Robert Seymour, Ray Fairburn
m/m, adult themes
Ray Fairburn and his men found the killer of suspected pedophile, Jason Bulieigh. Their failure weighs heavily on Ray's mind and as always, his friend Robert tries to support him the best he can. This time, though, Robert realizes too late that he's given away too much of his carefully guarded feelings.
Ray Fairburn watched two uniforms take Joe Payne away. He'd never had to arrest one of his own men before. In retrospect, he should have known something was wrong. Worst of all, his own brother, Chrissie, had been working with Joe. At the moment, he didn't even want to take in what implications that might have.
Slowly, he became aware of a pain in his jaws and neck. He'd been clenching his teeth again. Lately, there had been a lot of that. He shook himself and tried to focus on his letter of resignation. The beginnings of a headache began to throb behind his right eye. Determined to ignore it, he pushed on.
Before the end of the day, he intended to have the letter typed out and signed. He'd toss it in the mail on his way out.
Then perhaps he might experience some relief. The past weeks had been gruelling.
Close to an hour later, he was still sitting hunched over behind his desk, painfully trying out and discarding suitable phrases. Why was this so hard? All he had to do was say that he no longer felt comfortable in his position and wished to return to the duties of an ordinary police officer. That was all.
A slight noise from the doorway made him look up. Robert Seymour, his best friend and a valued colleague, was standing there watching him. Ray found it hard to read the expression on his face. Though come to think of it, when was it ever easy?
"How is it going?"
Ray shrugged and made a face.
"I just can't seem to find the right words."
"Why not leave it until tomorrow? Let things settle."
"I will not change my mind about this."
Robert made a soothing gesture.
"I know. Come out and have a drink with the lads."
Ray hesitated. His spontaneous reaction was to retreat to his home, to lick his wounds and - he'd better be honest about that - at least to himself - worry about Chrissie.
"I don't know. I ought to go to the hospital and find out how Miriam is."
"There's no need. I rang them earlier. It's not quite as bad as it looked. Apparently, they think she's going to pull through. No brain damage, as far as the surgeon could see and he was able to save her eyesight. Of course, it's still too soon to tell how well she'll recover."
Ray was already on his way outside, before he realized that he'd never made a conscious decision to join the men at the pub, he'd just acted. Robert was - a little too good at reading people and even more so - to make them follow his lead. It was odd, really. Such a quiet, unassuming man, and still he managed to get so much done, seemingly without much effort.
Oh, well. Even if a drink was the last thing he wanted right now, he was hoping he'd be able to relax a little.
Three hours later, he had been at least partially successful. Some of the tension had gone out of his neck, but he knew it was only temporary. There was no reason to expect the long, sleepless nights to get any easier, just because Joe had confessed.
Ray knew that no matter how much he wanted to believe he'd been acting on his own, it was too good to be true. Chrissie, Joe's partner, was always at his side. If Joe wasn't with his wife and daughter, he was with Chrissie.
Suddenly, Ray wanted to drop everything and just go away. Somewhere. Anywhere. To the coast, to the mountains. Anywhere, really, as long as it put off the moment when he'd need ot deal with his baby brother's part in their failure. Because that was how it was. They had all failed in their duties. They'd failed Sandra Buliegh and her son, Jason. Even paedophiles deserved a fair trial, and Jason hadn't even been guilty.
Someone put a hand on his shoulder and Ray started violently. When he looked up, he realized that it was Robert again. Everyone else seemed to be gone. He must have been too deep into his brooding to notice.
"Take it easy. It's just me. Want me to drop you off at home?"
Ray recalled that he'd let Robert drive him to the pub. His own car was still at the station. Besides, he'd had far too many drinks to drive. Robert, on the other hand, seemed completely sober.
Without replying, Ray got up. It was no use. He couldn't get away from his thoughts. Even if he did run away, he'd still know what had happened. He couldn't help thinking there should have been something he could have done to steer Chrissie away from trouble. But he'd been too busy doing a job he hadn't been qualified to do. All he'd wanted was to live up to his father's expectations. In a way, it was a relief that the old man was senile.
Outside, in the car, Ray suddenly knew that he couldn't face his wife just yet. She'd ask him questions he didn't feel up to answering just yet. He definitely couldn't show up at the house, where Chrissie should be, most likely with Jemma, but still, he'd be there, causing even more turmoil. Imposing on Beth and Matt was even more unthinkable. Beth would worry, even if she had to suspect already.
Ray coughed, trying to clear his throat.
"Listen, I think I'll take a walk. You go on. I need to clear my head, before I face Sian."
Robert nodded and waited. Ray didn't move. He didn't really want to face the chilly drizzle outside either.
It was as if Robert had read his mind. His voice, always filled with calm and assurance, didn't even hold a hint of surprise.
"Why don't you come over for a while? I have some Scotch. Ring Sian and put her mind at ease."
"What? Oh, thanks. I will."
In a way, it would be a relief to be able to talk about it. Robert could be very understanding. It occurred to Ray that Robert was the one person he felt he could truly rely on. Everyone else might slip up, but not Robert. He was a rock.
It turned out Sian wasn't a bit worried. Apparently, she had expected him to go out for a few drinks. The girls were already in bed, and didn't seem to require their dad's presence. Sian added that she'd invited her sister and niece over to spend the night. All three girls were close in age and got along tremendously.
With a sigh, he put the thoughts of his family aside for the moment.
Robert's place was somehow austere and at the same time almost feminine in its attention to little details. Ray couldn't explain it, but the place somehow felt - right.
He sank down into the comfortable armchair his host indicated and allowed himself to relax. No one would ask any unpleasant questions here. Nothing would be demanded of him. It was a while until he even noticed how quiet it was. If he strained his ears he could hear the sound of traffic on the motorway a few blocks away. Robert's street was a little out of the way and at this hour no one seemed to be coming or going.
"You found a good place. I like it. It's so quiet. Is it always like this?"
Robert smiled in reply. He was already heading for a cupboard by the wall. Returning with a bottle in his hand, Robert sat down opposite his guest. He poured Ray a finger's breadth.
Ray lifted the glass to his lips and gulped down more than half of it. He'd only intended to wet his lips, but instead, he'd acted on a wish he hadn't known he'd had.
Robert cast him a cautionary glance. Ray ignored him. Less than a minute later he finished his drink and held the glass out for more.
