The whole case is - a lot. Hathaway’s always had the rather ominous, gloomy sense that his past will come back to haunt him, though he tries to avoid too obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop. He just can’t shake the feeling that everything he’s ever done is waiting, just around the corner, to trip him up and spoil any happiness he may have managed to accumulate and laugh at his deserved misery; a mixture of Catholic guilt and secondary school bullying, he supposes.
Will, though, had still somehow contrived to be a gut-punching surprise of fear and guilt and pain, even though this is the most deserved of all.
Hathaway is discharged the evening after Lewis visits him; armed with green prescription paper, a bag of medicines which he is under strict instruction not to mix with any kind of alcohol, and the tail end of a smoke-related cough, James takes himself home, puts on his loudest record, and drinks three fingers of whiskey in one gulp. That kind of burn, he can handle. He’s never felt less inclined to look after himself.
Because he’s fucked it all up, hasn’t he? Threefold, at least, by Hathaway’s somewhat spacey reckoning. Item one: Will’s whole life. The boy had come to him for comfort and solace and some kind of I’m-not-alone, and James hadn’t given him a shred of any. And then he’d gone to The Garden and screwed his whole life up with religious conversion therapy - James’ stomach twists itself into nauseous, horrified knots at the very idea - and Feardorcha/Zoe had done that, all because - because James -
Because James was so wrapped up in the bubble of priestliness, in being who he had, once, though he wanted to be, in ignoring any parts of himself that didn’t fit that mould, that he turned to a friend and told him in no uncertain terms that he should be ashamed of his love. And there was no getting away from this with excuses of his training at the seminary: James had been unkind. He had been brutal and cruel and it had ruined, and ultimately ended, lives.
Ruined and ended - item two: Lewis. Or, more accurately, their working relationship and - Hathaway winces, drinks more - tentative friendship. How the bloody buggering fuck was Lewis to be expected to work with him ever again? He can still hear Lewis, his words rattling around his skull: You lied to me. To me. Like it was personal, and that had made it so much worse. Forget the case. You lied to me. Lewis, angry and hurt and betrayed, looking at James like he didn’t even know him, like he couldn’t be sure, any more, of anything Hathaway did. And it was entirely fair. James had lied, had been too close to the case and not removed himself, had generally made himself a useless and unreliable and very poor excuse for a sergeant - and he was to, what, rock up to work on Monday and expect nothing different of Lewis? Hathaway snorts and takes another slug of his drink, too quickly finding his glass empty, and oh, there’s a metaphor for his whole life in that somewhere, were he only sober enough to find it.
Item three: his own life. He likes to think he’s not gone so far as Will or Zoe, but it wasn’t just Will’s internalised homophobia Hathaway had managed to solidify that rather fateful day, no. The Hathaway penchant for saying the wrong thing and having it come back to bite you. Because that was it, wasn’t it, the thing James hadn’t managed to choke out in confession, the thing he railed so hard against because everyone else was, the thing he still can’t really tell Lewis for years and years of shame. James moves from glass to direct from bottle until the lights swim and he’d fall over if he weren’t already lying flat on his back on the sofa. Because he’s not - how had he put it? - he’s not Loaded and Yorkie bars, but he’s not shoes and theatre either; there is no line, but there’s also no room for ambiguity in the Good Book.
Hathaway sighs. He’s a bloody terrible police officer, and friend, and person; suppose it would make sense to make a pretty poor queer.
An odd noise makes it through Hathaway’s hazy introspection, sharp-dull and making him narrow his eyes, blinking blearily in its direction. He can’t for the life of him fathom what it is or what it means.
Just as he’s laying his head back down on the cushions, it comes again. Now that he’s had a moment, he gathers his ideas a little and marshalls them into some kind of coherency. A knock. Answer it?
He’s actually not entirely sure that he can. His legs feel pretty damn near useless and entirely liable to send him careening into a wall or, as they favoured in his uni days, straight up and straight back down again. This, combined with the knowledge that it’s probably just one of his neighbours complaining about the noise of his album and the certainty that he wants to speak to precisely no-one, is enough for him to groan in the direction of the visitor and do nothing more about it.
