Walking back into the hotel room that he had been living in for the past month, Bond swore to himself that, however much he hated the idea, he was going to start looking for a flat. Whatever positives hotels had at the outset, they tended to disappear after a couple of weeks. He might like having a maid service but not being able to have weapons stashed all over and having other people able to access his room was unnerving not to mention the fact that having M’s bloody ceramic bulldog as his only personal item was quite frankly disturbing.
He was still stuck in London for the foreseeable future as M wouldn’t sign him off as mission fit so he had to do something to fill his time. He had had business that needing tending to following the obliteration of Skyfall, but that had been taken care of relatively quickly and, once he had ensured that Kincaid would be looked after, he had returned to London as quickly as he could. He had received a considerable amount of money from Skyfall, or rather the land that Skyfall had been built upon, and it would easily buy him a decent sized place in London. He supposed that if he was going to be buying a flat he should think about furniture and find out what had happened to all of his things. He knew that they had sold his flat when they had assumed he was dead but he hadn’t really thought about what had happened to his belongings. Or rather, he hadn’t been listening to what M had said. He supposed that Moneypenny would know and if she didn’t then Tanner would.
He wasn’t really relishing the upcoming task of basically rebuilding his life. it just seemed like too much work, especially when, as soon as M cleared him, he would be back on as many missions as he could be and would be spending as little time as possible in London. Maybe he could buy somewhere and persuade 006 to move in. Alec was normally gone on long-term missions anyway so it wasn’t as though they would be living together twenty-four seven, but then they had done that before in the SBS without killing each other so the odds were good. Alec was due to be back in a couple of days anyway so Bond could broach the subject with him then. In the meantime, he could always make phone calls to a few estate agents and just get the ball rolling. Basically, anything to distract him from the fact that M was still refusing to assign him to a mission.
If he was honest, and it wasn’t something that he usually subscribed to – honesty could get you killed all too easily - , he was still struggling with the fact that M was no longer M, Mallory was. She had often driven him crazy and the words ‘take the bloody shot’ would probably haunt him forever but M, his M, had played a huge role in his life. She had been a cast-iron bitch but she had once been an agent and while he hadn’t always liked her, there was no denying that he had admired and respected her. Olivia Mansfield had been buried with full honours and the church had been packed out. Politicians, the head of MI5, and Mallory, the new head of MI6, had attended, not to mention a whole host of higher-ups from the Ministry of Defence. Tanner, Moneypenny and several heads of department within MI6 had been present including Q who, Bond had been amused to see, had managed to lose the parka for the occasion, wearing a smart black wool overcoat instead. Even Villiers, M’s former assistant, had made an appearance. Bond had lurked at the back, lingering guilt meant that he wanted to avoid any interaction with M’s husband.
This was what Bond hated about being in London for long stretches of time; the sense of aimlessness. He wasn’t good at doing nothing or the feeling of isolation. Unfortunately, isolation went hand in hand with the spy game. It had been hard to get used to after the camaraderie of the Navy. He was sure that it was different for those workers who were based permanently at Vauxhall Cross but for field agents, and the double-0 agents in particular, it was much harder to maintain friendships never mind relationships. Bond wasn’t even sure if he knew who the agents designated 004, 008 and 009 were anymore. He had Alec of course, but they had known each other for years and were more like brothers than friends, so Alec almost didn’t count.
He counted Tanner as a friend and supposed he could include Moneypenny as well. Unbidden, he found his thoughts drifting towards Q and the rather abstract thought that he would like the younger man to number among his friends. He couldn’t help but be intrigued by him; he wasn’t sure what it was. The man looked as though he still belonged in university, but he was fascinating.
Take earlier that afternoon for example. Having completed his own standard gruelling workout in both the gym and the pool, and avoided the best attempts of medical to pull him in and complete routine testing, Bond had found himself in the surprisingly deserted executive offices. Tanner’s door was wide-open but, from the way that Moneypenny was trying to look as though she wasn’t eavesdropping, it didn’t take a genius to figure out where he was. Having nothing better to do, Bond had perched on the edge of her desk hoping to find out what was going on. The padded door meant that it was impossible to hear the precise words that were being spoken but it was apparent from the raised voices that whoever was inside really wasn’t happy. Bond turned to Moneypenny to try and find out who was in there but was cut off before the words left his mouth by a furious glare and a perfectly manicured finger being held to her lips.
