|Peter melted under Andy’s warm, oiled
Lying naked on his front on the bed, blissfully relaxed, achingly aroused, he moaned softly when Andy moved from his thighs to sit on the other side of the bed. But he didn’t move. He couldn’t even lift his head.
A kiss touched his shoulder, then another.
Andy placed a trail of gentle kisses across his left shoulder to the top of his spine, then started downwards, nipping the skin over each vertebrae until he reached the small of Peter’s back.
Neither spoke when Andy knelt between his lover’s knees, touching open hands to the firm cheeks, kissing the smooth skin at the base of Peter’s spine. He stroked his large palms down over hard thighs to the sensitive points behind Peter’s knees, teasing the skin there with his thumbs.
Peter hummed softly but didn’t make any effort to move.
Hesitating only for a moment, Andy leaned down and touched his lips to the very top of Peter’s ass.
He expected some kind of reaction. But not the happy, satisfied groan, not the parting of his lover’s legs even further.
Andy leaned up, hands on either side of Peter’s waist and kissed his neck, murmuring, “Tart”.
Peter chuckled softly but that was his only response. He arched as back as Andy worked his way down, licking a long path along the curve of his spine, extending his tongue along the crack of his ass.
For a second Andy felt Peter stiffen just a little beneath him, then he relaxed again and gave himself over, finally, to what they shared now.
By the time it occurred to Peter that this wasn’t such a good idea, it was too late.
Anna Wisley’s car was half way down the hillside. It had come to rest on its roof, wheels now still, side panels caved in, bumper hanging off.
They were first on the scene with the exception of the local uniformed coppers and Anna’s body was still lying half-way out of the broken driver’s side window, blood from a head wound streaking her hair, drying on her face.
His own reaction was bad enough. He stared at her lifeless body. Part of his brain was telling him he’d seen her before and was already starting the search of his memories for her face. The other part was telling him cruelly that this was how he’d looked the night of his accident.
‘His eyes were open and staring,’ the PC’s report had stated, ‘There was blood all over his face. I felt for a pulse and found one but it was very shallow and very slow.’
For a second he saw himself in Anna’s place and his stomach threatened to return his lunch.
He turned away and in doing so he saw Dalziel’s face.
Andy was as grey as the stormy sky. He was standing, staring at the wreck, at Anna’s blood-soaked face. And Peter knew instinctively that his partner wasn’t seeing the middle-aged woman lying there.
“Andy.” Taking a couple of steps back, moving to stand in front of his partner, Peter surreptitiously slipped his hand into Andy's right pocket, squeezing the cold fingers. The gesture was hidden from view from the uniformed officers by Peter's body. But as Lateef parked his car on the brow of the hill, he happened to look across.
Peter didn't know what to say so he didn't say anything, putting his understanding into his eyes. Andy nodded once and eased away, side stepping his DCI to get closer to the body as Lateef came down the hillside in a barely controlled slide.
The smooth transition back into policeman mode scared Peter a little. He knew how he himself was feeling just being around the wreck of Anna's car and he hadn’t actually seen the results of his own crash, he'd only read the report filed by the officers who'd been on the scene when it happened.
Andy had seen the remains of the hired Vectra though.
Peter hoped they could wrap it up here quickly so that he could speak to his partner alone and in private. He knew Andy far too well to fall for the 'everything's fine' charade.
But Andy knew his lover equally as well and avoided being caught alone in his office for the rest of the morning. He had Lateef drive Peter first to the Johnstones to deliver the bad news then back to CID headquarters in Wetherton, while he went back to the Arts Centre.
After speaking again to Tony Watson he sat in his car in the car park for some time, staring out of the windscreen.
He’d gone to the garage where the wreckage of Peter’s Vectra had been towed to the day after Peter had woken from the coma. He had no idea why he’d gone, he just had. He’d read the report by the officers at the scene and he’d wanted to see for himself.
He thought later that perhaps he should have prepared himself a little better for the sight that met his eyes but he eventually came to realize that nothing would have prepared him for the mangled mess that barely resembled a car.
There was nothing left of the bonnet but a crumpled sheet of metal. Part of the engine housing had been shunted back into the car, trapping Peter’s left leg, cutting through skin, tearing through muscle and smashing bone. The airbag hadn’t fired. Peter had been thrown forward with incredible force, his head striking the twisting metal of the doorframe. The uniformed officer who’d reached him first had, according to his report, thought Peter was dead.
