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the ghosts still left behind

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Being Q comes with an entirely new set of obligations, ones that are deemed less important in that first month when everything is still on its head and MI6 is reeling from the loss of its beloved leader. 

After eight weeks, Q is told to move shop again, back to civilization along the Thames. He will miss the old building at Vauxhall Crossing, but he’s secretly glad they have not returned: every room would have reminded him of Boothroyd and any venture to the higher levels would have sent him back to that horrible, horrible day. 

So he gets a new office, and a new Q Branch. It’s still essentially in the basement, and R&D still looks like a bit of a dungeon. It’s perfect. 

This new promotion also brings new people into Q’s life. 

Q finds that he loathes almost all of The Board as well as most of the executives, and decides after his first meeting that he’ll send R (who has only just returned from maternity leave) whenever possible. He has no patience for the politics and bureaucracy of espionage; they almost always hinder the people who are doing the real heavy lifting - who are making a real difference - in their work. Q catches coffee with Tanner one morning and complains for an entire hour about old men who are more hot-wind than tissue, and their seeming inability to let go of the Cold War. The other man does not disagree, but he spends most of the conversation alternating between giving Q supportive pats on the back and rolling his eyes when he says something overly dramatic.

He does not loathe Mallory, however, if only because the man has never once commented on his age, and trusts his judgment nearly implicitly.There was also that time when Q and Tanner were maybe probably committing mild treason in helping Bond, and Mallory had decided not to...well, bugger them. 

More important than the bureaucrats and the lawyers (Christ, the lawyers ) and even Mallory, his promotion leads him to Eve Moneypenny. 

He doesn’t know what to think of her, at first. Tanner likes her enormously, and promises that Q will too, if he ever learns to socialize with people properly. After that remark, Q makes a point to avoid the woman for days, just to spite Tanner.

Then Tanner drags him to lunch with Moneypenny, and Q almost immediately decides that they should become a trio rather than a duo, because she is wonderful . She’s clever, and sharp in all the right ways, and she used to be a field agent so she loves hearing Q’s outlandish weapon ideas, and she’s somehow both no-nonsense and delightfully silly. He absolutely adores her, and tells her after their third lunch together in no uncertain terms that if he weren’t the gayest man in all of MI6 he’d already have proposed.

They fall quickly into a close friendship, and his underlings become accustomed to the sight of Moneypenny walking into the Branch carrying takeout and coffee whenever Q has lost himself in his work and forgotten to eat dinner (which is to say, every few days). 

It is therefore unsurprising that Moneypenny is the first to notice his growing preoccupation with Bond, seven months after Silva. 

It starts slowly enough. 

All the agents delight in Q’s gadgets, but none take as much of an interest in his work as Bond. Q’s telling Bond that Q Branch ‘doesn’t really go in for’ exploding pens and the like all those months ago had mostly been for show: there really just hadn’t been time to make anything particularly fun for Bond. 

Now, though, he’s found himself in trouble. Because once the dust has settled and they’ve all had time to recover and adjust and move forward, Bond comes right up to Q and tells him how bloody brilliant his Walther had been, despite its unfortunate end in the stomach of a komodo dragon. He’d designed the guns back when he was R, and Q feels himself go beet red at the effusive compliment (effusive as a stoic man of mystery can get, that is). The next time Bond is sent out on a mission, four months after the events at Skyfall, he grins as Q hands him a new Walther, and Q finds that he rather likes that.

So his gadgets get more outlandish, more exciting, but also better , smarter , under the pretense of challenging himself. Though he won’t admit it to anyone other than himself, it’s also (largely) in part to make Bond smile. Lord knows the man could use something to smile about. 

When he passes over a Rolex with a small buzz saw built in, Bond beams , and Q watches with his own fond smile as the agent walks away still fiddling with it.

Of course, this is the one time Eve is present for Bond’s outfitting, and so she drags Q into his own office and locks the door.

“You fancy him,” she accuses. Q can’t quite place the look on her face, but she doesn’t seem happy.

“I… find him intriguing,” is what Q settles on, and he knows it’s a cop-out.

“Q, you were staring at him like a lovesick fool.”

