No Time Like the Present
Pairing: Robbie Lewis/James Hathaway
Warnings (highlight to view): sexual situations
Written for dominique012 and Lewis Secret Santa on Lewis Challenge.
It happens like this, with a sudden thunderclap and a swift, dizzying fall, and Robbie Lewis has always been a little thick about these things, but afterwards he thinks that this is impressively thick even for him.
It happens after seven years and countless late nights and early mornings. It happens after quarrels and awkward apologies and laughter and risking their lives for one another. It happens after both of them have packed it in, after seeing far too much death, after harbouring far too many regrets at not being quick enough to save one more life.
It happens after Laura has moved to Berlin to live with Franco, following her heart with Robbie's encouragement, because he knows she'll never be as happy with him. It happens after the pang of wishing he'd been more of a selfish bastard has completely faded, and he goes back to believing he wasn't meant to find true love twice in his life.
It happens in the fruit and veg aisle at Waitrose in the middle of a Saturday morning, because life has a way of knocking you for six in the most absurd way possible.
Robbie notices the woman smiling at them as Hathaway tutors him in the finer points of Asian vegetables. "Bok choy has a sharp flavour that adds a proper kick to stir-frys," he's saying, placing it in Robbie's basket. To be fair, though, Robbie has no one to blame but himself; he asked for the clever clogs' help in planning a dinner for Lyn, with the specification that it had to be healthy so that she'd quit fussing over him. Of course, Hathaway had taken this to mean, 'use every bloody vegetable known to humankind', and now Robbie's basket is half full of things he's never heard of.
"I still don't see what's wrong with bean sprouts and celery and mushrooms," Robbie says. "That's how we used to make chow mein back in the day."
Hathaway heaves a put-upon sigh. "You're hopeless," he says, but his mouth is fighting a smile. He turns away, doubtless to pick another vegetable whose name Robbie won't be able to pronounce, when he clocks the woman still standing nearby, and lifts his chin to return her gaze.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to eavesdrop," she says, taking a step forward, "it's only that your conversation is terribly familiar. You see, my wife is the same way - can't tell a courgette from a cactus."
"Oi, I'm not that bad," Robbie says in mock protest, and then it hits him that they've just been mistaken for a married couple - again. It hasn't happened since they left the force, but it used to occur with some regularity when they were coppers.
Hathaway, in full piss-taking mode, turns back to him and purrs, "Oh, but darling, you are." He and the woman both grin at him, and before Robbie can react, James leans in and kisses him on the cheek.
It's a chaste kiss, over in a moment, but it sets Robbie's head to spinning. He barely registers the woman laughing and bidding them goodbye, because everything's gone a bit squidgy round the edges. He tells himself it was a joke, only a jape to get him stroppy, and he should play his part and grumble and growl like an old bear, but he can't seem to remember how to speak.
James is staring at him, eyes wide. He opens his mouth, doubtless to apologise, and suddenly Robbie can't stand the thought of him saying he shouldn't have done it.
"You do realise you're going to have to help me cook this lot, don't you?" Robbie manages to croak. "I won't have the first idea of what to do with any of it."
James blinks at him for a moment, then ducks his head. "I - erm -"
Belatedly, Robbie realises that James does have a life separate from his own. "I mean, unless you've already made dinner plans for tonight. It's Saturday and all."
James looks up. "No, I - I'd be happy to help."
"Good. Six o'clock?"
James nods. "Sir, I -" he begins, and Robbie flinches, because James hasn't called him that in a year.
Before James can continue, Robbie plucks something at random out of his basket. "What's the name of this one again? It looks like the Green Man's left bollock, but I don't think Lyn will be best impressed if I call it that."
James releases a startled laugh, and tells him. Five minutes later, Robbie's forgotten the proper name again, but it doesn't matter, because James seems to have forgotten the apology, too.
