Title: If I Speed Away (2/?)
Characters: James Hathaway, Robbie Lewis, Jean Innocent, Laura Hobson
Genre: gen, friendship, hurt/comfort, AU
[(click to see type of AU. I don't think it's triggery))]
Length: 5702 words
Spoilers/Warnings: Mention of suicide of two minor OCs. Reference to mistreatment and exploitation of a child OC. (No violence or sexual abuse.)
Summary: When James is shot by a murder suspect, Robbie discovers something very unexpected about his sergeant.
A/N: Beta and Brit-picking by the always fantastic wendymr.
As they’re driving to James’s flat, Robbie explains the plan. “Next few days, I’ll spend at your place. I’ll go home to sleep―me back can’t take nights on your bloody sofa.”
“But, sir... you can’t―”
“Hathaway,” Robbie says as patiently as he can manage, “one of us has got a warrant card that says ‘Inspector’ and one of us has got a card that says ‘Sergeant’. You’re a clever bloke, so answer this simple question: which one of us gets to tell the other what he can and can’t do?” Out of the corner of his eye he can see James flushing.
“I think we’ve had enough apologies to last us a month. This arrangement makes good sense, and Innocent knows it. You were under the knife less than 24 hours ago. Until you recover from the after-effects of the operation, and learn to manage with one hand, you’re going to need some help.” He considers asking if there’s someone else James would rather have, but he’s certain he knows the answer. “I’ll bring my laptop over tomorrow, get some backlogged reports done.”
They get into the flat without incident. James fumbles with his left hand at the clasps of the cape. Robbie pretends not to notice, and goes to unload the carrier bag of shopping in the kitchen. It’s not a lot, but there’s milk, tinned soup, bread, cheese, and a few other basic items. When he strolls back to the living room, he finds all the window blinds down and James on the sofa. He appears to be engrossed in a paperback book. He’s replaced the cape with a fleece throw. Beneath it, his shoulders are hunched, and wings folded tightly.
“Right. Let’s see them.”
“I want to see your wings.”
“That’s not what you said when I was in hospital, sir.”
“No, what I said was that they don't matter to me. They don’t change who you are as me sergeant or me mate. Doesn’t mean I’m not curious. So instead of me trying to sneak glances and you feeling like you need to hide, let me see them properly, and then we can just go forward.”
“I’m afraid that I can’t fully extend the right wing yet, sir.”
“Soft lad. Does it look any different to the other?”
James stands up, letting the throw slip off his shoulders. “Would you like me to strip as well? So that you can inspect the rest of my body?”
“No, thanks. I reckon you haven’t got anything else I’ve never seen before, unless your bits have got feathers.”
James snorts. “I take it you did not read the Chief Super’s recent memo on inappropriate sexual remarks in the workplace.”
Robbie relaxes. “I did. Fortunately, we’re not in the workplace.”
“No, no feathers,” James says, rolling his eyes. “Just... bits.”
“Well then...” Robbie waves a hand, dismissing any further discussion of his sergeant’s bits. “Let’s see ‘em.”
Slowly, James spreads his wings. The one on his right remains partly folded, but the other stretches out further than Robbie would have thought possible. He sees James wince slightly, “Don’t overdo it. I’m sorry—shouldn’t have asked for that so soon.”
“It’s okay. Just a bit stiff. Sir Andrew said that gentle movement would be good for me.” James grunts softly. “Yeah, that’s better.” He stands straighter, almost at attention. “Ready for inspection, sir.”
“Smartarse.” Robbie strolls over, hands clasped behind his back, and peers closely at James’s left wing. Fully-extended, and in brighter light, the subtle differences in colour and texture are easier to spot. Shades of white and ivory and pale gold blend into one another in a shimmering pattern. He must be glorious to see in full sunlight, Robbie thinks, and then wonders how long it’s been since James dared go outside by day without concealing his wings.
“You can touch them if you wish,” James says, but his flat voice and stiff posture contradict his words.
“Nah, that’s all right,” Robbie says, wandering away from his sergeant. “I know what feathers feel like.”
