The village of Millet is nothing like London.
The little barn cottage Q is currently standing in is hardly like anything he’s used to, either. Despite the modern fixings, there are historic features all over the cottage: old brickwork and exposed beams and heavy oak furniture, with a weathered log burner in the living room and stable doors that open out to the gardens.
It is worlds apart from the sterile efficiency and chaos of MI6’s headquarters or the monochrome, technologically-based structuring of his flat. But the homey clutter of the cottage – with its odd proportions and colourful rugs and rustic paraphernalia – is similar enough to the casual disarray of Q’s lab that it puts Q at ease, and replicating particular habits helps Q get over the odd bout of dissonance he’s been experiencing, from being away from his usual haunts and favoured spaces.
And then, there is learning to share space semi-long term with a Double-O – especially one as contrary and devious as 007.
Right now, said Double-O agent is standing in the garden, dressed down to a battered leather jacket over dark-washed jeans, the most casual Q has seen Bond so far. It’s one thing for Q to watch his agents slip into any number of personas to trick, scheme, seduce or lie their way into getting what they want, and another thing entirely to witness Bond’s charm in person, seemingly making small talk with two of the locals while in actuality he’s extracting all sorts of interesting information about Millet and its people and its rhymes and rhythms (Millet, apparently, is large enough to have warring family factions. Who knew? Q certainly didn’t) while crafting a narrative about Q and his own presence here in village.
Q, some say, has a magical touch with technology, the way he manipulates it to his will.
Bond is very much the same with people.
Right now, Bond is fielding questions about “his partner” (being a couple is certainly the most convenient explanation for why they’re living together at the cottage, and Q can run with that), so Q tiptoes into the kitchen to brew a pot of tea, and then stands in a corner of the kitchen, near the opened windows but out of sight from the garden, and shamelessly eavesdrops.
“He came here for creative inspiration, you see,” Bond says, “and I came with him, because if not he’s likely to get lost in his head and completely forget to eat and sometimes even sleep.”
One of their visitors titters something about how sweet Bond is for supporting his partner; the other asks, “What kind of creative work does he do?”
“He’s a writer,” Bond says blithely, and in the kitchen, Q raises an eyebrow. “You’ll hardly see him without his laptop or his phone, to jot down notes or thoughts. He types so much faster than he writes by longhand, he says. And when he finds his rhythm, you can’t ever pry him away from his laptop without some sort of violent retaliation.”
That’s… actually a very good explanation for why Q will always have his laptop with him. But this begs the question – what exactly does Bond expect Q (or at least, his cover) to write?
One of their visitors asks that exact same question, and Bond laughs, low and casual, the way Q has only ever previously heard over a line, to one of Bond’s marks.
“Right now, he’s working on a nonfiction work. It’s a work in progress so he hasn’t revealed much detail about it, not even to me. But my favourite works of his is his poetry, even if he doesn’t publish them. His poems are very different, cryptic and thought-provoking – one of a kind, almost. I’m biased, but I hazard only six other people in the world could write poetry like that.”
Is Bond talking about Q’s security protocols? Q has certainly heard about code poetry – either poems written in a programming language but are still readable by humans as poetry, or computer code expressed in a poetic manner, stylized with sound or terseness or presented with visual beauty – but it still seems quite a stretch.
But outside, in the garden, their visitors are swallowing up Bond’s tellings with aplomb—
“And he came to Millet for creative inspiration. We’ll have to remember to look him up. Peter, did you say his name was?”
—and surprisingly enough, Bond sounds like he’s enjoying himself – this time, Q can hear the private note of amusement in Bond’s voice – the kind that emerges when Bond has unearthed a secret and is as pleased as a fox in the chicken coop about it.
“Legally, yes, but he writes under pseudonyms, and I prefer one of them. He doesn’t feel like a Peter.”
“Oh,” one of the visitors says, sounding dangerously interested. “What does he feel like then?”
“Emrys,” Bond simply says, and somehow it comes out shockingly sincere; their visitors actually gasp softly in response.
Standing in the warmth of the sundrenched kitchen and surrounded by the subtle fragrance of a perfectly brewed pot of white tea, Q lifts his head and stares out the window at the beautiful summer sky, and thinks—
I’m going to bloody murder you, 007.
So much of Q's working life is decided in the bright, airy space that is M's office in Whitehall that he forgets - the Double-Os are terrible meddlers, and while respect for M's authority might keep them marginally professional in M's vicinity, all bets are off anywhere else in MI6's headquarters.
And like curious cats, they can find their way into any place, especially those designed to keep them out. Case in point: Moneypenny's working office the floor up from Q Branch, the one she does her most clandestine work in when she's not playing the role of the perfect and prim secretary guarding M's door.
Q is quite sure that 0010 was nowhere near M’s office when he received his orders (if an even-toned “Get out of London, Quartermaster” counts as one), but moments after Q and Moneypenny settle in their seats on respective sides of Moneypenny’s workspace the Double-O appears at the door, grinning.
He’s astute enough not to step inside until Moneypenny lets out a soft sigh and gives him a single nod.
007, on the other hand, just ghosts right in like he owns the place. Q and Moneypenny exchange mutual glances of mild exasperation, but neither of them says a word. 007 is expected, after all; he is the Double-O attached to the mission, and his and Moneypenny's friendship is famous in MI6 circles for being quite undefinable. Q knows the secret, of course - Bond trusts Moneypenny with fate of the world, and for the Double-Os, that kind of trust means everything.
004 is the last to arrive, her hand curled around Tanner’s elbow when she nudges the door opened. Tanner gives the office a quick glance around before arching an eyebrow in Q’s direction.
“Good luck” is all he says out loud before he heads back to his work, but there’s an air of amusement in his voice.
I need it , Q is tempted to quip back, but 004 steps carefully across the room and gently ruffles her hand through Q’s hair – one of the few people he’d tolerate that kind of gesture from.
“You don’t need luck,” she says seriously. “You have us.”
If either 007 or 0010 said that, Q would be planning contingencies on top of the contingencies he already has in place for the Double-Os. But it’s 004, who specializes in long-term undercover missions and constructing seamless, perfect personas, so Q takes her words for the reassurance that they actually are and smiles up at her.
“I appreciate that,” he says, and then he aims a narrow-eyed glare at the other two Double-Os. “Are either of you getting up?”
“Scarlet is faster than either of us, even injured, and at this close range, she packs the most power due to her speed,” 007 drawls.
“She doesn’t need her hands or her knives; she can just use her thighs,” 0010 mock-whispers, but he slips off to claim a hard-back chair from elsewhere, and 007 slinks off his armchair so 004 can have the padded back and armrests for support.
004’s serene expression when she takes her seat hardly betrays the extent of her injuries, but Q has seen her medical report. If his “retreat to the countryside” assignment is a retreat of the going away to a sanctuary for peace and rest sort instead of the planned evacuation for one’s safety variety, Q would push more for her to take on this mission – several weeks in an idyllic little village away from the bustle and chaos of the city sounds like the perfect recuperation for 004; she loves nature, the quiet calm spaces of the outdoors.
But when it comes to the threat of Spectre and the safety of their quartermaster, none of the Double-Os are willing to take risks. 004 bowed out of the assignment herself, and no matter how sweet her smiles are, 004 is still a Double-O – she is as stubborn and protective as the rest of them.
Moneypenny’s fingers are light on her keyboard, the tap-tap-tap of the keys like the gentle fall of raindrops against a windowpane. “I hope none of you think you have a say in where Q is going or what his cover story is going to be like.”
She gets three varieties of inscrutable smiles, one from each of the Double-Os; Q lifts his head and tries his luck.
“I don’t see why I can’t relocate to Edinburgh or one of the smaller satellite labs around the country during this time if London is too dangerous—”
“The point is to get you out of cities,” Moneypenny says patiently, because she has already heard about five variations of this argument in M’s office.
“You’re very good, Quartermaster,” 0010 says, “but Spectre is an entire criminal organization dedicated to global surveillance. Now that their leader has been neutralized and will no longer creepily stalk after Bond, you’ve become their top target.”
“We’ve been working very hard with MI5 to root Spectre completely out of the United Kingdom, especially in light of Denbigh’s… infiltration.” 004 gives all of them a wry smile. “But it is difficult, and it is dangerous. I wouldn’t want what happened to me to happen to you, Q.”
