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Part of the problem of holding office space in one of MI6’s most extensive departments of operation has to be the field agents’ freedom of access; in other words, the difficulty which the newly-appointed Quartermaster experiences in trying to keep every fucker under the sun from wandering into Q-Branch whenever they feel like it.

Innovators are in great demand, and Q-Branch conceals a great hive of them – a humming cacophony of cogs and grinding wheels, spurred on to frankly arrogant heights through comorbid ingenuity and social ineptitude.

So visitors are plentiful, whether Q likes it or not – double-ohs one through seven pass through most days when they’re not otherwise engaged with saving the free world or suchlike, and therefore find themselves with ample time to encroach upon Q’s.

Bond, of course, is the worst of the lot. Of course he is. He might have been a magpie in a past life, for all he has to suppress the maniacal gleam in his eye each time Q presents him with a new Shiny-Thing-That-Will-Almost-Certainly-Come-Back-In-Pieces-You-Reckless-Trigger-Happy-Bastard.

‘Extenuating Circumstances’ is the usual excuse Q gets fed for his nagging, alongside Bond’s insistence that, had he been provided with a better locking mechanism and additional refills for his Walther, there would have been no cause to put the (cracked) frame of his live-feed UV ski goggles through an assailant’s windpipe.

As they stand between Agent and Quartermaster, ‘ Extenuating Circumstances’ tend to translate fairly universally into an image Q has fostered, of a little boy in a workshop, proud to be showing off all the new and exciting ways he’s discovered to ruin his father’s life’s work.

Once – just once – they had translated as ‘Komodo Dragon’. Q is still somewhat sore about that one.




More than once (though still less than a handful of times), it has occurred to Q how ridiculous it is that he’s here at all.

Hugo Blake had started young, of course – built his first computer at age five under his father’s watchful eye, and from there it had snowballed. He’d read the ‘Hacker’s Handbook’ cover-to-cover at twelve; by thirteen, he’d re-drafted it with a few dozen corrections of his own.

He was highly self-sufficient and kept out of plain sight; had friends, but preferred to play alone. For a brief period, he was a ‘freak’, before the kids - teenagers, as they were by then - settled on the far more diplomatic ‘eccentric’. And Hugo could work with ‘eccentric’. ‘Eccentric’, by and large, is fairly inoffensive.

‘Eccentric’ was a lightbulb moment in a black hole, or building bridges between this world and the next. It was colour and sparkles, chemicals mixing, test tubes fizzing, bubbles galore and shooting stars from the end of a magic wand. It was explosions and light, innovation, experiments beyond their daffiest daydreams, ‘Doc Brown’, Flux Capacitors, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ‘Eccentric’ was finding the line between genius and insanity, and walking it like a fucking acrobat.

Oh yes – it hadn’t taken little Hugo long to figure out that being ‘eccentric’ was by no means something he wanted to avoid.

From the minute he mastered the use of two opposable thumbs, friends and relatives fed projects through his hands: K’NEX and Meccano sets when he was small, and then broken toasters, kettles and stereos, once they cottoned on to the fact that they’d get a better (cheaper) repair from the Blakes’ boy than from Al’s Radio Repair on the High Street.

Hugo’s breakthrough achievement – certainly his most devious – would come later, however, when a Cambridge post-graduate, bored of tearing his hair out over piece-of-piss assignments, began to think to himself – “Now, how’s about a system of secure coding no sod (none who was half as good as him, anyway) will have a snowball’s chance of cracking…?”

Thus, almost a year of elbow-grease later, the amoeba of what will form Raoul Silva’s eventual mainframe fail-safes – breakable by only six individuals c.2012 – are born.

MI6 finds him not long after.

Hugo – Quartermaster, as he should now be known, or just plain ‘Q’ – finds himself unceremoniously tossed on his arse at the deep end of the pool, but somehow has yet to sink in over his head.

At twenty-four years old and in charge of a team, several of whom are more than ten years his senior, most blokes would be thanking any number of Gods for their good luck. Q prefers to view it as just payment for what is essentially, fuck-you-very-much to modesty, his own bloody-minded brilliance.

And why indeed shouldn’t he? Hugo had been an only child; never pampered, but neither short of two parents’ attention – parents who were several shades of ‘brilliant’ themselves, who had allowed the mutual trait to bring them together, and had gone on to cultivate it in their son from his very earliest days.

Wherever little Hugo had toddled or typed, praise had never followed far behind. Ian Blake had allowed his son access to encrypted files on his personal laptop, and once he’d granted himself the viewing pleasure of the lot, additional, nastier encryptions were set in place to further Hugo’s education.

Young Hugo had been precocious and innocent in his nonetheless insatiable curiosity; as Quartermaster, warranted egotism reigned supreme, and curiosity had died a death in the wake of a technologically-enabled God Complex, rendering inquisitiveness obsolete since, at the click of a button, there was practically nothing that remained inaccessible to him. MI6 had asked for the best; he’d given them one better.

The greatest peril of the Information Age – nosy bastards behind computer screens.

So yes – Q is and always has been brilliant. He knew it; his parents knew it; MI6 had known it. In fact, Q is loath to stop until the whole world knows it, before he picks a victim at random and incinerates their bank account and credit rating just because he can. He’s certainly not about to take anything less than the acclaim he deserves for elevating his own career to Mach-Six before the majority of his fellow graduates have found jobs that make taking out a student loan worthwhile.

These days, whoever he’s been in the past and whoever he has to credit for who he is now, ‘Hugo’s’ appearances are reserved almost exclusively for Q’s weekly phone conversations with his Mum. He still has a feeling he’s showing off more ‘Boothroyd’ than ‘Blake’; even so, it’s wholly arguable that ‘Blake’ had died along with his father.

They don’t talk about it, because they never have, and now, four years on, it seems like a waste of bloody time in starting. Ian Blake had maintained that life’s only two certainties were death and taxes, and Hugo had laughingly agreed.

Q, in sight of the bounty of hindsight, suspects that another is that a boy less embroiled in trying to make good of the pedestal they’d raised him on might have noticed his father’s persistent headaches before it was too late to do anything about them.

Perhaps ‘Hugo’ slipped so seamlessly into just ‘Q’ because a single, highly irregular letter is all of that precocious little boy still remaining.

For this reason as much as any, Q reckons he’d have a harder time breaking into the walls he’s built up around himself than he would any computer mainframe the world over.




Mawdsley’s somewhat tragic departure pre-empts a Bond-free fortnight in the bowels of Q-Branch.

It makes little difference to Q’s day-to-day if he’s honest. He’s worked with Bond exactly once; that’s the extent of their professional relationship, and Q has enough on his plate without wondering up the whereabouts of one specific agency automaton.

He hears something about a church, a frozen lake and an old manor house. Whispers in shadow - nothing solid; nothing he’s any good at deciphering because so little of what falls from the grapevine does so with enough conviction to be fact.

In any case, it doesn’t warrant digging into when Bond does eventually turn up – and when he does, Q-Branch falls second only to Mallory’s office in his itinerary.

Q doesn’t ask questions, because that’s not his job, or his business.

He checks the specifications and hands over the goods; ignores the fresh lines over and above Bond’s eyebrows, because that’s not his business either.

“007.”

“Q.”

The gun and microphone come back in pieces, Q remembers, but they’re all there.




There’s something surreal and somehow strangely elating about being in such demand.

MI6 as the world knows it – just a building on the Vauxhall Bridge – is the tip of an intricate and exceedingly shady iceberg. Like the sultry temptress embodying the land she guards, her beauty seeks always to detract from what lies beneath: tunnels and passages, buried deep underground, spread from the centre and out across London like a rash.

Q-Branch is the live-wire that connects them all: agents and handlers, budgeting and HR, M’s office and the government itself – Q has had them all pass through at some point or other, hoping, perhaps, for a slice of the vision that had put the ostentatious spin on childhood aspirations of espionage – flash cars, ejector seats and exploding cufflinks.

A double-oh without the gadgets, to Q’s mind, is like a flying monkey or the scarecrow without its brain. Perhaps it’s just the image of Mallory, green-faced and cackling, which buoys that particular simile.

Which makes him the Wizard, he supposes – buried down in his lair, inventing things, visualising a brighter, better future of advancing technology amidst the sea of golden statues of himself he’ll have erected once he rules the world.

There’s no deception, fraud nor rainbows involved, but Q thinks he can handle being ‘Great and Terrible’ nonetheless.




Their fifth mutual assignment requires the usual display of covertly-obtrusive weaponry, and Q is able to rustle up another Walther sporting the latest model print sensitivity handling in what might be close to record time.

‘No dragons this time’ is the command issued; ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ rear their ugly head even so: Bond will later claim that he’d already fumbled the gun, before the attack dogs turned up and he found himself with a set of would-be rabid teeth sunken into his thigh.

“Dogs, 007?” Q has to work harder than usual to hide the smirk.

“Rabies,” Bond irritably reminds him.

“Loaded gun,” Q throws back, and to this, Bond has no answer. “I’d have thought it would take the Beast of Baskerville alone to keep Her Majesty’s Finest on his toes…”

Q signs for the lost equipment without protest or further comment, and if Bond finds himself with a mobile that immutably plays ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ for the next month…

Q has no comment on the matter.




