On this little pool where the sunbeams lie,
This tawny gold ring where the shadows die,
God doth enamel the blue of His sky.
He, Robbie Lewis mused as he handed over the murderer he'd just caught with Hathaway's help to a uniformed officer, was getting too old for this rubbish.
Really, they'd been circling Staunton for weeks. The bugger couldn't have waited before he made a run for it until a few days after Lewis had bought new shoes? Now Lewis had blisters all over his toes on top of being sweaty, grass-stained, and overall miserable thanks to the day's humidity.
The estate's water gardens were a welcome distraction while he waited for the uniforms to follow procedure.
A glance around showed him that Hathaway didn't look much better than he felt: sweat darkened his hair to a darker blond, grass clippings clung to his suit jacket and his suit was uncharacteristically dishevelled.
"Time to cool down," Lewis stated, then sat down on the lip of the basin and began to untie his shoes.
Hathaway watched him wordlessly. Lewis knew that the eyebrow was raised and the forehead furrowed without even having to look.
Lewis ignored him and went on to take off his socks along with his shoes. As expected, there were a couple of spectacular blisters adorning his feet. He winced a little, thinking about how long it would take for them to heal, but pushed the thought aside for the much more pleasant one -- the water ahead of him.
He dipped his toes in the basin, half expecting a reprimand from the groundskeeper, but when none came, he rolled his trousers up and shuffled his feet, feeling the water soothe the burning and the aches.
The clearing of a throat directed his attention back to Hathaway -- who watched him with a half-exasperated, half-amused look.
Lewis shrugged. "Don't tell me you've never felt the urge to do this?"
Hathaway inclined his head. "Can't say I have, sir."
"I swear, Hathaway," Lewis said while stuffing his socks into his shoes, "sometimes I think you're older than me."
Indeed, Hathaway sometimes appeared to Lewis like an old soul stuck in a young body. He'd stopped counting the times he'd wished to do something about it.
Time to stop planning and start acting.
"Come on," Lewis encouraged.
Hathaway slanted him a look. "Sir."
Whether that was a question, a statement, an acknowledgement or a testimony of what Hathaway thought of the state of Lewis' mind was a typical Hathaway mystery. Lewis took the favourable option.
"Join me." He wriggled his toes in the water. The ripples made the water lilies in the basin dance weightlessly.
"You heard me."
"You want me to take my shoes off." Hathaway enunciated the sentence a lot more clearly than would have been strictly necessary.
Lewis rolled his eyes. "I'm not asking you for a striptease, Sergeant."
Hathaway huffed a laugh. "No, sir. People might talk." He settled down beside Lewis on the lip of the lily pond.
"Innocent would have my head," Lewis mused with a shudder. "Hobson, too."
"Sexual harassment on the job is frowned upon. Sir." Hathaway nodded gravely but the sir held a lighter cadence this time -- taking the mickey again, then. Cheeky sod.
"You think -- " Lewis snorted, thinking, Just you wait. "Don't be daft, man. They'd have me head for not inviting them!"
Hathaway opened his mouth for another smart-aleck reply, then closed it again. The faint hint of a blush began to cover his cheeks. He finally managed an eloquent, "Erm."
It was a rare thing to wind Hathaway up enough to make him react outwardly, much less make him blush. Lewis added double points to the woefully small score when Hathaway lowered his head and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Alongside the redness creeping up from embarrassment, Lewis saw the beginnings of a sunburn bloom on pale skin.
"Come on, then. Shoes?" He bumped his elbow companionably against Hathaway's side and gave him a crooked grin.
The June sun was unusually warm this early in the month. It pulled the moisture of yesterday's steady rainfall from the lawn with gentle hands, making the building behind the fountain disappear in a kind of bright haze. Everything around them smelled of damp earth, elderflowers, blossoming linden trees and freshly cut grass. The latter was the most prominent of all the scents, mainly because it clung to Hathaway and himself like a second skin.
Chasing after a murderer was one thing. Nothing unusual there. Chasing after one trying to escape on a lawnmower had a certain Monty-Python-meets-the-Marx-Brothers grotesqueness to it. Particularly when Lewis remembered Hathaway taking a huge jump over a low but broad hedge and tackling Staunton to the ground. It had rather reminded him of a gazelle. Landing on his belly had ruined the entire effect, however.
He hid a smile and looked down at knees of his own trousers. It would take the dry cleaner forever to get the grass stains out of their suits.
Quite possibly it was the realisation that their suits were a lost cause anyway that made him a little reckless. Childish, Lyn would have called it. But she'd have joined him.
Lewis used the opening that Hathaway's staring into nothingness gave him, cupped a handful of water in his palm, and splashed it at Hathaway.
With a slow, stunned blink, Hathaway looked at the water darkening his suit trousers, an air of frosty disapproval surrounding him. "You're joking," he stated. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "Sir."
Lewis thought he recognised tone number fourteen. The one that meant, fondly, "You idiot."
He decided to ignore it and grinned instead. "Call of the wild, Sergeant."
"I clearly have been a bad influence and need to repent my sins," Hathaway dead-panned. "I shall report to DCI Innocent for extra hours as soon as we're back at the station."
"Come on, James," Lewis prompted, not bothering to hide the exasperation. "Before I give in to the urge and push you in there."
