A little something that I started whilst on a flight out to New York, hence the setting. Hoped to post it before Christmas but the fates conspired against me.
Lucas took a glance at his watch as he threaded his way through the bustle of early morning commuters, and hoped that he wasn't cutting things too fine. His journey had been a nightmare from the start. The overnight flight into JFK had been delayed and then he'd been held up further by an officer from Inland Security who took exception to the fact that the issue date on his passport was so recent. He'd not realised just how tough the security measures had become in the U.S and how any little detail could now be regarded with suspicion.
Once clear of the airport he'd caught the Air train and then the subway; the E train taking him all the way into Manhattan. The journey had taken an interminable amount of time and he'd found himself drifting asleep with the motion of the carriage; so much so that he almost missed his connection at 53rd. He'd had to make a leap for the doors as they were beginning to shut and earned himself some sarcastic comments from the locals.
Now he was making his way with as much haste as he could towards the rendezvous point that had been designated. It wasn't his idea of a good meeting place; it was somewhere too open, too full of people - a meeting that could be too easily ruined by the chance actions of any one of a thousand people, but the place had been stipulated by the person he was going to meet and he'd had to accept.
He finally reached the end of the passageway and turned onto the main concourse, taking in the impressive spectacle that was Grand Central. It had been years since he had last had cause to visit the place but the impact of it on his senses was still enough to take his breath away.
He quickly pulled himself out of his reverie and began scanning the sea of faces that were surging past him; each one on their own private journey - world weary commuters begrudgingly altering their course to avoid walking into the gaping tourists who seemed to choose to stand in the busiest section of the station with unerring regularity. He cursed silently beneath his breath as he failed to spot the object of his search. He worked his way through the early morning crowd, heading for the staircase at the far end, hoping that gaining a higher viewpoint would improve his chances of finding his contact.
Dodging past the couple who were gazing up in awe at the constellations painted onto the high vaulted ceiling, he reached the top of the stairs and took in the panorama; once again scanning the crowds.
From his new vantage point, he picked her out almost immediately. She stood apart from the hustle and bustle of the morning commuters, somehow separate from them; existing in her own private little bubble of space, immune to the crowds' hurrying and impatient desires to be elsewhere.
He knew that she wouldn't recognise him and so he took advantage of a few extra seconds to study her. She'd changed a little from the photograph in her file; her hair was worn a little longer, and despite the thick black coat that was wrapped around her, it looked as though she'd lost weight.
His attention was drawn to her hands which were fiddling nervously with a copy of The New York Times, constantly twisting and turning the rolled up paper as she scanned the area ahead of her, obviously looking for a face that she recognised. As he watched he saw her glance up at the clock above the information booths.
He made his way swiftly down the stairs towards her, a part of him carrying the feeling that she was likely to bolt at any moment. She looked through him as he approached, not seeming to take in the features of anyone she didn't recognise. He made his way round another group of tourists, pretending not to hear their request that he take a photo of them, and slowed to a halt directly in front of her and held out a hand in greeting. "Lucas North," he introduced himself, noting the way that after the initial flinch of surprise, her expression became one of complete neutrality.
The handshake she returned could best be described as 'polite' and she was quick to break the contact.
"I ... I have the translation," she gestured towards the large black bag that was slung over her left shoulder.
"Good, thank you."
She reached into the bag and made to pull out the package she'd prepared for him.
"That can wait," he told her in a quiet tone. "I need to talk to you about something else."
"Look, I did the translation work that you asked for... can't we just exchange things here and we can both get on with our days."
She pulled an A4 buff envelope out of her bag and held it out towards him.
Lucas looked down at it and then up at her again. "I take it you understood the contents?"
She pulled a face. "It would have been a little hard to translate if I didn't know what it said!"
"That wasn't what I meant."
She shook her head. "I translate documents, it's what I do. I don't take any interest in their contents. If I did I'd soon find myself without any employment." She offered the envelope to him again. "Please, just take it."
"You seem awfully eager to be out of here." He picked up on her nervousness.
"Well some of us have better things to do than chewing the fat with a complete stranger."
"I'm not a stranger," Lucas told her quietly. "Perhaps we could go somewhere a little less public."
She shook her head more vigorously this time.
"I'm sorry Mr.... North, but I really do have somewhere else to be."
She indicated the envelope again, and once again he ignored it.
Finally seeming to lose her patience, she dropped the envelope and made to move away.
