“You realise you can’t keep calling me ‘Fleet’ if I’m supposed to be Mr Theesby right?”
“Hmm…” Clara considered, “In that case Archie it is”
For some reason, one which he was not going to think too hard about, hearing his first name in Clara’s voice caught him off guard for a moment.
“Well- I mean- that’s not much of an alias if we’re not even changing our first names”
“Aren’t the best lies closest to the truth?”
“We’re much less likely to slip up if I’m still Clara and I’ll easily remember if you’re Archie”
Fleet gave in and nodded, it wasn’t like he never got called Archie. Miss Waverley did and alright, admittedly that was probably about the extent of the list but somehow it was different coming from Clara? Like they had reached an unspoken new point in their relationship. Their working relationship. Obviously. It was for a case after all.
A case that would hopefully be resolved without unnecessary trouble. Lady Tilbury's daughter's “suspicious” suitor was currently seated by a large bay window at a table indoors looking frankly rather unsuspicious. He hadn’t really done anything of interest so far but he was expected to be at a talk this evening hosted in a nearby hotel and all Fleet and Clara had to do was confirm this.
Now was just a waiting game, and the perfect time for a cream tea according to Clara.
This had led them to where they were sitting now, in the gardens of a cafe in the London borough of Torquay, overlooking the English Riviera.
With the expansion of Even Greater London encompassing the South West completely, what historically had been a great debate between the Cornish cream tea and the Devonshire had been replaced, by order of Her Majesty Queen Victoria in a show of unity, with the conventional London Cream Tea.
This consisted of a scone with neither cream nor jam spread first. Instead, the jam and cream had been helpfully pre-combined to a mixture and were designed to be spread onto a scone as one; solving an age-old argument by ensuring precisely no one was happy.
Fleet, however, had refused the aforementioned scone Clara had offered him in place of a strong cup of coffee.
"Fl- Archie," She spoke softly.
A moment passed before Fleet looked up, dazed.
Clara opened her mouth then, surprisingly, closed it again and shrugged.
“Oh, nothing, just testing it out”
Fleet pulled an unimpressed face.
“What?” Clara laughed “Okay fine, I was going to ask about our plan of action for this evening but you seemed busy brooding so I didn’t want to interrupt”
“That's never stopped you before.” he quipped, “And I was not! I was enjoying the view”
“My mistake, you looked the spitting image of relaxation.”
Fleet scowled, but it was clearly ineffective as he only succeeded in making Clara’s smile brighter.
“So, the case?” Clara prompted.
They had been tasked with investigating the suitor of a wealthy woman’s only daughter. Said suitor was deemed untrustworthy by a concerned Lady Tilbury and so she was willing to pay decent money for Fleet - Entwhistle Private Investigations to, well, investigate this. So far the lad they had been following had done nothing suspicious or untoward. In fact, he seemed like a perfectly nice young man if Fleet had to make a judgment.
Lady Tilbury was unlikely to take their word for it however, she was convinced that Leopold Pinkerton was in Torquay to visit a mistress or commit a dastardly crime of some kind. It was seeming more and more as if Mr Pinkerton was simply doing exactly what he had told Lady Tilbury’s daughter he was doing and attending a series of talks on the Legends of Dartmoor. Provided he showed up this evening without any secret mistresses then that was it, job done.
“I think Lady Tilbury may have been overly paranoid. In which case a plan of action is probably not going to be needed.”
“I think she just wanted a reason for her daughter to ditch him and marry someone richer, she was hoping we would uncover proof of some terrible secret. But we can’t uncover anything if he’s nothing to hide” Clara sighed "At least we got a nice day out?” she tried.
“It hasn’t been the worst” Fleet agreed. Not exciting, but nice, calm. He needed that more than he’d cared to admit.
“Plus there should be champagne at the event, even if folklore isn't really your area of interest. Unless of course, it is?” She studied him, he chose not to answer.
