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Tilting at Windmills by alyse [Reviews - 13]
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Category: Miscellaneous
Characters: Other
Rating: PG
Genres: Character Study, Friendship
Warnings: None

Summary: He'd heard a rumour once that there was such a thing as fighting a losing battle, but Lynda hadn't lost one yet, not one that counted.

This one did. And Lynda, for all her faults, fought dirty and fought well.

Fandom: Press Gang (Kenny, Spike, Lynda, hints of Lynda/Spike)



Story Notes:
Spoilers: Set 15 years post the series

Disclaimer: Press Gang belongs to its original creators. May fandom rain blessings down upon them.

Author's Notes: For Kaneko, who said: I'd love a story set in the present day -- ie 15-20 years after the show (omg has it really been that long?). I'd particularly love to see Kenny shaken out of his domestic, boring life by a blast from the past (maybe Spike or Lynda)

I hope this meets the bill.


The sky was still pitch black outside when Kenny stumbled down the stairs, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and scratching at the stubble on his chin. It was too early, dawn nothing but a promise, barely hinted at on the horizon, and the morning air was cold and damp in the way that only a British autumn could be. As he peered out through the small window by the front door, he could see the mist curling up from the cold pavements outside and rising to form halos around the streetlights.

He shivered, his fingertips squeaking against the glass as he pushed himself away again. They left fingerprints behind, smeared in the electric light from outside, and he made a mental note to clean them off.

His mother...

His mother was several thousand miles away but even so, it was her house and her rules, which meant that even with forty on his personal horizon, Kenneth Phillips, Esquire, cleaned up after himself.

He headed down the hall towards the kitchen. The carpet may have changed but the pictures on the wall hadn't - it was strange how jarring and yet how familiar it all was, like he was slotting back neatly into a life he'd left almost twenty years before. He half expected to hear the milkman clattering down the street, the low hum of the electric motor and the empty milk bottles jittering in their crates, knocking together until they rang out like bells. But the milk he pulled out from his mother's fridge, hopping from foot to foot on a floor that was ice cold to the touch, came in a plastic bottle, not the glass ones he remembered his mother rinsing out and leaving on the draining board, ready to go out in the box on the front step before she went to bed.

The sound of the milkman had woken him up more than once back when he'd slept under this roof every night. It was weird what he could get nostalgic about, even insomnia. His bedroom had been at the front, overlooking the street. It still was, he supposed, although is mother used it more as a store room now. Kenny's wardrobe still stood in the corner, even if it was now used as an overspill for his mother's. He'd had to push her evening dresses to one side to make room for his own clothes, and the sense of guilt at that had been strange and disorientating, especially when the mirror inside the door still bore the remnants of his Doctor Who stickers.

The more things changed...

He was still half asleep, dogged by jetlag and just drifting along with his memories, as he started to fill the kettle. And, since he wasn't paying attention, he managed to slosh water over his sleeve. The fabric settled cold and wet against his skin, and the curse that came out was as automatic as the hop backwards out of the spray, as though that was going to do a bloody thing.

The guilty glance he threw back over his shoulder was automatic, too. His mother certainly wouldn't approve of the language he used, especially not here, in his childhood home; even though she was off swanning around the world, her presence - and her disapproval - lingered.

She'd never been a prude, his mother. It was the lack of imagination she objected to, considering swearing the last resort of the intellectually bereft. That was probably why she'd been so tolerant of Lynda and her swear box, he thought. You could accuse Lynda of many things, but being intellectually bereft wasn't one of them. Morally, however, was a whole other matter.

He sighed, pulling the tea towel off the rack and dabbing rather ineffectually at his sleeve. It was hardly surprising that Lynda was on his mind - it was hardly surprising that the past was on his mind, not when he was back here, in England, ready to be sideswiped by it at any moment, caught up in a heady mixture of anticipation and dread.

It didn't help that his day so far boded far from well, what with his jetlag induced insomnia and the weather already setting the mood as damp and miserable. He poked forlornly at his sleeve again but it stayed wet, in spite of his efforts and he was finally forced to give up and reach for the kettle again.

The doorbell rang and it was reflex to glance at the clock on the microwave, a newer model than the one he remembered. The digital clock flashed at him, far too bright and green for this time of the morning... night... He was losing track. Jet lag, he was coming to believe, was nobody's friend, least of all his. He was almost certain that the number flashing at him was 5:07, and that had to be a.m. surely because he wouldn't feel like this if he'd slept through sixteen hours instead of just four. And yet he could have sworn that the doorbell had just rung.

