“My office, please.” Innocent turned on her heel and disappeared.
Robbie exchanged a look with James, who gave the impression he also thought they were both included in the invitation from their Chief Superintendent, and they stood up and headed out.
Innocent looked pensive as she opened the file on her desk while they seated themselves in front of her. Another look with James gave Robbie reassurance – whatever she was going to discuss with them, and it felt like something different, they would handle it together.
“I've had a call from someone I know at the Met,” she began, sliding the file over to them. “One of her DCs has had a complaint levelled against him, through the Home Office.”
Robbie raised his eyebrows as he took the file and opened it. “The Home Office? What kind of complaint?”
She sighed. “Harassment. Abuse of power. You name it, they've listed it. This man has pissed someone important off, and he's done it very well.”
“Where do we fit in?” James leaned forward, his knee brushing Robbie's as he looked at the front sheet of the file, a picture paper-clipped on top - a distinctive man, perhaps mid-40s, with a long, craggy face and short brown hair.
“His Superintendent believes it's a fit up, and she called me. I went to Hendon with Eleanor Sharp. She's managed to persuade the Commissioner that an independent enquiry is called for. I think this is one for my favourite inspector and his constant sergeant.”
Robbie gave a huff of amusement and began to peruse the page of print behind the photo. Danny Quinn. 42. Maverick. Prone to spontaneous outbursts of heroism and unpredictability. Was off duty when he arrested a man at an empty property near Walthamstow, leading to a terrifyingly comprehensive complaint direct from the Home Office. “They really want to bury him.”
Innocent nodded. “That's what she thinks.”
He heard the inflection in her statement. “But?”
“But there's definitely something Quinn isn't telling her. She trusts him, but she can't get him out of this alone. I want you to go in there and find out what's really going on.”
“Home Office, ma'am? What if we find more than we can handle?” That was James, voicing something that Robbie was thinking himself.
She smiled at him, and gave Robbie an appraising look. “You'll know how to handle it, right, Robbie?”
He took a moment to consider her confidence. It wasn't their usual fare, but the chance to solve such an intriguing puzzle didn't worry him. Quite the opposite. “We always do, ma'am.”
Innocent looked pleased. “Good! I'll let Eleanor know you're coming.”
James flicked through the file. “It says here Quinn's brother was abducted in 1995. He joined the police 2 years later.”
Robbie felt that swell of pride he got from knowing how good James was at his job. Quinn's past definitely rang all kinds of alarm bells. “We're going to need the files for that abduction case.”
Innocent nodded. “You'll get them.”
“Does Quinn know he's being investigated?” Robbie didn't much like the idea of snooping on a fellow officer.
“Not yet. We'll leave it up to you whether to reveal your investigation or not.”
Robbie looked at James, who had his carefully neutral face on. Robbie smiled and nodded. He was looking forward to planning this one with his sergeant. A change of scene might be just what they both needed. They'd worked together for a few years, but it was getting to the point where Robbie was finding it hard not to give himself away around James. Maybe they just needed to be away from Oxford and clear the air.
“Turn left here, sir.” James squinted at the printed map in his hand. “Last block of flats on the left.”
Robbie grimaced as they drove along the street. It was run down and dirty. “What the bloody hell is a detective constable living here for?”
James brow was drawn together in the way it did when he was thinking hard, but he said nothing. Sometimes, Robbie didn't know if James was considering the case, or worried about something personal.
“James? Are you still sure about this, lad?”
James pointed to a free parking space up ahead. “This should do us, sir. Of course I'm sure. What better way to get to know Danny Quinn than to live next door to him?”
“Aye, I know.” Robbie reversed into the space and pulled on the handbrake. “But it's a one-bedroom flat, man. Can we really pull this off?”
James gave him one of those infuriating smiles that made his heart flip flop all over the place, dammit, and said confidently, “We've been mistaken for a couple before, sir. I don't think we'll have to try that hard. You said you were comfortable with this, sir?”
Robbie sighed. That was back in Oxford. “I know I did.” He felt the need to explain himself to James, to them both. “Look, what you said about sexuality that time, it made me think. I mean, before, I was always uncomfortable thinking about... things like that. But it was like anything unknown, wasn't it? Fear. Once you get to thinking about things, knowing about them, the fear disappears. It's not really unknown, is it?” Christ, he wasn't saying this very well. What was he even saying? He wasn't afraid of being seen as gay? Or not afraid of his own hangups? These days, Robbie wasn't sure what he was saying, doing, or feeling, not when it came to being around James. This wasn't what he had in mind when he'd wanted to clear the air, but it might sort things out, one way or the other.
James' smile just grew. “I understand, sir. Let's go and see our new flat.”
They took as much as they could carry from the boot of the car and walked towards the block of flats, a small forest of colourful 'To Let' signs planted along the path, only one of which had a red sticker proclaiming 'Let' across it. James unlocked the main door, and took the communal stairs to the first floor.
Robbie tried not to stare at James' arse in those jeans as he followed him up. James always looked much younger wearing something casual, like the jeans and a hoody he had on today. Robbie's casual collection was being stretched to the limit for this operation, but he was rather enjoying the comfort of his own sloppy jumper and jeans.
