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Behind the Bars

Chapter Text

“Ah, and this, is Sidney Carter.” Inspector Valentine says, gesturing with his hand and the young man leaning against the car outside the jeweller's.

“Who’s this?” Sidney asks, exhaling cigarette smoke slowly as he looks the stranger beside Valentine up and down. He’s undoubtedly police, Sid reckons, taking in the blue waistcoat, trench coat, grey hat, polished black shoes, the small notebook clutched in his left hand. He makes up his mind that he already dislikes this guy and his tight set jaw very much.

“This is Inspector Sullivan.” Valentine introduces, “He’s taking over my position here in Kembleford.” 

“You’re leaving?” Sid straightens up at once. He’s not sure what to think of that: he felt that he and Inspector Valentine had come to some sort of unspoken agreement, and a mutual respect of one another. It isn’t often that Kembleford gets a decent Inspector, especially not in Sid’s opinion.

“I’m afraid so.” Valentine says, then turns to the new inspector, “You’ll have to keep an eye out for this one- Father Brown’s favourite pickpocket.”

Sidney narrows his eyes slightly.

“I see.” Sullivan says, and takes his turn to look Sidney Carter up and down. He’s wearing his chauffeur’s uniform, a glaring green with too large buttons. But there’s not much of him, really, Sullivan thinks, “Interesting company, for a priest.” 

“Oh tell me about it.” Valentine says, “His whole little group is full of ironies.” 

Sid narrows his eyes a little more. Perhaps he’d been imagining that mutual respect. 

“Well, nice to meet you, Mr Carter.” Sullivan holds out his hand. Sid stares at it for a moment a little too long, then shakes it tentatively. 

“Inspector.” 

Then Sullivan drops his hand, nods, and continues at Valentine’s side up the little street. Valentine gestures over to the bakery. Sid drops his cigarette to the floor and stubs it out with his foot, watching until they disappear around the corner. 

Chapter Text

Kembleford is quaint and gentle and very nearly something from a fairytale, in its idealism. The village seems to surround the church, Father Brown apparently at the heart of it. Everyone knows everyone, or at least thinks they know everyone, and there’s always a smell of cut grass and a shrill of birds.

It’s certainly not Sullivan’s scene, not one that he is used to. Still the cottage is nice and there’s an old piano in the back room that he pays someone to tune after a day or so of fighting the temptation. His garden backs onto a footpath out to god knows where but he adores the amount of shelf space indoors, alphabetising his books in their individual genres while he sings quietly along to his record player. And once the place is set up, he thinks, maybe, he could get used to this kind of life. It’s peaceful anyway. And he needed to get away- he couldn’t exactly be choosy on place.

*

It’s actually a little exciting when he has his first murder to solve. It gets him away from Mrs McCarthy and her missing scones, anyway.

It’s all exciting until Father Brown insists on worming his way in. Trouble. That’s all this priest is going to be, and Sullivan knows he couldn’t choose somewhere for a fresh start but well, did it have to be here

“And you didn’t observe anyone near him.” Sullivan asks the woman who’d followed the man up the street. She’s dressed in rich, bright red, hair well done, handbag at her side.

“Not that I recall.” she answers, then, “By the way, Lady Felicia, pleasure.” She holds out her gloved hand, and, tentatively, he shakes it.

“Yes.” 

“I haven’t seen felix at mass in a long time. Nor his wife for that matter.” Father Brown says, appearing in front of him quite suddenly.

“Well it looks to me as though he’s been in hospital. And why did he say murder?” Mrs McCarthy says.

“Murder?” the priest repeats.

Sullivan actually can’t deal with this, “Mrs McCarthy. I’d appreciate some discretion”

“Good luck with that.” Lady Felicia says.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Mrs McCarthy demands, but Sullivan leaves before he can catch Lady Felicia’s retort.

He steps under the police rope and turns to the doctor, “Any sign of foul play?” he asks, notebook and pen poised as he stares down at the body.

“Humbug?” the man replies. It makes Sullivan blink for a moment, until he sees the bag of sweets in the man’s hands.

“No.” he says, and watches as Father Brown takes one, and proceeds to take over the entire case too, stealing from the retreat, insisting he accompany him throughout the case, snooping where he really shouldn’t. (The worst thing about it is that he is actually useful , too.) He’s going to end up arresting him, one day, he knows it.

He’s gracious as he can be to Lady Felicia, too, but even he could tell that she tried to flirt with him upon meeting him, and he doesn’t know, at all, how to deal with that. She offers, later, that he comes along to a party up at her and her husband’s place, and he can’t really decline because he needs to get to know the people of the village, and, unfortunately, there is no better place.

*

Inspector Sullivan hears the party before he can see it. He exits the wolseley and slams the car door behind him and listens to the faint hum of music and rich over forced laughter radiating from the garden on the other side of the Montague’s home. He adjusts the cuffs of his sleeves although they are perfectly fine, and marches up towards the house. 

Lady Felicia is there to greet him at the large open front door, and a waiter offers him a glass of champagne, which he turns down. He is driving, after all. The countess leads him through the house, all large rooms with splendid ceilings and elegant chandeliers, and out into the garden. 

It’s a large stretch of grass, tables up the top with food and more drinks. Lady Felicia stands with him for a while and points out key figures of Kembleford and Sullivan tries to keep track of them all. He goes around each person and introduces himself, drones through the small talk to deem himself friendly. He’s going to be here a while, in this little village, and he knows it's important he makes himself approachable.

He has a friendly talk with Father Brown too, all the while ensuring, once again, that there will be absolutely no need for him to meddle in any more murders, or, in fact, any crimes at all. He gave him the benefit of the doubt, this time, but it won’t happen again, Sullivan is sure of it. The priest is just leaving when a voice startles Sullivan from behind. 

“Heard he made you look like a right mug.” 

Sullivan closes his eyes and stifles a sigh before he turns round, “Mr Carter.” he greets.

The Inspector’s not an expert on chauffeurs, but he’s reasonably sure that it isn’t usual for one to be invited to their boss’ parties. In fact, Sidney Carter appears to be more Lady Felicia’s family, than anything like a worker. Perhaps somewhat akin to a younger brother, maybe even a son, he can’t work it out. There’s something about the whole group that bemuses him. The most motley crew of friends. 

Sid is in uniform, but he doesn’t seem to be on duty. He reaches over to the table and swipes one of the pastries from a plate, and Sullivan watches disapprovingly as he scoffs it, crumbs scattering the grass. 

“Father said you needed all the help you could get.” the man says, after swallowing his mouthful and brushing his hands free of crumbs. 

Sullivan is somewhat sure the Father wouldn’t exactly say such a thing. The man is irritating and nosy and doesn’t seem to care terribly for the laws of interfering in police matters but he doesn’t appear rude

“Is that so?” The Inspector says, bringing a glass of champagne to his lips ( one glass shouldn’t do any harm, he decided), “So the Father will have you to thank, when I arrest him for disrespecting an officer.”

Sidney’s quiet and Sullivan smiles somewhat proudly, “You should be careful what you say around Inspectors, Carter.” he warns leaning a little close. Although he quickly pulls back, too, the hubbub of surrounding guests suddenly loud and very there . “Enjoy the party.” the Inspector ends on, before strolling briskly away, considering the possibility of a second glass of champagne. 

Sidney Carter can only mean trouble, and it’s best, the Inspector thinks, to just stay as far away from him as possible.

 

Chapter Text

“Put that back.” 

Sid pauses, hand hovering over the counter where he’d just swiped a forgotten wallet. He sighs and slowly turns around. It’s decided that the new Inspector is a pain and he cannot stand him.

“Inspector I was just-”

“Hand it over, Mr Carter.”

“You just said put it back.”

“And now I’m saying hand it over, do you know whose it is?”

Sid shrugs. “It was just lying there… look surely it should stay here, if anywhere.” 

Sullivan has this look on his face that he seems to wear every time Sid sees him in passing: irritation. He glares at him in said irritation for a moment before taking the wallet and opening it up. There’s a name written across the material at the bottom. Sullivan closes his eyes and sighs, then hands it back to Sid. 

“Father Brown’s.”

“Seriously? Uh- I mean, of course, it is, that’s why I was picking it up.”

“Mmhmm. You’re lucky, this time, Carter.” He passes him further into the shop and observes the groceries. 

Sid notices, then, Sullivan’s lack of waist coat, lack of blazer, any kind of jacket. And he feels it in his chest and in his gut and-

He shakes his head and hurries out the shop. He has a wallet to return.

*

“Why do I always miss out on all the excitement?” Sid says, grumpily pressing his chin onto his arm and cutting off Father Brown’s retelling of the Pryde Castle events. 

“You’ve been with us for plenty of adventures!” Father Brown replies, indignant.

“Adventures?” Mrs McCarthy echoes, placing a plate of steaming food in front of both the Father and Sidney, “Is that what you call it?”

Sid tucks into his food at once, side eyeing Father Brown and sharing a slight grin.  “Anyway, as you were saying… Inspector Sullivan arrested the wrong person as usual, I take it?”

“Sidney…” Father Brown starts, but catches Sid’s raised eyebrow and nods solemnly, “He did, yes.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Sid starts with a shake of his head, “he has one job.”

“Well nobody’s perfect, Sid.” Father Brown counters.

“Quite right.” Mrs McCarthy says, sitting down with her own plate of food, “I mean look at the job you’ve done with the church roof.”

“What about it?!” Sid asks at once, defensive.

“Well I certainly wouldn’t call it a perfect job.” Mrs McCarthy explains, “We are going to have to get a professional, Father.”

“Oi, what am I if not a professional?”

“A very kind and helpful friend.” Father Brown says.

“I don’t think that’s the compliment that you think it is, Father.” Sid tells him, “Besides, that’s technically not my job, I’m a chauffeur not a uh- uh- builder? Sullivan’s an Inspector, his one job is to solve crimes.”

“You’re always very keen to hear these stories involving Sullivan.” Father Brown says. 

“No I’m not.” Sid says at once, “He just always happens to be in them.”

“Yes, of course.” 

Father , come on that’s… well it’s insulting, quite honestly.” Sid says through a mouthful of food. 

“He’s not so bad.” The Father reasons, “You should try and get to know him!”

“I don’t want to get to know him!” Sid retorts, “You’ve got it all wrong.” he adds, muttering into a forkful of mash. 

“How I wish you two didn’t always talk in riddles.” Mrs McCarthy says, feeling quite lost in the conversation, “What business has Sidney got, getting to know that Inspector? He’ll find himself arrested, no doubt, that man doesn’t appear lenient, to say the least.”

Father reckons I fancy the Inspector.” Sid explains, only because he knows Mrs M’s reaction before she does it,

“Holy mother.” she says (she never disappoints, Sid thinks).

“I said nothing of the sort!” Father Brown insists. 

“Course you didn’t.” Sid says, before shoveling a forkful of food into his mouth. 

“But Sidney … all the women in town and you want that- city boy ?!”

“I’m a city boy!” Sid retorts, “Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“I see they have something in common.” Father Brown says, to himself, but purposely loud enough for Sid to hear.

“Oh we’re both from London so we have to be together.”

“That’s not what I-”

“Please, it’s not as though Inspector Sullivan is, well, you know…” Mrs McCarthy trails off, awkward

Sid grins, amused, at her struggle over the words, “How do you know, Mrs M?” He asks with a quirked eyebrow, “Something you want to tell us?” 

“Don’t be absurd, Sidney.” Mrs McCarthy says at once, “But… he’s not... is he?” she adds, nervously looking between Sid and the Father as though they have the answer.

“Honestly, Mrs M, it isn’t any of our business.” Sid says, “And it doesn’t matter, anyway, because I’m not interested.” he adds, glancing over at Father Brown who holds his hands up slightly (holding in them his knife and fork) in defeat.

“Whatever you say, Sid.” he assures. Sid shakes his head into his dinner, but thinks, only to himself, that just because he isn’t interested, doesn’t mean he can’t test the waters. Just a bit.

*

It’s market day, in Kembleford Village High Street. Stalls clutter both sides of the road and there’s a hubbub of customers chatting to friends and sellers, and the odd holler as men call customers to their stall. Sidney Carter is browsing the grocery stall, fingers running around a barrel filled with apples, glancing at the salesman behind the stall, as he begins to get engrossed in conversation with a woman at the other end of the tables. 

He’s perfectly distracted.

“Okay, this is getting a little ridiculous now.” Inspector Sullivan’s voice warns from behind him. Sid pauses, sighs, and turns around,

“You’re telling me! I’m not even doing anything.” He says in disbelief.

“Apple. Left pocket.” Sullivan snaps.

Sid rolls his eyes, but reluctantly produces the apple in question from his left trouser pocket. “This is from her Ladyship, it’s been there all morning.” 

“Then explain why I saw you take it from the barrel, and put it straight into your pocket.” Sullivan says. 

Sid wrinkles his nose as he racks his mind for a witty response, “Hallucinations?” He offers weakly.

“Very funny. Just put it back, and I won’t have to arrest you.”

“You’d arrest me for an apple ?” Sid asks in disbelief. 

Hi exclamation has drawn the attention of the trader on the other side of the stall, “What’s going on, Inspector?” 

“Nothing.” Sidney answers for Sullivan, as he gently and slowly places the apple back atop the pile, “He’s overreacting.” 

He pointedly meets Sullivan’s eyes. It’s a challenge, and Sullivan takes it and stares back, unblinking. Sid smiles, steps forward, eye contact unwavering,

“You know, if you put this much energy into actual crimes, instead of chasing me around town, you might actually arrest the right people.” 

Sullivan grits his teeth. Sid knows he’s trying to stand his ground, but he’s wavering. And just to push him, a little, he lets his eyes dance across the Inspector’s face, pausing a moment too long at his lips. 

“I don’t chase you around, Carter.” Sullivan insists, straightening himself slightly, “I just so happen, to be in the wrong place, at the worst time, and run into you.”

Sid offers a smile, something of respect at managing a response, and nods slowly, “If that’s what you want to believe, Inspector.” 

With one last glance at Sullivan’s lips, then back up to his eyes, Sid grins, and walks past him back down the road. He fights the urge to glance back. He pretends his chest isn’t tight. That his smile has nothing to do with the Inspector. He pulls his pack of cigarettes from his pocket, lights one.

Chapter Text

It’s a busy, stressful night at Kembleford police station. The day was stressful enough- young Violet Furnsley is still crying in the holding cell, insisting over and over that she did nothing wrong. And in the neighbouring cell, a young teen who smashed the jewellery shop window and tried to nick a necklace. And now? 

Outside Sullivan’s office, where he’s trying to write up the report for Ivan Furnsley’s potential murder and definite disappearance, there’s a hubbub of angry voices, slurred and clumsy. Careless of the words that fall from their mouths. 

And a knock at his door.

“I am busy .” Sullivan snaps. Because it’s been loud out there for sometime now and this has tipped him over the edge. 

The door swings open and Sergeant Goodfellow smiles into the room, “Sorry sir, but the cells are all full tonight. A brawl at the Red Lion.” 

“Well, what do you want me to do, Sergeant, build some more?” Sullivan murmurs, still staring down at his report, frowning. None of the words are going in.

“Actually sir.” Goodfellow starts, “There’s only one lad without a cell. Thought he might benefit from sitting in your office for a while.”

“But I’m extremely busy-” Sullivan stops when he looks up to see who this ‘one lad without a cell’ actually is, “Oh. Carter. What have you been up to this time?”

Sid smiles lazily, “Absolutely nothing, Inspector. I’m pretty sure there’s no crime in drinking.” He ambles into the room and flops himself down into the chair on the other side of Sullivan’s desk.

The Inspector frowns at both this action, and Sid’s words, “It is when you are drunk and disorderly.” He says, turning over the page of the report.

Sid leans forward, resting his arms on the desk, “Well I’ve hardly been disoooorderly.”

Sullivan glances over to Goodfellow who is still in the doorway, “Is that true?” He asks. 

“Well, as far as I could tell, sir, he did seem to be trying to break up the brawl outside the pub.” Goodfellow answers honestly, “But I did think it was safer to bring him here, than let him head home like that.”

Sid shrugs, “I coulda stayed in the presbytery, Father always let’s me.” Sid answers lazily, now leaning his cheek on his arm and staring across the desk at the neat stacks of paper and books. 

“Well, now you’re here, you may as well sober up first. Sergeant, bring him some water would you? And maybe call the Father, so he knows Carter’s here.” 

“Right away sir.” Goodfellow says, letting the door close behind him as he hurries off. 

Sullivan leans back in his chair and lifts the report from his desk, bringing it closer to his eyes. Doesn’t matter how close the document is, however, because he still cannot take in a single word of it. 

“What are you reading?” Sid asks, absentmindedly moving a box of paper clips towards him to fiddle with. 

“I’m reading through what I’ve written about a case.” Sullivan replies bluntly, “And there’s enough distractions around tonight without you badgering me with questions.” 

Sid lifts his head. His hair’s a complete mess, but Sullivan pretends not to notice that, “Is that your way of shutting me up?” he asks, a little taunting. Sid has this easy, smooth way of getting in under Sullivan’s skin and it’s rather frustrating, on Sullivan’s part. 

The door opens, and Goodfellow enters, quite forgetting to knock, with a mug of water in hand, “For Mr Carter.” he explains when Sullivan looks at him in mild annoyance.

“Right. Thank you, sergeant.” he gestures for Goodfellow to hand it over to Sid, “Is that all?” he asks, when this is taken care of.

“Uh, yes, sir, just going to call Father Brown, if that’s alright?” Goodfellow checks.

“Course.” The inspector says.

“So long as he’s not asleep.” Sidney mutters after taking a small sip of his water. It’s clear to Sullivan that the guy is clearly very disinterested in the drink, watches as Sid frowns into the mug. 

Goodfellow nods and leaves the room once more, closing the door and muffling all of the outside sounds. It’s quiet for some moments, besides the odd slurp as Sid sips his water, and he manages to read a paragraph and feel satisfied with it. 

“What are these about?” Sid asks, poking at the neat, alphabetised pile of books on the far end of Sullivan’s desk.

“Don’t,” Sullivan leans over and gently slaps Sid’s hand away, “touch.” he finishes, casting him an annoyed look. 

Sid puts his mug down on the desk with a clonk, “I was only asking.”

Sullivan sighs and slaps the paper back down onto the desk. Sid jumps a little. “They are books on the latest crime theories.” 

Sid groans and flops his head down onto his arm, “Sounds boooring.” He yawns, a wide, genuine yawn. 

“To you maybe. I can’t imagine you’ve even read a full book.” 

“That’s not fair!” Sid lifts his head, “I’ve read books.”

Sullivan raises an eyebrow that says, name one book you’ve read . Sid frowns at the desk, then picks up his water and takes a few more sips. When he puts it down he says,

“Does it count if they’re read to you?”

“No.” Sullivan says, annoyingly quickly.

Sid thinks for a moment, nose wrinkling, “Now we are six.” he says finally.

“Now we are six?” Sullivan echoes. 

“You know, that kids book, with the poems.”

“I know what Now We Are Six is, Carter. But it’s the only book you can recall reading?”

“You put me on the spot!” Sid replies, throwing his hands up violently, almost knocking his mug. Sullivan glares at him warningly. “Besides, isn’t that more impressive?”

“That you read a kid’s book?”

“No that I used to read when I was younger!” Sid replies.

“I don’t think that’s impressive, Carter, it means you don’t read as an adult.”

Sid shrugs, “Don’t have time. Or the attention span.” He holds the mug up to his mouth and gulps the rest of the liquid. 

“And yet you have the time and attention to get absolutely plastered.” Sullivan says mindlessly, moving his pen slowly down the lines of writing as he reads them. 

