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Venus the Bringer of Peace

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5 June 2010 (Friday)

Innocent had called after Hathaway, but he was in no state. He'd ignored her, and Lewis had tried to soften it with a wave as he'd followed his sergeant out of the confines of Gresham College and into Parks Road, where Babs Temple's ambulance was preparing to go. Night had fallen while they were down in the gun club talking with her, but the dark did nothing to hide James' deep frown. Which was unusual for him. Hathaway tended to be a bit stonefaced with the work. Normally their unmasked murderers earned the expression that Lewis had inwardly dubbed James' "righteous disgust face". Rarely had Lewis seen him so visibly sad. To be honest he looked a bit lost.

Robbie can't pinpoint when it started. He supposes it doesn't matter, but still, he'd like to know. Because if there were some kind of... narrative, some story to follow, or if it were like a case he could piece together— gather all the confusing, incomplete timelines and make them fit together to reveal the turning where The Thing happened— it might make sense. He'd understand. As it is, he can't find the path from Then to Now. He remembers that the way he used to think about James was all about the job. Last year, after Hathaway had found out about Simon Monkford and not told him for hours and they rowed about it, Innocent had asked him if they'd made up and were friends again. He'd told her they were colleagues and meant it. "Workmates, as they say in the Northeast. He's just a bit young." But something's shifted since then and now they're at Now, and the way he thinks about James is... different.

~o0o~

March 2009

"I'm sorry, man. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that." The Bear bustled around them.

"Well. You were right. I'd have stopped you, despite not wanting to. I should have told you as soon as I knew."

They were tucked in a corner on the seat beside the fireplace, light glinting off the glass cases of neckties all around them. Robbie thought of Morse again. "I know you didn't because I got so angry the last time. And now I did it again. All I've done is make sure you'll be even less keen to tell me next time."

Hathaway shook his head. "If I were bothered by people shouting at me I wouldn't have joined the force. And anyway there won't be a next time; we got him."

"That doesn't mean it's okay. And you got him. And there'll always be a next time."

James turned and raised an eyebrow at him. Robbie slid his glass in little circles in the pool of condensation on the tabletop. "The stupid thing is that often I want to talk about her. I just... can't seem to do it without blowing my top." He lifted the glass, then reconsidered and set it down again. "Because that's better, I guess. On duty."

Hathaway regarded him silently for a few seconds. "We're not on duty."

Lewis didn't move his eyes from his glass. "Still me sergeant."

"Off the clock I'm just another bloke."

Lewis shot him a look. "You can't really pull off disingenuous."

James shut his eyes and tipped his head back against the wall. "Fine, not me then. What about her friends? You must still... I mean don't you... they must want to talk about her, too."

Lewis took a long pull of his beer. "Yeah. That's... yeah."

He tried that, several times, back in the day. And it had helped, but it's been seven years and now when he sees her friends- their friends- his friends... Thing is, the people they were friendly with when the Lewises were a couple-and-family tended to be couples and families themselves, and in most cases still are. Clive and Linda whose daughter Jeannie was a school-friend of Lyn's, Clara (and her Harry) from Val's work... Jack and Louise Cornish still invite him to their family events and he always goes if he isn't working. And it's good to see them. He likes them. But.

He still feels an impulse to.. what, exactly? Share his memories of her, yeah, partly that, but somewhere along the line he'd got into the habit of thinking that talking about her made him feel less like she's gone. Except that's rarely true anymore. It's not that he doesn't have anyone to share her (or his grief) with, it's that talking about her is a double-edged sword. As much as he still feels like he wants to, these days he can't seem to do it without making everyone involved just feel worse. He knows it's not quite fair or useful of him to feel like his loss put an emotional gulf between him and people who haven't lost a spouse, but he does anyway. And he doesn't like reminding the people who love him of just how alone he feels most of the time. He doesn't need that on top of the rest of it. He'd thought that the knowledge that Monkford was behind bars would help — justice and that — but all that the day in court had done was force him to constantly remember, again, that she's gone.

Eventually Hathaway said, "This isn't about me, and I don't want to make it..."

"Oh go on. Take me outta me own head."

"When my-" He stopped, wrinkled his nose, knocked a knuckle absently against the wall behind him. "A family member died."

Lewis froze. Four years. They'd been partners for four years and apart from a tiny aside in their first case, this was the first time James had ever breathed a word about his family. "Your aunt?"

"What?"

