Beverley was less than two minutes from her mum’s when her phone started vibrating in its waterproof pocket. When she pulled it out she saw it was Peter. The tide was low, so she swam until her feet touched gravel and walked out onto the exposed strand below the river wall. A couple of tourists on a passing river cruise spotted her, pointing and staring. She waved at them, and sat to take the call. The couch at Mum’s would have been much comfier, but – ironically – much less private.
“How’s things, babes?” she said. “Any chance you’ll be back early?”
“Definitely not, that’s why I’m calling,” Peter said. “We found a body. Well, a corpse. More like a skeleton, actually, but not enough of a skeleton to be fun to look at. Jennifer’s going to have a field day.”
“Ugh.” Beverley wrinkled her nose. “At least someone’ll be enjoying themselves.”
“It hasn’t been that bad apart from the not-a-skeleton. I think there’s something Nightingale’s not telling me yet though. I hate it when he does that.”
“He barely ever does that,” said Beverley. “When’s the last time you had a burning question you didn’t just ask?”
“All the time! I am very tactful.” Peter sounded genuinely indignant. “Stop smirking.” Beverley grinned to herself, the river, and a passing Thames police boat; they were based not far from Mum’s and knew far better than to give her more than a passing glance. “No, it was just I was getting some good background out of the local librarian and then he suddenly decided we needed to go chase up something else. And then it wasn’t even anything he needed me for, really. I’ll get it out of him eventually.”
“Mmmm,” said Beverley, who had an idea how that might have looked from the point of view of anybody who wasn’t Peter. “I’m sure you will. You going to ask how things are going here?”
“I know better than to ask about River business,” said Peter, but she could hear him smiling. “Did you end up letting Olivia sob on your much more sympathetic shoulder, or -”
They chatted for a while about Olivia and Phoebe’s more pathetic than dramatic breakup, and Beverley’s research project, and any number of local history facts Peter found it necessary to pass on about the Yorkshire Dales.
“Look, I hate to interrupt,” Beverley said eventually, “but I was on the way to Mum’s and it’s getting late.”
“Still light out here,” said Peter. “Which is what a couple of degrees further north gets you. Say hi for me, of course.”
“Always. Love you.”
“Love you,” Peter said, and hung up. Beverley hovered over her phone for a second, but decided her own burning questions could wait until Friday.
The questions ended up having to wait until Sunday, due to a slightly less skeletonised corpse than the first one Peter had found. Beverley went around to the Folly to have a gossip with Molly and check which bits of the library Abigail had got into (‘I never thought facility with Latin would be a problem in an apprentice’, she’d heard Nightingale muttering while Peter had been on the phone with her.) Abigail was lured out of the library altogether by Molly’s current round of proving she was better than anybody on Bake-Off, and they were all in the kitchen when Toby went barreling up the stairs to greet his returning masters.
“Are you having fun without us?” Peter asked, coming into the kitchen and making a beeline for the cake; Molly cocked her head for a second, listening, and went to put the kettle on, having satisfied herself that Nightingale had also returned to the Folly. Everybody else who wasn’t a guest had to make their own tea, which meant Beverley and Abigail these days too.
“Tearing the place up,” Beverley agreed, standing up to kiss him on the cheek; he put down the cake for it, which almost counted as a display of affection. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Abigail sliding a book further under her chair, but that was Peter’s problem to spot.
“I knew we were in for trouble once this place stopped giving you headaches.” Peter took a bite of cake, and his next sentence was indecipherable. Molly gave him a rather unimpressed look.
“I have no idea,” said Beverley.
“No, I’m not reading anything I’m not supposed to be,” Abigail sighed. “It’s like you guys don’t want me to learn things.”
“We’re very much in favour of learning,” said Peter, having swallowed. “We’re also in favour of you not setting a world record for developing dementia. Stick to doing it for something else.”
This was almost as opaque as any compliment Nightingale had ever bestowed upon Peter in Beverley’s hearing, which was a terrible habit for him to have picked up. Abigail eyed him suspiciously, and the great cycle of not learning to express emotions properly carried on to the next generation. Wizards.
