Pairing: Robbie Lewis/James Hathaway
Warnings (highlight to view): nothing to warn for
Thanks so much to yunitsa and Dorothy for most excellent beta and Britpicking assistance. Any remaining errors are mine.
Written for Maverick and the Purple Dove Project auction.
Robbie didn't remember much from the first few months after Val died. Of course, once the funeral was over and the kids were off on their own again – Lyn back to nursing school and Mark on his trek through the bloody Outback – he pretty much disappeared inside a bottle or twenty, so it made sense that the details were a bit hazy. The alcohol didn’t dull the pain, but after a while he found a certain detachment from himself, a comfort in the knowledge that he could drink himself into a state where his brain was too sluggish to chase its tail with endless what-ifs and regrets, where his sleep was too fitful to descend into nightmares where he imagined a horror he'd never witnessed, complete with the sounds of screeching tyres and piercing screams.
He couldn’t keep it up and stay alive, he knew that, but at the time not even that mattered terribly. He’d never been a great believer in an afterlife, but perhaps anything was better than this. Some of his friends – Laura, his old rugby mates – tried to help, in their well-meaning and sometimes awkward way, but nothing penetrated the fog. Robbie started to wonder if anything ever would, or if he wanted it to.
Finally, the old Chief retired and a new one came in, one who’d spent a couple of years in California where he’d learnt to be sensitive to the psychological needs of his staff – at least that’s how he’d put it. The next thing Robbie knew, he was going to see a counsellor and being kindly – but firmly – put on notice to pull his head out of his arse. He turned a corner after that, though it took him longer to dry out to the point where he could have a pint after work without it turning into five or six.
The counselling sessions were mostly bollocks, but one thing he learned stuck with him; that there was no timetable to grief, no right time to let go of this or that. Everyone had their own schedule, the counsellor said, and he'd know when it was right for him to make room in his life.
At the time, he'd thought that was bollocks, too. But then, nothing made sense without her.
The week before Robbie left for the Virgin Islands, he finally went into Val's cupboard and took out her clothes. He saved a couple of pieces – a blouse she'd especially liked that Lyn might want someday, her wedding dress – but everything else had gone to Oxfam. All of her other things – jewelry, books, the half-finished journal of poetry she'd kept in the bedside drawer – had been packed up with the rest of the flat, his possessions mingled with hers as though they were leaving together.
They'd talked about going on holiday to the Caribbean, but had never made it there. It took him nearly a month after he reached the islands to stop turning his head to ask her what she thought of the sunset, the beach, the bloody palm trees.
Robbie was in paradise, and she was nowhere to be found. He would have found that funny if he could have remembered how to laugh.
Three months after Robbie chose Hathaway as his Sergeant, he still wasn’t entirely sure it was going to work. He knew the problem was mostly his own. Everyone else seemed to view the lad as the golden boy, though Robbie also noticed he wasn’t the most popular, for obvious reasons. Hathaway was reserved, introspective, almost painfully bright, and he walked hunched into himself, a tall man trying to go through life as unobtrusively as possible. Something about that last irritated Robbie more than it should have, though he was at a loss to explain why.
When the first true cold snap hit in November, Robbie found himself hit with a devil of a cough. After Innocent got a butcher's at him, she ordered him to go home and stay home for at least the next three days. The last thing Robbie wanted was to stay cooped up in a flat half-full of unopened boxes packed with memories he hadn’t been able to confront, but he was too worn out to do much of anything else. By the first morning, the walls were starting to close in.
He was lying in bed near noon, wondering if he should even bother getting up, when there was a knock at the door. Groaning, Robbie dragged his arse out of bed, wrapped a robe round himself and shuffled down the hall to open it.
To his great surprise, Hathaway was standing there with one of those reusable Tesco bags and a look on his face that could best be described as enigmatic. “Sergeant? Do we have a case, then?”
