[References to quotes from Skyfall and one or two much earlier James Bond films. When I began this, I had it in mind to stick to the traditional Bond formula of numerous exotic, foreign locations, and beautiful women. I ended up with two foreign locations, only one of them exotic, and a beautiful Q.]
Chapter I: What Q Thought
"I really hate flying," said Q almost petulantly as he shut his laptop with a defiant snap.
Naturally, this made absolutely no impression on Moneypenny.
"M says he can't spare any agents," she drawled, looking at Q from the corner of her eye. "They can't spare me either, more's the pity; too many meetings to arrange. Somebody will have to hand over the watch, and show him how it works. You could send a subordinate, but when it comes to 007, we don't want one of your little geek squad infants to cock it up."
"They're not infants," Q replied with a touch of indignation, but Moneypenny could see that he was going to give in. "And I loathe flying."
"Poor you," said Moneypenny remorselessly. Q raised an eyebrow at her, and she grinned. Since their first meeting not all that long ago, at MI6, when they were both new and surrounded by much older, experienced veterans, they had had a good rapport; their conversations tended to be snarky and filled with banter, but the mutual respect was there. "Better pack, then."
"Right," muttered Q, his voice, which had gone up a near half-octave at her announcement, restored to its usual cool, calm tenor. "I suppose my papers are in order? Ready in an hour, just need to…" He lifted a small, black case from the top of his immaculate workstation.
"We'll get you there ahead of the typhoon," Moneypenny said, still grinning. "But there's bound to be some turbulence. You'd better bring your pills."
Q groaned almost inaudibly.
"You'll rendezvous at the Hotel Okura. You know it, don't you? You've been to Tokyo before. Bond's been there for three days, scoping out the situation."
A corner of Q's mouth twitched downward. "Aren't the seismologists predicting another major earthquake within the decade? We don't want even more of 007's tech than usual to be completely destroyed."
"Oh stop," Moneypenny said with mild exasperation. "I've been to Tokyo loads of times, and there are lots of little mini-earthquakes…you don't even notice them. Oh, and leave the cardigan here, will you? Take a nice suit, for God's sake, you've got to look the part."
"Oh, a well-to-do tourist, I don't know. The Okura's rather upscale."
"I don't maintain an extensive wardrobe," Q replied acidly, shrugging his shoulders beneath the disputed cardigan. "I'm not a field agent. This—" He gestured around the white-walled computer lab that, at the present hour, was humming with activity. "—is where I live, for the most part."
"Right," said Moneypenny, reaching into her handbag and then extending an envelope, which she waved in Q's face. "Flight tickets, passport, funds. Don't you have a decent, tailored suit jacket? You're Head of Q Branch; no need to slouch about in those wretched cardigans. Everybody will think you're a university student. Headquarters can kit you out, if you haven't anything appropriate."
"What's wrong with my cardigans?" Q asked, eyes on the envelope as it flicked past his nose. "I like them. They're comfortable."
"Nothing's wrong with them. But you have an image to keep up. Outside of HQ, that is."
Q rolled his eyes. "Did Headquarters provide you with the fancy frock you took to Macao, when you met up with 007 at the casino?"
"You'd better believe it," Moneypenny responded ruefully. "As if I could afford that sort of thing. Not on government pay. But they did let me keep it."
She was smiling in a reminiscing sort of way, eyes suddenly bright. Q thought he knew why; it was common knowledge that she and James Bond had had what the staff of Q Branch coyly referred to as at least one close encounter, in the past. On the other hand, while they clearly liked each other, and engaged in frequent innuendo-laden banter, it was equally clear that whatever it was they done together had been more in the line of friends-with-benefits than romantic entanglement.
"I don't see why Tanner couldn't go."
"He's busy," said Moneypenny, lowering the envelope to the surface of Q's workstation-desk. "M won't send his right-hand man. It's got to be you. But I lobbied to get you two days' leave, afterward. You deserve them, after all we've been through lately."
