Chapter 1: •-
The checkpoint on the Western face of the Sinjar Mountains rested on the edge of a plateau on the mountain side, overlooking ancient terraced fields that slide down onto the rocky desert below.
Several SAS soldiers were standing in the area, watching the men sheltering from the burning sun beneath the sandy outcrops of rocks.
Lockwood hefted his rifle back into his shoulder, shifting the thin shemagh that was wrapped around the lower portion of his face, feeling a rivulet of sweat run down his back.
There was very little sound - just the chirping of unseen crickets and the distant volleys of mortar and gunfire, and the Yazidi men’s quiet murmuring.
It wasn’t much of a checkpoint, not in the traditional sense; there was a thin, gravelly dirt track slithering up the mountainside towards the plateau, and no proper building or barrier, just several soldiers with rifles, protecting the refugees behind them as they waited to be recovered.
Flo’s voice was muffled slightly the cloth covering her face, but Lockwood looked up, and signaled his troops to take their positions. Two men had already been passed by the car, hidden in the thin shrubbery slightly down the road.
Another two moved away from the car and knelt, whilst Flo approached the car, signalling then to roll down their window.
The man in the front seat pulled the car - a dirty, white saloon car with tape over one window - to a stop a few meters away, but made no move to open the window.
The woman gestured again, still approaching.
The man reached for something from the seat beside him, and immediately Lockwood raised his rifle. “Drop it!”, Flo yelled, raising her weapon, “drop it!”
Lockwood rushed towards the other side of the car, watching man through the sights, finger sitting safe on the trigger guard-
-when the world exploded with pure, white noise-
-sending Lockwood flying backwards across the ground, rifle flying from his hands.
Something soft and unbearably hot licked at his skin, then withdrew, leaving him-
-Lockwood jerked up in bed, chest heaving and glistening with sweat.
The room was silent, broken only by his panting and wheezing.
He shifted about, knowing he was only imagining the vicious burning in his side, before sitting up, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
It was dawn outside, the pale, milky blue of the early morning slipping between his curtains and over his bedcovers.
That was the first nightmare for three and a half months.
Lockwood left the fading warmth of his bed, exchanging it for the coolness of the hallway. He padded down the hall, and out onto the balcony overlooking the open plan living room and kitchen.
Downstairs, now far too awake to hope to get anymore sleep, he poured himself a bowl of granola and sat on the modern, white couch, and turned on the early morning news, watching with only partial interest as some politician was grilled to a charred crisp by the hosts.
“But the state of our public schools is-“
There was a loud crash from the front door.
Lockwood closes his eyes, garnering all the strength he can. “Good morning to you, too”
“Fuck!”, a shrill voice cries, “you’re awake?!”
“No. I’m sleep-talking”
The short, scowling figure appeared in the front hallway by the kitchen, rucksack over one shoulder. “I was trying not to wake you”
“I’ve heard stealthier herds of elephants negotiating the Savannah”
“Oh- shut up”
He smirked slightly, hearing her stomp about on the tiled floor. For such a small person, she made a hell of a lot of noise.
“How was your sleepover?”
“Didn’t get drunk?”
“Didn’t do cocaine?”
He shrugged, taking a spoonful of granola. “Sounds boring”
“You’re meant to be a firefighter, why are you encouraging-“
“I’m not a cop”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “I binge-watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice with Quill, and the new Star Wars, and then ate my own weight in popcorn. Happy?”
“Happier than your clogged coronary arteries, sure”
There’s the sound of a cupboard door opening and closing, and the rustle of a packet. A moment later, there was a crunching from behind him.
Glancing over his shoulder, he finds Lucy standing in her pyjamas - awful, shapeless grey things she’s repaired with ridiculous colours of thread - and crunching away on a handful of Pringles, eyes on the TV. Then, they slide down to meet his.
“Really?”, he raises an eyebrow.
“Really what?”. She shoves another handful of crisp crumbs into her mouth.
“Crisps. At this time of the morning”
She shrugged. “Why not?”
“Okay, never mind”, she turned, and walked towards the stairs.
The retired Army officer rolled his eyes, watching her tromp upstairs in a pair of sliders.
“How’d you get home?”
“Quill dropped me off”
“Wow. He was sober this time, huh?”
Lucy paused, and frowned down over the glass banister. “What?”
“Well, I didn’t hear the plant pots by the door taking a pounding this time, so-“
She huffed petulantly, and a moment later slammed her door, making Lockwood smirk in triumph.
Upstairs, Lucy plugged her phone into the socket, and had a quick shower in her little bathroom, before dressing in a comfy hoodie and leggings.
When she came back, a text notification flashed up on her screen.
Gay bastard: What the fuck Lucy.
She smirked, and picked it up, just as another message came through.
Gay bastard: WHAT THE FUCK.
She smirked a little harder, and replied.
Lucy: I honestly don’t know what u r talking about.
Gay bastard: THAT LAST FUCKING CHAPTER.
Gay bastard: THATS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT CARLYLE. FIX THIS SHIT.
She knew exactly what Quill was talking about - the latest chapter of her ‘Pride and Prejudice’ fanfiction.
A ‘what if’ she was writing, pondering what would have happened if Lizzie had accepted Darcy's original marriage offer.
Lucy did so enjoy torturing Quill, as she enjoyed tormenting all her readers. Under the guise of ‘DarcysGirl21’, she'd written far too many fics to count.
Lucy: u know the rules. One update every two weeks. I updated when u were driving.
Gay bastard: IM YOUR BEST FRIEND U WHORE I NEED TO KNOW. I HAVE PRIVILEGES.
With a self-satisfied smirk, Lucy ignored the final text, and made her way back downstairs, and back into the kitchen, ignoring her roommate who was now watching something about wildlife in the Siberian tundra, David Attenborough’s dry, calming voice wafting through the house.
