"Christ, it can't be that time already surely?" Laura looked up from the report she was reviewing, one of a depressingly large pile currently teetering precariously on the edge of her desk, to find her favourite Sergeant looming in the doorway. His face was as expressionless as always, but there seemed to be something more than usually mournful about him at present.
"I could really use a drink right now," James declared. "But since it's only ten I think tea and sympathy will have to suffice."
"Well I can't promise too much sympathy in advance, but I do have a plentiful supply of tea and a packet of chocolate digestives with your name on them."
"Dark chocolate?" asked James, perking up slightly.
"What else? Go on and put the kettle on, then you can pull up a chair and tell me all your woes."
James pushes off from the door frame and shoots her a sloppy salute before doing as he’s told. Soon Laura had a cup of hot, strong tea in hand - with exactly the right amount of milk and sugar, bless him, and in her favourite mug too. James was hunched over his own mug like he expected someone to try and steal it at any moment. A pack of McVities lay open between them on the table and James had a smear of melted chocolate at the corner of his mouth.
"Go on then," Laura said, waving a half-eaten digestive at him. "Tell me all about it, it might cheer you up a little. I only let you in here on the understanding that you'll be better company than my usual punters, you know. I've supplied the biscuits, you're not holding up your end."
James sighed. "It's himself, of course."
"Of course," Laura agreed easily. "Not much else that could get you in this sort of state. What's our favourite Geordie heartthrob done now?"
"That's exactly the problem!" James gestured rather too emphatically with the digestive he'd been dunking and the soggy half fell back into his mug.
"Beg pardon? I don't follow."
"Heartthrob, he is one. That's the problem." James frowned down at his mug. "Or not heartthrob, that's the wrong word." He looked up at her then. "It's the women, you see. They're everywhere and they all love Lewis."
"What?" Laura couldn't help laughing at him, in fact she very nearly choked on her tea.
"It's not funny," James said, darkly.
"Oh yes it is. Just because it's happening to you doesn't make it any less funny from where I'm sitting."
"Some friend you are." Pouting really didn’t suit him.
"Hey, I only promised you tea. The sympathy was always an optional extra."
Laura wasn't exactly unsympathetic. She and Robbie would never have worked, could never have been right for each other, and not just because of James. But that didn't mean she couldn't look at Robbie and see what other women must see: a good, kind man, not bad looking, solid through and through. And seeming all too alone in the world if you didn't happen to know better.
She pushed the packet of biscuits closer to James. No matter the problem, more chocolate surely couldn't hurt.
"Encouraging them, is he?" Laura asked.
"No. Not exactly. Mostly he just doesn't notice." Laura groaned and James nodded in agreement. "Not that I blame them," he said. "How are they supposed to know better when he still introduces me as his Sergeant half the time?"
"He does, the bastard. On the job that's fine, obviously, but we bumped in to one of his neighbours in the supermarket last night. One minute it's 'what do you fancy for tea tonight then, Jim,’ the next it's 'pass me some tomatoes please, Sergeant,' while this perfectly nice woman - the right age for him and everything, would be great with the grandkid - starts angling to be asked for a drink. Right in front of me. If I thought he was doing it on purpose, I'd kill him."
"I'd have been tempted to throw rotten tomatoes at him in your place," Laura said, trying her best to keep a straight face.
"No rotten ones to be had," he said, shaking his head sadly. "Barely any ripe ones even." As soon as they made eye contact Laura lost the battle and started giggling.
"So,” she said, pulling herself together. “In the absence of suitable projectiles, what are you planning to do about it?"
"I don't know why I talk to you at all, Dr Hobson,” James said. “Not only do I get no sympathy, but now you want me to do something about my problems instead of just moaning? You are a cruel, cruel woman."
"You love me and you know it," Laura said, smiling. "Out with it. And make it good."
"I don't know," he said, throwing his hands up. "It's not as if I desperately want to be out, do I? Take an ad in the paper, march in the pride parade, all of that stuff."
"You'd just like not to have to be Sergeant Hathaway all the time?"
"Off-duty as well as on? Exactly."
"You're going to have to talk to him, you realise? And don't pull that face at me, you'd look ridiculous even if you didn't have chocolate all around your gob." James scowled at her, but pulled out a hanky. "I don't see what the problem is, you’re both grownups. It's not as if he bites. Or does he? Wait, don't tell me! I don't want to know." Now it was Laura's turn to pull a face. And that right there was the reason why she and Robbie were never going to work. He was a lovely man, but there was just no spark there. Though his charm seemed to work wonders on James. And on his many women.
“You’re laughing at me again, what is it now?”
“It’s just, if you’d asked me to pick the heartthrob between the pair of you,” Laura waved a hand at him. “Well, I always did know it was a mad world we live in.”
“Stop it, you’ll make me blush.” And he was actually turning a little red around the ears. Adorable.
“So this is where you’re hiding then, is it?” Robbie asked, appearing in the doorway with unusual stealth and startling them both.
“Not hiding, sir. Consulting.”
“Sergeant Hathaway was just asking for my advice on a sensitive matter.” She grinned at Robbie, who had the sense to look nervous. Smart man.
“Should I be worried then, if the pair of you have started conspiring?”
“Started?” She grinned at Robbie, but he only had eyes for James. The pair of them were well matched, just as ridiculous as each other.
“Not conspiring either, sir. I told you, we’re consulting.” James was trying to look innocent but it didn’t really work well on his face, poor boy.
“And what’s the difference then, lad?”
“Three letters and some perspective?” They both turned to stare at her and she pulled a face at them. “Go on then. Get out of here, the pair of you. I’ve had enough of your nonsense for one day. Some of us have better things to do than watch you make eyes at each other like schoolchildren.” Laura didn’t actually have to push them out of the morgue but they moved as if she had. “And don’t come back here unless you’ve got a body for me!”