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Brights Lights

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But if the bright lights don’t receive you,
you should turn yourself around and come on home

 

 

“Tell me how this works.”

“I’m awake here in the coffee shop. I close my eyes, I open them, then I’m awake in MI6.”

“And this has been happening since…?”

“Since I opened the shop. Or…well, after I came home from Singapore in my other life.”

“So you’re here in reality living a normal life, then suddenly you’re an international super spy in your dream.”

“Yes, except they both feel real to me.”

“And you can't tell whether you’re awake or asleep at this very moment?”

“Dr Trevelyan…”

“Well I can assure you right now, Mr Bond. This is not a dream.”

“That’s exactly what my best friend, Alec, told me.”

 

 

He can remember exactly when it all began.

One day he woke up and found himself in a familiar place. Familiar, yet different. And while that in itself should not have been cause for alarm, the memories of a different life burned in his mind.

His name is Bond, a Double O agent for MI6. The best, if anyone asks. He lives a dangerous life and he likes it that way.

He is also James, the owner of Joy In A Cup, a small, out of the way coffee shop that only a few people know of. His days are quiet and he’s more than perfectly content with the life he leads.

Except he’s not entirely sure which one is real.

Then that night, when he fell into a fitful sleep, he dreamed he was falling into a vast unknown, only to be woken up again with the same sensation of living a different life and with memories of another, but this time in reverse.

It was almost three years ago when it happened.

It was just after the mission in Singapore. Or possibly the day after he finally signed the deed to the coffee shop. Except that he couldn’t figure out—couldn’t remember— which life he had truly lived.

 

 

“There’s been talk, you know.”

“Oh?”

Bond watches from out of the corner of his eyes as M picks up her teacup and takes a slow, deliberate sip. The remains of their barely touched meal sit between them, beautifully prepared yet severely lacking in taste.

They’re on the veranda of Bond’s lavish hotel room looking out to the beautiful blue ocean. If anyone were to see them, it would look as if they’re simply two friends enjoying a quiet morning and each other’s company. Yet for those who know them (and, quite frankly, the number of people in that city and outside of Six who knows them both can be counted on one hand; none of whom would live to see the day turn to dusk if they show but a strand of hair within a thirty mile radius of either Bond or M) the tension coming from the play of power between them is palpable.

Whatever else M may say, this is not a social visit.

“The other Double O’s tell me you’ve been coercing them to exchange assignments with you. They say you’ve been opting for the more…risky ones,” M says as she finally puts her cup down and turns to look Bond in the eyes.

“Coercing?” Bond echoes. There is a trace of amusement in his voice that no one but M would be able to notice. “Is that what they’re calling it?”

“No, but I believe the words ‘treason’ and ‘blackmail’ have been used more than once.”

“Ah.”

They lapse into silence again as neither have need to say anything, both having undoubtedly conveyed their messages clearly: Bond is being deliberately reckless; M is getting worried.

Bond smiles inwardly. He would never admit it out loud, but he has a soft spot for the elder, yet stubborn head of MI6. He has a certain fondness for her if only for moments like these, despite how much he despises the position of power she holds.

Eventually, M breaks the silence.

“Is this about Ves—”

“No,” Bond immediately cuts her off before she can even finish saying the name. “That’s over.”

Bond is more than slightly surprised and somewhat irked that she’s able to blindside him. He sees the tiny quirk of her eyebrow and knows she has won this round.

“Why are you really here?” Bond finally asks with a resigned sigh.

“I just said why,” she answers with an exasperated tone that James never buys. “You’ve been working too hard and I am required to tell you that you need a vacation.”

And there it is.

Words like vacation don’t exist in their line of work, and M is never the type who would go so far as to tell her agents to take one. In fact, she’d be more than perfectly happy to work them all to early graves. It must have come from a higher power than her, as superficial as the thought is.

“A non-working one,” she adds when he gives a pointed look at the luxury cabana they’re in.

Bond chuckles in amusement. “You like it when I work myself to the ground.”

“I never said otherwise,” M replies easily.

Bond snorts softly and tips his head in farewell.

“M,” he says in in parting.

“Bond,” she says in acknowledgment before picking her cup again and looking out at the sea once more.

Bond gets up and drops his napkin on the table before walking away without a backward glance. He has a plane to catch and a man to kill.

 

 

The first time James sees him is on one particularly uneventful afternoon. He looks up when the tiny bell by the shop door tinkles to announce the arrival of a customer. He automatically calls out a welcome, except the words die in his throat halfway through when he sees a frazzled-looking young man with huge bags under his eyes.

“Ah, one of those then,” James murmurs to himself. The only words he can think to describe him are student and zombie.

He watches cautiously as the young man (a mere boy actually) looks around trying to find something—a plug socket, if the bulky laptop bag he’s carrying is any indication—and, apparently satisfied, half stumbles and half drags himself to the counter.

“Do you have Wi-Fi?” is the first thing he asks. And when James answers the affirmative, he’s met with a very relieved sigh and a muttered, “Oh thank God,” as if he'd just handed a glass of water to a man dying of thirst. The young man then proceeds to order the largest and cheapest coffee on the menu, shuffles to a corner booth, and begins to set up his laptop.

When James comes over to the table to bring the coffee, the first thing that catches his attention is the laptop. It’s thick, blocky, and possibly weighs a ton and a half. James can’t help but think how on earth can this zombie-student use such an old and decrepit-looking laptop when no one else would be caught dead even owning one in this century.

The next thing he sees is the giant sticker of a stylized letter “Q” on the lower right part that spans about a quarter of the laptop’s cover. The edges are fading and peeling a bit, which is quite a good indication of the laptop’s age. However, James refrains from commenting on the large clunky thing that the young man undoubtedly inherited from his father (because really, there’s no other explanation for it).

James leaves him alone for the rest of the day and the young man keeps his nose on his computer for five hours straight before eventually shuffling out of the shop just before dinnertime.

 

 

It had taken months before he was able to accept that he is living two lives as fact.

There was constant confusion at first, and not a small amount of denial. He’d had to learn how to be a charming shop owner one moment, and a charismatic bachelor the next. Helpful and neighbourly becomes withdrawn and mysterious. And the hardest thing he’d had to learn was to take his natural instincts to draw knife or pull a trigger, compartmentalize it, and separate it from who he is in the coffee shop world, and only take it out when he finds himself awake in MI6.When he finally did, everything else fell into place and his life became easier.

He loves both his lives and its perfect balance of adrenaline and serenity.

That is, until Q came into the picture.

 

 

Q, as James has begun calling him in his mind sine he saw the ridiculous laptop, comes back the next day at exactly the same time, and wearing the same expression of desperation on his face.

“Let me guess, same as yesterday?” James asks even before the Q could open his mouth.

“Yes, please,” he replies, nodding gratefully before heading to the corner booth again. James looks at him and wonders if this is going to become a daily occurrence.

Two hours later, James comes by to Q’s table to refill his coffee (something that he doesn’t even do), but Q hardly looks up and only says a quiet thank you as James is walking away.

 

 

“My name is James,” he says on the fifth day.

Q looks at him puzzled.

James wonders if it isn’t natural for shop owners to introduce themselves to their customers because right now Q is looking at him as if wondering what on earth possessed the shop owner to come and talk to him. James could say it was out of boredom—his small café isn’t so popular, but the few patrons he has have been quite loyal. He could say that he likes getting to know the regulars in his café, and Q is dangerously becoming one of them. But the truth is the only reason James came over is that his curiosity is more than piqued by the boy.

It’s been five days since he first came through the door of the café with his disheveled hair, obvious need for caffeine, and not so obvious desperation for Wi-Fi. And in those five days he’s done nothing but hunch over his laptop for hours on end, constantly tapping at the keys and working on some project, and never once stopping.

This time though, he does stop and James is struck with how very young he looks. And quite handsome too, now that he can see the eyes hiding behind thick glasses and bushy eyebrows.

“Ah, hello,” Q says, still unsure. “Pleasure.”

They blink at each other for a few minutes before Q ducks his head again behind his laptop.

James sighs. He may not have gotten his name (Q it is, then), but he still counts it as a win.

 

 

It doesn’t always shift when he sleeps.

Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in one world, while others can be as short as a noontime nap. Yet it’s always the same; he never loses time in either world.

Once, he took a nap at the back kitchen of his shop after a long night of redecorating the storefront, and then woke up tied to a chair with a gun pointed at his temple somewhere in Tehran. His captors nearly cracked his head open when they knocked him unconscious again with the butt of the gun, but when he woke up, it was to the familiar sound of the tinkling of the bell as his first customer of the day entered the café.

