The morning afterwards brought a bright sunrise. The London streets were flooded with orange from the exquisite rays of light, yet workmen and women went about their day wrapped in greys and blacks. The day was alive with sunshine but still stabbed with a bitter cold that could bite deeper than anything. Most grumbled their way around the streets to others of their complexion about the news and idle gossip, living their lives as English people did.
Anne was less like them. She was becoming more interested in other affairs than that of neighbours or politics. The things that truly mattered – like who would frame Tintin? Why would they go through the trouble? Why did that man die, whoever he was? She was sympathetic of him, and hoped that he was having a luckier time somewhere else other than this cruel Earth.
She lay next to Tintin, his breathing light and restful – they slept facing each other. Like they had to prove to themselves that they weren't alone anymore in this. The night was filled with laughter and jokes that caused her to smile slightly at the memory. They talked for so long – through most of the night they spoke about life and death, they told stories from mostly Tintin's adventures that raced their hearts and caused Anne to freeze in anticipation. Once the conversation began to tire, they slipped into sleep. It was the most fun she ever had; it felt so comfortable despite the lack of structure to the place they were in. Even though of this it felt right – as if she was meant to be there, with Tintin and Snowy, letting hour after hour go by without care.
But she found that he was… distracted by something. Anne suspected that he was withholding some truth that she wanted to know. She wouldn't press it, as she trusted his judgment in this. It bothered her, though, when he spoke of the murder that caused them to be on the run.
But it was a good night, Anne decreed, the best one that she had in a long time. She wished that it lasted longer but knew nothing could be done about the constant flow of time. So Anne reluctantly sat up in preparation for the new day. She wondered on what they might do this day, letting her thoughts wander for a moment or two on how impossible and exciting it would be. Maybe they would find clues and follow them up; she would begin running for her life and feeling that adrenaline pumping through her veins. It would be terrifying - it had been and because of the familiarity of the terror induced feelings, but she was still apprehensive at continuing on this dangerous path. Because she now had a choice, and Tintin beside her.
She stroked what she had thought was Snowy's fur, but she soon realised that it wasn't fur – it was hair. Tintin's hair. Anne took her hand away as if it were actually on fire; she didn't really know why she was doing it. She was stroking his hair automatically, a reaction to the comfort and peace that she felt in this warehouse. Anne had done it in the Prawn as well; she had stroked his hair as she tried to plan her suicide and thus the aversion of Tintin dying. She seemed to do it to comfort herself when situations were desperate.
Was the situation desperate?
It took little time for her to conclude that they were desperate. They were hiding in the darkest corner of London, trying to find who could've killed the mystery man. On the run from the police and eating meals that were as plastic as the containers that held them. At least she assumed that was what they were doing; it would be unlike Tintin to just sit around not declaring his name innocent. It was going to be hard but Anne didn't want to be anywhere else. Not even with father – things were too complicated between them for her to be talking to him normally.
Anne watched the boy reporter sleep a while. She thought about what would go through the dreams of the illustrious Tintin – as she considered an eerie thought penetrated her. What would he be dreaming about? How could he know about combat or shooting people? What kind of journalist was he? Who was he?
She didn't really know him. Yet she was sharing a bed with him. This alerted ancient warnings that her father taught her as a child – that men were untrustworthy. That the opposite sex as a whole are more willing to lure a respectable woman into bed so they could get her well-earned money. This lesson wasn't heeded well from her, Anne would admit this, but she thought that her father was being dramatic and overprotective with the matter. As usual he was putting money into everything, using it to make him right in every way. When Anne was older and first learned of these lessons of life at university, it was then she fell under George's influence.
Anne didn't know what he was doing at the time, obviously – but she sometimes wondered if her father did. He didn't seem to mind George and it was a question she was eager to ask him when all this eventually blew over. Maybe longer; it was unlikely that she would be able to see him so soon after Tintin's name was cleared. Her father's nature was unusual when it came to Anne's 'friends'.
