Actions

Work Header

Longhouse

Work Text:

The English have a lot of words for rain. You need to be able to distinguish your mizzling and drizzling from your coming down stair-rods and chucking it down and pissing it down and pouring and just plain wet. Currently it was a heavy drizzle out of a lowering grey sky, the air dense with tiny drops of water until it seemed like a snorkel was the only solution. In central London this wouldn't be so bad, because the tall buildings block some of it and there are lots of places you can take shelter for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn't in central London.

I was on Dartmoor, half an hour's walk to the nearest road--which scarcely deserved the name, since it was full of potholes, had grass growing down the middle of it and was barely wide enough for the Jag. We were right on the high moor, completely open to the sky, just a few stunted and twisted trees clinging to the lower ground and green-brown hills rolling in all directions. It was probably very nice if you liked that sort of thing, but the key point about it as far as I was concerned was that there was absolutely no shelter from the rain.

"This is it," said Nightingale. "This is where they were found."

Six days ago, two soldiers who'd been on leave from the military camp nearby had been found here, dead. A third was still in hospital with a broken leg and brain damage. This would have been a matter for the local police and the military police and maybe the Dartmoor park rangers to argue over, except that a scan of the guy's brain damage had somehow reached Frank Caffrey, who'd passed it on to Dr Walid, who'd immediately recognised it as moderate hyper-thaumaturgical degradation, or what happens when your brain is fried by magic. His story, as far as he'd been able to tell it, had been that he and his mates had missed the last bus, had set off on foot, got lost and ducked into an old hut to avoid getting soaked in a sudden downpour. After that he didn't remember anything.

He had been found in a ditch by a keen off-road cyclist, and his mates soon after nearby. One of them had been killed instantly from a fractured skull, the other had bled to death from a stab wound. Devon and Cornwall Police theorised that one guy had stabbed the other, but before he could die of blood loss he'd bludgeoned his erstwhile friend over the head. The weird thing was that there was absolutely no known motive. The guys had been friendly, had no more disputes than the sort of petty stuff that nobody really cares about, and nobody could come up with any explanation of why they might have wanted each other dead.

That, plus the fact that the hut our Mr HDT described couldn't be found anywhere, and with the MRI scan added in, equalled me and Nightingale standing in the rain on Dartmoor on an utterly miserable afternoon at the end of October.

It looked like another patch of wet muddy ground to me. Lots of spiky plants that Nightingale identified as gorse and heather, a few cowpats, awkward outcroppings of granite everywhere, and nowhere to hide from the rain. The forensic crew had been and gone, and there was nothing left to show that two men had died here and a third had been seriously injured. No hut either.

Nightingale knelt down and placed his hands flat on the ground, then jerked his head at me and reluctantly I did the same. I was wearing thick sturdy jeans, but they weren't thick enough to keep my knees dry. I tried to ignore being wet and miserable and concentrated.

I've never really tried to feel for vestigia in the ground before. Buildings, animals, people, objects - but not the ground itself. It took me a while to tune into it. Dartmoor felt old, and tired, and cold, though that could have been me. Then on top of that I had a sense of crashing stone, cracking slate, and an endless scream. I stood up quickly.

Nightingale was watching me. "Yes?"

"Something falling down, a building or something. And screaming."

He nodded.

"What is it?"

"That's what we need to find out. But it's definitely our case." He began to walk around the area, gradually spiralling outwards. I imitated him, going up the slope, and stopped. Now that I knew what I was looking for, it was easier to spot. The screaming was pretty distinctive. And annoying.

"Over here," I said. "I think it went this way."

I gestured uphill. Now I like granite better after it's been carved into pillars and monuments and buildings, but on Dartmoor the tops of all the hills are adorned with outcroppings of the stuff, smoothed by wind and weather into weird curved shapes. This one looked like a squashed tomato. I set off up the tor, following a narrow sheep track with bracken and gorse hip-high on both sides, and listened to the ground screaming. Nightingale came after me. "Yes. Good find, Peter."

"What are we tracking? The hut?" I meant it as a joke, but when I thought about it, it made a certain amount of sense. It certainly wasn't here any more, and stone and slate were common building materials in this area.

"Possibly. It's best to keep an open mind at this stage."

He strode ahead of me up the hill, somehow looking every bit as at home here as he does in London, like he belonged in one of those romantic costume dramas one of my exes used to watch full of handsomely brooding men standing in bleak landscapes. Not that Nightingale does anything as emo as brooding, he just goes a bit quiet sometimes. I trudged after him in my fluorescent yellow police overcoat. I figure one of us has to at least try to be normal.

At the end of the eighteenth century, a short guy in France was starting to worry the English government with his enthusiasm for marching into other people's countries and taking them over, and they started to make plans for what to do if he crossed the Channel. But you can't fit the coast out with artillery without knowing the layout of the land really well, and up till this point, nobody had an accurate map. So the Board of Ordnance commissioned the first seriously detailed and accurate maps of southern England. And it turned out that these were really handy even after our boys Nelson and Wellington got rid of the problem of invasion, especially once people started wanting to build railways all over the place. So the Board of Ordnance got started on surveying the whole country properly, and they've been doing it ever since.

We've got a whole shelf of Ordnance Survey maps in one of the libraries at the Folly, and Nightingale had brought the relevant one with him. It had been published in about 1950, and while that wouldn't be much good for a city, the moor tends to stay in the same place, especially since it's a designated National Park and building new stuff on it is pretty difficult. Now he pulled it out along with his compass and spent some time checking it out.

We were supposed to have a guide, but the Dartmoor park ranger who'd met us in the layby where we'd left the Jag had been called away on some rural emergency involving sheep and a bog. She'd laughed in my face when I explained that my phone had excellent GPS, but when Nightingale had produced the map and compass she'd nodded, pointed out the route and left us to sort ourselves out. And after my phone tried to direct us straight over the top of a tor instead of around the bottom of it, and then lost all signal halfway along, I could kind of see her point.

When Nightingale was satisfied that he knew where we were and where we were headed, I carried on following the screaming. The wet bracken snagged at my legs and the drizzle did its best to soak through my coat and scarf, and I was wishing I hadn't succumbed to my mum's instruction to get a haircut, because I'd left the maroon and purple bobble hat at home. Nightingale was wearing a flat cap of a type I'd only previously seen on TV and which worked nicely to keep the rain out of his eyes, I noticed.

As we got higher the clouds seemed to be lower, until it felt like they were about a metre above my head. Nightingale looked up at them, and that was when they started to sink right down on top of us. Suddenly instead of having a view of brownish-green hills studded with big hunks of granite as far as the eye could see, I couldn't see further than Nightingale a few steps behind me and the bracken on both sides. I stopped.

"Carry on, Peter," Nightingale said. "I think we're getting close."

"Yeah, but close to what?" I muttered.

"We'll soon find out."

"And then what?" Police don't, as a rule, like walking blind into dangerous situations. Especially since whatever it was, it had killed two trainee marines.

Nightingale turned to look at me and gave me a grin that seemed to show a lot of teeth. "Then we deal with it."

I shouldn't have been reassured to discover that my boss didn't have a plan, but weirdly, I was. Especially after I'd seen him deal with a terrifying Russian witch last summer. I grinned back, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. Then he looked away quickly.

I followed him up, my attention caught by his long smooth strides, and knew the thing I had for him still hadn't gone away. After Skygarden, I mostly stopped having the dream where I wake up with Beverley on one side of me and Lesley on the other. Since this has been replaced by dreams in which Lesley shoots me in the back and runs away laughing, I don't think it's much of an improvement. But lately I've been having another dream in which I show up for practice completely naked. It would be your bog-standard embarrassment dream, except that when Nightingale sees me he gives me this incredible smile, like he's been waiting for this his whole life, and then starts unfastening the buttons of his shirt. Generally I wake up with a raging hard-on before he gets more than three or four buttons down. All I can say is, it's lucky I've had a lot of practice at being professional around people I have a crush on. And I try not to let him catch me staring at him.

We reached the top of the tor and stopped to catch our breath. The climbing had warmed me up, but standing still made the sweat cool me down too fast and I jiggled from foot to foot. Nightingale paced around slowly, feeling for the vestigia, gradually becoming more shadowy in the fog as he got further away. It was only a few steps before I couldn't see him at all.

"Anything?" I called to disguise the fact that this unsettled me.

"I think it headed down this side," he called back, his voice muffled by the fog. All the sounds were muffled by it. It wasn't like Dartmoor was noisy, but I'd heard birds and sheep and rustling leaves earlier. Now it was silent, and I really missed the constant hum of London. I navigated through the fog and rocks to where he'd gone.

"The fog's pretty thick, sir," I said when I caught up with him. "Perhaps we should come back in the morning." We'd stopped at a pub in one of the larger villages about half an hour away, and their menu suggested that it would be a great place for homecooked pies and local beer, plus there'd been a real log fire in the bar.

"It's two hours until sunset," Nightingale said calmly, "and the trail's weak. By tomorrow it will be even weaker. I think we need to keep hunting. Besides, this is just hill fog. Once we're off the tor we'll be able to see again."

I really should have asked him how he could be certain of that. When we got to the bottom of the tor, it was every bit as foggy as the top. Foggier, maybe--I nearly walked right into an affronted Dartmoor pony that snorted and laid its ears back flat against its head. Nightingale shooed it away with a slap on its rump, and it vanished into the fog.

"The trail's a bit stronger here," he remarked.

"Yeah, but so's the fog. I really think we should go back, sir."