James, the coffee shop owner, had learned to control the hysteria that used to come with it. Bond, the Double O agent, had taken it in stride with cool detachment and unshakeable confidence.

It was always easier being Bond; he need only tell himself to shut out everything that could jeopardize his mission. And yet, every time he goes back to his adrenaline fueled MI6 lifestyle, a part of him misses the tiny coffee shop.

 

 

Sentimentality has never been one of Bond’s stronger suits. Routine, however, is something he never thought he’d crave until he found himself living as 007 for over a month.

He’s in Istanbul waiting for the French mercenary, Patrice. He is said to have stolen the drive that contains all the names of the NATO agents operating undercover in various terrorist organizations.

Bond arrived three days earlier and has been anxiously waiting for news of Patrice’s arrival. He decides to kill time at a pazar in the meantime to familiarize himself with the area and the locals, and to plan for possible exit routes in case he needs one.

Browsing a small antique stall for lack of anything better to do than for any real interest, Bond catches sight of an elegantly designed antique coffee press that reminds him somewhat of the French press he uses at his home. His other home. He moves closer, fingers gliding over the cool metal curves and the shapely glass, and he is instantly reminded of a figure hunched over a laptop in a corner booth. He quickly pulls his hand back as if burned, surprised at the image his mind is conjuring.

He is usually vigilant at keeping his two lives apart—not that he doesn’t think about his other life while he’s in the other. He just keeps a tighter hold on his consciousness that wayward thoughts usually don’t filter through.

Except for this one.

Yes, Bond isn’t one for sentimentality, but the sharp pang of longing to be in his shop hits him unexpectedly. He knows it wouldn't do to wonder how Q is doing these days because when he comes back it would be as if time never passed, but he still does.

He takes another wistful look at the coffee press and deliberates whether he’d be able to ship it back to his flat easily. Routine, he thinks, is a good thing to have for early mornings. It gives him time to let his mind relax before another demanding day. It gives him a semblance of stability on mornings after he comes back from a difficult mission, strings still tightly strung and on high alert.

Routine is something he has on his other life. He misses the calming process of creating a perfect cup each morning. Routine is something he needs in this life, never mind that he’s only home five days in a month if he’s lucky.

Then his phone makes a discrete chirp that alerts him of a new development in his mission. The coffee press immediately forgotten, Bond heads back to his hotel for further preparations.

 

 

Following the incident where he was shot by the newest agent, Eve, as he tried to recapture the drive from Patrice, Bond drops off the grid. He isn’t exactly sure at first what drove him to do it, but as the long mornings and even longer nights wear on, he has to acknowledge that he’s spending most of his days in bed. He lies dazed for hours on end, trying to find that elusive dark hole to tumble into that would lead him to his other life.

He is hit with the realization that he is longing for one life—choosing it over the other.

Two weeks, four days and fifteen hours. That’s how long he’s spent trying to return to the other world since he’s disappeared. That’s how long he’s been in hiding, trying to force his world to shift and failing. He spends his days vacillating between drinking, fucking and trying to sleep. But nothing he does is working.

It all comes to a head when he hears the news that the MI6 building has been blown up.

He snaps back to reality, and for the first time he feels his head clear. He is Bond in this life, and his life revolves around England and its safety. He packs his bags that night and catches the first plane back home.

There, he is introduced to the new Quartermaster and is barely able to hide his surprise by covering it with ill concealed contempt for the other man. And throughout that mission trying to take down Silva, his return to Skyfall and losing M, the shock of seeing the new Quartermaster—Q—his traitorous mind says, lies dormant at the back of his mind.

Bond does what he does best: he ignores the problem and concentrates on the mission at hand.

 

 

“Let me guess, programming?”

The mop of hair moved and Q’s face finally emerged. He blinks owlishly at James from behind thick frames.

“Because that’s the only thing I can think of,” James continues. “And frankly, you look the type.”

This isn’t exactly true, but ever since Q, his Quartermaster, showed up at MI6, James has become wary at approaching this Q. In fact, the very same night he met Q, and right before he flew to Shanghai, James was finally able to shift in his dream and return to the coffee shop for the first time in months. Then when Q entered the coffee shop at his usual time, James hadn’t realized he’s been staring so intently that Q had asked if he was mistaken and the store was in fact actually closed and made abortive motions to leave the shop.

“I mean, it wouldn't be the first time it happened,” Q had babbled nervously. “Last time it did I begged the barista to brew me one last coffee before they close. I was so desperate I even offered to blow him.”

And that was what actually made James jerk back and gave a surprised laugh, dissolving his initial shock and wariness, before things ever so slowly returned to normal. Or at least as normal as it could get since James has a sickening feeling that his life will never be the same again…well, not that it was any normal to begin with. Still, the routine is back and that’s what matters.

And now he’s finally found the courage to ask Q the question that would either reassure him or further drive him crazy.

“Um. Art history, actually.”

He never had much hope for normalcy anyway.

“Really,” James says flatly as he crosses his arms, because really?

“Nothing wrong with it,” Q says a little too defensively. James could see that there’s a story there, but he doesn't push.

“No, no,” James says hastily. “I only meant that I wouldn’t have thought you as the sort to go for art studies.”

“Well, it isn’t what I began with, sure,” Q concedes. His tense shoulders relax a bit after realizing James isn’t actually making fun of him. “It’s really quite interesting. Here, let me show you.”

The James has to stifle a gasp when Q turns his laptop around to reveal an image of The Fighting Temeraire side by side with what looks to be a paper that Q is writing. It has a dozen or so notes and comments along the margin, and a small text file at the corner that contains links to no less than twenty art websites.

“A lot of people argue that this represents the closing of an old era, and the inevitability of time. A dying sun, a dying ship. It’s melancholy, yes, but there is beauty in sadness. And even as it’s being hauled away to scrap, you can still see its beauty and you can still appreciate its grandness.”

James watches Q’s eyes grow soft as he explains his argument with soft hushed words of reverence. A sharp contrast to the Quartermaster he knew and had compared him to the old warship not so long ago. There isn’t a single trace of condescension in his voice, only veneration. When Q finishes, he seems to realize that James has been staring at him during his entire speech. He mutters an apology before turning his laptop back to him and ducking behind it, busying himself with work once again.

Refilling Q’s coffee again before heading back to the counter, James decides that he likes this Q one hundred times better than the prickly Quartermaster he left at MI6.

 

 

“If you were a little more observant of your surroundings, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“Why don’t you come here and do the observing while I try to shoot with the damned gun.” He grunts as a bullet lodges itself in his shoulder.

“I designed that specifically for you.”

“And you didn’t add a surveillance function?”

Bond hears a snort on the other end of the line and swift clacking of keys. He doesn’t know if it’s just his luck or that Q has taken it as his personal duty to oversee each of Bond’s missions. Not that he isn’t grateful to have the best handler Q Branch has to offer, but there are limits to how much condescension he can handle in a mission.

“Right,” Q’s voice crackles again over the comm link. “I’ve unlocked the door at the south side of the compound and you can try exiting from there. Remember, 007: casually. Not too slow like a cat burglar, nor too fast like you’re trying to make a hasty getaway—”

“Which I’m actually trying to do right now—”

“Well, do you want to trigger the automatic lockdown again?” The exasperation is clear on Q voice this time. “Unless you have another fifteen minutes to spare while I crack the lockdown on the main door for you, this is the only exit you have left.”

Well, it’s not as if he’s going to have a nice stroll down the main door and out the gate anyway.

Bond grunts a reply and reloads his gun with his last remaining clip, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. He fires two rounds at his attackers again before sprinting down the hall that Q had indicated. When he nears the door he abruptly stops and turns to fire two more shots behind him. He then takes a deep composing breath to lower his heart rate, even as bullets fly through the air. He’s thankful his assailants can’t shoot for bloody shit because he’s practically a sitting duck right there. He calmly pushes the door open and a shot sails past him, grazing his ear before it lodges into the doorframe. He swears he felt the heat of the bullet as it passed him.

Then, as calmly and as naturally as he could, given the circumstance, he steps through the now open door and allows it to gently close behind him. Not a second later, the steel bars of the automatic lockdown dropped to the floor in a loud clang, drowning the pounding of fists against the door.

Bond smirks as Polish curses were flung at him from behind the barred door.

“There, was that so hard?”

 Bond immediately grimaces. “Thank you. You couldn't have made that easier?”

“And sully your reputation as the most reckless agent in Six?”

“Just tell me where I’m supposed to go next, Q,” Bond huffs in irritation.

