The first time Beverley noticed it, really, was when she and Peter were a little bit tipsy on red wine and end-of-a-long-case tiredness – though the second one was just Peter – and watching some old black-and-white movie at Beverley’s house. She couldn’t say which one, if someone had asked her.
“That guy looks like Nightingale,” Peter said, pointing. Beverley considered this.
“You think so?”
“Nah, well, maybe not,” he said. “Movies like this always remind me of him, though, he’s just so….” He waved a hand. “Tragic fifties movie star, you know? All he needs is a cigarette and a doomed affair with a housewife.”
Beverley snorted. “That doesn’t sound anything like the Nightingale.”
“I don’t mean how he is, I mean what he looks like,” Peter insisted. “He hasn’t smoked since nineteen-sixty or something like that. I asked him once. I knew he probably had, everybody did back then.”
“So what you mean,” Beverley said, translating this digression out of Peter-speak, “is that you think he’s good-looking?”
Peter spluttered. “I didn’t – I didn’t say that!”
“I mean, fine, if skinny white guys do it for you,” she said.
“So what you mean is you don’t think he’s good-looking,” Peter countered, looking sideways at her.
“I mean, objectively, he’s alright,” she allowed. “To me? Nah. Doesn’t do it.”
Peter frowned, like this was not the answer he’d been looking for.
“Sorry to kill your dreams of a threesome,” she added. He really spluttered at that, until she laughed and kissed him, and then they found better things to do than watch an old movie.
After that, sometimes she’d catch him looking at Nightingale – not a lot but now and again – and she’d whisper in Peter’s ear “tragic fifties movie star”, and he’d go red around the ears and she’d giggle. Not when the Nightingale would notice, though. She wasn’t mean.
It felt different when she caught the Nightingale looking at Peter. Peter had fallen into the Thames again, a bad habit he really needed to break, although the rules were a little different now. Beverley had given him a boost out, then climbed out afterwards to see what was going on.
Peter was trying ineffectually to wring out his shirt, which was white and now almost transparent. He’d hung his jacket over the corner of a bench. Beverley saw Nightingale look over at him, probably to check whether he’d given up yet, and then saw the glance linger, appreciative, for a long second before the mask of total professionalism descended across his face again, and he looked back at her. She didn’t think he realized she’d seen him.
She shot him a look of her own – not a glare, just to let him know she’d seen him – and he didn’t blush, probably being way too old for that (what was Peter thinking), but he did look vaguely guilty.
“Ah,” he said. “Beverley. Hello.”
“Any particular reason you’re checking out my boyfriend today?” she asked, putting a hand on the railing next to where he was standing. The metal was warm from the sun; it was a hot summer’s day, for a wonder. Out of the river, her wetsuit was stifling, and she couldn’t wait to dive back into her mother’s cool waters.
“I,” Nightingale stuttered, and this was way too much fun. “I wasn’t -”
“Yeah, you were.”
He went quiet, and that suddenly worried her; it was meant to be a joke, to get a dry response, not something for him to get remorseful about. Or maybe that was just the Nightingale, maybe this was something he didn’t know how to joke about. Probably. She looked away, so they could take a moment and move on.
“You’ve been very good for Peter,” he said, surprising her. “And him for you, I hope.”
She blinked at him. “I wasn’t talking about me and Peter.”
“I know,” said Nightingale. “But I wasn’t trying to…”
“Looking’s free,” she said, although she wouldn’t have to just anybody, but this was Nightingale, who cared about Peter, and she trusted him, when it came down to it. Not for everything, definitely, he was a wizard, but for this.
Nightingale glanced, almost involuntarily, at Peter, who was unbuttoning his shirt to wring it out properly, apparently giving up on professionalism for a minute himself.
“Hmmm,” he said, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, and Beverley found herself smiling too, because that was her boyfriend, and he was looking pretty fit today. Which was the same thing Nightingale was thinking, she could tell, at least the second part; it was a weird shared moment of agreement that she’d never expected to have with him.
“But touching isn’t,” she added, just to be clear, and also to catch him off-guard. She expected Nightingale to splutter the same way Peter had when she’d teased him, but he just smiled wider, a quick sharp thing, and said “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Her surprise must have shown in her face then, because his expression sobered. “Sorry, that was over the line.”
“No,” Beverley said slowly, thinking about what she was feeling. “No, I think…you’re okay.” They stared at each other a moment, and then both looked away.
“Oh, bugger it,” Peter said. “I’m not getting any drier than this.” Beverley looked back at him; he didn’t seem to have been paying any attention to their conversation at all.
She wondered, when she dived back into the river to let them get on with things and get about her own business, if Nightingale was as confused by that whole conversation as she was.
Peter invited Nightingale over for dinner three weeks later. This wasn’t a new thing. It had started shortly after Peter had admitted he was living with her, aside from the infrequent nights it was easier for him to crash at the Folly, and moved the rest of his things in. Now he and Nightingale had new apprentices, too, they were – Beverley was pretty sure – trying to figure out how to interact like normal human beings who didn’t live and work together. Or they actually missed each other, but it wasn’t like either of them would admit it. She could blame the Victorian era for Nightingale, more or less, but Peter was only seven years older than her and should really be less of an idiot about this stuff.
It wasn’t just Nightingale; Abigail came over occasionally too, as well as Peter’s other work friends (as if he had any other sort), Sahra Guleed and Jaget Kumar and their partners, and a couple of times all of the apprentices at once. But Nightingale was still their most regular dinner guest, probably because he had the fewest other invitations going, Beverley sometimes thought, half uncharitably and half wryly.
The first time it had been weird, almost as bad as that pizza and movie night when Beverley had been getting to know Peter and Lesley had still been their friend, even though it hadn’t been really the same in the details. They’d been eating at the table and Peter had cleaned the house three times in a panic, and of course Molly hadn’t been there either. The second time there was a minor kitchen disaster and they’d ended up ordering pizza and eating it in the garden with beer and yet it had been nothing like that other night at all. The third time it had just felt normal. Now Beverley didn’t feel any hesitation about ordering Nightingale into the kitchen to scrub potatoes for Peter or something like that, if he was early, and Nightingale didn’t ask to be freed of obligation any more than she would these days at the Folly, if she could get further into the Folly than the coach house, and it was just another part of her life.
The first time Beverley had met the Nightingale she’d been a little girl and she didn’t really remember much of it at all; he’d smelled like pine needles and snow and what she didn’t know then was pride, the first time she’d ever smelt a wizard. Other than that he’d been old and boring and made her mother and older sisters tense, particularly Ty, which she also hadn’t been old enough then to interpret as dangerous. Then a few years later she’d met him again and he’d been Peter’s boss the Inspector, still old and boring.
But after she’d got back from her stay with Father Thames and his boys, he’d unexpectedly started seeking her out, when he wanted to find Peter, or to ask her questions, treating her with the respect normally only Ty and Fleet and Effra got. And then he’d asked her to go to Herefordshire for Peter, and one thing had led to another, and now he stood in her kitchen in his shirtsleeves with a can of Star beer and he was still old, and a little bit boring sometimes, and she knew now exactly how dangerous, although never to her, but she looked forward to having him here. She didn’t know when that had happened.
“Hey, Thomas,” she said. “If you want to be helpful, let Peter burn dinner and help me set the table.”
“I think I can manage that,” he said, putting his beer down.
“Oi,” said Peter. “You want to make funny remarks about burning dinner, you can cook it.”
“Nobody wants that,” said Beverley, who had spent far too long avoiding learning how to cook anything more complicated than toasted sandwiches to start now. Peter couldn’t bake to save his life, and when she could be bothered to make sponges they never fell, so between them they just about made one half-competent cook. Molly despaired at them both, but Molly took cooking way too seriously anyway.
“What you really don’t want,” said Nightingale, opening the cutlery drawer without even having to be told and getting out at least two more pieces per person than was really necessary, “is me trying to cook it.”
“Please,” said Peter. “You probably cooked three-course meals over a campfire in the Black Forest in nineteen-forty-three, or something.”
“Maybe half a course,” said Nightingale. “And I don’t see a campfire anywhere in here.”
“Plenty of room in the garden,” said Beverley. “And no problems about it spreading. Keep on like that and we’ll hold you to it.”
They didn’t, but after dinner they did go out to the garden, and Beverley fetched some wood from the pile of deadwood Maksim collected neatly for her when he did the garden, and Peter lit it with a fireball, and they sat out in the cooling autumn air and enjoyed the warmth. Nightingale leaned his elbows on his knees and smiled, and Beverley curled up against Peter and listened to her river running by and was, all things considered, well-pleased with her life.
Peter not living at the Folly meant his schedule was sometimes even weirder than it would otherwise be, and Beverley still wasn’t old enough to get out of river patrol – she wasn’t ever going to be, she was realising, although she had more sisters now to share it with than she had when she was a teenager – so sometimes their paths didn’t cross for as much as a day or two. Beverley hadn’t seen Peter since the morning before last when she walked out of the river into her garden, wringing the water gently from her locs and wriggling her toes in the fresh green grass. Out of the river it wasn’t warm, a brisk March day coming on for dusk, but her neoprene wetsuit did its job. She checked her phone; no new messages, so probably still no Peter. She’d call him after she’d changed and had something to eat, find out whether he might be home later.