But he’d checked for a pulse and found one. He’d stayed close, checking Peter’s breathing and pulse every thirty seconds, talking to him, asking him to say something, to tell him his name.
It didn’t take them long to find out who the injured man was – Control knew. Control had been speaking to him at the moment of the crash. The young woman had been offered councilling to get over the nightmares.
The ambulance had arrived first. They did all they could for Peter; stabilized him, got him on oxygen and blood, but they had to wait another twenty minutes for a fire crew – there’d been a big fire on one of the industrial parks and six crews were attending.
Once on the scene it had taken them just under an hour to cut Peter free. They’d worried that taking the pressure from his leg would cause him to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. In the end the delicate operation had involved two of the ambulance crew getting into the car with him, one monitoring his vitals while the other risked his own life to keep pressure on the open wound as the metal was cut away.
Andy shivered in the warmth of the Jaguar.
The first time he’d seen Peter after the crash was the first time he’d realised how bad things were.
When the station had called they’d said just that there’d been an accident during a police chase, Inspector Pascoe was injured and would Superintendent Dalziel go to the hospital? Peter had him listed as next of kin, which Andy hadn’t known about.
So right up until the moment he’d seen Peter lying under tubes and wires on the gurney being rushed to Radiology, he’d believed he was going find his inspector sitting up in A&E holding a cold compress to his head and nursing a broken nose. Never, not in his worst nightmares, had he imagined the reality of it.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, he turned the key in the ignition. But before he could take the handbrake off his mobile beeped twice. Taking it from his pocket he glanced at the screen. He had a text message.
He’d never really got behind the mechanics of sending them but he was happy with reading them. He pressed the green button and smiled when he read,
‘I know you’re avoiding me. I’ll be waiting. P’
Andy relaxed. Peter was okay. Yes, it had been bad, but he’d pulled through. The wreck of his car was just a mass of twisted, soulless metal. Peter had been cut out of it but he’d been unconscious through it all, he had no memory of what had happened. He never would have, the doctors believed.
Not bothering to text a reply, Andy headed back to the office. Back to the man he loved.
Dumping the flowers in the vase already next to the bed, Dalziel grinned down at Maria Jackson. “You’ll be all right, Love,” he told her with confidence. “You did well.” He knew it was going to be a long time before she returned to duty – if she ever did.
“WPC Bains has asked for a day off to take yer shopping when you’re out of 'ere, so it's not all bad."
Jackson nodded, trying for a smile. But recall is a terrible thing and her harrowing experience wasn't going to be pushed to the back of her mind for while.
Turning her head, she asked Peter, "Isn't this the same hospital you were in, Sir?"
Sitting in the high-backed visitor's chair, he nodded. "For six weeks."
"Don't eat the chicken."
She did chuckle at that and Andy gazed at his partner with a proud smile. "Come on, Sunbeam, let's let the lass get some rest."
"Thanks for coming, Sirs."
"Oh, we'll be back. Peter's in and out of this place like he owns it." He winked at her, ignored Peter's frown and propelled him out of the room with a hand at the small of his back - the one intimate gesture they allowed themselves out in public. He knew it would instantly sooth any ruffled feathers.
They started along the corridor, heading for the exit.
"I got a letter this morning," Peter told him as they walked.
"From the Bupa hospital. I'm going in next Tuesday. Should give us plenty of time to find out who's pulling Sean Dogerty's strings."
Lifting a hand, Andy patted his shoulder. The forced casualness didn't fool him for a second. Peter was scared and he had every right to be. Between them Carol and the private consultant had answered all their questions but it was still a delicate operation even if it was a fairly routine one.
"We'll get Dogerty and the puppet-master," he assured with passion. "Just don't forget you're more important to me than any of it." He took a hold of Peter's arm, stopping them in their tracks. "It could have been you down that hole."
"I doubt it. It'd take more than two yobs to bundle me into the boot of a car. And it would have to be a big one at that." Lifting his hand, he curled his fingers around Andy's forearm. "I'm all right. I know how you felt, when you saw Anna's car. I felt it too. For a second I wasn't her I was looking at, lying there, it was me. You saw the same, didn’t you?"
