Why I Write // Origins

If you have the time, and go far enough back into this blog to find the fan fiction and the early stabs at poetry, you’ll see that there were a series of blogs in the mid to late 2010s about what inspired me to write. With NaNoWriMo coming up, this will (potentially) be my twelfth year of writing a novel from scratch… except, of course, I’ve only ever managed to properly finish one narrative. No, that’s not true, there is another, currently about to come to an end on Ko-Fi, and when it does, I’ll need something to replace it.

This has set me thinking today about what I do this year, and why the long form is so hard for me, and a lot of this has had to do with my general inability to stay focussed on the long game. It’s why poetry is so attractive as an alternative too: stories told in 16 lines or 50k words… which would be more possible for me on any given day? As success comes with the poems, I find myself wanting to go back and revisit these old stories, and do more of them justice. The problem is knowing where to start.

I’ve given myself a week to make some decisions. Once that’s done, we’ll make a realistic plan, considering my current ‘professional’ workload. I have, in the background, been tinkering with a rewrite of the first piece of 007 Fanfic I wrote, Duet (on the site if you can find it :D) which has given me a bit of hope that going heavier into my own narratives could be doable. The biggest single issue remains self-belief, but the fact remains I now need a space filled in the Ko-Fi schedules. It has to come from somewhere.

Maybe this is the moment when I do something genuinely frightening with words again.

All Time High

On Wednesday this week, my productivity effectively nosedived. I could try and put it down to the ongoing saga of my dental health, or just a midweek slump. Neither of those would be either right or fair. The reason everything came to a shuddering halt was because, after a considerable break, there’s a new James Bond (007) movie coming, due in April of next year. Bond is my Kryptonite. I was, therefore, blindsided.

If you have been here long enough, you’ll know that hidden on this site are two full-length Bond fanfics. They are, like it or not, the only forms of fiction I’ve ever finished. That’s been a thorn in my side for some time which is why I’m so keen not only to finish my NaNo (more on that in the next blog) but to prove to myself that the ability exists to move myself forward from this point.

However, this week is a salutary reminder that a part of me is still stuck in 2012 where all this began. The trailer above is indeed enough to get me quite excited, but is the warning that was needed that my future is never going to be using someone else’s characters to get work noticed. If there is ever to be evolution, I have to leave this franchise alone.

There will be a response to it, but not now.


There is reason to be proud with myself however, knowing what happened, and that it would be easy to just disappear back to the Old Ways [TM] without fear… because those fanfics were immensely enjoyable, wish fulfilment that is still hard to beat. Except, however, my new work is similarly important, and significant, and deserves effort to complete. It’s just been a hard week for making that happen.

This is where the dentistry and being swayed by other things comes in, and why once I’ve written these blogs and done all my back end work, Sunday this week will be novel time, as well as finishing my Christmas Poetry. It deserves more attention and love, and my brain needs to finally let go of a past that is, like it or not, actively preventing me from moving forward with a new existence.

Let’s see if I’m adult enough to dismiss this particular demon without assistance.

Duet :: Relaunch

It seems only right and proper, as I will presenting you guys with a brand new original piece starting next week, that I get you up to speed on the fiction that inspired it. Therefore, I’ve spent the weekend tidying up and re-organising my work, and this morning would like to invite you to learn about Veronica Ashby. Her friends know her as Ronni, and she’s about to embark on the most important job interview of her life.


Access Duet Here

This page also has a musical playlist to accompany it, and as part of the buildup to Default starting this time next week, I’ve got a whole new set of tunes to share, plus a look into how music plays such a vital part in my creation process. For now, I’d like to thank everyone I know who has already read this story, and inspired me to come up with a logical successor.

I hope I’ve created a suitable companion piece for the original.

DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Seven

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‘We’ve still not found an easy way to do this, so it will hurt a great deal.’

Even with the area of skin numbed, the pain as the tracker capsule enters her arm is considerable. Ronni squirms with discomfort as Q walks back to the Lab, leaving her to rock backwards and forwards as the ache slowly ebbs. There is absolutely no turning back now, the electronic tag is the last piece of the puzzle in place and with its insertion she’s finally arrived at the destination. This is the top of the game, there’s nowhere else to go.

As the irritation finally recedes she considers just how much has given up to get here.

She still doesn’t have a home to call her own, not even a Hotel room for the night. The things she owns sit in the one small suitcase, opposite on the other bench and that is it: no fabulous lifestyle, just her and the job dreamed of since childhood. The nightmares would recede in time, understanding of what she had become growing over the wounds. What Veronica had always wanted to be.

A proper spy.

A suitable job for a woman.

‘Congratulations 004, welcome to the family.’

Tanner’s been taking lessons from Bond, far more comfortable than she ever remembers in her presence, and extends a congratulatory hand. It is painful to return the gesture: this new position means putting on the professional front 24/7, until you know you’re alone. Then and only then is there time to reflect on what’s happened.

‘Thank you Will. This feels like home far more than I thought it would. It’s also an honour to be able to take the number of someone I know you and others had a lot of respect for.’

‘I think Flemmings would appreciate his successor breaking moulds and starting trends. The carefully placed rumours surrounding your adventures has already had an effect on internal recruitment inquiries. I think you’re paying for yourself already.’

She’d considered it a privilege to be asked to replace one of the two agents that had lost their lives while she was training, and pushed just hard enough to keep her Christian name: eventually M had relented. Eve had set the precedent for that when she took over the desk and the persona opposite her new Boss. Flemmings was the cover that went with the number, surname on a new passport, bank account where the utterly irrelevant salary would be deposited each month. Thank God she didn’t need to practice a new signature to pay for anything any more or Ronni knows she’d be completely screwed.

009 was in China with 008, searching for a lead on a massive money laundering ring. 003 was in Houston, infiltrating a terrorist cell related to the initial incident in Alaska. 007’s location was currently listed as ‘Sensitive’, meaning he was doing something that Q would only describe as ‘awkward’ which in turn ensured that Ronni didn’t need to know, and wasn’t going to push. If Tanner was here, she’d be off on an assignment almost immediately, which is probably the best way things could work out for everyone concerned. The less time she thought about the future the better, at least until the lay of the land was clearer.

‘I thought you might like these.’

He hands over a keyring, on which is are three keys: two look like they’ll fit doors and the other seems unfeasibly old. Ronni is confused, looking to the Chief of Staff for an explanation.

‘We have arranged accommodation and transport for your downtime in London, and M thought you might want to familiarise yourself with both before we send you off to Egypt.’

Political unrest, violence and potential corruption. These were things she could work with.

Tanner is already walking away, calling over his shoulder as he does.

‘Briefing is 0700 on Monday to give your arm time to adjust to the tracker. Have an enjoyable weekend, 004. You’ll find your Jaguar outside.’

She isn’t sure she’s heard him correctly until standing on the gravel outside the Barracks, staring with disbelief at the British Racing Green 1964 E-type. It takes considerable restraint for Ronni not to squeal in delight.

