You're my last breath,
You're a breath of fresh air to me,
I am empty, so tell me you'll care for me,
You're the first thing and the last thing on my mind,
In your arms I feel, sunshine.
Moloko, The Time Is Now
On the road, Strathclyde, 6th May 2053
They passed through the checkpoint with ease, the guard were getting tired and ready to change their shift. Gary thought it was just as well since he looked as guilty as he possibly could. As they put distance between them and the guard Gary breathed on enormous sigh of relief. Ron was quiet, it was getting dark and he needed to concentrate on driving, Gary was glad of the space for the thought it afforded him. He was glad that they hadn't insisted that they get out of the car, Gary still had to face that one but at least he wouldn't have to do it with a gun pointing at his head. He felt guilty, he didn't know how Ron was going to manage, he may have medical advances on his side but he was still too old to have to deal with this kind of thing.
Gary wondered what Ron thought of everything really, he had worked all his long life, surely he would have hoped for a bit of peace and quiet by the time he reached eighty. Poor Ron, Gary thought, this damn war meant that he was still working, sent out to search amongst the rubble of bombsites looking for survivors; tending to the injured with the planes still flying over head quite probably. If only he could go back and tell the Ron of the 1990s all this, he would never believe it.
Maybe it was an hour after the checkpoint, Gary couldn't tell because he had been miles away in his thoughts; Ron pulled over into a lay-by and stopped the car.
"We're nearly there," Ron said turning Gary's way, he sounded weary, "Lean over, I can turn that thing off now."
Gary willingly rested his head on folded arms on the dashboard and felt Ron reach his hands up underneath his shirt. "How long?" he asked.
"It's not going to wear off completely for a few hours yet, turning it off now though will make things less difficult when we get to the house."
"I hope you've got plans for that." Gary commented trying to sound casual about the situation and hoping it would have a calming effect on him.
"Don't worry Gary, Uncle Ron has it all in hand."
"Grandpa Ron," Gary corrected.
"Of course I could always drop you Gary," Ron retaliated with a smile.
Gary surprised himself with how much more at ease he felt joking about things with Ron. To be serious, frightened and depressed had been the easiest to achieve but it had been eating him away. Gary tried not to think of all that had happened to him in the last few days, he tried to believe Ron and not doubt him. He tried not to think too much about Xavier, at least he was safe somewhere.
The car pulled off the main road and through some gates, they drove through a large garden and pulled up in front of a floodlit eighteenth century mansion; Gary could just see it having the word 'hall' in its name.
"All this for the two of us?" Gary asked amazed at the sight.
"Yes," Ron replied, "We need the space in order to maintain our privacy."
They had stopped and Gary was well aware of what came next; well the basic idea anyway. Ron got out of the car without a word and went round to the boot.
Gary had a faint tingling feeling in his feet and legs and if he really concentrated he could move a little, it was nowhere near enough. Ron opened the door and placed a wheelchair alongside, the gap was bridged with a smooth board. Gary gave Ron a look that said a million things.
"Xavier's," Ron offered, "He doesn't need to use it anymore but then you would know that."
Gary couldn't tell from that statement whether Ron was still hostile over him meeting his son. He rather thought that Ron was beginning to soften. Ron gave a deep sigh as he leant forward to help Gary presuming his lack of action was lack of ability. In that moment Ron looked desperately tired and it pricked at Gary's sense of guilt.
"I'll manage," Gary insisted easing Ron's hands off him, "Somehow I'll manage."
Gary felt suddenly exhausted when they got inside the house, he could see that Ron wasn't feeling too lively either. The last few days had taken their toll and it was now showing all too clearly.
"You should get some rest," Gary observed.
"I will just as soon as you're settled," Ron answered obviously trying to pick up his spirits.
Ron took him along a long corridor and then up a small lift onto the first floor.
"This is genuine 18th century I imagine," Gary tried to joke; he was too tired and feeling too weird for it to be a success.
"This used to be a health farm apparently, lots of space and all the gym facilities left as they were." Ron informed him, "Have to have something for you to do all day."
They entered a very large bedroom and Ron helped Gary to get into bed and strip off his clothes.
"Do you want anything to help you sleep?" Ron asked looking as though he was about to collapse on the spot.
"No, Ron, no more drugs," Gary answered, "I just want the straight truth and a clear head."
"Ok," Ron said smiling weakly, "All of the truth tomorrow morning and sleep well because there is nothing to be known that is worth lying awake over."
Gary wasn't convinced but he let Ron go to bed, leaving him in a dark and silent old house miles from anywhere that he wanted to be.
