Q waited until James was alone in the infirmary before he stepped inside and quietly slid the door shut behind him.
"Quartermaster," James said amused in spite of his swollen eye, his split lip, rotating his right hand as if the sling they had placed on his arm ten minutes ago were a nuisance already.
"After all these years I really thought that there was nothing you could do that could possibly surprise me," Q said leaning against the door, his gaze unfathomable.
James smirked. "It's nice to be unpredictable."
Q didn't smile, as James had known he wouldn't, instead he stepped closer and trailed a finger carefully over a slightly bruised cheekbone. James' eyes, much heavily lined now, framed by white instead of blond brows, watched him steadily.
"Must you get hit in the face though?"
“What's one more scar on this lined face of mine?"
When the Quartermaster didn't reply, Bond cupped his hand with his own - scraped knuckles and all - and turned his face to press a kiss on Q's palm, feeling the fingers twitch at the caress.
"M wants to talk to you." Q said then.
James quirked a brow, the uninjured one. "Let's get it over with then," he replied trying to stand but Q didn’t move, so he just sat, looking up, with Q’s hand still cupping his face.
"You don't work for MI6 anymore, you don't have to obey his summons."
Bond gave Q an almost condescending look. "Please, you know as well as I do, we will always work for MI6, regardless of whether we are getting paid or not."
Q rubbed a thumb over the split lip, making James' breath hitch almost unperceptively, and then dropped his hand.
"I'll let Eve know you are on your way. Do try to get there in one piece," he said and then left the room. James waited for a moment before he slowly let out a deep breath, allowing himself to bend over slightly as his injuries made themselves know all at once.
"I must admit, not even I expected you would manage to get yourself kidnapped within the first month of your retirement."
"It’s lovely to see you too, M.”
M sat back in his chair and regarded his former agent carefully. His hair might have gone white entirely by now, but he still had the posture, the cockiness and overall regal air of a double-oh. "Your little adventure today presents a problem." M continued, a finger tapping against the upholstered armrest. James gave him an unimpressed look.
"You mean, me being alive is a problem," he replied and waited while M leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk.
"We have... allowed certain exceptions in your case, given that, in spite your best efforts, you succeeded in reaching retirement. You are aware how rare that is for double-ohs."
"As a matter of fact, I don't know of any, they are the stuff of legends, these retired agents," James baited knowing full well where the conversation was going but not willing to give M even an inch.
"Because they are smart enough to disappear, make a new life somewhere and actually stay gone," Me emphasized the statement with a look.
"With MI6's help, of course."
"Well it's either that or killing them and the latter is frowned upon."
M ignored him. "We were... persuaded that it was best for everyone involved to let you live your retirement in London. As today's events prove, this was clearly, a mistake." M clasped his hands together. "What, pray tell, are we going to do now?"
"You seem to forget that I successfully foiled my own kidnapping, handed you the men involved conscious enough to be questioned and for all intent and purposes gave you their boss' name. And all that before lunch."
"And you, Mr. Bond, seem to forget that you are not only responsible for your own life, but one of MI6s greatest assets as well."
Bond's brow twitched, the only sign of surprise, but before he could argue the point, M stood up.
"Bond, I believe you and I succeeded to at least have some sort of begrudging respect for one another, in spite of the contempt we hold for each other's, let's call it, work ethic. I'm giving you the courtesy of this conversation because my predecessor was a woman much wiser that I had given her credit for, because you have proven your worth over and over and because there have been few partnerships as successful as yours and Q's. You risking your own life is your prerogative and I have absolutely no doubt that you would rather die than give up Queen and country. However," he paused to lean forward and place his hands on the desk, "if the choice were to be between England and him, well, loyalty is such a nuanced concept."
James watched his former employer silently, face blank, hands in pockets and M nodded, pleased that he wouldn’t waste time lying his way out of it. Begrudging respect and all that. M straightened back up.
"Legally I can not tell you what to do. You left MI6s employment supposedly for good and, like I said, I don't care what you do with your life. But it is my duty to protect MI6, its assets and interests, and by extension, England."
