Secretary, Gopher, Accountant, Solicitor, Master of Wardrobe, Private Police, Master of Dining, and They Who Get To Molest Hawt Bishies Under The Excuse Of A Physical Exam AKA Doctors.
Written by: SanadaSayuri
Title: On Wings of Steele (Or the One Where 00Q is Literally a Job Title)
Disclaimer: The author does not own the characters or locations depicted in this story. She does not make any money off this work of fiction.
Summary: Ten years ago, two boys joined MI6. The youngest died, the elder survived. James Bond faces his greatest challenge yet, a former Double-0 who not only has skills to put Silva to shame, but wears also the new Quartermaster's face.
Note: This story is not going to be written in a very linear fashion and is very likely to skip from point of view to point of view. Sorry for any confusion.
Chapter 2: To Reach the Steele Beneath
Thirteen months after Skyfall
Q hisses quietly as he scrapes his knuckles against the wall, and moves on to the next handhold as he scales the white stone façade of the manor house. He remembers that five years ago, he would have scaled the side of the house in no time at all and with no damage to his person. These days though, he is out of practice, and it shows in his scraped knuckles and the almost unnoticeable snag on the knees and elbow of his jacket. He glances up and down to mark his position and hauls himself up another few feet to the third story balcony that was his objective.
He huffs as he crouches on the railing to catch his breath and curses the paranoia of the mark. Things would be so much simpler if he could have taken the stairs. But then again, he thinks as he drops off the railing onto the balcony and proceeds to pick the lock, its not paranoia if they really are out to get you, and MI6 was certainly out to get this man. The lock clicks open. He doesn’t touch the handle.
“Quartermaster to Q Branch, the balcony is unlocked. Do I need to be aware of any booby traps?” he murmurs.
“Negative, sir,” R’s crisp voice comes over the earwig, “No traps on the door.”
“Sure?” Q asked dryly, “I would hate to become fried Quartermaster the instant I touch the handle.”
“Positive, sir,” R said, “Just be careful of the razor wire that is neck height six meters in. There is also a laser tripwire three meters to the left of the door approximately four centimeters off the ground. Pressure plate in the center of the office. No explosives. Likely some sort of inert gas to preserve the books.”
“Brilliant and paranoid,” Q sighed as he cautiously pushed the door open and slipped inside, mindful of the laser tripwire he’d been warned about, “How is this my life?”
“You signed up for it, sir,” R said wryly, “You could have stayed safe in Q Branch, but the instant Medical declared that you had fully recovered your sight, you were off to take the field readiness exam.”
Q smiles as he shuts the balcony door behind him and his voice is affectionate as he tells her, “Hush, you."
He is halfway across the library when he just barely registers a click and swears under his breath and freezes in place.
“R, exactly how many pressure plates did you say there were?”
“And just how large is the pressure plate?”
Q hears the clicking of keystrokes as R begins typing frantically, “About… Three by three meters?”
“And now I’m on top of it. As I’ve yet to be gassed, I assume it is either timed or a step off trigger. A bit of help will be appreciated.”
“Working on it, sir.”
“Be quick about it,” Q advised, “Because if it is a timed trigger instead of a step off trigger, then we won’t have very much time before the trap activates.”
Two Months after Skyfall
When Q woke in an unfamiliar bed and judging by the antiseptic scent, he was in a hospital. Then he remembered what had happened and a ball of fury erupted in his chest. This was the second time that MI6 had been bombed, and the mere thought that anyone could do something like this even with the updated security annoyed him. He sat up and was not surprised when the nine Double-Os, who had been sleeping in various locations around the room, roused at the sound of sheets rustling.
“Someone get me a laptop or my phone,” he said firmly as 004 handed him his glasses. “At once, please. Then summon a doctor. I will not be here a moment longer than I have to.”
The Double-Os immediately protested. “I do not think this course of action is wise, Quartermaster,” 002 said, her even voice cutting through the cacophony.
Q frowned and put on his glasses, “You know how I feel about this situation. Fetch a physician. Immediately.”
004 opened a bedside drawer and handed him his phone while 002 said, “I protest this course of action, Sir. You were injured in the blast and have been trapped under the remnants of Q Branch for three days without sustenance.”
“I acknowledge your protest and choose to disregard it on grounds that I have lived in worse conditions,” Q said sharply as his fingers flew over the screen.
