When he was five his parents divorced.
His mother married another man.
They divorced another four years later.
When he hit puberty, life became difficult. Strange. Weird. Weirder than before where the kind of child he was drew unsavory attention from the school bullies.
His mother didn’t remarry a third time, but she also couldn’t deal with a son who grew more distant with each day, who immersed himself in the world of the world wide web, who was more at home with computers than the reality of people of flesh and blood.
A psychological evaluation attested him a genius level IQ. Highly gifted, they called him. A computer whiz kid. Able to write his own code with only eleven, a code no one else seemed to be able to understand, but his programs were a creation of beauty and exceptional efficiency.
When he was fourteen he knew he was in trouble.
Not because he was sought after by prestigious universities, all hunting him, wanting him to attend their U.
Not just legally because he easily hacked into systems.
No, something else was wrong with him.
It was eating away at him, from the inside. It was a place he couldn’t shut down, a door he couldn’t lock, and it was slowly killing him. It was an addiction he couldn’t drop. It was always there and no amount of restriction helped.
He could have gone insane. He could have killed himself. He could have ended up in the psych ward.
Instead he had ended up here. MI6, serving Her Majesty the Queen. Her youngest agent, though he was as far from the field as possible.
He wasn’t whole. He had never healed. The door was still open and the whispers streaming through a constant companion. He was part of this world and he had come to accept it, blocking it all with the help of his new employer. He had learned shields, but they weren’t enough.
One day he might break under the pressure. One day he might have to rely on his curse and greatest ability.
He knew it would kill him then.
* * *
MI6 employed few extraordinary humans.
Well, no. MI6 employed extraordinary people. They were ready to die for their country. They went out into the world and protected their homeland and the whole world with it. They lived and died for their conviction. They would never give up their secrets.
They would sooner give up their lives.
MI6 didn’t employ supernaturals, though. Or that many preternaturals. There was hardly a difference for the British Secret Service. For one, they were both rare. For another, they were almost always trouble.
Anyone who is special is trouble in their own right. Of course, any Double-Oh would agree. They were trouble and special. Special trouble. It was because of how they had been trained and shaped to perform at such a high capacity, to kill without a conscience or remorse or second-guessing. They were tools, weapons to be deployed, and they knew it. They functioned perfectly. Few reached the ripe old age of retirement.
But to their own knowledge, none of their colleagues fell into another category than human.
Not all of the preternaturals working for MI6 had perfectly useful abilities. They might be more resilient, faster, quicker on the uptake, and one could breathe underwater for a limited amount of time, but they were trouble. Those who were faster than the regular human could get caught; those who were stronger could be felled by a single bullet to the brain. One memorable agent with a tougher skin than a normal human ended up crushed when a building was dropped on him. Preternatural ability only went so far.
Double-Ohs were special agents. They had a special understanding of loyalty and life. None of them would rely on anything but their instinct, their training and their tech, as well as their handler.
MI6 had long abandoned the idea to employ the truly supernatural. They were far and few between. Time and age and the modern world had made some of them extinct or so rare, they wouldn’t come forward to live their lives on the edge, saving the world, and getting a government salary in return.
Not that employing a vampire would give MI6 an edge either. They didn’t even make good villains due to certain limitations and lifestyle habits. They also didn’t have the ambition to risk their lives. Most went about their days as any citizen. Werewolves had been coming and going in small numbers. They never stayed long. Their pack mentality made it hard for them to be field agents and while it was even harder to kill one of them, and they were mean killing machines, MI6 had decided that Double-Ohs wouldn’t see a shifter in their midst. It was hell on the clothing budget anyway.
But then there was 007. James Bond. The agent with a reputation that bordered on the fantastic and whispers that he was a preternatural had come and gone through the ranks. He defied everything. Even death. He was the longest-running agent in their ranks, he was a loner, a charmer, a deadly, cold-blooded killer like all the rest and still… not like them. He had gone up against everything and always come back, sooner or later.
And every time others diligently got out of his way in those first few hours. It was like the creature that resided inside him, the monster that killed and bloodied its claws, was in upheaval, wanting more, wanting to go out and right into the next melee.
MI6 office workers avoided him. Q branch watched him carefully as he returned broken weapons and gadgets. His whole being crackled with danger and death, like a lightning storm about to rain down on them.
After M had debriefed him the world could breathe again. Like a switch had been flicked and the predator was caged again.
The whispers prevailed.
