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Catch You When You Drop

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The final part of the ceremony takes place inside the green belt, yet another careful concession from both sides. Mama hates leaving the docks, and even then Beverley's not sure when she last saw Mama outside before dusk. Her dress looks odd and pale against the sunny green of the foliage. The old man seems tense and unhappy even though they're technically outside of London. His face creases every time he glances at the towers soaring over the trees.

Beverley and Ash each spent a night exchanged, just to make sure there was good faith on both sides. Beverley hadn't gotten much sleep, Runnymede lit by bonfire and song. Now they'll do the real thing, and Mama and the old man will shake hands and let their children go.

Beverley breathes in through her nose and out through her mouth, trying not to look as terrified as she feels.

"It'll be fine," says Peter, rubbing it in. "Just a little vacation, right?"

"Vacations are in Paris, or Rome or something," hisses Beverley. "Not in the woods."

She glances over at Ash. After meeting Oxley, she'd expected the other country rivers to be just as clean-cut and solid-jawed. Oxley looks like he fell out of a romance novel for people who think Victorian farmers went around pining after rich ladies instead of trying to keep their cows alive.

Ash is tall and broad-shouldered, and he has a dimple in his chin. But after just one night in London he also has gel in his hair and he's wearing the same Jai'Rouge shirt that Beverley has packed in her luggage. Farm boy: the dance remix. She's never going to be able to wear that shirt again.

"I'll burn it," mumbles Beverley.

"Ix-nay on the urning-bay." Peter pats her shoulder awkwardly, and Beverley briefly feels warmed by his obvious emotional incompetence.

"Does Nightingale know you've been learning Pig Latin instead of the proper kind?"

"You'd be surprised by how useful it is." Peter tries the pat again, and Beverley laughs.

"Tell me again that this is a good idea."

"It's a good idea," says Peter.

"Liar," says Beverley, and shrugs off his arm.

It's too late to get out of it, isn't it? Beverley stands in the little river that doesn't belong to anyone, feeling the ever-present pull of the Thames grow a little stronger. She lets Oxley pour water over her head, watches as Ty ducks Ash under. She clasps hands with Ash, waves goodbye to her family, and gets in the back of Oxley's Vauxhall.

"Don't worry," says Oxley. "We'll take good care of you."

The old man in the passenger's seat grunts. Beverley says nothing.

Mama Thames is already walking away, her back turned as Beverley's sisters cluster around her. Peter is watching the car, and Beverley stares back at him until the car turns the corner and he's gone.

---

Beverley isn't really sure what to expect after that. She's read some interesting things about hostage exchanges, in the time since Peter came up with this ridiculous idea. None of the articles, essays, or erotic novels had much relevant to say about what the hostage did after being exchanged. She's relatively certain that the old man won't take her under his wing and teach her the secret ways of the country rivers, setting her up to betray him at the very last moment. She also has no idea how to farm, or whatever it is that they do out here in the wilderness of Surrey. Do they raise sheep, maybe? She's not sure she likes sheep.

"I don't have any sheep." Oxley keeps his face straight, but amusement plays across his eyes. The old man has fallen asleep, slumped against the window and snoring open-mouthed.

"Pigs?"

"No livestock," says Oxley. "Look, I'm sure you'll find something to do."

They pull onto Oxley's land, the car kicking up dust from the unpaved path as it goes. There's Oxley's house, and his river, and a little caravan someone's parked in the middle of his lawn.

"That's for you." Oxley stops the car gently, with one eye on his father. Most of Beverley's luggage is already here, ferried from Runnymede, but Oxley helps Beverley with the extra duffel bag that Ty brought her after Beverley had a nightmare about Mama giving away all of her things while she's gone. Mama promised to keep Beverley's room untouched for her, but Mama's memory can be surprisingly short when it's convenient.

The caravan is cosy, with a bathroom, about half of a kitchen, and almost an entire bed. They dump the duffel on the window seat, and Beverley turns the sink taps idly and is amazed to find that there actually is running water. What luxury.

