“nothing startles me beyond the moment”
And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love.
- Poem, John Cornford
He started out calling me Vesper, if you can believe it. It made sense at the start, what with them both being MI6 and all, headed into battle against someone who called himself ‘the chief’. It was Freddie to the core, and he wanted me beside him. ‘Ms. Lynd’, he’d say. I think he thought it was flattering, what with the Spanish homophone of the word meaning ‘pretty’. ‘Bel. Lynd. It’s redundant, I know, but it fits, you see.’ He never was good at compliments. Not giving them.
Receiving them was a different story. They lit him up. The first time I countered his nickname with ‘Yes, James’, his eyes sparked bright and that little puckish grin curled up, and I knew we were in trouble playing this game. I wouldn’t have quit for the world, however. Because it fit him. Oddly, it did. To a T.
But then, as we read, my nickname got more painful. When he’d call me it, I’d have to attempt to hide my flinch. As the relationship in the book got more intimate, I got more uncomfortable, because that meaning hadn’t been our intention at the start. But now it was there every time we referred to each other as those characters. Because we were effectively referring to each other as lovers—which we most definitely were not—and it felt like an arranged marriage, of sorts. The weight of it was stifling.
There wasn’t much time for pleasure reading then (or ever) so we both took a while to finish the book. Him more so than me. So when I finished it before he did, I couldn’t stand how he meant the name as a sweet thing. But I couldn’t tell him why and spoil the ending.
At some point I told him I was nothing like Vesper. He denied it, told me how exactly similar we were. I had to hold back tears because I knew he didn’t mean it as an insult, but that’s all I could hear. I told him I was much more the desk job type, he said he would call me M if there were ever a chance the boss of MI6 would be a woman. I turned away from him as if he’d slapped me. He countered with the fact that he couldn’t see me as a secretary, that it was beneath me. He said there was nothing to make us assume all 00’s were men, did I want to be 009? I shook my head, knowing how much of a coward I am. ‘Desk job it is, then. The highest one there is. So, Ms. Moneypenny, come on. Give me my orders.’
It wasn’t quite right, the role didn’t quite fit. Because Eve was in love with the 00’s, and feared for their safety, and always, always rebuffed their advances, treating them more like schoolyard pranks than invitations. And I really didn’t want to be that. I didn’t. I wanted so much more. But, I wound up there in the end anyway, didn’t I? Maybe because I spent so much time thinking I wanted someone more. What a fool.
When he finally got to the end of the book and the penny dropped, he apologised, in his way, casually, even amusedly, mentioning how he couldn’t believe he’d ever thought Vesper and I were anything alike. It helped soothe the sting of being left out of all of his adventures simply because I had sense.
Later, when I first took the helm of The Hour, there was a moment where I thought he’d start calling me M. He didn’t. It would have fit, M and Bond joked about being almost married, and what were we if not married to our jobs, devoted to each other in ways that went beyond flowers and kisses and date nights. But no, I’d been relegated to Moneypenny, and there I would stay. But at least I was always there. A constant. An anchor, maybe. One can hope…
Because I think, deep down, I was afraid he would treat me like one of Bond’s girls, someone to fall for, figure out, keep safe, share a bed with and then move on from. But that fear is just so ridiculous when I bring it out into the light and look at it. That’s not Freddie’s M.O. He is the most tenacious, loyal creature I know. He’s my bulldog. Even Hector saw that, and was somehow jealous when I treated him as such.
But how can you love a secret agent? I mean, on this side of the missions. It’s like loving a sailor and a soldier and a RAF pilot with a deathwish all rolled into one. And with Freddie it’s like loving an accident prone puppy who thinks he’s the alpha and is under the misapprehension that he has nine lives instead of one. It’s not sustainable. His behaviour, and my attempt to excuse it and ignore it and avoid the fact that it tears me apart inside when he has complete disregard for anything, anything besides the story. Even his person. A person I have no idea how I would survive without.
It’s such a bloody mess I can’t… I can’t. I never have been able to see how it would work. And I’ve backed off trying for so long it’s a habit now. Now, he uses the nickname now to annoy me, to remind me I’m kept at arm’s length, though by which one of us I’m unable to tell anymore. He also uses it, I hope, to assure me that he will always come back to me. That he knows there wouldn’t be just one casualty if he didn’t. Though, to be perfectly honest, that is the thing that scares me more than anything else. I’d rather be Vesper than Moneypenny without my James.
“I would sooner fail than not be the greatest.”