The Tragedy of Time
Agents grow old, way too old sometimes, until they're nothing but a shadow from days long past. James Bond is a pack of muscle and rage, that kills for fun and country in an ironed designer suit, which of the two is the strongest motivator, Q cannot tell. He does what M tells him to do, nearly dies another couple of time, resurrects once in a while, a phoenix born out of ashes and blood.
But Q sees it all, from behind his desk and his gadgets and his computers, creating marvels of code and numbers. The 00s lead destructive solitary lives, and they all cope with their body count in their own personal way, with artificial sociopathy and substance abuse. They're not meant to live forever, even though it seems like they all think they will. Espionage makes men go mad, he can't help but to think when he sees 003 getting dragged back from North Korea to the MI6 with half a body and half a soul. They dismiss him officially but Q knows it's the rule for those kinds of things, to say official things with words and good intentions and act otherwise. He doesn't ask questions when M places 003's gun on his table with a blank expression. Q doesn't ask questions. It's not part of the protocol.
It doesn't surprises him when M starts drinking just like the elegant grey lady before him. It takes a few years for his hands to start shaking, and a few more for his voice to take the hardness of steel.
Q sees it all from behind his computer and on the large plasma screens on the wall and he sees 009 die in Colombia. For the first time in a long time, there is a burial in the rain of London when they manage to get the body back and a small notice Q has to enter in the system when he goes back to the underground. Bond is there when he comes back, and he's desperately trying not to show the stiffness of his left arm. Gunshot wound, probably, still not properly taken care of. Typical. Q isn't an idiot, Bond knows that it useless to hide but the agent is proud. He doesn't show weakness, leans against his desk with an nonchalant air even though there's a glint of something that might be anger or maybe incomprehension in his eyes.
Q doesn't speak right away, sliding right past Bond to open the laptop on his desk. It makes a quiet mechanic sound as it starts, miniature engines rolling. He does raise up his head until Bond starts speaking. His voice is low, even lower than usual. Q wonders if it's the alcohol that made it that way, or if it's something Bond actually practised as a part of his spy persona. It's unlikely. The other 00s don't even try to reach that kind of tone.
"You're wearing black today. Did anyone die ?"
Q pushes his glasses up his nose. Bond is the perfect simulacra of relaxed, his back all long ironed lines and his hands resting in his pockets, but Q can see the slight tension in the back of his neck, right where his collar end. It would have fooled someone else but not him. He knows his agents too well.
"We buried 009."
"And who's his replacement ?"
It's a question but it's not a question because Bond knows. Everybody knows about 009, because of the images, the splatters of blood and brain matter on the other side of the screen. He just needs someone to lie to him, but Q doesn't have the will or the energy to do so. Dealing with the potluck of mental disorders that the 00s represent was never a part of his job description.
"There is no replacement."
Bond turns around, and there's this subtle hint of anger in his face, something that not a people get to see, a slight, nearly imperceptible twist his lower lip. His arm is tense against his side. Small calibre gunshot, hopefully. Q is a genius and taught himself how to do pretty much any basic medical procedure, but never liked dealing with broken bones.
They don't talk on the way back to Q flat in East London, neither of them feels like to. Bond drives the small Toyota with his right hand gripping the wheel slightly tighter than usual and it's odd, how utterly out of place he looks whenever he's out of a mission. James Bond, 007, is a creature of exotic locations and fancy ladies in elegant dresses. Q can only look at him, his face so deceptively transparent. He's boiling inside. Whether it's about M or 009 or Britain or Q himself, it's impossible to tell, but there's something there, a harsh line on the side of his mouth and shadows in the corners of his eyes. The streets are empty, and the metropolis shines in the night like an abstract painting. Q closes his eyes, thinks of lines of codes and electronic devices to take his mind off the day's event.
M had looked good in black, solemn and serious, seemingly decades older than the man that had gotten Q to enter the secret services Research and Development branch. The skies had been grey and the rain had poured over the coffin, making the earth squishy and muddy around the grave. None of the 00s had gone to the funeral. That wasn't the kind of event any of them would ever attend. Not enough diamonds or alcohol. Only M, and Q, and Moneypenny, her dainty framed wrapped in a black dress, her eyes dry.
That night, Q tends Bond's wounds, sitting in his small flat's white bathroom. They end up fucking with a mute sort of rage they haven't felt with each other in months, and Q can't really decide if it's a good or a bad thing, but he enjoys it, somehow, how Bond kisses with a practised aggression, yanking his hair and forcing his head up.
"The 00s are dead." His eyes try say as he looks at Bond through his too thick glasses before he takes them off to take his cock between his lips. He looks up at the older man, move his head back-and-forth, feels the flesh against his tongue. "The 00s never were more than a relic from a past long gone."