Bond was different. He was not like others. The other Double-Ohs wouldn’t let on what they thought about their fellow agent, gave the whisperers and rumor mongers sharp looks.
Bond was successful. It was all that counted.
* * *
Handling 007 was a nightmare.
He went against orders.
He conveniently lost tracking devices or communication gear.
He sometimes refused to talk at all, not calling in even though the handler knew he was alive and kicking and in possession of a perfectly good phone.
He destroyed his weapons and equipment.
He was hell to work with.
No one in his right mind really, truly wanted to, but he had handlers with each mission. Mostly only for that one mission and then they threatened to resign if they had to work with him again.
It suited Bond just fine. He would rather run without a handler.
Neither Tanner nor M would have any of that and it was her final word that counted. It was she who protected her Double-Ohs and Bond in particular. He was her best, he was the one who got the most dangerous jobs done and came back.
Whispers grew louder, but no one could think of any kind of preternatural who could rise from the dead.
If Bill Tanner knew more than the others, he kept his mouth shut about it.
* * *
With the new age of technology and the ever-spreading world of cyber warfare, a new breed of agents came.
It was a brave new world.
With them a young man working in Q branch, rising to be the head of it within a year. His employment had been pushed by the former M, now retired – a good word for ‘killed’ – and few knew what he truly was.
He was a genius.
He was a tech nerd.
He was highly intelligent, fast, worked computers like magic and did the impossible with the technology at his disposal. He wrote code no one else understood at first. He wrote programs that baffled other genius-level engineers. He was one of a kind and scarily perfect when it came to the interaction with the cyberworld.
He was Q.
And every gift came with a terrible price.
Q’s was simple and complex in one.
Q was a technopath. He had an instinctive understanding of everything technological, of every machine. His mind was able to attach itself to those machines, be it a household item or a complex computer system, and he could hack it. Not just by using a remote device but by employing his mind.
It was terribly effective.
It was terribly debilitating for him, too.
Because it was also so terribly easy to get lost inside this alluring world of codes and artificial life.
Q held himself together by not allowing his abilities to ever fully surface. He couldn’t use what came naturally to him because he had no protection. It was so easy to get in and so difficult, maybe even impossible, to get out.
Drawbacks. Yes, this one was hell.
So Q did most of his hacking by remote. No system was truly that well-protected that he couldn’t wade through the security and do something terrible to it.
Still, the lure of cyberspace was incredibly strong. As were the headaches and downright migraines that came from their alluring signals. Even in a watered down version his technopathy had him suffer from those headaches that didn’t leave, that no amount of pain medication would ever cure. He swallowed the pills, but they were temporary relief at best.
Sometimes… sometimes he took little steps, tested the waters, wanted to see if he might find a way to work within his full capacity.
Those were the days he spent with debilitating headaches, vomiting and such a misery he never wanted to go anywhere near a computer again.
He came back, though.
He was Q. He was needed. And he knew he was the best there was.
It didn’t stop Silva from entering the system. It didn’t stop the cascade of events. Q knew it had been his fault to a degree, that had he been at the top of his game he would have been able to counterattack. As it was, he had failed.
No one knew exactly what he could really do. No one had ever witnessed him doing it, aside from the former M. Mallory, as her successor, had been briefed, but he had never witnessed the full extent of Q’s abilities, and he found him more useful as a handler of his notorious Double-Ohs and a supplier of equipment to bring his agents home alive. He wouldn’t push the young genius into a demonstration; there had been a clear warning in his file.
Q proved himself when he survived handling James Bond on their first mission together and didn’t threaten resignation should he be paired with the agent again. Actually, the two of them got along perfectly.
Well, within limits.
There had been arguments. There had been discussions. There had been downright insubordination that would have had previous handlers grow gray hair. There had been one memorable occasion of insults traded that suddenly turned into snarky banter, then a completely normal conversation.
It bemused and baffled everyone.
Of course Bond had his doubts about such a young quartermaster, but he had, to everyone’s surprise, given him the benefit of a doubt.
The whispers had turned to murmurs of disbelief, especially among the others who had worked with 007, that Bond would trust in his handler’s words and do what he told him. To a degree, of course. And not without trying his own methods first, which usually ended with a lot more death and destruction.
James Bond was a brilliant mind in a body honed as a weapon. He was smarter than he let on, he was quick on his feet, he understood more of Q’s tech babble than others, though he would never confess to it, and he thrived under the pressure of a mission. Death followed him, violence was second nature, but there was more. Q knew he had only just scratched the surface.
