The little girl is objectively adorable, with her brightly coloured hair ribbons and face paint. James doesn’t even feel an urge to roll his eyes in a long-suffering way when Lewis stops to ponder the tray of pins and ribbons she’s holding up to him. He’s not surprised at all when Lewis pulls out his wallet and hands a fiver to the woman with the purple mohawk minding the display stall.
He does go so far as to raise an eyebrow when Lewis picks up one of the smaller pins and proceeds to pin it to his lapel. Lewis turns and catches his eye and raises his own eyebrow. “Happy Pride,” he says.
James blinks. “Happy Pride, sir,” he agrees.
He follows bemusedly as his guvnor makes his way through the fair. He watches the way Lewis’s head turns, the way his eyes take in the variety of stalls: from the mental health and HIV support organisations to the save the forests and animal welfare to the food stalls and the merchandise on offer—everything from Pride flags and jewellery to leather chaps, soft whips and rainbow-coloured dildos.
Lewis seems to take it all in his stride, his expression one of mild enquiry, even when a couple of exuberant scantily clad and oiled up twinks blunder into him, causing him to stagger in a way that has James leaping forward to steady him, heart in his throat. He accepts their apologies with a nod and a smile, a smile which morphs into something softer and more genuine. James follows his glance to a family picnicking on a blanket in the sun. One mum is carefully anointing a squirming toddler with sun cream while the other nurses a baby, a thin, strategically placed cloth likely placed more as protection from the sun rather than any antiquated societal convention. An older child it stretched out on his stomach beside them, thumbs busy on the phone he’s engrossed with.
He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised. He’s not forgotten Lewis’s words, his exasperated tone, his bewilderment over McEwan’s rejection of his gay son— it shouldn’t matter, if my boy were…well, it wouldn’t matter.
And later, the awkward conversation in the car, when Lewis had wondered about James himself. The worried crease in Lewis’s brow, the question in his too kind eyes. James hadn’t been ready then, he’d felt exposed, raw, too defensive.
He doesn’t feel that way now. It’s been nearly two years since James’s lies. James’s prevarication. Two years since Lewis saved him, since Lewis literally carried him out of a burning building. (James still feels a flash of guilt, whenever Lewis puts a hand to his back or winces when he turns too quickly). Lewis has never mentioned it again, never appeared to judge him or hold it against him.
If he were to ask again, James would tell him anything he wants to know. Lewis has more than earned James’s trust. When he’s had a couple of glasses of red, and he’s contemplating the complexities of the universe and the oneness of being, James can admit that he wants Lewis to ask. Wants Lewis to know him. He just can’t quite bring himself to broach the subject himself.
James is uncomfortably warm now, between the lack of shade in the main thoroughfare, and the press of people surging around him. Sweat’s prickling under his shirt; he’s considering loosening his tie, perhaps taking it off altogether. Everyone else around him is dressed for the summer heat. Dressed for the fair. He can feel the eyes on him, curious, suspicious even—a lot of people here have cause to mistrust the police.
It’s that thought that decides him. He’s sliding the tie off when he catches the glance of a man who’s openly ogling him. The man’s sprawled on the grass with a group of friends, enjoying a beer in the sunshine. When he realises he’s been caught staring, he raises his beer in salute, and his lips curl slowly into an appreciative grin. He’s good looking, sexy even, in his cut-off shorts and tight tee, and James is returning the smile before he catches himself. He glances over to see if Lewis noticed, but Lewis has disappeared into the milling crowd, no doubt making his way over to the stall they’ve been told to look for.
James forges forward, scanning the crowd. A path clears and he sees him, his jacket over his arm and shirtsleeves rolled back, brow creased as he cranes his head, scanning the crowd around him. He’s no doubt looking for James. James raises his arm in an awkward wave that immediately embarrasses him but it does the trick. Lewis’s eyes fall on him and his whole face lights up and he gestures for James to join him. For a moment James is aware of nothing, not the heat, not the crowd, not the music from the alt-rock band on the corner stage, aware of nothing but his heart beating oddly in his chest as Lewis smiles at him and he thinks, oh.
Lewis takes the statement from the witness. James bends over his notepad, scribbling industriously, but she doesn’t have anything particularly helpful to add.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” he points out afterwards, as Lewis hands him one of the ice-creams he’s just bought from a nearby van.
