The first time Q brings up one of his exes, he and Bond have only had their arrangement for a month.
Bond calls it the ‘arrangement’ because nothing else seems to fit. Their relationship at MI6 has hardly changed; their attitudes toward each other are just as sarcastically critical as before. Only now, every other day or so, the sharp back and forth follows them out of Vauxhall Cross, across town to Q’s flat, and into his bed. (Occasionally it pauses here, but never for very long.)
It’s not dating. They don’t do things or go places together, even when the job would have allowed them. But it’s not not dating either, and the whole landscape of Bond-and-Q is now decorated with the domestic – Bond making tea and toast for Q in the morning, already glued to his laptop and worlds away, or Q doing the buttons on Bond’s dress shirt and tying his tie (and if Q shows an inordinate amount of interest in this process, he gives its opposite an equal amount of care and attention). There’s no word for it that Bond knows of, so he just calls it the arrangement. It sounds cold and distant out loud, but he thinks of it in the same way he thinks of their limbs fitting together as they fall asleep. It’s the give and take, the push and pull, the jigsaw puzzle of shared space that eventually settles into comfort and rightness. There’s no fuss to it. It’s just the natural falling of bodies into place.
Q and Bond don’t talk about the arrangement. Maybe they don’t need to. It’s not complicated and Bond doesn’t worry. Q is a constant, an unfaltering cornerstone in his life which he can always count on being there to return to. He’s security, in all things both personal and professional. He’s like a limb Bond never knew he was missing.
Which is, in part, why he’s so thrown when one night Q reminds him that Q is an actual person with a life and history outside of MI6 and Bond.
They’re watching telly and Q groans loudly as an ad for cologne comes on. It’s one of those celebrity scents, from a popular actor whose face Bond recognizes without being entirely able to place – such is his relationship with pop culture. He’s not sure what’s put Q off about it, aside from the general ham-fisted faux-luxury nature of celebrity cologne. The ad’s a fairly standard montage of sleek black and white shots of the celebrity in question surrounded by beautiful women who fall over him dramatically.
“Should I buy you a bottle for Christmas?” he teases.
“Ugh, please don’t,” Q says. “Don’t give that bastard a cent.”
“What, the actor?” Bond asks, searching his memory now for his name or anything he’s been in and coming up blank. “Not a fan?”
“Decidedly not,” Q says sourly. “He was such a pain. Always so clingy and jealous, constantly pestering me about who I was out with and when was I going to move in with him and calling me at three am from halfway around the world to ‘check in’ like I couldn’t tell he was just making sure what bed I was in. And then he had the nerve to cheat on me not once but four different times – on four different continents, if you can believe it, like he was going for a world record – and wouldn’t stop calling and calling ages after I broke up with him and he’d be outside my flat when I got back from work just standing there looking like some sad orphan – he can fake cry quite well, actually – so I got in the habit of crawling in through the back window until a neighbor saw and thought I was a burglar and called the police and the whole affair was so incredibly annoying from start to finish that just thinking about it now gives me a tension headache. Anyway, the very idea of him having cologne named ‘Stoic’ is obnoxious and bordering on hilarious.”
Bond sits back on the couch and attempts to process.
He’s still deciding how best to react to this information when Q cuts in with a hummed, “Still. Dating an actor did have its perks.” He turns to look at Bond. “Next time you’re on the continent, you ought to swing by Belgium. The best meal I’ve ever had was in Bruges at this beautiful restaurant....” He pauses and frowns. “Although I suppose with your schedule it’s hard to make reservations anywhere that requires them that far in advance.”
Bond opens his mouth to protest that he can get a reservation anywhere no matter how little notice he has – it’s part of the Bond charm for God’s sake – but the show Q is watching comes back on and the last time Bond tried to interrupt he got whacked over the head with the remote. It’s not an indignity he can stand to suffer again, so he shuts up and stews in silence.
“Moneypenny,” Bond greets, leaning up against her desk as he waits for M to finish the meeting he’s in.
“James,” Moneypenny says, raising an eyebrow at him. “Don’t sit on that file, I need to fax it later and it can’t be wrinkled.”