Nightingale sighed. "Yes, I agree. All right." He pulled out his map again and said, "Look, we're here, and this is where we left the car. We can cut back across this way and save going back up and down that tor again."

I can read streetmaps fine, but I'm not that great with open countryside, so I just nodded and let him get on with it. The thing is, you can't just walk across any open bit of Dartmoor that you choose, even if you avoid the bits that are used as a live-fire range by the army. There's bracken, gorse, brambles and heather--all of which I got way too familiar with during the subsequent hours--and it's dense as a jungle, as high as your neck, soaking wet and full of thorns. So you have to follow the various sheep tracks and paths, most of which are not on the map at all. I followed Nightingale through the fog, and he consulted his compass and map and kept on trekking, but almost an hour later we weren't anywhere near the car. The suspicion had been growing in me for a while, but it wasn't until Nightingale had stopped to consult the map five times in ten minutes that I finally said, "Do you know where we are, sir?"

He sighed. "If I could see any landmarks at all we wouldn't have a problem," he said, which meant yes, we were totally lost. I dug out my mobile. No signal. Of course.

"Perhaps we should retrace our steps."

"I'm not sure we can." He frowned at the map in deep annoyance. "We're somewhere around here," he said with a tap of his finger on the paper, "and if we keep heading south-west we'll strike the road, and then we can walk back to the car."

It was going to be dark soon. I concentrated and felt for vestigia again, but we'd left the trail of the screaming whatever-it-was behind some time ago. I wondered just what had happened to those three soldiers, also stranded on the moor after dark. But they hadn't had Nightingale with them.

"Let's try something," he said, and made a werelight. Not a regular one, more like the one he'd used to illuminate Skye's garden the night we'd found her body, huge and brighter than a helicopter NightSun search light.

The fog around us glowed a bright gold, but we couldn't see anything more than before. Less, because the light reflecting off every drop of fog was dazzling. It was like standing inside a giant glitterball. He shut it down again with a snort. "Oh well, it was worth a shot."

"Isn't there a spell for, like, finding your way home?" I asked.

"No." He gave his map a final consult and set off through the bracken again. I followed him. "There are finding spells, but they require you to have a part of the object you're looking for, and the ritual is quite complex. We don't have the necessary things up here."

I sighed and settled back to brushing through the gorse and bracken. My jeans were almost soaked through from mid-thigh downwards, and one of the seams on my coat was leaking, as was my left boot. I shivered a bit and kept on moving.

The light faded. Nightingale kept going. I trudged after him, slowly. He turned and told me to keep up. I told him I was freezing my balls off. He grunted. I mentioned that my boots were leaking. He grunted again. I pointed out that I was sure we'd gone past the same outcropping of rocks before. Nightingale didn't even acknowledge this. I told him I still didn't have a mobile signal.

"Would you be quiet?" he snapped. "I swear you're worse than a dozen raw recruits."

I shut up, put my head down, and followed him. It got fully dark and Nightingale pulled out a torch from somewhere inside his coat. The circle of light it cast was small and sad against the enormous foggy darkness around us. I skidded and stumbled after Nightingale, and didn't say anything else.

We climbed up a hill, slowly, and skidded down the other side, even more slowly. Nightingale kept having to stop and turn the light onto his map and compass to try to figure out whether we were still going the right way, and I had to stick tight to him because outside the area illuminated by the torch, it was completely black. We both tripped and skidded and slipped down through rocks and heather and evil gorse bushes that tried to rip through my jeans, and I actually fell flat on my face once. Nightingale pulled me to my feet without saying anything.

I was beginning to feel like I'd been walking forever, like I would continue to walk through the dark and the wet and the fog for the rest of my life and that streetlights and electricity and the warm glow of London was all some dream that I'd imagined a thousand years ago. I tripped on one of the thousands of tussocks of long grass and went flat on my face. It was surprisingly cosy. I stayed where I was.

"Peter!" Nightingale was being annoying. I didn't want to get up for yet another midnight shout. I really didn't. He shook my shoulder, hard, and said, "Peter, we have to keep moving. Get up."

I wanted to do what he told me. He was sounding at his most military, his most commanding and serious. I didn't want to let him down. "For King and Country," I muttered and struggled to my knees. This was a mistake, because it made me realise just how cold I was and how wet I was and how exhausted I was. And how fucked I was.

Nightingale put the torch down and grabbed me by both shoulders to stop me falling flat on my face again, then muttered something. I felt his signare and a flash of spells I didn't recognise, something too complicated for me to follow even if I had been fully alert. Then warmth began to rush into me. That made the cold and wet seem even worse for a minute, but the warmth kept coming and I could actually feel my jeans and jacket drying out from the inside out.

"Don't set my bones on fire," I heard myself mumble.

"I won't," he answered in a surprisingly gentle voice. "I'm sorry, I should have realised--do you feel any better now?"

I did, to my surprise. Not completely warm, but warm and awake enough to realise that I'd come perilously close to being a statistic: lost walker dies of hypothermia in a Dartmoor fog. Nightingale held me by my elbow and helped me stand up, then kept an arm around me in support. I let myself lean against him for a minute.

"We will strike the road soon," he said, his voice almost as warm and reassuring as his spell. "It's going to be okay, Peter. And there will be searchers out for us by now. We'll be fine. You just have to keep moving."

"Yeah," I said. "Okay. Thanks. I'll be all right now."

"I did tell you jeans were not the best choice for this," he added.

"Yeah, but you didn't say why. I thought you were just being snarky about my clothes."

"I shouldn't have to tell you why all the time," he said. "It should be enough that I told you. It would have been in my day."

I wanted to say Yes, Master but I managed to stop myself. He had just stopped me from freezing to death, after all. He retrieved his torch and we continued to make our slow way over the rough ground, Nightingale still holding my arm. About ten minutes later, it was his turn to slip. I tried to hang on to him, but my foot skidded and we both crashed down. The light from the torch went out.

"Shit," I said breathlessly, and there was an awkward moment while we both discovered at the same time that we were in a ditch and it was very wet and muddy at the bottom. Then I heard Nightingale crash through some bracken and he said in tones of endless relief, "It's the road!"

We both scrambled out of the ditch and onto wonderful, wonderful tarmac. I was tempted to kiss it. Instead I tried to brush the worst of the mud and bracken off myself while Nightingale conjured a werelight. We were both muddy, wet and dishevelled, and Nightingale had lost his cap. I spotted it floating in the ditch and used impello to lift it out, but it turned out to be soaked through. Nightingale stuck it in a pocket and looked around.

"I don't think we're going to find the torch," he said, and kept his werelight going. He took his map out yet again.

"So where's the Jag?" I asked.

"We're going to go for the nearest shelter," he answered. "Never mind the Jag. We need to get out of this."

I couldn't argue with that. He studied the now damp and muddy map for a minute, and said, "If we're here, there should be a farm about a mile up the road. And if not, the Jag is also that way." He frowned and added quietly. "Assuming we're on this road..." He turned to look at me. "I'm sorry about this, Peter."

"Let's just get somewhere warm," I said. I don't like it when Nightingale apologises to me.

He nodded shortly and set off, keeping the werelight floating overhead. It was much easier to walk along the paved road than the open moor, and while I was still damp and cold and tired, there was reassuring tarmac under my feet and a complete absence of gorse and bracken. I would have gone faster, but Nightingale set a slower pace and we trudged through the darkness in our little circle of light.

Suddenly Nightingale stopped and extinguished the werelight. I stopped too, and said, "What is it?"

He murmured, "Quiet," and we stood in dark silence, listening.

The fog muffled sound, but I heard something, a rustling, slithering sound off to our left, downhill. Then there was a sudden animal snort and a cow mooed loudly. Nightingale grunted and relit his werelight. The cow mooed in affront and vanished off into the darkness, and we continued our trudge. We were going even slower, I thought, and tried to pick up the pace, but I couldn't go faster than Nightingale when he was the one with the werelight.

"Are you sure that's a cow?" I said when I heard more rustling noises.

Nightingale lifted his werelight a bit higher, creating the golden fog effect again, and against the fog I saw something pale against the dark ground. It baaed. "Sheep."

Since I'd spend a lot of time treading in what Nightingale had informed me were sheep droppings earlier, I supposed that made sense. We kept on trudging down the road. Nightingale's werelight flickered a bit, and he grunted and opened his palm again, and it stabilised. I didn't say anything. I didn't really want to say anything. The effect of Nightingale's drying spell was wearing off now. The trouble with the thick fog was that unlike rain, it permeated through everything and went up and sideways as well as down. My jeans were damp and clammy, my toes were wet where my boots had leaked, my hair was soaked, my face wet, and the seams of my coat were letting water in again. I wasn't as wet as when I'd fallen in the Thames or the sewers, but that was about it.

Nightingale slipped on a patch of mud, skidded and recovered his balance, but the werelight went out. Now he's made me drill werelights until I can hold them while translating out loud from Latin. I'd have been able to hold one through slipping on the mud. And Nightingale has about a hundred years of experience on me. So this worried me.

"I can do the light for a bit," I said.

I felt the flash of Nightingale's signare even as I spoke, and his werelight bobbed back above our heads. "That won't be necessary." He didn't look around.

We reached the bottom of the hill and under some trees. The fog was a bit thinner here, but the darkness was, if anything, thicker. I thought again about the soldiers who'd died out here, and the mysterious magical thing somewhere out there that had killed them.