After some hesitation, Robert poured a little more into it.
Ray noted that Robert himself barely drank at all.
The look in Robert's eyes softened and Ray felt a hard knot form at the pit of his stomach. He knew what Robert was going to say. His face twitched, but he couldn't think of anything to say to stave off Robert's question or comment.
"You know, Joe must have been quite out of control. No one could have stopped him, once he made up his mind. Not you, not anyone. I blame myself for not noticing. He should have been suspended. Perhaps you could have found an excuse to send him away. And therapy. I think that might have helped, but he was always angry and - I didn't see it coming."
Ray coughed to clear his throat. That wasn't fair. It had been his responsibility and his failure. He'd failed his brother.
"You? I'm the one who should have -"
Robert made a gesture that struck Ray as being conciliatory. But he was just trying to be decent about it.
There was a sob in his voice that infuriated Ray, but he was too numb to really work up the energy to let the anger reach the surface.
Robert leaned closer and put a hand on Ray's arm.
"Chrissie will be fine. He and Jemma will be fine. There's no need for you to worry about him."
He nodded reassuringly.
The thought of Chrissie made Ray's throat constrict. There was a burning in his eyes that again made him furious, but once again, the reaction flared briefly and vanished. He was too weary and too miserable to hold back the tears. Torn between shame and resignation, he tried to smother the sound of his sobs, by pressing his right hand to his lips.
Robert squeezed Ray's shoulder in a vain attempt to stop his friend from losing his dignity. It wasn't working and he hadn't really believed it would.
For once at a loss, Robert hesitated. His hand hovered awkwardly over Ray's shoulder. In the end, Robert couldn't take it anymore. Seeing his friend struggle with his feelings of guilt was painful. Ray had had too much to deal with for too long. The Little Angela case had just been the final straw.
Reluctantly, Robert put his arm around Ray's shoulder and for a while, he just sat there, not quite daring to move. In the end, he found himself pulling Ray closer. To his surprise, Ray slumped down against his shoulder and buried his face in the fabric of Robert's jacket.
Once the initial awkwardness was past, Robert dared to hold on tighter. He felt Ray's stubble brush his own clean-shaven cheek. His body quivered with repressed emotion.
Ray moved his face and suddenly, Robert was looking into his eyes. They were startlingly dark and the look in it banished all conscious thought from Robert's mind. He knew it was a mistake, but at the moment, he couldn't make his body obey his mind.
Their lips met and though it felt as if the air between their lips was charged, they clung to each other with a desperation that made all regrets fade, at least for the moment.
Afterwards, Robert was the one who first recovered. Anxiously, he studied Ray's prone form. He was stretched out on the couch, for the first time in months, seemlngly at ease.
Robert withdrew and sank down in one of the armchairs. His mind was in turmoil. How had that happened? Ray was straight. This was absurd. Though normally, he'd didn't have any trouble discerning the truth, for a brief moment, Robert considered the possibility that he had dozed off and what he believed had happened, had really been a dream. But that was nonsense. He knew what he'd done and whatever the explanation, he would have to deal with it.
Robert remained seated for at least another ten minutes, before he decided that Ray had fallen asleep. That was good. At least a good night's sleep would be a start.
Satisfied that Ray would be alright, Robert hastily, but silently retreated upstairs. He'd figure this out later. At the moment, he too, needed rest.
A slight noise made Ray start violently. He came awake, eyes wide and mouth agape. It was true. He was here, in Robert's home. At least Robert was nowhere to be seen. For a second, Ray allowed himself the indulgence of imagining that it had all been a dream.
A hollow feeling at the pit of his stomach told him that wasn't the case. Where had that - insanity - sprung from? It was impossible. He wasn't - But he was too numb with fatigue and too terrified to make any sense of what had occurred, so he ran, to put as much distance as possible between himself Robert.
As time went by, Robert found it easier not to dwell too closely on the incident that had occurred between him and Ray. The next day, Ray had acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary and Robert took his cue from his friend.
Still, he couldn't help wondering -
Ray closed his mind to the memory and somehow managed to cling to his last shreds of composure. He finished his letter of resignation and was reduced in rank. Working alongside Lucy Romanis proved challenging enough. He had let things slide long enough on that front. Lucy had the potential of becoming a decent copper, but so far, she'd scrambled by merely on looks and her sex.
Focusing on his work, especially on trying to shape Lucy into a good officer, was what kept him sane in the weeks and months ahead. He kept a wary eye on Chrissie, hoping desperately that once his brother was away from Joe's influence, he'd be alright.
Though the last thing he wanted to think of was Robert, he knew that his friend would make a far better partner for Chrissie. This new arrangement was ideal. Given time, Ray knew that Lucy and Chrissie would continue improving their deductive skills.
it wasn't until they began working on a far more complicated case than usual, that Ray began to wish he'd still been in command. Their new gov had many qualities, not the least of which was an ability to maintain a smooth relationship with their superiors and above all, the politicians, but old-fashioned police work didn't seem to figure very high on his list of priorities.
Ray had suspected that they had a serial killer on their hands, from the time they found the second victim, a homeless teenage boy, just like the first. By the time the third victim was found, the media had picked up on it too. Despite his misgivings, Ray found himself working alongside Robert, with Chrissie and Lucy assisting them. There was no denying that Robert's unique insights would be needed.
Their suspicions began to focus on a local politician quite early on. Not everyone approved of their interest. Among the doubters was their new gov, DCI Stafford. He seemed to be rigidly opposed to any investigating of the politician.
In a way, Ray could understand his position. Their suspect was a decorated war veteran, prominent member of the local business community, and also a sportsman. In addition, he was married to a former miss England, and had three lovely young daughters. The thought that he would in any way be associated with male prostitutes, let alone be the suspect of five murders, seemed far-fetched to say the least. But Robert's instincts usually weren't wrong. Ray had never really known how he did it, but most of the time Robert was right in his suspicions.
When a twelve-year-old boy failed to come home one evening, not everyone saw a connection with the murders of the five homeless teenagers. After all, the victims were in their mid- to late teens and most of them drug addicts. The twelve-year-old came from a good, stable home.
For the first twelve hours, his disappearance was put down to a childish fit of pique, or simply an adolescent's cheerful disregard for curfews. But as the night wore on, Ray's frown deepened and the way his fingers were drumming on his desk made it clear to his brother and his other colleagues that their primary evaulation of the case had been wrong.
