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A Conspiracy of Ravens

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A Conspiracy of Ravens

"This is a joke, isn't it?" Neither Nightingale nor the woman – he'd called her Sarah, but she was in full military uniform, and I wasn't calling her anything until I knew what rank I ought to be using – looked like they were joking. Nightingale never looked like he was joking even when he was though, and the woman – well, see previous answer.

"Look," I tried. "I know there's that bit in the oath" – both oaths, if we were being strictly accurate – "about protecting the king from all threats, but it doesn't mean literally."

"I can assure you, it's entirely literal." Nightingale glanced at the statue of Sir Isaac as he said it, which reminded me that not only was there a strange military woman in the Folly, but that Nightingale, who'd grown up with old-fashioned manners before they became old-fashioned, hadn't invited her further than the entrance hall.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't throw myself between His Majesty and a bullet." Or one of the lesser royals, come down to it – who knows, maybe I'd get a knighthood, or at least some sort of medal for service to my country. "I just need a minute to get my head around the idea that the only way to keep him safe is to track down a raven."

"Two, actually," Nightingale said, at the same time as the officer, dryly, said, "Welcome to my world."

Nightingale's manners apparently kicked in at that point, and so we ended up in the drawing room, Molly bringing us tea and biscuits while the officer, who turned out to be Petty Officer LaFleur, didn't even blink at her.

"Legend has it," LaFleur started as Molly glided out of the room, "That the ravens protect the legacy of the monarchy –"

"I know the story," I interrupted. I hadn't been to the Tower of London since a school trip in year six, but every Londoner knows about the ravens at the Tower; legend, or the tourism board, depending on what you believe, says that the ravens protect the crown, and if the ravens all leave the tower, the monarchy will fall. "Didn't they all leave during World War Two?"

"No good looking at me," LaFleur said. "I wasn't even a glimmer in my parents' eye back then."

I looked at Nightingale instead, and found that LaFleur was doing the same thing. That was interesting, at least. "The ravens were not my responsibility," Nightingale said firmly. That he didn't say anything else on the subject suggested that responsibility for the ravens was probably one of the things that had fallen by the wayside while Nightingale was the only official wizard left in Britain.

"Whatever happened during the war, the point now is that two of them have left the Tower, despite having their wings clipped so that they can't do so, the Raven Master claims that if one more leaves we're in serious trouble, and since it's been less than six months since His Majesty's coronation, I don't want to find out what 'we're in serious trouble' means in this context."

"Quite," Nightingale said, looking a little taken aback at her rant.

"I'm on board with the idea of tracking ravens across the city," – well, sort of, but no-one had been horribly killed by magic for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to get the impression than LaFleur might be one of the Yeomen Warders and hence fully capable of doing unspeakable things to me person if I didn't get on board – "But the ravens are a legend. A story for tourists. There's no way that a flock of birds can actually be keeping the monarchy in place."

Nightingale didn't say anything. I looked at him again, and found that he wasn't quite meeting my eye. "They're not, right?"

"It's not entirely impossible," Nightingale conceded.

I'm the only sanctioned apprentice magician in London, so my sense of the implausible – even the impossible – is calibrated fairly differently from most people's, but even I draw the line at magical birds. My face certainly indicated that well enough for Nightingale to read.

LaFleur groaned. "I was really hoping you'd tell me that the ravens and the Folly have nothing to do with each other."

I had the distinct impression that Nightingale might have agreed with her.

*

Nightingale didn't want to talk about it in front of LaFleur, and LaFleur didn't seem like she wanted to hear about it anyway – she and Stephanopoulos would love each other, entirely platonically – so she headed back to the Tower, leaving me and Nightingale to stare each other out.

Nightingale broke first. "There's an agreement, between the Folly and the Tower – the monarchy."

Of course there was an agreement. There was always an agreement.

"The Folly –" Nightingale went far away for a moment, and I wasn't surprised when he said, "When the war started – when it became clear that the Folly would be involved this time – there were safeguards put into place. The legend of the ravens was a simple thing to use."

"So you…" Nope, I had absolutely nothing to follow that up with.

"The ravens, as a group, became the guardians of the Tower, and through that, the monarchy. I suppose it's not entirely dissimilar to the genius loci of the rivers."

Back when Jaget and I had been running around the Underground, I wouldn't have been entirely surprised to have stumbled upon a goddess of the Circle Line, and last year I'd met a woman who I'd believed when she'd claimed she was a guardian of the civil service's intranet system. Guardian ravens shouldn't have sounded that strange set alongside those ideas; I think it was them being ravens that made it strange.

