At first I thought a presence at the door had woken me. But it wasn't Molly and, in the shadows of early morning, I slowly realised that the figure standing one step inside my room was Thomas Nightingale.
I stared at him, dumbly and uncomprehendingly for some time, taking in his slightly disheveled appearance, his red dressing gown over the white silk pyjamas which don't button up to the top and let guess at the hollow of his throat, his usual cane staff in his right hand, his foot bare on the floor.
I gawked long enough for him to speak up after a while. "You called for me." He explained in a breath that was too lustful and unsure to be real, and at those words I remembered my dreams, like I always do, and felt stupid.
I have a recurring erotic dream about one Thomas Nightingale, who is both my governor and my teacher in all things magic, but I don't remember it after I wake. Only when I dream it anew do I remember the previous occurrences, a feeling that is weird enough on its own. I guess it's for the best, since I do have to work with him every day, and remembering heated fantasies about the man could make our relationship a bit more complicated, but at the same time, it's not like my oversexed mind has not conjured enough such dreams about my coworkers. It has happened before and will probably happen again, which probably shouldn't mean anything. Finding your guv' hot does not a relationship make.
But I had called Nightingale to my dreams, Thomas, and as usual I welcomed him there. I smiled lazily, lounging back on my bed, noting that the dream was taking place in my bedroom at the Folly this time, and invited him closer. "Come here, Handsome."
Hope lit his eyes and he smiled at me like I just had given him the best Christmas present ever. Then, carefully, he set down his cane at the foot of my bed, propped up against the frame, and after that, slowly and sensually, like one does a strip-tease, he untied the sash of his dressing gown and let it fall from his shoulders as he walked closer to me.
The mattress dipped as he crawled on the bed over me, I could feel his warmth and the tension all along his body. I felt myself grow hard at seeing him so hot and bothered, with the way his eyes were telling me that there was nothing more important in the world than be there, here and now, in bed with me. And I think in bed was an euphemism. What do you know, flattery doesn't have to be spoken to get a man going.
He kissed me then, and he tasted of minty toothpaste, clean and fresh over the usual magical undercurrent of his touch, the faintest touch of pine and wood smoke. He didn't seem to mind morning breath on my part, and proceeded to thoroughly ravage me with his mouth. There is something to be said about the value of experience. I had never been kissed by someone so old, nor had I ever been kissed so well, or with so much enthusiasm.
By the time he released my lips we were both panting, and hard, but I had managed to unbutton both our pyjama tops. With a winning grin, I swiftly pulled his pants down, with the practiced ease of someone who knows how to combine the speed given by need with the careful management of one's erection.
He pulled back some in a surprised reflex, and I used the opportunity to shimmy down my own pants and briefs, easing myself out of it. It was hot, like this, with him supporting his weight on lean arms right above me. He has an amazing hidden strength in those lean members of his. With breathtaking tenderness, he leaned back down to kiss me.
When I grabbed us both in hand, I watched amazed as a shudder went through his whole body. But when I tried to begin to stroke I winced, because it was a bit dry to my taste. I don't like that kind of things happening in a dream, because it's like your subconscious is trying to tell you something, and there is enough weirdness in my life without over analyzing. No Dr Freud for me, thanks. But what was the most frustrating about the whole situation, is that I was certain I had some lube in the nightstand’s drawer... and I was equally certain that reaching for it would cause me to wake up for real.
But then, as always in good dreams, a solution appeared as I noticed that Thomas Nightingale was leaking like a faulty faucet. So I reached to spread his precum all over us, and oh, the look on his face as I first touched his glans to do this, I never want to forget that look.
Things got pretty heated and frantic after that, to run to their natural end, until I was catching my breath, eyes closed and well spent. One more thing, though, Nightingale's strangled voice saying my name just before he came I don't want to forget either.
When I opened my eyes again, I was alone in my room, Nightingale wasn't there. I didn't really expect him to be. But in my sleep my pyjama top had come undone, and it seemed I had stroked myself to orgasm as I woke. My hand was all sticky as it seemed I had come enough for two, I winced.
Well, I thought to myself as I stood to clean up, the good thing was I remembered my dream this time, and hazily all the ones before that.
Chapter 2: Breakfast
I had the occasion to think about that dream long and hard in the shower. Not in a physical sense, no. Because even if I'm easy to get going when in the right mood, that usually requires a physical partner. As in someone actually there with me. And even if the slight twitches I got remembering some parts indicated that I would potentially have been interested, Nightingale wasn't in the shower with me. He was probably in his own shower, or even already at breakfast. I didn't daydream too much about my governor in his shower either, because, well, dreams are one thing, and idle stray thoughts are another, but I actually have a girlfriend by the name of Beverley Brook and I'm not entirely sure of how safe it is to consciously have stray thoughts while in the shower when you are dating a minor river godess.
As I stepped out I felt somewhat guilty, because with all the time I had spent in bed and in the shower that morning, I had missed my usual morning practice. Not that we had a precise schedule to keep, what with the irregular hours police personnels are bound to suffer, and Nightingale wouldn't call me out on it either, but maybe he'd look disappointed, or even just he'd look at me disapprovingly. I don't like skipping practice, and I don't do it except in cases of force majeure, like when I'm in the hospital, or when Dr Walid puts his foot in and forbids me to do magic for hours. Thankfully that hasn't happened in a long time. But all the same, Thomas Nightingale, who is my master - in the teaching sense of the word only - had promised me over ten years of apprenticeship before I got to mastery. That was years ago, but still not ten years, and I know I have still a long way to go.
I'm better, of course, I learned a lot, and I can't ignore my progress. Even if I don't know the extent of spells there is to learn or the percentage I might now, I still can measure it by the effectiveness of my fireballs. They can get through walls now, if they are not to thick, though if I don't feel ready to tackle armoured steel yet. Lately Nightingale has been teaching me serious shielding, and I went over the forma in my head as I was dressing. Magic is largely part of the mind, and you don't have to be casting full time to practice. Well, you still have to practice casting eventually. Wizardry is a practical craft in the end. I promised myself I would catch up later that day, that's how dedicated I am.
When I arrived in the breakfast room, Nightingale was already there, as I had expected him to be. In fact, I could hear him from the corridor, talking animatedly with Molly. Well, of course Molly didn't talk back, but they certainly were having a conversation. So I slowed down in the corridor, just outside the room, and tried to listen in.
"...under no circumstance, Molly." A pause. "It was my oath and responsibility, but in this case, he has to figure it out on his own... Please don't, Molly... Thank you."
I'm not sure what it was all about, but standing here all day wouldn't give me any answer either, so I stepped into the room. "Good morning, Peter." Nightingale greeted me.
"Good morning." I said.
He was sitting at his usual place and the table was set in the customary way, but a pair of cooking mitts caught my eyes. They laid on the table just beside where Molly was standing. She took them in a sweep and, nodding to me, stormed out of the room. I meant to ask him about those, and about the conversation I'd overheard as well, but then I looked at him, sharply dressed in a midnight blue tailored suit which brought out how light the color of his eyes was, the way his hairs were still slightly damp from taking a shower earlier. I remembered how disheveled he had looked in my dream and had to look away.
I sat down silently and busied myself with my filling my plate instead, hoping that I was still tan enough that the colouring of my cheek wouldn't show. I still found weird that even if some of the food was hot, not one of the dishes was warm enough to necessitate the cooking mitts Molly had brought. But I couldn't bring myself to look at Nightingale long enough to ask.
I know he was looking at me, because I could feel his eyes on me like a burn. That was awkward, so I looked anywhere else, attentively to my plate, or to a detail of the wall's upholstery, or to the top of Nightingale's cane that was protruding slightly over the table by his side. Which was unusual enough for me to blurt out the question before I had completely thought about it.
"Do you expect some kind of emergency?"
"No, I don't." He answered without missing a beat. "There are some personal responsibilities of mine which might take up my time in the foreseeable future, but nothing that should interfere with our work or your studies. And Peter..."
"Yeah?" I looked up then, and found that any awkwardness had dissolved into normality with the conversation, which was a relief, because I wouldn't have wanted fantasies, however tempting, to interfere with work.
"Don't hesitate to come and find me and remind me to check on your progress, should I fail to remember to show up."
I nodded. "Sure." Because something like that would usually mean I could find him in one of the libraries. It is not that rare for him to forget time, ensconced in one of the books or some research. God knows I have the same problem.
So with the atmosphere more relaxed I finished my breakfast and went to the tech cave to do some official work. I hadn't quite finished last week's magic-expurged record of the kelpie incident for the official files, and there was also Abigail's schedule to check for when she came back from her field trip in the North at the end of the week.
So there I was on the computer, surrounded by the comforting buzz of technology and working on my wording, when my phone rang with the ominous tone of the Imperial March right as the TV flashed silently with the Child Rescue Alert.
I know nothing of the organisation in law enforcement, especially in the UK. Please forgive any mistakes.
"Hello Sahra. I take it this is not a courtesy call?" I greeted her, since the id was showing.
"You wish, get your ass to Paddington right now. Edgware Road." Me and Sahra, we get along well like that.
"Is this an all hands on deck situation or do you think this is one of ours?" But even as I asked the question, I had no hope in hell that it wasn't Falcon, because following the description of the child, Sebastian Matthews age 9, the TV was now showing the description of the suspect, and it was short, much too short for my taste.
"Nearest CCTV camera is fried, witnesses were too dazed to react, suspect is a white man in a good grey suit but no one thought to look at his face. What do you think?"
I swore. "And get your boss to come too. Seawoll is trying to reach him as we speak on the landline."
I imagined Nightingale coming down the stairs to the phone, getting more or less subtly insulted by Sahra's boss while keeping an olympian calm and composure and winced. There was no lost love between those two.
"Right, text me the address, we'll be there in ten."
I shut the computer down and switched the power off, and hurried back to the main building. Thomas Nightingale was right there in the entrance, putting his coat on over a pale grey suit. It is not one he wears often, but I remember seeing it on him before and taking note of how it attracted the eyes to all the right places of his shoulders and waist. It seemed he had needed to change since breakfast.
He handed me the keys to the Jag. "You'd better drive, I think." He said, and since I don't miss an occasion to put my hands on that wheel, I complied enthusiastically.
So off we went. We put the blues and twos and were there before the promised ten minutes. It already had been more than an hour since the first arrival on scene, so the zone was securised, witnesses had been or were currently being processed, and there were presumably already whole teams sorting and pouring over all the CCTV footage they could find.
We identified ourselves and entered the perimeter, and Nightingale went straight to the command team. DCI Alexander Seawoll was talking with DCI Paul Gown of Paddington Green, who was supervising and coordinating the teams on this operation. I had worked with one of his teams for a case with wild greeneries some time ago, so I found it strange that it wasn't someone from Paddington Green who issued the call to us, but after all, Sahra was the third most competent officer in all things Falcon. So I prefered to skip that meeting and hailed my favourite muslim ninja Sergeant.
She beckoned me over and gave me a brief recap. According to witnesses, the perpetrator had just walked out of the M&S to the child, taken his hand and said a few words to him before walking off with him down Chapel Street towards the Underground Station. The kid's grandmother as well as all the other passerbys had just stood there, transfixed and watched mesmerised without thinking of reacting. That spoke of mass compulsion to me.
I figured I'd start where I always start : with an IVA, or Initial Vestigium Assessment, so I started walking around on the sidewalk. The perimeter extended at length in Chapel Street nearly to the station, but it also covered a part in Edgware Road and I started walking towards that end.
This was a nice part of London for apartments, and the ones above the shops were sure to quote in millions. I walked by the windows of M&S, looking at the patisserie on the other side, which - as the reports I read later confirmed - would have been the reason for the kid and grandparent's presence. Right at the crossroads, a tow truck was loading up a BMW. I asked Guleed : our faceless suspect had managed to fry three vehicles with whatever stunt he had pulled that also had fried the cameras.
