Pairing/Characters: Richard Alpert/Adam Monroe
Word Count: 6,540
Spoilers: S5 for Lost with information revealed in 6x09 “Ab Aeterno,” S2 for Heroes, with background information revealed in 3x23 “1961.” Additional information about timelines pulled from Lostpedia, and Heroes Wiki (including The Ten Brides of Takezo Kensei).
Warnings: slash, long conversations
Disclaimer Heroes and Lost don’t belong to me and I don’t make a penny off of them.
Author’s Notes: Written for aurilly, who bought me at Sweet Charity. Thanks to brighteyed_jill for betaing!
Summary: Two immortals on a train have more in common than they realize.
1954 – John Locke appears on the island via a time shift
1956 – John Locke is born in Tustin, CA.
1958 – Adam’s wife Theresa and her lover shoot him and dump him over a cliff. He swims back and kills them both.
1961 – Coyote Sands massacre. Richard Alpert tests John Locke as potential leader.
1965 – Angela and Arthur marry
1967 – Nathan Petrelli is born
1968 – Arthur Petrelli and Daniel Linderman serve together in the Vietnam War
1973 – Richard Alpert first meets Benjamin Linus
1977 – Adam Monroe marries a woman named Trina. Shanti Suresh dies of a strange virus. Sayid shoots Ben, and Richard takes him to the Temple to be healed. Daniel Faraday is killed by his mother Eloise Hawking. The Incident occurs at the Swan. Adam Monroe attempts to release the Shanti virus, but fails and is imprisoned. The Company is formed after his incarceration.
“It’s such a prudish age we live in, don’t you think?”
Richard folded down his paper and looked at the man across from him with mild surprise. There were certain unwritten rules of meeting strangers on a train, particularly on a long voyage like this one. A man could attempt to be sociable to make the time pass faster. Or he could politely ignore those around him to concentrate on business matters. Putting a newspaper in front of one’s face, or reading a book, or looking into a briefcase was a very clear message that one didn’t want to be disturbed.
Apparently such social niceties didn’t belong to the fair-haired Englishman who’d been sitting and staring out the window for the past hour.
“In times past, meeting a stranger on the road could be a very exciting endeavor. If you were in a sparsely-settled area, you might stop and converse for hours, breaking bread to show you meant peace. There was no good way to get information on what lay ahead, so talking with those you met was the only way to learn.
“And of course there was always the danger that you’d meet some scoundrel who’d soon as cut your throat and take all your worldly goods as look at you. Either way, meeting a new face was memorable.
“Nowadays? You look out the window. You ignore your fellow man. If you speak, it’s only of trivialities. The weather, sports, vague reports on family trials, or generalized whinging about politics. There’s no connection, no interaction. The people of today run away from true meaning. It used to be you learned everything you could about someone you met while traveling, because there was a great possibility you’d never see them again. We’re afraid of learning secrets, afraid of sharing ourselves. We’ve become terribly selfish and self-centered, have we not?”
Richard carefully folded his paper and laid it beside him on the seat, giving his full attention to the stranger’s soliloquy. Long ago, such a philosophy had been central to his life.
“Of course we have. People today have so much, they don’t know what it’s like to lose,” Richard opined. He brooded a bit out the window, watching the countryside fly past. He could not discount himself in his condemnation. The reason he was sitting here at this moment, stiffly correct in his overly-constricting suit, skin darker than was fashionable after too long under the island sun, was because he had grasped so tightly to what he had, so he wouldn’t have to lose any more.
“And thusly you are so terribly unselfish, to indulge me in my whims of boring you to death,” the stranger said with a strange smile.
“Not unselfish. Interested in what you have to say.” Indeed, the man’s speech had been the most interesting thing to happen to Richard in days.
“Then shall we dispense with the small talk-,” the man put his folded newspaper under his briefcase and turned towards Richard, giving him his full and complete attention, “-And talk about something of substance?”
Richard smiled very slightly, amused by the man’s candor. He’d noticed the same distance in people around him that the stranger had. Away from the relative comfort of the island, with its idiosyncrasies, people were terribly incurious about their fellow man. It wasn’t awe or fear or even respect that held their tongues from asking anything but the most trivial of questions. No, it was self-absorption and apathy.