And so it continues: Bond appears to be riding on air miles alone, no sooner touching down from Addis-Ababa before he’s jetting off to Tokyo.

They barely touch bases; when they do, it’s usually via text – the same exchange of ‘You’re back on home soil, I presume? And all four limbs still attached? Well you’d better be returning my button-camera similarly intact, and no I don’t care if you’re concussed…I don’t care if it comes back to me in your last will and testament, provided the lens is still attached – that thing cost more than you make in a year of target practice, you overdressed, ankle-biting…’

Etc.

Bond seldom replies; just the once, he gets a Walther in a wrapped box by way of a response. Q doesn’t know whether to be concerned by the agent’s absence, frustrated by the sarcasm, or relieved that the weapon has come back in one piece.

He doesn’t know what to make of Bond either, though he can scarcely see why he’s trying. Bond is a ghost, a host of cloaked figures shrouded in secrets. He’s a spectre, hidden by shadows where only the dull edges of darkness will illuminate him.

And it’s with some chagrin, sometime later, that Q comes to admit it: from behind the wires, walls and code that conceal him, he might sometimes find himself on a similar side of the coin.




It’s late on a Tuesday – the very latest – and Q is still at his desk at MI6 HQ. He hasn’t eaten, hasn’t slept…is pretty sure there’s an elephant, or in the least a very large St Bernard, sitting on his forehead…and he’s stuck in front of his laptop alone, tracking 007 across Southern Budapest.

The tail-end of missions tend to come to a close this way: Bond has finished the job and by rights, ought to be waiting for MI6 cleanup to ferry him back. If he were any other agent than Bond, Q has no doubt M would have insisted on exactly that – getting the agent back where they can be kept tabs of.

It’s perhaps a testament to Mallory’s particular branch of savvy that where 007 is concerned, he doesn’t even bother trying.

So instead, it’s left to Q-Branch to monitor any and all information gleaned from the tracking chip they made for him as Bond makes his way back on his own steam; Mallory is more than willing to let him go at it alone, so long as he does actually come back – “You stick to him like a bad smell, Quartermaster; we need him for Bangkok next month, and I’m not putting up with any more of this ‘ten weeks MIA’-shit from his camp…”

The irony of being on payroll as a denizen of the utmost secret is, of course, that there’s always somebody watching you.

As it turns out, ‘Stick to him, Quartermaster’ is only and exactly the order followed: the rest of his staff, all seventeen of them, have abandoned him over the course of the evening, citing dinner plans, dog walking and one ‘family emergency’ as excuses for why they’d rather leave their boss to suffer alone. Even Chief of Staff Bill Tanner had given up around 10:30, and had fucked off home, with all likelihood to watch Strictly Come Dancing on iPlayer catch-up.

Which is categorically not what Q would be doing, if he were anywhere else but here.

Q despises instant coffee, but has been reduced to Nescafe ‘3 in 1’ to keep him from passing out over the keyboard. There’s really not much more to this task than watching Bond’s tracking signal as it inches its way across Eastern Europe with all the haste of a snail on a bed of razor wire. It’s glorified babysitting, really, and not the kind that enables Q to sit on his arse, watching crap telly and stuffing ice cream whilst the kids sleep upstairs.

By the time it’s getting on for 2AM and Bond is no closer to the Austrian border than he’d been an hour before, Q has immersed himself in a Sudoku, but seems to have forgotten, fatigued as he is, which numbers fall between five and nine. He glances back at the screen in bored passing, and then looks for real.

Bond’s signal has dropped out.

He taps the monitor; clicks a few times around the image. Nothing. Shit.

It’s hardly an emergency, he reminds himself. Bond’s a big boy; Q doesn’t doubt the fact he could find his way out of Eastern Europe without so much as an eastern sunrise to help him, and the likelihood of him running into trouble this late in the day is relatively unlikely. Still, M had wanted eyes on the agent until he made it home, and knowing Q’s luck, the Big Cheese is still stalking corridors somewhere upstairs. He probably sleeps there, in all likelihood. Q is half-afraid of entering the office for fear of discovering a cocoon or a spider’s web tacked to all four corners of the ceiling.

Whatever the case, the last thing he needs is an unexpected visitation, only to have to greet M with the news that he’s lost Bond and has absolutely no idea how.

“Come on, 007,” Q murmurs, taping a few lines of code as he frowns, exhaustion temporarily overridden by adrenaline as he gazes at the screen. “Where are you…?”

“You may want to widen your range.”

“Bloody, fucking hell’s teeth!”

Q will swear afterwards that nothing but the Will of God alone could have kept him from splashing coffee all over his laptop as he jumps about three foot in the air and upsets his mug.

He turns, all but clutching at his chest, to find Bond standing there, watching him with his head tilted amusedly to one side and looking like a bluebird who just watched the cat fall out of the fucking tree into a holly bush. “Just what in God’s name do you think you’re playing at?” When he can speak again.

“Checking in,” Bond replies silkily.

“Well you’re about twenty floors too low for that,” says Q, a little more snippily than he’d intended. “As much as I’m sure M will be delighted you’ve made it back so quickly.”

“Helicopters can be highly expedient.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Q looks him over, takes in the suit trousers half-torn off at the right leg, the angry gash across Bond’s cheek and the dampened remains of his shirt, and promptly abandons hope of ever seeing his lapel-mounted earwig again. “You abandoned the tracker somewhere near Debrecen, I assume…?”

“Something like that.” Bond rubs absently at another cut, on his forearm this time, before looking up at Q. There’s something almost akin to mischief in his gaze.

Q rolls his eyes. “Dumped it in the current of the Danube, did you?”

“Dog’s collar.” Bond shakes his head almost pityingly. “Wouldn’t the water have fried the circuitry?”

“You passed off several thousand pounds-worth of GPS tracking technology onto a passing animal,” says Q slowly, “simply to facilitate a prank?”

Bond is most definitely smirking now, as his gaze levels out on the coffee splashed liberally over Q’s desk. “You say that like it didn’t work…”

Q shakes his head, trying hard not to think about the night he’s wasted, and even harder not to imagine how good it would feel to gouge out Bond’s eyes with the fragments of his coffee mug. Fucking Bond.

“I’ll be on my guard for next time,” he promises through gritted teeth. “Now, don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

“You keep me honest.” Bond nods once and half-turns to leave before thinking better of it. There’s something etched to his features which Q can’t quite put a name to – something almost predatory, if Q didn’t know better – as he reaches into his pocket and produces a neatly-folded square of fabric.

A handkerchief.

“For the mess.” He doesn’t approach Q, but instead just extends his arm, prompting the Quartermaster to reach for the offending article himself. Their fingers brush just-so as he does; Q is momentarily struck by their warmth.

“Thank you.”

The hankie is white cotton and embroidered – initialled ‘AB’ – in one corner. It’s not a purchase of Bond’s, surely, with that insignia, so whose…? It’s on the tip of Q’s tongue to ask, but by the time he looks up, Bond is leaving, and it’s too late to call him back.

Q cleans up as best he can, then puts his head down on the desk and falls into a sleep that is not quite dreamless.

When he comes to, it’s because of Tanner shaking him quite violently from the pad of one shoulder. He jerks awake, and immediately regrets it when his cricked neck kicks up a fuss.

“Is he…?” Tanner enquires.

“Safe and sound,” Q replies. “Life may move onward.”

It takes him until almost midday to realise the hankie had gone by the time he’d woken up.




Bond is off again within the week, another Walther in-hand, and this time is much like the first and the most recent-previous: an agent flying blind, with only Q and Tanner to guide 007 through the parallel roads and blurred lines of downtown Dublin.

It’s a test of Q’s nerve, being in the thick of it like this, but he prides himself on the absence of a single vocal tremor. If he’s to do this, he’s to do it right: his voice on the end of the line is one the agents trust, primarily, Q suspects, because he’s not M.

Bond is in pursuit, of course, this time of Edwin Mulcahy: a drug baron on the small-time who’d earned himself a place on Interpol’s ‘Most Wanted’ when he’d switched heroin sales for homemade explosives and taken out half of O’Connell Street North with a vehicle bomb.

Mulcahy alone knows the codes and trigger for his next attack – Reason Numero Uno for why MI6 are keen to see him taken off the map ASAFP, and preferably before he has the chance to put such knowledge to use.

Q had planned on spending his Monday morning immersed in all the paperwork he should have done at the weekend, before sleep, home cooking (by which, of course, he means charred toast and a Pot Noodle) and the prospect of a Frasier marathon in his PJs leaves him tragically stranded on the sofa until near-ten on Sunday night.

Shit happens, he supposes. More specifically, shit such as this – raving lunatic Irishmen with an unfortunately-sized stash of C-4 and all the madness to use it – always seems to happen on a Monday morning.

The timing, coupled with Bond’s sore spot with terrorists (apparently considerably worsened since his little meet-and-greet with Silva) meaning that he’d gone after Mulcahy alone and on foot, leaves Q to drown his exasperation in a cup of tea the size of which he keeps reserved for the truly dire situations.