He stays silent, and he's not surprised when he wakes up the morning after and Bond is gone, his scent still fresh in the bed, a cup of Earl Grey slowly cooling down on the bedside table.
Q isn't an idiot, never has been. It's been a little more than a year since 009's death already, and life goes on. He builds monsters out of lines of codes, cracks systems open, sees the world through the silent eyes of satellites and CCTV cameras. It makes him feel powerful, intoxicatingly so, and sometimes, when Bond isn't in London and he spends long, bleak nights alone in his too large bed, he chokes on his own breath at the recollection of it all. It doesn't last, though. M and Bond drink the bitter taste of their jobs away. Q does the same, but his poison of choice isn't alcohol; it's the simple and raw power that the MI6 gives him over the average man, and he knows that it is just as destructive than the bottle of scotch that M keeps in his desk's drawer.
At one point or another, Bond comes back from Ukraine and he's old, older that he was when Silva died, older than Q has ever seen him. His body is giving up on him, and it doesn't matter how much he trains, how much he drinks to make himself forget about the shadows from his past. He still fucks pretty men and women on missions every now and then, and they get younger and prettier every time, just because Bond can. Q doesn't say anything, he has never said anything about the others, not because it doesn't make his heart twist and ache in his chest (it does, so very much, when he's alone in the shower and he remembers the agent's lips on his neck whenever he lies), but because Bond doesn't do such a thing as changing his habits. He's too old for that.
Bond comes back from Ukraine and he's weary, and Q doesn't even try to kiss him when they fuck in the agent's flat at twilight. He rides his cock and bites his lips, strokes himself lazily, eyes closed. The loft seems to take surreal shapes and colours when the sun comes down and the city lights up, and Bond grips his lithe hips with his large palms. Q bruises easily, has always done, and Bond likes to leave his mark, his scent on him. He's not unlike a dog, really, an old dog who's glory years have come and flown by decades ago. M hasn't spoken the words, not yet, but Q knows from the frown of Bond's eyebrows that his eyes did his work for him.
Bond is old, too old to go around the world and kill for the Queen with precise hands and an unchanging face.
M doesn't say anything, not really, because he know better than to question his best agent, but it doesn't change the fact that his eyes scream the same line they've spoken when him and the assassin first met. This is a young's man game, Bond knows it, and there is always a little something like fascination in the tip of his fingers when he caresses Q's face, lets his hand trace the curve of his jawline, grips his hair when he forces his head down his cock. Q tries not think about it too much, because every time he tries to, he ends up feeling sour, acrid pity twisting his stomach whenever he looks at Bond. He misses it, youth, with a mute rage that sometimes turns into silent despair.
When they're lying in bed, spent and relaxed, Bond nibbles idly Q's neck, butterfly kisses Q somehow hopes that he keeps for him and him only. He knows he probably doesn't, Bond has never been the sentimental kind, and it doesn't make him as mad as it should, somehow. He has grown used to it, in a way, and it has ceased to matter the day Bond had come back from Ecuador with bite marks on his shoulders and had given him nothing but a shrug of the shoulders as an explanation.
"I've always wanted to go to Scotland." He says, and his voice sounds false but he knows that Bond always falls for his lies. "Could you bring me ?"
The agent looks up, frowns. Of course he knows that Q has read his file, everyone has read his file, and it's perfectly understandable for him to want to go there. Maybe Bond knows the true reason, maybe he doesn't, Q can't tell. He lifts himself up, sheets pooling around his hips, and Q already misses his lips against his skin. His eyes seem even bluer in the late afternoon light, and there are so many lines on his face, decades of service to her Majesty the queen. Q knows how selfish his demand is, but he also knows that Bond won't say no. He cares, in his own way, about them, what they have with each other. It's not love, because Bond doesn't fall in love until his other half is dead and buried in the ground, that's what's written between the lines of his case file, but it's the closest thing next to the actual thing that he'll ever get from the agent. Q's stomach twists in his belly as Bond kisses his brow and says "Yes." with a calm, equal voice. Q smiles, and the back of his throat hurts.
M gives them both a leave for two weeks, easily, without protesting in any way, and there's a hint of surprise in Bond's brow. The 00s are dead, have been for a long time already, but Bond still hasn't realized, doesn't want to face the facts. Q isn't the one to tell him, not directly anyway, and when M gives him one of those tired, knowing looks when they come across each other in underground hallways. Q lets R take care of the servers and the prototypes, with his round, childlike face and lab coat. Hopefully he won't have time to invent ridiculous and useless gadgets like an invisible car when Q will be away.
They leave before dawn. The road rolls under the wheels of the Aston Martin, and Q watches the landscape defile under his eyes, mountains and fog. They've left the city a while ago already, the lights and the asphalt and the buildings. It's just the two of them, now. Q's phone lays abandoned in the pocket of his trousers, and the twirling of symbols in numbers in his head has slowed down, nearly falling silent. He's off the job but he's never really off the job, just like Bond and M and the others. He catches himself wondering when this kind of life is finally going to kill him.
