He had to admit; being back in uniform did bring a familiar comfort that he’d forgotten for a while. As he changed in front of his wardrobe, he took the time to make sure all of his buttons and pins faced the right way, fiddling with the insignia on his shoulders. He inhaled deeply, filling his pockets with appropriate items before going downstairs to make sure the kettle was off the stove, and the cat had been fed, before heading outside to Danny’s waiting Mini, making sure the door was locked behind him. He climbed into the passenger seat, happy to let someone else do the driving.
“New station’s gonna be ready next week,” Danny said happily as he pulled onto the street. “You seen it?”
Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he said simply. “Been keeping to myself a lot the last few weeks.”
Danny nodded. “Right,” he said. “We’ll go see it later today.”
“We’ll see,” Nicholas said. “I haven’t been in for a month, ” he pointed out. “There’s a lot to be done today.”
Danny tried to hide his disappointment, and failed spectacularly. “Thought you’d want to see it,” he said.
“I do,” Nicholas insisted. “But there are slightly more pressing matters at hand, is all.”
Danny sighed. “I guess,” he said. “But hey. You’re back, though!”
Nicholas laughed slightly. “Yes,” he agreed. “For good, hopefully.”
Danny drove them to the courthouse, parking in the cramped car park beside the building. The two of them walked into the courthouse, nodding professionally to whichever Turner had taken up post for the day. They walked into the room that had become the central work area, greeted by means more appropriate for the pub. Predictably, an empty bin sailed through the air, which Nicholas barely managed to duck. He picked it up, holding it for everyone to see.
“Glad to see you all here, too,” he started, pointing at the rubbish bin with his free hand. “But this stops. Now.” The cheers turned, predictably, to boos and hisses. “I’m serious. Someone could be seriously injured with something like this, and I was willing to overlook it before, but some of us, myself included, have sustained some serious injuries in recent months, and there’s no reason anyone should go out of their way to exacerbate existing problems.”
“Wot?” Tony asked, looking around the room.
Nicholas sighed. “It means ‘to make things worse’,” he explained.
Tony nodded. “Right.”
“I’m going to be implementing a lot of serious changes, effective immediately,” Nicholas continued. “I’m not as forgiving as Frank was, and I can assure you that the cake stops here. From here on out, corrective action will be taken as protocol dictates, and will be effective immediately upon issuance.”
Travis and Inspector Douglas sat in the back of the room, sharing nervous glances.
“Too soon,” Travis muttered. “We should have had him sent to Cornwall, or something.”
Nicholas sighed, turning his attention to the back. “I’ve already told you, I’m not transferring,” he said. “But if you think that you can convince me then by all means, stick around, because we’ve lost a few bodies and need replacements.”
“Sorry,” Travis said. “I need a bit of culture and civilization in my life, and sheep and swans aren’t really cutting it.”
Nicholas smiled lightly as he put the bin down on the floor. It was an easy smile that Travis hadn’t seen in a long while; not forced or hiding anything, just Nicholas.
“Right,” Nicholas continued, looking over the group of officers. “Now, Sunday marks our moving day. We’re clearing out of this building, and going to the new station, and I want everything put back the way we found it.”
He was met with groans from all the officers, but ignored them, continuing on with his “welcome back” speech.
Even after clearing out his emails the week before, there was still an endless torrent of nonsense to be waded through. Partridge alone must have seen more than two dozen emails his way, every one of them expecting immediate response, and some demanding immediate response from the emails that had never received response. Sighing to himself, Nicholas sent Inspector Partridge a friendly email, reminding him that all correspondence of an official nature should have been forwarded to Inspector Douglas, as Nicholas was on mandatory LOA, as dictated by Partridge himself.
As he cleared out his inbox, deleting most of what had accumulated, Travis let himself into the office, peering around almost nervously.
“Going home?” Nicholas asked, not looking up.
Travis sighed. “Paul is,” he said. “Figure I’ll stick around a few more days. Just… make sure you’ve got everything under control. Inspector Prick isn’t ex pecting me back until Tuesday, anyway.”
