Chapter 1: Prologue
“The least you could do is try it.”
Greg made a face and stuffed a piece of fried fish in his mouth — Britain’s best, in his opinion. “I’d rather choke on a fishbone,” he answered around his food.
Iain rolled his eyes and picked up a piece of sushi — his personal favourite. He loved it. He loved all Asian food, actually — the more obscure, the better. But as far as Greg was concerned, it reeked, and it needed a lot more time in the pan before he’d have anything to do with it.
The old DI’s stubbornness was unbelievable.
“So you’re not even going to give it a chance?” Iain asked, leaning back into the sofa and taking a bite.
“It’s made with weeds.”
Iain fought back the urge to stick one of the chopsticks through his temple. “I’ll stop badgering you if you take one bite.”
“Are you my mum now? What is this?”
“You don’t even know what it tastes like!”
Greg looked up from his own fish and chips and stared. Many a lesser man had buckled under the weight of that “Are you bloody joking?” gaze — but Iain, through personal experience and sheer willpower — was made of sterner stuff. He stared bluntly back.
Greg reached out, grabbed a piece of sushi between two fingers and held it up to his mouth. “If this kills me, I’ll kill you.” He shoved it into his mouth.
“I don’t know where to beg—” But Greg was spitting the roll out before Iain could even finish. He couldn’t have possibly chewed, or even bitten down, before his mouth was open and his tongue was shovelling the offending mess right back out into his lap.
Iain stared in disgusted horror.
Greg, in turn, looked like he’d eaten dirt. He scraped his tongue against his teeth repeatedly as he reached for his beer — and promptly drained the bottle. “That was foul.”
Iain silently fumed. “Did it even touch your tongue?” He asked shortly.
“Thinking about getting a knife to cut it out, personally,” Greg answered sourly. And then he was back to stuffing his face with salty chips and fried cod.
And suddenly finding himself without much of an appetite, Iain sat quietly and chewed on the inside of his lip.
Greg was the first to speak up — but not until several minutes later, after he’d all but demolished his meal. “It’s made you sick, hasn’t it?” He joked.
“We’re never going to compromise on this, are we?”
“What’s to compromise?” Greg asked, wiping his mouth. Oh, the irony. “You eat weird shit that might kill you. I eat real food.”
Iain turned away and put his plate down on the coffee table. Greg didn’t know it, but the younger detective was silently trying to convince himself that he was overreacting — that this was just typical Greg behaviour — and that there was no reason to be so incredibly annoyed with such a silly comment.
But the more he thought about it, the more unhappy it made him.
He loved foreign food. He didn’t really care where it came from — Iain was willing to try anything at least once. When he and his detective sergeant travelled to New Mexico, he’d eaten a scorpion lollipop. It was bizarre, but it wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever tasted. That honour went to a French dish involving some poor animal’s brains.
But Greg — an ex-smoker with insanely nationalist taste buds — wouldn’t give non-British food the time of day unless Iain begged. And even then…
Iain wrinkled his nose. “And I don’t really care about football, but you’re weirdly obsessed with it,” he retorted disdainfully.
Greg snorted. “You’re a liar. Everybody loves football.”
“Everybody except me. Oh, and Sally… and Anderson. And Gregson, Dawes,” he kept going, ticking off other detectives on his fingers.
The humour slowly slipped out of Greg’s expression. “What’s your point, Iain?”
“That maybe we’re a little too different,” Iain answered, standing up. Greg didn’t follow — he kept his eyes focused on the place where Iain had been sitting as the other man walked away. “I’m going to the office.”
“It’s nearly eleven.”
Behind him, Iain shook his keys. “International MIT.” He did a lot of his work at home — or elsewhere in the world — but he could still get into the building when he needed to. He slipped into his shoes and pulled on his coat.
“Planning on coming back tonight?” Greg asked casually, reaching for the remote.
“Probably not,” Iain answered, walking out the door.
They both knew from his tone that he was seriously considering never coming back at all.
“Did you seriously fall asleep here?”
Dimmock groaned. He had done just that -- even if he had no idea where ‘here’ was. Probably the office, at his desk, as usual -- but there was alway the small chance that in his sleep (a very, very deep sleep), he’d been carted to the main lobby and put on show.
It wouldn’t have been the first time.
