Q sipped his tea, nibbled his sandwich, and tried not to feel sorry for himself. The tea was earl grey, with just a hint of lavender and honey. It was just the way he liked it. The sandwich was also exactly to his order. It was watercress and cucumber, far from popular these days, but it reminded Q of his childhood. His mother had made him lunches very close to this more times than Q could count.
Q had taken his lunch break outside for a change, at a little tea shop not far from MI6 HQ. It was meant to be a comforting meal, but it wasn't quite doing the job.
Q was lonely. He'd hoped to spend the day with James, but his Double-O boyfriend had been sent off on a last minute mission a few days earlier and was not due back for another week. Moneypenny and Tanner were away at a conference with Mallory. R was visiting her sister. And so ended the short list of people Q considered his friends these days.
He valued every member of his staff in Q Branch, he cared about all the Double-Os. But he wasn't comfortable enough with any of them to suggest hanging out outside work, even for a casual lunch. Q didn't want to draw undue attention to himself, or the date.
But Q was still lonely. It was his birthday. His 40th. Only a handful of people alive knew the date. The only one of which Q was close to was Mallory. And while the two of them respected each other and valued their working relationship, they weren't exactly friends. Certainly not the sort of friends to celebrate a birthday together, even if M hadn’t been away.
Q had wanted to spend the day with James. They'd made plans for a nice night out, dinner and a show. But then the mission had come up, and Q would never ask James to refuse it. It was important, could save lives. That meant more than a single date, even a significant birthday one.
Q hadn't told James the significance of the date. He'd wanted to, but it was against the rules.
Q had broken those rules before. He would again, if a worthy cause ever arose. But feeling lonely and sentimental about his 40th birthday was not such a cause.
Still, James was perceptive and he'd easily been able to tell the date was important to Q. He hadn't been able to convince Q to tell him why, but he hadn't pressed that hard for the information either. James was respecting Q's privacy, careful to not cause offence. The relationship was over six months old, but there was wariness there still. At least on Q's part.
James Bond did not have a reputation for committing to long term romantic relationships, after all. So Q had been cautious about it all, despite how much he'd wanted it; wanted James. And James was aware of that.
But James had been nothing but a considerate, sweet, loyal boyfriend since they'd been dating. Q trusted him more and more, day by day. James had thus far been cautious to not upset Q, to not pry too much. Q knew that couldn’t last forever. It was out of character for the agent. But Q appreciated the effort. And truthfully Q would not have minded sharing more about his past with James, if he safely could. He would have told James about his birthday, if he'd been allowed.
But he wasn't, and so he hadn't. And so James had gone off on his mission, promising to reschedule their date for another time soon. And so Q was alone and depressed on his 40th birthday.
There was nothing for it, Q told himself. His birthday wasn't that important, in the grand scheme of things. Even if it was his 40th. Even if it brought back memories of his parents. His parents who had always made Q's birthday into a big celebration.
He was a miracle baby, they'd always told him. They'd longed for a child, but been told his mother was unlikely to be able to ever conceive. Until she did, and Q was the result. He showed signs of genius intellect from a young age, adding to his parents calling him their little miracle.
He hadn't been enough of a miracle to save them, though. They were dead and he was alone. On his 40th birthday.
Q sighed and mentally shook himself. He was being morose. He had a good life. A meaningful job he valued and excelled at. Wonderful friends. A boyfriend he was quickly falling in love with. It was understandable to be a bit melancholy on his birthday, but it was no excuse to wallow in it, he told himself.
Q finished his lunch and headed back to work. He'd find a project to bury himself in until late, he told himself. He'd go home, just spend a little time with his cats before he fell asleep, and the day would be over quickly. At least he tried to convince himself of that. It didn't quite work.
As soon as Q entered his flat at around 10:30pm on his 40th birthday, he knew more than just his cats were there to greet him. Not that his security system had given him any warning.
James had the code, of course. Q had given it to him after they'd been dating only a few weeks. It was just practical. But even if someone input the correct code, the system was still supposed to alert Q via notifications on his phone and watch that he had a visitor. It hadn't.
Of course James had the skills to turn the notifications off, and Q had in fact been expecting him to at some point. But he hadn’t yet, as far as Q knew. Maybe James’ caution about respecting Q’s privacy was finally waning. Q couldn’t find it in himself to really mind. If James didn’t eventually pry into Q’s past, with what Q knew of James’ personality, Q might begin to worry that James wasn’t actually all that interested in him.
