DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Four

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It takes a moment before Moneypenny registers 004’s presence on the range, but it doesn’t stop her finishing the clip. Watching the woman shoot with confidence that’s been a long time coming, Ronni’s happy the scores on her file aren’t doing anything but improving with each assessment. However, guilt remains, and that’s why this needs to be addressed before they all go and eliminate Swann. M should have promoted her before me, by rights the senior 00 should be Eve. That’s the explosive in the room, requiring diffusion before 004 believes they can work together successfully.

The ear defenders are finally removed, SIG placed on the range wall. This isn’t Ronni’s opening move, but 003’s, because there is no idea how she restarts this relationship after everything else that has transpired. The younger woman stares, caution all too obvious.

‘How are you feeling, 004?’

‘I’m not tired any more, that much is certain. I’ve had enough downtime and am keen to finish the job you and Charlie started.’

‘I think James did the hard stuff with Felix-‘

‘No, he took the showy, theatrical mission. You two were responsible for the brunt of the effort in locating Swann. As usual, Bond simply turned up and blew stuff up.’

It’s not entirely the truth, but close enough, therefore placing her and LaCroix in their rightful position matters more than the hierarchy of the Section. Ronni is still all too aware of how little she knows about Eve, even though her file can almost be recited from memory. The one person she should be closest to, ally by sex, had never played this game the same way. It wasn’t just refusing to be pigeonholed either: she’d told Tanner in no uncertain terms there would never be involvement with anyone else in the Service again, however attractively they might be packaged. Q’s plan for Friendship Plus had been thrown back in his face, relationship with Charlie infinitely stronger as a result.

‘It occurs to me I’ve not been fair to you, since we first met. I always assumed that you and I could never be friends and that’s not true, if something matters enough you can make it happen regardless.’

Eve’s head tilts, and Ronni remembers that look, back at their first meeting in Millbank. She’d made her own mistakes, done more than enough penance for those sins. The least 004 could do was try and find the means by which they could work together better, because at some point this would be a requirement and not simply courtesy.

‘You did a brilliant job of destabilising me the first time we met. I can still remember that feeling, how you cut straight to my heart with a phrase. I’ve not met a man in service able to do that as well. I don’t blame you for being distant, especially with what Q did. For what it’s worth, it’s only made 007 stronger.’

‘You should know something, for the record. I was in love with 007 for a while, I’d be foolish to try and admit otherwise, until I realised it was a lie. The job always mattered more to him, however much he’d try his hand. He was empty, broken, and after Operation Skyfall I realised that I didn’t need his validation, or indeed anybody else’s. When that happened it was obvious we in fact had very little in common, and I’d simply become enamoured with James as an ideal. I have you to thank for that revelation, at least in part, so I’m grateful, but you have to want this, Ronni. I don’t need your friendship if it’s mistakenly placed.’

‘My problem is that, like it or not, I’m pretty much Bond without the dick.’

‘No, you’re really not, there’s warmth to you that he doesn’t possess, and far more foresight. He couldn’t do strength the way you can, trust me. That you only get to see from the outside. If you’re worried we’ll not get on? Trust me, a lot of that’s my issue to solve and not yours.’

‘I need to apologise for suggesting to Charlie that you two should -‘

‘It’s okay, you should know the truth about that too. I was the one who first suggested we could just do the sex and he turned me down. Charlie believed we’d be stronger as friends, and was absolutely right. I know how it would ruin the professionalism, and I’m rather pleased being with someone who just cares about me for what I am. I think this is the way it should be and not your way, because maybe the future isn’t people like you -‘

‘Absolutely, it is partnerships like yours and Charlie’s. I know, am more than happy to work towards that as a goal. Comparability should have nothing to do with gender or sexual assignment, and everything about actual merit. I think Q understands that once you take the traditional norms out of the equation, things have a surprising ability to just work.’

‘Maybe what you need is James outside of this equation to allow you both to find the level that works best. I don’t ever remember seeing him this happy at any point in his life. That’s a good future to aim towards.’

‘It is. Remind me to point this out on the way to Paris.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Normally the final showdown would just be me, but I’ve asked for a break with protocol. I want a full team, including you and Charlie as backup. Christian’s expecting me alone, and I think it’s high time we tore up the rules and just got the job done.’

‘I’ll be more than happy to oblige, but only if you promise to tell me what happened over the Bangkok uplink. In detail.’

004’s blushing furiously as Eve laughs, final barrier broken between them. Now Ronni knows what’s expected in performance with this 00, things can only get easier, and if she decides to do recreation off the clock, there’s always the chance someone will find out. The trick now is to engineer means to stop everything being public property, or simply accept that maybe that’s just part of the senior field officer’s remit. If she can live with that, then possibly the desire in her heart could become reality.

Perhaps, if they let her, she could take Bond’s job if offered.


Six hours after Tanner’s green light, Ronni’s dressed and ready to leave. The hanger is humming, French support team professionalism personified, hastily-requisitioned chopper that formed an integral part of her plan in the final stage of refit. The speed at which everything had shifted since her strategy was suggested in briefing was truly staggering: LaCroix and Bond’s ability to work together on her request picked up, run with and summarily improved without even a quibble. She watches them both at the EC-135 and is grateful the French government’s representative is about to allow their hardware to be sacrificed for the greater good. She’d expected at least some fight from Alex: his immediate agreement to her plan made the confidence inside stronger, brighter. Everyone was impressed with the idea, backup plan also sound.

She was trusted now with all decision making, without question.

Staring at the holy ghost, last vestige of a past now finally vanishing from sight, Ronni waits for Bond to acknowledge her presence, noting it was time to leave. When they are an embrace apart he reaches down, relieving mission kit bag from a willing grasp, quietly releasing canvas straps from her hand before turning back towards the chopper. They’re back in his flat, fateful night this journey began, emotion reduced into a single point of connection, and this time it’s Ronni who stops him, free hand to arm. Bond’s looking back, gaze determined; quiet confidence as always, but pleasure at her action. They have no need for words, union enough, James interpreting how grateful she is for this thoughtfulness and all that it symbolises. He won’t continue until acknowledgement is removed, then 007 returns to task, towards the EC-135 and their journey ahead.