Accepting the inevitable, and hoping against hope that the typhoon, or whatever it was, would subside before reaching the Japanese coastline, Q glanced about the lab for the most reliable technician—Carter, most likely—to leave in command.
"Thanks, Eve," he said aloud, unplugging his laptop and then reaching for the envelope.
"007's got a tracker, but of course you know that. You'll find him without any trouble." Moneypenny pushed him gently away from his desk. "Go on, then. Mallory—I mean M—wants to see you now, before you leave."
"First M, then typhoons, then a twelve hour flight, and then 007. What have I done to merit this?"
"Relax," Moneypenny said kindly. It had been a busy week, and she could sense that Q was tightly wound, although none of that showed in his narrow, angular face, with its schoolboy-pink lips and that unruly mop of wavy black hair. The hazel green eyes, behind oversized spectacles, gave nothing away either. He did look like a university student, cardigan or no cardigan, and Moneypenny knew only too well that there had been plenty of malicious gossip when MI6 chose to make a seemingly untried youth the head of its Q Branch. She herself had been the subject of some less than pleasant comments by a few members of the Old Guard, although she wasn't certain whether this was due to her own youthful state, her gender, her mixed ethnic background, or the fact that she had very nearly terminated a Double O agent.
"I'm perfectly relaxed, thanks," Q retorted, brandishing the envelope. "I'm off, then. Would you tell Carter that he has the com, temporarily, and see to it that one of the infants locks up the lab, tonight?"
"Of course," Moneypenny murmured, checking her watch and giving Q another little push. "Have fun," she added gratuitously, as Q headed for the door. "You know. Do something extracurricular. Something that has nothing to do with algorithms and exploding pens."
"Q Branch hasn't done exploding pens in ages," Q muttered, drawing his straight, dark brows together. "I told the same thing to 007."
"Handprint-sensitive Walthers, then," Moneypenny said impatiently. "Go out to dinner. See the sights. Better yet, get yourself laid. That shouldn't be difficult. You're pretty enough."
Q's breath exploded outward in a huff of irritation as he pocketed the envelope and vanished through the door.
James Bond was not in Tokyo.
Q spent a good fifteen minutes silently cursing the entire Double O division, in spite of the fact that his expression remained as calm and alert as usual. At least he hadn't already checked himself into the hotel. Gathering his modest carry-on luggage, he made his way to the train station and purchased a ticket to Kyoto. A coded message from Bond, sent to Q's mobile, indicated that he had gone there ahead of schedule.
Bloody arrogant, cocky 007.
A twelve and a half hour flight—excruciating for anybody with Q's dislike of air travel—had not done wonders for his temper, and another two and a half hours on the Shinkansen—the Bullet Train—did not improve matters. Once in the old city, Japan's ancient capital long before the establishment of Tokyo, he made his way out of the vast and towering train station—which dwarfed so many of the old, tile-roofed buildings nearby, it was no wonder most of the locals hated it—and took a taxi to Bond's hotel. Once there, he registered, took the lift up to his room, and allowed himself to collapse on the wide and elegant western-style bed.
There had been, as Moneypenny had warned him, a generous amount of turbulence on the flight. The typhoon was approaching; it was beginning to rain outside, and Q had the mother of all headaches to contend with. Two analgesic tablets took care of the last of these problems, but the weather wasn't getting any better, and Q was relieved to see, from 007's tracker, that Bond had not gone out, was somewhere in the building. He followed the electronic trail of breadcrumbs to the glassed-in rooftop pool, where he found 007 swimming laps in the fast lane, the others being occupied by various paddling hotel guests, their children, and an assortment of brightly colored flotation devices.
Bond's arms clove the water with sharp regularity, moving like pistons; when he reached the end of the pool, he hauled himself out and sat on the edge, dripping and relaxed, as Q approached.