“This is it.” James jerked his head towards the red door across the landing, Robbie looked at Quinn's front door and nodded back, then James unlocked the chipped blue door in front of him, and they went inside.
Robbie was pleasantly surprised to find that their flat wasn't as grim as it looked from the outside. It was rather bright and airy, with simple furniture that might have come from the 1970s but looked clean enough.
“I like it,” James stated, putting his bag down beside the kitchenette counter.
“Aye, it's fine,” Robbie agreed. “But that sofa isn't quite what I imagined.” It might fetch a few bob in the current 'retro' furniture market, but it looked bloody useless to sleep on.
James grinned. “Not to worry, sir.”
Robbie went back into the hall to take a peek in the bathroom. Small, but functional. No bath, just a large shower. He absolutely refused to think about that. At all.
They found themselves standing together looking into the bedroom. One double bed stared back at them. They stared at each other. James grinned.
Robbie scowled. “Away with you, man. This isn't funny.”
James laughed out loud. If Robbie wasn't so uncomfortable he'd love to stare at James right now. It was so good to hear him laugh.
“It is, sir. Isn't it? And we're doing all this for a London copper we don't even know.”
Robbie sat down on the bed and looked up at James. Tall, tall James. “It might be for his benefit, but we're still deceiving him. Just because his Super thinks he might be gay, that gives us the right to live next door to him and get to know him?”
James sat down right beside him, their thighs touching, and they always sat like that, but why did he feel it so acutely these days?
“Let him get to know us, sir. He won't tell us what we need to know unless he trusts us.”
It seemed nearly impossible to Robbie, but James was right. Something about Quinn didn't add up, and they weren't going to find it out by interrogating the man officially.
“Aye, okay. Stick to the plan, right?”
James grinned at him. So bloody close. “You put the kettle on, I'll bring the rest of the stuff in and make up the bed.”
Something squirmed inside Robbie at the thought of being truly domestic with James. His sergeant was often round at his place, they regularly shared meals and James even slept on his couch from time to time, but this was different.
This felt all right, though. “Thanks, lad.” The smile James gave him back made him feel warm.
But it didn't mean Robbie wouldn't rather concentrate on the job for a while and not on the fact that they were sitting beside each other on a bed they were going to have to share later.
With the bedding and a few supplies brought in, the place was starting to feel lived in. Robbie made the tea and he could hear James humming to himself in the bedroom. It made him smile. It also made him realise just how small the flat was.
They sat side by side on the small sofa with mugs of tea in their hands, files spread out over the coffee table in front of them.
“How are we going to play this, then, James? For a start, we've got next to nothing on Quinn's social life.”
“Seen once hugging a young man,” read James. “No known liaisons with any other persons. It's less than nothing, really. He rides a motorbike and keeps to himself. But he is annoyingly friendly and 'a true gentleman'.”
Robbie mulled it all over in his head. “I don't know how his Super figures he's gay just from that, but it'll do for now. What do you make of the abduction files?”
James let out a breath. “Awful, sir. His younger brother was 14 when he disappeared. No body was found, no one was convicted. Danny was never a suspect, he had a cast-iron alibi. And was utterly devastated, by all accounts. Said he joined the police to 'catch the sodding bastard who did it'.”
Robbie nodded. He'd read the files too. “Where did he go missing again?”
James flicked through the papers. “Just says here 'The Chimneys, by the Lea, E4'.”
Robbie frowned. Something clicked in his mind. “That's... Where's that arrest report?”
James rifled the pages and handed him the details of the arrest that led to the complaint against Quinn.
“It's the same bloody house! I'm sure of it.” Robbie slammed the paper down on the table and stabbed at it. “It's just around the corner – abandoned property beside the River Lea. His address is E17, but E4 and the Lea are just through the trees behind the flats. We assumed he'd been passing on his way home. He's bloody living right next to the place that his brother was taken!”
James blinked at him, and looked carefully at the papers. “Well. So he is.” He looked over his shoulder. “I wonder if you can even see the house through the trees from Quinn's flat. We'll have to confirm all this, but I'd say you're on to something.”
“Jesus.” Robbie knew all about obsession with a case. But to spend over a decade investigating your brother's abduction was a terrifying thought. “Do you think he...?”
“He probably keeps an eye on the place. A lot.”
Robbie felt the shiver run through James' body. “Any chance he...?”
“I'd say if he's arresting people around the property after all this time, then no, there's little chance he was the perpetrator in the first place. Unless he's been preying on local trespassers for years, but we've no reports of further abductions or assaults. He's just watching the place.”
Robbie nodded. “Poor bastard.” He slumped back in the sofa and sipped his tea, James mirroring his movements. They looked at each other.
“So what do the Home Office have to do with any of this, sir?”
“I haven't a bloody clue. Drink your tea then go and move the car. Quinn will be home soon and we don't want him to recognise it later.”
“Better make it Robbie from now on, lad. Quinn will be thinking you're under my bloody thumb.”
