Disclaimer: Thank you Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the CGI team for creating such wonderful characters. I have only recently discovered Captain Scarlet (both OCS and NCS), and I quickly became addicted. This story—my take on how Charles Grey and his wife Diana met—was written for entertainment purposes only. No profit intended, not my characters; I'm just borrowing them for a little while.
Many, many thanks to Marion Woods and Chris Bishop for beta-reading my story, it's really appreciated!
Diana Roberts hastened her steps as she saw the lift doors starting to close. "Please!" she pleaded to the man already inside, who saw her and held out his hand to oblige her.
She smiled thankfully at him, hopping into the car. At least one thing was going right today. The meeting had begun with a thirty-minute delay, one of the speakers had thought it was a good idea to dawdle about useless details, and they had all insisted on having a longer, "relaxed-because-it's-the-holidays" lunch, to Diana's dismay.
The meeting had been essential for the Global Heritage Foundation, and the UN Offices were ideal for gathering as many people from different backgrounds and countries, but it was also in London, nearly two hours away from Bristol, where she had to be by the end of the day. The young woman looked at her watch—there was still time. She could catch a shuttle from Heathrow, then make it to the storage facility...
Of course, the meeting had taken place in the penthouse conference room, and the lift was taking its sweet time to go down... "Calm down, it just seems to take forever because you're in a hurry," she thought, glancing at the other occupant of the lift, who was standing quietly on his side of the car.
He was a tall, serious-looking man, an officer of the Royal Marines. She had seen him at the meeting, but he was not one of the spokespersons. He was probably with one of the UN committees.
She brought her attention away from him, figuring the man would not appreciate being stared at by some stranger, and looked at her watch again. "Please let me be there in time, please let me be there in time, please, it's Christm—"
The lift jolted suddenly to a stop and the lights inside the car dimmed for a few seconds. Startled, Diana looked up at the level indicator, which was showing the number 9. She blinked a few times, then turned to look at the man. He stared back at her in the strangely deafening silence as understanding of the situation fell on them. "You have to be kidding me," she muttered as the man turned to the lift panel and pressed buttons, probably in hope of resetting something, or starting the mechanism again, but to no avail.
He picked the receiver on the panel to signal the problem; Diana saw him open his mouth to start explaining the situation, but he was stopped by something on the other end, and his face showed surprise as he looked back at her. "I was put on hold!" he said.
She watched with an increasing feeling of dread as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting with the receiver next to his face. When whoever was at the other end of the line picked up, her companion of misfortune began to speak with a polite, but rather authoritative voice of someone used to being obeyed to quickly. He hung up after a short while and turned to Diana. "Apparently, all of the elevators are affected. They have contacted the maintenance," he said.
"They did not say how long it would take?"
He shook his head. Diana sighed, putting her messenger bag on the floor and looking at her watch once again, calculating mentally how much time she had left before the storage facility would close. This was bad. "That's what you get when you bite more than you can chew," she scolded herself, taking a deep breath to try to calm down.
There was not much inside the car to keep busy. After looking at the stubbornly closed doors, the display panel and the usual disclaimers on the wall, she looked at the man, who was apparently at the "looking at the display panel" step. His dark hair, almost black, showed a hint of gray at his temples; it looked somewhat out of place considering he did not seem to be much older than herself. He was obviously a high-ranked officer according to his uniform. A captain? A colonel? She was not sure. Her knowledge of the military was rather limited.
Was she supposed to make small talk with him? What could she be telling him anyway? She could review her documents in her bag. Would that be rude? She pursed her lips. What was there to review, she knew the contents by heart. At least she would not be tempted to stare. He had gorgeous blue eyes, a cleft in his chin... He was probably the type of man to go about his business, unaware of how many women pined after him in his wake. The thought made her smile despite herself. And of course, he chose that moment to look back at her, to her utter embarrassment.
She racked her brain trying to find some lame, neutral comment to say about the weather, or Christmas, or anything, when the phone on the display panel rang, startling both of them. The man picked up the receiver, saying "Yes?" into it.
She could not hear the other side of the conversation, but the dissatisfied frown on his face was telling her enough. "Are they saying how long...?" she began, but he lifted a hand towards her to stop her.
