Chapter 1: Lab tests
From the official lab notebook of the MI6 Quartermaster:
Summary: Experiment to determine latex longevity. Decay rates, strength, elasticity, torsion and stress tests to be carried out in triplicate. For experimental design see details below. Results inconclusive due to interruption.
Q pulled the box out of the drawer in his nightstand and looked at the expiration date. A year, they were a full year beyond their recommended usage. Bloody hell, had it really been that long? He didn’t think these things even had expiration dates. He pulled a strip out, his scientific curiosity getting the better of him. Did they become brittle? These weren’t lubricated, but if the seal was intact that shouldn’t matter should it? The length of silver packets caught the eye of Penelope, her amber eyes going black as she lept and suddenly cat claws were grabbing at the foil.
“Shoo,” he hissed yanking them back up, expired or not, holes from cat claws would certainly make them useless. Q eyed the bin besides his bed and debating about dropping them inside, but then thought again, engineers had ways of testing things, and Q was curious.
Several nights later, working late as usual in his MI6 office Q decided it was safe. He was the only one in Q branch, it was well after midnight and as he did a quick perusal of the CCTV monitors in the building he smirked, grabbed his shoulder bag and headed for the lab.
“Right” he huffed quietly. He had been thinking about this off and on for days and had a list of experiments he had jotted down, now gathering supplies. First he needed to make a number of short round ended dowels. Standing in front of the supply cart he quirked his jaw sideways, holding up his fingers as he touched the tip of his middle finger to the tip of his thumb, debating circumference. He glanced down at his own trousers and frowned. Bigger? Smaller? He separated distance between his fingertips, could he touch his fingertips together when he wrapped his hand around his own penis? Q tried to remember his last boyfriend, Sam had been a bit bigger then he was, he cupped his hand trying to remember what it felt like to hold someone else, the weight in his hand. He shook his head, this was ridiculous, he grabbed his smart phone and googled average penis circumference, then regretted it immediately realizing he should have been more specific, average penis circumference of a horse was unhelpful and average penis circumference of a sperm whale was just down right alarming. A quick edit to specify human and he promptly grabbed the 4.5 inch dowel rod and headed to the miter saw in the back of the lab. He cut six of them at one foot each, and decided he’d need to sand down the top to make a rounded head or he’d destroy the condoms just trying to put them on. Saw dust flying, Q frowned realizing splinters would also ruin his results, “should have just bought dildos” he murmured to himself debating about whether a quick coat of paint would smooth the wood enough to make his personally fashioned foot long rounded hard maple wooden penises usable for his tests.
Every good scientific experiment needs controls, which meant Q pulled out the silver strip of expired condoms, all twenty of them since he hadn’t used a damn one of them, as well as a brand new box he had just purchased. If there was something wrong with the old ones, he’d only be able to identify it if he compared them to brand new ones.
First up, the dissecting microscope, he’d run the experiment in triplicate. Sliding a new condom over one of his lab made round topped wooden penises he placed it under the microscope and brought it into focus, snapping pictures through the digital camera that fed directly to his laptop. Imaging software running, he left the laptop to compare the pictures looking for discrepancies in the material; holes, thinning of the latex and other variables he programmed the software to look for then he turned to set up his next tests.
Next up strength, tear resistance, and elasticity tests. It occurred to him that the point of the piston test was really to study how well the condoms stood up to repeated abrasion and pressure and Q was struggling to figure out what he could use as a surrounding material. Strength and elasticity test perhaps first then. He fitted the wooden rod into the machine, condom in place then secured the condom to the clips that would hold it in place while the rod was slowly pushed forward by the piston. Turning the machine on it hummed loudly and Q set the force limits to take the first measurement.
“What are you doing Q?” came the voice quietly by his ear.
Q jerked upright, his hand twisting the dial that controlled the pressure of the piston shoving the rod forward too fast and sending it shooting across the room at high speed, a condom encased projectile that thunked loudly as it hit the hall. Q jumped back two feet, his entire body jolted with adrenaline putting distance between himself and the now laughing double agent who stood in front of him.
“Bond! What are you doing here?” Q’s eyes quickly darted across the table, open foil packs of condoms littered the surface, then to the machine still running and finally to the condom covered dowel that James was now picking up to analyze having strode across the room to recover it.
