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the ghosts still left behind

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He is just barely twenty when his sister dies, seven hundred miles away from where she takes her last breath. He isn’t Q yet, won’t be for some time, but neither Kellan nor R nor Q, nor whoever else he has been or will be, believes it when he hears the news. 

The news comes like this: a man with a thick Italian accent tells him over the phone that Vesper is dead. We’re sorry for your loss, he says, she drowned, he says, it was an accident, he says. The man tells Kellan not to come for the body, that she’s already been identified and it’s been taken care of. 

“By whom?” he asks, his voice tight (not shaken, not yet), but the man doesn’t have an answer for that. 

Kellan doesn’t remember how the call ends, doesn’t know if he even says anything more. All he knows is somehow it’s past midnight and there are five empty Heinekens and a half finished bottle of wine next to him, and he’s taken out the letter he’d received not two weeks ago. 

 

 

Dearest,

I’m not coming home, at least not anytime soon. To put it simply, I’ve fallen in love. And at the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, we’re running away together. It’s all terribly romantic. 

Don’t fret: I’ve transferred enough money into your account for you to feed yourself through the rest of uni, though I’m sure you could handle yourself just fine without my help. 

Don’t be too cross with me, darling. One day, you’ll fall in love, and perhaps then you will understand. I’ll write to you soon, and tell you all about the spy who loved me.

It’s quite a story: you’ll eat it up.

All my love,

Vesper




It isn’t until the wine is gone, until he’s opened a bottle of her favorite cranberry vodka and swathed under a mountain of blankets sitting on her bed (untouched for over a month, this time), that Kellan begins to grow suspicious.

He glances back at the letter, runs his fingers over the odd phrase she’d used: the spy who loved me.

He’d thought nothing of it at the time; Vesper was prone to dramatics. Part of her charm, he’s always thought. He’d been sure there was simply a silly, romantic story or joke that led to her calling this new man a spy. But he is tired, and drunk, and willing to suspend his disbelief if it means that his sister might not be dead, if it means that she really has run off with a spy somewhere, in secret.

It’s the kind of desperate, fanciful thinking that often comes with grief. 

He nearly drops the laptop when he picks it up, and it takes two tries for him to remember which password he uses for this particular computer. It takes his drunken mind a few minutes to think of where to look, but when he does figure it out he feels a reckless smile spread across his face. An English woman dying in a foreign country, accompanied by a possible spy, whose body is taken care of within a day?

So Kellan goes to work.

He’s too drunk to properly cover his tracks, despite his best efforts. He’s trying, of course, but his energy is more focused on getting through the firewalls and finding information than being subtle. 

He doesn’t care much if he’s caught. If Vesper’s alive, staying under the radar with her beloved spy, then it will be worth being arrested just to know that she’s out there somewhere, safe. If she isn’t alive, if she really is dead, then Kellan supposes that spending the rest of his days alone in a dark cell somewhere wouldn’t be all that different to a life without his sister. 

He’s been in the system for three hours - nearly tearing his hair out in frustration as he sifts through page after page of redacted files and half-blacked out pieces of paper scanned into the database -when there are two loud knocks at his door. It’s nearly four in the morning: there’s no question of who it might be. Kellan knows he’ll soon be whisked off to an undisclosed location and either tortured or shot or both, so he takes every second he has left to keep looking. He realizes mid keystroke, though,  that the redacted information in the web files isn’t simply more heavily protected but rather deleted . There is nothing else for him to learn in these precious moments that he hasn’t already: Vesper was in Montenegro; Vesper was involved in some sort of MI6 operation; and her spy’s codename was 007. 

He leans back with a sigh, shutting his laptop and taking another swig of vodka as he hears the door get kicked off its hinges and crash onto the floor of their flat. He doesn’t bother trying to run, just watches curiously as two tall, brawny men in suits burst into Vesper’s room. Kellan can’t help the snort he lets out at the expressions on their faces as they get a good look at him. He can’t be a very impressive sight: a scrawny kid with red-rimmed eyes behind thick old glasses, wrapped up under three quilts and clutching a half-empty bottle of vodka and a beat-up laptop. The men exchange confused looks before one of them - the older, more seasoned-looking one - simply shrugs and moves toward him. He takes a brief moment to note that the man is disgustingly handsome: dirty blonde hair; dark green eyes; a strong nose; and built like a brick wall to boot. Under any other circumstances, Kellan would be trying to get into his pants.

“Kid, we can either do this the easy way or the hard way, but no matter which you choose you’re coming with us.”

Kellan decides almost instantly that the easy way would be preferable, thank you very much, and can he bring the vodka with him, since he’s probably about to die?

The man actually laughs when Kellan makes his request, and this of course completely ruins the mental image he’s always held of the mythic, stoic, scary secret agent man on her majesty’s secret service. Kellan tells the man this as well, since he’s a dead man walking and definitely way too drunk to try and stop what comes out of his mouth. The blonde laughs even harder, and even his more reserved companion (who Kellan now realizes is also horrendously attractive: dark skin, warm brown eyes, light stubble, tall and lean in all the right places), lets out a chuckle as he grabs him by the arm and starts leading him out of the apartment. The blonde takes the vodka but lets Kellan keep the laptop, which he supposes is better than nothing. 

“Double-oh Nine, you drive, yeah? I’ll sit in the back with Doogie Howser.”

Kellan attempts to school his expression into something other than wide-eyed disbelief. 009? Does that mean that the dark blonde man lounging next to him is Vesper’s 007? Kellan stares at the agent as the car makes its way through the dark London streets, ignoring the raised brow he gets in response. Probably not 007, he decides about midway through their journey: Vesper always gravitated toward men who were just as smart and smug and confident as her, and while this man is good-looking enough, he seems far too carefree and relaxed for his sister’s taste. Still, it isn’t a wholly wasted effort, as he quite enjoys looking at pretty men.

“Well, if I’m going to die, might as well get murdered by two fit blokes. Would you give a dying man one last request and take your shirts off while you do it?”

The undignified snort that comes from 009 in the front seat and the guffaw from the man sitting next to him let Kellan know that he absolutely said that out loud. 

Ah, well.

Dignity is overrated, especially when one is drunk and about to die. 



******



009 and 00-something take him to the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross with no preamble, no fanfare. They don’t even put a bag over his head. Kellan isn’t sure if this is because they don’t see him as a threat, because he’s going to die anyways so they didn’t bother, or because MI6 simply doesn’t go in for that sort of thing anymore. At any rate, he’s mildly disappointed. 

He doesn’t realize how much he’s relying on 009’s firm grip to stay upright until they reach the anteroom of the office of what is probably a very important person and the agent lets go. Kellan quite nearly crashes into the unassuming man who’s come to greet them. 

“Ah, Double-oh Six, Double-oh Nine, I see you’ve - ,” the man (balding, with a plain, kind face) pauses as he watches the inebriated man struggle to maintain his balance. His professionalism slips for just a moment as he gapes at Kellan. “Is he - Are you drunk ?”

Kellan, having finally decided to lean against the empty desk outside the office doors, nods solemnly. “Off my tits, sir.”

His focus is largely on not falling on his face, but Kellan does have the presence of mind to notice the suspicious coughing fit 009 breaks into at this response, and that 006 is laughing so hard he’s had to sit down.

“Tanner, we have got to keep this one.”

Why the agent feels the need to say this, Kellan has no idea. Clearly, MI6 is going to be ‘keeping’ him for the foreseeable future, possibly until the end of time. The man, Tanner, seems to agree, ignoring the remark and instead leaving the two agents to wait while he escorts Kellan through the office doors. 

Kellan supposes he ought to be surprised by the sight of the grey-haired, small women standing behind the sturdy mahogany desk, but a lifetime of watching his frail-looking, beautiful sister be underestimated has left him with a keen eye and an unwillingness to trust first impressions. 

Besides, he’s standing in MI6 headquarters, the lion’s den itself, completely plastered and in a pair of ratty pajamas he’s had since he was fifteen. 

He knows a thing or two about deceiving looks.

The woman gestures for him to sit, and he does, because the stern, calculating look in her eyes is like nothing he’s ever seen before: pure steel, hardened and sharp, as if she can see his every flaw and insecurity. She’s quite terrifying. 

“We’d wondered why your attack was so skilled yet so sloppy,” she says, looking down at him unimpressed.

“Not my best work,” Kellan agrees, hoping his words aren’t too horribly slurred.

“Your sister was sent as a liaison for the Treasury on a high-risk operation in Montenegro. We learned some days ago that she had been in fact working for the targeted terrorist,” she says bluntly, foregoing any sort of small talk or segues.

Kellan is so shocked it takes several long moments for him to actually respond rather than gape at her. 

“You're lying," he says at last, shaking his head in disbelief, "This is some trick - she'd never - "

“Your sister was a traitor, Mr. Lynd. She betrayed us all, for the sake of some extra cash,” the woman is cold and brusque as she says this, as if she doesn’t care that she’s telling a horrible lie, that she’s slandering his sister’s name.

Kellan knows he is crying, can feel the tears streaming down his face. “Vesper was good , she was loyal, she wouldn’t - ”

“Apparently she would. Would you like me to describe to you the terrorist for whom she worked or can we move on?”

Move on? Move on to what? There was nothing to move on from, nothing more important than telling this woman she was wrong , Vesper would never

“How long do you think it took for you to hack through our firewalls?”

He pauses, his train of thought screeching to a halt. Surely none of that matters, not now that Vesper is….he shakes himself. It wouldn’t do to simply ignore this woman’s questions, no matter how angry he is. She quite literally holds his life in her hands.
“I dunno. Maybe twenty minutes? Like I said, it wasn’t my best.”

Tanner looks up from where he’s been typing on his blackberry on the sidelines. “It was fifteen and a half minutes. I shudder to think what sort of damage you’d have made fully sober.”

“I wasn’t trying to do any damage,” Kellan insists, putting on what he hopes is his best ‘I’m not a terrorist’ face. The tears probably help his cause.

“We know,” the woman answers, and when Kellan looks back the look in her eyes is warmer, somehow; less indifferent. “That’s why you’re in this office and not in shackles. Your hack was entirely focused on gathering information on your sister: not selling state secrets or endangering British lives.”

“But why am I in this office?”

“M, if I may?” Tanner steps in, gesturing for Kellan to sit while he leans against the woman’s, M’s, desk. “Breaking into MI6 servers is a capital offense. You must have known this going in. But it would be a waste of talent to throw you in a cell. You got into our servers: could you bulk them up, make it harder for people like you to get in?”

Kellan nods, looking between M and Tanner perplexedly.. “Are - Are you offering me a job?”

“It’s either that or prison,” M says, giving him a stern look. “Your sister died betraying her country, Mr. Lynd. How would you like to repay her debt?”

And that’s what does it. Kellan isn’t sure that he’s sober enough to be legally signing the papers Tanner hands him, but he doesn’t much care. It’s only as Tanner is leading him out of the room that he stops, and turns to M.

“She really is dead, then?” He says it as if it’s a question, but he knows. 

She’s gone.

If he were sober, if he weren’t so tired and grief-stricken, he would curse himself for sounding so small, so pathetic in front of the head of MI6. She doesn’t answer, but he feels Tanner place a heavy hand on his shoulder. It’s the kind of gesture a stranger makes when they don’t know what else to do, when they know it’s not their place to offer any real comfort. 

Tanner hands him back off to 006 and 009. Go home, get some rest, someone will pick you up Monday morning to take you to work. Kellan doesn’t say anything during the drive home, and he can tell the agents are unsettled by this shift in attitude. He thanks them when they pull up to his building, and he thinks, through the dull cloud of grief that’s taking over, he hears 009 ask if he’s alright, mate?

He isn’t, but that’s none of their business. So he leaves the car, goes into his flat, and stares numbly at the door on the floor, at the letter he’d dropped on the way out, at the empty bottles scattered on the kitchen table. 

This is when Kellan snaps.

He grabs the nearest bottle and throws it at the wall, watching dispassionately as it smashes. Then he does it again, and again, and again, until he’ll surely cut his feet the next morning when he walks through the apartment. 

He takes a pillow from off the couch and screams into it, over and over again until his throat is sore and he feels lightheaded. He screams for Vesper, for all the wrongs those people have done her; but more importantly he screams at Vesper, for abandoning him, for leaving him alone in the world, first by running off for the sake of some romance, then by dying without letting him say goodbye. 

