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oh mercy, i implore

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This isn’t violence.

This is just a war in my head.

 

Q has never known quiet.

 

He grows up with three brothers, all in varying degrees of loudness, and he wonders, eternally, how he was the only one who yearned for the darkness, when they would all sleep, and finally, there it was—silence.

 

By the time he’s six, it becomes quickly apparent that he won’t be taking after them, and while he adores his brothers, he begrudges having to attend their soccer matches.  They’re all broad-shouldered and look like their father, with unruly, light brown hair and brilliantly shaded hazel eyes.  Q decidedly gained all of their mum’s looks, with darker hair and grey eyes that hint at green, a slender build and wrists that his brothers are always threatening—playfully, they remind him—to snap.

 

He’s eleven the first time one of them throws a wicked punch out of anger, and Q throws up a forearm in defense, which crashes against his face and results in a bloody nose that blossoms a bruise so ugly that Q still believes it’s the baseline for what comes next.  Three months later, his brothers start to take turns teaching him how to fight, and he grins, with a definite air of arrogance, when he passes his first field test for MI-6 in flying colors several years later.  His brothers still threaten, on occasion, to snap his wrists when they’re feeling particularly volatile, but now Q holds his ground every time there’s a brawl between them.

 

When he’s thirteen and tells his parents he wants to graduate early, however, his unruly, loud brothers are the ones to cheer him on.

 

And now, here he is, seventeen, applying for grad schools, but still here.  None of them can afford to move out, so they’re all still crammed into their one bedroom, bunk beds still intact, and Q just wants out.

 

He spends most of his time in the kitchen, learning how to cook with his mum, while his brothers take turns learning different trades from their father until, one summer, their car breaks down, and Q spends every free hour with his father learning how to fix it.

 

Ultimately, though, Q’s objective is to have a space of his own, and so he gets a job at a local coffee shop—Shae laughs uproariously at this, Desmond buys him an apron, and Connor is his first customer when he finally gets promoted to creating—and starts saving, diligently working his way through grad school until, one day, he finds it.

 

He’s up late at the library on campus, using the key one of his professors dotingly gave him for after-hours access, when he just—stumbles upon it, an intricate forum devoted to his undeclared and unprofessional major.  He’s found a community of hackers.

 

Q misses the sunrise, too busy typing furiously, learning, delivering nasty codes, and, somehow, making a friend.  She introduces herself as Duchess, and his mouth quirks as he types back a quick, on the spot, overconfident moniker—King.

 

Clever, she writes, Bedtime, dear King.  Catch you on the flipside.  And she’s gone, just like that, but Q is confident he’ll find her again.

 

When he gets home, his mum is furious, smashing utensils into the drawer as he winces when the door creaks open.  “No note!” she yells, throwing a bowl into the sink.

 

“Car gone,” Shae mutters over his cereal and gets a smack upside the head for it.

 

“I was worried sick!” she exclaims, throwing a hand towel at Desmond when he starts to speak, “Where were you?”

“At the library,” Q says, shrinking, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize what time it was.”

 

“Ever?  Not once?  There are clocks all over the building.”

 

“Not to mention the sun kind of, you know, rose,” Connor says, “That might have been an indication that it was getting late.”

 

Q levels him with a nasty glare, and Connor beams at him.  “Darling,” his mum says, sighing, “Please.  You need to call if you’re going to be out all night.”

 

“At the library, honestly,” Shae says, shaking his head, “What a disappointment.”

 

“That’s enough of you!” she shrieks, reaching for the towel.  All three of them duck, and she turns back to the sink to smile.  “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”

 

“Yes,” Q says sheepishly, setting his bag down and dropping into the only available seat.

 

His father dies three days after everyone forgets his eighteenth birthday.

 

Grad school comes and goes before Q is ready for it to be gone.  He’s barely nineteen when he gets accepted into a master’s program, and his brothers actually hoist him up onto their shoulders when he gets the letter.  They all go out for celebratory drinks, pointedly ignoring their waitress’s nervous stares when they slide drinks across the table to Q, and then, somehow, they end up at a tattoo parlor.


“This might be a bad idea,” Q says, watching Connor teeter dangerously toward falling.  He’s anything but a lightweight, though he can’t say the same for Connor or Shae.  Desmond, however, can drink him under the table easy.

 

“This is a splendid idea,” Shae almost shrieks, and that alone gets a headshake from the artist.

 

“I’ll do you two,” he says, pointing at Q first and then Desmond, “Not those drunk shits.”

 

“Fair,” Connor says before he dumps into a seat, “You should get a plug thingy.”

