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Tea, milk and sugar

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Earl grey, milk, sugar.

Monday morning smells like the cat food on the floor, and orange marmelade. It smells like his fig tree shower gel, and the cleaning lady's start in the small laundry room.

The tube is tolerable, it's way too early for the masses. The Starbucks closer to six isn't open, yet, when he lets himself in. He's a ghost, he likes it, his steps loud in the empty hallways.

The first minion enters at exactly eight. Until then, it's bliss.

 

Coffee, soymilk and maple syrup.

Eve stops to chat, and to see if she's needed for the day. Q cherishes her help, but most of all, the strange friendship blossoming between them. Six was draining him, making him old, sullen.

Eve nurses her cup and whispers scandalous secrets, making him laugh out loud, scandalizing some people passing by, grey and dull.

 

Whiskey, antiseptic and soap.

Double oh seven stayed close. Not too close, it would have been an issue, but close enough for the minions to start gossiping. Silva happened, with that smell floating around him. Q almost searches it when back at the museum, it's like another ghost in his life.

Double oh seven leaves with his precious car, and Q gets rid of the whiskey left at home, the smell making him feel a pang of sadness and loss he doesn't really understand.

 

Lapsang Souchong and lemon cookies.

M isn't a friend, not exactly. He's not strictly a colleague either. He reminds Q of a professor, a teacher maybe.

He comes to Q branch to tell him it's time to leave, and they share tea in the silence of his office. M is exhausted, and Q listens to him with a smile when he tells him about kids growing up too fast, and holidays too far away.

 

The weeks go by.

Eve smells like coconut milk, for a while, then almond, when she says hello. They see each other outside, sometimes. He kisses a man, once, then again. She meets them both over breakfast, and she teases Q about his boyfriend.

They save England, sometimes, that's what they do.

He's left because he missed date night five time in a row, and even M seems worried about him, for a while.

Six starts to smell like home, tea, coffee, all meddling over reports and huffs and laughs. Eve gets herself almost killed, and he sleeps in her hospital room, exhausted after the plane trip to get to her. She sleeps on his shoulder on their way home, and she gets to meet Turing and Archimedes. Tanner sends them homecooked meals, and cookies baked by his eldest. M visits, wearing ill fitted jeans and tired sweaters.

The weeks go by.

 

Eve spills her chai tea on his desk, and he doesn't find in himself to be upset. She looks deadly.

"He's back."

A minion offers to clean, and he thanks him before following.

"What do you mean ?"

"He's there, looking smug as usual. Asked how I was, and to chat with M."

"Eve, stop, who's here ?"

They're in the middle of the corridor, the rain from outside casting a greyish light on everything.

"Double oh seven. He's back, apparently."

Q remembers Austria, and the car. He remembers doctor Swann, and the smell of whiskey.

"I don't have time for this." Eve doesn't grab him, doesn't make him come back. "We still have people in Jakarta needing my help."

The door on his back steadies him a little.

He spills his tea, too, and in the silence of Q branch, everything smells like bergamot and sugar.

 

Eve smells like gin, and they eat mussels and fries with their bare hands. She's upset, and her beautiful eyes shine in the dark of the tiny hipster joint they found.

"I can't believe he believes we'll still be there for him. I can't believe he thought we were..."

"His friends ?"

She stops suddenly, something else entirely passing onto her face.

"Double oh seven is a very egoistical man, topped with huge narcissistic tendencies." He gestures to the waiter for another bottle. "Of course he thought we were his friends, and waiting for him to come back."

"Q." She wants to say more, but the waiter is back, filling their glasses yet again. "Oh Lord, I'm already so drunk !!"

They laugh, the waiter handsome with kind eyes. He helps Q with their coats when he takes Eve in his arms, and waits with them for the six car coming to pick them up. He kisses Q, bold, and his breath smells like tic tac mints and smoke.

 

Eve hides in the plaids he wrapped around her during the night, and she groans at him to order something and let her die.

She drinks two bowls of chicken broth and uses most of the hot water, moaning about how good Q's shower gel smells.

Q sits on his favorite chair, Turing purring on him. He doesn't want to think about Monday.

 

Q branch smells like chocolate. Good chocolate. It's intoxicating. The box sits on his desk, obviously a peace offering.

It's dark, rich, expensive.

Q puts it away, behind the tin of sugar, and tries to forget about it.

 

Men live, men die.

The waiter's laugh is irresistible, and he doesn't ask many questions, too happy to drink french apple cider sitting on the floor, playing with the cats.