“Oh, there’s cake,” Nightingale said as he entered the kitchen, Toby at his heels. “How lovely. And – oh, thank you, Molly.” She handed him a cup of tea. “Just the thing.”
Peter eyed Molly hopefully; she handed him a cup. It was empty.
“Oh, good, I was in danger of forgetting my place around here,” said Peter. “Anybody else, while I’m standing up?”
“No,” said Abigail, clutching her energy drink closer in case Molly tried to confiscate it again. She had opinions about them, Beverley had noticed.
“Yes, please,” Beverley said, handing him her own cup.
“I’ll just go put this in the recycling,” Abigail said abruptly, holding up her can, which she’d opened barely ten minutes ago. It sloshed. She did a very good job of picking up the book, though – if Beverley hadn’t been watching, she probably wouldn’t have noticed.
“I don’t suppose you spotted the title?” Nightingale said as soon as Abigail was halfway up the stairs.
“Something about vampires and – not Polynesia,” said Beverley. “Not really my problem what she reads.”
“Oh, that’s fine then,” said Nightingale. “Lurid but barely accurate. She’s usually very good about returning them before she thinks we’ve noticed.”
“Speaking of books,” Beverley said, since Peter had his head in the fridge, presumably looking for milk. “What was that about a librarian you dragged Peter away from?”
“Ah,” he said. “Likely exactly what you’re imagining.”
“She was three seconds from asking him what he was doing that night?”
“He,” said Nightingale. “Otherwise, yes. I really felt I was doing everybody involved a favour.”
“Do you think Peter…”
“It’s always rather difficult to tell, but I think -” Unfortunately, that was when Abigail returned, sans can and book, so the conversation ended there.
“I heard there was a skeleton,” Abigail said, sitting back down and going in for a second serving of cake. “Is that true?”
“Almost a skeleton,” said Nightingale. “An actual skeleton would have been preferable.”
“Can we not do that when there’s cake?” Peter pleaded, returning armed with tea. “Once – well, twice – was enough.”
“I don’t mind,” said Abigail, waving a hand; she ignored the dirty look Peter gave her. “So, like, how much almost a skeleton?”
Peter, for all the time that Beverley had known him, had had a terrible habit of falling into conversations where the other person was flirting with him and he was – so far as Beverley or anybody else could tell – entirely oblivious to that fact. The first couple of times she’d assumed he just had the world’s worst gaydar, but then it had happened with a woman. Taken in total, the evidence suggested that it was mostly a case of Peter, in the right mood, being more interested in magic, potential clues for his current case, or interesting bits of science and history (or all of the above) than whoever he was talking to, outside of their value as a witness or suspect.
Beverley heartily disliked rescuing him from those conversations, because then the other person inevitably assumed she was being a jealous bitch. She didn’t have any problem making a statement if someone should know better (Rom) or wasn’t getting the message (Rom, but only because she knew it wound Beverley up), but otherwise – in her opinion, it was much easier to dump someone than fend people off from them, if they couldn’t do their own fending. And Peter could and did; he might be distractible in the moment, but there was no question in Beverley’s mind that he’d turn down any direct approach, whether she was there or not.
Although when she found him talking cars with Rom at a family party, it was a real effort not to roll her eyes at the way Rom was paying big-eyed attention to his enthusiasm over the somehow still not magic-free Ferrari.
“- but of course we don’t know what Chorley might have done to it,” Peter finished, finally remembering why the Folly had nominal possession of it. “He did like his booby-traps.”
“You should take me for a ride in it,” Rom purred. “I’m sure I could tell you if there was any wizard magic on it.”
“We’re always happy to collaborate,” said Peter, slowly, and Beverley narrowed her eyes despite herself before he went on “but, ah, Bev’s already had a pretty thorough look.”
“Just for fun then,” said Rom.
“…no,” said Peter, his brow furrowing as he finally clicked what was going on. “Not that I’m not flattered. Excuse me.”
“Hi,” said Beverley, as he walked straight into her, a little faster than he really needed to. She glared at Rom over his shoulder; Rom rolled her eyes and sauntered off. “Having fun with my sister?”