It still makes Q angry, when he thinks of 004’s last mission. Q is just one person, and for all that he is the best that their country has when it comes to cybersecurity threats, he cannot operate in isolation. By necessity, Q has to delegate, share out responsibility, distribute the load – but it’s hard not to be frustrated when Q knows he could have gotten 004 out quicker and kept her much safer if he’d been the one to handle her mission.
The Double-Os are protective; well, so is Q.
“I’m much more effective in cities,” Q says quietly. “I’m much more effective in the heart of my territory.”
“You didn’t start out owning MI6’s communications division, though,” 0010 points out. “And the most important part of what you do is in your head. It’ll be a challenge, but I bet you’d be very adaptive even parred down to the bare essentials. And you’d be much safer until we clean things up here.”
Q resists the urge to growl at them. The Double-Os respect his position and his work, and as much as they’d like to keep him safe and be the only ones to take risks, they’ve always given him leeway to do whatever he needs no matter how dangerous or insane the plan seems. But now, with M’s directive, well—
The Double-Os are very stubborn, and very protective, and Q knows he’s not going to win this debate.
“Maybe I should call up 0011 and conference him into this discussion,” Q mutters under his breath, “so he doesn’t feel left out or anything.”
“That’s the spirit,” 004 says cheerfully. “Humour goes a long way to making lamentable situations easier to swallow, even if yours is on the sarcastic side.”
Q looks at her smile and decides to let that particular sleeping dog lie.
“I might remind you,” Moneypenny cuts in, her fingers still moving rhythmically over her keyboard, “that there is no discussion.”
007’s posture doesn’t shift, but somehow the way he stares at Moneypenny conveys an air of teasing impudence. “As the Double-O assigned to Q’s little… getaway trip, I imagine I would have quite the say in where he is going and what his cover story is like.”
The clatter of keys comes to an abrupt halt. Moneypenny stares over the top of her monitor screen, her expression flat but her eyes sparking with intent.
Discreetly, Q slides his laptop out of his messenger bag and logs into Q-net. It’s going to be a long and noisy afternoon.
It’s not like Q Branch’s numerous divisions are ever quiet, and Q lets the eb and flow of voices wash over him, easily tuning out the specifics. He speaks to the Double-Os more often over a line than he does in person, and no matter how top-notch Q Branch’s technology is, there is something about the timbre of a human voice that sounds different – more alive – when heard in person. Moneypenny and the Double-O’s mutual sniping and the occasional quiet laughter makes for a surprisingly soothing ambient background to the work Q needs to concentrate on.
He ends up only tuning back in when 0010 nudges his elbow.
“Yes?” Q says automatically, blinking.
“Any thoughts on which alias you’ll be using on this trip, Quartermaster?”
“Yes,” Q answers absentmindedly. “A completely new one. I’ll build it later, it’s not difficult.”
His mind is still half on this twisty section of code he’s trying to tie down, so it takes him a moment to notice the speculative silence.
“Names,” 0010 declares. “Top three choices, go.”
“Names are superficial compared to other cover details,” 004 counters delicately. “I’m sure Q knows what works best for him. But James, I don’t think he’ll need to disguise his features, do you think? I like Q’s usual hair and style.”
“If we stash him in the right location, we won’t have to,” 007 replies.
Q actually half-shuts his laptop screen so he can sit up properly and glare. “I’m not an object to be stolen and hidden away, thank you very much.”
“Don’t spirit Q away without his permission,” Moneypenny breaks in. She doesn’t bother looking up from her screen.
“Emrys!” 0010 exclaims, completely out of nowhere. “As a name for the quartermaster’s cover.”
Q stares at him. “I’m not Welsh.”
“Oh, I like it.” 004 lifts a hand, and carefully sketches out the letters of the name in the air with one finger. “It’s a conspicuous name, a little too unique to blend in, but I like the connotations.”
“The king’s advisor and a skilled worker of magic – someone who does the seemingly impossible and who will always find a way?” The side of 007’s mouth goes up in that rare lopsided smile that is just a shade shy of a smirk. “Sounds appropriate.”
“No,” Q says flatly. He has nothing against the name and certainly nothing against the legend itself, but his counterpart and friend in a certain independent intelligence service would laugh himself hoarse if he ever hears about this conversation. He turns pointedly back to his laptop, sure that that will be that – he’s building his own alias, after all, and no Double-O is going to get through his security protocols to meddle before Q has to leave.
“No?” 0010 laments. He pouts for a moment, and then bounces back with his usual casual ease. “How about potential occupations, then?”
“This is not how building covers work,” 004 says patiently, and this time, Q finds his mouth tilting up in a smile of his own.
The only criteria Q puts his foot down over is that wherever they decide to send him to – no matter how remote and out of the way and hidden it is – that place must have secure and reliable network access or have the infrastructure for Q to rig one up.
(“Wouldn’t it be easier for me to just pick where I’m going?” Q says, scribbling down his requirements on a scrap of paper – Moneypenny won’t let him put anything down electronically.
“We’re reasonably sure your identity hasn’t been compromised, but Denbigh had ears on both of us—” the corners of Moneypenny’s eyes tighten “—and you’ve been the one engaging Spectre, constantly. I don’t know if it’s enough to build a profile on you and your preferences and your modes of operation, but—”
“I understand,” Q says quietly. It’s always patterns, isn’t it? And patterns by nature are predictable. “I assume you’re not the one making the decision, either.”
“No,” Moneypenny simply says.)
So Q and Bond’s first night in the vicinity of Millet hadn’t been settling into the little cottage that will be Q’s home for the next several weeks, but hiking up to the cell tower set in the hills surrounding Millet so Q can hijack it for his own purposes.
While Q circumvents the security and fiddles with antenna and repeaters, Bond ends up turning the site into a safe spot of sorts, stashing the majority of the attache kits around the small shelter – close enough to Millet for easy accessibility, but not in Millet itself for curious eyes and even curiouser minds to discover. Unlike Q, Bond’s duties are split – he’ll be drifting in and out of Millet, working with MI5 teams on short-term assignments. MI6 wants its very best protecting Q, but they’re also practical enough not to squander a Double-O’s skillset.
When they finally make it back down to the car at the end of the night, the only incriminating belongings they have marking them as anything out of the ordinary is the palm-print activated Walter PPK/S Bond secrets under the line of his jacket. All of Q’s equipment – his laptop, phone, his earpieces – have always looked like battered, civilian equivalents, no matter how cutting-edge the technology within them are.
It’s very odd, to be standing here with Bond like this. Q doesn’t often follow the agents out into the field, and the rare times he does, they’re often filled with frantic chases and tense moments of waiting, leaving no room for Q to think about anything except the mission at hand. But at least for now, they have no formal orders. Q has no official task except to lie low and Bond to make sure their surroundings are secure, and it makes Q feel oddly adrift.
He stares down the small road leading down to Millet. Q is at his most confident in the cyberworld, and in this physical world, he’s faced down dangerous terrorists and egoistic agents alike. A rustic little village like Millet should not unsettle him.
Then, Bond turns to meet his gaze, and the gleam in his eyes reminds Q that theirs has never been a relationship founded on purely professional grounds – Bond takes too many liberties and Q bends too many rules on his behalf, after all.
“Ready?” Bond asks, a rare consideration on his part.
Q holds Bond’s gaze a moment longer, and then turns back to consider the road. He draws in a deep breath, holds it; exhales.
Q is not a superstitious man, nor is he a particularly religious one. But for all his practicality, Q thinks he might be at least a little bit spiritual.
Like the village it is housed in, Millet's cemetery is expansive. There are no clear boundaries for where it begins or where it ends; the first time, Q had followed a rough path, keeping his eyes close to the ground - all the better to note the treacherous roots or loose soil before they can trip him. The sun was warm on his skin, the scent of fresh greenery released by the bruised grass under his shoes sharp in his nose, and the crumbled stone mounds kept stealing his attention, because they were weathered, yes, surrounded by wild weeds and overgrown grass and covered with mold, but there was something about the shape of them that were not quite natural—
It's only after he'd hiked nearly half a mile in that he sees the first headstone intact enough for the engravings to show, and then Q had lifted his head and stared over his shoulder and finally saw the forest for the trees.
