The Nightingale hadn’t seemed particularly interested when Beverley and Peter told him she was pregnant; pleased for them, of course, and insistent that Peter was going to take all the paternity leave available to him and that the rest of the Folly would manage - “It’s a few months, Peter, and if there’s an actual emergency you’ll still be in the city” - but not excited on his own account. He’d never planned on having children, he’d told Beverley once, though he’d had plenty of nieces and nephews. “I was the youngest, so some of them weren’t much younger than me, but the younger lot were still being born when I was in my twenties - at one point it felt like every time I came back to England there was another one.”
She’d said something about that to Peter once and Peter had said in tones of some injury that Nightingale had never told him that, because of course he’d never asked. Sometimes Beverley wondered if they ever talked about anything apart from magic and police work, except of course she knew they did.
But it had seemed at some points like Nightingale was practically the only person in Beverley’s life who hadn’t been asking her every five minutes what she was eating and how often she was throwing up and was the baby kicking yet and had she heard the latest advice about what she should or shouldn’t be doing. Peter was pretty good about it when she told him she didn’t care about a study he’d read, but between all her sisters who’d been pregnant, and half the ones who hadn’t, and her mother, and Peter’s mother, and her mother’s friends, sometimes Beverley contemplated just jumping in her river and not coming out until the baby was born. Mostly what kept her from not doing that was that Peter couldn’t come with her. Nightingale, though, never asked anything except how she was doing, and he’d done that for years now. Beverley had supposed he just didn’t care that much.
Then Laura had finally decided to put in an appearance, and after they’d got home and got the house to themselves and she’d gone quiet - for a whole twenty minutes, even - there’d been a knock on the door.
Beverley, who had been ensconced on the couch with Laura dozing quietly on her chest, groaned. “Go answer it and tell whoever it is to go away.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t appreciating all the family attention; it was that she just needed another half an hour without recounting her labour. She’d told Abigail and Sahra and Melanie and a few other people they could come and see Laura tomorrow, so she was trying to save up her energy for that.
“I’ll let them know you’re not at home to visitors,” said Peter, kissing her on the forehead, and went to do as she’d instructed. Which was why she was surprised to hear voices in the entrance.
She couldn’t hear much, because she was dozing off again, but she could make out the Nightingale’s cut-glass tones and a few words like Molly sent and don’t want to disturb and hope everything went well, and Peter answering, low and quiet.
“Tell him he can come in and see her if he likes,” she roused herself enough to call out.
“Are you sure?” Peter called back.
“No, I’ve changed my mind, he’s got to go!”
Peter entered the living room a few seconds later, Nightingale on his heels. He was carrying a bag.
“Molly sent some food for our freezer,” he said. “I don’t think she trusts us to cook right now.”
“Let me guess,” Beverley said, pushing herself up gingerly so she was propped up a bit more and could look people in the eye. “Full of things that will replenish my iron supply?”
“Probably,” said Nightingale, smiling at both of them, his eyes going immediately to Laura’s bald head. Peter snagged the bag off him and headed for the kitchen. “How are you doing?”
“I’ll live,” said Beverley. “And so will she, which makes it a success. Here - would you like to hold her?”
He blinked. “I - are you sure?”
She wasn’t, actually, but now she’d said it and she thought, somehow, that Nightingale wasn’t really the sort to drop a baby. It would be clumsy, and he was never that. “Go on. Before she falls asleep all the way or wants feeding or her nappy changing or something else.” Beverley sat up a little more, and, very carefully - she wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t going to drop the baby - held her out.
Nightingale bent down and took her very carefully, supporting her head, and looked at her with an expression of awe and joy and a little bit of worry that wasn’t so different from the way Peter’s face had looked when he’d held her for the first time, still all bloody and bawling, and that was a weird comparison, so Beverley tucked it away. Then Nightingale got the same almost involuntary smile that Ty and Fleet and Peter’s mother and Mum had all had when it had been their turn, and that was an equally weird comparison, so Beverley decided that the problem was babies, which made everyone weird. Or maybe just this baby, who was so perfect everybody had to smile at her. That seemed about right.