He’s stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Tanner in front of Q-Branch’s main projection monitor, watching as the small blue dot representing Bond blinks its way across a 2D map of Dublin onscreen. Just ahead of Bond, never more than two adjacent streets away from the blue dot, is its red counterpart – Mulcahy, signalled for and ratted out by the transmitter Bond had managed to pin on him during a brief scuffle not twenty minutes before.

Q can feel the sharp edge of a migraine as it tries to burrow its way into his brain, like shrapnel pulled through an artery straight to the heart. He rubs both temples in pursuit of the pain, as if it’s an itch that wants scratching, only it seems that his fingers aren’t long enough.

A particularly creating string of curses from Bond on the other end of the line brings Q back to Earth with more urgency than he would otherwise have liked.

“Still with us, 007?”

“Very much so.” Bond sounds every bit like Q feels: knackered, yet strung out on adrenaline, and distinctly in favour of being somewhere – anywhere – else. “Where is he, Q?”

“Next on your right,” Q answers. He has one eye on Bond’s dot, one on Mulcahy’s, and both at once on the streets of Dublin criss-crossing over the screen – an impossibly intricate and luminescent weave of concrete alleys and flagstones. “Do you have visual?”

A pause; Bond’s dot shifts an inch or so to the right and onto the specified street, just as Mulcahy’s reaches the far end.

“I do,” comes Bond’s reply seconds later.

“Good,” says Q. “Then you’ll know that you’ve fallen some way behind him.”

“Which way’s quickest out of this bloody maze?” Bond has to be running flat-out, yet he doesn’t seem out of breath – just extremely pissed off. Q, hiding a smirk behind his mug, resolves to behave better.

“Left, second right, and left again for twenty metres should put you just opposite the Ha’penny Bridge,” Q reports. He looks back to Mulcahy. “You might well be in luck, Bond – it looks like your man is headed that very same way.”

And so he was; dots red and blue burst into the open, and it was with some relish that Q realised the gap between them was closing.

“I think you might be catching up.”

“Oh you think so?”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” Q informs him. “Now get cracking, 007, before…”

“He’s sped up,” Tanner interrupts, and to Q’s great frustration, it’s the red dot he’s pointing to. “Look at him.” Q is looking. “He’s not running anymore.”

Sure enough, the red dot is speeding ahead. Q sighs; Monday, bloody Monday. Even as terrorists go, it appears that Mulcahy is a particularly inconsiderate one.

“Bugger it.”

“What, Q?” Bond’s voice, sharper in pitch.

Q steels himself to say it, and tries not to think about the carnage he’s going to effectively condone in the next five seconds.

“I don’t care how you plan on doing it,” he says slowly, “but I’m going to need you to acquire a vehicle…”




Q’s never been much of a communal drinker.

University had taught him a valuable lesson or five about his own limits – namely that if he absolutely has to make a wazzocked tit of himself on cheap liquor, he’d far rather it be when there’s nobody else around to see it.

So it’s with some perturbation that he finds a familiar face at his elbow that night, as he takes to the Punch & Judy for a snifter he hopes will help end his Monday in much the same way as he began it – wrapped in blankets and snoring like a asthmatic foghorn.

But as they say of the best laid plans…

“Aren’t you supposed to be in a cave somewhere?”

Q takes a good five seconds before turning; the last six months have taught him enough about Bond and his crap to muster total indifference in the face of great surprise.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in Dublin?”

Bond’s answering grin belongs not on an MI6 operative in a ruined three-piece suit, but rather lurking somewhere near the bottom of a shark tank. “That was this morning.”

Q lets that one slide, merely watching as Bond leans over the bar and places an order with little Sandy, who takes in the suit, the play of muscles beneath it, and the startlingly blue eyes, and is suitably, immediately, transfixed.

Much like Q himself, if truth be told, only his preoccupation is purely circumstantial, geographical, even: far more the fact that Bond is here, rather than that Bond is here.

Of all the dives in London… See – geographical. This will remain his excuse; this remains his excuse right up until Bond sidles along the bar, and like the Red Sea, the crowd fucking parts in his wake.

Q experiences then a somewhat unpleasant combination of sensations: that of every hair on the back of his neck standing up on-end, that of wondering why the bloody hell they were doing so, and that of whether or not the double-oh had noticed. He’s aware of the seconds passing, but also of the sluggishness with which they do – like black molasses dripping, thick and messy, through a tea strainer. There has to be some way to break the tension that won’t end in Q making himself look stupid. Inwardly he curses himself; curses Bond. Words have never been a hardship for him to come by, and he’s certainly never before been so blindsided that he runs out of them.

He wishes he could rub his temples. Actually, he wishes he could get so gloriously deckchaired that Bond will just fade into the background – Bond and his suits and the stupid, poncy Martini he’s holding like a loaded gun, and with a great deal more care than he holds any-such weapon Q has created for him.

Really, this is all quite absurd. Q shakes his head minutely, whilst simultaneously reminding himself that Bond’s appearance (geographical) is no different to his usual trespassing in Q-Branch, and should therefore be treated as such.

He’s almost there – almost off the barracks at ‘Clusterfuck Junction’ with a cutting remark or twelve on his tongue – when Bond, quite unceremoniously, pips him to the post.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” says Bond, “in Covent Garden when the company is drier than the Vermouth.”

Q sniffs. He seems to have found his tongue. “Speak for yourself.” He sips his Merlot, not looking at Bond. “Perhaps there’d be greater life left in this old dog if you hadn’t run him quite ragged with all your shenanigans earlier…”

Bond is smirking; Q can hear it in his tone. The bastard.

“And there I was, thinking you’d struggle to keep up.”

“Given we’re straying firmly out of office hours,” Q comments blandly, “I assume it’s something important you’re after..?”

“Just a drink,” says Bond. “In a pub.”

“There are plenty of pubs.”

“And you clearly have the monopoly on this one.”

Q doesn’t answer yay or nay. He’s hoping very much that this is a one-off; Q is a patient man and prides himself as such, but even he has a breaking point, and there arises a nagging suspicion that putting up with 007 in his downtime as well as at work may well push him a little closer to it.

“It’s a free country,” Q says, “due in no small part to your people, of course.”

“Mhmm.”

Silence resumes. Q holds the stem of his glass between thumb and forefinger and sips. There’s reflective glass panelling framing the back of the bar opposite them, allowing Q to keep a subtle eye on Bond without actually having to turn his head. It’s immediately apparent that the double-oh had caught onto the same idea: their eyes meet in the glass, and it’s only through pure nerve that Q doesn’t look away.

A conspicuous setting, an indiscernible atmosphere and a game of ‘Don’t Blink’ with a scruffy superspy; Q has been here before.

He sips his drink delicately, allowing the musk of aged wine to spread across his tongue as he studies Bond in the mirror and tries to decide whether he should be the next to speak. Bond is watching him with an irritatingly innocuous expression, and it’s one that Q can’t read so he tries for ‘impassive’ himself, because two can play at that game.

Your move, 007.

He plays it seconds later.

“Quartermaster.”

“007.”

Drink in-hand, Bond slides off his stool and skulks (because there’s literally no other word for it) off to some dark corner, leaving Q to wondering what the fuck had just happened.

All in all, it’s enough to convince Q anew that he really fucking hates Mondays.




He doesn’t go back to the Punch & Judy for some time. There are plenty of other bars Q is happy to frequent, and he frequents them all in alarmingly quick succession over the next month or so, once it becomes clear that James Bond is intent on joining him in each and every one of them.

He wasn’t even a drinker before this – before that night in Covent Garden when Bond had turned up uninvited and set up what could almost be described as a challenge: a challenge requiring Q to switch ‘locals’ at least thrice a fortnight, and which he does with surprising frequency, for someone with so little spare time on his hands as it is, and rather less of it to spend on such childishness with a man for whom he has little or no respect.

Professionally-speaking, nothing much changes: Bond is still creating havoc; Q is busy facilitating him to do so.

The frequent jaunts across London’s collection of distillery-outposts are never mentioned, but then why should they be? They are Englishmen: if they refuse to talk about it, perhaps it will cease to be so.




Q enters the Punch & Judy the next evening to find that the Game, as it stands, has inexplicably changed.

His usual seat is already taken, occupied by Bond who appears to be well stuck-in to his cocktail. It’s the first time he’s beaten Q to the pub.

It’s also the first time he’s had a drink waiting for him on the bar.

“What’s this?”

“Your usual.” Bond doesn’t even look up.

Q stares a moment, then closes his mouth and takes up the glass. He sniffs the contents before dipping his tongue into the liquid and tasting. He hears a deep rumble beside him, and realises that Bond is laughing.

“I haven’t poisoned it, you know.”

“One can never be too careful.” Somewhat reluctantly, Q takes the next seat along from Bond’s. He’s sure this must be against the rules.

He drinks; the wine is good – a more expensive variety than he’s used to ordering. Still a Merlot, but aged, oaky. Q blinks as he goes back for a second mouthful. Definitely against the rules.

“Thank you,” Q says at last. He waits a moment. “The occasion?”

