Author's Note: Hey guys, sorry for the long wait. Numerous real life occurences got in the way. Just so you know, I've edited and changed all of the preceeding chapters, and the story is heading in down a slightly different route. I will try to update more faithfully in the future. Hope you like it!
"That's great news, Tessa. I'm so pleased for you."
Eve stared out at the dark window, only half hearing the excited words of the babysitter. She could see the young woman bustling around the kitchen unpacking the groceries Eve had asked her to pick up on her way here.
"Thank you! I was getting so worried after all this time, and it turns out I got through with a special recommendation. Imagine that! They even apologised for taking so long to reply."
She smiled to herself. Eve did not think she had heard this much enthusiasm in Tessa's voice ever. The smile was a short one, however. There was much troubling her. Now that her brother-in-law was awake, what was meant to happen? She could not toss him out on the streets. It was what she should have done the moment she had recognised him, but it was too late now. That was too much of a risk, and Eve knew she would not have been able to live with that choice. Yet as it was she couldn't continue to support the three of them and pay for Tessa's services. There was no way in hell she was going to let Caelum take over her babysitting duties. She doubted he would actually do anything to Brigit, but it was perfectly clear that he was in no position to act responsibly with her child. He would be all but useless in an emergency situation, and although he'd said nothing about where he had been these past three years, she doubted it had been anywhere pleasant.
Although it had almost been two months since she had brought him in, Eve was aware he was still far too weak to do any hard labour. Far too weak to do any kind of work, really, she could see he still struggled to get up in the morning. He had in fact been asleep when she had returned home from work this afternoon and had not risen since.
"I was beginning to think I hadn't made it through..." The younger woman's voice trailed off slightly to the rustle of packaged food.
"Well you certainly studied enough for it." Eve murmured half-heartedly to her. Her impatient mind was elsewhere. She had a meeting to go to soon, and her taxi had not arrived yet. Gazing anxiously at her made up reflection in the window, Eve ran her hands over her impeccably neat hair again. It did not do to be late. Her boss would not like it.
She was late.
He stood quietly, hidden behind the half drawn curtain as he peered out the window. It was light, the winter's sun kissing the snow on the pavement. A man in a thick coat and woollen cap trudged along the pavement, leaving shadowed footprints in the crunch snow. He hadn't seen snow like this for a long time.
He contemplated going outside, just for a moment, to touch and feel it with his hands. Yet even as his skin shivered with anticipation, even the thought of climbing down the three flights of stairs wearied him. He was still so weak. It still took an immense amount of effort to merely stand and walk to the bathroom. Even fully grasping wakefulness was hard. Sometimes the struggle to distinguish the whispered mutterings of his head from the hushed conversation of those around him consumed the better part of his waking hours. Most days he simply lay on the couch, in a confused, dreamlike state.
How long had it been since he had woken? It was hard to remember, there was nothing really to distinguish the passage of time. There was no desire to either. He had tried listening to the radio, but the noise hurt his ears and made his head ache. Even on the good days he found it difficult to recognise the tinny words emitted from that small box. He had yet to attempt the newspaper, though he supposed it might help to know what year he was actually in.
The floorboards under his feet creaked as he shifted his weight. A taxi drove past. He sighed, blinked, and shuffled his way back to the table. The newspaper from last Saturday still lay there messily. Gazing vaguely over the front page, his eyes eventually snagged on the date. 14th of December 2149. Almost Christmas, he remembered. What did that make it, three years he'd been away? That sounded right.
Not much had seemed to have changed, at least, as far as he could tell. How much could have changed? He didn't know, and was suddenly too weary too particularly care. Slowly, he slid his arms along the table to let his forehead rest against the surface. three years, ten, it hardly mattered. He could not return to those he had known before. It was far too dangerous, and there were so few he felt he could even risk it. Of those, Eve certainly had not been on the list, but he should have learned by now that his judgement was not the best.