"It had to be six," Nightingale continued. "So the situation isn't as dire as it could be."

"Not that comforting, sir." Though it did lend a sense of urgency to the whole thing. "LaFleur said that they have their wings clipped, so they can't have just flown away. Someone must have taken them."

"So it would seem."

"Do we – are we thinking that it's someone who knows their real purpose?"

"No," Nightingale said immediately, then, more slowly, "I don't…"

"Sir?" I asked, when it became clear that he wasn't just thinking, he was done with that sentence. I wanted to reach for him, but for all that Nightingale had become more human to me in the years I'd been his apprentice, that hadn't extended to touchable in anything except a crisis or a hospital bed.

"I need to visit someone," Nightingale said, still distant. "You should go to the Tower; Officer LaFleur and the Raven Master should be able to tell you more about how the ravens might have been taken."

Well, that sounded like a terrible idea from beginning to end. "Is this someone who might know what the ravens really are?" I asked. "Because, sir, I don't think it's a good idea for you to visit someone like that by yourself. Not if you think he might be responsible for them going missing."

"He'd be more than eighty years old by now. I hardly think he'd be scaling the Tower walls and making off with birds of prey."

"No, but –" A horrible thought occurred to me. "It's the anniversary of the start of the war in a few weeks." The seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 2015 had passed in a haze of anti-war, anti-peace, anti-government, anti-not-spending-Saturday-night-in-jail crime that had mostly seemed to distract even Nightingale from the memories. The centenary of the First World War three years later had been worse; Nightingale and I had been called in a lot less, and I'd known Nightingale more than well enough by then to realise that he probably hadn't been distracted at all in 2015.

"If you were a wizard, who'd gone to war and survived where most of your friends didn't, and you were getting old enough that you weren't sure you'd see the next anniversary. And all the media was talking about the great sacrifices, a grateful nation –"

"Peter," Nightingale said sharply. He'd gone pale, and the deep breath he drew in took obvious effort. "The point?"

Right. Engage brain then mouth. "Would someone like that, if they were still angry about everything that happened seventy years ago, be angry enough to find an equally angry person who could scale the Tower walls, and talk them into doing that, in order to bring about the downfall of the monarchy?"

Nightingale sighed, looking away, and in that moment, he looked his true age and then a little more. "You'd best come with me," he said, finally.

*

As if things didn't seem bad enough already, Nightingale let me drive, which he hardly ever did, even though I'd taken the advanced driving course twice – I got to do handbrake turns at sixty mph and feel like I was in an episode of The Sweeney, all right, it made a nice change from Latin verbs declensions and fifth order spells that made my brain hurt.

Nightingale's mysterious and possibly treasonous friend lived in Bristol, which meant we got to experience the delights of both the M25 and the M4, on a Saturday in the summer, no less. Being behind the wheel of the Jaguar didn't make that any more bearable, and so it took me less than twenty minutes on the M4 before the silence broke me.

"Does everyone at the Tower know about us?"

"Hmm?" Nightingale had been mostly watching the verges go by, but when he turned to look at me, he didn't look as bad as I'd half-expected. "I wouldn't have thought so. It used to be just the Raven Master and his deputy."

"That's LaFleur?" I'd looked her up on Wikipedia before we left: she was only the second female Warder, and had been sworn in, or whatever it was they did with Yeoman Warders, a little over a year ago. Everything I knew about the military came from television, but that still seemed fast to have made it up to deputy anything.

"No, I don't think so." Nightingale huffed a laugh. "I believe she's Frank Caffrey's niece, by his oldest sister. That, or she's married to his youngest sister. He did explain it all to me, but I'm afraid I was mostly unconscious at the time, and not paying as much attention as I could have."

"How many sisters does he have?" I asked, mostly to get us away from any conversation that involved Nightingale being anything other than perfectly healthy. He'd never been as badly hurt as the gunshot wound when I first became his apprentice, but there'd been enough scares since then that I really preferred not to think about it.

"Another thing I don't entirely recall," Nightingale said dryly. "But certainly more than enough for any one family."

He was smiling, almost, and so of course I had to break the mood by asking about the man we were going to see.

"You have to understand," Nightingale said, then stopped. Apparently, the verges flashing past were infinitely interesting, but the silence wasn't quite at uncomfortable yet, so on balance, we were doing OK. Of course, we had an hour and half to go before we hit Bristol, so there was plenty of time for things to get worse.