Even after the fallout, even after M’s death and Bond’s emotional decline for a few weeks, Q had been there, hadn’t so much as twitched at whatever the Double-Oh did. He had taken the verbal abuse, the cold looks, the broken guns and other gadgets thrown onto his table. He had repaired what could be repaired, had scrapped the rest, and he had replaced the tools 007 needed for his trade.
And he had calmly accepted the handler position once more for a new mission.
Bond had tried to make his life hell, of course. Q didn’t expect anything less. It was how they worked. But he was who and what he was for a reason. He didn’t lose an agent just because of sloppy wifi, remote areas or interference from shielding technology or new devices MI6 hadn’t yet heard of. He was always there, whether Bond wanted it or not, even if he ditched the earpiece. He was there and he watched and he helped his agent, tireless and faithful and with the right amount of snark. He guided him, he protected him, he gave him the access he needed, broke into supposedly secure systems, stole information about a target’s home, and he became something more.
It was when Bond lifted an iPhone off a tourist to get back into contact with him that the first tentative bonds strengthened. Bond had been the one seeking contact, not the other way around. Q would have been perfectly fine with tracking him through his tracer and the various, very helpful cameras all over the world. There wasn’t a feed he couldn’t get into sooner or later.
But Bond had talked to him.
It had been the beginning of what could be quoted as a wonderful friendship, but was something else.
And if Q found it easier to ignore the lure of technology, found the headaches decreasing and had days he felt absolutely normal, he didn’t really notice. Handling 007 was a full-time job.
“I believe I lost the gun.”
Q looked up from his tablet. “You believe,” he echoed, not really making it a question. “Do you still have it on your person or not?”
“Then you believe correctly, Mr. Bond. You lost my gun.”
“I also believe it was my gun.”
Bond looked unrepentant.
“You know those guns cost no small amount of money.”
“I need a new one.”
“Money I need to account for,” Q went on.
Bond kept looking at him.
“Money I could very well use for other projects, aside from supplying you with new guns you conveniently lose again.”
“I also need a new phone.”
Q raised his eyebrows. “Really.”
Bond didn’t react, his stare unnerving for many but Q didn’t so much as blink.
“There are requisition forms,” the quartermaster said mildly.
When Bond didn’t leave he shook his head, giving a put-upon sigh.
“Come back tomorrow.”
“I’m leaving tonight.”
Q glared at his agent.
Bond smirked and leaned closer, an imposing figure that could strike fear into other engineers.
“Oh please, 007. This only works in school yards.”
“You’re my handler. You should be aware of my needs.”
“What you need is a stern talking to about losing valuable resources of the agency you work for. You cost me more money than all your other twelve colleagues together.”
“I’m also still waiting on my car.”
Q’s expression reflected annoyance. “I don’t live to serve you, Mr. Bond.”
“I’ll put it on my Christmas list.”
Q scowled. “Double entendre, 007?”
Bond smirked more. “I don’t know what you mean, quartermaster.”
It got him a new gun and a slightly scratched phone. The agent studied it with a faintly bemused expression.
“005 brought his back. See how that works?” Q turned back to his tablet. “He received a replacement. You’re not too old to learn how to as well.”
Bond didn’t respond. He watched his quartermaster, then a slow, slow smile stole over his lips.
“Does it explode?”
Q heaved a sigh. “Does everything have to explode with you?”
“It’s an added bonus.”
“You’re a nightmare. Go. Leave. No explosive devices for you.”
The smile grew, then he turned walked away.
Q’s underlings watched with wide eyes and open mouths as the Double-Oh disappeared out of Q branch. Their boss worked on, unaffected by the exchange and the look and the physically intimidating man.
* * *
He was tired. Old and tired and burned out. He had served Queen and Country and he had died for them over and over again. He had felt time and age gnaw at his very soul and he knew each time might be the one to break him for real.
Then Eve shot him.
His death back then had been almost welcome. He had enjoyed it. Maybe a little too much. He had tried to forget who and what he was, just be and live in the moment, but no amount of female company, alcohol and dangerous games passed the time.
The thrill was momentary.
When he came down, he crashed spectacularly.
Three months and nothing changed. Three months and he felt the same. Drugs and sex and more drugs. Alcohol and pain medication and beautiful women.