Not that that meant it was James in Q’s flat. But Q didn't know anyone else that would not only be able to bypass his security, but would make him a surprise dinner. That was what first alerted Q he wasn’t alone; the smell of fresh cooked food as soon as he walked through the door.
Q's loneliness was immediately replaced with a warm feeling of fondness. It would entirely be typical of James to have finished the mission early, come home without telling anyone, and hack the tube's security cameras feed to see when exactly Q was on his way home, all to surprise Q with a freshly made dinner. Q smiled to himself as he made his way inside.
Q took off his coat, set down his satchel, and gave his meowing cats a quick petting in greeting. He then walked the short distance to his kitchen and was not surprised to find a smirking James standing next to a table full of food. Taking in the details of what was on the table, Q froze and stared, his heart suddenly clenched in surprise.
Chicken fettuccine looked to be the main dish, with garlic bread and salad on the side. There was even what appeared to be a chocolate mousse cake, one of Q's favorite deserts. None of that particularly surprised Q. James had proven himself an excellent cook before and he clearly enjoyed making meals for Q.
What did surprise Q was the framed photograph sitting in the middle of the table. A photograph that Q knew had been unframed and safely stored in a locked box, buried in the back of his closet, that morning. The photograph was of Q with his parents, all in party hats, with a cake clearly proclaiming, ‘Happy 10th Birthday, Teddy!’ in icing on the top. On the back of the photo, though currently not visible, Q knew his mother had written the date of that birthday party, 30 years ago.
James had gone through his things and found it, clearly. Even at ten years old, as he was in the photo, Q knew he was clearly recognizable. Besides, Q had told James his real first name before, Theodore. But that was all. Now, James knew it was Q's birthday.
Q swallowed hard, licked his lips, and tried to hide his reaction. He'd never been very good at hiding his emotions, though. And James was trained to read people, and he knew how to read Q even better than most.
"Don't be mad!" James began with a teasing smile, adding, " I'm sorry I went through your things, but I got back early, and I couldn’t resist looking around and trying to figure out the importance of this date. I could tell how much it meant to you. I just wanted to be able to do something nice for you. I…"
James stopped talking abruptly. Q watched as the playful smile dropped from James’ face. He was staring at Q, and Q knew he'd seen right through him. Q sat down at the table and tried to stop his hands from shaking.
"You're not mad. You're afraid," James stated it flatly, as the facts he no doubt knew it was. All mirth had left his voice. "You're in danger."
A hard edge had entered James' voice. He would kill to protect Q, and they both knew it. He would do it without hesitation or regret. He would destroy whatever threatened his Quartermaster. He would annihilate anyone trying to hurt his boyfriend. Q had no doubt of that. James would die before he let Q be harmed. But that was what Q was afraid of. Q wanted to protect James, just as much as he knew James wanted to protect him.
So Q tried to downplay it. He shrugged and answered, "I'm in no more danger than I was yesterday."
"But if your birthday was common knowledge, you would be." It wasn't a question and James didn't make it sound like one.
Q nodded anyway, confirming it. He was having difficulty maintaining eye contact with James, so he gave up and stared down at table.
"My birthday itself isn't that huge of a flag. But it's a part of the puzzle, certainly, to my identity getting out. And not something I wish to risk."
James' voice had a note of sadness as he responded, "You know I would die before I'd tell anyone something that would put you in danger."
Q looked up at his boyfriend and felt a pang of sharp guilt that James thought Q trusted him so little.
"I know that, James! Of course I know that! There's no one more suited than you to keep my secrets." Q's voice was raised as he spoke and he struggled for calm before he continued.
"I also know there's no one more likely to decide to go off on a personal mission, unsanctioned, with the idea he's protecting someone he cares about! I know you would do it for me in a heartbeat, whether I asked you to or not. So I'm asking you, James, please don't! Please! I've been safe for 25 years! If you go after them and get hurt, or worse, I will never forgive myself!"
James' mouth was set in a thin tight line. His eyes seemed to burn with blue fire. He didn't say anything.
"I will tell you. I will. But you have to promise me first, James. You have to promise me that unless I'm under clear and near threat, that there's solid evidence that they know where I am, that you will leave them alone!" Q demanded.
