Story: Heroes of the Revolution
Flavor(s): Chocolate #26 (Nostalgia) & Passionfruit #25 (But we loved with a love that was more than love)
Rating: All ages
Word Count: 1548
Notes/Warnings: 1991, 1986. (Charles Terrell, 'Alice', Anna, Jamie Bradley.)
Summary: Charles Terrell makes a temporary escape from politics in memories of an ordinary life he never had.
Charles Terrell had spent the afternoon answering seemingly endless questions about himself, and now he was thankful to be done with it all, heading into the bar in search of a drink. With that accomplished, he turned, leaning against the bar to look for a table, and then lifted his head sharply as a woman in a green coat crossed the room. And that was the trouble with raking over the past, wasn’t it? You couldn’t lay the ghosts it raised again so easily.
Alice had worn a coat very like that, the first time he’d seen her – bottle green, but with a silver flower-shaped brooch pinned to its collar. That was what he’d been told to look for – how to identify his new resistance contact. He’d knocked her glass over, as carelessly as he could manage, and then apologised and bought her another. The trappings of everyday romance hiding a mere transfer of information.
Charles had been a minor member of Hallam’s government and in that capacity he’d also worked for the resistance – directly for the moderate Ronald Whittaker and indirectly for Colonel Seaton. It hadn’t usually involved assignations with unknown and attractive women in bars, though. That part had been new.
“Was that deliberate?” Alice had asked him with an amused spark in her eyes as he carefully put the new glass down in front of her. The she smiled; a warm, slightly wry smile. “I don’t mind either way.”
Charles had smiled back, but awkwardly. He was used to lies of most kinds these days, but not this particular pretence. He’d rather, he thought, pass a note to an anonymous figure in an alley and move on, both none the wiser. But it made sense this way – he had to meet her regularly, and it had to look normal and innocent to any watchers. There would be watchers at some point, he knew.
“No, no,” he’d said. “An accident. But if it helps, I’m not sorry for it.” Then he grinned at her, and passed her a folded piece of paper with his telephone number on it: inside it was another, thinner strip of paper that contained a tiny row of code.
She hesitated for nearly a minute, before she smiled again, and pocketed the paper. “Alice,” she’d said, and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you.” It wasn’t her real name, but it was all he’d ever known her by.
Charles put down his glass on the table in the corner and surveyed the rest of the room. People looked uneasy, which was unsurprising. Overturning a regime like the last was never as simple as it was in stories: ding dong, the witch is dead, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, not in real life. In real life, there were a whole lot more loose ends to deal with. Probably, given that he might end up as the next prime minister, these people wouldn’t feel any happier if they knew that he was sitting in here, getting maudlin over nothing.
Well, they didn’t, he thought, and after everything he’d been through, everything they’d all been through, why the hell not, just for one evening?
He let his mind drift back to another meeting – a meal out somewhere; he couldn’t even remember where now. By that point they’d forgotten the purpose of their meeting, or he had. They’d barely noticed the passing of time as they waited for the food to arrive, talking over everything. It was merely an ordinary conversation – they’d talked mostly about the way things used to be, before the fighting had started, before the Emergency Measures, and before Hallam took over.
“None of these permits,” she said. “Or these arrests. Do you think one day it’ll be over?”
He’d remembered then who he was, at least as far as the world was concerned, and, like any good member of the government, told her that Hallam would pull them all through eventually.
Alice had looked surprised for a minute, and then she had smiled and leant forward to put her hand over his. “Let’s hope so, love,” she said earnestly.
When she removed it, Charles found himself left with a small safe deposit key in his hand. He’d felt irrationally furious with her, before the anger died into wry amusement at his own foolishness. But he’d wanted the illusion to be the reality so intensely for a minute or two: he wanted this to be what it appeared, not another game of espionage. He wanted the world where she’d taken his hand only because she wished to, and where he could see her when he chose, not when he was told.
She gave him a curious look, tilting her head fractionally to one side as she watched him. “You’re sure that fish is all right? You look as if something went down the wrong way. Not indigestion, is it?”
“Thanks,” he said, in feigned indignation, before laughing with her. “Just thinking about something.”
She laughed. “That’s not very flattering.”
“It might be,” he told her, catching her gaze and smiling slowly. “It depends what I was thinking, doesn’t it?”
“Mr Terrell,” said someone, interrupting his recollections. “Mr Terrell!”
Charles leant back against the seat and looked up to see Jamie Bradley, one of Colonel Seaton’s assistants, standing there. He crooked an eyebrow upwards in mute enquiry.
“Sir,” Jamie said, but the respect was forced. “Miss Miller asked me to fetch you.”
“What now? Can’t it wait? It’s gone nine, I’ve talked far too much already – can’t she leave me alone for half an hour?”
“Sir,” said Bradley. “That was the message.” Then his annoyance overcame his formality and he added, “I can’t imagine Anna would send for you if it wasn’t important.”
Charles didn’t think she would either, and it was pointless to harbour resentment against Anna only because she’d asked him a hundred questions earlier but hadn’t been able to answer the only one he’d asked her. He gave the younger man a brief grimace of apology and rose with weary resignation.
It had been a night like this, the last time he’d seen Alice, he thought as he walked out into the cold alongside Bradley, stubbornly continuing to think about her because none of them could see inside his head; not Hallam, not the security people, and not Seaton, nor any hypothetical future voters, either, thank God.
Their meetings had been going on for months, and they had reached a point where it was perfectly natural for Charles to walk along with her till their paths diverged, and then to stop, talk a little more, and bend down to kiss her on the cheek when they finally said goodbye. At the same time, he slipped a roll of microfilm into her pocket. It was nothing, nothing at all. They’d hardly make it into a roll call of the great romances of the twentieth century, but it mattered to him and he believed – or hoped – that it mattered to her.
Alice moved away from him, giving her usual cheerful smile in farewell, but there was an underlying sadness in it and he again wanted nothing more than to know how much of what they had was an act, a cover story. He couldn’t ask. The world would have to change dramatically before he could risk such a question.
“Give me a ring,” she said, with another quick smile, and patted his arm. “Let’s not leave it so long next time.”
Charles had nodded, and watched her go, until he decided: to hell with it. There were some things he could ask. He ran after her, catching up swiftly, but out of breath. “Alice,” he said. “How about tomorrow?”
“Oh, love,” she said, and laughed, but it didn’t seem quite as easy as usual. “I can’t tomorrow. I know I said don’t leave it so long, but –”
“I know. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’m free tomorrow. But it’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
Alice shook her head at him, and then needlessly straightened his jacket with a tug to the lapel. “Why don’t you have a coat?” she asked. “You must be freezing!” Then she stretched up to kiss him in return. “Not tomorrow,” she said and looked straight up at him. “Soon, though. I’ll let you know.”
That part he knew was a lie, because it was the last time he saw her.
“I’m sorry about this,” said Anna, when Charles and Jamie reached her office again. “It’s the Colonel. He needs to see you, and he barely has a minute free tomorrow, so he said if you were still around –”
Charles nodded. “Yes, yes. Of course. I hadn’t gone far.”
“I trust I didn’t interrupt anything?” she asked, with a sudden smile.
He followed her out into the corridor; he had to increase his pace to keep up with her. “Nothing at all, Miss Miller. Just dreaming about the way things used to be. You know how it is.”
“I don’t think I do,” she said. “I’m too busy worrying about how we’re going to bring in the changes we need around here.”
Charles shut the door behind him. “Quite right, too. I’d better make you my example in future, hadn’t I?”