She was trying to decide whether to rummage through leftovers or order something in when she stepped into the kitchen and saw Peter standing there, his jacket off and his tie half-pulled-down, staring at nothing and tapping his fingers on his elbows.
“Hi, babes,” she said. “Done for the day, or are you just stopping by so I don’t forget your face?”
Peter jerked and blinked, like he hadn’t noticed her. She leaned up to kiss him on the cheek, and he held himself very still. She didn’t have a good feeling about this. Then Peter kissed her on the mouth, lightly at first, and then deeply, biting at her lower lip, pulling her against him and getting his shirt and trousers all damp. He never normally did that, but Beverley wasn’t complaining; she wrapped an arm around his neck and squeezed his bum cheekily, and he groaned into her mouth and rocked against her, already half-hard.
They ended up going at it on the kitchen floor, something else Peter also tended to vaguely object to both on the grounds of hygiene and the possibility of someone walking in, but there weren’t any objections today; he peeled off her wetsuit with fumbling fingers while she stripped him out of his now-damp work clothes, stopping only to mouth at her breast, and she slid onto him right there, already wet and ready from the suddenness of it and the way Peter touched her, knowing even desperate like he was what she liked, because they’d done this so many times. Peter arched and gasped like he hadn’t expected it. Beverley groaned herself, because that felt good after a long swim, and stopped worrying about anything for a minute but riding Peter into the floor.
She meant to ask him what was going on once she’d gotten her breath back, but once she had Peter grinned up at her and slid down to keep it up with mouth and fingers, properly, not just working her up to go again, and he actually carried her up the stairs while she was still boneless from the second time, and between one thing and another by the time she did manage to ask it was two hours since she’d got home and if he was up for another go-around – Beverley eyed him dubiously – she might have to decline on account of needing to walk the next day. Or maybe just have him take care of himself, which was always pleasant viewing.
“Okay, what happened?” she said, spreading out on the bed to get as much skin surface available for evaporation as possible; she could have drowned someone with the humidity in the room. “Don’t tell me something didn’t.”
“What, like this is that unusual?” Peter said, trying for an innocent look and totally failing, principally because he was lying on his back totally naked, still somehow half-hard, and very well-fucked, which all added up to a great look on him, Beverley noted with satisfaction.
“It wasn’t a complaint.”
Peter sighed, and his expression closed in a little. “It was – nothing happened, okay?”
Beverley pushed up on her elbows, because that demanded explanation. “Define nothing.”
“Nothing happened!” Peter said, in tones of alarm. “I mean – it’s kind of funny, if you look at it one way. Kind of.”
“Oh my god,” Beverley said, now genuinely worried, “what did you do? Has there been major property damage somewhere? Do I need to turn on the news? Was it – it wasn’t Lesley?”
Peter barked an unhappy laugh. “Jesus! No. Nothing like that. Any of those things.”
Peter closed his eyes. “Okay; okay.”
Beverley waited, patiently.
“We were called in to look at this archaeological site,” he said eventually. “There’d been some – people had been behaving weirdly. We both went to check it out because everybody else was already busy or cleaning up – my record for exploding things in practice has been thoroughly exceeded, by the way – and it was…we thought a haunting, but it wasn’t…not that.”
“So what was it?”
“A set of enchanted….um, the archeologists were calling them ritual objects, I don’t actually know what they were.” He made a face at the bed. “But the point is it took us a while to track them down and it was just us in there and the thing they were doing was…it was kind of subtle and I didn’t notice until, and then…I mean, the effect was obvious eventually.”
“What sort of effect?” Beverley asked, but she remembered the way Peter had kissed her when she’d walked in, and also that they’d missed dinner, and she thought she already knew.
“It was like – don’t laugh, okay? Sex pollen, or something. Some stupid science-fiction plot device. For an hour. While we were digging around trying to find what it was, and the closer we got the worse it got, and. But we didn’t – there wasn’t any touching, or -”
“Nothing happened is not the same thing as no touching, Peter,” Beverley said, sounding sharper than she meant to. But the whole thing sounded impossible; someone putting the Glamour on, that was one thing, but Peter and Nightingale were trained wizards, they shouldn’t have trouble with something as ludicrous as some bits of archaeological junk.
“I said nothing happened and it didn’t!” Peter snapped, sitting up, his eyes coming open and an angry look in them; Peter took a very long time to get angry, usually, and Beverley sat up too, reaching out to snap him out of it, but he brushed her hand away. “Don’t! You don’t want to believe me, fine, but it didn’t.”
“And so you came home and made do with me?” she retorted, and regretted it the instant the words were out as Peter’s eyes went wide and horrified.
“No, I didn’t fucking notice the difference!” he shot back, but he was on autopilot too, she could tell, and their words hung in the air between them and Beverley wondered how they’d got here when five minutes ago they’d been lying boneless and happy on their bed.
She took a deep breath, but Peter got there first.
“Sorry,” he said, drawing up his knees and putting his head between his hands, elbows to either side of his legs. “Sorry; sorry.”
“Yeah,” Beverley said, letting her breath out. “Sorry, that was – I don’t think that, at all. I just don’t -”
“Understand,” she said, folding her legs so she could sit and face Peter. “This wasn’t the Glamour, or anything; there wasn’t even a person. You’re a wizard! You’re a master. And the Nightingale’s been around forever. You’ve dealt with the Faceless Man and fairy queens and my sister Ty, but you say this was…I don’t get it.”
“Stuff like that doesn’t affect you, does it?” Peter said, frowning thoughtfully now. “Not the same as us.”
“I mean, there’s my mum, or Baba Thames,” she said. “I can feel their power. But no. I don’t think it’s the same as it is for you. It’s not…it doesn’t control me. I don’t think it could.”
It was easy to forget, sometimes, that she and Peter were different; and then they ran into something like this, like running into one of his shield spells, and it stung all over.
“You’ll just have to take my word for it, then,” Peter said.
“Okay,” she said. She could do that. “So – nothing happened. It’s a bit embarrassing for you two, I guess, but why…”
“Because that does happen to me and I know what that feels like,” Peter said softly. “When I want something because of magic, and when I want something because of me but magic makes it worse, and I don’t want it – right now anymore, because we just did a pretty thorough job, but I can still imagine wanting him, and I didn’t really know I did, not like that, and I don’t know what to do with it.”
“Do you need to do anything with it?” Beverley said, and tried very hard to keep her voice level.
“No,” said Peter. “That’s the thing, isn’t it.”
She put a hand on his closest elbow, and pulled, and he lay down in her arms and just stayed there for a while. Eventually they got up and put on t-shirts and pyjama bottoms and ordered pizza, and ate it in front of the TV while a replay of an Arsenal game ran with the sound so low they could barely hear it, and Beverley felt the world settling back into something resembling its normal self.
“It’s not like you didn’t know that,” she said later that night. “That you thought he was a bit of alright. I’ve been giving you crap about that for years.”
“That was a joke, it didn’t matter,” Peter said. “I didn’t know it like this. Or that he might – and it’s Nightingale.” Then he snorted a laugh. “Still, it’s not like I haven’t had experience having the hots for a friend I work with.”
“What? Oh, Lesley,” Beverley said. “At least that made more sense.”
“You’d rather sleep with Lesley than Nightingale?” said Peter.
“On a purely visual and objective level, aside from her actual personality,” said Beverley. “You?”
“Six of one, half a dozen of the other, the many, many hideous emotional issues involved there aside,” Peter said. “Oh, god, I cannot believe we’ve just had this conversation.”
“Healthy communication is an important part of any relationship,” said Beverley mock-seriously, and laughed when Peter hit her with a cushion.
She didn’t mention what she knew about what Nightingale thought about him outside of some spell, though. She wasn’t sure why. No, she knew why. It would make it even more real, and she didn’t think she wanted that.
They didn’t talk about it the next morning, and then they kept not talking about it, which was fine by Beverley; she didn’t know what else there was to be said. She didn’t want to talk about it. But something had changed.
Beverley really noticed it when Peter crawled into bed after midnight, feet cold enough to wake her up. She yelped.
“We called it a night on going through the photos,” Peter mumbled, already falling asleep. “Have to go back and start again in the morning when I can concentrate.”
“Then why didn’t you just stay over?” It would have made sense for him to – that was why he still had a room at the Folly, still kept a couple of changes of clothes there.
Peter stiffened. “I’m trying not to do that any more.”
Beverley was too tired to have this conversation right then, so she didn’t; she let herself drift back to sleep, kicking at Peter when he tried to warm his feet up on her, and tackled him over breakfast instead.
“Seriously,” she said. “I don’t like you driving when you’re that tired; it’s not safe.”
“Worse than driving after having a beer,” said Peter. “I know. It just seemed like a good idea.” It came out muffled around a mouthful of toast; he was trying to get back to work as soon as he could.
“What?” Beverley said. “So I don’t get ideas about what you’re doing over there?”
Peter paused, and had to swallow so he could speak clearly. “I’m not sure.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Beverley. “That's not – I wouldn’t think that.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” said Peter, “but it wasn’t really for you, it was…for me, I think.”
She frowned up at him. “Just – do what you have to, but don’t make yourself miserable over nothing.”