Tintin stifled a yawn and squinted in the daylight. As he sat up and stretched he went to pat Snowy who was comfortably sleeping between them. "Morning,"
"Good morning." Anne smiled as she spoke – it was so full of light that it seemed to dim the sunshine in Tintin's eyes. She still wore the dress from the night before and her hair was messy and tattered. He stood up from the couch that had become their bed for the night and stretched properly. He winced at the unexpected pain at his injured leg, but he was certain it would be subdued in time. The relieving cracks and snaps of aching bones caused Tintin to sigh in oozing pleasure. "So what's the plan?"
"Plan?" Tintin crossed the blackened floor towards what would be their breakfast. Cheap porridge oats that were suspicious in texture – but there wasn't much use complaining about it. "Honestly I didn't plan much further than your rescue."
An awkward silence followed, they remembered that terrible place where Anne was trapped. It was her who spoke with tension that couldn't be ignored. "Thanks for that, by the way."
He only nodded. "We have no clues as to who the murderer is, why he killed, nothing. We haven't got anything."
"There must be something," Anne said as Tintin opened two sachets of the cheap porridge and mixed some milk into the dusty mess. He was careful in his movements, still sluggish from being half asleep. "How about the victim?"
Tintin paused. "Don't know him." He continued to make their food.
"You must know something," she retaliated. "Maybe he had enemies or maybe he was involved in-"
"He was rich. He had many powerful friends and few enemies who would be bothered to cross him. Most of which are dead or too disabled to even care about him, the few young enough to stand up against him aren't murderers. The guy was a lonely old man who was…" Tintin was unsure of how to put it; his mind was still too slow to provide him with no other alternatives. "Pitied."
"Why?" Anne asked, inquisitive now, interested in what she was about to hear.
"He was dying. He had barely a few months to live." Tintin pictured Anne's father's body being wheeled away on a covered stretcher. His brittle state when the old man had confronted him at the hospital; he was right – Tintin had no right to see Anne anymore. As usual he had ignored everyone but his own advice, which told him to stay by her side. His guilt was attempting to take him completely, so he ignored these thoughts as best he could. "Not sure what was killing him but someone obviously couldn't wait. But nobody has motive – no clues were at the crime when I saw it for myself."
"You went to the crime scene?"
"Yeah," Tintin stated as it was an obvious fact – he also her interest and was unsure of it. "Although there wasn't much there to see."
"What do you mean?"
"The murderer was an assassin. Highly skilled and much more professional than I've ever seen." He shrugged. "Not that I've seen many, but he went to the army and was trained well, that's for sure."
"No evidence left then? If he's a professional then he would've made sure not to, right?"
Tintin nodded in agreement of this. It was Anne that spoke again after the indication. "So we have nothing. We can't even find evidence, let alone the murderer."
"Yet," Tintin corrected, serving Snowy's dog food in a bowl and placing it on the ground by his feet. The dog went to his master and ate obediently. "We will get the killer, somehow, but right now laying low is what matters. A lot of people might find your kidnapping and reappearance so soon a bit too much."
"And there are the police who are after you and as you're injured that might not end well, I suppose. So we can't do anything. We're stuck in a warehouse with nothing but slop and dog food." Anne saw an expression pass Snowy's face as if he were offended, the response was automatic to her lips. "Well it's true."
The dog continued with its breakfast, as if he were still offended; smug in his eating. It was Tintin who chuckled at this – the idea that she had just spoken to his dog, as he often did, like a human. He thought that she, an aristocrat in her own right, had spoken to Snowy as if she was asking for his forgiveness for her impoliteness. It tickled him somewhere; it just caused him to laugh extensively.
Once he placed the mushy grey soup on the semi-clean plastic table in front of two chairs Anne joined in. Realising as well and thinking of the ridiculousness of what she had just done. She had a lighter tone of laughter and her eyes twinkled as she did so in the passing daylight. The delight and amusement in the large space of the abandoned warehouse felt like the taste of honey on a winter's night.
When the laughter died down, they ate the substance that was supposed to be porridge. It was watery and flavourless, but it gave them the necessary strength they needed. Silence took over again; only the few domestic cockerels and yowling strays could be heard in the damp place they sat. Anne's thoughts of her morning daydream came to mind without warning – she was truly curious to the past of the boy reporter. She preferred calling him a man but that was his acclaimed title due to his youthful features.
