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How did it begin?

"River, this is DI Stevenson, your new partner." Marcus's voice comes from above him as he sits at his desk.

He looks up from the open file on his screen, the piles of folders on his desk, and gets an impression of pale skin, sandy hair, blue-green eyes, a long nose, a wide smile with a the bicuspids overlapping their neighboring upper teeth. He hasn't had a partner in a few months. They leave quickly enough.

"DS Stevenson, this is DI River."

"Stevie," she says, extending a hand.

He looks down at the papers on his desk. Getting back to the case. Attack on a businessman, still in hospital in a coma.

"I'll leave you to get acquainted then," Marcus says, impatient, and leaves them.

She drops her bag on the chair. After an excruciating moment, she leans over his shoulder. "What are we working on, then?"

He shifts his shoulders. Too close. She does not move.

"Confessions," he mutters.


He walks down to his car. He gets in, checks the petrol level, checks the map.

He hears the sound of the car door opening.

There's a rush of air as she leans into the car, one knee on the passenger side seat. "Let's get this out of the way. I know what people are saying. They're talking about me - about my family - about how I turned in my own brother for a better place on the force. But I got this promotion on my own work. I am a good cop, and I am a good detective sergeant. Well, I've heard plenty about you, too."

He looks up. Her eyes are narrowed, insistent.

"People say you're a nutter, that you chase away all your partners. Not me. I need this job and I am not about to be chased off."

She pushes a book off the seat, sits, closes the door behind her, and buckles the seat belt, the tongue clicking loudly into the lock. Then she exhales. Attempts a smile. "Where we going, then?"

He starts the car. "To find a meeting place."

She reaches for the radio.

"I don't like it on," he says, halting her movements. It's only once they're in the flow of traffic that he says, "Nobody talks to me."

He can't tell what her expression is while he's driving. In a determined voice, she says, "You will start talking to me. And I will keep talking to you. And you will wait for me to get to the car."

A few minutes later, she says, "If we're not talking, we're having the radio." Defiant, she switches it on and tunes it to a disco station.


It's helpful to be driving that he ponders the case, going over and over the details, wondering what he's missed, wondering if the sprawl of information is actually pointing anywhere. It is too much to explain how the edges of things - relationships, locations, times - may or may not fit together.

He is not a fast solver of problems. He does not have a theory of case. All that information spirals around in his head, round and round. He has the things people say, what they wore, what they looked like, their pasts, but he cannot fit them together. He has maps, lists of eye witnesses, statements, tips. He has the victim.

"Just because I look comfortable doesn't mean I have a lot of money." He's well-dressed, but the cuffs of his shirt are a little worn. There's a dribble of coffee on his collar.

"You buy and sell."

Stevie is there. Her eyes flick toward him, and then to the empty back seat. "What are you on about?"

He mumbles, "Building corner."

She is a good enough detective that she picks up on the thought. "Where the attack happened."

He nods.

"The suspect is a young white male, face obscured by his clothing," she recites from memory. The time she spent looking over the case is well-spent. "Victim is an older white male, dealing in sports memorabilia, multiple on-line storefronts. Previous history of shady business practices, got into some trouble gambling."


They're at the corner, looking down the street. Within a short walking distance, there are some apparel retailers, some newsagents, an optician, a cheese shop, a Tesco Express, a couple of charity shops, a bank, a Greggs, a Boots, a Costa Coffee, an off-license, a few restaurants, some pubs, and a couple of storefront betting parlours.

She frowns. "The only things open at that hour are the Costas, the pubs, the Tesco, and the Ladbrokes. They've already questioned everybody who might be at the stores."

"I am not just a seller. I'm more than that." A small cross hangs from his neck. There's a cheap blue bookies' jotta pen peeking from his pocket.

"People always give themselves away." River stares at the buildings, his head moving as his eyes scroll up and down the fronts. Passersby look at him strangely as he stands in the middle of the pavement.

"Sorry," Stevie says, smiling to them. "Just, uh, trying to figure out where we're having lunch." Quieter, she asks, "What are you doing?"

"Looking for the camera that got the footage."

"There," she says, pointing to the corner of the bank.

He glances upward, considers the angle, follows the direction the perpetrator fled. There are some gardens, apartment houses, an elementary school.