Nicholas looked up at his friend. “But you’re leaving Saturday night, then?” he asked. “Long enough to make sure I’m not going to lose it again, but an excuse to not have to help out with the move?”
Travis deflated slightly. “I’ll help,” he promised. “Especially if you’re going to put it that way.”
Nicholas leaned back in his seat. “I’m going in Monday evening, to see my parents for a few days,” he said. “I’m sure they’d be happy to have you over for dinner.”
Travis frowned. “What about… Well… ”
Nicholas shook his head. “I’ve gone my entire life without my parents knowing,” he said. “I don’t know that I could come up with a good enough excuse for bringing him along, and I’m not ready to expose myself like that.”
Travis nodded. “He’s not fond of me, you know,” he said simply.
“I know.” Nicholas looked at his computer screen for a while. “You intimidate him. He thinks you’re some sort of threat.”
Travis sat down in one of the chairs in Nicholas’ office. “Shame,” he said. “He’s a sweet kid. I just hate to think that he might become between us like this.”
“Sandford is between us,” Nicholas pointed out. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford weekly trips to the city for personal reasons.”
Travis nodded. “I am sorry,” he said. “This is not what I wanted.”
“I don’t blame you,” Nicholas said honestly. “You were doing what you were told.”
“Doesn’t excuse it.” Travis idly played with one of his shirt buttons. “It was meant to be temporary. Just so… ”
“I know,” Nicholas said. “And honestly, I think it did work. But I do like it out here, swans aside.”
They laughed lightly, neither sure they wanted to know what would happen next. “Just… promise me you’ll tak e care of Mum for me. The girls are all moved out, and she’ll get lonely with just Dad there.”
“Of course,” Travis said lightly. “I like your parents. I’d never really had something like that when I was growing up.”
“I know,” Nicholas said. “And so does Mum, which is why she likes having you around. Just don’t let her know what you’re up to, or she’s likely to get upset.”
“She’s a mum,” Travis pointed out. “That’s her job.”
Nicholas looked up, startled to find Travis standing in the door frame.
“What are you doing here?” Travis asked. “Go home to your girlfriend.”
Nicholas stared blankly at Travis, his fingers frozen on his stab vest. “Partridge said you need people,” he said.
“And I’m saying you need to go home,” Travis said simply. “If not to Janine, then go to your mum’s.”
Nicholas sighed and looked down at the floor. “I’m fine,” he insisted. “Just… let me do my job.”
Travis sighed, and walked into the locker room. “Nicholas, you’ve been through three partners in as many weeks. You’re either pissing everyone off, or frightening everyone else away.” He put his hands on Nicholas’ slowly pulling them down to his sides. “Go home. As your sergeant, that’s an order.”
Nicholas stared at Travis for a few moments, trying to decide if he really did just witness his friend pull rank on him. “And if I don’t?” he asked.
“Nicholas, please,” Travis said.
“And if I don’t?” Nicholas repeated.
Travis sighed heavily. “Then I’ll be forced to issue corrective action, and I really don’t want to.”
Nicholas and Travis stared at one another for a few moments, Nicholas trying to gauge Travis’ actual motive, and Travis doing his best to make it very clear that he was not playing. Finally, Nicholas growled to himself and pulled his vest off, s hoving it into his locker.
“It’s… just like the old one,” Nicholas said as he and Danny walked up to the front doors.
“No,” Danny said. He pointed toward the sign by the road. “That’s different.”
Shaking his head, Nicholas unlocked the doors, letting them into the building. Aside from the graffiti doodles on the inquires desk, done by either Kevin or Kyle Turner, everything was exactly the same.
“I suppose it is keeping with the village’s rustic aesthetic, isn’t it?” Nicholas conceded.
