It had taken them almost thirty years to get to this moment.
Finally, they would bring back the old ways, the only truly right ways.
And the Grandmaster – the imposter who dared call himself the Grandmaster – would be the first to die.
He woke up and felt it immediately.
The Veil had vanished.
According to the Council’s calculations, it should have lasted at least ten years longer; it would have given them enough time to get the humans accustomed to the change.
But magic was fickle. He should have known.
He took a deep breath and got up. There was nothing to be done now. They would have to muddle through somehow. At least mankind’s subconscious memories would resurface, making it easier for them.
There was so much he had to do. It meant he’d be late for work – but at least that also meant he’d delay several conversations he’d known were coming for quite some time.
He sighed. No rest for the magical.
The first hint that something was different, that the world he knew had changed overnight, were the little winged creatures fluttering around in his kitchen.
James, who usually preferred to have his first cup of coffee before being confronted with the inexplicable, blinked at them and was surprised when a word darted into his mind.
Thinking of it, they did look like the pixies he’d heard and read about in stories when he was a child, but he was still unsure how he’d made the connection that fast.
It also didn’t change the fact that they were flying around in his kitchen and several of them were jumping up and down on his coffee maker.
“You – “
Salt, his brain supplied. They don’t like salt.
Automatically, he reached for it and... threw a bit on one of the pixies. They all started to shriek, then left through the window.
James stood in his kitchen and stared at the bag of salt in his hands. What had just happened?
For a while, getting ready and occasionally throwing a glance into his kitchen to make sure they had truly departed, James considered the possibility that he had finally snapped. Rob – DI Lewis always said there was “too much going on in that brain of yours”.
As soon as he stepped foot outside his flat, however, that possibility vanished as he watched several people scamper away to make room for a...
“Good morning” the pale vampire, who had walked up straight to him, said brightly. “Sergeant James Hathaway?”
“Any unusual occurrences?”
“There were pixies in my kitchen. I threw salt at them” he replied matter-of-factly, deeming this the best response he could give under the circumstances.
“The best thing to do, sir. I am glad to hear you are well. I presume you’ll be going to work?”
“Excellent. I’m sure you will encounter no hindrances, Sergeant. Thank you for your time.”
And he disappeared as quickly as he had come.
As soon as he sat in the car, he called Lewis. He just wanted to know if he, too, had been encountering supernatural creatures, and if he was doing alright, if James was being honest.
He didn’t answer then, nor the next three times he attempted to reach him.
James forced himself to drive straight to the station instead of to Lewis’ flat to check up on him. They would meet there. Lewis was alright – he had to be.
His way to work was... more interesting than usual. On every street, there were creatures he had never seen before but could identify at a glance; and none of them, not even those he would have expected to be, like trolls or hobglobins, appeared to be hostile. In fact, most of them seemed to be trying their best to calm humans down and explain things to them.
James was starting to think that the reason most were eerily calm, just like he himself, was that on a subconscious level, they had always known these creatures existed. After all, why else would there be so many stories about them? It felt a bit like suddenly waking up with a dictionary in his head, he decided.
At the station, Superintendent Innocent and Doctor Hobson were waiting near the entrance and he realized they were making sure every officer showed up unharmed. He stepped up to them and bade them good morning; then, since he had the feeling they knew more than he, asked what was going on.
Doctor Hobson raised an eyebrow and pronounced two words. “The Veil.”
The Veil, said the voice in James’ head. Protecting humans and creatures alike by making sure the later are hidden from the former. Has been working for centuries without any problems –
Only that didn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Doctor Hobson sighed. “A mavka knocked on my door early this morning and told me. We’ve been neighbours for five years, it seems.”
“A vampire talked to me when I left my flat.”
“At least you didn’t accidentally step on your dwarf neighbour” Innocent said dryly. “He took it in stride, at least.”
The shock or whatever it was that had kept him calm was slowly wearing of. James could feel a headache coming.
And then, a voice from behind them said, “Pleasure. I’m the King of Hell.”
Not the devil, James repeated to himself, studying the bearded man who was somewhat smaller than DI Lewis, not the devil, not the devil. In fact, he’d been downright insulted when they’d insinuated as much.
It was one way to stay sane.
After he’d materialized out of thin air and announced his presence, the King – who wouldn’t give them any other name since “Your Majesty will be quite fitting” – he, James, Hobson and Innocent had retired to the Superintendent’s office, where DI Peterson had soon followed them. He seemed to see himself as her certain successor, these days, so James wasn’t surprised, although he certainly wasn’t pleased, either, since the man continued to look down at DI Lewis for choosing to stay with Inspector Morse all these years instead of pursuing his career.
He was now trying to explain the Veil to the King of Hell, which...
James could probably have warned him how this was going to end – years of working with Lewis had honed his instincts, and he had known that the demon was not someone to be crossed the moment he had sat eyes on him – but Innocent beat him to it. “Thank you, DI Peterson, but I would like to –“
“Oh” the king said, looking at him. “That’s you.”
Peterson blushed fiercely; James couldn’t blame him since he had uttered the words in the tone usually reserved for people who were looking at a cockroach they’d been trying to catch in vain for hours.
“Alright” the demon continued, “A few ground rules, since I don’t want to be stuck here all day explaining things. One, if I use your title, I wish to show you that I consider you someone worth of my notice. Two, if I remember your last name, I respect you, which has happened rarely enough. And three, if I use your first name, I do pay you the honour of considering you a threat, we can and have actually tried to kill each other multiple times, and I therefore think of you as an old friend. Remember that for later.”
He snapped his fingers and a glass filled with what was no doubt an alcoholic beverage appeared in his left hand. “You undoubtedly wonder why I decided to grace your station with my presence, Chief Superintendent. Well, I need to speak to the Grandmaster.”
Grandmaster, the voice in James’ head popped up again. Leader of the Council of Creatures in Britain. The most powerful Creature in the Commonwealth.
“He’s been fluttering around all morning, small wonder, really, but he has to come to work eventually” he continued smoothly.
“The Grandmaster works at my station” Innocent said.
“Yes, has done so for years. One of your best men, although he’s careful to keep it a secret. Can’t let anybody know how clever we really are.”
“As opposed to you?” James asked. He couldn’t help it.
He turned to him and studied him carefully. “Exactly, Sergeant Hathaway.”
Remembering what he had told them before, James could only stare.
Before he was able to question what made him think he was in any way deserving of both his title and his name being remembered, the door opened and DI Lewis strolled in.
That in itself was a little strange. Robbie Lewis didn’t stroll. No; Robbie Lewis walked, with carefully measured steps, making most people feel at ease immediately.
This Robbie Lewis didn’t want that.
No, this Robbie Lewis was one James had only ever seen glimpses of (which he had then tried promptly to forget, lest he show up in his dreams) – bright-eyed, smartly dressed (was that an Armani suit?), confident and ready to deal with anything and everything that was thrown his way.
Fae, whispered the voice in James’ head, one of the Fae.
The demon stepped forward and held out his hand. “Robbie. It’s been too long.”
If I use your first name, I do pay you the honour of considering you a threat, we can and have actually tried to kill each other multiple times, and I therefore think of you as an old friend. Remember that for later.
“It has indeed, your Highness.”
Despite him addressing the King as such, James couldn’t help the impression that here, two equally powerful individuals were meeting on neutral ground.
Neutral because this has nothing to do with his position as DI, he thought.
After they’d greeted one another, Lewis looked at each of them in turn. “Superintendent Innocent, James, Laura... DI Peterson.”
James wouldn’t have thought him capable of the subtle derision in his voice as he greeted the later.
“Say, would you mind terribly if I asked you to call Downing Street for me? I have been trying to reach the Prime Minister all morning.”
Despite it being worded as politely as possible, Lewis’ demeanour spoke of such authority that Peterson moved before he realized that one, they were of the same rank and two, he had no idea how to call the Prime Minister. “But –“
“Call Downing Street, tell them the Grandmaster needs to talk to the Prime Minister, and then add 0-3-1-2. It’s the code for this month to avoid prank callers.”
Peterson opened his mouth, closed it again, then left the room.
“Now, your Highness, regarding the Veil –“ Lewis turned and studied James. His eyes were glowing.
James realized that despite everything, he wasn’t scared in the least.
“James, I’m sure you have a headache.”
He admitted that it was so – now that Lewis had mentioned it, he’d noticed it again.
Lewis nodded, his eyes still glowing, and touched his arm.
It took him a second to realize his headache had vanished, just like that.
“That’s good then” Lewis said, sounding as if he had just handed him a cup of tea instead of healed him. “Now –“
A phone rang out and he sighed. “Please excuse me.”
“Of course” the demon said.
Lewis looked at Innocent as well, and she nodded.
He took an earpiece that James would have sworn he had no idea how to operate out of his suit pocket. “Lord Robert Lewis, Grandmaster of – oh hello, pet.”
And suddenly James noticed something else.
When he had entered the room, Lewis’ Geordie accent had vanished, making place for a polished English that wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from an Oxford don. Now, talking to his daughter – both his children, since it soon transpired it was a conference call – it was slipping back in.
“Aye, don’t worry, everything’s under control here... Yes, I’m talking to his Majesty. So? Well, it was a bit sudden, thankfully most people were asleep... I’m sure you will, Mark. Yes, they’re fine” throwing James and Laura a glance. “Talk to you later.”
“Pray, how are Lady Lyn and Lord Mark? I hear they’re both doing great work.”
“Thank you, they are doing their best to ensure the family legacy goes on” Lewis boasted and James wondered why he had never thought it strange that a man like him should be at odds with his son.
“Undoubtedly.” The demon raised an eyebrow. “So, what are you –“
“Let’s go to my office” Lewis said quickly.
“You’re right” he agreed, his eyes travelling over their assorted faces. “We should –“
A knock on the door. Pezterson entered. “Sorry, but I’ve got the Prime Minister on the phone –“
“Coming. You too, your Highness; he tends to get nervous about such things.”
“Can’t imagine way” he said smoothly and they excited the office together after Lewis had bidden them a polite farewell.
“I can safely say” Innocent began “That I didn’t see that coming.”
James thought it was the understatements of the century.
None o the officers would meet his eyes as he made his way to their office. They didn’t know what to think, either.
Gurdip was the only one who greeted him. “Sergeant Hathaway.”
Gurdip smiled weakly. “I didn’t really expect to see a member of the Fae and a demon rush past me today, but then...”
“I didn’t know” Hathaway rushed out, knowing this would interest the station more than anything else. Better get it over with.
“Oh I know. You look like a deer caught in headlights.” He quickly added, “No offense.”
“None taken. Are they in –“
“In your office, yes. Although...” Gurdip shrugged. “Didn’t much look like it from what I saw through the door.”
James would later think that it was just as well that he had been forewarned.
Despite the fact that they had never felt such formalities necessary, he knocked. Lewis told him to enter.
When he did, he found his DI and the King of hell in consultation. “At least the population seems to be calm.”
“Yes, but how long can we count on that? I’d rather give out a press release now, make it official –“
“Or we could wait until the dust has settled; mankind has a wonderful ability to get used to –“
Lewis looked up; his eyes were once more glowing in a strange light that was, however, not unlike the twinkle James had occasionally seen when he finally put the pieces together on a case. “Ah, James. Come in.”
He nodded, unsure of how to respond.
This was most definitely not the office he remembered. It was twice as large, for one thing; there were shelves with books in languages he didn’t recognize and other things he suspected were rather magical; and there was a door in a wall where there hadn’t previously been.
“Ah, sorry. I can change –“
“No, that’s really not necessary. I suppose I’ll have to get used to it.”
The king of Hell chuckled. ”Told you, Robbie.”
“You did indeed. Now, with the Prime Minister up to date, and the public reasonably calm at this point –“
“Do you perhaps wish for a... human perspective?” James asked carefully. He might as well try and work with what he got.
They looked at him. “That... might actually be helpful” the King said.
“Told you he was good” Lewis boasted.