James grinned at him. “Aren't I, sir?” He was using that bloody voice again.
Robbie felt himself flush. “Get away.” He hid his face by drinking his tea.
“Tomorrow, I want you to get yourself down to the office and find out all you can about that man he arrested. And whoever bailed him.” Robbie dried another dinner plate and put it back in the cupboard. “I'll be following Quinn.”
Superintendent Sharp had supplied them with Danny Quinn's work schedule, and a desk to work from in a police station nearby, but not where Quinn was based.
James put the last plate on the drainer and reached past him to grab another t-towel. Robbie found himself barely moving out of the way, letting himself indulge in one more moment this close to James. James caught his eye as he leaned back, a half smile on his face.
“Are we still hoping to invite Quinn over tonight?”
Robbie nodded, taking a deep breath now that James wasn't within touching distance. “Aye, if we can.” He glanced at the clock. “I imagine you'll be wanting a smoke about now, James?”
James dried his hands carefully. “Right you are, sir.”
Robbie watched James shrug on his coat and leave the flat. Everything was going to plan so far. He stood by the window and looked down onto the street, wondering what Danny Quinn had found out over the years, wondered if he was any closer to finding out what happened to his brother fourteen years ago.
A tall man in a leather jacket and jeans parked his motorbike outside and took off his crash helmet to reveal a head of gingery-brown hair and a long, craggy face. When he grinned at James in a friendly way, he could see that the man still had a spark of life about him. Whatever he was up to, it hadn't crushed him yet. It also gave Robbie a gnawing sensation that was disturbingly like jealousy. He saw James move towards Quinn from where he was leaning on the wall, and Robbie forced himself to step back into the flat to avoid being seen.
It seemed like an age before James appeared at the door. He closed it quickly and hurried over to Robbie.
“He's coming round.” James leaned into his space. “Five minutes.”
“Good work, sergeant!” he hissed as loudly as he dared. “You played the friendly neighbour card?”
“I played the smoker with an empty lighter card first,” he grinned.
Robbie chuckled. “Right. All set?”
James nodded sombrely. “Ready, sir. Robbie,” he amended, and blushed.
Robbie reached out and held James' upper arm gently. “Good lad.”
James' lip twitched, and his eyes flicked down and up over Robbie's frame. It was Robbie's turn to blush.
The shrill ring of the doorbell broke their awkward moment, and James gave Robbie one of his apologetic smiles before going to answer the door.
“Danny. Come in.” James stepped back and let their new neighbour in.
Danny Quinn seemed even taller than Robbie had realised. He also had a very open and pleasant air about him as he reached out his hand to Robbie.
James performed the introductions. “Danny, this is my partner, Robbie. Robbie, our new neighbour, Danny Quinn.”
“Nice to meet you, Danny,” Robbie said, aiming for friendly but reserved. “Can I get you a coffee? Beer?”
“A beer would be great,” Danny replied. “Thanks, Robbie.” He turned to James as Robbie opened the fridge. “You moved in all right?”
“Yes, fine thanks,” James told him, waving him into the chair as he sat on the sofa. “Most of our stuff is back in Newcastle, but we wanted to get in as soon as we could.”
Robbie handed out the beers and sat next to James on the sofa. He wasn't any closer than he normally sat. It probably wasn't possible to get that much closer, he thought with amusement. “Aye. New start, eh, James?”
James smiled so fondly at him that it nearly took Robbie's breath away. It was all he could do to remember to smile back.
Danny sipped his beer and made a noise of approval. “Well, it's not the most flash neighbourhood, but there's no trouble round here, I make sure of that. Good luck to you guys.” He raised his beer bottle.
“Cheers,” James nodded, and raised his own beer before taking a sip. “Danny's a copper, Robbie.”
“Ah,” Robbie raised his eyebrows, as if he understood Danny's vigilante comment now. “That's very... useful.”
Danny stared at him, then laughed. “I'll take that. I normally get some pretty bad reactions to my job.” He frowned, than added, “You're not, uh...”
“I'm a social worker,” Robbie said quickly. “So I spend quite a lot of time with policemen. Anyway, I'll be looking for work down here. Don't suppose I'll have any trouble.”
“Nope,” Danny agreed amicably. “Bound to be vacancies all over. Are you a social worker too, James?”
Robbie spluttered his beer on cue, and James grinned.
“I was studying to be a priest. When I met Robbie, let's just say my priorities changed.” He planted his hand firmly on Robbie's knee, and Robbie gulped sharply.
Danny grinned. “I can see that. Well, I hope you both find what you're looking for in London.”
“Thank you, Danny,” Robbie murmured, and wondered if he would wish them that if he really knew what they were up to. “We just want a quiet life. Together.”
James gave him a look of such surprise and tenderness he nearly believed it himself. On the other hand, was it so far from the truth? His knee felt hot where James had touched him.
Danny stayed for about an hour, filled with beer and good conversation, and by the time he made his excuses of an early shift and Robbie showed him out, Robbie was sure of two things.
Danny Quinn was a decent guy, and they had a difficult job ahead of them.
Robbie leaned against the door and sighed deeply. “Bloody hell.”
