My dad once told me - very much, I should add, against my will, and while I was sitting with my hands clapped over my ears going ‘lalala’ and trying desperately to drown out his voice — about the first time he and my mother had sex. He called it ‘the consummation of our love’ and I believe at one point he kissed his fingertips while he was describing some aspect of the evening in question. I’ve blocked that part out as best I could. But apparently the catalyst was my dad getting into a fight with some arseholes over my mum’s honour, and them running out of a club at two in the morning with my dad’s trumpet in one hand and my mum’s purse in another and adrenaline pumping away (so to speak). Dad said that it wasn’t the fight that was the important bit, though; it was that they ran away together, laughing as they ducked through alleyways and up back streets until the safety of my father’s dingy flat and Murphy bed. After that — like I said, I’ve blocked it out.
But the point is that even while trying not to hear, I’d been thinking that that was never how it happened with me. I’d never gone off with someone after some death-defying stunt or some heart-pounding escape. True, I still have fond memories of the first time I kissed Beverley, after getting nearly burned alive and then nearly drowned. But if you counted that, you’d probably have to count the time me and Nightingale—
Well, Nightingale and I. And afterward he told me that it might never’ve happened if I hadn’t done so well on the Met’s advanced driving course.
I’ve heard Nightingale describe it three separate times now. Once to Dr. Walid, at a pub where we were sharing a companionable pint (me), a half (Nightingale), and a virgin daiquiri (Dr. Walid) after a case that we’d thought involved the Faceless Man but in fact lead to an embarassing discovery of some police-assisted dogging in Slough. Once to Lesley, on that horrible night on top of Tower Bridge when we were blurting out anything and everything that came into our heads, knowing the only thing that could work was the one thing we couldn’t tell her. And once to my actual, physical mum’s actual, physical face, out of what I can only assume was a late-onset death wish on Nightingale’s part. In each telling he always makes me out as the instigator — I think he used the word ‘aggressor’ with my mum, which is a bit much.
I’ve only gotten to tell the story once, and apparently my version was really confusing. I say ‘apparently’ because I honestly don’t remember it; Sahra and Jaget had gotten me and Abigail phenomenally drunk in celebration of her graduation. They’d meant to just get her drunk, but apparently Nightingale had wandered away and ‘without him as a minder,’ was Jaget’s hurtful description, I’d gone off the deep end. Afterward, Abigail spent a few days not speaking to me, which is how I’d twigged that I’d said something stupid and, later, that the stupid thing I’d said had hurt her feelings. Which lead to an even later twiggage that she’d been nursing a crush on either me or Nightingale. Both prospects were horrifying, but she’s started dating a very nice dentist and so far she hasn’t murdered either one of us in our sleep. So that’s a turn up for the books.
Sahra and Jaget have taken to texting or emailing me specs of the interior of a Jaguar Mark 2 followed by a long string of question marks. It makes me wish I had an answer for them. But more than that it makes me wish I had better friends.
Complete and without embellishment, told from an objective standpoint, it goes like this: I’d been back in London for several weeks following my jaunt into the countryside and I’d finally, finally gotten a spot on the advanced driving course. I’d been thwarted for the better part of a year — ever since Nightingale had dictated that I couldn’t drive the Jag solo without written confirmation (from someone qualified) that I wouldn’t wreck it the first time some emergency required me going blues and twos down Newgate. Presumably he wanted to turn someone else into a toad in the event I got into an accident. Apprentices are hard to come by, I’ve been told.
The course itself was a two-week boot camp, more or less, with a series of cars that weren’t nearly as exciting to drive as the Jag and an instructor named Sergeant Keel who had a limp and a squint and reminded me more of a pirate than I thought I should mention aloud. He handled cars so nimbly that he could probably drive one into the local Tesco, manoeuvre his way through the aisles, and pay for his groceries without ever having to beep anyone out of his way. I wouldn’t say it was a pleasure, exactly, to learn from him, but it was certainly a privilege.
There’s no graduation ceremony for the driving course, which I call a disappointment, but Nightingale still turned up to take me home. ‘I’ve got the Asbo,’ I greeted him in the parking lot. Ours is a relationship built on starting conversations without a lot of preamble.
‘I’m aware,’ he said, twirling the keys to the Jaguar around his fingers. ‘I thought I’d give you the chance to drive the Jaguar back to the Folly unchaperoned. Provided you have your qualifying certificate,’ he added, since I probably looked like a kid at Christmas right about then.
