Actions

Work Header

Denominations

Work Text:

Q confirms that he's an Empath three months before his first day of primary school, and the deciding of Denominations that comes with it. Of course back then Q is not Q, but Alexander Drew, or X as he prefers. Alexander reminds him of his mother scolding him for constant motion, bad manners, and etiquette. Alex will be forever engrained as his father trying to force him into sports and the subsequent breaking of a frail, bird-bone arm. X has no interest in football after that, and his always traveling father has no interest in him.

X spends hours holed up in the manor's library, reading books on Science, on History, and it all comes so easy to him that for years X convinces himself that he's only a Brainiac. They're common enough, and he's nothing special. When his father is away, and after X is tall enough to open the door to the study, he'll go in the forbidden room and clamber up onto the dark leather chair. He figures out the computer and from then on X tells himself that he's a slightly less common Techie, but still that he's nothing special.

Perhaps the only reason he doesn't realize his Denomination sooner is that he isn't exposed to a multitude of people. His life consists of his often absent parents and a few housekeepers. Not enough for a baseline. But still, it's with only this limited exposure that it hits X at the age of five. He can sense Gretel, the cook, coming to look for him. She's making no noise, a quiet old lady who fits in well with the quiet old house, and yet X can still feel the slight irritation and impatience that comes off her in waves. X sees her movements like another layer in his brain, allowing him to paint a picture of someone who he can't yet see.

It's something he's always done, but never consciously realized up to now.

X goes to dinner and sits properly enough that when his mother comes home he gets a kiss on the cheek. Instead of saying anything to either of them, X does research on his own. He scours his parents' library and finds enough information that X manages to build his own shields. He knows what he's doing is impossible and dangerous, but that's what makes X special and different and unique.

People with useful-- with special-- Denominations, they get taken away and X doesn't want that to happen to him. The kids who are sorted into categories like Levitator, or Conjure, or Shift, go to special schools to learn how to manage their powers. Empaths do too, and it's simply something that X doesn't want to be bothered with. Most kids have useless Denominations. It's safer to just pretend, so that's what X does. Techies-- like X pretends to be-- just happen to have a extra knack with technology.

Computers dance under his fingers, and gears and cogs speak like old friends. This knowledge is one that X should not be privy to or understand. And yet he is, but he knows he isn't quite a Techie either, not with how he can sense his mother's feelings behind her cold mask. Not when he can paint an emotional picture of everyone he meets.

But X- X doesn't want to be taken away. He doesn't want to go to a special school, wants to just pretend he's normal. So X lies.

On the first day of primary school, when it's his turn to be led into the office and interviewed, X lies through his teeth.

"What can you do, sweetheart?" It's an older lady, one who smiles gently at him. Everything about her is designed to put X at ease; from the slight curl in her fraying hair to the pastel blue of her dress. But all X can taste when he looks at the headmaster is the cloying taste of too much perfume, and the layer of bitter emotion that tells of just how little the woman wants to be here.

It strikes him, even as a child, how odd it is that the woman just trusts him to tell her his Denomination. Most kids know for sure by the time their interview comes around, but X wonders how many are clever enough to lie. Maybe some want to be better than they are. Maybe some are like X and just want to be normal. But sitting before the headmaster, mumbling something convincing about technology even as he monitors her irritation level and impatience, X feels alone.

After a while of mumbling, taking apart the stapler and putting it back together as a demonstration, the headmaster is fed up. X's proud of himself.

She dismisses him, and it starts a pattern.

He lies, and gets better at it. He refines his skills with computers and takes apart every machine in his house. X works so hard that even he can believe he's a Techie, with how easily technology dances to his tune.

It's only the weight of the disregard he bears from everyone that grounds X. Reminds him that he's not what he pretends. Reminds him that he's an Empath and a liar.

A year into his schooling, X gives colors to the emotions he senses. Oddly enough his mental landscape changes to reflect them. X can't help but find it beautiful, no matter how much he despises his Denomination. No matter how much trouble it brings him.

X doesn't make any friends in the schoolyard, so he makes friends with keyboards, and confesses his secrets to machines. They don't betray him, and X doesn't have to juggle and interpret their emotions. It's easy to pretend he isn't lonely. X's hacking skills get better, as does his ability to block others' emotions. What once blared like a foghorn of disappointment now is hardly a brush against his mental defenses.

(Years later, X will wonder what it says about him that he had mental defenses that no one knew about by seven. He will decide that it was just another way to show that he was different, different no matter how hard he tried not to be. Then he will bury himself back into his computer and hack his way into the Chinese government. X doesn't believe in dwelling on what has already come to pass.)

School is a chore, and by the time he's seventeen X is in college for computer science, the expected route of study for a student of his Denomination. X could sleep through his classes and does some of the time. Let people assume that his dark circles are from partying and not from staying up to ridiculous hours hacking and establishing a name for himself.

By the time X graduates college, he has enough of a reputation that he's never unemployed. Some people come knocking at his door for maintenance on their systems. Most want him to hack something or another for them.

It's this way that X sheds his first name and adopts another for his customers. X was going out of style anyway. Ghost is... Fresher.

X lets his Empathy paint a picture of potential clients and lets his Denomination decide whether to take jobs. Because X has very clear limits.

They aren't the limits of legality, no. X broke those during his first successful hack in primary school. Actually, hacking is at its most fun when X is dealing with fire. Trying not to get burned.

X's limit is patriotism, you could say.

Anything that could possibly harm Queen and Country and X is firmly out of the dealing. Britain's system may not have been the kindest to the young Empath, but it is still home. He always tells his clients this in the beginning, warns them. If at any point he discovers that what they're planning has intent or the ability to hurt England, X is done. And he won't only rescind his skills, but destroy the project as fully as he can. At this part, he'll watch their mental landscape carefully. Emotions can be hidden beneath the surface, but not eliminated. And X has laser vision when it comes to emotions.

He likes to think that he's doing his country a favor, and no one tests Ghost on his word.

Or at least no one does for years. X-- or to them Ghost-- is only two weeks back from the unofficial hacker conglomeration.

They met in Switzerland to be ironic, and if one looked there would be no record of any such meeting. Four world-class hackers managed to move around with no trace quite easily, X found. It was harder than concealing just himself, but it was undoubtedly a right of passage, and a demonstration of skill to prove credibility. And even perhaps worthiness.

X was found worthy.

They hacked and chatted and the three more experienced of the hackers offered X advice.

"Check out who you're working for before you take any job." Adder told him.

X had done so for years.

"Set limits on what you'll do." $0|DI3R advised.

X had his limit, England.

"Rob 'em blind, sweetheart. They don't know any better." W0ND3R W0M&N cooed.

By twenty six X could have retired.

He doesn't.

 

It's two weeks after he arrives back home to his crummy little flat in London that the knock comes on his door. His security system pings the men before they even come close to the elevator leading to his flat, but X doesn't give himself away.

He can sense them through the door, all three of them. Each rolls with waves of dark black and grey and red. X chokes on the sheer amount of evil. The people X usually hacks for aren't nice people by any means. But none of them have such an aura of sinister that it physically sickens X to walk closer.

He lets the chain keep the door open only a crack, and fortifies his mental shields.

"Can I help you?" He asks. They help themselves, and shove their way inside.

X maintains that he could have fought back, and really he could have. Empaths can project emotions if they try hard enough, and X knows abstractly that he's powerful when he focuses. But something inside him rebells at the thought of forcing his way into someone's head. It just resonates as... Wrong.

They have a job for X, and they'll pay extremely well, they say. The subtle shifts in their emotions tell X that they're lying. Even without his Denomination, it's obvious that these are men not fond of leaving loose ends. And then they say that they want him to hack MI6.

X does the only thing he can. He refuses.

The men try to convince him otherwise of course. He discovers this way that one of the men has the Denomination of Shocker. In itself it's a relatively harmless ability, it can only produce a faint electric current over a person's skin. When the men go to the trouble of drenching X with water first, however, it becomes an issue. X bites through the skin of his cheek trying not to scream. But he doesn't budge, because $0lDI3R was right when he said a hacker has to have limits. X will not break his.

They leave after awhile, when it becomes clear that X isn't going to budge. He waits until they are out of the frame of his security cameras, until he can no longer even imagine the vile emotions coming off of them. Then X peels his bleeding and bruised body off his living room floor, and stumbles to his computer chair.

X coughs blood, and can't see for shit without his glasses which are presumably shattered somewhere on the living room floor, but he gets to work anyway. He presses up close to the screen, and does just what he had refused to do for the goons of whatever country. Ghost hacks MI6.

X doesn't steal what they wanted of course, but he works his way into the mainframe and sets up as many alerts as humanly possible. Just because Ghost refuses to hack the British Secret Service doesn't mean that the men won't find another hacker.

X knows that it will paint a target on his back, knows that he very well might end up in prison for his actions. But hurting England is his limit, and just because he isn't doing the direct hurting doesn't mean that he won't be just as guilty if he does nothing to help the unaware MI6.

With that set up, X navigates his way into the bathroom from memory and throws up, before passing out. He only just refused them after all; he has a few moments to rest his eyes until MI6 is in jeopardy.

The next day, after X disinfects, showers, and winces his way through changing clothes, Ghost is put to the test.

MI6 is under attack.

The hacker is clever, X gives them that. He doesn't recognize their signature as one that he's familiar with, and he can't help the flush of relief that it isn't one of the three hackers that have become his friends.

They start at MI6's weakest spots, places like Accounting and the Kitchen. But, whoever's doing the hacking obviously isn't counting on resistance. And resist, X does.

Every time the hacker starts to infiltrate an area, X is there. He throws codes and viruses and everything in his arsenal at the intruder and it works. It's hard to focus with the aching bruises all over his body, even though X is wearing his spare pair of glasses and can actually see. If he wasn't in such pain, X might have called this fun.

It's rare that X has to get really involved in fighting someone off, or that he actually gets to fight anyone off at all. Not counting X's vacation in Techie heaven that is. (Something that he enjoyed immensely, despite his actual Denomination). They aren't better than X, far from it, but have the advantage of being the attacker. X has to anticipate, defending a system that has woefully inadequate firewalls.

But X makes do, and slowly but surely, the attacks slow and weaken. And then they stop all together. MI6 has rallied by this point, and the way their employees frantically try to fight X off indicate that they haven't realized that he just fended off an attack on their servers. That he is, I don't know, on their side.

This is what X lets himself dwell on, rather than the fact that he may have just gotten another hacker killed. Pulling out of the mainframe of the agency and leaving firewalls in his wake is much more satisfying.

After he finishes with that, X allows himself a deep breath and closes his laptop. He takes a long, hot shower and eats for the first time in what may have been days. He isn't keeping track. The warmth of the Earl Grey, and the soft worn-out texture of his pajamas does wonders on X's aching body, and he very carefully does not think of what the next days will bring.

X wasn't able to conceal his identity. Ghost though he is, there's only so much he can do with limited time. Unless the people in MI6's tech department (Q-Branch, he allows, no use pretending he doesn't know quite a lot about the agency when he essentially had to hack it to protect it.) are completely incompetent, they'll trace his IP address. Ghost, X is sure, was about to be no longer.

He has the courtesy to give a vague alert to his fellow hackers. For once X, or Ghost as they know him, actually witnesses concern for his safety. It's through the keys of a message board, but still, actual concern. He has to dissuade W0ND3R W0M&N from coming out to rescue his skinny ass. Whatever happens with MI6, X knows he will probably be cut off from his fellow hackers for awhile, if not forever.

And yet, if there was another Empath to read X's energy, they would find him calm and collected.

The beating he took makes him feel old. A little protection won't go amiss. Perhaps retirement isn't the great evil X thought it.

 

The knock at the door and the encroaching weight of another's emotions wake X from his slumber. The alarms he has set up for identifying strangers blare in the background, so he sits up to shut them off.

And promptly flops back down.

Every single muscle screams in protest, and his jaw flares in agony as he opens his mouth to groan. The only thing left to do is curl into the fetal position and ignore the pinpricks of pain centered on every inch of his body.

It was easy, the day before, to ignore the bruises. Sure it hurt. It was an inconvenience to pass out on the bathroom floor, and moving between his computer chair and the loo was a trial in itself, but in the face of the attack on MI6's servers it was easy to put it by the way-side. Now, it's coming back to bite X in the arse.

When the knock once again comes at his door, and his mental landscape darkens with an intruder's irritation, he surfaces fully into consciousness.

X shoves his glasses on, wincing as he jostles his head. To think, he hadn't even noticed the welt by his temple. X can't regret the focus his work gives him.

He makes it to the door just as a third knock rattles the frame. X leans against it heavily as he unlatches and forces the door open. As he does so, the hacker lets his Empathic ability paint a picture of the three people behind the door.

Surprisingly, their emotions differ greatly from one another and from the men of the previous day. Beyond the slight irritation and impatience is no particular dark emotion. In fact, one of the three presences is more nervous than irritated at all. It's this energy that X centers himself with as he tugs the handle. The curiosity that colors the person yellow is mirrored by X's own.

Three sets of eyes study him as soon as he opens the door. Even the more timid woman stares at X with enough intensity that he wonders if his clothes are catching fire. X shifts to lean against the doorjamb, wincing. All three eyes, if it's even possible get more intense. The two larger men, the ones with muscles enough that X can feel something inside him whimper in expectant pain, have an air of curiosity around them now, replacing the poignant irritation. Instead of irritating X, the brief flash of concern coming from the smaller woman placates him.

"Can I help you?" X lilts his voice to be curious rather than harsh, seeing as he suspects these people are from MI6. It turns out not to matter when X's voice comes out a quiet rasp, nearly inaudible. His jaw throbs with the effort, and even his throat aches.

He winces at the sound, and so does the woman. The two men trigger no other emotion detectable to X's Empathic abilities. He suspects that they're agents, going by the fact that they radiate a constant awareness and that there are poorly concealed gun bulges under each of their jackets. The woman though, she's different. Gentler, X hazards.

When she speaks, it supports that theory.

"I think we better come in. Are you alright, darling?" The woman steps closer, breaching the stance her two companions have taken up around her. Immediately, they both tense. Their emotions flicker from protective to suspicious, and X wonders just what threat they think he poses. On a good day, when he isn't beaten to shit, X is nothing more than skinny and pale. Hardly intimidating.

X made a point of avoiding looking too closely in a mirror, but he's sure that his bruises and subsequent leaning against the wall paint a picture of fragility. Nowhere near worthy of a display of wariness.

Clearly, the woman that now stands far too close agrees with him. X takes the time to study her, beyond what he's gleaned from his Denomination.

She's older. Not ridiculously so, but far enough into middle age that she should be verging near retirement. Her hair has a good deal of gray, despite the valiant effort of darker strands. The woman's short, and that's taking in the fact that X hardly towers himself. He's about average, but next to the older woman he looks like a giant. Now that she can see X clearly, and be underwhelmed by the threat he poses, she projects nothing but motherly concern. It's a bit... Discomforting.

Despite the fact that her face is lined with wrinkles, which work to make her look kind, not old, the woman's eyes practically glow. There's a spark of energy that X is hardly expecting, and he notes to himself not to underestimate her.

Now, she turns to look back at the two agents that are hovering over her shoulder. X almost smiles when she rolls her eyes at the men.

"Honestly you two. Have you forgotten that this boy single-handedly defended MI6 while we were too busy sitting on our bloody arses to do anything? I hardly think he's going to try and attack me either, what with the state he's in." The two men look ready to protest. But then, the woman shoots them a surprisingly deadly glare and they quiet. X clears his throat and hopes that this time he'll be mildly more understandable.

"I was wondering whether you lot would catch onto the fact that I was assisting you." X almost cheers when his voice is only slightly raspy. His jaw still throbs like hell, but it's simple matter to divert his attention. "You kicked me out of your bloody systems quick enough."

The woman grimaces.

"Sorry about that. By the time we got around to doing something you'd already fended off the attack, and all we could tell was that there was an intruder." The woman shifts. "We figured out later that you were helping instead of hurting." X shrugs in response. He figured as much.

"Not that this conversation isn't positively delightful, but do you think we could take this inside? I think M would rather us not air classified business in the hallway." The shorter of the two men says.

For the second time in two days, X lets three strangers into his apartment. At least this time it's nearly voluntary.

They get straight down to business.

"My name is Danielle Marsh, Danielle is fine. These are Agents Dunne and Rowan." Danielle looks around at X's admittedly impressive set-up. He has enough monitors to fill a tech store, and they are nothing less than the highest quality. They are, of course, improved with X's own updates, and Danielle flickers briefly with jealousy. "This is quite the set-up you have here, Mr....?"

X applauds the woman for her technique. At least his cloaking software worked in that respect. They may have been able to trace X's IP, but from that they can't have found a link to Alexander Drew, or his secondary identity as Ghost. However, as he's dealing with MI6, which undoubtedly has the power to make him disappear, X decides that the game is up. He might as well come clean.

"Depends which name you're referring to." X doesn't shift under the heavy gazes. "I was born with the name Alexander Drew, but I'm known in hacker circles as Ghost." X watches the three MI6 operatives for any indication of recognition and he isn't disappointed. Agents Dunne and Rowan don't seem effected at the mention of X's two identities, but Danielle certainly is. Her emotions throw themselves at X, a variety of surprise, dubiousness, and awe.