At this, Q bristles. “I am not in love with him. I could never, not after - ” He cuts himself off. Eve doesn’t know about Vesper, doesn’t know about Bond and Q’s odd connection, doesn’t see how ‘that bitch’ hangs between them every time they’re in the same room, even if the agent doesn’t know it. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not in love with him. It’s a...flirtation. A crush, if that.”

Eve just gives him a look, and he realizes that the expression is concern. She’s concerned for Q, worried that his heart might get broken or something ridiculous like that.

“Besides, James Bond is as straight as they come. So don’t go worrying about my fragile emotions.”

 

 

******



 

It’s a year and a half after the Silva incident that Q begins to understand that this thing with Bond isn’t going away.

This realization comes on what is one of the worst days of his life, when he is falling apart at the seams. 

005 is on assignment in Lisbon, and he is being extraordinarily difficult, even more so than usual, and Q wants to tear his hair out. He’s already had five cups of tea that have left him jittery, and every time the agent disagrees with him he considers smashing his laptop and quitting espionage altogether. 

Things take a turn for the worse when 005 ignores Q’s order to disable the security cameras in the old building he’s breaking into. St. Clair tells Q that he’s not going to be there long enough for it to make a difference. Q tells St. Clair that he’s a bloody idiot if he thinks the arms dealers who’ve taken up residence there haven’t made use of the built-in security system. 

Q is right, of course, but he takes no pleasure in watching 005 run for his life and duck underneath a stairwell. 

He’s frantically typing, looking through blueprints, trying to find an exit for the man, and very nearly screams with frustration when the agent ignores his directive to stay hidden and barrels into the nearest hallway guns blazing. St. Clair gets a shot to the arm for his trouble, and Q will surely have bruises on his hands from where he’s slammed his fists on the table. He tells 005 to follow his directives, that there’s a window in the basement he can crawl through undetected if he’s careful, but once again the agent ignores him.

“There are some fire escapes just outside this window, if I can get high enough I can jump to the next roof over.” And St. Clair just fucking does it, without listening to Q, ignoring his warnings because they don’t know if there are hostiles in the street, they don’t have any information on hand about the building next door, because this was supposed to be a simple extraction goddamnit.

There is a hostile on the street, a lookout who spots 005 and shoots him in the stomach. The agent doesn’t fall off the fire escape, but it’s a near thing. He listens to Q long enough to be directed to the nearest elevator, which Q activates and then stops in between floors. It’s as good of a hideout as St. Clair is going to get while Q desperately tries to figure out how to evacuate an agent with a bullet wound to the gut. He looks up at the security camera for the elevator and - oh no.

“Double-oh Five, you need to stay conscious, do not lie down, repeat , do not lie down.”

“I know you never really liked me, Q, but I’ve always thought you were hilarious,” St. Clair starts, and this sounds too much like the agent’s saying his goodbyes.

“You stay awake, and I’ll tell you every joke I know, St. Clair,” Q says, flipping through the security cameras as fourteen hostiles work their way through the building, systematically checking every room.

005 laughs, and it’s a wet, ghastly thing. “See? Funny. Do me a favor, will you?”

Q, now looking at floor plans and trying to figure out if he could feasibly collapse part of the building remotely and take out half the hostiles, makes a noise to indicate that he’s listening.

“Blow these bastards to hell once I’m gone.”

Q switches the comms from the speaker on his table to his headset, not wanting to upset the junior staffers who’ve never dealt with anything like this. “You are not going to die, St. Clair. That’s an order.”

“Sure I am. It’s all right, really,” and Q wants throw something, because he’ll never understand how cavalier the double-ohs are about their own lives.

“No, you’re not, stop talking like that. It’ll be another five minutes until MedEvac arrives, so here’s what we’re going to do - ” 

“Q. It’s not your fault,” St. Clair cuts him off, wheezing and hacking, and Q feels something hard stick in his throat.

“St. Clair - Bradley - ” Q’s searching for words, empty promises and false platitudes, because he can see 005’s vitals right in front of him, readouts from the watch attached to his wrist, and help isn’t going to make it in time.

“I should have listened to you,” St. Clair’s voice is a fading, quiet thing, and Q could throw up.

“I’m sorry, Bradley. I’m so, so sorry.” Q hates the way his voice trembles, hates that it just cements what the agent already knows.

“See? I knew you didn’t really hate me.”

A harsh, sickly gasp, and then silence. They all watch as 005’s heartbeat flatlines.