“Q,” Bond said as he covered the phone with his hand, prompting Q to look up at him in annoyance, “you should rest. MI6 won’t collapse without you."
Q glared and protested but allowed the older man to take the phone out of his hand and coax him into lying back down.
As it turns out, the uncharacteristic cooperative behavior spooks MI6’s medical staff so badly that they let the Quartermaster leave without complaint.
Thirteen Months after Skyfall
Bond’s wonders if he’s dreaming when he realizes that the mark’s face is identical to the Quartermaster’s but for the scarring. He doesn’t realize that he’s stopped breathing until Q clears his throat meaningfully, and he finally inhales.
“Gentlemen, do restrain Mr. Steele,” Q says crisply.
The mark grins cruelly as Bond and Trevelyn grab him and twist his arms behind his back, “Which one? Don’t forget that you are also a Steele, brother.”
Bond glances at the Quartermaster, whose face is twisted in a cold fury before his expression smoothed into impassivity.
“I have no brother, Mr. Steele,” Q says coldly as he walks toward the door, “and even if I did, he would not be a traitor.”
Bond doesn’t need to see Alec to know that he flinches. As the Quartermaster passes them, Q brushes his knuckles against Alec’s sleeve; an acknowledgement of the barb that had not been intended for him. Alec lowers his eyes and peers at Q through his eyelashes, before raising his eyes again, and Q nods in return, a tiny motion. Bond feels his stomach knot at the glimpse of silent understanding between his old friend and his Quartermaster.
The glimpse of intimacy between the Quartermaster and Alec is broken as 002 ushers them out of the penthouse, keeping her body firmly between the former 008 and Q.
Two Months After Skyfall
MI6 operations are moved back into the underground tunnels and for the first time since he took up the position as Quartermaster; Q had abandoned his cardigans and off the rack slacks in favor of bespoke suits made from Yorkshire wool. His clunky glasses are replaced with elegant wire rimmed spectacles and his hair is brushed back away from his face, tamed for the first time in any of the Double-Ohs’ memories. They don’t need to look closely to know that the Quartermaster has a gun under his jacket and knives up his sleeves, or that he is furious about the breach.
Tanner and senior technicians in Q Branch step around the suited and armed Quartermaster on tiptoes, and even M treats Q as though he were a particularly volatile Double-Oh. The Double-Ohs, with the exception of 002, have no idea how to handle the new, (or is it old?) more dangerous version of the Quartermaster, though 007 makes a brave stab at normality by more or less baiting the younger man about his age and slipping innuendo into every sentence. Whatever the case, Q appreciates the gesture and the tension visibly bleeds out of his shoulders in the presence of 002 or 007.
Eve Moneypenny would compare the situation to the bombing that preceded the Skyfall Incident, but it is wholly different because back then, Q did not loom over Q branch like a particularly ominous thundercloud any more than did he stalk through MI6 with the very distinctive gait of a field agent on the prowl. Eve is sure now that she and Q share this little bit of history in common; that they are both field agents who left the field for the office. She does not try to find out what Q specialized in during his tenure in the field though. The Quartermaster’s past is classified beyond her clearance after all.
Thirteen Months After Skyfall
Bond notices immediately when 002 returns to the party sans Quartermaster and feels a pang of worry. Former field agent or no, Q is an executive now, and after five years of being desk bound in Q Branch, he was out of practice. What ever it is that Q is after, he hopes that Q gets it without the problems that often plagued the Double-Ohs.
“The Quartermaster is on the move,” 002’s voice is calm on the line, “I will meet him on the veranda in one hour. If he fails to appear, we are to make our way to the mark’s suite to apprehend him.”
Bond feels his blood run cold at the thought that the Quartermaster may miss his drop. Field agents only missed a drop for two reasons, they were held up by mission unrelated circumstances beyond their control, or they had been compromised. MI6 couldn’t afford to have the Quartermaster compromised. And if he were honest with himself, he didn’t want the Quartermaster compromised. He wanted Q safe behind MI6, downstairs in the bunkers of Q Branch. Failing that, he wanted Q where he could keep an eye on him and see any threats coming from miles away.
The old tests to clear an agent for the field is not the modern battery of physical and psychological tests that are done individually; but an out and out battle between the testing agent and two senior agents followed by a brief chat with the Psyche Branch. The old testing rooms for the field readiness tests are still usable, and M orders the only Double-Oh other than Bond with any experience with the old tests to be brought in solely for this purpose. This is how MI6 learns that the GoldenEye Incident with 006 was almost entirely a ruse and Alec Trevelyan had been acting under orders from M the entire time in addition to the fact that despite Bond’s best efforts all those years ago, 006 was still alive.
