Though Eve met Q a few times back when he was Arthur Adrian Reel, the meetings were brief and without any closeness. Since his promotion and her transfer, though, they find themselves thrown together frequently - the youngest two members of MI6 at their level of clearance. When she has a break she finds herself descending to Q branch to chat with him. Or more accurately, vent to him while he listens and drinks what it seems like pots of tea, idly typing on his laptop or tinkering with gadgets.
One day she brings him a tin of biscuits, all different flavors since she doesn't know his preference. "To go with the tea," she says when she hands it to him.
He pushes his glasses up his nose and examines it like he's trying to figure out where the "on" switch is located. "Th-thank you. But, er, I'm so sorry to say; I have a gluten allergy."
His bright, wide eyes are apologetic in a way she doesn't usually associate with his habitual haughtiness, though his superior attitude comes across more as a suit of armor than any personal animosity. "I do appreciate the thought. I'm cursed with a terribly overzealous immune system though - gluten, dairy, shellfish, nuts, apples, and all sorts of food dyes are absolutely forbidden for varying degrees of possible reactions. I'll put the tin in the break room with a note saying all are welcome. I'm sure the junior techs will polish it off before the day is out. Now tell me about your day?"
She doesn't think much of this incident afterwards, except that a new protocol is instituted where she is required to update all the employee files with various health statistics, especially allergens. The decision was made when they'd nearly lost Agent Johnson to a bee sting, an allergy she had not been aware of when first hired and that had been lost in the shuffle of paperwork once her doctors had identified it.
And Eve notices that on Q's file it says, after MYOPIA and PROFOUND AVIPHOBIA, it also says, NO KNOWN ALLERGIES. And this was updated a mere few weeks ago by another member of the office staff.
They are deep in another conversation in Q's office, mostly about Eve since Q rarely volunteers any information about himself, when Eve suddenly realizes something. "Q, love?"
"One of the lenses of your glasses has fallen out. Isn't that bothering you?"
A blush colours his pale cheeks. He slowly takes off the glasses and examines them. "Indeed. How odd."
"What, were you having a quick shag in the gym showers with some besotted minion?" she teases.
He looks more relieved than anything at her silly jab. "Yes! It would be - churlish - of me to reveal her or his identity, though. Afterglow makes me - makes me not notice things I otherwise would."
She knows a poorly-thought-out lie when she hears it. But she lets it go on account of how upset he seems. In her head, though, where she keeps mental files full of useful data, she creates an imaginary folder marked "Q is Hiding Something Major: Evidence".
On her way back from a meeting, Eve accidentally (at first) eavesdrops on a conversation between Bond and Q that piques her curiosity in ways bordering on dangerous. She has the good sense to not reveal herself once the conversation has gone beyond the point of no return, though.
"Are you sure no one will overhear?" Bond asks, with the slight creak of him settling into a chair.
Q sighs. "The other Service has been by and it's far more difficult for me to do spontaneous soundproofing than it was before they set up the new set of wards. Keep your voice low and your terms vague. Mallory knows. If others find things out it's not all ruin. So long as it's kept within MI6 it's just a matter of what people are prepared to accept rather than any serious risk."
"Right." Bond sounds anxious. Bond. Anxious. "How are you coping?"
"I'm used to losing people by now, sir - I mean, James. Even masters." A pause. Then, "Really, I'm all right."
"Only you seem to be having a less consistent appearance than you usually do. I saw you put your hand through a desk."
"Did I? How embarrassing. It's not so much emotional as a spiritual discombobulation. Your care and affection helps greatly but it's going to be a while before your direction will be enough to ground me the way Mistress' did."
"Is that what you called her?"
"Not to her face. Just in my own mind."
"I worry about you. I'm not experienced when it comes to worrying about individuals for extensive periods of time, so it's not the most comfortable feeling."
"I'm sorry, James. If it helps I worry about you too. Incessantly."
A snort from Bond. "Have I mentioned how much I am disconcerted by these circumstances?"
"Only a few times. Since last night."
"Heh." Another creak of furniture. "I don't deserve this, but come here."
Eve hurries away from the unmistakeable sounds of kisses and soft, pleased gasps.
An unfamiliar caller interrupts Eve on her one real day off these past three weeks, the other ones having involved too much telecommuting to really count. Just when she was catching up on the most recent episodes of Doctor Who she has been yearning to have the time to watch. She pauses the DVR to verbally eviscerate whoever it is.
