When you grow up in a West African household you get some very clear ideas about what a wedding looks like, and I have to say this definitely wasn’t how I’d envisioned mine. Insomuch as I’d ever envisioned getting married.
To be fair, I was pretty sure this wasn’t how my husband-to-be had envisioned his wedding either. Because I was in that weird state which should probably be labelled “shock”, I went ahead and asked him.
“I never planned on getting married, to tell you the truth,” Nightingale said. “The whole concept, er, never had much appeal.”
This was as close as he’d ever gotten to coming out to me, which, given that we were about to get married, was possibly overdue. But I don’t like to pry.
“Well, it’s still not legally binding,” I said.
You have to give a month’s notice for that – no shotgun weddings in this country, thank you very much. We didn’t have a month. We didn’t even have a day. I still wasn’t entirely clear on why it was imperative that Nightingale get married all of a sudden, but it was something to do with the complex set of agreements that maintained the delicate balance of the demi-monde. The way Nightingale had gone all tight-lipped when Tyburn had suggested it had told me that it was very serious indeed. (Yeah, it was Lady Ty’s idea. She thought it was fucking hilarious.) But we were short on other candidates for Nightingale’s hand and it wasn’t like I’d been planning on getting married to anyone else any time soon, so, you know.
On the face of it, volunteering to marry Nightingale wasn’t the craziest thing I’d done for the job. By my rough ranking it might not even crack the top five; it didn't involve any imminent danger of death. Handing myself over to the fairy Queen in Herefordshire had definitely ranked higher, for starters. But I’d been trusting Nightingale to save me from that one, and this one was me saving Nightingale. He’d tried to argue me out of it, very politely, on all the obvious grounds. I’d told him I would be happy to cede the honour if he explained how he was going to get out of this otherwise. When he hadn’t given me any alternatives, I’d told him in that case he could learn to like it, because he could definitely do worse. The fact that he’d agreed with me on the last had been weirder than the rest of it put together.
“Peter,” Nightingale said quietly. “The legalities are irrelevant. If it wasn’t meaningful there wouldn’t be any point doing it. And -”
“No, no, I got it,” I interrupted. “Oaths, words, all the rest of it.” I knew the power of a promise in the world of magic, the meaning of an oath. I wasn’t under any illusions as to how – well – married we were going to be. “I just mean that it won’t give the DPS an opportunity to have conniptions.”
“A small blessing, certainly,” Nightingale allowed.
Obviously it couldn’t be CoE, but luckily for us, the god of the River Thames had been a priest before he’d ascended to the river, or descended to it, whichever one. The fact that he’d been a priest of a religion which was no longer extant apparently wasn’t relevant for our purposes; he’d presided over weddings then and he could do so now. Which was why we were here, in a muddy field west of London, it being the time of year Father Thames returned to his source. Getting married.
If Lesley were here she would have been laughing herself sick. But I had a funny suspicion Beverley would take notes for her, possibly even pictures. I could tell Bev thought it was just about as funny as Ty did, but her position as my only ex-girlfriend attendant at the event meant she had to pretend to be supportive.
There were more people there than I’d expected, but I wasn’t really paying any attention to them, or even the mud. I nearly ruined my best shoes, but I didn’t notice that until a lot later. Of course I had my best shoes on, and my best suit, too, the court-appearances-and-funerals one; what else was I going to wear to be married? I’d half-expected Nightingale to go for the navy-blue evening jacket and regimental tie, but he’d chosen the grey pinstripe instead; more appropriate for an afternoon wedding, of course.
Father Thames directed us to take each other’s hands. The ceremony was in Latin, not the Brittonic I'd heard he and Nightingale speak the first time I'd met him. (Or at least I thought it was what modern linguists would call Brittonic, when I'd looked up pre-Roman British languages; I had no idea what he'd call it. I should ask.) Good thing too - I’d been throwing myself at Latin long enough for some of it to stick, so I knew what I was saying, which is always a good thing when you're making promises. I’d figured that Father Thames would have to make it up as he went along, given our respective genders, but he’d laughed and said that this wouldn’t be the first time he’d married two men. Which, fair enough; the Romans had bothered to specifically make same-sex marriage illegal in the fourth century AD, and there wouldn’t be much point making a law against something nobody was doing anyway.
