You can ask plenty of members of the Metropolitan Police who will assert that it’s my stupid ideas that get me in trouble (especially, to pick an example entirely at random, newly-minted DCI Stephanopoulos) but they’re wrong. Okay, they’re mostly wrong. Most of the decisions they will point to, if asked, happened in circumstances where I had no bloody choice about what I was doing. For example, the whole ambulance hijacking thing, which is still following me around all these years later. I’ll admit that asking Ash to track the Pale Lady without stopping to think about what happened if he confronted her wasn’t my finest moment, but once he’d got that railing through him, I did pretty much the only thing I could do, which was get him to the river as fast as possible. Or Skygarden – I wasn’t planning on running into a demolition-wired apartment block, it just…happened. And I would have ended up nailing that faceless bastard, too, if Lesley hadn’t – if Lesley. Anyway.
My point is, if I have some time to think about it, I’m actually not that bad at taking the sensible option. Which is why I was having trouble figuring out why it was so hard to keep a lid on the current stupid idea that had taken up residence in my head: namely, a strong and apparently very real desire to kiss one DCI Thomas Nightingale.
It was a bit of a surprise, I’ll be honest, because at this point we’d known each other for more than a decade, and I wasn’t exactly in the habit of having unattainable crushes on my male friends and colleagues. (Female ones, sure…one female friend-and-colleague, anyway, but Lesley May had long since passed out of “unattainable” and into “impossible”, for a list of reasons longer than my arm, including the bit where she was no longer a colleague. Or, probably, a friend. As with everything involving Lesley these days, I have no fucking idea what’s going on.) I’m pretty comfortable with myself, and I’d have been ready to admit, at any point in our acquaintance, that Nightingale was a good-looking guy. With impeccable dress sense, in a sort of 1940s movie star way. And he can be charming, when he wants to be. But he was my boss, for starters, and for most of the time I’d known him he’d also been my master, in the teacher-student, wizard-wizard’s apprentice meaning of the word, and I knew he took that responsibility extremely seriously. So did I. I’d figured out after a while that my gaydar had been working when I’d laid eyes on him for the first time in Covent Garden and thought he was trying to pick me up. Which, for the record, he wasn’t, not that I’d ever embarrassed either of us by asking directly. But he definitely wasn’t a ladies’ man, Thomas Nightingale. I was equally sure he’d never even think an inappropriate thought in my direction – not his style, and I’m not egotistical enough to think I’m that irresistible. Besides, at his age, he had to have had plenty of practice resisting.
It wasn’t even like there was any good reason for it. As I said, Nightingale and I have been working (and living, and sometimes travelling to other parts of the country, and just hanging out on weekend afternoons, and nearly getting killed, and so on, and so forth) together for a long time now. I suppose if I think about it we’d been seeing more of each other lately, now we had Abigail and the other new apprentices around the Folly. Once I’d earned my staff, as Nightingale put it, and officially ended my apprenticeship, I immediately went to work convincing him and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service that what we needed was some new apprentices. This was for a few reasons. Firstly, in a couple of years I’d be up for promotion to Detective Inspector, which was as senior as I was likely to get while I stayed in the Folly (and given that Nightingale was still unaccountably failing to get any older, he was going to be running the place for the foreseeable future. And, frankly, I wasn’t interested in foreseeing a future for the Folly that didn’t involve him, so I didn’t spend a lot of thought on the alternatives.) It was getting a bit tiring having made it all the way to Detective Sergeant and still being lowest on the food chain in my own unit.
Secondly, these days there was far more work for the Folly than we could handle with just the two of us. We’d got pretty good at liaising with other branches of the Met, and other police departments around the country, but we could definitely use a few more practitioners when things really got hairy. Especially since we had more than one Newtonian practitioner outside the auspices of the Folly, with all the trouble that implied. At ten years to train someone, if they worked at it, if we started with a few more now we might just get the Folly’s complement up to fifteen or twenty before I hit retirement age. Assuming that happened on schedule – I could give myself a brain haemorrhage next year, if something went terribly wrong. Or have a run-in with magic that left me unaging, like a really surprising portion of my current social circle. Or the wonders of modern medicine could end up raising the retirement age to eighty. You never knew.
