Given the current difficulties with James Moriarty AKA Max Denbigh, it was a salve to Mycroft’s pride that the agents of MI6 still twitched and scurried around at the sight of him. The agents were split between trying to stay least in sight versus trying to get a look at Director Holmes, the source of so many of their missions. Mycroft was one of the few directors who came in person to hear the reports from M, to ask questions, and provide feedback
He prided himself on always giving excellent information for their missions and very pointed feedback on their performance reviews. He enjoyed the love-hate relationship they had for him, but in the end he only truly cared about their efficacy.
Since this was a casual visit, he had also ensured that he wasn’t announced. It was a new building and he would spend some time touring it on his own, seeing what he could discover, while also timing how long it took the new M to find him.
A stately walk through the new spaces now used by MI6, just running his eyes over what was and was not visible, gained him significantly more information than any MI6 agent would have volunteered to him. Sherlock may mock him for delegating most of the footwork of information acquisition, but Mycroft knew when a personal look was necessary and when it was not. Sadly, it was usually most necessary when it came to organizations that were putatively under his own government’s management.
This was the building that Moriarty, under the name of Max Denbigh, had arranged the construction of. Intended for the Joint Security Services and multiple national security organizations, it was now in the sole possession of the British government, as represented by MI6.
It was clearly an ongoing transition.
Mycroft had only managed to spend a few minutes strolling through one of the lower levels when Gareth Mallory, the current acting M, approached him with a quick stride.
Mycroft checked his watch to get the precise time. Clearly M had been in his office and left it as soon as the first round of security had identified Mycroft.
“Director Holmes. This is a surprise.”
“Mr. Mallory. That was the intent.”
Mycroft regarded Mallory with some distaste. The man was still on probation in the role of M as far as Mycroft was concerned. This whole Moriarty/Denbigh situation had not reflected well on Mallory. The only thing preventing Mycroft from heaping the blame on him entirely was that Mycroft himself had not dealt with the situation very well either.
After a lengthy pause, Mallory finally broke the stalemate. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Oh, I'm sure I could think of something.” Mycroft paused for a moment, but then continued. “But today I believe I’ll just see how your Quartermaster is doing. It has, after all, been quite a change for him recently."
The MI6 Quartermaster had spent the last year in one of the older labs, working with some of his predecessor’s engineering projects rather than managing the cyber labs that were his normal expertise. But now he was back and taking personal charge of the new cyber hub.
It left Mycroft deeply suspicious.
And from Mallory’s reaction, understated though it was, it clearly left him suspicious as well. “Why don’t we talk in my office.”
“I think not. I’ll want to see his new space as well as speak with him, after all.”
“Hmm,” Mallory said. It really was a pleasure, Mycroft mused, to outrank individuals who were rarely ever outranked. “Then I’ll escort you there.”
It was a relatively short trip that noticeably bypassed anything of interest.
And there was the Quartermaster of MI6, back at his preferred central podium of power, working on his own coding while still supervising the work of his department. He nodded at Mycroft but didn’t look away from his work.
"Hello, M. Welcome to Q Branch, Director Holmes"
“Hello, Q,” Mallory greeted him.
Mycroft didn’t bother with the pleasantries. "Director Holmes? Really?"
The Quartermaster pressed his lips together, clearly annoyed. Mycroft waited patiently. Fenton should know that he was already walking on thin ice as far as Mycroft was concerned and if he wanted the benefit of their personal connection, he would accept the requirements.
Fenton finally sighed. "You are progressively less welcome by the moment, Mycroft.” They both ignored Mallory’s indrawn breath and the overall pause in the work happening around them. “What do you want?"
"I want many things, Fen-" Fenton was suddenly glaring rather ferociously, and Mycroft allowed himself to be cut off, with a smirk at having scored a point. "Quartermaster."
He wondered how many of the people were already making a note to start researching names that started with ‘fen’.
"Just Q is fine. And you've made your point, Mycroft. Now what do you want?"
"I want to know exactly how much of these events you were directly responsible for and how much you simply stood aside and allowed to have happen."
And that had more people than just Mallory stiffening with outrage, but Fenton wasn’t one of them. “To what could you possibly be referring?”
"There is no way you didn't know who Max Denbigh was."