"I've got to take the old man back to Cirencester." Oxley pushes around some of the suitcases, trying to clear a path to the bedroom. "Isis is at home, if you need anything."

"I'll be fine," says Beverley, automatically.

"Really," says Oxley. "Anything at all. You're our guest."

Beverley starts to unpack, unearthing shoes and jackets she's starting to realize she wouldn't dare wear in the vicinity of dirt. She has no idea where she's going to put anything—maybe the cupboards. "Don't worry about me."

Oxley lets her have a smile and then shoves off to his car. Beverley unfolds and refolds t-shirts, skirts and jeans. The Vauxhall starts, engine loud through the caravan's screen door. Beverley dumps about five pounds of eye make-up onto her bed. Oxley and the old man rattle out and onto the proper road. Beverley lies down on her bed and tries to decide what she hates about this place the most.

She indulges herself for maybe fifteen minutes, meaning that she's already a half hour into her country adventure and she's only spent half of it whinging. That's pretty good, isn't it? The sheets are fresh and smell like rosemary. Beverley makes a note to thank Oxley, or more probably Isis.

Beverley picks up her phone and considers calling Peter. She composes about five text messages of varying levels of recrimination, and deletes them carefully. Then she gets up and unpacks the rest of her things.

She should take a shower. Her eyes are puffy and dull looking, and her neck is dirty from leaning back in Oxley's car. If he doesn't have livestock, he must be putting something in there. Barrels of mud, as far as she can tell.

Beverley locks the caravan's door, peels off her clothes, and hops into the cubicle of the shower. Then she spends far too long struggling to adjust the temperature before realizing that there isn't any hot water to be turned on.

It feels like a sign, or a metaphor. And it's warm outside, but not warm enough for this. Beverley decides she'd rather wash in the river.

---

The Oxley isn't warm, but it feels alive in the way tank water never does. Too alive, almost—there are fish in there, and plants, and rotting leaves. No plastic sacks or discarded cigarette packets at all.

Beverley's river is cleaner today than it has been in decades, but it was never this clean. The Oxley feels a little flat, characterless. Beverley checks her hairnet to make sure it's secure, then ducks her head under, wriggling until she's fully immersed in the shallows. She opens her mouth and lets the water run through until she can finally detect the faint taste of silt and decay that distinguishes the Oxley.

There's a fish digging at the mud, and beetles scuttling across the river surface. There's someone swimming towards Beverley, wearing a one-piece bathing suit and a grin.

Beverley surfaces reluctantly, feeling the warm air and sunlight drying the water on her face. The swimmer pops up too, grin still intact.

"Why aren't you wearing any clothes?" asks the swimmer. They're young, white, blonde, and entirely androgynous. Their hair is curling around their chin, scarcely restrained by the water.

"I'm having a wash," says Beverley. "My shower's not working right."

"Oh. That's terrible. You should tell Oxley! He'll fix it!"

"He's not here," explains Beverley. Even if he was, she's not sure if she'd go running to him. Beverley feels extraordinarily reluctant to tell Oxley anything. Call it caution or petulance—it amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?

"I'm Bourne." The child continues grinning at Beverley. "Did Oxley mention me?"

"No," says Beverley, hoping to shake the grin. No such luck. "I suppose you know who I am, though."

"I mean, I assume," says Bourne. "But maybe I shouldn't!"

Beverley gives Bourne a Look. Bourne ignores her with the ease of someone who's received a lot of Looks over the years.

"I don't live here," announces Bourne. "But Oxley said I should visit and keep an eye— keep you company, I mean. In case you got bored."

"Thanks." Beverley briefly considers telling Bourne to go away, but that would be rude and probably ineffective. She considers finishing her wash, but the moment has passed and anyway she's clean enough. Finally she pulls herself back up on the bank, letting the sun dry her quickly until she can tug her shorts back on.

