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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 25 : Weather the Storm
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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Normally, Gabriel would have been pleased to see Cal. But as he opened his flat door to see his friend standing apprehensively in the corridor, he could only scowl. ‘What do you want?’

Cal winced. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Of course I’m not bloody -’

But Cal had pushed past him, bulky form enough to just bully his way into the flat, and his expression turned serious. ‘I heard. Of course. Since it’s all over the news.’

‘Yes. Second to the bloody election,’ Gabriel sneered. ‘Because that’s the bit everyone should be focusing on today.’

‘The future of wizarding Britain? Kind of important,’ Cal pointed out. ‘Though I get that you’re having a shit time of it -’

‘Jen’s just been charged with murder. Oh, by one of my closest friends. Great day,’ Gabriel sneered. ‘You can tell Tanith’s bucking for a promotion -’

Don’t be a jackass, Gabe; I never told you this but it doesn’t suit you half as much as being a decent guy does. And it doesn’t get you the girls. Girl.’ Cal’s tone was sharp, but held a hint of pleading.

Gabriel did subside, arms folding across his chest. ‘What did you want?’

‘To see how you are,’ said Cal honestly. ‘Team’s got the day off for the election. I voted, and I came to see you -’

‘Nice to hear how everyone’s got their priorities straight; politics first, friendship -’

‘I will smack you silly, Gabe.’ Cal scowled. ‘Don’t be pissed at me about this. And don’t be pissed at Tanith. Be pissed at the psycho who’s letting Jen take the rap for this. And relax. It won’t hold. She’ll be found innocent, we’ll find the right person, and -’

‘Why is everyone so fucking naive?’

Often would Gabriel Doyle sneer, or mock, or make snide comments at those around him. To hear him irritated or aggravated was not so uncommon, but he did so normally with cool, calm, superior disapproval.

For him to shout was a real change, and it was enough to startle Cal into wide-eyed silence.

Gabriel threw his hands in the air, lip curling. ‘Why are you all so fucking naive as to think the system is beyond reproach, the system would never condemn an innocent person? As if the war ended and all of a sudden it became populated with saints? It never bloody was. And it isn’t now.’

Cal drew a careful breath. ‘I trust Tanith to -’

‘I did, but then she got Jen locked up,’ said Gabriel flatly. ‘As did Jen’s best friend. So forgive me if I cannot trust either the system or friendship right now to keep the woman I love safe. It has not.’

‘They’ll find who did it, mate.’

‘And what if they don’t?’ Gabriel straightened. ‘I get how Tanith might have to act, because the evidence is pointing her this way and faith alone doesn’t make a criminal investigation. But what if this is it? What if nothing else is found? Do they just power forward anyway, because a bad case against Jen is better than no case against anyone?’

Cal’s hands dropped powerlessly at his sides. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, I don’t want to find out. You can have faith in the system to keep Jen safe, when you and I both fought a war against the precious fucking system. But I am going to do something about it.’

‘Mate.’ Cal looked genuinely worried now. ‘Don’t do something stupid.’

‘You know me,’ said Gabriel, and grabbed his coat off the rack.

‘That’s why I’m afraid.’

‘And something rash isn’t exactly my usual reaction,’ Gabriel pointed out, hand on the door handle.

None of this is your usual reaction,’ said Cal quietly. ‘Not losing your temper, not shouting at me, not blaming Tanith. So no, I don’t know what you’re going to do next, and that’s scaring the hell out of me.’

Gabriel stiffened. ‘It’s Jen, Cal. I can’t do nothing.’

‘You know how I said a while back that love suits you? Yeah, well, it suits you a little too well, turns out. Just - think. Whatever you’re going to do. Think about what she’d say, even if you don’t listen to me.’

‘Jen’s a good person,’ said Gabriel, forcing himself to calm at least enough to explain as much to Cal as he was prepared to explain. ‘She’s got a good heart.’

‘I know she didn’t do this,’ Cal agreed.