The Mansion, Strathclyde, 2am, 7th May 2053
Sometime after 1am Gary was woken by a scream coming from nearby; he jerked awake unsure about whether he had dreamt it or not, he would have been sitting bolt upright by now if he could have managed it. He was surprised to find himself in a state of recently awoken haze; he had lain awake so long that he had thought he would never fall asleep. The countryside was too silent compared to 1940s London, compared to any London in fact. Gary listened for a while; all he could hear was the creaking of an old house. A few minutes later though there a faint sound, Gary had to concentrate hard; it was sobbing and it seemed to be coming from the next room, there was no way it could have been from further away.
Gary hadn't heard Ron go into the next room but then he had been too busy tossing and turning as best as he could manage, getting more and more irritated with his temporary infirmity to notice much at that point. He was surprised to find now that he could wriggle and turn over onto his front. He lifted his head to the headboard trying to hear more; it was a nightmare by the sound of it. Without really analysing the options Gary tried to sit up and get out of bed. He found that his legs were like jelly, the first time he tried to stand he slipped to the floor. It took forever to struggle back up onto the bed. Gary persevered though, he had vowed that he would be a better friend to Ron and this was where it started; he would just have to wait a few more hours.
Gary tried to doze for a while and found at 3am that he could get up onto his feet. He still felt a bit wobbly and strange but he didn't think he would fall over. He made for the door and turned left to get to the next room. He pushed the door open gently trying his best not to make too much noise. The crying had stopped a while ago and he didn't want to wake Ron if he had managed to find some rest. The room was completely dark, the heavy curtains and countryside location meant there was no light but that of the moon shining through a gap and sending a thin line across the floor. The line caught the end of the bed and Gary felt his way forward across the large room till his knees stopped up against the mattress.
Ron lay in the bed on his back and was breathing with the sound of sleep. Gary felt along the bedclothes for a shoulder and rested his hand there for a few moments. He could feel the breathing of the man he held. Gary gently caressed the shoulder so that if Ron were awake he would be reassured by it. They were both responsible for each other's happiness now. It stood to reason that Ron would have nightmares after all that he and his family had been through. If he needed comforting Gary would be there, just as he had been for Xavier.
Gary's hand moved from the right shoulder and reached across to the left, caressing that one also through a layer of t-shirt, he seemed to be deeply asleep now though. He then ran his hand down the right arm soon noticing that it lay across his chest on top of the covers. Gary sat on the side of the bed; he would hold his hand and keep to his side, as he wouldn't sleep much if he went back to his room anyway.
Gary's hand got as far as the elbow before he felt something hard on the arm he caressed; it felt like a cast. This wasn't right, Gary thought, this definitely wasn't Ron. He was horrified; it hadn't occurred to him that there might be anybody else in the house. He dreaded to think what would happen if a strange servant caught him there. Gary felt along the arm, it was an immobilisation cast of the sort used for a broken wrist. He felt the fingers, they were smooth and young, the person still didn't move at the touch. His hand lay close to his chin, it wasn't far for Gary's hand to travel till his fingers touched the chin and slid up to the left cheek. It was a man but a young one definitely; significantly not Ron, Gary felt a little dampness on the skin below his fingers; fairly fresh tears.
Gary stepped away from the bed and to the curtains, this person must be a servant of some sort but there was an evil sprite playing with his mind; he needed to see whom it was so the torture would stop. Logic was fighting to stay in the running otherwise, Ron had forbidden him from seeing Xavier so there was no way he would place them not only in the same house but with only a wall between them. Gary at the same time could hardly bare to let the moonlight in and shatter the possibility that it could be him. The sprite jumped again; who else could it be, it nagged, if he had been a servant he would have been called to help Gary get out of the car. Gary turned to the window and pulled the curtains back. He stayed still, looking out of the window not daring to turn around. The grounds surrounding the house were huge, much more extensive round the back, it seemed so unnecessary for just the two of them. Did Ron or Xavier ever say where their 'country house' was, the sprite jumped in Gary's brain.
"No, impossible," Gary whispered to himself, all the way up in Glasgow, it didn't seem likely that The Mansion was here; it was big though.
Gary continued to look out of the window; quite a bit was illuminated by the floodlighting. He looked to the right and an object in the bedroom reflected the light and caught his eye. On a chair in the corner near the edge of the window lay some clothes, discarded and tossed down in a heap; propped up against the chair was an aluminium elbow crutch. As the sprite jumped up and down with glee Gary swung round so violently he nearly fell over and gasped at the sight his eyes now beheld. Ron had been playing with him the whole time but Gary didn't care. He had led him straight to the bedroom next to Xavier's. He must have been feeling very smug, Gary thought, as he fell asleep that night.
Xavier moved his head to the side suddenly causing Gary to sink into a shadow cautiously. His face was twisted in pain or maybe sadness, Gary heard a pleading voice say 'no', shaking his head gently from side to side. Gary could see fresh tears sliding down the young man's face in his nightmare. When Gary heard another sobbing 'no' he could stand it no longer, he stepped toward the bed.
