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D.S. Pewsey heard it first but the word spread, rash-like, within minutes of his arrival at work. When I arrived at a quarter to nine the whole team was standing around gossiping as though it were teatime. I decided that my displeasure could wait. Curious, I stood inconspicuously by the door and listened.
To start with there were the head shakes, the mutters - some kind of virus, what was it called again? and sad waste of talent, that, cutting short his career. Then the ones that had known Tanner the longest, Finch and Skinner and Mayfield, started trotting out the old war stories as though they were new and we'd never heard them a hundred times before. Remember that time, with the shopping centre bombing; and, five years ago we had the double murder in south London...
They talked about him like he was already dead. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying it out loud.
"Wonder what he'll do now," Pewsey said thoughtfully, sparking another round of speculation. Not much going for an ex-copper, everyone knew that, especially one with shonky eyesight. Security consultant, Holt suggested. Or writing his memoirs, Finch promptly replied, always the smart-arse, to a chorus of laughs and cat calls. Yeah, bet it'll be a real best seller.
How you would have hated this, Tanner. Their pity. The eagerness in their eyes.
And then I realised that I, too, was thinking about him in the past tense.
Pewsey was the first to spot me. Self-consciously, he straightened his tie whilst the talk around him slowly subsided. "Morning, sir. Hear the news? Ross Tanner's back in the country, came back from Canada last week. I got a call from him yesterday."
At that moment Pewsey's mild inoffensive sheep's face was a source of irritation equal to the team's idle chattering of a moment before. I nodded tersely. "I heard." Without another word I turned to face the rest of the room, clapping my hands for their attention. "Alright, people, that's enough. Get back to work. This case isn't going to solve itself on its own."
There were a few raised eyebrows, a couple of resentful looks in my direction that I was careful not to notice as I went back to my office and slammed the door, hard. Even through the plaster and plywood I could hear the slightly shocked silence that preceded a renewed round of speculative buzzing. I sat down at the desk and roughly pulled off my glasses, rubbing my eyes tiredly with the back of my hand.
I'd been warned about D.C.I. Ross Tanner when I was first offered the job as his deputy at the Special Murders Unit - he was a loose cannon, they told me, a rebel. Didn't play by the book, bad for the department's image, an accident waiting to happen. In short, he was my exact opposite.
Nothing was ever said out loud or put down in writing, but I could read between the lines: in return for the job, I was to be the head office's eyes and ears. I'd take notes when Tanner crossed the line and, even better, I'd get to pick up the pieces after his inevitable disgrace. Clean-cut Boyd, with his spotless record and impeccable reputation: in the right place at the right time, the perfect man for the job after the Tanner public relations disaster. Or at least that was how they imagined it.
Of course, nothing worked out quite the way that head office had planned. Tanner always had a knack for fucking up the best-laid plans. He was a hard bastard, that much was true, but he got results and I learnt to respect that. Far from tripping him up, I ended up covering for him, on the Roddam sleepwalking case - instead of reporting him to the department about his supposed alcoholism, I let him off with a warning. That's not like me. I don't do warnings. But there's Tanner for you. He got under your skin.
While it's true that Tanner wound up leaving the force, he was hardly in disgrace. The opposite, in fact. A tabloid darling after solving the Ben Harris murder, Tanner went out in a blaze of glory, at a time of his own choosing and with his secret intact. And in the end I was awarded his position with his blessing, rather than his curse.
I remembered the shock I felt when Tanner announced his retirement, the burst of gratified ambition that followed when he publicly anointed me as his successor. Later, for reasons of my own, I was relieved, even glad, to learn that he'd left to visit his son in Canada.
But I wasn't sure how to name the feeling that I had when I heard that he had come back. Is there even a word for this? The sensation of falling?
* * *
I'd dreamed up scenarios before, back in the days when Tanner was the boss with the glass office and I was just his deputy. Fantasies. That I would knock on his apartment door and he would let me in. Ask me to sit down, offer me a glass of water that I would refuse. Look into my eyes.
Me: serious, reasonable. Look, Tanner, this can't possibly continue. You know you can't hide your condition forever. But - you don't have to go through this alone. Leaning forward now: I'm on your side, Ross. Believe me. I could help you.
I could easily imagine the crooked smile, the incredulous expression. You, Boyd? What can you do? How the hell can you possibly help me? He would lean back into the sofa with careless ease, shadows rippling across the strong lines of cheekbone and nose. One large-knuckled hand swirling a glass of whiskey and ice.
But the scorn in his voice would only last for a moment. Because then he'd look at me, see into my soul, and something in his eyes would change in response to the question in mine. Boyd, he'd say. Jack. Just that. His cool, slightly damp hand reaching out to touch my cheek.
The scene dissolves into a melange of sensation. The harsh scrape of stubble across tender skin. Taste of salt and pepper, zippers and buttons melting before eager fingers like mist, holding him hot and hard in my hand, my mouth, his voice shuddering out my name.
The hundreds of ways that I could have helped him, had him, been had: I imagined them all, yes, down to the last detail. Over and over again.
