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Sympathy for the Devil - Chapter Six, 2/2

Danny had been quite quiet for most of the drive so far, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, a sure sign that there was something on his mind. The parcel shelf was full of flowers and odd angles of crutches, sticking up into his view like the roll-cage of a rally car whenever he tried to look in the mirror. It had taken the people at the hospital a couple of days to make up their minds that there really wasn't any need for Nicholas to be there. In the end, the chief of staff had discharged him with something approaching bad grace, like Nicholas was somehow letting the side down by being so puzzlingly resilient. They'd given him crutches for his bruised foot and strict instructions to bring himself right back if (when, their expressions said,) he started to feel in any way woozy or disoriented.

Leaving the hospital with Nicholas in one piece had felt like a ludicrously lucky escape, even to Danny, who hadn't technically been the one who was stuck there. It was almost lunchtime, the dappled greenery of a sunny June day blitzing past outside the car windows, and they had another half hours' drive ahead of them.


“I thought we could move some of my DVDs over tonight,” he said, fiddling with the windscreen wipers. “If you're feeling up to it.”


Nicholas had been struck with a sudden sense of… not nostalgia, exactly, but memory of more inelegant, unsure times, from their last trip home from the hospital at Buford Abbey.


He jerked his head round from where he'd been staring out at the view of modernized pastures (tractors! haylifts! other unidentifiable metal monsters whose owners probably didn't have permits!) as they zipped past at a speed that now felt a little uncomfortably fast– and had to fight down the impulse to play with Danny's hair while his partner was driving.


"I could carry a box under an arm. Just make sure no one from the department's going to show up with cake."


“I told them to save all that for when you get back to the station,” said Danny. “They're prob'ly happy they've got the extra time… I mean, it's a bit of a challenge, making a cake in the shape of a hole in the ground.” He glanced at Nicholas, then back at the road, fingers still tapping away. “Which you're goin' to have to act surprised about, o'course.”


"I promise to be very surprised and ironically amused by an absence of cake," vowed Nicholas, solemnly.


His partner half-grinned as he scanned the approaching junction sign, which warned that there might be horses, deer, and, rather confusingly, badgers. For a few more minutes, all was companionably quiet, Chris Moyles' almost-muted wittering in the background only interrupted when Danny took a deep breath and cleared his throat.


“Nic'las, in the hospital, did– did your– did Amy say anything about… about my dad?”


Nicholas shifted uncomfortably. "I don't think she knows that much about it, really. Did he, er, at least go peacefully?"


Danny turned fully to look at him. This is not exactly accepted practice when one is in control of a car, especially not an F-reg Volkswagen Jetta which has been a bit funny about drifting to the left ever since someone used it to front-end a Landrover.


“…Wha'?”


Nicholas lunged for the wheel, wrenching at his knee painfully in the process. "Swan!!"

Of course, the brakes were out of reach, no time to try, and it was all up to those rusting advanced driving skills, and the car swerved around some of Mr. Staker's offended moulting cygnets who happened to be crossing at the designated sign.

Thank god there hadn't been a sad little thump from the undercarriage.


The car lurched into a lay-by a little way along the road, and Danny brought it to a halt with his own none-too-shabby emergency control, ignoring the angry flurries of fluffing-up and wonking from the road behind them and shutting up the ever-garrulous Chris with a twist of the keys. The engine ticked as it started to cool off.


Danny eventually managed to breathe out again. “Fuck. That would've just made my day, that would.”


Nicholas patted him on the shoulder, adrenaline still pumping. "Sorry for putting it… insensitively, like that."


If properly understanding what someone is saying to you is the facial equivalent of hitting the jackpot on a fruit machine, Danny's eyes were showing two bunches of grapes and an apple. “Nick, I dunno what anyone's been an' told you, but… my dad's not dead.”


"Nobody's told me anything!" protested Nicholas, aware he sounded more than a lot like Owen Turner. "I just– He was in a coma, wasn't he? Is he?"


“Yeah.” Wrapping his hands around the wheel, Danny stared down into the empty footwell. He was not always the tidiest of people, but he at least shared Nicholas's preference for keeping their cars clutter-free. This, as he'd once sheepishly admitted to Nicholas, stemmed from a hard lesson he'd learned in his early twenties, concerning his first ever car, a Wimpy box jammed under the brake pedal, a parking bollard, two hundred quid's worth of damage and a nasty concussion. “He was, 'cause he tried to– to top 'imself, the stupid old sod. Same day you fell down that hole, if you wanna believe that.” His voice had an odd, recorded quality, as if he was making a game attempt to relay details without having to actually process them. “Took a fuckload of sleeping pills. An' there was me thinkin' the whole point of a secure facility was to stop you doing anythin' like that.”


