Chapter 1: Isn't That Enough?
As he sat and watched Lewis return to the table they had commandeered with a pint for each of them, Hathaway quietly sighed to himself. There he was, with nowhere else he'd rather be, and yet longing for somewhere that was anything but this. Looking up at Lewis as he put their glasses down and sat on the chair opposite, his eyes were drawn to a fairly large smudge of ink on the Inspector's tie. Before he could stop himself, he reached out and tugged a little on the fabric. Lewis leaned forward without protest and Hathaway took a closer look. It had landed there earlier, when Lewis had leaned down towards the dead body of an Oxford lecturer involved in their case who'd committed suicide and knocked over his ink blotter in the process, leading to an interesting pool of ink and blood covering the desk. Rubbing his thumb over the stain, Hathaway deduced that it had dried hours ago, and would probably never come out, no matter how many times Lewis washed the tie.
"Found something interesting, James?" Lewis shook him from his musings, and meeting his eyes, Hathaway could see the mischief lurking just at the edges of Lewis' innocent expression. Trying not to note how the Inspector had leaned even closer across the table and how that made resisting temptation to throw caution to the wind and close the gap between them ever so slightly unbearable, Hathaway smiled a little smugly.
"You really need to take better care of your clothes, sir," he teased. "That's the second tie in two weeks." He was, of course, referring to that incident where a suspect had attacked the Sergeant before trying to make a run for it, punching him in the face, leaving him with a bleeding nose. Lewis, after apprehending the culprit with clenched teeth and a bit more force than strictly necessary, had had nothing better to do than to use his tie to wipe some of the blood from Hathaway's chin before the taller man managed to catch his wrist and inform him of the doubtful merit of that particular idea.
"I have you to take care of, isn't that enough?" Lewis teased right back, and as Hathaway pretended to pout, his stomach gave a little flip as he registered the Inspector's eyes flickering down to his mouth. James wanted to say something else, but before he knew it, Lewis had gently pried his tie from his grasp and leaned back in his chair without another word, averting his gaze and picking up his pint.
Hathaway heaved another sigh and lowered his head, letting his hand fall on the table with a little thump. Taking a sip from his glass, he suddenly remembered the bits of a melody and a few lyrics that had unexpectedly formed in his mind the night before, as he had lain in bed, definitely not thinking about when exactly the levels of unresolved tension between him and Lewis would actually prove fatal. Taking his notepad and pen from his jacket pocket, he quickly jotted down a few notes, lightly drumming his fingertips on the table to try it out. He hummed a little to himself, checking with a quick look that Lewis wasn't paying attention, and started trying to fit the words he had going round and round in his head to the tune he'd composed.
Looking over at Lewis again, Hathaway felt the spring in his stomach coil tighter. They both knew it was there, but by an unspoken agreement James couldn't remember non-verbally signing, they didn't do anything about it. They'd never even talked about it, not really, just in that roundabout, ambiguous, so-covert-it's-overt way that potential couples sometimes had when they encountered people in situations similar to their own and, for two minutes, it was safe to talk about it.
"A young lad like that deserves better," Lewis had said a few months ago, after they'd closed the case, "someone his own age, and hope, not some broken old man haunted by his past."
James didn't have to be a detective to know that Lewis wasn't talking about the case, he was talking about them. He'd meant it as a warning—aimed at James or at himself, the devil knew, but a warning it had been. And James understood, how could he not? He'd been the one to protect Lewis from himself when he found Monkford, and ever since seeing Will dead on the floor, his brains scattered, in that church he understood just how haunting memories could be. It had taken him almost a year to come to terms with his own desires, and that was only after he'd given up the priesthood. The shame had nearly consumed him: first, for being incapable of following his own advice—then, for letting down his friend of so many years in the worst possible manner. When he'd finally shaken off the internalized hatred and seen the contemptuous lies for what they were, it had been too late for Will; and that was a burden he would carry for the rest of his life. Lewis' loss had been entirely different, but still, it wasn't so much that Lewis was really broken, James thought, he was afraid. Of hurting James, of getting hurt himself. The age difference between them probably didn't help, either, and sometimes James literally ached with the need to find a way to take away all those self-doubts and insecurities. All he wanted was to make Lewis understand that he wasn't afraid of the darkness, that he knew him. He knew his secrets, knew his sadness, and they didn't make him want the man on the other side of that table any less, because he saw what Lewis always seemed to conveniently forget about himself: he was brilliant, he was funny, he was passionate and driven. He tended to see himself as an emotionally challenged, bitter sod, and he could be that on occasion. But Lewis was also the man who'd, without thinking, laid his job on the line for him after only a short while of working together, who'd saved his life more than once, who'd do anything to protect him. Who'd convinced him not to quit the job himself after that disaster at Crevecoeur Hall. Lewis thought he didn't have anything to offer, but in that moment, standing on the green, overlooking the grounds and with his arm in a sling, Hathaway had suddenly felt so gloriously at home, and that had nothing to do with his childhood looming up behind him. James had gladly caught the bullet that surely would've killed Lewis from that distance, because the Inspector, whether he liked it or not, was a good and caring man. Not to mention absolutely gorgeous—Hathaway had to suppress a groan as his brain readily supplied a way for him to convince Lewis of that peculiar circumstance. As he twiddled with his pen, he tried to concentrate on something that was not somehow connected to his boss in various states of undress, but, as usual, once he'd started, it was a bit of a train wreck. Fighting the urge to get up and pace to let out at least some of the pent-up energy and frustration, he finally put the pen to paper.
Robbie felt James' eyes on him one or two times after he'd sat back and turned away, but he kept his eyes on the sheep and the clouds and the life passing them by. When he was sure that the younger man was thoroughly busy with his writing or doodling or whatever he was doing, he sank into his chair a bit, his shoulder slumping. What on earth was he doing? These things had to stop happening, but Lewis knew he had no way of stopping them. When he'd found himself staring at Hathaway's mouth, lower lip sticking out in a pout, he'd had to rip himself out of the moment. Pulling back, he'd cursed himself for not even thinking before leaning so close he could smell Hathaway's aftershave, and for wanting to nibble on that lip until the man attached to it was flustered and panting and—dammit. Lewis couldn't remember when he'd first had these thoughts creep up on him, when he'd first acknowledged them, and when he'd started having to fight so hard to keep denying himself. He had liked the lad immediately, he remembered that, finding him strange, but surprisingly pleasant company. Only a few cases later, he knew that, if Hathaway left, so would he. He wasn't just calling Innocent's bluff when he threatened to leave if she demoted his Sergeant. In that moment, he knew with absolute certainty that while he loved his job, he couldn't imagine doing it with anyone but James at his side. What he'd said at first had been true, he'd just wanted to earn his keep. But when Hathaway gave him first refusal, something told him that it would become more than that. It wasn't just about not wanting to get used to another officer in training anymore—who was he kidding, it never had been. And with time, it had become more and more about not wanting to spend time with anyone else. He could have let James be sent down and kept doing his job, and they still would have seen each other after work, no doubt, but that wasn't enough. It wasn't just working with him, it was being with him most hours of the day that kept Robbie together... and didn't that scare him.
Lewis was by no means a fearful man, but just about all things James Hathaway scared the living daylights out of him. Losing him didn't bear thinking about, and what with the job they were doing, he had to think about it far more often than he could stand. How many times had James deliberately walked into dangerous situations if it meant protecting him?
And so, while he wanted nothing more than to be as close to him as he possibly could, he couldn't risk it. Couldn't risk screwing up their friendship, couldn't risk hurting Jim the way he certainly would. Val's death had left him in the middle of nowhere with no map and an empty sky, and though he'd come back to England in an effort to, just perhaps, stop being lonely, to get better, he hadn't known what to do with himself when he'd first realized, and he still didn't. Not because James was a man—it had probably played a part in how it had taken him a while to actually recognize what he was feeling, simply because it hadn't happened to him before, but then he'd wondered about that for all of two seconds before shrugging to himself. In the safety of his mind, he'd jokingly dubbed himself as Hathaway-sexual, mindful of the way James had berated him for drawing neat dividing lines between so-called labels and gender stereotypes. The Yorkie bar still confused him, come to think of it, but he'd long since stopped trying to figure that one out. That, and Hobson had just snorted and given him an exasperated look when he'd asked her about it.
No, what frightened him was the darkness. Lewis was happy enough, he really was, but he was old and stubborn, he could get black moods and bad days, where he'd get snappy about God and everything on His green earth, and he wondered how long it would take for him to say something so stupidly hurtful that James would look at him with wondrously blue eyes and he'd see the shutters coming down, driving the warmth out of them. It was too late for him to change, and what would the lad want with with someone so much older, anyway? Someone like him, no less, with wrinkles and aches, and bags under his eyes if he missed a couple hours sleep?
It had come as a shock to him when he'd finally understood that he wasn't imagining things when Hathaway smiled at him in a way he smiled at no-one else, when he teased him about something and his voice—oh, that voice—took on a flirtatious edge that had him wishing he'd lost his ability to blush somewhere along the way, or when he kept everyone else at a distance but didn't even blink when Lewis invaded his personal space on a regular basis. When he'd taken Lewis' hand in front of the headmaster's office and looked at him with nothing short of adoration, it had been too early for the Inspector to fully comprehend, and he'd hardly dared to trust his own instincts when he'd realized that it wasn't just a short-lived infatuation or misplaced hero worship (not that Lewis deserved any of that, anyway) that guided the lad's actions. He was young and he made mistakes, but, bloody hell, so did Lewis. James was smart, and he'd been through a lot. He knew his own mind and, apparently, he had his mind set on him. What he'd done to deserve it, no idea. Still, the old The Lad Doesn't Know What He's Getting Himself Into routine served nicely to shut up the part of him that wanted Hathaway wearing a stupid, blissed-out grin and nothing else. But even that excuse was wearing thin ever since Innocent had told him about how James had come to her for advice after he'd found Monkford, saying he didn't know what to do, because he didn't know what was going inside Lewis' head most of the time. He'd still been trying to get over the unbidden pang of regret he felt when she'd given him a look and informed him that the Sergeant had come to her for back-up precisely because he knew very well what was going on in Lewis' head, and not just most of the time. With that, she'd left him, and Lewis hadn't been useful to the investigation for the rest of the day.
Glancing across to Jim once more, Lewis felt ready to mentally slap himself for something he'd said months ago. Just before that case, he'd sworn himself to silence, had promised himself never to let anything slip that might reference their situation, anything that would betray to James exactly how much trouble he was in. And then he'd gone and got himself worked up over that ex-professor and the young travel agent, the lad completely head over heels with a man who'd left his college in favour of slightly too much to drink and acerbic poetry, and Lewis had felt like looking into a mirror. As is inevitable with these things, the silence between him and James as they'd walked back to the car had gotten so awkward and charged that it hurt, so he'd said something about the boy deserving someone his own age, someone with a bit of a life left to live. Hathaway had said nothing in response, but if he interpreted the look on his Sergeant's face correctly—and he'd become rather good at deciphering the unfortunate shape of his face—he'd quickly squashed the hurt undoubtedly ruffling his feathers before, basically, internally facepalming for the rest of the day.