Eve accepts him with a slight frown at first, but doesn't comment.

 

M drags him out of the office for a drink at his pub. He doesn't moan much and follows, a little curious to this him in his usual decor. The place is clean, and smells like wood and wax.

They drink Guiness, because he feels like M would repudiate him for his usual pear cider.

"How are you, now ? I hardly see you. I have more news from Eve, and she's around the planet half of the time."

"We are an awfully shy lot, you know."

They smile, and stay silent. It's not bad, a quiet Friday afternoon in a quiet pub.

"Eve told me about a boyfriend ?" This is safe, easy. They chat, and laugh. They eat fish and chips on a bench, outside, and Q forgets to feel weird when they laugh so much he thinks he's going to be sick, or end up wetting his pants in front of his boss.

"We need to do it more." M wipes the grease from his hands, and guides him to his car. "This is bloody ridiculous, I don't remember the last time I had fun. I wasn't so old before, what happened, Q ?"

"I live alone with two cats, sir."

M listens to an old Tom Jones CD, and it's enough to make them laugh until Q feels tears on his face.

 

The next Monday, when he's back from yet another stupid reunion about budget and cuts, his office smells like the roses on his desk. And Double oh seven is sitting on his couch, a teapot waiting for them.

"Q." He smiles, a little hesitant maybe.

"Double oh seven."

"I thought the whole Double oh was done with ?"

"Then why are you here ?"

It's easy to answer, his back to him. Q pours himself a cup of tea, and goes to his chair. When he finally looks at his guest, he's at least pretending to look contrite. Even if it's just until he smiles again.

"I can't come by to see old friends ?"

"Friends ?" Q sips at his tea, too strong and not sweet enough. "What do you need from me, now ?"

Double oh seven eyes him like he's a stranger, like he had no idea this could be the possible end of this meeting.

He leaves, because there's nothing else left to say.

 

Eve comes over, so they can watch movies they have no time for usually, and order thai food.

"So he finally came to see you, uh ?" she asks when they're snacking and waiting for the food. She adds : "He was trying to find the courage to face you. I told him it wasn't a good idea."

"You told... him ?" She doesn't answer and plays with her crakers. "You are talking to him."

"I am." She's the one who goes to the door, and thanks the delivery guy. They're cleaning a little after the first movie, when she tries again. "I shot him once, Q. We're not exactly friends, we're just..."

"It's not something I need to know."

"It's not like that !" She follows him in the kitchen, still in the dark, and takes the plates from his hands to dump them in the sink. "Come on, I wouldn't do that !"

"Never stopped you before." He regrets it as soon as the words leave his lips. She's serious, not mad, exactly, but sad. On his behalf.

"I didn't know you, Q. And I never went through it. I am not stupid enough to fall for ..."

 

The silence in the kitchen is broken by the DVD player on a loop, and the purring of the fridge. The smell of tom-yum soup and pad thai heavy around them.

"I think you should leave." He sounds tired, and upset, and he hates that about himself.

"I'm sorry, Q. I didn't mean..."

"You meant it and you're right. Now please leave."

 

She's putting her coat on when she turns to him, almost pleading. "Don't do that, Q. You're my friend, you are. Don't let something stupid that happened weeks before I met you ruin it."

"Eve. Please."

He watches the second movie alone, and falls asleep on the couch for the first time in years.

 

She smells like coconut milk and cocoa when she enters his office in the morning. He wishes he could tell her to go, but this requires more strenght then he has, apparently.

"You loving him, it don't make you stupid, or weak." she says, and he turns his face to the plants on the side, because watching her is too much, too. Who knew she had such a power on him. Typical of him, not to know until it's too late. "Lot of people, lot of us, we lusted after him. We wanted him. I think you're the only one who never asked for anything."

She kisses his cheek when he leaves, and closes the door behind him.

 

The waiter asks about past lovers, about him. When Q tells him, he nuzzles his shoulder and whispers "Yeah, falling for straight men. Stupid of us, uh ?"

When he smiles, he lits the entire room, and Archimedes loves him to death, enough to follow him into the bathroom and wait in front of the shower. He likes to hold Q's hand when they're outside, and he's so sweet and open Q even goes to Mallory to ask about a security check, because it's almost too good to be true.

 

Double oh seven is waiting for him when he's just out of M&S, arms full of bags. It's not raining anymore, and the pavement is almost glowing, smelling fresh for once. After a small hesitation, he takes one bag from him, the heavy one, and they start to walk.