Robert's normally so serene features had settled into a mask of permanent gravity.
Their new gov called a meeting for 4 am. At five to, Lucy arrived, looking drained and unusually dishevelled, clutching a paper cup in her right hand. Chrissie was next. He looked as if he hadn't had much sleep in the past couple of nights.
Ray was already seated in a corner, a faraway look in his eyes. Chrissie had to repeat his name twice before his older brother reacted.
"I said, are you alright?"
Ray shrugged. Chrissie nodded his understanding, smiling weakly.
He still couldn't be sure if Joe's confession had fooled Ray. The way Robert had reacted, there wasn't much chance that he'd accepted Joe's version, but had he told Ray? Chrissie had tried, unsucessfully, to fish a little, but Ray was far too good a copper not to pick up on any hidden meanings. In the end, Chrissie had just had to let it go, rather than give himself away.
Robert showed up, only a minute or so before the gov, his eyes bloodshot and sunken and his normally so amiable features haggard and drawn. His skin looked damp, as if he'd just splashed water on his face. If so, it hadn't helped.
Ray risked a brief glance out of the corner of his eye. Was it his imagination or was there something about this case that was getting to Robert more than usual? Or - but Ray's mind shied away from the thought of that night, as if he'd been burned.
In any case, Stafford just walked in, dumped a file on his desk and sat down. He glanced around the room, and seemingly satisfied with the attendance, he cleared his throat.
"Since it appears we're all here, let's begin at once."
Everyone's attention focused on the desk, or the whiteboard behind it. There were photos of five people up there. So far.
"As of an hour ago, almost exactly, it has been decided to treat the disappearance of Kevin Paisley as a missing person case. From first light, we'll canvas the neighbourhood of his home and his school. Our uniformed colleagues will search for witnesses. You will revisit his family, friends and classmates. He didn't have his own computer, but our technicians are looking at his family's PC as we speak."
Lucy held up her hand, looking rather like a model student, trying to impress the teacher.
"Did Kevin have a mobile phone?"
"Yes. His father confirms that he does, but we haven't been able to find it, so we'll have to assume he has it with him."
Lucy opened her mouth to say something else, but Chrissie beat her to it.
"Can it be used to track him?"
"I rang the phone company before I left my office. As always, they're making a big song and dance of it, but they know we can get a court order, so I think I managed to convince them. However, as you know, it's a lengthy process. We can't wait for that."
Robert made eye contact with Stafford, but before he had time to open his mouth, a phone rang. It turned out to belong to Stafford. He held it to his ear, listening attentively.
"I see. Thank you. Is he - right. I'll send two of my officers over to take his statement."
After terminating the call, Stafford let his eyes roam around the room, before settling on Ray.
"Fairburn - Romanis. I want you to get over to the hospital right away. Kevin's turned up. I'm afraid it looks as if he's been molested."
Ray was already on his feet, grabbing for his jacket, when he heard the last part of Stafford's statement. Not that too. Clearly, there was still a potential link between the disappearance and the murders. All five had been sexually assaulted. Until now, Ray had been hoping that the boy had merely been acting up or too caught up in some - hopefully - legal activity. That hope was now squashed. He hated these types of case.
At the hospital, he first had to deal with a mother who looked so pallid, he was afraid she was going to faint and a belligerent father, who demanded to know why the police didn't keep perverts locked up so they didn't attack innocent children.
With a sigh, Ray realized he would have to waste precious time cajoling the parents, while the boy might actually have vital information. He wished he could let Lucy handle the parents, but he knew she wouldn't have the experience necessary. Swallowing his impatience, he sat down and began the awkward conversation.
It probably took him close to fifteen minutes to deal with the parents. The father especially, presented an almost insurmountable obstacle in his path. No matter how many times Ray tried to convince the man that interviewing the boy was essential if they wanted to catch the man responsible.
In the end, a nurse appeared, as if out of the blue, began to occupy herself with the mother and was able to distract the father enough from his self-appointed task of watching over his son.
Ray got up, gestured to Lucy to come along, and after exchanging a few words with the uniformed policeman guarding the door to the boy's ward, he entered the room.
A hush came over him. The boy's deep pallor made the mother's complexion seem florid by comparison. He was lying so unmoving, Ray at first assumed he had dozed off, no doubt aided by a sedative. Then he saw the eyes moving, following his every move.
He took a deep breath and tried to adopt an expression that wasn't too grim.
"Kevin. I'm a police officer. This is my colleague Lucy. It's very important that you answer a few questions. Can you do that?"
Lucy had dreaded this moment. She wished the gov had let her stay at the station to coordinate the new information as it came in. Robert would be much better at dealing with the victim. At least the boy didn't look quite as small and helpless as she'd feared. For a twelve-year-old, he looked tall and robust. She would have put his age at fourteen or even fifteen, if she hadn't known.
Ray tried again.
"Kevin. If you tell us who did this to you, we'll be able to catch him and -"
The eyes closed. Judging by the way the boy's breathing sounded, Ray didn't think Kevin had fallen asleep. He was merely trying to shut them out.
As a last resort, Ray turned to Lucy. To his relief, she read the unspoken plea and moved forward. Ray stepped back a few paces, hoping that the boy would respond better to a female officer.
"Was it someone you knew? A teacher? A neighbour? The father of a friend of yours? Is that why you don't want to talk to us?"
There was still no reply, but Lucy had suddenly thought of a possible explanation for Kevin's silence. What if -
"Kevin, was it a family member? Just tell us and we'll take it from there."
Ray wanted to hold Lucy back. She was moving too fast. If the father really was the perpetrator, her hasty approach might spook the boy. But her question didn't seem to make any impression on Kevin.
Ray swore under his breath. Perhaps it was too soon. Kevin might need time to deal with the trauma. It might take counselling or therapy. In the meantime, they had a killer on the loose. Possibly the same man who had assaulted Kevin.
He decided to try one last time before giving up. Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out the photo of their prime suspect.
"Kevin, please. Maybe you don't know this, but five other boys, a bit older than you, are dead. It's possible that the same man - If you could just look at this photograph - "
Kevin turned away from them. Again, there was no reply. Ray shook his head and turned and left. He could hear Lucy following.
It was so infuriating. If Kevin had seen the man's face, he might be able to save them days of work. His testimony might be what finally put a stop to this man. But if they couldn't get through to the boy, they would just have to catch the killer some other way.