Or more accurately, in this case - the cemetery for the graves.
Later, Q finds out that he'd taken an impromptu walk through the older part of the cemetery; nowadays, Millet prefers to bury their newly dead in areas more easily accessible by road.
Q ends up splitting the difference. The earliest part of the cemetery is a little too wild for Q's taste, while the newest part of it is visited by reminiscing relatives often enough that Q feels awkward lingering there. But there's a spot further in where the trees grow tall and broad and the numerous gravestones that dot the land are several generations old, and it is there that Q takes to spending his afternoons: seated on the weathered stone bench, sheltered by the trees, the soft hum of his laptop accompanied by the susurration of the wind.
Q is not a superstitious nor religious man. He doesn't believe in ghosts or angels or the grim reaper who would come to claim the souls that is Death's due. But in this ground - further than Q's eyes can see - lie hundreds of bodies in varying states of decay. There are the bones of people who have lived centuries before Q came to be, inhabiting a world of candlelit nights and letters delivered by horse or foot, but also several who shared Q's life time, who might have revelled in the rise of the internet and exchanged near-instantaneous messages with people they've never seen with their own two eyes.
They existed. Q may not know their stories, but they have their own – each and every one of them. It probably seems morbid to an outsider that Q enjoys sitting in the midst of a cemetery full of decay, but death is a fact. Death is undeniable.
Q lives to circumvent death for as long as he possibly can for his agents, and he is not afraid of it.
The sharp snap of a branch breaking in half rouses Q out of his mid-duty trance, and he blinks, his hands coming up automatically to push his glasses further up his nose. The noise is deliberate on Bond's part; the Double-Os are as stealthy out in the wilderness as they are in a crowded city.
"People are starting to talk," Bond says, sauntering up the footpath, "about the young man who prefers the company of the dead in a deserted cemetery than the living, breathing villagers in the tea rooms that Millet prides itself on."
Bond is speaking in his usual tone, at normal conversational volume, but something about the open space seems to change the quality of it; instead of shattering the silence, his voice seems to twine with the ambient outdoor sounds, inviting Q to listen in instead of demanding it.
"I thought a gothic mystique fits in quite well with the image of a writer," Q says, and if his voice comes out quieter than usual, well, not everyone can be as gifted at molding their environment around them like the Double-Os are. "Or did you have something else in mind when you professed me a poet?"
Bond comes to a stop beside Q's stone bench, and although he bends his head to look down at Q, his eyes are sweeping the grounds in a systematic perimeter check. Force of habit and a healthy dose of paranoia probably guides Bond’s movements, because Q doubts that there’s anything truly dangerous in Millet at the moment, much less its cemetery; for the Double-Os, no space outside of headquarters is ever completely secure, and they never truly go off-duty when it comes to the safety of their favoured few.
"I always associate you and your laptop with your office or lab, so – cluttered desk space, dim room lightning with only a single lamp on to illuminate your work, and a mug of tea for company. This—" Bond tilts his head to indicate the cemetery around them "—is a world apart from that environment."
"Is it?" Q smiles. "I find the solitude quite similar."
Bond arcs an eyebrow in his direction, because of course he knows – that's not all it is.
Q saves his work and flicks on his privacy settings before setting his laptop on the bench, stretching his arms out before him to loosen the ache in his shoulders. "What is cyberspace but the echoes and imprints of the living world? A graveyard is very much the same. I pursue intangible traces and enact change silently, clandestinely. I suppose I'm used to chasing after ghosts in the cyberworld, so sitting amongst the vestiges of the once living doesn't bother me." Q considers his favourite gravestone, a simple marker of ivory white that bears no epitaph but instead contains a border of whimsical carved fish – and then tips his head back to look up at Bond. "The similarities are comforting."
This time, Bond's eyes meet his squarely, and stay instead of drifting in their customary perimeter check. A moment later, the corner of his mouth lifts in a lopsided grin.
"You are something else."
There’s a poignant pause after Bond’s words, like he’d meant to tack on another word – or a name – which makes Q smile.
“I am,” Q agrees, and clambers to his feet, tucking his laptop with practiced ease into its messenger bag. He won’t get much work done with Bond around and the sun is starting to make its way towards the horizon, the patches of sunlight filtering through the canopy of the trees turning the air around them honey-gold. Not to mention, there’s something about the outdoors that seems to whet Q’s appetite – he often works right through mealtimes at headquarters, but here in Millet, he keeps getting hungry after only a couple of hours.
Bond comes up beside him, and Q is so used to the Double-O’s presence at this point that he doesn’t suspect anything until Bond has already smoothly lifted the messenger bag away, slinging it over his own shoulder.
It’s a testament of how much Q trusts Bond that he doesn’t instinctively grab his laptop back, although Q’s fingers twitch reflexively, immediately missing the feel of his technology in his grasp. He slides his hands into the pockets of his light jacket instead, the weight of his phone at least one reassurance, and ignores Bond’s appraising look to stroll back down the footpath.
Behind him, Q can hear Bond’s footsteps trailing after him, light and almost noiseless compared to the rustle of Q’s own’s tread crunching through the fallen foliage.
It’s a nagging presence at the back of Q’s mind, and coupled with the serene quality of the graveyard, Q finds himself voicing a thought he would never otherwise say out loud.
“Graveyards have their own history and they are respected spaces, but I don’t think I would like to be buried after I die.”
Bond’s tread behind him doesn’t miss a beat, but Q fancies he can feel the weight of Bond’s stare on his back.
“My, if the trees had ears, they’d spread quite the rumours about you.”
Q can’t resist; he shoots a pointed look over his shoulder at Bond. He’s the quartermaster, he handles sanitization orders and mission clean ups for the highest-ranked MI6 personnel, and they’re walking through a graveyard. It’s not that strange of a conversation topic.
Bond’s mouth twitches in a slight smile.
“It’s the whole gothic mystique,” Q says dryly, and then has to turn back to eye the path before he twists his ankle.
There’s a long pause, and then Bond asks, “What kind of ritual would you like, then?”
Q hums quietly under his breath. “I’m not sure. I understand the human need to leave their mark in the world, as a reminder that they existed, but—” he grimaces “—I’m not squeamish, but I don’t like the idea of personally experiencing the stages of decomposition.”
“Are you planning to haunt your own body to experience the natural phenomenon of decay, then?”
There’s a quiet note of amusement in Bond’s voice, and Q makes a face. “You know what I mean. I think—” he pauses, and then goes on in a softer voice “—I would like to donate my body to science. Or to medicine. But I’m not sure if our agency’s secrecy regulations would get in the way if, say, I will my deceased body to a public institution. And if I tried to do that within our organization, I think my staff would baulk at the idea.”
“You’ve thought about this.”
“A little.” Odd and morbid thoughts have a tendency to dart across Q’s mind when he’s waiting between critical points of a mission, when he’s scouring the cameras and the feeds for signs of his agents and can’t do anything but wait for them to come back to him. “Especially after the emergence of your foster brother’s organization. I think I’ve been shot at more times this year than the rest of my time in our agency put together.”
This time, the silence from behind Q contains something tense and dangerous. Bond dislikes his personal history dragging anyone else into danger, and Spectre and Franz Oberhauser blur the lines between what is personal and what should be a professional danger considerably.
Q quickly casts around for something to divert Bond’s attention.
“What about you? Funeral rituals-wise, I mean,” he asks, and then has to stop from hitting himself in the face.
As expected, Bond replies, with dark humour in his voice, “Most of my colleagues never make it back at all, much less in one piece.”
Q stares furiously down at his feet, paying particular attention on where he treads; hyper-focusing navigating the uneven surface and avoiding loose stone and tree roots is better than dwelling on his blasted broken filters.
“Hypothetically, then,” Q says, even though there’s a part of him that’s already vowing to do whatever it takes. He puts all his intelligence and his considerable influence into making sure his agents always make it back home – well, it isn’t much of a stretch to extend that, to make it so he will always bring the Double-Os back, dead or alive.
“Hypothetically,” and now the tone in Bond’s voice is back to being plainly amused, “if you managed to salvage my dead body back from parts unknown, then I’d prefer cremation.”
Q thinks of the clean burn of fire, and of Bond’s self-professed hobby of resurrection, and his mind gives him— “Like a phoenix.”