Furrows creased his forehead at that thought. He'd put his trust in the wrong person all those years ago, and who would have ever expected his brother's wife, the Miss Warwick herself, would be the one to return him for life.
He had missed out on so much time, and now it had been given back to him, he didn't know what to do with it.
Brigit has just sunken into sleep when Tessa silently left her bedside. She was tired herself from a hard day's work, and did not look forward to the nightly vigil. As weak and as harmless as he had appeared, Tessa just could not bring herself to sleep in the same room as Eve's brother-in-law. She would watch over him until Eve returned.
Caelum, she reminded herself as she walked back into the main room. Eve said his name was Caelum.
It sent her heart to her throat to find him seated at the table, staring blankly at the fridge door. Tessa was certain he had been in a heavy sleep when she had last checked. All she could do was stare aimlessly at the back of his head, she was still getting over the shock. The idea of announcing her presence seemed sensible, but the words just seemed to escape her and her tongue felt like lead. He reminded her of some kind of wraith, it made her shudder.
"S-sorry…" She winced at the stammer. The man unnerved her. "Um…C-Caelum, is it? I don't think we've properly met…"
He had turned his head slightly at the sound of her voice, acknowledging her presence there at least.
"Caelum?" She tried again, "Um, I'm Tessa."
This time he actually shifted in his chair to look at her, but the blank regard on his face killed any ability to talk further. His grey eyes watched her carefully, but even so she could not tell if he was watching her precisely or the space she occupied. It made her feel trapped, and she wished he would move just to break up the stillness of his body. He blinked once, slow, calculating as if it were important to keep every aspect of his body in complete control. Tessa hugged her arms and tried to be brave.
"Uh…is there anything I can help you with? F-food or anything?"
Still he made no move. It was as if he were assessing her. The slight, upraised tilt to the head and the lowered eyes, like one used to deference, combined with the blank regard that rattled her never shifted. Tessa felt pinned. They both waited.
"Well what?" She asked finally, a feeling of annoyance finally rising above her nervousness "I can't read your mind, you know."
The man-Caelum, blinked rapidly, before shaking his head to drop his gaze.
She heard him murmur something that might have been "Eve", though she couldn't be sure. He moved slowly back to the pile of blankets that was the couch and eased himself onto it. Tessa waited a little, to see if he wanted anything. All he did was sit though. He was a strange one, she thought.
Two smuggling rings discovered in this month only, and they had only been small links in the over chain. It didn't help that their first serious lead on them had succeeded in hospitalizing him. Francis bloody Cready must be going ape shit, Leon reckoned. He lay slovenly on his couch, left foot elevated on another chair and watching the news and grinning. He couldn't help it, he'd had little else to entertain him lately and frankly he just found it that kind of hilarious only a veteran can feel. He supposed that was what he was now, sort of.
His branch in the Ministry of Immigration was going crazy, though. They had been trying to crack down on these dirtback smugglers for years. Most of the time they didn't have too much trouble, but in the last year or so the tempo had slowly started to heat up. Public bombings were a long way off the sly people smuggling deals he had first started investigating. Not that he had minded much. It had made the job that much more interesting for him. Well, for while at least.
He shifted the position of his long legs and scratched his stubbly chin. It was late morning, not that you would be able to tell. Leon's blinds were folded shut and the only light in the room came from the TV and the dinky little wall lamp he had bought himself for Christmas in a spontaneous and rare mood of home decorating. His cell phone began to ring and he cursed, but Leon made no move to answer it. Hell, he was on sick leave, and he damn well deserved it.
Ignoring the persistent ring, he flicked the channel, skipping through as he saw the same footage on every station.
...Government Authorities believe they may have identified a potential lead...
...such terrorists, seeking to undermine the security and safety of our capital city, are still at large...
...as more hard working Londoners suffer due to the strain that illegal immigrants put onto our economy...
...to order you customised pure iron key chain at spectacular bargain prices...