Bond’s smile is barely a quirk of full lips around his Martini glass. “I felt six months’ service required some form of celebration.”

Six months? What was he… Q is running numbers in his head. Six months? Well bloody hell. He’s rather less surprised he himself had forgotten than he is that Bond had remembered.

“I should say six months putting up with the likes of you necessitates steeper recompense than a glass of wine.”

Bond chuckles.

“The night is young…”

Q has little or no idea what to say to that. He finds himself glancing sideways at Bond across the bar.

They talk a while, drink a lot; the wine has loosened Q’s tongue as well as his attitude. Bond keeps their glasses full and waves away every attempt of Q’s to put his own share down for the tab.

It’s not friendship – not too men sharing pints and blue-talk. Instead it’s wine and Vermouth, green olives and a bowl of the most delicious pine nuts Q has ever tasted, and which he has to keep batting Bond’s sneaky hands away from.

Q hasn’t been wooed since he was twenty-one. If this wasn’t Bond, and he didn’t know far better, he’d have sworn the streak has been broken.




Not long after Bond buys Q a drink for the first time, the Quartermaster is ready to admit there might be a little more to this agent than triggers, carnage and promiscuity.

Not so long after that, he finds himself coasting off the back of a crush the likes of which he hasn’t experienced since he was about fifteen.

Q spends half his time wondering how he’s supposed to deal with this, and the other half wondering how the fuck it had happened in the first place: Bond is his total opposite – he’s rash and unpredictable, deadly in a far more physical sense, quite flagrantly flash as fuck, and a bona-fide pain in Q’s arse.

More to the point, he’s a smug, narcissistic bastard who’s going the right way about getting himself, and everyone he’s ever shagged, seen or spoken to, violently murdered with every Ralph Lauren-clad foot he puts out the door of HQ.

....

He’s a smug, narcissist bastard who has taken to looking at Q over the rim of his Martini glass while he’s licking moisture of it with the tip of his…

Oh….sod it all.

He becomes proficient in what he himself dubs ‘Chronic Masturbatory Restraint’. Loosely, this translates just as well into “If I wank myself unconscious more than five times weekly to the thought of James Bond’s mouth between my thighs, I may well be tempted to end it now”.

So he works even harder than usual at looking at his laptop screen rather than at Bond when the agent is around. He invests special effort in not looking at the agent’s lips, or indeed anywhere near his mouth. Or his crotch. Or his shoulders, arse and thighs.

Bond is a honey-trap, and Q has never enjoyed feeling sticky. It occurs to him more than once that shagging it out of his system might be the best medicine: he’s fairly sure Bond wouldn’t be too difficult to convince, if the man’s reputation’s to be believed.

Where Bond is concerned, Q has learned quickly that rumours about him do tend to be founded in truth.

It always seems like it would be remarkably easy, when Q is lying breathless and spent against his own stomach, vowing never to do so again. He’d ensure Bond was nicely buoyed on whiskey or Vermouth, wait for his moment, and then proposition him.

Q’s nerve, fiercely protective of his dignity, fails him every time.

As October gives way to early November, and a full month since his initial descent into madness, Q is beginning to think that he hasn’t gone so long wanting sex, but not having it, since he was sixteen and still one year away from eventually losing his virginity.

Which is part of the problem really: he can’t even find some alternative willing body to warm his bed, because if ever he catches another man’s eye on him, the poor sod is competing with Bond, wherever he may be – loitering somewhere just out of sight, like some sort of eerie, lurker-penguin in his three-piece Armani.

He flirts somewhat harmlessly with a fellow enthusiast on a recreational visit to the Tate, because at least there Q feels fairly confident in the knowledge that Bond isn’t about to show up and piss all over his composure.

The man is a curator – Charles or Charlie, Q thinks – and knows a mean spot for sushi. They have dinner exactly once before Q writes him off, for the simplistic but heinous crime of ‘Not Being Bond’.

It’s highly irritating, actually. Barely a month ago, it seemed he had hated Bond, and now… And now. Now, Q suspects he may be developing an obsession.

He will find someone else eventually; Sod’s Law, as well as every page, Q has no doubt, of Cosmopolitan magazine, dictates that as soon as one stops looking for a man, every one on the planet will make himself available.

That, or Bond might die in the field. That would solve the problem too.

It’s a case of patience. Patience, and finding an outlet.

So Q bites his lip around the name when he comes into his own fist night after night, and dutifully considers a course of intensive self-defence training for the growing sexual frustration.




It’s a Monday night, and there’s a bottle and two glasses on the bar.

Bond has beaten Q to the Punch & Judy once again. He’s Martini-less and brandishing a corkscrew instead, which he flips open with alarming finesse as he sees Q approaching. He’s in Q’s seat again, and the one on his right is unoccupied, just as it had been before.

Q takes a brief look around the packed bar-room, and wonders what method of intimidation Bond had used to keep the stool reserved.

“Splashing out, are we?”

“I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

It’s occurred to Q more than once that they rarely, if ever, use the word ‘hello’.

The cork gives a satisfying ‘pop’ as Bond removes it, and he pours a little into Q’s glass. “Taste it?”

Q rolls his eyes, but dutifully sips. “It’s delicious.”

“Good.” Apparently satisfied, Bond fills both glasses and then sets down the bottle.

They talk a while about nothing in particular. Personal lives, work and histories remain firmly off the table; off the bar, as it were. For colleagues, they’re a surprisingly inanimate pair. And yet there’s the edge of an instinct tainting every concession Q does make: one that tells him to hold back, not because it would be foolish or even dangerous to reveal too much, but that it would be a shame to reveal too much too quickly.

They work through the wine, and Bond orders another, alongside a bowl of the same pine nuts. This time, Q is firmer – almost ferocious – about who should pay, and in the end, Bond admits defeat.

There’s talk of home –specifically of going there, because it’s a Monday and there’s work tomorrow, and a tube journey to Vauxhall Q is already dreading what with the amount of wine he’s consumed.

“Just the one more?” There’s a mischievous gleam in Bond’s blue eyes, and like the Hell-borne sucker that he is, Q is drawn straight in.

There’s a ringing in his ears, and the wine is numbing across his tongue as he meets Bond’s gaze again and finds that he can’t quite look away.




With hindsight, he’s not sure quite how it happens; only that when he comes to his senses, he’s on his back, and Bond – James Bond – is over him.

They’re kissing, and it’s like nothing Q’s ever had before. It’s overwhelming, and yet anticlimactic. This is a terrible idea…and yet they should have been at it long ago. He has his hand…scratch that – both hands on either side of Bond’s jaw, and the agent’s lips working over his with just the right amount of teeth and tongue.

It appears that Bond kisses as well as he does almost everything else: effortlessly and with a hell of a lot more finesse and skill than Q could ever have managed himself. If this is a delusion….if he’s pissed or dreaming, he hopes he doesn’t come round for some time.

Q’s own lips have been wandering. He breaks away and moves lower, teases a patch on Bond’s jaw before biting down, and can’t help the wry smirk as Bond’s breath catches and he pulls Q closer by the hips.

007 likes it rough; Q is so not surprised.

They shed clothes off each other like a second skin. Q gives up wishing he’d switched on the central heating before he left when Bond covers his body with his own, and Q forgets to feel cold.

Bond is hot, and not just in the Americanised, adolescent adjective sense either. Every inch of him seems to radiate heat beneath Q’s clever fingers as he grows confident in exploring the expanse of the man above him.

Skin-to-skin, Bond nips almost lazily at Q’s bottom lip, coaxing his tongue out as big, calloused hands dip a finger at a time below the waistband of the Quartermaster’s trousers, before pausing.
Is he waiting for permission? If he is, Q is more than willing to give it – he feels as if he’s on fire, hard enough below trousers and briefs that it actually hurts to move his hips on the bed, and yet to stop moving and lose some of the exquisite heat and friction he can feel pooling below his bellybutton would be a travesty in of itself.

They’re still kissing, even as Bond brings his hands lower and starts to peel Q’s trousers down from his hips and over the slight curve of his thighs. His boxers are soon to follow, and Q shivers from the neck-down as the first gust of Bond’s breath passes over the swollen head of him.

They don’t speak, Q notes, and Q is usually more than adequately vocal with another man between his thighs. It speaks of the fragility of what they’ve apparently begun here – the culmination of tension, and the abject lack of intimacy.

Q is wound tight, like a spring and then some – the muscles in his thighs lock, tight but trembling, over Bond’s shoulders, ankles crossed behind his neck, as Bond turns his face inwards and begins kissing his way up the inside of Q’s thigh.

The sound barrier breaks; Q gives a great sigh, stuttering out something that sounds a lot like “Doub…Seve…Bond…” before the man himself interrupts:

“James.” Bond is murmuring against the inside of Q’s thigh, so for several reasons, it’s not initially easy to understand him.

“What?”

“There’s a time and a place for formalities,” says Bond, leaning back only long enough to speak, before he’s diving back again, nipping at Q’s thigh with his full front teeth. “I think at this point, you can call me ‘James’.”

