Spoilers: through "Out of Time"
Word Count: 1,803
Written For: karrenia_rune
Prompt: Caitlin's adventures in the future timeline w or w/o Peter.
Author's Notes/Summary: You can go home again, but what will you find when you get there?
Thanks to darkmagess for the eleventh-hour beta!
"This is New York."
Caitlin still wondered if Peter had known he was stating the obvious, or even noticed he'd said it aloud. Maybe it had been for her benefit, which under other circumstances would have been fine fodder for giving him a bit of grief. She went to the cinema. She knew what Times Square looked like.
Or rather, what it was meant to look like. Cars all but overflowing the streets, sidewalks full of business-suited professionals staring straight ahead, and obvious tourists gawping at the gigantic television monitors and three-story underwear models. Not deserted as the moon, populated only by fluttering bits of paper declaring the impossible in brutally flat bureaucratic terms.
She'd been thinking round and round the question, hearing him say it over and over in her head for most of the past week. Pointless, really, and that was the comfort. It left no room for wondering who else had noticed Peter winking out of existence as they dragged her away, or what the hell she was going to do now.
She'd thought about it on the seemingly endless flight across the Atlantic, and then the interminable days in the processing centre, alternating between staring at grimy institutional walls and explaining for the fourth and twelfth and twentieth time that she couldn't explain how or why she'd been in New York. She couldn't explain how she'd gotten to next year either, but at least they hadn't asked that. Small mercies.
Finally they'd decided it didn't matter. She was a citizen, she wasn't infected, and what was left of the government had far greater troubles. They couldn't be arsed to apologize -- good to know some things never changed -- but a ride home would do. A welcome surprise, in fact, after being snatched and locked away just for being on the street in New York. The same might happen here, a bunkmate had told her on the second day, if you were out in the wrong place or at the wrong time. But outside of curfew hours, life went on, as best it could.
Just what that meant had been more than the weary-looking woman was willing to say. "As best it can," she'd repeated, turning over to face the wall and manufacturing unlikely snores about thirty seconds later. The next morning, she'd been fetched by a guard and not come back, leaving Caitlin with a single room for the rest of her stay. Bloody luxury, that. No one to see her tears, if there had been any to see. She wasn't sure where they were. Back in America with Peter, maybe. If he was even still in America. Or in 2008.
The troop carrier rolled to another bumpy halt, pulling her attention back to the present. Strange to think of it that way, but as long as she was here, that was what it was. And with no idea where or when Peter was, she had to assume that was what it would stay.
Clumping soldiers' footsteps passed the side of the lorry behind her, and a moment later the canvas flap at the back was pulled aside. "Mulvihill!"
"Here." Her voice sounded hesitant and strange to her own ears. She picked up the cheap nylon bag holding the handful of necessities they'd given her, nodding an obligatory farewell at the other passengers. Precious few words had been exchanged, and nobody looked at each other when the lorry stopped. In a world where most of the people were gone, she couldn't quite fathom why those left all seemed to pull so much into themselves. But it had been equally true here and in America; Caitlin did it herself without knowing why. The simple act of answering to her name seemed like it belonged in another world.
But then, of course, it did. Maybe no more literally for her than for anyone who had actually lived through the past year.
The young soldier held out a hand to steady her as she stepped down. She took it without thinking, and suppressed a jump at the feel of it. Skin on skin, first time in days, warm and dry and real. People were still real.
She looked up from the pavement, up the lane, and all at once she knew why Peter had said what he had.
"This is Cork."
"That's right, miss." She must look a right idiot, but if he thought so, he didn't show it. "You'll be all right, then?"
If he said anything else, she didn't hear it, walking up the lane in slow motion. The neighbourhood had never been noisy or crowded by any means -- the occasional post-football shenanigans aside -- but now there wasn't a soul in sight. Even behind the precious few intact windows, only barren shops and closed curtains could be seen. The buildings seemed drawn into themselves as closely as the people Caitlin had met on her journey.
Or rather, some of them did. Others stood open and broken. There must be people about like that too, she supposed. She hadn't met them, but some of the crying she'd heard in the night...
Here it was, then. The true capital of Ireland. Cork had withstood Vikings and Black-and-Tans, fire and flood, and never stood less than tall and proud. Rebel heart of the Rebel County.