“What are you looking for?” Richard asked. Anyone traveling was going somewhere for a reason. Best to start there.
The stranger looked thoughtful as he answered. “A world free of pain. I hope to find some like-minded people, children by preference, who are open to saving the world. There are some good recruiting possibilities out east, if my information is correct.”
Richard cocked his head at the man’s evident passion. Strange. That was precisely what Jacob had sent him to do. In a roundabout way.
“I’m looking for… a leader. Someone who understands where I live. Who will respect the land… and all those who live there,” Richard said cautiously.
“You’re looking for one of those- What do you call them?- Dratted hippies?”
Richard smiled genuinely, answering the stranger’s grin. “If a ‘hippie’ will be the one, that’s fine with me.”
“Willing to take whomever you need?”
“He’ll want to. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
“That’s the ticket. I’m Adam Monroe.”
“Richard Alpert,” he said, holding out a hand for a firm handshake.
“This hippie of yours, what makes him so special?” Adam asked.
Richard paused, unsure of how to explain. “I’m not certain yet. He’s supposed to be born tomorrow.”
Adam’s eyebrows rose. “My, you do go after them young.”
“It’s his destiny.”
Adam froze at those words, and made a very peculiar gesture near his hip. The last time Richard had ever remembered seeing something like that was longer ago than he cared to remember, when he had seen an army officer stroke the hilt of his saber.
“What do you know about destiny?” Adam asked, lost in thought.
Richard felt an odd chill, and was saved from having to answer by the conductor calling out his stop.
“That it is mine to go the Tunisa hospital today,” Richard said, rising and gathering up his coat.
“Think about it. I’m interested in hearing what you have to say,” Adam urged.
Richard had no idea if they would ever meet again, but nodded anyway. Adam’s questions were probing and closer to the bone than he’d like, but they were… true. He hadn’t gotten clear truth out of anyone, even Jacob, in a long time. Though… if John Locke had been real and not a trick of Esau, more truth would be awaiting him at the hospital. How refreshing to find it in a stranger.
“I’ll do that,” Richard promised, and left.
He turned around at his name, surprised to see Adam Monroe on this train.
“What a remarkable coincidence,” Adam continued, catching up with Richard.
Richard held out his hand, his mouth quirked. “If I find a coincidence, I’ll let you know.”
“Well said. You look good. Your little hippie doing well?” Adam pressed Richard’s hand briefly in greeting.
“Well enough, I hope.”
“Come in,” Adam insisted, waving him into his compartment.
“It will take time,” Richard continued.
“What do we have but time?” Adam said, his hand moving to indicate everything around them.
“And your children?” Richard asked, recalling Adam’s own ambitions from two years ago.
Adam chuckled. “No babies for me. I found I don’t like young children, though to say so in polite company makes me sound like a monster.”
Richard felt a very faint pang for things lost in the mists of time.
“My ‘children’ will be young adults, at the least, by the time I’ve had a chance to speak to them. I’ve been narrowing down the field. We’ll see how things go; they’ll need some maturing on their own,” Adam continued, his own words as ambiguously phrased as Richard’s.
“You aren’t worried they won’t want to save the world with you?”
“It’s a necessary risk. I can be very patient when I choose. Besides,” Adam said, brightening, “their destiny awaits them, isn’t that right?”
Richard wasn’t sure whether to scowl or laugh that Adam had remembered their last exchange. And he had been thinking about it. The island was very conductive to contemplation about destiny.
“Yes,” Richard said finally, “I believe in destiny.”
“I believe in experience,” Adam said flatly. “Experience has taught me about the need for patience, the value of perseverance, and the perfidy of love.”
“Love is not in your destiny?” Richard asked, prodding slightly at what was obviously a sore spot.
“No. Rarely and ever no. My first two betrayed me, one as a lover, and the other as friend. There were some…” he trailed off smiling. “Some that made it worthwhile. But my most recent wife left me for dead so she could traipse off with someone else.”
“You look well for a dead man.”
“I got over it. And her. I always do.” Adam looked obscurely proud of that. And sad. There was a long moment of thoughtful silence between them. “And is love in your destiny, Richard?”