The Jaguar’s interior is exactly as she expects, with one notable exception: a small black box, quietly unobtrusive on the dashboard. Turning on the engine makes a screen flip upwards, revealing the Mainframe’s mobile interface. Ronni can’t help but think that if Q is involved there’s more to it than that, and she’s about to start playing with buttons when the unit begins to flash.

‘Home destination selected. Press Enter to begin satellite navigation.’

It never occurred to her to ask Tanner where she lived, and now her car will provide the answer.

Her heart lifts even further when her destination is the river, that someone in MI6 appreciates how much she loved the old apartment, view spectacular especially at sunrise. Ronni expects to be west but ends up east, in remains of a warehouse converted into luxury apartments. Finding her space in the underground car park, taking the lift prompts a thrill of anticipation she can’t remember from anywhere else. This is payback for two lives, what the Government considers sufficient compensation for your sacrifice.

She can’t help but grin, arriving at flat number four.

There are fresh flowers in the narrow hallway, which opens up to a massive open plan room with kitchen to the right and lounge opposite: four doors run down the left hand wall equating to two bedrooms, a bathroom and an office. She’s already making mental notes on what to change, colour schemes to try if there is the time to live here, when she notices an envelope propped up against a second vase of lilies on the dining table. Inside there’s an essay from Q: security systems in the house clearly need a degree to understand, and so she skips to what seems to be more pressing. Food is in the fridge, new wardrobe, passport and credit cards all in the obvious places. In the office her computer sits with printer and laptop waiting, space divided by a beautiful screen on which The Great Wave off Kanagawa is reproduced. Sitting in the luxurious desk chair she can see all the way up the Thames to Tower Bridge.

Eve has fulfilled her part of the bargain, not just here but in the wardrobe: wonderful selection of clothes she’d want to wear, shoes that make her smile plus two evening gowns that take breath away with both beauty and simplicity. Her entire life has been reproduced down to the last detail: fridge contents almost identical to that left so long ago, bookmarks on the web browser synced. So much familiarity in a place that was still so odd and alien, showed just how much life was never going to be her own again, but it didn’t matter. This was perfect, better than she could have possibly imagined it would be, even though there is suddenly a tiny part that wishes there were someone to congratulate on obvious brilliance and expertise in making it to the finish. She doesn’t dwell however: there was simply no more time for regret.

Instead, Ronni decides to make herself the biggest sandwich possible with the materials available.

Looking for butter she notices a tin, nestled towards the back of the fridge, and has to do a double take. Beluga was not on the weekly shopping list. Her home had been visited by a friend.

She opens the tin, and Scott’s black and white stares back.

She knew what Bond had been told, that morning in the Barracks when she started her journey. He’d covered her back from that first day and would until the last, unerring faith in ability to succeed. Scott had been his companion since the iPod was liberated. He’d admitted as much, in the darkness beside her, that Redgrave was the reminder not to interfere, refusing to let job get confused with ideal, because they were two very different things.

The business card beneath is battered, and the name makes Ronni think that Bond left this with her for safe keeping, or maybe to prove a point. Perhaps they could both move forward finally, that it had stopped being about those they’d lost to get to this place. Then she notices the message on the back and there’s a smile: rewards remain important, the present is always the best place to live and work.

‘Until our next performance…?’

Ronni Flemmings laughs, life finally in her own hands.


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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.

DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Six

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The locker at Kings Cross Railway Station has a small envelope in it, inside which are concise instructions and a car key. Ronni’s destination is an anonymous industrial estate off the M4, where she’s to go and retrieve the contents of another locker from a self-storage company. There’s also a picture: Ronni realises with a stab of horror that hard work was finally going to reap a real and tangible benefit, one she’d assured Q she was capable of providing.

She is to kill Louis Kendrick.

Ronni had until 3.15 that afternoon to get to the spot, across from his apartment on the river, to set herself up in the harness and then wait. One shot to the head was all it needed, so he’d be dead before hitting the balcony floor… but as it was Friday, he’d not be alone. There’d be a call girl there too, and Ronni can’t help but think that Q is playing on multiple fears simultaneously, all meticulously anticipated. Thank God for a glorious day and no wind, the British weather could so easily have scuppered her at the eleventh hour. The man is due to return to Dubai the following week, and clearly MI6 had decided he was better off never boarding the Airbus.

This triumph will show 007 he’s wrong, in the most spectacular style possible, or she falls from an unrecoverable height.

Ronni doesn’t know how she gets to the storage bay, watching the owner opening the big purple door, wondering if Bond made it back on the books. He’d told the story of the Section Chief and his contact, that he’d been on a military transport before there was even time to grasp what transpired, that their joint demises still haunted him on difficult days. The Texan remained anonymous, and because she didn’t know a name the entire experience was somehow less personal, easier to rationalise, but this guy was amongst other things a trafficker of women, embodiment of many things Ronni found physically repulsive.

This had been made intentionally personal for a very good reason.

There’s a guitar case in the storage space and nothing else. Ronni is ready with an explanation but doesn’t need it.

‘Your boyfriend said he’d left you something, but if you want any of the other stuff you’ll need to talk to his lawyers.’

The man walks away, and Veronica approaches the case, noticing a piece of paper stuck to its lid. She can’t help but smile, despite the terror inside, because it means her back is covered from this moment until the day she has to be forcibly made to retire.

‘I can’t do this, but you can.’

Inside will be a telescopic rifle, plus climbing equipment. I have to kill a man, in broad daylight, hanging off the side of a building. If anyone wanted a genuine test of her abilities, then this would provide it in spades.

Bond’s drunk more water of late than he ever did before: undoubtedly her influence, quite apart from finally purchasing a music player and spending hours at night recalling moments from his youth to download. Bond finishes the latest bottle and leans back, checking clock on the live feed above his head: 15.12. Q was about to use only the second woman to successfully negotiate Active Consideration this century to send a message to the country’s enemies: British Intelligence was back in the game. Raoul Silva’s destructive influence is a distant memory, and the scum and villainy that exists in the country’s own Capital would soon be officially on notice.

No one screwed the system on MI6’s doorstep and got away with it.

He has a front seat for her debut performance, but Bond can’t shake the nerves. Q might joke about Ronni, that she’s almost too perfect, but he knows enough about how to wear a facade to understand what could be buried beneath. She would be nervous, scared, conflicts of interest that she’d spend hours, even weeks arguing with herself about afterwards…

‘Feet off the equipment, Bond, show some respect.’

M appears at his shoulder, Tanner not far behind, and 007 is surprised to see Eve is in tow, impeccable as always. She makes a bee line for him and he gets up to offer the seat, which is politely declined: Moneypenny staring just a little longer than necessary.

‘There’s no need James, but thank you. I’m here to learn, not to watch. Shooting people in broad daylight is something I could use practice at, I think Ashby’s about to teach everyone a lesson.’

‘You’re regretting not taking me out properly when you had the chance?’

‘If I had, Veronica wouldn’t be here. I think everyone benefits from my inability to follow orders.’

