DEFAULT :: Part Sixty-Two

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London positively rejoices in the understanding that not only has Summer arrived, but it intends to remain firmly in charge of the city for as long as possible. Ronni owns no qualms over sitting in traffic either, windows open in the DB5 which was her only concession to keep as the new Poster Girl. She could have ridden the bike in, or even free run, but had worked late last night pouring over paperwork and assessments in bed. Her flat’s due for redecoration early next month, changes she’d wanted to make but never gotten around to implement, and now with the hike in salary? She could move, but there’s no point. The original accommodation that came with the promotion’s got a squatter who refuses to leave, and who’ll own the deeds outright anyway come the Autumn. Once her tenure’s done, and assuming nothing changes? She’ll just move down the river a bit and spend extremely long weekends in Scotland. Ronni’s beginning to warm to the idea of holidays in the north, especially as she can be flown there and back with the minimum of fuss.

The future, as it stands, is packed with possibilities that make her vibrate with excitement.

It’s the first time she’s been back to the Barracks since the refit was completed, and the place looks particularly well packaged with fresh paint and understated signage. Ronni parks in her space and stands, looking at the rectangle of tarmac that remains the only external concession to what she has now become. Being the first woman to hold the 007 designation might sound like the amazing made real, but in truth there’s only a few people who’ll ever get the relevance. To everybody else, she’s just the female in the suit.

That’s all she’s ever wanted to be: anonymous, yet useful.

She signs in without ceremony, new receptionist giving her scant attention. He’s more interested in social media on his phone, until registering sign-in details illuminating on screen. Then Q’s now standard issue custom unit is almost dropped in surprise; Alistair Greer is staring at her, Ronni waiting for brain to catch up with understanding.

‘Good Morning Ms Flemmings. I’m sorry, we weren’t expecting you until 10am: I have internal mail and messages for you, one moment please.’

They’d offered her full name back, but Ronni’s not bothered. The question of using Bond’s had been raised, then dismissed, because as Tanner pointed out keeping that legacy associated with the number is not anything a sane person would get involved in. Instead this is just what it always was, except the designation’s increased by three. This morning’s schedule should include a Senior Staff meeting, routine small arms assessment and then lunch with Q, because they now make the time to go to expensive London restaurants to spend their Civil Service wages on things that matter to them both. He’s standing, looking at her with amusement, wearing a Spencer Hart suit that would have been off the radar a year ago. There’s gym time too, on the quiet, she knows because the man wants to be ready for her next mission, whatever and whenever that might be.

Any chance they have to work together from now on will be seized with customary thoroughness.

‘Good morning 007. I’m going to keep referring to you by designation because I think it really does suit you. I assume you don’t have an objection?’

‘Q, you’re still in charge, so who am I to ever contradict?’

He hugs her as the receptionist returns with a file and some envelopes, handing them over with what probably passes for starstruck awe in MI6. The Quartermaster accompanies her into the large open-plan reception area, all stripped chrome and live news feeds, world running its course as they pass. Emmanuel is at his station, smiling as she acknowledges his presence, watching the growing team in Data Encryption standing front and centre, defending the country electronically. The future however is him with a gun, because she’s seen his scores and is well aware that prestigious talent won’t ever go to waste here again, not while Andrew holds the reins. Rachel dominates the whole left side of the Facility now, Lizzie her ultra efficient PA, pretending to be in charge of one thing but instead owning so much more. Her demeanour and enthusiasm is brilliant, carried with the confidence of a woman who finally found, embraced and beat the hell out of her true calling in what many would consider the twilight of her career.

Finally, they turn the corner to where M now resides full time, as he maintained that you didn’t keep the man in charge away from where the action happened. He’d sensibly given up the 1950’s for good, but this area’s less chrome and more wood and warmth. The office is still obscured, but instead of fake padding and Whitehall veneer the dividing wall is a living, breathing representation of London itself, permed from the range of security footage the Department keeps tabs on across the capital. It is an ever-changing collage of the city, alive and vibrant in an early June morning, and Ronni is temporarily distracted by the beauty of montage.

‘This wall is beyond impressive, Q. I could stand and watch for hours.’

‘I’ll do the same with the view from here.’

