My mobile rang at 3:39 A.M. I took special note of the time because I could distinctly remember clock-watching until well after midnight.
It was Penny, with a noise in the background that my half-awake brain immediately cataloged as 'lots of police trying to look busy doing fuck all.'
"Boss," Penny said, in the tones of a junior officer who is really glad to be waking up someone senior but who has the good sense to try not to sound like it. "We've got Levieu cornered."
"Where?" I asked, sitting up. My back, unwilling to countenance such reckless behavior, screamed at me.
"Astley Clarke," she said. "He's barricaded himself in."
"Shit," I said. "He got hostages?"
"No." She hesitated. "Well, not unless you count a couple million quid in diamonds in the safe."
I'd fallen asleep in my clothes, minus jacket, and my shoes were shoved under the edge of my parents' sofa. Easy enough to toe into them while we talked.
"I'm at least twenty minutes away," I said. "Keep him pinned. Don't let anyone get any bright ideas about going in with a battering ram." At least not until I got there and could be the battering ram.
I was crossing to the kitchen table to leave Dad a note when I heard him moving in the bedroom doorway. "Sorry," I said. "Didn't mean to wake you."
He hadn't turned on any lights, so he was just a tall, skinny shadow. "Work?" he said.
"Yeah." I slung my jacket over one shoulder. "Gotta go take care of something. Do you –" I hesitated. His home health aid would be in at seven, but "—I can call someone," I said.
"No," Dad said. Nothing else for a beat, then, "Don't bother."
I pressed my lips together. Shit shit shit. There was a clock ticking in my head, counting down the minutes that Penny and the boys from Robbery could reasonably manage to keep Levieu pinned down before someone got impatient. If he came out spells blazing, Penny wasn't equipped to deal with it, not yet.
"Okay," I said. "Do you need help back to bed?"
"I'm up," Dad said, and shuffled his slow way out to the couch.
"Okay," I said, backing towards the door. "I'll see you later." I left him there, sitting silently on the couch, alone in the dark.
Thanks to the hour, I actually did make it in twenty, with judicious use of the siren. The jewelry store was on Junction Mews, keeping company with a lot of establishments whose poshness was in inverse correlation to their size. The sort of places that are called "boutiques," which is French for "smaller than a galley kitchen."
The police perimeter was big and well-staffed. Partly in deference to the value of Levieu's prior hauls, partly because I'd knocked some sense into DS Richardson's thick skull after the second robbery. No, his boys and girls really couldn't handle it; yes, this really was my shout; no, riot gear wasn't sufficient against what this guy was packing; yes, we were going to do this my way. It wasn't one of my more diplomatic endeavors at intra-agency cooperation and there were definitely going to be unpleasant consequences, but some people just need to be shouted at and I was having a bad week. Give me a good murder any day.
So the perimeter was bigger than standard. Just over reasonable fireball range, if you want to get technical about it.
I found Penny in her stab vest and shitkicker boots, clutching her phone and, visibly, her patience. She winced when she saw me, which is never a good sign, so I was expecting some further fun twist – guess what! He has grenades!
But all she said was, "I'm really sorry to wake you, boss."
I shrugged, coming between two squad cars to join her. "You were supposed to call me."
"Yeah, but." She chewed her lip. "The Chief Inspector said he'd take over and not to bother you. Only, you were a lot closer tonight, and I thought –"
"It's fine," I said. Nightingale'd said what now? "Give me the run-down."
She did, though there wasn't much more to say. Jean-Michel Levieu was a Canadian hedgewizard enjoying an extended and larcenous holiday on our fair shores. He'd been magicking security systems and filling his pockets with valuables for three weeks now. The boys and girls over at Robbery had, with accidental accuracy, noted his "uncanny" ability to evade electronic detection, and spent a futile week chasing after him before one of the PC's complained about it at pub night to someone who knew PC Ramachandran on Guleed's team well enough to call him about it, and he told Guleed, and Guleed called Penny, and Penny told me over Molly's Beef Wellington. Thus our well-oiled case referral system.
All serious burglar alarms have a failsafe that goes off if you cut power to the main alarm. For really serious alarms, say the ones on jewelry stores or banks, the secondary screamer is usually off-site. Somehow, and I really would like to know how, Levieu had figured out a way to short out the redundancy, too. At the last robbery, I'd picked up vestigia clinging to the box whose only job was to ping an off-site network every tenth of a second as long as power was flowing.
"So you do know how he's doing it," Richardson had said when I'd made the mistake of musing out loud on how fascinating that was. I'd said no, I didn't, did he understand how his mechanic fixed his car just by watching what wrench was used? And our mutual dislike crystalized a little bit more.
But innovative magic aside, either Levieu'd gotten sloppy tonight, or there was something particular about the Astley Clarke alarm. Either way, the silent screamer had gone off, and because the store was on a short list we'd generated of his possible next targets, here we all were, lickity split.
"Right," I said. "I need coffee. And where's Richardson?"
Richardson was in a van at the back. He nodded brusquely when I climbed in beside him, slugging back coffee as I went. "Grant," he said. "You here to explain why we've been giving him time to dig in?"
Yeah, he wasn't happy to be awake either, got it. "We'll have him out of there in a jiffy," I said, smiling brightly just to irritate him. "I'll be going in." Once the coffee had scrubbed enough of the cobwebs out of my head that I could be sure I wouldn't accidentally set something on fire.
Richardson grunted. "Where's your kit?"
At the Folly, where I hadn't been sleeping five or six nights out of the week for the past month. I really should have packed everything in the car. It was the sort of stupid, avoidable, embarrassing oversight that I kept catching myself in. And that no one seemed interested in calling me on. Except probably for Richardson. "I'll borrow something," I said.
I went in ten minutes later, after doing the mental equivalent of a set of jumping jacks to warm up. My borrowed stab vest was a touch too short, and smelled terrible. All stab vests smell terrible, but at least mine is a familiar, comfy terrible.
I left Penny at the barricades and walked out into the open alone. Well, aside from the several dozen eyes fastened on me. I had my police-issue baton and my brain which, to hear Nightingale tell it, is the far more frightening weapon – that may or may not be a compliment, depending on his tone of voice. Oh, and I had a handy invisible shield advancing in front of me, which is the sort of thing to make a man walk tall and proud when he's heading straight for a cornered criminal who may or may not have a gun but who definitely knows a little something of the forms and wisdoms.
Except, it turned out, he didn't know that much. He panicked and shot a fireball at me when I was ten feet from the door; I didn't bother to counter it, just let it fizzle itself out on my shield. There was a brief, startled pause, which I used to blow the door off its hinges. Only I did it with a complicated, inward-drawing gesture, so the force came from inside and pushed the door out. Wouldn't want to smash up those nice glass display cases.
I distinctly heard a man say, "Oh shit," from somewhere in the darkened store.
"Oi!" I called, stepping quickly through the doorway. I would make a perfect silhouette target right there, and if he had anything, that's where he should let it rip.
Which he did, but it was just more fireballs. I unraveled them the proper metaphysical way, where you disassemble the formae right out from under your opponent's mind, instead of a far less refined real world counter like an aqua. It takes precision and skill, and to the original caster it feels like someone has just elbowed you vigorously in the brainstem. I'd had the dubious honor of having it done to me day after day for months by Nightingale until I could grit my teeth through it, think through it, even cast through it. Judging by the audible yelping, Levieu was not so accustomed.
"Come on, now," I said, advancing into the dark. "Let's not make this any harder than it needs to be." I threw up a werelight, a big, blazing one smack in the center of the ceiling. And there he was, a skinny early twenties white guy half-crouched behind the back counter in the doorway to what must be the office.
It was all very quick after that. He was sloppy with the fireballs, and he didn't seem to have much more in his arsenal. I could see him panicking as I stepped, blocked, countered, and stepped, and he started throwing other shit. Like this weird gray spiraling spell that I didn't recognize, except that it had something to do with the molecular states of metal. It gave my shield a good wallop, though, enough to start a headache going behind my right eye. So because I didn't have my staff – another stupid fucking oversight – and because I didn't want to stroke out in the middle of a takedown – the paperwork would be unbelievable -- I let the shield go and decided to finish it up fast.
I've made a study, over time, of the most efficient ways to take someone down with magic. I'll leave the most awe-inspiring ways to Nightingale, and the most cruel and/or terrifying to lots of other people. Me, I like whatever way is least likely to get me punched in the face. And in that line, I'd found that a couple of waterbombs really can't be beat. You do it hard enough, and it's basically like smacking someone with a slab of concrete. And to hear the apprentices tell it, I go hard these days.
The only real question in this instance was which order was more efficacious: waterbomb to the face then waterbomb to the balls, or other way around. I've had reason to do extensive, if not exactly controlled, trials. The answer, for the curious, is balls then face for most men, face then ankles for most women.
So I did that, just a fast twist inside my mind, and a double bam bam, like the loudest belly flop you've ever heard. Then I cuffed him with my spare set of "Falcon-resistent" cuffs, gave him the caution while he was curled up on the floor wheezing, called Penny in to take charge of him, and went out for more coffee. Good fucking morning.
I was stuck dealing with the aftermath until lunch. There were Canadian warrants out on Levieu, and though the question of extradition and so on is usually not my problem, it is when the relevant foreign authority is a magical one. So I spent a lot of time waiting for people in Toronto to wake up, and then having extremely long conversations about the intricacies of jurisdiction in a matter where neither of us wanted the bugger. My Canadian counterparts seemed particularly interested in making sure I knew that Levieu was from Montreal, as if that was supposed to explain everything.
