“I blame you, you know,” says Beverley Brook conversationally. She’s leaning back against the corridor wall with her arms folded.
“I should have been there,” Thomas agrees, because it’s just the two of them in this corridor and Beverley has earned it after all these years; he’s not quite as much the Nightingale with her as with her mother and sisters.
“No, not for this,” she says, gesturing towards where Peter is having his brain imaged. Everything else aside, it really is precautionary. Abdul’s got worse since they hired Jennifer Vaughan to take on the bulk of the actual pathology; it gives him more time to have medical opinions. And if Thomas tells himself that enough times, he’ll stop replaying scenarios where Peter hadn’t been left to exert his magical skills to their limit alone.
“For what, then?” he asks Beverley.
“For me standing in a corridor at UCH fretting,” she says. “My life was just fine, and then you decide to break the habits of the last fifty years and pick up some police constable in Covent Garden and start training him, and then you send him round to Mum’s and I open the door and here we are.”
“Oh,” Thomas says, getting the gist of it. “And I asked you to go to Herefordshire, too. Quite unconscionable, in retrospect.”
“Exactly.” She folds her arms again. “So I blame you.”
“I’d offer my apologies,” he says, “but I don’t think they’re really all that necessary.”
He shrugs. “You get the waiting – and then, on the other hand, you get Peter.”
“And Peter makes up for worrying about Peter, is what you’re saying.”
Thomas bites back the kinds of responses that spring most readily forward and says only “I should think so.”
Beverley looks at him, considering, and he thinks maybe even that was too much.
“Why are you here, anyway?” she asks, instead of anything else. Thank God. “Instead of doing police stuff, or whatever.”
“We didn’t make an arrest,” Thomas says. “And at this point in proceedings there’s not much for me to do except be the recipient of some frustration from officers who’d like explanations we can’t give, so…”
“Oh my god. You’re hiding.”
Thomas lets himself smile. “Let’s call it staying out of the way.”
“You know what,” Beverley says, “reckon we could go stay out of the way in the café downstairs? I’ll even let you buy me a coffee.”
“An offer I couldn’t possibly refuse,” Thomas says.
“Seems like you two spend a lot of time in here, one way or another,” Beverley says once they’re seated.
“Neither of us has been in overnight for a while now,” Thomas says. “I haven’t since I was recovering from getting shot, back during the Punch case. Anything else doesn’t really count.”
“I forget about that sometimes,” Beverley says. “Except when Peter goes on about how terrible the armchairs are. I think he slept in your room all night, just after.”
“He didn’t have anywhere else to go. The Folly was…off-limits, at the time.”
Beverley snorts. “You mean Ty had him locked out. At least you don’t have to worry about her doing that anymore.” She tilts her head. “Does it help, when you pretend it’s just about work stuff?”
“I don’t quite take your meaning.”
“You know,” she says. “You and Peter. Whenever you might have to admit to actually being worried about each other. You could just be hiding in the Folly if that’s all you wanted to do.”
Thomas should meet her eyes, but it’s somehow easier to examine the laminate of the table they’re sharing. “We all have our own ways of saying things.”
“Yeah, okay,” she says, sounding amused.
“The thing is,” Thomas says. “You of all people know quite well how much I-”
He stops because it’s coming out all wrong but it’s too late; when he looks up Beverley is staring at him.
“Oh, fuck,” she says.
Thomas has absolutely no idea what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything.
“I didn’t realise,” she says. “You – of course.”
Thomas isn’t sure what’s coming next, is quite sure letting one of Mother Thames’ daughters realise the extent of his complicated affections for her – well, he’s not her fiancé, but only because it’s not the custom anymore – that it’s not a good idea, even if it is Beverley, but while she’s still gathering herself and he’s still grasping for words they’re interrupted by a familiar voice.
“There you are,” says Sahra Guleed. “I thought I’d find you lurking somewhere near Peter. Hi, Bev.”
“Sahra!” Beverley says, visibly starting, and by the time they’ve finished greeting each other Thomas has recovered his composure entirely, although the way Sahra had phrased her greeting hadn’t helped.
She has police business to be about, so that’s where his attention has to go; he glances at Beverley once, but the moment is lost.
For the best, probably.
Peter’s scans come back as clear as usual and they head back to, first Belgravia, so Thomas can stop hiding and Peter can put a report together, and then the Folly, for dinner.
“Beverley says she has stuff to do and I might as well get a hot meal where I can,” Peter says, as they sit down for their meal. It’s beef roast with all the usual trimmings; Molly tends to go for the basics when somebody’s been to the hospital.
“A very sensible attitude,” says Thomas, as he reaches for the gravy. “Are you going back afterwards?”