If he didn’t love her so much, he’d hate her.



******

 

Monday morning sees him sifting through his closet looking for something vaguely professional. He settles on a plain shirt and tie, then throws a nicer-looking cardigan over it because he’s pretty sure his tie is too short and his only suit jacket has a hole in the elbow. 

There’s a knock at the door, or rather the wall, since the door itself is still on the floor, and when Kellan leaves his room he’s surprised to see 009 standing in his foyer. Why on earth MI6 would have sent a highly trained special agent on a simple errand, he has no idea.

The agent doesn’t even bother to say hello. “Have you seriously just had the door to your flat wide open for three days? You could have been murdered or something.”

In all honesty, Kellan hasn’t paid the door much attention. He’s been pretty busy getting drunk and breaking things. 

He just shrugs. “You owe me a door, Double-oh Nine.”

“Russell. Russell Payne.”

“You owe me a door, Russell Payne.”

Payne just smiles, and as he’s led to the car Kellan finds himself inordinately grateful that MI6 has sent him a somewhat familiar face and not some nameless, scary, secret agent man. 

Which isn’t to say that Payne isn’t scary. Kellan is convinced that the man could kill him with just his pinky finger. He’s also fairly sure that the agent has several guns on his person. 

Terrifying.

During the drive he learns several things. The first; he hadn’t dreamed making all those inappropriate comments to the double-ohs (the other agent’s name is Alec Trevelyan, he’s told). He supposes he should be grateful that he didn’t offer to suck any cocks, although, he can’t be 100% sure. He’s not about to ask the man if he’d drunkenly demanded to perform fellatio on him. The second; M’s stooge from the other night, Bill Tanner, is actually the MI6 chief of staff and the person who essentially saved Kellan’s ass, convincing M that he was an asset rather than a threat. And third; the agent has no idea who he is, at least in relation to his sister and the operation in Montenegro. He seems to be under the impression that Kellan hacked into MI6 on a dare. 

For all that Payne is friendly enough, he isn’t particularly loquacious, and Kellan is glad for the stretches of silence the man lets pass. He’s nervous enough without having to make stiff small talk for the entire forty minute drive. 

They separate once inside MI6, Payne handing him wordlessly off to Tanner and exchanging cordial nods in farewell. He wonders, absently, what special agents do when they’re not on top secret murder missions. He can’t really imagine Payne or Trevelyan sitting at a desk doing paperwork. He’s quickly distracted from his pondering as Tanner leads him further into the building and - good lord, maybe he really is being sent to the dungeon. 

They stop five - five - levels down, Tanner opening two glass doors and ushering Kellan into a wide, brightly lit room, with dozens of computers lined up at different stations. Further into the room, beyond the three rows of technicians sitting at their computers there stands a wide table, with two laptops and an array of screens surrounding it, all playing differing angles of the same footage: some sort of CCTV, maybe?

Standing at the table is a short woman, no older than forty, typing furiously and alternating between yelling out instructions to the staffers standing next to her and hissing directions into a headset. 

She’s running a mission, Kellan realizes, and he tries desperately not to let his sudden excitement show on his face. Given the way Tanner smirks when he glances his way, he wagers that he’s unsuccessful. The older man gestures for Kellan to move off to the side, well behind all the desks and the technicians and the commotion, and together they watch unobtrusively as the woman guides the agent (004, he learns after she shouts the title rather loudly in irritation) through the streets of Morocco and away from the gaggle of men chasing them. 

It is only when the set of the woman’s shoulders slumps in relief, when she replies to something the agent says with “You’re goddamn right you owe me dinner, Papava,” and tosses her headset onto the table, that Tanner approaches the woman. 

Kellan stays where he is, watching their hushed conversation as he shifts from foot to foot anxiously. It doesn’t help his nerves to realize that now the excitement of the mission has ended, the other Q Branch technicians have noticed him, most looking over with unmasked curiosity. Thankfully, Tanner calls him over and he doesn’t have to focus on his possible future coworkers any longer, rather on the woman in charge. 

Tanner introduces him as Kellan Jones, ignoring Kellan’s furrowed brow at the false last name. The woman, R, doesn’t seem to notice his confusion. That or she doesn’t particularly care, probably all too used to fake names and secrets. R, he learns, is not actually in charge: she’s second in command to the Quartermaster, Q. 

“And people just call you R?”

“Technically, I don’t have a name anymore,” she says with a conspiratorial wink. This admittedly fairly suave statement is somewhat undermined when not ten seconds later an old man comes in from a lower level shouting for someone called Ava, who turns out to be R herself. “Of course, the Quartermaster tends to forget that some things are confidential.” 

She says it with some annoyance, but it’s a fond sort of irritation, Kellan can tell.

The Quartermaster, who must be at least seventy, walks over to R, waving around what seems to be a taxidermied seagull in triumph. “It’s finally arrived! Christ, how long can it possibly take to carve a bird?” 

Huh. Not taxidermied. Extremely realistic-looking wooden bird, then.

R looks as confused as Kellan feels. “You were serious about that?”

The Quartermaster puts a hand on her shoulder, his eyes grave. “I am always serious about gadgets, my dear,” He puts the bird on R’s table before turning to Kellan, his kind eyes still lit up with excitement. “And you, my boy, must be our new hacker friend!”

All the noise behind them ceases instantly. For the first time in his life, Kellan truly thinks he could hear a pin drop. It remains silent for a few more precious moments before the room practically erupts, employees shouting out questions or yelling incredulously about Kellan’s age or demanding an explanation for his being here. 

The Quartermaster allows it briefly, before turning to R and quirking a brow. Immediately, she gets to work, shouting above the cacophony. “That’s quite enough, thank you. This is Mr. Jones. Yes, he’s the man that hacked us, and yes, he’s been offered a position here. It’s your own fault, really, for not doing a better job of building our firewalls,” she pauses as Tanner leans over and whispers in her ear, before letting out a disbelieving chuckle. “Apparently he was drunk as well. You lot are lucky you still have your jobs, if a shitfaced kid can break into your systems in under half an hour.”

The Quartermaster gestures for Kellan and Tanner to follow him into the small office just beyond R’s table and screens, closing the door and leaving his second in command to deal with the mass of disgruntled technicians.

“They’ll get over it,” the old man says kindly, as he leans against his desk, “It can be rather irksome, to know that someone has beaten you and is being rewarded for it.” He reaches out a hand, and Kellan takes it hesitantly. “Major Geoffrey Boothroyd, at your service.”

Tanner sighs exasperatedly. “Q…”

Boothroyd waves the other man’s complaints off. “Yes, yes, terribly sorry. I am the enigmatic and nameless Quartermaster,” he corrects himself with a chuckle. 

Kellan looks over just in time to see Tanner roll his eyes in a decidedly unprofessional manner. “I’ll leave you to it, then, Quartermaster. Mr. Jones, Agent Payne will drive you to your flat at eighteen hundred hours. After today though, I’d recommend using the tube.”

With that, he leaves Kellan and Boothroyd alone in the office to go over the basics: where he’d work, what his responsibilities would be, where the break room and cafeteria were, etc. 

The old man clasps his shoulder once they finish the preliminary introductions. “I am sorry about your sister, lad. If you need a few weeks before you get started, I won’t hold it against you.”

Kellan isn’t surprised that Boothroyd knows his real name. He is, however, surprised at the offer. “You’d let me do that? Even though she…”

He trails off. He still doesn’t want to think about it. It’s all too surreal.

“Worked for the baddies? Of course. She was still your sister, and you’re an employee. Ergo: bereavement.”

Kellan shakes his head. “The last thing I need is to be twiddling my thumbs and going crazy alone in our - my - flat,” he has a sudden thought, snapping his head up to look at Boothroyd. “Wait, I can’t work here! I have to finish my PhD! I’ll be graduating in a month!”

The Quartermaster just raises a brow. “Yes, I’m aware. Electrical and mechanical engineering?”

Kellan nods. He’d been so caught up with what had happened with Vesper, and this MI6 nonsense, that he’d completely forgotten about grad school. God, he’s a terrible student.

“Well, congratulations, you’ve graduated early. I don’t have a diploma for you, sadly, but I can give you a desk and health insurance.”

And that appears to be that. Boothroyd takes him to his new station and gives him a quick tour of R&D, which is apparently on the lowest level, just under Q Branch headquarters. Kellan technically isn’t meant to be let into R&D until his security clearance goes up, but he rather thinks the old man just wants an audience to listen to his ideas and watch his gizmos blow up. 

“Any questions?”

“Yes, actually. What was the bird for?”

He smiles as Boothroyd’s eyes light up with an almost childlike excitement, hurriedly explaining the concept. “Imagine this: a scuba suit, but attached to the top of the head is a bird, equipped with a waterproof radio…”

And that’s how Kellan spends his first day, listening to the Quartermaster’s oddball, brilliant ideas and later being shown around the rest of MI6 (at least, the parts of MI6 he has clearance to see) by R. By the time Payne arrives in Q Branch to take him home, he’s dead on his feet. 

Kellan is so tired, in fact, that he almost doesn’t notice the fact that he apparently has a door again. The only reason he notices at all is that he quite literally walks into it. Once inside, he notices two things. One: someone has cleaned up the shattered glass that had only this morning littered his apartment; and two: on his counter sits a very expensive bottle of tequila with a note taped on:

 

Sorry about the door, but we really did think you were a terrorist.



******



Not even two weeks have passed when Tanner comes looking for Kellan in Q Branch, grim-faced and carrying a rather thick file. 

He’s been wrapped up for days in rebuilding firewalls with some of the other programmers, showing them where he’d got in, building up and breaking through again and again, testing their systems until even he would be wary. He’s not wary yet, but he thinks he’ll get there soon enough, and it’s exciting to constantly build himself new challenges. Boothroyd had been right, in the end: the other Q Branch members quickly got over their irritation at his hacking them, and have since been just as eager as him to learn and relearn and just - work, he supposes.

The point is, he’s not seen Tanner since that first day, and he hasn’t expected to since. 

So when Tanner shows up, Kellan starts to panic a little. He hasn’t done anything, he’s pretty sure: he’s been walking on eggshells, and hasn’t tried to learn more about his sister, even though he feasibly could; he’s still not entirely convinced that there isn’t a dungeon waiting for him somewhere, just in case he missteps.

He plans to investigate Montenegro and Venice once he’s been here a little longer, and proved himself a little more invaluable. 

He’s called into Boothroyd’s rarely used office (the old man spends almost all his time dreaming up new designs in R&D, along with about half of Q Branch), where Tanner immediately locks the door and shutters the blinds of the windows facing the branch. He’s led not to one of the chairs facing the desk, but to the couch lined up along the back wall, where he knows R sometimes naps during long nights running ops. His confusion increases tenfold when Tanner sits next to him, placing a hand on his knee in what he assumes is meant to be a comforting manner.

Tanner, it seems, takes after M when it comes to small talk, because he doesn’t hesitate or beat around the bush: 

“Your sister has been exonerated.”

All of Kellan’s expectations of shouting and firings and dungeons evaporate in an instant, and he sags back against the old couch, suddenly lightheaded.

Exonerated. 

He lets out a breathless giggle, clapping his hand over his mouth. He knew it. He knew it. He shouldn’t be happy, and he isn’t, not really, but his sister was good , and he’d known all along. 

He turns to Tanner then, and although he isn’t sure he can speak at the moment, the man seems to understand that he wants to know more.

“She was being blackmailed,” Tanner says hesitantly, as if he’s not sure how Kellan will react to this news. Which is fair, as Kellan has no idea what to do with himself. “She was a civilian, and she was being blackmailed, and had MI6 vetted her properly, rather than simply trusting the bank, we would have caught it. We would have been able to help her. And for that, you have my sincere apology. And M’s.”

“What was she being blackmailed with?” 

Tanner pauses, glancing over at the file he’d placed on the desk. “We’re still looking into it,” is what he settles on, but it’s not quite the truth. Whatever the truth is, Tanner either can’t tell or doesn’t want to tell Kellan. He honestly has no idea what it might have been, and he finds that he doesn’t really want to know what it was that drove Vesper to her death.

He can’t bear the sad look in Tanner’s eyes, the empathy there. He pulls his knees up against his chest, curling into himself, and he knows he probably looks like a child, but he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t know how he feels, because he’s so lost and his sister is gone and she wasn’t a terrorist and she wasn’t trying to hurt anyone and she died for nothing , and - 

Tanner is calling his name, he realizes, and when he comes back to himself he’s not surprised that he’s been crying. 