Movement caught her eye, and she saw Peter coming back into the room, behind Nightingale.
“Well, hello there,” Nightingale said, but he was talking to Laura, not Peter, and Peter smiled at that. Beverley found she was, as well.
“Careful,” Peter said, crossing the room. “Look too much like you’re enjoying that and we might make you babysit.”
“I doubt I’ll be allowed a look-in,” said Nightingale, which was surprising mostly because it wasn’t no thank you please take her back right away.
“We’re considering all applications,” said Beverley. Laura made a gulping, slightly unhappy sound, and Nightingale looked at Peter, then her, with what for him was sudden alarm - meaning his shoulders tensed very slightly.
“She probably wants feeding again,” said Peter.
Beverley sighed. “All right, give her here, let’s see.” She wondered if that would make Nightingale flee, too, but he didn’t seem at all bothered by it, and hung around long enough for Peter to guilt him into making them all a cup of tea.
“This is probably the only way you’re going to see me for the next while, anyway,” Peter said to him at one point.
“I don’t mind coming over,” said Nightingale. “But you’ll bring her by the Folly sometime, of course. Molly will want to see her.”
“Of course,” Beverley said, adjusting Laura in her arms. “Now I don’t have to sit out with the cars.”
“We strive to maintain a family-friendly work environment,” said Nightingale, straight-faced. Beverley snorted.
Peter looked at him in horror. “Oh, god. You’ve been paying attention.”
“Well, I have had to teach you three languages,” said Nightingale. “I think it only fair I try to learn one of yours as well.”
Beverley honestly wasn’t expecting to see Nightingale much while Peter was on leave, but he showed up two days later with a book he said Peter might want to look at and then spent the better part of an hour holding the baby, which was a transparent excuse if Beverley had ever seen one. Fleet popped over while he was still there with some baby clothes she’d promised them – “Not for right now but they grow while you’re not looking” – and gave him a very dubious look.
“He just came over to give me a book,” Peter told her. “So we thought we’d put him to work while he was here, and Bev got to have a bath.”
“Riiiiiight,” said Fleet, dubiously. Beverley knew already she’d be hearing about this later.
“I wouldn’t really call this work,” said Nightingale.
“That’s okay, we can fix that,” said Peter in the manic-cheerful way brought on by sleep deprivation, and once Fleet was gone he actually got Nightingale to do some dishes.
“You can come over whenever you like,” Beverley told him generously.
“That sounds like a dangerous offer,” said Nightingale.
“Yeah, but for whooooooooo…m?” said Peter, just to watch Nightingale wince, Beverley knew.
“Actually,” Nightingale replied, “I’m not quite sure.”
Peter went back to work part-time when Laura was two months old, mostly because if he’d taken any more time off he would have gone mad. Peter loved his job too much to let it go for very long, and there still weren’t enough people at the Folly for it to let him go for very long. Beverley thought she’d see Nightingale less, but he seemed to be around at theirs as much as ever, or Beverley ended up coming by the Folly with Laura. With the way police work went, or River things, for that matter, not to mention what people like Melanie thought of as Beverley’s ‘actual’ job doing ecological impact consulting – she was starting to pick it up again as she had time for it – they’d had to work out a fairly complicated scheme for who had Laura, and when, and who could be backup. Mama Grant had her a lot of the time, of course, but even though she’d always said she would Beverley didn’t want to take advantage of that too much, and neither did Peter.
“Otherwise she might change her mind for the next one,” Peter had said, and Beverley agreed.
Somehow, Beverley wasn’t quite sure how, Nightingale had got onto the list of people who could be trusted with Laura, right after her or Peter. She thought in retrospect it might have started when he’d volunteered to be shown how to change her nappy. Peter had been doing it, and Nightingale had said that he’d clearly had a lot of practice at it already.
