Bond finds him, as he usually does, in his office, hunched over a prototype of some new weapon for a double-oh agent who probably won't say please or thank you. Not that Q needs to be thanked, of course; he knows that his work is appreciated, and every time an agent returns with all four limbs intact, that's really thanks enough.

He's just saying that the odd 'thank you' wouldn't go amiss, that's all.

Bond sits on the desk next to Q. Q resolutely ignores him. He can see that the other man has come directly from a mission; there are scuffs on his black shoes and a snag in the pressed navy fabric of his suit sleeve. For most men, this would be perfectly normal, but for Bond, it likely means that he has killed today, has washed the few traces of blood from his hands in the staff toilets of the MI6 headquarters before heading down to pester Q as he always does. The thought makes Q's blood run a little cold. He turns his attention to the cyanide capsule he's working on and tries to block out the sound of Bond's breathing – slightly elevated; he hasn't been back from his mission for long.

Q doesn't think about what that means. If Bond chooses to visit him immediately after assassinating a Russian drug lord or toppling a South African dictatorship, then that's his prerogative and has no bearing on Q whatsoever.

Bond sighs, and taps his toe against Q's chair. Q bristles.

"I know what you think of me, you know," says Bond, and Q sighs, resigning himself to the fact that he's not going to get anything even slightly resembling actual work done this evening.

"What do I think of you?" he asks, leaning back in his chair and fixing the other man with a look that he hopes conveys his weariness and reluctance to partake in this unnecessary conversation. Bond smiles, half serenely and half dangerously, and Q is reminded a little of the blood on Bond's hands, and shudders.

"The same as you think of all the other agents who've served more than ten years," Bond answers. "That we're past it. That I'm an old dog who can't be taught new tricks."

Q casts his mind back to his first mission with Bond, when he'd handed him the palm-print gun and half expected it to be cast aside in favour of some awfully archaic hunting rifle, and how he'd been pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn't the case at all. Of course, he'd also been rather disappointed to see it disappear at the hands of an incompetent and overweight thug, but that's swings and roundabouts as far as Q is concerned at the moment.

He steeples his fingers under his chin and looks up at Bond.

"Growing up, I was something of a loner," he starts. Bond's brow furrows in confusion, and he looks as though he's about to interrupt, so Q raises a hand to stop him. To his surprise, it works, and Q files that fact away for future reference, that even the great 007 can be silenced if needs be. "I wasn't exactly isolated, you understand, but as an only child – well, there were only so many puzzle books about the house, and boredom was a constant presence."

Bond raises an eyebrow.

"I do admire your ability to create such tangents, Q," he says.

"It's not a tangent," Q argues. "If you let me finish, you'll see the relevance."

Bond bows his head in false reverence, and Q clenches his fists. He is used to having his resolve tested, of course, but that doesn't mean he particularly enjoys it.

"Then continue."

Q rolls his eyes, but does so.

"When I was ten, my parents decided that it would be beneficial for me to have some sort of distraction," he carries on. "And so they bought me a dog. An old Labrador. I named him James."

Bond snorts, and Q smiles wryly.

"Anyway, I took it upon myself to train him as best I could. Within the month, he'd mastered the art of sitting and standing on command, of fetching things and barking when I told him to, but I couldn't teach him to play dead. Not for love or money. You have to understand, he really was on his last legs when my parents bought him. I don't know what they were thinking, buying such an old dog for such a young child, but that's parental desperation for you."

"I wouldn't know," Bond states, and Q pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

"The point is this; I eventually taught him to play dead. He was an old dog, and I taught him a new trick. And you, 007, are very adept at playing dead."

Bond stiffens slightly, and Q doesn't think his anecdote has had quite the intended effect.

"It's not playing dead. It's not a game." Bond sounds resolute, his expression steely, and Q doesn't know how the man can be so naive.

"Of course it's a game. It's cat and mouse," he counters. Bond raises an eyebrow.

"I'm not a cat."

"No. You're the mouse."

"I thought I was an old dog?"

"You're infuriating, that's what you are."

"And you wouldn't have it any other way."

Q can feel himself flushing, which is entirely inappropriate, so he picks up his mug of tea and holds it to his mouth. He can feel that it's gone cold, but he doesn't particularly care. He takes a tentative sip of unsatisfyingly lukewarm Earl Grey and sets the mug down on the table, praying that his complexion has returned to its usual pale nature.

"It reassures me that my rather large pay cheque is deserved," he mumbles. Bond rolls his eyes.

"Keep telling yourself that, Q," he says, and Q will, because that's what Q does. It's what he needs to do.