James Bond swiped into Q Division just past 0900 on a Thursday. Q knew this only because he had set not one, not two, but three different alarms to notify him any time Bond entered his domain.
On that particular Thursday, however, Bond was expected, which was hardly the case with his many earlier visits. Ever since he’d returned from an alarmingly successful venture to Russia—an escort job for M, nothing more, nothing less—he’d taken to loitering and prowling the main floor like a predator circling dying prey. Q blamed himself; he’d praised the agent for returning his Walther in mint condition, without even a single shot fired. Privately, Q was glad no one had been killed (or, if Bond had killed someone, he hadn’t used his gun like a civilized contract killer), but the return of the weapon had felt like a truce, or, at least, proof that Bond didn’t destroy everything he touched.
That very same Walther was now going to be handed back to Bond for his latest mission to Pakistan. Q just hoped Bond wouldn’t take offense when it was R, not Q, who handed it to him.
From his desk and within the confines of his office, Q pulled up the feeds to the main floor. There was Bond, right on time, and there was R, intercepting him as he headed to Q’s office. Q didn’t have audio—it was a safety risk, and besides that, Q really didn’t want to know what was said when he wasn’t running the floor himself.
Long story short, Q had enabled the audio before, which was how he’d found out that one of the junior quartermasters had started a betting pool regarding how much longer it would take for one of the double-0s to make a move on Q. They considered Q an oddity because unlike every other member of staff in the entirety of MI6 (and most of MI5, as well as both of the French services) he’d never once (to common knowledge) been propositioned by one of the double-0 programme. The agents tended to flirt rather openly, so the quartermasters guessed that if it had happened, they would have seen it. Q was an attractive young man; certainly the agents must be interested?
(As far as Q could tell, there were spreadsheets, bribes, testimonials from other members of staff, and intrepid interviews with at least one member of the double-0 section involved in the background of the pool. It was something Q would have rather not known, thank you very much.)
Out on the floor now, Bond accepted his kit from R. He seemed to be acting normally, though defining normal for someone like Bond was something of an oxymoron. They talked for a moment—R was doing most of the talking, Q saw, which was far from unusual given that talking to Bond was often like talking to a wall. Then R shrugged, said something as a parting shot, and walked away.
Kit in hand, Bond made a beeline for Q’s office.
Q should have picked a better hiding place than his own office. Someone—Bond, obviously—knocked at the door. Q saw no way around it.
“Do come in, 007,” he called, doing his best to enunciate. He sniffed, momentarily unable to breathe, and tried to swallow. He reached for a tissue just as Bond opened the door. He stopped without crossing the threshold, staring openly at Q.
“What can I do for you?” Q asked, hoping he sounded less nasal than he thought. Bond didn’t immediately answer, no doubt taking in the lovely image he presented.
Q had wrapped himself in an extra cardigan for warmth shortly after arriving to work, though he couldn’t stop himself from shivering. His nose dripped constantly, his eyes were swollen, red and puffy behind his glasses, and his throat was painfully hoarse.
“You’re ill,” Bond said.
Q snatched up the tissue he’d been going for just as Bond came in and blew his nose loudly. He felt lousy, like his head had been stuffed with cotton. He’d taken a fever reducer earlier, so he couldn’t have one, but the symptoms refused to let off.
“I have a cold,” Q said, as if that contradicted Bond’s statement.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Q frowned and sniffed. “Neither should you,” he said. “You have your equipment.” He could hardly get the word out right, but he wasn’t going to damage his pride any further by trying again. “If you don’t need something, go away.”
“You’re going to make everyone else sick, too,” Bond said, ignoring Q’s protestations. “Go home.”
“Don’t act a child.”
“You’re not my caretaker, 007,” Q said. He cursed his sickness for the way it twisted the consonants in Bond’s title.
“You clearly need one.”
Q glared at Bond.
“Have fun in Pakistan,” Q said. The words were hardly intelligible.
Q waved at Bond. “Bye,” he said.
Bond stared at Q for a long moment. His posture shifted subtly as he rolled his weight onto the other foot, considering.
“Rest well, Q,” Bond said, turning for the door.
“I will try,” Q said, but Bond was gone.
Bond walked through Q Division and headed to the lifts. Rather than getting off on ground and heading for the car, he keyed in an access code and headed for the admin levels.
