“They were exquisite. If this Quartermaster gig doesn’t work out for you, high-end jewellry design will more than help pay your bills. You, dear lad, have a gift,” Double-O Four said, pointing a well-manicured finger at Q who swallowed his mouthful of pitta with cherry tomato chutney before replying.
“Ta. The earrings were rather lovely. I enjoyed making them. They dissolved properly?” He picked up a devilled chicken wing from his plate and bit into it.
“Melted more than dissolved, I’d say. No bubbles. Perfect considering neither was drinking champagne.”
Taking up her glass of malbec, Scarlett Papava crossed her legs and hooked her arm over the back of her chair, somehow managing to look exquisite herself, even dressed down in jeans and a hoodie with her rich, auburn hair caught back beneath a ball cap. She’d returned only yesterday from the Vienna mission, finished her debrief with Mallory less than an hour ago, and had been quite happy to hold her tech debrief with The Quartermaster at The Hole and Corner. He was halfway through a pint and had just started to tuck into his dinner when she’d arrived. It was massive.
“Are you really going to eat all of that yourself?”
Q looked from her to his food on the plate, even crossing his eyes behind his specs to assess the wing he was gnawing on. “Ummm … yes?” he said around a mouthful of chicken wing, looking at Scarlett again. “Problem?”
“It’s a sharing platter.”
In addition to the wings and the pitta with chutney, the huge plate was filled with sharing portions of fried squid, chipotle minced beef nachos with guacamole, hummus, panko-breaded halloumi sticks, and fish fingers. Another plate was piled with thick-cut chips and a side of curry dipping sauce.
Q looked at it again. “It is.”
“That you’re not sharing.”
“Oh!” He dropped the bone of the stripped drumette on a small plate, wiped his fingers and mouth on a serviette, and gestured at the meal. “I’m sorry! Did you want something?”
Scarlett grimaced slightly at the sheer amount of food the man was prepared to put away. She knew he tended to eat prodigiously when he first got off the clock, compensation for all the calories he didn’t have time to consume whilst in the thick of things, but ...
“No.” She shook her head and took another sip of her wine. “I’m fine.”
“Then, I don’t … I’m sorry, I …” He looked so confused, Scarlett decided to put him out of his misery and turned to other topics.
“Eat your dinner, love. And I don’t mind if you talk with your mouth full, so long as you tell me if what I’ve been hearing about you and Bond is true.”
The halloumi stick Q had been about to dip in chilli sauce fell from his fingers. His brow furrowed. “Me and Bond? What do you mean, me and Bond ? What have people been saying?” His eyes darted around the pub, clearly wondering who among the other Sixers present or back at HQ had said what and to whom. Scarlett thought he sounded a little choked.
She smiled. “That at the Gallery you told Bond, and I quote, ‘ I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.’”
“Oh.” Q’s tension eased a tad. Tanner must’ve been her source. He’d been in Q’s ear for his meet with Bond at the Gallery. “That. Well, yes.” He seemed equal parts embarrassed and proud.
“Cheeky git!” she said appreciatively. “And what about, ‘We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore’ when the old man asked for an exploding pen?”
“He didn’t so much ask for an exploding pen as imply that … okay, I did say that, yes.” Q dipped and munched on his cheese stick, snagging a fish finger next.
“And he believed you?!”
Q shrugged and swallowed. “It would seem. He hasn’t asked for anything ‘gadgety’ since.”
Scarlet snorted. “You’ve a pair of brass bollocks to be sure. Going to need them to keep ahead of Bond.”
“He was annoying me.”
“Man came out of the womb that way. He’s a bit of an expert at it by now.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Q finished garnishing a nacho with guacamole and devoured it. Took a sip from his pint. “Not so bad once you get to know him a tad.”
The slight blush. A momentary flick of his eyes down and to the right. Very subtle tells. The Quartermaster was good. Gave little away, but Scarlett knew what to look for. The man was keen on Bond. She hid her pleased smile behind her glass.
“Did he say anything to that?”
“Not much.” He shrugged again and finished his pint. “Muttered something about ‘A Brave New World’ as I was leaving.’