Hathaway shook his head. “Oxford is blessedly murder-free at the moment, sir.” He held up the bag. “I came to, erm. Well, I wasn't sure if you'd be up for cooking for yourself, so I thought I might.”
“You want to – cook for me?” Robbie asked. He couldn't have been more shocked if Hathaway had walked in and suddenly started pirouetting about the flat.
“My great-aunt's scotch broth recipe. Guaranteed to reduce your misery by at least half.”
Suddenly realising he was standing there blocking the doorway like a git, Robbie stepped back to let Hathaway in. “Can I get that in writing?” he asked.
Hathaway raised an eyebrow at him, a slight curve to his mouth. “Don't trust me, sir?” he shot back, and the lad might have been a great gangly question mark most of the time, but there was another meaning there, clear as day.
Robbie met the challenge in his gaze. “I suppose I make you do enough paperwork as it is,” he said softly.
As Hathaway walked past him into the flat, Robbie noticed he was standing a bit straighter than usual. He decided to count that as a victory.
On the first truly warm day of spring, Robbie began going through the few things he'd managed to unpack: the kitchen, the CD collection, nothing that had real sentimental value. While there were a few old records he'd never part with – songs they danced to when they were first going round together – they'd actually had widely divergent tastes in music, and it was easy enough to separate his from hers. There was no sentimental value for him in Chris de Burgh or the Corrs; Val had mostly played her music when she was alone, or when they'd traded off on a long car journey.
He picked up an unfamiliar CD near the stereo marked with scrawled writing in black felt tip: Assorted #3. That didn't belong to either of them, he was sure of it. How had it ended up here? And then he remembered it must be Hathaway's. The lad had brought it over that time he'd made the soup – said it helped him create culinary masterpieces. Robbie had sat stretched out on the couch watching Hathaway chop carrots and celery, his movements efficient and yet oddly graceful, as an eclectic collection of music from Billie Holliday to Thin Lizzy played in the background. He'd fallen asleep as the smell of cooking began to waft through the flat.
Robbie supposed he should bring the CD with him to the nick tomorrow morning, since Hathaway was probably missing it. He turned it over in his hands, then placed it carefully beside the stereo before going back to sorting the others.
In the end, it happened exactly as the counsellor said it might: one Sunday morning, Robbie woke up and started in on the boxes, even before boiling the kettle. Five hours later, he was starving and sitting amidst a pile of papers and other bits and bobs. Most of them were rubbish – old bills, scribbled notes from working on cases with Morse, a receipt for the fridge he no longer owned. Those were easily disposed of.
He found the letters and postcards inside an old biscuit tin. It had become a bit of a habit, something only known to the two of them. One time not long after he was made DS he'd gone to Cardiff on a course, just an overnight, but she'd clung to his neck and said, promise me you'll write as though he were going off to war. She'd meant it as a joke, but that night he'd written her a proper letter on the hotel stationery, filled with silly nonsense. It had arrived two days after he got home. The next time she'd left to go back up North to visit her mum, she'd sent him a postcard of the Tyne Bridge. Sipping a mai tai on the beach. Wish you were here.
Promise me you'll write, he'd told her just before she'd boarded the train for her shopping trip to London. For a full week afterward, he'd both dreaded and hoped that something might arrive in the post, but nothing ever came. There would be no more words.
Robbie stared at the looping scrawl of her writing, traced the graceful curve of an l with a fingertip. Carefully, he brushed over the places where his wife's hands had once slid and pressed, read each scrap of paper over and over until the words blurred.
The second time Robbie heard the CD, Hathaway was sitting beside him on the couch, their elbows bumping companionably now and then as they drank their beers.
I meant to return that to you, Robbie thought, but it was a lie, and in the end he held his tongue.
When James left, he didn’t take the CD with him. Robbie made a spot for it on his shelf, and it stayed there, wedged between Eric Clapton and Mozart.
The new mattress was the latest in orthopaedic support and easily the most comfortable one he’d ever owned, but it wasn't theirs any longer. It was only his.
