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an island in your arms

Chapter Text

september 1967

 

A well-dressed gentleman in a grey suit exits a Mayfair shop with a small parcel in one hand: a leather-bound notebook, which he slips carefully into his overcoat pocket. It's warm for September; he can feel the perspiration building under his collar, at his waistline, and on his upper lip.

Just ahead on the pavement, outside a tailor's window, a woman in a pale blue dress and matching pillbox hat fusses briskly over her teenaged son, straightening the boy's shirt collar and jacket lapels until he shrugs away from her, clearly embarrassed.

“Mum! Get off!”

It's only once he gets closer that he finally recognizes the pair of them. His sister-in-law’s demeanor is as brisk and sharp as ever, and the boy's changed so much he’s practically a stranger. His ginger hair has softened into a straw color since the elder man saw him last, he's at least a foot taller, and generally seems to favor his father in several ways. Except for the eyes: they’re brown—with no specs.

He strides closer, holding up a hand to get their attention.

“Morning, all.”

Dear old Becky appears to recognize him immediately, judging by the twitch of her mouth, and the slight widening of her eyes, but her expression has smoothed over into something more placid by the time he’s standing next to them, and when she speaks, it's with a forcefully cheerful tone.

“Lewis. This is a surprise.”

He inclines his head in agreement. “I wasn't aware you were in town. Are you back on holiday?”

Rebecca waves a white-gloved hand through the air, as if the reason’s unimportant. “Nigel's outgrown his morning coat. We’ve just got another.”

Pointedly ignoring his question.

Lewis directs his attention to his nephew, casting his mind back for the correct age. It's been at least four years since he saw the boy last. He'd taken Lane and the family to dinner, just before they left for America. “Small wonder. You're—eleven, now?”

“What do you care?” grumbles the boy, staring down at the ground and grinding the toe of his shoe into the pavement.

“Nigel, don't be rude to your uncle.”

His mother casts a thin-lipped smile in Lewis' direction, as if the boy's only making some sort of joke.

“No bother,” Lewis lifts one shoulder in a shrug, amused. “I always hated when people would say the same to me.”

Rebecca waves her hand through the air again, as if doing so will physically erase her son's sullen behaviour.

“Nearly thirteen,” she says, as if this explains everything.

Lewis can’t help but smirk at the difference in personality. Lane at twelve was so quiet and unassuming he'd disappear inside the house for hours, or turn up on school grounds in some broom cupboard, with a writing pad and a couple of textbooks. So Nigel's got a bit of spirit to him. Good.

He feels the obvious question ought to be asked.

“Family well, otherwise?”

“Yes.” Her voice becomes terse, and her smile a bit forced. “I'm keeping very busy. Checking in on my parents, you know.”

The way she phrases her answer – as if the very question is offensive – strikes him as strange.

“I suppose Lane couldn't get the time to travel with you.”

Rebecca stares at him with narrowed eyes, as if she doesn't understand the question. She’s quiet for so long that Lewis reaches into his coat pocket for his silver cigarette case, in order to have something to do with his hands.

“No,” she says eventually, clearing her throat. “He isn't here.”

Nigel huffs out an aggravated breath, breaking the silence that follows her words with a scoff and a scornful expression.

“Christ. They got divorced.”

Lewis drops his unlit cigarette onto the pavement before he can put it to his lips. “I beg your pardon?”

“Nigel!”

Rebecca turns very pale, taking Nigel's arm in an iron grip.

The boy struggles out of her grasp. “Well, you did! And now you’re—”

“Stop it!” Rebecca hisses, and swats at her son's arm as if she's disciplining a much younger child, trying to grab his mouth and pinch it closed with her free hand.

The lad recoils, batting her hands away with a frustrated growl. Lewis is proud to hear the defiance in his voice.

“Why do you care if he knows? You're the one who left!”

Two people walking past cast them very brief alarmed looks, but hurry by with quick steps and downcast eyes, as if nothing interesting is happening.

