“Q,” Bond says. “You promised you wouldn’t lie to me.”
“Shut up and draw,” Margot says, finishing off her glass of wine. Eve tops off her glass; eight drinks in, she’s just beginning to show signs of inebriation. Margot’s shoulders have gone slack and she’s leaning back in her chair, peering over the edge of her glass like a deadly meerkat. “You enormous whining child.”
“He’s not lying,” Tasha says, as Arjun nods enthusiastically, peering over Q’s shoulder. The minions have sworn to be impartial observers, but Eve suspects they might be nudging the game slightly in Q’s favor. Bond glares, but they’ve acclimated to his various murderous expressions over the months of his near-constant presence in Q branch, when he’s not out of the country. “Take a shot, 007.”
“Remind me to give you two a raise,” Q says, as Bond finishes off his scotch. Tasha holds her fist out and Arjun obligingly bumps it, and Bond makes a noise of irritation. With an extremely sarcastic flourish, he half-rises from his chair and sweeps a card off the top of the draw deck.
“I’m not approving that,” Mallory says, looking down at his hand with the same air of dissatisfaction he often looks at Bond with. Eve sympathizes; only Tanner had initially drawn any matching cards, managing a full book of twos after only one turn. At least she’s doing better than Margot, who has yet to successfully place a book. Granted, that’s likely because she uses game night as an opportunity to drink as much high-quality, free alcohol as possible. Q has exceptional taste, and always provides the wine. Bond has taken to bringing hard alcohol, which he drinks most of. “Bond, do you have any sevens?”
Margot snorts. “Go fish,” Bond says, with a certain amount of spiteful glee. He’s far drunker than the rest of them, going off the sheer quantity and concentration of alcohol he’s consumed. Unfortunately, he’s also so desensitized to alcohol that it really doesn’t put him at much of a disadvantage. Mallory draws from the deck and raises one eyebrow, looking down at the card as though the force of his disapproval can change it.
“I’d like those sevens, if you don’t mind, M,” Q says. Mallory looks Q directly in the eye as he slowly draws the card from his hand and passes it over the table. “Thank you.”
“I thought we were playing this so Q wouldn’t win,” Margot grumbles into her wine glass. It’s empty again; she’s long since run out of cards and didn’t manage to place a single book, which she seems to be coping with by drinking and complaining. She could draw back into the game, but given the extent to which she’s slurring her words, probably best not.
“No,” Eve says. “Q always wins. We’re playing Go Fish because it will be more embarrassing for Q to gloat about winning than it will be for us to lose.”
“I don’t always win.” After placing the book of sevens out on the table, Q folds his hand neatly back into a single stack.
“He said, winningly,” Bond says. Unfortunately, this is not nearly as scathing as he intends it to be, because Q has started running his hand gently through his hair, and Bond has nearly melted into his chair. It’s extremely cute; Eve valiantly resists the urge to take a picture. Tasha snaps several, and Bond snarls at her half-heartedly before relaxing back into Q’s hand. Send those to me, Eve mouths behind Bond’s back.
“I resent that,” Q says, also not as scathingly as he might like. Eve finds herself terribly warmed by the easy comfort that exists between them, two of the most dangerous people she’s ever met with their defenses just slightly lowered. “Winningly, really. Barely a word, Mr. Bond, and certainly not with the meaning you intended.”
“Use dictates meaning, Quartermaster,” Bond says. He slides further down in his chair, twisting slightly, his empty glass dangling carelessly in his hand. “Let’s do not take a prescriptive approach to language.”
She can’t imagine what the two of them must be like alone, but here in the safety of the almost-home of MI6, Bond sits with his back to Q and his eyes sliding closed, leaning towards his partner as sunflowers turn towards the sun, instinctively. And Q, his focus flickering rapidly around the room, taking in and processing information at lightning speed, but returning always to Bond, the sea crashing onto the shore, inevitable.