On the other side of Edgware Road, I stared for a while at the reflecting glasses of the Hilton and its 91-metre tower. That's 299 feet in old money. This building dated to 1972 and had replaced what was previously the London Metro Hotel. But then, on the other side of the road, the pharmacy's sign caught my eyes and my mind did some of the weird associations it does sometime.
I was suddenly reminded that I was almost out of condoms. That in turn made me think of activities which would require such implements, and then of my dream earlier that morning, with some embarrassment. I wondered how Nightingale would react, buying condoms. I tried to imagine him awkward, but if it wasn't a totally foreign expression on his face, it didn't really fit in this sort of situation. No, he would just naturally and politely buy them. After all, you didn't tell for whom you intended them when you bought some french letters.
I shook myself out of my reveries and crossed over to the side of the patisserie, and there I felt it. The vestigium was so clear, it could only have been caused by something both recent and powerful.
It was there, the usual bloody burnt flesh smell, but there wasn't any of the sharp edge I had come to associate with our usual Faceless Man. There was a faint gunpowder whiff instead, mixed with something that I didn't recognise but left a sweet and sickening taste in my mouth.
The grass was what made me almost lose my breakfast on the pavement. Mixed with the previous taste and smell, it made my skin crawl. Because I could swear I had sensed it before in the magical echo on my master's skin. I would have sworn this was the exact same grass, that this Faceless Man and Thomas Nightingale had taken a tumble on the exact same patch of meadow.
I recoiled hastily out of the zone and Guleed put a steadying hand on my shoulder.
"I'm all right," I shook myself, "but this isn't Martin Chorley."
I looked around : I wanted Nightingale to confirm what I had felt, but my teacher was nowhere in sight.
"Where is Nightingale gone?" The traffic was picking up, but even if my words didn't lose themselves in its noise, the question remained unanswered.
Chapter 4: Fruitless Endeavours
I'm feeling quite wrecked at the moment, and most of the time my brain can't keep up with what I'm writing. So I know this story is not going to be one of my best. Still I write, I push myself to for fear I won't be able to finish. As you read this, please know that I'm trying my best with my current (diminished) abilities.
Nightingale didn't reappear at all during the time we stayed at the abduction site. I walked all over it after that, and further next to the underground station, but there was no more vestigium to sense. It seemed that no more magic had been done there.
So, stopping by to grab a sandwich, I went back to Belgravia with the rest of the team and borrowed my usual part of Guleed's desk to type in my report. Thankfully I had the keys to the Jag, or I would have needed to hitch a ride. But I had them for once. My governor would need to fend off for himself.
Once there, I read the few files that had already been compiled and processed through - I didn't bother with the mountain of raw data yet as it would have been a waste of time at this point. But nothing particularly weird drew my eyes. So I typed my report, hesitating for a while before mentioning how the vestigium at the scene reminded me as much of Nightingale that it did of the Faceless Man. In the end I did, because it could be important. And for good measure, I added an follow-up action for Nightingale to check the magical echo for himself and give the further expertise that was needed on the subject.
After some reflection I added more actions for myself about checking our pre-established intelligence sources : asking around in the magical community for potential witnesses and information. Even if it was quite far from her river, this still was in Lady Ty's manor, and she wouldn't feel kindly about child abduction in her own turf. So I hoped she would feel like cooperating on the case.
I made a mental note to swing by Beverley's too. Visiting your girlfriend's sister and not her would be bound to create some problems, I could tell.
I was nearly finished when Sahra interrupted me with a serious face on. "Peter," she asked, "is teleportation possible?" It turned out that the boy didn't appear in any of the cameras at the station, and they were all in working order.
"Not that I know of," I answered, because, quite truthfully, there is an awful amount of magical possibilities about which me or Nightingale haven't the faintest idea. "But if it did, it wouldn't be Newtonian magic. It would violate Newton's sixth law. Besides, I didn't feel any other vestigium and I walked quite a bit around the nearby streets."
She swore heartfeltly and added an mention in the file. The CCTV teams would need to comb meticulously, looking for all the vehicles that might have passed by around the right time, and hope for a hit. Long and tedious work. Time young Sebastian Matthews might not have.
I swore myself, finished up and took off. It was high time to action some more actions.
The afternoon was disappointedly unrewarding. Lady Ty, cooperative as she was, had not percieved anything and was unhelpful on other matters. Either she didn't know anything about Martin Chorley's other associates, or I didn't ask the right questions. With her, it was difficult to tell.
No one had been at Chorley's old house in a while. No one else, be it gobelins, Quiet People or trolls had seen or heard anything useful about the young victim, Faceless Men or Lesley. She and her last known teacher were as unfindable as they were last time they disappeared. In my former colleague’s case, I couldn't help but wish they were just Unplottable, not dead.
I took notes on each failure, but even if no result was still scientifically significative, it wasn't good news for Sebastian Matthews. Sitting in the car after my last official scheduled stop, I took out my old and up to date Little Crocodiles' Candidate List. We had checked them all by now. I perused the list anew.
A Faceless Man who wasn't on the list.
The grass part of the vestigium kept nagging me. Could we have overlooked a founding member? A remnant of the Folly's old crowd who could have assisted Geoffrey Wheatcroft in his teaching endeavours? A fearful shudder went through me. If that was the case, we might be doomed. If our suspect was that old, he would be aging backwards, like one night witch Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, like my governor Thomas Nightingale. In that case he might have started other clubs, in other schools, anywhere, and have a whole team of master wizards by his side.
We were only two. Always two they are, no more no less, I thought. This really didn't bode well for us.
Hoping that Nightingale's afternoon had brought more results, I swung by Beverley's. I had left her a message earlier, so she was home and expecting me. But her greeting, looking up from her book, really threw me off.
"So, it has happened," she said.
"What has?" I asked cleverly, because somehow I didn't think she was referring to Sebastian Matthews' abduction.
"You and the Nightingale." She stated, staring at my face.
"What?!?" At first I wasn't really sure I had heard her correctly, but then she looked pointedly in that way she uncannily shares with Molly that says I had understood very well the first time round.
"It was only one dream!" I exclaimed, feeling strangely both wronged and guilty at the same time.
"Was it?" She stood up.
I thought about all the other dreams I had remembered. "A lot of dreams, allright. Still, that doesn't mean anything happened..." She walked to me and kissed me then.
This was the kind of toe curling kiss that always threw my mind down nicer tracks, and it certainly did the trick to distract me this time too.
But then, instead of stepping up the game, she withdrew and put her most serious face on.
"Let's put us on hold."
I was so shocked and still reeling from the kiss that I just stood there, dumb and mute.
"Make up your mind about what you want, then come back and we'll talk." She explained. Still I was having trouble to catch up.
"I, what? Bev..."
"Think about what you want." She repeated, insisting on each word. "And then we'll talk."
Then she kissed me again, and that wasn't the kiss of someone breaking up with you, so that got me thinking again. I frowned, because, even if she once told me you could be two or many things at once, she couldn't be suggesting me and her and Nightingale...
"Like I said, think it through first." She said, and turning back to pick up her book, she sat down again.
After that, just standing there seemed a bit awkward, so I left rather quickly.
I think I would need time to digest those news. That my girlfriend - now on hold girlfriend - seemed to think that me and Nightingale was a possible thing. That she was open to negotiation on a third party in our relationship? Was she really?
It seemed that fate had decided to make my day interesting in so many ways.
Mulling over this would not bring me an answer right away, and Beverley had suggested I take my time, so I put the subject on hold, took the Jag back to the Folly and went directly to the Tech Cave.
I quickly added conclusions to the files of my afternoon actions - I intended to type the details later - and checked for any developpement.
They hadn't found the car yet, but were still going through the list of vehicles. No sign of the victim or the suspect.
One thing caught my eyes though. Sometime in the afternoon, Seawoll had sent that he wanted to see Nightingale. And later on there was a message from the Commissioner who requested his presence at the earlier convenience.
I grimaced. I really hoped this wasn't my fault and about the comment I made about the vestigium in my report.
I hadn't had any new message or news from Nightingale otherwise, so I shut down the computer and went back to the Folly, thinking that he might be back soon to eat anyway. That or he would have let Molly know about other plans.
As it was, the man himself was coming downstairs right as I walked in the atrium, with his coat on : it seemed he was going out again.
"Good evening, sir!" I greeted him. "I'm really glad to see you."
Chapter 5: In and Out
I need to finish this as soon as I can, and not only because I have a feeling it will be completely AU by November.
"Good evening, Peter." He said with his usual calm, and I wanted to ask where he had been and if he had found anything interesting but I didn't, because just then Molly appeared at his side with tea and sandwiches on a platter and he had picked up the cup even before starting to thank her. This was such unusual behaviour from Nightingale that I could only stare in shock.
But his relieved, "Thank you, Molly," as he raised the cup to his lips and, "you are a godsend," after he had sampled with closed eyes spoke volumes. As he drank some more I saw he was eying the sandwiches with the kind of hunger of someone who hadn't eaten all day, so I cleared my throat loudly.
"If you are in no particular hurry to go out again, maybe we should take some time for a progress report?"
He looked at me with gratitude. "Yes, quite." Then he set the cup back on the tray and turned to Molly. "In the kitchen, I think, please."
She nodded a turned around and we followed her in silence until we were seated in our usual chairs in front of teacups and sandwiches. I really was wondering what he had been doing all afternoon that had him leave without warning and skip lunch, but he looked so famished that I bit my tongue and bid my time. I started my own report instead, in between bites because the spam and grilled cheese sandwiches were warm and heavenly.
I put the Jag's keys on the table and told him about my lack of witnesses in the demi-monde, about the worrisome vestigium at the site and how I thought it wasn't Chorley, and, with some reluctance and shame, how about a careless comment on my report might have gotten him into trouble with the brass.
What I didn't tell him about was Beverley. That's one thing he didn't need to know about. I wasn't about to explain my boss about having fantasies about him to the point that my girlfriend had noticed, thank you very much.
He looked very serious as I ended up with my fears of us dealing with a Faceless Man of his generation, and took a long time pondering words before he finally spoke.
"I can't say I am surprised." He said. "Though I hoped I could be wrong."
He took a deep breath, looking as unsettled as I had ever seen him, and knew it would be bad.
"I must say I felt something in the occasional vestigia Mr Chorley left for us." As he said this I felt horror creep up with the downing comprehension. Thomas Nightingale could tell casters apart from their magical signature, but not only that, he could tell who had trained the caster and sometimes who had developed the spell.
"In the signare." I breathed. "You didn't only sense Geoffrey Wheatcroft as a teacher."
He shook his head grimly. "I wasn't entirely sure, but..." And then he breathed the word like it was both a blessing and a curse. "David."
I knew at once who he meant and my heart almost stopped, because of course, we had to be facing the genius Nightingale admired. The one with whom he had been close friends and maybe more. "David Mellenby." I said, just to confirm, and he nodded, without looking at me. "I thought he was dead!" I exclaimed. "Hugh Oswald said he was."
Nightingale looked conflicted, tired, but he shook himself up and, steeling himself, took a familiar posture that told me it was story time. "It was shortly after the war." He started. "You must understand none of us were at our best. He had been wounded too and was recovering - or so we thought. The fact that his experiments had been so wrongly used... I still regret letting him read from the Library."
He closed his eyes, chasing away bad memories, I could see.
"One day, he locked himself up in his lab and shot himself in the head." He said very quickly, as if sprinting through the words not to let himself think about what he was talking about. "Only he missed the brain. It was so messy. I blew up the door to get through him and... he was still alive when he left in the ambulance."
He sighed and took some moments to compose himself. He looked at me then, his eyes clear and resolute. "I never saw him again. The hospital didn't allow any visit until one day, they sent back his possessions in a box. Like most of us, he'd left his body to science. Well," he smiled, "him especially, of course. I didn't try to see his remains. I'd assumed he was dead but..."
"The grass signare?" I asked.
He nodded. "Rugby."