“Don’t steal my coffee”, he called after her.
“Why would I want to steal your crap, freeze dried coffee?”, she called back, reaching into the cupboard for the jar of coffee grounds that she shouldn’t buy, not on her budget, but did anyway.
“Because you steal anything you can get your filthy little hands on. You’re a student”
“I resent that!”
“Show me where I asked”
Lucy let out a frustrated growl. How did he manage to wind her up so much? How could one stupid, arrogant man be that infuriating?
‘Don’t let him provoke you’, Quills voice said in the back of her mind, and Lucy took a deep breath.
She picked up the laptop from the kitchen counter where it was charging, put it in its carrying bag, and hefted it over her shoulder.
“Do you have classes today?”, Lockwood asked a moment later as she brewed her coffee. “No”
“That’s a shame”
She threw the teaspoon into the large butler sink with possibly a tad more force than necessary, hearing it clatter against the bowl already in the sink.
Her life was Hell.
Of course, it would arguably be… more of a Hell if she wasn’t living with Captain Tightass, as Quill called him.
Considering she’d probably be homeless, because rent cost more than her soul or kidneys were worth.
The Veteran and Student Support Housing Project, or VSSHP as it was no more catchily called, was a housing project designed by the city and the Student Housing Board, to prove or disprove the hypothesis that ‘housing people of similar ages from different backgrounds will be beneficial to the mental health of all involved’.
‘Beneficial to mental health’ my ass, Lucy thought.
Chapter 2: -•••
Content warning for this chapter!
Brief mentions of past sexual assault - from ‘he was insistent’ to ‘yeah.’
Hope you all enjoy this chapter!
The laptop that Lucy and Lockwood shared got quite a lot of use.
Between Lucy's writing, Lockwood’s emails and budgeting, and Lucy’s school emails, it was getting some fairly heavy use.
Lucy hummed to herself as she scrolled through her inbox, reclining on her bed, surrounded by plush toys. ‘Lost phone’, ‘Charity Fundraiser’, ‘Extracurricular Activities Available’, she sighed, and deleted them all.
A new email appeared then.
‘Art Final Project - Update’, from her Professor, Dr Martin.
She clicked on it.
After her Professor usual apologies for being late to their last class, she told them that a local, prestigious gallery had requested to show the highest graded pieces from the coming final project.
Lucy's heart leapt into her throat. This was her big chance. If she could get even one of her pieces into a gallery, it could springboard her entire career! For as long as she could remember, Lucy had wanted to draw. She wanted to be an artist.
She had to win.
She just had to-
She closed the laptop immediately. “What?!”
The student huffed, before jumping up and grabbing her phone and purse, and jogging downstairs.
Lockwood was stood at the kitchen counter, gathering some reusable bags, before he turned and looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
“What?”, she asked disinterestedly.
“Nothing. Catch”, he threw the bags at her, and she rushed forwards to grab them.
Lockwood snagged his keys out of the bowl in the hallway, and walked to his car, parked on the driveway. Lucy, as usual, was left to lock the door and catch up, climbing into the passenger seat, and immediately lunging for control of the radio - but Lockwood was faster.
He batted her hands away, and clicked the button for the 80’s channel, and Lucy had to repress a noise of disgust. “Really?”
“You weren’t even alive in the 80’s!”
She reached for it again, only for him to grasp her wrists in one hand and force them back. “Driver has radio privileges”. “You never let me drive!”. “Not my problem”
The rest of the journey was in silence, Lucy staring out the window, as Lockwood drove with one hand on the wheel, the other resting on the window sill as he nodded his head along in time with the music.
They pulled into the car park of the supermarket, and Lucy wandered off to go find a trolley.
Inside, Lucy walked beside the trolley as Lockwood consulted the list she’d written. He frowned at it.
“Pa-... Paz-... Lucy, what the hell does that say?”
The man looked dubious. “Right”
“It does! What else would it say?!”, she demanded, tossing a bag of spaghetti into the trolley.
“I don’t know! You’re an artist, just- draw yourself some better handwriting!”
She gasped in offence. “You take that back!”
“No. Because you know I’m right, and your handwriting is criminal”
Before she could retort, Lockwood was already walking away, and Lucy rolled her eyes. So childish.
She walked down the aisle after him- and froze.
At the end of the aisle was her ex.
Mailer and her had met when he knocked her coffee out of her hand on her way to class, and had underpaid her as compensation. They hooked up at the end of her first semester; being demisexual, she was shocked to actually… well, find herself attracted to anyone - she’s never done so before - especially Harold, someone so very different to her.
She studied art, he took social studies. She thought football was pointless, he spent all his savings on a season pass. She wasn’t ready for sex, he was insistent.
Things had come to a head sometime in late March, when they’d been curled on Harold’s sofa - ‘a biohazard, that manky thing’, Quill had always sneered - and he’d managed to slide hand under the waistband of her leggings.
Lucy had tensed, but said nothing, wondering exactly where he was taking this. A few seconds later, his hand had migrated beneath the elastic of her panties, too, and… there.
She wasn’t a fan, to say the least.
Eventually, between Mailers… uncomfortable whispering in her ear, and the unpleasant sensation of his finger, Lucy had faked… it. An orgasm.
Mailer looked satisfied enough, and withdrew his hand, and nothing further was said on the subject.
At least, not until she walked in to find him and a girl from her art class in bed.
Lucy leapt back, flat against the shelves of cereal, before edging slowly towards Lockwood, who was examining a box of porridge oats.
She shuffled over to him, and he looked down with a raised eyebrow. “What the f-“
She reached for his spare hand, and he jerked back. “What the hell-?!”