“Once.” Richard almost stopped there, not wanting to consider too hard what had happened since Isabelle. But Adam’s strange honesty, the freedom of this stranger, forced him to be clear. “Twice.”
“I keep saying ‘never again,’ but I’m lying to myself. Experience won’t spare you from heartache.”
Richard leaned back into the embrace of his seat, willing himself calm. What careless power had made Adam use the same words Jacob had when Richard had been suffering from uncertainty? God was laughing at him.
“Richard?” Adam asked, sounding a bit concerned.
“You make for an interesting trip, Adam.”
“Don’t I though?”
Adam’s cockiness was skin deep, a facile façade that he dropped in the next moment. “I’ve scared off nearly every seatmate I’ve had but you.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t take that as a compliment.”
“If I don’t see you again, I’ll know you don’t find me nearly as amusing as I think I am.”
When Richard spotted Adam on his train, he almost couldn’t believe it was him. He looked exactly the same as when he’d last saw him. Precisely the same. By now, Richard could easily see the signs of age in others. He knew the signs of growth and decay. He knew the tiny increases in lines around someone’s eyes, the deepening of lines around the mouth. His own face was unchangeable as Jacob’s. Everyone else’s face marked his endless years. To see another that showed no hint of advancing age shocked him. He’d known Adam for five years. In two, one could easily explain away no hint of aging. Not in five.
But the strangest thing was Adam’s reaction to Richard’s stunned expression. It was equally shocked, surprising Richard anew. Adam reacted first, and pulled Richard into the compartment, and threw a curtain across the hallway window.
“I’d wondered. Three years ago, I’d wondered,” Adam said quietly, his voice velvet with something like menace.
“Are you sure now?” Richard asked. Adam moved far too close, his hand gripping Richard’s face, turning it one way, then the other, hunting in vain for signs of advancing years. This close too, Richard could see Adam’s perfect and unchanging visage.
“When did you find out?” Adam asked. “When did you die first?”
Die? “I didn’t die. I was-.” How to explain? What was Adam? Another of Jacob’s ambassadors? But how? Richard was supposed to be the first. “I asked for this.” Coward, his conscience murmured.
“You asked for-.” Adam stopped, and loosened his grip. “I was born this way. Someone shot me coming out of a tavern, but I didn’t die. Nothing can kill me.”
“I did not want to go to hell,” Richard said, his voice almost inaudible.
Adam dropped his hand entirely. “I haven’t had good news. My apologies for my temper.”
Richard rubbed his face once to get rid of the lingering pain, and sat on the bench. “We were startled.”
“With bloody good reason!” Adam threw himself down on the opposite bench, a scowl on his handsome features.
“What happened to you?” Richard asked, swallowing to make certain he still had the full use of his throat. Anything that could have upset Adam, someone else who couldn’t die, could not have been something trivial, not even with finding out that he was not alone in his agelessness.
Adam looked out the window pensively for a long moment before answering, color rising in his face as he struggled to master his temper. “What I am is only one possibility. Others have different abilities, some harmless, some dangerous. Someone discovered them, in the government… They wanted to study them… Something went wrong; they nearly all died. Only a few survived.” Adam was so angry he could hardly speak.
Richard felt for him, but he was only a little sympathetic. The island was capricious at times, and Esau was trickier than a bag full of snakes. If you did not hold to your convictions and do your best, it would eat you alive. The special ones often faced the most gruesome trials, with an equally gruesome death awaiting them if they failed. Richard had seen it again and again.
“They were children. They shouldn’t have had to deal with that,” Adam fumed. And for all his cynicism and protestations, a child was still able to invoke that outrage in him, even after unknown numbers of years. That, Richard could understand.
“Yet your children survived,” Richard said, his guess in the form of a statement. Adam nodded tersely. “And they will want to help save the world from another event?” Adam shuddered and nodded.
“Destiny,” Adam said sharply.
“Yes. Staring you in the face.”
Adam looked up, hearing something in Richard’s voice.
“What? What happened?”
“He was not… He wasn’t who I thought he was,” Richard confessed slowly.
“Your hippie,” Adam said positively. It amused Richard that they carried on their conversations as if years hadn’t separated the sentences.