He drops his head once more, and Q lets his head fall back into the pillows whilst Bond…James…whoever-the-fuck…pleasures him with mouth and teasing fingers.

Q groans softly, balling fists in the sheets as Bond leans close enough to Q’s erection to run his tongue along and under the sensitive head of it, and that….okay, that is…yes. Yes please and thank you.

Restraint lost at the last, Q finds himself straining off the mattress with his hips, the warm weight of Bond between his thighs, and a foray of embarrassing noises pressing hard for exit behind his teeth. He wants Bond’s mouth on him – wants to look down and see those full lips stretched around his cock and glistening with moisture. He wants to wrap his fingers in Bond’s hair, hold his head as he’s swallowed down to the hilt. He wants to fuck that throat until Bond is hoarse from it – choking around him, gagging for it as he opens himself for the taking; he wants –

And then it’s happening, and Q loses all sense of up and down.

A harsh moan grates itself through his vocal cords as Bond’s lips close around the sensitive tip of him, and he presses upwards, seeking the warmth. His hips twitch upwards out of his control; Bond brings a hand down, holding him in place tight to the bed, and there – right about there is when Q realises he might lose his mind before the night’s done with. He’s been sucked off before, of course, but never….fuck – never like this – never like he’s having every bone and muscle in his body wrung out until there's nothing left but sensation.

Bond adjusts around him, pulling Q’s thighs up and higher over his shoulders as Q’s fingers find his hair and tug, easing himself in. He slides down deeper, and the darkness bursts to white behind his eyelids. He takes the initiative; he says it – keens it, rather, as he’s taken deeper and the muscles of that bloody brilliant throat contract around him: “James…”

After that, he forgets a lot of what’s said, coherent or otherwise.

Grasping for purchase in a haze of pleasure he’s not sure how to control, the tip of Q’s cock hits the back of Bond’s throat, and his orgasm takes him by surprise, wringing him through as he shoots across Bond’s tongue with a strangled cry.

Bond swallows around him, wiping him clean as Q begins to unwind, like a pill-bug or a hedgehog sensing the dissipation of danger in its path.

And then Q is scrambling, glasses skewwhiff and hanging off his face, as he rolls over onto his stomach. He pins Bond beneath him, pressing lips to the swollen, sensitive head of the agent’s cock, and working his fist up and down the shaft.

He’s sated, still trembling and highly lethargic, but this is his best work nonetheless. He laves his tongue against the frenulum until Bond is groaning deep in his throat for release, and for the first time since they’d begun, Q is glad for his glasses: his vision is utterly unhindered as Bond’s spine seems to curve backwards on itself, his eyelids falling shut as he comes, shuddering, spilling into Q’s mouth.

Q swallows sportingly, wiping the remainder from his lips and collapsing against Bond’s chest, cradled between his thighs.

It might be eight, twelve or three in the morning for all Q has taken leave of his senses. Bond’s fingers are carding through his sweat-slick hair as their breathing settles, and Q rests his cheek against the other’s abdomen, eyes falling closed.

Bond is the first to speak.

“That was…”

“A mistake?” Q suggests. Bond’s hand is still in his hair.

“Most probably,” says Bond. He pauses. “One well-made?”

“Most definitely.”

Q risks a glance up at Bond, who chuckles once, and then they’re both laughing, naked and breathless on top of the covers.

It’s the best Monday Q has had in a while. And then some.




Q’s cheeks catch a blush the next day, when he arrives at Q-Branch to find Bond already waiting for him.

“007,” Q greets him, and it’s not quite the struggle he’d anticipated to meet the agent’s eye. “Here to blow another hole in my budget?”

“Nothing quite so depraved, I assure you.” Q turns from his desk, and finds 5ft10 of double-oh unceremoniously thrown in his path. Directly into his path, as it happens: Bond has moved closer, and it’s the force of his resolve alone that keeps Q from reacting. The agent has stealth even the most seasoned of gamers could envy. Q, who has always been more than usually graceful, is quite above such nonsense.

“I was hoping you’d join me for dinner.” It’s not a question; not delivered as-such, anyhow. Aside from the gentle rise and fall of his chest, so close to Q’s own, he hasn’t moved an inch. “Do you enjoy Italian?”

“Anything that doesn’t come in a box is fine for me.” Q is not quite stammering. Not quite.

“Good.” Bond drops his gaze briefly, and it comes back up sporting an almost imperceptible twinkle. “I know a nice spot.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“Eight tonight? I’ll pick you up.” The need for an address is never mentioned; Q is torn between ‘impressed’ and ‘violated’.

“Until then.” Q’s smirk is indiscernible as he turns back to his desk. He can feel Bond’s eyes on him, and wonders briefly if this is what it feels like to be lit on fire.




It’s treading the line between ‘hot’ and ‘rough’ this time, but Bond has read him somehow, knows that Q is okay with this; perhaps knows that Q likes it like this, even though that’s something Q has yet to figure out himself – whether this would be as enjoyable with any other lover.

Except that, for now at least, there is no other lover – there is only Bond. And with Bond, it’s as natural as breathing.

They crash through the door of Q’s flat in the early hours; everything is hands and tongues, hands and tongues, wandering across planes of taut skin and dipping unapologetically between lips in search of kisses that will ignite them both and leave them to burn.

Q is sated with wine and rich Italian focaccia. He can taste both on Bond’s lips as he’s manhandled, thrust against the doorframe and ravished before they’re even halfway through.

Q has barely got the door shut behind them before he’s being backed up against it. Bond has him by the collar and Q feels like he’s being devoured. There are lips on his neck, a hand slipping down to hike his leg up around Bond’s waist to grind their twin erections hard against each other, and Q buries his fingers in the agent’s short hair, offering up the line of his neck to Bond’s teeth and lips.

He’s so small compared to Bond, so slim – almost slight – and easily broken. And it’s alarmingly, painfully difficult for Q not to embarrass himself then and there with the thought of how effortless it would be for Bond to break him in half; to bend him and take him apart until he’s done for anything except how to beg for what he needs.

Q lets go a breath and gets a hand on Bond’s arse, pulling close enough to trace the outline of him through his suit trousers; traces it for real then, with one hand cupping him, teasing along the fly and down the first few inches of in-seam with his fingers.

A soft, deep rumbling emits from somewhere in Bond’s chest, and he takes Q’s cheeks between his two hands, kissing him again, deeper this time, and dirtier: Q has the distinct feeling Bond is counting every tooth with his tongue.

Q takes down his own trousers in the end, and then makes short work of Bond’s, unwrapping the belt buckle with deft fingers and putting his hands to the warm weight of the agent’s thighs.

He’s got both feet back on the ground now, but isn’t certain how long they’ll be holding him up – not with Bond’s lips on his neck and the edge of teeth against flesh, coaxing him towards the edge of something he can’t see, but only needs to feel.

Bond is moving his lips across Q’s cheekbones now, coming up short when the thick frames of Q’s glasses bump against his nose. He scrabbles (somehow elegantly, in a way only he could, the bastard) to remove Q’s glasses, but the Quartermaster bats his hand away with a murmured – “Don’t you dare”, and the sound Bond makes … well. Yes. Q can officially say he’s totally fucking done for.

Bond has his hands inside Q’s briefs now, trailing down and back up, cupping and stroking, between his legs, further back, and back again.

It’s amazing and maddening; tantalising, tempting and torturous; an overload of sensation, and yet not nearly enough. He needs more – craves it, needs Bond over and on and in him before he goes out of his mind for wanting.

Bond seems to have read his thoughts; he might even be smirking. “All in good time, Quartermaster.”

“Do you have an itinerary or something?” Q grumbles. “A schedule to keep to, per-ch…oh…” He breaks off mid-thought as Bond’s clever, impossibly slick finger breaches him, head falling back against the door. He exhales slowly, and it cracks halfway through. “Oh, oh, ohh…”

Bond put his lips back to Q as he works him open, and through the haze of his every synapse firing simultaneously, Q can feel the smile, shark-like once more, against his neck.

It’s fast and dirty, and oh-so ridiculous that Q can barely collect enough thought to rationalise. He’s naked from the waist down, shirt hanging open, three of Bond’s fingers buried in his arse, and whining like a ravenous whore as he all-but rubs off against Bond’s hip.

Dignity – thy name is…was...oh fuck it all.

Later, when Bond lifts Q’s trembling thighs up around his waist and takes him with the Quartermaster’s spine rutting furiously against the closed front door, Q’s final thought for the ridiculous dies with the second-ever cry of Bond’s Christian name torn from his parched throat.




The sex, Q reflects, is….great.

Oh alright - James Bond is so Earth-shakingly good in bed that Q finds himself wondering with increasing frequency why he’s been wasting his time shagging anyone else.

He’s sleeping with a highly-capable, highly-volatile undercover operative who just so happens to be mind-blowing between the sheets; each and every aspect of it screams of skill born of long practice.

But then Q remembers the sound of the headboard during Round Two, once they’d moved to the bed, and conveniently forgets any and all qualms with the number of notches in it.

It’s something of a surprise, the morning after the first night before, when he wakes in a tangle of sheets to find Bond, equally, gloriously naked, next to him.

