Q stands before M's desk, biting his tongue to hold back the smart comments and harsh laughter that M's superficial understanding deserves. He's biting hard, but hopefully not hard enough to draw blood, because he's got better places to put that tongue tonight.
It's more difficult than it should be, holding himself back, because Bond is standing close beside him. Too close, probably. They've lost all sense of propriety, and Q has no idea how they'd get it back. If they wanted to. They don't.
Q spends most of his days with Bond plastered to his side. They follow one another around headquarters, from Q's office to the control centre to the gym to the lab to the range to the kitchen, even to the bathrooms. They work and work out, make gadgets and make out, whisper and plot and code and care and build and fuck and change the world around them irrevocably.
When Bond is in the field, they maintain their relationship over cutting-edge comms. They swing effortlessly between mission planning, intelligence, gentle intimacy and pure filth. Q cuts their listeners in and out as he thinks fit, flicking his fingers nonchalantly over his keyboard or, on the rare occasions he goes home when Bond is away, his phone. He never gets it wrong, but if he did, nothing would happen. There is no secret. 00Q is a force of nature, and it's moulding MI6 as it sees fit.
Q branch is filled with bright young things, but none of them are as bright as Q himself. Nobody is. The 00s are getting younger (like policemen, Bond says grumpily) and their training has diversified, but they're still frighteningly disposable and Q feels responsible for each of them. He feels naked without his earwig, and his tablet or phone to switch channels, and his 007 close by his side (or in his ear, if he absolutely must make do with a poor substitute).
Every now and again, M attempts an intervention. Like this one. He's trying to divert them from an intelligence mission in Afghanistan. 004 is embedded in a Taliban cell, and the valuable information is not flowing properly. Something is wrong. Q knows it, Bond confirms it, and they *will* get to the bottom of it, while juggling all the other missions, security, and anything else that comes up. There are four hands on the helm now, and none of them belong to M.
But they need M, to some extent. He knows enough about what they do to realise they're unchallengeable. They got that way on his watch, so it behooves him to keep up the pretence of being in charge. They can work with that. For now.
"Leave it, Bond. Forget about Afghanistan. Focus on the German assassins. Stalt has been seen in London. Track him down, find out what he's doing here."
Bond nods obediently, despite knowing exactly what Stalt has been doing, and that he's already fled back to Munich with his tail between his legs. Q picked him up three days ago when he entered the country on a fake passport. They followed him on CCTV for an hour, Q tapping away furiously at his keyboard. Then Bond popped out to warn him off the French ambassador's PA and send him home empty-handed. M's information is woefully delayed - are MI5 deliberately keeping him in the dark? There's a report knocking around somewhere, and Q makes a mental note to locate it.
They are dismissed with a weary wave of M's hand. They exit his office about six inches apart, and each give Moneypenny a small smile as they pass her desk. But by the time they leave her office, they're glued together at the hip again, whispering furiously as they stride back to Q's office.
Bond is getting better at hacking, now his typing is up to speed. He's sorted military flights for himself within half an hour, using one of his personal military identities (Q will build him another while he's away - he never likes to have less than five unused, and fake IDs come in pairs these days). Q gently fixes the tiny earwig in place. They'll test it as Bond leaves the building. He pulls Bond's latest gun from the safe, adding a radio, a tiny tracker, a buttoncam, and the spectacularly-exploding pen that was the product of their second date. They part with a stellar kiss, right in the middle of Q branch. No-one bats an eye. They're used to it now, and anyone who couldn't stand it is long gone.
Q waits a few seconds after the door closes behind the other half of him before speaking softly.
"Come back safe, Bond. You know I can't do this alone."
"Neither of us is alone, Q. You're coming with me."
Q can picture Bond patting his ear and smiling gently. It's an oddly intimate way to test the comms, but it'll do.
They have a pact about this. A suicide pact. It was the source of their first and only row (so far), but they came to an agreement eventually. It's statistically most likely that Q will be left behind when Bond is killed in action, and he knows he couldn't carry on alone. The only stipulation Bond held out for was that Q should either find his body and test it himself, or give him six months to reappear if he went missing. That six month provision was a bone of great contention, but Bond quelled Q's arguments with a flood of practical examples (including two that had actually happened). The point is to be together, or not at all, and Q is confident enough in his ability to find Bond anywhere that he agreed to the six month waiting period if he can't. He gives himself 30 seconds to hate it every time they part, then moves on. The latest 30 second period has now expired.
