he’d been assured was “hacker chic” but mainly looked like the space invaders game. In the end he’d just slipped it onto Q’s desk before he'd headed out, receiving a curt nod from Moneypenny lurking in the corner, which he’d taken to mean he had the all clear from her.

He’s pondering whether Q will react at all, wondering whether flowers would be too much as he arrives back at Six, three days after being summoned, only to find the first few levels deserted. He’s on alert immediately, gun out and ready for anything.

Five floors up and signs of life start appearing. A lab tech runs past with a fire extinguisher; someone, maybe a lawyer, is shredding paper in an otherwise empty room. A guard stands in front of a closed door.

“Martin,” Bond says in greeting, lowering his gun. “Wha-”

“Wait here,” Martin interrupts and slips through the door, closing it behind him. Bond frowns; he’s neither accustomed to being interrupted, nor to waiting. Eventually Martin re-emerges and waves him in silently. Behind the door what appears to be the whole of MI6’s upper management turn and stare at him.

“It wasn’t me?” Bond quips with a smirk that no one seems impressed by.

“Agent 007.” A woman he doesn’t recognise addresses him. He’d guess she’s in her early forties, maybe older, black, her skin several shades darker than Eve’s and with short natural hair. Her accent places her from Manchester. Her suit is nice, a power suit if he ever saw one, but it’s still not as nice as Bond’s. If they’d met elsewhere he would have considered his evening sorted. “Why did you not return immediately when recalled three days ago?” she asks calmly, although it’s obviously a demand.

Bond is planning on making a joke, probably something about not being a lapdog, but M catches his eye from where he’s lurking behind the stranger and shakes his head gently. Bond can play ball, for now. He breathes in.

“I was in the middle of a delicate part of the operation; leaving prematurely would have caused irreparable harm to any future mission plans in the area. I thought it prudent to tie up loose ends to be picked up later, either by myself or another agent. As you see fit, of course.”

He sounds like a mission report he didn’t write, one of the ones Tanner would throw at him while he was secretly still tracing Sciarra. He and Q would make up the most ridiculous ways they could disguise “ Bond went to another country, blew shit up, and killed people” to fill them out on boring evenings when neither of them quite wanted to leave yet. Bond has missed those evenings.

“I emailed Moneypenny about it, you can ask her.” Bond looks around but Eve isn’t in the room. “She does still work here?” he jests, and is alarmed when M won’t meet his eye.

“Ms Moneypenny is a suspected collaborator,” the stranger states bluntly, “as are you.”

Bond makes sure he doesn’t react outwardly whilst his mind races. “And what exactly have I been collaborating on?”

“Last night Robert Shaw, formerly the Quartermaster of MI6, fled the country after corrupting the intelligence databases of the UK, US and Russian secret services - that we know of - and crippling the majority of our remaining infrastructure. He is now considered the United Kingdom’s most wanted criminal, guilty of high treason against this country and our allies.” The stranger pauses, and cocks her head slightly, considering. “Have you anything to say for yourself in this matter 007?”

Bond swallows, trying to pretend he hasn’t just had his world shattered. Treason? Q? “If I had been involved, do you think I would have come back?” he jokes to cover up not answering. Maybe he shouldn’t have come back. Maybe he never should have left.

The stranger turns to consult with somebody (another unknown suit, off the rack) and eventually nods. “Welcome back 007; we’ll get you briefed on the situation. Consider yourself cleared for active duty.” 

At her words everyone else in the room returns to whatever they were doing before, which mainly seems to be arguing and brandishing bits of paper at each other. If it’s that easy to get recused of treason Bond wonders what exactly Moneypenny has done.

“This way,” the woman gestures to a door on the other side of the room that M is already heading through. Bond, with few other options, follows.

Robert Shaw , he thinks. Q. Traitor.

*****

When Q burns his bridges he razes them. Anything that isn’t nailed to the metaphorical floor gets deleted, including any hard copies he can get his hands on. In the end he has access to most of MI5, MI6, CIA, FBI, ATF, KGB, Mossad and Beijing’s digital intelligence data, as well as the remaining member states from the Nine Eyes committee. The RGB - North Korea for the uninitiated - had proven to be mostly beyond reach because of their physical isolation from anything else he’s got into, but he leaves a virus lurking on their periphery. With another month he probably could have got in, but he was walking a fine line and his exit time had come.

He destroys any clean aliases the agencies have built up, flags passports, buries informants and erases decades of data. He leaves the cover identities of any active agents in the field, but he does destroy the smart blood program (again) as well as anything else he’s worked on over the last few years.

Years.

It was supposed to be 6 months, but then again it was also supposed to be a two man job. (One inside, one out, except Silva had turned out to have his own agenda, be a lot more psychopathic than he’d first seemed, and also secretly working with another psychopath masterminding a criminal organisation to destroy his adopted brother’s life. Complicated much.) All Q had been hired for was access to MI6 and the wholesale destruction of intelligence data, which admittedly wasn’t exactly patriotic, but he’d never claimed to be a good guy. 

Of course in hindsight he’d obviously been clearing the way for Nine Eyes to take over, but he hadn’t known that at the time. He had perhaps given Silva a foothold in Six’s files, (how he'd not been fired after, oh no, I totally didn't realise that plugging it in would be a security issue, what's that about secure networks now? ) but he’d already decided not to be party to the revenge fantasy that involved blowing up a building that he was actually in at the time thanks very much Tiago.

Yes, the bombing had cleared the way for him to become Quartermaster, and therefore got him access to everything he’d needed, but then there had been James Bond and he'd got a little bit lost in the man’s eyes.

“Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled,” Q had said, thinking of reasons he could steal this man away with him.

“Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pyjamas,” came Bond’s reply, and Q was helpless. 

The man was a bastard; charming, broken, funny, smart , and Q was sure his face had given away his immediate and overwhelming crush. Which...would have been fine if that was all it had been, but then he’d got to know Bond, and instead of completing his original job, Q had stayed and kept his agent safe.

If only Bond had cared.

Q considers letting Oberhauser go when he leaves: he doesn’t. The man may have technically hired him but Q’s not a complete idiot, no matter what Eve says.

He finishes the final touches to his masterpiece of destruction and goes to wash up his mug, because he may be a criminal but he has manners. Except...the mug is new. The mug is hideous. The mug is from 007.

The mug goes with him. It is after all much easier to convince people you’re just popping out for a fag break with a mug of tea in one hand.

Q reckons he has less than an hour until someone in MI6, (probably R, she always was too clever for his own good) realises that suddenly all of their intelligence data is, well, complete codswallop.

He’d timed it as well as he could: most of the deployed agents were catching some shut eye between stalking people and blowing things up (007, 009 and Gupta in particular), or weren’t being actively monitored. Someone would check in every three hours, but unless they needed anything there wouldn’t be any reason to check the mission files. Of course something could and would go wrong, but hopefully his scheme would be discovered before then, all missions would be considered sabotaged and M would pull everyone from the field before an agent needed backup they couldn’t get. It was a risk, but he’d done what he could to mitigate it.

He tries not to think how careful he would have been if 007 wasn’t in the field.

His cats are already in France living on a farm with a nice old couple he did some work for a few years ago; they’d had him setting up safehouses and an online buyer’s platform for their vast collection of art forgeries. It had been interesting work, and he’d spent half his days lazing around the French countryside with his laptop and a glass of wine, and the other half gutting and rebuilding old warehouses in rural French towns. That’s the sort of work he wants to get back to, where nothing is life and death, just harmless trickery with a sousant of illegal hacking and a dash of old fashioned manual labour.

So, clock ticking, he ducks into the Puregym around the corner, grabs the change of clothes including a ridiculous baseball cap as well as the bag he’d left there last week, jumps on the tube to Kings Cross, buys a last minute ticket with cash, and boards the next Eurostar.

***

In the other room Bond finds Tanner, M and the stranger waiting for him; Moneypenny is not.

“Bond, glad to have you onboard,” M says. He looks harassed. “Now you’ve been cleared by Darcy,” he gestures to the stranger who never bothered to introduce herself, “who will be leading the investigative task force, we could really use your help. Where do you think Shaw would be likely to go to ground? Was there anywhere he may have spoken of fondly, or any friends or relatives he mentioned?”

“Shaw?” Bond asks, forgetting for a moment, or perhaps just wanting to.

M glares at him. “Our last Quartermaster 007. We know the two of you were...close.”

Close? Is that what they were? They hadn't talked in five months.

“Q hated me,” Bond points out. Tanner and M exchange an indecipherable look.

“No he didn’t,” Tanner replies. Bond opens his mouth to argue but M speaks over him.

“Either way you knew him best, so, thoughts? Where he might have gone, what his next move may be?”