Robbie shakes his head. “When she was a little girl, our Lyn had a pet budgie.” He turns around to see James staring at him with mingled disbelief and amusement.
The afternoon passes uneventfully. They lunch on ready-made sandwiches from Tesco Express. James reads a book. Robbie flips through the newspaper. He turns on the telly for a while. There’s not much to choose from. He eventually settles for a cooking programme. The celebrity chef (a bloke that Robbie’s never heard of) is showing a 30-something bloke how to make mushroom ravioli to impress his date. It’s rather like Blue Peter for adults.
The ravioli reminds him that it’s nearly time for supper. “How do you feel about pizza?” It’s easy to eat one-handed, and they can get it delivered.
James doesn’t look up from his book. “Okay...”
Robbie phones, ordering their usual.
Twenty minutes later the doorbell chimes. James grabs his wallet from the desk and thrusts a couple of notes into Robbie’s hand before disappearing into the bedroom. Five minutes later, they’re sitting at the kitchen table. Robbie’s got a bottle of beer; James has to make do with tonic water, since he’s taking pain-killers.
Afterwards, they watch something forgettable on the telly. James makes a few offhand comments, but he’s not his usual witty, sarcastic self. It may just be that he’s tired and in pain, Robbie thinks, except that James keeps shooting him sideways glances, as if he’s waiting for something.
“Tomorrow, if you’re feeling up to it, I’ll take your statement,” Robbie says.
“Before the memories fade? I suppose so. Not that there’s much to remember. We went to Murchison’s residence. He fled, we gave chase, he pulled a gun from his pocket and shot me in the shoulder.” He pulls a face. “You’ll have to report the rest, sir. It got a bit fuzzy after that.”
“There’s not much after that to report. Murchison shot himself a few seconds later. I stayed until the scene was secured... and that’s all.” James nods. So it’s not Murchison’s death that has him on edge. I hope he’s not still fretting himself over having a job. “You may as well get used to paperwork. I’m afraid you won’t be doing much else for a while.”
James sighs loudly and theatrically. “I trust you won’t mind waiting twice as long for reports. My one-handed typing skills are somewhat rusty.”
“You’ll get the hang of it soon enough. When you play your guitar, you do some tricky stuff with your left hand, don’t you?”
“Not quite the same thing, sir,” James replies, “but I will endeavour to do my best.”
They watch the News at Ten, with its usual assortment of political squabbles, international turmoil, and economic woes. This is followed by the Oxford local news, in which Muchison’s death rates a one-minute segment. “An Oxfordshire police officer was shot and wounded by the fleeing suspect,” the news presenter says soberly. “He was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital for treatment, and is said to be in good condition.”
Robbie looks at James. “Good condition? Is that what they call it?”
James starts to shrug, then winces. “They did discharge me.”
It could have been far worse, Robbie knows, and the thought sends cold prickles all along his spine. He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine, his inner voice chants, trying to drown out the nightmarish might-have-beens. He rises from the sofa. “I should go home and let you get some sleep. Anything else you need?”
James assures him that he’s set for the night. He sends his governor off with a key to his flat and thanks that sound genuine enough, but Robbie can’t help but notice that the closer he gets to the door, the more James seems to relax.
He’ll drive down to the nick tonight, Robbie decides, and pick up his laptop. He’ll need it in the morning for the work he’s planning to do while at Hathaway’s flat, but there are things he wants to research tonight. Things that require privacy.
Once at home, he sits at the kitchen table and opens the laptop. He doesn’t have Internet in his flat, but the wireless thingummy attached to the computer works as well as James promised. He grabs a bottle of beer from the fridge, and takes a long sip before typing ‘winged people’ into the search box. As an afterthought, he opens a blank Word document so he can copy and paste any relevant information he finds. Twenty minutes later, the bottle is empty but the document is still blank.
Robbie is a copper. He knows that the world is full of people with daft ideas, and that most of those people regard the Internet as their personal Speakers’ Corner. But what he’s read tonight would be rejected by the Sunday Sport as too outlandish. People with wings are descendents of the survivors of Atlantis. They are alien androids. They are the products of a CIA experiment gone wrong. They are a hoax created by the CIA. They are the elite soldiers of the Illuminati. They are angels or demons—or hybrids of both.