"The old dog," Moneypenny sometimes called him in a mildly affectionate tone of voice, when 007 wasn't around to hear, and the gods only knew how often Bond and Q had sniped at each other about Bond's advancing age—the man was into his forties, after all—and Q's undeniable, unrepentant youth. Bond didn't exactly look old—just a bit haggard, a bit weathered; his keen features were still arresting, still drew the eye, but his ice-blue eyes looked tired. Beneath that face, the body was as taut, well-muscled, and sleek as always, but Q found it difficult to take his eyes away from the scars that marked it.
"Well, Q. What have you got for me?"
There it was, the brusque, nonchalant, very faintly sardonic tone of voice Bond often used when speaking to Q. Whether standing next to Q's workstation, peering over his shoulder as he typed code into his laptop, or examining the latest piece of tech his Quartermaster had just presented him with, or leveling a critical eye at something on one of the wallscreens, Bond seemed to derive some satisfaction from addressing him as if he were a child genius who had just been caught sneaking out of school
"A—is that all?"
"You were expecting a portable folding helicopter, perhaps? I believe my predecessor gave you one, once before. In this very country, in fact."
Bond eyed the small, black felted box Q had just dropped into his palm. "I've said it before: not exactly Christmas, is it?"
Q sighed and said nothing, so Bond sighed even more gustily and opened the box. An elegant Rolex watch, gleaming silver and gold, rested within. Bond raised both eyebrows.
"Alright, Q, don't tell me."
Q frowned. "It's quite simple, 007. It contains a communicator; radiation and gas detectors, motion and heat sensors—passive infra-red and Doppler—that can give you the coordinates of any human being within seventy-five feet; internet access, should you want to google the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to pass the time; and a standard GPS."
"No weapons capacity?"
"No. You've got your Walther, haven't you? The third we've needed to make for you, since I've been with MI6. Look, the buttons are on the side."
"I don't see any point to the internet access," murmured Bond, squinting at the watch face. "The screen's not much bigger than my thumbnail. How can you see any of the readouts properly?"
"Press the alarm button twice. Whatever's on the screen with be projected onto any surface you like, preferably a flat one, to make it perfectly legible. Instructions are programmed in, in case your memory isn't what it was."
"A little more respect for your elders, if you please."
Q snorted, he couldn't help it, but managed not to laugh.
"Seriously, nothing else?"
"A box of chocolates from Moneypenny. They're real."
"Ah," said Bond, looking pleased. He settled the box on top of his bare thighs and opened it. "Care for one?"
"Thank you, no."
"Just as well," Bond said, selecting a chocolate from its little paper nest. "They'd be likely to give you spots."
Q held his peace. He ought, he told himself, to be accustomed, by now, to being twitted about his age by MI6's most legendary killing machine.
The pool was beginning to empty as the dinner hour approached, and nearly all of the lanes were now clear. Bond, still seated on the edge, gave his Quartermaster an assessing look.
"Care for a swim?"
Q rolled his eyes. No, damn it, he was not going to peel himself out of his brand new, MI6-issue, tailored suit, and struggle into a pair of Speedos that would only accentuate his near-fragile physique, the thinness and pallor of his fine-boned, long-limbed body. He was tired, and had no interest in being on the receiving end of any condescending smirks from a well-built, cleanly muscled Double O agent, no matter how, er, bloody attractive that agent might be.
"I think we might discuss your mission, 007."
"Right." Bond stood up; his arms and torso were dry, now, but his swim trunks were still damp. He stretched, leisurely, and Q's eyes flickered before he averted them from the play of muscles that moved like a panther's beneath the surface of his skin.
"Why did you leave Tokyo for Kyoto a day early?"
"For the best of reasons. My quarry is arriving a day early."
"We ought to have you microchipped," said Q, without heat. "I've heard you were always the most difficult of the Double Os to keep track of."
"You boffins," retorted Bond, also without heat, and for a moment it almost looked as though he would smile. "Have you eaten since your flight, Q?"
Q shook his head, realizing suddenly that he was famished as well as exhausted.
"Have dinner with me?"
Q blinked. "What?"
