“Would you look at that?” Matt exclaimed. “Cheeky little bugger’s gone and nicked one of my chips! I’ll nick him.”
Matt and Andrew had returned hungry after their two-hour hike in one of the island’s national parks. They were eating lunch at an old-fashioned inn, watching the finches flit in and out of the flowering vines that shaded the verandah. Clearly, the birds had long since lost any fear of humans.
“Surely you can spare one?” Andrew said.
“That’s not the point,” Matt said. He picked up another chip and laid it across the palms of his cupped hands.
“Careful, I think that might be considered entrapment,” Andrew said.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Matt agreed. Sure enough, a finch swooped down, and before it could fly away with its prize, Matt closed his hands around it. “Finch, I am arresting you on the charge of theft,” he said. “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
Andrew laughed. “How can you even be sure it’s the same bird?” he said. “They all look alike to me.”
“You’re right,” Matt said. “No chance I’d be able to pick him out of a lineup.” He opened his hands and the bird flew back to the shelter of the vines, still clutching the chip in its beak. “Still, have to stay in practice.”
Andrew shook his head, grinning. While they were certainly on holiday somewhere warm, Matt’s restlessness after his week in hospital and another at home with no diversions but physiotherapy and daytime television had altered their plans from their initial intention to “lie in the sun not doing anything.” They’d taken a sailing tour on an old schooner to go snorkeling -- neither of them were very good at it, but that hadn’t mattered when they saw an enormous sea turtle -- and driven around exploring in a rented jeep. Today’s hike had taken them through the island’s closest thing to a rain forest, which had certainly been worth seeing. All of that had been a great deal of fun, and it wasn’t their excursions giving Andrew concern. Rather, it was Matt’s determination to get fit again as quickly as possible, so that he could return to his job. He’d scoffed at the “sunset yoga” on the hotel’s dock, but he went running every morning before breakfast, and swam lap after lap in the pool. Andrew joined him in the running, if only to counteract the effects of all their holiday eating (and drinking), but preferred to stay on the lounge chairs by the pool. From that vantage point, he couldn’t help but notice how Matt dragged his left arm, and he’d had to drive the jeep because Matt still hadn’t been up to working the gearshift. It was early days yet, but the physiotherapist had said ominous things about nerve damage, and Andrew hated to think what might happen if Matt were declared unfit to return.
“That’s it, then,” Ronnie said as they left the courtroom. “Sent up for life. Can’t ask more than that.”
“That’s fine, yeah,” Matt said. “Won’t bring back the copper he killed. Or give me back my life.”
“Steady on, Matty,” Ronnie said. “You haven’t lost your life, have you? Only your job, and full disability pension at that.”
“Being a copper wasn’t just my job, Ron,” Matt said, frustration in his voice. “It was all I wanted to do from the time I was small. Catch the bad guys and put ‘em away, yeah? In a lot of ways it was my life.”
“Would you listen to you?” Ronnie said. “If they’d told you you could be Sir Galahad at careers day, or Superman, you’d have jumped at it, I reckon.”
“Shut up,” Matt said, laughing a little in spite of himself. “Anyway I couldn’t have been Superman. He was from Krypton, and I only came from Kilburn.”
“A technicality,” Ronnie said.
“Right,” Matt said, dismissing it. “But this is what it comes down to? Some slipshod or incompetent or even corrupt medical examiner ticks the wrong box seven years ago, we lose a chance to put Mark Ellis away before he does seven more years’ worth of harm, we fail Kieran’s family so badly that his brother decides to take matters into his own hands, and then when he can’t get Ellis he decides any copper will do? This is how it ends? If there’s any justice anywhere in this case, you can’t prove it by me.” His fists were clenched by his sides.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Ronnie said. “All I’m saying is, even if you’re not on the force any more, it’s not the same as losing you for good. I’ve lost a partner before, remember. I know the difference.”
“Yeah, you told me,” Matt said, more subdued. “It still doesn’t mean I have to like it.
“I’m appealing the decision. Listen to me, guv,” Matt said, as DI Chandler started to protest. “I know I’m not at a hundred percent yet. But this thing they say I’ve got -- adhesive capsulitis? It’s treatable, I’ve looked it up. Some more physio, heat therapy -- I’ll be back on the job!”
“Not in your case, Matt,” DI Chandler said. “And it gives me no pleasure to say it, either, don’t think for a minute that it does. But I’ve seen the report. Permanently limited range of motion? Ice packs? Muscle relaxants? You can’t tell me you’ll be effective in the field under those conditions. And, since you’ve refused additional training for reassignment--”
“What, sit on my arse at a desk all day, like Angela?” Matt said. “Nothing against Angela, she’s a lovely girl, we’d be lost without her -- but it’d drive me round the bend, you know it would.”
“I know,” DI Chandler said. “And if your shoulder does improve, I’d be the first to welcome you back. Go ahead and file your appeal. Just...” She let out a sigh. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
The Tube ride home was the worst part of the day.
It wasn't that he minded taking the Tube to work. It made sense for Matt to have the car when he was home all day, in case he needed it, and, after all, it had automatic gears, as all hybrids had to, so Matt could drive it with no trouble. It wasn't even that the journey took any longer, or was any more difficult; it was probably faster, if Andrew was honest about the traffic. No, what he hated about taking the Tube home was that it gave him too much undistracted time to worry about what mood Matt would be in when he got home.
It hadn't been good, lately. Andrew had been accustomed to Matt not talking about his work, before -- even if he'd wanted to, he often couldn't -- but he'd talked, at least. He'd come up behind Andrew when he was cooking, stealing a bit of carrot despite Andrew's warnings about getting his fingers sliced off if he weren't careful, or put his arms around his waist when Andrew was doing the washing up, or lean against him on the sofa as they watched a football match. He hadn't been doing any of that very often, any more. If Andrew woke in the middle of the night, he would still find Matt curled against him in his sleep -- but otherwise, it was almost like living with a ghost.
