They don’t go for a drink after all. Well, there’s beer from Nick’s fridge, but Jen knows this wasn’t what he meant when he invited her at the office.
She’d been optimistic that her call to Kevin Masters’s widow would help her move on from the difficult last few days, but the call was hard. Mrs. Masters’s grief was raw, and she was upset at Lance Hardwick, at anyone who ever pirated a DVD, at Jen for being the messenger. Bringing closure to families drives her, but it’s also deeply unsatisfying. No matter what she does, Kevin Masters is still dead. Stuart Franklin is still dead. Some days she finds it desperately unfair that even their best work can never undo this.
Nick sat beside her and watched the whole thing. Then, as they made their way to the parking garage he announced, as though he’d just remembered, that he had chicken at home that would go off if he didn’t cook it tonight. “Can I make you dinner instead?” he asked.
There is chicken, and though she suspects it won’t expire for several days, Jen humors him and doesn’t check. She isn’t fit for the bar tonight, and she isn’t fit to be alone, and of course Nick sees this. He starts making a curry while she chops peppers and onions. They maneuver around each other in the kitchen, practiced and familiar.
A few months ago they wouldn’t have needed the pretense. They shared plenty of drinks on his couch or hers, Jen making fun of Nick’s earnest love of Hot Property or both of them reading in comfortable silence. It reminded her of all the things that made that year undercover bearable without any of the things that made it hellish.
But around the edges, she’d catch the look on his face when he thought she wasn’t watching, and her stomach would bottom out. She started hugging him goodnight, and then holding on for a moment too long.
After he shot William Clegg he wouldn’t come back to her place. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he’d said, even as his fingers tightened around hers. The line they refused to cross was at her front door that night, and she spent an hour holding his hand in the car, reminding herself that this was enough.
They’ve been more careful since then. Nights off at the bar. A barbecue at Nick’s with the whole crew. Work. Always, especially work.
But tonight their only excuse is the chicken Nick tosses in the pan while Jen checks the rice and puts the cutting boards in the sink. She leans against the counter watching him cook, taking a swallow of beer. She rolls her neck to try to release some of the tension she’s been holding there, the accumulated effect of the long days, her guilt about Stuart, and the irritating backdrop of Rhys’s needling. Nick curses as a drop of oil singes his hand.
“Why doesn’t he try to get under your skin?” she says suddenly. “Or Dunny’s or Allie’s? Don’t you lot have some fascinating psychological layers he could poke at for a while?”
“What?” Nick asks. “You mean Rhys?”
“Yeah,” she sighs, finishing her beer and rummaging in the fridge for another. “Obnoxious little shit. And seriously, does it take an Oxford degree to come up with hackneyed stereotypes about single women in their thirties?”
At the office, Nick’s been wearing an indulgent look when she complains about Rhys. A look that tells her he supports her, but also that she might be overreacting a little bit. Now, though, he turns to face her, one hand continuing to stir their dinner, and he looks thoughtful and concerned.
“Why is he getting to you so much?” he asks. “I mean, yeah, it’s all a bit sexist, but I’ve seen you brush off plenty worse than that.”
“I don’t know,” she says, and that’s the problem. There are plenty of reasons, but she isn’t sure why it’s bothering her as much as it is. Yes, Rhys’s profiling is sexist and obnoxious, but he is no Sparksey or Ashland or Jenkins or any of a dozen other offensive colleagues she’s endured over the years. Yes, he’s infuriating with his stupid phone and his tearing around without regard for how things are done and taking credit for Paul’s work and somehow still managing to be a halfway decent copper. Yes, there is something about the cases with kids, but they affect everyone. They’re kids, after all.
Nick turns the curry down to simmer and comes to rest against the counter next to her, leaning in in that way he developed years ago when they had to whisper to say anything real. “You sure?” he asks.
She shrugs and resists the urge to curl into his side. “I think he assumes women must universally crave babies after 35, if they don’t already have them. That I have some secret suppressed urge.” She rolls her eyes. “I don’t. I want the life I have. I’ve worked my ass off and love my job, and I don’t appreciate the insinuation that it isn’t enough.” It’s true. She adores her job and wouldn’t trade it—not even for a lifetime of cooking dinner with Nick in this kitchen, or for the idea of a child with her eyes and his grin.
“Okay,” Nick answers. Just that, and he means it and won’t keep pushing. This—trusting her, believing her, not assuming he’s guessed some secret she doesn’t know she has—is one of the things she loves about him. Or would, if she allowed herself to love things about him.
They eat on the couch in front of the telly, together and quiet, like a hundred other nights. She likes that they can talk honestly with each other. She also likes that they don’t have to, that their relationship, stitched together with looks and silences and murmured half phrases, is a safe place just to rest.
Nick finds a nature documentary, because of course he does. She grabs at the remote, and he laughs and snatches it away.
“Come on,” he argues. “It’s sharks! You like sharks.”
Jen rolls her eyes because that’s her role in this particular dance. After they finished their stint as Trish and Wesley, she was relieved that at least she wouldn’t have to put up with Nick’s terrible taste in entertainment anymore. She’s never found a way to tell him that she’s spent the last four years watching stupid home renovation shows and nature documentaries whenever she misses him.
“Fine,” she concedes. “As long as they don’t go eating any sea lions or anything.” They share a smile.
She’s exhausted. The long hours, the stress and the adrenaline, Stuart Franklin on those train tracks every time she closes her eyes. Now the combination of dinner, beer, and the soothing voice of the show’s narrator make her limbs heavy. She tries to stifle a yawn, and Nick appraises her for a long moment.
“C’mere,” he says, raising an arm and pulling her in. His face is full of everything they’ve agreed not to say, but she can’t resist tonight.
Jen tucks her head under his chin and closes her eyes. His breathing is slow and even, and he begins to steadily stroke her shoulder.
“Wake me up when the sharks are done,” she says, even though she knows that tomorrow morning she’ll be on this couch or in Nick’s guest room. If she’d rather wake up in his bed instead, well, at least she knows better than to say so out loud. She’s satisfied with her life and the choices she’s made, but she won’t pretend those choices don’t have consequences.
Nick turns his head, and she can feel his lips move against her hairline as he says, “just rest now.” Not quite a kiss, not quite not.
“Thank you,” she whispers. She reaches for his hand and laces their fingers together.