Luckily for Bond, it hadn’t been too long before a harassed-looking Tanner had emerged with his opposite number from MI5 looking equally harassed and both of them carrying stacks of files. The door was only open for seconds but it was long enough for Bond to clearly discern two voices; the raised voice belonged to Q while the lower placating tones belonged to Mallory. If he leant forward fractionally, he could see several seated figures and then Q pacing up and down, gesticulating wildly. He didn’t see any more as Tanner swung the door shut with a mildly disapproving look. Bond didn’t bother saying anything, he just shrugged unrepentantly. Knowing that he wasn’t going to find anything more out, Bond slipped off the desk and out of Vauxhall. He now had a few more observations about Q to mull over but that was best done over a scotch or two.
It didn’t take him long to find a bar and order a scotch, settling into a comfortable booth that had good views of all the entrances and exits. He was still fascinated by the flash of Q that he had seen in M’s office, even if he didn’t know what they’d been talking about. Boothroyd had very rarely ventured out of R&D and, in all honesty, had been a fairly ineffectual leader of Q-branch. Q, on the other hand, was clearly both. From the afternoon’s events, he was also quite unafraid to go up against M if he disagreed with him; something that had surprised Bond. But then, maybe he shouldn’t be surprised given that Q had been willing to help Bond, having barely met the man, even to the possible detriment of his career.
Ordering another scotch, Bond let his mind replay their interactions during Skyfall. He would be lying if he had said that their first meeting had gone well. In hindsight, it was mostly his fault. He supposed that he was unsettled about returning to the service, a service that was showing vulnerability for the first time, and the Quartermaster had been the complete opposite of what he had been expecting. He had been more than pleasantly surprised. He hadn’t expected the quiet confidence or the quick wit and banter. It was a novelty meeting a boffin who wasn’t scared of him. It had been a genuine pleasure to verbally spar with him and there had been a visible personality – something that was normally all too rare amongst the support staff. If it hadn’t been for the personal aspect of the mission, then Bond would have taken more pleasure in working with Q; missions would certainly go much quicker with Q’s sarcastic commentary running in the background.
‘So much for my promising career in espionage’, Q had complained when Bond had confirmed the fact that what they were doing wasn’t official in the slightest, although that hadn’t stopped him from helping Bond, even when Mallory had caught them. Bond definitely had to disagree with him. Considering the start he had had, Bond thought Q had quite the promising career. Why wouldn’t he?
Once he’d gotten over the fact that Q looked ridiculously young to be the Quartermaster of MI6, and that his age really had no correlation to his competence, Bond wasn’t entirely surprised to find that he wanted to get to know Q better. He wished to be able to count the younger man as one of his (few) friends. He wondered what it would be like to take Q out drinking and be exposed to that sarcastic wit when he wasn’t in a life or death situation. He couldn’t help but wonder if Q always gesticulated that wildly or if it was simply anger-induced. Then again, with their work for Queen and country, when would they have time for this social drinking? Draining his glass, Bond signalled for the bill; if he was going to get maudlin, he might as well do it in his own flat.
Since he had seen Q in M’s office, Bond hadn’t been back to MI6. There hadn’t really been time. Instead of bringing 006 back to the UK to give him a new briefing and equipment, M had decided to send a more junior agent out to meet him at a pre-determined meeting spot with all of the necessary information and equipment, which meant Bond had had to abandon his initial plans regarding Alec. Instead, he had just decided to go ahead and find somewhere to live so that he didn’t have to continue living in hotels. A quick email to Tanner had confirmed a list of areas and buildings that had already been vetted as safe by MI6 and, having picked one, Bond soon found himself holding the keys to a penthouse apartment near Leadenhall Market and the City. There had been plenty of options, even amongst those that had been vetted, but Bond had been picky and had refused to sign a contract until he had gone over the place with a fine toothcomb and been satisfied with the property.
As a result, he had ended up with a flat that he was more than happy with, which was a bloody good thing considering how much he had paid for it. A huge penthouse that covered half of the top floor of a warehouse conversion, it had plenty of exposed brickwork with very few of the floor to ceiling glass windows that seemed to characterise London penthouses but which, in Bond’s honest opinion, were just begging for an attack from snipers. The apartment had three bedrooms, two with en-suites and one of which was on the opposite side of the apartment so would be absolutely ideal for Alec, should they both be in London at the same time. There was a gym and pool in the building if Bond couldn’t be bothered to go into MI6, an underground garage and a doorman twenty-four seven. Even more appealing was the fact that the other occupants were very rarely at home and, confirmed by a quick background check, were nothing to be worried about.
