“Take a seat, Mr Dawkins,” said Toshock, as the door slid shut behind him, “please.”
Dawkins looked around at the lack of furniture, before taking the general’s lead and perching on top of one of the many metal boxes that we stacked haphazardly around the room.
“Maybe not that one,” suggested Toshock. She smiled, as Dawkins looked startled and moved to the right, before looking up to check if he’d made a better choice. “That’s better,” she reassured him. “Ordnance,” she explained, indicating the box he’d originally picked. “Best avoided.”
Dawkins nodded. He looked so nervous, like a frightened child, observed Toshock. Not like the man she knew. He was so young this time. She’d been told to expect it but, even so, it was striking and unsettling.
“I, uh…” began Dawkins.
“Let me stop you there,” said Toshock, gently. This was a speech that she’d had time to rehearse, years in fact. It was tone-perfect. It needed to be.
“You’ve been through a lot,” she began, leaning across to him and putting her hand on his wrist. He flinched, looked shocked. That hurt. She ploughed on, it wasn’t his fault. “I don’t know exactly what has happened to you, but it’s best not to try and explain. For two reasons: one – although the squad may refer to this store cupboard as my sanctum it is far from that and I have no idea who might be listening; and two – it’s not something you’re going to understand for a long, long time. Probably not until you’ve grown into that face of yours.”
Dawkins flinched again, and put his hand up to a weathered cheek. He opened his mouth as if to try to speak again, but Toshock cut him off before he started.
“We met before,” she said, “a long time ago. When I was a much younger woman. I don’t expect you to remember, because you aren’t yet the man you were then. You’ve… jumped, I think is the best description, in time. You wouldn’t tell me why, or how, and I don’t even know if you know…”
Dawkins started to shake his head.
“…but at some stage it will happen again and it’s after that happens when I will meet you. When I met you…”
Toshock paused. This part was going to be hard, but not as hard as she had anticipated. He looked the same, but he was a boy, she wanted to mother him, not fuck him.
“We were lovers,” she explained. “Will be lovers. If it’s OK with you, I’m going to approach tenses from my point of view.”
Dawkins looked shocked. She laughed.
“Don’t worry, I don’t seduce you, it’s very much a mutual thing. You’ll be a lot older and I was a lot younger. And whilst, right now, you might not look it, I do.”
Toshock ran a hand through her cropped, white hair, and sighed.
“That’s your story,” she finished. “Our story. That’s what you told me to tell you when you turned up at my bunker. There’s more, but we can get to that once you’ve rested a bit, I think. All I will say is that it is very important that you do now exactly what you remembered doing when I met you before, if that makes any kind of sense. I’ll help you, but I can’t tell you what that is. You’re going to need to rely on your instincts, and behave like the most authentic you there has ever been. I can’t emphasise that enough…”
She could see she was starting to lose the young man sat in front of her.
“…but for now, you can grab that blanket and get some sleep.”
Toshock nodded her head towards a sleeping roll and coarse blanket in the corner of the room. Dawkins’ shoulders slumped, betraying just how tired he was. He nodded.
“One more thing,” said Toshock, standing up to leave. “You never tell me your name. Not your first name. Everyone you will meet knows you as Dawkins. I don’t know why that’s important, but it seemed to be.”
Toshock moved toward the door, but bent as she passed Dawkins, kissing him gently on the cheek. The door slid open and she paused and turned in the doorway.
“I called you D,” she smiled, with the memories. “Night, D…”