Chapter One: The Watchmaker
The shop was not well lit. Of the six over-head lights in the patron area, only four were working, and of the four, two gave only inconsistent, half hearted flickers. Dust swirled haphazardly in the air—the place hadn't been cleaned in a long time—and the chaotic ticking of a hundred clocks filled the air.
The shop owner stood behind a long wooden counter. The surface was scarred and covered in watch faces and cogs. He seemed intent on the project at hand, a battered old pocket watch he had disassembled and was peering at through magnifying glasses. The pieces were small and intricate, sitting together just the way they were supposed to. Still, they did not run.
Sighing, the man bent down, tweezers in hand as he carefully removed the ratchot and barrel bridge. Neither seemed to be damaged, in fact, it looked as if they'd both been replaced recently. Setting them aside he continued on. He continued his work, removing each miniscule piece and setting them in a particular pattern across his work space, the innermost pieces closest to his hands. It didn't take him long to work. He found the broken bit easily and went into the back, retrieving a spare of the same make and sliding it effortlessly into place. His eyes strained as he worked, his jaw clenched tight.
When he was finished, the watchmaker set the refurbished time-piece aside and sat on the stool to his left, letting his head fall forward and breathing deeply. He was content at his work, listening to the clocks on the walls tick the minutes by in sync. He lost track of time there, letting the seconds pace his heart-beat and his mind wander. It was a special form of meditation.
The bell over the shop's door interrupted his repose.
"Gabriel," the woman in the doorway nodded as the door swung shut behind her. He looked up, half-way startled as he met her gaze and tilted his head in response.
"Hello, Claire," he said.
The dust particles swirled around her as she moved, flashing in the light that filtered through the window shades and landing on her skin. She tried to bat them away as she squinted, making her way forward and to the counter where she leant over and rested her weight on her elbows, staring him right in the face.
"Where's Noah?" Gabriel asked, head still tilted to the side and meeting her green eyes with his brown.
"In the car. I only came to pick up his blanket," she said, tapping her fingers along the counter in impatience.
"You left a four year old in a car by himself?" he didn't raise his voice, but the disapproval was evident.
"No, Gabriel," Claire sighed, "He's there with Toby."
Gabriel sneered. "That's a relief."
"I just came for the blanket. He was having trouble sleeping without it."
"If you had waited for me get his things together before taking him, maybe he would have had it last night," Gabriel said. He was keeping his voice low, but the provocation was clear.
"Don't start this again," she said.
"I don't know what you mean."
He watched as she sighed, rubbing her temple and squeezing her eyes shut tight.
"Just get me the god-damned blanket," she ordered. He raised one less than amused eyebrow at her demand. "Please," she added.
"It's not here," Gabriel responded, motioning around the dusty shop, "If you hadn't noticed, I'm at work." Claire grit her teeth as Gabriel rose, grabbing his jacket from the peg behind him and checking his pocket for the keys. "But it's about lunch time. If you let Noah ride with me, we can go get his blanket and be back here by one."
Claire's gaze hardened as she stared up at him. She crossed her arms beneath her chest, which had definitely filled out since their first meeting. He mused over how much had changed since Noah's birth. Claire's breasts, their marriage, his life.
"That isn't an option," she said, bringing him back to the present, "You know what the judge said."
Gabriel sneered. The judge. Daft bint.
"Yeah, something along the lines of 'Fuck you, Mr. Gray.'"
Claire scoffed. "You get him every other weekend Gabriel, any other time is up to me."
"And you don't feel inclined to give me any," he said, careful to keep his tone modulated. Displays of temper weren't likely to result in additional time spent with his son.
Claire chose not to respond and silence reigned in the shop. Finally, Gabriel spoke.
"It's just an hour, Claire. I'll take him to my place, feed him, grab his blanket and have him back to you in no time," he said, trying to sound as persuasive as possible.
She shook her head stubbornly. Gabriel Growled.
"Fine, you explain to him that he's got to learn to sleep without his fucking security blanket because his mother doesn't trust his father to feed him lunch," he snapped, rounding the counter and striding past her towards the shop door. He heard her inhale sharply as he moved, and finally snap.
"Christ," she muttered before jogging after him and grabbing his arm. He stopped and let her turn him around. "You're a dick, do you know that Gabriel?" she asked.
He tried not to smirk, instead keeping his gaze steely.
"I'll give you the hour, but supervised," she said, trying to keep her voice down.
"Unacceptable," he said, voice flat.