"We'll just have to try again later. Come on, let's get back to the station."
Ray wasn't looking forward to reporting back to the gov, but there was nothing else for it.
Stafford took it in stride. It seemed he had some sort of plan and he was determined to stick to it. Ray only wished he had been privy to it. Part of him regretted stepping back, but he knew that he'd made the right decision.
Everyone was still at their desks, but when Ray had made his report, Stafford called their attention. He didn't have any progress to report, so presumably the last postmortem report wasn't finished yet, or it hadn't yielded anything useful. According to the hospital, the physical examination of Kevin hadn't turned up any DNA.
"If anyone has anything to add, let's hear it now. At the moment, we'll assume that we're dealing with the same perpetrator, but bear in mind that we might be looking for two different men."
It seemed Stafford had heard of Robert's perceptive talents, because it looked as if their gov was staring in Robert's direction. And Robert didn't disappoint this time either.
"The boy. He's twelve years old. He'll feel as if there should have been something he could have done to defend himself. At one level he'll be desperate to keep up a tough exterior, but the trauma has left him in shock. It's just as well that he's hospitalized. There's a serious risk that he'll try to harm himself. If we want to reach him, we'll need to find some common ground. An opening."
There was a mixture of scepticism and amazement on the gov's face.
"What about the parents? Can they be any help? They'll know him better than we do. What about teachers? Friends? Is there anyone we can talk to? The boy he was visiting that afternoon?"
Someone began to look through his notes, then pulled out a piece of paper.
"I'll speak to him in the morning."
"Excellent. Well, I suppose we won't get much more done tonight. Go home. Get some rest."
Ray couldn't help glancing at Robert again. His powers of perception really were amazing. How did he know these things? Talking to the boy's friends was one thing, but how on earth did Robert know exactly how that boy was feeling? Absolutely incredible. Ray shook his head lightly.
Robert's insights proved more decisive than anyone had expected. The information he was able to get from Kevin's friend Adrian pointed straight to their prime suspect. At the same time, a more thorough examination of the site where the last victim was found, turned up evidence pointing in the same direction.
Unfortunately, their suspect, Amyas Wilkinson, immediately knew the game was up. His reaction caught the police off guard. Before they had time to take precautions, the man barricaded himself in his office, with a hostage.
Ray was standing with their uniformed colleagues at a safe distance from the building where Wilkinson was holed up. Witnesses had reported that he was in possession of at least one handgun. Since Wilkinson was a keen hunter, it was at first believed that he also had one or more hunting rifles at hand. Mrs Wilkinson couldn't confirm or deny that statement. Stafford was able to get hold of the man in charge of the Wilkinson's estate. A thorough search revealed that none of the rifles were missing.
Ray's colleagues were gathered around him, looking dejected and tense. For the second time in less than six months, they had failed. At least one person was being held hostage inside the building.
Stafford, gestured for his people to follow him out of sight of the office building. The pressure had caused blotches of colour to spring up all over his face. It wasn't a pretty sight. His shirt collar was wrinkled and no longer neatly folded to cover his tie. That had been undone and was hanging around the neck, slightly askew.
"I've just had confirmation that Wilkinson's holding his secretary hostage. Everyone else seems to have made it out, unharmed. He pulled a gun on them. Two of his colleagues tried to rush him - younger men - but he grabbed the secretary - a Mrs Edna Sumner - and pressed the gun to her head. At least she's a cool-headed young woman - mid-thirties. When the last stragglers were making their way outside, she appeared to be in the process of talking some sense into the man. Unfortunately, I doubt that will be enough. He's dug himself into a hole and no matter what the outcome is, he's lost his position and his reputation."
Without waiting for a reply, Stafford turned to Lucy.
"Romanis, I want you to go out to Wilkinson's home and stay with the wife. Keep the media away from her. You - Fairburn - will accompany her. Go on. You're not doing much good here. We're waiting for a negotiator. In the meantime, we have the place surrounded, as you can see. Do your best to calm mrs Wilkinson down. If she doesn't know why her husband is reacting this way, try to keep it that way for as long as you can. Is that clear?"
Lucy opened her mouth to reply, then changed her mind and merely nodded. Chrissie turned and followed her to the car.
This time Stafford turned to Robert.
"The negotiator will have to get here from London. Their best estimate for his time of arrival was - about - forty-five minutes from now. I was hoping you could suggest something. You looked into the man's background?"
Robert cast a hasty glance at Ray, then faced Stafford again. Ray knew what Robert was hinting at. It was he and Lucy who had dug up most of the information about Wilkinson. What Stafford was really hoping for, was that Robert would pull another hat trick.
On the one hand, Ray understood. It was only natural to pin their hopes on their best man. Robert's intuition was remarkable. On the other hand he guessed what pressure that would put on Robert. But at the moment, they didn't have all that much else left to try.
"As you know, he's married. He was engaged for a few years to another woman, but they broke up. I think Lucy spoke to her."
Ray took his cue.
"That's right, but she didn't have anything useful to add."
There was a brief silence, then Robert continued.
"He and his wife have three daughters. One of them is married, the second one is at Oxford. Their youngest is away at boarding school. I'm afraid this isn't really useful."
"Isn't there anything we could use to get through to him?"
Amazing. There seemed to be a touch of pleading in Stafford's voice. Ray almost shook his head in disbelief. He had never relied quite that much on Robert, even though, in retrospect, he knew that the entire station was dependent on Robert's excellent deductive skills.
Robert hesitated. For the first time since Ray had met him, Robert seemed at a loss. He didn't seem to know what to do. For crying out loud. This was ridiculous. If the men upstairs were this desperate for Robert's help, why hadn't they appointed him their new gov?
But Robert did seem to have something to say.
"I never spoke to him myself, so it's hard to tell what will influence him. From what I hear, he and his wife have drifted apart in later years. He's never been close to his daughters. I haven't heard of any close friends. Both parents are dead. I'm sorry, sir. If you want me to try to reason with him, I'll have to speak to him. Even then I can't guarantee that I will get any result."
Ray almost opened his mouth to tell Stafford to his face that he was embarrassing himself. Robert was only a D I. This sort of thing wasn't part of his duties. But at least Stafford was right about one thing. The situation was desperate. Perhaps if this had happened while he was still in charge, he would have turned to Robert. Even so, Ray felt uneasy about this new development.