“Too tired, I think,” says Peter. “But definitely tomorrow. I don’t think I have enough work clothes here, aside from anything else.” He changes the subject. “I’m just glad to be out of UCH. Sometimes it feels like we spend half our lives in there. Must be worse for you – it was, what, a full month that once? Longer?”
“Six weeks,” says Thomas. “I was talking to Beverley about that, when you were getting checked out.”
“Oh, yeah.” Peter gives him an odd look. “Sahra said she found you two conspiring over coffee. That always worries me.”
“Conspiring?” Thomas arches an eyebrow. “Is that what she said?”
“I never know what you’re going to come up with, is the trouble.”
“And you think you might not like it.”
Peter snorts. “I think I might not be allowed to not like it, if it’s you and Bev. What chance have I got then?”
Thomas remembers, quite abruptly, where that conversation had led, what they’d actually been saying when Sahra had found them, and he doesn’t know what his face does but Peter looks startled, putting down his cutlery.
“Hold up,” he says. “I didn’t mean it like – that’s not something I worry about, really.”
There’s a question Thomas feels the need to ask, all of a sudden. “Have you considered moving out of here officially?”
“What?” Peter stares at him.
“What you said just now,” Thomas says. “About not having enough of your work clothes here for a change. I know I told you, when you agreed to the apprenticeship, that you’d have to live here, but as things have worked out – people did live in their own households, you know. Most people. I was here when I wasn’t abroad because I was never in England long enough to set up my own place, but it was quite normal – if you’re counting down the time, or waiting on my word, you needn’t.”
“But I don’t want to,” says Peter, almost strangled, and then recovers himself. “I mean…I think I’m as moved out as I want to be for now. Not because it’s not, you know, we’re not serious. But we’re not, right now, we’re not going to…” He frowns. “I’ve never asked. You know about all that crap we’ve got from Ty, about Bev – blah, blah, dooming herself to love a mortal, whatever. You have to – what do you think?”
It’s a topic Thomas more or less avoids thinking about as much as he can.
“That’s Beverley’s choice, isn’t it?” he says. “She’s the one who has to live with it the longest.”
“Really,” Peter says again. “You have to have thought about it.”
And Thomas has, of course, on his own account and Peter’s and Beverley’s. Once a month, on average. More often when Peter started getting that particular look in his eyes whenever their work crossed paths with small children.
“Everybody dies,” he says eventually. “Even genii locorum, even gods. Even the high fae, even ghosts. Some of us just…outrun the odds longer than others. Life doesn’t come with any guarantees. You saw it in the War. People were getting married all over the place. Half of them knew they might be widows or widowers within the year.”
Peter has gone very quiet, and Thomas realizes what he’s been saying.
“What I mean to say is,” he hastens on. “It makes you happy, both of you – why on earth would I have anything against it?”
“Yeah,” Peter says. “Okay.”
“That being said…” Thomas has to add, because – because. “It would be very quiet again. If you moved out for good.”
“We’ve been talking about, you know,” Peter says. “More apprentices. New ones. That’d keep the noise level up.”
“It would still be very quiet,” says Thomas, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
“Okay,” says Peter again. “Okay.”
He looks down at his plate. He’s not upset. Thomas doesn’t know what to call it.
They’re both silent until Molly comes to clear the plates away.
The next time he sees Beverley Brook she greets him amiably enough but he’s remembering the look on her face in the hospital cafeteria, wishes he knew what she was thinking. He waits until Peter’s gone, and then says, little though he wants to, “I think I owe you some sort of reassurance.”
“Wait,” says Beverley. “Are you going to actually talk about something you’re feeling? Are you even allowed to do that? Doesn’t it break some sort of code?”
He tries very hard not to frown at that and fails. “It’s only that I…I think you came to some sort of conclusion the other day, and I wouldn’t want you to -”
“Look,” says Beverley, “I don’t think – I don’t mind. It’s not like I haven’t spent years watching Peter have an enormous and poorly-hidden crush on you –”
Thomas is still trying to catch up with I don’t think I mind. “That’s not at all – he may have had a certain amount of hero-worship going on in the very early part of his apprenticeship, I know that when I see it, but it’s been years since he had that level of illusion about me.”
“If I was a worse person I would be quoting him right now,” Beverley says. “But I’m not. Luckily for him.”
“The point I meant to make,” says Thomas, “is that you needn’t worry.”
“Because you’re enjoying pining in silence?”
“Pining,” Thomas says, in lieu of everything else he could say, “is for schoolboys and people who don’t know when they’re not wanted.”
“Here’s the thing,” says Beverley Brook. “One day you’re going to lose him too.”
Thomas doesn’t have a response to that.
“Unless someone is a better shot than the last two times,” he manages after a second. “Or I have a really bad bout of pneumonia, or get knocked down in the street, or any number of things.”