James tidied up the beer cans and threw Robbie a sympathetic smile. “Our patience will achieve more than our force.”
“Who bloody said that? Don't tell me. Anyway, doesn't make it any easier,” Robbie grumbled, pulling his jumper neat. “I liked him.”
“I liked him, too,” mused James. “Let's hope we can crack this before someone very high up throws a large book at him.”
“Hmm,” Robbie agreed. “I'll settle for finding the truth.”
“Right now I'll settle for eight hours sleep, sir.” James rubbed a hand over his face as tidied around the kitchenette. “Mind if I turn in?”
“No, lad. I'm ready for bed myself.” He kept his eyes away from James. “Do you want to use the bathroom first?”
James said he would go after him, and Robbie busied himself finding his toothbrush and pyjamas, still not thinking about how he was about to share a bed with his tall, handsome sergeant. His sergeant he was pretending to be in an intimate relationship with. Intimate. That wasn't a word he had thought about on a personal level for a long time. But the thought of being intimate with James was tempting. Increasingly tempting.
It didn't help that when he came out of the bathroom, James was wearing nothing but pyjama bottoms. He was holding a toothbrush and also had that cheeky expression on his face that made Robbie blush now. Robbie couldn't resist staring at James' chest as he squeezed past on the way to the bathroom. It was pale and perfect. Robbie gulped.
“I don't mind which side, sir. I'll take whatever's left.” James disappeared.
Robbie stared at the bed. He hadn't shared a bed with anyone since Val had died. He wondered what she would think of this. He smiled to himself. She'd probably find it amusing, or cute. Typical woman. But he was sure she wouldn't mind. Besides, it wasn't as if anything was going to happen. James would never want an old fart like him.
He settled down on the left side of the bed and waited, wondering if it was possible to feel his thumping heart through the mattress.
James came back from the bathroom and slipped under the covers, his back to Robbie. “Goodnight, sir,” he mumbled.
Robbie cast his eyes over James' pale shoulder, wondering what it would feel like to touch his skin. “Goodnight, James.”
He drifted off more easily than he had imagined he might.
When Robbie woke up, he was warm and comfortable, and he was disturbingly disappointed to discover that his sergeant had not curled himself around him in his sleep like an octopus. Val had done that sometimes. They would be tangled up in the morning and she would make grumpy noises when he pulled out of her embrace and went to work.
He couldn't really want that with James, could he? They would both have to get up early, that was one thing.
He studied James' sleeping form. The young man seemed so peaceful, lying there beside him. Robbie realised he was staring, but before he could drag his gaze away, he was looking into big blue eyes.
“Good morning, sir,” James said, his voice gravelly and amused. “Sleep well?”
Robbie coughed, avoided James' eye, and struggled out of bed. “Yes, thanks. Come on then, busy day.”
It was important not to miss Quinn leaving in the morning, more than anything. Robbie showered and dressed quickly in his threadbare checked shirt and jeans, and found James in the kitchen with two mugs of coffee made. He was still just in his pyjama bottoms.
“Just the way you like it, darling,” James smirked, and brushed past Robbie deliberately.
“Cheeky sod,” he muttered, but he was rattled. How long could he pretend that his feelings towards his sergeant weren't as clear cut as they had been? He sipped his coffee and decided he would have to talk to him about it.
He'd rather face an axe murderer in the dark than say anything, but it would have to be done.
Not yet, though. He gulped down some cereal and milk before James returned - showered, shaved, dressed impeccably though casual and smelling bloody incredible. Obviously ready to make a good impression down the local nick, though he wouldn't have looked out of place in a GQ double-page spread.
“You don't go to that much trouble for me!” Robbie exclaimed, pushing the box of cereal towards James. “Am I not good enough for you?”
James smiled indulgently. “Who says it's not for you?”
Robbie was speechless for a moment, but James appeared to ignore his discomfort and tucked into his breakfast.
“I'd better get going,” Robbie grumbled. “If you find out anything I ought to know, text me. Otherwise, I'll see you back here at teatime.”
James nodded through his cornflakes. “Be careful.”
Robbie frowned. “I always am.”
James just nodded. Robbie shrugged on his jacket and thought he should say something else to fill the awkward silence that felt like neither of them was saying what they should be, but then the moment passed and he pocketed his phone and left the flat quietly.
In the end, Robbie sat in the car for a couple of hours before Quinn eventually appeared. Their tall neighbour was in top-to-toe leather gear, riding his motorbike out of the cul-de-sac and heading north. Robbie followed at a discreet distance, slowing when he realised that Quinn was definitely heading for the abandoned house where his brother had disappeared, and where he had arrested the man recently.
He parked a good distance from The Chimneys and approached cautiously on foot along the river. He saw Danny’s bike parked nearby, half-hidden by a bush, and found himself his own vantage point of vegetation. He stood there motionless for about half an hour before Danny re-appeared around the side of the building. The copper stood on the veranda of the ramshackle old house and lit a cigarette, looking around with a gimlet eye.
Robbie held his breath.
Danny paced the veranda and then walked down the steps and looked up at the house. He stubbed out his fag end on the wet grass.