"Ah." I thought about it. "It would make sense, at least, for him to use the spell to distract from his face."
He nodded again. "If it is him, you should be more careful than ever, Peter." He cautioned me. I knew that. I knew I wasn't at the level to tackle a master yet, let alone a renowned genius. "Have you done your practice yet, today?"
I winced. Since I had skipped that morning, I hadn't yet.
"Maybe you should do that now, while I go to Belgravia." He suggested. "Try to hold your shield for as long as you can, but don't go over fifteen minutes, you hear me?"
I acknowledged it, and Nightingale phoned ahead to have people warn Seawoll and the Commissioner's office he was coming in.
"Keep an eye on him for me, will you?" He asked Molly before he went and she nodded as gravely as if it were his dying wish, but at the time I was feeling slightly miffed, because I know it took time - and explosions - for me to get it to work properly, but I hadn't been hit by a ball for days now, and I felt that he could have some more confidence in his apprentice's capabilities.
I did go to the lab to practice then, intent on proving him wrong. I prepared the mechanical timer and turned the pitching machine on. I concentrated, cleared my mind and cast the spell. The shield sprung up in front of me with practiced ease and I confidently stepped in front of the machine and started the clock.
The trouble with this spell is that you have to keep the forma up in your mind and concentrate on it for the duration of the casting if you don't want risking something going through it. The advantage it has over aer congolare is that it'll stop almost anything, spells and physical projectiles alike. I had let my concentration slip a few days ago and let me tell you, getting hit by a speeding baseball is not something very nice. Thankfully I didn't break anything. The bruise was hell, though.
Just thinking about it had my shield waver for a second and I concentrated hard to keep it up. The shimmering of the air in front of me stabilised and the next ball rebounded on it as nicely as the previous one had done.
I managed over ten minutes easily, but I did heed my master's advice and stepped aside and stopped casting a few seconds after fourteen minutes. My brow was sweaty but I was grinning, and I jotted down my time on the practice record before starting to clean up and pick the balls.
It was just past nine thirty, Nightingale must have arrived already. I shortly wondered how the meeting would go. The idea was depressing. It was my fault that Nightingale had to go justify himself, maybe explain about Mellenby again. Suddenly I didn't want that for him. I shouldn't have let him go without moral support. I sighed helplessly.
Since I couldn't do anything about that, I guessed I should type those detailed reports and prepared to head for the Tech Cave.
I was just coming in the atrium when the landline rang so I went to the phone and identified myself.
"Fucking get back here, pronto." It was Seawoll. "Your boss has disappeared."
Chapter 6: Worrying disappearance
The surveillance footage was uncanny to say the least. Nightingale was walking towards the entrance after having parked the Jag, but just as he was reaching the door and without any break in his stride, he had disappeared, for lack of a better word. At 09:32:41 he was still there, and on the next frame he wasn't.
I don't remember how many times I asked for a replay before I could believe my eyes. I racked my brains for solutions but came up with nothing. No-one in sight, no sign of outside interference, not one fried electronic appliance that could indicate magic.
I went down to the entrance myself to look for vestigium. I don't think I ever did such a meticulous search. All for nothing. I could hug the pavement, put my cheek to the ground all I wanted, all I could feel was the quiet hum of London, echoes of its normal life and activities, the distant cry of someone a long time ago. Nothing about my governor at all, or of recent thaumaturgical activities.
I let Seawoll lead me back to one of the interview rooms, but my mind was still searching for possibilities, further and further away from reality, until my theories became all fiction. But, whether someone had beamed him up to an alien starship, or some traveling time machine had materialised around him before disappearing again - or becoming invisible - it had all be done way faster than any realisation I had ever seen on television. And the witnesses hadn't heard anything unusual, no groaning and wheezing noise of a TARDIS in any case. Yes, I had asked - discreetly.
Those theories didn't help at all, both because Thomas Nightingale had said we had had no sign of aliens so far, and because it would have come under the Folly's purview anyway. I sighed and answered half mindedly to the questions about my occupations that afternoon, and about Nightingale's - not that I knew much about those.
Then I had kind of a vision and straightened up - at which point Seawoll asked me if I was alright so I must have made quite a funny face - in my mind I saw an argument of wizards surrounding a circle with pentagrams and runes, and in the middle of it a quite blasé silhouette in a black cape with bright blue eyes, once again interrupted in the middle of something IMPORTANT by the rite of AshkEnte.
I had once myself summoned a ghost or a spirit - whatever denomination you prefered to use, but maybe it was possible to summon a living person in a similar way? That wouldn't be very Newtonian, but the summoning ritual predated the Folly, and summoning someone would have too many similarities with teleportation not to have anything to do with quantum physics. And then I remembered that David Mellenby's name had been uttered in a conversation that included that particular field of science.
I scowled, then frowned. I would need to do some research anyway. A sudden fear went through me. What if they locked up the Folly like the time my governor had been in the hospital all those years ago?
Suddenly I had more pressing priorities than wildly guessing at what might have happened to Nightingale.
"Is the Commissioner still there?" I asked abruptly, and Seawoll looked at me as if I had lost my head.
But he was, and he agreed to see me, and I could plead my case. It was much easier now that my thoughts were in some kind of order. So I talked to them about our suspicion of the continued existence of one of the former colleagues of Thomas Nightingale, be it one David Mellenby or someone else, and their possible involvement in Sebastian Matthews' abduction. That if it was the case, the Library in the Folly wouldn't be one of his goals since he had already had had ample access to study it. That I might have a hypothesis about my governor's disappearance that would require some more research.
In the end it necessitated a lot more negotiation and diplomacy, and, if Nightingale had taught me the Compulsion, I might have been sorely tempted to use it. But I managed to bargain for a 24 hours respite before any move was made to seal the Folly. I would use that time to try and discover what had happened to my master - in the Commissioner's words, not mine - and if possible retrieve him. I had willingly admitted that I was in no way competent enough to tackle a master Faceless Man alone, and even more so if he wasn't working solo.
So the plan was to continue as normal, except I was off the hook for the search for Sebastian Matthews - who had been missing for a bit more than twelve hours now. And in the next 24 hours we would remain discreet about Nightingale's disappearance. Which meant I had to somehow take care of removing the Jag from its parking space. This meant, of course, that I called Thomas Debden for help.
Not only he works with cars and owns a recovery truck, but he has worked with us on occasion and wouldn't ask too many questions. That and he would take care not to put a scratch on the car - which would have been a decisive factor for me.
I was leaning against the Ferrari - which I had parked next to the Jag - surfing idly on my phone when he finally came by to retrieve the car, but I was impatient to get home and start some serious research, so I didn't start too much of a conversation.
Still, it was past midnight when I finally made it back to the Folly - with both cars safely hidden in the Coach House.
Molly was lurking in the entrance and perked up at my arrival. "He disappeared." I said. "One moment he was there and the next he wasn't. No trace of magic."
Somehow she didn't seem surprised. "I don't suppose you know if it's possible to summon someone through some kind of ritual? Like for a ghost?" She looked pensive for a second, then shook her head. But there was more to it than a simple negation.
"You think you know what happened?" I asked, not quite daring to be hopeful.
She looked torn for a second, then nodded hesitatingly.
"Oh! Tell me then!" She just stared at me pointedly. "Oh, right. A mime?" Her gaze just told me not to be ridiculous, but then she turned her head and looked upstairs, before looking back to me.
Suddenly the hope was fully there. "The answer's in the library?" She nodded. "It has happened before?" A nod again. "Thank you Molly!" I grinned, before I bounded up the stairs, Molly following me quietly.
Right as I was turning towards the magical library, she grasped my elbow and I stopped. With a sign of her head she indicated that I was going the wrong way. "You mean the mundane library?" I asked.
I was somehow both disappointed - I didn't get to do that much research alone in the magical library - and relieved at the same time - I knew the mundane library and its classification system much better by now. But it was resolutely that I turned around and walked ahead. I had some important research to do.
Chapter 7: Research
I went straight to the cabinets where the index cards were stored. It is an old fashioned search system, but surprisingly effective for people who had no computers. Of course all those cards need to be digitalised someday for more efficiency - it is somewhere on my todo list.
There were documents on disappearances, and quite a lot at that. I left the cards out and started getting the first files - more reports than books on the list for once - and Molly did the same for the next stack after quietly looking at the cards.
As soon as I had material I sat down and started reading, while Molly was bringing the rest of our search results in neat piles by my side.
So I started reading. I made a mistake at first and, after checking that the report I held was about a disappearance, read the whole file, only to discover at the end that at the time people discovered Nick Dallicott was missing, he had already been dead. Which wasn't relevant to what I was looking for. At all.
So I took a different approach, skimming through the files, first looking the top section and the last lines of the reports, and ended up making very fast progress through the piles, while sipping some strong tea Molly had brought me. I briefly wondered if that was how it had felt back then, when there only had been Nightingale and her in the Folly. But I don't think I had earned the same tea privileges overnight, and the offering was more in an effort to keep me awake I suppose.
But after a few hours reading, even that was not enough anymore and I was fighting to even keep my eyes open. At some point I must have even dozed off because I woke up abruptly to the eerie sense of Molly's presence by my right shoulder. I jumped about a foot in the air, which didn't seem to amuse her this time. Gods I hate waking up like this. 'Go to bed', was what she expressed, quite unequivocally. I just looked at her, surprised, and not entirely sure I understood her this well, tired as I was. But it has been a few years now, and I get her much more easily than before. 'Go to bed', she ordered once more.
In a way she was right, I wasn't doing any good job half awake like this. But I had less than twenty-four hours to find Nightingale and the clock was ticking for the kid too. I looked at the page on which the written words didn't seem to make sense, then back at Molly who was urging me to stand up. "You'll wake me up, will you? If there's any news or if I try to oversleep?" She nodded and pushed back the chair against the table, pressuring me to go to my bed, now. I did so, half-awake already, and she followed me, probably to make sure I didn't sit down on the way and go to sleep in the corridor.
In those few hours I had only found two interesting reports. The first one dated back to the very beginning of the eighteenth century, on thick rough paper. It described quite accurately what I had seen on camera earlier. One wizard had suddenly disappeared one day, and one of his fellow researchers in magic had described with painstaking details the situation, the rooms, the conversation, the positions of planets, and how in a blink of an eye there was no one where a man had been once. The blink of an eye being a metaphor as the writer of the report had insisted heavily on the fact that he hadn't even blinked.
There was a footnote at the end of the report which referred to a possible theoretical study of the magical causes of said disappearance, but there was no reference of it in the Folly's library. Now it could be lost somewhere between two old volumes on a random shelf, but I didn't count on it. It could have been lost over time, been lent to someone and never returned. Or it was sitting somewhere in the unread piles on the table. Either it would turn up eventually or it wouldn't. I could phone Postmartin about it in the morning, but I wouldn't be holding my breath over it.
The other very interesting report had been written near two centuries later, and I think I would have read it from one end to the other even if it had nothing to do with the case. Because right at the top, it stated Casterbrook, which already would have been something, and october 1912, which let me tell you, woke me for good for a few minutes. The file was a collection of multiple reports and the first one, signed by the headmaster of the school, started like this: Today, Master Alan Grieg disappeared after third year student Edgard Bunting rightfully complained about him.
The rest of the headmaster's report was about as informative. No description of the disappearance this time, and no elaboration on its causes. Just a list of witnesses and reference to their accounts below. I wondered what the complaint was about, in a time when no one saw anything wrong with canning student for discipline. Of course my copper mind jumped immediately to the worst possible solution, but it seemed just as unlikely. At a time where homosexuality was a crime, I imagined that corrupting a child would have started a lynch mob, not inspired a statement that the perp had disappeared and well deserved it. But I didn't know that much about the mores of that time, and if I remembered right, age of consent had just been raised to thirteen then. I would have asked Nightingale, but of course, the reason for my research was that he wasn't available.
