The problem with Q branch is that, well, you’ve taken a lot of very intelligent people and then shut them up in a basement together with a working coffee machine. While espresso shot Russian roulette and designing things that look like other things and then explode takes a lot of time, it doesn’t take up nearly as much time as everyone thinks it should and there’s really only so many hours of Fruit Ninja you can play before you start wanting to put your own eyes out.
Long story short: Q branch have a lot of time on their hands.
Like, a lot.
That’s Q’s excuse, anyway, and he’s bloody well sticking to it.
“You should probably be careful,” Q says to Bond while he hands over today’s new gun that will last approximately three days if he’s lucky, “I hear Doctor Jones is going to be in Washington too.”
Bond looks momentarily confused, and then some kind of realisation slots into place. Q isn’t sure how you’d forget sleeping with someone whose name is actually Christmas, but then the opportunity has never really arisen for him.
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Bond tells him, clipped and tidy.
“Bond,” Q tells him, “we’re Q branch, we’ve forgotten more about your sexual partners than you knew about them in the first place.”
“…you’re Q branch,” Bond says after a moment, “you’re my Quartermaster.”
“We can hack any file,” Q points out, “and we have a lot of free time.”
Bond’s expression tells him that he’s definitely not getting any of his equipment back this time around.
“Bond is on the phone,” Karen announces, interrupting Q’s internal debate over whether Starmix counts as one of his five a day, or whether Eve is going to shout at him again later. “He’s emphatically angry.”
Karen has only been in their division for three weeks; she seems nice, if a little overwhelmed, but she’s clever and has a way with coding that makes Q maybe swoon a little.
“Really,” he says.
“Those were his exact words,” Karen explains. “He said to pass them on.”
It’s at moments like this that Q wishes they’d give him his own office to hide in, where he could take this call in peace.
“We’ve never had a Quartermaster killed by a double-oh agent before,” Fred says gleefully, spinning around from his computer screen.
Q looks around to find they’re all watching him with various expressions of sadistic entertainment.
“None of you bastards are in my will, you know,” he tells them, and doesn’t at all flounce off to their lab.
“Look,” he says, before Bond can get the chance to speak, “it’s not my fault if it blew up, you clearly weren’t listening to what I told you-”
“If what blew up?” Bond asks.
“Oh. Well.” Q runs a hand through his hair. “Nothing.”
“Q,” Bond says, in that special dry sharp tone he seems to save just for him, “what have you rigged to explode?”
“Technically nothing,” Q lies, crossing his fingers, “but I’ve learned to cover my arse by now. So, er, did you just want a chat? You can’t have broken all that tech I gave you already.”
“You underestimate me,” Bond says smoothly, and adds: “I have a three minute pornographic voicemail, Q.”
Q belatedly remembers that game they were all playing the other night when they were all working on overtime and no sleep for days. “Occupational hazard?” he suggests.
“I was pretty sure Ally was calling 003,” Q sighs.
“Oh,” Bond says, “well. It’s good to know that the people whose technological prowess I rely on can’t even ring the right phone number.”
“We’ll ring yours on purpose next time?” Q offers.
“Next time, I’m telling Moneypenny,” Bond replies, and hangs up.
“Bond,” Q says to the dialtone, “that’s not playing fair.”
James Bond fucks like he kills: effortlessly, quickly, efficiently, without conscience or regret or losing the slightly dead look behind those sharp blue eyes.
That seems to work for him, but sometimes Q wants to tell him that not everybody approaches sex like that.
(“Not everybody approaches sex with several ringbinders full of printouts and notes either,” Eve reminds him when Q points this out.
“Well,” Q huffs, “that’s clearly their failing.”
“You spent nearly a month cross-referencing,” Eve adds helpfully, not quite managing to hide her smirk behind her mug.
“And yet you’re the one people are calling a secretary,” Q muses, and resigns himself to getting his own coffee for the next couple of weeks.)
It’s a stupid science fiction show cliché, but lockdowns do get periodically triggered and there isn’t a lot they can do until the all-clear is announced and someone lets them out.