“I’m not that drunk.” Sid retorts, leaning back on his chair, lifting the front legs off the ground.

“If you fall I’m not going to be sympathetic.” Sullivan tells him, barely glancing up at him. 

Sid launches the chair back down to the ground with a thump, “I’m not gonna fall.” He says, but Sullivan has already turned back to his paperwork, frowning, “Could I read it?” Sid asks then.

Sullivan looks up, “You? Who hasn’t read a book since Now We Are Six , wants to read a boring old police file? While drunk?”

Sid shrugs, “Could edit it for you.”

“No offence, but I think I trust my own knowledge of grammar a little more than I trust yours.” Sullivan responds, his pen hovering above the paper as though he is about to write. 

“Father Brown would do it. He could even help with the ca-”

“Don’t you dare, he gets involved enough as it is.” Sullivan says. 

Sid lets out a slight breathy laugh, “Although maybe not enough, since you keep on getting things wrong.” He raises his eyebrows. Sullivan wishes it didn’t make him feel like that- like something’s pressing against his ribs, or rearranging his organs. He shakes his head quickly and looks back down at his paperwork. 

“Has the Father always been so meddlesome?” Sullivan asks then, because he’s been wondering. Inspector Valentine said he always got involved with his cases too, but before that? Must every Inspector unfortunate enough to work in this little village be shown up by the pestering priest? 

“Long as I can remember.” Sid replies with a shrug, “But look, he knows people , and well, he knows the town . You could use him to your advantage you know, if you weren’t so proud.” 

“I’m not proud.” Sullivan says with a small shake of his head. The feeling in the room switches, and it becomes apparent that the Inspector isn’t thinking about police work anymore. 

“Why do you hate him so badly?” Sid asks then, after a beat of silence, leaning his cheek back against his arm on the desk.

“I don’t hate him. I just don’t approve of his… interfering.” 

“But why ? You know he helps.” Sid sits up again, narrows his eyes a little, “Is it because he’s a priest?” 

Sullivan swallows, “That doesn’t make a difference to me.” He assures, resting his elbows on the desk and clasping his hands together. 

“He’s not like other priests, you know.” Sid tells him, “He’s good. Kind. He don’t judge.” 

Sullivan looks at Sid. He knows, he’s pretty sure, what the man is implying but he worries he’s jumping a little to a wrong conclusion. He wrings his hands together a little, and says, attempting to be calm and collected, “You know, Carter, I sometimes feel as though you have er- certain- conjectures , about me.” and his cheeks flush at once, from merely skating around such a subject.

“Are they wrong?” Sid asks, twirling his empty mug with one hand, looking up at the Inspector almost tauntingly. 

Sullivan closes his eyes and sighs quietly. He’s never really told anyone outright before. “Not exactly.” He settles on, resting both his arms across the paperwork, holding Sid’s eyes. “But I’d er, I hope I trust you won’t-”

Sid smiles, “Don’t worry Inspector. Soul of discretion, me.” 

Inspector Sullivan nods slowly, then a little faster as he takes a deep, relieved breath, “Well, thank you, Carter.”

“You needn’t thank me I… I know how you feel, you know?”

Sullivan swallows. He tells himself the fluttering in his stomach is relief, that Sid gets it, that he won’t tell. He tells himself it’s nothing to do with the possibility that maybe, just maybe-

A knock at the door.

“For the hundredth time I’m busy !” Sullivan exclaims as the door opens. Goodfellow flushes. Sid stifles a laugh at the sudden outburst.

“I know sir, sorry sir, but uh- Father Brown’s here. For Mr Carter.” He casts his gaze over to the young man.

“He came for me?” Sid asks softly, sitting up somewhat straighter. 

“Oh.” Sullivan says, a little preoccupied in the grateful, gentle look on Sid’s face, “Good, well, perhaps I will finally get some peace with you out of here.” It’s a joke but his tone doesn’t show it. Neither does his heart: must he leave?

“Thank you, Inspector, for the lovely chat.” Sid says. He gets up and overdramatically stretches, “I guess I’ll see you around.”

All Sullivan can do is nod. He’s not sure if he can manage to speak without becoming a nervous, spluttering mess, just because he knows Goodfellow is watching. 

Goodfellow guides Sid out the room, smiles brightly at Sullivan and then closes the door once more. The noise outside the room has died down somewhat. Mrs Furnsley’s quietened, and the drunken lot must have crashed out. And yet… Sullivan finds he can concentrate less than before. Sidney is no longer here and yet the man appears to be louder than ever. His bright, mocking smile wrapped up in Sullivan’s head, the teasing edge to all of his words, his hands, how they poked at his books, danced with the empty mug still on the desk. His breath. His heart. Beating in time with Sullivan’s own. 

*

Wilfred Furnsley is dead, lying under the hay and rotten food, crooked, still, blooded. A crime scene camera flashes over his body and Sullivan steps away.

A little up the drive stands Father Brown, comforting Lady Felicia who’s sitting against one of the barn walls. And standing beside them, Sidney Carter. He hasn’t really seen him in a while, a couple of times their cars passed one another, and he’s seen him in the church yard with Mrs M, Lady Felicia. And he’s seen him lean against the Rolls Royce to light a cigarette, but he’d not dared approach. Scared, mainly. Of all the ways he could’ve told Sid (and of all the wonderful ways he couldn’t have told him), he can’t believe he told him when Sid was drunk. Not that he doesn’t trust the man with this, but it’s still all too reckless, especially for him.

So, to solve this, he barely acknowledges the chauffeur, “Weren’t you saying you thought Willfred might be the killer?” Sullivan mocks to Father Brown, standing between him and Sid, “Time to strike him off your suspect list.”

“Wilf is dead.” Father Brown mutters. 

Sullivan nods, “Lady Felicia, I don’t have a WPC at my disposal.”

Lady Felicia shakes her head and says, into her small cup of tea, “Thank you, I’ll be quite alright without one.”

“No, I mean, would you mind attempting to comfort Mrs Furnsley.” Sullivan explains, and Sid purses his lips to stifle a laugh beside him.

“Right.” Lady Felicia says, briskly handing her mug of tea to Sid and standing up. 

“Thank you.” Sullivan says, casting her a slight smile and a grateful nod. With that he means to leave to the group, strolling around the corner to the barns. Father Brown, however, hurries after him, Sid in tow. 

Father Brown is trying to explain his theories, but Sullivan has better things to be doing. Sid watches them bicker as he leans against the wall nearby.

“Was he her beau then?” Archie Furnsley asks, leaning against the gate of the barn beside them, “That police officer, came ‘round here, sniffing about.” 

Sullivan scowls, then leans forward hurriedly to ask, “Which officer is this?” 

Acquiring the name, he gathers up his force, half hauling Goodfellow into the car because there is no time to lose . He reverses wildly in the pig-farm’s driveway. Pauses when the car backs up next to Father Brown and Sid.

“Go home, Father.” He orders, revving the engine, casting a last glance to Sid before he drives away. He also allows himself one glance back at him in the mirror. And he feels it, in his throat, his heart, when he finds Sid is staring right back. 

*

“Inspector!” Father Brown rushes around the side of the barns with Sid speeding along behind him, “You have to find Ethel Furnsley.”

“She’s the killer!” Sid says, panting a little, leaning against the roof of the police car. Sullivan forces away the urge to push him off the paintwork, and this is only successful because he takes in Sid’s words.

“If this is a stunt-” He hisses, but the Father cuts him off.

“You have to find her, now, you have to stop the execution.”  Father Brown insists. It almost takes the Inspector by surprise, the urgency in his voice. 

“I’m leaving now, Father, no more diversions. If Ethel’s the murderer then I’m the next Pope-”

Before Sullivan can even get in the car, he hears another car engine roar, and he sees Ethel Furnsley in the driver's seat. Thankfully there’s not even time for Father Brown to gloat. Not even time for Sidney Carter to smirk at him, before the car is speeding towards all of them. Sid drags Father Brown out the way and Sullivan shouts for Goodfellow to stop her, to go after her. 

It’s Archie Fernsley who traps her, drives the tractor into the drive, blocking her in. Sullivan swipes the handcuffs from the back of the police car, hurries over to arrest her, trying to shake off Sid's gaze but he knows it’s there. He saw his smirk- there’s always time for Sid to throw an ‘ I told you so’ smirk, apparently. 

Ethel Furnsley screams and cries and resists more than her daughter-in-law ever did. It makes him cringe, when they’re back at the station and she spits in the Father’s face. He deserves the tissue that Sullivan provides.

*

The park is a little breezy, and the sunlight has begun to fade, causing a strain on Sullivan’s eyes as he tries to read through his own writing. But it’s peaceful. Children have long since gone home and the only few people Sullivan has really seen have been dog walkers, who keep to themselves up on the path while he sits in the middle of the grass. 

It’s easier to get things done here, than the station, where Mrs Furnsley continues to yell the place down- she’s relentless. He could have done this at home but the evening had been nice and he thought maybe-

It’s stupid. But perhaps there was a chance Sid would pass the park. More of a chance at the park than the police cottage anyhow. He simply can’t stop thinking about him. It’s just that lately he’s gotten this pestering fear, worry, that Sid might let on to someone else, that it might get out. He has to talk to him, tell him that he was wrong o-or threaten him with arrest if all else fails. Anything. But now the sun is setting and the thief is nowhere in sight.

He might make a stop by the Presbytery, though. It’s not entirely imperative, but witness statements from the group, Lady Felicia, the Father, Sidney, would all be useful, a cherry atop the huge cake that is evidence they have on this woman. There’s almost no need for a jury, if their statements are added. 

This makes up his mind. The sun has almost disappeared completely when he reaches the Priest’s home, oranges and pinks oozing across the horizon like a spilt pot of paint. Sidney answers the door.

“Inspector.” He greets, shamelessly looking him up and down with a grin, “Can I help you?”

“Was hoping it’d be possible to collect some statements about today, if I may.” Sullivan replies, clutching his file under his arm, “I’d ask you all down to the station but you simply cannot hear yourself think in there tonight. Mrs Furnsley is… quite angry at being exposed.” 

Sid stands in front of the doorway a little longer, just grinning, before he steps aside, “Alright.” He says finally. “It’s Inspector Sullivan!” He calls down the hall, before leading said Inspector into the kitchen. 

“Inspector.” The Father greets, “We were just finishing our tea, could we help you?” 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude at such a time, but I just came to ask if you might provide a witness testimony regarding the Furnsley case.”

“Of course, Inspector.” Father Brown says.

“Would you care for an award winning scone, Inspector?” Mrs McCarthy chimes in, lifting the plate up towards the man. 

Sullivan eyes it a little, “I’m okay, thank you, uh, may I sit, though?” 

He takes a seat beside Sid and realises the only thing he has to do is simply pretend the man isn’t there. This turns out to be easier said than done. He notices the way Sid fidgets, reaches for another scone multiple times only for his hand to be swiped away by Mrs McCarthy. He notices the way he picks at his fingers, fiddles with the leather strap of his watch.

Father Brown recalls the events in effortless details, both formal and rife with descriptions that feel more as though they should be from a storybook. Sid, on the other hand, is rather blunt in his recollections, besides for the odd hyperbole, particularly regarding their escape from the pigs. 

Sullivan pauses, writing, hovering his pen above paper, “I’m sorry, you what?”

“Swung across the beams like tarzan.” Sid repeats, tone deadpan. 

“You want me to write that you swung through that barn… like Tarzan.”

Sid blinks at him in confusion, “Yes.” 

Sullivan sighs, and reluctantly jots the phrase down, rapidly regretting this decision. Mrs Furnsley would be convicted regardless of these testimonies. He’s not sure why he’s even here. And it’s late and he’s yet to have dinner, and the scones still on the table are calling him now. Sid continues,

“Anyways then we ran into you. You said something about being the next pope before Mrs Furnsley’s the killer. And then Mrs Furnsley tried to kill us.” 

Sullivan looks up at him pointedly. But it’s him; Sid. Sidney’s the reason he’s there and Sullivan knows it. The statements were an obvious excuse to go after him, and it’s shameful, quite honestly. He’s not sure if Sid knows this or not. What he does know, however, is that Sid likes to take the piss out of him at any chance he can get. That he’s a wind up and a frustration, cheeky and disrespectful. But also that he’s beautiful and bold, and every colour that Sullivan is too afraid to be. Or have.

He finishes the recollection with ample focus on the paper on the table. The car Ethel sped at them in, Archie Furnsley and his tractor, Sullivan’s slow reactions to it all-

“Carter.” Once again, the Inspector lifts his pen and stares at him pointedly. It’s not quite enough to be a scowl, it’s barely a frown, eyebrows twitching just slightly. 

Sid throws his hands up and leans back in the chair, “What?! I thought I’m supposed to give the full truth and nothing but the truth!” 

“Yes and you’re also not supposed to try and get me fired!”

“I’m just telling the truth-”

“Sidney, I’m sure we can spare that line, yes?” Father Brown smiles across the table at him, that broad grin of his. Sid rolls his eyes, 

“Fine. Just to get this over with.” Sid replies, and proceeds to reach over the table for a one hundredth attempt at pinching another scone. Mrs McCarthy slides the plate out of his reach. 

They’ve just about finished. Sullivan thanks them both, and Father Brown assures him Lady Felicia would drop by the station the following morning to give her own account. Sullivan nods, tips his hat to the group at the table, and makes to leave.

“Inspector hold on! I’ll walk with you.” 

As Sullivan enters the hall he hears a chair scrape across the floor, assumingly Carter’s, and an exclamation from Mrs McCarthy that is simply,

Sidney Carter, bring that back!”

Sullivan turns around to watch Sidney hurry from the kitchen, strawberry scone in hand. He dashes past Sullivan, who presses himself against the wall to allow him to do so.

“Come on, Inspector.”

Said Inspector sighs a little to himself, nods a final time into the kitchen to Father Brown, and leaves the Presbytery after the scone thief. It’s now dark out, the sky a deep, navy blue. He doesn’t need to catch up with him, for Sid is only waiting a metre or so from the doorway, leaning against the wall, carefully pulling the scone in half- a difficult task when it’s middle is already filled with jam and cream. 

“Which half?” Sid asks, holding out both hands, each with one half of the scone. Sullivan eyes them. Scones (except perhaps a plain cheese one) are not really his thing, not much of a sweet tooth, but his stomach reminds him of the time and his lack of tea and he gives in and gratefully accepts the side that is 90% jam (at least he thinks that is the side he chooses, it’s a little too dark to tell). 

“Good choice.” Sid says with an approving nod.

“You prefer it? You can have it back I don’t mind-”

Sid shakes his head and gently swats his hand away from him, “No, no, it’s fine.” He begins to scoff the half that’s 90% cream. Crumbs rolls down his clothes. Sullivan watches uncomfortably before taking a small bite from his own, watching in dismay as, despite his best efforts, a crumb flutters, rolling down his tie, and landing on the ground. Ah, the other reason for his disinterest in scones. Not that they taste bad, however, he’ll give them that much. 

“You know I was starting to wonder if you were avoiding me.” Sid starts after swallowing an ungodly large mouthful. “After the other night.”

“Ah.” Sullivan’s throat itches and his chest aches a little, “To be fair, I have little reason to see you unless it is for an arrest.” 

Sid frowns into a bite of thick cream. He chews slowly, wiping the corner of his lip with his hand and then licking the cream from it. “And yet I’ve seen you.” He says, “And you’ve chosen not to see me.” 

“I don’t understand.” Sullivan says, stopping suddenly in the middle of the path, “You want me to see you?”

Sid shrugs, “A hello now and then wouldn’t hurt.”

Sullivan blinks, swallows, nods, “Right…”

“Look, no one’s gonna see us have a pleasant conversation and jump to outlandish conclusions.” 

The thing is, Sullivan would rather not take that chance. Sid licks his fingers and brushes his clothes of crumbs.

“I just worry that… just one slip, one look from the wrong person...” One slip can cause an avalanche. He knows this and he cannot bear to risk the Deja Vu if it were to repeat. 

Sid nods slowly, “So you want to walk alone from here?” 

It takes Sullivan by surprise. He thought they’d have to say good evening and goodbye at his door. He imagined watching Sid continue down the path, and restraining himself from running after him. But perhaps it is for the best that they don’t even make it that far.

“I suppose.” Sullivan says.

Sid nods, pouting only slightly at the floor. He looks up, “Okay.” He ambles past him, “I’ll see you round, Inspector, whether you like it or not.” 

Sullivan watches him go, and then leans against the wall between two shops in the road. He finishes his scone which- credit where it’s due- is wonderful, brushes himself down and hurries home. He misses Sid like a smoker misses his lighter- with urge and loss and desperation, itching on his fingers, in his head, in his heart.

Chapter Text

Sid looks for the Father’s reaction the moment they turn the corner and discover Sullivan’s blue waistcoat around the corner. He has his back to them, but it’s Sullivan nonetheless. It seems apt to see him there, it seems that at the turn of every corner, Inspector Sullivan is there. The Father’s lips press into a thin line, and he hurries towards the police at once.

“Where is ambrose?” He demands when he reaches them, Sid by his side.

“I was hoping you could tell me that.” Sullivan responds. The door’s open and three milk bottles still sit on the doorstep from that morning. 

“I haven’t seen him all weekend!” Father Brown defends.

Sullivan glances at the other officers with him then turns back to the Father and says, “By all accounts, a bit of a queer fish.”

“My friend Ambrose, is endearingly eccentric, yes.” Father Brown responds.

“That’s one way of putting it Father.” Sid chimes in, just to gage the Inspector’s reaction. He can’t read the look in his eyes.

“I suppose you’d better come inside.” Sullivan decides. The Father brightens in surprise and doesn’t hesitate to walk into the house. Sid takes a step too, only to find a hand against his chest, “Not you.”

Sid looks at the hand, then up at the Inspector’s face. Then he laughs in disbelief and watches Sullivan disappear inside. Unbelievable. He thought they were getting somewhere. He thought that maybe Sullivan wasn’t the arrogant fussy rude detective he had first thought he was. But now the flutter in his chest when the Inspector hit his chest feels like an uncontrollable mistake. 

*

“Sullivan.” Sid snaps into the telephone, “I need Sullivan- ahhh .” He doubles over in pain and grips the phone tighter. He thinks he’s gotten through to Goodfellow but he set his mind on reaching Sullivan and through the pain he can think of little else.

Flambeau. He told the Father not to trust him, and somehow he’s the one poisoned and possibly left for dead. It’s actually a little unfair that Father Brown left him without much of a second thought but he blames Flambeau over anything else. There’s something about the man that makes him so easily wrap Father Brown around his finger and it would make Sid angrier, but the pain in his stomach overmines it.

“Hello?” Sullivan’s voice warms through the line and Sid can’t help the sigh of relief. 

“Sullivan.” He pants.

“Hello?”

“It's Sidney-” He winces, “Carter.”

“What is it, why are you talking like that, what’s happening?” There’s scrabbling movements on Sullivan’s end of the phone and Sid rolls on the bed. 

“Flambeau. I think he’s killed me?”

“What?! Where are you?” The scrabbling becomes suddenly more frantic and there’s the sound of something crashing to the floor. “Carter .”

Sid manages out the pub’s address and drops the phone, rolling over on the bed in a groan of pain.

*

“Where is he?!” Sullivan demands after bursting through the door sometime later and discovering only Sid, looking disorientated and a little sweaty and pale.

On the bed, Sid pants and drops the instrument he’d been preparing to use to defend himself. He’s not going to give the Inspector the satisfaction, but he’s never been more relieved to see him.

“Gone.” Sid replies, jumping off the bed and throwing on the t-shirt he’d strewn on the floor in a fit of a fever. “With Father Brown.”

