|It was just a
moment, a shift in his perception, and suddenly he was
seeing Andy as if he'd never seen him before.
Much slimmer now, looking so much more healthy and alive, he was... oddly attractive. Hair cut short on top, brushed back at the sides, kissed by the morning sun; Peter had the strangest urge to comb his fingers through it.
The thought jolted him back to reality just in time. Andy turned, saw him, and went metaphorically nuts.
"Oy! You've got some explaining to do!" Peter shrank back as his boss stalked across the grass towards him, but the Jaguar effectively blocked his path. "Car crash not enough for you? Fancied a tiger bite to add to the list of injuries?"
He'd expected Andy to react in this exact manner, which was why he'd deflected last night's phone call to his mobile with a joke. Luckily he was living back in the flat or the lie would never have washed. He was surprised it had anyway. He'd never had a cat.
Although last night a cat had almost had him.
He swallowed the instinctive groan at his own internal voice trying to be funny and tried a smile as Andy closed in on him.
"What the hell were you up to, eh? Did you not notice the size of those teeth last time we were in there?!"
"'Sorry, Andy'?! That the best you can do? You'd have been sorrier if we'd found your blood-soaked body in there this morning, wouldn't you?!"
Peter thought it best to not respond to that. He knew Andy was just blowing off steam and it was better to let it run its course.
DC Lateef, however, didn't have the same instinct. He approached with confidence. "Sir? Someone definitely opened that cage last night...."
Dalziel spun with deceptive grace. "Really? And here we were working under the assumption the tiger had taken a fancy to cloth-ears here and let itself out for a bite to eat!"
He spun back, Lateef off his radar for the time being, finger stabbing in Peter's direction. "You! Find Wieldy and then find me someone to interview. And stay away from the tigers!" With that, he stormed off back across the grass. Smiling broadly, Peter missed the DC staring at him.
Wieldy stepped up behind him. "You look happy for someone who was just torn a new one."
"By Andy or the tiger?" He shook his head. "Sorry. I just... it's good to know he's still willing to yell at me when I mess things up."
Peter turned to catch the tilt of Wield's head. "Sommat happened?"
"No. Not yet. Come on, we'd better find him a witness."
He shrugged. "Anything."
The sergeant looked up. "Sir?"
"In the interview room, Sir, sitting down. He wasn't feeling too good."
Andy took a deep breath before poking his head round the office door to check up on his inspector. He'd been trying - so hard - not to treat Peter any differently. He didn't want to go rushing in.
Peter was sitting quietly at the grey table, reading through some of the witness statements.
"You all right, Whiskers?"
He looked up. "'Whiskers'?"
"Aye. Thought it suited you." He pulled the other chair out and sat down. "Find anything?"
"No." He watched Peter rub his eyes. "Sorry."
"Not feeling' too good?"
Peter shook his head. "Sorry."
"If you apologise once more I'm going to feed you to the bloody tigers myself!"
"It's been six months!"
"Aye, and it'll be another six before you're fully recovered."
"As fully as I'm gonna get."
"Aww, having a moment of self-pity, are we?" No way was Andy going to let Peter feel sorry for himself. "It's probably the pills, she said there'd likely be side effects until you got used to them."
"Soft sod. When's your next appointment?"
"Friday. We're going to talk about triggers, whatever they are."
"Things that cause the seizures." He'd been reading all the material he could get his hands on.
"How am I supposed to know? I've only had two and they've been under different circumstances."
Andy shrugged. "Maybe sommat'll be the same. Want me to take you home?"
Peter hesitated. "No. I'm fine."
Pursing his lips, Andy decided not to make an issue out of it. "Okay. Let me know if you find anything interesting. We've got nothing on this one. Pity you didn't see who youtried to kill last night. Wouldn't fancy another stroll through the cages, I suppose?" He left before Peter threw something at him.
Wieldy was waiting for him out in the main room. "How is he, Sir?"