Watching him has become an obsession: how he moves, strength in gait yet languor through stride. He’s an effortless combination of capability and determination, inspiring simply with a touch that Ronni’s no longer afraid to reciprocate. Also, there is undeniable truth that Bond both fills and looks vastly superior in combat fatigues than anyone she’s ever met, even LaCroix, who’s appeared in her eyeline, evaluating with clear concern.

‘You’re staring, 004, if this was me doing that to Moneypenny I’d be in trouble.’

‘I’m sorry, Charlie, I can’t help it if I enjoy looking at beautiful things.’

‘That excuse ain’t gonna stick in the modern Secret Service, and you know it.’

The finger waggle is completely unnecessary, but enough to force Ronni to suppress a smile. Moneypenny is already at the chopper, hug to Bond as he returns both brief yet professional. They’ve moved past the issues and really are friends again, relaxed in each other’s company. That’s the way it should be for everybody.

‘If you could not report me in this case Charlie, I would be grateful.’

‘It’s all good. After all, you’re my boss now for real, and that’s not a thing I’m gonna stop loving for quite some time. Oh, and on that matter? I did my job. I remembered to tell Bond how lucky he was.’

‘What was his response?’

‘That he knows, and he’s never gonna forget that for as long as he lives. I think that allows you to stare at his ass without triggering a lawsuit, as long as you know how lucky that makes you.’

‘I know, Charlie. Trust me, and it’s not just the arse.’

‘Okay now I don’t wanna know and you can focus on me instead ‘coz I haven’t been fully briefed yet on the backup…’

He stands with hands on hips, shaking head with mock disapproval and this time a laugh’s allowed to escape, additional revelation she is capable of anything with these people as backup and support. It is time therefore to prove that this includes the execution of a madman in broad daylight, reasserting and demonstrating the 00 Section’s ownership of the task. The professionalism can be conducted in her sleep, now all that is needed is the job over with.


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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Three

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SEVEN



Bond wakes alone; ache within as this registers a pleasant surprise.

He’d returned to the Infirmary after a secondary debrief, checking on Veronica’s wellbeing, expecting the Base’s doctor to chase him away: instead she’d dimmed lights and shut down the unit. An hour had been spent simply revelling in Flemming’s calm before stripping, slipping back around a semi naked form he doubts will ever become boring or familiar. She fitted perfectly under the crook of a willing arm; shifting slightly, allowing body to be embraced. In sleep his name is whispered not in passion but simply as recognition, welcome reminder of the first morning they woke together in his flat. Pimlico seems a very long way away right now, place he’ll want them both to redecorate on their return, eradicating Madeline’s influence forever. She’ll suggest simple colours, nothing pastel or floral, understated yet comforting. Bond will be happy to let her make those decisions.

Staring at the Infirmary ceiling, 007 also acknowledges that sleeping in contact lenses is not something he wants to continue entertaining long term. Keeping up the deception is becoming as tiresome as having to ensure Gregory understands that his mental health is being addressed, with due diligence. It was unfortunate the revelation over issues with his learning curve was made in front of the entire Operations and Acquisitions department plus two members of senior management. In fairness, it had been a surprise to him too. Next time, James will make sure both place and time are suitably considered. For now, hunger is the most pressing concern, sudden urge for Eggs Benedict being distracted by the unmistakeable smell of fresh pastry…

Turning on this uncomfortable infirmary bed, there’s a simple wooden tray spied atop an instrument trolley. Coffee and cream are both fresh, patisserie recently made but most welcome of all is the note, written on what looks like the back of a temperature chart. For a moment he’s back in London, morning after they’d stopped being colleagues and became lovers. Again there’s chastisement, stupidity in forgetting everything important when adopting Mr White’s dying wish as a misguided mission brief. It takes a second for eyes to focus, even with lenses, allowing her words to settle in his heart and make sense. Veronica’s brilliance is undoubtedly reinvention, improvement plus refinement as the 00 section evolves around her.

‘To the final eradication of pointless metaphors.’

James laughs, knowing the last mission carrying his 00 designation had already begun.


Leaning back in the Command Centre chair, Flemmings waits for her immediate superior to consider the question. She’d woken in Bond’s arms, realising in a moment of full-blown revelation there was no time to sleep, recover or indeed indulge. 00 status was job and life: both had connected in a heartbeat to the single, intractable objective: complete your mission brief. Right now that meant as long as Christian Swann lived, she didn’t rest. The first thought after finding clothing to replace the hospital gown was inescapable: complete your task alone, but then had come another moment of consideration; plan scrubbed before it began.

This mission had never only been hers to begin with.

That meant locating the spaciously, awe-inspiring Central Control unit, before impressing the on-duty staff both of position and significance. Then this space was commandeering, trusted team called together. Q was with Alex, deserving all the downtime he could possibly be afforded, so this time she began with Will, who in turn had suggested that Frasier be included, followed closely by Curtis to act as note taker and impartial third party.

Four hours later that impromptu conversation had morphed into a full-blown debrief.

Tanner’s as casual as she’s ever seen him: jeans, trainers plus an England Rugby shirt. Rachel is still in blue silk PJ’s and dressing gown, Emmanuel wearing the sweats he’d been exercising in at one of the Tower’s gym suites when summoned. All three have sat and listened as everything has fallen out, 004 not afraid to be both vulnerable and brutal when required, and once the details of her exile were covered, focus had immediately shifted to present requirements. Everybody except her knew where Swann was hiding, or else the whole operation would already be moving back to London. What Ronni needed most of all was to be allowed an opportunity to finish the task her fellow 00’s had started, but Tanner would not give the okay until he believed her 100% capable. Convincing him was proving more difficult than expected.

