"But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do."
-Daddy, Sylvia Plath
His earpiece came to life at a particularly inopportune time. “There you are,” Bond said, relieved. “Are you still sulking about the tea? Because I did say I was sorry.” He thought about it. “Actually, I didn’t. But I am, and we can discuss the terms for your forgiveness later, when there aren’t thirty armed men on my tail—“
Bond started at the sound of M’s voice rather than Q’s over the comm, but kept his hands steady on his Walther. “As lovely as it is to hear your dulcet tones, M, I’m rather preoccupied at the moment. Could you put Q on?“
M ignored the sound of gunfire. “Why have you put a hit out on our quartermaster?”
“…what?” Then, the unmistakable sound of a shot too loud and too close to the comm. “Fuck."
Moneypenny eyed him when he limped in a day later. “You’re bleeding all over the rug.”
“Where’s Q?” he demanded. She hadn’t stabbed him on sight, which meant that the quartermaster was probably still alive.
She snorted. “Oh yes, that’s brilliant, we’ll release his whereabouts to the man who’s put a bounty on his head. While we’re at it, perhaps you’d like the passwords to M’s bank accounts or the US President’s nuclear strike codes.”
“Right, now you’re just assuming I don’t already have those things,” he muttered. “Why would anyone even think that I would want Q dead?“
“He rigged your equipment to explode last mission.”
“That’s par for the course with Q, and I did switch his tea for decaf.”
“You did what?”
He looked at her. “I thought you knew everything.”
“How are you still alive?” she asked, genuinely disturbed. “Is that what this is? A pre-emptive strike? Because he’ll come back from the grave, just to avenge his tea.”
“I don’t want Q dead.”
“Tanner’s betting that unrequited love pushed you over the edge.”
“Who says it’s unrequited?” Ignoring her derisive snort, he slammed a hand on her desk. “Back to the issue at hand, Moneypenny.”
She righted the cup of pens he’d overturned.“Well, yes, I know you haven’t got a contract out on Q. If you were going to kill him, you’d do it yourself and spare yourself the bother of interacting with Smith and Delaney, of all people.”
He stilled. “Smith and Delaney?” His expression went shuttered. “Ah.”
“Ah?” she repeated. It was never a good sound to hear coming from Bond’s mouth.
“In retrospect, I may perhaps have had a hand in the current situation regarding our beloved quartermaster. A very involuntary hand, I assure you.”
Bond was abruptly reminded of the fact that Q was Moneypenny’s favorite—and always would be, at least until someone else figured out a way to make shoes that were not only fashionable and deadly, but also the most comfortable fucking stilettos she’d ever worn in her life. She neatly pulled a gun from god-knew-where under her skirt. “Bond. How exactly do you involuntarily order a hit on Q?”
“Drinking was involved.”
She contemplated shooting him. M would certainly forgive her. “It always is, with you.” Finally, though, she decided that it wouldn’t be worth the adorably displeased face Q would make when he heard that one of his Double-Os had been shot. Or, considering his current state, shot again.
(Q was a bit territorial about the agents, mostly because the Double-Os were the only group in MI6 who had accepted him without question—or at least, a minimum of question and only the occasional jab about his age. Double-Os were trained to accept authority, and as far as they were concerned, he was Q, therefore he was competent, never mind that he looked fresh out of uni.
After that, Q just won them over by occasionally aiding their attempts to evade Medical and indulging their impulses to do regrettable things like rig M’s phone to play nothing but showtunes.
In meetings. Very important meetings.
Which was why the Prime Minister was convinced that M was a fan of Caligula: An Ancient Glam Epic.
Many of the Double-Os refused to work with anyone else, and Q would probably have exploded anyone who tried to usurp his place as the voice in their ears anyway.)
She gave him a hard look. “No. First, you’re going to talk to M. Then we’ll decide if you get to know what’s happened to our quartermaster. And for God’s sake, clean up a bit. We just replaced the upholstery.”
“After the Shanghai mission ended last week, I ran into Smith and Delaney. They’d just wrapped up a separate op and we decided to get drinks after.”
“Decided to get drinks after?” repeated M.
Moneypenny shook her head. “I know what it sounds like, but it really is that simple.”
Most people didn’t realize how tightly-knit the intelligence and counterintelligence communities could be. Q himself often interacted with the top minds of other bureaus, if only so he could discreetly taunt them about how superior his coding skills were (to his everlasting fury, though, one of the researchers in the Pentagon proved completely unbeatable at Tetris; Q took his defeats very personally).
Field agents, no matter what organization they came from, generally all belonged to the same breed of ‘needs to be around people, but should be kept away from normal people as much as possible’. So they consorted with each other during downtimes, and those who’d been around for years had become as close to friends as possible while at the same time being ready to kill each other at the behest of their respective employers.