“Was it?” Lewis says, eyeing James as he licks a swipe around the cone, turning it, the white cream coating his tongue and disappearing into his mouth before he swallows.
James finds himself swallowing and he hasn’t even touched his own ice-cream; he averts his eyes quickly as he applies himself to his cone. “We could have just asked Ms Chang to come into the station for that, or sent a uniform,” he says as he follows Lewis, who abruptly changes direction and leads them over to an open space in the grassed area.
“We could have, aye,” Lewis agrees, and promptly takes a seat on the grass and stretches out his legs, turning his face up to the sun.
James glances down at him. His eyes are closed, his expression relaxed, the lines around his eyes and forehead smoothed away for once.
“Why not?” Lewis counters. Rivulets of melted ice-cream drip over his fingers, drawing his attention, and he licks up the mess as he glances around him. “Who wants to be cooped up in the office on a day like today?”
Clearly they’re not going anywhere for the time being. The heat feels intense on James’s shoulder blades now. He juggles his cone as he carefully shrugs out of his suit jacket and then subsides onto the grass beside Lewis. He finishes up his cone and wipes his hands on his handkerchief, averting his eyes as he offers it to Lewis, who’s obliviously sucking each of his fingers into his mouth in turn to clean them. Lewis takes the hanky with a murmured thanks. It occurs to James that they don’t have many boundaries left between them. Once the very idea of this sort of attachment to another person would have been anathema to him, now he can’t imagine his life without Lewis firmly entrenched within his defences.
Today’s revelation really doesn’t change anything. He’ s not sure he’d want it to. Sometimes, when they’re working a case and so in sync they’re finishing each other’s sentences, he feels like they’re two halves of a whole. Lewis seems to feel it too, or something akin. He’d said something, once, what was it? Between us, we make a not-bad detective.
He’s never felt as close to another person as he does to Lewis, never trusted another person as much as he trusts Lewis. Why would he want to risk ruining what he already has by vainly hoping for more?
Lewis seems content to sit and people-watch, so James stretches out on the grass on his stomach beside him and puts his head down on his crossed arms. He closes his eyes, very carefully thinking about nothing except the warmth of the sun on his back, the trickle of sweat at his temple, the occasionally raucous shouts or squeals from people in the near distance and the melodic sound of the kd lang cover band that’s playing now.
He drifts. When he feels the gentle weight of a hand cradle his head and the murmur of a beloved voice - “Time to go, lad.” - he doesn’t want to move, to disturb this peace he’s found. He nudges into the hand, grumbling, and is rewarded by Lewis’s sigh, sounding far away, and then gentle fingers are sliding through his hair. He’s afraid to move, finds himself having to breathe carefully, evenly, because it feels fragile—this time, this moment when they’re not police officers, not colleagues, not friends, they’re something else. James wants, more than anything, for this moment to never end. He allows himself to believe that Lewis is of the same mind, because Lewis’s nails scratch gently along James’s scalp, and don’t stop even when James’s whole body suddenly shivers in reaction.
He wonders if he’ll ever hear kd again without remembering this feeling of pure contentment.
They’ve spent a tedious and unproductive morning attempting to track down leads. They’re on their way back to the station, the plan being to park and stroll down to their local for lunch and a pint before going back to work, but after James’s stomach growls loudly for the third time, Lewis throws him an amused glance and turns left instead of right. A few minutes later he’s swinging into a miraculously empty parking space opposite a pub James has never seen before. He wonders if it’s new; it has that freshly painted look. It’s certainly busy enough, the outside seating crowded with punters taking advantage of the unusually brilliant weather.
They make their way up to the bar and he picks something, almost at random, from the menu Lewis hands him and then goes to finds a seat at the back while Lewis orders for them.
James is admittedly distracted. He’s hungry, yes, coffee and cigarettes do not a sustaining breakfast make, but there’s something the last person they’d questioned had said that’s bothering him.
But still, it doesn’t say a lot for his observational skills that it’s not till he’s swigged back approximately a third of his Kilkenny and taken his first mouthful of fish pie that he looks up and notices the giant rainbow flag above the bar. He draws in a sharp, startled breath and manages to inhale a sharp piece of piecrust and then he’s coughing and spluttering. Lewis is clapping him on the back and the flush heating his cheeks is mortification. He’s about to apologise when Lewis’s hand, which had been resting lightly between his shoulder blades, slides up the nape of his neck and squeezes lightly.
