The day George Smiley took over the reins of the Circus, Peter Guillam left the office late. At 5:00 he had looked at the white clock on the wall, watched the minute hand tick once past the 12 and went back to the file he was reading. It wasn’t like he had anything waiting for him at home, not anymore. It was worth it, he thought, to have caught Karla’s mole, Bill Haydon. He was sworn to protect Queen and country, little else mattered; he knew this when he signed up and it was folly to have expected to keep his personal life. He was rather astonished that it had lasted as long as it did.
It was 6:00 when he finished reading the file. He stood, laced his fingers together behind him and stretched up. He held the stretch for a moment before releasing and rolling his head clockwise. His shoulders and neck were tight, the stress probably.
He shrugged on his coat and picked up briefcase before grabbing the file. A short ride in the elevator brought him to the filing room where he dropped the file off with the evening clerk. He was out the door by 6:15.
He had been particularly careful about the route he took to get home since Bill Haydon had been arrested. While Peter’s involvement had been kept quiet that was no telling who had that information and he’d rather walk a couple extra blocks and vary how he got home everyday then get taken out by some low level Russian spy trying to make a name for himself. Today he took the underground to Piccadilly Circus and transferred to the Bakerloo line.
He stood in the car waiting for his stop and stared at the people around him. Women reading paperback novels, men rustling newspapers. Did they have any idea what went into protecting them everyday? What sacrifices were made and what limits people were pushed to? Of course they didn’t, he and others like him worked endlessly to make sure that they didn’t. All the effort that went into making sure that John Smith and Jane Doe could carry on peacefully with their lives and Peter couldn’t help feeling mildly resentful. He loved his country, he loved serving and protecting it and the irony didn’t escape him that it seemed that the people who gave up the most were rewarded by not being able to live normal lives.
He got off at St. John’s Wood and walked the 10 blocks to his flat circling around half way there to make sure he wasn’t being followed. Better to be paranoid and alive then lax and dead. He stopped in front of the curry place a block from his flat and contemplated getting carryout before walking on. He wasn’t hungry.
Peter lived on a third floor walk up in West Hempstead. When he had returned from the failure of his North Africa mission, he hadn’t wanted to live near the noise and bustle of the city. This neighborhood far from the center of the city was quiet and it was worth the time it took to get home.
He waved to his downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Brewster, as he climbed the staircase but didn’t stop. She could talk like no ones business and he just wanted to climb onto the couch and sleep. He hadn’t been able to sleep in the bed since that night. He had tried but in the middle of the night when he had rolled over and no one was there, his loneliness had consumed him. He stuck with the couch now. It was short, he had to curl up but there were no ghosts to chase away.
He was about to insert his key into the lock when he heard a faint noise coming from with in his apartment. His heart felt like it stopped and he slid his gun from shoulder holster. He hadn’t carried it outside of work before the Mole case but its seemed prudent to do so now. He silently twisted his key in the lock and holding the gun in front of him eased into his flat. There was no one in the hallway and everything looked undisturbed. He left his briefcase stuck in the door so it didn’t close and alert whoever was in his flat that he was there.
He eased down the short corridor and heard tinking noises, like silverware clanking together. The hallway let out into his living room. There was no one in the room but it was disturbed. The pillow, sheets and blankets that had been covering the couch were no longer there and a familiar suitcase sat in front of it.
Hope stuck in his throat and he pointed his gun down before turning to face his kitchenette.
“If you are finished playing James Bond, grab your briefcase from the door and come sit down. Dinner’s been ready for a while and I am starving.” Richard turned from where he was washing dishes and gave Peter a small smile before jerking his head in the direction of the door.
Peter opened his mouth to talk but Richard interrupted him.
“Go on. I promise I’m not going anywhere in the time it takes you to go to the door and get your case. And put that away before you shoot someone.” Richard pointed one soapy hand at he gun Peter now held loosely in his right hand.
Peter slid the gun back into the holster and fetched his briefcase from where it was doubling as a doorstop. He threw all three locks including the bolt and rested his head against the door. Richard was back and in his (their) kitchen. He didn’t know what to make of it.
He drooped his briefcase by the couch and took a closer look at the kitchen. The dining table was set for two and there were covered dishes on trivets in the middle. Richard had finished the dishes and was now standing behind his usual chair.
“What” Peter cleared his throat to get rid of the hoarseness. “What are you doing here?” He asked, this time more successfully.
Richard gestured to the table. “Sit. I didn’t cook this just to let it get cold while we talk.”
Peter feeling as if he were on automatic sat and shook his napkin out. Richard had set the table with the nice settings he absently noted.
“I was sitting in my classroom after classes today grading essays when I got a visitor. He introduced himself as a Mr. Smiley.” Richard started and paused when Peters stiffened at that.
“He said that he worked with you and had a couple of papers I had to sign. Confidentiality agreements. He told me if I signed them, I could be read into what was going on, albeit at a basic level. You were not yourself that night and I wanted to know why. I signed the papers and he explained.” Richard glared at him.
“Did you think I was stupid? I knew you did more then push papers at some government agency. I have lived with you for three years. Did you think I didn’t notice all those late night phone calls, the files marked in red that would peek out of your briefcase? The fact that I haven’t met your coworkers? I knew it was something else and I trusted you to keep us safe.”
Peter opened his mouth to try to justify or deny, he wasn’t sure which, but Richard cut in again.
“Once I cooled down from being furious with you that night all I could think about was that thought. That I trusted you to keep us safe. That’s what you did that night. You picked at all my weaknesses, systemically went through them until I had no choice to leave. You were protecting me. Keeping me safe from whatever was going on at work. I accepted it and waited for you to come back and get me. It never occurred to me that you wouldn’t. That you were making the choice to be miserable alone. You beautiful idiot. Mr. Smiley told me to come home, that even if you hadn’t come back for me that it was okay. So I did. I came home and saw the sheets on the couch and my heart ached for you. Flowery cliché, yes, but someone who serves his country with the dedication you do, shouldn’t be miserable, shouldn’t be reduced to sleeping on couches and barely eating, going by the state of the fridge.” Richard paused and passed Peter a bowl of string beans glaring until he put some one his plate.
“So here’s how it’s going to work. You don’t get to make unilateral decisions for us anymore. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. If that means you coming home one night and telling me that things are hot at work right now and that I should find a foxhole until things cool down, then that’s what I’ll do. As long as I know that you will come get me when you can and we can go on living our lives together.” He smiled at Peter and passed the chicken.
Peter sat there humbled and overwhelmed. He took the chicken and placed it down before reaching across to grab Richard’ hand and twining their fingers together. “I love you. And I will come for you, I promise. Just stay with me.”
Richard squeezed his hand. “I’m not going anywhere. Now eat. It looks like you’ve lost half a stone.”
Peter smiled. And helped himself to the chicken.
“By the way, Mr. Smilely told me to tell you that he’s looking forward to seeing both of us at the next Christmas party.” Richard smiled blandly as Peter choked on the bit of string bean in his mouth. “I told him we’d be pleased to attend.”
Peter recovered, breathed in and stared at his lover who started laughing across from him before laughing with him. Everything would be fine.