 

“A what?”

 

“An outlet!” Shae cries.

 

Even Desmond rolls his eyes.  “That’s a little predictable, don’t you think,” he says before he leads Q over to the counter.

 

They spend two hours—and more money than Q is willing to admit, particularly because it doesn’t come out of his pocket, but his brother’s—getting repeatedly stabbed until Q is being released.  Desmond went first, getting a small, but intricate Celtic design on his bicep, though he’s watching on with wide eyes when Q stands and turns, twisting to look over his shoulder.  It looks like the beginnings of a circuit board is creeping up his back, and something swells inside of him.

 

When they have a real party the week following, at home with their mum cooking, it feels a little closer to his childhood than Q is expecting, and he can’t help letting a little of his brother’s boisterous nature infect him.  He and Shae are really the only ones at home now, and Shae is at his girlfriend’s more often than not.

 

Desmond is twenty-five now, married, and expecting his first daughter; Connor is twenty-two and preparing for a backpacking trip around the world; and Shae is twenty and struggling to not despise university.  And, in the dead of night, Q is hacking into his first security system, dismantling a company for the sheer fun of it, and grinning widely when a message pops up on his screen.

 

Shit, King, was that you?

 

Read it, and weep, he types back before he leans back against his chair and just keeps grinning.

 

The next morning, when he comes down for breakfast, and Desmond is there, his footsteps slow as he listens to him talk.  “I’m worried about him, mum,” he says, trying to keep his voice low, “The company that manages our security absolutely tanked last night, and it had his name all over it.”

 

“He wouldn’t do that,” his mum says, and Q swears softly, turning and running back up to his room.

 

If Desmond can decipher it was him that easily, then he needs to be gone.  He opens his laptop, throws a message Duchess’s way—It was the fucking company that manages my brother’s security.  I have to go.—before he’s stuffing things into a backpack and climbing out the window.

 

He’s gone for two weeks before he finally dares to call home.  “Is it you?” his mum says when she answers.

 

“I’m so sorry,” he says, “I was afraid.”

 

“Honey, come home.  Please.”

 

“Am I in trouble?”

 

“Did you do that?  Was that you that crashed that security company?  It was all over the news, and Desmond—I mean, we always knew you were interested in that kind of stuff, but we never thought—god, why would you do that?”

 

“Mum,” Q says brokenly.

 

“Come home.  Now.”

 

“Am I in trouble?” he echoes.

 

Yes.  Of course you are.”

 

She hangs up, and Q closes his eyes, pressing his temple against the glass of the phone booth.  It’s another week before he goes home, and, miraculously, all his mum does is crush him close, sobbing relief against his shoulder.

 

And then, he really fucks up.

 

Q’s on a high when he hacks into MI-6.  His advisor has just signed off on a second degree, his niece’s first birthday is the next day, and Duchess has asked if he’s ever thought about them meeting.

 

He tells her, yes, oh my god, yes, all the time, can we? right before he sees the current challenge floating around the forum.  His fingers freeze over the keyboard.  No one has accepted it, and it’s the third time he’s seen this particular challenge.  No one has ever taken this bait, not after the last time—not after the last person disappeared.

 

Don’t do it, King, Duchess sends over, Please.  Ignore it.

 

I can do this.  I can totally fucking do this.

 

And he does.

 

Q’s in before they realize what’s happening, and it’s just—beautiful.  He’s never seen anything like it, layers and layers of code, firewalls so promising that he wants to start tweaking them, strengthening them, and then his screen goes black.  He’s prepared, though, and he starts typing furiously, whipping through programs and throwing everything he has at them until, finally, his screen flickers back to life.  MI-6 is gone, but there’s no trace left of him on their end, either, and Q grins.

 

It’s the first time he steps through the cracks successfully.

 

When he tells Duchess, she says she wants to wait to meet, and they don’t talk for a year.  In those silent twelve months, he tiptoes into the NSA, starts shifting things around, and bloody well gets caught.  He spends three days in hiding, skipping out in the dead of night and taking a train to somewhere far away.  When he arrives, he starts erasing all traces of himself from the NSA’s database, but they’ve managed to latch onto one thing—King.

 

Someone sees his work, and he’s on his way home when he gets an encrypted message that says, I think your particular skill set could be useful for our purposes.  We’ll contact you soon.  The contact comes in the form of a manila envelope in the mail, delivered discreetly, and that’s the first time Q is hired as a hacker.

 

He starts inventing without really intending for it to go anywhere, and his brothers test out his prototypes whenever they come around.  They think it’s all some kind of game, and Q is feeling notably frustrated after a day of watching them toss his things about without much care, which he decides to blame for why he gets caught sneaking around in the CIA’s mainframe, of all places.