"Where's this farm, then?" I said out loud to try to distract myself from these thoughts. Nightingale stopped and pulled out the map again, dropped it and picked it out of the puddle with a frustrated snort. He stared at it for a while, then folded it up messily and stuck it in his pocket.

"Just keep going," he said, and I knew we were still lost. Perhaps a car would come. Like Nightingale had said, there must be people searching for us by now. The ranger had known where we'd gone and would know from our car that we hadn't returned. If we didn't find a farm, then someone would find us.

But I no longer felt any inclination to pick up the pace. I felt like I was wearing a suit of plate armour, heavy and suffocating, and just walking was exhausting. Nightingale's werelight flickered and wavered, but I didn't offer to take another turn. I vaguely noticed some more rustling and slithering noises in the darkness around us, but I didn't say anything and neither did Nightingale.

"That's a wall," I said suddenly, as I noticed what the werelight was reflecting off. "An enclosure. Look."

We stopped, and I cast my own werelight alongside Nightingale's, and moved it over. There was a gate, and a path, paved with flagstones, and what looked like the edges of an overgrown front garden.

"A house," said Nightingale. "Thank God."

"I don't know if anyone's home," I said. Up close I could see it, a long low building standing along the slope, one end higher than the other as if it had grown out of the hills. And there were no lights in any of the windows. My magic-proof watch said it was only eight o'clock, and even allowing for rural Devon people going to bed with the cows and getting up with the chickens or whatever it was, this seemed a bit early.

"It doesn't matter," Nightingale said. "It's cold and wet and we don't know where we are. And you need shelter."

I didn't think it was just me who needed shelter, but I decided not to argue. Instead I pushed open the gate. It was stuck, and creaked deafeningly. Nightingale frowned at me, and we went up the path to the front door.

"Wow," I said as we got close, and lifted up my werelight to get a better look. "This is a proper Dartmoor longhouse." I stopped for a moment to look at it. The downhill side would have been for cattle, the uphill side for people. This was a later version, with a chimney and two stories, but still built out of Dartmoor granite and slate.

"Can we leave the architectural appreciation for some other time," Nightingale said curtly. "Perhaps when we're not freezing to death."

I stepped into the porch and reached out to knock on the door, but as soon as I touched it, it swung open. I jumped back, a reflex trained by Molly's habit of silently opening doors around the Folly. Nothing with too many teeth appeared in front of me.

Inside was darkness. I floated my werelight in cautiously, and looked around for a lightswitch. I couldn't see one. Now in modern houses this isn't a surprise: there's a whole school of architects that thinks it's hilarious to make the inhabitants bump halfway across their flat in the dark before they reach the nearest lightswitch. But in older houses where electricity has been retro-fitted, they've generally tried to pay some attention to how people might use it.

"Hello!" I called up. "Is anyone home? Hello! It's the police! Anyone home?"

There was no response. I shouted again, and discovered there was a good echo up the stairs. But there was no answer. I had a look around.

The entrance hall ran the full width of the house, confirming that it was a traditional longhouse, though there was a staircase added at the far end. The ceiling was low with heavy fire-blackened beams running across it, and the floor was stone, the walls whitewashed and hung with old pictures, and there was a long bench and a row of hooks above, presumably for coats. I went in and upped the wattage of my werelight until it was like being in a fully lit room.

Nightingale entered behind me and closed the door. He stared around too, then sat heavily on the low bench, and in the bright light I saw he was shivering even harder than I was. He bent forwards, arms wrapped around his knees. His hair was plastered to his head, face wet, scarf wet, the ancient Barbour he was wearing limp as if its waterproofing had given up a while back, and he was shaking so hard the bench was rocking.

"Shit," I said. "You should have said something, sir."

He looked up. "Go check this place is okay," he said. "See if you can find a telephone. Get on with it."

There was a rough wool blanket on the end of the bench, in a brown and red check. I shook it out and draped it around Nightingale's shoulders, a curl of anxiety in my stomach. He gave me a fair attempt at a glare, and waved me off. I went.

There were stairs straight ahead of me, and doors to the left and right, two each side and a back door at the end. I tried the first door on the right. It was locked, and I knew it would have once been the barn. Perhaps it still was a barn, or a garage or something. To the left the door opened into a cosy sitting room that had last been refurnished in about 1900 or even earlier. It was empty of people, and also of telephones, even old-fashioned ones. There were two doors leading out of it. The one to the back went out into a newer addition, a kitchen with a big scrubbed farmhouse table in the middle and a black cooker that turned out to be cast-iron. Still no phone, nor any electrical appliances, or anything invented after Nightingale was born. Adjoining the kitchen was another door that led to a deeply primitive-looking lavatory. They did seem to have running water, at least. I went back and went the other way. This led to a small dining room, with the same whitewashed walls and low ceiling, but the walls were a bit less thick here, I noticed.

When I went back to the entrance hall, Nightingale had taken off his drenched coat and boots and was huddled under the blanket. He still looked worse than I'd felt earlier.

"Nothing in there. I'll try upstairs, but it's weird. It's like it's frozen in the past. But it's all clean and tidy, only a little dust. Could it be a living history exhibit or something?"

Nightingale gave me a look that said he really didn't know or care, and I scarpered up the stairs to check that out. There was a small door to the left of the landing that probably led to attics above the shippon, locked, and two large bedrooms on the uphill side, one with a single bed and one a double. There were old-fashioned washstands in both rooms, and a quick glance confirmed there were chamber pots under the beds. Very historical, but even the Folly's not that bad.

I found that Nightingale had gone into the sitting room and was looking at the fireplace. I went to join him.

"Peat," he said thoughtfully, gesturing to the black bricks stacked up nearby. "Dartmoor peat. I haven't seen that for a long time."

It wasn't that much warmer inside than out, and we needed warmth. Building fires in fireplaces isn't something I've done much of, and after a minute of watching me fumble Nightingale pushed himself off the sofa, gestured me out of the way and did it himself, and despite the fact that he was still shaking with cold, he did a much better job than I had. I lit it with a small fireball, and Nightingale said, "I hope that chimney draws."

It did. Nightingale retreated back to the sofa and huddled back into the blanket again. "Don't keep using a werelight, Peter," he said after a minute. "Light some of the lamps."

"What lamps?"

He pointed at some weird ornaments and I realised they were oil lamps, all filled. "This really is the land time forgot," I said. "It's not a timewarp, is it, sir? Because it's been a very long day already."

"There's no such thing," he told me, and instructed me in the art of lighting oil lamps. I placed a couple on the mantel and one more on a side table nearby, then looked around awkwardly for something else to do.

The fire was burning, but I could tell it would take a while before the room got even a little bit warm, especially since there was a strong draught. I stripped off my wet coat and boots and spread them out near the fire, then went and got Nightingale's and did the same with them. In the pockets of my coat I found a Mars bar I'd forgotten about, a little squashed but still perfectly edible. I went back to the kitchen and tried the tap. It ran clear and clean-looking, and there were some mugs in a cupboard. I filled two up and carried them back to the sitting room.

Nightingale looked up at me and nodded approval. His hand still shook as he took the mug. I gave him the Mars bar too, and he unwrapped it and broke it into two neat halves. I didn't argue. He'd only start going on about responsibility and I was too tired, and I could smell the sugar and chocolate and it was making my mouth water. I sat down next to him and ate my half in two bites.

"This is a very strange house," I said. "I think it must be some kind of historical thing, but there's no interpretation guides or anything like that. And you'd think they'd have a phone, if only for an office or something."

"It's dry and it will get warm," Nightingale said, still shivering under the blanket. "We can wait here until morning. Perhaps the owner will return later on."

It wasn't warm yet. I tucked my hands under my armpits, trying to get them to feel a bit less numb. Nightingale looked at me almost hesitantly for a moment, then pulled the blanket back. I didn't wait to be asked twice.

It wasn't a very big blanket, so I ended up pressed right against him, close enough that I could feel him shivering. "Can't you do that spell you did on me?" I asked him.

"You can't do it on yourself. And I know your track record for setting things on fire," he said. "I'll be fine. We just need to wait out the night, and in the morning we'll find help."

I sat back against the sofa and yawned. "Is there anything else I need to do?" I asked him around a second yawn.

I more felt than heard him laugh. "Not now. Go to sleep, Peter. You're safe enough here."

We were both starting to get warm, but I didn't suggest moving. I did feel safe, here, and I didn't want to go anywhere else. I stared at the fire, my eyes only half-focused on the blue flickering flames, and drowsed, but it was Nightingale who fell asleep first. He snuggled up to me then, English reserve fading, and ended up with an arm around me. I shifted position so I wouldn't be resting against his bad side, and finally dropped off to sleep as well, listening to him breathe.

Considering how comfortably I was sleeping, my dreams were decidedly unpleasant: lost in endless corridors, falling from great heights, trapped in the Strip Club of Dr Moreau. I woke up from a particularly nasty one in which I was falling from Skygarden into the Thames, and for a minute I had no idea where I was. The fire had died down to embers, the oil lamps were out, and Nightingale was gone. I sat upright and fumbled around until I found one of the lamps and relit it with a tiny fireball. Nightingale had put his boots back on, but left his coat. I listened, and heard a step and thud from the room above.

"Inspector?" I called.

He didn't answer. I heard some additional noises, and decided to go and see what was going on, stopping only to put my boots on. They were dry, and the room was warm. According to my watch, it was just approaching midnight.

In the corridor, it was much cooler. I went up the stairs quietly, carrying the lamp. "Inspector?" I said again when I reached the top.

"Constable." He was in the larger bedroom, and the door was ajar. I went in.