"Ghost. You're Ghost?" Danielle's voice holds a note of incredulity. Agent Dunne shoots a suspicious glance at X, before giving a curious one to Ms. Marsh.

"Does that mean something to you, Danielle?"

Danielle turns on the agent, hands seemingly lost on what to do with themselves. X hides a smug smile behind brushing a piece of hair off his forehead. Someone admiring his work still makes him unbearably delighted. Danielle's next words even more so.

"Does that- does that mean something to me? Ghost is one of the best four hackers in the world. His work is- it's fantastic. He hacks into the unhackable. We don't even know everything that Ghost is responsible for, because he's that good. Once he's in a system, he's like- like a-"

"Ghost?" Agent Rowan finishes, smirking. Danielle appears exasperated at his lack of levity. Both agents radiate amusement, while Danielle pulses with her awe. X preens under the praise. It's accurate, and X is not humble enough to say otherwise.

"If what Alexander here is saying is true, you're looking at one of the most powerful men you'll ever meet." A silence slips over the four, and X once again twitches uncomfortably under the scrutiny. Despite all that he postures, attention makes him uneasy.

"X!" Is what he blurts. The three intruders in his apartment stare. "I mean, I prefer X, not Alexander." And that seems to break any remaining tension. Things get under way after that, with Danielle and X seating themselves on the only furniture in X's apartment. Computer chairs.

Agents Dunne and Rowan stand behind Danielle. They may not have been trying to intimidate X, but it's only force of will that keeps X from cowering in fear. He turns his attention to Danielle instead. He can see why they brought her along. X can actually imagine talking to her, while the two agents inspire nothing but uneasiness.

"So, X. You know we have to ask you how you knew that MI6 was going to come under attack." Danielle has the grace to at least look a little apologetic. X can sense that there isn't a whole lot of actual regret in her. He'll take what he can get.

"Of course." X replies. "Two days ago, three men came to my door. They shouldered their way inside and said that they had a job for me. They wanted me to hack MI6, compromise the entire network. I refused." X pauses to clear his throat. He lets his gaze flick to the ceiling, more comfortable pretending there aren't three sets of eyes on him. "They wasted no time attempting to persuade me of course, but found out that I can be particularly obstinate when I have made up my mind." Danielle appears sad at that proclamation, when he glances at her from the corner of his eye. Her emotions are a mess. X wonders what she sees when she looks at him. A little boy, helpless and hurting? Has she forgotten so quickly that she's also talking to Ghost? X is far from broken, despite what his body shouts at him as he shifts uncomfortably.

"Sweetheart, refusing to hack us is one thing, but going to the trouble of actually protecting MI6? Why did you go that far?" Danielle stretches a hand forward to rest it on X's knee. Though he flinches at the contact, her motherly concern only strengthens. X artfully avoids the question by scoffing.

"Well, it was hardly a stretch to think that once I refused the job that the men would find a different hacker. Your Q-Branch is quite frankly a disaster, and if I hadn't been there to fight off the hacker all of MI6 could have been hacked by a three-year-old." X infuses as much superiority into his tone as possible. The condescension isn't entirely exaggerated either. MI6 truly does have a cringe-worthy Technology Department.

Danielle stares at X. And then she bursts out laughing. Agents Dunne and Rowan pulse with offense on Danielle's half, and X wonders with more than a little trepidation if he put his foot in his mouth once more.

However, when Danielle composes herself enough to speak, there's no hint of affront on her behalf. In fact, X's Denomination informs him quite prissily that she's still amused.

"I'm one of the senior technicians in Q-branch, dearie. I don't take any offense however. I'm afraid that our current Quartermaster is still rather stuck in the 20th century." Danielle shots him a considering look, but softens it with a smile. "But a fresh young face like you just might help convince Q otherwise. I'm sure just your presence could change things for the better."

Wait, what?

If X doesn't know better, he would have almost said that's an offer of employment. Of all the scenarios that X ran through for what happened after MI6 caught up with him, none are quite like this. Going to MI6, sure, only to be imprisoned in dungeons or something of the ilk. X would have placed money on being extradited to the nations that he committed a crime against.

However, recruitment foolishly never crossed his mind.

"I'm sorry, are you offering me a job?" A high note of incredulity sneaks in despite X's best efforts.

"Are you accepting?" Danielle fires back. X is rendered stunned.

"What- Danielle! M sent us here to apprehend the hacker and bring him in for questioning! Not to offer the bloke a job!" Agent Rowan exclaims. X thinks it odd that they refer to Danielle by her first name, rather than the titles she uses with them. She rolls her eyes at the agent, and X nearly gets lost at the exasperation rolling off all three.

"Well, I'm improvising! He's got the snark to not take any shite from our agents, and he's undoubtedly got the mind for Q-Branch. Probably a Techie, yeah?" The smirk is reflexive by now. X accompanies it with a nod. Danielle barrels on as if there was no interruption. "And the Branch undoubtedly needs actual Techie's if we're supposed to become anything besides redundant." Danielle gestures at herself. "Making the perfect cup of tea does not equate to dominating the world technologically."

X can't help a burst of surprise. He made the assumption that Danielle was a Techie, if only from the knowledge she has about his work and her apparent station in Q-Branch. The woman in question catches X's surprise out of the corner of her eye and smirks knowingly. It's an odd expression to see on a woman in her late fifties. Gold glimmers in X's Empathic landscape with the pride she radiates.

"That's right boy. Just because I don't have a natural affinity for technology doesn't mean that I can't make a career out of it."

If X was unsure of the woman before, he's completely sold now. Kinship has already begun growing between them, even if Danielle is in the unawares. Anyone who makes their own path away from their Denomination deserves admiration in X's book. And really, disliking the older lady who has almost too much spunk appears impossible.

"Well Ghost? You ready to go tangible and make a name for yourself legally?" Even without the challenge in Danielle's eyes and emotions, X would have said yes.

Trying to stay inside the law could be interesting. Or at least good fun.

 

They put him through the ringer.

Danielle forces Medical to check him out, and Psych too. When he makes the therapist cry with his acerbic commentary, Danielle looks impressed. Apparently flunking Psych is a right of passage. No one thought X would do it so fluently, so they gave him a softer, less experienced woman. He doubts that mistake will be made again.

Danielle looks less impressed when X tries to sneak out of Medical. It's quite possibly in the best interest of everyone that she sticks so close to the hacker. X can sense how heavily he's being underestimated. Danielle at least remembers half the time that she's escorting one of the best hackers in the world.

The only rough patch comes with the routine interrogation. They have a LD on the payroll.

LD stands for Lie Detector. An especially useful Denomination in the field of espionage X assumes. Despite the general rarity of LDs, X isn't overly shocked that MI6 employs one. It's this reasoning that leads him to make a plan, and it's this plan that gets X through the gauntlet relatively unscathed. He makes a point of appearing annoyed with the routine beginning questions. He snarks at the interrogator enough that when the man asks: "And your Denomination, Mr. Drew?" It's natural and without an ounce of hesitation that he replies: "Do you really think anyone except a Techie could fight off a hacker like that?" And then that hurdle is cleared.

The only other hitch comes when the LD asks X why he defended MI6. He gives a response not unlike the one that he gave Danielle, hardly thinking about it. The LD calls him out.

"That's only half true." The air in the room freezes, and the interrogator's air of mild annoyance vanishes. X pauses in his half-hearted task of weaponizing a pen. "I'll ask again. Why did you defend MI6? Why would a notorious hacker not only refuse a well-paid job, but then go on to purposely thwart the people offering?"

X considers the different answers he can give. He could say that the men beat him to a bloody pulp and that it's petty revenge that motivated him. He could say he was bored. But, with someone who knows when he lies, X decides on a novel concept. He decides to tell the truth.

"Hackers need to have limits. If they don't, if they walk into the game assured that they can and will do everything, it'll come back to bite them in the arse. You'll stumble along something that makes you uncomfortable eventually. If you have no limits, what right do you have to refuse a job? And, while she has neither helped or hurt me in the past, I love my country. I won't do anything to compromise her safety." X shifts to look the LD in the eyes. "If I only refused my assistance, and yet still allowed Britain to be hacked, I'd be just as liable. What's that saying? The one who watches the brick be thrown and does nothing is just as guilty as the one who throws it in the first place."

Bizarrely, that seems to more than satisfy everyone. The interrogation continues smoothly, and X is washing his hands of it only a half-hour later.

But, then, there comes the interview with M.

 

Danielle's forehead wrinkles when she hears that M wants to meet X, but she offers no protests. X follows her obediently, despite the nerves that Danielle's confusion and worry awakes.

Abstractly, X knows who M is. From the way everyone talks about her, in a constant fear, she can only be the head of MI6. From X's hack of the agency, he knows quite a bit more about the woman, including her real name. But, he supposes it would be unwise to mention that.

Danielle walks with him all the way up to M's office. The door is shut when they reach it, and the only person in sight is a man stationed by the entrance, reclining in a chair and looking over paperwork. X's Denomination tells him that the man is calm and rather safe. The subtle loss of tension in Danielle's emotions just cements the fact.

"Tanner. M called?" The man glances up immediately, and startles. His emotions give no such indication of surprise however, and X knows it to be largely for show. Danielle seems amused, but X makes a mental note not to underestimate the man. He's Chief of Staff after all.

"Yes, she wants to meet with our newest recruit." Tanner shoots X a considering look as he stands. He stretches out a hand. "Bill Tanner, Chief of Staff, pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Drew."

X grasps it tightly and smiles. It's excellent that he can do so without a flare of agony. God bless pain medication.

"Likewise Mr. Tanner." The flash of respect that comes from the man lights a fire of smugness inside X. It's hard to be anything but when someone recognizes him as not to be trifled with.

"M will see you now." Tanner drops back down into his chair. Crossing his legs at the ankles, he gestures one-handedly at the door behind him. "She's in her office just behind that door and at the end of the hallway." X nods sharply, and makes to follow Danielle, who already has her hand wrapped around the doorknob. "Just Mr. Drew I'm afraid. M said she'd like to speak with him alone." Danielle sparks momentarily with panic, and X throws up his shields. He learned as a child that sometimes what other people felt could influence his own emotions, and panic is not something X needs right now.

"But-!" Danielle starts. X sends her a small smile.

"It's alright, Danielle." When the woman still looks unconvinced, X gives her his best intimidating stare. It has no effect. Once again, due to his bruised up state or his perceived age, he's being underestimated.

Well X has just about had enough.

He gently but firmly pushes Danielle out of the way, and tugs open the door. X imagines that this is what it feels like to walk into a lion's den. And yet, X refuses to be scared.

Sensing the woman before he sees her, X gives himself time to take her measure before walking into her line of sight.

The emotions he receives from her range from calculating to cold. Neither is particularly pointed, but even without the confirmation her file gave, X knows instinctively that this is a dangerous woman. After a breath to steel himself, X strides into the room anyway.

He exudes calm and confidence that may not have been natural, but has the desired effect. M studies him for all that he's worth. Good. X doubts that she's one to misjudge. He takes the time to do the same to her.

She's older, obviously, with graying hair and distinguished wrinkles. But something in her eyes, ice blue that they are, sends a thrill of fear down X's spine. His Empathic abilities reveal nothing, not a single flicker of surprise or curiosity. X doubts this to be all there is to the woman. It's no leap to assume M has layers.

She gestures at an arm chair before her desk, never dropping X's gaze.

It's common knowledge that staring a predator in the eyes gets you killed and eaten, but X has never been one to back down. If anyone should know that, it should be M. After all, if she is to be his boss, she ought to understand that X is a predator himself. Despite the lack of emotion coming off her, he's beginning to suspect she does.

"Got into a bit of a spat, did we Mr. Drew?" M's voice is mild, politely curious. X knows that the tone is purposeful. A definite challenge.

"I've always had a way with words. Some people just don't appreciate it." X doesn't drop the woman's gaze. Head of MI6 she may be, but X is bloody well one of the best hackers in the world. It'll take more than a staring contest to shake him.

"What a shame. I've always found myself partial to ones with cheek."

X offers no response. Both continue to stare levelly at the other.

Right around the time that X finds it getting to be quite ridiculous, M breaks his gaze. It's hardly a sign of surrender or submission, and X is not stupid enough to take it as one. The woman shuffles a few stacks of papers around on her desk, still letting the silence hang heavy around them. X wonders if the bulldog is a joke. It's quite the ugly little bugger.

M's next question comes suddenly. It's only by luck that X manages to hold in his surprise. Luck, and the fact that he knows M is testing him not only in his verbal answers, but in his reactions themselves.

"Do you have any family, Mr. Drew?"

The mention of family holds no particular sore for the hacker, but the apparent randomness of the question gives him pause. X bites his lip before answering honestly.

"No."

His parents died a year and a half back. X doesn't pretend that their loss is any great grievance to him. Heartless bastard that it may make him, X went only to the funeral because it was expected. He has to put his one suit to use somehow.

X's answer apparently satisfies M in some way, because she leans back in her chair, smirk just quirking the corner of her mouth.

"Good."

And that is all. Only a few moments later, M leans forward and continues to shuffle through papers. The computer mouse sounds oddly loud in the quiet room.

"Tanner and Danielle will no doubt get you settled in Q-Branch. It'll be a relatively powerless position at first, but if you prove that you're trustworthy, I'm sure you'll move up quickly enough." M smiles, a sharp little thing. For the first time, X picks up a different emotion from her, one that he can see just as well as feel. Challenge. It was subtle before, all in the tone, but now, it's practically overt. "I expect this won't be the last I see of you." X tilts his head in a gesture of acknowledgment, and lets his own little sharp smile form. The very brief flash of approval isn't visible to the naked eye, but X's Denomination gleefully points it out.

M presses down a button on the small intercom by her computer.

"Tanner, if you would show Mr. Drew out." M pauses. "I suppose you better alert Q that he has a new employee, Ms. Marsh. We all know how much that man hates surprises." The words she doesn't say reflect quite clearly in her eyes.

 

X starts out so low on the totem pole that his feet are stuck in mud.

He spends the first year doing menial work. He files, and he writes code. X builds little prototypes and draws up blueprints. But anything even vaguely classified, and X is stonewalled.

He's itchy within days, and in the first two months, he nearly gets up to walk out twice a day. It's not that he hates working for the government, that's hardly it, but it's that X is hardly working. He feels wasted and useless for the first time since he was a child and his father was staring at him in disappointment when X didn't conform to the idea of a normal boy.

In his spare time, which is quite a lot that first year, X invents. He invents revolutionary code and tiny machines, and he very pointedly does nothing illegal. It strikes X as odd that he gets more accomplished, is more challenged, at home than at work, but he keeps his mouth shut.

The reason he does so, the only reason he doesn't head for the hills, is that X knew that M's challenging him. His Empathic senses scream with the constant observation, so X does what he does best. He keeps his head down and acts like a Ghost. At home in private he builds insane gadgets, and writes sequences of code that even X isn't sure of.

By the time year two comes around, it pays off.

X's clearance goes up, and so do his responsibilities.

He reaches the level of a normal tech, and composes code that gets used, puts his engineering into useful projects. People start to listen to him, and X no longer feels so useless. And then, when his clearance goes up a bit more, X finds what he's best at. Guiding agents through their missions.

"Oh for God's sake 002 go to the right! No, your other right. Very good, now I'm going to unlock that door just as you get to it." His Empathic sense alerts him to the fact that someone's approaching. Danielle, he figures, going by the emotions. Said emotions that color X's landscape are an undefinable shade. Only about a quarter of his mind notes this however, and the rest focuses solely on unlocking the door for 002 and then locking it behind him to throw off his pursuers.

"Thanks. I'll check back in when it's done. 002 out." X listens to the click of the agent's earpiece before removing his own head set. This is only his second assignment guiding a Double-0, and X is enjoying it well enough. He hopes that the results of the missions show that. None of the agents complained at least, so X thinks he mustn't have done too terribly.

X has almost forgotten about Danielle when the woman clears her throat. X spins his chair around to face her, nearly clearing his desk of everything in the process. He smiles up at his superior.

That's the other thing.

Danielle greatly undermined her role in Q-Branch when she said she was a senior technician. The woman is, in fact, R. The second highest ranking member of the branch. (Senior technician X's arse.) She practically runs the branch, what with the Quartermaster being the way he is. X doesn't have anything particular against the man, besides the suspicious glances that Q gave him when they were introduced, he'd hardly interacted with him.

That's the problem. Brilliant inventor that he is, the older man hardly strays from the highest clearance R&D labs. And if Q does, it's only to squirrel himself away in his office. There is absolutely no involvement with his employees, and the man certainly makes no effort with the cyber aspect. The Quartermaster is an Engineer, and it shows in efficient gadgets he produces, gadgets that save lives, but he's no leader. And neither, quite unfortunately, is Danielle. She's brilliant with a keyboard under her fingers, and even more so when she's directing agents. They listen to R without hesitation, and she gets every agent she works with out alive. Most request her, in fact. But, while she's suited to the role of R, a second-in-command, she isn't meant to be a stand in Q.

She confesses as much to X one night when they go out for drinks (it takes quite awhile to convince Danielle that he is in fact legally able to drink, X actually needs to produce a hard copy of his birth certificate before she lets him near one ounce of alcohol).