 

When Q’s mum answers the door the next morning, confusion contorting her features, Q considers running, though he knows it’ll be worse for her, and he lets himself be brought in.  He spends a week in jail, gets a slap on the wrist, a new job on his way out, and more ink on his back when his bank account mysteriously inflates after a successful hack.

 

Then, one day, I’ve got a job for you.  Full time.  Real shit.  Q blinks at it, Duchess’s familiar handle, and he can’t stop smiling.

 

That’s how he ends up paying for his schooling, working behind the scenes, bulking up the security for top name companies and even carving out a small place in the world for himself, all the while grinning every time a manila envelope appears outside the front door.  Q lives this life, making coffee by day and hacking by night, taking apart kitchen appliances and sitting under an ink gun on the weekends, writing codes aimed to destroy in between.

 

Without warning, the messages from Duchess stop coming.

 

Q assumes she’s busy.  She’s always buggering off to have adventures, and so he doesn’t pay it any mind.  He’s in the hospital awaiting his new niece when he gets the news.

 

“Two girls, can you believe it?” his mum says, pacing back and forth down the hall.

 

“Of course he would,” Connor says, “Betcha we all have girls, just to make it up to you.”

 

“If only,” his mum says, and Q looks over at his brother, eyebrows shooting up.  When Connor nods, Q starts jostling him, and then Shae catches on, and, suddenly, Q is just another of the four, boisterous and causing a scene.  When their mum finally catches on—that, yes, Connor’s fiancé is pregnant—she starts crying immediately, and they all laugh at her.

 

Q’s phone vibrates, and he starts to ignore it when it keeps going, buzzing across the bench.  “Sorry,” he says, still beaming, “One second.  Hello?”

 

“Is this—is this King?”

 

Q blinks.  “Duchess?” he asks.

 

“No, this is her mother,” she says, “I, um—I found your conversations with her, and I thought—she always talked about you, and you seemed so close, and I just—oh god, I’m sorry,” and Q goes deaf.

 

Grace fell while hiking alone, shattered her ankle, and got lost trying to find her way back in the dark.  They found her body four weeks later.

 

That night, a hack challenge pops up on the forum, something miniscule, unworthy, and Q grabs it, completes it, and throws his laptop at the wall.  Shae is there in a heartbeat, curling around his brother and holding him close as Q breaks apart.

 

In the morning, he skips breakfast, instead trying to piece together his laptop.  When it’s finally teetering close to workable again, he pulls up an old code, throws himself into his favorite program, and hacks into MI-6.  He’s in and out in under two minutes, but not before he transfers a small fund to his banking account.

 

Q buys a new laptop and starts inventing.

 

He almost loses a rather nasty bit of code before he starts hacking carefully, silently.  Even still, the whispers continue, and he’s twenty-six when MI-6 catches up to him.  He’s spent the last three years since he finished up his master’s program accepting jobs that get darker with each envelope, several weeks in jail once, and even learning how to tattoo himself, though he much prefers letting someone else work on him.  He’s busy allowing himself a moment of self-pity while all of his brothers are busy being married off and living on their own, and he’s still here, so he hacks in, intends to just wander around for a bit, and they destabilize his entire world.

 

A picture of Desmond’s three daughters pops up followed by a short, angry message, Tonight.  The art gallery.  The ship.

 

He has no choice but to comply.

 

“Where are you going?” his mum asks when he makes for the door just after dusk.

 

“Out for a bit,” Q says, trying to shake off this feeling that he’s never going to see her again.

 

“Will you be back late?” she asks wearily.

 

Q swallows.  “I’ll try not to be,” he says before he comes over, leaning down to kiss her cheek, “I love you, mum.”

 

“I love you, too, dear.  Be good.”

 

The woman he meets, he later discovers, is head of MI-6.  She smiles fondly at his shaking hands when she sits down, and says, “What are we going to do with you?”

 

“I’d like a job,” Q says immediately, not looking at her, “I can help you.”

 

“Can you?”

 

Q nods quickly.  “Please.  I need to get out of here.”

 

“And what kind of job did you have in mind?” she asks.

 

Q looks over without meaning to, and blinks at her.  “Um,” he says, “Whatever there is.”

 

“Are you prepared to leave your family behind?”

 

“Not really,” Q admits.

 

“Good,” she says, “You start in the morning.  I’ll leave it up to you to find us.”  Q watches her stand up, his shoulders sagging in something akin to relief.  “And we’ll have to do away with the name,” she says, “Though not quite yet, but you do show promise.”

