James Hathaway's decision to have a career as a priest was a long and thought out one. There had been years of contemplation, countless hours of thought and prayer.
His second career as a policeman was a rather more hasty decision, based on a combination of need, some aptitude tests, and a right-place-right-time recruitment poster.
His career as a musician though. That was entirely accidental.
James wasn't shy about people knowing he was in a band per se. But he was aware that he already had a reputation as a bit of an odd duck around the police station, and he knew that medieval jazz and madrigals weren't exactly a mainstream pastime, so he didn't really mention it very often.
He'd only joined the band in the first place as a favour to a friend. Their usual guitarist had gone to Malawi to dig wells, and a friend from another band had been filling in. But then there was a world music festival coming up one weekend and the stand-in was scheduled to play with his usual band and there was a bit of a competition so crossover wasn't really encouraged, as it might normally have done. So a friend of a friend mentioned it to James and he had stepped up to the plate.
In the end he'd really enjoyed it.
So he'd stayed with them over the years. They practiced a couple of times a week, and tried to keep up with the festival circuit in the summer. Occasionally they played at pub nights too, but their sound wasn't really in demand.
And James found that in between he was picking up his guitar more often than he had before he'd joined the band. He loved it dearly, but he'd fallen out of the habit. On the bookcase in the corner where his guitar lived there was also a couple of notebooks. One was old and tatty, the other newer and less battered. Inside he'd doodled bits of music, chord progressions he really liked, and alongside it some bits and pieces of lyrics he'd pencilled in particularly introspective moments.
The thing with being an intensely private person with an inherently stressful job was that really he did need a creative outlet somewhere. So he found solace in writing bits of music here and there.
In hindsight, it all changed when he started sharing what he'd written with other members of the band.
His new bandmates found it hilarious when James blushed and stammered through his first interaction with an overly-flirtatious young lady after one of their sets. She'd been very pretty, James conceded, but also very, very young. His instinct was to check she had ID for the bottle of beer she was holding, rather than to ask her for her number.
"Not my thing," he'd explained, insofar as he ever explained anything, to the gentle mocking of the band.
They'd as a man (or indeed, woman, in the case of Lucy, the percussionist) assumed this was a gentle nudge that his interests lay elsewhere, with the less female part of the population. And so when further interest seemed it was being directed to their elusive guitarist they ran a certain level of interference with some of the more enthusiastic women, but let the earnest young men make an approach.
Eventually James cottoned on to the assumption that he was gay, but he didn't bother to correct it. Everyone everywhere had an opinion on his sex life it seemed. May as well let them if it brought them entertainment, it wasn't like it was difficult to politely decline any of the offers he got, and certainly easier than trying to explain that he wasn't against anyone pursuing romantic attachment, just that he lacked any real interest himself. He'd tried to explain that to people before and been met only with bewildered looks. Just let them think what they liked.
Only Andy (officially a multi-instrumentalist, but everyone knew him as the fiddle player) ever seemed to notice that James' disinterest seemed to apply to the flirting men just as much as the women. He approached James after practice one night, when there had been some teasing about James' popularity and reluctant status as the heartthrob of the band.
"You know, it's ok not to want to meet someone via them thinking you look cool on stage." Andy told him quietly, when it was just the two of them left in the church hall.
James smiled, realising that Andy had picked up on his reticence in the face of the friendly banter earlier.
"I don't mind; it keeps them amused." James deflected.
Andy scrutinised him for a moment. Then added,
"It's ok to not want to meet someone at all too. Not everyone is interested in that kind of relationship. You wouldn't be the first."
This had James looking a little startled.
"It's not that I'm against the idea," he said slowly, "I just … I don't really see what all the fuss is about."
Andy nodded, and bade James goodnight. But later that night forwarded him links to a couple of websites with information on asexuality that he thought might be of interest to James in light of the conversation.
The following Saturday night, James offered to drive Andy home after their gig.
"I did my homework," James said in a lull in the conversation, obliquely referencing the information Andy had sent him.
"Oh?" Andy asked, curious how much James was willing to share given how reserved he always seemed.