Nightingale was surprisingly easy to convince, having clearly decided that any new apprentices couldn’t possibly be more trouble than I’d been, especially since he wouldn’t be solely responsible for teaching them. Given that he’d known Abigail Kamara since she was thirteen, this was a startling delusion for such an otherwise intelligent man, but I decided to let him figure that one out on his own. Abigail was a given, of course, since she’d demonstrated how serious she was by not only getting her Latin GSCE – her school didn’t offer it, either – but also going to Hendon and passing her probation. We compromised on three apprentices total as a reasonable number, but of course it was me who had to go through all the files and identify probationary constables who’d demonstrated some sensitivity to magic – such as throwing up when we’d disarmed a demon trap – might actually be gullible enough to be talked into working for us, and, for preference, had some background in the classics – the classical classics, you understand, Greek and Latin. To my astonishment we actually ended up with three aside from Abigail, although one, a Welshman called Blake, was partially for the purposes of maintaining diversity, not that I’d tell him that. Otherwise we might have become the only Met OCU without a single straight white bloke, and then where would we be?
This tripled, at a stroke, the number of people living in the Folly. Now, the Folly was built back in the late eighteenth century to house some now-ludicrous number of wizards, as well as act as a sort of town club for those hedge-wizards who hadn’t made magic their profession but still practiced. So we weren’t running out of space anytime soon. We weren’t even in danger of needing to open up the large dining room, much to Molly’s evident disappointment.
The problem, however, is that the protective wards on the Folly – I still can’t get away with calling them ‘force-fields’ where Nightingale can hear me – don’t allow cables, such as, for example, those that carry an internet or television signal, into the main building; we have an annex in the old coach house nicknamed the ‘tech cave’ where we keep the Airwaves and HOLMES terminal and game consoles and other necessities of police life. Now, I hear you say, the cellular network’s pretty fast these days, can’t you just hot-spot wireless in? And I could, for non-secure stuff like checking social media. Sometimes I even do. But the other thing about magic is that it’s very hard on anything with a microchip in it – explosively hard, under the wrong circumstances – and I’d killed enough mobile phones without starting in on laptops, so, in general, the Folly proper was a technology-free zone, for values of technology invented after World War II. That way I could do all the experiments I liked without worrying about blowing anything up. And let me hasten to add that the thing with Nightingale’s radio only happened once and I don’t know what he was thinking buying a digital radio anyway. He’s normally quite happy with the technology of his younger years as long as it continues to work, and it’s not like they’ve improved much on the basic function of the radio since the nineteen-thirties.
Anyway, up until this point the tech cave had served not only as an office and storage space for all our twenty-first century accoutrements, but as the place where, of a Sunday evening, say, Nightingale could kick back and watch a game of rugby while I mucked around on my laptop. With four other people living in the Folly, all of whom had grown up with screens glued to their fingertips – not that I’m judging, mind you – access suddenly became a real issue. I was, personally, more than content to use our status as senior officers and long-time residents to win command of the TV remote, at least occasionally. Nightingale was unaccountably attached to concepts like ‘fairness’ and ‘sharing’ and ‘it’s their living space now too, Peter, and it must seem very strange to them having grown up with computers and televisions all over the place.’
“Yeah, but it’s my TV,” I pointed out, which it was. We were standing in the courtyard, where the coaches would once have entered, looking up at the coach house. The four of them were using said TV for some sort of first-person shooter – I was a bit horrified that I didn’t recognize it – and it was loud enough for the bangs and whoops to be faintly audible even in the courtyard. “And my game console, for the record.”
“They probably deserve a night off,” Nightingale argued, but mildly.
“I’m not arguing they don’t,” which I wasn’t. “But they could have a night off at the pub.”
“So could we,” said Nightingale, and this was perfectly true, just somewhat surprising coming from him. I’d seen Nightingale in pubs, you couldn’t function as a police officer without entering them at least occasionally, but he wasn’t the type to just hang out there. Maybe they got boring sometime after you passed your first century. I should ask Isis, or Oxley. They certainly enjoyed a night on the town now and then, and Isis was the younger of them at well past three hundred.
“Fair point,” I conceded. “They’re probably showing the test match down the road.”
“A most reasonable compromise,” he said, and we went back inside to grab our coats and let Molly know we’d be out.