“Tanner,” Eve says. She could ask Q, but he’s likely to lie. She could ask Bond, but she honestly has no idea what he has in his hand because he seems to be asking for cards at random based on what will irritate other people the most. She could ask Mallory, but he looks so defeated that it seems cruel. “If you have any threes, hand them over.”
Tanner sighs and hands over two threes. His hand is clearly divided into groups of matching cards, which is very funny, but also makes it all the more impressive that he’s managed to stay in the game. “Oh, thank Christ,” Eve says, and lays out the finished book, leaving her one point behind Q. Q turns that laser focus towards her, narrowing his eyes, and she swallows. She knows that look. It’s often a precursor to people dying horribly or massive explosions. Sometimes both. It’s terrifying, and also ridiculous, considering they’re playing a card game meant for five-year-olds. “For fuck’s sake. It’s Go Fish. Calm down.”
“I’m quite calm, Ms. Moneypenny,” he says. He smiles slightly, pleasant and dead-eyed. It’s worse than the imminent explosions look. “Tanner, I do believe it’s your turn.”
Tanner looks like he’s considering asking Q for a card before he thinks better of it and turns to Bond. “Do you have any fives,” he says, clearly having not the faintest idea whether or not Bond has any fives.
Bond shrugs. “Only one way to find out,” he says, smiling benignly. Q, of course, knows exactly what Bond has in his hand—both of them have memorized the hands of everyone at the table, the insufferable bastards. But he gives nothing away. He has as much fun watching Bond irritate people as Bond has irritating them.
Tanner turns to Arjun and Tasha. “Is he—” Arjun shakes his head and pats Tanner consolingly on the shoulder. Q hides a smile behind his glass, sliding his hand down briefly to Bond’s jaw before bringing it back to his temples. “Damn it.”
“Take a shot,” Tasha says. Tanner takes a shot glass off the center table, sighing heavily.
“Let’s see a little enthusiasm.” Bond finishes off his scotch and gestures with the empty glass, insufferably smug. “It’s game night, we’re having fun.”
“I’m having a great deal of fun,” Q says, with a cat-like, satisfied smile. Eve thinks this bodes poorly for her Go Fish prospects, and possibly for her credit rating and access to hot water. She loves him to death, but he’s a terribly vindictive little fucker.
“Well, of course you’re having fun,” Margot grumbles. Her eyes are sliding closed, and her chin has dropped towards her chest. “You’re winning. You—something. You bastard.”
Bond snorts, and Q lifts an eyebrow. Mallory sighs, expressively. Eve makes a note to stop refilling her glass; if 008 has drunk enough to be showing it, it’s possible she’s given herself alcohol poisoning. Granted, for the double ohs, alcohol poisoning is more ‘Tuesday night’ than ‘medical emergency,’ but still probably something to be avoided if at all possible.
It comes down, as it so often does, to Bond and Q. Bond has pulled himself out of his liquid state and is staring directly into Q’s eyes as if he can intimidate the Quartermaster into conceding. Q is, of course, going to win, but Bond is making it as painful for everyone as possible. He lies constantly and shamelessly, attempting to sneak non-matching cards into his books, asking for cards that have been out of play for half a dozen turns. Q bears it all in stoic silence, sighing lightly through his nose. “I’ll take that nine,” he says.
“Ah,” Bond says. “I’m afraid I haven’t any.” Q lowers his chin, valiantly resisting the urge to roll his eyes or possibly commit homicide. Bond blinks, smiling blandly, shirtsleeves rolled up crisply above his elbows. There are only four cards left in his hand; he, like Q, has played the entire game without looking at them, keeping them face down but spread out across the table.
“Good God, man, give it up,” Mallory says, his head resting on his hand. Margot is snoring very loudly with her head tucked into the side of Tanner’s neck. She is almost definitely still awake, but the double ohs express their boredom in unique and terrible ways. She’s at least better than Bond, who expresses his boredom by causing problems and/or extensive property damage.
“Shan’t,” Bond says. He takes a drink and folds up the edges of his cards so Tasha and Arjun can verify. “I’m winning through denial.”
