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Dinner is finished, and without doubt the best thing Ronni has tasted for a very long time. Warm flatbread with wild garlic and goat’s cheese that Q seemed to have produced from nowhere was followed by a rich and deep Pasta and Game Stew she knows was augmented by a bottle of red wine. Then, presented in bowls made of leaves, unbelievably, was chocolate mousse, and Ronni’s not even going to ask how Andrew pulled that off under their present circumstances. It can remain the culmination of an amazing afternoon, reminder that the man sitting cross legged opposite her on a broken flagstone floor is so much more than a brilliant Civil Service employee.

They sit together in the ruins of this house, late afternoon sun shafting through the rafters, conversation temporarily lost as they’d eaten dessert with Marco Bulgari’s pilfered spoons. No longer two colleagues, this friendship makes both stronger, and that alone makes the remainder of their endeavour more than worthwhile. Except now she knows what he’s thinking, mostly because Ronni refused to vocalise the concern for herself, and had shut him down before the main course had been served. Andrew’s not done with his analysis yet, that much is abundantly apparent.

‘Bond’s regard for you has always been impeccable. Nobody else gets treated quite the same way.’

‘I’m not in love with him, despite what you might think. Using that word in either of our worlds can never be entertained: I’ve seen what happens to him when you introduce commitment to an equation.’

‘And yet, I’d argue that’s what he ultimately craves. You are his barometer, touchstone and when both London and his fiancée appeared to desert him, genuine salvation.’

‘James doesn’t need somebody else to provide any notion of worth. That’s his job. He has to stop and think, eventually, understand that the only way existence ever changes is if he breaks the cycle. He can sleep with whoever he likes, live commitment free ’til he dies, but eventually when it all ends, and it will, the choice is his alone. If he is the job as you say, then that’s a constant since the first day you gave him the number. That is his wife, mistress, and love nobody will ever replace. I crave him, I won’t lie. That support is addictive and when fuelled by him there’s nothing I can’t do. However, without it I can be better, stronger and ultimately free. If the same is true for James, the best thing I’ll ever do is keep him at arm’s length.’

‘Is that the absolute truth?’

‘I’d like a chance to do this properly for a decade, maybe more if my health allows. Assuming we survive this and he finally retires? I could make the difference you told me the Service needed, take what Bond has given me and create something better than this 50 year old standard that the establishment insist stays foremost for everybody. But you know better, and so do I.’

‘You didn’t answer the question, Ronni.’

‘He’s my missing piece. Nobody will ever come close to being what he is to me. I’ll make him wait, insist ways are at least reconsidered. I’d want him to cook like this, but I’d never tie him down or impose choices. In the end, he has to be the one who decides we are in love, and I doubt he’ll ever be able to use that word successfully ever again. Because… you made him too well. His M was the mother craved so badly, still listened to even when she died. I may be the latest constant, but I can’t be Madeline, or Vesper. They’re not me. He has to take me as I am.’

‘You don’t need a man to be complete.’

She can’t respond instantly this time, leaning back against the cooling stone wall. Is Q right? Is that the reason she is what this has now become?

‘I sometimes sit and wonder what would have happened if Scott hadn’t died, what direction my life would have taken. I realise now, I’d never have come this far, I’d be married having never considered my dream as a child: it would have been just that and nothing more. Without love as distraction, so much would have been lost, and I realise that perhaps this is the biggest sacrifice a 00 ever makes in their career. Happiness comes from the relationship with the number. That’s how this works best. For those of us with emotional deficits, there has to be somewhere to make up for the shortfall.’

‘I think Bond could really benefit from hearing that from you. I doubt Gregory imparting that information at this stage would be either useful or productive. Coming from you however, it might effectively register. Would you be prepared to try?’

‘I assumed Bond’s assassination was to show Spectre that 007’s really dead.’

‘That’s not an entirely accurate summation.’

‘Okay, so you have lied to me. Where is he now, exactly?’

‘Bangkok. He and Felix have been removing Spectre’s influence across the far east with customary thoroughness, assisted by Mr Beam’s recently decrypted guide to who’s who in in the villain hierarchy.’

‘I bet Leiter is having the time of his life right now.’

‘He’s liaising between London and Langley as M pretty much refuses to trust anyone else until I can finally decrypt the CIA/FBI joint NOC list. I’m 90% done, if you’ll take the first watch tonight that will be in Washington’s hands before the morning, and once that happens Spectre’s position becomes more than precarious. In fact, with the events of the last seven days?’

‘We get to own the high ground, because I’m betting you know where Christian is?’

‘LaCroix and Moneypenny’s effectiveness as a unit has been a revelation. You were absolutely right, granting them both 00 status was a master stroke. They’ve tracked him to Paris and are currently working with the authorities not only to secure their intelligence services integrity, but to remove any remains of his corruption. Give them another week and at their success rate, we’ll have the enemy in full retreat.’

‘We’ve made a difference?’

‘Me not being locatable thanks to your efforts, and Spectre unable to stop me working in the field means that Venice has been the turning point. Enemy agents have been voluntarily handing themselves into the authorities since it became apparent that we had their measure. London’s been employing some fairly sophisticated counter-intelligence techniques too, as well as the good old fashioned divide and conquer and since we died? Over half of the activity we knew about with a link to the criminal organisation’s been either stalled, thwarted or summarily removed.’

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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.

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