"You'd be doing me a service, actually." 007 draped a towel over his shoulders, took Q by the elbow, and moved in the direction of the lift.
"How?" said Q cautiously, trying to disengage his elbow. "Don't tell me you're in hot water already. Your, um, target hasn't arrived yet."
"You're right, he hasn't. But he'll be here before midnight, a day early, as I discovered, and the sooner I take care of things the better. Before he even attempts to sell that information he stole from Military Intelligence. Even more importantly, before he's able to break the code and actually read it."
"I don't think he'll decrypt it. My colleagues and I invented that code."
"I'll go to his room before one. Posing as a buyer. Although he may see through that; he's not stupid."
Q wrinkled his brow. "So? How would my dining with you be doing you a service?"
Bond shrugged. "There's a fellow from the Italian diplomatic corps…his wife's staying here. Very beautiful and very…shall we say, the lady's been round the block with any number of gentlemen since her husband was posted to Tokyo. I daresay she's bored. I was introduced to her this afternoon—not with my real name, naturally—and she made it quite plain that a visit to my room tonight would not be out of the question."
No surprise there, and Q indulged in some mental eye-rolling. "Can't control your lower instincts, can you, 007. It's no wonder your reputation—"
The corners of Bond's mouth turned down. "I didn't encourage her, Q, God knows. But I need to make certain that neither she nor anybody else tries to invade my privacy this evening. If you have dinner with me, and come back with me to my room, after, I think she'll get the picture. So to speak."
The lift doors slid open and they stepped inside, Q doing his best not to let his jaw drop.
"007, you must be joking."
"As two of your predecessors used to say, I never joke about my work."
"Can't you think of another method for keeping her away?"
"Not really," replied Bond, shrugging. "It'll have to do, Q. If Moneypenny, another field agent, or even Tanner, had come in your place, I'm sure they'd indulge me. After all, it's only for show."
"Oh, good lord."
"No worries, Q," said Bond, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, he grinned. "This shouldn't require more than a few fond looks and maybe a little hand holding."
Q looked at him aghast, and then scowled when he heard Bond actually chuckle.
"I suppose I have time to change my shirt, before dinner," Q snapped, giving in and changing the subject at the same time. His MI6-issue suit still looked crisp and beautifully pressed, but the shirt, which was his own…Q lowered his chin, surveying the blue button-down, severely wrinkled from hours spent squirming in an uncomfortable airline seat, with distaste.
"Yes, of course. Shall we say half past eight?"
The lift doors opened on Q's floor, and without replying, he slipped out and fled to his room. The curtains hadn't been drawn, and for a moment he stood looking out regretfully at the winking lights of the city, softly glowing paper lanterns hanging from eaves of centuries-old tea houses along the Kamo River, the outlines of the rolling hills that surrounded them, the distant spires of old temples. Well, the remainder of the evening would be spent play-acting at being the love interest, of all things, for whomever James Bond was pretending to be—some sort of rogue military type, no doubt. So much for sightseeing. He stripped, showered, and shaved, donned a white shirt and dark grey tie, scrambled back into the handsomely tailored suit, and made an effort to smooth his obstinately wayward hair.
"Oh shit," muttered Q, as his fingers slipped on the knot of his silk tie. "Shit, shit, shit."
"I knew you'd be pretty for me," Bond said coolly, with only the faintest hint of a smirk, when Q appeared at his table promptly at half past eight.
"Very funny, 007. Now, where is this man-eating diplomat's wife I'm meant to be protecting you from?"
"Q, you really must do something about that tone of address. Anybody would think you didn't like me."
"Really?" said Q icily, shaking out his napkin. "Imagine that."
Menus written in both Japanese and English were placed before them, along with a separate wine list. The dining room was simply furnished but elegant, with a great deal of polished natural wood, white damask tablecloths and napkins, and flower arrangements scattered here and there. Q perused the menu and avoided Bond's amused glance.