“Oh, well done! Caught the old man’s fancy, you did!”
Q swallowed quickly so he wouldn’t spray his ale all over Scarlett and the table. “Bollocks! Caught Bond’s fancy?! Hardly!” He coughed and wiped his mouth. “And he’s only forty-four, for Pete’s Sake. Not old. But seriously? Have you gone completely mental? He’s not interested in me any more than anyone else at work is interested in me. I am decidedly uninteresting .”
“Danny Foster, behind you and to the right.”
Q glanced over his shoulder. Foster nodded and smiled broadly. Q returned both politely then looked back at the Double-O he was sitting with. “Senior Intelligence Officer. Nine years of service. Excellent marksman but a tad fumble-fingered when it comes to knives. Nearly lost a thumb last year. What about him?”
“He’s been staring at you since he got here, and right now it’s a toss-up as to which he wants to devour more, his ribeye or your mouth. And he keeps checking out your arse, so probably that, too -- you do have a lovely one -- but that might be a tad much for a first date.”
“Agent Papava!” The Quartermaster’s exclamation caught the attention of everyone in the pub. Q shifted in his chair, ignoring Sefa’s chuckle from behind the bar, and waited for everyone to return to their own business before continuing in a quieter tone. “Foster does not want to devour my mouth, my … arse, or any other part of me.”
Scarlett shook her head. “He so does, love. Dev from Accounting. Sitting in the snug next to the door. And Timothy behind the bar. They both fancy you, too. In fact, with the exception of people like Eichner over there who is so straight he looks at a set of parallel lines and thinks they’re crooked, there aren’t too many people at Six who wouldn’t like a shot at you. You’re just too intimidating they don’t even try.”
Q scoffed. “Me?! Intimidating. Again, bollocks.”
Scarlett ticked off on her fingers. “Knowledge. Skill. Competence. Alone, any one is attractive. All three together are irresistible and intimidating. You, Quartermaster have all three in abundance. It makes you both highly desirable and quite unattainable, except for a select few.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. Skeptical but intrigued. His dinner forgotten. Though romantic entanglements with colleagues came with their own set of issues, they both knew dating and finding relationships outside the Service rarely worked out well for people in their positions. Too many secrets. “And who would these select few be?”
She set her empty glass on the table and leaned in close. “Those who aren’t intimidated by anything but love the thrill of a good chase. You’ve managed to stay under their radar when you were a Team Lead. Even as R, you spent more time in R&D than kitting out agents, but now you’re The Quartermaster, and they’re already starting to take notice.”
Q clasped his hands on the edge of the table. “I’ll ask again. Who are they ?”
“The Double-Os, love. Be blind to it if you want, but James fancies you. And if Bond doesn’t make a move soon, I’m pretty sure Trevelyan will. Heard him asking Moneypenny about you when I finished up with Mallory. And then there’s Aguilar. R says he lingers in Q-Branch, waiting for ‘the right moment.’”
“Double-O Nine!?” Q was incredulous.
“I’d go for Trevelyan if I were you. Something about that big Russian bear that just curls my toes,” Sefa interjected. She sat a dish of sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream and two spoons in the centre of the table. “Your dessert, Quartermaster.” The publican walked away after sharing a knowing smile with Papava.
Q sighed. Of course, he felt the chemistry he and Bond shared. He wasn’t that obtuse.. It started during Skyfall and continued on their missions since, but he had no intention of admitting that to Scarlett or anyone else for that matter. Trevelyan … well, Sefa was right. There was just something animalistic … visceral yet playful … And Rand Aguilar. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Confident but not arrogant. Nice arse. And he had been spending a surprising amount of time in Q-Branch considering he was benched for broken wrist, and it had been forever since Q’d had a good shag, or a bad shag ... any shag for that matter, so …
What?! No! Just no !
“I’m not going after any of them,” Q insisted, but it sounded half-hearted even to his own ears. “Too bloody complicated!”
“Oh, you won’t have to go after them, darling. They’ll come for you.” Scarlett scooped up a bite of pudding, ate it, and licked the spoon clean when she was done.
“And then you’ll have to share your platters.”