Bond is staring from his desk, smile her immediate reward. She’s not seen him since Friday morning, as he’d insisted on spending time acquainting himself properly with Q’s new technology suite. The glasses are a surprise too: she knew he’d been never be truly comfortable with the contacts. If he wasn’t a field agent, then it didn’t matter, besides they make him look… distracting. There is the lightest of touches to her hand and Q is gone, leaving her to wait while he goes and gets M for the Staff Meeting, and Ronni approaches one of many new mission briefs. James looks oddly comfortable sitting with his effective demotion, and that’s a surprise that will take some getting used to.

‘Good morning, 007.’

‘Bond. I approve of the eye wear.’

‘I thought you might, I’m just grateful to not have to do contacts ever again.’

‘Who knew you’d be squeamish?’

‘You live and learn, as I have in the last three days. Been a long time since I pushed myself into something new. I’m looking forward to being the unchallenged geek in this relationship.’

‘You shouldn’t do labels, they’re divisive.’

‘Knowing what you are is useful, a label helps other people understand the context. That’s why when I call you 007, everyone knows that’s their benchmark. I approve that you finally became the metaphor. I feel that, more than anything else, makes all this worthwhile.’

He makes her blush, warming body in ways that are continuing to prove both surprising and fruitful. The long-term plan is that he becomes her handler, but requires a measure of training first. He’ll also keep the desk occupied that used to be Moneypenny’s because he thought the juxtaposition sent exactly the right message to anyone in the building who didn’t grasp exactly what had changed between Spectre’s unmasking and their eventual downfall. This is the new world order not just for the Secret Service, but beyond. It is no longer about an outdated methodology or ancient beliefs: anybody, regardless of their ethnic and sexual background, was capable of doing any job.

Bond stands on cue as M appears from his office, Q at his arm, smiling with a warmth Ronni’s not seen in him before, extending hand to shake hers.

‘Good morning 007, I trust you’re comfortable with your new working space?’

‘I am sir, Q’s done a fabulous job of integrating old and new, and I am looking forward to being an operational part of process as well as in the field. I’ve taken a look at the applications for Active Consideration you sent at the weekend, there’s a lot of good to be considered in the selections.’

‘Indeed, this is possibly the best group of individuals we’ve seen for close to a decade, present company excluded. Bond, I’d also appreciate your insight on this. You can redirect calls back to reception while we’re occupied.’

Ronni’s predecessor is already two steps ahead of the boss, tablet in hand, stenography skills surprisingly adept for a man who couldn’t type with more than two fingers a month ago. That had always been his problem, serially overachieving had become something of an advantage when it came to keeping up with organisational requirements. In fact, nobody did competence now quite as efficiently or stylishly as he did.

No-one understood the importance of Secret Service evolution quite like James Bond.


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DEFAULT :: Part Sixty-One

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Sitting alone, surrounded by construction chaos at the unfashionable end of the Barracks, Ronni still can’t reconcile what’s being asked of her, and knows why. In the end, it was never her decision to make: knowing how she now feels for Bond, taking away what he is would be not only unfair but cruel, and yet here she is about to do just that. She’d left him asleep without guilt that morning, for the first time since their return to London, not wanting to wake him before coming here. He’d finally begun to let go, switching off outside of pressure. To disturb that would have been selfish and thoughtless, yet it makes a potent point in itself. He’d left the number back in Paris, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Her bosses had anticipated this, as so much else. She didn’t need a form or an interview, just him to let go. The fact it hadn’t happened at home, either hers or his, was part of a plan she is vaguely aware of, events being manipulated outside of her control. James is up to something, but what this means is still nebulous, uncertain, and she’s having too much fun to push.

‘Are you ready to render me obsolete?’

Bond stands in jeans, trainers and a t-shirt she’d bought, knowing his love of Thom Yorke. He could be any average guy in his forties, nothing in this disguise that separates from the best 00 the service had created since his predecessor. Except Ronni knows better, about so much of this. All had been willingly given when asked, he’d held nothing back at all. A part of her understands why this is so hard as a result, but has never told him.

This is probably the moment when that changes.

‘I don’t want you to leave.’

His face softens, smile unhindered as he comes to sit next to her, yet with intended distance between them.

‘Is that really the truth?’

‘I have an enormous affinity to Q, and I’ll work with him in a heartbeat, but I never really got to be with you at length in the field, and if you walk away from the number that’s it, there’s no chance to change your mind.’

