Having kids is all about compromise, and understanding, and patience, and supporting the parent who’s doing the actual work of making other human beings with their body. (There's other stuff too, but after seventeen parenting books they start to blur together.) I like to think that I did a good job in the supporting department, what with all the foot-rubbing and crib-building, although Maksim did the majority of the actual building of cribs.
The rubbing of feet, though, that was all me.
So when Beverley told me she was having a water birth, I was all for it, although I couldn’t resist asking if Weymouth even had delivery pools. She gave me that look, the one that says, It’s a good thing you’re so devilishly handsome. And are generous with the footrubs. "Yeah, they do," she said, "But I’m not using one of them."
Lesley once said that I was so good at playing stupid that I often went round the corner into actually stupid, which I’ve never really forgiven her for. (That and for a good number of other things.) But I saved myself and figured it out — "You’re going to give birth in the river?"
"It’s how Mum gave birth to us," she said, sounding oddly defensive. "Ty tried the whole 'boutique hospital experience' with Stephen, but by the time Olivia came round she admitted that it was easier to just plonk herself in the river and get on with it."
Considering Tyburn’s watercourse is largely sewage runoff (though I wouldn’t advise saying that anywhere she can hear you, and you might not want to say it anywhere else, either), I wasn’t impressed. "Right, but unlike you, I can’t breathe underwater to help with your lamaze."
"Luckily, genius genius loci that I am, I’ve thought of that," she beamed, and that’s how I found out I’d been signed up for SCUBA lessons at the London School of Diving for the low cost of all the money I’d been saving up for a better car radio.
Nightingale was intrigued enough by the idea that there were people who might want to swim about underwater for extended periods of time with explosive devices strapped to their back to allow me the time off. "It seems imminently sensible, considering your partnership with Beverley," he said, buttering his toast.
"I haven’t drowned yet," I said.
"And this will ensure you don’t in future," Nightingale said. "I’m sure she would never allow harm to come to you, but I’m given to understand that childbirth can be…"
I waited, my coffee cup raised comically halfway to my lips.
"Distracting," he settled on, which wasn’t what I was expecting but maybe should have been. "Ensuring you have your own well-being taken care of will be a weight off her mind. And mine."
You old softy, I thought, but all I said was, "Isn’t there a spell you could teach me? To let me breathe underwater?"
"Of course," Nightingale said. "And one that would prevent hypothermia, which is of even greater concern. But as I said, childbirth can be distracting. Far better if you don’t split your focus."
The class was a 50/50 mix of rich white guys with dreams of finding the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre and normal people who had seen too many underwater documentaries. I made a lifebond with a young Filipino woman named Amber who had lost a bet with her boyfriend. "If I’d won, he was going to take cooking classes," she’d said mournfully. "Man can’t even cook rice."
"Why are you with him?" I asked her with absolute sincerity. There are standards and then there are standards. But it came out all right; turned out he’d been sloping off to her mum’s house while she was busy at SCUBA classes, and presented her with a faultless chicken adobo and a proposal by the end. I’m not invited, if only because the ceremony’s going to be in New Zealand, but there’s going to be a Skype party the next day.
All in all it was surprisingly good value for the money, and I passed the certification with over a month to go before Beverley popped. We celebrated with a very exuberant swim in the river behind our house and some very exuberant other activities; she made fun of my flippers, but without going into detail I’d like to note that she made me keep them on.
So of course she went into labour less then a week later, when me and Nightingale were out in Gillingham because I’d had the bright idea that if we wanted more police officer practitioners, then it’d be a good idea to start with police officers who actually wanted to be practitioners. Thus far those who’d been pressed into service had either been put on extended medical leave, got involved with magical swordsmen, or were wanted for murder and kidnapping. (No points for putting names to consequence.) Maginty, he of the slightly scorched cheek, seemed like a good prospect for recruitment, but Nightingale had to suss him out first.
We met at a Chinese restaurant near the dockyard. "I thought I’d stick to tradition," Nightingale had said as we careened down the A2, "But the nearest Japanese restaurant is in Gravesend and is called 'Umami.'" Judging by his tone, both were dealbreakers.
Maginty didn’t seem to care one way or another, and answered all Nightingale’s questions with a kind of starry-eyed determination that I’d last seen on Howard Kemblowski’s face when he was trying to get a date out of Tanweer Kahn in year 11. He touched Nightingale’s elbow three times and laughed at things he said (I wouldn’t classify them as jokes, really) twice — but I figured that was a complication I could live with. Molly would keep him on the narrow, if not the straight, and God knew Abigail could take him in a fight.
