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The first time James Bond saw his Quartermaster since his assignment was on a rooftop, looking down from above.

After three years spent in such deep cover James Bond had ceased to exist in any MI6 records since he left - and with the death certificate to prove it - the operative had finally returned to London. Three years had never felt that long before, but looking out at the city from his favourite vantage point, 007 couldn’t help but feel a little... old. Bond knew he’d changed since he left the city, in ways he would probably never be able to reverse, but London stayed the same. His Quartermaster, on the other hand, was not so immune to change as the immortal city.

Even after three years, Bond recognised the head that walked out of the MI6 building as well as his own. Q’s hair was a little longer, he had eschewed his usual jumper for a suit jacket. His usual tie was replaced by a scarf. Bond smiled when he found he recognised it. He watched as Q strode out and down the street. If he hurried, he’d beat the Quartermaster home. But something made him stop. Bond crouched and Q looked up at the roof Bond was currently standing on. The angle was such that Q couldn’t see him, but Bond saw Q, and decided he wasn’t quite as ready to face the Quartermaster as he thought.

Q looked happy. Or content, at least. Selfishly, Bond wasn’t sure whether to be glad or disappointed. It had been three years. Maybe Q had gotten over him?

Within minutes, Bond had descended to ground level and was pushing past the lunch time London rush in an attempt to follow Q. Maybe he could just walk up to Q in the street, avoid a scene.

No, that wouldn’t be fair. Best to reunite privately. Safer to explain out of public view, anyway. Still, something in Bond drew him forward, everything in him suddenly screaming, protesting Q’s long absence from his life, crying against the physical distance currently between them.

Q had crossed the street by now. Bond couldn’t follow without being seen. He stopped at the corner, indecision plaguing him for the first time in too long. The last three years had been full of snap decisions, sleeping with a loaded gun under his pillow without the ridiculously high security of their - Q’s - apartment, spending every waking moment looking over his shoulder. Imagining Q’s face at night just to coax himself to sleep.

Now, he had time. M had promised that once he returned, if he returned, he’d be retired for good. Maybe get a desk job or training new recruits, but all of that coming after letting Q know he wasn’t dead.

Three years of being on the alert taught Bond to be cautious. Already his mind was turning over the reconnaissance options, not truly able to shake the mindset of the mission. Something he had grown to rely on his target for.

A sudden stillness drew Bond out of his calculations. He had been stationary too long. Q had seen him. The Quartermaster’s expression was blank with shock or disbelief. There was no love there, no relief, James noted bitterly. None of the contentedness he’d witnessed earlier either. He had two options now, allow the confrontation or regroup.

Q didn’t move, but the crowd did, surging after a change in the traffic lights allowed a group of pedestrians to cross.

Bond allowed himself to be swept away by the thronging masses and forced himself not to look back.

The first time Q saw James after he “died”, was on a crowded street corner.

It was lunchtime, and the busy London street was full of people moving to and fro, meeting people, grabbing lunch, except /him/. Q saw him watching from across the street, the only face in a sea of moving faces. He stopped and stared, but the next minute, the crowd surged and James was gone.

Q went home that night and cried for the first time in three years.

The next day, there was a note at his door.

I’m sorry.

It was a hand Q knew well. He held the note clutched in his hand the entire tube ride to work, trying to calm his racing heart.

He spent the day in a daze, head snapping up every time someone walked into the room, every time he heard a man’s voice. By midday, he had convinced himself he was going mad.

Perhaps it was time to take a holiday. Somewhere far away. Somewhere warm.

By the journey home, madness had been taken over by anger. Anger at himself, for being so pathetic that he was suddenly seeing his dead lover of all things, three years after he’d gone. Angry at James for being stupid enough to get himself shot again, and not being stubborn enough to stop it from killing him. Angry at James for leaving him alone. Angry at himself for being angry at James.

By the time he reached his flat, he was ready to hit something.

‘You should have changed the locks.’

Q’s heart stopped. He flicked the lights on with fumbling fingers and there he was, leaning on the kitchen counter like he still lived there.

‘Oh, I fucking knew it,’ Q choked out and then he was flying. He flung himself at James faster than he’d ever moved, fists clenched and snarling. The blow caught James in the chest, but it barely winded him. ‘You bastard!’ Q growled, trying to hit him again, but this time his fist was caught in James’ outstretched hand.

‘Q,’ he murmured in that low voice he never used in public, that half whisper that had become so synonymous of /James/ and their time together.

‘No,’ Q staggered back and furiously blinked back tears. ‘No, don’t. Leave, James.’

‘I’m sorry, Q,’ James said. ‘I really am.’ He took a step forward and Q stepped back again. James reached out a hand. ‘Q, please listen to me.’

‘Get out!’ Q screamed, flinging a hand towards the door. His voice was haggard with suppressed emotion and Q felt a flicker of vindictive pleasure at the pain that crossed James’ face.

‘Q, I didn’t realise-’

‘Nope, you don’t get to say anything to me. Not now.’

Silence. Under the downlights, Q could see the pain disappear behind the mask he always wore and suddenly he was looking at Commander Bond, the operative 007 and /his/ James was gone.

‘Okay,’ Bond said and walked towards the door, just brushing past him on his way out.

The next night, the flat was empty. Q felt it like the emptiness was in his chest. Hollow inside, he checked the answer machine on his way to the kitchen. The act was more of a habit really, the thing came with the landline and he almost never got phone calls except when work needed him to come in to avert some sort of disaster. His single relative, a sweet elderly aunt with Alzheimer’s had stopped calling when she had forgotten his name.

It was quite a surprise then, when he saw someone had left a message.

‘Q, I realise now that I have no right to expect anything from you after everything but I hope this lets me explain everything without you having to face me again. Just... Allow me this, please? Let me get this out and I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll leave. I’ll stay, if you want me to, but I need to say this.’

Q froze at James’s voice. His James, not 007, not the operative who had left his flat last night. It was his James at his most human. Something Q had only just begun to glimpse when James had died.

‘First of all, you have to know: It wasn’t my choice. When I was injured on my last mission - my last official mission anyway - the wound wasn’t as bad as it was recorded. Obviously. The shot didn’t kill me, but M needed an operative with my skills to cease to exist so he could put someone in deep cover. It was just another assignment with the added catch of me being officially dead. I never would have agreed if I knew it would go on this long. I can’t say exactly where or why, but over the past three years I’ve been almost everywhere. There were so many times I thought about contacting you, really. For the first year, I had very little contact with anyone at all. I had meetings with M whenever he went on holiday, but that was the extent to my involvement with MI6 and my contact with the outside. There was a time when I couldn’t because I was almost made and anything suspicious would have compromised me. After that, I convinced myself it would just hurt you to hear what I was doing and I stopped trying.’

The words sounded like excuses to Q, but it was something. Some explanation that didn’t make him feel stupid for believing the lie. One that made at least a semblance of sense. Q sank into an armchair and watched the answer machine as James’s voice kept pouring out.

‘Last night taught me that I was wrong and for that I am so sorry. I’m sorry for leaving you like this. I’m sorry for allowing you to think I was dead and I’m sorry for what that obviously did to you.’

Dammit, he was not going to shed any more tears over James Bond.

‘M promised me that I’m done now. I’m done with field work. I should have retired years ago.’

That shouldn’t have made Q feel happy. It shouldn’t. Field work had been Bond’s life for so long, but James didn’t seem sad about it. Just what had happened since he left?

'If you have any questions, you know where to find me.’

Did Q have questions? Yes. Did he want answers?

That was the first question.