The only thing halfway sensible he can find is a BBC webpage about the documentary he saw, and it doesn’t tell him anything new. He looks on Amazon for books, and finds a dozen or more, but they seem to be written by other lunatics with a slightly better grasp of English grammar. Angels Among Us? is about Nephilim, whatever those may be. Operation Sunhawk argues the case for a top-secret military programme, and Winged Albion: The Malakim, the Goddess Britannia, and the True Fate of Atlantis is so bloody convoluted that he’s not sure even the bloke who wrote it understands it.
Robbie rubs a hand across his forehead. He needs to learn more about this secret part of his sergeant’s life. How can he help James if he knows so little? At the very least, he needs to know what not to talk about. He could go to a library, but he suspects he’ll just find old, but equally daft books with leather bindings and gold letters on their spines. A librarian could likely help him find something better. Naomi Norris at the Bodleian would do him a favour, but... no. He can’t risk spilling Hathaway’s secret.
He’s about to shut off the computer and admit (temporary) failure when he realises he’s been missing the obvious. Robbie grabs his mobile and types a text message. It’s late, he knows, and Laura probably won’t see it until the morning, but five minutes later there’s a return text. ‘Check your email.’
A few clicks later, and he’s blessing Laura Hobson’s name. She’s sent him four articles from proper scholarly journals, the sort with footnotes and bibliographies as long as his arm. ‘There’s more where these came from, but they’re mostly very technical genetic studies. How’s our boy doing?’
He replies, ‘Ta, Laura. James is well enough. A bit restless but thats to be expected I suppose. Pain not too bad. Hope he gets some sleep tonight.’
Two of the articles have to do with genetics and mutations, and though presumably simpler than the ones Laura rejected, they’re way over his head. The third—by Sir Andrew Morrison, MB, DM (Edin), FRCS—is a wonderfully clear description of the anatomical differences between someone like James and an ordinary bloke like himself.
The final article is the longest. It’s a detailed history of winged people in the British Isles, a good twenty pages long, not counting the footnotes. Robbie decides he’ll save it for tomorrow morning when he’s not so tired and muzzy, but he can’t resist skimming through it. It’s a PDF, so the pages look exactly like the original, including the illustrations.. And there on page 467 of the Journal of British Historical Studies is the famous Hans Eworth portrait of Elizabeth I and her “wing’d creture” Tom Martyn.
Tom was the youngest of six children of a Northumberland farmer. At the age of four, he was bought from his parents by Nicholas Goodrick, “a mountebank who used to shew him att faires”. Three years later, he was taken from Goodrick’s custody by the Earl of Cumberland, on the grounds that all such “fantastikal beings” were the legal property of the Crown. Presented to an aging Henry VIII in the summer of 1546, he was made much of at Court, appearing in masques and other entertainments until the king’s death the following January. He walked behind Henry’s velvet-draped coffin in the elaborate funeral procession, bare-headed and wings outspread.
Robbie can read between those lines easily enough. They dressed him up in pretty clothes, fed him too many sweets, and treated him like a performing animal. Taken from his parents at four, and from his replacement father-figure at seven, he had six months to accustom himself to his dazzling life at Court before being faced with the death of his new protector.
Tom seems to have been largely ignored during the first few years of the reign of Edward VI. At the age of ten or thereabouts, he was “removed to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, where he occupied a small apartment between the lions and the apes.” Once a day, he was taken out and permitted to fly in circles above the Menagerie for the amusement of visitors. Christ Almighty! They put him in the bloody zoo? It’s a wonder the poor kid didn’t go mad.
In the spring of 1554, his daily flights were witnessed by Princess Elizabeth, then a prisoner in the Tower. She had never seen him before; at the time that Tom was given to Henry, Elizabeth was sequestered and rarely visited Court. History does not record what Elizabeth thought of the “fine, comely lad” of 14 who soared above the Tower like a hawk while dressed in silks as gaudy as a peacock. Did she envy his temporary freedom or feel sympathy for her fellow captive? In any case, Tom must have made a strong impression on the young princess. One of her first acts after her accession to the throne in 1558 was to have Tom brought to the palace.