“I have some of her effects here, if you’d like to take a look.” At his nod, Tanner leans over and picks up a small bag that Kellan hadn’t noticed before.

He takes it, looking through the things Vesper had left behind. There isn’t much: a pair of sunglasses, a few seashells, some earrings, and - 

He gasps as he sees the necklace. He’d given it to Vesper when he was eleven: he’d spent all his money on a graduation present for his big sister. He’d picked it because the lady at the shop had told him the Algerian knot was a symbol of love, and she’d been the only person in the whole world he loved, and who loved him too.

There isn’t anyone who loves him anymore, Kellan realizes as he holds the necklace close to his chest, tight enough that his knuckles turn white, that the knot will surely be imprinted on his palm for hours. 

“I haven’t really cried about it,” he confesses, taking off his glasses and rubbing at his eyes, trying quite unsuccessfully to will away the tears. “I’ve just been so angry, with MI6, with M, with her…

Tanner places a hand on Kellan’s shoulder, letting the younger man lean against him, letting him cry and shake and sob. It’s a great kindness, he thinks, for this man to sit with him as he grieves, to provide a steadiness he does not feel. He supposes, in the end, given that Tanner brought him in, that he’s read the files of both Lynd siblings, that the older man would know better than anyone how alone he truly is.

 

 

******

 

 

Nine hundred miles away, James Bond hears from M the story of a young woman who would have done anything to keep her little brother safe, even if it meant betraying the man she loved.

Even if it meant sacrificing her own life for his.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kellan’s been with Q Branch for almost four months when he has his first encounter with James Bond, at one in the morning on a Wednesday while he’s overtired and slightly high off cold medicine. 

He’s alone in the central control room: there are only a handful of people on shift, and everyone else is in R&D. He doesn’t have clearance to go and try to blow things up (for science) yet, so he’s been asked to monitor calls and run the occasional program and so on and so forth. It’s dreadfully boring, and while he’d normally be flattered that Boothroyd trusts him enough to leave him alone with free reign in Q Branch, he knows this is only because all the active missions are in the recon stages and don’t require any intervention or assistance. 

Kellan is also horribly ill, but still too new to Q Branch to feel comfortable asking to switch shifts with anyone or for time off. He’s a little grateful to be alone, if only because no one will be cross with him over his incessant sniffling. At least if he’s by himself he won’t have to talk to anyone. He sounds like a nasal goose right now.

He sees a little notification in the top corner of his screen, and smiles when he opens the chat box of the MI6 instant messaging system (something he and the younger Q Branch members had suggested for quick, uninvolved communications between departments) and sees a message from Tanner.    

 

BTanner: “One of a class of small cool main-sequence stars.” Eight letters, second letter is E. 

 

Since the night Tanner told Kellan about Vesper, the night when he sat with there for three hours as the younger man mourned his sister, the two had struck up a tentative friendship, mainly via instant messaging during slow moments at work. Kellan suspects that M asked her chief of staff to keep an eye on him, but he doesn’t begrudge Tanner that; he’s just glad to have someone to talk to. Most of their discussions lead back to the crossword book that Tanner keeps in his desk for late nights such as these, although Kellan has learned a few things about the other man: he has a wife called Abigail, and a little girl named Marjorie; despite her gruff exterior, he actually rather likes M; and he absolutely loathes 005, a man called Bradley St. Clair, who according to Tanner is a monumental twat.

Tanner knows not to expect an immediate answer, as he has no way of knowing precisely what Kellan is doing at the moment, but he is quite literally bored out of his mind, and eager to do something that doesn’t make him feel like his brain is dying. He types out the answer in less than a minute.

 

KJones: Red dwarf. Did you ever figure out fifteen across from the other day? The one about Laertes and Ophelia? I’m useless with Shakespeare.

BTanner: Thanks. It was “Danes.” Rubbish clue. “Peruvian bear,” ten letters?

 

Kellan grins, already typing out the answer, when there’s a loud alert from the phone on R’s table, a red light blinking insistently. So much for all the missions being in the recon stages. It takes Kellan all of three seconds to decide that yes, he is going to do this, and yes, it is a truly horrible idea. He walks over, quickly transfers the call to his own headset and races back to his own station. 

“Q Branch,” he answers, hoping he doesn’t sound as nervous as he feels.

“Fuck’s sake, what are you, twelve?” The voice, despite it’s irritated tone, is actually rather nice; almost sexy, Kellan would dare to say, if he weren’t so focused on the slight against his person.

“I’ll have you know that I - ” He cuts himself off, realizing that 1) His voice is a bit higher than usual, due to the cold and his inability to breathe through his nose and 2) He very much doubts that the man will be enthused at the thought of a twenty year old helping him, even if he isn’t a child. “ - am more than qualified to assist you, Agent…”

“Bond. Listen, kid, I’m in a bit of a situation here, so if you can’t handle - ”

Kellan cuts him off, growing more irritated by the second. With a few keystrokes, he has the agent’s location (Ankara) and vitals up on his screen, courtesy of the man’s watch. “That’s quite enough of that, thank you very much. You don’t seem have any major injuries: what’s this situation you’ve gotten yourself into?”

Bond ignores Kellan’s snippy tone, prioritizing instead on the task at hand. “I assume you’re not briefed, so I’ll give you a quick breakdown: broke into Turkish security company’s headquarters; found control room; copied information onto flash drive. Mission successful.”

“But?”

“... But, the windows, how I got in and my only viable exit - nearly two dozen guards on duty on the lower floors - have automatically shut behind me, and there are small canisters attached to the hinges, which would imply - ”

“Gas,” Kellan breathes out, his eyes widening. It’s ingenious, really. Security threats can get in, but not out. There’s no way of knowing what kind of gas it is: whether it will kill the agent instantly or injure him or simply render him incapable of fighting back when he’s eventually found. 

Which means, Kellan realizes with a thrill of anticipation he immediately feels guilty for, he has to hack into the building’s security system.

“Alright, hang tight and I’ll get you out of there, no problem.”

“No problem?” Bond asks, sounding incredulous, as if he’s insulted that Kellan has the gall to imply that his predicament isn’t critical.

“No problem,” he repeats, this time as though he’s speaking to a particularly stupid child. “This will take a few minutes, but then you’ll be free as a...thing that’s free,” If he weren’t sick, and if his vision weren’t slightly blurry, he’d be in the system in half the time, and he would have had something quippy to say, but for now he supposes Bond will have to do with subpar conversation.

The man is quiet for less than thirty seconds before he speaks up again, apparently bored with the silence and determined to distract Kellan from his work. “What’s your name, anyway? You don’t sound familiar.”

“Kel,” He answers with Vesper’s old nickname for him without thinking, typing furiously as he both hacks into the security system and covers his tracks. 

“You know, Kel, it’s not wise to give a double-oh your name so trustingly. What if you were to lead one of us astray? It’d be all too simple to track you down and dole out punishment.”

Kellan actually laughs at this, pausing his work briefly to roll his eyes. “If I were to lead you astray, Mr. Bond, you’d be dead. So I’d say it’s in your best interest to stop threatening me.”

He mutes his mic as he waits for Bond to respond, letting out a great whooping cough. The agent hasn’t said anything, but when he’s finished coughing he could swear he hears the sound of muffled chuckling.

“I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed some sort of test,” Kellan says as he turns his mic back on, concerned over whether the laughter is a response to his poor attempt at humor or the thought of murdering him in the future.

Finally, Bond speaks. “Quite the opposite, actually.”

Kellan grins in mild relief as he continues typing. “Still, I suppose death by double-oh would be more exciting than death by head cold.” As if to punctuate his statement, he lets out a loud sneeze, followed by, “I’m in, by the way. What floor are you on?”

“What? How long was that, two minutes?” Bond sounds surprised, and mildly impressed. Kellan tries not to feel too smug.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t timing myself. Never mind, I’ve found you.” 

And found him he has. He’s finally found a security camera to get eyes on Bond, and - holy hell, he’s a looker. He shakes himself. Now is not the time to lust after dangerous men with glorious asses. A few more keystrokes and he can hear through the headset the soft beep of the alarm system switching off in tandem with the confirmation on his screen. 

“Cheers, Kel,” Bond says, followed quickly by: “Stay on the line, I might need you later.”

He carefully deletes all the security footage, and soon after that the man does need him, as not ten minutes later Bond is being chased through the streets of Ankara by at least ten different thugs from the building. Kellan finds the nearest car with an internal computer system and hacks in remotely, starting the engine, unlocking the driver’s side door and flashing the highbeams to catch Bond’s attention. 

“Bond, on your right,” The agent is in the car within seconds, and speeding off into the night, far away from his pursuers. 

Bond drives through the city, following Kellan’s directions toward the nearest MI6 safehouse. It is in the middle of one such direction that Kellan’s has to cut himself off as his body attempts to hack up a lung. 

“Jesus, are you alright?”

“Just spiffing, thanks. Turn left here,” He answers hoarsely. 

Bond snorts. “My god, you sound posh.”

“Thanks, I’ve put a lot of work into this accent,” He replies absentmindedly. It’s true: Vesper learned when she first went to secondary school that students and teachers alike were more likely to listen to her if she didn’t sound like she grew up in a children’s home in a poor neighborhood, so she taught herself and then Kellan accordingly. It’s worked, as far as Kellan can tell, and he’s been putting on this accent for so long that it’s how he naturally speaks.

There is a pregnant pause.

“That was an oddly personal thing to share,” Bond says eventually.

Kellan stops what he’s doing to replay the conversation in his head. 

Yes, that was a bit too much information, wasn’t it?

“It is possible that my cold medicine has finally kicked in and I’ve lost control of my mouth,” He says, quite honestly. “I should probably go home, actually. Are you going to die soon or can I send you the coordinates on the car’s GPS?”

Bond snorts. “I’ll be fine, Kel. Thanks. Double-Oh Seven signing off.”

He can physically feel his eyes widening, his jaw dropping. “Double oh- what ?” He fairly shrieks, but Bond has already disconnected his earpiece, leaving Kellan staring dumbly at his screen in shock. 

  1. Vesper’s spy. He’d been talking to - he’d been checking out

God, he needs a drink. And sleep. Not necessarily in that order.

“Well that was quite a show,” Comes a voice from behind him, and Kellan freezes in his seat, feeling all the blood leave his face. He turns slowly, only to come face to face with the Quartermaster himself, who looks mildly amused. How long had he been standing there?

“I’m sorry sir, I know it’s not my place, but there was no one else here, and - ”

“Why didn’t you call down and request an experienced handler?” Boothroyd interrupts him, although he doesn’t seem too cross. If anything, he seems bemused.

Kellan blinks. “It honestly didn’t occur to me.” 

At this, Boothroyd rolls his eyes. “Go home. Get some sleep and don’t come back until you can breathe properly out of your nose,” He pauses briefly, before clasping Kellan’s shoulder. “You did well today. Certainly given me a lot to think about, that’s for sure,” he mumbles this last bit to himself, wandering away towards his office.

Kellan decides not to look a gift horse in the mouth. He grabs his sweater, messenger bag, and tissues, and hightails it out of Q Branch before Boothroyd changes his mind and fires him.

Bond comes back a week later, looking battered and bruised but so, so good in a suit that probably costs more than Kellan’s entire wardrobe put together. Kellan can’t quite help the small ‘meep’ he lets out at the sight of the man, nor the way he crouches behind his monitor. It helps, somewhat, that a few of the other technicians also seem nervous. He doubts that any of their sisters died tragically while on a romantic getaway with the agent, but it doesn’t matter so long as he looks anxious for the right reasons. 

He supposes it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Bond were to find out that he’s Vesper’s brother, but for all he knows the agent still thinks his sister’s a terrorist.

Still, Bond intrigues Kellan, so he watches him slyly taking in his sister’s great love. Bond is apparently charismatic and brilliant enough to tempt Vesper to abandon him without a second thought, he thinks bitterly. The longer Kellan looks at the agent, the more the near constant helpless rage and grief he feels at his sister’s loss claw at his throat, threatening to swallow him whole. He glances away sharply, only to look back immediately when he hears Bond say his name.

The man’s kit has been in R’s tray for less than thirty seconds, and he’s already asked after “that new kid I spoke with, Kel?”

