I. The soul of genius
"Are you seeing her again?"
She had a name; Hathaway refused to decipher Lewis's reluctance to use it. "'Seeing' in another sense than 'questioning with regard to murder inquiry'?"
"You know what I mean." Hathaway didn't answer, and Lewis looked down into the swirling remnants of his pint. "Puts a damper on it when you have to ask them their whereabouts on the night of," he added.
"Yes." Hathaway reconsidered. "Not always. But no." Lewis glanced up, his mouth twisting a bit, his eyes narrowed against the sun. "I am not seeing her again. Unless I happen to visit the Botanic Garden on my day off."
"You have those, then? Not that I've noticed. Another pint? On me."
"No, thank you, sir."
"I've had enough for one--"
"No. Why not see Liv again? Once you've got over bowing at her."
The name, now: this was no longer banter. "Too young for me, sir."
Lewis snorted. "You're not exactly Methuselah yourself."
"Nine hundred and sixty-nine years." Hathaway deleted the asinine "some days I feel that old" and substituted, "Some scholars claim the insertion of a decimal point resolves the apparent impossibility."
"Maybe by ninety-six point nine I'll be retired. And you'll be studying botany." Lewis stared into his glass. "You're right about that third pint."
"I'm always right, sir."
"And are you seeing Michelle again? Speaking of being right."
"I'll be looking in on her," Lewis said, evidently nettled. "Make sure she's doing well."
"She'll be needing a new purpose in life," Hathaway said. He didn't have to add "it might be you."
"I'm worried about her, that's all."
"A brotherly concern."
"Fellow parents, more like. You wouldn't--" Lewis cut the remark off short.
"It passeth all understanding. Though perhaps in a sense the citizens of Oxford are all our children." Hathaway bit his lip; he hadn't meant to use the plural. But Lewis didn't seem to notice.
"There's some I'd like to put over my knee, that's for sure." He swallowed the last of his pint. "Of course you'd understand. Genius that you are."
The affection in his voice warmed Hathaway: the back of his neck particularly, as though he'd grown fur and been stroked. "Thank you, sir," was all he said. "But I don't, really."
"Get yourself a couple of kids, then. Little tow-headed boy, little dark-haired girl. Babbling in Latin." Lewis checked the glass to see if any of his ale remained. "You might want to hold back on that, middle of an investigation."
"The Latin," Lewis said in his speaking-the-obvious-to-fools tone. "Not that around here it doesn't help to make them feel--"
"That it matters?"
"That you're on their side, I was going to say."
"The old good cop, over-educated cop routine. It's worked for us so far, wouldn't you say? But I'll emulate you if you wish. Playing dumb." He hit the first word hard enough to earn a charge of police brutality. Subtlety would have vanished with the third pint, for certain. "I think we've had this conversation before," he added.
"No doubt," said Lewis. "I bet Methuselah repeated himself pretty often after he hit five hundred or so, too. Just go on the way you're going, Hathaway. Like you said, it's worked so far."
"Age quod agis, sir." Lewis gave him a look. "Go on the way you're going," Hathaway explained, a broad translation. "Ad infinitum, if it so please." He lifted his empty glass. "I don't really need a partner, sir. I have a guv'nor."
Lewis met his eyes for one eternal second, and then raised his glass in return. "Cheers," he said, and mocked a bow.
II. Generation of vipers
Now who does that remind me of?
Lewis heard the words; it didn't take clever deduction to know what was meant by them. The trademark Hathaway smirk showed it was a joke; and yet not a joke, because the expression under the smirk meant I'm worried about you, sir. At least Lewis thought that's what it meant.
"Me?" Or rather, he decided too late, both of us. Except with not enough career success on Hathaway's part. "I'm not lonely, lad. I've got you."
The smirk faded, and something flared in Hathaway's eyes before he looked away. "Do you now, sir," he said quietly.
"You know what I mean. And I wasn't like those two, yearning after a lost love that never went anywhere. I had Val, and..." He trailed off. No need to get maudlin.
"And now you don't," Hathaway said, still muted and distant. "No, I'm sorry. It's the case, still racketing about in my head. O false Cressid," he mused. "We seem to be fated to investigate murders with parallels to Shakespeare's plays."
"Think how bad it must be for the coppers in Stratford-on-Avon. Oh, that reminds me: I had a question for you, clever clogs."
"I should be happy to assist you with my cleverness, sir."
"Stuff it, sergeant. It was that bit on the play recording. The generation of vipers. First I thought... well, that group that was all at Oxford together. They were vipers, if you ask me. Some of them the sort that bite from instinct, and some with real venom. And they were all part of the same generation. Bit older than you, a lot younger than me. But I didn't think that's what Shakespeare meant."
