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Before and After

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Q knows he should get up. He’s watched the numbers on the clock on his bedside table steadily change from 04:53 to 07:23; from behind the crack of his curtains, the sky's piercing and blue and lovely like a familiar pair of eyes, and the day’s starting. He can’t stay in bed all day. He has work to do.

He closes his eyes and nuzzles deeper into his thick blanket. He’s warm in that almost too hot way where his muscles are limp as noodles and his bones don’t seem to exist, and he doesn’t want to move, doesn’t want to confront the cold that faces him outside his bed.

Q has always hated winter. The cold brings with it an added lethargy that makes getting out of bed every morning even more of a struggle than it is normally. Wearing more layers doesn’t make the problem go away; he just feels more and more weighed down, now externally in addition to the internal heaviness.

He drifts away for a while, not knowing how much time is passing but not really caring. If there’s an incident in Q-Branch, the alarm on his phone is more than loud enough to wake him, and his overtime has been such that a bit of a lie-in will go unvoiced.

A whisper of a dream curls around him like a loving embrace. But it’s not a dream, not really, more of a memory, and he -

He's wearing an ill-fitted suit and holding a glass of wine awkwardly; he hates societal functions. Moneypenny loops her arm around his and guides him around the room, and he says something about her being a Godsend. She laughs, bright.

Q. Q is sneaking a hor d'oeuvre. His glass is empty, and he looks up abruptly, disorientated. Bond and Moneypenny are dancing. They make a gorgeous couple, handsome and beautiful, black tuxedo and red gown. He has only a moment to feel nauseous and guilty for it before Tanner calls for his attention.

Q smokes a cigarette on the balcony but is interrupted by a teasing voice. Before he can protest, he’s been coaxed back into the room and into a dance - “Just one,” Bond promises - and he closes his eyes to better hear the sweet drone of the music and Bond's murmured words, so gentle, so unexpectedly sincere.

He dances and dances, and he doesn’t know when one dance became three, but he’s never had a smoother dance partner than Bond, never floated on nothing more than someone's attention and the humid heat of summer. Q isn’t drunk, but he feels like it as his feet move and the lights above begin to blur.

Bond says in his ear, voice surprisingly rough, “Dance the night away with me, Quartermas - ”

A meow breaks the dream into sharp, glittering glass shards for him to cut himself on. Morgana, his beloved Turkish Angora, leaps onto the bed and pads closer, unrepentantly stepping on his legs to nudge at his cheek with her cold nose.

Q blinks at the ceiling. He feels more tired than ever before. It seems unfair that a nap makes him more dispirited instead of less. Rayleigh, his other cat, is probably around the flat somewhere. Morgana can’t possibly be hungry - he has automated feeding machines for a reason - so she must be questing for attention.

Sighing quietly because between staying cocooned in his blanket and petting his cat, the latter wins out despite everything, Q extracts his left hand and scratches Morgana’s head before stroking down her back. She purrs soothingly and settles next to his pillow for a quick catnap.

Q gazes at her enviously. He wishes he could be a cat. He supposes he should count his blessings and be glad that the dream ended there.

Granted, even as the thought passes his mind, Q is already pursuing his crystal-clear memories of the rest of the night, because he’s clearly a masochist and can’t leave well enough alone. Bond did dance with Q for the rest of the party. He was startled by that when he could bring himself to think beyond the haze of alcohol and the scent of Bond’s cologne.

Q’s still surprised. 007’s not known for keeping his word. At least, not when playing with a mark, and looking back, Q was most certainly his mark that night. Perhaps it was a good thing then that Q was drowsy enough by the last dance, courtesy of a long day and the emotional drain of socialising with people he could honestly not care less about, that whatever twisted honour code Bond abides by kicked in, and instead of taking Q to his bed, Bond drove him home and said goodnight with a soft smile.

Q mentally traces that smile within his memory. At the time - or, well, the morning after - he thought that there was a trace of fondness hidden behind the politeness of it, maybe just a hint of consideration beyond what's customarily shared between two coworkers.

Bond was probably right when he pegged Q as too young and too naive to work in espionage.

Q twists his blanket around him even tighter. Like this, and if he just closes his eyes a bit, he can almost recreate the feeling of being held tight in Bond’s arms: warm, cherished, and safe. All lies, of course, but Q will take his comforts where he can find them.

A while later, Q frowns at his clock. It’s suddenly jumped to 9:12. Unacceptable. He needs to get up.

He lies there for some time more, agreeing with himself on this very sensible and professional plan of action. When, at last, Q untangles himself to get dressed, he already feels drained and hollow, and he knows that the day hasn’t even really begun yet.

He goes through his morning routine in a daze, only to find himself standing in front of his empty refrigerator, dumbfounded. He didn’t really. Didn’t really eat dinner last night, having come in at 2 in the morning and ready to collapse.

Q can’t remember the last time he bought food. He frowns blankly at the empty refrigerator for another minute or two before going to set up the electric kettle. Tea’s never failed him before. He can't say he feels particularly hungry anyway.

Briefly, he thinks of the antidepressants hiding in the second drawer of his bedside table. He knows he should take them, knows that they might even bring a little colour into his monochromatic world. But they slow Q down like being dumped in a vat of molasses, and he’s tired.

He’s always so tired.

Q dismisses his meds just as the water boils.