Q stops fiddling with a self-loading gun he’s been trying to make logistically feasible and accepts a mug with a generous helping of the vodka Ally keeps in the bottom drawer of her desk, because last time this happened they wound up stuck inside their department for sixteen hours, so there’s no point trying to wait it out in a well-behaved fashion.
“The thing is,” Sanjit says, several shots of coffee-and-vending-machine-mocha later, “the thing is, what it all comes down to, right, is that someone is going to have to sleep with James Bond for research purposes.”
There’s a moment of silence while they all think about this.
“Can we draw graphs?” Fred asks eventually.
“We’d have to,” Kimberley nods, already reaching for her laptop.
Q should nip this in the bud, but, well, he’s just as curious as the rest of them. “Ally, you’re up.”
“Why me?” Ally asks, looking a strange mixture of cornered and smug.
“Because Kim’s got a girlfriend and we can’t let the work experience girl sleep with Bond,” Q explains, “it’s bad form.”
“I’m not actually the work experience girl,” Karen pipes up.
Q branch aren’t total bastards so they don’t haze new people to the point of crying or anything like that. They will be calling Karen the work experience girl for the next couple of months, though; they’re not saints.
“I’m not going to have to get anything waxed, am I?” Ally asks, which makes Serge choke on his drink.
“Depends on how long we’re stuck in here,” Kimberley decides, and Q thinks vaguely who on earth let us have a department that can endanger people’s lives, but all he does outwardly is reach for the vodka.
Q imagines that kissing Bond must be like being punched repeatedly in the face, only considerably less enjoyable.
Sanjit and Serge spend the twenty-first of December covering their basement in so much tinsel that Q has had to resort to wearing sunglasses when the lights are on, interspersing it with mistletoe, snowflakes, and alarmingly happy-looking snowmen. Q attempted to point out to Sanjit that he doesn’t actually celebrate Christmas, and therefore decorating the place like a John Lewis advert threw up is just cruel, but it hasn’t made any difference to the general glitter.
“This is… charming,” Bond says when he turns up at two in the morning, wearing a tuxedo and carrying the shattered remains of what used to be a comms unit. This is par for the course by now, admittedly, but it still makes Q’s teeth grit.
“I was thinking of doing this to your flat tomorrow afternoon, I’m glad you approve,” Q replies, holding out his hands for the bits of useless plastic and wiring.
Bond’s mouth quirks into a half-smirk, though he seems to distracted by something on the ceiling; Q looks up to find that Serge has taped a piece of mistletoe directly above his desk, because his colleagues are terrible people.
Q has a multitude of options, but he elects for the one where he stands still, raises an eyebrow like some kind of challenge, and waits to see what happens. And then Bond is kissing him, hard and clumsy and like he’s got something to prove.
He counts in his head until Bond staggers back, choking. “What-” he manages.
“Oh,” Q explains, “that’s this new poison lipgloss we’re developing. It’s off the record at the moment because we’re not technically chemists.”
Bond is still wheezing and looking incredulous, clutching the edge of Q’s desk.
“It’s illegal to test it on our staff members,” Q continues, “health and safety and all that stuff.”
“Then what do you call this?” Bond demands. His face is going an interesting shade of dark red.
“A lucky gamble?” Q suggests.
“Fuck you, Q,” Bond spits, legs crumpling beneath him.
“Ah, antidote, right,” Q realises suddenly, rummaging around in one of his drawers for the syringe and crouching down beside Bond. “It’s not designed to be murder-y, by the way,” he assures him, “it’s just meant to be incapacitating.” He efficiently plunges the needle into Bond’s neck, hearing Bond’s breathing ease almost instantly.
“Thanks for that,” Bond manages dryly.
Q pushes himself back to his feet, dusting off his hands. “Well,” he says, “I think that can be classed as successful, don’t you?”
Bond gives him a paint-stripping glare, which transmutes into something incredulous along the lines of are you just going to leave me here propped against your desk when Q turns to go.
“I don’t particularly want to be around you when you regain the ability to break my nose,” Q explains. “And, let’s face it, 007, you wouldn’t respect me in the morning.”
It says a lot that Q’s team are much more interested in updating their spreadsheets than they are in the results of their poisoned lipgloss.