“We weren’t close. We didn’t talk about those sorts of things,” Bond insists, leaving out the even when we were still talking. He thinks Tanner hears it anyway. “I don’t know where he would go.”

“Damn,” M curses. “We really don’t have many other leads at this point.”

“Or any,” pipes up Tanner grimly.

They all stand around in silence for a bit. Darcy seems disinclined to be of any help, but that’s management types for you.

“What did Q want?” Bond finally asks. It seems like a good place to start.

“Well he destroyed pretty much everything,” Tanner answers, looking at the file in his hand as if it contains answers. Bond learnt long ago that Tanner just carries around a file, folder, or even a clipboard so people don’t notice he always knows everything off the top of his head. He's basically a walking MI6 encyclopedia. “We’re now an intelligence agency without any intelligence. And I do mean that: foriegn assets gone, access codes gone, data on other agencies gone. We no longer even have files on our own staff. The only plus side is he did the same thing to a lot of other countries, and he didn’t steal the data, just deleted it.”

“He’s not selling it?” Bond asks, surprised.

“No.” Tanner and M exchange another look. Bond is starting to feel left out of all the significant glances flying around. “There were no communications sent out, no file sharing; our firewalls and security systems are still completely intact. There’s just no longer anything worth protecting.”

“No stolen hard drives? I don’t need to go fight someone on top of a train again?” This time it’s Bond’s turn to give Tanner a look.

“No,” Tanner sighs. “He left his laptop, phone and coat behind. No one in Q-branch saw it coming. He just walked out at 4am during the shift change; told R he was popping out for a smoke. Took a cup of tea.”

“But what did he want?” Bond presses, trying to make any of this make sense. “If he’s not selling it...there has to be a reason...maybe he was being threatened.”

“Love?” Tanner suggests. “Money?”

M looks like he’s refraining from rolling his eyes. “This isn’t a detective drama.”

Bond thinks for a minute before dismissing both options. “Money didn’t make him happy, and he wasn’t seeing anyone that I was aware of. Moneypenny might know better.”

“Maybe he just snapped,” Darcy interjects. Bond wishes she would have stayed silent. The last Darcy he’d met had been nothing but trouble when investigating the Silva debacle, although not very well considering they’d all kept their jobs. That Darcy had also been an ancient white man who drank from a hip flask through interviews, so the new one was likely to be better at the job. Bond finishes sizing her up (sensible but stylish shoes, the power suit, and the gleam in her eye says she’s angling for a new position, perhaps one beginning with M…) and wonders when the old one died.

“No,” he responds. “Q’s not that sort of man.”

Darcy gets a calculating look in her eye. “Then what sort of man was he 007?”

“A good one.”

“The facts disagree.”

“Ahem,” M interrupts. “The fact remains that we have no Quartermaster, no viable new missions, and no intelligence. The only damned data we have left is the printed research that’s kept on active missions, which will be out of date by the time we get the agents back out there.”

“I guess we’re lucky he didn’t take a shredder to that as well,” Darcy allows.

“It wasn’t luck,” Bond says mostly to himself.

“What was that?” Darcy turns on him again.

Bond doesn’t think he should have to spell it out for them, but he does, because apparently he’s their best lead, which is laughable. “He destroyed the other hard copy data - I saw the smoke coming out of the archives-”

“Clearly he missed some things,” she interrupts.

“No, he knew about it,” Bond argues. “It would have been easy enough to switch out with the access he had.”

“So he forgot, big deal.”

“Q didn’t-”

“What’s your point 007?” M interjects again before Bond can finish..

“Q’s run more ops than most of the staff here except perhaps Tanner; he knew about the paper case file. Hell, he argued to keep them during last month’s security review-”

“Didn’t know you read those,” Tanner interrupts only to have Bond glare at him.

“My point is, he deliberately left them untouched to protect us. He knew you might not pull us out.”

“He left you vulnerable; what if you needed information?” M objects, Bond’s dig at him not having gone unnoticed.

“He trusted us to take care of ourselves. There was that risk but he left us some protection.”

Darcy’s head snaps around. “You,” she states bluntly.

“I don’t follow,” Bond replies.

“He left you protected,” Darcy clarifies, her eyes narrowing to pin him in place.

Any agents in the field,” Bond insists.

Darcy laughs at him. “The others follow orders. You were the only agent recalled who didn’t come in immediately. He was protecting you.”

Bond doesn’t have an argument against that. Q knew he never followed orders if he could help it, but Darcy had let something else slip. “You didn’t recall everyone, did you?”

Darcy doesn’t answer so Bond turns to Tanner, skipping over M to avoid forcing him to choose sides, and to avoid him taking the wrong one.

“No,” Tanner confirms. “002’s in deep cover, and 005’s mission is time sensitive. It was deemed an acceptable risk.”

“Because…?” Bond prompts.

This time it’s M who answers, albeit through clenched teeth. “The risk was acceptable because their covers remain intact.”

“I don’t see the point of all this,” Darcy jumps back in, and Bond reminds himself a licence to kill does not extend to annoying bureaucrats. “Shaw wrecked this agency, so what if he left a few stones unturned?”

Tanner looks thoughtful. “Minimal collateral damage means it wasn’t personal, it was business. The money angle is looking more likely.”

“No,” Bond disagrees. “Reputation is more important to someone like Q. Besides, who would pay him to delete international intelligence data?”

“Someone who was looking to make it obsolete…” Tanner suggests, quickly catching up to where Bond’s thoughts have unfortunately run to.

"Someone ready to step in and take over," he confirms.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” M sums up in his usual eloquent fashion.

Darcy glares at all of them in turn. “For those of us who don’t speak fucking code, what are you getting at 007?”

Bond doesn’t think he can say it. He might have led them there but it makes him feel sick to even think about. Luckily M takes over for him.

“Shaw was likely hired by Spectre to give them a foothold to create the need for Nine Eyes. Something went wrong obviously, he turned against them until now, but…”

“That would mean…”

M runs a hand through his receding hairline. “He was a plant, right from the start.”

Darcy chuckles.

“Is there a problem?” Bond snaps, uncaring if he’s being rude to a superior. That ship sailed several years ago.

“Just to clarify here 007 ,” she sneers his moniker like an insult to put him in his place. “You think he’s a traitor who’s trying to protect you, a rogue Spectre agent, and a good man? Because Her Majesty’s government doesn’t consider those things compatible.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Tanner mediates. “What we know is that Shaw is gone and we’re screwed.”

“Yes, who could possibly draw any conclusions?” Darcy says sarcastically.

Bond bristles. “I’m sure he had his reasons. He brought down Spectre himself, he tried to protect the field agents. Those aren’t the actions of a criminal.”

“You should be careful,” Darcy says, “you wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea about you. You’ve got a reputation for being involved with traitors: there’s a thin line between being fooled and wilful ignorance.” Bond stays silent, unwilling to admit his own similar thoughts. “If he reaches out to you, let us know immediately,” Darcy continues. “Otherwise I might think you’re hiding something.” She nods to M then makes her way to the door. “We’ll be watching you 007.”

With that last warning Darcy leaves, her coat flaring dramatically behind her. Under other circumstances Bond would like her blunt approach, but not when he’s in the firing line. She’s wrong about him and she’s wrong about Q too: he just has to prove it.

M sighs heavily and pinches his brow. “Let’s look into the Nine Eyes connection, see where we get.” He sighs again, glares at Bond, then follows Darcy out.

“Oh yes,” remarks Tanner, deadpan as usual. “Let’s use our massive intelligence database to look into...oh wait.”

Bond smirks despite himself. “C’mon Bill, don’t tell me you’ve lost faith in good old fashioned spycraft too?”

“Good thing you’ve never needed an alias, we’ve got none left. I wonder if he…” he trails off. “If Shaw...if Q gets in contact you need to tell us. You didn’t make any friends with this Bond, and to an outsider like Darcy you do look compromised. You need to be careful, you’re far too close to this one.”

“Q hated me,” Bond insists, feeling like a wind up toy. “He refused to talk to me, after…he hated me.”

Tanner looks at him with something that could be pity. “He didn’t hate you; he hated that you left him.”

Bond didn’t think he had any heart left to break. He was wrong.

*

Moneypenny turns up the next day, no bells or whistles; she just arrives at M’s side like she never left. You’d never guess she’d just been accused of treason. 

She and Tanner spend the day hunting through their remaining paper files for any records of Robert Shaw, whilst Darcy and Bond continue questioning Q-branch members and other relevant staff, before they all reconvene in the evening.

