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soft-serve ice-cream

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Peter and Nightingale, Lesley tells her dad one night as they're walking along the shoreline, watching the arcade lights blink in the distance and listening to the gentle, distant sound of the waves depositing bladderwrack and plastic bottles, have a thing. Not like that, she amends - at least, she doesn't think so; it's more that somehow, despite Nightingale's posh-boy childhood and echoingly silent adulthood, he responds to Peter's cheeky irreverence, to his way of being rooted in his family and his manor and his city, and Peter in his turn has found something, some bone-deep copper familiarity in Nightingale's own loyalty to his patch.

"Right," Lesley's dad says, and doesn't add anything about just how smart and sharp Lesley is, how good she is at reading people, because he's thinking it, and she can see it on his face. "And you and Nightingale?"

Lesley shrugs and doesn't say anything, because that's it, isn't it: Nightingale and Peter bonded through death and magic and murder, and Lesley's seen all of those, but alone. It's okay, she wants to tell her dad: that to make light, where there was no light, is enough. It's enough. It's all she needs.

And it's funny that it's so soon after that, just a couple of days after that evening walk with her dad down on the Clacton seafront, that Lesley and Nightingale are driving back from some abortive foray into finding a Little Crocodile out in Oxfordshire somewhere It's late and the wind is howling and nothing else is open, so Lesley's pulled into a McDonald's on the M40, and then they both turn to each other and say, "Maybe you should..." - and break off.

"Okay," Lesley says after a minute. "It's obvious, why I don't want to." She waves a hand at her mask. "Maybe it isn't, I dunno. Why don't you want to go in and get the food?"

Nightingale looks at her, and for a second she thinks he's going to deny it, but in the end he just shakes his head. "In these... enlightened days," he says after a moment, "I find... I am not sure what words to use. In what order. And in these" - he waves out of the window - "places, especially."

Lesley thinks about that, then smiles a little. Nightingale doesn't react at all to whatever effect that must have on the mask. "I guess if you weren't raised with Chicken McNuggets and Happy Meals," she says, "it's pretty weird to go up and ask for them. It's pretty weird even if you were."

Nightingale says nothing, but he smiles back, and Lesley comes to a decision. "Listen," she says, "it's late. There won't be anyone in there. How about we go in together, eh?"

So they do: they walk across the windswept, deserted car park and go inside the restaurant, the door bell echoing hollowly around the place, and they go up to the counter together. The pimply teenager behind it gives Lesley an odd, slightly frightened look, but with Nightingale beside her Lesley's sure of her power. "A cheeseburger, please," she says, confidently, "and same again for my friend."

When the food comes they take it to eat by the window, and Lesley eats hers hungrily while Nightingale picks at his out of curiosity more than hunger. "Is it all right?" she asks, gently, not looking at him but through the window, at the litter being lifted from the car park and scattered against the glass by the wind.

Nightingale picks up up the plastic wrap from the burger, and puts it down. "It's fine," he says, and that's the beginning of a smile threatening. "And you?"

Lesley considers. "Yeah," she says. "Yeah, I'm okay."

Nightingale nods, calm and accepting.

"I guess we should head home," she adds, after a while, but neither of them move out of their small island of light, surrounded by the storm. It's late and it's getting later, but there's no hurry for them to return for London. After a while Nightingale buys an ice-cream, with Lesley telling him what to order, and they both take occasional spoonfuls from it, Nightingale hungrily, now he knows what he's eating, and Lesley slowly, as she tries to imagine eating soft-serve air-whip crap for the first time. It's nice, she decides: like she used to get by the sea, when she was a little girl.