Suddenly its dark. Not the kind of dark you get in his flat at night, that eerie apricot glow from the street lamps filtering through the curtains. Not even the kind of dark you get on dark nights, shadows catching at the edges of your vision. No, this is the utter absence of light. Blackness in all its soul-crushing emptiness.
He hears James cry out.
And then some metallic thumping. Angry fists on a rusty blast door.
‘Bloody hell!’ There is real fury in that shout. And something else Lewis can’t put a name to yet, something hovering in the tone. No, can’t be. He dismisses it.
‘She knew we were coming then?’
‘No idea how.’
‘Worked it out. Not hard for a woman with a brain that size,’ Lewis admits. He hates having to admit it too. He hates that these smug Oxford academics sometimes outwit his steady policeman’s mind. He fumbles in his pocket, feels the cool plastic of his phone and pulls it out.
‘You got a signal?’
A weak blue light flickers on close by. James’s horsey features look especially cadaverous lit from below. His brow is furrowed.
‘Battery’s going flat,’ he sighs. ‘Meant to charge it in the car on the way over.’ He flops his arms down like a sulky teenager. The blue light suddenly dies. ‘Bloody hell!’
‘Calm down, sergeant. Luckily, your Inspector is here.’
Lewis waves his phone about, feeling like a man with a geiger counter, and finally manages to get a signal, one bar, right in the highest corner of the cavernous space, close to the door.
‘Give us a bunk up, lad, see if I can get anything better?’
Their breath comes out in fat clouds as they struggle, Lewis putting his snowy shoe into James’s interlaced hands, then forcing himself up, using the lad’s shoulders to balance. He manages to lean against the dank wall, feels his weight slide on the slime there, but there are three bars on the screen now, easily enough to get the text message through. The phone makes a satisfying beep.
‘Has it gone?’ James’s voice is strangled by the effort of holding his boss up.
‘Yeah,’ Lewis says as he climbs back down again.
‘Course. I’m not the complete technological dunce you make me out to be, you know. I can tell when a text has been sent.’
‘Yeah, it says so on the screen, right here, see?’ Lewis laughs and pats James on the back. ‘They’ll be here in no time, don’t worry.’
‘I hope so,’ James says, looking around the gloomy space with worried eyes.
‘Nah,’ James shrugs. ‘You’d better conserve your battery, sir. You don’t know how long we’ll be here.’
‘S’pose so,’ Lewis agrees, and shuts the screen down.
Suddenly everything is completely black again.
He can hear James shuffling about, patting his arms around his body to try and keep warm.
‘Why does it have to be the coldest day of the year when we get trapped in a poxy missile silo? Its bad enough she locked us in here, we’ll never hear the end of that from Hooper-‘
‘Bugger Hooper,’ Lewis says gruffly. Even he is beginning to feel the chill now. ‘They won’t be long. We just have to conserve our heat and energy, that’s all. May as well get comfortable.’
He sits down on the concrete floor. It is cold, but somehow less tiring than standing in the icy darkness. This blackness is a bit disorientating too. Its hard to know which way is up. Makes him feel a bit dizzy, if he’s honest. But he decides not to think about it. He’s had enough today, after all. He’s fed up with the case anyway, with all the memories it has brought back, and these smug, self-satisfied women who feel they are above the law. Getting locked into this throw-back from the Cold War seems just about the perfect end to it all, really. He pulls his gloves out of his pocket and starts to pull them on.
‘Sir?’ There’s that note again, and Lewis can tell what it is now. It’s fear.
‘S’alright, lad, I’m still here.’
Lewis reaches out towards the sound of James’s voice and his hand bumps against his legs.
‘I’m down here.’
He fishes around until his hand finds James’s, and he manages to guide his sergeant to sit down beside him.
‘This floor is freezing!’ James complains. He hutches up until his side is pressed against Lewis’s, and the body heat begins to soak between them through their respective coats. It feels nice, Lewis has to admit.
‘Yeah, we’ll both get piles from sitting on it, but I’d rather that than stand around waiting for the cavalry.’
‘You don’t get piles from cold surfaces. That’s an old wives tale.’
‘An authority on haemorrhoids too now, are we?’ :Lewis chuckles, giving the lad’s shoulder a playful shove.
And then they sit there.
And sit there.
And then Lewis realises that James is shaking. Not shivering, but actually shaking. Lewis is sure that if he could actually see his sergeant, the lad would be a blur.
‘Hey.’ He reaches around, puts his hand flat on the centre of the lad’s back. There is a shuddering gasp that betrays more than just normal emotion. Human instinct takes over. He slips his hand further round, tenderly encircling James’s shoulders. ‘Hey?’
James whimpers and suddenly turns, presses his face into Lewis’s neck.
He’s scared. Really scared.
Lewis holds him. Cups the back of his head in his big palm, rubs circles over his spine through the wool of his overcoat, pulls him closer. He can feel wetness on his skin. The lad is crying.
‘It’s alright pet,’ he whispers. ‘I’m here. You’re safe. It’s alright.’
‘Its always alright when you’re with me,’ James breathes into his shoulder.