“I know,” Peter said. “I’m trying.” He kissed her and left with half a piece of toast still in his hand. Beverley didn’t know why he’d bothered with that, either; it wasn’t like he couldn’t cadge breakfast off Molly if he got there early enough.
The Nightingale wasn’t doing so well, either. Beverley ran into him down by Eel Island and while he greeted her with the same politeness and pleasure to see her as always, there was something a little stiff about it, like he wasn’t sure she was going to be pleased to see him. She didn’t realise how used she’d got to him as – a friend, a normal person, until this slight withdrawal.
“How are things?” he asked her.
“Fine,” she said. “Nothing out of the ordinary. How’s things at the Folly? Peter’s been home a lot more than usual. Are you finally kicking him out?”
She hadn’t meant to say anything about it, anything at all, but the words just spilled out, and Nightingale flinched, then recovered and went on like he was hoping she hadn’t noticed; like he was hoping she didn’t know. And that she didn’t like.
“Of course not,” he said. “The Folly will always be a home for him as well - if he wants it.”
“Of course he does,” said Beverley, another thing she hadn’t quite meant to say. “I mean, it’s nice him being home more, too; bit of a pain when he works somewhere I can’t even step inside.” That was exaggerating things a bit, but she’d never been further inside the Folly than the lobby and she never wanted to. It felt oppressive, closing in, like a too-tight and itchy piece of clothing. Ty said it was worse the further you tried to go, although Beverley wondered when she’d found that out.
“I do wonder,” Nightingale said suddenly, “if, when the protections were set up, they just couldn’t be bothered making them discriminating or they didn’t think it would ever be necessary; I’m rather afraid it was the latter.”
“Well, you’d know, wouldn’t you?” said Beverley. “You were there.”
He unfroze a bit, and chuckled. “When they were adjusted for the new phone line at the start of the War, yes; not when they were first set up. Some things are still a little before my time.”
“Yeah, I know, you’re practically an infant,” Beverley said cheekily, which to be fair he was compared to her brother-in-law Oberon or Oxley or Father Thames.
He smiled and shrugged. “Everything is relative, Peter would say.”
“Followed up by a ten-minute lecture on Einstein,” said Beverley, and they both shook their heads at that, and Beverley remembered that she liked the Nightingale, when he wasn’t being weird, and Peter wasn’t; that she liked how well he knew Peter, how much he cared about him. She could complain and know he took it the way she meant it; she could trust him with Peter’s life, and more importantly, Peter’s well-being, which wasn’t the same thing.
She didn’t want there to be all – this, getting in the way of that.
“I think Peter,” Nightingale said suddenly, and then, “I think you might need to talk to him. There was something – you need to ask him about it.”
“Something that happened to him?”
“Both of us,” Nightingale admitted. “But Peter’s your problem.”
Beverley narrowed her eyes at him, wondering suddenly. “And whose problem are you, then?”
“My own, I think,” said the Nightingale, looking her straight in the eye, and Beverley had to hand it to him; he wasn’t a half-bad liar when he put his mind to it.
She was out on patrol that evening, but only until about nine, and Peter was there when she got home.
“Ran into Nightingale today,” she told him while she was changing out of her wetsuit and toweling off; Peter was lying on the bed, reading something that looked like it might actually be for fun – the fact it was on an e-reader was the major sign there. “He’s almost as mopey as you are.”
“I am not mopey,” said Peter. “If I was moping he would have invented some ridiculous job for me to take care of. He thinks I don’t notice he does that.”
“I think he’s too busy trying to pretend nothing’s wrong to worry about that,” said Beverley.
“Nothing is wrong,” Peter said.
“Okay,” she said, and went to grab some clothes.
“I mean it,” he said. “It's fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.”
“You’re less and less convincing the more times you say the word fine,” Beverley informed him.
“I just thought I was a better person than this,” Peter said, and Beverley thought oh no, here we go.
“Better than what?”
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “And I should be able to, right? There’s nothing – it’s not instead of you, it’s as well as, and I shouldn't…that’s never happened to me before. Not, not like – oh, fuck, I said I didn’t want to talk about it.”
Beverley hopped up on one foot to get the first leg of the wetsuit off, a maneuver she’d perfected by the time she was five and that Peter still had trouble with. Figuring out how she felt about this – that maneuver was going to take more concentration. “What happened to ignore it and eventually it’ll go away?”
“I’m trying,” Peter said. “It’s not working. Probably because I see his stupid face every bloody day, don’t I, and I can’t not do that, and I don’t want to not do that, and – aaaargh.” He covered his face with his hands.
“This is about more than wanting to get in his pants, isn’t it?” Beverley said, sitting down on the bed and trying to figure out why that bothered her; she knew that, knew how much they…it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise.
“I guess it is,” said Peter. “Well, it’s Nightingale. Of course it is.”
“I like him, you know,” Beverley said. “When he’s not trying to pretend it’s still nineteen-thirty, and you’ve mostly cured him of that. But I can’t imagine being in love with him.”
She tried to say it deliberately, because it needed to be said; Peter flinched, which was how she knew she was right.
“Hold up, I didn’t say I,” said Peter, dropping his hands to stare at her. “Fuck.”
“Seriously, though,” said Beverley.
Peter covered his face with his hands again. “Fuck.”
“If it makes you that upset then go back to ignoring it.”
“No, it’s just I…” Peter sighed and sat up. “I wasn’t thinking…what do you mean, you can’t imagine it?”
“Just can’t,” Beverley said. “I like him alright now, but he’s still old, and still boring sometimes, and he’s the Nightingale.”
“Your brother-in-law was around for the American Revolution,” Peter argued. “And he’s not – he’s funny, if you’re paying attention, and he cares about doing things right, and I don’t have to tell him what I’m thinking half the time, and even if you don’t agree with me he’s definitely –”
“Oh my god, okay, I didn’t ask for a sonnet,” Beverley said, half-amused and half-startled and half-perturbed at this outpouring of affection, at least by Peter’s standards.
“In contrast to reason and stereotype, he’s really not a poetry kind of guy,” said Peter. “Actually, you’ve got that in common. Anyway, the last time I was with a bloke I was fifteen, which you know. So I don't know. I don’t think I know anything right now.”
“Oh my god,” Beverley said again. “Is this just all a massive mid-life-crisis freakout about being bi, or whatever? Is that your problem?”
“No!” Peter said. “No, that’s – that’s the least complicated thing about this. Jesus, Bev.”
“Come here,” Peter said, and held her close.
“You’re such an idiot,” Beverley said into his chest.
“Yeah, but I’m your idiot,” he said cheerfully. “Luckily for you.”
“Luckily for you.”
“I know,” said Peter. “Luckily for me.”
“Before you ask,” Rom said when they came up in the middle of the channel, “Nobody’s making me ask you about this, your total distraction is obvious even without that. What’s up, Bev?”
“Nothing,” Beverley said, tilting her head back for the feeling of the cool night breeze on her head and cheeks. “Nothing’s up.”
Beverley sighed, and frowned at Rom; on the one hand, there was the thing where she’d hooked up with Peter when Beverley had been upstream, but that was years and years ago, and there was the thing where Rom never took stuff seriously, but she was Beverley’s closest sister in age and the urge to talk to somebody about all the thoughts swirling around her head was getting overwhelming.
“It’s Peter,” she said. “He’s got – he’s got a bit of a crush on somebody and it’s not, he told me about it, it’s not a thing, but…it's bothering me all the same.”
“Oooooh,” said Rom. “You guys aren’t – like, neither of you has ever -”
“We’re, I don’t know, monogamous or whatever,” Beverley said. “We've never talked about – I’ve never even thought about something like that. Not actually, you know?”
“I thought you were both bi,” said Rom, and Beverley splashed her in the face; Rom spluttered, ducked under, came up again. “Hey!”
“Don’t say stupid shit,” Beverley told her. “Also, like you’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“Exactly, so I know what I’m talking about,” Rom said. “Who is it, then? You can’t leave me hanging like that.”
“I’m not telling,” Beverley said. “It’s Peter’s business.”
“And mine, but you know what I mean.”
“Oh, come on. I can’t tell you what to do about it if I don’t know who it is.”
Beverley thought about it for a while. “If I do, you won’t -”
“On Mum’s life,” Rom said.
“It’s the Nightingale.”
Rom just blinked at her for a while. “Huh.” She thought about it. “At least it’s kind of hot?”
“I did not ask for your opinion on that,” said Beverley, who’d been trying not to think about that because it added an additional level of confusion she absolutely did not need. She didn’t even think Nightingale was all that, so why – no, she wasn’t going to think about it. “Rom, come on.”
Rom pursed her lips and looked up at the sky; the clouds had been getting thicker, the city lights now reflecting off them, and it was going to rain soon. “I don’t think he’d cheat on you, if it helps. He’s obviously still mad about you.”
“Those aren’t the same thing,” Beverley said. “But neither do I. That’s not what I’m worried about.”
“You want him to not have had the thought in the first place?”
“I want him to stop being unhappy,” Beverley said. “And I want to feel like that’s something I can fix, and it’s not, and I want to feel like it’s something I shouldn’t have to fix, because it isn’t, except it’s Peter.”
“Being a control-freak is Ty’s job, not yours,” Rom said. Beverley glared at her, but had to snicker anyway. “What do you want? For you.”