"I could give you a tour." Bourne hauls themself up beside Beverley. "Or I could see if Isis has a deck of cards. Or we could fish, I like fishing. Of course we'd have to put any fish we caught here back, Oxley doesn't like it when I take his fish."

Beverley pulls her shirt on and then frees her hair. The wind catches at it, making it bounce and tangle, and Beverley looks into the water and feels sick.

"So what do you want to do?" asks Bourne.

"I think," says Beverley, slowly, "I want to lie down."

---

The sheets are cool and the pillow is soft. Beverley lies awake, wasting them.

The country doesn't sound right, which is a cliché. Little city girl can't fall asleep without sirens and car horns. Birdsong too much for her.

Well, the country doesn't sound right. It doesn't smell right, either, and the air has an odd quality to it. Beverley's pretty sure her allergies are kicking up, eyes a little watery and throat a little sore. She really hopes she isn't getting sick.

What is she supposed to do? Do hostages just sit around and wait to be re-exchanged? Is Oxley going to try to mould her into a sleeper cell double-agent?

Maybe she should just go to a film, assuming they've heard of cinemas out here. Bourne is certainly sitting outside and could tell her where to go.

Beverley's phone rings, and she fumbles for it without looking.

"Anything bad happen?" asks Ty, when Beverley finally manages to unlock the screen.

"I've been here five minutes," says Beverley.

"Plenty of time," says Ty. "I assume you've already flooded half the town."

"At least my river can still flood when it likes," says Beverley. "Everything's fine. How's Ash?"

Ty hums noncommittally. "Where did they put you?"

"I'm in a caravan on Oxley's land. There's no hot water."

"Don't buckle to torture," advises Ty.

"Indoor plumbing, though. That's unexpected."

"Don't act like you've never been outside the city," says Ty. "I made sure you travelled. Saw a cow, that kind of thing."

"In a zoo," mutters Beverley. Ty ignores her, keeps rattling on about important learning experiences that Beverley had when she was young and promptly forgot.

"When am I coming home?" asks Beverley.

She's asked before. Ty had carefully avoided answering.

"Let's see how things play out," says Ty. "It may only be a few months, if things stay calm."

"What if things don't stay calm?"

Ty lets the silence hang so long that Beverley thinks the call has dropped.

"Oxley and I have an understanding," she says at last.

When Ty hangs up, Beverley thinks hard about calling Peter. It hasn't even been a day yet, but this was his daft idea and Beverley wants to complain about it.

She composes a few more text messages that are destined for the trash bin. It's soothing, yelling at Peter when he can't answer back.

Finally she gets up and does her makeup, letting the gentle lines of her eyeliner soothe away the frustration. It'll probably smudge as soon as she steps outside, but right now Beverley looks in the little mirror over her little bathroom sink and feels like she's almost a real person.

There's a rattling at her window. Beverley goes to check if a bird has stunned itself or something, but unfortunately it's just Bourne, standing on tiptoes and clinging to the window frame.

"Are you done lying down? I'm bored."

Beverley sighs and goes to the door to let Bourne in. They're dressed now, in a tank-top, cut-off shorts, and over-sized boots. Beverley fights the urge to sit Bourne down and explain how real people dress themselves.

Once inside, Bourne fiddles with the taps, sticking their fingers into the flow to verify that yes, there's still no hot water. They turn it off, stare at the faucet again, turn the taps on again—

"That's not very helpful," says Beverley. "Do you know where the water heater is?"

"No." Bourne lets the water flow around their fingers, curling down their wrist and dripping off their elbow. "But I bet Oxley—"

Beverley peers into the loo, but there's barely room for the toilet and the shower as it is. Her kitchen cabinets are completely empty. Finally, in frustration, she goes outside and prowls around the perimeter of her new home.

The paintwork is flawless, jaunty grass green trim against sky blue boards. But there's a seam on the rear corner, and when Beverley pries it open she can see pipes.

"Cool," says Bourne. "It's like its bones."