Gary remembered how Ron had held him and soothed him when he had dreamt badly; he had known what he was doing. Gary wanted to do the same now, Xavier hadn't slept this badly when he had been with him last but he imagined that nightmares had not been unknown to him, then or now. Gary surmised that comforting Xavier after his war was probably how Ron had known what to do. Now it was his job, Gary thought. Gary closed the curtains once more, if Xavier woke and found him looking down at him with no warning he might well die of shock. He climbed up onto the bed and shuffled up beside him, if he woke Gary would sooth him with words and try to sound as much like Ron as he could.
Xavier was still very restless in his sleep, Gary heard whimpering and felt him moving beneath the bed covers. Xavier's right arm reached out and grabbed the duvet crushing it in a tight fist as he jerked away as if something had struck him. Gary could see a little better now as he became accustomed to the extreme dark once more. The left arm made no move at all but lay completely still across Xavier's chest. Gary reached over and held the fingers that were protruding from the cast; they gently closed around his own. Gary felt a wave of sadness as he contemplated what might have happened to Xavier recently to cause this.
Gary nearly jumped out of his skin as Xavier's right hand suddenly grabbed him as he screamed as if in agony his whole body shaking. Gary prised his hand away and firmly placed Xavier's arm over his shoulder and lifted him up into his arms, holding him close against his chest, emulating how Ron had held him a few days ago. He held him tight against his chest till the trembling ceased and he relaxed slightly. He rocked Xavier whispering soothing words to him and he eventually relaxed so much that he became floppy, a dead weight in Gary's arms. His anguished whimpering turned to despairing sobs as he cried freely, his head resting against Gary's chest.
Gary gripped him tightly, "Ssh," He soothed, "It's ok now, it's all over."
"All over," Xavier echoed sobbing all the more and tensing again.
"You're safe," Gary continued hoping it would serve better.
"Don't go," Xavier pleaded.
"I won't go away ever again and I'm here till you've done with me."
"Just hold me," Xavier said calming slightly, "I'm glad that you're back."
"I'll not let you go," Gary said stroking a hand through Xavier's hair feeling him relax a bit more. The sobbing had ceased and he was breathing more slowly.
"Oh Gary," Xavier said as he took a deep sigh and melted in Gary's arms.
It wasn't much longer before Xavier was sleeping peacefully and Gary's eased him back down onto the pillows and covered him over. Outside it had begun to get lighter and Gary knew that he should return to his own room before Ron discovered that he had ruined his little surprise.
The Mansion, Strathclyde, 7am, 7th May 2053
When Xavier woke again he felt happier than he had done in a long while, he felt rested and fresh. He lay with his eyes still closed savouring the memory of what had happened. He had woken in the night in Gary's arms, hearing his words, feeling his touch. The horror had ended, Gary was alive and he had come back; the proper sleep that this had led to had been just what he needed. If he didn't move at all his shoulder wouldn't start to ache and his ankle wouldn't hurt so much; his wrist still throbbed persistently but then it was broken. He didn't mind much now, his night time visitor had been a man and his father had said he would be away for at least a week on war work, he had never come home early; it just had to be Gary. Gary had told him he would never leave him again; Xavier had a wonderful thought, if he opened his eyes Gary would be there with him now, somewhere in the room.
Xavier couldn't resist, doubt never entered his mind and he eagerly opened his eyes and looked around the room only to find that he was on his own. Not a single thing had changed in the room. The joy was quickly replaced with bewilderment and heart crushing sadness; surely a dream could not have been so reassuring and real yet so cruel and unreal. Of course it was impossible, even if he was alive and the portal hadn't closed down there was no way he could have got up to Glasgow. He wouldn't even have known where to go, he would have just found rubble where the bar used to be and no one to ask. All his friends were dead and the 'Blitz and Pieces' dream along with it, one night of bombs and it had all been swept away; he wished that he had been there too. Tears came to his eyes as the despair flooded over him, he could see the sun was shining beyond the curtains but there was no sun in his heart.
He glanced at the bedside clock through tear filled eyes; he would have to sort himself out, it wouldn't be long before Suzie paid him her morning visit. She was his sister and they loved each other to bits but she was career military, she was an early morning girl and brusque with it, she had no time for him being pathetic. She didn't know about Gary, he hadn't told his father either. Suzie thought him a fool for taking Gary on as a friend, he could imagine what she would say if he told her the rest. Suzie disapproved of the whole time-travel issue and his willing involvement in it; she was very much her mother's girl.
Xavier had something to be thankful for, at least he wasn't his father, he thought grimly. When he came back Suzie was going to kill him, or at least he would wish he were dead. His sister was a lot more anxious in her work these days, he could tell from her haunted look that it was all falling apart. He had had to drag her halfway across the country when he couldn't get in touch with his father and she would be using him as the scapegoat for the entire war when she got her hands on him.