“Came to check up on you,” James grinned, “didn’t expect to find you playing with condoms. New invention for the field? Trying to make them into weapons now?”
Q stammered, fighting the blush on his cheeks, James Bond was the last person he wanted to be discussing condoms with. It was his ridiculous infatuation with Bond that had been the reason for the expired box in his night stand. Q had tried to convince himself that it was the long work hours because now that he was Quartermaster at MI6 he would never find time for a relationship, but it wasn’t true.
When Bond had shown up in Q’s research lab after bringing down Blofeld and Spectre, asking for the rebuilt Aston Martin to then disappear with Madeleine Swann, Q had acquiesced. He’d let the man take the sports car, knowing he’d get in trouble with Tanner and M, knowing Moneypenny would see straight through him, and still he had watched Bond drive away. Because he couldn’t say no to the man, not really, he had tried, the exploding pen had become a joke, a shared tease between them, but when James really wanted, needed something Q always said yes. Q had always known that his crush on Bond was ridiculous, that it would never be returned, Bond would never be interested in him, but it didn’t mean that his crush was something he could just turn off.
Q ran a shaky hand through his unruly mop of dark brown waves, straightened his glasses, then squared his shoulders as he tugged the front of his plum colored cardigan down. He swallowed once trying to calm his vocal chords. “You don’t work here anymore, my experiments are on a need to know basis, and you don’t need to know.”
“Well, actually I do work here,” James smirked as he approached Q, tossing the condom covered dowel back and forth between his open palms. “I’m back Q. Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Did you stop by to return the car?” Q quipped, reaching out to take the dowel from Bond, setting it down and then turning to gather everything on the table, hoping his hands weren’t visibly shaking.
“That was my car.” Bond answered calmly. “I’m not planning to return it.”
“It was your car, until you blew it up at Skyfall and then I rebuilt it with parts from my car shop and my budget, so now it’s my car.” Q replied with a bit of a bitter clip to his words. The adrenaline was wearing off, coupled with the late hour and lack of food, Q found himself biting back an overwhelming desire to turn around and punch Bond in the face, the anger that was swelling up taking him by surprise.
Bond stopped, narrowing his icy blue eyes as he tilted his head to study Q. He could see how nervous Q was, as he quickly swept all the refuse, not into the garbage bin, but into his briefcase. “You mean its MI6’s car, not actually yours. Right?”
“Yes, MI6’s, of course I know it’s not MINE!” Q whirled back to face Bond. “If you didn’t bring the car back, then again I ask, why are you here?” Q needed to escape, he needed fresh air, he needed to deal with the anxiety that was flooding his system.
“To see you.” Bond answered quietly.
“At 3 a.m.?” Q’s eyes darted to the clock, yep, it was now well after 3 a.m. “And just why did you think I’d be here now?”
Bond’s eyes twinkled as he smirked at Q, reaching behind him to retrieve the still condom clad dowel that Q had neglected to grab. Holding it up for Q to see as Q hugged his briefcase to his chest, now having to reach out to snag the damn thing away from him again. “Well, I stopped by your flat, but you weren’t there, so I figured you’d be here.”
A quick flicker of emotion across Q’s face and then he immediately schooled himself, his face settling into a scowl. “You broke into my flat again didn’t you.” He didn’t even phrase it as a question. “Stopping by someone’s flat and not getting an answer to a doorbell at 3 a.m. doesn’t mean they aren’t home.” Q watched the smirk on Bond’s face spread into a full smile, an intentionally seductive, flirtatious smile. Nope, this wasn’t happening. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Whatever reason for your presence… here… now,” Q was stammering, “I’m going home. It’s late, I’m tired, you can come by Q branch some other time…” Q caught his eye, “tomorrow… whenever.” Q turned and started walking briskly away from the lab. Bag in hand he headed for the exit, Bond could let himself out for all he cared. But of course he could feel the man following him, long strides keeping up with him not far behind.
“Can I give you a ride home?” Bond asked. It was an honest question, it was late, the tubes weren’t running and a cab would be impossible.
Q stopped. When he stayed this late he normally just crashed on the couch in the break room, rousing himself before the first of the Q branch employees arrived. “Fuck.” He murmured under his breath, realizing the transportation issue he now faced.
“What was that?” Bond asked, closing in on his personal space.
