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Tag: fic: Lamp Light

Lamp Light #10

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.”

“Fucking swans.”

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.”
“Nick… ”

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.

“Ex?”

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.

« ||

Lamp Light #9

Janine had long since fallen asleep, though not a particularly peaceful or deep sleep; more of a Sominex-induced nap, thanks to Travis. Nicholas leaned against the wall, his arms wrapped tightly around Janine with his face pressed against her neck. Everything at that moment seemed to defy anything he’d known about anything. After more than thirty years of going to church every Sunday, he knew that the endless prayers should have been doing something. Being in and out of hospital for his own for injuries and childhood injuries was enough that he knew the doctors were doing everything they could.

Everyone was doing everything they could, and nothing changed.

Nicholas eventually stopped praying, and started just being quiet. He’d exhausted every prayer he could remember from the missal, and after hours going at it, his throat was sore and he was nursing a headache, and it just wasn’t fucking helping.

For a fleeting moment, he wondered if pe rhaps everything was just some sort of test, like everything else he’d ever heard about from the Sunday sermons, but the more he thought about it, the more his mind changed; began turning to darker places and questions began to form that he simply didn’t have the answers to.

Janine suddenly stirred, gripping Nicholas’ sides tightly. “Nicholas!” she cried out, sounding hurt and scared, her tone frightening Nicholas. He held her tighter, pulling her to his chest.

“Right here,” he assured. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Travis peered out the passenger side window, seeing shadows and figures, but nothing that looked like Nicholas. Not unless Nicholas had taken to graffiti. He let Danny drive them around the small village, enduring pointless stops to the pub and the court house, not surprised to find both locations lacking a certain inspector with the Sandford Constabulary.

“Go to the church,” he said suddenly, sitting up so quickly that he nearly smacked his head on the window.

Danny cast a sideways glance at the officer. “Nick wouldn’t go there,” he said simply. “He’s…” he dropped his voice, as though about to say something totally and completely taboo. “He’s one of them… atheists.”

Travis looked at Danny, disgusted. “He is not,” he said. “Not even close.”

Danny nodded. “He is. He said he doesn’t go to church.”

Travis sighed. “The term’s ‘agnostic’ and I don’t even think he’s really that,” he said. “If anything, he’s just a very confused Catholic.”

Danny narrowed his gaze. “But he’s… killed people, ain’t he?”

Travis shook his head, groaning to himself. “Just take us to the fucking church,” he said. “If he’s anywhere, it’s there.”

Deciding that arguing would probably not help matters any, Danny turned around and started making his way to the church, occasionally catching glimpses of Travis from the corner of his eye. He seemed a lot more fidgety than Danny ever remembered, and a million reasons why rushed through his head. He forced himself not to think about whatever relationship the man may have had with Nicholas, and just drove to the church.

“There!” Travis said loudly, pointing. “Stop!”

Danny pulled over at the curb, taking a moment to spot the figure sitting on the bench beneath the tree. He made to open his door, but Travis stopped him, his hand darting out to grab Danny by the arm. Danny looked at the hand as though it were poison, taking a few moments to finally look up at Travis’ face.

“Stay here,” Travis said sternly.

“No.”

“I’m serious,” Travis said. “Stay here. I can talk him down from this.”

Danny took his hand off the door handle. “Why can’t I?” he asked simply. “I’m the one s’posed to be his boyfriend.”

“I don’t know,” Travis said simply. “Why’d you u pset him?”

Danny seethed as Travis stepped out of the car, watching the man as he walked across the grass. It should have been him out there; not some poof from London.

Travis slowly walked up to Nicholas, his hands held out slightly. “Nick,” he said lightly. “Nicky?”

Nicholas looked up slowly; making eye contact for only a few moments before turning his gaze back to the ground. Sighing to himself, Travis sat next to Nicholas on the bench, easily wrapping his arm around the other man’s shoulders.

“What’s going on, mate?” he asked quietly.

Nicholas only shook his head as he moved closer to Travis, allowing himself to lean against the body next to him.

“He didn’t mean anything by it,” Travis said quietly, rubbing his hand up and down Nicholas’ back. “You’ve got to tell him things, or he’s not going to know what’s going on.”

Nicholas inhaled shakily, finally giving in completely and burying his face i n Travis’ neck.

“You gonna talk to me?” Travis asked, not breaking contact with Nicholas in any way. Nicholas only shook his head. “Why not?” Nicholas shook his head again.

Sighing, Travis moved away slightly, putting his hands on Nicholas’ shoulders. He lightly kissed Nicholas on the forehead before standing up. There was no way that Danny didn’t see, and he knew it, and didn’t care. He helped Nicholas to his feet, taking a few moments more to make sure he’d be able to make it to the car without stumbling before leading him across the garden, and to the sidewalk. He opened the passenger door, and after minimal fumbling for the lever, pushed the seat forward.

“In the back,” he instructed firmly, gently pushing Nicholas toward the car. As he helped Nicholas get settled, Travis looked up at Danny, finding himself slightly surprised at the look of pure, liquid hate on the sergeant’s face. Shrugging it off best he could, Travis pushed th e seat back and got into the car, barely having time to get settled before Danny started driving. The ride to the hotel was quiet and awkwardly heavy, with Nicholas not saying anything, and neither Danny nor Travis wanting to say anything to one another. When they finally stopped at the curb, Travis practically jumped out to the street. He pushed the seat forward again, peering into the back seat at Nicholas.

“Front?” he offered.

Nicholas barely shrugged.

“Fine. Stay in the back, then,” he said. He started to push the seat back when Nicholas’ hand stopped it, and pushed it back forward. The inspector stepped out to the street, his eyes locking with Travis’ long enough for an unspoken exchange to be made between the two men, before settling back into the front seat.

“I’ll ring you tomorrow,” Travis said lightly. Nicholas only shrugged.

Making sure that Nicholas was in all the way, Travis shut the door and slowly made his way int o the hotel, watching as Danny’s mini drove away.

“Why you lettin’ him boss you round like that?” Danny asked once they rounded the first corner. “You didn’t have to sit in the back.

Nicholas turned his attention out the window, doing everything in his power to avoid looking at Danny. Giving up on practical conversation, Danny resolved to just drive them home, contemplating whether Nicholas should go with him, or to his own place.

Well, the solution was simple, wasn’t it? Nicholas would go to Danny’s place with him for the night. It wasn’t that Danny didn’t trust Nicholas on his own in his state; it was more that…

No, it was just that. Danny didn’t exactly trust Nicholas on his own in his state. Sighing to himself, Danny made his way toward home, unable to take his mind off of Travis the entire way. He could handle being made to wait in the car, if only just, but having to watch everything that Travis did was almost unbearable. He’d managed to get Nicholas calm enough, which was a necessity, but the touching and kissing was completely out of bounds. It took everything in his willpower not to blame Nicholas, which was turning out to be a tough task. Regardless, it was easier to just blame Travis and be done with it.

Danny parked outside his flat, and for a moment, thought he might need to help Nicholas out of the car. Finally, Nicholas unbuckled his seatbelt and stepped outside, waiting on the sidewalk for Danny to be able to let them inside. They silently walked up the flight of steps to Danny’s flat, finding the lights still on throughout the entire house.

“Here,” Danny said lightly. He took Nicholas’ jacket and hung it on a hook near the door as he led the inspector back to the bedroom, slowly turning out lights on their way. Danny settled down onto the bed, pulling Nicholas down with him. Danny’s bed wasn’t particularly large, but it was big enough for him to hold Nich olas across his lap, his hand lightly stroking Nicholas’ shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” Danny said quietly, feeling Nicholas’ shallow breathing against his own chest. “I didn’t know. Or else I wouldn’t have said nothin’.”

Nicholas sighed lightly.

“Weren’t your fault, you know,” Danny continued, letting his hand move in light circles. He could feel Nicholas tensing against him, but continued. “S’that why you never said nothing, then?” he continued. “Don’t like talkin’ about it, cause you think it were somethin’ you done?”

Nicholas moved himself closer to Danny, but still said nothing. Danny frowned down at him, reaching down and lightly grasping Nicholas’ chin, tilting his head up to be able to look at his face. “Weren’t nothin’ you did,” Danny said again.

Nicholas looked away, burying his face in Danny’s shirt.

“Nothin’ anyone could have done,” Danny said softly. “Not everythin’ has to be somebody’s fault. Some things just happen.” He drew more light circles on Nicholas’ back. “Some things just happen.”

Nicholas inhaled sharply, choking on his own breath. He clutched tightly at Danny’s shirt with his fists, pressing himself even further against the other man.

“It were a tragic thing to happen, but no one could have changed it,” Danny said quietly. “Weren’t nothing anyone could do.”

Nicholas pulled on Danny’s shirt as he pushed his face into the fabric, starting to sob uncontrollably. Danny jumped slightly, taken off guard at the sudden outburst, but continued to rub his hand against Nicholas’ back. He couldn’t help but wonder how somebody who was usually so quiet could make so much noise, which led to wondering if the Nicholas he knew was even the real Nicholas. Travis seemed to believe that they were dealing with completely different people sometimes, and once more, Danny found himself hating Travis for no reason other than he’d known Nicholas for longer than he had.

Danny forced those thoughts from his head and focused on Nicholas instead, wrapping his arms around the man’s chest.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly, though he was sure Nicholas couldn’t hear him. “Jesus, Nick. How long you been holding that in for?”

Nicholas pulled himself into Danny’s arms, his grip on Danny’s shirt tightening. He pressed his face into Danny’s shoulder, choking on his own tears as he heaved almost violently.

“S’all right, Nick,” Danny said assuringly. “S’just us here. S’all right.”

He brought his chin down onto Nicholas’ head, letting him wear himself out until he was silent once again, still holding tightly to Danny. They sat in silence for a long while, what felt like hours to Danny, before Nicholas finally stirred.

“I’m sorry,” Nicholas said quietly, his voice strained.

“Don’t be,” Danny said simply. “I t ain’t healthy to be holdin’ that stuff in all the time.”

Nicholas shook his head lightly, not releasing his grip from Danny. “Not that,” he said. “I shouldn’t have… shouldn’t have lied to you.”

Danny sighed, letting his hand trail lightly up Nicholas’ back. “You gotta actually say somethin’ before you can lie,” he pointed out. “I know these things are hard to deal with, though. I really do.”

Nicholas shifted lightly and simply shrugged.

“I know that what you been through ain’t like what I been through, but I can still listen, yeah?” Danny said lightly. “But we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.”

Nicholas nodded lightly. “Yeah,” he said simply.

Danny lightly stroked Nicholas’ back with his hand, rubbing up and down across multiple layers of clothing. They sat like this in a comfortable silence, with Nicholas holding tightly to Danny, and Danny doing his best to keep Nicholas calm by not saying anything. Eventually, the awkward angle and the weight on his stomach had begun to make his injuries protest, and he tried to shift the both of them, noticing that Nicholas had fallen asleep in his lap, still grasping tightly to Danny’s shirt. Doing his best to keep quiet, Danny pulled himself free of Nicholas’ grip, and managed to slide out from under him without waking him. As he got to his feet, he watched as Nicholas immediately rolled over to his side, his hands reaching out and gripping at the blankets. After making certain that Nicholas was asleep, Danny quietly changed into his pyjamas and shut off the lights before turning on the lamp on his dresser. Not wanting to wake Nicholas, he made his way out to the front room, quietly fishing a clean, if not musty-smelling blanket from one of the boxes still stacked throughout the flat. Slowly getting into bed, he draped the blanket over the both of them and settled in, surprised when Nicholas immedia tely rolled over and pressed himself against Danny’s side.
His hand hurt. Usually it was just stuff, but this was different. This was real, physical pain, that drove deep into his knuckles. It wasn’t his knuckles that had been stabbed, but they still hurt; every last one of them. As he roughly massaged his hand, digging his thumb deeply into the skin, he couldn’t help but concede that it was better than the near-constant numbness that had first threatened to prevent him from doing anything useful. At least pain meant that the nerves hadn’t been completely damaged; they were just very, very angry.

Nicholas sighed to himself, digging his thumbs into his own skin and staring at the rug beneath his feet. The flat was empty and dark, and he should have been at church with his parents right now, and he really didn’t care. He’d told his parents not to expect him Sunday mornings, and while disappointed, his mum had never been one to guilt him into anyth ing, and she wasn’t about to start now.

He hated just sitting at home. It felt useless and unmotivated, and completely unproductive. Short of tearing the place apart and cleaning it all up, again, there was nothing to be done, and no reason to be home. He’d rather be out in uniform, doing his job, and not being at home. Not hearing Janine completely ignore him from another room. Not having to ignore calls from his Hannah, who would constantly insist that God has a plan for everybody.

He’d told himself he wouldn’t abuse any rank, whether his own, or a friends, but he was not going to stay home if he had not. Not when his best friend had managed to move up and get his stripes. Nicholas fetched the telephone from the kitchen, and immediately dialled Travis’ mobile number, both thrilled and terrified when he got an answer.

“Is everything all right?” Travis asked, sounding surprised on the other end.

“I want to come back in,” Nicholas sai d simply.

“You will,” Travis insisted.

“Tomorrow.”

There was a pause, during which Nicholas could hear paper rustling. “I—you’re… Aren’t you meant to be at home?” he asked. “Getting… over everything?”

Nicholas took a breath. “I’m not getting over anything, here,” he said. “I want to be back out on the street.”

Travis sighed lightly. “Back on the street?” he asked. “You know… they are looking for a few more sergeant positions. I’m sure you’re more than—“

“Back on the street,” Nicholas said simply. “I can’t just stay home like this. I know there’s something you can do.”

Another pause. “We’ll see.”
Danny was surprised when he woke to find Nicholas practically sleeping on top of him, sprawled over his chest. Sure, with a twin-sized bed, there was going to be some contact made, but Nicholas usually managed to keep mostly to himself when he stayed over. Danny wasn� �t sure if he should be worried, or just enjoy the contact, but either way, he had to get up. His side felt like it was going to tear open all over again, which the doctor had said was completely normal, as long as he did something about it as soon as it started to get bad.

He managed to roll Nicholas off of him without waking him, and made his way out to the kitchen, putting the kettle on for tea. He didn’t have any of the stuff Nicholas liked left, but he figured he could probably nip off to the shop if he needed to.

He made himself a cup and settled in at the kitchen table; clearing off a spot large enough for his tea, which was fairly large, given the size of his soup bowl that was pretending to be a tea cup. Sitting in relative silence, he was startled to hear something being tripped over, and got up to find Nicholas wandering out to the front room, collapsing on the sofa. Danny took his tea with him, and settled in next to Nicholas, putting his cup on the end table.

“Sleep all right?” he asked.

Nicholas shrugged. “My neck hurts,” he said quietly.

“Sorry.”

Nicholas looked exhausted, even after just having woken up, but Danny said nothing. Instead, he wrapped his arm around Nicholas’ shoulders, drawing him close. Nicholas looked around the flat, wearing his oddly perplexed face.

“Do you mind if I unpack some of these boxes?” he asked. “You’ve been here long enough, haven’t you?”

Danny sighed and looked round the flat. He’d really grown to like his boxes very much, and knew exactly where everything was. He hardly had to really look for anything; just try to remember which box whatever it was he was looking for was in. He nearly vetoed the idea, until finally looking at Nicholas, and seeing the completely lost expression washed over his face.

“I guess if you want?” he tried. “I kinda like it this way, but if it’s bothering you…”

Nicholas quic kly got to his feet, making tracks for the nearest stack of boxes. “Any preference on where anything goes?” he asked.

Danny shook his head. “No,” he said. “But if you’re gonna be doing that, I’m gonna go to the shop. Do you want me to grab anything from your place?”

Nicholas shrugged as he carefully dug through the contents of the large cardboard box he’d chosen to start with.

“Got your pills?” Danny asked.

Nicholas shook his head. “Night stand by the clock,” he said simply.

Danny nodded as he retreated to his bedroom to dress quickly, not wanting to be present when Nicholas completely turned the flat into something that was not Danny’s, but he wasn’t sure how to tell Nicholas no. Especially knowing that being an obsessive-compulsive twat was how Nicholas dealt with anything that he didn’t plan down to ever detail.

He quickly changed into a clean shirt and the trousers he’d worn the day before, fetching up his keys and shoes before leaving Nicholas to destroy the flat. At Nicholas’ place, he grabbed the pill bottle from the night stand, deciding that it might be wise if Nicholas stayed with him for a few days. He quickly packed a few changes of clothes into a duffel bag in the closet, before feeding Spot and heading to the shop. As he walked from the car park to the newly re-opened Somerfield, he was stopped by Travis, who was noticeably not in uniform.

“What do you want?” Danny asked bitterly, doing his best at walking past.

“Well, I wanted to ask how Nicholas is doing,” Travis asked, following Danny into the supermarket. “But now I’d like to know why you’ve been so hostile toward me since before we even properly met.”

Danny frowned. “Cause you’re a twat,” he said simply.

“Okay…” Travis kept step with Danny. “So on to the original agenda. How’s Nicholas doing?”

Danny picked up a shopping basket and made his wa y down the aisles. “He’s unpacking my flat,” he said simply.

Travis considered this. “When’d you move in?” he asked.

Danny thought about this as he put various necessities into his basket. “Six years ago?” he said, not completely sure.

“Surprised he hasn’t unpacked you sooner, then,” Travis mused. “Let him, though. Anything to keep him busy and not thinking about work.”

Danny shrugged. “He’s staying with me for a while,” he said, rounding a corner to the next aisle.

“He’s gone back too early before,” Travis pointed out. Doctor’s note or no, he’ll try it again. And without Partridge out here to keep him at home, he’s got no one above him.”

“Who’s Partridge?” Danny asked.

“A prick,” Travis responded simply. “But I’m serious. Hold him hostage if you have to.”

Danny frowned, disagreeing with the idea of doing anything Travis said. He finally turned on him, stopping in th e aisle. “Listen to me,” he said, trying to keep his voice low. “I ain’t gonna tell you to stay away from him or anythin’ poncey like that, but I didn’ like what I seen last night. He ain’t your boyfriend, and you had no place doin’ what you did.”

Travis stood silently for a long moment, just staring at Danny. Finally, he shrugged. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said easily. “I’ve known him half my life. I care about him more than you could possibly imagine. He’s like a brother to me.”

Danny snorted. “Never knew somebody what fucked their brother,” he said.

“Like a brother, you git,” Travis said. “And that’s not the point.”

“What is, then?” Danny asked simply.

“You’re not going to change the way I feel about him,” Travis said simply. “He’s not going to just stop talking to me because you and I don’t get along. Get used to me.”

Danny frowned and looked down the aisle quickly, making sure no one was within ear shot. “Touch ‘im again, and you’ll regret it,” he said simply. “He’s not yours.”

Before Travis could respond, Danny rushed off to the nearest register to pay for what he managed to get, nearly constantly checking over his shoulder to make sure Travis didn’t follow. Loading his shopping into the back seat, he considered giving Nicholas a ring to see if there was anything else he needed, or any other reason he could delay going home, but decided it would probably not be a wise idea, and just got in the car. Getting home, he found the door open, and several broken down boxes stacked in the kitchen. Danny put his shopping down on the dining table, looking around.

“Want me to take these down to the skip?” he asked, pointing at the boxes when he spotted Nicholas on the floor in the front room, stacking graphic novels on a bookshelf.

Nicholas shook his head. “You’ll probably want to keep them,” he said, his voice not sounding nearly as strained as it did when Danny had left him. “Save expenses if you wind up moving again.”

Danny nodded as he took Nicholas duffel bag into the bedroom. “Right,” he said slowly, digging Nicholas’ prescription from the clothes and walking out to Nicholas. “Here,” he said. “You need water or something.”

Nicholas looked up briefly, taking the tablet from Danny’s hand and holding up a water bottle. “Found some in the fridge,” he said. “Thanks.”

Danny left him to stacking graphic novels on the shelves, slowly wandering through the flat. Three or four boxes had apparently been unpacked already, their contents finding homes throughout the flat in various places. Danny had to admit that maybe Nicholas knew a thing or two about girly things like arranging flats and finding good places for things, and even conceded that maybe having Nicholas unpack for him wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“Need any help?” he asked, feeling suddenly very useless.

Nicholas shrugged. “I like doing this,” he said. “You don’t have to if you don’t want.”

Danny really didn’t want, but he also didn’t want to look lazy. “You sure you got it on your own?” he asked.

Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “You can go out and enjoy your day off, if you like,” he offered.

Danny shrugged, and settled in on the sofa. “I can keep you company,” he said. “Probably won’t be much help, though.”

Nicholas shrugged back. “I don’t mind,” he assured.

Danny watched as Nicholas carefully found a place for everything, arranging action figures in precise positions, occasionally asking if “this red one” and “this guy with the arms” were from the same series. Every now and then, Danny would get up and try to help, but his side would start complaining, and he thought about what Travis had said about going to work too early, realizing that the whole of the Sandford Constabulary was guilty of the same offense.

“Try not to overwork yourself, yeah,” Danny warned as he settled back into the sofa.
Danny was not sure when he fell asleep, exactly, but he was surprised when he woke up. It wasn’t the waking up bit that had surprised him, but more the feeling that he’d woken up in someone else’s flat, and for a moment, he almost thought that he had, if not for the sleeping Nicholas leaning against him. There were still a few boxes pushed up into a far corner, but most everything had been unpacked, arranged, and settled into what Danny had to admit were very logical places.

He gently prodded Nicholas awake, watching for those first few moments when he woke, confused and disoriented.

“Looks good,” he said. “When did I fall asleep?”

Nicholas looked around for a few moments before checking his watch. “About four hours ago,” he said.

“Oh.” Danny looked around the flat again. “When did you fall asleep?”

Nicholas looked at his watch again. “Twenty minutes ago?”

Danny gently kissed him on the forehead. “Sorry,” he said. “I’d ‘ave let you sleep longer, then.” He got up from the sofa and made his way to the kitchen, finding a lack of dirty dishes and empty boxes on the counters, instead replaced with a pair of charging mobiles, one of which was ringing away on vibrate, happily spinning in circles. Danny noticed the screen and frowned, but answered it anyway.

“Hang on,” he said bitterly, taking the mobile to Nicholas.
The new partner was an idiot. Fresh out of academy, and more interested in gun fights and car chases. Nicholas didn’t remember being so naive when he was new.

Regardless, it was comforting to be back in uniform, and back in the patrol car. He explained to the rookie that being a police officer – not a policeman, like everything else would have one believe � � was about being an asset to the community, as he drove through the streets, finding not a single person speeding or running red lights; something which both frightened and relieved him. There was always something going on, but if it wasn’t going on in the streets of Highgate, then were was it going on?

“It true, then?” the rookie asked from the passenger seat, fiddling with the radio. “You really killed someone?”

“Yes,” Nicholas said flatly.

“That’s amazing,” the rookie marvelled.

Nicholas sighed. “It is not amazing,” he said. “It was extremely regrettable. The situation left me with no choice.”
Nicholas walked into the courthouse, nodding curtly at the officers, many of whom had made a point to avoid eye contact at all costs.

“Back in, then, Inspector?” Tony asked hopefully from his desk.

Nicholas shook his head. “Just want to check my email,” he said simply. He walked past the officers milling a bout, happy to find his office locked and empty. He let himself in, settling behind his computer and booting it up.

“Hey, Nick!”

Nicholas looked up to find Andrew rushing in. “Yes?” he asked.

“Listen, I need to talk to you about something,” he said as he leaned against the desk.

“Is this about your transfer?” Nicholas asked.

Andrew shrugged. “Well, yeah,” he said.

“Inspector Douglas,” Nicholas said simply. “I’m still on LOA.”

Andrew frowned. “Then what the fuck you doing here?” he asked.

Nicholas pointed to his computer. “Checking my email, so I don’t have so much to go through when I come back next week.”

Andrew kept frowning, completely overdoing his damn DeNiro impression again. He saw that Nicholas was indeed just starting everything up, and nothing else of an inspectoring nature seemed to be present. “Well, I’m telling you anyway, even if you’re not Inspector Arsehole rig ht now,” he said, “but I ain’t goin’ to Kent.”

Nicholas looked up at Andrew, expecting to see him looking smug or sneering at him, or something, and taken by surprised to see him being very serious. “Oh?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Andrew said. “She’s, uhm… She’s taking Michael to her mum’s in Somerset.”

Nicholas got the feeling he had missed something very important. “And you’re wanting to stay here?” he asked, hoping for clarification.”

“Yeah,” Andrew said dully. “She, uhm. She found some old emails.”

“Emails?” Nicholas asked. “About what?”

There was a short silence. “It was months ago!” Andrew insisted. “It stopped before you even showed up round here.”

Nicholas nodded slowly. “Here in Sandford?” he asked, getting a clearer picture. Andrew shook his head.

“I ain’t that stupid, Nick,” Andrew spat. “Christ. No. Buford Abbey.”

“I see,” Nicholas said. � ��Separating?”

Andrew nodded. “Yeah,” he said quietly.

“I am sorry,” Nicholas said. “Truly.” They sat in a silence for a few moments while Windows Vista chimed at them. “Have you come back to active duty yet?”

Andrew shook his head. “Tomorrow,” he said. “But I don’t want to go to Kent. I was only going because she wanted to get out of here.”

Nicholas nodded understandingly. “Right,” he said. “Talk to Inspector Douglas. I’m not back until next week, and not able to do any real work until then.”

Andrew nodded. “Okay,” he said. “That’s something he can reverse? Just like that?”

“I’ll send him an email,” Nicholas said. “Unofficially. Let him know why you’re cancelling your request.”

Andrew nodded as he pushed off the desk. “You can be a decent person when you want to be,” he said.

Nicholas nodded up at Andrew. “Thank you,” he said. “Douglas is out with Sergeant M artin right now. Do you know who he is?”