Q shuffles up onto his elbows and slides his glasses onto his nose to facilitate a more thorough assessment of the circumstances.

They’d had sex…he’d come like a freight-train…several times if he’s to pick hairs. Now it’s morning, and Bond is still here.

Huh.

Of all Q’s musings of 007 in bed, the) phrase ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’ is the description that comes easiest; in the admittedly unlikely event of him saying the actual words, Q still hardly expects the double-oh to be one for sleepovers.

And yet, he’s here, and he’s…sleeping. Snoring, in fact, Q notices, and very softly-so – nothing more than inhalation and a soft snuffle on the outbreath.

Really, it seems a shame to disturb him; Bond seems brittle most days, as if work and fatigue and the beating his body takes on a fairly regular basis have left him capable of splintering under the right amount of force. So Q would have been perfectly happy leaving him to sleep, if the morning alarm hadn’t taken the decision totally out of his hands.

The electronic squeal breaks out from Q’s mobile, and Bond jerks awake in a flurry of limbs to find Q watching him.

“It’s a relief to know our country’s in safe hands with you clocked out,” says Q. He pauses, fairly sure that honesty is the way to go. “I wasn’t expecting to see you this morning.”

Bond stretches, works a kink out of his neck with one hand.

“Well you needn’t think I’m making you breakfast.”

“Just a cup of tea would do,” Q says, swinging his legs off the bed and padding barefoot (bare-arsed) in the direction of his dressing gown, slung over the adjoining bathroom door. He casts a glance backwards, to where Bond is still sleep-mussed and wrapped from the waist-down in blankets, hair laughably askew. “I’m sure a man of your considerable…talents…”

What do you mean, you ‘handled’ it? Bond, it was fifteen against one; what part of ‘wait for backup’ is indiscernible?

James…ye…Oh, James, I’m close. I’m close, harder, please…there…Oh there…

“…could manage to make use of the kettle.”

Q has never seen a man turn a yawn into a frankly mirthless chuckle with such sophisticated ease.

“’Good morning’ to you too.”




A fortnight passes. He sees Bond maybe thrice in that time and two of them are spent with hands around each other’s cocks.

The third is as Q steps out of M’s office following a debrief to find 007 waiting outside for his turn. They nod once, exchange twin, wholly unimaginative greetings, and continue with their days.

Q counts this as a key display of the attempted workplace decorum he’s promised himself where Bond is concerned.

That’s until Bond visits him later in Q-Branch and sucks him dry beneath his desk.

Which is as irritating as it is fucking delectable, because he’s a professional, dammit, and whilst there may well be a clause in Bond’s job description encouraging him to ride the staff, there most certainly isn’t in Q’s, and that leaves him feeling distinctly vulnerable.

He’s finding far harder to concentrate these days, knowing that Bond might appear, like a fucking sex fairy, and draw his every coherent thought out through the turgid end of his dick.

The memory of Bond on his knees beneath the curved chrome surface is proving quite the distraction too.

Mondays are still a pain in the neck – quite literally, with so many hours spent hunched over his laptop playing havoc with the bill to his chiropractor, and so many more of them on Mondays.

Q, like so many before him, is overworked, probably underappreciated, most definitely well-paid, and lasting out on half the sleep he needs. He’s strung out on tea and junk food, on the rare occasion he remembers to eat at all, and has a…partner? Boyfriend? Sex-friend? Colleague… who pops in and out of his life like a well-dressed Jack-in-the-box.

He’s twenty-four years old.

If he’d been a Yank, they’d have scouted him for Oprah.

It’s by far the most unorthodox arrangement Q has ever found himself embroiled in. In fact, in those terms, it’s scarcely an arrangement at all; certainly not one that had ever been deemed worth defining.

It’s sex - sex and a place to lay his head that isn’t the surface of his desk or the laptop keys. It’s the press of an erection against his hip, or arms holding him tight to the last, falling off the edge of consciousness and knowing that he’s not only building weapons; where Bond - where James - is concerned, he’s wielding them too.

It’s wild, tempestuous; it’s ‘eccentricity’ at its most brilliant best.

So if he finally makes it home sometime after midnight to find Bond already in his bed, freshly-showered and still damp beneath the towel he’s wrapped around his waist, nobody for a radius of several miles is able to hear Q complaining.




Q grew up speaking French – Suzanne Blake’s mother tongue and that of his maternal grandparents.

It’s the half of him he prefers, to the considerable surprise of outsiders, given how absurdly English he is: all tea and quips and stiff upper-lips. But that’s the truth of it – he prefers their food, the simplicity of breads and cheeses, generous seasonings, the heady flavour of wines and flaked bohemian pastries. He prefers the language at large – holds whole conversations in it with his mother, and is only really drawn to cursing in English when the circumstances are truly dire. And he prefers the French interpretation of arts as well – music, film and literature; (though he’s not impartial to a little Chaucer or Fitzgerald, it’s Victor Hugo - his namesake, of course - has his heart).

He tells Bond as much, one night of no particular significance, once satiety and lethargy have passed well enough that they can manage conversation, and conversation quickly turns to books.

Bond is on his front, the sheets draped over his arse and very little left to the imagination. He eyes up the bookshelf on the opposite wall, and seems to take some sort of smug pleasure from being able to read the titles aloud and in order, when Q’s own atrocious vision would allow him to do nothing of the sort.

The abundance of Voltaire and Flaubert is disappointing, Q is told, as is the absence of de Sade.

“Behave.” Q swats at the upturned backs of Bond’s thighs. “Perhaps it’s not the most tasteful of collections, but there’s a line in the sand.”

A line which ought to extend to allowing one of the most dangerous men in Britain to see him naked, but Q decides not to go there.

“Behave?” Bond echoes, rolling onto his front as he begins to edge his way closer to Q’s side of the bed. “Avez-vous l'intention de me faire..?”

Q raises an eyebrow, gaze never lifting from the pages of Madame Bovary.

“Already? Such a refractory period is much to be celebrated in a man your age.”

“I agree.” The first press of lips to his chest, closing around one traitorous nipple, has Q’s breath hitching. “Celebrate with me…”

“You’re insufferable,” Q groans then – to be his first of many. “Insufferable, single-minded, egomaniacal piece of…”

The books, as it transpires, are fairly soon forgotten.




Bond has a near-miss in Havana that Spring – he’s MIA for nearly two months, and of course strolls back into London unannounced at the last, minus all but the Walther’s firing pin, and with barely a scratch on him for his trouble.

Q lets Bond sign his own weapon repair papers whilst he works on disabling the camera feed, and then they have sex over the desk.

“Impatient…” Never mind the fact he’s not seen the Quartermaster in seven weeks; Bond is smirking beneath Q’s frantic hands and lips as the younger man seeks to divest them both of their clothing with as little regard as possible to the price of the buttons he’s ripping off Bond’s Armani. “Easy, easy.” He pulls back, smiling indulgently now as Q allows himself to be kissed, slower this time, and with less urgency. “There’s always tomorrow…”

“You could easily be dead tomorrow,” says Q, hauling a half-buttoned shirt and knitted tank-top over his head in as many seconds as there are garments. “And I most certainly don’t want to take that chance.”

His face reappears from beneath the layers of fabric, and Bond is suddenly closer, his gaze all but smouldering as he runs big hands slowly up and down Q’s biceps.

“For one more night then.”

Q feels a rush of something: not quite fear, anger nor pulse-pounding lust as it engulfs him, and he can’t help but wonder which megalomaniac bastard had sought to take this from him, let alone which would inevitably one day succeed.

It’s a heady cocktail of clichés they keep an unspoken agreement against voicing, pushing towards the sunlight and breaking the surface as a low, greedy moan of longing and need as Bond – James – pushes him back against the desk and takes down his boxers.

“Well, hello there.” Bond is half-grinning up at him now from before the erection, pressing rigid and already slick with anticipation against Q’s stomach. “Have you missed me…?”

Like the air we breathe.

Q could melt back into the desk and take Bond along with him. Instead, he lets his thighs fall open in invitation.

“Awaiting confirmation, 007…”




He’s almost managed it – almost slipped quite uncharacteristically into a state of full-blown domestic bliss when it all comes crashing down around his ears.

It’s a Monday, and Bond fucks with the Yakuza.

Well.

More accurately, the Yakuza fuck with Bond, and the resultant shitstorm is of such telemetry that Q will swear later even the morning sunrise over Vauxhall appears strangely brown.

Q finds him in his flat, once Bond has been back a week and still hasn’t called in. Q’s not the possessive type, knows what a farce that would be when effectively ‘dating’ a man whose job description requires him to seduce and sleep with as many beautiful and dangerous women as he can manage to further the nation’s security.

Q has occasionally considered going to the PM about that particular qualm; for the sake of his sanity, he’s held off thus-far.

But possessive or no, Q’s always been a fan of closure, and if Bond wants out…if he’s met someone else…hell, if he’s succumbed to some grotesque tropical infection and his scrotum has rotted away…Q needs to know about it.

Bond is in the bathroom when Q arrives: bruised and battered, unshaven and unwashed. His skin is grey in-colour, the cheeks sallow. He’s missing three…five. Five fingernails. Q swallows.