“You need to fax it,” Bond says incredulously. “Don’t let Q know you’re still using a fax machine in 2016 or you’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Q is aware,” Moneypenny says, “and I have yet to hear the end of it.”
She gives him a little shove and he straightens up off of her desk.
“Speaking of Q,” Bond says, “I learned something interesting about him the other day.”
“Oh?” She leans forward, a single perfect eyebrow raised in interest. “Do share.”
“Did you know he used to date a celebrity?” Bond asks.
Moneypenny’s shoulders fall and she rolls her eyes.
“Oh, that,” she says. “Which one?”
“What do you mean, ‘which one?’”
“I mean,” she says, “Which one? There are two that I’m aware of, although there could be more. God knows that boy goes through them. Let’s see, there’s the actor who he’s always whinging about – apparently one of the Q branch girls hung a picture in her cubicle and it drives him mad – and then there’s the rock star.”
“The rock star,” Bond repeats.
“Yes, I never understood how that happened,” she confides.
“No,” Bond agrees, because he doesn’t understand anything.
“I mean, Q so obviously could have done better,” she continues on. “He was self-absorbed and vain and always left this heinous trail of body glitter everywhere he went. I got some on one of my favorite skirts and it didn’t come off completely for months. Sometimes Q would come in in the morning and – ” She raises a hand to cover an un-ladylike snort at a memory. “ – and he’d have glitter on his face or in his hair and he’d just glare a anyone who pointed it out. It was a bit like he was necking some kind of hellish fairy or something. Shakespeare’s Puck.” She pauses and looks thoughtful. “Come to think of it, that might have been the appeal. Q’s an odd one like that.”
“Yes,” Bond agrees vehemently.
“Well, they broke up anyway,” Moneypenny shrugs. “And he’s not the worst Q’s dated, you know.”
She laughs, a little mockingly Bond thinks. Probably because she’s aware that Bond doesn’t know anything at all.
Bond is agonizingly slow in adjusting to the idea of Q having a history with anyone, let alone with someone whose face Bond now increasingly notices in his day to day life (much to his displeasure). Sometimes he catches himself working himself into a mood about it, turning over in his head the image of the Q he knows – eyelashes lowered, mouth slightly open, skin hot and slick and close; hair tousled lazily, eyes squinting against the morning light, chest vibrating with some quietly hummed tune – cut out and pasted into scenes where Bond is absent and replaced. He sees the cologne ad again and imagines Q in the place of the fawning women, his eyes filled with the stupid kind of puppy adoration Q never has for anything except for socks fresh out of the dryer and shiny new lab equipment.
Maybe he does have it for people, Bond’s traitorous brain whispers to him. Just not you.
The idea bothers him more than it should. It does not fit the arrangement, this whole business of jealousy and uncertainty. Besides, Q had complained about clinginess, hadn’t he? And it’s not like Bond has room to talk, what with all the sleeping with people during missions. Does that count as cheating? He can’t even stand the him that asks the question let alone bear to consider the answer. So he adjusts, slowly, by inches, and keeps how unsettled he is to himself.
Only, actors and rock stars aren’t the end of it.
A month later, Bond is assigned an undercover mission as a bodyguard for a fellow of Spanish nobility whose entourage in the Maldives includes a British man suspected of treason. From the very start it sounds like the kind of babysitting bachelor party from hell job that agents everywhere have nightmares about, but it gets worse when he walks into Q branch to retrieve his kit and finds Q waiting with luggage.
“I’ve already packed, thanks,” he says warily, eying the computer bag slung over Q’s shoulder.
“Don’t be ridiculous, double-oh seven,” Q says. “You’re a grown boy and you can sort out your own toothbrush and underwear without my help. This is for me.”
“Finally been bullied into going on vacation?” Bond asks hopefully. “Tanner’s been hinting at me.”
“Only in the loosest sense,” Q says. “I’m going with you to the Maldives.”
“No you’re not,” Bond says.
Q frowns, not seriously, but the way one does when dealing with a petulant child. It’s an expression that Bond has an unfortunate amount of familiarity with.
“I’m afraid I must, regardless of what you or I wish,” Q says. “Manuel only agreed to allow you to pose as his bodyguard because it was me who asked, and one of his stipulations was that I would also be there.”
