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I believe we do not stay dead long.

---

"It always makes me feel a little melancholy," Q says, by way of introduction. "A grand old warship, being ignominiously hauled away for scrap. The inevitability of time, don't you think?" He glances at Bond, who hasn't moved a muscle, then looks back at the painting and asks, "What do you see?"

Bond's response is quiet, irritable, dismissive. When he excuses himself and gets up to walk away, Q stops him with a more meaningful introduction. Bond's reaction is amusing, if mildly insulting, but the banter that follows has both of them smiling.

"Q."

"007."

Q already feels at ease with Bond. There's something solid and grounded about him, maybe even familiar, that makes interaction easy. It's not how Q expected to react; he'd been warned about 007, about how he was completely impossible to work with and habitually disobeyed orders. He can't really disprove either of those qualities yet, but for him to talk to anyone easily was a small miracle.

"Good luck out there in the field," he says, once he's given Bond what he needs for his assignment, "and please return the equipment in one piece." He tucks his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and walks away. His slight smirk widens as he hears Bond mutter behind him, "brave new world."

---

My Dear, you alone can understand how I'm feeling right now.

---

M's death leaves Q feeling empty. He works through the aftermath on autopilot, and it isn't until Mallory tells him to go home that he realizes he's been working non stop for nearly forty hours.

He's not sure how he makes it home, and he doesn't remember most of the trip. Once he gets to his flat, it takes him a whole minute to find his key and remember how to use it. When he gets the door open, a gruff voice says, "don't panic, Q, it's me."

Q's half-conscious mind takes a moment to recognize the silhouette by the window as Bond. After a few moments of surprise dulled by lack of sleep, Q asks, "Why are you here?"

"MI6 sold my flat last time I died; they haven't gotten me a new one yet."

Bond sounds quiet, subdued, and even though the words could be taken as humorous there is no humor is his tone. He's still just looking out at the London skyline. Q drops his coat on a chair and leans against a nearby wall. "Why not get a hotel room?"

Bond shrugs. "Doesn't feel safe."

The more Bond speaks, the more tired he sounds to Q. The kind of tired that's much more than just physical.

Q sighs. "Fine. There's a guest bedroom too, if you want it."

Bond nods, which is probably be the closest thing to a "thank you" he'll get.

Q lets the silence linger for a few minutes, then decides there isn't really anything more to say. But as he starts to go to his bedroom, Bond says, "I don't blame you, Q."

Q stops and smiles, though it's without much humor. He'd never actually thought Bond might blame him, though it would have made sense. After all, if not for his mistake, Silva might still be in a glass cell in MI6. "You're too busy blaming yourself to blame me," Q says, then opens the door to his room. He pauses though before going in and says, "right now I'm too tired to care, but tomorrow, I'll want to know how you got in."

There's a huff from Bond's direction, still tired but not quite so dark. Q knows he won't get a proper response, and he doesn't wait for one.

He doesn't really expect Bond to be there in the morning either, and sure enough, the flat is empty twelve hours later when he emerges from his bedroom. The only evidence of Bond's presence is the change in position of the decorative pillows on the couch, and a note sitting under his mug on the kitchen counter.

You need better security on your windows, Quartermaster.

Q doesn't notice he's smiling until he's half way through his first cup of Earl Grey.

---

A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair.

---

The second time Bond shows up at Q's flat, almost two weeks later, he looks like he belongs there, lounging back on the sofa with a book in his lap. Once Q adapts to seeing Bond in his flat again, his mind registers that the agent is reading.

"Never thought you'd be someone to read for pleasure." Q says as he hangs up his coat, deciding that being annoyed at Bond, for any of a multitude of reasons, isn't going to do either of them any good.

"I don't," Bond says.

"The evidence begs to differ, I'm afraid."

Bond chuckles, then snaps the book closed and puts his hands back between his head and the armrest. "I read half of the first Harry Potter book back when it came out, out of curiosity, I suppose. It never really interested me, and I never finished it, but I saw it on your shelf and was suddenly curious how it ended."

Q finds himself smiling as he goes to the kitchen to hopefully find something edible. "I've never been able to stop reading a book in the middle."

"Why?"

Q glances back to see Bond's head tilted back, ice-blue eyes oddly soft as Bond watches him. Q shrugs and feels suddenly self-conscious. "I don't know. It feels like something's not right. Left unfinished, I guess. Are you staying for dinner?"

"The longer a debrief can be delayed, the better."