“I thought she wanted to talk about the Ferrari!” Peter said. “Right up until the end.”
“Of course you did.”
“No, I meant it,” Beverley said, realizing that had come out with a bit more sarcasm than intended. “You always do! You think they're as interested as you are in cars or quantum physics or the Peasant Revolt of 1066 -”
Peter narrowed his eyes at that but didn’t bite, which was almost disappointing. “- and then someone has to come and rescue you. It’s funny when it’s not my sister.”
“Hold on,” Peter said. “I know when you think you’re saving me, but what do you mean, someone?”
“You know, just, generally,” Beverley said quickly, because if he hadn’t figured that out she didn’t want to get into it. “But the point is, I know you just…don’t notice.”
“I do when it’s obvious.”
“That wasn’t obvious,” Beverley said. “That was the equivalent of sky-writing or something like that.”
“Exactly,” said Peter. “And if it isn’t, you have my full permission to run in and save me.”
“I wasn’t planning on waiting for it,” she told him.
“I know.” He put an arm around her waist and grinned at her. “Lucky for you I don’t mind being saved now and again.”
Skywriting and other obvious things fled Beverley’s mind until Sahra ended up at A&E again after spending nearly three days trapped in a disused medieval cellar by, as Peter put it, “some idiot who’s just upgraded his charges from petty theft to kidnapping.” He’d said on the phone that she wasn’t injured, just dehydrated and tired and hoarse from yelling, but when Beverley got to the hospital there were bandages on all her fingertips.
“I was trying to get the pins out of the hinges,” Sahra said when she saw Beverley looking. “Lucky I don’t really go in for manicures.”
“Owwwww,” Beverley said in sympathy. “Are they letting you eat real food? I brought grapes.”
“You never bring me grapes,” said Peter. He was bright-eyed from exhaustion after three days of going over CCTV footage and hunting down witnesses, and had given up on his tie and shoved it in a pocket. Even Nightingale had circles under his eyes, though he was considerably less rumpled than Peter.
“Your mum always brings you food,” Beverley said. “You don’t need grapes from me.”
“Yeah, you should get yourself in here again, it was great last time,” said Sahra. “Pass the grapes, Bev. They might get the taste of this electrolyte stuff out of my mouth.”
“Oh, sure, no trouble,” said Peter. “I’m definitely up for sustaining serious injury so you can satisfy your taste for my Mum’s jollof rice. Any time.” He took an entire twig of grapes, almost vengefully.
“Please don’t,” said Nightingale, running a hand through his hair. He’d taken one of the two chairs in the nook Sahra’s bed was in; Peter was standing. “It’s really far too stressful.” On a second glance, his suit was in order, but there was a spot on his shirt collar that suggested it might not have been changed since yesterday.
“What, me going to A&E?” Peter said around a grape. “Come on, you probably like the peace and quiet at the Folly. Tell you what, I’ll time it for Abigail’s exams, then you’re guaranteed silence.” He grinned easily at Nightingale, and then turned back to Sahra. “I know you’re still on bed rest, but did you get anything while you were in the cellar? Any helpful ghosts, any weird impressions…?”
“Well…” Sahra said cautiously, because she was still dubious about the whole idea of vestigia and wizard things, and Peter drew it all out of her. Beverley took the other seat and pulled out her phone. She was expecting Nightingale to break in, but he seemed content to let Peter handle it; when she looked up she caught him looking at Peter with a softness to his face she was astonished to see somewhere as public as this, even if there was a curtain half-obscuring the hustle that accompanied even Monday night emergencies.
He was very tired, Beverley thought; that was why.
“Okay,” Peter was sighing. “We need to get back there, then.”
“It can wait until tomorrow,” Nightingale said. “We’ve got some uniformed officers watching it, and Sahra’s safely back with us.”
Peter hesitated, but nodded. “Yeah, okay. I could use eight hours, or I might end up back here, no joke.”
“Don’t you dare,” said Sahra. “You’ve had enough of my grapes already.”