“Oh yes, I do remember very well what you told me” he smirked.
For one second, Lewis looked almost – angry? Confused? The expression was gone too fast for James to figured it out. That was new as well, and probably the most disconcerting change of all. He had always prided himself on his ability to read Lewis. “I am sure you do” he finally replied, somewhat overtly carelessly. “Now, what do you think of it all, James?”
“If anything, the... creatures?” he began and continued after Lewis nodded, “Have been very helpful. A vampire came up to me to make sure I was alright, and Laure said one of her neighbours...” Then he realized. “You sent them, didn’t you sir?”
He shrugged. “I called in a few favours to check on my closest friends, yes.”
Closest. He was one of Lewis’ closest friends.
While it wasn’t quite what he never allowed himself to wish for in the first place, except when he was lying half-awake in bed before dawn, it was more than James had ever dared hope for.
“Subtle” the King drawled.
Lewis shot him a glare. “I don’t tell you how to rule Hell, do I?”
“I’d like to see you try.”
“I am sure you would. Oh, it would be a grand success. I do happen to know that you’re not exactly popular amongst your subjects, you know.”
“They’re demons, Robbie; hatred is basically the only emotion they are capable of.”
“Are we pretending we don’t have feelings again? And here I do remember you bringing my kiddies presents for their birthdays...”
If there was one thing James had never associated with Robbie Lewis, it was witty repartee. He could be funny and sarcastic when he wanted to be, but this...
“I better leave and check on hell before we give your Sergeant an aneurism. I’ll keep you updated.”
“I was about to say the same, your Majesty. May nothing bar your way.”
“And may yours be light and safe to travel.”
With this greeting – which James assumed was some form of ritual – the king vanished only to reappear a moment later, pointing at James. “And I meant all developments” he said with a grin, then disappeared again.
Lewis sighed as he slumped down into his chair. “Mostly all of this is a bloody mess, James.”
And there he was the Robbie Lewis he knew and – the Robbie Lewis he knew better than anyone else. “It’s certainly been a surprise” he said carefully.
He snorted. “You can say that again. I assume you have questions?”
The truth was James didn’t know how to begin. “I –“
But Lewis’ phone – the new one James had only seen today, not the one he’d been told to make work on a regular basis – rang again and he sighed. “Sorry, seems like it will be a long day. How about you come over to my house tonight? By then I should have got things under control, or at least something like it.”
A look of relief passed across Lewis’ face for a moment before he picked up. “Lord Rob – oh, Madam Secretary.”
James thought it best to excuse himself.
He had considered getting coffee, but instead he ran into Superintendent Innocent and several other officers. “Ah. Hathaway. Good. The Prime Minister just called me – it seems he, the King of Hell and the Grandmaster have a plan” she said, only the slightest hint of sarcasm detectable in her voice. “For the rest of the day, we will ensure the general public stays calm.”
“Thankfully so far everything appears to be, ma’am.”
She nodded. “Yes, and we have to make sure it stays that way.”
And so, for the rest of the day, he was busy fielding calls with Gurdip and now and then driving out to calm someone who simply couldn’t cope with the fact that they had a water wraith as a neighbour now. Granted, it all felt rather fragile, and possibly like the calm before the storm, but still – it was better than riots on the streets.
Around four pm, he managed to have some coffee with Laura. “I’ve barely seen Robbie since this morning” she told him, “He’s constantly on his phone, or nowhere to be found.”
“He told me he’d be busy.”
“I still have trouble wrapping my head around it, if I’m being honest. I knew both him and Val for years.” Her eyes widened. “Do you think Val was – no, no, I won’t be one of those who gossip behind someone’s back. And what if she was? God knows they had enough reasons to keep it a secret.”
“Still – I have to say, I’d rather this all be in Robbie’s hands than Morse’s, back in the day.” She smiled. “I can just imagine him reacting to the news. He’d have an aneurism.”
James had his own suspicions about Morse, but decided to keep them to himself for the moment.
“When you see him, tell him to drop by sometime, will you?” were her parting words, and James was left to wonder how she had known they had an appointment.
It was only when he drove to Lewis’ place, severely fatigued, that he remembered that for the past few years Lewis had lived in a flat, not a house. And yet he had said house –
And there was indeed a house where, as far as James could remember, an apartment building had stood not so long ago. Only now did he realize that he had never seen a single of Lewis’ neighbours.
He opened the door before he had a chance to knock or ring the bell. “James. Come in.”
The flat – no, the house – was as changed as their office had been. Signs that things weren’t quite normal, or at least James’ sort of normal, were everywhere – more instruments that looked, if not magical, then decidedly strange, a huge mirror he couldn’t imagine Lewis really used to dress himself, so it was probably used for different purposes, a huge bowl of water stood in the middle of the living room table, and – what were those noises coming out of the cupboard?
“Don’t pay attention to it, that’s what it wants. Not tonight, Bogey!”
The noises ceased.
“Bogey?” James asked, sounding weaker than he would have liked. “As in bogey man?”
Lewis nodded. “They tend to show up when there’s magic around. And the more magic, the more of them – Lyn tells me that now there’s the little one arrived, two more have shown up in their house! They don’t do any harm though, and they get very attached to their homes. No burglar better dare try and enter here, may he be magical or not.”
It was with a strange sense of relief that he heard Lewis’ familiar Geordie accent – apparently he was close enough to him to feel comfortable using it.
“You look like you could use a drink.”
“Depends. How much do you have in the house?”
He looked at him, his eyes twinkling. “Don’t start with me. I have a higher alcohol tolerance than you humans can ever hope to achieve.”
James couldn’t help but think that no matter what, listening to Lewis explain something about “you humans” would always seem strange to him.
A few minutes later, they were sitting on the sofa having beers. “Alright. Let’s start with your questions.”
The first words out of his mouth weren’t a question, however; instead they were those he had been mulling over in his head for a good portion of the day. “You don’t believe in God.”
Lewis raised an eyebrow and James thought, rather vexed, that it was unfair that an Armani suit fit him so well and still looked pristine after what must have been a harrowing day. “Yes?”
“You don’t believe in God, but you regularly meet the King of Hell.”
“Well, yes. I’ve known him for years. We’ve worked well together. God hasn’t even managed to show up once, so why should I believe he exists?”
That actually made sense. In a strange way, but then, what hadn’t been strange about today?
He took another sip of his beer. “I – I know it’s personal, but I was wondering – I mean – if you don’t mind telling me –“
“Val” Lewis’ expression softened. “You want to know about Val, is that it?”
He nodded. Ever since Laura had brought it up, he hadn’t been able to stop wondering.
“She was human. Should have seen all the nonsense that happened when we announced we were getting married.”
When James didn’t say anything, he continued, “I come from a rather old Fae family, and there’ve always been those who were for a strict separation between creatures and humans. “Having fun” with a human is perfectly fine, apparently” his voice dripped with derision “But actually building a life with one – oh no, that was a crime against our Fae blood. But marry we did, and God knows we were happy for a long time.”
“So you... inherited your title?” he asked carefully, but Lewis shook his head.
“No. Well, I inherited a title. I’ve been Lord Robert Lewis since the day I was born, just like my children have been Lady Lyn and Lord Mark. Mind, me and Val made certain that didn’t put any ideas in their heads – after all, what is a title? No, I was elected the Grandmaster. When I was thirty-one... well, you could say we reached a crisis of sorts.”
“The elements I mentioned – you know, those who feel we are superior to humans – they staged a coup. The Grandmaster was murdered, and they tried to make one of their persuasion his successor.”
James’ blood ran cold when he realized that meant there might very well have been people after Lewis – and perhaps they still were.
“Hey” he seemed to know what he was thinking, for he reached out and squeezed his forearm.”Don’t worry about me. I’ve made it this long, haven’t I?”
“You didn’t want the job, sir, did you.” While this version of Robbie Lewis wasn’t quite the one James had grown close – perhaps too close – to over the years, some things didn’t change, and he was absolutely certain of that.
“God no. But someone had to, someone who was more liberal in their views. Val stood behind me, of course, and Morse said –“
“DCI Morse knew!?” Hathaway couldn’t quite imagine the sourly but brilliant man he had heard so much about would have been pleased to learn magical creatures existed.
“He had Fee blood in him – not much, must have been a few generations ago – and he could see through the Veil. Knew what I was the second he set eyes on me. He became a trusted friend and adviser, and he’s still very much missed.”
Something about the way he pronounced it made James feel that the one who missed him most was and would stay Lewis himself, but he didn’t say it out loud.
He took a deep breath. “The Veil...”
“Thought you’d want to know about that. No one knows how it first came to be. There are myths of course but other than that... It’s protected us and the humans for centuries, millennia, perhaps. But it had been growing weaker for a while – we’ve been working on slowly making sure that, when it eventually collapses, everything will be fine. This happened too quickly. Felt it was down the second I woke up this morning.”
“I see. But so far everything’s been going well?”
Lewis nodded. “Yes, but I can’t deny that I’m worried, James. It’s only a matter of time before someone does something stupid, and then –“
A door James had so far paid no attention to burst open and a cheerful voice called out “Everything under control down under, Dad –“
The young man who strolled in wearing a robe of some sort looked so much like Lewis that James wouldn’t have needed to hear him addressed as his father to guess who it was. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know you had a guest – You must be James!”
And he bowed to him.
James’ hope that his confusion wasn’t shown on his face was proven to be futile when Lewis laughed good-naturedly. “Human customs, my boy.”
“Oh, of course!” And Mark simply pulled James up from the sofa and into a hug, explaining cheerfully as he let go, “Sorry. I have been working mostly amongst creatures for so long now, it gets engrained, you know. That’s why I’m wearing this, too – it’s the traditional robe of the Fae.”
“Of course” he echoed faintly.
“It’s why we pretend to be at odds” Lewis said. “Mark has been doing so much work down there, it made things easier.” He couldn’t have sounded prouder if he had tried.
Mark clasped James’ shoulder. “Yeah, we’ve all have our work cut out for us, especially now. It’s why Lyn and I are so glad Dad has you to keep an eye on him.”
“Mark”. Now there was a warning in Lewis’ voice.
Mark turned to look at him. “Come on Dad, you do need looking after – you’d work yourself into the ground, and you know it!” Then he hugged him too.
“Did you just... arrive from New Zealand?” James asked for lack of a better way to word his question.
“Oh yes, I passed through the Realm.”
The Veil, Lewis being more powerful than the Prime Minister, the King of Hell, and now the fairy Realm James had used to read about as a child.
This day couldn’t possibly get any weirder.
After Mark had accepted Lewis’ offer of a beer, he asked, “Has His Majesty been in touch?”
“Not yet” Lewis answered over his shoulder as he walked into the kitchen.” But you know how he is. He’ll send word when we least expect it.”
James remembered something and asked Mark quietly, “Is it true they have tried to kill each other?”
“Oh yeah, can’t count the ways. Mostly when they got into each other’s way. Now, though, I think they now and then attempt it half-heartedly for old times’ sake more than anything else. We’ve known him since we were kids.”
“Have to say you’re taking this pretty well” Mark said, “You being a former priest and all.”
“I never made it to becoming a full blown priest” he answered “And if I’m being honest I’m not quite sure I’m not still in shock.”
“Aye, it’s a lot to take in.” It wasn’t difficult to figure out Mark had learned his accent from Lewis, too. “But you’ll be fine.” His eyes shown in the same way his father’s now and then did. “After all, Dad’s here.”
James didn’t quite know what to make of all of those allusions to a... whatever Mark meant between him and DI Lewis. Certainly he couldn’t think –
“You gossiped enough?” Lewis returned from the kitchen, and James couldn’t help but suspect he’d given Mark time to sound him out how he was actually dealing. It was just something that Lewis would do.
“Yeah, Dad, everything fine here, you don’t have to worry about us” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Just making sure –“
“That reminds me” James interrupted him, feeling rather foolish that he had forgotten until now, “Doctor Hobson said to tell you that –“
“Oh dear, Laura. And not only her – I forgot I should speak to the Superintendent as well. Will you be alright if I leave you here for about an hour? And if Lyn drops by, keep her here, will you? I’d like to speak to her.”