Her complaints stick in her throat, though, when she recognizes the voice on the other side. Q. Flustered Q - once as bizarre and now as increasingly frequent as anxious Bond. "Miss Moneypenny?"
"If you're going to call me while I'm in a dressing gown and eating ice cream, Q, you may as well address me as Eve. I would ask how you got my personal mobile number but I'm not in the mood for what you think passes for an explanation when it comes to anything technical..."
"I don't mean to cause you offense, Eve, it's just that I don't know who else to help me with this."
"Q, you're frightening me."
"Sometimes I frighten myself," he says, no trace of snideness or sarcasm. "Could you come by my flat as soon as you can, please, with a bag of cat food? Any brand, but kitten formula if you can get it at such short notice. Please. It's improper, I know, what with our relative rankings, but Bond's busy tonight and I don't want to leave them alone."
"Leave what alone?"
"You'll see. I assume you know where I live, though if it has slipped your mind I can text you the address."
Q has never invited Eve to see him in any non-work context before. Though Eve is not foolish enough to think he has any romantic intentions (though God, it's been entirely too long and he's cute enough to pass muster, with the added bonus of no worrying about security leaks should she let her guard down; that's all it is, he's a colleague and not a crush, and him having something going on with James Bond of all people dampens even such modest desires), she is burning with inquisitiveness. So she says, "You owe me a nice lunch out on a day our breaks coincide."
"Certainly. Be here soon. They sound hungry."
By the time she gets there the sky has gone deep plum and the lights of nighttime London are beginning to flicker on, but desk job or no desk job Eve Moneypenny can easily gut anyone who attempts to lay a finger on her. She has a bag of kitten formula cat food as requested and has brought a sack of cat litter too, since she doesn't trust Q to think of things like that.
Q buzzes her in and she takes the elevator up to the very top floor, where Q's flat occupies a corner of the building that has a surprisingly good view of the Thames. The door has been left unlocked for her. Q, wearing flannel blue and white checked pyjamas, is playing with a trio of kittens on the plush green carpet, his glasses threatening to slip off his nose at any moment.
"Thank you, Eve. Do come in." He gathers the kittens up in his arms. "Their mother brought them up the fire escape to my balcony, placed them just outside the door, and then died curled protectively around them. I took that as a request. She's buried in a flowerbed now, in the middle of a roundabout. I marked it with cowslips. I like cowslips. I call the grey one with green eyes Ferdinand, the white female with blue eyes - those are frequently deaf, yes? - Miranda, and this black and white male with yellow eyes Caliban because he tried to bite me and we had to have words."
"How charming," Eve says, though she does not follow the logic. She goes to the kitchen, which is spotless, and finds a wide and shallow bowl. "Do you know what you'll do with them while you're at work?"
"I'll hire a sitter," he says. "The standard rates for cat-sitting are far lower than the guardianship of, say, human children, so it should be hardly any trouble at all. I think I'll drop the cats off to whatever sitter I hire, though, rather than having them come to my home all the time. I like my privacy."
"So I've noticed." She pours some of the cat food into the bowl, closes the bag with a rubber band, and brings the bowl out to the living room. "I hope you gave them water."
"Yes. Not milk. I read that many cats are actually lactose intolerant, contrary to popular belief. Also I have none on hand presently." Q accepts the bowl of cat food and places it on the floor like a tribute, nudging the kittens towards it. "I'm glad their eyes are open and they're walking and so on. It troubles me enough to deal with such fragile little creatures in their current level of helplessness."
Eve settles into an armchair, watching the admittedly heart-melting tableau. "May I ask you a question?"
"You may always ask me questions. I may not always answer them."
"You've been acting very oddly recently. I would like to know why."
He looks up at her from behind girlishly long lashes and strokes the kitten he named Miranda. "I'm sure you would."
"Are you sleeping with 007?"
Q scoops up Ferdinand and lets him climb up his shoulder. Caliban is steadily eating and paying no attention to his caretaker or siblings. "I have received no indication that members of Q branch are not permitted to have physical relationships with double-ohs."
"I'm not saying you're in trouble or going to get in trouble. I'm just worried for both of you. Emotionally."
"Would you like to play with the kittens too, Eve?"
"I'm allergic to cat hair. I should probably leave soon."
Q purses his lips and nods. "You are a good friend to me, Eve, and when things are...less complicated, I will tell you what I can."
