In some ways, it was terrifyingly easy to go from a number to a letter. With barely a ripple of his shoulders, the mantle of who he was fell away, and the heavy iron shackles of duty, of Q, took its place.
In some ways, it's the burden he buckles under daily.
When he thinks of family, he thinks of cold, unforgiving eyes. Of drawings lining a corridor trying to make a home out of a prison. Of inky shadows and bloody smiles and anxious eyes that peered through the darkness. Of screams shattering the silence that no one ever acknowledged.
007 (00.07: a girl, so small and delicate, that it seemed she could blow away at the faintest hint of a ill breeze) never mentions Skyfall, but Q wonders if its halls rang with a child's daring laughter or if it was as silent as the tomb it would later become.
He keeps track of his siblings, he can't not, because knowledge is power and he will never be put into a situation where he is powerless (never again). Number 3 is the easiest, life splashed across so many covers for the world to see. She is followed by Number 1, who's mission briefs alone make him claustrophobic, but is well documented and structured in its regularity. Number 2 is also easy enough once he knows where to look, lone vigilante falling away to pseudo-responsible adult that made Q do a double take because what.
Unless something triggers one of his automated alarms, he only checks in on Number 7 weekly. Her life speaks of a mediocre existence, revolving around her medication and music, little room for deviation, for living. For someone so ready to expose them all to the world, she hid herself away well enough.
Number 4 is the hardest to keep track of, flitting in and out of rehab like a hummingbird. When he is in, he is safe, but once he's out he vanishes like fog in the face of the morning sun. Q only catches the briefest glimpses of him from the CCTV half a world away, his brother only existing on the fringe of society, like a ghost haunting the edge of his peripheral vision.
Before he loses his number to a letter, he would sometimes visit Number 7's concerts when work and world crises would allow. He never sees her face to face, never allows her to know he's there, but he goes nonetheless. Something in him aches at the loneliness set in her eyes, the isolation lingering in palpable air of desolation. He always leaves in tears, and it is never due to the music.
Once he takes up the mantle of Quartermaster, he only goes once. 007 is his assigned and M mandated security detail, ice blue eyes all too inquisitive as he watches Q watching the performance.
“Who is she?” 007 murmurs at the end as the orchestra takes their final bow, clapping politely along with the crowd as Q tries to hide the tears clumping his lashes by watching the 3rd Chair violinist. “What's so special about her that she has captivated my Quartermaster?”
“There is nothing special about her.” The words are clipped and cold, even by his standards, and he ignores the curiosity burning in his agent's eyes. He also ignores the possessiveness lurking like shadows in them as well. “She is no one at all.”
There is nothing of interest here to the Quartermaster of the Secret Intelligence Service, after all.
(Knowledge is power.)
This story is more non-linear drabbles than anything, so I hope that's okay. If there are any ideas you'd like to see, shout at me in the comments and I'll see if they can be worked in.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One month after Number 5 vanishes into thin air, a woman visits the mansion.
Their father scowls at the sight of her, monocle digging deeply into the skin around his eye, lips curving into a bitten back snarl. She is deceptively small, barely reaching Sir Reginald's shoulders, but Number 4 shudders and flinches away from her presence, fingers scrambling at the pockets of his jacket. Number 8 watches his brother's trembling form disappear down the hall, and he knows 4 will be blitzed out of his mind later.
“Em.” Their father grits out, hand spasming around his ever-present journal, like he wants to take it to her skull until the red dye is more organically sourced, as it were. She ignores him, and something in 8's chest catches and twists as her eyes sweep over the remaining children gathered in the foyer before landing firmly on him.
She then turns to the man before her, accent scathingly British, “You stupid bastard.”
“You dare!” Her voice rises as red floods her cheeks in a bloody rouge. “Bad enough you flaunt the children you stole across the telly, bad enough you flaunt the child of one of Britain's own! But then you go and lose one of them! You have no one to blame but your own stupidity.”
Grace is there, ushering them out of the room with Pogo, but he keeps turning to watch over her shoulder even as the voices in the foyer rise and fall in a thunderous crescendo. He's never seen his father lose his temper in such a fashion, never seen anyone stand up to him like this, and it is fascinating.
He's in his room, taking apart an old computer he and 2 had found in a backroom when his mom opens the door. There's a frown tugging at the corner of her lips and a furrow in the divot between her brows, and the confusion in her eyes is real. Their father may have built her to take care of all the aspects of child rearing he despised, but that didn't make her any less their mother.
“Mom…?” Number 8's voice trails off, catching in his throat, and he knows something is wrong.
“Pack a bag,” here she hesitates, which is wholly out of character for her programming. (Don't you see, father? Your creations are becoming more than you ever envisioned, more than you can ever hope to control.) “Anything you can't bear to part with.”
“I'm leaving then.” He whispers, words ringing with finalty. “And I won't be coming back.”
Grace lurches forwards, fingers trembling as she tugs his hair into a semblance of order even as she tries to smile with a measure of cheerful confidence, “I'm sure it's all a misunderstanding, and you'll be home in no time.”
8 leans forward, allows this tiniest comfort, before taking a step back, eyes sweeping over his room. So many memories, happy and horrible in equal measure, echo these walls and he's not sure where to begin. 8 is frozen in this moment as Grace bustles around, packing clothes and necessities as Pogo looks on from the doorway with eyes that have aged an eon.
He realizes he can't hear the others.
“He's not going to let me say goodbye.” 8 whispers around the lump in his throat, frantically blinking away the prickling in his eyes. Pogo's shoulders slump even further, looking away and down the hall, as if 8 is accusing him of this misdeed.
