I drove the Jag into the Folly's garage, pulled up the handbrake with a creak and turned the engine off.
"Home at last," I announced.
"Indeed," said Nightingale dryly, but there were creases at the corners of his eyes that betrayed him. Two months is a long time to spend in hospital, and each time I'd visited him, he'd seemed a little more stir-crazy, and he'd finally persuaded them to let him go. He wasn't what I'd call recovered yet, but well enough to get about a bit, with me and Molly to help out. I was hoping it would be mostly Molly.
But for now it was on me, so I opened the boot and hefted out the NHS-issue wheelchair, wrestled it out of its collapsed state and pushed it around to the passenger door. Nightingale was slowly climbing out. I didn't try to help him; one tongue-lashing about how he wouldn't get his strength back unless he did things for himself was quite enough for me. He lowered himself carefully into the wheelchair and tried his best to look as if this exertion hadn't tired him.
That was when I began to realise we had a problem.
The Folly was built back in the good old days when 'accessibility' meant whether or not the porter let the right people in, and the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 hadn't even been a gleam in a politician's eye. There were three steps leading down to the kitchen door, and I recalled that there were several more steps up to the atrium level, and then the grand marble staircase to Nightingale's rooms on the first floor. Other police stations in historic buildings have been retrofitted with lifts and ramps and the rest of the accessibility kit, but in this as in everything else, the Folly had been ignored. And while Nightingale could get about in a room now, he definitely wasn't up to long flights of stairs.
I considered the other entrances, but the front door was even worse, six steps up from the street level, and the little side entrance was too narrow to fit a wheelchair. I pushed the wheelchair slowly towards the steps and stopped. Nightingale tried to twist to look at me, and I stepped around so that he wouldn't have to.
"Er," I began. "Do we have a ramp?"
There was an odd gleam in Nightingale's eye which should have worried me more than it did. "Now we will discover whether you really have been doing your practice while I've been hors de combat."
"Um, what?" But I had a horrible feeling I understood. I didn't think this was going to count as a 'reasonable adjustment' under the meaning of the Act.
"If you've been doing all the practice I told you to do, you should be quite capable of this by now," he said. "Impello to move large objects with precision. Carry on." He sat back in the wheelchair.
"Are you serious?"
"Let's see what you're made of," he replied casually.
His eyes narrowed, looking at me. "If you feel it's not safe, then go and fetch Molly. But otherwise--carry on, Peter."
I had been doing my practice. And I could use impello to move a sofa around in the atrium with fair accuracy and without dropping it, most of the time. But the thought of testing my skill on Nightingale himself made my stomach clench. If this went wrong--
"It's rather chilly out here," he said after watching me hesitate for a few moments.
"Now you're just taking the piss," I muttered, and went down the three steps and opened the door. Standing at the bottom, I checked I had a clear space to set the wheelchair down, took a deep breath, and concentrated.
The wheelchair lifted into the air about a foot, wobbled a bit, stabilised and floated down the three steps towards where I wanted it to land. I grabbed one of the armrests to steady it as I set it down, but it still struck the tiled floor with a jolt. Nightingale drew in a sharp breath.
"You'll have more opportunities to practice that, I imagine," was all he said, his voice calm. "Very good. Carry on."
At the end of the corridor there were six steps up to the atrium. My hands were shaking a bit as I pushed the wheelchair along to those. Nightingale nodded to me, and I repeated the spell, and this time I got the landing much steadier.
Then we came to the main staircase, the real one. I pushed Nightingale to the foot of it and stopped. He indicated for me to come around to the front. "You have sufficient control of the forma to do this," he said. "It's just a matter of confidence. And I am confident that you can do it."
I looked at him, and he watched me steadily, levelly, his eyes assessing me. "Yes, sir," I said, and went up to the top of the flight of stairs. It seemed a very long way down when I stood at the top. If I muffed it, if I lost control of the forma halfway up... the steps were marble. He looked up at me and gave a nod. I did the spell.