As the officers busied themselves with getting their desks and offices organised just how they wanted, Nicholas rushed back and forth between everybody, making sure everyone was up to date on the latest information. As he talked with Tony, Andy walked by casually, a lit cigarette pressed between his lips. Without saying anything further to Tony, Nicholas turned round and walked after Andy, picking up a half- drank cup of tea from somebody� ��s desk.
“Detective,” he said stiffly. When Andy turned round, Nicholas snatched the cigarette from him and dropped it into the tea. “You’ve both been warned about this,” he said sternly. “Nowhere in the building. Is that clear?”
Andy stared at him a few moments. “Fine,” he said angrily.
“Good. Traffic detail. Two weeks.” Nicholas turned round and returned to Tony, picking up exactly where he left off.
The flat was dark when Nicholas got home. It wasn’t as though he was really expecting a welcoming party when he stepped inside, but at least lights were usually on. Sighing, he dropped his gear by the door as he made his way to the kitchen. Maybe he could clean it up again; not like there was much to be cleaned up, with him hardly home, and Janine doing a good job at ignoring him all hours of the day. He wandered aimlessly through the flat, pushing things about the shelves and moving throw pillows back and forth.
He was startled with his mobile rang, chirping loudly at him from his pocket. He fished it from his pocket, surprised to find Janine’s name on the display.
“Is everything all right?” he asked, knowing she wasn’t going to ring him up just to have a casual conversation.
“No, everything is not fucking all right, Nicholas!” she hissed at him. “Where the hell are you?”
Nicholas looked around the flat, wondering what sort of question she was trying to ask. “I just got in,” Nicholas said simply. “It’s seven.”
“It’s also Tuesday.” She usually sounded upset with him, but this was new and frightening.
“Okay… ” Nicholas said slowly. He looked round the flat again, suddenly remembering. “Oh, god, Janine. I’m so sorry.”
“You’re not,” Janine spat at him. “You never are. For anything. I don’t want to see you when I get home tonight.”
She hung up on him, leaving him alone in a silent flat. Standin g alone for a few moments, Nicholas made his way toward the door, pulling on his jacket as he dialled a number on his mobile.
They phoned a mini cab to take them to the station at Buford Abbey, rather than trying to get three people to behave in a Mini Cooper. Travis and Nicholas spoke in hushed tones in the back seat, exchanging plans for the weekend. At the station, Nicholas paid the mini cab driver and unloaded their bags from the boot before making their way to the platform. They were early, but not by much. The train that would take them to King’s Cross was scheduled to arrive in about fifteen minutes, which barely left them with enough time to get a package of biscuits to share between the two of them. Nicholas waited in the queue while Travis wandered about, trying to find them a place to wait.
“Morning, Inspector,” the girl behind the register said. “Back to London, eh?”
Nicholas smiled lightly. “For personal reasons, for once,” he said , and she smiled back.
“Good to hear,” she said. “I been reading that things are starting to calm down for you lot. Finally get a break from it all.”
Nicholas nodded politely, not sure he’d ever actually get a break from anything. He took his biscuits and change, smiling at her. “Thanks,” he said.
He found Travis waiting for him on the platform, watching as the train approached the station. “Hate trains,” he moaned lightly. “Do not like them.”
Nicholas let his hand rest on Travis’ shoulder as he offered him a biscuit. “Better than the motorways,” he reasoned, watching as Travis lightly plucked one of the biscuits from the wrapper.
“This is true,” he agreed. “Still don’t hate the trains any less.”
“I like them,” Nicholas said lightly as the train screeched to a halt before them. A few moments later, the conductor began allowing people on, glancing at tickets and nodding.
“Inspector,” he sa id as the officers passed.
Nicholas nodded in return, leading Travis to the back of the car, finding a seat that sat evening in the middle of one of the large windows. He took the aisle seat, letting Travis get settled before getting comfortable. Not even waiting to hear the same health and safety lecture, he pulled out his music player, offering one of the ear bud headphones to Travis.
Nicholas didn’t know when he’d fallen asleep, but he was startled when the attendant gently nudged him awake.
