It was quite late, at least by Victoria’s standards, when her phone started buzzing. She looked at it with narrowed eyes for a moment, before moving off the couch for the first time in half an hour and picking it up.
She flipped it over and looked at the screen. It was James. She swiped to answer.
“Cletus’ Garage, you hoon ‘em, we tune ‘em. What can I do you for?” she greeted, in a very, very fake Southern American drawl.
She heard a wheeze of laughter on the other end. “I know that's you, Vic, stop taking the piss.”
“I don't know, you seemed to like that joke,” she retorted in her normal voice, which was a bit of a posh-sounding one. “Are you drunk, by any chance?” She could practically hear his expression suddenly going all confused.
“Well, yes,” he admitted. “How did you know? I'm not even that drunk, just a bit tipsy, is all.”
She smiled a smile she was glad no one else could see, because it was rather smug. “I put two and two together. Really more two and three, actually. Wait, no, it's four things, it's two and two.”
There was a moment of only background noise, talking, clinking, and laughing, coming through the fuzz of the phone connection. “I'm listening,” said James evenly.
Vic’s smile went even wider and even smugger. “Well, for one, you're always at the pub this time of night, especially on a Thursday. And even if that weren't true, there's the background noise. That,” she proclaimed, “is most definitely an pub.”
“Well, that wouldn't tell you that I'm drunk, which, again, I'm not really.”
“Aha, but I told you there was four things,” she crowed. “There's your laugh. That is the sort of laugh where you're really amused by something, and, let's be honest, my jokes aren't that funny. I know you, and you laugh at things more when you're tipsy, ergo, you are. Also, you're calling me. You're not the sort of man to faff about with ‘just calling to say hi’, which I'm glad about, because that's annoying.”
She took a deep breath. “Therefore, I, Detective Victoria Abernathy, deduce that either you forgot your glasses or something at your apartment, which you wouldn't enlist my help for, or you need a lift.”
There was a moment's pause. “Well. That's quite nice actually, you've saved me the trouble of saying entire sentences.”
Victoria smirked. “Glad to help. Guess I'll be there shortly, then.”
“Thank you.” He sounded quite sincere.
She smiled, then hung up. Seeing as there wasn't really a reason to hang around, Vic got up. She turned the television off, mercifully making the paused documentary about the 24 hours of Le Mans disappear. It had been surprisingly boring. She applauded the amount of effort the filmmakers must have expended to make that happen.
She looked outside of her apartment window. It was raining. She frowned. It hadn't been doing that the last time she'd looked. Oh well.
She whisked her coat off the coatrack, and quickly bundled herself up in its wooly depths. On second thought, she grabbed an umbrella, too. The hallway was silent in a soft, carpeted way, muffling her footsteps. She elected not to take the elevator, after all, she had legs, and preferred not to stick around.
To avoid the cold, the rain, and umbrella faffery, she ran very quickly from the lobby to her car. Victoria liked cars quite a great deal. In fact, if asked, she'd say she loved them. And this certainly was the sort you needed to love.
Having already paid quite a lot for it, she'd waited a full two years for Tesla to finally fulfill production quotas enough to finally make it. But it had its upsides. A Model 3 could certainly deliver some thrills, without delivering any drawbacks in the taxation department.
So, setting off in her silent spaceship, Victoria began to swear at the traffic. The streets were unreasonably busy for a Thursday, but, then again, it was London. The congestion did thin out a bit, by the time she got where she needed to go.
James didn't need to tell her where he was, because she knew. It was a little, antique-looking place, situated snugly between a dentists’ office and a shop that sold soft toys.
Bit of an odd place for a pub, but no one seemed to care. Contentment, chatter, and buttery yellow light spilled out into the grey-blue, rainy night.
Stepping out of her car, Vic deployed the umbrella, and walked the few feet between her impromptu parking space and the main door. James was already waiting there, leaning against the wall.
“Taxi for Mr. James May,” she joked.
He held up his hand. “That'd be me.”