‘Not my point. My point is that just because she wouldn’t approve of it, doesn’t mean it’s something I’m not prepared to do. Not for her.’ Gabriel yanked the front door open. ‘I’ll see you around, mate.’

And then he left, out the door, down the corridor, and, once beyond the apparition shields, whipping his wand off to disappear before Cal could finish reeling, finish considering his words, and call out.

Whatever his friend might have said was lost in the crack of air and rushing of wind, and then he was stood somewhere he’d only been once before - a copse, around the back of an old manor house with winged horses in a paddock nearby.

The House Elf knew him by now, from the few times he’d been there, even if he hadn’t stopped by in the better part of a week. Knew enough to take his coat and direct him up to the office, the wood-panelled, sumptuous study that was the domain of Daedalus Cole.

Daedalus Cole, with whom he had severed all ties because it had seemed sensible, and because it had been what Jen wanted.

Right then he was thinking about Jen, but more about what she needed than what she wanted. And she needed answers.

Daedalus looked remarkably unsurprised to see him as he waved him inside, and reached to a drawer on his desk. ‘Ah, Mister Doyle; good afternoon. Was there something I could -’

‘Jennifer Riley is under arrest and in a cell in Canary Wharf, right now, for a murder she didn’t commit. An arrest which was ordered by your daughter.’ Gabriel strode over to the table, shoulders squared.

Daedalus cocked his head, raising an eyebrow. ‘A sad state of affairs indeed.’

‘It’s more than sad. It’s ridiculous. And you’re going to do something about it.’

‘I am?’ Daedalus said, disinterested. ‘I’m not entirely sure why I should -’

‘Because you can. You have the resources to get the evidence, or at least get these charges thrown out.’ Gabriel slammed his hand on the desk. ‘You keep saying that you’re here for when the system fails, for when good people fall foul of the government and the imperfect people in the government. To balance affairs.’

‘I am,’ was the calm agreement, and Daedalus stared at the palm slammed down on his desk until, slowly, Gabriel pulled back. ‘But I cannot be everywhere at once. I must pick my battles, based on what information I have and weighing up how necessary it is for me to act. And in the grand scheme of things, the odds are likely your young lady will be absolutely fine, so why, exactly, should I be sticking my neck out and using up my currency for her behalf?’

‘How do you know she’s going to be -’

‘Because this is the kind of thing that happens in high-profile investigations. Because she is, as you say, innocent. Because my daughter will make sure that justice is served, and despite your fear, Mister Doyle, you have the same trust in Tanith that I do.’

Gabriel stared at him, dark eyes meeting even darker until he looked away sharply. ‘It’s too much of a risk.’

‘I’m sorry, but -’

‘As a favour, damn it. Look, I’ll owe you -’

‘You turned your back on me, and my work.’ Daedalus shrugged. ‘Perhaps it was not for you, but you understand, now, how it is necessary. How sometimes one must act outside of the restrictions of the law, outside of the judgement of the public, to ensure the right thing is done. But I regret to inform you, Mister Doyle, that I am not some resource to be picked up and discarded at will.’

‘Is that what this is about?’ Gabriel’s eyes widened. ‘I refused your offer, so now you’re punishing Jen because of it?’

‘No. This is just not worth my resources, and I owe you nothing, Mister Doyle. Perhaps, if we worked together, you would have the access to my influence and resources and could expend them on matters which will go away without them, but we do not.’

Gabriel glowered out the window, where the sky was grey and overcast. It would be dark soon, dusk coming earlier and earlier as winter marched on. He drew a sharp breath. ‘What if I changed my mind?’

‘To work with me?’ Daedalus snorted. ‘What, and then I give you what you want, and then you change your mind again as soon as you don’t -’

‘No, you’re right.’ Gabriel turned to him. ‘This is important work, this does need doing, and you need somebody you can trust who understands how important it is. I refused you because... frankly, because Jen didn’t like it.’