Bond doesn’t stare at Eve either, and she’ll know why. Ronni makes things interesting, for all manner of reasons. It’s the first time Eve’s joked about that moment in Istanbul too, so her time with Gregory is at least producing some benefit. M and Tanner come to stand by him, deep in conversation over the execution of the shot, and Bond simply tunes everything out except the screen. She’ll be there now, attached to the platform, waiting for the moment.

Nothing matters now except the kill.

Almost on cue, at 15.15 Kendrick appears, with a conservative woman by his standards in tow. There’s a cocktail in his hand, gaudy umbrellas and too much fruit: if Bond was doing this, he’d wait until the man tried to drink and deny the final pleasure. M turns, directing his conversation finally at 007.

‘How long do you-‘

Kendrick suddenly crumples, woman falling with him, trapped under his now lifeless corpse, screaming silently: everyone in the room is stunned into silence. Except Bond.

‘You were right Q. I’ll never be as good as that.’

Q scrabbles for rewind on the feed and returns the picture on screen to the moment Kendrick turns and his face is clearly visible, frame after frame as a clear red dot appears between his eyes, a second before a bullet ends life with clinical precision. They’d come for a show, expecting a tense wait for the moment, and she’d just turned up and done the job, exactly as had been the case since first hired.

‘Nobody else with the designation’s as good as that.’

Eve’s praise is genuine, and Bond happily loses the bet he made with Q when Ronni lay unconscious on the Millbank floor, day of acceptance into Active Consideration. He knew. She is more than a worthy successor for what would have been Eve’s job.

M is clearly impressed, watching as the video moves backwards and forwards from the second of impact, unexpected smile mirrored by Tanner. Bond also knows he’ll be pleased Ronni finally stepped up and did what she’d always wanted, and stopped caring about what other people thought.

‘She was an excellent choice, Sir. Ashby’s never been anything other than efficient.’

‘Well, without yours and Bond’s recommendation, Tanner, she wouldn’t be here. I think however Veronica wanted this more than any of us realised. Particularly me. Every day is a school day.’

Bond feels for the tin in his jacket pocket, and knows he’ll have plenty of time to deliver his package on the way to the City Airport. If he’s lucky, the assignment he has will be finished in a week, just as Ronni is done with her inaugural mission. He has to try his luck, the pleasure that results from knowing someone’s interests match your own. Flirting with ex-field agents is all well and good, but he liked variety in hobbies: anything that kept things interesting.

Anyone that forced him out of his comfort zone.

‘Indeed, everybody should learn from this. Even you could take notes, 007.’

M comes and stands, clearly waiting for a response but Bond doesn’t take the comeback, or the clever one liner.

James knows he’s already been educated.

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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.

DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Five

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Bond’s not at the Lab when she returns from Millbank, and there is the briefest pang of disappointment, until Q appears at the Barracks entrance to congratulate on her performance with M. He looks at her with a different air, she decides: no longer his pet project and finally transformed into the woman he’d wanted for the job back in February.

‘I think your performance this afternoon shows you’ve finally grasped the 00 banter. You’d have got more marks for extra double-entendres with M, however, but there always has to be room for improvement.’

‘Were we on the books, Q?’

She has to ask, and the man blushes.

‘I went out for dinner last night myself, with an acquaintance who I hope in time may be as much of a friend as Bond is to you. Despite what you may think, I am not a voyeur in my spare time. That is very much reserved for office hours.’

‘You didn’t answer the question.’

‘I’d need a warrant to place security cameras in your Hotel room, Ronni. I know Bond entered at 5.25pm and left at 6.45am the following morning. That’s all that is required from the debriefing notes.’

‘Does M know -‘

‘He has Bond’s field report, written this morning. He arrived at the Lab in jeans and a totally inappropriate Radiohead t-shirt. I think you’ve done good things for everybody in your tenure. Now it’s time to ensure you’re as capable as I know you are.’

She goes to Q’s office, and sits in front of his sophisticated desk one last time: now everyone who matters has decided she can be a 00, it is time to prove it. She is to go back to the Hotel, continue undercover work, and wait. There will be no return to Millbank until two confirmed kills are under her belt: when Ronni asks how this is supposed to happen, Q simply waves the question aside. She will eventually possess everything required to make them happen. The rest is up to her.

Patience had never been a problem, but it is a decent guess there won’t be long to wait.

Ronni wakes the following morning to a message on her mobile.

Collect parcel for Room 426 from reception.

A plain brown box sits waiting for her thirty minutes later with instructions in Q’s impossibly feminine handwriting: there is small vial inside in which a tiny white tablet rattles, and a locker key tied to a parcel label marked with a west London postcode. She sits in her room and stares at the first murder weapon: they’d sent Bond to Prague, but she was to do her work on home territory. So be it. Dressing quietly, without ceremony, the vial slipped into her apron is forgotten as the room is tidied as has become routine. The locker key is tucked into her Mary Janes, the space she’d had Q make for her specially.

It was her half day, scheduled to work until lunchtime: the tablet would need to be dissolved in the Texan’s orange juice, making sure he’d drink it the same way as normal, like a shot of tequila. ‘The healthy stuff, then the fun,’ is what he’d say and she’d smile, nod and simply stand to allow a twenty pound to be sloppily pushed into her cleavage. It’s not hard to ensure she intercepts the tray to his table, playing the part of dutiful hostess: eggs over easy, hash browns and bacon, four sausages. The man smells even worse than usual, not enough cologne and too much sweat, and as she hands over the glass there isn’t a moment of regret. Whatever this man has done, British Intelligence have deemed it of sufficient danger to end his life. Bond knew what it was, and had tried to warn her, but she’d not taken the bait, because making the first kill anonymous allowed some distance from the reality.

I understand only too well that sometimes it’s just my job to do as I’m told.

There is no flicker of change in his demeanour, smile as large and greasy as always, and Ronni reciprocates as he decides the twenty pound note will be tucked into her garter instead, before handing back the glass. Closing her eyes, quietly noting that one should always take the attractive assignments whenever they arise, she leaves the dead man eating.

Ronni’s cutting toast twenty minutes later when there is a clatter of crockery and a scream, and wants to pretend she’s not heard, but takes the cues from Amy and Jake who are also on shift that day. Rushing out, the Texan is off his chair: sprawled on the carpet, a beached whale. They are shooed away back to the kitchen, where they stand and stare at the door as the Paramedics come and struggle to put the man on a stretcher but finally succeed, before wheeling him away.

Q watches the ambulance travelling through morning traffic on the Lab’s surveillance system, hand to ear allowing eavesdropping into the vehicle’s radio communications with the hospital. A second Earl Grey appears in his favourite Scrabble mug, milky coffee beside it, and there is the satisfaction of a new way of working from everyone in the Department. Ronni had altered many things, shaken up the schedule, and that was never going to be bad for anyone in the long run. Change was good, and should never be feared.

‘I like the feeling that my letter is worth over three times as much as yours, 007.’

