"I had a date," says Robbie, pronouncing the 't' in 'date' with meticulous care, wondering what the hell he thinks he's doing here.
"Oh, yes, sir?" Hathaway assumes the listening expression. The one that's one small step off priestly. It's supposed to invite confidences, Robbie knows, but he's always been a contrary bugger and it usually makes him want to clam up tighter than a Mackem at the wrong end of St James' Park on derby day. He forces himself on.
"Right," says Hathaway, echoing the precisely clipped 't', and then after a beat he adds, "Good for you!"
Robbie's no musician, but he'd swear James's tone is a semiwhatsit too sharp.
"I'm not…" he tries, and peters out, losing faith all over again.
"Not what, sir?"
"I mean, I've always been…"
It's a warm silence, the one that's radiating from James, but Robbie wraps his arms around himself anyway, tucking his hands into his armpits. Third time lucky, perhaps?
"I like women."
"Yes you do, sir."
"It's as valid a lifestyle choice as any."
"Don't be facetious, Sergeant," says Robbie, mild as you like.
Hathaway shrugs an insincere apology and plays with the cellophane on his cigarette packet, tapping it back and forth with his thumbnail. Robbie allows himself to be distracted by it for a moment, eyes losing focus until the bold red, white and black of the packet blurs and softens into an indistinct whole. More than the sum of its parts or less? He sighs and lets the image resharpen. This is one of those times when what's in his head is probably best left unsaid, but the problem is that it's crawling under his skin, making him uncomfortable in it, making him itch, and if not now, when?
"What I don't understand is…"
"What I don't get…"
Hathaway's lips quirk. "Spit it out, sir, I can feel my grey hairs growing in."
"What I don't get, James, is why did it feel like I was cheating on you?"
Well, that's certainly got his attention. The cellophane is forgotten as Hathaway blinks at him, his face smooth and unreadable. "I can't answer that, sir. Same again?"
"Yeah," Robbie says, because his skin is hot and dry and if he's going to crack and peel then he'd as soon as do it half-cut as sober. "Yeah, why not?"
Through the window Robbie watches James edge his way into the crowd at the bar--too tall to conveniently disappear. Come on, man, Robbie tells himself. You're a detective. You should be able to work this out, put a name to it at least. So here are the facts that Robbie knows: James is an attractive man--dishy, Laura'd called him--but he does nothing for Robbie's mostly dormant libido. There's an objective realisation that he's put together well and dresses himself to best advantage, but there's no stirring in Robbie's loins, no desire to pin him to a bed or even think about the fact that there's more below his belt than exists on the Ken dolls Lyn had played with as a little girl. So he doesn't want to bed his sergeant, which is all for the best, really, given that Robbie is far too old for a sexual awakening of any variety, whatever Heinz has to say on the matter. Plain baked beans, that's always been his way.
It's not that easy, though. It never is; he's learned the hard way. The thing about love is that it's more than a dry mouth and sweaty palms. It's more than the urgent pull of the groin and the painful thump of a heart. That's just lust, that is--desire and need and the primal urge to screw until something gives. What he'd had with Val, besides that, what they'd had between them when the years had worn their passion to a smooth stone of comfortable love, that's what was real. The lift of his spirits when she smiled as he came into the room, weary from senseless death, from thinking, from Morse. The way she was the first person he wanted to talk to every day and the last at night. The way it was her his thoughts turned to when he heard a joke she'd like, or smelled her perfume in the air, or when a stranger turned their head in just the right way. The wave of protect-at-all-costs when she told him of something that had hurt her, or the time she put her hand through the sticky window and turned her white face and bleeding palm towards him. The sure, secure knowledge that when it comes down to it this person is on your side, for always. Better and worse. Worse and better. That they'll be there through the storms and the rain and the sun and that they know you'll be the same. That while you have each other, you'll never be lonely again. All of that, that was--that is--love.
And there may be truth in the old standard that for coppers having a partner is as like to being wed as makes no difference, but not all marriages are good and this is not that. This is not the same at all. Robbie knows like a bullet to the head, hard as it is to admit and just as shocking, that all those things Val was to him, James fills those spaces now. Well, bugger me, he thinks, and then laughs because if only it was that easy.
It's a pity because he really likes Laura, fancies her even, but it can't go any farther, not now he knows. It wouldn't be fair and Robbie knows the scales of Justice have to balance. Besides, Laura deserves to come first for someone--don't they all?
James wanders back with a pint in each hand and the familiar, inscrutable expression on his face. Robbie's spirits lift whether he wants them to or not. He looks away because there's no hiding what his eyes say. They sit in silence until half Robbie's pint is gone and James has burned through three cigarettes in quick succession.
"Did you solve your problem, sir?" asks Hathaway in a tone that even Robbie recognises as too studiously unconcerned.
Hathaway has an ability to look like he's fidgeting even when he's completely still. It's one of his many talents, his God help him.
"Greeks," says Robbie abruptly enough to startle a gawp out of James.
"What about them?"
"It's not my area of expertise, but I seem to remember them having different words for different kinds of love. Like the Eskimos with their fifty words for snow."
"It's Inuit, sir, and, actually, the fifty words for snow thing is apocryphal. You see…"
Hathaway flashes him a brief smile, transforming his solemn face. "Yes. They do."