‘It would matter to you if I did?’

‘I just wish… this hadn’t been so personal, all of it. I never began this journey to be the centre of attention. I just wanted to be something, without the need to be labelled or categorised, and in the end that’s all it was ever going to be. I’m just sad we never had the chance to be a true professional partnership.’

‘What if it had ruined what we are becoming now?’

‘You think it could have happened?’

‘After a while, it had to be a possibility. Q knew how much trouble Maddy could cause, they were already preparing to deal with it after Blofeld died. I was the one who ruined everything. I’m sorry I didn’t realise that sooner.’

‘So what happens if I take the number?’

When you take it I compensate. Same way I always have. Except this time, I show how much you matter to me.’

Then something happens to him, and Ronni is reminded of their first meeting at Carnagie. Back then, he’d been sent to make her stronger. Now this decision allows Bond the dignity to let go. For a man who thrived on symbolism and gesture, doing this here mattered far more than she’d ever really grasped. This could become an opportunity for him to make a difference in another fashion, that the job can be more than simply self destruction and despair. The fact he’ll wait for her is still something hard to believe, because if the right woman came along there’s a good chance he’d revert to type. Except since that week in Paris there’d been an undoubted change, desire sublimated into something else. This is still a need, yet with understanding that’s part of a larger picture.

‘You have a plan?’

‘Do you honestly think I just make this up as I go along?’

‘Sometimes, I have my doubts.’

‘Well, in this case, I have your back, and then some. Stop failing to fulfil your potential, Flemmings. Go tell M and Q you’re the senior 00 in the field.’

The last word is his; undoubted ego, suitably assuaged.

He doesn’t touch her, wandering away with a casual confidence that tells Ronni he knows how this goes down. If there is a plan for the future he’s not yet shared it, but it won’t be hard to illicit the truth, because when returning at the end of the day to his flat to share news of a promotion, he’ll insist on celebrating, and this time there’ll be no need to refuse the offer. She’ll want to lose herself inside calm, quiet confidence that won’t ever do anything but reassure a troubled mind.

Taking his number really is the best thing she’ll ever do for them both.

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DEFAULT :: Part Sixty

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The Barracks is in chaos, but this time
as part of a larger plan.

With the site of Milbank now scheduled for redevelopment as both park and outdoor theatre, celebrating the previous M’s love of Shakespeare, there is a need to upgrade a building that has remained largely untouched structurally since the late 1970’s. Money was approved without even a whimper from Westminster, mostly due to the French offering considerable assistance and long-term investment, including a permanent secondment of senior technical director Alex Dubois to a new European Security Taskforce. Q’s happy to share Sundays with someone other than his cats, and the improvement of his demeanour means everybody gets an easier ride. Life continues apace as construction moves forward, Ronni happy to lose herself in process and at Bond’s flat.

No-one presses the issue of promotion until the day after 004’s passed fit for active duty.

Up until that point she’d been assessed daily, passing everything thrown at her with a confidence that never existed before. The psyche scores remained as impeccable as range cards, and Andrew doesn’t ask why she stopped shooting 7’s and replaced them with Q’s. Lizzie maintains a constant narrative on Eve and Charlie’s progress as they mop up Spectre hotspots across Europe, and Emmanuel spends an hour with her at lunchtimes learning Yoga. She alternates sleeping between Docklands and Pimlico, and were it not for the fact this is treading water, everything would be perfect.

On Friday morning there’s another envelope, sticking up between the rows of her keyboard, and the decision becomes inescapable. With a heavy heart Ronni walks to Q’s temporary office and knocks, unsurprised to find M already there with a mug of coffee. He too has a Scrabble letter, gift from Moneypenny on her ‘retirement’ as his PA, and it is good to know the man has softened to his task as well as the Quartermaster. Tanner’s mug sits on a pile of files but the man himself is absent, and that’s all Ronni needs to know. The inevitable can no longer be avoided. Senior Staff has called her here for an answer she still isn’t comfortable giving.

‘Good morning Sir, Q.’

‘We still don’t have an application, Flemmings. Was Andrew wrong about you?’

‘No, Sir, he wasn’t. I knew you’d ask eventually, I just wasn’t sure when. Now you have, I can admit there’s one more problem left for me to solve.’