When Andrew walked in, Matt wasn't in the living room, or, a quick glance told him, the kitchen, either. Not a good sign at all. Andrew set his briefcase down in the study before going into the bedroom. Matt was lying down on top of the duvet, absently petting Lucky with his right hand, his face looking as if it had been carved out of stone. Andrew sat down beside him. "Bad day?"
"Got the appeal back," Matt said. "Denied."
"Lot of good that does me."
Andrew didn't say anything, only reaching out to take Matt's left hand. Matt pulled it away. "It would have been cleaner if he had killed me," he said. "Took me off the job either way, and I wouldn't have been left dependent on you like this and absolutely bloody useless. It'd have been better."
"Don't say that," Andrew protested. "You're not useless, you just haven't sorted out what you're going to do next. And you know I'll support you until then, or forever if it came to that. We might not have been allowed to say 'in sickness and in health,' but don't you think I meant it?"
"That's not the point," Matt said. "Just because you'd support me doesn't mean I want to be supported. I'm as much of a pet as Lucky, now. It'd have been better if I'd been killed. You'd go on without me."
"I wouldn't want to," Andrew said quietly.
"You're being melodramatic," Matt said.
"And you're not?" Andrew said, provoked nearly into shouting. "I know how much a part of you it was, what you did. You wouldn't have been the Matt I fell in love with, if it wasn't. But your life's not over. You're still here and I still love you and if that matters to you at all you'll find some way to go on from here, instead of wishing that you'd died in battle to suit some romantic notion of yourself and not caring that it means I'd have lost you for good!"
"Don't lecture me," Matt said.
Andrew took a deep breath. "It wasn't meant to be a lecture," he said. "You're still my chevalier sans peur et sans reproche."
"What's that, more of your King Arthur bollocks, then?" Matt said. "And you know I can't speak French for toffee."
"It means 'without fear or fault,'" Andrew said. Matt snorted. Andrew ignored it for the moment. "He wasn't an Arthurian legend, he was a real person, the Chevalier de Bayard. Dying in battle was something of a family tradition for him -- the head of his family had done it every generation for two centuries. He was a soldier from the time he was seventeen, and served three different kings of France and was a hero in all sorts of battles -- he once held a city under siege from thirty-five thousand soldiers with only a thousand of his own, and they made him a knight of the order of St. Michael for that, which was something that had been reserved for royalty until then. And in his last battle, he was wounded by a ball from an arquebus, which was a really early sort of gun, and one of the people near him when he was dying was an old fighting comrade of his who'd gone to fight for the other side. And do you know what he said to his old friend, who was sorry to see him dying?" Andrew looked at the ceiling, recalling words memorized years before. "He said, 'Sir, there is no need to pity me. I die as a man of honour ought, doing my duty; but I pity you, because you are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath.'"
Matt looked at him in disbelief. "Where are you getting all of this?"
"Just because I went to the London School of Economics doesn't mean that was all I studied," Andrew said. "We did have to take courses outside our main subject. Which were always the most interesting ones. I learned about him in a course on wars of the Middle Ages and Renaissance I took my first year. Your old mate Joe was in it with me, it's how I met him. So if it hadn't been for the old Chevalier de Bayard, I'd never have wound up in those five-a-side matches, and I'd never have met you."
"Suppose I ought to thank him, then," Matt said. "Still. Without fear or fault? And you're comparing him to me?"
"Without fear, definitely," Andrew said. "He was probably carrying on with Lucretia Borgia, which must have taken more courage than all of his battles together. Without fault? Maybe his biographer didn't bother to mention if he made a habit of leaving the jam jar out on the table with its lid off."
"Oi!" Matt said, finally smiling, and sitting up to give Andrew a shove. "Shut up." Andrew grinned at him, and pulled him into a hug. Matt hugged back, tightly, and laid his head on Andrew's shoulder.
"You know what knights did, when they couldn't ride out to the wars any more," Andrew said, stroking Matt's back. "They trained younger knights. You could teach."
"Those who can't do, teach?" Matt said, a trace of the earlier bitterness still there.
"Well, you can't," Andrew said. "Not due to incompetence, either. Wounds honourably received, and all that. Besides, they ought to be taught by the best."
"Maybe," Matt said. He still sounded doubtful, but he turned his face up for Andrew's kiss.
"You've got a letter," Andrew said. It was a Sunday morning in summer, and he was sorting through the post from the last few days. Matt was sprawled out across the sofa with his head in Andrew's lap.
"Probably a bill," Matt said, bored.
"No, it's from Hendon," Andrew said.
"Probably about continuing training courses, then," Matt said. "Nothing I need to bother with, any more. Chuck it out."
"No, that was always a prospectus," Andrew said. "This is just a letter. Don't you think you ought to open it?"
"You open it, if you're so interested," Matt said.
"I will," Andrew said, sliding a thumb under the flap and tearing it open.
"What is it, then?" Matt said, after Andrew made a sound that might either have been surprise or satisfaction.
"You're being recruited," Andrew said. "To be an instructor. Don't you want to read it?"
"Not really," Matt said, although his voice told another story.
"Maybe I oughtn't to let you read it, at that," Andrew said. "You'll get a swelled head. 'As one of the force's most valuable detectives… exemplary record… outstanding solve rate… we would be pleased to welcome you to our staff…' they've got a whole schedule set out for you. You'd be cruel to disappoint them."
"Give it to me," Matt said, reaching up for the letter. "I'll call them tomorrow."