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She wakes, face down on the L-shaped sofa, immediately regretting consciousness. Mouth is sandpaper rough and dry, headache sudden persistent ache: everything smells of cigar smoke, tastes of whiskey. It takes far too long to recall why she’s fully clothed, not in bed, eyes painful above everything else. Then sparks the memory of anger, incandescent and brutal, giving way to disappointment and despair in short order. Walking home from the restaurant in bare feet, after bitter yet passionate argument on the restaurant balcony. Pushing his luck on of all things, his own Stag Night, and her temper had finally shattered.

Bond was marrying Madeline Swann in under a week, yet Ronni was who he wanted more.

Maybe James was just damaged goods and it would be sensible for everyone to just have 007 gone, erased from both history and memory. Except deep within, something had shifted. Ronni would miss him. There was a sounder point, making her itch with uncomfortable truth she didn’t want to grasp. They were indivisible, less than a whole without the other. She’d pushed, trying to force the admission that he loved his fiancée, but he wouldn’t, couldn’t use the word. Bond was unable to commit, and in a moment of revelation had admitted that perhaps there was regret in the decision to marry.

He still needed her to feel alive.

004 didn’t have time for this, not with the entire intelligence community on high alert. His argument, however seductive, wasn’t the answer either needed or craved. If he was about to leave, little doubt he’d be finished as a 00 with a wedding ring, that should be the end to it. Except he’d faltered, tried to convince one last night together would be enough, but when pushed? Bond’s happy ending was a sham. There was no need for her to ever experience a fairytale, because that’s what this job was supposed to have been, but with him as 007, he’d become the villain instead. His actions had condemned, her life as second fiddle, and now needed to be gone to allow at least the chance to take centre stage. A drunken Bond had watched with increasing horror as she’d laid it out and knew, as long as he remained 007, she’d never get the life so badly craved.

Moving gingerly from lying to sitting, Ronni remembers the entire performance: alcohol fuelled, through tears that had become increasingly bitter. She’d watched Bond grasp reality, future perennially in his thrall. As long as 007 remained the benchmark? They’d never give her a fucking chance. Ronni isn’t sure this is the actual truth, but that’s how it has felt since attaining 00 status. There’d been a distinct lack of opportunity to shine, or even extend her remit outside the normal run of contentious situations. It was almost as if Whitehall had no idea what to do with her, or indeed any of the other 00’s because when Bond walked into theatre, rules went out of the window and the world literally revolved around him. The whole Spectre ‘incident’ was proof that the criminal world saw 007 as their primary threat… and he’d proved it in spades.

There is no more time to debate this with herself. Ronni needs to be at work in an hour, and right now is certainly not legally capable of driving. Instead she will shower, take painkillers, run along The Embankment and hope nobody asks anything significant from her until a great deal of caffeine has been consumed. Stripping to start her Monday, memory surfaces that she wants to ignore but can’t. Their hands interlaced, attempt to prevent an enraged exit that failed.

‘Please, don’t leave like this. Never sleep angry, it erodes what we are.’

Ronni’s not sure 007 even understands what a proper relationship entails, and maybe that’s part of the larger problem, right up until the moment she fails to register her own gym bag in the bedroom. Tripping over first it and then her own legs, landing face first on a bed it would have been preferable to have slept in the night before, the laugh begins and consumes her entire body. She’s in tears of amusement: not only still drunk, but the previous night’s performance wasn’t anything except desperate. He tried his luck and failed. It was going to happen eventually, after all.

The sooner 007 is married, the better it will be for everybody.

She breaks her personal best, running past the Thames under unsettled March skies, reminded of just over a year previously when the application for Active Consideration had been accepted. That system had been put on hold, requirement to lose your life summarily scrapped when it became apparent that personas did not matter as much as numbers. MI6 desperately needed more people on the ground, and the system couldn’t support turn around times any more. Suitable candidates were being permed from the military, increasing number of civilians being targeted as potential employees to confront an enemy who didn’t follow a rule book, or even care about anything except themselves. London had already lost too much to terror, skyline permanently tainted by Millbank’s unscheduled destruction. Government wanted to build a monument on the site, yet no-one could decide what form it should take.