I did duck in to the interrogation room for a fruitless forty-five minutes. Levieu was not at all inclined to explain his electrical spell, whatever it was. Some people are just not interested in advancing the scientific knowledge of their fellow man.
My Aunt Christiana called my mobile right after noon. "Just wanted to let you know I'll be looking in on your dad tonight," she said breezily.
"Okay?" I said, swiveling away from the laptop where I was trying to write up my AAR on the two entire square feet of desk space the Robbery team had allotted me. "That's not on the Google calendar."
"No, a bit last minute," she said. "He called, you know, said it'd been a while."
Which was a lie; she'd spent the night over with him just last week while I was running down some stolen arcane books in Anglesey.
"So you can have the night off," she said into my silence.
So. Dad was giving me the old shove, at least for the night. Funny how these things work: I was desperate for my own bed, the quiet of my room at the Folly, even Molly's cooking, but getting the boot didn't half piss me off. "Okay," I said. "That's fine. If anything else changes, put it on the calendar."
I banged out the rest of the AAR hard enough to make my fingers hurt. It didn't help.
Penny brought me a sandwich when I was nearly done, and perched on six inches of my desk space to eat her own. Penny is a tiny, rounded, South Asian looking girl, until she opens her mouth and hits you with her Dublin vowels. It's a long, wrenching story involving refugee camps and polio and international adoption. She doesn't talk about it. I know it because I background-checked her so thoroughly I can still tell you a year later how many fillings she has. She came to my attention by dint of, in her very first month of walking a beat in South London, finding herself face-to-face with an extremely inebriated fairy prince, complete with magical horse and wings. On the prince, not the horse. Penny's response, as told to me and verified by several witnesses, was to tell him that he couldn't be carrying on like that, sir, and did he have the proper paperwork for that horse, and perhaps he was a bit lost.
Warms the cockles of my heart, that sort of boots-on-the-ground, every-citizen-counts policing. Even when directed at someone whose citizenship is complicated, to say the least.
Penny waited until I hit submit on my AAR. She, not having been interrupted at least eight times by Canadians, was clearly long done with hers. "So," she said, crumpling up her sandwich wrapper.
"So?" I said.
Penny's feet were swinging freely, which is what happens when you're five foot nothing and perch on things. It dropped her age by about five years, which was something she was going to have to get a handle on eventually. "There've been some complaints," she said.
I sighed and sat back. "About our use of resources," I guessed. Not hard to see this one coming.
"Yeah." She hesitated. "Look, I know it's bullshit, but –"
I held up a hand. "Yeah," I said, "I get it." I scrunched up my own sandwich wrapper and binned it with more force than necessary. "I appreciate the heads-up," I said, "but between you and me? I don't give a fuck."
She didn't move, except to blink. Kind of like she'd done while I shouted at Richardson, come to think of it. "Okay."
I puffed out my breath. "No, sorry. It's not you." It was budget cuts and 'increased attention to efficiency' running smack into my and Nightingale's habit of being really bloody careful. Careful is expensive. Careful gets an extra dozen constables out of bed to run a large perimeter around what looks like a common retail burglar, for example, on the off-chance that he's something more than a petty criminal with a bit of the art to his name. And the problem with careful is that, to a lot of people, it only looks justifiable when the whole thing goes tits-up anyway.
Nightingale kept saying the thing about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. I, having had my thousand pounds of cure and then some, say fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all. They weren't there when the Folly fell.
"Let me know if it's serious," I said to Penny. "More than just Richardson complaining."
"Sure thing," she said. Then, cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"'Course," I said, and stood up. Weeks of sleeping on Dad's sofa had undone most of the good I'd gotten out of six months of PT, and my back twinged warningly. "Don't you have afternoon practice to get to?"
"Yeah." She slid off the desk. "You coming to the Folly?"
I could have gone home. I should have gone home. I should have taken a quick nap and had afternoon tea with Nightingale, who I felt like I hadn't seen in weeks. But I wasn't going to.
There's a very distinctive feeling to being glamored. It's a sweetness, a rush of that feeling when you've just started drinking and you're beginning to unbutton your cuffs, mentally speaking. Being a full-fledged wizard of the realm and quite experienced in these matters, I can spot it coming a mile off and haven't fallen for that shit in years. Except for those times when half of my brain switches off the other half and I start doing things in a detached way that, as best as I can tell, is your friendly practitioner's way of glamoring himself.
"No," I said to Penny. "I've got something to do."
It was a long drive south into the countryside, the sort where the GPS has to pipe up once in a while to say "continue on current road" just to remind you you're awake. It was a gray, cold day in London, and a gray, cold day in Kent. Which just goes to show that I'm smart for not having bothered to take a holiday for the past year.
Plisswater Women's Prison is plopped down by its lonesome on the flat Kent landscape, nowhere near any of the good bits, like Canterbury Cathedral or that oyster bar in Margate where Bev and I once got totally smashed when we went away for a weekend. The name is a misnomer – there's no naturally-occurring bodies of water of any sort in, around, or under it, plissful or otherwise. I checked. Thoroughly.
So I had no idea where the name came from and, back when I first heard of the place, hadn't cared. Except to automatically come up with the top ten most likely things the inmates would call it, with a name asking for it like that.
The buildings themselves, I discovered when my warrant card got me through the front gate, were not the Brutalist punch to the aesthetic centers of my brain that I was expecting, but instead a set of friendly-looking rounded brick towers in a sort of conversational grouping around a central courtyard where a cohort of prisoners were taking their mandated exercise. I couldn't even spot any bars on the windows. Probably because heavy-gauge steel mesh screens are far more effective.
I'd had the sense to call ahead when I was an hour out, so I was expected. The warden herself met me. She was a forty-something white woman with a boardroom handshake and no smile. She checked my ID, then called the Commissioner's office directly, just to be extra special double sure.
"Sorry about that," she said once she was satisfied. "We're very careful with this particular prisoner. You wouldn't believe the special handling instructions."
"I would, actually," I said. "I wrote them."
They had me wait another twenty minutes, then showed me to a closet-sized visiting room with two separate entrances, one for me and one for a prisoner. There was no pane of bulletproof glass, but the room was bisected by a heavy-looking pasteboard table with a single chair bolted down on either side. Hard to get across that in a hurry.
Lesley was waiting for me in the opposite chair. Her face, which had always looked subtly too perfect in dim light, looked simply wrong under bright fluorescents. Something too stiff about it, too slick. It'd been a long time since I'd seen her, so I'd forgotten how jarring it was. I hadn't been the one to interrogate her – DPS would have had a field day with the very idea. But I saw most of it, and no one had a problem sending me in once in a while when she was particularly tired or off-balance, just to rattle her.
Lesley's hands were on the table, clasped loosely; she wore a fine wire mesh bracelet around each wrist. One would have been sufficient to control most magic, but never let it be said that Nightingale doesn't like redundancy.
I sat down.
"You look like shit," Lesley said.
"I know," I said. "How's things?"
She pursed her lips. "More of the same. How's everyone on your end? Anything new?"
I paused. There were a couple different answers to that one. I thought of the smell of fresh paint, the joy on Penny's face when she lit her first lux, the feel of cool rain on my warm neck, the pressure of strong hands at my waist. "Oh, you know," I said. "Same old. Except Nightingale's taken up yoga."
"Yeah. He goes to classes at a new studio across the square." And, because he tended to go in the afternoon, his classmates were almost entirely stay-at-home mums who, from the brief exposure I'd gotten, collectively wanted to climb him like a tree. "He says it aids in concentration."
"Okay, but does he wear the leggings?" Lesley asked.
"Oh yeah," I said. "The really posh ones that cost ninety quid a pair." I paused, cleared my throat. "And, uh. My mum died. So."
The stiff half-smile dropped off Lesley's face. "Peter," she said. "Jesus, what . . .?"
"Aneurism," I said. "Out of nowhere. Figures, right?" It was the sort of thing that could almost make me believe in a conscious universe with a sadistic sense of humor.
"Peter," she said again. "I'm sorry."
Which pissed me off. I almost said, 'oh, what, you'll apologize for that?' but held it back. "Yeah well," I said. "I thought I'd drop by, do a quick check-in. Make sure the jewelry is still working."
I don't know if she bought that, but she slid her hands out toward me in silence. I stood up and leaned in, keeping one hand clear just in case, while I touched a fingertip to one bracelet and then the other. Nightingale's signare was all over them, which I would have found comforting, but it probably just pissed her off. If she could even sense it.
"Do you get any vestigia?" I asked.
She nodded. "It's sort of muffled," she said. "But yeah. There's a lot of stone around here. And metal."
I briefly contemplated the sorts of things that might be clinging to a prison, then stopped.
"Seems in order," I said. But then I sat down again, instead of leaving like I'd meant to.
We'd all been clear – Nightingale and me, Chorley and Lesley – on who our dance partners were supposed to be. Lesley and me because we were both banking on the possibility that the other would flinch, and Nightingale and Chorley because that's what happens when you have a weight class of two. Except in the end it was me, alone, with Chorley, and I killed him. And it was Nightingale who brought Lesley in, battered but alive, with a look of such weariness about him that I can't possibly describe it.
"It wasn't mercy," Lesley said, following my thoughts in the uncanny way – popular usage, not magical – she always had. "What Nightingale did."
"Sorry?" I said.
She made a face, which cracked the illusion of okayness even further. "He could have killed me. And for a man like him, that would have been mercy. That's how he thinks."