“Of course, Dad. Off you go.”
“Sir, I can –“
“It’s quite alright, James.”
And with that, Lewis walked out of the door Mark had entered through and was gone.
“The Realm?” James asked.
“Of course” he answered lightly. “Just like Dad really, to get too busy for such details... Every time I tried to reach him today, he was in a different meeting. Small wonder.”
“And how is the situation in New Zealand, anyway?” James asked.
“Like I said – nothing to worry about. We’ve been making good progress in the last few years, so the Council believed me when I told them we had nothing to do with the Veil going down in the UK. Mostly they are glad it’s not their problem yet.” His face fell.
“What about the King of Hell?” James ventured.
“What about him?”
“Won’t he – try anything, now that –“
“Oh dear – no, that would annoy Dad, and then they wouldn’t have their monthly Scrabble appointment, so –“
Before James could process the fact that his governor apparently played scrabble with the King of Hell on a regular basis, the door to the Realm was thrown open and a woman he recognized from the pictures on Lewis’ wall came in, beaming as she saw them. “Mark – and I assume you must be James!” She hugged both of them.
“Hey, big sister. How’s the little one?”
“Fit as a fiddle.”
The Bogey man in the closet started making noises again. Lyn laughed, sounding remarkably like her father for a moment. “If we stay long enough, he might find a friend! Now, who cares for a cup of tea?”
James had never heard a more welcome question.
Laura had known Robbie Lewis – Grandmaster or not – for decades, and she’d felt certain that he would contact her one way or the other before the day was out; therefore she wasn’t in the least surprised when the door bell rang and he was standing there, still in the Armani suit she’d never seen on him before.
“Good evening, Laura.”
“Robbie – or is it Grandmaster now? Lord Robert?”
“Robbie will always be good enough” he promised as she stepped aside to let him through. Some half-remembered tales of how he shouldn’t be able to get in before she had invited him arose in her mind, but really, the very thought was ridiculous
“James told me you wanted to see me?”
“Mostly I just wanted to make sure everything’s alright.”
“It is – as far as we can tell.”
She supposed that we meant the Council he was the leader of. “Would you like something to drink?”
“A glass of wine with a drop of honey in it, if you have any, please.”
Must be a Fae habit.
As he sat down on her sofa, he looked somewhat tired, and she felt touched that he would show weakness in front of her when he had negotiated with the King of Hell (and that would take some getting used to) in front of his boss today. “Here” she passed him a glass.
“I have to say, that was a rather adventurous way of finding out magical creatures exist” she said after having taken a sip of her own drink.
He smiled. “It wouldn’t have been if we’d had our way.”
She hummed. “Imagine if Morse had ever –“ he looked away. “Morse knew?
He explained the late DCI’s heritage to her. She shook her head. “Dear God, he must have hated being related to the Fae.”
“Not really. After a while, he enjoyed sitting in at the Council and being his usual know-it-all self. I’ve always held that we should consult more with humans.” The tone of his voice told her those had been particularly frustrating discussions.
“I’m sure that big brain of his was useful” she said mildly. Robbie nodded.
“I hope you didn’t leave any important meeting to check up on me.”
“I was talking to Mark and James at home.”
Mark? Hadn’t he still been in New Zealand this morning? Magic, she supposed. Still, she was glad that they weren’t at odds with one another after all. She’d always thought it rather strange that a father like Robbie would allow himself and his son to drift apart.
On the other hand, she was not in the least bit surprised that James was at Robbie’s place. “How is he taking it?”
“Better than I could have hoped, really” he said proudly, and there had been a time when she would have tried to tell herself that what he was feeling must be fatherly.
“So Val knew as well, I imagine?” she asked gently.
He nodded. “When we fell in love... it’s one of the few things that can pierce through the Veil.”
And there she had her opening. She raised an eyebrow. “So it was only a matter of time, then.”
And, even though he tried, he couldn’t make her explain what she meant.
The visit to Superintendent Innocent was more difficult to navigate. Try as he might, Robbie couldn’t hide the fact that he arrived as the Grandmaster of the Council of Creatures in Britain rather than the DI she knew so well.
To her credit, her greeting was perfectly cordial. “Robbie – if I still may?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Her smile was brittle. “That does seem rather unnecessary now, doesn’t it? I assume you outrank the entire police force.”
That was not an exaggeration.
“Jean, then. May I come in?”
“Of course – we need to talk, anyway. My husband is visiting his mother – that’s probably best for the moment, wouldn’t you say?”
“And then Dad came home late from work one day and we knew exactly something bad had happened. Mum tried to shield us, of course, but the murder of the Grandmaster was not something you could keep a secret, not even from kids.”
“Do you want to know how bad it was?” Lyn asked, her voice dropping. “Morse came over to check that everything was alright.”
As far as Hathaway knew, the man had barely put his foot over Lewis’ doorstep in all the years they had worked together.
“Dad wasn’t even a member of the Council then – not a full-fledged one, anyway. He used to run errands for them sometimes, and of course he knew all of them.” Lyn smiled wryly. “He once told us that part of the reason he became Grandmaster was that the different fractions thought he could easily be manipulated.”
How wrong they had been, then. If there was one thing he knew about Robbie Lewis, it was that he didn’t let himself manipulated by anyone, may they be witness or suspect.
“Dad’s biggest success then was the truce he made with Hell” Lyn explained, her eyes starting to glow – Hathaway had come to suspect that it now and then happened naturally, especially when the Fae relaxed. “Naturally, there was an outcry about that too.”
“He weathered it all though” Mark said, grinning.
“And started playing Scrabble with the King.”
“That came later – after they had tried to get rid of each other a couple of times.” Mark shrugged. “I don’t get it that well, but then I never got Dad’s fondness for Morse either.”
“He was very clever” Lyn replied, “And he could be charming when he wanted to be.”
“Still – oh well. Dad usually has his reasons for keeping people around.”
Mark shot him another glance that Hathaway did his best to ignore.
Lewis returned to the welcome sight of his children and his Sergeant drinking tea. “Pet, would you fetch me a cuppa too, please?” he asked, loosening his tie. “Jean had quite a few questions, as you can imagine.”
“And Laura?” James asked automatically and Robbie gave him a small smile.
“Hanging in, as always. She actually said to tell you not to worry about her. “We’ve got bigger problems now” she said. I have to agree. At least I have Jean’s promise that the police force will work with the Council, so that’s something.”
“London and whereabouts would agree” Lyn said. “I was in contact with them shortly before I came here”. She handed Robbie a cup of tea which he gladly accepted.
“Thank you”. He took a sip and closed his eyes. “Aye, just what the doctor ordered.”
When he turned to James, he saw him stifling a yawn. Right, today had even been an exhausting day for him; he didn’t even want to know how the humans who’d had their world turned upside-down must feel. “Better bring you home.” He put his cup on the table, crushing an impulse to offer James his guest bed for the night.
After all, there was no reason for him to be hanging out his old governor at this time of the night.
“I can do it, Dad” Mark immediately offered. “You must be tired –“
“Not that tired, I’ll just take him through the Realm, be back in a few.” He looked at James again. “If that’s fine by you.”
He blinked, but then nodded. “Of course. I trust you, sir.
He hadn’t realized how much he needed to hear those words coming from James. Look at you, a voice in his head that sounded remarkably like Morse, old enough to be his father and yet you’re –
“Let’s go, then.” He stood up. “Wait for me, kiddies?”
A chorus of “Dad!” accompanied them to the door.
“Just stay close to me, and don’t look at anyone until I let you know it’s alright. The Realm can be fickle.”
“I suppose that’s true of all magic.”
“That it is” he agreed, then touched James’ shoulder. “Just a protection shroud... it’s safer for humans.”
James again didn’t protest.
Lewis still kept an eye on him; the Realm could be a little overwhelming when first entered, although both Val and Morse had struggled through alright.
He was ready to bet that James, with his giant brain, could see a lot more of what was going on than others, too.
Shadows hushes past them into the darkness that was almost, but not quite, absolute, and he felt more than heard him take in a deep breath. “Everything alright?”
“It’s a little... overwhelming” he admitted, “But then the whole day’s been – no offense.”
“None taken. If we could have had more time, this would have been easier for everyone, but with the Veil going down so suddenly... ah there we are.” Robbie reached out and opened the door he had made appear.
They walked through James’ front door.
“It’s... practical” he said carefully.
“You can say that again. Can’t remember how often I had to take Morse through because he couldn’t wait to interview a suspect” he chuckled, then threw a glance out the window.
Of course he guessed immediately. He wasn’t such a good copper for nothing. “You have someone watching my place, haven’t you.”
“It’s safer. There is every chance the Veil came down on its own, but...” he trailed off. He couldn’t really describe why he felt the way he did, only that it was so; and until he had personally seen every proof that no one had been behind today’s events, or at least no one with malicious intent, he was going to make extra sure everyone who was precious to him was safe.
Especially if they happened to be a bit too precious to him. And, if his children were anything to go by, it was that obvious.
“It’s Albert. The vampire who talked to you this morning. Don’t worry, he gave up drinking human blood hundreds of years ago.”
“I see”. James is as always, cool as a cucumber, and Robbie would like him to openly say what he means just for once.
“Just wave out the window if you need help. He’ll come. They don’t sleep, you know.”
“And the can go out in sunlight” he pointed out.
“Yes. No idea where that superstition came from. Although Lyn has found some documentation about it in Transylvania lately. I’m sure you two could discuss it for hours.”
He couldn’t have been prouder of how the kids had turned out, especially after losing Val. He’d been close to just giving up at this point – it had been so shortly after Morse, too – but they’d stayed at his side and made sure everything stayed stable. Long enough for him to decide he had to focus on one side of his life for a while, and to join Mark in New Zealand for two years. The Veil had taken care of the rest.
Once the New Zealand Council had realized the Grandmaster of the UK had come to visit their country, they had soon found an understanding, and their cooperation had only grown more and more from then. When Lewis had felt it was time he returned to his old hunting grounds, his son had been ready to stay as an ambassador of sorts.
It had been easy enough to tell people after his return that Mark was still trying to find himself and that they were estranged. In fact, it was a plan that had been suggested by none other than Morse, years ago – after a fight with his teenage son, Robbie had been rather impatient during a Council meeting, and he’d noticed, of course. In one of the rare moments in which he’d shown he valued their relationship as much as Lewis did, he’d asked what had happened, and then told him not getting along might be a good cover story in the long run.
Sometimes, Lewis regretted that he hadn’t been around to see his plan put into action.
“Sir – Robbie?”
James squeezed his forearm and Robbie realized he’d been gathering wool. He shook his head. “Sorry. Mark was right, it’s been a long day.”
“Are you sure it’s safe for you to return?”
That was just like James, always more concerned about others than himself. “Aye, don’t worry. I’ve been running around the Realm since I was a wee lad at my mum’s skirt tails, nothing’s going to happen to me there.”
James studied him, and it occurred to Robbie that, despite having learned about the Council and his role in it, despite having met the King of Hell, despite knowing now that he’s not human, he wasn’t looking at him any differently than he had yesterday, or last week, or the months before that.
“I’ll be fine” he repeated.
“You better get some rest. Big day.”
“For all involved” James said with that half-smile of his, “Although I have to admit DI Peterson’s expression was a reward in itself.”
“That really was something” he agreed. He probably enjoyed it too much himself. And concerning his Highness... he’d been after the chance to see everyone at the station learn the truth for years, as Robbie well knew. For a demon, he enjoyed a good practical joke as much as the next guy.
He realized they’d been staring at one another for longer than socially acceptable and cleared his throat. “Well then. See you tomorrow?”
“Do you want me to pick you up, sir?”
