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Christmas Cheer

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“Fuuuck.” Pain radiates from his toes through his whole foot and he hops awkwardly backwards. The pain spikes briefly as he tentatively puts weight back on the foot and he swears again, under his breath this time in deference to Joe’s sensibilities.

Unsurprisingly, kicking the door has had no more effect on getting the locked and barred door open than pulling on the handle or throwing their combined weight at it had. It had made him feel better though, at least for a moment.

Joe, bless him, refrains from commenting on Ray’s momentary lack of control. “Someone’s got a twisted sense of humour,” he says mildly.

“Eh?”

Joe nods towards the doorway, and Ray sees that there’s a sprig of mistletoe protruding from a splintered and mouldy roof beam above the door. Not something you’d find growing naturally in an old, abandoned crypt.

“Funny,” Ray says flatly and goes back to staring at the assortment of items.

“Not really.”

“As far as your absolutely doolally psychopaths, though, this bunch is quite considerate, I suppose.” He’s making an effort to sound nothing more than mildly amused, but he’s not sure he’s pulled it off. This stuff. Jesus Christ. Do they really expect them to…? What else could it be for?

A shuffle of footsteps and a movement at the corner of his eye. Joe’s moved to look over his shoulder. “Why do you say that?”

“All the mod cons? Presumably they want us to be comfortable?”

“You think they expect us to ...”

Ray looks up. Joe’s looking a bit green around the gills. Ray doesn’t blame him.

“Looks like.” He shrugs. “I mean, what else could it be?”

Joe’s shoulders slump. He turns away, rubbing his hands over his face. “I must say, you seem to be taking this calmly,” he mutters.

Ray bites back a laugh. He suspects anything that comes out might sound a tad hysterical. “Oh, believe me, I’m not feeling at all calm.” He shrugs. “Not going to help either of us if I go off the deep end, though, is it?”

“I appreciate your restraint.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Now I know you’re not alright. Voluntarily talking about feelings?”

“Nothing about this situation is alright.”

“No.”

“I can’t say I ever remember them covering a situation like this in training.”

Joe’s lips press into a line that’s almost a smile. “Clearly the manuals need to be updated.”

“What about your fancy schmancy courses?”

“Hostage situations, yes. Confined spaces training—”

“What about getting captured? Torture?”

“We’re police, not the SAS!”

“Yeah, well. They’re gonna have to write a whole new chapter to deal with all the shite we get landed with.”

“Well, I mean, this time—”

“Sex cults, really?”

“To be fair, they’re not that uncommon.”

“Yes, but usually, they’re having sex with each other.”

“Or abducting victims,” Joe says sombrely.

Way to bring the mood down. “Well, that is a bright side, I guess,” Ray says, determinedly cheerful.

“Sorry?”

“That it’s just us. Here. Like this.” He gestures to the surprisingly clean stone altar. To the…items lined up neatly on the incongruous-looking IKEA side table next to it. Joe’s still blinking at him. “Not some random innocents off the street.”

Joe’s eyes close for a moment. He nods to himself once, and his eyes open and he takes a deep breath, squaring his shoulders. “What are we going to do?” he asks, his voice calm, resolute.

He can’t be contemplating… this. “Not, whatever those sick bastards have got in mind, for a start,” Ray says firmly.

“No, of course not,” Joe agrees. His shoulders slump and the line of his mouth relaxes.

“Presumably they’ll show up at some point to… persuade us.”

“We’ll deal with that when it happens,” Joe says with a confidence Ray can’t help feeling is a bit misplaced, given the circumstances. Still, they’ll give them a hell of fight. He nods at the stuff on the table. “Anything useful among that lot, do you reckon?”

Next to the three different types of lube and assorted packets of condoms, there’s a range of still and sparkling waters and even energy drinks. Joe picks up a small blue box and squints at it in the late afternoon sun that penetrates the gloom through the sadly-too-high-up-to-be-any-use windows. He rolls his eyes and tosses it down again.

“Do I want to know?”

“Viagra.”

“Oh, thanks very much,” Ray says loudly, glaring in the general direction of the door.