Wedding rings weren’t a Roman custom, or Romano-British, particularly not for men; I knew that much. But apparently someone – my money was on Lady Ty – had decided they should make an appearance, because they were produced at the end of the whole thing. Just boring gold bands, but it made the whole thing seem really real, in a way it hadn’t up until that point. I got Nightingale’s on without too much fuss; he had nice hands, I thought distantly, neatly-trimmed nails and a lot more muscle and callus than you’d expect from the rest of him. Probably all that staff-forging stuff. He fumbled my ring slightly, but managed not to drop it. It felt – like a bit of metal, on my hand, warm from his.
I didn’t catch what Father Thames said next, being a bit distracted by the rings, but I was pretty sure I knew how it was supposed to go. So I leaned across – Nightingale was so close to my height, all I had to do was incline my head a little - and kissed him. He met me half-way.
We were still holding each others’ hands, and I felt Nightingale’s tighten on mine, the rings on our left hands biting with the pressure. I’d meant to keep it brief, ceremonial – this whole thing was ceremonial, wasn’t it, in the most literal way – but it ended up lingering longer than I’d intended. Nothing uncouth, no tongue, just – the drag of his lower lip as we broke apart, phantom pressure even afterwards. There was clapping from the small crowd – mostly Rivers, of course – and it wasn’t even mocking, except on Lady Ty’s part, I’m sure, but I barely heard it. We were clutching hands so tightly it hurt. There was surprise in his grey eyes, and – curiosity? I wondered what my face looked like. All I could think was, can we do that again?, but of course we were going to have to, weren’t we. Later. This might be ceremonial but it was meaningful, as Nightingale had pointed out, and when you got back far enough there was only one thing that made marriages really meaningful and the kiss was just the polite public version of it.
“Hey, we did it,” I said, and Nightingale smiled at me, tentative.
“We’ve done more difficult things, you must admit.”
“Congratulations,” said Beverley, and threw her arms around both of us; I wasn’t half as surprised as Nightingale was. Then we got the same from nearly every River who’d shown up – minus the hugging from most of them, thank god – and finally Father and Mama Thames gave us their benign nods. Lady Ty just hung back the whole time, looking like the cat that had got the canary. I suspect she thought of this as her revenge on me for blowing up that fountain. How she'd known I'd step into the breach when she'd brought it up, I didn't dare contemplate.
Since this had been a very last-minute thing, what with the emergency nature of it, there wasn’t a party planned. Although Isis made me promise – not on my mother’s life, but near enough – that we’d celebrate at the Spring Court in a couple of weeks. I really, really hoped that my dad’s band wasn’t booked to play a gig again, because I was going to need a lot longer than that to figure out how to explain this to my parents. They’d met Nightingale and I thought they liked him but this was going to be a surprise, to put it mildly.
Then I realised I was thinking about this like it was – like it meant – like I’d meant all the things I’d just said. Which. I had to, didn’t I? For there to be any point to this. I just hadn’t expected to.
Lady Ty cornered us just as we were about to make our escape.
“I filled it out for you,” she said, handing Nightingale a manila folder full of paperwork. “Call it a wedding present. You still need to sign it and hand it in. Oxley and I will be seeing you at the Registry Office on -” She checked her smartwatch. Just because some people could afford to wear electronics without worrying about them blowing up. “The third of April.”
“That long?” asked Nightingale, glancing warily at the folder.
“They changed the waiting period to twenty-nine days a couple of years back,” she said. “Don’t worry – I’ll handle the Commissioner.”
“Why are you doing this?” I had to ask.
Tyburn pursed her lips. “Well, believe it or not, should the two of you fail to continue in your current positions – the alternatives are worse. And this was a vulnerability that had to be remedied.” Then she smiled. “I wouldn’t worry. A few long-standing bets just came due; quite a lot of people are going to find this rather…satisfying.”