Bond doesn't talk much, make a comment or two about the weather, and Q smiles as he does, because there's something ridiculously endearing about him trying to pass as anything else than the testosterone-fuelled killing machine he is. He looks at him, his profile against the sunset as they drive through the country. He's beautiful, and, for a fleeting moment, he doesn't look a day older than when he came back to HQ on the same helicopter as M and Silva's body, pushed Q against a wall and kissed him hungrily, tasting like alcohol and despair.
They don't stop too often, sometimes taking a break to buy some food that neither Bond or Q feel like to eat. Q falls asleep, dreams of talking cats and endless libraries. When they arrive, night has already covered Skyfall.
There's a old house in ruins and the bleak landscape of the Highlands. Mist makes the landscape look surreal. Bond steps out of the car, a coat on his shoulders, and he looks so out of place, a lone figure against the horizon. Q stretches his limbs stiff from the car ride a bit before opening the side door, still half-asleep. There's an old man coming toward them, clad in a thick brown coat, with a shotgun in one hand and waving with the other. He smiles a lot, call Bond James and it's strange, because no one ever calls Bond James , it's just not something people do. He has this strong, northern accent, worn hands when he unlocks the house for them, apologies all over his speech when he talks about the state of the mansion since the incident, how thankful he is of the money sent by James to reconstruct it. The name still sound weird but Q doesn't make a face when he ears it, or at least he does his best not to.
They drop the bags in the bedroom, make some small talk around the late dinner Kincade has prepared for them before they arrived. There's an odd kind of suspicion in the old man's demeanour, like he's not too sure as to how to act around them. Q doesn't know what details Bond has given him about the nature of their relationship, and he hopes that the Scotsman is only staying silent on the subject out of politeness The agent sits next to him, smiles once in a while and adds a few clever words to the conversation. Q eats like a bird, has always done, twirling his fork between his fingers idly, answering Kincade's questions with easy half-truths and clever white lies.
The first night, Bond lies soundlessly next to him, and even sleep doesn't seem to soften his features. His face is hard as stone and Q watches him for a moment, sleepless and without a Wi-Fi to spend his insomnia with.
He looks at him and it's weird, because they've been doing this thing together none of them can bring himself to properly name for three years already. Q still doesn't know anything more than what the files say about the orphan boy that grew up here, in the mists of Scotland, all those years ago, and Bond still doesn't know what's Q's real name. Maybe he doesn't really have one anymore, being only the ghost of the Q branch, who doesn't eat and doesn't sleep, never seems to leave the depths of London's underground HQ.
His thoughts make his head ache in odd, fuzzy ways, and he decides to get a walk, breathe a bit of fresh air. The tiles of the master chamber s floor are cold under his naked feet, and he winces silently, grabbing clothes from his bag and changing from his pyjamas into them with measured movements. His eyes have grown used to the night's dim light, and he doesn't even need to squint to find a torch and a coat downstairs to put on without waking Kincade.
The meadow smells like old, rotting wood and Q take a whiff into the freezing air. It makes him feel alive, makes ideas stop spinning so fast in his head. He looks at the stars, sitting on one of the antediluvian benches in the backyard. When he comes back, his nose is cold from the night air and Bond is looking at him with unreadable eyes, sitting on the bed. Q takes of his clothes methodically, and he watches, that same hardness in his face that never really leaves. Q crawls back next to him, and they kiss, and Bond has this odd kind of softness in his hands and lips. It makes Q mad and he forces a smile. Bond doesn't see its falseness, and they simply fall asleep like that, limb entangled, a bitter taste in Q's stomach.
The next few days fly away by slowly elevating themselves in the damp Scottish air. They go hunting, with old riffles Kincade lends them, and Q hold his ground begrudgingly when it comes to actually shooting guns instead of designing them. Everything is but a matter of physics, of aiming a weapon at the right angle while keeping in wind the strength and direction of the wind. Bond makes bad jokes about Moneypenny's aiming skills and Q laughs, not because it's funny, but because it seems like it's the right thing to do. They kiss quickly, alone on the moor, and Bond makes one of those smiles Q knows are false, the one he reserves for the girls on the work, seductive without even trying to. It's not that Bond's not genuinely happy, because he is, in a way, this feels nice, but it will never feel as nice as the missions, the assassinations and the look of another human being expiring his very last breath.