But there was never going to be a chance, I knew that, not even half a chance. As far as I could tell his tastes ran exclusively to women, not to mention that the man didn't even seem to like me. So I tried to make sure that I never found myself hoping for one to arise.
On the job there was the cool veneer of professionalism, an attitude that it was no hardship for me to assume. The unrelenting pressure of the work kept my mind from dreaming: there were endless forensic reports to analyse, witnesses to track down, suspects to trail. Sitting elbow to elbow in the interview room, tired to death after thirty hours on the job, sometimes I would feel no desire for Tanner at all, and I would congratulate myself on my self-control.
But on other occasions, when our methods clashed, when he veered off on some maverick tangent and his rough-shod arrogance stirred me to anger - towards the end, I almost enjoyed these flare-ups of aggression, though our verbal sparring earned me no more than blisters. For at least in these moments I held the entirety of Tanner's attention and was the sole focus of his laser-intense regard. In the absence of one kind of heat, sometimes another will serve just as well.
* * *
It was reliable old Pewsey who organised the dinner and night out with the lads. "You'll make it tonight, won't you, sir?" he reminded me, just before leaving work. "Be like old times, everyone back together again. And I know Ross'd love a chance to catch up with you on all the changes at Special Murders."
"Of course," I replied, sparing him a cool glance over my rimless spectacles before turning back to my paperwork. "I'll be there, Pewsey."
And I was. Eight o'clock, on the dot. I circled the block half a dozen times before picking a spot to park, just so that I wouldn't be the first to arrive. Perhaps I timed my entrance too well, because the only seats left when I finally walked in were at the far end of the table. It was practically a guarantee that I wouldn't get a chance to talk to him, on Special Unit matters or otherwise. Part of me was glad; another was bitter in disappointment.
There was just one moment, when I arrived, and he smiled at me. "Been a while, Boyd," Tanner said. I knew that to him my face must have been no more than a blur, yet his eyes locked with mine as surely as they ever had, piercing me through and through.
"Yeah," I said, suddenly tongue-tied. "Good to see you, Tanner."
Awkwardly, I stuck out my hand to shake. When he reached out to meet it with both his own, fumbling a little before he found my grip, I felt a moment of dizzying inertia - it was the same tell-tale gesture that I had noticed when I met him, one of the first signs that led me to his secret. A single flash of recall that brought a flood of memories with it, so that I stumbled as I walked to my seat at the other end of the table, as if I was the one whose eyesight was failing.
The evening seemed interminable. To my neighbours I must have seemed as remote as I felt, because for the most part they talked over and around me. I barely noticed anyway: I kept glancing down the table, straining to hear what he was saying, hoping yet fearing that he would call out my name or beckon me over. He never did. As the night wore on, I stopped expecting that he would.
But my chance did come, in the very tail end of the evening, and again it was Pewsey who arranged it. "It's cheaper than calling a cab," he said to Tanner, clapping his shoulder, "and you don't mind, do you sir?" This last was addressed to me, almost as an afterthought.
"Not at all," I said with automatic courtesy, realising too late what I was agreeing to.
I always drive fast, but with Tanner strapped in the passenger seat beside me, I was even more reckless than usual. I kept stealing glances at him sideways and I was acutely aware of his presence, the very physicality of his being here beside me. My overstrung senses detected the faint smell of cigarettes that clung to his leather jacket; even the scrape of his callused palms as they brushed against the dark denim of his jeans seemed audible. He was a big man, almost as tall as my memory had made him, and though I had neither his breadth or his height I felt that between us and our memories we crowded the compact car interior as efficiently as a team of rugby players.
Or my memories, I should say, and my emotions. For if there was tension in the car, he seemed blissfully unaware of it: whenever I looked at him he seemed as relaxed as I was not. Part of me had wanted this all evening, a chance for me to talk to him alone, but now that I had it... I feared that I would blurt out something stupid, or truthful, or both. So I said nothing at all and wished for the journey to be over as quickly as possible.
At last he broke the silence for the both of us. "Pewsey and the lads have been telling me about the changes you've made at the SMU, how you've been handling the big cases and so on." He nodded. "You've done well, Boyd."
"Thank you," I said quietly. Praise from Tanner, I had learnt long ago, was given sparingly and meant sincerely. "But I had strong foundations to work from."
He dipped his head in acknowledgement - I, too, always meant what I said. We hadn't always been so diplomatic towards one another. This feeling of mutual respect was still unblunted, and pleasurable.
"How are your eyes?" I said suddenly. It was too bluntly phrased, as I realised too late. I snuck another rapid-fire glance at his profile and was relieved to see he seemed resigned, not offended.
"No better, no worse." He shrugged. "The doctors say my condition probably won't degenerate any further."
"That's good," I offered cautiously.
So the initiative was now on my side. Normally, there were a hundred neutral topics that I could deftly turn to at the first sign of a lull in casual conversation. But this situation wasn't normal, and the dozen phrases that leapt into my throat at that moment - I've been obsessed with you since the first time we met, did I ever mention that I think you're incredibly sexy, have you ever been attracted to another man, even the relatively innocuous we should go out for a drink sometime - were, one and all, inappropriate.