"Did he tell you that?" I asked.
"No, but." She shrugged. "Didn't have to." And she was sort of right. I'd begun to understand Nightingale a lot better when I'd realized, years ago, that some time in the twentieth century there was a sea change in how most people thought. On the one side was Nightingale, who thought that some kinds of life weren't worth living. And on the other side was me, who . . . didn't. I'm pretty sure it's exposure to Doctor Who that explains the difference.
Sometimes I can see it as cultural relativism. Sometimes I can't. Sometimes I don't think of it as cultural at all, it's just being different people. Regardless, we've always, every time, met somewhere in the middle. We do okay, me and Nightingale.
"Did . . . you want him to kill you?" I asked. Lesley was watched closely for all sorts of reasons, but suicide prevention wasn't currently one of them.
"No," she said, but slowly, like she was really thinking about it. "Could have asked though, couldn't he?"
"Right," I said, and finally stood up. "It's been fun."
For a second Lesley looked . . . something. Sad? Furious? Gassy? It was hard to tell, the way her face moved. "Goodbye, Peter," she said, and twiddled her fingers at me.
I stopped on my way out to suggest that some suicide precautions might be in order, just in case. Because maybe I'm a bit confused on mercy these days, myself.
What had been a two hour drive out turned into three and a half on the way back. I would have seen it coming and stopped for dinner, if I was thinking at all. But I didn't, because I wasn't. The last ten miles took well over an hour, it being Friday evening. That's the sort of thing that usually winds me right up, but that day I just felt like yeah, figures.
The garage in the new annex at the Folly was half empty. Hard to draw any conclusions from that these days, with apprentices dashing in and out in packs, but the Folly was unusually quiet when I came through the back. It still smelled like resin and wood glue and fresh paint, a pretty, soft green selected by Molly.
Nightingale was in the magical library. I went straight there, my coat and shoes still on. He was standing at the far shelves, tapping a thoughtful finger along a row of spines. He was in slim-cut charcoal trousers and a pale gray shirt with the shadow of a mauve check to it, which is about as sartorially adventurous as he gets. No jacket, no tie, but he was still buttoned up tight at the throat and wrists. To the eye, he looked a few years older than he had when we'd met. Tiredness wears on him, even if time doesn't. Fair enough – I felt like I'd aged twenty years in ten. The lamplight highlighted the sprinkle of gray at his temples, and I couldn't make out the faint crow's feet at the corners of his eyes, but I knew they were there.
"Ah, Peter," he said, looking up. "Good evening. I wasn't expecting—" then he broke off as I kept walking right up to him, straight through a socially acceptable distance and into his space, and another two quick steps to put me up against his back. It was my day for doing things I hadn't planned to do. He turned right away, his arms going around me like it'd been his idea all along. I ducked my head down into the bend where his neck met shoulder. His collar was stiff against my cheek, and I could still catch traces of his cologne even at the end of the day.
"Ah," he said quietly. "I needn't ask about your day, then."
Self-consciousness belatedly caught up to me. "Sorry," I said, straightening up. "I just—"
Nightingale isn't much for interrupting people, but that time he cut me off by the expedient of shifting his grip to my shoulders and, with inexorable pressure, putting me right back where I'd been. He turned his head, too, dipping his chin and resting his temple against mine. I breathed in and reflexively focused, seeking vestigia. He carries a lot, for a person. Enough to pick things up if you're me, which is to say a wizard who knows him really well. Today I got . . . pine . . . and still water . . . and that trace of smoke he always carries . . . and a twisting echo of a specific, complex bit of magic.
"Water breathing?" I said into his neck, finally placing the remnants of a familiar forma.
"Abigail may be ready," he said, not moving. For a guy with very little regular practice, he was incredibly good at holding someone. "I provided a demonstration today."
I grimaced, recalling my own introduction to water breathing. It's a fiendishly difficult fifth order forma intended to mine oxygen from water, usually as it's going up your nose. It won't keep you alive for long at all, and there's the small issue of hyperoxygenation, and the part where learning it involves the most unpleasant neti pot experience possible. But like a seatbelt cutter or a condom, when you need it, you need it. Abigail might be ready for that. Her self-control was ferocious. I probably wasn't the best judge, since I hadn't been ready when it was my turn, but I'd badly needed to know, so that was that. Thus was my apprenticeship. Less so Abigail's, or Vikram's, or Ari's, or Penny's, so at least there was that.
"Where's everyone?" I asked. One of Nightingale's hands was warm at the nape of my neck, the other was running repeatedly down my spine.
"Out." He was murmuring directly into my ear. "Molly is out back watching television. Abigail took the rest to a concert. The sort with a great deal of shouting and lasers, I understand. Except for Penny – I believe she has a date."
"Mmm?" I said. The rhythmic strokes down my back felt unreasonably good.
"I didn't inquire too closely," Nightingale said primly.
I rolled my eyes. "Same bloke, though, right? Second date, innit?"
"Fourth, I believe," said Nightingale. Who, for the record, and no matter what he says, follows the complexity of our apprentices' love lives like it's the best episode of Eastenders he's ever seen.
"I'm out of touch," I said. He let me pull away from him this time, but his hands came to rest on my elbows, keeping me close. Touching each other like this was still so new that his clinginess was a surprise every time. A good surprise. Well, a complicated surprise. It can't be entirely good to realize that a guy who you've watched walk around for a decade inside a serene bubble of touch me not grabs on tight and doesn't let go the second you give him a sign he's allowed.
"Have you eaten? I can debrief you over dinner," he suggested.
"No, I've been driving." I stretched, hissing quietly between my teeth. "You must've eaten already, though."
"I have, but I'll keep you company." He tugged gently at the collar of my coat. "Go get settled and I'll heat something up for you."
"Actually, give me twenty," I said, stepping back. "I want to take a quick shower."
I went out to the atrium first to take off my coat and shoes. When Lesley and Chorley mounted their assault on the Folly in search of the Black Library, they did it from the back. So they obliterated the old coach house and tech cave, and sheered the back third off the main building, all but vaporizing the mundane library. We were incredibly lucky there were no casualties. Abigail got a concussion, Ari will spend the rest of her life with a faint limp, and I fucked up my back and lost most of my worldly possessions, but all in all, lucky. Molly was also on the injured list, though she suffered a metaphysical blow rather than a physical one. She wasn't herself again until the reconstruction was done.
The atrium had been spared and was still essentially the same. I'd had very strong feelings about how the reconstruction should be done; I didn't want to rebuild exactly what we'd had, but I also didn't want to graft some horrific modern anachronism on to make a Frankenfolly. Nightingale had sat in on one meeting with me and the architect and building engineers, told me to "do what you think best," and uttered not a single other word until the last nail was nailed, and that only to say that it was "lovely, thank you."
The umbrella stand holding Nightingale's cane and my staff was right next to the cloakroom; I paused there, touching a fingertip to the top of his cane, then gripping my staff in a brief, foolish hello. I'd carved it myself, using magic and my own hands. Nightingale had told me only when I was done that it was the last thing I would do as his apprentice.
I don't know what they'd done to mark the occasion back in his day at Casterbrook, or in the long-ago bustling Folly. They'd all made staffs ("staves, Peter," Nightingale has corrected roughly five thousand times, which is reason enough for me to keep right on saying it), but I don't know what sort of induction ceremony they had. There was definitely something; if I know one thing about those wankers, it's that they liked a good self-congratulatory tradition. Whatever it was, I imagine it was far more elaborate than what I got, which was Nightingale taking the finished staff from my hands and examining it minutely from end to end, talking quietly to me about how I'd done it all the while. Then he'd put it back in my hands, clasped his together behind his back, and said a few brief, rough-voiced sentences to me – the phrase "a great privilege, and a joy" was used – and we both ignored the shimmer of water in his eyes and whatever my face was doing. That's what I got, and I wouldn't change it for anything.
I don't carry my staff on a daily basis. I don't really need to, and it's frankly weird-looking. Guleed gave me endless shit about "all that Lord of the Rings stuff you carved on it," which momentarily impressed me with the fact that she could actually recognize Sindarin characters, except it turned out that no, she couldn't, she was just taking the piss with annoying accuracy.
The shower managed to wake me up and settle me down at the same time. I started to throw on the first clothes that came to hand, but then I stopped, reconsidered, and dug back into the wardrobe for slacks and the dark red V-neck cashmere jumper Caroline had sent for Christmas. It was kind of hard to tell when Nightingale was making an effort, given that overdressed and exquisitely courteous are his basic operating settings, but it was belatedly occurring to me that we had the whole place to ourselves for once and neither of us had anywhere to be and maybe, if I could get my head in the fucking game here, we could pick up where we'd been so painfully cut short a month ago.
I glanced in the mirror on my way out, and blanched a little. That guy looked like he'd gotten less than three hours of shitty sleep on his dad's shitty sofa, and then had only the latest in a long, shitty line of long, shitty days.
"Yeah," I said to my reflection, "I'd hit that."
Nightingale wasn't in the dining room or the kitchen. I lingered in the hall for a minute, too tired to string some basic logic together, until he solved the problem for me by coming up the stairs from the wine cellar.
"Ah, good," he said, and offered up a bottle of red for my inspection, as if he didn't know full well that I picked wine purely based on how much I like the label font. "If you're in the mood?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, discovering that I actually was. "Though fair warning, it's about 50/50 whether that'll put me right to sleep."