“Oh my god,” Tasha says. “He actually doesn’t have any.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Q says, narrowing his eyes and leaning forward very slightly.
“The fuck have you done with the cards?” Eve asks. Bond continues to smile, unbothered, placid as a lake held tight in the glacial grasp of winter.
“Perhaps you miscounted, Quartermaster,” he says. Q’s expression shifts barely at all—a slight twist to the corner of his mouth, an infinitesimal flattening of his brows—but Bond’s grin turns positively gleeful in response. Christ, Eve thinks. This is the most ridiculous foreplay I’ve ever had the poor luck to witness.
The standoff between Q and Bond continues. Mallory drops his head fully into his hands and Tanner pats him on the shoulder, conciliatory, as if to say, I’m sorry your extremely prestigious career has come to watching the world’s most dangerous people playing Go Fish in our offices, but quite frankly you should have seen it coming, and it’s better than the time we played Settlers of Catan in Q’s flat, Christ, I thought I was going to die. It’s a very expressive shoulder pat.
“I swear to God, I’ll suspend the both of you from active duty,” Mallory says. Q snaps his gaze away from Bond, tilting his head to one side and flattening his mouth, unimpressed. Bond only smiles, unruffled as ever. “I’m not bluffing. Neither of you have any critical missions at the moment. I’ll do it.” Bond smiles wider, showing teeth.
“I’ll help him,” Eve says. Bond’s smile disappears like it’s been slapped off his face and Q looks betrayed, widening his eyes and lowering his brows. He looks like a sad kitten. It would be far more effective if she hadn’t earlier seen him make exactly the same face when she told him she’d ordered Chinese instead of Thai for game night.
“You wouldn’t,” Bond says. “I’m worse when I’m bored.”
“She would,” Arjun says, looking vaguely worshipful. Eve preens; she can’t help it, and it’s gratifying to know she could commandeer Q’s army of minions if she had need of a terrifyingly weapons-proficient IT department. Tasha sighs and jabs him with her elbow until the stars in his eyes have faded to more sustainable levels. “She did it the last time Q came in with a fever. It was incredible.”
Bond turns back to Q, lifting an eyebrow. Q sighs, extensively, and waves a hand. The eyebrow lifts higher. Q tilts his jaw down and looks unamused. Bond smirks, laying his hands flat on the table, palms down and fingers spread. Q takes a breath, drawing himself up in his chair with the kind of unbreakable steel that allows him to single-handedly destroy terrorist organizations and also live with Bond, who looks as though all of his birthdays have come at once. From careful, extended study, Eve has deduced that this is actually Bond’s my partner is regularly surrounded by an impressive number and variety of weapons, most of which he builds and all of which he can use to devastating effect, I’m the luckiest man on earth face. He makes it endearingly often, noticeably immediately after the Chinese-rather-than-Thai incident, when Q returned to testing micro explosives capable of taking out a city block and made vague noises about concealing them in some kind of writing implement. Tasha and Arjun are looking back and forth between Bond and Q like this battle of Go-Fish-related-wills is a particularly riveting episode of The Real Housewives of MI6, which, come to think of it, it might very well be. Bond shifts his right hand very slightly on the table, and Q settles back into his chair, satisfied.
“Check your trouser pockets, M,” Q says, smiling smugly. Bond looks extremely put out, and actually makes it as far as crossing his arms before realizing it makes him look like a petulant toddler and settling for glaring at Q, who, if possible, looks even more smug.
“How does he do that?” Tanner asks as Mallory draws two cards out of his pocket, addressed vaguely to MI6 at large, or possibly God. “I mean, Christ.” This remark settles Bond’s expression comfortably back into the territory of self-satisfied. Margot awakens from her faux slumber to chuck her wine glass at Bond’s head. Unfortunately, he’s perfectly capable of catching it, and does so with a theatrical flourish as he drains the glass in his other hand.