‘Which is?’

‘At no point since you asked me to apply have I spoken to the previous 007 about how he feels concerning my potential promotion. Whenever I try and broach it, something always comes up.’

M doesn’t break stride, Q the undisputed queen of impassivity. Ronni knows the banter remains part of her remit: however, should she accept the top job, that’s a situation which will require alteration going forward. On reflection, that’s the first thing that changes. No more innuendo, instead focus on compassion over sexuality. That she can keep for theatre as a last resort, where her first response will always remain a shot to the groin if threatened.

‘We had anticipated this might be the reason, and asked Bond to be here this morning as a result. I’d expected you to come together -‘

‘- until I reminded Gareth there was a good chance you were allowing the man to enjoy his retirement, away from both expectations and innuendo. Rest assured, 004, this will be the last time you’ll be assessed on your ability to out double-entendre your superior officer.’

‘Thank Christ for that, this I will agree is a bloody stupid metric. Who do we have to blame for it?’

‘One has to go back three M’s, if memory serves. The 1970’s were so very depressing, and not simply for the fashion choices. So you see, Gareth, we have a lot more to change than simply ordinance supervision and time management standards.’

Watching these two bicker over protocol is oddly reassuring, and as Tanner appears Ronni’s almost comfortable with the possibility of taking the number. Except there’s a regret that hasn’t yet been vocalised, that she’ll really need James here to discuss. As the younger and older man continue their exchange, Tanner comes to put a hand to her arm, quietly steering them both out of the office.

‘It’s been like this since Q opened Pandora’s Box and told Whitehall half their metric frameworks would have to be scrapped. Needless to say whatever happens, nothing gets to be the same any more now Andrew’s decided to drag everyone into the future. Bond’s on his way, take all the time you need. I think this senior staff meeting’s running all the way to lunchtime.’

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DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Nine

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The Merlin’s going through the last of its pre-flight checks as Ronni emerges into the hanger, dressed in attire she hopes Tanner will consider low key yet smart enough to announce e-mail has been read, understanding this summons from M is to be taken seriously. No jacket, dark blue silk blouse, black trousers and high top trainers she’s pushed hard to get London to accept as better footwear than the Bally boots they’d given her after Stage Two of training. It was certainly easier to run in the Merrells, plus eight hours in these wouldn’t give blisters. The small things were changing the landscape, a step at a time, and that made this worth the trauma that came with the potential upgrade in number.

It would be that which pulled her here, quite apart from saying goodbye to LaCroix and Moneypenny. They were fit for duty: she wouldn’t get that stamp until Q emerged from his extended downtime with Alex, and the French doctor stopped shaking her head at Flemmings’ blood work. As for Bond…

‘Where’s 007?’

Tanner’s casual too this morning, suit trousers, shirt and no tie, and there’s a second to consider lying about her presence alone that Ronni decides is probably best ignored.

‘He’s asleep, Will. I think I may have worn him out.’

The Chief of Staff almost keeps a straight face: Ronni’s eyeroll is enough to tip them both over into laughter. M is by the helipad, talking to 003 and 009, obvious pep talk before they depart for Amsterdam. Nobody has asked what she’s been doing away from official business for three days because everybody accepts that an inter-agent relationship can be acceptable as part of this job.

‘Under the circumstances I may well tell the old man the truth. Knowing him I’ll get some comment on Bond’s fitness needing re-assessment and that we can’t have him failing on existing operational parameters.’

‘He’s off the books, Will.’

‘No, just no longer part of the Section. He may have resigned but you don’t leave this job, as you well know. Right now he’s languishing in administrative limbo.’

‘Well, wherever he is I think he deserves the sleep. As his turnaround times have dropped, I suggested he take the afternoon off.’

‘The man’s not getting any younger, after all.’

Something is being held in Tanner’s hand, cream envelope passed over without ceremony, and now it’s very much not about being called here to wish people goodbye and more around what happens next.

‘He was however asked to inform you that the senior field 00 position is officially open. I’m assuming this was overlooked, with good reason. You are expected to apply.’

‘I’m assuming I wouldn’t be required to take the name, because that could make things more confusing than they need to be.’

‘Thanks to LaCroix and Moneypenny, Whitehall is officially relaxing the requirement to inherit your predecessor’s name. You just get the senior officer’s number instead. There’s more to it than that, but we’re already planning details to be discussed on your return to London.’