Normally he would have declined – now that people knew, it would be much easier to sue the Realm to gain quick access to his office; but coming from James, the question wasn’t as innocent as it appeared. They didn’t always share a car on the way to work, but for him, it might well be an indication that not everything had changed, and so, Robbie made a quick decision. “Yes, thank you, James.”
Another one of those half-smiles of his, and soon Robbie was back in the Realm.
Despite or maybe because of his assurances to James that nothing would happen (now and then eh considered the possibility that magic might not only have a mind of its own, but also a sense of humour) something did.
He felt her before he saw her and slowly turned around, careful to tamp down his powers in a show of respect.
Lord Robert Lewis might have been the Grandmaster of the Council of Creatures of Great Britain, but that didn’t mean there weren’t those who chose to live outside their community.
And water wraiths had better reasons to stay for themselves than most.
This one, Robbie had known since he was a wee nipper, and yet she looked just as young as she had then, while being older than Oxford. “Greetings, Mel.” He bowed.
She nodded. “Greetings, Lord Robert. Is there news?”
The old greeting. She already knew. She always knew everything.
“The Veil has come down.”
She frowned and in this moment he knew his suspicions had been correct.
Something was wrong.
“Do you have news, Mistress of the Waves?” It was an ancient title, barely used anymore; but he hoped she would appreciate it.
She nodded. “The Veil didn’t come down on its own.”
There was no use lying to her, there never had been. “I suspected as much.”
“I know” she replied simply, “You were right to be on your guard.”
His blood ran cold. “It’s them, isn’t it?”
After the previous Grandmaster had been murdered and he’d originally been placed into his position as a puppet to be taken advantage of, it had taken him a few years to carefully extract all the conspirators from the Council. It had needed lies and subterfuge, and his contract with the King of Hell – all things he had initially loathed and at which he had admittedly got bit too good at eventually; but he still remembered the worry, the panic that every time he said goodbye to his family it might be the last time.
Val had never chastised him for doing it. Not once. But he knew she had suffered. As had the children.
The Soldiers of Purity, that was what their enemies had called themselves. Purity, he thought contemptuously. As if anything good had ever come out of that.
As if any Fae could have made him happier than his Val had.
“Yes. But they are shielded very well – even from me.”
They had learned, then. Well, as Morse would have told him, he’d better overcome this issue, or there were bound to be problems.
“His Majesty” he asked abruptly. “Can I trust him?” He was hoping that, mercurial as she was, Mel wouldn’t mind his blunt question; and he had to know. While he had to admit that he personally did trust him – even liked him – it would have been foolish not to question the demons loyalty.
She laughed then, surprising him; a light, happy laugh, tinkling through the air like water. “You underestimate the loyalty you inspire in people, Lord Robert. The King of Hell... The Council...” she gave him a knowing look. “Your Sergeant:”
She had probably watched them as they had crossed the Realm.
“He’s a good man” he said.
“Oh yes, and a little more... but if everything turns out well, there will be time for that.”
That was just the bloody problem, wasn’t it? Everything could go wrong in a second. Thirty years ago, he’d come home from work, told his wife he’d just check in with the Council for a second because he had had just completed a task for them and run straight into a crime scene, the fight still going on.
Until that moment, he hadn’t known how much power he actually possessed. Ever since then, he had been careful not to show it off too much.
Which was probably, he thought, smiling ruefully, why it had been a bad idea to heal James this morning. But thankfully no one except his Majesty had been around to grasp the full truth, and the King had known for a long time.
“We can only hope, Mel.”
Her name hadn’t often fallen from his lips.
“How human of you, Robbie” she said with an indulgent smile.
“They rub off on you when you spend enough time with them.”
With another smile and a curtsey, which he answered with a bow, Mel was gone and Robbie returned home.
James knew he should probably have gone to bed and tried to get some sleep, but he was dying for another cup of tea.
It really had been a long and surprising day.
Even if he had known about creatures, even if he had known that they lived their lives in the shadows of the human world – at least for the most part – he wouldn’t have believed Lewis would be one of them.
Not that he was scared; but there always had been, and still was something so entirely human, so trustworthy about him. It was what had drawn James in on their first case, and it still beckoned him, like a moth to a flame.
And he’d healed him, healed his headache without a second thought.
While also being friends with the King of Hell and leading the creatures of Britain.
That would take some getting used to.
And then, weak as it was of him, there was a certain satisfaction to his day as well, because he had met Lewis’ children and they had seemed to like him.
As if that was in any way important.
He tried to tell himself that it wasn’t when his phone rang.
With a pang of guilt, he realized he’d been too preoccupied with everything going on around him to wonder how she was doing.
Once they had both assured each other that they were well, he began, “Actually there’s something you should know –“
By the time he arrived home, his bed seemed like the best place to be in, but of course that was not to be.
He could immediately tell that his children had been talking. Or gossiping, to be precise.
“Dad, James seems like a very lovely person.” Of course it was Lyn who pressed forward>; Mark seemed to be caught between amusement and embarrassment for the moment.
“He’s a good man, and an excellent detective.”
She snorted. “You know when you first said that abut Morse I thought you were having an affair?”
“I was a teenager. You know how they are. And I know it wasn’t true. And now..:”
“There’s nothing going on between me and James. We’re mates.”
“But you want there to be, don’t you?” she asked softly, and Mark, who had apparently decided to go with it, nodded along as he had been wont to do when they were little.
Robbie sighed. “It doesn’t matter. We have bigger problems – I met Lady Mel, and she informed me the Veil didn’t come down on its own.”
They didn’t even blink an eye. Of course; they had grown up with magical emergencies more or less happening every week, and sometimes they had been of the Council’s doing, too. Thank God for that contract with Hell. Things had always been easier to sort out when His Majesty had got involved.
“We’ll have to find out –“ Mark began.
They knew who he meant.
Mark paled. “Dad –“
“But they killed –“
“Hey” he reached out to squeeze his shoulder. “Don’t worry about little old me, I’ve always win until now, or I wouldn’t be standing here, would I? James fusses already enough for the both of you.”
While this bad the desired effect of making his son feel better, it also obviously brought his children’s thoughts back to James and he considered it more prudent to beat a hasty retreat.
Only to be caught by his sleeve by Lyn as he passed her. “Dad” she said quietly, “You know Mum would have wanted you to be happy, right?”
He swallowed, then nodded and hugged them good night before he left them.
“Is it done?”
“Not yet, Grandmaster.”
He frowned; they all knew he was not yet the uncontested Grandmaster, not while the imposter who’d taken office thirty years ago was still sitting firmly in the chair that should have been his a long time ago.
If they had known then what they knew now, Robbie Lewis wouldn’t have made it out alive that day. But they had all underestimated him.
“We have to move fast. If we give him time...” They had learned that lesson as well. Robbie Lewis had systematically eradicated all traces of them he could find.
It had taken them decades to become once more a group to be reckoned with.
A group who could and would take advantage of certain facts they had learned.
As always, he woke up refreshed. He would always be thankful that both of his children had inherited his magic’s trait of replenishing itself while he rested.
They were already up; he wasn’t surprised when he glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. “You shouldn’t have let me sleep.”
“You can’t run on nothing forever, Dad” Lyn started to lecture him, “Why don’t you get dressed? James will be here soon.”
They had never been entirely certain where Lyn’s knack for predictions came from. Mark was more adept at feeling whether someone was lying or not, which had served him well during his diplomatic mission.
He sighed. When had his children grown up, anyway?
James was not surprised to see the vampire – Albert – approached him as he left the house. “Good morning, Sergeant Hathaway.”
“Good morning. And it’s James, please.”
He nodded. “James. May I ask if you passed a good night?”
“Yes, thank you. All was remarkably quiet.”
Albert gave him a somewhat disconcerting smile that had him believe it wasn’t as quiet as he had thought it had been. “Good to hear. The Grandmaster will be pleased.”
While James wasn’t completely used to hear Lewis spoken of with as much reverence, it came close enough to his own feelings that he couldn’t help but smile. “I’m sure he will be. Thank you, Albert.”
The vampire bowed, but stood still until James got into his car and drove off. He wondered if Lewis had put the fear of God in him or if this just happened as a matter of course when the Grandmaster of the Council had a request.
Gave an order, more likely. He found himself wondering how Lewis had dealt with being the Sergeant to DCI Morse and yet at the same time one of the most powerful man in England. Undoubtedly he’d seen it as doing his duty – and it had probably helped that he and Morse had been so close.
DCI Morse and Fae blood. From all he had heard about the man, he’d never have imagined it.
It was still strange to drive up to what he now knew was Lewis house, brimming with magic; but at the same time, it felt more natural. Like it felt more natural to accept that Lewis and both his children were close, or that everyone who met him respected Lewis.
Then again, that could have been his own feelings talking once more.
The door opened before he’d even reached it. “Come in, James!” Lewis called out. He did so, wondering if Lewis himself had felt that he was approaching or if the house somehow knew. He couldn’t rule out anything.
The bogey man in the closet hollered when he entered; he decided it was a good sign.
Lewis was in the kitchen, were breakfast was doing a rather good job at cooking itself.
Small wonder he’d never really learned how to cook.
“Coffee?” he asked absent-mindedly, reading a... piece of parchment.
“Yes please” he replied.
Lewis waved a hand in the air and a cup flew over to him, brewed exactly as he liked it.
“Sorry” he said, looking up, “I’m a bit busy. I just got a report from Europe. It’s... troubling.”
“How so?” he asked.
“It seems that we are indeed the only place in the world the Veil went down in – there have been reports of people trying to tell their relatives what’s going on, only to realize they don’t understand a thing and immediately forget what they were told.”
“Surely, that makes things easier?”
“That may be” Lewis replied, “But we also know that the Veil was taken down on purpose, and if they can do it here, there’s no reason for them to wait, so –“
When all he got in answer was silence, he looked up. “Oh. I sprang that on you, didn’t I. Sorry, when I’m busy –“ He threw the parchment on the table. “Take a look.”
James did. “That’s old English.”
“Yes. I assumed –“
“I learned a bit but not much” he admitted. “Is there a reason –“
“Just like you didn’t learn much of it, so most creatures these days don’t. It’s safer to use for the Council that almost anything else. Ciphers can be figured out, but try and learn a language from a piece of paper.”
Well, James thought, parchment.
Breakfast was done and Lewis snapped his fingers, making two full plates appear before them. James understood that this was him simply acting normal for a Fae, relaxed and simply going about his day as if there was no one else to observe him.
He trusted him enough to let him see him like this.
Either that or it was a demonstration of power, but James couldn’t believe that. Not when it came to Lewis.
“You should eat something, sir” he said.
“Mh, what?” He looked up and saw the plates, proving that he’d summoned them automatically without thinking about it. “Ah, blimey. Thank you, James. Val used to have to remind me to eat and rest all the time when there was a crisis, too.”
“So there hasn’t –“ He stopped talking; he could hardly ask if –
“Things have been calm for a while now” Lewis answered. “This – well, it came rather out of nowhere.”
“Tell me what’s going on, please” he said, feeling a bit out of his depth. “We can have breakfast while you’re doing it.”
And so Lewis told him; told him about an old plot and how a Fae with Geordie roots had been elected Grandmaster so certain elements could control him, and how he had simply refused to obey. James didn’t think he realized how impressive a story it was; how Lewis had taken all of this upon himself and saved the order of the world, so to speak. And he hadn’t had many people to help him in the beginning, either.
Good God, the real question didn’t seem to be who was responsible for it all now, but how he had survived for decades.
“So we need to figured out –“
“We don’t need to do anything, James. I’m very thankful for how well you’re taking this, but –“
“I am not backing down, sir. I swore to protect and serve, and that includes every citizen of our fine city, even creatures.”
They stared at one another, then Lewis sighed. “I know that look. Morse gave it to me when I tried to get him to back down, too.”
“Then, forgive me if I say so, sir, but you already know how this discussion will end.”
“You are only ever so polite when you get your own way” Lewis grumbled, but they both knew that if he had decided James had no place in this investigation, he’d have had no choice but to accept that.