Rebecca’s frozen in horror. Nigel slants a furious look toward his uncle, straightening the lapels of his jacket with an expression that says this is typical.

“We've been living with Granny and Granddad since February, Dad’s in New York, and now—”

“Go into the park and wait for me,” Rebecca points toward the square, her voice sharp and commanding. “Your grandmother shall hear about this!”

The boy lets his mouth fall open in outrage.      

“You must be joking!”

Nigel Alistair, do as I say!”

“All right!” the boy snaps. “Christ.”

He waves a languid hand in Lewis' general direction, shoulders slumping, as if he’s too exhausted to continue the argument. “Bye.”

They watch him amble across the road and into the square, plunking down onto the nearest iron-wrought bench and spreading his arms wide as he leans backward, looking up toward the sky. A couple of pigeons are pecking around on the stones in front of him, and he nudges one away with his shoe.

Lewis turns to his sister-in-law, finally able to voice his outrage.

February?”

There wasn’t a phone call from Lane, or even a letter. How could they have divorced after…twenty years together? Christ, was the wedding really that long ago? Lane was so poorly on the day they all thought he might faint before the ceremony started. Lewis had to sneak him two shots of whiskey to ease the nerves, else Father would've come up with ideas of his own.

Rebecca's face betrays no ripple of emotion. Her eyes stay fixed on her son.

Lewis does not allow her silence to go unnoticed. “I understand you don’t want to talk about this in the middle of the street, but I shan’t be put off.” He rubs a hand across his eyes, trying to arrive at some solution to this problem. “There's a cafe round the corner. We—could take tea, if you’ve no other appointments.”

Her eyes slide over to meet his, and there’s no hiding the disgust in them.

“I suppose you'd like to hear all about it.”

Lewis refrains from reminding his sister-in—well, why he’s never liked her, but wants to remain in her graces long enough to find out what the hell’s happened.

You’re the one who left!

Divorced. My god.

“He’s my brother,” Lewis says finally. “I ought to know.”

You owe him that much, you cat.

He hasn't spoken to Lane in months – not for any reason in particular, or because they’ve fallen out. They simply don’t keep up much. There’s usually a phone call at Christmas—but the man isn't Charles, for god's sake, nattering on to god knows whom about standards and success and keeping up appearances. Lane's a good sort—far more than that, if Lewis is being honest—and if he were terribly unhappy in America he ought to have said something.

“Well, each to their own.” Rebecca loops her arm through her purse with a little scoff that says she’s going to hate every minute of their conversation. “I’ll put Nigel in a taxi before we go. Which way is it?”

“Toward the high street,” Lewis replies, indicating that he'll wait for her here. As she crosses the street just behind a passing handsome cab, her heels tapping briskly against the white-painted crosswalk, he reaches for his cigarette case again, trying to steady his shaking hand.

**

Next door, through the shared wall, voices are getting louder and louder; Joan turns toward the noise with a noise of disgust.

“No—come on, man—” there’s a squeaking noise as furniture scrapes across the tile, which is followed by a squeal of laughter “—shit! Cut it out!”

Creative has been cutting up all morning. Joan knows there’s going to be some horseplay involved if they’re brainstorming with the freelancers on a food-related pitch, but it’s about to reach critical mass. One of them was actually trying to cook on the stovetop earlier. Joan’s sure it ended badly. She hasn’t seen the damage for herself yet, although she and Lane are in the middle of a tea break.

Lane takes another sip from his cup, and shoots a glare toward the shared wall.  “Are they ever going to be quiet, or shall I just take a—pill in advance?”

His caustic remark makes Joan smile, although when she glances over at him, he just looks visibly annoyed. Over the past few weeks, he’s become more sarcastic than usual—not in a joking way, really, just commenting on all the idiotic things happening at work with a sharper tone, and with more pointed remarks. It felt odd, at first, but Joan’s started to think of them as jokes by now—they have a kind of dark humor to them which she can’t help but appreciate. It’s more like the kinds of dry jokes he used to make, anyway.