“That,” Beverley said. “What I said. Everything else is fine. It’s not even that I don’t like Nightingale, or I don’t want Peter to ever see him again, which would be dumb, he can’t, they work together, and asking Peter to stop that would be like…”
“Asking us to leave our rivers,” said Rom. “Yeah, I get that.”
“I want them to stop pretending everything’s okay,” Beverley said, like something had shaken free in her chest. “To stop pretending they don’t - to stop trying to protect me and each other, like if they just shove themselves into tiny little boxes it’ll fix everything. It’s fucking exhausting just watching it.”
“I don’t think it’s about that,” Rom said, dubiously.
Beverley rolled her eyes. “Have you met those two?”
“Not that much, if we’re counting,” said Rom. “Okay, listen. If they’d just…if Peter came home one day and was like ‘whoops, I tripped and fell on his dick-’”
Beverley burst out laughing at that, a loud whoop that startled some nearby ducks, who took off into the dusk in an indignant flurry of feathers.
“- what would you have done then?”
“That's not even close!” Beverley objected. “That’d be, like, Peter having chosen to – he’d have lied to me, if he did that. He wouldn’t do that. When he makes a promise he means it, and he’s with me.” She thought about it. “I don’t think the Nightingale would, either. I mean, if only because he wouldn’t want to piss me off, and then maybe Mum, and all of that. He’s not actively stupid.”
“But you’d be mad because Peter lied to you,” Rom said.
“Okay, don’t push it,” Beverley said. “I get your point. I don’t think he doesn’t care about me and he hasn’t cheated on me and he hasn’t lied to me, so what am I upset about?”
“You don’t have to have a reason to be upset,” said Rom. “You can just not like it.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to not like it,” Beverley said. “Like if I stop not liking it, it’ll turn out to be a trick, or….”
“So you do feel like he lied to you,” Rom pounced.
“I don’t know,” Beverley said. “Men.”
She felt like this must have been there all the time, or it wouldn’t have bubbled up so suddenly in Peter. No, she knew it had been there all the time. She just hadn’t minded because Peter was hers and she didn’t mind who he looked at, even if it was the Nightingale, even if the Nightingale looked back. It felt like the rules had changed and nobody had asked her.
Except she felt like maybe nothing had changed, really, once she’d stopped being surprised, and that was what bothered her, because it should have.
“Mostly they’re not worth it,” Rom agreed. “Except if you’re taking them to bed, and half the time not even then.”
“What am I gonna do?” Beverley asked her sister.
“Well,” said Rom. “You could always drown both of them, I mean, it’s a classic for a reason. And Ty will stop giving you her don’t-get-involved-with-puny-mortals speech, except maybe once for an encore. But you could definitely get her to buy the drinks while she does it.”
Beverley thought about that for half a second, not even the tiniest bit seriously, but it was a classic for a reason, and something inside her liked it for a fragment of time, the mercurial force of nature that beat under her skin and wanted most of all to be respected. But she walked on land too, lived there and loved there and ate pizza on the couch there, and who knew better than a River than things could be more than one thing at the same time. And Peter didn’t worship her, but he thought the world of her, and that was better.
“Nah,” she said out loud. “I think not.”
“Mmm, yeah, maybe best, with the Agreement and everything,” said Rom. “Although I reckon it’d count as a violation if he was sleeping with your boyfriend. Race you to Mum’s place.”
She got a flying start because she was ducking under the water even as she said it, but Beverley beat her by a length; she’d always been better in the water.
When they climbed out at Wapping she gave Rom a hug. Rom didn’t ask why, just returned it.
After that she started hoping Peter would figure it out himself, but he didn’t, he kept coming home every night no matter what, even if it wasn’t until the small hours, and wearing a coat of determined cheer Beverley hadn’t seen him shrug on since Herefordshire, and wasn’t that horrifying. Nightingale hadn’t been around to their place for weeks, either, and it wasn't because they were overworked, not right now. Beverley had to turn that one over in her mind for a while before she realised the main reason that bothered her was that she missed seeing him.
“We need to talk,” she told Peter one night, just after they’d turned out the light.
“That doesn’t sound ominous at all,” said Peter.
“Like you don’t say it five times a week because I didn’t separate the whites from the colours or whatever,” she said.
“I have a funny feeling this isn’t about laundry, though.”
“Nope,” she said. “It’s about you. You’ve got to figure out what you want.”
“For dinner tomorrow? For Christmas?”
“In your life,” Beverley said. “You know what I mean.”
“I have everything I want,” he responded immediately. “Realistically. Except I’d still like to figure out exactly where the limit is for complexity before life starts generating magic, and also get that population-wide genetic study going except Abdul's never gonna get enough samples, and the new VR kits with haptic feedback are finally getting to reasonably-priced consumer-grade hardware, and -”
“Peter,” Beverley said warningly.
He went silent, and she listened to him breathe for a little while, that and below it the thudding rush of blood in his veins.
“I have everything I want,” he said finally, “except I think. I think. I think I’d like to have Nightingale, too. I mean – you know what I mean.”
“Okay,” Beverley said, because for Peter that was pretty direct; better than she’d expected, actually.
He lifted his head. “Okay? That’s your response? Okay?”
“You think you were telling me something I didn’t know?”
A complicated series of emotions crossed his face, in the dim light through the curtains. “Maybe.” He rolled over to face her. “Okay, question, then: what do you want? That you don’t already have. You’ve got me. You know that, right?”
“Nothing,” Beverley said at once. “Well, maybe an extra bottle of gin or two in my river this summer, and for certain people to stop putting so much bloody fertilizer on their gardens, and some beavers. I’d definitely like beavers, for a bit of proper wetland. But you know what I mean.”
“Oh,” Peter said. “So it’s just me.”
“Wanting to bang Thomas Nightingale?” Beverley said. “I don’t know; there’s probably a queue. I’m just not in it. Not that he’d want me in it, either.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I want you to be happy,” she told him, plain as she could. “And right now you’re not and it’s driving me batty.”
“I just.” He rolled over again, lay on his front with his arms folded on the pillow, frowned at the wall. “This feels like a conversation where we talk about – about seeing other people, or some bullshit, or – I don’t want that! I don’t…I don’t think I’m that sort of person.”
“I don’t want that either,” Beverley said sharply, swinging a leg over Peter’s hip and pulling him in to face her again, skin to skin; almost as good as being in her river. “You’re mine, we’re us, that’s not changing. I don’t think I’m that sort of person either.”
Peter frowned at her, confused. “Then why did you make me say it? Just to get it off my chest?”
Beverley took the time to think about that. There was an answer, but it still surprised her it was an answer, and she needed to be sure it was real before she said it.
“I think Nightingale might not be other people,” she said eventually, and watched Peter stare back at her, like he was waiting for something else, all his muscles tense. She looked back and willed him to take her words for what they were.
“Yeah,” he said finally, relaxing. “I – me either.”
“So the actual question is – do you have any idea what he wants?”
Peter laughed, and ducked his head into her shoulder. “God, no. It’s not like I’ve asked. There’s that thing where he’s still technically my boss, in case you don’t remember. And you – and why would I ask, when it’s not…when it wasn’t. I mean, I think he, I think it’s not just – I don’t know, no.”
Beverley thought about telling him about that day on the riverbank, and then decided no; if he couldn’t see it for himself there was no point to this.
“Well, let me know when you figure it out, or decide it’s too much effort, or whatever,” she said, tucking his head properly into her shoulder and slinging an arm around his waist. “Because I’m not asking him for you.”
Peter made a choking noise. “No. Yeah. Remind me what I did to deserve you?”
“You got very, very lucky,” Beverley said smugly. “While you’re at it, invite him over for dinner; we haven’t done that for ages, what with you being all weird. There’s a test match on Saturday, we can watch it after.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Peter said skeptically. Beverley didn’t bother responding.
“You’re not sleeping with him in my house, though,” she added, just so that was out there.
Peter made a panicked noise. “I think we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, don’t you?”
“Just laying out the boundaries,” she said, and settled in to sleep.
“But what if he’s not interested?” Peter asked out of nowhere, when Beverley was almost asleep.
She groaned. “I cannot emphasize enough how that’s not my fucking problem.”
“I love you a lot,” Peter said, quietly. He didn’t say that very much, not out loud.
“I know,” Beverley said, and fell asleep listening to the soft familiar sound of his breathing in the darkness.
“He said he’s busy,” Peter reported back, regarding dinner, and Beverley said “Then tell him to find a night when he’s not busy.” She didn’t know exactly how Peter passed that message on, but it worked; if it hadn't she’d have called him herself.
They all determinedly pretended it was just another night through the meal itself, but once they were done eating Beverley took Nightingale by the arm and seated him firmly on the couch. They’d taken their dishes into the kitchen and Peter was still in there, putting things on to soak or something else mysterious.
“Am I in trouble?” Nightingale asked her, with a wry but nervous sideways look.
“Not with me,” Beverley said, leaning back and putting up her feet. “You and Peter aren’t my problem. Sort yourselves out and let me know when you do. Just make sure you do sort yourselves out.”
“Did Peter,” said Nightingale.
Beverley rolled her eyes. “Yes, I have heard all the sordid details. I heard them the same day, matter of fact.”
