DEFAULT :: Part Seventeen

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Ronni knows what it is now, undoubted feeling of terror hadn’t been at the situation, but firmly around Bond. Having to leave, even knowing how competent the man was, caused an ache in a manner she could only recall having felt when far, far younger. Despite all the best intentions, he’d not just gotten under her skin. This was something far more concerning and absolutely the wrong moment for all of it to surface, at the time when 004 needs to be at the most professional and focused. The fear that grips a disbelieving heart, sudden and unavoidable, isn’t around ability, or 007’s situation. With abrupt and inescapable amazement, Veronica registers it is not agent that matters here, but person.

James is funny, almost achingly so, and clever beyond words. A perpetual observer, yet seldom boring. The addictive personality understands danger in both alcohol and drugs, often unable to avoid their allure when pressured. Fools are never suffered, honesty welcomed and ultimately, desire embraced with enthusiasm never found the like of with anyone else… Ronni lets everything fall away until the basic truth remained: complete the mission. Locate Beam, save Bond, then worry about everything else. If you let emotion cloud even one step, the end may never be reached. Never forget what he is, however, under the 00 veneer. This man lives and breathes, makes you hurt with absence…

There is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, a knock at the bathroom door.

With no idea of how long she’s been lost in thought, Ronni’s professionalism snaps instantly back into place before getting up, opening the door and expecting Eve, certainly not anticipating Q. He holds a large mug in his hand plus an inescapably concerned look.

‘Moneypenny thought you might find it easier talking to me, so I’ve left her with Curtis now his clearances are organised. You should give Eve credit, she understands you have a lot to learn about each other. I also think 003 may have embarrassed herself by second guessing your professionalism.’

Ronni takes the drink as offered: hot milk, with a delicate, vanilla smell. There are dark spots she’ll guess are real seeds in the liquid: staring at the man with amazement, confusion is not only expected but immediately assuaged.

‘The last thing you need now is more caffeine. I’m here to help you relax, and this is not my proven method… but 007’s. Thanks to him I have vanilla pods in my bottom drawer. Tell me how you feel.’

‘Honestly, it’s like somebody’s kicked me in the chest.’

‘I can only imagine how hard it is to watch someone you care about be attacked and have to stand by helpless. Bond however is more than capable of the task Felix has asked of him, and this entire operation will hinge around all three of you being able not only to fulfil but exceed potential.’

Leading them both out of the bathroom and back to the cot, Q sits and talks whilst Ronni does the same and drinks, amazed at how much better this combination is making her feel. It isn’t just that, on reflection, but the implication behind it that is soothing a troubled soul. James’ care is beyond reproach, when everything else is stripped away. Quiet concern and genuine compassion, if you know how to expose it. As the milk works its magic, their plan moving forward is explained.

‘Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Swanns are expecting you to be sent as rescue, so if we’re going to show our hand, there will be the requirement to strike first and with force. Also, as Bond’s life is undoubtedly part of this equation? We’ll need to at least attempt inserting you to theatre with some measure of subtlety. If Monaco is where they’re heading, it will presumably co-incide with some kind of meeting, as these people also seem to like to celebrate their success in committee. I’ll set up a video link with the French as a matter of urgency. I also need to issue you with suitable field equipment, and as I’m not entirely sure I can trust our contact on the ground under current circumstances? I have a friend inside the Gendamerie. That kind of friend. I think it may be the right moment to call in a favour.’

Ronni stares as Q goes a quite delicate shade of pink. Of everyone she’d worked with, he just never mentioned any personal life out of turn. In fact, the only time there was memory of doing so was in the last days of her training. The Quartermaster’s life outside of the Barracks was subject to tighter security than most Eyes Only assignments, and 004’s curious to know more.

‘Q, I’m genuinely impressed. I always thought you were the type who never discussed their conquests.’

‘Alex was hardly a conquest. In fact, if truth be told, I was very much the submissive partner. However, I must have done something right with him, as we still talk at least once a week.’

‘Please tell me you don’t have a network of friends stretched across Europe for just such emergencies?’

‘I’ll have you know I’m the model of professionalism and decorum, but only about 90 per cent of the time. Nobody ever used to talk about sex in this place until you turned up, it was all just reward for the 00’s and then quickly forgotten. Considering my particular desires, I rather like the revolution you’ve wrought in that regard, and long may it continue. I know your professionalism is assured, trust me when I say the same for myself.’

‘The boss knew about Bond and I being intimate. Was it discussed in committee?’

Q’s not expecting this question, and spends a moment composing a response.

‘I made a call, Flemmings. As it transpires it may well have saved Bond’s life, because your influence on him has seen a marked improvement in communications. He’s the only agent currently not actively tracked too, thanks to Spectre. I was forced to deactivate his system at M’s request, and we never got around to reversing the situation. If you’d not have positively impacted his outlook-‘

‘He’d not have had the foresight to call me.’

‘I will gather further intelligence, 004, and we will hold a briefing at 1500 hours. I would suggest as you’re likely to be in the field sooner rather than later that you attempt some more sleep in the meantime. You may not have Bond here in body, but you can be most assured he remains very much in spirit.’

The man is gone and Ronni stares into the mug, suddenly aware of the depth of her task.

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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 Six, Part Five

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After lunch, the schedule is again scrubbed: Ronni is told to report back to the Sparring Ring.