For a mad moment, he thought about returning to the skip and retrieving the old one. Almost immediately, he dismissed it as ridiculous. He'd wreck his back for sure without James to help him this time. It had been raining when they'd left; doubtless it was already soaked through, ruined. And in the morning, someone would come and take it away to be buried or burned –
“Christ,” Robbie whispered, turning his face into the pillow, which was another ridiculous thing. After all, there was no one there to hear him.
It was a slow process, because Robbie didn't waste money replacing things for the sake of replacing them, but over time more things he owned became solely his rather than his and Val's. The microwave stopped working; the curtains in the living room grew faded; he broke dishes and eventually bought a new set; he wore a hole in the upholstery of his favourite chair and had it recovered. That last had been a struggle – the shop insisted he bring home swatches to help him decide, but it was too much choice, and they lay sprawled in a random pattern over the old chair, testament to his indecision.
Or at least they did until Hathaway arrived one morning to pick him up for work and raised an eyebrow at them.
“Go on, say I'm mad and get it over,” Robbie grumbled.
“Not a bit.” He wandered over to inspect the selection as Robbie finished knotting his tie. “I don't know how people are supposed to choose based on a tiny scrap of fabric.” After staring at them for a few moments, he picked one up. Robbie watched his long fingers caress the soft material, then looked away.
“Hm, no,” Hathaway murmured, picking up another one. “This one, I think.”
“Black?” Actually, that had been Robbie's first choice, but he'd dismissed it as too dramatic. Val would have hated it.
“More a charcoal, really,” Hathaway said. He nodded at the couch. “Goes with the red.”
“If you make some bloody reference to nineteenth-century French authors…” Robbie began.
“I didn’t know you liked Stendahl,” James said. Robbie ignored the idiotic thrill he got from seeing the small, approving smile on Hathaway’s face.
“Don’t get excited, it was for school, back in the Stone Age. And only in translation.”
Hathaway’s smile lingered, and Robbie took a step forwards and took the small square of fabric from him. Their fingertips brushed against one another.
Robbie cleared his throat before he spoke. “So. Charcoal.”
“Charcoal,” Hathaway echoed, nodding.
Robbie stared at the bag in James' outstretched hands. “What's that, then?”
“It's a present,” James said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. It was a quiet Friday afternoon at the station, about half the staff having taken the day off to extend their bank holiday weekend. Both of them were leaving early, James to play with his band in Birmingham and Robbie to Manchester to see Lyn.
“It's not me birthday, and we're three months to Christmas.”
“It's a small thank you for the lift to Birmingham.”
“Eh, you didn't need to do that. It's not as though it's out of the way.”
Hathaway jerked the bag at him impatiently. “Just take it. Sir,” he added.
Robbie shot him a look, but did as instructed. There was a large, square box in the bag; Robbie studied the photos on the outside, frowning.
“It's for salad,” James said, unnecessarily; the photos were quite clear on that. “You put your greens in and wash them, and then you push the lever on the top and it spins everything dry.”
“I think I can figure it out,” Robbie said, deadpan. “Is this a message, Sergeant?”
“Tell me, do you have some kind of secret access to my medical records?”
Hathaway focused his gaze on a point somewhere off Robbie's left shoulder. “No, I don't. But I’ve been told I’m half a not bad detective, and you were not terribly happy after you came back from the doctor's last week. And since then you've been drinking orange juice exclusively and you turned me down when I offered you some of my crisps the other day.”
“They were prawn cocktail,” Robbie said, making a face. At Hathaway's aggrieved look, he sighed and said, “All right, you win. Me weight's up – a little,” he amended. “The doctor asked me what I ate in the run of a week, and – yeah. Too much takeaway, too few healthy meals.” Robbie carefully put the box back in the bag. “So you’re a bit of a mother hen, but you're right, I need to be eating better. This'll help. Thank you.”
“Don't mention it,” James said, a small smile tugging at his lips. “I'll see you around four, then?”