Robbie couldn't understand why Danny was here. What could he hope to find after all this time?
Danny walked back up to the front door of the house and then paced the veranda some more. At one point he laid his hand on one of the wooden veranda supports, and looked quite pitiful. Robbie's heart ached for him. What was the point in torturing himself like this?
He very nearly left his hiding place to talk to Quinn.
Quinn must have walked around the house three more times, and had two more cigarettes on the veranda, before he finally went back to his bike and put his helmet back on. Robbie watched him gun the engine and roar off down the road.
It hadn't been part of the plan, but Robbie decided it would be a good idea to take a look around The Chimneys now that Quinn was gone. He walked over to the house, barely the sound of wind in the trees and the creaking of a loose baluster to be heard. Robbie walked up the wooden steps, green with mould and time, and peered in through one of the windows.
The place wasn't exactly empty, half-full of abandoned bits and bobs, a few pieces of furniture covered in dust sheets, leaves scattered on the floor where they had blown in through a broken window over many years. The panelled walls looked tired and cold, dusty curtains and a chandelier only giving it the feel of a haunted house.
Robbie rattled the front door knob, and it eased open under his touch, to his surprise. He nearly had a heart attack when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He slipped inside the house as he took out his phone, glancing around but hearing and seeing nothing moving inside.
It was James.
What do a PR guru and a zoology student have in common?
That must be the man that Quinn arrested here at the house, and the person that bailed him. And it was a bloody good question. More to the point, why did the Home Office care? He texted back.
Stop cracking jokes and get on with it.
He smiled to himself as he imagined James' face when he read that.
He poked around the house a bit more, but it was clear that the place was abandoned and unloved. It felt uncannily cold and almost dangerous. Robbie decided he didn't need to hang around any longer, and headed for the door.
He stepped outside, pulled the door closed behind him very quietly and turned around. Danny Quinn stood there, glaring down at him with sharp green eyes. He was a big man and loomed easily.
“Social worker my arse,” he hissed darkly. “Who the fuck are you?”
Crap, was the one thought Robbie had. He'd just made a rookie error and blown their cover as well as the operation. He sighed. “I can explain, Danny.”
Danny Quinn grabbed him by the lapels and shoved Robbie up against the wall. Robbie hadn't been expecting it, he realised belatedly, and found himself well-pinned and helpless. Quinn wouldn't hurt him, would he?
“You'd fucking better explain. Following me? Sneaking around? Are you fucking Home Office and all?”
Robbie shook his head. “Let me go, man. I'm not Home Office. I'm trying to help you.”
Danny's eyes widened and he relaxed his grip just enough for Robbie to barrel into him and shove him out of the way. They faced each other on the veranda, hands poised ready for action.
“Help me? Help me with what?”
Robbie was still catching his breath. “This. The house. The arrest. You knew the Home Office has a complaint against you?”
Danny blinked, his gripped fists unclenching. “I... Yes. My Super told me. I couldn't give a shit about it, but... Are you a copper?”
Robbie straightened up and patted down his shirt, but he kept a wary eye on Quinn now. “Detective Inspector Lewis, Thames Valley Police. I'm sorry. We're not investigating you. We're investigating the complaint.”
Quinn looked like he was going to be sick, and leaned heavily against the railings. “Christ. This is going to get complicated.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Robbie blurted out. “Why do you keep coming back to this house?” His phone buzzed again.
Quinn had his hands over his face, so Robbie fumbled his phone out of his pocket and took a glance at the screen.
Need to meet up. Found it.
It? What was 'it'?
“I need to go,” Robbie grumbled. “James has found something. Are you coming?”
“James,” Quinn scoffed. “He's a copper too, isn't he? You bastards.”
Robbie had the good grace to feel embarrassed. “He's me sergeant,” he said quietly. “Will you let us help you, Danny? You'll have to give us everything you've got.”
Danny looked at him for a moment, stuffing his hands into his pockets and glancing up at the house. “Found something, you say?”
Robbie nodded. “Must be something big or he would have told me over the phone.”
Danny raised his eyebrows a fraction, then nodded once. “All right, then. Let's go and see what your sergeant has to say.”
They agreed to go in Robbie's car and come back for Danny's bike later. James had texted Robbie the address of a pub where he would tell Robbie what he'd found. As they drove past the end of the road where they were living, Danny chuckled.
“You two almost had me fooled, you know.”
Robbie flicked him a glance. “Who? Me and James?”
Danny smirked. “Yeah. You into amateur dramatics or something? The perfect couple, you are.”
Robbie felt his cheeks flush. “We've worked together for a few years.”
“Must be nice,” Danny said wistfully. “I've never got on with my inspectors. Or sergeants. Guess I spend too much time bunking off to check up on an old house.”
Robbie pulled into the car park of the pub. “Have you ever found anything that points to your brother's killer?”
Quinn visibly blanched, his knuckles white around the car door handle. “There's no evidence he was killed. There was no trace of an abductor. None. So you tell me what happened.” He stared at Robbie, and the grief and anger in his eyes was plainly visible. “And no, I wouldn't have told you any of this if you'd just turned up at my nick investigating the complaint.”