So we conducted a solemn exchange of hostages; my certification (and keys to the Asbo) in exchange for the Jaguar. I even saluted, which got me a nice eye-roll. ‘Any tips on getting back safely, sir?’ I asked as I opened the door.
‘The A41 looked slow going south from here to Regent’s Park,’ he said, looking not at me but at the Asbo. He pulled a face. ‘Didn’t they let you wash it off after you’d gone through the skidpan?’
‘I think it adds character,’ I said. ‘So what do you reckon, skip up to the A1 and get off at Fortress?’
That got his attention, but all he said was ‘Stay clear of Eversholt,’ and off he went.
The Jaguar Mark 2 came out in a few different iterations before its name change in ’67; trust Nightingale to get the 3.8 litre engine, the one that can officially hit a top speed of 120 (and can unofficially slam you into your seat like you’re bloody Neil Armstrong). I spent a very enjoyable fifteen minutes not-quite-tailgating Nightingale, but even from a car-length away I could tell from the line of his shoulders that he was suffering enough as it was. I put him out of his misery and blew past him, waving cheerily with the windows down and ‘Born This Way’ blasting. Sometimes you have to take pleasures as they come.
But I still didn’t beat him home. I’d lost track of him somewhere around Camden and at that point you really need to focus on your driving rather than sending up your boss, so it was a shock to drive through the gate and see the Asbo parked in its regular spot. I’d say I suspected witchcraft, but when you’re apprentice to an actual wizard you realise that that sort of thing can sound offensive.
‘Not terribly impressive,’ Nightingale said from the doorway to the Folly, where he’d obviously been waiting for the express purpose of gloating. He likes to give the impression of someone who powers down in a cupboard at the end of the day, but live with someone for eighteen months and you learn that nobody’s actually a robot. So I knew about his aversion to nature programs and his shameful love of Hula Hoops, the way he didn’t like to talk to anyone until he’d had at least a half a cup of tea in the mornings and the sheer joy he took in tormenting his apprentices. ‘I have to say I expected better of the advanced driver's course.’
A plan sprung into my head, fully formed, as though it had been waiting for the perfect convergence of my newfound knowledge, the fact that the Folly’s rear gate opens onto a nice little alley, and the Jaguar Mark 2. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint, sir,’ I said and tossed him the keys. “I’ll try better in the future.”
He might’ve gotten suspicious at that, but I’ve learned how to bide my time.
I got my chance almost three weeks later; we were coming back home after a long day interviewing the grandchildren of one Mr. Nolfi, who not only hadn’t honoured the magician’s club secret pact him and me and Abigail had made this summer but had excitedly phoned us up that morning letting us know that he had several ‘very promising young students’ and would we like to meet them?
We didn’t put the sirens on, but I could tell Nightingale really wanted to. ‘I thought you said he wouldn’t tell anyone,’ he grumbled as we made our way through the rain and sleet that is London in October.
‘I said he promised he wouldn’t tell anyone, sir,’ I pointed out. ‘It’s not like we’ve got a way to put him under some kind of magical oath.’ I looked over to where he was clenching the wheel so hard it was probably going to leave dents. ‘Do we?’
‘Alas,’ Nightingale muttered, ‘No.’
The very promising young students turned out to be Gabriella, the little girl whose birthday party had erupted — literally — in June, along with her older sister Mary and one of their cousins named Tom. They were enthusiastic and cheerful and had no idea just how many aneurisms Nightingale was having as he watched them float little balls of light around the room.
Despite what he’d said, the oath Nightingale made them swear sounded pretty serious, and Gabriella started crying about the mean man with the ugly shoes spoiling their fun. He glared at her, but I could tell it cut him deep.
As we left, I said, ‘So was it the ‘mean man’ or the ‘ugly shoes’ that hurt the worst, sir?’
‘This is intolerable,’ Nightingale huffed. ‘Back in the day we’d had options for this sort of — ridiculousness.’
‘We could always enrol them,’ I said.
Just for that he made me drive back, presumably so he could focus on arguing while I’d have to divide my attention. ‘We have neither the time nor the resources to start teaching anybody anything,’ he said, ‘And any students under our care would be all the more vulnerable, with the Faceless Man still wreaking havoc.’
Despite the debate I was heartened to hear him using ‘we’ in this context, considering the last time it had come up. ‘They’re going to be vulnerable anyway, won’t they? And they might not stop with lux. We’re going to have to be involved one way or another. Like with Abigail.’