 

“For what?”

 

“All in good time, King,” she says, “Sleep well.”

 

“Thank you,” Q says as she walks away, and then he goes home.

 

The salary he receives at MI-6 almost, almost, makes him regret stealing from them, but then he peers at his bank account after his first month, and he has to sit down.  “Mum,” he says, “Is it okay if I move out?”

 

“Job going that well?” she teases, coming around behind him.  “Good lord,” she gasps, “What could you possibly be doing to earn that?”

 

“Mum!”

 

“Not that you don’t, love, just—that’s quite a bit of money.”

 

“Right?” he says, looking up at her, “And I love what I do.”

 

“Good,” she says, squeezing his shoulders, “Hold onto it, then.”

 

He starts flat searching immediately, and then Shae is off on winter break, and he positively vibrates at the challenge.  Two weeks into December, as Q is tidying things up before he’s allowed a few days off around the holidays, he gets a call on his personal phone, and he answers it discreetly.  “Shae,” he says, “Is everything okay?”

 

“When are you out of work?” Shae asks, excitement lifting the volume of his voice.

 

“In an hour, probably.  Why?”

 

“Can I pick you up?”

 

Q sighs.  “No,” he says, and he knows what Shae’s expression looks like.  He’d decided to take the route of telling his family that he was working somewhere covert, and that they couldn’t know much more than that, and it’s bothered his brothers to no end.  “Meet me at mum’s?” he asks.

 

“Too far,” Shae says, “I’ll pick you up by the station?  Come on, kid, I’ve got something awesome to show you.”

 

Q sighs again, but relents.  When Shae pulls up to their destination, however, he’s glad that he did.  The flat is everything that Q has been looking for, and he mirrors Shae’s eager smile as they’re shown in.

 

The foyer is small, with two closets to the side, one for washing, and the small hallway opens into an open concept kitchen and living room, unfurnished but beautiful.  There’s only one bedroom, located next to the bathroom, and a balcony off the side, and Q signs the lease that afternoon.

 

It takes him longer to be promoted then he expects, but slowly, he begins to climb.  He starts off in a basic group, built with other like-minded individuals.  They work to strengthen MI-6’s overall systems, but when he starts to thrive with their security, he gets reassigned.  He starts working in a branch, gaining his own desk, which he proudly buys a succulent for, and shifting his work flow to combine his efforts with those in the branch.  He works here for almost two years when M comes in one day, and everyone stops typing.

 

“M?” their lead says uncertainly.

 

“King,” she says, spotting him, “With me, please.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, shutting down his laptop before he gets up, starting to walk toward her when she makes a soft noise.  “Ma’am?” he says.

 

“Take your plant,” she says, and Q blinks, confused, but does as he’s told, taking the succulent with him.

 

“Is everything okay?” he can’t resist asking as she leads them down a hall and toward the elevators.

 

“Lovely, actually,” she says, “It’s time for that new name.”

 

“Absolutely,” Q says eagerly, “The others refuse to call me King, though.  They think it’s pretentious.  Which, it is.”

 

“It is,” M says, “No, not a moniker of your own, but an old one, a recently retired one.”

 

“I don’t follow,” he admits when the elevator doors shush open, and Q steps out, starts to follow, and immediately stops.  “Ma’am,” he says, looking around quickly, “I don’t have clearance to this floor.”

 

“You have clearance to all levels now,” she says, “Come along.  Granted, that statement is only true if you accept.”

 

“Accept what?” he asks, hurrying to catch up.

 

M pushes open a set of glass doors, and the room beyond is what Q has dreamed of since they first hired him.  The movement of keys starts to slow when M enters, desks stationed on either side of a walkway down the center.  On a raised platform, three desks sit, varying devices sprawled neatly across them, several large monitors hanging behind them.

 

When she reaches the platform, she stops, turning, and Q waits.  “I was hoping you might accept the position of quartermaster.  Ah, don’t drop the plant.”

 

Q squeezes the pot instead.  “Quartermaster?” he repeats, “I thought—”

 

“The last one’s had quite enough of us, as he so kindly put it before he literally exploded.  As I said once before, you showed promise.”

 

Q blinks at her.  This is it.  This is why he hacked into MI-6 all those years ago, to arrive at this moment.  His thoughts drift briefly to Duchess, and he wishes, desperately, that he could tell her.

 

“And my name?” he asks.

 

She smiles softly, comes forward, and turns him, facing out to all the curious faces.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, “Your new quartermaster.”

 

“Q,” the letter murmurs out amongst them, and then they’re back to work.