“I'm sorry, Danny. Come on, let's find James.”
Danny took a deep breath, nodded, and they both got out of the car and headed inside. Danny was muttering about interfering Supers under his breath, but Robbie was hopeful they could all work together now.
James' mouth dropped open when he looked up and saw Robbie and Quinn approaching, pints in hand.
“Sorry, lad. The mighty Quinn here caught me red-handed. It's okay, I've told him everything.”
James looked as if he wanted to give Robbie a good ticking off for not being as careful as he'd asked him to be, but instead turned to Quinn and pushed a chair towards him.
“Apologies for the cloak and dagger act, Danny. We didn't know what we were going to find. But I think you'll want to sit down for this.”
Robbie exchanged a look of interest with Quinn, and they all sat down around the pub table.
“What did you find, lad?”
James sipped his pint and began. “The man you arrested on May 28th was Connor Temple. He was a student at the Central Metropolitan University, and appears to be the biggest dinosaur freak on the planet. He's happy to declare on his website that his favourite professor was Nick Cutter. Nick Cutter is on the Home Office payroll, no record of why. Nick Cutter's wife disappeared without trace two years after Patrick, with no trace of a body or abduction.”
Quinn looked thoughtful. “Is that it?” he asked flatly, but Robbie could tell he was rattled.
James exchanged a look with Robbie, and Robbie looked forward to what James was about to say.
“The woman who bailed Temple is Jenny Lewis. She's a PR wonderwoman, but she's currently reputed to be working for the Home Office, again no details. Relation of yours, sir?”
“Very funny, James.”
“Indeed, sir. Lewis linked to Cutter linked to Temple linked to Lewis. Ms Lewis has been involved in issuing four DA-notices to the press in the last two years, all involving suspicious deaths and dangerous animal incidents.”
“Animals?” Robbie echoed. “What the hell are this lot up to?”
Danny started to clap very slowly.
Robbie scowled at him. “What?”
“You know, for a social worker and a priest, you'd make fine policemen. You're getting pretty close.”
“How close?” James asked.
Danny shook his head. “I really can't tell you. But take my advice. Just leave it now, yeah?”
“But you're going to lose your bloody job, man!”
Danny glanced around as if he was making sure they weren't overheard. He leaned closer and hissed, “I'm quitting anyway. And not for the reasons you think. Look, I've always been told it was a creature that took my brother. Ryan Mason saw it. He was with my brother when he disappeared. I used to think it was him, you know? Thought he'd killed Patrick. I questioned him over, and over. I went to the house, searched and searched. Ryan said he'd seen a bright light, and a creature, and I thought he was nuts. We kept in touch, all these years. He never changed his story, and I think I started to believe him. He's not a bad bloke.”
Robbie, who had been listening closely, suddenly had a thought. He looked at James. “Ryan. Of course.” James shook his head and rubbed a hand over his face.
Danny narrowed his eyes at them, then his expression cleared and he chuckled. “They told you I was gay, didn't they? Because they've seen me with Ryan.” He laughed harder. “That's why you pretended to be a couple. You silly sods.”
“Shut up, Quinn,” growled Robbie, blushing furiously.
Quinn clapped him on the back. “You did a fine job. No, really. You can pull off the old married couple thing brilliantly.”
“So what is it all about then?” pressed James. “The creature? What is it?”
Danny shook his head again. “They've warned me off good and proper. Don't worry about me. I told you, I'm quitting so you might as well go home.”
James looked nonplussed, and Robbie realised they had to let go of this, just for the moment.
“All right, Quinn. We won't push it, if you think you know what you're doing. James and I will write a vague report for your Super, and probably pack up and head back to Oxford tomorrow. But I insist that you come round for dinner tonight. You owe us that much. We owe you, too.”
It took Danny a moment to consider his offer. “Yeah, okay,” he said slowly. “I'll come.”
After lunch, they dropped Danny off by his motorbike, and Robbie pulled away from the kerb and drove towards the flat.
“Go on, James, say it.”
“With all due respect, sir, what the bloody hell did you do that for? We're just going to drop it?” James was talking to the side window more than looking at Robbie.
“Don't be daft, lad.”
James head flicked round to stare at him. “What?”
Robbie smiled at him. “He wasn't going to tell us in the pub, was he? I think he's telling the truth, about quitting and not caring. He's probably found them, whatever this... secret government department is. He might tell us tonight – if your curry is good enough.”
James eyebrows looked like they were never going to come down, and he rubbed his lip for a while. Robbie liked it when he did that, but he felt guilty if he stared too long.
He parked outside the block of flats and opened the car door. “All right, James?”
James unfolded himself slowly and got out. “I suppose so, sir.”
They went up to the flat, and Robbie could tell James was still disappointed. What if Danny didn't tell them? If it was a matter of national security, he could hardly blame him. But what would they write in their report? He hadn't quite figured that one out yet.
The flat felt warm and homely when they let themselves in, and Robbie threw his jacket on the back of the sofa. “Cuppa?”