...at least three of last week's missing persons have been discovered to be victims of phantasm's that have infiltrated the city. Specialised soldiers are at this moment hunting down the rougue...
It was always the same, he mused, murders at the hands of some phantasm or the other, rallying over the immigration issue; that one was quite big these days. And behind it was the Government, desperately trying to fill in the missing gaps of their crumbling society. Frankly, it was impressive that Britain had lasted as long as it had. Each new news report revealed another hole in the system, another thing that had gone wrong and slipped through the cracks of their supposed iron solid society. Phantasm or human, it didn't take much to expose their tenuous hold on society.
It was an accepted part of life for Leon. Being one of those shadowy figures behind the screen of London's security, he knew the extent of its truth, and in all honesty, he hadn't minded all that much. It was work, it needed to be done, and he was good at it. Pity now he'd buggered up his body doing so.
The phone was still ringing. God, they were persistent, he thought, and the ringing was getting to him. The newbie, Matthews, had figured out if he left it long enough, Leon would pick up. Whether he got to hear what he wanted to was a different matter.
Damn kid was sharp like that.
Leaving the screen on, Leon hefted himself up off the sunken couch, trying not to wince at the skin pulling tightly at his fresh pink scars. He limped over heavily to his table, shuffling through his copious amount of paper work to find his cell. Leon was, normally, a somewhat tidy and organized man, but having two bullets shot into his torso and his throat almost cut out almost two months ago kind of removed that priority.
He found the phone.
"What is it, kid? It better be important."
"As always, sir." A hint of a smile, some sarcasm as well as genuine respect filtered through Matthews's voice in that one phrase.
Always the analyser, Leon thought to himself.
"Well, hit me with it."
"Certainly sir. As you know, we've been trying to identify the individuals directly responsible for the terrorist attacks, specifically the one in which you were injured-"
Leon closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with one hand.
"Yes, yes, I know that. Get to the point."
"Well, we-as in- me, think we have a lead."
"So? You've had plenty of leads. Check it out like the others."
"Yes sir, we have been. It's just that, you wanted to know if any one sounded promising, and I think this may be one."
Leon shifted his weight, trying to forestall the ache that was slowly creeping into lower stomach. God this kid took ages to spit out information sometimes. He bit his tongue and waited though. Despite his misgivings a trickle of anticipation ran inside him, and he wondered if something might actually come out of this.
"This woman was reported being seen fleeing the scene of your-uh...of the Charing Cross Incident, though reportedly has an alibi which checks out. Her arrest has also been called for twice in the past year for suspicion of aiding terrorists though no one could find a trace of her, and she is suspected of entering into London through illegal means, though we have no solid proof of this. We have an address but that reportedly is no longer in use and there is no record of her being employed."
"There's something else you haven't told me yet, isn't there?"
Matthews was doing a very good job of keep his voice calm, but there was an unmistakable smugness in his voice as he paused for the final revelation.
"Yes sir. This woman, she's Russian."
Eleni had returned to work the previous week, and although she smiled as she poured drinks and handed out plates of greasy food, it was not with the enthusiasm that had warmed her features previously.
Tessa didn't know what she could do, really. She offered small smiles of consolation to her friend whenever their eyes met, invited her out when she could afford it, but there was only so much one could do in the face of grief. It was the sort of thing that only time could heal, or in the absence of healing, taught you to endure.
At least she's back at work, Tessa thought to herself. It would help keep her mind off things. She sighed to herself as she set to clearing a newly vacated table, ignoring the ache in her back and legs. It had been a long night.
"Cheer up love, it's almost over." Gus smiled, patting her on the back. "Fairly quiet too, relatively speaking."
"Aw, don't tell me you're going to kick us out just yet, are you?" A red faced man laughed before taking another swig at his pint. Around him, his mates and their women cheered him on. This group were usually the last to leave on a Friday night. Reliable regulars who drank plenty but rarely made trouble had earned the right to stay in after the door was officially closed.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Eddy." Gus went over to slap the man on the back. "Any of you lads fancy a last drink?"
