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To come to such a place as this

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A week or so after he leaves her at the embassy, Simon draws a little map and arranges for it to be folded inside the delivery menu stapled to Emma's usual Thursday night takeaway order. It's oddly thrilling. There hasn't been a single living soul besides Simon who's known the location of his country house, let alone been inside it, for the last eight years. Just sitting down to draw the map makes him feel vulnerable. Maybe this is how normal people feel when they're naked. Actually sending the map to Emma is even worse; Simon feels like he's been asked to open up his ribcage and pull out his beating heart.

He looks around the interior of the country house one last time. There's a fire in the fireplace, and it's warm enough, just in case they do end up taking all their clothes off. It would probably be a good idea. Sex, no talking. He's skin-hungry for Emma, like she reprogrammed him somehow when she pressed her body against his in that hidey-hole in Moscow, trying to keep him from going hypothermic. Like maybe he actually died and came back to life right there in that room, and now her skinny, freckled, awkward body is the only way his body knows how to be warm.

He goes over to the fireplace and tosses another log on the fire.

Honestly, Simon has serious doubts about whether this thing, this relationship, is going to work out. And it doesn't even have anything to do with Emma's obvious potential to make things really uncomfortable for Simon, professionally speaking, if she happens to get her heart broken and decides to go on a vengeance kick. Simon's accepted that already as part of the risk. (He knows she had a meeting with MI-5 this morning, one last debriefing before they cut her loose. Who can say what kind of stories they filled her head with? Most of them are probably even true.) It helps that he knows that it would never occur to Emma to hold it over his head.

Besides, Simon was going to retire anyway, once he hit the fifty mil mark, so that's not really a deal-breaker. It's just that he always had a plan before, and now he doesn't; Emma's throwing a whole lifetime of plans into a spin. He always planned on disappearing, once he could afford to. Disappearing forever. Maybe spend some time trying to figure out who he actually is when he's Simon, besides a neutral sort of blank template that he defaults to in between jobs.

The security system he installed in the kitchen beeps three times. Simon goes over and studies the readout. There's a car coming up the drive. Just one car, not too fast. Emma. She's a complication and she's impossible and he wants to spend his every waking moment for the rest of his life in her arms, and God knows why (and even if He does, Simon doesn't believe in Him anyway) but she wants to spend the rest of his life with him.

It scares the hell out of him in a way nothing's done in a long, long time.

He can hear Emma's car coming up the drive now.

"Moment of truth," he says to himself. Some fragmentary persona in the back of his head adds, "Don't bullshit her."

Simon grimaces: Yeah, yeah.

Who knows how this is going to turn out? Emma is a scarily smart, off-the-charts type genius and original thinker, and on top of that she's kind of an freak. 'Oddball' would probably be the most charitable way to put it. Now, all these things are actually pluses, as far as potential compatibility goes.

Simon just wonders how far it actually does go.

It's a reasonable concern, he thinks. He stands in the kitchen, watching the little blue dot that is Emma's car roll to a stop in the unpaved road outside. Dead leaves rustle, swirling around and under the tires.

He's never been normal. He's never done anything normal. He glances over to the window, laughing slightly at the yellow VW bug. It's not Emma's, she doesn't own a car. She must have borrowed it from a friend. It's the perfect realistic detail that, somewhat perversely, reminds him again that Emma is a real person, with the kind of real quirks and living, documented history that real people tend to have, and that make Simon itch with envy for all the wrong reasons-- just thinking too deeply about the versimilitude of her life practically gives him a hard-on. Dental records, prescriptions for her heart pills and for her glasses (gradually getting worse over the years, that's a nice touch), summer camp, early publications, a great-aunt in Yonkers, a standing account with the pet store for fish food, a lifetime of snapshots and keepsakes, a three-year-old can of peas at the back of the cupboard, mismatched socks and even a fading, raggedy-hemmed pair of lucky panties (pink cotton with little white stars) in the back of the top drawer-- God, this is the kind of shit you just can't make up.

So her feet didn't always exactly touch the ground, maybe. But at least she was actually out there, living in the world. Simon's never had a home, never had friends. He's lived in shadows. No one's known his name, his real name, since before his voice changed-- and that was, as they say, another country, and she's dead.

Simon laid awake all last night wondering if he was treating reality like something he could catch from Emma, like sharing body heat all over again. If she loves him, then he must be a real person, right? Except that Simon knows better than anyone how easy it is to fool people into wanting you or loving you. How easy it is to lie. There's no comfort in that argument for him. Emma loves him, but that doesn't necessarily make him real. So he'd laid there on his back and felt the huge weight of nothingness pressing down on his chest. It was like hypothermia all over again. He'd needed Emma. He'd wanted to call her. It hadn't been safe.

It won't work, Simon thinks. She's too good. She's too smart. He's too strange. How could she possibly save him when there's nobody really here to be saved?

He watches Emma now as she gets out of the car. He can't stop staring, she's so beautiful, even if she's dressed like some boring office drudge or Physicist Dress-Up Skipper, lost in her boxy gray jacket and shapeless skirt. There's nothing of *Emma* there, and Simon frowns. Then she comes around to the front side of the car and he can see her shoes-- oh, Emma. Charcoal gray Mary Janes with a little silver buckle, and white ankle socks. Those socks are fantastic. It's the kind of detail that would be the last straw, just way too over the top-- that is, if somebody was trying to fake being the sweet, vaguely whacked-out, completely individual kind of person that Emma naturally is. She probably has some of those cheap schoolgirl metal clips in her hair. Simon wants to touch her hair so badly his hands are shaking. Simon's hands never shake.

He watches Emma pick her way through the yard, disappearing from his view when she gets closer to the door.

He can't lie to her. He won't. That's the scariest part. She has to know how strange his life is, how unpredictable, how undependable he's going to be, just as a function of who he is. She can't go into this thinking that it's going to be white picket fences and Friday night dinners at nice restaurants and a golden retriever, or whatever it is that normal people have.

He moves instinctively to the left, disappearing behind an embroidered screen as Emma pushes the door of the country house open, slowly. She looks around for him, her eyes passing calmly over the lamps, the fire, the bed. Something keeps him silent and still as he watches her. Peering through the thin crack between the panels of the screen, he watches Emma move to the table, her teeth showing briefly in a delighted smile as she sees her cold fusion notes. That was tricky, but Simon felt like he had to do it, had to get the originals back for her. He owed her that, and the way she's smiling now is all the reward he needs.

It actually makes his heart jump in his chest, a little painfully. Like maybe he took some of Emma's struggle with her own heart into his chest. He wishes that he could, somehow.

Maybe, Simon thinks, that's the trick. Maybe he doesn't become real if Emma loves him. (Though it would certainly be a miracle if she did.)

Maybe Simon becomes a real person if he loves her.

Emma looks around, over her shoulder, for him. Her expression is expectant, not impatient, and calm, as if she's willing to take whatever comes. Simon takes a breath and steps into the light.

This is it, he thinks.

No more hiding.