“We’ve nearly got the full double-oh set,” Kimberley says happily, putting in a Q underneath 007.
“What about 006?” Q asks.
“I got him two years ago,” Fred reminds him. “And Serge kissed 003 at Easter.”
Nobody’s quite figured out what the prize is if Q branch manage to successfully kiss every double-oh agent, but it’s probably going to involve alcohol of some description. It usually does.
“Does nobody care about the successful poisonous lipgloss?” he asks at large.
Kimberley looks mildly disapproving. “You have got to stop stealing all your ideas from Doctor Who,” she says. “At the very least it’s probably a copyright issue.”
Q knitted himself a Tom Baker scarf even after the BBC yanked the patterns off the internet, so he has no great concern for copyright infringement.
He waves a hand. “None of the agents have time to watch television, we’ll still get away with it.”
“So,” Serge says, walking in with a cardboard tray of Starbucks cups, “tell us what kissing Bond was like.”
“Like smashing my face into a wall,” Q sighs, and is almost relieved when a call comes through from one of their agents in Syria.
Fred’s got a girlfriend who willingly makes them all cupcakes because it’s still early days and Fred probably lies to her about how lovely all his co-workers are. Kimberley’s got a girlfriend in the CIA and an ex-boyfriend who works in the Pentagon who they use as an asset more often than is probably legal. Serge is a bit of a manwhore because he has pretty eyes, while Sanjit has a secret and desperate love for Jane Austen that probably means he’s going to end up earnestly married sometime, or at least die trying.
Q hasn’t got Karen figured out yet, but that’s fine, because Karen hasn’t got them figured out either.
“We don’t like labels,” Q offers her after a long and complicated conversation about agents Q hasn’t slept with, and agents he has, and things that still go under Classified Information, while they’re waiting for a new software programme to download.
Karen mutely points to the wall of drawers, which are covered in printed sticky labels covered in small, accurate Helvetica detailing what they contain, down to the last screw size. Some things can’t be slapdash, after all.
“You’ll get the hang of it,” Q offers her; “welcome to Q branch: we run on fluid sexuality, CSS and caffeine.”
Karen retains her sweetly bemused expression.
“Oh, yes,” he adds, “and Haribo.”
Q carries two mugs of coffee to the roof, where Eve is smoking a cigarette and looking at something on her tablet, flicking dismissively past several pages of photographs.
He hands over one of the coffees and sits down beside her, peering curiously over her shoulder. He’s got clearance, and if Eve really didn’t want him to see something she wouldn’t be looking at it during her morning break anyway.
“Flowers?” he asks, propping his chin on her shoulder. “Who’s the lucky boy, Moneypenny?”
Eve laughs flatly and shrugs him off. “Bond needs me to send some flowers to someone he’s honeytrapping.”
Q doesn’t know why they make Bond a honeytrap of any description anyway; more like a grizzly bear trap, he thinks, but doesn’t say it aloud because Eve will just point out that he still finds him attractive anyway, and, well, that’s just inviting a whole lot of nonsense.
“You should tell him you’re not a secretary,” Q says, and: “not those, those are positively grandmotherly.”
“I don’t mind,” Eve says easily, “choosing floral arrangements is much more fun than my usual admin tasks.”
“Did he ask you to send a card with a ridiculous message?” Q asks.
“The card’s meant to be blank,” Eve tells him. “Enigmatic, and so forth.”
Q thinks about it for a moment, and then says: “I will give you fifty pounds to send the message your body is a wonderland.”
“A hundred,” Eve says, double-tapping on a picture of an arrangement with a horrible amount of pinks in it.
“Seventy-five,” Q haggles, leaning over to click back to the previous screen. “Bond has no idea who John Mayer is. Oh, new theory: 007 is John Mayer, just with more actual strangulation.”
“If I say I’ll send the card, will you stop talking?” Eve asks.
Q steals her cigarette and points at an arrangement with white roses in it. “You already know the answer to that,” he replies, and enjoys the curve of Eve’s smile.