It rang again, somehow sounding more impatient this time, which was pretty clever for an inanimate object. Kenny placed the tea towel down carefully on the counter with a sigh, resisting the urge to hang it up again, because he was almost forty years old and his mother was on a cruise ship somewhere and not even his mother was that psychic, and headed towards the door.

The doorbell rang for a third time as he headed back up the hall, and this time there was no mistaking the impatience in its jarring tone. Kenny sighed again.

There was only one person it could be at this time in the morning, even after all these years.

"... Lynda."

She looked smart and sensible and businesslike and not at all like Lynda, who wouldn't have been seen dead in a neatly co-ordinated red suit and heels. Strangely, it suited her. That, more than anything, told Kenny that she'd finally simply grabbed one of those fashion gurus and threatened them with bodily harm until they'd come up with something that was power dressing and yet still Lynda. And since there was no way in hell that Kenny was going to hallucinate that, it meant she really was standing on his doorstep, glaring at him.

"At last. I was beginning to think you'd got lost on the way." The scowl that came with those words was classic Lynda and, for a split second, Kenny wasn't a middle aged man in pyjamas, standing shivering on his doorstep in the early hours, still - bizarrely - clutching a kettle; he was six again, watching the grubby girl with her hands fisted on her hips glaring at him for losing her best marble down the drain.

"Well, don't just stand there," she continued, pushing past him as though it hadn't been almost ten years since they'd done more than e-mail or occasionally talk on the phone. Well, Lynda talked on the phone. Kenny rarely got a word in edgeways, but that was nothing new. "It's not exactly warm out here and we've got lots to do."

He blinked at her. It was jetlag. It had to be. He'd never heard of jetlag actually causing hallucinations before but he supposed that there was always a first time. Perhaps this time it was his own marbles he'd lost his own marbles down the drain instead of Lynda's.

"Lynda," he repeated, a little dazed.

She stopped and turned to face him, planting her hands firmly on her hips and glaring at him, her face creased into a familiar frown.

"Yes. Were you expecting someone else?"

"In all honesty - no. I can't say that I was. What are you doing here?"

She rolled her eyes - she actually rolled her eyes - at him and that impatient look appeared back on her face, the same look he'd seen day in, day out for close to eighteen years.

God, he'd missed it.

"I've already told you, Kenny. We've got lots to do."

Of course they did. It was just a pity that she hadn't yet told him what the 'lots' related to. He opened his mouth, ready to point that out, but the winter wind was swirling around his bare ankles and it suddenly occurred to him that he was still standing there, in his pyjamas, with the door wide open, at five o'clock in the morning. He'd blame the jetlag if being stunned into silence by Lynda hadn't been a regular occurrence for a large part of his life.

He sighed or tried to, but it came out more like a smile, curling softly around the edges. It probably made him look like a complete lunatic, but he couldn't find it in him to care. Not much. Not even with his feet turning slowly into blocks of ice. "So," he said, still gobsmacked to see her standing there, in his hall - his mother's hall - looking like she'd never left, even if she was wearing a suit. "This 'lots' you were talking about..."

He was trying to close the front door as he spoke and it took him a second to realise that the reason he wasn't being very successful was because it was caught on something. When he looked down, confused and still shivering, that something turned out to be a foot. A foot in a boot. A foot in a boot on the end of a leg that finally resolved upwards into another blast from the past.

"Kenny! Good to see you, buddy."

"Spike." The word came out slowly, half smothered by the grin that was forming just as slowly on his face as his sluggish brain finally caught up with what was apparently passing for reality. "Long time, no see. You're looking good."

"Kenny, I always look good. It's a gift. Hell, I'm a gift." Spike's grin was achingly familiar, even after all these years. He'd seen it since he'd first left for Australia, of course, in e-mailed pictures or glimpsed in passing at weddings and christenings and even at the occasional wake, but even so it was a welcome sight. The grey in the hair was new, but the rest was classic Spike - leather clad, sunglasses wearing and larger than life. "Nice PJs. Kinda disappointed that they don't have kangaroos, though."

"Nah. That's my underwear."

"Good choice," Spike said, leaning in as though he was sharing a confidence. His eyes, though, slid towards Lynda and his grin turned wicked. "So tell me. Where did you choose to put the boomerangs?"

It might have been stupid and immature and he was pushing forty, damn it, but Kenny couldn't help it when his grin widened. He'd blame it on the jetlag if necessary, or coming down with a fever from the cold. "You kept him, then?" he called down the hall to Lynda, nodding his head towards Spike.

"What can I say? She keeps following me home," Spike quipped, typically in with a joke before Lynda even had a chance to say anything. Lynda rolled her eyes again, but it was aimed at Spike this time rather than Kenny, and even that was familiar.

"When you two have quite finished," she said.

