ANGEL

by elfin


“Peter… do you want to go for a drink before home?”

Instantly regretting making the date with Karl on the squash court two days ago, Peter frowned.  “I can’t.  I’m seeing a film with a friend.”  He hesitated.  “Unless there’s something you want to talk about?”

Andy shook his head, not looking at his colleague.  “No.  It’s fine.  Go on, you get off home.”

There was no hint of hurt in his voice, no hint that there was anything else on his mind but the case.  But Peter knew better.  Still, with a sigh he told Andy he would see him in the morning and started off, heading back through the forest.

He stopped after a hundred yards and turned back to see his boss staring at the open grave of the little girl whose skeleton Peter’s dig team had dug up.  He couldn’t leave.  Taking his phone out of his jacket pocket, Peter scrolled down through the list of numbers and made a call.

“Karl?  Pete.  Sorry, I’m gonna have to cancel on you….  I know, I know.  No, not this time.  A friend needs me.  I’m really sorry….  I will.  Thanks.”

He started back towards Andy.

~

"Have you ever thought about dying, Peter?  Course you haven't.  You're still immortal.  I  have.  When that idiot shot me in the Grenadier, I thought that was it.  Never felt anything like it in my life.  Like my chest was exploding.  All I could hear was you yellin.  It was all I could hear for about a week.  Thought I'd died and gone to hell."

Peter smirked kindly, "Not heaven?"

Andy glanced at him sideways.  "Eternity with you is not my idea of heaven, Sunbeam."

"I'll try not to be offended."  Peter drained the rest of his pint and tapped the empty glass on the table.  He looked at Andy's barely-touched drink.  "Don't suppose you fancy another then?" he asked uselessly.

"Nah, lad.  But you go on, I'll drive back."

He hesitated.  "Sure?"

"Aye, course."


Quickly served, Peter sat back down with a fresh pint. 

"Do you want to talk?" he managed finally.  He'd been trying to get the words out all afternoon.  He knew how they sounded, knew the reaction they'd inspire.  But he had to ask.

And Andy had to look at him like he'd sprouted ears and a tail.  But the brutal honesty of his verbal response surprised them both.

"She's not my sister.  She's my half-sister and I didn't know.  Our Mam never told me.  She resented me because she already had a brother and in her eyes I’d always been trying to replace him.  I thought... when she goes, I'll be the only one left.”

“No other family?”

Dalziel shook his head.  “I can’t help thinking about Mark.  Not sure he’d have ever really been my son but at least I’d have known.”
 
“Would you have told Mark, eventually?”

“I don’t know.  Depends, I guess, on how I think we would have taken it.  I would have preferred him not to know if he was gonna hate me.  I never got the chance to find out.”

“I used to think sometimes you treated me like your errant child.”  He was careful to keep his tone light, not wanting to make this awkward.

But Andy gave him a wry smile.  “That’s never how I thought of you.  You’re a good friend.”  He picked up his pint but instead of drinking it he just stared into the dark ale.  “I really am the only one left.  Pure Dalziel.  When I go, that's the end of that.”  He supped his pint.  “Seems such a waste of effort on the part of my ancestors."

Peter stared at him while he formed the words, "Just because your line ends doesn't mean the Dalziels'll be forgotten."

"No?”  Andy took a sip of beer without his usual enthusiasm.  “Who's to remember me?"

"Most of Wetherton?!  Seriously, I’m here, Rosie’s here.  You're part of my family, Andy.  It doesn't matter that it's not blood.  Everything we've been through, it's more than that."

Usually he shied away from such impassioned speeches around the big man.  But he hated seeing Dalziel so down.  Usually he was the miserable one, Andy was the hot-headed one and Wieldy provided light relief.  It wasn't often the roles of the triumvirate changed.

Supping his pint, he risked a glance in Andy's direction and caught the surprised, moved gaze just before it hardened.

Andy nodded once and gulped down half his beer.  If Peter hadn't known much, much better... he would have believed he'd actually brought a tear to the stony eyes of Andrew Dalziel.  A great feat indeed.

Composed, Andy breathed a long-suffering sigh and rose from the seat, heading for the Gents without a word.

Peter sat back, fighting an unreasonable urge to make a run for it.  Conversations like this had never come easy to them.  He had friends he'd known half as well for half as long who he could talk to with more relaxed ease than he could to Andy.

But it was the nature of their friendship.  An unlikely friendship too, being as Andy was his boss.  But over the years their relationship had changed.  Dalziel had been his superior, his mentor, his rescuer on more than one occasion, and very slowly had become his friend.

He had no idea what he was to Andy.  Sometimes he felt like a servant or a slave.  Other times he felt like a surrogate son.  On very rare occasions he could actually believe Andy cared for him.

“I can hear the cogs turning from ‘ere,” Andy told him as he sat back down.  “Thanks for the drink, Peter.  You didn’t have to cancel your night out.”

Peter shrugged.  “Karl’s used to it.”

“Karl?”

“The guy I was going to the cinema with.”

Andy picked up his drink and finished half of it in one swallow.  “For some reason I thought… he’d be a she.”

Peter laughed.  “Some hopes!”  He shook his head.  “Just… can’t find it in me to bother dating at the moment."

“Thought I’d taught yer better than that.”

They sat for a couple of minutes in a companionable silence before Peter set his pint down again.  “Are you hungry?”

“Aye, reckon I could eat.”

Smiling, Peter started to think about restaurants.

# # #

It was instinctive to step out in front of Andy when Jamie raised the shotgun. 

Peter didn’t even think, he just moved, protecting the other man, his body a shield in case Jamie should fire.

Although Jamie’s hands were shaking and his aim wasn’t what it might have been, the wide, twin barrels of the shotgun were pointed in their direction.

"Come on, now," Peter purred, accent softened by the care with which he was choosing his words.  "No need for that.  You were just children.”

“We were supposed to protect her.”

“You weren’t responsible."

Jamie's face crumpled.  "Of course we were responsible!  I should have looked after her.  I promised!"

Keeping calm, Peter reassured him.  "But it wasn't your fault.  You weren't to know what he was capable of!  You trusted him."  He paused.  "Come on, put the gun down."

Tears sliding down his chilled, reddened face, Jamie started to lower the weapon.

A second later they heard a cry. 

Jamie's name in a voice that sounded piteously desperate.


Wieldy – coming down from the church, just stepping into the clearing – also heard the priest's shout, followed a moment later by a gunshot as it pierced the quiet of the dark night, sending the hitherto sleeping woodland wildlife into panic.


There was nothing either of them could do.  It happened too fast.

The massive bullet left the barrel of the gun. 

It travel led the short distance between Jamie and Peter, seeking its victim, tearing easily through the light material of Peter’s white cotton shirt. 

It tore into his chest with such momentum that it shattered a rib, brutally drilling a path through his heart and lung and exiting his back in a bloody explosion of flesh and bone.

Peter and Andy had been standing so close together that the bullet immediately burrowed into the chest of its second victim, ripping into his rapidly-beating heart, dropping him a split-second after Peter.

Its task complete, the bullet drove itself into the hard ground and stopped an inch into the soil.


Wieldy screamed.  A full-throated, deep sound that rumbled up through his body and crashed out through his mouth.

He stumbled into the clearing, eyes torn from the crumpled bodies of Peter and his boss only by a second shot fired at close range.  Jamie taking his own life.