Rationally, Lewis knew that they couldn't go on like this, that one day it would start affecting their work for the worse, and that it was his responsibility to protect his Sergeant from a compulsive transfer neither of them wanted. But the thought of having this blow up in his face had sent him running down to the morgue more than once to what he hoped was inconspicuously vent to Hobson. "He's an awkward sod, but he's my awkward sod," was one of the many overwhelmingly subtle things he'd said over the course of time, and he thought he'd gotten away with it until, one day, she swivelled around, levelling her scalpel at him, and told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't just give it up and kiss the boy where he stood, she'd make him do it. He sighed and looked at her with his best puppy dog eyes—which were completely wasted on her, because she'd been the first to see it, anyway. It was her who'd advised him to bring the 'dishy Sergeant Hathaway' to her birthday party, and he had. And even after telling her he had no idea where the man was, he had instinctively looked for him in the right place. Flopping down next to him on the porch swing, Lewis had been reminded of when he'd gotten dressed for that soiree Innocent had dragged him to. He'd fixed his bow tie and told James that he wasn't much of a joiner, who'd simply replied that he wasn't, either, and that had been that. In that moment, they seemed much more alike to him than he'd ever anticipated. Sometimes, James Hathaway was so much older than he could take, and then the next day he was just a kid in jeans and a band shirt, looking much younger than any man in his mid-thirties Lewis had ever seen, thanks to his pale complexion and lanky stature. With his blond hair and the chiselled cheekbones, he was so strikingly, and somewhat strangely, handsome that Lewis just felt short and stocky next to him. All the more did it surprise him when he turned up at the office with a new shirt or tie or, lo and behold, a new suit, and he felt James' eyes on him, as if committing what he saw to memory, and with a glint in his eyes that told anyone who was listening that he liked what he was seeing. Lewis liked to mentally stick his fingers in his ears when that happened.
He also liked to pretend that he wasn't running out of silly excuses why this wouldn't ever be a good idea, but he wondered just when he'd wake up one morning and find that this stalemate disguised as a strange sort of contentment had actually lost its balance. He wanted James to see reason, to find someone else, bloke or lass or variation thereupon, he didn't care, just someone. But then, he imagined attending their wedding and his stomach turned. As a girl they'd met on the case just a few days ago had put it, "no-one wants to let the best thing that ever happened to them pass them by and then sit in their flat listening to Adele for the rest of their lives." Lewis had to ask James about that particular bit of musical wisdom later, when they were back at the station, and then had the wind knocked out of him as the younger man had wordlessly punched up a song called 'Someone Like You' on YouTube before excusing himself to check on some paperwork. He hadn't come back for half an hour, and Lewis hadn't bothered to wonder how many cigarettes that had been. And when he realized, later that night, that he probably wouldn't have neither the strength nor the will to even look for someone else, part of himself had asked when he'd become so selfish. Another part of him had posed a different kind of question entirely: how had he fallen so hard and not noticed until then?
Shaking himself out of those morose thoughts, his eyes automatically went back to Hathaway, still busy with his pen. Squinting a bit, Lewis could make out some squiggles—must be notes, he thought—and a few short lines of text underneath. Gobsmacked, he continued staring. He'd never seen James compose anything before. He'd been to band practice a few times, and he knew that much of what they played were James' tunes, but usually they didn't have lyrics. Besides, he thought that he'd need his peace and quiet for that, not a table outside a pub, bustling in the evening sun. Then again, the lad lived in his head sometimes, so perhaps that was all the peace and quiet he needed.
Just then, James put the pen down and flipped back a page, running one long, slender finger along the squiggles and words, his mouth forming sounds that Lewis couldn't hear, until he seemed satisfied with his work and glanced up again, reaching for his glass at the same time, only to find Robbie staring at him like an idiot. And he was, at that—a besotted idiot, no less.
"Hope you're not getting bored, sir," Hathaway managed around his heart leaping up in his throat.
"Never," Lewis replied simply, foregoing a few other, infinitely cornier responses that had come to mind, and nodded towards James' notes. "What's that, then? You composing?"
"Yeah," he rasped before instinctively flipping the pad closed, internally wincing as he saw the flash of hurt cross Lewis' face, "just a little number that somehow turned up in my head yesterday. Didn't have the quiet to think more about it, but... well, now I've got it."
"Will you be playing it with the band?"
"Ah. Not sure yet, maybe. It's a bit different from what we usually play."
That reminded Lewis that he hadn't been round to listen in on the band for a while and, with his curiosity piqued, he wondered whether Jim would mind if he dropped in again some time soon. As if reading his thoughts—he probably could, actually—Hathaway spoke up.
"You know, you can always come round, if you like."
Lewis smiled at him, glad these invitations were still as freely given as before he'd put his foot in his mouth, and nodded, "I'd like that very much."
Chapter 2: Up That Tree, Where Else?
A/N: Right, this is where it gets muddy, and hilly, and there's sheep everywhere. No, not really, I'm just channelling my inner Herc Shipwright. Again, thanks to Laurence Fox for not chasing me with a pitchfork. I hope. Go give Gunfight a listen, it's up on his YouTube channel, and it's gorgeous! And if you don't, you won't be smacked in the face by the full emotional range of this piece; I do pick these songs for a reason ;) Of course, the instrumental arrangements would have to change quite a bit, but I'm sure the boys could whip something up. Arrangement of ballet dancer corpse nicked from a second-season episode of Castle. Now, on to the fluff! (It really is fluff. This must be the single fluffiest thing I've ever written.)
Thanks go to the Lewis fandom on tumblr, who carried me through this with their brilliance and perseverance; and, as ever, to Ch., who is the Benjamin Cook to my RTD, and to both her and doctorabbywatson for providing me with some excellent ideas for the final scene, possibly without meaning to.
A few days later, Lewis had a feeling that the day ahead of him would be a write-off before he even brushed his teeth. He was right.
Jim had called him at six, informing him that another body had been found. At quarter past, he turned up on Lewis' doorstep to pick him up and gladly accepted the coffee Lewis shoved into his hand before he quite made it into the hall.
"In a hurry, sir?" he asked with the usual quiet sarcasm lacing his voice, and Lewis just grunted at him from behind his slice of buttered toast. Smiling into his mug, Hathaway took the other slice proffered to him on a plate that was so chipped that he had contemplated stealing it and chucking it in the bins outside quite a lot before, but every time Lewis, as if reading his mind, had saved the offending piece of china from its impending fate. One day, he vowed, munching on the warm bread.
Lewis, watching the younger man's eyes dance with amusement, gave another groan. "How can you be so chipper on a Monday morning?"
Hathaway put on his best clueless face. "Chipper, sir?"
The Inspector narrowed his eyes at him, but handed him the rest of his toast to finish off anyway before going to fetch his suit jacket from the bedroom. Hathaway quickly finished the coffee, put the mug in the sink, and, with the remainder of Lewis' breakfast sticking out between his teeth, made his way to the front door. When Lewis appeared beside him, patting down his jacket pockets to make sure he had his keys, badge, and wallet, he nodded silently and opened the door, letting his boss go first, pulling it shut behind him when they stepped out into another lukewarm April week full of murder, mayhem, and mystery.
Half an hour into their latest crime scene, Lewis knew he'd been right. The evidence was being found inconclusive, contradictory even, while it was still being collected, and Laura had such a confused expression on her face that he really wasn't looking forward to her autopsy report unless someone worked a miracle. Just then, they heard something violently rustling from the tree looming above. Craning their necks, they spotted a pair of doves, brusquely shuffling about a bit until—well. As if on cue, they all glanced away with bemused expressions on their faces. Giving a pair of doves some privacy, that was what their work had come to, they all seemed to think. Lewis was about to say something to Hathaway when he noticed that the man was still staring at the tree.
"Blimey, has it been that long?" he asked before he could stop himself. As the Sergeant turned his head to look at him, eyebrow raised, Lewis pulled an apologetic face. James just nodded at him, apology accepted, and pointed at the tree.
"Not that it's got to do with anything, but just there," he said, glancing sideways at Lewis as he stepped closer to follow the line of Hathaway's arm with his eyes, "that's something we might want to take a look at."
Indeed it was—a briefcase had no business being stuck in a tree, did it?
"Well, shouldn't something be done about it?" Lewis inquired, but he hadn't quite finished the question when Hathaway was already taking his jacket off, handing it to Lewis, who took it without remembering ordering his hands to do so, and went on his merry way. Finally, the Inspector found his voice. "Wait, where do you think you're going?"
James threw a look over his shoulder, smirking. "Up that tree, where else?"
"Look, I know you're an athletic whizz, but how about you—oh, what do I bother?" Lewis mumbled that last part to himself as Hathaway hoisted himself up on one of the lower branches, his feet easily finding the right spots to lever his tall, slender frame upwards into the crown. Lewis didn't want to watch, really, but at the same time he couldn't take his eyes off James, muscles rippling underneath the tight-fitting blue shirt. Mentally shaking himself, he willed his forehead into a frown. "You know, if you fall and break your arm, I won't be the one taking you in!"
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir!" came the rustling reply, and Lewis sighed as James' tone told him that, actually, that was exactly what would happen, and they both knew it. He watched Hathaway's form still in the tree as he checked the safety of his stance one last time before reaching up to get the briefcase. He just got his hand on it when he froze, looking up sharply. Lewis' eyes shot upwards, too, to see what was going on, and frowned again when he saw one of the doves, sitting right above Hathaway. As it turned on the branch and slightly wiggled its rear, he heard Hathaway's voice drop to a low warning. "Oh, no, you don't," was all the Sergeant said, but it was already too late. A large and rather flatulent plop later, the ground crew had to stifle their laughter as Hathaway cursed. Lewis had to press his lips together to suppress a snicker—Jim didn't swear very often, but when he did, it was with conviction.
He was still fighting a smile when Hathaway made his one-armed descent, and trotted over to take the briefcase from him before the younger man took the last few feet in a jump. Landing gracefully in the grass, he stared at his right shoulder in distaste. Lewis handed the briefcase to one of the forensics boys before nudging Hathaway with his elbow.
"That went well, then?"
Hathaway shot him a glare before starting to walk towards his car, Lewis following on his heels, the lad's jacket still draped over his arm while he was unconsciously stroking the fabric with his thumb. Still grumbling, Hathaway opened the boot and rummaged through a bag he kept in there for emergencies that required a change of clothes—or for when he fell asleep on Lewis' sofa again and didn't have the time to go home to change, but was unwilling to turn up at work, with Lewis, in the same clothes as the day before. While he certainly would like to do something about the general circumstances of such falling asleep and needing a change of clothes in the morning, there were questions he didn't want either of them to have to answer. Although he'd nearly swallowed his tongue when Innocent had called them the 'Dynamic Duo' one morning, he didn't think everyone at the station would be quite so nonchalant about it. Getting a clean shirt out of the bag and checking it for atrocious wrinkles before nodding and deeming it presentable, he looked back to where the team was busy working the scene, and decided he didn't have the time to be picky about it. He took off his tie and started unbuttoning his shirt, halting only when he heard a cough from beside him.