That had been it, really, at the root of it. She’d been slipping through his fingers, he thought, and he’d have done anything to keep her.

Now he’d just do anything to keep her safe.

Daedalus was watching him with his dark, fierce eyes, and he put a hand into the drawer he’d opened. ‘If you go back on your word - if you think you can use me as a resource to be picked up and abandoned when you don’t need me - it will go very ill for you. I am not a petty man, but I will not be treated pettily.’

Gabriel swallowed, his throat dry. ‘You have my word.’

‘Then here you go. Something to make this all go away.’ Daedalus pulled a file from his drawer. ‘I cannot promise you that you will like it.’

Gabriel stopped, hand a few inches away from the paper folder. ‘What do you mean?’

‘The crux of this issue is that she has no alibi, correct? Well, this gives her an alibi. This places her with someone the night she allegedly attacked my daughter. And there are very few reasons I can think of why someone would not confess to having been somewhere when it might clear them of murder.’

Daedalus’ gaze didn’t move from Gabriel, who sat down slowly, drawing the folder to himself but not opening it. The younger man worked his jaw for a few moments. ‘But if this blows everything open, why didn’t you tell Tanith?’

‘Unless - even if - Tanith comes to ask me, it is best I do not provide her with evidence that may be inadmissible in court. At the time I gathered this, you and I were a partnership. It seemed prudent and fair that I keep an eye on your affairs - I assure you, so you could utilise these resources for your own protection. But that same night you wrote to me saying our partnership was disbanded, and then I was left with slightly... indelicate information.’

‘Indelicate?’

‘Yes, indelicate - and that’s why you, after coming in here with such vim and vigour, are now so reluctant to take what’s in front of you, which is exactly what you wanted. Because the two of you argued that night, and so why, oh why, would she not admit to her whereabouts afterwards?’

Gabriel didn’t answer that, just swallowed hard, reached out, and opened up the folder in front of him to show a time-stamped Muggle photograph from a security camera of his girlfriend being greeted at a door by another man.


* *



‘I don’t get why I’m here; the polls shut in one hour, the count won’t be done for another five...’

‘You’re not nervous, are you? You met him before -’

‘Back when he was an Auror; it’s different now...’

‘To be honest, you don’t get used to it.’ Tobias stopped in front of the door to the Minister’s office and smiled at her. ‘But you’ll do fine.’

Then he opened the door and Tanith had no grounds to complain further at him, because he was showing her into the office and, sat behind the broad oak desk and looking remarkably at ease for someone whom exit polls were placing neck-and-neck with his nearest opponent, sat Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister for Magic.

He was also scoffing down a sandwich and gestured at them both. ‘Toby, Auror Cole, come in, sorry about the short notice...’

Tanith straightened her uniform with more regard for decorum than Vaughn usually got. ‘Minister Shacklebolt.’

‘Please, sit down. I won’t keep you long, and I’m sorry to drag you away from business, but Vaughn and the rest of the office are scattered to the four winds today. I imagine that’s not made your job very easy.’

‘Election day does require a large amount of security,’ Tanith agreed, and sat down awkwardly. ‘But at the very least it does mean the press are leaving us alone in regards to the Riley issue.’

‘Yes. Bad business.’ Shacklebolt made a face. ‘That’s why I wanted you here, Miss Cole. The election might be tonight, but with transition I’ll still be here for another month even if we lose. And so it’s almost a certainty that, no matter what, I’ll be presiding over the conclusion of this investigation. I have to weather the storm, even if I’m not the man to get us into port. The press will soon enough remember this, and I want to make sure I have the facts straight before some journalist keen to make an idiot of me tries to skewer me on the details.’

Tanith glanced across the office. ‘If Tobias brought you up to date, then you’re almost certainly fully in the know.’

‘He did.’ Shacklebolt nodded at Tobias, who was stood by the door, the same ball of tension and nerves he’d been since Tanith had last seen him that morning. ‘You have alternatives to Jen Riley?’