“You might as well,” she says, with a laugh and little shrug.

He sets his teacup aside, pulling a small bottle of aspirin from his desk drawer. Next door, there's more cursing, a loud yell, and suddenly a loud splat as a projectile hits the far right transom with such force Joan can almost see the glass vibrating with the resonance. She turns to stare at the affected window, letting out a curse of her own at the mess. A translucent red, viscous substance slowly oozes down the windowpane—it's stuck to the glass in small, jiggling clumps.

Dear god. It's Jell-O.

When she glances back at Lane, she notices he's staring at the window with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open in wordless shock. Determined not to let the misbehavior pass, Joan shoves her files onto the sofa and stands up, ready to storm into the hallway and give them all a piece of her mind. Who the hell do they think they are, kindergartners? This is an office, for god’s sake!

Before she can even move, the largest piece of Jello falls from the transom window with a vacuous sucking noise, making her stop in her tracks. It drops to the floor with a squelch, followed by a groan of horror, more laughter, and another male voice, one she doesn’t recognize.

“Ugh! It’s down my shirt!”

An awkward silence lingers until someone else starts laughing. The noise gets louder and more high-pitched by the second. It makes Joan's blood boil until she whirls around to meet Lane’s eyes, and finally puts two and two together.

He’s hunched over in his seat with the contents of his teacup spilled across a file folder of expense reports, and giggling so hard that his face is bright red and water streams from his eyes.

Oh, my god.

She puts a hand over her mouth.

After all this time, after all the misery, he's actually happy about something. She doesn't know if he’s laughing at her, the antics next door, or something completely and wonderfully unrelated, but at this point, she doesn't care. Her skin prickles with goosebumps, and she feels lightheaded. Right now, it’s the most welcome sound in the world. How long has it been since he’s laughed at anything?

“Are—are you okay?” she can’t help asking, but just looking at him is making her start to laugh, too, in a helpless way. She sinks back onto the sofa cushions with weak legs. A few of her papers slide onto the floor.

He’s so hysterical he can’t even answer, gasping for breath – covering his face with both hands – and it just makes Joan laugh even harder to look at him, to hear his peals of laughter echoing around the little room like the toll of deep bells.

She can’t believe it. She just can’t believe it.

Oh, my god.

**

“Shit!” Ginsberg grabs another small trash bag, quickly stuffing two heaping plates of red Jell-O inside this, and glaring at Margie as he whirls around to make sure all the junk’s in the garbage. God, every time he thinks it’s all gone, there’s something else to pick up. “Did you lose an arm or something? Help me out, here!”

“No. You guys did this,” Margie says with a snort, taking her red pen out from behind her ear, and leaning backwards in the wooden chair to start correcting another mock-up. Her plain blue dress and jacket are spotless; she’d walked in after the chaos had died down. “You’re cleaning it up yourself.”

Ginsberg growls out a frustrated noise, and rakes a hand through his messy hair, sweeping a few more red-spattered papers into the trash. Jesus. It looks like they killed someone in here, like some godawful gangster movie.

There’s still laughing coming from Lane’s office—they’ve been in there giggling for half an hour—and it’s creeping him the hell out. Isn’t this how people have strokes? Lane’s got to be having a stroke. Ginsberg hasn’t even seen the guy crack a smile in weeks.

“Found the broom,” Stan says from the doorway, gripping it and a dustpan with a long handle in two fists, and trying to sweep up the mess with a few quick motions. “Jesus, this shit is sticky.”

He snickers at his own joke, then looks up to Ginsberg – who blinks back at him – as if to ask why they’re both so quiet. From the desk, Margie makes an amused noise, but doesn’t say anything.

Ginsberg hefts the trash onto a chair with a sigh, and looks up to see Joan standing in the hallway a couple feet behind Stan. She’s glancing inside the room with a raised eyebrow. Oh, god, she’s gonna yell at them—or even worse, she’ll get all teary-eyed again, and then he’ll feel like a real asshole. They didn’t mean to get it all over the place. It got out of hand.