“Agent down,” Q says hoarsely, before sending a message to MedEvac. He turns to his technicians, trying to keep his voice as level as possible. “Well, you heard the man. The least we can do is fulfill his dying wish.”

The building goes down within minutes, not quite blown to hell, but close enough. Q sends nearly everyone home, hands over the helm to R, and goes into his office, locking the door behind him and shutting the blinds. 

The contents of his desk are on the floor in seconds, and his hand comes back bloody after the fifth time he punches the wall. Q doesn’t even realize he’s crying until his vision starts to blur badly and he has to take his glasses off. There’s a half drunk cup of tea on top of his filing cabinet, but when he tries to take a sip and calm himself his hands shake so badly that he spills half of it down his front. 

And so he slides to the floor of his office and tries to block the world out, leaning against the old filing cabinet he’d stolen from HR, burying his head in his arms as he curls his knees to his chest. 

Q doesn’t know how long he sits there, but when his door opens he’s shocked to see not R or Eve or Tanner in the entryway, but Bond.

“I locked that door,” he says dully, and if he had the energy he’d be annoyed with Bond for breaking in.

Bond says nothing, crouching down to sit next to him. Q wipes his eyes with his sleeve, loathe to show any kind of weakness in front of the other man. He probably looks pathetic enough curled up on the floor, tea-stained and sans glasses, without adding tears to the mix. 

“I take it you were watching?”

“I was in the back with Tanner.”

“I see.” Q clears his throat, refusing to meet the other man’s eyes. “I’ll understand, if you and the other double-ohs will want a new handler after this.”

At this, Bond makes a surprised noise, before shifting until he’s kneeling directly in front of Q. He takes the smaller man’s wrists in his hands, shaking them slightly until Q looks up at him. 

“Q, no one blames you for what happened.”

Q shakes his head. “If I hadn’t - if I could have just - If I’d seen - ” 

“Q. It wasn’t your fault. It was his , for not listening to you. There was nothing you could have done.” Bond sounds so confident, so sure of himself, that it almost makes Q want to believe him. Instead he looks away, breaking eye contact, and the older man sighs, moving to his feet. He reaches a hand out, less of an offer and more of an insistence that Q gets up off the floor.

They both grimace at the sight of Q’s once white shirt, now sodden, brown and clinging in an unpleasant way. 

“Do you have anything to change into?” Bond asks, and Q gestures to the storage cabinet in the corner. He hears Bond chuckle as he no doubt sees the ‘impractical’ (according to Mallory) sword prototypes Q’s thrown in there, but the other man makes no comment as he brings back a shirt and tie on a hanger.

Q doesn’t bother with the buttons, just pulling his soaked shirt and sweater over his head in one quick motion. He’s just pulled the new shirt around his shoulders when he notices Bond has moved back to the cabinet, the empty hanger in hand. He’s just standing there, staring numbly at the necklace draped on one of the -

Oh, fuck . The necklace.

After a brief moment of panic, Q decides to play dumb. “Oh, that? It’s an - ”

“Algerian love knot, yes, I know.” Bond seems shake himself out of whatever Vesper-related memory he was in and puts the hanger away, closing the door perhaps a hair too forcefully. “I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.”

Q just hums noncommittally and leaves it at that, because there is no way in hell he’s going down that road tonight. He’s managed to do up almost all of the buttons on the shirt before he hisses in pain, cradling his bloody, swollen fist to his chest. Bond doesn’t hesitate to reach up to finish the job. Q thinks, as Bond gently does his tie, that he ought to feel threatened with this deadly agent’s hands so close to his neck, but if anything he feels safer than he has all night. Bond sets Q’s glasses back on his nose, and gives him a small, warm smile.

“There’s our Quartermaster,” he says softly, taking Q’s hand and inspecting the cuts and forming bruises carefully. If it were any other night, if Q wasn’t so weary and distraught, he might enjoy the feeling of the other man’s rough, calloused hands against his own. 

Bond leads him out of the office, through Q Branch - where only R remains, on the phone with her wife, probably - and into the break room one floor above, where he all but shoves the younger man onto a couch while he rummages around for a first aid kit.