Ignoring the freshly bleeding body slumped against the Angel Oak Wieldy crouched beside the other two men, mobile already in his hand, muttering thanks to an unanswering God that he had a signal out here as he managed to make the call.

He gave concise, clear instructions to the girl at the Wetherton control centre before dropping the phone to the loose top-soil.

"Pete...."  There were tears in his voice even if there were none on his face, as with shaking hands he peeled back one side of Peter's thick, black leather jacket.

There was no blood. 

Where there should have been a dark red blossoming rose there was nothing.  Just Peter's shirt, in tact.

With only a moment's hesitation, he pressed his palm against Peter's stomach, moving down slowly to his abdomen, carefully spreading his fingers, knowing they must encounter a warm stickiness sooner or later.

But they didn't.

He'd seen Jamie fire, seen Peter fall only a heartbeat before Andy was taken down with him.

And suddenly, impossibly, Andy moved. 

"Peter....”  Voice weak, he pulled one trembling arm out from between them and wrapped it awkwardly around Peter's chest where his colleague lay on top of him.  “Peter….  Oh, God, Pete….”

Now Wieldy's wide eyes and the shaking of his hands were the only signs of panic or fear.  When he looked at Andy and spoke his voice was remarkably steady.

"Sir, the ambulance is on its way.  Just lie still."

But Andy was frowning, shaking his head.  His mind was telling him one thing but his body was telling him quite another.

Wield was staring at Andy's arm, the one he'd pulled from between he and Peter.  There was no blood on it.  There should have been blood, lots of blood.  But there wasn’t.

"Sir... have you been shot?"

Andy's furious eyes locked on to his sergeant and he growled, "Of course I've been shot, Wieldy!  So has Peter!"

"I... I don't think he has, Sir."

Wieldy pressed two chilled fingers to Peter's throat.  He was certainly unconscious, head lolling against Andy's chest.  But his pulse was as strong and as regular as if he'd been wide-awake.

As soon as Andy started to sit up, Wield stopped him.

“I think you should stay where you are, Sir.”

Andy swatted his hand away.

“I’m fine, lad.”

“But… you said….”

“I know what I said.  I felt the bullet.  But I can’t feel it now.  So help me up.”

Against his better judgement, Wieldy took Peter gently by the shoulders and helped the big man with him. 

Finally sitting up, hands on Peter's arms, Andy held him like that against him.  Only when his own breathing had settled to something approaching normal did he open one side of Peter’s jacket to survey the white of his shirt.

“If we were shot, Wieldy, shouldn’t there be… blood?”

“Yes, Sir.”  The words sounded stupid even to his own ears, but there was no other answer.  There was no other explanation.  He couldn’t help but glance up at the sprawling oak tree, the tree under which a miracle had once occurred.

“Don’t even think about it,” Andy muttered, still feeling his own chest and stomach while keeping Peter held tightly against him, head on his shoulder.  “Why’s he unconscious?”

“I don’t know, Sir.”

Dalziel rolled his eyes and put his spare hand to better use, not-so-gently patting Peter’s face.

“Come on, Sunbeam, no sleeping on the job.”

Peter opened his eyes and instantly took a deep, desperate breath, hands clutching at his chest.  Andy’s hand squeezed his arm and he looked around.

“I was shot.”

“I know, Pete.  It’s okay.  You’re okay.” 

“I felt it!”  He glanced gingerly at Wieldy and then down at his own chest.  “Wasn’t I…?”

“Yes, Sir,” Wieldy repeated.  “Both of you were shot.  I saw it.”

“Both…?  Andy?”  Peter turned suddenly, the hands on his arms guiding him slightly.

“I’m fine, lad.”

Peter pulled back and turned, grasping the edges of Andy’s jacket and opening it, needing to check for himself. 

“Are you okay?”

Andy nodded, affection in his expression and his words, “Takes more than a nutter with a guilt complex and an elephant gun to get rid of me.”

Reaching for Wieldy’s proffered hand, Peter got to his feet, mindful of any painful sign that the bullet had maybe hit another part of his anatomy. 

But all he felt was a sudden, bone-deep chill. 

Shivering, he gave Andy a hand up.

“Shock mebbe,” Wieldy offered, shrugging off his jacket and following Peter’s silent order to wrap it around Dalziel’s shoulders. 

Andy rolled his eyes but accepted it.

He stepped close to Peter, almost unconsciously, taking a deep breath to steady himself.  And for the first time since the shooting he saw Jamie.

“Silly sod,” he muttered.  “And where’s that vicar?  The one that almost got Peter and me killed?”

Wieldy had to bite back the words - ‘Did get you killed!  You should both be dead!’

The ambulance sirens shattered the fragile quiet again, although once on the scene there wasn’t a lot for the crew to do.

Wield had to apologise.  He explained what he saw, unable to produce an actual patient for the paramedics to deal with as Dalziel had gone off in search of Father Tibbings and Peter had vanished to break the tragic news to Sue, Jamie’s widow.

Apart from being cold, there was nothing obviously wrong with either of them.

~

Dalziel looked up as Pascoe wandered passed his office, yawning widely.

“Didn’t sleep, lad?” he called out.

Peter stopped, detouring into Andy’s office, following the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  He perched on the edge of the desk and picked up the red, chipped mug from close to Andy’s hand – too busy flicking through the pages of the file Bomber had found in Terry's B&B room to hold a mug - and took a slug, feeling the bitter burn at the back of his throat.

“You’ll be after my chair next!” Andy exclaimed, swiping the mug back out of Peter’s hands, careful not to spill any of it.

“I need the caffeine,” Peter complained, “I didn’t sleep a wink.  And I’m freezing – is it just me or is the air con working overtime this morning?”

Andy looked up at him, taking pity and rolling his eyes as he sacrificed his coffee.  “I had the heating on full blast all night - couldn’t warm up.”

Peter sheepishly took the offered mug back and as he did so his fingers brushed Andy's.  A flicker of warmth danced along them and he couldn't help but glance at the other man to see if Andy had felt it too.  He had.  It was clear in his expression of faint surprise.

Confused, muttering his thanks, Peter wrapped his hands around it the mug gratefully and took another sip, starting to warm slightly.

Andy too finally felt the chill leaving his limbs but before he could say anything Wieldy stepped into the office dangling a small evidence bag from between his fingers, Bomber following closely behind.

“What’s that, Sunshine?  Daily rations from yon book dealer?”

Wieldy ignored the comment about Edwin with practised ease.  “This is the bullet they found in the ground last night, under where you two fell.”

Dalziel reached for it, taking the top of the bag between index finger and thumb.  Inside was a large, squat pellet with a flat base and a conical point, about an inch long and half an inch wide.  He thought he could see dark red against the dull metal.

"Are you saying that this bullet went from Jamie's gun and somehow ended up behind us two muppets standing in front of it?"

"I can confirm that it came from Jamie's gun - the same weapon that he killed himself with just seconds later."

Dalziel's lips curled.  "How the hell can you confirm that?"

“Ballistics, Sir.”  But he knew it wasn’t the question that was being asked his boss wanted answering, it was the question that was being implied.  With the big man, it usually was.  “They got up especially early.”  He kept a straight face and looked from Dalziel to Pascoe.  And noticed how close Pascoe was leaning into the big man’s shoulder from his perch on the edge of the desk. 