“It’s not exactly the first time I’ve had to do this,” Peter said. “Mum used to volunteer my services as a babysitter every five minutes when I was a teenager. I bet nobody ever did that to you.”
“The older boys ended up doing a lot of supervision of the younger boys at Casterbrook, but they were all old enough to change themselves if necessary,” said Nightingale.
“Right, werewolves,” said Peter, which made no sense but made Nightingale grin.
“I bet childcare’s changed a bit since then, anyway,” said Beverley.
“We try to make sure more than half of them live past the first year, for starters,” Peter said.
“Infant mortality wasn’t quite that high even then,” said Nightingale. “Does it normally take this long?”
“What, changing nappies?” Peter said. “You think you can do better, I’ll show you how and you can try next time.”
“Certainly,” said Nightingale, and he had. Beverley had managed to not giggle the entire time, which was easier than it should have been because Peter and Nightingale took the whole thing so seriously. After that, Beverley made a point of showing him things when he visited, or when they took Laura to the Folly, and he picked it all up with the same rapidity he did everything he decided he needed to know. Peter didn’t seem surprised by any of it, just pleased to have an extra set of hands and, Beverley thought, Nightingale’s company.
She still didn’t realise at first quite how shamelessly Peter was going to take advantage of Nightingale’s willingness to help them out, though. She found out about the extent of it when she was just climbing out of the Thames at her mum’s place – she hadn’t had a good long swim like that since before Laura was born, and it felt good even if a few muscles were twinging – and her phone rang.
“Dr Thames?” said the voice on the other end, and Beverley recognised the receptionist at their GP. “We’ve just got wee Laura in for her four-month vaccinations, and…”
“Yeah, is there a problem?” Beverley felt her voice sharpen. Peter had been taking her in, and she’d seemed fine this morning, she’d fed and even slept five hours in a row last night and –
“No, that is, she’s fine,” said the receptionist. “It’s just that we were expecting you or her dad to bring her and instead it’s a Mr Nightingale?”
“Oh!” said Beverley. “Oh, yeah, that’s fine.” Well, not quite, because it meant Peter hadn’t been able to take her, but it couldn’t be anything seriously wrong or Nightingale wouldn’t have been able to go, and for that matter why hadn’t Peter just called her, although she’d been in the river, hadn’t she, so she wouldn’t have heard if he had. “He’s, um….” She searched for the right word. “He’s family, he looks after her sometimes for us.”
Unfortunately, because it was over the phone, this wasn’t as persuasive as it would have been face-to-face, so she ended up giving the receptionist all Nightingale’s contact details so he could be entered as a designated carer, whatever that was.
“Just so we know what’s going on, next time,” said the receptionist, now much more professional if still a little confused.
“Great,” said Beverley. She’d been walking up the steps and into her mum’s flat as she talked, and when she hung up she saw Ty standing in the doorway, staring at her. “Oh, hi, Ty.”
“What on earth were you talking about?” Ty asked, wrinkling her nose up the way she did when she heard something she disapproved of.
“Nightingale had to take Laura to the doctor’s and they freaked out because he wasn’t on the approved list of people who’re allowed to touch her or whatever,” said Beverley. “I suppose we better make sure Peter’s mum’s on it as well, in case she gets sick when she’s with her. Move, I want to come in and get out of the wetsuit. I’ll drip on your suit if you don’t.”
Ty sighed, loudly, and moved. “Why was the Nightingale taking your daughter to the doctor?”
“It’s her last lot of vaccinations before the twelve-month ones,” Beverley said. “Peter must have got held up with something at work.” Ty said nothing, and Beverley looked over her shoulder to see her frowning.
“Beverley,” she said. “Do you ever think…”
“What, Ty?” said Beverley, probably too loudly but she just wanted to change and then sit down with Mum, and what business was it of Ty’s anyway; she was just glad it had worked out.
“Hmmm,” said Ty. “Nothing.”
“Shhhh,” Beverley said.
“She’s already awake,” said Nightingale, but he kept his voice low.
“Not her,” said Beverley. “Peter.”