Nicholas, reaching towards covering Danny's closest tensed knuckles with his own palm, stopped halfway. Again, Frank had covered up for something, hadn't told him the whole truth. Bastard. Selfish, unthinking idiot.


His hand made it the rest of the distance, closed and pressed his fingers into the crevices between his partner's fingers.


"Don't– ever– do that, Danny. I don't think I could take it."


“Don't be daft,” said Danny, vaguely. He had stopped looking through the footwell, and was now looking through their interlaced hands. “Anyway, don't you do that again, either. Both the– both you an' him, gone space cadet at the same time, it was like something out of the X-Files. Only, without the middling-decent action bits an' Gillian Anderson. They told me he'll be all right now, though. Whatever the fuck that means with him.”


"Believe me, I know what it's like," said Nicholas. "You were critical longer than I was. Needed three months of physical therapy to do stuff like.. walking. Tying your shoes. Getting up out of a chair. Making yourself beans on toast."
He was looking at their hands, too, not at Danny's face. Somehow it was easier to confess things to Danny's cupholder than to his eyes.

"I told him about us," he said, when he spoke again, this time much more quietly. "When we were both out like that. I know you won't believe me, but you really don't go yelling that sort of thing about in a hospital after you've had a head injury. I hope you don't mind."


Danny blinked, his focus coming back to somewhere approaching reality, and looked questioningly across at him. “You mean… you dreamed about telling him…?”


"No," sighed Nicholas. "I wouldn't have half the imagination to make up someone out of my head. I'm quite sure it was real." Pause. "Fairly sure. Your great-great-great-great grandfather was there too."


Danny heaved a sigh and started the engine. “Considerin' what they put you on, I wouldn't worry if you thought you were talking to Elton John an' the Queen.” He paused, frowning out of the windscreen with his hand still curled under Nicholas's, clearly uncertain but unwilling to leave it alone. “What did he say? S'not like we're ever gonna know what he'd really say, since he won't bloody talk to either of us.”


"Um. Nothing particularly helpful," said Nicholas, master of politically-correct diplomacy. "And then he started going off about being in a coma."


“Hey, that was probably you trying to tell yourself you were in one,” said Danny, summoning some enthusiasm. “Like in 23.”

"Eternal Sunshine," corrected Angel, absently. Romance movies of any kind tended to be far and few between on film nights. "I really don't think so. I don't dream like that."


“You would not believe some of the things I dreamed about in IC,” said Danny, dubiously, checking the wing mirror to make sure there wasn't any more wildlife frolicking anywhere near the VW's back wheels. “I remember one time I dreamed about the Andes in bloody Power Rangers suits.” He blinked, hard. “An' that sort of thing stays with you.”


"That's going to be staying with me for some time now," complained Nicholas. "That's nearly as bad as the time we went to the AmDrams together."


He pulled his fingers away to let Danny have full control of the wheel. "Mostly the worst parts in it were… knowing you weren't anywhere near being born yet. And then getting mobbed and nearly hanged after escaping a burning building."


Danny whistled, starting to perk up a bit as he pulled out of the layby in a scrunch of gravel. “Least it sounds like you weren't bored, ey?”

"Still not switched off, Danny," Nicholas reminded him, a tad impatiently. "How much longer 'til we get home?"

*

The house was not actually that dire, considering that Nicholas tended to be the one who picked up after both of them when they found themselves spending two weeks at a time in Nicholas's cottage and using Danny's flat as storage and a sort of private theatre, just a little dusty. It was probably because Danny had been living on plastic chairs next to him in Buford Abbey, instead of staying at Nick's place getting completely smashed like Danny had probably been very tempted to do. There was a pile nearly the size of Roy Neary's living room mountain on the counter of leftover post that had been crammed through the letterslot until opening the door had proved problematic. Most were get-well cards, flowers, fruitcakes, and jams, from the whole bloody town wishing their Inspector well, including the ones who Nicholas had been ticketing the week before. A lot was junk mail, quite a few were a week's worth of the Times, and–

–a small, flat courier's box, about the size of a hardback book. There was a Royal Mail label pasted on the side but, oddly, no Parcelforce postmark, nothing to show that it had passed through one of the big sorting offices in Gloucester or Bristol or even anywhere further afield. The address, such as it was, was lacking in detail.