Then she left.
“Did she just imply people were betting on us…” I wasn’t sure. “Getting married? Getting together? Whatever?”
“I’d say she did more than imply it,” said Nightingale. He looked down at the folder. “And…I do hope she has quite as much influence with the Commissioner as she believes. Else the DPS are going to have conniptions.”
I took it off him and had a look; it was an application for notice of intent to be married, for Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale. Oh god. She’d even included certified copies of our birth certificates, as the second form of identification required - how had she got her hands on those? Nightingale’s birth certificate was entirely fictional, of course, to match the date on his driver’s licence that alleged he was barely over a decade my senior, rather than almost nine decades older. I wondered how that affected the legality of the whole thing. Probably it didn’t. Thoughtfully, Lady Ty had included a cheque for the notice fee. I supposed that was the wedding present.
“Oh, well,” I said, closing the folder. “Too late to back out now anyway.” I looked at Nightingale; he was still looking a little distracted. “Are you all right to drive?”
“I’m fine,” he said severely.
“Just checking,” I said. “You know I only married you for the car, right?”
The look that got me told me that he really was okay. And also exactly how far being married was going to get me with my campaign to drive the Jag more often, which was to say: nowhere. But then, I’d expected that.
We dropped the paperwork off at the local registry office on our way back, because if we didn’t show up on the third Ty and Oxley would probably come and find us and that was best avoided. The clerk was alarmingly effusive about it and didn’t even ask about the rings; we probably could have and maybe should have taken them off, but I didn’t want to just yet, and apparently neither did Nightingale.
We could have gone straight back to the Folly, but that would have meant – and I didn’t know how to start on that; I kept looking at him, at his mouth, and thinking, I know how to do this, just let me kiss him again and it’ll be okay from there. Except this was still Nightingale, and I didn’t know how to go about just kissing him. Even though he was now my officially if not quite yet legally wedded husband.
I wondered if this was how the kind of people who waited until their wedding day to so much as kiss their spouse felt, and decided that they were even more incomprehensible than I’d previously imagined. Who’d put themselves through this deliberately?
“How would you feel about dinner out?” Nightingale said, as he started the car, glancing at me and then away again like he didn’t know how to do this, either. It was early for dinner – not even six o’clock – but that was fine by me. So we ended up at a gastropub-type place just a few blocks from the Folly. We’d never been there before. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, the two of us in our good suits and slightly muddy shoes and, well, the wedding rings, but it was just like any other time we’d been out to eat recently, really. And that was actually more disturbing, because did that mean people had been assuming we were a couple the whole time and I’d never noticed?
The food was good, I think, but I couldn’t tell you what I ate or what Nightingale did. I figured I was allowed one drink and ordered a glass of sparkling, because what the hell, it was traditional, right? Then I immediately felt stupid, but Nightingale followed suit, and when I looked over he smiled at me, just a whisper of a thing, and I smiled back. I couldn’t help it.
I had no idea what I was doing.
“Want to drink to something?” I said when it arrived.
“How about…” Nightingale picked up his glass. “To new ways of doing things.”
“New ways of doing things,” I echoed, and we toasted and drank. I met his eyes as we did, and suddenly I sort of wished we’d skipped eating and just gone home, but – of course then Molly would have been most upset if we hadn’t shown up for dinner, so. We’d have been waiting either way.
So we sat there and made small talk, and I tried not to stare at him too much, or his ring, or mine. Like I said – I couldn’t tell you what we ate. My attention really wasn’t on it.
When we got back to the Folly, we parked the Jag in the garage and got out, and all the protection of normalcy we’d built up over dinner – because that was normal, we’d eaten out together, that wasn’t weird – drained away, just like that.
“So,” said Nightingale. “You know, Peter, we don’t have to – not right away -”
And that was as much as I could take; so I just kissed him, there in the garage, because it couldn’t possibly be any more awkward than trying to talk. I tried to be a bit polite about it, but apparently that was the only cue he needed, because it got pretty serious pretty quickly. But as tempting as it was – and, trust me, it was tempting – I definitely wasn’t going to have sex with him for the first time in the garage, so when we paused for a breather I grabbed his hand and headed for the main building.
