When Q first starts with MI6, before he's Q, when he has a "real" name as well a name that the agency's given him, back when they're keeping him both out of prison and shut up in the most secretive R&D labs around the clock, he nearly gets fired. He's in the relatively normal-looking cafeteria MI6 keeps for its employees, because you still have to eat while you're serving the crown and saving the world. There's a snobbish man with a large nose talking loudly about Q-branch. He's not an agent, because agents don't frequent the more corporate areas of HQ. He's probably in environmental or accounting or something useless.
He says, standing in line, blocking Q's vision of what muffins are available today, laughing at something the woman he's with has said, "Yes, but everyone knows Q-branch is just glorified tech support."
He gives Q a once-over, obviously noting the ID badge, the rumpled cardigan, the glasses, and smirks. Q has been awake for over 50 hours working out a particularly difficult miniaturized thermobaric bomb that is refusing to cooperate. He has powdered magnesium wedged under his fingernails and streaked across his jaw. The left arm of his sweater has a large scorch mark where he shielded his face from an unplanned detonation.
Sunlight is spilling in through the reinforced windows of Vauxhall, and Q gives the man a black eye because it's neater than a broken nose. There's a low hum afterwards, where everyone is either silent or whispering about what's just happened. Q looks at the man on the ground with his large, intact nose, and says, "Actually, we're more like glorified engineers."
Not his best line, but he's 19 and exhausted. He's escorted to a lift, and he's very sternly told to pay no attention to the control panel outside of or within said lift, because even though he just started, Q has a Reputation. It's the first time he meets M, with Tanner standing to the side of her desk, glaring conspicuously at Q. Q is still angry, and he's not nervous, because that's far from the first punch he's thrown in his life. He stares steadily back at M after the requisite "Ma'am."
“Normally,” M starts, “I would remind you that we pulled you up from the dregs of society and saved you from a dirty end at the hands of either inmates or guards. I would tell you to behave or you would face not punishment, but the end of your professional life as you know it.”
Tanner looks confused. Q is still riding the high of how shocked the man had looked staring up from the linoleum floor. Some of what M is saying rings true. Q had been living in near squalor, stealing money from cash machines so he could buy equipment to stash in his dorm room, and sometimes he'd remember to buy lunch, too. He had hacked the SIS network after long weeks of work-arounds and red herrings and extensive planning. All he'd wanted to know was if his latest concept—his tiny, fuel-air explosive—had already been invented; he wasn't the type to waste his time if he didn't have to. When they collected him from the room, wearing nothing but pajama pants, and made him sit in a freezing, florescent room bare-chested and barefoot, they had guns. Q couldn't see the guns, but he could make out where the holsters disrupted otherwise smooth suits. They had asked if he wanted to stay at university, especially considering that he was enrolled under a false name, with false tuition payments he was funneling out of a rich estate that would never miss it.
They had offered him a job, in short. He rattled off half the things he'd seen that were incorrect with their security and their coding, and demanded they double the salary on offer. He'd kept the other half to himself, because if he's learned anything, it's to be indispensable.
M continues with, “But I know these threats will have little to no effect on you. I have no doubt, and Mr. Tanner, no matter what he says to the contrary, doesn't either, that you would be clever enough to get out of prison and off our radar for long enough to become someone else in some other country.
“You are in a very delicate position. You have made yourself extremely useful to us, and as a person of some interest, I would hate having to waste resources and at least one agent to track you down and drag you back. You are not a lab rat to be trifled with, and now you have made sure everyone here knows it. But please keep in mind that we have very competent employees here, your apparent opinions of some of them aside. Competent enough to do whatever we need them to do.”
Tanner visibly swallows, and Q is just tired and confused, some of the adrenaline from his one-sided fight wearing off now.
“Now,” M says, standing. Q hurries to do the same. “Go home. Take however long you need to get enough sleep that you will not do something so foolish again.”
Tanner comes around to Q's side, grabs his elbow, and tugs him out of the room, because Q didn't respond to M's polite dismissal well enough. He packs Q into a waiting black car, gives the driver Q's address, and doesn't say a word to Q himself.
When Q, who is not yet Q, stumbles into his flat, he collapses on the couch for all of five minutes before he realizes what's just happened. M wasn't giving him a warning. She was issuing a death threat. He spends the next 15 minutes on his knees, vomiting mostly bile. He's still shaking when he curls around the base of the toilet and falls into a dead sleep for four hours. When he comes back to work after another three hours of sleep and a long shower, he doesn't see M at all, like normal.
Tanner finds him in the hall before Q has even taken off his coat and says, “So. Tell me about this bomb you've been killing yourself over.”