Andrew nodded. “Friend of yours?”

Nicholas nodded back, watching as Andrew left. By then, Outlook had pulled up, greeting him with over fifty unread emails. Before opening any of them, he did as he’d promised Andrew he would, and sent off an email to Inspector Douglas, explaining in not as many words as Andrew had to him, why Detective Sergeant Wainwright was withdrawing his request to transfer to Kent. As he started in on his unread emails, a light knock on the door frame startled him. He looked up quickly, finding Travis walking in.

“Thought you and Paul were out on something,” Nicholas said.

“Just got back,” Travis answered, pulling up a chair next to Nicholas’ desk. “Heard you were in here, and figured I’d check up.”

Nicholas tapped his mouse on the desktop. “Just going through everything so I’m not in over my head soon as I get back,” he said.

Travis cast him a sce ptical glance. “That sounds suspiciously like working,” he pointed out.

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he insisted. “I sent one email to Paul, but haven’t responded to anything. Just seeing which ones I’ll need to get back on.”

Travis leaned over the desk, and Nicholas tilted the monitor, as though showing that he really wasn’t actually working. Honest.

“Nest week, then?” Travis asked.

Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “My doctor says I can come back any time, but I’m…trying to set an example, and using the time Partridge gave me.”

Travis nodded. “Who else is still coming back?” he asked.

“Both detectives, and Danny,” Nicholas responded. “The rest are either back, or have resigned.”

“Surprised more people didn’t take up our transfer offer,” Travis mused. “Just the one, I think.”

Nicholas shook his head. “He’s cancelling the request,” he said. It’s… complicated.� �

Travis got to his feet and made his way toward the door. “Go home,” he said. “Rest. Get your head back on. Hell, get laid. Just get out of here.”

Nicholas laughed and shut down his computer. “Hang up,” he said, making sure everything was orderly. “I’ll walk out with you.”
It was the looks around the station that really got him. Pity mixed with a lack of respect. Officers whom he might have once called friends now seemed content to disregard him like some sort of leper. Even Travis didn’t seem to have any time for him, but Nicholas managed to talk himself into forgiving him that much. They did seem to be short sergeant positions, if the amount of hours he was putting in were anything to go by. Partridge seemed to have him running around, doing enough work for four officers, which didn’t seem fair, but then again, that wasn’t why they’d joined the service, now was it?

Janine wasn’t talking to him; not at home or at wo rk. Nicholas had taken to sleeping on the sofa some nights, just get away from the feeling that he was being completely ignored.

Which, in all honesty, he was. He was being ignored at home, which made him bored and lonely, but his lily seemed to respond inversely, flourishing like never before with all the sudden care and attention he’d been paying it.

“Honestly, you love that damn plant more than you love me,” Janine snapped one morning as she left. Nicholas got to his feet to object; to point out that he never had the chance to be with her, but she had already left, shutting the door between them.

He sighed, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do with himself for the day. The long he sat alone with his own thoughts, the more he wondered if maybe Janine was right. Was he the one ignoring her? Should he have been doing something differently?

If he was, he wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be. Every damn time he moved into whichever ro om Janine currently inhabited, she’d just get up and go to another room. She was very clearly upset with him, and he could pinpoint down to the minute when it started. She may not have been talking to him, but she didn’t have to say a single damn word for him to figure it out. It didn’t take a detective, after all.

And maybe she was right. He wasn’t careful, and it had cost them. There was no taking any of it back, and they’d likely never be able to go back to where they were. Pretending wasn’t even a viable option. Neither was capable, and neither would have wanted to.

Nicholas looked at his watch and swore at himself. What the hell was he supposed to do all day?

Well, it was simple, wasn’t it?

He fetched the telephone from the kitchen, quickly dialling Travis’ number, and asking if there was anybody who needed filling in for. A half hour later, he was in the locker room at the station, getting himself put together to go help out some one in Hampstead Heath, whose partner never showed up that morning.

« || »

Lamp Light #8

Something about being in a Tesco seemed almost inhumanly relaxing. Normally, back home in London, Tesco was something to be avoided like the black plague in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Everybody and their mum’s dogs were scrambling to find just the right gift to give to relatives they only spoke to once a year, and were otherwise ignored.

In Sandford, there really was no such thing as really being alone. The village was so small, and the families so large, that it was seeming to approach a situation in which to ensure that you weren’t marrying into the family was to wait for someone to come along from out of town, or to brave the world beyond Sandford’s idyllic borders.

Nicholas quietly roamed through disrupted aisles, trying not to get run over by grannies with shopping trolleys, thankful to have a small city – even if it was Bufford Abbey – just a short drive away. Even if George Merchant’s bypass had been scrapped, Bufford Abbey seeme d to get more traffic, if only because the Somerfield’s still hadn’t been properly cleaned up, or even purchased by a new franchise owner.

He found himself wandered out of office supplies, and into home furnishings, with tacky sofas and cheap shelves. A flickering blue light drew him to the next aisle, which housed a huge lamp display, stretching on into the next row. Something at the end caught his eye, and immediately, Nicholas forgot what he’d gone to Bufford Abbey to look for, completely awestruck with the blue-green liquid wax, or something similar, lamp, almost exactly like the one Danny kept in his own bedroom, except that Danny’s was red. Completely on impulse, and totally unable to stop himself, Nicholas grabbed two.
Danny had said it countless times before, but this time he really, truly meant it. Sandford was fucking boring. At least being a full-time policeman-officer, he could find ways to entertain himself, like tracking down one of the Andes with Saxon, using an old towel from the locker room, or finding the speed radar, and clocking the various speeds of anything and everything he could find.

Now, because some tart from London he never even met decided that everyone in Sandford was unfit for duty, Danny had been barred from the courthouse, when policing was concerned. He could still go in, but the east wing was suddenly a locked off and forbidden place.

He sulked down the sidewalk, kicking small pebbles as he went along, trying very hard to ignore the London cop walking what should have been his beat. In his complete and utter failure to ignore the officer across the street Danny looked right at him, seeing red upon noticing who it was. Checking the streets quickly, he darted across to the other side.

“What is it with you lot round here and jay walking?” Travis asked, startled to see Danny suddenly by his side. “I got on Nicholas about that the other day.”

“Why won’t he talk to me?” Danny demanded, completely ignoring Travis’ lame reprimand. “He tells you fuckin’ everythin’, and I can’t get two words out of ‘im.”

Travis sighed, continuing back on his original course. “That’s just Nick, isn’t it?” he said, realizing that he had met Danny before, and trying very hard to restrain himself from mentioning how he didn’t realize Nicholas was into “that.”

“No,” Danny said bitterly, falling into step next to Travis. “It’s you. You know things that are s’posed to be just me an’ ‘im, and other things that should be me an’ ‘im, but they ain’t. They’re just you an’ ‘im.”

“Danny, is it?” Travis asked. “I’ve known Nick for half my life. I’m sure he’s mentioned this.”

Danny remained silent for a few heavy moments. “It’s what he’s not mentionin’ that’s worryin’ me,” he said.

Sighing, Travis looked at Danny for a moment, before finding the nearest possible place for them to duck off. “Listen,” he said, pulling Danny with him into a hidden alley way. “Nick’s gone through a lot with Janine. He still ain’t over it. It hurt all of us, and he just needs time to get himself sorted out.”

“So you were part of it, then?” Danny asked darkly.

Travis looked away for a brief moment, his eyes closed tightly. “Yes,” he admitted easily. “But not in the way you seem to want me to have been.”

Danny frowned at him. “So, what happened, then?” he asked flatly.

Travis stared at him, his eyes dark. “You’ll have to talk to Nick about that,” he said. “It’s not my place.”

“But you said you was involved,” Danny pointed out. “If you was part of it, then why ain’t it your place to say what happened?”

Travis sighed. “You’ll need to talk to Nicholas about this,” he said simply. “It’s not my place.”

Danny narrowed his gaze, doing his best to intim idate the man from London. Though, truth be told, the man from London was doing a far better job at intimidating Danny.

“He’s my best mate,” Travis said simply. “If he wants to take his damn sweet time getting over it all, then I’m not about to rush him.” He walked out to the main street, Danny still following after him.

“I want to hear it from you,” Danny demanded flatly.

Travis turned on his heel. “No,” he growled.

Danny shook his head. “Not that,” he said, his arms crossed over his chest.

“No,” Travis sighed. “That’s your answer. We’ve been abstinent for over four years. I haven’t touched him since before he started seeing Janine, and I am not the reason they broke up.”

“They been together that long?” Danny asked.

“They broke up in February,” Travis explained. “But I think the relationship was over before that.”

“Because of something you’re not allowed to talk about?” D anny asked sceptically.

“Yes.”

Sighing, Danny shoved his hands in his pockets, and at the next available opportunity, rounded a corner to get as far away from Travis as possible.
The dog bite had been painful; this was fucking hell. The dog had at least missed every vital nerve in Nicholas’ leg, so any damage done was able to be fixed by hours on treadmills, and the marks were hidden at almost all times.

“Severe ligament damage with possible lasting nerve trauma.” In other words, his left hand would be stiff, numb, and full of scars. And what was with the Father Christmas get up? When he and Travis got the call, they thought it had been some disgruntled charity worker, completely unprepared for a homeless man doped up on hallucinogenics with a switch blade. That much, he had to admit, was funny. The bit about it maybe costing him his career was not.
As he sat idly in the hospital bed, counting down the hours until someone finally told him that his surgery went fine and that he could go home, he was surprised to see Janine come into the room, Jacob cradled in her arms.

“Oh, why’d you bring Jake?” he asked. “Couldn’t you have left him with my mum or something?”

“She’s on the other side of town,” Janine said. “I wanted to make sure I got here before visiting hours ended.

Nicholas frowned at her. “I’m sure Inspector Partridge could have looked the other way at you using your badge to come in after hours,” Nicholas reasoned.

Janine sighed, as she gently reached out, taking Nicholas by the wrist. “How is it?” she asked.

Nicholas shrugged, laughing slightly. “Oh, it’s great,” he asked. “Ever been on morphine?”

“Yes,” Janine said flatly.

“Oh. Right.” Nicholas idly picked at the IV poked into his arm, hating it for being there. “I should be going home tomorrow morning,” he said, reaching out with his undamaged hand t o gently stroke Jacob’s head. “Just got out of surgery about an hour ago.”

Janine nodded. “Good,” she said. “I don’t like us being home at night when you’re not around.”

Nicholas picked at his bandaging for a moment, before mentally slapping his hand away. The doctors had put that there for a very good reason. Probably. “Ring Travis,” Nicholas suggested. “His heating’s gone out. I’m sure he’d be happy to sleep on the sofa.”

“I’ll probably do that,” Janine agreed.

Jacob began fussing lightly, and it didn’t take long at all for either Janine or Nicholas to realize that no amount of coddling was going to make him stop.

“He’s tired,” Nicholas said. “Go home. I’ll call you when they let me out.”

Janine smiled, leaning over to kiss Nicholas quickly. “Make it quick,” she said.

Nicholas smiled at her, sighing lightly as he watched her go.
The lamp was smaller, as it turned out, tha n Danny’s. And by no small amount. The blue light it cast over the room was cool, and soothing, and lit more evenly than the violent red he was used to. Nicholas had the lamp plugged in and on, and was asleep before the wax had even begun to heat.

He woke late in the morning, roused by a pounding on his front door. For a few moments, he considered letting whoever it was go away, but decided against it. There was simply too much going on to ignore anything. He lazily rolled out of bed and stumbled down the steps to the front door, pulling it open slowly.

“Yeah?” he said, seeing one of the officers he hadn’t known in London.

“Oh,” he said nervously. “Sorry to… wake you, Inspector.”

Nicholas smiled gamely. “It’s all right,” he assured. “What’s going on?”

The officer pulled out a slip of paper, reading the scribbled notes. “There’s a… Mister Grover causing a fuss at some farm on the edge of town. Won’t talk wit h any of us. Says he’ll only talk with you.”

Nicholas sighed. “Constable, I am, for all intents and purposes, on suspension right now,” he reminded the officer. “All of my officers are. We’ve no legal authority in this or any other constabulary right now.”

The constable pointed madly down the road. “Well, why don’t you tell him that?” he asked.

Nicholas shook his head. “You tell him that Inspector Angel is in London, and that he can speak with you and cooperate, or he can be arrested.”

The constable sighed, sagging just a little.

“If he wants to talk to an inspector that badly, have him talk to Inspector Douglas,” Nicholas offered. “Bottom line, here. I can’t. I don’t have any authority over this village right now. That’s why you were brought in.”

The constable frowned as he turned and walked down the steps. As Nicholas closed the front door, he could hear the officer muttering something to himself, wh ich Nicholas chose to ignore. He knew Mr. Grover would eventually give up, park his truck back on his own property, and the whole mess would be done with until next month, when he came back into town for supplies.
He was at home, stretched out across the sofa with Spot stretched out across his chest, trying rather unsuccessfully to try to read around the cat. He knew he could easily just push the cat out of the way and be done with it, but he liked the warmth and the weight on his chest. The cat hair that resulted could easily be remedied by a bit of tape or a clean shirt.

He jumped slightly when he heard a key in the lock of the front door, and twisted his neck about to see Danny letting himself in.

“You’re here early,” he said, his head hanging upside down off the edge of the sofa. Immediately, he could tell it was a bad idea, and twisted himself back upright.

“No I ain’t,” Danny said. “Twenty minutes late, actually.”

Frowning, Nicholas looked down at his watch, and was surprised to find that Danny was absolutely right. “Shit,” he muttered, picking the cat up from his chest and putting it on the floor. “I’ll go change real quick.” Marking his place in his book, he tossed it onto the end table and rushed up the steps to his bedroom. He quickly fished out a clean shirt to replace the cat hair one, and returned to the front room, stopping at the front door to put his shoes on. “Right,” he said, pulling on his jacket and checking his pockets, making sure he had everything. Wallet, keys, mobile… check. “Let’s go.”

The pair walked outside to the cold air, getting immediately into Danny’s Mini. Before he started the engine, Danny made sure that the radio was off, surprised when Nicholas reached back down and flipped it right back on, flipping through the whole three stations Sandford got.

“Thought you didn’t like the radio on,” Danny said nervously. “Headaches, and all that.”

Nicholas shook his head. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “And you’re always going on about how great it is. Maybe I want to witness it for myself.”

Danny grinned widely and pulled down the sun visor, selecting a CD almost at random. “Radio’s rubbish,” he said. “It’s the stereo what counts.”

Nodding, Nicholas fastened his seat belt and leaned back, ready to go to wherever it was that Danny had suddenly felt the need to take him. Danny seemed to know exactly where it was he was going, winding the Mini through country roads and eventually onto the motorway. Nicholas had expected a quick run to Bufford Abbey for one thing or another, and almost mentioned to Danny how they’d missed their off ramp, but decided against it, figuring Danny knew what he was doing, so he settled back in, just enjoying the ride.

Danny took them clear out to Heston, where Nicholas had been once before, though he couldn’t remember for the li fe of him how he’d managed to actually find it. He watched out the side window at the passing scenery, so much different during daylight, as they approached a large row of old buildings. Parked outside, they got out of the car, and Danny led Nicholas into one on the end, holding the door open. At once, Nicholas could see why Danny had brought them out here. The walls were lined with shelves full of mostly-used, though some seemingly new, DVD videos, and where there weren’t shelves, there were bins, overflowing with heaps of plastic cases.

“How’d you find this place, then?” Nicholas asked, stopping at the closest shelf to the door to just marvel at the endless list of titles. Everything from Karate Kid to Karate Cop to titles in languages Nicholas had never seen before.

“Saw an ad in the Citizen, once,” Danny said. “Haven’t got a chance to get out here, much, what with everything going on with… you know.” He trailed away, slowly turning to di g through one of the bins.

Nicholas had never seen such a shop, with every nook and cranny devoted to one product. It was absolute madness, and he had to see all of it for himself.
He hadn’t meant to spend a whole lot of money, but nonetheless, Danny found himself bringing in a small back full of DVDs. Nicholas had made it his personal duty to remind the sergeant that while, yes, he was still being paid for his off time, he still did have other responsibilities to attend to. Still, Danny picked up the latest Bond title, as about half a dozen others that seemed promising.

As Nicholas settled himself on the sofa, Danny queued up one of the new DVDs before crashing down next to Nicholas.

“No drinks?” he asked, looking at the empty spots on the coffee table.

“Can’t,” Nicholas said simply. “Could interfere.”

Danny nodded. “Right,” he said. “I can still drink, though, right?” he asked.

Nicholas shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” he reasoned. “You’re not the one that’s got to worry about that sort of thing right now.”

Danny looked at the floor. “I won’t if you don’t want me to,” he said.

Surprised, Nicholas looked over at Danny. “I’m not gonna stop you from doing anything, Danny,” he said. “You’re a grown man. You can make your own choices.”

Danny smiled as he got to his feet, practically bouncing to the kitchen. “You want a soda, then?” he asked. “Snack?”

“I’m fine, Danny,” Nicholas called back. “I’ll get up if I need anything.”

A few moments later, Danny returned with a bottle of beer for himself, and a bag of crisps, which he sat on the coffee table. As he started up the DVD, Nicholas shifted on the sofa, his hand reaching into his pocket.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked.

“I think I left my wallet in the car,” Nicholas said, his voice trailing slightly. “From when we stopped for petro l.”

“What you need it for?”

Nicholas continued to reach through his pockets, moving to see if maybe he’d put it into his jacket instead. “I wanted to get some take away.”

“Oh, I’ll go get it for you,” Danny said, jumping up eagerly.

Before Nicholas could protest or point out that he was perfectly capable of walking out to the car to fetch it for himself, Danny was already out of the flat, making his way to the Mini parked outside. He climbed into the passenger side, feeling around in the dim lighting provided by the overhead lamp. Sure enough, on the floor, there was Nicholas’ wallet, dangerously close to sliding beneath the seat, never to be seen again, until it was long forgotten and replaced. With the overhead lamp still on, Danny thought to check that it was indeed Nicholas’ wallet, and not Andy’s from the day before, when he’d given him a lift home. He opened the leather folds, laughing slightly at the bored expression o n Nicholas’ driver’s license. Opposite the driver’s license, he noticed a photograph of what appeared to be one very tired Nicholas holding a very small child; a boy, if the blue bonnet on it was anything to go by. He remembered reading something in the paper, while he was still in hospital, about Nicholas, and something mentioned a few sisters. Shrugging to himself, Danny slapped shut the wallet and locked up the car before heading back into the flat, finding Nicholas having gone through half the bag of crisps already.

“How old’s your nephew, then?” he asked, tossing the wallet through the air at Nicholas, who barely managed to catch it with both hands.

“What?” Nicholas asked. “I haven’t got any nephews. Or nieces.”

“Oh,” Danny said dumbly as he sat back down. “Thought I heard something about how you had some sisters, or something.”

“Yes,” Nicholas said simply, alarm bells starting to go off in the back of his mind. “I’ve four, but none of them have had any kids. Not yet, anyway.”

“Oh,” Danny repeated. “Who’s the little tyke you was holdin’, then?” he asked. “In the picture?”

Nicholas’ eyes grew wide as his entire body tensed up. “Danny, you went through my stuff?” he demanded.

“Didn’t ‘go through’ it,” Danny reasoned. “Just looked.”

“Danny, I would appreciate it if you didn’t go through my personal belongings!” Nicholas insisted, sounding panicked.

Danny only shrugged. “What you got to hide from me, Nick?” Danny asked, trying his best not to sound hurt, and doing a very poor job at it. “I ain’t hidin’ nothin’ from you.”

Nicholas looked away; visibly concentrating on making sure he kept his breathing calm and steady. “It’s just… It’s personal, all right?”

“I get it, then,” Danny said, nodding. “I ain’t good enough to be part of your personal life, then?”

Nich olas inhaled deeply. “No! I…” He clenched his fist, mashing it into his forehead. “I’m just gonna go.” He turned before Danny could say anything to protest, not caring if he slammed the door behind himself.

Danny stood by the sofa, dumbstruck. What the hell had just happened, and where it had all come from, he’d need a dozen detectives to figure out, but he knew one thing right off; whatever it was, it was not good. Swearing at himself, he kicked at the coffee table and collapsed back onto the sofa. A few moments later, after realizing that he was not ever going to be able to wind down, he pulled himself back up to his feet, found his jumper and keys, and made to follow Nicholas, where ever the hell he had gone off to. By the time he was out on the sidewalk, the inspector was nowhere to be seen. Growling to himself, Danny kicked at the pavement and made his way to the one person in Sandford he knew Nicholas actually trusted, and it was clear that it sure as hell wasn’t Danny. He stomped off to the Swan, kicking at rocks and pebbles all the way there. As he reached the hotel, he tried to calm himself; didn’t want to seem upset for the new owners.

“Danny,” the matronly old woman behind the counter chirped. “What can I do for you, love?”

Danny stepped up to the counter, looking around nervously. Asking if Nicholas had come in would be foolish; this much he knew. “I’m looking for Sergeant Travis…” And then it occurred to him that
he did not know Travis’ full name. “Er… One of them lot from the Met. Travis… somethin’. The one with the hair.”

“Oh, right!” she said, clapping her hands together. “He’s up in twelve.”

Danny smiled and nodded, and then realized he’d no idea where that was. “Uhm… where?” he asked. “I thought the rooms all had names.”

“Yes, that. We re-did a lot of things round here, love. First floor.”

Danny nodded. “Th anks” He made off toward the first floor suites, finding twelve at the end of the hall. He made to knock on the door, but the contact came much harder than he’d meant, causing the door to rattle at its hinges.

“What?” Travis demanded angrily from behind the door. Bed springs squeaked loudly, and a few seconds later, the door was unlocked and pulled open just enough for Travis to look accusingly out into the hall. “Jesus, Danny. What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Where is he?” Danny demanded right back.

“Who?” Travis asked.

“Who else?” Danny asked. “Nick.”

Travis glared at him from behind the door. “Not here,” he said simply.

“Then where?” Danny asked.

Travis stared out at him for a long, heavy moment before letting the door swing open all the way, showing off a pathetically empty hotel room. “So, what’d you say to him, then?” Travis asked accusingly, stepping out to the hall.

“Nothing,” Danny said. “I fetched his wallet for ‘im, and he went off.”

Travis narrowed his gaze at Danny. “Danny, let me ask you something,” he said, frighteningly calm. “How long before Nick went back to work after the whole thing happened out here?”

Danny only shrugged. “I’unno.”

“How long?” His voice was a bit more strained, as though keeping himself from yelling for the entire hotel to hear.

Danny shrugged again. “I don’ know,” he insisted. “I was in a coma for two fuckin’ weeks. He was back in uniform by the time I came round.”

“Two weeks?” Travis asked.

Danny nodded.

“Two weeks!” He repeated, accusing and angry. “Who, in their right mind, would let that man return to work two weeks after that mess?”

Danny shifted nervously. “He wanted to help out,” he reasoned.

Travis did the same thing with his breathing that Nicholas did, and Danny wondered if it was som e sort of trick they learned at the Met. Some sort of secret London cop thing, that country cops weren’t let in on. “Danny, have you any idea why we sent him out here in the first place?”

Danny shrugged nervously. “Cause we only had one sergeant?” he tried.

“No!” Travis said it as though it were the most obvious answer in the world, which clearly, it wasn’t. “In case you haven’t noticed, the man’s a damn fine officer. He needed time to recover and get over everything, and he wasn’t going to get that in London!” He was shouting now, and Danny did his best not to back up.

“Recover?” he asked.

“Yes,” Travis said, dropping his head into his hand briefly. “The man’s a fucking wreck. He’s probably never gonna get over Janine and Jacob.”

“Jacob?” Danny asked, feeling very stupid.

Travis sighed, realizing at once that he really, truly had no idea. About any of it. “Yes. Jacob,” he said, bringing h is voice back down to a tolerable indoor level. “His son.”

Danny mulled that over for a moment. “Son?” he asked. “What, like his godson, or something?”

Travis screwed up his face in frustration, turning away from Danny for just a moment. “No. Like my godson,” he said.

Finally, it all clicked with Danny. Everything made sense, in its own sort of way. Even that damn duck in the shower. “He never told me he has a son,” Danny said quietly. “I didn’t know.”

Travis cringed as he slowly turned back into his room. “Took off, did he?” he asked after a few moments.

Danny stood awkwardly in the hall, watching as Travis quickly pulled a hooded jumper and a pair of trainers on. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Thought he might have come here.”

Travis rolled his eyes as he picked up the room key, quickly locking up. “Anywhere else he might have gone?” he asked.
“Stop that.”

Nicholas looked over at Travis, dumbstruck. “What?” he asked, squeezing his hand gripper as he propped the radar gun up on his knee.

“That!” Travis said, swatting at the gripper. “It makes that annoying chinking sound. I hate it!”

Nicholas smiled darkly and squeezed again, noticing that Travis was indeed right about the chinking sound it made. He squeezed it again.

“Stop it!” Travis lurched across to Nicholas, snatching the gripper from Nicholas’ hand. He tried it for himself, finding the spring much tighter than it looked. “Jesus, Nick,” he said. “No wonder your damn hand always hurts.”

Nicholas snatched it back. “Doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s just stiff.”

Nicholas mobile screamed at them, causing him to jump, digging in his pockets for the device. “Yeah,” he said, finding it and bringing it to his ear. Travis watched as Nicholas expression turned from a pleasant smile to something dark and horrible. “What?” he asked.”I thought you said he just had a cold.”

“What’s going on, Nick?” Travis asked, but was waved aside.

“Where?” Nicholas asked. He was silent for what Travis felt far too long, but he didn’t dare try to talk to Nicholas again. “Okay,” Nicholas said heavily. He hung up his mobile and reached for the radio on his shoulder. “Seven, seven, seven to dispatch,” he said, doing his best not to sound panicked.