There’s a bottle of whiskey, half-drunk, on the floor by the toilet cistern. If Q could put money on it not being the first, second or even third, he would. The air is thick with a stale stench: sweat, blood and liquor congealing in the little room, and all those in the flat which share the characteristic of being daylight starved for as long as Bond’s been back living here.

“You look bloody awful.”

Bond looks up at him. He’s moving normally, Q notices; like the lights are still on, but something rather more sinister has taken up residence inside.

“And what would you know,” says Bond, “about ‘awful’..?” His voice is barely a croak in a throat parched with booze and angst, the tone sharp nonetheless, and Q is somewhat shocked at the venom behind it.

“Nothing whatsoever,” says Q at last. He sets down his coat on the edge of the bathtub, then slides to the floor beside Bond. For his part, the agent doesn’t as much twitch away as he does shift uncomfortably on the tile.

Q doesn’t need to be an agent to have heard the stories. He doesn’t need to be Bond’s lover to have wished that nothing even similar would ever happen to him in the field.

“When did you last eat?”

There’s no response.

“Shower?”

Again, nothing. Q sighs.

“Do you want me to leave?” Q pauses. “Because you’re out of luck if you do.”

“I don’t want anything,” Bond says, voice levelling on one note. “Not from you.”

That bites. Q is trying his hardest not to let it show. It’s just the job, he knows. It’s the job and the things he’s seen, and the things that must go through your mind when you’re being…tortured. Q turns the word over in his head as he glances down at Bond’s hands and fingers. Those beautiful hands… But they will re-grow, Q reminds himself. They always do.

He wants to hold one until they do.

“Are you going to let me help you?” Q asks after a minute. “Are you, Bond? Because –“

The back of Q’s head connects with the edge of the bathtub as he’s snatched up by the collar and thrown against it. Bond has turned on his knees, lightning-fast and vicious, and now he’s hissing at Q, his face wild and pressed as close to the Quartermaster’s as it’s been in some of their most intimate encounters.

“When I tell you to fuck off,” Bond snarls, “what do you think that means?”

“Let me go.” Q is calm. He is so calm. He gets a grip on Bond’s fists, clenched so tightly around his collar that the pain to his mangled fingers must be extraordinary. “Let me go, James.”

He doesn’t. For a horrible moment, Q wonders if the agent’s hands are going to slide down around his windpipe and start squeezing the life from him. Q can feel his heart beating out of the middle of his chest. It’s scary….scratch that. It’s fucking terrifying. This isn’t James; it isn’t even Bond. But they’re both in there somewhere, and Q knows that come hell or high water, he has to try and drawn them out.

Especially, as Q has been thinking far more frequently of late, it may be that there’s a sizable piece of himself in there with them.

In the event, it’s surprisingly easily done.

He frees both hands, wrapping them into Bond’s hair and holding tight.

“James.” Q is firm; he holds him. “James, it’s me.” A pause. “It’s us.”

The maniacal expression has frozen on Bond’s face; as Q watches, it melts, gives way to confusion, and soon enough after to remorse. The agent’s forehead falls briefly against Q’s chest, as if all the fight has gone from his neck. The whisper, when it comes, is barely audible; if Q’s hearing was as fucked as his eyesight, he’d have missed it entirely: “Q…”

“I know.” Q lifts his head, kisses his temple. “I know, love.”

He waits a tentative moment, and then gingerly cups his hands around Bond’s chin. The agent’s head lolls slightly into his touch. It’s an apology, and more besides. It’s trust and redemption, misery and loneliness so fucking devastating that you don’t know what else to do besides lashing out at the one person who might just have come to understand you best.

Better than all the rest at least.

Back on the tiles, Q reaches for his coat and drapes it over James’ lap. “Come here, you silly bastard.”

They fall asleep on the bathroom floor, and the next morning, Q calls in sick for both of them.

The following week, Bond returns to active duty. A beautiful set of Paul Smith leather gloves arrive for Q in the post days later, and they never speak of it again.




Eve Moneypenny, as Q knows her, is the ‘Girl Who Shot Bond’.

More specifically, she’s the ‘Girl Who Shot Bond Off the Top of a Moving Train, Causing Him To Fall 300ft Into a Churning Gorge of Water, From Which Rescue Only by Merpeople Would be Plausible, But Still Didn’t Manage to Kill the Bastard’.

As if Q needs any more proof that the laws of physics, reason and God’s good humour don’t seem to apply to Bond.

Yet Eve is that proof, and Q needs only look at her to tell she’d be a formidable opponent in the field.

Only in the field, as it turns out. He asks her once if she’s slept with Bond. She answers no. They carry on.

When M needs something couriered, be it letter, file, or Message of Life or Death, to Q-Branch, it’s normally Eve who brings it. Unsurprisingly-so, since Mallory can barely work his own laptop, let alone stomach more than thirty seconds skulking in Q’s industrial lair without developing a headache.

This morning, she comes bearing gifts a-plenty: a list of tech for his perusal at the request of 005 who’s due in at midday for a fitting, and a patterned box of Earl Grey bags.

“He says he’s out of milk,” Eve explains when Q asks. “Thought you might be able to put them to greater use.”

“Milk with Earl Grey?” Q keeps his most scandalised of expressions on the permanent backburner for circumstances such as exactly these. “Please inform your boss he’s a failure amongst Englishmen.”

“He’s your boss too,” Eve reminds him, flashing a smile which Q readily returns.

“I don’t look nearly so flawless in a pencil skirt.”

“Now that can’t possibly be true.”

Neither of them had noticed Bond enter; he’d appeared, Mr Benn in-fashion, as if by magic, between two adjacent monitors. Incomparable when it came to sneaking up on people, Q reckons, he ought to have known this much by now. It’s almost as if he does something vaguely similar for a living…

No shit, Morse. You’re a bloody idiot.

“Yes, you are interrupting,” says Q, making some show of looking at his watch. “I wasn’t expecting you until five.”

“Quite a weapon – the Element of Surprise.” Bond comes closer, nodding to Eve as he does. “Miss Moneypenny.”

“Mr Bond.”

“What do you want?” Q asks pointedly, almost irritably, because he doesn’t like the way Bond is looking at him: the look that says ‘I’ve seen you naked’, which of course he has; this morning, actually, when Q’s morning shower had been ruthlessly invaded and he hadn’t been all-too vehement in his protestations.

“The latest revisions.” Bond produces a manila folder and wafts it under Q’s nose. “I thought you might like a chance to look over them before this afternoon.”

Q puts his hand out for the folder, taking it without thanks. They seem to hop quite effortlessly between ‘work’ and ‘play’, ‘snark’ and ‘affection’ these days, to the point where Q sometimes finds it difficult to keep up.

“And you expect me to find time to read the whole bloody lot before five?” Q’s eyebrow is raised. “I hope they’re very minor changes.”

“Absolutely miniscule,” Bond promises. There’s an edge of velvet to his tone that Q is sure Eve won’t have missed. He fucking hates his life.

“Good.”

“Indeed.” Bond is toying with a biro sat on the edge of Q’s desk, tapping the end in a miscellaneous rhythm on the surface. He glances up with the sudden air of one delivering a death-blow, and mere seconds later, Q discovers why. “I wasn’t aware size was of such importance to you, Quartermaster…”

Of two things, Q is absolutely certain: the first, that whenever and wherever it may come, James Bond is a dead man; the second, that he has no idea how he’s ever going to look Moneypenny in the face again.

Somehow, he contains his splutter.

“Each to their own, I suppose.”

“I suppose so,” echoes Bond. He hesitates, then inclines his head. "Until then, Q."

“007.”

He's gone, in an enduring cloud of cologne, battlefield sweat and the sort of enigmatic charisma that makes Q want to flip a coin between smacking or kissing the smug look off his face.

Q doesn't realise he's blushing until he catches Eve's disbelieving eyes on him, and promptly realises the Sword of Damocles has fallen.

“What?”

“You know full well ‘what’!” Eve’s smile is open-mouthed, tinged with frank disbelief, and Q is slowly coming to realise how very busted he is. “007? You sly dog!”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He’s always been a terrible liar; Eve has his shit wired. Even if she hadn’t, he considers dryly, Bond had made it pretty fucking obvious.

“Oh, don’t you dare give me that.” Eve laughs. “How long for?”

“We’ve worked in close conjunction since my appointment last year.”

Eve laughs. “And you work as closely with all your charges, do you…?”

“Don’t you have a job to be doing?” Q turns his back, shuffling papers and dropping the file Bond had delivered like it’s a hot potato. “Besides harassing me, I mean.”

"What's he like in the sack?"

"Unprofessional."

She twinkles at him from over the brim of a cuppa he most certainly hadn't offered her.

"A tad rich, don't you think..?"

"Evie," he says then, warningly, but it's not quite firm enough to avoid sounding regretful.

"I know, I know." A pause. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," and Q is surprised to find that he means it. He's never been especially sympathetic towards intrusions into his private life, but when it's Eve... They're not friends; Q's had friends before, of course, and this isn't it. But then he's had boyfriends, had part-time shags before, and somehow, Bond doesn't fit the archetype either.