“Joan, don’t look at me like that!” he blurts, frowning at a white posterboard in one corner that still has jello splattered all over it. “We’re disgusting—I know!”

One corner of her mouth quirks up after he says this, which, frankly, scares him beyond all reason. Why the hell is she smiling like that? Is she gonna kill them?

“You’ll need to mop,” is all she says, her blue eyes flicking over the three of them. “And clean the kitchen. I don’t want this tracked all over the office.”

Meeting Ginsberg’s eyes, Stan looks like he’s biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, but doesn’t say anything other than a casual:

“You got it, Joan.”

**

By lunchtime, Joan’s spent almost an hour in her own office, doing a little reorganizing with a drink at her right hand and the radio playing in the background. As she leafs through a stack of papers and brochures to be sorted, she notices a bright blue leaflet sticking out from the bottom of the pile.

When she tugs this out for examination, not recognizing it, the beautiful photograph takes her by surprise—it’s a white sand beach flanked by thick palm trees, with a tanned woman relaxing on the sand in the foreground, smiling at the camera. See all Hawaii! There are at least four or five other leaflets stuck to this first one – advertising a luxury cruise to the Bahamas, a Caribbean resort, and two more Hawaii brochures – all printed with the names of various airlines and travel agents.

She can’t help laughing at how long these have probably been buried in here. It’s been months since she had time to think about anything other than work, let alone considered taking time off for a luxury vacation.

The brochure from the Bahamas keeps catching her eye. In the colorful illustration, a little tow-headed boy who can’t be more than four or five splashes in white-capped waves next to his young mother and broad-chested father. Without letting herself think too much about this, Joan gathers up the brochures, and sets them on top of her purse to take home. She forces herself to turn her attention back to the papers on her desk. Don’t get too distracted.

It’s just an idea, that’s all. She’ll think about it.

**

A few days later, in the afternoon, Joan knocks on Lane’s door to tell him the time of next week’s partners meeting. After a brief pause, she pokes her head inside the doorway to see if he’s busy. He’s on the phone, and looks miserable about it, but when she mouths to him that she’ll come back later, he shakes his head no, waving her inside with one hand.

She steps into the room, shutting the door behind her.

“Oh—no, it’s only—well, if you’ve got to run, I suppose you must. Did your mother need to—no, that’s—fine. I’ll, erm, speak to you later.” A pause. He sighs. “Goodbye.”

When Lane replaces the receiver in its cradle, Joan can’t help studying his face. He looks very melancholy. His lips are drawn into a pinched expression, and he’s blinking behind his glasses in a way that makes Joan wonder what the rest of that phone call sounded like.

“Nigel?” she asks, and he nods once, letting out a long breath, and scrubbing at his eyes under his glasses.

Immediately, she crosses over to the bureau, and pours him a glass of water, taking this with her as she walks over to his desk and sets it next to his letter tray.

“You want to talk about it?”

She knows his relationship with his son has never been perfect – never been what he wanted it to be, if some of their previous discussions about the subject have been indicative of a trend – but since February, it’s been almost nonexistent. Joan doesn’t know what Rebecca knew or knows about Lane’s health in the meantime, but Nigel hardly ever calls, and Lane seems as if he just doesn’t know how to explain things to his son. Maybe he doesn’t want to say too much.

Joan can’t blame him for being circumspect. How the hell would you bring up the subject of attempted suicide without sending a kid off the rails? And how the hell are you supposed to have a meaningful conversation with your son without bringing up the most important part of the last few months?

“Not even ten minutes,” Lane sighs, waving one hand toward the telephone. “I just—don’t know what to say. He probably hates me.”

“I know it’s been hard,” Joan offers, leaning back against the lip of the desk, and letting out a long breath. “Although, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that he hates you. He’s probably just emotional about the divorce.”

Lane turns to look at her. She can see the anxiety in his face, and can’t help reaching out to touch his shoulder with one hand, briefly.