MI6 is wary of Trevelyan when he returns, and for good reason. He had caused a great deal of damage during the GoldenEye Incident, and under orders or no, he had killed or crippled many good agents. During the two weels in which the old training rooms are cleaned and set up, Trevelyan and Bond hash things out. Tension still hung between them though. There was too much hurt and mistrust to be completely eliminated in a week, but they are professionals. If M wants the two senior field agents to test a former field agent’s field readiness in the old way, Trevelyan and Bond will have to work together, and they can do that.
Trevelyan and Bond administer the exam under the watchful eye of M, Tanner, and with Medical observing from the wings. The boy is covered from head to toe, and he has to be only a boy, because he is whippet thin and all gangly knees and elbows. They don’t underestimate him just because of his appearance. M is a hard woman but she wouldn’t put a new agent through tests that had been phased out years ago due to the high risk of unintentional debilitating injury to both examiners and examinee simply to have another agent on the field. He has to have been a field agent familiar with the old tests, which means he’s been in MI6 at least five years and served in the field for at least four years. They fully expect the boy to put up a good fight but crumble under the pressure of two Double-Ohs after a few minutes.
What they don’t expect is for the boy to come at them using a combination of modern techniques and techniques that had only been taught to field agents ten years ago. What they don’t expect is for the boy to not only return the onslaught, but to pressure two Double-Ohs enough that they stop the tag-team tactics and take him seriously. They were expecting a good agent who like other good agents, would hold their own under pressure for a few minutes before crumbling. What they got was a seasoned agent, easily Double-Oh potential.
For a while, faced with the agent M wanted them to test, it’s like old times, and James and Alec laugh and snark at each other as they rain down taunts, paint balls and punches onto the boy’s head. In the old days, even fellow Double-Ohs must crumble under the combined strength of Alec and James, and this boy is no different. When he finally crumbles, it has been a forty five minutes. They are all three out of paint balls and have resorted to the red washable markers that stand in for knives and their own fists. The boy held his own quite admirably, but Alec eventually managed to pin him, though not before the boy achieved his own objectives of “slitting” James’ throat and completed a handoff.
The three are given their scores together, M having taken advantage of this to apply the exams to James and Alec as well. The boy’s marksmanship is adequate, his hand to hand is good, his stealth is excellent, stamina is excellent, dexterity and flexibility also excellent; all to be expected considering his youth. Alec and James did not fare so well, though they were still very much excellent at what they did but a little downhill movement of their scores were to be fully expected; they’re aging men after all.
It’s not until two months later when Alec is leaving for a mission in Moscow and James for Prague that they realized that they were James and Alec again rather than Bond and Trevelyan as it had been in the weeks before the boy’s test. They wish M had let them know his name; they’d like to thank him for bringing their old brotherhood back.
(When they asked, M had given them a hard look and told them that she trusted them about as much with the boy’s identity as she did their ability to keep their equipment intact. That is, not at all. James and Alec don’t take offence, because clearly, M had plans for the boy.)
James still gives Alec a sad look sometimes and Alec hesitates before letting James set a fuse, but considering what they’ve been through, it’s a miracle that they even trust each other to the extent that they do now.
Thirteen Months after Skyfall
The same holding cell that Silva had been contained in was the new home of the former 008. It rattled many agents to see the Quartermaster’s face, though badly scarred and burnt, on a rogue former agent.
They were separated by the glass walls of the cell, on the inside, the former 008, the entire right side of his face a mess of burn scars, his voice badly damaged by heat, one green eye covered in milky film, stripped of his fine suit. But even in prison garb, he lounged on the small bench like a king.
Outside, to the left and behind M, was the Quartermaster. On his left was 007, and to his right, Tanner and Eve. Q wore a fresh suit in charcoal, his skin smooth and unblemished, youthful features cold and implacable. When he spoke, his voice was clear and smooth and he stood with the self-assured posture of a man who knew he was the most dangerous creature in the room.
The similarities were mind-boggling and Gareth Mallory felt as though he’d been doused in ice water, watching the two. The Steele Brothers had been the most dangerous and subtle Double-Ohs in the program in their day. Combined, they were a greater threat than Silva, who had mentored the boys in the use of cyberspace toward the completion of their mandate almost a decade ago.
