To Rise From the Ashes
He’s watching Gardeners’ World and feeling thankful that he gave up the allotment when there’s three sharp knocks at the front door. Robbie sighs, muting the television, and gets up. There’s only one person who knocks like that.
Oh, he knows they have to have this out some time. But he was hoping to put it off for a while longer. It’s only fair that he gets to be the one to choose the time and the place. He was the one lied to, after all: betrayed and deceived by the man he trusted above all others.
Think positive, Robbie. It could be work.
It’s not work. When he opens the door, Hathaway – James – is dressed in cargo pants and an oversized T-shirt. He’s carrying a four-pack of Robbie’s favourite bitter, and the cut’s still livid on his cheek.
“Hathaway.” He keeps his voice as matter-of-fact as when he was in James’ hospital room, and he doesn’t step away from the door.
“Can I come in, sir?” There’s none of his usual clipped confidence tonight.
Best just to get it over with. He steps back and walks along the hallway, his back to James. “Come on, then.”
In the living-room, James shuffles awkwardly and indicates the four-pack. “Drink, sir?”
Hathaway’d usually have helped himself to a beer from the fridge by now – and a glass to drink it with, the posh git. “Got one, thanks.” He gestures to the half-empty bottle on his coffee table. “Have one yourself if you want.” It’s the closest the lad’ll get to an invitation to stay, for now.
“I...” James swallows, turns and puts the cans down on the kitchen counter. “Think I’ve had too much alcohol over the last few days as it is, sir.”
He nods, resuming his seat on the couch. James continues to stand. “Oh, sit down, will you,” he tells Hathaway, unable to keep impatience out of his voice. “Can do without you loomin’ over me.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Instead of the couch, James sits in the chair opposite, right on the edge, looking as uncomfortable as a man of his height should do in that position.
The silence stretches for a couple of minutes before Robbie resigns himself to breaking it. Not that it should be him; Hathaway decided to come here, after all. He must have decided what he wants to say.
As his gaze settles on his subordinate officer, Robbie realises why James has said nothing. He’s looking at the floor, hands shaking and his big body trembling.
“For god’s sake, lad, I don’t bite!” he almost snaps. “Out with it.”
James looks up, his gaze as tortured as it was when they argued outside Mayfield College. “I came to apologise. Sir.” It clearly takes him an effort to keep his voice from shaking, too, but he manages it.
Robbie takes a gulp from his beer to buy time. “You apologised already, Sergeant. At the station.” A formal, rehearsed apology, in as distant a voice as he’s ever heard from Hathaway, with no explanation whatsoever, and it only made him angrier still.
“I know. That was a mistake.” James’ words are barely audible; Robbie has to concentrate. “Too public. I owe you far more than just the words, but I couldn’t say the rest. Not there.”
Their argument was public enough, Robbie almost points out, but stops himself. That’d be petty, and anyway thinking of it reminds him of the one thing he does regret about what happened. Oh, yes, he was angry at his sergeant’s betrayal, but in focusing on the effect of Hathaway’s behaviour on their professional partnership he wilfully ignored the anguish on James’ face.
But then that’s all part of why he’s reacting so strongly, isn’t it? Hathaway didn’t tell him what was going on. Hathaway didn’t confide in him – not just about the case, but about why it was affecting him so personally.
Well, hasn’t he been acting all entitled over this? When, as the senior officer, he should be taking the high moral ground. Setting an example.
You’re a daft sod, Robbie. A few shared beers and takeaways after work, and you think you’re his best mate as well as his boss.
He rubs wearily at his face. “You don’t have to tell me anything. Told you, your personal life is none of my business, an’ I meant it.”
“Not good enough, sir.” And there’s a flash of the usual Hathaway: cocky, determined. Then he scrubs his face too, and props his elbows on his knees. “You know most of it now, anyway. It’s not the facts I’m talking about. It’s why I lied to you.”
“All right, yeah.” He sets the beer down on the table. “Yeah, I do want to know that. It’s not as if I didn’t... James, you know I wouldn’t have criticised you. Course, I’d’ve had to stand you down from the case and you’d’ve become a witness, but you’re that now anyway.”
And, now that he thinks of it, it’s no wonder Hathaway’s looking shattered. He’s spent most of the day with Grainger and his sergeant, being questioned and giving statements, about both McEwan and Zoe/Feardorcha. Robbie’d excused himself from that role, citing conflict of interest.
“Wouldn’t you have?” The doubt in James’ eyes shakes Robbie. “You said if your son was gay it wouldn’t matter to you. I saw what you thought of Will’s father’s attitude. I was just as bad – no, worse than that. He trusted me, valued my opinion, and I gave him nothing but bigotry. I might as well have pulled that trigger myself.”
“Don’t talk non-” Robbie cuts himself off abruptly. There’s moisture on James’ cheeks.