‘I have a name I’m trying to identify; Potter and Weasley are requisitioning help from Muggle relations to go through Muggle records - electoral register? To try to find out just who this person is. But I can make no promises.’

Shacklebolt gave a lopsided smile. ‘I was an Auror for almost twenty years, Miss Cole. I know how it works. And I know what to tell the press and what not to tell the press. I just... hope you find something to exonerate Miss Riley.’

‘As do I. But our personal feelings...’ Tanith bit her lip. ‘We’ll have to see how it goes, Minister.’

‘Of course.’ He stood. ‘I’m sorry to take you from your work; I just wished to make sure that there’s nothing new I need to know if the press try to skewer me over the next few hours. And I wanted, on a personal note, to wish you good luck.’ Shacklebolt looked up at Tobias. ‘But you have been rather remiss in your briefings Toby.’

Tobias looked as if he’d been told he’d failed the Minister and needed to commit honourable suicide at that exact moment. ‘Sir?’

Shacklebolt nodded at Tanith’s left hand. ‘Congratulations. To the both of you. Even in peace time there’s not enough good news.’

Tanith cleared her throat and managed to fight down the hint of embarrassment, but Tobias had gone pink enough for them both and abruptly opened the door. ‘Yes, Minister. Thank you, Minister. We’ll, er, go, you’ve got to be getting ready for...’

‘For waiting for the results, and nothing more, right now,’ Shacklebolt reminded him. ‘The long and arduous wait. You still have meetings?’

‘I’m on my way right now,’ said Tobias, and ushered Tanith out to close the door behind her.

They stood in the corridor outside for a few moments, a short distance away from the fuss and bustle of the main office, where all systems were go even as the last of the ballots were placed and the office of the Minister got ready to batten down the hatches and wait out the worst of it.

Tanith gave him a lopsided smile. ‘So, you hid me from everyone?’

‘I didn’t - it didn’t come up, and it didn’t want to announce it loudly to everyone, because it’s not their business, but don’t think I was trying to hide you from -’

He looked so panicked that she regretted teasing him, a hand coming to his. ‘Relax, Toby. I was kidding. Relax...’

Tobias sagged and smiled apologetically. ‘I’m sorry, I’ve just been - everything’s going crazy today, it’s the end, but I feel so useless. I’ve cast my dice and now I just have to see how they land, and I know there’s nothing I can do to influence it but I feel that if I breathe too hard I’ll knock it off course...’

‘Just so long as you remember to breathe,’ Tanith said gently. ‘The Minister mentioned you have a meeting?’

‘Yeah...’ He rubbed the back of his neck. ‘He’s expecting some information from the Prosecution Office, especially on their stance with the case against Jen, because he reckons someone is going to try to cause trouble with him over that. But Tom’s working from home today, so I’ve got to go down to his flat and get him to brief me, so I can brief the Minister, so...’

Tanith nodded, squeezing his hand. ‘He’s covering his bases so nothing goes wrong,’ she reassured him. ‘And, I suspect, trying to give you something to do.’

‘Yeah, well, Tom’s not likely to be in the best of moods so I should see how he is.’ Tobias made a face. ‘Are you okay?’

‘If Harry and Ron find me some information from the Muggle records, I will be,’ she said tensely. ‘But most of the MLE are wrapped up with the election; I can’t even get a full surveillance team until midnight. I’ve got what Enforcers I can drag out to watch a front door and that’s it.’

He offered a half-hearted smile. ‘Are you going to be horribly irresponsible if you come to the party tonight?’

Tanith blinked. ‘Party?’

‘Well, it’s probably only a party if we win,’ said Tobias, morose enough that it sounded like he thought an asteroid hitting the Ministry was more likely. ‘Otherwise it’ll just be a rather sad and depressing affair -’

And if you’re happy, you’ll want to share it with me, and if you’re not, you’ll need me there. Her hold on his hand tightened. ‘I’ll be there. I’ll try to come up even before they announce the results.’