"What do you mean, over an hour!? There are people trapped in the cars!" he exclaimed, then listened to what the other person was saying. "I do not care that it is Christmas, you do not try to find a technician. You find one. And if you cannot find one, you manage to get the people out some other way!"
The man hung up brusquely. "Over an hour?!" Diana repeated in a worried voice.
"They’re having a hard time getting the technician here, since everyone is on holiday."
"Shouldn't they have at least one person on duty?"
"They are on call, and have to move from wherever they are to here."
She rolled her eyes. "That won't do! That just... no!" she began pacing around on her end of the car, but considering how small the space was, she was only managing a couple of steps in each direction. "No, no, no! Not now!"
Charles Grey watched the young woman in front of him pace, his own annoyance at the situation ebbing away somewhat as he figured she was in a worse predicament than him. "Do you have to be somewhere?" he asked after a while.
"Bristol. By the end of the day."
He consulted his watch and made a face that meant he doubted it would be possible. "Can you contact someone to tell them you will be delayed?"
"I have already begged him to wait for me..." she stopped her pacing and bent down to retrieve her cell phone from her bag. ”I guess I can beg some more," she added, dialing a number and putting her phone to her ear.
Charles turned away to give her as much privacy as he could, which was next to none considering the size of the car. He heard her side of the conversation: she was trying to convince someone from a self-storage company to wait until she arrived so she could retrieve whatever was in the unit. He was not sure of what could warrant such a panic, but apparently she was happy with whatever the other person said, because she exclaimed: "Thank you so much, you do not know what this means to me! I will see you as soon as I can!" before hanging up.
She sighed in relief, put her phone away, then straightened back up. "Well, I just bought myself a little time," she commented out loud.
She paced slowly at her end of the car, hugging herself. Charles leant against the wall, watching her, not that there was much else to do. She was an attractive woman, dressed sharply in a gray skirt suit, her long hair set in a braid. She probably was with the Global Heritage Foundation, hence the discreet pin on the lapel of her jacket. When she noticed his eyes on her, she stopped walking, murmuring an apology. She consulted her watch yet again, and leant against the wall herself, lost in her thoughts.
She closed her eyes for a little while, then asked in a quiet voice: "Were you expected somewhere?"
"Yes, but not at a precise time." Christmas time in Greenslade Hall was almost a guessing game each year, considering the number of family members serving in the various corps, and everyone was welcome, regardless of the moment they could make it there. "Will you be all right for your rendezvous in Bristol?"
"I hope so." She opened her eyes. "It's my fault, too. I was confident that the meeting for the Foundation would be short, considering this is Christmas Eve and people would want to go back to their families, but I was wrong."
"Instead, they took their time."
"You are being polite." She saw him purse his lips in an attempt to hold back a smile. "This was supposed to be a half-day trip; I would have been back in Bristol with plenty of time... I do some work for a charity helping the Royal Hospital for Children, and this year I'm in charge of the presents. We acquired them a while ago, but we had to keep them hidden until the little celebration we are having tomorrow."
"Hence the storage location?"
"Exactly. There were a lot of things and we could not keep them at the hospital because the children always manage to find them and my flat is too small. The storage location was able to write this off as a charity expense, so they agreed to help us. But of course, I wasn't offered the 24/7 access locker."
He nodded in understanding. "And no one can go there in your stead?"
She scrunched her face, then bent down into her bag to retrieve a key and showed it to him. "I was the one with enough time to go..."
"So what happens if you don't make it?"
She closed her eyes again for a few seconds. "The storage facility closes until the day after Christmas." He stared at her, but said nothing. "I know... don't look at me like that."
"And knowing you were on such a tight schedule, couldn't you have sent someone here for the meeting? I'm sure they would have understood, it's for sick children."
"I'm a junior executive. I'm the one sent in someone else's stead because they're on leave already," she commented with a sad little smile.
She threw the key back into the bag, blinking quickly to chase away the sting in her eyes. "I still have time, the elevator guy said an hour, and I succeeded into keeping the storage guy later than the operating hours. It will work," she said trying to sound more confident than she actually felt.
Technically, there was still time, if she left right away and if the elevator technician magically appeared soon... she looked as if she was going to pace again, but glanced at him and restrained herself. "Sorry, I'm a little nervous," He raised his eyebrows at the understatement, but she was not looking at him anymore. "I can tell you, though, if I were the chairman of the Foundation, I would have never planned a meeting on December 24th!"
