Mama said there’ll be days like this. Symphony Angel decided that whoever had penned that hoary old melodic chestnut had never written a truer word. Ten days before Christmas and the Angel Squad were patrolling the heavens in the worst weather conditions she had ever encountered. Lieutenant Green’s assurance that they were above the eye of the hurricane and not within it, didn’t improve Symphony’s mood. Not for the first time, she pondered the wisdom of her choice of occupation.
In another life, Yoko Inukai would have been an interior designer. She was clever and innovative, with an endless supply of patience for even the most delicate of tasks. In dark moments when she questioned her chosen career path, she imagined herself running a small craft store, happily spending hours making beautiful objects and furnishings for the discerning buyer. Nothing mass-produced for her, she decided. The people buying her designs would appreciate the personal touch, the uniqueness of their purchases. There might not be a fortune to be made, but Yoko valued peace and contentment over material wealth. To arrive at a state of serenity in one’s life was an increasingly rare thing, she believed. Lucky indeed were those who managed to achieve it.
It hadn’t taken long for her Spectrum colleagues to take advantage, not only of her creative talents, but of her essential good nature. In no time, she had become a gift-wrapping service for her hapless male colleagues, who understood the importance of such tasks, but were incapable of carrying them out successfully. Responsibility for party-planning and decor advice had rapidly fallen on her slim shoulders. For the most part, she didn’t mind. Her hobbies afforded her great pleasure and a welcome release from the relentless pressures of her job. If that pleasure could be passed on to others, then Yoko was truly happy.
She didn’t feel happy right now, however. With Christmas less than two weeks away, she was behind in everything and increasingly anxious. She was also tired and cranky because she wasn’t getting enough sleep. All because of him, she thought dismally. Or, to be more accurate, because of his request. It had come out of left field and stunned her. Her instinct had been to say no, but to refuse him anything was out of the question. Her debt was of such magnitude that she could not imagine a situation whereby it could be fully repaid.
Seven months earlier, he had saved her life. In doing so, he had disobeyed a direct order without regard for the consequences. She had been at fault – her mistakes had endangered the entire mission. Yet he had risked his own life to ensure that she should not pay the ultimate price for her folly. He had even gone so far as to cover for her, something she knew was crucial in ensuring her continued position in the Angel squad. During the long weeks in sickbay while their injuries healed, when the best analgesic was conversation, she tried desperately to convey both her shame and her gratitude. He had deftly sidestepped her every effort to thank him, until eventually, she did what he wanted and gave up. Nevertheless, the entire episode had earned him her complete devotion. She adored him and there was nothing she would not do for him.
However, she hadn’t expected this; saying yes had taken some soul-searching. The whole thing required careful planning. Just getting together all the things that were needed was difficult enough, without taking into account the fact that privacy was essential. Secrecy, too, was paramount, something which made her uncomfortable. There had been times over the past few weeks when she had lied to her colleagues. She was not a good liar and she wondered how much she might have inadvertently revealed. The number of occasions they had been seen huddled together had given rise to curious looks and she knew it would not be long before the gossip machine began in earnest. To make matters worse, he had begun to put pressure on her, calling her on her com-link late at night and even, God forbid, before she got out of bed in the morning.
“Come on, Yoko,” he would murmur in her ear. “I need you. This has got to happen soon, you know that. It’s not fair to keep me hanging on like this.” His voice would be low and seductive, even if it was only because he was anxious not to be overheard. It still made her putty in his hands and she knew this was probably his intention. He was a man with a formidable reputation for getting exactly what he wanted from the opposite sex; any resistance, however slight, would be expertly overcome. She was going to be a nervous wreck before this played out, she thought despairingly.
Her headset crackled slightly, as the storm continued to interfere with Skybase’s communication systems. At least, she thought in anticipation, this might be Lieutenant Green with a message ordering them to do the sensible thing and return to base. No such luck.
“Yoko. Yoko, it’s me. Pick up, we need to talk. Are you there?”
“Of course I am here. I am on patrol. Where else would I be? ” She tried to keep the anxiety out of her voice. “You should not be doing this, Paul.”
“I know, I know. It’s just that I’m getting desperate. I’ve been hearing the ‘no’ word for too long, honey. I could do with a bit of encouragement.”
“I cannot have this conversation now. What are you trying to do, get me fired? If Destiny overhears this.....”