"I'm not meant to be a leader, X." She says. "I don't know how much longer I can keep trying to run the branch. I'm getting on in years you know." And yet, Danielle has more light and energy than people half her age.

Now that he's able to, cleared to, X does his best to step up to the plate and help Danielle out. There's still quite a bit that he can't handle, due to it being For Her Eyes Only, but still, X helps out with the little things. If Danielle looks stressed, X grabs her lunch. If she isn't around and other technicians are stuck, X does his best to help them out instead of dragging R away from whatever needs her attention.

At first, the other agents in Q-Branch regard him as overstepping his bounds. To be honest, that's pretty much what X is doing. Soon enough however, when they see Danielle has less substantial dark circles under her eyes, the others accept him. X's Denomination also tells him more exact figures, like how Danielle is more at ease, and how the distrust slowly seeps out of his coworkers. When the first person comes to him for help instead of searching out Danielle, he has to resist a fist pump.

But now, faced with a jumble of emotions from the woman, X offers Danielle a hesitant smile.

"R." Her emotions still don't reveal anything to the younger man. There's no vibrant negative feeling that X can sense, but still it makes him uneasy. It warns him just how much he has come to rely on his sixth sense. X makes sure to keep his face neutral. "Is something wrong?"

Danielle says nothing for a few seconds, before shaking her head.

"Kristy is 005's handler for his current mission. She came to me nearly in tears." X winces. Kristy is one of the more fragile Techie's in the department. Beauteous at code but rather terrible at people. "Said that the agent had screamed at her for being useless, and then demanded that I either give him to me or to, and I quote, 'that smarmy little boffin that handled me last time.'" X can't help the slight flush. He may have given the Double-0 agent quite the tongue lashing when he criticized his competence. Of course, 005 was nothing less than delighted, and a fine level of banter began.

Danielle glances at him pointedly.

"You do realize that no one tames 005, and that the only one he will even half acknowledge on missions is me. It was only an accident that the agent ended up with anyone but me as his handler. I'm dying of curiosity to hear how you conquered your first ever Double-0, X." And finally, R's maelstrom of emotions reveal themselves to be nothing but amusement, confusion, and a bit of pride.

X offers a smile in return.

"I may have awed him with my sailor's mouth and a tongue lashing. I don't think he expected anyone to actually fight him when he's being a bastard." Danielle's mouth twitches, and she reaches over to ruffle X's hair. It's only the fact that he's taken over a year to get used to the casual touching that he doesn't flinch. X does scowl however, ignoring the fact that one of the other technicians always says it makes him look like a kicked puppy. Perhaps she's right, going by the way Danielle grins at his pout.

Abruptly, she hands X the folder that's tucked under her elbow. R points to the list of numbers on the crowning sticky note.

"Channel right there, and inside are the mission specs. Take good care of 005." Danielle smiles, turning her back on X before he gathers himself enough to reply.

"Wait! R- you don't want to handle him?" Danielle spins immediately on her heel. She stares at X incredulously.

"Want? I never want to work with that man, he's a bloody terror, nearly as bad as 007." She turns back around, only speaking when she reaches the bank of elevators to take her down to the lower levels of Q-Branch. "And I trust you, X."

When he finally manages to close his mouth, X deals with the wide-eyed stares by patting down his wild curls. Then, he fits the headset back over his head, and connects to the right comm. Flipping through the file, X listens absentmindedly to the cursing agent until he has a full grasp of the mission parameters.

"Hello 005."

There's a sigh from the other end of the line.

"About bloody time! I'd like to complete this mission in time for the holidays." X rolls his eyes at tone.

"If you make another Q-Branch employee cry, I will personally assure that you fly coach home, with a few layovers in Hong Kong, India, Australia, and a wide variety of South American countries. Oh and if you ever call me a boffin again, I'll program your tech to flash Viagra specials every ten minutes. Do you understand, 005?"

There's a chastised pause at the other end of the line. All of Q-Branch watches as the Techie they have all come to respect smirks fiendishly.

"Perfectly, X."

"Good now that that's taken care of, I want a status update. Everything 005, not just what you deem important."

Did X mention how much he loves running missions?

 

By the time year three rolls around, X is the third highest ranking member of Q-Branch. Helping out Danielle as often as he does leads to more unofficial responsibilities, and as his clearance goes up, so does how much he's able to help with.

As the Quartermaster gets older, it seems as if he spends more and more time sequestered away in his labs. The Branch is lucky if they see their leader once a day. X can see the stress it puts on Danielle, so he makes sure to be available for anything at anytime. Now that MI6 has deemed him safe, and he passed whatever hurdles M tried to tear him down with, X actually enjoys his job. It's more challenging than hacking for hire, and he gets the added bonus of guiding agents through missions. It's novel.

X becomes the second most requested handler after Danielle, and by this time, X has handled almost every single Double-0 and quite a few normal field agents. The only Double-0's he can firmly say he hasn't handled, are 007 and 006, known throughout MI6 as the Two Biggest Pains in the Arses. Danielle always handles those two, what little handling they require. Trevelyan is on a deep undercover assignment in Russia, while 007 is well known for cutting off communications with MI6 rather early. X counts it as a blessing that he's yet to have to handle the two nightmares.

But then, when Danielle comes to him after work one day, face tear-streaked, X regrets it. Despite being M's favorite yet most hated employee and a royal pain to boot, 007 was still a great agent. One of the best at MI6. It spreads through the agency like wild fire that M ordered the agent shot, and X is waiting for Danielle. 007 hadn't only been M's favorite, and X gets R drunk to forget. MI6 is solemn with the loss, and despite the fact that X knows of him only on paper, he's sucked into the mourning too.

But, it is only one agent, and X, because of who he is, is more concerned with the ripples Bond's death causes. The missing information. The newly grounded agent Moneypenny. And the precarious position of M's job.

He always announces himself as X, and soon enough, everyone begins to take it as a title instead of his name. There is Q, then R, and then X, who acts as R's second in command. He can't say he cares, though he finds it a bit amusing that none of the highly trained agents realized that it's his name. They badger him for it, and all X says is that it's X. Messing with agents' heads is a perk of the job. X can imagine the ire they feel through the comms.

Becoming such a central part of Q-Branch means that X's other projects have to be put on hold. He's been steadily overhauling the entire system, but now X hardly has the time. It isn't finished when he puts a temporary halt on the project, but it's already five times more secure than it was before. X knows it can be better however, and that's why it's only a temporary halt.

X comes to regret that pause more than he has regretted anything in his life.

It's a normal day, everyone in Q-Branch settled into their work, with X giving the cyber-unit a walkthrough. There are still less techs than he would like, but forcing Q-Branch into the 21st century is more of a process than X wants to admit. There's a bit of fresh blood though, and X knows to pick his battles.

A good deal of the technicians are working on decrypting different hard drives that various agents bring in (It seems like most every mission involves bringing home hard drives, or some information that needs decrypting. It's a miracle Q-Branch had gotten on as long as it had with so few employees). X observes without being obtrusive and his presence is hardly noticed. He's just heading back to his own desk to get some work done when the ground starts to shake.

And then things fall and break and people start screaming. The smoke overwhelms everything what feels like immediately, so X does the only thing he can. He goes into survival mode.

"Everyone out! Now! Shut down what you're doing and get outside as fast as you can!" Though they all have an air of panic about them, the Q-Branch employees scramble to comply. But it isn't that easy.

"X! The screens are frozen! They won't shut down!" Three separate techs shout at once. X immediately sees what they mean. Frozen is a nice way of putting it. Every screen has the words THINK ON YOUR SINS running at the top. The phrase sends a chill through X.

"Fuck!" The aura of terror in Q-Branch is obvious to even someone not an Empath, and X makes his decision quickly. He can't let his people get hurt. "Out! Go! I'll shut everything down!" People scrabble to comply. X starts in on shutting down the system for good.

As the last person files out of Q-Branch and X's fingers fly over keyboards, engineers from the lower levels begin to emerge, covered in rubble and dust. Several are supported by others, and one's thrown over someone's shoulder in a fireman's carry. Henley, an experienced engineer, coughs once before sprinting to X.

"Henley, status!" He barks.

The man's voice is rough but steely when as reports.

"One of the ceilings caved in, we got out of there as quickly as we could, but I know we lost a few in the collapse."

Ice floods X's veins, and he releases a shaky breath. It's adrenaline that holds him together. He completely forgot about the employees on the lower levels. Oh God. Then, something worse hits him.

"What about Q and R?" Henley freezes.

"They weren't in the stairway, sir. I didn't see them."

Danielle went down to converse with Q, update him like she does daily. If the lower levels collapsed... That's Q's favorite place.

"Fuck." X runs a hand through his hair. He knows that he must have streaked it through with dust, but he doesn't care. "Alright, get out, get everyone else out." Henley stares at him.

"What about you, X?"

"I just have to finish shutting down the network, and then I'll evacuate."

"If you're sure?" X pastes a false smile on his face. Henley radiates a bit of worry and concern beneath the thick veneer of shock over terror. Ah, people caring about him is still something X will never get used to.

"Of course. Get out of here." With one last flash of doubt, Henley's emotional signature dulls as he walks away and begins guiding people out of Q-Branch. X continues his hacking until he's sure that he's eliminated whatever virus was in the systems. By then, the last Q-Branch employee has disappeared well out of his Denomination's range. X hurries, but not toward safety. The hacker sprints towards the stairs leading into the lower levels of Q-Branch and hopes he isn't too late.

X's first reaction is to cough. He thought that the smoke and dust up on the highest level of the branch is bad, but it has nothing on this. X can barely see his feet, and his lungs already feel heavy. Belatedly, X pulls his shirt up as far as he can to cover his mouth; even if it wouldn't do much, it's something. Pulling out his phone, X turns on the flashlight app, cursing when it reveals only the heavy layer of grey dust in the air.

He's effectively blind.

"Let's hope I can remember the way then. And that's there's no surprises in my path."

X's voice echoes around what used to be a staircase. It's the opposite of stealth, but just maybe that would inspire Danielle to call out. But, the way even the echo seems short lived and muffled informs X that it will be unlikely at best. He doesn't want to think about the worst.

He's at the lowest level of Q-Branch, having made it relatively easily thanks to the stability staircases seem to provide, when X runs into his first obstacle. Well, more like steps on really.

X supposes he has been taking for granted the relative smoothness with which he's made his way. Therefore, when his foot catches on something, it nearly sends him sprawling. It's only after he's caught his balance with an undignified flail that X realizes. What he'd stepped on was squishy.

Nervously, X makes his way back a few steps, until he finds whatever it is with his foot again. Crouching down, X brings his phone as close to the thing as he can, trying to get any hint of a shape.

It comes clear all at once. An arm.

Nearly choking on fear, that's unfortunately just his own, X follows the arm slowly back to its body. Truthfully, it isn't necessary, X can sense the lack of anything Empathically. Even if the person was unconscious they would still give off something. But X just has to know, has to see...

Seconds later, X wishes he hadn't. Would do anything to unsee that. Emptying his stomach is ineffective, and a psychological reaction that X isn't prepared for. What's left under the huge slab of concrete that fell from the ceiling is hardly human. The arm is the most intact part of the body, and everything else is blood and tissue and quite frankly gruesome. Bile rises in X's throat just thinking about it.

Perhaps the only relief, not that it really is one because that particular Engineer had a wife and kid, is that the corpse isn't Danielle, but a man by the name of Chris. The only way X can identify him is by his ring, the wedding ring that he always wore. He'd shown it to X once. It had an infinity sign and the name Annie inscribed on it. Annie will be a single mother now.

X forces himself to move on, further away from safety. Just barely brushing at the edge of his Empathy is a living being. The feeling is fleeting, hardly enough to indicate anyone at all, but it's there.

There's only one way to go after he's come this far.

Forward.

 

X gives up on his eye sight and relies only on his Denomination to guide him. Now that he's down in the thick of it, X trips what felt like every other second. He can still hear pieces of ceiling falling down around him, and the only thing to do is pray that nothing falls on him.

X never believed in God, but figures now might be a good time to start.

The only positive thing X can say is that the Empathic signature is getting stronger. Weak and unidentifiable, the only assumption X can make is that whoever it is lies unconscious. But he's getting closer.

His Empathy tells him that he should be on top of whoever it is when X hears it. Breathing not his own. It's rough and uneven with pain, sure, but it's breathing nonetheless.

Out comes the flashlight app and X opens his eyes, staring into the darkness with an intensity that accomplishes nothing. The person is unconscious, but even in oblivion has a splash of pain coloring their emotions. X can only imagine the state they're in, but still he leans closer. It pays off when his flashlight gives a dull lighting to a beat-up-but-alive Danielle.

The relief that X feels is immediate and boundless. Never before has X really let himself get close to another person. First, because he was smarter than they were and they were dull to him. Then, because X was defying and lying to the government, and he couldn't be caught out. Next, because X was a world-class hacker and he didn't need friends. But Danielle, she's wormed her way into X's life and hasn't taken no for an answer.

He's found a kindred-spirit in the older woman. X has come to care about her. Sometimes, he'd even say that he knows her better than he knows himself, and that isn't just courtesy of his Denomination. So, that she's alive is more than X could ever have hoped for.

It's his duty, in a way, to come down here and secure Q and R. Alright, so it may have been a bit beyond what's expected him, but X has always been an overachiever anyway. It isn't an employee who feels around for Danielle's pulse, but a friend.

Most of Q-Branch, hell of MI6, thinks him cold. He's the Techie who gets along better with his computers than other people. The man brave enough to bark orders at Double-0 agents, and the one competent enough that they'll listen. But X isn't ashamed of the sob he lets out when he finds Danielle's pulse. No one is around anyway, what does he have to lose?

X feels along her body for serious injuries, and finds nothing besides the bump on her head, crusted with blood. Until X reaches her right arm. He brings the flashlight down until it's nearly flat against her skin, and traces up it. The angle the arm is at makes him want to throw up once more.

It's pinned slightly under some debris, but once X puts his back into it he gets it shoved away. But it doesn't go far before being stopped by something else. X brings his flashlight over to investigate. His stomach drops.

It's Q. He's impaled on what looked like a metal rod of some sort. It goes all the way through his lower ribcage, pinning him to the floor. His graying hair is streaked through with blood, and a bit stains the corner of his mouth. X doesn't bother to check for a pulse. It's blatant that he would find none.

Q may not have been the best leader, but he was a good man, and a brilliant Engineer. He shouldn't have died like this. It hardens X's resolve to find who did this, even if it kills him.

X checks once more that Danielle isn't pinned under anything and hoists her up over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. And promptly falls on his arse at the weight. She is a thin woman, R, but it doesn't feel like it to X when she's a solid dead-weight. X staggers to his feet, and starts to stumble back the way he came.

It feels a deal longer this time around. By the time X drops to his knees in Q-Branch all he can do is cough. The air is clearer in the Branch's top level, but it isn't clear enough to X's defiled lungs. Danielle slides off his sore shoulder to the ground with a thud, and X spares a moment to be sorry for the rough treatment. But then he's too busy coughing again to feel much of anything.

By the time he's done, X is wrung out and his lungs feel like they're on fire. No serious injury impairs him however, so he counts it as a win. Determined to at least make it out of the building X sets his back and forces himself back to his feet. But they don't stay under him for long. Adrenaline carried him this far, more than he should have expected from his body in the first place.

Apparently, said body has finally come to its senses and realized enough is enough. X hits the hard tile of Q-Branch, wheezing for air that isn't more dust than oxygen. The last thing he thinks before slipping into darkness, is that he hopes the rest of Q-Branch doesn't collapse on him. Would be a bloody waste of effort if he dies now.

 

X comes to in the back of an ambulance. Propped up against the door with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, X shares the ambulance with another person getting stitches. Despite the fact that it's the other man who has a head wound, his own headache exceeds epic proportions. Goddamn smoke inhalation. X slips out of the ambulance, brushing off the paramedic's hand. He needs to find Danielle and the rest of his Branch, make sure they're okay.

Instead, X turns around to find M.

At her glare, X meekly sits back down. The deep breath of fresh air does wonders.

"X, would you like to tell me what the hell you were thinking?"

And that is out of left field.

"I'm sorry?" X squeaks.

"From what other employees are saying, I gather that you refused to evacuate and then that you went down into the lower half of Q-Branch after you'd been told that it had collapsed. So, let me reiterate, what in the hell were you thinking?"

"Did they mention that Q and R were still down there?" X quickly amends his insubordination. "Ma'am."

It doesn't seem to appease M much.

"What good would you be to either of them if you got yourself killed trying to find them?" M shakes her head. Her ice blue eyes drill into X's soul.

"But-"

"No, you should have waited for the professionals. You could have very well caused a cave-in yourself and killed all three of you." X levels a defiant glare at M. Regretting it immediately, he looks down at his feet. Only now, after he's been thrusting his will at M, does X remember the story of what she'd done to the last agent who questioned her orders. According to legend, the agent is perfectly miserable at their post in Siberia. As a rug.

"With all due respect, if I had waited for the professionals, R may not have made it out." X is firm, despite the exhaustion that threatens to overwhelm him. M sighs, before moving on.