“He didn’t quite have the insight we’d hoped for. If he’s the one, he needs time. And hardship.”
“You need an adult then, rather than this child. You and…?” Adam trailed off delicately.
Richard looked straight at him and didn’t say a word.
“Your silent partner,” Adam concluded on his own. “Was this person the one you asked to never let you die?”
Richard hesitated at Adam’s audacity. But it didn’t stop him from answering. “Yes.”
“How very interesting.”
“He is more than that,” Richard said a bit defensively.
“He?” Adam said, raising an amused eyebrow.
Richard didn’t give the man the satisfaction of a blush. After all, he’d had a few lifetimes to change his old views of right and wrong. And he’d owed Jacob so much. Owed him and been awed by him for what he was and what he’d done for Richard.
“I see,” was all Adam said in answer to Richard’s dignified silence.
“I very much doubt that you do.”
“Enlighten me. Tell me about this destiny.” Adam’s smile dared Richard to back down. “After all, we have a few more hours left in this metal box.”
There was that point. And the company of someone who understood the long view.
“Why do you want to save the world?” Richard asked. Adam didn’t seem annoyed, as some would, at being asked a question as an answer. He’d learned, as Richard had, that a well-phrased question brought its own answers with it, and that knowing where someone stood let you teach them with more ease.
“I’ve seen a great deal of terrible things. War, cruelty, famine, disease… Terrible suffering. But there are new players on the board now. New abilities. New possibilities. I think that we can change the remainder of the people for the better; open their eyes, if we time things right. What with the aftermath of the war and everyone agitating for equal rights, the timing is perfect.” Adam’s tone turned savage as he spoke, and Richard could not forget what he had said earlier, about the government’s needless and fearful slaughter of his kind. “Fear doth make cowards of us all. I shouldn’t be as angry as I am.”
“They tried to kill your protégés. I’d be worried if you weren’t angry,” Richard counseled.
“They have good gifts, powerful gifts. If I can just get them to listen-.” Adam stopped himself when he realized he was starting to get loud. He let the high color fade from his cheeks and gestured to Richard. “That’s not what you asked. I don’t know if the world can be saved, but they’re my last, best hope.” He chuckled sardonically at himself. “That sounded incredibly pretentious. But I think I’ve earned it at my age.”
Richard didn’t rise to the baited question. He’d never asked Jacob his age, at least never felt comfortable with it. That protocol must extend to other immortals.
“And you, Richard. Why do you need this ‘leader of the land?’ And where is this land of yours?” Adam asked, fixing Richard with a determined stare.
Richard had a brief, reckless desire to tell someone else about the island. But Jacob wouldn’t approve, and Adam had forever to search. Something tickled in the back of Richard’s head, a warning of danger. Adam’s hands were no soft businessman’s appendages that never lifted anything but a fork, paper, or pen; there were calluses on them. This was a man accustomed to hard work, a persistent hunter. That made him as dangerous as Esau, in his way. The mere idea of that was powerfully stimulating on several levels.
Mentally shaking his head, Richard wrenched his attention back to the question at hand. “The land… it holds back evil,” Richard said slowly, trying to explain without giving away what he couldn’t. “It’s unique. All things are possible. The power it has makes it… unpredictable. It needs stewards, and someone to lead them.”
Adam raised an eyebrow, clearly intrigued. “I’d ask to visit, but I gather you’d toss me off the train rather than tender an invitation, so I shan’t bother. But tell me, obviously you’ve been around, you and this silent partner. Why have another leader? You seem passionate enough about this mysterious place.”
“I’m… too close to it. And I am not-.”
“Normal?” Adam didn’t quite scoff at the word.
“There’s an enemy there,” Richard explained carefully. “He has to be shown people can do good there. They’re… the battleground.”
Adam leaned forward. “You make it sound like God and Satan are duking it out by proxy in your little paradise.”
Richard had no answer for that. God was too far away.
“Religion becomes a bit hard to swallow after your first hundred, eh?”
