“I knew I promoted you to 00-status too soon,” M said tightly as she saw Bond, sitting at her table with his keen eyes, playing cards. His fingers were quick as they shuffled them, making it no wonder that he was the best card-player in MI6. If only his other skills weren’t so unsettling, even among 00-agents. M chose to chastise him instead of giving in and showing how much she was unsettled by that ice-sharp blue gaze inside of her supposedly-locked home. “You’re much more irritating than your predecessors, you know that? No other 007 has had the cheek to break into my apartment,” she informed him in a tone that made it clear how little she thought of that stunt, when really she was disconcerted by how easily he’d done it. This latest 007 was not only a lot more troublesome than those before him, but he was also disturbingly smarter. Not a lot of 00-agents had the brain capacity to calculate the odds at cards games and just guess passwords in under five minutes. His skill at getting into places that were supposed to be beyond him bordered on creepy, and his ability to read people was downright eerie.
Yes, this version of 007 was a terrifyingly smart agent, and M wondered long and often whether it had been a good idea to promote him to the position. Usually, the title was the dangerous part - being 007 meant deadliness - but this time, M feared that a certain man with ice-blue eyes and scruffy blond hair had dragged in more danger to the title than it had previously possessed.
“Sorry. I’d have knocked, but no one was home,” he replied shortly, reshuffling the cards absentmindedly while his senses obviously remained locked on his boss.
M scoffed loudly at him. “If you were a regular person, you’d know that that means to sod off or wait at the door.”
“Like a good dog?” Bond joked, but as always, he had too many edges for humor to make it through completely unscathed. Some women lived for that thrilling sense of danger, and even M was not inured to the way Bond’s playful little smiles sent shivers up a woman’s spine. Only, M was perfectly aware of what an imperfect lure that charisma was, and that the dangerousness in this man far outweighed whatever thrill one could get from playing around with him. James was a fire that always burned.
And quite unapologetically.
M noticed her half-open laptop, and her eyes suddenly went wide as she immediately hurried across the room, for a moment forgetting whom she was sharing a room with - namely, that she had promised herself never to turn her back on him, after she’d seen how easily he killed people. ‘Killing the first person is hard,’ went the saying, ‘but the second one significantly easier.’ For this reincarnation of James Bond, every one after that had only increased that lethal ease, to the level where M wondered if he felt anything at all now when he pulled the trigger or twisted the knife.
Right now, M was so focused on the fact that her laptop was obviously open - and that all of its defenses were completely down - that she forgot, although Bond just lounged where he was, a sated lion in the shadows of M’s flat. “Did you break into my laptop?!” she actually shrieked. She could follow the browser history to see where he’d been, and most of the windows were still open - but all she really could tell was that Bond had been all over the place on her computer. Like his mind, she couldn’t follow it.
He didn’t say anything, the only sign of something remotely like guilt showing in the muscle that flicked in his cheek as he briefly clenched his teeth. More likely, it was just preemptive annoyance as he braced himself for the scolding ahead. So far as M could tell, Bond’s morality was buried too deeply to actually be reached by anything. It made him an agent without peer, but a decidedly worrisome human being.
“Well, obviously I can answer that question myself,” M grumbled. As much as she wanted - needed - to go through her laptop and figure out what her sociopathic agent had done, she knew that she probably wouldn’t understand half of it. Beyond that, Bond was more than smart enough to selectively hide the more incriminating things he’d been nosing into. So she closed it, in a fashion that denoted denial. M whirled around, secretly relieved to see that Bond hadn’t moved, although he’d stopped shuffling those cards he’d found in her desk-drawer. “Anything to say for yourself?”
For a moment, he looked like she might have pricked his temper a bit, but then the annoyed look on his face shifted into a little sliver of a smile, sharp and a little bit amused. “Do you want me to get the job done or not?”
M sighed as she walked alongside her new Quartermaster, his gate smooth and his face young, hiding a level of intellect that had come highly recommended - that had, in fact, beaten out practically all rivals. His youth still made her frown, and M would be watching to see if he could handle the tech-analysts under his command as well as he could handle firewalls and coding. So far, he looked promising: as she walked him into Q-branch, his expression remained aloof and unruffled, the only obvious emotion being polite interest bordering on curiosity. His hazel eyes flashed with interest behind his glasses, but he held it in check better than most young men his age when presented with a dream-job like this.