Nightingale has a lot of looks that he saves just for me. He always has. Some of my favorites include you unmannered clod, and focus, for the love of God, and again, please, but correctly this time. There are some other good ones, too, like the look that goes with his quiet, "that's bloody well done," or, my personal favorite, the look when he's just asked me to explain an internet meme and already knows he's going to regret it.
I'd been getting a new look the last few weeks: steady, gentle, patient. It was all over his face then. "I'm happy to tuck you in, if need be," he said, absolutely serious, and turned me away from the dining room with a hand at my back. "Come along, there's a fire in the reading room."
There was, along with a dinner tray on the low table in front of the sofa, complete with a steaming bowl of stew and fresh bread and a couple of wineglasses from the serious business crystal set.
"I'm sure Molly won't mind just the once," Nightingale said off my look. Right, like Molly was the one with terribly strong feelings over the importance of eating at the formal dining table.
"Thanks," I said, meaning it kind of a lot. The room was warm and dim and exactly what I hadn't known I wanted.
Nightingale uncorked the wine and set it aside to breathe. Probably for the best, since my overwhelming desire was to neck half of it in one go, and I should eat first.
I did that, soaking up bits of Molly's tomato beef stew with pieces of bread. Nightingale sat next to me, idly peeling a couple of satsumas. He caught me up on As the Folly Turns while I ate. Vikram's on-and-off again was very, very off, which was inconvenient for purposes of getting Abigail over her tragic, hopeless crush on him; Penny had in the course of recent lab work exploded not only an apple, not only Abigail's apple, but both their apples, the light fixture, and the packet of dog biscuits in the pocket of Nightingale's second-best Burberry; Molly's online book club was in the throes of what, though Nightingale lacked the appropriate vocabulary to say so, was clearly a flame war; and so on.
He paused to pour the wine halfway through. He did some of that posh murmuring over it, sniffing and sipping and pronouncing seemingly random things like "a hint of slate," and "perhaps peppercorn." It tasted like wine to me – which I took some pleasure in informing him – and it hit me pretty fast.
I'd been leaning way over the low table to eat my dinner, but after half a glass it started to seem like too much work to hold my back straight enough, so I slid off the sofa to sit on the floor, my legs tucked up in front of me. Nightingale reached over me to top up my glass without asking.
"Sorry I've been AWOL," I said to the fire.
"Don't," Nightingale said immediately.
I opened my mouth, shut it, and . . . didn't.
Instead, I caught him up on the case closure from that morning while I finished up the stew. Nightingale 'mmm'd at appropriate intervals. His wool-clad thigh was right next to me, and it was the easiest thing in the world to push my empty bowl away and let myself lean sideways, to drop my head and let my cheek rest there. His hand immediately closed over the back of my neck, warm and gently kneading.
The fire crackled. Neither of us said anything. I studied the polished toe of his right oxford, breathed in the scent of his soap, and thought unworriedly about how I couldn't have done this ten years ago or even five, leaned on him like this, let alone sat at his feet. Fair enough – he wouldn't have been able to let me, probably.
He took his hand away after a while and did something quiet out of sight. Then he reached back around me; his cuff brushed my cheek and his fingers found my mouth. I turned my head and accepted a satsuma wedge from between his fingers. It burst bright and sweet across my tongue, and I made an involuntary sound of pleasure.
"Good," Nightingale said, as if I'd done something clever.
He fed me more slices, one by one, his fingertips lingering on my mouth or jaw. I thought about getting showy about it, eating out of his hand, but it just seemed . . . unnecessary. And, okay, maybe I didn't know as much as I'd like about what does it for him, but I had a feeling that wasn't it.
Eventually he ran out of fruit and just sat there with both hands on me, his thumbs running repeatedly up the column of my neck. I kind of wished I was more with it so I could appreciate this fully, how fucking sexy it was. Just a little neck-touching was lighting me up slowly, warmly. It wasn't about my neck, specifically, but more that he was doing it at all, that he could run his fingers up into my hair now.
"Careful," I murmured, tipping my head into his hands. "My hair has broken picks stronger than you."
He huffed a laugh and slowed down, working his fingers into the thicket and scratching deliciously at my scalp. I was pretty sure he'd been paying enough attention to be able to predict exactly how far I'd let my hair grow before shaving it down. That was fair; I could call, to the day, when he'd transition from winter to spring suiting.
Right then my hair had another month of free growth before I got sick of it, which was to say it was currently a month past the point where my mum would start bugging me about it.
I breathed in, breathed out. Stared at the fire until my eyes hurt. Nightingale's fingers paused.
"I saw Lesley today," I said.
"Ah." His fingers started moving again. "And how is she?"
"You get the reports." He did – a monthly summary of medical changes, visitors, purchases, everything else Plisswater could track. He'd arranged to have it emailed to him, which, given that his met.police.uk address auto-forwards to mine, meant that I also got the reports, and read them, and flagged them for him to actually read. It had taken me three solid years of encouragement – "nagging, worse than a fishwife," according to him – before he agreed to actually use his email. Then, flush with my victory, I'd caught him printing out his messages. He'd asked me what that face was for, then told me to stop banging my head on the table like that, I'd do myself an injury. I'd said he was the one hurting me, and please, for the love of God, he printed the spam, too?
Thus I received charge of his email, and either gained access to a great deal of internal correspondence generally not intended for someone below the rank of DCI, or became a vastly overpaid email filter, depending on how you look at it.
"I think," Nightingale said mildly, "that if everything worth knowing about Lesley's condition was contained in the reports, you wouldn't have gone to see her."
"Point," I said. "She's . . . still herself." Which sounded like an evasion, but wasn't. That's what had been so surprising about it, how much I still knew her like the back of my hand. Wherever you go, there you are, like they say. Whether that's bright-eyed and determined at Hendon, or being one of the best mates I could have asked for, or tasing me in the back, or serving twenty-five to life for acts of terrorism. "You went down last January, right?" I said. I knew he had – he'd told me he was going, asked if I wanted to come along, and made no comment on my refusal.
"And in June," he said unexpectedly.
"Wait, really?" I twisted around to look up at him, which didn't work out very well since it took him a bit of effort to get his fingers out of my hair.
"Apologies," he murmured when I winced. He folded his hands in his lap, which wasn't at all what I'd been going for.
"You went back?" I prompted.
"It didn't seem like you would want to know about it," he said, going right to the point.
"Yeah, no," I said. "I get that. But you . . . wanted to go back?"
He made an ambiguous mmm sound. "Not particularly, no. But it did occur to me that, broken oaths notwithstanding, she was my student once. And perhaps I still owe a certain . . . degree of pastoral care, for lack of a better phrase."
"Huh," I said, pretty thoroughly thrown. All these years, and he could still surprise me. "What'd she think about that?"
He smiled. "I shan't repeat it," he said.
"Ha, right. Like I said, she's still herself."
He studied me and I let him. "Will you go back?"
"Dunno." I slumped forward, draping myself across his lap. I'd basically dragged the whole sensual hand-feeding by firelight mood out back and shot it, so shamelessly clingy was what I had. "Maybe I will. What do you think?"
"I have no opinion," he said. "Except that my preference is whichever option will make it possible for you not to be hurt by her anymore."
Yeah, well, my preference was for lots of things that still hurt him to just fucking stop, for whatever good that had ever done him. Or me. Or anyone.
"God," I said, "this is depressing. Sorry."
I swallowed, unprepared for another broadside of that patient look. "Distract me?" I said hopefully.
"Of course." He tipped his head. "I do have something I'd like you to take a look at, actually."
I tried on a leer and was pretty sure it only half-fit. "That's a euphemism, yeah?"
He laughed, leaned down, and kissed my forehead. "Let me up, and finish your wine," he said. "I'll be right back."
He was gone long enough for me to empty my wine glass, refill it, and clear away the dishes. I was putting another log on the fire when he came back, smelling faintly of rain. He'd run across to the annex, then.
"I'll trade you," he said, offering up a file folder with one hand and taking the wood away with the other. He had unflattering – and completely accurate – opinions on my fire-making abilities.
I crossed back to the sofa and squinted at the folder. It was a Met personnel file, and incredibly sparse given that its subject, one Viola Cressida Shorebridge-Wells, had just finished up at Hendon a month ago. She'd been working on a degree in history before that, and doing quite well, by the looks of it, before chucking it all in favor of chasing pickpockets and getting thrown up on by drunks.
"Oh-kay," I said slowly as Nightingale came back to sit next to me.
"Keep going," he prompted.
I did, through a short but surprisingly varied work history which encompassed both a stint as a guide at the London Zoo and a summer on an archaeological dig in Crete, and to earlier academic records. "Uh-huh," I said when I saw what he wanted me to see.
"You know what you are?" I said, closing the file with a finger stuck in to keep my place. "You're my cousin Yaema."
He tipped his head. "I don't recall – have I met that one?" That was fair – over the years he'd been introduced to approximately fifty people that I'd identified as 'my cousin' for simplicity's sake.
"Yeah, you must have at one Christmas or another. See, here's the thing about Yaema: she really didn't want kids. Like, not just didn't want them, but went around telling everyone how terrible she thought they were. All the way through her degree and starting a business. And all the aunts figured, oh, you know, she'd get over it when she met the right man."
"And did she?"
"Not really. They were married for five years before they decided maybe they wanted one after all. But just one, you see, she was very clear about it. I think they shook on it. You know what happened then?" I leaned in. "She had her one kid . . . and then she popped out five more in six years."
Nightingale had the grace to look vaguely sheepish, just a little around the edges. "Ahem, well," he said, in that way he does when he has nothing else to say.