As he watched he saw Peter take the evidence bag from Andy and noticed them brush their fingers over each other's.  Whether it was deliberate, whether they even knew they were doing it, he wasn’t certain.  But didn’t think so.

“I need it back, Sir.  I’m on my way to forensics.”

Peter handed it over.  “What are you expecting to find?”

“I wouldn’t like to speculate, Sir.”

*

Peter shivered as he stepped back into the woodland clearing that could have - should have as far as the evidence so far suggested - been his grave.  Andy’s too.

At his side, Wieldy frowned.  "Cold, Sir?"

Shaking his head, Peter shrugged a moment later.  "Not as bad as I was last night and this morning.  Probably just shock.”

Wieldy recognised his own explanation.  But in the cold light of day he wasn't convinced he'd been right.

Peter crouched down in the very spot he'd been standing when he'd been shot.  Or thought he'd been shot.  "That bullet can't have been fired last night."

"Ballistics say that the shotgun was fired twice.  There isn't any evidence to say that Jamie had fired it before you got here.  What would he have been firing at?  And even if there was something, no one heard it."  Wieldy tried to keep his voice neutral, not supportive of any one theory.

But Peter was staring up at him.  "What did you see?"

"I saw...."  It was very rare that he stalled for words.  And Peter knew that.  Wieldy crouched down opposite the other man, leaving empty the space in which Pascoe and Dalziel had fallen.  "I saw Jamie shoot you.  I saw you fall back into Andy and I swear, Pete, I swear I saw blood."

Pascoe stared at his friend for a long time before frowning and shaking his head.

"No.  We'd be dead.  At the very least we’d be badly injured.  It's impossible!"

Wieldy raised his eyebrows but couldn't come up with a counter-argument.  In his head and his heart he knew Peter and Andy should both be dead.  He could only be thankful that they weren't.

Sighing, Pascoe rose to his feet and Wieldy did likewise, following the other man as he started to walk deeper into the wood.

"Does it matter?"  Wieldy broke the peaceful silence a couple of minutes later.

Peter glanced at him, glad to have his mind taken off the chill in his body.  "Does what matter?"

"What happened.  Whatever happened.  You're here, you're both okay.”  But even before he asked he knew.

It was who Peter and Andy were.  They'd want to solve this puzzle like any other crime.  They would want to know what happened.  It was who, but more to the point it was what, they were.

“I just… I need to know.  See… I felt it.  Or, I thought I did.  But I can’t have.”

The shrill chirp of Peter’s mobile disturbed the peaceful clearing. 

Wieldy watched his colleague glance at the screen before answering.  "Andy?"

He couldn't keep his eyebrows in place.  The tone of Peter's voice was softer than he could ever remember him sounding.  It might have been a lover on the other end of the call.  But it wasn't.  It was his boss.

Peter listened for a minute or so then nodded.  "Sure.  We'll be right there."  Ending the call, he glanced at is companion.  "What?"

*

Peter glanced across when Andy stepped out onto the balcony beside him.  The snowfall was heavier now, as beautiful in the lights of the city centre as it had been out in Henleydale.

He'd pulled his thick winter coat on over the t-shirt and sweater he'd been wearing all evening despite the heating being on full for the last twenty-four hours.

“Still cold?” Andy asked him gently.

Peter nodded.  “I just wanted to see the snow.  You didn’t have to do the washing up, I have a dishwasher.”

“New fangled technology.”  Andy winked at him.  “You know me.  Besides, I miss washing up for two.”

“I’ll bet you don’t.”  He pulled the sleeves of the over-sized sweater out from the shorter arms of his coat, down over his hands.  He was shivering.  It didn't make any difference - inside or outside he was just as cold.  “Like you don’t miss tripping over my shoes or finding my socks in the oven.”

Andy rubbed his own arms.  The heat from the flat could still be felt through the slightly-open balcony doors but he might as well have been standing in the arctic.  “It’s… quiet in the house without you, Sunbeam.  Guess I got used to having yer around.”

“Don’t tell me you want me back?” Peter asked, teasing, taking a step sideways to nudge Andy’s shoulder with his own.  A soothing warmth ebbed from the point of the touch.  He glanced at Andy, seeing surprise mirrored on the eclectic features.  "Did you feel that?"

"Aye, you feel warm.  Or I feel warm."  He looked around.  "You got some of that new technology out here too?  Balcony heating or sommat?"

Peter shook his head.  "New builds like this one - you get the bricks and that's about it."  The cold was seeping back now and he folded his arms around himself.  "Come on, it's like the arctic out here."

"It's not much warmer inside."  Andy observed.  "You do have central heating?"

"It's been on since last night!" Peter confirmed indignantly.

Turning away from the beautiful wintry view, Andy slid the balcony door closed behind them and locked it.  "Same as at my place.  I thought the boiler had finally packed in when I got back last night but the radiators were hot enough."

"Maybe it's just us."

"Aye, mebbe.  What do they call it?  Delayed shock?  Comes from not being shot."  He smiled at Peter.  "I'd better be off."

"Are you all right, Andy?  I mean...."

"I know what you mean.  I'm okay.  I'm just glad Harriet and I made our peace before the end."

Peter hadn't told him what the doctor had said about his sister already having died before they'd got there.  He didn't know what it meant but he didn't think it was important.  Andy was the one left behind.  He was the one who had to find a way of carrying on.  He could believe whatever he wanted to believe, Peter wasn't going to take that from him.

"When's the funeral?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

"I'll go with you."

Andy sighed, "Peter..."

"Don't argue!"  It came out sharper than he'd meant and he reached to squeeze Andy's arm, a gesture of apology, sympathy and understanding.

It was a few seconds before he realised he was still standing like that.  Touching.  Warm.

"Peter?"

Eyes flicking from his hand to meet the questioning expression, he said quietly, "What's going on, Andy?"

~

The next morning Dalziel found Peter sitting in his chair behind his desk, face a mask of misery.  He had his heavy leather jacket pulled around him, the collar of a thick jumper visible at his neck, hands wrapped around a mug of something with steam curling out of it.

He looked up through tired eyes as Andy closed the door behind him and crossed to sit on the edge of his own desk.  Without a word, he reached out and put a hand on Peter's shoulder.

Whereas the previous night the warmth had been gentle, today the change was incredible.  Heat flooded his body.  He could feel his extremities again - his fingers and toes tingling as if he'd just come in to a warm room from a wintry walk.  He felt the blood in his cheeks.

Keeping a hold of the mug in one hand, Peter covered Andy's with his other, pinning it to his shoulder, meeting his boss' bemused gaze.

“Feel that?”

Peter nodded.  "Maybe we should speak to an expert."

"Oh, aye.  Know any, do you?"

He shrugged slightly.  "Depends on what you want," he said with a smile that didn't quite ring true, "a priest or a scientist?"

"How about a doctor and we go from there?"

He nodded.  "Just... stay there for a minute?" 

It wasn't an easy thing to ask, and the physical contact certainly wasn't something they were used to.  But Peter wasn't above moving the boundaries, changing the rules if it meant not feeling the chill that was starting to bite deep into his bones.

They both started guiltily though when, a couple of minutes later, Wieldy knocked and entered.  He glanced at them but only seemed to register concern at their unusual closeness.

"Sirs, I've got the forensics report back on the bullet."  He showed them the file, which oddly matched the distinctly grey colour of his face, but didn't hand it over.  Didn't carry on.