“Nick,” Travis tried again, nervously. Nicholas held up a silencing finger.

“Seven, seven, seven, go ahead,” someone on dispatch said distantly.

“In car number Sam, five, eight with officer Travis Martin, number nine, zero. There’s a family emergency. Need to get to St. Luke’s.”

There was a long pause, and as the seconds ticked on, Travis could see Nicholas losing his composure, which in turn made Travis very, very nervous.

“Seven, seven, seven, all clear.”

Nicholas sighed as started the engin e and dropped the car into gear, quickly checking to make sure there was no traffic before pulling out onto the street. St. Luke’s Hospital was not more than ten minutes away, but Nicholas still required all of his will power to not use the sirens to his advantage. He did, however, use the police car itself to his advantage, parking in the marked spots at the front of the hospital. He and Travis rushed in the front doors, grateful to find that the front desk was relatively clear.

“Help you officers?”the receptionist asked.

“Jacob Angel,” Nicholas said, his voice wavering.

“Nick, what is going on?” Travis asked.

Nicholas turned to answer him, but was instead directed elsewhere, hearing Janine calling his name. She rushed past Travis, knocking into him as she reached out for Nicholas, holding him tightly.

“What’s going on?” Nicholas asked quietly.

Janine put her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. Holding her close t o his body, Nicholas gently rubbed his hand over her back, trying for her sake to keep himself together.

“Angel?” A voice said somewhere behind them. Janine and Nicholas turned sharply to find a doctor standing near the reception desk.

“Yeah?” Nicholas asked hopefully.

“Let’s, uhm, come with me, please,” the doctor said. Janine pressed her face into Nicholas’ shoulder before allowing herself to be led away. After a few steps, Nicholas turned round.

“Travis,” he said, motioning for him to follow. “Come on.”

« || »

Lamp Light #7

Nicholas wandered through the crowd, not amazed at the complete lack of Travis. He should have known to just take the tube. At least leaving at a moment’s notice meant he didn’t have much to pack. He pushed his way through the crowd as politely as possible, making it out to the street relatively unharmed. Sighing to himself, he started to make his way to the tube station, startled by the shrill chirp of police sirens. He turned round quickly, noticing a patrol car parked across the street, flashing its lightly quickly for good measure. Glancing back and forth quickly, Nicholas darted across the road and let himself into the passenger seat.

“I’d reprimand you about jay walking, but we are in a hurry,” Travis said as he put the car into drive before Nicholas even had a chance to fasten his seat belt.

“Sorry,” he said. “It was a half-hour late into the station.”

Travis turned onto the road, barely taking time to check for traffic. “Sun visor,” he said s imply.

Frowning, Nicholas flipped down the visor, finding a white envelope full of twenty pound notes. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Getting you reimbursed properly was turning out to be a pain in the arse,” Travis said. “Consider it your early Christmas gift.”

Nicholas laughed lightly. “Just what I’ve always wanted.” He slid the envelope into his jacket, leaning back into his seat. “Do we need to drive so quickly? he asked. “There are speed limits for a reason.”

“I can turn on the sirens if you’re that worried,” Travis said stiffly.

Nicholas shrugged as he wrapped his jacket around himself more tightly, hoping traffic would allow for a quick nap before getting to the station.
For once, newly instated Chief Inspector Partridge was not smiling. He sat behind his desk, his jaw clenched tightly as he sat on the telephone, listening to whoever was on the other end doing their best at verbally assaulting him. Nicholas waited stiffly, trying not to m ove, lest he draw attention to himself. Finally, Partridge slammed the telephone down, staring hard at Nicholas.

“Well,” he said flatly.

Nicholas shrugged. “Well?” he asked. “You called me out here. You tell me.”

Partridge scowled at Nicholas and slammed down a folder stuffed with papers, faxed in with Sandford’s seal on top. “Is this your idea of taking this piss, Angel?” he demanded. “Not enough for you to blow the station to kingdom come, but you’re minutes away from burning down the courthouse, now?”

Nicholas leaned back, wondering if maybe it was Partridge taking the piss. “No…” he said slowly. “I didn’t do anything of the sort. And the officers in question have been duly disciplined for their actions.”

Partridge threw open the folder, pulling out a form at random. “If this is your idea of a joke, it’s certainly not the least bit funny.”

Nicholas stammered for a moment. “I…didn’t do the documentation on it,” he said. “My doctor sh ould have sent in LOA forms before any of it happened. Sergeant Fisher is acting inspector in my absence.”

“Funny,” Partridge snapped. “Because I don’t see his name on here, either. I’m seeing your predecessor, who — need I remind you — is awaiting sentencing in Brixton!”

Nicholas leaned forward and snatched up the forms from Partridge, his jaw dropping upon finding that Partridge was right. He looked over the forms, slowly realizing that something wasn’t right. In fact, it was completely wrong. The handwriting didn’t match Tony’s lazy scrawl. It was looping and almost childish, yet completely legible — more than could be said for half of the station. Putting the forms down, Nicholas sighed.

“Daniel Butterman,” he said. “My other sergeant. He got his stripes about three weeks ago.”

Partridge glared at Nicholas from across the desk. “And why, pray tell, do you have a man who’s not been promoted a month doing your job?”

“Well, for one, my docto r’s deemed me not fit for work,” Nicholas reminded him heavily. “As for the other sergeant, he’ll be dealt with.”

Partridge continued to glare across his desk. “You’ve just got an answer for everything, haven’t you?” he asked.

Nicholas narrowed his gaze. “I can’t believe you just said that,” he said. He sighed deeply as he got to his feet. “Now, is there anything else that could have easily been handled with a telephone call, or can I go back home?”

“Get the hell out of my office,” Partridge grumbled.

Nicholas made his way to the door, stopping once he had it open. “Maybe you should keep out of my business, and mind your own officers,” he said. “One or two of them are up for promotion.”

“Out,” Partridge snapped.

Nicholas shoved his hands into his pockets, and left the office, finding Travis sulking around the corner, doing a very poor job at not trying to listen in. “What was that all about, then?” he asked, falling into step along side th e inspector.

Nicholas sighed. “My officers are destructive, not doing their jobs, and covering up for one another behind my back,” he said. “Sandford’s more like London than I thought.”

Travis chuckled. “I knew this would happen,” he said. “We sent you out there, and now we’ll never see you again.”

Nicholas shook his head. “That’s not entirely true, you know,” he said. “Partridge will always have something to want to reprimand me about.” He pushed a door open for the two of them, falling back into step next to Travis. “There’s nothing stopping you from coming out to see me, you know,” he added.

“I was out there,” Travis said flatly. “It smelled like petrol.”

“London smells like petrol,” Nicholas pointed out. “Sandford smells like… swans. And the fresh air would probably do you some good.”

Travis sighed, but said nothing as they walked into the cafeteria. The two walked up to a coffee machine, which Travis fed a few coins. “How are things out there, by the way?” he asked. “Professionally.”

Nicholas sighed. “I need help,” he said defeatedly. “I’m losing officers left and right. Even I’m not officially supposed to be working, but I’m still going in at night to take care of some things.” Travis looked at Nicholas silently. Nicholas could see in his friend’s eyes guilt and regret, but he chose to ignore it. “I sent Partridge a request for backup, until we can get staffing back to an adequate level.”

“I’ll put my name down,” Travis said quietly. “You need experience; not staffing.”

“Yeah,” Nicholas said quietly. They made their way to a small table in the corner, which overlooked the car park. Nicholas pulled out his mobile and turned the ringer back on, leaving it on the table. He sat hunched over the table, watching as Travis quietly drank his coffee. “If they need anything out there, it’s experience,” he said finally. “I’m not sure what’s keeping me out there more; my contempt for Partridge, or that they need a real leader, instead of just ice cream.”

“What?” Travis looked up sharply.

Nicholas shook his head. “Something In–Frank did,” he explained. “Danny was in trouble for driving under the influence, and Frank’s response was to have him buy ice cream out of pocket.”

Travis frowned. “Why can’t Inspector Arsehole do that?” he asked. “I filled out a form incorrectly and was fined ten pounds from my cheque.”

Nicholas laughed lightly. “I’d have just put you on speed detail.”

“Thanks,” Travis said flatly.

Nicholas offered a wry smile, which faded entirely too quickly. Travis turned round quickly, groaning loudly. “Don’t, mate,” he warned. “Not worth it.”

Nicholas looked pained at Travis for a brief moment before getting to his feet, slowly walking across the cafeteria.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Janine demanded before Nicholas even got to her table. “Nicholas, we’re done.”

“When are you going to want to talk?” he asked.

“With you?” Janine asked. “Never.”

“We can’t just keep ignoring things!” Nicholas insisted. He heard his mobile go off behind him, but ignored it. Travis picked it up, mashing the answer button by accident, aiming for the command to ignore the call.

“Shit,” he hissed, bringing it to his ear. “Nick’s mobile. He’s busy right now being yelled at by his ex.” He hung it up as he jumped to his feet, rushing over to Nicholas. He grabbed the inspector by the shoulders, trying to pull him away. When Nicholas refused to move, Travis turned to face Janine. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he demanded. “I understand you’re upset, but you’ve just been a bitch for no reason.”

Janine got to her feet, stepping close to the men. Travis could feel Nicholas finally giving in, taking a step back, but Travis held his ground, keeping a tight hold on Nicholas’ shoulders. “Travis, this is none of your goddamn business,” she hissed.

“It is!” Travi s snapped back. “I’ve known him a hell of a lot longer than you have, so I’d like to think I’ve got an invested interest in his well being.” Nicholas tried to duck away, but Travis tightened his hold. “It hurt all of us; not just you.”

“I didn’t even want you in the family,” Janine spat. “You were only named godfather because your dick was so far up his arse –”

“Never!” Nicholas barked, trying to lunge forward. It was a fair wrestle, but Travis managed to keep his hold on Nicholas, keeping he and Janine a safe distance.

“He never touched me when he was with you,” Travis said. “And not since, like it even matters at this point.” He and Janine stared heatedly at one another before Travis finally gave Nicholas a nudge toward the door. “S’go home, Nick,” he said. Nicholas resisted a few moments before letting himself be led away. Travis glared across the room, making sure anyone who wasn’t pretending their their muffins were the most interesting things in the world at that moment knew to keep their mouths shut long enough for them to leave.
With no possible way of knowing such a promise would be broken in less than six month’s time, Nicholas swore to never again sleep in any chair made of formica. His neck felt as though it was seconds away from bursting into flames and then exploding, but everything in his brain told him to keep his damn mouth shut. He sat forward, cringing as every bone in his back and neck snapped violently. He reached over, lightly brushing a stray lock of hair from Janine’s forehead. He was startled, jumping slightly, when a nurse let herself in.

“Oh,” she said, seeming surprised to see Nicholas awake. She smiled warmly, going back to her business. “How’s dad?” she asked.

Nicholas smiled, saying nothing. He was afraid that if he did say anything, he’d betray how completely and utterly terrified of life he had suddenly become. He could barely take care of himself some days, and at leas t Janine was equally self-sustaining, but now he was expected to care for himself, Janine, and now a brand new life.

“You two decide on a name, yet?” the nurse asked, tidying up bits around the room that didn’t really need tidying up.

“Patrick,” Nicholas answered.

“Jacob,” Janine said over him. Nicholas jumped slightly, not aware that Janine had woken up.

“I thought we decided on Patrick,” Nicholas said.

“You decided on Patrick,” Janine said. “I was just in labour seven hours. We’re naming him after my father.”

Nicholas tried to frown, but he really couldn’t find it in himself to argue with that logic. “Jacob Patrick,” he offered.

Janine sighed. “Jacob Patrick?” she asked. “Yeah, I guess it has a nice ring.”

“Angel,” Nicholas said. “My parents are liable to kill me, otherwise.

Janine narrowed her gaze. “What makes you so certain I’m going to give him your name?” she asked.

“Because you really don’t want to meet the fury of my parents,” he said simply. “All Church of England, here. You wouldn’t understand.”

The nurse finished her tidying as quickly as possible, and rushed out of the room, silently cursing herself for having known better than to ask such a stupid question.

Janine tried to glare at him a few moments more, but broke into a light laughter. “Of course I’m naming him Angel, you idiot,” she said. “I might have… told my parents that we’re married, already.”

“What?” Nicholas demanded.

“A private ceremony,” Janine continued. “In Wells.”

It was Nicholas’ turn to try to stare her down. “Are you taking the piss?”

“You wore a white tux, but there are no photos, because the camera got wet.”

Nicholas let his jaw go slack, as he laughed ironically. “Nice to know this now,” he said. “A bit of advance warning, next time?”

Janine cringed. “About that,” she said.
Nicholas lie face down in Travis’ bed, listening to the soft sounds of the telly in the other room. He could hear his mobile chirping happily, and barely make out words as Travis answered it.

“I think he’s asleep,” Travis said, getting closer to the bedroom. “I’ll check for you, though.”

Nicholas held his hand out from under the duvet, clumsily accepting the mobile as he shifted to hold it to his ear.

“Angel,” he said dryly.

“What was all that about earlier today, then?” Danny practically demanded from the other end.

Nicholas sighed. “Danny, I’m sorry,” he said. “There was an…altercation.”

“Yeah,” Danny said heavily. “With your other ex, I know. And what happened with staying with your parents?”

“They’re on holiday,” Nicholas answered simply. “Didn’t know I’d be coming in today.” Danny remained silent for a few moments. “If it upsets you, I’ll go to a hotel,” Nicholas offered.

“No,” Danny said, audibly deflating. “No sense in spendin’ money you don’t have. I’m just nervous, yeah?”

“I’ve only a few more trips out here, before things start going back to normal–”

“Things were shit when they were normal,” Danny pointed out.

“Okay,” Nicholas conceded. “Before things start being what will become the new normal. Then I’ll be out in Sandford permanently.”

“You gonna stop obsessering over your ex, then?” Danny asked.

Nicholas stuck on that point, going silent. “Hopefully,” he said.
Maybe it was because he didn’t actually pay for the ticket out of pocket, or — a concept that had frightened him — he’d taken the trip so many times, Nicholas found the train ride into Maxwell’s station almost enjoyable. The rain wasn’t splattering quite as hard on the windows, and what few children there were on the train were amazingly quiet. Nicholas finished the magazine given to him by the attendant, and had taken to just lying back with his headphones playing the assorted random nothing that Danny had taken upon himself to load onto the music player. He’d told Nicholas it would help him concentrate and relax. Of course, the first go round, the music choice had been iffy at best, but Danny seemed to have found a hidden cache from somewhere, of music Nicholas actually had heard. Nothing too hard or too mellow, but a good assortment of in-between.

He was startled out of his trance by the attendant as she reached down to pick up his magazine. He jumped sharply, pulling his headphones off.

“Sorry,” Nicholas said with a light chuckle as he handed the motoring publication up to her. “Think I might have drifted away for a bit.”

She smiled lightly. “S’all right,” she said. Her smile seemed to fade as she looked down at Nicholas. “You’re that copper, aren’t you?” she asked. “The one from the telly.”

Nicholas nodded lightly. “Yeah,” he said.

The attendant frowned at him sympathetically. “I been wonderin’ why I thought you looked so familiar,” she said. “You’re a very brave man. No tellin’ what might’ve happ ened to all them folks if you hadn’t come round.”

“It was just timing,” he assured her, though not entirely convinced, himself. “It was bound to be discovered by someone.”

“All them people,” the attendant continued. “You’re a very good man for stickin’ round after all that to help out.”

Nicholas smiled at her again as she continued on her way, wondering exactly what was being written about him in the papers.
“Night out’ll be good for you,” Danny insisted, leading Nicholas down the cobblestone street. “You’re either cooped up in your house, or working in Lon-don.”

Nicholas shrugged. “I like the solitude,” he reasoned.

Danny shook his head. “All that up in your head keepin’ you comp’ny can’t be healthy,” he said.

Nicholas sighed as he let Danny lead him into the newly-reopened Crown, cleaned up slightly, but still charmingly rustic. Nicholas wandered off and found a secluded table while Danny made his way to the bar, picking up a couple of lagers. He found Nicholas quickly enough, setting the pints down on the table without managing to slosh their drinks about. “Anythin’ you want to talk to me about?” he asked almost sharply.

Nicholas shrugged. “No?” he said, confused. “Something… you want to talk about?”

Danny shrugged. “I’d like to know what’s been goin’ on, is all,” he said. “You’ll tell that one bloke everything, and I don’t even know when your damn birthday is.”

“August,” Nicholas answered. “But it’s not a big deal.”

“It is, though,” Danny insisted. “Apparently, I missed it, and you never even told me.”

Nicholas sighed. “It’s really not a big deal,” he said. “And you were in hospital, anyway. No sense in fretting about it when there were more pressing matters at hand.”

Danny frowned at him. “That Sergeant Travis bloke knows all about you, and I don’t know nothin’,” he said.

Nicholas shook his head. “I’ve known him a long time,” he said. “He’s someone I’ve al ways held very closely.”

Danny looked away, trying very hard not to make a scene. “You ought to learn to pick your words a bit better,” he said. “Specially when I know you’re sleepin’ in his bed when you’re in Lon-don.”

Sighing, Nicholas looked down at the table. “I haven’t done anything with him,” he insisted. “I’m not completely sure what I need to say to get you to believe that.”

“Start talking to me!” Danny said, struggling to keep his voice at a proper indoor level. “You’re not supposed to keep talking to your exes when you start goin’ with somebody else.”

Nicholas sighed again. “He’s not my ex,” he said rationally. “That would imply that there was a break-up of some sort.”

Danny chewed his lip and looked away, drinking half of his lager. “That why she hates you, then?” he asked. “You fucked off with ‘im, then?”

“We never technically dated,” Nicholas said. “Travis and I, that is. We used to mess around, but that stopped when we were both still PC’s.”

“So it weren’t nothin’, then?” Danny asked, almost hopefully.

Nicholas hung his head slightly. “I do care about him,” he admitted. “But not in that way. We’ve known one another since grammar school.”

“Not much of a friend, do go shippin’ you off to some village what no one ever heard of,” Danny pointed out.

“He was told to do that,” Nicholas said simply. “By an inspector who was in turn told to do it by the chief inspector.”

Danny laughed bitterly. “Just passin’ it down the line, eh?”

Nicholas rolled his eyes. “Basically, yes.”

Danny finished off his lager, slamming the pint glass down on the table. “Still don’t like ‘im,” he said. “He’s a cunt.”

“And that’s your entitled opinion,” Nicholas said, picking up his glass and taking a drink. “But he’s still my friend, and I’m not about to stop keeping contact with him unless there’s a good reason to.”

“Thought being your ignored boyfriend would be reason enough,” Danny muttered. Sighing, Nicholas hung his head again.
By Danny’s fourth pint, and after Nicholas had finished off a basket of chips, Danny was finally smiling. Nicholas had barely touched his first pint, but Danny hardly noticed. He was out of the house, and not at work, and that was what mattered. Danny was happy to see Nicholas not being a policeman officer, and switched off, and Nicholas was happy just to see Danny happy. Still trying to piece together words to say to Danny, when an all too familiar cackle cut over the dull noise of the pub. Nicholas turned his head sharply, surprised to see Doris up at the bar, though what she was laughing at, Nicholas really couldn’t tell. She appeared to be alone.

Frowning, he got to his feet and made his way to the constable, trying not to sneak up on her with her back turned. “Doris?” he asked cautiously.

Doris turned sharply round, her eyes seeming to light up. “Evenin’, Chief,” she said. “Wot you doin’ ‘ ere so late?”

Nicholas shrugged. “Just enjoying a quiet evening,” he said. “Are you alone? You can join us if you like.”

Doris gazed across the pub, flashing Nicholas a sly look. “Korrr, don’t want to interrupt you lot,” she said, cackling madly again. “I’ll probably just be nipping off, ‘ere, anyway.” She stepped down from the tall barstool, misjudging the height and falling forward. Nicholas lunged forward, grabbing her tightly by the waist.

“All right, Doris?” he asked.

Doris cackled in his ear. This close to her, he could smell the bitter on her breath.

“I think we ought to walk you home,” Nicholas said.

“No, Chief,” Doris said, trying to step away from him. “‘M fine.” Nicholas let her stand on her own, backing away slowly. When she tried to walk again, she stumbled, and again, Nicholas caught her.

“No, I’m walking you home,” he said. “It’s my responsibility.”

Doris cackled again, spilling what was left of her bitter on Nic holas. “Kor, Chief. You coming on to me?” Nicholas rolled his eyes, looking across the pub at Danny. After a few moments, Danny finished his pint and rushed over to help Nicholas hold Doris up. “Danny, love!” Doris practically shouted. “You and the Chief getting some quality time, eh?”

Nicholas’ face turned bright red as he looked away, his jaw clenched tightly.

“Just out for drinks,” Danny said. “Gettin’ ‘im out of the house like his doctor wants.”

“I’ve been in London for two days,” Nicholas pointed out, wrapping his arm around Doris’ waist. “How much more ‘out of the house’ can I get?” Doris shook with laughter as Danny took her pint glass away. She finally accepted their help, leaning on Nicholas more than was probably necessary. “Ready, Doris?” Nicholas asked.

“You lot coming home with me?” she asked. She awkwardly pounded Nicholas on the shoulder. “I’unno, Chief. Might be gettin’ more ‘an I bargained for with you.”

“We’re taking you home,” Nicholas said simply, certain that his face could not possibly get any redder. “Now.” He turned round, finding the bartender watching them idly. “Hers and ours on the station tab,” he instructed. “I’ll come by this week and take care of it.”

The bartender nodded, watching as Danny helped Nicholas escort Doris out of the pub, barely able to keep a straight line.
Nicholas pounded on the door, ready to break it down if he had to. He knew he was probably waking the neighbours, but it was nothing they weren’t already used to. Nicholas was just about to try to dig his mobile from his pockets when the door finally swung open.

“Nick, what the fuck?” Andrew asked, stepping outside to collect Doris from Nicholas and Danny. “What’d you do to her?”

“Brought her home.” Nicholas said simply. “I don’t think she’s even conscious right now.”

Andrew looked down at Doris, completely failing at keeping her on her feet. He dragged her inside, doing his best at lying her on the sofa. “How much she had to drink?” he demanded.

“I’m not sure,” Nicholas said, inviting himself in. “We found her like that. I think we lost her crossing Norris.”

“Jesus Christ,” Andrew muttered. He rested his hands on his hips as he looked down at the woman on his sofa. “She said she was going out, not trying to fucking kill herself.”

“What?” Nicholas asked, stepping forward nervously.

Andrew shook his head. “Nothin’ like that,” he said. “She’s just been drinking more ‘an usual, lately. If Dad knew, he’d kill me.”

Nicholas shifted nervously. “Well, you’ll all be getting a proper break soon,” he said. “I know you’ve all been working hard, and it’s appreciated. You deserve some time off.”

Danny frowned, still fidgeting near the front door. “How you gonna manage that?” he asked accusingly. “Can’t take care of the whole buggerin’ station on your own.”

Nicholas sighed. “Nothing’s in stone yet, but you’re all getting a proper break. That’s my word as your inspector.”

Andrew nodded. “Right,” he said. “I need to make sure your arseholes didn’t wake Michael. Let yourselves out.” He walked away slowly, leaving Danny and Nicholas in the front room. Nicholas and Danny stood silently, looking down at Doris, mumbling at nothing as she lay on the sofa. Nicholas sighed, turning back toward the door.

“Let’s go, Danny,” he said unevenly.
Nicholas stalked around the empty aisles, unable to decide on anything from the selection. For everything else Sandford lacked, somehow its library had become almost over-stocked. No doubt the NWA’s doing; some sort of plot to make the local youth seem well-rounded and properly educated. Couldn’t have the lot in Bufford Abbey, or any other neighbouring town stead, thinking that Sandford’s youth were all just a lot of graffiti-painting, hoodie-wearing, spitting brats up to general no good.

Though, it was clear from the overall state of everything in the library, that despite being over-stocked, even if the books were ever checked out, they were never actually read. None of the spines were broken, and there wasn’t a single doodle or swear word scrawled into a single page margin.

Then, Nicholas saw it; artificially yellowed cover and genuinely yellowed pages, stuck in amongst the biography section. Though, he had to admit that by the misguided logic that seemed to pass as common knowledge in Sandford, T.H. White’s classic wasn’t entirely out of place. He took the book up to the counter, stepping in line behind a woman and her two children.

“Oh, Inspector,” the librarian behind the counter chirped. “Go on ahead. I know you’ll bring it back.

Nicholas considered this for a fleeting moment as he checked his watch. “I’d feel better having a card,” he said honestly. He hadn’t had one in his name since university, and it had bothered him ever since leaving Canterbury.

When the sma ll family was done with their checkouts, he stepped up to the counter, glad to fill out the required forms to get a new card.

“It’s all about being a role model,” he explained. “If we start bending the rules for the little things, the rules will start to get bent for the bigger things.”

The librarian nodded slowly. “S’pose you’re right,” she said. She got Nicholas’ new card in order and after stamping and scanning the book for him, she handed everything to the Inspector. He smiled politely at her as he left, carefully sliding his card into his wallet. He walked down the streets, enjoying the stillness that came with a small village after sunset. The courthouse was already mostly locked up, except for Kyle, reading a book of his own.

“Evenin’, Inspector,” he said.