“We’ve—never been able to—talk about much,” he admits. “Not…properly, you know, and now…well.”

She knows. Sometimes she lies awake at night, listening to Kevin’s snuffling baby snores and wondering if what the hell she’s going to do in two years, or five, or ten, when he starts going to school and making his own friends and beginning his own little life. In an ideal world, she’d like to be able to come home and talk to him about all of these things – god, she’s even looking forward to it – and she’s honestly not sure how she’ll react the day he gets old enough to tell her she’s being too nosy.

Or, god forbid, maybe Kevin will just decide to talk to her mother about everything, and leave Joan completely out of the loop. She’s thought about that, too.

“What would you want to say to him?”

Lane shrugs.

“It’s—well, you understand he doesn’t—know about anything. The illness.” A pause. He lets out a scoff. “And if I knew what Rebecca had—said to him from the beginning, it would be easier, but we only speak through the lawyers.”

Jesus. Joan can’t help hating that woman for being so self-centered. God knows those two weren’t happy together, but if his ex-wife can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone where Nigel is concerned, then Joan thinks she’s lost her right to be upset about what Lane does or doesn’t talk about with their son.

Suddenly, she’s thankful that her own divorce went the way it did. Imagine having to involve Greg in every little parenting decision, and having to consider and strategize every move before she could make it, like a neverending chess game.

“Well, you already knew she was awful,” Joan says instead, noticing the way Lane raises his eyebrows at the word. He doesn’t contradict her. She pulls her hand away from his shoulder, suddenly feeling awkward. “You’re his father. Tell him whatever you want.”

There’s another knock at the door, and as it opens Joan glances over her shoulder to see Clara standing in the doorway, her mouth pursed in surprise.

“Oh—I’m sorry—I just need a signature for the expense report you gave Mr. Campbell. Should I come back?”

“No,” Lane says, blowing out a breath, and motioning for the secretary to come over. Joan notices the girl’s careful not to look at either of them as she waits for Lane to sign the form, which is a little strange, but Clara’s soon out of the room, closing the door behind her.

“Anyway.” Lane reaches for the water glass and taking a long drink. “Didn’t you stop in for something?”

Joan presses her lips together, feeling slightly awkward. She didn’t think he’d remember that.

“The partner’s meeting was set, but I actually wanted to discuss something other than work.”

“Well, don’t keep it to yourself on my account,” he says, leveling her with a stern look whose effect isn’t ruined by the brightness in his eyes. She flushes at the implication. He’s started to call her out for not being truthful with him when she thinks he’s having a bad day, which is a surprising development, but not misguided.

“You remember I mentioned my mother keeps nagging me about family time?” She lets out a sigh. “Since we’re finished drafting next year’s budget, and things are slowing down, I think—” she catches herself “—I’m going to take a vacation. In a few weeks.”

“Oh,” he says, eyes going wide. “Well. That’s—yes, of course you should.”

 “I don’t even know where I’m going yet,” Joan says, offering him a small smile. “Any suggestions?”

A small smile comes to his face. “Somewhere warm.”

**

“Well,” Lewis examines his closed suitcase, now sitting at the foot of the door, with a satisfied expression. “I suppose that’s it, then.”

“Got your ticket and passport?” his roommate asks. Mark’s just this side of forty, and a head shorter than the other man, still as lithe and rangy as your typical sailor—looks much the same as he did twenty years ago. Today, the younger man’s out of stage clothes; he’s got his white collared shirt rolled up to the elbows, and bright red braces hanging past his waist, standing out against dark blue trousers.

Lewis taps the lapel of his grey jacket, indicating they’re in the inner pocket.

“And you’ve got some American money?”

“Took far too long. Exchange rate’s bloody murder.”

Mark eyes the suitcase on the floor with some suspicion, then turns back to Lewis. “Are you even taking a coat?”

Lewis can’t help laughing, gesturing toward the one hanging on the nearby rack. “You understand I’m not going to darkest Africa.”

The younger man feigns indifference. “Well, if you catch cold, I shall laugh.”