James said nothing. His face might have been made of carved ice for all the expression it showed.
"Please, James! I can't...they already took my parents! I couldn't live with them taking you too!" Q pleaded.
The ice cracked and James' face showed concern, apology, and fondness for Q. But still he said nothing. Q took some solace in that silence. James could have just lied. He was a master at lying, after all. But by saying nothing, he was taking Q's pleas seriously. He just wasn't agreeing to obey.
"Are you protected? Do the right people know what to watch for? Does M know?"
"Yes, Mallory knows. So do several high ranking people at MI5. I will give you the list, if you will promise me to leave it alone."
"If I agree you're well enough protected, I promise to leave it alone."
Q knew that was a solid compromise, but he refused to accept it.
"Not good enough, James! I need your word that you will not go after them! Not unless M or I order you to!"
Q watched James’ face closely. He could only see a faint hint of evidence of the struggle James was going through, trying to decide whether to agree or not. If he wanted to, James could flat out refuse. James could go looking into Q’s past whether Q gave him any more details or not first. It wouldn’t be easy to find the answers without Q’s help, but if anyone could do it, it was James.
Q desperately hoped that James wouldn’t go down that road. Q wanted to tell him. But he also wanted his promise first. It was all that Q could think to do to attempt to keep his boyfriend safe from going off on a needless personal crusade against Q’s enemies.
Finally, after long tense moments, James’ expression softened. He seemed to decide to relent. At least for now.
"Alright, I promise I won't go after whoever's threatening you unless there's a clear and present danger, or you or M send me after them."
It sounded like exactly what Q had asked for. But there was a slight glint in James' eyes that made Q suspect it somehow wasn't the perfect promise it seemed to be. Q considered it for a few seconds, but he couldn't find anything to disagree with.
"Alright then. I will hold you to that," Q stressed.
James smiled and finally sat down at the table. Q looked at the food and considered suggesting eating first, before it got cold. But it'd just be an excuse to delay. It was better to get it over with.
"You remember the Edinburgh bookstore bombing in '95 by the New IRA." It wasn't a question. Q knew James would remember. Any British citizen would. Eight people in the store had died. A dozen others nearby had been seriously injured. "I saw the men that set the bombs in the store. Even at fifteen I was smart enough to know what they were doing. I tried to tell my parents, but I couldn't convince them fast enough. They died that day, in the blast. My dad shielded me with his own body. I was thankfully mostly unconscious until I woke up at the hospital the following day. But I have vague memories of being buried under my parents' bodies. Of choking smoke and burning books."
Q trailed off. It was the most painful memory of his life. It was never going to be easy to talk about. James was watching him, sympathy stamped on his face. He reached for Q and Q gladly took his hand, holding tightly.
James said nothing. There was nothing that could be said that would help. He didn't mention that the news had said there were no survivors in the bookstore. He didn't question Q. James was smart enough to easily guess why Q's survival had been kept a secret.
"I managed to recognize and identify the men that'd set the bombs. I could never forget them. Later, I testified against them and they were convicted, in a large part thanks to my being a witness. The NIRA has had a hit out on me ever since.”
Q watched James tense minutely at that news. James’ hand in Q’s tightened in support.
"I went into witness protection,” Q continued. “I should've stayed there. I was meant to keep a low profile. Take a job that wouldn't get much noticed by anyone. But after university I couldn't resist getting involved.
“I hacked both MI5 and MI6, looking to somehow...do something! Make a difference somehow. If not toward the NIRA, then towards other terrorists, other threats to the British people. I was young and naive and I nearly got two agents killed thanks to the backdoor I left exposed with my hack.
“But M, our M, saw my potential and rather than letting me be shipped off to the US for my own protection like MI5 wanted, she recruited me. She gave me a purpose I never would have found otherwise, and the tools to succeed, too."
"She was good at that," James responded after Q had gone silent for awhile.
“Thanks to her, I’ve had a hand in striking back at terrorists and threats to Britain, just as I’d wanted. Early on after my recruitment, I even helped point some agents in the right direction to take out operatives in the NIRA. But before long the group claimed they’d become peaceful, regretted their past actions, and went quiet. Going after them further became unpopular politically. Our M made sure to keep eyes on them, as has Mallory. He, as you know, has his own painful past related to the IRA. But there hasn’t been enough evidence to warrant further official action against them in years.
