Sunshine On Leith
While I'm worth my room on this earth
The flat the Watchers' Council rented for her that summer was tiny, one room nestled under the eaves of a crumbling brick rooming house. Tiny bed in one corner, tiny kitchen in another, tiny bathroom in a third and the fourth taken up by the door and a coat rack Fred knocks over every time she enters the place. When she knocks it over this time, it is not because she is uncoordinated and juggling too many books, it is because she had opened the door with one hand and backed into her room. Her mouth, and other hand, were firmly engaged in kissing Wesley, and tangling in his hair, making it stand up in all sorts of directions that he would never deem appropriate for daily wear.
Fred likes his hair like that. She thinks that it looks like cats' fur when they've just woken up, like a whole mess of sleepy kittens sitting on Wesley's head. And when they're lying lazily in her bed, tangled together because in a single bed that's the only way you can be, he lets her run her fingers through it, tugging tufts up into undignified styles. Fred likes the way he looks at her when she does this, blinking myopically at her, his glasses resting on a stack of books beside her bed. She wants to ask him questions in these moments; deepest fears and greatest joys and unhatched dreams. She wants him to be honest beyond belief.
Wesley looks unguarded like this, and Fred supposes they both are. She knows as well as he does that they shouldn't be doing this, just like she knew that she wasn't supposed to want to kiss her physics teacher junior year, but neither of them talk about it and he's only 20, really, that's only two years.
But it's only one of the many things they don't talk about, and when the breeze is blowing through the window onto their bare legs and the sun is shining onto her back, she thinks it doesn't matter. Fred runs her fingers through Wesley's hair and smiles, and he chuckles in that terribly British way he has and pulls her down to him.
When his hands are on her back, tracing patterns on the sun-warmed skin, she thinks is doesn't matter at all.
Wesley takes her walking by the canals when the weather is nice. Fred knows he tries hard, too hard, to be diligent and resourceful and clever like his father wants him to. Sometimes, though, the weather outside just proves too much of a temptation. She's happy to spend the summer here. It's cool and sunny and there isn't a trace of humidity, and she didn't understand it until Wesley pulled out a map and showed her that Cambridge was so far north. She thought it was like New York, where on the news it still got sticky hot and people died from heat exposure, but it's more like Canada, somewhere with an ocean and a breeze, and with all the trees the light looks green sometimes.
When they walk underneath the trees that drop yellow pollen over houseboats on the canals and make Wesley sneeze in a completely undignified manner, crossing his eyes and screwing up his face, he takes her hand when they're far enough from the colleges to be secretive. She knows that his father doesn't approve of Wesley's affection for her, but she doesn't understand why he cares so much.
She knows he loves her - she doesn't have to be told, because he hasn't said it, and she never believed in love at first sight, but there's something right between them. Fred has always felt like an old soul in a young body, thought it was because she'd rather bury her nose in a book than drink and screw like her high school classmates. But with Wesley, from the first moment she'd shaken his clammy hand at the airport, she'd felt … at home.
And walking the hidden paths, she feels the same way, this strange familiarity that she doesn't feel anywhere else. He doesn't act as though he has to talk only about work, or behave as his background dictates. Here, he holds her hand and talks about books he'd read for fun, and when they cross through sun-streaked patches on the dusty paths, the warmth breaking through the trees above them, he stops walking and stops talking and he kisses her.
It's this sunny, solemn, open Wesley that she loves.
There's honesty to everything Wesley does, she believes, and she feels it in his embrace. But all the same - he won't hold her, or kiss her, in public. He makes phone calls to his mother about dinner with someone called Catherine and mumbles that she's just a friend of the family when Fred asks about her. His honesty is tainted with walls around his heart, and in his kiss she can taste knowledge that he has and does not share, and she does not ask about it.
Fred wants to ask him sometimes, ask him if there are things he does not say to her, things she should now, but there is so little time. What he does say seems to be enough, if she doesn't worry, and this summer seems too short to worry. Fred thinks, I have the rest of my life to worry.
So Fred kisses him, and she does not ask.
The work is interesting. She'd come to England expecting a summer with dusty books, and there is that aspect to the research, of course. There's no way to learn languages like Sumerian or Fyarl without spending some time bent over a book. But it isn't just that - it's learning how to read the signs, learning how to bend the ancient words to her will.
She's here to help Wesley with research, nominally - they're researching some strange mating ritual with some strange demon called the Groo-something-or-other - but he spends more time teaching her to read Sumerian, to speak demon languages, to find the magic patterns in the world around her, than he does researching.
He keeps saying, "You're going to need it someday. Everyone does. Er, will. Everyone will, when they don't expect it." She thinks it's the Watcher in him showing through, and she teases him because she knows that as a Watcher, he's right, he'll need to know this. It's the first thing they told her, when Wes broke her to Cambridge - what they are, what they do, what that means. But she doesn't ever see how it will apply to her life; stretching into her future are physics laboratories and libraries, places that the patterns are already set. She won't need to find these patterns - just follow them to their logical conclusions.
