Aftermath: Tom
by Sängerin

He wasn't in the mood for celebration.

He'd just broken up with another girlfriend. He'd just survived the end of the world. He'd just been deceived by his boss. He'd just pointed a gun at a colleague. He'd just pulled the bloody trigger.

He wasn't in the mood for champagne.

Harry clearly was in the mood for champagne, so Tom shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. He stared into the space ahead of him, while Harry plied the evaluation team with drinks. They toasted the group with cheap champagne in plastic cups while Tom glowered.

The rage that boiled up while he was on the phone to Vicki began to force its way to the surface again as he watched the celebrations. The world was falling apart and she was sitting there with her salmon. A VX bomb could explode in Whitehall and they would still be here, with their drinks and their empty assurances that 'yes, you all did remarkably well. Stood up under that pressure: good show.'

Had none of them heard of the boy who cried wolf?

 

At the George, the conversation flowed around him. Someone put a pint down in front of him: someone else offered him a smoke. People were doing things today they'd never done before. Things they'd sworn they'd never do again. Because today was different.

Today didn't count. It didn't count because it wasn't real. And if it didn't count, then you could do whatever the hell you wanted and it wouldn't matter. Lie to your colleagues -- tell the truth -- end a relationship -- end the world. None of it would matter, or count, or even happen.

He prided himself on his clearheadedness. On being able to deal with anything without letting it phase him. He was a spy and that was the job. At the moment, though, he was anything but clearheaded. His mind was a fog of flashing images from the past twenty hours, always finishing with the movement of finger muscles as he pulled the trigger. Each time he tried to get past it, his thoughts led him back: Zoe's gun, shaking in the corner of his vision. His own, none so steady. Mark Wooley's sweaty red face, determined to leave. The utter certainty in his own mind that a slow, painful death lay beyond the pods. And the moment when his brain said 'you must' and he pressed his index finger back towards the trigger. And shot.

Around him, people talked about other things. The images didn't seem to bother the others. Danny talked idiotically about football with Harry, who wasn't at all interested. Zoe's voice, bitter and tense, slid under the hubbub from the dark corner where she had hidden herself. Ruth's laugh grated across his ears. Here and there, snatches of conversation would penetrate the haze that hung around his head. But mostly Tom's mind was filled with nonsense.

End of the world. End of the world. End of the world.

Nonsense.

Outside the windows the sun struggled through the clouds. People went about their daily business. Other George regulars wandered through the doors looking curiously at the group of overly-happy people drinking in the middle of the day. The world hadn't ended.

The firefighter Tom condemned to death was still alive, sitting there with Zoe and a bowl of chips. Harry wasn't dead, and nor was Paul Dunbarton. The world was still intact, and MI-5 still had a job to do.

Pure dumb hate or pure dumb trust. That was what he had from the rest of his team, the team he would have to work with again tomorrow. The team he would have to work with if something really happened. The team who had seen him pull a gun and shoot.

Pure dumb hate. Malcolm and Colin. Probably Sam, and poor Dot down at the switchboard.

Pure dumb trust. Zoe and Ruth and Danny. He didn't know what he'd done to deserve their trust. Zoe stood there trembling, a gun in her hand. Danny did everything he was told and never questioned him once. And Ruth. There the whole time -- the only person to whom he could be completely open. Even now he could feel her gaze on him, making sure of him.

He paused in his thoughts as he watched Zoe leave the pub, with a shy wave in his direction. He lifted a hand to wave back, but Sam waved and one was enough. The firefighter, Steph, whose blond-haired blue-eyed face Tom knew he would be seeing in his nightmares, followed Zoe. Across from him, Ruth smothered a chuckle and raised her eyebrows as she watched the door swing shut.

A little while later, Danny and Sam left together. Even through the haze, even through the natural subterfuge of a spy among spies, Tom could see the looks and touches between them. He silently wished his friend a good afternoon. Desperate, meaningless sex was what Danny probably needed right now. Zoe, too.

Tom, too, if he wanted it. Ruth offered. Not in words, never openly. But the possibility was in every concerned glace in his direction, in every brush of her arm against his.

He wasn't about to take her up on the offer. She was sweet, and didn't deserve to deal with him when he was like this. No one did. They were better without him: Ellie and Vicki and Helen and Ruth. He was better with them -- with someone. But he'd wreaked Ellie's life already, and probably Vicki's. And Helen: keen and happy and so engagingly full of life. And then so horribly not. And he wasn't about to visit any of that on Ruth.

Finally he felt he'd stayed as long as he could. Dot had returned to her switchboard: Brigit and Mark and Harry and the rest of the team had gone back to write up the evaluations. Malcolm and Colin had settled in for the rest of the afternoon.

He avoided Ruth's scrutiny as he stood up. 'I'm off,' he said shortly. 'I'll see you tomorrow.'

He got to the end of the street before Dot's flash message hit his pager. He turned around and went back to Thames House. And he thought of the boy who cried wolf.

 

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