Tom became a great favourite of the Queen, who called him “my Sprite”. Shakespeare scholars believe that he was the inspiration for Ariel in The Tempest. He— Robbie stops reading. Happy ending, of a sort. Tom Martyn spent the rest of his life as a pampered pet: cosseted, indulged, treated as a royal treasure but also as something less than human.
Does James know about Tom Martyn? He must do. Robbie imagines a younger James sitting in a Cambridge library, reading this article or one like it. And I made him display himself to me. Made him show me his sodding wings. Oh, he had good intentions; meant to take away some of Hathaway’s nervous tension, but is he really any better than the looky-loos who went to the Tower to gawk at Tom?
Robbie looks at his watch and groans. That late already? He’d best get some sleep or tomorrow it’ll be Hathaway taking care of him instead of the other way round. He minimises the tabs with his email and the article. He’ll look at them again in the morning...
Robbie groans. A hungry, insistent cat six inches from his ear is a very effective alarm. He gives Monty a shove. “Stupid bloody moggy. Can’t you wait until—” He glances at the alarm clock next to his bed and sits bolt upright. The sodding thing didn’t go off and he’s late. He grabs his mobile, sends James a quick text to say that he’s on his way, brushes his teeth, and gets dressed. He’s halfway to the car when he remembers to go back inside for the laptop.
His favourite cafe is too much of a detour if he’s going straight to Hathaway’s flat. There’s a Costa on the way, so he pops in to get breakfast for them both. Two coffees—and why does he have to say “American” in Italian to get a normal cup of coffee?—and a couple of paninis. As best he can tell, a ham panini is a bacon butty with a posh continental name and a higher price. One of those for him and cheese and tomato for James. Right. There’s breakfast sorted.
By the look of him, James hasn’t been up long. His hair is rumpled and his eyelids drooping. His folded wings stick out through slits in his sweatshirt. The sight of them gives Robbie a jolt. For all his gawking yesterday, he’s still not completely used to this new reality. He hopes James doesn’t notice his reaction, but his sergeant’s gaze is fixed on the two cardboard cups in Robbie’s hands. “You are an answer to prayer, sir.”
“Angel of mercy, that’s me,” Robbie says. “Besides, you’re cranky enough when you’re in pain; don’t want to have to deal with you when you’re caffeine-deprived, too.”
After breakfast, Robbie motions for James to remain seated. “Take your top off.”
James arches a sardonic brow. “So you can have your wicked way with me?”
“May as well change the bandage now, see how you’re mending.” He gestures at the black sweatshirt decorated with the logo of some band he’s never heard of. “You need a hand with that?”
“If you wouldn’t mind, sir. It’s a bit difficult to get it unfastened.” There are velcro dots along the edges of the slits, meant to keep them from gaping open.
There’s something very intimate about removing someone else’s clothing, even if that someone is another bloke and his sergeant besides. Robbie moves slowly, careful not to jostle the wounded area. Once the velcro is opened, he pulls the sweatshirt over James’s head. The muscles beneath the pale skin are noticeable, though not bulging or overdeveloped. There was something about that in Sir Andrew’s article, Robbie remembers. Stronger arms and shoulders than ordinary people. Stands to reason, he supposes. How else could he fly?
He removes the gauze bandage. What’s beneath isn’t pretty but there’s no sign of inflammation or infection. He finishes the rest of the procedure as quickly as possible James sits very still, allowing Robbie to reposition his arm as he tapes the new bandage in place. The muscles of the lad’s neck are stiff, and Robbie is willing to bet that’s got nothing to do with his wound. He finishes up as quickly as he can. “Time for me to get some work done,” he says matter-of-factly.
Putting up his laptop on James’s desk seems intrusive, so Robbie settles himself on the sofa. There’s plenty to keep him occupied, though it’s duller than dishwater.