“There’s a set of stairs coming up to your left,” Q replies, now all business. “Head up, then on the next landing take the right hallway.” Bond slips quietly into the narrow stairwell, wary of any other mercenary he might run into. “Ok? Now run all the way to the end. There should be a service elevator that’s coded to residents only. I’m opening it for you right…now. Yes. Fantastic. I can now see your face in the elevator’s cam—Bond, did you get shot? Again?

“A bullet grazed me,” Bond replies evenly as the elevator door closes behind him, the light for the basement button already lit. “I didn’t get shot.”

“Well, most people who has a chunk of their shoulder carved out with a bullet call it ‘getting shot,’ and—ah here we are,” Q says, completely leaving off any more reprimands, which Bond is grateful for. His vision is already getting blurry with all the blood he’s lost. “There should be a car waiting for you—your favorite by the way, an Aston Martin DBS. They thought you’d be more likely to come home with it in tact, but I personally wouldn’t hold my breath. Anyway, a plane will be waiting for you at the extraction site and you’ll be home free by then.”

The thing about Q is that if he says he’ll be handling a mission, it very well means that it would be near flawless. And despite whatever else Bond has to say about Q, his competency at his job is unparalleled and Bond can’t help but grudgingly admire him for it.

“I’ll make sure you get all green lights,” Q says a little softer this time. “If all goes well, you’ll be back in London in six hours.”

“Thank you, Q,” Bond says, and this time he means it.

“Have a good day, 007.”

 

 

James may not have Q’s level of knowledge in computers, but he’s competent (or at least passable) enough to set up the Wi-Fi in his shop with very minimal help. So it comes as a surprise when one day Q marches up to the counter and demands the password for his router.

“See that kid in blue stripes?” James turns to look only for Q to hiss, “No, don’t look too obviously! Anyway, he’s been here for the past hour going through the entirety of YouTube on his iPad—” and here, Q’s voice is filled with such disdain that James has to remind himself that he’s not actually talking to his Quartermaster, “—I can’t even send a bloody email.”

“Maybe I can just…” James offers, gesturing to the kid.

“No,” Q shakes his head. “We’ll just have to set the QOS for your router so this doesn't happen again.”

James blinks because he has no idea what Q is talking about but says yes anyway out of habit. He’s learned long ago never to say no to his Quartermaster when it comes to anything tech related, a lesson learned the hard and painful way, so well that it must have carried over to this life as well. And fuck if that isn’t weird enough, the devious smile Q gives him is near identical to the time when his Quartermaster was able to get his hands on Silva’s tech before everything blew up in their faces.

“Let me just get the password,” James offers as he begins to pull open the few non-food drawers he has. “I wrote it down somewhere.”

He searches in vain for the tiny scrap of paper that he had carelessly chucked in one of his many drawers only to come up with old receipts, loose paper he likes to keep at hand in case he needs to scribble something down, and not a few scraps of papers and napkins with hastily scrawled phone numbers given to him by hopeful customers, though he has never once called any of them. He must have taken longer than he thought (or possibly Q has an impatient streak that James is only getting acquainted with now) because Q just waves him off.

“No, don’t bother,” Q says. “I only asked to see if you’d let me take care of it for you. I’m already inside your router.”

Q walks back to his laptop and James follows curiously. Q’s hands begins to fly across the keyboard before he could even sit, and he starts typing a series of codes that Bond has only vaguely seen in movies that looked too impossible to be real. He’s about to ask Q what he’s doing when the familiar GUI of his router’s home page comes up.

“So I’ll just set this up, prioritize emails and internet, and give the port for YouTube the lowest priority,” Q says almost to himself, clicking through the settings and ticking some of the boxes. Then he hesitates a bit before asking James cautiously, “Do you want me to block the porn sites as well or…?”

Q leaves the question hanging in the air, which James immediately shakes his head to and says, “Yes, yes. Go ahead, it should be fine. I doubt anyone who goes here will…it’s a public place, but you never know.”

“Are you sure?” Q asks curiously.

“Well, I certainly won’t be needing it here,” James says adding a small laugh . “I imagine that wouldn't be hygienic for me to do considering where I am and the kind of work I do.”

“Um. Of course, right.” Q ducks his head, obviously embarrassed. James swears he just saw he tips of Q’s ears go red.

James watches in fascination as Q’s types rows upon rows of command on his keyboard with speed and accuracy doing God knows what else with his internet connection, James doesn’t even want to ask. It’s so eerily familiar that he could almost see the glint of deadly precision he’s used to seeing in his Quartermaster’s eyes when cracking a particularly difficult security system, and James could even imagine the condescending tone he’d use to disparage whoever created the ‘subpar’ code.

He idly wonders if this what his Quartermaster would have become if he weren’t recruited into MI6 before he was halfway through university.

“You’re pretty good with that,” James comments unthinkingly then winces almost immediately. He braces himself for the inevitable quip at his ability to state the obvious that he’s so used to hearing form his Quartermaster, except that Q’s answer has him nearly gob smacked.

“Thank you,” came the polite answer without a single trace of sarcasm. “I learned when I was really young.”

“Huh,” was James’s intelligent reply. It’s one thing to know that this Q and his Quartermaster are different people. It’s quite another to have hard evidence practically slapping him in the face. “So why aren’t you studying it in school, then?” James asks when he has recovered enough from the shock.

It was where MI6 found him and eventually recruited him as an assistant in the lab. Official records say that Q was in his second year studying computer engineering, but James knows where to find the actual records. They took him in because he excelled in mechanical engineering and robotics.

“I tried that at first but it didn’t work out,” Q says, a slight crease in his forehead as if recalling a distasteful memory. “I code for fun, but when it became all about homework and heavy workloads, it didn’t seem as fun anymore. I couldn't write the codes I wanted and the ones they make us do were quite dull. So after two semesters I switched majors.”

Two semesters. That was when MI6 first decided to keep tabs on him and it took another year before they finally decided that Q was too brilliant for his own good. They needed his loyalty to be molded early and perfectly to serve Queen and country.

“Ah, here we go then,” Q says eventually. “It should be working perfectly now.”

Q starts a series of uploads while surreptitiously checking the kid who was still engrossed in watching videos on his iPad. The computer pings after a few seconds and Q smiles brilliantly. “There you go; all good,” he says and reaches for his coffee mug. He lifts it to his lips and then frowns. He peers into the mug and the furrow on his brow deepens, looking adorably confused at the lack of coffee.

“I’ll refill that for you, shall I?” James says smoothly as he gently pries the mug from Q’s grip.

“Oh, thank you,” Q says, surprised. “I didn't know you do refills. Did I pay the correct amount?”

“Truthfully, we don’t,” James says with amusement. Typical. That Q would only notice now that he’s been getting free refills for the last few weeks is one of the things that doesn’t surprise James. “Too much caffeine is bad for anyone, and it’s bad form for my business if I suddenly refuse a customer even if he looks like a junkie.” James looks at him pointedly and he could see the tips of Q’s ears turning pink.

“I need something to keep me alert,” Q says unrepentantly. “I love my coursework, but the writing part is terribly boring. I didn't know I’d be doing so much writing when I first signed up for it or I wouldn't have taken this up this course at all.”

“Have you ever thought of trying tea?” James asks curiously.

“I used to drink it a lot, but I’ve been needing something much stronger since uni so I switched to coffee.”

“Mm,” James replies, already deep in thought, before walking back to the counter. When he comes back after a few minutes, he’s bearing a strong cup of tea, and carefully places it by Q’s elbow.

Q looks at it warily. “Oh, but I didn’t…” he trails off, obviously trying (and failing) to find words that wouldn’t come off as an insult to his generous benefactor.

“All I ask is that you try,” James says gently. “It might be better for you.”

“Alright,” Q says slowly. “How much should I…?”

Q reaches for his wallet but James only waves him off.

“On the house,” James says. “For fixing the router.”

“But that was really for my own benefit—”

“Just take it, Q,” James says, and gives Q a quelling look when he tries to open his mouth again.

That afternoon, Q stays longer—not for the usual five hours, but for eight—ordering food and another cup of tea (“I’m paying this time,” Q insists), and only heading out when the shop is about to close for the night.

 

 

There is a tense atmosphere in Q Branch that Bond hasn’t felt since Silva hacked his way into the mainframe of MI6 and compromised the entire nation’s security. And yet the tension there was mostly borne of fear and embarrassment. The atmosphere in Q Branch right now, however, is slightly more hostile, and Bond walks the halls alert and ready for trouble.