“You know,” Bond says as he pulls up a chair and starts to dab antiseptic onto Q’s cuts, “You’re handling this pretty well,” At Q’s raised brow and pointed look to the hand currently being treated, Bond elaborates. “Mostly, I mean. You kept it together in front of your staff, and you haven’t even gotten drunk.”

“Yet,” Q says, and Bond smirks.

“Yet,” he amends. 

When Bond is finished Q sighs, taking off his glasses to rub at his eyes. Bond moves to sit next to him, not reaching out or touching, but just - there. Steady. 

“I didn’t even like him.”

“I know.”

Q turns to Bond, and he knows his eyes are red, and he knows his voice will start to crack but he asks nonetheless: “Why does it still hurt so much ?”

“Because you’re a good person,” Bond says simply.

Q doesn’t feel like a good person right now, but he accepts Bond’s answer and pulls his knees up to his chest again. They’re silent for what feels like hours, Q staring vacantly into space while Bond keeps an eye on him.

Finally Bond breaks the silence, turning the conversation away from 005 and the evening’s events. “You look so much younger without your glasses,” he comments, and Q turns his head to look at him, his head still pillowed against his folded arms. 

“I know. St. Clair called me a twink the one time I came into work without them.” That makes Bond laugh, and Q finds himself smiling too. “It’s funny now, I guess, but I was so offended... I thought Tanner was actually going to attack him.”

Bond is still looking at him, still grinning. “Even younger when you smile,” he comments, almost to himself, it seems. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be twenty eight in March.”

Bond’s brows shoot up. “Twenty seven? Really? I thought thirty, at least.”

Q shoots him a confused look. “Did you really not know?”

Bond shakes his head, before swearing. “Damn it. Alec’s won the pot.”

“Pardon?”

“We all - the double-ohs, that is - placed bets on how old you were. Alec guessed twenty seven, so…” Bond trails off, looking vaguely sheepish. Q doesn’t mind so much that the agents made a bet over something as trivial as his age, although…

“But Trevelyan’s always known how old I am. Since my first day.”

Bond’s eyes widen, and he starts to curse a blue streak, damning “that lying Russian bastard” to hell and back, before going off on a tangent, regaling Q with stories of all the times 006 has been a pain in his arse. 

With a tired smile, Q watches Bond gesture wildly as he brings up the time Alec faked his death to go in deep cover, delighting in the sight of Bond letting his guard down just a bit. It’s the most he’s ever heard Bond talk at once, and Q knows it’s for his sake.

It is then that realizes there might be a bit more to this thing he feels for the other man. 

He doesn’t stop listening, doesn’t so much as move a muscle, but he does quietly acknowledge to himself that he is absolutely fucked .



 

*******



 

For all that Q hadn’t liked St. Clair, he finds himself missing the other man quite keenly two months later when the new 005 is instated. 

It would seem that Mallory has decided to honor the late 005’s memory by replacing him with a near carbon copy of the man: an entitled wanker who has no doubt spent most of his life riding the coattails of his wealthy parents’ reputations, who’s surely had most everything he’s ever wanted handed to him on a silver platter. Preston Sutcliffe, Q discovers, has all of his predecessor's more wretched qualities with none of the redeeming ones.

St. Clair hadn’t had many redeeming traits, this is true, but they’d had history, known each other long before Q became quartermaster. St. Clair hadn’t doubted Q’s qualifications, or his skills, and that, at least, had been something.

When the new 005, firsts walks into Q Branch, he makes a beeline for Desmond, a lovely old engineer who’s been with the department almost as long as Boothroyd had. Q isn’t insulted, but actually rather amused, because the old man cannot get a word in edgewise with the agent.

He takes this opportunity to take in his new double-oh: he’s arrogant, Q can tell based on his interaction with Desmond, talking down to his would-be quartermaster; and he’s attractive, he supposes, tall with blonde hair and brown eyes and perfectly straight teeth.

Q tries very hard not to dislike this new 005 immediately, because if there’s anything he’s learned from his time at MI6, it’s that first impressions can be misleading.

Of course, his efforts are largely wasted, because when Desmond finally manages to tell Sutcliffe that his quartermaster is actually the young man typing at his laptop at the front of the room, the man takes one look at Q and says:

“You’re having me on.”

Q tries very hard not to roll his eyes (because it’s unprofessional, apparently, and Tanner has told him that it makes him seem even younger) and instead raises an unimpressed brow at the agent.