Raising his eyes to Lewis', he had the grace to look a bit sheepish. Well. That he hadn't bothered to check what the other man had to say about him doing this right there either meant he was unconsciously trying to torture him a bit, or that he was just so comfortable with him that his presence didn't even register as possibly intruding. Stopping a smirk from tugging at his lips, he decided that it was probably a mixture of both.
"Problem, sir?" His breath hitched a bit when he saw that Lewis' eyes had taken an interest in the pale skin of his collarbones and chest, revealed by the parted fabric of his ruined shirt, and the familiar churning in the pit of his stomach made him close his own eyes for a moment to will his body into submission. Getting excited at a crime scene, however warranted, simply would not do, for both of their sakes.
"What? No, nothing, I... should...," was all Lewis brought out before he turned around, pointedly looking at the sky instead of his nearly half-naked Sergeant. Hathaway opened his mouth to tell him that it was alright, but going by the distinct shade of red the tips of Lewis' ears had taken on, that would have been too much cruelty for one morning, so Hathaway shut up and made quick work of his shirt. Tossing it in a plastic bag that would see the insides of a bin very soon, he felt the soft spring wind caress his skin, and wished it weren't the air but Lewis' hands on his back. He threw another glance at his boss to see whether he still had his back turned, and sighed quietly. When he had the new shirt buttoned and tucked into his trousers, he put his tie back on. His upper lip curling in amusement, he decided that he was going to have a last bit of fun, though. Stepping up until he was right behind Lewis and bowing his head so he could speak right into the shorter man's left ear, he rumbled, "I'm decent."
Lewis felt his blood rush in all directions at once (well, two) as he felt Hathaway's breath on the shell of his ear and as that deliciously low voice sent shivers up his spine, he knew that the day was now officially over. Turning around again, finding himself nearly nose-to-nose with the man, his breath caught and he had to force himself to speak.
"I believe there's some debate on that," he managed to counter, though his voice was far too rough for someone who'd just patiently waited for his Sergeant he wasn't at all partial to to get dressed. Clearing his throat surreptitiously, he handed James his jacket and wondered why he hadn't moved away yet when a voice broke through his thoughts.
"Inspector, I think you should see this," Hobson called from where she stood, and even Lewis' slightly foggy mind recognised the warning in her tone. This was neither the time nor the place to get a crick in his neck and a different kind of stiffness entirely in his pants just from standing so close to Hathaway, so he nodded his head in her general direction, motioning for James to follow him. There was work to be done, and now, before he did something stupid.
Ignoring Laura's gently reprimanding, but understanding look, he walked over, feeling more than seeing Hathaway sidle up next to him, hovering protectively as he always did. "What is it?"
"This," she replied, showing him a piece of paper in an evidence bag. "I had to pry it from his fist. Thank goodness he's not into full rigor mortis yet, or I would have had to wait until I had him on the slab and break his fingers," she explained. "Anyway, we need to take it back to dust it for prints, but I thought you might want to lift the address and get detecting."
Lewis nodded at her and handed the bag to Hathaway over his shoulder. "See if you can run that down, will ya? I'll be with you in a minute."
Hathaway nodded and dug his phone out of his jacket pocket to call the station, walking away from them towards the car. Lewis followed him with his eyes for a bit before turning back to Hobson. "How much of a spectacle were we making of ourselves?"
She laughed quietly and shook her head. "Don't worry, I was the only one who was paying attention, really, but I thought I'd interrupt before one of you spontaneously self-combusted," she told him quietly, and laughed a bit more as he winced.
"God, I'm an old fool," he groaned, dropping his head and rubbing his right hand over his eyes.
"Hey!" She had hardly raised her voice, but something in her tone made him look him up. "Neither of you are fools. Although, wait, yes, you are, for not finally getting it together."
Checking the perimeter to make sure no-one was listening in on them, Lewis protested quietly. "We can't, it's not... it's not right."
"Are you worried about what Lynn and Mark might say?"
Lewis fumbled for words for a bit before shrugging his shoulders. "It's not that. I don't know what they'll say, and of course I'm a little worried. They've both been telling me to find someone, and that it's alright; I'm not sure how they'll react to a male colleague in his thirties, though. I dropped a few hints with Lynn a couple of months ago, but—I suppose if she doesn't understand, no-one will... It's just, I'm no good for him, and in our line of work, one day, it could be our downfall, in more ways than one."
"I'm not saying you should climb on the roof of the station and shout it out—"
"That's not what I meant."
"I know that's not what you meant. I know that one day one of you might be targeted and used against the other, but, really, you're DI and Sergeant, you're already targets for that, and what else would change? Robbie, you're already in love with each other, you're already worried sick half the time the other's out on the chase alone somewhere. You've always kept your head and gotten each other out alive so far, how bad can it be? The only thing worse than losing him would be not to be able to mourn him the way you need."
Lewis swallowed around the lump in his throat. "And what if we don't last? Then I'll have gone and buggered up the best work relationship I've had since, well, since Morse, and the... the best relationship I've had since... since Val. He'll be miserable. Laura, I can't make him miserable."
"Then don't. Look, I don't think anything could ever actually tear you two apart, but even in case something does happen: enjoy it while you can and do not waste a moment."
"What good will that do if it's gonna end in tears?"
"Robbie, I never thought I'd have to say this, after all you are the 'Doctor Who' expert in these parts, but... remember that Christmas Special? 'Because what's the point in them being happy if they're going to be sad later?'" She looked at him with pleading eyes, and he couldn't resist.
"'The answer is, of course, because they're going to be sad later,'" he finished the quote with ease. How many times had that sentence haunted him that night? After spending Christmas Eve and Boxing Day with Lynn up in Manchester, he'd watched the Special with Hathaway, in his living room, lounging on his sofa, because they both had nowhere else to be, or so they told themselves, and Lewis had convinced the younger man that this was the only right thing to do. Watch 'Who' and eat leftovers, that was the life without corpses for Christmas. Trust the Doctor to hand him a bit of wisdom on a silver platter that he wouldn't stop thinking about for longer than he cared to admit. Afterwards, Hathaway had smirked and admitted that perhaps watching a bow tie-wearing alien hurtle through the galaxies in a police box wasn't such a waste of time after all. At the moment, however, they sometimes caught repeat episodes of 'Horrible Histories' whenever they were on, which was less, say, emotionally volatile. "But... I'm old enough to get looked at for early retirement schemes, and one day he'll look at me and see the wrinkles and the ailments... he might want kids of his own someday."
"What if he doesn't care about any of that? If you ever thought that if you just waited long enough, it would go away... it won't, Robbie. For neither of you. And God help me if I don't push you two in a closet one day and throw the key away."
"Never trust a woman with a scalpel, Inspector. Now, on your way. Hathaway looks just about ready to murder me right here and somehow make it look like an accident."
Lewis looked round to where Jim was standing, leaning against the car, eyes fixed on them, handing the piece of paper to an unsuspecting forensic technician without even looking. "He does rather, doesn't he," he agreed. "He'd manage, too," he teased, giving the pathologist a parting nod and a smile. Trudging up to Hathaway, he tried to decide whether he was enjoying the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head a bit too much. Unable to settle on an answer, he opted to show mercy. "No need for that face of thunder, Sergeant, she wasn't asking me out on a date."
"It's not her asking I'm worried about," Hathaway ground out, too far gone to care how much he may or may not be implying. Lewis should have been surprised, really, but ever since he'd put up Mrs Turnbull at his place and James had blurted, 'I hope you don't love her anymore,' he'd stopped wondering at the things that 'slipped out' sometimes. Though it was only a good while later that he'd stopped wondering and started liking them. The only reason he wasn't feeling entirely rotten about that was that, while he was generally better at restraining himself, he knew he had his jealous moments, too, and that the lad's smirk just seemed that little bit more smug every time he did. Deciding to leave it for now, though, and trying not to think about the whiff of Hathaway's scent he had caught earlier, with his shirt hanging open and those fingers pausing at the button just above his navel—oh, no, not again—Lewis got in the car and moved the conversation back to business. "Where are we going, then?"
Without missing a beat, Hathaway started the engine and gave him a smirk. "Have a guess, sir."
"Just about, sir."
One Friday night, the band was practicing, and James was struggling with himself whether he should tell them about the song he'd written. He'd done the arrangements and, although he'd tried the tune with just his guitar for company, he really wanted to know what it sounded like, properly. Out there, not just sung to himself in the calm and safety of his flat, even though the one he'd written it for would never hear it. Drawing a deep breath, he spoke up.
A bit later, the boys were watching him out of the corners of their eyes as they were playing, and their hearts broke a little. They didn't have to be sleuths to understand who this song was about. As the tune and the words seemed to come together right in front of them, they knew. The other copper, Lewis, had been with them for band practice quite a few times before, and it would have been impossible to miss the way the older man looked at James when he was playing and, in kind, the way his Sergeant only seemed to really let go whenever his boss came along. The longer they worked together and the longer neither of them seemed aware of or willing to do anything about the sparks flying between them, the more painful it grew for the other band members to stand by and watch. They knew it wasn't their place to interfere, but sometimes they wished someone would. Instead, they just stood and observed, wondering, while the two left together after their sessions, for a pint or for take-away at whichever flat was closer.
And now, they were wondering whether perhaps this song was the break they had been waiting for.
As Lewis left the office, seeing Hathaway lean against the coffee machine for the umpteenth time that day, he couldn't help the yawn that escaped him. Rubbing a finger under his left eye, he took his usual place at the Sergeant's shoulder.
"Perhaps we should call it a day, don't you think? There's not much we can do today anyway, except watch the old files stack up on our desks as Innocent digs up more cold cases," he muttered quietly. He was relieved when Hathaway nodded immediately, only too happy to get out of the station after a day of old manila folders with stains on them of which he wasn't entirely sure they were just coffee.
"Please," he added for emphasis, and Lewis smiled.
Quietly, they perfunctorily tidied up their stuff before heading out, nodding at the desk sergeant as they passed.
"Any plans tonight?" Lewis asked. Hathaway looked uncertain for a moment before answering.
"Actually, yeah. We've got a session tonight, I mean an official one, at St. Anne's. I meant to invite you earlier, but I didn't think we'd get the other case done before and then it sort of slipped my mind...," realizing he was rambling, James stopped himself and straightened his shoulders. "You wanna come?"
Lewis grinned at him and nodded.