"Down." He motioned for Wield to follow him and stepped out of the building they were using as an incident room. "There's nothing.... He hasn't mentioned anything, has he? Apart from the obvious?"
"No, Sir. But I think he's lonely, at the flat. And a bit scared in case it happens again and there's no one there."
"Damn." Shaking his head, Andy tapped a cigarette out of the packet and lit it. Wield didn't automatically scowl like Peter did, but he could feel the hard eyes boring into the back of his skull. Despite that, he stuck the cigarette rebelliously between his lips and lit it with practised grace. "I thought it was what he needed, some independence."
"Likely did he, Sir. But the reality's different."
"Thanks, Wieldy. Anything on the case?"
"DC Lateef thinks he found something up in the surgery. I was on my way over there."
"Keen sod, isn't he? Give me a minute and I'll come with you."
Pitching the barely-smoked stick to the ground, Andy went back inside. Peter was still reading through statements, mentally cataloging everything, linking and comparing. If there was an inconsistency in any of the statements, Peter would find it.
"How about supper at mine tonight, Sunbeam? Feed you properly instead of you feeding...." His nth crack about the tigers never saw the light of day. Peter toppled off the chair right in front of his eyes.
With the phone cradled between his cheek and his shoulder and his hands busy with the frying pan on the stove, Andy swore when the doorbell rang.
Deciding it might be worth giving up on the omelette as some higher power had obviously decided he wasn't going to get to eat it, he turned off the gas and wiped his hands on the tea towel hanging over his shoulder as he went to answer the door.
Wieldy, on the other end of the line, was still talking. "...I don't know if there's much more we can do here tonight, Sir."
"Leave it, Wieldy, go home to young Edwin and give him one from me." He opened the door and stared at the woman standing on the step. Taking the phone from his ear for a moment, he said, "Hello, Ellie Love. Come in."
She smiled a hard smile and stepped inside.
"Sorry, Wieldy. Gotta go. See you bright and early." He hung up and dropped the phone into its cradle on the hallway table.
"Come through, Love."
"I was looking for Peter," she said as she followed him into the lounge. Andy hadn't seen her in years but there were no niceties. Not anymore. "He's not at the flat and I thought, maybe...."
"He's here - he's in the bath." It hadn't quite been what she was expecting, which was precisely why he'd said it. "I'll let him know you're here." Andy turned but didn't make it out into the hall.
"What's he doing here?"
The thought occurred he could make this easy or difficult. He could sit her down and quietly explain everything about the accident and Peter's stay in hospital. But he didn't want to.
"He's been living here, on and off."
Ellie stared at him, all pretence of a smile gone. "Christ, you can't let him go, can you? He should be with me, with his daughter, in America. But he isn't because of you. It's your fault our marriage fell apart."
"Now, hang on, Love...."
"And don't call me 'Love'. It's patronising. You're a dinosaur, Andy. If Peter stays here he'll turn into you! He should be seeing the world, broadening his horizons."
"In America, you mean? He'd hate it over there, you know he would."
"He hasn't had the chance to find out!"
"So, what? You think he'd make a great PD cop?" He shook his head. "Can you seriously imagine him carrying a gun and dealing with people who do?"
"He seemed to enjoy shooting that man Della!"
"He saved my life, Ellie! And 'enjoying it' isn't right. It was a rush, a high. But he soon came down, you just weren't around to see it. You kicked him out. It was here that he drunk himself into a stupor and threw up in the kitchen sink. You married him - for better or for worse. You don't just get the highlights."
"Don't lecture me about marriage," she spat. "Yours wasn't exactly successful, was it?"
His eyes narrowed. "No. It wasn't. She couldn't hack it either. You marry a copper, you accept that you're always going to be sharing him with the job. It comes with the territory."
Spreading her hands she said, "I wouldn't have minded sharing him with the job. But it wasn't the job I was sharing him with. It was you."
"Oh, come on...."
"Why's he living here? 'On and off'? He has his own home to go to."
"It's a lonely job, Ellie."
