A/N: Hello again, here I am with a new story which just wouldn't leave me alone while I am plotting another longer one. I hope you enjoy it.
Many thanks go, once again, to Shadowsamurai83 for the beta and encouragement
Title: In the Shadows
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Just Gerald, if he lets me.
Summary: He watches from the shadows.
In the Shadows
He notices that the shadows have become longer. It shows how long he has stood here under the tree. In the park. He stands and watches.
And him, he guesses.
She sits in a wheelchair, bundled up against any chill, even though it is almost oppressively hot. The city is experiencing a heat wave, but she is sitting there, fully dressed underneath a terrycloth robe. She sits quietly most of the time, a book on her lap and reading glasses on her nose. She isn't reading, though, he notices that.
She hasn't read for at least half an hour, though he couldn't say for sure. He has lost his sense of time while standing here and watching her.
The man who sits on the bench beside her is only marginally of interest, though in a way that isn't true either.
He stands here underneath the tree watching the couple and wonders what the deal is with them. They've been talking quietly for a while now, the man solicitously attempting to cheer his companion up and succeeding - though probably not in the way he intends to. She laughs, yes, but it seems more in amusement of her companion than at his jokes.
It's a companionable situation, but there is tension there, the physical touches pronounced in their rareness. It is as if they avoid touching each other, for fear of what a touch could mean.
Of course, he knows the rumours about those two, those have gone around for years. When he started, there were rumours already, but he didn't pay attention. It didn't matter then. But that has changed; it matters now because now he knows who this woman is.
He didn't expect her to be this, somehow expected somebody whose looks knock you out on first sight. She isn't that at all, though he can imagine that she must have been pretty when she was young. Of course, her condition doesn't really stand for great physical beauty, but somehow he is disappointed. He expected something...more.
A sound carries across the expanse of the park and he can't help but perk up and take notice. The woman laughs, really this time, and it is as if the world has become just that bit brighter. Maybe that's it, he thinks, that's what made her so irresistible.
He likes to think that there was some kind of 'magic' force at work that made it impossible to say no all those years ago. It's a childish hope and he knew that before he came here. There is nothing really conclusive in all the hints he has spent years to gather, but what he found out, in the notes and the unfinished sentences of old mates, gives him enough to be certain. She was one of them. The last one. Possibly the one.
If that were so, he doesn't know what he'd do. It would make things less sordid, but at the same time he'd be glad his mother wouldn't have to find out. His mother wouldn't ever find anything out any more; her death two years ago saw to that.
Maybe that was the trigger for his need to find out the truth.
When you grow up in memory of a dead hero, there's little you can do to escape the shadow of that hero. As a child, he wholeheartedly believed when his mother told him, "Gerald, your father was a hero." His hero worship brought him into the force. He had wanted to be as good as his hero. At least that.
The awakening was slow, but it was rude.
Raised eyebrows, whispers, the sceptical looks.
He has taken to introduce himself just with his name. It's inconspicuous enough, the family name fairly common so that the connection isn't made so easily.
Transfers were denied twice, to two different branches. He isn't trusted, based on his familial connections. That made him angry at first, the statue of his dead hero about to topple from its pedestal. But the job has advantages and so he has spent the better part of two years gathering information.
The result destroys the hero well and truly. Bent, maybe; crooked, clearly. Definitely not the white knight his mother made him to be.
For a moment he focuses on the couple again, wondering if they know how much of his childhood was a lie. And Gerald wonders if they'd tell him, should he ask.
They touch again, he notes, their hands entwined as they lean close to each other. It's only to whisper, but the woman laughs again for the whole park to hear. She turns heads with that and the man next to her looks as if he's about to worship the ground she walks,... well, sits on. Are they saying what they mean? What they want to say? Or is theirs a secret, one they keep even from each other?
Does that man know who, no, what she is? What she did?
Will that change his opinion of her?
It was a very long time ago and if he showed himself now it would be like waking up old ghosts, but he's alive and here and he wants, needs, to know.