She voiced her thoughts. "Who are you?"
Tintin looked up from the tasteless mush he was consuming and shifted his eyebrow suspiciously, assuming it was a pun of some sort. "You don't know? I thought you would've bothered to learn my name by now."
"Very funny." Anne admitted with no amusement in her voice, leaning back in the cheap plastic, briefly abandoning the meal before her. The chair creaked under her weight. "Seriously though, who are you? You know nearly everything there is to know about me but I know nothing about you."
The man rolled his eyes. "I've been asked that so many times; there's nothing to tell."
"Can I be the judge of that?"
Tintin sighed at this. Knowing that she clearly wouldn't leave the subject now – curiosity of others was sometimes the downfall of his work. "You'll get bored, Anne, we could be trying to do something useful."
"Like what? Knock on doors asking about this assassin? Yeah that'll be a sight, an armed criminal turning up at an old lady's doorstep asking about a murder. We'll blend right in." Anne leaned back in annoyance of the childish way Tintin was acting about this. He was avoiding the question, she was aware of this, but perhaps this wasn't the right time. Maybe no time would be the right time.
"Who says I'm armed?"
"No. Now that would've been suspicious."
"And staying with a recently kidnapped coma patient in a burned down warehouse isn't suspicious at all?" Anne was sharp with her reply; she resisted smiling at the idea of Tintin's excuses if the police came to them.
This thought also registered in his mind, he had almost completely forgotten of the original plan he was going to follow. He was aware that Anne had a good impact on his mood and general behaviour, but she was also plentiful with distractions. He began to pack the little objects and all the food they needed in the canvas bags they had.
"What are you doing now?" Anne asked with a slight edge in her voice.
"Packing." Tintin explained. "We can't stay in one place for too long. It would cause suspicion that we're squatting, that would lead to police being called and then…" he let the image revolve in his mind, shrugging as he let the sentence hang in the air and stuffing some dried meat in a backpack.
"Okay, I get it, they wouldn't be too happy to see you." she began picking some things up as well while speaking. "So where are we going?"
Tintin looked back at her lush, but dirty dress. "There's a place near here that we can hide out and have a radio. I think you'd better change, too, it's gonna be a long day."
The signal station was long abandoned. Years had decayed the concrete box into near rubble stained with moss. There was little room inside for a proper hideout, so no such big time criminals bothered to stay there, but it was enough for just two. Also nobody of importance would remember it so it would be renovated or even found again in the underground maze that was the British tube system.
Thus it served perfectly to Tintin's needs. It was convenient, close to anywhere in the capital and had been snuck in a perfect position where no trains would be able to see it when coming or going. But all the loud trains could be heard within a few hundred yards, this annoying, chugging noise was its only downfall.
Tintin entered with Anne at his heels, the day was almost over and the sun was going down at an alarming rate when they entered the underground tunnels. Sneaking around left and right in the rocky confines of the train tunnels was a daunting, haunting experience for Anne especially. She used to take the trains to get to her apartment and felt the uncomfortable pop of her eardrums pierce her like an arrow through the ear.
When they entered it was far from what Anne considered a home – there were walls with peeling white paint on them, a cream carpeted floor stained with coffee and the unmistakable red of wine and an abandoned cheap grey desk. There was also a mini fridge, a wire frame and thin mattress that Anne supposed was a bed, a cupboard and a radio next to a smashed computer.
She went over to the electrical devices and indicated the destroyed monitor of the computer. "Your work?"
Tintin shrugged. "Nope, for once it wasn't me."
Anne smiled and chuckled a little. "Well at least we have the radio."
"Well we would – if it worked."
"Ah. Okay, no radio." Anne let her shoulders free of the baggage that she carried on her back; this feeling was enough to cause her to sigh in pleasure.
"It just needs a little tinkering and it'll be fine." Tintin dropped his own backpack and retrieved his Swiss army knife from his pocket and sat with the radio on his knees. Then, as he fiddled with the old battered radio, Anne sat and began her questions again.
"Why don't you want me to know about you?"
"I told you. There's nothing to tell."