He presses the red key in the corner of his tablet (triplet to the ones on his phone and laptop) to activate Bond's trackers, and starts talking as he types. Bond is flying in short, illogical stages, to a US military base. He will be deployed on patrol with a British unit on secondment there. It's the closest Q can get him to the Taliban cell. He'll have to go off-grid during a patrol, which will have his own side hunting him within minutes, but Bond will evade them. Something is up with 004, and they need to find out what it is.
Q doesn't leave his office for the next ten days. Eve brings him sandwiches, his techs make him tea, and he goes through all the clothes in his locker three times. He sleeps in snatches on the sofa in his office, aside from six hours when he knows Bond is (relatively) safe on the base. Q spends the two hours before he sleeps watching the hills around the base on the satellite feed. If there's going to be shelling, he wants to know first. But there is no activity, and he reluctantly obeys Bond's murmured entreaties to shut up and get some sleep.
Bond slips away from the patrol without difficulty, but the locals prove to be a lot more efficient (and less cautious) about tracking him than those supposedly on his side. After that it's a chaotic tumble of satellite footage, Bond's buttoncam, audio, gunshots, blood and gore and heavy breathing. There are IEDs everywhere, and some of the locals don't know the exact locations. Bond makes the rendezvous, only to find 004 hanging from a ceiling, with bits of his body stuffed into other bits where they really shouldn't go. The corpse is stinking, obviously at least a week old, and they have no way of knowing how long 004 was compromised before that. Bond tries to cover the buttoncam, but a sharp "Don't!" in his ear makes him refocus. Q looks around just as cautiously as Bond, but it doesn't seem to be a trap. A message, then. There is nothing more to be done.
Bond sets off the exploding pen to the expected spectacular effect, and slips away into the hills. It takes him days to reach the Pakistani border, but Q watches over him as best he can, murmuring quietly in his ear for hours at a time.
Once he's concocted an elaborate cover story to deal with the unreliability of 004's information, Q hacks the MI6 systems from his phone. He frowns meaningfully at his team when it only takes him three hours. Their target this month is seven hours. He hacks MI5 too, just for a laugh, and it takes him just 45 minutes. Oh dear, they're getting worse! He sends a mocking email. There is a minor kerfuffle over a mission in Moscow (how very retro) and Tanner manages to get out of the building, and back in again, undetected. He sends a picture message of himself at Vauxhall station. Q is furious about that one. He viciously concocts another three pairs of fake IDs, complete with finances, histories, homes and families. On days like this, he imagines they might need to pick one and use it quite soon. If they survive long enough.
By the time Bond reaches Islamabad, they have a plan for exactly what they are going to do when he's back. MI6 can run itself for a few days, and it will give M the illusion that he's taken back control. It's important to maintain M's illusions. The report on Stalt's activities has been resubmitted, with some amendments. Their tracks are covered as well as they can be, although the unscheduled explosion is a dead giveaway. Q is almost sure that Tanner knows where Bond has been, and almost as sure that he won't tell M. If he does, they'll deal with it later.
Q is waiting at Heathrow with the Aston when Bond returns on a commercial flight. There are no flashy embraces (no point drawing attention to themselves), but Q puts his hand over Bond's for a few moments in the lift to the car park. They deactivate all the trackers, and drive south to the coast in silence. After talking for days, Q doesn't have much more to say, and Bond just looks exhausted.
They spend the next two days holed up in their fourth floor studio flat, with views of the grey, frothing sea, but no sign of the French coast they would see on a clear day. After they both sleep for 14 hours (nightmare-free, thankfully), Q makes a sumptuous, carb-laden breakfast from the contents of the fridge. Then he fucks Bond in the ridiculously enormous, powerful shower. Bond is bent over and gasping and afterwards, his legs are jelly. Q dries him carefully and puts him back to bed, curls around him and dozes blissfully. Later, he opens the tiny window and puts a pillow over the sharp sill. He guides Bond down, sliding his head out so that he can scream as loud as he likes into the wind.
Bond starts talking by the end of that first day, even if it is just to whisper endearments while Q rides his cock, slow and bittersweet because they know this blissed-out retreat can't last. Some time, they will come here when it's not about recovery and desperate reconnection. This is not that time.
For two days, they oscillate in a leisurely fashion between the bed and the shower, with brief stops at the kitchen for sustenance. Q pours glass after glass of iced water, carefully re-hydrating his agent so he's ready for his next fucking. Or assignment. Whichever comes first.
Late on the second day, Q's tablet makes the horribly intrusive beeping noise he's been expecting. Only Moneypenny and Tanner know how to reach them, and it must be a dire emergency, given the threats he made to ensure they are not bothered unnecessarily. He sighs, and reaches for his clothes and his phone. He never speaks to anyone but Bond while naked; an important point of principle for him.
