Six years earlier
She jogged at a steady, even pace along the running trail, regulating her breath at four counts in, four counts out. Elizabeth could feel her sloppy bun working itself loose from the ponytail holder she'd put it in, though her stride was too good for her to stop and fix it. The light tapping of her black tennis shoes echoed quietly in the empty park. It was early, perhaps 6 a.m. or a little before. Elizabeth's phone jostled in the band of her shorts but she didn't bother checking the time. She could count the laps in Battersea Park and know when she had to leave.
It was fortunate that the MI6 building was a mere two miles away from the park. "Start thinking in meters," she said to herself, attempting the conversion in her head. Her work building's proximity to the park allowed her to run in peace during the early part of the morning before she went in every day. Running did wonders for her nerves, which had been rubbed raw during the first three days of her employment.
Elizabeth was roused out of her own thoughts when she heard footsteps on the path ahead of her. The early morning light was growing stronger and around the curve came another jogger clad in black. He glanced toward her and they locked eyes as a flash of recognition went through her. She knew him from somewhere, from the blur of men in suits she had seen upon her arrival in London. As one of the CIA's liaisons, everyone wanted a piece of her, even if she was supposed to be present exclusively for MI6, and she'd been in more buildings than she cared to count. The 24-year-old spent half of her day at orientation sessions and the other half meeting more and more people she was sure she'd never keep track of. The person who had breezed past her at a steady clip was just another one she had seen.
But who was he? She finished her last lap and jogged a few feet off of the path to one of the public water fountains to take a quick drink. Elizabeth was still absorbed in her internal musing when she sensed a presence behind her.
"You have a tell."
She did her best not to spin around and immediately assume a defensive posture. When Elizabeth casually turned and smoothed a hand over her hair she was glad she'd managed to restrain herself.
"You recognized me from somewhere."
"I suppose so," Elizabeth replied warily, "Have we met?"
"Not properly. Gareth Mallory. The PM's assistant pointed you out to me. You're the American."
Elizabeth wiped her hand on her shorts and stuck it out to shake his proffered hand. She already didn't like this Gareth Mallory person. He was handsome and taller than her, but if he insisted on pointing things out like he did and calling her "The American" (even with his nice accent) she wasn't going to like him. When he shook her hand his grip was firm but not overly so. Some men tried to break Elizabeth's fingers, either out of habit or as a show of dominance, but this one didn't. She liked him a little more.
"I'm Elizabeth Watson."
"Fresh from Langley."
"Yes. I'm the new liaison to MI6."
He glanced toward the east, squinting into the rising sun, and back at her. Suddenly Elizabeth was self-conscious of her running attire, a simple tank top and Nike shorts. She probably looked like a sloppy college student, and in her position she couldn't afford to be seen as a juvenile.
"Carry on then," he said with a nod toward the main road, "Wouldn't want to keep you."
"Thank you, Mr. Mallory. And I'll keep in mind what you said. I'll try to tone down my facial expressions in case I venture into the field or take up a career in politics."
She grinned up at him and, for the first time since their interaction, an expression that was almost a smile crept across his face.
"See that you do," he replied crisply, giving her a final nod before she turned and jogged away.
After breakfast and a shower, she arrived at the MI6 orientation room and slid in her chair, next to the boy she'd made friends with on the first day. Everyone in the large classroom had a sleeping computer in front of them, and most of the other agents were staring glassy-eyed at the woman lecturing to them at the front of the room. Not Tom. He was typing furiously, his fingers moving in an impossible blur over the keyboard. The lecturer at the front pulled down a screen and projected a cross-sectional image of the MI6 building onto it before beginning her speech about fire-exits. Elizabeth looked at her acquaintance's screen once again. He'd already cracked the lecturer's files and was rifling through them, presumably to see if there was anything interesting. The security locks on the MI6 computers were probably child's play to someone like him.
"Tom," Elizabeth hissed, glancing over at the black-haired boy beside her, "Tom."
"Yeah?" He whispered, pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose.
"Can you pull up someone's file for me?"
"I'm kind of in the middle of tinkering with this."
"If you can't do it that's fine," she said with a shrug, "I totally understand. Everyone has their limits"—
"What's the name?" He replied, immediately closing his command prompt window before looking at her expectantly.
"Gareth Mallory," she replied, her tone low.
They sat at the very back of the room and from their vantage point could get away with murder. They'd mostly paid attention to the lecture on the first day, but when Tom had started fiddling with his computer it was all downhill from there. They probably didn't need to know where the fire exits were anyway.
"Who's this Mallory person anyway?" Tom asked, raising an eyebrow, "Not a field agent, is he?"
"Of course not," Elizabeth replied, "Field agents are the worst. I met him and I want to know more about him, that's all. For work."
She felt a stab of what could have been described as guilt but she stamped it down. She knew of Tom's dislike for field agents and she wasn't supposed to tell him anything about her extra assignments anyway. While she waited for him to locate Gareth's file she adjusted her black skirt and matching jacket. She would have preferred to have met him like this, with makeup on and her hair coiffed into a sleek bun, so that she could present a more professional image.
"Here he is. Hm…looks like he works for the PM, he's been on a few committees. Formerly in the British Army…not much else…He'll be 39 in a couple of months."
Elizabeth craned her neck to look at Tom's monitor. The computer file showed a grainy, obviously candid, shot of Gareth Mallory, one eyebrow arched as he looked somewhere off camera.
"Well," Tom continued squinting at the screen, "Looks like another brown-haired, blue-eyed, English politician to me."
"Green," she said quietly, a smile creeping across her features, "His eyes were green."
Author's Note: Thank you all for reading and following this story! For the record, I'm an American and that's why I chose to write this from an American point of view. I don't know the proper English terms for anything so please forgive me if the way I write about things seems odd. Also, in case you're wondering, Tom is Q. They didn't give him a name in Skyfall so I just assigned him one myself. I figured that six years ago, he would be just another new recruit in the MI6 R&D department. As always, reviews and constructive criticism is [i]highly[/i] appreciated.