“I might have let a few words slip about Q,” 007 admitted in a monotone, the words said through gritted teeth. He ignored Moneypenny’s raised eyebrow, knowing that she’d corner him later. “CIA had heard we have a new quartermaster, and they asked me about him.”
M’s eyes weighed heavily on him from across the desk. “So what you’re telling me is that we’ve lost our quartermaster because you spilled national secrets to a pair of CIA agents over cocktails.”
Bond got to his feet. “What do you mean lost our quartermaster? Smith and Delaney couldn’t hope to get the jump on Q.”
Moneypenny glared at him. “They didn’t. But you know how the network works, Bond. You make one bloody comment and in about five minutes everyone in the business knows about it.”
“Still haven’t gotten over the STD rumors of ‘05?”
“I shot you once, Bond, I can do it again. The information went out to other parties—Smith and Delaney were the first to move, but there were plenty of others. Q and MI6 managed to shut most of those down, but he got captured at a Tesco the day they called you.”
“Q goes to Tesco? He actually goes somewhere where there’s food?”
“Focus, Bond.” Moneypenny didn’t mention that no one else in MI6 had believed it when they’d heard. Top bets were that Q was either a robot or a vampire; he seemed to subsist on nothing more than tea, electronics and spite.
“So who’s got Q?”
“According to what we’ve managed to piece together from the Tesco security cameras, Lilya Astyafeva.”
A beat. “Ah. Lilya. Lovely woman, when she’s not trying to kill me.”
“Except according to our dossier, she’s always trying to kill you.” M shook his head. “We’re working on cleaning up your mess even as we speak, so all you have to do now is stay quiet and stay out of it.”
“So, you ‘might have let a few words slip about Q’?” Moneypenny escorted him out of M’s office. “Come on, Bond, I know you better than that.” He was never the type to talk much about anyone or anything he knew, having been well-trained that loose lips sank ships and all that. “What did you tell them?”
007 shot her a hard look. “Nothing important.”
“Just something that managed to get him captured.”
“I’m pulling the You Shot Me card.”
She stared at him. “Was it that awful, Bond?” He’d been saving that card for a rainy day. For him to use it just to shut down her line of questioning…
“Being shot by you? Oh, you made it good, and I still respected you in the morning.”
Bond’s phone rang a moment later, flashing NUMBER BLOCKED at him. He answered it. “Lilya,” he growled. Moneypenny shot out of her seat and forced him to hit speaker, calling for M to join them.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of a call from the Sevastopol Slayer herself? Usually you just shoot at me without ringing me up to let me know beforehand.” M shot him a displeased look. They had the Don’t Antagonize Enemies Unnecessarily discussion thrice weekly; Bond maintained that there was nothing ‘unnecessary’ about antagonizing enemies. It was excellent stress relief if nothing else.
“I have something of yours,” she purred, ignoring him. “He’s lovely.”
His heart dropped and he clutched his phone in white-knuckled fingers. He could vaguely hear M summoning someone from Q-Branch to trace the call. “Lilya—“
“I’m returning him.”
“He is very lovely,” she said. He could practically hear her shrugging. “If you were even half this charming, perhaps I wouldn’t try to decapitate you so often. Here, he wishes to speak with you.”
“007,” Q’s familiar voice came over the phone, “we are going to have words when I get back.”
“Did you shag your way out of captivity?” Bond asked without preamble. Moneypenny smacked him on the arm.
“Oh yes, I’m fine, thanks very much for asking,” Q deadpanned. “Figures that the first thing you do is accuse me of trading sexual favors for freedom.”
007 pinched the bridge of his nose. “Q—“
“We had tea,” Q interrupted. “And vodka. Quite a lot of vodka. And then I may have tweaked a few of her weapons, but they were only a few amusing touches. Also we bonded about what a tosser you are.”
“As I said, he is very lovely,” Lilya chimed in.
“You have me on speaker?” 007 asked, chagrined.
Q snorted. “Don’t even pretend that Moneypenny isn’t listening in on our conversation right now. Hullo, Moneypenny.”
“All your bits in place, Q?” Moneypenny interjected.
“Quite. Also, thank you, that Russian you taught me was very helpful.”
Moneypenny let out a short laugh. “It’s important to know how to say ‘You’re very beautiful and dangerous’ in every language.”
“Very true,” Lilya said. “You and I, Miss Moneypenny, I think we could be good friends.”
“No,” M and Bond said.
“I’ll bring her along for our lunch date,” Q told Lilya. “Moneypenny, 007, I’ll be back by evening, I think. I’ve the tickets for the boat back already.”
M frowned. “You’re still a vulnerable target, Q. We’ll send a retrieval team.”