"What's the status of Q?" X releases a shaky breath, watching it fog up the oxygen mask.

"Dead, ma'am. Along with Engineer Chris Dunham."

He feels M's mask briefly crack with grief, before she pulls herself back together. The woman has remarkable strength, X will give her that.

"Does he need to go the hospital?" The paramedic jumps when M addresses her. It doesn't take an Empath to tell she's flustered.

"No, ma'am, he should be perfectly fine. The oxygen mask is probably just a formality by now." Immediately X tears the thing off. M watches him coolly. Just like most of their conversations, her emotions give nothing away.

"Go gather your people, Quartermaster. I want to know how Silva got into our systems, and I want him found." She turns away, leaving X slack-jawed. She starts off into the milling crowd of MI6 employees and law enforcement with purpose in her step. "We'll be setting up shop in an old bunker, I'll have Tanner find and direct you." X clambers off the ambulance to catch up, still taken off guard.

"Did you just-" M waves a dismissive hand.

"Of course. Major Boothroyd is dead, and R will be out of commission for God knows how long. It's no secret that you're her second-in-command. You're all we have." M stops and stares at the younger man. She arches a delicate eyebrow. "Unless you aren't up for the job Quartermaster?" M's emotions state clearly that she thinks otherwise.

X- no, he is Q now, straightens. Just like the last time the woman challenged him, Q responds in kind. It's calculated, sure, but the swift brush of satisfaction he gets from the MI6 head is genuine.

"Will you have as much tech as I need? And I do hope that you'll allow me to hire a few more employees, because we're going to need all hands on deck." M nods.

"As you wish Quartermaster."

Q gives his own imperturbable nod.

Quartermaster, he can do this.

 

Q can not do this.

It's a week after the explosion, a week, and Q-Branch is nowhere near functioning. The branch, because of it's low situation in the old MI6 headquarters, lost the most people out of any department. Six of the dead are Engineers, or various others in the same field. Over a dozen injured come from where Q ventured on a whim, including Danielle.

The woman ends up with only a moderate concussion, broken arm, and a few scrapes and bruises. But, she's yet to come back to work, and Q can't find someone to be R in her place, so he's essentially running the branch alone. No, the new Quartermaster is completely rebuilding Q-Branch. By himself.

On top of it, all his people trust him implicitly, those who are left, but that isn't all they feel. Even without the added responsibility, the emotions Q's Denomination pick up are enough to wear him down. Nerves, fear, and terror pound at his mental shields day after day, and Q hates his Denomination, resents it, more than he's ever before in his life. They look up to him, despite the fact that he can sense their abject terror, more than a week after the incident, so Q is stuck.

He can't show his weakness to his underlings, so he doesn't. He rarely leaves Q-Branch, even after he's sent everyone home, instead stealing naps at his desk and storing changes of clothes. Q remembers to eat when people put sandwiches in his hands, and despite the anxiety throughout MI6 someone always brings him tea. Support is the new motto of the agency, though after these years it's still odd for others to help him, to care, and yet here they all are.

Everything is wild enough as is before M comes into the office dragging an alive 007 with her.

When the news spreads to Q-Branch, Q actually pauses long enough to stare in shock. It would have been quite the event for their icy leader to show such emotion, but everyone is too busy being stunned themselves to notice Q. Or worse, photograph it.

Once Q gets his bearings back, the first thing he does is phone Danielle. She's out of the hospital, but not back at work. Q knows she'll come at least to curse out the man she mourned.

When the news trickles down once more that someone alerted Danielle to Bond's status and that she apparently cowed him into apologizing, Q smiles. Some of his underlings that acknowledge Q as a person catch the smile and send him a knowing look. Manfully, Q ignores it.

A few weeks even later than that, Q isn't overly surprised when M tells him to equip 007 for a mission. Though, he might have been dreading it just a little.

James Bond is... James Bond. His Denomination is one of the rare Charm-Speaker, meaning that he can convince almost everyone of what comes out his mouth. Complete bullshit or not. The agent talks women into bed, and information out of suspects. The power of suggestion is only that, however, suggestion. With a strong enough will, or simply a different view of thinking, the Denomination of Charm-Speak is useless. That's where 007's more physical skills come in. His true power is the ability to kill a man thirteen different ways with a pen.

The other people who can resist a Charm-Speaker are people like Q. When you can sense what someone is actually feeling, then what they say to you tends to have less of an impact. Q often finds himself watching the rise and fall of others' emotions as they talk as much as he does their words.

Despite this, Q is nervous to meet the famed agent. Even the vague prospect of having control yanked away from him is terrifying, and it's with momentarily shaky hands that Q packs his briefcase.

The first impression the Quartermaster gets of Agent James Bond is a broiling maelstrom of tension, grief, resignation, pain, and exhaustion. 007's Empathic representation makes Q actually stumble back a step or two, eyes wide. Bloody reds and soulless blacks smash together, crashing and breaking like waves. It's painful to even be around.

Despite the grueling nature of the agent's emotions, his physical body is... Not as painful. In fact, Q is helpless to deny the immediate and overwhelming attraction to the agent. Q is no poet, but he could have waxed on about the blue of Bond's eyes and the rugged jawline and that blond hair... Q is a master at focusing, so that's what he does. Besides, 007's empathic signature is off-putting enough anyway.

Autopilot guides Q toward the agent, and almost against his will, Q is talking.

"Always makes me feel a little melancholy." The spike of irritation is immediate, and yet Q can't stop himself. "A grand old warship, being ignominiously hauled away for scrap." Q releases a breath, ignoring the trained killer's rising ire. Despite his Empathic powers, Q has always been hopeless with people. Danielle, not withstanding. "The inevitability of time, don't you think?" Oh, and there's a different reaction! A flicker of self-hatred, how interesting. An emotional analysis of field agents is Psych's job, but Q has more fun doing things his way. "What do you see?"

"A bloody big ship. Excuse me." The man replies, getting to his feet. Q nearly lets him go before his brain catches up to his body. Bond hadn't simply replied, he'd Charm-Spoken, and Q is momentarily unbalanced.

It's different than what the Quartermaster expected. There's no meaningful eye contact and under the thick veneer of persuasion, Q's Denomination picks up on the disregard and dismissal in the statement. But something in him wants to take 007's word as gospel, to let him just walk away. The agent doesn't even ask for anything particular, but still, Q has to force himself to fight. James bloody Bond isn't dismissing him that easily.

"007. I'm your new Quartermaster." Bond immediately sinks back into his seat, sighing deeply. Despite not breaking his imperturbable mask, the agent's empathic landscape shifts. It drops the storm cloud of angst to slip into surprise, disbelief, suspicion, curiosity, and, predominantly, agitation. Q counts it as a victory that he wrangled any reaction at all from the man. Even if the pure incredulity stings. Ah well, Q is too often underestimated and it would be idiotic to think that a Double-0 agent would do any different.

"You must be joking." Most of the Charm drops from the agent's tone, leaving behind an unhealthy amount of derision.

"Why, because I'm not wearing a lab coat?" Q addresses one of the common stereo-types of Q-Branch. The few people who wear lab coats are only Engineers, or others who work in the lowest levels, while the rest of the branch tends to dress casually. There's no need for pomp and circumstance if ones only duty is programming. The Quartermaster would have hoped for better from a Double-0, or even someone close to Danielle. God knows that woman despises lab coats.

To Q's surprise, Bond's emotions shift once again, this time to amusement. By the time Q is grasping 007's hand, accepted as the new Quartermaster, he has even earned a grudging respect. Well, this won't be too bad after all. Q can see why Danielle got along with the agent, even beneath the occasional Charmed word thrown his way.

When Q doesn't respond at all to the agent's Denomination, all he gets is curiosity. And a bit of disappointment when Q offers no more gadgets. As if the agent actually expected an exploding pen.

Bloody Double-0's.

 

Everything devolves into a clusterfuck rather quickly after that. Bond's mission goes surprisingly well, and his equipment is useful. Though Q bemoans the loss of the personalized Walther PPK; it was bloody expensive. Silva is brought in, along with his laptop, and everything is working seamlessly. The encryption's broken with 007's help (not that it was needed, Q had it well under control) and everything is at the Quartermaster's fingertips. But then it goes to high hell, of course.

Something is niggling under Q's skin, begging for attention, has been since they brought Silva in. It's too easy, too simple, for this to have been his endgame. Logically, Q knows he's looking a gift-horse in the mouth, so he says nothing. His second big mistake when it comes to Silva.

Control of his network is wrenched away from him, and every single electronic lock in the building is thrown.

Q's barely aware of Bond's exit, but the removal of the man's tumultuous emotions is a blessing.

"Can someone tell me how the hell he got into our system?" Blank faces look back, with a tinge of fear in most of them. Realization strikes Q and he looks down at Silva's laptop.

Not such a clever boy.

"Oh shit. Shit, shit, shit." Q unplugs the laptop from the mainframe frantically. But, the damage is already done. He bloody well just let someone hack into the network he's so painstakingly rebuilding. Oh, he has done it now.

It takes only a second to untangle the virus, discover just what it's meant to do. Q falls back into his seat and buries two hands in his hair. The dark locks catch and knot against his fingers, but the supposed Techie just tugs until all he can sense is the pain radiating from his scalp.

Goddammit, he's really messed up now. And Silva is going to walk free because of it.

 

Then, 007 needs Q's help to lay a false trail for Silva. Tanner is down in Q-Branch with the Quartermaster when Bond finally makes contact and it's clear that the man assumes Q will do as asked. Even if the younger man hasn't been itching for a way to get revenge on Silva for hacking his network or threatening M, Q would have done it.

People mean more to the 'emotionless' Techie than many think. Though Q often finds himself wondering if it would be the same was he not connected to everyone he meets on an emotional level.

Q senses Mallory coming before he even enters the branch, but he can't be arsed to care. If the older man expects him to stop trying to give the two on the end of the line a fighting chance, he's insane. There's no malcontent evident in the man's demeanor anyway, a small part of Q's brain notes.

Still, for show, when the injured Mallory clears his throat, Q pretends. The man approves, Q knows even before he voices it. Q will always prefer the current M, but if this is to fail Q thinks he can handle following Mallory. As long as he cares about people, about his agents, Q can put up with near anything. He and M hadn't gotten along at first anyway, and now Q respects her more than he ever has anyone else. Besides perhaps Danielle.

Q is preparing for her death though, and if it's this habit that made him seem emotionless, then so be it. Q knows better than to expect much from life, and luck almost always turns sour. As an Empath, he's felt his fair share of people die. Most memorable was when as a child he and his parents came across a pile-up of a dozen cars or more.

He was maybe eight, but Q will never forget what it felt like when he felt the first person die. All together he felt three people slip away. It was a sudden absence in which space had been before. Even if that space was filled only with pain and fear, it was still filled. And suddenly that tangibility is gone and it feels like someone carved something out of him. An essential part. Over the years, Q gets better dealing with it. His range extends farther so he has no choice. But that first time, an eight year-old Q cried for hours.

As he gets older, more experienced, more weathered and wearier, the Quartermaster realizes that death isn't the worst thing to feel. It's people dealing with a loss.

Grief is bitter, and the most painful emotion Q is privy to. It's overwhelming and cloying and most of all heavy. Feeling people die is somewhat rare. People in grieving? Not so much. The only way Q knows to handle it is to build up walls as strong as he can.

Grief though, grief wiggles its way inside every time and leaves Q feeling weighted. He doesn't have as much experience with it being his own emotion, and to be honest, it's frightening.

So Q is preparing himself, has been ever since M let drop that the man they were looking for was coming for her. That's why, when Bond calls in and reports her death, the previously imperturbable agent's voice cracking, that's why Q lets himself feel one brief burst of mourning before slamming down his shields as thoroughly as he is able.

Mallory and Tanner, who isn't his friend persay, but whom he has gotten the occasional lunch and beer with, are with him when Bond calls. Q watches as the Chief of Staff's knees give out, and he spills himself into a chair. Mallory looks surprisingly devastated, and Q marvels at the fact that such a cold woman managed to win so many affections.

Mallory uses his good arm to muss up his gelled in place hair and Tanner puts his head in his hands and just breathes. Q gives himself one deep breath, one, before he answers 007 and arranges transport for the agent back to MI6. His voice is calm and steady, and he's done in only minutes.

By the time he turns back to the two other men, Mallory is gone and Tanner is watching him. Steadily meeting the man's gaze, Q feels a flicker of surprise at what he sees there. The Chief of Staff looks unbearably tired and more vulnerable than he has ever allowed Q to see. Not considering himself or M (or the woman who had been M. Q supposes he should call her Olivia Mansfield now), or the Double-0's, Tanner has the best poker face in all of MI6. Q risks lifting his shields marginally to get a glimpse of the man's emotions.

He doesn't break eye contact.

Accompanying the expected grief is also another layer. For someone who was quite close with the now deceased M, Tanner projects a surprising amount of neutrality and clarity. But, Q should expect it. He makes it his mission to not underestimate anyone, and Bill Tanner should never be underestimated at all. M made him her Chief of Staff for a reason.

Still, the coldness is startling, and so is Tanner's voice when he speaks. It's level, and hints at none of the grief that the man has been so open in showing before, or that still swirls inside him, glowing a sickly green.

"You're a cold bastard Q, you know that?" The only reason Q doesn't flinch externally or internally, is that it isn't meant cruelly. The statement is simply fact. As Tanner doesn't see inside him, (he is a Memory, not an Empath) he can only know what Q shows him. It's comforting to know that his masks are holding up well. Internally, Q is a screaming, shaking mess because preparation is naught in the face of reality. He's only barely keeping a lid on it. Tanner, however, can't know that. And it is no fault of his own.

There is only one response Q can give, really, and that's the truth.

"I have to be."

Tanner nods in acknowledgement and leaves a few moments later.

Q will make it through the rest of the day, and he will not lose his composure once. He will guide clean-up, both in Scotland and in London. Q will check Bond in, and direct 001 on the last legs of her mission in Tibet because the showdown at home does not mean that no other agent is out in the field. Q will stay through the night, and most of the next day. At two o'clock, Danielle, who is only working part-time still, will bring him lunch and realize Q is only on his feet through sheer determination.

She will scold him, bundle him up, and check both of them out for the day. Then Danielle, because she is Q's best friend, will take him out and get him mind-numbingly drunk. Neither will say very much, and neither would bring up M. Danielle will guide Q home, even though it's hardly six, and she will tuck him into bed.

Q will make it through the rest of the day, but once he's home, and Danielle has left, Q will let himself break.

Just for a little while.

And then he will wake up and go to work in the morning, because right now? MI6 needs its Quartermaster more than ever.

 

Q guides Eve Moneypenny through a few missions while she's a field agent, but other than that, doesn't have much interaction with the woman. From what Q knows of her, she was a good agent, not a Double-0 but deadly enough in her own right. It's unfortunate what happened with Bond, but Q never thought the woman at fault.

The shot she was supposed to make was difficult and the situation was highly stressful. Q hardly thinks it worthy of her stepping down from field work, it was a mistake yes but an understandable one. But things are busy around MI6, even before the explosion. He feels a brief pulse of regret that a good agent is retiring so early, and other than that doesn't give it much thought.

Moneypenny is a Spark, which, while useful in the field, doesn't have many practical applications at home. Q isn't sure what she gets up to in the interim months between the failed mission and Bond resurrecting, but whatever it is doesn't bring her into his path.

In fact, the first time Q really meets Eve is at Olivia Mansfield's funeral and the reading of her will.

Q shows up near the end of the service, after everyone has already spoken their piece. He has no desire to listen to miserable people pretend that they knew M. No one knew the woman and that's how it was supposed to be, and Q isn't up to pretending otherwise. Funerals are miserable places for Empaths anyway. Q stands as far away from the others gathered as possible, even if it does very little to mute the emotions. He watches as they bury her casket, and stands a moment by her grave after most everyone has cleared out.

Tanner is in attendance, silently lurking in the back much like Q, but Danielle is in the thick of things. Hugging people, sharing tears. She gestures for Q to join her, but he refuses. Everyone loves Danielle, and Q is perfectly fine being on the outside. Bond isn't present, as far as Q can tell. He won't be surprised if the Double-0 is simply out of sight, or if he really hasn't attended. None of the Double-0's are there, in fact, but a good deal of regular field agents are. Q wonders if it makes it harder for the Double-0 section to cheat death if they remind themselves of it too often.

Moneypenny lurks on the edges of the crowd, and Q only knows that it's her from her personnel file. While her emotions read as dark, they are not stiflingly so, and Q once again mourns the magnificent field agent she could have turned out to be. He doesn't acknowledge the woman, and she doesn't acknowledge him, even as Q knows Moneypenny must feel his eyes on her.

Q stands by the headstone that reads Olivia Mansfield and doesn't say much of anything. He's always found the idea of talking to a grave mad, and knows M would have scoffed to see the imperturbable Quartermaster be so sentimental. He and M weren't friends necessarily but they understood each other. Q met with her semi-regularly, even before he became Quartermaster. Checking his progress she'd say, but after the first few times M pulled out the scotch and they would drink a few shots. Her mask never cracked, and they never talked as anything more than an employee and superior, but still, it was companionship of a sort.