I didn’t even realise I’d thought for the first time until about a week later, when I'd stopped actively panicking.
“Where exactly are we going?” asked Nightingale.
“Somewhere with a bed,” I said. “Not like we don’t have options in that regard.”
“Mine’s a little more roomy,” Nightingale said, which was true; I’d had to help him once or twice when he’d come home after being shot, so I’d seen it. You could possibly fit two tall guys in mine but it wasn’t designed for it.
“Planning on needing the space, were you?” I said before I thought better of it, and I got a look up and down that was making me reconsider the waiting-for-a-bed policy, I’m not going to lie.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said, and – he sounded really sexy after being kissed breathless. I was doomed. This was Lady Ty’s revenge after all.
We made it to his bedroom without running into Molly, of all small mercies, but I sort of lost my nerve when we got there, and let go of his hand. I don’t know why. So far today I’d married him, kissed him, been on what qualified as an actual date, kissed him some more, and now the sight of his bedroom door was what freaked me out?
“All right, Peter?” he asked, pushing the door open.
“I think I’d rather be married to you than anyone else I know, sir,” I said, which was not at all anything I’d meant to say. It just – came out.
“Likewise,” he said, and I rather thought he meant it, too. Oh. “Although – if you wouldn’t mind not calling me that, right now?”
I took a breath, and stepped up close again, there on the threshold; I could feel the heat of his body from there and that wasn’t confusing at all, that was telling me one thing and it was very simple.
“Want to go to bed, Thomas?” I said in his ear, and kissed the side of his neck, then his jaw, then round to his mouth.
“Yes, please,” he said against my mouth, because he’s that well-brought-up. Although his hands weren’t being very well-brought-up just then; but I suppose neither were mine.
It all went pretty well from there. I won’t say there wasn’t the awkward moment or two, because how could there not be, under the circumstances. Although most of it was the regular awkwardness of when you’ve been waiting for this, for someone, for a while, and you’re desperate for it to be good, to not disappoint them. And it takes a bit for both of you to relax, stop thinking about it too hard. By the time we’d gotten our clothes off we were past that stage.
But there was also this moment, a ways in, when we were naked and tangled up in each other and I traced a hand over the scar from when he'd been shot in Covent Garden, five years ago. I wasn't much for thinking at that point, neither of us were, but I remembered suddenly the first time I'd seen him and what I'd thought and - well, here we were, weren't we? It was just that if I'd ever envisioned this, and I wasn't saying I had, I definitely hadn't expected a wedding to be involved. He had his eyes closed, right at that moment, and his neck arched back, and I wanted - a lot of things. Mostly Nightingale, just like this. I knew I was smiling like a bit of an idiot and I didn't know how to stop, even when his eyelids fluttered open and he saw me, which left me feeling more naked than anything else so far. So I set about kissing him some more, along with the rest, and all the thinking went away for a long and pleasant while.
Anyway. It was a good thing we’d picked the larger bed.
The next morning I woke up next to Thomas Nightingale - my husband. Of all the totally unexpected things. I wondered if he’d want me to move my stuff down here. I wondered how this was supposed to work, any of it. I wondered who exactly had been betting on us and whether they’d collect for this. I wondered which way Seawoll had bet, if he’d bet at all. I wondered if this really had been the only solution or whether Lady Ty just found the whole thing too amusing to let it go. I wondered at what point it had technically counted as consummated. We’d tried to be thorough. Possibly I’d pulled a couple of muscles. I didn’t really care.
Then Nightingale opened his eyes, and I stopped wondering much at all, except whether he’d mind getting kissed good morning. But when his eyes focused on me he blinked, like he’d forgotten, and then smiled, sort of unbelievingly. So I put it to the practical test, and it turned out he didn’t mind at all.
I decided that, however it had come about, and whatever it might turn out to mean, maybe I could get used to this being married thing after all.