"A lot of bells were ringing there. Not all of them, but certainly a very campanological chorus…"
"Well, I'm glad it was of some use. I can tell the others to lay off if you like? I don't have to tell them why…"
"It's fine, really. Thanks, but I don't mind."
A further pause.
"Besides, I'm fairly sure I'm not incapable of such feelings. And I'm certainly not aromantic." James added. "So you never know, I might meet someone I like anyway."
"You know we've been keeping the girls away - we can stop doing that, if you want?" Andy offered. He was still slightly hesitant to outright ask for a clarification of James' preferences.
James was quiet as he navigated a roundabout. He then glanced sideways at Andy briefly.
"I'm not particular fussy in that sense." he confirmed.
James Hathaway, Andy thought to himself, clear as mud.
The first approach he had from a record producer, James mistook for a come on.
"You were really good up there,"
James looked up from packing his guitar safely away in his case after the show. The man who'd spoken was a big burly bloke, maybe in his early 40s, with a big beard. James vaguely recognised him as the bass from the sea shanty acapella line up earlier in the evening.
"Thanks," he replied with a hesitant smile. He was never entirely sure what to make of compliments to him personally when he'd been playing with the band. Really he wasn't that special - just a guitar player surrounded by people playing much more interesting or complex instruments.
"That song you did in the middle; your accordionist tells me you wrote that yourself?"
James nodded confirmation, feeling hot and uncomfortable with the scrutiny.
He'd really not intended for the band to start incorporating some of his original work in their regular sets, but then at some of the pub gigs they did they tended to skew the set list towards the "easier" songs, and having some folksy singer-songwriter ballads in the mix definitely helped.
For some reason, you tell people that you're really excited to be able to introduce them to their cultural heritage with some quality hurdy-gurdy tunes and their eyes glazed over. But have it with a few chords strummed in accompaniment and a few navel gazing lyrics, and suddenly an inherently medieval musical instrument is welcome at your average open mic night.
"My day job is working at Galloway's recording studio, my boss is always on the lookout for new talent, so I dunno if you have much written but let me give you my card and if you want to drop by some time... "
On the one hand, James wasn't interested in following up if it was just a veiled chat up line, but he was a detective by inclination as well as occupation, and so half an hour with google, and a few inquiries with some of his more well-connected musician friends, and James had determined that the offer was in earnest.
An initial informal chat in a coffee shop, led quickly to a series of meetings over the next few weeks, and before he knew it, James was signed up to a record contract, and was halfway to being a professional musician.
Being a solo musician trying to record an EP while working as a serving police detective was actually easier than being in a band. The song writing and arrangements and demos were easily fitted in around open cases, the 9-5 extra tasks, and occasional bouts of insomnia. His guitar and notebook didn't mind if he ditched them in favour of work the way that a collection of bandmates did.
And as he started to work through the feelings he had developed towards his boss he found it was easier to channel the feelings into his music.
James had never had much in the way of secure, unconditional interpersonal relationships.
With the benefit of hindsight, the objectivity that time brought, and the experience of his years, he'd come to the quiet realisation that his mother had almost certainly been clinically depressed for the whole of his childhood. He couldn't really blame her for her distance and detachment. He'd known for sure that she loved him, but he also had known that often she just wasn't there. Oh, physically she had been present. But even as a child he could tell that she wasn't quite with him in spirit.
And actually, with that in mind, perhaps he had always been too harsh on his father. The man must have had a very difficult time: a wife he couldn't reach, and two small children who he kept fed and clothed but who were still sometimes strange and foreign to him, both taking so obviously after their mother.
School had been an excruciating challenge in compartmentalisation, fitting in, and keeping that core of his own true self protected and safe. Hiding his most delicate feelings, and throwing other weaknesses to the fore: using self deprecating humour to invite criticism of the parts that he could afford to sacrifice.
University had been much the same, though at least there his odd eccentricities seemed more to be interesting idiosyncrasies that others appreciated him for. He had liked university.
Seminary was more like school. And the police force was some sort of combination of all of them together: an opportunity to use all of his emotional defences and to be praised from on high, while blocking out any criticism from his peers.
Then one day Robbie Lewis had breezed into his life and changed all of that.
The man had been one tight ball of pain and resignation, held together with sheer bloody stubbornness. James had been lost to him from the start.