“Hold my hand”
She threw the box of disgustingly healthy oats into the trolley, and snatched for his huge hand. “My ex is over there, and if you don’t hold my hand, I’ll smash every glass in the cupboard at home!”, she snarled.
He glared at her, but didn’t release her hand.
A moment later, a waspish voice interrupted them. “Lucy?”
They turned, Lucy plastering a shocked look on her face. “Harold? Oh- what a surprise! I had no idea you were here!”
He laughed awkwardly. “Yeah, right back at you”. At that moment, he opened his mouth, then hesitated, noticing Lockwood - “Uh- So… what are you doing here?”
“Right-! Right! Uh… so-... who’s this?”, he awkwardly eyed Lockwood.
“My boyfriend. Anthony”
The taller man inclined his head slightly in a silent greeting. Mailer looked shocked. “Oh-! Your- boyfriend! Right! Okay, uh…”
“What else do we need, Anthony?”, Lucy asked, glancing up at him. He looked down at her list - “eggs… Angel”
Angel? Who the fuck called their girlfriend ‘angel’?
“Right. Well, bye, Harold”
“Uh- Uh- Bye, Lucy!”
Lockwood, one hand still grasping hers, pushed the trolley to the end of aisle, and out of sight of Mailer - before they both released the others hand.
“Gross”, Lockwood muttered. Lucy didn’t bother to enquire as to whether he meant her or her ex.
They paid at the checkout, and carried the bags out into the car park. The bags were loaded into the back, and Lucy rushed back to the front of the car, leaping in and seizing control of the radio. She tuned it, finding a trashy pop station, and turning the volume up several notches.
Lockwood climbed into the driver seat. “What the hell is this?”
“Oh, come on, grandpa!”
He rolled his eyes, and started the engine, and for a moment, Lucy tasted victory.
Then, the station changed.
Lucy's eyes widened, and he smirked. “What-?! How did you-?”
He drummed his thumbs against the steering wheel. “Magic”
Lucy grumbled. “I was getting inspiration”
“Inspiration?”, he parroted irritatingly.
“My final project”
“Oh, well, get some inspiration from this”, he tapped another button on the steering wheel, turning up the volume, as Rick Astley permeated the air around her. Lucy groaned loudly. “No!”
“No! What would I paint from this?! A hellscape?!”
He chuckled lowly, and turned on the engine. With a deep sigh, Lucy leant back in her chair, trying not to deal with the fact she was getting rickrolled for the entire journey home.
Chapter 3: •——
St. Mary’s Church,
The three caskets were empty.
Despite their work, the firefighters hadn’t been able to extinguish the blaze engulfing the car and the lorry that had collided in the underpass. No bodies had been recovered.
The truck driver, a man in his mid 30’s with lank, dark hair that hung around his narrow, pale face, had been found to be driving under the influence of cocaine and alcohol when he lost control of the vehicle and collided with the Mercedes coming in the opposite direction. He was given a sentence of 10 years with no chance of parole.
At the front of the church, before the altar, great bouquets of white lilies and gladiolus and ferns, spilling over the coffins and pouring towards the tiled floor.
Anthony sat on a pew at the front of the church, staring unseeingly at the stained glass windows in front of him, watching the rainbow light fall on the blank flower petals.
There was a slight ‘creak’ as someone sat beside him.
Flo was a broad person, the sort of person who looked grossly uncomfortable in anything that wasn’t a sports kit of some description and running shoes. She looked so now, sat beside the boy in a suit wearing an ill-tailored black dress and blazer.
She toed at the ground with the tip of her shoe. “... Are you angry?”, she asked, voice unusually quiet.
He considered that. “... I suppose I must be”, came the soft reply.
“... I’d be angry. I think. Not that I can imagine how you feel, or anything. I don’t think anyone can”
Anthony didn’t look at her, still staring up at the Archangel Uriel, trapped in glass.
“Not that I can’t empathise with you. My councillor says I’m getting better at empathising with people. Maybe you should go to counselling. We could go together. There’s one near college, and we have mostly the same free periods-”
“I’m graduating early”
There was another silence.
“... Well, I’ll graduate too, then”, the girl replied stoically.
“Don’t be stupid, Flo”
“Too late for that. Like I’ve got any chance of passing A-Level Maths. Don’t think they can wait to get rid of me”, she paused, and looked at him, watching his still profile, “... What are you going to do, then?”
He shrugged his narrow shoulders, and said nothing - but that was okay. Flo could talk for them both. She did. Frequently.
“... I might go into the Army. I read a thing the other day that said the SAS has just opened up to women, and they’re looking for officers. I could do that. Hey”, she nudged him, “we could both do that”
He looked at her.
“... Sure. Why not?”
Chapter 4: -•-•
“‘And this is all the reply I am to expect?”, Darcy croaked, moving slowly towards the fireplace, “I might wonder why with so little effort at civility I am rejected”
“And I might wonder why”, Lizzie began impertinently, “with so obvious a desire to offend me, you chose to tell me you like me against your will, reason, and even against your character! Was this not some excuse for incivility if I was uncivil?”
Darcy looked down at his boots on the carpet.
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you”, she said slowly, “do you think any consideration could tempt me to accept the man who ruined the happiness of a most beloved sister? Can you deny that you have done it?”
He did not speak.
“You cannot deny it, for it is true. You, with nothing but callousness and your own wretched self in mind, disposed yourself to destroy my sisters chance of happiness in marriage forever!”
There was a brief pause, the air between them pregnant with expectation, when the tall, broad man strode forwards and pinned her to the chair.
“Mister Darcy!”, Lizzie exclaimed breathlessly, “you will release me at once!”