"Good, I'm... I'm glad. Be there at 8!" With that, Hathaway hurried to his car as if something suddenly had him feeling his oats. Lewis raised a hand to wave after him to signal he'd understood and watched the lad drive away as he got into his own car.
Things had been getting easier between them lately. Laura's words must have had quite the effect on him, Lewis mused as he drove home, because he found himself opening up to James without warning sometimes, saying things that might just have been blatant flirting. But still they'd gotten no closer to actually talking about what was going on between them, and Lewis was hesitant to take the first definitive step. They'd had a good time of it lately, but he was scared of what would happen when the first rough patch hit and he wouldn't know what to do except lash out. He knew that they'd gotten through the worst of rough patches before, and he knew that sometimes, he could make it alright by offering nothing more but a broken mutter of his name and James would be there, by Lewis' side, unwavering.
He sat among the crowd from where he knew he'd have a good view and just... relaxed. Watching James play was one of the most wondrous things Robbie had ever experienced. He knew the humorous and, at times, silly side of his Sergeant better than anyone, knew his vulnerabilities at least a bit better than most, but he never got to see him quite as unguarded as he was when he was immersed in his music. Feeling himself melt into his seat, he just kept his eyes on James.
A few pieces later, the band was taking a little break to get ready for the next set, and Lewis frowned a little as he saw James twiddle about with a few sheets, fidgeting as if nervous. The lad was never nervous when it came to his music, why would he be now? Lewis watched as the other guys in the band seemed to be asking him an unspoken question, and he would have missed the tiny nod Jim gave them after a minute, if he hadn't been watching so closely. Without any kind of announcement, the lads settled in to play again, and after drawing one slightly shaky breath and closing his eyes the way he always did, James led the ensemble into something new.
Lewis nearly stopped breathing when James started singing—this must be the song he'd worked on in the pub. It must be.
Don't fall in love, if you don't want a gunfight,
If you're not prepared to fall.
I'm sorry, dear, I'm looking for a ray of sun in here.
In the end, there is another sunrise.
As soon as the first syllables had left James' mouth, time seemed to have stopped for Robbie. There was nothing in his world but the man's voice, the way his lips wrapped around the words, his eyes closed, but his face so unguarded and so full of pain, yet so hopeful, that he was sure that he'd never again see anything that was as beautiful as this.
O I know that we're at war,
But, honey, please, before I sleep.
I want to wine you, dine you, not deny you
Hold you higher, always higher.
I'm sorry for my words—
Lewis knew that Hathaway knew. He knew that they both have been waiting for this: a moment of absolute truth. And it hit him in the gut like a ton of bricks when he realized that this, this song, these words... were about him. He knew it with an absolute certainty that he had no business feeling, but he knew. As he heard the apology, his heart missed a beat. He knew what James was doing—he was offering him a way out. By writing this song, by putting everything and yet absolutely nothing out in the open, he gave him the chance to pretend it never happened, to pretend he didn't understand. James knew, with that uncanny sense for troubled souls, how hard Lewis had been struggling, and how much damage this could have done, still could do. Lewis' heart clenched. He knew that James would half expect him to be angry, to dig his heels in and accuse him of putting him on the spot. In any other situation, in any other relationship, he probably would have, but not here, not like this. James was hurting, just as he was, and it was no-one's fault, not really, although there were many moments during which Lewis blamed himself. Where did the fear of hurting someone end, and where did stringing them along begin? So, really, it was his place to make amends. James was simply telling him what he wanted, what he deserved, and yet there he was, apologizing for it, because he knew how difficult this was for Robbie to accept, to believe. It had taken him a long time to be selfish. God knew it had been him who'd set up Hathaway with Fiona one last time before she'd left. There he was, trying not to show his jealousy, a man too stupidly in love with another, so much so that he would do literally anything to see him happy, at the cost of his own peace of mind. Little had he understood that Fiona had been a distraction for James, and a co-conspirator. He hadn't seen the sad smile on her face as she'd let Hathaway in—she'd known why he was there, and James had been too much in need of comfort and some human contact to walk away, too tired to argue with Lewis about how exactly this fit into the grand scheme of things.
Our wars are fuelled by a lifestyle, baby
It's time to change it, to turn, and walk away
My vices perfectly primed,
My hands have been so beautifully tied
O I know that we're at war,
But, honey, please, before I sleep.
I want to wine you, dine you, not deny you.
Hold you higher, always higher.
I'm sorry for my words—
Only then, upon hearing these lines, and the chorus for a second time, did Lewis understand what he meant—yes, they were at war, and it had made Lewis frown, but now he saw. They were at war: each with their own demons, but not with each other, and none of them alone. But while Lewis had thought that he was protecting them by resisting their relationship, he'd made it even harder for them. By continuing to deny themselves, by tying their hands, they'd only gotten in the way of fixing things, of getting better.
Only love, only love, only love
Only hope, only hope
Drives this fear away
I want to live, I want to live
I don't want to die
Lewis swallowed a quiet sob as the weight of his realization sunk in. Laura had been right, of course she had—they were partners, in every sense of the word. He'd been so worried about his darkness and taking advantage that he'd completely missed what had been right in front of him the entire time. He thought of all the times he'd nearly lost James, of all the times he'd stood next to an ambulance, waiting for him to be patched up, or worse, next to a hospital bed, willing him to wake up, quietly or not so quietly telling him that he wasn't allowed to die, dammit. Suddenly, Lewis understood.
There was nothing that Lewis wouldn't do for James that James wouldn't do for him, either. Memories flashed before his mind's eye, images of James flat-out telling him that if Lewis left, so would he; memories of when he'd watched the video of the Monkford interrogation after James had told him. He'd never revealed to Jim that he had requested the footage, but seeing the way his Sergeant, his friend, had taken apart the man who'd killed Val had shaken him to the core. James carried so much doubt, so much struggle between his heart and his duties, and to see him so absolutely determined and finally in sync with himself, for him, for Lewis, was a gift that he would never forget.
It had been obvious to him then that, despite their differences, they needed each other. Perhaps in the beginning the only thing they'd had in common had been how lost and confused they'd been, but that had changed. God knew they'd had their rough patches and touchy subjects, but their sense of knowing and depending on each other had never wavered, not even—especially not when they were shouting at each other. Lewis realized most mistakes Hathaway had ever made had happened because he'd been scared. As angry as Lewis had ever been at him, he'd never once thought of chucking it in with him. They weren't the same, but they were one. He'd been so frightened of making James something less than his equal by entering a relationship with him that he hadn't noticed that James had proven a hundred times over that he couldn't. And that by being together they wouldn't be in any more danger than they were anyway—but that by finally being honest with each other they had every chance of fighting that much harder for the other to be safe, no matter what. Lewis pressed his lips into a thin line as he recognized something else. 'But, honey, please, before I sleep'—he didn't just mean sleep, did he? Robbie's heart sank as he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he would never allow James Hathaway to lie in his lap, bleeding, dying, and that to be his last and only chance to tell him how much he meant to him.
I want to wine you, dine you, not deny you.
Hold you higher, always higher.
I'm sorry for my words—
Suddenly smiling, despite himself, at the promise that these words held, Robbie thought about how happy James made him, how much younger he felt when they were off being ridiculous, and he thought about the way James' eyes lit up only for him. He thought of how comfortable they were with each other, how familiar with each other's peeves and habits—Lewis knew how to make only two kinds of coffee and tea. His, and Hathaway's.
He thought about how, each and every time he left the lad to sleep on his sofa, it became harder to not just grab him by the wrist and drag him along to the bedroom to wrap himself around him and wake up with a nose full of blond hair. It gave him a twinge to remember how the last person he'd woken up like that with had been Val. He knew he didn't have to feel guilty and yet sometimes he did. He knew that nothing about this meant that he hadn't loved her enough or had stopped loving her, and that James would never feel threatened by her memory, but sometimes he couldn't help being disgusted with himself. Those were the black moods he was afraid of, the days where he'd blame James for being wonderful and working his way into his heart, and he hoped that he'd never behave so uniquely awful that James might ever lose his faith—to coin a phrase, Lewis thought and inwardly winced—in how much his partner adored and respected him.
I want to wine you, dine you, not deny you.
Hold me higher, so much higher.
With that, the song ended, and when James opened his eyes again after the last note, his gaze immediately found Lewis'. His expression was still clouded by the whirlwind the music had taken him into, but Lewis could see the apprehension and anxiety. Don't you dare apologize to me for this ever again, Robbie growled in his mind, and without another thought, a smile spread on his face. James' eyes widened almost comically, but a second later he beamed at Lewis, tension leaving his tall frame as he gently clutched his guitar.
When the concert was over and Hathaway was packing up his things while the other guests were still chatting amongst themselves and Lewis, as usual, was standing a little off to the side, the young Sergeant couldn't decide whether this had been a really good, or a really stupid idea. Only time would tell, he knew, but he couldn't help wishing he could just go to sleep and skip forward a few days. Then again, something told him that if there had ever been anything he'd want to experience to the full, it was this, however it turned out. He said goodnight to his friends—was his mind playing tricks on him or were they waving back and smiling a little wistfully?—and padded over to where Lewis was waiting. They looked at each other for a moment, both unwilling to break the spell, but then Lewis ended the silence.
"Let's go home?"
"Yeah," Hathaway replied simply, relief evident in his voice.
Not much later, they arrived at Lewis' flat. James put his guitar and messenger bag around the corner by the sofa, while Lewis stood at the kitchen counter, feeling a bit lost. To make up for it, he asked one of the simpler questions of the night.
"Something to drink?"
"Yeah... tea, please?"
James just nodded, not quite trusting his voice to speak. And besides, what was he going to say? 'I don't want one drop of alcohol clouding the night ahead of us'? Bit presumptuous, that, even though he could clearly feel that something was going on. How could it not, after what he'd just done? He'd only dared to because of the change that had come over Lewis in the past few weeks. He was flirting a little more openly, and didn't suddenly pull away half as much as he used to. So when he'd agreed to come to the concert, Hathaway had started his inner Great Debate before he'd even reached his car.
James remembered the moment he'd known for certain that he fancied this man to bits. It had been when he'd woken up in hospital, after Lewis had carried him out of the Phoenix's burning nest and waited for him to open his eyes again. He couldn't help the smile as he said, "You saved me," and although the other man had brushed him off and told him not to be melodramatic, he knew what it meant. He didn't hate him, even after what he'd done, both to Lewis himself and to Will. When James had lain in that bed next to Zoe, the flames slowly consuming the house, he hadn't been bothered. Not only because he'd been drugged, but because he'd honestly believed he didn't deserve any better. But when he woke up, with Lewis standing above him, calling him 'Sergeant,' letting him know he hadn't lost himself a job, and, if he was lucky, a friend, he had to realize that Lewis didn't think so. He'd pulled him out of the fire, risking his own life, had used the last of his strength to prevent James from running in again to get Zoe out. If Robert Lewis still believed he had a chance, then perhaps he did.
