"So tell me how I’m supposed to live
when every night you die for it
So if you give, just say you won’t give in"
- Girls of 1000 Dreams, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Half a year ago, it began like this:
“Moneypenny said you asked for me.”
Q didn’t even look up from the gadget he was tinkering with. “Mmm, so I did. How was Indonesia?”
“Hot. Did you need something? I’ve haven’t even gotten to debrief yet.”
“Oh, wondering whether you’d gotten me anything while you were traipsing around the world, that’s all.”
Bond raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t exactly have time to sight-see and purchase trinkets for prepubescent quartermasters.”
Q snorted. “Just hand over your equipment, Bond.” He raised his head when 007 put his gun and radio in the metal tray. “Well. No visible injuries this time. Do try to keep it that way, would you? That way Q-Branch might get to ask M to reroute some of Medical’s budget to us.”
“Your concern is heartwarming.”
“Keeping your arse in one piece shouldn’t be that difficult.”
“Your concern for my arse warms things other than my heart.”
Q shot him a look. “Out.”
The next time Bond returned from a mission, he came down to Q-branch without any prompting and placed a box in front of the quartermaster.
“What’s this?” Q asked, poking at it with the tip of a scalpel.
“Managed to find time to purchase a trinket for a prepubescent quartermaster after all.”
Q looked like he was about to be ill. Or kill someone. “Why.”
Bond, the bastard, was smiling at him. “The moment I saw it, I knew you had to have it.”
Using only the very tips of his fingers, he picked up the unwrapped gift from his desk. “You laid eyes on this dancing Elvis doll and decided that it would be the perfect souvenir for me.”
“Naturally. It’s just so very… you.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
“I was happy to get it for you.”
“No, you really shouldn’t have.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, reminding himself to take deep breaths. “And the equipment?”
“Oh yes. Those. Well, they’re all gone.” And with that, Bond sauntered away.
Natasha, one of Q’s underlings, immediately went up to him with a cup of tea. Moneypenny had drilled them very thoroughly on what to do whenever 007 dropped by post-mission. “Sir.” He accepted the offered mug with a grimace. And though he did his level best to ignore it, she waved a piece of paper at him until he took it.
“Another memo reminding me that I’m not allowed to kill 007. Fantastic.” Getting up, he put some sellotape on the back of it and slapped it onto a wall which held nineteen near-identical memos from M. 007 loved that wall.
(It was Bond’s personal goal to have at least a hundred of those by the end of the year. Rather ambitious even for him, considering it was already September, but Q just knew that the agent would make it happen somehow.)
“M added another clause stating that rigging the equipment to backfire on him counts.”
Q made a displeased face. “For the last time, M can’t prove that was my fault. My equipment is flawless.”
“And explosive,” he allowed. “But M still can’t prove anything.”
Without any further fanfare, Q picked up the present, box and all, and deposited it into the wastepaper basket under his desk.
“Now back to work,” he said, ignoring his subordinates’ amused looks.
Later that evening, a dancing Elvis doll was carefully placed in a shoebox that contained assorted gewgaws, including a koala paw can opener, an Eiffel Tower snowglobe, Winnie-the-Pooh matryoshka dolls, a stuffed alligator, and a Taj Mahal candy dispenser. It was nearly full—he’d have to get another one soon.
Q put the box back under his bed, where it was neatly labeled ‘BANK STATEMENTS’ and hidden behind some spare computer parts.
“You lost it.”
“I lost it.”
Q stared at him. “007, that was the prototype. Do you remember what I told you?”
“How could I forget? ‘I don’t care if they bring in your corpse so long as the prototype’s intact’.”
“Q-branch spent a quarter of its annual budget on it, how could you lose it—“
“Dropped it in the ocean.”
“You were working barely five kilometers away! THERE IS NO OCEAN HERE.”
Moneypenny slid herself between them before Q could make a lunge for 007. By now their exchanges were so routine that Q-Branch treated them as white noise. “He’s messing with you, and you’re only giving him the reaction he wants by trying to tackle him.”