Nightingale was standing with his back to the door, looking out the window. "Is something up?" I asked.

"You should go back to sleep," was all he said, not turning around.

"Can you see where we are?" I went over to the window as well. He moved away.

"I told you to go back downstairs," he said. "There's no need for you up here." He sounded almost angry.

"Is everything okay?"

"Do as I tell you, Constable," he answered, his tone becoming even sharper. I stared at him and wished he'd look at me.

"But--sir... what's going on?"

"When I give you an instruction, I expect you to obey me." He turned at last, but still wouldn't meet my eyes. "I have allowed you far too much latitude as my apprentice, and as a result you think you can continually question and disobey me. And then for you to importune me in such a way.... go back downstairs, Constable."

"What the hell?" I blurted out. I've been reamed by senior officers before now, much more forcefully than that. Nightingale can be wonderfully sarcastic if I do something that strikes him as particularly daft. But he'd never spoken to me like that before. And why now, in the middle of the night, when as far as I knew everything had been fine when we went to sleep, more than fine, even. "What have I done, sir?"

"Even in this modern world," Nightingale said, "it is not acceptable for a junior constable to make such advances towards his superior. Nor an apprentice to his Master. Now leave the room."

At that moment, I remembered the other dream I'd had, the much, much nicer one. It had started off like the one where I turn up naked in the lab, but this time it had kept going. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit. It had been a very cosy way to go to sleep, all snuggled up to Nightingale, pressed close against him under the blanket. I hadn't slept with someone, actually slept with them, for a very long time. And it was Nightingale, who had trusted me enough to go to sleep with me. And now I had fucked it up beyond all repair, judging from the way he didn't even want to look at me.

"I was asleep!" I protested, for what it was worth. "Sir, you know I would never--"

"I don't know anything about you now," he said coldly.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry. I was asleep. I didn't mean--look, sir, I understand if you don't want me around right now, but you should go sleep downstairs. I'll stay up here. If it was because of me--there's no reason for you to be sent out of the warmth because of me, sir."

"Master," he said. "Not 'sir'. Master. This is what comes of not enforcing the traditional rules."

I know I have a reputation for being a cheeky little sod, but at that I could not think of a word to say. I opened my mouth, closed it again, opened it. In the silence, I heard another sound, like a voice from downstairs. "What's that?"

He turned. I stayed back from him. If I'd upset him this much... a part of me wished I remembered anything at all of what had happened, just so I'd know how bad it was. "I don't know. Stay here. I'll take a look."

He stepped out into the corridor. I followed him, not sure I trusted Nightingale's judgement at this precise moment. He stood still at the top of the stairs, and we both heard the sound again, a voice, raised, words muffled. It sounded weirdly familiar, like it was someone I knew. "What is it?" I said in a low voice.

"Did you not hear a word I said to you?" Nightingale snapped at me, equally quietly. "Stay. Here. Listen to me for once in your short life."

"There's someone downstairs. More than one person," I answered. It was easier to focus on the case than on Nightingale's obvious fury at me. Nightingale went across the landing to the small door that opened onto the attic space, and touched it with one hand. It swung open. I blinked. I hadn't felt a spell, hadn't felt anything, and I knew it had been locked before.

"How did you do that, sir?" I asked.

"Master," he repeated. "'How did you do that, master?'" He ducked through the small entrance.

I went after him again, carrying the oil lamp. "You know I'm not going to call you that," I told him. I was starting to wonder whether this was actually another dream. I'd had nightmares of Nightingale shooting me in the back, after Skygarden. They'd never gone quite like this before, as if even my subconscious couldn't come up with a situation this awful.

The attic was cold, dark, the heavy beams seeming to press down on me like the fog had earlier. Nightingale went across it with sure steps in the darkness, and stopped at the far end. There was faint light coming up through cracks in the floor, cracks shaped like a rectangle, and when I got close with my oil lamp I could see there was a big iron ring. A hatch. And from below came the voices, so familiar-sounding.

Nightingale looked at the hatch and it swung open, and again, I didn't feel any spell. I stood across it and faced him. "How did you do that?" I demanded. "How did you know it was there? What's going on? What's wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me," he said, "is that the wrong apprentice turned sides."

I'm normally pretty good at not losing my temper. Stay cool, stay out, that's my motto. Apparently this doesn't stand up to my boss accusing me of coming on to him in his sleep, ordering me to call him Master and saying he wished I'd defected to the Faceless Man instead of Lesley. He turned away with a disgusted look, and I grabbed him by his arm, hard, and pulled him to face me.

I'd spent several hours snuggled up to Nightingale, comforted by the faint vestigia I always associate with him, which I can only sense when I'm touching him, the wood smoke and canvas and pine forests. It's like his personal scent, except it's something I sense in my head, not with my nose. And I didn't sense it now. As my hand closed on his arm, I felt something totally different. Something I'd spent hours tracking across the moor: crashing stone and cracking slate and screaming.

There's no way to fake that sort of thing. And there were ways to make yourself look like someone else. This wasn't Nightingale. It looked like Nightingale, sounded like Nightingale--but it wasn't him. And that meant it hadn't been Nightingale saying all those things to me. It was someone, or something else. The murderer.

Just for a moment, I hesitated, and in that moment, the thing that wasn't Nightingale pushed me down the hatch.

But I still had a grip on his arm, because I'm trained that way, and he came down with me. Unfortunately, there was no way to stop him landing on top of me and knocking the wind out of me. I tried to twist and roll away, but was hampered by my inability to breathe. I staggered upright and groped around in pitch darkness. Whatever it was, not-Nightingale, lunged suddenly out of the darkness and hit me with a punch like a train. I got a kick into its shins and heard a grunt.

"What did you do to him? Where is he? Who are you?" I demanded of the darkness, and then dodged sideways when it occurred to me that making a noise was an easy way to make myself a target.

A light appeared, not a werelight, it was like the granite walls around us were glowing. It meant I could see where not-Nightingale was, and he, or it, could see me. We circled, and I noticed it didn't seem to have a problem with looking at me any more, now that it wasn't trying to wind me up. A part of my brain was wondering just how much of what he'd said to me upstairs was true, or if any of it was. Its eyes were cold and dangerous.

"You," it growled, sounding painfully like Nightingale, "you are going to pay for this."

Then it sprang on me, hands going for my throat. I sidestepped and twisted. If this thing was wearing Nightingale's body, perhaps it still had Nightingale's weaknesses. I grabbed its left arm and pulled, going for a throw, and I was right, it was noticeably weaker on that side. I kicked its legs out from under it, and then I was on top and I had it face down on the ground.

The thing that had been screaming for my attention finally managed to get it. I could sense the vestigia coming from the body I was holding down, and it wasn't smashed stone and screaming any more. It was pine forests and canvas and smoke. I didn't loosen my grip. Fool me once...

"Who or what are you?" I said.

"Peter?" He-or-it struggled, trying to turn and look at me. I didn't let go. "Peter! It's you! What happened to you? Where's it gone?"

I could feel the truth through my hands, but I didn't trust them. "Master," I said deliberately, and felt him jump.

"Peter? What..." I believed the surprise in his voice, and finally let go. Nightingale rolled over, wincing, and sat up.

"It wasn't you, upstairs," I said. "What was it? And where's it gone?"

"It wasn't you down here," he responded. "Tell me what happened to you."

"I woke up, you were gone, I heard something upstairs and went up, and you were there. You said... a lot of very unpleasant things to me. We heard noises from down here and you pushed me down the hatch."

Nightingale rubbed his side. "I heard a noise and woke up. It seemed to be coming from in here, so I went in. Then you came in after me and... talked to me. Then the hatch opened, everything went dark and you attacked me."

"You attacked me," I protested. I was going to have a lot of bruises in the morning. "So what was it, really? Some kind of illusion? And--it was the same thing we tracked across the moor, sir. I felt it."

"Ah. Yes. I think we've just escaped what happened to those poor soldiers. It tried to provoke you into attacking me, didn't it? It said many harsh and painful things to you. I think that's what it does. It impersonates your friends, makes you believe yourself betrayed and injured, and then vanishes just in time for you to attack the real person."

"Did I--I mean, the creature--when it looked like me, did it say stuff to you as well?" I asked.

Nightingale frowned repressively at me. "Yes. But none of it was true, on either side. I advise you to forget about it."

Easier said than done. But from the way he was looking at me, whatever not-me had said to him must have been pretty bad too. "So where has it gone now? Is that it? We don't kill each other and the whole thing is over?"

"I doubt it will be that easy."

"It knew an awful lot about me. About you, too," I said. "How did it know all that?"

Nightingale sat back on his heels. "It must have had access to our thoughts."

"I thought that wasn't possible," I said.

"Not for human practitioners, no. But there are a lot of other possibilities. It was probably while we were asleep, people are at their most vulnerable to that kind of invasion then."

"Some kind of, of psychological vampire?"

Nightingale snorted. "There's no need to put a name to it yet. Don't get too settled on any one possibility. It will probably make another attack."

"Oh, that's cheered me up. Perhaps we should get out of here, if it's haunting this house. Come back in the morning."

"It's clearly not haunting this house, since we tracked it across the moor. Besides, where would we go? It's the middle of the night and this is the only shelter we've got. Better to face whatever it is here than freeze to death." He rubbed his left shoulder and grimaced, then began to push himself upright. I put a hand under his elbow to help him up, and he jerked away, then stared at me.

I looked back at him, and he avoided my gaze just like the false Nightingale had done. "Sir," I said slowly, "what exactly did the thing say to you?"