But does that mean he should confide in Eve? She's worked with Bond; Q would guess she knows him better than most.

Better than him..?

Maybe he should talk to her, but then these are things Q wouldn't be keen on sharing with his closest comrade: the way Bond turns malleable under his fingertips, bending and spreading, filling out the mould Q's arms and thighs make for him until Q is able to convince himself that maybe - just maybe - it's not Bond, but James blinking back at him....the way Bond never says his name (either of them) in bed, but instead just groans at the last, his lips pursed around a letter that doesn't quite make it into sound, and Q likes to think that it's because he's quite mad with pleasure, rather than because saying a name would make it real...And the way he's never felt more alive than when Bond is bending him in half, fucking him so hard and so deep that he almost forgets to draw breath.

These are his memories - these are theirs - and he doesn't want to share; can't afford to, lest whatever fantasy world he's erected around them come crashing to ground beneath an outsider's rationale.

Maybe one day - if it lasts anywhere near long enough for him to define it. Maybe then.

“I don’t know where it’s going,” Q says carefully. “Or what it is, really. And I don’t know how I’m supposed to talk about it with him, let alone anyone else.” He looks up a little guiltily. “Does that make sense?”

“Of course.” Eve smiles warmly, and Q is grateful beyond measure for what he’s sure will be flawless discretion.

He wishes later that he’d asked for it in writing.




M waits until Bond is safely out of the country, chasing down a ring of human traffickers in Sudan, before he lets Q know that the game is well and truly up.

Q is actually coordinating 003 at the time; the first awareness he gains of his boss’ appearance in Q-Branch is Mallory’s nose coming level with his own over the top of his laptop lid.

“How’s Bond?”

“Alive and well,” says Q, once he’s recovered his wits. Mallory might be a fucking hob-goblin, for all Q knows, given the habit he has for sneaking up unnoticed and offering up cryptic opening-lines. He and Bond are clearly cut from the same cloth. Q doesn’t know whether to be amused or horrified by that thought in particular.

“In deep cover,” Q continues. “Probably severely pissed off, if I know Bond.”

“Which you do,” Mallory interrupts. “Rather too well, I hear…”

Q’s fingers freeze on the keyboard.

“Sir?” he asks stupidly. There really aren’t many directions this conversation can be going in; Q is playing for time like a motherfucker.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit…

“Anything you’d care to admit to, Quartermaster?”

If the Sudanese traffickers don’t kill Bond, Q swears then and there he’ll do it himself if and when the double-oh makes it back onto home soil. Assuming, of course, that Mallory doesn’t murder them both in the meantime.

“God knows I’m used to this sort of thing from James-bloody-Bond,” says Mallory before Q can do anything more coherent than gape. “But there’s a ‘type’, Q, and you’re not it. I don’t mean your sexuality,” he adds quickly. “I’m sure 007 is a very attractive man…”

“If there are rules about this,” Q interrupts before he hears something he’d actually have to commit suicide over. “I’m more than willing to take on my part of the responsibility.” He’s very clear about that: my part. If he’s to be hauled over the coals because of this, Bond is coming in with him, Sudan or no Sudan.

There’s no looming bloodlust evident across Mallory’s features, however – a fact which only serves to make Q grateful he’s not having this conversation during Mawdsley’s era, or else he’d almost certainly be having it sat on his arse on the pavement outside.

“That won’t be necessary,” says Mallory. “Though I will be holding a similar discussion with Bond once he touches down.”

Q’s heart rate had already been trying to outrun itself; now, it comes to an abrupt stop, the muscle all-but jumping in his chest.

“Can I at least expect some sort of disciplinary action?”

“Not this time.” Mallory isn’t quite meeting his eye. “In situations like this, the vast majority is left to the discretion of my office.” He quirks an eyebrow. “You have friends here, Quartermaster,” he says. “It can remain that way, provided you toe the line from now on.”

“And what would that involve, Sir…?”

“What you do on your own time is nobody’s business but yours,” says Mallory, hands raised as if in defeat. “There’s no specific regulation preventing the development of a relationship…” He coughs. “…sexual or otherwise, between you and Bond, provided you declare it, and provided it stays out of office hours.” A pause. “Can I consider this your declaration?”

Q knows a Get Out of Jail Free when he’s looking at one.

“Yes, Sir, you can.”

“Good.” This is clearly a conversation Mallory wants over with as soon as possible. He’s by no means the only one. “Carry on, Quartermaster.”

“Have a pleasant day, Sir.”

How the bloody hell did he find out?

As it happens, Q doesn’t have long to wait.

“And I would suggest not trusting Bond to disable the camera feed in future,” is Mallory’s departing sentiment. “Or discussing details of your personal life with my secretary. Deliberate or no, I’d rather not have to review a similar sight again as long as I live.”

The fact that the ground doesn’t immediately open up around him is proof enough that if there is a God, he doesn’t feel like he owes Q any favours.




The first Q hears of Bond’s return from Sudan, besides the fact that he’s alive and en-route to MI6 for debriefing before two weeks’ compulsory leave, is the agent’s presence in his bed when he finally makes it off the tube from work.

Once he’s confirmed that no, the snoozing form beneath his sheets isn’t that of a dangerous criminal who enjoys a nap in his victims’ beds before brutally murdering them, Q stands in the doorway a minute or so and watches him, wondering whether he should bother asking how Bond got in.

In the end, he toes off his shoes, strips down to his boxers and climbs under the covers beside James, burying his hands in the agent’s (damp) hair and stroking fingers through it until his lover comes awake with a soft snort.

“You’re awfully late, you know,” says Q by way of greeting, and Bond chuckles sleepily.

“Marginally.” He turns his face into the crook of Q’s neck, nosing his way up with eyes still half-closed, until Q takes the hint and kisses him.

There are conversations they need to have – a discussion concerning Mallory that really can’t wait until morning. Except that Q decides that it can wait – will have to, because for every best intention Q had harboured about getting this over and done with as soon as Bond was back…he can say nothing for the fact that all he wants to do to James now involves very little talking indeed.

So he banishes the last thought of Mallory with a kiss pressed lower, to the underside of Bond’s chin, and then moves gradually downwards, until the other man is moving more decisively below him and it appears he might have been stirred from sleep on a slightly more-than temporary basis.

Jesus, fuck, has he missed this. Q tells him so – whispers it, slow and sultry, into the shell of Bond’s ear, because there are hours left until morning, and they can afford to go slow. James’ arms tighten around him, and for a moment – just a moment – Q forgets he’s signed on to belong to anyone else.

And so, because Bond is still tired, Q climbs astride his waist, and brings them both to a shaking, sobbing finish, one hand clasping the headboard and the other buried in James’ hair.

Sleep takes him afterwards, quicker and easier than ever before.




Q can’t rationalise indecisiveness about his sexuality, because it’s not a feeling he’s ever experienced. Ambiguity, lack of direction… Q has wondered what that must be like as often as he’s thanked God for the fact that he’ll probably never know for sure.

Just as he wonders whether someone like Bond sounds any different thrusting shallowly into a female throat than the choked-off gasps he emits when moving in and out of Q’s.

It’s a noise Q could grow old listening to, under the tall boughs and rafters of James’ penthouse bedroom, rather than his own, where an old photograph of Ian Blake on the mantle seeks always to remind him that very little in this lifetime is for keeps.

It’s the noise of twisting fingers or the scraping of fingernails over weathered, pockmarked skin. It’s a noise that Q swear sends him deeper into a Scary Place every time he hears it, and yet he has no desire at all to step back from the brink.

It’s become a Thing They Don’t Talk About – James and almost-Hugo as much as Bond and Q.

And yet, Q has never been more content in the knowledge of someone else’s satisfaction.

“Fuck...you….you’re….so fucking beautiful…”

It’s taken Q God-only-knows how long to figure out the balance; when he has Bond in his ear or James in his bed, and he worries –worries about when the crash is coming and when he’ll hear the words: ‘Agent down’ (for real this time), or ‘We need to talk…’

They’ve never ‘talked’; Q hopes to God they never have to. He can count the scars on James’ body, or he can seal the new additions with his lips.

It’s a case, he thinks, of perspective. 

“You think too much,” James informs him, and kisses him back to bed.




Q asks about the handkerchief on a Monday morning: a Bank Holiday, as it happens, in August.

They’re having breakfast: halves of melon and scrambled egg on toast with the usual array of hot beverages – coffee for Bond (Q has consented to keeping a tin of the stuff in the top cupboard for just this purpose) and Q’s customary tea.

They’re at the table by the bay windows, bathed in early sunlight as the rays begin to spill across the city. James is clad only in boxers, his skin catching the light in a way that makes Q quite green with envy, and simultaneously drawn to forgoing breakfast in favour of kissing him – this impossibly beautiful son of a bitch – all over. He contents himself with the eggs, and running his bare foot up and down the inside of Bond’s calf.

“The initials?”

“My father’s.”

No more is said; they let the tea and coffee grow cold, un-drunk.

Definition, Q has decided by now, is entirely overrated.



Fin