"I never actually met him in person."
"No, you exiled yourself to an underground bunker to focus on all the engineering projects that you used to mock your predecessor for, while allowing an enemy of the state to build you a new cyber hub."
"I had the greatest respect for Major Boothroyd.”
“That is hardly the point.”
“Then you should stick to the point rather than bringing up extraneous accusations.”
Mycroft really should have known better. And if he didn’t get this conversation on track sooner rather than later, some of their listeners might well drop into a dead faint from holding their breath too long. He wished he could have this conversation in private but Fenton almost never allowed his attention to be undivided. Mycroft’s best option for having an honest conversation with him was when he was actually working on something that coincided with the topic of conversation anyway.
“Then let us return to the point: why did you not tell me who Max Denbigh was?”
“I stayed out of the way of an enemy that you had specifically warned me to avoid. Any side effects of that avoidance are clearly no responsibility of mine."
"You avoided him, but didn't think to let me know that you'd identified him?"
"Well, he was building me a new cyber hub." There was a hint of a smirk to accompany that statement.
"Quartermaster." Mycroft Holmes was really quite angry. Because, yes, he had asked Fenton to stay out of the Moriarty business that both Mycroft and Sherlock had been drawn into. Fenton’s true identity was too much of a secret; the last thing they needed was Moriarty aware of more Holmes family secrets. Except that Fenton had apparently decided to abide by the letter of the request rather than the spirit. He’d avoided in-person interactions but still playing his own game with the man.
Fenton merely shrugged at his anger. "It's the downside of allowing others to be your eyes and ears. If they're fooled, you're fooled."
"That's not exactly true."
"No, but it's close enough to true. After all, you never met Denbigh face to face either. And he relied on that, too."
“And the video that was sent to Mr. Bond?” The video that purported to be from the late M, assigning Bond one last mission from beyond the grave. There had been no reason for the prior M to arrange for such an off-the-books mission or prepare for her death in that way.
“I had it analyzed. It was faked.” Fenton was casually dismissive of the question. Gareth Mallory was gritting his teeth in the background to their discussion. Mycroft found himself vaguely sympathetic of those individuals who had to work with Fenton on a daily basis. The Quartermaster hadn’t even done the analysis himself, which was fine, because delegation was important and that’s why the Quartermaster had a whole department.... but Fenton generally kept the really vital tasks to himself. It said something, when Fenton didn’t bother at least providing personal oversight.
“Of course it was. That was never in question: the question is who sent it.” The question was whether Fenton had sent it himself, because that was skirting awfully close to treason.
“Presumably Moriarty, after all, it did trigger one of his over-wrought Rube Goldberg death trap missions.”
“Is that what we’re presuming?” Mycroft didn’t even bother to completely remove the sarcasm from his voice. Fenton didn’t give any evidence of noticing it, although pretty much everyone else in the room winced in tandem.
“Yes, I do believe that is what we’re presuming.”
Fenton had returned to keeping his eye on his work station, turning away from Mycroft.
Mycroft, in comparison, hadn’t yet taken his eyes off of Fenton.
All of Britain had all seen Moriarty’s level of video manipulation. It was decidedly influenced by the pop-art and surrealism movements, relying on oddness to distract from the lack of realism. Fenton’s ability to manipulate video, on the other hand, was so realistic as to be unnoticeable. It would never do to underestimate Moriarty, but it was worth noting that Fenton had access to a great deal more video imagery of the late M than anyone else.
Normally, when it came to crimes for which Fenton had both the means and opportunity, he was exonerated by a lack of motive. In this case, however, a motive was quite clear. Moriarty had certainly set the stage for a confrontation between Bond and Oberhauser, but Mycroft was virtually certain that it was Fenton who had arranged for the confrontation to happen before the cyber hub was fully established and Moriarty in place.
“I can’t help but notice that as plots go, this one seemed to have some holes. There were several stages that relied on your intervention with some quite… shall we say, miraculous? Yes, I do believe that sums it up quite well… with some quite miraculous discoveries.”