Andy stood, but he just moved to stand behind Peter, ass against the radiator, hand still on his colleague's shoulder even though Peter had returned his own hand to the mug of cooling coffee. 

The tender touch might have been out of character but his manner certainly wasn't.  "Well?  Spit it out, Sunshine, don't just stand there like a gargoyle."

Years of restraint meant Wield ignored the sleight without batting an eyelid.  "The bullet had both of you's DNA on it.  Blood and tissue."

Peter shook his head slowly.  "What does that mean?"

"It means the bullet was fired from Jamie's gun and hit both of you.  It means you were both shot.  It means you should both be dead."

"But we're not," Andy pointed out.

"Maybe we are."

It took the big man a moment to find his voice.  "Aye, and mebbe you've lost it, Sunbeam."

Peter craned his neck to look back and up at Andy.  "Maybe that's what this is."  He indicated Andy's hand on his shoulder with his eyes.

Wieldy saw it.  "What what is, Sir?"  With him, the 'Sir' always seemed just that little bit redundant.

"We don't know," Andy answered for Peter - something he very rarely did.  He usually liked to enjoy listening to his younger colleague put his own foot in it without assistance.  "But we're going to find out."

~

Dalziel's reaction to himself and his partner being shot at had been to arrest everyone and sort them out in the cold light of day.

But Harriet's death had distracted him and in the background Peter had released everyone at the same time as ordering a full investigation into Father Tibbings and his superiors.

No one questioned it.  Dalziel and Pascoe were the same person as far as most of North Yorkshire CID was concerned.  To speak to one was to speak to the other.

Peter and Andy went through the list of people involved - those who'd been absolved of any wrong-doing, those who were still being investigated for one thing or another - looking for someone to talk to.

But in the end it was Wetherton General Hospital they ended up at, and a Dr Saran Prasad - the same doctor who'd looked after Harriet in her last days.

They told him what had happened out in the wood, first from their points of view and then the story as the evidence was telling it.

Prasad listened.

They tried to explain the chill they each felt when they weren't in physical contact with one another, a chill that was seemingly preventing them from sleeping.

Prasad listened with a slight rise of one eyebrow.

When they'd finished, all he said was 'roll up your sleeves' and 'open wide'.  He popped a thermometer in Peter's mouth and took Andy's blood pressure, then swapped them around.

He told Andy his blood pressure was too high and he was overweight.  He told Peter his blood pressure was also slightly elevated but as he appeared to be a healthy young man who did plenty of exercise it probably wasn't anything to worry about.

But after studying each temperature reading in turn he decided the instrument was faulty.  Popping out for a minute or two he returned with an electronic temperature gauge which, to both men's relief, he stuck in Peter's ear.

"This is impossible," he muttered to himself, just for a second seeing his two bemused patients as nothing more than specimens.  Then he took Andy's temperature again and sat back down behind his desk to stare at the confirmed readings.

When he finally looked up and met the curious stares, he said simply, "You should both be dead.  There are cadavers in the morgue with higher body temperatures."  Shaking his head, he went on, "I have no idea how or why you're both still walking around."

Andy, who had a more sceptical view of doctors than Peter, leaned forward and held out his wrist.  "Doc, no offence, but you're talking crap.  I have a pulse.  And my inspector here is very energetic for a dead man."

Holding out his hands in surrender, Prasad nodded his agreement.  "I know.  I can't explain it.  But you said that forensic evidence pointed to the bullet having hurt you both.  You said it had DNA from both of you on it."

"Contamination," Peter speculated, "nothing more sinister than that."

"Right."  Andy agreed wholeheartedly. 

"Contamination?  Your blood, your boss' blood, got on that bullet... how?  And the normal temperature of a healthy, human body - a living body - is 98.6 degrees.  You both have a temperature of 91."

Not believing anything he was hearing any longer, Andy got to his feet.  But Peter was willing to carry the argument through.

"So you're saying that contrary to the evidence of us both still walking, talking and breathing, you think we were shot and killed two nights ago?"

Prasad leaned back.  "Of course that's not what I'm saying.  That's utterly ridiculous."

"Then... what are you saying?"

"I'm saying, I don't know how you both are still walking and talking and breathing!"  His voice raised in pitch.  "I don't know how you can both still have heartbeats.  What I should do is admit you both and get you under heat blankets!"  He took a deep breath and in the stifling silence Andy moved to stand behind Peter, dropping his hands to his colleague's shoulders.

Peter caught his breath, eyes closing for a moment as the cold he was somehow getting used to was replaced with a warmth that crept through his bones.

Prasad watched them, eyes narrowing.  "Stay there," he instructed them both, grabbing the temperature gauge from the desk and rising.

He took Peter's temperature, twice, then Andy's.

"Now what the fuck is going on here?" he asked himself as much as them.

"Don't tell me," Peter looked at him with a resigned expression, "96.8 degrees."

Prasad nodded slowly.  "Both of you."

Glancing at Peter, Andy said, “I think we need a second opinion.”

~

Wrapping the duvets closer around him, cold even though he was wearing a jumper and sweat pants under all the covers, Peter lay awake in his bed staring up at the bright winter moon through the open curtains.

At Harriet’s funeral he’d stood at Andy’s side, shoulder to shoulder – just touching - offering silent support.  She had lots of friends, he'd been glad to see.  He hoped that had made it easier in some small way for Andy to know she had at least had some happy times in her life.

Andy hadn't said much.  He didn't want to go to the wake and in the car on the way back to Henleydale he'd talked about the clean up of the case and all the paperwork he was expected to fill in.  Peter had just let him be, let him talk about whatever he wanted to.  It didn't fool him for a second.  Andy was hurting and Peter hated to see him in pain.

Despite everything, he did care for the big man.  More, he sometimes thought, than he ever let on.

Andy had been there when Ellie had walked out on him.  Andy had been the one to keep pushing when Peter had just wanted to curl up and block out the world.

He shivered with cold.

It was pointless.  He wasn't going to sleep so why bother pretending?

Dragging the top duvet with him, Peter crawled out of bed and pushed his feet into slippers that Ellie had bought him years ago but that he hadn't ever worn up until last night. 

He padded out into main room, dumped the duvet on the sofa and went through into the kitchen to fill the kettle.

Peering into the fridge confirmed what he'd suspected - he had no milk even close to its 'sell by' date.  But a hunt around his cupboard scared up an old jar of hot chocolate - the 'just add water' kind - and he was able to chip away at the solid mass until enough of the powder came away for him to make one drink.

He looked up as the doorbell chimed.  Maybe he needed to scrape enough hot chocolate for two.

He knew it was Andy before he'd even opened the door. 

"Couldn't sleep," was the other man's explanation as he stepped into the flat.  "Sorry about the time."

"Don't be.  I couldn't sleep either."  Peter watched his boss wander into the living area and stop, hands in his pockets.  It was all Peter could do not to reach out and touch him, to take the warmth he knew would be there.

"Old habits?" Andy asked, and it took a moment to work out what he was referring to until Peter remembered the duvet on the sofa.

He snorted.  "I can't get warm."

"Me neither."

They looked at one another until the kettle finished boiling and switched itself off.  "Hot drink?  I don't have any milk but I've got three-year-old Chocolate Break."

Andy gave him a wry smile.  "Good vintage is it?”  He winked.  “Aye, sounds great."