Kellan makes frantic cutting motions across his throat at R from behind Bond’s back. He’s already thrown off-kilter by being in the same room as Bond: he doesn’t want to deal with a conversation on top of that. R glances his way for less than a second, but she seems to get the message. 

“He’s not on shift today. Out with the flu,” she answers blithely before shooing him out of Q Branch and toward M’s office. Bond takes her at her word, probably because Kellan really had sounded like death the other day, and leaves with a wink.



******



It’s been almost a year since Vesper’s death, and Kellan needs to find a new flat. It’s not that he doesn’t love this old apartment and the memories he’d made here with his sister, but he’s found that it gets harder and harder with each day to walk past her empty room, to open the curtains in the kitchen that she’d picked out when they first moved in and see her fingerprints, her ghost, in every nook and cranny of their - his - small home. Kellan misses her dearly, and he’s coping rather well, for the most part, he thinks, but it’s time to move on from this place and find a space of his own.

Plus, it’s a long fucking tube ride, with three line transfers. That’s just too much for Kellan’s tired mind when he gets off his occasional night shifts at five in the morning. 

He brings this up with Boothroyd without thinking, in that way people do when they’re asked how their weekend was. It was fine, thanks, got some work done, looked at some flats… 

And that is how he finds himself saddled with an all too chipper seventy three year old at eight o’clock the following Saturday morning, instead of sleeping like a normal human.

Kellan doesn’t mind the company, though. He’s become rather fond of the old man in the past ten months. Boothroyd had been impressed enough with his handling of Bond’s mission that he’d upped Kellan’s security ranking, letting him come down to R&D to work on projects and prototypes as well as listen in and provide background support when R or another handler is running ops. Kellan’s pathetically grateful, and in return he’s somehow become Boothroyd’s keeper; bringing the old man food and tea if he’s been tinkering in the basement for too long, sometimes even going so far as to bring him a new tie or suit if he’s pulled an all nighter. He’s fine with this, mostly because he gets to talk engineering and gadgets with the Quartermaster while he does these menial tasks, but in part because he’s rather missed having someone to take care of.

Vesper was no engineer, but she’d been mad and brilliant in her own way, and there had been many times back when Kellan had been in secondary school that he’d leave in the morning for class and come back that evening to see her still hunched over her books and computers and calculators, unmoved and wrapped up in whatever she’d been learning that week at Uni. He’d gotten used to cooking and prying her from her little hole with food and company, to cleaning up after her when she was knee deep in a project and unaware of her surroundings.

It had been odd, after she’d left, to not have anyone to call if he’d had a bad day, to not have anyone look after him when he was ill, to not - well, have anyone. But he’s found that taking care of Boothroyd in these small ways has filled that hole, a bit. 

This odd arrangement has only been brought up once: Kellan had been accused in front of the entire branch of being an overly ambitious suck-up. Boothroyd, the perceptive bastard, had just walked over to the man and told him that people deal with loss in different ways, and who was he to begrudge Mr. Jones his grieving?

The branch now assumes that Boothroyd reminds him of his recently deceased father, and thinks his doting on the old man is both terribly sweet and horribly sad.

The third flat they encounter on their search is, according to Boothroyd, the winner. There are only three rooms: the bedroom; the bathroom; and a relatively large living space, with a small kitchenette and a lounge area. When he walks over to the window, there is a truly magnificent view of the city. Kellan is particularly interested in the flat’s roof access, where he’d have an even better vantage point, especially on clear nights. It’s also only a ten minute tube ride, one straight shot. Boothroyd cares less about the view and the commute and more about how many wall sockets there are, and how sturdy the beams in the wall seem to be. The old man also comments that being on the top level of a very tall building makes it harder for snipers to get a clear shot. 

Sometimes Kellan forgets how long Boothroyd has been a spy, even if he doesn’t actively shoot people. 

He doesn’t understand why the flat is being rented for so little, but eventually he needles the truth out of the landlord: the last tenant had been murdered.

That’d do it.

It’s a testament to how accustomed Kellan has become to death happening in his periphery that he’s not too disturbed by this information.

It takes less than half an hour for Kellan to be convinced, and he signs a lease with the landlord at the end of their visit.

The apartment comes furnished, luckily, but Kellan still has what feels like mountains of books and tech and stuff to put in boxes and transport. He’ll have to rent a car, he realizes, and groans out loud at the thought over dinner with Boothroyd back at his and Vesper’s flat. 

Boothroyd clucks his tongue and tells him to start packing and to be ready bright and early tomorrow morning for his big move. 

Kellan spends the night saying his goodbyes to this old flat, the only home he and his sister ever really had. He knows it’s for the best, but he has to fight the horrible feeling that he’s leaving Vesper behind, that he’s abandoning her by leaving this cramped, well-loved place. He ends up spending his last night in her room instead of his, curled up under the fairy lights she’d hung up when she was still in uni, a lifetime ago, before MI6, before Montenegro, before James bloody Bond. 

The next morning Kellan opens the door in his vest and sweatpants to find not only Boothroyd, but Tanner and 009 as well, the latter looking vaguely put-upon.

They make quick work of it, using Payne’s frankly beautiful Porsche as a moving van, with a small u-haul attached behind it. He thinks, perhaps, the agent can tell how he’s itching to take it apart and play with its engines, and maybe that’s why he and Tanner are delegated to the tube while Payne and Boothroyd take the car to Kellan’s new flat. Boothroyd and Payne beat them there, and by the time they’ve gotten Kellan’s keys and rolled up their sleeves to help, the agent has already unloaded all the boxes and brought them up. Kellan briefly mourns this missed opportunity to ogle the man’s biceps, but he quickly moves on as he realizes he doesn’t have to do any more heavy lifting. 

Kellan furrows his brow in confusion when the agent gestures for him to follow him into the bedroom, but does so anyway. Payne sits on the foot of the bed, and wordlessly points to one of the boxes on the floor. 

On it, in bold black letters, Kellan has written ‘Vesper’. 

“Care to explain?” Payne’s face is unreadable, but Kellan knows that the agent is familiar with the story. He’s friends with Bond.

“She’s - she was my - ”

“Your sister, yes I gathered,” Payne interrupts. It is then that Kellan notices that the tape on the box has been broken, and he can just make out the framed picture of the two of them he’d placed on the top of the pile of her things. “Green eyes, freckles, dark hair; it makes sense. Besides, you’re what, twelve in that picture? So, sister.”

“Thirteen,” he corrects faintly, still staring at the opened box. He has no idea what to say, what to do. Is Payne angry? Is he going to tell Bond? Does he - 

“Look mate, I’m sure you have your reasons for keeping this quiet, but if you ask me, you’d better tell Bond sooner rather than later. He won’t take too kindly to being lied to.”

The last thing he’d expected was sincere advice from 009, of all people, a man he’s met three times. “It’s not that simple. He’s too - it’s too - ”

Payne’s eyes widen, and for a moment Kellan thinks he might get genuinely angry. “You don’t blame Bond for what happened in Venice?”

He hurries to assuage the agent’s anger. “No, no, of course not it’s just - I blame her , a bit, and he’s part of that, and I don’t think I could...” Kellan trails off, and he can see when Payne understands: the grief is still too raw, too painful. He’s still very much in mourning.

He thinks, perhaps, if it hadn’t been him and Vesper against the world, if she hadn’t been all he’d had and vice versa, that he would have an easier time of moving on. But it had been, had always been, and he’s left to grieve alone.

The older man claps a hand on Kellan’s shoulder as he goes to leave the room. “For what it’s worth, your secret’s safe with me. It’s none of my business, anyway.”

Kellan breathes a sigh of relief before following him back to the living room, where Tanner and Boothroyd are sitting on the couch talking about some sort of HR problem.

“Well, I’m off to meet Trevelyan and Bond for a pint,” Payne says, stretching in a rather distracting manner. He winks at Kellan when he catches him staring, laughing when the smaller man turns beet red. “Q, I think that makes us about even, don’t you think?”

The Quartermaster just gives him an amused look. “I rather think that you only owe me nine favours instead of ten, now.”

It is only after Payne leaves and the flat falls into comfortable silence that Kellan hears an odd noise coming from underneath the sofa. His confusion shifts quickly into suspicion when he sees a guilty look cross Boothroyd face.

“Sir, what exactly are you hiding underneath my furniture?”

No sooner have the words left his mouth than a giant gray beast of a cat slinks out from between the old man’s legs, looking up at Kellan with curious yellow eyes. “Hello, pickle!” Boothroyd says with delight, scratching behind its ears as if it’s perfectly normal for a cat to suddenly appear in one’s apartment.

He opens his mouth, trying to think of something to say that isn’t what the fuck, Boothroyd , when the Quartermaster cuts in, picking up the cat and pulling it into his lap.

“We worry about you, staying in the office all hours of the day. So, I took matters into my own hands. Can’t be in Q Branch for twenty four hours straight if you’ve got a little one to look after, can you?” Boothroyd turns his attention to the cat, cooing at it affectionately. “Isn’t that right, pickle?”

Kellan ignores the odd endearment. “But where did it come from?”

Tanner speaks up, leaning over to scratch the cat’s chin. “Q and Double-oh Nine picked him up today. All his things were already in the car: we bought them yesterday while you were looking at flats. His food and bowls are in your kitchen.” He picks the cat up from Boothroyd’s lap and hands him over to Kellan. It (or he, Kellan supposes) immediately crawls up his arms and curls around his shoulders like a particularly fluffy gray stole. “He’s five years old, horribly affectionate, and hates thunderstorms, according to the woman at the shelter.”

Kellan shifts the cat until it’s cradled in his arms, looking down at it fondly. 

Oh god, he’s already attached.

“Five, huh? You’ve been alone for a long time then. I suppose people just looked past you for the kittens.”

Boothroyd walks over to join them. “You’ll be good for our boy, don’t you think, pickle?” He asks in that same silly voice. He turns his attention to Kellan, an oddly wistful look on his face. “Ever since my Lucy died I haven’t been as keen to get home at the end of the day. It’s much simpler to tinker and build. Now, I’m an old man, set in my ways, but I don’t want to see a young boy like you waste away on your own in our little research hole. Tanner’s got Abby and Marjie, R’s got her wife… Hell, even M has her husband to go home to. Some company will do you good.”

Kellan simply nods, cuddling the cat a little tighter. It’s rare for Boothroyd to bring up his late wife, and he doesn’t want to ruin the moment with any more questions. He wonders, idly, why it is that old people are so much more forthcoming and frank about their feelings.

Tanner clears his throat, breaking the tension with an apologetic smile. “You’ll have to give him a name. The people at the shelter just called him Kitty.”

Kellan looks down at this monstrosity of a cat, smiling as he snuggles his head under his neck. “I suppose Pickles is as good a name as any,” he says with a shrug.

The way Boothroyd positively beams at this is worth every comment he’s sure to get on the odd name in the future.



******



He’s made R after four and a half years in Q Branch, and he couldn’t be more shocked. The previous R, Ava, is pregnant, and has apparently cashed in nearly ten years worth of vacation days in order to essentially take a sabbatical for the length of her pregnancy, plus the six weeks of maternity leave after the baby is born. If it weren’t for the fact that she and her wife had been waiting so long, or for the fact that Boothroyd simply adores her, he knows she never would have gotten away with it.

When Boothroyd tells him the news, Kellan is extremely concerned with how the other, more seasoned technicians and engineers will react. Surely there is someone more qualified, who’s been here longer? The Quartermaster tells him that most of the older Q Branchers would much rather fiddle around with their tech and codes and inventions than deal with cocky agents and the bureaucratic nonsense that goes into being promoted, and he feels better after that. 

He finds it’s all too easy to let go of Kellan Lynd and simply become R: Kellan’s entire life had been one struggle after another, and he’s quite ready to move on from that sad little orphan genius. Besides, before he became R, everyone at work called him Jones, the false name Tanner had given him on his first day. Only Boothroyd still calls him Kellan, and even then it’s only in private.

He gets a message from Tanner (who has only just returned from paternity leave himself; little Davey is a treasure, with his mother’s freckles and his father’s dark hair) not five minutes after the Quartermaster tells him the news. 

 

BTanner: “Counted the numbers in a mole”???

KJones: Avogadro. Your timing is suspicious, by the way.

BTanner: Would my bringing down the card Marjorie made make you even more suspicious?

