Lewis glanced at James. “You’ll wear a hole in the floor.”
James stopped pacing. “Sorry.” He sat down, though not moving made him feel twitchy.
“We’ve got nothing to worry about,” Lewis said. “They’ll cast the spells tomorrow, and then we’ll be undercover as Peter and Ian till they get what they need.”
James nodded. “I just don’t care for the idea of rewriting my memories. What if I need my police training and don’t have it?”
“If you’re in danger, the spell breaks on its own. And they’ll have a viewing spell on us anyway, so they’ll be able to see us when we’re in a room with anyone other than us. It’s safer than just pretending, because if we don’t know we’re undercover, we won’t be able to tell anyone else. The people we meet won’t ever find out we’re coppers.”
James nodded. He knew it was safe, logically speaking, but he also had the sort of mind that delighted in imagining how things could go wrong, often without his permission. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
“A few times,” Lewis said. “You’ll still be the same person underneath, James, even if you answer to Peter for a bit. They can’t change that.”
No. They can only change what I think and what I remember. Insignificant really. “And you’re not at all concerned about...” James gestured vaguely.
“Being married as part of our cover? No. They’ll give us some reason we can’t be intimate as a backstory. They always do with pretend couples. Keeps things from getting complicated.”
Right. James was going to be enspelled to believe that he was married to Inspector Lewis, that they had entirely different names and pasts, but it was sex that would’ve made things complicated. “Right.”
“It’ll all work out,” Lewis said blithely. “You’ll see.”
James hoped he would.
James was still feeling a bit twitchy when they went into the interview room to be enspelled. They had to wait a few minutes for the spell to take hold, and to James, it felt as if they had been there for hours.
“Try to relax,” Lewis said. “It’ll take hold soon enough.”
Peter nodded, then frowned. What was he nodding about? And where were they again? He looked around the room.
A uniformed officer entered, holding something in her hands. “I’m sorry for the delay. We did recover your wallets.” She placed the wallets on the table.
Of course. They’d come in because they’d had their pockets picked. Peter remembered now.
“Which one’s mine again?” Ian asked, sounding faintly confused.
Peter turned, sliding the overstuffed worn brown wallet to his husband and pocketing his own smaller, newer wallet. Ian gave him a grateful look.
“Not that I don’t tell you every few days you should get a new one,” Peter teased.
“This one works fine,” Ian said with a grin.
Peter turned to the police officer. “He always says that.” He stood. “Thank you very much for your help.”
Ian stood too. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” the officer said with a friendly smile. “I’ll show you out.”
“Well,” Ian said once they were outside, “that’s far too much excitement for our first day here.”
Peter turned to look at Ian. “Are you all right? Do you need to sit down?”
“I’m fine, pet,” Ian said. “I’m on the mend, remember?”
Peter nodded. He did remember, but it was hard to forget how sick Ian had been. “I know.”
Ian took his hand. “It’ll probably take time to convince you, but I’ve got time now.”
Peter smiled, giving Ian’s hand a gentle squeeze. One side effect of Ian’s illness was that he’d grown much more open with his shows of affection-- “just so there’s no doubt,” he’d said. Peter hadn’t had much doubt to start with, but he loved Ian’s newfound openness, even if he couldn’t always reciprocate.
“We could take a taxi back to the flat,” he suggested.
“I feel like a walk,” Ian said with a playful look. “Come on. Let’s see a bit of our new home.”
Ian must be feeling good if he wanted to walk; he’d never been much for leisure walks before. Peter tried to tamp down the near-omnipresent worry he had about Ian and just enjoy their time together.
“All right,” Peter said. “Let’s walk.”
The people in their block of flats were a friendly group; two of their neighbours had already introduced themselves to Peter and Ian. Peter had kept a watchful eye on Ian, subtly hinting to the neighbours that they wanted time alone when Ian’s energy began to flag. Still, Peter wouldn’t mind seeing more of them once they were more settled in.
“You’re brilliant,” Ian said, sitting on the sofa with a grunt. “I’ll never know how you can convince people that they need to leave and make them think it’s their idea.”
“‘The psychology of the individual,’” Peter quoted.
Ian frowned. “Sherlock Holmes?”
Peter shook his head, sitting beside Ian. “Jeeves and Wooster.”
“Well, whoever it is, it’s much appreciated,” Ian said, leaning over and giving Peter a long, slow kiss.
His kisses always left Peter wanting more, and this one was no different. Peter moved closer, pulling Ian into his arms, and Ian made a contented sound. They kissed again.
“Don’t know what’s the matter with me,” Ian said breathlessly. “You’d think I never kissed you before.”
Peter glanced at Ian’s lap, then gave Ian a wicked look. “Nice to see you’re enjoying yourself.”