‘This breaks pretty much every protocol we have, 004, but you know that.’

‘If this was Bond, Will, Flemmings wouldn’t even have asked. She’d be out there already, alone, and we’d be playing catch up.’

Frasier’s been quietly supporting her for the last hour and the comment is meant to do just that, but it irritates Ronni in a manner that is a surprise. Maybe because she knows Bond now, almost as well as herself, and that agent would not be working alone.

‘The old 007, perhaps, but not now. He’s changed, and is becoming more like 004, at least in my eyes. It proves Q’s point that everyone works better as a unit, Sir.’

Emmanuel’s said virtually nothing in the last thirty minutes, and to have him chip in at this point is significant. Will gets up from the desk he’s been sitting on, going over to the younger man who is using one of the Base’s terminals to make notes.

‘That’s undeniably true, Curtis. I’ll have to wake the old man for a final okay regardless, and I doubt he’d object considering the way you handled yourself yesterday, but I know you, Ron. All those years in Acquisitions counts for something, without needing Gregory here. Can you do this?’

Ronni knows the license to kill was part of the uniform, as much as the evening dress or sidearm. She has no fear in the kill, only around consequences, yet he was right. Part of her would always want a better way, but not with this man.

‘I need to eliminate him before there’s a chance for Spectre to regroup, Will. He has to be removed from the equation.’

‘You’re sure execution is the best way?’

‘We cannot show leniency, not with what we know he’s done. He needs to die in theatre, preferably with an audience. Swann lives in a world where everybody’s watching, but only sees what they want, including him. If we took this man into custody, nothing changes. He has to die as public a death as Bond, and the rest of his organisation need to grasp that the game is well and truly over.’

‘You didn’t answer the question.’

‘I don’t need to kill him, MI6 does, a full four person team charged with exactly that task. We remove Swann with precision, and Spectre become a memory.’

‘If you’re asked to perform the kill-‘

‘I’ll be happy to push the button, just don’t ask me to enjoy it.’

There’s an exhale, just enough honesty to swing the weight of argument finally to her hands, and Will walks over as she stands.

‘I have no doubt you’re capable -‘

‘You just want to make sure I’ll cope, the same way you always have. I am, and I will.’

Rachel’s already on her way to change, Emmanuel at her side: regardless of M’s final okay, the senior staff are already on board, which is all Ronni needs. She hadn’t known how Swann would meet his end until this moment, but thanks to her unintentionally incorrect idiom, that plan was now almost fully formed. To succeed however she’d need James awake and willing, with some help from LaCroix.

However, there’s a more pressing issue to address first.


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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-Two

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The doctor has done her job and Ronni sits on the Infirmary trolley, too tired to move. The heat of a powerful shower had drained the last energy away and all she wants now is sleep, but knows they’ll want to begin debriefing as soon as is conceivably possible. Stubborn dirt remains under broken and cracked fingernails, scars on hands and arms from climbing; foraging injuries that will eventually fade but remain, irritating memories of the time away. After the reunions and hugs she’s uncomfortable, itching to be isolated and quiet but aware there’s a push to socialise, because of so long effectively alone. Except nobody comes, and Ronni begins to think maybe she’s dreaming the calm. The last few days are a broken mind’s deception: still out in the field, all this the result of sleep deprivation.

Bond’s genie trick therefore is welcome surprise: watching from the treatment room entrance whilst holding a large, wide mug in his hands. The flight suit is gone, replaced by what looks like indigo Burberry; designer change that suits his frame. The waistcoat accentuates chest and waist that are undoubtedly leaner and more toned beneath the layers than she’s ever seen, and even in the depths of fatigue an ache below her waist reminds he arouses in a manner no-one else has ever managed. The smell from the mug takes her back to the Barracks as kindness is presented, handing over milky sweetness before watching her drink. It’s perfect temperature too, beyond tempting to empty the thing in one, as it tastes so divine…

James watches, considering a thought it takes some time to finally vocalise.

‘I used to sleepwalk as a boy. Skyfall wasn’t exactly child friendly to begin with, my mother tried lots of ways to help me relax before bedtime. This was the one that worked best. My father bought the Vanilla pods back when he travelled. That smell’s always helped make things better.’

He’d never, ever mentioned parents in all their time together: Ronni stares with the understanding that somewhere between East London and here their relationship had fundamentally altered. With the last of the milk finished, Bond takes away mug before scooping her off the trolley, carrying a beyond exhausted frame to one of the private rooms. The low metal bed he then places her on is the most comfortable thing Ronni can remember for a very long time.

‘They can debrief after you’ve slept. If anyone wants you before then, they’ll have to come through me. Take all the time you need.’

‘Since when did you start making policy?’

‘When you became my personal responsibility and I determined you’re incapable of doing anything except this.’

‘Did I miss another briefing?’

‘No, I’m just making sure you understand just how grateful I am for you saving my life.’

Please, don’t leave.’

Ronni is suddenly, inescapably afraid: Bond stares straight into a weary soul, forehead pressed to hers: enough contact to reassure, knowing he’d never take advantage if she’s not in control of herself. Jacket comes off without a word, Bally Oxfords slipped from his feet before lying down, wrapping himself around the body in a flimsy blue gown. There James lies, breath warm on her neck, as Ronni settles into this most willing of embraces.

‘I’m not going anywhere, I promise.’

‘You any idea how amazing you smell?’

‘It’s a good thing you weren’t here last night, I ate garlic everything. I will admit however I made an effort, knowing you’d sleep better.’

‘Your application to task is laudable.’

‘As you and Eve are defining metrics for female agents in the field, I need to be alert. I’m guessing on their return not all of them would want to be held.’

‘I wouldn’t bet on that.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner.’