It has to be said that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of rugby, having been raised on football, but if you live with Nightingale for long enough you’ll watch a lot of rugby, and I am, by and large, a fan of pubs. Our local wasn’t a police pub, but it was a nice balance between ‘not full of boring old people’ (Nightingale not counting in this demographic, his specific age aside) and ‘not so loud you can’t hear yourself think’. We got a pint each and settled in at a corner table with a good view of a screen – sensibly, they’d put the match on multiple screens, so people weren’t elbowing each other out of the way. I’d brought along a notebook so I could sketch out some of the ideas I was having about how, exactly, we might solve this force-field-cable-ban problem. Keeping most of the Folly microchip-free made sense, but, at a minimum, with new people we were going to run out of office space in the tech cave pretty soon, unless we had them typing up their reports in the garage. None of my notes were going to be comprehensible to anyone who happened to glance over my shoulder, even though my handwriting’s actually improved over the last few years, so it was safe enough.
You’ll probably agree with me that this wasn’t the most romantic of settings – half-noisy pub, rugby game, me idly trying to figure out how we could possibly make rearranging the protections work with only two fully-trained wizards and half-ready to concede that Nightingale had been right and we might have to wait another ten years. I got up just after half-time to use the loo and grab another pint. I became aware of someone watching me, and used the mirror behind the bar to figure out who; nothing suspicious, though, just a couple of white women eyeing me up. I pretended I hadn’t seen them; I wasn’t here to pull, and besides, I was coming to the conclusion lately that any woman I dated was going to have to put up a serious fight against my job. It had beaten Beverley Brook, although she was still far and away my friendliest ex-girlfriend, and she was a bona fide goddess. Albeit of one of the smaller Thames tributaries.
So I took my pint glass and headed back to the table, and as I sat, I noticed one of the women whispering to the other, pointing at Nightingale then at me. I didn’t need to hear her to know what she was saying: “Never mind, he’s here with his boyfriend.” That was happening more and more often these days, if Nightingale and I went somewhere and weren’t evidently on police business. Probably just social changes eroding away people’s assumptions that everyone was straight until proven otherwise, although it felt like something more than that – I never got people thinking Sahra Guleed and I were together when we were out on inquiries, not that she or I had ever been interested. Maybe it was my age; I’d like to say I still looked as fresh-faced as the day I joined the Folly, but my face had broadened out of my twenties into that ambiguous point where people can look anything from twenty-five to forty, depending on how much sleep they’re getting. And I probably ran on less sleep than I should. A casual glance could make someone think Nightingale and I were much of an age, now. That might have an effect, too.
So that happened, now and then, and I usually didn’t pay it any mind, because making a fuss about that sort of thing just makes people think they’re right and they’ve stumbled upon some great secret about you – the gentlemen do protest too much, etcetera – and I’d never seen Nightingale so much as acknowledge the assumption, except to identify us as police officers when we were making inquiries. Whether he didn’t notice or didn’t care, I’d never asked.
But the thought was on my mind, I have to admit, as I sat back down. England had gone into half-time having just drawn even with South Africa; Nightingale was focused on the game entirely, brow furrowed critically at the sad state of the English lineout (and we were at the point where I both knew what a lineout was and could judge its state, how sad was that). I put my beer down and looked at him, at his restrained wince at a particularly vicious tackle, his relaxed, open posture as he sipped at his beer, and thought, I’d really like to kiss that man.
And then I nearly knocked over my own beer in startled response, because where had that come from? Contrary to what you may believe or have been told, telepathy isn’t a real thing, and while it’s entirely possible to magic someone into an attraction they wouldn’t otherwise feel or decision they wouldn’t otherwise make – seducere, the Glamour, it’s called – I’ve had it aimed at me often enough to recognize it, and this wasn’t it. Not that I could come up with the first reason anyone would want to try to glamour me into kissing Nightingale. This was just my own stupid train of thought pointing out how sodding attractive my boss was and how much I’d like to try kissing him, and whether it would make him smile if I did, because he had a lovely smile and it didn’t appear half often enough –
Of course, just at that moment, he slumped back as England gave up the try, then turned and smiled at me – nothing special, just a small half-smile you might call fond. “They’re not playing as well as I’d hoped.”