Bond positively hated him when they first met, but knows now that judging on appearance will always be met with short shrift in this building whilst he’s in charge. There is a joint vested interest in the next six hours of Veronica’s life, blowing off the last official reception at Whitehall before they legitimately let the agent back to Active Duty. However, his time is best used currently serving overly perfumed beverages to receive absolutely no thanks for his efforts. Only Q could get away with demoting 007 to tea boy. If this all went well, he knows he’d extend that privilege to Ronni as well.

In fact, if Ashby succeeds, Q’s betting Bond will suggest they celebrate her promotion together. He’s pretty certain she’ll turn him down, but that won’t stop him trying his luck regardless.

The ambulance has stopped, half a mile from the Hospital, and Q is rapidly updating information on a screen to his left. The man is dead, massive chemically-induced heart attack, with time of demise being recorded as 10.22 am. They gave her an easy draw this time around, as her second target would take considerably more finesse. Shooting someone in broad daylight in Central London was pretty audacious even by Q’s standards, but she’d suggested it herself and the opportunity had arisen. Weaponry was absolutely Ronni’s forte, and if anyone could pull this off, it was her.

Q calls up Ashby’s file to update, pausing briefly to make sure a particular section is highlighted as he does.

‘Mary Sue’s range scores continue to be consistently better than yours, Bond. Doesn’t that make you feel inadequate?’

‘Her name is Veronica, and the game’s over. Show her the respect she deserves.’

‘Do I detect a defensive tone, 007?’

‘You care about her now as much as I do. Maybe it’s time we both stopped playing games and let her show how this is done properly.’

Q turns, and the look Bond gives is enough to confirm that she has fulfilled the brief for him even better than hoped. The screen quietly updates her progress:

‘Number of confirmed kills: 1’

The two men look at each other, knowing the real mission is about to begin.

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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.

DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Four

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WARNING: This passage contains adult and sexual situations.

Stretching out a hand, he’s more than happy to have woken alone.

If Ronni had been here Bond would have been disappointed, knowing she has learnt her lessons well. Leave before he wakes, make sure your target’s left wanting more, that their need to help is always tempered against the importance of completing your mission. All the things they had said, that she’d asked and he’d answered with the brutal honesty needed had been the reward craved since he first took the number. The fact the sex had been fantastic was very much a bonus, and that remains a surprise he’s forgotten could be appreciated. He knew finally why Q had started this, never just about Veronica, because there was always another side to the story.

My problem is arrogance, continually assuming what the Service decides to record as success.

Ronni had become the focus away from 004 and 002’s demise, from his M, Sévérine, Vesper and everyone else, rapidly evolving into something altogether more fascinating. Her smell is everywhere, on tongue and in nostrils simultaneously, remains of a night that would never have marked the end of her potential, regardless of the final outcome. She’s also left her mark: rubbing discomfort on his forearm, four thin scratches from her nails. Bond closes eyes and returns to the memory: riding his hand, feeling the contraction of pleasure when she first climaxed around him, genuinely grateful that he was asked to stay. Here was an agent who understood the value of giving a target exactly what they desired, and more.

Veronica is perfectly capable of interpreting what is expected by her Country. I have no hesitation in recommending Special Agent Ashby for promotion to the final stage of Active Consideration at the earliest possible opportunity.

He knows the report can be written with a dispassionate tone, and yet every word loaded with his own meaning. Q, I should never have doubted you.

Walking to shower the room is surprisingly tidy: she cleared away the previous night’s detritus without waking him, ability to stealth impressive. Ronni will be serving breakfast now, impeccable in the outfit that he has often recalled is more than enough to make him aroused just by its memory, doing well to store that image away for the next time he’s forced to make love to a not totally desirable woman in the name of Queen and Country. Only then does the cafetière become apparent on the table, flask of hot water beside it, two fresh croissants that are still warm to the touch. There’s a note too, in beautifully elegant longhand, written on one of the hotel’s napkins:

‘For my favourite metaphor.’

007 laughs, and knows he’ll be back on the Active Roster by the end of the week.

Moneypenny looks up from the monitor with a smile as Veronica enters M’s office. She’d taken the visitor’s lift, because this would be the last time it would be necessary, if everything went to plan. That had been the way Eve had chosen too, in the days when a woman was in charge, and there is a moment of yearning for a time where there would be more of her sex around her, and not less. Maybe if they could be as determined as Ronni was, it might happen. She had sacrificed everything to get here: Eve hadn’t had much of a life to lose when she joined the Service.

Bond had said it himself: field work wasn’t for everybody. It fitted Ronni like a glove.

What bothered Eve most was how good Ashby was, even though it shouldn’t. There ought to be no hint of jealousy because of personal circumstances but watching how Bond reacted made her more uncomfortable than it really should. This was an occupational hazard: Eve understood the principle of costs and consequences, yet was still unable to completely grasp the results. This desk job therefore was the best that could reasonably be expected until that situation was resolved.

She really wanted to like Ronni, but she was almost a 00, and there was little doubt the woman would get to the finish. She wasn’t sure being friends would ever be an option that would work for either of them as a result, especially after what had happened with 002. Eve however was an expert in deception, and with her mask in place she is ready to play the role of dutiful assistant.

‘I hope you’ve forgiven me for the last time we met?’

Ronni stops at her desk and eyes Eve with caution, before placing a takeaway travel mug with perhaps a little too much force than was necessary. She’d finally done the homework on this woman, knowing that Bond has worked with her during Skyfall before accepting demotion. She was also well aware that those actions in Istanbul before Silva’s final elimination should have promoted her to 00 status but instead condemned her Service future completely. Were it not for the fact this progress had been associated at least in part with Active Consideration, she’d not still be here, and that could be a bitter pill to ever swallow successfully.

Yet here Eve remained, fronting one of the most significant jobs in the building. There was something else missing from the younger woman’s file that Ronni suspected she’d need to be 00 to access, but that was a rabbit-hole for another day.

She should be more impressed by this woman’s strength in adversity as a result.

‘I thought I’d play it safe and I bought my own refreshments this time. Just to be sure.’

M appears at the door of his office, jacket off, and Ronni unconsciously reacts, straightening as Eve moves the mug to one side, off the desk. The man was not a fan of clutter, and the coffee might smack of the fact Ashby’s working on ninety minutes’ sleep. She is impressed at Eve’s foresight.

‘Good afternoon, Special Agent Ashby. Please come in.’

The two women exchange a glance, neither of them grasping just how much they have in common with the other.

M’s office is exactly as it should be, Ronni decides, back in the days when 00 agents smoked forty a day and drank like fish because that was what the job entailed. She suspects that women had an even harder time: Moneypenny had been through four incarnations after all, while Bond was on his sixth. Ironically the only deaths had been to the women: every 007 who’d held the title was still alive, living out their retirements scattered across the globe. She knows her Bond would make it to pass on his baton, but would she be given the same courtesy?