Kincade still doesn't ask questions about their relationship but Q thinks he knows by now, from the way he looks at him, quiet incomprehension he desperately tries to hide whenever they talk. He talks about James , and the name still sounds weird to Q's ears, as it probably always will, bits of information about the orphan boy in a too large house, seventeen and angry, the Bonds before their death. The agent lets him speak, doesn't add anything to what he's saying, observing with an unreadable expression. Q gives him side glances, but he can't know what's going on in his head. The sex on that night has a sort of eerie feeling to it, as if Bond seemed distracted, kissing like he's not really there, his calloused hand grabbing Q's cock without delicacy, stroking at a disordered pace.
A week passes before they both break. It's a quiet evening, they're about to go to bed, and Bond caresses the side of his face with something that might as well be love in his eyes. That's everything Q wishes for, for a fleeting instant. This could work, them together, somehow, in a recluse corner of his mind, something more than the occasional sex and fleeting moments spent together between missions.
Q asks about Vesper, because the time seems right, and they fight, uglily, hitting and breaking everything that they know hurts. It's stupid of him, he can't help to think, but he keeps shouting, about how 007 is over, just as M was, when she died in that church Bond razed out of petty anger. Q is deadly with words, they curl around his tongue with skillful movement, and they taste as bitter as poison.
Then, Bond leaves, doors nearly breaking as he slams them on his way out. Q simply watches, locks himself in the bedroom, looks out the window when the night falls and types frantically lines of codes for the new mainframe they're developing in Q branch on the shitty keyboard of his smartphone. It lasts two days, and Kincade bring him food there with pity or slight resentment or both on his face, Q can't really bring himself to care. He doesn't eat and sleep too much, takes a hot, scorching shower that leaves the skin of his thighs with large irregular red blotches. Bond doesn't come back so Q calls a cab, takes the train back to London, and he hates Bond and Vesper and the MI6 and himself.
It doesn't surprise him when Moneypenny tells him that Bond has left for Thailand with a new mission, a new target to destroy. She tries not to show it, but there's pity in her eyes and it makes Q's stomach ache with disgust. It's not her fault, she's trying to be nice somehow, but it's more annoying than it should be. He nods, walks back to Q branch with his usual measured, equal pace, his hands curled up into bony fists and a neutral expression on his face. He works with exact, nearly robotic movements as he assemble and disassemble 002's Magnum, making sure that every piece fits correctly with the other. Q likes handguns, their hardness, how they fit into his palm as he fires them into test targets. Maybe there's something slightly Freudian to analyse in his two obsessions, computers and weapons, but he never bring himself to really reflex upon it thoroughly. He doesn't sleep much during those two weeks, and the new mainframe is online within days of his return.
Sometimes, Q looks at himself in his bathroom window, and he takes off his glasses, massages his temple and wonders if this is what ageing feels like. He doesn't need to ask himself what it looks like, because he already knows. From his window, he can see the sun rising over the city and he decides to open it, taking a whiff of fresh air. It's not Scotland and he tells himself he should write a letter to Kincade, to apologise. He doesn't do it, because it's not like Skyfall had an internet connection or Kincade an email address.
Bond comes back from Thailand, asks for a new Beretta with an unmoving tone, dropping the old one on the table, and Q takes it silently. He inspects it for a moment, not because he doesn't already knows how the agent managed to break it this time. (It's the sand, obviously, because Bond always has time to replace his cufflinks but never tries to keep his gun out of the mud.) He gathers his thoughts together, and it's hard, because he keeps thinking about Scotland and the frozen kisses in the meadow and the grey skies over their heads. He opens his mouth.
"It's not you it's me, isn't it ?"
It's not meant to sound accusatory but it does, without Q really meaning it, and Bond's expression hardens. He places his palms flat against Q's desk, leans forward, aggression readable all over his body. It's the first time Q realises what it could feel like to be killed by James Bond, and he wonders idly if 007 would have come for him like this, to kill him, had he decided to keep his precedent lucrative yet not strictly legal occupation. He will never know.
Bond's eyes are like blue skies and it rains over London, it always rains in London. The agent answers with heavy syllables and a short sentence. He leaves and it's over. After that, Q can never bring himself to remember his exact words. It doesn't really matter.
Agents grow old, older every year, and then at one point they die, and they leave nothing more behind than an empty apartment in London, a destroyed gun on a desk and a number for the others to take on. Bond doesn't live past retirement age and he doesn't resurrects this time, maybe because this is a young man's game and M is proven right, at last. He stays dead and there's a body in the bottom of the Indian ocean, or maybe half a body, Q isn't informed of the details. On that day, Moneypenny kisses him on the cheek, says things that don't really matter anymore and M stays silent
Q enters a name and a date in the system, brand new interface, pictures and digital evidence. It's work of art and he's proud of his work, as he should be. It's over and he doesn't cry.
There's no replacement for 007.
I remember seeing a post on Tumblr that mainly said "THIS IS NOT A HAPPY SHIP LOOK AT ALL THE ANGST POSSIBILITIES". Tried something with it. I hope it wasn't too bad and thank you for reading !