“Manuel…the duke?” Bond clarifies. “What, you know him?”
Q winces slightly.
“He’s very nice,” he starts carefully. “Really, not at all what you’d expect of someone of his standing. And we parted on amicable terms – it just wasn’t realistic all things considered – but the fact of the matter is that – ”
“The two of you dated,” Bond says blankly. “You dated someone in line for the throne of Spain.”
“He’s only something like fifteenth or sixteenth in line,” Q says. “Not that close.”
“Right,” Bond says.
“Well, if that’s sorted, I have some specific instructions to give you about the plane ride.”
Q pulls out a hefty medicine bag filled with bottles – some of them obviously prescription although whether or not they’re specifically, legitimately prescribed to Q is in doubt – and begins a long diatribe on how much and how often he’s supposed to take each. His plan, apparently, is to drug himself into oblivion for the entirety of the ten hour flight. Bond forces himself to concentrate, especially when he starts to recognize the names of some fairly powerful tranquilizers, and succeeds, mostly, in pushing Q’s Spanish Duke from his mind.
Of course, he then has ten hours to spend sitting strapped in an airplane with a drooling, vegetable version of Q and nothing to do but think about it. They’ve been supplied with a small file on the duke and Bond pours over it for particulars to loathe, but finds only a photograph of a classically handsome man in a crisp suit and a long list of achievements that include, but are not limited to, a PhD in Politics from Oxford and several European speed sailing records. He can only hope that Q’s extreme distaste for air travel extends to boats as well.
In person, Manuel turns out to be just as charismatic, good looking and intelligent as his file purports him to be. His strong face lights up and softens when he sees Q enter the hotel suite in front of Bond, and he jumps up to greet him like Q is the one who’s royalty.
“Arthur, mi querido,” he says. “It has been too long.”
“Thank you for having us, Manuel,” Q says. “I appreciate the precarious nature of the situation your assistance places you in.”
“Think nothing of it,” Manuel says. “I have not. You asked, and that’s all that matters.” He looks past Q to Bond, giving him a dismissive once over. “Is he to be my new bodyguard, then? I trust he is capable.”
“This is agent double-oh seven, James Bond,” Q says, straightening slightly. “You couldn’t be in better hands.”
“Ah, but I can think of one pair that would be an improvement,” Manuel says, eyes glimmering down at Q.
“You’ll have to introduce me,” Bond says, purposely misunderstanding.
Manuel’s gaze flicks back to him and reevaluates.
“I find I don’t particularly wish to,” he says coldly.
“Too late,” Q says with a little too much cheer.
Manuel’s eyes narrow at Bond. Bond’s eyes narrow right back.
The mission itself turns out not to be much of a problem. The rest of it is a particular kind of hell that Bond never wants to have to live through again.
He is forced to spend most of his time in close proximity with the duke, who delights in recalling aloud his relationship with Q in painful detail. Bond, of course, feels obligated to give as good as he gets when they’re alone and they spend one tense afternoon arguing about the exact number and location of moles on Q’s hips, sending Q storming out of the room in disgust.
“When the two of you stop behaving like children and remember that this is a grave matter of national security for England,” he says as he goes, “feel free to speak to me again.”
Q point blank refuses to engage. This, unfortunately, kills Bond’s plan to have loud, rambunctious sex every night in his room opposite the duke’s.
The only thing that would have made the whole trip worth it is seeing Q in a bathing suit, his skin sun kissed and bronzing in the Indian Ocean sun. As it turns out, Q hates beaches and, apparently, all forms of relaxation – “Tanning is a vain waste of time. I only burn, anyway. Also there are no outlets on the beach. Where am I meant to work from?” He hasn’t even bothered to pack swim wear let alone change into it.
All in all, Bond is exceptionally glad to be back in dreary old England at the end of it, where Q coos at his two cats, Byron and Shelley, and complains to Moneypenny for an hour about sand and men.
“I thought it was going to be pistols at dawn for a moment,” he says after describing one particular incident when Bond and the duke had bumped hands when both reached out to grab the salt for Q over dinner one night.
“Not nearly bloody enough,” Bond mutters through clenched teeth.