Even if he had the feeling Lewis mostly wanted him around to keep an eye on him.
“So, Albert take good care of you?”
“He must already have reported to you” James said simply. “It wouldn’t make any sense for him not to do so.”
Lewis looked at him, his eyes glowing. “There would be no point in my assigning him to your protection duty otherwise, would there.”
Did he know how commanding he sounded? It could easily have become a habit after years of heading the Council. “I suppose not.”
“Anyway, Albert’s a good man. He’s helped us out a lot in the past two decades or so, ever since he moved down from London. There was an... unfortunate incident.”
James decided he’d rather not learn what incident concerning a vampire would be considered unfortunate by a fellow creature.
“Point is, he moved here and he’s been a great help ever since.”
There had to be more to the story. There usually was, when it came to Lewis; he left out how he had helped, how he had figured or the truth, what he had done to make sure things took a turn for the better. And remembering the reverence with which Albert had talked about him, it wasn’t difficult to guess. “What about Laura?” he ventured forth. There were some things he would have to get sued to. He’d been wondering for a while what was holding Lewis and Doctor Hobson back – now he knew, of course; his DI had probably been hesitant to start a relationship with someone who didn’t know the truth about him and the world they were living in; but now –
“Oh, here neighbour’s got her covered. She told you about Miriam?”
“Another extremely trustworthy creature. Don’t worry, I’d never let anything happen to – well –“
And Lewis looked away. If James hadn’t known better he would have said he was blushing.
He did his best to smile even as his heart sank.
There had never been any hope to begin with. His foolish heart just had wanted him to believe there was.
While James drove, Lewis kept staring out the window, observing the city. Of course; after all those years, he was probably attuned to –
“That’s why you move to Oxford, wasn’t it? Your election” he suddenly realized.
“Yes” Lewis simply replied. “In this old place, you can feel the magic flowing freely. It makes things easier. Val was wonderful about it, too. When anyone asked, she insisted it provided a better place for the kiddies to grow up. And of course it was her hometown.”
“Are Mark and Lyn –“
“Mark’s working his contacts in New Zealand, and Lyn is currently searching for anything that could have brought down the Veil. Told you she’s been doing a lot of historical research.”
“Everyone still seems to be remarkably calm” Lewis finally said after a few minutes of silence. “I am rather –“
“Sire, if you don’t mind, I think I can explain” James said carefully.
Lewis turned to look at him, then, his eyes glowing once more. “Yes?”
“It’s – you know how we just learn certain things because they have been hiding in our subconscious all this time?”
It was Lewis’ turn to nod.
“You underestimate just how much easier it makes it for us. Our mind is telling us this is part of nature too, and that the easiest way to deal with it is to accept it.”
“You could be right about that. Never thought much about, myself; always had too much to do. Morse would have loved discussing that with you. I’ll be sure to tell Lyn, though.” After a pause he added, “This may not even be that bad for us in the long run. Granted, it’s all a bit sudden, but at least we’ll have practice for when the Veil goes down worldwide.”
Not even that bad, James thought, apart from the point where someone is after you.
He must have gotten so used to it over the decades leading Britain’s creatures it’s nothing new to him anymore.
For James though... that’s a different matter entirely.
Time passed and nothing happened. Not only were there no riots or demonstrations, as the Council had feared, but the threat Lewis had spoken of didn’t materialize.
That didn’t mean his governor relaxed his vigilance even for a minute, however. “That’s how they get you, James. They wait until you’re distracted, and then they act. It’s how they get rid of my predecessor. And I’ll be damned if I allow them to do the same to me, or anyone else I care about.”
James wondered if he’d hoped he would ask. As far as he could tell, Laura and Rob- Lewis hadn’t grown particularly closer, and he should have been able to; they spent quite a bit of time together in the evenings lately. As grandmaster, Lewis liked bouncing ideas off of him just as much as he did as a DI; and James’ lack of knowledge about the inner workings of the Council actually proved rather useful, since he would often suggest alternate methods of dealing with problems that arose which in turn caused Lewis to see things in a different light.
Often, Lyn and Mark would also drop in. He could tell from the looks on their faces when they saw them sitting together on the sofa, heads bowed over yet another file or old parchment, that they still had their suspicions, and he wondered when he had given his feelings away.
Not that it mattered.
It came as no surprise to him that every time they King of Hell showed up, insinuations abounded. That was probably normal demon behaviour, and Lewis either ignored him or threw a remark back.
Things at the station had changed too, subtly, but they had. While Lewis didn’t use his powers at work, there was always the knowledge of who and what he was at the back of everyone’s minds; and those who had, like Peterson, considered him a relict mostly kept around for Morse’s memory sake, now either treated him with much more respect or avoided him.
Lewis confided in James that he actually preferred the later. “That respect – that’s not the real thing. That’s fear. I’d rather be truly respected, by those who already did it before.”
Innocent and his relationship had also shifted. Try as she might, it was difficult to forget that one of her subordinates was in fact more influential than she or the Commissioner of Police would ever be; and now and then, James detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice when she gave them orders. There was no malice behind it, however, and all in all, she and Lewis seemed to have found a balance.
Laura had taken to learning a lot about creatures and their lives from her mavka neighbour. Sometimes, James couldn’t help but think that she must have ulterior motives, and in the next moment hated himself for it.
It was ridiculous, really, to fall for one’s boss. He wasn’t a secretary in a cheesy American rom com; and he certainly was old enough to know better.
If he’d have thought about it before the Veil went down – if he had been able to – he would have believed that knowing Lewis was a Fae would help him get the better of his feelings. After all, they weren’t even the same species.
But on the contrary, knowing the big secret of Lewis’ life only made him more attractive.
And it weren’t just the Armani suits. Although those didn’t help. The Robbie Lewis who had neded help to pick out the right ties for his suits had given way to a rather sharp dresser; and after quietly observing him and his children, James had come to the conclusion that it must be a habit of the Fae. Of course it couldn’t be ruled out that they felt the need to dress for the positions they occupied, either.
It was a rather curious fact that Robbie and the King of Hell had very similar tastes when it came to dressing.
One evening, said King and Lewis had one of their monthly Scrabble nights James still had a little trouble wrapping his head around. Laura had invited him for a drink at their local.
“Who wins, by the way?” she asked casually, probably as a way to start the conversations he actually wanted to be having. “I could easily imagine Robbie giving him a run for his money after all those years with Morse.”
“From what Lyn told me, they are evenly matched.”
“Might be better for the peace between earth and Hell.”
She shook her head. “If you’d told me I’d be sitting here and discuss an old friend of mine playing gamers with the leader of Hell in my old age –“
“You’re not old” he answered automatically.
She smirked. “I see I’ve got you properly trained. But really, it was all so sudden. God knows what Val thought when she first realized.”
They seemed to be within half a sentence of discussing her and Lewis’ relationship, and James was desperately looking for a polite excuse not to have to do so when she shot him a shrewd glance and said, “And now, just between ourselves. Tell me the truth. Did you really not see through the Veil before that day?”
Of course she knew. Of course she did. At least she was not the person to gloat about it. He looked away.
“James.” He didn’t want to see the look of pity on her face. “James.” She gently touched his hand. “Come on. I am not trying to make a scene here, promise.”
When he finally raised his head, he was surprised to see a half-ironic smile there instead of disgust or pain. “What did you think, that I would turn into a jealous harpy?”
Jealous – but that would mean – was she implying –
“We aren’t” he managed to say. “I – I mean –“
“Oh James, and I thought with no secrets between you two, you’d finally do something.”
He’d been trying to take a drink to calm him down and promptly had to cough.
She patted his back. “There, there. It’s obvious – it’s always been obvious with you two. Really, I should have seen it from that first day. You immediately asked to give him first refusal. And he was only too happy to take it.”
And before that, James thought, he lied to Innocent’s face to help me, even though we’d only met two days ago.
“I understand that the truth complicates matters to a certain extent, but then, what isn’t complicated when it comes to you two? Just ask Jean.”
“Laura” he said miserably.
“So that’s what it needs for you to use my first name?” She patted his hand again. “I don’t mean to tease you. It’s just... why do you have to be so stubborn? God knows Robbie deserves some happiness again after Val, and you...” she tried to find a diplomatic way to end the sentence, but he shook his head.
“You don’t have to say it.”
“Alright. Well, at least the cards are on the table now.” She grew even more serious and took a sip of her drink before asking, “Now, what’s all this with someone being after Robbie?”
“I didn’t know –“
“Oh, he didn’t. Of course he didn’t. Why would Robbie Lewis assume any such things were important? No, Eileen – my neighbour – she told me there were all sorts of rumours flying around in the creature community. Apparently Lewis news is everyone’s news. Small wonder. If you look up to someone for thirty years...”
He nodded; that made sense. “Nothing has happened yet, but DI Lewis is not lowering his guard any time soon.”
Her smile clearly told him that she found it somewhat ridiculous that he was still calling him DI Lewis and not by his first name, but would not say so to his face, at least.
“And what do you think?”
“D – He seems to be ready to spring into action at any moment, and he’s careful to keep his relationship with the King of hell cordial to prove he can’t be replaced that easily. I also know he and his children have a plan if things should go awry.”
“Just like him, to worry about those he’d leave behind more than his own safety” she mused. “Well, I’m glad he’s got you to keep an eye on him.”
James once again picked up Lewis in his car the next morning. As he slid into the passenger seat – again immaculately dressed – he asked “How did your Scrabble night go?”
“Ah, it was a battle, but I prevailed in the end. Quizzify.”
“And his Majesty?”
“Oh, he’s used to it. No doubt I’ll be having an especially determined demon as my opponent next month.”
James thought it best to nod. “And... how are things?”
He should have known better. Lewis shot him a shrewd look. “Laure has been doing a little quizzing of her own, I take it?”
“I...” he tried to think of a quick lie.
“It’s quite alright, James. I know how she can be” Lewis said smoothly. “I probably should invite her to lunch.”
His grip around the steering wheel tightened. As much as Laura Hobson seemed to believe for whatever reason that his feelings were reciprocated, he knew better.
“At least it’s supposed to be nice weather today” Lewis observed and he understood it as what it was – a way to change the subject.
“This isn’t working” he said, feeling annoyed. Everyone relaxed their vigilance eventually; even the previous Grandmaster had in the end been foolish enough to forget his protections.
But Robert Lewis? Not a chance, it seemed.
They would have to come through a different way.
Fortunately, everyone had their weak spots.
His children, of course, were as well protected as he had always been.
But there were others...
“This is what we will do” he declared.
James had grown used to Albert’s presence in his neighbourhood, so far that he automatically greeted him when he arrived home. The vampire was always polite and friendly, and seemed to take his duties very seriously.
He’s also grown somewhat callous when contemplating that Albert might well have saved his life several times at this point.
He would fail to forgive himself for that fact.
But so it was, and one evening, right after he’d come home from band practice, the King of Hell appeared in his flat. Since Lewis had made sure he was protected, he assumed he’d allowed his Majesty the same access he had to his own place. “Sorry to interrupt your me time, but we should go if you don’t want to end up as a hostage.”
“I see I’ll have to cut this short. Remember Albert?”
“Of course, he –“
“You don’t have to. He’s dead.”
“They had to get through him in order to have a chance to grab you” he explained carelessly. “It was either saving him for you. Choices had to be made. Let’s go!”
He snapped his fingers and suddenly they were standing in Lewis’ living room.
“What – James – your –“
“Here, as a token of my loyalty” the King said smoothly. “Figured you’d like to have your boy toy safe and sound when all this goes down. Consider this a sign of my friendship, by the way – and proof that I have no desire to end our contract.”
Lewis knew immediately what was wrong – he looked from James to his Majesty, then asked, “Albert?”
James shook his head.
Several emotions passed across Lewis’ face, many of them too fast to read – but there was sadness, and pain, and something more dangerous, and finally relief. He quickly subdued them all to bow to the King and say, “Thank you, your Highness.”
“My pleasure, Robbie. Don’t worry about the others; my minions are covering them.”