"There's nothing down there," she says.

He slows down in front of a church, walks up to the door. It opens when he pushes. He wanders inside, Stevie follows. On an inside bulletin board, several pieces of paper are posted. Members of the welcoming committee, and a schedule of different community groups. Then he sees it. Closed AA meeting.

Stevie frowns. "Huh." Then she smiles.


How did it begin?

"I can drive."

He does not move from his position next to the driver's side seat, keys in hand.

"You get distracted," Stevie says.

After getting into the car, he checks the petrol level, then starts the engine. She shakes her head as she opens the door, moves a book off the seat. "The Lambeth Poisoner again?" she says, not expecting a reply. She buckles up, and gasps when he backs up without looking into the rearview mirrors.

They're well on their way when she announces, "I'm going to Ibiza. Taking off in a couple of weeks. I put in for this before I got my promotion."

He doesn't say anything. He likes not having to. The quiet is not uncomfortable.

"If you went on holiday, where would you like to go?"

"Don't go anywhere." He shrugs.

"Don't you ever go on holiday?" she asks.

"Don't like it," he says.

"Well, I do. It's going to be warm, and sunny. Lots of sangria and sunshine. I love swimming, sea'll be lovely." She looks at him. "You're supposed to say something about being jealous."

"I'm not jealous," he objects. "Last holiday I took I got a sunburn. Didn't like it, don't want to do it again."

"Where did you go?"

"Edinburgh."

She bursts into laughter, like the idea of it was just too much. "Scotland? Scotland!"

He can't quite figure out why she finds it so funny. He tries to explain. "It was warm and sunny. It can be like that - "

"Spain is warm and sunny!" Stevie interrupts. "Scotland is - is Scotland!"

He doesn't mind her laughing, even though he so rarely means to be funny.

"Only you would get burnt in a place that's got worse weather than London." She pauses, the merriment in her eyes chased away with a blink. "Listen, I've got a favor to ask. Would you mind feeding my cat while I'm gone?" Hurriedly, she says, "My baby brother could do it, if I were in a pinch, but I'd just as soon not ask."

"Cats?"

"A cat. A single cat. And a couple of houseplants."

"Feed a couple of houseplants?"

"You're trying, bless," she said.

"Feels a little unnatural," he admits.

"You're about as natural as tits on a lizard."

A laugh is startled out of him.

Surprised, then pleased, she laughs right back. "You are," she insists.

At the end of the day, somehow, he has been given a key to her flat and agreed to feed her cat and water her plants while she is gone.


When did it feel like it was changing?

"River?" There's a tapping at his door. "River?"

The sound of the lock sliding open is proof that she is letting herself in. He would tell her to stop, tell her to leave him alone, tell her to go away, but he can't right now. He's too far away. She is too close. Seeing him like this, she knows too much.

"Oh, River," she sighs. She's looking down at him, her eyes worried. "Can you hear me?"

He can't remember how she got a key. He must have given it to her. He's got to get it back, someday.

"The place is a sty." She sniffs. "Whisky?"

Among other things. But he can't tell her. He can't tell anyone.

"Isn't it obvious they already know?" The pale face with the mutton chops sneers at him. "You gave yourself away, many times. Blithering at the empty air, clawing at nothing."

"You don't belong here!" he bellows.

Stevie looks around, her gaze seeking, only to return to him. "I felt something was happening with you," she murmurs, shaking her head. "Come on, then," she says, grabbing a hold of his arm. "Let's get you going. You can take a shower, I'll clean up this place a bit. When's the last time you ate? You like eggs? I make good eggs."


How do you push away?

"Come on River, it's Christmas."

"No." He doesn't want to meet her eyes. They'll be expectant. Shiny. He focuses on the drinks machine in the breakroom. It's humming. Why is there no one else here? Of all the times to be left alone.

" 'No' today means not Christmas today or -"

"No, I will not do Christmas with you."

"Not even Boxing Day?"

"No." He hates it. Hates her asking, hates lying to her. He gets a little nervous and sweaty. "Every year you want to do something on Christmas. I told you, I have family that comes down and I have to see them."

She scowls a bit. "Not every year?"

"Every year." The lie presses on him, makes him irritated he has to actually say something. The overhead lights flicker, the buzzing looms louder in his ears. "The average Christmas season sees an average of 30 percent increase of retail crime."