How did you rebel against a virus?
She knew the pub must be, well, not what it had been. But the reality took her breath away. The front windows, the glasses, the mirrors behind the bar, all blended into a glittering carpet under scattered and broken furniture. It crunched beneath her shoes, more real and undeniable with each step. She set her bag on the bar and moved behind it, where almost anything that could be removed was gone, leaving a lone cracked pitcher, a few cleaning rags, and, ridiculously, a full supply of swizzle sticks. It went without saying there wasn't a drop of liquor to be had; who wouldn't have taken that first?
The heavy built-in cabinets, of course, hadn't gone anywhere, and any damage they might have taken was indistinguishable from the scars of a century of use. The weight of it all settling on her chest, Caitlin leaned against the solid wood, sliding down into a ball on the floor.
She hadn't left her tears in America, then. She'd left them here.
It felt like hours. As if time had any meaning left anyway. But it meant she couldn't cry forever; eventually she had to do something else. With broken glass poking her in the bum, the first something else had to be getting up from the floor. The second presented itself in the form of the broom standing in the corner, apparently untouched.
Half the pub was swept when she found the photograph of Ricky they'd displayed at his wake, the frame and even the glass intact, on the floor in a corner. She started crying again then. It didn't last long, but it left behind a sharp focus she hadn't felt since Montreal, since the world had tilted sideways and set her spinning.
That little blonde bitch had taken her brother from her. Now, most likely, this Shanti virus had taken her revenge. Forces she didn't understand had taken Peter, and the frightened and lost had taken everything they could carry from her pub.
She was through being taken from.
She fed the anger to her industry, wielding the broom like some weird weapon of war, until the floor was spotless and a small mountain of glass stood sentry in the alley next to the back door.
"Thought you must be a ghost, girl."
Caitlin whirled at the voice behind her, brandishing the broom like an overlong cudgel before she knew what she was about.
The man held up his hands, a crooked smile splitting his face. "But then I says to myself, I've never heard of tidying up being a popular activity for ghosts. Threatening to take a man's head off, now..."
Cheeks burning, she lowered the broom, firing back, "I'm thinking it might serve you right, Jamey O'Riordan. Creeping up on a person in the alley?"
"Creeping, is it?" The insulted tone was too exaggerated to be serious, and he dropped it straight away to continue, "I'd ask where you've been, but I think I'm better not knowing."
"You might be at that," Caitlin sighed. The year Jamey had lived and she hadn't was etched on his face in lines and shadows that hadn't been there last time she'd been in his butcher shop, on the next street with its back door facing the pub's. She'd hardly even say she'd lived this past week. But it seemed she had her own marks to see.
Marks he clearly had no intention of investigating further. "Well, you're back now. And perfect timing, too," he added lightly. "The wife and I were just saying how nice it would be to go round for a pint."
She laughed shortly. "Not exactly open for business yet. If nothing else, the housekeeping is certainly not up to Annie's standards."
Those shadows round his eyes that she didn't remember grew deeper for a moment. "It's not Annie you'd be seeing. She... went in the first week."
"Oh, Jesus, I'm sorry."
"Thanks." The crooked smile returned, a ghost of itself. "As for business, that means something a bit different now. Finish tidying up as best you can, open your doors, and you'll see what I mean." At her questioning look, he went on, "Mrs. Reilly might think St. Dominic's is all the gathering place this neighbourhood needs. Unless you've changed even more than it seems, I think you know better."
Caitlin shook her head. "Well, if your idea of coming round for a pint doesn't require the pint, consider yourself welcome. But I don't expect it to be a popular notion."
"And life's been behaving the way you expect, then?" Jamey challenged.
"You've a place that's been waiting for you, girl. We didn't expect anyone to be filling it, but here you are." He took his leave with a nod, heading back across the alley to the butcher shop. "You do your part, and we'll do ours."
Caitlin watched him go, shaking her head, then went back inside her own establishment. No, nothing had been what she expected. There was no reason to think that would change. She couldn't expect Peter to appear, though one day he might. She couldn't expect anything she'd owned to be there when she went upstairs to the flat. She couldn't expect anyone to come through the door tonight. She couldn't expect nobody to.
She was through being taken from. Time to try giving instead.
She hadn't expected that to sound like such a good idea.