He was dead to the world on the couch, with Laura on his chest. She was muttering to herself now, but looked like she might be working up to complaining; it couldn’t be feeding, because Beverley had just done that, and it wasn’t her nappy, because Peter had changed her, and she shouldn’t be cold, because Nightingale had just shut all the curtains and turned the heating on.
Beverley reached out to pick her up, but she let out an unhappy hiccup at that. Nightingale knelt down next to the couch and conjured a stream of tiny werelights. They lit up Laura with a golden glow that washed out Peter’s paler winter skin; Laura was almost as dark as Beverley. Which, Beverley thought idly, was probably one of the reasons the doctor’s surgery had freaked out when Nightingale had shown up with her, a couple of months ago. White people didn’t know how genetics worked. Not that Nightingale had anything to do with Laura, genetically, but her granddad was just as white as he was.
Laura gurgled something that could be a laugh, and waved her arms at the werelights, not getting anywhere near them because she didn’t have the muscle control for that yet. Or the focus to see them if they were very far away. Nightingale kept them just within her vision, but moving quickly, so she couldn't stare at them and hurt her eyes.
“You know,” said Beverley, sitting down on the floor next to Nightingale, “they weren’t lying about the taking a village thing.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Things,” Beverley, because what she wanted to say was I don’t know how we’d make all this work without you, and Nightingale wasn’t even supposed to be – she didn’t know where to fit him into this family she and Peter were making, except that obviously he did. “And stuff.”
“Alright,” said Nightingale.
“At least we’ll all know what we’re doing whenever we decide to have the next one,” she said, not that that was any better.
“My memory is foggy,” said Nightingale, “but I seem to recall children have this tiresome habit of turning out to have different personalities, which makes rather a lot of one’s prior experience with them moot.”
“You say this because you mixed up some of the many nieces and nephews, don’t you,” said Beverley, who might have a little bit once done that with two of Fleet’s kids, because there were a lot of them and she’d been sixteen and not paying attention. Neither had ever let her forget it.
“Possibly,” Nightingale said. Laura’s eyes had drifted shut; he let the werelights go out.
“She’s gone to sleep and I can’t move, hasn’t she,” Peter stage-whispered. He’d started to wake up while Nightingale was still doing the werelights, Beverley had noticed.
“Don’t move,” said Beverley and Nightingale together.
“I might get a cramp and drown,” Peter whispered.
“You’re not going to drown anywhere in this city unless I let you,” Beverley told him. “Stay there.”
It was only about ten minutes until Laura was deeply asleep enough that they could move her into her crib, but Peter still complained about it for another twenty.
“Don’t fall asleep with her on top of you, then,” said Nightingale.
“Good advice,” said Beverley.
“I hate both of you,” said Peter, kissed Beverley on the cheek, and looked like he might do the same to Nightingale before veering off at the last second and giving him a half-hug instead, which was still a lot more like actual physical affection than they usually exchanged.
Nightingale looked at Beverley curiously, but she shrugged; if he wanted to know what Peter was thinking, he’d have to ask Peter.
“Are you still getting the Nightingale to babysit?” Fleet asked Beverley, faux-casually. She’d said she wanted to have lunch with her and catch up, before Beverley took Laura to see their mum, but Beverley could sense an older-sister grilling coming on. She was just lucky it wasn’t Ty.
“He’s pretty good at it, actually,” said Beverley. “And it’s free.” She’d sort of stopped thinking of it as babysitting, really, anymore than it was babysitting when Mama Grant had Laura. Only a bit because the idea of the Nightingale babysitting still sounded wrong, but him looking after Laura was part of life now.
“Yeah, okay,” said Fleet, “but Bev…it’s just a bit…it’s weird, alright?”
“Why do you care?” asked Beverley, exasperated even though she’d known it was coming. Laura burbled nonsense words in her carrier – Peter swore she was starting to say things, but Beverley wasn’t convinced.
“Everybody gets why you married Peter,” said Fleet. “We like Peter. Most of the time. But the Nightingale – that’s something else.”