The only problem with being relatively uninterested in sexual relationships for the most part was that it was difficult sometimes for him to realise the difference between a friendship and something more. Of the handful of intense friendships he'd formed at various points, all had been confused and ultimately ruined by sexual feeling, either on his part or on theirs. Yet he remained perpetually bewildered by how people managed to tell when it was just a friendship, or a romantic attachment. It seemed he always got it wrong, one way or another.
For the first few years, his working relationship with Lewis was straightforward. James was hardworking, loyal, and strived to be an indispensible sergeant. It was his job to anticipate the Inspector's needs and wishes. And certainly they would go for the occasional pint, especially after a difficult case. But really it wasn't hugely different than any other of the working relationships he'd had since starting his police career. The difference being that he liked Lewis, and respected him more than he had his previous DI.
James was hard pushed to say when it had crossed into something else for him. But he was quite at peace with the idea that he was hopelessly in love with Robbie Lewis.
Writing music helped. He could channel his feelings into the tunes and lyrics. That way he wouldn't repeat the mistakes of his past and put his unwanted feelings onto what he was sure was just a friendship, at least as far as Lewis was concerned.
If you looked at his work chronologically, the shift in his songwriting was subtle but visible. Ok so he'd developed inconvenient romantic feelings for his boss. Really, from a lyricists perspective, this was actually something of a blessing. The old classics of unrequited love and forbidden passions were songwriting gold. Really. Every cloud has a silver lining.
James didn't expect or intend that Lewis should find out.
At first it was fairly easy to keep it hidden: fitting the writing process around work also made it easy to fit around Robbie. Then the bulk of the time he was booked to be in the recording studio, he'd made sure to take as annual leave. He'd led Robbie to believe that he was leaving Oxford for the holiday, though James was careful not outright lie about his intended whereabouts.
Robbie was clearly curious about his arrangements, but knew that pushing James for answers on something was unlikely to get him anywhere.
But then the gigs started to step up in frequency: part of the marketing plan, and part of what James had agreed to in his record contract was that there would need to be a whole series of live performances to promote the EP and get the word out.
James had agreed on the conditions that none of them were so far away that they would stop him from doing his day job, or so close that anyone he knew from the police station was likely to see him.
Of course there was a chance that one of the pre-arranged gigs would clash with an open investigation, but it was easier to hope it didn't happen, and cross that bridge only if and when necessary.
What he hadn't counted on was just how much Robbie had counted on their semi-regular Friday nights in the pub. The first time that James had to decline in order to drive over to Aylesbury, Robbie took it at face value. When the following week his invitation was again declined he felt rather put out.
When the third Friday invitation in a row was declined, Robbie started to grow suspicious.
James had eaten lunch with him as usual during the week, he'd excused himself from the office promptly as usual for Tuesday night band practice. He'd even agreed to go to Robbie's flat for a roast dinner the previous Sunday, letting Robbie practice his skills in the kitchen ahead of an anticipated visit by his daughter. But but it was starting to look a lot like James had a regular commitment for Friday nights, but not one that he was willing to tell Robbie about.
But Robbie was a patient man when he needed to be, so he started to watch and wait, and to piece together the clues.
Laura found out entirely by accident.
She'd agreed to a date with a friend of a friend. She didn't hold out much hope for it being successful, but she was not one to turn down the opportunity for a dinner and good company, even if she had low expectations for a romantic spark. One of the reasons why she had little hope for something more was that the gentleman in question lived on the outskirts of Stroud, and while the drive was possible in just over an hour, it wasn't conducive to a regular dating arrangement, really.
Still, she accepted the invitation, and finished work promptly one Friday in order to drive over to Slad to meet George in one of his favourite pubs.
George was especially excited to share that there would be a singer on, and that there had been great reviews of this guy, currently doing something of a tour of Cotswold pubs.
To say that Laura was taken aback when the tall blond who took the stage was Sergeant Hathaway was something of an understatement.
James played for about 45 minutes. Quiet, anguished songs of yearning and unrequited love. Laura was struck dumb. She'd never seen this side of James: like a raw edge of emotion. No wonder he was sometimes so affected by the harder hitting cases, if he had this well of feeling so close to the surface.