He wished that he had been more careful now and not fallen. Both Suzie and his father were involved with the war and he felt useless enough just plodding his way through the accounts and spending most of his time brooding over what might have been. He couldn't shake the thoughts out of his head though, he couldn't get through it; all he saw was darkness and misery and the word 'suicide' typed in early twentieth century typeface on a tattered piece of white paper. He knew he should have taken the time to tie the bandages properly if he was going to resist wearing the heavy brace that lay unused in the wardrobe. He should have been looking where he was going especially in the old formal gardens; he shouldn't have been there as it grew dark. He knew that every time he damaged an old wound it might not heal but two days ago he hadn't cared one bit; he had thought he was only hurting himself. He hadn't expected to fail in his endeavor.
He had had his phone with him but the people at the house had gone home for the evening and he couldn't get his father to answer. He had called Suzie, she had come running and after they had been to the hospital and she had brought him home and tucked him up in bed, she had lectured him till he cried. He did that all the time now but he still didn't tell her why.
The Mansion, Strathclyde, 7.30am, 7th May 2053
Ron left his room, he felt much better now that he had had a decent night's sleep back in his own bed. The Ritz was supposed to be the best but in the 1940s they had not appreciated the benefits of a firm supportive mattress. He looked at the clock that hung over the fireplace in the gallery as he passed by; it was still quite early. He was finding it hard to decide how to approach the next bit.
On the one hand he was dying to see Xavier but he also had to encounter Gary before he woke up and started wandering. The whole thing was starting off another headache, once upon a time you got to rest up in your old age, he thought grimly. Then there was the question of how he was going to bring them together without it being too much of a shock, he already had a plan but didn't know what he would do if it didn't work.
He decided to see Xavier first; Gary had had a hard few days and would likely be crashed out for a while yet. Xavier, however, nearly always rose early even if he didn't do much with himself after that. Ron took a deep breath and sighed it out, one decision successfully made. He made off down the gallery in the direction of Xavier's bedroom. He had been worried about him when he had left for London, there was nothing to suggest that anything could have happened to make that worry redundant or he wouldn't have had to make the trip. Xavier had been hiding behind his work but couldn't hide that he was slipping into the kind of depression that had never managed to grip him when he had been ill. He wouldn't talk about it no matter how hard he was pressed.
Ron wouldn't have had any idea still if it hadn't been for finding the box of documents hastily and untidily crammed back onto a shelf in the attic. It had just been a routine reminisce, he had just wanted to flick through a few things from the old life. The box was always kept tidily, it was a rare and precious thing, Xavier had appreciated that and he had always handled these things as if they were the most rare things imaginable. Suzie scorned these preoccupations with the past but she would never leave them like that either.
That was how Ron found out, he had lifted the box off the shelf to set it back in order and he had found the death certificate on the top. He always kept things in chronological order with the certificate at the bottom. Gary had died just before his time travelling adventures began but he had taken the precaution of moving abroad just before he was born, at least that was what their little collection used to imply.
Ron had read the certificate over expecting to see familiar words, heart attack and 1992. He had read suicide and 1946 in their place, he had placed the box down with the certificate lying on the top still and gone down to the estate office. He had looked Xavier in the eye and knew that he had seen it too. He saw the guilt and the helplessness this had caused, he blamed himself and cursed the moment he had ever set eyes on Gary Sparrow.
Ron strode down the corridor, remembering had made him all angry again; it was just as well he wasn't going to see Gary first. He turned the corner, not looking ahead, knowing where he was going.
"Father!" He heard Suzie's voice calling after him accompanied by the quick footsteps of Dr Marten clad feet. He turned in surprise as she caught up with him. He did not like the look in her eyes at all.
"Where the hell have you been?" She demanded to know in her best military voice.
Ron really couldn't be bothered with confrontation but he was concerned to know what was behind it.
"I was away on business in London, why are you here?" Ron responded.
"I had to come up from base, I couldn't get you on your phone, I couldn't find you."
Ron's heart sank, there was relief and worry mixed in her tone. "What's happened?"
"It's Xavier," she said dramatically and then paused.
"Ok, ok, I'm sorry, I'll let you shoot me later, just tell me what happened."
"You really shouldn't leave him alone like that, did you know he's depressed?"
Ron panicked admirably, "What did he do?"
Suzie relented taking a deep breath, trying to ground her anger, "He fell, could have happened anytime, he just couldn't contact you so I had to come up, I could really do without this right now."
Ron looked sheepish hoping she wouldn't question him too much on the non functionality of his phone, "How is he?"
"Sprained ankle, broken wrist, nothing serious," Suzie replied slipping into carer versus doctor mode, "I'm more worried about his state of mind."