Lucas placed a hand on her arm to prevent her leaving, hoping that the action wouldn't attract too much attention. She attempted to pull away but his grip was firm and he leant in towards her. "I really do have to talk to you. You can choose the location but this conversation really does need to take place." He managed to meet her gaze for the first time. "I know from your presence here that you decoded the message in the document. You've come this far...why not see it through."
He felt her relax slightly.
"I don't have long."
"This won't take long...but we really should find somewhere quieter."
"Of course, of course." She paused and Lucas noticed the way that she scanned the crowds around them again.
"Jo was hoping to be the one to make the trip," he told her, "but she was called away on other business."
"What?" she asked distractedly, her mind already working out the best route away from their current location.
"Jo," he continued, "wanted to be here, said to say that....."
As he watched her eyes flitting around the crowd, he realised that she wasn't listening to a word he was saying, her mind obviously engaged in other thoughts.
"There's a coffee shop... about a block away; it's.. uh...it's a little quieter there." She shrugged her shoulders. "What am I saying, this is New York, there are coffee shops on pretty much every block...but I guess that you knew that." She added the final phrase almost apologetically.
Lucas smiled and shook his head. "Your knowledge of New York is going to be better than mine. You could say that I've been out of circulation for a while; the last time I was here the subway still took tokens."
"Right. Fine." She pushed away from the wall she'd been leaning against and led the way smoothly through the bustling crowds, heading purposefully for the exit on East 42nd. She didn't break pace until she reached the heavy exit doors and then turned right into the bitingly cold New York day. Lucas followed close behind her, noting the way that she dropped her head as she weaved her way through the mass of people intent on their last minute Christmas shopping, seemingly wanting to make as little contact with anyone as possible. He turned up his collar against the freezing blast of frozen air that buffeted his face and did his best to keep pace with her, if he lost her in the throng of shoppers he knew that he'd never stand a chance of finding her again.
Ten minutes later he was sat opposite her in a small Italian café. She had ignored the inviting signs of the major coffee house chains with their crowded interiors and had led him straight to this old café that was almost empty despite its central location. And now she sat nervously in silence, turning a mug of tea round and round on the plastic placemat in front of her, obviously wanting to ask him what he was doing there but seemingly unable to find her voice. After two years in the wilderness he was more than a little surprised by her silence.
"How have you been?" he broke the quiet and watched as her eyes flashed up to meet his briefly before returning to the slowly turning mug.
"Can't we just…skip the pleasantries?" she asked him; there was no trace of anger in her voice, just a desire to hear the news that he had for her. "I'm sure you have other things to do."
Wordlessly he opened up the bag that was at his feet and withdrew a buff coloured envelope, placing it flat on the table before sliding it across the surface towards her.
She regarded it suspiciously. "Do I want to know what's in there?"
He nodded. "It's the reason I was asked to come out here and make contact."
"How did you find me anyway?" There was definitely a note of accusation in her voice now, her unspoken question demanding to know how long they had had her watched for.
"It was a chance encounter...serendipity if you will."
She shot him a glance that told him that she didn't believe in such things.
He raised his hands in what he hoped she would read as a gesture of innocence. "You were spotted by an asset and he reported his sighting back to the Grid." Lucas neglected to add that all trusted assets had been tasked to keep their eyes peeled for her for the last few months. That it had taken them so long to find her spoke volumes about her ability to hide from the world.
He watched her hands as they continued to busy themselves with the mug; the constant turning of it not letting up for a second.
He tapped the envelope. "Don't you want to know why I've come all this way to see you?"
Her shoulders shrugged with the slightest of movements and her head dipped lower. She began to chew her bottom lip nervously as though she were afraid of what the envelope might contain.
Realising her fears, he pulled the envelope back across the table and slid a finger under the seal, tearing it open. He pulled a passport from amongst the paperwork and placed it back down upon the buff envelope, before pushing the package back towards her.
He watched as her eyes widened in surprise. She seemed transfixed by the maroon coloured passport but made no effort to pick it up.
"It is yours," he reassured her, hoping that she would understand what he meant.
She shook her head and let out a short laugh. "To say that I wasn't expecting that would be something of an understatement."
He noticed however that she still made no move to pick it up.
"It's ok," he told her gently. "I'm here to tell you, you can come home."
