REMAIN THE SAME

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Acceptance

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Six (Here Comes The Sun)

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Here comes the sun,

Here comes the sun, and I say

It's all right.

Little darlin', I feel like ice is slowly melting.

Little darlin', it seems like years since it's been clear…

Here comes the sun,

Here comes the sun, and I say

It's all right.

-x-

Lynda shifted in her seat, her eyes still shut. 'The Beatles?'

'Yep.' Spike turned down the car stereo. 'Good to know you can get at least one band name right. Even if they are 30 years old.'

Lynda shuffled again, resting her head on a balled up cardigan pressed against her window, and prepared to go back to sleep. 'Bit old fashioned for you, isn't it?'

'Nah. They're cool again now.'

'Mmph. How far is it now to the hotel, anyway?'

'Not a clue.'

'What?' Lynda opened her eyes. Her mouth fell ajar at the sight that greeted her from the other side of the windscreen.

'We're a little lost.'

Lynda didn't speak for a moment. She couldn't speak. She got out of the car and took a few wobbly steps forward. They were Nowhere. They were officially slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Great green mountains capped with the yellows and pinks of dawn loomed in every conceivable direction. The grass at her feet grew unchecked and was peppered with wildflowers. The only testament to human civilisation ever having so much as passed through this place was the narrow, winding road on which they were currently parked. There was nothing but Nature as far as the eye could see.

Spike wandered up to join her. 'Pretty, huh? Y'know, America's full of places like this, just mountains and air and the open road. You start kinda missing that when you've been in Norbridge for a few years.'

'What have you done?' Lynda breathed, 'where have you taken us?'

'I got us lost.' Spike shrugged, cheerfully. 'Thought it might be fun to go map-free for a while.'

'Spike, it's morning already! You've been driving us into the wilderness all night?'

'It's the middle of Summer, Lynda. It's, like, 4am. We didn't leave the restaurant 'til gone midnight. I wasn't tired, I just thought, what the Heck. We've come all this way, we might as well get some scenery while we can.'

Lynda just stared at him.

'Relax,' he continued, 'I know where we are. I can turn the car back around, there's a village just a few miles down the road.'

Lynda still didn't reply. She took another few steps away from the car, and breathed in the cold, fresh air.

'Lynda…?'

'It certainly has been a week for doing mad, impulsive things,' she said, her back to him, 'hasn't it?'

He smiled, softly. 'Don't tell me you're gettin' the bug for it too?'

She kept her back to him, gazing up at the tangerine tinged sky. 'Would you…' She murmured, 'would you…?' Unseen by Spike, she closed her eyes, as though mentally changing tack. 'Would you please get Kenny out of the car?'

Spike nodded, taking a couple of backwards steps towards the car. 'You think it's time?'

'I don't know,' Lynda sighed, 'but this is pretty, and the sun's out, and it… it feels right. Doesn't it?'

'Yeah,' replied Spike. 'It feels right.' He glanced over his shoulder at the newlyweds still sleeping in the back seat. 'Want me to wake the kids up for this?'

'Not yet,' Lynda addressed the landscape. 'I need a while to work up to this, you know.'

Spike very quietly opened the front passenger door and picked Kenny's box out of the glove compartment, closing the door behind him with a soft "click".

-x-

Colin stirred, and snorted. He shifted around a little uncomfortably, his eyes still closed.

'Morning, Sir,' whispered a voice by his ear.

'Is it morning, already?'

'Yeah.'

'Oh. Well. Morning then, Fish.'

'Uh-uh-uh,' chided Lizzie's voice softly. 'You're going to have to come up with a new nickname for me now.'

Colin thought for a moment, his eyes still shut. 'Morning… Mrs Fish?'

'MrsMathews.'

'No, that's my Mum.' He yawned. 'I think you're getting confused, Mrs Fish.'

There was a gentle weight on his shoulder as Liz leaned against him. 'So, how's married life so far?'

'Cold and cramped. You?'

'Ditto. Oh, and I hate to tell you this, but Spike and Lynda seem to have driven us out into a completely deserted wilderness and left us child locked in the car.'

Colin opened one eye and looked out of his window at the surroundings. Then he did something that rather surprised himself. He completely failed to panic.

'Don't worry,' he told Liz, 'they've probably just brought us out here to slit our throats and eat our brains.'

'You're just saying that,' smiled his wife.

She's pretty, he thought. Another thought hit him. And I get to keep her – Ker-ching!

Liz pursed her lips slightly. 'What?'

'What do you mean, "What"?'

'Your eyes just went "Ker-ching".'

He opened his mouth, but instead of a reply in it he only found a smile. He pulled the old blanket they'd been nestling under for warmth high over both of their shoulders and closed his eyes again.