Andy nodded. "Aye, I did. I saw the Vectra a couple of days after, at the garage. Seeing Anna's car just brought it all back."
"I know." He took a deep breath. "Can we go for a drink?"
Andy grinned. "Now that’s one of the best ideas you’ve had since last night."
"There's something I didn't tell you, about when I was out on the test track."
Andy regarded his partner steadily over his pint. Hadn't he known that? But then other events had wiped it from his mind.
"I was doing fine and suddenly I was back, under that bridge, with the pillars either side of me and I had a flash - I saw the 4x4 I almost hit."
"I thought you didn't remember any of that?"
"I didn't. Before then I hadn't remembered anything. But it scared the crap out of me. And I scared the crap out of Janene - the instructor," he supplied for Andy's benefit, but the big man winked,
"Why am I not surprised?" He smiled, the smile Andy referred to as his 'soft self-effacing sod' look. "I pulled an emergency stop in the middle of the track. Couldn't let go of the steering wheel for a second or two."
"I'm sorry, Petal. The track was my idea. I didn't think."
"I'm glad I went, glad I did it. I want to be able to drive again sometime."
"You will. You're a stubborn bugger when you want to be."
"I learnt from the best."
He hadn't seen that one coming.
Standing outside the Arts Centre, Peter waited patiently. Lateef had their suspect in sight. Wieldy was waiting in his car. Andy was supposed to be over at the control centre but the big man was only able to sit still for so long and the waiting had finally got to him. He'd apparently left a couple of minutes ago, heading in their general direction.
"He's on the move." Lateef's voice came through the earpiece Peter wore. A minute or two later, Watson came out of the centre.
Peter raised his wrist to his mouth, speaking into the small mike. "Got him."
Watson saw it. Saw Peter.
He snapped, snarling as he flew across the pavement and locked his hands around Peter's neck.
So sudden and unexpected was the action that it took Peter a moment to respond and by then his sight was blurring. He struggled, bigger and more solid than Watson, and in no way less motivated. But Watson held on, his strength belying his size.
Wieldy was out of the car in a heartbeat, sprinting over to the two men locked in a macabre embrace. His height allowed him to get a stranglehold around Watson's neck and he yanked the man away from Peter.
Peter had his own hand up at his aching throat, drawing in painful, panicked breaths. But he managed to nod. "Yeah." He definitely didn't sound it.
Watson had stopped fighting and Wield wrongly took that as submission, loosening his hold. The moment he did so Watson pulled a small craft knife from inside his jacket and plunged it into the arm around his neck.
Wield yelled out in pain, let go and Watson immediately took off, crossing to a waiting motorbike, firing up the engine and screeching away.
Own injuries forgotten, Peter reached for his colleague. "Wieldy...."
"I'm fine," he ground out. "Don't let the bastard get away, Pete!"
Yelling into the mike at his wrist, Peter called for backup. "I need an ambulance at the Arts Centre, a policeman's been stabbed. Suspect on a motorbike heading south on Westmore Road."
"Copy that. Ambulance on its way." There was a pause. "Car WM9 reports he's in position to head the suspect off at the end of Bridge Road."
Peter shook his head helplessly. "No! Suspect is armed, repeat, suspect is armed!" He released the transmit button and swore brightly. "Where are your car keys?"
"In the car." Wield responded through gritted teeth without thinking and instantly regretted it when Peter took off in the direction of the Vectra. "Pete! No!" His shout of, 'you're not supposed to drive' was drowned out by Peter igniting the engine, slamming the car into gear and pulling a neat 180, taking off after Watson. "Fuck!"
Heart pounding, Peter drove like a madman, following the route he knew Andy would have taken. Control couldn’t raise him in the Jaguar meaning he was probably already out, on foot, chasing a man who was armed with a knife none of them had known about.
The road peeked over the brow of the hill and started down.
Down the hill.
Under the bridge.
The concrete pillars rose from the ground like monoliths.
He couldn’t stop, as much as he wanted to. He couldn’t slow down because it might mean Andy’s life.
They rose up all around him, around the car as he concentrated on weaving through them, searching for Andy’s car.
He could feel the sweat on his brow, a wet bead sliding into his left eye. A salty drop hit his tongue and he realized he was crying.
He wanted out. He needed to get out.