“Inspector,” she said lightly. “We’re at King’s Cross. This is yours, isn’t it?”
Nicholas looked round the train, surprised to find that they were indeed at King’s Cross. He looked up at the attendant, smiling lightly. “Thank you,” he said. He turned lightly, poking Travis in the ribs. “Wake up. We’re here.”
“Nnno,” Travis mumbled.
“Fine. Stay in the train, then.” Nicholas got to his feet, his back popping and sn apping violently as he stretched to grab his bag. Pulling everything down from the compartment above his head, he nudged Travis with his foot, this time managing to wake him up. “We’re here,” he repeated. “Let’s go.”
Travis looked around and reached for his bag, “Your mum’s, or my place?” he asked, getting to his feet.
Nicholas sighed. “I promised Danny I’d stay with my parents,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid conflict right now.”
Travis nodded, understanding. “Right,” he said. “Your mum’s.”
They shuffled out of the train and onto the platform, neither so happy to see such confusion and anarchy before. “I will miss this place,” Nicholas said honestly as they made their way outside.
“King’s Cross?” Travis asked.
“London, you idiot.” He flagged down a cab, which immediately popped the boot for him to load up their bags. They climbed into the back, settling easily as Nicholas gave the drive r directions to his parents’ flat. The drive was quick, even with the traffic, and the driver seemed content to not talk to them, and just drive. Nicholas paid the man as Travis gathered their bags from the boot, and made his way up the steps. He pressed the buzzer by the door, waiting for someone to respond.
“Katherine, it’s your darling boys,” he sang into the intercom. “Care to let us up?”
The door buzzed back at him, and he pushed it open, holding it for Nicholas to get up the steps and inside. They walked up to the flat, finding the door already open for them. They let themselves in, finding Patrick asleep in his chair, and Katherine in the kitchen. She greeted them each with a kiss, before shoving tea cups into their hands and getting them settled on the sofa.
She clearly wasn’t happy. Neither of them was. He’d been sleeping on the sofa every night for the past three weeks, and the last time she’d spoken with him was during their t elephone call the day of her father’s funeral.
He did still love her. Dearly, and that was why he was prepared to do what he’d known was inevitable for a very long time.
Nicholas stayed home that day; it was his scheduled day off, and by the time he woke up, his back and neck burning like a thousand hot needles were searing their way through his spine, Janine had already left for work, or to go out with a friend, or to do whatever it was she did to avoid having to look at Nicholas. He stayed round the flat, taking several hours to decide what he should do with himself, and then the rest of the day silently gathering everything that was his. As he organised everything, and realised that he owned quite a bit, he rethought his plan, and instead began organising just what he absolutely needed, which as it turned out, wasn’t much at all. Just a few cardboard boxes and his travel bag.
Janine finally returned to their shared flat some time after nine th at evening, set on ignoring Nicholas as she made her way back to what had become her bedroom again.
“Janine,” Nicholas said darkly from the sofa. “We need to talk, I think.”
Janine paused, taking a few moments to decide on whether she wanted to turn round and face him.
“Nicholas, what do you want?” she demanded, surprised to find him standing near her in the doorway to the bedroom.
“It’s important,” he said. “I just want to do what’s best for both of us.”
She stared blankly at him, relaying a hint of distrust. “Get to the point, Nicholas,” she said.
Nicholas sighed, wanting to just run and forget he’d even brought it up. But he’d started this damn conversation; now he had no choice but to finish it.
“I think… ” he started. “I think we should probably… take a break. From one another.”
She still just stared at him. “We’ve been in a constant state of ‘break’,” she said bitterl y.
Nicholas sighed. “I’m moving out,” he said quietly. “I’ve just got what I need. I don’t care what you do with the rest. I’ll just stay in section housing until I can figure something out.”
“Fine,” Janine said simply. She shut the bedroom door on him, leaving him alone in the hallway.
And it was over. Just like that, as though the three years they had spent together had never even happened. It shouldn’t have been so easy, or happened so quickly, but it had. Just like that.