“I will do no such thing, Miss Elizabeth, until this fit of hysterics is through. You pose a danger to yourself and-“
“Unhand me!”, she cried, lurching forwards and colliding with him. A pair of gigantic hands gripped Lizzie’s arms, and forced her to still. “Have a care, woman!”, he exclaimed.
She growled, and fought against him once more, struggling. Darcy’s hands tightened on her arms, the heat of him working its way through her thin muslin dress.
“Elizabeth!”, he snarled, “Stop this-!”
She turned quickly, trying to dislodge him- only to find herself trapped between him and the wall.
He leant close, pouting mouth by her ear. “If you will not behave, Elizabeth”, his voice was low, gravelly, and it made her breath catch, “I shall have to discipline you-
The door opened, and Lucy slammed her laptop closed.
Lockwood slowly raised an eyebrow. “... did I interrupt something?”. “No. You need to learn to knock”, she huffed, tugging her blanket around her, picking up her pot of instant noodles and forking a load into her mouth.
His disgust was palpable. “Do you have any idea what’s in that?”
“No. Don’t care”
“I don’t know how you can eat that, really, I don’t-“
“Look”, she thumped the cup back down on her desk, still with half a mouthful of noodles, “I am a student. I graduate in a matter of months. I can’t cook. That requires time, money, and energy that I do not have”
“Well, find some then”
“What is your problem, jerk?!”, she exclaimed, “can’t I just eat in peace? I’m not waving my gross, disgusting, pre-prepared food under your nose-“
“-but you come into my room with no reason and harass me, and try and tell me not to eat. Well, news flash! I don’t have time to cook!”
“You’re too lazy”, he remarked casually.
“I am not!”
He raised a dark eyebrow, and leant against the door frame, pale lips curling up into a smirk. “Why don’t you get up and prove it”
“No. I’m working on my final project. Go away”, Lucy grumbled, shucking her blanket from her shoulders over the back of her chair.
He considered that silently, then slide away, leaving the door irritatingly open. “Prick”, she muttered, and reached across her desk for her phone, playing some Britney Spears through her speaker purely to annoy him.
She reopened the laptop, and scrolled back to where she had been, and paused momentarily, before starting to write again.
About half an hour later, Lucy saved her document, and stood, stretching her legs.
Downstairs, she could smell something cooking.
And it smelt really, really good.
Silently, she moved downstairs, and crept towards the kitchen.
Lockwood was stood over the stove, wok in one hand and a spatula in the other, cooking what looked like a variety of vegetables and noodles.
The smell wafted from the pan and across the kitchen to the student, making her salivate.
“Don’t loiter”, Lockwood said impassively, not looking up, “it’s a bad habit”
“What are you cooking?”, she ignored his comment, walking over to stand next to him. “Stir fry”. “What’s in it?”. “Chicken, cashews, peas, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, lime”
She edged just a little closer. “Smells really good”
“Looks good too”
“You might have made too much”
“I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow, then”
Lucy soon realised she was getting nowhere. “... can I have some?”
He took the wok off the stove and turned it off, ignoring her. She huffed. “Please”
She rolled her eyes. “Please can I have some stir fry?”
“Yes, you may”
A moment later, he handed her a plate and some cutlery. She sat down at the table, and started to eat, wolfing down the vegetables and chunks of chicken. The firefighter sat down opposite her, watching her with distaste as she practically inhaled her food.
She got a mouthful of noodles, slurping loudly, making a wet, damp noise, the end of a noodle hanging out of her mouth ever so slightly. Lockwood stared at her.
Lucy slowly raised her eyes to meet his. She sucked the end of the noodle into her mouth. “... what?”
He tore his eyes away from her; it was like a car crash in slow motion. He just couldn’t look away. “Revolting”, he muttered.
“It’s- it’s really good”, she swallowed. He looked at her.
“... Thanks”, Lucy murmured.
He watched her for a moment longer, then speared a piece of broccoli. “It’s nothing… Just start doing the laundry every once in a while”
“I make no promises”
Chapter 5: -••
Lucy: I can’t believe I actually agreed to draw u
Gay Bastard: It’s because I’m your muse ;))
Lucy rolled her eyes, and gently tossed her phone onto the carpet, going back to her canvas. She gently drew her pencil across the surface, capturing Quill’s likeness from the large photo she had taped on the wall opposite.
It was, easily, one of her favourite photos of Quill; wearing a plain, dark tuxedo as he looked into a full length mirror - with a pair of killer red heels on his feet.
She twitched in shock, and dropped her pencil. “Jesus-!”
Lockwood smirked, somehow suddenly stoop d behind her on the little balcony area above the living room. “So-”
“I keep saying - stop doing that! It’s freaky!”
She huffed, and bent over to pick up her pencil. “What do you want?”
“My friends are coming to visit-”
“You have friends?”, she asked, eyebrows shooting up, “wow, I had no idea. Good for you, buddy. How much do you have to pay them?”
He ignored her comment. “They’ll be here in a little while, so just keep out the way, okay”
“I’m sensing that wasn’t a request-”
A huge hand clapped down hard on her shoulder, and she jolted. “That assumption would be correct”
“Well, unfortunately for you”, she turned, and smirked, “this is as much my house as it is yours, so you have no business bossing me around-”
“You owe me”, Lockwood cut her off.
“You. Owe. Me. For the supermarket incident-”
“Oh- no! No way! No-”
The man’s smirk grew. “Oh, yes”
Lucy glared at him, and he looked grossly smug in triumph.
He straightened his back, standing to his full height. “So, if you would be so good as to stay up here, stay quiet, and stay out of sight, that’d be great”. She grumbled. “Right”
He paused, opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by the sound of the doorbell. The girl turned back to her easel, hearing her roommates footsteps receding down the stairs.
