Summary: Danny does a lot of thinking; Nicholas does too much thinking; and there's a difference between things being revealed, and things being resolved.
Danny was late into work, and despite his ducked head and the long slink towards his desk, no one called him on it. He rolled in his desk chair over to where Doris was sitting at her own desk, staring into space.
"What'd I miss yesterday?" he asked in a whisper.
"Full confession," Doris replied dully. "Then we brought Greg Tanner in, and after he got sick of yelling he came out with something that's probably also a confession." She turned bright eyes onto Danny at last, although Danny wished that she hadn't. "They put her in the compost heap," she whispered.
Danny closed his eyes and put his head in his hands. Doris patted him on the back, and they both spent a moment just breathing. "Andy's down there now with the coroner from Buford," Doris continued. "Walker too."
"Paperwork?" Danny asked, traitorously hopeful.
"Andrew's typing up the interviews," Doris replied in the same distant, plodding voice, "and Nicholas has everything else under control. Until they find her, at least."
"Righ'," Danny said. He remembered the fuzzy, vacant feeling inside his head from his first memories of hospital. Nicholas had finally come in, sunburnt and shell-shocked. "A month ago I was a constable," he had said dully. "And now I'm not, and I don't know what to do." Danny hadn't understood at the time – because it was Nicholas, and Nicholas always knew what to do – but sitting beside Doris and joining her in staring at nothing, he understood the longing to not have to worry about the sergeant stripes that were weighing down his shoulders, dragging him through the carpet and into the earth below. He longed for things to be simple and mindless like they were. Across the room, a cracked photograph of a family that hadn't existed for a long time stared at him damningly for taking so long.
"It must be horrible," Doris said at last in her cracked voice, "living like that."
"What? In a compost heap?"
Doris snorted, then shoved Danny in the shoulder as if she hadn't. "No; living the kind of life where a babe goes missing and the first thing you do is suspect the parents."
Danny blinked. And then he turned to stare at Nicholas in his office. A solid island of debris in the turbulent waters of Sandford. Except, now that Danny looked close and hard and critically, he could see the same tired slump of the shoulders that adorned them all, the same confused furrow of his brow. Staring at the telephone on his desk, as if praying for London to call. Nicholas had more stripes to weigh him down, but he still didn't know what to do, and in that Danny recognised yet another failing on his own behalf.
It was after lunch, at least, when Nicholas rapped his knuckles on his doorframe. "Get Tony and Andy in here," he said sternly. Danny was pleased to have the distraction from uneasy introspection, but noticeably less pleased when Nicholas shut the office door behind his two senior officers. Doris slumped down to one side of the door, her head angled to the little vent at the bottom. Since Nicholas had given him no other choice, Danny joined her.
"Is this how it's meant to go?" Nicholas asked. He sounded tired. Bone tired. Danny wouldn't be at all surprised if he hadn't gone home last night.
"What do you mean?" Andrew replied. "It's going the way it always should have gone. We got the bad guys, so we follow through for once."
"We have a confession that won't hold up in court," Nicholas replied.
"Greg's will," Tony said, "I think."
"And we've got the body being recovered," Andrew chipped in. "That's, what, manslaughter for one, conspiracy for both of them, and then the one about being dicks to the police."
"Obstruction?" Tony offered.
"Yeah, that's the ticket. All up, it's probably one of the easiest cases we've dealt with this past year."
Nicholas sighed. When Nicholas sighed you could feel everyone else stagger a little under the weight of it. "You think that it's going to be easy, do you? Making that kind of arrest in this town? Again?"
"Well, I mean," Andrew paused, and through the small vent in the door came the sounds of shifting fabric. "It might not get that much press, you know? Likely that she'll get off, before trial even. I mean, women killers don't really happen, do they?"
"Greg did seem a little out of it and all," Tony agreed slowly. "Insanity plea, maybe?"
"No, we still got Greg," Andrew insisted.
"No, we don't," Nicholas said dully.
"Not until we get Lyn- the body, that is," Tony chimed in.