“She won’t,” Captain Scarlet interjected his voice soft and as smooth as silk. “I picked the most secure frequency I could find. It’s just you and me, Yoko.”
“That’s precisely where you’re wrong.” Destiny Angel’s icy tones were sufficient to permanently freeze their headsets to their ears. “I have no idea what you two think you’re doing, but it’s not going to continue on my patrol. Captain Scarlet, please keep your personal predilections to the confines of Skybase. Symphony, get your mind back on the job and I’ll see you in my quarters later.”
“S.I.G.” Symphony replied, despondently swinging her Falcon jet back onto its correct flight path alongside her colleagues. The whole thing had turned into a disaster. No good came of subterfuge, she reminded herself miserably. She should not have become embroiled in this. It was certainly the last time, the very last time she would do a favour for a friend.
Two hours later, Destiny’s anger was still incandescent. It occurred to Scarlet that if she could have morphed through the door to his quarters without his actually having to open it, she would have. She stood in front of him, hands on hips, radiating fury.
“Just what the hell did you think you were playing at?” she hissed, eyes flashing blue chips of ice. “I know it was just a routine patrol, but for God’s sake, surely you can be professional enough to keep your assignations off the public airwaves!”
“It wasn’t the public airwaves – just Spectrum’s,” Scarlet corrected her. “In fact, it shouldn’t have gone to anyone but Yoko and me. Obviously, I miscalculated the frequency. I’m sorry about that.”
The comment, both flippant and pedantic, only served to infuriate her more, something he realised slightly too late.
“You’re sorry about that? So you damn well should be!” She snapped. “Paul, in the time we’ve known each other, you’ve worked your way through more women than I’ve had hot dinners. While I find that somewhat questionable, it’s none of my business. It’s never affected our personal or professional relationship and I hoped it never would. However, if you are now homing in a member of my squad, that gives me cause for concern.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “I really don’t know why,” he responded coolly. “It’s never worried you before.”
Destiny drew herself up to her full five feet nine inches and hoped her slightly elevated boot heels might give her a little equality in the height stakes. “Your private life is no concern of mine,” she said icily. “You could date Attila the Hun and I wouldn’t care. However, I will not, repeat not, have you playing bedroom games with members of my team when we are working. Is that understood?”
“Absolutely,” Scarlet said politely. “But since you are so off beam in your assumptions about my behaviour, you clearly don’t realise that I never have. Besides, don’t you think you’re exceeding your remit, here? Your team are grown women, Simone. They can take care of themselves, they don’t need Mother Hen clucking over them.”
“I quite agree,” she retorted. “However, the physical and emotional well-being of my staff is my concern. Yoko is the least experienced of us all and she took a hard knock when she was hurt in that accident. She’d barely got back to full fitness when The Mysterons happened and you know as well as I do that the pressure has been relentless ever since. Physically, she’s fine, but mentally.....well, I’m not so sure. I am entitled to be mad, Paul. We’re five months into the biggest fight of our lives and you’re hitting on the most vulnerable person I have.”
Scarlet stared at her. “Don’t give me credit for much, do you? You appear to have forgotten that I was the person who got Yoko out of that particular hell-hole and that I too, spent several painful weeks in sick bay as a result. During that time, she and I got to know each other pretty well and she’s not the delicate little lotus blossom you seem to think. I very much doubt she regards herself as one of the walking wounded any more than I do. Maybe you’re having difficulty in identifying the issue here.”
“The issue is that your lack of professionalism could have endangered the lives of my crew!” she snapped back. Scarlet’s lip curled.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said coldly. “You know perfectly well that you’re all capable of flying those things deaf, dumb and blind. The issue is that you seem to have a problem with my choice of female companions, something which, as you have correctly pointed out, is none of your business.”
Destiny glared at him. Scarlet’s ability to turn the tables was immensely irritating, as was his capacity to wrong-foot her. If she didn’t back off now, it was possible that she would find herself in the unenviable position of conceding the argument and, what was worse, in a manner she could never justify.
“If anything like this happens again, I will have no hesitation in taking the whole thing to Colonel White,” she said stiffly. “Is that perfectly clear?”
“As crystal,” he replied, calmly. His expression was bland, but his eyes had darkened from their usual deep blue to almost black, a sure sign of his annoyance. “You’re quite right, I was out of line. Never again will I attempt a conversation with one of your team while they are on duty.”