The entire Q Branch is in disarray. Well, the entirety of MI6 is in disarray because of the pending move back to their old headquarters, but Q Branch has always felt the need to be special, Bond thinks uncharitably. He heads for Q’s desk, sidestepping boxes upon boxes of gadgetry (mostly with things that look funny and hardly recognizable—which is a sure bet that it’s twice as lethal), and stepping over huge braids of cables that would tense and slacken at intervals as if it were some sort of booby trap. All in all, Bond feels like he’s in an Indiana Jones movie, except with more electronic beeping and less falling boulders.

“Bond. Bond!” A female voice hisses furiously at him.

Bond stops mid-stride to cock his head back, eyes searching for Eve. She’s one of the few people in this area of the building who doesn't consider the Double 0’s with either awe or contempt. Definitely friendly enough to call and hiss at a passing Double 0 when she’s out for some mischief. He isn't disappointed when he sees her hiding behind a thick pillar on a nearby arch, furiously beckoning him.

Bond looks around before ducking into her hiding spot.

“Really, Moneypenny? Playing spy here?”

She ignores him in favour of slapping a tall stack of files on his arms.

“You tell him I’m not his personal messenger,” she huffs angrily. “You tell him that I work for M, and M alone.

“Q?” Bond asks. Because really, there is only one person in MI6 who Eve would go out of her way and do a favour for when she’s this angry. Especially when the anger is directed at said person.

“Just—” she says, followed by a groan and a ridiculous gesture that looks between a shoo and a two-fingered salute in the direction of where Q presumably is. “He’s your problem now.”

“I’m sorry?”

“And tell him I’m not talking to him until he brings me wine and chocolates to buy my forgiveness,” she says. “Expensive ones.”

Eve turns about strides away, the sound of her heels loud against the concrete floor.

Bond looks down at the files in his hands, completely flummoxed with what just happened. He recalls it was just yesterday when he overheard Eve and Q’s excited conversation about finally moving from the hole they’re using and back into a proper building with real sunlight. Q had been excited that Q Branch was given the go signal to move first before the rest of the department so they could setup everything and secure the networks properly. It had meant the he could choose to move into a new office if he wished, citing network and security reasons why it must be so. They had both been scheming how to redo the layout in the outer room that Eve would be using outside M’s office so she could have a nice view.

Bond shakes his head wondering what could have happened between last night and this morning, which isn’t even twelve hours ago.

When he finds Q, all his questions are immediately answered.

“No. No!” Q is shouting at what looks to be the newest addition to MI6 (the boy looks like he’s barely out of sixth form). “We’re supposed to take down the backups first and transport it to the new installation before moving the main server. What would the rest of MI6 be doing if nothing is up and running? Agents would die because one of us decided not to follow protocol and I—”

Q is stopped from his tirade when the young assistant makes a small squeak of surprise upon James’s appearance. Apparently, he is still scarier than Q even when he’s reduced to being the mail delivery boy (in a £5000 suit, but still).

Q whirls around, his face looking ready to explode and no doubt would have torn him a new one if he weren’t shocked into stillness. Q blinks at Bond in surprise at seeing him there, then to the stack of files in his arms.

“What is that?” Q asks sharply.

“I was given explicit instructions to hand these to you, “ Bond says.

“Are those from Moneypenny?” Q asks, grabbing the top half of the stack and partially relieving James of his burden. Q flips through the top file, too absorbed in the task to notice the assistant edging out of the room in hopes of escaping. Bond gives the boy a small encouraging nod and he scampers immediately away in relief.

“Been terrorizing your staff again, I see.” Bond smirks when Q makes a small, annoyed noise while glaring at his assistant’s retreating back.

“They wouldn't have had anything to be afraid of had they done their jobs correctly,” Q says irritably.

Bind sighs and decides to bite the proverbial bullet. “Alright, what happened?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, 007.” Q sniffs, refusing to meet Bond’s eyes.

“You’re snarking at your staff more than usual—”

“I do not snark!”

“—nobody wants to come within twenty feet of you,” Bond continues, ignoring Q’s protest. He gestures to the room at large where people have been watching them since Bond walked in, and when Q looks up everyone ducks their head to avoid eye contact. “And Moneypenny’s furious at you,” he finally finishes.

“She is not.”

“She told me she’ll only forgive you if you grovel at her feet and bring her expensive presents.”

Q snaps his mouth shut and turns to walk back to his computer, busying himself to ignore the conversation completely. Bond sighs and shakes is head in a mixture of amusement and frustration. He’s seen this tactic before from a different—a much nicer—Q who does it to avoid awkward conversations.

“Q…” he says quietly.

“I—I don't know okay?” Q says finally. He takes off his glasses and scrubs his face with his hand. “I didn’t go home. I’ve been up since last night, everything’s falling apart here, and I couldn't do anything because even my usual tea isn't enough to keep me awake.”

Ah.

“Maybe you should take a break,” Bond says frowning. “Go home for a few hours and sleep a bit.”

“That’s an even worse idea. I’d be unable to sleep because I’d be thinking about everything I need to do here, and I’d end up regretting going home when I could have been down here doing at least something instead of staring up at the ceiling.”

Bond hums to himself, deep in thought. Then, without saying anything, he turns and walks out of Q Branch, and continues until he’s out of MI6. He walks around the area looking for something specific, and when he finds it he breaks into a huge grin.

Bond comes back to Q Branch after a few minutes with a tall coffee on one hand and a bag of croissants on the other.

“I don't drink that disgusting swill, 007,” Q says flatly, eying the proffered cup distrustfully.

“Indulge me,” Bond says mildly.

Q sullenly takes the cup and carefully pries open the lid. Steam rises up to Q’s face slightly fogging his glasses, but Q doesn’t seem to mind and is likely used to it from the gallons of tea he consumes on a daily basis.

The strong aroma is wonderful and Bond somewhat regrets not buying one for himself, but he sees Q’s nose wrinkle in mild disgust while peering inside the cup suspiciously.

“It’s just your usual latte, nothing fancy,” Bond says. He chose the drink unconsciously and it was only when he was out of the store did he realize that it was the type of coffee the other Q usually orders. He tries not to think about it too much.

Q takes a tiny sip before pulling away with and making a face. “This is disgusting,” he says, but doesn't try to discard it. Bond throws his hands up in defeat.

Instead, he spends the rest of the afternoon trying to be as annoying as possible and deliberately getting in the way. Q for the most part has been too busy with work, or trying to get as much work as he can with Bond around, that he completely ignores the rest of his staff, and, on one memorable occasion, actually uses the word ‘please’ without a hint of sarcasm. It’s only when Q find his cup of latte empty that he catches Bond’s eyes and glares.

“Told you,” Bond says with a smug grin.

“Oh that’s it, 007!” Q says, turning Bond around and pushing him towards the exit. “Get out of my branch or I will give you nothing but a pocket knife on your next mission.”

“But can it—”

“No, Bond, it will most definitely not explode.”

“You are a terrible person, Q; I hope you realize that,” Bond says before admitting defeat and finally leaving, but not before he sees a barely concealed smile tugging at the corner of Q’s mouth.

When Bond finally steps out of Q Branch, however, he is greeted by a few of Q’s staff with grateful pats on the back and not an inconsiderable amount of thanks for “fixing” the tea problem.

 

 

“Back to coffee today?”

“I find that tea only works for me when I actually get a decent amount of sleep the night before.”

James raises one eyebrow. “Decent being…?”

“Roughly four hours,” Q tries to say around a yawn and mangles the words halfway.

Q lets out a groan and clutches his head. He really does look terrible, James thinks. The dark bags under his eyes are heavier, his usual mess of a hair that James thought couldn’t get any worse is now on a whole new level of messy and gives new meaning to the word rat’s nest, and James would bet anything that the shirt Q is wearing is the same one he wore to bed last night—if he slept at all.

“You and your friends go out on a pub crawl last night?” James asks lightly, ignoring the sudden lurch in his stomach that Q might possibly be out with someone else last night—not that he has any claim on him or anything. “Working through a hangover isn't actually a known cure, you know, no matter what those straight laced, suit-wearing, corporate types say.”

“Some asshole was trying to DDOS my friend’s server last night and wouldn't let up until this morning,” Q explains as his jaw cracks another large yawn at the last word. James as no idea what that means so he just politely nods, but Q must have sensed his confusion because he tries to explain and rambles on and on about trackers, spoofs, scrubbing and possibly a man named Rudy.

“Oh by the way, I got you this,” Q says, halting mid-story to grab something from his laptop bag.

James blink when Q hands him a small box, which he opened to reveal a tiny black cube with two wires sticking out on one end, not unlike the ones he’s used to seeing at Q Branch. He’s immediately wary of the cube because those things could hold anything from explosives to plasma ropes. Q deftly takes it from him and flips it upside down to reveal a tiny ON switch.