Hathaway shook his head. "In modern parlance we'd say 'a generator of vipers.' Or, if that evokes electricity too readily... simply 'generates.' Love generates vipers. Creates them; gives birth to them."
"Yes, I know what 'generate' means, thanks. D'you think it does?"
Hathaway looked taken aback to be asked such a question. "I think it can. How many of our murders have had to do with love?"
"Well, quite a few. Too bad they don't all come with viper bites; it'd make our jobs easier. Laura's, too."
"Not unless the bites contained saliva not of the viper but of its... generator."
"True; we don't often know which suspect loved enough to kill. Or... too little. You'd think..."
"If you really loved someone... no. What nonsense I'm talking. Must be tired."
"True love and murder don't go together. Is that what you meant?"
Yes. But sometimes the truly loved die anyway. "I meant it's time to be going, sergeant. Unless you fancy another pint?"
"I could murder one, sir."
III. Fearful symmetry
Lewis swore he'd closed his eyes only for a few seconds, but then the heavy thump of a pint glass on the table nudged them open, and he realized that Hathaway had had time for a trip to the bar while he dozed.
"Sorry," he said, "didn't mean to--" and then he looked around. "Oi, where's mine, then?"
"I thought you'd better not, sir."
Lewis bit back a harsh reply; he'd been caught sleeping at the table, after all, like someone's granddad. "Maybe you'd better not either," he allowed himself. "You started well before me. Can't carry you home; I'm too old."
"I'm a boy wonder; you said so yourself." Hathaway took a hearty gulp and put the glass down, looking satisfied.
"Just don't go thinking you can fly or any of that lark."
"On what wings dare he aspire?" Hathaway murmured. "No, sir," he added, and drank some more. "I'm not likely to think that."
Lewis yawned, earning a smirk from his sergeant. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Hathaway started muttering again. "Giraffe, giraffe," he said. "Doesn't scan."
"Ever get a tune stuck in your head? It's like that. Have to exorcise it--ah! Monkey."
Lewis raised an eyebrow, but declined to comment. After another moment of humming, Hathaway smiled and recited:
"Monkey, monkey, dare'st thou gab
In the cages of the lab?
What doc, technician, Ph.D.
Would fear thy dreadful repartee?
"Ha," he finished, and swallowed another gulp of ale.
"If you say so," Lewis answered, raising his empty glass.
"Not very Oxonian, the degree, but D.Phil. didn't rhyme," Hathaway qualified gleefully. He'd been in an odd mood since they wrapped up the case, alternately bouncy and slumped. Lewis was just glad to see bouncy winning out.
"I can do more," Hathaway went on. "Couplets are easy. Lewis, Lewis..."
"None of that now."
"Can't stop me thinking. Oh, I know:
"When noble Morse laid down his trust,
The mission passed to Rob the Just.
His legacy is clear to see:
Morse made you as you've made me."
Lewis sighed. He was unexpectedly, undeniably touched, and he also knew he'd better get Hathaway home pronto. "Yeah, lad," he said. "Though I recited Morse one hundred percent less poetry. Drink up, now; let's go."
Hathaway had near half a pint left, which he put down his throat dutifully. They'd both been taught thrift as children, Lewis was pretty sure. His sergeant rose to his feet and loomed more or less straight toward the door and the night outside, guided by Lewis with a hand on his back.
"Good thing your flat's close. Neither of us is in a state to drive. Whoopsy!" Lewis added as Hathaway did an impression of the Leaning Tower of Pisa; it was the sort of thing you said to children when they were learning to walk. He pulled Hathaway into the street. "Let's get you home and to bed."
"I thought you'd never ask," Hathaway said, low and throaty, leaning over into Lewis's ear.
"You know what I mean," Lewis said, trying to shake the warm buzzing out of his brain.
"No," said Hathaway, straightening up to his full height and swaying only slightly, like a tree in a breeze. "You always say that, and I don't. I don't know what you mean. Tell me what you mean. Sir."
There was nothing he could answer, so Lewis fell back on protocol. "I've told you before: call me Robbie when we're off duty. You near enough did, in the poem."
"Robbie," Hathaway echoed, sonorous and serious as though he were saying something very important. "Robbie, Robbie... burning bright..."
"James, James, lit up like a Christmas tree," Lewis muttered. "Home, James. Come on now."
"You're going to take me to bed," Hathaway said as though confirming something glorious. Lewis imagined he'd once repeated his creed of belief in the same tone.
"I'm going to put you to bed, lad. You're too loopy for anything else--"
Lewis clapped his mouth shut, three seconds too late. Hathaway didn't seem to notice, but Hathaway noticed everything: knots; toy animals; Lewis talking like a monkey, saying the same damn thing over and over, unable to connect the symbol and the real. Just wanting to be fed, to be treated to Hathaway's devotion, even in the form of doggerel verse.
