Confined to Barracks for the night, Ronni chooses to eat her standard rations alone, avoiding the rest of the Staff, because she’s never had to mourn for a colleague before.
The Service had lost two 00 agents in under twelve hours, one of whom she knows was Bond’s mentor. She cannot imagine what it must feel for him to still work under such circumstances, but as she sits with a soggy ham and cheese wholemeal roll he is somewhere in Eastern Europe, tracking down three missing American nuclear warheads. He’ll do his job with brilliance as always, plus the female undercover CIA operative sent to assist will ensure there’s someone to celebrate with at the end. That’s the job: pick someone, get them to help, then enjoy their company when you’re done.
Ronni thinks that maybe Bond’s notion of reward could use some redefinition.
‘We have cake at our impromptu wake. I thought you might like some.’
She’s not expecting Moneypenny at the door, but there the woman stands, slice of something chocolatey on the Civil Service china. Ronni knows that this iteration of M’s PA was more than friendly with the late 002, relationship on the boil just after Bond came back from Skyfall. This was not the moment to judge anyone on their lifestyle choices: Ronni was hardly an expert on long-term anything. Fairbanks and Flemmings were hugely popular men: it had been the latter who finally tipped her off to the concept of Voluntary Bereavement before its importance in this journey was grasped. Which meant, in effect, she’d known Moneypenny’s boyfriend before the woman herself.
Espionage really was a small world.
Eve moves to sit opposite, placing what feels like a peace offering on the bedside table, and Ronni waits for her to make the first move: no idea at all how to deal with someone else’s grief after an hour with Tanner’s.
‘Don’t tell me you’re not a chocolate cake fan?’
‘I am, I’m just not sure what to say other than thank you, and that could make for a pretty short conversation when we’re done.’
‘I am the one who should worry about having nothing to say. You’ve come a long way since February, and deserve far more respect than I gave you back then. I’m sorry, it’s been a terrible year and things just got a lot worse. You forget sometimes the bigger picture… because it’s easier’
‘As the new girl I have to earn things like trust and respect, and you hardly know me, and I just… it didn’t seem right to invite myself and try and be a part of your impromptu wake because, well… they’re not my friends. I met 002 once, a long time ago. He struck me as a really decent guy.’
Moneypenny stares, and Ronni wonders if she should have stayed silent, watching the woman struggle to stay composed and eventually succeeding.
‘He was looking forward to meeting you. He was pleased the Department was encouraging and supporting more women through the process.’
‘I think we need to stick together, even if we don’t all agree on what’s the best way to play the game.’
‘I feel I have misjudged you, I think. You are a lot more sensitive than I realised.’
‘Actually, I’m just bloody awful at making friends. I did it once -‘
The tears are a surprise: Ronni can’t stop them from falling down cheeks that are suddenly red and hot. This isn’t the past, simply relief, sudden understanding that any loss is enough to hurt if you care about the principle. Moneypenny hands a small packet of unused tissues to her, and she takes one before returning them. Then, remembering where this is, and who she’s talking to: there’s a question that needs to be asked.
‘This isn’t an assessment, is it?’
‘No. Not tonight. Everybody’s off the books now.’
Ronni understands the statement completely: Bond’s primary objective will be complete and he’s still alive. And yet Eve stares, something unsaid that creates concern despite obvious relief.
‘Thank you for the cake. Would you mind if I ate it alone?’
‘You and him are very much alike, more so than I realised. James has a great deal to thank you for.’
The comment from Milbank comes back to haunt Ronni as Moneypenny stands, still looking at her oddly, as if undecided whether or not this woman can yet be trusted. Only when she is at the door does Eve decide to make the point Ronni suspects she’d wanted to all along.
‘He changed his will, two days before the Gala. It was a surprise, he came up to see me personally. When he dies you’re the one he wants to take his ashes to Scotland and scatter them at Skyfall. I don’t think he’s truly trusted anyone since he lost Ms Lynd.’
Ronni can only sit in stunned silence as Moneypenny walks back to the Lab.
In five days it is as if nothing ever happened, except the fear that won’t leave Ronni alone. She’s due back undercover but not before Q Branch attends the joint funerals of the agents lost, with full military honours. There is the assumption she’ll need to be there herself until Q shakes his head, reminder that her job is to focus on the future instead. She’s set a series of small arms tests and pointless Mainframe tasks: Ronni knows he’s made work so there’s no discomfort at feeling left out of the equation.
There is also the understanding they know there’s not much else to be taught, that Ronni’s efforts in circumnavigating security and exposing American hypocrisy made the difference between Bond’s mission being a success or a failure, and for that alone it cannot be long before they set her last test. What that means however is only an echo, last time she saw 007 in the flesh, his warning and her sudden fear of failure now making hands inexplicably shake, unable to shoot the last four rounds in the final test of the Range sequence.
The Barracks is almost empty, skeleton staff because of the Funeral and she’s still conscious of the cameras above, until it’s apparent the monitoring has been turned off. Nobody is watching her fail to complete this clip in the time available…
‘This is unusual, you don’t normally stop until the magazine’s empty.’