Stafford looked relieved. It was clear that he'd been hoping for something like this from the start. For a minute or two he conferred with a technician, who then handed a mobile phone to Robert.
"Sir, I've just punched in his direct number. It's dialling."
Robert looked tense. Ray had a feeling this was a little too much for him too, but you'd never catch Robert saying so. Again he felt an urge to interfere. This was Stafford's responsibility. If something went wrong, it would still be on his head, though Ray could imagine he'd do his best to pin the blame on someone further down the career ladder. Like Robert.
Ray could tell from Robert's expression that something was happening. Wilkinson must have picked up his phone.
Robert talked to him for perhaps thirty seconds, then abruptly, the conversation was over. It took Ray a couple of seconds to realize what had been said. Robert's last words had been 'Alright. I will. If you will let your secretary go.'
This was happening a little too fast. Robert handed the phone back to the technician.
"Sir, I think I can get him to release his hostage."
"What did he say, Seymour?"
"As you heard, I pointed out that holding a woman hostage wasn't exactly sporting. I sensed that his reputation as a decorated war hero and the rest of it, is important to him. By holding mrs Sumner hostage, he was tarnishing his good name. He didn't contradict me. Can you get me through to the entrance, sir? He said he would bring mrs Sumner into the reception area."
To Ray's astonishment, Stafford didn't make any trouble about that. As he stood watching, Robert was being escorted through the police lines, and up to the front entrance. Slowly, Ray followed. He had a bad feeling about this too. About the whole thing. A nagging sense of doubt made him want to question Stafford's judgment, but he knew it wouldn't look good, coming from the man's predecessor. In any case, Robert didn't seem at all perturbed. Clearly, he felt he had the situation under control.
At first no one could be seen in the deserted reception area. The lights were on, and the door was standing open, but no one seemed to be there. Then the door to one of the lifts opened and they could see Wilkinson coming in their direction. He held mrs Sumner before him as a shield. The gun was pressed to her temple.
Before Ray could say anything, Robert stepped forward, opened the door and went inside, his hands held out before him. He walked across the floor until he was standing a few yards away from the other two. The door had slammed shut behind him, and they couldn't hear what was being said. What they could see was Robert moving even more slowly now, until he was between them and Wilkinson.
Before anyone could react - and Ray wasn't even sure the snipers were in position - the exchange had been made. Mrs Sumner stood on her own, looking bewildered, while Wilkinson was dragging Robert backwards towards the lift. The door closed behind them.
Furiously, Ray turned on Stafford.
"How could you let Robert turn himself over to a suspected killer?"
He barely heard Stafford's reply. There was a buzzing in his ears and afterwards, he had a feeling he had come far to close for comfort to grabbing his direct superior by the scruff of his neck. When he could think clearly again, the SWAT team was being deployed.
Ray began to argue loudly with Stafford and the chief of the SWAT team.
"I'm going in. Will you get me that kevlar vest or shall I take one myself?"
Stafford glanced oddly at him.
"You aren't going anywhere, Fairburn. Let the professionals deal with this. Stay here. Are we clear on that?"
Ray glared angrily at his gov, but managed to control himself. He felt strangely lightheaded. The buzzing was back, and he felt as if there was something odd about the light, but nothing would stop him from standing right here, and when it was all over he'd see with his own eyes that Robert was alright. Regardless of what had happened between them that night, Robert was still his best friend.
Moments after the SWAT team had moved in, he heard sounds of gunfire from upstairs. Surely that was too soon? A dreadful certainty settled on him. It would be too late. He had a momentary vision of Robert lying face down upstairs somewhere, blood oozing out of him by the gallons. Too fast for any paramedics to get to him, even if they were standing by right outside.
The seconds ticked by so slowly, Ray was convinced something had gone wrong, but eventually, the men were coming out again. One of them was reporting back to Stafford. The grave look on Stafford's face alone, told Ray what had happened. He didn't need to hear the details. In any case, there was something odd about his hearing too.
Stafford was walking towards him, but it looked as if he wasn't moving. Ray could hear his name mentioned, but at first he couldn't make out any other words.
"- shot him, then himself. ... injured. ... lost a lot of blood."
Then nothing for a while, until he heard his name again, this time rather louder.
"... wrong, Fairburn? You look... ... get a medic here... don't know..."
That was the last thing Ray heard for quite a while. His eyes gave up trying to interpret the waves of light swirling before him. The uniform darkness felt far more restful. Besides, he didn't want to listen to what his mind was telling him over and over. Robert -
He was back at Robert's house. That night. Part of him was surprised that he was back again, but the predominant feeling was relief. This time, he wouldn't make the same mistake as last time, though he wasn't quite sure what had been a mistake. When Robert bent over him, he had a strangely detached feeling, as if somehow this was all a dream. It didn't feel at all awkward to fall into Robert's arms, to let his lips meet his, to -
Afterwards, Ray didn't feel the need to run away. In fact, he felt his face relax into a smile. He knew why this was so. It was so simple he was surprised he hadn't thought of it before.
"I love you, Robert. I see that now. As much as I love Sian."
He could see Robert's lips moving, but he didn't hear the words he was saying. Not that it mattered. Ray knew, with a sudden clarity, that Robert loved him and had done so for most of the time they'd known each other.
Again, Robert's lips were moving, but this time they were just saying his name. Over and over.
"Ray. Ray. Can you hear me?"
His eyelids twitched, then they fluttered open. He shut his eyes as quickly as he'd opened them. The harsh light was too bright for his eyes. He was lying down, in a comfortable bed. Someone was holding his hand. A familiar voice was saying his name. His eyes opened again. Sian. He had a feeling that he had spoken aloud. Had he told her about his feelings for Robert? His heart made an odd leap in his chest. It didn't feel like anything he'd felt before.
Sian was biting her lower lip, looking concerned. Was that because she'd heard what he said, or was there another reason? His health condition? But before long, her expression changed. Her frown relaxed into a smile.
"Oh, Ray. I was so worried."
"You blacked out. The ambulance that - you were taken to the hospital."
Ray frowned. He didn't recall being injured. It was someone else who was - He knew he might be giving himself away, but he had to ask anyway. Whatever the cost, he had to know.
"Robert - how is he?"
"He was shot. I think Chrissie said the bullet was lodged in his shoulder. He's in surgery now."
Ray swallowed. That was exactly what he'd been afraid of.