“Silence at the Folly really isn’t as attractive a proposition for me as you seem to think,” Nightingale agreed. “Let Beverley drive you home.”
It wasn’t that outrageous a thing to say, although Beverley was fully expecting a protest on the driving comment, but Peter looked over sharply as if he’d heard what Nightingale had meant instead of what he’d said. Sahra, seeing this, choked quietly on her electrolytes.
“Come on, no arguing,” Beverley said. “You’re way too tired to drive and you know it.”
“And what about him?” Peter said.
“I’ll walk, and pick the car up tomorrow,” said Nightingale. “Go on.” He caught Beverley’s eye for a silent beat; she nodded.
“It doesn’t actually have to be blindingly obvious,” Peter said out of nowhere when they were halfway back to Beverley’s house. Beverley had thought he’d fallen asleep five minutes before that. “When people are – whatever, flirting, or…I do know.”
“Do you?” said Beverley.
“It’s just that sometimes it’s not important.” When she glanced over, his eyes were still closed. “We’re all adults. If they’re not saying it I don’t have to pay attention to it. It doesn’t count.”
“Where’s this coming from?” Beverley said, keeping an eye on a cyclist who looked likely to bolt, and therefore not able to look back at Peter.
“I could see you thinking I didn’t notice,” he said. “Back at the hospital. But I just…people say things when they’re tired, it’s not…it’s not the same as saying it when they aren’t.”
“Am I the person you actually want to have this conversation with?”
“Yes,” Peter said. “Half of it, anyway. Because you’re you, and we’re…” He waved a hand between them; she caught it out of the corner of her eye. “Whatever.”
“Oh, we’re whatever, are we?”
“Deeply whatever,” Peter agreed. She could hear him smiling.
“Let me know how it goes,” she said. “The other half of that conversation.”
“I will, when...when I have any idea what I want to say.” He put a hand over hers.
“I see,” Beverley said, and squeezed his hand; he made an alarmed noise and she put it back on the steering wheel. Peter never had been a very good passenger.
“..but you didn’t say who you were working with,” Professor Shillington finally said, a hint of puzzlement flickering in his eyes. Beverley gave up on trying to decipher any of the titles on his bookshelves; the text was too small and they were stacked every which way. The office had to be about fifty percent paper by volume.
Beverley had agreed to drop in and find out if Shillington was a wizard out of the good of her heart, and what had it got her? A solid fifteen minutes of early medieval guild records, which probably could have been interesting in more capable hands – Beverley wasn’t opposed to history – but in Professor Shillington’s were just amazingly dull.
“Didn’t I?” Beverley said. “Anyway, I’ve got a tutorial, but thanks again.”
“Because, I was going to say, we really are trying to recruit more -”
She made it out the door before he recovered enough to figure out that she wasn’t, in fact, a history student, and in five minutes was at the nearest café. It was thinly populated on a Friday afternoon, so it wasn’t hard to spot Nightingale, especially among a throng of mostly Asian engineering students.
“Ah, you’re earlier than I thought you’d be,” he said. “Can I get you a -”
“No need,” Beverley said, sitting down. This was the most convenient café to the shared office Masters’ students got; they knew her, even if this wasn’t her manor exactly. “It’ll be along in a minute.”
“I thought I might offer, anyway.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Any news?”
“Nothing to worry about,” Beverley said. “Or at least he’s not a wizard, and nobody’s been doing magic on him, and if you want to check out the books you’ll have to go yourself because I could barely move for them and he does early medieval European, so half of them are in Latin.”
“If it’s as you say I don’t think it’s a priority. Perhaps Peter can drop by when he’s having lunch with you, once he’s back.”
“You know he only makes it over here once in a blue moon.” Beverley smiled at Linda, who’d brought her latte over. “Thanks.”
He shrugged. “Well, as I said, not a priority now, thanks to you. I hope you know the assistance is very much appreciated.”
“I know,” she told him. “Any news from Berlin? Anything blown up yet?”
“You’re as likely to know as I am. I do believe they found some unexploded ordnance somewhere in the city yesterday, but Peter swears he wasn’t anywhere near the place.”
