Characters: Ruth/Tom/Zoe, set just after 5.5
Word Count: 2100 words approx.
Notes: Chapter Three- Ruth finds herself in Santiago with Tom to meet some more old faces.
By Plane or by Sea
Oh Captain, I will Follow
The man collecting them from the airport looks terrified as Tom squeezes in the back seat next to Ruth.
She needs no introduction. She should have known from the second Tom had said Santiago, where she and he and now him were headed.
She doesn't know what she feels. Her stomach roils.
She unlocked the door, hands aching in the Winter chill, smile still on her face after an office tete a tete with Harry courtesy of a dirty bomb.
She was used to the warmth of silence aside from the gentle purr of cats. She didn't expect Zoe in darkness on the sofa.
Ruth knelt down and touched Zoe’s shoulder. There were lines on the girl’s pale face. Something shifted and rearranged. Ruth had envied Zoe’s cool beauty and the strength of her too feeling heart. She had envied the girl her tears over lost loves. Most of all, she had envied the looks Danny cast Zoe’s way when he thought no one on The Grid was watching; the concentrated, painful way he sought to capture Sam’s gaze as if to declare to the world ‘Zoe never meant that to me.’
Zoe woke up with a start.
“I’m so sorry, Ruth. I... I had nowhere else to go.”
Ruth wondered if Danny had already started drowning his sorrows in his tea cups. What had gone wrong between the two? It was more than Tom, an ocean and a widening chasm (chasm of what? Ruth wasn’t ever allowed to say.)
“It’s Will,” Zoe said, tears spangling her cheeks.
“Hello again, Tom,” Will says with a weak smile. “And a pleasure to meet you, Ruth. Zoe told me about you.”
Ruth thinks of the way Zoe’s face had crumpled every time a new bastard had stomped through the palace of her idealism. And yet, Ruth thought in wonder, Zoe had still believed.
“Harry will get you out of this,” Ruth said firmly.
“Not this time,” Zoe said wearily. “It’s all right, you know,” she added at Ruth’s expression. “I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth.”
“I’ll start again, Ruth. I’ll be OK.”
Will looks in the rear-view mirror, eyes flitting to Tom and away again in panic. His nervous appraisal irritates Ruth until she remembers Danny and the bomb and the way his house had looked...
But she mustn't think of that.
She asked Danny’s parents permission to help clear the flat.
“I was good friends with him and his flat mate,” she said, choking back tears. “I worked with him.”
His mother placed a veined hand on her back.
“He’s gone to a better place, child. We’ll never doubt that.”
Won’t you? Ruth wanted to say. When Harry offers little answers and a thick curtain comes down every time you ask for something more, won’t you doubt then?
“You take what you want,” his father choked. “He mentioned you. He said you always listened. Our boy... our wonderful little boy...”
Ruth couldn't help it. It slipped out.
“He promised me.” The dullness of her voice scared even her. “He promised me that he would never leave me.”
Danny’s parents shook their heads and their eyes met over Ruth’s head.
An unspoken love only declared now? Pent up grief escaping in front of the people who could have become in-laws?
Ruth didn't have the heart to set them straight.
“Do you still take photographs?” Ruth asks at last.
Will manages a smile and a nod. Silence settles like a blanket.
“Tom, I have to know,” Will manages uncomfortably at last. “What happened to Danny?”
Ruth sees the way Tom’s jaw is tight and notices he is careful not to swallow. She supposes he has been keeping tabs on his old team (the closest thing to friends Tom ever had?)
Will already knows what Tom is about to say as he fixes his gaze on the road.
“Will. Danny’s dead.”
She hadn't seen much death in GCHQ- only the kind brought on by the promise of old age or the usual unfair and unexpected shocks that killed anyone, spy or otherwise- but did Danny have to be her first?
Not even Harry’s side pressing against hers, the warmth seeping through her bones, helped. She reveled in the hard wood of the pew, in the gloomy intonation of the Hunter church choir, in the upraised faces of Danny’s parents. They sat opposite her. Danny had been their only child and yet there was no burning rage in their eyes as they turned to heaven for comfort.
“Don’t tell her,” Will begs, looking through the rear-view at Tom and Ruth in turn. “Please.”
Tom says nothing, merely nods.
Ruth remembers the way Danny looked at Zoe when he thought no one was watching. She remembers the way the two tipped their heads together to share secrets between friends. How jealous she had been. At first.
She nods, then smiles, weakly.
She unlocked the door to Danny’s flat with a deep breath. What would she find here? Did she dare to find out? There was no one else.
The door creaked open. She stepped inside.
The modern looking apartment didn't scream Danny at all. It was furbished the usual way; leather and granite, even a small alcohol stash (sex and drink the only way to survive this job? God Ruth hoped not).
There was a mug sitting beside the aluminium sink. Ruth ignored the lump in her throat at the dust gathering on the bench top. There was tea in the mug. It was cold.
She tipped the stale tea down the sink and began to clean the benches with a damp cloth. She paused and held on to the sink. Her too active imagination recast herself as Zoe, Danny standing over her shoulder like a puppy, over eager to please.