Their conversation is interrupted as Moneypenny appears, all smiles, Charlie not far behind.

‘You’ve exhausted him, haven’t you?’

Ronni can’t help but blush, especially considering the last private conversation over coffee, when the details of Bangkok had been revealed. However now it’s more to do with M’s arrival, and his clear satisfaction that Tanner’s begun her recruitment process.

‘I’m not sure I should comment further on the inability to show with the Boss here.’

‘Do I need to reprimand the ex-007 for failing to consistently do his duty, 004?’

M’s comment isn’t embarrassment but more laughter, sense that somewhere between London and here everything changed forever, not simply for her and James. This is family, like it or not: a group of people who care about them both as a unit and alone above the need to be entirely professional. They are stronger together, as Moneypenny and Charlie are alone. The choices made do not need to be held or imposed any more: this isn’t about being right, rather more around getting the best from disparate individuals.

‘Bond’s made Ronni happier than at any point I’ve known her. I think maybe he’s earned some downtime. Perhaps after ten years of being the best there was, we should all cut the guy a break.’

Charlie’s wisdom, undoubtedly, wins the day and closes this discussion, and then it is hugs and smiles as 004 watches her compatriots walk back to the waiting Merlin, ready to complete a mission they’d begun several months previously. She’s expecting management to stay but both are already walking away, back to the Control Centre, no more comment to be made. Ronni stands and watches the chopper lift off under LaCroix’s control and vanish from view, camouflage dome opening and closing, and stands for some time in silence, before opening the envelope that signals her transition.

The paper inside is blank, and Veronica Flemmings understands why.

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DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Eight

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It was Bond’s care that made the difference: how he touched, respect held between them which transcended everything else. Even after all that had happened, he’d not lost that depth. This wasn’t the same man she’d first met in Scotland either: edges were smoother, less painful to hold. He was more whole than at any point since they’d known each other, and it was all because she’d shown him compassion, travelled half the globe to complete a task once promised for her. This time there was conclusive, concrete proof of his redemption, body and soul, and in the most damning way possible.

May this debt never need repaying, let it form the foundation of a relationship that redefines every rule.

Between food, showers and sex they’re back on the bed; Bond is propped on an elbow, staring absent mindedly at the space where her hip ends and waist begins, and Ronni puts hand to his face, pulling him back to the moment. This smile is rarely seen outside of bedrooms and intimacy, and that’s a shame, because it is amazing when it happens.

‘This ought to be our default state. Pre and post coital.’

‘That use of a metaphor I don’t have a problem with.’

‘I never promised anything with this job, and neither should you. I can however guarantee at least one constant. You and I are indivisible as long as we’re both alive.’

‘Isn’t that the same as being married?’

‘No, this is far less legally binding and considerably more fun.’

When he kisses this time the taste is Venice, diesel in the water, reminder of how close she’d come to failing to cover that beautifully contoured back. The memory makes her shudder, sudden fear needing reassurance: his loss would matter, more than any other life cherished, because it would be losing a part of what she has become, and now Ronni sobs into skin that moves to enclose, surrounds to absorb her shaking. The tears keep coming, unaffected by anything except the need to release a permanent fear, leached away by the man who knows only too well what failure does to your mind. Finally he moves, face level with hers, thumb rubbing tears aside.

‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’

‘The next time you have sex with someone whilst working please try to fully consider the consequences before committing yourself.’

‘You think this is a possibility?’

‘That’s how you do this as well as you do, it isn’t acting. There’s always an upshot.’

‘If I could refrain from thinking with my prick and just enjoy myself alongside it?’

The expression is utterly not him, so long ago when she accused him in London that there’s laughter and amazingly Bond blushes, unable to hold her gaze. Then she makes him, hand back to his face, so there can be confirmation of what’s said next is truth.

‘If you carry on doing this job -‘

‘But I won’t. I meant what I said in Bangkok. I’m done. As of midnight yesterday the 007 position’s officially vacant, I’m off the books for good.’

‘This is what you want?’

‘I have no choice. My eyesight’s gone, Q had to get contacts prescribed after I returned from Venice, my distance vision’s deteriorated and I’m not having surgery. There is no choice, I’d fail the medical automatically.’