“That would be exactly the kind of thing he’d get involved with, wouldn’t it,” Beverley said. “Don’t they still have thousands of bombs lying around?”
“The RAF may have been over-thorough, yes.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t go yourself,” said Beverley. “Your German’s better, for starters.”
“Peter and Herr Winter get on quite well. And I haven’t been back to Germany since 1945. I suspect it might be diplomatically…difficult. Especially now.”
“Mmm, true,” Beverley said. “We wouldn’t want to alarm them. At least you’re having your peace and quiet at the Folly.”
She hadn’t really intended a reminder of that moment in Sahra’s hospital room, but it flashed across her mind as she said it, and she was pretty sure Nightingale’s too; he paused.
“Well, Abigail’s still very much around,” he said finally. “So there’s a limited amount of that anyway.”
“And you did say it wasn’t your preference,” Beverley said, just to see what that got her.
“I did,” he agreed easily enough. He hesitated again. “I didn’t think it was that memorable a statement.”
“I’m not Peter.” Beverley sipped her coffee. “I don’t have to be hit over the head with these things.”
“Quite.” He looked down; it irritated Beverley and she couldn’t say why.
“Although,” she added, “he does claim he’s capable of noticing the obvious. But he thought you were very tired.”
“I was, but I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.”
“According to Peter, people say things when they’re tired. If you want to know what he means by that, you’ll have to ask him.”
He looked back up, finally. “Somehow I don’t think I will.”
“Your choice.” Beverley put her cup down, and changed the subject. “I wonder sometimes – Peter in Germany and me checking out university professors for you; what did you when it was just you?”
“It was never only me,” Nightingale objected. “There was Abdul, and Harold up in Oxford, and Alexander and Miriam occasionally condescended to help when they couldn’t avoid it, but on the topics you’re thinking of, let us be honest, I did rather terribly.”
He said it wryly but not bitterly, and it was so unexpected that Beverley laughed. “I knew that, but I wasn’t sure you did.”
He smiled back. “Peter knows it, I’m certain, but he’s far too polite to say it. Alexander makes mention of it almost every time we’re in the same room.”
“The important thing,” Beverley said firmly, “is that you’re learning, and also that you remember when you’re being done a favour.”
“It’s better this way than it was before. I’m quite aware.”
Beverley considered this, the candid way he said it. “You know one person couldn’t have done all of it anyway. Even the Nightingale.”
“That as well, but I think I meant before the War. Not that I was here very much then. But when I think of the reports we have, or the things I was here for. It’s better now.”
Beverley couldn’t stop her eyebrows climbing at that. “I’m glad you can spot the obvious too.”
“I’m a police officer now,” he said, smiling down at his own drink. He looked up at her. “I believe it’s in the job description.”
No matter how much complaining Peter did about what a rigamarole, his word, white tie was for men, Beverley was sure it couldn’t be half as much of a pain as what she’d been through getting ready for this. The trouble was that men only ever noticed if you hadn’t done your hair or your face, and most of the rest of it was structural and invisible. She made a mental note to get a strapless bra that was comfortable and supportive before the next time Ty landed her at something like this. Although that seemed approximately as likely as Peter ever finishing his notebook of questions about magic (he’d had to start a second earlier this year).
She decided to say as much to Peter, but he wasn’t where she’d left him; it was just Nightingale, who made his own outfit look not only comfortable but natural.
“Everything all right?” he asked her.
“Everything except this bra, which seems to have been at the back of my wardrobe for a reason.”
“That can’t be very comfortable,” he said with the sympathy of someone who had no real idea what she was talking about but had heard her tone of voice loud and clear. “I’m afraid there’s no excuse to leave quite yet.”
“It’s not that bad. Nobody’s started screaming and running, or made suspicious excuses to leave?”
“Not that I’ve observed.”
“Disappointing,” said Beverley, who, having heard enough wizards’ opinions of the Nightingale, or Peter’s versions of them anyway, had pretty much been expecting that if there was a stray Little Crocodile here, bringing Nightingale to the party would have meant at least a little bit of screaming and running. “Where’s Peter?”