"Nothing important." He still wouldn't look at me.

"I think it is important," I said. "This thing was trying to get us to kill each other, right? It was trying to find weaknesses, vulnerabilities, things that would upset us both. And you think it's going to try again. So we need to make sure it can't attack us the same way twice." I took a deep breath. "Upstairs, you--it, I mean--accused me of coming on to you in my sleep. And then it ordered me to call it Master."

Nightingale slowly met my eye. "You said something very similar to me. Not the part about Master. But... the other thing."

"Yeah." I'd known that from the way he flinched from my touch. "The thing is--the thing is, it's got to start with something real, to make us both angry. I think it was right."

Nightingale's face froze, and he took three steps away from me. "I know," he whispered. "Peter... I thought, when I took you on, that my, my inclinations, my preferences, wouldn't be a problem. It's not even illegal, nowadays. And I hope you can believe that I would never, in my right mind--I was dreaming--but I should never have allowed... it would have been better if I had frozen to death, tonight, than, than molest my apprentice in my sleep."

I've seen men confess to murder who looked less stricken and heartbroken. "No!" I said. "God, sir, no. No, that's not what I meant at all. What I meant was, I definitely had that kind of dream about you as well, and I was as into it as all hell, and whatever happened, you definitely didn't molest--and I didn't either... look." I took a deep breath. One of us had to say this out loud before it destroyed us. "The thing is, and I know this is inappropriate but we have a better chance of sorting this out if I say it, so, the thing is, I really do fancy the hell out of you. Sir."

Nightingale's lips parted. Closed. Parted again. "Say that again," he said, very quietly. "If you mean it, say that again."

I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry. "I really do fancy the hell out of you. Anything you did--though I think we probably dreamed most of it--anything you did, I'm very happy about."

"That first night, when I met you," Nightingale said, now holding my gaze. "That first night... I wasn't looking for an apprentice. I was looking for a lover." He moved closer again. "I found you, and--and I don't want you to think I'm in any way unhappy about how that turned out. But... I thought you were very attractive. Even before having the privilege of knowing you."

"If this is our weakness," I said, while part of my brain was turning cartwheels at what he'd said and wondering if I dared ask him to repeat it too, "then let's not make it a weakness any more."

"And how would you propose doing that?" he breathed, and he was looking at me now, looking at my mouth, my neck, my body, my lips.

"Like this," I said, and kissed him.

Now Nightingale's a lot older than me, and knows a lot I don't, but I think I surprised him for a moment. Only a moment, though. Like I say, a lot of experience. He pulled apart long enough to say, "Are you truly serious about this, Peter?" and at my frantic nod, he pressed me back.

I let him take charge, since he clearly knew what he was doing, and a minute later I was against the wall and he was holding me up because my knees had gone unaccountably weak, and I was being kissed more thoroughly than I'd ever been in my life before. I fumbled for the buttons at his throat, not sure what I was doing but willing to take my dream for a guide, and ran my fingers along his collarbone and felt the pulse racing in his neck.

I don't know what it was that prompted me to open my eyes, but I did, and it seemed like the ceiling was lower than it should have been. I blinked. Nightingale felt my distraction, but apparently took it to mean he wasn't trying hard enough. The ceiling got lower, and I gasped and pushed Nightingale away. A look of incredible hurt crossed his face and I grabbed his shoulder.

"No--it's not that--the roof's caving in!"

He twisted sharply. It wasn't caving in. It was lowering, while remaining structurally intact, descending on our heads like the fog. Except this time it was made of solid oak beams. Nightingale extended both hands, and the spell he worked made the hairs stand up on my arms.

The ceiling carried on its inexorable descent. The door was gone. I grabbed him and we scrabbled frantically over to the hatch, and Nightingale shoved me through, then I reached back and pulled him up. The ceiling crashed into the floor below, still in one piece like a lift, and then seemed to melt away beneath our feet.

"Out," Nightingale said briefly, and gave me a shove in the direction of the door. I didn't need telling twice. The door was standing ajar, and as I reached it, it began to swing closed on its own. I grabbed it and wrestled it open long enough for us both to get into the cross passage.

"What the hell was that?" I said. I stared back into the shippon. It was smaller than it had been before, the roof lower, and I could see the old drainage channel running down the middle of the floor. "It just... changed."

Nightingale placed his hand flat on the wall, then jerked back. "It's not a, a psychic vampire or whatever you said. It's the house itself that's doing this. And it's very old, and very powerful."

I felt the wall too, and he was right. The grinding stone and crashing slate were almost deafening, like the building was collapsing around us, and the scream went on and on.

"So it's, like, a ghost house?" I said. "And it's trying to kill us. We need to get out." I went over to the front door and hauled on it.

It didn't open. Nightingale tried too, grunted, then said, "Get behind me," and I could feel him gathering himself for a spell, even more powerful than the one he'd tried to use to hold the ceiling up. I had a bad feeling, and stayed a few steps behind him. He released the opening spell, there was a blinding flash that dazzled me, and Nightingale flew six feet back and crashed on the bottom of the staircase. I went over and tried the door, just in case, but it didn't open. Nightingale picked himself up. He was somewhat dishevelled, his collar still unfastened from earlier and his tie loose, and his eyes narrowed and lips set. If I was the house, I'd have given up at the look on his face.

"So it's like that, is it?" he said quietly, apparently to the house. "Right." He reached over and picked up a candlestick holder, one of those little things with a curly handle, made of brass. He muttered something under his breath, and before my eyes it turned into a large axe.

"Um," I said.

"Stand back," he said again, and swung the axe at the door.

The axehead flew off, skimmed past my ear, buried itself in the wooden floor, then vanished. The handle turned back into a candlestick holder, and Nightingale dropped it.

"I'm not sure this is the right approach," I said when I was sure my voice wouldn't come out three octaves too high.

"Hm." He turned in a circle, scanning the area. "Were there any other exits?"

"Yeah, at the back. But sir, if it was the house that killed the marines, how does that work? Because they were up on the moor, and the house is down here."

"I don't know. Perhaps the house has an affinity with something in that area. There was a disused quarry not far away, it was marked on the map."

I looked at the walls. "This is local granite. Local slate too. Are you saying the house can move around the moor?"

"It's not impossible." He began to stride along the cross passage towards the back door. "And since it seems to be able to change shape too, I expect it was the hut."

A hut, I thought. That was a fair description of the smallest and most primitive Dartmoor longhouses. Two rooms small enough to fit inside a council flat, and a cross passage in between, and I doubted the surviving soldier had known a lot about historical architecture.

"So is the house real?" I asked.

Nightingale gave me an impatient look. "You're inside it. It's not a glamour. It's a haunting, a manifestation of some kind. It's real enough."

Real enough to kill. "Let's try the back door," I said.

The grinding and crashing got louder as we went down the passage, and even as we looked, it turned a corner and I saw a passage heading off past the hall towards what looked like a whole new wing on the uphill side. There was door leading towards the back of the house, but it was an internal door now, not our escape route. I opened it anyway, and we were in what looked like a workshop.

"Out there," Nightingale said, heading across to the outside door. As we crossed the room, there was an ominous creaking from overhead. I looked up, and the whole ceiling began to bow slowly inwards. I reached the door and turned the handle. It didn't open. The ceiling continued to bow down, and chunks of plaster started falling on us, raising clouds of dust.

"Not working, sir," I said, and Nightingale grunted. He put his shoulder to the door for a moment, but even with both of us pushing, we couldn't budge it. The plaster became a hailstorm and the first rafter overhead snapped, and there was no need for conversation: we both dashed back into the corridor.

"It's herding us," I said. A door had sprouted between the new corridor and the original cross passage, blocking our way back. Ahead was a staircase, nicely illuminated and inviting. Handsome Georgian proportions, I noticed. This house had good taste.

"Upstairs is no good," Nightingale said. "We need to get out."

Beneath my feet, the floor began to crumble. I jumped sideways onto an intact part nearer the stairs, and stood precariously balanced on a single plank. Nightingale grabbed the newel-post as an anchor, then leaned over to reach for me. He pulled, I did a standing jump, and we both staggered onto the bottom step of the stairs. The rest of the floor fell away into a cellar that hadn't been there before either.

"I vote for up," I said, and we scrambled up the stairs and along the corridor while the floor fell away from us like something in a bad movie.

"That," I said between breaths, "really shouldn't be possible. The joists--"

Nightingale shoved me through a door. It slammed shut behind us and suddenly everything was silent and still. I stared around. It was a large, elegant bedroom, early Victorian by my guess, and nothing seemed to be crashing on our heads or falling beneath our feet. Nightingale turned a full three-sixty just to check, then strode over to the window and tried to open it. It didn't budge. Behind him, the air shimmered.

"Sir--"

Two figures materialised in the room. They seemed as solid and real as the fake Nightingale had been earlier, and they were evidently in the middle of a massive argument, their mouths moving soundlessly. One was tall and lean and lanky, with awkward long arms and legs that he didn't seem to know what to do with. The other was older, more compact and confident in his body language, dressed in riding clothes and carrying a horsewhip which he tapped against his thigh as he spoke. They looked similar, like they were closely related. Brothers, or maybe cousins.

Neither of them seemed to be aware of us, even when Nightingale stepped forwards. Lanky said something to Horsewhip, and Horsewhip made what I was sure was a smart-arse response that infuriated Lanky. Lanky lunged at Horsewhip, who dodged easily, smirked, and slapped Lanky with his whip. Lanky seized a paperweight from the desk, a big lump of polished granite, and threw it at Horsewhip's head. Horsewhip dropped like a stone.