Lyn's visiting Oxford over the weekend to catch up with an old school chum, which means Robbie has his grandson all to himself for the afternoon. He's pushing the pram down the high street, Peter dead to the world after exhausting himself in Hinksey Park chasing the ducks, when he spies Hathaway sitting at a table out in front of a café. Lewis feels a smile take hold as he remembers the thousand or so times they'd spent pouring caffeine down their necks at places like these: the only difference now is that James isn't smoking. He still struggles now and again, but he's mostly given it up, and Robbie couldn't be more pleased.
James' attention is on a small pile of papers; as Robbie draws nearer, he sees the lad make a notation in red pencil. He frowns at the page, chewing on the end of the pencil thoughtfully.
"As glad as I am you're not giving yourself lung cancer," Robbie says, "you're going to muck up your teeth if you acquire that habit."
James' head snaps up, and his frown dissolves into a pleased smile. Robbie's heart thuds in his chest. "Nag, nag, nag," he drawls, still smiling, then begins to clear the table.
"I'm only passing through," Robbie protests. "I don't want to interrupt your work."
James snorts. "Not interrupting at all. The words were beginning to blur together." He waves a hand at the chair beside him, and Robbie sits, pulling up the pram to the table so that it doesn't block the way. "I'm meant to be judging their grasp of Aquinas, but I find myself mired in correcting their atrocious grammar."
"Not the best and the brightest, then?" Robbie drawls.
"Sadly not," James agrees, getting to his feet. "The usual?"
Robbie reaches for his wallet, which earns him a frown to rival the one James bestows on sub-standard treatises on the saints. "Don't you dare. Be back in a tick."
When he returns a few minutes later with coffee just the way Robbie likes it and his favourite biscuit, Robbie watches him for signs that James is affected by what happened earlier, an old copper digging for clues in the twitch of a lip or a flush in the cheeks. But either it didn't mean anything to James or he's foxier than most of the murderers they've dealt with, because he doesn't show a single sign that anything's changed between them.
Robbie tells himself he should be grateful for that, but he can't manage it. In fact, he finds himself growing more and more disgruntled as James makes seemingly effortless small talk, asking after Lyn, teasing out the details of the expedition to the park. When Peter wakes up, it's a welcome distraction, a chance for Robbie to regain his equilibrium. The bairn demands attention, so Robbie pulls him onto his lap, where he proceeds to stare at James as though he's never seen him before. But then, Robbie supposes it's been six months or more since Lyn was last in Oxford, an eternity for a toddler.
"Hello there," James says, leaning in with a smile. "I don't suppose you remember me. I'm James."
"The hippie hair must be throwing him off," Robbie observes. James rolls his eyes - it's not the first time Robbie's mentioned the fact that the lad's let it grow, though it's nowhere near his shoulders. To tell the truth, Robbie likes him with longer hair - it looks baby-fine, soft to the touch, and bugger, he has to stop.
James covers his face with his hands, then flips them outwards like barn doors, revealing a maniacal grin. Of course, peek-a-boo is Peter's weakness, and he squeals delightedly and lurches forward, trying to reach James. Robbie catches hold of him just before he topples, but it's a close thing. Peter squirms in his grip, and his squeal turns outraged. "No!" he shouts. "Wanna!"
"I can see that you are a man of strong opinions," James says, leaning in so that Peter can reach his nose with the tips of his fingers. "However, your Poppa is remarkably strong for a man of his years -" here, Robbie shoots him a dirty look, but all of James' attention is on the wee one, "- and he's strangely determined to keep you from falling."
Peter whimpers a little, hands still outstretched towards James, and Robbie huffs, "Here, then, you might as well give it a go."
James' eyes widen comically as Robbie rises to his feet and passes Peter over to him. "I, erm -"
Peter emits a squeal of delight and immediately proceeds to try to stand on James' lap. James' arms go round him instinctively, ensuring he doesn't fall. "Nice to see your reflexes are still in good nick," Robbie observes drily as Peter, having reached his goal, begins to tug on James' hair.
"Oh, God, I'm terrified I'll drop him," James murmurs, staring at Peter as though he might suddenly evade his grasp and crack his skull on the pavement.