She’s not stopped thinking about him since dropping off breakfast, knowing this is not healthy, but doesn’t actually care. She’s never loved him, or required him as a role model. This isn’t about forgetting anything, or using their night together for any kind of distraction. She now understands that they truly represent both sides of the same coin, and it has been a long time since there’s been empathy with anyone on the scale she currently possesses with James. He told her to try and hold onto her Christian name, missing having anything that is truly his any more. She responded that everything else was willingly sacrificed, so a name wouldn’t matter, but he thinks otherwise. Ronni understands the importance of knowing who you really are, without the need for labels or signposts. Playing this game to the required standard is all well and good, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

What is needed then is someone that defies the rules.

‘I thought I’d call you in specially this afternoon, as I know you’re between shifts on your current undercover assignment, which I hear has been very fruitful thus far.’

Don’t discuss your assignments with anyone when prompted, not even the boss. Ronni doesn’t need the reminder any more but imagines Q on her shoulder: he’d wear white, and Bond would be in red. That’s how she’d visualise most quandaries from now on.

‘I’ve been looking at your final assessments, and I have to say I am genuinely pleased at what I’ve read. We had some initial concerns at Carnegie, and briefly it appears while you were at the Barracks but you appear to have made strong and steady progress ever since. I think the defining moment for both of us was the American incident. I’m still impressed at your industry and I hope this is repeated throughout your career.’

Ronni allows herself a moment to bask, but keeps it brief, instead deferring her best smile until such time as she felt the New Guy’s comments deemed a response.

‘I wanted to ask you how you felt you’d performed in your final assessment with 007.’

M looks at her impassively, and Ronni holds the expression, neutrality assured. Does the boss know we had sex on company time? Did Q record it all, or were we finally allowed some R&R off the books? At least it would be a good session to archive, they’d both made sure that the time was used productively… if she concentrates there is the memory of his hands on her waist, moving down to anchor hips in place as he penetrated from behind, gasps of pleasure as she’d used internal muscles to squeeze on each inward stroke.

It had been best however face to face, so she could watch him react, no more games or pretending to be someone else. When he refused to break eye contact as he slipped inside her the last time, making her wish that she’d not wasted so many years running away from what her body was capable of. If they’d have met before all of this, away from the world of deceit and death: would have ever connected at all?

She doesn’t let the mask slip, or even falter, answer emerging without thinking.

‘I feel he’s helped me discover my strengths, and assisted considerably with suggestions where I can improve. I don’t think I could have had a more generous assessor. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have worked under him. I look forward to doing so again as an equal.’

Ronni knows now she is capable of anything.

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DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Three

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WARNING: This passage contains adult and sexual situations.

Bond goes to town on Room Service, explaining to Marco when he delivers that they are friends from college, together for the weekend to catch up on old times. She keeps out of sight and watches him tip far more generously than anyone in her entire time at the Hotel, finally emerging from the bathroom having changed out of uniform into jeans and a t-shirt. He’s laid out the table as if they were downstairs, clearly au fait with place settings. There is something undeniably disturbing about watching Bond be domestic but she’s compelled to stand and observe, making sure knives and forks are all in the right places.

‘What’s for dinner, James?’

She’s doing her very best to relax, barefoot and in one of the few shirts she’s actually been able to buy since being undercover, and Bond stares with what she thinks is appreciation.

‘I took the most expensive items on the menu. If we’re going to enjoy the evening, we may as well do it properly. If I had the chance I think I’d prefer jeans and a t-shirt, but it’s such a rarity. I miss normal clothes.’

‘It’s odd, because actually I’m beginning to appreciate the uniform. Maybe we’re not as alike as you keep telling me.’

‘You could look amazing in anything you wore, without even trying. This is a case in point.’

She’s not expecting Bond to compliment and there is a blush, sudden need to examine dinner in order to not look at him. The situation feels reassuringly normal in the late evening sunshine, and Ronni can feel herself reconciling what is here with what could be: he looks and smells unbelievably good, possesses decent table manners and holds a top tier Civil Service expense account. You’ve slept with him countless times in your dreams, mutual attraction clearly obvious. It could be far, far worse: as tests go, there are more painful ways to pass. Champagne chills on the table but she goes to the mini bar, pulling out a bottle of water, which makes Bond almost pout.

‘You’re not even going to try and pretend you’re getting drunk on my behalf?’

‘Why would I need a stimulant to do this?’

‘Because that’s the only way I got through this part of the Training successfully.’

‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but the plan in situations like this is to dictate your own terms as much as possible, yes?’

‘You’re stronger than I thought, I just didn’t want to think at all.’

‘Well I hate to break it to you but I’ve spent too many nights where drunken sex was the only thing I was lucky to get, and it was beyond woeful. Frankly, I think I deserve better.’

‘And you do, I’m sorry. I just thought you might find it easier if-‘

‘The only way this gets easier is if you lie about sleeping with me and then you leave, which I know won’t happen, because we both understand what’s at stake here.’

Ronni decides to focus on the starters: Lobster Thermidor, plus caviar and blinis. There are most definitely more painful ways to spend an evening than with a man who does a job you’ve always wanted. A chance to pick his brains, to learn all you can from the undisputed top dog. There were far worse paths to casual sex too, especially if that meant in the morning you’d finally achieved your objective after just over six months of preparation.

‘It occurs to me I at least need to try and spend some time in control. I should be sober so I remember everything if required to recount details, however painfully embarrassing that might be. But, I am hungry. In that regard this evening might not end up as a total disaster.’

He is watching her closely, eyes following to the table: picking up a blini and nibbling, hand hovering underneath should any stray eggs escape. The combination isn’t something she’s ever tried and the taste is a surprise, far more palatable than expected. She could get used to eating like this.

‘My predecessors used to smuggle caviar out of the Soviet Union, selling it to hotels like this at a premium. Then Whitehall got wind of the practice and cornered the market. That how the Barracks got converted at the end of the 70’s, all thanks to the Government conceding that sometimes you play both sides against the other and reap the benefits.’

Ronni smiles, imagining the Home Office with sidelines in contraband, as Bond comes to stand next to her and picks up another hors d’oeuvre. She expects him to eat but instead offers it to her, hand hovering tantalisingly close to mouth as she takes it in a single bite. There is absolutely no doubt in her mind that as partners go for a night of commitment-free sex, this is as good as it gets.

Perhaps if she just relaxed, everything would work out brilliantly regardless.

The bottle of champagne remains largely undrunk, last bottle of water from the minibar emptied and binned as Ronni puts down her spoon, poached pears sitting very comfortably on the rest of the meal. The atmosphere had gone from guarded to careful, breaking down to convivial as the duck with cranberry jus reminded her of a particularly good night at the Embassy in Washington. She found herself willingly telling 007 the story of how, whilst drunk, she’d stumbled into the men’s bathroom and found the assistant attaché in flagrante with a male colleague. Ronni then admitted she wished for far more sexual experimentation in her youth, but the job had got its claws into her rather comprehensively first.