He misses his footing right at that point – Q’s eyes flash down; the rough footpath has merged into a newer smooth pavement – and Bond catches him by the elbow.
“Because phoenixes combust in a show of flames? I suppose so, although there wouldn’t be a resurrection afterwards.” Bond meets Q’s gaze; his hand is very steady on Q’s arm. “And you say you’re not a poet.”
“I’m not,” Q protests automatically.
“You have the eloquence of one.” Bond’s grasp tightens briefly, and then he lets go. “For all this talk of death, you’re staying alive if I have any say in it. That’s the point of this whole trip, after all.”
He stares at Q until Q nods, and then his gaze snaps away.
Q sucks in a careful breath; it’s like being in the center of a spotlight, and having that spotlight finally turn away – relieving, to be out of that searing heat and attention, but feeling a little disappointed too.
“Let’s find a place for dinner,” Bond says, and they continue down the pavement – side by side this time.
Q is quick-witted and sharp-tongued and extremely adaptable, and his words will always come out just a little incomprehensible even at the best of times, because as fast as he is capable of speaking Q’s mind works so much swifter, making nimble inferences and improbable leaps of ingenuity that very few in the world are able to keep up with. He leads his merry band of Q Branch underlings wonderfully, who are often prodigies in their own right, and he can more than hold his ground against the Double-Os, who are just as quick-witted and sharp-tongued and terribly, terribly cunning about it all. Q can even wrangle the other governmental representatives over cutthroat policy and allocations – he’s nowhere as good as M, but he does well enough that together with his status as the Secret Service’s living firewall, Q Branch will always be protected under his influence.
Q is extremely adaptable – he wouldn’t survive a week in MI6 if he isn’t – but that doesn’t necessarily mean he likes change.
He likes innovation. He likes taking things and making them better, he likes breaking boundaries and exceeding expectations, but Q has his rhymes and rhythms, his habits and his creature comforts which he uses to corral and control his lightning-quick mind, and it takes effort for him to find his equilibrium after a disruption.
Q settles into life in Millet and co-sharing living spaces with a Double-O some of the time quickly enough, but it does come at a mental toll—
—which is the excuse Q will give if anyone asks how in the world he managed to slice his hand while making tea.
There’s blood over the countertop and his tea infuser and his hand hurts like hell, and Q has to bite hard on his lower lip to keep from swearing up a storm. The cheerfully vibrant yellow Dalek mug seems to mock him – the cottage comes with its own set of crockery and cutlery, and Q had chosen the Dalek mug because he’d been extra annoyed with Spectre and figured that exterminate! was a very appropriate sentiment to apply to the terrorist organization that has been such a thorn in Q’s side.
Right now, however, Q would do unspeakable things to exterminate the sharp pain from the cut on his hand.
“Here,” Bond says, and sets the first aid kit on the other side of the counter, well away from Q’s blood-and-tea-leaf-splattered area. He pulls a clean tea towel from the rack, folds it up and presses it over Q’s bloodied palm, lifting Q’s hand slightly so it’s raised above his heart to help slow the bleeding. The insistent pressure hurts, but it breaks Q from his mild shock; when Bond lets go, he’s ready to hold the tea towel in place over the wound.
Bond’s eyes flick over the countertop, and then around the kitchen. Not finding any knives or bloodied sharp edges, he asks, “How did you cut yourself?”
“It’s fine,” Q says shortly. “It won’t happen again.”
Bond studies him for a long moment. “I certainly hope not. You were sent here for your own safety, after all; if you get injured on my watch, Q Branch might riot.”
“You haven’t seen what Weapons and Engineering gets up to when they’re in the zone,” Q says wryly. “It’s honestly a miracle that more of them don’t end up at Medical. Even the Comms team gets injured from time to time. I’ve picked up my share of cuts and bruises and electrical burns in my time with MI6; Q Branch should be used to it.”
“I doubt they’ll see it that way,” Bond says. “But do tell me more about the antics Q Branch gets up to.”
As far as distraction methods go, it’s a fairly good one. Q rambles about his team and their inquisitive nature and their seeming desire to break as many things as possible (usually the laws of physics and other such limitations, which sometimes results in the breaking of many physical things as well). They might not risk their lives out in the field like the agents do, but Q Branch is a part of the Secret Intelligence Service, after all; there will always be a part of them that is just a little bit feral.
When the cut finally stops bleeding, Bond takes Q’s hand and washes the wound with soap and warm water, Q hissing quietly under his breath from the sting of it. Then, it’s antibiotic cream from the first aid kit and a clean bandage over the top of the cut, and finally Bond sends Q to the living room with one pill of a painkiller and a glass of plain water while he cleans up the countertop.
Q wouldn’t exactly say that he’s sulking, but he hadn’t factored getting an injury into his plans tonight. It’s not a very serious wound, really, but the bandage and the location of the cut means it’s terribly unwieldy for Q to use his injured hand, and while he’s quite efficient using his phone or his laptop even one-handed, it’s yet another thing he has to deal with and get used to on top of adapting to life in Millet.
He curls up on the couch and listens to the quiet sounds of Bond moving around the kitchen and washing up. Q’s apartment isn’t exactly quiet – not with two curious cats constantly underfoot – but it’s different, to have someone else around, especially when Q isn’t feeling his best.
Q had dragged his laptop onto the couch with him, but instead of logging back in and continuing with his work, he tilts his head against the back of the couch, closes his eyes, and just—listens.
A light touch against Q’s forehead makes him open his eyes, and there Bond is, staring down at him, his expression neutral as ever. Q blinks a few times.
“I’m fine. I’m not asleep.”
“I see,” Bond says, and drops his hand like he wasn’t discreetly checking Q for a fever. He returns to the armchair on the other side of the coffee table and picks up a small piece of wood and a short knife, returning to his whittling.
This time, Q watches, because there is little for him to listen to; Bond is near silent as he shaves thin slivers from the wood in his hand.
Although at first impression it seems that the tranquility of the countryside should chafe at someone like Bond, who chases adrenaline rushes like it’s second nature, over the two weeks that they’ve been here Q has come to realize otherwise. Bond is someone who excels at pauses, at storing up potential energy; it’s likely why he’s so deadly while on duty, because he’s had plenty of time in between to occupy himself and properly recharge.
Some people enjoy decadence as a luxury; Bond enjoys decadence as an enjoyable but necessary part of his missions.
But even when he’s at rest, Bond still gets his adrenaline rushes in small doses, because of course, Bond isn’t wearing any protective gear to protect his fingers or his holding hand from the knife’s sharp edge.
Finally, Q says, “Isn’t one of us getting a cut enough for one night?”
As if to be extra contrary, Bond lifts his gaze even as he continues whittling. “I’m not going to cut myself.”
Q huffs out a sigh of exasperation, and then glances at his laptop once more. He’s already lost almost an hour of productivity, he should—
“I know you are still working on Spectre-related assignments anonymously while you’re here,” Bond says, breaking into Q’s thoughts. “But you do realize that you’re allowed to take breaks.”
“This isn’t a vacation,” Q points out.
“No, it isn’t,” Bond agrees. “But there are plenty of people involved in the monumental task of bringing Spectre down. You don’t have to be reachable all the time, and you can afford to take a moment, nurse your injury, and rest. You have time to just be, Q.”
Q lets out a quiet breath. It’s always been difficult for Q to switch off, and the nature of his work is such that he never really has to. And being out here in quiet and out-of-the-way Millet, Q feels an even greater need to stay connected because he isn’t there, at the heart of all operations, pulling the strings and manipulating the world to safeguard his agency and his nation against another organization’s machinations.
Q will never complain about it, but it does wear on him sometimes. And his preoccupied state of mind is probably what distracted him enough to get injured while performing a mundane everyday task in the first place.
Maybe Bond has a point.
When Q looks back up at Bond, the Double-O has gone back to his whittling, although from the subtle tension in the room it’s clear his attention is still focused on Q. Q watches him for a moment longer, and then—
“You know what would be really soothing? A nice hot cup of tea.”
Bond chuckles then, soft and low, and he sets the knife and wood aside. “Just this once, then. I don’t often brew cups of tea, but I can at least assure you that this one will be completely blood free.”
