Chapter 1: Restless Recovery
“It’s very good of you to come and pick me up, sir.” James is standing in the centre of his hospital room, sling around his neck supporting his injured arm, the other hand holding the bag containing his belongings.
“What’d you think I’d do? Leave you to the mercy of Oxford’s taxi-drivers? Or send a uniform for you? I’m not sure which is worse.” Robbie steps forward and takes James’ holdall from him, ignoring his sergeant’s protest. “Come on. I know the people who work in these places. Hang around any longer than necessary an’ they’ll find more excuses to stick instruments where you don’t want them.”
James’s lips twitch. “Speaking from experience, sir?”
“Occupational hazard in our job. Get used to it. This is – what? Twice in three months for you?”
Damn. Stupid thing to say. Hathaway looks away, down at the floor. He really didn’t mean to remind the bloke of the Zoe Kenneth stuff and their argument. Robbie sighs and moves closer, laying his hand flat against the back of James’s shoulder and rubbing briefly. “Come on.”
Outside, in the car park, James starts to pat his pockets with his good hand, then makes a frustrated sound. “What, no ciggies?” Robbie barely manages to smother a grin.
“Must have forgotten to tick that option on the breakfast menu,” James said dryly.
Robbie reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out a small package, quickly peeling off the cellophane. “This do?”
“You-” James stops dead and his jaw slackens. “You bought me fags?”
He shrugs. “Might not approve of the habit, but I suppose that never stopped me when it came to Morse and his drinking.”
With a bit of effort, James manages to get a cigarette into his mouth, but then fumbles with the lighter Robbie passes him, and after a moment Robbie shakes his head. “Oh, give it here.”
He lights James’s cigarette, then stands beside the lad as he smokes, long, urgent drags as if he’s been craving this for days – well, suppose he has, really. It’s not until the fag’s more than half-gone that James turns and looks at him, careful to blow the smoke elsewhere, and smiles, completely unguarded. “You bought me fags,” he says again, voice soft, wonder in his tone.
“I’ll take it out of your wages,” he counters, flippancy hiding his genuine pleasure at James’s appreciation.
“I’ll buy you a pint,” James counters. “Two.”
“You’d do that anyway,” Robbie points out. “Mind, should be me buyin’ you for the next month. You wouldn’t be in this state if you hadn’t pushed me out of the way of a bullet.”
“I’ll make sure to remind you of that periodically for the next... ooh, six months, I think,” James says with a smirk, stubbing out his cigarette against the smokers’ grille and letting it fall inside. “Particularly around performance review time.”
In the car, James struggles with his seatbelt, his left hand just not able to reach far enough to fasten the buckle. Without a word, Robbie takes over. “Give it a few days and you’ll be able to start using your other hand a bit.”
“Didn’t realise my mobility’d be that restricted.” James sounds concerned. “It’s gonna be an... interesting few days.”
“Ah, you’ll be all right.” Robbie starts the car and heads for the exit.
“I assume we’re going to the station?”
“You up to that? Thought you might want to go home and sleep.” He glances at James, who’s holding his injured arm protectively against his chest. “Mind, I’ve got some reports needing finishing if you’re able for it.” He grins. “You can type with one hand, eh?”
“I am right-handed,” James reminds him. “But I could probably manage five words per minute with my left – and, yeah, even that’s preferable to spending yet more time pretending to sleep or watching moronic daytime television.”
“The station it is, then. Good thing you keep a spare suit in the office, though I reckon you’ll need a hand with the tie.” He was joking about the reports, of course. But he can’t say he isn’t looking forward to having the lad’s keen intellect and questioning mind on the job again. They really do work better as a team, Lewis thinks, than he does alone or with anyone else.
Part of him wonders if it’s possible that Morse had felt the same way about him.
