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something lost, found

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Her coffee’s lukewarm, too sweet and too milky – she should have known better than to risk the University canteen but Adam hasn’t brought her coffee for days, has actually somehow managed to almost completely ignore her despite being in the same office.

She knows she should extend an olive branch – older and wiser and all that – but quite honestly she can’t be arsed: let him act the hurt child, sulk in the corner as long as he feels like it.

She’ll get her own coffee.

He doesn’t even met her eyes properly when he arrives, half an hour late that they both know she won’t scold him for, grunts something that barely passes for hello before slumping at his desk, and she doesn’t have to be psychic to know what’s bothering him: he wasn’t exactly discreet about his disdain for her decisions, her priorities, and it had been clear he couldn’t think beyond abstract black-and-white concepts of right and wrong to see that maybe she had a point. That maybe there were more important things in the world than one person’s right to the life they wanted.

The funny thing is that she’d have fought for that right once, when she was younger – when she was more naïve. And that need to make things fair echoes in her still, jostling uncomfortably up against everything the world has taught her since.

When did she start to think like this?

(Edinburgh, she thinks, sipping at the monstrosity that’s passing for her morning coffee – a long time ago, a door closing and something ending.)

But when Adhara had been crying in front of her, scared and confused, her choices evaporating in the face of Department 7’s determination to profit from her situation, Anne had allowed it. No, she had wanted it, advocated for taking her right to her own body away from her with lies, even with force, in the name of progress and freedom and power.  And when she thinks about it, really thinks about it, weighs life against choice against knowledge, there’s not as much regret as she’d like.

Oh, once upon a time and somewhere deep inside, she’s horrified. But this is now, this is real and tangible and meaningful, and what they could achieve – what they could discover – finds itself held far above what’s right.

She puts her mug down on the table harder than she intends and the milky coffee sloshes out, pools around the base and soaks into yesterday’s unfinished report. “Bugger,” she mutters under her breath, blots at it with a tissue from the box on her desk.

Across the room, out of the corner of her eye, she sees Adam turn to look. He usually has a quip for moments like this, something about her caffeine habit or good riddance to bad coffee or how it must be a sign from God to just ignore that report and move on. But he doesn’t say a word, just goes back to whatever he’s doing with supreme disinterest.

She drops the wet tissue into the bin under her desk with a sigh. She can’t in all honesty say she’d have behaved much different forty years ago, the fire of youth and the fresh sting of resentment burning in her. Sometimes, looking back at her younger, more idealistic days, she can’t help but feel that something has been lost.

She wonders if it’s herself, and the thought prickles over her skin.

“Adam,” she says.

He doesn’t reply.

Adam.” She tries again, feeling the phantom pull of motherhood, exasperation over a recalcitrant child. “Are you going to ignore me forever?”

“Just for a while,” he says. His back remains firmly towards her. “I’m really pissed off with you, you know?”

“So I’ve gathered.”

“Good!” This time he does turn, meeting her eyes for the first time in days. “I really thought you were one of the good ones, Anne. One of those people you can trust to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. I guess I was wrong.”

It’s not like she hasn’t figured out what’s going on in his head but it still hurts to hear it out loud, sends a jolt of electric panic through her veins, a hot flush creeping across her skin. She’s already had this argument with herself and somehow managed to lose, she doesn’t want to have it with Adam too. “I do the best I can.”

“Do you?” His voice is accusing. “Because it looked to me like you were ready to do some pretty horrible things, Anne, and I don’t think you were bluffing.”

God help her, she hadn’t been. “I was doing what I thought was right.”

Right is that poor woman having a choice about what goes on in her own body! Not trying to…to force her to go through with something she never wanted! On what planet is what Doyle wants more important than that?”

When he puts it like that, she doesn’t really have a defence. “I know,” she sighs. “I know.” And she does, in the abstract. It’s reality that seems to be the trouble.

“It just…it scared me, Anne, okay? And I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of an arse, but it’s been hard figuring it all out.”

She can’t help the bitterness in her voice. “You mean figuring out whether I’m worth your time or not?”

“I mean, the bit where you get so carried away with your research that you forget the rest of us are only human!” He’s looking at her with a childish sort of disappointment that’s halfway to breaking her heart. “I just thought you were better than that. After everything.”

But that’s the problem, isn’t it, Anne thinks bitterly: that after everything, she’s not better at all.

How jarring, to find what you’d considered a fundamental truth about yourself to be a lie.

“I’m not proud of myself,” she admits. “I hope you can understand that. And I am sorry, whatever you might think.”

And Adam meets her gaze again, clear and piercing, like he’s looking through her to somewhere else. Like he’s seeing someone else, someone she isn’t, someone she used to be once upon a time. “I know you are,” he says, with a certainty she doesn’t have. “I know.”

She almost believes him.