“This is where you will be working,” M introduced, secretly pleased that the Q-branchers ducked their heads to their computers as she walked by. It was good to know that she’d lost none of her powers of intimidation since she’d last been down here. “Feel free to reorganize and change things as you wish.”
The new Quartermaster’s head turned at this, his eyes unable to hide surprise as he blinked. “How far…” he was clearly picking his words carefully, which M approved of, so long as he got to the point, “...Would you allow these changes to go? Within reason, of course.”
She stopped and looked him dead in the eye, and for all of her shorter height, was capable of looming. “All I care about are results, Q,” she informed him bluntly, “If you have changes in mind that can get me the results I want, I don’t care if you bloody turn Q-branch on its ear. Just don’t disappoint me.”
“No, M, of course not,” he blinked rapidly again in something like flustered embarrassment, pushing his glasses up his nose in an obvious nervous tic to hide it. He quickly got himself under control again, though, which boded well for his time in MI6.
Pleased that this Q could at least act older than his age, M began to talk about those who generally acted younger than their age. “Your primary concern will be to oversee missions for our 00-division - especially in regards to their equipment. I have heard good things about your ability to design as well as to code, so I expect to see interesting things from you.” Q nodded slowly, seeming unsure whether he was being warned or complimented, although he was optimistic enough to choose the latter, if the smoothing of his expression was any indication. M decided to quash a bit of that good mood before it got out of hand, and noted wryly, “Not that most of the 00-agents will bring back half of what you equip them with, but one can always hope.”
They walked for a while in silence after that, giving Q a taste of the width and breadth of his department. He looked over all of it with a critical, knowledgeable eye, managing not to look overwhelmed in the least. Eventually, he gave his throat a polite clearing and asked, “So, I will be working directly with 00-agents? I was under the impression that I would be overseeing their weapons and...gadgetry...but only handling them remotely.”
“In a perfect world, that would be your job description,” M admitted, scowling a bit as she thought of her top agents. The scowl actually hid fondness and pride, but no one had to know that. “However, if need arises, I’ll want you to interact with them personally, if only to ensure that they know which end of the guns you give them are the dangerous ends.”
That startled a little breath that might have been a laugh out of the young man, but he hid it quickly, coughing into his fist. “A pity they can’t figure that out themselves. I’ll be sure not to design anything too complicated for them,” he carefully dared to joke, keeping it dry.
M might have been amused by the courageous little spark of humor - most people didn’t warm up to her fast enough to make light of anything for at least a few months - but she still had more to tell her Quartermaster about. Warn him, actually. So far, she’d been working her way up slowly to what would probably be the biggest challenge for any new person in MI6. “There might also be...unauthorized visits,” she said slowly, trying not to let her resigned annoyance show, “by 00-agents. They like to keep people on their toes, and as you are new, they’ll see you as a prime target.”
“I’ll keep a weather eye out,” the young man promised, taking the warning seriously while also hiding any sign that he was frightened by the prospect. Good. Maybe he’d live through the first week.
“And Q?” M stopped and turned to him; the tour was almost over, and the door back to the main halls of MI6 stood at her back. The young man straightened before her, lifting an attentive eyebrow above large, young eyes. He looked so gangly and immature that it was nearly ridiculous, and his dress barely saved him from looking like a boy they’d pulled out of school for the day. M would have to discreetly have a talk with R, to make sure that Q-branch looked out for its Quartermaster until it was clear that he could hold his own against the headstrong, dangerously curious agents that would soon begin sniffing around. Speaking of agents… “Watch out for 007.”
“I beg your pardon?” Q asked, clearly bewildered by the specificity of the command. His lips pursed and his brows lowered suddenly behind his glasses.
“All 00-agents have a habit of making nuisances of themselves in some way or another,” M regretfully admitted, “but our current 007 agent is the top of his class in that category. He’s manipulative, brash, good at what he does, and has no trouble using his espionage training while off-duty. When bored, he’s worse.”
“So are you saying he’ll...threaten me?” Q tried to figure out where this was going, still looking rather bemused for someone with such a high I.Q. “Or cause a ruckus in Q-branch?”
