She had never been to his house before. There had been the occasional Christmas party but for some reason or other she’d always been unable to attend. Fortunately their new superintendent hadn’t thought it strange when Laura asked for Robbie’s address. She was sure she hadn’t been the first one to want to do something.
Robbie Lewis was always very well liked around the station. There were some who had their feathers ruffled by his former DI although she suspected that jealousy ruled their dislike. Morse was one of the best detectives the station had ever seen and, though the naysayers may have tried, it was difficult to detangle his success with Lewis’s. Morse may have been one of their finest detectives, but Robbie Lewis had been one of his finest sergeants.
After Morse had gone she’d seen something of what grief did to Lewis. In that case it had meant withdrawal and a harsh almost militaristic reporting to whichever inspector he was assigned to in the interim. Nothing of his usual joviality. She used to listen to him theorize at murder scenes while she was packing up her equipment, even before her postmortem results, to be met by what she soon learned was proud encouragement from Morse often masquerading as skeptical half interest. When she happened to chance upon him after Morse had died he kept his head down, and with an air of professional disinterest offered to follow up with whatever theory his D.I. was espousing. She sometimes wonders, a bit bitterly, if that’s what lead to so quick a promotion--all the inspectors with their nose in the air opinions of themselves liked how much he’d agreed with them. She thinks this, but then she remembers that Morse knew Jim Strange well, and would have had his ear even to the end.
But this grief was different. How could it not be? Decades of marriage and two children? She literally can’t imagine--she has the thought with both a pang of relief and longing as she sets the covered over Shepard's pie in her passenger seat. It’s the coldest night of the year, she thinks, and not even technically winter yet. It’s getting darker much earlier in the evening, so as she makes her way, heavily bundled, up Lewis’s front steps, it feels as if she’s bringing the cold into a place of warmth and light. But as soon as she’s inside there’s no warmth and very little light.
He opens the door, grudgingly it seems, with a whisky in hand. His eyes are glassy so for a moment he just stares at her in the darkness before recognition floats in.
She doesn’t have to be a doctor to tell that he’s in very bad shape, but her diagnosis is as simple as acute grief triggering an excess of drink. He’s putting up a considerable effort toward making her a cup of tea while she sits, perched on the sofa, surrounded by now drooping flowers from sympathetic friends on all end tables, a few shedding their petals sadly. Beside her is a hastily shed suit jacket that she’s nearly sure has been there since this past Saturday. Well...she rather doubts that she’d be able to go about hanging up clothes and putting them away after a funeral such as that. The suit jacket is accompanied by a nearly empty bottle of whisky, which she suspects has been Robbie’s constant companion. She feels a slight pang of guilt that she hasn’t come by sooner, but what would she have done?
There’s loud swearing from the kitchen and she goes to give what help she can in the moment.
There’s shards on the floor along with a large puddle of tea, which she thankfully notes contains milk. There’s less chance of burns if there was milk to cool things down a bit. They’re lucky it was already tea and not boiling water. But then she sees the blood on his hand.
“Bloody thing slipped right out of my hand!” he growls. It would do, yes, with all that trembling. She navigates the floor as quickly as possible and pulls him gently to the sink, takes his hand and runs it under the stream.
“Not a deep cut. Where do you keep the plasters?”
After she’s got him bandaged and out of the kitchen, with very explicit instructions not to move she cleans up the kitchen, brings his tea to the sofa, and nonchalantly moves the bottle of whisky to the kitchen. The dinner she’s brought only needs a bit of warming so she serves them both a plate and they eat, not bothering to move to the kitchen, in sad but companionable silence.
She’s just going to rise and clear the plates when there’s a hand on hers and,
“Laura...you’re so good to me, lass.”
She looks away. Not a term he’s ever used for her before.
“And I can’t even manage tea for you.”
“You don’t have to manage anything right now, Robbie. Not for me.”
His hand rested on hers for several moments longer. And though physical touch was not something she used to from him it felt all right. She took his hand and they sat for what couldn’t be more than five minutes, and when she broke away to check her watch and take the plates to the sink she wished they could have stayed that way longer. She wanted to be there for as long as she could. She thought maybe if she was holding his hand it wouldn’t be reaching for the whisky bottle.
But of course she knew she was giving herself too much credit. He’d just lost his wife, for God sake. He would have a long way to go before he might begin to be all right again, and there was very little she could do for him along the way.
She left him thanking her profusely for the supper, though not rising from the sofa, the effort almost seeming beyond him.
She spends the rest of the night desperately worrying about him. She spends the rest of the year considering making him other dinners, but she doesn’t. Three years later they finally go for a proper meal after work.