He was a Double-Oh agent. He was at the very top of the food chain. Double-Ohs were killers. Not everyone was made to be like them, not every agent received the license to kill. It was an absolution, a carte blanche. He didn’t have to justify his kills, aside from in front of M throughout a debriefing. He was free and yet he was chained in so many way.
He hurt. All of him, right down to his bones. Physically he was back; mentally was another question. Of course M had him evaluated and James Bond wouldn’t be who he was, what his reputation promised, if he hadn’t fought the psychologist every single step of the way; and then some.
His aim was off. His physiological condition was downright catastrophic. And the psychological damage…
He was old and he was tired and the burn inside him was nothing anyone could help with. He was losing part of himself again, and maybe the next time it would be for good.
M had known. It had been in her eyes and he knew it was in his.
“The next one might be the last,” she had stated.
Bond had known it was probably the truth. “I can take it,” he had replied stoically.
M’s expression was frozen, distant, but he knew her too well. She was worried. For MI6, for herself, and maybe for him.
“This is who I am, M,” he had told her. “This is what you made me.”
“I gave you a release, Bond. I didn’t make you the preternatural you are.”
“You’re still looking,” he had remarked, voice lowering.
M had looked on, still not even twitching. “You are the best agent of MI6, 007. I’m still hopeful.”
But Bond had given up on any hope. Hope was for novices, for the young. He was too damaged, too hardened. Nothing could heal this anymore.
She cleared him for field work, even though he had barely managed the forty percent that were in his file. Silva had shown it to him and it had been a shock to his system.
He came back from the dead, but he left part of him behind every time.
Maybe this was the last time. A final warning shot.
Bond had been ready to surrender to the darkness, after eliminating Silva.
But then he met his new quartermaster. Young, looking the part of the nerd, the computer geek, with his calm voice and very self-assured manner. There was nothing intimidating about him physically; Bond had bullied geeks like him if the mission called for it. Mentally was another matter. Looking into those brown eyes, hidden behind oversized glasses, the agent had seen something else.
And his interest had been piqued.
The pain was suddenly secondary. The darkness ignored.
M’s death threw him and he had her blood on his hands for days to come. He saw it, smelled it, tasted it. He bit at every hand that tried to help him, he accepted his forced leave until he could get a clean bill of health, and he still didn’t fall completely.
Skyfall had cleansed him. It had burned away the past and it had left the future a blank slate. M had never given up on him, had wanted him to go on, and he would. Bond knew he would. It was his vow as he held her in his arms, the tears flowing down his cheeks. Tears he hadn’t even shed when his parents had died.
Skyfall was gone. Burned to the ground. He had come out of that fire.
He was back two months later.
Q was there to greet him for his mission, just a delivery to be made within his own country. Easy. Get his feet back under him.
Q. His handler again.
Things developed from there.
It didn’t mean he listened when the younger man told him where to go, what route to take. He provoked him, waited for the inevitable explosion, but Q was this calm, sometimes monotone voice, surely and safely guiding him through danger. He watched out for him, he found him even when contact was lost, and he supplied him with equipment.
The latter was one reason to visit Q branch, wheedle more tech out of the tech guys. Q would have none of it.
He was still waiting for an explosive device hidden cleverly in an ordinary package.
He was still poking at Q to give him a new car.
Q simply gave him that Look and it was impressive all on its own.
Q was impressive.
Bond was impressed.
He kept gravitating back to the labs, watching his quartermaster, learning about him, and he went as far as stealing his file. It was ridiculously easy and ridiculously short. That was the moment Bond believed that there was more to the head of Q branch than anyone let on, least of all M. His predecessor had kept a lid on Bond’s true nature, so why not have the same happen when it came to Q?
That he felt more relaxed around Q than any time before escaped him. That he liked the quiet hours, just watching and learning about this man with a genius level IQ never figured into the equation. That he lived for their verbal exchanges, the sparring, the arguments, the snappy replies, it wasn’t registering.
He felt more alive. He felt like his old self. The dark hole inside him that tore him to pieces, that made him such a perfect Double-Oh agent and still left him less and less human, was still there, but the darkness was now only a quiet hum that had him at ease.
When he talked to him, when they ran missions together. His aim was back. He had a perfect score. He still evaded psych eval, but that was to be expected. M cornered him about it and he did his mandatory session, which let the psychologist grinding his teeth, but it was all part of the game.
Bond didn’t catch on to the fact for the first few months at all.
But when he did, the hunter snarled and started to stalk its prey.