The witnesses just confirmed the statement. What was way more interesting was the rest of the file. More reports: accounts of further sightings of one Master Alan Grieg, advising Edgard Bunting on his studies. They spread over years! Each time the story was the same, told by various students who had been present in the room when the missing teacher had appeared. Grieg would appear out of thin air, get on to help his former student, and disappear as suddenly as his presence had made itself known.
The first reports focused on the surprise of seeing the missing master and his actions, but over the time they mainly focused on his appearance. He had gone right from plump to gaunt to downright emaciated. Then one report in 1917 made my heart miss a beat. The writing was well known to me, if a little rounder than what I was used to. I checked the signature just to be sure my eyes weren't deceiving me, and there it was, written in black ink on white paper: Thomas Nightingale.
I perused the text with intent, focusing on each word, intent on deciphering the thoughts that had prompted my current teacher to write that text. It only reinforced what I had perceived in the earlier reports, but the words he used... some of those gave me pause because I had seen them before in another report he had written a few years ago. Those were the words he had used to describe what had remained of Larry the Lark at the Dr Moreau's strip club. I imagined Grieg with that terrifying appearance and remembered the wheezing voice pleading for death. Suddenly Grieg's destiny seemed much more darker than what I had first envisionned. I dearly hoped this wasn't the fate Thomas Nightingale was facing, I vowed to find him before that.
There was an account by Edgard Bunting too, swearing that to the best of his knowledge those accounts were his former master's only sightings, and that he hadn't seen him at any other time.
The very last report followed the last sighting by a few years. And the deputy headmaster had closed the file in 1926 with the statement that there had been no more sightings since Edgard Butling's graduation.
By the time I had finished reading those files, I was burning with questions. Clearly the teachers knew about the cause and reasons for Grieg's disappearance. It was so frustrating that none of it was explained. I would definitely ask Nightingale about that next time I saw him. But that file hadn't explained how I should find my own missing teacher. So I had put it on the 'interesting' pile and read on.
Now as I went to bed, I felt no closer to finding Nightingale than when I was watching the CCTV tapes. With one last look of thanks to Molly I closed my room's door behind me and obeyed her command to try and sleep.
This one was easy. Oblivion claimed me as soon as I laid down.
My dreams - however little I remembered of the impression they left me - were dark and agitated, and bore no sign of Nightingale. Molly didn't come to interrupt my sleep either and I was woken by the crude ringing of my mechanical alarm clock - no, I don't rely on anything remotely digital in the Folly anymore, thank you very much.
I was heavily tired, and disheartened at working without magical backup on this one, but dredged myself out of bed and to the breakfast room. Molly was there to greet me with warm coffee, which was what mattered most. I didn't touch the food and only took my steaming mug with me and back to the library.
Molly must have cleaned up after I went to bed, because all the reports I had discarded had disappeared. The two I had marked as interesting were on my left side, and on my right were the two stack of remaining files. I sat down to work again and, sipping my tea, took up the file I had attempted to start reading last.
I skimmed through two or three files and half the content of my mug before I felt awake enough to try and assess the quantity of work I had in front of me. Two dozen reports maybe, and a book I remembered putting at the bottom of the last pile because it dealt with illusions and probably wouldn't be of any use. Then I blinked, because slightly to my right, but just in front of me, there was a book I hadn't noticed yesterday. It could have been lost under a pile, and Molly's reordering them would have shifted it, this wasn't the strange part. The bewildering thing which had caught my eyes was the colour of it's marking index, like a red flag in front of a bull's eyes - well, metaphorically speaking : bulls don't actually see red, and the index colour was green.
It was a book from the recreative section.
It had to be part of my research, no other documents were out on the tables, and yet, why a book from the recreative section? I picked it up.
Arthurian tales and legends, an anthology of it. I slowly considered it, surprised. If my memory served me well, there was no disappearance... I didn't even finish formulating my thought. My hand went lax and the book dropped on the table. Because there was a wizard in those tales. There was one prominent wizard named Merlin. And even if no one ever says he was abducted or disappeared, they do say he was imprisoned in an invisible castle in the end. By his own apprentice. And that's definitely close enough to assimilate to a disappearance, and someone other than me must have thought so too to give it a disappearance index...
A thought occurred to me, and my mind flashed back to the reports I had read the night before. They all were master wizards. The Newton contemporary one, Grieg, Merlin. A heavy sense of doom seized me and I remembered my supposition that Edgard Bunting had been abused by his teacher. Vivien hadn't wanted Merlin. They say she had seduced his secrets from her master, but after that in the tales, she had only allowed him to embrace an illusion of her.
I remembered the echo of Nightingale's words yesterday. "It was my oath", he had said.
I let out a stream of abuse.
Then I heard, in Beverley's voice, the question she had asked me. "Was it only a dream?"
I stopped breathing. And it wasn't only because of the realisation that I had seduced my teacher for real.
I felt a fear like I had not known ever before. My mind jumped from the terrifying description of Grieg in Nightingale's own script to the relief I had seen on my teacher's face sipping Molly's tea only yesterday evening. From knowing Grieg and Merlin had disappeared because the magic didn't let them mistreat their apprentices with impunity. To the disheveled and wanton memory of my master in what I had believed was one more dream.
Nightingale's disappearance was my own fault.
"You called for me," he had said.
I felt slightly nauseous, and waited until I had calmed down enough and my suddenly heavy breathing was a bit slower. Then I took a deep breath and cursed. And again. And then I cursed some more.
I don't know how long I remained in that daze, my mind reeling with the realisation and my anger dissipating in all the swear words I knew, but slowly I was filled with a sense of determination. I had caused Nightingale's to disappear. So I had to repair the damage myself. Vivien Le Fay had access to Merlin at her own will, Edgard Bunting seemed to have somehow summoned his master for help in his studies. I took some hope in the fact that I had met with Nightingale yesterday evening after he had vanished for a whole afternoon.
So I pictured him in my mind, as clearly as I could, as closely as I could remember him from yesterday's evening, and concentrated with all the focus I had learned in years of magical training. It didn't work at first. I knew it didn't. I felt it didn't.
But then I remembered Thomas Nightingale own encouraging words. "You called for me." And I hoped for him again, with all the despair I felt and the wish I had to see him again, now, now, now.
There was a noise in the far distance and I raised my head. I breathed in, and dashed.
Without a thought for the disorder in the library, my abandoned mug, I didn't even push back my chair, I ran all the way to the breakfast room. And there he was, right as I had pictured him.
Thomas Nightingale was sitting in his usual chair, in yesterday's clothes - that was unusual enough - and Molly was already pouring him hot tea. I watched him with relief, awe and incredibility, panting in the doorway, and he greeted me as if nothing in the world was wrong.
"Good morning, Peter. Have you eaten yet?"
Peter IS an unreliable narrator. You wouldn't believe the number of sentences he had me rewrite because he wouldn't let himself be shown in some lights.
Chapter 9: Back in the game
Where there is talk about consent issues, but without resolving any of the current problems.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I hadn't eaten earlier, so, after an indistinct greeting, I sat down and helped myself to some breakfast. My governor was obviously behaving normally, but I could swear I felt his eyes on me when I wasn't looking. Was he also searching for clues of how to start a conversation that would certainly be awkward? I kept hesitating between awe that I even had such an impressive and handsome man in my bed, deep embarrassment that I hadn't noticed it was real, and endless shame at having coerced my boss into breaking an oath that had so dire consequences for him. In the end, this was the sentiment that won over and I blurted it out with my usual finesse.
"I'm sorry, sir." I said. "I don't even know where to begin to apologise."
"Whatever for?" Rarely had I seen Nightingale so clearly astonished.
"For," I gestured between us both, "...you know. Seducing you."
"Peter!" His voice was filled with concern. "Why would you even think this was your fault?"
For me this was evident. "You said it, I called for you. It didn't sound like merely making contact."
For a fugitive instant his face showed absolute horror. "Peter," he said then with his most definite tone, "this situation is in no way your fault; I wish you wouldn't ever have thought that." He took a deep breath and sighed shakily and dejectedly, but his voice didn't waver the slightest when he spoke next. "I must apologise to you, twice over, for," he breathed heavily again, "taking advantage of you, and for causing you to think it might be your fault. We see enough victims blaming themselves at work, we see enough people trying to put the blame on their victims, I would have wanted you to believe I wouldn't want something like that for you, I wish you hadn't mistakenly understood that intent from my words. But let me tell you again if it might convince you, you didn't do anything wrong, you didn't make me do anything. The fault was entirely mine. I took advantage of you, a student in my care. I broke my oath as a master." He smiled despondently then, trying humor at his own expense. "As you might have noticed, magic had its way in making me start to try and atone for that."
"Sir!" I exclaimed, because I was too moved to think of anything else to say. But I couldn't let it stand like that. Didn't I get the right to consent? I wasn't a child and hadn't been one for a long time! "Thomas, you are not a bad man." I fumbled, looking for words. "Please don't think of yourself like that. You are not like Grieg! I'm not thirteen for heaven's sake!" I took a deep breath and blushed. "I didn't mind you in my bed, at all. I think my consent was pretty enthousiast after all. I don't think you deserve to be punished for that." He was looking at me with such thirst to believe, that I looked at him in ernest, willing my conviction to seep into my voice. "I don't intend to let you waste away in some astral plane if I can help it."
My words must have met their intended goal, because he smiled affectionately then. "I thank you for that Peter."
"Is there anything I can do to fix this?"
He looked pensive for a while, and shook his head. "No, nothing that can be done or should be started immediately anyway." He looked up. "What did I miss since... yesterday?"
I ended up summarizing the few hours during which my governor had been absent from this world, including the threat of closing for the Folly and my research, and Nightingale took some more time to think. I had not talked about Beverley, no more than yesterday, but I felt it was too soon, and I was still too confused to broach the subject. Hell I didn't even know on what foot we were standing, Thomas Nightingale and I. It was way too early to bring another parameter in, or another person. But I found myself thinking that it would be nice sometime, maybe to take some vacation with both of them, maybe even to the faraway beaches of Freetown. I imagined Beverley playing in the water while I was sure Nightingale would prefer lounging on a folding chair. We could be having a great time indeed.
It had been quiet for some time, and when I looked up, I realised that I had let myself get distracted again, and Nightingale was missing. I concentrated again and he appeared back in his chair, looking none the worth for his brief absence, except maybe for the fact that his hair was suspiciously wet.
He looked at me pointedly, like he did when I let myself get distracted during practice, but made no remark. "Any progress with Sebastian Matthews's abduction?"
To the best of my knowledge there wasn't, but I hadn't checked this morning yet. So we concurred that it was best to go back to the nick first, and report that DCI Nightingale wasn't missing after all.
"I'd like to freshen up a bit before that, though." He said, standing up, and I agreed he didn't deserve to look anything less than his crisp usual self in front of the Commissioner or Seawoll. "Why don't you practice your shield during that time? Maybe that will prevent you from getting too distracted."
I nodded, but the remark made me even more curious, and I couldn't tear my eyes away from his hair. "If I may ask, what happened?"
He smiled then, with a twinkle in his eyes, the same way he does when I do something endearingly stupid. "We are in August, Peter." He said. "It's raining season."
There were some small mishaps and setbacks, but I did get some practice, and Nightingale managed to shower and change. I even found some time to quickly check the case's news on my phone after I called on Nightingale's behalf to know if the Commissioner had time to see us. There was a suspicious ambulance amongst the vehicles caught on camera, which didn't go to St Mary or any of the closest hospitals to the scene, and it was currently under investigation. This was the main new lead, but it could as well lead nowhere. Still, it has nearly been twenty-four hours since Sebastian Matthews's abduction, it would be good to find some leads.
I told as much to Nightingale as he handed me the keys to the Jag, and he nodded gravely. We kept mostly silent as we drove, and it took me a few minutes to notice that I had been driving with an empty passenger seat, and that I had once again misplaced my boss. I stopped to make a phone call, and indeed, as I suspected, he was back in the Folly's atrium, so I turned around and drove the Jag back.