"And me being alive is a problem," Bond repeated calmly, this time without any trace of sarcasm and utterly serious.
The two men stood facing each other and James idly thought that they had never seen anything as eye to eye as they did now.
"So I repeat," M broke the silence, sitting down again and clasping his hands on the table, "What, pray tell, are we going to do now?"
Q sat down next to James on the ledge of the rooftop and determinedly stared forward and not down. It was pleasantly cool, autumn sliding in gently for once. The afternoon was coming to an end, bright and cloudless, a rather lovely day.
"Is it too much to ask you not to pick such nauseating places to be introspective?" Q lamented.
James smiled and traced his hand down Q's back, warm even through the layers of clothes. They were silent for a moment and James recognized it as Q waiting on him to say whatever he felt like sharing. He thought about lying and dismissed it almost immediately. He'd never lied to Q, and god knows the man knew how to take a punch. So he didn't pull it.
"I will have to disappear. Not right away, but soon."
Q nodded as if he hadn't expected anything less. "Very well," he said and took out his phone and started to type something on it.
James frowned. "What are you doing?"
"Sending in my resignation."
James' hand clasped Q's making the younger man look up at him at slowly. There was nothing in the green eyes, other than the stubborn resolution he was known for and James was once again amazed by his steadfastness. The wave of emotion should really have abated by now. It was embarrassing at his age, this fondness for his Quartermaster.
"They do ask for two weeks in advance," Q added when James didn't seem to be forthcoming and the former agent shook his head.
"What are you going on about?"
"You don't honestly believe I'd let you go on your own."
"Q, you are not leaving MI6."
Q gave him a condescending look. "Please, who's going to stop me?"
"You are needed here and even if that means nothing to you, you are simply not made to be living on the run."
"Let me remind you that there are twenty years of my life about which you still know nothing of."
James opened his mouth, closed it, conceded the point and tried again. "Regardless, you are not one to be of idle mind, you need this work as much as it needs you."
Q shrugged. "I can always find work somewhere else. People need security consultants all the time."
"And what will your credentials say?"
Q gave him an incredulous look. "Seriously? How many fake profiles have I created for you in the past? You are just being ridiculous now," Q returned to his typing and James once again stopped him, controlling the urge to simply throw the phone over the edge.
"I am being ridiculous? You are the one who is willing to throw away his life on a washed up spy with two dozen of contracts on his head."
Q sniffed and brushed a hand down his cardigan. "It's barely a dozen, don't flatter yourself, and as for throwing away my life... well that argument is a couple of decades to late."
"James," Q interrupted him, all banter gone, and fixed him with his unwavering gaze. "We have been together for over twenty years, what on earth makes you think that I would just sit and watch you leave?"
James let out a breath and just watched him. Older now, but still thin, borderline gangly in spite of his age, with grey running through the ever unruly brown locks. The shirt he wore under the now age-appropriate cardigan was rumpled and old and he'd seen Q put it on that very morning. When he looked back up, blue eyes locked on green and he knew with gut wrenching certainty that he had lost the argument before it had even started.
"You knew what M was going to tell me."
Q shrugged and focused on the distance again. "It was obvious. Now, will you let me resign properly? He does get all surly about shoddy procedures."
James sighed and nudged his shoulder against Q's. "Well there is no point in leaving if you are going to be sticking around."
Q glanced at him. "I was serious about the security consultant option."
"Q, you are too British to be anywhere else. It would never work." Q opened his mouth to reply, smartarsedly no doubt, but James' hand found his and gently squeezed it. "If it really becomes an issue, we'll consider it properly. Until then… well… I must admit to have rather taken to our flat."
Q's lips quirked softly to a side and his fingers twitched in the hold. "We did just get that new sofa too."
Jams smiled and silence befell them again. When Q moved imperceptibly closer, James circled his waist with an arm.
"I was thinking-"
"Always a dangerous thing."
"-Chinese for dinner?"
James smirked and buried his nose in tousled hair. "Anything in particular?"
Q smiled. "Surprise me."