“I’ll have your queens,” Bond says, once he’s finished basking in his own insufferable competence. Q makes a face, but hands them over without further complaint, as they have no effect on his imminent victory, which is all that bastard really cares about. Bond takes the cards, and then Q’s hand, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “Darling,” he says. “Thank you.”
Well, shit, Eve thinks. The expression on his face makes her feel like an intruder. The shape of his mouth, the heartbreaking shudder of his breath across Q’s hand, the brightness of his eyes— how precious a thing to lay between them on the break room table, amid the takeaway boxes and half-empty wine-stained glasses. How exceptional, the hand wrapped around a gun, the steady voice in the darkness, the fire and fury, the flood. And yet how ordinary, how comfortable: an argument about caffeine dependency, the conversations about cat food, a reservation for two.
Q smiles and his entire body softens, the sharp lines of his face opening into a quiet, lovely happiness, the steel of his spine losing just a fraction of its rigidity. He turns his hand so his fingers wrap around Bond’s.
“Bond,” he says, “I do hope you weren’t trying to distract me from the fact that you’re stealing my cards. Because if you were, I would have to inform you that this is the most pathetic attempt at diversion I’ve ever seen you make, and I was running the operation in Côte d’Ivoire.”
“That would have worked if someone hadn’t gotten trigger-happy and set off every fire alarm in a three-kilometer radius.” This is not true; Eve was standing in the back of Q Branch for the entire incident while trying to bully Q into eating lunch. Bond abandons the book of cards he’d drawn half-way across the table but doesn’t seem particularly put out by the development until Q raises an eyebrow and looks meaningfully at Mallory.
“Good God, man,” Mallory says, drawing yet another set of cards out of his pocket and handing them back to Q, who evens out the edges with typical precision. “The potential suspension grows ever likelier. Not for you, Quartermaster. Consider it a reward for good behavior.” Bond snorts.
“He should have been a magician,” Arjun stage-whispers to Tasha. She blushes very slightly at the nearness of his mouth to her face, which is expected and also hopelessly adorable. It is, Eve finds, almost as adorable as the way Arjun turns to her for approval after every joke he makes like a puppy. “I was watching him the whole time and I didn’t see a thing, hand to God.”
Hand to God, Bond mouths to Q, raising his eyebrows. Q sighs eloquently. “An older, sadder, more heavily armed version of David Copperfield, perhaps.” Older? Bond mouths, raising his eyebrows higher. Q smiles and pats his hand consolingly.
“Also not as wealthy,” Tasha says. Arjun holds out his hand for a fist bump, which she obligingly provides. Q settles back into his chair, looking extremely pleased with himself. Bond looks equally pleased with himself, as Q doesn’t let go of Bond’s hand; his thumb moves over the knuckles, absently.
“I’m actually extremely well off,” he says. “I’ve invested extensively in real estate.” This translates, Eve knows, to you bastards sold my great big fuck-off manor in the Scottish moors while I was faking my death and pulling incredibly testosterone-fueled stunts with scorpions, but I did come out of everything with a residence in roughly sixty percent of European capitals, so I’ve really no complaints.
“I hate you,” Margot mutters. “Invested extensively, fuck you.”
“I’m a kept man,” Q says, happily. This is not true; Q once confided in Eve halfway through a third bottle of vodka that he’s actually a millionaire several times over, even if the money is divided between roughly a dozen accounts and not what anyone would call legally obtained. It is one of many reasons why Eve does not feel at all guilty about occasionally getting him drunk to collect blackmail material. “Eights, please. Are we done?”
Bond turns over the cards and looks remarkably grumpy while doing it. “Oh, thank Christ,” Tanner says. “I was about to start drinking heavily.” Bond looks faintly ill; the last time Tanner got drunk during game night he’d invented sixteen new forms to be included in the post-mission paperwork.
“Same time next week?” Q folds all of his cards neatly into a single stack and smiles, focusing briefly on each of them. At Eve, his smile sharpens—obviously, she has not concealed her I will shove those cards down your throat you condescending dick expression as well as she thought she had. Luckily, she still has a card to play.