"I know," Ron replied, "This business trip was only a business trip in a sense. Half the time I have to be away, there's no choice in that. I've been finding somebody to stay here with him, a companion and an assistant too, the man has no family so he can live in."
Suzie shook her head, "What are you thinking of? He'll just love you for that. Don't you know your son at all?" Suzie said getting angry again.
"Yes, I do," Ron snapped back, he guessed he was still tired, "If he doesn't like this person then I promise you I will never leave him alone again."
"Fine," Suzie snapped, "I'll not place money on a bet."
"Suzie, go back to base, everything will be fine," Ron said in a gentle soothing voice, recognising that Suzie was probably just as stressed as he was. He wrapped his arms round her in a hug; that always disarmed her fury.
"Wish I had your confidence," Suzie mumbled against his shoulder.
"Well, the war's going pear shaped but Xavier and I will be fine."
Suzie laughed grimly, "Yep, it's not going too good."
Ron held her away from him, "Take care."
"I'll try," Suzie replied wishing she could spend a few more days in Scotland, the war beckoned however, "I'll be sending you some instructions soon, I can't disclose the information they're based on but I need you to follow them no matter how ridiculous it looks, ok?"
"Yes, you have my word."
"Can this new man of yours be trusted?" Suzie asked.
"I've known him some time, I've altered his chip; if he leaves this house without my protection he's a dead man."
Instead of looking pleased Suzie frowned, "You worry me sometimes." She linked arms with her father and they made their way along the corridor to Xavier's bedroom.
They both went in together but Suzie approached Xavier's bed first. His head was turned to the side and his eyes were closed. She leant over and kissed him on the cheek. He had just been dozing; he turned over and looked up as she straightened back up.
"Your father came back last night so I'm going to return back to base," Suzie told him, "I'll try and get back up but it won't be for a while."
"My father's back?" Xavier asked with a look of disbelief.
"Yes, he's here," Suzie said beckoning Ron forward. Suzie thought that Xavier would be pleased but he seemed to be fighting back tears, "How's your arm?"
Suzie unlocked the drawer of the bedside cabinet and pulled out a bottle of pills. She handed Xavier two with a glass of water.
"Right, well I'll be off, I just need to talk to your father before I go." Suzie announced.
"Keep safe," Xavier called after her as she ushered Ron out of the room again.
"Get him some help." Suzie instructed Ron once they were back in the corridor.
"I've just done that." Ron defended.
"I mean proper help."
Ron laughed grimly, "Where do you think I'm going to find a psychologist these days?" he asked looking at the floor, "Or anti-depressants for that matter, all I've got are sedatives, pain killers and a few other things that wouldn't be much use."
"Well you'll just have to dig out a textbook and figure it out for yourself," Suzie replied irritably, hugging her father to take the sting out of her words.
"I've tried all sorts of ways, I got him through the last time remember; it was just a bit clearer what was causing it then."
"You know fine well what this is all to do with." Suzie snapped.
"Do I?" Ron snapped back.
"Don't think I didn't notice when this all began, it was you and your time-travel fairy-stories, don't you think it's about time we were allowed to forget?"
Ron wanted to tell her everything but he rather suspected that she might kill him for it, "Let's not argue, I don't know when I'll see you next," Ron said hugging her again, "I'll try my best I promise."
"I never really unpacked so I'll just get off." Suzie returned the hug and was gone.
Ron returned to Xavier hoping that his surprise would do the trick; he didn't know what else he could do.
"I wanted to talk to you about something," Ron began sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I suppose Suzie told you what happened." Xavier said in a monotone looking towards the window.
"Well I think you've probably had a good scolding from your sister so I'll not mention it," Ron replied in an attempt at humour.
"Anyway, the purpose of my visit led me to bring somebody back from London with me." Ron said approaching the subject as best as he could.
Xavier's head snapped round, "Why?"
"I just thought you could do with somebody around here."
"The estate is fully staffed." Xavier stated plainly.
"I meant to live in, to sleep next door."
"Are you matchmaking with one of your friend's sons or something? Because if you are then I don't want it, I won't meet him." Xavier insisted turning away.
Ron sighed, "No, I'm not doing that, he would just be here as an assistant, an office assistant, you don't even have to like him or talk to him."
"I don't need anybody, the fall was just one of those things, it would have happened anyway. I can manage perfectly well, I have done for months."
"I never suggested that you couldn't cope."
"I thought you could do with a companion who would live in and…"
"I don't need a nurse either."
"I didn't suggest that," Ron said sighing again, "I'm just talking about somebody being here to be called upon when I'm away, somebody who can hand things over when they aren't within arms reach, lend you an arm when you go outside, just whatever you want."
"Are you not going to leave me alone until I agree?"
"You're getting the picture," Ron said trying to sound encouragingly cheerful, "Just think what it would be like to be able to ring a bell and get a massage whenever you want one."