(It’s purple, covered in glitter, with a drawing of Pickles on it. R will keep it displayed on his desk long after he’s made Quartermaster.)

That night, Tanner and Q and R go out for celebratory drinks, and R asks the Quartermaster why he’s been chosen.

“Do you remember the incident with the remote controlled car?” Boothroyd asks, and R nods. Of course he does. He’d spent four months working on it as a side project, and watching 006 try it out for the first time, eyes lit up with excitement, had been one of the proudest moments of his career. “The day after you finished, you asked me how I felt about an invisible car, and that’s when I knew.”

“But - that was a year ago! Ava - sorry Tanner, I mean R - wasn’t even pregnant yet!”

Boothroyd just gives him that same indulgent look he always does when he thinks R is being particularly slow on the uptake. “I am planning on retiring one day, you know.”

Tanner snickers at the look on R’s face at this admission, and dissolves into full on laughter when the younger man starts blushing furiously at the obvious approval from his mentor. 

“So you’ve been what, grooming me?” he asks, awed at the thought of being the Quartermaster’s handpicked successor.

“Like an oblivious poodle,” Boothroyd answers sagely, and this time Tanner’s guffaws are so loud the people two booths over shoot them dirty looks.

The next day is a Saturday, and R drags a hungover Tanner (plus Davey, who somehow manages to sleep soundly in his stroller through the whole affair) to the nearest tailor, because R’s current wardrobe is only really on the cusp of professional. He’s eager to prove himself worthy of the apparent faith Boothroyd has in him, but he doesn’t know the first thing about clothing. Tanner picks out some three piece suits, well suited for someone in an authority role, he says, as well as some extra jackets and vests, because apparently not everything has to match perfectly all the time. He’s never spent so much money on clothes in his life, but Tanner’s just chuffed that he’s finally moving on from the sweaters, ties, and corduroys that have made up his wardrobe for the past few years.

Tanner also manages to find some hair gel, and tells R that perhaps it’s time to let go of the mop and try to tame his unruly hair. 

Monday morning comes, and R has put in contacts, donned one of his new suits, and slicked back his hair (though some of it simply refuses to behave, curling stubbornly across part of his forehead). His fellow Q Branch technicians have nothing but praise for the new look, and apparently they too are glad to be rid of the corduroys. Boothroyd doesn’t really notice the change, but R hadn’t really expected him to: the man’s never much cared about appearances. 

Bradley St. Clair - 005, Tanner’s least favorite person alive - comes in that afternoon to be kitted out for his next assignment. Despite the fact that they’ve met several times, despite the fact that R has personally run interference on some of his missions, St. Clair doesn’t seem to remember him, because the first thing out of his smug, pompous mouth is:

“Blimey, no one told me the new R was such a little twink,” and he winks at R, as if he’s meant to find this charming. 

From behind him, R hears Tanner’s pencil snap, and he finds himself wishing he too had something to break. “Call me a twink one more time, 005, and you’ll be facing down the Ukrainian mafia with a plastic boomerang,” he responds frostily.

“Whatever you say, pretty boy,” Is the man’s response, and he honest to God slaps R’s arse as he leaves with his kit.

Well, he tried. 

Back to the sweaters and the glasses and the corduroys it is. Though he does keep the nicer clothes, and even wears the vests sometimes when it gets hot.

When 005 is assigned a month-long recon mission in Siberia the following week, R pretends not to notice Tanner’s smug expression. 



******



It’s six months into his tenure as R that James Bond dies. 

He’s not on duty at the time, home with Pickles and a cup of Earl Grey, flipping through field reports from 004 and 008 on his couch. R had discovered quite early on that he rather adores the two women, with their razor-sharp wit and no-nonsense attitudes. 004 he is especially fond of, as he once saw her kick 005 in the balls for staring at her tits too long while on assignment.

He enjoys these women’s field reports mostly because they leave him little notes in the margins,usually on post-its: about their equipment, what they liked, what they didn’t like, improvements they’d find useful; about their marks, little quirks and observations and anecdotes that aren’t relevant to the mission but make R laugh; and more often than not complaints about M and the other double-oh’s. R quite likes being in on all this gossip, and he’s glad the two women seem to have taken a shine to him. 

Scarlett Papava, 004, is a five-foot-three red-headed firecracker from Surrey, of all places, who prefers throwing knives and stars to guns. She’s also bloody hilarious, making up for her stubbornness on ops by cracking jokes and innuendos that make R snort loudly in the middle of Q Branch. 

008, Priya Atwal, in contrast, is a quiet desi woman, no less beautiful or deadly, but more severe, more focused. She is perhaps kinder and more patient than Papava, but her dry, witty observations in the field as well as her near encyclopedic knowledge when it comes to all things bomb-related has made her an easy favorite for R. 

Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t like the other agents: 001, a newbie, just like R, who’s still eager and excited for every mission, with his long curly hair, bright blue eyes, and his odd love of horticulture; 002, a blonde amazon of a woman, dedicated to her demands for more deadly makeup items, please, the paralyzing lipstick was so fun ; 003, an older Malaysian woman (apparently a recruit of Bond’s following a mission in Vietnam) with sleek black hair, a killer smile, and a truly impressive ability to climb pretty much anything; and 005, who….

Well, R doesn’t like 005 at all. 

Fucking St. Clair.

He rather likes Trevelyan, 006, though, has since that first night, but the agent spends most of his time undercover in bloody Russia, so R doesn’t see much of him. 

009, Payne, is perhaps the double-oh R knows best. He’s certainly spent the most time with him: Payne sometimes will join him and Tanner when they go out for lunch, or if they grab a pint after work. He’s come to Tanner’s house for movie night a few times, sitting between R and the Chief of Staff and complaining about the shitty dialogue of the terrible action flicks they always watch.

It’s possible that R knows Payne best of all because of those two weeks the agent stayed at his flat after his own had flooded rather spectacularly following a gunfight in the bathroom. Of the people Payne trusted, it had been between Tanner, Boothroyd, and R who were available, and R too would have picked staying with the quiet ‘kid’ with the cat over screaming children or talkative old loons. It had been oddly domestic, and after the agent had moved back into his own flat R almost missed the man. He’d made a mean omelette, he’d let R ride into to work with him in his Porsche, and he was even tall enough to change the dead lightbulb in R’s bathroom. R had also greatly appreciated the way Payne had pointedly ignored the few framed pictures of R and Vesper displayed around the flat.

Pickles loves 009. R suspects it’s because the man’s so tall, but he can’t be sure. 

Which leaves Bond. R refuses to run his ops, mostly because he doesn’t want to hear the other man make his way through every woman in Europe, whispering sweet nothings in their ears and telling them he loves them.

It makes him think of Vesper, makes him feel sick at the thought that she might have been played like that, and so he puts it aside. If Bond has noticed that the new R is avoiding him, he hasn’t complained. 

He’s only heard the other man speak of Vesper once, two years ago while the agent was on comms with Boothroyd.

The Quartermaster had been arranging Bond a flight to Venice, to follow a mole from MI5, and he’d asked, momentarily forgetting that R (then Kellan) had been in the room: “Have you been back, James, since - ”

“Since that bloody bitch stuck her knife in my back? No, I haven’t, Q. Thanks for the reminder.”

The pained, apologetic look Boothroyd had sent him after Bond’s response had done little to ease the sudden rage that had boiled his blood.

So no, R does not like the man, despite only having ever really spoken to him once. One pleasant, quippy conversation over a late night mission does not change who Bond is, nor does it erase the history the man has of being dismissive and rude and just - a cad. 

He doesn’t speak to Bond, doesn’t interact with him, in part because despite it having been nearly five years now he finds it’s still hard to think of Vesper, and her leaving him, but mostly because he hasn’t forgiven Bond for calling his sister, who’d loved the man, a bitch. 

So when he gets a text from Tanner, telling him about Bond’s death, he doesn’t understand why it makes his heart ache. Perhaps it’s because there’s one less person in the world who knew Vesper, who cared for her (at least he hopes that Bond cared, at least once). Or perhaps it’s because Bond was his last real connection to his sister. 

Either way, he doesn’t dwell on it, but he does call Boothroyd, because he knows how fond the old man had been of Bond. They sit on the phone for hours, R listening patiently as Boothroyd wistfully tells him all sorts of stories about the gadgets he’d given Bond, about the adventures he’d gone on, the people he’d saved, and how he really wasn’t all that bad, Kellan, if you’d have just given him a chance…

When they’ve hung up R takes a moment to wonder if he hadn't misjudged Bond after all.



 

Chapter Text

He’s been R for almost ten months when everything quite literally falls apart. 

He’s in Q Branch when it happens: a sudden glitch and they’re all thrown into darkness, before every monitor lights up with the same chilling message: THINK ON YOUR SINS.

He is more grateful than ever for his level-headed colleagues, for the way they’ve all become used to the odd going ons of MI6. They don’t scream or panic when the lights go out, and all he hears from behind him is a few irritated huffs, and someone swearing at being interrupted in their work. It is only when there is a great crash from above them, when the entire building seems to shudder, that R realizes that they are well and truly under attack. 

He immediately starts sending people down to R&D: Q Branch is five levels below ground level, and since they have no idea which stories have been hit, it’s better to evacuate using the tunnels that let their subs and boats out onto the Thames than risk being hit by falling rubble. 

He’s been barking out orders for a few minutes before he finally notices that someone’s been tugging at his sleeve. He turns to see Lily, one of the interns, holding her smartphone out to him with trembling hands. She’s pulled up a news app, on which there is a picture of headquarters. There is a great smoking crater where M’s office used to be, and R feels a swell of relief at the knowledge that Tanner is on his way back from Parliament with their fearless leader and nowhere near the building.

Then he remembers, and his blood runs cold.

Boothroyd had gone up to wait for M at her office not ten minutes ago for their weekly debrief. He’d probably been sitting outside her office, talking the secretary’s ear off. 

R’s out of the room in seconds, ignoring the shouts from the few technicians still in the hall. He stops briefly at all the lower levels, calling out over the noise for the employees to evacuate via the tunnels rather than getting caught up in the wave of people trying to get out through the exits on the streets.

Once he hits ground level, he sprints toward the stairs, up and up and up until he can’t breathe without a sharp pain in his side, until he can’t see for all the smoke and dust. The closer he gets to M’s office, the harder it is to maneuver through the stairwells. He’s stumbling over debris, over pieces of ceiling and wall that have fallen in his path. It doesn’t help that he’s going against the flow of people, although they thin out the further up he goes. 

There’s no one on the stairs once he hits the seventeenth floor, two below M’s office, because there aren’t any stairs anymore. He starts to push and pull at the collapsed rubble, trying to figure out if he can maybe climb his way toward where Boothroyd has to be, where he’ll be safe, maybe on the opposite side of the building, maybe he’s even several floors down, maybe he got distracted and stopped to chat with someone, maybe he -  

R barely registers that he’s been screaming Boothroyd’s name until he hears a faint voice from behind him call out his own in response.

There’s only one person who ever calls him Kellan anymore. 

He abandons his unsteady climbing to run toward the noise, letting out a cry when a loose light fixture slams onto his back, sending him crashing to the ground. He staggers back onto his feet after a brief moment, the adrenaline pushing him to ignore the pain until he sees a worn, old loafer sticking out from behind what used to be a desk. 

R rushes to Boothroyd’s side, letting out a horrified gasp when he sees the old man. He’s clearly fallen from the floors above, which probably gave out after the explosion. He’s covered from head to toe with dust; but most distressingly, most urgently, there’s a piece of rebar impaled through his stomach, bleeding slowly but steadily. 

R crouches down next to Boothroyd, taking the man’s blood-streaked hand when it reaches toward him. He doesn’t know what to say, what to do; his heart is too busy trying to climb its way into his throat, to choke him with sudden terror. 

“Well, my boy, it seems I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a bind,” Boothroyd says, chuckling at his own joke, wincing when it jostles his injury. 

“The paramedics are coming, sir, just - just hold on, everything’s going to be fine, you’ll see.” He’s spouting nonsense, he knows. There probably are paramedics on the way, this is true, but for all he knows the structure of the building isn’t stable enough for anyone to make their way to where they are. He also knows that there’s no way anyone will make it in time to save this sweet, wonderful, daft old man.

Boothroyd smiles indulgently, somehow still bright-eyed and knowing even through what must be utter agony. “You’re a good lad, Kellan. Such a clever boy.”