"This is really getting nowhere." I said when Nightingale climbed in the car shortly after that. "What if I get distracted when there is some action going on?"
He took his seat calmly and fastened his seatbelt. "You could have summoned me where you were." He remarked.
I was dubious about that. When Nightingale wasn't with me, it was far easier to imagine him back at the Folly.
"Besides," he went on, "I don't think you would forget my presence in a magical fight." He cast a shield right then, and another forma that made my hair stand on end. He was right, once he started getting serious, there would be no ignoring him. I would be so focused on his magical signature that I couldn't get distracted.
He stopped casting then. "But while I could keep this on until we arrive, I feel this wouldn't be prudent in regard to the rest of the traffic." I pulled a face. We were still in the Folly's courtyard, and the Jag was magicalproof, but that wouldn't be the case with other vehicles we would drive by. I wouldn't want getting called in front of the Commissioner after that kind of stunt.
"So..." There was something unusual in his voice so I turned to look at him. He was looking at me with both uncertainty and mischief, and he looked suddenly young. "I could do this," he said, hopeful, holding my gaze steadily, and he slowly neared his hand to me, and put it down on my thigh.
I was glad I wasn't driving yet, or I might have lost control of the wheel for a moment. The hand felt warm through my trousers, but it wasn't a lewd contact. Neither too high, nor too near the knee - that would have been distracting - and he wasn't moving. There was just the warmth and the weight of the contact, and I certainly wouldn't forget the presence at my side for all the ride. I looked back at him, and suddenly he seemed unsure. I would have kissed him then, had the power balance between us been different.
The problem wasn't that he was my boss, or my teacher, but that I had power over him that went beyond power on his life. When I could make him disappear and starve him at will, what right did I have to start something like that? So I didn't. But I nodded, and he had a little satisfied smile, and that was the end of it.
I drove off, uncomfortably aware of Nightingale's hand on my thigh. This time, I kept my passenger the whole way to Belgravia.
I intended to talk about Lesley in this chapter and the next chapter to be the fighting one, but I guess I'll have to add at least one chapter to my plans.
I get easily distracted, I know it is my weak point. I knew it was bound to happen again today if I didn't start preemptive measures. So, after we had arrived and the Jag was safely parked, I told Nightingale to wait and hurried to his left, and held my right hand out to him.
He looked at me, faintly surprised then amused. "Really, Peter?" Maybe he had more faith than me in my capacity to concentrate, or he thought that I needed the practice, but I didn't want to start too many unnecessary explanations when my governor disappeared again, especially if it was in front of senior officers.
I shrugged. "Well, it worked."
He had to admit that it did since I hadn't lost him this time round, so he smiled and took my hand.
I was too busy noticing how calmly he took this in stride to think too much about the fact that I was holding hands with my boss. That insouciance disappeared totally as soon as we put a foot inside.
Right from the entrance we started getting weird looks and a hushed murmur formed up and followed us through the corridors. Nightingale might be totally unfazed, but I found myself completely unbalanced and blushing. Had the situation not been so dire I might have snatched my hand back, but the hell if I let Nightingale disappear just because I got cold feet. So I manned up and tried to keep my head high.
By the time we passed by the big blue room in which the team was working, the murmured whispers had grown to a fully blown rumour. Sahra's winning smile upon seeing us felt hurtful to me - it spoke of betting pools I didn't know about. DI Stephanopoulos had her eyebrows raised. As she caught my eyes she tried to communicate something from the other side of the room. Did I have something on my chin? I didn't get it, so I mouthed 'Later' and pushed onwards.
"What the hell is going on?" DCI Seawoll boomed as soon as he saw us. The commotion we caused must have drawn him out of his office. The manner of the greeting had me wince, but my boss didn't miss a beat and calmly answered with a much more civil salutation. "Good morning, Alexander."
Meanwhile I was trying to think fast. I checked my watch: we still had time before the appointment with the Commissioner. Sadly we wouldn't be able to use this excuse to avoid the other DCI.
Besides me, I sensed that the next words Nightingale would utter would be of self-accusation, and while I could hardly argue that the Commissioner didn't need to know, I certainly didn't want Seawoll of all people to learn the full extend of our current predicament.
So I steered us towards his office, whose door was still opened, and spoke as soon as the door was closed, preempting anything my own governor might say.
"There was a small magical mishap, sir, which causes a spatial instability to DCI Nightingale here." I didn't feel the need to expend on the why and how holding hands with my boss was keeping him ground, and made sure to use the M word to increase my chances of the subject being dropped faster. "As you can see, he is not missing anymore."
Seawoll looked at me as if I was unhinged. "Of all the inane, ludicrous things I've heard..." He launched in a rant that was mostly directed at my boss but was attacking the seriousness of our institution, the careless approach we took to life in general, the lack of respect we had towards the other teams, and the fact that our discipline wasn't even founded on real scientific basis...
That one happened early in his diatribe and I had wanted to react and protest, but a gentle pressure on my hand caused me to to hold my tongue. I don't know how Nightingale could bear such unfair abuse to his face with such an olympian calm and detachment, but I found his composure contagious.
Suddenly I was glad for the warm contact of his hand in mine - calm and comfort irradiated from it and soothed me. I found that I could even listen to Seawoll in silence and with a peaceful feeling. The hand-holding which had seemed a handicap under the whispers just a few moments before was now an asset, a strength upon which I drew.
Seawoll's endurance in complaining was amazing, and a lot of that must have been bottled up for a long time, but he was - finally - winding down somewhat when he was suddenly interrupted. Not by one of us, no. His phone rang with the unexpected tone of the X-file theme, and he stopped mid-sentence to answer, with unmasked urgency.
"Seawoll," he said, before listening intently. After a few seconds his mouth opened in surprised and his eyes hardened. "Where?" Once again he listened attentively, then grabbed a pen and started taking furious notes. "Right," he said from time to time, "right." Then, "are you safe?" There was a long pause again, and he briefly closed his eyes in prayer. "Backup is on its way, don't take unnecessary risks." A very short pause and an almost tender smile. "You did well, good luck."
When he hang up, he went instantly and completely back to business, and ignored me to focus on my boss. "Sebastian Matthews is at the University College Hospital and is out of harm's way for the moment. Falcon hostiles on the scene are Dr Stephen Reeds, surgeon, trained to master level, and his master and anesthetist who you better know as David Mellenby." I felt Nightingale tense by my side, but it was brief and furtive. We both knew it was a possibility and were prepared for it. "PC Lesley May took Martin Chorley down. He's sedated and our prisoner, but she'll have blown her cover."
"We are on our way." Said Nightingale, and under his impulse I started for the door too. My mind had been trying very hard to grasp the fact that Lesley was an ally. Undercover! And for a while I had forgotten that we were supposed to be the cavalry this time.
Nightingale and I let go of each other at the door and he started hurrying down the corridors, with me shortly behind him. We ran to the car and he took place behind the wheel as I handed him the keys: in a matter of emergency, he remains the best driver.
I didn't feel in any danger of forgetting his presence right now, hyped as we were for the probable fight to come, and anyway I was fully focused on him as he started giving me last minutes instructions to help me survive a magical confrontation with two master wizards.
Drinking in his words, I thanked every deity I could think of that there were only two of them!
Next chapter : The Master vs the Doctor. And yes, that's one of the reasons why I think Mellenby never left the UCH - it makes too good a title to pass it up.
When we arrived at the UCH, the street was blocked and an evacuation was on the way. Seawoll had relayed the information to all available forces and to the hospital, and the situation was treated as would a terrorist attack.
We would get outside support and containment, maybe snipers, but the main instruction given to all personnel was to avoid any contact with the suspects if not specifically Falcon trained. Well, I was trained, but I wasn't that eager to rush in either.
A irregular slow flow of people was exiting the building, guided by health personnel and law enforcement officers, and we encountered no difficulty going in. Evacuation was going on in an orderly fashion, as is the case with British people when they set their mind to being disciplined - sadly it is not always like that - and they parted to let us through.
I spotted Dr Walid a bit further in the hall, in front of the clock and away from the pathways and doors, obviously keeping an eye both on incoming parties from the upper floors and on the exit routes. By his side was a small child, going through a pile of chocolate bars and biscuits with the eagerness of someone who has not eaten for a day. I recognised him immediately from the photos. It was Sebastian Matthews.
I learned afterwards, both from Lesley and the reports, that he indeed hadn't eaten since his abduction, with the Faceless Man intending to use him in a medico-magical procedure to restore his own face.
All those years ago, Lesley had recognised her disfigured anesthetist at the Nazareth we went in together, and, after seeking Seawoll's council, had started infiltrating the Little Crocodiles's network. For years she has investigated and gone up the ranks, starting her training with Martin Chorley and getting to know the Faceless Men's network. A bit like I learned from Nightingale and got to know the demi-monde, but in a much less fun way.
To this day she hadn't deemed her work finished, but had to intervene to save the young boy. But thanks to her years of investigation, we would be able to get to know a whole magical parallel society. Thankfully, not all of them conducted as dubious experiments as Drs Mellenby and Reeds, and so could be reasoned with to stay within the bounds of the queen's peace.
"Abdul!" Nightingale called, and Dr Walid turned to us, grateful to see us arrive.
"Thomas! Last I heard of Lesley May, they were on the third floor." His grimace indicated that he had questions about that - Lesley's involvement, and was she really on our side? - but his indications were to the point, short and informative. After all, time was of the essence. As if to prove his words, a large crash could be heard, coming from a few floors above.
Nightingale nodded, spared me one glance to check that I was keeping up, and we sprinted on. We took the stairs. From the second floor on, Nightingale started casting. I didn't recognise all of it, beyond the obvious shielding, but the effect was large and it broadcasted his presence far and wide. Not two steps behind him, the feeling of it certainly was giving me goosebumps all over.
There was a crash in the far, but as we got to the third floor, the clashes we heard were getting closer, I started sensing magical use ahead.
We sprinted in the corridors until we came to a closed door. Going past it, we went in a disaster zone. Ignoring the overturned furniture and electronics which were probably fried beyond all hope of retrieval, some walls had been punched through or ripped open. Right as I entered there was a crash on the wall in the room on my right, as Lesley went flying into it.
Nightingale was already rushing in, fully extending his shield to protect both himself and the unconscious woman on the floor, cautioning for hostilities to stop.
I went in more cautiously, just in case some spell went flying into my shield before I was certain it was holding up the way it should.
There were two of them. To my left, Dr Stephen Reeds, or so I assumed, an average height IC1 with chestnut hair in a white medical gown, to my right and the one Nightingale was currently addressing was David Mellenby. His identity was clear from the first sight on account of his face, or lack of it. The whole front of his head was a massive wound, even worse than Lesley's ever was. The skin was smooth and thick - long since cicatrized - but there had been obvious damage to the jaw and nose, and it had not been set back right. I couldn't help but stare.
"Cease this madness, David." Nightingale was pleading by my side. "Quietly surrender yourself, you know this can't end well."
Mellenby laughed then, "Can you even hear yourself, Thomas? Why should I surrender to the system you represent, a derelict remain of a past empire which has no use or relevance anymore? We are the future of wizards, where progress and science combine with magic to offer the best to the world."
Nightingale shook his head sadly. "A progress build on the blood of many. What happened to your experiments in Soho? Do you even realise what you almost did to Sebastian Matthews? You abducted a child, David."
"He is above seven and fully consented to helping us!" Mellenby retorted, a hint of madness piercing though his gaze.
"Not in a fully informed consent, no. I don't think so." Nightingale retorted. "Not even accounting for the age of your victim. As you pointed out the old system isn't relevant anymore, David."
"I'm not a dark wizard!" He exclaimed fervently.
My boss turned his head briefly to look at me, in an apologetic manner. I never had expected to be on the receiving end of a 'sorry for my white friend' look from Nightingale. He turned back to Mellenby. "No, you are an unethical one."