I started forward automatically, saying, "Hey! Police! Stand back--"

Lanky didn't seem to hear me, and when I reached out to grab his arm, he didn't seem to feel it or respond. I felt the same vestigia of crashing stone and screaming. Nightingale jerked his head and I stepped back. Lanky stooped over Horsewhip, suddenly looking guilty and frightened, and began to try to revive him, and a few minutes later Horsewhip came around and lurched to his feet. Lanky said something, then turned away. Horsewhip's face contorted with a real terrifying anger, and he extended his hand in a gesture I recognised all too well. I saw Nightingale brace too. Then Horsewhip shot off half a dozen fireballs, which buried themselves in Lanky's chest, and he collapsed. I was looking right at his face, and I saw the way his mouth contorted, the way he started to scream, and I felt the scream in my bones.

Then Horsewhip staggered too, clutching his head, his face going slack. I recognised what was happening. Doing strong magic when you have a head injury is a really bad idea. As we watched, Horsewhip too collapsed onto the floor with either a stroke or a massive brain aneurysm, and went still.

Then, as Nightingale took a deep breath and moved over to investigate, they suddenly shifted, and one had my face, and the other Nightingale's.

"Shit," I muttered, and they disappeared. "What the hell was that?"

Nightingale walked over to where they'd been, and placed a hand on the carpet, then jumped back as if he'd been stung by a bee. "I think," he said, "that was the trigger event. A double murder, involving strong magic and betrayal--it's imbued the entire building. It's driving everyone who enters to re-enact the murder scene, and given the house--well, I'm not sure life is the right word, but something like it."

The paperweight was still there, I noticed, lying on the carpet. I stooped and picked it up, then flinched from the screaming and crashing of rocks. It seemed very heavy. I moved over to the table to put it back, but instead found my hand moving backwards on its own. "Look out!" I said, and Nightingale ducked just in time. My arm flung the paperweight like I was bowling a cricket ball, and it whizzed past Nightingale's head.

"Don't touch anything," was all Nightingale said, almost mildly, as if I hadn't just been temporarily possessed into throwing rocks at his head.

"Trying to re-enact the murder scene," I said. "Right." I shook my arm, not sure if I trusted it any more. Nightingale came over and put a hand on my arm too, cautiously.

"It was the paperweight," he said. "It's clearly powerful in its own right."

"It's made of the same rock as the house," I said.

A groan overhead interrupted me before I could continue theorising about this. This room had a pitched ceiling, and as I looked up, I saw it bow alarmingly, the rafters all sagging at once. Nightingale darted for the door and I followed him. The walls sagged too, and when Nightingale tried to open the door, it jammed. I went and added my shoulder to it, and we both heaved. It resisted for another few moments, but then burst open just as the frame started to collapse, and we staggered through.

The corridor had changed. Now there was a second staircase off to the right, and to the left it dog-legged around the building. "Down," Nightingale said, "down is better."

Since there were holes appearing in the floor, I didn't argue. We managed to get down the staircase before anything else crashed around us, and I stared at the room. This one hadn't been there during my initial tour of the house either. Nightingale spotted an external door and tried to open it, but it didn't budge. The window next to it shattered suddenly, sending glass showering towards us. Nightingale flung himself backwards, dragging me with him, and I felt the flash of his spell. Nothing hit either of us.

"Perhaps we can climb through now," I said when I'd finished checking myself for lacerations. I tried to stick my hand through the gap. It was like trying to stick your hand through granite. Nightingale came over and tried too, then shook his head.

"The house isn't going to let us out," he said.

"Killer architecture." As I spoke, the ceiling in here began to collapse too. "I'm starting to get a bit tired of this," I said, looking up at it.

"Quite," said Nightingale as we backed away. We got out of the corridor and into what turned out to be an old laundry room, even more historic than the one Molly presides over in the Folly's basement. A mangle began to roll menacingly at me when I stepped too close to it, and a giant stick that would have been used for stirring the laundry suddenly jumped out of a copper and made for Nightingale.

"We can't keep dodging this stuff all night," I said as we both avoided the stick. Nightingale caught it out of the air and wrestled it into a wooden chest. "How is this working?"

"It's not something I've encountered before," Nightingale said.

"It's different periods, did you notice?" I said.

"Assume I'm not up on my murderous farmhouse architecture." He grabbed me by the arm as a wall suddenly shifted, and we both jumped to safety.

"But it is. This stuff is all pure Georgian, but the bit that was falling down before was Victorian. I think the house is cycling through its own history."

"Then the oldest bit would be the only bit that couldn't fall on us." Nightingale turned to me. "Do you know which bit that is?"

"It's a longhouse," I said. "Yeah, I know which bit. But from here--" I looked around, and was facing the right way just in time to see the whole end of the wing start to crumble. I pushed Nightingale out of the way of a falling joist, and we dove for cover.

"This way," Nightingale said, trying to pull me towards a door.

"No! That's newer. We need to get back to the oldest part--over here."

Clouds of plaster dust choked us as we stood back and watched the house destroy itself. I waited, and an old doorway opened up behind us. I jumped through, and we found ourselves in a dining room.

"Through here," I panted, and we jogged through was was currently a kitchen and into the original sitting-room we'd slept in earlier in the night.

There was a crash, the door we'd came through vanished, and the walls began to close around us. I caught Nightingale's arm and pulled us both back towards the inner wall, past where I could see the newer extension ended and the old original walls of the mediaeval longhouse had been. The wall followed us, but ground to a halt a foot beyond where we'd stopped. We both stood still, waiting, but nothing else happened.

"Well done, Peter," Nightingale said after a full minute of staring warily at the walls.

Despite it all, I grinned. "See, it is useful sometimes knowing a bit about architecture."

"I'm sure you're going to be reminding me of this once a week for the next year, too," he retorted.

"Only once a week?"

He smiled. "We'll see."

For form's sake we went into the cross passage and tried the doors at each end, but I don't think either of us were surprised when they refused to open. "Look, sir, you see how this arch is rounded and a bit wider than the front," I said, pointing at the stone around the back door. "This is the entrance the cattle would have used."

"Really," Nightingale said dryly, but he did look at it before we went back into the sitting room again. The hearth was gone now, but there was still a single sofa left up against the inside wall. Nightingale sat down on it. It vanished underneath him, depositing him unceremoniously on the ground.

"And fuck you too," I said to the house. "I guess it's just the walls that are real."

Nightingale brushed his suit off, a futile effort considering that we were both coated with plaster dust and dirt and dried mud. "It seems so."

"If none of the house except for these walls are real," I said, "then how come it can hurt us?" I rubbed my shoulder where a tile had bounced off it earlier. "It doesn't make any sense. What's going on?"

"Peter, we're trapped in a house that's trying to kill us and we're both exhausted. Do you really want me to discurse on the nature of illusion and false reality now?"

At my hopeful nod, he gave a short laugh. "You're out of luck. I never really understood it myself. There's a whole section on it in the library, you can look it up when we get home. But I do know this: the people the house creates, the image of me, of you, of those two men--none of them can hurt us. That's why it had to try to trick us into fighting each other. When we studied that our teacher said it was all about Aristotle, though I'm blessed if I can remember how. But the house is a house and can only kill us with house-like things. Everything else is coming from us."

"It's probably not because of Aristotle," I said. "Most of his science was pretty weird."

"I wrote an essay on it once," Nightingale replied. "I can't remember a word of it. Never mind the theory right now, Peter. We'll deal with what happens." He looked at me intently. "We will get out, Peter. I promise. It's likely that the enchantment on the house will end at dawn. So we just have to wait."

And survive whatever the house comes up with next, I thought, but didn't say. I paced around the room a bit, then yawned.

"Sit down and rest," Nightingale said. "You can't trust the furniture, but at least the floor's not going anywhere." He gestured, and I moved to go and sit near where he was.

"So we just have to pass the time, then?" I said, turning to look at him and moving closer. "We got rather interrupted earlier."

Nightingale rubbed a hand across his face. "Do you really think that's a good idea?" But he was tempted, I could see it in his eyes.

"The house wants us to kill each other, right? This is about as opposite to that as we can get." I grinned at him, and the corners of his mouth twitched in return. The thing is, when someone you fancy offers to get frisky with you, it's hard to come up with a good reason not to go for it. Especially when you probably haven't been laid in about eighty years. He went gently this time, cupping my cheek with his hand and starting with a chaste close-mouthed kiss. I didn't rush it. It's important to savour the good things in life.

We were both getting really into it, Nightingale wrapping his arms around me and tracing his lips up and down my neck, when it went weird. I knew it was Nightingale kissing me, but I could see a different room, smashed and broken and full of overturned tables and body parts. And one table away from where the band would have been, two women sitting. Peggy and Cherie. They looked up at me and smiled, and they were dead, their faces livid and their eyes dull. And it was Simone kissing me with yellow-purple lips and froth running down her chin and dead eyes. I couldn't take it. I pushed roughly away and stood up, retreating.

"What is it?" said a voice, and it was Nightingale, of course it was Nightingale, still sitting on the ground with a hand raised defensively where I'd pushed him. I stared at his face and tried to catch my breath. "What's wrong? Did I do--"

"It was the Cafe de Paris," I managed to say. "I'm sorry. You turned into Simone, and... I'm sorry." I turned away. I knew it wasn't real, but it didn't seem to help.