"And have to make strained conversation with a stranger."
"Just meet him Xavier, just humour me a little, I just want to help." Ron persuaded.
"I'll sack him as soon as you go on your next trip."
"That's fine with me, just meet him."
Xavier sighed, he just wanted to be left alone, "OK, I'll meet him," he conceded.
"I'll bring him down to the breakfast room, are you getting up?" Ron asked.
"Well if I don't he'll end up thinking I'm a pathetic invalid who can't look after himself." Xavier snapped.
Xavier complied passively as Ron checked his ankle and bandaged up his leg properly, he didn't receive any protest when he retrieved the long neglected leg brace from the wardrobe and fastened it securely; the fall must have given him quite a scare Ron thought. Ron helped him with his clothes too since his shoulder was looking a bit bruised, all without complaint. He had chosen a pair of jogging pants and a sweatshirt, which Xavier pulled over his broken arm up to his knuckles. He sat on the edge of the bed and Ron gave him the crutch.
"Meet me in the breakfast room in half an hour?" Ron asked placing an arm on Xavier's undamaged shoulder and giving it a friendly rub. Xavier nodded a reply and Ron left to go next door hoping that Gary would be a little less trouble.
Xavier sat for a while fighting to stay stern and composed, his father never came home early when he was away, he repeated to himself in his mind. His father always slept in the next room and it wasn't unheard of for him to come through and hold him while he shook off the last traces of a nightmare. He had said all that stuff too, as if it had been Gary, embarrassment and anger mixed together; he couldn't bare the thought of his father knowing and surely he would now. Slowly he slipped off the side of the bed and tried a little weight on his ankle, he hadn't been out of bed since he had come back from the hospital. His efforts were met with a sharp stabbing pain but it was bearable. He made his way to the bathroom, it was his first attempt in months to get not only cleaned up but smart too; he didn't want his father's hired help fussing him too much.
Ron found Gary up and ready, although he did jump out of his skin when he came into the room. He was fully dressed and he was looking out of the window across the grounds surrounding the house.
"I've got breakfast ordered, we need to get down to the breakfast room in half an hour, I didn't think you would be up yet." Ron said cheerfully.
"I didn't sleep much," Gary replied though Ron thought that he looked rested enough, in fact he looked quite a bit happier than he had done the day before. Gary removed himself from the window and came to rest on the bed; Ron joined him there.
"How is everything?" Ron asked.
Gary knew what he meant, "Still feel a little bit wobbly, a bit strange but I'm OK."
"Good," Ron smiled, "I thought that over breakfast we could get down to discussing your new job."
"Job?" Gary asked bemused.
"Yes, Gary, the medical records on your chip are just a cover remember, the best way to get used to your new life will be to just jump straight in there."
Gary remembered about Xavier and tried to correlate his knowledge with Ron's words and smiled inwardly to himself; Ron didn't wish to keep him in suspense much longer. "Yes, that would be best, I was just wondering what you would be having me doing."
"I hadn't worked out your exact duties yet," Ron admitted, "We'll just say that it will be in keeping with your status as my friend and not too obvious to the immediate locality. You'll probably be able to amuse yourself some of the time and help me out when I need it."
He was going to reintroduce him to Xavier, Gary thought with a glow. This must be the house in the country and Xavier was working here. It was very likely that he was going to be employed in the same offices as Xavier, helping him more than Ron directly. Yes, he could amuse himself quite well he imagined. Gary was amused as Ron attempted to distract him with the many electronic gadgets the room possessed while he kept sneaking a look at his watch every five minutes. Gary had to admit he was impressed, with the tasteful and subtle deployment of technology and Ron's scheming abilities; he hardly reacted at all when the door to the next room opened and closed. In fact Ron kept on talking without a pause and very neatly waited another five minutes before announcing it was time to go down to breakfast; precisely five minutes.
The Breakfast Room, Strathclyde, 8.30am, 7th May 2053
Xavier sat down in the armchair by the French windows with a little bit of irritation. The room was empty apart from the food on the table and his father had so specifically said half an hour. Once sat he realised that he was going to have to get back up again if he wanted a cup of coffee, the table had been pulled away from his chair. He would have thought to have a word with the cook if he hadn't suspected that his father had something to do with it. He pulled himself back to his feet and attempted to pour some coffee. The jug of milk kept slipping over the cast as he tried to grip it and he splashed some milk on the tablecloth at the third attempt; he didn't dare tackle the hot coffee pot. Burning with frustration, he had a go at buttering some toast while it was still hot but he had the same difficulty with the knife. His shoulder was aching with the movement and he wished that he hadn't got out of bed. Suzie had insisted that he rest for a couple of days, he had got sick of it but now he thought that she had had a point.