The night he tells her this, she dreams. Of a place like their universe, only not, something out of a horror movie or a childhood fantasy, with green monsters and collars on humans and she dreams that she is trapped. Fred wakes gasping and goes to the lab two hours early, sits at her desk and traces patterns onto her notebook until the translation she left unfinished is complete.
In her dream, she saw patterns on the wall that she did not understand, and she almost sees what Wesley means.
Fred works harder than ever after this dream, and the dream does not return, and Wesley does not speak of patterns again.
He takes her to dinner with his parents - she doesn't ask him to, and he says, "If you'd rather not" and "we don't have to". But Fred feels like if he asked, he must want her to come, and so she holds his hand and says "of course" and "that will be lovely" and "what should I wear". Wesley says that he prefers her in nothing and kisses her until she's breathless. Before he leaves, he pulls something demure out of her closet, some horrible dress her mother made her bring, and says, "This will be all right."
Fred dreads this dinner consciously. She tries not to, for Wesley's sake, but she cannot help it. She doesn't know why, but her gut knots up as she's dressing and she thinks about not answering his knock.
She goes despite this.
They live in a college residence - apparently his father actually does some teaching at one of the colleges, she can't remember which - with tall windows and heavy drapes and furniture she's afraid to sit on. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce drags Wesley off, fairly forcibly, the moment they're through the door and introductions have been made, leaving Fred to stand uncomfortably in the foyer with his mother.
She looks Fred up and down, not unkindly but certainly not kindly, either, and asks if she'd like a cup of tea. It's July and the last thing in the world Fred wants right now is a cup of tea, but she says yes to be polite. She sits uncomfortably on the edge of a chair that's older than she is and tries not to stare when a servant - a servant! - in an actual maid's uniform brings it to her and asks if "the lady will have anything else". She'd really like a glass of water but being called "the lady" unsettles her so much that she mumbles that she's alright and the maid disappears back wherever she appeared from.
Wesley's mother asks how the research is going, but when Fred starts to tell her about it, her eyes glaze over and she says, "Now, dear, why don't you leave the shop talk to the men?" Fred thinks, Why did you ask if you didn't want to know, and I cannot comprehend how these people live, not even if I survived to be 108.
And his mother says, "Why don't we join the men for dinner?", after they've spent twenty excruciating minutes sitting in silence. Fred's tea has gone cold by her elbow and she almost wants to drink it now. They're stepping out into the hallway, the cool air raising goosebumps on her arms, when his mother turns back to her and says, "He has told you that he's engaged, hasn't he? An old friend of the family. Next year."
So Fred says, "Of course he has," because what else can she say, and Wesley won't meet her eyes across the dinner table.
Back at her flat he tumbles her across the bed and stares down at her and pleads, "I love you, I don't want to marry her but I have to, it's for the Council, for my parents, if you met her I think you two would like each other," and she lets him kiss her even though she knows he's realized that he doesn't have to tell her any kind of truth.
Three days later, it rains the day Fred leaves Cambridge. It really pisses down, in cold sheets that sting Fred's face like needles as she huddles under the awning outside her flat, waiting for Wesley to retrieve her and ferry her back to the airport. It hasn't rained all summer but for booming thunderstorms that rattled the window frames for ten minutes at a time. This rain started late last night after Wesley had left her flat sometime after midnight, and she can picture him dashing home, coat over his head, streaking through the rain.
She knows he'll bring an umbrella this morning; he is that sort of boy, always thinking about her. So she wraps herself in her raincoat and thinks about the night before. He'd appeared at her flat with groceries and wine, rolled up his sleeves and started to cook. They'd eaten on her floor, giggling and stealing bits of stir fry from one another, and drunk both bottles of wine, and he'd kissed her goodbye - no, not goodbye, good night, why did she think it was goodbye - and she'd reminded him that her flight left Heathrow at 6 pm, and …
And the evening is suddenly fuzzy. She remembers that he was there, and they were happy, but she can't remember what they talked about, or if he kissed her other than standing in her doorway at 1 in the morning. Fred blinks, shakes her head, thinks that it's just the wine. She's not used to being drunk, and most of a bottle had made her feel shaky and clouded her eyes, the world blurry around the edges.
She can't remember if he'd said he'd see her in the morning. She can't remember if she's taking the train or being driven. When the big black car rolls up and Wesley's father's driver steps out, she asks. "Where's Wesley? I thought he was taking me to London."
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce has some pressing obligations, Ms. Burkle. I'm to drive you down there straight, no stops."
Don't call him that, she wants to say. That's his father, not my Wesley. That's not how I want to remember him. "Oh," she says instead. "I don't remember him telling me that."
By the time they get to the airport, she doesn't remember him at all.