“By all means, tackle me.”
“Bond, stop teasing our quartermaster and just give him back the equipment.”
“Shan’t,” Bond said.
“You are going to give me back that prototype or so help me God—“
At that moment, 006 and 008 came strolling in. Quick as a bullet, Q suddenly cut off his banter, dropped his head and let out a hitching breath.
Bond’s smile fell away. “Q?”
The other two Double-Os wandered up to them, curious. All of them had a soft spot for Q, who provided them with shiny toys, kept them alive in the field, and always visited them in medical. They tended to treat him like a favorite little brother, much to his chagrin. It was well-known that most of the Double-Os carried sweets with them at all times in MI6 headquarters just so they could feed the quartermaster’s sweet tooth. “What have you done this time, James?” asked 006.
“Now Jack, would I ever…?”
“Don’t make us answer that. We’ll be here all night,” 008 ribbed. He put his hand on Q’s arm and squeezed. “You oughtn’t let him get to you—“
He trailed off as he lifted Q’s chin. Tears clung to the quartermaster’s lashes, wet tracks down his face as he let out a soft, wounded noise that made everyone look up from their work and stare. He looked helplessly young and broken.
The Double-Os, Moneypenny, and all of Q-Branch froze.
Q turned away, hiding his face from 008. “Bill, I…” he let out a shuddering sob before he shook off 008’s grip, which had turned tight and painful. “I…”
006 whirled to face 007. “What. Did. You. Do.”
Q let out another one of those pained, almost inhuman sounds.
008 reached for his shoulder holster. “Bond.”
Bond glared at Q. “You morally bankrupt little—“
“Bond. Because we’re mates, I’m giving you a five second head start. After that, you’d better pray M gets to us before we get to you.” 007 took off before he could even finish the sentence.
A Q-Branch member, Tess, got up and handed Q a cup of tea. “Q.” She hesitated, wanting to ask if he was all right, but Moneypenny shook her head. Tess nodded reluctantly and gave them some space. Q was younger than most of Q-Branch despite being in charge of them, and they were all fiercely protective of him.
Bond was going to have a few ‘accidents’ with his equipment for the foreseeable future.
“It’s all right, Q, we’ll get him,” 006 assured him, loading his own gun. “Here, er, just have a few of these.” He emptied his pockets of caramels and set them on the table.
“Really, it’s fine, Jack,” Q said, wiping hastily at the dampness on his cheeks. “I was… I was asking for it, I suppose. I just… he…” His whole face crumpled.
Both agents’ eyes narrowed. “We,” 008 said, voice deadly, “are going to bring you his head on a platter.”
He patted Q on the shoulder before he and 006 took off.
“Well, that went well,” Q murmured the moment they were out of earshot, voice pitched too low for any of his staff to hear.
“Don’t use your powers for evil,” Moneypenny scolded, flicking him on the forehead. Q shrugged, unwrapped a caramel, and popped it into his mouth.
“You’re a terrible person,” Bond muttered two days later, as he set the prototype—absolutely pristine—on Q’s desk. He had a black eye, a long scratch down one cheek, and bullet holes in his suit.
“Who gave you the black eye?”
“Hmm. Marcus, make a note,” he said to one of the Q-Branch team. “Let’s give 008 something lovely when he next requests equipment.”
“Noted,” Marcus said crisply. He and the rest of Q-Branch were all giving Bond the look of death. There were fifteen new memos sellotaped to the wall.
007 glanced at the gigantic bowl of sweets on the desk and stole one. “Tribute from your admirers?” he said. Every single Double-O had managed to send Q treats once they’d heard from 006 and 008. There were a few foreign ones mixed in there from some of the ones on missions.
“Jealousy is very unbecoming, Bond,” Q said, stroking his prototype gently.
“But I am,” Bond said, leaning in close. “Very, terribly, violently jealous.”