Bond countered with the story of how he’d been tortured after the incident at Casino Royale, that his antagonist had found a very personal and male way of trying to get what he wanted, and Ronni winces as she is grateful for having vital equipment on the inside, that being a woman could still end up as an advantage. He’s more relaxed now than she’s ever seen before, task becoming considerably less challenging with every passing moment.

‘I should point out I’ve not actually tested my equipment since you punched me in the balls. This evening could end up backfiring regardless of your efforts.’

‘You mean your CIA assistant-?’

‘Completely cold shouldered me. Made it clear in no uncertain terms she had absolutely no interest in my body, or indeed my mind. She also threatened to shoot me if I tried, and I believe she would have done so without a second thought. She’s the reason I’m still not back on the Roster.’

Bond’s suddenly up and heading for the minibar and Ronni grasps he’s finally hankering for harder alcohol than the champagne, which he’s had a glass of but no more. There’s vodka inside, but no vermouth. She wonders if he’ll drink it neat until he returns with a tumbler filled with ice, pouring the last two small bottles in one efficient motion.

‘You’re slacking, Ashby, that fridge is empty. You need to be covered for far more eventualities than you are.’

‘Am I likely to get shot in a Central London hotel any time soon?’

‘No, but there’s a good chance you’re going to be asked to kill the man in 426 and as a result you should be prepared for anything.’

‘I’m not supposed to discuss active assignments, 007. You know the rules.’

‘So remind me why we are both here again?’

‘To bury my final demon: intimacy. That’s what all this is about. That’s why they sent you.’

Bond sinks the vodka in one mouthful, standing between her and the future, staring as she gets up: considering how it should go down, because the sooner this is beaten the easier it will be for them both. He doesn’t move, glass hanging in hand, and Ronni understands that there is no point in waiting around. She is kissing him before there is a chance to either move or react, long and slow, enjoying the feel of alcohol in his mouth and wishing there had been a glass of something to take the edge off the nerves. She doesn’t pull away either, instead extending the kiss as the arm with the glass wraps around her waist, shudder as cold from the ice hits exposed skin on her back.

He keeps her there, pinned, tumbler moving across and up her backbone before she panics, digging nails into his forearm in retaliation, breaking them apart.

His eyes are wide, clearly shocked at the response.

‘As I said on several occasions, I’ve never enjoyed pain.’

‘I’m not a great lover of cold. For the record.’

‘I think we’ve both learnt something, then.’

She takes the glass, hands shaking, placing it on the table: about to respond with a longer apology his hand is at her face pulling mouths together, rendering her breathless. She doesn’t try and release herself, letting him explore with tongue for as long as he wants, enjoying how it feels when the other hand again seeks out her back. Warm acceptance fuses them closer, until eventually he has to surface. Face inches from hers, eyes brightest of blues, he won’t stop staring so she chooses to focus on his mouth, and understands that of all the things Q could have asked, this really will be the least painful assignment of all.

‘What do you enjoy, Mr Bond?’

‘An equal partner. A willing combatant. The chance to learn.’

‘Aren’t you supposed to teach me?’

‘Only if I know what you enjoy to begin with.’

Ronni can feel body beginning to react to proximity, surprise that she’s able to become aroused in a high-pressure situation, understanding that this is a way to make things work. Without thinking his shirt is pulled from trousers, need to explore bare skin for herself. He reacts, moving closer, eyes widening with what can’t be deception but relaxation. She can do this, make it work, and maybe retain sanity to boot.

‘Show me what you crave.’

His whispered request then completely takes the wind from her, moving power tantalisingly out of her grasp, breaking the embrace. Hands cover eyes and Ronni tries to rein in sudden panic, desperate attempt to remain capable. His lips brush her ear, gentlest of whispers never a threat, calm incarnate.

‘Ronni, just let me help you, because that’s all I want to do.’

Before she can turn his body is wrapped around her shaking form, face pressed into hair, hands resting on her stomach, and there Bond stops. Ronni waits, suddenly expectant, and understands this isn’t enough: fear is being eaten by need at a rapid rate. His hands have to touch not rest, desire demanding ministration as she pushes lower body into his, feeling an erection all too obvious. That settles it, she can at least make him hard, that has to count for a mark somewhere and the second her brain reconciles this situation as an assessment, everything changes.

Bond must register this too as he moves away, before there is the lightest of touches, mouth on small of back, same place where the ice made her shudder, as hands shift and caress lower body. His lips travel up her vertebrae and she can’t move, rooted to the spot. The line is traced from tail to neck, until she gives up and lets his hands remove bra and shirt, touch everywhere and not enough before his breath moves across cheek and into her brain.

‘There is no easy way to do this, and there never will be. Use me.’

James makes this seem so horribly simple, because it is, the easiest thing in the world. Her jeans have gone, underwear too, and he lifts her off the floor in one efficient motion before depositing her almost too delicately on the bed’s edge. Ronni is shaking, watching the man closing curtains and sending the room into darkness, before returning still worryingly clothed, and then she dimly registers he has no intention at all of dominating and that intentions truly are genuine.

He wants to help, but in the end I have to do this myself.

‘Show me how I make you happy.’

As he kneels Bond’s words eats away at rationality, that control is the key to everything: who wins, who loses, who survives. This is not a request to secede; simply an agent requiring an objective. She thinks about the last time anything in a bedroom was enjoyable, and is forced into dreams for the prompt: his hand placed on her sex, points where there needs to be friction. He won’t break eye contact and it’s incredible, slowest of movements until three fingers move inside and his thumb begins to massage her clitoris. Only then does it stop being business, nothing matters now except the pleasure.

Her hands go unconsciously to breasts, replaced moments later by his mouth: first he sucks, then gently nips with teeth. Pain is something she could live with: as he switches sides, the lower half of her body shudders, and everything awakens at once, sharp brilliance at the movements and sensations combined. It could be anybody, it doesn’t matter. All that concerns is the final result. Suddenly there needs to be pressure: he registers the shift, pushing her back onto the bed as mouth replaces thumb and there’s no way Ronni can stop the gasps escaping. Once she cries there are others in its place, slow stream of reactions that is building to the inevitable, if only she can get him to move just a little… and he does, licking changes to a hum and pleasure hits with beautiful force, reducing body to a shuddering mass of nerve endings as the wave finally recedes.

She lies in shock, not sure of the last time an orgasm occurred with a man. Grasping the extent of what’s been sacrificed to come this far she quickly registers he’s gone, grabbing jacket and about to leave. That’s not how this works, and now she understands why.

Ronni lets him get as far as the door before making the next move.

‘This doesn’t have to be over.’

He stares, body language clearly uncertain: something has changed. Not in her, but him. She did as told, used him, but that suddenly isn’t enough. Bond’s part in proceedings would never have been simply passive. She’s got to show her capability, not just acquiesce to his.

‘You’ve passed. I’ve done what I was sent to do.’

Ronni doesn’t believe him, for the first time since they’ve met, understands without question that she’s being lied to for a reason. It isn’t just what he wants, now about what she has to do to keep control. There are rules: learn them, be ready to play any situation that arose.