"You have to understand," Nightingale repeated eventually, very softly, "That it wasn't… Everyone we lost, everyone we –"

Sacrificed, I filled in silently. Nightingale hated when I called it that, though some days, I wondered if he mostly hated to hear it because it was what he was thinking.

"It wasn't the thing to express any sort of anger, at the loss. We had done it in service of our country, in an attempt to stop the Nazis. Any loss was acceptable, then. Regrettable maybe, but acceptable."

I really shouldn't have started this conversation in the car. Not that I would have actually given Nightingale the hug he looked desperately in need of, but I would have liked to have the option, or at least to be able to look at him in more than glances.

"It was hard to always see it that way," Nightingale said quietly, and I remembered Hugh telling me that Nightingale had wanted to bomb Ettersburg; that if he'd got his way, his friends wouldn't have died. "And in some ways I was lucky. I had the Folly, Molly…" From the corner of my eye, I saw him gesture vaguely, presumably meaning the whole aging backwards thing. "Even if they didn't speak of it, people were angry."

"They had the right," I told him. "I would have been angry too."

Sometimes I was angry, even though I hadn't known any of them. Maybe it would have been different if anything had come from the sacrifice, but it hadn't. If I thought about Nightingale, alone rattling around the empty space that had once been full of wizards and life, for too long, I wound up wanting to take an axe to some ghost trees all over again.

And yes, I am entirely aware of what that little feeling is trying to tell me about my subconscious. It's not that I think Nightingale would be averse – it's not even that I'd be averse. It's just – complicated, to borrow from early two thousands facebook.

And beside the point.

"Though probably not angry enough to commit treason by means of bird-napping," I added.

It made Nightingale laugh, just a little; that alone was worth the twenty minute lecture on the proper term for bird-napping which inevitably followed.

*

 

Nightingale's friend went by the unassuming name of Alistair Fielding, had been only just old enough to fight when the wizards went to Germany, and lived in the middle of a Victorian terrace of houses in the unpleasantly narrow one-way maze that was Clifton, Bristol.

For the record: the Jaguar was not designed for the number of three point turns I ended up doing. Whoever had designed that part of the city had put in entirely too many cul-de-sacs for my liking.

"I suppose it's worth it for the view," Nightingale said when I complained. He had a point; Bristol had been built on seven hills, and even from street level, I could see all the way down into the Avon Gorge and Brunel's famous suspension bridge seventy-five metres above it.

"It definitely explains why there's so many people on bicycles." Not that London didn’t have its fair share of cyclists, but Bristol took it to a whole new, vaguely terrifying level. You'd think a 3.8 litre Mark 2 Jaguar bearing down on you would be hard to miss, but the cyclists of Bristol were doing their best to disprove that theory.

"Just out of curiosity," I said as we made our way up Fielding's front path, "If he does have the birds, how exactly are we going to take them back to London?"

"I'm sure we can find a cardboard box somewhere," Nightingale said, and rang the bell while I was still wrapping my head around Nightingale making a joke right now.

There was a long pause between the bell sounding and the door opening, so that I wasn't entirely surprised when the man who opened it was using a wheelchair. I'd got used to seeing the old guard of the wizarding world, how frail most of them looked, but Fielding looked worse, his bones showing gaunt through his skin, his hands trembling on the wheels of his chair. When he looked at us, though, his eyes were bright, and he smiled, knowing and pleased. "Thomas," he said, voice just as clear as his eyes, "I was wondering if you would turn up."

Nightingale didn't say anything, and when I glanced at him, he was staring at Fielding in barely hidden shock.

"Detective Constable Grant." I offered my warrant card, which Fielding didn't even bother glancing at. "And you obviously know DCI Nightingale. Alistair Fielding, I assume?"

That got me a single raised eyebrow and a mocking, "You assume?"

"We're here to talk to you about –" I'd given this one some thought on the drive down, and settled on, "Two thefts that have occurred recently in London."

Trust me – there's no way to sound professional saying "bird-napping."

"Well, then, I suppose you'd best come in." Fielding led us down a tiled floor hallway, barely wide enough for his wheelchair to pass, and into a sitting room that looked right out of a Jane Austen novel, down to the spindly piano in the corner. He gestured me and Nightingale into uncomfortable chairs with antimacassars over the back, and didn't offer us tea. "I hope you're not trying to suggest that I somehow made my way to London to commit petty theft. I no longer have a driving licence, to start with."

"How do you get about, sir?" I flipped my notebook open and did my best to ignore how still and silent Nightingale was, next to me.