“You’re a very wicked creature,” Lewis sniffs. “Now, you’ll be rid of me for at least a fortnight. I’ve no idea when I’ll be back.”

“Give us a kiss, then.”

Mark holds his arms open with a smirk, and with a loud sigh, Lewis steps into them, leaning into an embrace that quickly turns much more heated than intended.

When Lewis finally pulls away from the kiss, wiping his mouth with the finger and thumb of one hand, Mark’s a bit breathless.

“Don’t get into trouble,” he warns, running a hand over the sides of his blonde hair to neaten it.

Lewis straightens the lapels of his jacket before he puts on his coat and stoops to pick up his suitcase, pretending not to hear this last comment.

“Ring you from the station.”

Mark opens the door, gesturing for Lewis to go.

**

They’re sitting in a town car in traffic on Marylebone Road: Nigel’s wearing his new suit, balancing a gleaming black hat on his pinstriped thighs and trying not to poke at his slicked-back hair, or knock the yellow boutonniere from his lapel. Mother’s seated in the row across from him, in a cream colored dress, a short coat, and a small hat with an even smaller veil, while Granny and Granddad are sitting to her right, wearing their usual morning dress. Granddad’s jacket is creased stiff from ironing, and the feathers on Granny’s wide-brimmed blue hat are so big one of them keeps brushing the roof of the car.

Mother checks the silver watch at her wrist with a sigh. “You’d think we should have missed the worst traffic.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, darling; you’ll bring on a headache.” Granny watches through the windows as the small crosswalk slowly empties and the signal changes. The car glides forward. “I telephoned Archer House myself, and was given to understand everything was in order for the breakfast.”

His mother sighs, pressing her pink lips into a line before answering. It’s so strange to see her wearing makeup. She hardly ever bothers with it. “Mamma, I’m—unconcerned about the breakfast. Mrs. Wyatt is very capable. I only meant that we ought not to keep Graham waiting—”

Granddad clears his throat, interrupting Mother mid-sentence.

“Now, my girl, I’ve told that boy he isn’t to lay a hand on you until—”

Nigel makes a face. Oh, Christ.

“For heaven’s sake, Richard,” Granny’s voice is as crisp as if he’s just made another remark about the fallen empire, or some other nonsense. “She’s a grown woman. You’re thinking of the other one.”

The other one. God, they won’t even say Dad’s name.

He glances over to Mother to see her reaction. Two spots of pink have appeared in her cheeks, but she tries to pretend everything’s fine. Her voice goes very cheerful as she gestures toward where Nigel’s sitting.

“Now, Papa—I wore Granny’s gown, for the first ceremony, and—and my hair was very long. You walked me down the aisle. Don’t you remember?”

Granddad looks across the car, following his daughter’s gaze, and frowns.

“That’s Nigel,” Mother prompts, smiling at her son with a slightly pained expression that says he ought to smile back. “You know him.”

Nigel stares back at them, feeling uncomfortable.

“Mm.” Granddad finally says, as if he does, and Mother’s obviously saying something very stupid, but his eyes have a blank look to them that Nigel doesn’t like. He quickly fixes his eyes away from the others and stares at the passing buildings out the window, instead.

After a few minutes, the car pulls to a stop just a few yards short of St. Marylebone’s Parish, and Nigel springs out as soon as Yates has opened the door, relieved to be away from everyone for a second.

There’s a white-bearded old man standing just outside the doors, wearing a morning coat and black trousers, standing tall with his feet spread apart a bit, and holding onto the head of a polished black walking stick with one hand. There’s a small bouquet of flowers held in his other hand, white and yellow.

“Is that—Grandfather Pryce?” Nigel asks, stunned, as Mother steps out of the car and onto the curb, just behind Granny. He watches as she tiptoes around a shallow puddle of water. Her beige high heels gleam against the dark pavement.

“My goodness,” Granny murmurs, but doesn’t even falter, just continues walking arm-in-arm with Granddad toward the church. He can hear her strike up conversation as they get within earshot of his other grandfather.