"Don't turn your head," Bond said, under his breath. "But the man-eater is sitting two tables to our left." He reached out and closed one hand lightly over Q's wrist, and the Quartermaster had to restrain himself from giving a massive start.
"Don't look so surprised," admonished Bond, still under his breath. His thumb stroked Q's prominent wrist bones, and Q bit his lip, pushing his glasses up on his nose so as to peer unobtrusively in the direction of the nearby table. The lady who occupied the sole chair there was indeed tantalizing, if you liked that sort of thing, which Q emphatically did not. Auburn hair, carefully coiffed, the deep V of her black dress revealing a swelling bosom of impressive proportions, long, tanned legs. Jewels winked at her ears and on several of her scarlet tipped fingers. Her eyes were heavily made up, and at the moment they were leveled in the direction of 007 and himself.
Their meal arrived, and Q devoted himself to his delicately prepared vegetables, wondering vaguely how Moneypenny, or one of the field agents, would handle the situation, were they in his place. Nothing in his job description had prepared him to fake-flirt with a Double O agent. Deciding to make the best of things and do his work properly, whatever the cost to his dignity, he raised his eyes to Bond's and gave a wistful little smile.
"Much better," said Bond approvingly. From his tone of voice, Q could tell that the bastard was finding the situation, and his Quartermaster's discomfiture, extremely entertaining. Gritting his teeth, Q suddenly wished that he had an old-school, Cold-War-era MI6 pen, that would explode bright blue ink all over 007's immaculate white shirt.
There were several courses to the meal, each exquisitely presented, and sake, of which Q noticed that Bond was drinking very little. Pudding, or to label it more accurately, dessert, consisted of a number of tiny pastries, sliced fresh fruit, and some sugary confections, accompanied by very strong espresso. Peeking surreptitiously at the Italian diplomat's wife, Q noticed that she had gone through nearly her entire bottle of white wine, and that her eyes, a little glazed, were still focused on his dinner partner.
"Doesn't appear to be taking the hint, does she?" Bond muttered as he stared into his espresso cup. "Or perhaps she needs glasses."
"Oh," said Q, wondering how much longer they would have to carry on with this absurd charade. "That's vexing."
Once the meal was finished and paid for—Bond charged it to his room—they walked to the bank of elevators down the hall. Q stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes—relieved that at least 007 was not trying to hold his hand—but Bond glanced over his shoulder briefly, and gave a grunt of dismay.
"The bloody woman's just behind us. What can she be thinking? Haven't I'd already made it obvious that—"
"Are you sure she isn't one of your target's henchmen, er, henchwomen?" Q whispered jokingly, but Bond's lips with pressed together with mild aggravation, and he didn't laugh. There was a little alcove by the bank of elevators, furnished with upholstered chairs; before Q could say anything else, Bond had pulled him into the alcove and pushed him against the wall, where they would be clearly visible. Then he crooked a finger beneath his Quartermaster's chin and raised his face.
"What are you doing," Q asked frostily. "Checking for spots?"
"Don't be impudent," retorted Bond under his breath, but with discernible amusement. He bent his head towards Q, and his bristly cheek barely brushed against his Quartermaster's freshly shaven one. Q opened his mouth to say something indignant, but closed it again as Bond adjusted his angle of approach and kissed him on the lips.
Q's eyes widened with surprise, and he made a little sound of remonstrance, to no avail. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the diplomat's wife had come to a standstill by the elevators, staring them with a combination of dismay and displeasure. Bond had closed his hands around Q's thin wrists with what looked like a lover's grasp, but was really a very firm and restraining grip.
"For God's sake," he mumbled against Q's mouth. "Try to look a little enthusiastic, will you?" Q stared daggers at him, but when Bond pulled his hands up to rest on his shoulders, Q wrapped his arms round 007's neck and feigned a loud, passionate sigh. His eyes had closed of their own accord, lashes beating against his cheeks, but when he heard the sharp tap-tapping of a pair of high heels on the hallway floor, he opened them, a little groggily, to see the diplomat's wife marching away from them, ire apparent in every movement of her sinuous, designer-clad body.