With the keys in his hand, he had paid an almost obscene amount of money to an interior designer to get the place habitable as quickly as possible. He had absolutely no interest in doing it himself but he gave her a clear picture of what he wanted and left her to it. He had no need for ostentation or an excess of personal items; what he did have and wanted to keep were held safely in a personal vault at Coutts. He just wanted it so that the bloody bulldog wasn’t the only thing in the place.
Needing something to do until the interior decorator was finished, he had busied himself in the hotel gym and pool in between several trips to Saville Row and Sloane Square in order to replace his lost suits. As night had fallen, Bond had changed into workout clothes and made his way into the city, keeping his skills well-honed by running parkour around the city. It reminded him why he loved London. He had visited some truly beautiful places during his years in the service but, if he was being perfectly honest, visiting beautiful islands, only to be either greeted by a madman or shot at, tended to take the shine off them. But, regardless of Silva’s actions, London was still the place where Bond felt safest, despite it also, by contrasts, being the place he felt loneliest. There was only so much time he could spend training, only so much parkour his body could take and drinking was never really much fun when you were doing it by yourself or to simply fill the time.
This was why Bond needed to be in the field, why he belonged in the field and, inevitably, he would die in the field.
Luckily for Bond, money talked and his apartment was finished within the time frame that he had specified and he was able to move out of the hotel and into his own flat. It hadn’t taken him long to establish the extra security measures that he wanted to ensure that there was an easily accessible but well-hidden stash of weapons in every single room. Officially, no agents were permitted to carry weapons outside of missions; Bond’s Walther, for example, was supposed to be returned at the end of every mission or else face the wrath of a very unhappy Quartermaster. Unofficially, Bond had a licence to kill, and if people wanted to kill him the likelihood that they would have the decency to wait until he was officially on a mission was non-existent, so a blind eye was generally turned to unofficial weapons. It was a good job really, considering the number that most of the agents owned.
Still, having his apartment finished and a space of his own didn’t make Bond any less bored. He had never been one for idle timewasting but his body couldn’t cope with the rigorous demands it would be put under in an attempt to curtail the boredom. He may be a sensualist and enjoy wearing fine clothes and going out to eat in fine restaurants but neither could hold his attention for long and lost any lustre they might hold. He tried reading novels and watching TV but while he enjoyed the reading, he despaired at the state of daytime television. He was left with one option; returning to Vauxhall Cross.
Then again, there wasn’t that much for him to do at Vauxhall other than exercise or annoy whatever members of staff were around. He chose the latter and honed in on Moneypenny first. It worked well enough for a while but, unfortunately for Bond, Moneypenny got bored of his constant presence before he got bored of flirting and barbed comments, threatening that she would shoot him again and do the job properly this time. So, he moved on to the next person; Tanner. It took even less time for Tanner to get bored of Bond.
“Oh for god’s sake Bond, can you please go and annoy somewhere else and stop loitering around my desk? I have work to do and I can’t do it with you looming over me.”
Bond smirked at having ruffled Tanner’s calm veneer, even momentarily. He liked the man, he really did – he was ten times better than bloody Villiers who had only ever seemed able to say “yes ma’am” – but M was still refusing to sign him off and he was bored.
“Did you have anyone in mind for me to go and annoy? I think Moneypenny will actually stab me with her stilettos if she sees me again.”
“Yes, well, I don’t entirely blame her. Look, why don’t you go and pay a visit to R&D? Q said that he had been working on some new gun prototypes; he might need some help testing them and I’m not going to be able to get down there for a few days with all of the paperwork that Trevelyan has caused.”
Bond grinned at that, “Alec got trigger-happy with the bombs again, didn’t he?”
His comment earned him a sour look from Tanner.
“What do you think Bond? It’s always a miracle if he doesn’t get trigger-happy. I’ve never known an agent to love explosions as much as he does. Between the two of you I swear that you’re responsible for 75% of my paperwork.”
Bond grinned again. “Only 75%? We’re clearly slipping.”
“Bond, get out of my office.”