What they have so far is this:

  1. Q’s name is Robert Frederick Shaw (courtesy of Tanner)
  2. Shaw had a flat in Dalston that both Bond and Eve had been to.
  3. Shaw had two cats who were no longer in said flat, despite its otherwise untouched nature (from Darcy’s team who had swept the place)
  4. Shaw had worked in Q-branch for five and a half months before his early promotion due to the bombing, been trained personally by the previous Quartermaster, and had come with the highest recommendations from a private security company (so said several Q-branch employees who remembered Shaw being hired)
  5. Shaw had been estranged from his parents (Moneypenny). Shaw was an orphan (Bond). Shaw had been sending cheques to a couple in a nursing home since the start of his employment (Tanner). Shaw lived with his mother and pre-teen son from an ill-advised fling some years ago (Harry from Accounting). Shaw’s father had died fighting in the Gulf War (M).
  6. Shaw - if that even was his name - was a liar and a ghost.

They’d been drunk one time, Bond and Q, eating shitty takeaway and watching shittier films in Q’s flat, with Q’s cats crawling all over them, when Q had stopped mid sentence and said:

“We’re safe here, you can call me…” and then he’d paused for a little too long.

“Ishmael?” Bond had guessed, chuckling. “Al? Baby?”

“Earnest,” Q had said with a sigh and an eyeroll. It had obviously been a code name, so Bond doesn’t mention it now. He’d assumed at the time it was a way for Q to tell him he was gay, and Bond hadn’t seen a reason for him to use it after that.

“This is pointless,” Bond says after they’ve interviewed Harry, who’d been surprisingly frosty towards him.

“007 is correct,” Darcy agrees, although she doesn’t look happy about it. Tanner disguises a grin with a cough. “This was clearly too well planned for him to have left any useful evidence behind,” Darcy continues. “We should move our focus to suspected moles in other agencies who allowed him access.”

Bond snorts.

“Do you disagree, Agent Bond?”

“You clearly never met Q,” Bond states. “The man didn’t need help doing anything. Please excuse me,” and Bond leaves the room before Darcy has to blink, let alone object. He’s halfway down the next corridor when the clack of heels catches up and Eve glides into view.

“James, a word?” she asks, already grabbing his arm and steering him into a disused room. Most of the new building is disused these days, or at least it feels that way. They’d never finished restaffing after C’s attempted takeover, and things have only got worse. “Did he...did Shaw?” she trails off and takes a breath; “did Q leave you anything?”

Bond shakes his head, not sure where this is going or how many more times he’ll need to insist there was nothing going on between him and the Quartermaster.

“Here.” Moneypenny hands him a small folded piece of paper.

Bond reads carefully: “‘Hope you’re still alive and not locked in a dark cell somewhere. You truly were a dear friend. Sorry.’” It’s Q’s handwriting, so familiar. At the end of the note it looks like he’s signed it and then scribbled the signature out. “Where did you find it?”

“Pinned to my fridge when I got home, about a minute before the boys in black knocked down my door screaming bloody treason.”

“Good timing.”

“So? Did he leave you anything?” she repeats; Bond shakes his head again. “Well, it’s probably for the best. Couldn’t have us all arrested now could he?”

Bond flinches. “Eve…” he means for it to sound supportive, but it comes out closer to a protest. Eve stares him down.

“I know he didn’t mean to hurt me, but he knew that what he was doing could cost me everything, and he did it anyway.”

Bond doesn’t know what to say to that. After some silence he settles on: “We’re still here.” It doesn’t sound particularly enthusiastic.

Eve matches him tone for tone. “For how long?” she asks, but he doesn’t have an answer.

*

Bond goes to Q’s old local pub and makes inroads with the regulars, the bar staff, chat’s up Q’s downstairs neighbour when she recognises him during a convenient walk. Q had told them all something different of course: moving home for his sick mom, travelling to find himself, eloping with his scandalously older boyfriend…

No one questions him. No one looks askance, nor is he set on by masked assailants piling out of a van in a back street. He doesn’t feel compromised…

He wonders.

*

It’s been two weeks since Moneypenny was cleared of treason when she tracks him down again. Bond is in the gun range, shooting his feelings into submission. They haven’t seen each other since their last conversation and she looks more frazzled than he’s ever seen her. Six is in damage control mode and Eve’s been in the middle of it. Bond does not envy her.

He takes off his ear defenders and heads over to her, eyebrow raised.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she says. Bond just keeps staring, waiting for context. “Shaw,” she adds and Bond tenses. “Any of it! Come on James, you can’t really think Q was Spectre.”

“Probably not directly,” Bond acquiesces, but decides not to mention the boxes of Spectre files he’s had hidden away in a storage unit from his Sciarra manhunt that back up his claim. None of it is directly related to Q but there’s just enough to claw some pieces together. “But they likely hired him as a freelancer.”

“Darcy’s investigative team haven’t found anything yet.”

“Of course not.” Because Bond is still hiding the files that could provide the truth; he doesn’t trust anyone else not to twist the story to their liking. “Q knew how to cover his tracks.”

“But he helped us take them down! He stopped Nine Eyes himself.”

“Exactly; it was too easy. He had to have had inside information.”

Moneypenny throws her hands up. “Listen to yourself, this is Q we’re talking about!”

“Is it?” Bond asks. It’s the question he’s been asking himself daily. “We have no idea who he was.”

They lapse into silence for a bit.

“Ok,” Eve concedes eventually. “Talk me through it. God knows you’re smarter than any of us give you credit for.”

At any other time Bond would have smirked at that, but now he just ignores the comment and lays out his current theory.

“Spectre hires Q and plants him in Six, but Silva activates him early. Silva ends up dead, he loses his handler and at some point he turns. We take down Spectre, the past catches up with him and he runs.” It’s still mostly guesswork at this point, but it does make a horrible kind of sense.

Moneypenny’s face gives nothing away. “So what do you think Spectre hired him for, before Silva?” she asks.

“Exactly what he did,” Bond replies. “Destruction of intelligence data. It would have given Spectre an easier in with Nine Eyes. C would have been a hero, and it would be above board."

"And how, exactly, did you come to these conclusions?” Eve asks; she still does not look convinced.

Bond grins; it's mean and dirty. "Old fashioned spy work." 

He doesn’t mention the files. He’s trusted Eve before, but this is...different. He doesn’t think too hard about why.

*

There’s a new Q now. She used to be R, and Bond used to like her but now she’s Q and she’s angry all the time. Or maybe she was always angry and he just didn’t notice because he was too busy watching Q, his Q, be brilliant.

“Why don’t you just leave again?” she says one day, about a month after everything, as he’s collecting kit for his latest assignment (somewhere in the States, he should check if Felix is still alive) because the missions don’t stop even when they’re flying mostly blind these days. They’ve got new systems of course; the information is just a bit...sparse.

“Excuse me?” Bond asks with a frown after he’s realised that she’s talking to him.

She doesn’t look up from the gun she’s fiddling with. “We all knew he used to be....well, a criminal, but he was a good man who loved y- this job, and he’d never have done it if you had just stayed.” Her accent is more pronounced than usual, the Glasweigian that had got them chatting when they’d first met: Bond eager for memories of home, even though  - or perhaps especially though - as R was the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, they were so different from his own.

Bond puts his hand over the gun until she’s forced to look up. “I’m not a perk of the job,” he grits out between clenched teeth. “He left of his own free will; that’s not on me.”

R’s face goes hard, then soft, then she sighs. “I’m sorry,” she says, calmer than before. “It’s not your fault he wasn’t who we thought he was. It’s easier to blame you than to acknowledge that we weren’t enough." She sounds like she’s been talking this through with a therapist. He hopes she has. She looks back down at his hand on the gun. “He was happy here when you were here. You made him happy.”

“And here I thought it was job satisfaction,” Bond jokes, a reflex. He’d suspected Q might have had a thing for him, but the man had never said anything, even after the Christmas party, and Bond hadn’t wanted to upset the status quo. They were friends, that was all, and at the end not even that.

“You could have been happy too,” the new Q says.

Bond is stunned. “I thought I was.”

*****

Two weeks after Bond ‘steals’ the DB5 from him, Moneypenny finally manages to corner Q, literally in the corner of the men’s third floor bathroom. He doesn’t question how she knew he was in there, or that he was alone, or that it was safe to enter, but he’s just finished drying his hands when she bursts in.

She locks the door behind her.

“I...I don’t think you’re allowed to do that,” Q stammers, failing not to sound like a nervous teenager trying to keep the class under control while the teacher is out of the room. Eve, the cool kid, glares at him and advances until he’s backed up against the sinks.

“Why Miss Moneypenny, what do you take me for,” he jests, too nervous to pull it off. Nothing says suave like a shaky voice.