She was unsure whether she should make her presence known. Given James' normally reserved nature, and this very clear departure, she had a feeling that he wouldn't be the most comfortable with knowing that she was in the audience. But then, not saying something felt a little ingenuous.
Still, the decision was made for her, when George distracted her with a discussion on ordering their food, and another drink. But the time that was sorted, James was nowhere to be seen; no doubt having escaped outside to indulge his vice.
That settled it: Laura was leave it be, not mention that she saw James play.
The short break lasted only around 20 minutes, and by the time their food had arrived, James was taking the stage again. He played beautifully, and as the gig went on and the crowd were obviously appreciative, he obviously relaxed more, telling little anecdotes to go along with some of the songs, and deflecting with poise and charm when he snapped a guitar string and had to pause proceedings for a couple of minutes while he replaced the string.
"Apologies for that short delay," he said, leaning into the mic as he did the last fine tuning tweaks on the new string. "Thankfully it wasn't my G-string."
A chorus of wolf whistles from a raucous group of women near the front accompanied this, and James blushed and ducked his head shyly, then looked right back up at them, making eye contact.
"I'll save that for later." he added, with a wink.
The ringleader of the small group cackled wickedly while her friends applauded his flirtatious comment.
"This next song I wrote for a very special person. One who saved my life recently. Although actually he's saved it countless times now. Sorry ladies," another wink tipped at his new fanclub, "but this one is for the greatest man I know."
And he proceeded to strum the intro.
Laura sack back in her chair, pushing away the plate with the remnants of her dinner.
She wasn't stupid. That was nothing if not a declaration of love. And there was only one man in James' life who could possibly fit that description.
The only question was: did Robbie know?
The next Friday, the sixth in a row that James had ducked Robbie's invitation for a swift drink after work, Robbie called on reinforcements, arranging for dinner with Laura.
"I'm worried about James," he admitted, once they were safely ensconced in a quiet corner of the pub with their drinks, having ordered their food at the bar.
"Oh?" Laura asked.
"He's been busy a lot. Always on Friday nights. But he won't tell me where he's going or what he's doing."
"Have you asked him what he's doing?"
"Of course!" at Laura's look he continued, "well, not in so many words perhaps. But he knows I'm curious!"
"Perhaps he's waiting for you to ask?"
"He'll tell me if and when he wants to tell me. I don't want to pry into his personal life."
Laura rolled her eyes at Robbie.
"The pair of you are ridiculous, you do know that don't you?" she said, exasperated.
Robbie took a slow sip of his pint and narrowed his eyes at her.
"The pair of us? Have you been talking to James then? You know what he's doing with his Friday nights?"
Laura swore internally, but did her utmost to keep her face impassive. The perils of being friends with detectives.
"I've not spoken to him about it, no." Not technically a lie. "But I know that the pair of you are chronic undersharers."
Robbie hummed in acknowledgement, but was still eyeing Laura with a degree of scepticism. Luckily their food arrived before he could say anything more, and she took the opportunity to change the subject.
Robbie raised it again briefly as he helped Laura into her coat at the end of the evening.
"If there was something going on with James...you would tell me, wouldn't you?"
"If I was worried about him, I would speak to him directly. I encourage you to do the same." Laura told him with finality.
Andy approached James after the show in Moreton-in-Marsh.
"That was amazing, James, your stage presence has really come on."
James beamed at him, still riding the high of the show.
"Thanks. I really liked it, actually."
"You seemed more relaxed; happier than when you're performing with the band."
"I'm not so worried about messing up. I can enjoy it a bit more. If I mess up when I'm playing with you lot then I've let you all down and you're all affected. When I do it by myself then it's just a unique version, and my error to go with or correct as I see fit." he explained, with something of a self deprecating grin.
Andy nodded in agreement, watching as James packed up his guitar and swigged the last of his drink.
"Of course I am curious," Andy added, "who the mystery guy is?"
"What mystery guy?" James asked, not meeting Andy's eye.
Andy snorted in derision as James' poor attempt at avoiding the subject.
"Yeah, like you don't know what I mean."
James grinned, though it didn't quite meet his eye.
"Artistic license; everyone loves a tragic love song." he insisted.
