My first Pretender fic! It's set just after episode 208: Hazards, so if you haven't seen that far, do not read any further. 950 words that are a little darker than I usually go for.
I wanted to know more about Bernice, and I couldn't help but form an image of what she looked like. And after that, this came to me.
"Sharp, Syd, Sharp." Parker looked Sydney up and down. "You're seeing that Bernice again tonight, aren't you."
"I am, yes."
"New underpants on?" Parker raised her eyebrows.
"Of course." Sydney gave her a wide grin, which, he was satisfied to note, disconcerted her slightly.
"Not at all. I simply like to be well groomed down to my skin, Miss Parker."
She put her hands on her hips. "Oh, so do I, Syd. So do I."
Sydney was looking forward to an evening with Bernice. She was what he needed right now: fun, smart, and definitely not part of the Centre's world. Bernice was an attractive woman, even though her hair was a shade too red. She had an interesting and lively face: dark, expressive eyes; a long nose which she'd had the sense to keep and not have changed into a small and characterless one; and a wide, vivid smile. He also liked her husky voice and her sudden loud, unrestrained laughter.
Just what he needed.
"You look dressed to kill," she said as Sydney opened the car door for her, and he winced. "A real European gentleman in that three-piece suit."
"Thank you." Sydney smiled. "That is a nice outfit too." Bernice was wearing a dark teal suit with a plain white silk shirt underneath, surprisingly restrained for her personality.
"I was thinking we could go to that place they do the theatre sports, you know, where all the waiters are comedians, but here we are, dressed to the nines; we should go somewhere nicer." Bernice turned to look at him. "Maybe somewhere that matches you."
"There isn't a Belgian restaurant," said Sydney quickly, "but there's an excellent French one over in--"
"No, not French. Frog legs and snails and waiters who look down their noses. I was thinking of that Belgian beer café, the De Fontein. You know, they serve all sorts of beers and traditional food."
Ah, yes. The yard-long sausages and the waffles. Resigning himself, Sydney smiled courteously. "The De Fontein it is!"
"I never knew there was such a thing as raspberry beer," said Bernice afterwards, unlocking her front door. "You really should have tried some of mine."
"It would not have gone with the pinot gris."
"Oh well. It was fun, though. Want to step in for a coffee, a tea, maybe a nightcap?"
A nightcap, Sydney thought, was heavy with baggage. "Perhaps a coffee." He followed her in.
"So, make yourself comfortable. Let me take your coat. Such a nice cut; I'll just hang it up for you."
Sydney sat down on the couch, hesitated, then deliberately unbuttoned his shirt cuffs and rolled his sleeves up. She was going to have to see sometime.
"I'll just get the coffee and a little something. I won't be three minutes."
Sydney leaned back and looked around. Bernice's place was comfortable and welcoming, tidy, but with knick-knacks and photographs on the mantelpiece, dressers, and side tables. She obviously had a large circle of family and friends. Another life.
"So here we are." Bernice came back in with a tray containing two cups and saucers, sugar and cream, and a plate of small spice cookies cut into different shapes. "I made these myself. Enjoy." She sat in the chair opposite and set the coffee and cookies out, then her hands froze in place as she saw the number tattooed on his arm. "I... I didn't realise. I didn't even know you were Jewish. Your name isn't--" she waved a hand and sped up, obviously embarrassed, "--but of course, Sydney, I had an Uncle Sydney, and I know three at temple."
It had once been Sidonius, the name of a saint. Two little Catholic boys, solemn with their candles: Sidonius and Jacobus. "It wasn't just Jews," Sydney said mildly. "They took communists, homosexuals, gypsies, twins--" best not to end on that, or it might be something she would pick up on, "--and resistance members."
"But you were a child!"
"My parents weren't," Sydney said, a deliberate piece of misdirection. Let her think he'd just been the flotsam that was dragged along.
"Just a child." Bernice shook her head, stirring cream into her coffee unseeingly. "I remember, when I was a little girl, they tried one of them. Eichmann, I think it was. They showed a tiny pair of red shoes in court." She put her spoon down. "My parents cried and cried over those shoes." She picked up a cookie, a star with six points, stared at it and dropped it. "We didn't know the family we lost, cousins we never met, but I used to look at the pictures, those black and white ones of people--parents and grandparents and little children--in their wool coats, all with stars pinned on them." She picked up another cookie, an oval one, then put it back and pushed the plate away. "I always thought, I'd have ripped mine off, I'd have run away and hidden. I'd have done anything to escape."
"No," Sydney said. "You wouldn't have, because you wouldn't have known what was going to happen. Each little step made things worse, but it was so gradual, you would not realise how far it had gone until it was too late." As he had not. He looked at her, seeing that all the joy, the fun, the humour was gone from her face. "I'm sorry."
Bernice touched his hand lightly. "Why? Why should you be?"
Sydney rolled his sleeves back down and buttoned the cuffs. "Perhaps I had better go."
She sat back. "I'm not going to see you again, am I?"
Sydney smiled sadly. "Not because of anything you did, believe that. You deserve better."