“Stop pretending you’re okay!” she hisses at him, one finger poking roughly into his chest.

“I am!” Q protests belligerently.

“You are bloody well not!” Poke.

“There’s no need to project your feelings onto me Moneypenny; I assure you 007’s departure has had no impact on my work.”

“It’s not your work,” poke “I’m worried about.” Poke.

“My heart’s fine too,” he says, swallowing the lie. Moneypenny backs off, but only by an inch. He’s going to bruise.

“I didn’t mention your heart,” Eve says gently, and Q grimaces. He has perhaps given himself away, and really what’s the use in pretending? Maybe, just maybe, he can use this to his advantage.

“Okay, fine, so I was in love with him,” he says flippantly. “It’s not important.”

Eve was clearly not expecting him to come clean; she just gapes for a few seconds before pulling herself back together. “Oh darling...did he know?”

Q scoffs. “Of course not! What do you take me for?”

“A sensible human being?” she suggests mockingly. “Clearly I was mistaken. Christ Q, you two spent basically all your down time together, and half your work time too! Why didn’t you say something to him?”

“He’s 007! Notorious womaniser. Love ‘em and leave ‘em and hope they don’t die. Any of that ringing a bell?”

Moneypenny backs off, and Q breathes a sigh of relief as he straightens his clothing and pretends not to see her disappointed look. She paces around the bathroom once and then says:

“So what? That’s all for work. He trusted you, and you never gave him a chance to prove you wrong.” Eve heads towards the door, giving him one last indecipherable look. “I expected better from you.”

The door closes softly behind her.

“You expected wrong,” Q replies, and his voice rings off the tiles in the empty room.

*****

“What happened to his car?” Tanner asks nonchalantly, as if an afterthought, never mind the fact it’s the first thing he’s said since Bond got in the lift. (They’d done the nod of mutual respect of course.)

“His car,” Bond repeats, not quite making it a question.

“Q’s car? What did you do with it? Or should I say to it?” Tanner smirks at him.

“Q didn’t have a car,” Bond replies confidently. He knows this because Q had moaned about inner London traffic meaning it wasn’t affordable to keep a car in the city these days, and how he would occasionally take a long weekend off, book a test drive in something fancy and go driving through the Scottish Highlands, camping along the route at night or staying in youth hostels. He’d suggested Bond join him next time he went, but Bond had brushed him off with mutterings about bad memories and joked that he should invite M instead. Q had, and the two of them had come back from a long weekend away laughing about terrorising some Swedish hitchhikers they’d picked up with Q’s insane driving. The whole thing had left an odd taste in Bond’s mouth, but he’d been a bit busy chasing down a conspiracy of murderers to give it much thought.

Tanner scoffs: “Not after he gave it to you he didn’t.”

“The DB5 didn’t belong to Q,” Bond argues, frowning.

“He rebuilt it from scratch 007, of course it did. So, what happened to it?” Bond is mostly too stunned to answer. “Well?” Tanner presses him.

“I left it in Germany,” he replies shortly.

“Just on the side of the road, or did you drive it off a bridge first?”

“No, I left it with Madeline.”

“You gave Q’s car to your girlfriend?”

Bond swallows a sigh; he should have taken the stairs. “She wasn’t my girlfriend and it wasn’t his car.”

“No wonder he left.”

Bond finds himself in Tanner’s personal space approximately half a second later. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?” he snarls.

The lift doors ping and he steps back just as they open and M gets in, taking note of their frosty stares.

“Tanner, Bond,” he greets. They both nod back. “It’s been two months, are we really still discussing Shaw?”

Bond remains silent, hating that he’s apparently that transparent, but Tanner speaks up. “Just considering additional motives sir,” he says pointedly.

M hums in thought. “Well we’ll be able to ask him soon enough.”

Bond’s head snaps around. “Sir?”

“Didn’t Tanner mention? Darcy’s team tracked him through some old contacts to Izmir in Turkey. They’re on their way to intercept him as we speak.”

Bond sinks back into the wall, relieved. M looks over at him curiously.

“You’re taking this whole situation better than I expected you know, especially with your history,” M says probingly.

“And what history would that be?” Bond replies, teeth bared. M doesn’t flinch.

“Alec, Vesper, Mathis, Franz. I’ve read a lot of your mission files over the years.”

“Perhaps I’ve grown as a person,” Bond suggests lightly, face still grim.

“Perhaps you have.” The doors ping open and M turns to exit. “He’ll need someone in his corner when we bring him in, but be careful you don’t cross the line.”

Bond presses the button for the top floor again; whoever decided to move their new headquarters to a building this tall needed to be shot. Twice. Or perhaps stranded overnight in one of the lifts, and then shot. Twice. M had only gone three floors; he could have walked it in half the time with the lifts being as slow as they were. Bond thinks he just likes the gossip that agents trapped in a small space inevitably provide.

“Can we trust you won’t go racing off to Turkey on your own?” Tanner’s voice interrupts his thoughts and murderous daydreams.

Bond smirks. It’s his lazy, seductive, I’ve got a secret smirk. It’s a very effective smirk. “He’s not in Turkey.”

Tanner’s eyebrows furrow into his forehead. “Oh really? And how exactly do you know that?”

“Instinct.”

“007 you’re going to have to do better than that if you don’t want to be dragged in for questioning. Darcy would be all too pleased to find you’d been in contact with Q and not informed-”

“It’s not…” Bond interrupts, then stalls, trying to get his thoughts in order. The smirk is long gone at the threat of being considered a traitor himself. “He went backpacking around Turkey as a teenager. Hated it. Said the heat didn’t agree with him and he’d never go again.”

Tanner doesn’t quite look like he believes him. “I pray for our sake you’re wrong 007. If Q does get in contact-”

“I’ll call it in,” Bond snaps, trying not to glare. Just one more floor to go until he can escape. Suddenly something occurs to him. “You’re still calling him…”

“He’s a traitor, our Q,” Tanner says like he’s commenting on the weather, “but he’s still ours.”

*****

“How about we go for drinks then?” asks Eve, a week after she’d left him bruised in the bathroom and started ignoring him. Q is too relieved she’s talking to him again to think it through.

It becomes perfectly clear when he gets to the pub that he’s been had. Moneypenny is nowhere to be seen, but he’s quickly accosted by one of her friends in the finance department he recognises, who drags him over to a table with another man on it. The man is light-skinned, well built, blonde and-

The man turns around.

-most of his face is taken up with a perfectly trimmed mustache/beard combo.

Q breathes a sigh of relief and sits.

The man squints at him in a friendly manner. He has deep brown eyes which are another point in his favour. “Did we...just get set up?” he asks, looking around as if suddenly surprised they’re the only two people at the table, and then introduces himself. “Harry, I work with Jeanne in accounting. We were supposed to be doing the pub quiz but I’m feeling a little abandoned here. I swear there were other people here a minute ago.” Jeanne - the Moneypenny collaborator - has vanished off the face of the hardwood flooring, along with apparently two others judging by the glasses on the table.

Q considers leaving, but Harry seems just as baffled as he is, and he does love a pub quiz.

“I guess that makes me your knight in shining armour then,” he says, committing himself.

Harry grins at him; he has a lovely smile. “Can I offer you one of the drinks I acquired for my traitorous friends, oh sir knight?”

“Oooh is that a pornstar martini?”

“Classy. And no, it’s your pornstar martini.”

Q chuckles. “Steady on. First date’s too early to be calling me a pornstar.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Harry winks at him and Q can feel himself blushing. “So what’s your area of expertise?” Harry continues. “I can cover most sports except cricket, and I’m quite good at history and geography. I can do art at a push.”

“Well I’ll take literature, arts and sciences. But popular culture can fuck off.”

“What a team we make!” Harry grins and raises a Mai Tai at him. “Here’s to being abandoned!”

Q clinks glasses and does not think about that sentence at all .

*

They win the quiz when Q pulls a correct answer on a minor Kardashian drama out of his arse.

Two bottles of wine later Harry says:

“So, funny story, I just discovered I’m the other woman, well man , when I surprised my girlfriend by getting home early from a business trip and found a naked dude tied up in my bed. At first I’m thinking she’s arranged a fun threesome, naive I know, plus full of consent issues, but it turns out he’s her fiance and she wanted to fuck him in my bed because it’s sturdier!” He takes a large gulp of wine, only to find it empty. “How about you?”

Q pushes over his glass. “I think you need it more. I wasn’t even seeing the guy, but he did steal my car, and my stupid heart, and drove off to Paris with his girlfriend. And I think I’ll have to leave my job.”

“He took his girlfriend to Paris in your car?”

“Yeah.”

“Did they...you know.." he makes a surprisingly rude gesture considering they're in public, "in your car?”