 

Q.

 

——

 

He starts working with 002 first.  He’s pleasant and easy to get along with, but it’s not quite what Q is looking for.  He helps him regardless, leads him flawlessly through mundane missions.  They don’t talk much beyond the necessary, and then 004 comes into his life.

 

M assigns him two more double ohs, though only 004 is currently active.  When he asks after the other, M makes an aborted noise and says, “Bloody ran off with Bond, the asshole.”

 

It’s the first time he hears of 007.

 

It’s almost as though, now that he’s heard his name, he keeps cropping up everywhere.  It becomes quickly apparent that this is largely due to 004 and 005’s annoyance with him.  It’s also then that Q starts finding his place among the double ohs a little more.

 

004 is stern and has no time for chatter, and Q appreciates this.  002 was always commenting on the weather and wondering after the moon’s cycle.  M called him charming, but Q just tried to tune him out.  004 is brisk, and Q delivers his aid in the same manner, creating an almost clinical atmosphere between them that he looks forward to.

 

His first mission with 005, they both almost end up dead.  005 is a little more reckless, prone to getting himself into sticky situations and not being able to get out, and, without a doubt, he always says, “Don’t tell Trevelyan, he’ll go straight to Bond, and they’ll both be sniggering behind my back.”

 

Once, M is in the room when this sentiment comes out, and she jumps onto the private comms, snapping, “Perhaps you’d better learn how handle yourself if you want to act like 007.  Debriefing will be extended, 005.”

 

It’s one of the few times M interrupts the steady flow of Q branch, and Q can’t help but smile whenever she steps through the doors.  One of the minions, Dante, lets him know that he’s never seen her aside from his first day and he’s starting to believe she’s checking up on them.

 

“Just making sure we’re doing our jobs properly,” Q says lightly, and Dante smiles, nodding.

 

“Yes, sir,” he says, ducking back behind his laptop.

 

He doesn’t mean to, but Q starts relying on Dante until one day, without warning, Dante sets a small box down on his desk, fighting to hide his smile when Q looks up from the switchboard he’s mangling.  “Yes?” he says.

 

“Open it,” Dante says, nudging the box closer.

 

Q sighs, but lays down his tools, wiping off his hands on his pants before he takes the box, opens it, and immediately says, “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”

 

Dante’s smile bursts out, this wide grin that he can’t contain, and he nods quickly.  “Yes, absolutely,” he says before he turns and strides over to his desk.  Q sets the white scrabble mug down, turning it so that the letter faces out.  A laugh sneaks out from somewhere amongst the minions, and then others start to notice it, and, before long, everyone is having a chuckle over it.

 

When they get Thai later that week, Q puts his feelers out and almost immediately starts retracting them.  Dante is most definitely straight and just excited to have found another kindred spirit, but Q is thrilled regardless.  He hasn’t had someone to really talk to since Duchess, and it’s nice to be able to text him in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep and get a grumbling response in return.  And though he’d love to muck up that perfectly parted and styled dark hair, watch a flush fight against his olive skin, Q settles for stolen glances.

 

Three weeks later, he asks him if he’d ever considered forgetting his name, and he stares at Q with such wide-eyed awe that Q laughs and says, “If you accept, your new name will be R.”

 

He’s been head of Q branch for almost a year when his mother calls and says, “Enough is enough.  I haven’t seen you for longer than an hour in months.  You’re coming over for a few days.”

 

“Mum,” he protests, “I have work.”

 

“Your brothers are coming over, as well.  It’s mandatory.”

 

“I can’t just skip out!” Q exclaims, “I have—clients to take care of.”

 

“They’ll be fine without you for a long weekend.  Friday and Monday, Q.  Please.”

 

He knows it’s a losing battle, and so he sighs and says, “I’ll talk to my boss,” though he’s not quite sure what that looks like.  He puts in a formal request that M accepts within about twenty minutes before she jots off an email asking him to coordinate with R to take over the branch while he’s gone.

 

“Don’t call in to check up.  We’ll be perfectly alright without you,” R reads over his shoulder when he receives her email, “Why does she think you’re so wonderful?”

 

“Come again?” Q says, looking over at him.

 

“She’s always so—involved when it comes to you.”

 

“I dunno,” Q says, shrugging as he types back a quick response, “She recruited me, I guess?”

 

“She did?” R asks, shocked, “Wow.  I don’t think she’s done that in a long time.  Anyway.  Where are you going?”

 

“Home,” Q mutters, “My mum is adamant.”

 

“Oh cool,” R says, “Mine makes us all go round on Sundays, to church and everything.  It’s delightful.”