"What rhymes with Hathaway?" he said, not really expecting an answer.
"Giraffe," said James.
IV. The indelible stain
"More steady on your feet than the last time I walked you home," said Lewis.
"When was that, sir?"
"Ah. Convenient amnesia. Never you mind, then. Coffee suits you better."
"I expect so." Hathaway kept walking, the measured stride that matched Lewis's, but not so precisely as to be ridiculous. One wouldn't care to be ridiculous. Again.
After a moment he thought he should make conversation, so he said, "Tooth better?"
"Still a bit tender. Not bad."
"That's good. She's an excellent dentist." Hathaway hesitated, then added, "Dishy, too."
"Dishy," Lewis scoffed. "Who says that? You got that off Laura."
"Why, who does she think is dishy, sir?"
Hathaway expressed the proper surprise, silently, and Lewis went on, "Not that she fancies you, don't get any ideas. She's just said it once or twice. Three times, maybe."
"Does she think you're dishy?" Lewis just snorted. "How about DI Peterson?"
"Don't think so, no." There was a slight undercurrent of... satisfaction?... in Lewis's voice.
"Mm. Well, one wouldn't want the constabulary turned into the set of a soap opera."
"Anymore than it is, yeah. You have noticed how Julie..."
They walked on, Hathaway's mind swirling around the completed case, until he thought to say, "I was given a promotion."
"What?" Lewis stopped and turned to stare at him. "When? Innocent never--"
"Accidental, sir. Lilian called me Detective Inspector Hathaway when she opened the door that last day."
"Ah." Lewis started walking again, then said, "Sound good to you?"
"Odd," he said, and then let fancy have its will. "As though the two of us had been turned into one being."
"My brains, your suits. One decent detective, I told you. You should go for it, though."
"Merging with you, like an amoeba in reverse?"
"You know what I..." Lewis stopped, then clarified: "Promotion."
"Would you like that, sir?"
"We're off-duty. Don't call me sir."
Hathaway's feet stilled. He took a deep breath, not looking at Lewis, and said, "Would you like that, Robbie?"
"Not much, I wouldn't. But that's selfish."
"I go angling for selfish, on my days off."
Lewis chuckled. "Take me next time, will you? What's worse, do you think? Selfishness or cowardice?"
"Cowardice," Hathaway said immediately.
"The indelible stain, eh? Why?"
"One's own vices are subjectively more sinful. I have a thumb on the balance; can't help it."
"You are aware most people don't think that way? At least the segment of the population we tend to arrest."
"Unfortunately that sort of analysis isn't likely to work as a profiling tool," Hathaway commented. "And yes, before you say it: most people don't think in terms of sins either." He touched his chest. "Conditioning."
"You're not a coward, anyway."
"Yeah. I am. Where it counts."
"Number of times you've rushed in, saved people, saved my life even--"
"You know what I mean," Hathaway said, forcing a tone completely different from Lewis's gentle chaffing, then meeting his eyes.
In the silence that followed, he lifted a hand and touched Lewis's face, tracing the age line next to his mouth, cautiously, and on the side opposite from the now-missing tooth. Lewis began to speak; Hathaway shushed him with a finger to his lips, then dropped his hand, turned away and began walking once more. Don't say it; don't say it. And to his credit, Lewis did not.
"I meant to thank you, sir," Hathaway said as Lewis caught up to him, "for providing backup at Professor Lipton's house. It's possible you saved my life. Again."
"I realized what was wrong, and got there as fast as I could. It's what we do for each other. James--"
Lewis put a hand to his arm; he stopped walking, facing grimly ahead. "James, look at me," Lewis said.
Hathaway turned smartly. "Sir."
"Don't be a smartarse. Look at me. That's better." Lewis stood facing him, hands in fists at his sides, eyes like brands. "Now, I don't think you're so daft you'd've turned your back on Lipton, but yeah, he might have tried to kill you, because I know you; you couldn't have kept your bloody mouth shut once you knew he was guilty." The right fist rose to waist level, arm muscles tensing with exasperation. "I know you're not a coward. Why can't you be honest with me unless you're pissed?"
Hathaway swallowed hard, fixed his jaw, and then in his toughest bad-cop voice managed, "Take me home, give me a couple of large whiskies, and you might find out."
A long moment passed, and then the fist opened and Lewis's hand reached out. A thumb brushed across the corner of Hathaway's mouth, lingered for a second, and retreated. "Let's do that, then," Lewis said quietly. "Your place or mine?"
"I keep better whisky," Hathaway said on an exhaled breath.
"Yours, then." Lewis paused, then added, "Least I think so. Let's go and see."