"Considering your involvement with the Children's Hospital, if you were the chairman, you would have probably organized your agenda better. Or at least found a more suitable storage location for the presents."
She gasped and looked up only to see his face set in a lopsided smile. "And I suppose the presents you bought for your loved ones are already under the tree?!" she exclaimed.
"Of course." He had had them shipped to Greenslade Hall more than two weeks ago, but did not think she would need to know that. "I apologize. It was uncalled for. But I could not resist."
She shrugged. "I guess I deserved it," she replied, trying to look indifferent, but his attempt at humor had apparently been more insulting than anything.
"I'm sure everything will turn out fine."
"I hope so."
Her tone was somewhat neutral, as if she had put distance between them, and he found to his dismay that he was affected by it. He did not even know her name, why did he care?! "Once we are freed from the lift, how will you get to Bristol?" he tried again.
"I will take a shuttle from Heathrow. I should be all set."
Heathrow would be full of people going on their holidays; it was probably a rather bad idea, but he kept his thoughts to himself. "And then what?" he could not help but ask.
"And then I get the presents to the hospital and help prepare the celebration."
She did not specify how the presents would actually go from the storage facility to the hospital, and he suspected that she was not sure herself and would wing it once there. Poor girl, he thought, watching her remove her pumps and wiggle her toes in relief.
They waited in silence, each on their own side of the car, with their eyes closed or staring down. Diana was straining to hear anything outside of the cabin that could indicate that help was on its way, but other than her own breathing, she could not hear much. When the shrill ringtone of the lift phone rang, she nearly collapsed in surprise, but recovered almost right away and approached the man as he picked up the receiver.
The technician had arrived on location. Since the repairs would take some time, they were proceeding with getting each car down individually to let the people out. The man on the other end of the line was asking in each car if there were medical emergencies or situations that would require a higher priority order. Charles played on words saying children were dependant on their car—and in a way they were—and was placed in third position out of eight, as there was an actual medical situation in the first, and actual children in the second.
Diana put her pumps back on and closed her bag in a determined gesture, keeping her phone to start looking for a shuttle right away. Her fingers were moving at an impressive speed on the small screen, selecting companies, and viewing schedules and availabilities. She barely looked up when the car started its trip down, but breathed a relieved "Thank God" when the doors opened and she followed the man out into the building lobby.
"Do you have a cloakroom chip?" he asked her.
She looked up at him, realizing that he was offering to go and retrieve her things and let her continue her search. Fishing into her pocket, she retrieved a small piece of plastic. "That's very kind of you, thank you," she commented, as he nodded back at her and left for the cloakroom counter a little further away.
Charles did not know what had prompted him to go get her things. Probably the worried expression on her face as she consulted her phone. He put his coat on, slung her coat and scarf over his arm, and picked his headgear before walking back to where she had stopped on one side of the lobby. Her expression had not improved; if anything, she looked even more worried, her mouth set in a grim line. "No luck?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Everything is either booked, or too late. Holiday schedules. You would think they added transportation, not removed it!" She bit her lip. "Maybe I can rent a car..." she said, moving her fingers on the phone again.
Her hand was shaking a little, and her voice was hurried. Her face was downwards, looking at the phone, but Charles could see she was close to tears. He closed his eyes, pursed his lips, and took a deep breath, feeling an odd sensation in his gut. Greenslade Hall was not that far from where she wanted to go... "I'll take you," he said.
Her finger stopped, hovering over the phone screen, and she looked up. "What?"
"I'll take you to Bristol."
She almost looked suspicious, which clashed strangely with her reddened eyes. "Why?"
The man shrugged. "Little kids can't be without presents at Christmas. And it's on my way."
"On your way to where?"
The man frowned at her, holding up his arm so she could take her scarf. "It's on my way," he repeated, helping her into her coat.
They stared at each other, then she breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, then... thank you, my Christmas angel!"
"My saloon is in the parking garage on the other side of the street. I will go and get it; just wait here in the lobby," he said, starting to walk towards the exit and ignoring the comment about Christmas angels and the faint blush it caused on his cheeks.