"I see," he said. "So that's what the house's next move is. It's all right, Peter. Don't worry about it. It's all right." He got up and came over to me. "It knows what's in our minds. Our histories, our fears. It's very important that you remember that none of this is real."

I nodded and turned back to him. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. "It's all right," he repeated. "I think we'd best just sit quietly and wait this out. Whatever it shows you, remember that you survived it once. It's not real now."

"Yeah," I said, trying to scrub the image of me kissing dead Simone from my imagination. "Yeah. Okay."

I sat down too about a metre away from him, and for a while we didn't talk. Then I was underneath the platform at Oxford Circus, in pitch darkness, with water rising up to my neck. It's not real, I told myself over and over while my senses tried to convince me that I was being buried alive. It's not real, it's not real, it's not real. Finally the scene faded and I could see Nightingale again.

He hadn't moved, but there were tears on his face, running neglected down his cheeks and dripping on the floor. I swallowed and looked away. "It's not real," I said out loud.

Nightingale slowly stood up. "Whatever you're seeing, sir, it's not real," I said again, a bit more loudly.

"Quiet," he snapped, which wasn't encouraging. Then I felt himself prepare a spell, a seriously powerful one, and I stood up quickly too.

"Sir--" I said, moving towards him, "no, sir, don't--"

He shoved me behind him unceremoniously.

Now ever since he told me the story of the Tiger tanks, I've wanted to see what a fireball powerful enough to burn through four inches of solid steel would be like. The ones he demonstrates for me on the firing range are strong and accurate, but they're piddling by comparison, and even the ones he was throwing around during his duel with Varvara Sidorovna were only medium-powered.

All of a sudden I really didn't want to see them. Not like this. But Nightingale loosed the fireball and even standing behind him, I ducked. It went straight at the wall opposite and buried itself deep into the granite blocks, and the whole house shook. The screaming and sound of clashing slate and breaking stone became deafening. Then the wall seemed to swallow the fireball as if Nightingale had shot it into the sea, and the house shook again.

"Oh shit," I said. "You just fed it." And I grabbed Nightingale's right arm and held on when he tried to shake me off. "You need to stop, you're making it worse. Stop, for God's sake."

He gaped at me, then looked at me square on. "Stephen," he muttered. "No..."

"It's me, sir. Peter."

I watched his face as he gradually became aware of what was going on again and where he was. Then he let me pull him back down so that we were sitting on the floor again, though this time I didn't let go of him. He blinked and wiped his face with his sleeve, in a messy uncharacteristic gesture that made me wince.

"Oh God," he said. He stared into space, breathing rapidly. He moved a little so that he was holding my arm as tightly as I was holding his, then slowly steadied and relaxed his grip. "This isn't going to work."

"You said we just have to hold out till dawn," I said with a look at my expensive magic-proof watch. Quarter past two in the morning.

"It's only just getting started. On me, I mean. That was... what it was showing me..." He trailed off. "I thought I'd be all right, but--there's a lot worse than that to come. And I've already jeopardised your safety and made the problem worse for us."

A lot worse to come. Meaning it had just got started with Nightingale's nightmares and bad memories. I guess that stood to reason. "We just have to hang on, "I said. "There's nothing else we can do."

Nightingale broke away from my grip and slowly stood up again, and took a few steps back from me. I got up too, uncertainly. "Yes, there is," Nightingale said. "I'm very sorry about this, Peter."

Then he shot me in the chest with a fireball.

I felt it as heat, a wave of heat that scorched my clothes, and then as a blow that sent me sprawling on my back, hard enough to make my teeth snap together and my ears ring. So this is it, I had time to think. Perhaps he didn't like me kissing him after all.

It took longer than I like to admit for me to notice that I was not, in fact, shot through the chest. Then Nightingale was kneeling over me, looking believably distraught the way murderers often do when it hits them that they've really gone and done it. He held my hand and stroked my cheek and kissed my forehead and begged me not to die. It was very moving, and I would have said so except that he brushed his thumb across my lips and gave me one of those looks he normally reserves for when I set the lab bench on fire. It was kind of a turn-on, but I finally got it.

The house wanted to see a double murder. Nightingale was giving it one. But I had no idea how I was supposed to kill him, given that I was already shot through the chest with a fireball. Nightingale had done all the effects, too, with the same attention to detail that had him conjuring the sound of his car's handbrake when he'd last come to the rescue. My clothes were singed and I could smell that disturbing, appetizing smell of cooked meat that I was more familiar with than I'd like. Anyone who'd happened on us just then would have certainly arrested Nightingale.

Fortunately, Nightingale had a plan for his own death too. Once he was sure I was reading from the same script as he was, he clutched his chest with both hands and did a disturbingly accurate impression of someone having a massive heart attack. Police officers don't see this as often as paramedics, but enough people get taken ill while out and about that we get to keep our first aid in practice. I found myself mentally running through the standard first aid procedure in my head, watching him. He spent a good five minutes gasping and choking before falling artistically to the ground with an arm draped across me, presumably to stop me from moving prematurely.

The stone floor was cold and uncomfortable, and unlike Nightingale I hadn't been able to choose my death position for comfort. About the only part of me that was warm was the bit under Nightingale's arm, which was surprisingly heavy. But I wasn't tempted to fidget. It was clear that the house had a lot of different ways to try to kill us, and was willing to keep at it. I stared at Nightingale's hand instead. He had long fingers, and the unobtrusive, tidy nails of someone who takes good care of them, though there were some fresh scratches across his knuckles that I put down to tonight's adventures, and a cut on his thumb that had bled and was starting to scab over.

I heard stone grating. I couldn't look around, but I thought the house was changing again. Did that mean it was standing down, and were we going to have to lie here without moving until dawn? It would be a good five hours at least. Now I've done stakeouts longer than that, but you're allowed to move around a bit, eat and drink, and you're not lying on a cold stone floor pretending to be dead inside a house that's trying to kill you. I was beginning to wish Nightingale had fallen entirely across me, so that we could keep each other warm.

My nose started to itch from the plaster dust all over us both. I ignored it and didn't move, but it was one of those itches you really couldn't ignore. I sniffed, as quietly as I could. Nightingale's hand pressed warningly on my chest.

Then I sneezed. A real, unstoppable, deafening sneeze that made my whole body jerk.

Nightingale didn't stop to swear. "Out," he said in a quiet, urgent voice. "Out, out, out." As he spoke he was scrambling to his feet and dragging me with him, charging for the door. There was a rumble and a crash of granite that sent clouds of dust into the air around us. Something hit Nightingale and would have knocked him down if he hadn't had a death-grip on me. I pulled him up and we crashed towards the door. It was standing half-open, but as we approached it began to swing closed.

We both threw fireballs at it. I don't really know why I bothered, given that mine would scarcely have been able to burn through a curtain and Nightingale's could go through four inches of solid steel, but I did all the same. More chunks of granite fell around us, but the fireballs had no impact at all.

Then I had an idea. I picked up one of the big rough-cut granite blocks with impello and sent it at the door as fast as I could. This wasn't very fast, but it stopped the door from closing, and when Nightingale threw a much larger block, it went straight through the door in a shower of splinters. He sent another one after it as we both lunged forwards, and the roof fell on top of us.

Nightingale was most of the way out, but I tripped and went down, slates bouncing off my back, and I put my arms over my head in automatic defence. I felt a flash of Nightingale's spell, and then there were no slates on my back and he was grabbing me bodily and trying to drag me out. I scrabbled up, skidded and slipped and trapped my foot under something. Nightingale hauled me, I yelped, and my foot came free with a wrench that felt like it had been ripped off.

Then we were over the threshold and Nightingale fell over backwards with me on top of him, and for a moment we both lay there in the wet grass, panting and counting our arms and legs.

Nightingale sat up first. "The house," he gasped. "We have to contain it now, or it'll just keep doing this. Help me make a circle." He lurched to his feet and cast a werelight that was more of a fireball. "Draw fire around it," he said. "Quickly, Peter, get moving."

I staggered to my feet and nearly fell back down again. There was something very wrong with my left foot. But I still had more than enough adrenalin in my system to keep the pain back, at least for a while, and I made a fireball of my own. Nightingale went one way around the house, I went the other, using our fireballs to burn a thick scorch mark in the turf around it. I only got about a third of the way around, and Nightingale made the rest of the circle, then he stood back from it and conjured fire.

A wall of flames sprang up around the half-ruined house, and the screaming I'd heard in the vestigia suddenly became earsplitting. I stood back as Nightingale worked another spell, and then a third, and behind the flames the whole house came crashing down. Nightingale let his spell go, breathing hard, and leaned forward with his hands on his knees like a runner at the end of a race.

I sat down, not quite voluntarily, and he turned. "Peter. You're hurt."

"You're bleeding," I countered. There was a dark streak of blood running from his hairline down his cheek. He touched it, then looked at his fingertips in surprise.

"Something must have caught my head. It's fine. What about you?"

"Twisted my ankle," I admitted. "Is that it? No more spooky house?"

Nightingale straightened up and looked at the pile of rubble inside the circle. The flames were dying down now and the air was clearing. The rain had stopped and the fog had lifted, I noticed, and there was a half moon in the sky. "Yes," he said, "it's over." He crouched down and took a look at my foot. "Keep your boot on," he said after a moment of careful probing. "It's almost as good as a compression bandage. But I don't think we're going anywhere."