Mycroft had seen the chains of evidence that Moriarty had laid out for Sherlock to track. And he had seen the chains of evidence that had been laid out for Bond to track. There were some significant differences. For Sherlock, each link in the chain had been subtle enough to not appear obvious, but still obvious enough, in retrospect at least, to guarantee that Sherlock would solve the riddle and reach the next stage in Moriarty’s little game. In comparison, for Bond, there had been some gaping holes that should have stopped Bond’s investigation from proceeding.
Even if Fenton had somehow managed to develop scanning technology and DNA analysis software powerful enough to identify multiple owners of a metal ring—and Mycroft was dubious that any “prototype” would make it to beta-stage within the next twenty years—there was no way that Moriarty would have relied on it to bring Bond to his trap. No external evidence could have pointed Bond on his way; it had to have been Fenton’s direction.
“Well, that is what I get paid to provide.” Fenton said at his most arrogant.
“I also can’t help but notice that Moriarty appears to have lost –”
“And that is what Mr. Bond gets paid for,” Fenton interrupted.
Mycroft continued as if Fenton hadn’t said anything, “—while you appear to have won.”
“The British Government has won this round. I don’t know what you’re complaining about.”
“The British government does appear to remain standing, for which I am extremely grateful. However, I do note that you came out of this whole experience with a state-of-the-art information hub, originally built for nine nations, that you did not have to fund or build but now have sole leadership of.”
“Yes, that was a happy happenstance, wasn’t it?”
“You cannot play with this nation’s safety for personal gain!”
“It’s hardly personal gain to get MI6 a state-of-the-art information hub paid for by the very criminal element it will be used monitor.”
“This isn’t a game, Quartermaster!” Mycroft was as close as he ever got to genuinely losing his temper.
“Isn’t it, Mycroft? It is the Great Game, after all, better and more interesting in all ways and manners than a mere video game.”
And that was pretty close to exact quote from Mycroft, but from when he had been talking to his younger brother, a directionless fifteen-year-old. Mycroft hadn’t wanted Fenton to go the way of Sherlock. Fenton had needed direction and Mycroft had tried to provide it.
“If Major Boothroyd had pulled a stunt like this I would have had him up on charges.”
“Major Boothroyd came up through the military chain of command. I did not. Everyone knows that.” Fenton’s eyes went from Mycroft to Mallory and even to take in the crowd of techs who were avidly listening in while pretending to be extremely busy with their own work.
“I don’t believe everyone,” Mycroft added some extra stress to that because it wasn’t ‘everyone’ he was concerned about but only a very specific few, “understood the implications.”
“I don’t believe you understand the implications. If you are going to play games like this, with people like Moriarty, you will, at the very least, keep me informed.”
“I kept M informed. And M is the person to whom I report.”
“Am I?” Mallory questioned rather pointedly.
Neither Fenton nor Mycroft bothered to even acknowledge the interjection.
“Did you? You informed him that Mr. Bond was in London, while the man was traipsing around Austria.”
“Oh come now. Moriarty was already directly involved in MI6 at that point. I clearly could not provide un-encrypted information.”
“Encrypted? Is that what you’re calling your blatant misinformation?”
“Yes, it is.” Fenton at least glanced up to meet his eyes for that. But then was back to his keyboard. “Anyway, we were all lying. It was a ludicrous playact. Moriarty AKA Denbigh, and Oberhauser AKA Blofeld, obviously. But then myself, M, Tanner, Moneypenny, and 007. Even Dr. Swann joined in. I have never seen so many liars lying to each other in one scenario before, and here I am the Quartermaster of MI6. You can count yourself lucky to have avoided seeing Bond and Swann trying to seduce each other to their own ends. Most awkward pornography since 008’s infiltration of the retirement community in Kanazawa.”
Mycroft grimaced at that but refused to be distracted.
“If you don’t like dealing with the peculiarities of people, then maybe you should stick to technology and leave the people to me. And in this instance, I’m more concerned about our own management. You and 007 had obviously gone rogue. Mr. Tanner and Ms. Moneypenny managed to play both sides. But Mr. Mallory… him, I’m not so certain about.” Mycroft pointedly ignored Mallory standing right next to him. “Were his actions a playact of incompetence in order to fool a wily opponent? Or was it simple incompetence covered up by luck after the fact?”