"You're doing fine, lad," Robbie insists, voice gentle. James raises his head, catching Robbie's gaze, and Robbie stares at the man holding his grandson and wonders why he hasn't thought of this before.
"Now there's a handsome boy!" Startled, Robbie turns to see a woman looking at them, beaming. She comes closer and leans in towards Peter, tickling him under the chin. "Your dad and granddad must be very proud."
"Not exactly," James says. The woman straightens, giving James a withering look of disapproval. "I don't mean that we're not proud," James adds hastily, "only that we're not exactly dad and granddad."
The woman stares at them, and Robbie fancies he can hear the gears grinding. "Oh. Oh!" Her cheeks flush. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed. My daughter's friend - she has two fathers, and it's - erm - perfectly all right, of course. They're really excellent parents. Everyone thinks so."
"We're glad you approve," James says icily, clearly not the least bit interested in correcting this woman any further.
Some devil in Robbie decides it's time to play. "Now then, love," he says, laying a hand on James' shoulder, "I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it." And before he can think too closely about why he's doing it, he bends down and kisses James on the cheek.
At least that's what he intends, but at the last moment James turns his head towards him and Robbie's lips are suddenly brushing against the edge of James' mouth. Robbie's eyes fly open, and his field of vision is filled with James' gobsmacked expression. And then James turns his head a couple of crucial inches more, bringing their mouths together, and Robbie knows he should pull back but James' eyes slide shut and there's a soft but certain pressure that wasn't there before and bugger, James is kissing him.
Robbie has no idea how much time has passed, but he's brought back abruptly to reality when Peter's small hand delivers a surprisingly powerful slap to the side of his face. He jerks away, startled, and looks at Peter, who's giggling as though he's just told the world's funniest joke. James is rubbing ruefully at his own cheek.
"Two at once. He's a talented one, isn't he?" Robbie says, trying to make light of it. He realises belatedly that they've given the lady more of a show than he'd been planning. When he glances round, though, she's nowhere to be seen.
He hasn't the slightest idea of what to do or say. Once again, thankfully, Peter saves the day. He's fussing on James' lap, struggling to get down. "I think he's trying to make a break for it," James says, a hint of terror in his voice, and Robbie sighs and scoops him up, receiving a twinge in his back for his trouble.
"Well, I suppose I'll let you get back to it, then," he says, as brightly as he can. He's beginning to feel foolish, wondering if he's hallucinated the last couple of minutes, when James looks up at him, and Robbie realises he hasn't imagined any of it. He didn't imagine James kissing him, and he isn't imagining the look in his eyes now, which clearly suggests he'd quite like to do it again. Robbie's heart starts racing double-quick.
"Yeah," James says, gaze unwavering, a nearly-imperceptible smile playing at his lips, as though he would be smug if he thought he could get away with it. "See you at six?"
Robbie nods, then bustles Peter into his pram and hurries off before he can do something ridiculous - well, more ridiculous than what he's already managed - in the middle of the high street.
Hathaway arrives at six on the dot with a bottle of white wine and a pink tinge to his cheeks that tells Robbie he may have already put a dent in another bottle before he left home. Lyn greets him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and Robbie grins at the gobsmacked expression James throws him over her shoulder.
"Where's Peter, then?" James asks, as he uncorks the wine and pours Lyn a glass.
"Down for a nap, thank God," Lyn says, taking it from him with a smile. "Dad wore him out this afternoon."
"He's grown quite a bit since I saw him last," James tells her. At Lyn's puzzled expression, James adds, "He and Robbie ran into me whilst I was feeding my caffeine habit this afternoon."
"We interrupted his very important work," Robbie confirms. "Shaping the young minds of tomorrow."
James makes a face at him, and Lyn laughs. "Shaping, or warping?" she asks, playfully.
"Depends on the day," James answers, passing another glass to Robbie. Their fingers brush, and Robbie's stomach dips, not unpleasantly. "Cheers."