Nightingale nodded, because of course he was too polite to point. “I think he might have got a little off-topic.”
“Oh,” said Beverley, taking in the slightly more eccentric- than well-dressed Asian woman who was slowly but surely drawing him into a corner. It was too far away to hear anything but given some of the gestures Peter was making she was betting they were talking wizard stuff. “Wait, who is she? Do I know her?”
“She’s one of Caroline’s older sisters,” Nightingale said, keeping his voice low. “Therefore in the category of person we’re looking for, but we can rule her out for a variety of reasons.”
The woman put a hand on Peter’s arm, saying something; Peter looked a bit puzzled, but replied with some more enthusiastic gesturing and a thoughtful frown. Beverley shuffled around a bit and got a better look at her face; she was attentive, but not as much to what Peter was saying as he probably thought.
Beverley frowned. It wasn’t that she was offended exactly, and Peter wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, but she was right here in the room and if this was one of Caroline’s older sisters then she should know that Peter wasn’t available. And -
“She’s, like, twice his age,” she said out loud. The woman had Peter properly in a corner now. “I mean, really?”
She looked over at Nightingale, expecting some solidarity here, but he had a weird expression that if Beverley was feeling academic she might call chagrin.
“Er, possibly,” he said, and Beverley realised what he was thinking and huffed a giggle into her glass of champagne.
“It’s all right,” she said, patting him on the arm. “I wasn’t talking about you.”
“Er,” he said again, eyeing her like he wasn’t sure what she was going to say next. Beverley replayed the last thirty seconds of conversation in her head and decided the only way out was through.
“I guess we should remind him he’s here on the job,” she said. “I think he might even be about to realize he needs rescuing.”
“Judging from experience I’d give it another five minutes for that,” said Nightingale, putting his own nearly untouched glass down a bit too firmly.
“I mean,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be pretty funny watching him trying to get away.”
“You said it yourself,” said Nightingale. “Some of us are here on the job. In which case…”
“You go and get him out then. I don’t feel like doing jealous girlfriend tonight, and I’ve got to have a word with Ty at some point. I’ll let you know if I see anybody fainting at the sight of you.”
Nightingale tilted his head, and then said “I’ll see what I can do,” and went over. Beverley stole his champagne. She wasn’t here on the job, except in the most unofficial of capacities.
Ty was in a good mood, buoyed by social success and all her webs of influence humming around her, but she didn’t have time for Beverley beyond a kiss on the cheek and a whispered hope that ‘our friends from the Folly’ were getting what they’d come for.
“Not yet, but we’re working on it,” Beverley murmured back, and made her way through the crowds back to where she’d seen Peter last.
Surprisingly, he was still there, and so was Nightingale, and so was Caroline’s sister; she was clearly trying to edge Nightingale back out of the conversation. Peter brightened when he saw Beverley heading their way, but not as much as she’d expected he would.
“Hey, babes,” she said, sliding an arm around his waist; sometimes you just had to be obvious. She nodded to Caroline’s sister. “I don’t think we’ve met?”
The woman gave her a disgruntled smile. “Lady Alexandra Linden-Limmer.”
“Oh, you’re one of Caroline’s sisters,” Beverley said, trying to channel Ty’s best casual dismissiveness.
Lady Alexandra blinked at her, obviously not used to being described that way. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“You sounded a lot more sure about that ten minutes ago,” said Peter, sounding confused.
A fragile silence descended on the conversation, the noise of the rest of the party seeming much louder all of a sudden. Beverley was waiting for Nightingale to contribute something, but he didn’t. It only took four or five seconds before Lady Alexandra muttered something about seeing someone and slunk away.
“Have we found someone?” said Peter, once she was gone. “I know I got caught up, but she had some very interesting stories about – hey. We haven’t found anybody, have we?”
“No, I’m afraid not yet,” said Nightingale. “But as Beverley reminded me, we are on the job.”
“Did we get in your way?” Beverley couldn’t help asking, only a little bit pointedly.
Peter looked around, and then in the direction Alexandra had gone, and the sighed. “She wasn’t really that interested in talking about magic, was she.”