"I'm comforted by the knowledge that you're a nice man and that is an empty threat." Hathaway leaned back on his hands, pulled his feet up on the water basin's lip and raised his face into the sun, eyes closed.
"So sure of that, are you?"
The little bastard didn't even open his eyes for the reply. The shoes mocked Lewis. Lavender socks and all. "Yes, sir."
All right then. Fine. The lad'd had his warning. Lewis turned quietly to get better leverage, then he closed both hands around Hathaway's ankles and shoved his feet in the water, shoes and all.
With a broad grin, Lewis saw Hathaway bite back on a surprised squeak and witnessed how the younger man only just managed to keep his entire body from following his feet.
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
Hathaway gave him a dark glower. "Wouldn't dream of it. Sir."
He did rather bear a resemblance to a cat dropped in a puddle, Lewis thought fondly. The water was climbing on up his suit trousers.
"Look on the bright side, Sergeant."
"There is one?"
Lewis allowed his smile to turn into a smirk. "At least this time, the water's not full of crap."
"With all due respect, sir," Hathaway drawled, his face looking even darker than before as he remembered the famous macerator incident, something he'd made clear early on he'd prefer to never speak of again and which Lewis thus managed to bring up whenever possible, "I hate you so much right now."
Lewis fought the urge to pat Hathaway on the head. Poor lad would never, ever live that one down. Not while Lewis was around.
Beside him, Hathaway raised his right foot from the water and watched the water cascade with his mouth pulled into a moue of distaste before moving to take the shoe off. He turned the loafer around and more water splashed back into the basin.
"You owe me a pair of new shoes, sir."
"Nah. I already paid me penance by being forced to look at your lavender socks on more than one occasion."
Hathaway's face twisted into a wolfish smile. "Deep down, sir, I believe you're just jealous."
"Jealous?" Lewis echoed, torn between laughter and surprise. "Jealous of what?"
"The dashing splash of colour."
"What, first you're dishy, then you have drinks that lend you spurious glamour, and now you're going for dashing, too?" Lewis raised an eyebrow. "There is such a thing as to too much of a good thing, Sergeant."
"As I said," Hathaway commented while taking the other shoe off as well, "jealous."
Lewis rolled his eyes and looked over his shoulder to where he heard the forensics team's car arriving. "Must be it," he said, already distracted. "I secretly long for a splash of dashing lavender."
There was a bit of splashing before Hathaway said, "I think that can be helped."
Lewis wondered if Innocent would be arriving anytime soon. She wasn't needed here in any procedural matter, but the case had drawn a lot of attention from the media and he hoped she'd handle the press. "Mmh?"
"I said," Hathaway enunciated with an unusual precision, "I think that can be helped. Sir."
"Oh, yes?" Lewis half-turned back, hoping he wouldn't have to admit that he'd already forgotten about the last bit of their conversation. "How so -- "
The conversation came back to him when a pair of dripping wet lavender socks landed squarely in his chest and clung there for a few seconds before dropping into his lap.
Lewis blinked unintelligently.
"Yes. Very dashing. It suits you." Hathaway cracked his signature half-smirk and added, "Sir."
Lewis counted to ten. Then to twenty, hoping to get his urge to giggle like a bloody schoolgirl under control. "Demotion," he eventually murmured, picking up the socks between thumb and forefinger and giving them a disgusted look.
"For what?" Hathaway didn't even have the good grace to look intimidated.
"Ridiculing your guv'nor."
Hathaway's smirk widened, which was comment enough.
Lewis dumped the wet socks in Hathaway's lap. "Just you be glad that I am indeed a nice and very forgiving superior."
"Oh, I am, sir. Every single day."
Lewis' eyebrows knit. There was such a thing as too much ribbing, and sometimes he wondered if Hathaway really knew when to draw the line, but when he looked back at Hathaway, the younger man's face was serious.
"Are you -- " Lewis stopped, let his gaze drift toward the basin and the gently swaying water lilies, to Hathaway's long-toed, pale feet distorted by the water and then back to Hathaway who still regarded him solemnly.
Lewis cleared his throat. "Are we having a moment here, James?"
Hathaway looked at his feet and let them describe a circle in the greenish water. Damn, the lad was skinny. His ankles looked fragile enough to break just from looking at them.
"Hm?" Lewis prompted when Hathaway didn't answer.
A deep breath was expelled on an explosive, rumbled sigh. "I believe we are."
Lewis wriggled his toes against a goldfish that came to inspect them. "Make it stop, then."
Hathaway snorted a relieved laugh and looked over his shoulder to where the sound of tyres on gravel announced the arrival of another car. "I think I can leave that honour to the Chief Super."
Lewis inspected his dry shoes and socks, then Hathaway's soaked ones. A smirk lifted the corner of his mouth. "Are you sure you want to delegate in your state?"
"What state, sir?" Hathaway calmly rose from the basin's lip and stepped out of the water. His toes dug into sun-warmed soil and he took a few seconds to straighten his tie and brush a few flecks of grass off his suit jacket.
Then he walked toward Innocent's car -- trousers rolled up to show his blindingly pale calves, feet bare -- as if he were in uniform.
Halfway down the garden path, he turned around. "Coming, sir?"
Lewis spared one glance at his shoes, then at his blistered feet and shrugged, decision made. "Coming."
He followed Hathaway barefoot.