‘Your timing has always been impeccable. Don’t ever change…’

His smell and touch are all that are needed, understanding that this is the safest she will ever be. Ronni gets that however much he may arouse, trust was what mattered more, in the end. When she woke, it would be the first time they’d just slept together without sex.

That thought alone is enough to send her to unconsciousness at peace.

==

Bond registers relaxation, snuggling as limbs finally soften, and is suddenly conscious of just how exhausted Ronni really is. All the training in the world never prepares for the moment when you realise the game is out of your hands, and for large periods of her time in Italy, Flemmings had run on empty. He understands now just how much that might have cost, and that even with their virtual tryst this is not the same woman he knew before. The memory of Monte Carlo surfaces, night he’d grasped that she had become for Christian the focus of an increasingly demented obsession. That time needs to be dealt with by them both, but only with lots of space and comfort, on their own terms. That was the side to espionage nobody glamorised or wrote about, focus that created mental damage that could often sit for decades without detection.

He’d never wanted to talk about his family with anyone, and yet situation drew the memory out. Bond listens to her sleep and wonders at the ethics of giving a sedative without permission, but knows only too well that at the first loud noise or sudden movement she’s awake, and the rest so badly craved just won’t happen. It’s not the first time he’s done this and it won’t be the last, yet this time as the micro hypodermic breaks skin there is no shake to his hands. A mental note however is made to tell Ronni what happened, and that if she decides in future this isn’t warranted, he won’t follow protocol.

When breathing softens further, confidence allows slow and measured extrication.

He’s lacing the second shoe when Q appears, in French army fatigues, staring with a fear Bond isn’t sure he’s ever seen from the Quartermaster. He’s lost weight too since the last time they met, and follows the man out to the Infirmary without a word.

‘Shouldn’t you be resting?’

‘I needed to check Veronica was alright before I had dinner with Alex.’

‘I just gave her a sedative. I’d suggest you take the same so at least you get uninterrupted sleep.’

‘Indeed, I am aware of the studies. I am also conscious of how attached we have both become to 004.’

Only now does Bond realise that the young man is shaking and without a thought is steering him to a trolley, helping him up to sit. Q has to hold his hands together, struggling to vocalise the concern.

‘It was my call. I knew I wouldn’t be safe without her on the ground, not with you immobilised. I had no idea of the consequences all this would cause.’

‘You did the right thing, genuinely, of all the people you could have picked to protect you Ronni was absolutely the best to have at your side. She’s a far more accomplished 00 than I’ve ever been because she actually cares. I realise now just how selfish I’ve been over the years, because it was simply easier than having to deal with the emotional fallout.’

‘But at what cost to her, 007? How does she survive?’

‘That’s what she has us for. That’s the job we do for each other. Being alone is no longer an acceptable way of living this life, because the consequences are simply too horrendous to consider. You taught me that, and she gives a chance to redeem a workable future from the gutted shell of my past. Thank you.’

Q stares, and Bond understands that this has stopped simply being about professionalism and has become something more significant. He’s never done male affection well and knows why: his father never showed any, foster father far too much. As he’ll have no son or heir to inherit Skyfall’s ashes, maybe he could move the path of destiny on his own, and so he goes and hugs Q, who promptly breaks down in his embrace. The young man cries uncontrollably into his shoulder, and then Bond truly understands just how much has been lost to Spectre’s ridiculous tirade of revenge.

It is time these theatrics finally were bought to an end.


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DEFAULT :: Part Fifty-One

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A sticky explosive hits the Range Rover’s roof, exploding seven seconds later with satisfying power. Bond’s understanding of motion and mechanics is enough to negate the fact this helicopter wasn’t fitted with a weapon; the remote controlled detonator did the rest. He’s pushing stick down hard as the EC-135 ascends away from a now deserted motorway: eyes aren’t on the sky, instead he’s back to the Megane as it returns to the carriageway. French Police having done their job at removing any chance of remaining casualties, he just needs his targets back at Base. Wheeling and returning to a static hover, it’s a few moments to establish that car’s okay: potential demise of both people he’s become emotionally attached to comprehensively avoided.

Knowing he’s not the only one who grasps the significance of timing, there’s expected crackling; interference static across the headset. Then comes the familiar voice in his ear on cue, enough to set Bond grinning.

‘Thank you, 007. Nobody does dramatic entrances quite like you do.’

‘You’re welcome, Q. Always a pleasure to cover your back. Also impressed you’re able to hack encrypted comms whilst in a moving vehicle.’

‘I will have a quiet word with the French on my return, because if I can decrypt at 150 kilometres per hour, there’s probably a few loopholes in the system that require closing.’

‘I’d expect nothing less. In your own way, you’re as much of a showman as I am.’

‘Why, thank you, I’m taking that as the compliment it undoubtedly is. I think it’s high time we all went home, don’t you?’

‘Is she okay?’

James wants to know, needs to hear her voice but is aware of the concentration required to have negotiated the previous flash-point after an extended period in the field. He knows only too well how exhausted Ronni will be. Normally this could be considered as weakness but Bond understands what’s at stake: history won’t remember either beginning or end, only that this mission succeeded. His concern however is a world away from issues of national security: it matters most that her absence makes chest ache along with groin. Like the incurable romantic he undoubtedly is, there was the hope she’d reach out… yet the silence speaks volumes.

‘We’ll see you back at base. Should probably call ahead first and check they’re expecting us.’

The alarm bells that rang in Bangkok are louder, more strident, and Bond interprets the comment completely. He has to get back on the ground, ready to support Ronni when she’ll need it most of all. If, as hoped, Flemmings becomes the next owner of his number, it is time to ensure she’s as complete as humanly possible.

It’s his job, after all, to make her stronger.