He lifted his head up slowly, groaning as a manila file folder came with him, plastered to his face. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he muttered hoarsely, as he peeled it away.
Sally snorted. “You look awful.” She wasn’t kidding. The ink from the case label had tattooed itself across Iain’s cheekbone as he slept. “You need to go home, and go to sleep.”
“I can’t.” Iain sat up and rubbed his eyes. They stung -- and he stopped very suddenly, wondering if he’d remembered to take his contacts out. He blinked twice and looked up at Sally.
Nothing but a fuzzy outline.
He looked back at his desk. Something that looked like a keyboard -- maybe a mug? That might have been a pen on the left and a stack of papers and evidence files near his inbox... when did he get an inbox? Christ, was that even his desk?
Sally would have laughed if it wasn’t so terribly sad. Iain had always been a champ at the puppy eyes thing -- better than Greg without even trying, and that said something. She put her coffee down on his desk and picked up his glasses from beside his laptop. “Look at me,” she instructed.
Iain looked up again. “I can’t find my--” Sally slid them on for him before he could finish his sentence. And just like that, the world around him became clear -- and painfully bright -- but at least he was at his desk where he’d hoped he might be. “Thank you,” he mumbled quietly.
Sally picked up her coffee again. She’d have offered Iain some, but coffee was sacred. “What are you working on? I thought you wrapped yesterday?”
“Yeah, I did, this is a...” Iain looked down at his work, just to double check. “It’s a cold case, just something Søren and I pull out when we have time.”
“Like at three in the morning.”
“And is there a reason you had a lot of time when normal people are sleeping? And don’t--” Iain closed his mouth quickly. “--do not give me a line about being abroad recently.”
He sighed and reconsidered his answer. “...can I sleep on your couch for a bit?”
Puppy eyes: activated.
“Why?” Sally repeated, more firmly. She was mostly immune. Mostly.
“I’m-- … I’m very tired.”
“I can see that,” she answered, sipping her coffee again. She wrinkled her nose -- it was getting cold.
Iain -- exhausted, a little sore, and very hungry -- was at the end of his rope. But he couldn’t tell her. As much as he’d have liked to, he didn’t know where he stood on the issue. He didn’t know what Greg thought. He didn’t even really remember how it had happened, or what had gone on, or anything.
Really, he just felt very stupid, and he wanted to go lie in bed for the rest of the day.
More than that, he wanted someone to tell him to stop being such a fucking child. He was thirty-two years old. He was a detective inspector at Scotland Yard. Everybody had their own little issues -- but sushi, really? He buried his face in his hands.
“That bad, huh?”
“You have no idea.”
“So are you going to go home?”
How he wanted to. “I can’t.”
Sally sighed. “Greg’s not in yet. Dane was for about half a minute, but he left again. No idea why.”
“He does that.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Should’ve asked him to bring back real coffee...” Real being Sally’s codeword for Starbucks.
“He never gets your drink order right...” Something the Dane did intentionally, Iain knew.
“But he pays for it.”
“Right.” Iain pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose. The lights and the smell of Sally’s coffee were both giving him a headache. Or maybe it was the thought of not wanting to go home -- either way, he felt like someone was slowly pushing a needle into his forehead. Maybe he hadn’t taken his contacts out? “Excuse me,” he muttered, standing up.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Sally called out as he retreated to the bathroom. Iain made a rude gesture with his hand and kept walking.
When he came back several minutes later (satisfied that the only thing behind his glasses were his corneas), there was a to-go cup waiting for him on his desk. His Danish detective sergeant, Søren Friis, was at his own desk, idly reading the morning paper.
But unlike almost everyone in the office, he rarely had anything to say. He calmly turned the page.
“Thanks,” Iain responded, sitting back down. Søren rustled the newspapers in acknowledgement. “Where’s Donovan? Surprised she didn’t--” As he looked up, he noticed the cold, lethal expression on Søren’s face. “Nevermind.”
“We will have to bury the body.”
Iain whipped around and leaned back, craning his head to get a look at Sally’s desk -- just to be sure the Dane was joking. She wasn’t there. Iain looked back at his sergeant -- eyes wide, and clearly horrified. Søren met his gaze -- his face now serenely blank. Iain could have heard his heart pounding if it hadn’t stopped altogether.
Two of the detective constables who sat near them collapsed into fits of laughter. Sally marched back into the office on Lestrade’s heels, and Iain’s shoulders slumped with relief.
