It was an open secret and for weeks after being assigned as Lewis’ partner James kept getting these looks from people. They varied from pitying to contemptuous and every single one made him grit his teeth and want to ram his fist through someone’s face. The brass might talk a good talk about diversity and openness but among the rank and file the attitudes remained mostly unchanged, just better hidden.
It was more than seventy years since the Old Ones had returned, coming to the country’s defence at its darkest hour. Summer of 1940 and England’s blue skies were darkened by the Luftwaffe that kept on advancing, day after day, week after week, undeterred, unstoppable. By the autumn the defeat had seemed inevitable, ships full of refugees sailing for America, panic corroding the hearts of those who stayed.
And then, like a spring dawn after the bitterest winter, the dragons arose. From glens and valleys and remaining forests, from villages and bombed cities where they had lived in disguise, from craggy shores and the ancient bedrock of the island, they came. Not many, maybe a hundred, maybe two, but enough.
James remembered the stories his grandfather told; of scales shimmering gold and silver, green and blue and red, under the sun, like plates of armour; of wings like blades, the sheer wonder and power of them, these creatures (monsters some said, but not aloud, not then) straight out of myth and legend, tearing into the enemy planes like they were nothing but children’s toys.
After... after it had been too late for the dragons to fade back into obscurity; they’d played their hand, risked it all for a cause barely even theirs, and the cost was not small. On the heels of gratitude and awe came fear, and, as always, on the heels of that came hate.
The post-war decades were not kind. The dragons who had lived as humans found it intolerable to return, those who had hidden in the diminishing wilderness found no shelter. They did not age like humans and they did not die easily. There were even rumours of offspring, largely unconfirmed until much later when mellowing public opinion and new laws made it safer for the parents to come forward.
Lewis, James learned from some carefully placed questions and an uninterrupted hour in the personnel records he had absolutely no clearance to read but had managed to get access to anyway, had been one of the first Old Ones to seek, and be granted, employment in the Police Service. His cadet photo looked no different than he did now and the paperwork listed no age or date of birth (such information was not compulsory under the Dragon Act of 1987). James skimmed through the service record and old case files, noting the impressive solve rate. Lewis preferred to work alone, especially after the death of his former partner, and the Force had been more than willing to bend the rules for him due to his ‘special circumstances’.
James frowned, easily reading ‘no one wants to be partnered with a reptile’ between the lines, no matter what the official policy said. Every now and then Lewis’ superior had offered the position to various officers at regular intervals, just to tick the necessary boxes, but it was obvious that he was the only one to say yes since Morse.
It turned out Lewis was not exactly thrilled with the prospect of a new partner. The first day it took James several hours just to track him down. There were a number of investigations going on at the department but nothing big enough to require Inspector Lewis to be anywhere specific where he could be easily located.
Eventually, James gave up running around and put his not inconsiderable detective skills to good use, finding out which car belonged to Lewis and calmly camping out in the parking lot to wait for his new boss to leave for the day.
It was a long wait and James was more than halfway through his paperback when the sound of a throat being pointedly cleared nearby caught his attention. He looked up from the book to find Lewis standing next to him, arms crossed and a scowl on his face.
“You’re sitting on my car,” Lewis said.
“Yep,” James answered mildly, not moving from his perch.
Lewis rolled his eyes and sighed, enunciating slowly like talking to a particularly dim toddler: “Why are you sitting on my car, Sergeant Hathaway?”
“Oh, so you do know who I am. I was starting to wonder if you’d missed the memo about us being assigned as partners,” James said, grinning. He got up and extended a hand. “James Hathaway. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sir. Finally,” he couldn’t resist adding.
Lewis eyed his hand suspiciously for a few seconds before shaking it. “Robert Lewis,” he said. “Don’t call me Robert.”
How about Robbie? James wondered. How about your real name? How about your clan and lineage and the colour of your scales, the width of your wingspan, the heat of your fire, how about those things? But he said none of that aloud, knowing without being told that they were answers he would have to work hard to earn.
That was okay, though. James stood aside as Lewis climbed into the car and watched him drive off. He had a feeling the reward would be more than worth the effort.
James stuffed hands into his pockets and ambled back inside the building, whistling a little just to rile up the bigoted arseholes looking at him like he’d betrayed his own species.
Tomorrow morning he was going to be waiting at the parking lot again, this time with Lewis’ favourite hot beverage in hand (he didn’t know what that was yet, but he hadn’t aced his Sergeant’s exams for nothing so it was a minor detail). He was going to make this partnership work, no matter what.
James’ grandfather had always finished his war stories the same way: ‘But the greatest miracle was not that the dragons came,’ he’d say, ‘but that they came at exactly the right time, just when we needed them the most, even though we didn’t know it.’
James thought about Lewis’ lined face, the gruffness of his voice, and smiled. He had a really good feeling about this, like going into a battle knowing it had already been won.