Spike raised an eyebrow, inclining his head towards Kenny to include him in his inevitable comeback.

"Have we finished, Kenny?"

"I think we have, yes," he answered solemnly, still fighting back on that selfsame grin, which threatened to break out all over again. He was still shivering, standing there in a pair of paisley pyjamas, kettle clutched in one hand and his best friend in the world standing in front of him, looking a hell of a lot better than she ought to at this time in the morning.

Lynda frowned again, folding her arms and tapping her foot, and some things never changed. Thank God, he thought, taken by surprise by the sudden surge of nostalgia for that look, especially given that Lynda's disapproval could outdo his mother's any day.

"So... lots to do?"

"Yes," said Lynda. "I'm glad someone's with it."

"Lynda, it's five o'clock in the morning. "

"Actually, it's twenty past," she corrected. "And I've already told the office I'll be in late and they shouldn't expect me to be in before half past ten." At Kenny's continuing stunned look she added, rather defensively, "It is a two hour commute, after all, and it's not like I won't be working on the train."

Kenny opened his mouth then closed it again. When he finally opened it again, he settled on, "She has Fleet Street terrified of her, doesn't she?"

"She has half of them hiding under their desks when she walks on by," Spike agreed.

"That's a slight exaggeration," Lynda objected. "It's actually only two or three of them, and frankly I can't see how they can possibly run their papers effectively if they're scared of me."

"Oh," said Kenny. "And your staff...?"

"Run the paper effectively because they're scared of her," said Spike.

"Aren't we all?" Kenny muttered quietly, but not quietly enough if the look Lynda gave him was any indication. "So, you're here at twenty past five in the morning because...?"

"Well," said Spike, flinging his arm companionably over Kenny's shoulder, "in my case it's because I haven't been to bed yet. In Lynda's case it's because an extra hour in bed is an extra hour the people who have to work for her aren't cursing their existence."

"What are you doing here at twenty past five in the morning?"

"Oh, that's easy," said Spike. "All the happening clubs are shut, so you get the pleasure of our company."

Lynda wasn't jumping in, and Kenny didn't know whether to be worried about that or not. She didn't usually let Spike get away with running his mouth off without matching it with a running and increasingly sarcastic commentary, but then the years seemed to have taken the edge off the irritation part of her irritated affection for the man, at least if the way she was looking at Spike was any indication. "Not that it isn't a pleasure, but... look, go and sit down or something. You're making the hall look untidy."

Spike grinned at him but it was Lynda who moved first and even in her nice suit and just low enough to stay sensible heels she still moved like the Lynda he knew. Like she owned the world and the world simply needed to wake up and face the fact, and the sooner it did that, the better

"So, what is this about?" he asked, padding after them in his bare feet and still holding onto the kettle for dear life. "If everything okay? Oh, God. Is everybody okay?"

"Relax, Kenny, my man. Everyone's fine." Of course it was Spike soothing his fears because it would never occur to Lynda that turning up at this time in the morning wasn't going to terrorise people. Or maybe it had. She had a very weird way of showing affection sometimes.

Spike probably had the scars to prove it and now that the thought had occurred to him, he was never going to be able to scrub the image from his jetlagged and far too imaginative brain.

"It's the Gazette," Lynda said, without any preamble. "Well, to be precise - it's the Junior Gazette."

Kenny frowned. "What about it? Is this about the dedication ceremony? I know it's the day after tomorrow, but they haven't asked me to make a speech. Not yet, anyway. I don't have to make a speech, do I?"

Lynda sat down on his mother's overstuffed sofa, and bounced a little as it settled. It was reassuring, almost, given that it put her off balance, and an off balance Lynda was far more familiar than this grown up one who wore makeup in spite of the early hour.

"Look, forget about the dedication ceremony, all right? It's not important."

"It's not?" He was a little nonplussed at where this was heading, but that wasn't new either. "Is it cancelled?"

"Of course not," she snapped. "The current ownership aren't quite that stupid, not when they have people travelling from all over the world for it and it will be a nice bit of publicity for them. I mean, you even flew back from Australia for it, didn't you?"

"No, Lynda," he said, dryly. "I came back for Christmas."

"It's only September." Of course, the sarcasm would have to fly straight over Lynda's head. She'd never done well with sarcasm, unless she was the one being sarcastic, and she usually was.

"I thought I'd beat the rush."

Lynda's frown deepened, but before she could interject with some other, off-track argument that had nothing to do with anything but Lynda winning, Spike - thankfully - leapt into the breach.

"They're closing the Junior Gazette."

It took a second for it to sink in, and even then Kenny wasn't sure he'd heard right.

"What?"