Maybe this wasn't the right thing to say, but from the start Mellenby had never been looking for a compromise, and he wasn't a fool to ignore that in the magical sense he was in the position of power. A fireball went crashing into Nightingale's shield. Then spells started flying.
My first reaction was to put more weight into my shield, and good thing I did, since Stephen Reeds had focused on me. I lobbed a few skinny grenades and mixed with some fireballs and immediately slammed my shield back for the retaliation. My aim was terrible, but it wasn't that important. I still could hear Nightingale's last minute recommandations.
'If it goes down to fighting, a whole lot will be depending on what I can do. Your job is to focus on your shield. Keep yourself safe, and try to occupy your opponent for as long as you can.' Given the way I was bombarded with spells, I didn't find the goal to be unreasonable. I still countered from time to time, just to make sure my opponent wouldn't start completely ignoring me, but I certainly was outclassed.
The true fight was going on on the other side of the room. The massive presence of the old masters of the art was so impressive I couldn't ignore it, even when I looked away. I kept sneaking glances to see the exchange of spells. Most of the casting was wordless, and I didn't catch half of the actual words which were said. I fully expected a detailed account in the debriefing and lengthy lessons following it. Thankfully, my adversary was also distracted by the masters' fight. A fight between such monsters mustn't have occured since the last World War.
From the corner of my eye I saw a movement and turned to my right, then went back to my opponent and enlarged the shield as much as I could. Dr Walid had recruited two stretcher-bearers and they were trying to evacuate Lesley without drawing too much attention to themselves. I hoped no stray spell would hit them. I lobbed a few more skinny grenades for good measure, but Dr Reeds was careful and none of them hit their mark. Thankfully, none of his shots hit any of the medical team either - or myself.
The evacuation was over in seconds, but each of them felt very long to me, until we were back to only four people in the room and for a few more minutes we went back to the previous status quo.
Suddenly, seemingly coming from nowhere, a forceful impello hit my opponent sideways and blew him to the wall. Changing the angle of my shield to protect me from my right, I sprinted forwards without looking at Nightingale who had obviously intervened to tip the fight in my favour. I cast one more impello at Reeds for good measure and he dropped to the ground, unconscious. Only then it occured to me that I didn't quite know what to do to control my opponent. Up until now we had relied on reinforced cells and the power of Nightingale's dissuasion to prevent our prisoners from breaking their normal restraints by magical means, but I had none of that right now.
Then Abdul Walid - who had obviously being following the proceedings from a distance - sneaked by my side and shot a syringe of something into Dr Reed's neck. I sighed in relief, of course in a hospital, we had all we needed to keep him sedated until something else could be thought of, like my first idea had been during the Mr Punch fiasco during my debut year.
Behind me, the sounds and the feeling of the fight had changed and I didn't like what I heard. I turned and saw I was right. Nightingale may have used an opportunity to strike my opponent down, but doing so had put him off the rhythm of his own fight. He was mostly on the defensive now, and each of his parries were too late to be stable, each more off-balance than the previous one - like a tennisman on a long rally who was running from one side to the other of the court while his opponent didn't move an inch.
I didn't even have time to intervene. Just as I had that thought, I saw the fireball fly towards him. As if in slow motion, I watched helplessly as it passed below the shield Nightingale didn't have the time to slam back down, and right towards his torso. I screamed as I saw the realisation on his face just before the fireball hit him.
Real time kicked back then, and the fireball hit the wall right behind where Nightingale had been. His clothes - burnt through - drifted down to the floor and the sickening smell of burnt flesh spread through the room. I was still shouting uncontrollably. "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo."
Luckily Mellenby was as astonished as I was of this unexpected developpement and failed to use this time to strike me down - or maybe he just didn't see me as a threat. I couldn't believe Nightingale had pulled an Obi-Wan on me.
Then, without time to even notice it, I went Dark Side. The cold realisation of my master's demise and this man's responsibility in it hit me. I felt a cool shroud of resolution envelop me, along with the freezing absolute certitude that he was going down.
I turned towards the Faceless Man and cast a simple impello at him. He caught it in with his shield, but the strength of it surprised him. I didn't even put my shield up, I just started walking towards him.
One step, impello.
The sense of clarity I felt was eerie. I saw his attacks coming long before he finished casting them and swatted them away like flies.
One step, impello.
If my spells were not enough to push him back, he still started giving ground, his lack of face still showing disbelief then incredulity and my continued advance and onslaught.
I went forward. Impello.
To see an infuriated black devil advancing on him and deflecting his attacks so easily might have started to unsettle him. He took another few step backwards.
I pulled the ceiling down on him, along with a good portion of the wall.
While the dust settled I still went forward in the same slow pace. With his capacities and the strength of his shield, I knew he was still alive. I went around the rubble.
He was half buried under it, still disoriented by the impact, but he wouldn't stay like that for long. I walked forward, with the full intent of impello-ing his head to the ground until it was but pulp.
I would have, if Dr Walid hadn't rushed in, emptying a syringe in his neck and interposing himself, thus effectively saving him...
...and also probably saving me. I could see he was trying to tell me something but I had trouble focusing on his words. I focused harder. "...dammit, Peter, stop it, drop it, stop doing magic immediately..."
Dr Walid is someone I'm used to listening to, and he was looking worried. I stopped. There was something wet on my lip, and I wondered if I had been crying for this whole time, but when I wiped it with my hand, it came out red with the blood running from my nose.
I felt lightheaded and dizzy and couldn't hear what Dr Walid kept shouting at me anymore. I felt my knees give in.
Darkness enfolded me even before I hit the ground.
This is the chapter why I choose not to use archive warnings. I'll try to update sometime this week, as my parents are coming next weekend and I won't be able to write then.
Chapter 12: Lesley
I'm sorry, I'm not at my best once again. This seems a good place to pause. I'll write the next chapter when I can.
I woke up to the slow regular beeps of medical monitoring machines and an unfamiliar ceiling. From the light levels flooding the room though the shutters and how hungry I felt, I guessed it was mid-morning and I had only missed one night. I was in a small hospital room on one of those elaborate stretcher trolleys - a convenient way of turning a one-bed room into a three-beds one. I moved tentatively - all my limbs seemed in working order - and turned to look around.
The bed to my left, on the door side, was unmade and empty. There was another one by the window, around which the privacy curtain was up, and Lesley May was sitting at the foot of my own bed.
Lesley. With her left arm in a sling and her face intact. Part of the memories of the day previous flowed back in. So she was one of us in the end. She had been all along really, I just never had believed it. Suddenly I felt guilty about that. She was my mate, why hadn't I looked more closely, why had I been so quick to judge? I felt that getting used to seeing her again - and to having that feeling - would take much more time than what I had needed to adjust to her wounded face. More time than adjusting to her completely healed face again, certainly.
She caught me staring and shifted, uncomfortable with the scrutiny. "Good morning." She said, confirming my intuition, and I answered in kind.
"'Morning. What's new?"
She looked to her right. "Sebastian Matthews was discharged earlier. They only kept him overnight for surveillance but he'll be alright. Chorley, Reeds and Mellenby are sedated next door, I'm only here as insurance in case they wake up before the Folly can bring technical support." At this she looked pointedly at me. I made a face. 'The Folly' would be me now, because Abigail certainly didn't count though I'm sure she would find other teachers... I shook my head and tried to ignore the incoming problems that would be sure to fall on me and inconvenient feelings brought by remembrance.
"What about you?" I gestured to the sling.
She showed me her cast. "Broken wrist, a lot of bruises. I got off lightly." She paused and considered. "As did you I think." I nodded absentmindedly, staring at her face, it really would need some time getting used to. She noticed and, after a long pause, sighed in resignation.
"Many Bothans died to bring me this new face." She joked, but I sensed there was something more to her saying this than an attempt to distract me with a Star Wars quote, so I waited without saying anything.
After a few seconds she sighed and closed her eyes. "Amy Botham." She said, opening them anew. "She didn't survive the surgery. So at least her. But her sister is also still missing, so I have my doubts."
"Shit." I said. Because, how do you react to such a news? How could I even begin to understand what it would mean for her, to get her face back, yes, but at such a high cost. "Shit."
"Yeah." Lesley seemed to get my reaction well. "Exactly."
"Do you have someone to talk about that?" I asked, because I had the feeling that I wouldn't be able to bear such a knowledge alone if it was me. If I could at all, Lesley had always been much stronger than me.
She shook her head. "I have a psychologist, but she's here in the hospital, and I couldn't risk anything filtering back to them." Them being her masters in magic, the Faceless Men, of course.
"Shit." I said again with my usual eloquence.
There was a short pause and I didn't know what to add, but Lesley smiled and spoke again, in a visible attempt to shift the conversation in a different direction.
"So," she said with a liveliness on her face which reminded me of her previous self, back before we encountered so much trouble and adventures, something impish and enticing, almost flirty, "seeing how I'm back, will you let me run your love life?"
I started and flinched. She was attractive, and there was no denying my admiring her, and given how it was currently between me and Beverley, I usually would have jumped at the opportunity... but a lot had changed in just twenty-four hours, or forty-eight, depending on how you were counting. But only yesterday I was holding hands with Nightingale and...
I tried very hard to repress the memories of the fight which were threatening to overwhelm me. "No." I said, very firmly, making it clear that it was my last word on the subject and that nothing would change my mind. It was too soon. Much too soon.
Lesley frowned. "Oh, come on, now. What has got you in such a dark mood? We won, caught the bad guys, no civilian casualties, you are all right even with the stunt you pulled..."
"Nightingale." I choked out in a breath, fighting back the despair which was threatening to overcome me.
Lesley blinked, surprised, and sighed, shaking her head and smiling, half affectionate, half exasperated. "Well, he's a bit singed, and banged his head, but I don't see why it should put you in such a state..."
"What?" Her words didn't make sense. Nightingale was alive? How could it be when I had seen the fireball go through him, smelt his burnt flesh.
Her smile became knowingly mocking. "He's on the bed just next to you, see for yourself." She said, and pulled back the curtain, allowing me to see him, lying on the bed to the soft beeping of machines, his chest softly rising and falling in time with his breathing. Alive.
However this miracle had come to be, I wouldn't be picky on it. Suddenly the feelings were too much. Overwhelmed with the pain of loss I had repressed, the relief at finding Nightingale alive, the liberation at realising that I wouldn't be the last wizard - alone - I broke down and burst in tears. Heavy sobs shaking my whole body, seated as I was on a hospital bed.
For a few seconds Lesley just stood there, before I heard her move around me, and then I felt her hand on my back. A warm presence offering both sympathy and comfort as I cried until no more tears were left to shed.
"By the way," Lesley said, probably to distract me as my tears were starting to subside, "you'll have to tell me : how did he do it? That last spell. From the story Dr Walid told me, he teleported? Isn't that against Newton's sixth law?"
I felt myself blush, but she probably couldn't see it from where she was behind me. "Not a teleportation spell." I mumbled, before hastily drying my tears with the bedsheets. "And if it's what I think, he didn't do it."
Lesley's hand between my shoulders stilled, and the contact disappeared when she moved to face me again. "What do you mean by that?" She asked.
I didn't feel like exposing the whole story to her inquisitive mind, so I tried to make my explanation very short. "It's not a spell, and he didn't cast it. I did it, and before you ask it's more like accidental magic - and definitely non-Newtonian."
I was spared any elaboration by Dr Walid's timely arrival. He looked happy to see me up - and sitting at least. "Good morning, Peter," he said, turning the call button off - Lesley must have pressed it when I first came to - "You gave us quite a scare. How are you feeling?"
"Ah, sorry about that." I said, remembering the rampage I had gone on before fainting. "I feel alright I guess."
My smile belied my words. I felt more than all right now that I knew that Nightingale was alive. Like Lesley had said : a victory on all counts, even if I suspected that the damage to the hospital would be added to the endless tally which followed me around - and most of it wasn't even my fault!