“I’m sure she was quite fascinated,” said Nightingale.
“Look, I’m not totally incapable of telling when someone’s into me,” Peter said. “I just really thought she – really?”
“Well, you can be quite compelling when you’re on a subject that has your attention,” said Nightingale, because apparently he couldn’t help himself.
“Come on,” Beverley said, pulling Peter away from the wall and letting her arm drop. “You can’t check for fainting if you’re stuck in a corner.”
“Right, that was definitely your motivation,” Peter said dryly.
“I promise you our intentions were perfectly innocent,” said Beverley.
Peter narrowed his eyes. “I heard that. And I heard that,” he said to Nightingale. “And I know you both think -”
Over his shoulder, and Nightingale’s, Lady Alexandra was talking to a short white man with greying hair; he glanced in their direction and visibly went the waxy colour Beverley’s mum’s friends said was usually a prelude to fainting on white people. Disappointingly, he didn’t actually drop to the floor.
“I think you’re on the job now,” she said, pointing as soon as the man had turned away again. “The one in – shit, you’re all wearing the same thing.”
“Nope, I got it,” Peter said, already moving. Nightingale had more or less Disapparated, although that wasn’t a real wizard thing as far as Beverley knew. “We’re going to have this conversation later!”
Later really was later; about two in the morning, according to the clock over the front desk at Belgravia. Beverley was two seconds from texting Peter and telling him to get a taxi when he and Nightingale appeared. There’d been a change of shift since they’d got there, and the officer on the front desk gave them a proper double-take. Beverley had only rated a slight eyebrow raise even when she’d entered in a ballgown and everything, but they’d probably seen stranger at this hour of the morning, based on some of Peter’s stories.
“I was just about to leave you here with your paperwork,” she told them.
“Fortunately there’s none that can’t wait until a slightly more reasonable hour,” said Nightingale. “Thank you.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how annoyed is Ty that we spoiled her gala?” asked Peter. “Eleven? Fifteen?”
“About three.” Beverley put her phone away, and they left the building. Outside it was misty and cool; she hiked her shawl up to cover her shoulders. “As interruptions go it was spectacular but short, and she mostly blames your suspect for legging it. She says she could have slipped out of there and got a taxi without anybody noticing.”
“I imagine it would take a great deal to cause Cecelia to ‘leg it’ from anybody.” Beverley could actually hear the quote marks when Nightingale spoke, but at least he was trying. “I’m surprised she had nothing to say about your trick with the fountain.”
“You can’t prove that was me. I didn’t have anything to do with leaves being on the ground, and that water could have leapt out of the fountain all by itself. Wind. Or something.”
“I hope we can’t prove it was you,” said Peter. “He could have concussed himself when he slipped over. Then we’d still be waiting around while he got checked out.” He yawned.
“They do make a great deal of fuss over a simple knock on the head these days,” said Nightingale.
Peter said, with exaggerated patience, “That’s because it can kill you, and we have these weird newfangled notions about not killing people before we can arrest them.”
“Quite tedious,” said Nightingale, but with enough of a smile to soften it.
“You were complaining about the shoes on the way there,” Beverley said to Peter. “I thought I’d save you too much running in them.”
“Any running was too much,” he said. “And everybody on duty at Belgravia thought I looked hilarious. They were all giving me the once-over. Someone whistled. I’m going to hear about it for weeks.”
Beverley shared one despairing glance with Nightingale.
“You weren’t the only person there in formal dress,” said Nightingale. “I didn’t get the impression you were a source of hilarity.”
“I came to pick you up in heels and a full ballgown,” said Beverley. “And all of Fleet’s jewellery she lent me.”
She didn’t add they were staring because you look good because Peter would take it for a joke. It wasn’t that he didn’t know he looked alright, most of the time; it was about a whole lot of other things.
“Look,” said Peter. “You’re an actual goddess and you,” he nodded at Nightingale, “look like you’re auditioning for the lead role in a BBC period drama, and I’m me in an uncomfortable outfit I had to be told how to put on properly.”