“Four, yeah. I'll ring you if I'm going to be any later.” James nodded once, then headed out.
Back home a half hour later, Robbie took the spinner out of its box and opened the cupboard near the sink. There'd been an empty space there for some time, ever since Robbie had boxed the fondue set – a wedding gift from Val's parents – and taken it to the charity shop. James' gift fit there perfectly, and Robbie stared at it for a long time before closing the door.
Hathaway's face was drawn and haggard when Robbie opened the door. “I came straightaway,” he said, breathless. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” Robbie said, frowning. “Why would you think something was wrong?”
“You texted me!” James said. “You never text me.”
“Didn't want to ring you in the middle of your practice, did I?” Robbie said, nodding at the guitar case in James' hand. James stared at him for a moment, then actually sagged against the doorframe. “Eh, I'm sorry, lad,” Robbie said, rubbing the back of his neck. Perhaps it had been a stupid idea, but as soon as he'd heard the first person he'd wanted to tell was James.
“No, it's fine, I just –” He straightened again. “You said to come over. That you had something to tell me.”
“Our Lyn had her baby. A little boy.”
James' face broke into a huge grin. Robbie was astonished when his breath stopped in his throat at the sight. “Oh, that's wonderful. How are they?”
“Fine, they're both fine,” he said. “Look, come in, I owe you a drink after scaring you half to death.” He led the way into the flat, James trailing behind. After a moment's debate, he reached into the fridge and took out the bottle.
Robbie felt his cheeks flush as he turned to the cupboard to fetch the glasses. “It's appropriate for a celebration, I've heard,” he muttered.
“Right, yeah,” James said. There was an awkward silence as Robbie unhooked the cage around the cork, snagged a towel and wrapped it round the top of the bottle. “Shouldn't we wait?”
Hathaway waved a bony hand. “Isn't, erm, Laura coming?”
Robbie paused with his hand fisted around the cork. “I rang her to tell her,” he said carefully. “She's very happy for me.”
James cocked his head at him, like a dog listening for a whistle.
“Oh, all right,” Robbie huffed, the words pouring out in a rush. “We called it off last week – decided we're better off as friends. I didn't want to invite her over and make her think I was trying to – you know.”
Hathaway went utterly motionless for a long moment, long enough that Robbie began to wonder if he'd fallen asleep standing up. Finally, he drew a breath in through his nose, then nodded. “Right, yeah,” he repeated. “Don't want to send the wrong message.”
Neither of them elaborated on the message Robbie might be sending by inviting Hathaway to join him. It was possible, Robbie supposed, to dismiss it – a simple desire to not be alone for such an important occasion – but he knew that was a lie, and he suspected James did, too. The truth was, apart from the soft, distant ache at Val's absence, he hadn't wanted to share this with anyone else.
Shaking his head to clear it, Robbie tightened his grip and twisted the cork. It came free with a low thudding pop, and he removed the towel and began to pour. They raised their glasses, looking into one another's eyes.
“Congratulations,” James said softly.
“Thank you,” Robbie murmured, touching their glasses together before drinking.
As Robbie led the way to the living room, James said, “I expect you'll be going up in the morning.”
“Yeah, I was planning on it. Innocent gave her blessing. Not much going on right now.”
James sat down on the couch, took another sip of his champagne. “Have they decided on a name?”
“Arthur Robert Colin MacTavish. The two granddads for the middle names, and Arthur – well, I have no idea how they picked that one.”
“It's a good, solid name.” Hathaway scrunched up his nose. “As long as people don't start calling him Art. Or Artie.”
“Not much for nicknames, are you? You hated it when I called you Jim, though you never troubled to tell me.”
James smiled. “Lucky thing you're half a not bad detective. You figured it out.” His gaze drifted down, then flicked back up again, and Robbie realised James had been looking at his mouth. Christ.
“I still call you Jim sometimes,” Robbie murmured.