Dr Walid nodded and proceeded to give me a complete check-up, as he usually does after a magical scare. I almost know the routine by heart now. He didn't seem too worried, which was explained by his next words. "We brought you down for emergency MRI immediately, but there was no significant difference to your previous one - and you were responding nicely to stimuli - so we decided to let you sleep."
I nodded. "And Thomas?" I blurted out, glancing at the other bed on my right.
Dr Walid smiled. "Molly brought him in yesterday after the fight, with a paper that read Thaumaturgical injury, please refer to Dr Abdul Haqq Walid. The burn on his side is large but not too deep. I was more worried about his head injury at first..."
"Head injury?" I couldn't remember him taking any damage to the head during the fight.
"I was also puzzled at first, and Thomas didn't remember either after waking. So I went to ask Molly for more details in the evening."
I nodded, then something in what he had said hit me.
"Wait! Wait... wait! Molly brought him here?! She finally stepped out of the Folly?!"
"Technically, she drove out. She expressed it had some significance but I didn't understand it all." Then he proceeded to tell me what he had summarized from his expedition to the Folly.
Molly had sensed the Master of the house's return, and found him out cold - and stark naked - in the atrium. He had apparently hit his head on Newton's bust on arrival. Since he wouldn't wake immediately, and the burn didn't look too good, she mounted a rescue expedition.
She wrapped him in blankets at the back of the Ferrari and drove here, to the ER, with Toby riding shotgun, and one of Thomas' shotguns next to her leg.
"Amazing." I breathed out. "I'm glad she found a way - and the motivation - to get out, even if the circumstances weren't ideal."
Dr Walid nodded. "Anyway," he said in a more serious tone, "no serious magic for you for a few days. I don't want you to overexert yourself. And any light first order spells you cast should be done under supervision. I don't want you to pass out unnoticed in a dark corner somewhere."
I probably didn't seem serious enough in my assent, because he turned to his left. "You tell him, Thomas."
And I heard a well known voice chime in with amusement. "Listen to your doctor, Peter."
Nightingale was awake!
"And..." he looked more pensive after I had finished manifesting my joy and greeting him. "You'd better not count me as a possible supervisor, given our circumstances."
This was probably true, and considerate of him. I hadn't thought about that.
"Ah." I said, feeling a bit subdued. "Sorry."
"Given how you just saved my life this way, I am not about to complain." Nightingale frowned, so I answered hurriedly.
"After you've saved mine countless times. It doesn't count. You don't owe me anything." I noticed in his eyes that he was thinking about retorting that it was part of his role and duty as my teacher, so I went on to prevent the conversation to go in circles. "Anyway, about that, is there a way to reverse it?"
The answer was slow to come, with careful words. "Maybe, though it has never been tried. You could forge an anchor, in the same way we forge restraints, by rearranging the patterns we already use." He looked up to meet my eyes. "It would mean crafting your masterpiece, in the ways of the sons of Wayland."
I thought about it, ignoring any further conversation. I had learned a lot in the forge. Enough that I could see what he meant. And yes, probably, it could work, after some research and effort.
Suddenly I pictured it. In the end it should probably be larger, but in my mind I saw it, gleaming with gold into the light, a ring of Power, binding his bearer to the physical world - and making him risk to disappear should he remove it. I saw myself crafting it, engraving it with meaningful words to enhance the magic. One ring to set you free. One ring to keep you ground, and bind myself to thee for as long as our love will abound. I saw myself offering Nightingale the One Ring.
It would work. I would make sure it did.
I pictured us both, working in the forge, me on the Ring, and Nightingale on the restraints for the Faceless Men...
"Peter!" Dr Walid's shocked exclamation brought me back to reality.
I looked at him without understanding at first, then turned at Nightingale for a clue. But Nightingale wasn't there anymore, an only his hospital gown remained where he sat on his bed.
"Shit!" I exclaimed.
I had let myself get distracted again.
"Shit!" I swore again for good measure, and I could see how Lesley had moved closer to the bed, dumbfounded.
I closed my eyes and concentrated, slightly worried, intent on Apparating Nightingale back.
It took me a few seconds. Imagining Thomas Nightingale in a hospital is not a natural thing to me, even if it's in the same room as me.
Then it worked. I opened my eyes and he was back, sitting on the side of the bed facing us, wrapped in his crimson dressing gown, slippers on his feet.
He didn't look worse for wear at the temporary displacement and I sighed in relief.
Then I remembered that I didn't think about the detail of his wear when I called him back. "The gown?" I asked, while Dr Walid moved in to check the state of the burns' dressing.
"Molly." Nightingale answered, and that in itself was explanation enough.
Dr Walid's professional opinion was that no more damage had incurred from the teleportation, but I saw how stiffly Nightingale held himself during the examination and felt guilty. Whether or not it was only due to the fireball burn, if he allowed this much discomfort to show for such small moves, how must he have felt being jolted around by my fault?
"All right," said Dr Walid after having checked that Nightingale didn't run any temperature, "I'll clear you both for check-out." He looked at me pointedly. "I would have liked to keep your master here, but with the circumstances being what they are, you'd better keep an eye on him. If there is any change - at all - or if he starts running a fever, you bring him back, you hear me?"
"Good." He said, apparently convinced by my ascent. "I'll swing by the Folly to check on you and change the dressings, and if I find out either of you didn't comply, I'll bring you both back here - lack of place or not!"
I nodded more meekly this time. Not that I did not intend to keep my word, but the good doctor carries enough authority to be very intimidating when he wants to. I guess that between him and Molly, we wouldn't be able to stray. I exchanged a glance with Nightingale, who looked somewhat relieved to leave the hospital earlier than he had thought.
"Well, guys," Lesley spoke up, "it's time for me to go." She pulled a face at me and raised her eyes. "Debriefing. I guess my schedule will be full of them for weeks!"
Dr Walid also left to see other - more normal - patients, after a last encouraging pressure on Nightingale's hand and a few low words I didn't hear. And after that I found myself alone with Nightingale.
There was an awkward silence at first, and I found myself shifting under his contemplating gaze. But then he rose gingerly and I found myself offering my arm to steady him.
"If we are meant to leave, I should dress." He remarked, and I couldn't guess if that was my own cue to leave because he wanted privacy.
But it has long been my job to propose the weird ideas, so I let my mouth run without any brain filter. "Do you need the help?"
To my surprise, he acknowledged he did.
At first I didn't know how to handle myself and I was a bit stiff - and gauche - but very soon I found myself focusing on the careful way Nightingale was handling himself. Still very elegantly mind, but there was an hesitation to his move that wouldn't be there usually, and so I found myself falling in sync, offering support where he needed it, trying to anticipate his wishes so that he wouldn't have to ask.
It felt easy, and nice, and kind of intimate. Another type of dance than the sexual one I was used to but it was movements, and we were close. So close that, while Nightingale was finishing buttoning up his jacket, I wondered how he would react if I were to put my hand on his and kiss him. His movements had slowed and there was this kind of tension in the air...
We were interrupted by the sudden opening of the door and I whirled around. It was a nurse, coming in to retrieve the empty stretcher trolley-bed by the door.
I sighed and turned back to Nightingale except he had disappeared again.
"Peter!" I heard him call, his voice slightly muffled, so I knew he wasn't very far.
As it turned out I had sent him behind the nearest door, which was a supply closet, and he was easily retrieved. Thankfully I hadn't undressed him that time. I would have hated to make him go through the uncomfortable ritual again because I'm unable to concentrate.
"Your burns?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing moved." I took him at his word.
Just as we neared the desk, we encountered Abigail, who had come to check on us. She looked us down from head to feet. "Well, you're all right, turns out." She said, while Nightingale began to fill his paperwork.
I smirked. "You don't get rid of us that easily."
"Wasn't that easy from what I heard." She snapped, and I could see that she had been worried.
"Don't worry." I said. "I'm sure Lady Helena would have offered for you to finish your studies with her."
She made a face. She and Caroline are currently at odds over something or other. I don't pretend to understand, and I think it won't last. Still, I think my words put her at ease somehow.
Then it was my turn to check-out, and Abigail having declined our offer to drop her home, we found ourselves heading to the place where we had parked the Jag. Thankfully it was still there and in one piece.
I looked at Nightingale and he smiled and handed me the keys.
It was time to head back to the Folly, time to go home.
This is the end of the main plot. The next chapter will be the epilogue, back to E rating, where Peter and Nightingale discuss some issues with consent that are long overdue, and resolve the UST.
That night, I found myself settling awkwardly on the left side of my bed, trying both to find a comfortable position to sleep and not to fidget, Nightingale an imposing and foreign presence on my right.
I shifted, and turned, and ended up turning towards him and setting my left hand on his chest - on my side, hopefully not encroaching on the burns on his right flank.
"Is this all right?" I asked. I had done my best to prop him with cushions so he would be comfortable, but I have no idea whether he usually sleeps on his back, or if my unusual presence in the same bed would keep him up all night.
He had taken some soft painkillers, so I hoped he would manage some rest. More than anything else, I hoped that the warm feeling of his chest under my hand would be enough to insure me of his continued presence, and that I wouldn't send him off in limbo - or god knows where else - during the night.
"It is." He acknowledged, and he was relaxed under my touch, which let me hope for the best.
"Good night, then." I dropped the sir that itched on my tongue, because that would have been awkward, and calling him by his first name might have been presumptuous on my part.
"Good night, Peter."
I reached over to switch the light off and shifted back to my previous position, trying to concentrate on the soft rise and fall of Nightingale's chest, in time with his breathing.
Keeping still was hard, and preventing my thoughts to stray was even more difficult. It has been a long time since I shared a bed with someone who wasn't in a relationship with me. And even when I last did, my reflections on Lesley hadn't been very chaste. Still, it seemed a much more dangerous game when it was the Nightingale involved, and not only because he was still my boss, and my teacher.
The more time passed, the uneasier I felt. I had briefly considered sitting up in a chair all night, but I would have to sleep at some point, and what would happen to him then?
There was a subtle shift on my right - the regular rise and fall halted. "Peter?" Nightingale whispered, probably unsure whether I was already asleep or not.
"Yeah?" I murmured back, unwilling to fully break the silence which had fallen in the room.
He didn't speak at first, though I know he had heard me. I know I had insured him before that he could ask me should he need anything, but I sympathised: sometime it's hard to ask. He took a breath, there was another hesitation. "If..." He shut up again for a few seconds.
Then the words came, and though quiet, they echoed as thunder in my ear. "If you don't intend to do something about it, could you stop Calling for me?"
I froze, felt for a second as if the ground would open up under me and swallow me. I wished it would. There was so much hope in his words - hope that I would, indeed, do something about it - that it broke my heart.
I abruptly withdrew my hand, half sat up. "I... god, I'm sorry. How... I don't even know how I'm doing it. How do I stop ?!" I was horrified to think that once again I was starting on the path which had caused me to lead Thomas Nightingale himself to break his oath.
In the near darkness of the room, I saw the hope die and disappear in his eyes and something dark settle in its place. A stiffness seized his body and he moved to turn away - only by a few millimeters but still, I felt a sudden loss.
"Never mind, then." He said brittly.
I sat up for real this time, exclaiming : "That's not..." I paused, started more softly. "It's not that I don't want to," I breathed out, "more that I don't want to do something you'd not want to. I mean, something that you'd regret after this is all over."
He let out a burst of laughing then, something joyous and surprised, and his voice was half wondering when he said : "You are more of a gentleman than any of my former partners." Then he sobered up. "More than I am certainly."
"I'm not sure about that." I retorted, because I couldn't let Nightingale think so lowly of himself. "You do keep asking me if I'm on board."
He frowned. "I don't remember actually..."
I interrupted him. "Not every conversation needs words, you know." I smiled in the darkness as I remembered his posture, his gestures, each time. Communicating for so long with Molly, he must have picked up some quirks. And straining to understand her for the last few years, I must be more attentive to them than I was before.