‘Or Lesley,’ he replied, which was a fair point.
‘We don’t need to install the whole Nofli family in the Folly,’ I said. ‘Just give them some reading material, talk to them once a month. Make sure whatever it is they’re doing isn’t going to blow up the neighbourhood or get on Youtube.’ There was a brief truce while I explained Youtube. ‘I’m not saying that we reopen Casterbrook, sir. Just… consider the possibility that one day we might need to. Because it doesn’t look like any of this is going away.’
That stopped him talking for a while, and I looked over to see Nightingale looking equal parts intrigued and horrified. ‘You know, I don’t think it ever quite sank in until now,’ he said slowly, ‘That if Newtonian magic is to continue past our lifetimes, there may come a time in which I will have to actually request the assistance of some of these Little Crocodiles we’re hunting down.’
‘What, as professors?’ I asked. ‘A school full of Professor Snapes?’
Beverley and I had tricked Nightingale into watching ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ last month, so instead of looking blank, Nightingale nodded thoughtfully. ‘Not a pleasant thought.’
‘Probably best if you just add on a couple of apprentices from the IOE,’ I said. ‘Ready-made magic teachers.’
Nightingale frowned. ‘In this scenario, am I Dumbledore?’
I thought about it. A wise but strange old wizard who worked in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. ‘Unless you want to be Professor Mcgonagall.’
We got tangled in some construction crossing the river and it took almost an hour to get the last few kilometres home; our conversation devolved into Nightingale making pointed remarks about the efficacy of my advanced driver’s training. Before that I’d almost forgotten about my cunning plan, but fortunately just as Nightingale was saying something glib about evasive driving techniques and how they pertained to not getting stuck in traffic jams — never mind that London is, at the best of times, essentially one large traffic jam — the alley leading right to the Folly’s gate appeared at my left like a beacon of hope.
‘You’re so right, sir,’ I said as I turned, and proceeded to floor it.
It’s a one-way alley, which in London means wide enough for half a donkey cart and which also means that people park on one side and expect other drivers to somehow squeeze past, possibly on two wheels. Going down it at any kind of speed is not what you’d call prudent. But either the gods of parking were in my favour or whatever Nightingale was doing moved them out of the way, because I got her up to 50 mph without so much as a cracked side view mirror.
‘Peter,’ said Nightingale, in what I’m betting he thought was a calm tone but sounded on the knife-edge of panic, ‘Peter, perhaps you should consider slowing—‘
‘Don’t worry about it, boss,’ I said. I’d already hit the remote for the gates — something I’d installed last year after almost freezing my hands onto the iron mid-January — and they’d opened just enough for us to sail across the intersection and roar into the courtyard. I flicked the wheel to the right before jerking left as I bunged the clutch and brought her around, sweet as anything Sergeant Keel had shown us. There’s just enough space in the yard for this to be a terrible idea instead of a suicidal one, but later on I did find a scratch on the rear bumper which I couldn’t definitively deny responsibility for.
The force of the turn slammed Nightingale against my shoulder — and I could hear his jaw clench over the sound of the wheels — before pushing us both back the opposite way as the Jag screeched to a stop right in the middle of the coach house’s garage, the Asbo parked well to the right (where I’d made sure to park it this morning). I cut the engine and there wasn’t a sound except for the gate shutting with a forlorn creak and the Jag ticking peacefully as it cooled down and Nightingale, breathing heavily. For a minute I couldn’t figure out why my face was hurting: I was grinning so wide that my cheeks were sore.
‘I hope this demonstrates, sir,’ I said, still breathless myself, ‘That I’ve managed to pass the advanced driver’s course to the satisfaction of my instructors.’ I’ve got a lot of good qualities, or at least I don’t have a lot of really objectionable vices, but I’m definitely not one to let go of a grudge in a hurry.
He was still looking a bit rattled, which was a victory all by itself. ‘Indeed. Well done,’ he said, and fumbled for the seatbelt with what I thought was a kind of insulting desperation to be out of the car. I was about to say something like ‘fancy another go around the block’ when I looked down and saw just why he was in such a hurry to get out.
Those suits of his are tailor-made, beautifully cut and meticulously maintained, but they don’t do much in the way of discretion. If you’ve got an erection in those trousers, everyone is going to know about it. For a second — just a second, because my response time has gotten a lot better since working at the Folly — I had no idea what to do.