“But aside from accident,” she says. “One day, you and me, we could be standing here in the same place with the same faces and Peter won’t be here. I think about that, and I bet you do too, even if you don’t want to talk about it. So – I thought about this, too. And I don’t mind. Whatever it is, whatever you – you don’t want to take Peter away from me, even if you could, and you couldn’t, let’s be clear.”
“Of course I couldn’t,” Thomas says. “As if Peter’s the sort of person to let himself be taken anywhere.”
Beverley’s mouth quirks at that.“Right. So.”
“Isn’t this a conversation you should be having with Peter?”
“Well, eventually,” she says, oddly cheerful. “But you’ve got to do your own legwork here. I’m not doing it for you.”
Thomas wonders how quickly he can get to a second pint and then remembers he has to drive home, and besides alcohol isn’t any sort of real escape.
“I wish you could see your face right now,” she says, enjoying the moment far too much for comfort. “Serves you right. I was thinking you might brush it off, maybe I was wrong.”
“Better for all of us if you had been, probably.”
“Nah. Shows you’ve got some common sense.”
“And good taste?”
Beverley smirks outright at that, and he can’t help smiling back, and, God help him, maybe this might be alright. Maybe. Maybe –
Peter chooses that moment to return with the drinks, and glances between them suspiciously.
“Do I need to go away so you can discuss me some more in privacy?”
“Don’t be silly, babes,” Beverley responds casually, reaching for her glass.
“I can’t imagine why you’d think you’re the only thing we might discuss,” Thomas manages with almost as much insouciance, although only almost.
“I can do another turn around the bar, go out for some air, whatever,” Peter says, handing Thomas his pint. “Seriously.”
Beverley takes him by the arm and pulls him down into the seat next to her, opposite Thomas. “It’s all right – we were done anyway.”
Peter doesn’t seem convinced, but it’ll do for the moment.
“You know,” Peter says, “I was half expecting the universe wasn’t going to let the three of us sit down for a drink without something happening, but nothing has. Must be a good week.”
“Don’t tempt fate,” says Thomas. “There’s still the drive home.” They’re heading to their cars; Beverley has nipped off to the ladies’.
“There’s also whatever you two were talking about earlier,” says Peter. “That might be something.”
“Are you really sure you want an answer to that?”
“Ha,” Peter says smugly. “I knew it was me. If it was just plants you wouldn’t be so defensive.”
“Astronishingly,” says Thomas, “Beverley and I have had whole conversations with reference to neither you nor botanical matters.”
“But not this one.”
“Wait,” Peter says. “Do I want to know?”
“I have no idea,” says Thomas. Peter is looking at him a little warily, maybe a little hopefully. He supposes it might be a good thing to use his words, as Beverley is so fond of saying, but he doesn’t think he possesses the right ones for the occasion. He might not, ever.
“Go on, then,” Peter says, after a few moments of silence. Thomas steps in a little closer. Peter doesn’t move away.
Thomas kisses him, a testing of the waters. There’s a breeze blowing off the river, and the smell of salt. Peter puts his hand against Thomas’s face, his fingers on the edge of Thomas’s jaw, and holds him there a little longer than he’d meant to stay. He’s smiling into it. Thomas hadn’t expected that.
“You were talking about…” Peter says, finally. “Oh.”
Thomas smiles, can’t help it. “Oh. Yes, we were. Have a good night, Peter.”
Peter looks at him a little incredulously. “You’re going to do that and then – you’re off?”
“I think so,” says Thomas. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. You should probably have some, too.”
“That…isn’t a terrible plan.” Peter cocks his head. “You were talking about – that’s why you went all funny the other day, when I said I didn’t get much choice in things if you and Bev were conspiring about them.”
“More or less.”
“Huh,” says Peter. “Alright. Time to think. I can work with that.” He takes a breath and steps back, shoving his hands into his pockets like it will keep them safe. Thomas feels the echo of that urge. Beverley is just leaving the pub now, sauntering confidently towards them. He wonders what she’ll make of this; he supposes he’ll find out soon enough. He can do his own legwork, after all.
“I’ll see you on Monday,” Thomas says, waving to Beverley as he turns and makes for his own transportation. He forces himself not to watch Peter and Beverley driving off, sits in the Jag a minute to catch himself.
There’s a breeze blowing off the water, and something in it reminds him of ’66, the change in the city he hadn’t quite noticed at the time, all the broken possibilities of the old world reshaping themselves into something new.
You decide to break the habits of the last fifty years and pick up some police constable in Covent Garden and here we are, says Beverley Brook in his head, a little rueful, but without regret. Thomas thinks, right in this second, he wouldn’t be anywhere else.