Q was sick. Very sick.
He looked like a child, all snot-nosed and petulant. It was pathetic, in a way. He wasn’t going to recover like that, coming in and working as if nothing were wrong. Stubborn as Bond was—and he knew it, there could be no denying—there were certain things you did not do. Trying to work through illness when circumstances do not demand it? Do not attempt.
The doors opened, and Bond stepped out onto the plush carpeting and opulent décor that screamed administration. He hated it. He passed several offices before coming to the desk of one Eve Moneypenny.
“You’re supposed to be in a car, heading for a plane,” Moneypenny said without so much as looking up from her work.
“Good to see you, too,” Bond said, putting on his most charming smile.
Moneypenny finished typing something, then shut the lid of her laptop. “Whatever it is,” she said, “the answer is no.”
“So I’m not supposed to operate in the best interests of MI6?” Bond asked, teasing. Moneypenny glared.
“I’m serious,” she said.
“I believe you,” Bond answered. “You managed to kill 007. No mean feat.”
Moneypenny took in a deep breath. “You’re never letting me live that down, are you?”
“As I remember it, I’m the one who went down.”
Moneypenny shut her eyes and hunched over. “What do you want, Bond?”
“I need a favour.”
“I gathered so much.”
“Don’t be sour,” he said. “I need you to send Q home.”
Moneypenny stared at him. “The Quartermaster,” she said. “You want me to send the Quartermaster of MI6 home.”
Moneypenny shut her eyes. “He’s not some errant schoolboy, Bond.”
“He’s acting one.”
“What’s he done now?” she asked. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s less severe than some of your infractions.
Bond ignored the barb and said, “He’s very ill. I saw him downstairs. He’s going to get everyone sick.”
Moneypenny sobered up, straightening. “How sick?”
Moneypenny groaned. “Lovely,” she said. “Did you tell him to go to Medical?”
“He shouldn’t be here at all.”
Moneypenny glared at her. “I don’t do scheduling,” she said. “I don’t send people home.”
“I’ll owe you,” Bond said, smiling lasciviously.
“No,” Moneypenny said.
“I’ll buy you a drink, then,” he said. “Dinner, somewhere nice.”
“You’re bribing me to make sure Q goes home and gets some rest.”
“He can’t work like this,” Bond pressed. “He’s a wreck.”
Moneypenny squinted at him. “You’re worried about him,” she said plainly.
Bond had several easy answers on-hand, and he picked one. “Because he’s the Quartermaster.”
Moneypenny squinted harder. “You care about his well-being,” she said, in that same tone of voice.
“Of course I do.” Moneypenny sat back in her seat. “What?”
“I’ll help,” Moneypenny said. “I’ll have him sent home and I’ll make sure he stays there for a few days.”
“A week,” Bond insisted.
“Until he’s recovered,” Moneypenny said.
“He’ll lie and say he’s fine,” Bond pressed.
“Until I say he’s recovered,” Moneypenny allowed.
Bond considered the terms and said, “Thank you.”
“But,” Moneypenny said, and here it was. “I’ll take you up on your offer of dinner, but I want you to answer a question.”
“What’s the question?”
Moneypenny pursed her lips before she asked, “Are you and Q…?”
“Are you trying for it?”
Bond shook his head.
“Really?” Moneypenny pressed.
“I’m just saying,” Moneypenny said, “he’s your type.”
“Why do I feel like you have a personal stake in whether or not Q and I are together?”
“I might,” Moneypenny admitted, shameless. Bond remembered why he liked her so much. “If you’re not, you’re not, though. Nothing I can do about that.”
“Hm. I guess I can tell 002 that my hunch was wrong,” she said. “Q’s fair game after all.”
Bond had no tells. “I suppose,” he said, making a mental note to call 002. “You’re sure he doesn’t have someone?”
“He certainly doesn’t,” Moneypenny said, eyes glinting. “Otherwise, they would have had him stay home today, wouldn’t they?”
Bond smiled. “Thanks for that,” he murmured. “I’ll text you when I get back.”
“I’ll book the reservation,” Moneypenny said. “Somewhere expensive. You’re paying.”
Bond’s smile widened. “Naturally.”