By six o’clock, Hathaway’s looking grey, and he’s winced several times as he’s shifted position. Lewis has already suggested twice that the sergeant’s had enough, only to meet protests from Hathaway that he’s fine. He’s not fine; he’s exhausted on top of the pain. He’s overdue for painkillers, Robbie’d bet, and it hasn’t helped that practically every bloody copper in the station just happened to “drop in” during the day to see how Hathaway was. James tends not to enjoy attention much under normal circumstances, and this was far worse, especially given that for most of the visitors it was pure nosiness rather than genuine concern. After the first few made it into their office, Robbie closed the door and gave Hooper instructions to send any other visitors away – unless it was the Chief Super, and even then he wanted Hooper to come and get him rather than let her in.
Now, Lewis shuts off his computer and stands. “Right, that’s it. You’re out of here, and that’s an order.”
This time, James nods. “If I can just get my bag out of your car, sir...”
Robbie just gives James a long-suffering stare.
“You shouldn’t feel obliged to drive me, sir-”
“You should feel obliged to shut up before you insult me, Sergeant.” Robbie softens his words by pressing a hand briefly to Hathaway’s uninjured shoulder. “Now, come on, get your arse out of here.”
Ideally, they’d have left about an hour ago, but James was being his usual stoic self despite the obvious indications of pain, ploughing on with his work and making useful contributions to the ongoing case. Not for the first time, Robbie acknowledges that he needs to make the most of this partnership, because it’s not likely to last more than another couple of years. There’s no way Hathaway’s going to stay a sergeant anything like as long as Robbie himself did.
“Let me guess: you should’ve taken your pain pills – what? Three hours ago?” Getting into the car after he’s taken advantage of a quick smoke-break, James has just bitten off a groan of pain.
Hathaway mutters something inaudible. “What was that? Couldn’t hear you.” Robbie turns out of the car park, merging into traffic.
“Don’t need them. They just dull my brain,” James repeats.
“What, you mean being in pain doesn’t, soft lad?” Robbie shakes his head. “Don’t know what they taught you at that posh school you went to.” They drive over a badly-repaired pothole and James winces again. “Can’t help the state of the roads, but if you’d been sensible and taken your painkillers...” He glances at James, eyebrows raised.
“If you say so, sir.” The habitual smart-alec tone that would accompany that line is missing, an obvious indicator of how much pain James is in.
Not in so much pain that he misses the route Robbie’s taking. Five minutes later, he gestures at the turning they’ve just passed. “My place is that way, sir. Did you forget?”
“Not going to your place. Come on,” he adds as James looks about to protest. “D’you really think I’d leave you to fend for yourself?”
“I don’t want to be any trouble-”
“An’ now you really are talkin’ rubbish. Look, leaving aside the fact that you got hurt savin’ my life, if it was me with my arm in a sling wouldn’t you do exactly the same?”
James is silent, and as Robbie glances in his direction he sees his sergeant’s uninjured hand clench and unclench on his lap. But then James seems to relax. “Probably wouldn’t take you to my flat, sir. You’d complain about the smell. Still can’t believe you stayed the night that time.”
Because putting up with a bit of stale cigarette smoke was better than going home to an empty flat? But he’s not going to tell James that, assuming the bloke hasn’t already worked it out for himself.
James added with a half-smile, “I’d just make a complete nuisance of myself by moving into your flat for the duration. Most likely against your objections and threats to order the Chief Super to demote me. Sir.”
Robbie snorts. “Waste of time me trying to threaten you. You never listen to me.”
James smirks again, but it’s quickly wiped off his face by another wince of pain. Spotting a gap in the traffic, Robbie speeds up and can finally take the turning leading to his flat. Whether Hathaway likes it or not, he will listen to Robbie and take his painkillers as soon as they’re inside.
“Am I imagining things, or has half my wardrobe migrated to your flat, sir?” James has just noticed a couple of his suits and half a dozen shirts hanging from a temporary rail in the living-room, the result of an early-morning visit to Hathaway’s flat. He’d have brought James’s guitar, too, except that it’s obvious the bloke won’t be able to play it for at least a month.