“Uh,” I said, grasping desperately for something intelligent to say. “No, that lineout was appalling.”
This won me a raised eyebrow. “You don’t normally have much of an opinion on the game.”
“I may not be the world’s fastest learner,” I all but babbled, “but I’ve sat through enough rugby at this point to pick up something.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“So I blame you, in summary,” I went on, and grabbed my notebook again in the hope that even pretending to make notes might save me from myself. I could feel Nightingale frowning at me, but apparently I wasn’t behaving weirdly enough to comment on, because after a moment his attention returned to the game.
If it had just been that one moment of madness in the pub, it would have been one thing, but it wasn’t. I found myself noticing Nightingale in a way I hadn’t before – my eyes catching on his face, the sweep of his long-fingered hands when he gestured to make a point, the line of his body in his many exquisitely-tailored suits. Or maybe I’d been noticing all along, and managed to confine it to my subconscious – I was suddenly at a loss to explain how I’d spent all that time not noticing him.
I don’t want to make it sound like I was staring at him like an adolescent, because you can guarantee Abigail and the others would have spotted that – Abigail, in particular, has known me for far too long – and there was a distinct lack of the giggling or snarky comments that would have accompanied that kind of observation. Or they were being preternaturally well-behaved about it, which was an even scarier thought.
So I just stumbled through the usual run of things, practice – no longer being an apprentice just meant I got to guilt-trip myself about the amount of practice I got in – training, coming up with particularly sadistic Latin quizzes for the apprentices, checking out possibly magic-related crimes for our fellow police officers, concluding that most of them were in no way magic-related, dropping by the magical nazareth at its shifting locations to make sure the community at large saw us being there, following up the inquiries that actually proved to be “Falcon-related”, in the Met’s jargon. And I managed to do at least ninety percent of these things without thinking about my newfound attraction to Nightingale at all. Okay, maybe eighty percent.
Nightingale wasn’t going out of his way to make it easy for me, that was certain, although there was no one thing I could point to and say it was noticeably different from before that night at the pub. So it was probably just general paranoia speaking. But he insisted on doing things like clapping me on the shoulder or standing behind me on the firing range – I still wasn’t up to ten centimetres of battle steel, but these days I was at least as dangerous as a well-trained CO19 officer – just an inch too close. Or smiling at me. That was, I was pretty sure, cheating. Then we went to investigate a possible haunting in Cheam, late at night because it was a construction site and we wanted a clear space. We took two of the apprentices, and we went in the Jag. Nightingale showed up in the garage wearing that grey suit he’d been in the first time we’d met, the one that showed off his broad shoulders and trim waist, and I think I actually lost blood flow to my brain for a few seconds. Fortunately Choudhury and Sterling chose that moment to enter the garage having a loud argument about Latin adverbs that we were asked to adjudicate – I nobly deferred to Nightingale on that topic – or I’m not sure what I would have done. (Well, I am, which is make an idiot of myself forgetting what I was saying.)
I’d had plenty of practice being attracted to people I worked with, though, so it wasn’t an insurmountable problem. Once I got used to it, it was almost sort of nice – how many people got to spend most of their time with the objects of their attraction? Familiarity would get rid of it sooner or later. After all, I liked Nightingale far too much – in the strictly platonic sense of the word – to screw things up (not to mention my job, and everything I loved about my life) by going somewhere inappropriate. We were still sharing meals and late nights over research and the occasional beer down at the pub – for all I knew, if we tried anything else, it’d be a miserable failure; the last time I’d got off with a guy I’d been at a school disco and it was more an accident than anything else. No removal of clothing had been involved. Maybe my attraction to Nightingale was more romantic than sexual. Well, my dreams said otherwise, but if I admitted conscious sexual attraction to anyone I’d ever had a vaguely sexual dream about the world would be a strange and terrifying place indeed.
Then I realized I’d just used the word “romantic” in the same sentence as “Nightingale”, not to mention the word “sexual”, and had to go down to the range for extra practice just to get my mind off it.
“I hope they deserved it,” said Nightingale, observing the shredded remnants of the targets I’d set up. I hadn’t even heard him come in.
“They certainly did,” I told him. “It was – just one of those days, you know?”