She laughed. "You're going to end up like some old queer couple in a home somewhere bickering over the TV remote!"
Andy had an uncomfortable flash back to the old couple in the hospital.
"As much as I love him, lass, I don't think -"
But she interrupted him, "You don't love him! You just enjoy controlling him."
Andy's expression hardened suddenly. "Stop. I sat by his bedside and watched him dying. I held his hand while machines and tubes helped him breathe and piss! He means a bloody sight more to me than he obviously does to you! I didn't abandon him!"
He took a deep breath, then another one. Then he saw the shock on her face.
"What are you talking about, Andy?"
He'd honestly thought Peter had told her. Keeping his voice steady, he told her, "Peter was involved in a car crash six months ago."
She stared at him, incredulous. "Oh, God." Lost, she shook her head. "You... you didn't call?"
"Why not? Didn't you think that I had the right to know - that Peter's *daughter* had a right to know?!"
"Don't pull that one. She's only his daughter when it suits you."
But Ellie wasn't listening. "I can't believe you didn't call! Why? Are you that selfish that you wanted him all to yourself?! Wanted him to make him even more reliant on you? Why are you so obsessed with him?!"
"Ellie, shut up." Peter's voice, strong and commanding.
Andy turned, suddenly feeling incredibly guilty to see the other man standing behind him. He sighed. "Pete...."
But there was a softness to the blue eyes that was forgiving and hand at the small of his back surprised him, sending shivers up his spine. He couldn't remember a touch like it before. Peter's palm was flat and his thumb was stroking firmly through the cotton of his shirt. Andy's mouth went dry.
"You could stick the kettle on," Peter suggested quietly and relatively bravely.
Andy nodded, unable to speak. Then he remembered to move.
Peter let his annoyance into his voice as he instructed, "Sit down, Ellie."
She did as she was told, and he wondered if she was stunned by the revelation about the accident or his brevity with Dalziel.
He perched on the edge of the sofa, facing where she was sitting on the armchair.
"It was a police chase. I was on my way back from interviewing a witness to a robbery and I picked up the request from the chase car for backup. I was close by so I called in. But the girl in the control centre mixed up her north and her south and I came face to face with a 4x4. They say I swerved and hit a concrete pillar. I don't remember it. Next thing I do remember is waking up in Intensive Care."
It was a few moments before she could speak. "Why didn't he ring me, Peter?"
Peter shrugged. "Why should he have? What could you have done?"
"Flown over here! Brought your daughter to see you!"
Hesitating for a second, he explained, "I wouldn't have wanted her to see me like that. For the first two days they didn't know if I was going to live. It was touch and go Andy said. I was in a coma and a scan revealed an acute subdural hematoma. Eventually they operated. They didn't know if I'd make it, if I was strong enough to survive the op." He could see tears blossoming in her eyes. "Andy was with me through all of that. At the same time they were pulling body parts out of a nearby lake so he had a case to deal with too."
"And I can guess what came first," Ellie put in bitterly.
"I did, Ellie. And I have done since then. I stayed here when I came out of hospital."
"You're still here by the looks of things." He glanced down at himself; the casual look. He'd kept some clothes here when he'd gone back to the flat, an action he didn't want to analyse too closely.
"I've got epilepsy, Ellie." It was the final blow. The tears broke free and ran down over her face. Sighing dramatically, he crossed the short distance and put his arms around her. "Hey, no need for that."
"God... Peter...." She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tightly for a few minutes, pulling herself together quickly.
Reaching for the footstool, he pulled it closer to her chair and sat on it. "They've got me on this medication but it's a low dose at the moment. I had a third seizure this afternoon - although not as bad as the second one. Andy brought me back here."
She touched trembling fingers to his cheek. "You're always going to be reliant on him." There was almost a sad note of resignation in his voice.
Peter smiled, shaking his head. "It's not about reliance. Or control. Or whatever else you're thinking."
"Then what is it?" But she changed her mind. "Don't answer that. It's not too late, Peter. You could still come with us, back to the states."