Nicholas smiled gamely, knowing he could count on the younger Turner to not tell anybody he was in when he was meant to be at home, being a private civilian. If the Turner twins could ever be counted on for anything, it was not communicating with one another, ever. Nicholas made his way back to his office, laying the library copy of The Once and Future King on the corner of his desk. He booted up his computer, waiting for the email client to load. As to be expected, everything of great importance happened all at once, when he wasn’t around to deal with it. He quickly skimmed through various reports, until finally coming to the email he’d hoped to find; a reply from Inspector Partridge, dated earlier that afternoon. He opened the attachment contained, which immediately sent itself to his printer. Picking the sheet up from the tray, Nicholas read it over and sighed deeply. A list of names had been attached to the bottom; most names Nicholas knew, and every name from that category fell squarely into the “seriously annoyed Partridge at one point in life” category, so it was fair to assume that the names he didn’t know also fell in to that category, leaving Nicholas high hopes for the coming weeks. He sat back down at his desk, and picked up the telephone, dialling the only number he knew from memory.
Nicholas ignored the crowd of officers huddled in the corridor as he introduced himself to new faces, and caught up with familiar. Most everyone he’d already known from the Met were sergeants, with one exception, who – to Nicholas’ great relief – was an inspector; the new – with one exception, a sergeant – were all constables. Nicholas showed the officers around the courthouse, and tried to explain the general layout of the village, failing spectacularly due to his poor knowledge of the surrounding area. The officers seemed eager enough, out of the rush of London and the Met for up to six weeks for some of them – the time scale depending how deeply under Partridge’s skin the individual had managed to squirm.

One again thanking the officers, he opened the door, letting them on th eir way, and ushering in his own crew, each of them looking anywhere but at Nicholas, and not saying a word. They all shuffled in, leaning against desks or walls, dreading the news of whatever Nicholas had wanted to tell them.

Nicholas watched the officers, knowing what was on their minds, and all but praying he wouldn’t massively fuck up and say the wrong thing. Luckily, Tony did it for him.

“So, that’s it, then?” he asked, staring at his shoes. “Our replacements? That lot from Lon-don?”

Nicholas sighed. “It’s not like that,” he assured. “I know… some of you are transferring out, anyway, but this extends to every one of you, regardless of where you’re going. You’re not being placed on suspensions. Any of you.”

Andy looked up, relieved. “Just being transferred out, then?” he asked.

“No.” Nicholas looked around the room simply. “Not unless you want to, which it’s my understanding that anybody who’s expres sed this wish has already put in to do so.” No one moved. “Right. No, what’s going on is a station-wide mandatory sabbatical. Anyone who wishes is free to return to duty after two weeks, but not before. If you feel you need longer, you have a full calendar month.”

Tony and Danny looked up at one another, then slowly around the room.

“So…” Tony started nervously. “That lot out there. From Lon-don… they’re just ‘ere to… fill in?”

Nicholas nodded simply. “Yes,” he said. “And for those of you transferring out, this is all the way from London. So any time remaining after you transfer out is still yours.”

“I been thinking ‘bout that, Nick,” Andrew said, almost nervously.

“Station-wide,” Nicholas reminded him. “That includes myself. If you’ve any concerns, you’ll need to take them up with Inspector Douglas.”

Andrew nodded. Looking around the small room, he opened the door, effectively ending the meeting. He walked out to what had become the inquires desk, finding… one of the Turners reading. “Kyle,” Nicholas said.

“Kevin,” the sergeant barked.

“Whatever. Go home.” Nicholas watched as Sergeant Turner the older by two and a half minutes grumpily closed his book and stood up.

“Who’s gonna watch the desk, then?” he demanded.

“They’ll draw lots,” Nicholas said. “It doesn’t matter. And tell your brother he’s not to come in, either.”

“We weren’t shootin’ at people,” Turner tried to rationalize.

“No, but I seem to recall a building blowing up with you in it,” Nicholas pointed out. “Go home.”

Kevin Turner snorted as he walked out of the courthouse, probably to go off to some dark corner somewhere to read. Which didn’t sound like too bad of an idea, actually.
Nicholas was stretched out on the sofa with the open book laid across his chest when the front door opened, startling h im awake. He sat up abruptly, relieved to see Danny letting himself in.

“Sorry,” Danny said quietly, letting the door shut softly behind him. “Didn’t realize you was taking a nap.”

Nicholas shook his head as he marked his page and put the book down on the table. “It’s fine,” he said. “I hadn’t meant to fall asleep this early. I think it’s the new medication.”

Danny frowned. “The other stuff wasn’t workin’?” he asked.

“No, it was,” Nicholas said as he got to his feet. “But my doctor wanted to try something new. Preventative, rather than a treatment.”

Danny nodded, though not entirely understanding. “Right,” he said quietly. He leaned nervously against the desk Nicholas kept by the front door. “So, why’s he ‘ere, then?” he asked.

“Who?” Nicholas asked.

“You know who.” Danny wasn’t looking at Nicholas, doing everything in his power to look anywhere but Nicholas. “You fuck o ff to Lon-don every other week, then it’s just awfully convenerent that you take leave and he comes into town.

Nicholas sighed deeply. “He’s doing me a favour,” he said. “He’s doing us a favour. We all need a break round here. We’ll go away, if you want. I’m not even allowed to do any police work for as long as the rest of you. Official or otherwise.”

Danny finally looked up at Nicholas, knowing that if there was one thing the man was piss-poor bad at, it was lying. “Tell me, right now,” he said, “that you ain’t done nothin’ with him.”

Nicholas shook his head lightly. “I’ve told you,” he said honestly. “I’ve not been with him since before I started seeing Janine. He’s just a friend. That’s all.”

Danny frowned. “Sure,” he said heavily. “I don’t like feelin’ like you’re not telling me everything, is all.”

“What’s there to tell?” Nicholas asked.

Danny only shrugged. “Don’t know,” he said. “You won’t talk about it.” He pushed himself from the desk and opened the front door. “Let you get back to your nap. Got things to do.”

Nicholas started to follow after him. “Danny…” he watched as the door shut, leaving him alone in a very quiet cottage.

« || »

Lamp Light #6

Danny slammed the burnt rubbish bin down on the desk, letting the clang resonate throughout the makeshift office.

“Wot’s that?” Andy asked. “If you’re that pressed for a Christmas gift, I can go without this year.”

Danny frowned down at the detective. “You’re gonna tell me who’s responserable,” he said stiffly.

Andrew peered into the rubbish bin. “You mean ‘responsible,’ you prick,” he said.

Danny slammed the bin down again, causing Andrew to jump back. “One of you arseholes put a lit fag in ‘ere last night,” he demanded. “And I know it were you, because no one else ‘ere smokes!”

“So, what’s the big deal?” Andy sneered. “S’not like Angle’s ‘ere to mother hen us any more. Didn’t you hear he transferred?” Andrew cast a sideways glance at the younger detective.

Danny frowned. “He didn’t fuckin’ transfer!” he shouted. “He’s at home, on account of you pricks!” Andrew inhaled nervously. “He had to come in ‘ere at eight last night, ’cause you lit the place on fire!” Danny continued. “And I had to deal with it the rest of the night!”

“So?” Andy snipped. “S’not my fault he’s got you on a short leash.”

Danny chewed his lip for a moment before slamming identical papers on the desk. “Sign them,” he ordered.

“Ain’t that Tony’s job?” Andrew asked, reading over the paper.

“He’s in the closet, breathin’ into a paper bag,” Danny said stiffly, slamming a pair of pens onto the desk. “Sign it.”

The detectives grumbled as they reached out for the pens, grudgingly signing their names in the appropriate boxes. Satisfied, Danny took the forms and pens, and left, leaving the charred remains of the rubbish bin as a reminder.
Danny let himself into the cottage, finding Nicholas awake and looking not very cranky at all. Maybe staying at home was a good thing. Of course, he was petting that damn plant again, so maybe not.

“Hey,” Danny said, making sure Nicholas knew he was there.

Nich olas turned around, startled at Danny’s entry. “Hi,” he said. “Didn’t hear you come in.”

Danny shrugged as he walked up to Nicholas, handing him a thin folder. Nicholas put down his spray bottle and went through the forms that needed his attention. Being the only inspector in Sandford, he couldn’t ever really go on a proper leave of absence, because he needed to sign everything that went through the station.

“Tony figured out what to do about them, then?” he asked, coming to the Andy’s corrective action details, effectively marking them for traffic detail for two weeks.

Danny frowned as he shrug again. “Sure,” he said. His handwriting looked nothing like Tony’s, and he thought Nicholas would have known this, but didn’t want to point it out. He probably shouldn’t have taken matters into his hands, but if Tony was gonna pitch another fit every time he needed to decide on anything more complicated than what colour Biro to use, what was left of the Sandford con stabulary would collapse. “Walker officially put in his resignation today, too,” Danny informed him. “Should be in the back, somewhere.”

Nicholas nodded. “He deserves it,” he said honestly. “Though I am sad to see him go.”

“Pension’s enough to keep him and Saxon happy, I guess,” Danny conceded.

Nicholas blinked and looked up. “Saxon’s station property, isn’t he?”

Danny laughed. “You ever see a police dog that’ll chase a suspect just to lick their face?” he asked. “Dad just let him keep him around, because he said it looked good for us to have a dog around the place.”

Nicholas shook his head as he finished leafing through the papers. “I’ll drop this by tomorrow,” he said, slapping it lightly on the table in an effort to finalize with himself that he really, honestly, should not be thinking about work. “But I think I have some down time I need to get to.”

Danny smiled; that wonderful, tilted smile he gave when something didn’t quite fit in h is mind. “You should have been doing that all day,” he pointed out.

Nicholas looked away guiltily. “I…might have got Mr. Baker next door to give me a lift into Bufford Abbey,” he admitted. “I took care of a lot of errands I haven’t had the time to do lately, and fetched a cab back home.

Danny shook his head. “You’re supposed to be relaxin’,” he scolded. “Not off gallivantin’ with the neighbours.”

Nicholas shrugged. “I can’t properly relax if I’ve got a stack of work that needs to be done,” he said, moving to the sofa. “You know that.”

“You need to switch off,” Danny said as he followed Nicholas.

“You’re sounding like my ex.”

Danny frowned again, not sure how much he agreed to being compared to the previous person Nicholas had slept with. “Well, I don’t know…” he realized that he’d never even heard anything about Nicholas’ ex, other than that there was one… “him… but he’s right.”

“Her,” Nicholas said with a sigh.

Danny b linked. “Her?” he asked.

“Yes,” Nicholas confirmed. “Her name was Janine.”

“Oh,” Danny said, suddenly dreading that he’d misinterpreted their entire relationship. “I thought…”

Nicholas laughed. “Some thing’s are black and white, Danny,” he said, leaning heavily against the other man. “Yes, I have slept with women. And believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it.”

Danny laughed. “Andy says you don’t enjoy nothing,” he said.

“And Andy also may have lit a rubbish bin on fire,” Nicholas pointed out. “Don’t listen to him.”

Danny sighed nervously and shifted to wrap his arm around Nicholas’ chest, feeling slightly better when Nicholas reached up to grab hold of his hand. “Andy said you was talking to some girl when you two was in London,” Danny said quietly. “Was that her, then?”

Nicholas took a moment to think. For a few seconds, he thought Andy might have been referring to Peter, and then remembered what had happened earlier that evening. “Yeah,” he said.

“Do you still care about her?” Danny wasn’t sure why he asked it, afraid of what Nicholas might say.

“Part of me always will,” he admitted. “We had planned on getting married, even.” He sighed, squeezing Danny’s hand tightly.

“What happened?” Danny asked, not sure if he was allowed to bring up his boyfriend’s ex-apparently-finance.

Nicholas took a few moments to respond, idly stroking his fingers up and down Danny’s arm. “Things got… complicated,” he said finally. He acted like he was trying to find the right words, but eventually gave up. Danny, taking the hint, nodded. He lightly pushed Nicholas off of him and stood up.

“Hey,” he said, effectively hijacking their conversation. “I brought some DVDs over, if you want.”

Nicholas looked up at him, nodding after a few seconds. “Yeah,” he said, trying to ignore that Janine had even been brought up. “Sure.”

Danny grinned and made his way toward the front door. “Great,” he said. “Got ’em in the car. Be right back.” He bounded out the door, leaving Nicholas alone on the sofa for a few moments. In a brief fit of insanity, he considered trying to give Janine a ring, but vetoed the idea at once. Nothing good would come of it, and she’d likely just hang up on him.

He sighed and brought his feet up onto the sofa, his fingers tracing the seam in his trousers. He jumped slightly when Danny let himself into the cottage, holding up a few DVDs. “We got Die Hard, or Leon,” he said happily.

“We’re watching them both anyway,” Nicholas said, familiar with Danny’s pattern. “Which do you want to watch more?”

Danny grinned, prying open Die Hard. “We’ll end with the better one,” he said. He walked up to Nicholas’ new set up, which was really just an old television and DVD that Danny had in his spare room, and got everything ready. Queuing up the film, he returned to join Nicholas on the sofa, adopting their familiar pos ition. He wrapped his arm round Nicholas’ chest again, holding tightly to the other man.

“You really never saw Die Hard?” Danny asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“I’ve really never seen Die Hard.” Nicholas returned. He let his head rest against Danny’s shoulder, closing his eyes lightly. He found he could really, truly relax when around Danny; the light circles he would trace on Nicholas’ arms and chest with his fingers barely heavy enough to register.

Danny would often touch Nicholas when they spent their evenings together, but Nicholas’ lack of reciprocation would inevitably lead Danny to stop before he would get himself too worked up. Nicholas never protested or disagreed with the way Danny would touch him; he just never seemed to respond, more often than not seeming to fall asleep.

Fearing Nicholas had fallen asleep in record time, and not wanting to take advantage of him, Danny force himself to stop, pulling his hand away and res ting it lightly on Nicholas’ shoulder.

“I like that,” Nicholas said quietly, his eyes still shut. “Why’d you stop?”

Danny looked down at him, surprised to hear any sort of sound at all. “Thought you was asleep,’ he said simply.

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just liking what you were doing.”

Never being one to disappoint, Danny moved his hand back down to Nicholas’ chest, again tracing light circles through his shirt. Having received the closest thing he’d ever heard to consent from Nicholas, he allowed his hand to trail down further than usual, daring to move under his shirt, rough finger tips brushing against soft skin. Tilting his head back, Nicholas let out a soft whimper as he shifted slightly. Again, Danny grew more daring and confident in his exploration, going from just finger tips to using his full hand, touching and rubbing against bare skin. He let his fingers trail under Nicholas’ waistband, surprised to find boxer shorts. Nichol as shifted nervously at the touch, prompting Danny to back off, bringing his hand to safer territory.

“Nick, please tell me I ain’t your first,” he said, dreading the answer.

Again, Nicholas shifted. “No,” he assured. “Just…sorry.”

Danny chewed his lip. “S’all right,” he said flatly. “We don’t have to.”

Nicholas sighed, leaning his head against Danny’s shoulder. “Sorry,” he said quietly.”
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I’d say it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Nicholas said simply. “It’s a fairly simple word.”

“That’s not fair,” Travis said, clearly sulking on the other end.

“And I didn’t think it was fair that you wanted to not be exclusive.” Nicholas carefully peered round the corner, making sure Janine was still asleep. Sighing, he continued to find places for everything given to them by Janine’s massive amount of female friends Nicholas didn’t even know existed. “It’s always been like this. You know that.”

“Yeah, we ll, I didn’t know you were gonna go get married on me,” Travis grumbled. “Nicky, I like you. I didn’t want to hurt you, which is exactly why I didn’t want to be exclusive.”

Nicholas leaned up against the wall. “Part of the arrangement is that I was allowed to pursue committed relationships if I wanted to. Now that I’ve agreed to commit to somebody, you’re suddenly not happy with the rules?”

“Yes,” Travis admitted childishly.

“When have I ever slept with you when I was with somebody else?” Nicholas asked. “Why should this be any different?”

“Because you’ve know me longer,” Travis rationalized.

Nicholas sighed. As much as he hated to admit it, the bastard did have a point. “I’ll come over,” he agreed finally. “But it’ll be on my terms.”

“You’re such a goddamn tease,” Travis said, hanging up. Shaking his head, Nicholas put the telephone down on the counter before wandering back to the bedroom.

“Hey,” he said softly, leaning over Janine. “I’m gonna nip off to Travis’ for a while. I’ll have my mobile if you need anything, all right?”

Janine managed to smile. “All right,” she said. “Don’t stay out too late.”

Nicholas brushed her hair out of the way and lightly kissed her forehead. “I won’t,” he promised.
Nicholas woke suddenly, realizing that Danny wasn’t on the sofa any more. He looked around, confused at the DVD menu on the telly and the lack of anybody else in the immediate proximity.

“Danny?” he called hesitantly.

“Kitchen.”

Rubbing his face, Nicholas got to his feet, wincing at the percussion act his spine had decided to do. He shuffled into the small kitchen, finding Danny sitting at the table. “Did you want to watch that other DVD of yours tonight?” Nicholas asked, joining Danny at the table.

Danny shrugged. “You never really seem to be into them,” he said dully.

Nicholas shrugged. “I like spending time with you,” he said. “Time that’s not spent in the pat rol car.”

“How would you know?” Danny asked bitterly. “You’re always asleep.”

“I thought I’m supposed to switch off when I’m at home,” Nicholas said lightly, trying to change the atmosphere.

“Yeah. Switch off,” Danny said. “Not shut down.”

Nicholas sighed and looked down at the table. “I didn’t realize you felt that way,” he said. Danny only shrugged. “I’ll tell you what,” Nicholas said, cautiously reaching out to take Danny’s hand from across the table. “We’ll watch your other DVD, and I promise I’ll try to stay awake.”

Danny looked up, unconvinced. “You gonna try, or you gonna do it?” he asked.

“I will do it to the best of my abilities,” Nicholas said. He squeezed Danny’s hand lightly. “Why don’t you go get it started. I’ll put some tea on.”
It certainly was a change from Danny’s usual choice of film. It was a bit more slow than the usual shoot ’em up, and there was even a peace lily featured. Despite the compelling plot, tragic cha racters, and gripping storyline that the back of the case had promised, Nicholas still managed to start to drift off to sleep a few times, having to move around more often than usual just to keep from staying asleep.

“You’re not really into this, are you?” Danny asked during one of the slower moments.

“Sure I am,” Nicholas insisted. “She’s mad, and wants to kill these other guys,” Nicholas said simply.

Danny snorted. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “You know, she was a stripper in Closer,” Danny said, pointing at the telly.

“That little girl?” Nicholas asked.

Danny only nodded.

“That’s really unfortunate,” Nicholas said, a hint of disapproval in his voice.

“She wasn’t twelve when she did it, Nick,” Danny said, laughing. “Kor, she’s a consenturing adult.”

Nicholas considered this before accepting it as another one of Danny’s stories of possible half-truth, and leaned back against the other man’s side. He waited for Danny to again wrap hi m into a loose embrace, but he never did, keeping a still watch on the telly. Nicholas tried shifting slightly, trying to get Danny to notice that he was right there. Still, Danny just kept watching the film, keeping his arm rested up on the back of the sofa. Slowly, Nicholas realized that Danny did in fact know exactly what Nicholas wanted, but was holding out for some reason. As though he were mad at Nicholas for something. But that was just it, wasn’t it? Danny was upset with him. He’d remained nothing but patient, and Nicholas had slept through their movie nights. He didn’t know why it had been so damn hard to initiate anything with Danny; it wasn’t exactly like he was new to this, or anything. That much had been well established. So why the hell hadn’t he done a damn thing?

Nicholas’ fingers stumbled over one another as he tried to make himself reach out and… do something. Anything. Something simple like a touch should not have been so difficult. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this before. He’d more than touched people. He’d felt people; he’d fucked a few of them. He’d even made love to one or two of them. But suddenly, he was back in secondary school all over again. Back to being terrified of himself and his own reactions, and a million what-ifs -;

What if nothing? If he did nothing, then what? He didn’t even give himself the chance to take a breath, and think about it. Gripping tightly to the collar of Danny’s rugby jersey, he pulled himself onto the other man’s lap, leaning in to lock Danny into a kiss. It was awkward, and ended quickly, both likely stemming to Danny being completely unprepared. He took a firm grip to Nicholas’ arms, pushing him back with a fair bit of force.

“Nick,” he said flatly. “Don’t start what you don’t want to finish.”

Nicholas froze for a moment, not sure what Danny meant. For a crushing moment, he thought Danny was turning him down, but the hardness he felt against his thigh was eviden ce enough to dispel the theory. Certain he was doing the right thing, Nicholas fought against Danny’s grip, Nicholas pulled forward again, locking Danny into another kiss, less awkward and with more response. As Danny’s hands moved from gripping Nicholas’ arms, to slowly moving down his sides, Nicholas knew he’d made the right decision, and let himself explore deeper, his own hands leaving the safety of Danny’s collar, and down around the back of the other man’s neck, gripping tightly as he moved closer with his hips. Danny broke away long enough to push Nicholas onto his back, using his knee to push Nicholas’ thighs apart.

“I better not fuckin’ be your first,” Danny said quietly as he leaned down over Nicholas.

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he assured. He bit his lip as Danny’s fingers began working at Nicholas’ belt buckle, quickly getting it out of the way so he could unzip those damn black trousers that Nicholas wore far too much. Nicholas lifted his hips as Danny grabbed his trousers by the waistline, easily pulling them off and tossing them aside. He ran his fingers down Nicholas’ thighs, through fine gingery hair, and over a particularly gnarled scar.

“What’s this?” Danny asked softly, his fingers pulling away quickly, as though he was afraid he might hurt Nicholas if he touched the marks.

Nicholas twisted to see what Danny was asking about. “Dog bite,” he answered simply. “About two years ago.”

Danny frowned at the mark, letting his fingers lightly trace over slightly sunken edges. “What a prick,” he said quietly. Nicholas laughed, caught off guard when Danny leaned his weight into Nicholas long enough to bite lightly on his neck, as his hand moved from his thigh to his half-erect cock, gripping firmly as he moved up the shaft, his fingers moving over the tip quickly before he pulled away again. Confused, Nicholas gazed up at him, watching as he clumsily removed his own trousers. Tossing them down to the g round, he stroked himself quickly before again pressing his knees between Nicholas’ thighs, wincing slightly as he tried to lower himself over Nicholas.

“There’s an easier way to do this,” Nicholas said, pulling himself into an upright position. Pulling off his shirt, he pushed Danny backwards, so that he leaned against the arm rest of the sofa. He straddled Danny’s hips, looking around the room.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked.

Nicholas bit his lip. “Did not think this through,” he muttered.

“Trousers.”

Raising his eyebrows, he leaned down and grabbed for Danny’s trousers. He held them up, letting Danny do with them whatever he had in mind. Danny reached inside the back pocket, pulling out a small foil packet and tearing it with his teeth as he took his trousers from Nicholas and threw them back on the floor. Nicholas leaned forward to let Danny roll the condom on, surprised to feel Danny licking his chest. Suddenly, Danny gripped his hips tightly , pushing Nicholas back against his cock.

“It has been a while,” Nicholas warned. “I mean like, a few years, while.”

Danny looked at him almost sympathetically. “You ain’t been laid in years?” he asked. “Jesus, Nick.”

Nicholas laughed nervously. “No,” he said, feeling his face turn red. “Since I was…”

Danny grinned, his fingers moving from Nicholas’ hip to his cock, stroking the length lightly. Nicholas inhaled deeply, his eyes fluttering shut as he leaned his head back and exposed his neck. Danny leaned forward and bit lightly on the unshaven skin, letting his tongue run over the roughness. Nicholas stifled a lightly moan as he tilted his head back further before pulling away. Danny watched, surprised, as Nicholas spat into his own hand and reached behind him to rub the erection throbbing impatiently against the base of his spine. Watching Nicholas do something so raw and frankly insanitary, Danny realized that he must have him, now, no questions p lease.

Nicholas gripped the back of the sofa with one hand, and Danny’s arm with the other, raising himself up onto his knees. He slowly lowered himself onto Danny’s shaft, grinding his teeth in an effort to not call out and wake the neighbours. As though they needed anything else to gossip about. He pushed himself down onto Danny’s hips, his arms shaking from supporting his own weight, not wanting to let himself all the way down.

“Gimme a minute,” he said shakily. He didn’t remember it ever hurting so badly before, though in fairness, when it came to men, he did stay mostly exclusive to Travis, and he’d always topped, unless they were both sober. Which, when it came down to it, was infrequent at best.

“All right, Nicky?” Danny asked, taking all of his will power from pulling Nicholas down onto him further. When Nicholas nodded, Danny did just that, arching his own thrusts into his partner. Nicholas cried out suddenly, gripping tightly with both hands.

“Gently!” he warned, his voice straining through his teeth.

Danny took hold of Nicholas’ cock, rubbing his thumb along the glans and foreskin, causing Nicholas to arch his back into Danny’s thrusts. He hesitantly took his weight from his arms, letting himself grind against Danny’s hips as he moved his hands down to Danny’s sides. He repositioned his knees and began thrusting himself against Danny’s grip, his own hands reaching for Danny’s jersey. He tried to pull it off, surprised when he felt Danny grab his wrists and stop him.

“My scars ain’t healed like yours,” he said, a hint of apology around the edges of his voice.

Nicholas nodded, instead holding him by the shoulders and pulling him into an upright position, wrapping his arms tightly around the back of Danny’s neck as he pulled himself almost violently against Danny’s cock, his own erection pressed firmly between the two of them. Danny slid back slightly, pressing himself deeper into Nicholas, biti ng his lip as he heard the other man cry out sharply.

“Don’t let go,” Nicholas begged, holding tightly to Danny.