“It’s a sort of bell…for when you’re in the kitchen,” Q explains.

“Oh,” James says after a while.

“I mean, it’s okay if you don't want it,” Q says quickly, the tips of his ears tuning very slightly pink. “I just thought it would be a good idea for you to have one in the kitchen because you don’t seem to hear it sometimes when people come in, and yeah it sounded like a good idea to make one last night, but—”

“Q,” James says interrupting him. “Thank you.”

“Oh, you like it then?”

“I think it’s wonderful,” James says. “Except I have no idea how to install it.”

“Oh that’s easy,” Q says perking up noticeably, exactly the way his Quartermaster does when faced with a new device to crack. “It’s just like a doorbell, except you mount the sensor out front on the wall next to the real bell. That way, it’ll know whenever a person comes in. Here let me show you.”

Q takes a much smaller device from the box roughly the size of a penny and turns it on. He passes a hand over it and the box makes a sound that is exactly like the bell by the door.

“I recorded it a few days ago,” Q says sheepishly when James raises an eyebrow.

“I think it’s perfect,” James says and Q beams.

 

 

“It’s like he’s the same as Q,” Bond says. “Of course he’d have his toys there too.”

Alec sighs like he’s had this same conversation dozens of times before, which, truthfully, he has.

“I don’t know James, maybe this is you mind’s way of telling you that they actually are the same person.”

“Then how do you explain the coffee?”

Alec opens his mouth to answer but closes it again, giving Bond an unimpressed look. They’ve both concluded two conversations ago that it was either a very very good coincidence or it’s a universal truth for tea drinkers who could stand coffee and vice versa, before their conversation cycled back to Bond complaining about Q’s ‘toys’ again.

Then the door to the locker room open and in steps the very person that’s been the cause of Bond’s distress and misery for the past weeks. Bond swears he hears Alec mutter ‘speak of the fucking devil’ under his breath.

“007, if I may trouble you for a few minutes?”

And Q looks at Bond with an expectant arch of his eyebrow like he’s some sort of puppy who should immediately come whenever his master calls, never mind that they’re in a locker room trying to get dressed after a workout and he hasn’t even got a fucking shirt on.

“I need to debrief you on your last mission,” Q continues, not particularly minding the way Bond was glowering at him. “Mainly about the way you handled the—”

“Why don't we step outside,” Bond cuts him off suddenly.

Bond groans inwardly knowing where this particular conversation is headed, and he doesn't want to give Alec any more ammunition than he already has. The last mission was botched although it was not his fault, thank you very much. The intel they received was dodgy at best and when the five men guarding the building turned out to be actually closer to fifty, there was no other choice but to crash the small plane he was flying into the building instead of just assassinating the leader. The incredible feat of jumping off at the last minute onto the top of a hut outside the building to preserve his life had gone unnoticed too. Not one from his ungrateful department had asked whether he was all right.

“But—” Q protests, but Bond all but drags him out of the locker room.

Bond ignores the burst of cool air on his skin and he glares at everyone sending them curious looks as they step out to the hall.

“Alright, I’m sorry I wasn’t careful—”

“Reckless,” Q corrects him.

Impulsive,” Bond counters. “And I promise I’ll try not to break your toys.”

Q gapes t him. “Just like that? Need I remind you, 007, that this is the taxpayer’s money you’re wasting? Not to mention I’ve put so much of my own free time into these toys as you call it,” Q says making air quotes, which in turn makes Bond roll his eyes like a particularly bratty child being reprimanded. “I’ve told M lots of times never to give you anything, but I have no idea how you convince him to give you these free passes. It’s like you two have this thing that—Bond. Bond! Are you even listening? Where do you think you’re going—”

Bond sighs as he steps back to the locker room and firmly closes the door behind him. He’s had enough of Q talking his ear out every other day for the last three weeks, but Q’s indignant look as Bond shuts the door on his face is quite satisfying and almost makes up for the week’s torment. Almost.

“Bloody hell,” Bond says as the shouting begins in earnest on the other side of the door. “Not a word,” James threatens when Alec meets his eyes.  He contemplates the most effective way to wipe the smirk on his best friend’s face and wonders how his life has come to this.

Alec ignores the threat. “Just sleep with him already,” he says loud enough to be heard by half the people in the locker room, proving once again that best friends are indeed also the biggest arseholes in his life.

 

 

“James, don't,” Q says, flinching.

“Don’t what exactly?” James replies as he grits his teeth trying to contain his frustration.

“You’re doing that…thing. With your face.”

My face?” James says incredulously. “And what should we say about yours, hmm?”

Because it doesn't matter that James is an MI6 agent in his other life and has seen everything—not to mention being in half of those situations himself. Of all the things has seen in his entire career fighting for Queen and country, he never would have guessed that something this simple would set him off and would make him want to run around like a crazed killer, turn rogue agent, or both.

“You don’t really think that you could show up here looking like that and not expect me to react,” James says while his brain is mentally flipping through the past few days, trying to recall signs of danger that he hadn’t noticed, and going over things he would need to double check to make sure Q is okay.

James is used to this, his mind and body almost doing it automatically from years of being in the service. But what he isn't used to is having to confront it here, in this world. He never had any reason for it before. Q winces and ducks his head, presumably to hide from James, but whether it was from the bruises on his face or from facing James’ wrath head on, James couldn't decide. He rubs his face tiredly and mentally reminds himself to grab a painkiller for the headache he knows was coming.

He immediately knew something was wrong when Q came into the shop with a hood over his head and a scarf on his neck covering half his face a mere half hour ago. And if that weren’t a good enough indication, the slight limp on his left leg and the lack of his ever-present laptop bag would have given James enough cause for alarm.

When Q finally pulled his hoodie down, James’ heart dropped to his stomach and was followed by the instinctive movement of reaching for his gun in his shoulder holster before remembering that it wouldn't be there. That didn't stop him from wanting to shoot someone, or at least wanting to break the face of the person who did this to Q.

There was a large purple bruise on Q’s cheekbone and his left eye was nearly swollen shut because of it. His nose, thankfully, survived intact, but there was a cut on his lip that hadn't stopped bleeding and Q kept touching it as if it both surprised and fascinated him every time his fingers came away with blood.

“Allow me to at least patch you up,” James had all but begged. “I have a full med kit at the back.”

Q had raised an eyebrow, or tried to anyway. “Been in a lot of fights?” Q joked but his attempt at humour was only met with narrowed eyes.

“Is that what this is?” James asked, all serious. Honestly, a gun and a name, that was all he needed. “All right, let’s get you cleaned up,” James finally said when Q refused to reply.

And now they’re in the back room where James indeed has a complete first aid kit. Not that he ever has need of it in this world aside from the occasional cuts and burns acquired in the kitchen, but there are some things ingrained into his being that he couldn't get rid of. Personal safety is one of them, although M had always berated him for lacking one before she passed away.

James sits Q down on one of the tall stools while ignoring his protests of being treated like a child; James is having none of it today. He gets a damp cloth to gently clean off the blood on Q’s lips, and when Q tried to move away, James quells him with a look and a heavy hand on the shoulder to make him stay put.

“Q,” James says warningly. “We can do this the easy way you know.”

“But—!” Q’s protest is cut off with a hiss when James adds a light pressure on the corner of his mouth. “Alright, alright! Fine,” Q says, but not without a huff of dissent before surrendering to James’ ministrations.

James finally relaxes when he’s able to clean the rest of Q’s wounds and put salve on the others. This is familiar. Routine. It’s something that he knows how to do and it calms him like the way he makes coffee in the morning. Or the way a day at the shooting range gives him a feeling of control over his chaotic lifestyle.

When it’s finally over, the initial anger has given way to concern.

“Q, you have to tell me honestly,” James tries again. “Are you in any danger? Is there anyone looking for you who wants to harm you? Should I be preparing for an assault anytime soon?”

James was honestly quite serious , but Q seems to think that he’s teasing because he laughs a little.

“I was mugged, alright?” he says a bit deprecatingly, but the shake in his voice is evident. “I don't live in a very nice part of town. I was mugged in broad daylight.”

“Did you at least—”

“No. Their faces were all covered. They had masks and baseball caps. They’re younger than me, I think…and oh God I think they were using water pistols painted black.” Q’s voice had been shaking increasingly at this point and the shock in his system is finally wearing off, enough for him to think.

“Shh, it’s all right.” James tries to soothe him but Q doesn't seem to hear him because he keeps on talking.