"The one with motor neurone."

"Oh. No, it was after that." James drew his brows together. He looked puzzled for a long moment before his face relaxed again. "Anyway, when it happened... I went to see an old friend. Someone who'd known her."

Her. Grandmother? Let it be his gran. Or a great-aunt. "You were close?"

"No. Yes. I don't know. In a way."

"Close enough that it hit you hard."

"Fair to say, yeah. I doubt there's a soul on earth who has an uncomplicated relationship with their mother."

Mother. Hell. When? And how? "Aye. Can't argue with that." Hathaway set his glass on the table and pushed it away. Oh, bollocks. No wonder he defended Hayden Wishart. "I did try, actually. After Val—." He swallowed. "I saw a grief counsellor."

"But?"

"Wasn't for me."

"Maybe you didn't see the right one."

"Like your friend, you mean?"

"Well, yes. I suspect grief counsellors are like anyone else- you can click with one and not another and not even understand why."

Robbie turned and blinked, peering at him. "You still in contact with this friend?"

"Occasionally. He lives in Scotland. He... fills that kind of role for a lot of people."

"Oh?"

"Well. He's a priest."

Robbie made a face, then started chuckling. "Ah, lad. Val would've liked you, you know? She had a soft spot for awkward." He sobered. "You know, that day- the day Monkford picked Shakespeare-at-his-old-college for an alibi, and in what might be history's daftest coincidence, poor Richard Scott got himself murdered?"

"I'm unlikely to forget it anytime soon."

"That was Val's birthday."

James drew his head away from the wall an inch and then thunked it back again, too hard. He winced. "I don't whether to laugh at that or cry."

"I'd brought her flowers just that morning."

"Cleared that choice up, then. Thanks."

~o0o~

(2010 again)

That hadn't been it though, that night at The Bear. And it wasn't when McKendrick left either, but—

It's like... Before, there were just a lot of random, unconnected memories and Robbie didn't know why he had them. Or didn't at the time, anyway. Why did one thing stick in his mind and not another? I had an aunt. I'm not a joiner of things. I wanted you to know how grateful I am. I don't have dates. Sometimes I worry about your taste in women. You're not listening to me! Call of the wild, Sir. I used to look over the rough boys' shoulders. We're exceedingly versatile and very thorough. Davies, where are you?! You didn't find her. The cheerful promiscuity of your generation quite takes one's breath away.

But no, it wasn't when McKendrick left. Robbie's sure it hadn't stung when he found out Hathaway had been seeing Fiona and hadn't told him- why should it?- nor when James joked that the pair of them had tried to work out how on earth James could extricate... Hathaway probably would've been happier if she'd stayed, so Robbie's not glad she's gone, but what fool would drop a nice lad like him? He really is a good cop, recent misjudgment notwithstanding. And anyway, Lewis reckoned some of the blame for that lay at his own feet. He should have known better (after the Zoe Kenneth fiasco) than to keep Hathaway on a case where he had prior personal involvement with potential suspects. He should have reassigned him the minute "I lived here until I was twelve years old" was out of his mouth, but he'd wanted to give James that chance. So. So the lad's judgment's not perfect when it comes to dealing with ghosts from his past- whose is? Lewis knew he could hardly cast that particular stone. It didn't make either of them poor policemen, it just made them human. If Fiona wanted more than that, sod her. Her loss.

Robbie's also pretty certain he can't remember exactly how James felt against his shoulder (arm, hip, thigh) when he'd sat down right beside him on that bench at the Ashmolean, so close Lewis could smell him, soap and sweat and smoke. He hadn't intended to watch him and Fiona that night, and he certainly hadn't stood in the darkened street outside her window and watch them kiss. He doesn't remember seeing their backlit profiles melt together and wonder "Why leave when she could have that?"

And it wasn't during the time they'd spent with the band, either; Lewis couldn't stop thinking about Val that week. Every bloody thing reminded him. Esme Ford back-from-the-dead cut far too close to the bone, no pun intended. He'd kept wondering, not wondering, wondering what he'd do if Val... There was this fantasy he used to catch himself at, years ago when it was still fresh, where he'd wake up and discover it had all been a nightmare, and she was right there beside him, right there. All that week he couldn't get Hard Times and Counter Culture Blues out of his head and he found himself having it again, and he wakes up in bed and it's three weeks before Christmas 2002 and he pulls her into his arms and kisses her and kisses her and sobs and tells her about the awful dream he had, and she holds him and talks to him and comforts him, and when he calms down they laugh together and then they're kissing again and almost instantly they're making love. Love is so tenacious. So insistent. It's like his love for her hadn't even noticed when he lost her. It had been hardwired into his brain for so long that a world without her wasn't so much empty as just... inconceivable. And he's glad, so glad that James will be coming along soon. Leaving Cambridge, leaving seminary- has he already?- deciding on police work, coming to Thames Valley. Then he'll have them both.