'Come back to bed, Dear.'

-x-

Lynda stood very still for a long time, clutching the box of ashes to her chest. As Spike watched her, a slow smile began to spread over her face.

'Did I ever tell you about my first kiss?'

'You mean it wasn't me?'

Lynda just snorted.

'To be honest, I'm a little surprised about that,' continued Spike. 'Those first few, they were pretty rusty. I just assumed you'd never had any practice.'

'Did I ever tell you that Kenny and I used to go out with each other?'

Spike clenched his jaw. 'No,' he replied through closed teeth as he turned a little pink. He pointed accusatorially at the small container in Lynda's hands. 'You'd better count your lucky stars you're in a box right now, Phillips, or I'd…'

'It was for a couple of weeks,' Lynda breezed. 'We were only 11. I'd decided that since I was at secondary school I needed to have a boyfriend, and Kenny was convenient, he was to hand and he was too frightened of me to say no. It was just playground stuff. Holding hands and so on. Until…' Lynda shook her head at the memory. 'Until Susie bloody Pickering told me that you can't have a boyfriend if you don't kiss him. So I decided – I was going to kiss him, the very next day. I organised this game of blindman's buff, made sure I was It, made sure I could see through the blindfold and off I went. Only…'

'Only you kissed somebody else by accident,' Spike prompted.

'No accident about it,' Lynda replied, 'like I say, I was cheating, I could see everything. He wasn't even in the game, he'd been all the way the other side of the yard. He just ran straight over to me and before I knew it, you know… tongue down my throat.'

Spike's eyebrows hit his hairline. 'Kenny?'

Lynda shook her head, which she then jerked in the direction of the parked car.

'You're…' Spike stammered, 'you're kidding me, right? Tell me you're kidding, Lynda.'

'Fraid not.'

'Ew. EWW!' Spike stuck his tongue out of his open mouth and scraped the imaginary filth off it with his palm. 'Oh God, I feel dirty by association…'

'Well, how do you think I felt?' Lynda replied. 'I was mortified. Apoplectic! I started screaming at Kenny to beat Colin up, because wasn't that what a boyfriend was supposed to do if someone else snogged his girlfriend…?'

'But he chickened out,' Spike guessed, 'am I right?'

Lynda nodded. 'I had to punch Mathews' lights out myself. Then I slapped Kenny round the face and told him he was dumped.'

Spike grinned. 'Poor Kenny.'

'Poor Kenny my eye,' retorted Lynda. 'See, as I was walking home that day I saw a very strange thing, given the circumstances. Kenny and Colin together, friendly as you please, round the back of the ice cream van, where they thought nobody could see them. Kenny was digging into his pockets, and counting out change. So I waited for him, said there were no hard feelings, could we walk home together, then as soon as we were alone I sat on him and gave him Chinese Burns until he told me the truth.' She laughed a little at the memory. 'He'd paid Colin to do it. He'd heard about the kissing thing, he wanted to get out but he didn't have the nerve to dump me, so Colin offered it for him for a fiver.'

Spike started to laugh, himself. 'Kenny Phillips: Criminal Mastermind, huh?'

'Only…' Lynda's giggle began to turn a little hysterical. 'Only he hadn't counted on Colin demanding more after the event.' She gasped for breath. 'Extra expenses for psychological trauma incurred.'

'Told you you were a lousy kisser.'

'I hadn't quite finished eating a packet of Skips,' Lynda added, catching a rogue tear with her thumb. 'To this day you can offer him a prawn cocktail crisp and he'll gag.' She sniffed, wiping away another tear. 'I'm going to miss him.'

'Which one?'

'Both of them.' She took a long, deep breath and exhaled slowly through pursed lips. 'Time to let go.'

She opened the box.

She looked inside, and stopped.

'Spike?'

'Mmm?' Spike asked, innocently.

'Where's the rest of Kenny?'

'Huh?'

'This box was full two days ago. Why is it half empty now?'

'Um…'

'Liz started telling me a strange, rambling story yesterday about some silly boy in a band, and said you should be the one to tell me the end of it,' Lynda added. 'That wouldn't have anything to do with my partially missing best friend, would it…?'

'He was our friend too,' Spike blurted.

Lynda glared at the American, dangerously. 'Meaning what, precisely?'

'It was Fate,' Spike replied. 'It was too good an opportunity to miss. The bus was deserted, the window was open, I figured it'd be the sort of thing he'd have appreciated, y'know, since he had so much fun doin' the concert, so… so as from Sunday night there's a couple of ounces of Kenny Phillips on tour with Oasis.'