“Ah,” he said. “I see.”
“Like I said,” she repeated. “Sort it out. I’m not playing go-between here. But Peter’s been moping, and I’m sick of it. And I bet you have been, too – this is the first time you’ve shown up here in a month and a half. Don’t try to tell me how busy you’ve been.”
Nightingale paused, looking down into his wineglass. “I’m assuming the old rules apply.”
Beverley sipped her wine and wondered how long Peter was going to be stacking the dishes; she couldn’t stop him so she’d stopped trying. “What old rules are those?”
“No touching.” Nightingale said it with the touch of a drawl, self-deprecating, like that could disguise why he’d said it at all.
“Actually,” Beverley said after a decent interval, “I’m willing to take that one back. But after that you’re on your own.” She narrowed her eyes, and said “And not in my house, either.”
She looked over to see Nightingale’s eyes saucer-wide, which was more than a bit satisfying. Peter chose that moment to pop his head in. “Anybody want a top-up? Am I just bringing the bottle in?”
“Yes,” said Nightingale hastily, draining the rest of his glass in a manner that would have impressed any pre-loading seventeen-year-old headed clubbing, including the one that still lived inside Beverley. When he got up to go at the end of the evening Peter frowned critically at him and said “You can take the spare room or I can drive you, those are your choices.”
“Really, Peter,” he said, with enough dignity that it might have fooled somebody who didn’t know him. “I’m fine.”
Peter had whispered in her ear before he’d said anything, so Beverley was ready. “Okay,” she said, holding up Nightingale’s keys, “get these back off me and you’re good to go.”
Nightingale glared at her, obviously aware of the consequences of taking on an orisa in her own home, and then glared at Peter, who smirked and raised his hands. “Oh, no. You’re on your own there.”
They had a spare room now, which was much better than when Beverley had first moved in here, so Nightingale didn’t have to crash on the couch – Beverley’s imagination really did stop at that. She was willing to bet he would have tried to sneak out at first light – probably left a note or something – except that Peter, who had gone easy on the wine, got up early to put on the coffee and forgot he’d stayed over. At least that was what Beverley assumed when she was woken up by Peter, stark-naked like he usually slept, crashing back into the bedroom, trailed by a stunned silence.
Beverley burst out laughing while Peter made hissing noises of mortal injury at her and grabbed for his barely-used pyjamas. She put on her dressing gown and wandered out to find the Nightingale in his shirt and trousers and old-fashioned braces, still staring like he wasn’t sure what he’d seen.
“Have your eyes recovered from that horrific sight?” Beverley asked. “I think he forgot you were still there.”
Nightingale opened his mouth and then he met her eyes and a chuckle escaped, and then both of them were laughing so hard Beverley had to lean back against the wall and Nightingale sat down on the back of the couch.
“I HATE YOU BOTH AND YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN COFFEE,” Peter yelled indignantly from the bedroom.
“Like you can convince me it’s anything he hasn’t seen before, you lived in the same place for years!” Beverley yelled back.
“THAT IS NOT THE POINT AND I STILL HATE YOU,” Peter shouted back. He was normally blasé enough about nudity; he must have bottled because it was Nightingale, and now he was annoyed with himself for it.
“It was a bit more than I’d seen before, at least on Peter,” Nightingale admitted, with a small smirk.
“Well, nice way for you to start the morning then,” Beverley said, which got her a raised eyebrow, and called “I love you too!” to Peter before heading into the kitchen. Nightingale followed her, eyeing Peter’s espresso machine and choosing to wrangle the French press instead.
“Get him to show you how to use it, he’d love it,” Beverley said, and shook her head when Nightingale held up a cup. “No, I’m good, tea for me in the mornings.”
She felt the movement of water in the pipes, and then a few seconds later the shower could be heard upstairs; apparently Peter was taking some time out.
“Do we need to talk about…” Nightingale trailed off as he added milk to his coffee; just enough to lighten it to the colour of teak.
“Nope,” said Beverley. “Told you last night; sort yourselves out.”
Peter came in freshly-showered and fully-clothed a few minutes later, making Beverley the least-dressed person there – which was fine, it was her kitchen – and gave her a quick morning kiss before beelining for the coffee without so much as looking as Nightingale.
“You’re welcome,” said Nightingale as Peter was halfway through his first cup.
“Well, we did feed you dinner and about two bottles of wine,” said Peter, which was less of an exaggeration than it should be. “Glad you stayed?”
“Yes,” said Nightingale, and nobly resisted the urge to give Peter a once-over; at least Beverley was pretty sure he was, because she wouldn’t have resisted. “I think I am.”
“My turn for the shower,” Beverley told them. When she got back, they’d managed to put together toast and eggs between them, a nice hot meal before she jumped in the river; maybe there were some benefits to this after all.
The slightly horrific side-effect of this otherwise pleasant evening, however, was that Peter seemed to have decided it was a good idea to ask her for advice, as if the phrase “not my fucking problem” had been somehow unclear. Beverley supposed that Peter liked to talk to her about just about everything else, except if it was an ongoing case and sometimes even then, and she liked to talk to him, except if it was River business and sometimes even then. So of course he wanted to talk to her about this.
“I just,” Peter said. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do now. What would you do if it was you?”
“I wouldn’t,” Beverley said.
“Am I supposed to just ask him out on a date?” Peter wrinkled his nose at the idea. This was probably because Peter had never asked anybody out on a date that Beverley actually knew of. She was of the personal opinion that Nightingale would respond pretty well to being pulled into the nearest Folly broom closet, and was sort of surprised he hadn’t done that to Peter, but then Molly probably had opinions about how her broom closets were used and there were a lot more people at the Folly now than there had been. Anyway: still not her problem.
“I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s done,” she said.
“Well,” said Peter, a sudden glint in his eye, “It’s not like I can just invite him to fertilize a river with me, not least because he’d ask a lot more questions than I did.”
“Are you seriously still on about that?” Beverley asked in exasperation.
“Nah,” Peter said. He sobered. “I don’t want to get this wrong.”
“I think he’s known you for twelve years, Peter,” Beverley said. “I don’t think there are going to be any big surprises here.”
“Well, not that I’ve been looking that closely, but you might be wrong on that one,” Peter said, straight-faced.
It took Beverley at least three hours to get that image out of her head. Thank-you, Peter. She was still trying when she met Melanie for lunch. These days Melanie worked for a local environmental agency, and had mostly come around to the idea that Beverley was the goddess of a small river in south London, although Beverley was pretty sure she thought it was a more metaphorical title than it was. Which was fine.
“What are you making that face about?” Melanie asked her, and Beverley nearly choked on her tandoori chicken wrap. “Is it that bad?”
“Nothing!” Beverley said hastily. “Nothing.”
“Anything new, then?”
“Sort of,” Beverley said. “There are some bitterns breeding at the Wetland Centre. Not strictly part of my river, but it’s in my manor, and I’ve only had them visiting for…my whole life, really. Breeding is big. We’ll see if they make it.”
Melanie shook her head a little, but agreed that this was a good thing. Then they chatted about the beaver issue for a while. Beverley was pretty sure Peter hadn’t realized how serious she was about it.
“And how’s Peter?” Melanie got around to asking.
“Fine,” Beverley said hastily.
“Ooooh,” said Melanie. “Is it the kids thing again? I know you two were still…”
“No,” Beverley said. “Not that.” Peter had got distracted for a while from it, after the first go-around they’d had – when they were still coming to terms with what it really meant, her and him – and she suspected they might have come up for round two, and maybe even be trying, if he hadn’t gotten distracted yet again. But this time, when they did, she was going to say yes.
That was something, she realized, Nightingale really needed to know, if he didn’t already. It hadn’t occurred to her how complicated this could get, and how quickly.
“Look,” she said. “No offence, Mel – I don’t really want to talk about it right now. It’s not a big thing.”
“You guys are still so adorable together,” said Melanie. “I can’t imagine anything really getting in your way. You’ll be fine.”
Melanie didn’t really know what Beverley was, or what that meant, even now. Melanie certainly had no idea about the way Beverley looked at Peter sometimes, now, knowing one day he would be gone. Time was going to get in their way, eventually. Just not yet.
“Yeah,” Beverley said. “I think so. Thanks.”
That Friday, she got a text from Effra. Mum wants a word. Drop by.
It wasn’t unusual, but the timing made Beverley suspicious. She went, of course, because it was her mum; she couldn’t not.
She got a private interview, or as private as anything ever got at her mum’s flat; there was nobody sitting right next to them, and the TV was loud enough that you’d have to listen hard. Not that it mattered. Her mum would decide what stayed between them and what didn’t.
“I heard you had the Nightingale to stay at your house,” her mother said, after the other usual questions. “What was that about?”
“Nothing that interesting,” Beverley said. “He came for dinner and he had an extra glass of wine so Peter made him sleep in the spare room, that's all.”
“I wouldn’t have thought the Nightingale would let his apprentice tell him what to do,” said her mother.
“Peter’s not exactly his apprentice anymore, mum,” Beverley said. “That’s not the first time he’s come over for dinner, either; you know that.”
“Hmmm,” said her mother. “I just want to make sure you are okay.”
“What?” Beverley said. “Has Rom been talking to you?”