Nicholas turned round and walked quietly into the front room, looking around the familiar place one last time, his attention settling on a small stuffed lemur that sat on an end table in the corner of the room. It had been there for a few months, now, ignored and forgotten, and suddenly, Nicholas was compelled to pick it up. It was one of the gifts from Janine’s friends; a harmless toy for Jacob. Sighing, Nicholas ran his fingers over the soft faux fur bef ore carefully putting it in with his travel bag. He made his way to the kitchen, fetching his keys from the counter. Slowly, he took the key to the flat from the ring, setting it down on the counter. He ran the tap for a few moments, rubbing the cold water over his face before looking up, peering out the window. As he watched the light traffic below, he noticed on the windowsill a small yellow rubber duck. He wasn’t sure what it was doing in the kitchen, but he took that too, pulling on his jacket and leaving the flat, locking the door from the inside.
Nicholas opened the heavy door, letting Travis walk in before him. Mondays were excellent nights for a few drinks and a basket of chips, because most people were busy being contributing members of society, and were therefore too tired on Monday nights to go out to the pub. While that meant that things would be a little quiet, and maybe even on the boring side, it was an almost automatic guarantee that their usual corner booth would be open.
And, as luck would have it, it was.
They slid into the booth, not bothering with such pesky things as menus. It wasn’t long at all before the waitress was beside them, her pad at the ready.
“Evening, officers,” she said happily. “Drinks?”
Travis smiled up at her, his hands clasped together in front of his chest. “Pint of cider, please,” he said.
“I’ll have a pint of lager, please,” Nicholas added.
The waitress nodded. “All right,” she said. “Are we ordering tonight?”
Nicholas and Travis looked across the table at one another for a few moments before Nicholas returned his attention back to the waitress. “Fish and chips,” he said simply. “Just one. We can share.”
She laughed lightly. “Long as you can play nice,” she said, writing down the order. “I’ll be back soon with your drinks.
Nicholas watched her walk away before returning his attention to Travis. “Ho w are you and Danny Boy doing?” Travis asked, picking up a stray biro from the edge of the table and doodling on a napkin. “He seemed awfully upset the last I saw him.”
Nicholas shrugged. “Once things get settled down again, I think he’ll come around,” he said. “I think a lot of it’s just stress with his family over everything that happened.”
Travis nodded slowly. “That’s right,” he said. “It was his dad, wasn’t it?”
Nicholas didn’t say anything for a few moments. “Yeah. And I’m supposed to replace him.”
They sat silent for a few moments before the waitress returned with their drinks, setting the glasses on the table. “Be back with your food in just a few minutes.”
The officers both smiled up at her as she scurried off.
“Good luck,” Travis said honestly, lifting his glass toward Nicholas.
Nicholas smiled, tilting his own glass. “Thanks,” he said. They drank to friendship and success, and all those other things people drink to when they’ve nothing of substance to say to one another, just enjoying what would be their last night at the Winchester, or any pub, for what would probably be a very long time. Eventually, the waitress came back round with their order, placing the plate between the two of them, before rushing off to attend to her other waitressing duties.
As Nicholas and Travis picked at the chips and let the fish cool, the front door was pushed open, and Dave and Janine walked in, taking seats up at the bar.
“Ignore them,” Travis warned under his breath. “Nothing good will come of it.”
“I am,” Nicholas assured. He took a drink of his lager just to prove his point.
Travis looked at Nicholas from across the table, clearly not believing anything the man said. “You’re telling me that you’re suddenly over her?” he asked.
Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he admitted. “I don’t think I’ll ever b e, but I’m to a point where I can be in the same room as her, I think.”
Travis nodded slowly before allowing himself to relax. “Right,” he said.
Nicholas smiled gamely at him, taking a few chips from the plate.
They stayed in their corner booth, hidden from much of the rest of the pub, sustaining completely off of lager, cider, and chips. They talked quietly between one another, occasionally laughing, but keeping to themselves.