Danny held onto Nicholas’ hips, guiding his motions as he thrust, leaning in to kiss bare skin. He made his way down Nicholas’ neck, trailing light kisses down to his collar bone, and across the front of his chest. “Come on,” he said, pushing Nicholas off of him. He shifted heavily, pushing Nicholas against the arm rest. He lightly slapped Nicholas’ thigh as he positioned himself on the sofa, letting one foot rest on the ground for balance. Nicholas laughed nervously as he gripped the arm rest, his entire body trembling lightly. He let his head drop as he felt Danny’s hand lightly trail up his thigh, the tips of his fingers teasing his cock with feather touches. Danny moved close to Nicholas, inhaling deeply as he guided himself in, skin pressing firmly against skin. He gripped Nicholas’ thighs tightly, slamming himself against the smaller man. Nichola s cried out loudly as he grabbed the arm rest even tighter. He bit down on the upholstery, trying to muffle the sounds that started deep in his chest, but ended high in his throat. Grinding his teeth, Danny called out sounds of his own, muffled and short as he slammed against Nicholas, pushing him further over the edge of the arm rest until grabbing hold was no longer an option, and he was forced to hold himself up from the floor to avoid landing face-first in the rug. His hips moved greedily against the arm rest, his cock rubbing almost violently against the upholstery.

Danny took hold of Nicholas’ hips, lifting him enough to be able to wrap his arms around Nicholas’ stomach. He gripped Nicholas’ cock with the tips of his fingers, stroking gently at first before pumping out of rhythm with his own thrusts. Nicholas cried out loudly, his fist jammed in his own mouth in a fruitless effort to not risk waking the neighbours as he came hard, releasing his fluids over Danny’ s fingers. His head swimmy, he lifted himself onto the arm rest, only to be pushed forward again by Danny’s thrusting.

Danny gripped tightly to Nicholas’ hips, leaning against his back as he came, spilling into the condom. He let his head rest against Nicholas, the two panting heavily. Taking a moment to get his wits about him, Danny sat up and pulled out, pulling the condom off and tying it at the end. A few moments later, he pushed himself to his feet, and after a quick, confused look around the cottage, stumbled slightly, and made his way to the loo. He started the tap in the shower, waiting for the hot water to kick in. He stepped under the spray as Danny appeared in the door way.

“Join me?” Nicholas asked.

Danny grinned as he hesitantly pulled off his jersey and stepped into the small shower with Nicholas, standing possibly in closer proximity than he really needed to.

“Careful,” Nicholas warned. “The tap’s like a bad relationship.”

“Wot?” Danny asked. Before Nicholas had the chance to explain, the water went suddenly cold, prompting Danny to get as far away as possible, as loudly as possible. Nicholas yelped slightly, turning the hot water higher, as he held his head under the spray. As the water warmed, Danny stepped closer, wrapping his arms around Nicholas’s chest, rubbing wet skin lightly. Two hands turned to one, lightly tracing circles on Nicholas’ stomach when a high-pitched squeak echoed off of porcelain tiles. Nicholas stiffened sharply, his jaw clenched as he turned round, blindly grabbing the grinning yellow duck from Danny’s hands.

“No,” he said simply, perching the toy back on the shelf next to his razor, his fingers pausing slightly on the slick rubber before turning his attention back to not smelling like condom lubricant and sweat.

“You all right, Nick?” Danny asked lightly, letting his hand trail down Nicholas’ chest. “S’just a duck. Not like they’re all that hard to come by.”

“I just…” Nicholas started, looking over at the duck, “prefer that some things not be touched,” he said unevenly.

“S’all right,” Danny said, kissing Nicholas lightly on the forehead. “I get it.” He didn’t, really. At all. But it sounded like the right thing to say.

Danny lightly took hold of Nicholas’ chin, turning his head so they faced one another before leaning in to kiss him, not roughly like before, but deep, rather; exploring Nicholas’ mouth with his own. He pushed Nicholas’ body against the cool tile wall, leaning his weight against him. Focusing more on not slipping and breaking their collective neck, Nicholas, shifted slightly, leaning in to respond just as Danny pulled away.

“Come on,” Danny said, quickly washing himself down. “I think it’s getting to be about past your bedtime.”

Nicholas smiled dryly as he watched Danny step out of the shower and towel off. “I think you’ve a pair of pyjamas upstairs,” Nicholas told him over the spray. “If you’re wanting to stay the night, that is.”

Danny wrapped the towel round his waist as he turned to give Nicholas a crooked smile. “Course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Nicholas ducked back under the spray as Danny left, and slowly began cleaning himself off, beginning to feel a lightly buzz behind his ears. He inhaled deeply, trying to will it away. As he turned off the tap before the temperature could turn again and try to kill him, he looked up at the grinning yellow duck, sighing deeply.

“I didn’t mean for anything to happen,” he told it, reaching for the towel Danny didn’t take. He dried off quickly, and wrapping the towel round his own waist, made his way slowly up the steps to the bedroom, finding Danny already changed and setting Nicholas’ alarm. Nicholas quickly changed into pyjamas of his own, folding the towels and setting them on a chair near the door. The buzzing in his head only getting worse, he picked up his prescription bottle from his d esk and fumbled with the child lock before managing to get one out. Swallowing it dry, he put the bottle back and hazarded a glance in the small mirror mounted on the wall, bringing his hand up to trace the white line that ran across his cheek. It wasn’t as bad as the dog bite, or the bullet wound in his arm, but like the matching marks on his hand, it was clearly visible, and thoroughly annoying. Maybe being an inspector, he could finally stop this silly nonsense. Though, if the current trend was anything to go by, that didn’t seem likely.

Sighing to himself, Nicholas turned round and carefully took the folded quilt from the foot of the bed and put it on the same chair by the door. Turning back around to face Danny, he realized that the lemur on his night stand had been moved, and rushed over to put the creature back where it belonged.

“I think your DVD’s still on,” he said, trying to convince himself that the animal was moved when Danny changed the alarm.

Danny got up from the bed and reached for the towels on the chair. “Yeah,” he said. “We can finish it now, or go to bed.”

Nicholas made his decision by flipping off the light and making his way to the sofa, waiting patiently for Danny to return the towels to the loo and join him. Nicholas had no idea at all what had happened past the twenty minute mark, and even less of a desire to start it over to catch what he missed. Moments later, Danny joined him, kicking dirty clothes out of the way, having already cleaned up any real mess that had been made. He moved Nicholas over slightly before collapsing back onto the sofa, pulling Nicholas into a tight embrace.
Mathilda was trying to plant Leon’s lily when Nicholas’ mobile went off, startling Danny slightly. When Nicholas didn’t stir, Danny reached for it, glancing at the ID screen. He frowned at the name that appeared, but answered anyway.

“Nick’s phone,” he said flatly.

“Oh,” Travis said, almost happily. “Is this Danny?”

“Yep,” he said stiffly.

“Well, at least I have a voice to go along with the name, now. I don’t think we spoke when I was out there,” Travis said, banging around on the other end. “You’re just about all he ever talks about when he’s up here. The kid’s crazy about you.”

“Really?” Danny asked, forgetting that he had meant to be upset with him, on the grounds that Nicholas had slept with him, and was still friendly with him. “I can barely get him to say two words some days.”

“Well, that’s Nick, isn’t it?” Travis asked. “Things are rough for him right now. Maybe the time off’ll do him a spot of good.”

Danny went back to being upset with Travis. Nicholas hadn’t been having his “time off” a full two days yet, and he’d already told his friendly little ex. “Maybe,” he said stiffly.

Travis laughed. “Is he there?” he asked.

“He’s sleeping.” Danny said simply.

“Headache?” Travis sounded genuinely concerned.

“Dunno,” Danny answered, rubbing a gentle hand over Nicholas’ hair. “Fell asleep watching a DVD.”

There was a brief silence. “I hate to wake him, but I’ve something rather important to tell him.”

“Can it wait until tomorrow?” Danny asked, doing his best to sound imposing.

“No.”

Danny sighed and leaned over slightly. “Oi. Nick,” he said, nudging him slightly. “That ex of yours is wanting to talk to you.”

Nicholas sat up quickly. “Janine?” he asked, sounding almost excited. Danny felt his heart sink just a little bit more.

“No,” he said flatly, handing the mobile over. “That one bloke.”

Nicholas frowned. “Oh,” he said, taking the mobile. “Travis, what do you want?”

“Hi, Nicky,” Travis said, overly cheerful. “How are you today? Great to talk to you, too.” There was a bit of a pause, during which Travis dropped something in his kitchen. “You’re needed at the met tomorrow,” he continued.

“What?” Nicholas demanded. “Tomorrow?”

“Ye s,” Travis said. “At four.”

“Fuck,” Nicholas muttered. He looked at the clock, trying to figure out what time he’d have to leave Bufford Abbey. “I’m not paying for my ticket,” he said flatly. “London’s costing me a buggering fortune.”

Travis sighed. “I’ll take care of it,” he said, knowing getting Nicholas reimbursed properly would take too long. “I’ll meet you at King’s Cross. Call me in the morning when you get up.”

“Yeah,” Nicholas said flatly, hanging up his mobile. He leaned heavily against Danny, feeling the buzzing in his skull again. “Could I get a lift to Buford Abbey tomorrow?” he asked sullenly.

« || »

Lamp Light #5

Nicholas was vaguely aware of Janine entering the room as he carefully dug through what was now the third box.

“Nick, leave it,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “We can finish in the morning.”

“Not unpacking,” Nicholas said, sighing and moving onto the last unpacked box. “Looking for something.”

“Your toothbrush is in the bathroom.”

Nicholas laughed lightly. “It’s not that,” he said. “Something else.”

“Oh,” Janine cooed, getting under the covers. “Does ickle Nicky need his teddy bear?”

Nicholas shook his head. “No love,” he said.

Janine giggled as she picked up Nicholas’ alarm clock from the night stand, pressing random buttons to see what they did. She was startled by Nicholas’ sudden bark of triumph as he jumped to his feet and pushed a box to the side.

“I must know what was so bloody important,” Janine said, replacing Nicholas’ alarm clock. She watched as he knelt down by the door, fiddling with a wal l socket. He ran a cable up to the top of the desk, situating a small blue lamp against the wall.

“Oh, you are not going to leave that on all night, are you?” Janine asked.

Nicholas shrugged, getting to his feet. “Yeah,” he said. “Why not?”

“Because it’s really bright,” Janine pointed out.

“I like to be able to get up at night and not run into things,” Nicholas said.

“I like to be able to sleep,” Janine replied simply.

Nicholas sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “We’ll try it tonight, and if for any reason, you don’t like it, I’ll get rid of it. I’ll put it in another room; sell it if you want me to.”

Janine looked up at him blankly. “You’ll sell it?” she asked. “And get 50p for it?”

Nicholas shrugged. “If you want me to, yeah,” he said. “And I’ll give you half. So that’s 25p for you.”

Janine smiled lightly. “We’ll try it,” she agreed finally. “And if it doesn’t work out, go ahead a nd put it in another room. You don’t have to sell it.”

Nicholas smiled lightly, kissing her on the forehead. “I promise,” he said. “Moaning will be kept to a minimum.”

He got up and shut out the lights, leaving only the soft blue wash over the room.

“You can actually sleep like this?” Janine asked, looking around the room. “I feel like I’m in an episode of My Family.”

Nicholas laughed as he climbed into bed. “I’ve had it since university,” he said. “I just got in the habit of keeping it around.”

“I didn’t realize my boyfriend was afraid of the dark,” Janine said. “Do you want me to get you a teddy bear and a cuddle blanket, too?”

Nicholas picked up a pillow and tossed it at Janine. “I can sleep on the sofa, you know,” he said, unable to contain his laugh.”

“I wouldn’t,” Janine said, situating the pillows again. “I think the cat pissed on it when you were unpacking.”

“You’re serious?” Nicholas asked, wondering if he’d missed som ething vitally important.

Janine laughed. “Of course not. Have you ever seen a cat in here?”

“Maybe it’s an outdoor cat?” Nicholas tried.

“Or an imaginary cat.”

Nicholas tried not to think too hard about it as he rolled over, holding himself up with his elbow. “Is there anything else you’re gonna make me find out for myself?”


Nicholas was startled by the knock on his door, wondering if he should call somebody. And then he realized that the call would be re-routed to him, anyway, so he gave up on the idea and decided to just be a man and answer the door, despite being nine o’clock, and no one had expressed intent to stop by. He slowly pulled open the door, finding Andrew standing outside with his son, Michael, in tow.

“Got a few minutes, Nick?” Andrew asked.

Nicholas stepped aside, letting them enter. “Yeah,” he said. “What do you need?”

Andrew let go of Michael’s hand, letting the child wander as the two men walked into the kitc hen. Andrew dropped a folder down on the counter and opened it, handing some papers off to Nicholas. “I know it’s your weekend and all, but this came back today. Thought you’d want to see.”

Nicholas took the forms and read them over. Various forensics reports from new discoveries under the castle. Some were matches from missing persons reports that had either been long ignored, or recently filed after Nicholas was installed as Chief Inspector. Most were dead ends; DNA profiles and dental records that were meaningless without someone to match them up with. Nicholas sighed and put the reports back down on the counter.

“These things don’t work unless people step forward,” Nicholas said. “I haven’t a clue who any of these people were supposed to be. They could be anybody.”

Andrew nodded. “You don’t think we got ’em all?” he asked.

Nicholas shook his head. “Part of me thinks half the damn village was completely aware about what was going on,” he said. “And the rest of me knows that everybody’s too scared of being suspect, or being killed by any remaining members of Frank’s psychotic little club.”

Andrew sighed. “Things ain’t ever gonna be right, again, are they?” he asked.

Nicholas shook his head. “I’m sure things will sort themselves out, given time,” he said.

Andrew nodded in response. “Andy told me they offered him a transfer,” he mentioned. “They offer you one?”

Nicholas nodded.

“Then why you still here?” Andrew asked. “You ain’t like Andy. You don’t have any reason to stay.”

“Because, Andrew,” Nicholas said with a sigh. “Despite everything, I do kinda like it here.”

“I think I’m gonna split if they offer me transfer,” Andrew said simply. “I only got the Missus, and Michael. And she doesn’t want to stay here at all.”

Nicholas nodded. “Good luck,” he said honestly. “They’re giving you first pick of station, if you do accept the offer.”

“You ain’t mad?” Andrew asked nerv ously.

Nicholas shook his head. “Why should I be?” he asked. “Most people don’t want to stay here. They’ll settle you some place like Dover, likely, and bring me someone new.” He looked up and Andrew, a hint of a smile touching his lips. “Maybe I’ll get lucky enough to get someone who doesn’t smoke in the building.”

Andrew pulled out his cigarettes and pressed one between his lips. “Prick,” he said gruffly.

Nicholas let his smile fade as he picked up Andrew’s folder, looking through it a bit longer. “Did anyone ever get back with Mrs. Thatcher?” he asked.

Andrew shook his head, but did not get a chance to respond before Michael wandered into the room, holding a small stuffed lemur. “Papa, look!” he said, holding up the toy.

“No!” Nicholas barked, jumping forward and carefully pulling the stuffed animal from Andrew’s son. “This is not for playing with!” Nicholas instructed, doing his best not to raise his voice.

Andrew frowned as he picked Michael up, holding his son in his arms. “Why not?” he asked.

Nicholas inspected the lemur, making sure there were no stains or damage done to the toy. “Because it’s just not,” he said, running his fingers over the fur.

Andrew thought about that, and then decided that any thinking done about Nicholas Angel would likely end in a brain hemorrhage, and instead made sure that Nicholas hadn’t frightened Michael into a fit of tears, but by that point, the boy had already been distracted by a pan hanging from the wall.

“Never took you as the type to keep your old toys around,” Andrew mused. Nicholas looked up at him, but said nothing. “But, listen,” Andrew continued. “I’ll go ahead and get back with Mrs. Thatcher first thing tomorrow. You’ll have your report on your desk when you get back.

Nicholas nodded. “Right,” he said, picking the folder back up and handing it to the detective. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to yell at him.”

Andrew shook his head. “No worries,” he said. “Shouldn’t have let him wander. I forgot you got swords and shit in here, anyway. Your house isn’t very child proof.”

Nicholas shrugged. “Yes, well…”

Andrew bit back on another homophobic remark, knowing it would not be wise to get snappy in the inspector’s personal home. “You’ll have that stuff on Monday,” he settled on as he put Michael back on the floor. “Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

Nicholas nodded. He stayed in the kitchen until he heard Andrew shut the front door, before making his way upstairs to his bedroom. He had expected to see things knocked from shelves and all over the floor, but the stuffed lemur had been the only thing that had attracted Michael. Once more stroking the acrylic fur with his fingers, Nicholas sat it back on the nightstand next to his alarm, letting its cold, glass eyes watch over the bedroom.


Everything was going to be perfect. He had it all planned out; exactly where she’d stand, wh at he was going to say. Perfect. For reasons unknown to himself, he’d thought it had been a good idea to ring Travis and ask for any sort of tips or pointers, and found himself very disappointed to hear a detailed rundown of Love Actually. He let Travis ramble as he fussed about the flat, straightening everything up for the tenth time.

Candles.

Girls like that kind of stuff. Nicholas started looking through closets, finding nothing of the sort. Apparently Janine was one of those girls that wasn’t really into candles. Or maybe she just hadn’t been shopping lately.

“Wait,” Nicholas said to Travis, getting hung up on whatever he was rambling about. “Wasted heart?”

“Maybe you should watch this film before doing this, mate,” he said. “You don’t sound like you know what you’re doing at all.”

“I do!” Nicholas insisted.

Travis laughed in his ear. “Whatever. Listen, I gotta go. Good luck.”

Nicholas grinned to himself. “Thanks, man. ”

He put the telephone down, and rushed round the flat a bit more. Flowers, maybe? No, too obvious. Too over done. He should keep it simple. But definitely not T-shirt simple. He grimaced at what he was wearing and rushed to the bedroom. Khakis would be fine, but no T-shirts. He pulled the tight cotton shirt over his head and tossed it into the hamper before pulling a light-coloured collared shirt from the wardrobe. He still looked casual, but it was better than some ugly band shirt he’d inherited from Travis by accident.

He jumped slightly when he heard the front door shut, and Janine shuffling into the flat. Trying to keep himself from looking eager, he refrained from rushing out of the bedroom to meet her. Keep it steady. Steady steady steady.

“How–”

“Oh! Nick!” Janine interrupted. “We need to talk.”

Nicholas frowned slightly. This was not how it was supposed to go. Was it too late for a re-write? “Oh?” he asked. “Can it wait?”

Janine took him by the hand and pulled him to the sofa. “No,” she said, her face turning slightly red. “This is… very important.”

Nicholas let his hand slip into his pocket. “How…important?” he asked.

Janine inhaled deeply. “Well,” she started. “I stopped by Denise’s after shift for a bit, but you already knew that.”

Nicholas nodded nervously. “Yeah…” Was it too late to scrub the mission?

“We… we got to talking. About us,” Janine started. “Me and you, that is. And how I’ve just been so stressed lately.”

“Janine,” Nicholas said, realizing he didn’t have any where to go with that start.

“I don’t know how…” Janine took another deep breath. “Nick, I’m pregnant.”

“You…what?” Nicholas blinked a few times. “When?”

Janine laughed. “Well, right now,” she said, pulling him into a tight hug.

“No, I mean,” Nicholas started, never thinking it was possible to feel completely relieved and absolutely terrified at once. “When’d you f ind out?”

“Denise is a nurse,” Janine said. “She made me take about three tests.”

Nicholas laughed and kissed her on the neck. “That’s…that’s wonderful!” he managed finally, bringing himself to a laugh. “There’s something I meant to talk to you about, but now I just feel like I’m doing it because I have to.”

Janine pulled away from Nicholas, looking him in the face. “And what’s that?” she asked.

Nicholas smiled as he slipped his hand back into his trouser pocket, pulling a small black velvet box out and opening it carefully. “Will you?” he asked, holding it out in front of Janine.

“Oh, god,” Janine said. She took the ring from Nicholas and slid it over her finger before pulling him into another tight embrace. “Of course!”

Nicholas kissed her on the neck again before pulling away to kiss her properly. “If you want to go clean up, I’ve got reservations for tonight,” he said, unable to keep himself from grinning like a loon. “For That Place that Does all the Fish.”

Janine wrapped her arms around Nicholas’ neck, leaning into him heavily. “I’d love to,” she said after a few moments. “I’ll go get changed.”


“It just ain’t here.”

Nicholas stared at his notebook, 14:29 being the only thing actually written on the lined page.

“Have you checked with the neighbours?” he offered unevenly.

“Of course!” the man wailed. Nicholas winced. “How fucking far can a goddamned tractor go without somebody seeing?”

Nicholas sighed. “Right,” he said. “Could you describe it for us?”

Danny cleared his throat. “Er, Nick,” he said. “Mr. Acer’s got the only working tractor in Sandford.”

Nicholas nodded. “Of course,” he said. “How could I forget?”

Mr. Acer frowned at Nicholas. “You damn city cops don’t take nothing seriously, do you?” he asked. “Same thing, every time they bring one of you lot out here. We was perfectly fine before you showed up.”

Nicholas arched his eyebrows, tryi ng very, very hard to ignore the man’s statement. “Yes, well,” he said. “We’ll put out an APW for your tractor. If anything turns up, we’ll be sure to give you a ring.”

“Sure you will,” Mr. Acer grumbled before walking off toward his barn, muttering profane ramblings to himself.

Nicholas waited for the man to round the corner behind the barn before making his way to the patrol car. He just needed to sit down; rest a bit. That would do him better. He made it to the bonnet, leaning heavily against it. Just a few more steps. He lifted his head in an effort to continue, realizing at once that hit had been a stupid idea. The sudden rush felt like someone had punched him in the stomach, causing him to involuntarily sick all over the driver’s side tyre.

“Nic’las!” Danny called, rushing over to the inspector. “Christ, Nick, why didn’t you say nothing?” he asked, trying not to step in the mess Nicholas had made on the grass. He leaned into the open window and pulled the lever to pop the boot. They kept towels and blankets back there for various emergencies, but Danny never thought that his partner might be having one of those emergencies. He gave the towel to Nicholas to clean himself off, waiting for him to steady himself before taking it back and tossing it into a plastic bag in the boot.

“Your stuff at the…er…in your office?” he asked lightly, putting a hand on Nicholas’ shoulder.

Nicholas only nodded.

“Right,” Danny said, tightening his grip. “Come on, then.” He led Nicholas around the patrol car, helping him get settled into the passenger seat. Making sure that Nicholas wasn’t going to sick all over the inside of the patrol car, Danny slid into the driver’s seat, and started the car, taking them back to the station.
Andrew let himself into the office, startled to find Danny digging through Nicholas’ desk drawers.

“Now wot the fuck you up to, Batterbomb?” he demanded, stepping up to the desk.

Danny shrugged. “Nick’s sick,” he said simply.

Andrew frowned. “Taking him home?” he asked.

Danny nodded, finally finding Nicholas’ prescription. “Yeah,” he said flatly.

Andrew sighed and leaned against the door frame. “Came back too early,” he said. “So did you, if you ask me, but least you’re taking breaks when you should.”

Danny sighed right back. “Yeah, well,” he started as he walked past the detective. “You know Nick.” He made his way to the water cooler, drawing a small paper cup to go with Nicholas’ medication before going back out to the patrol car. “How you feelin’?” he asked lightly, handing over the cup and bottle. He shut the door, doing his best not to slam it.

“Like I’m gonna die,” Nicholas croaked.

Danny gripped the steering wheel tightly, looking away as Nicholas swallowed the tablet dry before drinking the water. Nicholas Angel was not supposed to rely on prescription drugs to be awesome. Nicholas Angel should have been aw esome all on his own. “I been thinking,” Danny said after a moment. “Maybe you should go see your doctor again.” He kept his gaze out the windscreen as he spoke, feeling the heavy weight of guilt in his stomach for bringing up these things when he knew Nicholas couldn’t well argue with him. “You’re supposed to be taking those things less often… not more.”

“I have,” Nicholas said weakly.

“You’ve seen him to follow up?” Danny asked.

Nicholas was silent for a long moment, Danny unable to tell if it was because he was about to be sick again, or it was his way of arguing when his skull was about to explode. “I’ll go see him tomorrow,” Nicholas said finally.

Danny nodded, finally starting the ignition. “Good,” he said as he pulled the car out to the road.

Nicholas didn’t make it up the steps. He didn’t even make it to the steps; instead dropping his belt near the door and deciding that the sofa was a good place to pass out. He was conscious enough to hear Danny bumping around in the kitchen, making tea and fixing a sandwich for himself. Eventually, the noise quieted, and Danny walked through the cottage, going up to Nicholas’ room to fetch the blanket from the bed. He brought it back down, gently draping it over the inspector.

“You want some tea?” he asked quietly.

Nicholas did his best to shake his head. “No,” he said quietly. “Could you turn out the lights?”

Danny smiled weakly. “Course,” he said. He did as Nicholas asked, and drew the shades, making everything in the room look purple. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me,” he said. “Least for a little bit, any way.”

“Thanks,” Nicholas said. He pulled the blanket over his head, and tried to go to sleep.
The cottage was empty when Nicholas finally poked his head out from under the blanket, what little hair he had all pushed in the wrong direction. He sat up slowly and looked around, noticing that it was quite dark. Too dark, really.

Confused, Nicholas slowly got to his feet, every joint in his back snapping painfully. Making a mental note that no matter how much his head felt like there was a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to burst through his skull, the sofa was not an acceptable place for a nap, he shuffled to the nearest window, peeking out the shades. Somehow, the day had skipped from two-thirty in the afternoon to sometime in the late evening, and nobody bothered to inform him.

For lack of anything else to do, he made his way to the kitchen, finding a tea kettle ready to be heated, and a note on the counter. Nicholas turned on the stove burner and read the note, hastily ripped from Danny’s notebook, the large, round print informing him that there was another call, and that he and Tony were going to take care of it. Sighing, Nicholas crumpled the note and threw it into the rubbish bin, leaning against the counter as he waited for the kettle to heat. He still felt a mild buzzing in the back of his h ead, but he decided to wait it out, testing a theory that it was just bits of his brain trying to wake up after having slept all day. It had, on several occasions, occurred to him that there was the very real possibility that his prescription wasn’t for making his headaches go away, but rather for knocking him unconscious long enough for them to sort themselves out and leave on their own.