“Come on, man, no-one can sleep with this on and we’re both going to get done for disruption of the peace at this rate.”
Hathaway sits up quickly and regrets it even faster. Lewis? Surely not, and yet the evidence of his own ears is pretty damn compelling. “Sir?” he mumbles, certainly not loud enough to be heard. Because Lewis can’t be here - Lewis hates him now, surely - so why would he be outside?
“That’s it,” the voice that really really sounds like Lewis says, “I’m using your spare. If I find you face-down drunk, Hathaway, I shall be very disappointed.”
There’s a clinking fumbling at his door as Lewis fishes out the spare key James had given him, just in case, and James lurches to his feet. His heart’s lodged somewhere in his swirling stomach, swooping and ice-cold at the thought of disappointing Lewis again. Unfortunately, this motion makes him rather more likely to end up on the floor than just staying still, and by the time his rolling vision has settled again Lewis is inside and turning down the volume on his record player. “Sir?” Hathaway manages, still not convinced that Lewis can actually be here, in his flat, when he doesn’t have to be.
“Hathaway,” Lewis says, giving him a bland smile, and then launching himself forward to catch James as he tries to move his feet and ends up collapsing in his inspector’s arms. “Bloody hell, man, what have you been up to?”
Hathaway can only frown up at him, face smushed against Lewis’ chest. “You’re here?”
Lewis looks at him long and concerned. “Yes,” he settles on. “Here - you sit, and I’ll get you some toast, alright?”
Lewis propels him gently into folding onto the sofa, this time sitting more or less upright, and leaves James to stare in blind incomprehension as Lewis potters about his kitchen, boiling a kettle and toasting the bread he finds without any difficulty - it’s not like Lewis has never been here before, what with their propensity for early mornings and late nights and what Innocent charmingly refers to as their inability to live outside of each other’s bloody pockets.
Hathaway ducks his head. Not anymore, most likely. Head still bowed, he reaches out for the bottle on his coffee table and is surprised by a familiar hand smacking his own away. James looks up, startled and slightly annoyed at being foiled, and Lewis makes use of the moment of stillness this allows to cap the bottle and remove it from James’ reach.
“Reckon you’ve had enough, don’t you?” Lewis says, tone conversational and allowing absolutely no debate. Hathaway resists the urge to pout and instead considers methods of attaching small bells to silent-footed inspectors with a tendency to steal one’s alcohol.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Lewis says, not looking up from the toast he’s buttering, and Hathaway finds the scowl that’s snuck onto his face deepening. “It’s for your own good, you daft sod.”
“‘M not daft,” James objects sulkily.
Lewis huffs somewhat derisively and reaches across the worktop to grab and then brandish at Hathaway the green prescription paper. “I’ve had these. Nurses gave Morse a right bollocking when he suggested we go to the pub for just one pint of shandy - dread to think what they’d do to you for drinking most of a bottle of whiskey.”
Lewis brings him the plate, standing expectantly before him until he can muster up the arm strength to take it, and then sits beside him on the sofa. James takes a bite and does, in fact, feel marginally better for the warmth and salt. “Why’re you here?” Not better enough to keep quiet, though.
Lewis raises an eyebrow. “Felt sure you’d be doing something self-destructive in that big brain of yours. I can hardly have my sergeant drinking himself to death, now, can I?”
My sergeant. James is filled with such abject relief that he might burst into tears, though he quells the impulse with another bite of toast. Lewis, against all odds and laws and expectations, still appears to want him around, despite every good reason not to - and Hathaway’s given him plenty. Knox hadn’t really wanted him to be there on a good day, what with his theories and comments, but Lewis - Lewis seems to think he’s worth having, even when he isn’t, and that means a lot.
“Thanks,” he manages through a tight throat, filling his mouth with bread before he might be expected to say anything else. God, though, he hopes Lewis fills in the blanks - for being here now, for still being my inspector, for saving my life.
Lewis looks at him for a long moment, and then blesses him with a small, genuine, understanding smile. “You’re alright.”