Tobias gave an anxious smile. ‘I’d... really like you to be here for that. If you can. I know this case is important -’

‘But this is what you’ve been working on for the past six months, Toby. It’s important to you. And if I can’t take an hour out...’ She returned the smile, equally anxious. ‘Well, isn’t this the kind of compromise and change we were talking about?’

‘I know. If something happens, let me know if you can, and I understand, but... I’d like you to be here.’ He glanced up and down the corridor. ‘I should get down to Tom’s.’

‘And I should get back to the Wharf.’

A quick peck on the lips was all they’d allow themselves, both professional, both tense, and Tanith made her way out of the Minister’s Office and down to the Apparition Chambers. She wished, not for the first time, that she’d taken Vaughn’s offer of putting her team in the Auror Offices in the Ministry itself, as was usually the case for the high-profile operations which needed to work with other Ministry Departments, like Proudfoot chasing after Avery. Only because of her need to still access the Wharf’s facilities for continuing the tuition of her trainees had seen her rejecting this, but it would have made life easier on a day like today.

The Ministry was tense, everyone buzzing from place to place, and though most people had voted and had nothing to do now but wait, it was clear few people were thinking about what was right in front of them. Their thoughts went to the same place the press did, the papers, the radio - what would be the results in a few hours time? Would Shacklebolt continue in office? Would Harrigan take over?

Tanith, to her eternal shame, wasn’t even sure which result she’d prefer. And she knew it had little to nothing to do with politics.

She barely had time to think about her personal life today. Politics was way down the list.

When she was back in the Wharf she made her way down to the bullpen, towards the wall of screens blocking her from the sight of Katie likely still working away on the Weasley files just in case there was something else they’d missed.

Really, she was just hoping Ron and Harry found something, or she was in sore risk of reaching a dead end.

‘Tell me you’ve found something, Bell, or I’ll be sending you back to the shop and asking for a newer model of trainee...’

She rounded the corner and almost walked into Gabriel. He was looking paler than usual, which made his dark eyes stand out more than ever, wide and determined and with a certain edge she didn’t remember seeing before.

Wait. She had seen that edge before. Years ago, the last time he’d been fighting furtively to change the situation before him.

When he’d been fighting to cheat fate in the one and only vision of hiss he’d so far ever changed.

‘Er, someone to see you, Chief,’ said a rather disconcerted Katie, still sat at the desks.

Tanith stopped short and looked up - and up, and she’d forgotten how tall Gabriel could be. ‘Gabe.’

She really didn’t want to do round the umpteenth about how she’d locked up his girlfriend.

‘I need to talk to you,’ he said.

‘And unless you have something new to say, Gabe, I’m really sorry but you can best help Jen by staying out of my way so I can -’

‘I do have something new.’ He reached into his coat and pulled out a brown folder, the shape of which seemed distantly familiar in a way she couldn’t place, but she didn’t over-think the issue of stationery as she took it. ‘It should help clear up the issue of Jen’s alibi the night you were attacked.’

There was something wrong, horribly wrong about his attitude, but Tanith took the folder anyway and opened it up. Her brow furrowed with confusion. ‘Where did you get this?’

‘There’s a mix of Muggles and wizards in that flat; you didn’t check the Muggle security recordings. I suppose you didn’t need to, you thought.’ Gabriel shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat.

‘Hey, this is good, right?’ Katie stood up and went to poke her head over Tanith’s shoulder - and she, too, looked bewildered, falling silent.

‘Why didn’t Riley mention this?’ said Tanith tensely.

Gabriel met her gaze, working his jaw. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, and she had the horrible feeling that he did, and so did she. ‘But this gives her an alibi.’

‘It gives the start of an alibi,’ said Tanith, and flipped the folder shut. ‘It most certainly does not explain everything. I’m going in to talk to her.’