"More like its intestines." Beverley reaches out one hand tentatively, but the metal is cool to the touch. The pipes are connected to a white box-like object that says HOT in red angry letters. Beverley touches the pipes again, just to check. They're not.

"What the fuck do I do about this?" Beverley asks the universe.

"I can go get—" begins Bourne.

"If you say Oxley I will step on you."

Bourne grins with the smug security of having a good ten centimetres on Beverley. "I was going to say Isis. I don't think Oxley's back yet, do you? But we could call him!"

"I will climb into a tree and step on you," mutters Beverley. "Does this thing have a manual?"

If it does, Beverley and Bourne can't find it. Beverley flips her phone in her palm, weighing her options.

She wants to call Peter, but she can't imagine he would be any use. She just wants to call him.

She wants to call her sisters, Brent or Effra or Fleet or even Ty. That would definitely be useless.

Beverley doesn't want to call Mama. She'd just cry and ask to come home, and she doesn't even want to come home. She just wants—

When Beverley was growing up, it was always Uncle Bailiff who fixed things. Beverley would follow him around and watch the arcane art of handiness. Sometimes he'd let her try, guiding her small hands on the tool, and she'd feel like she'd accomplished something when she popped a screw back into place or twisted two wires together. Like she was setting the world back to rights.

"Is there wi-fi?" asks Beverley.

Bourne just stares at her. Beverley sighs, gets her computer, and trudges over to the house.

Isis opens the door, which is a blessing.

"We don't really do internet," she says, which isn't. "Oxley goes into town when he needs something."

Beverley gives in to the inevitable. "Is Oxley back yet?"

"Not yet." Isis sighs. "I imagine he's gotten caught up. If you'd like to wait? You have plenty of time—"

Beverley's laptop bag is heavy, and Bourne is still hovering at her heels. "No, that's okay." Beverley pauses, and remembers her manners. "Thank you so much for the caravan, it's beautiful."

Isis smiles at her. "I'd have you in here, but Oxley said you'd need your own space. We don't use the caravan very often, so I just dusted it and prettied it up a little."

"It's beautiful," Beverley repeats. "Which way's the road?"

---

Civilisation is about five kilometres away. Beverley could walk it, but she'd rather not. Bourne makes noises about borrowing someone's ATV, but Beverley couldn't drive it and she trusts Bourne not at all. When pressed, Bourne admits that this is probably wise.

Instead, Beverley just stands by the road until someone stops for her.

"Where to?" asks the elderly man in the Land Rover. He's got the back seat pushed down to accommodate about five dogs, so Beverley quickly pulls herself into the passenger's seat. Bourne doesn't complain, just lies down in the back and becomes part of the pile.

"I'm trying to find wi-fi," says Beverley.

"Oh, they have that at Darren's pub." The man puts the car into gear, and Bourne bonks into a dog as they pick up speed. "We'll be there in two ticks."

"Thanks."

"Anything for you," says the man, and Beverley realizes she's been letting herself go. She pulls back into herself, just a little, and the man's eyes clear. He looks at her with real friendliness now, not the dazed kindness of before.

"Just visiting?" he asks, "Or here to stay?"

"I don't know yet," says Beverley. "It might be a long visit."

"It's a nice area, if you like the country. You're from London?"

Beverley nods, and listens to the man rattle on about his grandchildren in London and how none of them can run a tractor or fix a washing machine or do anything useful.

"Do you know how to fix a water heater?" asks Beverley. "In a caravan?"

"Depends what's wrong with it," says the man. "Is the pilot light out?"

Beverley sort of knows what a pilot light is. It has to be on, that's the important thing. To, to... heat the gasses? Does her water heater have a pilot light?

Darren's pub is called The Arms, and the man drops them off in the car park. Bourne brushes ineffectually at the dog hair now covering them from head to toe, and then confidently leads the way into the pub.

"Are you legal yet?" asks Beverley.

"I'm as old as the hills," chirps Bourne. "But unfortunately my ID says I'm fourteen."