Three in the morning is the time to really crank up Q branch’s modified sound system, because there’s no one left around tonight to complain about Q’s irritatingly eclectic taste in music, and they have enough sound-proofing down here because of their frequent explosion problems so he won’t get pissed-off staff from elsewhere coming to yell at him.
He’s tapping out the piano solo in the middle of Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl on the edge of his workbench, having stolen Fred’s emergency Wagon Wheels out of the false bottom of his desk drawer (he’ll replace them… eventually) and determined that he’s staying here until he’s put the laptop 006 returned in a tragic mess back together again.
Bond’s face is creased a way his suits never are, clearly unimpressed with Q’s choice of music.
“If you came here at your appointed times you wouldn’t have to put up with this,” Q points out, and Bond responds by throwing a small white card onto the table beside him.
Your body is a wonderland is printed in small type in the middle. Q attempts to look innocent.
“You should probably work on that for when you inevitably get compromised,” Bond tells him. It’s impossible to figure out whether he’s amused, or just homicidal.
“How did it go?” Q asks. “You’re looking remarkably not shot for once.”
Bond does a funny little half-shrug. “I think she might be my girlfriend now.”
Good grief, Q thinks, but aloud all he says is: “next time, I’ll send a Michael Bublé message.”
“No, you won’t,” Bond says, and turns to leave.
“I can’t believe you don’t know who Michael Bublé is,” Q calls after him, because he can read Bond’s what-is-this-popular-culture-of-which-you-speak expression from a mile off, no matter how hard he tries to hide it. “I’ll send you some MP3s!”
“I won’t listen to them,” Bond responds, but there’s a smirk in his voice.
And the man with the golden gun thinks he knows so much, Tori’s backing singers announce as Bond walks back out again.
“Huh,” Q says to no one in particular, and turns his attention back to the laptop.
On a bet, Sanjit and Kimberley sneak a couple of the extremely strange condoms they found online that have a reasonably large hollow Pikachu at the end into the bottom of one of Bond’s gun cases.
The best part of the whole thing, Q thinks, apart from Bond coming back into Q branch upon his return from Israel, waving one and announcing that if they’re going to give him stupid condoms can they at least be bloody flammable next time (cue an entire afternoon of just how flammable are condoms anyway?), is the fact that he knows that Bond has no idea what Pokemon are.
MI6 drinking games are never, ever a good idea. Never, ever, ever.
Q says this, even while he pours shots of tequila into shot glasses, which Eve is delicately piling into a beautiful pyramid. Tanner is pouring the vodka ones, because mixing spirits is always the best of plans, and Eve is combining the two colours of booze with ease. She’s wasted in basically all of this espionage shit.
“Are we playing I Never again?” Q asks. “Because we should probably have invited Bond for that, let’s face it.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to play drinking games when you’re a borderline-alcoholic psychopath with some kind of sadomasochistic undertone and a gun in your underwear,” Tanner remarks.
It’s possible Tanner has started drinking already.
“It’s not in his underwear anymore,” Q says, immediately defensive of his workmanship, and: “…what about Ring Of Fire?”
“No,” Eve says firmly.
Q tries to think about other games he picked up at uni, which was frankly all a bit awkward because he got fast-tracked to university so he wasn’t technically old enough to drink for a lot of it. There are misspent youths, and then there’s Q’s misspent youth, which frankly makes everyone else’s look like Downton Abbey.
“Beer pong?” he tries.
“Too American,” Eve dismisses, setting the last tequila shot neatly on top of the pile. There’s a lot of booze there, and Q is already thinking about tomorrow morning, which is going to involve him sweet-talking the medical department into hooking him up to an IV in exchange for website-hacking favours.
They end up playing Jenga with shots, which in turn eventually leads to Q trying to lick spilled tequila from the elbow of his cardigan, before a train of thought ends in: “I will do anything you want if you slip Bond a file convincing him Taylor Swift is some kind of enemy agent who he has to stalk.”
Eve starts giggling, pressing perfectly manicured fingers over her mouth, while Tanner just mourns: “we should probably have let you out of the basement before it was too late.”
“Pretty sure we could fix everything that’s wrong with his life with a copy of Fearless,” Q tells them, dizzy and drunk and expected to report for work in about four hours.