“Oh my god probably.”

Harry pushes the glass back. “How about we share this, then go to the off-licence and buy another bottle to split? Maybe back at my place?”

Q thinks about this. “Yes. As long as you know it’s just a one time thing.”

“Of course! I mean, not that you’re not…” Harry stutters, “umm lovely, but ah, I’m not really...ah…”

Q smirks. “We’re both emotionally unavailable; we might as well have fun.”

*****

Bond finds Q’s aunt almost by chance, four months after everything. He’s lurking at the bar in Q’s local when a beautiful woman with smudged mascara sits down next to him. She’s white, about his age, maybe a bit older, with blue eyes and dark curly hair piled on top of her head, hints of grey around her ears, wearing comfortable but fashionable clothes. She orders a whiskey - straight - whilst fiddling with her wedding ring. Bond might be in trouble.

“What terrible things are you looking to forget?” he asks, offering up a handkerchief. (Q used to tease him about carrying them, but they came in handy for mopping up blood, concealing drugs or seducing damsels in distress. He had conceded the monogramming was a bit much though.)

The woman glares at him, gives him a once over and then deflates, taking the hankie. “You first,” she replies, leaving Bond to wonder if he really looks that bad. But he’s never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he signals the bartender for another drink on his tab. It arrives promptly.

“I lost a friend,” he answers somewhat truthfully. “Should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” the woman says, turning her body towards him. “I didn’t mean to pry-”

“I started it,” he says with a grimace, taking a sip of fresh beer.

“Well mine’s nothing so sad, just husband problems. Men can be such arseholes.”

Bond smiles. “That we can.” She grins back and he knows he’s got her. “James Bond,” he introduces himself, because providing a full name usually leads to reciprocity. “I haven’t seen you here before, have you just moved?”

“Theresa Shaw. I’m just visiting, sort of.”

Shaw. It’s a coincidence. It has to be. Q’s name was obviously fake. Bond takes another sip to hide his suddenly clenched fist. “We don’t normally get tourists around here…”

“Oh no, I’m flat-sitting,” Theresa explains. “Well, my nephew’s got a flat here he’s not using, and I really needed somewhere to stay while I, err…” she wiggles her ring finger, “figure out if I want to save my marriage! Ha!”

Q wouldn’t have been that stupid, would he? Plus if Shaw was her married name they wouldn’t match...unless she’s married to Q’s uncle, or kept her own name, or...it’s just a stupid coincidence. But Bond’s entire life seems to have been a series of engineered coincidences, so what was one more? If he’s wrong he loses nothing, and maybe gets a shag. If he’s right…

“Shaw was it?” he asks casually. “Any relation to…” he pauses, considering his options. “Earnest? I haven’t seen him in a little while?”

“You know Earnest?” she asks, surprised, and Bond has to fight to keep his face emotionless. Of fucking course. He takes a moment to compose himself then turns the charm up.

“Not as well as I thought apparently; he never mentioned how lovely his aunt was.”

“You’re terrible!” Theresa laughs at him, reminding him so much of Q, always chuckling at the most inappropriate moments.

“What happened to him?” Bond presses. “If you don’t mind my asking? He stopped coming to trivia nights and I never got his number…”

“Oh that’s Earnest for you, taking off at a moment’s notice! He’s just run off to France as usual for a job - the perks of being bilingual eh? - but somewhere in the North this time, Lille I think. If I’d known cybersecurity would pay me to drink wine in Europe, well, I wouldn’t be here would I?” She laughs at her own joke, and then sighs and glances at her wedding ring again. Bond feels vaguely guilty for using her.

“Speaking of wine…” he gestures to her glass, “may I?”

Theresa blushes. “Oh go on then, just one.”

He gets Q’s aunt smashed and then offers to be a gentleman and walk her home. She directs him to the flat above Q’s empty one, but the decor is eerily similar. Clever.

He leaves his number on a note that reads: any friend of Earnest’s and then he waits.

*

Bond’s phone chirps the next afternoon.

Unknown: PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T SLEEP WITH HER. 

I didn’t sleep with her. Bond types out and hits send.

The phone rings.

“Are you saying that just because I asked?” Q asks snappily down the line, almost before it connects, and his voice is just as Bond remembers. “And don’t bother trying to trace this.”

“That’s very presumptuous of you,” Bond replies, putting Q on speaker and activating the tracing app on his phone.

“About the tracing or your libido? Because I don’t think it’s unwarranted in either case.”

“Perhaps,” Bond replies, “but I didn’t sleep with your incredibly lovely aunt.”

“Oh joy, I feel incredibly reassured,” Q drawls. Bond has missed this, missed the snark, the sarcasm, missed how possessive Q could be over things he’d considered his.

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Bond says truthfully. As lovely as Theresa had been she was his friend’s family, and Bond isn’t that kind of arsehole. Not anymore at least.

“Ha!” The laugh floats down the line. “I’ll add it to the very short list of things you wouldn’t do.”

Oh, right. Bond had forgotten that Q was mad at him before all this, but clearly the other man hasn’t. He wonders if he still scrunches his sleeves into his fists when he’s frustrated.

“Your aunt would have told you if she’d slept with me,” he says, guessing.

“Maybe we’re not that close.”

“Yet she called you this morning to tell you she’d met a charming acquaintance of yours.”

“She referred to you as sleazy but handsome actually,” Q corrects him. Bond can practically picture the strange look in his eye he’d always get when someone insulted Bond; he’d never quite figured out what that look meant. “And I think based on your current behaviour I’d add stalker tendencies.”

“Have you forgotten what I do for a living?”

“How could I while you’re hunting me down?”

“Unsuccessfully,” Bond reminds him, poking at his phone. The loading pinwheel is still circling on the tracking app; he wonders if that’s Q’s doing or if it’s still actually working. “Yet you chose to reach out, why?”

There’s a sigh down the line. When he speaks again Q’s voice is much gentler. “Maybe I wanted to talk,” he says.

Bond runs his hands over his head, frustrated. “You ignored me for months, then betrayed and fled your country. It’s a bit late for a chat.” Even if it is exactly what he wants.

“I almost died you know!” Q snaps back at him, gentleness a distant memory. “Twice during the whole Spectre debacle I was almost killed helping you. Then you disappeared without saying goodbye, and I wanted more than anything just to talk to you. And lo and behold, a month later there you are! Except you were only back to steal company property and compromise my job again, and you don’t even ask how I am before running off with your girlfriend! How’s that for a bit late?”

“So...you don’t want to talk?”

“Christ 007, you don’t half drive me up the wall.”

There’s a pause as Bond bites back on the reflexive innuendo: he knows Q can hear it anyway. Terrible pick-up lines they’d heard - or in Bond’s case used - had been a running joke between them, so there’s no doubt what they’re both thinking. Once Q had let slip that he was rather fond of wall sex and Bond had been distracted for days.

“I might have convinced your aunt to leave her husband,” he says in an attempt to distract them both.

“Oh good, Norman’s a right tosser; I can’t believe we’re related. Are you sure you didn’t sleep with Tess? That would convince anyone to leave their spouse...apparently...I mean...presumably...not that I…”

Bond laughs and interrupts, “Is that jealousy I hear Q?”

“That’s not my name,” comes the curt reply.

“No, it was just your job."

“It wasn’t supposed to be! Silva...I didn’t know about the bomb, or about M I swear. Nobody was supposed to get hurt…” Q (Shaw? Earnest?) says and then, angrily, “Did you really think I was a good soldier? I never hid the fact I didn’t care for the rules. I have never been loyal to MI6, but I was to you.”

Bond doesn’t really know what to say to that. He believes him, about M, but that doesn’t make him okay with it. As for the rest of it...Q had always gone above and beyond for him, but that was for the job. Except as it turns out, it wasn’t. He doesn’t know how to feel about that, so he backtracks instead.

“You may not be the Quartermaster anymore but you’re not Robert Frederick Shaw either, although you had Tanner convinced. Why did you keep the surname?”

Q sighs down the line. “A calculated risk; I guess I underestimated you. Also do you know how hard it is to fake a whole new identity capable of fooling MI6? What am I saying, of course you do. Shaw’s common enough, it was easier to make changes than to start afresh. I just hadn’t accounted for your dogged persistence.”

“You didn’t really believe I’d give up on you?” Bond asks, not sure that he wants an answer. He has maybe spent more time looking for Q than he’s allowed MI6 to believe, but lying at work is second nature by now. He needs to bring Q in himself. It’s...important. He carries on before Q can reply. “So now what? I know your name, I know your location, and now I have your phone number.”