If Quillan Steele was dangerous, what of the Quartermaster who had the codes to destroy the world in his head? He glimpsed out the corner of his eye as Bond brushed shoulders with Q, and the youth leaned briefly into the touch before straightening. Quillan had been compromised and turned against them despite his Grandmother and his Brother. If family ties couldn’t hold the once 008, how could simple affection for a few Double-Ohs who had no clear idea of what their Quartermaster was capable of keep Q firmly in MI6?
“Doubt is an insidious thing, isn’t it, brother?” Quillan called. “Your agents will never be able to look at you without seeing me in your shadow now. Not even the new M. They will always doubt you and your intent.”
Q strode forward to stand beside Mallory and ignored his flinch. Instead, he gave the prisoner the filthiest, most contemptuous look he could without his face twisting into something ugly.
“This is an intelligence agency. Every person here is a spy. Only a complete fool lacking self-preservation would fail to doubt the intentions of the person beside them. Spare us the mind games,” Q replied, his voice clear and pronunciation perfect as ever. “We have no time for your metaphysical posturing.”
Quillan smirked, “Oh? And yet here you are. Once, you were one of the youngest of the Double-Ohs. Look at you now; the youngest Quartermaster. What’s next? The youngest M? Will you change your name from our father’s to grandmother’s just for the position?”
Q gave a predator’s smile with a threat in every exposed tooth, “You’re projecting, Mr. Steele. You always were the ambitious one.”
“You were never ambitious enough,” Quillan snarled as he surged to his feet, “and look where it’s got our grandmother. Dead. And at the hands of a third rate, washed up cyber terrorist with a mother complex no less. If you’d left your precious computers behind and taken her to Mansfield House instead of letting a physical wreck of a man take M to Skyfall, she would still be alive!”
“M and 007 made the best choices available to them at the time. There is no guarantee that even if she had been brought to Mansfield House, that Olivia Mansfield would still be alive to this day,” Q said gently, his fury betrayed only by the tensing of his shoulders and the clenching of his fists. “If you wanted to protect M so badly, perhaps you should come back to London when given the chance. Though he is the epitome of the ill behaved, half trained dog; 007 returned and was welcomed back with no questions asked. Even 006, the chained and beaten mongrel that he is came home when he was called. You had every opportunity to do the same.”
“Come to London?” Quillan asked in a conversational tone so false it was insulting, “And be as thoroughly broken to heel as you were? To bow and scrape to your every whim the way your precious Double-Ohs do? Please. If anything, seeing the way M threw the lives of her favorites away made me glad to stay away.”
Q’s eyes sparked and he said dryly in a voice sweet as honey and sharper than glass, “You were one of those Double-Ohs once. And if you were so afraid of dying, Mr, Steele, then you should have stayed away; curled up in a hole somewhere and never come back out. Of course, you are here now. Live with it, Mr. Steele, after all, regret is unprofessional.”
He turned sharply on his heel and strode away. Bond followed him.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” Quillan roared, “You owe me your life! I own you!”
Q didn’t break stride as he called over his shoulder, “Sentiment is a chemical defect found only in the loosing side, Mr. Steele; and your sentiment is showing.”
The doors slid shut behind him.
Mallory stayed for a moment and watched as Quillan swore furiously and glared at the vanishing form of the Quartermaster. He made a snap decision and stepped closer to the cell.
“You know,” Mallory said dryly, “you have to wonder, if we doubted the Quartermaster, why would we let him into a position where he could destroy us all with a few keystrokes?”
Quillan smiled and said, “If you trust him so much, why did you create a new Double-Oh designation for him? Why do you give him work that puts him in the field so often? I don’t think there has ever been a Quartermaster who spent quite as much time in the field before this.”
“A Quartermaster who is stagnant is a worthless one,” Mallory said firmly, “MI6 is better served if the current Quartermaster’s restlessness is channeled into something productive, and if inspiring his innovations means giving him fieldwork, then he will receive fieldwork.”
He turned and left the room. They could trust Q, Mallory decided, because Q was still here. He’d brought in his brother personally where anyone else in the same position would have let him go. Q might be the Quartermaster, but he was also a Double-Oh, and if there was one thing that was unquestionable, it was that for the most part, Double-Ohs were stupidly loyal to their country.
The Quartermaster was a Double-Oh, and that made him no different from Bond. The only difference was that Q was more dangerous with a computer.