What ?” Sullivan frowns, trying not to think as Sid sorts out his trousers. “Gone where? Why’d they leave you here? You said he was killing you...”

“Well I’m-” To demonstrate, Sid’s stomach bubbles again, causing him to double over with a groan, “He poisoned me, or summ’. Don’t think it’ll kill me but it bloody hurts.”

Wonderful . Where did they go?” 

“Some old churchy ruin.” Sid pants, halfway down to the floor. 

“Okay. We’ll find it. Let’s go.” He says to the other policemen. They all begin to hurry out the room, down the narrow steps of the little b&b. 

“What about me!?”

Sullivan pauses in the doorway and looks back at Sid. He’s half doubled over still, but his hands are on his knees rather than clutching his stomach. 

“You should stay here and sleep it off. I doubt it’ll kill you, that doesn’t seem Flambeau’s style.”

“No way.” Sid hurries towards the door, “I’m fine, see?” He presses his lips together, stares at Sullivan as he stares back, frowning. 

“You’re whiter than the bedsheets, Carter.”

“I’m coming. I can offer directions.” Sid insists. He’s so close that Sullivan finds he can think of little to object with. 

Fine .” Sullivan says, an irritated bite to the word. “But don’t you dare throw up in my car.” He turns to leave. Sid hurries after them, biting back a smile. 

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

*

The car ride is a rush of stress. Sid attempts to give directions between squirming and retching out the window, and in between Sullivan’s snapping and the other policemen groaning at him. It’s a relief when they reach the old church. The policemen fly out the car but not as fast as Sid, who gasps in the fresh air and heaves at the ground. He can’t stand being sick, he can’t bear it.

“Spread out and search the grounds. The suspect could be armed.” Sullivan orders his men. Then he turns to Sidney. “Stay here. You’re no use to anyone.” And he sprints off with the others.

“Yeah sod that for a game of soldiers.” And he hurries after them anyway.

“I thought I told you to stay in the car.” Sullivan hisses when Sid joins them hiding behind some crumbling walls. 

“I don’t answer to you.” Sid snaps back.

“Carter I’m the police of course you answer to-”

“Shh.” an officer says, “You’ll give us away.”

Sullivan glares at Sid, closely, so Sid can feel his breath, and then turns away. Sid, just to wind him up lightly presses a hand to the small of Sullivan’s back. He doesn’t know what to think when the Inspector doesn’t push him away. 

When the police run Sid runs too, and he feels sick for it; because of his stomach and because of the sudden unity to a force he can’t stand. He tries to catch Flambeau, ahead of Sullivan just to prove that he can. And because Flambeau is the absolute worst. But Flambeau is also the absolute fastest at running, unfortunately.

“He won’t get far with a bullet wound.” Sullivan says, catching up with Sid in time to watch Flambeau disappear from sight.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Sid replies, strolling over to sit beside Father Brown, who tells him in utter dismay that he’d had the rosary in his hand. It doesn’t seem fair to say I told you so. 

It catches up on him then, the running, and he spews in the corner of some of the ruins while Father Brown rubs his back and Sullivan watches from the distance, feeling most uncomfortable. But when Father Brown walks him up the ruins, he can’t help but say,

“I’ll give you a lift back, Carter.”

“No I’ll take the rolls.”

“You’re in no state to drive .” Sullivan says, “I’ll take it.” Sid eyes him,

“If anything happens to that car, Lady F will have my guts for-”

“Relax.” Sullivan says, “I’ll drive slow and steady to protect the paintwork and your stomach.”

“Unlike the way here.” 

“Yes I think there was a little more urgency there, what with the criminal.”

Sid glares at the ground as they head to the cars. “Still drove like a maniac.” 

“Will you be coming, Father?”

“Uh, well, no, I have a bicycle to return.”

Sid has to throw up again before they leave.

*

Sid has never understood carsickness, always a natural when it comes to vehicles. But if carsickness is like this; dizzying as scenery passes, stomach rolling as a corner is turned, even if the driver says they are going as slow as I can, Carter , well if this is what carsickness is like he wouldn’t wish it on his own worst enemy… Flambeau or… or Sullivan, even. He begs the Inspector to pull over just before they pass the police station and he wretches into the verge. Sullivan locks the car and walks along the gravelly road to him. 

“You should come inside.” Sullivan tells him, “Have a glass of water, or something.” 

“Is this a trap for you to arrest me?” Sid asks, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and at once regretting it. 

“Is there something I need to be arresting you for?”

Sid leans his face into Sullivan’s space, making the Inspector jerk back ever so slightly. “You tell me. You’re the Detective.” 

Sullivan swallows. Sid’s eyes are so deeply green. “Just come inside, Carter.” 

Sid’s stomach burns and churns. He can’t let more of his insides touch the verge. “Fine.” He says. Sullivan guides him into the station with a hand on his back. Sid’s not entirely sure whether it’s necessary. 

The kitchen in the police station is rather more impressive than Sid expected, larger than his own caravan one, and easily far far cleaner. Sullivan grabs a glass from one cupboard, and Sid curiously opens the others while he fills it with water. Most of the cupboards are empty but he spies the cakes in the corner of the worktop and goes to grab one.

“That is not going to go down well.” Sullivan warns before his hand reaches the plate. He shoves the glass of water against his chest instead. Sid eyes him, because he always does, because it feels like the only thing they can do without quite crossing a line. Slowly, Sid takes the water from Sullivan’s hands, ensuring their fingers touch for too long, and that line gets a little bit more smudged and forgotten. Then the Inspector leans back against the worktop, and watches as Sid takes tentative sips. 

“I always thought you’d be more fond of Flambeau.” He says.

The sip of water flies from Sid’s mouth and spatters over the floor. Sullivan frowns in disgust. 

Fond ?”

“Well...” Sullivan says, dragging his eyes from the droplets covering the floor, “I just mean, he’s a notorious thief and you’re-”

“If you say amateur the next mouthful is going over your face.”

“Firstly, I wasn’t going to say amateur, secondly, I could arrest you for that.”

“Is there anything you couldn’t arrest me for?” Sid asks, downing the last of the water. 

“Well… do you know how many times you and Father have obstructed a case and how many times I’ve let you go.” 

Sid grins, “Yes your soft spot is showing.” He holds out the glass for Sullivan to refill. Sullivan frowns but obliges and takes the glass.

“I just mean that you and Flambeau are surely not that different. I thought you’d maybe look up to him.” He hands Sid the refilled glass and notices the annoyance in the man’s eyes. 

“We are nothing alike.” He says, almost angry. He takes a sip of his water without dropping his eyes from the Inspector, who also refuses to look away. “I don’t steal the same things that he steals, I don’t steal for the same reason he steals. But do you want to know the biggest difference, between me and Flambeau?”

Sullivan has sort of forgotten how to move and how to speak because Sidney has moved incredibly close to him, pressing him, almost, against the sink. He can feel the edge of his shirt get a little wet from the splashes on the edge of the basin. Finally, he manages a nod. 

“Unlike him , I actually feel things.” Sid says, and his eyes do a quick sweep of Sullivan’s face, hovering at his lips just to see his reaction. Sullivan swallows but straightens himself moments aftertugging on his waistcoat although it wasn’t out of place anyway.

He remains quiet for a moment, his throat tight with sudden nerves. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sid’s lips quirk into a small smile, “You’re the detective.”

The only space between them has suddenly become the glass of water. There is no room for breathing or thinking or speaking.

“Sidney…”

“I’m just going to make a cuppa!” Comes the voice of a cheery officer down the hall. 

The two jump apart hurriedly. Sid leans against the adjacent worktop and sips more water, feeling the heat slowly drift from his cheeks. Sullivan brushes down his waistcoat again and makes to fix his sleeves which are, of course, perfectly fine.

“Alright Inspector? What’s he in for?” He nods over at Sid.

“Nothing but a horrifically upset stomach.” Sullivan replies smoothly, “I merely offered him a glass of water.” 

“I see.” Allbright flicks on the kettle then pats Sid a little violently on the shoulder, “Get well soon son.” 

The two stand silently and watch Allbright make his tea. Sullivan looks at his watch, the dial, the gold metal straps, closely. Sid drinks his water slowly, his stomach still swirling. He’s not sure if it's the possible poison, the water going down (and hopefully staying there), or the response to the close-maybe-almost-kiss that had nearly occured (not that he would have kissed him, not in this state). When Allbright leaves, after what feels like a century, Sid loudly slaps the glass back onto the worktop. 

“Right thank you, Inspector, but I should probably be off.” 

“Are you sure?”

Sid raises an eyebrow. 

“I just mean… I could drive you back to Lady Felicia’s o-or your caravan. Or a hospital?”

Sid forces a smile, “Thank you, Inspector but I’ll be perfectly fine, I’m sure. Just need to sleep this off.”

“That’s what I said in the first place.” Sullivan retorts. 

“Yeah, well, as I said, I don’t do what you tell me to.” Somehow they’ve drifted to the centre of the room, close but not nearly so much as the moments previous. 

“Just… get better soon.” Sullivan says eventually. Sid brightens in pleasant surprise at this, and nods.

“Thank you, Inspector.” He goes to leave.

“Hold on.” Sullivan strolls across the room, picks up one of the cupcakes. He wanders back over and holds it out to him. “For when you feel better. Not right now or you’ll probably regret it.”

Sid smiles a little, “Thank you, Inspector.”

“You’re welcome Carter. I’d er, I’d advise that you don’t let any of the officers see the cake, on the way out.”

Sid nods, “And you know that you can keep calling me Sidney, right?”

“I never…”

“You did.” Sid tells him. “It’s okay I like it when you say it.” Sullivan narrows his eyes a little. 

“See you around, Carter.”

“Fine.” Sid reaches the door and looks back, “Thanks, Inspector.” The Inspector nods.

*

The morning is heavy with fog, so much so that much of the bridle path in front of the Inspector is washed over in a haze and he can barely see in front of him. It’s a little nerve-wracking, when a figure emerges through the fog towards him, but he smiles when the man is close enough to see his features.

“Carter!” The Inspector greets, “Feeling better?” 

“Yeah, fine er- not dead, clearly.” He gestures to himself and Sullivan smiles, “What brings you here?” 

“Uh.” Sullivan looks around the path, at the gravelly ground and then the trees. A pigeon coos on a swinging branch. “Bird watching.” He answers.

Sid laughs, “You were coming to check on me.” 

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

With a smile, Sid pats Sullivan’s chest and walks past him, “See you later, Inspector.”

“Later?” Sullivan turns around to watch him go. Sid looks back.

“You know… just around.”

Sullivan nods, and slowly turns, and walks away from him, continuing up the bridle path, not entirely sure where he’s going anymore.

Chapter Text

Sullivan won’t get out of Sid’s head. And when, momentarily, the man does get out, instead Sid turns a corner to find him standing there. Or they cross on the pavement or drive past each other and their eyes catch and Sid finds himself irritated at once. It’s frustrating because Sullivan acts like nothing’s happening. Like the air between them doesn't feel as though it has caught fire. Like it doesn’t feel like standing one step closer to the other will set them both aflame. Sullivan meets Sid’s every snide comment with something better, pushing at Sid and waiting for Sid to push back, get under his skin. Sid’s not sure how much more he can take. 

Some weeks after the events of Flambeau poisoning him, Sid’s at the Red Lion. It’s depressingly quiet and no one is taking his interest, until he returns from the bathroom and discovers someone at the bar. He picks up his drink from where he’d left it, pressed against the wall at the end of a nearby table, and crosses the room.

“Well if it isn’t Inspector Sullivan.” Sid drops onto the barstool beside the Inspector and smiles as the man sighs and plonks his glass down.

“Carter. What do I owe the pleasure?” his words are smooth but he sits up in the chair, suddenly feeling tight.

Sid shrugs. “Father’s gotten into a bicycle accident. Told me I deserve a break from looking after him.”

Sullivan looks somewhat incredulously at him, “Father Brown’s injured? Why is this the first I’ve heard of it?” 

“Well there was no need for you lot, he just crashed, no crime in that.”

Sullivan stares into his glass, “He always did ride that thing too fast. I suppose this kind of thing was inevitable.”

Sid can’t really argue with that, so he looks Sullivan up and down curiously, “Are police allowed to get drunk in pubs?”

“What are you- of course we are.”

“Sure but I mean, it can’t look good for you?”

“Except I’m not getting drunk Carter, I’m having two glasses and going home.”

“All alone? That’s very sad, Inspector.”

“It’s not-” he catches the teasing glint in Sid’s eye, “Very funny.”

“But honestly, who enters a bar alone and expects to leave that way.” Sid leans forward as he says it, a bit of a risk but an irresistible one. He just wants to know how it feels to burn. 

“What are you talking about?”

Sid glances over to where the barman is- out of earshot- and then turns back to the Inspector, leaning closer. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“You’re drunk.”

“Am I?”

Sullivan looks at him. Sid’s eyes stare steadily into his own, challenging. It’s not the first time they’ve stared like this, it probably won’t be the last. Then he lifts up his glass, downs the last couple of sips and wipes his mouth. He puts the glass back down again.

“Follow me out in two minutes.” He says before slipping from the stool. Sid watches him stroll out the pub, and smiles into his own glass.

*

It’s cold outside. There’s a bite to the wind tonight and the few stars between the clouds spy on Sullivan as he waits a few metres from the pub. He rolls the gold watch on his hand, looks up again at the stars, wishes they would look away. He shouldn’t be doing this. He told himself he’d never feel anything again and he keeps trying to stand by it. 

Before he can even consider leaving, Sid approaches him.

“Where are we going?” Sid asks as the Inspector begins to walk immediately. 

“Just a walk.”

“Okay… a walk isn’t exactly what I had in mind-“

“Come on.” Sullivan picks up his pace and Sid stumbles after him. 

They turn up corners and up footpaths lined with trees. They look different in the dark, Sullivan has to think twice about each turn and each passing tree. 

“Are you going to kill me? Because I would really rather-”

“I’m not gonna kill you, Carter. I just thought we could go somewhere.”

“In the freezing cold?”

They hurry along a footpath, climbing steeply uphill, Sid panting slightly and Sullivan mentally scorns his apparent lack of fitness. Eventually, the path opens out across the hills and Kembleford feels a long way away, still and hidden under the night’s sky. 

“What are we doing here?” Sid asks. 

“Doesn’t it make you feel small, like this?” The Inspector says instead of answering. He stares down at their little village, the church reaching up and looking straight back at him. Sid stands next to him, and looks down too. His closeness feels hot, a change from the cold night air, Sullivan can’t help but look at him, watches Sid watch the view.

“Kind of makes me feel bigger? Everything else looks small.” Sid answers eventually.

“Yeah but… you’re part of that… you see?” Sullivan points somewhere to the left of the church, “Now that, that’s the police station.”

“Which one? They all look the same.”

Exactly .” Sullivan turns to him, again, for a moment, before looking back over the village laid out before them, “It’s all so… blurry. Small. Unimportant. I don’t know it just… it makes me feel like anything I do matters a lot less. Like… like no one can really see me… like if I let myself have one little thing, for a moment, that maybe, in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t really matter.”

He turns to Sid then, and Sid is looking right back, this kind of stunned awe on his face that should be saved for gazing out at the views. Sullivan thinks the look alone sets his insides on fire.  And then Sid moves forward, takes Sullivan’s face in his hands and kisses him. Sid’s warm like the sun and Sullivan forgets about the wind and what it’s like to feel cold.

*

When the birds awaken so does Sullivan, alone. Even as he stirs he can still feel the night air on his face; and the hillside is the first thing he remembers. The second thing he remembers is Kembleford, as a nest of little lights in the distance, buildings circling the church like apostles. And finally he remembers Sidney Carter. He sighs at the ceiling and his lips still seem to tingle. Sid kissed him in the same way the wind blew last night: sudden and hurried, with a hand clawing through his hair, pulling and tugging. He remembers pulling away only to pull Sid back in again, thinking about how small this is. What’s one kiss outside a small village in a dark night, far away?

He knows it's so much bigger than that.

Chapter Text

Kembleford is a small village, and in comparison to London it is barely a spec of dust. But it feels big today, huge. There are eyes everywhere and they all watch Inspector Sullivan walk to work, even though he walks the same route at the same time in the same clothes… but the eyes… it’s like they know. Like they know as well as him, that everything is different now.

At least it seems that way. Perhaps no one really gives him a second glance that morning, and they only say ‘hello’ because it’s a village full of friendly people. A tight knit community.

And tight knit is the worry.

He’s perfectly on time for work but he has this unnerving feeling that he’s late. He makes himself tea and worries that he’d accidentally added sugar (but a few sips tell him that he did no such thing). He stews in the quietness of his office. He’s expecting something, anything to happen. Someone having seen them on the hill, or perhaps his father has-

The knock at the door makes him jump enough to nudge his mug of tea. He steadies it just before it falls over, calling for the person the other side of the door to come in. The Sergeant enters. “Sir,” he says, “there’s been a murder.”

It’s unfortunate, and a load more stress, but perhaps, Sullivan thinks as he throws on his waistcoat and lifts his hat from the coat stand, it’s just the distraction he needs.

*

Somewhere amongst his investigations he takes a break and heads out on a walk to clear his head. He’s dragged by a worried neighbour into one house he passes, the old woman having heard screams coming through the walls. However this had all been a misunderstanding drawn from a television being a little too loud. And he continues on his way. He wanders around the edges of town. He’s had enough of people today, looking at him like that . Of course he’s imagining it. But it doesn’t stop it being there. 

He can never have last night again. He’s sick with nerves. One kiss far away, he thought, but it can never be far enough. 

As he passes the old town hall, the building no one uses anymore, he is pulled suddenly, around the side of it, where there’s a slither of a space between the bushes and the building. 

“Jesu- oh don’t do that!”

Sidney Carter is grinning at him, leaning against the brick wall and tentatively clutching his waistcoat sleeves. “Fancy seeing you here.” 

“Carter…”

Sid pulls him into a kiss. Messier than last night’s. And Sullivan lets him for a moment. Then another moment and another moment. Sid’s lips are soft and the memory of last night floods through him and mixes with right now. Sidney Carter . He kind of has the mouth of an angel. 

“Sidney.” Sullivan pulls himself away, searches the thief’s face and the slight frown etched across his forehead, “This can’t happen.” Both his hands leave Sid’s body, he near presses himself into the laurel behind him to keep them from touching at all.

“That’s not what you said last ni-”

“Sid, I’m serious.” Sullivan says, “I can’t. Ever.” 

Sid swallows and nods slowly, “Okay.” He says, but Sullivan can tell he seems disappointed.

With one last look, Sullivan slips through the gap and leaves Sid to stare through the gaps between the branches of the bush, up at the blue sky, catching his breath. After somewhere between one minute and two, he slips from the alleyway too, out into the sun, unaware that he’s being witnessed by a patient priest with a telescope, who’d two minutes prior, also viewed a flustered detective vacate the very same alleyway. 

*

So much for no second murder today. Sullivan is sure his luck couldn’t get any worse. Only it does, when he exits the car and strolls up to the house. He sees a pale Lady Felicia sitting outside the front, with none other than Sidney Carter leaning one hand on the wall beside her. Sullivan fails in suppressing a sigh, and he waves it off when the Sergeant gives him a funny look and tells the Sergeant to go inside. He can feel Sid watching him, and it’s impossible to avoid the way he smiles over at him as Sullivan begins to enter the house. 

He pauses, tips his hat lightly at the Chauffeur and tries, again, to enter the little cottage. Mrs McCarthy blusters out the door. God , today’s only saving grace is that Father Brown is stuck in the Presbytery. He’s followed in the house by Mrs M, who explains how she and Lady Felicia had found her.