The man is solicitous again, draping the robe carefully over the woman's legs. She shakes her head at this behaviour, but there is affection in her voice and her posture as she speaks. They don't stop touching now, the picture they present incredibly intimate.
He swallows, wonders if his parents had behaved like this given the chance. Somehow he doubts it. His father wasn't the man for that. Live fast, die young was his motto. Holding a sick woman's hand on a hot afternoon in a hospital park wouldn't have been his thing.
She wasn't the only one, he knows that, and averts his eyes for a moment. When he looks again, the man is kissing the woman's hand. It's a gesture of infinite tenderness and he wonders if they are both crying.
Seeing this, it seems so impossible that this woman would have willingly taken another woman's husband to her bed. She doesn't look sleazy or callous. But she doesn't look nave enough to not have known either.
His mind is in disarray, so many different things that are thrown together and yet don't make sense. He didn't know where his search would take him when he began, but this he didn't expect. He doesn't even know what he expected from coming here today.
The original intention was to come and confront her. Ask her directly, "Were you my father's mistress?" In his mind he had imagined dozens of different scenarios of how she'd react, and he had prepared for all sorts of emotional reactions of his own. Rage, righteous anger, coldly dismissive, sarcasm, even a bit of understanding.
It's all fallen by the wayside, because she isn't alone; and because she isn't at all what he expected. Photographs don't do a person justice, Gerald knows that. Hers certainly don't.
It's all strange and not at all like he planned. He can't just go and ask her now; he might never get the chance to do it. But on the other hand, he has already set the ball in motion, applied for another transfer. If it went through he'd be right in the thick of things, a constant presence under that woman's nose. He originally saw that as a reward, the professional progress not withstanding. It would be a great boost for his career and he knows that he could do it.
Here in the shadow of the tree, he knows that it will be denied. If he's caught here under the tree watching that couple, it will be out of his reach forever, just as a promotion any time soon. He'll end his days as a lowly Sergeant, a ground worker. A fitting end for the son of a fallen hero.
Gerald doesn't have the time to contemplate this any further, finds himself thrown against the tree trunk with unexpected force. There is a pair of dark eyes boring into his and they are attached to two fists that hold him in a painfully tight grip. "Who are you?" The words are growled and he swallows, though it is difficult with the air still pressed out of him.
"I'm sorry," he croaks out.
The man, older than him by at least 30 years, doesn't let up. The rumours are more true than anybody in the force can possibly know. All of them.
"Peter, leave him alone," a gentle voice says from behind, and both men chance a quick look at the woman. She shakes her head, the smile on her face firmly in place. It's directed at the older man, though, at Peter. Reassuring, yet supporting. She knows that the man's behaviour is in protection of her. Accepts it.
The older man, Peter, takes half a step back, but his grips loosens only marginally. "I still want to know who he is and why he's been staring at us for hours," he announces, leaving no doubt that he expects sufficient answers.
The woman shakes her head, before focusing her gaze on the younger man. Their eyes look for a moment and he knows that she knows very well who he is. Gerald swallows again. It takes minutes, or so it seems, a time that 'Peter' obviously deems too long, because his grip tightens again.
"It's alright, Peter. He means no harm." She pauses for a moment, before her voice takes on a firmness that seems impossible in such a small and frail body. Yet it's there and the older man follows it, despite his reluctance. "Let's go in. The kids will be here in a few minutes."
The older man steps back, but not without his glare firmly trained on the younger man. There's a clear threat in his gaze and his posture, one that Gerald will heed to no matter what.
Within moments he is alone again, can only see the couple leaving towards the hospital building. For a moment, he thinks he has only dreamed this encounter, but there is still a certain tightness in his throat from the deadly grip of the other man. He can also hear the man's muttered, "You are too trusting, Grace," and that tells him that it was no dream.
Gerald watches them until they are out of sight and then slowly, on unsteady legs, walks towards his car. He'll have to recant his application for transfer to the Cold Case Unit. After what he has seen here today, there'll be no opening for DS Harry Taylor's son.
Thank you for reading. Comments would be greatly appreciated.