He ducked under the partial shelter of the black umbrella, emphasis on ducked , because, believe you me, when the person holding the umbrella is a full six inches shorter than you, you crouch a bit.
They got into the car in a relative hurry. Vic decided to skip messing with the umbrella, and just threw it in back.
“Your place or mine?” she asked, powering up the car again.
“I’d like to stay at yours, if you don't mind. Me flat’s a bit of a mess.”
“I hope you weren't waiting very long,” she said as she pulled back into traffic.
“Not really,” he answered diplomatically, although it had seemed like a long time, because it had been very cold.
“Good, because you've only got your jeans and jumper, no coat or anything.”
“‘S really more of a hoodie,” he corrected.
“Yeah, well, my point is that it's bloody cold and bloody wet, and you could catch your death outside, so there.”
“Actually,” he began, and she braced herself for incoming trivia, “catching a cold has relatively little to do with it being cold out. I actually got quite a bad cold in the middle of the summer. It's just that you're more susceptible to it when it's cold, ‘cause your skin starts to crack and your immune system goes a bit rubbish."
She smiled in the slight dark. “Well, exactly. It's like you wanted to disagree with me, but halfway through, you changed your mind.”
He looked back towards her, instead of out the window, where he'd been looking previously. “Well I'm not trying to agree or disagree with anything here, I'm just trying to clear up a common misconception.”
She smirked. “Sure.”
There was a silence. Well, there was also a very faint whining from the car, and various and sundry noises from outside, but it was mostly a silence, and that's what counted.
Then, though she was unsure why, Vic looked over at the passenger seat. James was shivering. After being in a climate-controlled car for a few minutes, he was still cold enough to shiver. Immediately, she felt a bit of a pang. It was just a natural reaction to that kind of sight.
She turned on the heater in his seat without even bothering to ask, because, regardless of how he answered, she knew he needed it.
Vic didn't say a word on the way back to her flat. She just cast an occasional glance towards James. Each time she looked, he seemed closer and closer to sleep, until, finally, she was home, and he was snoring softly.
She stifled a laugh. “James!” she whispered strongly, though she wasn't sure why she was whispering. “James, get up, you great lump!”
Still no sign of movement. “If you don't get up this instant,” she cautioned, “I'm going to braid your hair.”
“I think that's the fifth-strangest threat I’ve ever heard,” he muttered, still not opening his eyes.
She let out a breath of laughter. “Only fifth place? Damn. Listen, I would bridal-carry you into my flat, but I'd break my back, so can you please just get up?”
“Yes, yes, alright.”
She helped him out of the car, which was surprisingly difficult. He leaned a lot of his body weight on her. She supported him readily, threading her arms under his shoulders. “Jesus. What did you have for supper, rocks?” she asked breathlessly.
“No, I think I'm just old,” he answered, just as breathlessly. They both had a bit of a dry, wintery sort of laugh at that, whilst waiting for the elevator.
Slowly, the kind of carrying thing Vic was attempting dissolved into what was essentially a mobile hug. By the time they had gotten back to her apartment, she could barely peel her coat off without disturbing the half-asleep James too much.
Not that she was fully awake either. Her hazy mind saw a choice between collapsing on the sofa, and collapsing on the bed, so she chose the roomier option.
Vic's bedroom was surprisingly clean. Normally, the unorganized clutter drove James slightly mad, but she'd tidied it up the previous day in a fit of boredom.
Settling down next to him, she let out a deep sigh.
“This is rather nice,” he observed blithely.
“Eeeyup.” She was situated so that she was curled around the contour of his back, though not completely, obviously.
She'd seen James on TV before she'd met him. He had seemed a lot smaller on camera, though that was probably because he shared a lot of screen time with someone who was taller than anyone had any business being. Being six feet tall was, indeed, no mean feat on its own.
Slowly, and seemingly of its own volition, her hand snaked up and started to stroke his hair. It was surprisingly coarse, and even slightly greasy. It looked all soft and cottony from a distance, but it wasn't like he kept it soft with fancy conditioner, or even washed it as often as he probably should have.