Q brushes his fingers against the cool stone, and turns away. M is dead. Q is not. Life goes on, it has to.

Moneypenny is waiting a respectable distance apart, and Q doesn't let his face show his surprise. Her emotional landscape doesn't give much away, and so Q walks over, a bit wary. When he reaches her, Moneypenny stretches out a hand. Bemused, Q takes it. He does his best to ignore the rush of emotions skin-to-skin contact provides. Peeking is rude.

"My name is Eve Moneypenny; it's nice to finally meet you Quartermaster." She gives a polite smile. The woman is dressed in a smart black pantsuit and the handshake she offers Q is firm.

"Ms. Moneypenny." Q inclines his head, and tries not to be put out at the soft amusement coming from the woman. He reminds himself, over and over, that being underestimated can only be a good thing.

"I'll be staying in office as M's secretary, so we should run into each other on a fairly regular basis. It seemed wise to introduce myself to you." Q takes in this new information. While she was certainly a good agent, Q can see Moneypenny functioning very well in a secretarial position. Q offers a bland smile and quirks an eyebrow.

"I'm sure working with you will be a pleasure." Something about that makes Moneypenny give a delighted laugh. There's a curiosity about the woman now, along with a hint of satisfaction. Q wonders if he's passed whatever test the woman saw fit to subject him to. It appears to be so only seconds later.

"I'm heading over to the reading of her will, would you like to grab a cuppa with me on the way there?" Q considers. As far as his limited social skills and not so limited Empathic abilities can tell, this is an offer of friendship. Q is... curious, so he acquiesces with a small nod. Satisfaction pulses more strongly through Moneypenny, and they grab tea and muffins before heading to the reading of the will.

Q can't help the laugh when he discovers what M has left him. A bottle of scotch, two glasses, and a hairbrush.

Moneypenny shoots him an odd smile and it is the beginning of their friendship.

 

Sooner than Q would have expected, 007 is back in Q-Branch with orders to equip him for a mission. Bond looks well, better then he had the last time Q saw him. He feels better too. There's something settled about his emotions, and they swirl with mischief as he approaches Q. Q-Branch employees practically dive out of the Double-0's way, but the Quartermaster isn't concerned. If Bond meant any harm, he would feel it.

Said man is only feet away from Q's office, who is drawing himself up, when a terrifying voice cuts through the room.

"James Bond if you think you're going to cause a ruckus in my branch, then you are very sorely mistaken."

It's quite the sight, watching a veritable monster of a man cowed by a short, middle-aged lady. R has that effect.

Bond turns on the Charm, pressing a kiss to Danielle's hand. Q marvels at the pure affection, and protectiveness coming from the Double-0. Emotionless, Q's arse.

"Danielle." Q rolls his eyes when the Q-Branchers close enough actually swoon. Danielle is having none of it.

"007, what did I tell you about using that tone of voice on me? I should kick you out of my branch this instant." Bond smirks roguishly at the threat. Marveling at the similarities between a mother scolding her child, Q hides his own smirk by taking a sip of tea. He frowns to find the cup empty. Drat, he'll have to go get another one then.

"Orders from on high, Danielle. May I speak with the Quartermaster?"

The two are aware that Q can hear them perfectly well, correct? Danielle looks 007 up and down with a critical eye.

"Hm, no. I don't think so."

Both of Bond's eyebrows go up.

"Pardon?"

By now, the two have gathered a crowd of observers. At Bond's confusion, the last Tech in Q-Branch stops working and wanders over to watch. Q, for his part, doesn't move. If no one realizes that he has front row seats, so be it.

"The Quartermaster is a very busy man, with many important jobs to do," Q guiltily closes the solitaire game he's been picking at for the past few hours while a program decrypts, "And the very busy man has just run out of tea. If you want a word, I think you should bring a cuppa first." Q turns in his chair to stare. He's not sure how Danielle knew he was drinking dregs, but now he can't pretend not to be intrigued.

"And if I don't?" Q very carefully stretches his senses to test for irritation. Thankfully, all he finds is slight amusement. The Quartermaster relaxes.

"And if you don't, I'm sure someone else can equip you just fine. Patrick needs the experience." Q winces. Danielle has complained about the wet-behind the ears Techie multiple times. Apparently, the lad's got no spine and little to no actual skill. Q hardly needs to be an Empath to feel the spike of alarm coming from the named man.

There's a considering silence before Bond turns and strolls out of the Branch. Danielle spins on her heel to grin at Q, who watches with a flabbergasted expression. Her emotions are bursts of triumph.

"You are insane." Q informs her drily. Danielle skips away, years younger than she actually is.

When Bond enters the Branch again, he holds a steaming mug of tea. Danielle doesn't waylay him this time.

"Quartermaster," Bond greets. "Your tea." Q tries not to make his suspicion obvious, and takes a tentative sip. His eyes widen behind his glasses. Bond radiates smug satisfaction, and his lips curl up into a little smirk.

Bond didn't ask, but he got the tea exactly right.

Q equips him with everything the agent needs and a side of witty banter. He even earns a laugh, and a pulse of genuine amusement out of 007. Q tries not to notice the way his hard lines soften. Silva may be dead, but the attraction is still not appropriate.

Danielle shoots him a knowing smirk, when Bond leaves the Branch. Q hates his life, honestly.

 

Because Danielle is an evil, evil woman, she passes control of Bond's mission over to Q.

Bond sounds surprised, if not upset, when it's Q who answers, not Danielle. For once, the hacker regrets that his Denomination is not effective over telephone lines.

"Miss me already, Quartermaster?" Bond's voice is teasing. Q gives the man in his ear a third of his attention, while the rest focuses on the hard drive he's decrypting.

"Hardly, 007. Danielle is indisposed at the moment, however, and you seem to have alienated everyone else in the Branch." Bond very carefully sidesteps the barb.

"So that leaves you? I wasn't aware you regularly ran missions."

Q snorts.

"Being Quartermaster means more than hacking the fastest and creating the best gadgets, 007. You're hardly the first agent I've guided."

When Bond responds, there's a new tone to his voice, one Q doesn't recognize.

"Yes, but none of them are quite like me, I assure you." Is 007- is 007 flirting with him? He turns this over in his mind, once again regretting Bond's lack of presence. It's much easier to decipher sincerity when Q can feel out emotions.

It's easy to write it off as just something Bond does.

"We'll see."

Yes, we will, Q supposes. This- could be interesting.

 

A month later, and Moneypenny storms Q-Branch.

She drags a protesting Q out from his desk and out from MI6 altogether. She finally loosens her hold a street away, dropping him onto a bench. Tanner is waiting, looking equally as accosted, with three sandwiches and tray of drinks.

"Here we are." Their kidnapper says. Eve slips out of her heels to recline more comfortably on the bench. They've become something like friends since the Skyfall debacle, and Q is comfortable sharing a commiserating glance with Tanner. "Now eat up. Q, you're skin and bones, and Tanner, you either need to punch something or drown your pain in food." Now that Q is looking for it, he can sense an underlying layer of tension and stress in the other man's emotional landscape.

Tanner feels unbearably tired.

Q pats him on the shoulder. "It's best to do what she says, I imagine she has plans in place if we don't." Tanner makes a show of being put-upon even if Q can literally see some of the stress lifting. The sandwiches are surprisingly good.

"Any particular reason to kidnap us then, Eve?" The woman snorts, looking annoyed.

"Don't pretend, Tanner. It's been a hell of a week, and Bond hasn't been making it any easier. And Q, any opportunity to actually expose you to the outdoors, I take." Affronted, Q bites out a "Hey!" Before the rest of the statement sinks in. It certainly has been a busy week, with both 003 and 009 causing international incidents within days of each other and M making staff changes. But Q hadn't been aware that the recently grounded 007 was making things difficult. He says as much.

"I hadn't realized Bond was being anymore of a pain than usual." Immediately, Tanner and Eve share a look. Q worries that they both seem... sympathetic.

"You wouldn't, Q. It seems 007 has developed a crush on you." Tanner aims for comforting, but Q is too busy staring in shock.

"That's- that's ridiculous!" Eve leans forward to squeeze his shoulder.

"'Fraid not, love." Q just blinks.

As if the gates were opened, Tanner groans pitifully and buries his head in his hands.

"Lord, it's been terrible. It started with just regular questions, about your history and what not. I didn't tell him anything of course, but then he broke into the personnel records."

"He found nothing of course. I don't have a file." Q interjects pointedly. Tanner glares at him.

"Yeah, well no one else bloody knew this. We spent three days trying to dig up your file, sure it had just been misplaced." Q shakes his head again.

"It never existed. All the information about my past died with M, that was a part of our deal." Tanner shoots him a dirty look. Before the conversation can continue, Q quickly changes the subject. "I hardly see how any of this indicates a crush on Bond's part." He must have given something away, because he can taste the surprise and understanding coming from Eve.

"You're a lot less alarmed by this then I would have thought." Q opens his mouth, but Eve continues undeterred. "Unless of course, you want Bond to have feelings for you?" Before he can control it, Q's mouth snaps shut. Audibly.

Eve grins immediately, and Tanner buries his face in his hands. He mutters something about nightmares and headaches, and stands.

"I don't want to deal with this right now." The Chief of Staff bemoans. Q agrees. Before Eve can grab hold of him, he jumps up. If the Quartermaster runs back to MI6, and doesn't come out of his office for a few hours, well, it's not that odd.

He has some things to think about.

 

Q's life is hell however, so he gets precisely zero time to think.

He's been in his office for perhaps a quarter hour, when he hears the chaos in the rest of the Branch. Q nearly throws his mug across the room when he realizes that he forgot.

Despite what most everyone at MI6 may say, not everyone loves the Quartermaster. Psych hates him with a passion, along with most of Medical (Q is notorious for being just as bad of a patient as a Double-0). Most field agents, ones that Q has personally run through missions, adore him. He is competent, and literally unlocks every door in an agent's way. Q is drily funny, and adjusts his orders for each changing scenario. The most requested handler in the branch, just under Danielle, is the Quartermaster himself.

But Q is not friends with everyone, through no fault of his own.

004 is... 004 is impossible. Several people recommended that he be tested for sociopathy, and even though it was a negative all five times, the notation is large in his file. None of the other Double-0's like him much, and 007 flat out refuses to work with him. Rumor has it they worked one mission together, and Bond told the old M that if he had to work with the man again, he was gone. 004, or Charles King, is said to have no morals in the field and little to no social skills. On mission, he's a charmer and an admirable operative, but other than that, he's a bastard.

That's only on mission, not counting the way he treats Q-Branch, and the rest of MI6 when he's stuck in London.

Q is the only one who can deal with him in the field. It's certainly not because 004 actually likes him, or listens, but that the agent has traumatized and threatened every other handler in the Branch. Danielle used to handle him, but after she would come away pale and shaky. Q took King off her hands as soon as he was able. No Double-0 is easy to handle, but 004 is worse than the others put together, for his simple lack of humanity.

004 disliked him from the get-go. With the agent lobbing threats and insults as fast as he could manage, Q reacted perhaps less than admirably. He yelled at King over the comms. Tore into him for the blatant disrespect he showed everyone and their tech. 004 had gotten deadly quiet, before promising softly to look Q up when he got home. Even as his insides curled in fear, Q had remained calm and informed King just what he could do with his threats.

The only reason Q is still breathing, is that 009, who he had already made friends with, was still at base recovering from a gunshot wound. 004 came in with murder on his mind and 009 stood guard over the Quartermaster until the agent was sent out again. As Q had gotten more popular with the Double-0 section, an almost honor guard was set up around him whenever 004 was back in London. It worked out okay, but the abuse from the agent hadn't let up over the comms.

People tried to stand up, brought evidence to M. The woman wasn't willing to dismiss a good operative, however, and only conceded to reassign 004 to long undercover missions.

The most recent incident was the one that perhaps would really spell out Q's demise.

It hadn't been his fault, honestly, the Quartermaster had nothing to do with it. 004 was given prototype tech, and told to be careful with its environment or it wouldn't function. King hadn't been, and the tech failed. Q wasn't responsible for the design, and in fact had chewed out the Engineer who produced it, but everyone made mistakes. Knowing the arrival date of the unstable Double-0, the Quartermaster had given the Engineer the week off, for safety reasons.

Q had no such luck, and to make matters worse, the only Double-0 in London at the moment is 007, who has yet to participate in the "guard the Quartermaster" fiasco. They've formed an awkward friendship, but Bond isn't quite like the other agents in their affection for Q. When his techs insisted the Quartermaster call in 007 for a bodyguard, he resisted. Bond's respect had been earned. Cowering from 004 would ruin it.

Q had been tense all day, waiting, but Eve had thrown him off his game. When the commotion starts outside the Branch, a veritable storm of rage and fear, the Quartermaster is unprepared. R is thankfully down in the lower levels, and hopefully safe. Gently, Q puts down the tech he was fiddling with, and tries not to panic.

Well, at least Bond is far from his mind.

The door to the Quartermaster's flies open, smashing against the wall. The emotions coming off 004 stun Q for precious seconds. The man practically glows with anger and unrestrained violence. Q can feel the calculating fury in his bones, and worse, the utter lack of any morals. Yes, King is most certainly a sociopath, Q thinks.

There's nothing he can do to protect himself as 004 grabs him by his neck and tosses him into the wall. The agent, unfortunately, falls in the Strength Denomination category. It's evident why. Before Q can recover, King's fingers are digging into his neck. It's odd, feeling the bruises forming already. The Quartermaster is no stranger to pain or intimidation, and it's this that keeps his expression flat and unamused even as his feet leave the floor.

Beyond the ocean of rage swamping his senses is the panic of every Q-Branch employee. If he stretches his senses out far enough, he can sense another presence approaching, strong and confident and sure... King jerks Q's attention back to the physical, as his hand tightens in a vice grip.

"I've been waiting years to do this, Quartermaster." The Double-0 bares his teeth like an animal. "You think you're so smart? I'm going to tear you limb from limb, just because I can." Q quirks an eyebrow. Somehow, through the lump of fear in his throat, his tone remains dry.

"I'd rather you didn't, that sounds rather messy and Q-Branch produces some very delicate equipment."

Oh, wow. That appears to actually be a snarl. Immediately, Q can't breath. It's involuntary, but he's gasping instantly, fighting for air. Strangulation is certainly not the way he would have chosen to go. A little voice in the back of his mind reminds him that he can easily take down 004 with his Empathy, but Q shies away. It's a line he can never cross, he'll die first. King smiles, wide and frightening, and Q thinks that maybe they all got it wrong. The world is spotting out, but something is clear. 004 is most certainly a psychopath.

"Hasn't anyone ever taught you to play well with others, Charlie?" Bond asks. Q has never been more grateful to hear his voice, pride be damned.

King drops him to face 007, and Q sucks in a breath desperately from his crumpled position on the floor. He looks up in time to see Bond glance away, entire being incandescent with rage. He can't see well without his glasses, but Q can feel it, and it's a comfort. It hurts to breathe.

"James. You have no business here." Q glares weakly at the back of 004's head. He wonders if there's anything nearby to throw.

"Walk away now, Charlie, and I might let you live." Q struggles to sit up, entire body throbbing. Bond's voice is cold, more frightening than the Quartermaster has ever heard in person. From his new position, it's easier to see how the Double-0's are poised, on the balls of their feet. Q is reminded of two big cats, circling for the kill.

004's only response is laughter. Bond's eyes narrow, and he hardens.

"I'm a Strength, James you idiot. I can kill you with my pinkie."

"I have no doubt that I could defeat you in hand-to-hand despite that, however I'd like to spare Q's rugs."

"Much obliged, 007." Q croaks, voice rough and useless. Bond softens his gaze before he transfers it to the Quartermaster. It's odd, he doesn't think he's ever seen 007 look so kind.

"Don't talk, Q." He chides. Q rolls his eyes, ignoring the way it makes his head ache. Bond's lips quirk in amusement, which hardens as he looks back at King. 007 tilts his head, and the Quartermaster is once again reminded of a predator. Bond opens his mouth and says one, simple command. "Go to sleep."

King drops like a stone, along with everyone in Q-Branch. Q has never been more surprised.

The amount of latent power in the word could knock out a city block, Q thinks. 007 is much more powerful then he has ever let on, the most powerful Charm-Speak Q has ever seen. The wave of exhaustion takes the Quartermaster by surprise, and he fights it with a whimper, because he's an Empath goddammit. Bond jerks at the noise, and even with his blurring vision Q can see the other man's hands are shaking. He wonders how much power it takes to knock out over thirty people. It shouldn't be possible at all. 007's energy, as his head lifts, swirls with surprise and confusion.

Q's down to only seeing basic colors and shapes by the time he feels a hand on his face. It's warm and calloused, and Q knows it's Bond. The zing of connection is unmistakeable. The older man's emotions wrap around the Quartermaster like a blanket, and Bond places Q's glasses back on his face. Even when Q can see with only a bit of blur, 007 doesn't remove his hand.

"How are you still conscious?" Q blinks stubbornly. He's fading fast, but he won't let Bond know that.

"You can't tell me what do." He manages. It sounds like a mix between a petulant child and a confession. Q hopes Bond doesn't read into it.