I felt the burn of his gaze as he scrutinised me. "Anyway, I assure you I wouldn't regret anything you chose to share with me."
I wanted to believe him. I did. "I... I just want to be sure I don't pressure you into anything." I admitted guiltily. "But can I trust your words when you are under threat to disappear? When I could send you to limbo forever with just a thought?"
"Peter." There was fond exasperation his his voice again, and he moved to sit up, pushing on his elbows, so I grabbed his arms to help him, and got him propped on cushions in a more raised up position.
I sensed he would rebute me, so I added for good measure, once he was settled : "And you say I Call you. I wouldn't want to take advantage of" I spat the word "Compulsion!"
"Peter." He said again, more fondly. "Let me tell you again. You didn't compel me to do anything. If anyone should worry it is me. I am still your teacher, and your governor. Don't let me pressure you into anything."
"You don't!" I exclaimed. "You didn't!" I blushed. "It might complicate things, but I wouldn't let that stop me."
He sighed contentedly, and there was a silence. His words had reassured me some, but there was still some invisible barrier stopping me. Something holding me back, telling me that Thomas Nightingale was off limits, and my 'Calling him' as he said, was bad.
He must have sensed my hesitation, because he spoke up again, in the tone he sometimes uses for confidence. "Let me tell you a story then, the embarassing story of an old man who, in his loneliness, thought to relieve his carnal needs by looking for a casual partner one evening."
I hadn't heard that one before. Well, of course, Nightingale didn't discuss much of his past romantic entanglements at all, at least not with me. But somehow I had a confused bad feeling about this one.
"He went looking in his usual haunt, the one he visited back before the current clubs in vogue existed, one as outdated as he felt but where he still found appropriate men to consort with on occasion."
I had the ominous feeling I knew where this was going, but, half-horrified already, I couldn't bring myself to speak up to interrupt.
His voice took an amused tone, almost fond. "There was one young man there, obviously waiting, and as you young ones say nowadays 'totally my type'."
"Oh gods." I said, finally finding my voice. "You were looking for a cottaging partner."
"I was interested in you," he amended, "but you seemed determined to continue your self-assigned mission."
"I wasn't even sure you..." I huffed, indigned, before trailing off. "I'm your type?"
"Oh, yes." He smiled. "You are." Then he added, curious. "You say you weren't sure. If I had made myself clearer, would you have been interested?"
I took some time to think about it. The good looking man in a beautiful suit that looked taken straight out of a movie, my own determination as a young policeman to not make myself too visible, too different, choosing to display the hetero side of my bi-tendencies. My drive to find some lead on the case not to get stuck in the CPU. "I'm not sure." I said truthfully. "It probably depends on how persuasive you'd choose to be."
He smiled winningly, "How about now?"
I wanted to kiss him then. I was sorely tempted to. But there was still the idea Beverley had put in my head about Glamour and responsibility that bothered me.
"The Calling?" I asked.
He sighed, slightly disappointed but resigned. "Not compelling. Think of it as if you were offering me your favourite dish. If I didn't like curry at all I would have no trouble refusing." He paused. "And, even if I have liked curry even before I met you, since I knew the particular brand you proposed was dangerous, I had not trouble resisting or getting out of your dreams only a few months later."
"Gods." I breathed out. I had no idea it had been that long. But if I was honest with myself I had been fascinated by him - okay, attracted to him - right from the start, so it wasn't that far fetched that my accidental magic would have acted on it.
But if my worries were partially assuaged, my curiosity had been picked. "So why now? What changed?"
He sighed again. "Nothing did." He paused, looking for the right words, and chose to continue with the metaphor. "I had a taste for your curry, and every since it has been harder to refuse."
"A taste?" At first I thought he meant the dreams, but he disabused me of that notion.
"I stumbled into one of your lacunae."
Now, I knew I had the troubling tendency to leave remnant vestigium after my sleeping with people - especially magical people - as I had discovered after a tumble with a river. Before Beverley of course. But I do try to be careful, and with Beverley we tended to keep to her house or waters, so I couldn't figure out which one it was.
"Where?" I asked.
"In the coach house. Upstairs." He said.
"But..." I had never brought Beverley there. I didn't even remember bringing anyone other than... "Simone." I breathed out. "But that...! That was years ago! And I never felt it!?"
"I sealed it of course." He explained. "But I shall leave the full removal to you. I never could... And yes, it was a long time ago, and not compelling either." I could hear the despondent smile he wore in his voice then. "It just proves I'm not that good a man, Peter. And that my morals are not that strong..."
"You are." I said, because I couldn't let him believe he was anything less than a good man. "You are a good man, Tomas. And you have been patient long enough." And I leaned him to kiss him.
He didn't protest and responded enthusiastically instead. He melted into the kiss with a relief I could almost taste on my tongue, then with the hunger of a man starving. He was straining to rise up, to get closer to me, so I leaned into him and pushed him back against the bed instead, and he put his arms around me in a tight hug. I broke the kiss.
"Wait, wait!" I said, trying to prevent him from rising up again. "Are you into pain?" I asked most seriously, because it was one thing if he was, but if he wasn't I shouldn't let him make himself hurt more, and either way I definitely didn't want him to worsen his injury.
"No, I can't say I am." He said, stroking the side of my face with his right hand. I leaned into the caress.
"We'll have to take some steps, then." I said, half straddling him so I could get closer. I put some weight on my left hand as I leaned to kiss him again, as a warning for him not to try to move, and he didn't. "Would you let me take care of you?" I asked after a while, in a breath against his lips.
"I'm in your hands." His voice rumbling through me did little to help me think, or rather, made me imagine all the things I would like to try with Thomas Nightingale in my hands. But the current idea was to work around the fireball burns on his side, and have him move as little as possible - and it also prevented me of getting too handsy.
So I got up, walked around the bed and lit the bedside table on. The crude - if small - light was a sudden change from the darkness and I blinked a bit, before I rummaged in the drawer to find my bottle of lube. I retrieved it and lobbed it on the bed over Nightingale - Thomas, who was looking at me with interest, then quickly stripped my pyjamas while he unbuttoned his top, and after that I removed his nightwear pants and helped him settle in a more centered position on the bed, so that I could straddle him without risk of falling off to the side.
I didn't straddle him, not really, as I could see in his earlier moves that even the slightest contracting of his abs was making him tense up and harden his jaw. So I settled between his legs, with my hands on his thighs, and looked up at him.
His clear eyes were gleaming in the light, and he was looking right back. I had seen him devour me with his eyes as I was undressing him, but he was waiting - with trust, and hope - as he had said, putting himself in my hands.
My hands twitched, and I had trouble finding my words, because he looked so beautiful like that, his brown hair slightly tousled, his finely boned features that made him delicate contrasting with the quiet dignity of his age and status... I don't know how he managed to keep that one with the erection he displayed.
"I'd like..." I started, leaning forward and trying to ignore the inconfort of my own arousal. "Would you just relax, and let me take care of you?" I like to think that my gesture was clear enough to convey my meaning, but as he didn't answer I went on. "I... I know it could take long, and if it doesn't work for you we could always find something else," I eyed the tube of lube which had landed a bit further away, "but, is that alright with you?"
His smile and raised eyebrows clearly indicated what his thoughts were on the improbability of a guy ever refusing a blow job. "Of course it is, Peter."
I beamed then, and suddenly - abandoning the last of his seriousness - he looked young. I'd follow the cliché and say I had never seen him look so young, except that with the way he was aging, it was probably true.
I didn't tease, and took him in my mouth in one go, then stilled. He had inhaled sharply and tensed, and I looked up and waited until he had breathed out, letting himself relax, before starting in earnest.
Sucking up to your boss and sucking him off are quite different things, but when it's Nightingale, it's something else again.
I pressed him down on the bed with my hands, to remind him that he shouldn't move while I went down on him in ernest. It wasn't aggressive, but slow, and I relished the feel of his skin gliding under my tight lips, the weight of his cock on my tongue.
I tried to keep my moves gentle and unhurried, pausing each time he tensed to give him time to relax. He mostly focused on keeping his breathing deep and even, only straying occasionally with sighs of my name that made me want to whimper, and maybe shift over so that I could hump against his leg to relieve my own burning want.
It was long, and slow-going. But we were avoiding the mad rush and tension that usually accompanied sex, and jumping straight to advanced stuff. I usually wouldn't have recommended it for a first like this kind of was for us, except we had known each other for a very long time now. We worked well together, and had time to build a connection, and trust.
I tentatively sucked in harder, and was rewarded by a quiver of his hips and a deep audible breath, so I waited until he settled before I started again. I kept working like this for a while, and it was surprisingly well before my mouth or jaw started tiring of it - as I had feared at first - that I felt that we were nearly there.
I swirled my tongue around him, and focused my efforts around the tip as I next sucked, trying to pull at the same time, concentrating on how much I wanted him to come. He bucked his hips then, and I had to put weight on my hands to still him, and wait until he had relaxed again. That one had hurt him a bit, I could see, but he was still close, and I tried the same move again, with more feeling, and this time he came, with only the slightest uncontrolled rise in his hips as his seed poured in my mouth. His breathing was slow and even and I could feel him relaxed and sagging into the mattress as his cock twitched against my tongue. I'd never seen seen or felt something that arousingly hot.
I wiped my mouth against the sheets and crawled up to rest against his side, painfully aware of my own bobbing cock, and he lazily turned to kiss me. I reached for him to support him and he chuckled. "I think I can manage that."
I still helped him arrange himself on his side, and suddenly I felt a shiver down my back when his attention focused again, fully on me. "So..." he said, looking me up and down. He didn't even have to touch me to make me tense in anticipation.
He bent his arm up and opened his hand between us. "...I've seen you look sometimes..."
"Oh gods!" I said, quite breathless, and closed my eyes. Because I had looked at Nightingale's slender, elegant hands a lot, and not only when he was demonstrating new spells, and not only in a professional manner either. I had noticed he had nice hands, and wrists, and there was one move especially, one he did at the end of his spells...
I opened my eyes. He was smirking.
His hand was still open though, and he raised an eyebrow, so I turned around and fumbled to find the tube of lube where it had slipped between the sheets, so that I could pour some in the waiting palm.
He closed his hand to spread the slick on his finger and I sagged back on my side against the mattress, closing my eyes, trying not to overthink too much. And when I looked back at him, I found him looking back, predatory, waiting, and he closed his hand around me.
"...as I was saying, I've seen you look, in ways I thought weren't only indicating a strong diligence in learning." He didn't pause to fondle me or play around. His stroke were as clear-cut and deliberate as his casting ever was, and I shivered and bucked into his hand.
"There was something especially..." he went on, and it wasn't only the power of his hand around my cock or his gaze burning through me, his voice certainly also had to do with the way I reacted, "...about a particular quirk of mine, at the end of my spells."
He did it then, that particular sharp turn and raise of his wrist, and for all I know he might as well have been casting a spell: I came violently as a result, bucking and jerking uncontrollably all over his hand.
He accompanied me in the aftermath, the contact of his hand warm and reassuring, and as soon as I could, I pressed myself closer to him, putting a hand around his back and drawing him in one more kiss.
We rested together then, our heads near touching on the same pillow.
At some point we had to move though, so I stood to fetch wet cloth to clean us up, helped Thomas to get dressed once again and settle back comfortably in bed. Soon we were back in a darkened room, in the same posture as we had been earlier: him on his back and me on my side, with my left hand resting on his chest.
The tension was gone this time though, and we were both a lot more relaxed - and happy I think - than earlier.
"Good night, Peter." He said, somewhat drowsily.
Somehow this time I didn't feel the same apprehension. I knew that he would be there, companion to my dreams and his warmth a constant presence under my hand throughout the night.
I smiled and breathed out. "Good night, Thomas."
And it's done! Thank you, everyone who left kudos, those really helped motivate me during the most difficult times.