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Ronni wakes naturally for the first time in many days, late afternoon sun reflecting through the broken glass of farmhouse windows. Reassuring shards of light scatter across the surprisingly comfortable camp bed, and for a moment she’s back in the Barracks, familiar warmth from brick and earth reassuring a troubled soul. Then reality both of past and present rises to swallow the brief calm: driving away from Marc’s house, crying into Q’s surprisingly solid embrace, hour of revelation before insisting she went and slept. It had been much needed: lying quietly and reflecting on the last weeks alone, even Ronni knew how damaged both mind and body had become. Their thwarting of Spectre at the Violin Museum, the young man’s death in the process plus Q’s breakthrough decrypting Beam’s hard drive meant they’d undoubtedly made a difference. Moving into French territory was academic if they continued in the stolen vehicle, but Ronni’s not sure she wants to draw any more attention to their movements. Uncertain of what Marc would now do knowing she’d taken gross advantage of his generosity, leaving his four wheel drive here and continuing on foot might yet be their best course of action.

They’d done well however: he’d not been joking when bragging over the starter that his ‘complex’ was prepared for any eventuality. The new camp beds were light enough to be carried, canned food and water in plentiful supply so they could last at least another three days before needing to be conspicuous… and suddenly Ronni is distracted, smell wafting from outside that immediately sets her taste buds alight. Immediate fears are forgotten, enough to pull aching body up outside to the high walled garden behind the farmhouse, and to Q, whose latest excursion into outdoor living is ambitious even by his standards.

‘What on earth are you cooking?’

Her travelling companion stands, clearly beyond proud of himself in a kitchen that is so Heath Robinson in both construction and layout it almost defies belief.

‘I am not simply cooking, Veronica, I am creating. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself so much with something other than a computer.’

There is what is undoubtedly a well made fire under a carefully-constructed pile of stones, large, flat metal door from something in the wreck of this house being utilised as an impromptu hotplate. From somewhere Q’s obtained a pan, and at least one decent knife: on the ‘stove’ sits and simmers a substantive portion of what Ronni would guess is game of some variety by the smell, probably trapped and skinned by the man himself. There’s pasta in the mix, plus bundles of freshly-gathered leaves and berries sit waiting to be prepared…

‘How on earth-?’

‘I knew today would be significant, after what happened at the Museum, understand enough about employee motivation to grasp that it being your birthday… the occasion should warrant at least something special.’

‘Where did you learn to do all this?’

‘It may come as something of a surprise, but I was a boy scout back in the day, and rather a damn good one as it happens. I was able to pay other people to carry my bags if I cooked for them. I find this kind of outdoor challenge rather exhilarating’

‘Why did you not say this before?’

‘Because being in the field isn’t a contest, and you needed things to do as distraction. I assure you it wasn’t to conform to gender roles. I just like to hide my skills whenever possible.’

‘Why am I not surprised at this one little bit?’

She’d assumed Q had forgotten, or simply decided not to rub salt into her wounds when already low. Daydreaming as distraction as she’d walked to Marc’s house, that if this were just a bad dream she’d have spent her birthday grabbing a spa treatment, eating cake with Moneypenny, but how deep down there’d be the inescapable ache of regret that this year she was alone. However hard Ronni tries, Bond refuses to leave her. His taste now is diesel: inescapable dirty Viennese water, adrenaline mixed with blood, panic inescapable. His hand, around hers, brush of brilliant possibility devolved into anger and confusion. The ache is so fresh and raw it catches her off guard, closing eyes to prevent more tears because she has to prove she wasn’t lying when maintaining this wasn’t love. Need perhaps, desire quite distinctly, but he was never the happy ending she craved. The job was her wage, keeping Q alive her payoff.

Bond was simply the thing she wanted but must never keep, because when that happened, then there was no need in being the number any more.

‘I’d like to keep the contents of dinner as a surprise for a little longer, if I may? Perhaps you could start packing up the rucksacks for tomorrow, as I’m going to assume you’d like to continue on foot and not risk the use of the four wheel drive?’

If he were here, would Bond be cooking, she wonders, would he have possessed the foresight to create something so amazing and uplifting? In this case, he could learn from Q, that this would be the way to show that really, finally, something significant had been grasped about how to treat a woman. But this was folly, idle thought no longer relevant or required. The Quartermaster was pushing her back to the moment, and that’s where she needed to exist.

‘I like the fact I don’t have to remind you of process, that normally you’re one step ahead of me. On days like today, your organisational skill is positively inspirational, Q.’

‘Andrew. My name is Andrew, and I think we have passed the point where I have the right to be considered your superior, at least in the field. I think after everything that has transpired, I’d rather regard you as my friend.’

Ronni stares and realises that her boss just stopped being a letter, and that this makes her happier than she believed was currently possible. Without hesitation they hug, gesture that is returned this time without either hesitation or care. There might be those who’d argue to survive in such situations that the last thing you needed was any emotional attachment to the people you were protecting, but in this case 004 wasn’t one of them.

Right now, this was exactly what she craved.

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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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