"Is that relevant?"

I really wanted to say, I'll decide what's relevant, but I try not to sound like a TV cop if I can help it. "It's just a question, sir."

"Well, I take a taxi, and I have a friend who drives me, if needs be. But I haven't been to London by any means, not in – it must be two decades at this point."

"You didn't attend any of the centenary events – for the war?"

He flinched at the word, just barely, his eyes flicking to Nightingale and back to me. "I'm a pacifist."

"But you were a soldier?" I pressed. "You fought in the second world war."

"I don't see how that's any of your business. I don't see how a crime in London can possibly relate to an old man in a wheelchair a hundred miles away, and I certainly don't see how my time on the front lines can possibly have any bearing on any of it." Fielding was visibly shaking as he finished speaking, his voice high and cracked.

"Alistair," Nightingale said, very quietly. Fielding looked at him, and I had the disturbing impression that, looking at each other after all these years, they'd both forgotten I was in the room. "You know why he's asking."

"I haven't the slightest idea why he's asking, or why you needed to bring your – your – "

"Apprentice," I supplied, in place of whatever Fielding was struggling with not saying.

"Apprentice," Fielding spat out, still looking at Nightingale. "I don't see why you needed to bring your apprentice down here to speak to me, as though I'm nothing but a common criminal –"

"Alistair?" a light voice called from the hallway, footsteps immediately following. "I heard raised voices, are you all right?"

The footsteps resolved into a white man, maybe two years younger than me, dressed in ripped jeans, a faded St Paul's Carnival T-shirt and bare feet, his dirty blond hair in the kind of chunky dreadlocks that suggested he didn't take them out nearly as often as he probably should. I'd have bet money on him being able to get his hands on at least three illegal substances without leaving the house, and half a dozen more without leaving the street.

Fielding raised one hand, and the young man came forward to take it, pressing their joined hands to Fielding's shoulder. "We have guests, Arun."

"So we do." Arun's other arm curled protectively round Fielding's shoulder and over his chest. "Friends of yours?"

Fielding patted Arun's hand. "Not exactly, no. But they've come a long way – I'm sure they'd appreciate a cup of tea."

"Yes, definitely," I said, already standing up. "Why don't I help you with it?"

I heard Nightingale's and Fielding's voice start up as I followed Arun into the kitchen, too low for me to make out the words, and then Arun was clattering around, opening cupboards and putting together an actual tea service.

"It was his mum's," he said, noticing me noticing it. "Mother, rather. She gave it to him when he got engaged."

"That's nice." Fielding didn't seem like an engagement would have worked out all that well for him, even if it had come with a delicate pink floral patterned tea set.

"She broke it off when he came back from the war," Arun added. "Fetch the milk, please?"

I obliged, checking out the contents of the refrigerator in the process: mostly soups, smoothies, soft foods that would be easy on the mouth and the stomach. "I suppose that worked out for the best," I suggested, putting just enough knowing into it for Arun to be clear about what I was implying. "When did the two of you meet?"

"It's been seven years." Arun poured milk into a small jug, which seemed like an enormous waste of time and washing up to me. "We met at a protest rally. That was before he got sick. He was – he knew everyone, he'd been at every protest that mattered since the sixties."

"You wanted to talk history with him?"

"I wanted to sell to him." Arun gave me a sly, sideways look. "Is that a problem, officer?"

Well, they did say police officers have a look about us. "That depends."

"On what?"

"Many things. And it's constable, actually."

"My apologies." Arun leaned in close, the sweet smell of marijuana clinging to his hair. "Constable."

"Apology accepted." I touched his arm lightly. "So do you still go – to the protests?"

"Not so much since Alistair got sick. He gets tired so quickly, you know?" I nodded, ignoring the click of the kettle boiling and turning off. "He likes to hear about them, though."

"A friend of mine worked the anti-war march here last week, said it was one of the biggest she'd seen outside London. He must have been interested to hear about that."

Arun shifted, gaze skittering away. "We'd get looks sometimes," he said, making his voice too casual. This trip might have started, in part, as an exclude, but it was definitely looking like it was going to end in an arrest or two. "You'd know about that, I guess. I mean, it must be worse for you, right? Because of, you know…"

For a second, I honestly didn't; when I did, I was pretty glad I don't blush visibly. It's not an assumption people really make about me and Nightingale, and not one that had come up since my sub-conscious helpfully pointed out that there was a difference between admiration and attraction, and I'd shifted over the line into the latter at some point. "That sounds like it could have been awkward."