As soon as he was around the corner, Bond allowed his posture to soften, though his grin didn’t die down. Lying to Moneypenny was a difficult business, mostly because of how well they knew each other. Bond would have to call 002 on the flight to make sure he didn’t try anything untoward. Bond had worked damn hard to make sure the rest of his section remained away from the Quartermaster; he absolutely intended to keep it that way.
Q refused to believe that the notice currently sitting in his inbox was real. It couldn’t be. It had to be Bond, being an ass.
Q called Moneypenny.
“I take it you got my message,” she said when she answered the phone.
“You’re joking,” Q said. He sniffed, then coughed, then sputtered into his tissue. His supply had begun to dwindle. He cursed his lack of foresight; he ought to have picked up more on the way in, but it had taken all that he had just to get himself out of bed, never mind picking up supplies.
“You’re ill,” Moneypenny said.
“I see Bond found you.” Q couldn’t even say his name for his congestion, damn it all.
Moneypenny made a noncommittal noise. “I talked with Morse. You’re off for the week.”
“Morse? The Devil of the Schedule?” Q asked.
“She’s sitting right here, you know,” Moneypenny said. Q felt his blood pressure drop. “I’m joking, Q. Are you still there?”
“You don’t joke about Morse, Eve,” Q said.
“Sorry, sorry,” Moneypenny said. Remorseless. Q might have laughed at the unintentional pun, but it would have sent him into a coughing fit. “I did talk to her, however. I went down to her office and suffered through that nasty perfume she likes, and you’re off for the week. I braved the beast for you, Q. The least you could do is go home.”
Q sighed and shut his eyes. The darkness felt soft in his brain.
“You survived Morse,” Q said. “Fine, I’ll go home, but if there’s an emergency—”
“You’ll be called back, I assure you,” Moneypenny said. “Now go home. Rest up. Eat something.”
Q frowned. “I don’t have anything.”
The pause on Moneypenny’s side seemed to extend endlessly. “What?”
“I haven’t bought groceries in a few days,” Q said. “I wasn’t planning on going home tonight.”
“What were you going to eat?”
“There’s a granola bar in my desk—”
There came a sharp bang—Moneypenny hitting her desk, most likely. “Christ, Q.”
“It’s the truth.”
Moneypenny sighed, rough and loud in Q’s ear. “Go home, Q,” she said. “I’ll work out the rest.”
“Are you going to bring me food?”
“I might,” she said. “I’ll call you when I get off. Tell me you have some cough medicine? Pain killer? Water?”
“I do have a flat, Miss Moneypenny,” Q said. Damn those nasal consonants.
“I’ll hope that’s a yes,” Moneypenny said. “I’ll call you later. Let me know when you get home.”
Q sighed and said, “Okay. Bye.”
After Moneypenny hung up, Q set his mobile on his desk and leaned back in his chair. His legs felt like cement and his head like a cloud. He didn’t think he could move if the world depended on it. The thought of his empty fridge didn’t help, but then again, neither did his stomach, which was torn between hunger and nausea.
Slowly, and with fumbling fingers, Q called Six’s valet service and asked for a ride home.
“He has what?”
“No food,” Moneypenny said. “I’ve sent him home, but he’s going to die. He has no concept of how to care for himself—none.”
From the plane, Bond could see Moneypenny, hunched over her desk and fuming, as if she were sitting across from him.
“You only just realized?” Bond asked. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“You’re on a plane.”
“Mm, and you’ve already done me a tremendous favour. Thank you,” Bond said.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Bond hung up before Moneypenny could get in a word edgewise.
Of course Q didn’t have a drop of food in his flat. That would be too easy. He would go home and languish, and without the proper nutrients, he would take more than a week to recover, depending on his ailment.
Bond steepled his fingers. He’d already spoken with 002. The thinly disguised threat of castration would keep him and all others of the double-0 section away from Q for the time being—a blessing and a curse. Blessing, because they couldn’t hit on Q without contact. A curse, because Bond couldn’t call in any favours with them.
Bond couldn’t get Moneypenny to bring food, either—Q wouldn’t cook for himself, and Moneypenny lived almost entirely on takeout. Not exactly health food. He needed something hearty, something fresh; he needed medicine, and tea (not that he was short on that, no doubt), and warmth. Rest. Relaxation.
Thankfully, Bond had a few ideas. Drastic times called for drastic measures; Bond had a few contacts who owed him a thing or two. It was time to make a few calls.