In retrospect maybe it was that week. Didn't feel like it at the time. Maybe he'd been too preoccupied for it to register. He didn't think it was during the Crevecoeur case either, but he and Hathaway had talked after, and that conversation. Was. Should have been. A clue. Not what they'd said, but how Robbie had felt.

Hathaway'd said that Mortmaigne hadn't touched him. And Lewis felt torn in half: on the one hand by a relief so profound he could taste it in his chest, and on the other by honestly not knowing whether he believed it. Until Hathaway said that, Lewis had spent an awful night thinking Mortmaigne had hurt little James and it had broken his heart. Hell, this job broke his heart every day, but not like that. Never like that. And through the cracks he glimpsed how very easy it would have been to throw his fury at Mortmaigne so hard that he flattened and never got up again. So easy to end the bastard and not feel a snip of remorse. Because it was James. And Robbie wanted to gather him up in his arms and shoulders and chest and back and legs and head and just wedge himself permanently between his sergeant and the world so nothing could ever hurt him again. He almost did, too. That fierce impulse to protect the boy James had been and the friend he'd become nearly wrapped him in a bear hug right then and there for as long as Hathaway would allow. He thinks maybe he should have. It would have been okay. It wouldn't have been taking advantage; it hadn't started yet, then. Instead, Lewis had tried to explain. He wanted Hathaway to understand.

~o0o~

"What happened here... you're not to blame for any of it. Not then, not now. As for handing in your papers, well. If it's all the same to you..." Lewis stopped and breathed. He tried again. "Between us, we make a not-bad detective. I'm the brains, obviously."

"Obviously." James glanced at him and grinned, then peered out over the green. The wedding tent stood empty. Strings of tiny lights bobbed and pulled at their moorings. Away to the right, low, early sun cast the long shadow of Crevecoeur tower across the green and into the wood beyond.

"I didn't tell you, at the time. I didn't want to make it about me. But... after your friend Will died, I had a look through the files and figured out what I'd been doing that summer. When you were fourteen."

"What?"

"'90, right?"

Hathaway tilted his head to the side for a long moment before answering. "Yeah."

"Beginning of August, 1990, Morse and I had a child abuse case. We had no idea though, until the end, that that's what it was about. We thought it was an industrial cover-up. You remember COR-B? The biotech company?"

"Vaguely."

They'd been testing a new fertiliser that turned out to be carcinogenic. A senior fellow at Beaufort College found out and planned to blow the whistle at an Oxford Union debate. Never made it. He was attacked on the way there and died at the JR later. Morse had a run-in with a COR-B goon who'd been sent to shut people up. Nice and neat, yeah? Weird and hard to believe maybe, but the story fit the evidence. Straightforward."

"Ah, but when are they ever?"

"Exactly. Later we found out it had nothing to do with him. It was dark and rainy in the alley and the attacker was drunk, and he got the wrong man. He'd meant to get the master of the college, who'd been walking with our whistleblower just before, but ran off to fetch something from home. When the master returned his friend was already down. It was all a mistake. The attacker turned out to be the college gardener. He did the garden at the master's lodge, and the master's wife had been teaching his 10-year-old daughter to play the piano. And the master himself..."

James turned his head sharply, eyes squinted up against the wind and the bright.

"Thing is, we only found out because Morse wouldn't let it go. We talked to the master originally because he was the one who reported the attack, and we were there when he got some pretty gruesome hatemail in the post, but CS Rennie took us off the case because we didn't have any evidence for a connection and the master sat on a police force policy committee. But Morse... went back. Kept talking to people at the master's lodge. He knew there was something else. Wouldn't let up."

James bent down and retrieved his discarded cigarette from the gravel at his feet. Pocketed it. Shifted his weight like he intended to cross his arms, but was prevented by the sling. He rubbed absently at his wounded arm with his free hand.