"You want another baby," I said, flipping open the file and jabbing a finger at the A-Levels, one Latin, one Greek.
"This comparison is unwarranted," Nightingale said primly. "I'm not the one who expanded our current roster beyond our agreed terms."
That really wasn't how I remembered it. Two apprentices, that's what we'd agreed. My starting offer was three and Nightingale's was one – meaning zero, thank you very much – and we'd compromised right where I'd wanted us. He'd known it was necessary. We were both working ourselves to the bone, and even though adding apprentices meant adding more work, it would be worth it in the long run. So he'd known, but he'd done the Nightingale equivalent of whining and stomping his feet through the entire negotiation process – which is to say he frowned reprovingly whenever I brought it up and changed the subject. He liked change once it was happening, but hated the idea of it beforehand, and I could see him bracing himself to get used to strangers in the Folly, to starting all over again with the first order magic that he didn't particularly like teaching.
So I'd gotten us our two, one by design, one by serendipity. And they'd moved in and started in on lux, and Nightingale had walked around in a state of constant ruffle for the better part of a year. And then he'd started making these . . . comments. Just little things about how much I was clearly enjoying teaching them – which was a lot, he was right about that – and how it suited me, and how he could just see it coming that I'd want another, he knew me and how I got and I had "that broody look in your eye," whatever that meant.
So I thought fine, I'd show him, and I went out and found Vikram for us, figuring that would shut him up. Which it did. For six months. And then it was "hm, three apprentices, that's a difficult number," and "this would be easier if we could divide them into teams, I know you like that sort of thing," and "you want another one, you can't fool me, we'll get eaten out of house and home, Peter."
So I got us Penny, and Nightingale sniffed and said well we would just have to make do, wouldn't we, "even with you carrying on like this, four apprentices, ridiculous." All with that tiny, secret, pleased little smile that I – that I would die for, even then.
So, all things considered, I'm not sure what was more amazing: that he was actually bringing this to me straight out, or that it had taken him a whole year and a half to do it.
"All right," I said, straightening up. "This is where you talk me into it."
"She won't be able to join us until her probationary assignment is complete," he said immediately. "So no extra burden will fall on you any time soon."
"Uh-huh," I said. "Keep going."
"And I'll apply myself to the budgetary angle, you needn't concern yourself."
"Nice thought, but not a chance," I said. Our ever-expanding budget went straight to the Commissioner's desk. I had that relationship exactly where I wanted it, and like hell was Nightingale going to stick his oar in.
"I did manage before you came along, you may recall," Nightingale said.
"Of course you did," I said, and patted his knee. "I'm not feeling very convinced here."
"Right." He cleared his throat, obviously ticking through a mental list. "It will be good spacing for all of them. Beginning to teach was invaluable to you at the end of your apprenticeship; the same may be true of Abigail or Ari in the middle of theirs."
"Warmer," I said.
"And of course you should meet her, form your own opinion of her suitability. I would never want to take someone on without your full agreement."
"Thomas," I said. "For God's sake. Just spit it out."
He pressed his lips together. "She's my several times great-niece."
Okay, I hadn't seen that coming. "Really?"
"Yes. She's descended directly from my sister's only child."
I squinted. That would have to be his sister Patience, who was married at eighteen, a mother nine months later, and just a few months after that dead of influenza.
Not that he'd ever told me any of that. I snooped, if that's what you want to call several weeks of surprisingly difficult historical sleuthing. Sometimes, digging around behind Nightingale's back is the kindest thing I can do for him, because that way I know the stuff I need to and he doesn't have to tell me about it.
"Okay," I said slowly. "Did she approach you?"
"Yes. I wasn't even aware she'd joined the police. Last I checked, she was still in school." His siblings had been a fertile lot, even with half of them dead by their thirties. Nightingale had a small army of great-great-great-nieces and nephews that, come to think of it, could give my mass of cousins a run for their money. He popped in and out of their lives occasionally, usually from a distance, and with the distracted irregularity of someone who doesn't always remember how long a decade is.
"What does she know about you?"
"We had lunch." His hands turned uneasily around each other. "I had assumed – it's been several generations, and of course I've been very stand-offish since the sixties. I imagined they all believe I'm . . . a contemporary. My own grandchild, perhaps. A policeman. If they think of me at all. And she was circumspect, very much so." His lips twitched. "Called me cousin." For simplicity's sake, right.
"But you think she knows something."
"Oh yes. I'm not sure what – I'm not sure she knows what, either. But clearly some hint has reached her ears, somehow." He paused. "You're smiling."
"Thinking about you, the family legend," I said. I could believe it, too. The Nightingales had sent sons to Casterbrook for generations. They must have been proud. They must have all known, even if they never spoke of it. Except those little things you might tell your kids about old Uncle Thomas, and what he got up to in the war. Odd duck, our Thomas, but a good one, you should look him up some time. Most kids probably wouldn't be paying enough attention to ask which war, and then the obvious follow up questions. But maybe Viola Cressida Shorebridge-Wells wasn't most kids.
"I know it's exactly the sort of nepotism that—" he gestured around us, at the Folly "—that built this." And that we'd argued over, in different contexts, a good half dozen times. I could never hear about keeping magic in the family, how that strengthened the institution of the Folly, without wondering – usually out loud – about exactly who it was so important to keep magic away from. He didn't disagree with me, not really. He just had a lot of firm ideas about patriotism as a familial commitment, not to mention the importance of discretion.
"That doesn't disqualify her," I said slowly. "If she'll suit. She'll need a more thorough background check."
"Of course. You'll consider it? I know it's not—" he gestured around us again, and I understood he meant the Folly again, but this time the new Folly, the one we were building.
"You do remember how Abigail happened, right?" I said, closing the file. "And anyway, I think it's nice. There's a sort of . . . continuity to it." And not for the Folly, which would never have admitted her were she born his sister, but for him. "I'll run the background and then meet her. Though it might take me a while, sorry."
"Of course." He smiled, visibly relieved. "There's plenty of time. I don't intend to pile more on your shoulders right now."
"It's okay," I said, dropping the file on the table. "It's about time I started carrying my weight around here again."
He frowned at me. "I told you to take whatever time you need. That includes whatever time your father needs. We'll make do here."
"Yeah, well." I turned away and stretched. "Dad and me are getting pretty sick of each other at this point, so."
"Ah," Nightingale said. Then, delicately, "Will you be comfortable leaving him alone more often?"
That was the question, wasn't it? Dad had all the physical strength of a paper doll. A minor slip and fall would be a disaster, let alone—
He'd been clean for most of a decade. I didn't know if he realized that his tolerance was gone. I didn't know if he cared.
"One of my aunts is with him now," I said. "And we talked about assisted living last night. He said he'd think about it." I had my eye on three different options. Seemed only polite to let him choose. Given that I hadn't been paying rent for the roof over my head for years now, I could afford to get him set up somewhere nice. So we'd talked about that – costs and amenities and medical resources – instead of how none of this was ever supposed to happen.
"My mum would hate this," I said abruptly. "She would have said –" that family takes care of family, that you don't pay strangers for it. But she wasn't here, and me and Dad . . . we didn't do so well without her filling in the spaces between us. And there were only so many hours in the day, and a lot of people who needed me in them, and only so much I could do.
Nightingale moved behind me, but he didn't touch me. It made me think of Mum's funeral. I'd basically held Dad up all the way through the graveside service. Nightingale had stood close on my other side, our apprentices behind us. Halfway through, Nightingale had taken my arm and tucked it through his, folding it close against his ribs. I couldn't feel the warmth of him through both our greatcoats, but I could have leaned on him if I'd wanted. It was one of those old-fashioned gestures that wouldn't work for most people like they work for him.
"Fuck," I said resignedly. "This is not how tonight was supposed to go."
Nightingale did reach out then. His hands closed on my shoulders and his thumbs dug in. I'd watched his hands cast hundreds of spells; pour thousands of cups of tea; and wield his cane, and an oyster fork, and, with surprising grace, an iPad stylus. I hadn't known they could do this, though, and I was suddenly pretty mad about that.
"I had no expectations," he said. "So if you are concerned on my account, you needn't be."
"Oh, thanks," I said sarcastically, then grunted when he dug his strong fingers into the sore spot inside my left shoulder blade.
"You're exhausted," he said, with palpable exasperation. "And I imagine you are going to keep being exhausted, even when you aren't running yourself off your feet from dawn to dusk. That's entirely to be expected, and I am at your disposal regardless."
"Oh," I said stupidly. Then, as some thoughts rearranged themselves. "I guess . . . I guess you would know something about how this goes."
"Yes," Nightingale said simply. Which was wildly understating his half-century long study on the intricacies of grief. That was sort of comforting, actually. The way unexpectedly finding yourself in the company of an expert is comforting when you don't know up from down.
Closure wasn't a real thing that happened to real people, at least not anybody I knew. I hadn't found any standing at my mum's graveside, or in that tiny visiting room at Plisswater. Nightingale, though. He'd carved himself a mourning wall, and I liked to think it had helped, if only a little. But I didn't think I had a gesture like that in me.
"Okay," I said as flippantly as I could. "So what happens next, if you're so clever?"
Bless him, Nightingale told me in that brisk, mildly supercilious way of his. "You're going to get a full night's sleep," he said. "More than – at least ten hours, uninterrupted. I'll handle any calls. Your mobile is off? Good. In the morning you're going to sit down to breakfast, none of this 'grab-and-go' nonsense." He'd always had very strong feelings on that one. "Then you're going to go for a run. You can take Vikram with you – he can't focus until he runs off some energy, like a puppy." I was getting the strong impression that Nightingale was working through a prepared list here, and that maybe he'd just been waiting to be asked. "When are you needed back at your father's?"