"Miss Moneypenny," Bond says with fondness as he takes a seat across from her desk, a little gingerly since one of his arms is in a sling. Good thing M's no longer is, otherwise the symmetry would be distracting. "Is this a summons from Management, or are you simply suffering withdrawals after not seeing me for nearly a fortnight?"
She smiles and pushes a little crystal bowl of jelly babies - a gift from Q after she found out what her favorite television show was - towards Bond in a gesture of hospitality. "Don't flatter yourself overmuch, 007. Though this is more personal than work-related, I actually want to talk to you about Q."
The change in Bond's demeanor is instant and obvious. He moves to sit at attention instead of the alpha-male lounge he adopts around equals and subordinates. His face has a studied blankness to it. "Oh?"
"I'm not going to run snitching to M if it's not something I think will compromise MI6 as a whole, so you needn't concern yourself with that. But Q is a friend. Even if he's annoyingly furtive and guarded, he's still a friend, and I still am concerned for his welfare. To a lesser degree I am concerned for yours too, on a personal as well as professional level."
Bond laughs. "How gratifying to know I am almost as dear to you as Q."
"If you could see inside my head, you would know that it in fact is a high compliment," she replies easily.
For once she seems to have thrown Bond for a loop. He stares at her like she's sprouted extra limbs. "I suppose I should be appreciative of that."
"You should. In any case, it has become ever-more evident to me that you and Q are in some kind of relationship. Am I right? Off the record, I promise."
After a moment's hesitation, Bond says, "A kind, yes."
"Is there dominance and submission involved?"
He is choosing his words carefully. "According to one possible definition, yes. I can assure you that Q entered into it with full knowledge of the implications, and that I am respecting his wishes at all times."
"Excellent. I would hate to have come up with an excuse to convince M to give you some very undesirable assignment to teach you a lesson." Eve examines her desk calendar, not for any immediate reason but because she checks on it often throughout the day. It has pictures of black swans. She likes black swans. Beautiful, dark, can snap a man's bones with an extended wing. The notes are in her private code she developed in high school for fun and has since used for writing her diary entries and memos to herself - she may not be Q's level of brilliance but one does not get to her position by having a run-of-the-mill intellect.
"Hmm." Bond cocks his head to the side to look her over with fresh eyes. "I'm leaving it up to Q how much he reveals about this state of affairs. It seems only right."
A sudden, simultaneously adorable and hilarious mental image crosses Eve's mind, and she struggles to keep her expression passive. "Have you met Q's new kittens?"
"Yes. After the first time I learned to change into something more casual before letting them shed on me."
"I suggest one of those lint roller things."
Bond smiles, his shoulders no longer squared, his breathing looser. "I will look into it. If you'll excuse me, I have a briefing with Tanner to attend?"
"Yes. Thank you for being as honest as you can." She knows when not to push any further, and in fact he has been far more forthright far more readily than she had expected.
A ritual that the new M has instituted, to a mixture of admiration and nervousness among the staff, is to have lunch once a week with a different member of MI6's internal offices. He even foots the bill. Though no one dares order anything extravagant off the menu, no matter his reassurances.
He doesn't choose Eve for the first of these get-to-know-you sessions, since that would smack of favoritism, but eventually he does cycle through enough of Management that it is justifiable. How he knows that a certain upscale French/Vietnamese fusion place is her favourite within walking distance of headquarters she doesn't ask. Just as Q's are supposed to be able to build and fix machines, M's are supposed to know and handle employees.
"A convenient thing about certain establishments near our building," the new M says pleasantly as he holds out a chair for Eve, "is that all the wait and kitchen staff are extensively screened for loyalty to the Crown and are paid a modest but worthwhile stipend so long as they keep quiet about anything they may overhear from MI6-employed diners. We learned long ago that even the most sensible agents sometimes let things slip during their downtime."
"That's your way of saying you're going to tell me some sensitive but unclassified information," Eve replies as he takes his own seat across from her. An immaculately suited Vietnamese-looking waiter brings them two copies of the wine list in leather sleeves and leaves them without a word.
M examines it, paying particular attention to the reds. "Perceptive as always, Moneypenny, though it's not so much tell you verbally as provide answers to the questions this written briefing will be sure to raise. To be on the safe side we will speak in vague terms. I have a file for you...here..."
She accepts the manila folder extracted from M's brown calfskin satchel. "Thank you."