"Techie, my arse." Bond murmurs. If he wasn't so tired, the hacker would be panicking at the first crack in his cover. 007's other hand comes up feel gently around the Quartermaster's neck. Q can't muffle a whimper, mind yanked away from his subtle panicking. Oh well, the bruising he was expecting. It's a surprise, however when Bond sifts a hand through the back of his unruly mop, and it comes away stained red. Q stares at it uncomprehendingly for a moment. Bond flares with concerned anger. In the back of his mind, Q can feel other signatures approaching. He opens his mouth to tell Bond this, but the other agent raises a finger to shush him. "It's alright Q, you can go to sleep now."

There's no Charm in the tone, just honest permission. Q chooses to nod and close his eyes. He can only be imagining the second, gentle drag of a hand through his hair.

 

The Quartermaster, and everyone on the top floor of Q-Branch, wakes up in Medical. Overall, he feels alright, his head throbbing insistently, but not debilitatingly. It hurts to breathe, but Q can tell immediately that it won't be permanent damage. King is a Strength, and things could have been so much worse.

When Q finally peels open his eyes, he remembers the rest of what occurred.

Every single bed in Medical is filled with a Q-Brancher. Most are propped up and talking, particularly the ones who had been farthest from Bond when he spoke. Q can neither spot said agent or 004, the latter for which he is grateful. Apparently, his employees have managed to clarify things that far. The Quartermaster sincerely hopes that Bond doesn't get in trouble, when the man had simply been defending him.

Working up to a sitting position, Q contemplates his ability to just flee the premises. Medical has always been his enemy, both for fear of them somehow discovering his true Denomination and the fact that they never allow him a laptop. His legs dangle down to the floor, and Q gets the will to move just as his cover is blown.

"Q! Oh dear, are you alright?" Danielle appears in front of him. Her hands flutter around his shoulders, clearly wanting to hug him. Q still isn't a fan of touch, having trained himself out of it as a child. Other's emotions are so much stronger if you meet skin to skin. However, the Quartermaster takes pity on R, and grips her forearms tightly. She's practically vibrating with concern and fear, and it takes all of Q's composure not to flinch. He makes himself gentle and calm, projecting it as carefully as he can.

"I'm fine, R. Honestly."

The woman isn't convinced.

"Your neck..."

Q smiles.

"Bruises, just bruises. You and I both know that I've had worse." And it's this, the subtle reminder of their history that finally placates her. Danielle sniffs, eyes looking far too watery for Q's taste. Even if he felt her relax minutely, she is still far too tense, with a tough core of terror.

"After losing Boothroyd so recently, when I heard 004 was home and making trouble..." Danielle grimaces. "That man is heartless and I honestly thought you were dead, Q." He frowns, opening his mouth, but R doesn't let him butt in. "It didn't help, running up and finding nearly everyone in the Branch laid out on the ground..." He winces. Doing his best to turn the swirl of negative emotion into anything else, Q slowly releases Danielle's arms. He stands up, ignoring the pulse of dizziness and pain.

"That was hardly my fault. 007 can be quite persuasive when he wants to be." It's a relief when R rolls her eyes, her emotional landscape being taken over mostly by fondness and exasperation. Apparently seeing Q standing up under his own power has done a lot to reassure her. He chooses not to acknowledge the fact that he hasn't fallen over only because of locked knees and sheer force of will.

"I'm glad you're alright, Q." Q lets the positive emotion envelop him, and uses it as a metaphorical crutch. The longer he's standing, the less it hurts. All in all, a run in with a Double-0 could have gone much much worse. Pretending to be only stretching, the Quartermaster releases his Empathic ability, checking tentatively on every signature in the Wing. In the thousands of cases of his Denomination, Q knows such range in unheard of. Few Empaths can sense beyond the room they're in, and a great number need touch for their power to work at all. For Q, this distance is a stretch, but not too bad of one, and soon enough he withdraws at the relative health of each of his underlings. His empathy catches on another stronger signature, projecting confidence like only the old-M had ever managed. That would be the current M then, checking in on the situation personally.

They haven't interacted beyond the professional capacity, but Q thinks the man has done a decent job. He'll never have anything on his predecessor, of course, though Q may be biased. The man has always had an honest emotional capacity at least. This new incarnation of M isn't quite as walled down, still prone to flares of actual emotion visible to an Empath, but he's getting better. The man is at least concerned with his employees.

M strolls up to the bed which Q has just risen from. For his cover's sake, the Quartermaster allows himself to appear startled. It's been so many years of hiding, that Q rarely has to consciously put an effort in. He wonders what about recent events has shaken him so loose. His Denomination, never a hindrance in his daily life, is now front and centre in his mind. Q clears his mind as M begins to talk.

"Quartermaster, would you like to tell me what went on today?" Considering, Q obliges with a slightly censored version of the truth.

"004 and I have never gotten on very well," Danielle snorts, "And on his last mission some tech failed him. He achieved his mission objectives and accidents happen, but 004 was not pleased. He took it up with me."

"The man is a sociopath, sir. No other agent will work with him, not even 007. He's violent and this would have happened much sooner if not for the other Double-0's and 004's long undercover assignments." R interjects hotly. Q watches one of M's eyebrows arch.

"Other Double-0's?"

Q scoffs.

"Yes, the other agents have gotten it into their head that I need protecting. Whenever 004 is on leave, they assign themselves as bodyguards." If anything, M looks pleased.

"Then why wasn't 007 watching you?"

Q shifts.

"I imagine because he wasn't aware of the issue."

R continues for him.

"And because Q is too stubborn to ask for help." Somehow, Danielle gets away with being as abrasive as she wants. It never ceases to amuse and frustrate the Quartermaster. "Thankfully, one of our Techie's had no qualms about alerting Bond as soon as she smelt trouble." Well that explained the man's appearance, though Q isn't surprised. M turns his piercing gaze back onto the Quartermaster.

"I've heard other's accounts, but I'd like to hear what happened once 004 entered the Branch in your own words please." It's less of a request and more an order. Q acquiesces.

"I was caught off guard. 004 threw me across the room and proceeded to strangle me, all the while muttering rather graphic threats of dismemberment. Bond appeared and King released me. 007 then ordered 004 to go to sleep and in the process knocked unconscious the rest of the Branch, including me. That's all I remember." Q lies. The short conversation before he passed out is irrelevant and far too exposing. He's not going to mention it, and hopefully neither will 007.

M appears and feels satisfied.

"You won't have to worry about 004 again. Next time, don't let your own pig-headedness get in the way of your safety, Quartermaster." M walks out.

Q exhales shakily, and then flicks his eyes to Danielle. She for once radiates exhaustion, and the Quartermaster makes a decision. It's well past normal working hours, and everything in Q-branch can wait. A nurse is finally approaching the two, and Q thinks it's about time to flee the scene

"So, R. How do you feel about breaking me out of Medical, and going for a drink?" Danielle grins, and links an arm through the Quartermaster's.

"It'd be my pleasure."

 

News travels fast in MI6, and by ten o'clock the next morning Q has already had a veritable sea of visitors. Everyone is interested in checking up on the Quartermaster. Most notably is Eve, who makes a quip about Q not having to try so hard to get out a conversation. Funnily enough, said conversation has fled his mind, until Eve reminds him of it. Q still finds it unbelievable that Bond might be attracted to him, though recent events have made him less sure. Just days ago, Q considered their friendship tenuous at best, but 007 threw him for a loop yesterday. The concern and rage were one hundred percent real, Q could feel otherwise after all, and Bond was unbearably gentle afterwards.

The Quartermaster can't forget the feel of a calloused hand carding through his hair.

Q keeps his game face on, and reminds himself why pursuing 007 would be a terrible idea. There's nothing for it if all the reasons sound all like petty excuses.

Dozens of people come and go over the next few days, though Tanner can only place a call. The poor man is swamped, but takes the time to assure Q that 004 is at the bottom of a deep dark hole far from London. He takes visceral satisfaction in hearing this. Always at the back of his mind is Bond, who seems to spend all his time guarding Q. The Quartermaster surmises that he isn't supposed to be aware of the Double-0's presence, but his Denomination negates that.

Emotions don't always identify a person, but 007's are unmistakeable. No one else at MI6 has quite that level of lethal intent at all times, and certainly no one else could manage to hide his physical presence from Q for so long. He finds it terribly annoying, when Q spares the time to think about it, that 007 would have the gall to tail him everywhere.

He doesn't let the agent know that he's aware, taking contradictory comfort in knowing that a trained killer has his back. Honestly, the trouble doesn't start until certain members of the Double-0 section start making an effort to finish their missions early, all so they can fret over their beloved Quartermaster. Or at least, that's how it seems.

001 is on the shortest mission, and she manages to finish way ahead of the estimated time frame. She's on a plane back to London barely two days after the attack. Q's bruises have just reached their discolored peak.

Q imagines that he can sense the woman as soon as she enters the building, burning with a purpose. 001 is deadly and unreadable even to the Empath, but for some reason she's taken a liking to the Quartermaster. All the Double-0's have, oddly enough, 006 not withstanding. Q simply hasn't interacted with the other man yet. The deadly affection stems from competent handling, he assumes. Q is long past being alarmed that over half-a-dozen trained killers see him as a precious pet.

001, however is special. The woman has a reputation nearly as large as Bond's for seduction, and not far off 004's for cruelty. She's known throughout MI6 as one of the deadliest Double-0's in history. Yet, she treats Q with the care and respect one reserves for small children and the elderly.

It's still a mystery how the Quartermaster wins her over. One second she's coolly distant over the comms, and the next she's bringing him tea from exotic places. Oddly enough, 001 is sincere, and Q feels random spurts of protectiveness between her cold front. They aren't best friends by any means, but the Quartermaster enjoys her witty banter and the tea he receives from foreign countries.

Hardest to accept though, is that 001 would kill for him. Most of the Double-0's would, Q's sure, if only because he's a valuable MI6 asset. However, none would enjoy it like 001. The Quartermaster inadvertently became her sacred younger brother, and he only has to ask for the woman to give him the world. It's scary to contemplate.

When she finds out just how 004 attacked him... Well, Q shivers to think about it. He certainly doesn't want to be King. The Quartermaster may not trust the woman, as really, trusting someone with such limited emotional capacity is insanity, but he does trust 001 not to hurt him or otherwise reveal his secret.

Didn't he mention? 001 knows he's an Empath, has since nearly the beginning of their interactions.

It happens like this.

Q-Branch is empty save for Q and an increasingly frustrated Double-0 agent. No, that's not right, at this point he's still X, and being Quartermaster is the farthest thing from his mind. 001 has just arrived back from Cairo, the first mission they've worked together. Everyone has warned X about the woman, told him she's sadistic, and will eat the poor boffin alive. Yet, somehow, the hacker gained her respect in their one mission.

So now, they're sitting in an abandoned Q-Branch at two o'clock in the morning, drinking tea brought especially from China. X is trying to debrief 001 and the woman is having a hard time describing something technological. It's important of course, but 001 simply doesn't have the expertise in tech that X does, and drawing what the object was out of her is proving to be a painful process. He is appropriately wary of a Double-0 he really doesn't know, especially one who's emotional landscape is flashing bright warning signs of irritation.

Finally, 001 throws her hands up. Her aggravation has reached critical levels, X notes worriedly.

"Let me just show you." Without waiting for input, the agent reaches across the desk and presses two fingers to X's temple with surprising care. Closing her eyes in concentration, 001 slowly loses her tension in one spike of energy. There's a flicker of something on the edge of X's consciousness, before it dissipates. "Well?" X looks at the woman in blatant confusion, before he realizes his mistake.

The game is up.

"I'm afraid your Denomination won't work on me, Ms. Wakewood." Tragically, it won't. On a Techie it would be no problem, but X has never been as he seemed.

001 is an Illusionist. As with a great deal of purely mental powers, an Empath is entirely unaffected. 001 can project a scene into your mind, or more accurately, convince you something is happening that isn't. Sensations are as real as reality, and as long as she remains in contact with your skin, she can lock you in the Illusions for hours.

It's one of the most powerful Denominations, and there are, in fact, special tutors. X has never been sure if the woman learned the sadistic uses of her ability with or without instruction. Generally, 001 doesn't wield her power inside MI6, but such a thing is useful in clarifying reports. Of course, X is unaffected. The one thing her Illusions do is completely cut you off from the real world. However, X's empathy is at its strongest with skin-to-skin contact. It's simply impossible for an Illusion to conceal that.

Now, 001 one is studying him with poorly disguised curiosity.

"You aren't a Techie." Thankfully the woman neither sounds nor feels enraged.

"No, I'm not." 001 hasn't moved away, her fingers still pressed lightly against X's temple. Her emotions are an open book, or at least the disturbing nearly complete lack of them are. The agent is close enough that X imagines he can count each individual eyelash. She doesn't find anything wrong with their positions based on her emotional read out, so X makes sure he doesn't either. Mask has met mask and 001 feels impressed.

"How long have you been cheating the system?" She asks idly.

X responds in kind.

"I was about four." Though her face still doesn't flicker, X feels her surprised awe. Honestly, it's insane that he's managed this far, and it is only the fact that he has natural technological skill that saved him. If he's found out, he imagines he'll never see the light of day again. Lying or deceiving others on the topic of your Denomination is an international crime. It usually doesn't come up, because lying children are easy to spot, and pretending to be something you aren't is difficult to manage for hours, never mind decades. X has just gotten very, very lucky.

"What are you? A Negative?" 001 asks. X shakes his head. There are two types of Negatives, or the Denominations that neutralizes other Denominations. One negates the physical, like Teleportation, or Strength. The other neutralizes the mental Denominations, such as Illusionists, and Empaths. It differs how the power works, whether it makes the other Denominations completely useless when touched by a Negative or if it's only the results they affect. Either way, X is not one.

"Not quite. I'm an Empath." As if burned, 001 jerks back. Surprisingly strong mental shields fall around her mind, but X can still sense through them, like they're ineffective paper.

"I see." X watches the agent cycle through disbelief, horror, and awe. Tamping down on his own steadily surging panic, X focuses on his folded hands. He has no control over what happens next. "Well, X, this has been interesting." He glances up in alarm, and the woman is rising from her seat. It's odd, feeling his world collapse around him. Decidedly unpleasant.

"Are you-" 001 meets his eyes. Her internal emotions are calculating but still, there's an odd light of protectiveness.

"No. Didn't you hear me X? I said interesting. Nothing is ever interesting." The woman is gone, like she was never there. By the time X has recovered, he realizes that 001 didn't even finish her report. Bloody Double-0's

Years later, 001 bursts into Q-Branch. Her emotions growl like an irritated cat.

"Q!" Most of his employees barely stutter before returning to work. They've all gotten used to 001. Said woman storms up to him, and slams a small wooden box on his desk. "I brought you tea." Q opens his mouth to speak, but quails at the oddly strong emotions coming off 001. "Are you alright?"

"Perfectly fine, Ms. Wakewood. Now if you'd return-" 001 grabs his chin forcefully, and tilts it up. Her other hand trails over the bruises stark on his neck. Q winces, and can feel her spark in rage. Quickly and lightly her fingers dance over his pulse, and the Quartermaster lets her come to the realization that he's okay.

He doesn't notice Bond until the man growls.

"Step away from him, Vivian." Q jerks in surprise, and 001 releases him out of reflex. He glances over the woman's shoulder to see 007 practically snarling, entire being taut. Q translates it to surprising amounts of fury and fear.

"007 stand-"

001 cuts him off.

"James, how wonderful to see you again!" The female agent is all charm and seduction. Q is privy to the complete ice at her core, however. It's still amazing how completely 001 can shut herself off.

"Step away." It's hardly a human sound. Q watches it like a car crash, impossible to look away from even as it's terribly destructive. Both Double-0's are on the balls of their feet, and the Quartermaster alone can sense how much violence radiates off them. Then again, it hardly takes an Empath to sense the tension between the two.

001 opens her mouth to reply, and any hope Q had of her smoothing over the situation is dashed.

"Oh, so now you try to protect Q? Great job you did there, letting Charles nearly kill him." The words are like knives, and the most dangerous Double-0 agent is an injured one. The two are going to tear each other apart. The Quartermaster huffs, before stepping between them.

"Enough!" He roars. Q puts on his best Quartermaster voice, the one that makes even Double-0's quiver. As an Empath, he can literally feel the attentiveness of every ear in the room. Good. At least they're all smart enough to know his voice means listen. Q is well into his rage now, so he simply turns his cutting glare onto Bond. "007, 001 is not going to hurt me. She has recently arrived back from a mission, which means returning her equipment, and quite thoughtfully gifting me with tea. She was simply concerned and I hardly think it's a bad thing to have a Double-0 agent concerned for me." Now, Q rounds on 001. "And don't think you're getting out of this unscathed, Ms. Wakewood. Bond happened to neither know about the threat 004 posed nor been asked to help. He saved my life anyway." Stepping back, he regards both suitably chastised agents carefully. "I am bruised, but I am no less capable of calling both of you out. 001, get out of my Branch. 007, I'd like a word."

Q spins on his heel, and stalks back into his office. His throat hurts from raising his voice, and the yelling just gave him a headache. 001 catches his arm before he disappears completely.

"I'm glad you're alright, Q. 004 is going to pay for this." The woman slips away like a ghost. The Quartermaster can't find it in him to be concerned for King's continuing survival.