She focused on Quill’s legs, catching the shadows of the folds within the fabric, the faint outline of his skinny legs within the trousers. She switched pencils several times, changing textures to better suit the thickness or texture of materials or shadows.
Downstairs, there was the sound of voices, and laughter, then the shuffle of people entering the house. Lucy scowled, concentration breaking. Peering over the balcony, she could see Lockwood, as well as two unfamiliar men.
The two strangers took a seat on one of the couches, whilst her roommate disappeared into the kitchen.
The taller of the two, with olive skin and dark hair, whistled, looking around the room. “Woah! I like what you’ve done with the place, Lockwood”. The firefighter looked back from the kitchen, kettle in hand at the sink as he filled it, “Oh, thanks. I had nothing to do with it, though. Just turned up, and… here it was”
He nodded appreciatively, taking in his surroundings. The other, a fair, blond-haired man who was probably in his mid-30’s spoke next; “just you here, then?”
“Yeah, pretty much”
Lucy bristled at that.
“What’s that bra doing on the laundry line then?”, he asked with a kinked eyebrow, making the other snicker, and Lockwood paused.
“Who are you keeping hidden, then, Lockwood? Someone good?”
“Or maybe not - maybe that’s why he’s trying to hide her”
“Aww, don’t you trust us?!”
“No”, Lockwood replied plainly, emerging from the kitchen with three mugs of tea, “I don’t. Martin, that’s yours in the blue mug”. “Ooh, ta”
“So, was there a reason you’ve dropped in?”
The dark haired man sat up. “Actually, there was”. From the depths of his jacket, he produced a square of cream-coloured card, which he handed to Lockwood.
It was a wedding invitation, written in shimmering gold ink. Lockwood got no further than ‘you are cordially invited’, when he looked up. “You’re getting married?”
He grinned. “Yeah I am”
Lockwood smiled. “Wow, finally found a woman who’ll put up with you for longer than three months, Oscar?”
“Shut up, says you”
The firefighter rolled his eyes. “At least I’ve made it to two years. Anyway, who’s the unlucky lady?”. “Oh, we met in a bar. She walked over, slapped my ass, and it’s been true love ever since”.
He examined the invitation more closely. “Woah- next week? I thought you were supposed to hand these things out like, six months in advance?”
Oscar and Martin both looked sheepish. “Well… we knew that you and Ava broke up a week or so before you moved… and it seemed a bit insensitive”, Martin muttered awkwardly. Oscar continued; “plus… we weren’t sure if you wanted to keep in touch or if you were making… a clean break”
Lockwood considered that. “... valid enough, I suppose”
“So…”, Oscar sounded cautiously optimistic, “... you’ll come?”
“Well, I’ll have to find someone to cover my Saturday shift… but I’ll certainly make an effort. Is uniform appropriate?”. Oscar grinned, “you know it- oh, and you can bring your not-girlfriend-roommate or whoever that bra belongs to, we’re doing plus ones”
“Oh, she won’t be-”
Lucy stood up from behind the banister. “A plus one? Will there be a bar?”
All three men looked up. “Ooh, I like her already”, Martin murmured.
Lockwood fixed her with a stern look. “You will not be my plus one-”
“What?! Yes, I will! Who else will you take?”
“You’re not coming with me”
She pouted, and Oscar and Martin ‘aww’ed. “Lockwood! Don’t be such a moody bastard! Let your girl come!”
“No way! Not happening! And she is not-”
“Yeah, Lockwood”, Lucy chimed in, “let your girl come!”. They all cheered, and Lockwood placed his head in his hands. “Fine! You can come! But don’t make a spectacle of yourself!”
She smirked. “Would I ever- ”
“Yes. You would. You do. Frequently”
“Lockwood”, Martin declares chivalrously, “if you don’t take her as your plus one, then I will!”
“You really don’t want that, believe me”, he muttered, surrendering to the inevitable.
Chapter 6: ••—-
Army Recruitment Centre,
He scribbled it down. “Height?”
“6’2, 187 centimetres, Sir”
The scratch of a pen. Someone coughed outside the door. “Weight?”
“152 pounds, Sir”
The pen hesitated. “152?”
“That’s almost underweight for someone of your height, Mr Lockwood. You’ll have to gain some mass”
Lockwood swallowed. “Yes, Sir”
The man finished writing and reread the sheet. “Well, aside from that, everything seems to be in order. You’ll have to pass the physical exam, of course, but your A-Level results are more than enough to get you a place”
He sighed in relief. “Thankyou, Sir-“
“Of course. Here is the paperwork for the Army officer selection board assessment. It’s in Westbury”
“Thankyou, Sir”, he took the paperwork, briefly looking it over.
The man offered him a polite, encouraging smile. “We hope to see you soon, Mr Lockwood”
“I do too, Sir”
There was an exchange of goodbyes and best wishes, and Lockwood stepped out of the office. Flo was lounging in a chair opposite, looking up as soon as he exited. “Well?”
He brandished the paperwork, and she grinned. “Amazing! I knew they’d love you. You’re just the sort of person they want - from an old family, military heritage, tall and elegant, went to Eton-“
“I went to Harrow, and for your information, I didn’t want to go, my mother made me-“
“- and rather camp”
Lockwood scowled. “Having a better standard of hygiene than most men does not make me camp, it makes me clean, Florence Bonnard-”
“Don’t use that name! Never use that name!”
He smirked as they walked out together. “Anyway, I’m going to have to gain weight before we join. The guy said I was almost underweight”
“I’ve been saying that for years and you’ve never paid any attention”
“Yeah, that’s because you’re a woman-“, he said with a grin, and she gasped in outrage, elbowing him in the stomach.