Adam’s grin was almost wild. “If I had your courage I’d do the same here in a heartbeat. If I could only know if people were capable of being good, being trusted, after everything I’ve seen done, every horror… The graves, Richard, all the endless graves might be worth it if anything good came of it instead of more death.” Adam leaned his head back, eyes closed, clearly seeing a memory behind his eyes.
“Once you’re able to train your protégés, what happens then?” Richard asked, wanting to break Adam free of what had to be a troubled past.
“The government will forget us. There will be no repetition of the slaughter in the sands. Then we’ll see what we can do when they’re not looking over their shoulders. Saving the world from itself will be easier in the shadows.”
Richard cocked his head, confused. “I thought you said you wanted to open people’s eyes.”
“Yes, once we’ve had a chance to police our own ranks. Useless to show people a brave new world with bloodstained hands. We have to make sure we know what we’re getting ourselves into. I’ve worked alone more often than not,” Adam said thoughtfully.
Confidence surged as Richard leaned forward, back on completely solid ground for the first time. “It will be strange. But if they respect you as the leader, they’ll listen. You can do amazing things with everyone working together.”
Adam looked a bit surprised at Richard’s counsel, and smiled. “You’ve been doing this for quite a while,” he stated.
“Yes. I’m…” How to explain what he was to the little band on the island? “An advisor. A mentor. Between them and-.”
“Your silent partner,” Adam finished, tapping his lips in thought.
“I should like to pick your brain when I get things underway.”
“And how long will that be?”
“Are we making an official date?” Adam smirked.
“For business purposes,” Richard amended smoothly, though he felt a faint jolt at Adam’s veiled proposal.
“Two years. No, make it three. I have some kinks I’ll have to work out,” Adam said slowly.
“Keep them safe,” Richard said.
“Don’t give up on your hippie. He’s only five.”
“You look terrible.”
“A fine welcome to you too,” Adam said irritably, as they sat down in their compartment and shut the door.
Richard only looked at Adam frankly, eliciting a sigh from him.
“Teenagers, Richard. I am trying to save the world with bloody teenagers!”
“I didn’t think you were a glutton for punishment,” Richard said, only smiling a little.
“Bah, living this long is proof of that. It’s not as if everyone isn’t a stripling to me by now, but the hormones! The drama! It’s like living in some kind of infernal science fiction film crossed with a bad Archie comic!”
Richard bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood to keep him from laughing at Adam’s woebegone expression.
“So, it’s not going too well?”
“Worse, they’re brilliant. And driven. And dedicated. And organized!”
“They’re running roughshod over you?”
“Feels like it some days,” Adam muttered.
Richard kept his amusement under control and considered the situation seriously. Just because Adam’s to-be saviors were teenagers didn’t follow that they couldn’t be effective.
“They’re motivated by what they’ve seen,” Richard said. “You were angered by what happened to them, but they lived through it. It’s their first big shock from the outside world, and it’s going to leave an impression.”
Adam sighed. “That makes sense. Your own people…?”
“Where I live… leaves an indelible first impression.”
“I am not nearly so impatient with the teenagers to their faces,” Adam said. “You are perhaps the only person I can rant to about the difficulties of saving the world. Including building on those first impressions.”
“It helps,” Richard said sincerely.
“Beyond all reason and measure. The children are so damn earnest. Optimists to a fault, some of them. They think they can hide us for all time. Keep us out of the public eye and make people forget what they’ve seen.”
“They can do that?” Richard asked, startled.
“They have their talents, yes,” Adam said with deceptive casualness.
“Amazing.” Amazing that Adam hadn’t used them on Richard yet. Perhaps that would come later, if Adam thought him untrustworthy. Richard quietly vowed to give him no opportunity to think so.
“If that weren’t the worst of it, there’s a romance brewing. The core group has scattered to find others, and now they’re a love triangle,” Adam continued blithely.
“Does it matter?” Richard asked.
“Only in the long term. Angela is the one they want; she dreams the future, and that’s how the children survived the massacre in the first place. She’s smart, and she’s desirable. Kaito and Arthur know she’s a force to be reckoned with. And her children will be the next generation of this behind-the-scenes group.”
The children were important, vital. Richard understood that deeply. Easier by far to bring up children on the island, where they could learn the necessary lessons from birth, than to force a potentially deadly rite of passage later in life on an outsider.