Q honestly spends about sixteen hours thinking about how he could permanently set Bond’s ringtone to I Touch Myself, until Karen points out that Bond’s just going to assume Q is hitting on him like everyone else in his life.
Before he’s even got time to start sulking, however, Kimberley commandeers a flipchart and Q branch start listing potential inappropriate songs for 007’s ringtone with a level of enthusiasm that can really only come from being awake for about thirty-two hours straight.
“You’re aware you have a budget review tomorrow,” Eve offers, when she comes down later to pick up some files for M and offer up I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked, while Serge continues to put together a quick Powerpoint on why they obviously have to go for The Bad Touch, and Sanjit waves a disturbing print-out from that sex book Madonna thought was a good idea in her younger years.
“I’ve finished up the tracking chip that doesn’t show up on x-ray and is physically impossible to remove,” Q replies, as Ally steals the marker to write up Everything By Katy Perry Ever. “I obviously won’t talk about the part where we’re all sex-starved geniuses shut up in an enclosed space with a shitload of coffee and too much time on our hands.”
“I thought last week’s stationery Olympics were fairly impressive,” Eve offers.
They possibly shouldn’t have had an actual opening ceremony for them, but then they’d just managed to save the lives of five undercover agents in Russia, and they were high on relief and stale shaking adrenaline.
“We’re actually modifying Ray’s rubber band slingshot into something we can give agents,” Q tells her. “Those paperclips bloody hurt.”
“I’ll let you explain that one to M,” Eve replies, adding: “Serge is right, it’s got to be The Bad Touch,” before she leaves.
Being fundamentally irreplaceable does make you somewhat unprofessional, Q muses, reaching for today’s sixth cup of Darjeeling, but, well, at least they’re all having more fun with it than the double-ohs are.
“It’s all about extrapolation,” Q explains to Bond, while he tugs a length of garrotte wire out of the side of Bond’s new watch, because when you can’t make things explode you can still make them sharp.
He has no idea how he got into this conversation, by the way.
“I can transfer many skills from my work to the bedroom,” Bond says, a little stiffly, before adding: “we’re not talking about this.”
They already are talking about this, but all Q says is: “not everybody enjoys black eyes and choking while they’re trying to have sex, you know.”
Bond smirks one of those disturbing little smirks that might be sexy if it weren’t for that fact that Q knows full well that Bond is a psychopath, and says: “and what exactly can you take from your profession?”
Q presses the switch that drags the garrotte wire back into the watch, and shrugs. “Lots of things require delicate fingerwork.” Bond chuckles a little, and Q waves a hand. “And, you know, wiring.”
“Wiring?” He’s got Bond’s bemused attention now, and Q is suddenly struck by the horrible thought that 007, for all his pornographic mission files and utterly insane reputation, might be vanilla.
“Well,” he says, going for casual shrugging, “your Friday nights just got downgraded in my imagination.”
Bond holds his hand out for his watch. “Your Friday nights are spent making me toys.”
“That you then break,” Q confirms, wearing his best I will stab you in the sodding face if you don’t bring this watch back, 007 expression. It’s probably not as intimidating as he likes to think it is.
“That I break,” Bond agrees, and sails out on his deeply unsettling smile.
“Twenty quid says the next time he comes in here he’ll have electrical burns,” Karen pipes up, and Q doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or at the very least anonymously direct Bond to eHow.
“Are you going to sleep with M for science?” Q asks Eve, while he’s sitting on her desk eating a giant tub of Eat.’s duck gyoza soup. It’s got noodles and vegetables and dumplings and about three litres of soup, so it’s impossible to eat without slurping and getting miso all over his cardigan, but Eve’s pretending not to watch and there aren’t any appointments for the next hour, so it’s fine.
“Why would I sleep with M for science?” Eve responds distractedly, busy typing an email to the Secretary of Defence’s secretary.
Q hasn’t thought this question through, but that won’t stop him from persevering anyway. “Would you sleep with M for not-science?” he tries.
Eve fixes him with one of those looks that are a bit like a throwing knife, but with more mascara.
“Who says I haven’t?” she asks.
Ex-agents: impossible to have a conversation with. Seriously.