They make small talk for a few minutes before the sound of Peter's snuffling cries draws Lyn away. As soon as she's gone, James turns towards him, takes a step, and Robbie feels a kick of panic at the look in his eyes - Christ, James is going to kiss him right here in the kitchen, with his daughter and grandson not twenty feet down the hall.
"Well," Robbie says bracingly, clapping his hands together, "supper won't make itself, lad." There's a breathless moment where James stops, thwarted, before his expression settles into one of understanding. Robbie hopes James understands it as later rather than never, but thinks he has his answer when James bumps his shoulder gently against Robbie's as they stand at the counter, Robbie chopping the Green Man's left bollock while James heats oil in the pan.
Robbie doesn't want to say he doesn't enjoy dinner, but when it's over, he barely remembers anything of the actual meal. Instead, his head is filled with James' unfettered laughter as the three of them chat, the way he grins when Lyn compliments them both on the stir-fry, the warm splay of his hand on Robbie's lower back when they follow her to the kitchen to do the washing up. When Lyn is finally hugging him goodbye, he can't believe over three hours have passed.
"Safe journey," James says, and Lyn, smiling, leans up and kisses James on the cheek, then whispers something in his ear that Robbie can't hear. James' expression goes momentarily blank and his cheeks flush, and when he straightens, he nods at her solemnly. "I will," he says, and Robbie may not know much about priestly vows, but he'll bet that one's as serious as any of those promises.
"Ring me when you get home tomorrow, pet," Robbie says, and with a last fond wave, Lyn's off. There's a long, awkward moment while they stand with frozen smiles in the doorway watching her get into the car and drive away. Then they step back inside, shut the door, and reach for one another, as though they've been doing exactly this for years, as though Robbie's been thinking about having James under his hands and his mouth forever.
When they surface for air, they're both gasping; Robbie feels giddy with lack of oxygen and the realisation that he's just been snogging James Hathaway and enjoying it immensely. James presses his face to Robbie's shoulder, muffling his laughter. Robbie's about to be offended when he catches the note of sheer joy in it.
"What's so funny, then, eh?" Robbie says, nosing at James' ear.
"Not funny," James says, "just - wonderful." His arms slide around Robbie's middle, holding on a bit too tightly, as though he's afraid Robbie will vanish if he doesn't.
As though he's dreamed of exactly this, and can't quite believe it's real.
"James, lad," Robbie breathes, but before he can say anything else, James is kissing him again, and he gives up thinking to bury his hands in hair as soft as it looks.
Later, much later, as he watches James sleep, Robbie supposes he should be a great deal more fussed about this sharp, short fall than he is, which is hardly at all. He's not terribly worried about who he is now, or what they are to one another. Any road, it's much more pleasant to remember how soft James' lips were, the choked-off, vulnerable sounds he made as Robbie touched him, how it felt as though after seven years he was finally seeing right into the core of him, enigmas stripped away to fragile bone.
He's trying hard in this moment not to peer too far into the future, but he thinks he could get used to this.
Beside him, James stirs, startles a little when he realises Robbie's watching him. "What's the matter?" he asks, still groggy.
"Nothing," Robbie says. "Nothing at all." He brushes back a stray lock covering James' left eye, then can't resist playing with it a bit.
"I daresay you like the hippie hair more than you'd care to admit," James murmurs.
"Brilliant deduction." Robbie tugs on it gently, then leans in to kiss him. When James returns it, Robbie can tell he's smiling.
"I meant to ask you," Robbie says, pulling back, "what our Lyn said to you as she was leaving."
James looks away. "Nothing terribly important."
Robbie doesn't say anything to that, just continues to stroke his hair, and after a moment James sighs and meets his gaze. "She told me to be good to you."
Robbie remembers James' nod and his quiet promise, and his heart does an odd little jig. "I sucppose we could try being good to one another, eh?"
James kisses Robbie softly. "We already are," he murmurs, the vibration against his lips making Robbie shiver. "Sir."
Robbie gives him the eye. "I'll show you 'sir'," he growls, then proceeds to follow through on his own promise.
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