Q shoved him away. “If you ate the Japanese ones from 001 I will end you.”
“You’re lucky you’re so pretty when you cry. I actually just came to drop this off.” 007 placed a box on his desk. “Latest souvenir from the mission.”
“…which took place right here. In England.”
“I didn’t want you to sulk about not getting anything this go-round. You might sic the other Double-Os on me again.” He ruffled Q’s hair before he sidled off.
“You’re getting a Nerf gun next time!” Q called after him.
It was a coaster with a holographic Big Ben on it. “Where does he even find these,” Q muttered, grimacing and smoothing down his hair.
007 was in Hong Kong when they snatched Q—at the Tube in the wee hours of the morning, right after a twelve-hour shift, when the quartermaster was a sleep-deprived mess and too weak to fight back. Q had plenty of safeguards in place for this sort of thing, of course, but all of his trackers and communicators suddenly went dead mid-flight.
(Not soon enough to spare MI6 the quartermaster’s screaming panic attack on the plane. Q was clearly telling the truth about being afraid of flying.)
M assigned the rescue mission to 006, and Bond reminded himself that Jack was his friend and he oughtn’t kill him just because M had passed him over. Besides, just about all of MI6 had let 006 know in no uncertain terms that they would be very displeased if he failed.
It still took 006 two days before he showed up with Q. Two hours after he’d called in the retrieval’s success, all the Double-Os finished their own missions and headed home.
(“These are the best mission times we’ve ever seen,” M mused. “Perhaps Q should be kidnapped more often.”
“Sir,” said Moneypenny. “For your own sake, please don’t repeat that in front of anyone else.”)
Medical finally had their revenge on the Double-Os by telling them that only two visitors at a time, maximum, could be admitted. M and Moneypenny were first, of course. In the interest of fairness, M decreed that the order of who would follow would be determined by coin toss, and left them to their own devices.
Of course, the moment they’d left to go in to Q, the Double-Os responded by turning the coin toss into a high-stakes poker game. About an hour later, 007 won. It was a difficult victory, though; 004 cheated magnificently. Bond retaliated by declaring that he’d go see the quartermaster by himself and 004 had better just wait her own bloody turn.
Moneypenny unpeeled herself from the chair she’d been sitting in, watching the proceedings. “You’re all idiots, you know that? While you were playing around, Q-Branch have already come and gone to see him.”
“But we were supposed to go next,” 0012 said plaintively.
“They got tired of waiting for you lot to finish.” Moneypenny sighed. “Sometimes I can’t believe you’re supposed to be Her Majesty’s finest.”
“California. Only you would be kidnapped to California,” Bond said, dropping into the ergonomic chair beside Q’s bed.
“Silicon Valley. I always wanted to go there.” Q’s cheeks were flushed and his eyes were practically pinpricks. “It’s about time I was kidnapped. I was the only one with my security clearance who hadn’t been, yet.”
“They’ve got you on the good stuff,” 007 noted.
“Natasha yelled at them until they upped my pain meds,” Q said dreamily. Moneypenny had warned him that Q was a bit high at the moment. Though he still spoke in complete sentences and mostly made sense, the quartermaster was definitely not his usual acerbic self.
“What, Medical isn’t wrapped around your little finger? Everyone else seems to be.”
“Q-Branch likes to play a game… we try to see who gets thrown out of mandatory psych eval the fastest.” Q yawned. “I win most of the time.”
“We’re going to get who had you,” 007 assured him. The mission had been retrieval. M had made it clear that the priority was to get back Q. All revenge plots could wait.
(Which was just fine with Bond. That meant that he could perhaps ‘help’ Jack or whoever else was assigned to it. And if it was assigned to Bond, so much the better.)
Q pouted. Good Lord, Bond hoped that the security cameras were picking this up. The quartermaster would pitch a fit over the footage once he was back in top condition. “Really, there’s no need for that. Anthony was rather sweet. Although putting me on a plane was a mistake. He did apologize, though, and he promised to make it up to me.”