Q would roll his eyes, but despite the muted pain still radiating from his palm, he actually feels in a tremendous good mood now. As Bond prepares the cup of tea and the fragrant scent of Earl Grey permeates the air, Q sinks back into the couch, and finally relaxes.
Emrys ends up sticking.
Millet is a lovely little English village, and while it isn’t the tourist magnet that some of the more famous and history-steeped towns are, there is enough movement through it that Q (and Bond, when he’s around) doesn’t draw attention simply because he’s not from around there. The locals are friendly but not overbearing, and they are no more able to resist Bond’s charismatic charm than his targets can abroad.
Q is at the post office with a collection slip, wondering who in the bloody world has decided to send him mail under his alias (his current location and status is information of the highest confidentiality; either MI6 has yet another security breach, or he’ll have to think up some way of commending his Comms team while reminding them that information restrictions exist for very good reasons), and the man behind the counter glances cursorily at Q’s (fake) identification, spends a lot longer frowning at Q’s face, and finally says—
“So you’re that writer, huh. Your partner talks about you quite a bit. Emrys, yeah?”
Q’s eyebrows jump. He manages to chit-chat with the man (“Call me Harry – Millet-born and raised. Could have gone to the big cities, but I just like the post office”) and weasels out the fact that Bond’s been going around calling Q Emrys all over town (“Not that he mentions you by name all that often – but hell, man can describe you to a tee”), especially down at the local pub. Finally, Harry finds the package (Q has to remind him of his alias twice) and Q just barely remembers his manners to thank the man before he hurries out with the fat bubble-wrapped envelope in his arms.
There is no way he’s opening the package standing in the middle of the village center, so Q pulls out his phone to track down Bond.
It’s instinct to flick on the noise and signal scrambler when Q finally finds him; Bond is leaning against a wooden post and rail fence, staring across the pasture at the copse of woods on the other side. He seems to pay no mind to the cigarette slowly burning down to its filter between his fingers nor the pony that seems rather enamoured by Bond’s presence, but his eyes immediately flick up and fix on Q the moment Q gets in range.
Q eyes the pony warily – it’s putting its head through the fence to nibble at a shrub by Bond’s feet – and then focuses on his ire.
“I do actually have a proper name. It’s on the cottage’s short-term lease and my identification documents and everything.”
Amusement flashes in Bond’s eyes, and he carefully puts out the cigarette against the side of the fence, pocketing the butt after.
“Yes, ‘Peter Banks’ is on all your traceable documentation.”
Q resists the urge to throw up his hands. “Then why do you keep using Emrys around the village?”
Bond is silently laughing at him, Q knows it. “Obscuration.”
“I’m this close to losing my patience, James.”
“You’re unusually irate for someone who utilizes quite the number of aliases even before you got your current job,” Bond points out mildly. “And it’s the same principle,” he adds before Q can get even more annoyed. “You’re Peter on paper, in the lease and on the mail, but around the village, in stories and anecdotes and gossip, you’re Emrys. It just makes it that much harder for people to connect either persona to you, personally.”
The thing is, it makes sense from a convoluted Bond-slanted sort of logic. Q might even be swayed if it isn’t for the fact that he knows with a bone-deep certainty that Bond started the whole Emrys thing for his own amusement, and simply came up with a plausible justification for it afterwards.
“That’s barely a passing grade,” Q decides.
“And barely alive still means that you’re alive, not dead,” Bond replies. “Same difference, Q.”
Q should berate him for the breaking of their cover, but—
It's reassuring, to hear his preferred name instead of the alias he chose or the pseudonym that the Double-Os seem to favour. Q's existence in the world is a little ghostlike, as it is – all that holds his presence together are the little pieces of identity he opts to share with the world, and his code designation is one of the most significant.
Besides, if the solitude of the countryside doesn't safeguard the privacy of their conversation, then Q's technology all but guarantees it. He's still MI6's quartermaster and cybersecurity expert, hiding behind a cover identity though he might be.
“I still hate you,” Q says.
“I’m delighted that you haven’t descended into loathing.” Then, Bond nods at the package in Q’s arms. “What’s that?”
“Good question.” If they were back at headquarters, any package would have gone through the security and identification section for a thorough check for bugs, biological weapons or explosives long before it ever gets near Q’s office or his workstation. Here in languid Millet, Q just turns the package around in his hands – it doesn’t even bear a return address. “I’ll check the post system for where it came from.”
“It’s from Moneypenny.” Bond points to an embossed mark in the top corner of the envelope, which Q initially assumed was a postmark of sorts. “She used that occasionally, when she was still a field agent.”
“Why is Moneypenny sending me physical packages in the mail?” Q asks, mystified.
“Open it and take a look.”
Q glances around them automatically, but they’re standing next to a pasture on a deserted footpath, and the only living being Q can see in their vicinity is the pony who is contentedly nibbling its way through a bush. If Spectre managed to make a spy out of a pony, then they deserve to steal MI6’s secrets.
He tears through the envelope with a little effort and unearths a stack of folders. Bond obligingly holds his arms out to take them so Q can dig into the depths of the envelope and the copious amounts of bubble wrap – he felt something small rattling around in there.
Finally, he just upends the envelope over his hand, and out falls a thumb drive, sealed in an airtight bag.
Q scowls down at the thumb drive; not only are they incredibly easy to lose or be stolen, they are also terribly susceptible to malware infections. Even if they’re encrypted with Q’s own key, he prefers far more secure methods of transferring information. This is probably some kind reverse psychology mind game MI6 is playing with Spectre – Spectre would likely assume Q would never use something like a thumb drive to send information, so sending one through the public mail system (another security nightmare) might throw a casual Spectre agent off the scent if they decided for some reason to snoop around Peter Bank’s movements.
Bond will probably laugh at him in that silent way of his again, but Q can’t help it; he’s lifting his chin to gripe about the thumb drive when something damp and warm and alive snuffles against the side of Q’s head.
Q jerks back, startled, and the pony lets out a quiet grunt, straining its (his? Hers? How can anyone tell?) nose in Q’s direction. Its ears are pricked forward in interest; Q, on the other hand, has to resist the urge to take a long step to the side so Bond is between him and the pony.
Bond lets out a quiet chuckle. He tucks the folders under one arm, and then reaches out to pet the pony’s neck, scratching just behind the ears. The pony nickers quietly, attention shifting from Q back to Bond.
“Q prefers cats, I’m afraid,” Bond murmurs to the pony. “It’s nothing against you, my dear.”
He gives the pony a final, firmer pat, and then turns back to Q, that familiar lopsided grin making an appearance once more. “Next time, you should bring sugar cubes.”
Q glosses over next time and settles on the latter part of that sentence. “And constantly palming the pony sugar cubes is why it – she? – keeps standing here instead of running around the pasture?”
“I’m decent with horses,” Bond says. “I hardly need sugar cubes to endear one to me.”
Q has a sudden vision of Bond on horseback. It’s not that outlandish of an idea – Bond shared once that his family used to keep hounds (back when Q was extra frazzled about an assignment and Q Branch had been going around collecting pet photos for him again; Bond had watched this spectacle with interest, and slipped that little detail to Q even though Q’s underlings hadn’t approached the Double-O about contributing to the pet photo gallery), and if Skyfall Lodge kept hounds in Bond’s youth, who is to say that they didn’t have a stable on the grounds as well?
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Q concedes.
“Millet is filled with tea rooms; borrow a few sugar cubes and come out here. You can try to entice the pony to you when I’m away these next few days.”
Looking up sharply, Q is abruptly reminded of the thumb drive clenched in his fist and the folders under Bond’s arm. Whatever it is Moneypenny sent undoubtedly requires Q’s specific expertise; once he gets through them, he won’t risk sending anything back by electronically or by mail.
Bond will have to convey the information back or fulfill the specifics of the mission himself.
The pony snorts at them, and Q startles again, although not as much as before.
“The pony is happy where she is, and I’m heading back to the cottage and my work, where I’ll be happy where I am,” Q says, turning pointedly away and trooping back down the footpath. He doesn’t need to look behind him to know that Bond will follow.
Bond is quiet as they round a bend and leave the pasture and the pony behind – not even his footsteps make much of a noise. Then—
“As you wish, Emrys.”
This time, Q actually palms his face in exasperation, and Bond laughs, near silent, more a sense of feeling than a sound in the warm sunlight.