"I thought the Swedish love Christmas." She is trying.

"Some Swedish also hate Christmas."

"How can you hate Christmas? There's the music, the lights, the feeling, the pretty snow, the presents -"

"Why do you love Christmas?" he snaps back, his voice rising over the noise - the combined buzzing and humming of everything in this room - in his ears. "There's the crowds, the music, the terrible weather, the waste, the pointless fakeness - "

"Fine. Fine. Go on and hate Christmas with your relatives." She's a little angry now. He's disparaged her favourite holiday. She turns her back and walks away.

He's sorry. He really is. But he is also relieved she left him alone and he gets to do what he wants.

The noise softens, but remains in the back of his head like an itch he cannot scratch.


How had she known so much?

"What is it this time, River?" It's like her voice is coming to him from far away.

He shakes his head, once. He can't tell her. He sees her eyes. She's too close, hovering over him. He's lying down, his hands feel that he's on a rug. His rug, he hopes.

"You haven't been at work for a few days. Chrissie's worried. I'm worried."

He blinks. Has it been that long? He can see the afternoon light slanting in through the windows. It was dark the last he can remember.

"You've been talking to all - to all the people who aren't here," she says.

"You promised." The manifests have crowded in, staring at him.

There is not enough time to address all their needs, solve their problems. Panic rises. It's too much.

"How can a broken vessel fill any one's emptiness?" There's a sneer on Thomas Neill Cream's face.

"I can't," he says.

"Come on, then. Let's get you cleaned up." She pauses. "You need to see someone."

"No," he manages, his tongue feeling thick and unusable. "Not finding out."

"Failure. You are. Pathetic."

"You're a good cop, they will let you keep working." She's thinking. "I want you to keep working. We can find something. Someone will know what to do."


Where has this been heading?

"Come on, River, let's go out tonight," she urges, leaning from the space behind her desk into his.

He looks at her, not able to comprehend what she's saying. "I'm working."

"You're always working. There's a karaoke night, half the section is going to be there."

"I don't sing," he says.

"Everybody sings. Children sing. Babies sing. Animals."

"Not disco."

"One time. One time. It'll be good. Chrissie's going to be there." Stevie waits for him to make the connection, but barrels ahead when she sees he isn't going to. "She's up for DCI now that Marcus has been promoted. Let's take her out, get that off her mind."

He shakes his head.

"It's my birthday."

The calendar is by his elbow, he picks it up, checks the date. "Isn't your birthday in August?"

She tsks. "No matter. It'll be good, you get out, everybody seeing you out." She urges, "This is important."

"Drinking, buying rounds - how is this important to being a detective? I am already good at being a detective."

"I know you are. Listen, River, it is important to the way they see you. Not just a job, but as a person, so they will keep you, get you promotions, leave you alone. You understand?" She straightened her posture. "Now, when I ask you to come out, what're you're going to say?"

He closes his eyes and sighs. "Okay."


The bar is unknown. He's never been here before. He enters alone, looks around until he sees some familiar faces. He walks to the bar, trying to get to the edge of his group.

He sees Stevie with someone, the laughing is different. She's standing close to somebody. He's pale complected, blond hair, brown eyes, glasses. Tall, heavy around the middle. River looks away. Then, looks again. Keeps looking.

Chrissie nudges his side as she steps up to the bar next to him. "That's Barry from - "

"Huh," he says. He sticks his hands in his pockets, smooths down front of his jacket.

"You, uh? Not worried?"

"What should I be worried about?"

Quickly, too quickly, she says, "Nothing. Nothing."

Stevie is pulling the man - Barry - onto the tiny stage, urging him to follow. He refuses. She looks up, catches River's eyes. She smiles, suddenly, and waves. Now he's blinking under the regard of the entire bar.

"Go on," Chrissie says with a grin.

"I don't - "

"Make that my first order to you - "

"Oh." He thinks, trying to understand the meaning of the words.

"Yes, I got the promotion, River," she is amused as she explains.

Calling up what Stevie might tell him to say, River says, "Congratulations. I thought you wouldn't know until Monday."

"I got a call. Paperwork tomorrow, announcement on Monday." A smile quirks up the corner of her mouth. "There will be a surprise party next week, Tom is arranging it."

