Title: Someone to Call Home
Author's Note: This takes place at least a year or two after the end of the book.
Someone to Call Home
"Hero, I'm home!"
He walked into the hall of the small flat, the obscenely cheery little flowers on dingy brown wallpaper glaring mockingly at him in greeting, as they always did. One day…when they had finally got settled in… Tom could not get used to the idea of being settled somewhere at last. No more running. No more illusory freedoms.
A silvery-blond head emerged from the narrow doorway on the left in answer to his call. And here was the other thing he could not get used to. Coming home to her. A universe of wonder and joy contained in a single waif-like figure: Polly.
"Tom." She smiled that trusting smile that broke his heart every time. The smile that was relieved to see he'd come home again. That he'd not had his car wrecked by a towering monster made of rubbish or been chopped in half by ax-wielding amusement park robots. Or worse, gone back to Laurel--or been taken against his will. Again.
Wearing that same smile, that adoring smile he did not deserve, she stood on tip-toe to put her arms around his neck and give him the tiny welcome home peck on the lips he looked forward to each day. All Tom had to do was manage to prevent the cello getting in the way, a task more difficult than one might suppose, made easy through years of practice. With his free hand, he stroked the strands of platinum out of her eyes, noticing how the dry winter air had made her hair staticky. It clung to itself down her back, creating the appearance of ruffled feathers.
"What?" she asked playfully, when he'd been quiet for too long. She did not let go, nor did his hand leave her hair.
"Nothing," he said at last, offering his harmless smile. She wouldn't like to hear he'd nearly got lost in thought again. Polly knew the places Tom sometimes went in his head when left to himself. Dark places with frozen expanses of imported carpet and deceiving sunny shadows and swimming pools that held no water. Abandoned houses full of haunting laughter. It took his Hero to bring him back.
"Did Tan Coul have a bad time of things at his hero business today?" she teased him, laying her head against his shoulder.
"Dreadful," he answered. "He found himself only just able to defeat the terrible monster Berlioz. And bleeding from multiple wounds in uncivil places, he dragged himself back to his cave to recover from his grievous and mortifying injuries."
She looked up at him and raised her eyebrows. "It's a cave today, is it?"
Tom turned and leaned the cello carefully in its niche of honour beside the umbrella rack. Then he put his arms round Polly and whirled her into the sitting room. "Yes," he continued. "But not the sort of cave you'd imagine a bear might live in. It's quite a comfortable little hide-away complete with running water and central heating."
"It sounds dreadful."
He dropped into their worn tweed couch, affecting a thoughtful expression. "Well it would be, but for the person he has to come home to."
"Some sort of witch, no doubt," she said, putting the kettle on in the adjoining kitchen. "With a long, crooked nose and bad teeth." She pretended to consider, adding "Perhaps a wart or two."
"No." Tom tried not to smile. It used to be so easy. "He swore off witches long ago."
"Sensible of him." She came back to kneel down on the couch beside him.
"Oh, he's hardly sensible." He shook his head. "Quite daft, actually. And very unlucky."
She nodded in agreement. "Pimply-backed."
He had to close his eyes for a moment in order not to laugh. "It takes a real hero to get him out of trouble most days," he finished.
Polly smiled and brushed her hair back in that familiar gesture. "Then I hope he finds one. Heroes are hard to come by these days."
Tom nodded. "That's what I told him." He took her hand almost casually but did not turn to look at her. "'If you ever find a hero,' I said, 'you'd better grab onto her and hold fast.'" Her fingers curled gently into his palm, his thumb stroked almost idly over the gold band on her ring finger. "'Make sure she doesn't get away.'" He turned to see the slow blush, her smile with eyes a little too bright. He leaned to kiss her before the tears could overflow.
"How'd the writing go today?"
A subtle sniffle and she was heroic again, straightening up in her seat to announce proudly, "I have tamed the beast."
"My Hero." He offered a gentle, inherently mischievous smile and squeezed her hand. "A lion-tamer, then. She left the circus to look after our unfortunate hero-in-training. The ringmaster was furious."
She gave a regal nod. "Their best act."
"I suppose they shall have to make do with clowns and trapeze artists now." He looked gloomy.
Polly leaned into his field of vision. "She prefers the cozy little cave, though. They'll have to learn to accept it." Her arms went round him, and Tom felt, as he always did, somehow less tall and awkward, inexplicably warm, no longer alone. She rested her cheek against his and whispered just before the kettle began to whistle, "And so will you."
Tom thought he could do that. In time.