She watched him leave, wondering for a moment if she was making a mistake by getting into a car with a complete stranger. He was an imposing man, and could more than likely fend off any self-defense move she could muster with one hand tied behind his back. Yet, she did not feel threatened by him. Perhaps it was the uniform, or the way he had enquired about her predicament... she bit her lip and took her phone out again, looking for a number in the directory. She would call her friend Katie at the Children's Hospital to tell her she was on her way; if the handsome stranger turned out to be a mugger, at least one person would be aware of the situation.
She finished her call as a dark green saloon pulled up at the bottom of the stairs to the building. The man exited the vehicle and walked briskly around it to open the passenger door for her, taking her bag to put it in the back. He closed the door behind her, then went to the driver's side. "You can enter the location in the GPS unit," he said, as he buckled his seatbelt, then pulled off the curb and merged into the traffic.
She nodded and worked on the central console a few moments, then sat back in her seat and watched the buildings go by to her left, lulled somewhat by the classical music coming from the sound system. "You can sleep if you want," he commented.
She shook her head. "That would be rude, when you're nice enough to help me."
He shrugged, paying attention to the vehicles around him. She looked at him as they stopped at a light signal. "Does my Christmas angel have a name?" she asked.
He looked back at her. "Charles Grey."
"Diana Roberts," she replied.
She wondered if she was supposed to shake his hand, but someone used their horn behind them because the light had changed and the moment was lost. The saloon moved again, and they proceeded toward the motorway, assisted by the GPS' instructions. "So... what is in Gloucestershire?" she asked.
"My family. I'm visiting for Christmas."
"Have you been on operational tours over the holidays before?"
"Yes. It's a welcomed change this year."
"I bet. I'm happy for you. Thank you for your service."
He nodded his head in acknowledgment, but said nothing. The classical music filled the vehicle for a while. "Do you have a child in the hospital?" he inquired, his voice gentle and a little hesitant, as if he were afraid to be intruding.
"No. My friend enrolled me for a picnic activity once, and I was hooked. You just want to go and do things for them, or with them. Sometimes it's sad, sometimes, it's hilarious. There's never a dull moment." She huddled into her seat. "I love what I do. I just have to learn to better organize my time for doing it," she added with a little laugh.
"Everything will be fine."
She smiled, looking at her hands in her lap, welcoming the warmth his words brought to her stomach.
She awoke with a start when something touched her arm. "We're almost there," Charles said, turning into a smaller street as per the GPS' instructions.
"I fell asleep?"
"Good thing you did not rent a car after all," he deadpanned.
"Aren't you a barrel of laughs?" She stifled a yawn. "Turn left here, it's faster."
She shut the GPS unit off, then gave her own instructions. They reached the storage facility shortly after, and Diana saw that there was still light in the office. Unbuckling her belt, she turned to the man. "Can you just wait a little in case there's no one? I'll go and check."
He raised his eyebrows. "You expect me to let you go alone?"
She opened her mouth to reply, but he made a disbelieving face and stepped out of the saloon. She scrambled to get her bag while he went around to open her door, secretly feeling relieved that he had decided to accompany her. This was not the most welcoming neighborhood and even if it was not that late in the evening, it was dark.
They walked to the office to find the door locked and a small sign said "Sorry, we are closed—Merry Christmas!" in the window, but an older man was behind the counter and came to open it when he heard Diana's quick knock. "You made it! I was beginning to wonder," he said.
"I'm so happy you stayed late, thank you! Can you imagine! Of all the days to be stuck... it's unit 43," she said, searching in her bag for her key.
"That's in the back. Follow me."
Diana looked at Charles. "Did you want to go to your family now? I should be all set here, I'll just use their transportation service."
The storage facility employee turned around. "You required transportation? That works on reservation; I don't have my drivers here..."
The young woman's bag fell to the floor as she made an odd little sound. Charles touched her shoulder. "Let's go to the unit, and we'll see what we can do from there," he commented, gesturing to the employee to proceed forward.
The other man complied, happy to see that someone else than him was taking charge. They walked to a section where several smaller units were located and the employee backed away to let the young woman open the door, and left, mentioning he was going to get a trolley.
Charles blinked several times, staring at the pile of items in front of him. Some were wrapped in colorful papers, some were not. There was no way this would all fit into the saloon, even if he stocked items so high he would not be able to see through his rear-view mirror. "Just... how many children are there?" he asked, perplexed.