As he waited for his tea to heat up, he hunted down his mobile and headed up to the bedroom, finding a thin folder full of various telephone and fax numbers. Flipping through the pages, he eventually found the contact sheet he’d typed up for the clinic in Buford Abbey. He dialled the number and made his way back downstairs, surprised when he actually got an answer.
At least the nurse didn’t make him get undressed. He didn’t even have to point out how horribly pointless taking off his clothes would be when trying to figure out why he was still getting headaches. Instead she took h is blood pressure and then left him in a cold room with a picture of a frightened looking cat on the wall. Nicholas sat up on the examination table, his knees bouncing slightly from nerves. Would they tell him that he needed a stronger medication? Or worse, some sort of procedure done?

No, that was stupid. What sort of procedure would they be able to do, short of drilling holes in his skull? Nicholas sighed, trying to calm himself down. Deep breaths. Suddenly, the door swung open, nearly startling Nicholas right off of the examination table.

“Oh, sorry there,” the doctor said as he slowly shut the door. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

Nicholas shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said.

The doctor looked over Nicholas’ charts, taking a long moment to read everything written down.”So, what seems to be going on, Sergeant?” he asked, flipping through the pages.

“Inspector,” Nicholas corrected.

“Promoted?” the doctor asked. “Congratulations.”

Ni cholas smiled politely. “Thank you,” he said uneasily. Given the current circumstances, he felt more like he had been failing upwards than promoted, but he chose to remain quiet on the matter.

“So, Nurse Hyne tells me you’ve still been having migraines?” he asked.

“If anything, I think they’ve been getting worse,” Nicholas admitted. “It’s effecting my work.”

The doctor nodded. “How are you doing otherwise?” he asked.

Nicholas shrugged. “I’ve been told I’ll tend to get unreasonably angry,” he said.

“Well,” the doctor started heavily. “We did finally get your records send in from London. I think we should discuss some options.”
Nicholas carefully cleared his office of old cups and paperwork, ignoring the officers outside that clearly needed a course on stealth operations. Sighing, he shut down his computer and reached for a stack of papers.

“Tony, could you come in here, please?” he asked, knowing the sergeant was hiding along the wall out in the corridor with everybody else.

“Wot?” Tony asked, immediately answered by harsh shushing.

“I know you’re out there,” Nicholas told them. “I saw you follow me.”

Tony nervously stepped into view. “Yeah?”

“Come in and shut the door,” Nicholas said quietly.

Tony did as he was told, staying near the door after it latched shut. “You’re transferring,” he said flatly. “Andy said you would.”

“No,” Nicholas said simply, shaking his head. “But I am taking an extended absence, which leaves you in command.”

“Why me?” Tony asked. “Danny’s a sergeant, too.”

“You’ve tenure,” Nicholas pointed out. “Danny’s not had his stripes a full month, yet.”

“Oh,” Tony said stupidly.

“I don’t want you to feel like you’ve got to do this on your own,” Nichols said. “I will have my mobile with me, even when I’m in London. Don’t hesitate to call.” He handed a small stack of papers to Tony. “If I don’t answer, just leave a message.”

” Uhm, Nick,” Tony said nervously. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Nicholas picked up the few things he felt he should take home with him as he looked up at the sergeant.

“Yes you do,” he said simply. “You’ll do fine.”

He patted Tony on the shoulder lightly as he walked past, ignoring the officers that failed to scatter as he opened the door. He made his way outside, finding Danny waiting for him in the car park.

“Need a lift?” he asked, keys ready.

Not one to disappoint, Nicholas shrugged. “If you’re offering,” he said. He made his way to the Mini, letting Danny unlock the door for him.

“You’re place, or mine?” he asked as he buckled his seat belt and started the engine.

Again, Nicholas shrugged. “Whatever,” he said. “I’m open to suggestions.”

“My side hurts,” Danny said unconvincingly. “Don’t want to do steps.”

“Well, if you’re in pain, then I won’t make you strain yourself,” Nicholas said simply, missing the grin on Danny ‘s face. He rested his head back against the window, liking the cool glass against his skin and the light vibration that went straight down his spine. It was almost relaxing, somehow. Danny cautiously flipped on the radio, casting a nervous glance in Nicholas’ direction, as though the volume might set him off. “It’s fine, Danny,” Nicholas said, noticing Danny from the corner of his eye. “The radio’s not gonna kill me.”

Danny nodded, debating with himself whether he wanted to try turning it louder, but he decided not to. Best not to press his luck. “Do you want to do something for dinner?” he asked. “Get some take away?”

Nicholas shook his head. “I’ve stuff at home that should probably be used,” he said.

Danny nodded as he rounded a corner, coming to Nicholas’ cottage. He’d often wondered why Nicholas wanted to live on the edge of the village, but that was before he’d learned that Nicholas was nothing more than a cranky old hermit at times. Then again, that revelation came before he took into account that the inspector might, like Danny himself, still be recovering from that time the station went boom, and wanted to stay away from the noise that the centre of the village attracted.
Nicholas liked sitting next to Danny. Though, he wasn’t so much sitting next to him, as half-way sitting on him. Not that Danny seemed to mind; he seemed to enjoy it just as much as Nicholas did. They put in Twin Dragons on Nicholas’ DVD, and predictably, Nicholas had begun to drift off to sleep at the quarter-through mark. There was a time, after their first night when Nicholas had been genuinely curious enough to stay away through at least one full film, that Danny would feel hurt and disappointed when Nicholas would fall asleep during their time, but he slowly realized that Nicholas was falling asleep because he was comfortable enough with Danny to get close and relax. And, like everything else he does, when Nicholas Angel sets out to relax, he’s going to go all the way with it, and might even start snoring if he’s extra comfortable.

Nicholas was jarred from his nap, and Danny’s suspension of disbelief temporarily suspended when Nicholas’ boring old default ring tone cut through the cottage. Grumbling, Nicholas sat up and reached for his mobile on the table by their feet.

“S’Tony,” he mumbled.

“He burnt the station down,” Danny predicted.

Nicholas shook his head. “Have some faith in the man,” he said before answering Tony’s call. “Yeah?” he said.

There was silence for a few moments.

“Tony?” Nicholas waited a bit longer before turning to Danny. “Maybe he rung accidentally?”

“Oh!” he could hear Tony saying. “Nick, I can’t do this!”

Nicholas sighed. “What’s going on, Tony?”

Nicholas had a feeling he’d been here before. He was almost certain of it, in fact, as he stood next to Danny, staring down at what was left of a rubbish bin, the tin edges scorched an d the room smelling like charred copier paper.

At least it smelled better this time.

Tony,” Nicholas said flatly. “Why am I looking at what’s left of a camp fire?”

“Weren’t a camp fire,” Tony insisted. “One of the Andes.”

Nicholas rolled his eyes. “Which one?” he asked.

“How am I supposed to know that?” Tony demanded.

Nicholas turned to face the sergeant. “As acting inspector, it’s your responsibility to find out,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want to be here. I’m not supposed to be here.”

Tony took a few moments to sulk. “They ain’t gonna tell me which one did it,” he said bitterly.

Nicholas sighed. “So punish them both,” he said tiredly. “I’ve given them plenty of warning, and if you punish them both, you’ll know you’ve got the right one.”

“Doesn’t seem fair,” Danny pointed out.

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he agreed. “But they’ve both been warned, so maybe they’ll both be stopped.” He sighed and looked at hi s watch. “I’m supposed to be avoiding this place. I’m going home.” He walked out of the room, Danny following behind.

“Wot’s his problem?” Tony asked when Nicholas was out of the room. Danny stopped.

“I’ll tell ya tomorrow,” he said.
“No, I am.” Nicholas lay stretched out on the bed, his free hand playing with a small stuffed lemur he’d brought home. “Mum, I was already planing on it.”

“Nicky…” Katherine’s voice sounded strained over the phone. “You really should know better, but…”

“But what?” Nicholas asked. “You’re going to tell me that you’re just going to be angry with me?”

“I’m not angry,” Katherine insisted. “I’m just…Nicholas…”

Nicholas sighed. “I thought you’d be happy to be welcoming your first grand child,” he said.

There was a bit of a pause. “I thought my first grand child would have a last name,” she admitted.

“Mum,” Nicholas said patiently. “If it’s bothering you that badly, just ring your not- adopted son, and he’ll tell you that I was planning on marrying her anyway.”

“I think that boy’s being a bad influence on you,” Katherine said. “He’s Church of England, isn’t he?”

Nicholas couldn’t help but laugh. “I thought you liked Travis,” he said, putting the stuffed toy back on his pillow. “He’s my best mate.”

There was another pause on the other line. “Have you decided on a name yet, at least?” Katherine asked finally.

“Not yet,” Nicholas said, sitting up. “We’ve been discussing it, but can’t quite agree on anything.” He got up and made his way toward the kitchen. “The doctors say it’s going to be a boy, so it’s making it a little easier.”

“When should I expect the wedding?” Katherine asked simply.

Nicholas shook his head. “Janine wants to wait until after things have settled down, and she’s had the baby.”

“I see.”

“It was her decision,” Nicholas insisted. “I’m not about to force anything on her.”

“Of course not,” Katherine said. “Sounds like you’ve done enough of that, already.”

“Mum!”

“I knew moving in with her was a bad idea,” she continued. “Your father and I didn’t live together until after we were married.”

“Right,” Nicholas said. “And then nine months later, Kate was born?”

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Katherine said.

“Mum, I can do maths,” Nicholas pointed out. “I am a grown man. I can handle these things.”

Katherine sighed. “Nicky,” she started. “You’re my oldest boy. Don’t think I haven’t forgotten that.”

“I’m your only boy,” Nicholas pointed out. “I think I should get special treatment, after all the dolls I was forced to play with as a kid.”

Finally, Katherine laughed. “I recall a certain blond boy that liked playing with his sisters,” she said.

Nicholas smiled and leaned against the counter. “Have you heard from the girls lately?”

« || »

Lamp Light #4

Andy sat in the back seat, his knees pressed awkwardly against the back of Danny’s seat. Something about the way Nicholas stared blankly out the side window unnerved him. The man was usually so focused on everything, and now, here he was just staring into nothingness. He wasn’t even counting cows, like any normal person would. Just… staring.

“Wednesday, right?” Danny asked, breaking the silence. Andy jumped slightly.

“Wot?” he asked from the back seat. “Oh, yeah. Five, I think.”

“Five-thirty,” Nicholas corrected automatically. “Try to be to King’s Cross by one.”

“Wot’s that?” Andy asked. “I thought you don’t go to church.”

Nicholas shook his head against the cool window. “The train station that will take us out of London,” he said. “It says that much on your ticket.”

Andy frowned and pulled his printed itinerary from his jacket pocket. “Oh,” he said dumbly. “I thought that was…. an advert, or something.”

“No,” Nicholas sai d. “It’s the train station.”

Andy considered kicking the back of Nicholas’ seat, and then realized that if he did, he’d probably not live to even get on the train. “Never been to London, you twat,” he said instead.

“I never been to London, either,” Danny said. “Don’t think I want to, either.”

“It’s over rated,” Nicholas said. He pulled out the small headphones Danny had given him and placed them over his ears, eager to stop the conversation in its tracks.
There were no assigned seats on the train, for which Andy was eternally grateful. The idea of spending the entire ride to London with Nicholas was not one he was looking for, nor was spending the next two days in a cramped hotel room a very appealing thought. He found an unoccupied seat, shoving his bag into the overhead compartment. As he settled himself, he spotted Nicholas a few rows up from him, doing the same, smoothly taking his seat. Frowning to himself, Andy pulled a pack of cigarettes from hi s pocket and extracted one, pressing it between his lips.

“Sir, you can’t smoke that in here,” an attendant said.

Andy looked up, startled. “It ain’t lit,” he pointed out.

“That’s very well,” the attendant said. “But if it becomes lit, you will be removed from the train.”

Andy sneered at her as he slid the cigarette behind his ear, watching as she walked up a few rows to Nicholas. “You’re back again, sweetie?” she asked.

Nicholas looked up, pulling his headphones from his ears. “Unfortunately,” he said. “Do you think I could get a magazine? I think I forgot my book.”

She smiled warmly at him. “Sure thing, love,” she said. “Any preference?”

Nicholas nodded. “Not really.” He smiled weakly at her as she hurried off to fetch him something to read.
An hour in, and Andy had seen more trees than he thought were possible to ever exist. Trees of all sorts that just kept zipping past his window, much too quickly to even try to count how m any there really were. Occasionally, there would be a clearing with some cows or horses, but they’d soon be replaced by more trees.

“Have you done anything like this before?”

Andy jumped and spun round in his seat, startled to see Nicholas suddenly seated next to him.

“Wot?” Andy asked. “Take a train ride?”

“No, I mean what we’re doing in London,” Nicholas clarified.

Andy shook his head slowly. “What’s there to it?” he asked. “We’re just answering questions, ain’t we?”

Nicholas turned slightly in his seat. “It’s a bit more than that,” he explained. “They’re going to try to confuse you.”

“Why would they want to do that?” Andy asked honestly.

“Because,” Nicholas said with a light sigh. “They want you to slip up. It makes sure you’re telling the truth. The best I can suggest is to try not to mix up details. Simple things like dates can actually be a really big deal.”

Andy blinked. “I thought they was on our side,” he said.

“Not all,” Nicholas said. “The defence wants you to mess up. Every time you get confused, or mess up a detail, it makes prosecution look weak.”

Andy nodded lightly. “Right,” he said. “So, what? I just tell them what I know, and then don’t say anything after?”

“No,” Nicholas said quickly. “No, if you do that, you’ll look like you’re hiding something. Answer everything they ask you, but think about your answers. You’re not being timed or graded, so let yourself think about what you’re saying.”

“Right,” Andy repeated. He looked Nicholas in the face, for the first time realizing just how tired the man looked. “How many times you done stuff like this?” he asked.

“Every time I’ve made an arrest,” Nicholas answered simply.
If Andy thought the train station at Buford Abbey was crowded, it was nothing to the sheer magnitude of King’s Cross. The high ceilings and wide platforms seemed to stretch on forever, giving the detective a feeling of vertigo.

“Do you know where the hotel is?” Nicholas asked, suddenly beside him.

Andy looked over and shook his head. “This is London?” he asked.

Nicholas laughed. “This is just the train station,” he said. “Come on.”

He led Andy to the tube station, showing him how the turnstile worked, and how to go about purchasing a ticket. Once again, the car was completely packed, forcing the two of them against a wall.

“Fuck, Nick,” Andy hissed. “Is London always this crowded?”

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he said. “Sometimes they tell you to wait for the next one.”

“You’re taking the piss,” Andy said simply, finding himself disgusted when Nicholas didn’t respond. As people got off at each stop, the officers slowly made their way toward the nearest door, barely making it off the car at Regent’s Park. Once above ground, Andy took the chance to look around the absolute hugeness of London.

“Come on,” Nicholas said, pulling on the detective’s jacket lightly. “Hotel’s only a few blocks. We can walk it from here.”

Andy nodded slowly. “Right,” he said, following after Nicholas, assuming and praying that he knew where the hell he was going. Nicholas’ idea of “walking distance” seemed to be held to different standards than Sandford’s definition, as a half hour later, they finally reached the white-painted building. Nicholas took Andy up to the front desk, stepping into one of the several queues. Before long, they were called, and Andy hesitantly stepped up to the counter.

“Room’s in your name,” Nicholas told him.

Andy nodded. “Right. Uhm… Cartwright,” he said, amazed at the faux marble counter top.

“ID?” the clerk asked flatly. Startled at the question, Andy dug out his badge, hoping that would suffice.

“All right…Detective,” the clerk said, looking over Andy’s badge. He punched a few things into his computer and nodded. “There you are. “Room two-twelve.” He handed Andy a plastic key card an d smiled curtly.

“Lift’s over there,” Nicholas said, lightly pushing Andy in the right direction. “First time in London,” he told the clerk, by way of an explanation.

The clerk nodded knowingly and called the next person as Nicholas walked up to wait with Andy for the lift.

“He didn’t give me a key,” Andy said, more than a little confused.

“Yes, he did,” Nicholas informed him. “It’s that card.”

“I don’t believe you,” the detective said simply. “You’re still mad at me for throwing that rubbish bin at you, and now you’re paying me back by planning on getting me lost in a foreign city.”

Nicholas laughed as they stepped onto the lift. “Foreign?” he asked. “It’s not like we’re in Nepal. We’re in the capitol city.” He pressed a button for the second floor, letting the doors slide shut. Andy stayed quiet until they reached the room, immediately shoving this so called key into Nicholas’ hand.

“You do it,” he said.

Nicholas shook his he ad and took the key card from Andy, showing him how to slide it into the door to open it. “Just like the ones at…” He realized what he was saying, and decided to just go into the room instead.

“Just like where?” Andy demanded.

“Like at the met,” Nicholas responded. He handed the card over to Andy and looked around the room briefly. “You gonna be all right, here?” he asked.

“You ain’t staying?” Andy asked nervously.

Nicholas shook his head. “I don’t feel like sharing a bed with you, even if you want me to stay,” he said. “But, no. I don’t like hotels. I’ve somewhere else that I stay when I come here.” He picked up his bag from the floor. “You don’t want to stay with your inspector, anyway. You’ve got my mobile number if you need anything.”

Andy nodded weakly. “Sure,” he said, watching as Nicholas left, shutting the door behind him. And then he was alone. In a strange room. In a strange city. He immediately made sure the door was locked, drew t he shades, and took off his trousers.

 

He left the courtroom feeling sick to his stomach. Seeing the Chief like that, in shackles and being guarded like some murdering psychopath -;

But that’s what he was, wasn’t it? He’d killed people. A lot of people. And those he hadn’t killed, he’d ordered their deaths.

Andy found Nicholas waiting for him in the hall, having gone in several hours before. His fancy pants tie was gone, and his shirt unbuttoned at the top, but he still looked miles more professional than the detective.

“How’d it go?” Nicholas asked.

Andy only shook his head.

“We’ve some things we have to take care of at the met,” Nicholas said, leading Andy outside. “Shouldn’t take too long. Then you can go back to the hotel.”

“Yeah,” Andy said dully.

They walked down the street, ignoring the light drizzle, in silence. It was actually a short walk, this time, and like everything else in London, the police station was s imply huge.

“Afternoon, Inspector,” an officer near the door said.

Nicholas forced a smile and nodded. He led Andy through the maze work of hallways and desks and water coolers, eventually stopping at a door marked “Sergeant Martin.” He knocked twice on the frame before pushing it open, greeted by Travis with his hand held at about chest height, as he listened to someone on the telephone.

“Right,” he said slowly. “I see. Listen, I’ve a meeting that I’ve got to get to. I’ll ring you back in a bit.” He hung up the telephone, smiling up at Nicholas and Andy. “Ah, you must be Detective Cartwright,” he said, standing to shake Andy’s hand.

Andy took it nervously, not entirely sure he trusted this whole “London” thing yet. “Andy,” he said.

“Call me Travis,” the sergeant said, sitting back down and motioning for Nicholas and Andrew to do the same. He pulled a thin folder from a drawer in his desk, setting it down in front of Andy. “I’m going to start by saying that you’re not in trouble,” he said lightly. “You haven’t done anything wrong, and this is simply an offer we’re extending to everybody at your station.”

Andy nodded nervously. “Okay…”

“We’re offering you a position elsewhere,” Travis told him simply. “We’ve a few spots open for detectives, and given what you lot have been through, should you chose to transfer, we’re offering first pick.”

Andy looked over at Nicholas. “Seriously?” he asked.

Nicholas only nodded.

“So, we’re here to talk about moving away from Sandford?” Andy asked nervously.

“No,” Travis said. “You’re here to talk about moving away from Sandford. Nick’s already turned us down several times.”

“You mean…I don’t have to take the offer?” Andy was skeptical, certain someone was about to jump out from behind the door, shout “boo!” at him, and make him sign Travis’ paperwork.

“No,” Travis repeated. “It’s an offer. Not a requirement. You can chose to remain in Sandford if you like.”

Andy nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I grew up there. My whole family’s there.”

Travis nodded as he flipped the folder open, pulling out a simple form. “Very well,” he said. “Go ahead and sign this for me, please.”

Andy cautiously read over the form, making sure that if he signed it, he wouldn’t get sent to some place like Singapore, and filled out the boxes at the bottom, signing his name with a flourish. Travis took the form, looking it over quickly before sliding it back into the folder. “Great,” he said. “You’re all set. See? That was painless, wasn’t it?” He flashed Andy one of his award-quality smiles. “See, not all met cops are right bastards.”

“Not all of us are two-faced, either,” Nicholas quipped as he got to his feet. “Hey, I’m thinking of going out tonight. Join us?”

Travis smiled, genuinely this time, and nodded. “I’d love to,” he said. I’ll ring you when I’m off. Staying at your mum’s?”

Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Why don’t you meet us there. She’d love to see you again.”
“Oh, thank you.” Travis smiled as he took the tea cup, doing his best not to burn his crotch with spillt tea. “Katherine, you do make the best tea.”

“Stop it,” Katherine said, slapping him on the knee with a small towel. “It comes out of a box I get at Tesco.”

“You’re kidding me?” Travis said. “You must do something special to it.”

“Mum, ignore him,” Nicholas said, putting his own cup down on the table by his feet. “He’s just trying to get into your will.”

“He’s already in it,” Nicholas’ dad said from his recliner in the corner of the room.

“Patrick,” Katherine scolded as she sat down next to Nicholas.

“You’re getting all our unpaid bills,” Patrick said, not a hint of sarcasm anywhere in his voice.

“Good,” Nicholas said. “I’ve moved up in the world.” He picked up his tea and took a drink.

“No, you just get to pay for the funeral. We’ve decided we want to be cremated and strapped to a rocket.”

Both Travis and Nicholas laughed, nearly spitting hot tea through their noses. “Jesus, Dad!” Nicholas said.

“Nicholas!” Katherine scolded, slapping him on the leg.

“Sorry, mum.”

Katherine leaned over Nicholas, trying to get a good view of Andrew, who had taken a seat close to the door. “Andrew, are you all right?” she asked. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“Yeah, just… tired, I guess,” he said. He watched Nicholas, happily telling jokes and…laughing? Andrew took a small drink from his tea before setting it back down on the end table. For some reason, he’d never imagined Nicholas being the product of a loving family; seemed more like the “grew up with his aunt who was never really around” type of person to Andy. Not that Andy never knew anybody who grew up with an aunt that was never really around, but if he had to put a personality to the description, he’d pick Nicholas Angel.

But this person… t his person was not Nicholas Angel. Not at least the Nicholas Angel that sulked around Sandford constantly.

“Katherine, I hate to take your darling baby boy away, but we have to get moving,” Travis said, finishing off his tea. He stood up and walked the cup into the kitchen.

“Oh?” Katherine asked, turning to face Nicholas. “Where you boys heading?”

“Andy’s never been to London,” Nicholas explained. “Figured we’d take him out and see the sights.”

“Don’t lie to your mother, Nick,” Travis called from the kitchen. “We’re taking him to get drunk.”

“Nicholas,” Katherine said, mocking disappointment. Nicholas only shrugged as he got to his feet.

“But we do gotta head out, mum,” he said, bending down to kiss her on the cheek.

“You boys be safe, now,” she said.

“We’ll be sure to,” Travis said, making his way to the front door to meet Nicholas.

Startled at the quick change in events, Andy quickly finished off his tea and got to his feet. “Thanks for the tea, Mrs. Angel,” he said nervously.

“Call me Katherine, love,” she said.

Andy nodded nervously, not sure what to do with his feet as Nicholas and Travis readied themselves to leave, sliding into their jackets. “Let’s go, Andrew,” Nicholas said finally, pulling open the door. He waited for Travis and Andy to step outside before turning to his mum. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” he said. “I’ve still got my key, so feel free to lock up.”

He joined Andy and Travis out on the side walk, his hands in his pockets. “So, what’s the plan then?” he asked lightly.

“I dialled a cab on my way over,” Travis answered. “Should be here in a minute or two.”

“Good man,” Nicholas said. He moved to sit down on the steps, checking his watch. Seconds later, Travis sat next to him and pulled his mobile from his pocket. “Yep,” he said slowly. “Any minute now.”
The pub was filled with the usual crowd; mostly groups of friends with a few couples dispersed. Nicholas immediately made his way to the bar, leaving Travis and Andy to find them seats. Nicholas found a small opening in the gathering at the bar, leaning over the sticky surface.

“Evening, officer,” the bartender said. “What’ll it be tonight?”

“Two ciders, and a Guiness, please,” Nicholas said.

“Nicholas, you are not buying me a drink.”

Nicholas looked up suddenly, startled to find Janine and Dave seated next to him.

“It’s not for you,” he said flatly. “But, since we’re not at work, maybe you’d like to talk to me?”

“Jesus, Nick,” Dave said, leaning over the bar to get a good look at him. “You never could just give up, could you?”

“This isn’t your place,” Nicholas spat. “You’ve nothing to do with this.”

“And you’ve nothing to do with me!” Janine spat back. “We’re done, Nicholas! I can’t well avoid you at the station, but if I see you anywhere else, I’m filing harassment charges against you!”

“Why?” Nicholas demanded as John sat the three pints Nicholas had ordered on the bar, and backed away quickly.

Suddenly, there was a pair of hands on Nicholas’ shoulders, lightly pulling him backwards. “Nick, come on,” Travis said softly. “Andy’s over in the corner.” He pushed one of the ciders into Nicholas’ hand, and spun him round so he could see where Andy was waiting. “Janine,” Travis said softly once Nicholas was out of earshot. “Really, now. The man just wants to talk. He’s still really messed up about the whole thing.”

“Travis, how is this any of your concern?” Janine spat.