James moves from place to place. He sits in an armchair and reads. Ten minutes later he sets the book down and gets out his iPod. That distracts him for a full hour. He wanders into the kitchen and stands in front of the electric kettle. James turns on the tap, then carefully lifts the kettle with his left hand. Robbie hears a muttered curse. James sets the kettle down on the counter, flips the lid up, then picks up the kettle again and holds it under the tap to fill it. He clicks the switch and pulls a box out of the cupboard. “Sir? Tea?”
“I could do with a cuppa.” Robbie walks into the kitchen and seats himself at the table. He tries not to make it obvious that he’s watching his sergeant’s every move. James takes out a second mug. He fumbles with the lid of the box of tea, which skitters along the counter, since he can’t hold it in place with his other hand. He traps it against the back wall, then fishes inside and pulls out a couple of tea bags, dropping one into each mug. When the kettle whistles, Robbie holds his breath. He wants to offer help, but he’s sure that James will refuse. The lad’s pride is already feeling bruised. He relaxes slightly once the water’s been poured.
James opens the fridge and removes a bottle of milk. Fortunately, it’s already been opened; the seal on the cap would be impossible to manage one-handed. He holds the bottle over his mug and tilts it gently. Robbie’s seen Laura handle dangerous chemicals in her lab with less care. A few drops trickle out. James adjusts the angle, and suddenly the bottle wobbles in his hand like a seesaw. A foamy white stream gushes out, missing the mug completely and forming a large puddle on the counter.
“Damn it!” James grabs a dishcloth from the sink and swipes at the puddle, sending some of the milk dripping over the edge onto the floor. “Fuck!”
Robbie winces. Part of him wants to rush over and help with the cleaning, to tell James not to worry, that a few minor mishaps are to be expected until he gets used to doing things cack-handed. But if he didn’t already know better, his sergeant’s stiff back and frozen expression are telling him that it would be a very, very bad idea. He’s already making things more awkward just by being a witness to this incident.
James returns the milk to the fridge. Silently, he sets the mugs on the table, one at a time. His—old and slightly chipped—is decorated with the Cambridge University coat of arms.
“Ta.” Robbie squints at his mug. It’s white with graceful black letters spelling out something he can’t pronounce or understand. “What’s that say?”
“‘Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes’”, James says, the Latin falling as smoothly from his lips as English. “If you can read this, you are overeducated.”
Robbie snorts. “Since you haven’t got a Newcastle United mug, I suppose this will have to do.”
“I appreciate your forbearance, sir.”
They fall into silence, and Robbie once again detects that vague tension in James. It’s as though he’s waiting for a blow to fall. Have I got to tell him again that I still want him as me sergeant? He’s willing to say it a dozen times if that’s what it’ll take, but he suspects it would sound like that bit in Shakespeare about protesting too bloody much.
James finishes his tea and abruptly announces his intention to take a nap. It’s probably a good idea, but Robbie can’t help wondering if it isn’t also an excuse for James to get away from him. He returns to his reports. When he finishes two more QD-75s, he sets the laptop down on the coffee table and closes the lid.
He awakens James with a soft rap on the bedroom door when lunch is ready. They chat idly about unimportant things. “Ready to write your statement about Murchison?” Robbie asks. James nods. “Tell you what... why don’t you give it to me orally, and I’ll type it?”
James winces. “With respect, sir, I think I could type it faster, even one-handed.”
Robbie doubts that, but it won’t hurt to let the lad do it himself. “As you wish.” He places the laptop on the kitchen table in front of James.
His sergeant frowns at the monitor. “How do you get anything done with so many tabs open? It substantially slows down the—” His face is expressionless, his hands frozen above the keyboard.
Robbie shoves back his chair and walks around the table to stand behind James. In the centre of the screen is the portrait of Elizabeth I and her “Sprite”. Bugger. “James...”
“No, there’s no need to explain, sir,” James replies, and his voice is as icily polite as Robbie has ever heard it. “I realise that I’m rather dull by comparison. Not very flamboyant. And I haven’t any entertaining anecdotes about the Royal Family to offer.”