“Lovely weather this morning, isn’t it?”

“Indeed, madam.” Grandfather inclines his head as they walk past. “Pleasure to see you again, Brigadier.”

“Splendid, splendid,” Granddad replies, tipping his hat in greeting, and Nigel can see Mother breathe out a sigh of relief.

“Oh, how nice.” Mother smooths down one side of her coat, glancing toward Nigel, who gamely crooks his elbow and braces his right hand at his waist so she can take his arm. “I didn’t think he’d got my letter.”

**

The sound of an oven timer ringing jolts Lane out of his reverie.

In front of him, the television’s playing a rerun of the—erm, well—some sitcom. He’s got his journal open beside him, as well. He’d intended to write more than half a page before supper, but the words kept getting stalled. It’s been a strange few days.

Dr. Grant has stopped asking the very worst of the self-harm questions, which Lane only noticed just this week—and to top it all off, he thinks Lane’s finally used to the medications. Myra just smiles and keeps to their usual routes, asking him about the dosage and his levels of stress and forcing him to talk about his feelings—all very awkward, usually, but unavoidable by this point.

Joan keeps him steady during the day, managing the client side of finances and some of the day-to-day business. He’s—well, grateful for her help, and for her company. Some days, much as he might protest, it’s a relief to speak candidly to a friend about all this. She just…listens. Perhaps she’s tired of doing that by now, but she really ought to go on that vacation—when did she say it was, again?

He’s still worried that he’ll take a bad turn in the next few weeks. Every time another gloomy thought pops into his mind, he feels more anxious than ever. What if one wrong step sends him back to the brink?

In the kitchen, the oven timer continues to ring, long and shrill. After another minute spent dawdling, Lane forces himself to get up from the sofa. Last month, Myra had given him a yellow plastic box full of new recipes, and left it in the kitchen for him to look through. Tonight is the first night he’s actually tried to cook one of them. When he opens the oven door, surveying the casserole inside with resignation, he understands why. Bit burned around the edges.

As he’s putting the dish onto the counter, there’s a knock at the door. Lane sighs, tosses the potholders in his hands aside and makes his away across the room. He doesn’t even stop to reach for his walking stick on his way into the foyer, which makes him feel proud and then embarrassed in one fell swoop.

He forgets about all of these things the minute he opens the door and sees his elder brother standing on the other side.

“Little brother. You’re looking well.”

Lewis glances him up and down, briefly, before peering behind Lane at the rest of the flat, with clear curiosity. His grey suit’s a bit rumpled, and he’s got a clear five-o-clock shadow, but otherwise he looks the same as when Lane saw him the last time. Years ago—so long he can’t even remember the occasion.

Lane realises his mouth is hanging open, and quickly closes it. There’s a large suitcase at his brother’s feet – why on earth would he have – oh, god, he isn’t –

He forces himself to let go of the doorknob.

“What are you—doing here?”

Lewis smiles, reaching into his jacket pocket for his cigarette case.

“Haven’t you heard of a little thing called tourism?”

Lane just blinks back at his brother, horrified. Lewis isn’t – he’s not planning to stay, is he? Why on earth would the man arrive on his doorstep without so much as a warning? People don’t just show up to other people’s homes whenever they like! And why the hell should he want to come to New York?

“Nightcap sounds lovely. Don’t mind if I do.” Lewis toys his cigarette through his fingers, and promptly sidles past Lane into the flat, leaving his suitcase behind in the drafty hall.

Lane’s left standing in the now-empty doorway, talking to the air.

“No, do come in, then, I’m not—busy at all.”

Lewis doesn’t even seem to hear this remark. From the kitchen, Lane can hear the rattling of cupboard doors being opened and shut.

“Now, where the devil do you keep your whiskey?”

Lane reaches down and grabs his brother’s suitcase with one hand, shoves it into the nearest corner, and closes the front door.

“Will you—there’s a system in place, if you’ll just—wait a moment!”