“All right?” Lewis asks. James can hear the concern in his voice, the caring, but the hand still resting on his neck is sending shivers of heat through him, and Lewis is too close. James is afraid, afraid that Lewis will see the effect his touch, his proximity, is having on him. He half rises to flee to the bathroom, to put some space between them while he regains his composure; only the fear that Lewis might follow him stops him. He sinks back into his seat and occupies himself gulping down the rest of his pint. At least Lewis is no longer touching him, his hand having fallen away when James had launched himself out of his seat.
“I’m all right, sir, thanks for your concern.” James puts down his empty glass and picks up his fork again.
Lewis eyes him a moment longer, as if not completely convinced, but James ignores him. After a few moments Lewis picks up his own knife and fork and tucks in to his parma.
The fish pie is actually very tasty. Once his hunger has been satisfied, James sits back and takes a good look at his surroundings. It looks like any other pub for the most part—less mixing of genders perhaps, some people whose appearance would stereotype them—but other than that, if it weren’t for the prominently placed Pride flag, there wasn’t anything that would alarm any nervous straights who wandered in off the street looking for a good meal.
“How’d you find this place?”
“Oh, I’ve been here a few times. The food’s top notch and they don’t stint on the chips.”
That…didn’t answer James’s question. In fact, now he’s even more curious. “With Dr Hobson?” he prompts.
“No.” Lewis finishes the last of his beer and slides the glass back on to the table with an air of finality.
James should leave it, it’s none of his business. “No?” he finds himself repeating anyway.
Lewis shrugs. “We decided we’re better off as friends. Think she’s seeing someone else now.”
James wonders how that conversation went. “I’m sorry,” he says, and he does mean it.
“Don’t be.” Lewis glances at his watch. “We’ve time for dessert if that bottomless pit of yours still needs filling,” he says, his good humour apparently restored. “I can recommend the trifle,” he says. “We’ll get two spoons.”
The warm weather continues and so does the mood around the station. Lewis seems especially pleased with himself today, he’s actually humming as he works on a report for Innocent.
“They’re screening Casablanca at the UPP tonight, if you’re interested?” James has never seen it, remembers Lewis telling him about it once, about the timing of when it was made, about how many of the actors had been refugees and opponents of fascism themselves. Living history. James has been hoping to watch it with him.
“Can’t tonight,” Lewis says absently, and then his eyes dart to the corner of his screen. “Is that the time?” It’s not really a question. James watches as Lewis goes through his usual saving and closing down ritual, and then he’s on his feet, lifting his jacket off the back of his chair and shrugging into it. The late afternoon sun catches a glint of colour on the shoulder and it takes James a moment to realise it’s the rainbow flag pin Lewis had bought at the Pride Fair some weeks ago. He’d noticed Lewis hadn’t bothered to take it off in the week or so afterwards, assumed his guvnor was showing support for the gay community during LGBT History Month.
Come to think of it, James isn’t sure if Lewis has been wearing it all along and James had just stopped noticing, like that fern you keep on your windowsill at work that’s leaves are brown around the edges because you hardly ever notice it to remember to water it.
James rocks back in his chair and opens his eyes wide. “Hot date?” he asks archly, watching Lewis as he gathers up his phone and keys.
Lewis freezes. Just for the tiniest of moments and then he’s sliding the phone and keys into his pocket.
James sits up straight. “You do!” He schools his face into an appearance of delight, firmly ignoring the sick feeling in his stomach. “Who’s the lucky woman?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a hot date,” Lewis says. There’s a tinge of colour across his cheekbones. “Just someone I got talking to at the pub the other week—we got on well, they suggested we meet for a bite, that’s all.”
As far as James knows, the only times Lewis has been to the pub recently is when they’ve stopped for lunch, and their regular Friday dinner plans. Between their squash games and the semi-regular invitation to stop at Lewis’s for a spot of dinner and telly, it hadn’t occurred to him that Lewis might have a social life separate to him. He should be happy for him.
He is happy for him, dammit.
“Have fun, sir, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Unexpectedly, that earns him a long stare that for the life of him James can’t interpret. “I won’t,” Lewis says finally and then he’s gone.
James is left sat staring at his empty chair.
The Open Poetry Slam at the OFS is usually good value, and tonight’s performers have been excellent so far, which just makes this aspiring sonneteer’s mediocre effort the more painful to listen to.