“Really?” he said, in confusion, and I couldn’t blame him; it was a Saturday. The most exciting thing that had happened all day – and it wasn’t even eleven am yet - was Sterling covering herself and Blake in apple pulp, and I’d laughed at that. (Out of their earshot, of course. I’m not cruel.)
“Uh, long story.” I needed to change the topic. “Hey, I’ve been thinking some more about the force field – sorry, the protections problem. I’ve been looking at the plans for this whole building, and the coach house. “
“Is that why they’ve been tacked up in the mundane library for a week?” Nightingale asked with interest, as he helped me tidy the range. We’d taken to using it as a meeting space – I’d even got us a whiteboard, like we were a real station and everything. The technology issue in the Folly sadly precluded Powerpoint. We’d just have to muddle on through. “I still really can’t see how the two of us can rework the whole system.”
“No, I think you might be right,” I agreed, as we finished clearing off the charred and almost non-existent targets. “It’s not even a question of raw power, the number of foci we’d need -”
The conversation took a turn for the technical as we mounted the stairs. One of the signs, in retrospect, that I’d been approaching the end of my apprenticeship had been how often I’d started to have conversations with Nightingale about magic, not me asking questions and him telling me things, but real exchanges of opinion. Nightingale was intensely knowledgeable about magic, though he politely disclaimed academic pretensions, but he was only one man, where once the Folly had been thousands; there were gaps in his knowledge. As I’d told him, when I was finished forging my staff, it wasn’t even the extent of my own ignorance that frightened me, although that was still frightening enough; it was the idea that there were things both of us just didn’t know.
“And that,” he’d told me, “is the best evidence I could have that there’s little else I can teach you as your master. I can’t claim to have taught you everything I know – much of that is simply experience, which you will gain in your own time – but you’re developing your own expertise.” It had been such a sincere compliment that I had felt my ears heat. “And not just at blowing things up,” he’d added, a beat later, to my outraged scoff.
So we had a comfortable discussion about the problem of the protections, which led eventually to the library and my actual idea: renovating part of the garage space below.
“It’s not ideal as office space,” I conceded, “but it’s a half-decent temporary solution. We don’t use even half the garage and we won’t for years. It doesn’t even have to come out of our budget – the Met has a general fund for renovations and we haven’t applied for it in…ever, probably.”
“It’s a workable solution,” Nightingale agreed, rubbing his chin and staring at the plans I had pinned up. I was leaning back against one of the library tables. “Send me the application and I’ll look it over.”
“Already in your inbox,” I said, a bit smugly. Of course, with Nightingale, that meant an actual physical box – he had an email, but it forwarded to mine, so he only had to respond to stuff I flagged for him.
“I wish we could work out a way to get the cable into the main building safely,” he said, sighing, and leaning back against the same table as me. “If we continue to expand we can’t be restricted in our access to the Met’s infrastructure, and so little of it is on paper these days. We could afford to section off some rooms from the practice of magic – it’s a large building.”
I shrugged. “So we write down what we’ve thought of, and put it in the long-term pile – with any luck, in another decade or so our complement will be expanded, and then again, and so on. There’s plenty of time to figure it out. For the moment we make do. Or, who knows, maybe we’ll have some bright idea between now and then.”
I glanced over at Nightingale, next to me; he was smiling ruefully, shaking his head. “I had forgotten.”
“How good it is to have colleagues,” he said, simply. I was tempted to ask him what he meant by that, seeing as I'd been kicking around the place for more than a decade, but I thought I knew. For so long he’d been the only one here, and even after I’d shown up, there had been the constant pressure to teach me enough, in time, just in case. Now we could throw ideas back and forth, and if anything happened to him, god forbid, he didn’t have to worry about this new crop of apprentices; I was officially qualified to teach them on my own, as truly terrifying as that notion was.
“Always glad to help,” I said. I was still struggling with what to call him – boss or sir felt strange now, at least in private, but he’d never asked me to use his first name apart from that one time in the coach house, years ago. Although he used mine often enough, in varying tones from exasperation to, on the rare occasion, something very like affection.
I realized I was still looking at him, and we were closer than I’d realized, our arms nearly brushing. It was a bit like one of those dreams, except quite real. I knew what to do, I had to get up and move away, but I just didn’t want to. And it wasn’t like Nightingale was going anywhere. The moment stretched out, silent but weirdly not awkward.