“Bill, always a pleasure.” Bond poked his head back around the door jamb. “So, are you telling me that you test the guns for R&D?”
Smirk firmly fixed on his lips, Bond sauntered out of the area that housed the executive offices without running into Eve Moneypenny, much to his relief. Stepping into the lifts, he pushed the relevant button for R&D wondering why he hadn’t thought of this sooner. Hopefully, R&D would actually let him play with some of the new toys and not just run him off the instant that he stepped out of the lift.
He hadn’t been down to either Q-branch or R&D since the debacle that was the Skyfall mission when Silva had escaped MI6 custody. He had only seen Q a couple of times since then, once at M’s funeral and then later storming out of Mallory’s office. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t help but wonder if Q would be around today. He hoped not because he had the feeling that Q wouldn’t be easily persuaded to hand over his beloved weapons. Bond would probably be better off with one of the minions – someone who could either be flirted or intimidated into letting Bond loose to play with the new weaponry.
Looking around, he couldn’t help but notice the differences between the place now and the one that he had been familiar with for the entirety of his career at MI6. Not only was the space different but there were an awful lot of new faces as well. Bond had never been on particularly good terms with either Q-branch or R&D; he disliked Q-branch because they never seemed to have the right information for him when he needed it and they tended to get grumpy when he did the opposite of what they told him to do and R&D hated him because he inevitably destroyed so much equipment. Still, he had recognised faces and there seemed to be far too few that he knew around. In fact, the entire average age of the entire department seemed to have decreased by about twenty years, something he was attributing to the new Quartermaster.
The man in question appeared all of a sudden surrounded by a flock of staffers, most of them flapping like baby ducklings and looking all of about twelve. Bond couldn’t help but be impressed by the calm and efficient way the younger man dealt with them, dispensing orders, signing off on work and accepting files, even as Bond cringed at the mismatched outfit Q wore. The man was an executive of MI6; would it kill him to wear a suit rather than looking as though he had got dressed in the dark and without his glasses.
“Well, well. James Bond in Q-branch. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Bond turned and smiled at the woman who had materialised next to him. Danielle Marsh, or R as she was more commonly known, was a Q-branch legend. A smart, elegant, middle-aged lady with a core of steel, no-one was entirely sure how long she had been working at MI6 but it was well-known that the only reason Q-branch hadn’t fallen apart under Major Boothroyd had been because of Danielle Marsh. Rumour had it that she had even been offered the position of Q after the Vauxhall Cross explosion but had stated that she quite liked her life the way it was and that there was someone better suited to being Q than she was. Beloved by the double-0’s for her no-nonsense manner and her ability to keep calm in a crisis, Danielle was also one of the few women to never fall for Bond’s charm.
“Danielle, I’m hurt. Am I not allowed to come and simply pay you a visit?”
“You forget that this is me you’re talking to, not one of the interns who’ll simply bat her eyelashes and go all doe-eyed at a single glance from you. You’re banned from the field so you can’t be collecting equipment. Come on, what do you want?”
“Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“I’m R for a reason, Bond. What are you doing down here?”
“Tanner got frustrated with me constantly asking about my field status. He suggested that I could perhaps prove useful and test some new prototypes?”
“Don’t let Q hear you; he still isn’t thrilled about your Walther and the Komodo dragon. Bill’s right though, we’ve got some prototypes that have already gone through preliminary testing. They need more rigorous testing but Q’s so busy at the moment, I don’t know when he’ll be able to get to it.”
“Q? Danielle, what are you saying? That Q tests the weapons?”
“Why do you think your Walther was so good? You should really check the range scores one of these days. You might find it quite enlightening.”
“Why would I need to check the range scores? I have the highest marksman scores.”
Danielle gave a sly smile. “Of the double-0’s and field agents, you do. You’d be surprised at some people’s hidden talents. Come on, I’ll set you up in one of the testing labs and find someone that you won’t terrify to take notes.”
Bond snorted at that. The majority of the boffins who worked down in the tunnels seemed to be very jittery and thus incapable of doing anything when Bond was around. And that was when he wasn’t armed or testing weapons. Assuming that Danielle was going to be a while, Bond leant back against a nearby table and simply took in the bustle of Q-branch, although he found his eyes being constantly drawn back to where Q stood in front of the bank of monitors, his back to the rest of the room.
