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Pari Passu

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(No one remembers ever falling so deeply.)

As an undercover agent, the whole of James Bond’s occupation revolved around being inconspicuous. Despite that, James had never felt the regular man in the room, due to his charm, his fervor, his looks, his mystery. But walking into the country club soirée—yuppies abound and each girl with her coy grin and each young man twisting his cufflinks—left him separated, unnoticed, and for the first time, the regular man. He was dressed as sharply as anyone else in the room, and the only comment one might have about him was the acute difference in age (though anyone else in the room had their own share of wrinkles upon that brow, prematurely powdered and infused with botox supplements).

His scrutiny swept over the crowd, too contained to even hide the rambunctious trouble in their intentions; the ladies in their sleek black dresses, thin stockings, pallid cheekbones, all extending their hands for the lads to kiss their rings—James could only spare a thought of how they’d scream in bed.

Crossing through the room, he brushed past caterers and mobs of uninteresting professionals, laugh after hollow laugh and imperceptible glare, and in the center, there, a banquet table grew to size. No one was sitting around it, rather standing on the perimeter, shaking hands and smiling politely, and there in the middle—there he was—tilting his head back in a soundless laugh, a wobbly hand wrapped around a flute of champagne. At his elbow was a young, pretty woman, her eyes sharp and hair clean and dress stunningly flattering.

It was Q beside this woman, or as Moneypenny reluctantly quoted, and the serif banner behind them seemed to denote, Stephanie Wilkes and Jeremiah Radley, Engaged to Be Married.

(Stop with the pretenses. It was always your decision.)

There was a thrill, and a flicker, and a moment where Q—Radley, Jeremiah, Mr. Radley, associate banker, pleased to meet you, very pleased—saw him, looked right at him, and without missing a beat turned away.

James was not so easily discouraged. Q of all people would know this.

And so he met him halfway, in that he meant he kept moving and Q carefully regarded him, tracking a map in his head without turning to look, losing no cue in his conversations and petting Stephanie’s hand while she thumbed the ring around her finger with a reserved but unhindered energy. Stephanie’s eyes widened, Q’s shoulders tensed, James squeezed him at the forearm, and Jeremiah, he...

He smiled, and took James by the arm, pulling him down for a quick, sloppy embrace, smirking into his ear, “So this is the unexpected turn to my night.” The effort was too fast, too natural, for James to think anything unusual of it, until Q spun him around and said, “Stephanie, this is my friend, from the war, Everett Moore, a very dear, very old, old, old friend—good God, man, why haven’t you died, by now?” And Q gave James a dreary smile over his shoulder; the irony wasn’t lost on him, but James was having none of it, not until he could feel his voice settle in again.

“My age was never a distraction in our relationship,” James protested, belatedly. The corner of Q's—Jeremiah’s lips lifted, and Stephanie looked less wary, and when James was done with her (Mr. Moore, I’d love to hear your stories; I’m sorry, love, but I’m not one to talk much of the war) he found Q again, by himself, for a chat.

“Are you wearing contacts?” was the first thing James said to him. Q’s brows pinched in that once-familiar way, like he’d had a disparaging retort in store for ages but found himself too dignified for something so petty. Instead, he fidgeted with his breast pocket, flicking out his handkerchief though he’d nothing to do with it. So he folded it again, tidy and careful.

“I didn’t have correctional surgery, if that’s what you mean to suggest.”

“No, of course not. The Service wouldn’t pay for that and Heaven forbid you make use of your own wallet.”

Q circled the edge of the anteroom, refilling his flute of champagne and taking a seat across from James. He looked at the man evenly, and said as tonelessly as he could muster: “Wouldn’t pay for the Quartermaster, or for a civilian?”

James was quiet for a moment. Q sipped at his champagne.

“A civilian.” A question, too damp to lilt.

Q nodded. “A mere subject of the Queen.”

(Are you happy with yourself, Quartermaster?

I’m in a good place.)

“I’m not surprised.”

“No,” he said, with some infuriating taste of patience.

“So you’ve retired early,”

“As did you. But your version came with a deactivation stamp and an obituary.” James sat back, neither confirming nor denying. Q studied this and leaned forward if only to set his glass on the table, and kept his eyes trained on James while his hand dipped into his inner pocket, withdrawing two cigarettes and a lighter. “What are you doing here?” he muttered, lighting the both of them between his lips. He passed James one, reaching over the table, then settled back again, suddenly languid.

“Since when did you become a social smoker?” James said, accepting the smoke regardless.

“Since I let myself stop being Q and start being Jeremiah,” he drawled, sounding more bitter than James would’ve hoped.

(Perhaps we’re all orphans, abandoned by our homeland.)

“Bond.” It made the hair on James’ neck stand. And it wasn’t just his surname; Q had always been one to prefer it, for the longest time, over ‘James’ (and even when he was James everything was-). But it was the way he said it, one syllable, condescending and conclusive and the way it left him feeling like he knew what he had to give, even when he didn’t. That illusion he could draw from one word, one syllable, commanding a room with his voice, commanding a man with everything else—

James had taught him that, and Q wasn’t so blind to use it without deliberate cause.