There are a lot of different ways this can go, if you ever find yourself in this position (so to speak). The first, favourite, and probably objectively best one is to pretend you didn’t see anything and repress everything. Tried and true method of avoidance, that one, and I’d like to think we English have perfected it over the centuries. Another option is to say something about how you’re flattered but just not that sort of guy, no offence. Another one — and thankfully not one I have direct experience with — is an instinctive punch, preferably to the face but the stomach’s also popular. Homophobes rarely go for the genitals. I’ve got a hypothesis that they’re worried any hands near that area might get misconstrued.
There is, of course, the fourth option, which is a spectacularly bad idea if the other guy is a) a superior officer b) your teacher c) so much older than you that it’s a May-December-of-the-following-year sort of affair. It’s reckless, shortsighted, and I’d highly recommend it.
I made sure to get my own seatbelt off before putting my hand over his, the one that was pawing at the buckle, and saying, ‘Is my driving really that good, or are you just happy to see me?’ I pitched it low enough so that the grin (which was stillplastered all over my face) wouldn’t give him the wrong idea — or the right idea, really. I should mention that at this point I was still pretty high on adrenaline myself, and more than half-hard in my jeans. I leaned toward him and waited.
For what, I wasn’t sure. Nightingale was as human as anyone I’d met, but he hadn’t given any indication of — certainly he’d never gone out on a date while I’d — and even though I’d never directly — I’d just assumed he wasn’t interested.
There’s a lot that I’ve been wrong about in my life, but I have to say I’ve never enjoyed being wrong more.
He didn’t bother with his seatbelt, just yanked me half-into his lap. Those bucket seats don’t recline, so there wasn’t a lot of room to do anything more scandalous than some hopeful groping while trying not to knee each other in the groin. But I didn’t mind, because it turns out kissing Nightingale was one of those things I enjoyed so much I started missing all the times I hadn’t been doing it. He was demanding — typical — and hungry and I kept thinking the word ‘lush’ in the back of my head. This must be what it’s like to fly first class, is something I did not say out loud. Thank God.
I’d managed to successfully unbuckle him — both the seatbelt and his brown leather belt — and had made a good start on his trousers when he unstuck his mouth from mine and said something that sounded disturbingly like ‘wait.’
Which I did, because contrary to what everyone says about me I was raised a gentleman. But I wasn’t about to go anywhere without a good reason — and not one of those ‘professional standards’ speeches, as appliciable as they might be. So I compromised by getting a slightly better grip on the lapel of his jacket and staying put. ‘Yes, sir?’
He winced at that. ‘I didn’t intend — it’s important that you understand that I had no intention of—‘ he waved his hand around vaguely and banged it into the window.
I grabbed at it before he could do any more damage to himself. ‘I didn’t think you had,’ I told him. ‘For one thing, your seduction technique could use a lot of work.’
His outraged expression made me want to kiss him again, but I manfully resisted. When he saw I was smiling, he huffed. ‘This is hardly the place I would have chosen, had I been aiming to seduce you in the first place.’
‘So you really are just happy to see me?’ I said, sliding my hand off his jacket and down.
‘I’m always happy to see you,’ he said, too reflexive to be anything but a confession, and then I really did have to kiss him, squeezing his cock just a little too hard, a warning and a promise both. He groaned into my mouth, and the hand that wasn’t holding mine grabbed at my hair.
‘You’re right though,’ I said after another minute or so, ‘About the location.’
‘The door to the Folly is barely ten feet away.’
‘Do you want to explain to Molly what I’m planning to do to you?’ I asked, helping my argument along with another squeeze. He squirmed delightfully. ‘The tech cave’s even closer than that.’
‘I am absolutely not allowing you to do anything to me in the ‘tech cave,’’ he said, though to his credit he didn’t actually use his fingers to indicate inverted commas.
Life is all about making quick decisions, so I scrambled over the front seats. The Jag doesn’t have such quaint modern things such as headrests, which is inconvenient if we ever get into an accident and want to prevent our necks from snapping like twigs but handy when it comes to gaining quick access to the backseat. ‘Tada,’ I clarified, when he twisted around to stare at me.
Sadly, he didn’t follow my example. Instead he got out of the car, and I was about to protest when the backseat door jerked open and he climbed in, looking equal parts cross and anticipatory. I’m guessing he thought he’d get a chance to be on top but instead I grabbed him and got him pinned nicely, sprawling out on top of him with our legs dangling out the open door.