“Only one of those things is true,” Q refutes, the sound of typing starting and stopping in the background. “That little tracing app you've been running puts me in Wailea, which I’m not, although I wish I was, and I’ll ditch this phone as soon as we’re done here. Plus it’s not like I'm using my real name anymore.”

Oh.

“I’ll find you,” Bond says, because it seems like the thing to say, even while his mind is whirling. Q doesn’t know Theresa had told him about Lille. Maybe Bond had got her drunk enough that she didn’t remember what exactly she had and hadn’t said. Perhaps, since she wasn’t a criminal she didn’t think it was privileged information. Too many possibilities.

Q huffs down the line at him and Bond snaps back into the present. “Why are you so determined to find me?” Q asks. “I can’t get the data back, R will have rebuilt all the systems by now, all they need is you spies to go spy on people to fill them back up...why can’t you leave me be?”

And isn’t that the million dollar question? Why exactly has he spent every free second for months hunting for Q, even though Six has a whole team working on the very same? Yet he can’t let this go: Q had meant...a lot to him, and Q had ignored him then betrayed MI6, and therefore Bond himself.

“Because I thought you were my friend,” he finally allows himself to say. There’s such a long silence on the other end that he has to check they’re still connected.

“I was,” Q says, softly and firmly. “I am.” He takes a deep breath. “And as your friend I think there’s something you should know.”

“And what’s that?” If he leaves now Bond could be in Lille in a matter of hours.

“They’re going to burn you,” Q replies, and Bond’s mind screams to a halt. “Your next op: Darcy’s never trusted you and M thinks you warned me I’d been found in Turkey.”

“You were never in Turkey,” Bond says slowly, still processing.

“Of course not, but I’d tried very hard to make it look like I was, and I am very good. The job will be you and three other agents, somewhere in Ukraine. They’ll shoot you at the safehouse. Of course you’ll officially die tragically in a gang war, saving a small child or something noble like that.”

It sounds eerily plausible, something Bond himself would work up to deal with a traitor. It preserves the illusion of business as usual - no names struck off, no files to shred or doctor - whilst still eliminating the problem. The problem being him apparently.

“How could you possibly know that?” he asks.

Q ignores the question. “You’re in trouble Bond: you’ve been failing psych evals and physicals for years; you go rogue every other bloody mission. Plus it’s not like you’ve kept Six in the loop about your obsessive manhunt for me or those nice boxes of Spectre files you’ve still got, which Darcy’s team found two weeks ago . Doesn’t exactly scream innocence. You should run, sooner rather than later. Now, in fact.”

“I don’t believe you,” Bond replies bluntly. How can he?

“James,” Q says, and he sounds defeated. “The previous M already killed you once, don’t let this one kill you too. Please.”

Bond hangs up.

James. Please.

He could be on the Eurostar to Lille in forty minutes, at the address he has in another two hours, probably too quick for Q to have gotten that far.

James.

He heads into MI6 instead.

*

Bond is barely inside the building when Tanner thunks a file into his chest. That man definitely has a network of secret tunnels allowing him to appear in whatever part of the building he pleases at the most (in)appropriate times.

“Go get ready,” he says calmly, ignoring Bond’s glare, “you set out at 1800.”

“Where am I going?” Bond asks, grabbing the file but not opening it.

“Kiev,” Tanner responds. “There’s a British national embroiled in what’s looking to be a local gang war, but he claims they’re building dirty bombs so he needs to be brought back for questioning.”

Ukraine. Shit.

Doesn’t necessarily mean anything of course. Could be a coincidence.

“Sounds simple enough,” Bond acknowledges. “Anyone else on this?”

“Agents Williams, Walker and Wu will be accompanying you. Wu will be on the same flight, and you’ll meet the others on the ground."

Bond doesn’t get a chance to snicker at what must have been planned alliteration, too busy running over what Q had warned him about.

Three agents. Double shit .

His poker face is clearly not what it used to be as Tanner inquires, “Problem 007?”

“Three agents and a double-oh: some might consider that overkill. Don’t trust me to get the job done?”

Tanner doesn’t flinch. “We’re expecting heavy resistance from the gangs as well as the local authorities; we expect it will get messy.”

“You expect someone will need to die.”

Tanner sighs but doesn’t meet his eyes. “When you’re around someone always does.”

Bond brushes that off and holds the file back out for Tanner. “Well,” he says, “as thrilling as that sounds I’m afraid they’ll have to do without me.”

“Are you disobeying orders 007?” Tanner asks disbelievingly, but takes the file back anyway.

“Of course not,” Bond smirks, “but I hardly think M will want me in Kiev when I could be going after Q.”

“We have a task force for that. Besides there hasn’t been any hide nor hair of Q since he slipped us in Turkey.”

“He was never in Turkey.”

“Our sources say differently. In any case, no new leads means you’ll be going to Kiev as ordered.” The file gets offered back again.

Bond grins, thinking about the damage his next sentence will do to Tanner’s stoic face. “Oh, did I forget to mention I’d found him?” he says, feigning a contrite expression. “My mistake.”

He slips past Tanner whilst the other man is still gaping.

*

Half an hour later Bond is in M’s office, lounging on a sofa that appeared during his last retirement and that he's made good use of since his return. Tanner, Moneypenny, Darcy and three agents who are introduced collectively as the alliterative Williams, Walker and Wu are standing arrayed around him. M is at his desk, the picture of forced nonchalance.

“Where is he?” M demands as soon as introductions are over.

“Lille,” Bond replies swiftly. “I have an approximate location.”

Approximate my arse, a voice that sounds like Q echoes in his head. There's a flat number!

“We haven’t been able to pin a location on him since Turkey,” M continues, and Bond bites back his habitual response. “How on earth did you find him?”

Theresa. Shit. If he tells them about Q’s aunt she’ll never have peace again. She might not even see daylight for a while. Plus then he'd be admitting his own unsanctioned investigation, and the fact that he’s technically known Q’s real name this whole time, even if he didn’t realise it. As Q had pointed out it doesn’t exactly paint him in the best light.

“He called,” Bond says. “I traced the number.”

Neither of those statements are a lie, they’re just not correct answers.

“And when was this?” Darcy asks.

Bond makes a show of looking at his watch. It’s one of Q’s old ranges, oops. “Well, the tube was about twenty minutes, and then you lot took your time deciding who needed to be here, so...an hour ago, tops.”

Darcy stares him down. “You should have called it in,” she scolds.

“On a compromised phone?” Bond sneers back.

“You did the right thing coming here,” M backs him up, but his side glance at Darcy tells Bond it has more to do with disagreeing with her than protecting him. She’s definitely after his job: history never stops repeating itself. In other circumstances the political power play would have amused Bond, but now it just seems like pointless grandstanding. “He called you?” M prompts him.

“Yes.”

“And what did you talk about?”

“This and that,” Bond previcates. “He’s pissed we’re still tracking him.”

“Speaking of,” Darcy interrupts, “don’t you consider that suspicious? You insist he’s a genius so we won’t look for his collaborators, yet you were miraculously able to track his phone when he called for a chat.”

“Like I said, he’s pissed off. Even geniuses make mistakes when they’re angry.”

“Is this the first time he’s called you?” Moneypenny asks from where she’s been leaning casually against the wall. Apparently question time is a free-for-all these days.

Bond glares at her, subtly of course, and she leans against the wall in a slightly more threatening manner in response. “Yes,” he replies, trying not to seem too pissed off that even Moneypenny is questioning his loyalty. “I would have brought it to M’s attention otherwise.”

“And why now?” she continues to press him. “It’s been over four months since he ran, and we had no new leads. Why did he reach out to you?”

Another dilemma. Perhaps he should have thought this through more thoroughly. If he lets them know he knows about Kiev, he loses his advantage and reveals that Q still has access to their systems. If he doesn’t, he loses his chance to find out if Q was right. They won’t be able to pull the audio from the call for at least a few hours if Q hasn’t already deleted it, which gives him time to take the middle ground.

“He thinks I’m in danger,” he tells the room. “He phoned to warn me.”

“What kind of danger?” Tanner asks just as Moneypenny says:

“You’re always in danger.”

M does not look up from his desk. 

Agent #3 blinks. Bingo.

“Q says apparently some Ukrainian gang wants me dead, revenge for something I suppose. So that job of yours is badly timed, eh Tanner?” Bond jokes. From the resulting reactions he deduces the following:

Darcy - no change in expression: responsible for the execution order.

M - two blinks: agreed with Darcy but feels a bit shit about it.

Tanner - nose scrunch: suspected something but isn’t involved.

Moneypenny - side eye at everyone else: in the dark. She’ll get Tanner drunk this evening; they’ll come to the correct conclusion and agree to never mention it again.