And that was always Pogo's greatest weakness, never being able to separate his wants and wishes from Sir Reginald's, as if his autonomy as a person started and ended with his creator.
Well, 8 thinks bitterly, if father had his way, our actions would forever be dictated by his desires.
“The others have been summoned for emergency training in the courtyard.” Pogo offers softly, “But I'm sure they would have put up quite the fuss had they realized.”
Number 8 takes a deep, shuddering breath, the statement ringing truthfully like a bell to his ears. Yes, they would have, he decides. Rolling his shoulders back, 8's vision clears and he turns towards his room critically. Anything he can't bear to part with, indeed.
(Pogo and his mom look carefully away when Number 8 slips into each of his siblings’ rooms and trades one thing of little value for something he'd built for them for the coming Christmas:
For 1, he leaves a new model kit that had been built to withstand his brother's strength, and takes one that had been broken and discarded in a fit of pique.
For 2, he leaves a knife he'd mended after a mission and had applied a newly developed alloy to make it virtually indestructible, and takes a well-worn whetstone, fingerprints still visible in the leftover oil.
For 3, he leaves a camera he'd built specifically tailored towards her dreams, one that will take a perfect headshot every time, and takes the old polaroid she hasn't touched for years.
For 4, there are specially designed noise cancelling headphones and a music player with a petabyte worth of music, and he takes a beaten up ipod that has seen better days.
For 5, well, he takes one of his brother's books on the quantum mechanics of time travel, full of scribbles and sarcastic little notations, and leaves a letter in its place; if 5 ever returns, he hopes he sees it.
For 6, he leaves a tablet with several lifetimes worth of books across all fields and genres, and takes an old, dust-covered copy of Flowers for Algernon.
For 7, he leaves a container of experimental rosin for her bow with instructions on how to make more and why it was better than a anything on the market. In return he rescues her Basic Fingering Charts (the title of which he, 4, and 6 had giggled over to the disgust of the girls) from a crumbled heap next to her stand.
He takes nothing that will be missed but oh does he hope that he will be.)
The woman, Em, rolls her shoulders the moment they step off the property, doors politely but firmly shut in their wake. He doesn't look back, knows no one will will be there to meet his gaze in the windows, because his father can be cruel and callous until the very last, and he knows none of his siblings will find out he's gone until probably supper.
She gestures him into the waiting car, where an obviously armed giant of a man takes his bag, and 8 feels like the air rushes out when the door seals shut and takes all the oxygen with it.
“What is your name?” Em finally asks, looking at him with those fierce eyes.
“I'm Number 8.” He says boldly, relying on Number 4's confidence to give strength to his words. This surety is stolen, like almost everything else that is 4's, but needs must and all that. He has never been less sure of anything in his life, but weakness cannot be tolerated in the face of the unknown.
Something in her expression hardens and 8 feel's the panic begin to claw up his throat like bile. That clearly was not what she was looking for, but he doesn't know what would be right.
“If you think for one moment I'm going to call you that, Hargreeves, you are sorely mistaken.” The designation is bothering her, but 8 is positive it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with his father.
“I like numbers,” he says softly, avoiding her eyes. And it's the truest thing he's ever said; everything in the universe can be broken down to a number. Numbers couldn't be shattered or rumored or torn apart. Numbers were the foundation of knowledge and they just were.
His siblings chose to let mom name them as if that would finally make them real boys and girls. They didn't see the freedom in being a number, in being their most fundamental, quintessential self.
(It wouldn't be until years later that, when he took the name Q, he realized he had been afraid to allow something else to define him.)
The man at Em's side let out a loud, shoulder-shaking laugh, teeth gleaming white against the darkness of his skin. “Could make him a letter like you, Em.”
No, 8 realizes, knowledge sliding neatly into place like a puzzle piece, it's M.
She scowls at him as he continues, “Not so different from the rest of the numbers you give us.”
“There is quite a bit of difference from your division's titles and not bothering to name a bloody child.” M snaps, glaring at her companion hotly.
The man holds out a scarred hand to shake, which 8 slowly reciprocates. “I'm 008.”
8 perks up, leaning forward eagerly, but M's furiously pursed lips makes him duck his head to avoid her gaze.
“Oi, ignore the dragon, her roar is scarier than her fire.” 008 leans forward, curving a hand to the side of his mouth like he is telling Number 8 a secret, and no one has ever told him a secret before. He was always expected to know things, and he can't deny the flutter of excitement growing in his chest.
“My husband is Geoffrey Octavius Boothroyd the VIII, very noble and all that tosh, but he and I have always had a good laugh because 8 is our lucky number. And since you'll be staying with us, we can be a small unit, 8-cubed if you will.” For the first time, 008 looks a little uncertain as he continues. “If you want, that is?”
“Oh for God's sake,” M mutters, pinching the bridge of her nose to ward off a headache. Father does that quite a lot around 4, so it's easy to recognize. She takes a deep breath while glaring at 008. “Hargreeves, let me introduce you to Henry Fraser; he will be your guardian for the foreseeable future.”
Number 8 nods, but leans forward and copies the bigger man's pose as he whispers, “Can I call you 008?”
M looks heavenward, as if asking for divine intervention, while 008 laughs, “Nothing would make me happier.”
Henry Fraser is an non-numbered 00, so I made him 008 for my purposes. He's played by Idris Elba and his husband, Major Boothroyd, is played by Colin Firth. They'll pop up every once in a while as the plot needs.