That day, the shame at pushing Will over the edge had eaten him up, and after that horrifying fight in the street, with Lewis sending him away, Hathaway had been convinced he'd lost everything. 'You're not listening to me!' he heard himself yelling over and over, desperately, trying to make him understand that this wasn't about trust. James trusted Lewis to the end of the world and back, more than he trusted himself—but he was ashamed, and frightened. Frightened Lewis would hate him for being so blind, for believing the things he'd said to Will so long ago. He wanted to be someone Lewis could look straight in the eye without thinking of all the mistakes they'd made, someone he'd tried so hard to be ever since joining the force. And when Lewis had simply stated that, if his children were gay, it wouldn't matter, Hathaway had known he couldn't ever tell him, though he'd known he had to, but he couldn't. He'd known that Lewis would look at him and wonder what he'd do to him if his own son had been the one who'd come to Hathaway for advice all those years ago, and he'd wanted to throw up in the car.
Instead, Lewis had given him so many chances to speak up, had offered him comfort and support, and all he'd done was deflect to save himself from having to reveal what he'd been, what he'd done to the man who mattered most to him in his life. And then, when it had all blown up in his face, he'd known for sure it was over.
But when Lewis had been there, though fleeing immediately as soon as he was awake, probably to think things through and sort out what this meant for their relationship as Inspector and Sergeant, and beyond that, Hathaway had known that it wasn't. When Lewis had closed the door behind him, James had let out a single, quiet laugh, a grin brightening his face, safe in the knowledge that if Lewis wasn't ready to desert him, perhaps it wasn't quite the time to give up yet. In that moment, he'd also realized that that thought made him happier than he could remember being in a long, long while. After spending so much time adrift, never belonging anywhere, he'd found a place he felt he needed to be, wanted to be, deserved to be. And while he understood that Lewis might never actually act on what seemed to be unfolding between them, he wouldn't have had it any other way.
It hadn't taken him too long to realize that he was attracted to the new DI, but he'd also immediately seen what kind of pain the man was in, and that, while unconsciously, almost in spite of himself, Lewis began responding to Hathaway's teasing and sometimes ridiculously obvious—at least to him—flirting, Lewis might never really see it. When Innocent had rather persistently tried to talk Lewis into going out on a date with her friend, Ginny, Hathaway had looked at Lewis with nothing short of supreme amusement, and a great big blob of curiosity as to his reaction on the side. When Lewis' eyes had instantly flickered over to Hathaway's, looking, at first, slightly alarmed and then, a moment later, rather resigned, as if actually apologizing, James hadn't been sure what to feel. He felt certain that Lewis wasn't really aware of what he was doing, not open to the idea of a relationship in general, and probably entirely unaware of the effect he was having on another man. At that point, Hathaway decided that he wasn't going to resign himself to a life of celibacy until Lewis made a move (though, the state his social life was in, he might as well have), but that perhaps, one day, they'd have a chance. He had no idea how long he'd be able to take it, at what point he'd crack and run away from his feelings, but something told him that this man was worth waiting for. Hathaway recognized the ferocity with which Lewis hung on to his late wife's memory, saw it every day in the way he tackled their cases, felt it every time he'd taken a step in the wrong direction and Lewis guided him back on the right track, heard the energy crackle between them every time they had a snappy argument with each other. And although sometimes he couldn't help but curse the guilt that Lewis was probably feeling for being attracted to someone else, James knew that there was no point in playing What If. He would have given anything to spare Lewis the pain of losing Val, but there was nothing he could do, except to try and help him get better, whatever that meant for himself. Still, Valerie Lewis never felt like a haunting shadow or a ghost—she was part of Lewis, and that was that.
Later, after the Monkford case and after Crevecoeur Hall, when Hathaway had somehow noticed that Lewis did know what he was doing—namely driving James to distraction with their banter and their closeness—Hathaway's heart seemed to have stopped for days. It was then that Hathaway had stayed up all night, collating the pictures from that party into a timeline that told them at least most of what they needed to know. He'd sensed Lewis enter the office behind him, had felt the older man's fingertips brushing along his back gently, burning through the thin fabric separating skin and skin, to announce his arrival before speaking, had felt the surprise radiating from him as he'd shushed him. It was only after he'd removed his headphones and explained what he'd been doing that it came to him what he'd done, what this meant, and that Lewis might think him a fool. He had to turn away when he asked him why, almost whispering, "Well, you thought something wasn't right." He felt Lewis' intense eyes on him as he swallowed nervously, and he was glad the other man didn't say anything, just telling him to come along. He sprang into action, glad to have something else to think about, but in that moment, something in their relationship had shifted, and though it would take a long, long time for them to address it, they both knew it was there. Although it had been Lewis' instinct that had spurred him into action, it had been his own instincts that told him how to figure out what they were looking for, and he'd finally gotten what Lewis had been trying to tell him all those years—to listen to himself. He'd nurtured James' confidence instead of pushing his own onto him, just being there, quietly trusting him and his decisions, but never leaving him alone or hanging him out to dry if something went wrong.
James knew that it was dangerous, falling for his boss if their working relationship regularly held traps and pitfalls for them, but they were getting better at navigating them as time went on, and they always came out of rough patches together and ahead. When he'd gotten the sheets out in the church and the boys had basically collectively nudged him, he'd been terrified for a moment. This could have gone so many, many kinds of wrong, and yet he'd known that, if not now, he'd never do it. He almost called himself a coward for doing it like this, instead of stepping up to the plate as he should and properly talking about it to Lewis, but he knew he couldn't. Not only because of his own near-paralysing fear of rejection, but because he wanted to give Lewis a way out. And, yes, perhaps it was a test. Perhaps it was saying, if you can't summon the courage to be honest with me now, then perhaps we're better off for not even trying. Then again, James knew that even if this "test" had failed, he couldn't have let go, couldn't have given up. He may be a fool for it, but he had learnt the hard way that a loving heart would not be argued with.
It was only when he was singing the song that he realized that there was something else—he hadn't composed like this in a while, and as he was singing he felt that this was how he needed to do it, because he wanted Lewis to hear this song. Art was a way of expression for James, he needed it like he needed his work, like he needed Lewis. Perhaps there wasn't a right way, but this came pretty damn close.
James stepped up to where Lewis was pottering about with the kettle and two mugs and was about to say something when the other man turned around. Unduly reminded of that morning when a dove had shat on him at a crime scene and they'd been standing equally close as he'd changed his shirt, James just stared at Lewis, letting his eyes roam over the slightly weathered face and the upturned mouth, finally settling on a pair of eyes that, it seemed, he knew as well as his own now, but that never ceased to amaze or surprise him. A smile tugged on the corners of Lewis' eyes, and they continued standing there, barely breathing. James was just starting to picture them like that with a giant hashtag reading #AWKWARD blinking away somewhere when Lewis interrupted his thoughts rather efficiently by hooking his left index finger in one of the belt loops on James' torn jeans, and pulled him just that bit closer. James' eyes dropped towards Lewis' mouth, but he knew it wasn't the time yet. He needed to say something first, to dispel the last of the other man's doubts.
"I know what I'm getting myself into, Robbie."
He felt Lewis shiver at the use of his first name, the first time James had ever spoken it, and he knew he was on the right track.
"I know who you are, and you know who I am, and the things we don't know yet we can learn. You're brilliant. You take me seriously, you get me, and I've never met anyone as real as you. And I know you think you're too old and not good enough, but you know what? What about me? I used to be a scared little kid, I brood and I get angry. I'm weird and a know-it-all. I'm an inexperienced officer, I was training to be a priest as you were losing your faith—what would you want with me?"
He watched Lewis' brow furrow as he was saying all these things, watched as he drew breath to protest in righteous indignation, but he shushed the shorter man with a finger on his lips.
"You were going to defend me just now, weren't you?"
Lewis nodded, his lips warm and soft against James' skin, and the younger man smiled.
Lewis' eyes widened and James watched, still smiling, as the penny dropped. He let his hand fall to his side and, as if released from a spell, Robbie's lips parted. He seemed to want to say something, but then his expression changed and before James could think too much about it, Robbie's right hand came up to rest against his chest, just a little left of the middle, fingers curling into the fabric of his t-shirt, tugging. James felt the adrenalin rush through him as he started to lean down, slowly, until he was close enough and Robbie closed the gap between them with a decisive motion, capturing James' lips in a soft, but firm kiss. James released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and moved closer, nudging Robbie's inner thighs with his right knee as he aligned their bodies, raising his hands to place them on the other man's waist. He bent his head down a little further, angling his head to the right, which Robbie greatly appreciated, sliding his lips over James' more insistently, drawing a moan from the taller man. He smiled against James' mouth while his left hand abandoned the belt loop in favour of exploring the skin underneath James' t-shirt (The Clash, if he'd spied it correctly earlier). Sliding his fingertips over the smooth plains of the young man's stomach, he wondered what he'd done right in a past life to deserve this. A second chance at happiness, with a man this clever and kind and gorgeous and, bloody hell, very good at kissing. Lewis' thoughts were violently derailed at that point, as Hathaway nibbled on his upper lip and traced it with his tongue.
Feeling Lewis pull back, James feared he'd gone too far, but he was convinced otherwise when he saw the slightly dazed expression on Lewis' features, who rasped, "Bedroom. Now." Walking backwards, James kept his hands on Lewis' waist and steered them towards the hall. Meanwhile, Lewis lowered both hands to the seam of James' shirt and started tugging until he eagerly raised his arms so Lewis could pull it off, tossing it over his shoulder in the general direction of the living room.
"I hope you don't mind wrinkles in that," he drawled, leaving no doubt in James' mind that, come morning, wrinkles in his band shirt would be the least of his worries.
With a smirk, James' hands went to work on the buttons of Lewis' shirt, pulling it from the waistband of his trousers as they reached the bedroom door and pushing it off of his shoulders as they were stumbling into the room, the light from the hall enough to negotiate their way without bumping into furniture. It landed on the floor behind them, as did their shoes as they kicked them off haphazardly in their hurry before swiftly toeing their own socks off; and Lewis put his hands on the taller man's naked chest, stretching upwards a little. Cupping Lewis' cheek with his left hand, James put his right hand to work undoing the other man's belt as he leaned in to kiss him. Lewis responded enthusiastically, opening his mouth when he felt James' teeth nip at his upper lip again and deepening the kiss. Tentatively, their tongues wrapped around each other, and Lewis' fingers skimmed James' nipple carefully. James groaned into his mouth, prompting Robbie to flick his thumb over the sensitive flesh with more purpose. In retaliation, James made quick work of his trousers, giving them a nudge to slide them down his hips. As they pooled at Robbie's ankles, James pulled away and took a few paces back until his knees hit the bed, a faint smirk pulling at his lips. Robbie, who had to step out of the cotton contraption entrapping his feet first, narrowed his eyes at him and tilted his head in a teasing warning as he moved to follow him, but nearly stopped in his tracks when his eyes dropped lower and he saw that James had used the involuntary pause to divest himself of his jeans—and his pants, too. Robbie felt his mouth go dry and glanced back up at James, who was staring back with a faintly smug air about him, as if silently telling Lewis, 'If you ever needed proof I'm in this for real, there's lots of it.'