Bond goes off on two short-term assignments, and then gets back in time to harry Q into visiting a summer fete two towns over.
“This doesn’t seem like your kind of thing,” Q points out.
Bond gives a half-shrug. “You learn to assimilate to the situation, as a field agent.” He tips his chin at the tea table that Q has appropriated as his workstation, the battered laptop surrounded by scrawls of notepaper and the detritus of a tea service. “For all your technological prowess, you enjoy many old-world things. First edition hardcover books, little notes written by hand, and sparring with a traditional pole weapon, of all things. I imagine you’d enjoy the rustic charm of a village fete.”
Q’s not entirely sure about that. He’s an urban soul through and through, city-born and raised; he can navigate through London’s Tube network without consulting the lines, he knows how to handle himself amongst the government’s upper echelon all the way down to the city’s underground economy. Millet, with its modern fixings underneath its medieval, small town charm, Q has learned to adapt to, but—
He’s not entirely sure he really knows what to do out here in the countryside, what subtle rules and codes of conduct govern the people here.
“Writing my thoughts and my calculations out by hand helps – the change of perspective can be inspirational or lets me catch mistakes I’m too used to glossing right over if I’m doing everything electronically,” Q mutters, hoping Bond won’t notice his unease. “I occasionally dictate my note, if I have time, and play them back.”
Bond studies him, for long enough that Q worries that his expressions have become entirely too transparent after so many weeks away from headquarters.
“Consider this a change of perspective, then,” Bond finally says, and plucks Q’s phone right out of his fingers.
It’s one thing for Bond to lift Q’s messenger bag away – his laptop may be inside but most people won’t have enough time to break into it before Q activates his safeguards. It’s another thing entirely for Bond to steal his phone right out of his fingers, especially when they’re in the middle of an argument.
Q knows that he’s no physical match for a Double-O, especially one with a particularly roguish streak this morning, but as is so often around Bond Q loses his head for a quick second. That instance is enough for Bond to scoop Q up and half-throw him over one shoulder, his hands broad and strong on the back of Q’s thighs, and Q just barely manages to swallow his squawk of surprise and outrage.
“I seem to remember,” Q growls, as Bond trots right out of the cottage (and ducking low enough to avoid braining Q on the door frame), “Eve telling you not to spirit me away without my permission.”
“You are oblivious when it comes to your own personal safety but get quite vicious when someone threatens your technology or equipment,” Bond notes.
Q makes sure to dig the point of his elbow into Bond’s shoulder, and otherwise resigns himself to being kidnapped. “Well, I learned from a young age that as long as I have my laptop or my phone, I can disappear.”
“Well, we’re disappearing today. To a nice little village fair.”
Q catches a glimpse of Bond’s smirk right before Bond carefully drops him on his feet, on the passenger side of the car. Then, he strides to the other side of the car and ducks in, setting Q’s phone on the dashboard.
Q stares longingly at his phone, and then glares at Bond. Then, he gets in the car as well.
The fete is in full swing when they finally get there and for once the weather deigns to cooperate, the sun shining high in the sky. It’s a scene of controlled chaos, with stalls springing up across the greens like wild mushrooms, and strains of music from a band intermingling with the indistinguishable murmur of the crowd and the shriller screams of children fortunately spending their energy at games and other sports day races.
It’s not the type of chaos Q is used to, but the frenetic happy energy of the scene makes him relax all the same. He likes places with plenty of distraction, with nooks and crannies that he can disappear into and crowds large enough where he is just one of the anonymous masses – Q, after all, much prefers to survey than to be surveyed.
Q would let himself get lost in the tumult, slinking away to a quiet corner where he can absorb the atmosphere while finding his bearings, but unsurprisingly, Bond doesn’t let him.
Instead, Bond snags Q firmly by the elbow, and wades right into the masses.
It’s the dog show first, where canines of pretty much every breed (or at least, it seems to Q) are posing and happily running and jumping and tumbling at their owner’s instructions. Bond’s expression is set in his usual wry neutrality, but there’s a certain air about him that marks his interest. So, Q wedges himself beside Bond and amuses himself by trying to figure out why.
(It’s the obstacle courses, Q thinks, and the way the dog works in tandem with their handler to get through the complicated obstacles. In fact, if the Double-Os weren’t supposed to be an ultra-secret unit, Bond would probably be very impressive working with a trained dog at his side).
“What about cat shows?” Q murmurs as they watch a happy and curly-haired standard poodle be crowned the best bitch (the kids next to them keep snickering, and Q has to bite down on the it’s literally the technical term for a female dog that’s on the tip of his tongue).
“You could write in a petition,” Bond replies. “Also, dozens of cats in one area sounds… uncontrollable.”
Q lets out a quiet snort. “Like you’re one to talk.”
After the dog show, Bond swings them towards a quieter section of the fete and lets Q loose in the second-hand book stall (electronic is convenient and accessible and easily searchable, but a physical book in his hand is so much more tangible and satisfying, and second-hand means there’s often a personal story or history associated with it). Then it’s the sizable but well-curated museum tent, filled with displays from the surrounding villages, and then, possibly taking a leaf from Q Branch’s book, Bond directs them to the food tents, because Q has a tendency to forget to eat when he’s busy, and now the entirety of MI6 has made it their unofficial mission to feed him.
(On the way, they cross several horse-drawn wagons – no doubt belonging to enterprising farmers hauling their giant vegetables in for the food competitions – with the wagons still hitched to the horses, and Bond asks, without missing a beat—
“Did you visit the pony while I was busy?”
Q sighs. “No, I did not visit the pony; I had no reason to.”)
Cream tea is delicious after several hours on their feet, however, so Q doesn’t complain about it. He likes a well-brewed cup of tea and scones, all right?
And it’s not like Q doesn’t notice it, the way that – other than the dog show at the beginning – Bond tailors their visits to activities or exhibitions that are more towards Q’s tastes. Bond is likely entertained by and is far more interested in Q’s reactions than anything else, but it’s still a kindness that the Double-Os rarely get to show, so when Bond’s gaze falls on the hoopla stall and his eyes narrow with consideration, Q gives in with less fuss than he usually would.
(It’s not like Q intentionally picks fights with his Double-Os in general and 007 quite specifically; it’s that he’s so used to bickering and bantering with Bond over a line that’s it’s particularly ingrained in Q to snipe back verbally first, even if his actions don’t match his words.
Also, letting a Double-O loose on fair games is considerably less dangerous that the dare with the whiskey glass and the scorpion, which Q has heard about and never wants to witness thank you very much).
“Just—don’t decimate them out of all their prizes,” Q murmurs under his breath. “That teenager is just a worker, not the owner.”
Bond shoots him an interested look that makes no promises whatsoever, and strides right up to the stall, leaving Q to scramble after him.
By the time Q worms his way through the crowd to the stall, Bond has already put down his money and is indulgently listening to the teenage stall worker going through his spiel on how the game works – “land a hoop around any of these empty wine bottles to win a prize! Land all three hoops, and you can pick from the grand prize offerings!” – as he runs his thumb along the curve of the wooden ring in his hand. The other two rings are looped around his other wrist.
“I’m with him,” Q points at Bond when the teen brandishes a handful of rings in his direction.
“Cool,” the teen says easily. “You can always give it a try if he misses.”
Q smiles. “He has very good aim.”
“Yes, but usually he prefers aiming with additional equipment.”
The teen scrunches his nose up. “Like tennis?”
There’s a moment of profound silence where Q stares at the stall worker and the teenager stares right back.
But before Q can burst into laughter, Bond moves.
It’s almost elegant, the way Bond moves with such brevity, just the quick flick of his wrist while the rest of his body stays perfectly still. Q doesn’t even see the rings in motion until they snap around the bottles, spinning from their momentum before falling into place – three wooden rings around the same bottle.
There’s another moment of silence, and then the teen breathes, “Mad wicked.”
A moment later, he remembers that he’s still on the clock, and quickly sweeps back to work, zipping over to retrieve the rings.
“Take your pick of the prizes,” he calls over his shoulder, “since you got all three in you can pick anything you want.”
As one, Q and Bond both turn towards the table of prizes, filled with chocolate bars and boxes of candy and stuffed toys for younger participants, and tiny bottles of perfume and bath and shower products together with questionable bottles of wine.