Bond stared at him. “Forty-eight hours was enough for you to develop Stockholm Syndrome?”
“He codes like an angel,” Q said wistfully. “We stumbled across each other on the Internet a few days ago and he wanted to meet me in person.”
“…by kidnapping you.”
“He may be a bit socially inept, but his programs are like symphonies, you philistine.”
“He shot you!” The wound on Q’s thigh had grazed his femoral artery. It was lucky that Jack had called for medical to be on-scene before he’d gone in.
They’d almost lost their quartermaster.
“In his defense, I really don’t think he meant to. He looked terribly surprised when the gun went off.”
Bond glared at him. “He put you on a plane.”
Q’s smile fell away at that. “I really don’t like planes.”
“You scared the fuck out of us,” 007 said.
Q yawned. The smile came back, small and sleepy and open in a way that Q never was around him. “You scare the fuck out of me all the time, Bond.”
007 stilled at that, before reaching out to brush his messy curls off his forehead. “Be that as it may, you’re probably the only one in MI6 who could get everyone so distressed about a simple kidnapping. So do try and stay safe and in one piece, hmm?”
“You bloody hypocrite. I bet MI6 would be just as upset if Sally disappeared.”
“Because Sally makes the best tea.” It was true. Sally didn’t make tea, she made liquid mouth-miracles.
“We’re trying to have her declared a national treasure,” Q mumbled, yawning again.
“You should sleep.”
Q struggled to keep his eyes open. “But 004’s next, isn’t she? Marcus said you were playing poker for the chance to see me.”
“Scarlett can wait. Just rest.”
“If she gets cross I’m blaming you.”
“Don’t worry. Scarlett will blame me anyway.”
“Fine.” Q let go and relaxed into his pillows.
Afterwards, Q wasn’t certain if he’d only imagined the lips brushing across his forehead. He’d been high as a kite at the time, after all.
But the security footage had blacked out a few seconds before Bond left.
Q ignored it, except to tighten security. Because whether it had happened or not, even the possibility of a Double-O infiltrating his data archives made him want to set fire to the building.
He could have retrieved the data. He was Q, after all. But in the end he left it.
Perhaps not knowing was better.
Of course, being shot in the thigh was a bitch. Q went right back to work, was up and walking in three days, and ignored Medical’s dire warnings.
(“My main asset is my brain, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“With all due respect, Q, our psych team begs to differ.”)
Try as they might, his team couldn’t make the area wheelchair-accessible. There were too many furnishings and projects too large or too unwieldy to move, and far too important to just get rid of. Q contented himself with staying at his desk as much as possible, limping around determinedly on crutches pretending he wasn’t in complete agony any time he absolutely had to move and popping painkillers like breath mints. He turned a blind eye to the fact that about a quarter of Q-branch was attempting to invent a hoverchair that you could power with brainwaves.
007 showed up later that day. “What’s that?” he said, sounding offended the moment he laid eyes on the arrangement on Q’s desk.
“Present from Anthony,” Q said absently, not looking up from the device he was tinkering with. “Don’t you like bouquets?”
“A bouquet of USBs instead of flowers.”
“Which shows that he’s not completely socially inept after all.” Q lovingly patted one particular beauty containing a virus he had just unleashed on the Chinese servers. “He’s been sending me these every day. Anthony certainly knows the way to a man’s heart.”
“Does he, now.”
“Don’t kill him,” Q sighed. “Moneypenny will bitch at me about the paperwork.” He winced as he pushed himself to his feet.
“Easy there.” Bond put out a hand to support him, which Q shook off with a scowl. The movement jarred him and he stumbled against Bond. “Easy,” he repeated. Q glared at him, but he just raised an eyebrow in response.
“Why are you here, 007?”