There’s a long pause. “Actually, I don’t think I am,” a voice says, and Hathaway is surprised to find it is his own. Lewis is looking at him, but James ploughs on with his eyes fixed straight ahead. “I haven’t really cried about it. I did, a bit, with Zoe, but. Feels like it doesn’t count, now, because of-” he breaks off.
“Because she wasn’t telling the truth,” Lewis says, and James should have known he’d get it.
“Yup,” James says, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. “Can’t seem to make myself have another go, though. Doesn’t make any sense.”
“Doesn’t have to. Often doesn’t,” Lewis points out, removing the empty plate from James’ grip and replacing it with some kind of herbal tea. The heat leeches pleasantly into James’ palms and gives him something tangible to hold onto in the maelstrom of drunken/drugged...weirdness that his brain currently can’t handle. “Us humans are funny that way.”
James sips the tea, almost too hot, and watches Lewis settle into the sofa out of the corner of his eye. He sinks back into the cushions, stretching out his legs, and James realises he’s getting ready to stay there - in for the long haul. Unlikely, then, that Hathaway will get away with so little explanation as he’s given.
It’s this, more than anything, that prompts him to speak, although it won’t occur to him until the next day that perhaps that was the point. “I wasn’t in love with him. We were just mates, until - you know. But I suppose he thought I’d understand.” There’s subtext there, but Lewis doesn’t ask; once bitten, twice shy, his brain sardonically reminds him. “I’m not straight, exactly. But I was trying to be.” There’s a sharp intake of breath from Lewis, but nothing else, and James doesn’t look at him, doesn’t want to see whatever’s going on there. He knows Lewis had said that if it was his son, it wouldn’t matter, but. Parents forgive a lot more of their own children than of others’. “I was so - so cruel, and I’ve destroyed so much-”
“No, lad,” Lewis interjects, so soft and careful and sad that James can feel hot tears building already. “Not you, pet.” A heavy arm wraps around James’ shoulders and Lewis sighs. “If you’d only told me about trying to be straight for the Church’s sake I’d’ve taken you off this case even if you didn’t know the poor bloke.”
“It didn’t seem important,” James protests softly.
The hand on his shoulder squeezes in comfort. “Not sure I could’ve done it, were I you.” There’s a long pause, in which James struggles to say something like you’re the strongest person I know but doesn’t quite manage it. “Thank you,” Lewis says at last, soft and serious. “For telling me.”
James swallows around the lump in his throat with some difficulty and nods, taking another swig of hot tea to try and wash away the obstruction.
There’s a long but comfortable silence after this, and James reflects on how remarkably easy this has all been. As in, it’s one of the more difficult conversations he’s had with Lewis, or possibly anyone - and isn’t it something, that the vast majority of the other difficult conversations he and Robert Lewis have had have also been in the course of this week. But as it goes, his half-coming-out and the explanation for his behaviour have both gone over rather well, ending with Robbie’s arm around his shoulders and his sympathy warming his heart.
“Not sure I’m exactly straight, either,” Robbie says thoughtfully, and James blinks, frowns. “No need for that face, sergeant, I can have secrets too.”
“You never said,” James returns, and then colours at Robbie’s and you did what, exactly look. “I didn’t know.”
Robbie shrugs, warmth shifting against James’ side. “Never been very important to me. I loved Val, and I’d have loved her just as much if she were - give me a hand here, James, bloke’s name beginning with v.”
“Vernon,” James suggests, smiling at the face Robbie pulls.
“Forever ruined by Harry Potter, that one,” Robbie objects, and James ducks his head to hide his grin.
“Yeah, that’ll do. I loved Val, and I’d have loved her all the same if she were Victor.” James can’t help but smile at Lewis’ satisfied air at a point well-made. The man’s too charming, really. Robbie shrugs again, sobering. “Never really seemed to matter, much.”
“I’m the same. More or less,” James says, and Lewis fixes him with a look.
“Bet it mattered to you, though,” he says, his usual perceptive self. “You thought you could choose.”
“Can’t I?” James gasps out, years of buried self-searching bursting out all at once. “I mean - couldn’t I just have picked?”
“Poor lad,” