Disclaimer: The Champions and characters are the property of ITC Carlton. This fan fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no profit will be made from it. Thanks to Fiction2 for being my beta.
Craig Stirling looked out of the window as the Welsh countryside sped by. He'd never been to north Wales, it really was quite stunning and they were having surprisingly good weather. The train slowed to a stop at another unpronounceable station. He'd given up a while back when Sharron had explained how to pronounce Abergynolwyn. How the heck did that work? Next to him she stirred.
"Are we there yet?" she asked.
"Nope, a while yet. This isn't exactly a fast train."
Sharron watched a man selling papers and cigarettes on the platform and then turned to Craig as they pulled out of the station.
"Why do you think Richard didn't tell us where he was going?" she asked.
"Richard? Well, he's always been a bit like that. He likes to go off on his own, do things for himself."
"Like he's got something to prove?"
"Er, well I've never really thought about it."
"It's just the impression I get," she added.
"Well, you're almost as bad."
"Thanks, Craig." She gave him a withering look. He smiled and looked back out of the window.
The fact was, she was angry with Richard. She wasn't sure what he'd been like before Tibet but, since working with him, she'd noticed an alarming tendency of his to put himself in unnecessarily dangerous situations. Whether this was due to a misplaced feeling of invincibility or a more deep-seated problem she didn't know, but she was beginning to feel he needed reminding of his mortality before they all regretted it. She was pretty certain that Craig felt the same way as she did.
Sharron looked over at her travelling companion. He was a hard man to read but, thanks to their mental link, she was learning more about him all the time. He wasn't always sure of what he was doing and was even scared sometimes. Right now she knew he was worried but he didn't show it. Richard, on the other hand, would have shown it despite his best efforts to maintain a stiff upper lip. He was all too easy to read sometimes. It was the reason she'd only once been able to get him to play poker with her.
Looking over she noticed Craig smiling to himself.
"What?" Sharron asked.
Craig got an envelope out of his pocket and gave it to Sharron.
"I was just thinking that when we get there we might find out he's actually in Dublin. Man, he can be an idiot sometimes."
Sharron looked at the envelope in her hand. It had been found in Richard's apartment. It was this that had led Nemesis to discover his whereabouts. Whether Richard had left it behind by accident, or in case he needed a little back up, was debatable. 'Probably the former', she thought, 'knowing him'. It had a return address on the back.
"So, who is Frank Nicholls?" she asked.
"A reporter? I didn't think Richard liked reporters."
"I'm not sure he does."
"Then why take off after this one?"
"He's known him some time, I think," Craig paused, "he's only mentioned him once. We needed some information on a politician a while back and the guy helped us out."
"How did they meet?"
"In The Congo."
"What was Richard doing in The Congo?"
"I don't know. It was before my time."
"Still a bit odd though, shooting off after him."
"Sure, but then Richard's a bit odd so I don't know why you're surprised."
Sharron smiled slightly. "You know I didn't think you two got along when we first met."
"You seemed a little tetchy, well at least Richard did."
"Oh? No, you see we'd been sharing a room for two weeks, I think he was going a little insane. I know he was driving me crazy, listening to his radio in the middle of the night."
"Sure, I imagine it was all his fault," she teased.
"Well, maybe not," he conceded. "You see Richard gets very annoyed when I move his stuff."
"Then why do you move his stuff?"
Craig looked at her as if the answer was patently obvious.
"Because Richard gets very annoyed when I move his stuff," he repeated with a sly smile.
"You're mean, you know that?"
"Well, I had to keep myself amused. We didn't have much to do, waiting for you to show up."
Sharron laughed quietly. She had to admit that Richard was very funny when he got wound up about something.
"Tell you what," Craig added, "I'll stop moving his stuff when he volunteers to buy a round of drinks."
"Fair enough," Sharron replied with a smile.
"You see," Craig continued, "I always had to share a room so it doesn't bother me, but Richard likes his personal space."