 

“I’d rather that,” Q says, “I’ll be crammed into one room with my three brothers for the next four days.”

 

“Three brothers?” R repeats, “That must have been interesting growing up.”

 

“How many siblings do you have?”

 

“One of each,” R says, reaching over to close Q’s laptop, “Go.  I’ve got everything under control.”

 

“I’ll have my laptop and phone,” Q says, “If anyone needs anything.”

 

“Sure you’ve got wifi?” R teases, so Q knocks their shoulders together as he gathers his things.  “Have fun,” R says, “Honestly, don’t freak out about us, we’ve got this.”

 

Q lingers, but eventually leaves, bundling up against the November chill as he sets out into the city and toward the station.  He takes the tube home, and he’s halfway down his street when he sees a familiar car parked outside his flat.

 

“Shae,” he says as he comes up, his brother climbing out of the car, “Mum send you to collect?”

 

“She didn’t want you dying in the cold, she said,” Shae says, following him up the stairs and inside, “She—holy shit, dude.  I feel like I just walked into the bat cave, you little fucking nerd.”

 

Q grins as he moves through the flat and toward his bedroom.  It’s not as though he has Star Trek posters hanging around, but there’s a certain familiarity with the scifi loving half of his brain in the form of a minimalist, framed Predator poster, a Tardis blanket draped over the back of his sofa, and a R2D2 mug left out to dry on the kitchen counter.

 

“We’re gonna kill each other, all crammed in that room,” Shae groans when he steps into Q’s room with his queen size bed and ample walking space.

 

“In bunk beds, no less,” Q says, “I wonder if Connor still snores.”

 

“Duh,” Shae says, “Alright, come on, get packing or mum’s gonna have a fit.”

 

Q does as he’s told, pulling out a backpack from somewhere deep in his closet.  He packs clothes for the four days, picks out a few books, and then shoulders his laptop case, making a face when Shae sighs at him.  “Better not work all weekend,” he says.

 

“You sound like my boss,” Q says, grabbing his bag, “Ready?”

 

It turns out to be better than he expects.  Though they all bicker about the bunk beds, and Q still ends up on the top, it’s nice to sleep knowing they’re nearby, the rhythm of their breaths lulling him to sleep.

 

The first morning, he’s woken by his phone, which he forgot to silence, and which wakes up all of his brothers when it goes off.  “Dude,” Connor groans, ducking under the pillow, “Come on.”

 

“Sorry,” Q whispers, grabbing it.  He silences the call, scrambles out of the bed and hits the floor with a thud, hurrying over to his bag to rifle through it until he finds an earbud, pressing it in before he answers the call, “Hello?”

 

“Q!” 005 exclaims brightly, “Up and at ‘em, time for a little fun.”

 

Q sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face before he creeps out of the room, and only when he’s in the hall does he murmur, “005, I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

 

“Sleeping, it appears.  I need a little assistance.”

 

“Can you call R, perhaps?”

 

“I did hear you were out of the office this weekend.  Ridiculous, truly.  No, I can’t.  R is bothersome.  He makes snippy comments about getting out of my own messes.”

 

“Well,” Q says, and 005 sighs dramatically, “Alright.  What’s wrong?”

 

“Right on, Q, my boy.  Can you see me?”

 

“In a moment,” Q says, going back into the room to retrieve his laptop.

 

He sets up downstairs at the kitchen table, typing slowly through a few command prompts until he can get his camera feed up, and he makes tea while it loads.  While the water’s boiling, he frowns at 005’s current location.  “That’s not good,” he says dryly.

 

“Precisely my point.  Can you see anything I can’t?”

 

“Probably,” Q says, sitting.  He starts searching, fingers flying over the keys as he works, and he almost doesn’t hear his mum come in, but she goes through his periphery, and he flashes her a smile when she leans down to kiss his hair.

 

“What are you doing?” she asks, watching him.

 

“I’ll be done soon, I promise,” he says, tilting his smile up to her.

 

“Better be,” she says.

 

He’s just tidying up when his brothers start drifting downstairs.  He’s on his second cup of tea when 005 says, “Q, my boy, don’t know what I’d do without you.”

 

“End up dead, most likely,” Q says, watching him move toward his target, “Do me a favor, and call R if this happens again.”

 

“Q,” 005 bemoans, “Truly, you’ve struck me.”

 

“Are you nearly finished?” he asks, pulling one of his knees up as Connor sits next to him.  He starts to lean over, and Q’s fingers sweep over a few keys, throwing up a glare that won’t let him see anything.

 

“Whatever,” Connor says tiredly, leaning back.