"Not until mid-afternoon," I said. "Though I need to get him groceries, and –" I broke off to yawn.
"All right," Nightingale said. He cleared his throat. "And when there's time, I would very much like it if we could have dinner again."
Now that was a euphemism, at least in part. "Yes," I said. "Me, too."
He squeezed my shoulders. "Capital. Now, let's see about the first item on your agenda."
I got up at his nudge, then stood there, blinking vaguely, while he went to bank the fire. It was like I hadn't known how tired I was until he told me, and now that he had, I could barely stay on my feet.
"You said you'd tuck me in," I tried when he came back to me. I was going for flirtatious, but I had a feeling I'd missed by a country mile.
"If you like," he said, with a look that was, dare I say it, indulgent.
"Or," I said, tired enough to grab that and run with it and damn the consequences, "you could supervise this sleep I'm supposed to be getting."
"A good suggestion, thank you," he said, the way he does when I come up with directions to get him around a traffic jam. "Come along."
He walked out of his way the entire length of the second floor hallway just to escort me right to my door, and left me with instructions to come upstairs "when you've made yourself comfortable." That answered the question of mine or his. I brushed my teeth and tossed my clothes across my bed – which I hadn't even slept in since . . . Tuesday? No, Monday.
I'd seen Nightingale in his jim-jams a couple of times over the years, though generally he takes the time in all but the direst of emergencies to get into one of his dressing gowns. I will never, for the rest of my days, forget the spectacle of Nightingale having a knock-down, drag-out magical brawl in the Folly's back courtyard in a matched set of dark purple silk pajamas and fuzzy socks. Good times.
I threw on a pair of old track pants and a Game of Thrones t-shirt. Whatever. He knew what he was getting with me.
He has a self-contained suite of rooms – a sitting room with a reading nook where he hoards some of the most apprentice-tempting and dangerous books, an unused kitchen, and an en suite. He answered my knock – dark red dressing gown, nice – and swept me right past everything and into his bedroom, where I'd seldom been. Only one lamp was burning, and he'd turned down the covers. He deposited me there on the side of the bed and told me to settle in, he'd be right back.
That was fine with me. I was actually sort of glad to be alone as I wiggled down under his blankets and nudged the pillows into shape. These were Nightingale's sheets. That was Nightingale's end table, Nightingale's book – in Aramaic, the screaming nerd – and Nightingale's . . . glasses case? Hm.
There had been quite a long time at the beginning of my apprenticeship when I'd struggled to think of Nightingale as an actual person who did things like sleep. In my mind he sprang into being, fully-formed and nattily-dressed, in the dining room for breakfast every morning. That had worn off in due time. First he'd become a person to me, mostly by way of learning his flaws. And then he'd become my friend, so easily that neither of us had even noticed until the deed was well and done.
And somewhere round about the eighth year of my apprenticeship, I'd discovered I wanted him in the worst way. And it was the worst – I was hounded by improbable dreams of pulling his clothes off with my teeth, or him shagging me like a wild thing in the Jag. It was too much, too vivid, too distracting, and it fucked me up for a while. Or maybe that was everything else going down that year, I don't know. I worked my way through it like some people talk about getting through a bout of depression – lots of time, lots of pep talking, lots of reassurances that this, too, etc. etc.
And then Caroline and I collided again, and decided maybe we could make a real go of it this time, cards on the table from the start. And by the time we realized nope, actually, we couldn't, abort, abort, shit was going down and I hardly had time to eat, let alone think of seeing anybody. But after that . . .
Things were different, after. I was older, the world was messier, the Folly was in ruins. I was a killer. He'd fucking deserved it, but that didn't mean it didn't count. Lesley was in prison. And I found myself . . . wanting. The thing Bev and I hadn't built to last because we'd built it too fast. The thing Caroline and I had tried for, and missed so comprehensively. I found myself wanting not just a companion, not just a good time, but a partner.
It took me a solid year of moping about that to realize I already had one.
Letting Nightingale in on that was surprisingly easy. He'd said –I'm paraphrasing here – a lot of stuff about propriety and responsibility and what would the apprentices say oh dear oh dear. And I'd told him to shut his mouth, we both knew he wanted a piece of this. And he said yes, well, maybe he did, and perhaps we should take this discussion to dinner.
So we went out for Lebanese, like we had so many times before. Hell, we'd had a regularly-scheduled dinner out, just the two of us, on a bi-weekly basis ever since we started collecting apprentices. But that time we talked about – or at least talked around – what we were doing, in addition to reviewing apprentice progress (both of us), explaining Snapchat again (me), and bemoaning the rugby scores (him). And over our after-dinner coffees, I'd reached across the table and rested my hand on his.
Then we walked slowly home to the Folly, and lingered in the dark of the back courtyard because the probability was very high that an apprentice would pounce on one or the other of us as soon as we showed our faces. And we'd kissed there in the chilly dark, carefully at first, and then not so carefully. And lingered longer, and expressed what Nightingale would probably call "tender sentiments."
And because we were out back, not in the Folly proper, my mobile was still on. I flip it off or on whenever I enter or leave the building; it's entirely habitual. So because we never went through the back door, my mobile was on. And because my mobile was on, I answered it when dad called to say that mum had fallen over out of the blue, she'd just been cooking dinner and now she was hardly breathing, and he'd called 999 but he needed me to tell him what to do.
So I told him to get her in the recovery position and keep her warm, and I stayed on the line with him while Nightingale got us into the Jag and over to meet them at A&E. And I told Dad to wait, to be patient, we'd know something soon, and I told him to drink the coffee I brought him and eat the curry Nightingale brought him because he needed to keep his strength up. And I told him it was all right, I could listen to what the doctor had to say first. And then I told him it was already over and he needed to pull the plug. It was eight a.m. before Nightingale and me got home from what was, no contest, the worst date of my life.
After all that, finally climbing into Nightingale's bed was a little anticlimactic. But still something worth savoring.
Nightingale came back in eventually, and flipped the lamp off. The drapes were drawn, so I couldn't see much, but I could hear him sliding out of his dressing gown, then feel him getting into bed beside me. I turned toward him, reaching in the dark. Apparently he had the same idea, and we fumbled awkwardly for a minute before lining up right to kiss. His mouth was soft on mine.
"Good night," he murmured, and kissed me again.
I thought I'd go to sleep right away, but I didn't. My brain just wouldn't quit, and I kept shifting around. It was partly not being able to switch off, and partly that uncomfortable first sleepover thing where you're not sure if your bedmate is cool with being cuddled. And it was somehow worse with him, because I felt strongly that this was something I ought to know about him, considering everything else I knew.
Eventually Nightingale got sick of it and reached for me. I was about to apologize, but he was nudging me over where he wanted me and clearly wasn't interested. After a bit of shuffling, we were tucked up together, his back warm against mine and his knees bent, feet tucked up between my calves.
I breathed, let myself lean into him, and thought worriedly about how I wasn't going to be able to get to sleep, even if this was really comfortable, and Nightingale might well scindere me in place if I kept twitching, and . . .
. . . And when I opened my eyes, it was late morning. Nightingale's room faces the same way mine does, and I recognized that slant of light through the drapes. Nightingale was gone, and the sheets were cool when I rolled and stretched.
There was a clock on the nightstand – the sort made of actual clockwork – and I pushed up on my elbow to read it. Well, I hadn't gotten those ten hours of sleep Nightingale had prescribed; I'd gotten a full twelve. And I still felt like I could go right back to sleep.
I staggered my way up and did five minutes of stretching in Nightingale's sitting room. I felt like I'd barely moved all night, and my back couldn't decide what to do with that.
Eventually I slumped my way down to breakfast, not bothering to dress. Everyone else had come and gone, though Nightingale's morning paper still rested, re-folded, at his place. I stuck my head into the kitchen and found Molly rolling out dough.
"Morning," I said. "Sorry, I overslept. Is there—" I stopped as Molly turned, opened the oven, and presented me with a covered plate left in there to keep warm. She communicated by dint of hand gestures that she would make me fresh tea and toast, and that I should get the fuck out of her kitchen, which I did.
After I'd stuffed myself, I wandered back upstairs. Voices were drifting down from the third floor; I followed them up and went to lean in the open door of the lab. Vikram and Penny were at one end, working on levitation and repulsion, respectively; Nightingale was ranging between them and Ari, who was doing something very involved to a network of glass tubes. She was stringing transposition formae together in long chains. There was something lovely, almost musical in the way the magic rose and fell, rose and fell.
Ari is more mine than Nightingale's. "She certainly has varied interests," was his succinct opinion after a few months, which is Nightingale-speak for "that one's a fuckin' weirdo, ain't she." Which was accurate, and also a pot and kettle situation. Ari made weird, wonderful magical art pieces with exotic gasses frozen in time. She couldn't ever show them publicly, but she didn't care. She had a near-eidetic memory, a fascination with blood spatter analysis that had first landed her in the Met, and four cats. I had a terrible feeling that if she ever noticed another human being enough to want to date him, her, or zie – I really feel I should cover all my bases here – and that human being made her cry, I was going to epically lose my shit.
Nightingale glanced over at me. I had been expecting – hoping for – a comment on my appearance, my stubbly jaw, the trailing hems of my trackpants, what he has, in the past, called my "general state of dishabille." But he just dipped his chin to me and kept on about his business.