She assumes it is punishment for arrogance, that Q will reinforce who’s in charge and that stepping out of line isn’t part of the training. Waiting quietly in the musky darkness of what used to be the Stables, Ronni stares at the one way glass opposite and wonders who’s decided to come and watch her being destroyed again, that this is beyond ridiculous. She needs to be in the field and not in a ring: triumphs are pointless fripperies with no value unless things change. The only point worth making has nothing to do with who’s stronger, and this is a game that won’t be played any more regardless of consequence.

Genuine anger rises for the first time in weeks, and Ronni does nothing to curb it.

As Bond appears and heads towards the ring there is a refusal to make eye contact, no means for him to engage in anything. Body language is neutral, remembering the previous day, allowing no power to be taken by any means. He had confided in her that this was something pretty much every female agent had been put through since the mid 1960’s. Bond would be presented as a benchmark, and they would have to prove their worth.

As the buzzer sounds to start the bout, Ronni simply stands and waits.

Bond makes no move; she watches the glass instead, staring at the male techs she knows will be noting the fact that there’s no fighting when there should be. Suddenly the shift comes, Bond moves but Ronni is faster. Effortlessly feigning, she’s on the ground and taking a mouthful of dirt before removing Bond’s legs from under him with an anger that consumes everything in a moment. As he lands next to her, hand is balled into a fist: she punches to his groin as hard as possible.

His cry is worse than anything heard in weeks of training, echoing around the ancient brick walls, briefly enough to silence her disquiet. Counting to ten, only when the buzzer sounds to record the win does she walk away without the need to register anything else. The pain in her knuckles forces a smile: it could have been far worse. He was wearing an abdominal guard.

Ronni’s grin turns to laughter as she understands Bond knew what was coming.

‘I still find it hard to believe it took over fifty years for anyone to punch a 007 in the balls.’

Q leans back, staring at Veronica, still in the sweats worn for the sparring match, and allows himself a moment of satisfaction; he had been right the first time they met. She was the one who’d tear down the walls and finally open the doors not simply for more women, but for diversity to finally become a real and palpable part of the Intelligence Service’s 21st Century arsenal. Ronni grasped the only way to win was to rip up the rules and start again, ironically just as the first 007 had done in the 50’s. For this alone, Q is proud of what Special Agent Ashby would now come to represent.

‘I’m staggered this was classified as formal assessment just for female agents to begin with, Q. I mean, really? Everybody failed because nobody had the balls?’

‘There have been various people who have held my designation before me. The man who had the job for the longest was, quite frankly, a remarkable and brilliant individual. I only met him once, in his last days, and it was a morning I don’t think I will ever forget. His sense of humour was both wicked and precise, and this was his in-joke that over the years became the ultimate in Old School hypocrisy. No woman would ever treat a man like that, because no man would ever hit a woman.’

‘Nobody ever tried?’

‘Grace came close. Rachel shot 007’s predecessor in a fit of pique once: to be honest I don’t blame her, under the circumstances I’d have probably done the same. Bond gets under people’s skins in different ways: the notion of male superiority is something I know many people have real issue with. Needless to say, Veronica, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with anyone in this building again. You most definitely wear the trousers now.’

He watches the woman relax, concession to the compliment, and knows that this step of training is done. They can’t teach her anything else, what she needs to learn now will come with the unpredictability of the outside world.

She’s not taken two steps outside Q’s office when Ronni’s almost lifted off her feet and pushed into the Barracks wall. Hard brick hits back of head and it is a second to reorientate, to have Bond inches from her face, responding with a burst of adrenaline from upper body that pushes him halfway across the corridor. He’s not expecting her anger, this much is obvious, and it takes a second to regroup.

‘You could have at least given me a chance!’

‘I’m sorry, you’re telling me I have to allow you to save face before I beat you?’

‘You could have considered your game plan a little better.’

‘Screw that and screw you, if you’re expecting me to help you maintain your dignity you’re a bloody coward.’

‘And you’re a fucking bitch.’

She’d expected a more sporting response, never having heard 007 swear before. The smile this produces can’t be hidden, and so she doesn’t as Bond’s face flares. He is genuinely aggrieved and the pleasure that creates is something of a surprise. However the training kicks in and it is tempered, aware of conscience pricking her reaction: something important has changed between them. However this isn’t about being right, it is the moment to win a war of words with one of the best wielders of banter in the Secret Service.

‘You find my discomfort funny?”

‘No, I find it amusing you had to wear protection.’

‘As it happens I’m not a big fan of pain.’

‘For the record, I’m not a great fan of being used as entertainment. I’m sure we’ll both cope.’

‘You’re not even going to apologise?’

‘You lost! I beat you by exactly fulfilling the requirements of the assessment. You’re asking me to apologise because I won?’

Every pair of eyes is on them, entire Barracks standing to watch the confrontation. Again Ronni waits, unwavering, refusing to give a millimetre of ground to her superior officer, staring with intent she cannot adequately gauge. It seems like forever, but finally 007 turns and walks away, still clearly in some pain. If she’d managed to do that much damage even with a support in place? Upper body strength was better than she thought.

There’s no time for games any more, and Ronni’s had enough training. If Q didn’t already know, it was time to stop pretending she could make a difference and actually let her do so in the field.

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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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