“Are you very, very proud of yourself, Q?” Eve says. “Shall we have something commissioned to commemorate your Go Fish victory? Perhaps in crayon?”
His expression sours very slightly and Margot laughs—a single, barking ha as she lifts her head from the table before collapsing back down. “We’ll put it up on the fridge,” Bond says, clearly enjoying himself. “Would you like a gold star? I hear that’s the done thing for people of your distinguished age.”
“Only if you’re terribly eager for me to start calling you daddy very loudly in public.” Bond makes a face, but settles his head onto Q’s shoulder regardless, patting him on the head. Q tries to look irritated but lands instead somewhere between vaguely fond and adorably lovestruck. He presses his mouth to the crown of Bond’s head and holds there for a breath.
“Ignore him,” Bond says. “We’re long past his bedtime.”
“If you imagine I won’t taze you just because I’ll have to drag your unconscious body back home through the streets of London like particularly uncooperative sack of rocks, I’m afraid you’re sadly mistaken,” Q says into Bond’s hair.
“Darling,” Bond says. He’s wearing the Q has weapons and knows how to use them face again; Eve wishes desperately for a file folder with which to smack him across the head. She could steal one of Q’s squirt bottles—Prokofiev and the kitten, Shostakovich, are darling little monsters who won’t stay off the counters. Unfortunately, the odds of any given bottle containing acid are middling-to-fair.
“Christ,” Mallory mutters, with the air of a man resigned to the course his life has taken, as Arjun and Tasha smile proudly at their overlord and the man he loves. Tanner snorts. This is familiar, a variation on a theme. Eve looks around at the people she loves best in the world, the people who have given her a purpose and a home. She thinks of them—her family—like some kind of astronomical anomaly, a star system with half a dozen suns kept close and orbiting by their own gravity, turning galaxies around them, and the world sheltered in their light.
“Shall we do Arkham next week?” Q asks. This is a peace offering; Q rarely suggests cooperative games, as he doesn’t get to gloat when he wins those. Also, Bond and Margot generally do their best to ensure they lose. “Or we could try Catan again.” A collective shudder passes around the room—they barely survived the last time they played, and that was before adding Bond to the mix. Eve cannot imagine the carnage that would result from combining the two.
Q lingers behind with Eve as Bond goes to bring around the car. “I’m going to de-weaponize your stilettos the next time you suggest a game,” he tells her.
“That,” she says, “is an extremely effective threat. But all of your ideas end in shameful defeat for the rest of us, which is extremely trying after a while. Don’t you get bored of winning?”
“I do not,” Q says, primly. Then he looks at her, out of the corner of his eye, and smiles very slightly. “But does it matter? Who wins, I mean.”
“That’s sweet,” she says, because it is very rare that the Quartermaster allows himself to be so sentimental as to imply that the important thing is not the winning, but rather the playing. It makes her think of family again, and of the fact that this odd, pale man with the bright, sharp smile is probably the best friend she’s ever had. “I’ll be sure to remind you that you said that when you’re having a breakdown over our lack of teamwork next week.”
“I would expect nothing less, my dear.” Q adjusts his glasses, smile broadening. She kisses him on the cheek as Bond pulls up next to them and watches through the windshield as he settles in next to Bond, who says something with an incredibly straight face that has Q bending almost double with laughter. Bond salutes and winks at her as he drives away and Eve shakes her head, feeling terribly fond.
“I’m going to beat him if it kills me,” she says to herself, still smiling. “And when I do, I am going to be absolutely insufferable. I am going to hold it over his arrogant little head for weeks. Christ, I’m going to make it my email address, beat-Q-at-board-game-at-MI6-dot-gov.” It’s only a matter of time, after all—there are hundreds of games to play and years and years in which to play them. The sun will rise over the city and the stars will turn above their heads and we will grow old, she thinks, all of us, together.