We were just wrapping up on what I considered a positive note — Nightingale had thrown me a couple of approving looks in between mouthfuls of mapo tofu — when I got a call from Beverley. I picked up. "How’s negotiations?"
She’d gone with Effra to Chertsley, the poor dears, to hash out some disputes between Mama Thames, Father Thames, and the Chertsey Water Works. I hadn’t expected to hear from her until tomorrow at the earliest, these kinds of negotiations usually involving a few strategic floods and/or some competitive drinking.
"Babes, you’ve got to get here now," she said, and I could probably have blamed the fact that I was on my feet without even realizing it on her being a river goddess, but looking back on it I don’t think so. Her voice wasn’t seductive or resonant or tinged with her power. It was just scared.
"What’s wrong?" I said. I made for the exit — no mean feat, considering the Friday-night crush. "Where are you?"
"What’s wrong is that these two little monsters are going to be born in a water treatment plant in the next ten minutes," she said, right before the phone got taken away from her by someone telling her to stop being overdramatic. I burst out of the restaurant just in time to remember I’d left the car keys in my jacket, slung over the back of my chair. I turned to go back inside and almost collided with Nightingale, holding my jacket, which is when I also remembered that he’d driven us in the Jag and thus I had no transportation.
"Peter?" Effra, sounding a bit out of breath but cheerful enough. That was probably a good sign. "Listen, I need to get her into Mum’s river. Might be able to get to hers, but Mum’s at least. Can you get to Teddington Lock in the next hour?"
If I stole a car and broke every speed limit on the M25. "Sure." The twins’ lives would start with their old man in lockup, which to be fair was how I’d started out, and look at me now.
"We’ll meet you there and see if we can get her home in time." Just then Beverley swore, loud enough to make Nightingale blink. "Don’t fry your phone, I don’t know your backup numbers."
There was another argument and Beverley came back on. "This fucking hurts," she said, but she sounded a little less frightened and a little more irritated, which was a beautiful thing to behold. "You’re on your way?"
"Yeah," I said. "I — yeah."
"Good. Love you. Though right now I’m not sure why."
Nightingale, who’d been chivvying me along, all but threw me into the passenger seat at this point. I was about to tell Beverley that I loved her too when she hung up on me. Harsh, I thought, but fair.
It goes something to my state of mind that I only now noticed Nightingale sliding into the driver’s seat. "Sir, you don’t have to—"
"Seatbelt, Peter," he said, grimly, and put the car in gear without, I was later shocked to recall, putting on his driving gloves first.
"Be honest, sir," I said, scrabbling for the left flipper, "I look like a moron."
"I’ve seen you look moronic before, Peter," Nightingale said, flicking the wheel right and sending us careening down a side street and me thudding against the left-hand door. "This does not even, as you put it, 'crack the top ten.'"
I decided to focus on getting the zipper all the way up. I wish I could say I’d had the forethought to bring what Beverley called the Dad Bag for just this eventuality, but the truth is that Foxglove had wanted a look, so I’d brought it round this afternoon and had stashed it in the back of the Jag when we’d headed off to meet with Maginty. Normally stripping down to your skivvies in order to wriggle into a wetsuit in front of your boss would make for an awkward drive, but fortunately Nightingale was too busy breaking the laws of physics and the RPU of whatever district we were barreling through at the moment.
My phone rang, somewhere in my trouser pocket in the footwell. I managed to retrieve it and put it on speaker. "Where are you?" I asked.
"We’re making good time." It was Effra; underneath was the sound of water and someone’s heavy breathing. "We’ll be able to get her home, can you meet us there instead?" Nightingale nodded and I said we were just a few minutes out. "You’ll beat us all there, probably," Effra said. The "all" was worrying, but I couldn’t think about that now.
"How is she?"
"She’s swearing a lot, but that’s nothing new," Effra said. "Nothing’s poking out, if that’s what you’re asking."
"It wasn’t, but thanks."
"No probs. Lay in some towels," she said, and hung up.
We were passing Eel Pie Island, I noticed, with a weird sense of deja vu. "Beverley first saw me that night she and her sisters set that boat on fire," I said, staring out at the water, looking for some sign of… something. "You remember that?"
"Distinctly," Nightingale said, put us around another roundabout at about 80 kilometres an hour.
"I didn’t see her — that is, I think I might have, for a second, but." I took a deep breath, regretting the Peking duck. "Ty gave me a lecture, last year. About all of this."