R can’t help it: he lets out a shuddering, painful sob, shutting his eyes and curling in on himself. Around them, pieces of the ceiling keep crashing down, one landing not three feet from where they’re sat. With a pained grunt, Boothroyd reaches out with his other hand, the one not clutched in R’s, to wipe a stray tear from the younger man’s face. R grabs that one too, until he has both of the old man’s hands wrapped up in his own.

“It’s horribly selfish, I know, but I’m glad I’m not alone. I’m glad you’re with me.” Boothroyd says this calmly, as if he’s already come to terms with his death. “I’ve always - ”

R cuts him off, his voice hoarse from the screaming he’d done earlier, from the sobs still caught in his throat. “Don’t talk like that, sir. You’re not going to die, you won’t, I won’t let you - ”

“Let an old man have his last words, won’t you?” Boothroyd interrupts, and the look he gives R is so fond, so full of warmth, but it still feels like a knife to the stomach. “Lucy and I never had children of our own. We were too busy, too caught up in this exciting world of spies and gadgets….” He lets out a great, hacking cough before he goes on, this time more softly, as if he’s already started to fade. “But you...I’m so terribly proud of you, Kellan. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve come to think of you as my own, that I…”

Boothroyd trails off, his eyes going vacant, then closing. He’s still smiling ever so slightly. R shakes him, calling his name over and over, until his voice is all but gone, until there’s nothing left for him to do but grab the man’s hands once more, to curl up next to him as their surroundings groan and shudder, as the building, as MI6, as R falls apart. 

He’s not crying, although he feels like his chest might collapse, his throat closed off with grief. He keeps his eyes open, taking in the sight of this kind, brilliant man, who had seen something in R that he himself could not, who had trusted him, who’d had such unshakeable faith in him, who had cared , and - 

He doesn’t know how long he lies there, curled up against Boothroyd. He doesn’t know how long he stares numbly at the old man’s face, at how peaceful he looks in death. He doesn’t even realize he’s been talking to him, whispering reassurances and promises he’ll never keep. 

This is how the emergency responders find him, clutching onto this man he’s loved so very dearly. He doesn’t respond to the men’s questions, to their shouts. It’s not until they try to pry him away from Boothroyd that he genuinely reacts, yelling and swinging his fists and you can’t just leave him here, we have to go back.

He’s sitting in the back of an ambulance twenty minutes later, oxygen mask pulled across his face and shock blanket wrapped around his shoulders, when M walks up to him, grim-faced. 

“You are relieved for the day, Quartermaster. Go home, get some rest, and come back at oh-six-hundred prepared to work.”

She walks away before R can reply, before he can manage to close his mouth from where it had been hanging open dumbly, before he can ask work where?

Tanner quickly takes her place, sitting down next to him. He takes one look at R and sighs, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. He tells R about what they know, about the old tunnels where they’ll be moving, about how he’s already notified his staff, about what the paramedics said: R’s suffering from smoke inhalation. At this, R looks at him, quizzically.

He takes the mask off long enough to ask: “Smoke inhalation?” and the look Tanner gives him is a strange mix of frustrated anger and fond exasperation. Apparently the entire floor above him had been engulfed in flames, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that it hadn’t spread to where R had been before the emergency responders got there.

He doesn’t say anything more, and Tanner doesn’t press him. When R balks at the idea of going to a hospital, point blank refusing to follow the paramedic’s advice, the older man just steers him toward a car, carrying with him a portable oxygen tank he’d requisitioned (because he’s Chief of Staff, goddamnit, he says, and he can do what he bloody likes) and gives the driver directions to his own house once they’re both seated in the back. 

R doesn’t ask, but Tanner answers his unspoken question: “Abby’ll want to see me, and I’m sure as shit not leaving you alone.”

They pull up to Tanner’s brownstone just as the sun begins to set. The front door is open before they’ve even gotten out of the car, Abby running down the steps to throw her arms around Tanner, clutching on for dear life. They stay like that for some time, R standing awkwardly to the side as the husband and wife share this life-affirming moment. 

She then pulls R into a tight embrace, and he tries not to groan in pain: he hadn’t mentioned the light fixture that had fallen on him to either the paramedics or Tanner, and he doesn’t plan on bringing it up. Bringing it up would mean going to the hospital, would mean staying in the hospital and not going to work tomorrow, not finding the person who did this, and he has to find them, he has to make them suffer

She leads them into the house, holding Tanner’s hand tightly, and R stops dead in his tracks at the sight of Marjorie playing on the floor with Pickles (in that blissfully unaware way that all five year olds seem to have to their surroundings), Davey napping in a bassinet just next to them. 

“Bill sent me to pick him up,” is all Abby says in response to his bewildered look as she leads him toward their sofa. 

Marjorie looks up and beams at him, chatting away: what’s that thing on your face for, and your cat is so cute, and how did he get so big , and why did you name him Pickles?

The cat crawls up into his lap, somehow managing to avoid the tube from his oxygen mask. R can feel his arms tremble as he wraps them around his furry companion, can hear the tremble in his voice as he answers, through the mask, that he’d named the cat Pickles to make his friend smile.

And that’s how he spends the night after the bombing, cuddled up with the cat that Boothroyd gave him, letting a little girl with a gap in her teeth put Paddington plasters on the cuts on his hands, while Tanner paces on the phone, sometimes holding a screaming one year old. 

Perhaps he shouldn’t have come, he thinks, when he upsets Marjorie as he drifts off into a memory, as his eyes glaze over, as he relives those horrible moments. He didn’t mean to slip away like that, he later tells Tanner, who doesn’t seem angry, just sad. 

When he says to Tanner, who he knows will get as little sleep as him tonight: “He died in my arms,” he finds that he’s pathetically gratefully to not be alone, to have someone whisper Jesus Christ, R and pull him close. 

He doesn’t weep that night, and neither does Tanner, because there’s work to be done, and rage is far more productive than sorrow.



******



It’s not 24 hours after the bombing that Bond returns from the dead. Q barely knows the man, but somehow he’s certain this is a very Bond thing to do.

He honestly, genuinely, does not care that the man is back, because he is the Quartermaster now and there’s work to be done and oh my god is that a rat?

It is, and Pickles will move into the tunnels that afternoon, because Q needs pest control that won’t take away any hands that need to be on deck, and if Q’s going to be living in this bunker for the foreseeable future, then he’ll need his cat for moral support. 

When he walks into his new branch for the first time, his coworkers - his underlings, now - swarm him. He thinks they’ll hate him for not saving Boothroyd, that they’ll demand someone else be made their quartermaster, but neither of these things happen. Instead, he finds himself in the middle of what is essentially a twenty-person group hug, and he feels some small part of himself unfurl, because he’s been here for five years, and he should have known better than to doubt these brilliant people. It hurts quite a bit, because he’s pretty sure that damn light fixture actually broke a rib, but it’s worth it.

He lasts three minutes before he needs to use his portable oxygen again, and the warm embrace suddenly turns into nearly two dozen voices yelling about taking care of himself properly. Q tells them to get back to work, and they do, probably because they want him to feel like he has some authority, and he spends the rest of the morning trying very hard not to bend over or reach his arms up too high, because he truly can’t help the hiss of pain that leaves him everytime he does either. 

When Tanner comes down and tells him that he’s arranged a drop point where Q will meet 007 and deliver his kit (looking apologetic, because he knows better than anyone why this is going to be difficult), he honestly considers bashing his head against the wall, because he does not deserve this .

Bond is exactly what he expects and yet a complete surprise all at once. Q will later think that the man’s specialty seems to be contradictions. 

The agent mocks his age, much like he did five years ago (although he does not know that this new Quartermaster was once Kel, the sarcastic technician who’d saved his life), and he’s brusque and harsh and far too cocky, Q feels. But he’s also weary and sharp and strong , and the grudging respect he offers Q at the end of their conversation seems genuine, and he’s actually disappointed at the lack of gadgets, which Q can completely understand, because gadgets are fun

And his eyes are so very, very blue. 



******



Silva hacks them and Q is a fool , and there’s no way, no possible way that Silva could know what Boothroyd had said to him as he’d lain dying, but the words, “not such a clever boy”, will haunt him for years all the same. He hates himself for being so reckless, for putting M in danger like this, and he especially hates how much he enjoys being on the comms with Bond again, even as the world seems to be falling apart once more. 

Bond asks him to do something for him, to perform a seemingly impossible task, and Q glances at cabinet where he keeps the Algerian love knot, thinks of Vesper, and says “So much for my promising career in espionage.”

Hours later, Silva is dead, but so is M, and Q holds Tanner’s hand while the man makes arrangements for the bodies, because he really does love the older man, and now that the adrenaline has finally started to wear off he’s in too much pain to hug him like he wants. He also doesn’t think Tanner would want a hug right now, in the middle of Q Branch where there are already security cameras hooked up. 

Tanner hangs up with a weary sigh, and squeezes Q’s hand in thanks. Q hates to ruin the moment, but…

“Tanner, I don’t want to alarm you, but I think it might be time to go to a hospital,” and he promptly collapses.

Q wakes up two days later. Apparently he had broken some ribs, four to be exact, and the doctors don’t understand how he’d managed to function so long without getting them wrapped. His response, tea and paracetamol, is not an acceptable answer, according to the doctors. His lungs, also, are more damaged than he’d realized, and he’s going to be stuck in Medical for two weeks . He falls back asleep soon after the doctors update him. Hours later Tanner is sitting at his bedside, looking murderous.

The man picks up his newspaper and swats him over the head with it as he berates Q for being so bloody stupid, and tells him that he’s not allowed to die, because who would do crosswords at two in the morning or watch Die Hard with him or make terrifying robot turtles for Marjorie on her birthday?

(To be fair, Q hadn’t meant to forget an off switch, but he understands why Tanner had given it back after telling him that his well-intentioned gift kept moving while they slept.)

Q and Pickles are sent home a week later, mostly because he’s been driving the orderlies mental , and it is in his empty apartment, curled up with his cat, that he finally cries for Boothroyd.

He spends a lot of time crying, that week, and he’s grateful that the only one who sees the new quartermaster weeping like a child is Pickles, who he knows will take the sight of his pathetic, snot-filled bender to the grave.



******



Q sees a lot more of Bond, after Silva. 

Much to his surprise, Bond is already in headquarters (still in the tunnels, though Mallory insists that his office be above ground and close to Parliament, for some reason) when Q returns from his medical leave. 

He’s resigned himself to the fact that he’ll just have to get used to the other man, to ignoring the way his heart aches at the sight of him, at the living, breathing reminder of his sister. It’s a good thing, in the end, because eventually he manages to push back the pain and simply appreciate that there’s someone else in the world who remembers her, even if he’ll never speak of it. 

Bond has been offered time off for bereavement, to give him the chance to grieve and get back into shape so he can actually pass his tests. Instead of spending that time drinking and falling into the nearest bed with whomever catches his fancy, Bond comes into MI6 every day and tests weapons in R&D (now housed in one of the larger tunnels) and sometimes provides advice for Q Branch during missions. Q hadn’t been there at the time, but apparently Bond’s practical experience in desert warfare had helped his technicians immensely, and had saved 001 from what would have been death by lizard.

This means that Bond spends quite a bit of time in Q’s orbit, and he bears witness to the comings and goings of the rest of the double-ohs, who yet again manage to take Q completely by surprise. He supposes it’s no secret that he had been close to Boothroyd, but he does not expect the outpouring of support and understanding he receives from these deadliest of agents. 

001 brings him a house plant, of all things, to brighten up his new office and “remind you to go out and see the sun every once in awhile, Quartermaster.” It’s potted rosemary, and Q thinks it’s a little ugly, even if it smells nice, and he doesn’t understand why the agent has given it to him until much later, when he looks up the meaning behind the plant and finds that it symbolizes remembrance. He catches Bond inspecting the pot not ten minutes after it’s gifted, completely bemused.

002 offers to suck his cock, which has Q literally inhaling his tea and coughing for nearly five minutes. He knows that she’s offering comfort the best way she can, because they don’t know each other very well but they like each other all the same and sex would certainly take his mind off the grief. Q, once he’s finished having a stroke, thanks her for the offer but tells her that he’s not interested in breaking his status as a gold star gay, no matter how pretty she is. He realizes later that he’s essentially outed himself to his branch, but no one seems to care except Bond, who is less caught up with his sexuality and more with the fact that 002 propositioned the quartermaster .