Beverley opened her mouth, but he went on. “And now I’m going to hear from Caroline about her sister, even if we didn’t actually arrest her. Who probably was only talking to me about magic, because I know what you think” to Beverley, “and apparently you as well,” to Nightingale, “but no.”
“Caroline doesn’t even like any of her sisters that much,” said Beverley as they got in the car.
There was a brief scuffle over keys but she let Nightingale win, because it was two in the morning and he’d be getting out at the Folly anyway. Also, technically speaking, it was his car.
“Yes, but she’ll be nosy about it on principle,” Peter said.
At this hour of the morning it was a short drive, or at least shorter than usual. Peter got in the back with Beverley, picked up her hand, and then seemed to almost immediately fall asleep leaning against the window. He kept hold of her hand, though.
They were turning into the back entrance to the Folly when he spoke. “Also, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we need to talk. About the way you think you’re being cryptic and you’re not.” It took Beverley a moment to realise it wasn’t her he was speaking to. “And,” he turned, “the way you know, and don’t say anything.”
“Why’s it my job to say anything?” Beverley shot back. Peter frowned at her, but she tightened her hand on his. “You told me you knew, once.”
Nightingale pulled into the garage and turned the car off. The silence was sudden.
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s not a very good habit to have got into. I apologise.”
“I wasn’t saying –“ Peter rubbed his forehead with his free hand. “Never mind; I’m tired, I’m saying stupid things.” He let go of Beverley’s hand to undo his seatbelt, and got out.
Beverley unbuckled her own and opened the car door. One of her heels caught, and she swore under her breath. When she managed to stand up properly, both of them were looking at her.
“It’s two am, and apparently I can’t walk in these any longer,” she said, and slipped them off. The shock of cold on her soles was a welcome trade for the strain on her ankles.
“It is very late, and they’ll be wanting us at Belgravia early,” said Nightingale. “Peter and I, that is. Best we all get to our beds.” He didn’t do flustered, really, but this was as close to it as Beverley had seen him come.
“No, okay, hold on,” Peter said, laying a hand on his arm. “What I meant to say is, and I tried to tell Bev this once but,” to her, “you didn’t really listen. What I meant is, I know when I’m being flirted with, at least I know if it matters, and you can’t go around thinking I don’t.”
“Heard and understood.” Nightingale nodded, far too seriously. Beverley limped around the back of the car and didn’t bother not rolling her eyes, because nobody was looking at her – no, wait, both of them were looking at her.
“Scientifically speaking,” she said, “no, Peter, you don’t know most of the time, but I don’t think you want me to start citing case studies.”
“Fine, I’m not even going to have that argument,” he said, “but you knew, right? That it mattered?”
She blinked at him. “Obviously, but you’re really bad at this, too.”
“Oh, for -” said Peter, and leaned in and kissed a very startled Nightingale. He wasn’t startled enough to not lean into it, though.
Beverley had been wondering if Peter might do that – it hadn’t seemed likely, because he was bad at starting things, she had extensive personal experience of it – and wondering what she’d think if he did. Perhaps it was the two am effect, or it had to be closer to three now, but mostly what she thought was that men in formalwear kissing, all other things aside, was usually a good look, and this was no particular exception. It was surprisingly relieving.
“Um, because being cryptic is catching,” Peter said – Beverley couldn’t help a snort at that – “When I said you looked like you were auditioning for the lead role in a BBC period drama, I mean you look really good tonight, and this is not the right time and I’m way too tired, but hypothetically those clothes would look even better on my floor.”
“Ah.” Nightingale had upgraded ‘flustered’ to something that strongly resembled a blush.
“Okay, too far into not cryptic,” Peter said, letting go of his arm, and going a little red himself.
“Hey, babes,” said Beverley. “Want me to rescue you before you realise you’re being flirted with and the conversation gets awkward?”
“For now,” said Peter. “But I think you might just have to let me sink at some point.”
“I know,” she said. “I had to drag you into a river once, remember?”
“Well,” said Nightingale, a smile starting to play on his face, “I think you can rest assured that one or the other of us will be there to pull you out.”