He looked around quickly.
Suddenly there was no space between the pillars.
In his mind’s eye he saw a black 4x4 bearing down on him and yanked down hard on the wheel, trying to get out of the way.
The car swerved, skidding on the loose surface. Peter slammed his foot on the brake, pulling up the handbrake, turning the wheel hard in the other direction.
The back of the Vauxhall swung out and hit the nearest pillar hard, the car coming to a full stop.
His answering cry was one of anguish.
Andy needed him and he couldn’t move, couldn’t get out of the car. He was trapped, his leg crushed, blood running slowly from the wound in his head. Everything went red.
Andy pulled open the car door, crouched down next to his partner, looking him over once to check he wasn’t physically hurt.
He was sweating, tears streaming over his cheeks, breathing quickly, fingers white on the steering wheel. But Andy couldn’t see any blood. The car was in a worse state than its driver.
He could hear sirens in the background, getting closer.
Going carefully, Andy slid his own fingers over Peter’s right hand. “All right, Sunbeam. It’s all right now, it’s all over. It’s all over. Let go.”
Peter didn’t look at him, but he spoke softly. “He was carrying a knife.”
“I know, Petal. It’s all right. He went for a swim.”
Four police cars pulled up around them and Andy pointed them in the direction of where Watson had gone into the water. Thirty seconds later he heard two splashes – two coppers going into the river to pull out their leading suspect.
Andy leaned over and unfastened Peter’s seat belt.
“Come on, let go of the wheel. You can break my fingers instead.” Gently he uncurled the white-knuckled fingers of his right hand, replacing the wheel with his own hand. He winced when Peter’s grip tightened on him but hid the sharp pain behind a smile.
”That’s it, Sunbeam. Now, what about the other one?”
An ambulance drew up close by. A second or so later the back doors opened and Wieldy, shirt half off and with a rough field dressing wrapped around his upper arm, jumped out.
Andy frowned at him. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Tony Watson," he said, trying to think past the sharp, bright pain snapping along his nerves.
"Go to the hospital!"
"I'm on my way, Sir. But they got diverted."
"In that case, get over here and make yourself useful."
Peter was staring out through the windscreen, trembling slightly, left hand still with its death grip on the steering wheel.
"I want to go round the other side." Rising from the crouching position, groaning as his knees cracked, Andy waited until Wield put his hand in place of his own, "don't squeeze Wieldy's hand as hard as you 'ave been mine, Sunbeam. He's already in the walking wounded."
He went around the front of the car and opened the passenger door.
Sitting sideways, facing his partner, he put one hand on Peter's shoulder and the other over the fingers wrapped right around the wheel. He could feel the tremors driving through Peter's body.
"Come on, Petal, hang on to me. Give the car a break, ay?"
Glancing across at Wieldy he realised how pale both his officers were.
"Peter," he used his best pissed-off-boss voice and it got through.
"Andy...." The trauma in the voice was heart breaking but he had to ignore that for now.
Wanting to get his sergeant back in the ambulance and on his way to hospital, not completely convinced Peter shouldn’t be going with him, he reached across from the steering wheel and grasped Peter's other hand, peeling it from Wield's.
Ignoring Peter's scream was a lot harder.
By the time Lateef arrived on the scene, Tony Watson had been dragged out of the river, formally arrested and cuffed, and was being driven away in a marked police car. Wieldy had been taken by ambulance to hospital for stitches. And Andy was still sitting uncomfortably in Wield's Vectra, one hand gently cradling the back of his partner's sore neck, the other resting on Peter’s leg holding both his hands now.
He was massaging the base of Peter's skull with his thumb in lazy but firm circles, slowly easing the hysteria.
The ambulance crew had left a blanket which was draped around Peter's shoulders. They'd talked about taking Peter along with them but now Andy wasn’t certain that putting Peter in the back of an ambulance and rushing him to hospital wouldn't just make things worse.
Wield had given him the abridged version of events outside the Arts Centre. Andy was glad he hadn't known about Watson strangling Peter and stabbing Wieldy before, or he thought he might have gone into the water with him and finished the job during the brief tousle at the river’s edge.
He could already see the purple colouring coming out on Peter's pale skin. One of the ambulance crew had undone Peter's tie and unfastened the top two buttons of his shirt in order to perform a cursory first aid exam. He concluded there was some fairly deep bruising but no more serious damage.