James finds his mind wandering. He’s staring somewhat blankly at the audience members seated on the other side of the room when his attention is caught by a man leaning over to say something in his neighbour’s ear. It’s not the way the man’s hand comes up to clasp his companion’s arm to attract his attention that suddenly rivets James.
It’s the owner of the arm. Who is apparently fine with another man groping him while he listens to whatever the man is whispering in his ear.
Who is here. At a poetry slam. James didn’t even know Lewis knew poetry slams existed.
Who has listened to James quote the occasional line or piece when it seemed apropos, but has never, to James’s knowledge, shown the slightest interest in the form himself.
Who is here with another man.
Who isn’t James.
Everyone’s clapping now. Including Lewis and his companion. James absently joins in but he’s barely aware of anything going on around him.
He’s been blind. Impossibly, wilfully so. He can’t even be angry at Lewis for not telling him, because Lewis has been trying to tell him, hasn’t he, for months? The rainbow pin, the gay pub. Hell, even the hot date. But he hadn’t felt able to come right out and tell James, had he? Because of James’s own lack of candour? Had he assumed James had figured it out, because what kind of a detective is he that he hadn’t? Had he assumed James didn’t care enough to talk about it or, perhaps worse, guessed that James cared too much?
There’s a sick sensation in the pit of his stomach and James becomes aware he’s half doubled over, his arms wrapped tightly, protectively around his body. He forces himself to straighten up, to clasp his hands carefully in his lap, ignoring the fine tremble that they’ve unexpectedly acquired. He takes a deep breath, determined to turn his attention to the stage, where a young person is currently declaiming something about gender equality and space cowboys, and looks up.
Oh, God. Lewis is looking straight at him. What must James’s own face look like, to put that expression on Lewis’s?
James can’t bear it, can’t bear the look of disappointment on Lewis’s face. Can’t bear that’s he’s exposed himself like this, because if his face reflects even half the shock he feels—the grief—there’s no coming back from this. There’s no amount of denial that’s going to allow them to continue on like nothing’s changed.
He tears his eyes away from Lewis’s and launches himself half-blindly from his seat, muttering apologies as he steps on someone’s foot pushing his way past the people seated along his row. He half runs up the aisle to exit and he fancies he feels Lewis’s eyes on him all the way.
In the restroom he splashes water over his face and stands, hands flat on the counter on either side of the basin, head bent, blinking rapidly, determined not to let any tears fall. Not here anyway. Not where someone could see.
Of course, then the door opens. James raises his head and stares at the reflection behind him in the mirror.
Lewis is standing in the doorway.
James turns and leans against the bench, folding his arms protectively over his chest as he does so. Lewis’s eyes follow the gesture. James is well aware it makes him look defensive, even a bit hostile, and he can’t bring himself to feel sorry for that. What the fuck does Lewis mean by following him into the toilets like this? If he had any pity at all he’d have left James alone to pull the shreds of his dignity back together.
Lewis takes two more steps into the room and pushes the door shut behind him. He’s staring at James, and James, for once, has no idea what he’s thinking. Lewis’s face is expressionless, his eyes opaque.
There’s a slight dripping sound from the cistern in the stall nearby, and distantly, muted, the sound of applause.
James presses his lips together. He isn’t going to apologise. What’s the point? The damage, whatever it is, is done. All he can do is await judgement.
But Lewis is still just standing there. God, Lewis is probably just as uncertain as he is. James isn’t the only one for whom the whole world has changed. After all, coming out can be terrifying, and Lewis probably expected James to react better, James thinks, suddenly ashamed.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and drops his arms to his sides. He opens his mouth to try to explain, but before he can even form the words, Lewis is striding forward, Lewis is reaching out, Lewis is sliding one hand into the hair at the nape of James’s neck and Lewis is leaning up, Lewis is kissing him. There’re probably a dozen reasons why they shouldn’t do this, why they should at least talk about this first, but Lewis doesn’t seem to care.
Lewis doesn’t seem uncertain at all. Lewis’s tongue is his mouth. Lewis’s hand is holding his head firmly in place and his other arm has slid around James’s waist and is drawing him in close. Still half convinced that this can’t be real, that he will wake up any moment, James slides his own arms around Lewis and surrenders to the dream.