“Lilya’s coming with me,” Q said. “Thanks, though.”
“Only you would escape by making friends with your kidnapper, Q,” said Bond.
“And no shagging necessary. Imagine that, 007. See you in a few hours.”
At nine eighteen p.m., Lilya kissed Q on both cheeks and saw him off at the docks.
At nine twenty-two, a flying red and gold suit of armor landed in front of Q. After a short conversation, the armor shot him with a tranquilizer dart, scooped him up, and flew away.
Moneypenny groaned. “When I told him he was too bloody young and maybe ought to think about picking up a few bad habits, I meant something like drinking or sex, not getting kidnapped.”
“Maybe you should have specified,” Tanner said. “You know Q. He’s contrary like that.”
“Right. This time we’re dealing with a known quantity, one that answers to a legitimate agency,” M said. “It’s better than having our quartermaster in the hands of an assassin. We’ve got a decent working relationship with SHIELD.”
“But Iron Man isn’t one of their employees. He’s only a consultant,” Moneypenny said. “I spoke with their deputy director, Maria Hill. We’re threatening counteractions and of course they’re working on talking with Stark, but history indicates that Stark does what he wants.”
“And what he wants are usually attractive young things,” Bond said flatly. “Tony Stark has a reputation.”
“That reputation includes being an excellent engineer and scientist,” M said. “One who likes to discuss things with other skilled researchers; Q certainly fits the bill. Stark’s intelligent. If he wanted to dispose of our quartermaster, surely he’d have a plan that didn’t involve so many eyewitnesses. It’s too soon to tell, but hopefully we can assume that he doesn’t have evil intentions towards Q.”
“Making our quartermaster unable to see unicorns counts as evil intentions,” muttered 007.
Despite all of M’s talk about dealing with SHIELD, 007 knew that it was essentially a bureaucratic pissing contest and it could take forever before they finally managed to get their quartermaster back. Finally, after an entire three days without a word of whether Q was still alive or not, Moneypenny lost her patience and stepped in.
Half an hour later, they were at Stark Tower.
(“Do I want to know what you did, Eve?” M asked.
“All right, carry on. But for God’s sake, take Bond with you—his brooding and constant gun-polishing is making the trainees nervous.”
“It makes Medical happy. Tending to nervous breakdowns reminds them that their purpose in life isn’t simply to chase down stubborn Double-Os who’d rather bleed out than get looked over.”)
They were allowed past the lobby and up into the personal quarters without too much fuss, but when they got outside of Stark’s workshop, they found that they were locked out. “Mr. Stark,” Moneypenny said into the intercom. “We’re from MI6. We’re here to retrieve our quartermaster.”
A long, blissed-out moan answered them.
“Bond, no!” Moneypenny grabbed his gun away from him.
“Oh hey, MI6! Yeah, Coulson was yelling at me about something like that.” A cheerful voice came over the com. “Your accents are awesome, can you say ‘tea and crumpets’? Q always sulks when I ask him to, right, Q?” There was another indecent noise. Stark let out an affectionate laugh. “Look at you. And here I thought that being quartermaster for MI6 would have made you used to this sort of thing.”
Then there was Q’s voice, hushed and reverent. “No, I—this is the first—“
“Bloody brilliant,” Moneypenny sighed, as Bond wrenched the gun away from her and took aim at the door. She could only barely hold him off, but luckily SHIELD had given her a trump card to play. “Stark, open up, I have Miss Virginia Potts on speed dial and she’s very displeased with you.”
“Snitch. You play dirty, that’s good, I like girls who play dirty. On a scale of ‘one pair’ to ‘buying out the entire catalogue’, how many shoes will it take to appease Pep?”
Moneypenny actually gave it serious thought. “I’m not completely familiar with Miss Potts, but five pairs ought to do the trick.”
The door slid open to reveal a rumpled Tony Stark, dressed in nothing more than a dirty jeans and a wifebeater. His eyes widened at 007. “Whoa, hey, I’d ask if that’s your gun or if you’re just happy to see me, but I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s a gun.” He paused. “And no one is really ever happy to see me, which is ridiculous, because I’m me, and I’m awesome.”
Q was sitting in front of a computer, empty cups that no doubt once held tea littering every available surface. He didn’t even look up from the screen. “Hullo, Moneypenny. Bond, put that away before you hurt yourself.” He let out another pleased groan, fingers flying over the keyboard. “Tony, this code is amazing.”
“Easy there, cowboy, I don’t let just anyone poke around JARVIS,” Tony said gently. “Off now.”
Q pouted. “Fine.” He gave the screen a tender pat. “Your AI is gorgeous.”
Moneypenny and Bond exchanged looks. “Of course Q would make sex noises for tech,” muttered 007 under his breath. “Of fucking course.”