She huffed, crossing her arms and staring irately up at him. He supposed it was one of his special talents, pissing her off in less than two minutes.
"What do you want, Gabriel," she said finally, "This is how things are. You agreed in court. You don't get to change the rules to your liking."
He scowled. "I agreed because it was the only way I could see my son," he said, "Not because I thought it was fair."
"Fair, unfair, it doesn't matter," Claire said, "its how things are. Once you demonstrate to me and to the judge that you've turned things around, then maybe we can talk more time. Until then, this is my decision to make."
Gabriel clenched his fist, turning his back on her and walking over to lean against the window. He could see out of the wooded slats covering them. She was driving the Benz today, her newest boyfriend sat in the passenger's seat tapping his fingers across the dash. Gabriel felt the electricity running along his palms.
Behind him, Claire laughed. "And that's why the Judge thought it would be better this way. After all these years you still haven't learned to curb your temper."
He stiffened, peering back at her with hard eyes. "I have never hurt either of you before," he hissed, voice low and deadly, "No matter how sorely you've tempted me over the past two years."
Her spine stiffened in response. "But you could," she said, "Quite easily. The only reason you're not behind bars right now is because of the part you played in agency, and now you're not even doing that. More than enough people have seen what you can do to this world, and every time you lose your temper I see more clearly too," her voice had grown soft and she sounded almost tender as she paused. "I know you're not evil, Gabriel. I'm just not convinced you're in complete control of yourself anymore… and I'm not willing to give you more time with Noah until you are."
He grit his teeth, staring over her shoulder at the ticking clock on the wall. Neither of them spoke as he stared, watching the hands move. There was something painful in his eyes.
"I'm more in control of myself than I ever was as part of that agency," he said finally, "and I will not go back to it, no matter how many hints you people drop."
Claire sighed, rubbing her temple and squeezing her eyes shut tight.
"So, am I taking Noah for lunch or not? You're welcome to follow with your boy-friend and sit outside of the apartment building if it'll make you more comfortable."
Claire bit her lip, looking heavenward and rolling her eyes. "Fine," she muttered. "But you only get 40 minutes of alone time. I have a conference at 1:30 and Noah has to be at Emma's by 1:00."
"I could—" Gabriel began, but Claire cut him off.
"Don't test me," she said, walking past him and out of the shop onto the sidewalk. Gabriel smiled and followed her.
It was bright outside. The sun half blinded him as he squinted and turned around to lock the shop door. He waited for a few more seconds before turning back to the street. His piece-of-shit car was parked in front of hers on the street, and it was probably baking in the heat.
"I'll drive him to your place," Claire said abruptly, "It's easier than moving his seat around." Gabriel just nodded, unlocking the driver's side and starting the car. It only took five minutes to drive from the shop to his apartment building. It was one of the nicer places in the DC area, a three bedroom in Annandale. He had bought it in cash just after the divorce had been finalized, glad that at least one good thing had come from his old job.
There was parking on the street, so both cars pulled in, parallel parking in tiny spaces with ease. Gabriel was the first to arrive, so he locked the car and went to help Claire unload the boy.
He was smiling, that was the first thing Gabriel noticed. Noah was grinning that toothy grin from ear to ear as his mother unbuckled him and swung him from his booster seat to the sidewalk. Gabriel was always stunned by what a beautiful child he was. Light brown hair and wide, dark eyes with a cupids bow mouth, he was perfect, and always happy.
"Hey there, buddy," he said, picking the boy up and lifting him into his arms for a hug. The child returned it with all the enthusiasm of a four year old, giggling as Gabriel began to spin him.
"Hi Daddy," he said finally when the world grew still and he was able to wrap his arms around his father's neck. "I left my blanket at your house."
"Yeah, Mommy told me," Gabriel said, "How about we go up and eat some ramen? You can grab your blanket on the way out." Noah agreed whole heartedly, waving to Claire as Gabriel turned his back and walked them towards the apartment.
"Forty minutes, Gabriel," Claire called from beside the Benz.
He didn't respond, choosing to let his son chatter happily in his ear instead.
A/N: Welcome to our newest tale, set years after Brave New World and inspired by the episode in which Gabriel had a son named Noah in the future. The theory is, some things are meant to be in any time-line.
Chuck and I decided to post this now, as a reward for being so patient eith us lately. We're eleven chapters ahead on this beauty right now, and I must say I am loving the premise. It's one of our first times trying out third person, so forgive us if it feels new. We would love to hear any thoughts or comments you might have. Always...
--Mel and Chuck