It took some time to persuade the powder to melt into liquid form and by the time Peter had made the two drinks Andy had moved the duvet to the armchair and had made himself comfortable on the sofa, coat still pulled tight around him.

He was holding up Peter's copy of Michael Morgan's autobiography and was waving it up and down, making the sock trapped between the pages dance an odd jig.

"You're using a sock as a bookmark," he pointed out with barely-hidden amusement as Peter set down the mugs and dropped into the sofa next to him, fighting the urge to sit closer.

"First thing that came to hand."

“I won’t ask you to explain that.”  He dropped the book to the table. 

They sat for a minute in a loaded silence before he broke it.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Petal, I wouldn't want yer to think I'm coming on to yer or anything, but...." 

Peter didn't make him finish his rambling explanation.  He shifted five inches to the right and brought his arm into contact with Andy's.  He couldn't hold back the soft groan of relief as his body temperature rose slowly.  Glancing at the other man, he saw the same relief mirrored on the craggy features.

"We should probably be more worried about this," Peter murmured after a while.

"Aye.  Let's just hope Dr Prasad doesn't sell his story to the Argos."

"They'll never believe him."

"Mebbe.  Depends how desperate they are for a story on the day."  Andy slipped his coat off, careful to maintain the contact.  His thick black sweater was starting to feel over the top in the hot flat – the heating had presumably been on all night.

Peter eyed his mug.  He didn't feel like a hot drink now, the change wrought in him at Andy's touch was incredible.  "I've got a bottle of Highland Park," he mentioned, matter-of-fact.  Andy rewarded him with a beaming smile.

He knew what would happen when he moved from the sofa.  But the heat in his body was slow to seep away and by the time he felt the onset of cold he was back on the sofa with the unopened bottle of whiskey and two crystal tumblers - Andy's house-warming gift to him.

He poured two generous measures and handed one to his companion as he sat back. 

It felt strange to be seeking Andy's touch when in the past they'd always observed at least some kind of physical distance if not as much as most work colleagues put between them.

But at the same time, it felt as if it could become natural.  An extension of other feelings already between them.  It was both worrying and comforting that of everyone he knew, Andy was the one he knew best, the one who knew him best.  The person he was closest to.

Almost from the beginning Andy had been more than just his boss.  No one thing had brought them together like that, just a series of small, unmemorable events that had lead to Ellie asking Andy to be Rosie's godfather, thereby making him a part of the family.

In recent years more tragic events had brought them closer.  Andy getting shot at the end of the siege at Moon's pub.  Ellie upping and leaving him.  The revelation of Mark followed too closely by his murder.  Andy’s heart attack.  Harriet's illness and death.

He poured them both a second drink but still didn’t speak.

“I can almost hear the cogs,” Andy muttered, warm affection in his voice after a while.

“Sorry.  Just thinking.” 

“I know, Sunbeam, I can feel the heat coming off you.”

“I don’t think that’s the cogs.”

“No.  So what is it?”

“I don’t know, Andy.  I didn’t believe all that stuff about the miracle.  I never really got on with God and religion.”

“I noticed that.  You didn’t like Father Tibbings much.”

“Don’t like priests in general.”

“Any particular reason?”

Peter hesitated but shook his head.  He finished his whiskey and poured a third.  When he offered Andy a refill, Andy covered his glass.  “I’m fine.”  He said nothing about Peter’s uncharacteristic drinking or his unanswered question.

Finally he accepted he wasn’t going to get an answer.

“I know one thing, Sunbeam” he said eventually, “when Jamie raised that gun you didn’t hesitate.  You stepped in front of me.  That were daft, Pete.”

Peter raised his glass and stared into the deep amber liquid.  “Couldn’t let it happen again.”

“Ah, lad….”  Dropping his head back against the couch, Andy closed his eyes.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I should’ve been the first through that door.”

“You weren’t to know that idiot was going to shoot the first person out of it.”  He turned his head, peered at Peter through the corners of his eyes.  “What is it?”

“That evening, Andy….  When you had your hart attack….”  It was like opening a pressure valve he hadn’t been aware was closed.  “You made me leave you in a fucking field!”

Andy’s surprise at the strength of the outburst showed clearly in his wide-open eyes.  “Pete….”

“I know….”  Peter took a deep breath.  “I know.  I had to get to Dad.  But Andy… you’re just as important to me!”  He downed his third drink in one swallow.  “Maybe more so….”

He reached for the bottle but Andy reached out too, grasping Peter’s wrist.  “Is that what’s up, Sunbeam?  I feel like you’ve been on the verge of telling me something for weeks.  Is that it?  Or is there sommat else?”  Peter opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.  Instead, he put down his glass and covered Andy’s hand.  “Peter?  You can talk to me, lad.”  But Peter just shook his head, bit his bottom lip, lifted his hand and sat back. 

After a long time, Andy said softly, “I should go.”

“Don’t.  Please… I’ll freeze to death.”

“We can’t be joined at the hip forever.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“Someone must know sommat about that place.  What about Father Tibbings?”

“I’m not speaking to him.”

“He was only doing what he thought was right, Peter.”

“He lied, over and over, again and again, for years.  A child died.  He burnt down the home to hide the evidence then kept on lying to save the same people he’d been trying to stop.”

Andy rolled his eyes – trust Peter to hold a grudge for crimes that had happened while he himself was still a bairn.  Or maybe this was all for his – Andy’s – benefit.  Because of Harriet and what had happened to her other brother.

“Then who?”

Peter frowned.  “I’ll ask in the village tomorrow.  There must be someone who knows about the history of the place.”

“All right.”  He hesitated.  “I should really go home, try to get some sleep.”

“No.  Stay.  Please?”

“I’m too old for sleeping on couches.”

“Sleep with me.”

Andy’s eyes widened.  “Petal… I love you dearly….”

Shaking his head it was Peter’s turn to roll his eyes, although Andy thought it might have been just a little forced.  “Nothing like that.”  He sat forward, uncomfortable.  “Just… just so we’re touching.”

With only a slight hesitation - Peter was watching him closely - Andy nodded.  "All right - but no funny business."  He grinned at Peter's acute embarrassment.

They both had another drink, so that when he lay down - fully clothed - on what he still thought of as 'his' side of the bed, Peter fell asleep in a second. 

Andy padded in from the bathroom and kicked off his shoes, leaving them tidily in one corner.  For a minute or so he watched Peter in the moonlight, the long lashes over his closed eyes, the regular rise and fall of his chest, his pale hand where it rested over his heart.

Sometimes, he thought, being with Peter was like walking blindfolded through a minefield and there were so many reasons for that, some he couldn’t fathom, some he didn’t want to attempt to.

Things had become strained while they'd been living under the same roof but that was hardly surprising.  He'd badgered the lad to get back with Ellie at every opportunity and when she'd finally upped and gone to the states, he'd badgered Peter to get a place of his own.

The paradox of living with the guy, being Rosie's godfather, and yet Peter constantly trying to shut him out of his life had been difficult to live with.  And when Peter had started to come around, started to allow Andy closer, to want him closer, Andy had pushed him away. 

In the hospital after his heart attack.  Over all that with Harriet.

He could put his shoes back on and leave, go home, and sleep alone but at least safe from making a complete fool of himself.  But he wouldn't sleep, he knew.  Even in the few minutes since they'd prized themselves from the sofa Peter's warmth had slowly started to dissipate and he was starting to feel chilly again.