“I told you that I didn’t want to see you anymore!”
It took Nicholas several moments to register the voice, and realise that he was the one being shouted at. He looked up, surprised to see Janine stomping toward them, Dave following close behind.
“I’m sorry,” Nicholas said. “I’ve been right here all night.”
Janine pointed wildly at Travis. “And I told you to piss off, too!” she hissed. “I should have both of you arrested!”
“Janine,” Dave said quietly, taking her by th e arm, but she shook him off.
“No!” she said. “These pricks just won’t leave well enough alone!”
Nicholas frowned up at her, his lager- flooded brain having a difficult time keeping up. “We’ve been here all night,” he repeated. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Like hell,” Janine hissed.
Nicholas awkwardly got to his feet, slamming his lager down on the table perhaps a bit too roughly.
“Oh, no,” Travis giggled. “Alcohol abuse!”
Nicholas looked down, shaking the liquid from his hand. “I’m serious,” he said, turning his attention back to Janine. “I’ve done nothing wrong. And you’re going to… to come over here and accuse me of… ” He staggered a moment, and looked down at Travis. “What the hell are we being accused of?” he asked.
Travis shrugged. “I’ve no idea, mate,” he said, trying not to laugh. “I was just gonna order another drink.”
“Oh,” Nicholas said simply. He turned back to Janine, holding onto the table for balance. “I’m serious. If I’m being accused of something, I’d like to know in plain terms whatever it is, so I can at least form a proper defence.”
“Or attempt to,” Travis giggled.
“Thank you, Travis,” Nicholas said.
Janine seethed. “Are you that much of an idiot?” she demanded. “Are you even capable of any human emotion, or are you really that inhumanly numb to everything?”
“Janine,” Dave tried again, but she stepped away from him again.
Nicholas took a moment to think about what Janine had said. “Is that was this is about?” he asked. “This, right now?” He looked down at Travis, stunned, before returning his attention to Janine. “If you think that there’s been a single day gone by that I haven’t regretted what happened, I think you’ve got some rethinking of your own to do!” he said, his face turning red. “If you want to take it out on me, then fi ne! That’s why I moved out to Gloucestershire anyway.”
“Admit it,” Janine said. “You went out there just to run away from everything, like you always do.”
“No!” Nicholas insisted. “I moved out there because you hated me, which apparently you still do, and I needed some time to reorganise my own priorities.”
“And what priorities would those be?” Janine asked.
“It doesn’t matter!” Nicholas said. “I’ve come to terms with what happened. Why can’t you grow up and do the same, instead of blaming everyone else for something that no one could have changed?”
Travis watched the exchange from his seat, waiting for something terrible to happen. He didn’t think they’d ever been violent toward one another before, but with alcohol in the mix, there was just no telling. He reached out, his hand touching Nicholas’ lightly.
“Hey, Nick,” he said lightly. “Ignoring, remember?”
Nicholas pulled his hand away. “She started this,” he said, turning back to Dave and Janine. “I was happy to ignore you two, and just spend one last night in London, but now I’ve got some things to say.”
“So say it,” Janine said. “I’ve been waiting for a fucking year to hear whatever it is that you’ve got to say.”
“Grow up,” Nicholas said. “It’s happened. There’s no changing it, and it’s not going to get any better. I’ve come to terms with that. It’s taken all fucking year, and it wasn’t easy, but if you don’t get over yourself, you’re going to be a very miserable person.”
Janine growled at him, and without warning, slapped him across the face. Nicholas stood still, staring at her with cold eyes for several long moments. “That was assault,” he said flatly. “You’re lucky I still care for you, or else I might consider pressing charges.”
The bartender rushed over suddenly, pulling Janine away from Nicholas. “Miss, I’m g oing to have to ask you to leave,” he said.
Janine turned to face the man. “What?” she demanded. “He’s stalking me, and you’re asking me to leave?”
“He’s been here all evening,” the bartender said. “Long before you lot showed up, and I saw you hit him; not the other way round.”