“I like checking up on our quartermaster,” he said, lips quirking into a smile. Q’s glare deepened, and his hand started for the pliers on the table. “And also to drop off your souvenir. I was in Hong Kong, so.” He placed a long, thin package on the table and walked off with a jaunty salute before Q could stab him.
M would probably issue another memo if he tried that, anyway.
He ripped off the wrapping to reveal a gleaming, polished cane.
“Oh,” he whispered, running his fingers over the stylized Q engraved on the silver handle. “Oh, you silly bastard.”
A few days after the incident, M assigned Q a personal assistant to help him maneuver around the office. Although the quartermaster was doing well with physical therapy, he still needed a lot of help. Q really didn’t like needing help. He threatened grenades in response to coddling. M insisted that he had to have someone to assist him with the smaller tasks.
“But my team is busy,” Q argued.
“Which is why we’re assigning you a PA from outside of Q-branch.”
Q scowled. “I don’t need a PA.”
“Think of it as having your own Moneypenny.”
The scowl faded. “You’re giving me Moneypenny?”
“Not on your life.”
Q was reminded that he was a professional and he just had to deal with the situation, preferably without e-mailing M things like “Dear Wicked Witch of the West, I don’t need your flying monkey. Sincerely, Q.”
All protest was ignored and led to Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface.
(And also a tirade from Moneypenny about how she wasn’t chattel to be assigned to whomever M wanted.
“Actually, I think you’ll find that it’s in your employment contract that he can,” Q pointed out.
“I can take over the world with nothing but paperwork and my stilettos, Q. Contract or no contract, M knows he bloody well can’t.”)
Q was ready to throw him out the instant he appeared, but the first thing Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface did was set down a cup of tea in front of him and say, “I finished your paperwork backlog.”
Q stared at him for a long moment before taking a sip of the tea and letting out an indecent moan that made everyone in the immediate vicinity flush. He suspected Moneypenny’s hand in the manipulation; she knew tea was his kryptonite and had no qualms exploiting the weakness. And of course she’d picked someone who was also ridiculously attractive, because Moneypenny was deep down an old Yiddish woman squawking at him about how he was always alone and needed fattening up and why couldn’t he meet a nice boy who would feed him and provide her with fifty grandchildren.
He knew he ought to just keep his dignity and send the man packing.
“I haven’t touched your files or projects as I felt you might not appreciate my meddling with them, but I’ve ordered lunch and organized your memos. This pile is important, this pile is pointless blathering from the higher-ups, this pile is important but not urgent, and this one is M’s latest directive to refrain from killing Agent 007. I’ve also taken the liberty of restocking the secret liquor cabinet behind the seventh server. Q-Branch was running low on scotch.”
Q stared again. “Oh God, fine. You can stay. But blow up anything by accident and I’ll murder you.”
“I don’t blow things up accidentally, sir,” he responded, lips quirked. “On purpose, however, is another thing entirely.”
“Cheeky,” Q said, raising an eyebrow. “I like you. We can be friends.”
It only took half an hour for Q-Branch to christen him ‘Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface’.
It took forty-five minutes before Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface was able make Q laugh, a bright sound that had only previously been heard after a successful weapons test.
It took three days before 007 finished his mission in the Philippines, laid eyes on Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface, and decided that he hated the man.
“Would you please stop bothering my PA?” Q finally intervened. “Rid, would you get me another cup of tea?” Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface got up with a nod and a grimace. “You could take the rest of the day off if you like.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir. Permission to kill 007 instead?”
“Much as I’d like to say permission granted, I’ve a wall of memos telling me that I must sadly deny you.”
He set the mug down beside Q. “And there are cupcakes on your desk, sir.” Q brightened and opened the box, pulling out a strawberry one and biting into it.
“I think I love you. Go take an early lunch anyway, Rid. God knows you deserve it.”
“Rid?” Bond echoed as he left. “His name is Rid? Rather like ‘get rid of him’. Perhaps it’s a sign, Q.”
Q licked frosting off his lips. “It’s a nickname.”
“You gave him a nickname.”