So he repeated it.

“Bond. What are you doing here?”

James stretched an arm over the top of the sofa. “I’m wishing you a merry engagement party.”

“You know that’s not what I’m asking. In England, why are you in England?”

“Your accent has had a turn of Liverpool. I’d always pinned your adopted sound as something Manchester.”

Q narrowed his eyes at him, closed them, and took another drag.

(You’re impossible.)

This bastard, too proud to even sigh.

“I should’ve turned you away at the door.”

“I’m not causing any trouble,” James insisted.

“Not yet, but you will; it’s practically your modus operandi to infiltrate, seduce, and cook up a storm.”

James’ forehead knitted. “Is that an American idiom now? Bloody Hell.” Nevertheless, he shook his head. “I seem to have missed the seduction stage entirely.” And he lifted a brow, challengingly.

Q responded tacitly as ever.

“You’re retired now. And getting married. Congratulations,” James said, rolling the cigarette between his lips.

Q let out an automatic ‘thank you’—trained and ingrained for just how long now?—and tapped the ashes away from his stick. “And you’ve been dead for two years.”

“You hardly looked shocked.”

“I’ve had my suspicions,” Q said, dipping down to set the stub in the ashtray. He brushed at the lip of his flute with his thumb, then lifted it up for another drink.

(He’s not dead. He isn’t. He can’t be.)

“I see you’ve finally acquired a taste for alcohol, too.”

“I have the right to drink, I’m getting married,” he said into the glass.

And just the way he said that, so sure, so nonchalant, so abject of love, left something to be desired. Something more than that sickening twinkle in his eye.

“To Stephanie. Lovely Stephanie. She’s a cute girl. No slight to her but that name is awfully banal in comparison.”

“Deceptive to her personality.”

“And Jeremiah was in the war before he met her?”

I was, yes. You as well, Leftenant Moore.”

Everett Moore. “Is that a name you’d had up your sleeve for a while, now? I’d expect more creativity from you.”

(My imagination isn’t inflicted by a “dearth in uniquity”. You compose your own twenty-tier hierarchy algorithms without a base model, and then we can talk.)

“Should I take comfort in knowing two years of death hasn’t changed you?”

(Only you would denounce Poe before you’d even entered second form.)

James killed his own cigarette, resting it on the tray, and watched Q with something indiscernible. “Oh, but it has. You, on the other hand...”

Q twisted his head. “Let’s not make this about me.”

“You asked why I’m in England,” and the irritability set in Q’s eyes dissipated, forming a glint more bemused than he should’ve been.

“Of all places to come, why here? Nevermind you even dared to set foot in the country—”

“Don’t be daft.”

Why are you here, Mr. Bond?” The strength in it alone made James reconsider his course of action. Q cleared his throat.

“I’m not returning to MI-6.” He said it with such finality that some inflamed area of Q’s mind went reeling.

“You’ve gone rogue. You’re a risk to the nation, now that you’ve resurfaced.”

“Please. No one knows I’m here except you and Moneypenny.”

“Wherever you’ve been, in death, has made you naïve.”

(‘Godless’ is not synonymous with ‘faithless’. I have perfect faith in what I do.

Do you?)

James eyed him, young and coiffed and perfect, but rigid, and unwilling to bend. He leaned back again, and whistled lowly, reaching into his pocket.

He tossed Q a card, letting it glide over the tabletop. “This is where I’m staying. Pay me a visit some time tomorrow.”

Q made no move to take it, expression growing sour. “No. Get it done tonight.”

“Can’t be done in a night, I’m afraid.”

“Can’t it?” Again with the inane sayings.

“No.” With that James rose and approached the door, leaving Q—Jeremiah to his champagne. “I’ve taken too much of your time, Mr. Radley. I suggest you return to your party,” he said in the threshold.

“Bond.” And he waited for it. “Wait.” He hardly turned, but tilted his head back, to indicate his listening.

“The moment I saw you,” Q began to admit, neck stricken, “I wanted to hurt you.”

Men usually do. “And now?” James looked back.

Q said nothing.

James left.

(Lately, I’m not expecting you.)

-

Q was at his doorstep in five hours.

“It’s 4 A.M.”

“It’s tomorrow,” and like that, he pushed his way back in.

-

I’d been waiting for someone to take me out of this life. No one ever came.

But for you, I’d like to.

-

Stephanie Wilkes, A.K.A. MI-5 Agent 002 Anthea Boor, was discharged immediately due to the allowance of a critical reconnaissance mission to fall through, following the disappearance of her partner.

James Bond consecutively vanished again, after rising for air once, and never came back.

Beside him on a red eye flight to Broulee was a young boy, a young man, intellectually superior, emotionally stunted (not unlike himself), analytical genius, former Quartermaster of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service: Division MI-6, Clark Earney, absent MI-6 Agent 007.

He slept next to the last owner of that mantle—he’d come to him in the night, eyes red, hands wild—and they felt it was enough to skip the bickering, the protestations, the mildness of a touch.

(We’re the best at what we do, you and I.)

To the Queen and country,

To their former friends and employers,

To their acquaintances, past, present, future;

To everyone but themselves,

They were already gone.