‘So, what does that mean for us?’

He doesn’t instantly answer: clear concern, uncertainly over what his decision will represent in the long term. Then there’s a softening, relaxation in arms around her before he pulls them closer still.

‘You have at least ten years ahead of you as a 00, possibly more. It would be a truly selfish man who’d come to try and pull you away from the ideal you’ve always aspired to, especially if his tenure as a 00 was at an end. I have to be honest, because of how much you’ve come to mean to me. I want you to achieve everything, be whatever you want for as long as you live. When life allows, all you’ll ever need to escape reality will be here.’

His mouth’s tenderness on tear-stained face kisses away concern, allowing him to enclose as the traditional takes over, as had been the case when he needed to feel in control. His weight on her, inside in a movement is reassurance, sanctity and there is no need to argue any point. He is hers, and that is all that is required. No words, instead demonstration is the key. Normally she’d let them leave rational behind but this time Ronni stops. Buried inside, this was the man only she saw, and had never questioned.

Until now.

‘Tell me what this is.’

He’s absolutely not expecting conversation during coitus, that much is obvious, and brain has to stop body, shifting away from her.

‘What do you think I’m doing?’

‘I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking, because at some point we have to have the conversation somewhere. This is probably the right moment.’

Ronni’s wondering if this will be a mistake, whether she should just enjoy the process and not worry about motivation, but suddenly this is part of a puzzle that needs completing, just as it was when the Swann family’s involvement became apparent. James takes weight fully onto elbows, looking down at the question, assessing a response with more care than expected.

‘This… is what we do best. This is the most pleasure I ever give or receive. It would be a fight until the last breath before anyone separated me from you.’

Ronni’s brain processes the statement, allowing inference to rise and fall. Then she reaches up and pulls him back, mouths joined as they were in Venice. As one needs, the other gives, until both are at peace. He remains buried, lost inside, suddenly no need to disturb the shift of emotion from either side of the scales. Yet then he is the one who withdraws, forcible separation, making her face the thought germinated between them. They both know what the problem is, and it is Ronni who breaks the silence.

‘You won’t say the word, will you?’

‘If I did, Veronica, this whole relationship becomes something else, and you know that. Definition is everything, right up to the point when it destroys what you own. I don’t need to say the word, and neither do you. We just are.’

‘The evolution of a traditional norm?’

‘No longer requiring words to specify what you can be. Simply the right number.’

‘Ultimately, all I need is myself?’

‘Indeed. You don’t require a man for pleasure, could orgasm perfectly satisfactorily without. I’ve seen the toys you bought on company time, more than grateful you’ll allow electronics in the bedroom. What I bring is an ability to stop thinking about what you are, if only for a while. Without that, neither of us would be nearly as powerful.’

‘They sent you to make me stronger, back at Carnangie. Is that still what this is?’

‘I’m here to finally dismiss your metaphors. Loyalty and devotion not as weapons, but foundation for something far better. To last until we die, however that happens.’

‘You were the ideal. That’s no longer the case?’

‘I know romance and happy endings aren’t the same now as they were half a century ago. You’re the new benchmark, I’m here to cover the arse you so enjoy watching and ride your success into obscurity.’

Then Ronni understands: he really is done, tenure packed and expedited. Once he retires for good it isn’t just the ethos that leaves the room, it’s the tropes, expectations that exit too. No longer does the 00 designation pull the early 1960’s along with it. That era truly is history, and life moves forward. Finally, the license to kill enters the 21st Century, and LaCroix is a dead man the next time she sees him.

Bond rolls onto his back, hands behind head, trying to look disinterested but not fooling anyone. Ronni knows he’s up for more, but trying not to crowd. Instead she shifts back to straddle, covering a groin already moving to readiness. You’d think for a man his age he’d need more downtime, but apparently that half of his body’s still happily enjoying itself somewhere in the 1990’s.

‘So why are we still talking, Mr Bond?’

‘You stopped me, I’d normally be done and desperate for a cigarette.’

‘Since when did you smoke?’

‘I give up about once a year but there’s always a packet somewhere. Q just looks the other way. A man’s gotta have some surprises, or how does this all stay interesting?’

Ronni never knew, and Bond’s file at no point had mentioned the fact. Suddenly, there’s a need to discover what else about 007 might come as a surprise, and with the opportunity to quiz him at leisure, there’s no time like the present.