Søren went back to his paper.
Lestrade didn’t spare him a glance as he walked straight to his office. Iain massaged his chest, silently wondering if the sudden onset of sharp pain was just his imagination, or if he was about to suffer a major coronary. Maybe it was the sushi.
As Sally shut the door behind her, Iain was grateful for one thing -- Greg absolutely never talked about his personal life when he was at the office. To Iain’s knowledge, the only time Greg had even moderately expressed himself in that regard was the kiss they’d shared at the Christmas party a year and a half ago. He looked to the back of the room, to the same place where he’d been standing when it had happened. Greg was a champion at professionalism in the workplace (ignoring his fondness for practical jokes, of course), and Iain -- well.
He used to be pretty bloody good at it. And then Greg Lestrade had happened.
Iain picked up his coffee and took a long, deep drink. It was more sugar and more caffeine than he usually cared for, but he’d learned over time that Søren knew what he needed a lot better than he did most of the time. The man was an excellent detective, and a perfect sergeant. He got things done, he didn’t let the British detectives push him around, and he was as meticulous with his work as Dimmock was. They were a good fit.
Iain covered his face with his hand. ‘A good fit’ echoed around in his head, with ‘a little too different’ filling in the diminuendo like a bad chorus.
He laughed quietly. This was a new level of bloody ridiculous behaviour. Luckily, there was an antidote -- and both of his partners, personal and professional, were already doing it. He put his own pathetically mopey attitude down to a lack of sleep, tipped back the rest of his coffee, and turned to Søren. They had work to do.
The hours dragged by, and Iain kept at the caffeine. Very rarely did anyone on their floor drink more cups per day than Sally -- even in terms of tea -- but somewhere around noon Iain left her in the dust. Around two o’clock, he began to suspect that it wasn’t even having an effect any more -- but it had become more ritualistic than strictly necessary, and he didn’t feel the need to stop. It wasn’t going to kill him -- Donovan had long since proven that.
At five, his co-workers gradually began the mass exodus. Mike Jones the intern was the first to vacate -- literally grabbing his coat and sliding out the door as soon as the second hand hand slid past twelve -- just to keep from making yet another fresh pot. Søren stuck around for a while -- they’d made a lot of progress. They’d done two conference calls -- one to Mexico City, and a second to Zurich -- denied a case from the Vatican, and boxed up a lot of old evidence. They’d even scheduled a weekend trip to Copenhagen two months in advance so they could meet with Søren’s team and talk the politics of dual-nationality crime-fighting units.
And then they wasted half an hour pretending to be superheroes.
The conversation ended when they realised that neither of them wanted to be the sidekick. Iain argued that technically Søren was already his sidekick -- and Søren gave Iain a look that quite plainly stated that he would murder Iain if necessary, and knew exactly what to do with the body, should anyone suspect foul play.
If Iain thought it was strange that his detective sergeant often frighteningly reminded him of an assassin, he never mentioned it. Coincidence or not, it made Søren a very good detective -- and that was all that mattered.
The Dane went home after that. Iain didn’t even consider asking if he could sleep on Søren’s couch. There were a hundred and three reasons why that would have been a terrible idea. Instead he stayed at his desk, staring at his laptop screen until it went dark.
Eventually the only lights left on were his desk lamp and the ones in Greg’s office. Sally had slipped out a while ago, hungry and battle weary -- apparently Iain and Søren weren’t the only ones who’d gotten a lot done. But now if Iain wanted to spend the night in the office -- again -- he’d have to suffer the humiliation of Greg walking past him.
It was almost worth it to go out for a couple of hours and then come back once it was safe -- however long that might be. But he had no idea if Greg was going to keep working, or if he was on the verge of calling it quits. For someone so painfully cemented in his ways, DI Lestrade could be uniquely unpredictable.
Iain made a face and pulled open his desk drawer, reaching for the antacids. As he tossed two into his mouth, Greg’s lights went out. Iain’s stomach flipped. His eyes automatically went back to his computer.
Greg stepped out of his office.
Iain’s eyes focused on the center of the screen.
Greg pulled his coat on.
Iain could taste the chalkiness of the pills on his tongue. They were very slowly dissolving down the back of his throat-- it was a struggle not to choke.