Technically Tess had been the one to come up with it. “It’s really none of your business what I choose to call my assistant.”
“And now you’ve even got him bringing you home? That can’t be very secure.”
Q flinched as he turned around, keys already in the door and hand poised to type in his password. “I’m surprised you didn’t just break into my flat. How long have you been lurking in my neighbor’s bushes just to deliver that ominous pronouncement?” At Bond’s determinedly blank expression, he sighed. “He’s my PA, 007. The whole point is that he helps me around—“
“To your flat.”
“M insisted that he drive me home.” Q limped inside before turning to Bond, who was still on his doorstep. “M has so kindly reminded me that I got kidnapped on the way to the Tube and he thinks it would be better if I had someone there for me, at least in the early stages of recovery. Because in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m still recovering.”
“Rather hard for you to do that considering you were all the way across the world, tanning on white sand beaches.”
A muscle twitched in 007’s jaw. “You wear more layers and drink more tea than you used to. The temperature in Q-Branch is warmer than before. The cold aggravates the wound. You’ve placed all your pet projects closer to your desk and you stay in one place as much as possible, even more than before. The armrest of your chair has scratch marks where you’ve been digging your nails into it whenever you have to get up, because it hurts—“
“Shut it, Bond,” Q snapped, closing his eyes and leaning on the cane Bond had given him.
“And this.” 007 reached out and touched the cane. “Everything else I’ve ever given you has been immediately consigned to the rubbish.”
“It has a concealed ceramic blade inside, of course I’m not going to throw it out.”
He let out a long breath, exhausted. “What do you want from me, 007?”
Bond let out a small laugh. “007. I’d never merit a nickname from you, would I?”
Q didn’t say anything for a long moment. “And I’m Q.”
“Is that all we are? Letters and numbers?”
“I could call you Jim if it would make you feel better.”
“You break my heart, quartermaster, you really do.”
“You talk a good game, Bond, but when it comes down to it, it’s all talk. Now, once again, what do you want from me?”
Bond stood silently on his doorstep.
“Tell me when you figure it out,” Q said, slamming the door shut in his face.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Shut it, Moneypenny.”
“You didn’t ask me here to just sit silently while you brood,” she retorted, taking a sip of her pint. Sure, they could do cocktails in evening gowns and tuxedos; but when it came to brooding, pints at a pub were sometimes the best option. “Look, Bond, it’s about time you got your head out of your arse.”
“Don’t think I don’t know you were the one who picked out that PA. He’s got a weaselly look about him.”
“I picked him because Q can’t subsist on fairy dust, moonbeams and painkillers. Now that he’s got a PA, he has someone who makes sure he’s fed, deals with the dull paperwork Q’s never been particularly interested in, fields his calls, and helps him around because he got shot.” She took another sip of her drink. “You realize Q’s trying to set him up with Sally?”
007 looked at her. “What, really?”
“Something about how they could impart their knowledge of tea-making to their offspring.” Moneypenny rolled her eyes. “Besides, if you had any sense you wouldn’t complain about him calling the PA ‘Rid’. It’s just short for ‘Ridiculously Attractive Whatshisface. Tess came up with it.” She snorted. “Q calls him ‘Rid’ because he doesn’t actually remember what his real name is. It’s Reginald, by the way.”
He looked at her in horror. “Rid seems like a mercy in comparison.”
“He cares about you, you know. Q, I mean, not Reginald.”
“I’m one of his agents. He cares about all of us. A mistake, really. Caring will get you killed.”
“Oh yes, teach me more about how Feelings Are Bad. Stop waffling around, you care about him too.” 007 scowled but didn’t deny it. “He calls you Bond.”
“And he actually bothers to remember the first names of the rest of the Double-Os.”
She snorted. “Who do you think is his closest friend at MI6?”
“He has friends?” He held up his hands to ward off her glare. “All right, you. We all know about your rooftop luncheons and secret plots for world domination.”