"Yeah, right. C'mon. Time for the trek back to Oxford.
"James, can I speak to you for a minute?"
James glanced up from his desk, and smiled at Laura standing in the doorway of the office.
"Of course, what can I do for you? Inspector Lewis is in a meeting I'm afraid."
"That's actually why I'm here: I wanted to catch you on your own. Do you mind if…?" she trailed off, but entered the office, closing the door behind her, gesturing her intention to sit down in Robbie's chair.
James nodded his assent that she should sit.
"This is mysterious, Doctor."
"I went on a date a couple of weeks ago."
"Ok…" James said, looking bewildered.
"And we went for a drink. At the Woolpack."
The moment James made the connection was obvious. His open, if confused, expression shuttered, the muscle in his jaw visibly tensing, and he sat up a little straighter in his chair.
James was silent for a moment, looking down at his hands, his jaw working.
"It's a nice pub, I hope you enjoyed it." he finally said, turning to his computer, and studiously focusing on something on the screen, effectively ignoring Laura's existence in the office.
She stared at him in outright shock for a moment. She considered that this outright refusal to engage in conversation might be what had Robbie reluctant to ever start a personal conversation with his sergeant.
"Are you pretending I'm not here?" she asked, incredulously.
James continued to sit in silence, looking down at his keyboard and typing something briefly.
"James. You can ignore me all you like. I just wanted to say that I thought you were really good. And don't worry, I won't tell Robbie, if that's what you're worried about. But he's noticed that you keep being busy on Fridays nights, so you might want to consider letting him know that you're playing."
She watched him for another minute, before continuing.
"And I know it's not my place, but you might want to talk to him about the subject matter of your playing too."
James whipped his head round, seemingly involuntarily. He swallowed hard.
"Laura--" he croaked, the note of desperation clear even if he wasn't appealing to her directly with her given name. "You can't. You can't tell him."
She held up her hands, palms towards James.
"Not my place to breathe a word, James. But I do think that you should."
She stood up, and rounded the end of the desk towards James, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder.
"Think about it, James. Just think about it."
With a final shoulder pat, she left.
Robbie was still intrigued about where James was going on his Friday nights. Two weeks later when a suspicious death had them converging on a crime scene just as the sun was coming up on a Saturday morning, his interest was piqued once more. James was dressed in his customary suit, clutching a travel mug like his life depended on it. His hair was slicked down, probably still wet from the shower. But there was something...odd. His eyes weren't quite right.
Crouching over the body looking at something Laura wanted to show them, Robbie glanced over at James again, and it clicked what it was that was unusual about James. Though it seemed like James was freshly showered, there were definite remnants of makeup around his eyes. Eyeliner, at a guess.
Robbie felt his pulse quicken, at the sudden mental image of James in eyeliner. Smudged along his lashes. He shook his head slightly and refocused on Laura's summary of her initial findings.
James yawned his way through the preliminary information gathering, and Robbie sent him home in the middle of the afternoon. There was only so much they could get done while waiting for the results from initial enquiries and the post mortem report.
The next clue came three days later. They had stopped to pick up sandwiches and coffee for lunch; James stopping outside the door for a quick smoke while Robbie queued inside. When Robbie stepped outside, takeaway cups in a tray and a carrier bag with the sandwiches dangling from his wrist, James was talking to a young woman with coloured streaks in her hair.
"I'll let you get on," James was saying, obviously slightly on edge.
The young woman smiled at him and touched his arm.
"Like I said, you were really good. Keep it up." she called as a parting shot, as she walked off.
"Friend of yours?" Robbie asked. He was incredibly curious as to what the woman had been saying to James. He chose to ignore the simultaneous flare of jealousy at the way she'd invaded James' personal space.
"Oh. No, not really." James deflected. He took his coffee from Robbie, and immediately shut down any further questioning by making an observation about their case.
They were still working on the case at the end of the week, and Friday lunchtime saw James awkwardly raised the issue of their likely home time. Robbie accepted his stilted explanation about an important personal appointment, and gave his blessing that James could leave on time at the end of the day, despite the open case.
There was music playing as Robbie approached Laura’s office, wanting to clarify a last point before he headed home.