Q realized Bond probably had the Aston in the parking garage. The image of Bond driving away with Madeleine still clear in his memory, he didn’t want to relive that. “No, thank you, I’m fine.” Quickly grabbing his mobile, he opened the weather app as he walked towards the door, “please don’t be raining…” he murmured to himself. He had been working in the basement for hours and had no idea what was happening in the real world two floors above him. A picture of a moon appeared on the small screen and he smiled in relief. He took the stairs now two at a time headed for the outside entrance, Bond still only a few strides behind him. “Good to see you Bond. Goodnight.” Q turned quickly to say his goodbyes, catching Bond’s eye only briefly before looking away. The quicksilver blue looking back at him looked confused and frustrated. And then Q was gone. Quick strides down the sidewalk, still buttoning his coat as he walked, his muffler hanging out of his briefcase.
Bond watched him go, his lips pursed in frustration, hands pushed deep into his trouser pockets as he hunched his shoulders up towards his neck, a deep sigh slowly rolling up out of his lungs. This wasn’t how he expected this to go, he had expected that Q might be flustered and he clearly had been but if he was reading Q’s body language correctly Q had been angry to see him. Bond grimaced as he ran his hand over his unshaven chin, the stubble rubbing against his palm. Bond knew his next conversation needed to be with Moneypenny and he pulled out his phone to call her until once again he was reminded of the time. Tomorrow, he’d stop by and see her tomorrow, ask her what was up with Q, see if he could figure out why Q had been testing condoms at 3 a.m., expired condoms. Bond had seen the spreadsheet on Q’s laptop before Q had noticed he was there.
“Eve!” Bond grinned broadly, setting flowers on her desk. 7:30 a.m. and Bond was now freshly shaved and redressed in an identical, but freshly dry cleaned grey wool suit. He hadn’t slept, but somehow it didn’t show.
Moneypenny didn’t look up from her computer until she finished typing the e-mail she had been working on. “Bond.” She said coolly. “I heard you were back.” Finally she glanced up giving him a small one sided smile as she reached to take the flowers.
Bond paused, surprised. No one but Q knew he was back, and that had been only four hours ago. Then he smirked, “the security feed?”
Eve raised her eyebrows and shook her head slowly no, “really Bond. You don’t think he texted me while he was walking home last night? The message was all in capital letters.”
“Then maybe you know why he was here until nearly 4 a.m.?” James asked, he wasn’t sure he was ready to actually ask Eve about the condom experiment, but if she offered it up he’d be glad for the information.
Eve turned back to her computer screen, smirking at the e-mail message that had just arrived in her inbox, subject line- “Tell Bond to report to Q branch after lunch, if he passes his tests for reinstatement.” She looked up at Bond, “No idea why Q was here so late, he’s always here late, I would have been more surprised if he was at home. And he says you should report to Q branch this afternoon.” She reached one long burgundy enameled nail towards the intercom to buzz Tanner and M, letting them know Bond was here for his meeting.
Q sat rigidly at his computer workstation, his fingers flying over the keyboard, as he multitasked three projects on three different screens, his eyes flitting back and forth behind his black framed glasses as he held his head completely still. He was dressed in clean clothes, his hair brushed, soft waves falling over the tops of his ears and over his forehead. The only tells that gave away his very poor night of limited sleep, and his ongoing distressed mental state was the fact that he was wearing mismatched socks, a purple cardigan over a paisley shirt, and yellow pinstriped suit pants, which in itself was not that far off of Q’s normal choice for work attire. But that and if you listened closely you could hear him muttering over and over to himself quietly. “James Bloody Bond thinks he can just slip back into MI6 and not have anyone raise an eyebrow.” He snapped his finger over the enter key harshly. “Showing up at 3:30 in the morning, my Aston keys in his hands.” Another harsh snap of the enter key. “Broke into my flat again, the arrogant arse.”
Bond stood behind him, he couldn’t quite make out all that Q was mumbling, but he heard his name frequently slip from Q’s mouth, often with a harsh bite, or a hiss depending on whether he was saying Bond, or 007. He didn’t interrupt him, waiting for the quartermaster to take a break and turn to talk to him. Five minutes passed and finally Q’s second in command, Riley appeared at Bond’s elbow. “He’s been talking to himself all morning. You may have to go stand in his line of sight if you want to get his attention.” Bond frowned, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets before nodding and stepping sideways, trying to catch Q’s peripheral vision.