“Anyway, I think it sounds rather interesting.”
Of course she did.
They had been working together for almost a year now and still, Clara hadn’t given up on trying to discover any hidden interests he had failed to mention so far. Whilst hearing about the many legends of Dartmoor really wasn’t something he was particularly interested in and neither were large social gatherings, that part Clara knew, he wasn’t dreading this evening quite as much as he usually would.
The hotel lounge and bar area had been opened up for the event, with a couple of quieter seating areas in rooms off to the side.
A podium stood at one end of the lounge where people were milling about. Fleet and Clara were not the only “couple” but it was largely smartly dressed men with a fair few accompanied by ladies who were presumably their actual wives and not their friend-slash-business partners.
Fleet had barely managed to get hold of a drink before Clara was introducing them to one of the organisers.
“Clara Theesby” She shook his hand. “And this is my husband Archie.”
“A pleasure to meet you, I am conference director Thurman Thompson” The gentleman smirked.
This was unsurprisingly directed at Clara who cheerfully replied.
As they, well, as Clara was still conversing with Thompson, Leopold arrived. Fleet watched as he headed straight towards the podium and began talking to one of the people setting up. Nothing unusual for Fleet to observe. Unfortunately, it remained that way even as they excused themselves and made their way around the room.
A man cleared his throat from the podium, the room began to quiet and people gathered closer to the front of the room. The plus side of this was no more forced socialising, the downside was that within the first thirty seconds Fleet had already confirmed that this was going to be a rather boring speech.
Unlike Fleet, Leopold Pinkerton seemed enraptured by the tales of Dartmoor legend. Unfortunately, as did Clara.
“Leopold is just listening to the talk, Lady Tilbury was wrong - clearly. Surely we can go now? Case closed, job done.” Fleet whispered, pulling them away from the crowd and back into the entrance by the doors. Clara looked disappointed.
“We don’t know that for sure! It's our duty to stay. At least a little longer?” Clara tried to persuade him, he sighed.
“Please Archie, it's exciting!”
Fleet disagreed, however, he was quickly discovering that it was hard to say no to Clara when she was both using his first name and hanging on his arm. She did seem to be genuinely enjoying the talk for some reason, granted she enjoyed the majority of these kinds of things. Fleet pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Really?” Clara beamed, steering him back into the main room.
As the first speaker reached his compelling conclusion, Leopold had begun frequently glancing in their direction at the grand doors. He seemed uneasy? Straightening his shirt cuffs before looking around and moving towards the exit and into one of the side rooms. In unspoken agreement, the pair followed.
Leopold seemed unsure, pacing a little and glancing at the other exit to the room. He didn’t stay more than a couple of minutes before leaving again.
Confused, they waited a moment, they could see him hurrying down the corridor. When he turned the corner Fleet and Clara went after him, just spotting him dash into what Fleet was fairly sure was the coatroom. Cornered, Fleet motioned for Clara to stay back as he cautiously opened the door.
A disorienting crack to the side of his head made him stumble towards the wall. He leant against it for a moment just to get his bearings back…
Just a moment….
Fleet kept his eyes firmly closed against the dull pain from his skull. He became faintly aware of a warm and gentle hand running through his hair soothingly. Clara's?
"Wha-?" He mumbled, voice weaker than he'd intended.
"Probably best if you don't sit up yet, that was quite a clock to the head!"
Definitely Clara then, Fleet relaxed only to immediately tense up again when he realised what that implied.
Her fingers had stopped moving where they now rested in his hair but he now realised his head was still resting on her lap where he was laying on what felt like some kind of couch or chaise lounge.
He groaned, ignoring her advice and attempting to sit up anyway. He achieved this with only some help from Clara propping him up, she remained quiet whilst the dizziness passed enough for Fleet to open his eyes. His confusion must have been clear.