“I have to thank you again.”
“No you don’t, old friend. No you don’t.”
Something inexplicable passed between them as they both realized at the same time that the King had meant those two words.
And so James was treated to the side of a demon utterly lost for words. “Yes – well – I’ll leave you to it, then. Hell will be ready if the need arises.”
James half-expected Lewis to thank him again, but instead he just nodded.
He was gone the next moment.
Lewis sighed. “Almost thirty years, and I still don’t fully understand him. That was one of the most awkward pauses of my life, and I lived through Morse realising I was technically his superior after my election.” After a pause, his thoughts turned to a different subject. “Poor Albert. He was always so reliable, and ready to help if it was for the right cause.”
“Is there – anyone we should –“
Lewis shook his head. “Vampires are notorious loners.” He sighed again. “I asked him personally to look after you.”
“It’s not your fault s- Robbie.”
He gave him a sad smile. “I’m the Grandmaster. I’m responsible for what happens to the creatures around here, period.”
“You’re right, of course.” Robbie shook his head. “What I don’t like is how obvious I am.”
“The king knew exactly who to get in order for me to trust him once and for all. He only ever gets the important ones, you know.”
Important. James swallowed.
“James, I –“
They spoke at the same time, then fell silent. Really, it was ridiculous. They were grown men who had solved countless murders together; surely they should be able to talk?
“I –“ Robbie abruptly shook his head. “Sod it all.”
And with a sense of detachment, since he hadn’t yet processed everything enough to be happy about it, James realized he was about to kiss him.
And then the door to the Realm sprang open and Lyn rushed in. “Dad! There are riots in the street!”
Later that afternoon, Robbie closed a file on his desk – another report about what had taken place only hours earlier – and buried his head in his hands. “They were clever. Very, very clever.”
And of course he felt guilty because he hadn’t realized until it was too late, James thought. Of course he did. “Robbie –“
“I was so concerned that the humans would start freaking out I didn’t pay enough attention to other creatures – to those who have been hiding for so long. I’ve been a bloody fool. They have every right to demand I step down, now. If his Majesty’s troops hadn’t arrived –“
“Oh dear, it was high time I dropped by. If you refer to me by your Majesty and can’t even feel I’m here...”
The King is standing in the doorway, holding an expensive-looking bottle. “You need a drink, Robbie.”
“I need a solid good spanking for being such a bloody idiot, that’s what I need.”
“While under normal circumstances I’d be delighted to help you out, and I’m certain so would Sergeant Hathaway be, I am afraid it’s not exactly the right time or place.”
James flushed scarlet.
“Come on, Robbie” the King declared, setting down the bottle and making three glasses appear out of nowhere. “Self-pity? That isn’t you:”
“It’s not self-pity. I’ve been a bloody fool, and now –“
“Yes it is” he snapped. “You’re sitting here with your “woe is me” attitude because you didn’t see this coming, and you’re not used to it. Normally you’re on top, know everything, and are three steps ahead of anyone who might be trying something. You’ve grown too used to success. Face it. This is nothing but you feeling sorry for yourself.”
A pause while he filled the glasses. Then, another voice. “I have to say, that was quite the dressing down, and I have given them a few in my time.”
“Superintendent” the King said without turning around. “A drink?”
“Normally I’d say no since we’re on duty but I think we could all need one.” Innocent stepped into the office, and James thought that it was a good thing Robbie had magically enhanced it.
Especially since not a minute later Laura arrived as well. “If I had known what it took for us to start day-drinking in the office...”
“I’m going to need a bigger bottle” the King mused, but Robbie shook his head.
“No, we need to keep our wits about us.” He gave him a half-smile. “You were right, of course.”
“I invariably am.”
Robbie snorted. “Of course you are your Highness. Still – nothing but hubris, of course. Morse had a lot to say on the subject:”
Now it was Laura’s term to laugh. “Because he was an expert on it.”
“Something like it”. He emptied his glass and stood up, his eyes starting to glow. “So this is what we’ll do – keep calm and carry on, Luke always, We have mastered many a storm, we’ll survive this one, too.”
“That’s the spirit”. The King clasped his shoulder and James felt a surge of what was too much like jealousy for his liking. “Ah. Forgot you were of the market now. A pity. That said, if you ever want to take me up on my offer, please feel free to ask – with or without your bonny lad there.” He winked at James and was gone.
He looked at Innocent, who took a deep breath and then said, “I assume this is not something I have to know about, as long as it doesn’t have any negative effects on the charge of your duties.”
“Superintendent” Lewis answered; he’d stopped calling her ma’am some time ago, apparently by mutual agreement.
“Fine. Now, would you please tell me what you plan on doing?”
“Like I said” Lewis answered, apparently already lost in thoughts. “All we can do is weather the storm and do our best.”
And so they did.
The smear campaign one of the tabloids had embarked on didn't help. It didn't matter to these people that ever since the Veil had lifted, not a single creature had caused a human harm unless it had been in self-defence or by accident; and what made it worse was that Robbie was rather sure that other creatures were behind it.
"Some can control minds" he confided into James. "Mind, I'm not saying that all of those who can choose to. Albert" he sighed remembering the vampire "never snared anyone. And while technically, I should be able to hold a certain sway on others, I've never tried it, and neither have the kids."
"You think someone controls someone at the paper?"
"It would make sense. Creating conflict - it's so easy."
Amidst everything that was going on - more demonstrations for and against creatures, Parliament debating how to incorporate them into the existing laws, even more press coverage - their personal relationship hadn't had time to grow. James would however readily have admitted to anyone who asked that it was a relief to have it finally all out in the open.
And with an aftermath he would never have dared hope for, at that. Whenever his imagination had run away with him, the best result of Lewis realizing James had feelings for him had been a polite rejection; that he reciprocated his desires he had never even dared to hope.
They hadn't yet gone on a single date or had the kiss that had been interrupted by Lyn's news; but James could wait. He had already done that long enough without hope; what did a few more days or weeks matter?
They did spend almost all of their free time together, even though in Robbie's case, that sadly didn't mean much. James was very much inclined to agree with his children, Laura and (paradoxically) the King of Hell that he was running himself ragged, but there was little he could do apart from offering support - and his presence often seemed to relax his - partner? Boyfriend? God knew they both were a bit too old to be called boys – somewhat.
It was Lyn who came up with an idea. Or rather, she and her brother had discussed it behind their backs.
He was having dinner at Robbie’s. He looked better than he had in a while, and James breathed a sigh of relief. Just this morning the tabloid had published a headline about Robbie, full of slander and lies, how he had been “consolidating his powers” for years and was on the best way to become a dictator.
James had burnt his paper. It might have been overkill, but it had felt good.
“Finally” Lewis sighed as they sat at the table “An evening without interruptions –“
Which was why James was not the least bit surprised when they got interrupted.
Lyn strolled in through the door to the Realm, grinning brightly when she saw them together. “Hello you two!”
He couldn’t begrudge her the wish to see her father, and it was touching how glad Robbie always was to see his children; plus he could already tell she didn’t have bad news this time. There was a gleam in her eyes, though, not unlike that in her father’s when he figured out the clues to a murder.
“Alright, you’re up to something” Robbie said immediately, proving him right.
She quickly hugged her father and had the decency to look contrite: “Every time, Dad.”
“Happens when you changed someone’s nappies. Out with it.”
“Mark and I have been talking –“
She rolled her eyes. “Do you want me to tell you or not?”
“So Mark and I have decided we should stop allowing the press to run wild. We have to start a counter measure.”
“Counter –“ James saw the exact moment Robbie realized. “Pet –“
“I know you don’t like the publicity Dad, but it’s our best bet. People need to see that you’re just a normal bloke.”
James sincerely hoped that his opinion that Robbie Lewis had never been quite what one would call normal didn’t show on his face.
Apparently it did, because she laughed. “James of course you don’t think he’s commonplace, but other people have to. They need to realize we’re just like humans, doing our best to struggle through.”
Robbie clearly still didn’t like the thought, but quickly schooled his features as he thought about it. “I think you might be on to something there, pet.”
“Told you. Plus, you know...” She turned to James and hesitated.
“You leave him out of –“ Robbie began but he wanted to know.
“Sorry Robbie, but it’s my decision. What did you want to tell me?”
She winked at him. “I am really starting to like you, James. Sometimes Dad forgets he can’t just order everyone around.”
“I don’t order people around.”
“Excuse me, sir” James drawled “But I believe that is actually your job.”
They all started to laugh. “Alright James, you win this round.”
“So?” he asked Lyn.
“It’s just – you know Mark and I were thinking – wouldn’t hurt to point out the inclusivity of it all.”
“Lyn –“ Robbie tried but James had already understood.
“You want us to go public with our relationship.”
“It might be a good idea. The bigots who don’t like us can’t get much more judgey, and others might feel encouraged.”
“Or call me a cradle snatcher” Robbie pointed out.
“Just telling it like it is, pet.”
ames wondered if he could really call himself a cradle snatcher if they hadn’t done anything yet, then remembered they were in the presence of his daughter and blushed fiercely. Trying to overcome his embarrassment, he cleared his throat and made a decision. “I’ll do it.”
“James” Robbie immediately turned to him and took his hand. “Are you sure? This wouldn’t be easy if things were just as calm as they were originally, and now with all of this publicity going on...”
“We have lived through our fair share of press conferences” he reminds him.
“We gave them information about crimes that had been committed, we didn’t announce we were the new gay interspecies it couple.”
“So many new words” James drawled, squeezing his hand.
Robbie’s eyes were glowing. “I will have you know I can be quite modern when I set my mind to it.”
Only later would James realized that Lyn had conveniently disappeared back into the Realm to give them some privacy.
Their first kiss was everything he could ever have wished for.
Until he came home that night, elated, happy, flushed, he had no idea that with that kiss, something in him had imperceptibly and irreversibly shifted.
He had about five minutes of normality left, and then the noises began.
At first he tensed, thinking that perhaps some of those who had done in poor Albert had come back, but then he realized they were coming from his closet.
He called Robbie. “James? Is everything –“
“Everything is fine, but I seem to have acquired a bogey man of my own.”
“Ah” he sighs. “Val’s first sign was a hobgoblin amidst her shoes. They like them, to know.”
“To do what?”
“To eat” Robbie said matter-of-factly. “Well, just put a bit of milk in the cupboard, he should be satisfied with that _”
“What –“ James realized. “Very funny, sir.”
“I do remember you always called me that when you were trying to insult me.”
“Your power of recall is just as amazing as I remember, sir.”
“Alright, off with you. But seriously, you don’t have to worry. He’ll make a bit of a noise, then he’ll decide whether he likes your closet or not, and if he does – well things go a bit bump in the night now and then, but you won’t have any other problems.”
That was something, at least. He felt that there was more, however, and waited until Robbie continued, “I’m afraid you’re one of us now, James, for all intents and purposes.”
“I think I can live with that, Robbie.”
“You wait until the Wild Hunt comes out to play in April.”
Somehow, James thought, he believed they could drag him all over the globe and he would still have chosen this rather than any other outcome.
“There is our local celebrity!”
Of course the other guys in the band used their interview to gently mock him. James hadn’t expected anything different. At least it was well-meant ribbing; others hadn’t been so kind.
To say that the interview had been a sensation would have been an understatement. Most papers and TV stations had been more than happy to have them speak with them.
Superintendent Innocent had been very understanding and had given them a much lighter work load, while Laure had been busy patrolling the station for anyone making inappropriate comments or jokes.
Even Peterson knew her to well to try and say anything.
Granted, the King of hell had shown up – ostensibly for a drink, but really to laugh at them – and they were more than used to being recognized on the street by now, both by supporters and prejudiced citizens.
What worried James was that most of the former were creatures, and the later human. Of course there were exceptions – and there were other mixed couples who had happily congratulated them on being brave enough to go through with it (it had made him smile somewhat wryly; as if the Fae who had been leading the Council for decades could have been anything other than brave); but still.