The play fighting went on until they reached a nearby Chinese takeaway, where Flo ordered enough food to feed at least four people, and they went and ate it in the park, watching in companionable silence as they city began to glow, humming electrically in the dimming evening light.
Chapter 7: •
“Lockwood! Hurry up! We’re going to be late!”, Lucy yelled, sat at the counter in the kitchen, methodically removing the badges from her cropped white denim jacket, chucking them in the change bowl beside her.
There were footsteps down the stairs, and the sounds of hard soled shoes across the wooden floor. “We are not going to be late, and if we are, it’s going to be because you couldn’t be bothered to take the stupid pins off your jacket last night-“
“Oh, shut up”
She looked up- and then immediately looked back down.
His uniform was dark blue, almost black, made of a tightly fitting jacket and trousers, with a red stripe running from top to bottom. He had a thick white belt over the top of the jacket, with a large circular gold buckle. The buttons of the jacket matched, and were the same colour as the small silver badge on the front of the peaked service cap he had to hide most of his black curls. There was a line of medals on the left side of his chest.
But most interestingly, was the long, highly polished sabre hanging from his left hip.
“You’ve got a sword”, she remarked dumbly.
Lockwood glanced at her, adjusting his spotless white gloves. “Very observant, Carlyle. I’m surprised you noticed the three foot long sword hanging from my hip-”
“Okay, discussion over”
“Have you got everything?”
“Are you sure?”
“Because I refuse to come back”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Yes”
“...”, embarrassed, she stood from her barstool and rushed upstairs, trying to ignore his smug smirk.
The firefighter moved over to the counter, picking up his phone and shoving it into his pocket, glancing by chance into the change bowl where Lucy had been tossing her badges. He picked one up and inspected it.
It was a striped flag; black, grey, white, and purple. He didn’t recognise it, turning the small badge over between his calloused fingers. He dropped it back into the bowl, and brought out his phone, opening up the internet.
‘Black grey white purple flag’, he typed, then hit ‘enter’.
‘Asexual pride flag’, the Google suggestion box read. Lockwood frowned slightly, highlighted the word ‘asexual’, and pressed ‘look up’.
‘ Asexual, adjective: without sexual feelings or associations.’
“Right”, Lucy’s small heels clicked down the stairs, “I now know I definitely have everything, so don’t even bother asking”
He turned his phone off. “Right. Get out, then”
Overall, the wedding was what Lucy had expected: a nice reception in a converted glasshouse, a little distance outside of the city, set in a small woods on the grounds of a National Trust house.
There was a free bar, lined with white lilies and ferns to match the rest of the decor. The bride looked beautiful, and the food was great.
Lucy spent most of the evening sat beside Martin, keeping out of Lockwood’s way as he skulked around the room, chatting and drinking and scowling across the tables at her.
His dirty facial expression apparently did little to dampen the affections of the women who seemed to flutter around the firefighter like moths to a rather ill-tempered flame. Lucy wished there was some way she could earn them or his true character - ‘don’t do it! He’ll yell at you for not putting your socks in the hamper! He eats granola without dipping it in chocolate spread! He has a budget planning notebook!’
But, Lucy contented herself to sulk in the corner of the room beside Martin, the two of them throwing back a variety of wine and cocktails, munching on whatever drifted past on the silver butler trays whilst Martin lamented about his recent break up. Lucy nodded sympathetically, tossing back another sangria. “I’m so sorry for your loss”, she murmured, patting his arm, then scowling into her glass when it somehow was empty again.
“It’s horrible!”, he wailed, “she was perfect… I got a tattoo of her name and everything…”
The student sputtered on a delicate canapé. “You- What?!”
“I got a tattoo of her name on my-“
“Yes!”, he finished his mojito, and nudged the glass away, “a whole bunch of us- when I was still an officer-... we all went to a tattoo parlour, and got them… it was well fun… even Lockwood let loose a bit”
Lucy stared at him like he’d just told her Martians had landed in the cloak room and were eating their outerwear. “He-... Wow, I can’t imagine that. He didn’t get a tattoo, did he?”
Martin managed a nod as he beckoned a waiter closer, snagging a Prosecco from the looming tray.
She gaped. “He didn’t”
“Where?! Of what?!”
“Here”, Martin took a slug of his new drink, and tapped his right tricep, “got the SAS cap badge. In black, kinda small… it was the most we could convince him to get. I think he should have got Betty Boop”. He shrugged. “But hey, what do I know. I’ve got Donald Duck smoking a doob on my thigh, too”
“You’re just a walking ode to bad choices, aren’t you?”
Lucy smirked, and stood, somewhat unsteady, before heading between the tables towards the bar.
She reached the bar, and waited for a bartender to notice her, leaning on the top and humming as she inspected her nails.
Something warm brushed past her back, , and she had to suppress a shiver.
“Excuse me”, a low voice rumbled, and Lucy’s drunken brain purred.
“You’re excused”, she murmured softly, and then glanced over her shoulder.
“Oh”, Lockwood sneered, still behind her, “and here I was thinking I was disturbing a lady”
The odd, warm feeling that had engulfed her with the first contact fell away almost instantaneously. “And here I was thinking you were someone important”, she barbed, and stood up straight, “what do you want?”
“Well, if you’re buying, I’ll have seven obnoxious cocktails”
“Then I’ll have a beer”
She stepped aside, gesturing to the ample space on either side of her at the bar to order.
“Don’t drink too much”, he muttered, “You’ll embarrass me and yourself”
“Don’t patronise me”
“When you stop acting like an overgrown child, of course I will”
“I hate you”, Lucy hissed.
“The feeling is very much mutual, I assure you”
The bartender clearly recognised Lucy, as he started making another sangria.
“So…”, Lucy traced a whorl in the wood of the bar top, “that redhead has been hanging off you the whole evening… going to follow up on that?”
