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The hospital is packed, and Q feels particularly exposed inside it, but he dropped everything when it became apparent that circumstance had drifted from their grasp. He’d hotwired a Fiat to get here, leaving car unobtrusively hidden around a corner, grateful the owner left driving gloves on their passenger seat. There’ll be no fingerprints to tie him to the theft, hopefully a distinct lack of hairs or fibres either: even under considerable duress, training always kicks in. He is nothing but thorough, especially under pressure. Looking for a sign of her in the cramped Emergency area, finally a flash of curtain exposes auburn ponytail: sneaking into the small treatment booth Ronni sits dishevelled, considerably dirtier than she was when they’d parted company two hours previously.
He hugs probably a little too hard but her response is to pull closer, shaking quietly into shoulder, as instinctively hand moves to head. The curtain shifts suddenly, young female Doctor returning from retrieving tests, clipboard and paperwork in hand. As his Italian is shocking there’s a moment of panic, until it transpires Q’s concern is unnecessary: English is the preferred first language regardless, and his presence in the space is anything but a surprise.
‘You were right, there is nothing wrong with you. If you are fast you can leave before the AISI arrive.‘
Their sanctity and the curtain are both quickly redrawn as the woman vanishes: Q steps back and tries to assess Ronni’s stability, watching as she wipes tears from a blackened face. The smell of woodsmoke is all-pervading, so strong it makes him nauseous. Exposition is required, and quickly.
‘What did you tell her?’
‘The absolute truth, like the briefing documents suggest when you’re out of options: at some point all you’ll have is total honesty and the hope the person you’re speaking to believes your story. I simply admitted if I’m compromised both you and I are dead, and was just at the Museum to help. It appears she believed me.’
‘It’s amazing how often the truth works. That doesn’t detract from the issue however: after I lost video and audio there was understandably panic as to your well being. We may have saved the violins, but what of our assailants?’
‘I finally stopped them from reaching the main exhibit, and thought I’d neutralised everybody -‘
‘Except we both missed the man on the balcony. That wasn’t just you, Ronni, I can take the blame for not covering all the exits. It was him who started the fire in the annex?’
‘Completely by accident. By the time he was unconscious the whole restaurant complex was in flames. It was only when I saw the girl on the first floor I realised there was a problem. I couldn’t leave them, I know I should have but -‘
‘No, it’s fine, I completely understand. You were incredibly brave for going up there.’
‘Or stupid, or both. I don’t know, but at least one of the people I helped get out hasn’t recovered consciousness. Did the fire service contain it?’
‘Yes, that I can confirm, long before it reached the main building. I suspect -‘
Then nothing else matters except the commotion suddenly behind them, raised voices and then a wail that strikes fear into Q’s heart, all too familiar. He’s back in the Barracks, the day Bond saved the Americans from themselves and brought LaCroix to his attention. He can smell Moneypenny, crumpling to the ground, tears streaming down a distraught face, unable to remain upright at the news her lover had perished. The woman spied between the curtain gap cannot be any older than him, classically beautiful, dark haired and olive skinned in a perfect red dress, on the floor with two female friends in attendance. An older man stands behind, staring past him and directly at Flemmings. Q wants to know, needs to understand what he’s missed, but can’t take eyes away from the woman as she shakes, grief all too apparent.
‘That man’s daughter was the first person I rescued. The boy I pulled out last, who clearly never woke up, was the museum’s junior janitor. That was his girlfriend. We need to leave.’
This wasn’t an act, staged to deceive an audience, but the closest Q had ever been to the effects of his handiwork on the living, breathing world. Stomach lurches, and he’s able to keep it down until the second set of doors and then the meagre dinner he’d eaten is being deposited outside the Hospital’s front entrance. Suddenly a hand is at his back, lifting up and almost carrying him away, into the night as Cremona blurs, disturbing disorientation. Everything becomes dissonance, anxiety as chest hurts, dirt under fingernails as a bank is almost crawled up: branches scratch his skull, sudden pain as he fails to clear a wall.
The next thing recalled with any clarity is at camp, bottle of water in shaking hands. Ronni sits opposite, blackened and charred but very much alive, watching him closely. Q had gone to rescue but had been saved himself, as she had with all the other innocents that could easily have been left to perish, thus preserving their anonymity. Instead, yet again, the humanity of this woman had become boundlessly apparent. Suddenly an awful lot of disparate metrics slip together and make perfect sense in a wider context, and he’s infinitely grateful Veronica is part of the organisation. After a while, even the silence makes sense: she’s waiting for me to speak, to ensure I’m recovering from shock.
‘So, this is how it feels when a stranger dies and you couldn’t save them.’
‘I don’t know why its different out here, maybe its because they are strangers and not people you know. With the casualties at the Barracks that was different, almost less personal, because in that situation there was no opportunity to show weakness. I think maybe when you accept death as part of your job, when it happens the process is almost acceptable. You’ve prepared for it. When an innocent dies, a true victim…’
‘Everything changes. Yes, I suspect Gregory would agree with you. What happens now?’
‘You cope, and we move camp in the morning.’
He’s shaking suddenly, not cold but delayed shock, and Ronni comes to wrap herself around him, holding firmly until the trembling stops. She makes him drink the last of the water before frog-marching him to the tent, despite the fact he should be taking first watch. This time, she will guard while he sleeps, because that way he’ll feel safe enough to actually relax and try and forget the trauma.
Q’s very grateful he trained this woman as thoroughly as he did.
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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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