 

“Target sighted,” 005 says.

 

“Excellent.  Signing off, 005,” he says before ending the call and beginning a shutdown sweep of his programs.

 

“Um,” Desmond says suddenly, and Q doesn’t look up, busy closing everything out and clearing any trails he may have left.  “Did you just say 005?” Desmond asks.

 

“What?” Q says, looking up.  It occurs to him, suddenly, that he was still working while his brothers were within earshot.  It’s not exactly a state secret what the double ohs are called, considering 007 has made a rather loud name for himself, but Q’s been careful to not drop any hints about what he does.  “No,” he says quickly, “It’s just a—a, uh—a joke we have.  At the office,” he adds.

 

That’s the first time his family swallows the lie.

 

——

 

Q meets Eve the morning of the cat disaster.

 

He’s late, first of all, which he is proud to claim has never happened before, even when he’s had to ditch his second cup of tea to catch the train in time, but the world is relentless and placed a kitten in his path, second of all.

 

Q is considerably put off about the fact that there is a kitten in his bag when he hurries through the main doors to Q branch, starts to rattle of a useless excuse, and notices an unfamiliar figure standing at one of his desks.

 

“Hello?” he says curiously, pausing halfway toward his station, hand instinctively going to his bag lest he need to protect his new friend.

 

“Eve Moneypenny,” the woman says even as she turns, “You’re late.”

 

It comes out before Q is prepared to reveal it, “There was a cat.”

 

R blinks rapidly before he looks up and over, bewildered.  Q waves a hand at him and continues toward his station, upending his person on his chair and desks before he takes the kitten from his bag and sets it on a clear space.

 

Oh,” Eve positively melts, coming forward, “Where did you find it?”

 

“A mile from my stop,” Q says, “In a fucking trashcan.”

 

“Well, that won’t do,” Eve says, ignoring the expletive, though Q can hardly be to blame, considering, “How can I help?”  Q quirks an eyebrow at her.  “Right,” she says, “M sent me to collect some things, but this is far more pressing.”

 

“Is it now?” Q asks, and then smiles, sitting, “I haven’t the faintest the gender.”

 

“Well, that’s easy,” Eve says before she plucks the kitten from the desk, coos when it meows pitifully at her, and starts looking at its belly.  “Girl,” she says, depositing it back down on his desk, “Do you have a name for your mascot?”

 

“Oh, she’s certainly not staying here,” R says from a considerable distance, “If that’s the case, I’ll be requesting a transfer.”

 

“Right,” Q says, “I knew that.”

 

“I’m sure you were busy trying to disentangle who left a poor, unassuming stray in a trashcan on the way to work, you’re forgiven,” R says, “But only a day.”

 

“Allergies are for the weak,” Eve tosses over her shoulder before she straightens, “What’ll it be, then?”

 

Q looks down at the small animal, in all her grey glory, and she stares back at him, unblinking.  “Joyce,” he says.  When Eve scoffs, he amends, “For James Joyce.”

 

“Oh, you’re a literary snob, excellent,” she says, and her smile is genuine, “Now, about these files I need.”

 

Q finds himself all too willing to comply, and, just like that, Eve is showing up at his flat with Indian takeaway three weeks later.  He finds himself feeling a tad self-conscious when he lets Eve in, and though he’d attempted to clean up before she arrived, R also called in to report on a system failure, and he spent most of his two hours attempting to clean sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, Joyce curled up in his lap beneath his laptop while he worked on rebooting and reorganizing.  And thus, when he opens the door at her knock, there are still books littered about his living room, various pieces of metal and parts strewn across his counters, and a kettle screaming for attention.

 

“You’re a mess,” Eve says as she comes in and hears the kettle, “Go get that.”

 

Q goes to do as told, grabbing Joyce on the way and depositing her in his sweater pocket as he does.  She curls up contently, and he makes two cups before returning to the living room, where Eve is splitting chopsticks.

 

“You’re becoming my favorite,” Q says, exchanging a mug for a pair.

 

“Favorite what?” Eve hazards, though she’s quickly distracted when Q sits and Joyce pokes out of his pocket.  “Hello darling,” Eve says, quickly putting down her mug so she has hands to take the kitten, “And how are you faring?”  Joyce meows, and Eve laughs softly.  “I see,” she says, “I’ll let him know your preferences.”

 

They get along fantastically.  Q isn’t quite certain he’s had a friend like this in—well, ever, and while it’s a little daunting, exhausting so much energy on one person, he doesn’t find it all that unappealing.  They stay up late that first night, starting with tea and quickly moving onto the bottle of whiskey that Eve snuck in.  Q doesn’t comment on how she knows what his favorite whiskey is, and thus she doesn’t ask why she’s left filling most of the silences.  He may be comfortable, but divulging too much has gotten him burned in the past, and so he’s taking things slow with Eve.

