There was a man watching them.
Gwen was sure of it. She could see him, tall and dark-haired, watching from just around the corner. Sometimes, when she turned her head quickly enough, she could catch a glimpse of his coat as he darted out of her line of vision. Mummy never saw him, but then Mummy couldn't hear like Gwen could.
They didn't leave the house often, and when they did, Gwen wasn't allowed to play with other children much. Mummy didn't say so, but Gwen knew that she was afraid that they'd catch sight of her teeth. Gwen hated her teeth. They were the reason they stayed so close to home, why Mummy was so jumpy, why they couldn't go to church. Gwen knew the teeth made her different, but she didn't understand why it meant she couldn't go to church. She had asked Mummy once, but it had made her angry- one of the few times she'd ever seen Mummy angry. Later, she'd calmed down and explained that the church wanted to take Gwen away, and make her take a lot of vaccines. Gwen wanted to stay with Mummy, and she hated vaccines, so she didn't ask to go to church again. But it gave her an idea.
"Is that why the man follows us?"
Her mother's breath hitched sharply. "What man?"
Gwen explained about the dark-haired man she'd spotted trailing them. Once, she'd caught him smiling as he watched her play, but he'd vanished an instant later, leaving Gwen to wonder if she'd seen him at all. As she finished explaining, she though she saw a flash of something in her mother's eyes, but it was gone too quickly to tell. Mummy smiled as she smoothed Gwen's hair down. "Sweetheart, know you miss having people to play with . . . are you sure you didn't just imagine this?"
"No!" Gwen was hurt; Mummy usually believed her when she saw or heard things other people didn't."He's there Mummy, I swear! I see him all the time, but he runs away before I can talk to him-"
"Gwen!" Mummy's lips went white. "You never, ever talk to strangers! They could be dangerous!"
"But he isn't dangerous Mummy, I'm sure of it. And he's not a stranger- I've seen him loads of times-" She stopped, frightened by the look on her mother's face.
"Gwen." Mumm's voice wasn't angry, but Gwen hung her head all the same.
"Please don't talk to strangers, Gwen."
She didn't bring the subject up again. The image of her mother's frightened face was imprinted on her brain far too strongly for her to try. But the most puzzling thing- though not puzzling enough to risk asking about- was that Gwen was somehow certain that the worry on her mother's face had not been for her.
The next time Gwen saw the man, they were at the playground. Bored of trying to swing all the way around- Mummy wouldn't let her, anyway- Gwen was absently drawing patterns in the dirt with the toe of her boot. Mummy was leaning against the swingset, apparently lost in thought. Gwen glanced up and saw him standing across the park, partially obscured by a tree. He too was gazing off into empty air. Quietly, carefully- Gwen didn't want to scare him away again- she reached behind her and tugged on her mother's sleeve. "Mummy, look."
She heard her mother gasp at precisely the same moment as the man's head snapped up. He stood rooted to the spot for a moment, then turned on his heel and vanished between two buildings.
Gwen took her mother's hand in her own. Mummy was shaking. "Can we go home, Mummy?"
Her mother tore her eyes away from the spot where the man had been standing. "Yes. Yes, let's do that."
Mummy put Gwen to bed early that night. Not interested in sleep, she tiptoed out to the living room, and watched as her mother sat on the couch, gazing off into space. Eventually- and it was a good thing, because Gwen's legs were getting sore from her sitting on them- she got up, and went over to the drawer where Gwen knew she kept the gun she'd used back when she worked for the police. She tucked the gun under one of the couch cushions, laid down on the couch, and pulled an blanket over herself. After five minutes of waiting to see if she would do anything else, Gwen gave up and went back to bed.
She was awakened later by the soft- almost inaudible- sound of footsteps on the fire escape outside the window. She slid out of bed, and crept out to the living room to wake Mummy up. Reaching the partition that divided the living room from the hallway, she stuffed a fist in her mouth to muffle a gasp, and ducked behind the wall.
A man- the man, the one from the park- was standing in the living room. Mummy was awake, and standing a foot away from him, shaking slightly.
"You-" Mummy seemed at a loss for words. After several failed attempts to say something, she finally blurted out, "Where have you been?"
"Jamestown, mostly." He tilted his head slightly, as if appraising her. "The Brotherhood is angered with me."
"I gathered that." Mummy said faintly, "Given that there's a price on your head and you're given out to be the one responsible for the plague."
"You've been worried."
"Of course I've been worried!" Gwen recognized Mummy's tone of voice; it was the same one she used after Gwen did something like run out in front of a car, or get lost in a crowd. Anger mixed with relief. "Reports every other day on the radio about how you've been seen all over the country, stories about bodies that might be you found in some alley in the slums-"
Her voice stopped abruptly, and Gwen, who had been hiding behind the wall, poked her head cautiously around the corner. The man was standing much closer to Mummy now, and his hand was on the side of her face.
"Silus . . ." Mummy said faintly.
"I'm sorry." the man- Silus?- said quietly. "But you must understand why."
"Why didn't you contact us? If I'd known you were there-"
"If I had contacted you-" His other hand was on her face now as well, and Gwen was starting to get the idea that she shouldn't be watching this. "-then anyone who might be following me would have known that we were connected somehow. You thought the same- I assume that gun under your pillow isn't because you think I'm a threat?"
Mummy made a soft assenting noise. Deciding that she had heard enough, Gwen stood and turned to go back to her room, glancing back over her shoulder as she did so.
Mummy and Silus were pressed together, almost indistinguishable from each other, silhouetted in the moonlight from the window. Gwen had seen this before, women and men in back alleyways, grunting and groping at each other, but that had always seemed dirty, shameful. Something she looked away from, ashamed. This was different- just as private, but natural. Beautiful.
Gwen smiled to herself as she went back to bed.