Gabriel’s expression went pained. ‘Can’t you just -’

‘No, I cannot. I need to talk to her about this.’ Tanith looked over at Katie. ‘You’ve got a right to be in there, Bell, if you want.’

Katie looked about as uncomfortable as it was possible to be. ‘You know, I think I’ll pass on that can of worms, we’re all close enough as it is without me adding to it.’

Gabriel’s gaze darkened as his eyes locked on hers. ‘Did you know about this?’

‘Know? No! Merlin, Doyle, this is...’ Katie gestured wildly. ‘It could be nothing. But I’m as stunned as you are.’

‘I doubt it,’ Gabriel growled.

‘Okay, you two? Try to not kill each other while I’m gone.’ Tanith took a deep breath and shoved the folder under one arm. ‘I’m going to try to figure out what the hell’s going on.’

She didn’t look to them to see if they were listening, just turned on her heel and went to the stairs that led down to the cells in Canary Wharf. Fate, it seemed, had a rather funny sense of humour. She’d have given anything, that morning, to be handed a reason to let Jen Riley out of jail.

Now she’d have given anything for Gabriel to not have that look in his eye. She didn’t know which way round she’d prefer it.

She was let into Jen Riley’s cell without fuss; even though she’d not been down there since the arrest, she was still the Senior Investigating Officer on this case, and that meant she was allowed to go see their prime suspect whenever she liked. There were minor perks to being responsible for this shit-storm.

Jen was sat on the cot pressed up against the wall, the amenities far improved down here since they’d been back when Tanith had been subject to the hospitality of Canary Wharf’s holding cells. She had a book, one of the few luxuries she’d been allowed, and lifted a hand when Tanith came in.

‘Let me finish the page.’

‘Oh, you can take your sanctimonious bullshit and go straight to hell, Riley,’ Tanith snapped, brandishing the folder. ‘You have sat in here and played the wronged little victim and I am not going to tolerate it any more.’

Jen’s brow furrowed, and she put the book to one side. ‘What are you talking about, Cole?’

‘I can almost appreciate your discretion, since you’d much rather be charged with murder than confess. But how, exactly, are you going to explain this?’ She threw the folder on the cot.

Jen, her movements deliberate, reached to open it up. Her brow furrowed. ‘Where’d you get this?’

‘Muggle cameras in the building. I’d like to say I did my homework properly, but I didn’t chase that one up. Gabriel did.’

Tanith watched her closely, watched to try to catch the mask crumple as her deception fell apart, watched to try to get a read on something she had never anticipated being faced with - not from her - and, to her infinite confusion, found nothing.

Jen looked up, gaze earnest even despite her frown. ‘I wasn’t there.’

Tanith made a scoffing noise. ‘That’s it? That’s really the best that you’ve got? “I wasn’t there”?’ She looked away, scowling. ‘I really thought better of you, Riley. I mean, I of all people know about doing stupid things and I know the two of you rowed that night, but I did not think this of you.’

‘You think...’ Jen’s jaw dropped. ‘You think this was an affair? Are you nuts?’

Tanith hesitated. Even though she’d not expected this revelation from Gabriel, Jen’s reaction was still not making sense. She turned to face the other woman. ‘Look me in the eye,’ she growled. ‘Look me in the eye and tell me that’s not what this is.’

Jen got to her feet, slowly and deliberately, and met her gaze. ‘I love Gabriel. I loved him when it wasn’t wise to love him - and yes, I loved him when it was a betrayal to love him. I loved him before Nick died, and I loved him when the war was raging and everything was falling apart around us. So let me put not one, but two arguments to you.’ She straightened. ‘First, do you really think that I would turn my back on him, hurt him in this way? And second, if I had the self-control and moral fortitude to keep my hands off Gabriel last year, I’m pretty sure I’d have the self-control and moral fortitude to keep my hands off any other man.’

Tanith watched her for several long seconds, eyes roaming over her face, looking for those familiar tells of a lie. Even if Jen Riley was one of the best liars she knew - and that sounded like fun, considering one of the only people who could give her a run for her money was Gabriel, which made their relationship an interesting match - she still reckoned she could best her.