Xavier didn't often admit defeat but he slumped back down in the chair to wait for his father. He thought that he heard voices outside the door, he was quite sure there was somebody there he just couldn't make out what they were saying. Xavier presumed it must be the hired help that his father had brought with him, he breathed a deep sigh and looked down at his hands thinking that he would like nothing more than to be left alone. No, that wasn't quite right, what he wanted to do was finish what he had started three nights ago in the garden. He took a deep breath and tried to fight back the thoughts that were filling his head, he had to be composed; he knew his father would enter at any minute.
Ron regarded his friend closely as he stood outside the breakfast room blocking the entrance. Yes, he thought, it was time, time Gary knew what was going on.
"Gary, before we go in, I want to tell you something." Ron announced.
Gary could hardly stop himself reacting wildly, "Yes?"
Ron looked at the floor feeling suddenly awkward, "It's about Xavier."
"I think maybe I know what you're trying to say." Gary said noticing that Ron was finding it difficult.
"You do?" Ron said looking up sharply in surprise.
Gary was taken aback by Ron's reaction, "Well I think that I do." He faltered.
"Gary, I need to tell you that it was Xavier who found your death certificate, it was Xavier who discovered that you had committed suicide."
Gary allowed what Ron had told him to sink in, he hadn't been expecting this and he stared at Ron blankly as his heart filled with lead.
"We've always had it," Ron continued, "It's lain in a box in the attic for years, sometimes we get those things out and look through them. Only it's changed, your death certificate changed sometime after you visited Xavier."
Gary was suitably crushed, "But I thought you said that he had never mentioned anything about me."
"He hasn't," Ron said quietly, putting a hand on Gary's shoulder, "I found out, he didn't put it back quite right after he read it."
"I want to see him," Gary demanded passionately feeling like his chest would explode. Ron continued to block the door.
"No, not yet, you can't just walk in there, I have to tell him first."
"He doesn't know?"
"No, and if he doesn't want you here you will have to leave, do you understand?"
"Where would I go?" Gary asked bewildered.
"I would find you somewhere."
"He will want to see me." Gary asserted as he remembered his encounter earlier that morning.
Ron gave Gary a look, which made him see that he didn't think it was likely. "Stay here." Ron commanded.
Ron slipped through the narrowest of gaps and went into the breakfast room. Gary took a step back and stood in the corridor thinking about whether he would follow instructions or not. The temptation to go in was great but Gary stayed outside the door. It was more to do with fear of rejection than obedience. On the one hand he couldn't wait to go rushing in, on the other he didn't want to know a truth that sent his whole world spinning again. He was a time traveller but he couldn't turn back his own internal clock, he couldn't bring Michael or Phoebe back as they were before; he feared that the brief bond he had formed with Xavier may be destroyed too.
Ron approached Xavier, he was faced towards the window but he didn't think he was looking at anything. This was all too familiar to Ron now; Xavier was quite often lost in himself and unreachable. He noticed that the breakfast table had been touched; he observed the spilt milk and Xavier's empty hands. It had been a cruel trick but he needed Xavier's anger today, at least he would be interacting and not just going through the motions of a life.
"I've brought your new assistant to meet you." Ron announced as he helped himself to food and coffee, taking his time as Xavier looked up to watch him. He wouldn't ask for help, Ron knew it and it was killing him. Ron openly savoured his coffee and Xavier looked down at his lap, his good hand clenching so that his knuckles turned white.
"Send him away," Xavier hissed, shouting was not his style even when severely provoked, "I know what game you're playing."
"You said you would at least meet him." Ron reminded him.
Xavier didn't answer, Ron pressed on. "You might like him, you have met him before."
"I have not met anybody who I would like round here watching my every move, making conversation that's strained and unwelcome. I don't want to be helped. I want to be left alone."
"To do what Xavier? To sit and stare at the walls as if there is nothing left? To think about things that are unchangeable? To be left alone to go walking into the gardens as the light fades?" Ron demanded and was met by Xavier's silence and a feeling that he was mentally shrinking back. "There's one person you would like to be here isn't there?" Ron continued, "You've shut me out but do you think I don't know? Do you think I don't feel responsible for the whole mess? Do you imagine that I haven't looked in the attic?"
It was only one word but Ron knew that he was on the right track, he had Xavier's attention. "I would never employ somebody who I thought was unsuitable." Ron said mildly and watched the confusion spread over Xavier's face at the apparent change in subject. He tried to complete, he tried to get the words out and tell Xavier that Gary was just outside the door but he faltered. He wanted to break it to him gently but there was no way he could think of.
Gary was still standing in the corridor, he could hear voices but the big solid wood door muffled them. All he could hear was Ron but he presumed Xavier must be in there too. It seemed to be taking forever. Then the talking stopped and the silence stretched a little too long for comfort. The temptation became irresistible; he took a step forward just as Ron opened the door and poked his head out, "Want to come in for breakfast?" he said trying to sound cheery but his face was lined with strain. Gary gulped; there had been an argument.