Anne could see the lie in plain sight. She disliked how he was so insistent on keeping it profoundly. "Don't you trust me?"
"Then what, exactly, is the problem?" Anne demanded, not bothering to hide her anger and betrayal.
Tintin sighed. Perhaps he did owe her this much, but she didn't want her to judge him as the rest of the world did at his exploits at war or childhood. Trust was as much a fiend as an ally in this unusual case, he wished her to not need this from him but it would not succeed to persuade her. It was unfortunate that Tintin was aware of this – he was reluctant and decided to tell her his tale.
"I don't really know where to begin." He spoke with his attention focused on the mechanical task at hand. But he was aware of her looking intently at his every word – fascinated with what the famed, mysterious boy reporter had to say. "I was born in Bulgaria but moved to West London as a child. It was what some might say a good life in the city. I went to a good school and the man that was my father wanted me to take over the family business when my time came. Well, he wanted me to do a lot of things.
"I wasn't like him as he thought I was. We were completely different people; I had morals. He was more interested in the state of poor families who didn't pay their interest fees on time. Less so about whether they would have a home or any food to go back to after they paid the money. He was a sick, sick bastard." Tintin paused a moment as he delved into the ancient memory, watching though the eyes of a frightened young teen as his mother was beaten before his eyes. How his father smiled when he saw his son watching him, saying that this was the role of women in the world. "When I told him that I wanted to be a journalist he laughed as if it was a joke. He didn't care about the media and hated the fact that it was not what he wanted me to do.
"My dad didn't waste any more time with me after another son came into the picture. It was as if I ceased to exist." Tintin stared for a moment with hurt clear in his expression. The awful thoughts returned to him, as he slowly faded away from that man's memory – until all that was left was a ghost. He hated his father for that, for just ignoring him because he wasn't what he wanted – wasn't the man that he wanted him to be. The man didn't love anything that he didn't want, so how could he ever love Tintin? But he then smiled at another memory of his mother shoving money in his hand as he was forced out the door. "But mum never gave up on me."
Anne gave him a few seconds so he could gather his thoughts. She wondered if this was easy for him to do, whether he had confided this to anybody else. Only one other might know of his story – it was unfortunate that Captain Haddock was no longer among them. She might have wanted to meet the man one day.
Tintin took a deep breath to quell the tears from his mother's love before continuing. "There were few journalistic jobs around, so I joined the army at around sixteen. Mostly because I wanted to serve my country abroad and had nothing to lose, but also because I knew that I wanted to be as far away from my father as possible. I worked around the world, everywhere from Egypt to America to even Japan. It was good, I guess. A life that I could handle and one that I had friends in; I might still be there if it wasn't for what happened Russia…"
Anne picked up the sentence after little more than a few seconds pause – eager for more history of this supposed war he was in. This was what she was both anticipating and concerned about, she didn't know if this was what she wanted to hear. "What happened in Russia?"
"I was stationed at the border – a quiet job. I was supposed to keep the Japanese out. I never asked why and I didn't care why. All I knew was that it was easy money to be made, so I agreed to do it. But I wasn't aware that I was also keeping Russians in. I was a prison guard for one of the biggest prisons in the world at the time.
"A family of eight tried to get out of the country." He explained, there was no emotion in his voice and he resisted it from breaking. "They were poor, starving and just trying to have a new life where they wouldn't be persecuted from being Jewish. But we caught them – the parents, four daughters and two sons – and locked them up. I learned that they were going to be shot by a firing squad because they had been trying to get out of the country for months. We were the only ones at the border who had managed to keep them locked up; there were great rewards promised for afterwards.
"But I couldn't do it." Tintin saw again as the Captain of his regiment had drinks at the officers table, ordering him to give the prisoners food that rats wouldn't eat. The fat man told him to guard them for the night, because they would be dead once sunrise came. He felt their eyes staring at him, the innocence of the children was too much – it wasn't what his mother would've wanted. It wasn't justice, it was slaughter. "The father of the family could speak a little English, so I told him that I could get them out. I wish that they could've all walked free, but back then I didn't know how sloppily I was being with their escape. I managed to sneak all the children out, but the parents were captured. They were… beyond brave for what they did to save their kids.