"But he was at boarding school."
"Sure, but he said he hated it; at least the part where he had to share a room with nineteen other boys. It's hardly surprising he's a bit weird, is it?"
"Hey, I went to boarding school."
"Really? Well, 'nuff said."
Sharron elbowed him, which only made Craig laugh.
He continued. "I'm sorry, but the whole concept is a bit strange, isn't it? Packing your kids off for most of the year. Do English parents not like their children?"
"It's tradition. My mother went to Roedean so I had to go."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Actually I did. It got me away from my three brothers who were also very annoying," she gave Craig a meaningful look, "and it wasn't far from home so I saw my parents quite a lot. They were really quite fond of me," she added with a smile.
"I bet they were."
"Anyway, this doesn't answer my question; what the heck is wrong with Richard?"
"Where do you want me to start?"
Sharron decided to give up. Whilst Craig had opened up somewhat recently he still wasn't any good at this sort of conversation. She closed her eyes and settled into her seat. Soon enough they'd know what was going on. She just had to hope they'd get there in time.
Craig watched her dozing for a moment before going back to staring out of the window.
"So, very satisfactorily wound up I'd say," Tremayne concluded.
"Thank you sir," Craig replied.
"It's a good thing they never managed to revive Patterson or we'd all have been in a lot of trouble," Richard added.
Tremayne shot him a brief and somewhat irritated look. Richard shut up.
"Will that be all?" Craig asked.
"Yes, yes. Off you go," Tremayne replied glancing briefly at Craig and Sharron. As he dismissed them he pressed the button on his desk to unlock the door.
"Ah Richard, I'd like a word," he added, as they turned to leave.
Tremayne saw Craig and Sharron give their friend a quick look before they left. Richard stayed where he was, shifting slightly from one foot to the other. Tremayne waited until the door slid shut. Then he waited some more.
Where to start?
Richard had walked into his office for the first time eight years before. He'd just turned twenty-three and looked about half that age. He came with a fearsome reputation for code breaking and it was obvious immediately that he was a bright lad, but Tremayne had reservations because of his inexperience in the field. However, Richard had told him that if he just wanted him to sit around all day breaking codes then he might as well stay with the UN, and Tremayne had relented.
He had assigned him to work with Olivier Gaspard, a very experienced Belgian operative with a knack for spotting potential. After their first few missions together he had asked Olivier to give his opinion of the Englishman, knowing that he did not give compliments easily. Olivier had sat silent for a moment; then he'd leant forward and said 'He's tougher than he looks' and that had been enough for Tremayne.
Over the years Richard had certainly proved the Belgian right but, like many men of high intelligence, he sometimes had a remarkable lack of common sense and, right now, Tremayne would rather like to hit the young man's head against a wall. Not for the first time.
He took a deep breath.
"Now, I let the whole 'Dublin' affair slide," he began, "but I'm beginning to think that was a mistake. I mean, how many times are you going to do this, Barrett? How many times are you going to go off without telling anybody and end up almost dead? Hmm? Do you have a death wish, is that it?"
He glared at Richard as the young man looked down at his desk.
Richard looked up. "No, sir," he replied, a tone of defiance in his voice.
"Well what is it then? I mean, you were bad enough before but recently you seem hell bent on getting yourself into the most ridiculous situations, mostly self inflicted, and you've just been damned lucky so far. At some point that luck is going to run out, you do know that don't you?"
Richard said nothing, looking rather like a schoolboy standing in front of the headmaster's desk. Under other circumstances it would have made Tremayne want to laugh.
Instead he continued. "Australia was stupid, London beyond comprehension and now you rifle through my files, run off to north Wales, get yourself shot at, knocked out and stuffed in a freezer. It was just fortunate Craig and Sharron turned up to save your bacon."
"I was doing all right," Richard mumbled.
"What was that, Barrett?"