 

It isn’t long before she meets one of his brothers.  A few months, in fact, after a case that leaves her shaken, and she doesn’t want to spend the night alone, citing nightmares of shooting her partner.  Q offers his sofa, and Eve crushes him in a tight hug in response.  Q’s arms stiffen uselessly at his sides until Eve says, “Hug me back, you idiot,” and he does so quickly.

 

Connor is, inexplicably, at his door the following morning, before anyone has any reason to be awake, and Q is bleary-eyed behind his glasses when he opens the door.  “Connor?” he says uncertainly.

 

“I know you work for some secret government company,” Connor starts babbling, “And mum told me not to bother, but I thought maybe, I don’t know, somehow you could help, I just—shit.  Someone took Moira.”

 

Q’s exhale comes several moments later, a breath he tried to remember not to hold, this hard, angry thing when he rouses R and says, “Who’s leading the skeleton crew right now?”

 

R mumbles something incomprehensible before he says, “Nala.”

 

“I need you awake,” Q says before he throws out a quick code, patching into his branch, “Nala, it’s Q.”

 

“Sir,” she says, her accent always thicker when Q hasn’t seen her in a few days, “Is everything okay?”

 

“It will be,” he says, “All programs on pause, I need everyone on task.”

 

“Absolutely,” she says, and Q listens to her take command of the room until she returns, “All yours, sir.”

 

“Q live,” he says, “R taking second, Eve third.  This is to remain confidential, understood?”

 

“Yes, sir,” several voices ring out.

 

“My niece is missing,” he says, “Moira.  Find her.”

 

Connor paces until Eve says, “Can you put the kettle on, dear?” and he quickly turns away, welcoming the distraction.

 

Three cups later, Q’s whole body deflates a little as his breath rushes out and he says, “Nala, please find 004 for me.”

 

“Transferring now.”

 

“Q?” 004’s voice crackles to life in his headset, “Is something amiss?”

 

“I need to ask a favor, if you might be so inclined.”

 

“Of course,” 004 says, “How can I be of assistance?”

 

“Discreetly,” Q says, “Q branch just located my missing niece.”

 

“Send me the coordinates,” 004 says quickly, “Shall I report to you—or another?” she adds, and Q understands the question.

 

He’s a little too close for comfort, and 004 is concerned with his judgment, which is why he says, “I remain your quartermaster, 004.”

 

“Duly noted, Q.  Leaving now.”

 

It takes four hours.  Q reroutes a call from M to Eve, who settles everything efficiently, and then 004 is delivering her final report, “Target acquired, hostiles restrained.”

 

“She’s okay,” Q says, head snapping over to find Connor, “She’s safe.”

 

Connor’s knees hit the floor, body folding over as his forehead meets his thighs, and Q makes quick work of expressing his eternal gratitude to 004 and arranging a pick-up before he crosses the room in quick strides to wrap around his brother.  “It’s okay,” he says as Connor breaks, a terrible shudder passing through him as he leans into Q, “Moira’s okay.”

 

The fallout is monumental.

 

He undergoes a debriefing with M herself, who reprimands him for not just bloody calling her, as she so eloquently puts it, and then she offers him something that only happens to those she deems deserving.  “I do not offer this lightly,” M says, hands coming together as she leans back in her chair, “But I am confident that you will not jeopardize the work we do here.”

 

“Of course not,” Q says without knowing what’s coming.

 

“Would you like to explain to your family?” she asks.  Q just blinks at her.  “Within reason, obviously,” she says, “And there’s an unbecoming amount of paperwork involved, which is, quite honestly, a small part of the reason we don’t offer this often, but, alas, I cannot help but see something fierce in you, Q.”

 

“When?” he asks.

 

“As soon as everything has been signed and explained.  If any of them are uncomfortable with what they are being asked to sign, even a single one, then you may tell none of them still.”

 

“I understand,” Q says quickly.

 

His mum nearly faints.  She does close her eyes, inhaling loudly as Shae and Desmond stare at him in disbelief.  Connor hugs him, which surprises Q the most.

 

Without warning, it’s back to work, only two days after Moira has been returned to her family, and yet, for whatever reason, he sees his family more often now that they know the bare bones of what he does.  His brothers even jokingly call him Q once or twice.

 

Life carries on.  For an entire, wonderful year, Q thrives.  And then, he meets James Bond.