“No,” said her mother. “I am the Goddess of the Thames and you are my daughter, so I know these things. But now I know who to ask if you don’t want to tell me anything else.”
“Ugh, Mum,” Beverley said. “I’m fine, I am. Peter’s just sorting some stuff out right now. It’s not anything to do with me, not really.”
“He’s your man, of course it’s to do with you. Wizards, pah. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for you, when you decided to take up with him. Even aside from everything Cecelia has to say about it.”
“Peter’s not just a wizard, he’s my wizard,” Beverley said, sitting up straight and proud. “And it was a good idea, and it still is.”
“He does make you happy,” her mother conceded. “That’s all I want for my children.”
That wasn’t even half the truth, but Beverley ducked her head and said “Yeah, Mum, I know,” because it was still the truth, and her mother loved her.
“But you’ve got two wizards now, it seems to me,” her mother went on. “That I was not expecting.”
Beverley must have made a face, because her mother laughed. “No, it’s not like that, you’re going to tell me, and you don’t have to. The Nightingale for any of my daughters, now that would never be a good idea. Even if he’s not going to die on you.”
“If you knew then why are you asking?” Beverley said, but she knew why.
“Cheeky. To see what you wanted to tell me, of course,” said her mother. “Well, then. Try not to let either of them get into trouble with your sisters, mmm? Or me. Not that they both shouldn’t know better after all this time.”
“Yes, Mum,” said Beverley, with the growing and horrified realisation that anything the Nightingale did to upset Mum, or any of her sisters, was now going to be laid at her feet even more than before. She hadn’t thought of that.
“And look after yourself,” her mother said, reaching out to touch her on the cheek. “Remember who you are and what you are owed.”
“Yes, Mum,” Beverley said again, ducking her head, but this time she smiled when she did.
Beverley had been expecting that Peter would come home and tell her more than she wanted to know, eventually, and that was how she’d know they’d stopped dithering, but he didn’t even have to say anything; she knew as soon as he walked in the door. It radiated off him, and when she pulled him in for a kiss he smelled not just of his own magic, but the Nightingale’s.
She hadn’t thought of that, but it wasn’t wrong; just new. Something unfolded in her chest, again, when she thought that. He was still, over everything else, her Peter.
“Somebody got lucky today,” she said.
“Yep,” said Peter, fighting off a particularly satisfied grin. “Not quite like you’re maybe thinking, but yep.”
“Well, good for you,” she said, and patted him on the cheek as she pulled back. “Some of us got to spend all day finding an infestation of Carolina Watershield in a backwater, instead. Cabomba caroliniana, if you want to be technical about it.”
“Oh, seriously?” Peter said immediately. “You mean the stuff from aquariums? I read something about that. Warming temperatures are encouraging it, right?”
“Probably,” Beverley said moodily. “Big bloody swathes of it. Somebody’s going to have to get the Environment Agency to do something about it. By which I mean me. Hopefully for them, they sort it out before I have to call in Ty.”
While they made dinner and then sat on the couch to eat, Peter expounded on a new idea he’d had about vampires.
“What if you could somehow drain the life just from an invasive species? Like, specifically.” He sighed. “But then probably it’d be weaponisable, which is no good. Or there’d be an accident and you’d kill all the bees. And then Mellissa would come over from Herefordshire to yell at us.”
“That sounds horrifying, Peter,” Beverley said. “Kind of interesting as an idea, don’t get me wrong, but also fucking horrifying. What does Nightingale think of that?”
“I haven’t suggested it to him yet because he’d say exactly what you said, except without saying ‘fucking’,” said Peter. “But I bet Abdul will appreciate the idea. He’s all about the research questions now he doesn’t have to pretend to be a pathologist.”
“You didn’t want to stay over?” she asked him abruptly.
“Told you I’d be home tonight,” he said. “And we did finish up the casework, and the lessons.” He paused. “But I might tomorrow, if that’s okay?”
“Fine by me,” Beverley said. “I’ve got patrol, anyway.”
“Cool,” said Peter, and made the twitching motion with his fingers that meant he wanted to touch her hair but wasn’t going to ask, because he wasn’t stupid.
“Oh, go on then,” Beverley said, curling comfortably into him. He petted it gently.
She bit her lip, then sat up and shifted around to kiss him. Peter kissed back without any hesitation, but because they were getting old and boring themselves they headed into the bedroom before clothes started coming off. The couch wasn’t very comfortable for that, anyway.
Beverley couldn’t help noticing a bruise at the very base of Peter’s neck, dark against his paler protected skin.
“Oh, um,” Peter said when he saw her looking, momentarily uncertain; his hands paused on her hips. Beverley didn’t think about it, just kissed it, with only the faintest graze of teeth, and only that because she knew Peter liked it. He groaned and gripped her hips tighter, in a way that might leave bruises on her if she wasn’t what she was and didn’t go down to her river, and her mother’s, every day.
Beverley smiled against his skin. He was still here, and still hers, and that wasn’t changing.
She did leave a couple of bruises of her own, just because she could.
Afterwards, Peter brushed his hand over the spots, and eyed her. “I hope you aren’t planning on getting competitive about this; escalation might stop being fun for me.”
“Nah,” Beverley said, although she thought Peter might not quite be telling the truth there.
“Does it bother you?” Peter asked, frankly. “Because I could, I don’t know…”
She tried to do him the courtesy of thinking about it, and said, eventually “No, it doesn’t. I’m not…what did you expect, a list of rules about what I was okay with you two doing?”
“I don’t know, maybe,” said Peter.
“I meant what I said,” Beverley told him. “Sort yourselves out.”
“Mmmm, I think we’re going to manage.” Peter smirked, all post-coital and pleased with himself; Beverley was too post-coital herself to do anything but shake her head.
She waited a week or two, so it didn’t seem like she was changing her mind – she might be mercurial but she wasn’t that mercurial – before tracking down the Nightingale; if this was going to go on, they needed an agreement. Between the two of them, not just with Peter. She’d realized it talking to Melanie.
She found him down by the river, her mother’s river. He didn’t look more relaxed, exactly, she wasn’t sure the Nightingale did relaxed in public. In private was something else, she’d seen him at her house often enough to know that. But there was something around his eyes, in the line of her shoulders, she might call happy, if she was doing that body language stuff.
That was Peter, she knew, because of Peter.
He smiled when he saw her, a little tentative but still pleased, and Beverley was surprised at the sudden urge she had to – not ask questions, not really, but make a joke, maybe, say something. A weird overflowing of everything she felt about Peter, a wanting to say is this what it’s like for you, do you feel the same way about him I do, isn’t he amazing, do you know how lucky you are, do you know how lucky we are.
She fought it down, but she still smiled back. “Hi.”
“Good morning,” he said – like he’d ever lose that formality. “Is this about something you think the Folly needs to know, or…?”
“No,” Beverley said. “It’s – we need to talk.”
“Ah,” said Nightingale, and the not-quite-relaxed air vanished between one blink and the next.
“It’s not bad, I’m not here to change my mind or anything,” Beverley said, irritated she was having to say it at all; it wasn’t like she’d been unclear at any point here. “But you sorted yourselves out, so: we need to talk. You want to sit down, or you want to walk?”
“Let’s sit,” said Nightingale, and they found a bench along the shore, where once upon a time she’d sat with Peter and told him about a car that had gone into the Thames.
“Here are the rules,” she said, with no preamble. “Peter’s mine, we’ve been talking about getting married sometime soon, it’d make his mum happy if nothing else, and if he’s never mentioned it we want to have kids someday. Probably not that far off, I think. And none of that's changing, not unless him or me change our minds about it, and he hasn’t so far as I know, and I definitely haven’t.”
“You’re trying to say this is temporary,” said Nightingale. “Whatever he and I – he and I.”
“No, that’s not up to me,” Beverley said. “And I wasn’t giving Peter a one-time pass, or telling you both to get it out of your system, or something – how stupid would that be?”
“I can see why you might have been tempted to try,” said Nightingale, looking at her thoughtfully.
“I haven’t got Peter out of my system and it’s been nearly ten years,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you to, either. It’s Peter, isn’t it?”
Nightingale opened his mouth, then shut it, and stared very intently at the ground for a few seconds, which Beverley thought meant the same thing as when Peter did it.
“No,” he said, looking up. “I’m not really expecting to. It’s Peter, after all.”
“And you know exactly how temporary it is, or isn’t,” Beverley had to add. Because that was the thing, wasn’t it? One day Peter wouldn’t be there any longer, and she would, and the Nightingale would, too, the way he seemed to be going, and – she’d thought about that. They only got so much time.
There could be enough of it to share.
“Alright,” said Nightingale. He’d done this once around already, after all. He knew. “Yes. I know. What are you saying, then?”
“I’m saying those are the ground rules,” said Beverley. “Those are the things I’m not letting go of, and whatever you want from Peter has to work around that. How is up to you. We didn’t really talk about it when me and Peter got together, or when you asked me to go help him in Herefordshire, but I had to live with rules, too. That he was a wizard, that he was part of the Folly, that he’d taken oaths, that some of him belonged to you, like I belong to my river, and that was how it was. This is just…another part of that, now.”
Nightingale visibly recoiled at that. “This is nothing to do with our jobs, or what we do.”