“And they got my dad’s laptop.” Huh, he was right about that part after all. “And don’t say anything, James. I know that you look at it like it’s some sort of relic from the stone age but I actually reconfigured it and there’s nothing you can buy that’s faster than it. I kept it because it was the only thing I have of my dad’s and…” and Q begins to breathe deeply, hyperventilating.

“Don’t worry,” James says, gingerly putting a hand on Q’s back and rubbing slow circles. He feels Q relax a bit. “We’ll get it back for you.”

It takes a few minutes before James is able to calm him down. It’s helped along with a cup of tea and some scones that Q nibbles on but kept putting back on the plate looking barely touched.

By the time evening rolls around Q is marginally better, though still not over the fact that he lost his laptop. He has borrowed James’s netbook and has been “mindlessly browsing the internet to numb his brain,” which included not a few videos and quite a bit of flash games with ridiculous animation.

James stops by Q’s table still thinking about what happened to Q. His mind is definitely somewhere other than paying attention because he startles when he feels Q touch the back of his hand resting on the table between them.

“Hey,” Q says softly.  “I’ll be okay really. Thank you for being so concerned.”

James frown eases because the small smile that Q gives him makes him realize that he’ll probably do anything and everything just to have him smile for real again.

“I’m still going to walk you home tonight,” he promises, hoping it would sound like a threat.

Q laughs breathlessly and the constricting in James’s chest eases slightly.

 

 

“Bloody fuck. I told you I can’t take him, Tanner,” Bond screams at the mobile he’s holding. “I told you he isn't fit on the field.”

“Calm down, Bond—”

I am calm!

He is about to launch into a rant of all the ways he’s keeping calm considering the situation, when Q starts to cough and gasp for air.

Bond immediately casts the phone on a nearby desk with a bit too much force and it skids to the other end, tipping over and clattering to the floor. Tanner’s shout of “Bond? Bond!” can still be heard as Bond didn't even bother to drop the call.

“Q, are you all right?” he rushes to the couch were Q is sleeping out the effects of painkillers Bond forced on him earlier. He gently pushes Q to lie on his side so as not to accidentally choke on his own saliva until he can breathe properly again.

“Was that Tanner you were shouting at?” Q says, barely a wheeze as he catches his breath. “What did he do now?”

“Made you bloody come on this mission, that’s what.”

James feels Q go very still before he tries to get up from his position on the couch. He scrambles to help him up but Q only tries to ineffectively push him away.

“Q, you should lie down,” Bond says. “You’re not well enough to stand.”

This time, Q meets his eyes and gives him a withering look. “I’m not an invalid, 007. I may not have your training but I’m not that helpless.” Bond makes a noise of protest but Q cuts him off. “I really am sorry. I know I shouldn't have insisted on coming with you, but—”

“No, I would have insisted you come with me anyway. There’s no way I was going to leave you in the room with them tearing the entire building apart trying to look for us.”

“But I wouldn't have been in the way if I didn’t come. If I stayed there you could’ve easily dispatched the others.”

“And you’d be dead before I could come back to kill the rest.”

Q sighs. They fall silent for a while, each in their own thoughts. Bond is angry, not because the mission had failed, but because Q had been hurt in the process.

“It wouldn't have mattered,” Q says eventually. “The mission would’ve successful—”

Q was cut off by Bond suddenly rounding on him. “Don’t,” he says harshly. “Don't even say it, Q.”

“But it's true!” Q says, his voice rising to match Bond’s tone. “Don't think I’m stupid, Bond. I’m a liability here. I know you all consider me as an MI6 asset, but I’m not the only one qualified for my job. There are at least five who could step up and replace me just as easily as I did the old Quartermaster.”

“And I don't give a fuck about any of them,” Bond replies angrily. “You matter to me. Not the mission, not anyone else.”

The sudden confession leaves them both staring at each other in stunned silence. Anger has always been Bond’s deadliest enemy, and this time it took away the filter between his brain and mouth, making him say things before he could even form them in his mind.

“I don’t understand,” Q says slowly, confusedly. He’s never seen Q this vulnerable, and for a moment, Bond didn't see him as the Quartermaster. For the first time, he believes that this Q and the other Q can actually be the same person.

“Fuck,” Bond whispers to himself. He does the only thing he can think of to do in this situation.

He leaves.

 

 

“Are you finally ready to tell me this ‘conclusion’ you’ve arrived to?”

James braces himself for the conversation. He has been putting it off for some time, but he knew he would eventually need to tell his therapist. He takes a composing breath before saying it as casually as he could, but it still comes out shaky and with a hint of resignation in his voice.

“I think, I may have some feelings of…affection. For Q.”

Dr Trevelyan lets out an inelegant snort, much like what he imagined would be Alec’s reaction that James is tempted to hit him in the head.

“Is that why you began sleeping with the other Q? Your Quartermaster?”

That one had been easier to tell the doctor. It happened sometime shortly after the mission. The mission. James had always seen that first time as him taking advantage of Q, but he is never really very good at denying himself what he wants and he had admitted to himself long ago that he is physically attracted to Q.

However, he told himself that it wouldn’t lead to anything more. It’s dangerous in their line of work. And if James feels a pang disappointment every time Q leaves his flat to head home, it’s no one’s business but his. He tries very hard not to examine too closely that hollow feeling in his chest.

“I’m not entirely sure,” James says honestly. “I’ve always seen Q and my Quartermaster as two very different people, although that’s becoming harder and harder lately.”

“How so?”

“It feels like—like sometimes I forget that I’m talking to one and not the other.”

A sort of pleased smile crosses Dr Trevelyan’s lips. “Then isn’t it a good thing? That you’re finally realizing that they are actually the same?”

“How could it be a good thing that I confuse them? I nearly asked Q the other day how his modification to my gun is going.”

“Well, it seems that you’re finally drawing a conclusion. That if they are indeed the same person, and you are the same person in both worlds, then it can only mean that only one of these worlds are real and the other is a dream.”

“Maybe,” James conceded. “Maybe you’re right, but they're both real to me. I can't give up either.”

 

 

“Do you believe in…” James hesitates. “Nevermind.”

“What? What is it?” Q blinks at him, looking up from James’s laptop.

Q had been borrowing his laptop everyday since the incident and one of these days he’s going to tell Q to just keep it. Just to see what kind of modification he’d do to it.

“Well, it sounds ridiculous but…do you believe that people could live in two different worlds at the same time?”

“Oh are you talking about multiverse?” Q asks in interest. “The many-worlds theory?”

James laughs. “Well, I have no idea what those are, but it sounds like you’d be telling me anyway.”

“Mm,” Q turns back to his computer as if he isn't interested in the conversation. Then he starts to explain in earnest. “Some people say that there are infinite possibilities or outcomes of the choices we make, even the simplest ones. But, well, that’s not really true. There is only a limited number of futures based on the decisions we make and while they could number in billions, that’s still not close to infinite. Sometimes, no matter how many possible futures there are, some these futures will converge, thus lessening the possibilities.

“For example, when I come here everyday, I have different choices that I can make, thus creating different possible futures. I could drink tea, I could drink coffee, have a sandwich, or eat nothing. But in the end, whatever I choose to do here today, they will all eventually converge and lead to the same future, which is me leaving at the end of the day.

“Well,” he says frowning, “Unless of course you decide not to close the shop, then there would be more possibilities for me. But still, they’re still not close to infinite.”

“So what you’re trying to say is that some things are inevitable?” James asks.

“Some people believe that, yes,” Q answers, nodding. “What brought this on?”

“Oh nothing. Just thinking,” James lies easily. “So, how many possibilities are there that we’d be here at this very instant, drinking tea together?”

“Maybe three…in about a billion,” Q says. “I don’t know it’s just a theory anyway.”

James wonders what the chances are of this world or the other being real. What if Dr Trevelyan was right? What if he had to choose?

“Seems a bit too low,” James comments sadly. “But I suppose the important thing is there’s still a chance.”

“Exactly.”

 

 

“Please,” Q says, breath ragged.

Q is under him, begging for him to do something. Anything. Bond the type who takes and takes. It’s what everyone wants from him, some even expect it of him. The women enjoy it, and the men…well, he usually just accepts, rarely reciprocating. With anyone else, Bond would have finished his partner quickly after he’s done.

But with Q, everything is different, and frankly he’s afraid of what’s happening.

“Anything you want Q,” Bond says breathlessly. He continues stroking Q’s cock with a slick hand while tracing kisses on his jaw and neck. “Tell me and I’ll do it.”

“Your mouth.” Q gasps as Bond nips his way down to one nipple. “And your finger inside me.”