"What did - did Chrissie say if he's going to make it?"
"Yes, the doctors were hopeful. But how are you feeling?"
"I - don't know. What's wrong with me? Did the doctor say?"
"At first it looked as if you might have had a mild coronary, but then they said it must have been a collapse due to stress. The hostage situation -"
Ray cringed inwardly. He'd caved under the pressure like a new boy. Chrissie would never let him hear the end of this. But he felt detached from the experience. All he wanted was to know that Robert would be alright. Anything else, he'd deal with later.
Sian went on, speaking rapidly, in a voice that clearly told Ray how worried she'd been. The guilt over what he'd done assaulted him and it was a while until he could pick up the thread again.
"... were worried. I told them they could come in and see you later. Beth will be in later too."
She was talking about his family. The girls. His sister.
"Chrissie's outside. I'd better go and let him in now. The doctor said only one of us could wait here. Besides, I think he had to fill out a report or something like that. Would you like to see him now?"
Chrissie would know about Robert.
"Yes, thanks. I feel alright. It was probably nothing. The strain. I'm sorry you had to go through all this. Tell the girls I love them."
Sian's face was transformed by the smile that never failed to hit him at the pit of his stomach. What was the matter with him? He loved his wife. Even after twelve years of marriage, he still loved her just as much as when he first met her. More. So why - but he couldn't deal with that right now. Things were complicated enough as it was.
She leaned down and kissed him lightly on the lips. He felt a the same thrill he always did, whenever she was close to him. Awkwardly, he pulled her closer, using the arm that wasn't attached to the IV drip. He wasn't that fragile. One proper kiss wouldn't kill him. Subduing the fear that he was overcompensating to make up for his earlier insanity, he allowed himself to relax. Things could have been worse. He might have spoken out loud about his feelings for -
Sian instantly picked up on his reaction and let him go. A look of concern flew across her face.
"I'll go. You'll need to rest. Chrissie will look in briefly, but after he's seen you, just tell him to go. I'm sure there's more paperwork for him at the station."
Ray smiled lightheartedly, faking an unconcern he didn't feel.
"There always is. I'll just talk to him for a minute or so. Go on. Tell the girls I'm alright."
"I will. They sent their love too."
The door barely had time to close behind her, before Chrissie was there, standing over his bed, a sheepish grin on his face. Ray knew he'd worried about him, and he also knew Chrissie would have had to put up a brave front before his colleagues.
"Hi. Sit down."
Chrissie dropped down on the chair Sian had just left. Just as Ray had expected, there was a relieved but sheepish look on his face. When he spoke, his voice was carefully void of excess emotion.
"Hi yourself. Jemma sends her best. Talked to her on the phone only half an hour ago. Did Sian tell you Beth was here?"
"No, she said she'd look in later."
"Lucy was outside too, but the gov sent her home. She wanted me to tell you to hurry up and get better."
Ray grinned. Lucy was alright. There was nothing wrong with her that a bit of experience couldn't help.
"Good old Lucy. Chrissie - how is Robert?"
Ray held his breath as he awaited his brother's reply. Chrissie's smile reassured him.
"He's out of surgery now. The doctors say he'll make a full recovery. He's tough."
Ray felt dizzy with relief. Suddenly, all the tension left him. He sagged back against his pillows. Chrissie cast him a look filled with concern.
"You're tired. I'll get out. Sian told me she'd send someone in to drag me out if I didn't leave willingly. Five minutes, is what she said."
"Well, perhaps you'd better go. Jemma will be missing you. Give her my best. I have all the respect in the world for a woman who will take on the monumental job of handling you."
"Oh, you do, do you? Just think of poor Sian who's had her hands full with you for all these years."
"You don't have to tell me how lucky I am. Now go. Tell the lads at work that it takes more than a bit of pressure at work to kill me. I'll be back as soon as the doctors let me out. Sooner, if they're going to be difficult about it."
"Right. That's the spirit. Oh, there will be an inquiry into the whole thing. Don't tell anyone I said so, but the gov might not be here for long. The people upstairs aren't happy with his handling of the case. Did you know that Wilkinson killed himself? He shot Robert, then himself. I don't think he meant to kill Robert, but - well, they're still looking into all that so - Sorry. I shouldn't have told you all this."
"Yes, you should. Thanks. I had to know. Tell Beth I love her. Polly too."
Chrissie nodded, and got up. He smiled contentedly. For once, the relentless fear that someone would discover his part in Joe's crime, had lifted. At the moment, all Chrissie cared about what that his brother was going to be alright.
His partner too, naturally. Robert was a good sort. How typical of Ray to worry about everyone who had once been under his command. And he and Robert were mates too. Of course Ray would worry about him.
Once Chrissie had left, Ray pressed the button that would bring a nurse. At least he hoped it would. This time, he was right. A harried-looking woman in her early fifties looked in.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, nurse, but I was wondering about my colleague - Robert Seymour - We were brought in at the same time. He was shot. I heard he was out of surgery now so I wanted to know how he's doing."
The nurse looked doubtful, then remembering that she was addressing a police officer, she decided that she'd better give him the information he wanted.
"I heard he was alright, but he won't be coming out of the anaesthetic until later, mind."
"Thank you. I'd like to know when I can get out of here. When can I see my doctor?"
There was the sound of some sort of disorder in the corridor outside and Ray wondered anxiously if that could be anything to do with Robert, then recalled that the surgical department was downstairs.
In any case, the nurse looked even more stressed out than before. She glanced over her shoulder, then back at Ray.
"I'll let him know you're asking."
"Thank you. I won't keep you any longer. Just - if there's any change in my colleague's condition, it would be very kind of you if you could let me know. Or if someone could -"
"Yes, yes. I'll remember. If that would be all -"
She was already on her way out and didn't stop to listen to any reply, so Ray didn't give one.
To his relief, a young doctor, who seemed to be about Chrissie's age looked in.
"Detective Inspector Fairburn - I was told you wanted to see me."
"That's right. When can I get out of here?"
"As far as we can tell, there's nothing seriously wrong with you, but we'd like to keep you overnight, just in case. For observation. A man your age should be careful. You have a stressful job situation - I would like to recommend a full checkup by your own GP. Just in case. Like I said, you seem to be in fine condition, but stress can be insidious."
"I see. Thank you. My colleague - Robert Seymour - when he comes to, would it be possible for me to see him?"