007 glared at Q. “We thought you—“
“If you thought I was getting ravished the whole time I was away, you’re in for some equipment malfunctions next mission.” A beat. “Oh god, you really did think it. Bond, why do you always think villains are going to shag me?”
“Not a villain,” Tony reminded them. “Kind of the opposite, actually. But feel free to say ‘shag’ again, it’s even better than ‘tea and crumpets’.”
“He also got shot,” Moneypenny added.
Q eyed 007. “You got shot,” he echoed. “Again. Why do you always do that?” He was making the adorably displeased face.
(006 had had that face as his desktop wallpaper for all of two minutes before Q loaded his computer with porn viruses.)
“You ran off without telling us,” 007 said.
“And you put a hit out on me,” Q replied. “Perhaps you can see why I wasn’t overeager to come home?”
“That’s not what happened.”
“I know you don’t particularly like me, Bond, but I didn’t think that you wanted me dead.”
“You think I don’t like you?”
“I notice you don’t deny wanting me dead.”
007 frowned “Q, you know that’s ridiculous.”
“Then explain the decaf tea assassination attempt.”
Stark gaped at Bond before his expression turned furious. “I don’t know what it’s like over in England, but over here, we know that there are some things which are just off-limits. You don’t hurt children, you don’t kick puppies, and you never, ever switch someone to decaf.”
Q scowled at Bond. “Also, I didn’t just run off blindly. I sent you a text message, you arse.”
Moneypenny sighed as she grabbed 007’s mobile and scrolled through the inbox. Tony Stark heard about me because of bounty on my head, wanted to talk tech. His friend Natasha is friends with Lilya. Will be kipping at his place for a bit, am not kidnapped. “You know he never checks his messages. Next time send them to me.”
“I thought I’d already lost that number,” Bond said. “It must have been another mobile that got eaten by a howler monkey.”
“This. This is why I’m giving you nothing but a slingshot next mission,” Q muttered.
“You know, you could just stay here,” Tony said, leaning against his workbench. “I’d love to have you as part of Stark Industries, and the Avengers like you. Come live in the tower and play with me.”
“This seems like a very odd version of Faust,” said Moneypenny.
“Think about it—unlimited budget to make anything you want, none of the bureaucracy that delays your projects, and of course, you get to bask in my presence. I’ll even let you peek a little more at JARVIS’s coding to sweeten the deal.”
007 and Moneypenny exchanged looks. “Q,” Bond started. It was everything that Q wanted, laid out in front of him. “England needs you.”
“Bond needs you too,” Moneypenny added. 007 glared at her. “And so do I, because if you leave he’ll whinge on and on about it and drink himself to the grave, and I’ll get bored and have to take over the world.”
“Wow, she’s like the British version of Pepper,” said Tony, regarding Moneypenny thoughtfully.
“Thank you, Tony, but I couldn’t possibly leave MI6,” Q said with a little smile. “Someone’s got to keep the idiots from getting maimed all the time. Also, you drink coffee instead of tea, you think Marmite tastes awful, and spell colour and favour without the letter U. I simply don’t understand you Americans.” He turned to Bond and Moneypenny. “All right. Let’s go.”
Tony heaved a dramatic sigh. “Fine. If you change your mind, let me know any time. Us pretty geniuses always fall for blonde, antiquated patriots, don’t we?” he said, rolling his eyes. “Now shoo. I’ve got some shoes to buy before Pepper decides to kill me.”
“Thought you said you weren’t trying to kill me,” Q said, when he saw that their car was pulling up to the airport. All of his muscles had gone tense.
“Sorry, Q,” said Moneypenny from the front seat. “M needs us back as quickly as possible. And didn’t you fly with Stark in his Iron Man suit?”
“I asked him to tranq me first.”
007 scowled at him. “Anyone with sense knows better than to take drugs from suspicious characters offering a ride, let alone request them.”
Q scoffed. “If I had sense I wouldn’t be working for MI6. Excellent dental plan, but you lot are going to drive me into an early grave anyway.”
“Medication,” Bond said, handing him a bottle of pills. “Two should sedate you for the entire flight.”
“What was that about taking drugs from suspicious characters offering rides?”
“I’m hardly suspicious.”
“You are. Very.” Q grabbed it and dry-swallowed a couple. “What?” he asked, catching 007’s expression.
“For someone who’s afraid I’m trying to kill you, you’re remarkably trusting.”
“I was teasing, you stupid arse. I know you’re not trying to kill me.” Q’s eyes were already starting to droop. “If there’s anyone I trust, it’s you.”
Those were words that meant more in the business than I love you. Trust was far rarer than love.
Bond wondered if it was possible that he could have both from one person.
007 looked out the window. “What Stark said—about falling for blonde patriots. Was that true?”