Robbie didn't bother hiding his grin as he stepped forward, letting his fingers brush James' hipbone, tracing the skin, feeling the goosebumps that erupted as James' breath hitched in his throat. Their eyes fixed on each other, they stood like this for a while, though neither could have estimated how long exactly, until James simply hiked one leg up behind him, knelt down on the mattress and scooted backwards a bit, looking at Lewis with nothing short of hunger in his eyes. Being as tall as he was, he barely had to bend his head back to look Robbie in the eye, anyway, and Robbie couldn't help but smirk. He put his hands on James' shoulders, thumbs caressing the collarbones, momentarily mesmerised by how soft the skin there was. Heartened, James wound his arms around Robbie's lower back and drew him in, until their bodies were flush against each other. Robbie nearly blushed as he felt James' arousal press against his thigh—not so much because he'd never been with a man before, but, well, it had simply been a while. The last time he'd been this close to someone... he preferred not to finish the thought just then, and thought about how this sort of freaked him out a little, but how it mostly just filled him with an emotion brighter than any other he'd felt in a very long time. He lowered his head to kiss James on the forehead, then went on to ghost his lips over James' left temple, his right hand coming up to brush through the close-cropped hair in the nape of the man's neck, scratching his scalp gently.
James made a small, contented noise at the back of his throat, nuzzling his nose into Lewis' pulse point. He loved Robbie's scent, always had. The soap that never changed, the shampoo, and the quiet, ever-present smell that was uniquely Lewis. He breathed in slowly and deeply, and tightened the hold of his arms, moving from side to side a little so his chest rubbed against Lewis', the friction driving him to distraction. He felt Robbie smile against his temple, and decided they had been quiet for long enough. He arched his back, not knowing which was better: the way the smooth skin of Lewis' thighs caressed his length, or the evidence of Lewis' own... excitement that he felt pressing back.
Lewis felt his mouth drop open as he instinctively rolled his hips into James' in response, knowing no other way for this to go; and it had to. Right now. He pulled back a little and sealed his lips over James', knowing that this was the point of no return. He'd been running from this moment for so long—he was done running. Hathaway, sensing his urgency, hooked his thumbs into the waistband of Lewis' pants, hesitating for a second. Robbie lightly bit his lower lip, signalling him to, please, get on with it, and James didn't need to be told twice. He pushed them down towards Lewis' knees as far as he could without breaking the kiss, and let them fall, then skimmed his hands up Robbie's thighs, feeling a rush of possessiveness. He slipped his hands to the back of Lewis' thighs, pulling him closer still. Robbie took the hint and lightly pushed at James' right shoulder. James pulled away and backed up on the bed, sitting back on his haunches, his hands sliding from Robbie' legs. He scooted backwards into the pillows, extending a hand towards Lewis. Robbie grabbed it and let himself be pulled on the bed, propping himself up with his left arm to hover above James, kneeling next to him. James unfolded his legs from underneath him stretching them out beside Robbie, who peered down at him with something in his eyes that looked suspiciously like awe. James reached for him, parting his legs, and that was all the invitation Lewis needed. He settled himself between Hathaway's thighs, their hips... slotting together as if genetically engineered to. Lewis growled as his erection brushed James', and that was when the breath left his body and got replaced by adrenaline. He used the grip he still had on Hathaway's left hand to intertwine their fingers and press them into the pillow next to his head, while James put his free hand on Lewis' waist and dug the tips of his fingers into the skin. Lewis lowered his body inch by inch, letting his left arm slowly give way until he was resting right on top of Hathaway, who stretched up to kiss him. Sliding their mouths together increasingly frantically, they started rocking their hips. James wrapped his legs around Lewis' and arched into him, digging his heels into the back of his thighs, wordlessly cheering him on. His heart in his throat, Lewis broke the kiss and listened to their panting breaths; the little sounds escaping James' parted lips were getting louder, and Lewis didn't even know what kind of noises he was making as he gently nipped at James' jaw with his teeth. Hathaway arched his back again, nearly lifting them both clean off the bed, throwing his head back to allow Robbie better access.
Their groins came together over and over, a perpetual game of pushing and pulling, giving and receiving, and though their movements were becoming faster and faster, they never lost their rhythm, never fell out of sync. Lewis felt his climax fast approaching, and he was about to say something when James pulled his head back a little, staring up at him with lust-clouded, but focused eyes. He didn't speak, just watched Lewis' face and the way his expressive features told him everything he needed to know—the longing to make it last, to draw this out, but the insurmountable obstacle of this being the first time in years playing a practical joke on them both. Hathaway knew, and he knew that Lewis could see the same turmoil as he looked at him. James leaned up to kiss Lewis—more roughly than he had before, demanding more—and bucked his hips upwards with determination, bent on bringing Robbie over the edge with him. He moaned in response to the loud groan that escaped Robbie at that, and soon reckless abandon was taking over entirely. With a shout, muffled by Hathaway's mouth before Lewis pulled away and buried his face in the younger man's neck, he came, at which point James gave up and let go, writhing beneath him. Mindless of the mess between them, Robbie nearly dropped down on top of him, and though careful not to just squash him, he couldn't resist the feeling of boneless relaxation that enveloped him. James slid his legs down until his feet were resting on Lewis' calves, then squeezed their still-joint hands and wrapped his other arm around Lewis' back, holding him tight.
After lying like this for as long as they needed to calm their breathing, Lewis wanted to roll to the side, muttering something that sounded vaguely like, "James, I'm too heavy."
All he got in response was a rumbling, "Mmmh," before James shifted underneath him, murmuring, "That's not what worries me."
"The stickiness, however, does," and although Lewis wasn't looking at him, he could virtually see the slightly grossed-out face James was probably pulling in that moment. He chuckled and groped around blindly for a bit before he got his left hand into the nightstand drawer, finding a packet of tissues left over from his last bout of flu. He cleaned them both up without further comment, grinning when James unconsciously pressed into the hand on his stomach, stretching his limbs like a cat. Lewis threw the tissue towards the bin, but possibly missed, then reached for the covers folded at the end of the bed. While he had part of his back turned to James, he feared, for two terrible seconds, that the lad would want to leave instead of staying, but when he looked back at him, James had already curled up on his right side, waiting for him to lie down again with him. Robbie settled in next to him, pulling the blankets over them both, smiling to himself when James practically wrapped himself around him as soon as he was close enough, nestling his blond head under Lewis' chin. Without either of them saying another word, they went to rest.
When the sun started pouring in through the half-closed curtains early the next morning, the two prone figures in the bed were still much in the same position as when they'd fallen asleep. Blinking against the bright light, Lewis rubbed his eyes, but then stilled in something akin to shock as he felt another body wrapped around his own, their combined warmth heating their naked skin. Glancing down, he confirmed that it was indeed James Hathaway in his arms, still sound asleep and his youthful face as relaxed as he'd ever seen it. Lewis searched his conscience for a speck of doubt, a pang of regret, but came up empty. There was something niggling at the back of his mind, though, and it took him a minute to figure it out, but when he did, he smiled. That could be sorted out easily enough, he thought. Knackered as he was, however, he decided it could wait for a bit longer, and winding a protective arm around James' bare shoulders, he went back to sleep.
About an hour later, he woke again to a sort of tickling sensation. Slowly coming to his senses, he eventually identified the source of it: James had somehow managed to squeeze a hand in between their bodies and was tracing patterns over his ribs and stomach. He cracked an eye open to survey the scene, and found James smiling at him lazily.
"Morning," he rumbled, his voice still hoarse from sleep, before leaning up to kiss James briefly, whose smile grew a little wider.
"Morning," he replied, leaning back in quickly to kiss him again. He settled into Lewis again afterwards, removing his hand and putting his arm around the other man's waist, his head resting on Robbie's shoulder. As Lewis unconsciously stroked a hand up and down James' back and shoulders, he felt it was his turn to say something that was long overdue.
"I never thought that, you know."
"What you said yesterday, in the kitchen. I never wondered what I'd want with you, why I'd fall for you, of all people. I mean, yeah, you're an awkward, cheeky sod, but… you're my awkward, cheeky sod."
"You understand what I was trying to tell you, though, right?"
"You mean underhandedly telling me that you know I'm a grouch and an old geezer, but you don't mind?"
James gave him an exasperated look, and Lewis chuckled.
"Yeah, I got that—and the serious part. And while it goes without saying for me, it might not for you, so let me just tell you this: you can be impossible and… facetious," they both grinned, "and when we're having a row and you're all blank and brooding, I could strangle ye. But your faith, or lack thereof, in God doesn't concern me, it's your faith in yourself. You're clever, and that's obvious, you're brilliant. But what's important is you've got instincts and courage. I know you don't trust yourself as much as you deserve, but that's not a fault or a blemish, it's just… You know, people keep asking me if I've managed to unlock the 'the great Hathaway mystery'—and I don't know. Because I know you're distanced from yourself and you appear so bloody aloof all the time, but that's just the 'unfortunate shape of your face,'" he quoted, and James had to laugh. "When I first met you, I didn't see a mystery, or a riddle, but someone to get to know better, to guide to become the copper they can be, because you can be a bloody brilliant one, not to mould them into someone I think they should be. It's how Morse trained me, and I've turned out alright, I think," he added with a bit of sarcasm.
"But you were the first to see that. The others, they didn't know what to do with me. With my Cambridge education and the seminary under my belt, they looked at me and saw a freak. I didn't make sense to them, so they stopped trying. Before you came, I felt like I was back in the seminary sometimes, with everyone just pretending. They were supposed to be helping people, but all they did was make them worse."
Lewis knew that James was thinking of Will as he said that, the pain and guilt so obvious in the lad's voice that he wrapped his arms tighter around the younger man's back. It was in the aftermath of that case that James had first felt like a mystery to him, and he'd hated himself for thinking it. It took time to learn as much about James Hathaway as he had, and that was just how it was. And yet, Lewis felt that the foundation of what they had now, the basic, yet almost intimate, intuitive understanding of each other had been formed within days of their first meeting.
"And then you were there and it was like, after all that time, I'd found the first real person. And you started teaching me, properly. What with you being the best Inspector I've ever seen… You never lied to me, never made me feel ridiculous for choosing the life I did, even though you may not have understood the choices I made."
James was right on that count, Lewis hadn't understood for a long time. Only when he'd dragged him out of that burning house he'd realised that, James had chosen a career in the force as penance, trying to find a way to make sense of the world again. When the things he'd believed to be real and true, what he'd believed to right and wrong, had come tumbling down around him, he'd lost trust in his instincts. The world had become so closed-off to him then, to which Hathaway had responded with an air of distance and being a bit of a smart alec when all he'd really needed was someone to show him the way. James didn't needed anyone to tell him what was what, but to believe in himself, to build his own reality, his own set of rules.