Ian made a show of looking at Peter. “Looks to me as though you could enjoy yourself a bit more. Would you like some help?”
Peter felt a twinge of anxiety. He’d sent the neighbours away because Ian was tired, and now… “We don’t have to. If you’re tired or...”
Ian clearly didn’t want to admit he was tired, but he sighed. “Suppose you’re right. I’m sorry.”
“No.” Peter hugged Ian more tightly. “Don’t be sorry. You’re here. That’s all that matters.”
Ian snuggled against him. “Thanks, pet.”
“Let’s just sit a while,” Peter said.
“I can do that,” Ian said.
For the first time in a long while, Peter really did feel that Ian would get his energy back, and that they would be intimate again one day. It was nice to have that to look forward to...but it was nice to have moments like this as well. They hadn’t had the time to simply be close and enjoy each other’s company, and Peter wanted to absorb and remember every minute of their time together.
Peter closed his eyes and held Ian close.
Peter returned from Boots to find Ian looking out the window. “Something interesting?”
Ian turned to him. “You missed quite the production. The police have just arrested Mr D’Onofrio.”
Peter frowned. “Really? For what?”
“Dunno. I suppose we’ll hear about it from the other neighbours later.” Ian shook his head. “He seemed like such a nice man.”
There was a knock on the door, and Peter opened the door to find two uniformed police officers outside.
“What can we do for you, officers?” Ian asked.
The police officers exchanged a look, then looked at Ian and Peter, their expressions almost contrite.
“We’re sorry about this,” one of the officers said.
Peter lost consciousness.
Peter woke with a start in a dark room. He sat up immediately. “Ian. Where’s Ian?”
“Hello, James,” said the woman on the other side of the interview table.
James. Why did that sound familiar? Who was James? Was he James? He’d been in this room before to get his wallet...or...no, it was to be enspelled.
“Do you remember your last name?” the woman asked.
Peter—James—whoever he was opened his mouth to answer, but Peter’s last name wouldn’t come out. It was fading already. “Is it...Hathaway?” It felt both right and wrong to say so.
The woman smiled. “Good. And do you remember me?”
Peter looked at her. “Are you…?” The word ‘innocent’ kept popping into his head, but that made no sense. He was in a police station; that must be what was leading him astray. “Ma’am?”
“I’ll take it,” the woman said, pressing her lips together in what looked like an attempt to hide her amusement. “James, you and Inspector Lewis have been undercover for the last month and a half, collecting information about the residents in your block of flats. Thanks to you, we were able to make an arrest in a very important drugs case.”
“Oh,” Peter said, feeling rather stupid. “Good.” And who was Inspector…? “Ian? You mean Ian? My...” Husband. Coworker. Both. Neither. What was happening to him?
The woman—he really wanted to call her Innocent—must have seen his confusion. “It’s normal to need some time to return to oneself after coming out of a memory spell. You’ll remember everything that happened during your time undercover, but you’ll gradually lose the memories that led you to think and react as Peter would have.”
Yes, yes, but Ian. “Can I see him?”
Innocent looked regretful. “I’m afraid not. Not until you’ve returned to yourselves more thoroughly.”
“But I need to know he’s all right,” Peter said urgently.
Innocent stood. “You can see him as soon as it’s safe for both of you. When you’re ready, I’ll have Julie drive you home.”
Peter hadn’t been alone in...well, either a month and a half or much, much longer than that, depending on which memories he believed.
Either way, he didn’t like it, and he didn’t think Ian would either.
“We need your help.”
James frowned at Innocent. “Help? For what?”
Innocent looked vaguely uncomfortable. “Inspector Lewis is having trouble adjusting. The memory spell’s been removed, but...he’s still holding it in place with sheer force of will.”
James felt the hair on his neck prickle up. “He still thinks he’s Ian.”
James took a deep breath, running his hand over the top of his head. “You want me to try to get him back.”
“No one else can do it,” Innocent said. She hesitated.
James was a creature of hesitation; he knew when a hesitation meant something remained unsaid. “And?”
Innocent sighed. “He’s been asking for Peter.”
I’ll go, some remnant of Peter whispered inside James’s head. Tell her I’ll go.
James ignored the stray thoughts. “Ma’am, I was under the impression we were supposed to be separated for at least a month so our cover identities wouldn’t reassert themselves.”
“I won’t lie to you. There is some risk of you reverting to your undercover persona. But if we can’t convince Inspector Lewis to come back...” Innocent trailed off, apparently not wanting to give voice to what she feared would happen.
James felt a sudden chill at the thought of never talking to Lewis again.
“When can I see him?” he asked.
Lewis was sitting at the table in the interview room when James entered.
“What do you want now?” Lewis asked. Then he looked up, and the expression on his face softened. He nearly knocked his chair over in his haste to get to James, hugging him tightly. “Peter.”