Janine pulled herself free of the bartender’s grip, reaching out for Dave, instead. She and Nicholas stared at one another down for a few moments before Nicholas pulled his wallet from his pocket, thumbing through the cash he had. He put enough to cover their bill, and leave a considerable tip underneath his pint glass before shoving the wallet back into his pocket. “Travis,” he said stiffly. “We’re going home now.”
Travis scrambled to his feet, following Nicholas out.
“We’re making you sergeant.”
Nicholas felt ill, even thought he knew it was coming all along. “I see,” he said, knowing he really couldn’t properl y argue in the station.
“In Sandford, Gloucestershire,” he mumbled, barely able to maintain eye contact. Nicholas leaned forward, knowing he had to have misheard.
“In where, sorry?” he demanded. He’d never heard of the actual place, so it was almost certainly some small, backwater village that no one really cared about.
“In Sandford, Gloucestershire,” Travis repeated, matter- of- factly.
“That’s… in the country,” Nicholas pointed out, disappointed. He did like being in London, even if being in London meant being near bad memories. But he’d grown up in London, his family was in London, and he was prepared to do anything in his power to stay in London.
“Yes! Lovely,” Travis said.
“Isn’t there a sergeant’s position here in London?” he asked, knowing full well that there was.
“No,” Travis lied.
“Can I remain here as a PC?” Nicholas tried.
Travis shook his head. “No,” he said, h is voice shaking slightly, and suddenly, Nicholas got it.
“Do I have any choice in this?” he asked.
“No!” Travis said, leaning far back in his chair, getting perhaps a bit too comfortable.
“Sergeant, I kinda like it here,” Nicholas told him, knowing Travis wouldn’t catch the underlying meaning.
“Well, you’ve always wanted to transfer to the country,” Travis rationalized.
“In twenty years or so, yes,” Nicholas agreed, realizing that something was badly wrong.
“Well, don’t you?” Travis asked lightly.
“Hang on, I don’t remember telling you that.”
“Yes, you did,” Travis insisted, reaching back for the file.. “You said, ‘I’d love to settle down in the country sometime, Janine’.”
Nicholas seethed. He knew that at the pub, there weren’t going to be any personal conversations, but he distinctly remembered trying very hard to make that particular conversation very private. “I� �d like to talk to the inspector,” he said finally, knowing that the battle had already been lost.
“You can speak to the inspector, but I can promise you, he will tell you exactly the same thing as I have.”
Nicholas ground his teeth, getting all the confirmation he needed to know that it had been an executive decision. He watched as Travis dialled Partridge’s line, talking in hushed tones. Not even a full minute later, the inspector was settled next to Travis, smiling that bit, stupid fake smile of his.
“Hello, Nicholas,” he said, forcing a friendly tone. “How’s the hand?”
“It’s… still a bit stiff,” he answered, taken slightly off guard.
“And how are things at home?” he asked, still smiling. It had been no small secret that they’d been having problems since January, but Nicholas still wished that everyone would just mind their own business.
“I’m sorry, sir?” Nicholas asked.
“How’s Janine?” Partridge asked, as Travis looked away nervously. Nicholas looked at him for a few moments.
“We’re no longer together, sir,” he said slowly. The confused faltering of Partridge, and Travis’ avoidance of the question all together was at least reassuring in letting him know that Janine was keeping quiet about their separation. That, or Nicholas’ suspicions about Partridge were just confirmed, solidifying him as uncaring and incompetent. Either way, Nicholas already knew he was done. Their minds had been made up, and nothing was going to stop whatever it was they had planned out for him.
When he was first sent out to Sandford, he knew he was going to hate every minute of it. Knew he would hate the people, and the country side, and the other officers. And for the first few weeks, he did. And then, when he was given reason to hate the first two, he realised that the officers weren’t really all that bad. And it wasn’t even the people that were really that bad, either. Just some of them. And the West Country really was quite lovely, especially once summer came round, and after rebuilding started in.