“Probably a little bit of both. If he ever gets out of hand, know that you have my express permission to shoot him,” M said without compunction, and maybe even a bit of optimism, like part of her was hoping this reincarnation of James Bond would be put out of commission for the sake of her peace of mind, “With the other 00-agents, call security or Tanner, but don’t bother with 007.”
Q blinked at that, one eyebrow lifting as if he wasn’t entirely sure whether to believe all of this or not. Ultimately, his only comment was, “He sounds like quite a handful.”
“He’s been declared dead twice in the last month alone and I’ve threatened to kill him myself more than a dozen times,” snapped M, getting annoyed just thinking about Bond. Q still looked skeptical, but hopefully M’s warnings at least had made him wary, so he wouldn’t be picked apart by 007 when the agent inevitably caught wind of new blood in the system.
It was true that Bond was a monster when he was bored... the real problem was, he could be bored in the middle of a full-scale mission, so keeping the man occupied was a full-time job. The bluntest way to put it would be to warn Q about the fact that 007 was a ton more dangerous than any of the other agents because he honestly had no morals, tended to kill people both on and off the job, and didn’t have any connection to anyone that was deep enough to cause him to regret their death. That, combined with his constant need for stimulation via mayhem, and MI6 had a veritable weapon of war that they mostly tried to unleash on other countries. Even the other 00-agents were wary of tangling with 007.
“I’ll do my best to out-think him,” Q said with a faint, dry smile that warmed his eyes just slightly with an amused light.
Normally, that would have been a sensible response, but M still snorted even as she turned to leave. From here on out, Q was on his own. As luck would have it, Bond was in Japan for at least a week yet, so the new Quartermaster would have seven days of peace before MI6’s most dangerous agent came back to base and M found out whether her new Quartermaster was really tough enough to man his post. “We’re fairly certain that he botches his I.Q. test on purpose every time we test him,” M warned in favor of full- disclosure, and then left.
It was actually two weeks before Q met the notorious 007, but only because the man went off the grid after blowing up a building and then popped up in another country three days later. Everyone was still trying to puzzle out how he’d completed his mission, but the files were there, and 007 was returning home. Q hadn’t officially had a hand in the mission except for booking the flights for the ride back to London.
Q was settling in well - better than well. In under six days he’d turned Q-branch on its ear, reassigning personnel, rewriting protocols, overhauling projects, even firing a few people when it became clear they couldn’t or wouldn’t get with the program. MI6 didn’t know what a well-oiled machine was until Q got his Branch up and running again - his way. It turned out that the bespectacled scarecrow of a man had more spine than everyone had expected, because he had the respect of his underlings within that timeframe as well.
It had been predicted that the 00-agents would give Q problems. They were world-class killers and spies, after all, and it was easy for their curiosity to get out of hand when new people were concerned - especially if they sensed weakness. In this way, they were like oversized puppies with very sharp teeth and access to handguns. Fortunately, Q had gained the loyalty of his tech-analysts (soon called his ‘minions’ by nearly everyone) very quickly, and with their help, Q became a bit of a ghost. Q very rarely left Q-branch anyway, and new protocols kept the 00-agents from coming very far in. In other words, Q was a force of nature within Q-branch, but for anyone outside of Q-branch, he barely even existed. In this fashion, Q deftly removed himself from bothersome situations before they even happened, and M didn’t know whether to react with derision or pride. Her agents obviously weren’t nosy enough if they hadn’t realized they had a new Quartermaster who looked too young to shave. It was rather nice to have an employee who could subdue his ego long enough to think about his safety instead - Q’s renovations of Q-branch and its tech could have made him famous if he’d just stepped out of his inner sanctum for an hour. If he’d done that, he also would have garnered the attention of MI6’s best and most dangerous men, so Q had chosen the wise road and avoided attention. M approved (or, rather, made no comment whatsoever, which translated to approval).
And, of course, it had to be Bond who threw a wrench into that system.
“Quartermaster,” squeaked a female voice. The analyst who popped her head into Q’s office looked positively frazzled - so unsettled, in fact, that Q briefly listened to see if he could hear the ceiling collapsing or something. He couldn't imagine what else would so unravel a person.
“What is it?” he demanded, brows low in confusion when he could detect no signs of trauma or impending disaster.
“Quartermaster, it’s 007. We thought he was only here to check in his kit, but then he started talking to Wilkisson…” The poor woman trailed off, looking apologetic.