“Only when you're taking the mickey.” They stared at one another. Robbie's heart was pounding in his chest. He wondered if James' heart was doing the same.
Suddenly, Robbie was on his feet and not entirely sure how he'd gotten there. “I should – get the champagne bottle,” he managed. As he fled to the kitchen, he thought he heard a huff of breath behind him, and then Hathaway was standing, too. For a moment, Robbie was terrified he would leave. He didn't want James to leave, but had no idea if he had the courage to make him want to stay.
He needn't have worried, though, because James only went to the hall to pick up his guitar case and brought it back to the living room. As Robbie topped up their glasses, James took out his guitar and began to tune it. His body was arched over it, his normal slouching posture transformed and made oddly beautiful.
“We played a new song tonight,” James murmured, his eyes downcast, focused on his instrument. “Would you like to hear it?”
Robbie looked down at Hathaway, at the curve of his long neck, the curling hairs at his nape. He was sitting in the same place he always did on the couch, as though he belonged there. It was a moment before Robbie could find his voice. “I would,” he answered, and it sounded like a confession, or a vow. Perhaps it was both.
James didn't look up, but he unbent a little, sitting taller as he splayed his fingers across the frets, forming the first chord.
Later, Robbie found a guitar pick on the coffee table. He placed it on the shelf beside the CD player, smiling to himself.
“He’s beautiful, love,” Robbie said, one finger brushing the tiny hand, nails impossibly small and perfectly formed.
Lyn gazed down at her son. “He is, isn’t he?” She looked tired, but happy. “I still can’t really believe he’s here. Is that strange? It’s not as though it should be a surprise.”
“No. We felt the same way about you. New parents are always a little stunned.”
“Good thing I have you to provide the voice of experience,” Lyn said, smiling at him. “So when are you retiring and coming up to live near us?”
“Eh, pet, you know I –” Robbie looked away. “I'm not ready to retire. But I'll be up to see you as much as I can.”
Lyn sighed. “Don't worry. I didn't really expect that to work.” She paused, bit her lip. “Can I ask you a question?”
Robbie straightened, suddenly wary. “You can ask.”
“Is there something else keeping you in Oxford? Besides work, I mean.”
Robbie's mouth opened, shut again. “I – I suspect there might be,” he said finally.
Lyn laughed. “What kind of an answer is that?”
“It means I don't know – yet,” Robbie answered.
“You're being very mysterious.”
Robbie smiled. “Got to keep a little mystery. Especially when you're an old bugger like me.”
“You're not that old,” Lyn said, taking his hand and squeezing it. “Well, whatever it is, I hope it makes you happy, Dad.”
“Thanks, pet,” Robbie said, squeezing back. “I hope so, too.” Releasing her hand and getting to his feet, he said, “I brought a few things – things your mum kept from when you were a newborn. A silver spoon, a quilt, a couple of onesies, a hat. I thought they might do for the wee one.”
Lyn’s eyes brimmed. “Yeah,” she said, her voice rough. “I think they’ll do fine.”
His own vision suddenly a little misty, Robbie leaned down and kissed her forehead before going to fetch the bag he’d brought.
A month later, Robbie invited James over for dinner.
“What shall I pick up on my way over?” James asked. “Curry? Fish and chips?”
“Nothing. You're getting a proper cooked meal.” James' eyes bulged. “Oh, go on with you. I can cook.”
James shook his head. “I didn't mean...” he began, then trailed off. Robbie realised they were standing quite close in front of the open door to the office. They blinked at one another stupidly for a moment, and then James sucked in a breath. “I, erm. What time?”
Time, time. He'd known the answer to this question a minute ago. “Seven?”
Robbie watched James' Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. “Yeah, that sounds – good.” He cleared his throat. “Right, then, I'm –” he pointed a finger at the door. “I'll see you.”
He spun sideways as he went out the door and nearly went crashing into Innocent. Robbie winced at the sound of James' stammering apologies, and then her head appeared round the door frame.