A second murder, just what he needs today. 

*

It’s absolutely infuriating, when Father Brown solves the case. Again. Without even leaving his bedroom. Sullivan follows Sidney to the Presbytery, the man driving way too fast in Lady Felicia’s Rolls Royce. But he thinks he’ll give Sid a slight pass, being the fact that it is an emergency and he knows how Sid worries sometimes for the Father. It’s blatantly obvious, if in nothing else but his insistence to join them on the chase for Flambeau, even when he was half dying. 

Sid is flying up the stairs before Sullivan has even made it into the building. He falls to Father Brown’s side, once he sees Constable Pugh pinned to the ground by Father Roland, and frantically undoes the rope around the priest’s wrists. 

And Sullivan arrests Pugh and has him marched down the stairs and into the car. His fiance’s distraught, Gladys. Sullivan provides her with a watery, sad smile as he gently pushes Pugh into the car. He’s not sure how to comfort her. 

As he closes the door he looks up. His heart kind of leaves his chest for a moment when he finds Sid looking out the bedroom window staring down at him. But he puts his heart back in his chest with a clearing of his throat, and he strolls around to the front of the car. 

“Bonkers in my humble opinion.” Sid says from his place at the window. He watches Sullivan disappear into the car and forces himself away. It doesn’t matter that much. Generally. It doesn’t generally matter to Sid when Sullivan does anything, does it? 

He slips down to the floor below the window.

“Let's hope the judge agrees.” Father Brown agrees, turning to Father Roland, “I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“I hear you’ve got a handy right hook.” Sid agrees. 

Roland flushes a little and rubs his fist, “Gave it up when I entered the seminary. Forgotten how good it felt.”

“I thought you were in church all night, anyway?” Sid asks, suddenly confused, “And more to the point, how did you know he was downstairs?” He turns to Father Brown who looks back at him silently. He gets the message, “Alright, I’ll go and see where her Ladyship’s got to.”

On the way out he pauses and holds his hand out to Father Roland. “Listen. Thank you.” Roland shakes his hand, and Sid slips out the room, pattering down the stairs. When he gets outside the police, of course, have already gone and Lady Felicia and Mrs M are still comforting Constable Pugh’s wife. He leans against the Rolls and lights a cigarette, thinking about Sullivan and wishing he wasn’t. 

He wishes it didn’t bother him, that Sullivan said no. He completely gets it but it just… he’d spent all of last night, after Sullivan muttered that he had to go, and he was left alone on the hill, thinking about when he’d see him again. Kiss him again. He’d wandered back to his caravan in a daze, dizzy from the cold night air and warm hot lips. 

It’s been a long time since he’d even kissed a bloke. Because it’s possibly the one crime he’s actually afraid of being caught for, mainly for the reason that it’s unfair that it is a crime. And also… well the whole town will look at him differently. There is some reassurance in kissing the Detective Inspector, though. He won’t tell a soul. And he’s also, probably, a thousand times more terrified. 

So he gets it . He hates it.

But he gets it. 

It’s some while later that he returns to Father Brown’s room. He’d rung his bell and requested someone pass him the board of all of their clues and theories. Sid sits beside him on the bed, holding out his hand for the Father to drop the pins into. 

“Sidney, I feel I have to admit to something that I saw, earlier today.”

Sid frowns and watches another pin drop into his palm, “What do you mean? You can’t see much stuck in here.”

“I’m afraid my telescope, is very effective.”

“Why are you afraid?” 

It sort of clicks then.

“Oh.” Sid says. His hand feels suddenly clammy, beneath all of the pins, “Me and… Sullivan.”

“Mmh.” Father Brown confirms, taking off the last card with Father Roland sloppily scrawled in Sid’s writing, “I’m sorry that I caught it. I’m sure my eyes weren’t… wanted there.”

Sid’s quiet. He’s not sure what Sullivan would think if he knew that the Father knew. Would he be worried? Because he should know that he needn’t be. Father Brown would quite honestly die to keep anyone’s secret, and in fact, eventually, he will probably die with many people’s wildest and worst confessions. But he’s not sure Sullivan would see it that way.

“Is it serious?” Father Brown asks, because, to him, Sidney’s silences often evoke feelings he can’t really put into words. 

Sid looks up at him and sort of sadly smiles, “Actually it was sort of over before it began.” 

Father Brown nods once, and muses himself with removing the string from the board. “I see. Does that upset you?”

Sid shrugs. Does it? It shouldn’t . “Not really.” He’s not certain if it’s the truth or not, “I mean, he’s… he doesn’t want to risk it.” 

The Father nods slowly, and winds the string into a neat circle, folding the end around it to hold it in place, “Well if you, or he, ever need to talk-”

“Yeah.” Sid says, “I know. Where do you want these?” He asks, holding up the pins. 

“Ah.” Father Brown scrabbles in his draw for the little box he keeps the drawing pins. 

As Sid tips the pins into the little brown box, he tries to pack Sullivan away into the back of his mind too. But he doesn’t go away. And he thinks of him later that night, in his bed, staring at his caravan ceiling, and he pretends he doesn’t miss him.

Chapter Text

He’s considering throwing the entire thing in the canal. The wheel still attached to the frame is bent, tyre ripped, thorns still caught in the rubber. He needs to find a new chain from somewhere, and the detached wheel? Chipped, flat, two of the spokes snapped, and various others bend forward and back. He’s sitting on the ground in one of Lady Felicia’s garages, bicycle parts scattered around him. He curses as he finds another thorn caught in the tire: another right off. He’ll need to find new tyres too.

“Ah, Mr Carter.” Sullivan appears in the doorway, leaning against the garage door frame (haphazardly, he doesn’t want to dirty his suit). 

“Sullivan.” Sid responds but barely looks up. Even though he’s not spoken to the Inspector in over a week and has barely even seen him in between that, even though just his voice sends sparks right through to his fingertips.

“What are you doing?” Sullivan asks, “I think that thing’s passed it.”

“Not if I can help it.” Sid replies, standing and letting the wheel that he’d sat on his lap fall to the floor. He dusts his hands off on a cloth on the nearby shelf, then slaps it over his shoulder, “What do you want?” He ambles towards Sullivan, rests a hand out on the same part of the doorframe that the Inspector leans. He watches the man draw in a breath.

“I wanted to thank you.” Sullivan says after a moment. Sid doesn’t understand, “I overheard you telling your fantastical tale about Magnus to the Father earlier. As it happens I also overheard Father Brown propose a meeting place for he and our suspect, I’m on my way there now.”

Sid laughs and withdraws his hand from the doorframe, laughing, “Of course you heard. Is that all? You came to gloat ?” 

Sullivan’s quiet. I wanted to see you is written all over his face, “Well, I just… this is nice.” He reaches over and gently tugs at Sid’s leather jacket lapel. Sid looks down at his hand, then up at the Inspector’s face. “Suits you.” It’s caught Sid off guard, and for the first time in all their back and forths, he can think of nothing to say in return. 

Sullivan notices this, drops his hand and smiles slightly, just a quirk of his lips, “Anyway, murderer to catch.” He says, stepping away, “Thanks to you.”

Sid’s still not sure what to say. He watches Sullivan tip his hat slightly at him, and manages some kind of forced polite smile, before he watches the Inspector stroll off back down the road to where he’d stopped the car. A smile slips from Sid’s lips as the car drives out of sight, and he turns around back to the carnage spread across the garage floor. 

He needs to find some new bike tyres.

*

Sid waits for Father Brown outside of the police station later that day. He’s still not quite caught up with Father Brown’s discovery of events but the Father seems pretty confident so Sid just leaves him to it. 

He gazes out the window at the station, wondering if he could just go inside, find the Inspector, wind him up a bit. Thing is, that train of thought is annoying, to Sid, and he huffs and stares back out the front windscreen of the truck. 

If only he could shake the man from his mind. If only Sullivan hadn’t been to see him at Felicia’s, tugged on his jacket. It made him lose his breath, which is ridiculous and dramatic and well, if anything, surprising, to Sid. He doesn’t get it, why everything Sullivan does gets at him like this. Perhaps it’s just the thought of what could have been, the memory of that night on the hillside, he thinks about it so often. 

How it was cold but Sullivan was warm. How he wasn’t quite sure if Sullivan would hit him for it or kiss him back harder. How-

He’s ripped from his thoughts when he catches sight of Father Brown dashing from the station. He’s frantic, waves about at Sid, which he somehow reads as a signal to start up the engine. He does so, and is moving before Father Brown has even slammed the door.

“What’s going on?” Sid demands as he drives.

“Alice. I didn’t think- if she blames herself for both of her parents’ deaths…”

It clicks in Sid’s mind and he feels a little sick. Mrs McCarthy always tells him that he drives like a madman, this time however, he has every reason.

*

The air is cold. And the sun is setting, throwing the world, also, into a hazy kind of darkness. And Sidney Carter walks home from the Presbytery, having stopped there to take a shower. His hair’s still a little damp, turning down the Father’s offer of a bed for the night based on the fact that he’d already spent a few too many days in a row there, and he knows when his welcome’s a little outstayed. Even if the Father did insist he deserves it after mending his bike.

It doesn’t matter that despite the cold, he takes the long way back to the caravan. It doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean anything, that the long way requires passing the police station. And it’s pure coincidence, when Inspector Sullivan exits the building the moment Sid ambles passed. 

“Mr Carter.” Sullivan greets as he swans up beside him. Sid glances at him,

“Inspector.” He smiles. The formalities are getting tedious, though. His patience is running thin- it’s been too long since Sullivan referred to him by first name. 

The wind rushes between them, coldly drying Sidney’s hair, reddening his cheeks ever so slightly.

“Heard you were quite the hero.” Sullivan says, “Saving Miss Armstrong.”

Sid shrugs, “Well, I’m sure it’s what anyone would have done.” He meets Sullivan’s eyes. There’s no annoyance, no teasing bite. If anything there is only respect; gentle, honest respect. Sid’s a goner.

It doesn’t take them long to reach the police cottage and Sid stops outside as Sullivan does.

“Guess I’ll see you around.”

Sullivan smiles gently and nods. Sid wishes his heart wasn’t beating right out of his chest, it’s really not like him. He turns to leave when the Inspector calls his name. His first name. It makes him stop abruptly.

“You can come in, if you’d like.” 

They’re standing a couple of metres apart. The wind picks up and Sidney shivers.

“Are you sure?” Sid asks. He can think only of Sullivan saying “ can’t ever” over and over. How the words are crumbling between them. 

“Just for a hot drink.” Sullivan suggests, “No offence, Carter, but you look freezing.” 

Ah. He knows what’s Sullivan’s thinking, doing, tipping the rules and moving the line, delaying the inevitable. But he lets him, easily and entirely. 

The police cottage is warm. In a perfectly Sullivan way it is also spotless. There is a coat and a jacket on the pegs on the wall by the door, and some shoes in a rack, but besides this the hallway is empty. Sullivan hangs his coat up on the third and final peg and Sid watches him stroll down the hall where the kitchen seems to be. 

Sid stands in the hallway, wondering whether to follow Sullivan into the kitchen. He edges forward and looks into the first room on his right. The living room. There’s two armchairs, and a table between them, at the far end of the room. On the back wall is a shelf, full, but not packed, of books and records. He wanders over and lightly casts his fingers along the spines of the books. They appear much like the ones in his office, crime based, boring. Or classics- some Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf. There’s some variety in the records, as far as they’re not police related goes: Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, a lot of intriguing looking jazz pieces and boring ancient classical pieces that Sid wrinkles his nose at. 

Then he moves away from the shelves and crosses the room to the fire place opposite. The mantelpiece is bare, aside from a clock. Sid cannot tell if this is because the man hasn’t lived here long, or if he simply has nothing to put there. No photos, no gimmicky objects, little statues or models. The clock’s reasonably modest, the face set behind a glass door and set in a rectangular frame of dark brown wood. 

“Don’t touch.” Sullivan warns, appearing in the doorway with two delicate china mugs. 

Sid removes his fingers from the base of the clock, “I wouldn’t dream of it.” He replies, and gratefully takes the hot chocolate into both hands. “Thank you.” He mutters, and blows into the liquid. Steam floods around his face, and as it dissipates, he sees Sullivan watching him. He grins up at him, “So what is this then, a date?” He rests his elbow on the mantelpiece.

“Don’t.” Sullivan bristles, and crosses the room to one of the armchairs, sits down slowly. 

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” Sid says, crossing the room, too, and sitting in the chair to his right. 

“You think that this is an Inspector, showing his appreciation for your help with the wellbeing of someone in the neighbourhood.”

“That’s not a thing.”

Sid .” Sullivan looks over at him. Having mumbled the previous explanation into his hot chocolate, this feels a lot more real, “That’s all this can be.” 

He wishes he never came in. Never felt the warmth and admired the room and sat in the chair. He takes a sip of the chocolate, it’s still too hot but he sips it again anyway, for something to do. 

“You know what we need?” He says after a while, because the silence in the room taunts at them, presses. At any moment Sid is certain he’ll say something stupid. He places his cup on the table between the chairs and turns the radio also on the table towards him.

“Careful with it.” Sullivan glowers, but Sid tuts,

“I know what I’m doing. And if I break it, I know how to fix it.” 

“I’d rather you just didn’t break it.”

“I’m not breaking it!”

Music swims into the room, wrapping around the two of them, horns whine, almost clashing, and the soft deep voice of Sinatra eases its way around the room. The song’s already some way through and picks up as he sings

“Then I’d rather have nothing at all

Sid watches Sullivan shift a little, presses his mug to his lips. He grins and stands up.

“You like this, right?” Sid asks. 

“It’s okay.” Sullivan says, understatement of the year, Sid thinks. 

He smiles and ambles over the room, “I mean, you have a lot of Sinatra here.” He takes a sip of the hot chocolate and bends down to flick through the records.

“Yes, okay.” Sullivan stands and swans over to him. “You don’t need to prove your point, Carter.”

Sid stands back up, so quickly that it nearly knocks the hot chocolate from his cup. His eyes widen, Sullivan’s eyes narrow at him. 

“It’s fine, I saved it.” He promises, gesturing to his cup and then taking another gulp. He feels Sullivan watch him, and the lyrics bathe in the silence around them,

“Don’t smile, or I’ll be lost beyond recall.”

Sid finishes the drink, feeling warm both inside and out. Probably the chocolate. Possibly something else. Like the way Sullivan’s watching him. Like the way Sinatra’s writing their story, outloud, between them, around them. And it’s not fair because it feels right and Sullivan feels like something that could be good . Hilariously, and foolishly ironic, but they could have everything.

Or nothing. 

Sullivan’s breath hits his face, and it dawns on Sid, when he glances back up to meet his eyes, that they’ve drifted closer, too close. He remembers the certainty in Sullivan’s can’t ever a few weeks back, swallows.

“And so you see I’ve got to say no, no .”

Sid clears his throat and steps away. It makes Sullivan straighten at once. 

“I should go.” The thief announces, the horns in the music lulling his exit. He strolls briskly across the room, placing his cup on the small coffee table, beside the radio, where the music crescendos and Sinatra’s voice fades away. He hurries out the room. 

“Carter…” 

Sullivan strolls out after him, in time to watch Sid open the door. 

“I’m sorry.” 

Sid looks back at him. Does Sullivan need to apologise? Does it hurt? It wasn’t meant to be about that, he was trying to keep Sullivan from doing something he’d end up regretting. But now he looks back and… his heart is heavy and he’s not sure it has ever ached quite this terribly. 

He swallows, definitely not a welling ball of tears, “It’s fine.” He says with a shrug, “Thanks for the drink.” 

Sullivan nods, rocks on the balls of his feet a metre or so down the corridor, like he daren’t get any closer. Sid returns the sentiment, nodding, then slipping out the door, closing it behind him. It leaves the Inspector quite alone. Music still plays, muffled and distant in the living room, but Sullivan isn’t paying attention to it.

He looks at the remains of hot chocolate in his mug, and Sinatra’s voice plays over the new song on the radio, on and on, 

“Or nothing at all .”

He might be in need of a stronger drink.

Chapter Text

He shouldn't have done it. Any of it, yesterday. He shouldn’t have gone out of his way to tell Sidney he’d overheard him, only he couldn’t resist. And Sid had been wearing his leather jacket and it just suits him. He just had to point it out. It’d been worth it, just to see the man utterly speechless.

But he shouldn't have let him into the cottage later on. Shouldn’t have made him a drink, let him sit in the arm chair, let him fiddle with his radio when of course Frank Sinatra would be playing. 

He woke up sometime the next morning from a dream of the two of them just dancing. Sinatra on a stage, singing for them and only them.

*

Sid dreams too. He dreams of hot chocolate and warmth, Sullivan’s breath on his neck. Gentle laughter and fingers intertwined. He’s aching when he wakes up, but he can’t really work out why. 

Days pass, and so do weeks. He’s not sure if he’s avoiding the Inspector or the Inspector is avoiding him. Possibly, it’s a little mix of the two. Either way he doesn’t see him. And it’s probably a good thing. He’s not sure what to do about it all. What to think about it all. 

It could hardly be anything serious. Not that he wants it to be anything serious. It’s Inspector Sullivan. An Inspector . And Inspector Sullivan at that. 

He should forget about it.

And what better way to forget about it, than catching up with Eddie Gerard? It’s good to see him. Just a nod across the room and he feels alive and young. Some kind of nostalgia. And when Eddie flees the house while Sid is smoking on the bench outside, it’s all too tempting to run after him.

It’s easy to find him. The tree. Always the tree. The branches have grown since they last sat beneath it, giving them more shade, more shelter, what they needed all the way back when. He sits wordlessly beside him, pulling a smile which Eddie does return, but weakly. Sid lights a cigarette, offers one to Eddie, who takes it gratefully.

“Still up to your old tricks, I hope.” Eddie says eventually, after they’ve sat in silence for a while, breathing smoke through the air.

“Of course.” Sid replies. “I see you’re still winding up your uncle? Your performance in there, I mean, that was-” 

“It wasn’t a performance.” Eddie snaps back, “It’s what I believe.”

“Fair enough.” Sid says, voice gentle. He exhales his cigarette. “If you need anybody to redistribute a bit of wealth, you know where to find me.” 

Eddie sniggers, and Sid joins in, glancing at him. He really missed him. Eddie was… easy. They just got each other, always. If they need ears to listen or a shoulder to cry on or- well, or lips to kiss. They were there. Even now, Sid wonders why Eddie doesn't seem interested in kissing him, and why, in fact, he doesn’t seem interested in kissing Eddie. Have they changed so much?

“You know, the world’s a big place, Eddie. What’s keeping you here?” 

He thinks it’s interesting that Eddie’d come running back here. Despite his Uncle. Despite his anger. Despite the dreams they used to have. Running away. Never coming back. Not that he’s not glad that Eddie did come back, but he didn’t imagine him to ever do so. There has to be something. Or, by Eddie’s silence, some one .

“Oh I see.” Sid says, glancing at Eddie with a knowing raised eyebrow. 

“What?” Eddie asks, feigned innocence obvious, written all over him. Sid looks at him, “She’s my sister.” Eddie deadpans. 

“Yeah, not by blood though.” Sid points out. He’s well aware that Jia-Lee is far from Eddie’s sister. The very thought that Eddie’s Uncle is even seen as her father is frankly horrifying to Sid. The man all but kidnapped her, quite honestly. 

“What about you?” Eddie asks, catching Sid quite off guard. 

“Me what?” Sid asks, though it comes out more me wot?

Eddie raises a brow, “What’s keeping you here?”