“In other news,” Q says brightly, “we should probably not send double-oh seven to Spain for a while, don’t you think?”
Now that Bond has displayed overt signs of jealousy, he’s anticipating fallout with Q, or at least an uncomfortable conversation, so he’s pleasantly surprised when things only settle back into their usual routine, into the arrangement, without any sign of alteration. If anything, Q seems just as relieved as Bond is to be back.
“It’s all that money,” he says, stretching out his feet across Bond’s lap on the couch like a large imitation of his cats. “It makes me nervous. I never want to touch anything and then there he is acting so cavalier, like it doesn’t matter if I break a ten thousand dollar chair by sitting on it too heavily because that’s pennies to him and he can have another bought and delivered within the hour. Ugh.”
“I can’t imagine you of all people breaking a chair,” Bond says, threading his fingers through Q’s toes like they’re holding hands.
Q’s toes curl and he smiles slightly.
“You never knew me as a child,” he says. “I broke everything. More than you do.”
“And yet you have the gall to lecture me.”
“I would hope the difference between a chair, no matter the price, and a weaponized Aston Martin would not be lost even on you, James Bond.”
Bond pinches Q’s big toe and they fall into a half-hearted wrestling match that ends in Q’s bed, sans clothes, with both of them declaring themselves the obvious victor.
So they return to what can only, disturbingly, be called ‘domestic bliss’ and Bond naively assumes the worst is over with.
Then he and Q fall through the door to Q’s flat one day in the middle of a heated kiss that is quickly escalating only to be interrupted by a loudly cleared throat from the sitting room. They break apart, startled, and Bond goes for his gun without thinking. He has it trained on the woman luxuriating – there is no other word for it – on Q’s couch before he’s even fully registered her.
She’s extremely beautiful, tall and willowy with copper skin and long, dark eyelashes that seem to slow down time whenever she blinks. Her hair is the sort of long, wavy mane that shouldn't exist outside of shampoo commercials, and she’s wearing a tightly-fitted sleeveless red dress. A pair of black stilettos is hanging loosely from one of her hands. In the other is a wine glass, one of Q’s, and it’s probably his cabernet sauvignon that’s generously filled it.
“Who the hell are you and how did you get in?” Bond demands.
She merely quirks an eyebrow at him and looks to Q, who sighs.
“It’s fine,” he says, gently touching Bond’s arm until he lowers the gun. “She’s an old friend.”
“So stingy,” she drawls, taking a sip of wine. “We were far more than friends, darling.”
Bond looks up at the ceiling, incredulous.
“Another ex of yours, then?” he asks.
“Something like that,” Q says. “Victoria, you shouldn’t come by like this. I do work for the British government as law enforcement these days and I can’t exactly have an internationally wanted criminal lounging around in my flat. It doesn’t look good on my quarterly review. Why are you here?”
The woman – Victoria pouts prettily and sets the wine down so she can slip her shoes back on.
“I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I’d drop in and see if you were free for a bit of fun,” she says. “I can see you aren’t, though. Unless…ménage a trois?” She gives Bond an appreciative once over.
“No,” Bond says tightly, declining a threesome for what is likely the very first time in his life.
“Pity,” Victoria sighs.
She crosses the room and moves to kiss Q on the cheek, but he leans back to avoid her lips.
“Where are my cats?” he asks sternly.
“In the bathroom,” Victoria says, rolling her eyes. It seems to be an old argument.
“I was going to give you a half hour head start before I called the police, but now I’m only giving you fifteen minutes,” Q says. “Goodbye, Victoria.”
Bond helpfully holds the flat door open for her and gives her an unsubtle shove through it. She huffs in offense and glares back over her shoulder at him.
“You and your animals,” she sniffs to Q.
Bond shuts the door heavily, making sure to slide the deadbolt back into place, and then turns to look at Q.
“An internationally wanted criminal?” he prompts.
“Don’t worry,” Q says, crossing the flat to open the bathroom door. Byron and Shelley come darting out, Byron disappearing to go sulk somewhere – probably under the bed – and Shelley falling into a purring mess at Q’s ankles. “It’s only art theft and forgery. Nothing in our department. There, there, you silly thing. I’d never abandon you.”