“He asked me where 007 was, and then immediately told me I would be in trouble if the answer were not to his liking. No one is that stupid unintentionally. No one.”
Mycroft still wasn’t sure if that faint huff of indignation from Mallory was a symptom of guilt or not. It could just be offense at Fenton’s lack of respect.
“I do take your point, my dear quartermaster. However, I fear that you have been in your own lab too long and in politics too little: there is no maximum depth to human stupidity. There is always someone that stupid.”
“We could certainly debate the point, I suppose. I’m more interested to know if you have discovered where Oberhauser actually came from.”
“I will tell you what I have discovered in exchange for you telling me clearly what you did and why.”
Fenton sniffed, but did provide a report. “You told me to stay away from Moriarty. So I did. And while Moriarty was distracted with taking over my base of operations here, I ensured that Bond took down his base of operations in Morocco. I provided him as much direction and support as he needed, but he’s always been independent even for a double-O. Frankly, the mission was always going to be a rogue one, whether the original video came from me, Moriarty, or even the late, great M herself. I then spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning up the bad data that was mucking up our analysis programs due to Moriarty giving Oberhauser credit for everything from Bond’s stubbed toe to the founding of the Irish Republic Army.”
“Ah, bad data.” Mycroft barely avoided being audibly amused at that. Fenton had always taken bad data as a personal affront.
Fenton glared suspiciously at Mycroft. Mycroft might not sound amused, but Fenton could surely guess that he was.
“Yes,” Fenton bit out. “It is well within my purview to clean up bad data. Speaking of which, where did Oberhauser even come from?”
“He was in and out of mental institutions for a couple of decades before Moriarity found him. Paranoia and delusions. As far as I can tell, Moriarty decided to see how far he could manipulate the delusions. He set him up in a fancy estate and fed him news stories about various attacks, crediting them to him. We have found no evidence that he was actually involved in any of the events prior to their completion. He appears to have been no more than an extremely expensive… patsy.”
“Ah,” Fenton sighed with some exasperation. “That would explain certain gaps in the trail of evidence.”
“It’s always so difficult to prove a negative,” Mycroft commiserated. Briefly. And then returned to the point, “thus it’s somewhat interesting that you found so many connections for Mr. Bond to follow.”
“Haven’t we already gone over this? Anyway, you’d hardly have wished me to wait until Moriarty had finalized his plan to use Oberhauser, whatever it might have been. Springing the trap early worked out better for all of us.”
“And given Mr. Bond’s reaction to even the half-completed trap, I suppose I should be grateful.” Mycroft spoke with some acid. He was actually one of the proponents for keeping the 00 program, and he hated when those agents acted idiotically. 007 had a tendency to nearly equally balance his worth with his cost. In the end, he was worth keeping, but he certainly didn’t make it easy.
Of course, Mycroft was well aware that many of his own compatriots would say the same thing about him.
There was a pause.
Mallory took the moment to finally step forward and place himself more fully in the conversation
“Thank you, Direct Holmes, for bringing your perspective to this situation. I believe I should continue this discussion with my Quartermaster in my own office as an internal MI6 matter.”
Mycroft appreciated the level of courtesy that went into what was in essence a dismissal. Most people who had the guts to tell him to go away didn’t bother to be polite. Of course, most people who had the guts to tell him to go away consisted of family members.
“Oh yes, thanks ever so much, Mycroft, for bringing this to the attention of my boss,” Fenton muttered, perfectly audibly.
“Is this a purely MI6 internal matter?”
“Yes.” “Yes!” Mallory and Fenton spoke over each other.
“No. You went beyond your rights and responsibilities as a Quartermaster of MI6.”
“But not beyond my abilities to protect this nation!”
“And while I am not happy with your actions, the matter of your abilities is exactly my point. This is not merely an MI6 matter.”
Fenton frowned but didn’t respond.
“You have always made my phones for me.”
“So? Major Boothroyd made your umbrella for you.”
“Indeed. I have always found it useful to know the Quartermasters of MI6.”
Fenton made a rude noise. “All two of us, you mean?”
Mycroft ignored that. “Along with providing me with the very best equipment, it also allows me to offer you some minor protections. But not enough to protect you from this.”