Of course it’s Bond, a fucking performance every time he appears.
007 does mourning far simpler than Ronni expects: that jacket is a favourite too, but somehow today he looks uncomfortable, uncertain. Down goes the gun, off come the ear defenders: there’s no idea how to start this conversation. If she is to be judged on this role? Then she will fail and so be it.
‘I’m guessing Moneypenny told you about my will, even when I asked her not to?’
‘In fairness she’d had a pretty bad day.’
‘Yes, I can well imagine. In my limited defence I did try and explain, the night of the Gala-‘
‘But then you couldn’t find the words and decided to run away. That’s hardly an effective manner to make a point, now is it?’
‘It may come as a surprise to you, but I struggle sometimes with social interaction. Especially when I’m not in the Field.’
She wonders if a show of emotion is appropriate, whether irritation and defensiveness was expected: how she is even supposed to act as a grown-up with this man who’s a metaphor for the impossible?
‘I should have asked you first, and I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know that if it hadn’t have been for you and Felix, I would be dead now. The extra thirty minutes you gave me was the difference between me getting the job done and being the third coffin in that cortège. Thank you for saving my life.’
All she can do is stand, anger and fear evaporating in his truth. They may be off the record, but can she trust Bond’s motives? Is Ronni finally being judged on her ability to stay dispassionate in the face of the most staggering of compliments? Could he be trying to derail her progress? As if to press the point, Bond closes the distance between them instantly, but won’t touch her. Instead mouth is to her ear, whisper that sounds utterly unlike the confident agent he normally plays.
‘I know exactly what’s going through your mind right now: not because I’m psychic, but because I understand this game so well I can play it in my sleep. You can’t be sure you believe me, that this might all be part of something to assess you, even with the cameras off and just the two of us here. You don’t ever live off the clock, everything is exposed, everybody’s business is yours and the other way around. Sometimes, briefly, there are moments when you get to be yourself. When you do, hold onto them for all they’re worth, because these are the most precious things you will ever own.’
Then he is hugging her, surprise enough to not realise what is happening, too long before she registers he is sobbing into her shoulder, and there is no idea of what to do. Finally hand goes to head, holding gently, before he shifts back to stare. These tears are real, achingly genuine grief. If the positions were reversed, this would be the moment he’d kiss but she won’t, can’t do it, because finally comes the knowledge this is James and not Bond who’s in her care: the person before 007. The boy who lost his parents in a climbing accident.
The 12 year old who never worked out how to say goodbye to the ones he loved.
Finally, blissfully the crying ceases as she wipes away joint tears. He needs a mother, not a lover, friends not girlfriends. This man has nobody to trust not to destroy him emotionally, and that’s just wrong.
This is the job you will do for him. That’s why he came here to find you.
This is the trust that will never be broken.
‘On reflection, I think I understand why you’d want me to have your ashes. You’d save my life in a breath. I’d know you’d be trusted to treat me with respect above everything else.’
‘I forgive you for not telling me. Just don’t do that again.’
‘You have my word. Which, believe it or not, actually counts for something.’
‘You say that now, but the next time you get distracted by a CIA agent-‘
His face alters, something indefinable again in features that look nothing like the poster boy and far more human and real. There’s remains of injuries he sustained, shrapnel to the left leg that will need attention, and he doesn’t need the verbal sparring, just to be held more, and so they do that without thinking. No overtures, simply the understanding that sometimes people wanted to be comforted when they’ve lost their family.
She has no idea how long they stay there, simply wrapped around each other, but it is her who finally breaks the embrace. Stepping back, joint demeanour returns, and Ronni realises there is something she needs to tell Bond.
‘I should thank you, because I’d not have made it this far otherwise. I grasp that from weeks of trying to hide what I was capable of, exploiting the one thing you’ve never had to work at.’
‘What makes you think I don’t have to work at it?’
‘Because this is your world, rules and rewards are never going to be the same as mine and although I may not like that, it’s the way to get things done.’
‘It won’t always be like this.’
‘For me it will, but if I can inspire one woman to take the journey as a result, then maybe they will have better luck. I know the only way I win this is being better at seduction than you are. And in that regard, I have undoubtedly a lot to learn, because I should have kissed you when I had the chance.’
‘I think you did exactly the right thing, because if you had you wouldn’t be the woman I know you are. When the time comes, I’m confident. You’ll know what to do.’
‘I thought we’d established you can’t read minds?’
‘True, but trust me when I tell you I’ve got your back.’
There are voices outside, rest of the Funeral party back from the Service and ready for the lavish spread that M himself has paid for. Ronni remembers the last four bullets and picks off the remaining targets one handed, no need for the defenders, all of them perfect 10’s, looking back to Bond who stares with incredulity. He couldn’t do that, but she can.
‘I know, nobody likes a show-off. But that’s what I have to become to be even considered as your equal.’
She’s cracked the persona, can bring practical skills, but the designation seems a lifetime away. Ronni hands Bond her gun and walks out of the Range, deciding that this time, despite the consequences, she’d run from him.
Eventually however, the truth will have to be faced regardless.