“I’m sorry,” Lewis says, when they finally break apart, panting. Lewis is flushed and James is torn between being thrilled that Lewis is as affected as he is, and relieved that no one walked in on them while they were snogging like teenagers.
“What for?” James rubs a hand over his lips. They feel swollen and sensitive.
“I thought I was mistaken. I thought I’d seen what I wanted to see… and then when you didn’t seem interested, well, I thought I should stop being a pathetic old bugger and find someone more appropriate.”
“You know what I mean.”
James bites back his instinctive protest. It would be disingenuous to pretend there aren’t real issues to consider should they get together. None of them matter, though, not if he really can have this, have Lewis. “There isn’t anyone more appropriate,” he says, willing Lewis to share his certainty.
“Then why didn’t you say anything?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t very well, could I? I’m your boss—workplace harassment and all that.”
“You really could have.”
“As it was I felt like I was wearing a bloody great sign around my neck. I figured you were pretending not to notice to spare my feelings.”
James shakes his head very deliberately.
“You do know you’re a detective, right? Like, you are trained to pay attention to detail and draw conclusions?”
“Very droll, sir.”
“I’m going to have to insist you call me Robbie while we stand about arguing over about who should have told who they fancy them in the public toilets at a bloody arthouse theatre.”
James can’t resist. “Whom.”
Lewis glares at him, but his lips twitch.
James grins, suddenly giddy. Lewis fancies him, as incredible as that is. Lewis wants to be with him. “We should probably continue the argument back at your flat, then.”
“Yours is closer.”
“Yours has your orthopaedic mattress.”
For a moment Lewis looks disconcerted, as if hadn’t expected James to be quite that forward. But then he smiles at James, a fond smile that James has seen a thousand times before but this time there’s heat in his eyes that sends a shiver of arousal resurging through James’s nerves.
“What are we waiting for, then?”
What about your date?” James asks, as they make their way towards the exit.
Lewis ducks his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t think he’s expecting me back, somehow,” he says, looking sideways at James. “Not after I bolted after you like that.”
“Oh.” James tries to feel bad for the man.
“I’ll just send him a text,” Lewis says, getting his phone out. “He’ll understand.”
Lewis doesn’t say anything for a minute while he focuses on typing his message, then he puts his phone back in his pocket and squares his shoulders. “When I thought… well, when I thought that I’d mistaken our closeness for something it wasn’t, I decided it wasn’t fair to either of us for me to keep on hoping for something you couldn’t give me.”
Lewis looks almost apologetic when he says, “And then I met Greg and he asked if I wanted to go for a drink and I thought, why not? He’s the one that introduced me to that pub we stopped at. But after he pointed out that I spent most of dinner blithering on about you, there wasn’t much point in trying for anything more.”
“It’s been… nice, actually. Greg’s become a mate. He’s been expanding me horizons.”
“Poetry Slam at the OFS is a quite the horizon.”
“I might have mentioned how much you like poetry.”
“You came to a poetry night because I like poetry,” James says slowly. “With someone else.”
“It sounds daft when you put it like that.”
“A bit, yeah.”
James has never seen Lewis look abashed before. “Did you like it?” he asks, although he’s fairly certain he knows the answer.
Lewis’s mouth quirks. “’It had its moments.”
“You hated it, didn’t you?” James nudges Lewis’s shoulder with his own.
Their hands brush as they walk and James’s fingers twitch with the urge to hold on, to reassure himself that this is real, but they’re in public, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they might be recognised, and while he’s not particularly bothered by what people think of him, Lewis, on the other hand, has his position to think of, his reputation.
Warm fingers curl around his own. James can’t help a glance at Lewis that he knows is too wide-eyed, and Lewis smiles that fond smile again. “I’m more of a classics man, myself.”
“I’d never have guessed.”
“Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate,”
“You know it’s commonly accepted that he wrote that about a man?”
“Aye. There was something in there about fair gilded youth?”
“Pretty sure that was a different sonnet.”
“Oh yes, of course. Still, I like this one. Reminds me of you.”
James has no idea what to say to that. His chest feels tight and he has to remember to take deep breaths. His hand tightens around Lewis without meaning to but all Lewis does is return the squeeze and smile faintly. He looks content, and his grasp anchors James, so that he finds his breath comes easier. This is really happening. This is really them now.
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee,” he murmurs.
Lewis nods. “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”