“Don’t exaggerate. And what did I say about calling me sir off-duty?” He fills a glass with water, then sets it down on the coffee-table. “Sit. And take your painkillers.”
“Yes, Uncle.” James rolls his eyes, but does actually take them.
Robbie mentally winces at the Uncle, but of course it could be worse. He’s old enough to be James’s father, after all.
James frowns. “What’s -? Ah. Sorry, didn’t realise you were so sensitive about the age-gap.” He smirks.
Robbie scowls. “Beginning to regret buyin’ you those cigarettes.”
“Joking,” James says quickly. “I really do appreciate this, Robbie. You know what, give it a few minutes for the painkillers to kick in and I’ll cook-”
“You bloody will not. You can just put up with my cooking for a change. Not up to your standards, but I promise I won’t poison you.”
James comes and sits at the kitchen table while Robbie works, nursing a cup of tea in his uninjured hand and making occasional suggestions about better ways to prepare ingredients. “You just mean I’m doing everything wrong,” Robbie points out after the third time he does it.
“I didn’t say that, did I?” Even with the lines of pain around his mouth, Robbie spies a hint of a smirk on his sergeant’s lips.
“Yeah, well, don’t. Not if you don’t want beans on toast.”
James shudders dramatically. “Your culinary skills are beyond a doubt exemplary. Sir.”
“An’ you just remember that, Hathaway, even if I do present you with a burnt offering.”
The food’s not burnt, and it doesn’t taste bad at all, even if Robbie does say so himself. Penne pasta with chopped ham and a couple of vegetables in a tomato sauce – out of a jar, but the label said organic and low-fat so James can’t complain too much. And it’s something the lad can eat with one hand, as well. The first night’s cooking can be counted as a success; Robbie just hopes he’ll be able to keep it up. It’s a long time since he’s eaten anything in this kitchen that hasn’t come out of a microwave or a takeaway.
After dinner, they relocate to Robbie’s sofa. Collapsing onto the corner cushion, James wrenches at his tie with his left hand, succeeding only in making his shirt-collar stand up and the tie’s knot becoming tighter. “Here, let me.” Robbie nudges James’s hand away and quickly frees the knot and pulls away the now-wrinkled fabric.
James turns to look at him, his expression solemn but unusually open. “Thank you.”
Robbie rolls his eyes. “For that? That’s nothing.”
“No, not just for that. For everything. Bringing me stuff at the hospital, picking me up – buying me cigarettes, even! And now putting up with me in your home. You didn’t have to do any of it, and I want you to know that I really do appreciate it.”
“Ah, go on with you!” He gives James a dismissive wave of his hand. “What’re friends for?”
“Mostly, getting drunk and falling out with,” James says, tone dry. “In my admittedly limited experience, anyway.”
And there it is again: a clear hint – well, more than a hint; it’s a blatant admission – that James hasn’t known much in the way of genuine friendship. This, on top of what he learned about his sergeant during the McEwan case, makes Robbie’s heart twist. What has this man’s life been like? No social life now, apart from his band and the occasional evening spent with his boss. No friends that he ever talks about or spends time with – and not many from his past who seemed to either care about or understand James, from what Robbie saw. Hathaway never talks about his family, either, other than an aunt he mentioned once, and of course he confirmed the absence of family just the other day. Dead, or estranged? Either way, the end result’s the same.
He’s struggling for something to say that won’t sound either patronising or overly intrusive, but is pre-empted when James gets awkwardly to his feet. “Need a smoke.” He gestures towards the exterior door, and is gone in seconds.
Bloody awkward sod, he is, isn’t he? But it takes one to know one; Robbie’s a grumpy bloody sod himself these days. A right pair, they are.
He shakes his head in mild exasperation and goes to stick the kettle on.