Danielle returned sooner than he expected, an older man in tow that Bond vaguely recognised from Boothroyd’s time as Q.
“Bond, this is Henry, he’s going to record the results of the testing for you. Come on, let’s get what you need from the test armoury. I trust that you won’t break anything. Or at least try; I know what you’re like Bond. Do try and remember that these are prototypes. We just need to know how they fire, not if they work as projectiles or clubs.”
“Yes R, I promise to behave myself.”
Bond grinned as Danielle rolled her eyes.
“Oh please Bond, don’t make promises that you have no intention of keeping. Or that you’re completely incapable of keeping. Get on with you. Some of us have work to do and no doubt Q will need more tea.”
After several satisfying hours in the testing lab, Bond had found himself searching for a computer to check what Danielle had said about range scores. There was no requirement for staff based entirely at Vauxhall Cross to have any firearms training; it was an entirely personal decision. There were several notable exceptions but then Moneypenny had been a field agent and Mallory had been in the Army. The only other one that Bond knew of was Bill Tanner and Bond was fairly certain that very few people other than he and Alec could remember that Bill Tanner had once been known by another name; the call sign 004.
Computer found, it didn’t take Bond long to find (read: hack) the range scores. He might not be a technological genius but, as England’s enemies had grown more technologically aware, so her defenders had had to stay abreast. As he had expected, Eve Moneypenny, Mallory and Tanner all scored highly but the surprising name on the list, with a score just a few points less than Bond was Q. Q; the one person whose name that he hadn’t been expecting to see. He was absolutely amazed. He had known that Q was an expert hacker and he was quite clearly an incredible inventor but he hadn’t expected him to have expert marksman skills as well. It fascinated Bond far more than he had expected. What was it about this badly-dressed young boffin that he found so intriguing? He wasn’t entirely certain but it bore investigating.
There was far more to Q than Bond had expected. The younger man played on his mind for the rest of the evening and that night, as he got into bed, Bond resolved to return to R&D the next day. Q definitely required more observation before Bond could figure him out.
Bond couldn’t deny the feeling of relief that went through him when he was finally informed that M was satisfied with his test scores and that he was being allowed back in the field. Frankly, it had been far too long stuck in dreary old London. It had been the longest downtime that he had had since leaving the Navy; the time spent in Greece didn’t count because he had been officially dead at the time. He hadn’t even had this much downtime after the Casino Royale mission. Still, as reluctant as he was to admit it, the enforced downtime had been good for him. He was back in perfect form on the range with his scores the highest of the double-0’s, much to Alec’s annoyance. No doubt the other man would pay him back the next time that he was in London, probably by pounding Bond into the floor during hand-to-hand training, and that was something that Bond was fully expecting and even looking forward to.
Out of sheer boredom, he had been able to properly rehab his shoulder and the scars didn’t pull any more, they were just more to add to his myriad collection. Undoubtedly he had either failed or scraped through his psych evaluation but then if he had done anything otherwise he would have been worried. He had been told to report to Q-branch for his equipment once he had seen M and he hoped that there was going to be another of those Walther’s waiting for him. It had worked beautifully and he had been genuinely disappointed when he had lost it to that bloody Komodo dragon. It had been a stunning piece of workmanship and, at the time, he had been impressed by the new Quartermaster’s talents. What had Q said about it? ‘Less of a random killing machine, more of a personal statement’. Well, it had certainly been that.
Walking into the executive offices, he greeted Moneypenny and nodded at Tanner who had just let himself out of M’s office, files in hand. He couldn’t help but wonder if the Chief of Staff was behind Bond suddenly passing all the required tests. After all, it was barely five days since Tanner had yelled at him to get out of his office. Still, Bond didn’t particularly care why he was going out into the field, just that he was.
“He’ll see you now.” Tanner moved out of the way, over to Moneypenny’s desk and leant over, making a few comments in a low voice.
Bond left them to it, stepping through the door and closing it behind him. His eyes roamed around the room, taking in the new setting. Mallory had decided against using the same glass-panelled room that Olivia Mansfield had used and instead had an office that looked as though it belonged in a gentleman’s club. He looked back at his boss as Mallory cleared his throat.
“So, 007, lots to be done.” Mallory slid a file across the desk to Bond. “Are you ready to go back to work?”
“With pleasure, M, with pleasure.”