"Morning," Vikram said, and promptly dropped everything he'd been levitating. ". . . Shit."
"Focus," Nightingale said, which, as a former apprentice to the art, I can say with confidence is both the correct admonition to give and completely bloody useless.
It did make me smile, though, as I thought to that night a month ago with a clarity I hadn't felt in a while. How Nightingale had casually thrown up an umbrella shield when the damp misting turned into a mizzling rain, how we'd kissed under it, how I'd pressed close to him and held him around the waist, how his shield had wavered when I did something he really liked, how I'd teased him, telling him to "focus, Thomas" while I slid my thigh between his and kissed down his neck. How he'd laughed, then said "oh, bugger" in his most poshly irritated tones when a whole handful of accumulated raindrops plopped onto our heads at once.
He crossed from one side of the lab to the other, and my eyes stuck to him. He was dressed down in deference to the weekend, which meant pressed trousers and shirt with a soft, silvery gray cardigan. I slid my eyes from the breadth of his shoulders to the length of his legs, and felt something . . . wake up in me. Yeah, I'd been trying to get a leg over last night, but in retrospect it obviously wasn't going to happen, and he'd been kind not to laugh flat out in my face. But well-rested and fed and watered, with Nightingale striding around looking like that, mixing trenchant sarcasm with occasional morsels of hard-won praise to the apprentices we were bringing up together . . . my mouth went dry with want.
He caught me staring, and I don't know exactly what my face was doing, but I was watching close enough to see the catch in his breath. I did a quick apprentice check – all fine, though Vikram was going to lose control of his levitating tennis balls in the next minute– and beckoned Nightingale with my eyes. I slipped away down the hall, and a minute later heard his quiet footsteps.
I ducked into an abandoned sitting room and executed a textbook ambush as Nightingale came through the door. Though it was more of a sexy pounce than a shoulder tackle. Nightingale huffed at me, but he kissed me back, his arms sliding around my waist.
"Thanks for last night," I said against his lips. It's usually a sentiment reserved for people who actually put out, but it felt appropriate anyway.
"Of course. You slept well?"
"Mmm-hmm," I said. He was freshly-shaved. I wasn't, and I felt a shiver go through him as my stubble rasped his neck. "Oh really?" I said, and did it again, gently stropping my cheek against the tender skin under his jaw.
"Stop that," Nightingale said, while tilting his head into it.
I leaned back and got a good look at him. He was flushed and rumpled. "Christ," I said involuntarily. "I want to mess you up."
He slow-blinked at me. "Beg pardon?"
I snorted. "Oh, um. What's the appropriate historical idiom?"
He winced. "Please, don't tax yourself. I can consult The Google."
"Okay, I know you only say it like that to rile me up," I said. "And you're lucky I'm such a nice guy. I should let you type that in and see what you get."
Nightingale did look appropriately concerned at that, probably remembering the unfortunate Urban Dictionary incident.
But I was in fact a nice guy, so I nipped under his ear, then murmured into it, "It means, let's see. How about, 'I want to give you a thorough, proper seeing to.'"
Yeah, that definitely translated. Nightingale breathed in, and his hands flexed hard on my back. His lips parted to say something, our eyes locked --
And from down the hall came a low, echoing boom boom boom. The building rattled gently on its foundations, and in the distance Vikram shouted, "It's fine! Nothing to worry about!"
My body had gone screaming to high alert. I breathed out, carefully releasing the formae at my fingertips, one hand protective, one hand destructive. I could feel Nightingale doing the same, and we glanced ruefully at each other.
"Please," Nightingale said to me at his most serious. "If you take him out for a run and exhaust him, I will let you mess up any blasted thing you like, including me."
I laughed, groaned, sighed, stepped back. "I'll hold you to that," I said. "A wizard's word is his oath, you know." I checked the clock. "I have just enough time before I need to get over to my dad's." I eyed him speculatively. "I was planning on coming home for the night, though."
His smile was slow. "I'll wait up, then, shall I?"
"Please," I said.
"Though in the interests of keeping track of each other, I'm out this afternoon as well." He looked down as he adjusted his cuffs. "I'm off to see Abdul."
"Oh?" I paused in the doorway. "I didn't think we had anything with him at the moment?" Doctor Walid was retired from all practice, except for Folly matters. He maintained privileges at UCH just for us.
"We don't," Nightingale said.
"Uh-huh," I said, narrowing my eyes at him so he'd know that I knew he was being squirrelly. "Say hi for me, then."
"Of course. And send my regards to your father, please." He strode purposefully past me, shoulders straight. "Now then," I heard him say. "What nonsense have you come up with now?"
I rescued Vikram from Nightingale's tender mercies and swept him and Penny both out for a run. I had a decade on both of them, but I've always taken to running and neither of them have, so they panted after me the whole way. Though wizard oaths notwithstanding, I wasn't sure anything could actually exhaust Vikram short of a marathon.
Nightingale was already gone when we got back. I took a quick shower, then trotted off to take care of all Dad's domestic stuff that I'd been too busy having a consuming career to handle during the week. I got him groceries, did the laundry, and cooked up a big batch of stew. I'd seen Mum make ground nut stew a thousand times and been drafted to help out at least half of those. But she was one of those cooks who never needed to write anything down, and it turned out I hadn't been paying as much attention as I should have, so mine didn't taste quite the same.
We ate together in front of the football match. The pamphlets for the assisted living homes I'd left on the coffee table were still there, but they were in a different order. So he'd been looking. I kept my trap shut on the topic.
Aunt Christiana showed up just after eight. She exclaimed over me a bit, how handsome I was getting, what a good boy I was, though had I considered cutting my hair?
I made my excuses, and was home in half an hour. The apprentices were all up in the annex. I stuck my head in to find them taking turns losing spectacularly at Mario Kart to Molly, who is a demon with the controller. I waved off a chorus of invitations to stay, and walked up to the main house.
Nightingale wasn't in the reading room, or the magical library, or the music room. I had a hunch, and went and tapped at the door of his suite. He answered in his shirtsleeves, glass in hand, and drew me in with a touch to my elbow.
There was a tray on the coffee table holding a bottle of brandy, a glass for me, and a plate of Molly's nutmeg maple biscuits, the ones that Nightingale doesn't get very often because whenever she makes them, I eat them. All of them. Okay, these were definitely the moves of a guy who wanted company tonight.
"Everything all right?" he murmured, guiding me over to the reading nook with a hand at my back after he'd poured me a drink.
"Fine. What're you up to?" I tilted my head at the piles of books on the floor.
"Just a spot of reorganization. Ari asked me to find a reference for her, and in the process I realized what a hash I'd made out of this shelving." He went down on his knees on the carpet. "But I can't find my copy of Crawford's Treatise on the Thaumaturgical Arts of the Mind."
"Um," I said. "Pretty sure we used that to prop up the wobbly leg on the couch in the mundane library." Thus, it was no longer on this plane. "It was pure bollocks, anyway."
"Make yourself useful," Nightingale said, pretending to be annoyed.
I sat down with him and we carefully re-shelved his little collection. It took a while, what with one or the other of us constantly opening a book to read. Nightingale because he genuinely, compulsively loves books and can't help himself, and me because I'm genuinely, compulsively nosy and can't help myself. Seriously, though, some of the inscriptions in his personal books make for fascinating reading.
"Well, that's a little disappointing," I said when we were done. He'd lent me books from these shelves many times, but I'd never sat down and looked at everything. "I thought for sure this is where you'd keep the porn."
He glanced up from an atlas of Europe that purported to show ley lines, metaphysical territory boundaries, and 'The Old Ways.' "Surely you've found the relevant materials downstairs," he said.
I scoffed. "Woodcuts of faerie women chained to things don't count." Though my old friend Polidori's obsession with such things strongly suggested to me that, were he a modern gentleman, his vast and extremely squicky internet browsing history would end up produced as evidence against him at some point, for something.
"Hey," I said, resting a hand between Nightingale's shoulder blades. "Everything all right with Abdul?"
"Yes," he said after a beat of silence. "There is a small matter that—" then he paused, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. "– I'd rather not discuss at the moment, actually."
"All right," I said. I was beginning to realize that some of the weird, distracted atmosphere wasn't coming from me, but from him. I could feel the tension running down his back, and I didn't like it. Maybe I should drop in for a little visit with our favorite cryptopathologist.
Several years back, I had suggested to Nightingale that it would make both our lives a lot easier if we came up with a code word that he could use when he really didn't want to up and tell me something, but it was the sort of thing where he'd get that quietly relieved look on his face when I figured it out myself. Nightingale had said, "yes, very droll, I'm sure." I hadn't been kidding.
"Blast," Nightingale muttered. He pushed the last book into place and turned to me. "My apologies. I'm not giving you the attention you deserve." His mouth twitched wryly. "I recall a time when I was quite good at this."
"Oh yeah?" I asked. "A smooth operator, were you?"
He smiled to himself, and it was still a far away look, but it was one I liked a lot better. "I had my moments, I'm not ashamed to say."
I lifted my eyebrows skeptically. "All right," I said. "So I'm a wizard you've taken a fancy to. You've managed to get me alone here for a rousing discussion of Kennelworth's Fifth Transposition. Now what?" Ignoring, of course, that were I allowed to even set foot in the Folly back then, it wouldn't be as a wizard. Boot boy, maybe. Which suddenly sounded like a euphemism.