“I’m sure it’s not personal, Miles,” Joe says, with a hint of a smile lurking around his mouth. Ray’s glad to see it, even if the joke is clearly on him.

“Yeah, right,” he grumbles.

“Really,” Joe says. “I’m sure they realised that the atmosphere isn’t exactly conducive to…anything.”

“Well, they should have gone the whole hog and got us a nice comfy bed, then, shouldn’t they? I mean, a bloody great stone altar’s not exactly ideal is it? Even the most ardent Satan worshipper or emo teenager’s going to worry about the state of their knees, innit?”

“You’ve given this some thought.”

“Yeah, well, my knees aren’t the only thing that are going these days.”

“Oh, look.” Joe picks up something from behind the bottles of water and holds it up. Ugh. A tin of oysters. “There’s more where that comes from,” Joe says.

Ray’s stomach growls. They’d been too pleased with themselves at finding a possible lead to the cult’s location to stop for tea. Or back up. He’s kicking himself now, but not as much as Joe, he bets. But the rest of their team had been tied up with other duties and it’s not like they have any cred around the Met. Still, no point crying over spilt milk.

Joe’s still holding up the oysters, looking hopeful. “Knock yourself out,” Ray says, suddenly tired, and goes to sit down against the wall, because it’s the dirty floor or the spotlessly clean altar and that’s no choice at all.

 

He blinks awake in the darkness, his old bones protesting hours lying on the cold stone floor as he forces himself up into a sitting position. He squints at his watch. The glow of the hands points to it being early morning.

“Merry Christmas, Ray.”

Of course Joe’s still awake at this godawful hour. During the day the light filtering down from the tiny windows had been enough to make out the state of the floor. Ray had done his best to clear an area for them, using the half mouldy stack of newspaper he’d found in the corner to brush away the rat droppings and other detritus that Ray wasn’t game to look at closely. It’s no bed of roses, especially when he’d lay down to sleep and been forced to breathe shallowly, trying not to breathe in the smell and the dust that seems to be everywhere no matter how much he swept.

A nightmare for Joe. He hopes Joe’s been able to nap at least, although, given the ginger way he’d leant against the wall when he’d sat down hours earlier, Ray doubts it. “Merry Christmas, Joe,” he says, and nudges the shoulder of the invisible figure beside him.

“I’m sorry,” Joe says, so quietly his voice is nearly lost in the darkness.

“What for?”

“For getting you into this.”

“What, my job?”

“You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You should be at home with Judy and the kids at Christmas, not following tenuous leads that end up getting us abducted.”

“It obviously wasn’t tenuous, otherwise we wouldn’t be locked in this hole, would we? Anyway, so should you. I keep telling you, you’re always welcome. No one should be alone at Christmas and you’re practically family anyway.”

“You’re very kind, but—”

“Why’d you think we asked you to be Lily’s godfather? For your connections?” He bumps Joe’s shoulder with his own again. “Might be nice having one kid able to get into a posh school, I suppose.”

“You overestimate my influence.”

“What, my kid’s not good enough, that what you’re saying?” Ray’s trying to keep the mood light, but he can hear the strain in his own voice. He can’t help thinking that Lily will be waking up soon, excited to see what Father Christmas has brought her. The boys are too old now to believe, though Jack still pretends that he does. Presumably because he figures he can’t get a present from someone who doesn’t exist. Always an eye on the main chance, that one. Liam’s more laid back, but Ray has been looking forward to seeing their faces when they unwrap the new gaming system he’s got them. Kent says it’s the latest, greatest thing and that they’ll adore it. They’d better—it cost him an arm and a leg.

“Of course not,” Joe says, and Ray has to think for a moment to remember what they’d been talking about.

“No, I know.” Ray leans his shoulder carefully against Joe’s, on the lookout for any tell-tale flinch or stiffness. Joe’s not usually one for bodily contact, but Ray thinks he can be forgiven, given the circumstances. Joe just sighs though, and even relaxes slightly against him. Which is practically a hug by his standards, especially given how grimy Ray is from his night on the stone floor.

“I’m serious.”

“What about?”