And then Greg stopped in front of him. “You know your eyes are actually supposed to move when you’re reading.” He reached out and tipped the computer screen back. “And usually the computer is on.”
Iain swallowed unpleasantly.
“Pack those, and any work you’ll want to do. We need to go.”
“I don’t think-- what?”
“You can sleep in the car.”
If anything Greg had said was supposed to make sense, he certainly wasn’t getting it. Maybe it was the caffeine -- maybe it was just disdain. Maybe he’d fallen asleep already, and this was just a dream trying to fuck with his head. Everything seemed reasonable at that point.
And he really, desperately needed the loo.
He stood up. “Good night, Greg,” he answered, wobbling towards the bathroom.
The older detective sighed. “Iain.” In a weird way, Iain wasn’t sure he’d ever heard quite so much sympathy in Greg’s voice. “Your stuff’s already in the car. Come on holiday.”
The only thing that Iain registered was that Greg’s words were a request, rather than a demand. It was almost too much of a contradiction -- this wasn’t professional Greg. It was personal Greg. But personal Greg was standing in the middle of their office, and Iain’s caffeine-saturated brain couldn’t handle it.
He held up his hand. “A minute. ...give me a minute.” He sprinted to the bathroom.
Greg put his hands in his pockets and patiently waited. He hadn’t moved an inch when Iain returned, though it was painfully apparent to both of them that Iain had expected him to. Despite an entire day of hard work and distance, they were back to square one.
Iain had a lot of issues with relationships, and Greg honestly had no idea how to respond to them.
“I packed the car. We’ll go on holiday to Somerset. Find a quiet spot.”
Greg’s face went blank as he realised the slight mistake he’d made in their impromptu summer travel plans. Everybody and their mother’s cousin’s dog would be on holiday at the coast -- or worse, caravaning.
There were a lot of things Greg didn’t like. But caravans topped his bloody list.
Luckily, he had considered that. It was the middle of the week -- very few people would start travelling on a Wednesday night. And no one would be driving at -- Greg glanced at his watch -- half past nine at night. If only he’d realised that they’d be driving directly into the hornet’s nest.
“Could always go to Scotland,” he countered. Iain made a face. Greg laughed. “Where then?”
“How long are we on holiday?”
“How long do you want us to be on holiday? Though if you expect it to be more than I week, I’m obligated as a detective inspector to help you find your bloody marbles, because you’ve fucking lost them.”
Iain smiled. It was a soft, light little thing, but it was happy.
That was something.
“Let’s just... go to Somerset,” he conceded. “If the tourists get annoying, we’ll just pull out the badges and lock them up for the week.”
“Yeah, but we’ll be tourists too.”
“We’re not tourists,” Iain retorted. “We’re detective inspectors.”
They were both quiet for a moment -- just staring across Iain’s desk at each other, with laughter tugging at the corners of their mouths.
“Alright, Somerset,” Greg repeated.
“Also... you packed for me?”
“Yeah. How many bloody socks do you need?”
“More than your crusty ones, believe me.”
“My socks are not crusty.”
Iain made a quiet noise of disbelief as he stashed the bottle of antacids in his jacket pocket and grabbed his keys. The files could stay in his desk until he got back -- that or Søren would find them. But he doubted the Dane would bother coming in if his boss-- partner, rather, was away on holiday. He worked hard.
But not that hard.
He locked the top drawer of his desk and turned the lamp off -- leaving them both in the dark. It wasn’t pitch black -- the light from the windows, and the double doors at the entrance, and even the soft glow of the exit signs showed them the way out -- but something about standing alone in the dark in Scotland Yard made them both chuckle.
Greg held out his hand, and Iain took it. Yet another landmark moment of personal lives in the workplace, and no one was around to witness it. Iain suspected Greg was fully aware of the irony, and enjoying every minute of it. (And he absolutely was.) But there wasn’t time to get in yet another fight about it -- they needed to get on the road.
Forty miles into a two hundred something mile drive, they had already pulled over. Greg was still in the driver’s seat, one hand covering his face and the other just repeatedly jabbing the next button on Iain’s iPod. He could find the pause, play, and previous buttons in a pinch too -- but for the moment, next was all he needed. Or for three suspiciously minute-long moments -- but who was counting?