“And he calls me Moneypenny.” She drained the last of her pint before collecting her things. “Everyone is ‘Natasha’ or ‘Anthony’ or ‘Jack’, but you and I are ‘Moneypenny’ and ‘Bond’. You were the first agent he was assigned to and the only one he ever forced to come to see him before mission debrief. So again: get your head out of your arse, Bond. You can’t sulk about not being the quartermaster’s favorite when you are the favorite.”
There was a heart-shaped shell on his desk, probably picked up from one of those white sand beaches in between guzzling martinis and seducing the beautiful natives.
And a short e-mail from Moneypenny: He’s still being an idiot. But he’s promised not to kill Reginald for now, at least.
Q frowned. “Who’s Reginald?”
The day that they made the announcement, Q didn’t go home early, even though Moneypenny said he should take the rest of the day off. “Oh, ha bloody ha, Bond is supposed to be dead, again,” he snarked, tinkering with one of his prototypes. “I’m far too busy to let idle speculation put a halt to my work.”
“He went dark three days ago,” she murmured, placing a hand on his shoulder. “The mission was a near-suicide run, he was shot twice, and the place where he went down exploded.”
“I know he’s overdue. It’s hardly the first time. But I don’t believe it for a moment, and it’s his own bloody fault for tossing away the comm mid-mission.” He shook her hand off. “I’m fine, Moneypenny. Go calm the interns, they’re all atwitter and it’s interfering with my concentration.”
She came back at three in the morning. “Q,” she said gently. “Go home.”
“Criminal organizations don’t have bedtimes.”
“Yes, but Reginald—sorry, Rid—does, and he’s got a lovely girlfriend waiting for him back home. And he’s too stubborn to leave with you still here.”
Rid shot her an I’m perfectly fine look, but the PA wasn’t above leveraging himself or his relationship to get Q to rest. “It is pretty late, sir, and we’ll be back at work bright and early. I’ll pick you up from your flat at first light if you like.”
“I’m just finishing up a few things. You can knock off.”
“Not without you. You’d just get kidnapped again, and then Sally would make me sleep on the couch for at least a week.”
“This is blackmail,” Q grumbled, but he allowed himself to be dragged upright. “I’m only doing this so that you and Sally can produce lots of children who’ll make tea fit for divinities.” He paused then; his mouth trembled faintly. “Moneypenny… I know you’re going home too, but do you think. The night shift. If you could.” He hesitated. “Please.”
“I’ve asked them to contact me at any time if Bond makes an appearance. I’ll call you.”
He nodded and let Rid lead him out. “Thank you.”
After two weeks, just about everybody wrote Bond off as dead.
“Since when has Bond ever been on time for anything?” Q said. “You’re all being ridiculous.” He didn’t go to the funeral, claiming that he had better things to do with his time. No one challenged him on the point, mostly because they’d all heard what happened when M forced him to go to the psych team for a counseling session.
(No one was quite sure of the details, because the psych team refused to talk about it and the video records had vanished. The only thing that anyone knew for certain is that Q went without complaint and had a four-hour long session. By the end of it, the psych team would cringe in paranoid terror whenever they heard the sound of a computer booting up.)
Q went on with his usual efficiency and deadpan snark, and nothing changed.
- Sometimes he would look up to say something, only to abruptly catch himself and rub at the engraved Q on his cane.
- Q never went home before two in the morning anymore, not even when M, Moneypenny and/or Rid intervened.
- Q-Branch kept quiet about how one of their quartermaster’s side projects was attempting to track down a certain missing (presumed dead) agent. M knew about it but didn’t say a word.
- When Q met the new 007, he asked Tess to take over for a bit and sort out the new agent while he had a smoke on the rooftop. Q had never smoked in his life.
- Q didn’t smile or laugh anymore.
But otherwise, life went on.