"Well, well," Bond was saying as he released Q's wrists, but just then the elevator door slid open, and Q turned and stalked inside, jaw clenched. He could feel color flooding his face, and snapped, "If you say a word about this ridiculous…um…to anybody at HQ…"
"Not a chance," Bond said pleasantly, but his attention was now focused on the Rolex, fastened about his wrist. "You're quite popular at HQ, you know, and I wouldn't want to be the envy of half the Double O section, not to mention a good portion of your own staff."
"That's not funny," said Q, but his blush had faded by the time they reached Bond's door. "Is there enough time for me to fetch my luggage, from my room?"
"Have you unpacked any of it?"
"Do it quickly, then," Bond said flatly. Tightening his lips for the tenth time that evening, Q made his way to his own room, seized his suitcase and carry-on, and returned to Bond's in record time. Entering the room, which featured vast windows, nearly floor to ceiling, and a well-stocked mini-bar, he set his things down near the largest armchair, just as Bond pushed the button that drew the curtains shut.
"Your laptop's in there, no doubt," Bond murmured, gesturing at the carry-on. "No need to use the earpiece for this job; this fellow Midgard will be in the same building, and it's a basic operation with relatively little risk; no reason to have an escape plan."
"Perhaps not," Q said, frowning, as he examined the faint marks on both of his wrists. "But he's a versatile fighter, from what I've heard. Good with guns, knives, martial arts. Are you certain I shouldn't—"
"There's no need," Bond said again, unearthing the case containing his Walther from his own locked luggage. "Just make yourself at home, and wait for me. Or go to sleep, if you want to."
"And what's to do if Signora whatever her name is, your would-be inamorata,comes knocking while you're not here?"
"If you answered the door naked, it would help," replied Bond wryly as he slid the Walther into the holster hidden beneath his jacket. Q adopted an affronted expression and then turned his back, shoulders stiff. As he walked to the mini-fridge for a bottle of water, he ignored the dry chuckle echoing in the room behind him.
As there was nearly an hour until Bond's planned visit to Mr Midgard's room, Q sat down and set up his laptop, connecting it neatly to the little desktop computer provided by the hotel for the most expensive of the guest rooms. As he typed away, staring with concentration at the screen, he could hear Bond behind him, telephoning HQ on a secure line.
Perhaps five minutes later, he let out a breath of satisfaction and rubbed his tired eyes. "I'm in."
"What was that?" Bond asked absently as he studied the face of his Rolex. "I'm testing your motion detectors; what did you say?"
"I've hacked the hotel's system, have access to their registration files," Q said quietly, indicating his glowing screen with a flick of a finger. "He's here; he checked in shortly before we sat down to dinner. He's in Room 1420; he ordered a meal from room service, and a bottle of vodka. His television is switched on, and he's watching some closed-circuit channel."
"Probably porn," Bond said with the ghost of a smile. "I'll see to it that he goes with a bang, then."
The corner of Q's mouth twitched. "I doubt he'll thank you for it."
Bond went to the door, and turned. He was cold and focused now, his senses attuned to every movement and sound in his vicinity, but his glance swept past Q without really seeing him. His hand slipped into his jacket, to check his firearm, and then out again, empty.
"Be certain the door is double-locked," he said quietly. "I shan't be long." Before Q could say a word, even to wish him luck, the door clicked shut behind him.
Q took a deep breath, got to his feet, and locked the door. Bond had left his tracker in the room; there was no point in attempting to follow him on the monitor. Sighing, he sat down on the extra-wide bed, then kicked off his shoes and lay down, stretching and yawning with fatigue.
It wouldn't hurt to sleep, just a bit, until 007 returned from his mission. And Q had faith in him; he didn't think Midgard would present him with too much of a challenge. An amoral, vicious killer, yes, but not as skilled as Bond, and Q thought it unlikely that his weapons, whatever they were, would be anything like a match for the gun he had made, with such painstaking care, for 007.