Lateef surveyed the amassed officers, watched the recovery vehicle making its way gingerly towards them, and leaned into the passenger side of the Vectra.
"He shouldn't have been driving, Sir."
Dalziel turned his head slowly and nailed him with a glare. "I know that, Bez. But he thought his boss was in trouble and he risked his life coming after me."
"His and other people's!"
"Piss off, Constable."
Taken aback, Lateef straightened and walked away.
Andy sighed to himself, watching him go, remembering what we'd said to Jackson the day she'd disappeared.
But it hadn't had anything to do with that, nothing to do with the job. Any bystander who'd tried to help would have been grabbed by the over-eager kidnappers, Andy was sure of it. He had to somehow make sure Jackson was sure of it too.
Turning back to Peter, he rubbed his fingers over cold hands. "We need to keep an eye on him, Peter," he said, almost to himself. "I think he might be jealous of you. Although God alone knows why. He wouldn't be if he knew what you'd put up with to get here, what you've been through. What you've sacrificed. I never made your life easy, think I even made you cry once. Or was that Tankie? I never made anyone's life easy. Look at poor Jackson."
"It wasn't your fault, Andy."
His head snapped around and he saw that instead of staring vacantly through the windscreen, Peter was looking at him through dark-rimmed eyes.
Andy beamed. "Hello, Sunbeam."
"I want to go home.”
It took a few minutes. Andy lending his bodily support, Peter complaining that his legs felt as bruised as his throat where Watson's hands had been clasped around it and his fingers where he'd been gripping the steering wheel.
Leaving him propped up against the Vectra, Andy fetched the Jaguar from where he'd abandoned it on the other side of the bridge when Watson had skidded his motorbike.
"You're going to have to apologise to Wieldy for the dent in his car," Andy admonished as he set the Jag's passenger seat right back and got Peter comfortable so that he could stretch his legs.
"That's okay, he can borrow the Audi. I won't be using it for a while."
"Yer a DCI now, when yer can drive again we'll go and get yer sommat a bit posher."
"What? Like a Ferrari?"
Grinning, Andy shrugged. "Why not? Yer might be less inclined to drive it into a concrete pillar." With a wink, he shut the car door.
two weeks later
"He fell for you the moment he saw you." Wieldy shrugged with a smile. "Mind you, couldn't blame him. There you were, all blue-eyed and eager. One of the most beautiful things he'd seen, though I'm sure he'd die before he'd ever admit it. That's why I was so angry, when he outed me. There he were, sat behind his desk like some all-knowing Buddha. I knew how he felt about you but I knew if I said anything I'd only be making things worse. So I didn't. Can't have been easy for him, anyways, seeing you every day, working so close with you and not being able to have what he wanted."
"Not sure he knew what he wanted back then."
Peter reached for the glass of water on the bedside cabinet, having to re-arrange the IV line before he pulled it out of the port in the back of his hand again.
"Likely he didn't."
Draining the glass, he put it back just as carefully. "Is he okay, Wieldy? Really?"
Wield nodded. "Aye. Just shook him up, that's all. After everything.... Dr Shelton's been keeping an eye on him."
"I think she fancies him."
"Mebbe. He wouldn't notice, Pete. Not now. He loves you, so much."
"I know. I...." He paused as the nerve stimulation cycled and gave a thirty-second pulse of mild electrical current along a nerve in the left side of his neck.
Wieldy watched him touch the sterile dressing still covering a healing cut in his throat. "Does it hurt?"
"No. It... tickles. I'll get used to it, it's not uncomfortable."
"How big's the battery?"
"About the same size as a pound coin, only thinner." Pulling down the loose neckline of the hospital gown he was dressed in, he peeled back the tape holding the second dressing in place and showed Wieldy the small red cut in his chest.
"Oy! Don't do that, you'll get 'im all excited!"
Both men looked up, looking incredibly guilty for no reason, as Andy strolled into the private hospital room and closed the door behind him. His tone softened considerably when he greeted his lover. "Hey, Sunbeam. How are yer feeling?"
Andy stepped up to the bed and kissed Peter, lingering before touching his forehead to his partner's and closing his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath.