“Are you going to push Angela to choose?”
“This is not some kind of breeding program,” Adam said darkly. “But Angela’s a practical girl. Kaito suits her better, but Arthur is more than a match for her. They’ll be spectacular together. He’s a power-hungry bastard, but the children need someone a little harder if they’re going to pull this off long-term.”
“You need to be careful,” Richard cautioned. “Two people like that…”
“Think they’ll get the drop on me?” Adam asked. “Take over?”
Richard shook his head. It wasn’t the children themselves that had him worried for his friend, but their abilities. They had power in them such as Richard had never had to deal with, until recently. He shuddered very slightly, remembering John Locke. Such bending of time and space was unlikely to happen to Adam, wasn’t it?
This idea of normal people in the world with powers like the island was disturbing. The island’s powers, personified across the world: that was what Adam was organizing. Richard dealt with such power only through Jacob, while Adam handled it through his own blood, and the blood of others. Adam’s island was his people. Adam was the island.
Richard had to close his eyes and grip the fabric of the seat until his knuckles went white, struggling for control. He could not afford to let Adam become complacent; no one on the island could be.
“Do you know anyone who could travel in time?” Richard asked, his voice very quiet. He opened his eyes to Adam’s shocked gaze.
“Yes. He was the first person I’d ever met who had an ability. He came from the future.”
Richard didn’t let go of the seat, hoping it would keep him from flying to pieces. Elation and camaraderie warred with danger and suspicion, with unexpected shocks of lust keeping him off-balance. Richard had muddled through the bizarrities of time-travel on his own, bewilderment sending him to Jacob with questions Jacob would not answer. But here and now, he and Adam could warn each other of the threats yet to come.
“If Angela dreams the future, and you’ve already met someone from there, the children may not want to share everything with you.”
Adam got a bitter twist to his mouth.
“It wouldn’t be the first betrayal I’ve dealt with, if that’s the case.” The look in Adam’s eyes became infinitely cold for a moment, and Richard was reminded of Esau. It didn’t calm his complex welter of emotions one bit.
“They don’t have the experience to know what they’re dealing with yet. Don’t be too harsh on them.”
Adam rather looked like he’d prefer to rip someone’s throat out, but shook his head and focused his gaze on Richard, coming back to the present. From the way his eyes subtly changed, it must have been a very long journey.
“The past seems rather immutable. Is that your experience?” Adam asked.
“Whatever happened, happened. If you try to change the past, you end up doing tasks that lead to the same result.” Richard sounded far more confident than he’d meant to be, but didn’t try to backpeddle. He was stuck here, now, in this time. Speculating too much would drive him to distraction, if not madness.
John Locke’s appearance, even if it seemed he wouldn’t be coming to the island for a long time, had rearranged Richard’s worldview in unexpected ways. As Adam’s time-traveler had undoubtedly had for him.
The two men sat in silence for a long time, until the train began to slow with a great squealing of breaks. Adam and Richard stood up at almost the same time, gathering their suitcases and coats, neither of them remarking that they had never gotten off at the same stop before. They had done nothing but talk since they’d met, and for right now, no further words were needed.
Each knew he was not alone.
It was only later, when they were sweat-slicked, limbs entwined, Adam’s muscled body giving to Richard what he’d never felt worthy to ask from Jacob, that they spoke again. Adam arched into Richard’s push, mouth open in a wordless encouragement, a name on his tongue. Before he could speak, Richard stopped him with a brief kiss, almost too intimate even here and now, and spoke.
“Ricardo,” he said, dropping the precise American accent he had practiced for decades.
Adam’s breath hitched, and he twisted, hooking a leg around Richard’s back and forcing him deeper into Adam’s body. “Kensei.”
When they broke together, ages apart, for a brief while they were almost one.
“They’re overreaching themselves,” Adam said ominously from the embrace of his seat. “By far. They think I cannot see what they’re trying to do just because I’m not a scientist.”
It was, in some ways, very relaxing to be able to sit down with Adam and continue their conversations on the train without the endless social pleasantries required from strangers. But while the relative intimacy was relaxing, the subject matter was anything but. That was, perhaps, the main reason Richard kept returning to the train for transport for his errands on the mainland.