“Oh my god. I’m not married to him,” said Beverley. “Or sleeping with him, or anything. Why would you even – you know he’s gay, right?”
Fleet stared at her. Beverley felt herself flush. That might have been protesting a bit too much, fine, even if all of it was true.
“Nobody thinks you’re sleeping with him,” she said finally.
“What,” said Beverley. “No.”
She managed to choke back the rest of that sentence, which was they would have had to ask me to watch Laura if they wanted to do that, that’s the only way Peter and I’ve managed it, because it wouldn’t have helped her case.
“We’re just concerned, Bev,” said Fleet.
“You know what,” said Beverley, picking up the menu. “Now I’m not breastfeeding anymore, I think I’m going to have a glass of wine with lunch.”
She didn’t mention that part of the conversation to Peter, or Nightingale, either, because really, what was the point. It’d only make things weird.
The first time Beverley left Laura behind in London – to visit Baba Thames’s court upstream – she texted Mama Grant before she left, and then when she stopped to get petrol, and then again when she arrived at the Old Man’s summer court.
She is just fine, Mama Grant texted back. Thomas is picking her up in half an hour and taking her back to your place. No need to worry.
Beverley’s phone buzzed when she was having tea with Isis, and it was Peter saying she’s home safe and sound, mum said you wanted to know, so now she was going to get it from him about worrying too much, like he hadn’t called five times the first time he’d gone out of London for a case.
“Important message?” Isis asked.
“Keeping track of the baby,” Beverley said. “This is the first time I’ve gone out of London and left her there.”
“You should have brought her to see us,” Isis said. “Instead of leaving poor Peter to babysit her.”
“I’ll do that next time,” Beverley said. “And Peter’s her dad, he’s not babysitting.”
“Well, men and babies,” said Isis. “In my experience of that situation, they act like they’re as helpless as the children are.”
“Peter’s fine,” said Beverley. “Nightingale’s fine. I think the ones who act like they’re helpless are just trying to skive off.”
Isis gave her the oddest look, and Beverley realised what she’d said. “Now how’d you end up leaving your baby with the Nightingale? That must be a story.”
“You’d think so,” said Beverley. “But it just sort of happened.” On a very regular basis, now.
Isis laughed. “I can’t believe that.”
“I don’t blame you,” said Beverley, “but it’s true.”
She got back home late that night. Before Laura she would have stayed in her old caravan for the night and come back in the morning, but she didn’t like to do that now and as she’d once told Peter, it was hardly that far to drive. The Jag was still parked in the driveway when she pulled in. All the lights were off, but Peter was standing in the kitchen, feeding Laura her evening bottle.
“Hi, babes. Is Thomas in the spare room?” Beverley asked, nodding back out towards the cars.
“Yeah,” said Peter. “We were talking and then it was getting late. I’ll get a ride with him in the morning. Good trip?”
“I think so.” Beverley leaned over to say hello to Laura. “How’s she been?”
“Good, but she’s not very sleepy.”
“I’m still winding down from the drive – give her to me.”
“Well….alright,” said Peter, not really that reluctantly, and handed her over. He put an arm around Beverley’s waist and they stayed like that for a little while, the three of them warm and close, Peter's chin resting on Beverley's head. Finally, Peter kissed her and stepped away. “I’ll get up first. Love you.”
“Love you, babes,” said Beverley, and rocked her daughter.
In what was possibly an actual miracle, she slept almost all night. Beverley woke up early to do a quick up and down of the river, just because she hadn’t been in yesterday or the day before, and when she got back Peter and Nightingale had both showered and Peter was making coffee. Nightingale was supervising Laura’s breakfast experiments with fruit, in his shirtsleeves, so that if she decided to experiment with turning it into a projectile – which she had a few times, even though she could barely pick the pieces up by herself – his jacket and tie wouldn’t suffer. He and Peter – and Bev, although it hadn’t been a jacket or tie – had all learned that lesson.
“How are Father Thames and his court?” Nightingale asked her.