Iain hurried out of the bathroom of a service station, mentally swearing at coffee, and all liquid, and bladders, and Sally for not warning him about the perils of never-ending caffeination. He slid back into the car and pulled the blanket Greg had courteously packed for him up to his nose.
“Are you really that cold?” the older man asked as they pulled back onto the road.
“It’s night time,” Iain answered, snuggling back into a pillow.
“It’s almost the exact same temperature as it was during the day.”
“Semantics,” he replied defensively.
Not more than five miles down the road, Iain lived up to his narcoleptic reputation, and fell asleep again. Greg turned down the music -- having demanded that Iain find the albums he actually liked on the music pod before he passed out -- and drove on, undaunted by his partner’s quiet snoring.
It went on like that for a while -- Greg driving, Iain sleeping, and the sweetly sinful notes of punk playing softly in the background. The only thing that would’ve made the evening perfect was a bloody lack of speed cameras -- but Greg was willing to content himself with an open motorway and going a bit over the limit.
He was a detective, not regular police -- and he certainly couldn’t be a model citizen all the time.
And not long after, Iain was awake again. They found much needed Services, Iain leapt out of the car, Greg laughed, and a few minutes later they were off. They lapsed into an easy, incessantly repetitive routine -- they went through the process half a dozen times, because coffee was the gift that kept on giving -- and somewhere around 3AM they rolled in to the least crowded coastal town they could find beyond Exeter.
The ocean roared just to their left. Iain sat up, and Greg slowed the car down. It was still too dark to really see much further than the road -- but it was amazing how the sound of the waves in the distance made them both feel so alive.
“Pull over there,” Iain said -- pointing to a vacant little lot. “We’ll never find an open room right now.”
“So what, we’re going to sleep in the car?” Greg asked, sliding his beloved BMW into park.
“Better than just driving for another two hours.”
“Two more hours and we’d be in Penzance.”
“Exactly,” Iain answered. “We could go down to the beach.”
Greg peered out over the dashboard -- there was nothing but a fence, and then shadow. He switched to high beams, but only the barest hint of what was actually in front of them became visible -- and as far as he could tell, it was a lot of rocks. This was likely not one of the places most tourists came to swim, or even to lie in the sand. “And when you fall and break your glasses, what then?”
“Did you bring my contacts?”
“Then it’s not a problem.”
Greg snorted. But it was a good plan -- and he was fairly sure that he had a torch in the back, somewhere under their things. “Grab your bloody blanket,” he muttered -- but Iain was already out the door.
Children. So fucking excitable just because they were at the god damn seashore. He unbuckled his safety belt and rolled out of the car, stretching out his legs as he stood up. His back groaned and his knees popped -- but even though it wasn’t a terribly pleasant feeling, he didn’t hate it. It meant he’d been driving for ages -- and that made it worth it, in its own way.
It took them less than a minute to find the torch -- the benefit of having everything just tossed in the boot without any regard for organisation was that it was all in plain view, and not hidden out of sight in boxes. Perhaps not the best treatment for a car he claimed to love, but “You can’t win at everything,” Greg replied. He had a point.
They locked the car and clambered over the fence. When they retreated back from the beach several hours later, after the sun had risen, they would realise that there was in fact an opening in the fence just to the right -- but at the time, they could hardly see their hands in front of their faces.
Yet, somehow theirs still met in the darkness. (Greg’s torch was doing shit all to help, but neither of them said anything.) Fingers groped in the open air, touched briefly, and then laced together tightly as they navigated the rocky little path to the tiny beach.
Not that what they’d found was actually a beach. It was just a thin stretch of sand that spent half the day hidden under the tide -- which was very fortunately out. But it was a good place to wait for the sun to come up, which was exactly what they wanted.
Greg flopped down, and Iain followed. They’d barely gotten cosy before the salty Atlantic breeze took them them both by surprise. Iain held up a corner of his blanket, and Greg edged closer -- but not too close, as Iain noticed. Just enough to wrap up and fight off the early coastal chill.
“Just when you think everything’s back to normal,” Iain commented.
“But it’s not,” Greg answered, looking out towards the ocean. “It’d be silly to pretend it was.”
Iain found himself wishing he’d brought those antacids with him. But they were in the pocket of his jacket, back in the car.
“So tell me what’s wrong.”
“If I knew, it wouldn’t be an issue, would it?”