The applause from the room over Bond’s entrance has faded yet Tanner’s still grinning broadly. This particular 007’s arrogance and bravado in the field will be missed, but Ronni’s more than a worthy successor to his title. 003 and 009 are eliminating the last two enemy pieces on the board, Range Rovers effectively disabled and left for the French Police to mop up. There have been fatalities, of course, mercifully none of them civilian: that as progress was infinitely preferable to slaughter on the scale Spectre had dictated.

‘White King, this is White Queen, requesting clarification of game status, over.’

Q’s voice fills the room and from the corner of his eye Tanner sees Rachel begin to cry, tears of joy as it becomes apparent the deception was really that: the worst kept secret in the room blown to hell and beyond. He’s worried that there’s not been a word from Flemmings, that her effective partner is the one doing all the talking, but in the end she’d never been as verbally demonstrative as the teachers. That banter was seldom for an audience, only apparent when you got Ronni alone. In some ways 004’s a world away from 007’s arrogant destructiveness or Q’s clever observance, but honestly at this point he doesn’t care.

Having them all safe is what matters most of all.

‘White Queen, this is White King, Checkmate. I say again, Checkmate.’

‘Copy White King, both pieces have ended the game. Returning to base. White Queen out.’

Suddenly Tanner’s being hugged, a surprise until he grasps it’s Grace, smile broader than he can ever remember, before planting a kiss to his cheek with a force that makes him grin.

‘You’re a fucking terrible actor, Will, and frankly nobody cares. You can stay just the way you are.’

As he willingly returns the ex-00 agent’s embrace, Tanner’s already looking forward to having everyone back together under the same roof.


Ronni’s breathing has returned to something approximating normal, motorway now devoid of traffic on both sides. They’re coming close to the rendezvous point specified and yet there’s nothing anywhere to suggest an exit or indeed intended direction, only Bond’s helicopter keeping watch from above. Then in the rear view are two cars, approaching at speed. Q doesn’t even bother looking up from his laptop, fresh confidence apparent as he explains their next move.

‘Charlie is red, Eve is blue, and they’re our escort. Normally we’d do this by air but as nobody is watching? There’s a turning not marked on the maps coming up that was used during construction. We’re going in the back door: Tanner’s opening it now.’

The two Meganes come to flank and Ronni’s staring with surprise at Moneypenny, wearing a smile she’s never seen before, and it registers that perhaps this woman cares about welfare and is pleased to see her. It’s not politeness, this is genuine pleasure, the same true of Charlie whose grin is oddly infectious. The cheesy thumbs up he then offers to them both is met by a smile she’s not managed since the days after first becoming 004. Unexpected warmth in Ronni’s chest flares, emotion forgotten yet vitally important, and there are tears that are a complete surprise.

Her friends are here to take them home.

Up ahead a large billboard for French Police recruitment is moving, clearly on some kind of automated track, revealing freshly laid tarmac behind. Eve slips in front and Charlie behind and the three of them are onto a road pushing away from the motorway, almost immediately hidden from sight by dense fir trees and camouflage netting. Ronni’s curiosity is already piqued, that the forest is incredibly well planted and anything but random: these trees are almost regimented in their placement. Ahead there’s what worryingly appears to be a sudden and solid obstacle, road coming to an end shortly before a large and steep drop, and yet Eve’s not slowing down. Interest is rapidly evolving into concern, pushing 004 to ask the question.

‘Q, where are we going?’

‘You didn’t read the briefing document on the new French Security HQ, did you?’

‘I was sulking over Bond. It was only a momentary incident of rebellion.’

‘Then you need to trust me and just keep driving.’

Ronni’s beginning to panic until the scene in front of them flickers, before suddenly vanishing, the most realistic of virtual backdrops. Instead of dense forest on either side of the steep drop there’s large metal hexagons, melting into each other almost as if they were liquid. The path opens, large man-made tunnel as the three cars enter together, Bond above them and quickly away towards the light. In seconds the tunnel’s vanished, and Ronni is momentarily stunned by what she sees. Q’s smile is broad and comes from months of knowing only of the possibility of this place: seeing it for real is enough to render him temporarily breathless.

‘You see, 004, it isn’t just the enemy that gets the secret hidden lair any more. The French decided to throw away the rule book and build this in plain sight, then wait until someone noticed it. As of yet, amazingly, nobody has, which is impressive considering what they’ve constructed.’

The structure they are now hurtling towards is beyond huge, solid and towering; circular edifice of glass and metal that could be a space craft, or perhaps some kind of self-contained city. Surrounding it are hangars and communication installations, plus what is quite obviously a sizeable power plant. Ronni now wishes she’d been paying attention, reminder to catch up once time allowed, because something this astonishing demanded more than simply passing interest. To have built this in secret and have no-one aware of its presence was, it had to be said, an achievement of significant proportions.

‘Solar power makes this entire facility self-sustaining, and any excess energy is quietly slipped back into the French power grid without anyone noticing. It’s a triumph of modern Gallic construction and engineering. Alex has spent many hours explaining the ins and outs of the processes.’

‘He works here?’

‘He designed the entire communication network from the ground up. I’m really rather looking forward to seeing both it and him.’

‘Then you may wish to check behind us.’

The Lamborghini has appeared on cue, Felix’s smile in her rear view mirror, as Charlie and Moneypenny accelerate away and ahead, allowing the Countach to pull alongside. It is the first time she’s seen Q this emotional, visibly moved that his lover has come to accompany them home, and as the Tahiti Blue supercar accelerates away, Q wipes away tears. Ronni puts a hand to his leg, gentle squeeze bringing him back to the moment.

‘I think he missed you too.’

‘That he’d come out to protect me…’

‘You can thank him in person, I assume that’s where we’re heading.’