“The hit order on me is still out there, but it’s become impossible to conclusively link it back to the NIRA. Both MI5 and 6 have kept them monitored, and there’s been no sign they have any idea of my current identity. I am as safe as I can be. Going after them would needlessly put our agents in danger and risk damaging political backlash against MI6.
“So please, James, remember your promise and leave them well enough alone. If something new develops, I promise to let you know. But for now, it’s better to just leave it be,” Q finished.
“I will keep my promise,” James assured him. “I didn’t make it lightly. I won’t apologize for wanting to keep you safe. But I am sorry this wasn't the enjoyable evening you'd hoped for, for your birthday.”
“I don’t expect you to stop trying to protect me. I wouldn’t ask you to. I do know who you are, James. I went into this relationship under no delusions, and I haven’t regretted it. You will try to keep me safe, and I will try to keep you safe. Between the two of us, and the rest of 6, maybe we’ll both see retirement on a beach together someday. But if not, I’m still happy for every day we do get to spend together. I’m happy to be here with you, for my birthday. Thank you for trying to make it special.”
It was perhaps overly sentimental, but it was the truth. Q smiled gently at James as he finished talking. James smiled back and gave Q’s hand another supportive squeeze, and then leaned in for a kiss. Q returned it, feeling both their emotions expressed in the pressing of their lips.
Soon they pulled back and James started dishing out the food. It was still warm. As much as that had felt like a huge confession, the story hadn't lasted that long.
They ate in silence for awhile, then James asked some gentle questions about Q's parents. Q told him about their fondness for celebrating his birthday, then warmed to the topic and related other happy memories. Soon, James was telling Q about his own childhood, his own parents, more than Q had ever heard him talk about them before.
By the end of dinner, Q was smiling fully again, even laughing at a few of James' childhood exploits. He felt his affection for James swell and grow inside him.
He was more determined than ever to make sure James didn't get hurt going after the NIRA in some misplaced attempt to protect Q. But he didn't bring up the promise again. Either James would stay true to it or not. Harping on it further would only make James think Q didn't trust him. But Q silently resolved to keep an even closer eye on James than usual for awhile.
After dinner, Q put the photo of him and his parents back in the locked box in the closet. He thanked James for the frame. It might not be a big risk to leave it out on display. Q didn't allow anyone he didn't trust into his flat. But it was still safer tucked away. If someone looking to find Q did manage to get into his flat, that photo would be all the proof of his identity they'd need.
Before he put the box away, he smiled at the photo that'd ended up at the top. It was Q at fifteen, one of the last taken of him before the bombing.
"As hideous as your cardigans are, I do think I much prefer your current look. It's a crime what you did to your gorgeous hair back then! Though the eye shadow does have a certain appeal,” James commented, teasingly.
Q laughed. He'd experimented with a punk look at that age. His hair had been a buzz cut. He wore a bit of makeup, and contacts rather than glasses. He had on a Green Day t-shirt from a concert he'd attended, and tight black jeans with dozens of tattered holes and a few shiny clothes pins. Black combat boots completed the look.
Q had left that style behind when he went into witness protection. He'd embraced his inner nerd and purposely stayed away from any loud fashions. He'd let his hair grow long, even though its wildness embarrassed him. James had always liked playing with Q's hair. Even before they’d started officially dating, James’ fingers often seemed to sneak onto Q’s head and fiddle with his hair, sometimes too lightly for Q to even notice at first. It'd helped Q stop resenting his own unruly curls.
James played with Q's hair that night. If James tugged a little rougher than usual, Q didn’t mention it. If James pounded into Q a little harder than usual, Q certainly didn't mind. If James held onto Q a little tighter afterwards, Q didn't mind that either. In fact, he welcomed and enjoyed all of it.
It was a bit of a bittersweet birthday, all together. But Q was no longer lonely. He was very grateful for that. He'd shared old memories with James, and they'd made new ones together. They’d grown closer and Q treasured that.
He was lucky to have James, nosey spy tendencies, overprotective assassin characteristics, and all. And Q planned to make sure the two of them got to spend many, many more birthdays together, too. Even if he had to insert upgraded smart blood into his boyfriend to assure it!
A month later, the NIRA collapsed in a remarkable fashion. Bombs went off at their headquarters. Their leaders were found with sniper bullets in their heads. Every last known member ended up dead or in prison. The hit order on Q disappeared from the dark web.
