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The first time both fugitives stop is just before dawn.

They’ve said nothing since leaving Venice; simply walked, keeping away from civilisation whenever possible. Q hasn’t complained about the rucksack carried, but slowing in his pace tells Ronni rest would be appreciated, plus perhaps some sleep. She’s found an abandoned building far enough away from the beaten track for them to have some respite, but ideally they need to be further away from the centre of their handiwork before there is time to truly relax. Spectre’s regional HQ was stripped of everything valuable, before they’d destroyed it to send a message: we will die for our ideal, without a thought. Bond’s salt blood intoxication remains all that Ronni can taste; memory must be buried deeper than a sleep-deprived brain is capable.

She stands at the front of the house alone, guarding Q as he relieves himself, conscious of only one clip of ammunition for the SIG which might not be enough, when it becomes apparent she’s being stared at. This is not the place to talk, and so the man is ushered inside, conscious of anywhere that might be seen with a long lens or via satellite. Only then is rucksack removed, slump of shoulders telling 004 all that is needed. The Quartermaster is exhausted, food and fluids required before any attempt is made to travel further: if his level of dudgeon is any indicator, there’ll also need to be some verbal reassurance mixed in.

‘Honestly, Veronica, I will just require a moment.’

‘You can take all the time you need, it is absolutely fine.’

‘All I can smell is burnt electrical wiring, I assume that passes in time?’

‘Could be worse, there are far less pleasant things to fixate on.’

‘Would you like me to boot up the laptop and see how Bond is -‘

‘It’s better I don’t know. In fact, it’s sensible just to keep moving, but I know how tired you are. As far away from prying eyes as possible while the world still sleeps. Then when it’s awake? We can rest.’

‘I did write this briefing document, remember. Never thought I’d actually have to follow it.’

She hands over a banana which Q eats, bottle of water afterwards that is quickly finished. They move to sit on a solid wooden table, surrounded by decay and damp, still shell shocked at their sudden change of situation. Ronni has already died once: the numbness will, she knows, pass in time. Suddenly this young man is the unknown quantity, both in mental and physical fitness: conscious of circumstance they need to be moving, and before it becomes an issue he’s shifted back to standing.

‘I am also aware of my status as your liability.’

‘There are many words I would use to describe you Q, but liability will never be one of them. Brilliant, strong, determined and focussed are better, and I’ll use them instead. You came all this way knowing full well what the consequences could be. Lesser mortals would have run. I have your back, because I know just how important you are. Not to Country or mission, but to me.’

The man blinks, briefly embarrassed at the regard. In the Barracks he was in charge but this is Ronni’s world, a fact that won’t need reinforcing. Having never seen him deal with this level of stress, remaining aware of what was at stake, perhaps making this overtly personal wasn’t the right answer. However, this was 004’s method: Bond made people want to assist using charisma and sexuality: honesty and warmth seemed to her better bets, ostensibly because that was just easier under pressure. Only now it appears has Q grasped this difference: there is a conscious shift in body language, normally detached curiosity aware and then surprised at what her words had meant.

‘That was a genuine compliment.’

‘Is this the moment when I remind you that I’m not 007 and there’s no need to alter the terms of our relationship?’

‘Your honesty was always refreshing in training, but I’d always considered it dangerous in the field because of the potential issues it might cause. However, hearing it now? That’s exactly what the scared, confused and frightened boy I now am wanted to hear.’

‘You do yourself a disservice, Q. You may be frightened but I guarantee once safe and secure, you’ll grasp what an adventure this has the potential to be.’

‘Is that your reasoning, 004?’

‘Every time I remember what I’ve become there’s a double take, disbelief at this opportunity I’ve been given and that must always be taken seriously. It’s amazing, yet humbling. Thank you for believing I was capable when there were moments I believed failure was inevitable.’

The words are doing their work, both energy and confidence in the young man’s stance. Then he sits back down, closing the distance between them for a reason. There is an admission coming, as the Quartermaster’s voice drops.

‘When I agreed to go dark, I was utterly cognisant of consequence. Your foresight, in that regard, has been remarkable: I wouldn’t have considered many items as essential equipment, would have questioned your need to walk in wet clothing until I thought through your reasoning. I have staggeringly misjudged your organisational acumen, and it chastens me greatly. Of all the people in the World I would want to be on the run with? I would pick you, in a breath, every single time. I won’t disappoint you, and I will make sure I’m always strong and determined. Of that, you have my word.’

A hand rests on Ronni’s leg, brief squeeze from now dirty hands before they’re both standing. Rucksacks are secured, the laptop grasped across Q’s chest, and 004 will keep them both moving until they can’t any longer. With what was pillaged from Venice, they can set up a decent camp somewhere, anywhere, and then her superior can sleep for as long as is required.

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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

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