“Peter,” he said, and of course, of course, that was the exact moment Abigail walked into the room announcing her intention to wrestle with Tacitus for a while before lunch.
“Still working on your grandiose rebuilding schemes, sarge?” she asked from behind us.
“They’re quite modest schemes, really,” replied Nightingale, and we slipped back into the normal workings of the Folly, like nothing had happened at all.
But of course, it had.
Nightingale pinned me down – not, sadly, in a direct and physical sense - later that day, in the reading room. Purely as an academic exercise, I was trying to figure out what the minimum number of practitioners was for renewing and restructuring the protection spells, to give us something to aim at. I knew from Nightingale’s description of the last time it had been done that it wasn’t an insanely large number, but it would be helpful if it were closer to five than twenty, for instance. Maybe some streamlining could be done. In aid of this, I had a pile of books from the magical library, a lot of post-it notes, a large mug of coffee, and my favourite pen. It had to be said that the comfortable chairs of the reading room were not increasing my attention span, but, fuck it, it was Saturday afternoon and this wasn’t exactly on the urgent pile. You could even say it was on the procrastination pile, if there had been anything in particular I was procrastinating about. Nightingale didn’t count.
The man himself had moved on from the morning paper’s cryptic crossword to the Sudoku, which, by his frown, was also cryptic. He tapped the pencil against his cheek. I supposed I must have been looking at him and smiling, because when he looked up, he met my eyes.
“May I ask you something, Peter?” he said abruptly.
“Yeah?” I replied, demonstrating my suave and articulate speaking skills.
“Has there been something on your mind, lately?”
His grey eyes were on mine; there wasn’t anywhere to go. I contemplated and discarded possible answers, from the truthful (“You”) to the dismissive (“No, nothing in particular.”) I compromised on the uninformative.
“There has, I guess.”
“Is it something you want to talk about?”
Yes. No. Maybe. “I’m not sure it’s something you want to know about.”
He hesitated, at that, fingers tightening on the pencil in his hand; I realized, stupidly, that he had a pretty good idea what it was and didn’t want to just come out and say it. But whether that was because he wanted it to be true, or didn’t want it, I still couldn’t figure out.
“There are plenty of things in this world I don’t want to know about, or wish I didn’t,” Nightingale said.
“Celebrity Big Brother, for instance,” I offered. He actually winced.
“Mmm, quite. But I find it unlikely that there is anything that could be on your mind to the extent that whatever this is has been for the last few weeks which I wouldn’t want to know about.”
I realized – today was apparently the day for that sort of thing – that of course he was never going to come out and say it. I doubted the Met had ever managed to make him take one of their many sexual harassment in the workplace courses, but I had no doubt that he would never find it appropriate to – how would he put it? – make advances, or perhaps press his suit, on someone who was still his direct subordinate, apprentice or not. But then again, he was asking me to tell him – or was I just projecting what I wanted on to him, seeing things that weren’t there? It was an occupational hazard of magic and policing both.
Of course…I’d come to the Folly, all those years ago, because it turned out that seeing things that weren’t there was a useful skill. Sometimes they were there after all.
“Okay,” I said, to stop the silence dragging out, and then, because, at the end of it all, sometimes if I’m given all the time in the world to think about it and consider all the options and weigh the pros and cons I end up doing the stupid thing anyway, “I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to kiss you.”
I could have added a lot to that, but, I felt, best to keep it simple. And it was the stupid thought that had started all this. I’d really like to kiss that man.
The only reaction I got was the slightest heightening of colour on his cheeks; white people are so badly off that way. “Are you sure about that, Peter?”
Because I can always be counted on to commit to my particular stupid course of action once I’ve embarked on it, I put aside the book on my lap, got up, and took the couple of steps needed to kneel down next to his chair. It put our heads at about the same height. I leaned in, and covered his hand, the one still resting on the newspaper, with mine. I rarely touched him, and almost never outside of situations like “hauling him out of danger” or “putting on a makeshift bandage”. The last time I’d held his hand, at least that I remembered in this moment, was when he’d been lying in that hospital bed after being shot at Covent Garden. I was a much better wizard now than I’d been then; the vestigium of him was distinct, pine and canvas and smoke, wrapped up in the quick twist of strength that was his signare. I wondered what he sensed from me.