“Did you have sex with Bond?” he asks.
“For science?” Eve arches an eyebrow, attention already back on her computer screen.
Q shrugs. “Isn’t fucking Bond like a rite of passage around here?”
“I think they stopped handing out the certificates a couple of years ago,” Eve says mildly. “If that was something you were looking forward to.”
Q ignores the implication, because, seriously, he’s still got a few shreds of self-preservation left. Not many, admittedly, and he’s losing them by the day, but, still.
“It would look so pretty framed behind your desk,” he offers, and goes back to trying to eat his noodles without covering himself in them. He thinks Eve might be silently laughing at him, but he doesn’t turn to look.
Today, Q is wearing his red and white striped jumper that Tanner always says makes him look like Where’s Wally, he’s drunk eight mugs of coffee, and 004 is currently on her way back to the UK riddled with bullets. She’ll make it, apparently, but, well, if that’s the end of her career then maybe she won’t want to.
Double-ohs are difficult, and Q tells himself he isn’t attached to them, but it’s often not quite true. This is really why everyone should take MI6 up on their mandatory therapy instead of pissing off the psychiatrists and seeing how many Beatles references they can get into a word-association game – well, maybe that one was just Q – but nobody ever actually will.
“Is Bond due in later?” Fred asks, in a transparent attempt at distraction from the gloom that Q will go with because he hasn’t got anything else to do.
Ally is definitely giving Q a significant look; it’s one he can see reflected on the face of everyone else in here, even Mark, who’s only been here three days and mostly looks awed and terrified.
“Announcement,” he says, standing up, “someone’s going to have to sleep with Bond, yes, but it is not going to be me.”
“Why not?” asks Mark, because Mark is their new Work Experience Boy.
“Because he’s about half an inch wide and Bond wouldn’t fit?” Serge suggests, eyes wide and innocent.
Q is definitely going to hack his bank account and give him a paycut. Serge has protections against that sort of thing, of course, but Q is Q.
“Because I am Quartermaster and that is what I have you lot for,” he says, drawing himself up with an attempt at dignity, despite the fact he’s got green tea all over his shirt. “Delegation of tricky or potentially unpleasant tasks.”
That’s when he looks up a little more to find Bond has arrived at some point and is standing in the doorway looking amused.
“‘Tricky or potentially unpleasant tasks’?” Bond asks.
Q shrugs. “I shall have it engraved on your next ipod.”
Bond’s new ipod can be used as a bomb, technically, but has also been loaded with every Taylor Swift song in existence, as well as Nine Inch Nails’ Closer in case Bond has to seduce someone and doesn’t want to look like a teenage girl too much.
“I’ll treasure it,” Bond says dryly.
Q considers his options, then picks up his mug and puts it on Serge’s desk. “007,” he says, “this is Q for today. Q, you can deliver 007’s new equipment, can’t you?”
Serge glares at him, but he obediently gets up, and Bond tips Q a wink before he follows him.
Q watches the sunset with an M&S apple turnover that he’s had in his locker all day so it probably needs eating, and a cigarette he’s stolen from Eve. The whole thing is very pretty and cinematic and he’s probably not appreciating it enough. It probably requires Instagram, and not to be half-dead inside from three days of rewiring and a mild security breach.
Eve is being her wonderful self, and hasn’t said anything at all.
“Are you sure you’re not sleeping with M?” he can’t resist asking at last.
“My life isn’t a terrible Mills and Boon,” Eve responds lightly. “What do you take me for?”
“A person with eyes,” Q responds.
Eve smiles. “Well, I suppose there is that.”
Q huffs out a sigh. “We’re surrounded by deeply damaged nymphomaniac psychopathic spies who are somehow incredibly attractive despite this, why aren’t we getting laid? Other than the fact you’re an actual professional and I basically live in a strip-lit basement with Hobnob crumbs in my hair.”
Eve sucks on her cigarette, managing to make it look elegant in a way Q never has. “You know that you can’t use the word ‘nymphomaniac’ to describe men, don’t you?” she says at last.
He laughs, a lungful of smoke spilling out across the London skyline. “Yes,” Q tells her, “yes, of course I do.”