But right then she could see no sign of deception.

She reached to snatch the folder back up, and shoved the photograph in her face. ‘So not only are you telling me that you’re not screwing Tom Everard, you’re telling me that this photograph - which, by the way, would provide an alibi for murder - is wrong and you never were at his flat the night I got attacked?’

Jen’s gaze was confused, but level, and she reached for the photograph to examine it again - but then her expression contorted with pain, her hand came slamming up to her temple, and the only response that Tanith got was a loud, agonised scream.


* *



‘Sorry about the time,’ said Tobias as Tom Everard finally opened the door to his flat. ‘But I wouldn’t trouble you if it weren’t important.’

Tom looked tired, worn, and confused, but he stepped back and gestured for Tobias to come on. ‘Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I forgot you were coming, I had some... stuff.’

‘No problem, this won’t take a moment. I’m sure you’ve been pretty busy. And I’m sure the office is in one hell of a state now, what with Jen and... and everything.’

Tom led Tobias back into a small, sparsely decorated flat, nothing of any note anywhere except for some folders and papers strewn out on the coffee table. ‘Yeah, it’s crazy. I never would have thought it.’

Tobias frowned at his back. ‘You believe it?’

Tom shrugged. ‘I don’t like to, but... you won’t get it, you weren’t around with the Lions in the war. It was tough, what we went through, what all of us went through. Jen fought harder and more determinedly than anyone, and at the end of it all, what’s she got? Processing people we know are guilty, and in the meantime watching the MLE make deals with half the people we try to convict to give them lighter sentences so they can go after bigger fish who, in turn, make their own details? It’s just ridiculous.’

‘So you think that makes her a murderer?’

‘I think that I get why it could really push her to the edge.’

Tobias leant heavily on his staff, brow furrowing. ‘I could understand how it might lead to someone killing Mulready, Phelps, and Lackardy, but Jacob Van Roden? Attacking Tanith?’

‘Hey, mate, I know she’s your girl and all, but let’s not forget that she did execute Nick Wilson.’ Tom hesitated. ‘I mean, Jen might not have been all that reasonable-minded about the whole thing.’

Tobias looked him up and down, and considered that this man, whom he had always believed to be rather fair - though they had barely spoken in the past eighteen months - was definitely tired. ‘Shall we get down to business?’

Tom blinked, then nodded, sitting down on the sofa by the coffee table. ‘Sure, sure. What can the Prosecution Office do for the Office of the Minister?’

Tobias leant his staff against the chair opposite and sat down, mindful of his leg. ‘We know there’s going to be a lot of turmoil in and around the Prosecution Office, losing your head, one way or another,’ he said. ‘But the Minister’s going to be in government at least for the transition period, so we still have to help you through that.’

‘Of course.’ Tom reached out for a stack of envelopes next to his folder, pulling them back. ‘So what -’

Whatever he was saying next, Tobias didn’t hear him as his eyes were drawn to the envelopes - and then locked on the name at the top of the address, the address that wasn’t this flat, the name that wasn’t Tom Everard, but a name he recognised anyway.

A name Tanith had told him last night, a name she was trying to find, still, a name that could be the key to the case. Stacey Whitman.

Then he realised a silence had hung between them as Tom had asked a question he’d not answered, but when Tobias looked up the other man’s gaze wasn’t inquisitive, it was dark, piercing, angry.

Tom looked between Tobias and the envelopes. ‘So, you spoke to Cole, huh,’ he said, voice rather flat and neutral.

Tobias gave a slow, careful nod. ‘Yeah,’ he said, tensing. ‘She did let me know some of the -’

Mid-sentence he threw himself left, over at where his staff was resting against the chair still, fumbling for it to try to bring it up and around and at -

Then he felt the definite impact of a Stun in his shoulder, a strong one, and everything went black.


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