Sid has a job. He’s hardly gonna up and abandon Lady Felicia. And the Father, everything, he is, of an actual father. But he knows that that isn’t really what Eddie’s asking. They know how to ask one question and mean another. What Eddie means is do you have anyone. In a romantic way.  

He shouldn’t think of Sullivan. But Sullivan is the most recent person he’s had an anything with. He inhales on his cigarette, then exhales slowly. 

“I don’t know.” He replies, honestly. “I’ll keep you posted.” 

“I was going to say. If there wasn’t someone, I thought the first thing you’d do is ask if I wanted-”

“Fair point.” Sid says, taking another drag on his cigarette, because he had caught himself thinking the very same, “I still don’t know.” 

That night, in Sullivan’s home. The tutting as Sid twiddled with the radio. The flash of worry, when Sid’s chocolate nearly spilled over the floor. Somehow it felt right. It felt real. But that’s a little ridiculous. 

The two of them are quiet for a while. Sid listens to the birds. The endless pigeon coos, and various other shrill twitterings, possibly some finches, but he doesn’t know birds (not that kind, at least). 

“If I asked you to do something for me. No questions asked. Would you do it?” Eddie asks eventually. Sid glances at him. Eddie stares at his lap.

With a smile Sid asks, “Would that something be illegal?” 

Eddie grins. This whole town changed, while he was away. But Sid? Forever a constant. He loves him terribly for it. “Pay you, of course.” He promises. 

“Of course you will.” Sid says with a nod, resting his arm on his risen knee. He stares out at the gardens. “Alright.”

*

Lady Felicia tells him that the group are staying overnight and allows him to leave early. So Sid does, making a slight detour to meet up with a guy about passports (for Eddie). 

He’s back at the manor by morning, leaning against the Rolls outside when there’s a shrill scream coming from inside. 

“What’s going on?” He demands from Father Brown who’s coming back down the stairs solemnly, when Sid enters the building. 

“Colonel Gerard is dead.” Father Brown says. “Keep a watch outside would you, Sid? The police will be here shortly.”

That means Sullivan, most likely. It’s been a while. Don’t think about that. “Is Eddie okay?” Sid asks. A stupid question. Of course Eddie is okay. He’s probably writing the party invitations this very second. He’s probably thrilled at this news. And well, Sid’s not exactly upset.

*

Sidney Carter is driving Inspector Sullivan mad.

To make matters worse, he’s not seen him for almost two weeks, which is quite the feat because usually, Sidney Carter is just about everywhere he looks. Around every corner. It has been some way close to agony, not seeing him at all. Like he had simply gone. 

And well, he’d rather not have stumbled into him again after so long, outside the manor of his latest murder victim. Colonel Gerard had passed away overnight and it’s suspicious. What’s also suspicious, or perhaps just incredibly annoying, is that Father Brown and the entire gang is here. 

And, as mentioned, Sid.

He doesn’t know how to act around him. So he just ensures that he isn’t around him, not more than he needs to be. 

Crime scenes are never pleasant, although this one could be worse. There’s some kind of liquid on the Colonel’s lips. Stogy, and not cyanide, not white enough. He asks the Colonel’s wife if she’d seen anything, but she only informs him she sleeps in a separate room. Sullivan doesn’t know if this is strange, normal, suspicious or plain sad. He brushes past it for now. 

“Strange consistency.” Father Brown says. Sullivan turns to him, eyes narrowed. He’s holding a small glass container, too short to be the usual drinking one. It’s more like a beaker. “Quite unlike stomach salts. Can’t think what it can be.”

Sullivan snatches it from him. 

*

Gerard’s daughter hurries after the stretcher as it disappears into the ambulance. A young man pulls her back. Sullivan approaches them gently,

“Jia Lee is it?” He asks her, tentatively putting a hand near her shoulder and guiding her (and the young man in tow) out the way of the ambulance, “Did I say that right?” Jia Lee nods a little. “How did you come to live with the Gerards?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” The young man snaps. He’s the Colonel’s nephew, Edward, he thinks. Sullivan dislikes him immediately, “My sister’s upset, please don’t bother her.” 

Edward begins to take the young woman away. 

“Do you mind telling me what happened to your lip?” Sullivan asks him. 

Edward turns back, “I had a disagreement with my Uncle. That’s not a crime, is it?” 

It sounds like something Sidney Carter would say. He lets Edward walk away, but mutters, “We’ll find out, after the postmortem results.” 

He casts one more look at the house. Sid is leaning against the wall and Sullivan pauses for a moment, just a moment, to look at him. Then he gets into the car and heads back to the station.

*

He’s on a mission, when he returns to the manor later in the day. He makes his way to the kitchen, demanding to know what the chef had done. 

The chef denies it. “Disgusting fragments? Non !”

“So what is it?” Sullivan asks.

“Tiger’s whiskers.” Father Brown says, appearing in the doorway, holding some kind of book, “Chopping up tiger’s whiskers and slipping it into the victim’s food. Invisible, odourless, but does enough damage to the intestines. Old Chinese assassination technique dating back to the 17th century.”

How do you know this ?” Sullivan asks, can’t help being impressed by such a piece of knowledge.

“Well anyone could know it. If they consulted this encyclopedia.” He turns the book around and presents it to Inspector Sullivan. 

Okay, so a little less impressive.

*

“The Colonel died from severe hemorrhaging.” Sullivan explains to the room, “Someone put tiger’s whiskers on the Colonel’s food.”

“Poppy cock!” Digby sputters from the armchair, “We all loved Cecil dearly.”

“Oh and I suppose that’s why Edward threatened to kill him, yesterday.” Mrs McCarthy chimes in. 

The Inspector’s eyes dart at once to the man standing at the back of the room. “Is that true?”

“I’m not going to deny I hated him.” Eddie says, “He was a selfish, imperialistic boar!”

“Eddie don’t!” Jia Lee tells him.

There’s cries around the room.

“I’m not upset he’s dead and I don’t care who knows it!” Edward continues.

That may as well be a confession, Sullivan decides, no matter how much Jia Lee attempts to argue. He arrests him, takes him down to the station. 

*

His office door flies open not long later, and Sullivan jumps in surprise.

“You arrested Eddie.” Sid snaps. Sullivan looks up. “Are you out of your mind?!”

“Carter.” Sullivan tries. Sid continues,

“Eddie wouldn’t hurt a fly! He’d never dream of doing a thing like that!”

“He had means, motive, and opportunity. In my book, he’s essentially confessed.”

“He didn’t do it. I know Eddie, alright? And he wouldn’t do this. You have to let him go.”

“You know him ?” Sullivan echoes, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sid laughs, “What’s it to you, eh? Are you going to arrest me for it?”

Sid purses his lips the moment he says it, as if it’s a bit much, a bit far. But Sullivan just stands and stalks across the room. He passes Sid, their shoulders brushing, and slams his office door shut. He turns back around. 

“If you’re so close, Carter, if you know him so well, what’s to stop you from becoming a suspect?” Sullivan asks. Too close, too close to Sid. 

“You what?” Sid says, searching Sullivan’s face.

“Well, you defend him this much, you’re so sure he did nothing wrong...”

“Because I know him. We’ve been friends for years. I’m trying to help you.” 

Sullivan makes a kind of psshh laugh and steps away. “Help me? All you and Father Brown do is make my cases a hundred times more difficult.” 

“Right, that’s all we do, is it?” 

Sullivan, now standing at his desk, turns back to him, “Yes, the both of you, messing with my head, getting in the way. Stop it.”

Sid’s quiet. He looks at the Inspector for a few long moments, and Sullivan cannot tell for the life of him what the man is thinking. 

“Eddie’s innocent.” Sid says, finally, “You’ll see.” 

With that he pulls open the door and storms out the office, giving the door a purposeful slam, on his way out. Sullivan closes his eyes, rests his hands on his desk and takes a breath. 

But Sidney Carter keeps messing with his head. Keeps getting in the way. Over and over. He doesn’t know how to stop it.

*

As much as he doesn’t want it to, he feels his heart sink, when he gets the call that Father Brown is the latest potential victim. And after he’s worried for the man himself, he worries for Sid. He knows how badly Sid cares for that priest. He takes the term ‘father’ a little too seriously, Sullivan thinks. 

He’s almost confused when he’s gathered everyone in the hall, and Sid’s not there. 

“Is that everyone?” he asks them all, because he’s pretty sure there are more people than just Sid not here.

“Is it true?” Sid flies into the room, stamping across the floor.

“Mr Carter I’m in the middle of-”

“Has. He. Been poisoned?” Sid shouts at him, pointing at Father Brown with a trembling finger.

Sullivan stares at him, holds his eyes because he’s not sure what else to do. Sid looks so panicked. Afraid. And Sullivan has never been good at comforting people. He nods once.

“Who did it?” Sid demands, turning to the suspects, “Hm?”

“That’s what I intend to find out, Mr Carter-”

“Oh, yeah, I bet.” Sid snaps back, and goes to sit down beside the priest.

Sullivan feels a little shaky. He’s still aching from their conversation back at the station. It didn’t help that they could got nothing out of Edward in the interviews, besides “I didn’t kill him, but I am not sad about it.” So maybe Sid had been right, and it’s on Sullivan now, if Father Brown doesn’t make it. 

“This is absurd!” Mr Digby pipes up, “Do you really think any of us would want to harm a priest?”

“I think the facts speak for themselves.” Sullivan says, “I want each of you to account for your whereabouts before dinner.”

Everyone begins to chime in, but at the mention of Mrs Gerard being with Father Brown, it occurs to the group that the priest is no longer sitting on the stairs, but has crept across the room. Sullivan pivots on his heels to watch the man flip the rug up.

“Scratch marks.” He observes. “From that chest.”

Sullivan, joined with Sid, follows him to the floor. He bends down, looks at them, then stands and gazes up at the taxidermied tiger. 

“Because the killer couldn’t reach.” Sullivan realises, then, at once, it all clicks, “Where is Jia-Lee Gerard?”

Everyone looks at each other, and then Sid lets out a sigh. “She went to speak to Eddie.”

Sullivan half glares at him. That irritated glare. “I told you to make sure everyone stays insi-“

“Alright, well I panicked, Father Brown needs help!”

He gets it, he does, but Sullivan could have done without this. “Doesn’t matter, we’ve got to go.” He hurries out the room, vaguely aware of Sid and an ailed Father Brown following.

“Wait wait!” Sid calls when they are halfway down the drive.

“What, Carter?”

“Well- I- he needs the hospital. You can drive fast.”

Sullivan flicks his eyes from Sid to Father Brown and nods. “Fine.” They hurry towards the police car. “Just don’t throw up this time.”

“I never threw up last time!” Sid retorts, helping Father Brown in the car, “And it was the fault of your reckless driving.”

Sullivan can’t help but smile when he slips into the driver’s seat.

*

Father Brown’s insistence on coming into the station, rather than the hospital is oddly familiar, and it becomes very clear where Sid had gotten it from following the events of the rosary. They all but walk into Jia-Lee, and Sullivan gently leads her into the office.

“What is this about?” Jia-Lee asks, innocently.

“Your mistakes, catching up with you.” Sullivan replies.

Father Brown helps with the explanation, and Sullivan watches as she becomes more and more panicked, more and more guilty. They should have been prepared for when she bolts.

“Stop!” Sullivan shouts, obviously to no avail.

It’s him, and Sid, and a Sergeant, chasing her down the corridor. But she escapes through the bathroom window. He gathers some men and they dive into the car to head them off. He glances in the mirror as the car rumbles away and sees Sid emerge in the station doorway with the Father. He’s nervous for them. He hopes Father Brown will be okay.

Sid watches him go, then insists on the Father going to the hospital.

“All I have left to do now, is pray.” Father Brown tells him. Sid’s heart sinks, but he helps him up the road.

“Please, Father.” He couldn’t lose him. Couldn’t. Couldn’t

“It will be alright, Sid. I promise.”

“How can you promise that?” Sid says at once. Father Brown looks at him, and his eyes don’t look pained, suddenly, and he’s smiling a little. Sid lets go of him. “No way. You were acting ?! Father! Why would you do that?”

“I have my reasons.” Father Brown says, “Go and fetch Eddie from the station, meet me back at the church.”

“Why?” Sid asks, knowing he’s going to do it anyway.

“Trust me, Sid.”

Sid huffs and hurries back towards the police station. Confused, but relieved, God, so relieved. 

He pulls Eddie into a hug when he’s released from the cell. Eddie’s warm and safe and true. 

“Come on,” he tells him, “we have somewhere to be and it won’t be long before Sullivan catches up.”

“Sullivan?” Eddie echoes as he briskly follows Sid out the station and into the sunshine. 

“That's what I said.”

“No, no, I mean,” he grabs Sid’s arm and turns him around, “Sullivan’s the one you’re not sure about, isn’t he?”

He forgets how well Eddie knows him. Or, well, perhaps he didn’t forget but he didn’t expect Eddie to still know him. Not so well. Sid rolls his eyes,

“We don’t have time for this.” He hurries down the road. Eddie laughs and jogs after him,

“But I’m right though.”

Sid faces him, pauses, but then, “Yeah, you’re right. But we’re hardly gonna be anythin’.”

“Why not?”

“He’s a cop, first off!”

Eddie chuckles a little, “You’re like Romeo and Juliet.”

Sid groans, “We don’t have time for this!” 

Eddie’s laughter carries them down to St Mary’s. 

*

The last thing Eddie whispers to him is “good luck”, and then he’s gone. Kembleford will be strange without him. He only just got him back. But both he and Jia-Lee are gone by the time Sullivan reaches the entrance of the church. 

“Inspector.” Father Brown says with an easy smile, “What brings you here?”

“Mrs McCarthy called us. She saw Jia-Lee entering the church.” Sullivan explains, looking furtively between the two men. 

“Well she’s not here now.” Father Brown says. 

Sullivan gives each of them another long and suspicious look. And Sid thinks about Eddie’s good luck and doesn’t know what to think. Sullivan doesn’t look away as he says to his men,

“Search the area quickly.” 

The men run down the path beside the church and Sullivan gives the Father and Sid one last look, “When I find her there will be questions to answer. From both of you.” With that he goes to walk away, but pauses, pivots back to face them, “Shouldn’t you be in hospital?” he asks the father.

“Turns out it was just wind.” Father Brown replies.

“Praise the Lord.” Sid adds, looking half mockingly up at the sky.

“Praise the Lord.” Father Brown agrees.

Sid watches as Sullivan strolls down the path. Good Luck Eddie had said. He’s still not sure what to make of it.

*

They were suspicious, the both of them. Sid could barely keep a straight face and Father Brown couldn’t even meet his eye once. And Jia-Lee is, indeed, nowhere to be found. He’s in a huff back at the station.

“Would you care for some tea, sir?” Goodfellow asks.

“No, thank you, Sergeant… we could beat them to the train station, don’t you think? If they are on foot?”

“If I’m being honest sir, they’re long gone. Chances are they got fake passports.”

Sullivan straightens, “From who?” 

Goodfellow shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine, sir.”

Goodfellow nods and slips out of his office. Sullivan frowns. Perhaps, he thinks, his guess may just be a little more accurate.

*

It takes some time to find Sid. He’s not in the Red Lion and he’s not at the Presbytery. The sun’s setting by the time he finds him, ambling down the town, passing the butchers. There’s no one around and Sullivan stupidly, carelessly, pulls him into the alley behind the butchers, presses him against the wall.

Sid chuckles and willingly leans back into the whitewashed brick work. His eyes drool over Sullivan’s face and the Inspector instantly regrets this. 

“Someone clearly missed me.”

“This isn’t funny, Carter, Jia-Lee, where’d she go? I know you helped her escape. And Edward.”

Sid laughs and rolls his eyes. “Why are you so obsessed with blaming stuff on me?” He asks, his hands grabbing Sullivan’s jacket, straightening it. 

Somehow, Sullivan remembers how to breathe and draws his eyes up to meet Sid’s, “I know you gave them fake passports.”

“Alright so what are you gonna do?” Sid asks, “Arrest me?” 

“By rights I should.” Sullivan answers. They’re so close it’s a wonder he’s keeping it together. “But I’ll drop all charges if you tell me where they went.” 

Sid sighs and leans his head back so it hits the wall, “Here’s the thing. Two things, in fact. First off, I don’t know where they went. Second, you really think Jia-Lee deserves to hang ?”

“She killed her father! And attempted to kill your priest.”

“He was hardly her father though, was he, not in any sense of the word. And the cornflour? That was her trying to save him. She actually tried to save the dick.”

“Sidney.” Sullivan warns.

“But I mean it. You think she deserves to hang?!”

Sullivan moves away a little, if for nothing else but a chance to breathe air that doesn’t smell like Sid. “Contrary to what you may think, Carter, I don’t desperately agree with people being hanged.”

“So just let her go.” Sid says.

“It’s not that simple, Carter-”

“But it is .” Sid pulls the Inspector back into him, hand on the man’s neck. It’s a terrible, terrible idea, one that Sullivan should be objecting at once but he doesn’t. “She got away. It’s fine.” he promises gently.

Sullivan closes his eyes for a moment and almost believes him. He wants to forget about everything else right now, just breathe Sid in. He opens his eyes, “You don’t understand the importance of clean up rates.” he says instead.

“I could find you a mop.” He offers, the slight twitch of his lips telling Sullivan that he knows perfectly well what clean up rates actually are.

“God you’re insufferable.” he says. 

Sid smiles and leans his head down closer. “Well you’d better shut me up then.” 

Sid’s eyes dance down his face to his lips. Sullivan hates the way his heart skips a beat. He can’t feel like this, but it would be so easy, wouldn’t it? Just to give in. Sid’s eyes are blue and he holds them for a second,

“I can’t.” he says, and then finally steps away, “We’ve been through this.” 

“I know.” Sid says, slipping his hand into his pocket and pulling out a pack of cigarettes, “I know.” he takes one out the pack and repockets the rest. Sullivan just stands there numbly and watches Sid light his cigarette. Sid looks up at him as he puts the material to his lips. 

He takes a drag then exhales the smoke down the alley, before smiling weakly at the Inspector, “I’ll see you.” he says, pushing himself from the wall and strolling away. Sullivan watches him, then looks up at the sky.

It’s clouded over. Gone is the sunshine of the day. He thinks a storm might be coming. In the distance, the clouds look dark and heavy, ready to burst.

He heads home. 

It does indeed begin to rain, somewhere between the station and the cottage, and he shouldn’t waste anytime unlocking his front door and hurrying inside. But, with his key poised, hovering over the lock, he pauses. Sidney Carter hasn’t left his mind. He never does, of late, though, does he? By all accounts he should be arresting him. For aiding and abetting. In fact he could arrest both him and Father Brown (hell, their whole little crew) for aiding and abetting, interfering with crime scenes, breach of the piece… he could make the list as long as his arm. He doesn’t bother, but he could

He’s not going to arrest Sidney. But he knows he just has to do something . Because how else will he free himself of him? He can still feel Sid’s breath on his face, see his smile. And he just wants -

Before he’s had time to think twice (because if he does he’ll just unlock his door, slip inside, pretend his heart isn’t screaming, all night), he’s running from the cottage, down the roads, up the little twitton, through tree lined footpaths, to the field behind Lady Felicia’s. 

By the time he reaches it, rain is pelting. He’s soaking, and, actually, it occurs to him that he lost his hat some way back. It doesn’t make him turn back though. He stumbles up the field shouting Sid’s name as the caravan gets closer. He is sure that Sid can’t hear him above the rain, but perhaps he’d been looking out the window in time to see him approach because the little green door flies open when he’s still some metres away. 

“What do you want?” Sid shouts, stepping down into the grass when Sullivan is close enough. “What are you doing ?!”