“I know you are there 007” Q said crisply, reaching for his Q10 scrabble mug to take a sip of tea, setting it back down again without turning his head.
Bond stepped back to his original spot, rocking on his heels as he looked out of the corner of his eye at Riley, pursing his lips and sighing. Q’s assistant gave the agent a rather pitiful look and then turned and walked away.
Finally Q turned, rolling his chair to face Bond before putting his hands on his knees calmly, leveling his gaze at Bond. “I am to reinstate your security clearance now that you’ve passed your other tests. We will need to rescan your fingerprints, handprints and retinas, and I have new trackers to implant that have been upgraded since your departure.”
Bond nodded curtly, his jaw set, his eyes piercing back at Q, clearly trying to read everything between the words that Q was speaking. “Right. Fine Q, whenever you are ready.”
Q nodded sharply in reply, “Right. Good. Let’s get to it.” He stood quickly from his chair, pulling his cardigan down and smoothing the front. Bond had learned to read that as a tell for Q’s stress level. Bond was pretty sure Q didn’t even know that he did it, the cardigan tugging, but it was like a reset button that Q hit every time he needed to turn his attention to something difficult.
Bond followed him quietly, giving the quartermaster some space as they headed for the lab. Then following directions as Q efficiently worked Bond through all the security measures, never making eye contact with him as he moved from one scan and input after another. It was only when Q handed him the wired Walther to rescan his palm print that James caught his eye, but Q looked away just as quickly. “Q…” Bond finally pushed from his mouth.
“Yes 007?” Q answered with his own query, not looking at the man as he said it.
“I’m sorry,” Bond said quietly.
He saw Q hesitate, his fingers pausing on the keyboard for just a moment before the retort. “Whatever for?”
“What about last night?”
“You shouldn’t have what?” Q still didn’t look at him. “You shouldn’t have broken into my flat? You shouldn’t have arrived unannounced in my lab?” Q finally looked up a calm countenance on his face, save one quirked eyebrow.
Bond huffed a breath from his nose, “I shouldn’t have assumed you’d be happy to see me. I’m sorry,” he said again, “for everything.”
Q eyes softened for only a millisecond as they flickered quickly over Bond’s, wanting to believe the apology was sincere, but then he shook his head, a mass of curls from his mop of hair slipping over his eyes. “Nothing to apologize for 007.” Q finished the palm print coding and hit save, reaching to take the gun from Bond’s grip.
Bond held the gun tight, forcing Q to look at him again, holding his gaze, wanting him to really see the apology, to acknowledge it. But Q’s face went dark, his broad mouth going thin, a frown emerging. Q reached with his other hand to cover the gun, tugging it from Bond’s hand, ignoring the way James stretched his fingers to touch Q’s as he released the grip. “We are finished for today. I’ll implant the trackers when you are approved for your first mission.”
“You don’t want to keep tabs on me until then?” James tried to be suave, a hint of flirtation, desperate for some sort of emotional response from the young man standing in front of him.
“No…” Q replied, replacing the gun in the lock box, and signing off the computer. “I have absolutely no desire to know where you are anymore Bond.” And with that Q turned and walked out of the lab leaving 007 alone.
Q walked briskly back to his office, needing to put distance between himself and the man he left back in the lab. It wasn’t true, he had every desire to know exactly where Bond was and it was killing him. He shut his office door behind him and leaned back against it, letting his head fall back against the metal frame. Bond’s apology had rattled him. He felt waves of emotion roll through him, alternating between anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, landing mostly on frustration. Frustration that he’d let the memories of the man fester under his skin and now he didn’t know what to do with the fact that 007 was back, and that he seemed to be conciliatory, weirdly conciliatory. Q took a breath, then one foot in front of the other he walked to his computer, sent a note to Riley that he was not to be bothered for the rest of the day unless it was an emergency, and got back to work. If he spent a few minutes mid afternoon looking up gay bars in London, with the goal to get shagged by a stranger, well everyone deserved a break.
From Q’s personal notebook:
He’s back. Goddamn it. And of course he found me testing condoms in the lab. How absolutely bloody mortifying. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was flirting with me. But Bond flirts with anything that moves. I DO know better. Must maintain professional boundaries. Must move on. Must forget about James, “I look better then ever”, Bond. Damn him.