Q has never asked him this; it’s usually the other way around with Q’s mouth on his cock, or just pounding Q into the mattress. Bond surprises himself when he answers. “Of course, whatever you want.”

He takes Q into his mouth, working it as best as he could. He’s inexperienced, he knows, and can't compare to what Q does to him. But Q is hard and just about ready to come. When Bond pushes a slick finger inside him, he feels Q tense before shuddering in release.

Bond feels the hot splash of Q’s come in his mouth, trying to swallow what he can, before the rest spills out of his lips. He doesn't know how Q does it, but he resolves to try next time.

“That is the sexiest thing I’ve seen in my life,” Q says, looking down at Bond with hooded eyes. He traces the come trickling down Bond’s chin and Bond licks at the finger when it’s offer to him.

“I’d have to fuck you in front of a mirror next time,” Bond says. He crawls up beside Q, flopping down bonelessly on the bed.

He’s about to doze off when he feels the bed move. He knows that Q will go to the bathroom to clean himself, and in a few minutes he’d be dressed and ready to leave. This usually isn’t a problem for him with anyone else, but seeing Q try to leave is giving him such a strange pain in his chest.

Bond catches Q’s wrist before he could move away.

“Are you leaving?” Bond asks quietly.

Q looks at him calculatingly. “I didn’t think you’d want me here.”

This is something new. The both know what it means to have Q stay. He’s always left before because it’s safer for them in their line of work. But after seeing Q do it some many times, Bond is tired of it.

“Come here, Q.”

It isn’t an order. It’s a request, an invitation.

The surprise is evident in Q’s eyes, but he quietly goes back to bed. Q presses against him, burying his head in Bond’s chest. Bond feels a ghost of a smile against his skin and the ache in his heart lightens.

 

 

“James, are you here?”

James looks up from the inventory he’s doing when he hears Q call for him. He must have dozed off because he swears he didn’t hear the ring of the tiny bell from the device Q installed. He comes out to the front, ready to greet Q with a smile, but the smile froze in his face when he is met the most devastating thing he’s ever seen in his entire life.

“Oh Q, how could you?

It’s a betrayal worse than hearing M say ‘Take the bloody shot.’ Indeed, far worse than learning about Vesper’s true motives.

It’s Q holding a Starbucks.

Here are the things that James knows:

- Q has never been in any other coffee shop in the last six months.
- The nearest Starbucks is two bus stops away or a good forty-five minutes on foot.
- Q’s university is fifteen minutes away from his coffee shop, on the opposite direction of Starbucks.

So clearly there is no reason for Q to be heading to any other café than his.

James thinks back on the last few days. Was there something he did that made Q decide to avoid (all right, betray) his shop? Did Q hate the last time he made coffee? Because he could have sworn Q liked the hint of cinnamon he added on his latte. Or did his class schedule change? Moved apartments? Is it possible that James has been too obviously in his pining for Q and this is his way of rejecting him without saying it? Perhaps—

“James. James!”

And this is it, isn't it. This is the moment Q tells him he couldn't come to his shop anymore. That he’ll never see Q again, let alone make coffee for him. James inhales deeply to brace himself for the inevitable, and somehow in the same breath thinks ‘when had he become this melodramatic?’

“Where the hell have you been?”

“I—what?

“God’s sake, James,” Q continues and he realizes that Q is shouting. Q is angry at him.

James bristles. Shouldn't he be the one who’s angry? How dare Q come to his shop and start shouting at him! While holding a Starbucks!

“What do you mean where? I’ve been here all day! You’re the one with that…that thing,” James says waving his hand at the abomination Q is holding.

Q looked at him for one confused second, and then down at his hand only to be surprised, as if he didn't know he was holding a cup of coffee that’s not his.

“Well, where do you think I’ve been getting my fix?” Q says defensively. “You can’t just disappear for days and not expect people to not have their daily stimulant.”

James blinks. Then blinks again.

“You’ve said that twice now,” James says slowly. “It’s as if you’re saying I left or something.”

“What? What the hell are you on about?” Q says hotly. “You didn't open the shop for four days and people are complaining. Your regulars are disappointed you didn't even leave a sign on the door when you’ll be back.”

A sudden feeling of dread washed over James and settles at the pit of his stomach. Blood rushes out of his head and he grips the counter to keep himself from falling.

“James, are you alright?” Q rushes to his side, slamming the cup he’s holding on a nearby table and takes James’s elbow. Q sits him on the nearest chair and crouches before him. James head fall into his hands as he tries to fight what he suspects is a panic attack. He’s heard about those, but he’s never experienced it.  “Hey, what's wrong?”

“Q…” James voice comes out in almost a whisper. “What do you mean I disappeared?”

“I…what do you mean?” Q says perplexed. “You don’t know?”

James suddenly sits up and looks straight at Q. “What day is it.”

“Thursday,” Q says immediately.

“Thursday.”

“Yes, eighth of August. Why?”

Thursday. He was just at Dr Trevelyan’s office yesterday. Yesterday was Sunday. He was gone three days. He lost three days and he doesn't know how that happened.

“Oh fuck me,” James whispers to himself.

“James, you’re starting to scare me,” Q says sounding uncertain. “What’s happening?”

“I have no clue, Q,” James says. “I have no fucking clue.”

 

 

He stares up at the ceiling thinking of what day it is. Of where he is.

He couldn’t.

He’s been here for days, week. Probably months.

He closes his eyes and drifts back to sleep.

Maybe he’ll wake up and all this would be over.

His eyes fall shut and he’s falling, falling…falling…

 

 

“Bond? Bond!

He hears Q’s voice but couldn’t find the source. There’s a shadow hovering above him. He thinks it’s Q, but it’s impossible. He just left him at MI6 not two hours ago supervising a mission. He’d still be tied up in it for the rest of the day.

He hears a curse before Q is talking again, but not to him this time.

“Yes. I found him. He needs immediate medical care. No…but—alright, I understand.”

Then he feels a cool hand on his forehead. He leans in to the touch, only just now realizing that he’s burning up. A low whine escapes his lips as he exhales.

“Shh. It's okay. You’ll be fine James. You’ll be fine.”

 

“Yes, he’s stable now, but I don't know for how long.”

“Drugs? What kind of drugs?”

“How many years ago? How many years? Oh. Oh, fuck me.”

 

He’s fading in and out again. He thinks he’s in a hospital somewhere and Q is talking to one of the doctors in MI6, but he isn't sure. He couldn't open his eyes.

“James? James are you awake?” came the soft whisper beside him.

He frowns. He thought he was in MI6, but that voice doesn’t belong to his Quartermaster. It’s Q’s voice, and no one else’s.

And then the talking begins again. He’s now confused more than ever.

 

“I don't care if we search everyone in MI6. We’ll put all of Q Branch’s resources into this mission and I will personally lead the investigation. I will find him, and when I do…”

 

 

“Do you understand, James?” Q asks again.

Q has been so patient in trying to explain to him what happened that it’s almost unnerving. The doctors have all been there too, checking his vitals every five minutes the first hour he was awake, but they always give Q the medical updates and they never answer his questions. They leave that to Q.

M, Tanner and Moneypenny have all stopped by for a few minutes, but had to return to Six. The world doesn't stop for a downed agent. Only Q has stayed with him since he woke up eight hours ago.

“Do you remember the Singapore job?”

Bond doesn't respond.

“Look,” Q finally says in frustration. “006 will be coming home from a mission in twelve hours. If you’d rather talk to him about this I’m sure we could make arrangements.”

“No,” Bond says hoarsely. His vocal chords are unused to speech after days of drifting in and out of consciousness. “I’m sorry. I’m all right, really.”

“Okay.” Q says cautiously at first, and then sighs in relief. “Okay, James. I’ll just be here if you need anything.”

Q turns to go, but James catches the corner of his sleeve. “Wait. What does this mean? Will it…will it stop the dreams?”

Q gives him a pitying look and he can’t stand that. “The drugs are still in your system, but the doctors are trying to pump them out as fast as they could. We don't know how it will affect your dreaming, but I was told it would eventually disappear completely.”

“No!” James says in panic, making Q almost jump in surprise. “I’m sorry, I just…I can’t.”

He doesn't want to hear it, doesn't want to confront his greatest fears. That everything he thinks he knows—everything he thinks is real—is nothing more than a lie.

“Please,” Bond says. “You can’t take that away.”

“I don’t understand,” Q says. He reaches out to Bond, but Bond flinches and he retreats.  “Don’t you want to be better?”

“But I am fine,” he says, voice raw.

There is now a look on Q’s face that Bond has never seen. It takes a few seconds before he recognizes it. Fear. Not for himself, but for Bond.