"Is it?" she queried, meeting his gaze fully for the first time and fixing him with a piercing look. "Is it ok? Just like that and it's all over…as though the last two years of my life never happened? Seems a little anti-climactic somehow."
He smiled wryly, understanding the disbelief and confusion that must be running through her mind. "It's never just like that," he told her sincerely. "But you have to start somewhere."
She gave him a thin smile and returned her attention to her drink; taking a mouthful of tea and pulling a face at the taste, obviously not impressed with the flavour.
An uncomfortable silence fell between the occupants of the table. The waitress approached, coffee pot in hand but Lucas waved her away, wanting to give the woman sitting opposite him plenty of time to let the information sink in without being distracted. She seemed not to comprehend the offer that was now on the table; he had just handed her her life back but that was a fact that seemed to have passed her by.
He was working out how to restart the conversation when the silence was abruptly broken by a blast of music from the CD player behind the counter. Lucas noted the way that she jumped at the sudden sound, tea spilling over the rim of the mug and dripping onto the table top. She reached quickly to pull a napkin from the dispenser but only succeeded in knocking the salt over. He heard the low curse from beneath her breath and leant forward, reaching past her shaking hands and pulling two white napkins free. He dabbed at the spillage and she mumbled her thanks.
"There are a few things I have to tell you," Lucas decided that he had to deal with the unpleasant part of the meeting straight away. He'd learnt from bitter experience how finding things out at a later date could be more painful. Her eyes drifted up to meet his briefly.
"Seeing as yours was a face that I didn't recognise, I was guessing that there had been a few personnel changes."
Lucas closed his eyes wished that there was an easier way to break the news to her.
"We lost Adam," he told her quietly, deciding that the best thing to do was to stick to the bare facts. He watched as her grip on the mug tightened and she began slowly to turn it again, her attention seemingly bound up in the liquid as it moved in slow swirls around the rim.
It was a simple question and asked so quietly that he nearly missed it.
"There was an attempt to disrupt Remembrance Sunday," he began to explain and then saw her nod.
"The car bomb," she supplied the detail. She raised her head and caught the quizzical expression on his face. "I still keep an eye on the news, I might not be able to be there but it doesn't mean that I cut myself off completely. Whenever there's an unnamed victim, part of me always wonders if... if it's someone I know...knew," she corrected herself sadly and Lucas wasn't sure if she was referring to all her old friends as being something to be considered in the past tense. He watched as, with shaking hands, she took another mouthful from the mug and grimaced. "They really don't understand how to make tea here, I mean it shouldn't be hard, teabag, hot water, dash of milk, not exactly a complicated combination of ingredients but somehow they never seem to get it right...."
She was rambling now, Lucas realised that she was desperately trying to find a way to fill the silence. Silence would mean that her mind would have to process the news that she'd just received; the longer she kept it at bay, the longer that Adam would be alive in her version of the world. He sat silently opposite her and waited for her monologue to finish.
"I'm sorry," he told her honestly as she finally subsided into silence. "I didn't want to be the bearer of bad news."
After a few moments in which neither of them spoke, she raised her head to meet his gaze.
"There's more, isn't there?"
Lucas shifted uncomfortably in his seat, recognising the fear in her voice
She let out a shaky breath and looked up towards the ceiling. "Just tell me."
He watched as she closed her eyes, screwing them tight so as not to allow the tears to fall. She wrapped her arms around herself and took a few steadying breaths as she tried to take in the news.
Lucas looked down at his own drink and wished that he hadn't accepted the job. These sorts of trips were always the most awkward, the most uncomfortable. He understood why he'd been tasked with it; they wanted someone from Section D to go, but not someone who had any emotional attachment to the person involved. He knew that he could walk away from the situation at the end of the day and not be fazed by it; he wasn't sure that the same would be true if Jo had accepted the job.
Bringing someone back into the fold was never easy, as he well knew. There were always those who made it and those who were never able to make peace with the lost time and return.
The pair of them sat in silence, the cheery sound of the Christmas songs and the clattering of plates from the kitchen at odds with the atmosphere that was growing between them. He knew that there were questions she wanted to ask; the sense of nervous expectation was palpable in the air.
"I heard that Ros was dead."
Her voice broke into Lucas's thoughts and he was suddenly on the alert. "Where did you hear that?"
She smiled at him wanly. "The Times... I... I keep an eye on the personal column...you know, just…just in case."