“When we get out of here, you’re coming home with me.”

“Ray—”

“We’ve gone through too damn much together. Unless there’s an actual reason you can’t come, like the kids are too loud? Nothing I can do about that, especially at Christmas. If it’s that the place isn’t clean enough, we can get a cleaner in… Come to think of it, that would probably be the best present I could get Judy—"

“Alright,” Joe says loudly, and Ray closes his mouth. “You’ve convinced me, I would love to come, thank you.”

“Oh. Well. Good.”

They sit there, watching light creep across the floor.

It’s probably too much to hope that the cult members have taken the day off like everyone else in the world–more likely they’ll be showing up shortly to try and enact whatever loony tunes ritual they’ve come up with. They’ll fight them, obviously, but Ray doesn’t fancy their chances, Joe’s prep school boxing achievements notwithstanding. Not with the muscles on the thugs that’d picked them up and tossed them in here like sacks of potatoes. He’s got bruises already from the rough way they’d been relieved of their phones and ID.

“Don’t get a cleaner on my account,” Joe says, finally.

“No, alright.”

 

Inevitably, they hear sounds above them, a door crashing open, hurried footsteps clattering down the stairs. Ray tenses, feeling Joe do the same beside them, and then they’re clambering stiffly to their feet. Joe’s casting around, looking for something, anything to use as a weapon, as though they both hadn’t already combed the place and come up empty-handed. In desperation, Ray lurches forward and grabs a couple of cans of the fizzy energy drinks and starts shaking them, even as he holds one out to Joe.

Joe makes a face but takes it and keeps shaking it as they take up positions on either side of the door, their other hand on the tabs, ready to tear open.

“Boss? Skip? Are you there?”

For a moment Ray feels actually weak with relief and he slumps, seeing the tension bleed out of Joe’s shoulders as he beams at Ray.

It’s young Kent. Of course it is. Of course Kent wouldn’t just go off on leave without checking in with the boss. No doubt with some tastefully chosen gift that he’d spent way too long agonising about. They’d left the file on Joe’s desk, of course Kent figured it out. Someone should give that boy a raise.

There’s a scraping sound, as of something heavy being moved away from the door, and then the sound of bolts being drawn back. Then Kent is all but falling into the room, his eyes darting around until they land on Joe. They stay there. All the world’s in the kid’s eyes, not to mention plastered all over his face, just like it has been for years. God knows, Joe can’t not know how Kent feels about him, you didn’t need to be a detective to see it. Ray had assumed he’d been tactfully ignoring the issue to spare the boy’s feelings. He’d given up on Joe showing interest in anyone, man or woman. But if he’s not mistaken, by the way Joe is beaming right back at Kent, maybe he’s been wrong. And this is one instance where Ray wouldn’t mind being wrong, not at all.

“Oi, Skip?” Mansell and Riley have followed Kent into the room and are staring at the altar set up with wide eyes and Ray sees the smirk start to spread across Mansell’s face as the implications sink in.

“Never mind that,” Ray snaps. “Well?” he prompts.

“We got ‘em,” Riley says, grinning.

“What, all of them? You sure?”

“Yep. They didn’t even try to run. Uniforms are taking them off now.”

Ray looks at her sharply, unease churning in his stomach. They’ve been down this road before.

“Separate vans,” she says reassuringly.

Ray looks over at Joe, to see how he’s taking this, but Joe doesn’t even seem to have noticed the new arrivals.

Blimey, must be love.

The energy drink is taken out of Ray’s hands and he looks away from the two beaming idiots in time to see Mansell hold up the can. “Cheers,” he says, as he reaches for the tab. Ray considers it, he really does. He’ll forever swear up and down that he didn’t have time to warn him, as Mansell cracks the tab and the fizzy green liquid spurts directly into his face and Mansell swears and sputters.

Ray looks from the spluttering Mansell attempting to wipe the green muck out of his eyes to the way Joe and Kent seem to have eyes only for each other and can’t decide which sight is the better Christmas present.

No, there’s no contest. He’d better call Judy, let her know there’ll be two extra for Christmas dinner.