You think I wouldn’t understand? I’m a dad, he wants to say. My Mark’s about your age. You think I don’t know lads do stupid things in their twenties as well as their teens?
It’d be the wrong thing to say, though. For one thing, Hathaway’s sensitive about their relative ages; he realised that fairly quickly. Wouldn’t take kindly to being equated to Robbie’s son. And anyway, he’s never felt particularly paternal where James is concerned, not even now, when for the first time in their acquaintance the lad’s been acting his age instead of old before his time.
Besides, it’s a bit too late to turn on the course I understand line. It was plain as the nose on his face, looking back, that there was a lot more to James’ involvement in this than he was letting on – and indications all along that James wasn’t telling the truth about being okay.
“You weren’t to blame, James,” he says instead. “Were you the only person Will talked to? The only person who told him he was wrong? If you’d said something different, do you really think he’d have embraced who he was and been happy? ‘Cause I don’t get that impression at all.”
James doesn’t answer. A single tear drops to the floor. And Robbie sighs. “Come over here, man.” A sharp tug on James’ arm and he almost falls across the small space between the chair and the sofa.
Robbie grips James by the shoulders, forcing him to sit up straight. “It’s okay to grieve. If that’s what this, it’s fine. But if you’re just blamin’ yourself, that’s not on. I won’t let you.”
“Can’t stop me, sir,” James mumbles.
“Can’t I?” He can’t resist giving his sergeant a shake. “Come on, Hathaway. You heard Will’s dad. You know what he was up against in the Garden. Do you really think your opinion mattered that much that he’d have stood up to all of them if you’d said something different?”
Who did you have, James? Will came to you for advice when he was soul-searching. Who did you have to go to?
James takes a deep breath and drags the back of one hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears. “I don’t think I’ll ever know, sir.”
“Maybe not,” Robbie agrees. “Yeah, you made a mistake. You think no-one’s ever done that before? You’ve learned from it, there’s no doubt about that. All I know is you’ve got to forgive yourself now and move on.”
“I don’t deserve to.”
“Cut that out, Sergeant!” James blinks. “Yeah, you’re still me sergeant, an’ you’ll do as you’re told,” Robbie adds, a hint of a smile curving his lips.
James’ eyes widen. “I wasn’t sure... I wondered if you’d want me transferred now.”
He won’t deny – to himself, anyway – that it crossed his mind, though only briefly. “Why would I want to do that? Just got you properly housetrained!”
A smile, brief and clearly involuntary, appears on James’ face. “That’s not why I wanted to apologise to you properly, by the way, sir. That’s without preconditions.”
He nods. “I meant it – I don’t want another sergeant. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, Jim.” He catches the wince at the diminutive, but decides James can just live with it for once. “Consider yourself forgiven, all right? And you should hear this: I was wrong not to give you a chance to explain, case or no case. I walked away when I could see you needed a friend. Shouldn’t’ve done that.”
Thinking about it, wasn’t that about the same as what James did to Will? And he’s more than old enough to know better.
“You’re my governor, sir. I don’t have any right to expect anything else,” James says, his voice low, though his distant self-possession is apparently all back in place. “My behaviour was completely unprofessional, and apart from all the rest I let you down personally. Like you said, I lied to you, and that was the worst sin.”
Still the anguished, guilt-ridden Catholic. Robbie’s gut twists. You can take Hathaway out of the seminary, but you can’t take the seminary out of Hathaway.
What’s it his lot believe? For any sin committed, you must pay a penance?
“All right, then,” he says, his gaze holding Hathaway’s firmly, his tone completely Detective Inspector Lewis. “I forgive you – if you promise never to lie to me again, and to tell me next time something’s bothering you this much. Even if it doesn’t seem to be related to the case.”
And, if Hathaway’s not still too busy beating himself up inside to hear what’s actually being said to him, he should get the message here: Robbie may be his governor, but he’s more than willing to be a friend as well.
It takes a few moments, but then James nods. “Yes, sir. I promise.” He bows his head, a penitent accepting absolution.
He smiles, now Robbie again, and pats Hathaway’s shoulder. “Fine. Now, get yourself a drink, man, an’ put your feet up. There’s a good gardening programme on.”
He gets a disbelieving look, but James does as he’s told. As James sits back down next to him, their thighs pressed together as is usually the case, he reaches for the remote, turning the volume up, then cuffs James’ head lightly as he settles back again.
“Careful, sir. Mind the hair,” James warns, lips twitching.
“If there was any less of it you’d be bald.” He studies Hathaway for a moment. “All the same, just as well there’s so little of you all over. If you were any heavier I’d never’ve been able to carry you.”
“I’ll bear that in mind if I’m ever tempted to imitate you and survive on a diet of junk food, sir.”
“Cheeky sod.” He gives Hathaway a mock-glower.
“Sir.” James waves at the television. “You’re missing the gardening.”