"Give us all one, its Bran's turn to shout!"
Her neighbour had apparently befriended this particular group a few weeks prior by covering for Eddy's rather late appearance at work. Bran just kept seeming to pop up everywhere in her life lately.
Carrying her heavy tray of glassware, Tessa pushed open the door to the small kitchen and set the tray next to an existing pile.
"Oh joy, you've bought me more." The new kitchen hand said dryly, covered in soap suds. Behind him, Eleni was quietly drying and polishing glasses and cutlery.
"You know you like it, really."
"I like the fact it earns me money."
"Of course." Without Eleni's usual bubbly chat, Tessa had found herself increasingly trying to fill in her silences. "We've only got Eddy and his crew left out there. Hopefully they won't be too long."
"If Gus hasn't given them another round." Eleni muttered, and Tessa looked at her sharply. Yet her friend's focus remained on the pint glass in her hands. A sudden roar of laughter made Tessa wince. Even in here the boisterous conversation of their last customers could be heard.
Moving around the kitchen, Tessa approached the full tray of clean glasses. She felt the strain of their weight in her wrists and arms as she lifted it, but ground her teeth together and struggled back out the door and into the bar.
"I tell you, I stared right into it's bloody eyes-they hate that, you know, eye contact." Tessa groaned mentally. Every so often Eddy broke out his infamous encounter with a Phantasm. They had always heard it before, and always at the end of the night when everyone was too tired to tell him they'd heard it before.
"And I could see it was eyeing me off, as if he was deciding what bit of me it'd like to sink its teeth into. So I stared it right in the little bugger's face steady as and told him to piss off." Eddy continued, face as red as ever. "The little blighter had the nerve to hiss some sort of curse in that horrible tongue of theirs and right off vanished. So I figure its nerve. You show them you've got a spine and they can't take you."
Tessa chanced a glance at Bran. He was smiling and nodding in agreement as the others grinned at each other and rolled their eyes. Good old Eddy, they said. She went back to putting away the glasses.
"Eddy's an idiot." Eleni said flatly as they shivered at the bus stop afterwards. "He's so full of shit if he thinks the only reason he survived was cause he won a damn staring contest."
Tessa shifted uncomfortably. She didn't quite know what to say.
"What do you think it was then?" Bran asked politely from her other side. Once again, he'd waited so he could walk her home. Eleni sniffed and scratched her nose before answering.
"Hon, everyone knows he's got an old silver coin he keeps in his shoe. Never goes anywhere without it. Family heirloom or something."
Silence descended on the trio. At the very least it wasn't snowing anymore. Tessa readjusted her scarf, trying to block out the cold that kept seeping in.
"At least he's a good customer." She said lightly, stuffing the remaining length of her scarf down the front of her jacket. The bright headlights of a bus lit up the cold street corner. Tessa squinted at the strain to her eyes as it hefted noisily to a halt.
"He's still an idiot." Eleni stated finally. "This is me. I'll catch you later, Tessa."
With a grime face, Eleni leapt up the worn bus steps and was driven away into the gloomy night. Tessa resisted the urge to sigh, and found herself yawning instead. She didn't like the new bitterness that had seeped into Eleni, as understandable as it was.
"Do you want to grab a coffee?" Bran's question startled her, and she looked at his earnest face, slightly embarrassed as well as faintly elated.
"You mean now?"
"Well...maybe not now. Stupid idea. I don't suppose much will be open at this hour." He ended in a mumble, sounding bashful, and Tessa wondered if he was blushing under the coat of darkness.
"Maybe tomorrow." She conceded, because despite her initial wariness, she had come to like him somewhat. It would be nice to have another friend. "After my midday shift?"
"Sure. That would be great."
They left it at that and stood silently in cold night.