“Double-oh Five. I’m your Quartermaster. I look forward to working alongside you in the future.” This last bit is, of course, a filthy lie, but Q’s always been a polite sort of man.

Sutcliffe turns to Desmond, then to the next nearest person, R. “ Really? This kid?”

It is in the tense silence after this comment that Bond walks in, carrying two cups of tea. 

After the night Q lost St. Clair, he and Bond have started a tentative friendship, one marked by shared meals with Eve and an obscene amount of time gleefully blowing things up together in R&D. 

The point is, none of Q’s technicians or engineers so much as blink when arguably the most deadly of the double-ohs walks in, because they’re all too busy glaring at 005.

“James,” and oh, Bond clearly doesn’t like how familiar Sutcliffe is being with him,“Tell me they’re not serious. This - this infant can’t be our quartermaster.”

Bond visibly bristles at this (which is hilarious, considering his own reservations upon first meeting Q), his expression turning stormy. He turns to Q, handing him a cup of Earl Grey - it’s almost right, Q’s working on grooming him into yet another tea slave - before addressing 005. “I’d tread carefully if I were you, Sutcliffe. Wouldn’t want to make an enemy of Q Branch.”

Sutcliffe rolls his eyes. “Oh please. Like I couldn’t handle a bunch of twitchy little boffins.”

Q discovers in that moment that he can tolerate slights against himself much more than ones against his staffers. Bond must notice his hand twitching toward the taser-pen prototype on his table, because he very quickly moves between Q and 005.

“Say, Sutcliffe, have you met Tanner yet? I have a feeling you’ll get along swimmingly,” he says, leading the new agent out of Q Branch before Q can attack him.

This attempt at peacekeeping is made futile when, as they’re nearing the double doors, Q hears Sutcliffe make one more remark to Bond.

“So how many cocks you think that kid sucked to get the job, eh?” 

Sutcliffe is on the floor clutching his newly broken nose in seconds. 

Bond straightens his jacket and wipes the blood off his knuckles with his handkerchief, completely unruffled. He turns, gives Q a wink, and then walks away, leaving 005 moaning in pain.

Sutcliffe is still a twat after that, but he treads a little more carefully around the other double-ohs. 

Much like his predecessor, he doesn’t listen to Q when he’s on comms, though while St. Clair was just an annoying git who thought he knew everything, the new 005 seems to think Q is some sort of childish amateur.

The first time Sutcliffe tells him to “put someone on who knows what they’re talking about,” Q mutes the mic and lets out a stream of expletives so vile that R actually slaps him upside the head.

The worst part is that Sutcliffe is the amateur, a newbie Double-Oh who has all of six kills under his belt. His mission record is respectable, of course - he wouldn’t be a double-oh otherwise - but Q’s is incredible .

It is after a particularly trying mission, in which 005 had completely ignored every directive Q had given and nearly gotten a Chinese dignitary killed, that Q loses his patience with the agent. Sutcliffe returns with no gun, no earpiece, and none of the intel he was meant to retrieve, and he is completely unrepentant. 

Q is positively fuming, and he opens his mouth to give the man a piece of his mind when Sutcliffe cuts him off. “Going to go running to mummy and daddy because I didn’t bring back your toys?”

Q counts to ten in his head, because it really is frowned upon to attack another employee, before leveling the man with his iciest, most scathing look. He’d learned this particular glare from the late M, who had probably at one point made someone cry with a single frown.

“I’m afraid not. Haven’t you heard, 005? Orphans make the best recruits. Perhaps that’s why your performance thus far has been so thoroughly underwhelming.”

After 005 leaves without a smart comeback, Q suffers through nearly an hour of sad, pitying stares from his underlings. 

Finally, he turns to them with a put-upon sigh, telling them that yes, his parents are dead, and yes, he grew up in a children’s home. He makes a point to tell them that he was out by the time he was twelve (which is true, because the second Vesper turned eighteen she filed to be his legal guardian and they moved to that tiny flat across town). He also reminds them that he’s an adult , and not some lost puppy.

They don’t stop until Q allows them each one hug to make him ‘feel better’. 

When Bond finds Q later on he doesn’t hug him, but he does comment that this is just one more thing they have in common.



 

*******