“Fine,” said Beverley, trying to think if there was anything she’d want to tell Nightingale – or that he’d care about. Wizards, after all. “Still on about land use changes. Which they’ll be on about for another century or so, the way things are going.”
“More importantly,” said Peter, “how are we all after sleeping for an entire night?”
“Refreshed,” said Nightingale, “even if, I’m sorry to say, your spare bed is developing some worrying creaks.”
“We should replace it,” said Beverley. “I think it used to be in Effra and Oberon’s spare room, and before that it might have been at Mum’s. I wasn’t expecting it to get this much use.”
“We could steal one from the Folly,” said Peter. “We have about fifty spare, at least.”
“Wouldn’t that be misuse of police property, technically?” asked Nightingale.
“The Folly belongs to itself,” said Peter. “Technically. And it’s pretty much your room now, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Hmmm,” said Nightingale, sounding thoughtful, as he expertly caught a piece of banana before it tumbled onto the floor. Laura made noises of protest at this interference with her art project. “I suppose that’s true.”
Beverley shuffled Peter aside to pour herself some coffee, and froze, because that was true, wasn’t it. It was Nightingale’s room, he kept spare clothes in there, he slept there about half the week, and then there was the odd night she and Laura had ended up with Peter in his old room at the Folly, they kept stuff for Laura there and everything, which also meant Nightingale or Peter could be there and watch her, and –
“Oh my god,” she said out loud, because Fleet had been right and she was married to two wizards and what the fuck was that even about.
“Bev?” said Peter, touching her on the arm. “What is it?”
Nightingale paused, too, and turned to look at her; Beverley just stared at them, not sure what to say, until the moment was broken by Laura scoring a direct and perfectly accidental hit on Nightingale’s shoulder by whacking some banana off the high chair with the back of her hand. Nightingale winced, looked the smear on his shirt, and sighed.
“You have three shirts in your room,” said Peter. “I know because I did the laundry here last week.”
“I know because I did the ironing,” Nightingale retorted affectionately.
“I didn’t know that and neither of you are going to shame me into caring,” said Beverley, who made a point to avoid the laundry because Peter had so many opinions about it, and concentrated on more flexibly measured chores, like putting away dishes.
“MMMbabababababmmmmmm,” said Laura, who knew when she wasn’t the centre of attention.
“I’m having a shower,” Beverley announced, and only remembered she’d left a fresh cup of coffee on the kitchen bench when Peter brought it to her after she’d dressed.
“We’re all ready to go,” he said. “You’re dropping Laura with Mum today, right?”
“Right,” Beverley agreed.
“And…” He hesitated. “What was it? In the kitchen.”
“I realised,” Beverley said. “I realised – can I tell you later?”
“You can tell me whenever you want, or not if you don’t,” said Peter, and kissed her, because he was a pretty fantastic husband, really. Beverley followed him downstairs to say goodbye to him and Nightingale. She kissed both of them on the cheek and Nightingale didn’t even remember to be surprised until he was walking out the door, which said everything, really.
Then, as soon as the Jag had pulled out and in the ten minutes before she really needed to leave herself, she called Effra.
“Hey, Bev,” said Effra. “If you need someone to watch Laura -“
“Nah, we’re sorted today,” Beverley said. “I just – can I tell you something and you promise you’re not gonna go straight to Ty or Fleet or Mum about it?” Effra was the only one of her older sisters she really trusted with secrets; Ty and Fleet had bad habits of trusting their own judgement about what should be secrets over hers.
“Is everything alright?”
“Nightingale has a room here,” Beverley said – well, wailed. “He keeps clothes here! He had to change his shirt this morning because Laura threw banana at him! I think Peter and I married him and I didn’t notice!”
“Bev,” Effra said slowly. “I know that. Everybody knows that. You had Laura and he moved in, pretty much. How did you not know that?”
“It was just – we weren’t – it wasn’t on purpose!”