James hugged Lewis back without a second thought. Then he realised what Lewis had called him, and cleared his throat. “Not Peter. James.” Wrong disciple, he wanted to say, but this probably wasn’t the time for a joke like that.
Lewis pulled back, staring at James. “You’re my husband, Peter.” A note of desperation crept into his voice. “Aren’t you?”
“Part of me is,” James said, trying to quiet the part of him that wanted to say yes and move back into Lewis’s arms. “I was Peter, when we were undercover and they gave me his memories. But before that, and now, my name is James.”
Lewis nodded, moving away to sit down again. “They keep telling me that too. That I’m someone else. A police detective.”
“You are,” James said. “We both are.”
Lewis shook his head. “I’m not. I won’t be.”
“Why not?” James took a hesitant step toward Lewis.
Lewis looked at James, pain in his eyes. “They want me to give you up.”
James shook his head. “Inspector Lewis and I are together all the time.”
Lewis chuckled sadly. “Inspector Lewis. You can’t even use his first name.”
“Robbie.” If that was what it took…
But Lewis was making a larger point. “They don’t love each other.” He looked at James. “They want me to give you up, and I won’t. Nothing’s more important than you. Not even me.”
The thought of Lewis sacrificing himself for James made James ache inside. Surely he could let Peter out just for a moment, just to comfort his husband. Then…
...then what? It had taken him almost a week to start answering to the name James again, to stop worrying about Ian—Lewis—the way Peter would have. James was just beginning to remember who he really was. Throwing that away now wouldn’t help Lewis; it would only ensure that both of them needed to be rescued. James sat on the edge of the interview room table, searching for a way forward.
“I said before that Peter was part of me.” James spoke slowly, trying to find his way. “He is. They gave me new memories, but they couldn’t change who I was.”
“From the little I remember...” Lewis shook his head. “Robbie doesn’t love you.”
“I think he does, in his way,” James said thoughtfully. “You couldn’t be the way you are if he didn’t.”
Lewis was quiet for what seemed like an age. Then he stood, crossing to James and taking his hand. “Funny. I’ve been married twice, and I don’t get to keep either one.”
Twice? Lewis must have meant Val...and if that was true, it seemed he was finally letting the spell go.
“I’m sorry,” James said.
Lewis nodded. “So am I.” He sat beside James, leaning against him, never letting go of his hand. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They sat there for a moment, silently holding hands, until Lewis pulled away.
“I’d like to be alone now, please,” Lewis said.
James nodded, leaving without a word. He’d done what he’d come to do; he’d brought Inspector Lewis back.
And in the best James Hathaway tradition, he felt terrible about it.
James wasn’t expecting company, but when he heard the knock at the door, he was sure he knew who it was.
And he was right, because Lewis stood outside, looking vaguely awkward.
“I know I’m not meant to see you,” he said. “If you like, I can...”
James shook his head, opening the door wider. “Come in.”
Lewis did. “Feels funny being alone now. I’d got used to us.”
“So had I.” James paused, not sure what to do next.
Lewis didn’t look sure either. He gestured to the couch. “Can I?”
“Yeah.” James cleared his throat as Lewis sat. “Do you want a drink, or…?”
“Please,” Lewis said.
James got each of them a beer and returned, taking a seat next to Lewis. They drank silently for a bit.
“This is what I didn’t want,” Lewis said quietly. “I didn’t want to be strangers.”
James snorted. “We’re not strangers. We’re exes.”
Lewis stared at his beer. “Didn’t want to be that either.”
“No.” More silence.
When Lewis spoke again, his voice was even softer. “Don’t suppose you’d put your arm around me if I asked.”
James glanced at Lewis. “You should ask.”
Lewis turned to look at James for the first time in the conversation. “Please?” His voice wobbled ever so slightly.
James nodded and slipped an arm around Lewis’s shoulders. Lewis leaned into the embrace, moving closer, and it almost took James’s breath away because it was so instinctive, so easy. Their bodies knew what to do even if they didn’t.
“I’ve missed you.” There was an urgency undergirding Lewis’s voice.
“I’ve missed you too,” James said, feeling his words were a rather sizable understatement.
Lewis sighed. “Wish I were Ian so I could talk to you. He was better at it than I am.”
“You do all right,” James said.
Lewis reached over and folded James’s free hand in his. “I don’t want to give you up.”
“Then don’t,” James said. “We can’t be them, but...”
Lewis chuckled. “But we’re not so bad, when it comes right down to it.”
James felt a smile spread across his own face. “No, we’re not.”
“Well then.” Lewis kept tight hold of James’s hand.
James rested his head against Lewis’s. “Stay.”
He could hear the smile in Lewis’s voice. “Wasn’t planning on anything else.”