"So. Neither could I. Not this time, not if..." Lewis cleared his throat. "Straightforward-but-weird-and-unbelievable gets me radar up now. You could've been right about the Linda Grahame/Stephen Black affair scenario and 'Nothing to do with the Mortmaignes", of course you could. I really wish you had. But. Echoes. You see?"

"Yeah. I do."

"That girl and my kids were near enough the same age. Morse said, 'It's not a matter of guilt, it's a matter of responsibility. There's only one way to help: let it all come out.' It was a cover-up, just not the kind we thought. Lots of kids think it's their own fault, you know that. That somehow they made it happen. Or let it. That's just how kids' minds work. That night I went home and made both mine swear blind that if anyone ever touched 'em, no matter who it was, even if it was a family friend, or a teacher, someone they didn't want to get in trouble; even if they thought it was their fault-" He had to stop. Breathe. Cough. Gather himself. Breathe more. He rubbed at his eyes before continuing. "I made 'em swear they'd tell me. Or Val or their grandparents or Morse, some adult they trusted. And to keep telling us until someone made it stop and got the bastard off the street."

Hathaway drew a breath in sharply through his nose. Wind billowed the tent, chilled their ears, pushed their hair around. Small birds made sunny-morning sounds. "Are you telling me you suspected Augustus? Of hurting Briony?"

"Not... Nothing that specific. Not until yesterday afternoon, anyway. I asked him if he cared that she was self-harming and the upshot of his answer was 'No'. Sod buried treasure, the Mortmaigne legacy is child abuse. I can't tell you how glad I am that your parents got you away from here."

James rubbed his free hand over the back of his neck, then moved left a couple of steps, just enough to lean his shoulder against Robbie's for several seconds. "Come on, I'll buy you a coffee."

~o0o~

So maybe it wasn't any of those times, but it had to have been in there somewhere, because now it's Now, and two days ago Roger Temple led them into Gresham College dining hall and, of course, Latin prayers. Why not? Never changes. "Is that today's specials?" he muttered, only loud enough for Hathaway. James' mouth curled up at the corners. Temple looked shocked, surprise surprise. Lewis clenched his jaw to stop his eyes rolling all the way back into his head. And then he heard Hathaway rumble, just quietly, "Toad in the hole... spotted dick."

Whereupon Then ticked over into Now so gently that Robbie almost missed it. It wasn't like discovering something new. It was like remembering something he'd always known and just hadn't thought about in a few years. Right. This is what James does. Makes me laugh. Takes the mickey. Translates the dons and marquises and Greek and such. Understands me. Listens. Is kind. To me. Watches me with those eyes. Bright as a summer morning, that one. Can't look too long or me retinas'll fry. Get over here, lad. Over here where I can see you properly. Where did you come from? Wherever it was, don't ever leave. Stay with me my awkward sod, please... it was all just there in his head where it's always been, waiting. And he remembers things he's never seen (that long, serious face between his hands) and never felt (those long, serious arms slipped around him, tightening) and never heard (quiet breath in his ear when they're close) and he doesn't even think "Yeah of course" because it's just... true. He almost missed it because it was so ordinary. He never notices the air either, not 'til a breeze picks up. That's what James my love is like: the air.

Now though, he knows. He has to think about it, and it isn't ordinary at all. It wasn't like Hathaway'd said anything new or significant; they do this all the time- the back-and-forth, the teasing. James has had his back in lots of ways since early on and Robbie's mostly taken it for granted, but since that moment in the dining hall on Wednesday he's been thinking "James understands me" consciously, and truth be told he hasn't the first idea what to do about it. "He knew just what to say" feels better than it should. It feels so good he keeps catching himself smiling whenever he thinks of it. It's a problem.

Or at least, it was problem until a moment ago, when Babs Temple's ambulance pulled away from the kerb, and James stood there staring at the ground looking shell-shocked, and Robbie's internal record finally caught the needle and spun on. He sniffed. Toad in the hole.

"I was looking forward to that concert."

Hathaway looked up at him, still frowning deeply. Robbie could see the wheels turning. Spotted dick.

"D'you think we'll be able to get our money back?"

Ah, soft lad. I think we might have an understanding.
"Worth a try."
He couldn't stifle his smile this time.

They fell into step. There'd be plenty of time to fret later; for now he'd just let himself enjoy it.
"Although actually, I'm more a Wagner man meself, especially if the conductor's Knappertsbusch."

James stole a glance at him.
"Bless you."
He was grinning again already.