"It was. People would – they'd see this house, they'd look at Alistair and they'd look at me, and I knew they were thinking that I was just waiting for him to die, so he could leave it all to me and I could move in with some hot young thing and…" Arun dashed a hand across his eyes. "Or like I must be cheating on him. We couldn't be fucking, because he's old, but he's…"

I'm a police officer, so I've become very well acquainted with the various body fluids that people leak on others when they're having a bad day, but I still hate it when people start crying on me. "How long does he have?"

Arun sniffed and wiped his sleeve over his face. "The doctors said six months – that was three months ago. I don't think it's going to be much longer."

Three months – a little over a month before the first of the ravens was taken. "And he asked you for something, when he found out, didn't he?"

Arun stumbled over to the kitchen table and sank into a chair. "You're from the Folly." He waited for me to nod. "Alistair said that you might come. He asked me – I've been arrested before, but he said that the Folly's different."

"We're part of the police," I told him. "Whatever your partner warned you about, we usually go with a trial and then prison."

Arun looked at me for a very long time. "Even now?" he asked, and when he opened his hand, there was a ball of light growing in his palm. "Lux," he added.

"He taught you magic." That added a layer of unexpected to the whole thing.

"He called me his apprentice. Said I was the only one." He gave me an expectant look that fell into disappointment when I didn't match his spell, still burning in his hand. "I suppose there's another one after all."

"There are rules against teaching magic outside of the Folly," I said, trying not to think of Lesley and the Faceless Man. "And against breaking into the Tower of London and stealing the ravens."

Arun flinched, his werelight flickering out. "You don't understand."

I'd stayed leaning against the kitchen counter when he sat down, but now I joined him at the table, sitting opposite him. I didn't know what Nightingale and Fielding were up to, not that it mattered; Arun and I were spiralling down to one of the fastest confessions I'd got since becoming a cop. "Explain it to me, then."

"He's dying," Arun choked out, one hand angrily flailing towards the sitting room. "He was just a child, and they sent him to war and when he came home broken, they didn't even care. They just –" He made a sharp gesture. "Threw him away like it hadn't even mattered. And now it's all, 'lest we forget, for those who made the ultimate sacrifice' –" Tears started down his face. "Like anyone cares about the ones that didn't die tragically and heroically, like any of it mattered…"

The worst part of being an officer of the law, in my experience, is when you don't just empathise with the criminal, you agree with him. He wasn't saying anything that I hadn't thought, looking at Nightingale. Mix in the knowledge that your partner was slipping away from you… I could understand the mind-set that made something extreme sound almost rational.

"He's a magician," Arun said. "You know what he can do, you can do it too. He's , he's kind, he cares about things, he takes action, he's going to die like he's no-one, and no-one will care about anything except that for a few months in the nineteen forties he went to war."

"So the two of you came up with this plan?"

"Alistair said it was just a story," Arun said softly. "We were going to – we weren't –"

"It's more than a story, and Alistair knew that. He might not have known exactly what would happen, but it's more than whatever he told you."

"He said there'd be a story in the news. That we could use it to – that maybe people would…" His face went pale. "He's a good person. He wouldn't hurt anyone. He wouldn't."

Maybe that was true; even Nightingale didn't seem entirely clear on what would happen if the ravens were all removed. But if we didn't know, then Fielding certainly didn't. "I think we should go into the other room, and talk to your partner."

Before I could get us both moving, Nightingale spoke from the kitchen doorway. "There's no need. Alistair just told me where to find the birds."

*

"This was simultaneously the quickest and the most ridiculous case of my entire career," I told Nightingale, tipping my wine glass from side to side.

Arun had clammed up once he realised Fielding had confessed too, and Nightingale and I had left them holding hands in an Avon and Somerset police cell. An RSPB officer had collected the ravens, and LaFleur had promised to drive down in the morning to pick up Fielding and Arun. I'd asked about transferring them to the custody of the Met, and she'd laughed at me, said something about magical treason, and hung up on me.

Nightingale promised that didn't mean they'd be locked up in the Tower or anything that violated the Human Rights Act, even after I pulled up a copy on my phone and got him to read through the whole thing, just to be sure.

The entire process had taken long enough that we'd ended up in a bed and breakfast that belonged to the same era as Fielding's sitting room – two bedrooms, before anyone gets any ideas, though I'll admit to a moment of fantasising that they'd say they only had one double, and would we mind sharing?

Until I remembered that I didn’t live in a porn film, that was.

