She’s been at her terminal for an hour after the briefing, poring over Walters’ last sweep of data via the Department mainframe when Tanner appears, impressively dapper in a three piece suit that wouldn’t look out of place on M. He had picked up a gun when the attack had happened, more capable than Ronni had grasped, but still appears slightly awkward with sidearm that all senior personnel were now obliged to wear on government property. The Barracks has yet to come down from Amber Alert instigated three weeks previously, drills and security now part of daily operations until Spectre’s threat is considered suitably minimised. The fact Will’s heading for her desk is a concern too, because Ronni’s not confident she can carry out an adult conversation until there’s been more Vanilla Latte than currently consumed.
‘How much still over the limit are you, 004?’
Ronni blinks at his honesty, grateful small talk’s being completely avoided. He’d been at the Restaurant last night, at least for a couple of hours, though they’d hardly had an opportunity to chat.
‘Good morning to you too, Will. Is it that obvious?’
‘I’d not have known had I not just left 007, who looks considerably worse for wear than you do.’
‘Well, that’s reassuring because he was at least three Jack Daniels ahead of me. You did the very sensible thing by leaving when you did with Q. Is there a problem?’
‘Last night’s none of my business, but this morning is very much the opposite. Bond’s just turned down a particularly significant security job, suggesting you were a better fit.’
‘Is this low or high profile?’
‘Extremely high indeed, which is why M asked for him to do it, but he just refused before suggesting that maybe these tasks should be offered to other people in the department and not simply at the poster boy.’
Ronni shifts, suppresses a smile: Bond hadn’t just been listening, he’d made the point to management, and anger dissipates in a manner that comes as something of a surprise. The fact he’d taken her words to heart at least meant ire had been understood, but it didn’t remove the source of the real tension. Eventually, that would need to be addressed. For now, she’d concentrate on the day job instead, trying to keep desire off the table.
‘I came all this way to drive you back to Whitehall for the briefing. You’ll need to dress for the Opera tonight, it’s hardly going to be taxing but you will need to keep your eyes open. However, there is one other matter I need to discuss first.’
Tanner places himself between office and her, sitting on the desk: in his hand is a USB drive that Ronni recognises immediately.
‘I have this information from Q, he tells me you’ve been putting data together in your spare time. I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but can I assume this has been compiled with customary thoroughness?’
‘I could be wrong, Will. There has to be a first time, but there’s just too many co-incidences to easily ignore. I wasn’t sure, I’m still not. Please don’t be cross, I just went to the person I trust most in the Department first.’
Not wanting to be that person, it had happened regardless, the deeper Ronni had dug. As history was uncovered on Madeline Swann, the more difficult it had become to overlook holes, co-incidences in times and places, people and events. Personal feelings became impossible to reconcile: Gregory had told her that jealousy was normal, understandable when emotional affinity is tested after commitment changes. Ronni knew all the answers and the counter-objections but the niggle would not diminish. She’d just put together the data and resolved someone else could decide.
‘I’m disappointed you feel you can’t trust me.’
‘Will, I’d assumed you’d rather not get involved. How would you feel if I went and told M I thought your soon to be wife could be a sleeper agent for Spectre?’
‘I’d quite obviously consider you were jealous, because it’s apparent I’m incredibly attractive and have that effect on other women. Then I’d check the facts, and after that I’d look at my own people and berate them at length for not doing the same earlier.’
‘Will, I don’t know -‘
‘It’s okay, Ronni, I understand this dilemma more than you realise. You’ve done the right thing coming to us and not straight to 007, that I will tell you. We can talk more on the way to your meeting. I’ll get someone to make you up another coffee for the journey.’
Watching the Chief of Staff leave, Ronni wishes that she’d never been placed with Bond for her final assessment, because then none of this would ever have been an issue. However, the past was something she could never alter, however strong the desire. All that was left now was to make sure that this position was neither compromised nor damaged by somebody else failing to do their job properly.
Now that this last piece of the puzzle was passed on to the right people, 004 could move forwards.
Running back for no other reason than her Jaguar remained in the car park at home, Ronni’s happy not having to wait for a Service transport, preserving autonomy. From the grey morning, London’s afternoon is blue skies and cautious optimism, Thames shining in surprisingly warm sun. This city becomes increasingly adept at soothing her disquiet, reminder of how it has become so much more than home. This is the lover who never cheats or lies, confidant willing to find time to listen. Her flat is warm, welcoming familiarity, mess of clothes and unread mail she makes an effort to both tidy and sort before anything else is accomplished. Bond’s wedding invitation remains unopened, hidden from sight, misguided belief that ignoring the inevitability will somehow lessen pain. That’s what this is, Ronni quietly grasps in the shower, an inescapable consequence of life.
Those who we care for never remain forever.
Mission outfit is chosen on autopilot, hanging ready on the wardrobe door. Black chiffon, skimming just below the knee; heels that she can run in should the need arise. Hair and makeup can be simple yet essential because this isn’t just about making an effort, it’s the level required for a man who Whitehall want to be nice to. Then everyone forgets the bad taste of Nine Eyes, electronic duplicity from the most brilliant of Old School traitors. Instead it is time for New Money, American-born wonderkid who’s promising the moon for the right contracts and correct treatment. Ronni has no interest in these machinations, but knows that to get ahead, there will always be pawns to be played. One day there may even be no need to pretend and deceive to achieve objectives, people might simply communicate and move forward. May that time come soon, and with the minimum loss of life.
With the detective work on Ms Swann out of her hands, correctly prioritising the future should be easy.
Except it’s a lie, most obvious of untruths. Sitting upright, still wrapped in her towel, Ronni spies the necklace Bond bought her hanging on the dressing table mirror. His surprise gift on promotion, hand made in silver; implicit acknowledgement they were the same, two halves of an unbreakable whole. Yin and Yang. It was an ugly thing, genuinely surprising choice: she’d expected more, not an obvious symbol of connection, until he’d mentioned the necklace Vesper had worn, carried across the planet and finally discarded in the Kezan snow. Symbols mattered in his world, relationships fragile and fleeting. This showed permanent commitment, protecting her as important as his own life, perhaps even more so. Without her, there was no him.
Ronni has never worn it, only ever let it hang here as reminder of a relationship that does exist, stronger now than even she is prepared to admit. Because today, after you yelled at him, something changed. James is not an idiot, he cares, you know full well that’s not altering any time soon. Even when he marries this ridiculously beautiful woman you can never compete with?
You are still his missing half.
Picking up the robust silver chain, Ronni allows herself to embrace the truth, for one last night. In the morning, she’ll take off the past and put it away, before forgetting for good. That’s what 00 agents are taught to do with grief and regret, means by which they remain sane. She can apply makeup in her sleep, dress without thinking, but it is a genuine effort to place hands around neck, willing fingers to operate the clasp. His necklace sits, in the hollow of her throat, spot kissed on many occasions with a care that would send entire body into submission. It would require considerable strength to erase Bond’s intimacy from her memory, but if 004 is to finally succeed? It has to be done.
It doesn’t matter what or who is involved. The past needs to be dealt with before you move forward.