Despite the calmness of the population when the Veil was first lifted, prejudices and resentment ran deep. And, at least James believed so, envy. After all, most creatures had some form of powers – few were as powerful as Robbie or the King, but still....
And sometimes, they really did make things easier. Last week, Laura had slipped and sprained her ankle at a crime scene and Robbie had healed her before anyone had had a chance to blink.
“Hello David” he greeted their drummer. He was grinning happily.
“Yesterday my great aunt called me to complain because she had finally figured out who you were. She tried to order me to leave the band. It was awesome!”
Granted, it didn’t sound very promising, but since David had been at odds with his immediate family more or less ever since he came off age and decided he wanted to be a musician and not a surgeon like his father, it was meant as a compliment. Still... “I am sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be at least now I can tell her that you corrupted me.”
“I didn’t corrupt anyone” he pointed out. In fact, going by the logic of some of those articles he had seen, they seemed convinced that Robbie had been the one doing the corrupting.
Even though he wouldn’t even have stayed in the police force if it hadn’t been for Robbie to begin with.
David snorted. “As if you weren’t after that poor widowed father for years.”
James raised an eyebrow.
“Come on, it was glaringly obvious!”
“Have you been gossiping about me behind my back?”
“What’s the point in having friends if you don’t do that?”
He had to concede the point.
It was about a week after the band had acknowledged his new relationship status that he noticed some changes in Robbie.
It wasn’t anything particular, he just seemed... nervous; and that was something new for the Grandmaster James had come to know.
When he asked – still somewhat awed by the fact that as his partner he now simply could, instead of waiting for awkward silences to eventually turn into Robbie confiding in him – he just sighed. “I don’t know what it is, James. There’s something in the air... Something’s coming, and I don’t know what.”
He reached out to him to help him forget, and who was he to deny him?
When the something that Robbie had felt coming happened, it was both better and worse than James had anticipated.
Better because at least no one had tried to come after Robbie personally, and worse because –
James remembered that, back when all this had started, Robbie had told him “It’s only a matter of time before someone does something stupid.”
And now someone had done something stupid. Or rather, a young phoenix had been spooked by a group of humans following her around out of curiosity one night and had attacked.
And now two men were in the hospital, and the newspapers were screaming bloody murder. Again.
Three days after the attack he arrived the office to find him and the King in close consultation.
“Do you think this was planned?” he asked after greeting his Majesty with a bow.
But the King shook his head. “No; they just pouring oil into the flames until something happened. It’s much too easy to scare people.”
“Don’t I know it” Robbie sighed. “Thing is, I don’t think we can just give out another press release and hope for the best. We have to educate people more, and not just leave it to their buried memories.”
“Good idea” the King agreed, “But I’m afraid you’d have to find those who are ready to be educated first.”
“I would have been” James chimed in.
“Ah yes, and that would have had nothing to do with your personal motives –“
“Your Highness –“
“You know I just like to rile both of you up now and then.”
“Where are Lyn and Mark?” James asked.
“Doing damage control. Lyn’s in a meeting with the Prime Minister, discussing strategy, and Mark’s substituting for me at the Council discussion.”
James was glad that Robbie had effectively taken over the Council years before, although he usually denied it when they came to speak of it; there would be no revolt there, no matter how he chose to proceed.
Much as he didn’t believe that Robbie would ever have chosen the role of dictator for himself, there was some truth in the press when it came to the influence he had.
And he had no doubt that Robbie was very aware of that.
“You raised them well” the Kings aid unexpectedly, and they found themselves in the middle of another awkward silence, like the one when he had called Robbie “my friend”; but James quickly put a stop to it when he said, “I’ve been to the hospital; both men are doing well.”
In fact, one of them had even expressed remorse when speaking to James, claiming that he understood that if he had been in the phoenix’s position, he’s most likely have reacted just like she had.
It was the other victim of the circumstances that was the problem. He had loudly announced that “we don’t have any powers, do we” and made it quite clear that he didn’t think the phoenix had had any right to feel they were ganging up on her when they’d just been “following her a bit to make sure she didn’t do anything”.
Both Robbie and the King seemed to guess what he wasn’t saying. Really, it was a good thing Robbie had never felt the inclination to take over the world; together these two would have been unstoppable.
James couldn’t quite bring himself to admit yet that it was another quality of his partner’s that he found rather attractive.
“At least we have that. At least they’re alive.”
“Alive means they can scream all the louder though” his Majesty simply said.
“That may be, but we’re not talking a few demon minions you need to show their place.”
“A pity. I would have a few good ideas...” And then he mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “Scare a poor girl like that.”
James had slowly come to understand why he and Robbie were friends; whether he wanted to admit it or not, the King had a few soft spots.
“Sadly, that wouldn’t help. Do you think I should go talk to the victims?” Robbie asked.
“You could try” he advised.
“Best if I get it over with.”
“Be careful though” James said, repeating what the second man had told him.
“Of course he would. Well then” Robbie quickly kissed him. “I’ll see you soon. Your Majesty.”
And he strolled into the Realm.
James was acutely aware that he was alone with the King of Hell for the first time.
“I have to admit I underestimated you” he said lightly, a bottle of Craig and two glasses appearing from nowhere. “I thought you’d run for the hills when you learned the truth. After all, you wanted to be a priest.”
“What, run now that I know there is a distinct chance I might go to Hell after all?”
He snorted. “None of you are ever going to go there. You’re all too decent.”
It was strangely comforting to think that a demon thought him too good to go to Hell; and moreover, James could tell the King was struggling with regret as he admitted as much, almost as if he was sorry he’d never set eyes on Robbie Lewis again once...
He stopped his train of thought right there. That was not something he liked to dwell on, either.
“We’ll have to do what we can while we’re still here, then” he decided, biding goodbye to his Majesty soon afterwards to return to the station.
Superintendent Innocent arrived soon afterwards. “How’s Robbie?”
“He’s visiting the two men in hospital, ma’am.”
She hummed. “If anyone can change this – if anyone can change anyone’s mind, it’s going to be him.”
She sighed. “Really, this whole thing couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Just as everyone appeared to somewhat calm down again –“
And it was then that James’ blood ran cold.
Because Innocent was right.
This had happened at a most unfortunate time.
If you were to think from the point of view of those who didn’t want humans and creatures to live in peace –
It had happened at the perfect time.
He met Innocent’s eyes and saw the same realization there.
Before either of them could react, the door flew open and Gurdip rushed in.
“The hospital – they just called – Inspector Lewis has been kidnapped!”
The fact that James Hathaway was standing in front of a man who felt very differently about creatures than he had during their last interview was only a small consolation.
“He – he probably would have made it” the man was saying, or rather, stammering. “After all he’s – he can do all this – and there were three of them, but still – I think they knew – they went after me, then, and he jumped in front of me.”
Of course he had, and he had probably known that it was a trap, but he had felt there was nothing he could do.
James took a deep breath. “We’ll find him.” He said it to convince himself as well as the man, whose name he couldn’t remember at the moment and who seemed nothing but an inconvenience now that Robbie was –
Robbie was –
He abruptly turned around and went to the door when he called out, “Sergeant?”
He reluctantly came to face him again.
He swallowed. “The phoenix – I don’t want to press charges any longer. And would you tell her I’m sorry?”
He nodded curtly and left.
At least Robbie would have liked – would like. Once they got him back.
He had to believe they would, or he would go insane.
They had only just –
No. No, he wasn’t going to think about it.
He could have gone to the station, but he doubted that was where the real action was taking place.
After all, there was probably only one house in Oxford that was safe enough for creatures to convene and discuss what to do.
And they would need all the magic they could get.
As he got out of his car in front of Robbie’s house, he was surprised to find Laura waiting on the door step.
“Where else would you go?” she asked when he opened his mouth. “I promised Jean I’d keep an eye on you.”
The door was left open; they entered to find Lyn, Mark and the King standing in front of the door to the Realm, the later being the only one who looked somewhat composed. In fact, Mark was too busy hammering on the door to even notice them coming in.
“Mark, this isn’t helping” Lyn pleaded.
The King turned and saw James and Laura. “Ah. I was expecting you.”
James wasn’t quite sure whether he was referring to both of them or just him, but it didn’t matter. “What’s going on?”
“We can’t access the Realm” Mark hissed, having stopped pounding at the door, breathing heavily. “Somehow they must have cut us off. Which means no members of the Council will manage to come here in time either.”
“Does that mean you know where Robbie is?” he asked.
The King sighed. “There is – well – there is a rather nasty old spell. I didn’t mention it before I didn’t think they’d go that far. It was tried a few hundred years ago, and let’s just say the results were one of the reasons not a single one of is good guys ever tried to lift the Veil on their own.”
“What spell?” he demanded, his heart pounding rapidly.
“A spell to bring all humans under the caster’s sway.”
James’ blood ran cold. “And Robbie –“
“It’s his heart. The final ingredient. The heart of a leader sacrificed at a very old, powerful place. And with him being so good at it too, the spell would be incredibly potent.”
Robbie’s heart. They were going to cut out his heart. “You should have told him. You should have warned him.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” the King snapped, and James realized he really was very worried indeed.
“Gentlemen, this isn’t helping” Laura announced. “We need a plan.”
“I agree” his Majesty drawled, looking at James. “The thing is, I am reasonably sure they have to be at the Baliol. It is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford and has always been favoured by creatures, so it’s brimming with magic. Ideal for their purposes.”
“So why are we –“
“Because not only must they have warded it against us, we don’t have time. They could cut out his heart every second. We need to get through the Realm.”
“But you said –“
He was still looking at James.
And James understood.
“You can’t!” Lyn exclaimed. “No human could possibly make it through the Realm unaccompanied. Not even Morse tried it!”
But James wasn’t thin king of that. No, he was still looking at the King. “You knew” he said quietly. “You knew I would do it because I love him.”
They had never said those words to each other, although they had been on the tip of his tongue several times. But he’d thought it was too early.
He was painfully aware that he might never get to say them, now.
“There”. The King produced a piece of paper on which he’d drawn a symbol. “That’s what keeps us from moving in. They must have drawn it somewhere near where they plan on doing the ritual; destroy that picture, and we can react.”
“How will you –“
“We’re creatures of magic” Mark said, “We’ll feel it.” He traded a glance with his sister. “But...”
“James...” He turned to Laura. There was understanding in her eyes, and pain, and most of all, worry. “Robbie would be the last one to fault you for not doing this.”
“I know.” He did. He could feel it in his bones. Robbie would fight for his life, of course he would; but he wouldn’t expect anyone to risk theirs for him.
He swallowed. He remembered what he’d told him about the Realm. He might not just be risking his life, but his sanity as well.
But Robbie needed him. And everything paled in comparison. “I’ll do it.”
Yes, the King had known he would. He pressed the piece of paper into his hands. “Better take this with you.” Something passed across his face then; a curious mixture of emotions that left James feeling a bit loss until he suddenly added, “And I know how this will sound coming from me, but God’s speed, James.”
He nodded and turned to Laura. “Laura –“
“For God’s sake, don’t make a scene out of it, James. And if you don’t come back, it’ll be my turn.”
“No buts, Sergeant. Now gp and save your governor. That was an order.”
After he’d bid Lyn and Mark farewell as well, he stepped through the door.
Almost immediately, his mind descended into chaos.
These idiots had drawn the symbol to lock other creatures out of the basement right underneath a water pipe.
And old water pipe. That was the most important part. He could have worked his magic on a young one too, of course, but old materials tended to soak up a bit of the powers that hung all around Oxford on their own, meaning they should already be ready to let themselves be manipulated.
Robbie took a deep breath. If he wanted to succeed, he had to split his thinking into two parts. One would be concerned with corroding the pipe and letting water wash away the sign; the other had to pretend that he was struggling to get rid of the magical bonds they had played on him.
He knew their leader. He’d thought he’d made him leave the UK two decades ago.