“Well, make sure you don’t!” She flashed back, all the while knowing that his promise was meaningless. Constant communication between operatives was essential to the business they were in – there was no way he could carry out his job effectively by doing what he suggested and Destiny knew he had no intention of trying. The only recourse now, she thought, was to walk away before the argument descended from stupidity into farce. She turned towards the door at precisely the moment his hand shot out to close round her wrist. His grip was like a vice and he was standing uncomfortably close to her.
“If you’re through with character assassination, you can at least allow me the right of redress,” he said, his mouth against her ear. “In fact, if you shut up and listen for five minutes, you might find I’m not the unprincipled, amoral rat you seem to think I am.”
“All right,” Destiny said hastily, disengaging her arm and stepping smartly past him. His nearness was having a disturbing effect on her heart rate, for some odd reason. She decided she needed to put some space between them. Six feet was probably not enough, but it would have to do.
“Okay, I’m all ears,” she said grimly. “But what I heard was what I heard – I doubt you can put up a reasonable defence unless it’s going to be a prize-worthy stab at fiction.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Maybe you should bear in mind the cliché that truth can be stranger than fiction,” he replied mildly. He crossed the room to the cupboard next to his bed and extracted a beautifully wrapped parcel. Elaborate gold and silver ribbons and bows criss-crossed a box covered in glittering cream paper. The exterior of the package was in itself a work of art, she thought.
“I know Christmas is still a few days away, but I’ll have to give this to you now.” Scarlet handed her the box cautiously. It was still possible that she might throw it back at him, which would definitely be disastrous.
“I wasn’t trying to fix a date with Yoko, at least not in the way you think,” he continued, watching in some trepidation as she slowly opened the parcel. Her fingers didn’t seem to be moving with their usual dexterity, but he resisted the impulse to intervene. Eventually, the gorgeous wrapping was dispensed, to reveal a delicate paper angel, expertly constructed from shimmering white, gold and silver tissue. In its arms lay an even smaller, perfect model of a Falcon Interceptor. The ethereal beauty of the piece was breath-taking and Destiny stared at it in complete wonder.
“I saw a picture of this in a magazine and it reminded me of you,” Scarlet said softly. “It was part of an exhibition by a leading Japanese artist and I knew right away that I wanted to buy it for you. Unfortunately, the guy wouldn’t sell. I told him he could name his price, but he wouldn’t budge. Then I remembered something Yoko and I talked about while we were in sick bay together. She told me she loved origami and it occurred to me that maybe she could help. I showed her the picture and asked her if she could make something similar. She said immediately that she’d try, but of course, being the klutz that I am, I had no idea how difficult it would be. I‘ve been putting her under a lot of pressure to get it finished without realising how much I was asking of her. Turns out I needn’t have worried. She brought it along about thirty minutes ago – right after you’d finished tearing a strip off her, in fact.”
“Oh.” Destiny’s voice was small and shaky. Unusually, she seemed lost for words. She turned the angel over to reveal a small inscription on the base, written in Japanese. “What does it say?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Oh, it’s just ‘Merry Christmas’ – assuming I’ve copied it down right. Japanese isn’t one of my strong points.”
“So it’s not, ‘You’re an insecure, jealous bitch with a neat line in paranoia’, then?”
The words were out before she could retract them and she felt her cheeks suffuse with colour. The tables had indeed been turned and he had trapped her into revealing more than she would ever have intended. Damn the man, she thought.
“No, it’s not.” Scarlet replied. “Although I daresay it might have been, had that occurred to me.” His blue eyes caught and held her gaze. “Do you like it?”
Destiny carefully laid the angel down on the corner of the cabinet and moved towards him. She stood on tiptoe to wrap her arms around his neck and lean against him, resting her forehead against his own. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispered. “How do I say thank you in Japanese?”
“Haven’t a clue, but this works for me,” he replied with a grin. He nuzzled her neck appreciatively. “In fact, I’d be happy to stay like this all day, but unfortunately, there’s something we need to do.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Apologise to Yoko. I feel dreadful, Paul. I was a complete cow to her and she never said a word.”
“She’s a good friend, Sim. She could have spilled the beans, but she didn’t. I definitely owe her for that.”