‘You were the one who wanted an equal partner. I still owe you.’

Bond doesn’t move as she gets up and locks the door, before pushing him gently against the wall: undoing each shirt button with deliberate care, instilled with the confidence his hand and mouth have provided. She sucks each nipple in turn, watching his eyes close: he can’t watch as belt is undone and trousers and underwear drop to the floor. Ronni suppresses a smile as hand caresses a more than generous set of genitalia: unsurprising when there’s this level of comfort with his sexuality. The last time she’d done this there’d been far too much alcohol and not enough care, so Ronni makes sure that mouth and tongue move slowly and purposefully on glans until finally there’s a sound, lowest of moans, and she tries to repeat the movement to elicit more. His crotch begins to push against her mouth and Ronni knows the orgasm is coming before it happens, shudder in his body continuing long after she gets up and walks back into the room.

The champagne has lost a measure of fizz as she drinks from the bottle, alcohol washing taste away. She stands and breathes, anticipation almost painful: aware this will now go one of two ways. He’ll leave or this ends up as everything. For a while there is nothing but her own body’s expectation until the unmistakable sound of clothes being removed confirms her desire: thrill in lower body rapidly overtakes everything, becomes all that matters in the moment. What scared so much in her dreams is exactly what is needed right now, and she’ll get it from him. A desperate mouth is on hers before she can speak, naked limbs binding, undiminished erection brushing her sex. The need inside, so much and so fast almost blinds, radiating pleasure inescapably acute. Ronni pulls them to the edge of the bed and almost pushes him back before James makes her wait: breathing so hard her chest hurts, looking at him finally as a stranger, simply means to the end.

‘Equal partners?’

You and he are the same. This is every moment lived well, and as if it is your last. It is the true reward for giving your life to keep others safe. You will learn what he teaches and wield it as the most potent and damning of weapons.

‘A duet.’

‘You understand now?’

‘Let’s see if I do.’

She plays him well: only one stroke is required to fill her completely, riding as he pushes beneath, pinned to the bed. She squeezes internally making eyes widen, mouth soundlessly reacting as she uses his body to hit the spot inside that tickles and itches, until that repetition too becomes all-consuming. She’s close to something far more powerful than the outside of her body can ever supply: desperation is simply met with more persistence, muscles flexing too, sighs becoming cries and the orgasm hits her with such force that her whole body shudders around him, power of friction making her lose rhythm and focus. Suddenly he moves beneath, reversing their positions, thrusting as she continues to shake, his climax hitting just as hers begins to recede.

In a world where timing is everything, he knows instinctively when to make the last move, and their performance is complete. Then he kisses with a thoroughness that she knows will be missed when it’s gone, still buried inside, making no effort to withdraw. There is a union that extends beyond their flesh, cementing of a connection that’s been coalescing for months. Two halves of the same whole, solid and immutable, combined power unshakeably secure.

Finally, they are both at rest, and it is done.

‘That was unbelievable. How are you feeling?’

‘Come on James, you know the rules: never discuss active assignments with anybody, however intimate you are with them.’

She can’t stop the smile and squeezes with internal muscles she’s been working hard to improve, enough to make him gasp, as he rolls them onto their sides. All the lessons learned will always be remembered, and she never stops, not until the day they prize the gun from her cold, dead hands. Though, if she had the choice, this is how she’d choose to die, in flagrante preferably with someone she’d just worn out after a particularly amazing evening.

‘Well, technically we’re between assignments. I’m wondering if I’ll need to reschedule anything to cover what I suspect will be some additional workload. Because I’m thinking now you’ve got the hang of this, you’ll want to keep practising.’

‘I’ll be honest, I’m wondering how long I have to do this to ensure I pass. I’m happy to spend as long as is needed.’

‘This isn’t just your test to fail, it’s mine too. The Service think I’m unable to do my duty for Queen and Country after my brush with the CIA, deliberately unwilling to combine business and pleasure. I’m just proving I can lie better than you can.’

‘I wasn’t lying, I’d just forgotten the importance of rewards for progress. That won’t happen again.’

‘It won’t if you make sure I’m continually aware of what’s required to keep you happy.’

‘The real truth in all of this is that Q’s watching the whole thing at home on his laptop, right?’

‘If that’s true, then maybe we ought to give him a good evening’s worth of footage to enjoy.’

They kiss, still joined: Ronni feels him hardening, stamina impressive. Always an overachiever, never willing to relinquish the last word. She doesn’t care, all that matters is his mouth and hands and the care with which she is lifted into his lap, eyes wide as she rides him again, knowing that this way the strongest wills make the best combatants. James wants this, as does she: everything else is irrelevance, except their mutual pleasure.

If she fails the assignment, it will not be for the want of trying.

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DUET: Chapter Eight, Part Two

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The lift opens and Ronni stands, staring with immediate alertness down the Hotel corridor.

The door to her room is open.

Since the two 00’s deaths, she’d begun carrying the Walther in her handbag and to Hell with the consequences. The corridor is silent, often the case at this time of day: night staff will still be sleeping, day workers won’t be back until seven. She’s only here because she’s swapped shifts with Amy at the last minute so the younger woman could go to her boyfriend’s for the weekend. This is Ronni being accommodating, and she’d hoped for some sleep, because the stress was beginning to tell.

Every nerve is instantly on edge, enough adrenaline in her body to last a lifetime. Being as quiet as she knows is possible, the gun emerges from her bag as the field agent creeps into her room. Standing in the doorway, suddenly scared of herself, until a noise confirms movement inside. The shift of material. Whoever it was remained hidden around the corner, out of sight of the door. In her mind is the count before pinning herself against the wall, and again as she swings into the room, ready to fire…

‘You could have at least knocked first.’

Bond sits, in one of the chairs by her table, staring with familiar languor. Ronni closes her eyes and swears internally across five different languages. He’s wearing the same Tom Ford from the Lab, and still smells amazing. In a heartbeat, her comeback is a reflex.

‘I really hoped I’d have to shoot you.’

‘You could try that and see if you pass, but you won’t.’

‘Oh don’t tempt me, Bond.’


‘Don’t start.’

If she didn’t know already, there it was. He is her final test. Ronni tries to calm herself but it won’t happen, still too much adrenaline to deal with, and so she just stands, trying to work out what to do now. It would be easier if it were absolutely anybody else, even Q, who at this point is a complete and utter bastard. This is what Bond meant, that he had her back. She should have shot him in the Lab, straight through the crotch, on the day of the Funeral. That’s when she let her guard down.

‘I’m sorry, that was uncalled for, Sir… I’m just… I assumed that it wouldn’t end up this personal.’

‘What exactly were you expecting?’

‘I don’t know, but I’d accepted it wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant.’

‘I suppose I could take that as a compliment, but I’m sure you can do better.’

‘Were you asked to do this for any other women who’d got this far?’

Bond leans forward, arms on knees, regarding her in uniform before considering a response.