Inspector Nicholas Angel
Spencer Hill
Sandford


A sheet of notepaper, with the familiar letterhead of Sandford's tiny Post Office, had been taped conscientiously to the uppermost side.



Dear Inspector Angel,

We've had this package in the store ever since anyone can remember, along with specific instructions not to deliver it before June, 2007– we're all delighted to be able to see it delivered at last! It's quite a running joke for us– please do drop by sometime and let us know what's inside!!

Jane Hopper
General Postmistress


Danny came up behind him, arms full of gently wilting flowers, peering curiously over his shoulder. “What've you got–” The phone rang from the other room, shrill and insistent. Danny started and dropped half a dozen tulips on the rug, dumping the rest on the counter and heading for the door. “Sod it– I'd better get that.”

Nicholas frowned, and took the box from the counter and limped to the kitchen table, where he could look at it under the better light coming through the open window, home to several rather thirsty and sunsore peace lilies, a few orchids, and a Japanese elm that looked as though it were muscling to burst out of its pot at any moment.


He stared at it a moment, then slowly peeled off the layers of brown wrapping paper that the Postal Service, through the years, had cocooned it in, repeating the address of the layer beneath and keeping the cheap paper from falling apart.


There was a smallish book, and a letter. The book was wrapped in heavy wax paper, and turned out to be bound in cracked red leather, the colour of poppies, faded gold patterns marching up the spine in embossed blocks and bands. The letter was barely yellowed, protected by all the layers of packing that had stayed snugly folded around it for decades, sealed with wax. It was addressed and written in the neat, free hand indicative of a writer who understands perfectly the need for writing to be legible, yet still sticks cheerfully to their own peculiarities.


Nicholas,

I allways knew I'd write this letter but I put it off a bit, I don't mind telling you I was right ticked off at you at first for varnishing vanishing on me like that, but I know it wasn't your fault. I'm not going to go rambling on, my kids tell me I do that too much anyway, but I hope you got back all right and that you don't go falling down any more holes for a while.

The one you left behind was a bit of a twonk at first, but he's really a good sort when you get to know him. I told him he had Annesia and he said What's that mean, and I said It means you keep schtum and let me say what happened, so that worked out fine. There's seven of us now at the Station and it's doing all right, it's allways quiet but then that's Sandford. We've got stab vests and decent helmets and Forensics and proper rules now, and I think we do a good job. Half the kids from the school want to join these days, we have to tell them to wait until they are in long trousers at least. I've been the Chief for about thirty years now, I'm not that long off Retirement if I wanted it, but I think I'd rather keep going. It's tricky enough being sixty-few even without everyone treating you like your old.

I want to thank you for the advice as well, some of it was very useful, like back in '44 when Mr. Spencer wanted to fill in his old quarry and put up some new houses, most people didn't think we needed any more houses but I reckoned I knew different. They came in handy I can tell you. Only you can't do too much of that sort of thing or people start thinking you're Sykick, or mental.

Frank (Your one) died just after you went, and after he was dead he didn't look much like him either. They wanted to know who he was, and I thought it might mess things up if I said his real name, so I said Gary Cooper. I hope that was all right. He's buried in St. Vincents. I allways hoped he got back all right too, he wasn't that bad in the end was he?

I still miss you sometimes and I wish you hadn't gone so quick, and for a while after I thought it was a bit unfair that I'm not going to get to see these moving pictures and cars and things you told me about, but you can't go living your whole life wishing you were somewhere else, and I don't think I'd have lasted ten minutes with half the things you described anyway, bombs and invisible waves and kids going round with monsters in there pockets. Your right, we got enough amazing things happening nowadays to keep me going, even if your not one of them. I just hope my gt. gt. etc. Grandson knows what he's got is all. Your a great bloke, Nicholas, I'm glad I had you there when all that went down.

Also you should tell your Mum cause it's daft to keep secrets from your family, but only if you think she's not going to go chasing anyone with a blunderbuss.

Danny Butterman, Sandford, June 1871

PS. In case your Wondering, after what happened I was getting a lot of Twerps from city papers looking up my name and writing and coming round trying to talk to me about it, and I got that sick of them, so I changed it a bit. Will knows to chuck anything that looks like it's from a news paper over the hedge before he gets to us, unless it's a story paper, but it never hurts to be sure.