Ronni can spy their destination, at the bottom of the southern part of the structure, large rectangular bay on top of which the Gendamerie helicopter now sits. There’s a reception committee too, which would have been unheard of a year ago. Then it would have been a quiet return on a military transport or commercial flight, but this is different. The location, their situation… all of this is new ground. It is no longer one man in his own, secret world. Everything has changed, bond of connection evolved from one to two, to four, eight and beyond. They are now a family, stronger together than would ever be possible alone. However, whether she liked it or not, Ronni was a performer, role model and inspiration, especially in situations like this. Looking ahead, the other Meganes are parallel parked with a regulation car’s space with a fraction extra between bonnet and boot, presenting perfect opportunity for an entrance worthy of only the most competent of 00 agents. She’d been taught to do this during her time in Orientation, had managed the ‘stunt’ at first time of asking. That had been some time ago, and with more sleep plus caffeine.

There is the briefest of glances at Q, to grasp his assent, Andrew’s grin plus hand to ceiling enough to provide confidence to begin this manoeuvre. Flemmings handbrake turns the Megane with impeccable accuracy, inserting white precisely between red and blue vehicles within a hair’s breadth, in the most extravagant manner possible. Understanding that metaphors were worth a lot when your peers were watching, the assembled masses burst into applause plus some very un-British cheering. Then the car is surrounded, no idea how she goes from sitting to standing, embraces appearing in a blink. Charlie hugs with a joy she is happy to return, Moneypenny’s emotion all too genuine with Q. It is Tanner however who holds Ronni the longest, and when they separate his delight is enough to break resolve and reduce her to tears.

Looking up in his embrace, Bond stands away from the celebrations; alone on a metal balcony, still in his flight suit. When he meets her gaze and smiles, only then does 004 relax.


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DEFAULT :: Part Fifty

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They
were already prepared, Bond decides, sitting alone in the French Gendamerie chopper, waiting for the okay to take off. His pep talk had been largely unnecessary, when all was said and done, yet someone needed to assert authority on the situation. That was normally Q’s task, without either the need to make a scene or even draw attention to process, and he’d always assumed there was no place for 00 bravado in the equation. Yet somewhere between Skyfall and here, with M’s final establishment as the man absolutely in charge, everything had changed. Before, Bond might have been uncomfortable with the group mentality and collective responsibility that this shift had produced, but not now.

Never if Ronni was involved.

The French in his ear is acknowledged, EC 135 in the air without a thought: two Meganes weave below in blue and red, easy targets to shadow alone. Moneypenny and Charlie race to the motorway in a fashion that suggests neither are attempting to compete, rather this is an exercise in alertness, preparing for the arrival of Ronni and Q. Tanner’s handling everyone in a second language, confidence that Bond’s not heard from the Chief of Staff since the previous M passed away: he’d cried at her funeral and now this doesn’t seem as much of a weakness as it did before. In fact, if 007 is honest, emotional outbursts are entirely acceptable when placed in appropriate context.

Felix has been shadowing 004 and Q’s vehicle since Nice, confident promise he was more than capable of hiding in plain sight using a Tahiti Blue Lamborghini Countach, remaining hangover from his time with the CIA. Having him in position means contacts are already highlighted, Tanner swiftly marking five vehicles of interest on their way to intercept his mission. These Meganes are pretty useful for production model cars, the French being quite keen on internal augmentation whenever possible. Alex Dubois made that happen, and is riding shotgun with Leiter, position the senior Gendamarie Technical Director requested with some forcefulness. It is apparent that Bond is not the only person with more than a professional interest in the day’s outcome, and that’s a change for the better. Q commands a great deal of loyalty in both friends and lovers, it transpires, and it isn’t just the 00 Section that stands to be damaged should the Arctic White Megane not survive the journey.

The brief is clear: he’s observing, team on the ground very much in charge. Except Bond’s been doing this long enough to know that’s never how things work out, a fact he’s certain Ronni’s already grasped. As a 00 one never assumes that anyone is 100% capable of completing anything, therefore arriving prepared to cover every eventuality without a prompt. That’s why he borrowed a number of items from the French Government’s excessively stocked Armoury without a requisition form, that Dubois had supplied without even questioning motive. He knew what was at stake if Spectre got to their lovers before they could, and understood that after months in hiding, response times would be down and mistakes were possible. James would only act if circumstances demanded, and as a result left theatre very much in Ronni’s care.

As he comes to hover above their vehicle, already exceeding the speed limit, the first of their joint enemies is already attempting to run it from the road. However, as the black Range Rover comes close to ramming the rear of the vehicle, there is a flash of light, single shot into the engine creating a fireball which consumes, sending it careening off the road and into the hard shoulder before it comes to a stop. A second later the entire vehicle is a raging inferno, and 007’s grinning broadly. That’s Q’s vehicle disabler, probably fired by the man himself, included at Bond’s behest in their field equipment. It’s still only a prototype, with a single charge: there’ll need to be other ways to eliminate the remaining assailants. Adrenaline’s coursing through a body already thrilled at every possibility: he’s got a front row seat for the action, and as yet Ronni Flemmings has not disappointed. He saw her destroy Blofeld with the finesse and grandeur that the 00 Section demands, and expects this action sequence to be no different. However, she remains an agent nowhere near 100% fit and that if that’s the case, there may yet be the requirement for support.

He had her back, until the day they both died: owing her twice in that regard simply kept him keener than Bond would ever need.



Ronni’s unable to shake her pursuer, and it is becoming a problem.

She was expecting gunfire but instead this individual seems utterly determined to concentrate on making her drive into someone else on the motorway. It is almost as if his brief is to ensure there’s no civilian loss of life and only she and Andrew are casualties: the driver is insanely good and however fast and clever 004 remains, she cannot shake them. Attempts to hack the Range Rover’s electronics are also proving fruitless, Q swearing quietly under his breath as they weave through traffic.

‘We have a problem. French Police have closed the motorway, there are queues coming up. I think maybe our pursuer knows this and is just waiting for us to hit the traffic.’