"He's not my patient, but I'll see what I can do. Now, try to get some rest."
"Yes - my sister might drop in later - and my wife mentioned bringing our daughters -"
"I suppose we might make an exception in your case - again. I'll let the nurse know it will be alright for her to let your sister and your daughters in. But no more than two people at the same time."
Sian felt torn in two. On the one hand, she was weak with relief that her husband seemed to be alright. The moment she learned he'd collapsed, had been the start of a nightmare so vast, she shuddered to recall it. She couldn't imagine life without Ray by her side.
Some of her friends were divorced, others were having affairs or had cheating husbands. She knew exactly how lucky she was to still have Ray.
But as she sat by his bedside, waiting for him to come to, she'd heard him talk in his sleep. She'd heard each word quite clearly. It couldn't have been her imagination, because this was the last thing she'd ever expected. Ray was in love with his friend Robert.
Then when he opened his eyes and looked at her, she could have sworn she saw the same love reflected there, as she had ever since they first met, over fifteen years ago. How was that possible? Could a man really be in love with his wife and another man?
A hard knot formed at the pit of her stomach and she unconsciously began to grind her teeth so hard that by the time she went to bed that night, her jaw and neck would be aching with the strain. What would this mean for her and the girls?
But she knew that she'd never have the courage to confront Ray about it. All she could do was to wait and hope. If he needed Robert, she'd accept it, and thank her lucky star that he still wanted her too. That he still loved her and their children.
She was surprised to realize that she didn't feel any resentment towards Robert. If she could have imagined anything like this happening, she would have assumed she would have hated her rival intensely. Somehow, there was something disarming about Robert. Endearing. In a way, she couldn't blame Ray for caring about his soft-spoken colleague.
Perhaps, she told herself, not quite believing in her own reassurances, Ray hadn't meant 'love' literally. Perhaps it was just his way of describing the deep affection he felt for his friend. It was possible, she argued with herself, though she knew deep down, that she was grasping at straws. But anything was better than speculating on what implications Rays feelings might have.
At first he was dizzy. He recognized the feeling. It wasn't until an indeterminate time had passed, that snatches of memories began to return. By then, a dull, throbbing pain in his shoulder had made itself known.
Wilkinson had fired off a shot to keep him away. For some reason, Robert was quite sure about that. It hadn't bothered Wilkinson that he'd been injured, but the intention hadn't been to kill. If that had been the case, Robert knew he would have been dead by now.
Though he knew it was no use, he couldn't help thinking of Ray. Letting Ray know his feelings like that had been madness. Stupid. Something like that could easily spoil a policeman's career, but that wasn't what bothered Robert. If he had lost Ray, he would never forgive himself. Friendship was all he had to hope for and now, most likely he wouldn't even have that.
Since that night, Ray had kept himself to himself. In the past, he'd always confided in him. Discussed his cases with him. Relied on him. Robert knew with a dull certainty that things would never be the same. It served him right, but he still couldn't help dwelling miserably on what he'd lost.
For the first time in years, Robert felt a faint craving for the kind of instant relief a fix could bring. The morphine - because that had to be what was being pumped into his bloodstream - helped, but there was nothing quite like heroin - or cocaine.
Robert shook himself to get rid of the memories. Underneath those there were others, darker ones that he really couldn't afford to dwell on. Not that they were ever far from his mind. They hovered nearby, like vultures, waiting for a chance to strike, when his guard dropped, even for a moment. In the endless hours just before dawn, when sleep eluded him and the thoughts ran riot in his mind. They would hit him with full force, when it was most inconvenient, during the long hours of surveillance of a suspect.
The ache in his shoulder called him back to reality. So he'd been shot. Wilkinson was most likely dead. The relief that brought, frightened Robert and fear was an emotion he hadn't known for years. A man like Wilkinson embodied all that haunted him at night. But that too, was a topic he'd evade, for as long as he possibly could.
Ray. Chrissie. Chrissie would be worried about him, as partners inevitably were. He'd have to see the lad and reassure him. How was it that he never felt the slightest stirrings of attraction for Chrissie, whereas when it came to his brother -
A nurse breezed in, checked his chart, examined him, then caught herself and smiled at him.
"Detective Inspector Seymour - you have a visitor. Five minutes. That's all. You need your rest."
"I see. Well, let him in. I'm not going anywhere."
It was unbelievable how women fell for him. What was almost even more incredible was how easy it came to him. He even thought that it was possible that he might fall for one. If so, he would be happy with her. As happy as he ever would be. But that was the trouble. Far too simple for him. His life could never be that uncomplicated. It was a fact he'd long since stopped regretting.
"Any pain or nausea?"
She'd already checked the bandage, so he assumed it was just a routine question. He smiled reassuringly.
"No. Nothing like that. I feel fine. A little dizzy, but that's all."
"It will begin to wear off soon. Alright. I'll send mr Fairburn in now."
Chrissie certainly didn't waste any time. Robert was surprised Jemma let him out at this hour. Automatically, he glanced at the window. The uniform dark outside, didn't give him many clues as to what time it might be. Late, in any case. Perhaps Jemma had been working a late shift, and was now asleep.
The door opened and revealed quite another Fairburn. It took Robert longer than usual to recover. That had to be the blood loss or perhaps the morphine.
By the time Ray had crossed the short distance between the door and the bed, Robert had himself under control again and he greeted Ray in a light tone.
"Hello. So, Sian let you out?"
That wasn't what he had planned to say. It would sound as if he was jealous. Resentful. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you had to do was look. Ray loved Sian more than anything in the world and Sian felt the same about her husband. Her husband. That was really all he needed to know.
"I didn't have far to go. The nurse was good enough to let me out for a few minutes."
Momentarily, he was confused. That was something he wasn't used to.
Ray read his expression and explained.
"I - was already here."
The embarrassed look on Ray's face only served to bewilder Robert further.
"I - blacked out. Nothing serious. The strain -"
Robert wanted to question him further, but was held back by Ray's obvious reluctance to explain.
"Oh. I hope you're feeling better now."
"Yes, I'm fine. I don't know what happened. The EKG was fine. Just the pressure -"
"How are you?"
"I'm alright. Apparently, I'm responding to the treatment and - well - it was a clean shot. No bones shattered, that sort of thing."