“What on earth is the matter with your Sergeant?” she demanded.
Robbie felt his cheeks grow warm. “I think he's feeling a bit dizzy, ma'am.”
“Then he should go home,” Innocent snapped. “In fact, so should you. You were both in court this morning, and you turned in that report. That's enough for one day.”
“Thank you, ma'am. That's very kind of you.”
Innocent rolled her eyes. “Oh, sod off and get out of my nick, Lewis,” she said, as affectionately as she ever could.
“Ma'am,” Robbie said crisply, already grabbing his jacket off the coat hook and shrugging into it.
James arrived at seven on the dot, and began babbling almost before Robbie had the door open. “I know you said not to bring anything, but I thought wine is always a good idea,” he said, hoisting the bag he was holding for Robbie to see. “I wasn't sure what we were having, so I brought one of each.”
“Thanks,” Robbie said, taking the bag from him. Privately, he wondered if James had already been dipping into the wine a little. “Lyn taught me how to make lasagne, and that's what you're getting, if you've no objection. Otherwise it's beans on toast.”
“Lasagne sounds wonderful,” James said, following behind Robbie as he headed to the kitchen. “Can I do anything?”
“You can, actually,” Robbie said, bending to reach into the cupboard, “you can help with this bloody thing.” And with that, he turned and held out the salad spinner.
James stared at it for a moment, his jaw twitching, his face going completely unreadable. Then he plucked the thing from Robbie's unresisting grip, set it on the counter, and took Robbie's face in his hands.
“Sorry,” James murmured, leaning down, “need to get this out of the way first.”
The press of James' mouth was everything and nothing like Robbie had been expecting. There was a hint of wine – white, Robbie thought – and the slight scratch of stubble (very slight; he must have shaved before coming over), but there was also the barely-there touch of his fingertips against Robbie’s cheeks, the tremble that he felt run through his own palms as Robbie molded his hands to the lad’s narrow hips, the shocking jolt of arousal that spiked through his gut when James briefly tugged Robbie’s lower lip between his teeth before pulling away.
“So kissing me’s something to be got out of the way, is it?” Robbie murmured, when he could find his voice again.
James’ hands were still on Robbie’s face; his thumb brushed against Robbie’s mouth before he let go. “It is when it’s been all you can think about for hours,” he said. “When you’re exhilarated and hopeful and yet terrified you’re going to cock it up because you’ve got it all horribly, horribly wrong.”
Robbie reached up to caress James’ face; James leaned into the touch, closing his eyes. “You’re not wrong. Just bloody daft to want an old, broken-down copper.”
“We could argue about that, or I could kiss you again,” James said. “Your choice.”
“Cheeky sod,” Robbie muttered, sliding his hand around the back of the lad’s neck to tug him down.
Still half-asleep, Robbie pulled back the curtains and reeled a bit as the sunlight hit him like a slap in the face. He heard a soft groan from the body still sprawled in the bed behind him.
“Oi, time to get up, lazybones,” Robbie said. “We’re off to Lyn’s today.”
“Mmmpppphhh,” James said. He rolled to his back, bringing the pillow with him and covering his face with it.
Shaking his head, Robbie opened the cupboard to find a pair of trousers, and found himself staring at two of James’ suits hung on the left side, along with four shirts, a hoodie, and an assortment of his ridiculously narrow ties on a rack. There was a pair of jeans and a few carefully folded t-shirts on the shelf above, and a pair of bright red canvas trainers on the floor. He remembered James asking permission when he’d first put a change of clothes in there a couple of months ago, but until now, it hadn’t struck him just how much of James’ wardrobe had migrated to his flat.
He started when James’ hands landed on his shoulders. “All right?” James murmured, dropping a kiss on Robbie’s shoulder.
Robbie drew in a deep breath, let it out.
There’s room, he thought. There’s room enough.
“Yeah,” he said, reaching up to lay his hands on top of James’, leaning back into him and feeling him take the weight. “Yeah, it is.”
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