They order two cokes and Beverley gets the wi-fi password. They settle at one of the long tables to watch an exciting series of youtube videos.

Here are some things that could be wrong with Beverley's water heater:

Broken heating element
Broken thermostat
Circuit breakers (Beverley isn't sure what the problem would be, just circuit breakers.)
Out of propane
Hot and cold water mixing somewhere in the system
General brokenness
Possibly a curse

"I'm going to be honest with you," says Bourne.

"Don't bother." Beverley clicks through to another video, this one compellingly labelled The One Thing They Never Check!!!!! RV repair water heater real living do it yourself handy.

"No, I want to," says Bourne. "Because I really respect you, right? I've known you for about five hours, four of which have been spent watching mind-numbingly dull caravan repair videos, and I feel like we've bonded."

"Gross."

"And because I respect you, I have to say that these are mind-numbingly—"

Beverley kicks Bourne under the table and gets a very gratifying yelp in return.

"I need a screwdriver," says Beverley. Really she needs about fifteen different tools and a year-long course on caravan repair, but opening up the panels on the water heater seems like a good start.

Bourne perks up. "I know where we can get one!"

"If you mention Oxley I'm going to drop a petrol can in your river."

Bourne kicks Beverley back. Apparently they're wearing steel-toed boots, because it feels like bloody murder.

"Finish your soda, come on, let's go. Anything to get away from these videos."

Beverley lets herself be dragged to her feet and goes.

---

There's a big grass-and-gravel lot on the edge of town, and it's oddly full and empty at once. Empty in comparison to the lanes they walked down, which were packed with little one-story houses and shops and churches. But full in comparison to what Beverley imagines the lot is usually like, an odd oasis of lonely wind and dust before the town gives way to farmland. Right now the lot is home to about a dozen cars and trailers, half-reconstructed fair rides and booths.

There's a woman sitting in a Ferris wheel car, still unattached to the Ferris wheel itself. She looks up when Bourne gets near and plucks her cigarette from her lips to smile.

"Hullo." She has a voice like a heron that somehow learned English in Lancashire. "Come for a visit, fuckhead?"

Bourne says something completely foul in return, and Beverley stands back and admires their creativity as the two jostle for who can say the most swearwords in a comprehensible and grammatically correct sentence. The woman's voice gets thicker the more insults she pours into it.

Beverley's only really heard someone sound like that on the telly—the London accent seeps into everything at home, clinging to people's vowels even when they were born and bred in the north. But this woman's voice is as pure as the smoke she's now blowing in Bourne's face.

"I didn't come here to be attacked by a cancer-ridden dick," complains Bourne. "Keep your second-hand bollocks away from me."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot I was talking to a pansy Thamesian shite. I suppose she's one of yours too?" The woman nods to Beverley.

"Not really," says Beverley.

"Fuck off," says Bourne, at the same time. Their voice gains a little of Isis' clear tone. "May I introduce Beverley Brook, of Mama Thames' court? And this is Skirden Beck, of the Ribble court."

Skirden bows from the waist and flicks the cigarette away into the gravel. "You can't expect me to keep your courts straight when there's two for the same bloody river."

"I'll make it simple for you, you insensitive prick," says Bourne. "There's the London rivers, like Beverley here, and then there's the country rivers like—"

"You call this the country?" Skirden raises her eyebrows theatrically. "This is practically the fucking suburbs. We're not even an hour out of London. Talk to me when you've spent four hours on the M6 trying not to lose any pieces of your carousel."

"So I should never talk to you, basically."

"Well, I wouldn't mind-"

"I let you set up next to my river and all I get is abuse and—"

Beverley takes a deep breath as the disjoint of the situation hits her. She feels like she's in the middle of nowhere—they're only a short drive from London. She feels isolated and alone—she's surrounded by other rivers that share her source.

She tries to flip her perspective, I'm home, I'm with family, but it doesn't work. She still feels lost.