Really, when he wasn’t dealing with the headaches, both physical, and the sort that came with being the Chief Inspector of the local police services, and chasing bleeding swans through the streets, the village was actually quite lovely, just as Travis had said.
Swans and under- trained officers aside, the physical headaches were still very much present, and very much real. Figuring the fresh air could do him some good, Nicholas found his shoes and jacket, and stepped outside, originally planning on just going for a quick walk in the cool near- Christmas air. He wasn’t quite sure how, but he found himself outside the pub. He stepped inside, finding the place crowded with various locals, out for a late-evening drink. Something about being at the pub alone on a Saturday evening seemed almost sad, but he figured he cou ld at least do with a light dinner before heading back home. He took a seat at the bar, slouching over the sticky surface until somebody finally noticed him.
“Get you a drink, Inspector?” the bartender asked lightly.
Nicholas shook his head. “Not tonight,” he said. “Shepherd’s pie would be good, though.”
The bartender nodded at him. “I’ll let them know back in the kitchen,” he said, disappearing into a small door. Nicholas waited in silence for anything to happen, only to find himself surprised when something did happen. Andy Cartwright slid into the empty seat next to him, an unlit cigarette between his lips.
“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you here tonight,” he mused.
Nicholas looked up, expecting to find Andrew nearby, and once again, oddly surprised.
“Where’s your twin?” he asked.
“Who?” Andy demanded.
“Andrew,” Nicholas clarified.
Andy shook his head. “Christ, what you think we are?” he asked. “Joined at the fuckin’ hip or something?”
Nicholas only shrugged. “Seems that way,” he said simply.
Andy looked at him for a few moments. “Right,” he said quietly. “Didn’t want to be home alone tonight, then?” he asked. “What about Batterbomb? Ain’t he usually keeping you company?”
Nicholas shook his head. “He’s in London,” he answered simply. “Visting F— vising his dad.”
“Right,” Andy repeated. “What about you?”
Nicholas shook his head. “My dad’s just fine,” he said, nodding to the bartender as he sat Nicholas’ meal on the bar surface. “And I think I’m done with London for a while.”
Andy looked at Nicholas for a few moments, neither saying anything. “When I went with you and that… friend of yours. That bender… that girl you ran into.”
“Janine,” Nicholas supplied.
Nicholas nodded. “Yes,” he answered simply.
Andy meditated on that for a few moments. “Married, or…?”
Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he answered simply. “We were engaged to be.”
“Maybe it’s better that way,” Andy said, his thoughts elsewhere.
Nicholas sighed deeply. “Maybe,” he agreed. He sat in silence, slowly picking at his shepherd’s pie while he waited for Andy to go away.
“How old would he be?” Andy asked unexpectedly. Nicholas jumped slightly, gaping up at the detective. He considered, for a moment, avoiding the question all together, only realising that it wasn’t really going to get him anywhere.
“Would have been his first birthday, yesterday,” he answered quietly. “You learn about that when Andrew Googled me, as well?”
Andy shook his head. “No,” he answered simply. “Learned about that cause you was being a twat, and them officers from London kept saying things what didn’t make any sense, so I took a look at your file.”
Nicho las nodded. “I suppose you’re just doing your job,” he said, trying to avoid eye contact with the detective.
Andy sat quietly next to Nicholas, just watching him. “What… what happened with him?” he asked. “What I read was really vague.”
Nicholas looked up at him, his mind constantly going back to what Danny had told him. “Pneumonia,” he answered unevenly. “Nothing anybody could do.”
Andy frowned. “Tough,” he said. “That… friend of yours. That what he meant when he said you went back too soon?”
Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” he answered.
He and Andy sat in silence for a few more moments before Andy leaned over the bar, ordering a Guiness for himself. Nicholas didn’t say anything about him sticking around; it wasn’t like Andy would leave even if he was told to, but he didn’t feel right being at the pub alone, and even an Andy was better than nobody.