"Yes," said Lynda, her voice biting and sharp with something. The anger part of that 'something' he was familiar with, but the edge underneath, the one that sounded like grief... It was no easier to cope with than it had ever been.

"But... why?"

"New demographics," said Spike with a shrug. His eyes were tired though, underneath the sunglasses he'd pushed up to the top of his head. "The internet, texting, virtual worlds... There's no place for a kids' newspaper, not the way the current owners see it."

"They're wrong." Lynda's voice was fierce, her face all sharp angles and harsh intent. She pushed a lock of hair back from where it hung artistically into her face; that look hadn't been Lynda either, but he could understand why she'd adopted it when he saw the faint silvery sheen from the small, faded burn scar she had there. It was a remnant of the last time she'd pulled off a miracle. "If the Gazette isn't selling, it's because they're too stupid to know how to sell it. If there's no market, you make a market. That's what we did."

"But... they're having this big thing about how it's twenty years old now." He was whining, sounding like a kid again even though he was well past old enough to know that the world wasn't fair. "Why on earth would they organise this and then close the Gazette? It doesn't make sense."

But it did, now that the shock had worn off and he could think about it. He'd always been more capable of seeing the big picture than Lynda had, usually because her focus was so narrow - laser beam narrow, in most cases. It did make sense, if you considered that it made business sense. Which meant that it didn't make sense at all, not to the kids who had replaced their long since moved on replacements.

"They get the publicity," he said, answering his own question. "And then they, what? Announce that the Gazette has served its purpose, that it's time to look to the future rather than the past?"

Spike nodded. "Times they are a-changing."

"And we're going to stop them," said Lynda, fierce and stubborn and occasionally loyal to the point of stupidity, as per usual.

"Why us?" The question was automatic, but then so was Lynda's answering glare.

"We've done it before," she said. "More than once. We've fought tooth and nail and now they want to take it away."

"Lynda," he said gently, "It's not ours any more. It belongs to the ones that came after us and then the ones that came after them as well."

"Well," she snapped, "they should have taken better care of it. It's our legacy. It's not our fault if they don't appreciate it."

"The point of legacies is that you pass them on, Lynda." It was easy to slip into being the voice of reason, tempering Lynda's fury. "It's their paper and it's their fight now, too."

"But they're not us."

"No," he said, giving her the point but not giving her any ground. Not yet. Not without fighting in his own quiet way. "They're not."

She sat back in the cushions, still stubborn, still fierce. Still his best friend, even now. He had to give her something.

"What does Sarah think?"

She snorted, the sound inelegant and unladylike, which meant it was completely Lynda, the way the neatly coiffed hair and turned out suit weren't. "Sarah's a bit busy gallivanting around the world," she retorted, and Kenny had to look at Spike for clarification.

"She's off somewhere impersonating Kate Addy," he said. "Doing that plucky girl reporter thing in some war zone somewhere - Iraq, Afghanistan, New Jersey. You know. Somewhere where there are a lot of angry people with guns."

"Ah," Kenny said, still watching Lynda. "Well, Sarah would say -"

"Sarah would say, put the boot in," Lynda interrupted. "And she'd be right."

"We fought our own battles," he reminded her. "Remember?"

"We had Kerr in our corner," she shot back, quick as a whip. "Remember? Kerr and Chrissie. Even Sullivan. Who have they got now? Who's going to fight in their corner this time, Kenny?"

He thought about it, turning the question over and over in his mind, but he knew Lynda too well to avoid the obvious answer. "Us?" he hazarded.

"Yes. Us."

It was too early, or too late, for this. Kenny didn't know which. He'd heard a rumour once that there was such a thing as fighting a losing battle, but Lynda hadn't lost one yet, not one that counted.

This one did. And Lynda, for all her faults, fought dirty and fought well.

He closed his eyes, fighting back the tiredness, trying to concentrate. He could see the newsroom if he squeezed them closed tightly enough. Hear the clicking of typewriters, smell the sharp scent of tippex rising from the page, and feel the desperation of a rapidly approaching deadline. It would be different now - there'd be computers and scanners, digital photography, all the things that would make life easier for their successors, and all the things that would make it easy to take the Gazette away from them.

He'd learnt a lot back then. They all had - the skills that had Lynda terrorising Fleet Street, and Sarah reporting from one far flung dangerous place after another. The things that had Julie running her own graphics company now, and had made Spike a semi-successful children's author. The things that he used every day in running his own business.

But they'd learnt a hell of a lot more than the Gazette had been designed to teach them. Maybe it was about time they passed those skills on.

He opened his eyes.

"Well," he said, finally bowing, as always, to the inevitability of Lynda. "If we have a coup to plan, I'd better put the kettle on."

The End






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