Well, fuck it.

"The reason we're here," says Beverley, "is because I need a screwdriver."

"Philips or what?" Skirden abandons her argument with Bourne. "What size?"

In the end, Skirden gives them not only a screwdriver and a box full of interchangeable bits, along with the admonition not to lose any, or "you're paying me for the whole lot, all right?"

"We should have asked if she knew how to fix caravans," says Bourne, as they make their escape. "I bet she does."

"If I had to hear you two talk for five more minutes I was going to die," says Beverley. "Immediately. Unknown causes."

They walk in silence for about five minutes. Beverley will start looking for a ride soon, when the pollen gets to be too much. Right now she wants to think.

"Do you think the exchange is going to work?" she asks, at last. "Do you think we'll ever have a unified court?" Do you think this is going to be worth it? she doesn't ask, but she feels it rattling around her mind.

"It hasn't even been a day," says Bourne. "Give it time."

She doesn't want to give it time. Beverley swings the screwdriver box, listening to the loose bits rattle. She wants to go home. But the thought doesn't feel as desperate and aching as it did before. It's true, but she can cope.

She mentally composes a few more text messages to Peter, but she doesn't even bother to reach for her phone.

"It would probably help inter-river relations if you stopped threatening me," suggests Bourne, and Beverley laughs and makes no promises.

---

They get back to Oxley's land at dusk, when the sun setting over the hills throws the tree's long shadows into sharp relief. It almost looks like the shadows of the buildings in London, long fingers of darkness cutting across the clearing. Beverley uses her phone's flashlight to illuminate the water heater as she matches bit to screws.

Once open, the water heater is completely uninformative. It's just wires and plastic and metal and bullshit, she spent hours watching youtube videos and she didn't learn anything

"I'm just going to, uh, just, yeah. Right." Bourne scuttles away, and Beverley shakes her hand, sore from slamming it against the side of the caravan.

Peter likes machines. He'd probably have an idea of what to do. Beverley's hand hovers over the phone, halfway through texting him, and then she changes her mind. This is his fault and fuck him. Fuck him. She wants to be home.

She finally gives in and calls her mum.

"Amoda." Mama's voice crackles over the old landline telephone that she'll never replace. "How are you settling in?"

"It's fine." Beverley sits down with her back against the caravan, lets the screwdriver slip from her hand and into the grass. "It's really nice."

"Amoda," says Mama. "Don't cry."

"I'm not crying," says Beverley, and tries to wipe the tears from her face. She sucks in a breath, too fast—she always starts hyperventilating when she cries and she's not crying.

"Deep breaths," says Mama. "Do you want to talk to your sister? You know I start crying when you cry."

"Which sister?" Beverley has to force it out between gasps. This is so stupid, she's already been through this. She's hardly out of London, she's hardly away from her family, she has a nice place to sleep and nice people to talk to, it's just the fucking hot water—

"Àlàké's here." Mama hums. "Here, I'll put her on."

"I don't want to talk to Effra." Beverley takes a shaky breath, squeezes her eyes shut until nothing else can leak out. "Just. Hold on."

Mama holds on, and Beverley listens to her breathing until she can catch her own and stop it from running away. She wipes at her eyes again, and this time there's no more tears to replace the old ones.

"Why am I here, Mama?"

"Oh? The Nightingale's chick suggested it, Amoda, you remember."

"Is that the only reason?" presses Beverley. "I'm practically the only one of us that Peter knows by name. You could have picked anyone."

"Who would I pick?" Mama hums, all of the emotion wiped from her voice. "Your older sisters have their own lives, and your younger sisters are too young."

"I have my own life," mumbles Beverley. She swallows the corollary: I'm too young.

"If you went to university, maybe then—"

Beverley yelps in sudden startled anger. "Is this what that's about? Sending me to fucking med school?"

"Beverley Brook!" Mama's anger rumbles across the connection. "Language! Don't think you are safely away in Surrey. I will drive there and spank you if I must."