“Peter being your apprentice is the only reason he’s with me,” Beverley retorted. “It’s the only reason you know him. You can’t pretend the last decade away.”
Nightingale covered his face with his hand. “I’m suddenly remembering why this is a terrible idea.”
“So don’t, then,” Beverley said. “Nobody’s making you.”
“Do you think he -”
She raised a hand. “Oh no, ask him yourself.”
Nightingale uncovered his face again, sighing. “Is that always going to be your response from now on?”
“Probably not. But I’m still not signing up to mediate between the pair of you.”
“Quite reasonable,” Nightingale allowed, but in a voice that didn’t sound nearly as patronizing as the words on their own did. “I suppose now I’m supposed to tell you what I want out of this.”
“That’s the general idea of negotiation, yeah,” said Beverley, trying very hard not to roll her eyes.
He took some time to think about it, but she’d expected that.
“I want Peter to be mine,” he said, finally. “Not the Folly’s, that’s not the same thing, however you think about it. And for that to be something he wants, and something that’s alright with you, and – I can’t think of anything else, right now. All those things you said, they’re things I knew, they’re things I know Peter wants, which means I want them for him, whatever we are to each other. How that works is…I don’t know; something to figure out as we go along. Is that what you meant?”
“More or less,” Beverley said. “Okay. I hear you. I can work with that.” Nightingale seemed to think about it for a second, then offered her his hand, and she shook it, which seemed weirdly formal and exactly the right thing to do. If it was up to her she would have given him a hug, but this was still the Nightingale.
Still, she thought they might work up to that.
They both sat there for a while, looking out at the river, and Beverley thought this had a chance of being okay.
“Are we telling Peter we had this conversation, by the by?” he asked as they stood.
“I was going to wait until he came to the conclusion it was a conversation he needed to have,” Beverley said. “I give it about, mmm. Three weeks. Once he stops being distracted by the novelty.”
“Good,” said Nightingale. “My thoughts exactly.”
After that things were normal, more or less; not the normal they had been, but a new normal. That was okay. Beverley knew how to change. There wasn’t a river in the world that kept the same course, not unless it was made to, and even then it could only be made to for so long.
She wondered if rumours would make their way back to her – she didn’t have any illusions that this was going to stay, not a secret, but something that not many people knew about. Peter and Nightingale were both still in that phase Beverley remembered from Herefordshire and just after, the light, slightly drunk feeling of something new beginning. Peter had told her once it was called limerence, because Peter was a wizard and wizards needed words for everything. Not that Beverley didn’t have plenty of words of her own; she just didn’t need to share them with all and sundry. Then again, neither had wizards, once upon a time. But whatever you wanted to call it, from her perspective it shone off both of them, sneaking through all the cracks, a little like sunlight on her skin. She didn’t know how anybody could miss it.
But none of the people she’d thought might notice, Sahra or Abigail or the other apprentices, said anything to her, or avoided her either, and she thought if they knew it would be one of the two. Her sisters didn’t rib her about it either – any of them except Rom, at any rate, and once Olympia and Chelsea, but they always had liked to poke at her with anything to hand, being only just younger than her. Ty hadn’t said anything, so probably nobody had told her. She hoped that lasted.
She was feeling considerably less charitable towards the twins when Olympia called off sick from patrol with what Beverley strongly suspected was a hangover; she ended up in the river almost all day and walked back out into her garden feeling sore and grumpy and like she might flood a few gardens, maybe some of the Common, if things didn’t improve. Peter wasn’t home, either, which didn’t improve her mood. She climbed into a hot bath and dozed, opening her eyes when Peter knocked on the door. “Can I come in?”
“My house is your house,” Beverley said.
“Long day,” he said, seeing her. “I’m guessing.”
“The worst,” she said.
“Give me a minute,” he said, and went out again. He came back five minutes later with a steaming mug of tea, and handed it to her before he stripped off and climbed in.
“Sometimes you’re so British it’s embarrassing,” Beverley said, taking it.
“But am I wrong?” Peter said. Beverley shook her head.
“How was your day, then?” she asked.
“Better than yours, I think,” he said. “Blew up some targets, did some research, showed my face down The Chestnut Tree. Then when I got back to the Folly Abigail had…”
He spun a story for her. Beverley sipped at the tea, strong and hot and just a little sweet, and Peter paused in his talking to press a kiss to her forehead, and she didn’t feel anything but warm, like she was basking in sunlight.
Nightingale came over for dinner the next day, and Beverley didn’t say anything about the suspiciously long time he and Peter went quiet after she heard them getting out of the car, because she had said not in my house, and she suspected they were interpreting that pretty strictly. Which was a good thing, probably. They came in smiling, anyway, and that wasn’t a bad thing either; not at all.
Yeah, she thought. This is going to be okay.
“Did you defrost the chicken?” Peter asked.
“In the fridge,” Beverley said. “Nice to see you, too.”
“Hello,” said Nightingale, who was taking off his jacket, as Peter wandered off towards the kitchen with an abstracted pat to Beverley’s shoulder. “How was your day, Beverley?”
“Unexciting,” Beverley said. “Which I could use, this week. How about you?”
Maybe she’d let Peter keep him around for his manners, if nothing else.
Peter's mother rang while they were waiting for the food to be ready, and Peter answered by accident and ended up spending fifteen minutes getting her off the phone.
“We’ve got guests for dinner,” Beverley heard him saying. “A guest, anyway. No, it’s Nightingale. Do I know any other Nightingales?” Pause. “I don’t know, I wouldn’t say that.” Pause. “Does there need to be a particular reason?”
Beverley exchanged a conspiratorial grin with Nightingale, the kind where you were really glad you weren’t the person on the other end of the phone.
“What are you gonna tell your mum?” Beverley asked Peter idly during dinner, and looked up to see both of them staring at her in horror.
“My mother does not need to know about this,” Peter said firmly. “It wouldn’t be good for her heart.”
“I concur emphatically,” said Nightingale, stabbing at his food with unnecessary force. “And if we’re all very lucky she won’t get it into her head to ask me.”
“She’s not stupid,” Beverley pointed out.
“I’m still not borrowing trouble,” said Peter.
Oh well; that was up to him.
“My mother thinks that if you -” she pointed her fork at Nightingale, “make trouble with any of my sisters it’s my responsibility now. So don’t.”
Nightingale looked genuinely offended by this, but Peter snorted a laugh, and his expression dissolved abruptly into ruefulness. “I might have expected that.” Then he frowned. “Does Tyburn -”
“Nobody is telling Tyburn,” Peter and Beverley said at the same time, with the same amount of horror.
“Again,” said Nightingale, “I concur emphatically.”
Peter walked him out to the car when it was time for him to go back to the Folly, and Beverley didn’t pretend not to notice how long that took. Instead she pushed back the curtain on the kitchen window and saw them standing there. It wasn’t because she wanted to pry, but because she was going to see it, sooner or later, and she wanted to know what it felt like when she did. Nightingale had seen Peter kiss her a hundred times, probably. She figured she got one back.
It was casual, surprisingly; she’d half expected them to still be grabbing at each other, like it was something that wouldn’t last, but there was nothing of that. Just a quick kiss goodbye, like they’d done it a hundred times themselves. Beverley saw it and realized she knew, bone-deep, that Peter was walking back in here, that soon enough Nightingale would circle back as well, that this was less a new thing and more a reconfiguration. Like a new river channel, carving itself out, guided by the bones of the land.
Peter came back in smelling like snow and pine needles and even more wizardry than normal.
“You were peeking,” he said, looking at her curiously.
“And if I was?”
“And nothing,” Peter said. “Fair enough, I suppose. I was just wondering what you thought you were going to see.”
“Something for me,” Beverley said. “Not about you two, really. Not everything is, you know.”
“Ah,” Peter said. “Yeah. Yeah. Okay.”
Beverley came downstairs one Saturday morning, all ready to make Peter admire her laundry-sorting prowess, to find him on the phone.
“Yeah,” Peter was saying. “No. We should get Emilia to check that out. She likes that sort of thing.”
“Is that your boyfriend?” Beverley asked. Peter made an outraged face at her; she smirked back at him.
“Yes,” he said. “No, that was Bev asking a stupid question and getting a stupid answer. She’s about to tell me to ask you over for dinner this week, because you haven’t been yet.”
Beverley gave him a thumbs-up.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Peter was saying to Nightingale. “I think that’ll work. I’ll ask, anyway. Okay, talk to you later.”
He hung up.
“You didn’t ask,” Beverley said. “What’s going on?”
“How would you feel about coming to the Folly for dinner?” Peter said, putting his phone in his pocket. It made him look a bit old-fashioned, talking into the actual phone, but they hadn’t come up with a battery interrupt for an earpiece that Peter was happy with.
Beverley put her hands on her hips. “I can’t, or don’t you remember? Your force-fields, wards, whatever you like to call them.”
“I know,” Peter said. “It’s – will you come, anyway?”
“What are we going to do? Dine al fresco in the courtyard? Pizza party in the tech cave again?” Beverley laughed. “You’d have to invite Lesley, for old times’ sake.”
Peter laughed, but a bit hollowly. “Yeah. Just – will you come?”
Beverley looked at him curiously. He was looking hopeful.
“Alright,” she said. “What night were you thinking?”