James nodded solemnly. “Please.”
Robbie bustled around the kitchen and let James sulk. He put a mug of steaming tea down in front of his sergeant who was propping his chin up by his hand, his elbow on the kitchenette counter.
“You did well today, James.” He smiled. James looked pretty even when he sulked.
“It's not just that, sir.” James curled his hands around his mug and sighed.
“I just didn't expect it to be wrapped up so quickly, that's all. I thought finally... That is, we were...” James closed his eyes. “Nothing, sir. Forget it.”
Robbie's heart obviously hadn't got the memo that told it to keep a steady beat at all times. He blinked, not sure if he could really assume that James could be serious about him. The evidence was damning, though. “It was rather nice, wasn't it?” he said wistfully, sitting down opposite James and letting his tips of his fingers brush James'. “Being here.”
James looked up, startled, and he smiled. “It was.”
“We fooled Quinn, didn't we?”
“We did, sir.”
Robbie took a deep breath. “Have we been fooling ourselves, too?”
James visibly swallowed, his eyes wide and hopeful. “Maybe we have, sir.”
“Better stick to Robbie then, James.” He smiled, daring to reach out and cover James' hand with his own. The blinding smile he got in return as he squeezed his hand made him utterly happy.
James stood up suddenly, and walked around the counter until he was standing over Robbie. “There are two things I can't wait for today,” he said.
“Oh yeah? What are they, then?”
“One is hearing Danny Quinn's explanation of his brother's disappearance and why the Home Office is involved.”
“And the other?”
James took his hand and pulled Robbie upright and into his arms, wrapping himself around Robbie until he felt like he was almost part of James. “This,” he said softly, and leaned closer.
Robbie angled his face, his heart pounding like a bloody steam engine piston, and when they kissed it was... It was indescribable. Just lovely. James' lips against his, his warm body pressed close. Robbie wondered if he'd died and gone to heaven. He panicked for a moment when he could feel James getting hard, and his own arousal making itself known, but James hadn't pulled away or changed the pace, and Robbie had just let things carry on, and it had been nice. He suspected James was letting him set the pace, which put him more at ease than he thought he might be.
“You look happy,” James murmured, after they'd kissed for what felt like a very long time, and yet not long enough.
“I am,” smiled Robbie, rubbing James' back through his thin shirt. “What about you?”
James' lips curled up at one side. “Very.”
“You don't mind...?”
God, he was always going to have to say things now, wasn't he? Talk. About what he felt, and what he wanted. Still, he might get exactly that, so, every cloud and whatnot. “I'm not being too slow for you, am I? It's just I'm nervous, and I don't even know if this is what you want. Me, I mean.”
James chuckled, and kissed Robbie's nose. “Everything is perfect. I've always wanted you, in one way or another. We can go as fast or slow as you want, Robbie.”
Hearing James say his name like that was perfect, Robbie knew that much. “Thanks, James. I know I'm too-”
“Hush.” James kissed him firmly. “I know what you were going to say, so just don't. You're fine.” James smiled at him, like saying anything more would sound soppy and play to his ego, but he meant it anyway. It gave Robbie a very warm feeling inside, knowing that James did want him. “And no, I really don't care what anyone else thinks about us. I've waited a long time for this, and yes, I know what I want. So. What do you want to do now, Robbie?”
Robbie had a few ideas, but one or two came first to mind. “I want to kiss you some more. And then I think there's a curry I want to watch you making.”
“I've got a better plan,” James said in a ridiculously sexy voice that made Robbie's ears heat up. “I'll make the curry now, then we can take a shower and freshen up. How does that sound?”
Robbie gulped, a shiver running right through him. He was half-hard again thinking about it. “Together?”
“The shower? Oh yes.” James was using that voice on purpose.
“Better get this curry made, then.”
Once the curry was made and the kitchen tidy, Robbie held James' hand and let himself be pulled towards the bathroom. Part of him wanted to run in the other direction rather than let James see him naked, but the other half of him wanted to see James naked too much to let him.
James drew him into a kiss beside the shower and slipped his fingers under the waistband of Robbie's jeans. “I can hear you thinking, you know? It's a lot louder than usual.”
Robbie laughed nervously. “Really? No. I-”
James tutted, but his eyes were smiling. “I want to show you how much I need you, Robbie. Please.”
It was all Robbie needed to hear, and he pushed James against the wall, pulling his face down for an open, wet kiss. He felt heat stirring in his groin and growled, pushing his hands under James' shirt and sliding it up. James, his chest heaving under Robbie's fingers, helped him to unbutton it and toss it aside. His eyes were lust-wide. Robbie could only stare at James' pale chest, so beautiful and perfect. He leaned in to kiss one of his nipples.
James' head thumped back against the wall, and his hands gripped Robbie's shoulders. “God, yes.”
Robbie smirked against his skin, only feeling a little guilty that he'd drawn such a prayer from James' lips. He carefully undid the button of James' trousers and slid down the zip while James gave a soft moan.
“Oh, James,” Robbie whispered reverently, as he revealed the shape of James' hard cock in his briefs. “Have I done this to you?” He slid his palm over the outline and swallowed the affirmative groan as he kissed James again.