“Well,” Q says. If Bond tries to make him eat any of that melting candy Q will taze him; if Bond tries to drink any of that high questionable wine… Q will also taze him.
But instead, Bond simply studies the array of prizes. Then, he reaches towards the back and lifts a – stuffed toy? – from a messy pile of its brethren, and promptly deposits it in Q’s hands.
“For the tea addict in my life,” Bond says, his lips tilting up in that familiar and infuriating lopsided smile.
It’s not a stuffed animal. It takes a moment for Q to recognize the shape of it, because teacups aren’t normally mint green, and they don’t normally come with pink fabric feet or round black eyes or an emoticon-like smile. But Q can’t deny the facts – here in his hands is a stuffed toy teacup, with a rose-red heart on its plush teabag label and a little tag that proclaims, You’re my cup of tea!
It is unbearably cute. Q has no idea what to do with it.
“You’re not allowed to give it to your cats,” Bond says, sounding terribly bemused.
Q’s gaze cuts up.
“I won it for you, after all,” Bond adds.
“You did not.”
Bond’s shoulder twitches in a slight shrug, as if to silently say fair enough. “I did pick the prize with you in mind.”
“That, I’ll give you.”
Q stares back down at the stuffed teacup. He could use it as a small pillow, maybe. Perhaps he’ll throw it onto his chair at his workstation back in Q Branch, and let his underlings go wild with speculation.
And it’s certainly no substitute for his cats, but the plush fabric is very soft.
“This is better than some of the ‘gifts’ you brought back to me from your trips abroad,” Q concedes.
Bond doesn’t reply, but his eyes are full of quiet satisfaction. In fact, he stares at Q long enough that Q sinks his fingers deeper into the plush teacup, fighting the urge to pull out his phone.
“We’d best take our leave,” Bond says. “You have already have freckles along the arch of your cheekbones.”
Q’s hand flies up automatically, although it’s not like he can check with his fingers if it’s true. His cheeks do feel warm, but whether that’s from self-consciousness or the sign of sun-raised freckles is anyone’s guess.
“You couldn’t have said something earlier?” Q says, because even though his current location is a secret of the highest classification, Riley is shrewd enough to tally up the facts and had dropped a bottle of sunscreen lotion on Q’s desk two days before he left.
After all, the British summer sun will be blazing – when it’s not raining, that is – regardless of where Q ends up, and since Q won’t have an office or lab to stay cooped up in for hours on end, he’d likely get much more sun exposure than he would in London.
“You looked like you were enjoying yourself,” Bond says. “And it’s not like you brought your sunscreen with you to reapply it on time.”
“And whose fault is that?” Q grumbles, tucking the teacup toy under one arm so he can pull out his phone to use as a makeshift mirror.
“Mine,” Bond says without an ounce of guilt. “And I’d gladly kidnap you again.”
“You’re not supposed to spirit me away without my permission,” Q reminds him.
Bond smiles then, and his eyes are very blue under the summer sky. “I would have permission.”
Q doesn’t reply to that, although he does clutch the teacup toy tighter under his arm. Because despite the spontaneity of the trip and the new freckles, Bond is right – Q did end up enjoying himself after all.
“Just be yourself,” 004 says, “and let James weave the narrative around you.”
Q glances down the corridor automatically, just in case the simple mention of 007’s name is enough to summon him back into their presence, lopsided smirk of a smile intact. But even injured, 004 is formidable in her own right, and Q knows there’s a certain amount of understanding amongst the Double-Os – citing her injuries for slowing her down, 004 had lingered by Q’s side when they all left Moneypenny’s office, and 007 and 0010 took the unspoken cue and moved right along.
“I thought,” Q says, “the point was for me to not be myself.”
“You know very well how best to hide in plain sight, but you’ll be out of familiar territory and that can take time to adapt to.” 004’s eyes are her own today, dark and unobscured by contact lenses, and they are all the more piercing for it. “And the best lies are built upon the truth. In this case, you are the truth, and the cover you’ll need to inhabit are facets of the untruth.”
It’s a cryptic bit of wordplay that doesn’t tell Q very much; he figures she’d give the best advice since she has more experience in going undercover than any other MI6 field agent, but—
004 is a Double-O, after all, and she’s just as unconventional as the rest of them.
004 seems to sense Q’s quiet exasperation, because she reaches forward to gently ruffle Q’s hair once more.
“Just do your job as you always have,” 004 says, “and let 007 do his job as he always has.” She lets her hand slide away, smiling. “And Q.”
“Try to enjoy the experience.”
Q doesn’t notice them until almost two weeks into his stay in Millet.
He doesn’t have the habit of looking up. If Q has a preference, he’d say that he would much rather be looking down, to have a bird’s eye view of the environment around him – it’s why most surveillance cameras are mounted up high, after all, and he’s more than used to that perspective. When he’s not watching the world through the lens of technology, Q knows to keep his gaze at eye-level where dangers he can circumvent are most likely to lurk, like muggers or kidnappers.
(If someone up high has a sniper target on him, he won’t be able to defend himself from the shot, so why worry?)
The sun sets so much later in the summer, and Q doesn’t have the habit of wandering around outside once he’s settled in for the night, curled up with his laptop and engrossed with his work. But he’s stuck on a particularly maddening conundrum and pacing within the cottage’s odd configuration with Bond’s attention constantly burning on his back (even though Q never actually catches Bond looking in his direction) just makes him feel even more restless, so Q chooses to brave the insect population and steps outside instead.
London is major city with plenty of urban planning, and as such that even the darkest, dankest street corners are never truly pitch black. But out here in Millet the darkness seems so much more potent, so much deeper, and the beautiful and colourful garden of the day is just a smudge of monochrome, detailless, so on an impulse Q had looked up instead.
The glitter of stars scattered across the inky night sky catches him entirely by surprise.
It’s not the bright band of the Milky Way – just the pure darkness of space interspersed with hundreds of tiny dots of light. But somehow, Q can’t seem to drag his eyes away from the sight. The sky seems so much higher like this, and even though Q is looking up, he feels like he could fall endlessly into the boundless expanse of space and never hit the ground.
He only remembers that he still has a work problem to solve when his neck starts aching, from the way he’s tipping his head back to stare at the sky above him.
After that, Q goes out to watch the stars every once in a while, when Bond is away on one of his missions or when a change of pace will do his head a world of good. The view is never quite the same; Q isn’t familiar enough with any constellations to recognize them without help, and something about the sheer vastness of the night sky makes Q keep his phone in his pocket and his laptop on the table in the cottage.
Perhaps the mystery of starlit sky is part of its allure. Some things don’t have to be understood to be captivating.
(It surprises Q even more when he steps out of the cottage one night and finds shadows – his own actual shadow, in fact, visible under a pale light – under his feet. His first nonsensical thought is there isn’t lamp post here or any tall buildings to cast that light. Then, he looked up again, and it turns out that the full moon, when it doesn’t have to vie with London’s photo pollution, is luminescent enough to light up the night in silvery paleness).
Bond only joins him outside once. By then, Q has experienced enough neck aches to drag a chair out, and he’s slouched forward in his seat to recline his head on the chair’s back. The creak of the cottage door swinging open is deliberate, as is the sound of Bond’s tread, and so Q doesn’t bother looking at Bond as he comes to a stop at Q’s side, leaning back against the cottage wall.
Neither of them says a word, and the silence is only interrupted by the rasping whistle of crickets or the occasional call of a tawny owl. When Q tilts his head sideways to glance at Bond, the Double-O isn’t looking at the stars at all.
Their eyes meet in the dark. Then, Q turns his attention back to the dappled night sky.
(He’ll miss this, when they leave).
When MI6 lifts its security measures on Q, they leave Millet with little more than what they arrived with.
Q walks slowly through the cottage, a final check to ensure they have left nothing – and no evidence of who they really are – behind. He knows Bond would have swept the rooms before and that the Double-O would be much more thorough, but there’s a lingering pressure pressing up against his heart and taking one final look around the cottage seems to ease that tension, just a bit.