“I don’t want to be entertained,” Robbie snaps. “I was doing research so I wouldn’t have to ask you questions. You’re a very private person—knew that about you long before I knew about this.” He waves curtly at James’s wings. “Wanted to know what to do, what not to say. Even if you didn’t mind me asking daft questions, I wouldn’t know what to ask.”
James strides away from the table. His wing-tips flick upwards in what Robbie suspects is an angry reflex. He wonders that he ever thought to compare James to a pet budgie, even in jest. These are the movements of a hawk or an eagle. A predator. James stands facing the covered windows, his back to Robbie. Suddenly, his shoulders sag, and he folds his wings neatly. When he turns around, he looks calm but tired. “Sir...”
Robbie holds up a hand. “Enough apologies. If you start again, then I’ve got to do the same.” Now he understands what has been keeping James on edge. He’s been waiting for Robbie to start prying, asking nosy questions.
James paces behind the sofa. “What do you want to know, sir?”
“I dunno... what was it like for you as a kid?” Robbie asks, and immediately bites back a curse. He shoves his hands deep into his pockets to hide his clenched fists. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He already has reasons to suspect that James did not have an ideal childhood, even if that bloody old pervert Mortmaigne never touched him.
“There’s not really much to tell.” James paces some more. “Growing up at Crevecoeur, it was very... insular. All the other kids on the estate knew me. They teased me for being different, just like they teased Paul for his stammer, and Harry for his ginger hair, but they were never vicious about it. It was my life. It was what I knew.” He’s calm and matter-of-fact about it.
Stupid sodding idiot! Robbie realises that he’s been bracing himself for some dark revelation when he already knows the big secret of James’s childhood. There’s a rift with the parents, he’ll bet, unless they’re dead, but Hathaway’s wings are enough to explain why he was so tense and close-mouthed during the investigation at Crevecoeur.
“I had jobs at home and lessons and Mass on Sundays,” James continues. “Every year Mrs. Furnivall, the housekeeper up at the Hall, organised a Christmas pageant.”
“Suppose I can guess what you were.”
James scowls. “They made me wear a dress.”
“Near enough. A long white robe, made from some satiny polyester. I wanted to be a shepherd. Or a camel.”
With great effort, Robbie holds back laughter. He can perfectly envision a young James, shaggy blond hair hanging below the neckline of his white robe, wings twitching restlessly, and a very unangelic pout on his face. “I’ll bet you were a right brat sometimes.”
“Me, sir?” James’s eyes widen in a look of exaggerated innocence.
This time, Robbie can’t help himself. He bursts out laughing. “Did you ever go where you shouldn’t have?” He flutters the fingers of one hand, gesturing upwards.
“The first time I ever flew higher than the hayloft, I wound up on the roof of the chapel. I panicked. I was certain that I couldn’t get down. It should have been very easy—a slow, fixed-wing glide would have done nicely—but I managed to convince myself that I was going to fall to my death. So I sat astride the roof ridge and waited for someone to come within shouting distance.”
“Father Thirlwell saw me and fetched my parents. My mother wanted to get a ladder, or maybe call the fire brigade. My father said that I had to learn to get myself out of my own messes, and that I’d come down when I got hungry.”
“And did you?”
“Oh, yes. Five o’clock came around, and I knew there was cheese on toast and apple crumble for tea. I was quite willing to risk my neck for apple crumble.” James smiles at the memory.
“But you haven’t gone flying lately,” Robbie says, letting his words balance halfway between statement and question.
James stares at him. It’s the ‘are you completely bonkers?’ look he sometimes gives to particularly dimwitted witnesses. “There’s very little privacy around here, sir. It’s not worth the risk of being seen. I gave it a try a few years back—for the first time since university, actually. Drove out into the countryside on a moonless night, but there are very few places in Britain that are completely dark. Light pollution is everywhere.” He twitches his pale gold wings. “And I haven’t exactly got protective colouration.”
Robbie remembers a detail from Sir Andrew’s article: feather colour usually follows hair colour. If James was dark-haired instead of blond, he might have had an easier time of it.
“I was up for... oh, maybe twenty minutes. I was severely out of practice, so I was tired and distracted when I landed near my car. That was my first mistake. I should have landed elsewhere and covered up before approaching a vehicle that could be used to identify me.” He pronounces the last two words with angry emphasis.