Greg laughed quietly and dropped his gaze. “You get so bloody defensive about this.”
Iain folded his arms and dug his feet into the sand.
“...what is it you’re afraid of?” Greg asked. “You keep... pushing me back. And I don’t wanna rub it in your face--” he turned his head to look at Iain, who side-eyed him. “But you came on to me.”
Iain leaned away from him. “You kissed me!”
“You’d been staring at my arse for months.”
No denying that. “You noticed?”
“A blind nun would have noticed.”
“You never said.”
“When have I ever said in the office?” Greg asked.
“I’d think that Christmas party was a bit blunt.”
“And what did you do after that party?”
Iain was silent.
“You ran down the stairs,” Greg prompted.
Iain turned away.
“And you chased me to my car.”
He was glad it was dark -- he could feel his cheeks burning.
“And you asked me out. And--” Greg paused to scratch his nose “--if I remember correctly, you stood me up.”
Iain buried his face in the blanket. “That was an accident,” he muttered. And it genuinely was -- absolutely everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, and he hadn’t forgotten it.
“After that, there was what... two months of nothing? You stopped walking the dog with us. You wouldn’t come near my office. I’d thought that was the end of it.”
“Until Valentine’s Day.”
“Are you really going to recant the full history of our relationship event by event?” Iain interrupted.
“Until you start talking,” Greg answered. “Nice to hear you call it a relationship, though.”
At that, Iain turned around. He’d have taken the blanket with him, if Greg hadn’t been gripping his corner so tightly. “What?”
“Are we in a relationship?”
“Are we dating?”
“Yes,” Iain answered, exasperated.
“Then tell me what you think we are.”
“You know that’s not fair.”
Greg grinned. No -- it really wasn’t. He avoided using terms like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘lover’ because they seemed so stupidly infantile, even if they were both true. “Make something up.”
Iain pursed his lips. But he’d already come up with something -- he’d thought of it much earlier in the day, actually. When he was comparing Greg and Søren and the two sides of his life. “We’re partners,” he replied, sounding a bit smug.
“Bit final, isn’t it?”
Iain’s stomach plummeted straight into the sand.
“...ah, fuck. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
“No, you really shouldn’t have,” Iain muttered, pushing his glasses up and pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes.
But that was the root of their problem, and Greg knew it. “No, but... come on, Iain. I genuinely do not understand what’s got you so upset.”
“Well, you wouldn’t would you?” He fixed his glasses and stared at Greg. “You’ve always done this perfect, monotonous relationship thing. It’s simple for you.”
Greg snorted. “Perfect? Bit of a stretch.”
“Shut up. You know what I meant.”
Greg lived for the longterm. He preferred repetition, static, and uninterrupted stretches of life with the same person. Iain preferred-- well. He hadn’t wanted that until very recently, and only with one person. For whatever reason, Greg was turning his entire lifestyle upside down.
“I just don’t understand you,” he continued. You wake up, you go to work, you come home, you watch crap telly and you go to sleep. You only eat about five different kinds of food. You’ve been drinking the same type of beer since it was bloody invented. Sometimes you play footie on the weekends, but even that... do you ever root for anyone that isn’t Arsenal?”
Greg stuffed a hand into his trouser pocket. “England, on the even years. World Cup. Olympics. Important things.” He fished out a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out.
“What are you doing?”
“Smoking,” was the terse reply. A bright yellow flame flared to life between them as Greg lit up. It bathed his face in a soft copper glow, danced, and died, giving way to a dull, red ember. Iain watched silently as he breathed deep, held his arm out away from the blanket, and exhaled slowly.
“Why is it such a terrible thing that I like routine?” Greg asked after a while.
“...it isn’t terrible.”
“But it’s boring.”
There was something about the way he said it that made Iain lean back slightly. It wasn’t sour; it wasn’t whinging. It just meant more than Greg was letting on. Iain hung his head. He’d been a complete tit lately, and there was no denying it.
“For what?” Greg flicked some of the ash off the end of his cigarette with his thumb.
“For being...” Iain sighed. “An utter pillock.”
“No, I mean it. I’ve been rotten.”
“A bit.” Greg took a quick drag and stretched his legs out. Iain felt like digging a hole in the sand and never coming out. “I need to know-- I’m sitting on a bleeding knife. Hold this.” He pushed his cigarette into Iain’s hand and shifted, feeling around behind him for a rock that was trying to giving him a very personal and unwanted exam. He found one, picked it up, and lobbed into the ocean vindictively before settling back down. “Almost as bad as those chairs in the conference room. Rubbish.”