“How so?” he asked, wanting to bleed away Adam’s angry edge before he exploded.
“They’re researching genetics. Developing some kind of formula, something to share abilities with everyone,” Adam said, his brows furrowed in anger.
“They can do that?”
“Have already done that. Angela’s son tested negative for abilities when he was born. She thinks it’s necessary that he have one for her vision of the future. So, they’re making it happen. The kid will be a wreck.”
“They don’t care for him?”
Adam snorted. “They care too much, or so they say. He’s the lynch pin for this plan. He’s going to grow up in a rich, prestigious, old family with two master manipulators as parents. He has no chance for a normal life. No choice, unless he finds more spine than they’ll give to him.”
“Angela and Arthur won’t listen to you?” Richard asked.
“You warned me before. I should have listened. They’re up to something beyond Angela’s vision,” Adam stopped himself and stared out the window until calm reasserted itself. Only then did he turn back to Richard and note the relatively happier expression on his face.
“You seem pleased,” Adam said, sounding surprised.
“Our interests mirror each other. I found another potential leader,” Richard said with pardonable pride. Adam looked intrigued and waved him on. “He’s just a boy, but the land speaks to him. The others… it doesn’t.”
“Others?” Adam raised an eyebrow. “I thought your little paradise was invitation-only.”
“Jacob-,” Richard paused, the veil of secrecy too hard to lift easily. “They are like a control group.”
“Science rules us all. Even in saving the world, doesn’t it? Science and destiny.”
“And faith.” The word was out of Richard’s mouth before he could stop it.
“Now that,” Adam said, after a long and thoughtful silence, “Is something we need not discuss, lest I start getting unreasonable.”
Richard verbally pounced on the comment. Wasn’t that why they had begun talking in the first place, to speak of things of substance? “Why? Do you think I’m an atheist or a fanatic?”
“It would not matter. God and I, such as He is or may be, are not on good terms. But, for what it’s worth, you strike me as a man of faith.”
Richard’s return smile was as full as much cynicism and pain as any of Adam’s tirades. It seemed to set Adam back on his heels, as if he hadn’t expected Richard to be holding that inside him.
“This boy you’ve found, he’s more suited than your hippie,” Adam stated.
“Right now he is.”
“Yes. It has to happen sometimes. If the boy can learn patience, he could do well. I think he’ll make it,” Richard said. Ben’s sheer loneliness would bring him closer to the island than others before him. He would be a fierce protector, once he’d grown up.
Adam gripped his briefcase handle like a weapon, and forcibly relaxed himself. He smiled very slightly, his voice rich with irony.
“I do believe your beloved Destiny is about to slap us in the face. Don’t you feel it?”
“Not yet,” Richard said. A lie, of course. He could tell, always, when things were going wrong with the island. Ben might be fierce, but there was something not quite right about him.
“You will,” Adam promised.
Adam held the door to the compartment open, letting Richard in. He was uncharacteristically silent as Richard put his luggage in the rack and finally set down. Adam was being particularly inscrutable today, his face closed, showing only polite interest. That interest sharpened as he leaned forward to talk to Richard.
“You first,” Adam said, in an unexpected show of generosity.
Richard needed it. He paused before speaking, relaxing his clenched hands. Young Ben’s blood had washed off, as had impossible Daniel’s, but it still lingered in his mind, along with the reverberating explosion that had rocked the island.
“I saw a mother kill her own grown son before he’d been born. And I saw a man from the future shoot a child because of what he’d grown up to be. I helped save the boy, but he lost something of himself. He won’t ever be innocent again. And the land itself… there was an incident-.” Richard stopped himself. There was no good way of explaining that without giving away more than he could.
Adam relaxed at Richard’s words, as if he’d just confirmed something for him.
“My protégés are overreaching themselves. I really don’t see how they’re going to save the world, truthfully. Not and just not fall back into corruption and chaos in another hundred years.”
A chill threaded down Richard’s spine. He was old, but not quite that old. Jacob was older; Esau was older. Adam couldn’t be as old as them, but he hadn’t been given his long life. It had been a quirk of fate that had seen him whole through the years. Not choice. It was enough to make anyone cynical and resentful, as Richard had seen over the past twenty years.