‘That was rather peremptory,’ he observed, but it didn’t sound like a complaint, if the way he’d grabbed a fistful of my shirt was any indication.
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘That’s how I like it.’ I finally got his trousers open — he was wearing nothing underneath, which made me reevaluate everything I’d ever known previously about the workings of the entire universe — and pulled his cock out, hot and slick in my hand. I dug my thumb in just under the head, rubbing hard as his hips jerked under mine. ‘This is how I like it, too,’ I said in his ear, and got nicely rewarded with another moan. ‘Is this how you like it?’
‘Fuck,’ he gasped, which made my cock twitch all on its own. Swearing had come pretty naturally to the boys in World War II, I’d learned, but the closest I’d ever heard Nightingale come was the time Lesley had to pay me ten quid because I got him to say the word ‘bootylicious.’
‘What was that?’ I asked, trying for polite but probably landing somewhere closer to git. ‘I didn’t quite hear you, sir.’
‘Fuck, Peter,’ and he grabbed me by the back of the neck and kissed me. I’m pretty sure I made some undignified noises at that point myself, but fortunately getting kissed tends to muffle that kind of thing. Besides, it’s hard to worry about how you sound when someone is biting at your lower lip. I was wound so tight I thought I might break, jeans still buttoned and my cock hot and insistent against Nightingale’s hip, but I wanted to see this more. It’s not every day you get to watch your boss come apart at the seams.
I pulled away and propped myself up on my elbow, my other hand still wrapped around his cock. He pushed into it and I tightened my grip, looking down to watch him fucking my hand, wet and obscene and better than I’d ever imagined. There was some noise against my ear and I realised it was Nightingale, still swearing in between breaths. If he kept that up I was going to come in my jeans and that was not part of my plan, so this time I kissed him.
He made a high, begging sort of noise against my mouth and jerked into my hand, coming like it had been torn out of him, his hands still bunched in my shirt and wrapped around my neck. I wanted to climb inside him in that moment, make him sound like that all the time, keep him there just for me. I couldn’t stop touching him, even while he was shivering through the aftershocks. He was blinking, dazed, his chest heaving, and I wanted — everything.
At last he seemed to refocus, looking up at me, and for a second I worried that he was going to scramble out of the backseat and leave me here. But then he grinned, an actual Nightingale special, and muttered something under his breath that made my jeans unbutton themselves.
‘See, why can’t you ever teach me something useful like—‘ I complained, or started to, but he’d already shoved my jeans and my briefs down (with his hands, which might’ve been disappointing in the circumstances but really, really wasn’t) and grabbed my arse, pulling me up and against him, my cock sliding against his. ‘Aren’t you,’ I said, or maybe I mumbled it against his shoulder, because at this point I wasn’t able to put words together too well.
‘Believe me, Peter,’ he said, ‘I am.’ And I could feel him actually getting hard again, hot and still wet and so good. I’d like to think it’s a mark of my scientific mind that even in the state I was in, I was tempted to ask if he’d found his refractory period was somehow linked with his backward ageing thing. But I’m trying to get better at prioritising.
‘Asking you,’ I managed, ‘About this later.’
‘I’m sure we’ll have any number of conversations,’ he said, and it really wasn’t fair that apparently the second time around he was able to string entire sentences together, complete with multisyllabic words. In protest, I bit at his neck just under his jaw, where those collars weren’t going to do a thing to hide it. He arched into it, though, baring his neck and who am I to resist an invitation like that? I could feel his throat working under my mouth and the rasp of stubble on my lips and that was that.
I had a vague sense that he’d come too (again, and I decided that I wasn’t going to drop this until we were at least even on the orgasm-front) because there was quite a lot of mess, but I was way too high on endorphins to care. I wasn’t exactly comfortable — even with the door open, it’s cramped in the backseat of a Jag — but I really didn’t feel like moving. Nightingale was stroking his long fingers along the back of my neck. In a few minutes we’d have to get up and stumble into the Folly and have the world’s most awkward conversation with Molly, who would either kill me on the spot or just wave Toby’s leash at me. Neither possibility appealed. Better to stay here just a bit longer.
‘I’m not entirely sure,’ Nightingale said after a few minutes, ‘What this was supposed to demonstrate, exactly. But consider me convinced. Although I could still argue that there are more convenient locales—‘
I laughed into his shoulder and shut him up as best I could.