PPS. You silly bugger, you didn't tell me he's really called Rev. Dodgson, I had a pretty time tracking him down. I wrote to him and ast if I could have a copy of his book, and he wrote back saying he was surprised cause he hadn't actually properly Published it yet, but he had some done for friends and that, so he sent me one of them. Your right it was very good and it's seen a lot of bedtime reading, my Cathy's youngest likes it especially, but I thought I'd pass it on to you because you sort of fell down a rabbit hole as well. And also cause this copy is a bit Knackered.

Nicholas put a hand over his mouth and nose, gently pushed the remains of the packaging away, carefully put the book on top of the nest of paper, and folded the letter back, and put the letter on top of the book. And then he couldn't hold it in anymore, it was just too much- a strange, painful series of sobbing and laughing simultaneously exploded into the lacquered finish of his kitchen table, and he gripped the round edges with his hands like he was about to drown.

Danny heard him from as far away as the hall, picking up the sound of human distress through two solid walls and a fridge, although admittedly his acuity might have been something to do with it being Nicholas's distress.


He sprinted the rest of the way through into the kitchen, stood staring for a nasty moment in which everything the doctors had said about relapses and delayed shock went through his head at once, then rounded the table and wrapped his arms gently around his partners' rigid shoulders, tugging him over to the low wooden church bench Nicholas had saved from a reclamation yard last winter, now set against the long kitchen wall and busy with cushions and discarded coats and finished crosswords for the recycling bin.


“Shhh, hey, hey, it's all right, Nicky– what's the matter, ey? Come on, come an' sit down.”


Nicholas was clutching at him so hard it hurt, would probably raise welts and bruises on his forearms and back later, and sopping the front of his polo and the shoulder-armpit of Danny's t-shirt with tears, spit, and a good amount of snot.


"He– huh-un-un-un-un– h-h-he wrote m-m-muh-me back." Nicholas's ribs were aching at the punishing pace he kept shoving out hysterical laughter and sucking in fresh sobs, couldn't stop.


Danny held him tightly, trying to buffer the ridiculous amount that Nicholas was shaking, as if by staying still and steady and being close he would somehow bring him down from his hysteria by the power of averages. Struck speechless all over again by how lucky he was that Nicholas was awake and all right and back with him, it took Danny a while to catch on that he was clinging to Nicholas every bit as desperately, himself.


“Don't worry 'bout it, now,” he assured him, rather shaky on what it was that Nicholas had actually been trying to say. And then, uncontrollably; “God, Nic'las, I missed you.”


Nicholas bit Danny's collarbone through his shirt. "Ahhmiffutoo. Ev– ev' day."


Sadly, as it turned out, Danny's DVD collection ended up spending another long night in on its own that night, marooned in Danny's old flat.


For once, its presence wasn't missed.

continue...

 

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 17th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
I'm just about speechless (y'all should be so lucky) *snirk*
This is of the quality of something that should be published. Published and on some list somewhere... best seller or fantabulasticness or something.
I JUST can't praise this enough.

Utterly excellently rendered and bunged securely in my memories. THIS will be one of my repeated rereads, I can assure you.
<3
bakaknight
Jun. 17th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
If there had to ever be a sequel to the original, I would say that this would be the sort of story they oughta tell.
soul_bonnie
Jun. 17th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)

WAH, I'm so glad it's going on, I thought it was finished already but I'm so happy it isn't. Wasn't. I'm glad there's more.

Also, I loved when Nick had planned to give his mum a presentation cuz I couldn't help seeing him in front of a flip chart and explaining to his mum the details of man-on-man action on a graph. XD

And the end: Very sweet! So looking forward to the epilogue!
waffleguppies
Jun. 19th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
xD now I feel a terrible urge to draw that.
soul_bonnie
Jun. 19th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)

Bwahahaha, yes pwease! I really wanna see that!
miss_dearheart
Jun. 17th, 2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, that was wonderful. The letter from the other Danny was perfect; I loved how he said "you sort of fell down a rabbit hole as well" because it was so true.

And Nicholas's reaction had me a little teary-eyed as well.
And...oh, there were so many details about this that that I loved: the cygnets, the dirty get-well-soon card (from the Andes I'd bet)...I have to stop or I'll end up listing everything.

I am ridiculously happy that Frank is still alive because I was almost certain after the last chapter that he would be really dead. And I'm even more happy that there will be an epilogue.Thank you so much for that great story!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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