"I would like you to look it over, though I don't mind if you wait until you've had a chance to order your entree. You're welcome to take it back to your desk to peruse in greater detail, but be sure to shred it once you're done." Since the Silva incident Management is now strongly encouraged to print out files and physically hand them to other MI6 staff rather than sending them by e-mail. Q branch can only do so much encryption and keep up with their other tasks as well.
"Funny, you're not the only person I've recently heard of using speaking in vague terms as a security measure..." Eve's words are cut off and her mouth opens slightly when she sees whom the briefing actually concerns.
"Be sure to give the waiter your order before you get too deeply into it," M says gently. "We only have forty-five minutes, after all, and though I have not eaten here before it looks like a place where I would not want to bolt down the food without taking the time to savour it."
"Yes, sir." She tears herself away from the document long enough to decide upon and request a simple burgundy, fresh spring rolls, and roast duck with cold glass noodle salad. M orders a merlot to accompany his beef-and-bean-sprout noodle soup with an herb-encrusted toasted baguette on the side.
That done, M watches her facial expressions as she reads the introductory paragraph. "I want to reassure you that whatever you are feeling now, I felt at least as much out of my depth when I myself was first briefed, if not more."
She reads and reads. Eventually she says in a small voice, "He has a new trio of pet kittens. He named them Miranda, Ferdinand, and Caliban."
M makes an amused sound. "He must be nostalgic. I'm impressed you're not asking me if this is some sort of joke."
"I don't think you'd joke about something like this, sir, and I did google 'Caliban' after I found out, since it seemed significant to him. The Tempest is the very first hit."
"I have his and 007's consent to share this information with whomever I consider it needful." M takes a crusty roll from the bread basket and begins to butter it. "I admit it gives me pause to know that if 007 were to tell him to do so, he could accomplish acts of destruction far beyond anything we are equipped to deal with, though the...other...Service possibly has agents of a sufficient skill level to do something about such a development."
"I hope that doesn't mean you consider him a threat." There is an unspoken 'because he is my friend' in there. Eve is fairly sure M can tell.
"Not exactly a threat. More like a resource to be handled very, very carefully. Let me reassure you that whatever his nature, I have no reservations whatsoever in acknowledging his personhood and full rights as one of our best employees." M places the roll on his plate so he can look at Eve over steepled fingers.
"A thing I had been perplexed about that this addresses," Eve says as she starts buttering her own roll, because Lord she is starving, "is something that happened when I was conversing casually with him, as we frequently do, since up until a few minutes ago I was under the impression we were around the same age."
"I have been told that he finds it easier to maintain an appearance somewhat similar to his actual one, though if he wishes he excels at disguise. And that his particular psychology lends itself to a certain amount of innocence and naivete."
"Ah." The bread is good, crisp and warm outside, fluffy white inside. The butter is some of the freshest she's enjoyed recently. "Another thing cleared up, then. This particular time, though, we were having amicable banter when all of a sudden he turned white as a sheet. I asked him what was wrong, and he whispered, 'Bond's hurt,' before dashing off without a further word of explanation."
"My predecessor..." they are still at the stage where both of them bow their heads slightly at any reference to her, "...she mentioned in her notes that in the absence of a strong authority figure, he has difficulty preserving his various illusions and alternate explanations for phenomena associated with both his identity and situation."
"That explains even more." Eve goes back to reading, M quietly polishing off enough bread in a short space of time for it to be painfully apparent how much he's been neglecting his own physical needs. "So he isn't really afraid of flying after all. Just of forgetting how physics are supposed to be applying towards him in a three-dimensional form of locomotion."
"Apparently radio waves are detrimental, as well, and of course aeroplanes..." At this point their food arrives. "I am impressed at their speed of preparation."
Eve beams despite the seriousness of their discussion. "They've been fond of me ever since I threw out a rude and rowdy customer who was harassing a waitress."
"I knew we'd made a good choice in promoting you, Moneypenny." M takes a first sip of the soup broth. "This is superb."
"Yes. Sort of helps one not be too jealous, hm?"
Eve takes a bite of her duck, which has been marinated in a lime-ginger sauce. "You and I may not be able to fly and stay eternally young, but there is something to be said about the mundane pleasures of life." She replaces the mental folder labeled "Q is Hiding Something Major: Evidence" with one called "Ways to Be Kind to Someone Who Must Have Unique Loneliness (Bond Notwithstanding)".