Agents Williams-Walker-Wu - no visible changes: orders received long enough ago they’ve had time to see Psych to square away killing a fellow agent. Double-oh status probably up for grabs for at least one of them.

Bond grins coldly. “I’ll be going after Q instead; that’ll give the Ukrainians time to re-evaluate their choices,” he says,  locking eyes with M. “Maybe you should send someone else to Kiev, just to be on the safe side.” 

M inclines his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.

Darcy however, is not quite so amenable. “We’re hardly sending you after Shaw!” she objects. “You’re far too soft on him.”

“He trusts me,” Bond argues, “so he’ll cooperate. You want him back on British soil, but other governments are after him as well; we need to get to him first.” 

Darcy still doesn't look convinced, but he’s already got M on his side so it hardly matters now.

“You’ll wear a wire,” M says, and Bond nods. “And 007, let me make one thing clear: if Shaw cannot be brought in, or if anyone else gets to him first, you are ordered to terminate.”

“Yessir,” Bond replies. 

It won’t come to that. He won’t let it.

*

The new Q gives him a spy pen, and Bond has to smother a laugh. She refuses to give him a gun.

“No,” she says. This time she’s not angry, she’s furious. “You can use one of your own damn weapons for this.”

He doesn’t argue.

*

Moneypenny finds him in the bathroom once he’s kitted out and almost ready to go.

“What are you doing?” she asks, as he splashes water on his face. He assumes she’s not questioning his toilet habits.

“Going after Q,” he responds, smoothing the towel over his face. The Bond in the mirror looks tired.

“Why?” she asks. She seems angry. It appears to be going around. “Why are you putting yourself through that?”

He doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “I’m going to bring him back.”

“Jesus Bond, you’re a wreck. Don’t…” she trails off. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. And tell Q bye from me.”

“I’m bringing him back,” he reiterates, frowning. “You can tell him yourself.”

Eve stares at him dumbly. “You’re not actually that much of an idiot, are you?” 

He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to answer that, so he doesn’t. Eventually she walks towards him until they’re close enough to touch. She leans in and kisses him on the cheek, lingering. “Look after yourself,” she says, and steps back. She stares at him long enough that Bond wonders if she wants him to kiss her, and then she leaves.

***

Bond has been to Lille before, but he’s never had a chance to really look around. He doesn’t now either, but he takes a few detours down pretty streets and admires the architecture. It would suit Q, he thinks, living here. Shame he’s here to put an end to that. He checks his location and pushes forward, slipping inside the desired block of flats after a rowdy group of teenagers and making his way up the stairs until he finds the right floor. His phone buzzes in his pocket but he ignores it; he’s almost there, he can report in once he’s inside.

Bond doesn’t think Q will actually still be at this address; it’s been half a day since the phone call, plenty of time for him to be miles away by now. Hell, he’ll probably have had the place professionally cleaned and...there’s light spilling out from under the door.

Bond sighs to himself and knocks.

“I told you I didn’t-” the door swings inwards and Q gapes at him in shock. His hair is shorter and he’s wearing different glasses, clear frames, but he’s still got those damned tartan trousers on, and his eyes are so achingly familiar. “I...did not expect to see you here.” Q steps backwards into the flat, allowing Bond in, and turns into the bedroom where he appears to have been hurriedly packing. Not fast enough.

“You underestimated me again,” Bond replies coolly. He follows Q into the bedroom and closes the door behind him, which gets him a sharp look. The room is sparse but homey - like a nice bed and breakfast perhaps, but there’s remnants of Q in the decor: a geometric lamp he’d had in his old flat, a novelty coaster on the dresser with what looks like Gallifreyan script on it. (Yes, Bond has watched Doctor Who, it’s been on the television since 1963, he doesn’t actually live under a rock.) There's a large window along the back wall that he notes to keep half an eye on.

“No,” Q denies, “but when I told you that MI6 were planning your murder I’d assumed you’d be sensible and dissapear. So if anything I over estimated you.” He continues shoving things in a duffle bag, his back to Bond. “What are you doing here? And you can talk freely, I’ve got a jamming device set up for your bugged pen there; they lost you as soon as you got within five hundred metres of me.”

“Well…” Bond pauses, considering how to most effectively frame his answer to piss Q off. “MI6 wants me dead because they think I’m in your pocket, so if I bring you in not only do I get the satisfaction of locking up a traitor, but I also get my life back. Win-win.”

Q turns towards him, face incredulous. “You’re officially an idiot,” he says, clearly ticked off but trying to hide it - point to Bond. “I risk my life to tip you off, and this is the thanks I get. How on earth did you find me this fast anyway? You shouldn’t have been able to trace the call until at least tomorrow.”

“Genius you may be, criminal genius you are not. Or is it just that you’re out of practice?” Bond pauses to let the barb sink in and then answers: “You gave Theresa your forwarding address. Once she was asleep I went through her filofax.”

“Fuck,” Q swears. “Paper: my only weakness.” 

Bond pointedly doesn’t laugh and Q sags onto the bed like a sad balloon. His hands flap around himself aimlessly until he sticks them under his thighs. Bond watches him deflate as the situation sinks in. 

“You weren’t supposed to...is she okay? Aunt Tess?” Q asks gently, not looking up.

“I kept her out of it. It’s not her fault her nephew’s a criminal.”

At that Q’s head snaps up and he glares. “MI6 stopped watching my downstairs flat last month; I thought it was safe. I’d never intentionally put her in danger. Or Norman, even though he is a prat.”

“He’s your uncle.”

“By blood, not by choice. Marrying Tess was the best thing he ever did, and I’m keeping her in the divorce.”

“I don’t think you’ll be seeing either of them again,” Bond states bluntly.

“Oh. Right.” Q gets up again and starts pacing. The room isn’t really big enough so he’s mostly just walking the length of the bed, stopping before he gets to Bond and spinning back around. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t kill me.”

Bond frowns at him, confused. “What makes you think I’d do that?” he asks. “I was tasked to bring you in.” He doesn’t think about M’s parting words: he won’t let Q get away, so they don’t matter.

“You’re an assassin,” Q explains, “I’m a traitor. Can I make it any more obvious? Then there’s also your personal history of-”

“Enough,” Bond interrupts. “I’m going to bring you in, you can explain yourself to M, and then…”

He trails off.

Q comes to a stop in front of him at the end of one of his lengths and laughs, right in his face. “And then? Go on, finish that sentence I dare you. Did you think I’d come back to work for Six? Did you think they’d rehabilitate me?” Bond doesn’t say anything but he can tell Q knows he’s hit the nail on the head. “Bond they’re going to stick me in a basement and torture me for an arbitrary amount of time before they kill me or turn me over to the Americans for more of the same. Is that why you tried so hard to track me down, for revenge?”

No . The idea of killing Q, or of having him locked up...it’s torture in itself, and Bond is rapidly coming to the conclusion that he’s messed up, in more ways than one. It’s obvious now that he thinks about it, but he hadn’t thought about it; he’s spent the last few months deliberately not thinking about it. He’s been so focussed on reclaiming the past that he’d forgotten the future wasn’t his to decide. 

Moneypenny was right: he really was an idiot.

Darcy would never let Q back, neither would M, or probably even Tanner for that matter. Even though Q had never meant to hurt anyone, even if he could prove that he didn’t know about Spectre until too late; he was and always would be a traitor to them. It wouldn’t matter if he came clean about everything now, or even if they could magically wind back the clock and he’d confessed instead of leaving: Q had never been loyal to MI6, he’d said as much himself.

“I wanted to go back...to how we were before,” Bond stutters out, the only truthful answer he can give.

Q does not seem impressed. “Before?” he scoffs. “Before you ran off to retire for the third time since becoming a double-oh? Oh yeah, then, when everything was so great that you left . You were the one who decided that wasn’t enough - I didn’t want to go back to that.”

Bond feels those words like a bullet. He’d never stopped to realise that it was Q's choice to leave, just like it had been Bond's, only he'd always known he'd be able to come back: he'd just assumed that Q would be waiting. Now he doesn’t know how to deal with all the aches inside him that provokes. Everything is getting away from him, his apparently not-so-genius plan dead in the water.

Bond’s phone buzzes. He ignores it.

“So, what did you want?” he asks, pushing everything else down.

“You!” Q cries, hands in the air and misery on his face. Bond wants to reach out and calm him, but he no longer has that privilege. “You absolute arse . I wanted you .”

Bond has to choke down his gut reaction, an easy denial: I didn’t know because he had, he had , he just...hadn’t believed. Of course he’d known: the way Q would look at him sometimes, the way he’d stammer through sentences when Bond flustered him, that hitch of breath when he got too close...but it hadn't been serious. It was just flirting between friends, right?