If Nightingale was as horrified as I was that I was talking about "personal matters" with him, he didn’t show it. "Oh?" he said in that way coppers do when they’re trying to get you to spill your guts in a friendly, noncommital way.
"She said Beverley ought to think about the fact that she’ll outlive me, and any kids she might have, and anyone she’s not related to," I said. "I guess she might not outlive you, but she didn’t mention that."
"Unsurprising," is all he said, and I probably would’ve got even more embarrassing but fortunately we were screaming down Beverley Road at that point and he executed a tidy turn into the carpark. I hopped out, made it two steps, then bent over and yanked off the fucking flippers because there really are limits. I got all the way to the door before remembering, again, that my keys were in my jacket pocket.
And again, Nightingale was right behind me, this time with his own set of keys — one of which opened our front door. "You’ve got a key to our house?" I asked, in a tone that I hoped didn’t sound as indignant as I felt.
He grinned. "Beverley gave it to me after your suspension," he said. "So I could more easily lie in wait and spring lessons on you unexpectedly. It was very effective."
I had clear memories of coming back from Mum and Dad’s or from a jog to find Nightingale sitting in the living room, threatening me with Latin. I’d assumed Bev had let him in, but now I had to deal with an even deeper betrayal. "The whole world’s against me," I decided, but let him unlock the door and shoo me inside.
If the rivers were on their way, then I needed to make preparations, but all I could think about was Beverley, getting closer but not fast enough. I went out to the back and flicked on the fairy lights that looped down to the end of the garden, but the water was still dark and quiet.
"Why don’t you wait out here," Nightingale said. I turned and there he was again, outlined in the doorway. It reminded me of the first time I’d seen him, watching me from a distance. "Maksim is en route, and he’ll ensure everything is in hand for the arrival."
"'The arrival'?" I asked, grateful for the distraction of mocking my boss. "Is that what they called it back in your day?"
He waved his hand vaguely. "We had any number of euphemisms, all of which would expose me to a great deal of ridicule, I’m sure. At any rate, I shall give you some privacy."
"Now he tells me," I said, and it’s not every day you can make Nightingale blush but it’s a beautiful thing when it happens. I backed further into the garden, doing that nonverbal "you-can-follow-if-you’d-like" hunch of the shoulders that every young man learns, and sat down on one of the hideous plastic chairs next to the fire pit, turning to face the water. Still no ripples.
Nightingale did follow, standing at the river’s edge. The level was high, higher than I’d ever seen it; water lapped at his shoes and I wanted to tease him about making Molly clean off the mud but a) I knew he cleaned his own shoes and b)
I couldn’t think of a b). I couldn’t think of anything. Beverley was giving birth, any minute; she was giving birth and our children were going to be real, even more real than they’d been these past few months. Real nappies and real crying and soft skin and bathtimes and toys lost under the bed and embarrassing questions and silly faces and giggling and all of it was my responsibility. Peter Grant, whose parents had forgotten him dozens of times at school or playgrounds or friends’ houses, who’d never been responsible for anything more significant than the safety of all of London.
I didn’t throw up; it would’ve been a waste of a good Peking duck. Besides, Nightingale’s seen me throw up before but there’s no need to make a habit out of it. "What did you think of Maginty?" I asked instead.
"Promising," said Nightingale. "Though I hope his interest in joining is unrelated to his romantic inclinations."
So he’d spotted it, too; somewhat surprising, since to the best of my knowledge Nightingale hasn’t gone on a date since George V popped his clogs. "Best let him down gently, sir," I advised.
Nightingale looked sharply at me, and for a minute I thought he was going to chide me for unprofessionalism, but instead he said, "Me? I got the distinct impression he was mooning over you."
"It wasn’t my jokes he was laughing at," I pointed out, grinning.
Nightingale harrumphed. "In any case, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his work, I’d be willing to try him on a probationary basis." He turned to me. "If you agree?"
I swallowed my surprise. "Yeah. He’s bright, he’s curious, and he wants to learn more."
"And perhaps he’d be less inclined to start a family with a local river goddess," Nightingale added, but he was smiling when he said it.
"Gay men are as susceptible as anyone else to baby fever, sir," I informed him. The water was starting to ripple — not a lot, not that noticeable — but I’d been surprised out of a nap in the sun often enough to know the signs. A few more minutes and she’d be here. Along with the rest of the family. From inside the house I could hear Maksim emptying the dishwasher and pulling things out of bags. "Or… bisexual, or whatever. Besides, I reckon if you polled a hundred people, a hundred and one would say he was more likely than me to have kids."