Sullivan should catch his breath. He should at the very least think about what he is doing for a moment. He should probably worry about his missing hat. But he doesn’t. When he reaches Sid he only responds, hurriedly,

“Shutting you up.” 

and then kisses him hard on the mouth. 

He feels Sid smile slightly against him for a moment before he kisses back, hands on Sullivan’s face. He pushes himself, pulls at Sullivan. It’s wet and cold and messy and Sullivan’s never ever felt so… so . Never done anything like this. Wild and risky and dramatic. 

Romantic?

“We should go inside.” Sid murmurs, dragging their lips apart. 

“I can’t stay.” Sullivan says, opening his eyes and letting them fall to Sid’s lips. It’s not like he’s planning to leave anytime soon, though, “I mean it.”

Sid laughs slightly into his mouth. Sullivan doesn’t care about the rain. He just wants to kiss Sidney Carter. Kiss him and kiss him until the both of them cease to exist. “But stay until the rain stops.” 

Sullivan manages a nod. He is getting cold now he’s taken a few breaths and remembered where they are. What’s happening. And his shoes are sinking deeper into the grass. The edges of his trousers are wet with mud and dirty puddle water. He really should be worrying about it.

“Come on then.” Sid says before turning, and heading back into the caravan.

With one last look down the field, Kembleford hidden behind a cluster of trees, Sullivan follows him in. It isn’t any warmer inside the caravan but it is far dryer. And as he closes the door the sound of the rain dims, but continues to pester on the roof, echoing tinnily. 

“Do you want a drink?” Sid asks as Sullivan clicks the door shut. He’s already filling a small kettle with water from a sink that’s full of dishes. 

“Um.” Sullivan starts, only to realise he can’t even name a single drink right now. 

“Tea?” Sid suggests, when Sullivan doesn’t. 

“Right. Yes, tea is… fine.” His eyes drift around the tiny space. 

The wall opposite seems to act as a kitchen, cupboards under a worktop and sink. To the side, a small, almost miniature stove where he watches Sid place the kettle to allow it to boil. Directly to his left is a tiny table, and he shrugs off his jacket, folds it and rests it over the back of the closest chair (the chair is one of two, and even that amount is a tight squeeze at such a tiny table). Further into the caravan are some shelves, a bed, unmade. There are piles of what Sullivan can only describe as clutter seemingly everywhere, various tools and discarded clothes. 

“You like it?” Sid asks, ambling over to him.

“It’s kind of a mess.” Sullivan tells him, honestly.

Sid shrugs. “Does it bother you?” 

Sullivan pulls his eyes away from the nearest pile on the floor and meets Sid’s eyes, “I don’t think so.” But he must look nervous, or apprehensive, because Sid cups his jaw with one hand and says, gently,

“Hey, you okay?”

“Just… the adrenaline’s gone and I’m…” he’s second guessing every move he made to end up here. In Sidney Carter’s caravan, soaking wet, and wanting to kiss him again and again and again. “You do realise this can’t be a thing, right?” 

“Well we’d better make the most of it then, hadn’t we?” 

Sid kisses him. It’s not like the hillside (sudden. He felt the risk shaking on Sid’s lips that first time). And it’s not like behind the old town hall (messy. Brief. Careless.) And it’s not like a few minutes ago in the rain (like the crashing of waves. Dramatic and bold). No, now Sid kisses him soft. Slow. Like they have all of tonight and a thousand nights more. 

The kettle whistles. It’s a stark reminder that they do not have a thousand nights. They do not even have this night. Not all of it. Sid sighs and moves away. Sullivan watches as Sid busies himself with the tea, adds water, adds milk.

“No sugar.” Sullivan says.

Sid smiles, slipping two cubes into his own mug, “I know.” He moves both mugs over from the worktop (full of other stuff by the way, a biscuit tin, cutlery, other dirty dishes that don’t fit in the overflowing bowl) and places them on the table. 

Then he pulls Sullivan back into a kiss. And another and another. Sullivan’s never known a man to kiss in so many different ways. Really, before, he’s only known awkward or fast, much too fast. But now Sid’s nudging his chin, pressing himself impossibly closer, taking his time with every new little movement. It’s only when Sid’s fingers gently tug, nudge, at his shirt that he pulls away.

“Wait.” he says, swallowing both a breath of air and a bundle of nerves, “I need to tell you something.” 

He must still look reasonably afraid, however, because Sid becomes serious at once and nods slowly, stepping away. He gestures to the chair Sullivan had rested his jacket on, and goes and sits in the one opposite. Sullivan sits. The chair’s small but that’s fine . He sighs and watches the breath ripple over his tea. He lets the rain fill a pregnant silence while he chooses his words.

“So I like men.” He says eventually, only for Sid to let out rather a dry laugh,

“No kiddin’.” He says sarcastically.

“Let me finish, Carter.” Sullivan snaps. He doesn’t mean to snap, but the pit of his stomach is in knots and it’s hard to just do thus . “I like men but I’m not really... interested... in… sex.” His voice grows quieter and quieter until the final word is barely heard. 

“O… kay.” Sid says, having fully heard but only half understood. 

“It’s not like, I never could have sex. It’s just- I don’t know.” he’s never really wanted anyone like that, not really, but he’s not so sure that it could never happen, “I’ve always been like this, I just, don’t care for it. I think, perhaps, if there is a real connection then maybe I- feel it? But I usually just… don’t want sex. I’m sorry, I can go-”

“What? No!” Sid says at once raising his hand across the table, “It’s okay.” 

“I know it’s weird.” 

“This is hands down the least weird thing about you.” Sid says, sitting up slightly in his chair, “I think I know someone like you, you know?”

“Not Father Brown.” Sullivan says, “He makes a choice. This isn’t celibacy.” 

“No. No, not the Father. An old friend, in London.” 

“Oh.” He stares down into his tea. He doesn’t like mentioning this because not only do men immediately become bored of him, but also because sex is just… awkward. He’s not interested in doing it, so even more so is not interested in talking about it. “I just… wanted to let you know. Because I don’t want- I just thought-” he pauses and starts again, “If this, y’know, really happens, I thought you should know.”

Sid swallows a gulp of tea and puts down his cup, “Is this happening?” 

“It shouldn’t .” 

Sid shrugs and leans back in his chair, “It doesn’t have to be anything, you know.” he offers, “Just the odd snog, sometimes.”

Sullivan blushes at Sid’s choice of words but quickly nods into his tea (which is surprisingly good, by the way). 

He keeps to his word, Sullivan, and doesn’t stay all night. But it feels somehow riskier, when he returns home at 1am, once the rain has stopped and he’d given up the search for his hat. 

 

Chapter Text

As he wakes, Sid wonders if last night was a dream. A dream pulled by Eddie’s words and pushed in the same way the Inspector pushed him into the alley. But it can’t have been a dream because there are two empty cups joining his dirty dishes on the worktop. And his wet clothes are still hung up.

He also remembers too much for a dream. He remembers everything Sullivan had told him, and how (after Sid had asked where it was) he’d lost his hat on his run to the caravan. He ran all the way across Kembleford to kiss him. Sid can’t stop smiling about it. And he coaxed Sullivan’s first name out of him via a mix of pleading kisses and the most outlandish guesses (Sullivan caved at Gerry, an awful name). Sid finally washes up early in the morning, replays the night over and over until he feels pleasantly giddy.

*

He finds Sullivan’s hat on his way into Kembleford, lying in a puddle on the side of the bridal path. It’s very worse for wear, damp, muddy, sopping actually, but he heads to the station to return it nonetheless.

The place is quiet. Goodfellow greets him at the front desk and Sid gestures to the hat in his hands and hurries across to Sullivan’s office. He knocks, smiles at the “come in” on the other side of the door.

Sullivan’s clearly not expecting him, his eyes widen, “Carter.” He manages. He sees the hat in Sid’s hands, “You found it.”

“Unfortunately not in good nick.” Sid says, dropping it on the desk.

“I see.” Sullivan says, standing and taking the hat tentatively, and placing it on the coat stand in the corner of the room. “Thank you, Carter, is that all?”

It’s almost funny, Sid thinks, how casual he’s being. “Well...” he shrugs.

“Great, well, I’ll see you later.” Sullivan says as he sits back at his desk.

“Later?” Sid echoes, looking back at him with an amused smile. 

“You know…” Sullivan says with a shrug, “just, around.” He’s reminding Sid of the morning up the bridal path, when he went to check he was feeling better. It feels so long ago, all of that. 

Sid grins, and adds, quietly, “Your place?”

Sullivan looks a little irritated for a second, before giving a small, sharp nod. 

*

He likes the police cottage. He likes Sullivan’s armchairs and he likes the warmth. He likes that Sullivan lets him choose a record, but doesn’t trust him enough to get it going (ridiculous, as if Sid doesn’t know how it works). He likes how Sullivan makes his tea; strong and perfectly sweet (albeit with a muttering of how he really shouldn’t drink it with quite so much sugar). 

He learns that night that Inspector Sullivan knows how to dance. And he learns that he, himself, really does not. 

“Two left feet, Carter.” Sullivan mutters. Sid doesn’t think he’s really that annoyed.

It’s not a date. Because as they said the night before it isn’t anything . Not properly. Last night Sullivan had told him, as he pulled him closer, that it was just to get it out of their systems. But as he kisses him goodbye for the third time that night, Sid thinks that it’s going to take a while. 

*

Some weeks pass. They never spend the night, and Sullivan insists, at first, on meeting only at each other’s homes. But somehow, somewhere down the line, Sid bent the rules and Sullivan finds himself round the back of the church, pressing Sidney Carter into the stone wall. Something about Mrs M being away for the week and there’s no one else to watch the comings and goings 24/7. All the same Sullivan knows he shouldn’t have caved so easily.

He feels hidden, though, for the back of the church is surrounded by trees. And he doesn’t mind anywhere near as much as he should . Or as much as he did. It still doesn’t mean anything, he tells himself, but he can’t help but make something of a whine when Sid pulls away. And Sid notices the sound, leans back against the wall and smiles.

“Can’t do this all day yanno.” he says, “Places to be.” 

Sullivan tuts but moves away, “Like where, the Red Lion?” 

“I wish, but no, Lady F wants me to take her somewhere.”

“Right.” Sullivan says. Sid had jokingly hung his (spare) hat up on a nearby tree branch and he retrieves it and returns it to his head.

“Why do you say it like that? Right .”

“Like what?” Sullivan asks, but he can’t help the twitch of his lips. He likes that Sid’s caught onto his teasing. 

“Like you forgot I had a job.” Sid replies, “I’ve a very busy work life you know. One minute St Mary’s roof needs pluggin’, the next Lady F needs me to take her to some soiree, the next Mrs M is ropin’ me into some local event… busy. All the time.”

“Oh, well, in that case don’t let me keep you.” Sullivan says, stepping back and gesturing for Sid to leave the little area. 

“Oh, you’re so annoying. “Sid replies, but recloses the gap between them and pecks Sullivan’s lips. “See you later?” he asks hopefully.

“Can’t I’m afraid. Late shift.” Sullivan replies, feeling all fluttery when Sid pouts, “Perhaps tomorrow?” 

Sid wrinkles his nose. “Think the Father wants me. But I’ll see.” And he feels the need to say goodbye all over again, and kisses Sullivan quickly. “I’ll see you soon.”

Sullivan nods and watches him go. He thinks about Sid saying the odd snog sometimes. Because it’s ended up being many snogs a lot of the time. But it still doesn’t mean anything.

He can handle a few days without Sidney Carter, can’t he? How hard could it be?

*

Alfred Tatton’s death, despite how gruesome it is, provides Sullivan with at least some kind of distraction. Until that is, the following day, a small note, paper torn messily from a pad, appears on his desk. The penmanship is far from impressive but it reads

Church? 1:50pm? S 

Sullivan reads it three times, and by the third he’s smiling. It’s been more than 24 hours since he’s seen him. They keep missing each other and it’s ridiculous, almost comical, the way their duties keep clashing. It’s not because it’s Sid, specifically, but Sullivan hasn’t kissed anyone for a long while. And he likes the way it feels while they’re together, like he can just drop his job for a few moments. Think of something else for once . Be just a little free.

The church, just before Tatton’s funeral. He needs a well deserved break.

*

It’s been so long that Sullivan’s insides seem to ache when he slips through the trees at the back of the church and finds Sid leaning against the wall patiently waiting. 

“Alright?” Sid asks, pushing himself from the wall. For a moment, Sullivan thinks that maybe Sid feels knots in his stomach too. But if he does then he pushes them away quickly enough, and pulls the Inspector into a kiss. 

They don’t usually talk. Not around the back of the church because it never feels the place. This is the place for a mess, really. It’s where Sid, while stealing kiss after kiss, mindlessly removes Sullivan’s hat from his head and hangs it on the nearest branch. It’s where Sid then pulls him, so they come crashing into the church wall. It’s where Sid’s hands run everywhere; his hair, his face, his jaw, his neck. It’s where Sid allows him to forget the universe. 

Just for a little bit. 

“The funeral will start soon.” Sullivan warns, barely pulling away. He doesn’t open his eyes, either. He hasn’t felt Sid like this in so long, and opening his eyes forces it towards the end. 

Thomaaas .” Sid whines. It’s a new thing, and it catches Sullivan off guard every time.

Siiiid .” Sullivan retorts, and finally opens his eyes. He at once meets Sid’s green ones, all wide and begging and annoyingly puppy-like. “No more than one minute or I’ll be late.” 

“Two.” Sid bargains.

“The longer you try to debate the number, the less you have left of your one minute.”

“God you’re insufferable.” Sid snaps. 

Sullivan’s lip twitches. He can’t miss the opportunity so he says, “You’d better shut me up then.” 

And Sid does.

*

Sullivan leaves two minutes later. (Sid has irritatingly good bargaining skills and with the right education, Sullivan can’t help thinking Sid has the possible makings of a decent lawyer.) He strolls up the path and begins to make out as though he’d just arrived when the main doors of the church groan open. Father Brown grins at him.

“Inspector… did you want to see me?” 

Sullivan looks away from his watch and hopes he looks decent. Did he remember his hat? Yes, Sid dragged him back to plop it on his head and steal another kiss. Right. “Always a pleasure, Father, but no, I’m here for the funeral.” This isn’t a lie, thankfully. He’s not sure how to explain it away, otherwise. 

“Have you seen these?” Father Brown holds up a folded piece of paper. He doesn’t need to read the single typewritten line to know what it says. Alfred Tatton was killed by Dr Crawford .

“Several dozen letters, sent all over town.” Sullivan says, “We’re looking into who sent them. And the possibility it could be true.”

With that he makes to leave, because he’s noticed Sid walking towards them and his heart catches in his throat. Because of them about to be witnessed in the same proximity. It’s nothing to do with the way Sid walks or the way he grins. Nothing to do with how that leather jacket hangs over his frame. It most certainly has nothing to do with Sidney Carter at all. 

They pass each other silently, in a way that Sullivan is sure looks perfectly normal. Sid is sure they could never look casual enough for Father Brown’s eyes, so he walks passed and stares up ahead.

“Sid, Sid.” 

Just passed the Inspector and a few steps up the path, Sid’s shoes scrape to a halt. He turns back around to Father Brown who’d beckoned him, and glances only a little, at Sullivan ambling back down the path. 

“I want you to try every typewriter in Kembleford.” the priest says, holding out one of the letters for him to take, “The library, the village shop. The school. Even the one Mrs McCarthy uses and see if you can find a match for this.”

“Ugh.” Sid groans but takes the letter nonetheless, “Why do I get all the boring jobs?” But really he’s wondering why do I get all the long winded jobs . He told Sullivan 2:30 before he left him around the back of the church. 

He hopes he can be done before then.

*

He reluctantly accepts that he will not be done before 2:30, which means he’s going to stand Sullivan up, and there’s this bubble of guilt in his gut as he exits the post office and turns into the jewellers. He doesn’t have time to dwell on missing the Inspector, because the owner of the jeweller’s suddenly turns their full attention on him. 

“Can I help you, Mr Carter?” The man asks, sternly. He’s rather short, but somewhat fierce, behind his on-the-tip-of-his-nose glasses and thick, ginger stubble. 

Sid holds his hands up. “Don’t worry. I’m here on behalf of the Father. May I borrow your typewriter?”

He could be more subtle. But the look of utter bewilderment on every person’s face when Sid words it like that... It’s too funny of an opportunity to miss. 

In the toy shop he waits at the counter for the owner, and gazes around the room. He’s come into this shop since he were a young boy, fresh from the city. He’s possibly guilty of nicking the odd sweet but he’s been a loyal customer so far as model planes and toy cars went.

They have dressing up costumes now. Including a pirate. He laughs down at the counter and considers borrowing it for Mrs M. She already has the eyepatch, and he’s never going to get over it. The owner, Mrs Kelly, knows Sid all too well and lets him gladly test her typewriter. 

The library staff look upon him with scorn, but, since it’s Father Brown’s orders, they begrudgingly allow him. The school’s a little more tricky, until he gets a few of the children at the school gate involved, slipping them the sweets Mrs Kelly had snuck him. And the children provide the distraction as he slips into the school’s office and tests their typewriter. 

No luck there either. 

No luck anywhere. 

He’s on his way back from the school, puzzling how he’s going to test the ones at the police station, when a voice calls him.

“Carter!”

He pivots and grins over at Inspector Sullivan, “Inspector.”

The man wanders towards him, eyes a little narrowed in confusion, “What are you- what are you doing here?” 

Sid looks around, “It’s… my town?”

Sullivan rolls his eyes, “No, I mean, what are you doing here . And not-” He very vaguely, feebly, gestures in the direction of the church.

“Oh, oh , yeah, I know, I’m so sorry, I forgot, I’ve got this errand, for the Father and it’s taking way longer than expected… I can drop by the station later if you-”

“No. No, it’s… not to worry. I just… I don’t have time to be hanging around the church if you’re not going to show up.” he says quietly, after hurriedly scanning the street and finding no one to eavesdrop. 

“Yeah, sorry, I really didn’t… I’ll make it up to you, yeah?”

Sullivan shrugs, if rather stiffly, “It’s no matter, Carter, in fact it allowed me to overhear some very valuable information from Father Brown in church. Interviewing Farmer Tatton behind my back.”

“Confession isn’t an-”

Sullivan rolls his eyes, “It wasn’t confession, Carter, I assure you. Look, I’ve got to go.”

“Right. I’ll uh, see you… later?”

“Carter, it really doesn’t matter.” 

“Okay…” 

He watches Sullivan leave before turning, slowly, away. He knows that Sullivan told him not to see him later, but he’s not going to ever make a habit of doing as the man says. 

*

The air in the station is buzzing, and Sid gets the feeling he’s come at the wrong time. But before he can leave Sullivan appears, returning from the back of the station. Sid swallows and pulls a smile. 

“I thought I told you-”

“I know but I just thought-”

“No, Carter, I’m busy. Crawford confessed.” 

With that Sullivan strolls into his office. And Sid doesn’t wait around to hear it slam because he’s out the door. The Father is not going to believe this!

*

“Father!” Sid flies through the presbytery door and pants, leaning his hands on his knees, bent over in the exhaustion of the sprint across town.

“Ah, Sid.” Father Brown greets, seemingly unbothered by the lad’sexhaustion, “You’re here to tell me that Dr Crawford’s been charged with murder.”

“Well yeah but-”

“And that he’s indeed confessed.”

“Well yeah, he has but-” he stands back up and looks confused over the priests shoulder, “How do you know this ?!”

“Because it’s written in the stars.” The man says cryptically, staring down at the paper spread across the table. Sid frowns.