It was even harder to face the bedrooms. She fingered Danny’s clothing guiltily. She had no right to this no matter what his parents thought. Ruth blinked away tears. On the dusty dresser table there was a framed photograph; Danny and his family, Danny with his arms around Sam. She moved to his pillow (under pillows or under beds. Both led to the same answers). Zoe smiled beside Will, arms wrapped around each other, the back of the photograph signed with ‘thanks x.’ Had he pressed his lips against the photo? For a moment Ruth indulgently wondered what would happen if she took the photo back to The Grid and ran a DNA test. Would they find Danny’s remnants against the glossy finish?
As she crossed the corridor into Zoe’s room, Ruth winced remembering Andrew and his diamonds.
‘We made a promise,’ she said to the walls, ‘never as twisted. Never as alone.’ What did that matter now?
She stepped into Zoe’s room. Nothing had changed. A pair of jeans and a cami still lay across the bed. Half used lipstick sat on the dresser. An Austen on the bed head.
Was this what love meant?
Never changing, never moving on?
Will looks relieved when they hit the suburbs. He pulls up by a plain house. Two children play in the yard. He holds the car door open for Ruth with another nervous smile as she clutches her bag to her tightly. Tom pulls a suitcase out of the boot.
“I took the liberty,” he says with his cold smile. “Or rather Christine did.”
Once Ruth might have minded. Not any more.
“Thanks,” she manages, fighting off a hysterical laugh. “Are you coming in?”
“Just for the night,” Tom says, face softening at Ruth’s panic.
Before Ruth can say anything more a woman runs out past the children. She has changed. Her hair has grown long and she has died her hair black. She sports a fringe and bright lipstick but her eyes are still that cat-like green. Her face puckers at the sight of Ruth. Her hand goes to her mouth and her expression crumples. Will is prepared, already by her side.
Some things never changed.
Ruth smelt the smoke from the lighter as she packed files away before another ‘surprise’ audit. Good thing Sam had gotten wind of that one. Wrinkling her nose, she inched to the meeting room glass, her nose pressed against the dirtiest patch. What was going on?
Tom shouted, his face contorting into ugly shapes, and Zoe?
Zoe sobbed and sobbed as the photograph Tom held curled and melted against the flame.
They enjoy a leisurely dinner that night. With Tom and Zoe there, even with the kids popping up and down to ask inane questions, it feels like being a team back on The Grid again.
Ruth turns to Tom. She tries not to beg.
“Will you stay?”
“Till morning,” Tom repeats implacably. “Then I fly back to LA and Christine. A new job has come up.”
Ah. She was a job. A small stitch in Tom’s patchwork of a life. Ruth doesn't dare ask what the job is.
Zoe smiles weakly and reaches out for Ruth’s hand.
“It grows easier.” She turns and smiles at Will, at her two small children. “In time.”
No one knew where Sam had vanished. Ruth made it her personal crusade. She asked everywhere. She waited in all of the places she knew Sam went. Adam pulled her to one side one day.
“Ruth, she doesn't want to be found.”
Ruth knew her lip curled at the suggestion.
“She was my friend. She was Danny’s friend.”
Adam fixed his blue eyes on hers.
“Have you considered that’s why she isn't in contact?”
Later Harry called her into his office. The thrill that went down her spine at being in his presence soon vanished at harsh words.
“Sam contacted us. She’s gotten a job as a waitress.”
“Where?” Ruth asked eagerly.
“She told me, ‘someplace where your lot never go.’”
The tears didn't come. Not then.
She wondered later if anyone got notes, but other than Danny, no one had really taken the Scottish paper pusher seriously. Maybe Malcolm and Colin, but if they received letters, they never ever said.
Zoe and Ruth sit by the dining table. It is quiet. It’s been weeks since Tom left for Christine. The kids are at school. Will is at work. Ruth wishes she could bring herself to feel something, anything at all, as Zoe places a hand on Ruth’s shoulder.
“You don’t think of it every moment, like I said. At least not forever.”
A lump forms.
“I don’t want... I can’t move on... like you.”
Her tears drop as freely as Zoe’s ever did.
“I can’t forget him. I can’t forget Harry.”
Zoe doesn’t look surprised. “We guessed, you know. Danny and I.”
Zoe looks away as she says Danny’s name. She’s never mentioned him to Ruth. Not in all of the time she’s been staying here.
“What can I do? What do I do without him?” Ruth hisses at Zoe’s pale hands. “If I can’t find someone as you have what then?”
The look on Zoe’s face cripples Ruth. She remembers now, in the face of Zoe’s pity, just how much the girl had always worn her heart on her sleeve. Zoe had always cared too much.
“Get a hobby.”
It was unexpected but it wasn't flippant so it deserved an answer.
“Me? A florist or a baker or a teacher even? I can’t see it.”
There is a smile blossoming across Zoe’s face.
“Maybe not. You could write it all down.”
“What life on The Grid: An Expose? They’d lynch me.”
Zoe actually laughed outright.
“Bit late for worrying about that, isn't it?”
Ruth laughs too to her surprise.
“Besides John Le Carre has done alright,” Zoe mused. “Stella Rimmington. Graham Greene. Ian Fleming.”
“You’re... you’re impossible,” Ruth begins but she can’t find the words.
She’s already seeing Mace cast as the real villain of the piece; Harry an untouchable Apollo, and her? Lady Lazarus or even a gender bent Icharus- the woman who flew too close to the sun and went into free fall. So, she’s been singed but the sun is still in the sky. Can she coordinate a new dream? At her age? She can try.
This entry was originally posted at http://dweomeroflight.dreamwidth.org/100