Q closes the fridge and tosses a takeaway menu in Bond's direction.

---

The best news of all: I've started my own work. I call it the Cloud Atlas Sextet.

---

Five days later, Q is sitting cross-legged on the couch with his laptop, working on a personal project and listening to music, when Bond steps in through his window. It's the first time he's shown up when Q was already home, and the half-second of panic before he recognizes Bond sets his heart racing.

Bond just smirks as Q sighs and fixes the agent with an irritated stare. "Would it kill you to use the door?"

"I wasn't sure if you were home." Bond straightens his sleeves as he walks over to Q. He sits himself on the other end of the couch, then turns sideways and lies back against the armrest. It's a long couch, but his shoe-clad feet still brush Q's thigh. The touch sends a thrill up his spine, and his glare in the direction of Bond's not-quite-clean shoes isn't as severe as he'd intended.

Bond puts his hands behind his head and ignores Q's annoyance, in favor of asking, "What are you listening to?"

Arguing with Bond is never worth the effort. Only M wins arguments with him, though Mallory wins them considerably less often than the former.

Without pausing in his typing or looking away from his laptop, Q says, "the Cloud Atlas Sextet."

"Never heard of it."

"You wouldn't have. It's rare. I bought it in a little record shop in downtown London, one of only about six copies in the world."

"A connoisseur of classical music, are you?"

Q shoots Bond a sideways glare. "Not at all, actually. I only went into the record shop because I heard this song playing from the street and it sounded familiar, so I went in to ask what it was and ended up buying it. I converted it to digital format myself, as I don't own a record player. "

"That's a lot of effort for one record." Bond says. It doesn't sound like he expects a response, so Q doesn't give him one. He quickly becomes involved in his work again, and thus nearly misses Bond's quiet words a few minutes later.

"It sounds familiar to me too."

Q turns to look at Bond in surprise, but the agent has his eyes closed. His expression is a little sad, but content, and maybe even a bit happy. Q finds that he's smiling when he turns back to his laptop again.

Neither of them speaks for a while after that.

At 1:00 AM, Q realizes that Bond has fallen asleep. The man sleeps completely silently; Q can't even hear him breathing, even when he turns off the music and shuts down his laptop, though he can see the regular movements of the man's chest. He wonders how many people have seen Bond sleep like this, especially since he became a Double O. Most of the time, 007 is too paranoid to sleep when anyone is nearby, and even when he does, he wakes at the slightest movement. But this time, even when Q gets a blanket from the closet and brings it back, he doesn't wake up.

His heart flutters as he realizes that James Bond trusts him.

Laying the blanket over James would definitely wake him though, maybe even trigger him into doing something violent, so he just sets it on the back of the couch and goes to bed.

---

At this point in my life, all I know is that this world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts.

---

The next day, Bond is sent to South America. It's his first mission since M died, and the current M seems uneasy about it. Q is worried too, and in his opinion it's too soon to send Bond back into the field. He's seemed alright on the outside the last few weeks, but other than that first night at Q's flat they've never talked about the Skyfall incident. Bond is keeping his grief wrapped up inside, and it'll have to be dealt with eventually.

By the third day of the mission, Bond has nearly been shot twice, actually been shot once, amassed a large collection of scrapes and bruises, and just barely avoided getting abducted.

As Bond is standing in an empty bathroom, cleaning and bandaging the bullet wound on his arm, Q asks, "are you trying to get yourself killed?" He'd asked the same thing earlier, after James had jumped twelve feet and only avoided a broken leg because he'd managed a very good roll upon landing. That time, it had been an expression of annoyance. This time, he actually meant it as a question.

Bond doesn't answer right away. Q hears him cleaning his things and preparing to leave the restroom as he says, "Queen and Country isn't really enough anymore."

Q swallows hard and hopes Bond can't hear it though the microphone. "Then come back now and retire. Don't you dare get yourself killed out there, 007."

Bond doesn't answer, but he laughs softly, and Q doesn't push the issue.

Two days later, Bond disappears in the middle of a gunfight. When the line goes dead, Q waits in absolute silence, holding his breath, trying to hear something, anything, but he can barely breathe anyway because fuck the last thing he'd heard was James gasping in pain.

M keeps assuring him that 007 is known for periodic disappearances, that he'll show up eventually, but it doesn't work. Q tries not to panic. He tries to go home and sleep, but ends up sitting in his bed all night looking for James. He goes into work the next day, but doesn't get any work done. He stays overnight, and M checks on him twice the next day and tells him to get some rest.