*

Days pass and both Sid and Sullivan become unfairly busy. Sullivan’s stuck with a lot of paperwork to work through for the trial, which he does meticulously and completely by the book. And Sid has to fix the Rolls that broke down the other day, amongst fixing St Mary’s roof and taking Felicia to one gathering and then another. 

If Sullivan’s free one night, Sid turns out to be busy. And if Sid is free and muttering so, hopefully, outside the station when Sullivan’s about to start work, Sullivan’s working all day and evening. And Sid knows he’s not lying because he looks tired and disheartened. 

It’s not that they miss each other. Sid would never go as far as that. But whatever they had was fun and exciting and Sid does want him back. 

When, finally, Dr Crawford’s trial day arrives, Sid’s a little restless. Because last time he saw Sullivan, yesterday morning under a cool misty dawn outside the station, he’d assured him that he’d have the time off in the evening, permitting it all goes smoothly. So Sid’s hopefully, desperately, been watching the time tick away. And no matter how much he tries to ignore it, because he’s not that desperate, that would be ridiculous, he catches himself looking down at his watch, and Sullivan doesn’t really leave his mind.

Father Brown’s noticed too, and can’t quite infer what’s happening. Sid’s been impatient lately, sloppy in his workmanship, and somewhere else when he sits at the kitchen table. He stares into his tea like it’s telling him a story, one he doesn’t seem to be enjoying, but keeps reading nonetheless.

“Penny for your thoughts, Sid?” Father Brown asks with a grin. It’s the morning of the trial, and the whole town feels like its holding its breath.

Sid looks at him, “What?”

“Well, you’re miles away. Is there no way I can help?”

“I’m fine.” Sid assures.

“If the tea’s bad you can tell me.”

“No, no, tea’s fine.” Sid assures, and takes a sip to prove the point, “Just… been busy, you know.” 

Father Brown nods once, “It has been… quite a trying time lately. I still cannot work out how to prove Dr Crawford’s innocence.”

“Will it make the trial go on longer, if he says he made it all up?” 

Father Brown frowns, taken aback by such a question, “Well, I suppose.”

And Sid glares into his tea. 

“Why?” the priest pries. 

Sid shrugs, “Just… prolongs the town’s stress.” 

“Yes, I suppose that is true. Still, the course of justice never did run smooth.” Father Brown says, standing up.

Sid looks over at him, “It’s love, in’t it? Course of true love never did run smooth.”

“Well… yes, I was… that was on purpose.” Father Brown says, “I didn’t expect you to pick up on shakespeare.”

Sid shrugs and flushes a little pink, “Famous quote.” He mutters, “I must’ve heard you say it before.”

Father Brown watches him a little longer, “Yes… I suppose that’s possible.” he reasons, then smiles, “Anyway, must be off, morning mass doesn’t lead itself.”

*

Dr Crawford pleaded not guilty, and Sid smokes out the front of the police station later that day and wonders whether to enter inside. Standing outside probably looks strange enough (although he spends a lot of time out here when the Father pays the station a visit, so perhaps people assume that’s the case) but he doesn’t want to miss Sullivan. He doesn’t really care how long he has to stand there (he tells himself this but he’s already growing bored and his feet ache), he’s not missing another day. In a stubborn kind of way, not because he’s desperate or anything. And certainly not because he misses the man.

Sullivan does emerge, eventually, pausing at once a few steps out of the door when he sees Sid on his left.

“Carter.”

Sid looks at him, just looks because he doesn’t need to ask. Sullivan nods slowly, once, then turns on his heel. With a grin, Sid follows him. 

“So you’re free.” he checks.

“I am.” Sullivan says, furtively casting him a glance. 

“Even though Crawford-”

“Yes, well, it’s tomorrow’s problem, frankly. And Goodfellow practically insisted on a break.”

“You do look tired.”

Sullivan glares, “If you think that then perhaps we should call this off so I can get some rest.”

“No, no, no this is- you look wide awake.” Sid says, looking over and catching the smile on the Inspector’s face. He grins. 

*

Sid closes the cottage door as Sullivan hangs up his overcoat. Then he watches the Inspector remove his hat and set it gently on the dressing table. And before Sid has time to admit I missed you , Sullivan’s lips are on his. He stumbles back into the door with a considerable knock, but ignores where the door handle dug into his side, instead pulling the Inspector impossibly closer and then pushing them both from the doorway. 

They kiss their way down the hallway. Sid veers them towards the living room and they stumble across the carpet.

“You know,” Sid murmurs as he leans against the arm of one of the chairs, “you could really do with a sofa.”

“What?” Sullivan says, pulling away and opening his eyes.

“You know, it’s just, more comfortable for- y’know two people.” Sid explains, frowning when this makes Sullivan pull away further. 

“Come on.” The Inspector turns on his heel and strolls back across the room. Sid stands and hurries after him. 

Sullivan opens the second door on the right, the one that neighbours the lounge door, and sits perpendicular to the kitchen. He flicks on a switch on the left and steps into the room. A little apprehensive, Sid follows. 

On his left stretches a mahogany piano, a little old but well kept, a few sheets of music neatly spread across the ledge and stacked behind one another. Sid presses a few of the low note keys down mindlessly with his fingers as he gazes around the room, earning a look from Sullivan. 

There’s a window to the far left, a wide desk looking out over the garden. There’s a second fireplace although it doesn’t look all that used, and again, the mantelpiece is bare, although a clock hangs on the chimney breast. To the right of the room there’s another shelf, lined with more books, but with plenty of space. And then, against the right hand wall, a sofa. 

“Does that suffice?” 

Sid grins at him, chuckles, and flops down into the cushions.

“Careful.” Sullivan says, slowly sitting down next to him. Sid shuffles closer, props himself up by leaning his elbow against the back of the sofa.

“Do you play?”

“I don’t follow.” Sullivan replies.

“The piano.” Sid says, nodding over to it, a lazy smile wide on his face.

“Oh. Uh. Only a little. And not very well. I was sort of informally taught at school. I don’t remember much.” Sullivan’s a little red.

“What, like you don’t know how to dance?” Sid says.

“I don’t know how to dance, not really, I just know the basics, as everyone should, Carter.”

Sid rolls his eyes, “You don’t have to call me that when we’re alone.” 

He’s all up close. And well, Sid’s body may not be able to dance all too well but his eyes can. And he knows it reels Sullivan in, makes the man come a little undone. 

“Shut up, Sid.” Sullivan murmurs.

Sid breaks out into a grin, “Make me.” he says, but kisses Sullivan before Sullivan has time to kiss him. 

*

Time passes too quickly that night. Sullivan succumbs and plays the piano. Sid is appalled that the man had said he wasn’t very good, when he rattles his way through fur elise clean as a record player. And Sullivan manages to teach Sid about the first bar or so, before he becomes bored, and hungry.

“I should probably get going.” Sid says, slipping off the half of the piano stool that he’d been occupying. 

“What, why?” Sullivan asks, quickly standing as well.

“Well it’s… getting late and I should probably grab something to eat so-”

“I have food.” Sullivan says at once. It takes Sid by surprise. It had been Sullivan that said they weren’t to do overnights, or to stay any longer than they need. But Sullivan’s offering, almost hopefully, and he doesn’t see the harm in agreeing just this once. 

“What kind of food?” 

*

Sullivan cooks up some chicken, and Sid watches and tries to steal the meat from the pan before Sullivan swats his hands away. He turns it into chicken stroganoff, and Sid leans impatiently against the worktop and watches him stir the food. He’s so hungry. It is somehow endearing though, the Inspector cooking. He frowns when he’s concentrating. Sid watches his hand on the spoon as he stirs, and he thinks about holding it and wonders if such a thought is stepping over a line he thought he was miles away from. 

After the food he’s sure he’s outstayed his welcome. Sullivan’s gone quiet, although he smiles when Sid compliments the food. He doesn’t really look at him, and although he replies with earnest when Sid asks a question, his heart doesn’t seem in it.

Sid makes a show of looking at his watch, “Crikey is that the time? I should be going. Thank you for the tea though, Thomas.” he pushes his chair back and stands from the little kitchen table.

“Right.” Sullivan replies, a little stiff, but he stands too, collects the two empty plates and clatters them into the sink. 

“I’ll see you soon, I s’pose. Not so long this time, yeah?”

Sullivan nods and follows him quietly to the door. Just before Sid can open it, though, he says, rather suddenly,

“Why don’t you just stay?” 

Sid turns around. “But I thought we weren’t-”

“Yes, well, it can make up for all the time we kept missing each other.” He says, stepping forward, “You don’t have to, stay, I mean, but, if you want, I’d be, I’d be happy to have you here.”

Sid swallows. He’s spent the night with many a people in the past and this should be no different. It doesn’t matter if he feels nervous, it’s just Sullivan’s nerves rubbing off on him. He smiles, “I’d like that.” he says. And then Sullivan kisses him.

 

Chapter Text

When the birds awaken the following morning, so does Sullivan, with Sid, snoring, at his side. Something tugs in his chest as he looks at him, pulling his insides down and down and making him ache. It’s not that he regrets asking Sid to stay, he couldn’t regret it, even if he tried, but he knows it was stupid. 

He doesn’t even like Sid, does he? Not really. He certainly shouldn’t. He’s a thief and a pain. Cheeky and rude. There’s no reason to like him, is there? Not really. There’s just… kisses and they’re good. And sometimes they talk or dance or hold hands or cook. That doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t make them anything. They’re nothing, frankly, as they should be.

But for somebody who means nothing, Sidney Carter sure is something .

He wrinkles his nose as he stirs awake. Sullivan smiles half into his pillow.

“Good afternoon.” he greets, making Sid turn to face him. 

“Mornin’” Sid replies, dragging out the o sound as he so often does. 

Sullivan doesn’t really realise his hand has slid onto Sid’s tummy until Sid weaves their fingers together. The Inspector lifts their intertwined hands a little, so he can see them. There’s no way this could be something that he is lucky enough to keep. 

When, eventually, they make it downstairs (because Sid needs to see Lady Felicia, and Sullivan does have work) Sullivan cooks an English Breakfast, and he has to tell himself this is something he can never, ever get used to. And he knows, now, why he laid down a no staying the night rule. Because it was bound to make him slip . The only silver lining to this, though, he thinks, as he slices his fried egg, and let’s Sid intertwine their feet under the table, is that he thinks the other man might have slipped too. 

They make a show of leaving the house. In that Sullivan thanks him for coming so early to fix his plumbing, and Sid assures him that it was no bother and he had been staying close by at the presbytery anyway. And then they stroll off to work in opposite directions. And Sullivan hopes no one notices the slight skip to his step. 

*

The next time there’s an overnight, it’s at Sid’s. It’s a considerably different experience to the night in the cottage. For starters, this bed isn’t really built for two, and it’s badly made, and Sid’s chest is more comfortable than the actual pillows, which Sid says is sweet, but Sullivan assures him it isn’t a good thing. He also starts awake at every little knock of the wind against the caravan, at every owl hoot, every pigeon coo. Sid tells him he’s being paranoid and while that’s definitely true, it doesn’t stop him feeling so. 

All the same he likes it here. It’s nice to be forced to press close to Sid, and he likes Sid being forced to press close to him. It’s warm and sweet and rich and he feels so far away from everything.

“You know, I have a day off, next week.” Sullivan murmurs into Sid’s neck in the early hours of the morning. The sun’s not yet up, but the owls are, and if Sullivan can’t sleep, then apparently, neither can Sid. 

“What day?” Sid asks, tired, fingers lazily threading through Sullivan’s hair. It’s something Sid’s quite taken himself to doing, tonight, and Sullivan can’t see any reason to complain about it. 

“Saturday.” Sullivan replies, closing his eyes, resting his chin on Sid’s shoulder. 

“The day of the races?” Sid asks.

“Is it?” Sullivan frowns and tries to recall the date in his head. He remembers stumbling upon it in the papers some days back, “Oh, yes, I suppose it is. Are you going?” 

“Of course.” Sid replies, “Will you join me? Well, I say me, I accidentally mentioned it to the Father, so I think he’ll be along. He said he’d persuade Mrs M an’ all.”

Sullivan tries to imagine Mrs McCarthy at the races in an attempt to dampen the ache of Sid’s backtrack. Very nearly, did it feel like some kind of date. Very nearly, did he feel like they were crossing another line. 

“I don’t think I could picture Mrs McCarthy down at a hill climb track, Sid.”

“Oh, the Father has his ways, Tom, you’ll see. Bet Lady Felicia rocks up too.” 

I’ll take that bet , Sullivan thinks but is too far near sleep to actually voice it, because that’s ridiculous

*

Sullivan arrives on Saturday to the races before Sid, and hangs around the crowd impatiently waiting for him to appear. It’s becoming a little shameful, he thinks. He keeps having to remind himself that this isn’t something serious, it’s not even real. And besides, Sid will become bored of him soon, as men always do. Not even just because of the sex thing, he’s aware he’s simply a boring person, and he is so far away from everything that Sid is.

Speaking of, he spies he and the Father arriving down by the track, between all the sheds and garages. Somehow, they’ve managed to bring Mrs McCarthy along with them, although she doesn’t appear particularly thrilled. Lady Felicia appears, too, unbelievably. Sullivan carefully finds his way through the crowd (mindful of the drink in his hand), down the bank, across the track towards the group. 

He catches the tail end of their conversation, Mrs McCarthy saying something or other about alcohol.

“So long as the driver’s won’t be partaking.” Sullivan says. He feels Sid’s head snap over to him but tries not to look back, “I don't want to make any arrests on my day off.”

“Inspector, you have my word, hand on heart.” Lady Felicia assures him. 

Before he can reply, a car rolls in, diverting his attention.

“‘27!” Sid observes, immediately closing in on the car to get a better look. 

“28.” Sullivan retorts, circling it, “The terror, 1496CC. Methanol driven and supercharged.” He smirks over at Sid.

He’s vaguely aware of Father Brown saying something. And then Mrs McCarthy, something about cars turning men into little boys but he’s not entirely listening because he’s watching Sid eyeing up the driver. Sullivan looks away, as he helps her from the car, feeling the knots wind in his stomach, focusing on pretending they’re not there. 

“Audrey, it’s been far too long.” Lady Felicia greets. 

Sullivan’s aware of Sid rounding the front of the car, admiring the headlights and the bonnet. He skirts away, possibly because he’s irrationally annoyed about the way Sid eyed Audrey, but also because he’s not sure how to act close to Sid anymore. The space between them feels somehow electric, as supercharged as the car in front of them. 

But as the conversation continues, and Sullivan reaches the back of the car, all he can do is watch, in his peripheral, Sid amble closer. He glances over, eventually, when the rest of the group are engrossed in conversation with Audrey. He nods a little in response to Sid’s small smile. 

Nothing about this is fair because he wants to ask Sid if he missed him. And he wants Sid to say no and then say he’s kidding and pull him in. But they can’t. There are so many people and even without that, Sid would have no reason to miss him because they’re nothing like together

“Audrey McMurray?”

It’s a new voice that catches Sullivan’s attention. Whoever it is hadn’t been there a moment ago. He turns away from Sid to watch the woman, Harriet Welsby as she so proclaimed, slap Audrey around the face. 

“You killed my husband.” Welsby says, “You’ll pay for it.”

The group, and the crowd the other side of the track, all fall silent, mouths agape, as the woman walks off. Sullivan goes to follow her, because apparently he gets no day off, but he loses her somewhere in the crowd and turns back to the group. 

“She wasn’t all there if you ask me.” Sid is saying when the Inspector returns. 

A car roars passed and Father Brown shouts his reply over top of it, “People in grief rarely are.” 

“I can’t find her.” Sullivan confesses to Audrey, “She disappeared into the crowd.”  

Before she can respond, a mechanic is at her side, “How’d she run?” he asks, referring to the car. 

Sullivan turns his attention to Sid and feels the tug in his chest again. Perhaps it is best he is just not around him. He decides to search the buildings, garages, offices for Harriet, as well as seizing the opportunity to snoop around the other cars. Get some intel to impress Sid with. God . He shouldn’t do that, should he? He needs to just… stop, turn off his thoughts all together because this thing is not half as important as Sullivan’s heart keeps trying to kid. 

“‘Ello.” Sid’s voice behind him, while he is peering around a shed across at the garages. 

Sullivan turns from where he’d been peering around the side of one of the sheds and leans against the wooden building. 

“What are you doing here?”

“I thought- you looked at me and wandered off, forgive me for assuming.” Sid says, holding his hands up. 

“Oh, right… Sid… there’s too many people around.” Sullivan says.

“What are you doing then?” Sid asks, peering around the shed for himself. 

“Looking for that woman from before. Harriet Welsby.”

“And not the cars?” Sid says. Sullivan throws him an irritated look but he doesn’t argue. “There’s not actually any people ‘round here, you know.”

They’re standing between two buildings, each leaning against one of them. Sullivan’s heart is beating all funny, heavy. But they really really can’t.

“Sid it’s… it’s still a bad idea.” 

Sid nods and they fall quiet. In the silence Sid takes out his cigarettes. He offers one to Sullivan but the Inspector shakes his head. So he lights his own, exhales smoke round the side of the building before looking Sullivan up and down.

“Am I at least allowed to say I like your suit?” Sid says.

“I suppose.” Sullivan answers after a while. 

Sid nods once, “I like your suit.” He says, “Looks good, like… really good,” he pauses and looks him up and down again, “not sure about the tie though.”

“What do you mean?” Sullivan starts at once, looking down at the pinky-red fabric, “It matches perfectly.”

Sid sniggers slightly, “If you say so.” he says, smiling. Sullivan can’t help but smile back.

If only he could kiss him, even if just on the cheek. Or perhaps just hold him, just a squeeze of his hand. He knows it’s too risky, though. He ought to go but he doesn’t want to leave yet, so for a moment he looks down at his hands, rolls his watch around his wrist, admires the gold strap. “I’ll meet you back up the top.” he says eventually and pushes himself from the side of the shed. 

Sid nods. He looks a bit disappointed, but there’s not much he can do about it. There has to be a line at some point, it’s not his fault if he has to be the one to draw it. 

*

Sid is gone for a while, to a point that the Inspector worries that he’ll miss the first race. He has to listen to Lady Felicia’s comments, and cope with Father Brown’s jokes. He hadn’t really envisaged this for his day off. And when he remembered this event was coming up, he’d pictured just he and Sid, and not Sid’s entire little family.

Sid does reappear, eventually, pushing his way through the crowd and finally reaching them. 

“Been busy?” 

Sullivan’s aware of Father Brown’s question, aware of the way the priest flicks his fingers at Sid’s collar. He barely has to look round to tell that Sid’s lapel is smudged pink. From lipstick, it’s pretty clear. The Inspector attempts to ignore it, leans against the fence in front of him and tries to act like he doesn’t care, stares at the car on the track, follows it round the bend. He distracts himself by explaining to Mrs McCarthy how the races work, and that the cars go one at a time.

“Well it all sounds very dull to me.” she says.

“I can assure you, it’s far from that.” Sullivan says, “And not a cream tea in sight.” It earns him a look, but that’s to be expected. 

Lady Felicia’s commentary floods through the crowd again as Audrey McMurray’s car rumbles up to the start line. “Driving a uh… Frazer Nash Special… 1926.”

“27.” Sid pipes up. 

28 .” Sullivan retorts, satisfied when he hears the man chuckle, and feels him gently nudge his hand into Sullivan’s sleeve. It’s the only time they’ve touched all day, and hell, it’s not even touch , but it makes his insides feel all fluttery. He’s not used to that kind of feeling, and there’s no way he should get used to it. 