Robbie realises that he hasn’t thought about all the implications of his partner’s ‘difference’. If discovered, James risks more than stares or jeers. His whole life could be turned upside down. Bloody paparazzi would be hounding him like he was a film star or a Royal. Unlike wealthy celebrities, James doesn’t have the protection of a gated estate or a secret holiday villa in Switzerland. He’s got an ordinary flat in an ordinary neighbourhood, and a very public job. He wouldn’t even have the option of waiting for interest to blow over. Because of what he is, he will be a potential tabloid-magnet until he’s old and grey and too feeble to fly. It took a lot of courage for him to show himself to Innocent. “What was the second mistake?”
James’s laugh is as bright, cold and sharp as a knife blade. “I proceeded to compound my carelessness with utter stupidity. When I landed, I somehow failed to notice the man leaning against my car—until he let out a shriek worthy of a banshee. He was extremely drunk.”
Even a sober person might be startled to have a tall, winged man suddenly descend from the night sky. Robbie can imagine the scene: a dark country lane; James, dressed all in black clothing that contrasts starkly with his pale skin, hair, and wings; looking like a 21st century avenging angel.
“He ran away as fast as he could.”
James studies a blank spot on the far wall. “Once I stopped shaking I got into my car and drove home. I spent the next two weeks watching the newspapers for any hint that the guy had talked about his encounter. When I didn’t see anything I decided that I’d been far luckier than I deserved, and that I wouldn’t risk it again.”
What does it feel like to soar through the sky? It would be cruel to ask. James must miss it something fierce. If the need to fly had driven his usually cautious sergeant to risk exposure, it must be thrilling beyond anything a... groundling like him can imagine. When had the daring youngster who tested the limits of his abilities discovered that a tumble from the chapel roof was not the worst danger of flying? How old had he been when he learned the need to hide his true nature from the world?
He fumbles for the right words. “When did you realise that you were different from other kids in a way that’s not like having... oh, I dunno, different colour hair or a stammer?”
Without a word, James turns and walks into the kitchen. He seats himself at Robbie’s laptop where the picture of the Queen and Tom is still visible on the screen, scrolls down to the long bibliography and points at one entry.
Robbie looks. It’s a biography of Tom Martyn, privately published in 1872 by some Victorian gentleman scholar.
“Only one hundred copies were ever printed,” James says quietly. “One of them was in the library at Crevecoeur. Of course, I hardly ever went into the Hall. One day Scarlett—Lady Scarlett Mortmaigne—came running into the hayloft where I was playing. She said, ‘James, James, come and see! I’ve got a book about a boy like you!’“
Robbie feels a cold lump in his belly. James left Crevecoeur when he was twelve. How old had he been when he learned about Tom’s miserable childhood?
“I was excited,” James continues. “I’d never heard of anyone like me. Never imagined that there could be others. I thought she meant a boy my own age, a living person whom I could meet. I took the book home with me, hid it in my room, and read it in secret that night. Some of the words confused me. It was written in a very florid style,” he says, shrugging, “and I was six.”
Six? Christ, how could a six-year-old possibly understand all the ugly details of Tom Martyn’s life? “Did you talk to your parents about it?”
James gives him a look that’s almost pitying. “Children—even ordinary children—learn quite young that there are certain things that Are Not Discussed. In some families it might be Mummy’s ‘cheer-up’ medicine, or the source of Father’s income, or Uncle Andy’s special friend.”
In the Hathaway home, James had been the family’s unmentionable secret. Poor kid. “So you read the book,” Robbie prompts.
“When I started reading, my first reaction was disappointment that Tom was long dead, and that I could never meet him. Later, though... I understood why we didn’t talk about my difference, why I had to hide when outsiders were about, why I was rarely allowed to leave the estate, and never without my wings bound up and covered. When I finished the book, I was quite certain that if ‘they’ ever found me, I’d be taken to London and locked up in the Tower.” James’s smile sends a chill down Robbie’s spine. “Tom Martyn taught me everything I needed to know about being a freak.”