Up ahead the overhead signs indeed proclaim a reduction in speed, and already vehicles are beginning to slow. Ronni pushes right, heading for what passes for hard shoulder on this section of road, knowing it could vanish without warning at any time. As the traffic begins to concertina to stationary she’s going far too fast, and her assailant is closing, a roadblock ahead leaving a gap she’ll be lucky to manage at this speed, and one the Range Rover certainly won’t complete. Her options are vanishing too fast and 004 knows she’s out of time, needing to either commit to the tarmac or take her chances off road. Brain stutters, sudden fear she’s called it wrong, everything slowing to a point of potential collision. Except suddenly, blissfully, the Police car on the inside lane moves away as a massive explosion destroys her pursuer behind without warning.

In the rear view mirror, backup appears on cue.


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DEFAULT :: Part Forty-Nine

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Tanner’s nervous, staring at his team in the cold Mess Hall: he can’t help but wish someone else was in charge of motivational speeches. M had told him, politely yet firmly, that there came a time in every politician’s life where you had to grasp the nettle: enough people could be inspired only once your own rhetoric was believed. Then Will understood the problem: he didn’t enjoy exploitation. After that he’d politely asked his boss that if they needed speeches before major missions, then it was probably an idea to employ someone who could lie better than he could. Nervous beyond expectation, struggling with his French to communicate quickly with the base’s employees, the Chief of Staff hasn’t had nearly enough coffee to stand here and do anything convincingly at 6.45am.

At the back of the stark, functional room, M leans next to stacks of unused chrome chairs, watching with what could easily be amusement as their disparate teams stand waiting. The youngsters are furiously comparing notes like there’s no tomorrow, Emmanuel able to watch and type on a tablet without breaking eye contact, Lizzie Mayer using an old style pad and paper. The three wise women are together as a group, Naomi the designated stenographer as Rachel converses quietly with Grace. Then, off to one side are the 00’s, except Bond who stands at distance, overseeing the entire group. What started as a dispassionate attitude seems to be altering, evolving into an understanding that someone other than management needs to get the ball rolling. It is him who makes eye contact, purposefully approaching Will with a look that he’s pretty certain 007’s never used in his presence.

If Tanner didn’t know better, he’d say there’s more than a measure of sympathy in Bond’s regard.

‘I have an idea for the briefing, and you look distinctly uncomfortable having to do this.’

‘I’m certainly not Q, that much is certain.’

‘Permission to take over and direct the floor, Sir.’

‘Granted, 007, and I’m suddenly interested where this is going.’

As the Chief of Staff stands aside he’s summarily deafened: Bond puts fingers in mouth and whistles with a volume that brings everyone’s attention to him. Without a word, 007’s managed more than Tanner could hope for: offering the floor providing welcome means to an end.

‘This isn’t going to work. Teams don’t form cliques, that’s what we have here. Everybody around this table, please.’

Nine pairs of eyes stare with a range of responses, but nobody argues. The largest space is filled in short order and when everyone is settled, Tanner stands well back, reinforcing acquiescence. Bond then turns to him and stares, before asking a question a very long way from what is expected.

‘We’ve had a love hate relationship over the years, you say that’s a fair assessment, Tanner?’

‘007… this is… yes, we have.’

‘You find me frustrating, don’t you? Self absorbed, unable to do as I’m told?’

‘What’s your point, Bond?’

‘Sometimes it takes someone to come along and shake up the world view for everyone to instigate real change. Q did that for me to begin with, made me look outside what I did and how I acted, and then when Veronica slammed into everybody’s lives, it redefined how a lot of this stuff actually functioned. In fact, if you’re honest with yourselves, nobody here would be sitting in this briefing with exception of the senior management were it not for 004.’

Regarding the room, nods and body language confirm that Bond’s comment has touched a nerve. The use of Flemmings as catalyst is already having the required effect.

‘We’d all like Q up here to confirm what needs to be done this morning but it’s unnecessary, because he’s taught everyone so well that you’re already ahead of the game. Handlers understand their targets, Comms grasp what needs to be done on the ground. Tanner here would be delivering you a speech I’m betting he’d feel uncomfortable giving because in his mind, that’s not his job anyway, it belongs to the man we need to make sure gets back to base safely with his 00 shadow in tow.’

He’s not using Ronni as the focus, Will realises with satisfaction: Bond’s taken Q to make the point with. 007 is being really rather clever, because then it’s not just about his personal investment in this situation. The room’s energised, more focused than he’d ever manage, and M nods in appreciation of effort thus far.

‘Without 004 and Q, we’d not be in a position to finally bring Spectre to its knees. We owe it to them both and their work in the field to make sure this operation is conducted and completed flawlessly. Most importantly, only as a cohesive unit can everyone fulfil their duty successfully. Once upon a time the 00 section thought it could operate without support, but this is no longer either acceptable or fair. To survive in the modern world, everyone matters, team more significant than one man’s ability.’

Then Bond stops, staring at the group as they radiate anticipation. Will knows this look, but has not seen it for some time. It was 007’s response when the old M would chastise, normally with good reason over his reckless, individual behaviour. She was one of the few people capable of holding a mirror up to the flaws: the other’s in a car on a French motorway with the Quartermaster beside her. Except now Flemmings doesn’t even need to be in the room.

This man has changed because of her, that much is abundantly obvious.

‘With Rachel in charge, you people know what to do. I, however, have a lot to learn.’

The room sits quietly stunned as Bond turns and heads for the exit, jacket removed and tie being loosened. He’s off to put on a flight suit and command a helicopter, despite his hatred of the task, with a focus and drive just gifted to the rest of the room. Will stands, open mouthed with amazement, knowing without doubt that this isn’t the same man that left London in a body bag. As the room bursts into chatter it is Frasier who instantly stands: cementing her position as team leader, acknowledged by 007. Almost effortlessly, this new dynamic is both reinforced and insoluble.

More importantly, the lone wolf that 007 was knows there are issues to address, a point M’s considering as he strolls to Will’s side.