Hathaway’s at his finest in dry wit when he returns, all introspection and self-disclosure vanished as if it’d never existed. He aims barbs at the guests on Newsnight – pompous politicians and self-proclaimed experts who wouldn’t know a fact if it jumped up and bit them, in Robbie’s considered opinion, though he prefers the quality of James’s insults.
And James actually shares his views on his previous governor, something he’s always been too discreet to do before. But then DI Knox – now demoted to sergeant and transferred out of CID – was around the station just the other day, and deigned to pass the time of day with Hathaway for around ten minutes while he was having a smoke. James hasn’t said what Knox talked about, but Robbie heard some of the details from one of the long-standing custody sergeants who happened to be getting some things from a squad car. Seems even demotion and transfer hasn’t rid Knox of his patronising attitude or his arrogance and dismissiveness towards other colleagues. Apparently, Knox sympathised with James on having Lewis – Morse’s dim-witted dogsbody – as his boss.
The tone of James’s response, according to the sergeant, was just a shade on the wrong side of insolence, but not enough to be obvious. “Funny you should mention that,” the sergeant reported James saying. “I learned more from him in my first day working with him – when he was still jet-lagged – than in the entire two years before that. Isn’t that interesting?”
He’d then taken a final drag of his cigarette, exhaled in Knox’s direction and then stubbed out the fag-end and walked away.
“I shouldn’t really be saying this,” James says now, “and I wouldn’t if it were anyone other than you and anywhere other than here, but... I suspect Knox was exactly who Innocent had in mind when she said something a few months before you came back about Neanderthal senior officers whose attitudes needed to be dragged into the twenty-first century. It was pretty clear, when I worked with him, that he had a problem with women who didn’t stay in what he considered to be their proper place.”
“Sounds about right,” Robbie agrees. “Remember, I’d known Charlie for years before I went on attachment. Only as a sergeant, mind. He was promoted not long before I was, and he transferred out of the Oxford station for a bit. Would it be fair to suggest that he also had a problem with clever university graduates?”
James leans his head back until he’s staring at the ceiling. “You might say that. It’s not that I have a problem with being insulted on a daily basis,” he continues. “You get used to that at public school, not to mention Cambridge. I can hold my own, within the limits permitted to a sergeant vis-a-vis his superior officer,” he adds with another faint smirk.
Robbie raises his eyebrows. “I know you can. Very well, as it happens. But?”
“But there’s a limit to how much barely-competent detective work, sloppy analysis and insulting treatment of witnesses I’m willing to put up with.” James takes a deep breath. “The day I played chauffeur for you from Heathrow, I had a letter of resignation in my pocket.”
“Bloody hell!” Robbie stares at him, appalled – and struck by the realisation of what he almost missed out on. What would these past three years have been like without James as his sergeant? Would he still be in the force either? Or would Innocent have had her way and put him out to grass at the training college? “Couldn’t’ve just put in for a transfer?”
James shrugs one-shouldered. “From what I could tell, my other options weren’t much more appealing.”
“I see.” Robbie’s smile – carefully managed not to reveal too much of his reaction to James’s statement – is amused and faintly put out. “So when you asked to be partnered with me, it was more like the best of a bad lot?”
There’s no amusement in James’s expression when he answers. “Hardly. You were the only reason I changed my mind about staying in the force.”
He made that much of an impression in three days? When he was at his grumpy, closed-off worst, what with the renewed agony of grief that hit him once back in Oxford? When he insulted Hathaway and was probably every bit as dismissive as Knox?
“Can’t say I’m not flattered – now as well as then,” he acknowledges. “Always wondered why, though.”
“Some day, maybe, if you get me drunk enough I’ll give you the full list,” James says, and his forehead’s creasing in pain. It’s getting late; time for more painkillers, and for sleep. “For now, though, here’s the most important: you actually listened to my opinions on the case, whether or not you agreed with them.”