Vic couldn't have given less of a toss. She loved moments like this, where they could just be so comfortable with each other.
They hadn't been seeing each other very long, in the grand scheme of things. When things had first kicked off between them, one of the biggest things she'd noticed was that he wasn't that big on contact. Which was fine; it wasn't like she was the most touchy-feely person in the world either.
He would sort of stiffen his shoulders and get this alas-I-must-endure-this look on his face if someone tried to greet him with anything more than a handshake. And at first, it wasn't that different with her. After all, she was once a stranger to him.
It was almost like he'd be unconsciously embarrassed and uncomfortable to share more than a moment's contact, and would not-as-subtly-as-he'd-hoped try to disengage.
But gradually, over the course of several months, he'd gotten ever-so-slowly more comfortable. It was all a matter of trust, and habit.
He must have trusted her quite a bit, presently, to let her drape an arm over his body, and sink a hand into his hair.
She smiled softly. “Look at you, getting all grey on me.”
“It was grey when you met me,” he said, a little reproachfully.
“Yes, now it's white. Don't worry. ‘S nice. Suits you.”
He let out a breath that could've been a sigh, could've been a laugh. “It suits me,” he repeated. “White hair suits me. That sort of scares me to hear you say that, because, inside, you know, I'm really still a kid. I look in the mirror and think, ‘Is that really me?’ I think we’re all like that, really, but am I genuinely so much of an old buffer or whatever?” He managed to sit up enough to face her.
Vic frowned a little. “What? No. No, I meant it looks good on you. You look good.”
This time, he did actually sigh. “Victoria, don't muck about, I don't like platitudes.
“I know you don't, James, I'm not mucking about!” she insisted, slightly affronted. “You,” she said, kissing him gently on the forehead, “are very, very lovely in nearly all respects. You're mature enough to know when not to be one, but you really are a twelve-year-old in the body of a middle-aged man with lovely eyes and lovely hair."
"And I love that, because it shows through. Unlike a lot of people, you're not tired of the world. Your eyes are bright. And really, it's good for me, because I'm still a girl, except I've got crows’ feet, gout, and too much hair dye.”
It was his turn to smirk a little. “I knew you weren't a natural redhead.”
“Strawberry blonde, dear,” she corrected. He rolled back over, laid back down. So did she. They were quiet. The rain wasn't.
“For the record,” he muttered, “I'm not middle aged. I hate this sort of semantics, ‘Ooh, we might offend someone,’ well, I'm not offended. I'm old. I'm bloody old, whether you're ok with it or not.”
Vic looked skyward. Well, darkened ceiling-ward. “Jesus, James. I'm serious. It's alright that you're getting older. Whether I'm ok with it shouldn't matter.”
“Well, a bit, yeah, it would be sort of cack if you hated it.”
That got a small, but genuine laugh out of her. “Alright, yeah. But you've showed me pictures of you when you were younger, and, to be quite honest, you looked sort of terrible.”
She could feel him chuckle a little, and just continued. “I don't know if it was down to poor choice of haircut, or they were just bad photos, but there are two things in this world that get better with age, one being wine, and the other being you.”
There was a very pronounced silence. “Well, that, and cheese,” he said eventually.
“Yes, that too,” Vic amended. “Besides, if you're old, what does that make me? I'm only five years behind you. Well, make that six, actually.”
Out of view from her and anyone else, his eyes opened suddenly.
There was such a soft, tentative, almost pathetic surprise in the way he said it.
Vic’s eyes and smile filled with sympathy. She planted a kiss on his shoulder, which was clad in soft navy-blue. “‘Course I did. How could I not? It's your damn birthday, and I'm your damn girlfriend. Now go to sleep, ‘cause I'm damn tired.”
She wrapped one arm around him, and a subtle smile bloomed on both their faces, at different rates, but definitely there.
The rain pattered down, and London continued to bustle, because of course it did, it's what cities do.
The world went round, because it would be rather nasty for everyone if it stopped.
And James? James smiled.