004 doesn’t care for memorials or history, unless they prevent the same events repeating in perpetuity. All those mausoleums and monuments to casualties would never preclude men being violent to each other, freedom remaining the commodity everyone craved but no-one could ever guarantee. Flemmings gave up life and name to defend this status quo, such as it remains, and that today allows an acceptance of inevitably. Focussing on your own battles, like it or not, was often preferable to changing the World. In this case, at the start of a new day, fresh opportunity will be considered as acceptable: there had been hope for better, but between Carnagie and here, she’d not failed her objective. It refused to accept her as being what it either wanted or needed right now, and that might still be the way tomorrow if things were allowed to continue as was. MI6 needs to publicly acknowledge she is their future: that meant never stopping, always pushing, and refusing to concede an inch.

Rachel Frasier is waiting for Flemmings after she’s showered, dressed in her favourite grey trouser suit, in the newly-requisitioned female-only changing area. The imposing brunette waits quietly in Westwood, tablet in hand, and 004 knows that she’s doing Q’s job for the day. The man himself is on a training course, small arms and munitions, result of the incident almost a month ago. No longer can the Service afford to have anyone without basic self defence and survival training in any key position, just because there was no indication when the next attack could happen, and it would. Spectre’s de facto leader might now be cremated, but from his ashes rose a chilling warning: MI6 was at war. The hunters would become hunted, their casualties would be numerous. Internet rhetoric and social media sabre rattling aside, Whitehall was not taking any chances.

The two women could not be more different in both background and outlook, but their connection was considerable. Of everyone here, Rachel understood best what it meant to make the most of what you had, and to exploit that potential to the fullest.

‘Good morning Ronni, you look better than everyone else I’ve seen from last night.’

‘I’m still surprised M sanctioned Bond’s request, considering the circumstances.’

‘I think the idea is not to let the enemy know you’re being persecuted by the rhetoric. Things carry on as normal despite the threats, so everything remains as it should…’

‘ – despite the fact it is anything but. On reflection, I think maybe I should have stayed at home.’

‘You can’t blame Bond for playing to type until the end. He is at least pushing the stereotype to its natural limit.’

That answered Ronni’s first question: their drunken exchange had not exactly been inconspicuous. She’s expecting more vitriol from Frasier, who has never been backwards in her condemnation of 007, but this morning there is a reserve to the woman Ronni finds a surprise, and she is compelled to ask why.

‘Wouldn’t you normally be giving Bond a far harder time than you are?’

‘I’ve never been in love enough with someone to suggest marriage, 004. One assumes that the process isn’t normally entered into lightly, but when you look at divorce rates… I may not necessarily agree with how 007 does his work, but when he cares about someone…’

‘You think he really loves her?’

At the direct challenge Rachel stops, looking at Ronni oddly and making the woman feel distinctly uncomfortable.

‘I think Bond’s beginning to realise there are consequences even he might not have considered with relevance to his recent choices. After a decade, understanding research is valuable before one fully commits to a mission might finally have begun to register. However, we have more pressing things to consider, especially in reference to your recent placement in Turkey. Once you’ve had another Vanilla Latte I’ll show you what Naomi has turned up from the latest round of satellite passes.’

Discomfort is forgotten, put aside at the thought of the three person team she’d left in Ankara, affinity to them suddenly more important than her individual feelings for one man. She can’t change her fate with Bond, but there are many things in the world that she can alter: given the choice? Take the difference, not the desire. Q’s words from training work their magic, as Ronni follows Frasier out of the changing area, to the large, rectangular briefing space where Agent Walters stands waiting. These women and her boss have done a remarkable job of helping her cope not only with disappointment, but have fostered the notion of team spirit that has only fortified after the attack in their midst.

Grace Cartwright-Miller has taken a full-time role in training, given her own staff and a remit to re-educate existing agents on issues including diversity and sexuality. The changes Q began when Ronni became 004 are already having significant ramifications, and this makes her happy beyond words. Even the Barracks itself has undergone alteration: this communal area for showers and changing just the beginning: privacy guaranteed for interviews and assessments that had never previously been considered as relevant.

The changes might be glacial in pace, but it was undoubtedly better than nothing.

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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.

Written by Internet of Words

Published Writer, 53-ish / Still European / Trauma Survivor / Photos / Exercise / Bisexual / Chaotic Good / HUMAN SPORK / Mental Health / Daily Twitter Short Story / @ProperBard in Residence, My House / Shortlisted & Published Author / Original poems/fiction © IoW 2020