There was something about the music though. Familiar. And that voice…
That was James; James' voice. Impossibly deep. All the hairs on the back of Robbie's neck stood up.
“Sorry, Robbie. What can I do for you?” she was flustered but trying to cover it. If her sudden panicked grab for her phone to silence the music hadn’t been a dead give away then her shifty behaviour certainly would have been.
“That sounded like James. Singing. That was James.”
She saw the futility in denying it and sank down into her chair. She fumbled in her intray and pulled out a jewel case, sliding it over her desk to Robbie. He picked it up and stared at it front and back.
“James has a CD?”
“Recorded and released earlier this year. He’s promoting it at the moment. A load of pub gigs on Friday nights.”
“He never said anything to me!”
“He didn’t say anything to me either, Robbie. I found out my accident. Ended up in a pub while he was playing. He was embarrassed when I told him I knew.”
“Why..?! Wait, don't answer that: because he’s James.” Robbie pulled a face of pure exasperation at James’s reluctance to share that he was professionally recording his own music. As if Robbie would ever be anything other than supportive!
Laura was smiling wryly. But there was something hesitant in her gaze.
“You should borrow that,” she told him, nodding at the CD still clutched in his hand. “Did you need me for something?” she asked, bringing the conversation back around to work.
"Oh, just wanted to know if you had the test results back yet on our mystery substance."
"I'm afraid not; they might not have them until Monday if I'm honest."
"Ah well," Robbie stepped back towards the door, making his exit.
"You should listen to the CD, Robbie." Laura told him as a parting shot. "Really listen to it, I mean. Especially track three."
Robbie saluted her with the jewel case and left the room.
Robbie put the CD straight in the player in his car for the drive home. It was only five tracks, and he got through the whole thing. Once back inside the flat he sat on the sofa to listen to it through again, but hit repeat on track three: the one Laura had especially wanted him to listen to.
It was beautiful. Dark and melancholy, with just a hint of hope. It was clearly a song about unrequited love. Robbie had to bite down the swell of emotion at realising that James was hurting. There was real pain in this song. It sparked a feeling of jealous in Robbie too, that someone had such attention from James but wasn't doing right by him.
He reached for his phone and googled James' name, hoping to locate tonight's performance.
Robbie stepped out of the bright evening sun and into the dim lighting of the pub. The audience applause indicated that a song had just ended. He heard James’s voice through the speakers even while still out of sight round the corner.
“Thank you, that was the Grey Funnel Line, and once again a big thanks to Dave of the Sherborne Shantymen for singing that with me. You can find him sitting over by the bar if you want to tell him how good he was; and feel free to buy one of my CDs from him while you’re there!”
A polite murmur of laughter from the audience. Then the sound of James checking the tuning of his guitar and clearing his throat.
“This next one is another one of my own I’m afraid.” more laughter, and some applause. “it’s a song about love and longing. You might be sensing a theme here.” Robbie could hear the self deprecating note in his voice, but also the laughter as well. James sounded like he was having fun: and had developed a rapport with the pub crowd.
As James started to sing, Robbie stepped around the corner. He stuck close to the wooden timbers along the walls, not wanting to call attention to himself.
It had been a bright sunny day, and James still wore his sunglasses, pushed up into his hair in deference to the dim lighting inside the pub. Even with the late evening sun streaming in the windows the small stage set up was dark aside from the bright spotlight shining on his sergeant. But James was almost unrecognisable except for the fact that he had never looked more himself.
This was relaxed James. James as he was sprawled on Robbie's sofa, four beers in, at the end of a case with all the loose ends tied up. Satisfied, content. At peace, even.
The white t shirt was not something Robbie had seen James wear before. In fact, come to think of it, Robbie was fairly sure he'd never seen James in short sleeves at all, and yet here he was, white t shirt stretched taut over his broad shoulder, short sleeves rolled even shorter, ending just at the widest point of his bicep.
He had his eyes closed as he sang into the microphone, strumming at his guitar. Robbie was lulled into the security of the crowd. The bright light on James meant he wouldn't be able to see much of the audience, and the closed eyes reinforced it. Robbie slipped through the rapt onlookers and stood off to the side near the front, never taking his eyes of James.