Tremayne sighed. He'd known Richard twice as long as Craig and yet still he found the man baffling. Craig was straightforward. They had first met three years before; the American had been cool, calm and oozing self-confidence. Sure he made mistakes, everyone did, but he had a lot more sense than Richard. So he was a little eager to sort things out with his fists but Tremayne understood that; he'd been rather like that himself as a young man. And he was a born leader. Still, it was rather fortunate that Richard was as easy going as he was or they'd never be able to work together. Craig had rubbed a few people up the wrong way before Tremayne finally teamed him up with Barrett.
Tremayne rubbed his eyes. "What I'm amazed at is that you didn't even tell Craig or Sharron." He raised an eyebrow at Richard, interested in his reaction to that.
Richard said nothing for a moment.
"I don't tell them everything," Richard said, defensively.
"Why would I?"
Tremayne watched closely as Richard rubbed the side of his mouth, a tell tale sign he was uncomfortable with this particular line of questioning. It really was remarkable that he was so good at undercover work when he found it so damned difficult to lie in everyday life. 'Another contradiction,' he thought. But that was Richard. He never liked to be left out of an operation and yet was the first to volunteer for a solo mission. He was a man who liked rules and yet broke them with regularity. He had a logical, scientific mind with an overactive imagination. And, while he was slow to start a fight, he sure finished them.
Tremayne spent half his time wishing he'd take things more seriously and the other half wanting him to lighten up. Right now Richard looked as if somebody had just run over his pet rabbit.
"It wasn't really any of their business," Richard said eventually.
"Well, it wasn't a Nemesis operation."
"Ah, so you won't be putting in for expenses then?"
Richard half smiled at that.
"Look," Tremayne continued, "I understand you felt you owed Frank Nicholls but I just want you to realize that you can't do this. You're not twenty-three now Richard."
"Well, you don't have to worry about Frank any more."
"I know, I'm sorry about that."
Richard half shrugged. "It's not like I knew him that well."
"Well enough it would seem."
Richard stared out of the window behind Tremayne at the city.
"I was going to put this on your record but it seems you haven't actually broken any Nemesis rules so I'd have to put it down under the category of being bloody stupid."
Richard looked like he wanted to say something about that and then thought better of it. One thing Tremayne knew was that Richard hated being called stupid.
"Oh, get out of here, Richard."
"Thank you, sir."
"I'd say don't do it again but what's the bloody point?"
Richard couldn't repress a small smile as he turned and left the office. Outside he passed Mandy, Tremayne's secretary.
"So you're the reason Tremayne's in a foul mood."
"He was mumbling about killing you yesterday."
"I see you survived."
"Just about. Still, I think I could take him." Richard flashed her a smile, cheering up a bit. He rather liked Mandy although she showed no indications of liking him back.
"Lucky for us. Apparently you'll be the death of him."
"And you're a bit of an idiot."
"Well I'm glad we're clear on that," he replied, his mood darkening again.
"Cheer up Richard, I don't think you're an idiot."
"Oh, hello Sharron," Mandy called out.
Richard looked over his shoulder. Bloody hell, just when he thought he might be getting somewhere.
"Have you got a minute?" Sharron asked.
From her light tone Richard could almost have thought it was a question. From the feelings that were emanating from her he realised it wasn't. He gave Mandy a quick smile before following Sharron down the corridor.
She had been very quiet on the trip back from Wales. Craig had spent the journey teasing him about the latest situation he'd landed himself in and Richard had taken it in good humour, but he hadn't failed to notice Sharron's mood. He'd rather hoped that the two of them would drop the subject after the meeting with Tremayne but it seemed his luck had run out.
Without saying a word Sharron turned left and then pushed open the door to the Common Room. Inside, two other agents were having a coffee and a chat. When they looked up at Sharron their expressions changed immediately and they both suddenly found they needed to be somewhere else. Hastily they made their exit, one of them raising an enquiring eyebrow at Richard on his way out. He shrugged back as Sharron walked to the other side of the now empty room. Richard decided silence was the best policy.