“Because the man’s my friend,” Travis said simply. “And I hate to see him like this. If you’re not going to do it for him, do it for me.”

“I don’t owe you anything,” Janine said stiffly.

Travis inhaled deeply before turning round to join Nicholas and Andy. He handed the Guiness across the table to the detective, sliding in next to Nicholas. “We don’t have to stick around very long, if you don’t want,” he said quietly.

Nicholas took a sip of his cider and put it down on the table. “No, I’m…fine,” he said. “I just wasn’t expecting to see her here, is all.”

Andy blinked, turning round in his seat to get a look at the pair Nicholas had been arguing with. “Old fling?” he asked curiously.

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he said. “It was… more than that.”

Andy waited for Nicholas to elaborate, and was disappointed when he didn’t continue. “Girlfriend?” he ventured.

“Andrew, I don’t really want to talk about it, okay?” Nicholas said. “Please.”

Upset that nothing had really been answered, Andy took a long pull from his Guiness, setting it down heavily on the table. Not liking silences, especially when Nicholas was involved, he picked up a menu and opened it on the table. At least they served the same things in London that they did in Sandford. It didn’t take very long for a waitress to come round, her notepad ready.

“I was wondering if I’d be seeing you back here!” she said excitedly. “I heard rumours that you were back in London!”

“He’s an inspector, now,” Travis bragged for him, wrapping his arm around Nicholas’ shoulders. “Our little man’s all grown up.”

“Get off me,” he said, shoving Travis away.

The waitress smiled. “Let me guess,” she said, ready to write. “The chicken?”

Nicholas smiled and nodded. “Sounds lovely.”

She quickly scribbled on her notepad before turning to Andy. “And you?” she asked.

“Fish and chips,” he said, folding the menu and sliding it into the rack.

The waitress smiled and wrote that down. “What about you, Sarge?” she asked.

“Oh…” Travis looked over the menu. “I’ll have the fish pie.” He smiled up at the waitress and put the menu away, watching as the waitress hurried off to the kitchen. “Nicholas, smile,” Travis instructed. “Don’t make me spit in your drink.”

Nicholas frowned at Travis. “You’re a real pri ck. You know that?” he said, holding back a laugh.

“What’sa matter, Nicky?” Travis asked, reaching under the table. “Someone need a nap?” He dug his fingers into Nicholas’ knee, effectively interrupting anything the inspector might have wanted to say. Nicholas cried out loudly, banging his knee on the underside of the table.

“Don’t do that!” he managed, not so much laughing as choking. “You’re making me want to sit next to Andrew, instead.”

Travis frowned. “You’d leave me? Just like that?” he asked.

“We were never exclusive,” Nicholas reminded himself.

“Wot the fuck you two benders talking about?” Andy sneered. Travis and Nicholas looked at one another for a few seconds before breaking out in laughter again. “Anyone care to clue me in?” Andy asked.

“It might offend your innocent country sensibility,” Travis said, mockingly.

Andy sneered at the two of them before practically inhaling half his lager. No wonder Kevin Turner was always i n such a foul mood.
“You sure you’re done for the night?” Andy asked, hoping to get more than one cider into Nicholas. “I’d hardly call whatever poncey drink you just had ‘getting pissed’.”

Nicholas shook his head. “I really don’t drink,” he said.

“He’s a lightweight,” Travis failed at whispering. “One more cider, and he’ll be hitting on lamp posts outside.”

“I was not hitting on it!” Nicholas insisted. “The light was out, and I ran into it!”

“Nick, lying is not an attractive quality,” Travis said seriously. “Really, now.”

Nicholas finished off the last bit of his potatoes. “I’ll just have to tell Andy about that transsexual, uhm…gentleman, you were hitting on that night.”

“What’s there to tell?” Travis asked. “He was post-op. How could I tell?”

“The hips,” Nicholas said simply. “You can always tell by the hips.”

Andy felt the need to be sick. “People actually do that?” he asked. “I thought that was just something the mo vies made up.”

Nicholas and Travis both shook their heads. “This is London, kid,” Travis said simply. “Takes all kinds in this city.”

“I think that’s him, right there,” Nicholas said, pointing to the bar.

Travis spun round quickly to have a look. “Where?” he asked.

“Peter!” Nicholas called, immediately followed by an elbow to the ribs.

“Don’t do that!” Travis giggled.

A thin twenty-something turned round at the bar, and upon seeing Nicholas and Travis, quickly bounded over to the table. “Oh, wow!” he said loudly. “I didn’t think I’d see you two round here again.” He noticed Andy sulking to himself, and waved lightly. “Hi,” Peter said softly.

Andy forced a smile.

“We were just talking about you,” Nicholas said, smiling up at Peter. “I was telling Andrew about the time Travis turned you down.”

“Oh, that,” Peter said. “I know, right? You’re such a prick, Travis.”

Travis laughed nervously. “I’m sorry,” he said, finishin g off his fourth cider for the night. “I hear ‘my penis was surgically attached,’ and I suddenly get performance anxiety.”

Peter and Nicholas howled with laughter.

Andy frowned as his face turned red.

“Oh, what’s the matter, sweetie?” Peter said, reaching out to touch Andy’s shoulder, and surprised when Andy backed away slightly.

“You’ll have to excuse my friend,” Nicholas said. “This is is first time in London.”

Peter nodded. “I get it,” he said. “One of those country boys. Although, I hear they do weird things out on those farms, too!”

As the trio laughed wildly, Andy sat his Guiness down on the table and got to his feet. “Gonna use the loo,” he grumbled, walking past Peter, doing his best not to touch him.

“God, what’s his problem?” Peter asked quietly.

Nicholas shook his head. “Never mind, him,” he said.
Travis waited out in the main lobby while Nicholas walked Andy up to his room.

“Is he really… you know?” And y asked, trying his key card on his own this time. It took four tries, but it finally let him in.

Nicholas nodded. “He doesn’t try to hide it,” Nicholas said simply. “It’s just who he is.”

Andy frowned. “You just let him be like that around you?” he asked.

“It’s not a disease, Andrew,” Nicholas said simply. “I’ve known him since academy. He’s one of my best friends.”

Andy said nothing, just looking out the window.

“I’ll be back round tomorrow morning so we can go home,” Nicholas said. “Be ready.”

Andy nodded. “Right,” he said.

Nicholas let himself out, going down to the lobby to meet Travis. “What’s up with him?” Travis asked, walking out to the street with Nicholas.

The inspector shook his head. “Apparently he didn’t know about your preferences,” Nicholas said simply.

“Really?” Travis asked. “Thought it was obvious.”

“Trust me,” Nicholas said, trying to hail a cab. “It is.”
Nicholas was tired from the train ri de, and the prospect of unpacking, making his own dinner, and fussing about with having to go up steps to get from the kitchen to the bedroom, and probably back again several times was not one he looked forward here.

“Mind if I stay here, tonight?” Nicholas asked, leaning heavily against Danny’s side.

“Of course not,” Danny said. “I like having you here.” He shifted slightly, wrapping his arm around Nicholas’ shoulders, and holding him tightly. He wanted to ask a million questions; wanted to know how Andy liked London; wanted to know if Nicholas spent much time with his not-ex; wanted to know how the trial was going, but asked nothing, knowing that any one of his questions would just open up a flood gate of hurt and anger. He spent so much time trying to not think about his father, and not think about all the horrible things that happened, that even the slightest mentions would tear on his nerves.

“You sure you want to stay up and watch this?” he asked inst ead, looking at the clock on the wall.

Nicholas shrugged. “Whatever you want,” he said.

“Well, you look tired,” Danny told him. “And I want you not to get another headache.”

Nicholas nodded lightly. “Fair enough,” he said. He waited a few moments before sitting up straight, not realizing until just then how tired he really was. He spotted the clock on the wall, and decided that yes, an early bed time did sound rather nice. Especially after his few days in London. He didn’t even wait for Danny to shut everything off; just wandered back to the bedroom and took his shirt off, tossing it in the corner. Danny finally came back to join him as he was stripping out of his trousers, tossing them into the same corner as his shirt. As Danny shut the bedroom door, Nicholas tried to get into bed, stumbling in the dark.

“Why’s it dark in here?” he asked, startled.

“Cause the lights are out,” Danny said flatly. “Duh.”

Nicholas felt around for the edge of the bed. “What about your lamp?” he asked. Finally, he found the edge of the bed, and shortly after managed to locate the edges of the blankets so that he could actually get into bed.

“Burnt out a few days ago,” Danny informed him, slowly undressing in the dark.

“You haven’t replaced it yet?” Nicholas asked. “I’m sure lights for it aren’t expensive.”

Danny sighed as he crawled under the covers. “S’just a lamp, Nicholas,” he said tiredly. “S’not like we’re all gonna die if I don’t get it changed within forty-two hours.”

“Isn’t it forty-eight hours?” Nicholas asked.

“No,” Danny said simply. He carefully felt around until his hand fell upon Nicholas’ chest, and gently pushed him down. “Shut up,” he said. “Don’t think too hard about it, or you’ll hurt your head,” he said.

“What if I need to get up in the middle of the night?” Nicholas asked.

“Then you’ll get out of bed, stub your toe on the edge of the bed like you do even when the ligh t is on, curse and wake me up, and go take a leak.” He pulled Nicholas close to him, wrapping his arm around the other man’s chest. “Shut up and go to sleep.”

« || »

Lamp Light #3

Always making noises. Regular noises would be acceptable. Noises like the shuffling of papers or a printer going. Even noises like a telephone conversation to mum would be acceptable. But noises like this were not acceptable. There is absolutely, under no circumstances, any reason for the noises that happened in the courthouse that now also doubled as a police station. Noises like shouting and things being slammed against walls and dropped on the floor. With each new noise, the pressure and pain ringing in Nicholas’ skull only amplified, making him physically nauseas. Finally, when he could stand no more, he got up from his desk and slowly walked to his office door, pulling it open slowly. He leaned out into the short hall, not immediately seeing the source of the noises. They were definitely coming from the break room. Walking slowly, he made his way to the noises, throwing open the door to the break room. The sudden quick motion only made him feel even more ill, cau sing him to have to stop and put a bit of pressure on his head with his fingers. After a few moments, it became clear that nobody had noticed him enter, so he had to take matters into his own hands.

“Shut the fuck up!” he shouted over the din.

Andrew had Tony both froze, Tony stuck in a vicious headlock.

“Get ‘im offa me!” Tony pleaded.

Andrew jerked Tony to the left before finally letting up.

“There’s no excuse for this!” Nicholas shouted at the officers. “You’re grown men. You’re supposed to be representatives of the community. Instead, you’re in here faffing about and wasting time. Don’t you have work to do?”

“Fuck, Nick,” Andrew said, standing upright and shoving Tony away. “Lighten up, would you?”

“No, I will not!” Nicholas rubbed his temples again, his eyes closed tightly. “Go down to the station and check progress. Both of you.” He turned round and spotted Andy, possibly asleep with his feet up on a desk, and a cigarette hangi ng between his lips. Inhaling deeply, Nicholas stomped up to the detective and snatched the cigarette from him, and tossing it into a cup of tea. “I’ve told you both a hundred fucking times that there is to be no smoking in the building!” He pushed the back of Andy’s chair, jarring him awake as he stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He stopped out in the hall, his hands pressed tightly against the sides of his head. After taking a few deep breaths, he managed to make his way to his office, turning out the lights. He walked slowly to the window, drawing the shades as best he could before turning off his computer monitor. Folding his arms over the desk, he put his head down, groaning lightly.

Just breathe.

Calm down and breathe.

Not lifting his head, he felt around for the second drawer in his desk, pulling it slowly open. He gingerly felt around the contents, eventually finding a small bottle of Rizatriptan. He looked up from his desk long enough to get the bottle open and fished one of the tablets out, swallowing it dry. Snapping the lid shut, he tried to drop it back into his desk drawer but missed, gently resting his head back down on the desk.
“He can’t just come in here and yell at us like that,” Andrew snapped, throwing a paper cup against the wall. “Who the fuck’s he think he is?”

“Your inspector?” Tony ventured cautiously.

Andrew growled as he turned away from the sergeant. “We’re all under a lot of pressure, here,” he said. “He acts like he’s the only fucking one does any work round here.”

“I ain’t going outside to smoke,” Andy said simply. “What, and get rained on all fucking day?”

“I’m going in there right now and telling him what’s what,” Andrew said. “I can tell him exactly what the progress at the station is. Fuck all none.”

Tony frowned and shifted slightly as he watched Andrew throw the door open and step out to the hall. He deliberately slammed the door shut behind himself and stomped down the hall to the office Nicholas had made his own. At first, he meant to pound loudly on the door, but then he reconsidered that notion. Even beating the door in would still count as knocking first, so Andrew decided he’d just let himself in. He threw the door open, completely ready to yell and point menacingly and maybe even light up a fag, but had been completely thrown at the lights being off.

“Nick?” he called hesitantly.

“Shut up, go away, and shut the door,” Nicholas groaned quietly.

Andrew looked around for the inspector, finding no sign of the man anywhere in the office. It wasn’t until he was ready to do what the disembodied voice had told him that he noticed a pair of immaculately shined shoes underneath the desk. Andrew quietly closed the door, stepping up close to the desk. “Nick?” he said again. Stepping round to the back of the desk, he peered underneath it, finding Nicholas curled up on the floor with his eyes closed tightly. “Shit,” he said quietly. He noticed the small bottle on the floor near Nicholas’ chair, and using his moderately trained detective skills to put two and two together to get five. He picked up the bottle and set it on the desk before getting down to his knees. “Come on, Nick,” he said, reaching under the desk.

“Go away,” Nicholas repeated.

“Sorry,” Andrew said, pulling lightly on Nicholas’ arm. Despite his protests, Nicholas got up from the floor. “Come on,” Andrew continued. “I’m taking you home.”

“Got work to do,” Nicholas said.

“And it ain’t getting done with you under there, either,” he said. “Might as well go home and go to bed.” He made sure Nicholas wasn’t going to sick all over the floor once he got to his feet, and left him in the office while he walked down to the break room. He slowly pushed the door open, poking his head in.

“You tell that bastard what’s what?” Andy asked bitterly.

“Go down to the station with To ny,” Andrew said. “I’ve got to take care of something.”

“What could you possibly have to take care of all of a sudden?” Andy demanded.

“None of your fucking business,” Andrew snapped. “I’m your DS, now fucking do what I said.”

Andy scowled at him as he shut the door before making his way back to Nicholas’ office, finding the inspector resting with his head on his desk. “Come on, Nick,” he said lightly, helping Nicholas up. “Going home.”

“Got work,” Nicholas repeated.

“I’ll take care of it,” Andrew promised. “Let’s go.” He led Nicholas out to his old Volks Wagen, helping him get settled into the passenger seat. Climbing into the driver’s seat, Andrew adjusted the volume knob on his stereo, making sure it didn’t blast them out when he turned the ignition. The car started easily, and he backed out of the space, starting on the quick drive to Nicholas’ cottage. He was surprised to find Danny’s new Mini parked outside. Doing his best to not wonder wh at on god’s green earth Danny was doing at Nicholas’ place during the day, he helped the inspector out of the car, and inside, finding Danny making a sandwich in the kitchen.

“Wot’s going on?” Danny asked, looking up at the pair.

“Could ask you the same thing,” Andrew said, watching Nicholas shuffle back to his bedroom.

“I came here for lunch so I didn’t have to go up the steps at my place,” Danny said simply. “What’s going on with Nick?”

Andrew walked into the kitchen and took a slice of turkey from the package on the counter. “I think he went back to work too early,” he said. “Found him sick under his desk.”

Danny blinked at Andrew. “He told me he weren’t havin’ headaches no more,” he said.

Andrew leaned up against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “Wasn’t aware he had an issue with them until today,” he said. “That what his prescription’s for?”

Danny nodded. “He told you?” he asked.

Andrew shook his head. “Fou nd the bottle on the floor in his office.” The officers stood silent for a few moments before Andrew finally started making his way toward the front door. “Listen, Nick had some reports he was working on today. I’m gonna take care of those for him today, if he asks.”

Danny nodded again. “He’d appreciate that,” he agreed. “Be sure to send him a copy in his email. He likes to keep all of them for some reason.”

“Right.” Andrew nodded and let himself out, leaving Danny to finish making his lunch. Danny cleaned up after himself and put the kettle on the stove, figuring Nicholas might like some tea. He took his sandwich into the living room and settled down on the sofa. He could hear Nicholas moving around in the bedroom, changing out of his uniform and getting into bed. For several moments, Danny considered turning on the telly, but decided against it, on the very real chance that even the flashing lights from the screen would upset Nicholas. Instead, he ate his lunch in silence, until the kettle on the stove started to whistle. Danny got up as quickly as possible and took it off the stove, making up a cup for each of them; Danny’s mug with four sugars Nicholas’ with one. He took the cup into Nicholas’ bedroom, setting it lightly down on the inspector’s night stand.

“Thought you might want some,” he said lightly when he noticed Nicholas was awake. “How you feel?”

“Like I’m gonna die,” Nicholas said simply.

Danny frowned and leaned over the bed, pulling shut the shades. “Try to get some sleep,” he said, bending down and lightly kissing Nicholas on the forehead. He left the tea on the night stand and left the room, quietly closing the door behind himself. Checking his watch, he saw that he had just barely enough time to get back to the courthouse before being late; not that anyone was keeping track. He made sure all the lights in the cottage were out and let himself out, making sure that the doors were locked.
“Inspe ctor, do you remember what time it was when you stopped to get petrol?”

Nicholas thought for a moment. “No, I don’t,” he said. “I’m sorry. It was before dawn, though. I do remember that.”

“You weren’t wearing a watch?” the attorney asked.

“No, I was,” Nicholas said. “But I didn’t think to check what the time was. I wasn’t exactly working on a schedule.”

“Okay,” the attorney said slowly. “Do you remember where you stopped off?”

“It was in Bufford Abbey,” Nicholas said. “No, wait. It was in Heston.” Nicholas shifted in his seat. He’d done these things dozens of times before. Why should this one be any different? And why did this guy make him so nervous?

“Was it Bufford Abbey, or was it Heston?” the attorney asked. “There’s a considerable distance between the two.”

“It was Heston,” Nicholas said.

“Are you certain, Inspector?”

Nicholas paused a moment. “Yes,” he said. He bit his lip and inhaled deeply. Just calm down and conc entrate.

“You weren’t seen again in Sandford until eight in the morning,” the attorney said. “And if you say you left Sandford ‘around two-ish’, that’s a lot of time unaccounted for. “How did you know where to find everybody if you’d been gone for so long?”

“It’s a small town,” Nicholas pointed out. “And the Village of the Year judges were there. Everyone was on the high street.”

The attorney looked at Nicholas for a few moments. “And what of the other officers?” he asked.

“They were at the station,” Nicholas said simply. “I’m sorry, what does any of this have to do with anything?”

The judge looked down at Nicholas. “I’d like to know the same thing, Mr. Baker.”

The attorney took a few steps closer to the stand. “I’m simply trying to show that Inspector Angel was gone for an extended amount of time,” he said. “That’s a lot of time during which he may not have had the opportunity to get the full story or series of events.”

“What’s not to get?” Nicholas asked. “There was a street full of people shooting at me.”

“Earlier you said that, quote, ‘everyone was on the high street’,” Mr. Baker said. “Are you to imply that ‘everyone’ then was shooting at you, since ‘a street full of people’ were shooting at you.”

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he insisted. “I…That’s not…”

“That’s enough, Mr. Baker,” the judge said finally. “Inspector, you can step down.”

Nicholas nodded. “Thank you,” he said. He made his way back out to the hall, finding Travis waiting for him.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

Nicholas leaned his head against Travis’ shoulder. Fuck image. “I’d have sworn I was the one on trial in there,” he said.

Travis shook his head, placing his hand on Nicholas’ shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

He led Nicholas down the hall and outside. As they walked to the bus stop, Nicholas slowly pulled his tie off, rolling it carefully before putting it in his pocke t as Travis reached up and unfastened Nicholas’ top button on his shirt. The bus pulled up to the curb in a fit of excellent timing, and the two men got on, Travis paying for both their fares. The ride home was quick, at least, and a good alternative to walking in occasional and sudden downpours.

Once upstairs in Travis’ flat, Nicholas pulled his jacket off, hanging it on the hook next to his uniform jacket.

“You hungry?” Travis asked lightly, picking up the phone. “I’m thinking Chinese.”

“Whatever you want,” Nicholas responded dully, letting himself fall onto the sofa. Kicking off his shoes, he stretched out over the cushions and reached for the remote, forgetting that daytime telly in London was the same boring nonsense as daytime telly in Sandford. He watched David Dickson’s technicolour glasses bounce around the screen while Travis placed his order on the phone, seemingly getting one of everything from the menu. Eventually, he hung up, and pushed Nichol as’ feet off of the sofa.

“Just move right in,” he said as Nicholas sat up. “Anything good on?”

Nicholas handed over the remote and leaned his head against Travis’ shoulder. “Bargain Hunt, or some BBC special on boys with eating disorders,” Nicholas answered flatly.

Travis considered this. “How old are the boys?” he asked.

“Twelve?”

Travis frowned and began flipping through channels, eventually settling on an afternoon news programme. The two of them sat together with a comfortable silence between them, Travis’ fingers lightly tracing the contour of Nicholas’ shoulder. “Lunch should be here soon,” he said after a few minutes. “Got you some noodles.”

“Thanks,” Nicholas said quietly. He sighed lightly.

“How you doing?” Travis asked, looking down at him. “Do you need your pills?”

Nicholas shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just tired.”

Travis sighed lightly and gently stroked Nicholas’ head. “Then we’ll stay in tonight.”
D anny stood on the platform, waiting eagerly for Nicholas to just hurry up and get off the fucking train already. When he did finally emerge from the crowd, Danny tried to bounce up and down, felt a sharp pull in his side, and leaned against the wall instead.

“You all right?” Nicholas asked, reaching out toward Danny.

“Yeah,” Danny said, nodding. “Got too excited, is all.” He forced a strained smile at Nicholas before leading the way to the car. Nicholas tossed his bag in the back seat and climbed into the passenger seat, watching as Danny slid into the car and started the ignition. “How was everything?” he asked, his voice sounding forced.

“I can’t wait until it’s all over with,” Nicholas said. “They’re just drawing this whole mess out longer than they should.”

Danny nodded stiffly. “Right,” he said. He hated talking about the trial, and thinking about all the people that were involved, and knew he shouldn’t have asked. “That…guy you’re staying with ,” he said slowly.

“Travis?” Nicholas filled in. “He’s an old friend. What about him?”

Danny kept his eyes glued to the road. “I met him, and he seemed nice and all, but I know you two…”

Nicholas sighed and twisted slightly to look at Danny. “Yes,” Nicholas said. “And I told you that. It was just something casual.”

Danny chewed his lip. “Is it… still something casual?” he asked nervously.

“No.” Nicholas said simply. “That was an agreement we made back when we were both PCs.” He reached out and put a gentle hand on Danny’s arm. “But if it makes you that uncomfortable, I’ll start staying with my parents.”

Danny glanced over at Nicholas. “You don’t have to,” he said.

“No, but you want me to,” Nicholas said simply.”

There was a brief silence. “Yeah.” Danny was embarrassed to admit it, but Nicholas was right.

“Then I’ll stay with my parents from now on.” He smiled at Danny as he leaned back into his seat. “I’ll need to sto p by Travis’ and get my stuff, though. Some things don’t travel well, so I just left them there.”

“Of course,” Danny said, already feeling better about the situation. For everything else, he knew he could always trust Nicholas to not lie to him over something important. He’d caught him lying about other things, but they were small things, where the lies had made Danny feel better about still being in hospital.
“I’m gonna ask her out.”

Travis looked up from his lunch, surprised to see Nicholas leaning over him. “Who?” he asked, swallowing quickly. “The girl from forensics?”

Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” Nicholas said. He sat down, plucking a piece of lettuce from Travis’ plate. “Do you think I should?”

“I think you should get your own lunch,” Travis said, pulling his plate away. “I thought you’d given up on women.”

“No,” Nicholas clarified. “I took a break from women after Darla. A man can only handle accusing phone calls at three in the m orning for so long.”

“I thought you two made a cute couple,” Travis said, finishing off his sandwich.

“And I thought she was mental. What’s your point?”

Travis laughed and got up from the table. “You go,” he started. “You ask that girl from forensics out. And I’ll be at my place with plenty of lager for when she turns you down.”

“And you have fun drinking it by yourself,” Nicholas shot back. “I hope you’re hung over tomorrow on patrol.”
The officers had arranged their desks into a large circle-like configuration, thus making the absolute least of the space available in the room.

“Anybody find out what happened to that Weaver kid?” Andrew asked, holding up a forgotten form, date stamped from two months past.

“His aunt took him,” Nicholas answered automatically, not even looking up from the form he was busy filling out in triplicate. He held out his hand. “I’ll take it.” Andrew shrugged and passed the form in Nicholas’ direction.

Tony found an unsigned form in his own stack. “What about…Janice Thatcher. Anybody follow up with her, yet?”

Danny tried to lean over, eventually giving up and just getting up and moving closer. “I…think we did. Doris, you went with me, didn’t you?”

Doris thought for a moment. “No, love. We’re me.”

Danny chewed his lip. “No, we didn’t. That’s right.” He sighed and took the form, setting it on his own desk. “She was worried that her sister’s daughter’s cousin what was supposed to be here for the summer holidays never showed up.”

Nicholas looked up at Danny. “Could you be a bit more specific, please?” he asked. “Was this cousin male or female?”

“Male?” Danny tried.

“Check with CSI and forensics and make sure you follow up with Missus Thatcher by Friday.” He signed the bottom of his paper, as well as the sheet Andrew had handed him before checking his watch. “I’m calling lunch,” he said tiredly. “Everybody take an hour, but keep your radi os with you. You’re all on call in the event that something should arise.”