Things seemed to move faster after that, and Robbie was almost surprised to find himself naked with an equally naked James in his arms, eager to touch and kiss him more places than he knew he wanted him to. There was nothing but need in James' eyes, and Robbie knew that James would see the same in his.
They kissed more under the shower, the warm water easing the slide of hands over trembling skin. Robbie thought it might have felt strange, holding another man's cock, wanting to see him come, but this was James and it only felt right.
James was beautiful when he came, his body straining and afterwards gasping for breath. Robbie wanted to see it again and again. The shower washed away the come that had jetted from James' long, pale cock with Robbie's fingers around it, and then James was on his knees with his mouth around Robbie's shaft, and Robbie had to steady himself against the wall and shout aloud or else he knew he might fall apart there and then.
Something unwanted must have broken inside him because when he came, emptying himself down James' throat, it was as if he had been made whole again, as if this was a piece of him that had been trapped and hidden, and now it was suddenly released to click into place. He pulled James upright, hardly able to kiss him he was smiling so hard, so full of joy that he couldn't express with words.
James kissed his face all over, his hands steady on Robbie's hips. “That was wonderful,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
“Yes,” Robbie could only sob. “Yes, it was.”
James washed him tenderly and took care of him, wrapping a towel around him as they got out of the shower. Robbie might have protested at being treated like an invalid, but he was a little dazed and found that he quite liked it for once.
They curled together on the bed, and James stroked his fingers through Robbie's damp hair and looked at his face for a very long time. Robbie touched James' face, mapping all the features he knew so well.
James took hold of his hand and kissed the knuckles. “Want to take a nap? I'll set my alarm and wake you before dinner.”
“What are you going to do?” grumbled Robbie, finally feeling his age.
James smirked. “Apart from stare at the sleeping form of my lover? I hadn't got that far.”
Robbie jabbed him in the ribs gently. “Daft sod.”
James leaned in and kissed him passionately. “Maybe, but I'm your daft sod.”
Robbie couldn't be cross with him, and let himself be caressed and kissed into a blissful forty winks.
“That,” declared Danny, “was the best curry I've had in ages. Thanks!” He leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach.
“Least we can do,” offered James. “Another beer?”
“On expenses, is it? All this lot?”
“Of course,” grinned Robbie, sipping from his own bottle.
“Another beer would be lovely, James,” Danny laughed.
They took their beers and sat in the living room, James folded up on the sofa next to Robbie.
“You're on to them, aren't you, Danny?” Robbie asked. “Do they... Do they know what happened to Patrick?”
Danny was quiet for a moment, then took a swig of beer. “Yeah. I know who they are, and what they do. I'm going to join them, whether they like it or not. If Patrick is out there somewhere, they are the only people who can help me. I'm not going to give up.”
James gave a low whistle. “We're talking spooks here, right? Is it like Robocop or what?”
Danny smirked. “Yeah. No. Not that simple. Think holes in time. Think dinosaurs. Think unknown creatures from the future.”
Robbie laughed. “You're joking.”
Danny didn't look like he was joking, and Robbie blinked.
“You're deadly serious.” James leaned more deeply into Robbie's side. “How long can they keep that a secret?”
“Not forever, that's for sure.” Danny swung his beer bottle from his fingers distractedly. “Keep this to yourselves, lads, please. More people will die if the public knows. I don't want anyone else to lose a brother like I did, and the best way I can make sure that happens is by working with Temple and Jenny Lewis and their Home Office chums.”
“I've always found arresting people makes an ideal first impression,” James said dryly.
Robbie batted him on the arm. “Hush, you. Danny, if they'll take you on, then good luck. I know what it's like to lose someone, and I'm glad you've got a chance to make a difference. Not all of us are so lucky. All the best, Quinn.” He reached out his hand to Danny, who shook his hand firmly.
“Promise me you won't say anything?” Danny implored.
“We won't breathe a word,” Robbie promised. “Will we, James?”
“Not a syllable,” James agreed, and shook Danny's hand too.
Danny nodded in relief as he leaned back and swigged his beer. Robbie and James settled back together on the sofa.
“What's next for you lot, then? Murders in Oxford?” Danny enquired.
“I imagine so,” agreed Robbie. “Same old story.”
“Not quite the same, though,” Danny added, a smirk appearing on his face.
Robbie blushed. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on,” Danny grinned. “I'd have to be blind not to notice things have changed between you two. Seems like your little acting lessons paid off. I'm very happy for you both.”
Robbie spluttered a little, but calmed as he felt James chuckle against his shoulder. “Thank you,” he mumbled. He was surprised and pleased to see James reach out a long arm with his hand bunched into a fist, and Danny bump his own fist against it.
“Follow your heart,” Danny muttered. “Life's too short, eh, lads?”
“Never a truer word was said,” agreed James.
Robbie nodded solemnly. Danny was right, of course. Life was too short for what ifs.
He hoped that Danny would one day find what his heart was looking for, just as Robbie's own heart had found it in James Hathaway.