"Sorry, Mama. But seriously—"

"I want peace," says Mama. "I do. I want you to help."

"Okay," says Beverley.

"And I want you to have time, away from the family. Time to think about what you want."

"Yeah," says Beverley. Oh, she's going to start crying again.

"And if what you want is to become a surgeon, then—"

"Oh my god," says Beverley. "Please, please don't."

Mama's quiet for a while, long enough for Beverley to think that maybe it's a good thing to be away, to not have to deal with this for a while. Mama's all bluff—she won't drive to Whitechapel, let alone to Surrey. And it's not like Oxley or Isis will bother Beverley about uni.

She can be alone here. For a moment it feels like that could be a good thing.

"I miss you," says Mama at last. "I don't like Ash. He bothers my friends and he wears shoes in the house."

"I don't like Ash either," says Beverley.

"I think he does drugs." Mama lowers her voice. "The hard stuff, probably. Hash."

"That's not hard stuff." Beverley chokes back laughter. "That's hardly illegal. And it's not like you haven't had drugs at home before."

"It's different when it's a guest," says Mama primly, and Beverley coughs out a laugh before she can stop herself. "Oh, Amoda, don't start crying again—"

If they're back to Beverley's oríkì name they're probably back on good terms. Beverley tries to wind the conversation down, which naturally takes about thirty minutes, until she's almost lost feeling in the fingers that are holding her phone.

"You're okay?" asks Mama. "I'll send Uncle Bailiff to get you, if you need me to. They can have Ash back, it's fine."

Beverley knows that Mama means it. And she knows that Mama needs her here. She looks up at the sky, the bright stars shining in the unnaturally black night.

"I'll be okay," she decides. "Not yet, maybe. But in a couple of days."

Mama hangs up at last, and Beverley lets the phone fall next to the screwdriver. She pulls her knees up against her and thinks hard about just heating the water herself. Or just forgetting to feel the temperature when she showers. It wouldn't be hard, just a little annoying. She can handle it. She's strong.

Oxley melts out of the night, the light of the moon shining on his brow.

"I'm going to kill Bourne," says Beverley. "I know I keep threatening them, but I'll really do it this time."

"Please don't," says Oxley. "It'd probably break our agreement, and what would we do with the body?"

Beverley tries not to smile, but it's a losing battle. Fuck it, she's a naturally joyous person.

Oxley crouches next to her and peers in at the water heater. "You're having trouble?"

"I'm sure you know all about it."

Oxley takes a little torch from his pocket and examines the wiring. "Well, we had hot water last week. I'd never have heard the end of it if we hadn't."

Here's Beverley's conspiracy theory:

Oxley puts her up in a caravan, which is more than generous. But, horrors, the hot water doesn't work. It's liveable without hot water, but spoiled city girl Beverley kicks up a fuss. As a favour Oxley fixes the water, and Beverley owes him.

You always owe more than the favour was worth. Beverley doesn't want to owe anyone anything. Not here, not right now.

Oxley looks at Beverley out of the corner of his eye, his face still turned to the water heater. There's always something odd about the way he looks at her, behind the guarded friendliness and the veiled hostility. He looks at her as if he's trying to remember who she is.

"Did you have a brother Beverley?" asks Beverley.

Oxley sighs and sits back on his heels. "He was a fine lad. He—"

The wind sighs through the trees, and the grass is lit by fireflies. Beverley stares fixedly at them, trying not to look at Oxley's face.

Oxley turns the torch off, shielding himself with the dark. "It's hard to say what someone is like after you lose them. He was strong and clever and always laughing, right? Like everyone else's loved ones. But he wasn't like everyone else, you understand.

"He loved to climb trees and wait up there for someone to walk by. He dropped eggs on my head, more than once. I got my revenge eventually, but Beverley always said it was worth it."

Beverley looks up at the sky again. She tries to imagine him, her lost predecessor sitting among the stars and throwing things.