Luckily Tanner seemed deep in thought and didn't notice that I was at a loss for words. Silence again settled between us, as thick and suffocating as fog. Tight with nerves, I drove a little faster, reckless of the limit, and with a feeling like gratitude spotted Tanner's street just ahead. "Not far now," I said with false good humour, and took the turn with unseemly haste. The tires squealed as I rounded the kerb. Tanner gave me a sidelong look.
"Well, good to see you again, Tanner, catch you later, yeah?" I said rapidly as I pulled up outside his rented house, braking hard enough to jolt us in our seats. We should get together sometime, I almost added, before quashing the thought ruthlessly. Anxiously I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, in time to a beat that only I could hear.
But Tanner made no move to exit the car. He stretched ostentatiously and relaxed back into the seat. "What's the big hurry, Boyd?" he said easily. I made no answer. He continued in a franker tone. "Look, you've been avoiding me since I got back from Canada, don't think I haven't noticed it." He shook his head. "I've got to admit, Boyd, that surprises me. I know we weren't always on the best of terms when I headed Special Unit, but I thought we'd overcome that. I thought we respected each other as colleagues." Still I said nothing. "For god's sakes, man, at least have the decency to look at me."
The edge of exasperation that had entered his voice forced me to raise my head. I tried to look calm and collected, though I doubt that I succeeded.
"Look, Boyd. I'm pretty sure I know what this is all about." His voice had a softer edge to it now. "And I think it's about time we just laid it out in the open, okay?" Tanner looked to me for a response. I nodded dumbly.
He took a deep breath. "Now, I know that there used to be some tension between us, and I know that you had certain emotions where I was concerned." It took all my effort not to look away guiltily. "Well, I didn't think it was appropriate to bring this up at the time, but now..." He opened his hands and looked at me with, dear christ, was that pity? I thought I might be sick.
"Well," I said flatly. My voice was dry but it was, thankfully, steadier than my hands which trembled on the wheel like leaves. "I'm not sure where you're going with this, Tanner."
"Just listen," Tanner said quietly. "I just want to explain to you how things were. So, do you remember the officer you replaced when you became my deputy?"
"D.I. Catherine Tully," I replied blankly. "Yes? What about her?"
"I used to have a rule: no relationships in the workplace." He grimaced. "That was the first and last time I broke it. No prizes for guessing what happened next. It ended badly, and she ended up leaving me and the Special Murder Unit."
"I'd guessed as much," I said slowly. So the rumours were true. "But - why are you telling me this?"
"That relationships in the workplace always end badly," he said steadily, mantra-like. I could almost hear the quote marks. "That's the lesson I learnt with Tully. When you came along, well, it didn't seem like I had much of a choice. I'd already lost one deputy and damned if I was going to lose another in the same way. And then there was this virus business to cope with." He shrugged. "I decided it just wasn't worth it. Maybe you think it was a bad decision, but I think I did the right thing. I won't apologise for it. Just thought you should know how it was."
I think I blinked. Yes, I certainly blinked. But his eyes were steady on mine the whole time. "Are you saying that you, you knew? And you never said anything?" My voice was still admirably calm, though my hands were sweating buckets and the wheels inside my head began grinding each other into strange new configurations.
Tanner smiled. "I'm not blind yet, Boyd. And I didn't say anything because I didn't have to. I had my rule, and we were colleagues."
"But not any more," I said instantly. Shit. I hadn't planned that.
But Tanner was unfazed. "No," he replied calmly. "No, we're not. We're not anything."
Slowly, as though I were a deer that might skitter away, or perhaps merely because he was afraid that he would misjudge the distance, he reached out and took my face into his hands. His thumb brushed very lightly over my jaw, and I'm certain that he could feel my pulse like a moth's beating wings beneath his fngers. In the moment before he drew back, we sat very, very still.
"So now what?" I managed to say. I had to turn away from the intensity of his eyes. Strange that they could see so little, yet convey so much. "Are we - is this it?"
Seemingly by way of reply, Tanner opened the door. I didn't dare watch him but I was nevertheless acutely aware of each movement of Tanner's body as he unfolded himself from the seat and got out of the car. So this was it. He was leaving. I felt crushed. Frozen.
But the door didn't close. Hardly daring to hope, I looked to the left.
He was still standing on the kerb, half-doubled over as he peered into the car's interior. "Is this it?" Tanner sounded amusedly quizzical as he mirrored the question back to me. "I don't know, Boyd. It's up to you. But I'll tell you this - I've got a bottle of wine in the fridge waiting to be opened, and you're perfectly welcome to come in and share."
Tanner grinned as he slammed the door in my face. Slightly stunned, I leaned sideways and watched through the window as he walked up the steps to the front door. "I'll just leave this open, shall I?" he called as he unlocked the door, not bothering to look over his shoulder.
Needless to say, I required no further urging.
Disclaimer: Second Sight and associated characters are entirely and utterly the property of the BBC, etc. This is a non-profit fanwork, completely unaffiliated and benign.