“Yes, from me. I have found it useful to make it extremely clear what I will and will not put up with. And I do not put up with this level of rogue action from my subordinates.”
“You put up with Sherlock,” Fenton pointed out, like he was catching Mycroft in a lie.
Mycroft smiled. He had been told previously that his smile was not considered pleasant. “Exactly.”
Fenton winced and tried to be decisive, “No.”
But Mycroft could see him considering. It really was unbelievably slow of Fenton to only recognize at this point what Mycroft intended.
Mallory still didn’t know, of course, but then he didn’t know about Mycroft and Fenton. “I am quite aware of our Quartermaster’s strengths and weaknesses, Director Holmes. I thank you again for bringing the situation to my attention,” Mallory sounded anything but thankful, “but it will be treated as an internal MI6 matter.”
“I don’t think you are aware of your Quartermaster’s strengths and weaknesses,” Mycroft spoke bluntly. “Full knowledge of what you are dealing with is vital to making use of the more volatile assets employed by the government. So I hope you are paying attention. Now Fenton. This is only the type of behavior that I put up with from my brother. Everybody knows I deal quite harshly with anyone else who goes rogue. I make sure they know it.”
“Why are you doing this, Mycroft?” Fenton burst in, saving Mallory from having to respond. He must have a soft spot for the new M.
“You have been the quartermaster of MI6 for four years now. You have more than demonstrated your abilities and made quite the name for yourself, such as that name is. You have even demonstrated that the infamous 007 is your dog to call.”
“He’s not here right now.”
“He’ll be back as soon as he discovers that Hollywood lied and he will not be a changed man through a relationship with a lady young enough to be his daughter. Granddaughter, even, given his precociousness.” Mycroft made a short gesture to encompass all of Bond’s unsavoriness. He’d be back, more’s the pity. In the mean time, “You are the most technologically-capable person anyone in this room has ever met, but believe me when I tell you that I am your superior in all things human. Bond will return to you, and your human foibles will only make you stronger… if you let them.”
“I am Q.” And what Fenton meant was that he was not a human, not subject to human foibles. The problem was that he was.
“And yet, you are also a man.”
“I am Q.”
“It has been some years since I have been anything but fully open about my brother Sherlock. The loose cannon. You can ask Mr. Mallory: has that connection made me any less dangerous? Any less loyal to Queen and Country? Any less... anything at all?”
Mallory was good at hiding how much he did not want to be put on the spot in a conversation just slightly out of his reach. Mycroft waited for him to respond and Fenton did the same. With some obvious reluctance, Mallory carefully responded, “If anything, it has entrenched you. You are all the more dangerous for having a wild card available to you.”
It was annoying that Fenton took Mallory’s word for it rather than Mycroft’s own, but at least he got the message. He still frowned. “I don’t like nepotism.”
And Mycroft relaxed, though not at all visibly of course. Fenton wouldn’t have used the word if he hadn’t already agreed to reveal their relationship.
“Neither do I. It's a terrible thing that introduces rot into our system. But if anyone thinks that I, or anyone connected to me, is less than the absolute best at their jobs, then they're not very intelligent, are they?”
“You still haven’t said why you are here. Why did you come to my work and insist on this conversation in front of my people.”
“Because you have been playing with fire. And you didn’t even arrange a rescue in case you failed.”
“I didn’t need a rescue.”
“Not this time, but Moriarty is still out there.”
“That fall to his death was pretty much purely thumbing his nose at Sherlock, wasn’t it? But he still never met me. And this conversation makes it all the more likely that he’ll figure me out.”
“But it also ensures that the people who might rescue you are aware that they might need to.”
Fenton sniffed. He typed briefly on his keyboard, and suddenly one of the large wall screens filled with Fenton’s face, staring down at the room, from where he was staring down at his screen camera. “Under the circumstances,” the giant face said. “I don’t see why I should not be Big Brother.”
Mycroft smiled. It was so rare for any of them to truly tease each other. “Under this and any other circumstances, you will always be my little brother.”
And that left pretty much everyone in the room—from Mallory to the newest of Q-department computer techs—gaping like idiots. If Mallory was going to become the new M, then he would have to learn how to manage his people and that would include the youngest Holmes.
"Thank you, Mycroft."
"You are welcome, little brother."