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Anniversary Effect

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James jerked awake to a banging on the door of his flat and he shot upright, bleary eyed and not quite sure what-why-how-where he was at the moment. His laptop was still open on the coffee table in front of him and a bottle of wine sat empty in front of him. He checked his phone for the time but it was dead.

What? Banging. Loud loud banging. Awful banging.

Why? He’d passed out mid-mope. Not that he’d been moping. He hated the word mope. It even sounded sad.

How? Wine. A lot of wine.

Where? The sofa. His own place. Thank god.

James wrenched his flat door open and recoiled from the outdoor light. Outlined brightly was Lewis looking breathless and concerned… and not quite fully dressed. He looked like he’d thrown a jacket on over his pajamas.

“James!” Somehow their usual there-but-not propriety was gone and Robbie’s broad hand suddenly pressed against his cheek with great relief, “Thank god..”

“Sir,” He was groggily aware that he liked that warm hand on his cheek. It was, in fact, the sort of thing he sat up drinking about at night (not that he did that). James cut his eyes to the clock on the microwave without moving away from the touch, “It’s… it’s three in the morning.”

“Ah,” That hand slipped away then and Robbie shifted on his feet as if he’d just realized his own behavior, “You weren’t answering your phone-”

He’d been worried but he wouldn’t say it. Why couldn’t he just say it?

“I’m alive, sir. Clearly..” James said without thinking and he was aware of himself sounding gruff and sleep-thick, a bit irritated even though he didn’t mean to.

“I didn’t mean to wake ya, lad..” Robbie’s agitation seemed to be slipping away by the second and he was looking a bit ashamed of himself. The reality of rushing to James’s flat in his pajamas and banging down his door in the middle of the night may have been slowly creeping in.

“S’fine, sir,” James sighed and opened his door more, “Just come in already..”

Lewis seemed to have a stay or go moment, a mental dilemma, but whatever was bothering him was clearly more than a simple unanswered phone.

James rubbed his eyes as he closed the door behind him.

Lewis lingered in the center of the room, glancing at the empty bottle and the open laptop. James felt his own low-level of shame at the state of his place and the obvious result of his evening. He was still wearing his work clothes for god’s sake.

“Looks like you got the nightcap out of the way,” Robbie, for once, didn’t seem to be judging even as James moved to tidy things, kick his shoes into a corner and close his computer. The bottle was scooped up and moved away to the kitchen sink where James finally stopped. He turned and leaned against the counter.

James tilted his head and regarded the older man quietly. Robbie seemed to be doing his best not to look at James either, instead looking at the floor and scratching his brow, as he often did when he was thinking. That was usually reserved for a case, not his apartment.

“Why were you calling me at 3am?” James finally asked.

Lewis shifted, glanced at the now closed computer and then up at the empty bottle on the counter behind James’s elbow. He didn’t answer the question and instead posed one of his own, “You often drink a whole bottle and pass out on the couch?”

“Don’t do that, Robbie!” James wasn’t sure why he snapped like that, surely unbidden by Robbie’s concern, but sometimes the deflection wore on him. He felt like he was hovering a bit out of his body, his conscious sense drifting externally to observe and shame his more baser, unfettered feelings that had taken control. At three AM with a good amount of wine still swirling through his system, he suddenly hadn’t the patience to let the older man turn this somehow into a conversation about his own dysfunctions, “Don’t turn it around on me!”

“Eh,” Robbie stiffened but didn’t fight back. He sagged and flicked a dismissive arm, looking very tired and very much like he was going to run, “I don’t even remember now. Got so worked up thinking something had happened-”

James rubbed a hand through his hair in frustration, “Don’t lie to me either. You’ve been off all month, and I know why, I know what time of year it is..” Of course he did. After the first year he’d put it together. Anytime it came around the month of Val’s death, Robbie got touchy and distant, and lately he looked at James like it may be the last time he saw him. They called it the Anniversary Effect. Yes, he’d looked it up. It’s what he did.

“I’ve been letting you be. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t ever want to talk about it…” James rubbed his hand across his tired eyes now. The outburst took it out of him and his frustration was emotionally draining.

“I called because I just wanted to talk to ye!” It was Robbie’s turn to burst and he looked as surprised at himself as James did. It was as if he didn’t yell it then it wouldn’t have come out at all. His voice softened just as fast and he scrubbed his hand through his hair, “Just hear your voice. Know you were there because.. because you are always there.”

James wasn’t sure if he was hearing it right, wasn’t sure if it was the wine that had him feeling this was no simple confession. He pushed up from the counter and came closer as Robbie continued. 

“Sometimes it feels like yer slipping through my fingers, lad.”

James sighed, “Don’t you think I’ve been worried?”

And the frustration rose again, quick like a flash, “I drink alone at night because I don’t want to be here!” It died just as swiftly, “Here. In this room. By myself.”

Robbie was finally looking at him, really looking at him, but James had let the dam break so he didn’t stop, “I’d rather sleep on your sofa, folded up like a bloody accordion, sir, than sit here by myself and think that you are by yourself.”

“James-”

“I’d rather sit in your flat with a beer and say nothing. I’d rather watch telly and not talk about our feelings like we do every week-” every day.

“James-”

“-than sit here and pretend that everything is fine when it’s far from it.”

James realized there was a hand on his chest, warm and broad and just over his heart. He looked at it, and then up at the man in front of him who seemed for the first time in too many weeks was really seeing him.

“You called me Robbie,” Lewis huffed a little smile.

James diverted his eyes, “I always call you Robbie in my head.”

He did. He wasn’t sure when the divide happened. Perhaps the first time it had come to his lips in conversation and instead of just saying it, he’d swallowed it down. The chance had passed, James told himself, and now it had been so long that it felt foolish to try and change, “I did drink a whole bottle of wine tonight.”

“You could do more often, I think. Robbie I mean, not the wine,” Robbie smiled and then, conscious of his hand on James’s chest, he tried to step away but this time James caught him.

“Don’t leave,” He said softly. Don’t make the choice to be alone was what he meant. After this, he couldn’t bear knowing that the other man made the informed decision to leave.

James watched Robbie’s face, hoping with all he could that the other understood what he was saying and slowly he saw it take root and and the older man went through flashes of confusion, concern, and lastly hope and affection.

Lewis’s hand turned in James’s grasp and he curled them together, “I won’t.”