By the time M sends him home with gentle force, he's too tired to fight it.

---

Find me beneath the Corsican stars where we first kissed.

---

There is a man in Q's dreams that he's never seen before. He's tall, blond, handsome, and has an infectiously bright smile. Q sees him several times, in different places, but he's always reading. He can't see the words on the pages clearly, but he knows that they're letters.

The last time Q sees him, he's sitting alone in a room with bloodied hands and clothes, reading one last letter as his tears form streaks in the blood on his face. Somehow, Q knows it's his fault. He steps forward and wraps his arms around the man's shoulders and hugs him tightly.

"It's okay," he whispers. He doesn't know why the words come to him, but he says them anyway. "It's not the end for him, you'll see him again."

He wakes up after that, a gradual transition from sleep to consciousness. As he cracks open his eyes to afternoon sunlight, it feels like something has settled in his mind, and despite the painful dream, he feels content.

"There's tea, if you want it."

Q's eyes snap wide and he rolls over onto his elbows. James is sitting on the side of his bed, battered and bandaged, but breathing.

"You're alive." Q says.

James smiles, where Q would have expected him to smirk. "I heard you were worried sick about me."

Q isn't sure how to respond to that, so he sits up and reaches for the tea on the bedside table. It's lukewarm, but at least it's Earl Grey and James somehow managed to brew it correctly. He lets the caffeine work its way through his system, breathing in the faint smell of bergamot, then asks, "what are you doing here?"

"Do you mean specifically here, in your bedroom, or more generally here in your flat?"

Without really thinking, Q says, "both."

That does get a smirk out of James. "Like I said, I heard you were worried."

"And... what? You decided to make sure I hadn't collapsed of adrenal exhaustion?"

"Something like that. As for why I'm here in your bedroom..." James turns and suddenly he's kneeling over Q's lap and his face is so close and he can feel James's breath against his lips as he says, "you can figure that out for yourself."

Q gasps as James kisses him, and immediately he can feel James's tongue flicking against his teeth and he feels like he's melting back against the headboard. He barely registers James pulling the mug of tea out of his quickly loosening grasp, and then there are thick, calloused hands in is hair and he groans and grips the back of James's neck.

James. When had Bond, the Double O, become James, the man who occasionally spent the night at his flat?

James pulls back after a few minutes, panting a little, eyes dark. "I've been wanting to do that for a while," he says, his voice low and sexual and Q nearly looses what cognitive ability he has left.

"Why didn't you?" Q breaths out, then after a moment adds, a with a bit more strength, "You kiss whoever the hell you like."

Bond laughs, but his response is serious. "Not with you. You're worth a bit more effort than that."

There are so many things Q should be worried about, that they should talk about, but instead he just pulls James close and wraps his arms around him as tightly as he can. James's arms encircle him in return, pulling him away from the headboard and holding him close.

This feels like a reunion after years apart, not just a few days. It feels like a continuation, not a beginning.

Q feels tears in his eyes, and while they don't fall, there is a faint tremble in his voice as he says, "you don't do relationships, James."

James kisses his neck, then sighs against the newly wet skin, making Q shiver. "Hmm, that's true. Maybe it's best we don't call it that."

Q laughs, then pulls James in for another kiss.

---

Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as my own, and I know that separation is an illusion.

---

The next morning, Q lays in bed with James's head on his chest, over his heart, as James tells him about M, from how he'd met her to how she'd died. Q doesn't speak, just runs light fingers over James's back and through his hair. He knows James just needs him to listen, so he does.

After James goes quiet, they lay in silence for a few minutes, then Q kisses James's forehead and pulls him out of bed toward the shower.

James had only half completed his last mission. M only gives him one day to rest, then sends him back to Argentina.

As James steps off of his plane half a world away, Q asks through the mic tucked into James's ear, "Ready?"

"Yes," James says, and Q hears the reassurance in it. James has let go of M, and Q has given him purpose again.

After a moment, James says, "keep me safe, Q."

"Always, 007."

They both know it's a promise he can't keep. There are no guarantees in the field, even for a pair like Q and James Bond. It's the underlying promise of trust that matters, that James can trust Q with his life, and that James won't blame him if he fails.

When James walks back into Q-branch two days later, Q smiles, takes back what's left of the equipment, and greets him with a simple, "welcome back."

When James gives him a small smile in return, he knows there will be no true ending for them.

---

I believe there is another world waiting for us; a better world. And I'll be waiting for you there.