"The city did for him, just like it did for Effra and Tyburn and Crane. They dumped sewage straight into the river, do you remember?"

"There were still sewage works until '98," says Beverley. "I remember."

"You're right not to trust me. I'd trade you and all your sisters to have my family back."

"But you can't," says Beverley.

"But I can't," agrees Oxley.

Another gust rolls through, like someone breathing long and deep. Beverley shivers and sneezes as the pollen hits her nose.

Oxley turns the light back on. His eyes are clear, but his mouth is still a little hard. "Anyway. What about this hot water?"

"It's broken," says Beverley. "I don't know why."

Oxley peers at the mass of wires again. "Well, it's your caravan, but it's also my responsibility. Mind if I have a look?"

Beverley hesitates.

"Not as a favour," clarifies Oxley. "Help, freely given, to an unhappy guest."

"I'm not unhappy." Beverley makes a face. "I mean, I'm not unhappy because I'm a guest."

Oxley laughs. "If it were me I'd be bawling. Away from my river, my friends, my family, even my favourite pub. In a beat-up little caravan with no hot water? I'm amazed you're still speaking to me."

"It's a very nice caravan." Beverley finds herself smiling even as her eyes start to water again. This pollen, it's awful. "And I don't mind a bit of a break from the family."

"You're too kind." Oxley grins, and the family resemblance to Bourne shines through. "Come on, let's have a look."

Beverley scrabbles through the grass and comes up with the screwdriver. She's glad she didn't lose it—for all of Beverley's threats, she's pretty sure Skirden's the only person she's met today who would actually murder a person.

Oxley takes the screwdriver and prods experimentally at a wire. Beverley's not sure what she's expecting. Bourne spent so long suggesting they call Oxley that Beverley half thinks that Oxley will simply flip a switch and hot water will come pouring out of a spring in the ground.

Instead Oxley stares and demonstrates exactly zero awareness of how a screwdriver works.

"No, it's no good," he says at last. "I haven't the faintest clue what I'm looking at."

Beverley snorts, and there's a tenuous moment where she's not sure if she's going to laugh or cry. Oxley prods the water heater with the screwdriver again, and that tips her over into giggles and unattractive snorts. Oxley grins back at her.

"I'll call a plumber. Or a mechanic. Who works on caravans?"

"Call everyone," suggests Beverley. "Twice."

Oxley straightens up and brushes off his jeans. "Come on, the house has plenty of hot water. And there's dinner. Isis made steak and kidney pudding and she wants to inflict it on you."

For about half a second Beverley thinks she'll say no, retreat into her little caravan and be hungry just for the spite of it. "Sounds lovely," she hears herself say, and, well. That's that. She's going to cope or die, and she'd rather cope.

Oxley gives Beverley a hand up. She could push herself to her feet alone, but she takes the hand and pulls.

---

Draft message to Peter Grant

hi im bored already. how are things. how is life

Draft message to Peter Grant

hello peter can you come and pick me up? ive changed my mind i dont care about peace

Draft message to Peter Grant

why did you think i was the one for this? why not ty? ty would hate it out here it'd be hilar

Draft message to Peter Grant

maybe you should be the hostage. youd be a great hostage

Draft message to Peter Grant

i cant find any hangers. this isnt civilisation

Draft message to Peter Grant

peter i don't like cows or sheep or anything in general. can you just get me out of this

Draft message to Peter Grant

just realized this is still practically london and i feel like its been a million years since i last saw a proper anything

Draft message to Peter Grant

how do you fix water heaters? just in general. asking for a friend

Draft message to Peter Grant

look maybe i dont want to find myself in the country maybe i wanted to stay comfortable and happy in london maybe i wanted to keep fighting with the thames boys maybe it was kind of fun

Draft message to Peter Grant

also fuck you. why did you do this to me

Draft message to Peter Grant

i thought wed connected

Draft message to Peter Grant

i dont need you you know. im very capable. im more capable than ten of you

Draft message to Peter Grant

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