Silence answered him. He turned to see Q already knocked out in his seat. “Bollocks.”
Moneypenny glanced back at them. “You’re going to carry him to the plane bridal-style and I’ll be taking pictures. No objections.”
When Q was finally safely ensconced back in MI6, he had a long meeting with M that basically amounted to the fact that he would have a lot of new security measures in place.
Such as not leaving the building.
Q didn’t really much care since he spent about ninety percent of his day in MI6 anyway, but it was still the principle of the thing. He sulked and sent 007 an e-mail, and Bond could tell that Q was furious by his generous use of the capslock. They were keeping him and Q separate for now, “until we get this situation sorted out”, according to M—according to Moneypenny, though, it was more of, “in case you really are trying to murder our quartermaster.” In fact, they were keeping Q from seeing anyone below a certain clearance level, on the off chance that they were going to disembowel him.
As restrictive as it was, Q behaved perfectly (“Unlike some recalcitrant agents,” he’d snarked).
Until the day a week later when Bond was in Liverpool and Moneypenny was with M at a government meeting, and Q knocked out the Double-O watching him, blacked out the security cameras, and ran away.
“Quartermaster, relay your coordinates,” M barked into the comm.
“Let’s skip the song-and-dance, M,” Q said wearily. “You don’t really expect me to tell you where I am after all the trouble I’ve gone to.” He’d disabled the tracking functions and could handily counter any of Q-Branch’s attempts to locate him, but he’d relented on the comm after watching their efforts to contact him for the last couple of hours. “Is 001 all right?”
“Working the sedative out of his system,” Moneypenny said. “Q, get your arse back here, it isn’t safe.”
“Too late.” M and Moneypenny exchanged looks; if it had taken only that short amount of time for Q to get to wherever he was going, he was likely still in Britain. “Moneypenny, you can’t be that surprised to see me go rogue. We’ve always talked about how much fun it would be to become evil. The dark side has cookies and all that. I fancied a bit of gingerbread, and there you have it.”
“If you were going to go rogue, Q, you’d do it quietly and without us ever knowing until the day you’d killed us all,” she replied, exasperated. “What are you doing?”
“My usual job,” he sighed.
There was some muffled noise MI6’s end, and then he could hear 001, groggy but functional. “He got a video showing 007 being tortured and a note telling him to meet them alone.”
“All of Bond’s enemies are terribly cliché. I fully expect this one to either twirl a mustache or have a monocle.”
“We can formulate a plan on this, Q,” M said firmly. “What do you hope to accomplish by doing it on your own?”
It was rather annoying to be underestimated all the time. Though admittedly most of the time he dealt the damage from a distance, without gun-wielding criminals to directly contend with. Q saw the suited figures approaching him and knew he only had a few minutes left. “As I said, my usual job—which is pulling 007 out of situations no doubt resulting from his own stupidity.”
“That would be nice,” came a voice over the comm, “if I actually needed saving.”
“So, you aren’t currently tied up and being tortured.”
Bond kept his tone even, though Q knew that he was tense by the slightly more emphasized pronunciation. “Unless ‘tied up’ means ‘standing around in Q-Branch with all your minions fretting over you’ and ‘being tortured’ means ‘about to be killed by the other Double-Os because you love me so much you’re willing to give yourself up for me’, then no.”
Q gritted his teeth. “I checked those files, the video was accurate, the time, the footage was perfect, there was no way they’d…” he trailed off. “Did you happen to get captured during your mission yesterday?”
“…only for a little while.”
“Damn it, Bond,” he snapped. “If you stopped pulling out your comm every bloody … this is why we can’t have nice things.” The suits were much too close now. “Look, I have to go.”
“No, Q, where are you—“
“I’m glad you’re all right, 007.” The line went dead.
“You’re staying here,” was the first thing M said. He was looking directly at Bond when he said it.
007 opened his mouth to argue.
“Q went off because he thought you were in danger,” Moneypenny said quietly. “We’ll get him back. But he won’t be pleased if he finds out that you went tearing off after him. And we all know that when Q isn’t pleased, things tend to get a bit explodey.” Unlike everyone else in MI6, she wasn’t glaring at him. “In return, you can sit there and start composing your grand declaration of feelings to him.”
A Q-Branch member was close enough to overhear. “If you have feelings for Q, why couldn’t you have been arsed to tell him over the comm? It could have been your last chance.”
Bond looked up. “Anything I have to say to Q, I can bloody well say it to him when he gets back.” He stood up and stalked off.
Moneypenny looked at the staff member. “Q’s going to live through whatever it is, if only so he can kick Bond’s arse and force him to man up already. I wouldn’t worry if I were you. But don’t imply that our quartermaster isn’t coming back or you’ll be terribly sorry you ever pursued a career in espionage.”