The lad’s hair is so soft. Lewis wishes he could see it, see the way his fingers are sliding through the golden strands. He imagines it instead, imagines what it must look like, imagines what he would see if they were sitting on a sun-drenched garden instead of here in this freezing concrete bunker. He has always admired James’s hair, his sunny colouring, the fineness of it, the way it hugs his head. Somehow the darkness, the fact of not being able to see it as he touches it, makes it lovelier still. .His own hair is becoming ever more the opposite, silver opposed to gold, a coarser texture every day, and it was never his best feature to start with. He doesn’t really mind. James can’t see it right now, and even if he could, it has never made any difference. Sometimes he wonders if James can actually perceive how much older he is at all. And if he’s really honest, he’s glad. If he were even ten years younger, and James noticed him, noticed him that way, then keeping how he feels to himself would be much harder. Now, he finds he is glad of the dark, of this moment in which touch becomes so heightened. It is a moment the memory of which he can cherish and relive in the future.
He shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t be taking this risk, he knows, but James is so scared and it is breaking his heart to feel that greyhound-thin body trembling against him. He fishes around, trying to find something comforting to say.
‘Isn’t darkness supposed to be where you find God?’ It’s the best he can do, but it might provoke James into a theological debate that will take his mind off whatever is at the root of this terror.
‘I tried,’ James manages, his voice shaky. ‘I called to Him, but He never answered. He never came.’
‘Aw, lad,’ is all Lewis can say in return.
‘There’s no darkness like the darkness of a moonless country night after a nightmare,’ James says after a moment. And suddenly Lewis is there, in a shabby little attic room in the gamekeepers cottage at Crevcoeur, all those years ago, looking down at the yellow-haired little boy who is shivering with fear, crying out for a mother who never comes.
Now he can understand why James is afraid. The darkness in here is so dark, so utterly black, and yet so thick with meaning that he can almost see James’s memories himself. In the dark, the true dark, you can see the past, like spectres snagging at the corners of your vision, never quite visible but always present, all the unseen things that are now almost seen.
‘You’re never so alone as you are in the dark,’ James whispers, as if he is afraid the ghosts of his past will hear him. As if they are crowding around with outstretched hands, feeling their way towards the sound of his voice. ‘So alone and yet never alone.’
Lewis holds him tighter, wraps him in strong arms, till their chests are pressed together and he can feel James’s heart fluttering against him like a trapped bird. Something snaps inside him, something real and earnest, something that roars protection and unyielding fidelity.
‘You never have to be alone,’ he says, and hears the growl in his own voice. ‘You never have to face the dark again!’
James’s long fingers grip at his clothes, clutching handfuls, desperate, despairing.
‘You’ll go, you’ll go,’ he whimpers.
‘No, no, never,’ Lewis tells him and means it with every fibre of his being.
James is almost in his lap now, pressing so close that Lewis feels like he’s trying to climb inside his boss’s skin.
‘Oh, pet, it’s okay, it’s okay,’ he murmurs. He scrabbles between them to unbutton his coat, that shapeless, ungainly parka that he knows James hates, now glad it is really too big for him. He pulls it around them both, closing their bodies inside the envelope of its padding so that James can feel the warmth of his body, the beat of his heart, so that James will know he is enfolded and cradled in safety and love. He finds he is rocking the lad gently, an arm around his shoulders to support him like a baby, like the little boy he’s become in this darkness. He strokes James’s long cheek with his fingertips, remembering how he used to do this to Lyn and Mark when they were babies, to soothe them when they were fractious.
James’s body softens against him, a sigh coming out, a little murmur, a whimper perhaps. Somehow, in some way, he is finally beginning to believe.
‘I suppose this is what its like to be blind,’ Lewis says, thinking of the darkness, this lack of sight that is sharpening everything else; the way James’s aftershave smells, and the fustiness of stale cigarettes, the cold, damp wool of his coat, and faint hint of his bay-scented shampoo. And the sense of touch, too, the feel of him against Lewis’s body, the intense awareness of those lean muscles under his clothes, like the meat of a dog’s body moving under its skin, all lithe, hidden power. He wonders if James is feeling it too. He wonders what he feels like to James in this sea of blackness. He wonders what James is sensing as his hand rests on Lewis’s own bicep, through the thick padding of his coat, how he might smell to James, how he might taste.
No, mustn’t think of that.
‘Being blind can’t be like this if you’ve never had sight,’ James says. ‘Being blind is simply the absence of sight. If you’ve never had it, you wouldn’t be able to imagine darkness, would you? You wouldn’t know what darkness or light looked like.’
‘No, I suppose not.’
James is quiet for a moment, and then he whispers: ‘I think I’ve been a bit blind.’
And his lips brush Lewis’s neck tentatively.
‘Never had sight. Never had light. But now you’ve given it to me.’
Lewis knows that he has been found out. That big Cambridge brain has put the pieces together at long last. He’ll be smug about this for months, Lewis thinks, ruefully.
‘Hush, pet. You don’t have to do anything about it.’
‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.’
‘Soft lad,’ Lewis smiles at James’s shaky crooning.
‘You don’t know how much I needed saving,’ James whispers. ‘How much I needed you to find me.’
‘And now you’re found,’ Lewis tells him, and lets his lips brush James’s forehead.