At the mention of the agent’s designation, Q recalled his first conversation with M. He grew a bit more alert, but also had to admit that he was curious - rumors followed that man like a black cloud, and one had to wonder how he had garnered so many. Plus, what kind of man cheated on his I.Q. test? “Go on. Did Wilkisson upset his delicate 00-feelings or something?” Q dryly goaded, not seeing the problem yet.
The analyst made a face. “007 does this... thing... when he talks. He starts off with these benign questions, but before you know it, he starts focusing in like a dog on a throat, and you don’t even know that you’ve said anything incriminating,” she explained, “and Wilkisson isn’t exactly much of a liar anyway-”
“Miss Roberts,” Q recalled her name, growing exasperated with the roundabout talk that obviously sounded more like exaggeration and hearsay than anything factually useful, “What exactly happened?”
“Wilkisson ended up saying ‘the new Quartermaster’ once, and now 007 is looking for you. Here. In Q-branch,” the woman admitted in a rush. She sounded about as apologetic as one could get, but was also holding onto the doorframe as if she’d just survived a hurricane. Or as if said hurricane were still around - perhaps under the name of ‘James Bond’ - and she was worried about being ripped away by it. “I’m sorry, we tried to stop him, but-”
“That’s all right, Miss Roberts,” Q lifted a hand and stood up from his desk, a few typed commands halting his work where it was. He was caught between intrigue and unease, but hid both. “Has he done anything?”
“No, not really,” she admitted, “It’s just that he’s... there. He makes people nervous.”
“I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” Q tried to reassure as he walked past her out the door, unable to understand how Bond could be behaving and yet somehow not behaving. Miss Roberts’s explanation of ‘he makes people nervous’ was frustratingly vague, and Q couldn’t see how that alone had her in such a tizzy. As he exited his office, Q-branch didn’t appear to be going up in flames, and Q thought he spotted an unfamiliar face across the room, leaning quite benignly against a desk with a charming half-smile directed at the minion working there. Even if Q hadn’t seen enough security footage and pictures in reports about the man, it would have been impossible to mistake one of Q’s minions for 007 standing there. All of the other Q-branchers in the area were blatantly staring at the first 00-agent to enter the heart of Q-branch since the arrival of their new Quartermaster.
“Shall I call security?” Miss Roberts asked timidly from behind him.
Watching the agent - moderately tall, blond, handsome, and carrying himself with a natural grace and charm that made him even more so - Q hummed to himself in thought, and then decided unexpectedly, “No. I’ll handle this.
“But, Q, you said-”
“I know what I said,” Q tried to hold in his mounting impatience with the conversation while also keeping an eye on 007 - the files really didn’t do him justice. The man hadn’t looked up to see him yet, which was odd, considering how alert most agents were, but he radiated lazy power like some sort of predatory cat. Bond seemed totally engrossed in his conversation with the techie, as if he were chatting up an old friend. Q was willing to bet money that the two actually had nothing in common, so it was eerie to watch. “I know that I said discretion is the better part of valor, but that only comes into play if I’m expecting an altercation. However, you said that 007 is behaving himself?”
“Mostly. He refused all attempts to keep him out.”
“Violently?” Q’s spine stiffened at the thought of his underlings being injured. Q may not have been dangerous enough to poke a double-o’s nose, but that didn’t mean he had no instincts to protect those who worked under him. He simply had to be more creative and subtle in how he addressed threats.
Roberts shook her head. “I think the worst he did was pin Simmons to the wall and threaten to chop his fingers off. While smiling.” The woman gave a visible shiver as if the smile had actually been the most frightening part of the whole altercation. “I’m not sure if he meant that he’d be smiling while he did it, or if he’d force Simmons to smile through the process. No one was going to ask.”
Q briefly decided to call security after all, but then realized that any man who could make threats like that likely wouldn’t be fazed by security guards either. “Oh, good then,” Q said with heavy sarcasm, sighing dramatically, and then Bond’s head lifted. The smile he’d directed at the minion was still in place, and it landed on Q without changing in the slightest. Judging by the lack of surprise or chagrin, Q was willing to wager that the agent had known he was there all the time after all. Q forced himself to finish calmingly to Roberts, “If that’s all he’s been doing, I’m sure I can handle this diplomatically. Please, go back to your work, Miss Roberts.”