He gulped. “I didn’t really mean anything by it. I—I know 007 is dangerous, you don’t think he would really…”
She raised an eyebrow. He was suddenly aware of the fact that she was wearing very, very pointy heels. “Bond? Oh no. You’d best be worrying about me.”
Bond did the only thing he really could do: get spectacularly drunk. This involved heroic amounts of alcohol, the sheer quantity of which was worthy of songs and legends.
He wasn’t sure of the complete particulars, but he vaguely remembered vomiting into the potted plant in Accounting, having sex with one of the newbie field agents, and then passing out somewhere that smelled of Q.
He woke up to the PA system crackling to life.
“Would someone please pick me up?”
Bond sat up. “Q?” But he was drowned out by the noises of shock and delight coming from the other members of Q-Branch.
Q laughed softly. “You all have far too little faith in me. Did you really think I would just tear off without a plan?”
“Where are you?” Moneypenny demanded, frowning. “I’ve had to pat shoulders and make sympathetic noises while you were gone. I didn’t join MI6 to become an Agony Aunt.”
“How terribly traumatic for you. I’m in Dartmoor and it’s far too green out here. There are cows wandering about. Not that there aren’t cows in London, but these are more of the ‘actually moos and has milk which is legally used in dairy’ rather than the ‘stupid bint who spilled her drink on my shoes’ variety. They’re looking at me very threateningly, and while I do still have a few explosives I know you’ll whinge at me about handling the fallout.”
“One splattered cow equals ten reams of paperwork, Q. Please do not attempt to blow up the livestock.”
“You wanker, I mourned you for an entire five hours,” Bond growled.
“007, why are you on my office cot?” Because of course he’d also hacked the cameras.
“Because,” Bond hesitated, unwilling to admit that he’d squished himself onto the uncomfortable thing because the thin blanket and pillow smelled of Q. “I fancied a bit of sleep.” He winced as he realized he’d left the door to Q’s private office open, as it meant that he could see all the others looking at him incredulously. The sleeping habits of most Double-Os were second only to Q-Branch’s.
The voice darkened. “You look inebriated. And you have sex hair. Did you have sex on my cot? You’re going to be disinfecting—never mind, just burn the bloody thing, I bet it smells like a distillery floor by now anyway, and I don’t know what you’ve been rolling in. Or more accurately, who you’ve been rolling in.” He paused. “It was Lisa, wasn’t it?”
007 was silent a moment. “I honestly don’t know what her name was.” Lisa let out an outraged squeak.
Q heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Tanner?”
“Yes, it was,” Tanner answered, blandly ignoring 007’s glare. Traitor.
“I don’t care if Bond is still on the cot, set it on fire now.”
“Do we really have to hash this out on the PA system, Q?” 007 asked.
Moneypenny rolled her eyes. Men. “Retrieval team en route, quartermaster. Try not to detonate any of the local farm animals until they get there.”
Q-Branch threw their quartermaster a grand ‘We’re Glad You’re Not Dead’ party.
(M had left the room for five minutes. They dug uncountable bottles of alcohol from all over Q-Branch: in desks, under floor tiles, hidden in servers, inside potted plants… an entire keg appeared out of nowhere.
Bond was, to say the least, impressed; he and Moneypenny quietly agreed that the next time their facility went on lockdown, they’d go to Q-Branch.)
When Q walked in, he broke into a tired smile. “Is that the good whiskey? I think I should go off on suicide missions more often.”
“You arse,” said Moneypenny, pulling him into a tight hug. There were cheers and handshakes all around. M quietly informed Q that they’d be discussing his stupidity (the look on Q’s face when M used the term was priceless) at a later time, but for the moment, everyone was just happy to have their quartermaster back.
007 watched, practically unable to move.
Across the room, Q caught his eye and made his way over to him. Q had the peaky expression he usually only got after staying up for more than twenty-four hours. His hair was a mess and he smelled of explosives.
“You didn’t even wait until they showed you my corpse before you had grief sex.”
“Patience has never been one of my strong suits.”
“I’m well aware of your many, many shortcomings, Bond. Oh, and before you even make the accusation, I’m just going to cut you off and let you know that no, I did not shag my way out of the predicament. Unlike you, 007, I don’t solve all my problems with my prick.”
Wordlessly, he handed Q a small canister full of ash.
“The remains of your cot.”
Q regarded him coolly. “You’re buying me a new one.”
“Big enough for two?”
“Certainly. I require ample space for all the illicit office affairs I plan on having. I think I’ll start with Tanner.”
007 let out a growl, but Q merely raised an eyebrow. “I’ll hold off on grief sex next time you try to kill yourself to save me,” 007 grudgingly conceded.
“Are we talking about this?”