Before she could lift her new drink, a much larger hand wrapped around the stem of the glass, and it slid down the bar away from her, towards Lockwood, who took a slow sip.
“Just for that, this is mine now”
“No! Give it back-!”, she reached for it, but he fended her off, taking a sip. “Don’t think I will”
She glared at him. “You owe me!”
“Mm, don’t think I do…”, his voice was low, and he seemed impossibly tall, leaning half over her, and Lucy felt something catch in her stomach.
Lucy folded her arms across her chest like a petulant child. “Go and flirt with that redhead. I don’t want you here”
He smirked, and shrugged, and walked away, taking her sangria with him. The bartender, who had apparently been watching their whole encounter, raised an eyebrow at her. “What an ass”
“You can say that again”
He stepped closer to the bar, directly in front of her. “With guys like that, the best thing to do is make it clear they don’t affect you, even if they do. Really gets under their skin”
“You think so?”
“I know so”, he picked up a towel and started running it around the rim of a glass to clean it, “I’ve certainly dated enough of them over the years”
Lucy felt her face get hot. “Oh- no! We’re- we’re not- dating”
“Look, I’m no one to be judging anyone’s lifestyles. But you could get a better hookup than him. He might be hot, but he’s a jerk”
Deciding that it was simply easier to nod and smile, Lucy did just that, and bolted from the bar, leaving possibly quite a good deal more money than she meant to tip in her haste to leave.
It didn’t take long to find Lockwood, or their coats. They climbed into the car, and for once Lucy was the more sober of the two.
She focused her attention firmly on the winding tarmac in front of her, the monotony of driving a familiar road allowing her mind to drift.
“What’s a hook up?”, she asked suddenly.
Lockwood, who had been staring intently out of the window into the darkened fields, his service cap in his lap, turned and looked at her. “What?”
“What’s a hook up?”, she repeated.
His gaze seemed to have a physical weight, and it was as if he’d settled it entirely on her profile. Lucy shifted in her seat.
“I just heard the term and didn’t recognise it. That’s all”
He stared at her for a moment longer. “... did Martin say it?”
She shrugged, not taking her eyes off the road. “Can’t remember”
There was a silence.
“It’s like dating, but without… the commitment”, Lockwood said after a moment, “you have sex, sometimes do stuff together, like dates… but you’re not exclusive. You can see other people. It’s more about the sex than the emotional connection”
He turned to look back out the window.
“... have you ever had a hook up?”
He glanced at her this time, gaze weighing on her only momentarily. “Full of questions this evening, aren’t we?”
Another shrug, her hands tightening incrementally on the wheel.
“Just making conversation”
“Really? I was always under the impression it was impolite to discuss your sex life in public”
“This isn’t public, it’s your car”
“I suppose it is”
Lockwood shifted, crossing his legs at the ankle in the footwell. “... I have. Once or twice”
“Once or twice what?”
“Had a hook up”
“During my years of service, mostly”
“Are they fun?”
“They can be”
She nodded. A silence fell. Lockwood went back to his staring, and Lucy kept her eyes on the point just ahead of the car where they hadn’t shifted from.
It was only when they’d pulled into their driveway, and Lockwood was getting out of the car that Lucy realised the radio was still set to his radio channel.
Chapter 8: ••-•
“... where did you get that cake?”
Lucy looked up from her plate, fork in one hand, pen in the other, hovering over a plate of misshapen vanilla sponge and her notebook respectively. The shock of hearing a voice she hadn’t heard in… almost two days made her pause her chewing. “Huh?”
“That cake. Where’s it from?”
She speared a nice mixture of once fluffy, now slightly crispy icing and drying sponge and popped it in her mouth. “The wedding”
“... that was four days ago”
“...”, Lockwood marched over to the dining table, took the plate, ignoring her ‘Hey!’, and strode into the kitchen. He put his foot on the pedal of the bin, and dispassionately shook the cake from the plate. It slid off unappealingly, and disappeared into the bin liner.
“I was eating that!”, Lucy yelled, and he pulled a face. “Lucy. That cake is at least five days old now”
“It tasted okay!”. “It was just sugar and calories at this point”. “And your point is?!”
The firefighter sighed, and dropped into the chair opposite her, still in his tee and fireproof trousers. “You’re going to be so sick”
She lifted her chin. “No way, I have an iron stomach. I’ll have you know I once ate a whole jar of pickles with whipped cream”
The man looked revolted, but said nothing. Lucy went back to her notebook, jotting down plans for her final projects in her hectic, disjointed writing.
Lockwood set about removing his boots, unlacing then from the eyelets slowly, stewing in his thoughts.
He didn’t want to believe that Lucy had kept the cake from the wedding. Didn’t want to, but could. Where she’d kept it, he didn’t know; He certainly hadn’t seen it in the fridge.
He thought back to the wedding. It had been pleasant enough; old faces and new, catching up with people he hadn’t seen in years. He’d attracted a good deal more… feminine attention than he’d intended, as well as possibly having a few too many beers.
The last half an hour of the wedding was a bit of a blur. Two images and two phrases seemed seared into his brain - Lucy and Martin, side by side, sat at a table in the corner of the glasshouse, whispering to each other conspiratorially. ‘I hate you’
And the second - Lucy’s face silhouetted against the flicking neons of a set of traffic lights, red to yellow to green, as she stared straight ahead. ‘What’s a hook up?’
He removed one boot and started working on the other.
Perhaps he had been too harsh - he’d sooner she ask him slightly awkward questions than taint their shared browser history with her sexual queries. But she always seemed so… defensive around him.
Lockwood remembered the split second change when he brushed against her at the bar; her tone and mannerisms, her countenance, they all underwent an immediate polar shift the moment she realised it was him and not someone else.