He lets his gaze linger on the now-familiar exposed beams and stops by the kitchen window he’d once eavesdropped on Bond from. The garden has always been a little untamed – it’s more of a slice of the countryside that happens to be walled off – and the wild dog roses have now been joined by fragrant honeysuckles. The bright yellow Dalek mug beckons him from the drying rack, where Q had left it to drain after a final cup of tea the day before. He’ll miss it; Q would consider procuring one for the days when he’s feeling particularly vindictive if he doesn’t think it would inspire an absolute deluge of Doctor Who-inspired incidences in Q Branch.
No, seriously. Q doesn’t need more Weapons and Engineering underlings trying to reverse-engineer a sonic screwdriver; there’s already enough of them doing that under the table. The Dalek mug will just have to stay a Millet memory.
The thought of his Q Branch staff and their efficient chaos is enough to stir Q from his sentimentality. He gives the inside of the cottage one last glance, turns off the lights and steps out the front door into the predawn darkness.
Perhaps his bout of nostalgia is because he and Bond have been up all night, taking down the modifications Q made to Millet’s cell tower and collecting the remnants of the attache kits. Q would much prefer that they reenact their arrival in reverse – pack up the cottage, clear the cell tower site on their way out of Millet, and then drive straight on to their next destination – but they both wanted the cover of darkness to deal with the cell tower, and stealing away in the middle of the night would be odd and oddly suspicious.
Despite the way Q keeps mostly to himself and Bond’s frequent absences, they both have made ties in Millet. And for the sake of Q’s cover, they need to maintain that appearance of normalcy until the end. Millet’s residences tend to rise very early; Bond has gone to make their goodbyes to a select few (who will in turn spread the news across the village by the evening).
Q’s last act as Peter Banks, on the other hand, will be to lock up the cottage and then slip the keys into the mailbox for the owners to collect another time. He turns the key in the lock for a final time and then stands there hefting the weight of the keys in his hands, considering.
Q could have had a life like this. His chosen specialty means he’s effective as long as he has some way of accessing the cyberworld. He could have inspired afternoons in the solitude of the cemetery and starlit nights and the tranquil peace of the countryside, and still bring down any number of organizations – governmental and terrorist both – with a few simple keystrokes before his first cup of Earl Grey. He could offer his expertise to whomever provided him the greatest challenges from the comfort of the cottage and take trips back to the cities after he completes each job. Urban spaces are where Q is most comfortable and where he is most effective, but it’s also where he will encounter more adversaries. The countryside would not have been Q’s first choice to settle – but having experienced that life, it’s not actually a bad choice.
His cats would enjoy the wilderness, even if Q can’t let them run loose outdoors. They’d decimate the local rodent and bird population.
Q blinks, startled out of his thoughts.
It’s one of the two women who visited on their first day in Millet – Anna, Q knows her name now, who lives in a farmhouse nearby. She often visits her friend on the other side of the village, using a route that takes her past the cottage; today, she’s holding a basket of fresh eggs on one arm, her hair pulled back in a side braid.
“Good morning,” Q says, falling back on social niceties, although considering how dark it still is, the sky just a slightly brighter smudge of navy instead of the true black of night, that greeting might be a little premature.
“Morning,” Anna says cheerfully, coming right up to the gate to better squint at him. Then, she makes a little sound of sadness. “Oh no. You’re leaving, aren’t you? You’re going home?”
Q has no idea how she knows; surely it’s too dark for her to read his expression. “Yes, we are. James has gone ahead to pick up our car.”
“Liz will be sad she missed you. Oh, we always knew you were staying for only a few weeks, but it’s so easy to push that aside when we see you around the village all the time.”
Not entirely sure what else to say, Q just smiles somewhat awkwardly. He’s made plenty of acquaintances around Millet, especially at its tea rooms, but Bond is usually the one who talks to Anna; Q has only met her face to face once.
“And your book? Did you finish your draft?”
Ah yes, Emrys the writer and the illusive book that he’s supposedly working on.
“It’s a work in progress, but I’ve made strides forward on it,” Q says, thinking of MI6’s monumental task of bringing down the entirety of Spectre. “You could say that we’re – I’m – done with phase one now.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I hope I get a chance to see your work some time.”
She’s mostly saying that to be polite, Q knows, but for some reason Anna’s words strike a chord in him.
Because the thing is, Q could really be anyone he wants from anywhere in the world, and still be utterly cutthroat and innovative and brilliant at whatever he chooses to touch. But the Secret Intelligence Service had marked him a long, long time ago, and Q had chosen to cooperate instead of escaping into the ether. There in MI6 he had worked, and there he had formed bonds, and there he’d become the Quartermaster—
And now, Q has one great thing in common with the Double-Os: they are very, stubbornly protective, and although Q’s immediate concern is always the safety and wellbeing of his agents, he never forgets who they are truly doing all this for.
If Anna or any other United Kingdom citizen never sees the evidence of Q’s work, it just means that he’s doing his job properly.
A life in Millet sounds peaceful and appealing, but Q has already chosen a career in MI6. There has never been a compelling enough reason for him to abandon that path, not even in the early years when Q was struggling between his constant habit of thinking up world-changing revolutionary ideas and operating within MI6’s regulations. And now that he’s the Quartermaster – well, the Double-Os keep their designations until their deaths (or retirement, although that’s yet to happen), and Q thinks he will keep his for just as long.
“Mm,” Q hums noncommittally. “I’ll continue working on it.”
“I wish you the very best of luck, then.”
Q smiles then. “Thank you.”
He spends a while studying the barn cottage’s façade after Anna leaves, and then he leans against the gate to stare heavenward. It’s still not quite dawn yet, but the brightening sky is already far too light. He’s missed his chance to see the stars one last time.
Bond, when he approaches this time, is utterly silent – a Double-O back on the prowl. Q only notices him when he steals the cottage keys right out from Q’s hand, but since it isn’t his phone or something just as critical, Q lets him.
“I reckon the next time you need to hide away, we can mark down the countryside as one of your preferences.”
It’s been more than twenty-four hours since Q last slept, and he spent most of it working. Instead of retorting back as he normally would, Q lets his baleful stare speak for itself.
“And if work doesn’t send you out this way again,” Bond says, “we can always come back on our own.”
Q’s breath catches in his throat.
So much of their relationship is based on the unspoken – partly because of the nature of their work, and mostly because there is no need to voice with words what is already understood between them. But this time, Q needs the certainty of a direct answer, and so he asks, keeping his voice as light as possible—
Bond meets his eyes unflinchingly, and despite the darkness his gaze is no less electrifying.
“Well,” he says, and then the side of his mouth tilts up in a roguish smile. “I know you’ve yet to revisit the pony, and we both know you won’t go unaccompanied.”
The laughter that bursts out of Q is unexpected and comes out almost painful for it. It sounds almost too loud in the predawn darkness when half the world is seemingly asleep, but Bond doesn’t seem to care, and there’s no one else around to mind.
When Q manages to stop laughing, he asks, still a little breathless, “What’s the difference between a pony and a horse anyway?”
Whatever Bond hears in Q’s voice, in between the words of the question, makes his smile widen. He slips the cottage keys into the mailbox standing by the gate, and then waits for Q to join him on the path before he speaks.
“It’s mostly a matter of height and size. Ponies are smaller.” He flicks Q a quick sideways glance. “You’re skittish of a little horse.”
“I’m sure a pony’s kick can pack as much force as a horse’s,” Q says, “just like I can literally destroy entire operations from afar with my laptop before you go in and just explode the whole place.”
“Fair enough,” Bond says as they come up on their car.
He and Bond are always coming and leaving under the cover of darkness, but soon the sun will be rising upon Millet and its people. They can’t stay that long – they have places to be and duties to carry out, so Q closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, committing this final moment of standing in this village to memory.
Perhaps one day they’ll come back to Millet in the light of day without the threat of a terrorist organization hanging over them, but that’s a consideration for another time. Now, Q opens his eyes, and has to hide a smile at the glimpse of the teacup stuffed toy sitting in the passenger seat.
It’ll be a long drive back, especially with the additional stopovers to obscure their trail. It’ll be nice to have something soft to hug while he naps, Q supposes. And when he wakes up, he’ll be that much closer to London and Q Branch and the headquarters where his agents can safely return to rest and recuperate – the place that Q has staked as his.
“Ready?” Bond asks, an echo of their arrival in Millet.
This time, Q doesn’t hesitate.