003 smiles when she sees Bond, and Q briefly remembers their history before she quite literally drops a blanket around his shoulders, ruffling his hair and telling him that if he needs anything, she’s only a phone call away. She also gives him some new packets of tea from her latest trip back home, and laughs at the way Q practically vibrates with excitement because he’s going to drink tea from Malaysia . Bond comments that 003 has never so much as given him a keychain, and she sticks her tongue out at him.

004 just walks right up to Q and hugs him in the middle of Q Branch, mindful of his still-fragile ribs. He melts into it a bit, and curls around her, and no one in the branch says a word about it even when the embrace goes on for much longer than what’s considered normal. Bond, who Q knows for certain has slept with Papava at least three times, cannot seem to wrap his head around the sight of the woman being gentle in any way, especially with this new quartermaster, who he hadn’t known existed until a month ago.

005 walks in waving a flavored condom and Q throws a paperweight at his head.

006, Trevelyan, brings him a bottle of vodka, the very same brand Q had been drinking the night he’d joined MI6, and tells him that he’s always got a drinking partner in the agent. Q finds this hilarious, because he’s still not sure that he hadn’t tried to give Trevelyan drunken road head the first time they’d met. That the man is willing to put up with a possibly lecherous Quartermaster in the name of solidarity is oddly sweet. Bond follows 006 out of Q Branch, and Q can hear him ask what the bloody fuck that was about as they wander down the hall.

008 comes in and doesn’t say anything. She just kisses him on the forehead, then both cheeks, and gives him a warm smile. Q has purple lipstick on his face all day, and Bond finds it hilarious. 

Q’s favorite of the double-ohs’ odd and unnecessary sympathy gifts is 009’s. He walks in after a mission in Beirut carrying a little white cat, and when Q lights up at the sight of it Payne gives him the most genuine smile he’s ever seen from the man. It’s a Himalayan, Payne tells him, which is why, despite her cuddly disposition, she looks as though she’s planning to murder Q. He doesn’t know how old she is, because he’d found her wandering around in a sewer. She’s missing a toe and definitely part of her tail and Q is in love .

Payne has already given her the proper shots, and more importantly, a name: Sardines. 

Q laughs and laughs and laughs because Boothroyd would have loved it, and that is surely why Payne chose it. Payne claps him on the shoulder, tells him he’s glad he could be of service, and walks out the way he came. Bond opens his mouth, no doubt to comment on either how odd the cat looks or how silly her name is, but when Q shoots him a dirty look he shuts it immediately. 

Pickles immediately takes to Sardines, and Q sends Payne a picture of them cuddled together on his bed that night. 

Bond still doesn’t get it, but that’s alright, because he hasn’t known Q for very long, and he doesn’t know how close he’d been to Boothroyd. But the thing is, Q gets Bond , or at least what he’s going through. He’d been offered bereavement, same as Bond, and he too refused, knowing he’d rather work himself into exhaustion at MI6 than sit in his flat alone trying to cope with this loss.

So when Q comes up to Bond in the firing range at 3 A.M. on a Thursday and politely tells him to go home, or at least go the fuck to sleep on a couch in the break room, it comes from a place of empathy rather than pity.

“I know how difficult this has been - ” he starts to say, but Bond cuts him off with a growl, throwing the gun he’d been firing at the stationary target onto the nearest table.

“No you bloody well don’t, Q, so stay out of it,” he snaps, glaring at the Quartermaster with such venom that Q takes a step back.

To which Q responds. “We’ve all lost people, Bond, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by running yourself ragged.”

Bond is still seething, clearly unsettled that he hasn’t managed to scare Q off with his dramatics. “She died in my fucking arms , Q. Do you have any idea - ”

“Yes.”

And Bond just - stops. He stares for what feels like hours, conflicting emotions warring across his face, and Q can see the moment the pieces fall into place. “Boothroyd.”

Q just looks at him with sad, tired eyes. “Go home, Double-oh Seven.”



 

Chapter Text

Being Q comes with an entirely new set of obligations, ones that are deemed less important in that first month when everything is still on its head and MI6 is reeling from the loss of its beloved leader. 

After eight weeks, Q is told to move shop again, back to civilization along the Thames. He will miss the old building at Vauxhall Crossing, but he’s secretly glad they have not returned: every room would have reminded him of Boothroyd and any venture to the higher levels would have sent him back to that horrible, horrible day. 

So he gets a new office, and a new Q Branch. It’s still essentially in the basement, and R&D still looks like a bit of a dungeon. It’s perfect. 

This new promotion also brings new people into Q’s life. 

Q finds that he loathes almost all of The Board as well as most of the executives, and decides after his first meeting that he’ll send R (who has only just returned from maternity leave) whenever possible. He has no patience for the politics and bureaucracy of espionage; they almost always hinder the people who are doing the real heavy lifting - who are making a real difference - in their work. Q catches coffee with Tanner one morning and complains for an entire hour about old men who are more hot-wind than tissue, and their seeming inability to let go of the Cold War. The other man does not disagree, but he spends most of the conversation alternating between giving Q supportive pats on the back and rolling his eyes when he says something overly dramatic.

He does not loathe Mallory, however, if only because the man has never once commented on his age, and trusts his judgment nearly implicitly.There was also that time when Q and Tanner were maybe probably committing mild treason in helping Bond, and Mallory had decided not to...well, bugger them. 

More important than the bureaucrats and the lawyers (Christ, the lawyers ) and even Mallory, his promotion leads him to Eve Moneypenny. 

He doesn’t know what to think of her, at first. Tanner likes her enormously, and promises that Q will too, if he ever learns to socialize with people properly. After that remark, Q makes a point to avoid the woman for days, just to spite Tanner.

Then Tanner drags him to lunch with Moneypenny, and Q almost immediately decides that they should become a trio rather than a duo, because she is wonderful . She’s clever, and sharp in all the right ways, and she used to be a field agent so she loves hearing Q’s outlandish weapon ideas, and she’s somehow both no-nonsense and delightfully silly. He absolutely adores her, and tells her after their third lunch together in no uncertain terms that if he weren’t the gayest man in all of MI6 he’d already have proposed.

They fall quickly into a close friendship, and his underlings become accustomed to the sight of Moneypenny walking into the Branch carrying takeout and coffee whenever Q has lost himself in his work and forgotten to eat dinner (which is to say, every few days). 

It is therefore unsurprising that Moneypenny is the first to notice his growing preoccupation with Bond, seven months after Silva. 

It starts slowly enough. 

All the agents delight in Q’s gadgets, but none take as much of an interest in his work as Bond. Q’s telling Bond that Q Branch ‘doesn’t really go in for’ exploding pens and the like all those months ago had mostly been for show: there really just hadn’t been time to make anything particularly fun for Bond. 

Now, though, he’s found himself in trouble. Because once the dust has settled and they’ve all had time to recover and adjust and move forward, Bond comes right up to Q and tells him how bloody brilliant his Walther had been, despite its unfortunate end in the stomach of a komodo dragon. He’d designed the guns back when he was R, and Q feels himself go beet red at the effusive compliment (effusive as a stoic man of mystery can get, that is). The next time Bond is sent out on a mission, four months after the events at Skyfall, he grins as Q hands him a new Walther, and Q finds that he rather likes that.

So his gadgets get more outlandish, more exciting, but also better , smarter , under the pretense of challenging himself. Though he won’t admit it to anyone other than himself, it’s also (largely) in part to make Bond smile. Lord knows the man could use something to smile about. 

When he passes over a Rolex with a small buzz saw built in, Bond beams , and Q watches with his own fond smile as the agent walks away still fiddling with it.

Of course, this is the one time Eve is present for Bond’s outfitting, and so she drags Q into his own office and locks the door.

“You fancy him,” she accuses. Q can’t quite place the look on her face, but she doesn’t seem happy.

“I… find him intriguing,” is what Q settles on, and he knows it’s a cop-out.

“Q, you were staring at him like a lovesick fool.”

At this, Q bristles. “I am not in love with him. I could never, not after - ” He cuts himself off. Eve doesn’t know about Vesper, doesn’t know about Bond and Q’s odd connection, doesn’t see how ‘that bitch’ hangs between them every time they’re in the same room, even if the agent doesn’t know it. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not in love with him. It’s a...flirtation. A crush, if that.”

Eve just gives him a look, and he realizes that the expression is concern. She’s concerned for Q, worried that his heart might get broken or something ridiculous like that.

“Besides, James Bond is as straight as they come. So don’t go worrying about my fragile emotions.”

 

 

******



 

It’s a year and a half after the Silva incident that Q begins to understand that this thing with Bond isn’t going away.

This realization comes on what is one of the worst days of his life, when he is falling apart at the seams. 

005 is on assignment in Lisbon, and he is being extraordinarily difficult, even more so than usual, and Q wants to tear his hair out. He’s already had five cups of tea that have left him jittery, and every time the agent disagrees with him he considers smashing his laptop and quitting espionage altogether. 

Things take a turn for the worse when 005 ignores Q’s order to disable the security cameras in the old building he’s breaking into. St. Clair tells Q that he’s not going to be there long enough for it to make a difference. Q tells St. Clair that he’s a bloody idiot if he thinks the arms dealers who’ve taken up residence there haven’t made use of the built-in security system. 

Q is right, of course, but he takes no pleasure in watching 005 run for his life and duck underneath a stairwell. 

He’s frantically typing, looking through blueprints, trying to find an exit for the man, and very nearly screams with frustration when the agent ignores his directive to stay hidden and barrels into the nearest hallway guns blazing. St. Clair gets a shot to the arm for his trouble, and Q will surely have bruises on his hands from where he’s slammed his fists on the table. He tells 005 to follow his directives, that there’s a window in the basement he can crawl through undetected if he’s careful, but once again the agent ignores him.

“There are some fire escapes just outside this window, if I can get high enough I can jump to the next roof over.” And St. Clair just fucking does it, without listening to Q, ignoring his warnings because they don’t know if there are hostiles in the street, they don’t have any information on hand about the building next door, because this was supposed to be a simple extraction goddamnit.

There is a hostile on the street, a lookout who spots 005 and shoots him in the stomach. The agent doesn’t fall off the fire escape, but it’s a near thing. He listens to Q long enough to be directed to the nearest elevator, which Q activates and then stops in between floors. It’s as good of a hideout as St. Clair is going to get while Q desperately tries to figure out how to evacuate an agent with a bullet wound to the gut. He looks up at the security camera for the elevator and - oh no.

“Double-oh Five, you need to stay conscious, do not lie down, repeat , do not lie down.”

“I know you never really liked me, Q, but I’ve always thought you were hilarious,” St. Clair starts, and this sounds too much like the agent’s saying his goodbyes.

“You stay awake, and I’ll tell you every joke I know, St. Clair,” Q says, flipping through the security cameras as fourteen hostiles work their way through the building, systematically checking every room.

005 laughs, and it’s a wet, ghastly thing. “See? Funny. Do me a favor, will you?”

Q, now looking at floor plans and trying to figure out if he could feasibly collapse part of the building remotely and take out half the hostiles, makes a noise to indicate that he’s listening.

“Blow these bastards to hell once I’m gone.”

Q switches the comms from the speaker on his table to his headset, not wanting to upset the junior staffers who’ve never dealt with anything like this. “You are not going to die, St. Clair. That’s an order.”

“Sure I am. It’s all right, really,” and Q wants throw something, because he’ll never understand how cavalier the double-ohs are about their own lives.

“No, you’re not, stop talking like that. It’ll be another five minutes until MedEvac arrives, so here’s what we’re going to do - ” 

“Q. It’s not your fault,” St. Clair cuts him off, wheezing and hacking, and Q feels something hard stick in his throat.

“St. Clair - Bradley - ” Q’s searching for words, empty promises and false platitudes, because he can see 005’s vitals right in front of him, readouts from the watch attached to his wrist, and help isn’t going to make it in time.

“I should have listened to you,” St. Clair’s voice is a fading, quiet thing, and Q could throw up.

“I’m sorry, Bradley. I’m so, so sorry.” Q hates the way his voice trembles, hates that it just cements what the agent already knows.

“See? I knew you didn’t really hate me.”

A harsh, sickly gasp, and then silence. They all watch as 005’s heartbeat flatlines.

“Agent down,” Q says hoarsely, before sending a message to MedEvac. He turns to his technicians, trying to keep his voice as level as possible. “Well, you heard the man. The least we can do is fulfill his dying wish.”