They had to do something about this.  And he knew if anyone could find the local knowledgeable crackpot, Peter could.  Even in a village full of crackpots.

Being careful not to disturb his sleeping companion, Andy lay down on his side on the bed and let his eyes wonder over Peter's profile.  There were thoughts in his head that he didn't want to acknowledge.  He found it easy to tell someone he loved them.  What was hard for him was knowing someone felt the same way. 

He'd known what he'd said in the hospital had upset Peter, left him off-balance.  Yes, his Dad was family but as Peter had pointed out in his heartfelt eruption half an hour ago, Andy was family too.

And maybe that was the problem.  He wasn't supposed to think about family the way he sometimes thought about Peter.

At some point he fell asleep.  His thoughts mixed with his subconscious and he dreamt about a time when Peter had first come to him and offered himself as a sacrifice.


Whatever they might have planned, the sunrise through the open bedroom curtains fell on them cuddled up together, Andy’s arm thrown possessively over Peter’s waist. Peter’s back pressed against Andy’s chest.

~

Wieldy was already at his desk when Andy got in.  He actually felt better - warmer - than he had done since that night in the wood.  He wished it would last but he was already starting to feel the effects of the separation from his colleague.  His friend.

"How are you feeling, Sir?"

He grinned at his sergeant.  "Top of the morning, Wieldy."  'Woke up with my inspector in my arms,' he thought with a touch of hysteria, a touch of pride, 'and you know what?  I’d do it again.'

"Sir?"

He pulled himself together.  "So who's in for it today, Sergeant?" he asked gregariously.

~

Hands pushed deep into the pockets of his leather jacket, Peter was smiling to himself as he wandered through Henleydale.  It was a beautiful morning, the sun shining, birds singing.  Not too cold.  Which was odd.

He didn't feel right, but he didn't feel as if his teeth should be chattering either.

He'd woken enveloped in warmth and... love.  A warm body against his back, held close, hot breath huffing against his neck.  It had taken a few drowsy moments before he'd realised just who it was cuddling him.  And he hadn't been too surprised to find out he really didn't mind.

For the first time in a long time he was happy.

He started to whistle.

"Good morning."  He was greeted by a red-faced Mrs Blackstone.  "Inspector Pascoe, isn't it?"

He nodded, smiling at her daughter Bryany - the little girl whose miracle had inadvertently uncovered the secrets and lies just under the deceptive calm of the village.

"What brings you back to Henleydale?"

"I'm looking for someone."

"Oh aye," she was naturally suspicious after all that had happened, "who?"

"Someone who can tell me about the history of the woods, and about the Angel Oak."

She looked at him, pleasantly surprised.  "You want to speak to Joyce Blackthorn at the museum. Just up the hill on your left.  Her family has lived in the village for generations.  They were probably here before the woods."

Peter resisted the urge to ask if she was sure about the family line.  "Thanks."


The museum was housed on the first floor of the village library.  It was a massive stone building with high ceilings and might have been unwelcoming if it hadn't been for the low, wire-strung spotlights.

In fact, there was a strange warmth in the large, open-plan room.  His footsteps on the light wooden panelled floor had a flat echo to them, almost hushed in the quiet peace of the building.

He walked around the room, looking at the mounted display boards that gave a brief history of Henleydale along with photos and drawings of the village at various stages of what some people called progress and others called decline.

Because the woods had belonged to the church for centuries, they had once been considered sacred ground.  Stories had been passed down from generation to generation, becoming legend.  According to one story, soldiers wounded during World War II had come home to Henleydale to convalesce and some had been miraculously healed in the woods - there were tales of wounds closing and of traumatised men finding peace.

Four days ago he wouldn't have believed any of it.  But there was evidence now, evidence that wouldn't be denied no matter how many plausible explanations he and Andy dreamt up.

Pulling his jacket tighter around him as the familiar chill started to set in, he carried on walking and reading.  Until he came to a selection of drawings, apparently done by children in the local primary school, not long after Bryany's miraculous recovery.

There were twenty or so displayed across two boards, but one in particular caught his eye.

It was a stick-men drawing of two people lying under a large tree, one lying over the other.  And a third person, standing over them, holding a stick that was pointed down at them.  There was something else, in the sky above the three, a stickman drawn in yellow instead of black.  With wings like an angel.

"They're good, aren't they?"

Peter started at the sound of a female voice so close to his shoulder.  He hadn't heard anyone approach and he thought that should be impossible given the wooden flooring.

He straightened, smiling at the petit woman with tiny features.  She wore a long blue silk blouse over an ankle-length matching skirt.  Her black hair was pulled back in a manner reminiscent of how his mother used to wear her hair.

Offering his hand, he introduced himself.

She accepted it, commenting, "I thought the police had left Henleydale now."

"We have," he confirmed.  "This is... a personal visit."

"Personal to you or to me?"

He took an immediate like to her.  "To me.  Are you... Joyce Blackthorn?"

"I am.  How can I help you, Inspector?"

"Peter, please.  These drawings...."

She nodded.  "I always think children's drawings are more honest than any other form of art.  Most children don't know how to lie about what they see - they're very literal."

He couldn't agree more.  Children made good but often tragic witnesses.  "This one," he pointed at the drawing which had caught his eye, "who's it by?"

She leaned forward and squinted at the name scrawled in pencil.  She knew Peter could see it too - but that wasn't what he was asking.

"Katie Barnes.  Now there's a terribly sad story."  She clasped her hands in front of her, rocking forward slightly.  "She died, about a month after Bryany's recovery." 

Peter felt suddenly cold again.  "What happened?"

"Katie and her friends were playing around the Angel Oak, tig, or tag, or whatever they call it now.  Katie... tripped over a root of the oak while she was running away from whoever was 'it'.  She cracked her head on the tree trunk, died instantly."

He felt faintly sick.  "She died there and then?"

"Yes.  Some said, at the time, that the tree killed her, in payment for Bryany.  But the church soon put a stop to those murmurings.  God can't be seen to be vengeful or cruel, can he, Peter?"

"No."  He could hear the contempt clear in his own voice.

She stepped away from the display and he followed.  "You said your visit was personal.  Can I ask what you're hoping to find?"

It was a good question.  "I'm not sure I know.  Something's... happened.  Maybe I'm looking for an explanation."

"Not everything can be explained.  Young Bryany, for example.  The doctors certainly couldn't explain that one.  I don't believe in a merciful God, but I do believe we don't understand everything Mother Nature has to offer us.  That would be arrogance beyond belief."  She stopped walking and turned to him.  "Are you going to tell me what happened or do I have to work it out by myself?  I need to know if you want my help."

Peter hesitated, but he felt he could trust her.  There was something about her that attracted him, not in any physical or emotional way, but simply because he could be comfortable around her.  He could be himself.

"My boss and I, we were shot, next to the Angel Oak.  Jamie Blackstone fired at us before he killed himself."  She listened with interest.  "According to the evidence, and to a witness, the bullet hit both of us, killed us.  I even felt it.  Or I thought I did.  When we came round though, there was no blood.  We weren't injured in any way."

She steepled her fingers under her chin.  "How reliable is your witness?"

"Hundred percent.  He's a copper and a good friend."

"And your evidence?"

"Seemingly irrefutable."

"So you were both killed?"

"But the evidence against that conclusion is also very convincing."   He swept his hand across his chest.