Jacob’s gift had been Richard’s choice. It gave him a purpose, and though he’d often been confused, he’d never questioned it. Adam had no certainty but himself, no authority to answer to but his own conscience.
“What are you going to do?” Richard asked.
“A girl died some months ago of a very unique virus. I think it was a sign, doubly so because my little defenders are working with it as we speak. I think we can let the world save itself, quite unnaturally.”
Richard noticed something on Adam’s hand he hadn’t seen before, a wedding band. His heart clenched.
“And your wife? How will she be saved?” Richard asked quickly.
Adam made an abortive gesture, one Richard finally, consciously recognized after twenty years. It was as if Adam were trying to draw a sword, grasping for a hilt that was no longer there. Kensei. The veil to Adam’s past had parted once more.
“She’ll be fine, as long as she’s with me. What about your plan? This boy, can he still lead you, bereft of innocence?”
“Yes. He’ll certainly be strong enough. He will hold everyone together, one way or another.” Richard paused and searched for an analog. “He’s like Arthur.”
“Ah. Well, he should get used to death threats from an early age if he’s going to end up going that route.”
“Adam, this will work. I’ve seen other leaders like him. Charles was able to keep everyone safe. So will Ben. Even Arthur and Angela could surprise you.”
“Eternally the optimist. I suppose it helps that you only have a small world to save.”
Richard bristled at the insult, and Adam smiled disarmingly.
“No need to get angry. Isn’t it your destiny to succeed?”
“Some days I believe yes. Other times… I choose not to.”
“Tut, tut. Destiny and free will are unlikely bedfellows.”
“I chose what I am. You did not. Which one of us is following destiny?” Richard asked harshly.
Adam paled and twisted his wedding band. “Then destiny can take a long walk off a short pier. I’ve lived the lifetimes of dozens of men, I’ve seen what the world has to offer and what humanity does with it.”
“You once told me not to give up on finding someone to lead us-.”
“You tell me not to give up, so help me-,” Adam shouted.
“It’s pointless, isn’t it?” Richard cut in. “You’ve made up your precious free willed mind. And you’re going to use it to attempt something that your own protégés will stop you for.”
“Why would they stop me? Are you going to warn them of my intentions?” Adam asked, his eyes narrowed.
“You said Angela can dream the future. How could she not see this coming?”
“Even if she knows, I helped them build all of their facilities-.”
“Are you trying to get yourself killed, truly?” Richard demanded. “They won’t let the world be saved your way.”
“They don’t know what I do, seen what I have. But they will-.”
Richard put his hand over Adam’s to silence him. He could feel Adam shaking with rage, bitterness rolling off of him in waves. For the first time ever, he pitied the other immortal. Richard had Jacob, had something who knew all the secrets. He had the knowledge that there was a method behind the madness. But Adam had always had to be the judge, jury, and executioner of everything in his own life.
Richard realized he’d never met anyone lonelier in all his years. He wondered what Jacob would think of Adam. If he’d let him come to the island, if he’d let him live or even thrive.
“You are no more superior than I,” Adam said quietly, his anger back under control. “You said your land is unforgiving. How many bodies have you buried where you live?” Adam paused for Richard’s answer, but he didn’t have one. “This is the best way to make an impact and save what’s left.”
Richard shook his head. He had never envied self-appointed leaders their hard decisions, and for once wished he could move Adam to a different course. But Richard had already given his advice, and he’d never interfered with the leader once his counsel had been given.
“I think your people will surprise you,” Richard said.
“We can only hope.” His smile was that of a young soldier going off to the war, his cynicism and anger buried under the determination to do what he felt was right.
Richard smiled sadly at Adam’s words. He doubted he would ever lay eyes on his face again.
“Thank you, Kensei.”
Adam clasped Richard’s hand firmly.
“And you, Ricardo.”
Richard returned to the same train line several more times, but after 1977, Adam Monroe disappeared. And because the world did not end, Richard believed that Adam had finally caught up with his destiny. He told never told Jacob about Adam, keeping that one piece of free will close to his heart. Because even an immortal was not invulnerable when they tried to save the world.