He felt a tug of guilt; a part of him realised that she'd been waiting to hear from them all this time, waiting patiently and trusting that someday they would send her news. He wanted to tell her that she'd just missed their messages, but he realised that she'd know straight away that he was lying.
"Ros was dead," Lucas explained with a wry smile, "But she's back now."
"Should have guessed that hell wouldn't want her," she remarked flatly; Lucas noting that she didn't ask him to explain the situation, just accepting what he said at face value.
He glanced at the clock on the wall; time wasn't on his side. He knew he'd have to push the meeting along if he was to stand a hope of getting to his next arranged rendezvous.
"Take the passport," he advised her.
She met his gaze for a fleeting moment and then returned her attention to the tea in front of her; turning the mug slowly, watching the liquid as it lapped gently against the sides.
"There is just the one small problem with all this," she pointed out. "As far as everyone is concerned, I'm dead, I, I think that… just perhaps, my turning up out of the blue might come as something of a shock to a few people…although I'm sure the Inland Revenue won't waste any time in hitting me for back taxes."
"We can sort all that out," Lucas tried to reassure her. He could see the way that she was starting to get more and more agitated at the prospect of getting her life back again.
"Can we?" she argued. "What are you going to do? Bring me back as my own identical twin!"
She glared at him for a few moments. "Do you want to be the one who tries to explain things to my mother?" She sat back in her chair and folded her arms. "She thinks I'm dead…. You think that after all this time I can just stroll back into the family home and say 'Hi Mum, I'm back. Sorry that the past two years have been a lie, but everything's fine now, only I can't tell you what really happened, even if I wanted to'." She took a deep breath. "She'll have grieved and she'll have moved on, I can't put her through anymore; I won't put her through anymore."
Lucas met her eyes; they were wide and brimming with unshed tears. He wished that there was an easier way to break the next piece of news. She stared at him for a few seconds before the realisation hit; he could feel the silent pleading in the air, the unspoken demand that he tell her that everything was going to be fine.
"I'm sorry," he told her as gently as he could.
Those two words were enough and he watched as her eyes dropped to her hands, which were now clasped nervously together on the table.
She forced down the tears that were starting to prick at the corner of her eyes and struggled to retain control. "How?"
Lucas placed his palms flat on the table. "I don't think that this is the right time…" he began but she cut him short.
"You're sitting here and you're telling me that my mother's dead, but you don't think that this is the right time for you to talk about it?" her tone was shrill, not caring that she was now attracting the attention of everyone in the room. Her whole frame was shaking with emotion; trying to come to terms with the earth-shattering news that she'd just received. She pushed the chair away from the table and reached behind her for her coat. "I can't do this, I, I can't do any of this. Not now."
She let out a laugh, which threatened to turn into a sob.
"I've not heard anyone call me that in a bloody long time," she confessed, "I'm not sure just who she is anymore."
"You're still you…inside."
"Am I?" she questioned angrily. "I'm not sure I know anymore."
"I'm not saying that it's going to be easy…."
"Good, good. I'm glad that's not what you're saying. I'm glad that you're not expecting me to just sit here and accept everything that you're telling me without batting an eyelid." She let out a shaky breath and forced herself to keep things together. "I don't know if I can go back, not now, I don't know if I'll ever want to go back. "
"I know that this is all hard to take…"
"Hard to take? Hard to take?" She let out a long breath. "Sometimes I wonder if you people know what you sound like!"
In one fluid action she rose to her feet and headed for the door, pulling her coat around her shoulders; the passport remaining untouched on the table.
Lucas swore beneath his breath and made to follow her, picking up the passport and dropping a ten dollar bill onto the table. Grabbing his bag he raced from the cafe and out onto the crowded sidewalk. He scanned the faces around him, trying to spot Ruth, but she was nowhere to be seen. He tried to stand still and scan the area properly but the heaving throng of shoppers were not prepared to let one individual block their way. He found himself jostled and pushed first one way and then another.
He felt a tug on his arm, but when he turned his head he saw that the hand belonged to a volunteer from the Salvation Army who was ringing a small hand bell for all she was worth and entreating everyone to spare a few coins. The ringing of the bell was incessant and doing battle with the Christmas songs that were blaring out from the store next to her. Lucas pulled away from her and tried to block out all the sounds and focus on the task in hand. He searched the faces again in desperation, hoping to spot her... but she was gone, swallowed up by the city and he knew that he didn't stand a chance of being able to find her again.