"Let me catch you up:
We were following Leopold when he started behaving all sketchy and wouldn't stay in one place for more than a few minutes. Well, funny story, it seems he only panicked it turns out because he recognised us from earlier and thought we were following him. Which, well, we were but not to hurt him as he thought. After I explained this he helped me find you somewhere to lie down, you were a bit confused after he hit you with a cane, and even though we did accidentally trap him in the coatroom he did say he was sorry about that by the way."
Clara finished her summary and Fleet sighed, it was a bit foggy but it was coming back to him. His head certainly ached less now and his vision had cleared which was a good sign.
"Please tell me we can go home now."
“Well I did think we could get a cab but then I realised it's quite late to be getting a train back to London Central, so I accepted the room they offered us here. We just told them you’d tripped and hit your head.”
That sounded like a terrible idea but admittedly so did getting a train right now. He wasn’t usually prone to travel sickness on anything other than boats but right now the thought of moving made him feel nauseous.
The room was comfortable. A bit over the top by Fleet’s standards, and as he had feared given their cover story, just the one bed in the centre. Obviously, he would be sleeping on the floor-
“Not a chance” Clara cut off his train of thought, steering him towards the bed and making him sit down. “If anyone’s sleeping on the floor it's me since I'm not the one who was hit on the head due to an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Fleet began to protest. Sadly he already knew he wouldn’t get any decent sleep knowing he’d made Clara sleep on the floor all night, despite the fancy rug.
“In that case we’re sharing” Clara decided, leaving to get ready for bed in the washroom. At this point, he was too tired to argue with Clara anyway. Besides, when had either of them been concerned with what was deemed ‘proper’ before.
They both sat with their pillows and backs propped up against the headboard. Blankets across their laps, it was a little too domestic and he felt worryingly comfortable as if he could very easily get used to this.
Clara was scribbling notes in one of her books meanwhile Fleet was trying to avert his gaze given her chemise was not the most opaque. At least his own undershirt was long-sleeved and covered any scars related to his death and subsequent recovery. He was not ashamed of them, it's just it was one thing hearing about all the damage that had needed repairing from Tilvane and another thing for Clara to actually see the evidence of it.
As Fleet was determinedly looking at his hands in front of him he felt Clara shift beside him, nudging his shoulder lightly with hers.
Even sitting upright their height difference was clear, but this meant Clara easily leant her head against his shoulder.
In an inexplicable moment of courage, or perhaps he had allowed himself to relax too much, Fleet found himself pressing a soft kiss to the top of Clara's head. Her curls were loose and free from their usual complicated bun.
It felt like his heart stopped (again?) as she tilted her head to look up at him in response. She didn’t seem annoyed, in fact, she was smiling even as she stroked his cheek. Fleet’s eyelids felt heavy as he was drawn towards her without thinking, they kissed softly. Everything was still and quiet and Fleet could feel a nervous bubble of excitement in his chest.
Clara reared back sharply. Instantly Fleet felt a flood of panic wash over him instead.
"Oh no, I didn't mean to take advantage - I forgot you're concussed!" She apologised quickly, hand over her mouth.
Relief poured over him.
"Clara, I'm not concussed it was a minor head injury at best. See, I'm fine now." He gestured vaguely, trying to get across the fact he was feeling the same as always. Other than the additional tiredness he really was perfectly fine.
Clara seemed equally relieved,
“Oh good! Okay then. Great! Sorry - I'm nervous, erm we can continue then?”
Fleet laughed softly “Only if you want to”
“I’d like that, but just- just kissing. For now.” Clara told him, direct as ever.
Fleet felt his cheeks burn, he honestly hadn’t been thinking about that. Too surprised that they had made it this far.
“Of course” He promised.
He took one of her hands in his, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles gently before leaning in to kiss her again. It was difficult to recall the last time he had felt this happy, lacking the words he was looking for Archie settled for simply squeezing Clara’s hand lightly. He felt her smile as she wove their fingers together in response.