“Yeah, nobody thinks that, either.” Effra sounded now like she was trying not to laugh. Beverley scowled, and then had to smooth her expression out when Laura looked alarmed; she’d been looking right at her. “Are you not okay with it?”
“No! I mean, yes. I mean – it’s fine. I just thought Ty and Fleet were freaking out over nothing, and they’re freaking out over…” Beverley trailed off. “Something, and I don’t even know what it is.”
“You don’t have to,” said Effra. “If it’s working out for you and Peter, and the baby, and for the Nightingale, I guess, you don’t have to know exactly what it is.”
“Yeah,” said Beverley. “That’s – really good advice, actually. Thanks.”
“That’s what older sisters are for,” said Effra. “Although are -”
“I’m not having that discussion,” said Beverley immediately, because first she had to work out how she was going to have it with Peter, and possibly Nightingale, and was it even a discussion they had to have, and – “Which doesn’t mean anything except that I’m not having it. With you.”
Effra did laugh at that. “Okay, okay.” Her voice softened. “Ty and Fleet are just worried about you, you know. When they figure out you’re fine, they’ll back off. Well, Fleet will. Mum’s not bothered.”
“Everybody knows? Really?”
“Really,” said Effra. “So look at it this way: you don’t have to tell anybody anything you don’t want to.”
On the weekend, they took Laura out for a picnic on the Common, next to Beverley’s river. They’d had a week of rain but it had come right that morning, and the sun was warm even if the grass was still damp. That was all right; they had a blanket, and Beverley might have encouraged some of the damp to gather itself together and run down towards the river. Peter saw her doing it while he was getting stuff out of the backpack they’d put the thermos and food in, and shook his head. He still hated not really knowing how it worked.
“That’s handy,” said Nightingale.
“Water’s water,” said Beverley. She looked at Laura, who was lying on her front waving her arms and occasionally, as if by accident, pushing herself backwards.
“She’s going to be crawling soon,” said Peter. “Then we’re all in trouble.”
Nightingale moved her gently back into the middle of the blanket and Laura rolled over and sat up, babbling at him. “We’re going to have to be much more careful about having her at the Folly when it gets to that.”
“It’s not what you’d call child-safe,” Peter agreed. “Hold still a second.” He picked some grass off the collar of Nightingale’s jumper, and used it to tickle Laura’s nose. She batted at it so hard she fell over backwards and had to push herself back up.
“Ty’s probably going to tell me off about it,” said Beverley.
“I don’t know how she finds the time to lecture both of us,” said Peter, and Beverley and Nightingale looked at him.
“What’s Tyburn been lecturing you about?” asked Nightingale.
“Um,” said Peter. “You, mostly.”
Beverley had been lying on her side, but she sat up. “You never said!”
“Look,” Peter said. “I told you about the first time when she gave me the your love is doomed speech, and she just can’t help coming back and explaining other ways I’m ruining my relationship with you. It’s less effort to let her think I’m listening. I usually get a free drink out of it. Actually, she’s a bit insistent about that.”
“I’m at a loss for what sort of advice Tyburn might think she has standing to give you about me,” said Nightingale to Peter, not sounding very pleased.
“I’m not,” said Beverley, because she knew how that conversation would have gone: you should be concentrating on your family now you and Beverley have decided to have one, and this is a very stressful time for both of you, and honestly, Peter, he’s your boss, have you thought about what it looks like. Because Ty did worry about her, but she also worried about the Folly, and the fact that she’d still never got it where she wanted it, and that Beverley was welcome there and she wasn’t, or not whenever she liked. And she’d be so reasonable trying to make her case. “But you shouldn’t pay any attention to her. Either of you.”
“She hasn’t tried speaking to me,” said Nightingale.
“She has to me,” said Beverley. “On the theme of what is he doing in your house.”
“This is…possibly a bit late,” said Peter to Nightingale, very slowly. “But why are you here?”
Nightingale didn’t look at Peter, or even Beverley; he looked at Laura, instead. “A picnic’s a lovely way to take advantage of the first sunny day we’ve had this week.”