"If there are searchers out, they must have seen that fire," I said, and shuffled over to take a look at the cut on Nightingale's head. It was bleeding a lot, the way head injuries do, but it was pretty small and shallow. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket that was remarkably clean, and pressed it to the cut, sitting down rather heavily next to me. In the flickering light, he looked every bit as shattered as I felt. I shuffled a little closer until my shoulders touched his, and he leaned a little against me.

The fire died completely and it became dark again. I shivered, and Nightingale felt it. "This won't do. All right." He pushed himself upright and made a werelight, then wandered around for a few minutes, and I felt the flashes of his spells. Within five minutes there was a respectable heap of firewood nearby. It was damp enough that we'd never have got it lit using normal methods, but a couple of fireballs with the heat turned up high would set light to almost anything.

"That's better," he said, and came back to sit with me. "Now we wait."

Neither of us had coats now, and while the rain had stopped, it was the middle of the night, and we huddled close together by the fire. I wrapped my arms around my knees and tried to find the right distance from the fire. Too close and it started to seem like the hairs on my arms would turn crispy, too far away and the cold from the ground and the night started to find its way through my clothes. Nightingale watched me fidgeting about with a faint smile on his face, unmoving.

In the distance, I heard a weird sound, almost musical, but not any music I'd ever heard. It got louder, and Nightingale sat up abruptly. "Oh, not now," he said, sounding like he does when I wake him up in the middle of the night for a weird shout.

"What is it?" I asked. It was animals, I was becoming convinced, and then I heard one on its own and realised it was dogs. Hounds. A whole pack of them.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'll deal with it." He stood up and left the little fire, and went into the darkness. I considered getting up and going after him, and thought about how much I didn't want to try to walk on my left foot and how absolutely useless I would be in the face of a pack of hounds, and stayed put.

The sound became much louder, and I could feel the vibrations in the ground as they approached. I could just see Nightingale as a black silhouette against the sky, seeming much taller and leaner than he is, like a standing stone against the horizon. Then the hounds were on us. They seemed mistlike, smoky, not quite there in a way that I couldn't explain. The fire no longer seemed to give off any heat. I huddled down, cringing like a rabbit in a den, all magic and policing forgotten, hoping they'd just pass me by.

Then I heard Nightingale's voice, calm and steady and certain of himself. "It's been a very long night. Keep to the agreement and we will all be much happier."

A voice as dark and smoky as the hounds said, "There are men on the moors tonight. They are my prey."

"Search parties," Nightingale said. "They are my men. Pass them by."

There was a hiss, and then the dark hounds galloped away with their master. Nightingale stalked back to me and stood behind me, staring out into the darkness.

"What were they?" I said, trying not to sound as shaken as I felt.

"Whisht hounds," Nightingale said. "Or so the locals call them. They say the Devil is their huntsman."

"You just told the Devil to leave us alone?" I blurted out. "And he did?"

That startled a laugh out of Nightingale. "That's just the country saying. He's... a spirit, a hunting spirit. There are many similar ones around the country. Black hounds who hunt at night. We've had arrangements with all of them for centuries." He sat down again, this time right behind me, and I leaned back against his shoulder.

I dozed like that for a while, not fully asleep, not fully awake. It was warm, I was tired, Nightingale didn't seem to mind. In fact, judging by the little smile I surprised on his face, he seemed to like it. After a while he wrapped both arms around me, his cheek against the top of my head.

I heard the hound baying again and thought it was a dream, but it got louder, and there was a rumbling noise like thunder. Nightingale sat up straight, and a black shadowy creature on four legs rushed towards us. I jumped up in one of those adrenalin rushes you regret afterwards, staggered as I stood on my twisted ankle, and sat back down again with a bump.

"Easy, boy," Nightingale said, and I thought he was talking to me, but it turned out he was talking to the dog. I could see it now in the firelight, some kind of collie cross, wagging its tail and sticking its nose into Nightingale's hand. Then I saw the lights, and realised what had been making the rumbling noise. It was a tractor.

"Over here," Nightingale called, and a minute later a short grey-haired white woman with leathery skin and calloused hands was calling off the dog.

"So you're these London police we've been up the moor searching for?" she said. "Hmph. You all right?"

"I'm fine," Nightingale said. "Constable Grant has hurt his foot, but it's not serious."

She looked at him, then at me, and grunted. Then she looked at the ruins of the house properly, and the charred circle around it. "Good God," she said. She looked back at us, and at the ruins. "Good God."

"You know this house?" Nightingale said.

"I know of it. Nobody knows it. Nobody alive, leastways." She faced him, and the dog picked up on something in her body language, because it let out a low growl. "What are you?"

"I would be very interested to hear what you know of this house," Nightingale said in his most reasonable, charming, posh-public-schoolboy voice. It should have melted her. It nearly melted me. But she shook her head, and the dog growled again.

"What are you?" she repeated, and Nightingale sighed.

"Ma'am, you clearly know something about this house, so you must know what kind of people could go in and survive the experience and destroy it." There was the slightest hint of threat in his voice, and I wondered whether it was the right approach to take, but it seemed to work.

"Hrmph," she said. "Are you really policemen?"

"Yes," I said. "We are. We were called in to consult on the two deaths up here last week."

"Londoners," she muttered. "It was the Tovey house got them, was it? I thought it might have been."

"This was the Tovey house?" I asked.

"Aye. It used to be here on this spot." She looked at the rubble. "It was torn down, hundred and fifty years ago. Nothing left. None of this--" she gestured at the rubble. "But ever since, there've been stories, people lost on the moor finding it, and killing each other."

"There was a double murder in it," Nightingale prompted. "Two brothers, was it?"

"That's right. The Tovey brothers. John and Michael. After that, nobody would stay in the house. Nobody could stay. So we tore it down. But it didn't go."

"Were their ghosts trapped in it?" I asked. "Is that what we saw?"

"No," said Nightingale, "that was vestigia from the murders, which soaked into the fabric of the house. I told you the sites of violent death were potent. I suspect the two brothers weren't the first murders in that house."

"No," said the woman, "and they weren't the last. There had always been evil stories about the place, and even after we pulled it down, it's been here. Or on the moor."

"It's gone now," said Nightingale. "You won't have any more trouble from it."

She edged away from him. "So you say." She shone her torch on me. "Him, I understand," she said. "Who are you?"

"My apprentice," said Nightingale steadily. "And he's injured and we've both had a difficult night. I'd appreciate it if you could contact the rest of the searchers, call them off, and take us somewhere we can dry off and warm up."

She bobbed her head with a touch of deference that surprised me, and Nightingale helped me up. My foot had had plenty of time to swell and stiffen up, and it really objected to walking. After a few painful hobbling steps Nightingale wrapped his arm around me and I felt him form a spell. I managed not to yelp in surprise when I drifted a few inches off the ground and floated along beside him towards the tractor. It certainly saved some trouble, and he boosted me up into the tractor like that, then climbed up after me.

The woman alerted the searchers by blowing loud blasts on her tractor's horn. I heard another horn answer in the distance.

"What do we tell them?" I asked Nightingale.

"Everyone hereabouts knows about the Tovey house," the woman offered. "They'll know what to do."

This turned out to be true. The tractor was met by the Dartmoor rangers in a sturdy four-wheel-drive, and they called off the search and took us to the police station in Tavistock, where a paramedic confirmed that I'd sprained my ankle and told me not to run around too much for the next couple of weeks. Everyone was way more deferential than I'd expected. I hadn't thought it was true that country people were superstitious, but apparently the story of the Tovey house had been part of local legend for a while, and the information that Nightingale and me had destroyed it permanently made us a force to be reckoned with. And handled gingerly. Nightingale didn't have to do anything at all to get the sergeant in charge to find a way to explain everything without mentioning anything supernatural in his paperwork.

They also fed us an unexpectedly good breakfast, a full fry-up with all the trimmings. I had two helpings of almost everything, and even Nightingale put a fair bit away. Then we collected the Jag and went back to our pub.

Rumour had spread there too, judging by the way the landlord met us at the door and all but tugged his forelock to Nightingale before asking us if we needed anything. Since on our arrival yesterday afternoon he'd been distant and reserved, I presumed he too was impressed by our magical prowess.

"We'll be fine, thank you," Nightingale said. "It's been a long night. A bit of sleep is all we need."

"Amen to that," I said, hobbling in after him.

Nightingale took my arm on the steep staircase up to the bedrooms, and said, "You're sure you don't want to go to A&E?"

"Positive," I said. "It'll be fine. I just want to take a shower and go to bed." I didn't really need him helping me up the stairs either, after the strapping and painkillers the paramedic had given me, but I didn't complain. Part of me was wondering whether I'd dreamed kissing him in the Tovey house, or dreamed his enthusiastic response.

We reached the landing outside Nightingale's room. Mine was up another flight of stairs. Nightingale paused, not letting go of my arm, and finally said, "And can you manage, do you think, in the shower? Or do you need some help?"

"I'm fine," I repeated, and then my brain caught up with my ears. Nightingale had let go of my arm and was looking at me with a strange wariness. "Oh," I said. Oh.

Then I started imagining Nightingale helping me in the shower, and I forgot to answer. When I managed to pull my attention back to the present, Nightingale was wearing the cool and professional look he uses to cover feeling upset.

"Yes," I said with emphasis, "yes, I think I will need help. Yes. Lots of help," and Nightingale began to smile. It was the smile I'd seen in my dreams, the smile of a man who's discovered that sometimes your wishes do come true. I wanted, no, I needed to kiss that smile, very badly.

"It would be my pleasure," he said. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, he purred.

But it was both our pleasures before we were done. I never did get up to my room at all.