He propelled her towards the door, managing to gently squeeze her waist as he did so. Her lack of resistance made him decide that there was more mileage to be had out of this particular skirmish. “Did you really think I was trying to get Yoko into bed? And if I had been, why would that make you jealous?”
“It wouldn’t,” she retorted, entirely too quickly. “If I implied that I was, I didn’t mean it. We’re platonic, Paul, we always have been. I’ve never been jealous of your girlfriends, so why should I start now?”
“I have no idea,” he replied blandly. “But it’s an interesting concept, don’t you think? Particularly in light of your delightfully warm response to my Christmas present. Definitely an area we need to explore, I’d say.”
“There’s nothing to explore,” she said swiftly. “It was.... it was just my way of apologising, that’s all. Now can we please put an end to this and go talk to Yoko?” She was practically squirming with embarrassment, he noted.
“Certainly.” He opened the door and allowed her to pass in front of him, but not before he had slid his fingers underneath the blonde ponytail and lightly caressed the back of her neck. He felt her muscles jump and realised she too had experienced the current of sexual electricity flowing between them.
“If this is what happens when we fight, I will definitely have to annoy you more,” he breathed in her ear.
She couldn’t afford to allow him any more leverage, she thought desperately. The situation was already completely out of hand and too dangerous to cultivate. The man had more of a magnetic pull than Saturn and the weird bit was that she had never realised it before. Shielded by the love of his best friend, Destiny had been secure of her place in Scarlet’s heart. Her role as friend, confidante and sisterly female advisor, elevated her to a unique position in his affections, one that she knew could not be occupied by any of the countless women who fell into the category of mere sexual conquests.
But in that one careless, heart-breaking moment when the world had been plunged into war with an alien species, the bedrock of their relationship had shifted. In the catastrophic fallout of the Mars mission, they had clung together, growing closer in the face of both separate and shared tragedy. Now, to her horror, she realised that emotional need was merging with physical desire in a manner which threatened to overwhelm them both.
It couldn’t be allowed to happen, she decided. The humiliation of becoming just another metaphoric notch on Scarlet’s bed post was eclipsed only by the risk posed to a friendship that meant more to her than any other. She would have to wrest control from him and make sure he didn’t get it back. Destiny habitually dealt with emotional trauma by putting it on the back burner of her mind. She would simply ignore the signals her body was sending her. If she didn’t pay attention, she decided, it would all go away, along with the guilt which flooded her heart at the mere thought of another man.
“Don’t push your luck, Metcalfe,” she murmured. “The next time you pull a stunt like you did today, I shall enjoy testing your retrometabolic abilities to the limit. Got that?”
“You know your trouble? You’re no fun anymore,” he said mournfully. “You’ve turned into a work-obsessed control freak. What you need is chill-out time. Candles, music, good wine, followed by a warm bath and someone like me to scrub your back. Okay, okay, don’t give me that look. I was just kidding. We can swap the bath for a shower if you prefer. Ouch! That hurt! You never told me you’d taken up kick-boxing.......”
The door closed slowly behind them. In the sunlight, the angel’s wings glistened in a shimmering prism of colour. It might, of course, have been down to a certain oriental inscrutability, but it seemed that the faintest hint of a smile lay on her perfectly formed lips.
Montage created from original images from
Dao Cuong Quyet/Viet-Nam Origami Group (Angel figure)
And the London Origami’s Annual Challenge 2005 (Falcon Craft)
This piece originated as a poorly written, first effort, flashfic, a couple of years ago. The “occasion” then was a birthday, but I thought the theme was better suited to Christmas. That’s my excuse, anyway, for not having produced anything more original!
Thanks to Hazel Kohler, not only for her swift and accurate beta-reading, but for her perspicacity. She does what only the best editors can – shows you exactly where you have gone wrong, even if it’s the last place you thought !
Thanks to Colonel Chris – it always amazes me that I send her the usual basic internet attachment and she transforms it into a thing of beauty to be posted on the net. I have no idea how she does it, but I am so grateful.
The ‘hoary old chestnut’, “Mama said,” was in fact, written by the late Luther Dixon, producer of the Shirelles, among others.
“New Captain Scarlet” is the property of Gerry Anderson and Anderson Productions. My interpretation of the characters is non profit making and wholly in a spirit of loving respect.
I hope 2010 will be a happy, healthy and creative year for us all.
11th January 2010
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