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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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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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