Nightingale drank the last of the wine in front of him, smiling faintly. We'd tucked ourselves in a back corner of the kind of upscale pub where everything was organic, locally sourced, and about three times more expensive as a result, and Nightingale, somewhat uncharacteristically, had ordered a bottle of wine with our food. "You did well with Arun," he said.

Even after all this time, I still got a warm, fuzzy feeling when he praised me. "Thanks." I wanted to ask about Fielding, who'd been slumped in his chair and speaking in monosyllables when I went back into the sitting room, but Nightingale was still tense and slightly distant in a way that made the words die in the back of my throat. "When we get home, we should think about putting together a database of wizards who are still around. Track them down and check none of them are thinking about overthrowing the monarchy."

"I'd prefer it if you thought about fifth order spells and Latin declensions," Nightingale said. "But we might spare some time for thinking about a database as well, I suppose."

"Abigail'll be home from university in a few weeks. We could get her started on the database and some of the research, at least." And that was never going to not be weird – how was my teenage cousin old enough to be a university student? How was I old enough to have a cousin who was a university student, more to the point?

"You can talk to her then," Nightingale agreed. The bottle of wine was nearly empty, but Nightingale still tipped the last of it into his glass. By my count, he'd drunk two thirds of the bottle, not least because I don't really like wine; regardless, I was glad to be around to keep an eye on him.

"You know, Arun thought you were my partner," I said, as the silence stretched on too long. I meant it to sound light, even amused – it did not come out like that.

"In a police sense, I suppose that's true," Nightingale said.

Don't ask me why I said the next part – Lesley would have said stupidity, or maybe a tendency to act before thinking, but Lesley had tazed me in the back years ago, which made it a lot easier to ignore her voice in my head. "I think he meant more in the naked sense than the police sense."

Nightingale visibly startled at that, and said, "Naked?" like he'd never heard the word before.

"The relationship sense." That really didn't sound any better. "He thought you were my boyfriend."

"Ah," Nightingale said. Clearly his brain wasn't dealing with the idea any better than mine. "Because of his own relationship with Alistair?"

"Yeah. It's –" This was the point where I was supposed to say that it was a crazy idea, you and me, who'd ever think that? I knew that, Nightingale undoubtedly knew that, and yet I just – didn't want to. Not with the way Nightingale was looking at me, almost hopeful, finally relaxed after the tension of the day. "It'd be kind of weird to be someone's boyfriend at our ages, right?"

"Certainly at mine," Nightingale said, and, oh, that was a smile in his voice, and on his face when I smiled at him. "Would partner be more acceptable?"

I let go of my wine glass and rested my hand in the middle of the table, palm up. "I think partner can introduce a level of ambiguity to the situation, where it's better for there not to be."

"Hmm." Nightingale's smile widened, and his hand slipped into mine. It's a cliché, but sparks went up my arm at his touch. I was going to blame it on magic. "So what would be acceptable?"

I hadn't actually thought that far ahead. Though in my defence, this morning I hadn't actually thought that hand-holding was in my middle future, let alone immediate future. "Maybe we should go on a date, give ourselves some time to think about it."

Nightingale ran his thumb across the back of my hand. "I'm not sure I've ever 'dated,' but my impression is that dinner together would count."

I pretended to give it some thought. "I think there has to be kissing for it to qualify."

"Just kissing?"

"Did you just – was that innuendo?" I nearly said sir, swallowing it at the last minute in case it came out kinky. Or maybe in case it didn't.

Nightingale raise an eyebrow, a wicked smile spreading over his face.

*

Much later, still a little breathless and very sticky, Nightingale ran a hand over my buzzed short hair and said, "The King will be very grateful."

I hummed enough sound to make it clear I was listening, mostly distracted by Nightingale's hand in my hair, his shoulder under my ear, and just the fact that I was naked and post-coital with the man.

"He'll want to offer his personal thanks," Nightingale added.

I hummed again. "That's nice." It had been a long day, followed by food, alcohol and sex, and so my brain took a minute to actually hear what Nightingale had said. "Hold on – personal? As in, physically standing in front of each other?"

Nightingale laughed, a low, deep vibration against my chest. "I believe that's what personal means, yes."

"Oh my god."

"Well, you did help to ensure the continued survival of the monarchy," Nightingale pointed out.

Even for a wizarding police officer in bed with possibly the most attractive man I'd ever met, that sounded impressive. "We make a good team," I told him, pressing a kiss to the skin under my lips.

A moment later, I felt Nightingale press his own kiss to my hair. "I suppose that we do," he said.