“Course I did! What’s the point of you even being there otherwise?”
“There’s a reason they call sergeants bagmen,” James retorts, his tone dry as desert.
“Like I don’t know that? Look, I know what you mean,” Robbie continues. “Probably shouldn’t be saying this either, but then it’s you and we’re off-duty. Yeah, I know what it’s like to feel sidelined and ignored. Much as I respected Morse, and I learned most of what I know from him, he did that sometimes. Fair dos, though, if I ended up bein’ right he always gave me credit for it, even if it was sometimes grudging.”
“I think I’d have liked your governor.”
Robbie can’t help the wry laugh that escapes him. “I think the two of you would’ve murdered each other within a week. You’re far too like him in some ways – and you succeeded where he failed. He left Oxford without a degree, though he always pretended it didn’t matter to him and he still strolled in and out of the university as if he belonged there.”
He gets to his feet then, pausing to squeeze James’s shoulder in a gesture he realises is more affectionate than directive. “Come on, you. Painkillers, then bed. I’ll sort the sofa-bed for you.”
Robbie’s woken abruptly from a very sound sleep, and for a few disoriented moments he has no idea what he heard. He’s already instinctively reached for his phone, but that’s not ringing.
And then he hears it again.
“No! Please, sir, no, you can’t be!”
Hathaway. A nightmare, by the sound of it, and apparently about him, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then nightmares rarely do.
He’s already out of bed and heading for the hallway before it occurs to him to wonder whether it might not be best to leave well alone. Hathaway’s a grown man and might not want to be mollycoddled through a bad dream, or even to know that his boss is aware that he had one.
But then he shrugs. There’s no way he’s leaving the bloke in this state. If James does have a problem with it, he’ll get over it.
In the living-room, he snaps on a standard lamp – enough light to see by, but not enough to blind Hathaway should he wake suddenly. He can already hear James thrashing about, though he’s not yelling right-
“Sir! Please don’t do this to me!”
Damn it. Robbie walks around the sofa. Hathaway’s thrown off the duvet and, in the dim light, dressed in a thin T-shirt and boxers, reminds Robbie so much of his own son when he was a lad and having a nightmare: young, scared and vulnerable.
He sits on the arm of the sofa and reaches down, touching Hathaway’s shoulder carefully. “James. Wake up.”
Hathaway thrashes again, throwing Robbie’s hand off. He tries again. “James, it’s just a dream. I’m here. I’m all right.”
Still no response, and Robbie considers going back to his bedroom to get his mobile: like any good copper, James will be conditioned to wake, fully alert, the instant his phone rings. One more try first, though.
“It’s Robbie, James. It’s Robbie, and you’re just dreaming.” It’s instinctive after all these years: calm, steady voice, repetition of a familiar name and reassuring message; it’s what usually gets through to a shocked or panicking victim. That doesn’t work either, though, so he tries one more approach.
“Sergeant Hathaway! Are you gonna wake up, or do I have to shake you?”
“Sir.” It’s a rote response, and James’s eyes snap open – probably exactly the same reaction as if his mobile had rung. He jerks up into a sitting position, poised to get out of bed. “Where’s the crime scene?”
“It’s not a callout.” Hathaway’s gaze focuses on him, eyes wide, and he can see his sergeant taking in the fact that Robbie’s wearing pyjamas. “Just needed to wake you. You were having a bad dream.”
“Hell.” James flops back onto the mattress, then winces and grips his injured arm. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
Robbie shakes his head. “Better’ve been a good one, that’s all I can say.”
“Nightmare. Better’ve been a decently scary one, since you woke me up.”
“Oh.” James stares up at the ceiling. “Not sure I can remember. Look, I’m fine now,” he adds, glancing back in Robbie’s direction, but not meeting his gaze. “Please, go back to bed.”
“Don’t think I will. Not just yet.” He stands. “Reckon I could do with a cuppa. Want one?”