Whoever was responsible was a ghost. No one had any leads. Not even the slightest scrap of evidence. Some politicians wanted to blame MI6, but they had absolutely no proof.
Mallory shrugged, not hiding he was pleased by the development, but also honestly swearing to have no idea who could be responsible. He also refused to waste resources searching for the culprit, unless the government approved additional funds for the operation, which of course they refused. In the end, no one in the government cared to press harder to find answers.
And the entire time the NIRA was exploding, James Bond was in London enjoying down time between missions. He was at MI6 testing weapons. He was going over paperwork with Tanner. He was having lunch with Moneypenny. He spent every night in bed with Q.
James kept his promise, somehow, and yet still utterly destroyed the threat to Q. Q was too flabbergasted to even begin to broach the topic with James. But he saw James smirking at him and knew without a doubt who was responsible. James silently setting the framed photo of Q and his parents on the mantel in Q’s flat just further convinced him, while offering no proof whatsoever.
Q had no idea how James had done it. But Q didn’t put the photo away either. And a few months later he asked James to move in with him, to James’ clear pleasure.
Nearly a year later, a few days before Q's 41st birthday and the lovely date they had planned, James took him to dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall pub. He wanted to introduce Q to an old friend of his, James had said.
He offered no further details, but there wasn’t really any time for any. They were both busy finishing up projects and mission reports in an effort to take some time off together to coincide with Q’s birthday. So Q didn’t think much about the planned pub dinner until he was actually there.
Q didn't know what to expect. Maybe an old Navy buddy of James’. Maybe a retired MI6 agent. Maybe that friend from the CIA, Felix, that James mentioned every once in awhile. But he certainly wasn't expecting Alec Trevelyan, the former 006, declared dead nine years earlier after a mission with his best friend, to sit down across the table from them. James, of course, was that best friend.
Alec and James shared matching wicked grins as they clasped hands and hugged. Q forced his mouth to stop hanging open, and stood up and shook Alec's hand as James introduced them. Q politely ignored the way Alec’s eyes trailed up and down Q’s body, clearly taking in and cataloging every centimeter for judgment.
“If MI6 had had a Quartermaster half as cute as you when I was there, maybe I never would have left.” Alec smirked with a challenge in his eyes.
Q refused to be intimidated or embarrassed. He straightened up to stand at his full height. This was no different than the first time he’d met James, he told himself. The former 006 was no taller, and no more intimidating, than the current 007. Q could handle this, he reminded himself. He dealt with dangerous Double-Os successfully every day. He maintained eye contact with Alec, smiled politely, didn’t flinch or back down a centimeter.
“My looks have absolutely nothing to do with my ability to do my job, as you well know. Just as your familial heritage had no bearing on your skill or loyalty as a Double-O,” Q stated. “But I have read your records and I admit to noticing the staff did not always treat you fairly during your time at MI6, especially when your linage became public knowledge. I wasn’t there at the time, but none the less I apologize on MI6’s behalf.”
Q’s effort was rewarded by Alec’s face showing pure shock for a split second, followed by a hint of respect, before being hidden behind a wide delighted grin.
“I see why James is with you now. I apologize as well, Quartermaster, for any disrespect I may have shown you a moment ago.”
“Thank you. No offense taken, I’m sure,” Q responded.
The two shook hands again, with no hostility or challenge between them this time. They all then sat down, ordered food, and talked.
James explained he'd always known Alec was alive. He'd helped Alec enact his planned retirement when the friends discovered that M never planned to let him resign peacefully. She'd never much trusted him and would have rather seen him killed on a mission than risk him defecting to their enemies. But Alec had proven her wrong and stayed out of trouble since. Mostly.
James and Alec had remained in contact since. Sometimes it was sporadic, going months without word. But they tried to meet up at least once a year. This was the first time James had brought anyone along to that meeting. Q was honored at the trust being shown to him.
Nothing was admitted, and Q made no accusations. But suddenly the fall of the NIRA made a lot more sense. Q found he couldn’t fault James for calling in some favors from a friend. But he was finding he liked Alec, so he was glad the former agent had not been harmed during the unofficial mission.
And by the end of the evening, Q found the people he counted among his friends had increased by one rather dangerous, very charming, semi-retired Russian mercenary.