"Mallory asked a check on your boyfriend." They both look right in front of them, avoiding puddles and people running back home.

"I know. I asked him, actually." The other man smiles, wolflike.

"Of course you did, Q. He's fine, safe. A very nice boy, you found."

"There's a file, somewhere, I trust ?"

"I know it by heart, at this point. Ask away."

Q stops. The wind blows, and a few droplets from the trees nearby spill on them.

"What are you doing ?"

"Walking you home." Q doesn't move, stubborn. "I saw the file, and I guess I needed to know. I wanted to check, that's all."

"If there were similarities between you, you mean ?"

A car passes. Another.

They start to walk again.

He's almost safe inside his building when he hears it : "I am sorry, Q. I really am."

 

He smells like vetyver, and coffee. Q tries to hate these scents. He does.

 

He's not the only ghost in six, anymore. He can feel the other, powerful, strong. Q hides in Q branch, and misses the smell of lapsang and coffee. He misses the laughs.

 

"Eve misses you." Q almost jumps at it all, the words, vetyver, and bergamot. It's way too early, even for him, but one of their contact from Istanbul is still missing, and Q actually likes the man. He accepts the giant cup of earl grey, with milk and sugar, just right. "Please call her and tell her she's forgiven. I can't keep with her weird foods addiction, and I am not her bloody best friend."

"Good morning to you too." He sips at his cup slowly, trying to keep his mind on Istanbul.

"I think she wants me to tell you personally nothing of consequence happened between us." Q almost spits and starts to cough. "I told her it was not why you were pissed, but she's crazy, and I am honestly scared of the woman." He smiles. "That's not why you're avoiding her, right ?"

"Right." Inhaling tea isn't a pleasant experience. Q nurses his pride in silence, hoping for the end of this day before it even begun.

"For the record, would you have been the one in my room, I would have tried to convince you to stay, too." Q feels his eyebrow arch despite of himself. "You're not mad, you're hurt, because you think she had something you didn't."

"You talk an awful lot about feelings, now."

"That's what it takes for you to talk to me."

 

It takes two hours and another cup of tea for Q to rescue the contact, and get him to safety. The smell of vetyver is almost intoxicating.

 

"Let me take you to lunch." he asks, and Q declines.

"Let me take you to diner." he asks again, later, and Q politely declines yet again.

 

He's almost at the station when he hears it, the footsteps coming to him, and the deep voice.

"It's not my fault..."

"I had a crush on you. No you're right. It's not."

He can feel a hand covered in leather holding his arm, keeping him still.

"Q, have diner with me. Have drinks with me."

"No."

 

In the morning, he gets a vaguely threatening text from M not to set foot at six until later, and to have breakfast with him instead.

The waiter sleeps next to him, the cats both resting on his pillow.

"Where are you going ?" he whispers when Q kisses him goodbye. "You're late for work."

"My boss ordered me to have breakfast with him." They both giggle, and he shamelessly begs for food too. "I'll see what I can do." Q smiles when he leaves them all sleeping, and when he starts to walk to the bus stop.

 

Mallory orders a full english with even more sausages, and grumbles at Q's pick of eggs and bacon with toasts.

"What you did in Instabul, that's great. The men where talking about it, how you don't see them as just pawns but people."

"Of course I do." He steals a tomato from Mallory's plate, because he feels bold, and they do look amazing. He forces him to take the other one, in retaliation.

"You could do more, you know. R would do good with supervizing, and I could always use you upstairs. God knows I need help upstairs."

"Be serious" He orders another plate of just tomatoes to go, because they are heavenly. "Can you see me with you ?"

"I can, actually." He smiles, and once again, Q wonders about his family, far away, his children. He wonders what's waiting for M when he's not working.

 

"You should come over, sometimes. Meet my boyfriend. We could always order fancy take away and pretend not to laugh at the spy movie playing, or something."

The bag of take away is heavy, and it smells a little sickening now that he's full. Mallory smiles behind his scarf and waves goodbye.

"You know what ? That's probably the best offer I had this month."

 

Mallory never comes.

It takes a while for Q to realise he doesn't have a scent he can pin down.

 

Men live, men dies.

Q looses three agents in Jakarta, and he throws up in the tiny bathroom in his office.

Double oh seven wipes his mouth, and rinces his face gently. He takes him to the couch, where he makes him lay down for a bit.

"You're sleeping here, it seems."