If they stopped fucking like teenagers maybe she could even consider a list.

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DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Six

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Everybody else is enjoying the moment, but Ronni just wants to run.

Changed into sweats, she’s on her second circuit around what the French call ‘La Grande Tour’: at night, this place has an almost unworldly quality, something most definitely out of a big budget science fiction spectacular. She wanted to climb up the structure but was quietly but firmly dissuaded by Alex, which said in her mind that there’s probably a way if there were time to do the homework. Everybody else is at the reception put on to officially celebrate the Tour’s fully operational status, despite large sections of the structure remaining a combination of bare girders and construction. The success in eliminating Spectre’s leadership from the landscape will be front page news for every newspaper, already trending worldwide across the Internet. Ronni doesn’t care she was the heroine, and just wants to imagine this is the run home to a warm flat and green tea. Even caffeine has lost its allure, because inside she’s dead.

This is how it feels to kill someone and relish achievement at the time.

Guilt begins to shift on the third lap, fatigue in legs ignored: endorphins rush, brain releasing the truths taught but only now accepted. Your license to kill is not carte blanche to become inhuman, judge and jury. Each fatality must be weighed and considered, their passing reasoned and reflected, relevant despite the action. She’d watched a man murder his own sister because of the threat sanity presented to his actions. Capturing him would simply have perpetuated the myth, that MI6 entertained this pursuit as acceptable. With his demise at her hands, again the board is cleared and pieces placed back.

Except there is no idea what game to play next.

Exhausted yet relaxed, sitting in the main hanger after a fourth circuit, Ronni listens to the night shift at work, maintenance and continued construction. These are soothing sounds far more acceptable than being forced into other people’s conversations. She doesn’t want to drink either, because losing control isn’t a state that holds any kind of interest. Mostly solitude beats everything and, with a stab of revelation, comes the understanding that this is how the job should work. If she’s going to deal with fallout for the rest of her career, then listening to a focussed mind is important in grasping how to cope with pressure.

Sitting crossed legged on a large pile of crates, the surroundings of La Grande Tour help soothe remaining stresses. Closing tired eyes, she breathes in calm and expels the drama. Bond had kept his promise. He’d protected Madeline until the end, and they’d ripped out the heart from an organisation which was dead in all but name. It was no surprise he’d consider leaving now, never returning to the number. Considering the toll it had taken on his life, 007 should have been more than done a long time ago.

As eyes open, James stands opposite, genie finally without a bottle for comfort. Staring with concern, approaching with distinct lack of theatrics, the inevitable can no longer be ignored.

‘You want to be disturbed?’

‘By anybody else? No. Always by you.’

Coming to sit beside her, still in mission gear, Bond appears far less comfortable than she remembers, as if the uniform suddenly stopped being appropriate or acceptable. He pauses to consider, taking in the space, obviously troubled for a lead in.

‘I did leave this job, once before, but the previous M never processed the paperwork. That was also because of a woman: I’m depressingly predictable if you do enough research.’

He turns to stare into her soul, memory of Vesper still as bright as ever, yet comfortable with the admission. Lynd’s significance has never dimmed in James’ heart, as it was with her and Scott. Their substance moulds both, in different ways; without this trauma they’d not exist as close as they do to the other. Then he can’t look at her any more and has to stare somewhere, anywhere else and Ronni grasps that there’s still work to do in setting all the demons to rest. For a long time he remains, no need for any more explanations. What matters most, at least now, is simply the presence.

‘Remember how I told you I struggle with conversation when I’m not working?’

‘You may have mentioned it, yes.’

‘I’m woeful when it comes to discussing emotional issues. Mostly because I just pretend they don’t exist and carry on regardless.’

‘There was that time in the Barracks when you told me about how you coped with the pressure.’

‘After which I almost ran out of the changing area.’

‘That’s happened to me too. I can sympathise.’

The silence that follows is beyond telling, and 004 knows why. To complete her transition, one act remains… except Bond’s not willing. That had been apparent since they returned from Paris, before she’d left the celebration reception… and now, unable to even meet her gaze, 007 knows what’s coming next. The juxtaposition of their roles in theatre was complete, but life afterwards appeared in flux. This was the moment she took charge here too, like it or not. The power was hers to wield as she saw fit.