She didn't seem all that impressed.  "You think you standing there is proof?"  He wasn't sure it was a question that required an answer.  "All that proves is you're alive now.  It doesn't mean you weren't dead."  The conversation had gone somewhere weird, somewhere Peter wasn’t willing to follow.  He was having enough trouble with all this as it was.  She must have seen it in his eyes because she asked, “What are you looking for here?  A reason why there’s evidence you were shot when you weren’t?”

He wasn’t sure he could confirm it.  He thought about telling her everything but it was insane, it sounded insane inside his own head.

She smiled and walked over to one of the display boards that Peter hadn’t read yet.

“John Shepherd found little Katie’s body.  He said that afternoon the Angel Oak was weeping.”

“Oh, come on.”

Turning, she regarded him curiously.  “Despite the conflicting evidence, you still don’t believe it, do you?”  Coming back to him, she reached to pat his shoulder.  “What John said were tears was just dew on the leaves.  Things can mean whatever you need them to mean.”

~

“That were helpful,” Andy commented when he heard what Joyce had said.

Peter cradled the phone between his shoulder and his ear and wrapped his hands around the rapidly warming kettle.  “I don’t know.  I had the feeling she knew exactly what she was saying to me.”

“Despite her speaking in riddles.  So what now, Sunbeam?”

“Now I’m going to have a cup of coffee.”  He hesitated.  “Are you coming round?”

“Better had, me teeth are starting to chatter.”

“I felt better this morning.”

“Me too.  You got any food?”

“No.”

“I’ll pick sommat up, cook for you.  Meanwhile, stick the heating on.”

Peter did as he was told – not that it made the slightest bit of difference - and made himself a strong coffee.  He changed out of his suit into warmer clothes and snuggled into one corner of the sofa, sipping his drink and staring into the empty fire grate. 

He went over and over what Joyce Blackthorn had told him and what he’d read on the displays – about the soldiers, little Katie and Bryany and John Shepherd’s claim that the oak was weeping.  That was one he definitely wasn’t telling Andy.  He could just imagine it.

'Trees don’t cry, Buggalugs, children cry.  Women cry.  Even men cry.  I feel like sobbing sometimes when I hear things like that coming from one of my officers.'

‘One of my officers.’  Maybe once upon a time.  But it was different now.  Along the line something had changed.  Family.  Friends.  Could it be more?  Was that what he really wanted?  Last night it was.  When he’d covered Andy’s hand where it held his wrist he’d thought about turning his head, kissing his boss.

He wasn’t sure where it had come from.  He didn’t know if this was an attraction that had festered inside him for years or if it was another symptom of whatever had happened to them in the woods.  Whatever.  He wasn’t sure how close he was to not caring.

Andy Dalziel was so far from being his type it was laughable.  Andy was… was Andy.  He couldn’t imagine his life without him in it although he’d tried countless times.  Denying Dalziel was like denying a hurricane.

But still… Peter thought he might love….

His mobile’s shrill ring disturbed his warming thoughts and he almost spilt his coffee over himself.  He grabbed the phone before it vibrated its way off the edge of the coffee table.

”Pascoe.”

“Sunbeam?  Get yerself back to Henleydale.  A couple of tourists have just discovered Father Tibbings’ body in the wood.”

~

The scene was strangely silent.  No wildlife burrowing in the hedgerows, no birds in the trees.

Dalziel and Wieldy were already at the scene and Mason – Wetherton’s pathologist – was too.  Peter approached, unable to resist running the backs of his fingers down Andy’s arm in greeting when he got close enough.

He didn’t even turn.  “Hello, Petal.”

Peter looked down at the priest’s body lying on the loose ground.  “Dinner’s off then?”

Wieldy glanced at him in surprise but Andy shook his head.  “Just delayed by an hour or two while we find out whether our father here killed himself or not.”

“Not.”  Mason straightened.  “He’s been shot.”

“Shot?”

“Yes.  As proven by the inch-wide bullet hole in his chest.”  Andy pulled a face which the long-suffering agent of the medical profession ignored.

“Well mebbe he shot himself.”

Mason looked around.  “Where’s the gun?”

“All right, clever clogs.”  He sighed.  “Looks like we’re re-opening the incident room.  Wieldy?  See to it.”

“Sir.”

“Peter, you and I need to see Bishop Halliwell.”  Andy turned to look at him from the first time since his arrival.  “Then I’ll cook you dinner.” 

~

“I got the distinct feeling the Bishop wasn’t all that unhappy about Father Tibbings,” Peter observed as he drove himself and Andy back to his flat in the centre of Wetherton.

“I get the distinct feeling you’re not all that unhappy about Father Tibbings either.”  There was a mild reprimand in his tone.

“You know how I feel about what he did.”

“Aye, me and the rest of CID.”  He frowned and Peter threw a smile his way.  “Any of the locals could’ve shot him.  It’s close-knit village, lots of secrets.  Who’s to say there’s more we didn’t dig up?”  He turned his head to watch the dark countryside.  “How are yer feeling?”

“Freezing,” Peter admitted quietly.

“You know, I’m actually okay.  I feel almost normal.”  He bridged the short gap between them, resting his hand lightly on Peter’s shoulder as he drove.  “Any better?”

Peter nodded, leaning into the touch.  “You can be bolder,” he murmured softly.

With only the slightest of hesitations, Andy moved his hand to cup the back of Peter’s, thumb rubbing the tense muscles there.

“Is this just about needing the contact, Sunbeam?  Or is there sommat more going on?”

Peter stopped the car at the traffic lights and glanced sideways at his passenger.  “Something more, I think,” he answered quietly.

Andy took a deep breath and released it slowly, thoughtfully.  “Since when?”

“Since that night in Angel Wood.  Maybe before.”

“Peter….  Look, lad, I’ll admit… I’ve thought about it now and again, about… you, I mean.  I’m not blind - you're very attractive and we’re close.  But I’m not your type.  This thing, this… cold… it’s messing with your common sense.”

Peter sighed loudly.  “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Deny me.”

He shook his head.  “I’m not denying you.  I love you, Petal.  I couldn’t take it if we… did sommat and you regretted it.  I’d rather go on like we have been doing than lose everything.”

Peter nodded and changed the subject.  He needed to think some more.

“So what’re cooking for me?”

“It’s a surprise.”

They’d transferred a couple of carrier bags from the boot of Wieldy’s car to the boot of Peter’s just before they’d left the scene.  Wieldy had been obviously curious but Andy had refused to divulge the contents of the bags to either of them.

“Been quite a few of those recently.”

Andy smiled.  “Aye, I’ve been shot before and it hurt a lot more last time.”

“I meant us.”

The words hung heavily between them as he turned into the underground car park that belonged to his block.

They walked up to Peter’s flat in silence, Peter carrying the bags but not daring to peek.

He unlocked the door of the flat and dropped the carriers carefully to the kitchen floor as Andy closed the front door. 

When he turned, Peter was waiting, standing close, fingertips cautiously touching the backs of his hands.

“Pete….”

“Don’t push me away this time, Andy, please.”

“What is it that you want from me?”

Peter took a step closer, bringing them face to face, moving his fingers along Andy’s arm, over his thick coat.  “You said you loved me.”

Suddenly unusually hot, Andy stared at Peter’s mouth for a moment or two before dragging his gaze up to meet the inquisitive blue one.  “You know I do.”

“Then show me.”