I looked at him directly and said, again, “Thomas. I’d really like to kiss you. May I?”
He bit his lip, as if trying not to smile; I didn’t bother hiding the fact that I was looking at his mouth. “Peter, are you trying to seduce me with good grammar?”
“Is it working?” I might have smirked the tiniest bit, because he’d turned his hand over and I could feel the pulse in his wrist, and I was definitely not the only one affected here.
“God, yes,” he said, and I never got the chance to figure out which question that was an answer to because I was being kissed by him and I really wasn’t inclined to stop and ask.
I won’t lie and say it was perfect, because I’ve never had a perfect first kiss and I don’t think any two people ever have, but it only took a few seconds for both of us to figure out what was going on and then it got pretty fucking amazing. I put my free hand on his shoulder, dragging the fingertips along the hollow of his throat revealed by the polo shirt he was wearing, and he made this noise, not loud but a sort of muffled gasp, and I wanted to hear him make it again, to make him make it again, and whatever stupid part of my brain had tried to rationalize this with “not sexual” should be banned from all decision-making ever again.
He tugged at my shoulders and I ended up sort of perched on the arm of the chair, which wasn’t the most comfortable thing but I wasn’t paying that much attention, and we made out in comfortable silence – okay, in comfortable attempts to not be discreetly not-noisy – for an indeterminate length of time until we were rudely interrupted by Molly ringing the dinner bell. We broke apart, and I levered myself up, against all my instincts; I was going to need a minute or two to compose myself before dinner, and by compose myself I meant talk down a pretty serious hard-on. And if I was any judge – and I was, at this point, an excellent judge of Thomas Nightingale – I wasn’t the only one.
“Uh, so, anyway,” I said, while we both tried to think unsexy thoughts and also keep our hands to ourselves, in the knowledge that Molly was going to show up any second to scowl at us until we came in to dinner, “that’s pretty much what I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks.”
“Well,” said Thomas. Nightingale. It was going to be mixed up in my head for a long while, I could tell. “I feel this is a conversation we could continue productively after dinner. Although -” He glanced around. “Perhaps in a different venue.”
His voice dropped on the last few words, and none of this was helping my composure problem.
“I definitely agree,” I managed. “Like my bedroom. Or yours. I’m not fussy, really.”
It was only after I’d finished speaking I worried that I might be coming on too strong, but apparently not, because Thomas Nightingale – look, I’m a police officer, using people’s full names is what I do – didn’t even bother trying to hide his smile. “That was the general plan.”
It occurred to me that standing up might be the greater part of valour here, so I did, although it was almost as hard as resisting seducere can be. “I’m glad we’re thinking along the same lines.” He actually swallowed when I said that, even though it’s not the sexiest line I’ve ever managed. I had to grasp for my self-control all over again.
“I have to ask,” he said, standing himself, “was there any particular reason this thought occurred to you now?”
“I’m getting the impression it occurred to you a while ago,” I said, stooping to pick up the now-mangled newspaper; it was such a mess I gave it up as a bad cause and crumpled it up to throw in the rubbish bin.
“A – little while ago,” he said, a strangely sad look crossing his face. “But it wouldn’t have been – it wasn’t my place to say anything.”
“Consider yourself invited to say something,” I said, as we left. “Really. Any time. Open invitation.”
“But – please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not offering any objection – why now?”
I grinned easily at him, and brushed my hand against his, subtly, as we crossed the atrium; the noise of the back door announced at least two of the apprentices coming in from the coach house, and someone else was clattering down from the upper floors. “Hasn’t anyone told you? It’s my job to have the stupid ideas around here.”
He was smiling as we went in to dinner, and I thought, helplessly, in a way I didn’t have the right words to explain to him – not yet, anyway – because that, right there, the way you’re smiling at me now.
Like I said. Ask anyone around the Met; I’m the guy who does the stupid things. Hijacks an ambulance. Chases a suspect into the London sewers. Races into a mined tower block. Asks Thomas Nightingale if he might kiss him.
And you know what? I stand by what I said. In the moment – there’s never been any other choice.