“Later. They opened the good whiskey, Bond. That takes precedence.”
Five sake bombs, three shots of vodka, eight glasses of scotch, four suspiciously neon cocktails and two extremely generous swigs of the ‘good’ whiskey later, Q was leaning heavily against 007.
(MI6 was unanimous: it wasn’t a We’re Glad You’re Not Dead party if they didn’t get the celebrant falling-down drunk.
Double-Os didn’t count. Not only could they hold their liquor like the most hardened of Russians, but no one even bothered throwing them We’re Glad You’re Not Dead parties anymore—any post-incident festivities were more of Okay This Is Getting Ridiculous, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet alcohol fests.)
“If you throw up on me,” Bond growled, not bothering to finish the sentence as he let Q smush his face into his suit. Q was creative enough to come up with thousands of ways to end that threat, he was sure.
“Says the man who fertilized Accounting’s pet fern with the contents of his stomach.”
“Getting you drunk doesn’t make you any less snarky.” Bond was disappointed; he’d hoped that Q would be a happy drunk. Or a horny drunk. He wasn’t particularly picky. “I should foist you off on some lackey, see how you like it.”
(The Double-Os snorted. Bond had practically pulled his Walther on them when they’d offered to take Q off his hands.)
“Go ahead,” Q muttered. “If you do, please aim me towards 005. He has lovely shoulders and I’m sure he’d be more than happy to pet me.”
Bond looked up at 005 with eyes that promised violence.
“I’m straight,” 005 defended himself. “Though his hair is very fluffy.”
004 nodded sagely. “It makes rabbits jealous.”
“You’re acting jealous, 007,” Q said, yawning. “Not that I’ll recall any of this. My memory is awful when I’m this sloshed. Go on, send me off to 005. You don’t want to pet me, after all.”
007 looked at him for a long moment before raising a hand and stroking his hair.
Stuart was right. It was ridiculously fluffy.
Q let out a little purr, eyes drifting closed.
Noticing that they’d attracted an audience (who were gleefully recording them with their cameraphones—as though they didn’t know that Q wouldn’t wreck all their tech once he found out), Bond stopped. Q made a faint sound of protest, but went easily along with him when Bond hauled him to his feet and moved them into Q’s private office.
There was a new cot there, softer than the old one and big enough for two.
007 gently tugged him down and began stroking his hair again.
“Oh,” Q sighed, melting into the touch. “Perhaps you do like me after all.”
“Why do you keep assuming that I don’t?”
“Putting a hit out on me was rather a mixed signal.” He burrowed closer to Bond. “You should remind me occasionally.”
He hesitated before leaning in. “I love you in homicidally protective ways and if I wanted you dead, I would do it in a grand murder-suicide.”
Suddenly Q was sitting up, clear-eyed. “Well, finally,” he said, arching an eyebrow. “You kept me waiting, Mr. Bond. That was almost romantic. Psychotic, but also somewhat romantic.”
007 stared at him before giving up. “You’re a cheeky little shit. Did you have to pretend to be drunk?”
“It isn’t my fault you’re emotionally constipated,” Q snorted, absolutely shameless. The minx. “Besides, if you didn’t think of me as some blushing innocent all the time, you’d realize that I go clubbing with Moneypenny and the other agents. My liver can withstand just about anything except for R-Branch’s homebrewed moonshine.” That stuff was evil.
Bond looked impassively at him. “So this was all a ruse, to get me to admit feelings to you?”
“The multiple kidnapping attempts and running off to save you was real, at least. Pretending to be drunk, however… well, it isn’t like you’d have done it otherwise. Also, this is the part where you kiss me,” he said, exasperated. “I thought you were supposed to be good at seduction.”
As tempted as 007 was to throttle him, there were other things he could be doing to that neck. “I’m excellent at it,” he promised.
Q smiled wickedly. “Prove it.”
“Gladly,” 007 said, pulling him towards the cot.
“Wait a moment, I don’t want your first time to be in a cot of all places—“
“First time?” Q glared at him.
“I would kill you if it weren’t for the promise of fantastic orgasms. But I might still change my mind, so hop to it.”
Hours later, Q quietly slipped out of 007’s arms—the man was like a squid, honestly—and padded outside to his computer.
Moneypenny wandered over the moment he’d logged on. Both of them were terrible about going home at reasonable hours. “What are you doing? It’s half past two in the morning and you’ve got a Double-O in your sheets.”
“Just my usual job, Moneypenny.” His fingers moved over the keyboard. “Round two can wait until after I’ve taken care of a few things. Or to be more accurate, round six.”
“Naughty.” She leaned against his desk. “You might want to look into soundproofing that office of yours.”
He winced, knowing that he could get a bit loud. “Oh.”