The gates to the courtyard were open when Beverley got there, and she nestled her Mini – she’d gone off the Kias a few years back – in the garage on the left-hand side of the Jag. She’d parked here often enough, coming to pick Peter up or drop him off. There were a couple more cars in there now, not just the old haunted Bentley that never left. With more staff they couldn’t just get by on Peter’s latest electric Ford and the Jag, or the Ferrari that somehow still hadn’t been certified clear of magic. Beverley wondered what they’d do if their staff kept growing; the Folly wasn’t designed to deal with the parking requirements of a modern police unit. Peter probably had a plan all ready to go. He liked anticipating that sort of thing.
Nightingale met her at the back door, and she said hello and kissed him on the cheek. Snow and pine; it didn’t seem strange, now. He offered her his arm, old-fashioned. “Come in.”
Beverley hesitated. “You know I can’t – not very far.”
“Let’s see,” said the Nightingale, and she trusted him with Peter, so why not with this. And she was her mother’s daughter, after all, so she put her chin up, took his arm, and walked in, her heels clicking on the linoleum as she stepped across the threshold.
She remembered what it felt like, the wards pressing in, saying she wasn’t wanted here, and she was stiff waiting for it to start. There was a sensation like diving into the Thames on a hot day, a thin layer of warmth over the deeper cool of the river, but Nightingale pulled her onwards. And then there was nothing, and still nothing, except the faint breeze set up by the passageway.
“What’s happened?” she had to ask in alarm. “Your wards, has something gone wrong?”
“You don’t feel anything at all?” Nightingale asked, sounding surprised.
“I thought I did, back just after the door, but not now.”
“Good,” he said. “You shouldn’t. And no, they’re perfectly functional.”
He brought her through into the atrium, which she’d heard about from Peter but never seen except in pictures or the background of a videocall; a large, echoing space, stretching up and up to an elaborate skylight, all the years of the Folly, of wizards, resounding down from the balconies ringing it, intended to impress. And here was Beverley, a daughter of the Thames, standing in their home.
She wondered if that was what Peter felt, standing in her mother’s court.
She’d stopped, she realized. Nightingale was frowning at her. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I – yeah.” Then she spotted Peter, coming out from a set of double doors.
“Peter,” said Nightingale. “Look who’s come over for dinner.” She glanced at him and he was grinning, pleased with himself; he let his arm slip out of hers.
“Bev!” Peter exclaimed, joyous; he strode over and kissed her. “You made it – you made it in.” He turned to Nightingale. “I knew it’d work just fine.”
“Oh my god,” said Beverley. “What did you do?”
“The wards hadn’t been changed since nineteen thirty-nine,” said Peter. “We needed to, if we wanted the Internet – better than a wireless connection, anyway…”
“Or if we wanted the ability,” said Nightingale, “to be slightly broader in our guest list. But it’s not a one-man job, or even for two, so it wasn’t really possible until quite recently.”
“Caroline had a few ideas, too,” added Peter. “That helped.”
“Does that mean anybody can just get in here?”
“No,” they both said at once.
“No,” Peter said again. “You had to be brought in, the first time, but now you should be okay whenever – but anybody else, any other genii locorum or anything like that, they’d need to be brought in too. It’s not open season. I mean…” He and Nightingale exchanged a look, and Beverley reckoned that had been a topic of some debate. “But you, yeah, you should be okay for good.”
“Oh,” said Beverley. “That’s – oh.” Peter was smiling at her like he’d done something clever; and oh, he had, hadn’t he.
They were both dressed for dinner, so Beverley was glad she’d changed.
“So,” said Nightingale. “Shall we go in to dinner?”
“Did you cook, too?” Beverley had to ask, taking Peter’s arm and letting him lead the way; she didn’t know the inside of this place at all. She reckoned now she might find out.
“Do I look stupid enough to fight Molly for her kitchen?” Nightingale said wryly.
Beverley took a good long look at him before saying “I guess not.” Peter snorted. Nightingale just grinned.
They ate a very good dinner – either Molly’s cooking had improved out of all recognition in the last ten years or so, or Peter had always been exaggerating the amount of potato involved. Or maybe she’d been swapping recipes with Mama Grant; Molly did talk to a whole lot of people online you wouldn’t believe if you only ever saw her swooping around the Folly. Beverley still wasn’t sure Peter even knew the half of it. Not that it was his business, obviously. Only two of the new apprentices were there. Abigail was seeing her family that evening and Emilia was off doing something which speculation held was a date, although nobody was quite sure.
After dinner they retreated, without the apprentices, to the billiards room, where some very familiar shotguns had pride of place in a cabinet in the wall. Beverley had never played billiards, but when she said she was happy to be taught Peter and Nightingale both regarded her with great suspicion. She was happy to confirm their fears once she’d figured out the rules – this wasn’t the first time she’d played a game with a cue, which Peter should know, but maybe he hadn’t been paying attention.
“I can’t believe this,” Peter sulked at one point. “I had to bribe Molly into practicing with me for a month before I managed to be any good at this.”
“Really?” said Beverley, who had heard all about that from Molly at the time. “What did you bribe her with?”
“A wifi point in the main building, so she could use Twitter on a tablet,” said Peter. “And the recipe websites, I think, but she likes to pretend she just uses cookbooks so I’ve never actually caught her doing that.”
“You know,” Nightingale said to her a little later in the evening, “this might be the first time we’ve had a woman playing in here?”
“Apart from Molly, you mean,” Beverley said.
Nightingale narrowed his eyes at Peter, some things evidently becoming clear. “A female guest, then.”
“Oh, come on,” Beverley said. “What about the ladies’ gallery? And I bet the servants used to sneak in here when you lot were all out doing whatever you did back then. Plus you’re practically overrun with women these days.”
“The ladies’ gallery was only from two to four, and they had to be escorted,” Nightingale said. “And as far as I’m aware none of the apprentices spend time in here.”
“I get your point,” Beverley said. “Or maybe I don’t.”
“It’s a positive change,” said Nightingale. “Was my point – I think.”
“I hope so.” They both looked over at Peter, who was lining up a shot. “Speaking of positive changes.”
“You think so,” said Nightingale, sounding surprised.
“I think our boyfriend is pretty great, is what I think,” Beverley said. “I think we’re lucky.”
“I think you’re right,” said Nightingale, softly. “Although…does he always take over three-quarters of the bed?”
“Yeah,” Beverley sighed. “That. Poke him in the ribs if you want him to move.”
“Hmmm, I haven’t tried that,” said Nightingale. “I’ll have to.”
Peter gave them a dubious, and entirely justified, look. Beverley looked back blandly. This was what he’d wanted; he could deal with the consequences.
“I’m surprised you’re coming home with me,” she said on the way back to their house.
“It’d be a bit, you know, obvious,” Peter said. “If you came to the Folly for dinner and then left by yourself. Hey – if you wanted, you could crash with me there, now, if you ever needed to.”
“Uh,” Beverley said. “That might still be a bit too weird. But I’ll keep it in mind. Are you worried about being obvious?”
“To the apprentices, you mean?” said Peter. “Molly’s not that stupid, of course.”
“Neither is Abigail.”
“Or Abigail,” Peter sighed, “and I don’t think it’s going to stay quiet that long, but…under the circumstances, discretion is the btter part of valour. It’s hard enough living with the people you work with without rubbing things in their noses.”
“Are you more worried about them judging you because it’s Nightingale, or because of us?” Beverley asked.
“You know,” Peter said. “I actually don’t know. I think it might be cumulative.”
“I don’t think they’ll care that much,” Beverley said. “You’re their boss; mostly they’re just gonna not want to know about it.”
“Well, neither do I,” said Peter. “But I’m not a goddess. People don’t conveniently ignore stuff about me.”
“No, but you’re mine,” said Beverley. “Which does help.”
“I’m the luckiest bastard in this entire city, is what I am,” Peter said, low and quiet, and Beverley couldn’t disagree with that, really.
“Your protections,” she said. “They’re really still okay?”
“We wouldn’t compromise that for you,” Peter said, as he parked the car and they got out. “Not even – you understand that, right?”
“Yeah, I get it,” Beverley said. “How long have you been planning on that?”
“A few years, actually,” he admitted. “It was always – I didn’t like it, that it was like we didn’t trust you. But…it was Thomas’s idea to go ahead with it, that we had enough people trained to do it safely.”
“Was it?” said Beverley. “Was it, huh.”
“Yeah,” said Peter. “Hey, I’m gonna stay over on Saturday, you said you’ve got patrol late that night. Assuming we don’t get called out to Aberystwyth or whatever.”
“Okay. Has that ever happened?”
“It could,” said Peter. “I never expected I’d visit Aberdeen this many times in my life, but here we are.”
“You should do a study,” said Beverley. “Why do magical incidents happen in towns with Aber in their name?”
Peter snorted. “I’m sure that’s it. I’ll tell Nightingale, see if he agrees.”
Beverley stretched as they reached the front door. “You know what? It’s a warm night. I’m going for a swim. Just for fun.”
“Want me to come?” asked Peter. He didn’t, much; he was a wizard, after all. But he looked down at her, and Beverley knew he meant it.
“Yeah,” she said. “Come on, then.”
They walked down to the river hand in hand.