“Thank fucking god,” Andrew said as he got to his feet, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He pulled two out, pressing them both between his lips and lighting them, before handing one off to Andy.

“And what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Nicholas snapped, jumping to his feet. He snatched both cigarettes away, tossing them into a cup of cold tea.

“Fuck, Nick!” Andrew shouted back. “You just said so yourself. We’re on lunch!”

“Lunch or not, there is to be no smoking in the building!” Nicholas picked up the tea cup and made his way to the rubbish bin, dumping the contents over the paper that probably should have been in recycle. “I don’t care what Frank told you was acceptable, and what infractions he was willing to overlook, but there’s to be no smoking in the building. If I catch it again, there will be corrective action, and cake will not be accepted!” He slammed the mug d own on the nearest desk and stomped out, slamming the door shut behind him. The rest of the officers stood round in an uncomfortable silence, staring at the floor, or playing with the buttons on their shirts.

“Fucker came back way too early,” Andrew said, pulling out two more cigarettes. He handed one to Andy, who slid it behind his ear.

“Think he needs to see a shrink,” Andy quipped.

“He needs to up his dosage.” Andrew put the unlit cigarette between his lips and walked out of the room, Andy close behind.

“What’d he mean by that?” Tony asked, finally daring to open his desk drawer and retrieve his tin Spider-man lunch box. “Dosage for what?”

Danny shook his head as he picked up his car keys. “Don’ worry ’bout it,” he said. “Nick’ll sort himself out.” He wandered out of the courthouse, finding Nicholas standing in the middle of the car park, seemingly not noticing the pouring rain that was currently trying to drown him. “Nick, you’re gonna get p neumonia. Get in the car.”

Nicholas turned round, startled to see Danny standing behind him. “Right,” he said. He wandered over to the Mini, waiting for Danny to unlock the doors. “I never did apologize for wrecking your old car,” he said genuinely.

Danny shrugged. “S’all right,” he said. “The Jetta were making a funny sound sometimes, anyway, and this one’s got a better radio.”

Nicholas tried not to laugh as he pulled on his seatbelt. Danny started the ignition, and drove them to Nicholas’ cottage, the drive outside the house nothing but mud with some rocks mixed in. They quickly hurried inside, eager to get out of the rain and get a quick lunch. Taking their shoes and jackets off at the door, they made their way to the kitchen, Nicholas going immediately for the fridge.

“How you feeling?” Danny asked nervously.

Nicholas turned round, slightly confused. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine. Why?”

Danny shrugged as he leaned against the counter. “Ju st the way you yelled at the Andes, is all,” he said.

Nicholas shook his head. “I’ve told them before not to smoke in the building.”

“Just seemed a bit much, is all.”
He’d been excused from the stand for a full half hour, but couldn’t seem to convince himself to go back to his parents’ flat. After sulking around the courthouse for some time, trying to convince himself that he was done with London; that he wouldn’t be called back for any more trials or hearings or meetings. Eventually hearing more disorder in the courtroom, he finally stood up and wandered outside, finding himself walking down the road in the direction of the station. He walked in the front doors, nodding curtly to the desk sergeant in the main entrance. For a brief moment, he considered asking Travis if he’d like to go have lunch, but gave up on that idea when he spotted Janine from across the room.

“Janine!” he called, trotting up to her. “Janine, wait.”

Janine rounded on him, c lutching tightly to a stack of papers. “Nicholas, I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m being stalked. What do you want?”

“Just…talk to me,” Nicholas said desperately. “Please.”

“Nicholas, I’m busy,” she said stiffly. “I wanted to talk months ago, and you had nothing to say.”

“Janine…” Nicholas hesitantly took a step closer. “I don’t want us to be like this?”

“Like what, Nicholas?” Janine shouted, attracting glances from everybody in the room. “We’re done!”

“It’s not just that easy,” Nicholas said defensively. “You can’t just cast everything we had aside.”

“You know I’m seeing Dave–”

“It’s not about that,” Nicholas said. “Really, I’m happy that you’ve moved on. I just feel like we should talk about what happened.”

Janine slammed her stack of papers down on a nearby desk. “What’s there to talk about, Nicholas?” she demanded. “Why are you doing this? Why here? Why right now?”

Nicholas stammered for a moment. “I neve r see you anywhere else,” he pointed out. “You’re always at a crime scene, or in the lab, or walking from one to the other. I’d just like to get the time of day from you, just once, without feeling like you resent me.”

Janine stepped closer to Nicholas. “You’re making a scene,” she hissed through her teeth. “Why are you doing this?”

“You can’t just forget about us,” Nicholas said, lowering his voice to match hers. “I’ve moved on, too, but I just feel like we need to discuss this. What’s happened has happened. You need to just grow up and face that!”

Janine slapped him across the face and picked up her papers. “How dare you,” she hissed before turning away, leaving Nicholas alone and dumbstruck in the middle of the room. Everyone was staring now, or trying not to. Inhaling deeply, Nicholas looked round the room. He turned to leave, startled to see Travis standing against a desk. Saying nothing, the sergeant walked up to him and gently put his hand on Nichola s’ shoulders, guiding him toward the front doors.

“Mind your business, you arseholes,” he said over his shoulder. He walked Nicholas out to the curb, giving him a chance to calm down. “You all right?” he asked.

Nicholas rubbed his face with his hands and nodded. “Yeah,” he managed, his voice sounding strangled.

Travis pulled him into a light hug. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself, love,” he said. “This is just her way of dealing.” Nicholas nodded against Travis’ neck. “Come on. I’ll buy you some lunch.” Nicholas nodded again as he stood up straight.

“Thanks,” he said.


The window had been left open. He wasn’t sure if it was by accident, or by habit, but either way, it was nice. The sounds of London whispered through the shades, occasionally getting loud enough for individual sounds to be picked up and understood. These weren’t the same sounds that he heard at his shared flat with Travis; these sounds were somehow less threatening. More lik e what sounds though an open window at eleven in the morning should sound like.

“It’s nice to have a proper weekend again,” Janine said quietly.

Nicholas looked down at her, his fingers gently drawing circles on her bare shoulder. “Oh?” he said, enjoying the feeling of her soft breathing on his chest.

“I had split days before,” Janine explained. “One of my deciding factors for transferring.” Nicholas nodded. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear bells ringing, drawing up some dark, hidden feeling of guilt from deep in his chest. “I’d normally be at the station right now,” Janine continued.

“I’m normally at church right now,” Nicholas said simply, not entirely sure how he felt about that statement.

Janine reached up, her fingers gently rubbing over the gold chain Nicholas wore round his neck. “I didn’t realize you were practising.”

Nicholas nodded. “Yeah,” he said, drawing Janine closer to himself and kissing her lightly on the top o f her head. “I probably won’t be missed today, though,” he reasoned. “I haven’t gone to the same church as my parents in years.”

Janine laughed lightly. “You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

Nicholas twisted his neck to look at her properly. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked. “Be kind of a stupid thing to lie about.” He closed his eyes lightly, enjoying the feeling of her fingers against his neck, and eventually his chest.

“I thought you Catholics weren’t supposed to do these sinful things before marriage,” she said slyly, her fingers lightly moving up and down Nicholas’ chest.

Nicholas shrugged. “Well, to be honest, I do enjoy this much more than being in some cold cathedral,” he said.

“That’s good,” Janine said.

“Yeah?” Nicholas smiled and lightly rolled over to his side, moving Janine onto her back, his hand trailing lightly down her side. “I think I could get used to this.”

« || »

Lamp Light #2

Nicholas stepped out onto the sidewalk, met with a heavy rain. Sighing as he pulled his jacket tightly around himself, he quickly glanced up and down the street, deciding that the easiest course of action would be to take the tube. He walked down to the station, fishing enough change from his pocket for fare. The station was crowded, which was no surprise, so Nicholas wound up once more in a queue that was simply too large to be for real. He shuffled onto the car with everyone else, finding himself pushed tightly up against one of the windows, his view limited to either the tunnel walls sipping past, or the teenage passengers in front of him snogging one another as though they were the only two people there.

Nicholas muscled his way to the door at the Regent’s Park stop, stopping on the platform for a few moments before making his way back up to street level, disappointed to find that it was still pouring rain. Sighing he made his way down the street the remaini ng few blocks to the old building. He carefully climbed the steps, not watching to touch the rotting wooden banister, and pressed down on the call buzzer for one of the flats, trying to hide under the small bit of protection offered from the edge of the roof three stories above. After a few long moments, the door buzzed back at him, and he quickly pushed on it, stepping into the warm hall way. He took his jacket off and shook it a few times before walking up the narrow flight of steps to the second floor, finding the door at the end of the hall open slightly. He let himself into the flat, stepping inside carefully. At first, the flat seemed empty, the telly playing Changing Rooms for no one in particular.

“Hello?” he called nervously.

“Back here, Nick,” a familiar voice called from the bedroom.

Nicholas nodded, hanging his jacket up on a hook on the wall as he shut the door. He walked back toward the bedroom, finding Travis standing in front of his wardrobe with a towel wrapped round his waist.

“You just get home?” Nicholas asked as he put his bag down near the foot of the bed.

“Yeah,” Travis answered easily. “Popped off early so I could be here when you got in.” He dug a pair of jeans from the wardrobe. “How was the trip?”

Nicholas shrugged. “No worse than usual,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll be glad when all this is done.”

Travis frowned slightly. He took the towel from around his waist and tossed it at Nicholas before climbing into his jeans. “You’ve been offered a position out here, you know,” he said, probably for the hundredth time.

Nicholas shook his head. “I told you,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to settle down in the country.”

Travis shook his head and pulled an old T-shit from his wardrobe, pulling it over his head. “Have you eaten yet?” he asked.

“I had some biscuits on the train,” Nicholas said simply.

Travis stepped close to Nicholas and pulle d him to his feet. “We’re going out,” he informed Nicholas. “You need to relax for tomorrow. Let’s go.”

Knowing he couldn’t well argue with Travis, Nicholas followed his friend out of the room. “Where we going?” he asked, pulling his coat down from the hook as Travis laced up his shoes.

“I figure we’ll go to the pub,” Travis said simply.

“You mean the Winchester?” Nicholas asked.

Travis shrugged. “Why not?”

“Didn’t they rename it after it burnt down?” Nicholas asked.

Travis stood up, fetching his own jacket and keys. “I think so, yeah.”

“That’s in Highgate,” Nicholas pointed out, following Travis out to the hall regardless.

“So?” Travis asked. “S’not that far away. Let’s go.” He locked his door and the two of them made their way downstairs, finding it still raining outside. Raining and cold. Each tightening their jackets, they walked back down to the tube station, stopping on the curb so Travis could hail down a cab. They climb ed into the backseat, glad to be inside the comfort of the heated vehicle.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“You know where the Winchester is?” Travis asked.

“You mean the Phoenix?” the driver asked.

“Yeah, that’s it.”
They sat in the small booth, sharing a basket of chips between the two of them, each with a barely touched pint in front of them.

“How’s that boy of yours?” Travis asked easily. “Danny, is it?”

Nicholas nodded. “He’s doing better,” Nicholas said. “Walking around on his own again.”

Travis nodded. “That’s always a good sign. Nothing lasting?”

Nicholas picked at the chips. “I never said that,” he said. “If he ever could run, he likely won’t be able to any more.”

Travis nodded. “How about you?”

Nicholas shrugged. “I can run just fine.”

“That’s good,” Travis said. He drank half of his lager at once. “Wasn’t what I meant, but that’s still good.”

Nicholas laughed. “Really, I’m fine,” he insiste d. “I’m just tired, is all.”

A young waitress came up to them, holding two large plates. “Chicken?” she asked.

Nicholas nodded, watching as she sat one of the plates in front of him, singling out the bangers and mashed for Travis. He smiled up at the waitress, watching as she walked back to the kitchen. “I really wish
you’d stay,” Travis said once she was gone. “When we transferred you, I didn’t think you’d actually stay.”

Nicholas shrugged. “They need me out there,” he said simply. And he believed it.
He sat out in the cold hall way, not wanting to see Frank any more than he had to. He was mad at him for what he’d done, and disappointed that he hadn’t seen it sooner. Frank had been the Inspector. He was supposed to uphold moral authority, and instead, he twisted the truth and made Sandford a living hell.

There were other officers in the hall, each making a point of not making eye contact with Nicholas. If he scared the other officers befor e, he was downright terrifying now. And why? All because he saw something that no one else did.

Saw something that no one else wanted to.

Eventually, he was called into the court room, asked to swear to tell the truth, forced to look at the man that he once looked up to. The man that now sat in shackles, knowing that what he had done was wrong, and simply not caring at any of it.

Nicholas answered the questions he was asked; answered questions about the cottage he was only recently allowed to move into, questions about the hotel room, questions about the other officers. Every one of them had been suspect at the beginning, but the fact that they had been allowed to return to work seemed to imply that there would be no charges brought against them. But he was still asked the questions anyway, for reasons he could not figure out, but was sure were important anyway.

When it came time to positively identify Frank as leading the operation, the former inspec tor finally lost his cool, jumping to his feet. Nicholas jumped backwards in his seat, nearly tipping over. He kept himself pressed against the wall as Frank was subdued, at which point Nicholas was excused.

He returned back to the bench in the hall way, sitting heavily next to a younger officer.

“Is it true?” the constable asked.

Nicholas looked up slowly. “Is what true?” he asked.

“Was there really a massacre out there?” The constable seemed almost scared to be saying anything to Nicholas.

Nicholas shrugged. “Yes, in a matter of speaking,” he said. He got up, patting the constable lightly on the shoulder. “Terrible things happen all the time,” he said. “It’s best not to dwell on it.”

He slowly walked away, pulling his tie from his neck. The weather had cleared up, in the sense that the clouds that hung heavily overhead were no longer emptying themselves on the streets of London. Nicholas tiredly walked down to the police station, ignorin g the stares and pitying looks he got from the other officers as he made his way to Travis’ office. Knocking twice, he let himself in, finding Travis checking his email.

“How’d it go?” Travis asked, looking up.

Nicholas shrugged. “As well as could be expected,” he said tiredly. “Am I early?”

Travis shook his head. “Partridge is on his way down,” he said. “We were expecting you a little later, but there’s not much going on right now.”

Nicholas nodded. “You already know what my answer is,” he said simply.

Travis sighed. “I know,” he said. “But he wants to hear it from you directly.”

Nicholas nodded as Travis’ office door opened once more, Inspector Partridge letting himself in. “Good afternoon, Nicholas,” he said warmly. “How are you?”

“Tired, sir,” Nicholas answered honestly.

“Yes, and you’ve got that long train ride tomorrow, haven’t you?” he asked. “Things could be a lot easier, you know.”

Nicholas shook his head. “No, s ir,” he said. “It is an unpleasant trip, but I’d like to stay in Sandford. There’s still a lot to be done out there.”

Inspector Partridge nodded. “Of course, Nicholas,” he said. “But you know, it wasn’t meant to be a permanent position.”

Nicholas shook his head. “I kinda like it there,” he said simply.

He and Inspector Partridge stared at one another for a few silent moments, Partridge all plastic smiles and perfect hair, with Nicholas visibly tired, run down, and still in a bit of pain. “Yes, well,” Inspector Partridge said. “I suppose we would need to find ourselves a new inspector out there if you did come back to London,” he agreed. He looked down at Travis, sitting awkwardly behind his desk. “Sergeant,” he said. “Make sure you get those reports on my desk by five.”

Travis nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, watching as Inspector Partridge left his office. “What a twat.”

Nicholas laughed lightly, glad somebody finally said it. “I need to get going, ” he said. “I’ve still got things I need to do.”

Travis smiled up at him. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said easily.

Nicholas made his way out of Travis’ small office, and found his way down the cool halls, tiredly going through the course without really watching where he was going. He looked up from his feet, pausing suddenly when he saw another office door open. Maybe if he didn’t say anything, she wouldn’t notice him.

“Nicholas, what are you doing here?” she asked sharply.

“Just on my way out,” Nicholas said softly. He looked at Janine a few moments, trying to find a way to avoid uncomfortable silences. “Since I’m in town for the night, did you want to maybe–”

“No, Nicholas,” Janine said stiffly. “I’m seeing Dave now. You know that. We’re finished.”

“I didn’t mean like that,” Nicholas insisted. “I just…”

“Nicholas, just leave me alone,” Janine said, a slight strain in her voice as she pushed past him, knocking him off balance slig htly. He turned to watch her hurry down the hall before continuing on in his own direction.
Nicholas and Travis stood outside the Winchester, laughing with one another at a girl across the street. They’d had an early start on the night, having each already had a pint of cider while waiting for Dave to finally show up.

“What the hell is she wearing?” Travis asked, trying to whisper. He sounded more like he was being strangled.

“I think I saw something like that in a movie once,” Nicholas responded. “Only I don’t think she was wearing a tutu in the film.”

A sudden wind picked up, catching the large cardboard wings of the girl across the street. Leaning against one another, Nicholas and Travis howled with laughter. “Should we help her?” Nicholas asked. “I feel like we should do something, but I don’t think we have jurisdiction over the fashion police’s area.”

Travis buried his face in Nicholas’ neck, shaking with laughter.

“What the hel l are you two queers doing?” a familiar voice demanded. Nicholas and Travis looked up at Dave, being trailed by two women, and laughed even harder for a few moments before trying to sober up. “What the hell is that?” Dave exclaimed loudly, pointing across the street. Nicholas and Travis lost their composure again. “You lot are already pissed,” Dave said in disgust. “You couldn’t wait for us?”

Nicholas straightened up and cleared his throat. “Sorry,” he said, a hint of a laugh around the edges of his voice. “You said seven.”

Dave frowned and shook his head. “All this one’s fault,” he said nodding his head toward his new girlfriend, Denise. “Wouldn’t leave unless…” he turned round to second girl with him. “What’s your name, love?”

“Janine,” she answered in a way that suggested she’d answered the same question several times already.

“Right,” Dave said. “Wouldn’t leave unless Janine agreed to come with. Women, eh?”

Travis and Nicholas both chuckle d slightly, leading the way back into the pub, and to the corner booth they had already reserved. Nicholas and Travis slid in first, Janine confidently sitting next to Nicholas while Dave spent several long moments convincing Denise to just please sit the fuck down already. Several moments after getting settled, a waiter came round with three pints of cider, pausing for a moment at the inclusion of two new faces.

“Oh,” he said, slightly confused. “What can I get you ladies?”

“Guiness,” Janine said simply.

The waiter nodded. “And you?” he asked Denise.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Uhm… Maybe just a spritzer.”

The waiter smiled lightly and disappeared.

“What do you do?” Nicholas asked, moving a napkin underneath his cider.

“I’m in forensics,” Janine answered.

“Really?” Nicholas couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t seen her before. “Here in London?”

The waiter returned with the drinks, setting each in front of the gi rls. Janine took a drink of her Guiness and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I just transferred in from another precinct earlier this month. You’re all cops, right?”

Nicholas smiled. “Yeah,” he said, taking a drink of his cider. “We go out a few times a week like this. You should come more often.”

Janine gave him a sideways glance as she reached for a computer-printed menu from the rack behind Nicholas’ head. “We’ll see how good the food is first.”

Nicholas laughed. “Try the chicken,” he suggested. “I think that’s what I’m having tonight.”

“We’ll see.”

They leaned over the menu together, Nicholas boldly moving closer to her, a move not missed by the rest of their group. “What’s the matter, Travis?” Dave asked quietly, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Mad that your boyfriend’s trying to get laid without you?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Travis insisted.

“I’m not his boyfriend,” Nicholas confirmed, his face turning a fair shad e of red.

“No, that’s right,” Dave said. “You’d be official then, and that’s against regulations.”

Travis and Nicholas both reached for the bowl of twiglets on the table, each throwing a handful at Dave. “Fuckers!” Dave said loudly. They each threw another handful at him, Janine joining in on the sport
as well.

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Lamp Light #1

The first time Nicholas spent the night in Danny’s bed, he didn’t sleep a minute. He knew what lava lamps were; he was familiar with their concept and design, but he’d never seen one in person before. Shapeless yellow orbs dancing recklessly in vibrant red fluid. Complete chaos contained safely inside a glass bottle. Nicholas had never seen anything quite like it in his life, and he stayed up to watch every minute of it.

Danny knocked heavily on the door before letting himself in. Nicholas had given him a spare copy of the key to the front door around the time he was made inspector, and during which Danny was still in his later stages of recovery. “You won’t have to go up as many steps if you start to hurt.” And Danny had graciously accepted the key, because to be honest, Nicholas’ kitchen always seemed to be better stocked. Later, when he was able to do his own shopping, and a half-flight of steps didn’t hurt quite so bad, he’d considered giving th e spare key back, but then they got a call out, and Nicholas had a hearing in London, and Danny had an unexpected hospital visit, and the next thing he knew, it was another two months and he still hadn’t given it back.

Danny wandered through the small cottage, looking for the errant inspector, and finding only a sleeping cat. “Hey, sweetie,” he said, scratching it behind its ears. “Where’s that man of yours?” The cat yawned and went back to sleep, leaving Danny on his own with this hunt. Eventually, he made his way outside, surprised to actually have found Nicholas. He was standing barefoot in the damp grass, wearing an old dressing gown he’d likely gotten from Oxfam, just looking up at the sky. Danny walked up next to him, hands casually in his pockets, and looked up to whatever Nicholas was watching.

“What’chya lookin’ at?” he asked after a few moments.

“Nothing,” Nicholas responded after a few moments. “Just looking.”

Danny looked up once more; loo king at the sliver and nearly-black towering clouds that rolled overhead, and the patches of blue that managed to push through. “How long you been out here in your underwear?” he asked finally.

“Just after it stopped raining,” Nicholas answered, finally meeting Danny’s eyes. “And I am not in my underwear. I’ve pyjamas underneath my robe.”

Danny smiled. “Sure,” he said, starting to walk back into the cramped cottage. “You’re gonna be late.”

Nicholas took a moment to consider this before heaving a light sigh and following Danny inside. “Do you want to get some breakfast?” he asked hopefully, padding his way into the kitchen.

Danny put down the small jade panda he’d been inspecting as he slowly looked up. “I don’t think we got time,” he said. “If I’d known you were wanting to go stare at the sun, I’d have come a little earlier.”

Nicholas frowned lightly and retreated from the kitchen.

He felt tired, but not sleepy enough to fall asleep. Or may be he was sleepy enough, but the glass of the car window his head was leaning against was cold and rattling about and generally turning his brain to scrambled eggs. At least Danny was being quiet, content to just drive, and let Nicholas watch as the scenery of the west country strolled along beside them. It was the same comfortable silence they’d shared half a dozen times before, Danny providing Nicholas transportation to the train station without argument or asking for anything in return. Nicholas liked the freedom from having to relieve his wallet of sixty pounds, and Danny liked the time away from the other responsibilities that had suddenly come crashing down upon each of the officers without warning.

“Do you want me to wait with you?” Danny asked lightly, carefully breaking the silence between them.

“What?” Nicholas asked, sitting up quickly. “Oh, no. You don’t have to,” he said. “It might be a bit of a wait.”

Danny nodded lightly, finding an empty spo t outside the train station that would suit for letting Nicholas get his overnight bag from the boot. It was smaller than most people would take for two days in London, but Nicholas wasn’t most people. Danny suspected he never was, and would likely never be.

“Friday evening, right?” he asked, leaning across the passenger seat.

Nicholas turned round, startled that anything had been said. “Yeah,” he answered tiredly. “I’m getting in just before six-thirty.”

Danny nodded again. “See you then,” he said, smiling genuinely.

Nicholas forced his own smile before turning around. The station was busy, but not necessarily packed by any means. Mostly students, making their way to their respective universities and colleges. Checking his watch, Nicholas saw that his train was not scheduled for another forty-five minutes. After a few minutes hunting, he managed to find an empty bench along a far wall of the train station, content to watch the individual people aroun d him.

It had rained sometime between arriving, and when they had finally decided to leave. They hadn’t heard anything while inside the thick walls, but watching Travis step into a puddle up to his ankles had been enough to confirm their suspicions.

“Oh, shit,” he said, giggling the way he only did when he was four ciders past one too many. “These are my uniform trousers.”

Nicholas stopped in his step to look down at the mess on Travis’ trousers. “Tough luck, mate,” he said, placing a firm hand on his shoulder, guiding him down the side walk. A few moments later, he paused, looked down the direction they were heady, and turned round, Travis still in tow. “No, wait.”

Finally, Dave stumbled out of the heavy doors, still clutching tightly to a half-full pack of pig snacks. “There you pricks are,” he said, stepping in the same puddle Travis had fallen victim to. “Shit. These are my work trousers.”

His face already bright red, Nicholas howled i n laughter.

“What’s so funny, Angel?” Dave snapped.

Nicholas shook his head. “I don’t know,” he managed.

Dave and Travis joined in the chorus with Nicholas, each taking a solid hold of Nicholas’ arms, and leading him down the side walk.

Nicholas nearly missed his train being announced. Snatching up his overnight bag, he rushed to platform eight, joining in the hurried queue. By sheer luck alone, he managed to secure a seat near the window. A few moments later, a young boy slid into the seat next to him, carefully leaning over Nicholas’ lap to look out the window.

“Brandon,” a young woman said, her voice hushed. “Leave the nice man alone.”

Nicholas looked up slowly, taking a moment to connect her voice and the child’s presence. “No, he’s fine,” Nicholas assured.

The boy smiled up at Nicholas, carefully sitting back in his seat. “Hi,” he said timidly.

“Hi,” Nicholas responded easily.

“Are you a policeman?” the boy asked.

Nicholas tilted his head slightly, before remembering that his jacket had an embroidered shield near the lapel. “Yes, I am,” he answered.

The boy smiled. “Cool.”

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