"But look at what you did," Lewis said, nudging James so he'd look at him from where his head was resting on Robbie's chest. "You stuck to your guns, and when you saw an opportunity, you went for it. You think you're being an arse when you say it, but you do care, more than anyone I know. You've really come into your own—"
"Pants?" James interrupted, a cheeky grin on his face. Lewis thumped his head into the pillow, willing himself not to laugh as he pinched James' shoulder. "Stop that," he growled. "No, what I mean is, you've… grown to be a confident detective, and if you think I had anything to do with that, then I am honoured."
"You've got everything to do with that," James muttered and effortlessly stretched up to kiss him.
When they broke apart, Lewis decided to actually have a look at the time. Only half past seven—they were lucky it was still so early. Work was slow at the moment, but Heaven knew when the next murder was going to pull them out of their... languor. Be that as it may, they would have to get up soon, anyway. James' next words shook him from his thoughts.
"What are we going to do? And feel free to tell me it's too early for that question, in more ways than one."
Sorting through his befuddled mind, Lewis worked out what that meant, and exhaled slowly.
"Seeing how long it took us to get to this point, I s'pose not." He gave James a reassuring look and felt him relax, though the muscles in his back remained tense. "I guess we should tell Innocent at some point... she needs to know, it's the rules. As for the rest of them..."
"Everyone else can sod off, for all I care," James cut in, looking up at Lewis, taking in his slightly surprised look before continuing. "I mean, not that I'd rather be seen dead with anyone else but you, but—a police station doesn't lend itself well to such a relationship, does it?"
Lewis considered that, and then shook his head. "Though they probably won't think anything has changed to begin with, the way we've been behaving..."
James chuckled. "No holding hands at crime scenes, then?" he deadpanned, unable to resist winding Lewis up a bit.
"Sadly, no, and I think the getting shat on by doves and then getting half-naked while changing your shirt will have to stop, too." At James' confused look, Lewis elaborated. "Now that I know precisely what's under those clothes, I can't have you undressing in front of other people again, or we'll have to arrest ourselves for public indecency."
"That happened once! But, uhm, yes. That would be... inconvenient."
"Just a little."
All tension was gone from Hathaway's back now, and Lewis smiled at how they'd managed to make it through all manner of conversation still in that same tangled heap of limbs and sheets they'd woken up in. He hadn't pegged James as a cuddler, but here he was, giving all oversized limpets a run for their money, and Lewis was enjoying it immensely.
Hathaway was about to say something else when he was distracted by a noise coming from the floor. He needed a moment to clock it, but then he realized: his phone. In his jeans pocket. He sat up and quite simply draped himself over Lewis to reach for a trouser leg or whatever else he could get his hands on, and dragged them halfway up the bed as he sat down again. Having fished his mobile from the back pocket, he flung them back on the carpet and glanced at the screen, cringing as he recognized the caller ID. Perching cross-legged next to Lewis on the bed, he answered, listening patiently to what dispatch had to say. Robbie used that moment to sit up himself and unabashedly take in the pale form of James' body as he sat there, stark naked as he was. With a grin, he realized he'd been missing the best thing the entire morning: James' usually somewhat artfully groomed hair had given in to the most adorable bed head, blond hair sticking up in all directions, which made him want to rake his hands through it even more than usual. He then had to watch as James looked at the ceiling and bit his lip in contemplation, probably as he tried to put a map reference with the address he was being given, and Lewis caught himself appreciating what he saw very much indeed. Rubbing a hand over his face, he willed himself to calm down.
"Alright, we'll be there. Ah, no, there's no need for you to call Inspector Lewis, I'll do that myself." He managed to say it with a straight face and a steady voice, but Lewis spied a corner of his mouth twitching in amusement. "Right, thanks. Bye." Turning to Lewis, Hathaway pulled a face. "Body."
"Let's go, then." Lewis disentangled himself from the blanket and got up, stopping at the wardrobe to sort out a suit, shirt, and tie to wear before proceeding to the bathroom. All the while, Hathaway stayed sitting on the bed, doing little but staring at the man's legs and marvelling at the way he wasn't at all self-conscious about his nudity. He vaguely remembered the change of clothes he had brought with him—just in case, he'd told himself as he'd stuffed them into his bag with slightly shaky hands—but was too distracted altogether to bother with such trivia. It wasn't until Lewis had actually left the room, but then backtracked and popped his head round the door that his thoughts were interrupted.
Quickly unfolding his long limbs, Hathaway didn't have to be told twice, jumped off the bed, and hurried after Lewis.
Later, they were standing over a body, both dressed sharply as ever, tilting their heads as they were taking in the crime scene. Which was, incidentally, a young ballet dancer, hanging upside down from a fire escape of an abandoned building. Laura had yet to arrive, so there was little to go on so far, but they decided to wait until she would have had a first look at the victim before leaving. There were no witnesses to interview apart from the groundskeeper who'd found her, and one of the uniforms could do that until they had more information to take back to the family.
Lewis walked around Hathaway to get a better look at the fire escape from below, and as his shoulder brushed James' back, the younger man had to suppress a shudder and a smirk. They hadn't gotten up to much in the shower earlier—after all, they'd had work to get to—but James had made sure to reacquaint himself as thoroughly as possible with the body he'd been idly sleeping next to for so many hours that night, and if Lewis had been wearing a slightly silly grin on his face while getting dressed, that may or may not have been entirely James' fault.
A shout from the Log Officer announced the medical examiner's arrival, and Lewis and Hathaway both turned and stepped away from the body to meet her before letting her get on with it, standing a little to the side.
"D'you reckon she was trying out a new choreography?" Hathaway asked quietly from where he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lewis, casting him a sidelong glance. Lewis turned his head to look up at him, a shadow of the silly grin from earlier making an inadvertent reappearance as he couldn't help briefly flashing back to when they'd parked the car a safe distance away and he'd quickly leaned across the console to kiss James, chastely, before stepping out into that other world they inhabited.
"Don't ask me that. Young folk like you are rumoured to always be on the lookout for new things."
Hathaway's lips curled upward in a smirk at that, and while they continued their impromptu staring contest, Laura had taken to looking to and fro between them, squinting at something she couldn't quite put her finger on. They were shamelessly flirting, yes—God knew that that had been about as much innuendo as Lewis would ever allow himself at work—but that bit was familiar, even though they themselves had seemed to be unaware of it for the longest time. No, there was something else, radiating from them both. Laura narrowed her eyes again as she looked from the victim to the two detectives, trying to find the missing clue, noting how Lewis leaned in just that bit closer to Hathaway than he usually did (perfectly unnoticeable to any other casual observer, but Laura had been watching), and how James' smile was just a little fonder than it had been a few days ago...
Shaking her head, she went back to examining the body as the two men went on talking as they normally did while working scenes—seriously, but never far from a snarky comment or the occasional bickering about possible leads and who got to follow them up. She interrupted them after a few more minutes by putting her equipment back in her bag and giving them a few preliminary results.
"Cause of death, possibly an overdose that she might or might not have taken voluntarily, though the latter seems more likely, 'cause she's definitely been arranged like this hours after her death—with rigor mortis setting in, whoever put her like this has had to break several bones to secure her in this position. Time of death, sometime around noon yesterday."
"When would you say she's been put up like this?" Lewis asked, glancing up again, considering the effort it must have taken to get the poor girl there.
"Judging by how far she's gone, I'd say after at least 9pm. Have fun."
Lewis and Hathaway thanked her and immediately put their heads together about the drugs and the avenues of investigation this opened up for them. Laura said goodbye, though she wasn't entirely sure they'd heard her. It wasn't until she'd walked nearly all the way back to her car that she got the picture—and almost dropped her bag in surprise. She turned around to look back at them, her eyes wide. Ostensibly, nothing had changed: there were a DI and his Sergeant, discussing a case, both wearing the same expression they always did—which, in their case, was steely professionalism mixed with an undercurrent of an absurd amount of affection, a combination that should have been impossible to pull off, except these two did it effortlessly. Laura often felt as if she was intruding on an intimate moment whenever she watched them interact like this; so why did this strike her as so very different?
'Well, clearly, because they've finally gotten it on,' the little voice in her head supplied helpfully. They must have. There. That smirk on James' face just then, how did this—ah. In that moment, Laura got it. It was true, what she'd told Lewis: they'd already been completely smitten with each other for ages, and showing it—though so many people were simply blind to these things—so their behaviour wouldn't actually change much. Except now it seemed to Laura that they weren't fighting it anymore. They'd gone from clueless to increasingly aware to painfully aware, and now... they wereenjoying it. They were still playing hide and seek, just that they weren't playing it with each other any longer, but with the people around them; most of whom were so familiar with their antics that they wouldn't even begin to wonder.
At length, Hathaway noticed that Laura had stopped in her tracks and was looking at them from a distance. Signalling Lewis with his eyes, he squared his shoulders and tilted his head as he stared right back at her. Lewis just turned around and raised his arms a fraction in the universal gesture of silently asking, 'What's going on?' Laura grinned at them, and then nodded her head once, raising an eyebrow, basically telling them, 'I see what you did there,' before turning and pushing through a gaggle of uniforms to get to her car.
Behind her, Lewis and Hathaway were looking at each other, a little perplexed.
"She was bound to figure it out, you said it yourself."
"Yeah, but... that quickly?"
"Never underestimate a woman with a scalpel, sir."
"Now, where have I heard that before..." Sighing, Lewis led the way back to their car—they'd need to go give the girl's family the news, the part he hated the most. It felt moderately alright when they could give them some closure by catching whoever did it and stick him or her in a cell, but that was a long way to go yet. It was daunting to step up to a door and announce that a life had been lost for reasons no-one would understand, but as Lewis chanced a glance at James from the side, he felt that the burden wasn't quite as heavy. Not only because they were partners—and lovers, too—but because they'd both experienced the loss, and they'd relied upon each other to get through it eventually. Perhaps without realizing it at first, they'd become each other's safety nets, and they were safe in the knowledge that the fact that they could hardly imagine not being with each other anymore wasn't a weakness, but a mark of strength. In that instant, Lewis knew with complete clarity that this was what getting better felt like.
A tiresome week and a finished case later, they were just on their way out the office when Lewis halted his steps, holding up a hand to signal James to hold on for a moment. He pouted a little the way he did when he was pondering something, so Hathaway waited patiently for what he had to say. After a minute, Lewis looked up at him thoughtfully.
"I think now's a good time to go and talk to Innocent."
He didn't have to explain what exactly he meant for them to talk to her about, and Hathaway wrinkled his nose, knowing that it was necessary, but not really liking the idea.
"We should," Lewis murmured in reply, tilting his head and discreetly looking up and down the corridor to make sure no-one was around to hear. "We're not asking for permission, for goodness' sake. But it's her department and there's hierarchy involved, she has a right to know what kind of an operation she's running here."
