When James is told of his parent's deaths, he runs to the priest's hole. There's no logic in it, really, just that the space is more his than the rest of the house. He wants to be alone, and hide, and be sad, and the cold, dark tunnels allow for that.
Those illusions are shattered after he'd cried himself to sleep, for when he wakes, there are eyes on him.
It's not Kincaid, who James knows could have followed him and chose not to. It's a man James has never seen before. He's old compared to James, but not old the way Kincaid was or his parents had been. The man is odd, and James knows with all the certainty of a child that he is not human.
Scotland has plenty of stories of creatures that aren't human, of course, but James can't identify the man as any particular legend. There's no one thing that sticks out, besides being in a tunnel only two people alive should know about. James has always trusted his gut, so he doesn't bother to question himself.
"What do you want?" the man asks, and his voice is cultured and stiff and doesn't belong in the highlands.
James doesn't ask for his parents back. He wants not to feel like this again, not to delay the pain.
The man tips his head and stares at James, considering. "Give me your heart," he offers, "and the pain will dull."
James knows that bargains of this kind go against God. He knows they are dangerous and that they never turn out the way you want. He knows that things without hearts are often evil.
He says yes.
The man reaches through his skin into his chest and pulls his still-beating heart out. It hurts, but not nearly as much as it should. James screams anyway, screams and rages and cries his last, and when he wakes again, he is alone. He is sad, but only when he thinks about it. He crawls out of the tunnel and holds his head straight.
Life goes on. MI-6 recruits him, and James works his way up to 007. All Double Ohs are expected to be heartless, and he is pleased to not have to worry about his morality. He stays out of Medical as much as possible, despite the fact that he seems to have perfectly ordinary vitals. He has sex with a lot of nameless faces. He falls in love twice, despite his deal, and both women end up dead. It hurts, but the pain is as muted as promised.
James suspects, after the second more-than-close call, that the loss of his heart prevents his death. When he not only gets shot but also drowns long enough for his body to wash up on a distant shore, with half-remembered dreams of whirlpools and portals, he is sure.
Then, of course, MI-6 blows up and James's life gets turned upside down once again.
James is staring at a painting, waiting for his Quartermaster, when a boy sits down. James looks over and it is the man he gave his heart to. It has been 30 years, and what a young James thought was old is to this James nearly a youth. The man in question hasn't aged a day, nor has James's bone-deep conviction that he is something powerful.
Then, of course, the man informs him he owns more than just James's heart.
Q - and it must be Q, given the earpieces she came with - sending him the lovely Miss Moneypenny is an unexpected gift. James isn't sure what the meaning behind it is, but it seems just as pointed as their banter in the museum. He thinks it's more because she had pulled the trigger that killed him, this last time, than that she is beautiful, but sadly for Q there is only one of those facts that James plans to address on this trip and neither one of them will be enough to manage him.
James kills his earbud before he starts after his in. Q's gun is a masterpiece, though he will likely not be pleased that Bond sacrificed it to the dragons, especially after wrecking the comm.
James ditches his assigned helper to sleep with a beautiful prisoner on what might be her last night alive. When the target shoots her, James feels nothing more than detached pity.
He completes his mission.
It's only after Skyfall that he gets the chance to talk freely to Q.
It's fitting, in a way, that M's death mirrored the original pain of lost parents that drove him to bargain. Q hadn't had to ask where James was taking M, after all. He knew James's heart.
"Did he make a deal too?" James finds himself asking. It wasn't one of the many questions he'd been swallowing for years, but it was in some ways the most relevant thing he could have asked.
"Is he gone then, or should I expect him again?"
Q shook his head. "I saw to it. He won't be back."
"I thought, when you took my heart, that I wouldn't love again."
"You can love with more things than just the heart. You were, to put too fine a point on it indeed, in love with an idea. It was cerebral rather than emotional, and I never promised to prevent your pain, only to dull it."
James's lips had forever been twitching at this creature's pompous coldness. Before him stood a demon, or a spirit or something like, explaining how he'd been tricked but not cheated, and all James truly feels is a rush of affection. He's never noticed how tired he felt when he was in love, but with Q there is a lightness of being.
"Are you so easy to love because you already own my heart?"
Q's expression shows nothing. No shock or smugness or confirmation. "A mere handful of short encounters and you're professing love? You do work fast, 007."
"Why are you here?" James asks, and trusts that Q will do him the courtesy of answering the spirit of the question, not nitpick at ambiguity.
"Perhaps I am simply tired of fishing you out of the sea. You'll notice I've managed to retrieve you the human way since assuming this role."
James could push. James will push, eventually. But for now, he is content with what he has. Q is an excellent Quartermaster, and James does not want his heart back. He wants to pursue his feelings for the man regardless of how they came about, and if he has to work to earn affection in return, he is confident in his ability to do so.
"As you wish, Quartermaster."