Wearily, Q picks up the tea box on his desk. He goes through the motions of turning on his personal kettle, because bloody hell does he need the caffeine. Even if Bond moves silently, Q can feel him come up behind him. His emotions are clearly unsettled, with flashes too quick for the Empath to identify. Q doesn't feel the urge to anyway. Sometimes, knowing people's darkest feelings gets tiring.

"You're actually going to drink that?" 007 asks, alarmed. Bracing his hands on the desk, Q lets his head hang. It's a rare vulnerability.

"Contrary to your beliefs, Bond, Ms. Wakewood is not out to kill or poison me." Q tells the keyboard in front of him.

"Are you sure?"

"Very." To emphasize his point, Q pulls open a draw. Inside it are dozens of tea boxes, clearly from all around the world. The newest addition fits in nicely next to one from Japan. Q straightens up out of his slouch, ignoring the ring of bruises that ache with the motion. Clearly meeting 007's gaze, he continues, "I've known 001 for several years, if she wanted to hurt me, she would have already." Bond's emotions change swiftly. If Q didn't know better, he might even say its jealousy. 007 is retorting before the Quartermaster has time to truly consider it.

"Time does not equate trust."

"Neither does following me around for the past few days." Q snaps back. Even if nothing shows on Bond's face, his surprise is obvious in the bright colors clouding around him. "Oh, don't look so surprised. I do not need a babysitter, 007, and if I catch you at it again, I will destroy every electronic record of your existence and deal with you myself."

Bond smirks, but Q can see on the inside how he's reeling. He swears to god, if that's lust at his outburst...

"Understood."

Bond leaves the office, and stops tailing him.

However, it's when something else starts.

 

Directly after Bond finishes a mission, only a few days later, Q concludes his walk around the Branch. The bruises are almost completely faded, and the visitors have slowly tapered off. It's been a long day, and the Quartermaster is half asleep by the time he sits in his chair.

That's his excuse for not noticing the snow globe until he nearly puts his face in it. It's only a snow globe in the broadest sense of the word. Instead of snow, it's a mix of red glitter and sand that falls around a miniaturized Burj Khalifa. To be honest, Q thinks it's a rather thoughtful present. Lying next to it is a half melted Walter PPK. The Quartermaster can't decide if that makes the snow globe better, or worse.

His hand hesitates over his desk drawer, and Q makes a spontaneous decision. Moneypenny gives him the side-eye when she sees the decoration on his desk. Bond very pointedly doesn't look at it, the next time he's due for a mission, and smirks far too widely for Q's liking. Despite the wave of smugness and triumph, he still doesn't take it off his desk.

 

"You should tell him, you know." Danielle says, weeks later. She's slurring and splashing vodka everywhere when she gestures, but Q is past the point of caring. He's halfway past sloshed himself. He'd never be so loose in public, drinking lowers his ability to shield, but when it's just him and Danielle, it's alright.

"Tell who what?" Q mumbles into the rug. He's dangling off his couch, back twisted ominously, with his face smooshed into the floor. Danielle swats at his back. He's drank enough that even her emotions are getting a little foggy, though that might simply be how intoxicated she is.

They don't do this often, but god is it amazing when they do.

"Tell James-bloody-Bond that you've got a crush on him the size of a- a-" Danielle grimaces. Q can sympathize. "A big thing!"

Q laughs at her, until the words sink in. He rather abruptly sobers.

Over the past weeks, nearing a month actually, the Quartermaster has acquired quite the collection of presents. A faux-pyramid from Egypt. A miniaturized Kremlin. A stylized Q from Greece. Bond is rarely there when Q finds them, which is lucky, because the Quartermaster barely reigns in his blush.

If Q didn't know better... He'd say 007 was courting him. But of course, that'd be ridiculous. The Quartermaster's crush is unprofessional and one sided. Bond is simply being nice, and making up for the destroyed tech he seldom returns.

He tells Danielle as much, though it sounds significantly less convincing said aloud.

"Q dear, please don't pretend to be stupid." For a drunk person, Danielle is far more alert than she should be. The Quartermaster focuses through the haze of alcohol, and finds her aura. There's a distinct glow of fond exasperation, nearly overpowering the liquor.

"I'm not." Q protests. It's like his tongue is both tied and untied. He's saying more than he should, and he can't even say it coherently. My god, he hasn't been this drunk in years. "I'm not. 'Cause you see, Bond is this handsome, big, sexy git, definitely a git. But he's also, he's like a big guard dog, and he's a git but I like him and-" Q flounders for a bit, trying to get a grasp on the words. "And I'm just a workaholic computer geek who doesn't see the sun most days. I don't- he can't Danielle!"

To emphasize his words, the rest of Q's limbs hit the ground. He groans.

There's an ominous silence from Danielle, and he's infinitely glad he can't see her face.

"Oh my god." He hears faintly. Danielle sounds distinctly like an exasperated parent. "Men. I can't even." A foot nudges his ribs. "You are the biggest prat- bloody idiot." Danielle huffs. "Get out of my flat until you pull your head out of your arse. And stop with that shite about not being good enough, ta?"

Q doesn't fancy moving. He's humiliated himself enough for the night. He's never drinking again.

"Danielle, we're at my flat." The Quartermaster feels obligated to point out.

"Bugger all."

Q passes out like that, eventually. It's not the most comfortable, but he gets the best night's sleep he's had in a while. It takes a while to realize it was Danielle's shin, pressed against his back.

In the morning, Q blinks away blue eyes and a rugged jawline. He pretends he's cursing at the bright sunlight, not James Bond.

 

He doesn't act on what Danielle wants him to, but circumstances dictate he doesn't have to. A week after their quite spectacular all-nighter, there's an unauthorized presence in Q-Branch.

It's not a Double-0, the only ones presently in London being 001 and 7. It's not some lost intern from the less monitored parts of MI6. It isn't even a lackey from MI5, there to threaten its sister agency with arrest warrants and bureaucracy.

No, the unauthorized presence in Q-Branch is an armed troop of men and their Teleport.

Before his first employee has time to sound the alarm, one of the men drops an EMP. The resulting chaos is unimaginable.

Computers let off sparks, sending their owners skittering away to the wall. There are localized explosions, because it's Q-Branch after all. The room descends into darkness, and Q himself, up for a walk around the Branch, is nearly trampled before the emergency generator flickers to life, assisted by the lone Glow.

The Quartermaster loses a precious few seconds trying to see through the overwhelming wave of panic and fear, not equalled since the bombing nearly a year ago. By the time he's gained control, Q and most of his employees are pressed against the walls and the doors have been sealed off. There will be no one coming to help.

It takes a few moments for Q to even understand how the present events are possible.

Teleports are thankfully rare, and accounted for carefully. But despite their rarity, most government or otherwise important buildings have an installation to negate the Denomination. Years back, an enterprising scientist harnessed the field a Negative casts, and managed to tweak it to cast an almost dome of protection. Denominations still function perfectly well inside the field, as well as outside it, but any Denomination trying to go through the field, like a Teleport, or a Vision is simply... Turned aside.

MI6 has one of the best. The Quartermaster flinches with realization, causing the person next to him to turn in concern.

"Are you alright, sir?" Comes the tentative question. Q is too busy raging to pay notice.

The only way MI6's defenses could have been breached would be a man on the inside. He tries not to growl.

Quickly and efficiently, he sends tendrils of Empathy to search through the mess of emotions. It's difficult finding a focus in the chaos, nigh impossible. But, using the calm and triumph of the attackers, present in the center of the room, Q checks each Empathic landscape for any out-of-place emotion.

When he finds the culprit, he's torn between crowing in delight or fury. Q's Denomination has never been so useful. Narrowing his eyes, the Quartermaster turns his glare to the young man crouched across the room. Patrick, the Techie half the Branch whines about. Obviously, there was a reason for his incompetence. Q wonders how he managed to clear the background check and the LD.

Patrick outwardly appears just as scared as his colleagues, but Q can see beneath the surface, the little curling satisfaction and even a slight pulse of guilt. This all consuming rage and violence is usually something the Quartermaster leaves to the field agents, but lord, he has never wanted to hurt someone as much as he does the smug bastard across the room.

"Ah, the stronghold of MI6. You'd think it would be better protected, no?" Says an attacker. His voice, sharp and clear, cuts across the terrified mumbling of the Q-Branchers. The Quartermaster traces the comment back to a tall man, wielding an assault rifle. Cataloging him as the leader of the group, Q tries not flinch back from his emotions. Cold cruelty bites like a blade. Dread starts to pool in Q's stomach, because in front of him is a man unafraid of causing casualties.

"So, as we are on a timetable here, I suggest the Quartermaster step forward." The man says, smirking. Q realizes the position he's in, hidden by a desk, and makes a move to stand. Silent arms drag him forcefully back down, and before he has time to fight back, there's a shout from across the room. Patrick is being yanked to his feet.

"Mr. Fallon, you promised me the Quartermaster, and yet I don't see him. I don't like liars." The subsequent roar of outrage and anger knocks Q back a figurative step. By God, do his people channel emotions well.

"Patrick, you little bastard!" Danielle screeches. Q wants to force her to stay low, to stay safe, but the woman is uncontrollable.

The man regarding Patrick flashes with amusement and a bit of deadly anger. He raises his weapon and fires four shots in quick succession. One to each of Patrick's shoulders and knees. The man releases a bloodcurdling scream, and the other intruders drop him to the floor. Once again, the Branch pulses with emotion.

It's a mix of rage and confused satisfaction, overlaid with numb shock.

Q drowns in the latter for a moment, staring uncomprehendingly at the body crumpled and bleeding on the floor. It's happening so fast that Q is half convinced he's dreaming. Just moments ago he was directing a decryption, wasn't he? His musings are cut short when the man, clearly displeased at not have generated a Quartermaster, whips around. His eyes zero in on Danielle. He cocks his rifle again.

"Unless the Quartermaster steps forward in the next five seconds, I will systematically kill every last person in the room. Starting with this woman here."

Before Q can stop himself, he's rocketing to his feet.

"Enough!" He snaps. "What in the bloody hell are you doing in my Branch?" The man whips towards him. Q tenses, and tries to stamp down on the anger bubbling underneath his skin.

"Ah, Quartermaster, how lovely to make your acquaintance."

"I wish I could say the same." Q says, around the lump in his throat. Suddenly and abruptly, he's reminded of the danger he's in, at least three guns leveled in his direction.

The man throws back his head and laughs.

"Oh goody. I love the snarky ones." Q tries not to startles at the outrage coming from his underlings. Though honestly, he shouldn't be surprised. The man continues. "My associates and I deal in the information business, and it struck us that the Quartermaster of MI6 would have quite a bit at his fingertips. So, you'll come with us and make us rich and no one gets hurt. Or, we'll kill every other person in this room, and kidnap you anyway."

Q swallows the bile in his throat and straightens.

"MI6 does not negotiate with terrorists." It's a death sentence, but the truth. The things he knows... Well they can't afford to fall into the wrong hands.

The man grins. The expression of a reaper told that war is coming. He whips around and aims his weapon at Danielle.

"I was hoping you'd say that."

His finger presses on the trigger.

Q's reaction is instantaneous, involuntary, and devastating.

Almost of its own accord, his Denomination lashes out, wrapping itself around the minds of the half-dozen attackers. Like a poisonous gas, it finds every weak point and slips inside. In the millisecond that takes, because Q angry is Q focused and powerful, in that millisecond the Quartermaster compresses all his fury, and then releases.

It's a lightning strike of negative emotion directly into their minds. The lucky ones just drop, unconscious, maybe dead, at the moment Q can't care. The unlucky ones, specifically the ones pointing weapons at his employees, his colleagues, his friends- well they drop, but they drop screaming and thrashing. The Quartermaster is a bastard, has always been, but as soon as you threaten his people, he becomes something else altogether.

The bullet meant for Danielle hits the ceiling instead, but Q can't stop himself, the anger won't stop growing, and they were going to hurt his people-

"Q! Stop!" Danielle shouts.

And so he does.

Blinking away the red from his vision, the Quartermaster stares at Danielle. It's a moment before she comes into focus. Distantly, he realizes that there are actual sparks coming off his skin and that his anger is projecting onto everyone, if not harming them. Ashamed of himself, Q looks at his shoes and shoves it all back down.

The contrast of an actually-incandescent-with-rage Quartermaster and the swaying Q before them sends everyone into shock. Though, Q notes, they were probably there already.

"I'm not-" Q swallows drily. Speaking hurts for some reason, like gargling gravel. "I'm not a Techie."

Then, it hits him all at once. There was more than one reason Q never attempted this. Of course, because the violation was too cruel to imagine, never mind enact. And secondly, because he wasn't sure the toll it would take on his body.

Most of his energy, the answer seems to be.

The migraine runs him over, and Q doesn't bother to muffle the groan. His knees are giving out, and the floor rushes up to meet them. It hurts, but the pain is distant, nearly pleasure when compared to the agony in his head.

"Q!" Danielle shouts again, but this time she sounds frantic. Arms catch the Quartermaster before he hits the floor entirely, and the skin to skin contact grates on his overused Empathy like sandpaper. He might whimper, he's too far gone to tell.

The darkness, when it comes, is a blessing.

 

Moments later, Bond kicks down the door of Q-Branch, murder on his mind and 001 on his heels. Which amount to the same thing, really.

The sight that greets him is not what he was expecting. The first thing he sees is Q, sprawled in R's arms, motionless. His heart skips a beat. Next, James notices the half-dozen men in much the same position, with assault rifles and without the concerned employees. It appears that someone neutralized the attackers, but not before they got to Q.

Bond is halfway across the room, preparing to scoop Q into his arms and rush him off to Medical, when he registers 001 over his shoulder, snapping out questions.

"Who did this?" He's just about reached the Quartermaster, close enough to see the too pale face and crooked glasses, when she gets a response.

"Q. Q did it."

James freezes. He blinks once in shock, and can't seem to lift his eyes from the man he'd rescued from 004 only a few months prior. He'd of course realized at the time that Q wasn't a simple Techie but-

To see the evidence of what the man was capable of- well.

"Shit." Vivian manages.

James nods. That about sums it up.

 

Q wakes up in a holding cell with a pounding headache and a sinking feeling in his gut. For a moment, he doesn't bother to open his eyes, and instead stretches his Empathy to feel for another presence. What would have before been a small effort now has Q's eyes scrunching tighter as he whimpers. His Denomination bounces off a Negative field, but most of his attention is to the hot pokers stabbing at his skull.

"Quartermaster, you are under arrest for treason, along with a series of International offenses. You will be held here at MI5 until a trial can be arranged." Says a voice from speakers on the wall. Q doesn't bother to acknowledge it.

He was always going to end up here.

 

At the moment, James is beyond angry.

He stalks through the corridors of MI6, buzzing like a disturbed hive. The attackers, identified by MI5 as domestic terrorists, cool their heels in a holding cell, and that's not all MI- bloody- 5 is responsible for.

They've taken Q; brandishing warrants and bureaucracy, they stole MI6's Quartermaster right from under their noses. The self-proclaimed Techie hadn't even been conscious, but M hadn't had the traction to stop them. All of the agency broiled with anxiety, and it's a bit of a relief to know that this sudden reveal hasn't knocked away everyone on Q's side. It certainly hadn't knocked away Bond.

To think, that MI5 would steal his Quartermaster, who provides him with equipment and witty banter, who despite James's teasing, manages to pull off his cardigans and in-need-of-a-cut hair. To think that they would even dare lay a finger on the other man--!

James's blood boils. He'll get Q back if it means taking down all of MI5. He won't lose another person he cares from not after M. And certainly not one with so much untapped potential.

But before Bond can mount a rescue, he needs answers. Despite the bad taste it leaves him with, he also knows where to get him.

Vivian cocks her gun without looking up from the blueprints spread over the table.

"If you're here to stop me, James, I suggest you leave now before this gets messy." Vivian drawls. She still doesn't raise her gaze, instead making her point with the gesturing gun. James looks again at the blueprints on the table. The architecture finally coalesces into his mental image of MI5. It seems he's miss judged things a bit.

"If you're planning to break the Quartermaster out of MI5, then I'd rather like to join you." James says. Vivian drops the gun, and makes eye contact.

Now, to be fair, it isn't that Bond despises the other Double-0. No, she's a masterful operative and an excellent seductress. They've had sex a few times, but James counts himself lucky that he made it out alive. It isn't that he dislikes Vivian, it's just that he can't trust her. The woman holds only a passing loyalty to the Crown and Bond has spent many the hour considering what makes her stay. He's come to the conclusion that it's habit, and the yearning for the thrill that missions provide. Perhaps it isn't that at all.

"Would you now?" Vivian asks idly. There's fire behind her eyes, and Bond meets it with his own, because he is just as dangerous even if he retains a healthy wariness of 001.

"Provided you give me some answers, that is."

Vivian snorts.

"Why would I do that? If you think I need your help to break into MI5, you're wrong."

James hesitates, one second, before going with the truth.

"I'm planning to retrieve Q anyway, and if we don't coordinate it'll put him at risk." That makes Vivian pause.

"I wasn't aware that you would go against Her Majesty's Service for just anyone, 007."