Iain smiled and handed his cigarette back.
“Ah, thanks. But I need to know what it is about me, or us, or whatever that bothers you. Because right now I don’t, and I can’t do anything about it.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Iain answered quietly. “I just... panic sometimes.”
“More than sometimes.”
That was fair. Iain could feel the shame leaking out of his pores, but -- it was certainly fair. He didn’t respond. He didn’t know what to say. That he loved Greg very much -- he did, but he had this idiotic habit of tucking tail and running whenever he met someone he genuinely loved, and hadn’t quite figured out how to put an end to it? That would go over well. Or that he’d never been in a relationship that lasted even half so long as theirs had, and he just didn’t know what to do anymore. He wasn’t used to that -- he didn’t like living on the edge of the unknown.
Iain’s stomach rolled again -- nauseous at the thought of not having complete control over his own life.
“Do you think maybe,” Greg said, “you’re just nervous? I know you’re used to different things, but I love you. I don’t want you to feel this way. It’s like I’m failing you by not being able to fix it, or make you feel better.”
Iain snorted derisively. “Greg, that’s stupid.”
“But it isn’t.” Greg twisted, pushing his cigarette into the sand. “It’s just as bad not being able to do anything... ‘cause you’re breakin’ my heart.”
And then he started singing, completely unashamed that it wasn’t punk, and that he was slightly off-key. He hummed the next few lines, getting progressively louder as Iain laughed. “Daduhduh. Daduhduh. Don’t go breakin’ my heart. Dadaduh da da duhhh. Honey, if I get restless-”
“Shouldn’t that be my line?” Iain interrupted.
“Don’t go breakin’ my heart,” Greg continued, grinning widely in the faint morning light. “You take the weight off of me. Honey, when you knocked on my heart... I gave you my key.”
“Knocked on your heart?”
“Yeah, you know.” Greg put his hands over his heart, drumming rhythmically. “Thump thump. Thump thump.”
“Ooooh hooh,” Greg sang, undaunted. “Nobody knows it.” He straightened up. “Yeah, those are the only words I know.”
Iain was still laughing, shaking his head slightly. “You’re ridiculous. Maybe if you listened to my music more often--”
“Nope. Sorry, love. That’s a dealbreaker.”
“What?” Iain demanded, grinning just as much as Greg was. “I have to listen to your records when you don’t even know that it’s ‘knocked on my door?’”
“Heart sounds better.’
Iain scoffed. “Like hell it does.”
“When you knocked on my heart has a better ring to it. Knocked on my door is so boring. It’s so expected.”
Iain laughed out loud again, pulling his glasses off to rub his eyes. “You’re bloody ridiculous.”
“So you said,” the older man replied. And just as Greg reached out, Iain moved closer. He deftly navigated the sharp little rocks that littered their so-called beach and settled down just in front of the other detective, between his outstretched legs. The sun was slowly coming up -- and it felt right.
Greg wrapped the blanket and both arms around Iain. He was hesitant to bring up the serious part of their conversation again -- but they hadn’t reached a conclusion, and he felt oddly desperate to find one.
He loved the man he was holding. Loved him absolutely, and without question, and he hated to think -- however bad he might have been at expressing it -- that he’d lose him to a little bit of fear.
“Can we agree to... talk from now on?” He asked quietly. “No running off without an explanation. Just an honest talk.”
Iain leaned back against his chest. “You might have to hold me down if there’s more singing.”
“Shove it. You loved my serenade.”
“Serenade? No wonder you think your music is good, if that was a bloody serenade.”
“Oi!” Greg tightened his hold around Iain and pressed his cold nose against the side of Iain’s neck. Iain struggled in vain to get away, laughing as he lurched forward and pushed his shoulders up. But Greg wasn’t having any of it -- he refused to relent until Iain shouted “Mercy! Mercy, for god’s sake!” and even then, he didn’t let go. He pulled his ‘partner’ back against him and rested his chin on Iain’s shoulder.
“I love you,” Greg murmured.
Iain smiled. “I love you, too. Arse.”
The first faint rays of sunlight glittered on the horizon as they laughed.