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It had taken weeks but the salt taste of Bond has finally gone, in its place smell of smoke, and however often Ronni plunges into the freezing river, it will not leave. It should have been an easy task not to rack up fatalities but the young man had been simply a bystander, and paid the price. Half a dozen lives saved against one lost would be a good tally on any day, but not this one. Her involvement had begun a chain of events that had ended with a death that could have avoided and would hunt her down for penance. Now there is nausea, anger and displacement and all 004 wants is to run.

Except in the middle of a mission, nowhere is safe to hide.

‘Veronica?’

She’s facing away, cold in her own warm double bed, trying not to show the hurt. His comment had been flippant, typical Bond off the cuff wry irony, but it had stung. She did care too much, about so many things, but that was just the way she was made. Normally this would be dismissed but something had changed between the two of them, and without an understanding of what, there is sudden reticence to simply let the remark pass.

‘You know I was joking?’

His voice tickles in her ear, naked chest pressed to her back, erection brushing arse in a way that would normally distract but is now annoyance, and anger smoulders. Instead of pushing himself Bond then moves, up and across, to squat by the side of the bed, attempting to make eye contact.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I told you. I had a nightmare.’

‘I know. Tell me what about.’

‘What do you do when you can’t save someone?’

‘So, yesterday still is a problem.’

He’d read her field reports from Cairo, of course, could look at any of the many files without need for clearance, because technically they’d kept him superior. Having returned after his first mission proper for the new M, he’d appeared like the genie he was at the back of the Hall when Ronni had stood down, having given testimony to the Coroner as the official Inquest opened. He’d sat through three hours of evidence, listened to the story of the flashpoint, SAS officers attacked whilst escorting a convoy of aid workers to the south of the city. It hadn’t even been in her brief, she’d just literally been passing, but the effects of the moment still resonated within. At the top of that list was the Red Cross worker from Berlin, who’d protected his female colleague and taken a bullet to the chest that had killed him at the scene.

That’s why she’s uncomfortable, waking from troubled sleep to find him watching. Bond’s immediate desire to fulfil his own needs ahead of assuaging her discomfort had rankled, and now intimacy was last thing on anybody’s minds.

‘Remind me of his name, please, because I’ll be honest I didn’t pay total attention yesterday.’

‘Dieter. He was 28. His mother worked at the Attaché’s office in Berlin. I’d met her, on an Acquisitions mission last year. She’d bought me lunch and was generally lovely.’

‘Did you make sure he was comfortable at the scene?’

‘I held him when he asked me to, and he died in my arms.’

‘I also assume you talked to his mother at length?’

‘Plus his father, who’s now living in Michigan. He also has a sister in Paris. They’re a really adventurous family.’

‘Everybody knew he was a hero?’

‘Without question.’

‘Then that’s all you can do. Remember them, make sure everyone knows they were amazing and move on. For the record, you taught me the value of appropriate mourning. I’d never really grasped the significance.’

‘Is that the truth?’

‘I carried Vesper with me for years, refused to let her go. I didn’t think I’d ever feel that way with anyone again. You made me understand the truth that death is an inevitable part of the job you simply can’t remove from the equation. So, there’s a choice: embrace it or become less of a person. I like what I’ve become, appreciate the change you’ve wrought within me. Whatever else might happen, I’ll always be grateful for that. Always.

Sitting on the bank of the river, Ronni and Q have far outstayed their welcome. They should have left days ago but her partner had taken longer to recover from the shock at the hospital than anticipated. Now he’s ready the camp is packed: it is time to move far away and quickly, but there is one task left to complete. Because it matters that people understand the truth, wherever you travel, Ronni will go back to town one last time.

An hour later 004 watches the small cortège in the graveyard, Italian family bound in grief over their son. A middle aged man stands, away from the mourners, recognising her without question. He’d been there at the Hospital, looking for his daughter, and they’d briefly exchanged small talk. Ronni didn’t even know these people’s names, there hadn’t been time in the chaos, and shouldn’t be here now but something makes her move towards him, approach a face etched with relief that it’s not his child being buried.

[*]

Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘Sei tu che hai salvato mia figlia, non è così?’

‘Sì, volevo sapere come sta.’

‘Dovrebbero poterla dimettere tra qualche giorno. Ma perché sei tornato?’

‘Perché non ho potuto salvare tutti… e dovevo portare l’ultimo saluto a chi non c’è più.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘So chi sono quelli che ti inseguono dopo il Museo, non dovresti fermarti.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. Questo è più importante. Per favore, portalo alla famiglia, digli che loro figlio era un eroe e mi ha salvato la vita e questo non lo potrò mai, mai dimenticare.’

‘Certamente, lo farò. E non scorderemo mai la tua generosità. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.


[*] For those of you not fluent, there’s a translation here as follows:

Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘You were the one who saved my daughter, weren’t you?’

‘Yes, I wanted to know how she is.’

‘The doctors think she’ll be well enough to leave hospital in a few days. Why did you come back?’

‘Because I couldn’t save everybody, and I need to show my respects to those who passed.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘I know the men who pursue you after the Museum, you should keep running.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. This matters more. Will you give this please to the family, tell them their son was a hero and that he saved my life, a fact I will never, ever forget.’

‘I will, and your kindness will always be remembered. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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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