This wiped the smile off Nightingale’s face, as though I’d said something rude or made another "me and him" instead of "he and I" grammatical faux pas. (See? I can be erudite when I wish to be.) "Then they’re not very observant," he said stiffly.
I laughed and started putting the flippers back on. "You’re telling me you weren’t surprised when I told you? That Beverley was pregnant?"
"Not remotely," he said, so firmly that I paused to stare at him.
"It seemed inevitable that you would start your own family, Peter, sooner rather than later. Particularly once you brought Abigail under your wing. Being a father figure suits you. So one day, it followed, you would become a father." He smiled again. "Though I’m glad that it was Beverley you chose as your partner in this endeavor, even with the complications it may cause."
"It wasn’t exactly a planned pregnancy," I said, and then wondered why I’d said it. I didn’t say that if Abigail considered anyone her father figure, it was a tie between Nightingale and the mysterious Mycroft-like woman in the Home Office.
Nightingale wasn’t fazed. "But clearly a wanted one. For both of you. And that’s what matters."
I stood up and waddled awkwardly to sit down at the water’s edge, putting my flippered feet into the river. It was cold, but not unbearable. Nightingale wisely didn’t comment, though I did see his mouth twitch. "What about you?" I asked.
He stilled in that way he does where he thinks if he just stays motionless, you won’t notice he’s there. Most times, he’s right. Jurassic Park ain’t got nothin’ on my guv’nor. "What about me?"
"You never had kids." I had a horrible thought. "Did you?"
He shook his head. "No. Although my reasons were nothing like Cecilia’s; for one thing, I didn’t even realize the nature of my own existence until I was in my sixties and hurtling back into my fifties." He wandered off behind me, and I could hear him pick up one of the chairs. "I’m afraid I was simply unconvinced that I could add anything, as it were, to the greater world by way of progeny." He brought the chair next to me and sat down, for all the world like he was at a garden party. "Not to mention that, while my own childhood was as pleasant as could be expected, it was hardly one that seemed to… bear repeating." He squinted out across the water, as if looking at something a lot further away.
"'They fuck you up, your mum and dad,’" I quoted, "'They might not mean to, but they do.'"
"'They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you,'" Nightingale finished the verse, smiling that strange, crooked little-boy smile that I’ve only seen once or twice before. Should’ve known he’d be a Philip Larkin fanboy—they’d probably served together, or something. "Though my brothers and sisters all made good efforts," he added. "I have nieces and nephews, you know, several times removed at this point. They all seem happy enough. Doing the best they can, at any rate."
I didn’t say anything, not even "Oh?"
"And besides, in those days one could hardly marry another man, let alone have children via… I confess I’m not sure what methods are used. Adoption, at a guess?" he said, looking inquiringly down at me as though he hadn’t just told me something that he never told me before, something he’d lived most of his life having to conceal on pain of… well. A lot of pain.
"That’s what Dom and Victor did," I told him. "Sort of."
He nodded, absent, not really paying attention. "I suppose the long and short of it was that it never seemed important."
"You realize that nothing’s ever going to be more important. To me," I said. I don’t think I even knew I was saying it until I did, but then I had to keep going. "Not just the big stuff like me saving them if they need saving, damn the law or repercussions. But ballet recitals or football matches—"
"I’d hope you’d encourage them toward rugby," Nightingale said, and made a go on, if you absolutely must gesture when I glared up at him.
"I mean that I’ll still study Latin and practice the forms and wisdoms, I’m still your apprentice and your DS. But I’m taking every millisecond of parental leave, and I’m staying home with them when they have a cold and I’m going to take their calls no matter what we’re doing at the time and I’ll probably still be all right with some overtime, since it pays well, but I’m going to be their father before anything else. Before being your apprentice or your DS."
Nightingale listened to all of this with a sort of bewildered expression that didn’t bode well, but then he opened his mouth and said, "And so you jolly well had better be, Peter Grant."
I blew out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
"Peter, on one thing — well," he immediately corrected himself, "On many things, Beverley Brook and I are agreed, but one thing is that you will be an excellent father. Better than you are a police officer, and you are a tremendously good police officer."
"Better than I am a wizard?" I asked, around the hard, tight feeling in my throat. I’ve always got to push my luck. The water was sloshing over the lip, now; and I could hear singing in the distance.
Nightingale grinned as he stood up. "Oh, that goes without saying."