He had no intentions of hurting her, or treating her badly, or of whatever she suspected him of plotting.
Despite this, a slug of guilt began munching on his stomach lining. Was she truly that wary of him?
“If you really want cake that badly, you could have just asked. We have all the ingredients”, the firefighter didn’t look up from his shoes, removing his second boot.
“What?”, Lucy’s pen paused, and she looked up, scanning his profile as if suspecting foul play.
“I could just make you a cake”
“You’ve been working for the last, like, 50 hours”
He wafted his hand. “If I sleep now I’ll fuck up my sleep schedule”
“... what kind of cake?”
He shrugged, and stood, moving to the kitchen. “Just a plain sponge. We don’t have any chocolate or anything”
“... and what do I have to do to get this cake?”
She stood too, and crept after him. “Put the oven on at 170 and then stay out of my kitchen for the next 40 minutes”
“I can do that”, the girl muttered, fiddling with the dials on the oven, then shuffling out.
Back at the table, a new email had just come through on her school account, and a brief glance revealed a chance at extra credit.
‘Model needed for later class!’
She clicked on the email, and skimmed over it. Professor Martin was offering extra credit to anyone who could find a new model for the class, as the original person had had to cancel at short notice.
Lucy drummed her fingers against the table. ‘Young adult male, preferably fit, any race or ethnicity. Will be paid well for their time’
She knew several young males - Quill, George, a couple of the guys from the LGBT meetings at university… and-
“Lockwood…?”, Lucy said in sing-song voice, standing once more and creeping over to the kitchen door.
“Mm?”, he didn’t look up from the mixing bowl of ingredients.
“... are you free on the first weekend of next month?”
“Why, and who’s asking”
“They need someone to model for my class- they’ll pay you! And I get extra credit! And it’ll only be for an hour or so-“
He placed down the bowl and dusted off his hands. “I have a shift on Saturday, and it’ll be a nightmare to find someone to cover it. Get Quil to do it. Or Martin. He’ll bend over backwards for you”
“That’s not true”, she paused, and decided to embellish the truth, “besides, they specified a fit young male”
“Well, I suppose that would discount both of them”, Lockwood muttered.
“So you’ll do it?”. “On one condition”. “What?”. “You have to do the laundry for the rest of the month-“. “What-?! No!”
He shrugged, smirking lightly into the bowl as he measured out the sugar on the scales. “Guess you’ll have to use your imagination in class, then”
Lucy pouted, but resisted the urge to stamp her foot, knowing he would only mock her. “Oh- Fine! Fine! It’s only three days!”
The smirk grew. “Guess I’ll be going to the gym tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday”. “Shut up. Don’t make me regret asking you”
He advanced on her ominously, and Lucy suddenly tensed. She was penned between Lockwood’s tall form and the fridge.
She scowled. “What are you doing?”. ‘And have you always been that big?’
The fireman kept advancing, not stopping until her back was flat against the refrigerator. “Someone’s got an attitude today”, he murmured, voice low. ‘And since when did your voice sound like that?’
… and he raised his hands, and smeared flour over her cheeks.
Lucy shrieked, and he laughed, turning and walking back to the counter where he was working, leaving Lucy slumped against the fridge, trying not to question why the feeling of his calloused fingers against her face had made her knees tremble.
Chapter 9: •••—
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst,
It wasn’t a particularly long drive from Marylebone to Camberley, just over an hour with Flo behind the wheel, even in her clapped up red Ford Fiesta.
They’d arrived just before 10am, pulling up in a car park. She turned off the engine, and looked over at her passenger.
Lockwood looked back at her.
“Ready?”, she asked.
“As I’ll ever be”
They got out, and unpacked their luggage - Flo had two small suitcases, and Lockwood a single duffel bag - and hauled them towards their accommodation; a long, two storied white building, with Grecian columns holding up a triangular portico, a flag pole with the Union Jack flying high above the roof.
They signed in, and were directed to their separate accommodation. Flo started chatting to another girl who was waiting, laughing and chattering away. Lockwood stood silently, a short distance from the other boys waiting, and watched the trees outside the window.
Lockwood’s room was on the top floor, in the corner, overlooking a parade square.
It was a smallish, comfortable enough room, with two windows. There was a sink in the corner, with a mirror, a wardrobe, a narrow metal cot with one pillow, a desk and chair, and a shelf.
He swung his bag off his slim shoulder and onto the bare bed, and began to unpack his meagre belongings.
After a while, a few basic belongings had been scattered around the room; a washing and shaving kit by the sink. Some books on the shelf. A photo frame on the desk. A jacket in the wardrobe.
There was a polite knock at the door, and it opened to reveal a large, balding man in field uniform. “Welcome to Sandhurst!”
“Thankyou, Sir”, Lockwood inclined his head respectfully, managing a polite smile.
“And you must be Anthony Lockwood”. “Sir”
“Good to finally meet you”, he glanced around the room, “I say, you seem to be travelling rather light”
“Only the essentials, Sir”
He laughed, a deep, rumbling sound. “Of course, of course. Dinner is at 18:00 hours, we meet outside the front door. Punctuality is key”
“Yes, Sir”. “Good man”, with a toothy grin, he closed the door behind him and joined his colleague, a wiry, grey haired man in the hall.
“So?”, the grey haired one asked, “any promise?”
“Not a lot. Captain Dales is very pleased with some of the female recruits, especially some blonde who passed the physical with flying colours”
“What about Lockwood? His old man was big news in the RAF”
“Lockwood… the skinny lad in the corner?”
“That’s him”, the grey haired man held the door open.
“He’ll be out of here before the Sunday of Hell Week, you mark my words”, he muttered, the two of them reaching the stairs, “this ain’t the place for him”