"On your sofa. Surprisingly confortable." He brings back water, and sits on the floor, his back to Q. "Eve told me your boyfriend wants to move in with you."

"Gossip, Bond, really ?"

"Since it finally made you remember my name, I think yes, gossip it is. So ?"

"My cats are in love with him."

"And you ?"

Q closes his eyes, the room still spinning a little. But talking about this, it's safe, it's safe. Safer than what happened to the red dots on his map.

"You're awfully interested in my love life."

"Is that why you won't let me take you out ? Because you love him ?"

Q doesn't remember falling asleep.

 

He's having tea at the same hipster joint, waiting for the waiter to finish his shift when Bond sits in front of him, looking way too proud of himself.

"He's working here, is he ?"

Q doesn't smile, but he isn't mad either. It's good, maybe.

"Are you going to order ?" Bond falters a little, and eyes him warily. "Go on. You wanted a date, this is your shot. You have two hours, then I'm going back home to him. You picked his territory, now it's time to play."

It's not bad, per say.

It's not good, either.

Bond tries, he tries so hard, arch eyebrow, arch shoulder, arch lips, and Q sighs and hides his disappointment into his food.

They're outside, Bond waiting for a cab, when he finally breaks character and asks : "It was a sodding mistake, I'm sorry Q."

"No. No it was good." Q smiles, a little tired suddenly. "You don't need to feel guilty. I got it, one date with the famous double oh seven. You're suave, and handsome. But this is the only time I'll ever let you pity me." He opens the cab door, and closes it behind the man too stunned to speak.

"Goodnight, double oh seven."

"Q."

 

The waiter asks about the blond man, a little miffed, a lot jealous.

"Remember the straight man ?" Q brushes his hair with his finger, holding him close. "He felt guilty, and I let him work it out. It should be okay, now."

 

Eve dates a man, powerful, beautiful. Q meets him over drinks in a fancy hotel, and it's only when the door of her flat closes that she sighs.

"Okay, you can tell me. You hate him."

"Of course not !" Q takes her hand and drags her to the huge couch, and starts to pour them another drink. "He's exactly your style, and I'm sure he's not as terrified by you as the others. That's why you like him so much."

"God, but you're good." she says both to the affirmation and the drink in his hand. They drink too much, and Q passes out on the montruous couch, wrapped into faux fur blankets.

Eve's boyfriend smells like smoke and vanilla. When Q spots the perfume on the blankets, he blushes like a schoolboy, and he leaves without waking her up.

 

Q breaks up with the waiter for something stupid, something so stupid he feels ashamed to tell Eve, or Mallory. He tells them, in the end, he tells them about the tiny sachet of cocaine in a jacket he borrowed, and how maybe he should've have been so ...

Eve frowns, and after a silence, admits : "I n our line of work, it can happen. You can't forgive him ?"

"Q, a scandal like this could ruin you. And me, us. You did the right thing." He pauses to think. "But I am sorry. I am. You looked happy, with him."

"I was." His tea is almost cold, when he notices a new chair, around M's little table usually reserved just for them. "I was."

 

The smell of whiskey is almost dizziying the next time Bond comes to him. He's sorting out papers, letting his ex boyfriend clearing the appartment in peace.

"How are we, Q ?" Bond almost slurrs, it's the first time Q sees him so out of control. "Heard about you and your boy. Pity."

"Double oh seven, if you're sick on my floor, I'll be sure to finally end your misery."

"What is about Eve ?" Q tilts his head to the side, and Bond almost trips himself. Q reaches out, it's a reflex, and the smell of vetyver is here, Bond's body warm, and strong. It's a little difficult to take him to the same couch they always end up on, but he manages. "Come on. Saw you do the walk of shame in the morning, clothes a mess. And your fucking hair. So what, you ditched him, or he doesn't like to share ?"

"You're embarassing yourself. Wait here, I'll go get water." The hand on his arm doesn't yield. "No, tell me. So you can cheat with her, but not with me. What ? Tell me."

"I am gay, Bond. I never touched a woman in my life." He snorts at that.

"Funny, she said the same thing." Bond closes his eyes, his hand still on Q's arms, but soft, almost asking. "Tell me again. Tell me."

"What ? I am gay ?"

"No." He swallows, and almost whispers. "Nothing between you two."

"Sleep double oh seven. You're about to be sick."

 

In the morning, Q's office smells like bleach, and the rug is gone. Q erases the footage.