He saw her take a deep breath.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you!" Sharron shot out. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? Is that it? Or is this just part of the whole 'I've got to prove how big and tough I am' issue that you've got going on?"
Richard wanted to respond to that but Sharron didn't pause to draw breath.
"Because frankly I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you running off on your own, almost getting yourself killed and then thinking it's all so bloody funny. Because it's not. And just because Craig doesn't call you on it don't start thinking he's not just as mad at you as I am."
"Because you're always doing this and I've had it with smiling and pretending it doesn't matter. You can't just go off like that, without telling me, without telling Craig. It's selfish and it's stupid and you're bloody well not going to do it again."
She stood there, hands on hips, glaring at him. Finally he had a chance to defend himself. He didn't like being told what to do and he particularly objected to her poking her nose into his private life.
"Sharron, just because we've got this connection doesn't mean I have to tell you everything," he retorted.
"I do have my own life, you know."
"Well, that's just fine if you're off to visit your grandmother but then she's unlikely to fire shots at you and shove you in a freezer."
"You obviously haven't met my grandmother."
"Don't do that," she snapped, "don't try to make a joke out of this!"
Richard shut up.
"I mean, why?" she continued, angrier than ever. "What was he to you?"
"It's complicated," he replied defensively.
"Everything's complicated with you!" she shot back.
"But, I," Richard stuttered, "it's just stuff, from a long time ago." He tried to think of how to explain, eventually giving up.
Sharron watched him as he struggled for words. Slowly it dawned on her what she'd just said and it seemed to take the wind out of her sails.
"I'm sorry he's dead," she said quietly.
Richard said nothing.
"But it could so easily have been you too," she continued. "You don't know how it feels. I do, Craig does. You died in Australia and I can't even describe how that felt. Don't you get it?"
Suddenly he did. He looked down at the carpet, unable to hold her gaze anymore. She obviously wanted a response but he didn't know what to say. He knew from experience that nothing he said would be right so he retreated into silence.
"I'm sorry." He knew it was lame. He meant it, he really did and he could only hope she felt that.
Seemingly defeated she slumped down into a nearby chair. She didn't seem angry any more, she seemed sad and Richard didn't know what to say to make it better. The silence dragged on as he desperately tried to find the words.
Eventually Sharron spoke, but when she did so it was in a barely audible whisper.
"It's just, I've already lost someone in my life who I cared for, more than...than anyone. I don't think I could go through that again."
Richard stood in stunned silence. Sharron never talked about this and he would never have thought that he could have affected her this much. Now he was feeling really bad. She looked more vulnerable than he had ever seen her before and it was all his fault.
"Obviously it's not the same but," she struggled to find a way to express herself, "well, maybe it is? I don't know. It's just, if I lost you, or Craig..." her voiced trailed away.
He didn't know what to say. He hadn't thought about it like that. He hadn't realised the full implications of being bound to two other people. Neither Craig nor Sharron had talked about how they'd felt when he'd been bitten by that snake. He hadn't thought about it much himself, mainly because it disturbed him when he did. He'd never been so scared in his life; lying there, unable to move, watching the sky turn to grey, then black. Feeling his heartbeat slow and finally stop. He hadn't considered that Sharron and Craig had felt it too. He shook the thought away. He needed to do something.
"Do you want a cup of tea?" It was out of his mouth before he realised how ridiculous that sounded.
Sharron laughed quietly and looked up.
"Actually, I could do with something stronger. Café Blanche?"
"Sure," he replied as she got up and walked over to him. "I'm sorry," he added, "I really am."
"I know," she put a hand on his arm, "Craig says you've always been like this, that you'll never change. All I'm asking is that you try."
He nodded in reply.
"And now you're going to buy me a very large drink."
"Come on then."
She turned and he followed, feeling guilty as hell but hoping that, maybe, he'd been forgiven.