“Thomas,” Peter said. “Come on.” Beverley had been calling him that for what felt like a long time, but Peter still almost never did, not to his face.
Nightingale looked up at him, finally. “Here’s a very good place to be, as it turns out. If you’ll have me.”
“Yes,” said Peter, not even hesitating an instant; Beverley had known he wouldn't. “Jesus. You know that.”
“It’s too late, anyway,” said Beverley, getting up on her knees.
“Too late for what?” Peter asked.
Nightingale was sitting cross-legged, so on her knees she was taller than he was, and he had to look up at her.
“You came into my house and ate my food, so you’re mine now,” she told him, and kissed him on the forehead. He closed his eyes.
“Wait,” said Peter. “That’s not how it wo – oh. Okay.”
“I know,” said Nightingale, as Beverley sat back down. “No, Peter, that’s not how it works, but I know.”
“Shit!” said Beverley, because Laura had, silently and cunningly, rolled onto her front and started scooting backwards again and was halfway off the blanket. Beverley scooped her up and brushed the grass and dew off her clothes. She wriggled.
“I take it back,” said Peter. “We’re all in trouble now, and she isn’t even crawling properly yet.”
“Yes,” said Nightingale, smiling now, “but trouble’s always better in good company.”
Beverley called up Ty and said she wanted to get a coffee, and when Ty made time for it – the next week, because Ty didn’t know how to not be busy – she told her to let it go.
“Let what go?” Ty said, like she didn’t know.
“My family arrangements,” said Beverley. “You know what I mean. It’s not your business.”
Ty frowned at her. “It is my business; you’re my sister.”
“Ty,” Beverley said. “I’m asking nicely.”
Ty wrinkled up her nose again. “I just don’t understand why on earth you’re putting up with…whatever’s going on.”
“I’m not putting up with anything, and I’m not asking you to understand it. I’m asking you to give us a break about it.”
“It’s not normal, Beverley,” Ty said. “Whatever it is.”
“Normal’s what you wanted, Ty,” Beverley told her. “Not me.”
Ty let it drop, but Beverley wasn’t under any illusions that she’d given up the fight. At least now, though, Beverley had drawn her battle lines nice and clearly. If Ty wanted to keep on about it after this, she’d know what she was in for.
When they were registering Laura for a day nursery, there was a lot more paperwork than Beverley had expected, not that any of it was on actual physical paper, and one of the things was giving parents’ details. Because this was the twenty-first century, they had room for more than two people, so Beverley went ahead and put down Thomas’s details, the same as she’d done for the doctor, and Mama Grant as an emergency contact.
“And, er,” said Judy, the woman who ran the office. “I’m sorry to have to ask, but what’s the custody arrangement?”
“Huh?” said Beverley.
“With your husband and your…is one of them Laura’s biological father? We just need to know for pickups and so on.” She hadn’t been there when Beverley and Peter had visited, and they all had different surnames, so she tapped between Peter and Thomas’s names randomly. Beverley hadn’t thought of that as an explanation people might come up with; it took her by surprise for a second.
“Oh, there’s no custody arrangement,” she said. “They’re both…I mean…we’re her parents.”
Judy blinked at her in bewilderment. “You, er…”
Beverley smiled at her, and unlike the thing with the doctor, this was in person, so after a moment Judy relaxed and said “Oh, yes, I see, never mind.” Which wasn’t totally what Peter would think of as ethical, maybe, but Peter didn’t need to know.
“Thanks!” Beverley said brightly. “Is that everything, then?”
“It looks like it,” Judy said, scrolling through the form on the tablet. “So we’ll see you and Laura on Tuesday.”
“I don’t know if it’ll be me,” Beverley said, thinking it through. “It’ll be Peter, probably. Or Thomas. Or – well, it’ll be one of us.”
“Right.” Judy nodded. “You know, we have all sorts of families here, that’s fairly ordinary. And now you’ve given us all the details, there won’t be any confusion.”
“That’s us,” said Beverley. “A very ordinary family.”