‘Q Division always pick someone they are confident will be an antagonist for the final assessment. It’s someone the applicant knows personally, because of the issues that will inevitably cause. Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve been utilised for quite this outcome. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.’

‘Oh right, so you made an exception for me, that’s comforting.’

‘You are making this whole thing confrontational, why?’

‘Because M said I’m supposed to perform to a required standard, and I’m not sure this is anything I’d ever want to be judged on, especially by you.’

He doesn’t respond to her directness, but won’t break eye contact either, so she knows whatever does end up happening that night isn’t going to be a stretch. He could well be lying, and she wouldn’t put that past him, but her mind appeared to want to give the benefit of the doubt, because of all the times that have come before. Every time you’ve circled each other the distance has closed. It should not be a surprise that you’d eventually collide.

It is high time you reconciled that at least some of this job is prostitution under another name.

‘What was the last thing that Q told you when you saw him?’

She wonders if there is CCTV in this room, not for the first time, that Q could be sitting in his office right now and taking notes. Part of her wouldn’t put it past the sneaky bugger either. I bet he’s the type that likes to watch.

‘Everybody has demons to face. Mine happen to smell amazing and have a weakness for designer three piece suits. Q’s known this fact since day one and has now used it against me in the most effective manner possible. This is my own fault, I know. I’m just too naive sometimes for my own good.’

Bond rises suddenly and Ronni is scared, genuinely afraid of what at some point has to be done with someone else, not him. It’s the reason there’s a contraceptive stick in her arm, even though there is discomfort at the possible side effects. That’s why four condoms are concealed in her handbag, even though the consequences of STD’s have never been a concern. When all is said and done, this is why she’s not enjoyed the thought of intimacy since it became apparent it was an essential part of the field equipment.

And that’s why 007’s the perfect choice; because Bond wields this weapon better than anyone else, and if anybody is going to teach you how, James is the one who should do it.

‘Will you trust me, Ronni?’

‘That’s never been an issue. You were never the problem in all of this.’

‘When was the last time you ate?’

The question is a surprise and Ronni struggles, because she can’t remember if there was anything in the kitchen that morning after coming on shift. Lunch had to be skipped to make it to the Barracks and meet M; after that, her appetite had pretty much evaporated anyway.

‘I honestly have no idea.’

‘If I told you this will be easier on a full stomach and with some alcohol, will you believe me?’

Ronni nods, too numb from the possibilities to argue.

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DUET: Chapter Eight, Part One

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Two days after returning to surveillance duties at the Hotel, a summons is sent for a meeting at the Barracks outside of schedule. When she arrives to find M waiting in the main Lab, Ronni knows they cannot postpone the inevitable any longer. She fights butterflies as uniforms are switched, waitress for operative, and decides this is the day she’ll wear trousers, because on most occasions that’s more comfortable, whatever the time of year. Arriving forty seconds early, Q nods his approval at the ensemble.

‘As you are more than aware, the last two weeks have been a difficult period for the 00 designation.’

Veronica stands, constant and implacable, eyes on M as he begins what sounds like a pre-rehearsed speech. She knows Bond’s behind her, glimpse reflected in terminal glass; did he come for the show or is 007 just passing?

‘Q tells me you are at the end of your formal assessment period. There is one more assignment to complete, and assuming that’s performed to the required standard we can expect to have you to the final stage of Active Consideration by the end of this week.’

Ronni exhales, significance of the comment only too obvious. She’s done everything that’s been asked, and more. The Service needs her out of the training ground and into the game, sooner rather than later. Special Agent Ashby is ready for anything they can throw at her.

‘If that is the case, this could well be the most important week of your entire life.’

007 knows the pep talk, given from this man’s predecessor. She’d chided him on arrogance, overt enthusiasm for destruction, pushed to temper desires with common sense and remember why he was doing the job. His M was from a different time, one he’d dearly like the chance to return to, but the past was just that, everybody forced to live in the moment. This present did have its advantages, he just needed to ensure full control of circumstances first.

‘You’ve performed in an exemplary fashion, often under considerable pressure, and I have no doubt this week will be no different. Special Agent Ashby, your Country requires your services, more now than it has ever done before. We have a battle that rages on our own doorstep, and threats so many and various our resources are stretched to breaking point. Your assistance will be a valuable addition to our national security. I have no doubt you will deliver what is expected of you as a result.’

The next three days are everything to her. This is where Ronni could stand or fall, and Bond knows that his actions will ultimately determine her fate. Part of him simply wants to pass the woman for service and have done with it but Q’s brief was persuasive and damning. For them both, at this moment, there needed to be an empathy beyond where they stood. Their friendship was now without question, but it wasn’t enough, not in this job. Their remit extended well beyond the conventional and into the dangerous, indistinct, where lines blurred and the only certainty was a mission goal. Ronni needed to be assessed in the one way she could never willingly agree to, and by the one person who knew more than anyone else in the department about the power of intimacy.

He too was about to be tested, perhaps more than her. Restraint, supplicancy and detachment until he could absolutely be certain she was in total control of him.

The potential of the final assignment to return him to Active Duty is enough to briefly render Bond breathless.

M extends his hand, which Ronni shakes, and then man is gone, leaving her feeling somewhat perturbed. Q sees the concern, and is about to question before being summarily pre-empted.

‘I think he could use some work on the speeches. He reminds me of Tanner, never quite that comfortable doing the motivational stuff the metrics tell him he needs to.’

‘I think both Q and I can agree, his predecessor was undoubtedly the better orator.’

Ronni smiles despite herself, turning to acknowledge 007 and noting his attire: if the Tom Ford is back, he isn’t here to work. He’s off on ‘official’ business again, and will hate every minute. This also means their time together could finally be coming to an end. After all, there’s only so much babysitting the Service will want him involved with.

‘You have an appointment at the Parliamentary reception?’

Bond rolls his eyes and gives the look which she knows means he’s already bored at the possibility.

‘I’ll make sure I offer him some tips. However, I know what I’d rather be doing.’

As he walks out of the room there is the slightest of touches, hand to arm: watching him leave, aware of Q not moving from his spot, observing closely. Ronni waits, but the young man says nothing.

‘So, what happens next, Q?’

‘You go back to work, and I return to trying to persuade Whitehall that we need better remote field access for agents than simply a mobile phone and luck.’

‘That’s it?’

‘You seem disappointed, Veronica, one assumes after Bond’s love of theatrics were you expecting something more dramatic?’

‘I was thinking there’d be more than this, I will admit.’

‘There are many demons to face in this world, Ronni. I for one am grateful that I don’t have to do that every day. It gives me a chance to relax and reflect on what I’ve learnt.’

‘I appreciate the sentiment, Q. I also realise that my expectations in this job are in a constant state of flux.’

‘Well, it may come as a surprise to you that 90% of all field work is unbelievably mundane. You don’t get nuclear warheads every week, despite what 007 might tell you. Go back to work, Special Agent Ashby and wait. Your assignment’s already in progress.’

Q turns and leaves the Lab, with nothing more to be said.

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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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