Q starts his pacing again and Bond doesn’t know how to respond, or even if Q wants a response, so he starts going through the abandoned duffle bag instead for something to do with his hands whilst he thinks. The bag is mostly underwear and electronics, a laptop, an MIT shirt (though he knows Q didn’t go), and right at the bottom, carefully lined with bubble wrap is-

“That’s my mug,” Bond says dumbly.

Q stalks back over to him and grabs the bag, replacing the mug and other items before shoving it out of reach. “I think you’ll find it’s mine 007. It was a gift.”

“From me.”

“Yes.”

Q looks at him. They haven’t been this close, face to face, in nine months, because Q had wanted him and Bond had left.

“Why are you here James, if not to kill me?”

Bond swallows. “It was the only way I could guarantee they wouldn’t send someone else after you.”

“Walker is three blocks away: you’re slipping.” That is news to Bond; he really is slipping. He’d hoped M trusted him enough to do the job, but considering how this conversation is going...maybe he’d been right not to. “Is he here to check you get the job done, or to terminate you once you’ve found me?” Q continues: he knows Bond’s loyalty to Six is a sore spot, and is obviously determined to poke it until it breaks. ”You were right you know; every time you tried to quit. It’s the job or the girl, you can’t have both.”

“You’re not a girl,” Bond says slowly, frowning, as if that’s the important part of this conversation.

Q laughs, loud and manic. “Would this be easier on you if I was? We probably would have fucked already. You would have told me you loved me and we could run away into the sunset and live happily ever after until my tragic demise at the hands of one of your enemies.”

“You could have just said something.”

“And what, suddenly you’d forget your heterosexuality and swoon into my arms?”

“I’ve slept with men before,” Bond argues, unsure when this had become an argument. Or more accurately when they’d moved from one argument to the next. His phone buzzes but he ignores it.

“It’s not the same. I’m not a job 007, you don’t have to fuck me for Queen and country.”

“You think I invited you to my flat for the fucking Queen?” he snarls, finally allowing his own frustration to boil out in his voice. “You think bringing you cakes and making you tea is part of my job description? You think snogging you senseless at the Christmas party was on M’s order?”

“There- there was mistletoe,” Q stammers, stepping back from where they’d naturally drifted towards each other. “You were drunk. I- I didn’t think you remembered.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me to.”

“Oh...well...that’s…”

“And what...what do you want now?” Bond presses.

“I wanted you to live!” And just like that they’re back to anger again. “I wanted you to get to grow old! When I called you you were supposed to run!” Bond opens his mouth to object that he's side-stepping the question but Q barrels on. “I was free, damned filofax notwithstanding. I put all that on the line to warn you - and yes I calculated that I’d have a day to flee the country, but it was all very spur of the moment, and I was really very happy here, and I’ll have to get Magritte to move the cats. However, instead of taking my very good advice to escape your untimely death, you come here! God, you have no idea how royally you’ve screwed things up for both of us.” Rant over, Q pauses; he’s shaking slightly, face scrunched up. “I really, really hate you,” he finishes quietly.

Oh.

Maybe his question has been answered after all.

“You don’t hate me,” Bond says, stepping forward into the younger man’s space. “You’re in love with me.” He raises one hand to Q’s cheek and rests it there; Q closes his eyes and turns into his palm. Bond’s heart feels like it’s breaking. There’s loyalty and then there’s this .

“Q,” Bond starts, leaning forward to kiss him, but the other man jerks backwards.

“That’s not my name,” he says, stepping further out of Bond’s embrace, hugging his arms to his chest like he’s scared Bond will hurt him. Again.

“No,” Bond holds his hands out to the side in the universal gesture of ‘I’m unarmed’, even as his Walther burns into his side in it’s shoulder holster, even though he knows that whilst his whole body is a weapon it’s his words that could hurt the most. “But that’s who you are to me. I don’t know who you are when you’re not my Quartermaster.”

And instead of getting annoyed, or writing him off, or just leaving, the man who isn’t Q anymore steps forward and kisses him, softly, gently, as if he sees Bond, all of him, and still loves him anyway.

“Yes you do. I’m Earnest, and I’m yours.”

They both crack up after a few seconds, holding onto each other for support.

“That is the worst line I’ve ever heard,” Bond says, but he’s grinning, ear to ear, for the first time in years. 

“One, that is patently false,” Earnest ( Earnest , he’ll have to get used to that, but then again they’ll probably both have to change their names for a while anyway) says with an eye roll, “and two, I’m not sorry my heartfelt declaration was tacky, but I am sorry for compromising your job.”

“I’m fairly sure I did that to myself,” Bond retorts, still smiling. “But I don’t mind. I’d choose you, if you asked. I came here because I want you in my life.”

Speaking of which…

Bond’s phone buzzes twice and he pulls it out, planning to ditch it and the spy pen on the first bus they pass going the opposite direction to wherever they are, but it buzzes again in his hand. There’s a series of texts waiting for him: Tanner, asking why they’ve lost the feed from the pen, then increasingly less well punctuated demands for a report. As he’s reading another text flashes up.

Unknown: ETA 5 mins.

And then the phone rings. This time it’s M.

Bond looks at Earnest. Earnest looks pointedly at the phone, chewing his lip.

“I am asking,” he says nervously. “Will you run away from it all, one last time with me? I'm a criminal, but you also know exactly who I am. It’s up to you whether or not you can accept that.” The phone keeps ringing. Earnest swallows and continues, as if he really doesn’t know that Bond has already made his decision, that he never stood a chance. “If you bring me in they might just trust you again. At least until next time you fake your death and run away.”

“Then why wait?” Bond asks rhetorically, and kisses him fiercely. Earnest leans into it and for a few seconds it's just the two of them together, finally. Bond pulls back before he loses himself, the timer in his head ticking down steadily. “Later,” he says, stealing another quick kiss before stepping away completely.

“Umm...so now what?” Earnest asks, flustered but obviously trying to pull himself together. He turns back to the bed, throws one last shirt and the coaster into the duffle bag before zipping it up and slipping it over his shoulder.

“Now we make our daring escape,” Bond answers, grinning. “And then I believe you wanted to fake our deaths and live in sin until your untimely demise at the hands of one of my many enemies?”

“That’s not quite what I said,” Earnest replies, scowling at him.

“Not up for dying tragically young anymore?”

“Tosser.”

“I love you too,” Bond says, and drags them both out the door just as the window explodes in a shower of glass.

*

Later - after several car chases, an impromptu helicopter ride, and trapping Williams, Walker and Wu in a posh hotel’s walk-in freezer with several recently freed angry lobsters - they’re on a train heading south, which will get them near to a private airfield James knows. Earnest slides into the window seat as soon as they find an available pair, puts his back against the wall, slings his legs over James’ lap once he's sat down, and pulls out his laptop.

James frowns down at the knees invading his personal space and sighs. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“Telling Magritte she’ll need to keep the cats for a bit longer,” comes the reply. “It’s not an issue, I half suspect she’s planning to steal them off me anyway.”

“That’s not…” he starts to say, then decides to change tact by resting his head on said invasive knees instead, letting his eyes drift shut. “I like your cats.”

He hears Earnest stop typing and suddenly there’s a hand in his hair, stroking gently. “And I will be shamelessly taking advantage of that after we kidnap them back to get several more, but we’re going to be on the run for a few months until I can properly convince Six we’re dead - I’m thinking CIA assassins by the way - and we’ll need to discuss where we want to settle down, and maybe buy a house before then of course.”

James raises his head and opens his eyes slowly, the hand retreating quicker than he can catch it. “Settle down?” he asks tentatively, looking over and finding the back of a laptop blocking his view.

“Well…” drifts over the reply, before a head pops up with a determined looking face. “I’m not talking white picket fences and two point five children. Who I am isn’t going to change, and I don’t expect you to either. Having said that...I like to stay in one place for a few years before moving on, pick up some freelance jobs, make some local friends. You can infiltrate the local criminal element and take them down from within while I blackmail politicians, hack Wall Street and day drink with my yoga buddies.”

“Yoga?” James asks incredulously, pushing the laptop out of the way as it starts to move back up again.

Earnest frowns at him, but stops trying to hide. “So you’re alright with me being a criminal but doing yoga is too much?”

“Hmm…" James smirks. "I guess that’s acceptable. As long as we can invite Theresa to visit us.”

That gets him a cocked eyebrow. “Only if you promise not to try seducing her again. You’re mine now.” 

And to prove it Earnest drags the man who stalked him to France and will follow him across Europe over his legs and kisses him.

Yes, James thinks. This is exactly what he wanted.

 

The End.