It was four in the morning and Q had only had about an hour of sleep when his home alarm system activated. He counted a beat or two, knowing that his system would incapacitate the intruder in the unlikely scenario they managed to get in, or…
“Subject identified. Bond, James. Agent 007. Current location: kitchen. Action requested.”
“No action.” He slipped on his glasses, grabbed his cane and padded out of his room.
Bond was peering into his fridge when he entered. “There’s nothing in here but vodka and three cartons of milk past their sell-by dates,” he informed Q. “How aren’t you dead of scurvy yet?”
“You’re late,” Q said waspishly. “Terribly inconsiderate of you. Think of the headache Moneypenny will have dealing with the paperwork to resurrect you, again.”
007 ignored him, pulling out a bottle of vodka and taking a swig from it. He turned to face Q. “Well. You look like shit.”
“Mutual.” Q trudged over to him and inspected the various bruises and bandages. “Hasty patch-up job. You’ll be spending some quality time in Medical’s loving embrace for a while.”
“Are those little owls printed on your pyjamas?” Bond asked, fascinated.
“Not a word about the owls,” warned Q.
He set down the vodka and stepped into Q’s space. “What on earth have you been doing with yourself while I was gone?” 007 murmured, running a thumb over the dark circles under Q’s eyes, curving his hand over the more sharply pronounced cheekbones. “Look at you.”
A choked sound slipped out of Q’s mouth without his permission. “You bloody bastard,” he said, focusing on keeping his breathing even. All the tension he’d been keeping tightly wound inside of him since 007’s disappearance was finally bubbling to the surface, making him shake and god, it felt like he was falling apart. “You stupid, bloody…”
“Did you miss me, Q?”
“I’m going back to bed,” he said, pulling away Bond’s hand. “There’s tea in the cupboard and blankets in the linen closet if you want to sleep on the couch. Rid is picking us up in about…” He checked the clock and groaned. “Two hours. You’re coming to MI6 with me and I get front-row seats when M yells at you.”
A few minutes later, another body slid into bed behind him, smelling faintly of blood and vodka.
“I told you there are blankets in the linen closet.”
“You said ‘if you want to sleep on the couch’. I don’t.” An arm draped itself over his side.
Q shuddered. “Don’t disappear on me again, Bond.”
“Go to sleep, Q.”
When Q next opened his eyes, the first thing he did was brush a hand over the cold space beside him. The next was to check the clock.
He stormed out of his bedroom and was greeted by the sight of 007 cooking on his stovetop.
“Wondered when you’d be getting up,” Bond said. “It’s past noon already.”
“I have things that need doing,” Q snapped. “I told you that Rid—“
“I called Moneypenny. She said to take the day off. God knows you need it. We’ll go in tomorrow.”
Q cut himself off when he saw a familiar shoebox on the kitchen island.
Bond slid a plate in front of him. “You kept them.”
He sat down because he wasn’t sure his legs could support him any longer.
“You told me to tell you what I want when I figure it out,” Bond said insistently. “I’ve figured it out. I want you. Now it’s your turn, because you’ve clearly been holding out on me.”
“What do you want from me, Q?”
He clenched his fists. “What do you want to hear? That I kept those things, because I knew I couldn’t keep you? That the first time I called you down, it was just an excuse so that I could see if you were injured or not? That this whole time that you’ve been gone, I knew you had to be alive somehow, but I didn’t know what I would do if you weren’t?”
“It’s not about what I want to hear,” 007 said. “What do you want from me, Q?”
“I told you,” Q said finally. “Don’t disappear on me again.” He closed his eyes. “Please.”
“Okay,” Bond said, and bent down to brush their lips together.
Later, tangled in the sheets together, Bond brushed a stray curl out of Q’s eyes. “I didn’t get the chance to bring you back something this time.”
“You really are a sodding idiot, aren’t you?”
“Your pillow talk leaves a lot to be desired.”
Q bit him on the shoulder in retaliation. “Sodding idiot,” he murmured. “I don’t give a damn if you come back with something for me. Just make sure that you come back.”