Lynda arched an eyebrow. 'There's more than a handful missing here, Spike.'

'Yeah,' Spike admitted, 'I know. See, when Colin found out about it he wanted a go himself, so, um, Kenny's also, in part, on the floor on the fitting room in La Senza.'

'Sothat's why you got me those frilly knickers.'

Spike shrugged. 'Needed a distraction.'

'Let me just get this straight, Thompson… the three of you kidnapped me, taking Kenny's remains as a hostage, drove me for two days and two nights to the middle of nowhere and in the process thought it would be a fun idea to steal bits of Kenny and scatter them wherever you pleased? I mean, without even telling me?'

'You're mad,' Spike observed, 'arentcha?'

'Mad?' Lynda gritted her teeth. 'no, Spike. Not at this particular moment. Because at this particular moment right now, I have to be calm and serene and say goodbye to Kenny.' She closed her eyes and tipped the box upside down. Ash cascaded out of it, mushrooming out as it billowed down towards the untamed grass. Some of it was caught by a light breeze and drifted away like tiny grey snowflakes caught in an updraft.

'Goodbye,' whispered Lynda.

She breathed.

Her eyes snapped open.

'Right,' she barked. 'Now I'm mad!'

She turned on her heel and made fast work of marching to the car before Spike could so much as draw breath to utter a warning. With one fluid motion she opened the back door of the car and grabbed Colin's arm, dragging him off the back seat.

'Lynda?' muttered Colin, still half asleep. 'What are you doing?'

'Something I should have done years ago,' Lynda replied. 'Colin Mathews, I have worked with some low lives in my time, God knows, but you… you are the lowest, shiftiest, grubbiest, sneakiest amoral lying, cheating, thieving, backstabbing, bullshitting, cowardly excuse of a weasel of a man.'

Colin shot Spike a desperate look. 'She found out about Kenny's ashes and the undies shop, didn't she?'

'Guess what, Colin,' continued Lynda over Spike's attempt to reply, 'I did. And, you know what? I wasn't in the least bit surprised. This isn't even about that. This is about the million other reasons you've given me over our acquaintance to be pissed off. You're unreliable in every conceivable way. You push dishonesty to levels even I was never aware existed. It's as if the Warner Brothers were involved in some paranormal cult back in the early 70s and found a way of projecting the soul of Daffy Duck into a human foetus. No wonder Campbell doesn't want to work with you. You are a liability. The biggest liability I've ever had to put up with. And you have the temerity to tell me you want to leave?'

'What…?' Asked Colin, now utterly bewildered.

'You're fired!' Lynda stomped over to the boot, popped it open and hauled out Colin's bag. 'You should have been fired years and years ago, God alone knows why I didn't.' She threw his bag down at his feet. 'Get the Hell out of my sight and stay there.'

'What?' Cried Colin again, gazing in panic at the desolate surroundings.

'You heard.' Lynda pulled out a second bag. 'And take your terrifying Child Bride with you.'

'You what, Lynda?' Liz scrabbled out of the car. 'You can't fire me just 'cause Colin's quit…'

'Watch me.' Lynda threw the other girl's bag at her. 'You're loud, you're aggressive…'

'So are you!'

'Exactly! I don't like newcomers swanning in and taking my thunder. You're a friend thief both emotionally and physically, you can't spell for toffee and you've got stupid hair. But that's not why I'm throwing you out.' She slammed the boot down. 'I'm throwing you out because, as you may not have noticed from the light speed ceremony yesterday, you're his wife now. It's about time the two of you started going it alone. Isn't that what married couples do?'

Liz picked up her bag, slowly. 'You're… you're doing this to be nice?'

Lynda treated the newly-weds to a wicked grin. 'See it as your Honeymoon. A wedding gift from Spike and me. I was originally going to ditch you at the hotel, but this place seems pleasant enough.'

Colin took a pleading step towards Lynda as she sauntered towards the driver's door of the car. 'It's the middle of nowhere, Lynda! What are we supposed to do?'

'Go on an adventure,' shrugged Lynda. 'Go on a journey. Go on a bank-robbing spree. See the world. Stay in bed for a month. Read a book. Write a book. Give a kidney. Steal a car. Learn to fly. Forget to floss. Lose yourselves. Find yourselves. Keep budgies. Have twenty children all named after the Dramatis Personae of The Comedy Of Errors. Do something with your lives. Anything! Just don't ask me. It's got nothing to do with me any more.'

'It's four in the morning, Lynda!' Colin begged. 'We don't even know where we are!'

'You're on a road,' Lynda replied. 'In Scotland. Behind you lies civilisation, ahead of you, who knows. Bit like life, really.'