Bond’s jealousy has turned into something of a small panic at this point. The longer Q’s list of exes gets and the more extraordinary its members become, the more worried he grows. He recalls what Moneypenny said – God knows that boy goes through them – and can’t help but wonder if he has an expiration date like the rest.
It’s the first time he’s really considered the future of the arrangement. He finds that the prospect of an ending daunts him where before it has always only been the inevitable nature of things. Now it’s as though every moment he spends with Q is merely a precursor to their separation, like grains in an hourglass slipping away, and that bothers him. He feels frustrated and impotent.
He takes more missions than he has been lately and when he’s not off on a job he spends more and more time at his own flat, a place that now feels foreign and morose. It’s so bare – he never fully finished unpacking – and quiet and there’s no thin layer of cat hair over everything, which is a bizarre thing to miss, but there you have it. Bond doesn’t sleep well there anymore. He lies awake, his skin itching in protest at the bed’s emptiness.
Q gives him concerned looks, but doesn’t say anything or confront Bond in any way. He merely frowns a little, not his condescending frown but his worried frown, small and tight and hidden beneath a hand or behind a mug.
The nature of working for MI6 is such that neither has much time to worry about their personal issues. It isn’t long before they’re all embroiled in a global emergency again, Bond sent jetting off to Brazil after a billionaire tech genius named Gabriel Stone who’s intent on holding the internet ransom (which sounds absolutely ridiculous to Bond but has Q branch running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off). He spends a week being shot at which culminates in an explosion involving two helicopters and a mountain. He escapes without injury (barely) and finally has the information he needs to sneak into the Stone’s secluded villa and disable his operation. The actual breaking and entering is no problem compared to some of his escapades, but it is made slightly more complicated when he enters Stone’s empty study and finds not only the computer from which the program can be deactivated but an elegantly framed photo sitting on the desk next to it.
The photo is of Stone, his arm around the shoulders of a young man in what is unmistakably a romantic moment before the Eiffel Tower at sunset. The young man shares a striking resemblance to Q. In fact, Bond realizes wildly as he snatches up the photo, it is Q, from the dark curls and glasses to the brown cardigan he’s wearing. A cardigan he’s seen Q in many times.
In a fit of anger, Bond rips the photo from the frame, only to discover a message scrawled on the back in Q’s sharp and unmistakable handwriting.
Two geniuses against the world. Love forever, Arthur
“Unbelievable,” Bond says.
He wishes he’d kept the comm he’d ditched his first day in Brazil so he could give Q an earful right now. Instead, he shoves the photo forcefully into his trousers pocket and opens the computer. He’s completely distracted, which slows him down, and he gets caught before the process is even half way finished.
The end result is that he shoots Gabriel Stone four times (once in the crotch) and shoves him over the edge of a cliff into a rocky ravine far below. Possibly overkill, but definitely satisfying.
On the flight home, he worries briefly about the fact that he essentially just killed one of Q’s exes in a fit of jealousy, but then remembers (a bit belatedly) that Stone had tried to hold the internet ransom and therefore even Q would agree that he deserved it. Plus, Stone had tried to kill Bond first.
A week goes by without Bond even turning up to Vauxhall Cross let alone dropping by Q’s apartment to fall back into the arrangement, so it’s maybe not surprising when Q turns up on his doorstep one evening with a bag of take away and an irritated expression.
“You can’t just drop off the face of the earth like that,” he scolds angrily, even as he scoops chicken tikka masala onto Bond’s plate. “Eat; you look like a dying man.”
“It’s just because I haven’t shaved,” Bond says gruffly.
“Well, you’d better do that too,” Q says. “You know I hate beard burn.”
Bond eats in petulant silence and Q leans against the kitchen counter, watching him and looking worried.
“What’s the matter with you lately?” he asks in a softer voice, seeming to finally break his resolve not to meddle. “Are you…do you want to end things?”
Bond considers for a moment and then pulls the crumbled photo out of his pocket, where he’s kept it since he found it. He tosses it onto the table and Q picks it up, blinking down at it in surprise.
“Where on earth did you get this?” he asks in wonder.
“At Stone’s villa,” Bond says. “He had it in a frame.”