"Good. Now tell me this: what the hell were you playing at? Going in, like that. It goes against all -"
"I know. It's just that I felt that -"
Robert broke off. He didn't want to tell Ray the same nonsense he would feed the boss when he showed up. The truth was, he had known what Wilkinson had in mind from the moment he'd barricaded himself in his office. If Stafford and the SWAT team forced his hand, he might have taken the secretary with him.
"I knew what he was planning. If things went out of hand, he might have killed the secretary. I felt that -"
"Damn you. You don't have the right to make that kind of decision."
Ray broke off, self-consciously, suddenly recalling that he wasn't Robert's superior anymore and all the other reasons why it wasn't a good idea to expose the depth of his feelings for Robert. But suddenly, that didn't feel as intimidating as before. Robert had nearly died. He just couldn't accept that. Robert might as well hear him say that.
When Robert spoke again, what he said wasn't anything Ray could have guessed.
The warm, intimate tone of his voice told Ray that Robert knew exactly why he'd been so upset. He felt a hot flush suffuse his face and ears. At the same time, he couldn't help smiling. Robert was going to be alright. So what was he shouting about?
Another insight hit him, making him go cold all over. When Robert had spoken so knowingly about how a boy who had been the victim of sexual assault might feel, he hadn't been drawing on his remarkable feelings of empathy. Ray didn't know how he knew, but he just did. There was another, far more disturbing reason.
Robert noticed immediately that Ray's mood had changed and assumed that Ray had once again regained control over his emotions. That was fine. It was as it should be. He had absolutely no expectations that Ray would leave Sian and the girls.
But the real reason for Ray's change in mood soon became apparent.
"Robert - when you were questioning those boys - I mean Kevin -"
Robert studied Ray's face pensively. So that was it. He'd given himself away. He'd been too arrogant, too cocky. Though he had never been very impressed with his own powers of deduction, he knew that others were, and perhaps he'd become complacent. Perhaps he'd begun to take their admiration for granted, even if he found it undeserved and possibly a little ludicrous. The evidence was there for anyone to see. There was nothing remarkable about it.
No more than that, but those two words filled Ray with horror. It was true. Robert did know what he was talking about. And there could only be one explanation for that. He was still wondering how - or even if - he should ask Robert about it. when Robert began to speak.
"It was my stepfather. Well, one of them anyway. It took my mum almost three years to figure it out. She - didn't take it very well. I was taken into care."
Robert laughed dryly.
"When I say care, I mean that loosely. No one paid much attention to me. I was left to my own devices most of the time. No one bothered to check on my attendance in school or much of anything else either. For two or three years I drifted into petty criminality. Drugs, vandalism, car theft - you know what I'm talking about. And before you ask - yes, prostitution too. You'd be surprised how many seemingly respectable men of all ages were willing to pay for the services of young louts like myself."
The way he said it chilled Ray. He mentioned it so matter-of-factly, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. Which apparently it hadn't been.
"I - "
"It's alright. As you know, I straightened myself out. Or rather, I was sent to a foster home that did. My foster father - Oliver - was an amazing man. He taught me about philosophy, meditation and provided me with a stable environment. Homework. Games. Of course, first he had to see me through rehab. If he hadn't taken me in hand when he did, I seriously doubt I would have been here today."
Ray tried to assimilate the images Robert's dry narrative brought to mind. The latter part - about the foster father - explained much about Robert's personality, but the rest - it was as if he was referring to someone else. Drugs, criminality. Prostitution. Not to mention having been the victim of sexual assault. None of that seemed to fit in with the image of Robert he had.
But it didn't change his feelings for him. If anything, he felt more drawn to him than ever. To have come from that kind of background and to have turned his life around so completely, was a feat worthy of admiration.
"Promise you won't do it again."
"What? Take drugs?"
Ray had to laugh with Robert. It was the relief and something else. He knew that his conscience wouldn't leave him any peace and what was more, he still had no idea how it was possible that he could love Sian as much as ever, yet love Robert equally. But that was something he'd worry about later.
When he placed his hand over Robert's, the intimacy didn't scare him anymore.
"No, you idiot, risk your life like that."
Robert's eyes met Ray's and his mouth turned up at the corners. The hint of a smile felt more radiant than a wide grin.
"Alright. Why not?"
Robert almost took the last two words back. There was nothing to gain from challenging Ray like that, but he couldn't resist the temptation. He desperately wanted to hear his reply. Besides, he didn't have anything left to lose.
He watched Ray struggle with himself, then give up. An exasperated smile spread across Ray's face, for once serene, for the first time in the years since he'd been promoted. The collapse worried Robert. Ray had been overexerting himself for far too long. That would have to change. But he'd take one step at a time.
"Because - I couldn't stand to lose you."
Robert slumped back down against his pillows. He suddenly realized the five minutes would have been over a long time ago. Someone must have forgotten or been busy elsewhere. He'd better make the most of the time he'd been given.
"Alright. The feeling is mutual, by the way."
To Robert's complete and utter astonishment, Ray bent over him and without any hesitation kissed him. Robert gasped, then realized that it was possible to smile and kiss at the same time, though you might have believed otherwise.
When at last Ray broke off the kiss, Robert struggled to regain control over himself. Before the nurse returned to throw Ray out, he had to say what was on his mind.
"Oh, and another thing - take it easy. That collapse you mentioned - that must never happen again. Alright?"
"Don't you start. Sian's been at me as well as the doctor and I have no doubt Beth will too, soon enough. It won't take Chrissie long either, I'm sure."
Ray shook his head in mock despair, but Robert was more interested in the look on his face. There was such affection, but also - Robert didn't think he was deceiving himself - desire. He forced himself not to dwell on the inevitable complications that would follow if he allowed himself to get involved with a married man. He'd deal with all that later. For now, it was enough that Ray didn't hate him. That he - against all odds - seemed to return his feelings. He wasn't going to question his luck.
When Ray kissed him again, Robert allowed himself to enjoy it to the full. Afterwards, he lay back, eyes closed, for the first time in years fully at ease. Right now, he felt immune to the memories of the past. All that had happened in another life. He'd accept what he was being offered, for as long as it lasted, and when it was over, he'd accept that too.
On his way back to his ward, Ray walked with a spring in his step, that hadn't been there for years. A warm feeling of contentment that couldn't be dampened even by his concerns for Sian, carried him all the way back upstairs.
It would be alright. Somehow, he'd make sure of that.