He had known back then that he should have looked into a more permanent solution, but he’d never taken a life when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
He was starting to think he should have taken the deal when his Majesty had offered years ago to take care of the “bastards” as he had called them, then; true, he’d always hoped there would eventually be a reconciliation, but of course that had never happened.
In his defence, he had been younger then, and full of enthusiasm. Oh, he could still be very enthusiastic when he wanted to be – as James had reminded him with a saucy smile only a few days ago – but he was no longer naive.
James. He swallowed. The thought of his kids, James and Laura was what worried him most. If he didn’t get out of this, they’d go after them next, just to prove a point.
So he had to get out.
When he had been in the Realm with Robbie, there had been paths in the darkness. Or at least he had thought so back at the time.
Now it all seemed to consist of smoke and darkness and mirages, and he couldn’t think straight. James had always hated it when he couldn’t. It was one of the reasons he’d firmly stayed away from drugs at college.
His ears were ringing, his own brain was screaming at him, trying to make sense of the nothing he was seeing when he knew there to be something, something very old and big and powerful.
It was as if the Veil had come back up and he was desperately trying to look through it, only to find that he couldn’t. No; this was worse than that; this was the Realm simply once more proving that mere humans couldn’t and shouldn’t go in there on their own.
James had broken one of the most fundamental rules. Not even Morse had ever tried this, and he’d had Fae blood.
But amidst all the chaos in his mind, there was a thought that kept him going.
Robbie. He had to find Robbie.
Please, he found himself praying for the first time in years. Only he wasn’t praying to God. No, he was praying to the Realm itself, to the old powers running through Oxford.
Please. He’s – we’re – I love him. I have to find him. I can’t let him die like this. And he has done so much. For decades, he’s watched over the monsters and humans of Britain alike. You can’t –
I love him. Please.
And suddenly, his mind became clear and he saw the path he needed to take.
Later, he would wonder if he had indeed heard a female giggle behind him, or if that was just his imagination running wild at the time.
He’d never know.
Robbie was making progress. It did help that the Soldiers of Purity believed his bindings were so strong that he couldn’t use his powers without its confines; but then hubris had more often their failure than his, even Morse would have admitted that.
Morse... Dear God, thankfully he wasn’t with them anymore. He would have insisted on attempting to cross the Veil since he was mostly human and therefore not locked out like the other creatures.
Yes, at least that idea wouldn’t cross anyone’s mind.
Somehow, he knew this was the right door. He took a deep breath. Even though he wanted nothing more than to barge in, he knew better. He couldn’t risk being seen before he had made sure help could arrive.
And so he forced himself to open it slowly, as slowly as the madman had done in The Tell-Tale heart.
An apt comparison, in his view.
There was nothing about what he’d agreed to do that wasn’t crazy, after all.
“I don’t think this is going to work, Robbie” their leader gloated. “You see we made the binding extra strong. Took us years to come up with something.”
Morse would have called him a moron. He had just openly admitted how scared of Robbie and his powers they had been this whole time.
If it wouldn’t have given him away, he would have smiled.
They really thought this was over and done with, did they?
Well, he hadn’t held on to his post for thirty years for nothing.
He was in a basement; that, James could say with some certainty. Whether his Majesty was right about the exact location, he wasn’t sure.
But that could wait.
He had to find Robbie.
So much for his consolation that no one would dare attempt to cross the Realm unaccompanied.
Robbie had weathered enough tense situations in his life, but even so he could only stare when James’ blond head peaked around the corner.
Impossible. Utterly impossible. He couldn’t possibly –
But no. There he was, slowly stealing around in the shadows, searching for the mark keeping the others out.
Robbie shot the Soldiers a look. They hadn’t noticed him yet, and he certainly wouldn’t draw their attention to him. But...
Closing his eyes, he split his mind into yet another part, using it to pick up a bit of debris and throw it at the sign to let James know where it was.
The leader turned around and laughed. “Really, Robbie? Are we trying to attack magic with wood now?”
He hoped he looked saddened enough about being chastised.
Robbie Lewis was a bloody genius.
James stared at the symbol.
Quite a bit of it was already gone, having been washed away drip by drip by water coming out of an old pipe directly above it.
And he knew exactly who had made that happen.
He took out his pen knife and began to scratch.
Now that James was here, Robbie’s first object was to keep the group’s focus on him and not his partner.
That wasn’t too difficult, considering how cocky they were.
One ill-advised (well, apparently ill-advised) attempt to throw a pipe that was rusting in a corner at their leader soon had them rallied around him.
Hit pain flashed across Robbie’s cheek, and he knew he was bleeding.
He wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of reaching up to wipe away the blood, however.
“Now, now, now, Grandmaster, we don’t want to have to knock you out and miss out on a historic moment.”
He could have pointed out that he was hardly going to see that moment once they ripped his heart out, but he didn’t bother. What was important right now was James, and that they didn’t see him until he was done and (so he suspected) his majesty and his children descended upon them.
“I’ll give you another chance” he said instead. “I already allowed you to leave the country once, I’ll do it again.”
“You actually would, wouldn’t you?” he laughed nastily. “I couldn’t believe it then. There was no reason for you to let me live, then.”
There hadn’t been, and Robbie had known that.
The only reason he could claim was that he had, and still did believe, in mercy as well as justice.
He was lying through his teeth, of course – he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Call him ruthless if you wanted, but some things had to give.
It did help they considered him stupid enough to believe him, however, and that their leader seemed to enjoy taunti8ng him too much.
Robbie had never believed in taunting. Unless when it came to his Majesty, and that was more routine than anything, these days. A habit he would rather not part with.
Yes, he decided as he emotionlessly looked at their leader, if the King wanted to do something to him this time, he wouldn’t stand in his way.
There was a time for mercy, but there was also a time for retribution.
Robbie had drawn their attention towards him; James had flinched when they had wounded him, but he didn’t even seem to feel it.
He occasionally threw glances towards the group to make sure they still didn’t look his way.
Why did they have to use suck thick paint?
It was when he looked up once more that he saw an expression in Robbie’s eyes he had never seen there before.
And he knew with sudden clarity that if he continued, he would be an accomplice in a murder rather soon.
At least from the perspective of the law.
He didn’t even hesitate for a second. He had made his decisions concerning Robbie Lewis a long time ago – maybe on the very day he asked to give him the first refusal – and he wasn’t backing down now.
The magical binding that had been placed on him, Robbie well knew, was a so-called Gordon spell; it wasn’t named that for nothing.
No one had ever broken the binding. He couldn’t move, and he couldn’t attack the group. He’d snuck under it to move objects, but since there was nothing in the basement that could harm them or help James when it came to that – and, after all, the spell had also somewhat weakened his powers – he had no choice but to bide his time.
Or at least that’s what he thought.
For, in a rather surprising twists of events Lord Robert Lewis, Grandmaster of the Council of Creatures in Britain, would prove himself to be wrong.
It was the smallest of sounds the knife made scraping off the paint that alerted them to his presence.
He wasn’t aware of it before he was flung half-way across the room.
He registered Robbie’s voice before he became aware of the pain that resulted from him slamming into one of the brick walls around him.
“Ah yes, I remember” their leader drawled, stepping up to James as he scrambled to stand, “I heard the news, Robbie. You decided to soil your heritage again by chosing another human. I thought you would learned your lesson after the last time. Humans are nothing like us. They live and they die at a moment’s notice, and that’s all there is to them.”
“Don’t you dare touch him –“
“Oh, of course I am going to touch him.” He grinned. “And you can watch, Grandmaster. I have waited so long, I can manage five minutes longer while I deal with your little pet –“
And it was then that Robbie Lewis managed an impossible feat. He was sued to accomplishing the improbable; sometimes he’d even taken a shot at what might be considered a miracle; but he’d never managed the impossible before.
But knowing that someone he loved was in danger –
The spell broke.
James would never be entirely sure what had happened; but just as he had been thrown against the wall, the leader of the group was suddenly torn from him, and he acted before he had time to gather his thoughts.
By the time he realized Robbie was fighting the entire group, he was already scratching away the last of the paint.
And then all Hell broke loose.
It wasn’t just Lyn, Mark, and the King who showed up; no, all members of the Council James had ever met, as well as Laura’s mavka neighbour and –
“Sh” she said while checking his pupils. “I knew this would end with one or both of you banged up, so I made them take me with them.”
“Not an exaggeration” Mark cheerfully supplied while he took care of one of them who had tried to sneak up on James and Laura. “Now why would you do that, mister? Anyway, are you alright?”
“Yes, I think his back may be bruised, but –“
“Oh Dad will take care of that” he said with a grin and skipped off to deal with some of the Soldiers who were still standing.
James and Laura thought it prudent to sneak into a corner and wait until it was all over.
And it very soon was.
It was when James saw Robbie advance towards the leader with the same expression he’d seen on his face before that he started to feel afraid.
He had absolutely no problem with the creature dying, as callous as it sounded; but he wasn’t sure if he wanted Robbie to –
And then the King jumped in and dealt with the leader. Once he was done, his and James’ eyes met and he realized that in this, he and the demon felt exactly the same.
Robbie nodded at his Majesty, then hurried over to James. “Thank God you’re alright. How did you make it through –“
James decided that kissing him was the best way to deal with all of it, at least for a while.
A decision was made that night. For one, now that no one was keeping them from doing so, the Council voted to put the Veil back up and then continue with the plan to let it slowly come down over several years, so humans could grow used to a world with magic in it.
When all was said and done and Robbie and James were cuddling on the sofa – Lyn and mark having left them alone for some “quality time” – the Fae cleared his throat and began, “Are you sure you want this, James?”
James, who had been close to dozing off on his shoulder, raised his head. “The magic and the creatures, you mean?”
Robbie nodded. “I know you were struggling in the beginning. You could just go back to –“
“But we wouldn’t be this anymore, would we” James stated flatly.
“No” Robbie said honestly. “I always made it a rule that my partners should know the full truth.”
“I’ll take the magic, then.”
“No. I made this decision long ago.” James kissed him. “I’ll take the magic, and the creatures, and your scrabble nights with the King of Hell.”
“Alright then, my James” he said quietly.
They didn’t speak anymore that night.
The next morning as they drove to work, however, >Robbie said, “There’s something I forgot to tell you.”
James looked at him and waited.
“While I do look my age, I will stay this way for the next few decades to come. We have a somewhat higher life expectancy than humans. Do you still want this knowing that thirty years done the line, we’ll still have to deal with unruly creatures?”
James grinned as he took his hand and kissed it. “I can’t wait."
Once the Veil came back up, things quietly calmed down. Most humans quickly settled back into blissful ignorance, although there were executions.
Neither James nor Robbie where surprised when Laura and Gurdip decided to keep their knowledge of magic, nor that Peterson was more than happy to once more only see an old copper in Robbie.
What did surprise him was Jean Innocent stepping up to them and greeting him with “Grandmaster.”
“Robbie is quite enough, ma’am.”
“I told you, it’s Jean.”
That did have some consequences, however. Not only was their Superintendent busy doing the paperwork to make Robbie a DCI – “Like Morse, can you believe it, James? Why does she –“ “I don’t think it’s negotiable, Robbie” – but also the tasks Peterson had only been too happy to do, like running task forces and heading public discussions were now given to him, causing Peterson to be rather put out for days.
“You know, I quite liked flying under the radar” Robbie sighed one night during dinner.
James would move in with him next week.
“I didn’t have to write memoranda about politics then.”
“On the plus side, Innocent is never going to try and stop us during an investigation again” he said brightly.
Robbie snorted. “Heave you met Jean?” his eyes softened when he saw James’ happy smile. He reached out and took his hand. “Well, all in all, things aren’t bad.”
“No they aren’t” he agreed, squeezing back.
“Hey Dad, James” Lyn called out, stepping through the door to the Realm. “Sorry to interrupt, but there’s a situation in Yorkshire –“
Robbie sighed somewhat dramatically. “Guess we better deal with it, then.” Still holding his hand, he drew James up while getting up himself.
And deal with it they did.
For decades to come.