‘I think, once this 007 is officially inactive, we might be well advised offering him a job at the Barracks. He’s a changed man: perhaps finally Bond’s decided on a set of priorities for the future that don’t involve him remaining solo.’

‘I sense a lot of his decisions may depend on what state 004 is in on her return.’

‘Indeed, Tanner. Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that Flemmings and her partner survive the morning.’


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DEFAULT :: Part Forty-Eight

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Waking with a start, SIG P226 already in hand, Ronni’s fallen asleep on watch. It’s almost dawn, grey light rapidly diminishing, humidity a clear sign they’d have another uncomfortable day travelling. There is the sound of a vehicle, far distance, possibly a truck. It’s perhaps just early morning traffic this high up the mountain, but 004 wants to be sure. As she moves to standing her leg vibrates: Q’s awake, texting from his tent, aware of the noise and keeping silent.

As she turns to look back at the camp, alert rapidly evolves into surprise; no more need to remain silent

‘You can come out Q, make sure you the bring the laptop. We appear to have had an overnight delivery.’

There’s the sounds of him dressing, trousers and shirt, boots slipped on unlaced as he emerges into the dawn clearly still half asleep: computer under his arm as he scrabbles for glasses, to be sure there’s no mistake.

‘Maybe it’s a late birthday gift?’

‘Well it’s a little early for Christmas, wouldn’t you say?’

Ronni stares at the Arctic White Renault Megane that’s appeared by magic, sitting outside their makeshift camp site on the outskirts of the forest. There’s just enough dirt on the paintwork to disguise the car as not new, mud on chrome hubcaps where it had obviously made the journey up the hillside in darkness. Q’s already sitting on a convenient tree stump, firing up his Laptop, early morning sun enough to power solar cells for the satellite uplink. He’ll be checking the registration, I’ll pack up the tents. Ronni’s working on instinct after two months, no need to even second guess her partner’s thought processes. They’ve become that well attuned now that often communication is unnecessary.

‘That’s our transport organised: this car’s registered to a very specific address in Paris. The Palais du Justice, which means it should be a French secret service vehicle. If it is genuine, you’ll find the keys hidden in a special space on the driver’s side wheel arch.’

Going to check Q is indeed correct, inside the small space are keys and a folded piece of paper, on which co-ordinates are scribbled. Handing the communication over, her partner’s three steps ahead of her, and smiles as a map of Europe fills the battered Laptop’s screen.

‘I find it reassuring that even after all this time the right people are still playing by the rules, 004. I guessed where we’re going and I was right: all the way north, co-ordinates are for a town called Mauchamp south of Paris on the N20.’

‘Anything changed between last night and today?’

‘News media this morning doesn’t show anything untoward, there’s not been a major incident for the best part of a week – hold on, what on Earth’s this?’

Ronni comes to squat by the screen, suddenly curious as to what has caught Q’s attention. He’s called up the BBC News website, on which is featured an article from the French newspaper Le Monde. At its head is a stylised cartoon of a woman and man, both holding a European flag aloft. The Internet had been gripped by reports of these two impromptu vigilantes intervening in situations, saving lives and breaking apart known centres of criminal activity from as far away as Venice.

‘La Femme et le Fils. Oh my. Is that cartoon supposed to be-‘

‘Us. Yes, I believe so. That’s what Charlie Hebdo does best. Satire and political comment.’

Ronni suppresses a laugh, reading the report. Their efforts to destabilise Spectre had gone anything but unnoticed in the previous months: the French press seizing on their subversion with enthusiasm. Reports of their actions to save lives and not take them, acting with kindness over violence. Grainy CCTV footage that existed but was never good enough to offer a positive identification. There was even video from Marc, who described the liberation of his gear as a life-changing occurrence, that Ronni’s arrival and intervention had made him consider his choices and had prompted a radical change in outlook.

‘We weren’t that obvious, were we?’

‘Absolutely not, Q. This will be intentionally engineered by London, co-ordinating with the French authorities. They’re using us as propaganda, a metaphor, and not just our actions either. These mentions of similar acts of defiance from south east Asia to eastern Europe, starting in Bangkok.’

‘007, 003 and 009’s efforts, all similarly glamorised.’

‘You see the author of this report in Le Monde?’

‘Danielle Barras. Why is that name familiar?’

‘Because your predecessor created her, she’s a cover, coded message. The initials DB stand for-?’

‘Deuxième Bureau, the old name for the French Secret Service. This is the communication system the Americans use in covert ops, I wonder if -‘

‘This is a risky move, Q. We’re very much in plain sight again. That means -‘

‘Spectre will also be aware the deception is at an end. Let’s hope that we’ve been suitably prepared for that eventuality.’

Q takes the keys from Ronni’s hand, puts down the laptop and goes to the back of the Megane, popping the boot without a thought. He stares for a moment and then smiles, broader than she’s seen in many weeks. Reaching in, from the car is pulled a large flask, which he unscrews without a thought, sniffing the still steaming contents with a look of unmitigated pleasure.

‘Colombian Roast, Vanilla essence. I’m more than prepared to be a target with a decent cup of coffee in me, Flemmings.’

004 walks to the back of the car, and stares in mounting joy at their supplies: fresh food and water, plus replacement clothing. The Walther illuminates in her grip immediately, and is all the confirmation needed, London wanted them back in the game. Hidden beneath the clothing is an impressive amount of field equipment, plus two very compact and clearly powerful sub automatic weapons. She hands Q a fresh Beretta, pulling him briefly from his coffee. The displeasure this causes raises a laugh, despite herself.

‘Can a civil servant at least have a decent breakfast and find a roadside shower before you start arming him, Ronni?’

‘I’m sorry, Q. Old habits die hard.’

‘I know, and without you I’d be dead many times over. However, just this once, let’s pretend we’re not secret agents and just have breakfast.’

This morning, there is no argument with the suggestion.


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