“I don’t know what they did to you Bond, but I’ll fix this,” Q whispers, voice strong with resolve. “I promise I will.”

With that, Q pushes the call button for the nurse. Two nurses and a doctor come with a needle and a vial of clear liquid. This is it, Bonds thinks alarmingly. It ends here.

“No! No please,” Bond now outright begs. “Please, not yet.”

They sedate him.

He sleeps.

 

 

James wakes up drenched in cold sweat.

He’s back, he knows, but he looks around in wonder as if he couldn't believe it. The blindingly white walls are gone. The machines beside his bed are now gone. The tubes and needles, the doctors, the sterile smell of the hospital—they’re all gone.

His Quartermaster is gone.

Fuck,” he curses as he jumps off the bed. Q, he thinks.

He rushes to his shop.

 

 

“Hey,” Q greets him as he comes in.

“Q,” James greets back cautiously as he approaches the corner booth. The chimes tinkle as the door closes softly behind him.

The first thing that hits him is the eeriness of the shop. It looks like it does any other day. The lights are turned on, the machines are whirring as white noise in the background, and the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee hangs in the air. The silence, however, is unnerving.

There’s no one there but Q at his usual spot, waiting for him.

“It’s okay,” Q says. “I know you’re leaving.”

“What?” James says, taken aback.

He is blindsided by the comment. He had hoped that when he came here, everything would fall into place, that everything would be the same. He had hoped that the other world was just a dream.

But now he knows for sure which world is real.

He sits across from Q, studying his face and memorizing each feature as if it’s the last time they’d see each other. It probably is.

“I can see it in your eyes.” Q gives him a small sad smile. “You won’t be coming back.”

“How did you…?” James starts to say, but stops and shakes his head. “But I don’t want to leave. I want to stay here.”

“But you can’t. You know you can’t so you’re not promising anything.”

James nods.

“So this is goodbye.”

“Q…” James says softly. “I need to tell you something.”

Q looks at him, patiently waiting.

“I—” James says. The lump on this throat makes his voice crack. “I want to tell you before you’re gone—”

“I already know, James,” Q says trying to soothe him. Q reaches across the table to touch the back of his hand lightly. “I already know.”

“But I want to say it,” James says stubbornly. “I can’t—I can’t say it to him. He’s not you. And now this will be gone, and you’ll be gone too.”

Q smiles at him. “But you’ll still have me, James. You’ll always have me.”

“No, I’m serious,” James says, scowling a bit. “I’d choose you if I could.”

“And you’re not listening, James,” Q says. “You’ll have me. Forever, if that’s what you want.”

“I do want.” James leans across the table and Q meets him halfway. Their lips touch softly, chastely. His first kiss with Q is also his last, James thinks bitterly. “I love you,” he whispers against Q’s lips.

Then he feels the familiar sensation of being tugged into a dark abyss that would lead him to reality. Down, down he goes, falling for the very last time.

 

 

One month later

 

“Huh.”

“That’s it?” Bond asks incredulously. “That’s all you have to say?”

“Well, what did you expect? Did you expect me to tell you that parallel universes do exist and that somewhere out there, the world you imagined—I’m sorry dreamed of—was real?”

The last time Bond saw Q was that day in the hospital before Q went missing. They discharged him a week later, advising him to take a long break to regain his strength. But that same night he flies out of the country, taking a mission in Spain. He goes deep underground and disappears for a month, not talking to anyone and only doing dead drops to relay communication.

He isn't proud of it, but he knew he was being a coward.

When he comes home from the mission, he leans that Q had only returned the previous week. Nobody could get anything out of Q officially. Unofficially though, everyone knew where he’d been. It takes another week for Bond to gather enough courage to face Q and admit his stupidity.

And now here he is, telling Q everything.

Not surprisingly, Q is upset at him.

“It’s an experimental drug,” Q says finally after a long, uncomfortable silence. “A hallucinogen mixed with a sedative that allows you to control the way you dream. It’s designed for extended dreaming so you won't know you’re inside a dream while your subconscious manifests itself around you, creating a reality based on repressed memories and your subconscious desires.”

“Are you saying that I subconsciously want my life to be dull?”

Q honest to God rolls his eyes at him.

“I never thanked you for that by the way,” Bond muses.

“Well, contrary to your belief, I do know when a trigger has to be pulled,” Q says, all serious now. His mouth is set in a hard line. “And how to pull.”

“Thank you,” Bond says sincerely and Q gives a tiny smile in return. They sit in silence for a while before Bond breaks it, still curious about the drug. “Okay then, so how do you explain me seeing you there, even before you became Q?”

“You don’t remember, do you?” Q is now looking at him intently. “Bond, the first time I saw you, you were doing a recon mission in my university.”

“What?” Bond asks confusedly.

“Well, I didn't know it at the time of course, but I sort of looked it up when I came here,” Q confesses.

Q leans forward and touches the back of Bond’s hand at the very same place the other Q touched him. A tingling sensation crawls up Bond’s spine at the familiar touch, as if invisible lines are connecting the two worlds.

“James,” Q says in half whisper. “The only reason why I’m here in MI6 is because of you.”

Then a gleam of long-forgotten memory flashes before his eyes: an uncomfortable suit, the strong aroma of coffee, and a mop of dark hair peeking over a laptop from across the café.

He remembers that day. It was his very first mission in MI6, still fresh out of active duty in Her Majesty’s army. It was an easy surveillance mission and he remembers sitting at the café for an hour waiting for his mark. There was a young man that caught his attention, skinny with owlish eyes behind thick glasses. He thinks briefly and in passing what it would feel like to be in a normal relationship with someone, something he knew he’d have to give up when he chose to work for Six. That night, when he caught up to his mark in her hotel, he proceeded to fuck her and forgot all about the young man he saw at the café.

“You should have been out of place there in your tailored suit, while the rest of us looked like we just rolled off our beds,” Q says chuckles, as if recalling the same memory. “But you sat there like you belonged.”

And he gets it.

His subconscious knows Q—has been in love with Q—and kept a memory of him long before he realized it.

“You mean…all those years ago?” Bond shakes his head in amazement, and smiles at Q. “I suppose you’re right. This is reality.”

“Really, 007,” Q says impishly, a wicked smile already on his face. “Haven’t you learned by now that I’m always right?”

Bond growls under his breath and tugs Q towards him. Their lips meet in a series of soft playful kisses, nipping at each other. They can't seem to stop smiling at each other.

“Oh hey,” Q says, suddenly remembering something. “Would you like to go back there? I still know the owner.”

Bond raises an eyebrow. “In Germany? But you’ll have to fly.”

“Oh I have no problems flying,” Q says dismissively, “It’s the landing that bothers me. But you’ll be there, so it’s okay.”

“Yes, I’ll even hold your hand.” Bond laughs. Forever, if that’s what you want, Bond thinks, echoing the words spoken to him in another life.

 

 

Epilogue

 

In an old beaten road in Koblenz there is a not-so-popular coffee shop that is only sustained by its loyal customers over the years.

Every other month, for one week, two men would come to help the old shop owner with the upkeep. One is young man and the other is a slightly older gentleman.

The young man is quite addicted to the coffee and the owner keeps telling him he’d drink the shop out of business one day because his week’s worth of wage can't even cover the cost. His tea recommendations, though, are top notch, which is the only reason the owner keeps him around, or so he says. But everyone knows that the shop owner, having no children of his own, has plans of giving the shop to this young man someday whom he has treated like his own son.

The other man is charming, especially with the elder ladies in the shop. He’s handy around the shop, especially whenever someone has problems with the shop’s Wi-Fi or other gadgets that the ladies receive from their tech savvy children who lives in the city (the younger man is no help with these matters and wrinkles his nose in disdain whenever they try to show him a picture on their iPads).

The people there are a friendly, if not a nosy, bunch. The old men on the shop keeps inviting the older gentleman to go shooting with them, and is always disappointed whenever he refuses (“It’s not shameful to admit you can't shoot, lad. We’ll teach you, no worries.”), while the ladies keep asking him when he is getting married. They younger man would always quip about the other being a womanizer, and the ladies would turn their attention to him, asking him about his lady friend, Eve, and the older gentleman would laugh and laugh.

But in the evening, when everyone has gone home and the two men are left to wipe the bar, arrange the chairs, and wash the windows, they would sometimes give each other warm smiles and lingering kisses. If anyone were to see them, they’d realize how happy these two men are with each other.

And sometimes, the older gentleman would be seen looking wistfully at the nameplate on the door that says Cup of Joy, eyes glazed. But the younger man would always be there, always waiting for him to come back to reality.

 

 

 

End