Nicholas' voice was so quiet that Danny and Doris had the harsh metal of the grate cutting into their ears as they pressed against it. "Do we really want to find her?"
There was the crackle of pants and the thud of feet as Andrew paced. "They can't get off," he said at last. "There's no way we can let this go. Nicholas," an angry plea crept into Andrew's voice, "you can't let them get away…"
"Their daughter died, Andy," Nicholas said gently. "They'll never get away from that. Everything else…"
"We'll get Rory away from them," Tony said firmly. "That should be easy enough, right? And then…"
"And then we'll still charge them," Andrew said firmly. "Make sure it gets to court. And we'll just have to find enough. Find enough to nail them, right Pain-in-the-arse?"
There was a stony silence where Nicholas' agreement should have been.
"We just need the girl," Tony said gently. "We get her, and we get Rory out, and after that it's out of our hands."
There was a long pause. Too long.
"I'm sorry," Nicholas said at last, his voice muffled as if he had a hand to his face. "I need to make a personal call."
Danny stayed beside the door, even after Tony and Andrew had filed out like sulking storm clouds, even after Doris scurried after them and created a knot of concerned whispers. He heard Nicholas pick the phone up, and get halfway through dialing before slamming the handset down.
Danny had spent most of his life not having access to the right words, not knowing what to say, or how to say it, or what to do with his hands. Standing beside Nicholas at the edge of a flower bed, watching a tiny bag carrying a tinnier body be move away, watching the Turners and the Andes crouch down with rubber gloves and steel tweezers and tiny little plastic bottles, Danny was trying very hard to pretend that he wasn't wishing that it was his father standing beside him, that Nicholas didn't know it.
"You sleep last night?" He said at last.
"No," Nicholas replied from around his thumb nail. He pulled his hand away from his mouth, looking immediately like it had never been there in the first place. "You?"
Danny shook his head. "It's hard – which is stupid really, given everything – but it's hard to figure how something like this can happen."
"Sometimes things just happen," Nicholas said, hand by his mouth again and his mind a million miles away, "and you never understand them."
"You feel sorry for them." It wasn't a question, and Nicholas didn't answer. "I don't know how you can. Not someone who does something like that."
"Yes, you can," Nicholas replied. And Danny hated him a little bit more.
It was late when most of the team clocked off. And it was beyond late before Danny's hand finally cramped up and he thought to bully Nicholas out of the station. For all that Nicholas was an amazing officer, Danny suspected that he was horribly incapable of looking after himself. There was a tired softness to Nicholas, the way his shoulders were curled and his hands were shoved deep into his jacket pockets. Danny was never sure if it was because Nicholas softened when he was off duty, or just due to the tiredness of his own eyes, but the tiny lines that Danny was always tempted to count seemed to fade away a little. If only things could stay that way, suspended in the soft lens of mental exhaustion and emotional numbness. One in the morning was nature's equivalent of smearing Vaseline on the lens. It was too hard to be completely rational in the misty hours after midnight, so easy to forgive.
"Does Tony know you're taking Saturday off?"
Nicholas stared at the footpath being eaten up by their slow steps. "No. I haven't gotten around to telling him."
Danny smiled. "Does your sister even know you're going? It's her you're visiting, right?"
Nicholas cleared his throat. "My dad," he corrected dully.
"Oh." And a few things started making sense, large puzzle pieces being locked together by a tired mind. "So you got a sister and a dad, anyone else? A brother or somethin'?"
Nicholas was silent for a little too long, stumbling slightly on the less than even footpath. "No," he said at last, holding his front gate open and ushering Danny through.
"You're going to be on my case about seein' mine when you get back, aren't you?"
Nicholas shrugged, the dark blue curves of his shoulders hard to see in the dimly lit side streets. "I will admit that it's been a little hypocritical of me," he admitted.
Danny laughed, because it was too late in the night and he was too tired to do anything else but shake his head and feel the warm night breeze across his face as Nicholas fumbled with his keys. "Look," he said, following Nicholas into the familiar front hall, "if not getting on with your dad upsets you so much, why don't you suck it up and just make it right already?"