To Q's surprise, the call is for him and not Bond. MI5 is under cyber-attack. They're holding it off, for now, but they've asked for help from Six, and Q knows it's likely that only he can do this. He grabs his laptop from under the bed, already tapping away on his completely-unsuitable tablet. Oh, these people are good, and there are several of them and only one Q. It takes him six hours, with help from his own division, to shut down the intrusion, and a further three to trace the likely culprits. There's a promising technician in MI5 who knows when to help him, and when to shut up, and he's pleasantly surprised. Ideally he'd like to headhunt her for Q branch, but it might actually be more use to him to have someone vaguely competent training up in Five. He'll contact her anyway, and arrange collaboration. But not today.
Bond has been feeding and watering him carefully, and when Q finally shuts his laptop and cuts the connection to M after his report, Bond is dressed and ready for action. Of course 007 will be needed to go after the culprits, who are scattered across South East Asia in a range of unlikely locations. Q knows who they are, but not who they're working for, and that will need to be investigated.
Q takes a cursory shower (alone), and Bond drives them back to London. It's soon, too soon for him to be going back out into the field, but they're short of 00s, as usual, and there is no choice.
Bond's trip turns into a month-long chase across the globe, with each cog in the wheel dying inconveniently early in the process. On day 30, Q watches Bond dangling a young Korean programmer out of the window of his thirteenth floor hotel room by the ankle. Terrified, she gives him the name he needs. Q is working on it before she's back in the room. Bond turns away for a moment to give her a chance to adjust her rumpled clothing, only to miss the second when she realises what she's done and throws herself from the window. Q swears in his ear, softly and inventively and for a very long time. They won't do the thing with the pillow and the window in the Brighton flat again.
When Bond returns, triumphant after a killing spree in Tokyo, Q keeps him close for as long as possible. They can't afford the time to go to Brighton, the threats are too many and too real, but Q works better alongside Bond, who holds his own just as well at HQ these days. Within three months, he's running security awareness classes for the admin staff, scheduling the agents for every conceivable type of training, keeping M off their backs, rolling out the new inventions for use in the field, and running missions for two of the other 00s. Q runs five missions and his deputy, Sophia, three. Sophia came from MI5, Q's principles abandoned, when he realised just how bad things were getting. He was practically running cyber-security for Five anyway, so he might as well use the best of their staff. At least the task of calming the diplomatic storm gives M something useful to do.
Then Q loses another agent. It isn't a control thing. Nobody could have predicted that the hired help would have an over-sensitive trigger finger, and the mark is probably just as pissed off as anyone else. But 0011's unnecessary death cuts the ground out from under Q - quite literally, if the way Bond is carrying him to the sofa in his office is anything to go by. He fights, rather ineffectually, to get back to the control room.
"Q, it's all right. Sophia has it and Tanner is helping out. There's nothing more you can do."
Something crumbles inside of Q. They sit silently, shoulder to shoulder, for what feels like hours. Moneypenny comes in with tea, placing it on the table and leaving abruptly. Bond passes Q his favourite mug, but the contents taste like ashes and neither of them drink.
"I can't do this any more, Bond."
He nods. "I know. And maybe you don't have to."
Q looks up, surprised.
"I'm not ready to run. I just need to step back. Will you step back with me?"
Bond leans in and kisses him gently. "I'll do anything with you. But listen to this message. I received it an hour ago."
Bond takes out his phone, and puts his voicemail on speakerphone. "Good afternoon, Mr Bond. My name is Mycroft Holmes. I expect you're rather busy just now, but I wonder if you would call in at my office when you have a moment. I have an offer of employment for you and Quillean. M tells me you may be exploring your options. I look forward to seeing you both shortly."
Q stares at the phone. Give Mallory some credit, he's a sneaky bastard.
Bond stands, and holds out a hand.
"I've heard rumours about this Holmes. Let's go and talk to him."
Q levers himself off the sofa, and glances out at the control room. Sophia stands confidently before the bank of monitors, gesturing occasionally with some gadget she's just perfected. Tanner is off to one side, muttering and typing intermittently on three different machines. Two senior technicians are gathered round a fourth set of monitors, and M stands at the rear of the room, observing quietly. Bond nods politely to him as they walk past, hand in hand.
Afterwards, Q thinks he might have preferred to blaze spectacularly out of MI6, in a similarly shocking manner to that with which he entered it. But in the end, it doesn't matter, because he has James Bond by his side. And that is glory enough for him.