Lady Felicia’s rambling commentary continues and Sullivan is sure this day couldn’t get any worse. Still, it’s not so bad when he hears Sid laugh at his jokes, not so bad until he remembers the lipstick on Sid’s lapel. It’s not like Sid isn’t allowed to- it’s not like they’re in anyway together, he’d only been reminding himself at least every hour of each day. Only, it was starting to feel like they were , at least close to that, and it’s simply not fair.

He doesn’t think it can get any worse. Except it does, when Audrey McMurray’s car crashes, explodes, and Lady Felicia’s scream echoes painfully across the tannoy and rings and stings in his ears. So much for a nice day off. 

*

He’s irrationally snappy, when he and Goodfellow pay a visit to Harriet Welsby. Refusing tea, and refusing it adamantly on Goodfellow’s behalf too. He snaps more than usual, if someone knocks on his office door, and, although it seems to have died down somewhat, the next day, he’s thrown right back into his mood after interviewing Bakewell, the mechanic. 

“Is everything alright, sir?” Goodfellow asks when the Inspector goes to grab something behind the front desk. 

“Fine, Sergeant.” Sullivan mutters in reply, but Goodfellow isn’t stupid, and he knows when his friend is lying.

Everything’s not really alright. Bakewell’s interview has gotten under his skin and he can’t stop thinking about it, worrying about it, really.

“Look.” the mechanic had said, “I’m not the only one who was having an affair with Audrey. Ask anyone! And you should start with that chauffeur chap, walked in on them in the bathroom, didn’t I?”

“What chauffeur chap?” Sullivan had asked, although he already knew, didn’t he? He knew that there had been lipstick on Sid’s lapel but he hadn’t for a moment truly considered it belonged to Audrey McMurray.

It’s left him with a conundrum. Because now not only had Sid kissed someone that wasn’t him, but Sid kissed someone who later ended up murdered. Technically, he’s a suspect. And he’s not sure what to do. What he should do is interview Sid, demand answers but he doesn’t think he can do that without getting angry, or upset, and with Goodfellow observing the interview it’s only going to look odd. 

So he ignores it. The trouble with ignoring it is that he’s kind of breaking the law. And although he doesn’t believe that Sid has done anything, without following protocol, he’s kind of aiding and abetting, perverting the course of justice, withholding information. It only sends his mood into a further spiral. 

When he gets the call about Father Brown snooping around MacMurray's, it only riles him all the more. It is all Father Brown’s fault, technically. This thing with Sid. Father Brown’s the cause of his path crossing so often with with the Chauffeur's. Father Brown’s the reason Sid was in the Red Lion that evening, when Sid first kissed him (it wasn’t that Sullivan had been lurking hopefully around the pub for a few days. Wasn’t the reason at all). It was all Father Brown’s fault. All of it. And if he can’t arrest Sid, well, Father Brown is long since due arrest anyway. 

No one at the station can quite get their head around it. Snapping at the priest, slamming his office door on him earlier is one thing, more charged than usual but otherwise nothing too off base, but arresting him? Well the department can’t believe it. They daren’t go anywhere near the Inspector for the rest of the day. The atmosphere is stiff and icy, when he shouts at Father Brown. And they all look around in bewilderment, when he repeats this mantra on Sidney Carter, too.

“What the hell is your problem?” Sid demands as he flies into the Inspector’s office without knocking. 

“Not now, Carter.” Sullivan says quietly, staring at his desk.

“Arresting the Father are you out of your mind?!” the chauffeur continues, pointing his hand back down towards the cells. Sullivan’s chest aches, “You know he has done nothing but save your backside since you arrived, I mean, I don’t think you’ve arrested the right person since you got here-”

“I said not now , Carter.” Sullivan snaps, standing from his desk. It’s loud enough for officers outside to hear, and they hurry away for fear of also being shouted at, “I’m busy.” 

“Yeah, you always are, at the moment.” Sid says, voice softened. He shakes his head, “Look, whatever your problem is, you need to stop taking it out on the rest of the town.” 

With that Sid storms back out again, slamming the door as he leaves. Sullivan sits back down slowly and rests his head in his hands. Sid doesn’t even realise he’s done anything wrong. Has he done anything wrong? It feels wrong. It feels like he’s been cheated on. It wouldn’t be the first time, but it would be the first time it hurt so badly. 

*

He tries not to take it out on Goodfellow when Father Brown escapes. And well, he doesn’t really have time before he gets the call and races to the MacMurray home. There’s clearly a lot he’s missed, by the stiff air around them all when Phyllis feigns fear and falls into his arms as though frightened. He stiffens and carefully pushes her away, arresting her instead, all the while aware of Sid, and trying to think of something to say to him. 

Sid’s bored of him, clearly. So he may as well just not bother him anymore. He has Goodfellow take Sid and the Father’s statements, and he wanders home early and sits down at his piano. But he can’t play anything through properly, can’t concentrate.

Frustrated, he shoves his elbows onto the keys, a dissonant clash of the notes dancing through his angered groan as he buries his head in his hands and closes his eyes. He has no right to be upset. 

The odd snog sometimes .

He should never have agreed to that.

*

“Mr Carter’s been asking for you Sir.” Goodfellow tells him a couple of days later when he reluctantly turns up for work. 

“Really, what did he want, did he come to hand himself in?” Sullivan asks, opening his office door. 

“He didn’t explain, Sir, left when I said you weren’t here yet. Oh, and this arrived, Sir.” The Sergeant lifts something from the desk and walks it over to where Sullivan is hesitating in his doorway. He holds it out for the Inspector to take.

It’s a police commendation, and his heart jumps then sinks right the hell back down when he reads the name on it. 

“Oh.” he says, “Right. I’ll er… drop it round to him later.”

“Righto Sir!” Goodfellow smiles at him, “I believe they have a little bake sale on down the church today, might have to make a trip there myself.” 

“I see.” Sullivan replies, entering his office. He wonders if Sid will be there (he’s bound to be, Sid wouldn’t pass up an opportunity for Mrs McCarthy’s food, he’s sure). 

*

He’s right too, because although he tries to ignore him, Sid is there, gawking at the food on the tables and pinching whatever he can. But he isn’t here for Sid so he pushes the ache away and tries to play nice to the Father. Assuring that while he was useful this one time, he must certainly not do anything like this again (he has said this many times by now though, he’s not sure it will really hold the man back).

He hands him the commendation and heads off as soon as he can, declining the invitation to stay and have something to eat. It’s not even about Sid, he tells himself, he’s simply not interested in that kind of food. 

“Inspector! Inspector, wait!”

There’s avoidance and then there’s ignorance and then there’s plain running away. Sullivan isn’t going to stoop to the latter so, with much reluctance, he grounds to a halt and turns around. Sid’s holding two halves of a scone, and, almost shyly (something Sidney Carter isn’t really trademarked for), he holds out the jammed half of the scone. 

“I’m not hungry.” Sullivan tells him. A lie. “And no, Carter, you don’t get an award.”

“Walter and the Father would have died if I didn’t get the gun off her! I saved the day.” Sid argues at once, playing into the flat joke.

Sullivan rolls his eyes, “I don’t have time for this.”

“You’re mad at me, aren’t you?” Sid says as the man attempts to walk away.

Again, Sullivan grounds to a halt and swivels back around. 

“That’s why you’ve been in a mood all week. And why you keep avoiding me.” 

“I’ve not been in a mood .” Sullivan retorts. A lie. 

“But you are mad at me.” Sid states. Sullivan doesn’t think it’s worth confirming this, the silence confirms it well enough, “But why , what am I s’posed to have done now? Because I’ve- I’ve been wracking my brains over, and over-”

“Audrey MacMurray.” Sullivan manages eventually. Has Sid really not worked it out?

“What?” Sid asks, although he says it like the ‘t’ isn’t even there.

You and Audrey MacMurray, Sid, did you really think I wouldn’t find out? You’re lucky you weren’t a suspect.”

Sid rolls his eyes, “Look that’s not fair it’s not like we’re a couple. You don’t even like me any time we’re not-”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.” Sullivan hisses, throwing a cautious glance back up the party to the little group congregating around the tables. 

“But it’s-” Sid pauses and shakes his head, “I’m sorry, about Audrey, I didn’t want to kiss her.”

“What, so she forced you?”

“Well no but-” Sid must be able to tell that Sullivan is about to leave so he sighs, “I only wanted a piss and she just-”

Sullivan wrinkles his nose, “It doesn’t matter, Carter, you were bound to get bored eventually, I understand.” with that he makes to leave before Sid can argue. It would only be lies, anyway, whatever Sid tried to say, because that’s what they always do. They get bored and they cheat. It’s what happens. He’s terribly foolish to think that Sid would be in any way different.

He strolls down the path and leaves Sid standing in the middle of it, holding part of a scone in either hand, watching him walk away.

Chapter Text

Sid never meant to kiss Audrey. But how exactly would it have looked if he honestly pushed her away? Not even on part of his reputation, but people would assume he had someone. And he was hardly going to risk having people pry into his private life. Not when the someone he maybe, sort of had, was Inspector Sullivan, was a man, was an Inspector.

Not that he kissed Audrey for Sullivan because he knows that’s outlandish and makes little sense. But his point, he thinks, over and over and over, is that he never intended to kiss her. Admittedly it was offered to him on a plate and he took it, but in that moment he considered refusing and he didn’t like the look of the inevitable questions. 

“Everything alright, Sid?” Father Brown asks, sitting on the arm of the presbytery sofa and looking down at the lad sprawled across it.

Sid huffs, “I’m not really sure if I’m honest, Father.” he admits. It’s been a few days. Sullivan made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to see him anymore, and Sid doesn’t know what to do about it. And even less does he know how he feels about it. 

It’s like when a car journey ends far sooner than expected. Or when you think there’s another few forkfuls of food on your plate but actually, you’d already eaten it all. Or when you think there’s an extra step on a staircase but there isn’t, and you feel momentarily off balance. It’s just that he made room in his life, and now he hasn’t anything to fill it with. He’s left himself empty. 

“Is this about Inspector Sullivan?” Father Brown asks, after watching Sid stare into the blank tv screen for a short while. 

“What?” Sid at once turns the top half of his body around to face the priest, twisting his neck a bit, “How do you know that?”

“Well I figured something must have bothered the Inspector over this past week. And you’ve not been yourself lately either. Of course, I thought perhaps you just overate, at the other day’s fundraiser, but you look more weighed down by emotion, than cake.”

Sid flops back down onto the sofa and stares back across at the tv. “Yeah.” he says. 

“Were you together?” Father Brown asks, a frown stretched across his brow. 

“Not exactly.”

“Well last I heard, he told you he didn’t want to, as you put it, ‘risk it’.”

Yeah. Back when the Father had broken his leg. It feels so long ago, all that. Sid closes his eyes. “He changed his mind.”

Father Brown thinks for a while, and says, “You know… I don’t think that the Inspector would go back on such a thing for just anyone.”

“What’s your point?” Sid mumbles into the sofa cushion. He doesn’t have it in him to really think, right now. 

“Well I think that you mean a great deal to him.” Father Brown says slowly, “Perhaps not love but… perhaps a bit more than, whatever you thought it was.” 

Probably. He doesn’t know what to make of it though, not sure if he feels like that or not. Possibly. It would explain the ache in his chest, like his heart’s stalled in the middle of the road. But he’s not really been one to actually commit to anything, particularly with a man because, well… there’s always so much more at stake, isn’t there? 

“What am I meant to do?” Sid asks, “Knew about Audrey, didn’t he?” he explains miserably, “he said I was bored of him. It’s not true.”

“Well then, perhaps, you should show him, that that’s not the case.” Father Brown suggests.

How ?” Sid demands, sitting himself up finally. 

“I always think that our problems are best tackled with a clear and relaxed mind, so I propose, we try and think of something, in the morning. Now, in the meantime,” From his left hand, the Father lifts up a book he’d obviously had held the whole time, “I had come in here to read, would you care to join me?”

“Not a kid no more Father.” Sid grumbles, but when Father Brown slips himself down into the empty space on the sofa, he shuffles over to him so he can see the book, “Not Great Expectations again.” 

“I thought you liked Great Expectations.” Father Brown says, voice indignant and somewhat hurt. 

Sid huffs but rests his head on Father Brown’s shoulder, “I did, the first three times.” he has a nostalgic kind of soft spot for it, though, one of the first books the priest ever read to him. 

The priest opens the book nonetheless, turns to the first page, and begins to read. “My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip…” and Sidney closes his eyes.

*

Flowers on his desk and pressed flowers in an envelope through his letter box that Sullivan hasn’t a clue what to actually do with. Strawberry scones that come with a note of yes Mrs M made these but i swear i helped . A file on his desk he thought was police notes until he opened it and found sheet music for an old Chopin piece. 

It’s all from Sid but it doesn’t really make Sullivan feel any better. Just leaves him aching all the more. A guilty conscience, that’s all this is, trying to deny that he grew bored. It would be easier, Sullivan thinks, if Sid just simply left it alone.

He doesn’t, though. In fact, Sid has the audacity to enter his office some days later without knocking, without warning. 

“Oh.” Sid says when he sees Sullivan behind the desk, “Sorry, I just… Goodfellow told me you were out on call.”

Sullivan doesn’t reply because he doesn’t know how to. So Sid, also wordless, crosses the room and lightly places an envelope, and his own watch that was already in his hand, onto the desk. Then he turns back around and makes to leave.

“Wait.” Sullivan says, making Sid do so at once, “What is this? Why did you leave your watch?”

“Just read the letter.” Sid tells him, reaching the door and going to close it.

“Don’t.” Sullivan says, standing, crossing the room in large strides and shutting the door with Sid on the inside. “Whatever’s in that letter you can say to my face.”

“Well I’ve tried but you just interrupt, and walk away. You won’t listen. Just... read it.” Sid tries to leave again but Sullivan holds up his hand. Sid is annoyingly right in that, he probably would, indeed, interrupt him, but that doesn’t mean Sid can just run away before Sullivan can honestly respond at all. 

He goes back over to his desk and collects the letter, Thomas , scrawled messily across the envelope. If he can actually read this, it’ll be a miracle (and that’s coming from an atheist). He unfolds the paper inside and squints at the penmanship.

“You really ought to get yourself calligraphy lessons, Carter.” Sullivan mutters. Sid doesn’t say anything, just leans against the door and looks nervously at his hands. Sullivan reads. 

Dear Thomas,

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss you. And I don’t know how to say it, but I’m sorry. Very sorry. I know, it might be hard for you to believe, but I really, really am sorry. Audrey came onto me, and I know that perhaps I shouldn’t have gone with it but I did and I suppose I have to stand by that. I did kiss her. And I’m sorry I did. It was a mistake, probably the worst I’ve ever made (including that time I agreed to let Mrs M teach me to sew). Because although we weren’t together, were never meant to be serious, it turns out that maybe, it had started to become a little bit more than the occasional kisses we had both at first imagined.  

The trouble is that I can’t undo it, can I? But know that I want to. Know that I didn’t do it because you didn’t mean anything or because I was bored or because I’m disloyal in anyway. But Audrey was just there and saying no felt strange and I was half certain it would get people asking questions. Like why would I turn such a thing down? That doesn’t make it better, Thomas, I know, but I’ve been replaying it and replaying it and wishing again and again that there was nothing there to replay.

If, by any chance you still want me, in any way, then know that I would only ever want you. I’d commit completely and fully. I’ve left you my watch as a symbol of this. My devotion to you, if you decide that it is what you want.

You know, while I’ve been missing you, I read Great Expectations again. Did you know Charles Dickens wrote two endings for that book? (I’m imagining that you probably do know this) One, at first where they don’t end up together, and one, later after someone moaned at him, where they do. I wonder, Thomas, which ending we shall have. I would, I think, really prefer the second ending. 

You can ignore this if you wish. I’d understand, I think, but I’d like to know how you feel. Because you need just say one word and I am all yours.

Sincerely, 

S

Sullivan is definitely not crying. It’s clear, the effort Sid put into the words. He’d never speak like this. And he read Dickens ? It’s almost worryingly out of character, he thinks. Perhaps he’d had some sort of help with it, he must have, and he can make a pretty good guess at exactly who. When he looks up from the paper, Sid’s ambled across the room, running his fingers along the tops of his cabinets as though to keep himself occupied. 

The Inspector treads over to his desk and puts down the letter. The sound of the paper rustling makes Sid look over. 

“Can I go now?” Sid asks, like Sullivan’s already said he doesn’t want him. 

“No.” Sullivan says.

Sid goes to open his mouth to speak but closes it again as Sullivan walks the few paces towards him. It’s the softest, warmest kiss Sullivan has ever felt.

For a moment Sid is still with suprise, but then Sullivan feels him smile into the kiss, pulling him closer by the waist. Sullivan missed him. Really, really missed him. He hopes the kiss is as good as saying that, because words have failed him. His entire ether of language has been whittled down to only kissing Sidney Carter, and that’s okay, because he’s sure it says a thousand things that words never truly could. 

Sid does pull away though, catching his breath and glancing worriedly to his left.

“You know we’re by the window.” he says.

“It’s frosted, it’s fine no one can see in.”

“You’ve changed your tune.” Sid says.

“So have you!” Sullivan retorts, then quietly adds, “You’re really not bored with me?”

Sid lets out a short breathy laugh, something of a tshh . “No, I’m not bored.”

Sullivan looks at him. Logically, it is hard to believe him. Because everything else that has ever happened to him points to the contrary. But Sid’s eyes hold him, a bold and deep, steady solid green and Sullivan can’t find a single shred of dishonesty. And he feels it, the weight of that truth, that Sid does want him, tugging on his heart. He nods a little and turns down to his desk. He picks up Sid’s watch.

“You should keep it.” Sullivan assures him, “I believe your intentions, I don’t need a material-”

“No.” Sid says, pushing Sullivan’s hand back, “No you have to keep it.” 

The Inspector thinks that maybe it is not worth arguing, and actually, he finds it quite sweet that Sid is so desperate for Sullivan to wear something of his. So he rolls up his sleeve and unlatches his own, gold watch, and holds it out to Sid between his fingers (Sid’s leather watch in the palm of the same hand.). 

“No, it’s alright I have a spare watch the Father gave me a long time ago.”

“Well that ruins the gesture!” Sullivan says, “Take it. And I’ll take yours.” He holds Sid’s eyes again. Determined. Sid concedes.

“Alright.” He agrees and takes the gold strapped watch, wrapping it around his own wrist. And Sullivan does the same, the leather feeling different, warmer, than the gold watch ever had. It matches his suit, though, and his lips twitch a little in admiration. 

“Right.” He says, forcing himself to snap out of it. “Unfortunately, Carter , I do have police work to be getting on with.” 

“Of course, and I have crime to be committing so…” Sid goes to leave and Sullivan glowers as he turns back around, 

“You shouldn’t say things like that to me!” Sullivan says, only making Sid grin.

“I’m just messin’. I’ve got to fix Monty’s Bentley. Again .” Sid says, “But can I see you… later? Yours?”

“Inviting yourself over, Carter?”

“Well I just thought- it was mine last time wasn’t it.”

Sullivan smiles and nods, “It was. I know. I’m just, as you eloquently put, ‘messin’’.” 

Sid grins, “Okay then...” he pulls open the door, “hope you arrest the right people, today, Inspector.” He calls, partly for the sake of the rest of the station, partly to get under Sullivan’s skin. 

“Goodbye, Carter.” he calls after him before going to close his office door (that Sid seemed to forget to shut).

Then he sits back down at his desk. He’d put Sid’s letter atop the file he’d been going through, and he can’t help but pick it up and read it again. (And maybe, even, again.) He keeps glancing at the watch on his wrist too, just to check it’s still there, to check this is all real. That he has Sid back. 

There’s no way this could be something that he is lucky enough to keep.