"There are things for the parents and the staff as well."
He scratched his head. "If we do it right, we might be able to make it with two carloads. Either I come back after we make a first trip, or we convince that bloke to fill up his car as well, providing he has one," he said, sticking his thumb toward the hallway behind him.
She sighed. "It shouldn't even be your problem at this point."
He shrugged. "In for a penny, in for a pound."
He turned to talk to the employee, who arrived with the trolley, signifying that he would accept no arguments about the situation, and that he was taking charge. The other man agreed to lend his car to the effort, saying his grandson had been a patient at that hospital and he was happy to help. Diana suspected he was also happy with the tip she gave him discreetly, and the fact that he could go home right after instead of waiting for them to come back.
They packed both vehicles to the limit of what they could, and managed to fit everything by placing the last items directly on Diana's lap. "Let's just hope we don't get arrested," Charles commented as he sat in the driver's seat.
The hospital was not very far, and Diana only had to give a few instructions. They parked near one of the side doors after the young woman notified the attendant so they would not be towed away, and began unloading the storage unit employee's car first. Diana wrestled with her packages to retrieve the key to the door she had put in her coat pocket and used a small piece of wood to prevent it from locking again. From the agile way she did it using her foot, this was not her first time coming to the hospital with her arms full.
They walked down a corridor, then turned to arrive in front of a second door, which the young woman opened with the same dexterity. "This is one of the staff rooms. We'll put the presents here. There's actually more space in the game room, but if we put them there, the kids will find them right away. And they will be looking first thing tomorrow morning. They even have scouting parties, those who can walk do the searching and then they report to the others. Funny little elves," she commented, putting her items in a corner and calling her friend Katie on the internal phone system to tell her she had arrived.
They made several trips back and forth, and ensured that nothing was left in the storage facility employee's car before he could leave, then began emptying the saloon. It took a little longer since they were down to two persons, and they did not have a trolley, but neither seemed to mind. Diana actually felt a pang of disappointment when she picked the last items from the back seat and closed the door.
Once in the staff room, she added what she was carrying to the already teetering pile before straightening up. "Well, that's the end of that," she commented, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear to hide her feeling of uneasiness at the thought that the man would leave. "I can't thank you enough. I'm not sure of what I would have done otherwise."
"I was glad to help." He stared at her, his ice-blue eyes showing a hint of... was that nervousness? "I know you still have a lot to do, but... would you have dinner with me?" he asked.
She smiled, feeling a little stupid for blushing like a schoolgirl. "Only if you let me pay as a means to thank you."
"I'm afraid I can't promise anything about letting you do that," he replied, his face lighting up with a smile that made her insides melt.
She tilted her head, seeming to think about it. "Well, I'm known for being rather convincing if I want something... so fine, I'll take my chances."
She left a note for Katie, who was coming to the staff room with some of the nurses to help wrap what was left once they ended their shifts, and followed the man out. They chose a restaurant that was close to the hospital, and walked there, both a little shy about the other as they realized that the whole ordeal of the day was turning into a date.
Dinner was casual, and they talked. A lot. And left reluctantly because she had to return to the hospital, and he still had some distance to cover to reach Greenslade Hall. They walked back at a slow pace, in companionable silence, Diana gladly taking the arm Charles offered her. As they stopped next to the saloon, he turned to face her. "I would really like to see you again," he said, moving a little closer to her.
She smiled at him. "I'd like that." She tucked the strand of hair that had escaped her ear once again. "How much leave do you have for the holidays?"
"Two weeks. Can I call you?"
She nodded. "Give me your phone."
She entered the data, her head tilted downwards to look at the screen, so she did not see him move forward to kiss her gently. He caught the side of her mouth and she looked up in surprise. "At least wait until I'm done so I can kiss you back!" she said, reaching up and pressing her lips against his. "Be careful on the road," she added, handing him his phone back.
"I will," he assured her, before getting into in his saloon.
She waved at him as he backed away, and waited for him to leave the parking lot before turning around and walking towards the hospital, unable to stop grinning, even when she saw Katie and one of the nurses were watching through the staff room window. " Well... some people are getting very nice presents from Father Christmas this year," the latter commented.
"And I don't think she'll be returning this one," Katie added with a mischievous smile.
~ The End ~
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