"Q," James says, gritting his teeth. "Is far from 'just anyone'." He takes care to keep his posture relaxed, even as he wants nothing but to just hare off on his own, rather than leave the Quartermaster for one second longer than necessary.

Vivian regards him slowly, but he bears the scrutiny. Surely, she can read him decently, but he can read her too and can see the genuine concern tightening the corners of her lips.

"Oh," Vivian exhales at whatever she finds. James tenses, but she starts laughing. "Oh isn't that just hilarious!"

"Vivian..." Bond growls. She pays him no mind.

"You've got feelings for him, haven't you? My God, you're just as gone on him as he is on you!" She seems to find this sincerely amusing, and Bond stares until the words sink in. He suffocates the immediate flare of hope. This isn't the time.

"Enough!" James barks. Despite the tight leash he's kept on his Denomination, a bit of Charm seeps into the words, and Vivian cuts off. Bond can see her hand twitch towards her weapon and berates himself furiously for a loss of control. There's a reason he monitors his Denomination, particularly in England. A Double-0 who has had their control taken away is a dangerous thing, much like a wounded animal.

"What makes you think I have the answers you're looking for?" All the false joviality has disappeared from 001's tone.

"You weren't surprised." James returns, equally as serious. "When we went down to the Branch and R said that Q knocked out all those men, you weren't surprised at all."

Vivian regards him coldly and thoroughly, before speaking.

"What I know is this: Q is an Empath who has successfully masqueraded himself as a Techie since the age of four. He's extremely powerful, even for an Empath, but today is the first time he's blown cover. Anything else, you'll have to ask him yourself."

James sits down heavily, blinking once in shock.

He'd figured something of the mental area, but hadn't seriously considered Empathy. It was rare and a potential catastrophe unless properly managed. The idea that Q had been listening on his emotions all this time... Well, just the notion is unsettling. It isn't enough to make him want to go after Q any less.

My God, James thinks to himself, he really has fallen.

"How are we breaking him out?" James hears himself ask.

Vivian grins.

 

There's something terrible about not being able to sense anyone, Q thinks blearily.

Never in his memory has he ever felt this alone, because whether he spoke to the people around him or not, they still spoke to him, in quick bursts of emotions. Q can't remember not being able to survey others with his Denomination. Now, it fills his entire being with a sense of emptiness. The throbbing headache doesn't help.

Eventually, Q had found the energy to move to his current position. He can see the door, and the wall is solid against his back. The rough hewn floor chills him, but it's better than being exposed. Q draws his knees into his chest as the cell darkens, and focuses on breathing.

The nausea comes and goes in waves, and Q gives up the veneer of control. It's easier to just bury his head in his knees and calculate the digits of pi. He thinks of anything, everything, to keep his mind off his caged empathy, and the utter lack of human presence.

By the time the night descends on the holding cells, Q is shivering intermittently and doing his best not to hyperventilate. It's like losing a limb, and Q drowns, searching desperately for something to hold onto. His Empathy bounces off the Negative wall again and again, until, unexpectedly, his mind chooses to alight on James Bond.

007 is... Confusing in a word. He's defended Q numerous times, saved his life directly once, and brought the Quartermaster souvenirs from around the world. Initially, Q was attracted only to the Double-0's appearance, but as their working relationship developed, he couldn't help the admiration of Bond's intelligence and fierce loyalty. And, when Bond had used his Charm Denomination to knock out nearly all of Q-Branch- well, deadly things are invariably beautiful.

With a mental presence like no other, Q finds himself longing for 007 to rescue him. It's a stupid, pointless hope, because not only has the former-Quartermaster betrayed England, but he lied to Bond himself. Perhaps it's better than MI5 takes him prisoner, Q thinks drearily. To face 007, or Danielle, Moneypenny, and Tanner... It's not difficult to accept that this is only what he deserves.

Distantly, Q is disgusted by his maudlin thinking, but right now, alone for the first time in his memory, it's an unchangeable tract.

It's been hours of this position, and every muscle in Q's body protests it. He dozes in and out, and each time he peels his eyes open he feels progressively worse. Q just wants it to end.

He doesn't register the commotion at first. His every brain cell is focused on the pain in his head and the numbness of his fingers, and Q doesn't even register the dismantlement of the Negative field. Unconsciously projecting, the utter agony the Quartermaster feels causes his would-be rescuers to stumble and swear. Q isn't aware of any of this, isn't aware of anything beyond pain, cold, alone, pain, alone, alone, ALONE.

Q only consciously joins the proceedings when he feels the warmth. It starts at his fingertips, gentle rubbing that sends the blood rushing back with a painful tingle. He might whimper but Q can't be arsed to bother. They could be assassins or MI5 officials, and Q honestly wouldn't care. When he feels large, burning hot hands on his shoulders, the Quartermaster just gives in. Unlocking his frozen muscles, he throws himself into the warmth, barely aware of the startled puff of breath at his ear.

For a moment, the pain is unbearable, limbs straightening far too quickly and the migraine still pulsing along happily. But then the warmth begins to seep into his skin, and Q could cry. He might be, he's not sure.

"Shh Q, I've got you, you're safe." The warm hands have migrated to supporting his head and rubbing soothing circles on his back. Finally, cautiously, his Denomination uncurls itself from the pitiful ball it's been huddling in, and stretches. Bond's emotional landscape settles around him, warm and human, and if Q wasn't crying before, he certainly is now.

It's like a first sip of water after days in the desert; cream on a raw burn. Immediately, some of the malevolence of Q's headache disappears. 007's emotions aren't all sunshine and rainbows, a fair amount of rage and bloodlust mixed in, but he blankets himself desperately in the layers of concern and deep possessiveness.

Right now, he feels unbearably safe.

"Up you get." Bond says gently by his ear. Without any effort on his part, Q finds himself swaying precariously on his feet. He closes his eyes as his knees give out. "Q!"

Bond's arms wrap around him again, and he flares even brighter with concern and a touch of panic. Q wishes desperately to reassure him, but he's unbearably tired. With Bond holding onto him, he doesn't see a reason to fight for consciousness. The last thing he's aware of before he drifts off is the ground disappearing and 001 saying,

"So help me God, Bond, if you drop him..."

Don't worry, Q wants to tell her, 007 won't let me fall.

 

Q comes to alone, in a room he doesn't recognize. Feeling drastically better, he sits up with little effort and looks around. The room is tidy, almost military neat. A half-opened closet door shows a line of identical suits, each worth more than all of Q's clothing put together. Immediately, the wardrobe soothes his alarm. To confirm, the Quartermaster stretches out his Empathy.

It's amazing, the sudden freedom he has. When Q focuses, he picks up at least eight other signatures in the building, and he loses track of the number passing by on the street. He drifts for a bit, simply savoring human emotion. Reluctantly, Q tightens his grip on his Denomination, withdrawing to the flat. Bond gives off a strong signature, and after another moment spent in mortification for what he does and doesn't remember, Q gets up.

He finds him in the kitchen, sipping tea and reading the paper. It's stunning in its domesticity, and Q opens his mouth to say a lot of things. What comes out is:

"007, why am I wearing your clothes?"

Bond smirks.

"You don't remember, Q?" A leer. "It was quite the night, and I'm afraid your clothes didn't survive."

Q rolls his eyes.

"Honestly, can't you keep it in your pants for just a moment? I'm rather sure a headache doesn't equate to amnesia."

Bond's smirk widens. But beneath that, Q can see the pale tint of worry at the mention of his headache, and he has to fight the urge to growl.

"Very true, Quartermaster. You wouldn't be forgetting a night with me any time soon."

The pause is deliciously tense. Q struggles to swallow through his suddenly dry throat.

"You didn't answer my question." He manages.

007 smiles, this time more genuinely.

"Your clothes were dirty, and I just changed my sheets."

Q banishes the mental image of Bond's hands, trailing over and revealing skin. Peeling off his clothing, and no doubt tossing it carelessly to the floor. Pressing his lips to Q's and-

He flails mentally for anything to occupy his mind. Taking a seat across from Bond, Q can't help but notice how soft the t-shirt is against his chest, and how low the shorts hang on his own admittedly smaller hips. Bond's eyes twinkle mischievously, and Q reads the open and internal amusement like a book.

"I suppose we need to talk, don't we?" He sighs.

Incrementally, 007 tenses, and though his eyes don't lose their mischief, his emotional landscape settles to something more reserved. As if he's putting up walls.

"Do we?" Bond asks, cryptic to the last. Q levels him with a glower.

"I'm not dealing with you until you put tea in front of me. Now."

Bond chuckles, but complies. To the casual observer, the larger man is totally at ease, but Q can feel the difference, see it even without his Denomination, if he's being honest. Somewhere in the course of the past few months the Quartermaster has become an expert on reading 007. It serves him well.

The tea is of course, exactly as he likes it.

"Go on then, Bond, ask away." Q says, after he's lifted his face from the hot liquid. He meets the agent's gaze through glasses that he's only just noticed are smudged. Blue eyes regard him critically. Q watches the rolling emotions, and wonders if this is the moment he'll lose whatever tenuous connection he and Bond have.

The idea turns his stomach.

"How many people can you take down at once?"

Q blinks.

"What?"

Bond rolls his eyes, but inside his emotions coil tighter.

"You took down a half-dozen men in Q-Branch. Is that your maximum or are you capable of more?"

Q can't help the laughter.

"My god, 007, that's what you want to know?" He snorts ruefully. "Though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

Bond arcs a single eyebrow.

"I don't know." Q sighs. "That was the first time I ever attempted something like it, and I'd prefer not to do it again. It's a terrible violation, but Danielle- R was in danger and I couldn't just stand by."

Something in Bond releases.

"Can you tell what I'm thinking right now?" Bond asks abruptly.

Squinting, Q tries. 007's emotions are a jumble at the moment, tinged with relief and warmth. It takes effort to decipher the main clump, though Q eventually separates it into wariness and hope. He opens his mouth to tell the agent this, but pauses.

"I can't read your mind, 007. I can read your emotions, but without context I can't know what you're reacting to. It's like zooming in up close to a picture. If you go far enough, all you can say is the color, not what the color is a part of." The Quartermaster says finally. Oddly enough, this drains a bit of the wariness coming from Bond.

"James." The other man says insensibly.

"What?"

"Call me James, Q."

Despite the slow curl of pleasure in his stomach, he's obligated to ask.

"Why?"

James grins instead of answering. He flashes quickly with thought and then adrenaline, before settling into a warm determination.

"Can you tell what I'm about to do?" 007 asks.

Q shakes his head.

"No what are you-"

In a fluid movement, Bond rises from his seat and stalks in front of Q. Before the Quartermaster has time to defend himself, a thick, rough hand is hauling him out of his chair and shoving him against the wall.

Q opens his mouth to shout, or perhaps to take a breath, but Bond moves in. The first press of lips causes him to freeze in utter shock.

What.

Thankfully, his body manages to get with the program far quicker than his brain, and Q presses himself to James's front, giving as good as he gets. Skin making it more intimate, the Quartermaster can literally feel as Bond starts in surprise and then a deep reverberating satisfaction. He scratches a hand through the short, blond hair, and James rewards him with a growl.

When 007 pulls back to breathe, Q blinks dazedly to get the man in focus. His breath rushes through his teeth, and his lips are most definitely swollen, but my god, he wants nothing to wade back in, to devour the agent. The hand on James's neck insures that he doesn't go far, but it still feels like miles.

"I don't-" Q clears his throat. "Since when?"

Bond smirks evilly.

"Since that first time, when you took it upon yourself to assert your power over a trained killer by insulting his age and capability." Immediately, Q takes offense.

"I did my job, 007, and made sure my agent was in top form. The best way to get someone out of a rut is to issue a challenge."

James stares, before releasing a genuine chuckle.

"My genius Quartermaster." He whispers against Q's lips.

"Yours." Q affirms.

 

Later, tangled in bed, James tells Q that he's kidnapped him, officially speaking.

"Officially?" Q mumbles into golden skin.

"M was still wrangling the bureaucrats but no one wanted to wait any longer. Vivian and I mounted a rescue, but until Mallory gets everything in order you're technically a fugitive." Bond says this idly, as if Q can't feel the rage in the tight circle of his arms.

"It's alright, it was always going to come to this." He traces a lazy hand up and down James's back, laughing when the agent releases something close to a purr.

"They won't touch you, don't worry, not even if MI6 has to go to all out war to prevent it." His voice is fierce and sure, and Q takes comfort in it.

"Despite your admitted prowess, you and 001 hardly count as the entirety of MI6."

Bond freezes, before tugging lightly on a strand of the Quartermaster's hair.

"Did you think that the rest of the agency wasn't working with us to break you out? You're everyone's darling, Q."

After he gets over the shock, said man nips at James's neck in retaliation.

"What am I to do in the meantime, then?"

A sharp nail scrapes over the bumps of Q's spine.

"Have you heard the expression making up for lost time?"

They make up for lost time enthusiastically, and whole-heartedly in the coming weeks. And Bond's flat also gets a modified, possibly sentient microwave, but that's a story for another day.

 

Epilogue

 

For Q's first day back at work, the staff throw him a party. It's down in the bowels of Q-Branch, but somehow, after desks and servers are pushed to the walls, what feels like everyone in the agency manages to fit. There's cake and music and those infuriating noisemakers. About half-way through the festivities they all mysteriously disappear, and Q makes a note to build James something explosive for his next mission.

After the initial hesitance, people aren't as disturbed by Q's newly revealed Denomination as he expected. Several of his best coders brave Bond to thank him very sincerely for saving their lives and to ask 'are you sure you aren't two different Denominations because, really sir, you're so good with computers it can't be natural'. At that point, Q's ears generally turn red and 007 starts to tease him, so his employees make themselves scarce.

Even M stops by, pulling Q aside for a private chat.

"I want you to know, Quartermaster, that no one will touch you." Mallory promises him lowly.

"Thank you, sir." Q replies.

"But- I have to ask, did my predecessor know?"

Q smiles fondly.

"Not to my knowledge, but it wouldn't surprise me." He admits. M shares a smile with him.

"Well, that'll be all, enjoy yourself, Quartermaster."

Twenty minutes in, Eve finds James and him, settled in a corner and watching the dancing. She looks stunning as usual, in a practical dress and heels. Q is gratified to note that though Bond compliments her, most of his attention remains on the younger man. Unperturbed, Eve holds out a hand.

"Dance with me, Quartermaster?" Q can feel the mischief before he even climbs to his feet.

Spinning them around the room, he's happy to let Eve lead, as Q focuses on just keeping his balance. He's thankful she isn't angry, relieved that their friendship is salvageable. It's as if nothing has changed when she leans in close to whisper in his ear. It's more of a shout, in order to be heard over the music.

"I'm so glad 007 managed to rescue you from your kidnappers."

Q snorts, reveling in Moneypenny's internal and external amusement.

"Gallant, wasn't he?"

Maneuvering Q into a dip that almost ends with him on the floor, Eve smirks.

"Quite."

At the punch table, Q waits until she has a mouthful of drink before continuing dryly,

"Though I did reward him quite thoroughly, if you know what I mean."

Eve doesn't choke, but it's a near thing.

Tanner makes his rounds too, though thankfully doesn't propose a dance. He's prim and proper as usual, and greets Q with a handshake and a rueful smile. It's nice. The man inevitably knows that skin to skin contact allows for easier Empathic readings, but he doesn't hesitate.

"I apparently still managed to underestimate you, I'm afraid."

Q shrugs and smiles.

"It's been a long few years." Tanner really should laugh more

When Q is entertaining both Tanner and Moneypenny, with James's heat pressed against his back, Danielle makes her way over. Like the woman she is, she shoves 007 out of the way and tugs the Quartermaster into a tight embrace. It's overwhelmingly Danielle, and Q can't help but hug her back.

She releases him to wave a threatening finger.

"I swear to god, if you ever scare me like that again I will play American pop music through the Branch for the next year, do you hear me?"

Q nods, cowed.

"I'm sorry I lied to you Danielle." He says quietly. The woman sighs, equal parts exasperated and amused.

"Q, dear, I've known you were lying since day two."

All conversation in their vicinity stops. Sensing the newfound attention, Danielle rolls her eyes. Q's Denomination shows that she's entirely truthful.

"How?" James asks for him, voice strangled.

This time Danielle actually huffs.

"I'm sorry, but there is no way in bloody hell that a Techie makes an espresso machine explode accidentally."

Silence.

"Oh god," Q says despairingly. "I blew my cover in attempt to fuel my caffeine addiction."

"'Fraid so dear." Danielle confirms.

The few Double-0 agents able to attend spend all their time trying to convince Q to take down various people. Money starts circulating on who will make him crack, but 007 threatens them all away before it gets too far. Unfortunately, 001 got sent out somewhere in the Middle East, but Bond enters Q's office and comes out with a box of tea. It isn't the same, but it's nearly as good.

Finally, after the other departments have filed out and Q-Branch does it best to dispose of cake and streamers. Finally, after Q has settled into his computer with a groan of pleasure, James hovering close over his shoulder. Finally, after all of it, the Quartermaster senses a new presence.

Alec Trevelyan strolls into the Branch, eyes the streamers and miscellaneous cake, and stares over Q's shoulder.

"James, what'd I say about having fun without me?"