Peter reached up, stroking Andy's fine hair with the hand that wasn't wrapped in a bandage to keep the IV in place. "I'm all right, Andy," he reassured softly.
Andy nodded and pulled away slowly, perching on the edge of the bed, finding Peter's hand and holding it. It took him a few seconds to compose himself.
Then he grinned his usual grin at Wieldy who said, "I'd better get going. I'll see you tomorrow, Pete."
"Yeah." Peter smiled up. "Thanks, Weildy."
"No problem. Is there anything you need?"
"I think I can manage that. See you back at the office, Sir."
Once they were alone, Peter threw back the sheets and started to edge himself down off the bed.
"Where the 'ell do you think you're going?"
"You're supposed to stay in bed and do that."
"Not a chance."
Andy sighed, going around to help his partner with the duel issues of the mobile IV stand and the backless hospital gown. "They should've left the tube in!"
Peter pulled a face that Andy totally sympathised with having been there and done that.
The private room in the private hospital afforded him a private bathroom too, with a shower that Peter hadn't yet been allowed to use. When they'd first seen the room, Andy had commented how much like a hotel room it looked, if it hadn't been for the bed. He'd wondered if the entire hospital was similarly un-hospital-like.
"Need a hand?"
Peter smiled, "I'll manage." He closed the door too, having to let go of the back of his gown to do so, giving Andy a flash of bare, firm ass.
"Hope they don't want to take my blood pressure," he muttered quietly.
"I heard that."
A couple of minutes later Peter was settled back in bed. "Dr Bennett came round while Wieldy was here." He linked his fingers with Andy's on the edge of the mattress when he sat down in the chair his sergeant had vacated.
"Oh aye, what did he have to say for himself?"
"Checked me over, said I could go home day after tomorrow if all my readings stay as they are."
Andy's face broke into a wide, toothy smile. "That's great! I'd better tell Carol she can't come round any more."
Glancing away, Peter told him, "Wieldy said you'd been seeing a lot of her."
"Nay, Petal. Just her face. She's been explaining all the medical jargon to me. Tried to give me some pills to help me sleep. I informed her that's what single malt's for."
"Well, I'll be home Saturday then I can help you sleep."
Bowing his head, Andy kissed the back of Peter's hand. "Better than any pills."
"Or single malt."
"Don't push yer luck." But his smile betrayed him.
Loosening his tie, Andy leaned against the doorframe and happily watched Peter attempting to set fire to his kitchen.
He didn't want to tempt fate, but it seemed as if they might have cracked it. In the last six months Peter had suffered only one minor seizure.
The VNS, the doctors were telling them, was definitely suiting his epilepsy.
"You're home early," Andy commented as whatever Peter was cooking finally gave up the struggle and started to burn nicely.
"My suspect confessed," Peter told him proudly. "You owe me a tenner."
"Yer can't be serious? Craigy coughed to armed robbery of The Commerce Rooms bar?"
"Aye. But he said he didn't realise it was a bar until he was inside waving his replica shotgun around."
"What did he think it was? Oh, don't tell me."
Peter nodded. "A bank."
Andy rolled his eyes. "Idiot. Thought it was a bit out of character for 'im."
"What about yours? I was starting to worry I'd have to eat this all by myself."
Glancing at his watch, Andy saw that actually he was late. It was gone nine. "Sorry. Lost track of time." Crossing the kitchen, he leaned against the cupboards next to the oven. Next to Peter. "Rebecca accosted me in my office."
"Oh, aye? Thought she'd given up chasing you."
"She wanted to know about you actually, wanted to make sure we weren't overworking you."
"I think I'm overworking Wieldy."
"Don't worry about him. He'll soon let you know if he thinks he's being hard done by." Leaning over, he studied the blackened pieces of meat in the frying pan. "I know a good steak house in town."
To his amusement, Peter smiled at him in relief. "Thank God for that. I thought for a minute there I'd actually have to eat this."
Lateef raised his beer glass, smiling Maria across the table as she did the same.
"Happy Birthday for Saturday."
She smiled. "Thanks. And thanks for the meal."
"The least I could do."
A familiar voice made them both turn towards the door. Dalziel and Pascoe were being shown to a table up on the mezzanine. They were laughing at some shared joke, relaxed. Definitely off duty.
Jackson turned back to Lateef with a smile. "It's so sweet, don't you think?"