Even with Laura's reluctant confession he'd been sceptical. Hearing the CD had been surreal. But here, watching James, the music and the lights and James' voice right in front of him. Suddenly it all clicked into place for him. James looked like he belonged here.
Whoever it was that had prompted this side of James, whoever he'd written the songs for, was certainly a lucky woman. Person. Robbie mentally corrected, remembering that James had never offered him clarification on that point.
Robbie hadn't expected to be quite as affected by the music as he found himself.
He'd acknowledged the surge of jealousy again. There was definitely a theme to James' original work.
The song ended, and James started strumming an introduction to the next one. Robbie recognised the opening as track three from the EP, the one Laura had wanted him to listen to.
James tipped his head down, then back up, and spoke straight to the audience again.
"This one is a sad song. But also a happy song. It's about losing your heart, and knowing you have no chance, but choosing to stay anyway. And as always, I want to dedicate it to the best man I know, because he has my heart."
And then James launched into the vocal, and Robbie sat down hard on a nearby chair. His heart thudding fast in his chest. This was…
This song? James' yearning? They? Was it?
It was about him.
Robbie approached the stage after the show. A couple of people were standing around chatting with Dave-the-CD-seller, but James was alone on the small stage, zipping his guitar into its case, and folding up some sheets of paper.
"James," Robbie said. His voice caught slightly.
James' head whipped round and he stared at Robbie. A deer in the headlights expression.
"I thought you said your thing was world jazz and madrigals?" Robbie blurted into the suddenly awkward silence.
"With the band it is." James said, still staring at Robbie.
"But not by yourself?" Robbie asked.
"I like the indie acoustic sound as well, sir." James turned back to his guitar, busying himself with the strap and not meeting Robbie's eye.
"Robbie." Robbie corrected.
"Robbie." James acquiesced after a momentary pause.
"Can I buy you a drink?" Robbie asked.
James nodded, collected up his guitar and followed Robbie to the bar and then to a free table by the window.
They sipped at their pints in silence for a moment, James covertly watching Robbie from under his eyelashes, trying to work out how much of his performance Robbie had seen or heard.
"Look, Sir, Robbie. I... You don't look surprised to see me. How did you know I was here?" James finally asked.
"I am a detective you know," was all Robbie would offer in return.
They finished their drinks in silence again, a definite tension in the air between them. James was increasingly worried. If Robbie had heard… But then Robbie was sitting here, calmly drinking his own drink. And also not interrogating James. It seemed perhaps he was working up to saying something, but if he was going to be letting James know that he's worked it out, well he wouldn't be quite so calm about it, would he?
Once they were done, James had packed up the rest of his stuff, and Robbie helped him carry it out to the car. Then finally, in the car park, they were alone. The sunset still tinged the sky a riot of golden reds over the valley.
They started to speak at the same time.
"I just-" James started speaking at Robbie's nod, but couldn't maintain eye contact. "I didn't intend to keep this a secret; but it's rather personal to me, and I don't know how much you've heard of my music, but-"
Robbie cut him off by stepping closer into James' personal space, practically pinning him against the side of the car.
"I heard it all, James. And I liked what I heard."
And James knew, knew that Robbie got it then. He had indeed heard it all. James' heart was thudding in his ears, and he gazed at Robbie is disbelief, his expression so open and vulnerable.
Robbie took a half step closer again and slowly, oh so tentatively reached up and kissed James.
James made a desperate noise low in his throat and reached up to grasp Robbie's shoulder, kissing him back for all he was worth.
Then abruptly he stopped, using the grip on his shoulder to push Robbie back.
"Stop, Sir, Robbie, you shouldn't be here. You don't want to do this."
"I think I do, James. I'll thank you not to tell me what I feel."
"You're not gay, sir."
"No, I'm not. And I might be a bit old fashioned, but you youngsters didn't invent bisexuality you know."
James just stared at him, shock written clear on his face.
"You never said."
"It didn't come up." Robbie winced slightly at the recollection of a time when it had in fact been a topic of conversation. "Or, rather, it did and you made it clear that the topic was off limits."
"You really want this? You really want me?"
"Aye I do. If you'll have me, that is."
"Yes. Of course, Robbie. Yes."