With an almost theatrical deep breath, it is time to redefine two existences.

‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but when a mission is successfully completed, as the senior 00 in the field I’d be expected to celebrate with the individual that assisted me. I’m afraid that if I do, it could destroy the most important relationship I’ve ever had.’

Ronni exhales, unassuming acquiescence, comfortable grasping the significance of her statement. James’ shaking hand slips across her leg, resting without movement: fingers wrap around his and remain, reassurance in a simple action that’s needed. All the symbolism in the world didn’t matter one iota: this is what they have become.

‘Do you mean that, Veronica?’

‘I’ve never been more sure of anything since the day I decided I was born to be a spy.’

‘Doesn’t that cause something of a conflict of interests?’

‘Amongst other things, yes, but however far I run I’m never going to escape the inevitable, so I may as well accept it and see what happens.’

‘That sounds like an appropriately considered response. That’s very you.’

It is painfully awkward, two of them sitting together, that passion has effectively evaporated under the undoubted weight of vocational expectation. When she looks to him Bond is fixated on fingers, still won’t meet her gaze and only then is Ronni aware that she isn’t the problem. In the time before they’d slept together he’d kept distance through professionalism, but this is different. If she didn’t know better… and so it has to be his move.

‘What would you like to do tonight, James?’

‘Not screw this up.’

‘You think that’s a possibility?’

‘I have no idea. It is probably significant at least three people told me to come and find you, none of them considered it a test and not once were the words ‘assessment’ or ‘metrics’ used. I knew you’d want the time alone, the last thing you need now is to play the 00 endgame. After that, let’s be honest, I don’t have a fucking clue.’

Ronni has to smile because that’s what he generates inside, capacity to be so much more than possible alone. What happens now however is briefly beyond her understanding, as this is never a situation she’s experienced as an adult. She stares at the faded face of a Poster Boy who lost everything he was for an ideal still worth dying for, and wants to hold him, and so does. Both arms wrap around torso as head leans into his shoulder. Ronni closes eyes and tries to send him some of her calm, in the hope he’ll relax. The tension within his frame is inescapable, and then comes enlightenment. He doesn’t want to touch me.

He’s afraid he’ll ruin this too.

Ronni finally lets go, staring off into the Hanger, desperate for inspiration. Having someone else to consider is suddenly welcome distraction from everything else, surprise that then rocks brain with force. They’d used each other as physical relaxants in the main, and it had never occurred that the same could be considered for the emotional. He was lost, stuck and unable to feel confident that he could interact successfully. This was the job you promised to maintain for him before you became 004, one person who doesn’t destroy his emotional frailty.

This job now presents an unexpected bonus: you get to present terms going forward.

‘As this is unknown territory… perhaps I could resolve both our issues, whilst defining some new metrics as I go. That’s part of the remit as senior, 00, isn’t it?’

Bond’s head turns, interest obviously piqued as Ronni uses the job to solve their impasse.

‘You intend to make this complicated or can I do one word answers?’

‘Yes or no works just fine.’

There’s the first hint of a smile, that concerns are being assuaged. Before Ronni feels confident enough to vocalise thoughts previously kept very much private, Bond shifts suddenly, up and off the crates, standing next to where she remains sitting.

‘If I told you tonight I just wanted to sleep with you and nothing else, no sex, would you be able to accommodate that, 004?’

The smile this action creates inside Ronni causes stomach to flutter: having offered an easy route, simplicity of a one word answer, James took the responsibility instead. If the depth of his care wasn’t abundantly apparent already, this could be understood as the benchmark to end them all. They don’t need the job to define each other, just themselves.

‘Yes. A thousand times.’

Relief in his whole body is palpable, this was the desire all along. He’s not expected to perform or hit a target, not with her, never with her. The next question however is a little more problematic, because since Ronni’s been here she’s not existed anywhere except the Infirmary, this hanger or the control centre.

‘So, how do we make this happen?’

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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.


As I mentioned yesterday, I have finally completed Default. The last problematic section was knocked off on Friday, and it will be going to beta read starting tonight. All things being equal? The last ‘episode’ will be published on November 18th. 

After that, you’ll have a PDF file of the entire 77k to read at your leisure on the 19th.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled NaNoWriMo countdown 😀