"That they're happy together."
Furrowing his eyebrows, he asked, "How do you mean?"
She nudged his arm with hers. "You know! The Super's wife walked out on him ages ago, and the DCI's wife upped and left for the states with their daughter."
"You're saying they are living together?"
"Of course! Come on, everyone knows! Just no one says anything because they're all scared of the big man."
"But they're not..." he stalled, groping for the right words, "...not...."
"Sleeping together," she supplied, nodding. "All the girls talk about it - the looks they give one another, the way they call each other by their first names. When was the last time you heard the DCI call the Super
'Sir'?" He frowned, and she said, "What's up? Not homophobic are you?"
"No! It's just not right...."
"Why not?" She sounded shocked.
"The Super is the DCI's superior."
"Only in rank," she winked, then realised he wasn't laughing. "I say live and let live. Besides, they look really happy."
Ellie pulled the hire car into the car park and gazed up out of the windscreen at the third floor flat she still had down as her ex-husband's address.
There was a large 'For Sale' sign in the window. She couldn't read any more details from that distance but she recognised the sigh's colour scheme - a local estate agency - and rang directory enquiries to get the number.
Once through she asked if the flat came furnished and the agent said it did, and it was empty - the owner had already moved out and there was no chain. She could move straight in. Did she want to make an appointment to view?
Rosie thanked her Dad for the ice cream and sat down on the park bench. Peter sat next to her, watching for a minute, committing every little detail to memory.
Then he asked, "What do you think of Uncle Andy?"
She looked up at him thoughtfully and smiled. "He's nice. He's funny - he makes me laugh." Peter was glad of that. "But... I think the real question is, what do you think of him? Right, Dad?"
Andy would be proud when he reported back on this particular conversation later that evening. He could hear it now - 'She's got 'er Dad's brains, Sunbeam. She'll end up as one of them CSRs - you know, like that smart-arsed git with the ginger hair on tele.'
Peter smiled to himself and met his daughter's scrutinizing gaze. "I like him a lot."
"I think he loves you," she stated happily. "You love him too, don't you?"
"Would that bother you? If I did?"
She shrugged, pulling the chocolate flake from her icecream and biting it in half. "No. Why would it?"
"Not everyone would be comfortable with the idea of their dad living with another man."
"But it's not just any other man, it's Uncle Andy." She reached over and squeezed his hand. "I don't mind, Dad. And I don't care what other people think."
Peter returned the gesture, resisting the urge to pull her into his arms and hug her in the middle of the park.
"Are you all right now, Dad? Only, Mom told me about the car accident. I looked up 'epilepsy' on the internet and found out all about it."
He smiled at her. "You and Uncle Andy'll have a lot to talk about then."
"Does he look after you when you're ill?"
"Yes, he does."
"Then he must love you."
Peter took a deep breath and released it. "Yeah."
Peter and Andy spoilt Rosie rotten, taking her to the cinema that evening, plying her with popcorn and chocolate and a bucket of some brightly coloured soft drink.
Neither of them understood the gist of the animated movie she insisted on them all seeing, but it was enough to hear her laughing for two hours, and to have her quoting the more memorable lines in the car on the way home.
It was late when Peter finally put her to bed in the spare room, tucking her in despite her reassurances that she was too old for her Dad to be fussing like he was. But she let him anyway.
He kissed her goodnight and was about to turn out the light when she said, "You don't have to sleep on the sofa tonight, Dad. It's okay. I don't mind you sleeping in the same bed as Uncle Andy."
From out in the corridor they both heard Uncle Andy's riotous laughter.
Ellie picked her up the following morning, cornering Peter as Rosie was hugging Andy goodbye.
"You're selling the flat," she stated. He nodded. "You've moved in here, haven't you?"
Another nod. And a smile. "Rosie's fine with it."
"And you expect me to be too?"
"I don't care, Ellie."
The house was quiet after they'd gone. Peter stood in the lounge looking lost, looking around at the evidence of his daughter’s visit.
"I'll clear up," he said as Andy walked up to him.
"Leave it, do it later." Hands on Peter's hips, he turned him around. "We still have half a day of holiday left. Half a day with no interruptions guaranteed."
Peter's mouth turned slowly up into a smile. "What are we going to do?"
"Don't you worry, Sunbeam. I'll show you."