Sensing that his befuddled argument wasn't going to sway Lynda, Colin turned to Spike for support. 'Spike. Mate. This is crazy, right? Tell her she's crazy!'

'Yeah, it's crazy,' Spike replied. 'But then anything less would disappoint you, right?'

'Yeah, but at least…'

'I'd help you, Colin,' added Spike, 'I really would. Only, I figure I've pretty much given my due amount of assistance to you lately, especially seeing as how a little ten-year-old anecdote Lynda just told me has well and truly taken you out of my Good Books for the foreseeable future.'

'What anecdote?' asked Liz.

Spike strapped himself in to the passenger side with a cheerful smile. 'Don't forget to write!'

Colin hurried around to the driver's side as Lynda fastened her seatbelt and adjusted the rear view mirror.

'You're not really going to do this, Lynda, are you?'

Lynda put the key in the ignition. 'Bye, Colin. Have fun.'

'You wouldn't really just abandon us here in the…'

The Granada roared into life and screeched away, speeding down the desolate road until it became a small red speck, which rounded a corner and disappeared.

-x-

They sat in silence for several minutes as they drove.

'You are going back for them though,' said Spike eventually, 'aren't you?'

Lynda shook her head. 'It's light, it's not raining, they've got money, he's got his mobile… I even slipped some chocolate bars and fizzy pop into Lizzie's bag, so they won't starve or anything. If Colin wants to escape suburban tedium, I can't think of a better way for him to start than this.'

'Remind me when we decide to teach our kids to swim,' Spike told her, 'not to let you do it. You'd just bore a hole in a frozen pond and fling them in.'

'Nonsense,' Lynda replied. 'Christopher and William are perfectly healthy, strong boys. A little cold water won't hurt them.'

'Wha…?'

Lynda gave him a sideways glance before returning her attention to the road. 'Well, since you've decided we've got Hypothetical Children now, I thought I might at least name them. I am their mother, after all.' She paused a little. 'Nice to see Colin wrong footed again. It had been a while. So bloody sure about Lizzie, that she was The One, that they'd be together forever… it was getting a little annoying.'

'So damn sure…' Spike echoed, thoughtfully.

'Long journey home,' Lynda told him, conversationally.

'Sure is.'

'No Colin, no Liz, no Kenny… not now, not…' Lynda began to trail off. 'Not ever again…'

'Just you and me,' Spike reminded her.

'Going it alone,' added Lynda.

'Think we'll make it?' Spike asked. 'Think we'll be able to go the distance without killing each other?'

'You mean, the trip back or just generally?'

Spike laughed a little. 'Beats me.'

They came to a crossroads. Lynda brought the car to a stop.

'You want the map?' Spike asked.

Lynda took a long, hard look through the windscreen at the unmarked wilderness winding off in every direction.

'No,' she told him. 'This is… it's nice. Just the two of us. No map. No nothing. Just you. It's fun.' She turned and grinned at him. 'So where to now?'

-x-

'So where to now?'

Two people sat on their rucksacks at the side of a deserted road in the early morning sun.

'Lynda said something about civilisation behind us,' piped Liz. 'There's probably something down the road we can walk to. Failing that, we can always hitch a ride.'

Colin snuck her a guilty look. 'Sorry I got you fired.'

Lizzie shrugged. 'It was high time I stretched my legs again anyway. Nice to have someone to stretch them with for a change.' She stroked a finger gently down his arm. 'I doubt I'd have lasted two weeks at that paper without you there anyway, it'd be boring as piss.'

'S'pose you're right.'

'I'm your wife. I'm always right.'

Colin got to his feet and extended a hand to help Lizzie up. 'Best get walking, then.'

Lizzie didn't take his hand. She crossed her legs and ran the tip of her tongue over the inside of her lips, gazing up at the sky.

'Nah,' she announced, 'not yet.'

Colin let his hand swing back down at his side. 'Well, what do you suggest?'

'It's the wee small hours,' Lizzie told him, 'we're on honeymoon, and there's not a soul for miles around. I say for the time being we climb that hill…' She nodded at a crag ahead of them that seemed to Colin far to high and treacherous to simply be a "hill", 'get our bearings, strip off and consummate this marriage of ours on the top of it.'

Colin weighed up the options. 'Yep. That sounds like a better idea.'

He started the slow amble towards the hill. His wife stood up and followed him, swinging her bag over her shoulder.

'Do we really have to climb the mountain, though?'

'It's not a mountain, you English Nancy, it's a hill. And yes we do. It's romantic.'

'Don't see what's so romantic about blisters, sprained ankles and sheep poo.'

'Colin?'

'Yes?'

'I've got Double Deckers in here.'

'Fantastic.'

-x-

THE END