Outside the door Andy almost dropped the two mugs he was carrying. He froze, face falling. In the kitchen he'd still been on a high from Peter's touch, the simple happiness tempered with the remnants of cold fear from Peter's collapse earlier on.
'Why can't you leave us alone?' he thought bitterly. But he waited to hear Peter's response.
"You're asking me to give up my life here?"
"I thought we were your life - me and Rosie."
"You were, once. But I've moved on just like you have."
A pause. "There is someone else then?"
"Hasn't there always been?" Andy could hear the wry smile in his voice and reflected it on his own face. Although he didn't think he'd ever experience such a thing - he felt his heart singing. Or at least whistling cheerfully.
"I mean other women!"
"Well, there have been a few in the past. Even one both Andy and I made a play for."
He imagined Ellie rolling her eyes. "I hope you won."
"He did, actually."
"She's not still around?" She feigned incredulity and Andy felt a fission of hurt.
Peter didn't grace it with an answer.
Ellie stood, crossing her arms.
Peter watched her walk to the mantelpiece and cast her eyes over the photographs displayed there. "I want to see Rosie, before you go back."
Turning, she nodded. "We could go for a picnic, the three of us?"
"No. I want Andy and I to take her somewhere, for the day."
He sat back slightly. "He's important to me, Ellie. I want her to know him. He's her godfather!"
Andy chose that moment to push the door open with his foot. He handed them the mugs without a word, but smiled at Peter before leaving again to fetch his own.
"All right, Peter," Ellie gave in, "tomorrow. Pick her up at ten."
He nodded. "Thanks."
Peter had been suspicious when Andy had suggested taking Rosie to the zoo, but to his credit he kept them away from the case and the case away from them.
It felt good to be with them both, Rosie walking between them holding their hands. Andy had bought her a disposable camera and she was enjoying taking photos of the animals. Andy took a couple of father and daughter and it helped knowing she would be going back to America with at least a reminder that she had a dad who loved her very much.
And a godfather who did too. Peter hung back a pace and watched Andy talking to Rosie. He didn't talk down to her, rather spoke to her like a grown up even if it meant clarifying some things.
Knowing Dalziel had been a curse and a blessing from the start.
Their professional partnership had always pressed up against their personal one, when by all rights there shouldn't even have been a personal one. It was never completely business with them. His marriage had collapsed under the strange intensity of it, his never-failing loyalty despite the arguments, despite the bitter tension that had ebbed and flowed between them for years.
He was starting to realise there would never be room for anyone else. Even their colleagues felt it. Wieldy was their friend but he had his own life outside of work, a whole different person to be when he stopped being Sergeant Wield. He wanted to see Peter and Andy happy simply because he was happy.
But Lateef, who had joined Wetherton CID on the same graduate fast-track Peter himself was reputed to be on, was having a tough time working with them.
Peter suspected that he was feeling his desperate desire to learn from Dalziel and climb the ladder was being hampered by the fact he couldn't actually work side by side with the great man. Dalziel worked with Pascoe - they might have been superior and subordinate but that was how it had always been and would always be. Presumably, until one of them retired. Even a promotion, Peter suspected, wouldn't move him out from under Andy's radar.
He didn't know if that was frightening or exhilarating.
"I don't believe you!" Rosie announced in response to her Dad's embellished tale of being chased by a tiger the previous night.
"It's all true!" Peter defended his story, not meeting what he knew would be Andy's disapproving look.
They reached the lion enclosure and Peter sat down on the wooden bench at the edge of the path while Andy and Rosie went to the wire fence that marked the outer perimeter of the large habitat.
Stretching his arms out along the back of the bench, he watched his daughter and his boss together; talking, laughing, acting as if this wasn't the rare and endangered event it actually was.
It was perfect really. The sun shining, no one else around, the three of them together. It felt right in a way he and Ellie never had.
Andy turned, smiling when he caught the contented expression on Peter's face. He leaned back against the wooden rail halfway up the fencing, saying to Rosie as she too looked around, "Look at you Dad, Love. Cat that got the cream."