"It's in the Bible, too, isn't it?"
"Not all of them."
"Don't tell me there's fifty."
James takes a last drag from his cigarette and stubs it out, the smoke curling up between them before it's claimed by the cool evening air. It's a filthy habit and Robbie hopes that one day he'll succeed in kicking it, but there's something about the way the lad holds himself when he's smoking that manages to make Robbie feel protective and jealous at the same time. He doesn't try to understand it.
"Go on, then."
"Well, there's storge. That's natural affection. Familial bonds like father to son, though I'm fairly sure it falls short of second cousins three times removed. Not a lot of that kind of love to spare in some families I would say, but there you are. Then you have philos, which is friendship or brotherly love."
"Like in Philadelphia?"
"Are you thinking of the city or the cream cheese, sir?"
"Cheese it is. That one's about loyalty and virtuous love. Friends, family, even lovers in ancient texts."
"Virtuous lovers. Isn't that an oxymoron?"
"You would think. Not so with eros. That's the one with passion and sensual desire, though sex doesn't have to play a part."
"Wait a minute, I'm confused. Isn't Eros the one with the arrows? Valentine's Day and all that? Surely that's all about the…"
"Wish I'd never said that." Robbie mock-grimaces, swirling the dregs in his glass.
"You're right, though. But Plato said that eros was also the development of the appreciation of the beauty within a person through contemplation. And through that to the love of divinity from whence all beauty flows. The platonic ideal in its purest sense."
Why does God have to get into everything, Robbie wants to know, but he says, "And the fourth?"
"Agapē. That's the one you remember from the Bible. Of course, the King James translation rendered it as 'charity', but it's love, really." James raises his eyebrows, looking up into the darkening sky. "'Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.'" He pauses, flicking a glance at Robbie. "I won't go on."
James ignores the interruption. "But the ancient Greek translation is usually more along the lines of a true love that passes beyond the attraction of eros. That, or a bloody good meal. It's a toss up."
Robbie leans back away from the table and blows out his cheeks. "And I thought more words would make it easier."
"Make what easier?"
"This." Robbie waves his hand between the two of them. Hathaway has the courtesy to look confused.
"I don't know what you mean, sir."
"You probably do. You know most things." Robbie cocks his head. "What if I told you I was taking early retirement?"
"Do I need to call Professor Pinnock?"
"What if I told you I was taking it and moving north?"
James considers and Robbie wishes for the thousandth time that he'd let at least a microsecond of his thoughts show on his face. If Hathaway ever chooses to turn to crime, they're all in deep, deep trouble.
"I would wish you well, of course."
"Would you?" Robbie muses. Right. Wherever the bull is, it's time to grab it by the horns, like it or not. This won't do. He doesn't want to be wished well. He doesn't want it at all. He claps his palms against his thighs and draws in a deep breath. "What if I told you I was taking it and moving north and wondered if you'd come, too?"
Now that's got him. James sits bolt upright, fierce eyes searching Robbie's face.
"Nice little two-bed house. Maybe three for guests."
"This isn't April the first, you know."
"It's a hypothetical. You're a detective, we hypothesise all the time. So? Hypoth. Go on."
James drops his head, his long body folded almost in two, and Robbie resists the urge to crane his neck, see what's going on in there. This whole thing is ridiculous, he knows. And it doesn't matter that he still doesn't want to sleep with Hathaway, his mouth is dry, his palms are sweaty and his heart's thumping fit to beat the band. This is the most important not-quite-conversation he's had in years. (Took him three goes before Val realised he'd proposed. This better not be the same.)
"Come on, man," he urges, when the silence between them has stretched as thin as Innocent's overtime budget. "You have to be thinking something. You're always thinking something."
"I'm a toilet seat down person, myself," says James finally, resting his chin on steepled fingers and looking up at Robbie. "I would say that's probably a dealbreaker."
"Toilet seat down, check," says Robbie.
"And I object to flock wallpaper on an aesthetic basis."
"Right. No flock. Anything else?"
"No Wagner after eleven. The Ride of the Valkyries does not a lullaby make."
Robbie furrows his brows in pretend consideration and does his best not to smile. "Okay. I can live with that."
"Then I can live with you," says James, straightening up, and it's out there, bold as brass and twice as shiny, and it's the last second Robbie can take this back, make a joke out of it, pretend that this unnamable thing that's been happening quietly without him noticing like the vines growing around Sleeping Beauty's castle is just that--a story. A dream.
He doesn't know what he's going to say until he says it. "Where's Neil Simon when you need him?"
"Were you after a third, sir?" James deadpans. "It'll make the bills cheaper, but I may not get on with your Mr. Simon. I'm an acquired taste, I've been told."
"You're an acquired something. And you know exactly who I mean, smartarse." He stands up and moves off, calling over his shoulder. "You stay there, I'm going to fetch us the local rag. Might as well get started. Non-hypothetically."
"Sure thing, Oscar," James calls back and Robbie grins. If Hathaway wants to be Felix he's welcome to him. An Odd Couple for the 21st century they'll be, that's for certain.
This is the single strangest decision Robbie has made in a life that's mostly followed a traditional track--school, job, marriage, kids--and yet his footsteps are sure and his heart is light. He lives in interesting times. Well, this is Oxford, after all.