If you think about it, every time you drive a car at any speed, you hold the lives of the people around you in your hands. They rely on your skill, and you rely on theirs, and most of the time nobody gets killed. So doing this spell shouldn't really have felt any different from driving Nightingale home from the hospital. But it did, at least to me, though Nightingale's face was calm, almost bored, just as it had been as I'd driven the car. If being floated around by his apprentice unnerved him, he certainly didn't show it. It was the most breathtaking gesture of trust I'd ever seen.
I kept the spell running as smoothly as the Jag's engine until he was at the top, then let the wheelchair land right in front of me. I caught the handgrip as it touched the floor, and held on. Now it wasn't just my hands that were shaking.
"Well done," said Nightingale. "Thank you, Peter."
He still sounded so damned calm. I didn't say anything, because I wasn't sure what octave my voice would come out in. Instead I pushed the wheelchair along the corridor to the door at the end that led to Nightingale's rooms. I'd never been in there, and I hesitated in the entrance.
"Abdul will be here in a little while," Nightingale said. "I fear I will be in some trouble if he doesn't find me lying down and resting."
I didn't ask him if he would be able to manage because I knew he'd say yes and it would be a lie. So I pushed the wheelchair inside and looked around. There was a whole suite here: a private sitting room, a study, and beyond that a bedroom and a bathroom. I went in the direction of the bedroom. Nightingale didn't argue, which was a clue that I was doing the right thing. I went over towards the big brass bed and stopped the wheelchair a few steps away.
Nightingale didn't let me help him up, instead levering himself to his feet with obvious difficulty. But he did allow me to help him off with his blazer, and gave his shoes a slightly helpless look. The thing about having a bullethole through your chest is that pretty much every movement is painful, but bending over is next to impossible. I got him sitting on the edge of his bed, then crouched down and unlaced his shoes. Close to, I saw his hands were shaking too, and a muscle was twitching in his jaw. I didn't let on that I'd noticed.
"I'm not going to make you do that all the time," he said suddenly. "Molly's perfectly able to do what's necessary. But I did want to see how you were progressing."
I looked up at him.
"You have been practicing," he said, and nodded approvingly. "Keep at it. I'll try to resume our teaching as soon as I can." He sat on the side of the bed without moving, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do now. Then I figured it out. He was hesitating to lie down because the movement was going to hurt like hell.
"Want a hand, sir?" I said casually. If he trusted me to fly him through the air--
He nodded without looking at me, and I helped him into the bed, lowering him until he was lying flat and moving the pillows the way I'd seen the nurses in hospital place them. He didn't look at me as I pulled the sheets up over him, but when I'd finished faffing around and couldn't pretend to be doing anything else, he said, "Thank you. They said I should really have stayed in hospital another week, but... I'll try not to make too much work for you here."
"It's okay," I told him, and I meant it. There wasn't anything I could do for Lesley right now, and there hadn't been much I could do for Nightingale either, up till now. "It's been kind of weird here on my own anyway." Which was a major understatement. Two months of living in the Folly with just Molly for company and I'd almost been wondering if the Case Progression Unit might not have been a better choice. At least I'd have had people to talk to. Who might talk back, and not suck my blood. And while I'm not saying I missed having to do my own cooking and laundry, at least it had given me something to do when I wasn't on duty.
Nightingale gave an odd smile then. "Yes, I expect you would find it strange on your own." But before I could think that maybe it was stupid of me to have complained about being alone here for two months when he'd been alone here for God knows how many years, he went on, "I think I would find it strange now too, after having an apprentice around the place again." He looked away sharply, and then said, "Now don't you have five pages of Latin exercises to be getting on with?"
He'd done that a lot when I'd been visiting him in hospital, I'd noticed. When he was tired and needed to rest, he'd cover it up by giving me a long list of things to go and do straight away. I didn't let on that I'd cracked the code, so I just said, "Yeah, I'll go get started now. Is there anything else you need?"
He shook his head, and I didn't press him. Dr Walid would be along soon anyway, and between him and Molly they'd have everything covered. So I left him to rest, but as I went down the stairs to the library, I thought about what he'd said, and figured that it worked out to a compliment.