Parsing the sentence feels like it is taking too long. Chrissie waits. Finally, he manages, "Are you supposed to be surprised?"

"Of course I'm supposed to be surprised. But the day my husband can hide something from me is the day I hand in my badge. Anyway, make sure you be there, otherwise people will think you're upset that I got the promotion and not you."

"I didn't apply," he said. He stretches his face into something that might be a socially appropriate smile. "I didn't want to be asked questions from people I am not ready to answer."

She nods, sympathetic. "Between you and me, me neither. But the interviews weren't bad at all, and you get used to it, after the first six times."

"Good, good," he says, apropos of nothing, dropping his face into more comfortable lines. The bartender catches his eye. "My shout," he says, putting up a hand.

"My shout," Chrissie interrupts, catching his arm and pulling it down. "You go to Stevie."

"But for your promotion - "

"You can get the next one," she says. She raises her voice, "He's coming, Stevie!"

Stevie's face lights up. "River! I found my favorite song!"

River grimaces as she pulls him on stage. He doesn't look at Barry, abandoned at the edge of the stage.

After the bartender makes for last call, River drives Stevie home. She is nodding her head in the car, singing snatches of lyrics. "Why do we always start investigations by going backwards from the crime?" she muses.

"Because it always looks inevitable from that point, going backwards. You can't tell where things might have ended up if you start from the beginning."

"I'd like to see how things start, where they might have gone." She sighs, dreamy.

He parks, waiting while she pulls on the handle. "I can't open the door," she says, and then she laughs and laughs. He gets out, walks around, and helps her out of the car and toward her front door.

"You coming in?" she invites. "Let me get my keys - " she stabs them in the direction of the lock, and then, trying to get a better grip, drops them with a jangle on the threshold.

He picks them up, unlocks the lock and opens the door.

"Will you stay?" she asks. "I don't like being alone."

"I - " he looks at her in the shaded moonlight, her unsteady stance, her hair, her eyes. He stands still.

"River," she says, and leans into his arms. "John."

He moves his head backward, slowly.

She leans forward so much she nearly falls forward. Tears start to fill her eyes. "I should have known this would be the way - I mean, what did I think would happen? I haven't been alone with a man who wasn't you in years." She sobs as she crumples. "Can't even stand to be half-dressed in the light even by myself, why do I think a man would want this." Her eyes open wide in alarm. "Oh my god - " She gags. "Help-help me."

He watches as she stuffs a hand into her mouth. Then he grabs her and pulls her into the apartment, into the bathroom. She doesn't make it, vomit dribbling out of her hands onto the bathroom floor. He holds her hair over the open toilet.

After she finishes, she lays on the floor, breathing shakily. "Oh, god," she moans. He reaches her, a damp washcloth in his hand.

"You can't be seeing this," she mourns, taking and clutching the washcloth.

"It's all right," he says, then helps her clean up. He assists her to bed, sitting down on the edge of the mattress to make sure she is settled. She lays on the bed and looks at him, her eyes half-filled with tears. She falls asleep, curled into herself, her breath coming in slow shuddering gasps, mouth open like a child.

He reaches forward and touches her hair. In the dark, it's impossible to tell what colour it is. His memory supplies brown and gold strands, as they slide silkily over his fingers.


"River?" She raises a hand to her head, wincing. She says, softer, "You stayed here all night?"

He nods. "On the couch."

"Too much pinot. Much too much." She notices the glass of water by the bedside, takes it and quaffs it down. "You ask how I am."

After clearing his throat, he asks, "How are you?"

"Got a bloody terrible headache is how I am." She smacks her lips, making a disgusted face. "Mouth tastes awful." She stills, her eyes shoot toward him, wide. "Did I do anything last night? Say anything I should be embarrassed about?"

"No." He turns toward her kitchen. "I can make you some eggs."


How does it end?

He knows how it ends; sitting by himself a bench outside of the morgue, waiting for the coroner's report. He knows what the conclusions will be. Obvious. He was right there when it happened.

The overhead fluorescent lights drone on and on. He can see the failing flicker of one down the hall.

He doesn't know what to do. Stevie. Stevie.

She walks up to him. "Come on, then. Let's find out how this happened to me."