Tea Time

Colonel Sebastian Moran takes a seat across from the good doctor.

She’s used to his knees bumping hers by now.

A waitress comes to take their orders and Sebastian orders indiscriminately, shrugging into the specials.

Joan runs over her leads, pulling out a neat notebook and letting her eyes follow along with the pen.

The Fall was months ago, but it still keeps her gaze wandering, watching over crowds, as if she’s waiting for someone. She searches until she’s so exhausted that she can’t make eye contact.

But she doesn’t have to make an effort with Seb, who has his chin half-turned away and eye on the door anyway.

They keep each other company. And, sometimes, they remind each other to eat while they try to find their mad men.

Their food comes and Sebastian tucks in, leaning forward over his plate with his cup in one hand, just as he was taught in Her Royal Majesty’s Army.

“… if you ate slower, you’d have more time with me,” Joan quips gently, picking at her food.

If he’d met her when he was younger, he would’ve married her.

She would’ve divorced him. She’d be smart enough to, and he knows it.

“Aye? S’how I was trained,” he explains, although it’s not quite true.

Sebastian Moran was trained, but he was trained before his time in the army. He was trained before Eton.

It started with family meals. The lengthy, drawn-out lectures administered by his father. The hard, suspicious stares that came with his dad’s natural distrust. You’re after me. You and your Mum. Or he’d be drunk, slurring the same lectures, shouting those paranoid thoughts or spitting at Seb from across the table.

He learnt to take his meals in his room, or standing in the kitchen, leaning over the bench. Swallowing Yorkshire puddings, sandwiching pieces of toast, scarfing chips, not waiting for his tea to cool before it burnt his mouth.

Then came Eton. And the insufferable oneupmanship of schoolboys trying to rule each other, to make each other laugh, to be better, to be more sexually experienced, to not-study for more exams. The talk was always of money, old money, every money Seb could think of.

Shepherd’s pie with thick servings of mashed potatoes and peas. Porridge with brown sugar and clotted cream and raspberries. Grilled bacon and sausages, fried eggs, homemade beans, hash, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast. Goats cheese and caramelised red onion tarts. Homemade meatballs, spinach and ricotta tortellini, gnocchi. Bread and butter pudding with custard and cream. Victoria Sponge cake with cream. Eton Mess.

He inhaled all of it, half-chewing, half-talking trying to block out the rest of the chatter. The snippets of conversations he wished he hadn’t heard. Anyone who was genuine in Eton had it beaten out of them until they were worn out and learnt to perform.

And then he went to Afghanistan. Where, in order to prevent his tea from being covered in filmy grit he almost had to drink it straight from the kettle. And the biscuits were total rubbish – American, even. Cookies. And not that anyone would ever tell the truth, but when you’re in Afghanistan and you’re fighting a war, you don’t want to stop to eat.

You just want to keep going. You want to keep going until the war’s over. Eating’s boring.

Joan pushes the beans around her plate with her fork.

“You going to eat that?” The colonel asks, because now all he has time for is eating.

“No.”

“Pass it here, then. I’ll finish it off for ye.”

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