"The parents were shot at dawn, but I was blamed for the children's escape. I didn't waste time trying to deny it – I was proud to do what I thought was right rather than someone else's orders. But I was given a dishonourable discharge from the army, which nearly ruined me. I wanted to start again so I changed my name, moved to London, got a job as a reporter, and I've been Tintin ever since."
Anne couldn't breathe. She was unable to realise how much of Tintin she had no idea about. He wasn't even called Tintin, his name changed, the things he's seen… She spoke her thoughts and leaned in towards him. "That's amazing, Tintin."
"Maybe. But I could've done more for them kids – because of me they're orphans."
Anne sighed. "There wasn't anything you could've done. You can't keep blaming yourself for something that you can't change."
"No, Tintin, think about the things you've done!" Anne exclaimed, "You've taken down people that some wouldn't even dare to cross! Take Sakharine – he was rich and powerful and you could've given up at any time. But you didn't, you didn't even consider the option because you were saving Haddock's heritage!" She was inexplicably grinning widely from the excitement of his exploits.
Tintin shook his head. "I did consider giving up – but I didn't because the Captain told me it wasn't who I was."
"And who are you?" Anne snapped, standing high. The pain and respect in the timbre of her voice making Tintin look to her. "You are the greatest man I have ever known. You staked your life on saving a family you didn't even know. If you asked me about you a few months ago, I would've said that you were an egotistical idiot with not enough balls to even admit that his stories were fictional. But after being with you, fighting with you… watching you die by my side. I know that's not you now. The man I know is stronger than that – you are stronger than that, Tintin."
Anne came close to him. Dangerously close with their eyes meeting only inches apart. She was on her knees and he was upon the chair, staring at her with something close to anxiety in his pupils, all interest gone from the radio on his knees. She felt the flutter of butterflies in the depths of her stomach as she kept her ground so close to him. Anne wondered for a moment of an impossible feeling – something that had sparked in her and grew in size and intensity. She had almost forgotten it, what the feeling was and how glorious it made someone.
"I don't care, Tintin, about what happened to you." her hand reached for him, and she cupped his cheek in one hand. He flinched, but did not force her hand away – it was a soft tickling sensation that occurred in his stomach. "I only know you – right here, right now. You saved me. You rescued me and I think that you need to stop blaming yourself…"
Her words were lost – everything she was going to say was gone in the feeling that was sparking within her. The musty, warm air had taken it all away. Anne was consumed in the complexity of Tintin's grey eyes, how they were so still for once. How they watched intently with the protective nature of a father wolf over a pregnant mate. She looked back with her emeralds that made Tintin wonder at how she could possibly be with that monster. How could he have ruined her? How could anybody take and destroy Anne?
Tintin didn't know what to do next, but Anne did. She was aware of her feelings now. She knew what they were screaming at her to do but she had ignored them. Perhaps for too long. She let her head creep forward – giving time for Tintin to ultimately decide if this was what he wanted. Whether this was too fast, too slow, or too awkward? Was this what he wanted? Did he want this as much as she ached for it?
"Stop." Tintin spoke with his eyes now closed, the word breaking her heart with much more ferocity than she expected. But it wasn't enough to cause her to cry, Anne would not cry. "I can't do this, Anne. This is… I just need to think. About this. About us."
Her eyes dimmed. Lowered as the situation had tensed.
She didn't waste his time any longer. Anne walked away from him and out into the stuffy confines of the underground. She walked away, cursing herself and thumped her head hard on the concrete, sliding down its rough surface and muddying her jeans on the wet earth below. She didn't care – she had just embarrassed herself to the man she truly thought could be… Why did she have to change everything in the complete wrong way? How could she do that? How could she be so greedy and forward like that? She hit her head harder. She kept hitting her skull against the concrete wall in frustration until it was near agony. Until blood seeped from a stinging wound and ran down the surface of the concrete, leaving a tiny red stain.
But that pain could compare to the already broken heart within her – which now was dust being blown in the wind. Anne hated the feeling that still mocked her because of her idiotic decisions of lovers, causing the happy butterflies within her stomach to wither and die.