The building goes down within minutes, not quite blown to hell, but close enough. Q sends nearly everyone home, hands over the helm to R, and goes into his office, locking the door behind him and shutting the blinds. 

The contents of his desk are on the floor in seconds, and his hand comes back bloody after the fifth time he punches the wall. Q doesn’t even realize he’s crying until his vision starts to blur badly and he has to take his glasses off. There’s a half drunk cup of tea on top of his filing cabinet, but when he tries to take a sip and calm himself his hands shake so badly that he spills half of it down his front. 

And so he slides to the floor of his office and tries to block the world out, leaning against the old filing cabinet he’d stolen from HR, burying his head in his arms as he curls his knees to his chest. 

Q doesn’t know how long he sits there, but when his door opens he’s shocked to see not R or Eve or Tanner in the entryway, but Bond.

“I locked that door,” he says dully, and if he had the energy he’d be annoyed with Bond for breaking in.

Bond says nothing, crouching down to sit next to him. Q wipes his eyes with his sleeve, loathe to show any kind of weakness in front of the other man. He probably looks pathetic enough curled up on the floor, tea-stained and sans glasses, without adding tears to the mix. 

“I take it you were watching?”

“I was in the back with Tanner.”

“I see.” Q clears his throat, refusing to meet the other man’s eyes. “I’ll understand, if you and the other double-ohs will want a new handler after this.”

At this, Bond makes a surprised noise, before shifting until he’s kneeling directly in front of Q. He takes the smaller man’s wrists in his hands, shaking them slightly until Q looks up at him. 

“Q, no one blames you for what happened.”

Q shakes his head. “If I hadn’t - if I could have just - If I’d seen - ” 

“Q. It wasn’t your fault. It was his , for not listening to you. There was nothing you could have done.” Bond sounds so confident, so sure of himself, that it almost makes Q want to believe him. Instead he looks away, breaking eye contact, and the older man sighs, moving to his feet. He reaches a hand out, less of an offer and more of an insistence that Q gets up off the floor.

They both grimace at the sight of Q’s once white shirt, now sodden, brown and clinging in an unpleasant way. 

“Do you have anything to change into?” Bond asks, and Q gestures to the storage cabinet in the corner. He hears Bond chuckle as he no doubt sees the ‘impractical’ (according to Mallory) sword prototypes Q’s thrown in there, but the other man makes no comment as he brings back a shirt and tie on a hanger.

Q doesn’t bother with the buttons, just pulling his soaked shirt and sweater over his head in one quick motion. He’s just pulled the new shirt around his shoulders when he notices Bond has moved back to the cabinet, the empty hanger in hand. He’s just standing there, staring numbly at the necklace draped on one of the -

Oh, fuck . The necklace.

After a brief moment of panic, Q decides to play dumb. “Oh, that? It’s an - ”

“Algerian love knot, yes, I know.” Bond seems shake himself out of whatever Vesper-related memory he was in and puts the hanger away, closing the door perhaps a hair too forcefully. “I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.”

Q just hums noncommittally and leaves it at that, because there is no way in hell he’s going down that road tonight. He’s managed to do up almost all of the buttons on the shirt before he hisses in pain, cradling his bloody, swollen fist to his chest. Bond doesn’t hesitate to reach up to finish the job. Q thinks, as Bond gently does his tie, that he ought to feel threatened with this deadly agent’s hands so close to his neck, but if anything he feels safer than he has all night. Bond sets Q’s glasses back on his nose, and gives him a small, warm smile.

“There’s our Quartermaster,” he says softly, taking Q’s hand and inspecting the cuts and forming bruises carefully. If it were any other night, if Q wasn’t so weary and distraught, he might enjoy the feeling of the other man’s rough, calloused hands against his own. 

Bond leads him out of the office, through Q Branch - where only R remains, on the phone with her wife, probably - and into the break room one floor above, where he all but shoves the younger man onto a couch while he rummages around for a first aid kit.

“You know,” Bond says as he pulls up a chair and starts to dab antiseptic onto Q’s cuts, “You’re handling this pretty well,” At Q’s raised brow and pointed look to the hand currently being treated, Bond elaborates. “Mostly, I mean. You kept it together in front of your staff, and you haven’t even gotten drunk.”

“Yet,” Q says, and Bond smirks.

“Yet,” he amends. 

When Bond is finished Q sighs, taking off his glasses to rub at his eyes. Bond moves to sit next to him, not reaching out or touching, but just - there. Steady. 

“I didn’t even like him.”

“I know.”

Q turns to Bond, and he knows his eyes are red, and he knows his voice will start to crack but he asks nonetheless: “Why does it still hurt so much ?”

“Because you’re a good person,” Bond says simply.

Q doesn’t feel like a good person right now, but he accepts Bond’s answer and pulls his knees up to his chest again. They’re silent for what feels like hours, Q staring vacantly into space while Bond keeps an eye on him.

Finally Bond breaks the silence, turning the conversation away from 005 and the evening’s events. “You look so much younger without your glasses,” he comments, and Q turns his head to look at him, his head still pillowed against his folded arms. 

“I know. St. Clair called me a twink the one time I came into work without them.” That makes Bond laugh, and Q finds himself smiling too. “It’s funny now, I guess, but I was so offended... I thought Tanner was actually going to attack him.”

Bond is still looking at him, still grinning. “Even younger when you smile,” he comments, almost to himself, it seems. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be twenty eight in March.”

Bond’s brows shoot up. “Twenty seven? Really? I thought thirty, at least.”

Q shoots him a confused look. “Did you really not know?”

Bond shakes his head, before swearing. “Damn it. Alec’s won the pot.”

“Pardon?”

“We all - the double-ohs, that is - placed bets on how old you were. Alec guessed twenty seven, so…” Bond trails off, looking vaguely sheepish. Q doesn’t mind so much that the agents made a bet over something as trivial as his age, although…

“But Trevelyan’s always known how old I am. Since my first day.”

Bond’s eyes widen, and he starts to curse a blue streak, damning “that lying Russian bastard” to hell and back, before going off on a tangent, regaling Q with stories of all the times 006 has been a pain in his arse. 

With a tired smile, Q watches Bond gesture wildly as he brings up the time Alec faked his death to go in deep cover, delighting in the sight of Bond letting his guard down just a bit. It’s the most he’s ever heard Bond talk at once, and Q knows it’s for his sake.

It is then that realizes there might be a bit more to this thing he feels for the other man. 

He doesn’t stop listening, doesn’t so much as move a muscle, but he does quietly acknowledge to himself that he is absolutely fucked .



 

*******



 

For all that Q hadn’t liked St. Clair, he finds himself missing the other man quite keenly two months later when the new 005 is instated. 

It would seem that Mallory has decided to honor the late 005’s memory by replacing him with a near carbon copy of the man: an entitled wanker who has no doubt spent most of his life riding the coattails of his wealthy parents’ reputations, who’s surely had most everything he’s ever wanted handed to him on a silver platter. Preston Sutcliffe, Q discovers, has all of his predecessor's more wretched qualities with none of the redeeming ones.

St. Clair hadn’t had many redeeming traits, this is true, but they’d had history, known each other long before Q became quartermaster. St. Clair hadn’t doubted Q’s qualifications, or his skills, and that, at least, had been something.

When the new 005, firsts walks into Q Branch, he makes a beeline for Desmond, a lovely old engineer who’s been with the department almost as long as Boothroyd had. Q isn’t insulted, but actually rather amused, because the old man cannot get a word in edgewise with the agent.

He takes this opportunity to take in his new double-oh: he’s arrogant, Q can tell based on his interaction with Desmond, talking down to his would-be quartermaster; and he’s attractive, he supposes, tall with blonde hair and brown eyes and perfectly straight teeth.

Q tries very hard not to dislike this new 005 immediately, because if there’s anything he’s learned from his time at MI6, it’s that first impressions can be misleading.

Of course, his efforts are largely wasted, because when Desmond finally manages to tell Sutcliffe that his quartermaster is actually the young man typing at his laptop at the front of the room, the man takes one look at Q and says:

“You’re having me on.”

Q tries very hard not to roll his eyes (because it’s unprofessional, apparently, and Tanner has told him that it makes him seem even younger) and instead raises an unimpressed brow at the agent.

“Double-oh Five. I’m your Quartermaster. I look forward to working alongside you in the future.” This last bit is, of course, a filthy lie, but Q’s always been a polite sort of man.

Sutcliffe turns to Desmond, then to the next nearest person, R. “ Really? This kid?”

It is in the tense silence after this comment that Bond walks in, carrying two cups of tea. 

After the night Q lost St. Clair, he and Bond have started a tentative friendship, one marked by shared meals with Eve and an obscene amount of time gleefully blowing things up together in R&D. 

The point is, none of Q’s technicians or engineers so much as blink when arguably the most deadly of the double-ohs walks in, because they’re all too busy glaring at 005.

“James,” and oh, Bond clearly doesn’t like how familiar Sutcliffe is being with him,“Tell me they’re not serious. This - this infant can’t be our quartermaster.”

Bond visibly bristles at this (which is hilarious, considering his own reservations upon first meeting Q), his expression turning stormy. He turns to Q, handing him a cup of Earl Grey - it’s almost right, Q’s working on grooming him into yet another tea slave - before addressing 005. “I’d tread carefully if I were you, Sutcliffe. Wouldn’t want to make an enemy of Q Branch.”

Sutcliffe rolls his eyes. “Oh please. Like I couldn’t handle a bunch of twitchy little boffins.”

Q discovers in that moment that he can tolerate slights against himself much more than ones against his staffers. Bond must notice his hand twitching toward the taser-pen prototype on his table, because he very quickly moves between Q and 005.

“Say, Sutcliffe, have you met Tanner yet? I have a feeling you’ll get along swimmingly,” he says, leading the new agent out of Q Branch before Q can attack him.

This attempt at peacekeeping is made futile when, as they’re nearing the double doors, Q hears Sutcliffe make one more remark to Bond.

“So how many cocks you think that kid sucked to get the job, eh?” 

Sutcliffe is on the floor clutching his newly broken nose in seconds. 

Bond straightens his jacket and wipes the blood off his knuckles with his handkerchief, completely unruffled. He turns, gives Q a wink, and then walks away, leaving 005 moaning in pain.

Sutcliffe is still a twat after that, but he treads a little more carefully around the other double-ohs. 

Much like his predecessor, he doesn’t listen to Q when he’s on comms, though while St. Clair was just an annoying git who thought he knew everything, the new 005 seems to think Q is some sort of childish amateur.

The first time Sutcliffe tells him to “put someone on who knows what they’re talking about,” Q mutes the mic and lets out a stream of expletives so vile that R actually slaps him upside the head.

The worst part is that Sutcliffe is the amateur, a newbie Double-Oh who has all of six kills under his belt. His mission record is respectable, of course - he wouldn’t be a double-oh otherwise - but Q’s is incredible .

It is after a particularly trying mission, in which 005 had completely ignored every directive Q had given and nearly gotten a Chinese dignitary killed, that Q loses his patience with the agent. Sutcliffe returns with no gun, no earpiece, and none of the intel he was meant to retrieve, and he is completely unrepentant. 

Q is positively fuming, and he opens his mouth to give the man a piece of his mind when Sutcliffe cuts him off. “Going to go running to mummy and daddy because I didn’t bring back your toys?”

Q counts to ten in his head, because it really is frowned upon to attack another employee, before leveling the man with his iciest, most scathing look. He’d learned this particular glare from the late M, who had probably at one point made someone cry with a single frown.

“I’m afraid not. Haven’t you heard, 005? Orphans make the best recruits. Perhaps that’s why your performance thus far has been so thoroughly underwhelming.”

After 005 leaves without a smart comeback, Q suffers through nearly an hour of sad, pitying stares from his underlings. 

Finally, he turns to them with a put-upon sigh, telling them that yes, his parents are dead, and yes, he grew up in a children’s home. He makes a point to tell them that he was out by the time he was twelve (which is true, because the second Vesper turned eighteen she filed to be his legal guardian and they moved to that tiny flat across town). He also reminds them that he’s an adult , and not some lost puppy.

They don’t stop until Q allows them each one hug to make him ‘feel better’. 

When Bond finds Q later on he doesn’t hug him, but he does comment that this is just one more thing they have in common.



 

*******