Gary had no idea what propelled him into the room; it certainly didn't feel like his legs were responsible. He saw immediately that Xavier sat in a chair by the window, to Gary he looked pale and ill; he didn't imagine he looked any better himself.
"Xavier?" Gary said hardly thinking that he sounded like himself at all. He wanted to rush forward but something that came over Xavier's face when he looked up; it stopped him cold. It was horror and disgust. Gary could only stand on the spot with all his insides feeling like they were twisting round inside before sinking down his legs. He didn't know how he was still standing. Rejection, the thing he feared most was now upon him.
Xavier turned to his father, "What have you done?" He demanded his voice full of bitterness, "What have you gone and done now?"
"Xavier, this is your new assistant, I told you you would like him, didn't I?" Ron answered trying to keep things together even though he was a bit confused by Xavier's reaction; he didn't know how he could have read him so wrong.
"Not like this," Xavier said fighting back tears and pointing sharply at Gary who stood still frozen to the spot.
"Like what?" Ron demanded on the edge of patience, fatigue washing over him like a tidal wave.
"What kind of doctor are you? Which strange sick friend of yours did you get to do this?"
"Nobody, I did it alone."
"Get him out of my sight, how could you think I would be satisfied with this?"
"I thought you liked Gary, I thought that you would like to have him back."
"Yes, but not this, not some biologically perfect clone with only as much character as you could remember to give him, only as many memories as you think he had." Xavier spat at his father.
Now Ron knew what he was dealing with, he approached Xavier's chair and bore down on him using his height advantage to command authority. "He is no clone, I wish I had thought of that, it would have been so much easier. No, he is the real thing, he lies, he cheats, he deceives and he has all the memories you'll ever need."
Xavier turned to the window; he always hid when he couldn't bare his emotions any longer, "How?" He asked, "It's impossible and you know it."
Ron stepped back, he felt exhausted and thought he might fall. He slumped into a chair at the other end of the breakfast table and leant back closing his eyes. "Gary, will you stop just standing there like a statue and tell him?"
Gary still stood near the door frozen to the spot with a face whiter than flour. His mind started to race at Ron's words, he had to convince Xavier and then he would be his. He had to tell him something that only the two of them would know. He tried to think, a few things came to mind but he didn't know if he had the nerve to say them in front of Ron.
"Xavier," he began, "I am the real Gary."
"Oh nice one." Ron chipped in with sarcasm.
Gary looked to Ron, he still had his eyes closed. Suddenly a thought came to Gary, he remembered something that Xavier had told him that Ron had forbidden him from telling him. He hoped Xavier was OK at lip reading.
"Xavier look at me," Gary insisted, "Just look at me one more time and then I will go."
Xavier's head slowly turned, Gary could hardly bare to see the pain etched there.
'I love you son, I am your mother', Gary mouthed the words to Xavier, 'Until forever fades away.' Gary was so glad that Xavier hadn't told anything to Ron now, as he had said, a clone would have only the memories that Ron knew about, 'Lost Witness' Gary added for completeness.
"You remembered the name of them," Xavier said, the expression on his face beginning to change as the realisation took over.
"Yes," Gary said out loud, "Only two tracks, 'Red Sun Rising' and 'Happiness Happening'."
Ron opened his eyes at the sound of Gary's voice, something was happening but he was confused by his words. A Code, it had to be, how could they have a code between them in two days.
"I know which one I would like to play now." Xavier stated, he leant over and tried to pick up the crutch without taking his eyes off Gary, as if he would disappear if he weren't constantly observed.
Gary stepped closer and leant over in a gesture that was bolder than anything he had ever attempted before. He took Xavier's hand in his and he dropped the recently retrieved crutch. Gary lifted Xavier's arm over his shoulder and began to lift him. Xavier responded and assisted the help that was offered. Gary supported Xavier's broken arm with his own and wrapped the other round his waist drawing Xavier close. Xavier leant in towards Gary and rested his head on his shoulder.
"Don't go, don't leave me." Xavier whispered in Gary's ear.
"I won't," Gary reassured with a light squeeze, "I will go the day after you want me gone."
Ron closed his eyes with a smile on his face, "I'll just close my eyes and have a little nap if that's OK with you two." He announced clearly.Acknowledgements
One More Time, The Cure, 1987.
The Sound Of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel.
Silence Must Be Heard, Enigma, 2000.
Another Day, Mary Black.
Past The Point Of Rescue, Mary Black.
The Time Is Now, Moloko, 2000.
Happiness Happening, Lost Witness, 1999, Sound of Ministry.
Red Sun Rising, Lost Witness, 1999, Sound of Ministry.