I had him unintentionally boxed in against the shelves, one of my hands casually resting on the books by his shoulder. He looked down at it, then brushed his fingertips over my knuckles. My sleeve had ridden up a bit, showing the gorgeous gray and gold Breitling he'd given me for my birthday last year. It was a replacement for the Omega, also from him, that I'd broken. I'd broken my wrist along with it, but I was way more upset about the watch.
Nightingale undid the clasp delicately, not touching my skin as he lifted the watch away and set it aside. Then he turned my hand, for all the world like it was worth a couple thousand quid, too. And he kissed the inside of my wrist. Softly, his lips parted, eyes closed.
"Oh," I said, and cleared my throat. "That's a start, yeah."
We touched each other carefully. It was a bit awkward on the floor, but we'd spent a lot of time in the boxing ring together, and that seemed to translate to knowing when to move, where to put our hands. Nightingale liked it when I kissed his neck; his hands found their way under my jumper in short order.
"Layers," I murmured, slowly unbuttoning his cardigan. "I like it."
Nightingale let it be known, his breath hot on the skin in the open V at my throat, that, speaking for himself, he was passing fond of my lack of layers.
We slowly folded closer together, leaning against the bookshelf. I'd known he'd be intense, and he was; I'd known he'd be focused, and oh God he was. But I hadn't known he would cradle my face in both hands and rest his forehead against mine. I hadn't known that we would let it build and subside, build and subside, like the foreplay was really good jazz.
And then, somehow, we crossed a line, and it was all rising action. He had two of my fingers in his mouth, his eyes closed again. I leaned further back, pulling him up to straddle my lap. I caught hold of his belt with the other hand. Not unbuckling it, not yet. Just letting him know I wanted to.
"Hey," I said, sliding my fingers out of his mouth. He chased them a little, lips parted, in a way that made me dead certain that he – I looked up the appropriate historical idiom later, because I was curious –to put it in his terms, he really liked giving a French bath, or a gobbledygoo, or, I am not making this up, a peter eater. Which made two of us. Love a good peter eater, me.
"Hey," I said again, running the tongue of his belt between my fingers. "Tell me what you like. Put my hands where you want them."
He did, and made a tiny, sub-vocal sound as I found him hard in his trousers and caught hold.
"Fuck yes," I said, and pushed him flat onto his back on the carpet.
We both kind of lost our cool for a while. There was a lot of rolling around on his antique late Georgian brown and burgundy rug – I'm not really a textiles guy, but it's hard not to notice when you're that up close and personal with it. Eventually he was over me, grinding onto my thigh, his head hanging down between his braced arms.
"Yeah," I kept saying to him. "Do whatever feels good, that's it, that's beautiful."
"Wait," he said, breathless. "Your back."
"Is fine," I said, and tugged him down.
He resisted. "I do have a bed, you may recall." He paused. "Also, the proper accoutrements are in the other room, which we may find inconvenient at some point."
The "proper accoutrements," it turned out, included a new and unopened box of condoms that I was pretty sure he'd bought a month ago. I would have paid a large amount of cold, hard cash to have watched him walk into our local Boots to buy that. His bedside drawer also contained a big, leather-bound book that –
"Oh my God," I said, leaning in. "You do have porn."
He closed the drawer firmly. "Focus, please," he said, then scowled when I laughed. "I recall certain promises were made," he said, pinning me with a look.
I pushed him down into the pillows. "Don't worry, I've got you," I said. It was supposed to be teasing. It mostly got there.
Thing was, I kept thinking about it. The cocky promises I'd made him. It wasn't like he'd ever actually talked about his epic, multi-generation dry spell, but I'd come to a few conclusions anyway. Like how it wasn't a total desert; there were a few oases in those seventy-odd years, if small and very far between. Like how I was pretty sure he hadn't spent the whole time wanting someone to touch him – and in fact I was pretty sure he'd spent a good chunk wanting no one to touch him at all. But some of it, yeah. He'd wanted, and he'd not gotten.
So I really, really wanted him to get it good from me.
We had to disentangle to get the last of our clothes off, and when we were done I rolled back onto the bed and pulled him on top of me.
"I think we were at the part where you were telling me what you like," I said. Unless this was another one of those things he'd like me to figure out on my own? Hm, there was a thought.
I applied myself to that like there was going to be a final exam. Nightingale was quiet -- boarding school, I thought, then soldier -- but I watched his eyes and tracked the grip of his hands on my body enough to know what he liked, to follow where he wanted.
I was three fingers in him before he made a sound louder than a sigh. "Like that?" I murmured, and followed his pull down into a kiss. He was beginning to sweat, just a little bit at the temples.
"Ah," he said against my cheek. "If you would be so kind, I believe that I –"
I could, in fact, be so kind. "Do me a favor," I said, reaching for his hand. I slid my fingers out and lined his up. "Hold my place, will you?"
He flushed in a quick rush all the way down his chest, and the whole business with the condom took me a lot longer than intended because I kept staring. He had a thatch of curly dark pubic hair; I've always thought the contrast on white people is hilarious and showy.
I took my time working into him. First because I thought he needed me to, and second because I definitely needed me to. It was all just so vivid, so real; it was the most alive I'd felt in weeks, and I wanted to savor it.
He got impatient before I did. There were strong hands on my arse, and "Peter, I have never meant it more sincerely when I have asked you to apply yourself to a task than I do now," and at one point I think he called me a "fiend." I decided to take it as a compliment.
I rocked into him slowly, running my hands up and down his flanks. "Like that?" I said.
"Yes," he said, and I was so surprised that he'd actually answered me that I kept asking the question.
"Like this?" I said, pushing deeper, and "Like that?" as I hitched him up into my thrusts. And he said "yes," and he said "yes," until the word seemed to break in his mouth and he just said "ah-ah-ah."
So I applied myself, one knee bent awkwardly under me for balance and my opposite elbow hooked under his thigh. I shagged the holy hell out of him. Until we were sweating and shaking and he'd called me a half dozen names that I was pretty sure were supposed to be insults, but his tone said something entirely different. Until his hair was a mess from where he'd been tugging at it, and his mouth was bitten wet and red, mostly from him, but some from me. Until I was so out of breath I couldn't talk anymore, and had to stop egging him on.
He went to pieces as soon as I got coordinated enough to put a hand on him. I watched, feeling my mouth hang stupidly open, while he flushed and shook and made a complete mess of himself under me. Yeah. That was exactly what I'd wanted.
When I pushed into him again, after, he made the loudest sound he had all night.
"Okay?" I asked, looking up. He didn't say anything, but he wrapped both arms clumsily around my shoulders and hauled me down. He cradled me on his chest, kissed my forehead, then pulled me up further to kiss my mouth.
He didn't seem to want to let go. It cramped my style a bit, but at that point, I really didn't care. I just sank into his arms around me, the strength of him, and pressed in, and in, and in, watching the overwhelmed bliss on his face until I came in him.
Afterward, once I'd stumbled up to do a gentleman's duty with the condom and mess, we curled up together under the duvet to catch our breath. He was warm at my back, his arm heavy around my ribs. I pressed my face into the pillow and breathed.
I was relieved, tell the truth. That the sex was good – no need to ask for comment cards on that one, thanks very much – but also that I was okay. That had been intense, to say the least, and it'd been a long few weeks, and, well. I might, once or twice upon a time, have kind of fallen apart a little bit after the sort of life-affirming sex we'd just had. Bev was really nice about it. Possibly the only thing I ever did that she didn't give me shit for.
But, thank God, I just felt shagged out. Tired, but in a good way. Pretty fucking happy, truth be told.
"Peter," Nightingale murmured.
"Mmm?" Was this the part where I got to find out what his pillow talk was like?
"On reflection, I think I really ought to tell you," he said.
"Mmm?" I said again.
"My visit with Abdul today. We were . . . confirming a suspicion of mine. I appear to be – that is, I am." He breathed in. "Aging."
Everything . . . stopped.
"In the, ah, traditional direction, to be clear," Nightingale said.
My eyes zeroed in immediately on that glasses case on his nightstand. The one I'd seen, but not understood.
"It didn't seem like a good time to share my suspicions," he was saying, sounding regretful. "But it seemed unsporting to – to enter into a relationship of this sort without all the facts on the table. So I – Peter?"
I leaned across and picked up the case. The glasses inside were oval with paper-thin gold frames. Very him.
"Ah, yes," Nightingale said. "That was my first clue. "It's been about two years, or so I suspect."
Two years. So right about the time Martin Chorley and his army of chimeras mounted an assault on the Folly and cracked its foundations, and did a number of other unsavory and arcanely complex things.
I turned and slid the glasses onto his face. He blinked at me, reaching up to adjust one earpiece. "Peter?" he said again. There was a concerned crease between his eyebrows.
"Looks good," I said.
And then I had that breakdown I'd been worried about. A tiny one, just a bit of clinging and damp breathing into his shoulder, and some shaking that couldn't be accounted for by the really good orgasm.
"Fuck," I said, when the worst of it had passed. "Sorry, I just." I looked up at him, felt myself smiling.
He looked back, serious and a little puzzled. "Are you . . .?" he said delicately.
"Relieved," I said, putting a name to it after some struggle. "So fucking relieved, I can't even tell you." It was bizarre. I didn't understand it. But he'd just told me that death would come for him someday, right when I had lots of reason to think of the cruelness, the arbitrariness of losing people, and my overwhelming reaction was oh, thank God. "Are you . . .?" I said.
"Right about the same," he said quietly. I felt the force of his exhale. "A weight is gone. I didn't know how heavy it was." He looked up to the ceiling, then around us at the Folly, eyes distant. "This will outlive me," he said.