Rosie glanced at Uncle Andy to ask what he was talking about, missing the private, shared smile between the two men.
"It means I've got everything I want right here," Peter clarified for his daughter, but he held Andy's gaze for just a moment longer than necessary.
Rosie walked over to sit up next to her father. "It's a shame Mommy isn't here."
Peter reached over and took her hand. "You know your Mum and I loved each other very much when you were born. And we love you very much. We always will. You know that, don't you?"
Rosie nodded. "But you don't love her any more, do you?"
"I do, in a way. But not in the way Mums and Dads need to love one another to live together."
He thought about his answer to that one. "Because we both changed, and how we felt about one another changed. But that doesn't mean it changed how we felt about you." He put his arm around her, "That'll never change."
She smiled and leaned into him, throwing her arms around him and hugging him tight. "I love you too, Dad."
Peter closed his eyes and held her, glancing up once at Andy after a time and seeing the gentle smile on his face, returning it.
When she released her father, she looked across at Andy.
"When Dad comes to America, will you come too, Uncle Andy?"
Peter thought for a moment that the big man with the hard reputation was going to cry. But he hid it quickly.
"I will, Love," he assured her with a huge smile.
It was getting too much for Peter.
Andy held out his hand, saying, "Come on, Rosie. How about we go see the tigers?"
Excited, she slid off the bench and took her hand, reaching back to Peter. "Hurry up, Dad! You can show me which tiger chased you!"
It was a warm evening.
They'd dropped Rosie back at Ellie's Mum's house after taking her to Pizza Hut where she and Andy together had broken the ice cream machine. Then they'd returned to the zoo, Peter promising Andy that he was fine.
But Wieldy and Lateef were apparently busy checking alibis against each other and there was little for Peter or Andy to do for the time being.
"Fancy a walk?" Peter suggested, out of the blue.
And despite having been walking most of the day, Andy nodded.
They ended up on the path that led from the main zoo to the private areas including the surgery and the house.
A nature reserve backed onto the grounds here and after walking up the gentle slope they stopped, leaning on the waist-height wooden fence and looking out over the protected woodland.
"Thanks for giving me today," Peter started, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between them when they'd stopped swapping ideas about the case.
"You don't have to thank me. It was good to see Rosie. And it was good to see you happy."
Shifting a step to the right, nudging Andy's shoulder with his own, Peter smiled. "I wasn't the only one looking like all my Christmas' had come at once."
"Aye, well. I love her, Peter, you know that. Not least because she's your daughter."
There was a shorter silence before he said, "It would be good to go to the states together. I'd have a shoulder to cry on the next time Ellie's boyfriend fixed Rosie's puncture before I could."
Andy glanced at him and mirrored Peter's smile. "I'll distract him, you go for the bike."
Chuckling softly, Peter dropped his head to Andy's shoulder for a second, needing the physical contact, lifting it to meet watchful muddy eyes.
He was going to say something about history and understanding but the words died on his lips. Without another thought he tilted his head and covered Andy's mouth with his own.
Stunned, it took Andy a moment to react. But once he was over the initial surprise he got an arm around Peter's waist and opened his mouth, sucking gently on Peter's tongue.
They stood like that, the rest of the world locked out, for an age.
Peter ended the kiss slowly, nipping Andy's bottom lip with his teeth as he pulled away.
Reaching his arm up between them, he carded his fingers through Andy's brown hair, now almost blond in the dying sunlight, and smiled.
And in sync, their mobiles started to ring.
Peter swore as he fished the handset out of his jacket pocket. He read the name on the small screen.
"Wieldy," he mouthed to Andy as he answered it.
"Bez," Andy told him, looking at his own phone. He rejected the call and waited to get the latest from his inspector.
They were needed back at the incident room. Smiling at one another, they started back.
And as they walked, Peter touched the back of his hand to Andy's and for a second or two linked their fingers.
Behind them, the sun set.