Andy lifted his hand, combing the tips of his fingers through the short hair just above Peter’s ear.  “Why now?”

“I just… I need to feel close to you.”

“Sunbeam… if you just want the contact, I’m happy to stay.”

“I’m not going to hate you in the morning, Andy.”

“You can’t promise that.  What if you do?”

Peter’s hand squeezed his shoulder.  “I’m not a blushing virgin.  I’m not going to faint when you put your hand on my dick.”  Andy’s wide-eyed surprise was rewarding.  “Come to bed with me.”

“What about dinner?”  But it was a last-ditch attempt. 

Peter knew it.  He stroked the back of Andy’s neck, returning the caress he had been offered in the car.  “Dinner’ll wait.”  Sliding his arm around Andy’s back, Peter drew them together and finally kissed him.

~

Sticking out his hand, Peter grabbed his mobile from the floor next to the bed just to stop it chirping.  “What?” he asked the unsuspecting caller.

”Sorry, Sir.”

“Don’t apologise, Wieldy, just tell me what’s up.”

“I can’t raise the boss.  There’s been another shooting in Angel Wood.”

“He’s here.  Who is it?” 

“Don’t know, Sir.  I’m on my way there now.”

“We’ll meet you.”

“Sir.”

It was only when he hung up when he realised what he’d actually said.  It was three-twenty five in the morning.  Why would Andy be at his flat?

He rolled over and smiled at Dalziel who was smiling at him.  “At least I’m not going to bend your ear for sodding off in the middle of the night.”

“I think you're coming with me.”

”Where to?”

“Angel Wood.”

“Not again!  I’m gonna have to seal that place off.”  He licked his lips, hesitating.  “You, er… you havin’ second thoughts?”

Peter shook his head, “Bit late for that, and I told you I wouldn’t.”  He stretched his neck, kissed Andy’s mouth then swung his legs and the rest of him out of bed.  “At this rate we’ll be having breakfast before we get dinner.” 

He was half-way through getting dressed when he stopped suddenly with his jeans halfway up his legs.  “I feel warm.”

Andy was still trying to find his underwear.  “Aye?”

“I feel… right.”

He grinned.  “Ah, you’re gonna be good for my ego, lad.”

~

The birds were singing in the branches of the Angel Oak. 

"Two in twelve hours," Mason threw at them accusingly as Andy and Peter approached, Peter in jeans, black sweater and jacket, Andy in his shirt and trousers but no tie.  They were both hoping they didn’t look like they’d just fallen out of the same bed, hoping they didn’t reek of sex.

"We didn't shoot him," Andy countered, stopping a couple of feet from the body.  "Who is it?"

Crouching down on the other side, looking at the pale face and wide, staring eyes, Peter sighed softly.  "George Appleton."

"Someone's knocking off the whole village."  Andy wasn't amused.  "How did a body get into a crime scene anyway?  I know I requested uniform to send one of their lot."

But there was no one around who could give him an answer.  There would be hell to pay, just not here and not now.

"Come on then, out with it."

Ensuring the photographer had finished taking his macabre shots, Mason turned his latest body over.  "Surprise, surprise."

Peter had a ringside view.  He glanced up at Dalziel.  "Gun shot wound."

"No exit wound in his back," Mason continued, "which leads me to wonder if this shooting's going to be as strange as your priest earlier."

"Why?  What was strange about it?"

“I wasn’t tired so I did the preliminary when I got him back to the morgue.  There's no bullet in the wound.  There's no bullet anywhere inside him.  But there’s no exit wound."

Peter straightened.  He couldn’t keep from thinking how good it felt to be warm again.  "Maybe the killer... dug it out."

Mason shook his head.  "No evidence of that.  The wound was a clean one with all the expected disruption of a shotgun pellet but nothing to suggest someone had been in there with an army knife."

"How can you shoot a man without using a bullet?"

The pathologist looked meaningfully at the skeptical inspector.  "How do you shoot two men in the chest and leave them unharmed?"

Touché.


They walked back through the dark woods, following the beam of Peter's torch.

"What's going through that over-educated brain of yours?" Andy asked, worried, after a minute's silence.

"What's going through this over-educated brain isn't going through it," Peter told him firmly.  "It's impossible!"

"Tell that to Tibbings and Appleton."

"Mason's missed something, that's all.  He'll call us in the morning to tell us the bullet was hiding behind a rib."

Andy turned to look directly at his partner, expression making his opinion of that theory perfectly clear. 

Peter caught it out of the corner of his eye and translated it with ease.  "Good to know sleeping together hasn't changed anything," he commented under his breath.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that.  I definitely wouldn't say that."

The words brought a smile to his face.

"No?  So... what would you say?"

"Later, Petal.  Not here.  Trees have ears, or at least I think they do in this wood."

~

Walls had ears too, but not the walls of Peter’s bedroom.

Sated, Peter was lying along Andy’s side, one arm and one leg thrown lazily over his lover.  Andy’s arm was wrapped tightly around Peter’s shoulders, the other hand stroking through the fine hair, along his side to his hip and back up.

“Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“What it was you wouldn’t say in the woods.”

“Tell me sommat first.  How are yer feeling?”

Peter smiled.  “Better.  Normal.  Why?”  His smile faded.  “Don’t think just because of that I don’t want this anymore.”

Andy lifted his head and kissed Peter’s crown.  “Listen, Sunbeam, you know I’ve always loved you.  But the moment I put my hands on you everything changed.  I’ve never felt anything so intense for anyone and if that… if it’s too much for you then we need to stop before I get in any deeper.”

Peter too lifted his head, resting his chin on the back of his hand, his hand on Andy’s chest.  “I don’t want to stop.  I want everything.  I’ve never had… all of someone.  I want all of you, even the part that’s a copper.”

“You’ve always had that part of me, Peter.”  He tried to yawn surreptitiously but he could feel Peter chuckling.  “Sorry.”

“Why?  It’s just gone four in the morning and we’ve had precious little sleep in days.”  He planted a bold kiss on Andy’s chest and rolled over, humming his appreciation when Andy spooned up behind him. 

“If Wieldy wakes us up before midday I’ll personally shove his bloody mobile where no mobile’s been before.”

“I’ll bet you some mobile has, somewhere.”

Andy grimaced, “I’ll ask Mason later.”

Not the greatest of mental images to fall asleep with, but thankfully they dreamt of trees and forests.  And although neither knew it, they stood face to face under the Angel Oak, connected by their dreams.

~

Wield didn’t call Pascoe or Dalziel.  He did return to the Angel Wood late in the morning, mainly to oversee the interviews but also for a more personal reason.

He walked alone to the Angel Oak, still surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, and pinned something to the tree, in a hidden nook where the casually curious eyes of tourists wouldn’t see it.  And for a couple of minutes he stood staring at it.  It was a photograph of Andy and Peter, cut from a larger photograph taken at Peter’s housewarming party before Bomber and her crew had arrived.

He’d wanted to leave something here, some acknowledgement of what had happened even if this miracle was likely to go unrecorded.

Eventually he returned to the village and from there drove to Wetherton.  Mason had asked to see Dalziel as soon as was convenient – Wieldy was sure the sarcasm had been lost in translation – as both bodies from the woods last night had been missing bullets and he was apparently interested in Dalziel’s interpretation.

He wasn’t the only one.  But it could wait. 

No point in dragging Peter and Andy out of bed, not when some higher power had gone to so much trouble to put them there.