"Thought you said you'd feel more at home in a dungeon, sir."
"Prison! I said prison. And I'd feel a damn sight more at home just about anywhere than this place."
This place was a fairly ordinary hotel conference room. This weekend, it was also what the pamphlet in their victim's hand had referred to as a BDSM 'fair'.
Lewis had to admit that it wasn't anything like what he'd imagined, altogether more brightly lit and cheerful, despite the occasional man or woman on a leash, or in a leather mask, or wearing, in Lewis's opinion, not nearly enough for the sake of decency. He was still keen to get this bit over with.
"Right. Let's split up, see if we can find this Lance person, and get out of here."
Hathaway nodded his assent and set out into the crowd. Lewis watched him go. He stood out, of course, but Hathaway always stood out.
Lewis talked to a woman selling handmade leather floggers. He talked to a man who offered to demonstrate some sort of paddle to him, or possibly on him. He talked to a seemingly out-of-place fortune teller.
"Lance," the fortune teller said, musing. "No last name?"
"Don't know if it's what you want, but you could try Mystic Lance."
"What's that, like Mystic Meg?"
"No, it's an artisan perfume oil line. Pretentious scent names like Leather and Blood, or Ashes to Ashes." He pointed toward the back of the room. "See the big cross? They're set up near there."
Lewis looked. It wasn't a cross. More of an X. And there was a man on it, arms and legs pressed against the wood. A very tall, very blond man, in dark suit trousers and a pale blue shirt. Lewis forgot to thank the fortune teller and just concentrated on not running.
Hathaway was a big boy. He could take care of himself. Everyone here seemed pretty harmless and even if they weren't, it would've been a struggle to get Hathaway up there against his will, a struggle which Lewis would've noticed. Of course, that meant Hathaway was up there willingly. Which was... Lewis didn't know what that was.
It took him a few minutes to force his way through the crowd by the Mystic Lance stall and a minute longer to get through the crowd forming around the cross.
Hathaway wasn't tied. He was holding onto a couple of ropes that dangled from the tops of the wooden beams. There was a man up on the platform with him, 40s, goatee, black jeans and black t-shirt stretched tight over his chest. Wide leather strap in his hand. He hit Hathaway with it while Lewis watched.
Hathaway's shoulders rounded and then flexed back. He seemed to press himself more closely against the wood. He bent his head, chin tucked to his chest. Lewis could see the expansion and contraction of his ribs as he sucked in air, but he didn't make a sound.
He wasn't tied down. Lewis reminded himself of that once every ten seconds for the next four strokes. Hathaway was a grown man. He had every right to volunteer to get smacked around in public if he wanted to, and it wasn't Lewis's place to leap to his defense unasked. So he didn't. He picked up Hathaway's suit jacket from the platform and hung it over his arm. He bit his tongue, literally, and he waited.
At five, the man stopped. Hathaway lowered his arms and turned around. He met Lewis's eyes and blinked once, slowly.
"Having a good time?"
"Just trying to understand the appeal."
Lewis offered him a hand and helped him down. He was paler than usual, bottom lip bitten red and wet. Damp about the collar and hairline.
Hathaway shrugged. "There's always endorphins."
"He's fine," the man with the strap said, with a broad grin. "He'll just be wobbly for a bit."
"I'm well aware of the aftereffects of violence on the human body, thanks," Lewis said, shortly. He had his hand on Hathaway's elbow, and Hathaway was leaning into him, just a bit, while achieving almost no actual contact.
"He's good though," the man said. To Lewis. Not to Hathaway. "Takes it beautifully. If the two of you are interested--"
"No," Lewis said.
The man grinned again. "Right, okay." He winked at Hathaway. "Possessive, eh?"
"You have no idea," Hathaway said, deadpan. "But he looks after me."
Lewis steered him away, with the man looking fondly between the two of them.
"Don't do that again," he said, when they were out of earshot. He hadn't meant to say it. He'd been trying hard not to say anything.
"Volunteer as a demonstration model at a stall selling large leather straps?"
Lewis sighed. "I mean... Obviously, it's up to you what you... Hell."
"No, no. Understood, sir. Don't let anyone else commit violence upon my person. Without your express permission. Got it."
They'd ground to a stop while the crowd flowed around them. They were standing close enough that Lewis had to tilt his head up to meet Hathaway's eyes. Not unusual. He still had his hand on Hathaway's elbow, which was, a bit. Hathaway's mouth had its customary mocking tilt, but something was off. His eyes were too serious, and Hathaway was hardly ever serious.
"Good," Lewis said, finally, and watched his eyes widen. "Come on. There's a fortune teller who says Lance might be Mystic Lance, some perfume company. Over this way."
Hathaway stayed at his side through the interview, less than an arm's length away. He took notes. He pulled long, solemn faces. He was, for Hathaway, perfectly normal in every respect.
"Bit of a coincidence," Hathaway said as they walked away. "Commissioning a custom scent called Broken Glass and ending up with-- What did Dr Hobson say? Half a pound of it in his stomach?"
Lewis took another whiff of the bottle they'd been given and made a face. "Does that smell like broken glass to you?"
Hathaway's hand curled delicately over his wrist to steady the bottle as he leaned in. He made a face of his own. "Broken glass mixed with stomach acid, possibly."
They stepped out of the hotel and stopped under the awning, looking out into a chilly autumn drizzle. Hathaway ducked his head and did that hunched up thing he did when he was cold. Lewis still had his suit jacket over his arm. He'd had it the whole time.
He shook his head at himself and then shook out the jacket and draped it over Hathaway's shoulders. Hathaway flashed him one of his quicker and more genuine smiles. Their fingers brushed as he plucked the keys from Lewis's hand, and Hathaway's were too cold by half.
"You stay dry, sir. I'll bring the car round."
He was loping off into the rain before Lewis could object, jacket clutched around him like a cloak.
Lewis waited and wondered if they'd need to have some awkward chat about today. Probably not. If there were anyone more adept at avoiding personal conversations than Lewis, it was Hathaway. And it wasn't so strange, was it? People should have to get his permission before they hurt his sergeant.