Nicholas shrugged out of his jacket, his face turned away. "It's not that simple, Danny."
"Bollocks to that," Danny said firmly. "Go call him, right now. And you sort it out."
Nicholas slumped against the doorframe, a bleak figure with his face turned away. Danny wished that he knew the story behind that posture, that there wasn't so much about Nicholas that he could never hope to be sure of. Nicholas sounded very tired when he spoke. "He's not going to pick up."
Danny crossed his arms and leant against the closed front door. "So leave a message. If anything, that'll make it easier," he insisted, trying to ignore the way his own words were echoing around inside his head. "Look Nick, after all your nagging this week, you've got to know that it's not too late to fix things, okay?"
Nicholas didn't say anything, but obligingly grabbed his cordless phone off its charger and sulked into his living room. Danny stared after him, into the blank bleak space where Nicholas had been. He kicked his heel against the scuffed carpet in the hallway and tried to think about anything and everything that didn't involve him feeling like a bad friend and a worse son. At last he swore and went to make a note on the back of his hand – "Dad prick, call n." – but after a day of doodles and duty his pen had finally run out. He patted his pockets, and then tried Nicholas' jacket. He could hear the cautious mumble of Nick in the next room.
"Dad, it's me. Look, I know you're not going to pick up, so…"
Danny smiled to himself. Nicholas was a lot of things, but he wasn't exactly capable of taking his own advice. Danny felt around on the top of the phone table, came up empty, and tried the little drawer at the front. It slid open with a rattle of pens, but pens were suddenly far from the front of Danny's thoughts. It was the bit of paper, the one with his name on it, staring back at him from inside the drawer.
"I know we've had our… not differences. Even when we agreed on something, we still argued. I know that I let you down, joining the police service. You thought I was picking Derek over you. Which is… I've told you so many times how stupid that is. But that never stopped you from believing it, I guess."
Danny snuck a look over his shoulder, and then gently lifted the piece of paper out of the drawer. He unfolded it, and tried to smooth it out as quietly as possible. It was a letter, hardly more than a note. Dated on Monday.
"You were the one who taught me what was right and wrong, not Derek. I thought… I thought that if I just worked hard enough, did enough good you'd finally realise that it was about... I just wanted to make things better. I just-"
Danny felt his heart pound as he skimmed Nicholas' slanting handwriting, and then he felt something in his chest burn.
"I wanted you to be proud of me."
D, my father died last night. Funeral on Sat, back after then. Look after Sandford for me, N.
"I'm sorry I wasn't a better son."
Danny sat down beside Nicholas, note still in hand. There was a suffocating awkwardness caused by too many things being felt at once. Nicholas' eyes were red.
"You knew since Monday," Danny said eventually. "You were going to go, but you stayed."
Nicholas nodded. "I didn't want to leave with the Tanner case just starting."
"We could have handled it."
Nicholas smiled sadly, and looked at the phone in his hands. "I didn't want to leave at all."
Danny shook his head. "Despite all the evidence, it always surprises me that you're so hopeless."
Nicholas held his head up with one hand, elbow on the arm of the couch. "I'm secretly very good at denial," he admitted. "I think you need to be, with some things."
"With some things," Danny agreed with a nod. "I'll stay here tonight. Make sure you actually get to London in the morning."
"Thank you," Nicholas said hoarsely. "For making me call him, too." Nicholas looked down, playing with the silent phone in his hands. "I'm never going to know, am I? What he would have said?"
Danny's mouth curled into the kind of smile that would have been a laugh if he hadn't felt so torn up inside. "He's your father, Nick. Of course you know."
Nicholas smiled, and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Yeah," he said, slumping at last back into his couch and turning his head to look at Danny. "Still, after this past week, I don't think I'm up to uncovering any more hidden truths for a while."
"Oh, I don't know," said Danny, staring at the thin shape of Nicholas' mouth. "I'm sure we'll get to all the important ones eventually."