Honestly, the woman looked like she wanted to grab her Quartermaster and make a run for it with him, but since Q was already striding away with a calm face and an upright posture, she had no choice but to acquiesce.
A graveyard-deep silence fell on the room as Q approached the invader, who was clearly twice his size - a fact that grew more obvious the closer he got. Bond seemed made to take up space and just own it. The Quartermaster nonetheless wore an expression of perfect nonchalance, looking barely even interested in the situation. The 00-agent, on the other hand, looked very interested, the smile having frozen on his face like a mask while his blue eyes followed Q in like laser sights. As Q got nearer, he shivered to realize that the charm he’d been seeing from a distance was actually just a paper-thin veneer over a calculating coldness like a mountain lake. The agent didn’t twitch a muscle as Q approached, either to back down or move forward threateningly, but there was no way to look at him and not know that he was dangerous.
“Is there something in particular you need, 007?” Q got his voice together to ask, voice carefully non-combative, because the only way he could see this going worse was to add violence to it, “Something so urgent that you felt the need to barge into Q-branch despite direct instructions not to?”
Bond was unabashedly scanning him now, eyes going from his tousled crown of hair to his neat but sensible shoes. He seemed to look amused in a jaded sort of way, before that emotion was tucked away as well, and he went back to meeting Q’s eyes again with uncanny chips of blue. “I’m sorry. I must have missed the sign,” the larger man apologized transparently.
Q was glowering and accusing dryly before he had time to think better on it: “You didn’t even try at that apology.”
The disarming grin on 007’s face flickered, and for a second Q thought he was about to have a fight on his hands - one that, if 007’s track-record and general physique were any indications, would quickly mean the end of the latest Q. Somehow, within two minutes of meeting him, Q had managed to unsettle 007. The faint twitch around Bond’s eyes was brief and fleeting, and the muscles in his folded arms and broad shoulders flexed, but 007 aborted any further movement before it came to life. The man had stopped talking, though, instead just standing with one hip leaned against the desk and his arms crossed, as if waiting to see what trick Q would do next.
Deciding that returning the silence would just be childish, Q obliged and leaned forward a fraction, looking up over the rims of his glasses to say patronizingly, “Let’s not insult either of our intelligences, 007. You know perfectly well that you were not supposed to come here - unless, of course, your ears are failing, in which case I suggest you take that up with Medical.” Q leaned back again.
Bond watched him, and damn if that man’s attention wasn’t the eeriest thing. It was like being skinned alive, slowly, and knowing it should hurt but somehow feeling nothing under that laceratingly sharp gaze. Q felt his heart give a little stutter, and realized fully, for the first time, that M hadn’t been bluffing when she’d warned him to be wary of this agent in particular.
The stillness was actually the most disconcerting thing, because files Q had seen on the agent had indicated that he hated sitting still and also preferred doing the talking. Now, while Q began to fidget slightly, 007 stood with perfect stillness and simply raked his eyes over him quietly one more time, as if trying to brush some secret loose. Or maybe peel Q open like a fortune cookie, whose secrets could only be found out by destroying it a little.
Finally, just as Q clenched his jaw in frustration and then made to open his mouth to say something he’d probably regret, 007’s whole face relaxed into a smile. It was charming and gorgeous and friendly, and just what a predator needed to lure in prey. “My apologies, Q.” This time, the apology all but flowed off 007’s tongue, and it had so much sincerity to it that Q found himself on the back foot, blinking in confusion. Where was this coming from? It was as if the annoying, troublemaking James Bond had turned to smoke and a whole new one had taken his place, one with manners and aplomb and a smile like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Bond’s eyes even seemed to warm, when Q looked up to them in search of some last evidence of a lie.
But while Q was entirely sure that 007 was just playing him, he couldn’t see a trace of it anywhere.
Q was still staring and trying to figure this all out when 007 shoved smoothly off the desk and turned on one heel, leaving far more quietly than he had come. “Good to meet you, Quartermaster,” he called over his shoulder in a tone that was too benign to trust. It wasn’t until later that Q realized that he’d never been introduced as the Quartermaster, but that Bond had simply - and correctly - come to that conclusion.
The very next day, Bond began making Q’s life a living hell.