“That explains something, anyway,” Q sighs, setting the photo back down. “It’s been a long time since I cared about let alone spoke to him. I wasn’t even particularly sad to hear he was dead. I promise I haven’t secretly been evil this whole time. Or if I had been I hope I would have been a bit better at it.”
“I don’t think you’re evil,” Bond says, lips quirking without his permission. “You don’t have an evil bone in your body. Besides, despite what you think you’re terrible at lying.”
“I am not.”
“Are so. You get all stiff and fidgety.”
“No, I don’t,” Q says mulishly. “Never mind that. If you don’t think I was secretly in league with Gabriel then what is going on?”
Bond pushes a lump of chicken across his plate with his fork, smearing sauce across the white porcelain. It occurs to him suddenly that Q had known exactly where to go to get his plates and cutlery even though he’d only been to Bond’s flat once before. The thought warms him.
“I think I love you, Q,” he says.
“Oh, that’s good,” Q says with a smile, “because I’m fairly sure I love you too.” His smile falters. “You still don’t look pleased.”
“It’s…” Bond starts, not knowing exactly how to explain himself. “Stone. And the art thief. And the duke. And the actor and the rock star.”
“I’m not dating any of them, I’m dating you,” Q says. “Is that what it is, you’re jealous? I know I wrote love forever on the photo, but I didn’t actually end up loving him forever.”
“That’s just it,” Bond says. “They were all…exceptional. And you left them all.”
Q stares for a moment and then straightens up.
“My God,” he says. “James Bond, are you feeling insecure?”
“Oh, you big idiot,” Q says fondly, leaning down to kiss Bond on the top of his head, through his hair. “Maybe they had money and power, but they were hardly exceptional. None of them ever stopped by when I was working just to drop off a cup of tea made just the way I like it. None of them ever wanted to sit around all day doing nothing, letting me code in peace. It was always running off to Paris or Beijing or New York to do horrible rich people things with their horrible rich people friends. I’ve wasted an unbelievable amount of my life on beaches. And we could never go anywhere without the paparazzi descending and I absolutely hate having my picture taken let alone plastered in the tabloids. The damage control was insufferable. Not with Victoria, but then, she wanted to steal everything interesting we saw. Absolutely could not leave the house with the woman, and she never wanted to stay in, either. And she didn’t like my cats!
"But you like my cats. And you make a decent cup of tea and you watch my silly telly programmes with me even though I know you hate them and when we meet at the museum you roll your eyes and spend too much time looking at the nudes and no time at all looking at anything else and you never make me feel boring or stupid or pedestrian or, worst of all, like a charity case. You’re just you. And I’m just me. And we fit so well together, you and I, better than I’ve ever fit with anyone else. You’re the one who’s exceptional, James Bond, not any of them. And I love you.” He leans back and grins down at Bond. “You’re the most normal person I’ve ever dated. I find that I prefer that very much.”
Bond wraps his arms around Q’s waist and pulls him close, burying his face in Q’s chest.
“Should I be worried you’re going to leave me for an accountant?” he asks.
“I couldn’t date someone who doesn’t think the practicality of smoke bombs is interesting dinner conversation,” Q says. “Besides, no accountant would ever appreciate my ability to add missiles to luxury automobiles.”
“I guess you’re stuck with me then,” Bond says.
Q hums and pulls away, leaning down to kiss him, slow and sweet.
“Beard burn,” he reminds after a moment. “Come back to my place. I have your razor.”
“If I do I might never leave,” Bond warns into the corner of Q’s mouth.
“Good,” Q says. “This place is painfully unfurnished and your view is shit.”
Bond barks a laugh – he has the most expensive view in London – and gets up to grab his jacket. They go back to Q’s and sit on the ratty old couch in the flat that looks out on an alley filled with garbage bins where Q dives into an animated story about something that happened in Q branch today and Byron curls up in Bond’s lap, purring loudly.
“Just so you know, though,” Bond says a while later, once he has shaved and they’re lying in bed together, “I can get a reservation anywhere in the world. My schedule is never a problem.”
“Right,” Q says dryly. “Let me know how that goes when you call the chip shop down the street to get a table for tomorrow night.”
Bond does call. The chip shop agrees, but they have to bring their own table.