"Won't she have to take it to her boss, though? His Majesty the Commissioner?"
"That's her decision."
Sighing, Hathaway lowered his head, hunching his shoulders as he was wont to do when preparing for a situation he really wasn't looking forward to. Tapping his feet a few times, he thought about what they'd do if the gods in the marble halls tried to separate them, whether Innocent would stick her neck out for them, considering that they had pretty much raised the roof in terms of solved cases and that, though it wouldn't always be easy, their personal relationship was far from posing an actual obstacle.
Straightening up, he gave Lewis a measured look and nudged him with his elbow. "Let's go, then."
Together, they walked up to Superintendent Innocent's door. Lewis checked the corridor once more before brushing the back of his hand against Hathaway's. He sensed the taller man relax slightly next to him, and he knocked before opening the door and greeting Innocent's secretary. She smiled at them and waved them through, so they stepped through into their boss' office. Jean Innocent was sitting at her desk going over reports, and when she looked up to see who'd come in, Lewis perceived something akin to relief in her eyes—very boring reports, then. Good, this tipped the scales in their favour. For five minutes, at least.
"What is it, gentlemen?" she asked, the ever-present bit of exasperation she usually reserved for them evident in her voice, but her demeanour generally amiable. Lewis congratulated himself on his timing and, after exchanging a look with Hathaway, nodded at him to take the lead.
"Ma'am, we wanted to apprise you of a recent development that, although it concerns mainly Inspector Lewis and me and no-one else, we felt you should know about."
Lewis had to fight to keep a serious face—letting Hathaway take the lead also always meant big words and complicated sentences that could make a dessert choice sound like a diplomatic incident with delusions of grandeur. Luckily, Innocent was used to it by now and merely arched an eyebrow, prompting the Sergeant to just spit it out already, knowing it was better to let him make his case rather than interrupt with questions.
"We are... Inspector Lewis and I—we're together. We are aware that there are certain... concerns attached to such a relationship, but I can assure you that there is no coercion involved, nor extraction of favours—what I'm saying is, ma'am, it won't affect our work. So whatever forms you want me to sign to protect the department, I will. Except a transfer." Hathaway gave Innocent a moment to let it all sink in before raising his eyebrows slightly, silently asking for a response. She looked back and forth between the two men standing in front of her for a moment, looking a bit bewildered, until she regained her composure and leaned forward, mulling over her words. She took in their stance: right next to each other, though not directly touching, both with squared shoulders, but not overly defensive otherwise. It reminded her of the first time she'd called them in here to give them a decent thrashing; after the public debacle at the museum. They'd been as protective of each other then as they were now, Jean realized—she'd often asked herself, in the safety of her mind, if something could possibly be going on between the two. There she had her answer, then. Now, however, she definitely had to consider the consequences, too.
"Inspector Lewis, do you have anything to add to what Sergeant Hathaway has just said?"
"Nothing in particular, ma'am, no."
"And in general?"
Lewis knew she was pushing for the details, and he also knew he had to accommodate her if they wanted to come out of this meeting with all of their limbs still attached. "In general, ma'am—we didn't plan it. We didn't even know what was going on for the longest while, and then, when we knew, we tried to forget about it. It's no use trying to forget about it, ma'am." Perhaps the light was playing tricks on him, but Lewis thought he saw something in her eyes soften just then, and pressed on. "I know this isn't exactly what you had in mind for us, but... it's not a passing fancy and we're not getting anything mixed up." He left it at that, continuing to look at her with calm, but clearly imploring eyes, asking her to understand. She regarded them, each in turn, for another minute before sitting back in her chair, tilting her head. Her expression was stern, but Lewis had seen worse.
"Are you sure that this can work?"
They exchanged a glance and then looked back at her, nodding simultaneously. She seemed to restrain herself from rolling her eyes at that, and continued.
"I would hate to have to explain to the Commissioner how one of the best teams we've had in a long while went up in flames due to a failed office romance."
Lewis internally winced at the inflammatory metaphor and, next to him, Hathaway shifted uncomfortably, but stayed quiet.
"With respect, ma'am, we know it won't always be easy, and I understand if you're worried about this becoming a liability, but... we'll be careful not to let that happen," Lewis replied, reluctant to make promises he knew were subject to things partly beyond his control.
Jean was thinking it through. The uproar within the department, the rampant homophobia that somehow still permeated the force, the potential media disaster, granted, but what worried her most was the personal ammunition this could provide for witnesses and suspects seeking to discredit the investigation, or convicts with an axe to grind. One wrong word in the wrong place, accidentally witnessed by someone involved in a case, and these two might lose what they had spent five years fighting for together. They were probably entirely unaware of just how much attention she'd been paying to their relationship, but she had caught glimpses of them struggling. Remembering that fateful afternoon not too long ago, when Hathaway had come to her for help, scared out of his wits by the thought of driving Lewis away by telling him about Monkford, Jean sighed quietly to herself. She'd heard through the grapevine how Lewis would take anyone apart limb by limb who mouthed off about his Sergeant. She'd seen the professional trust grow quicker than she had ever anticipated, and that they were friends, too, practically inseparable, had been perfectly obvious not much later. They were two of a kind, and there was no denying that, despite the age difference, they fit, Jean could see this working. She wanted them to be happy, of course she did, and she hated that they had to even have this conversation. Two people had found happiness with each other, and she had to make a judgement call based on departmental policy... Jean felt just about ready to smash something. She'd grown fond of them—not that she'd ever tell them that; they were cheeky enough already. Hathaway had been an errand boy not using the cleverness he undoubtedly possessed, and Lewis—she'd underestimated him, but he'd long since proven to her how capable and valuable he was. He'd been a half-broken man still when he'd come back; both had seemed so lost and lonely, and now... Jean sighed again, shaking her head, aware that the two men were still standing there, waiting for an answer, a lecture, anything.
"Alright. There are rules, and I expect you to follow them. I don't want this coming back to haunt us. If push comes to shove, of course you'll have my support, just keep in mind that there are decisions and thunderstorms hailing from above I cannot protect you from. Heaven knows separating two coppers like you would be the worst idea I've ever had, but I will, if you make me regret this." She drew a deep breath when they nodded. "That tedious and hopelessly unromantic bit dealt with: for God's sake," she added, exasperated fondness evident in her voice, "go get yourselves that Happy Ever After, you deserve it." She watched as both of them blushed a little, Lewis tugging at his earlobe and Hathaway simply smiling beatifically, and shooed them out with a gentle motion of her hands. As they were on their way out the door, she giggled silently, congratulating herself on not asking them if they'd thought about kids yet, that would have been a little early—she definitely looked forward to seeing them with Lewis' grandchild, though. Smiling to herself, she went back to her paperwork.
Closing the door to the office behind them, Lewis and Hathaway both breathed a sigh of relief, before hastily moving down the corridor and out of the station, where they slowed down a little and eventually started laughing.
"When d'you think she's going to work up the nerve to ask us about adoption schemes?" James asked, squinting a little into the low September sun, and Lewis nearly roared with laughter on the way to the car.
Weeks later, they were finally in Hathaway's flat, a bit knackered after a murder that had turned into an abduction case halfway through. Lewis sat on the sofa and slumped against the backrest, Hathaway walked over to him and flopped down next to him, draping his long legs across the other man's lap, lying down on his back.
"I'm never getting up again," he groused, putting his arm over his eyes. Lewis slung one arm around his legs and put the other on his stomach, gently prodding him.
"You'll have to."
"Well, for starters, to go to bed later."
"Because you love me more than this sofa. I'm more comfortable."
James moved his arm at that, his eyes seeking Lewis'. "You also snore," he teased. "And I love you more than anything." Although he didn't miss a beat in his delivery, Lewis observed the changes in his eyes and his voice, and the sincerity and longing in them nearly made his heart skip from his chest.
"Hm. Even though I snore?" Lewis tried to keep it light to avoid making James uncomfortable, but he knew the lad wouldn't miss the gruffness in his tone that came from bottled-up emotions demanding their freedom.
"Even though you snore."
Lewis pretended to pull a serious face and contemplate that for a moment before locking eyes with James. "You talk in your sleep."
"Yeah. Stuff right out of 'Horrible Histories.'"
"Well, at least you're never bored."
"Mmh. And, of course, it gives me an excellent excuse to watch you sleep at night." Lewis tilted his head, still fixing James with his eyes, willing him to understand. Hathaway grinned and let out a quiet laugh, just a breath, really. Then he sat up, swinging his legs off Lewis' lap and pulling them under his body. Shifting his weight, he finally ended up straddling Robbie, settling on his thighs, James' hands splayed on his shirted chest. Lewis smiled up at him and put his hands on James' hips, holding on gently, and just a little for dear life. Hathaway's expression turned serious then, though, and he fixed Lewis with bright eyes. "You don't have to say it."
"What I just—you don't have to say it back. If it doesn't feel right, I understand. Not... those words. You say it in other words, and that's fine."
Lewis' heart ached for this man's compassion and selflessness, ached for his determination, the same determination that drove Lewis; both determined to ensure each other's happiness before their own. He'd thought about it, actually, during one of those nights when he watched James mumbling in his sleep, something about Alexander and Hephaestion that he didn't quite catch. He'd thought about how he'd almost said it that day on the phone, when he was at the office and just checking in on James who was out running down a lead. They'd arranged to meet at Lewis' flat, and as they were hanging up, Lewis had nearly swallowed his own tongue as he caught himself wanting to say, 'See you later, then, love you.' He'd left it at the, 'See you later, then,' had hung up and stared at his phone for a minute, stared as if it held any answers to the questions going round in his head. It had been an afterthought, literally, but one of those that happened because they were true and they didn't really need to be said, but you wanted to make sure you did, just because you wanted to, because you could. But if Lewis was ready for it to become a habit again, after so many years, he hadn't known. He knew it was a cultural cliché, and that the words themselves were no more important than all the other words you could use—which were just about all words in the English dictionary, if the context was right. Yet, these particular words seemed so... powerful sometimes, far more than they deserved, and Lewis found himself hesitating. Not because of Val, not because of James, but because he'd lost someone and found someone else, and it felt... not wrong, never wrong. But it felt like letting go of something else he'd held on to for so long that it had become comfortable to hide behind it. He wanted to, he just wasn't sure when he'd manage and feel like he was truly doing right by James.
And now, James was right. He was already saying it in different words and ways, they'd both been saying it in different words and ways for a while. He knew that James wouldn't expect him to rush into it, wasn't trying to guilt trip him into saying it. That was why he merely removed his right hand and used it to grasp James' left in his own, interlocking their fingers. He looked up at James again, smiling a little.
"OK," was all he said, and James smiled in return, his eyes chanting, 'You said it again, I heard you,' and Lewis couldn't resist raising his left hand from James' hips, too, to wind it around his neck and pull him in for a kiss.