Weeks pass. The cats learn to live without their best friend. Mallory bullies him into more Fridays at the pub, and greasy breakfasts. Eve goes to Bali with her boyfriend, coming back with the first sunburn of her life, and a new soft smile floating when she isn't working.

 

Q is the one who asks. Eve is ordering another serving of prawns when he attacks :

"He seemed to believe we had a thing, you and I." He picks at his food and waits for her answer.

"Apparently, yes. I told him it wasn't possible, of course. How do you know about it ?"

"He asked me." The prawns arrive, and Q eats not to think too much.

"So you are talking."

"Not really. He comes and goes, says what he has to say and leaves."

"Reminds me of someone I know."

 

They're ordering way too many sweets when she risks, not looking at him :

"He wasn't pitying you, you know." She chews before adding : "I think he wanted you to see who he was, so you could know you shouldn't love him. And you proved him right."

"That's ridiculous." His voice is loud enough to attract a little attention to their table, so he goes on, hushed voice and words angry. "I followed enough of his missions to know it was a script. Everything, the smiles, the questions, the illusion. I've seen it countless time, that's not what I wanted." It's almost whispered. "I never wanted him to... to offer himself out of pity, or weird sense of friendship."

"Maybe you should've told him that." He eats his coconut pudding with mango without a word. "Should I tell him that ?"

They're almost at her place when he says. "Yes. Tell him. Tell him."

 

Ceylan, with a dash of milk and sugar.

Bond sits on his couch, a little wary. He smiles at the cats, and let them smell his hands, not trying to force them into anything. Turing sleeps on his feet, and it seems to make him happy.

"I'm not sure what I'm doing here." he admits, accepting the cup and picking a chocolate biscuit.

"You wanted to talk to me ?"

"I always want to talk to you. You bully me, and make fun of everything about me. Why wouldn't I want more ?" They both chuckles at that.

It's strange, it's like trying to fit something too wide and too big into a doll house. Bond eats another biscuit, and tries.

"I am not... I don't know what you want."

"I don't know either." Q puts his cup down, and helps Archimedes on his knees. "The man who was crushing on you, I am not him anymore." He sees the pag of hurt in the blue eyes. "I am not... saying I don't... care. For you. But it's not the same."

"I left." He looks resigned, tired suddenly.

"Yes. And I met people. I had a life. We both did. It doesn't mean we can't be friends. It doesn't mean we can't..."

"Friends ?" Turing looks up, unhappy at the startle, and Bond almost looks like he wants to apologize. "I am not here for that. We can be friends. I know we can. We are, in a way."

 

Archimedes purrs, and Q reaches for his cup.

"Then I don't understand what you want from me."

 

"You know me." Bond looks at Turing, wiggling his toes gently. "You don't want me to be Double oh seven. And that's all I can do. But when I'm not him. When I'm drunk and sick on your couch, or when I eat biscuit and play with a cat, you... you don't mind."

"I guess." It's a dangerous admission, and Q doesn't go further.

"I don't think I know how to be anything else."

 

Outside a police car passes by, siren disturbing the cats.

Bond smells like chocolate biscuit, and ceylon tea.

 

"I can help you with that ?"

 

"I am not sure I know what my favorite food is."

"Well you sure know what your favorite liquor is."

Turing leaves Bond, too annoyed by the full body laughter.

 

"You're making me laugh. Even before, you made me smile, and it took a lot back then."

The teapot is almost empty, when Q goes for another cup.

"How do you feel about take away ?"

"I am not sure I ever had any, except maybe at six."

"What would you do in your fancy appartment, when you were hungry ?" Q fishes the tablet kept only for deliveries, and starts to check.

"Not eat ?"

 

They're resting in silence, waiting for the food, when Q finds the courage to say :

"I don't love you anymore, Bond." The sadness passes again in the blue eyes. "I am fond of you. Very much so. But I am not in love with you."

"I am." Turing kneads at his stomach, and he looks confortable. Q isn't sure he ever saw him relaxed, with car hair on his borrowed sweater and hair a mess. "In love with you."

"Our timing is a little off."

"I think it's perfect."

 

Weeks pass.

James, he learns, doesn't like sweet vegetables. He hates carrots, and he looks almost happy telling him. It breaks his heart a little.

James loves TV Shows, and can survive on pizza and water only for a whole week end.

James smells like wood sage, and salt, and he likes to borrow Q's soft jersey shirts and sweatpants when he stays over.

 

James tastes like steak and red wine, the first time they kiss, and when he laughs, his eyes are almost closed.