“Don’t be sorry, you gave half of Q-Branch quite a thrill.” Now that he thought about it, just about everyone in MI6 was terrible about going home at reasonable hours. Except for Accounting. Ah well, at least the people controlling his budget hadn’t heard him. “Your lot needs to get laid more often. Also, most of them didn’t know that Bond was there with you.”
“Oh? Then who did they think it was?”
She shrugged. “They thought you were having sex with your computers. There was talk of staging an intervention.”
He snorted. “Bond thinks I shag villains regularly. Everyone else thinks I shag my tech. Why don’t I have a normal sex life?”
“You’re shagging 007,” she pointed out. “Your sex life is anything but normal.”
It was a few hours later when Bond came out, somehow completely put-together again even though Q knew for a fact that that suit had spent some quality time with the floor of his private office.
“Hullo. Had a good lie-in, then?” Q greeted him through a mouthful of cake. There was a banner over his head that read INTERVENTION! in big glittery letters.
007’s eyes flicked up to it. “Have they finally decided to address your tea obsession?”
“They think I’m a tech rapist,” Q said, rolling his eyes. “I was going to deny it, but they did seem to have put in a lot of effort—the banner has glitter, I really have to give them points for trying. And the intervention turned out to have cake, so.” He offered his plate and fork to Bond.
Bond wasn’t quite sure where to begin with that, but he’d long learned that there were some things he was better off not questioning about Q. “I’ve gotten a number of messages from some contacts of mine,” he said.
“Ah,” said Q.
“Ah?” repeated Bond. If 007 making the sound was a bad thing, Q making the sound was far worse.
“Ah,” Q said with a shrug. “You really must try this cake.”
007 gave him his best unimpressed look. “Explain.”
“All the kidnapping was getting ridiculous, so I decided to address the issue. I’d had it underway since I met Lilya, but it took a bit of time.”
Bond pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right. What have you done?”
“Everybody’s got secrets, 007,” he said, shrugging again. “It was simply a matter of finding out what they were.”
“You can’t have blackmailed every agent on the planet,” argued Bond.
“Well, no. I didn’t have to. I just have to make sure that there are enough players with a vested interest in keeping me un-kidnapped. They’ll make the rest fall in place. The community was quick to spread the word, and Lilya and Tony helped tremendously.”
Moneypenny came over with her own plate of cake. “There’s a viral message going around from those three. It went to every operative and unfriendly we know. They let them know that they can either bugger off or simply schedule a meeting,” she told 007, exasperated. “I actually have a list of people who took him up on the offer, though I did screen out the ones who were likely to kill him.”
Q took another bite of his cake. “It’s just good manners. If they’re curious about me, they can bloody well do it over tea like a civilized person. Thank you for compiling the list, Moneypenny.”
“You’re lucky I like you.”
“And also because I have your mum on speed dial.”
“And also that,” she sighed. Bond began to understand just what Q meant about everyone having secrets. “Do I want to know why you put the Kenyan mob back on the list after I removed them?”
“Adejola’s a decent man,” Q said. “Just very misunderstood. And also now very inclined to torture and murder anyone who tries to attack me. He doesn’t really have any interest in mucking about with England at the moment, anyway.”
“Right,” Bond said, torn between throttling and kissing Q. “Well, that makes it perfectly all right, then.” He finally reached out and took the cake from him. “I’m now dating someone who has various agencies and criminal parties on call. Brilliant.”
“Not that I would need them to do away with you, but it’s rather reassuring.” Q side-eyed him. “By the way, I found out just what it was that you told Smith and Delaney.”
Bond kept his face carefully blank. “Did you, now.” Moneypenny eyed the proceedings with interest.
“Yes. I must admit, not even I can blame you for not foreseeing that saying ‘the new quartermaster is fascinating’ would cause such a furor.”
Moneypenny laughed. “Bloody hell. Coming from Bond, that’s practically a declaration of undying love. No wonder everyone wanted to get their mitts on you.” If he’d said competent or efficient, that would have been taken as normal. But fascinating was another thing entirely, and too many people were eager to exploit any weakness their top operative had.
Unfortunately for them, Q wasn’t much of a weakness.
Q’s lips curled up into a smile. “Good to know you weren’t trying to kill me after all. That would have been a bit of a hiccup in the enormous crush I’ve had on you these last few months.”
“You’ve a mirror, Bond. You may be emotionally stunted, but you’re rather dishy.” Q grinned. “Since I met some interesting people, I forgive you.”
“You can forgive me as much as you like back in your private office.”
“Later,” Q said. “I have a psych eval scheduled. They want to discuss my inappropriate feelings for gadgetry. I can’t decide which will disturb them more—should I just quote horror films at them or do I tell them I’m in a relationship with 007?”
“The latter,” Moneypenny and Bond said in unison.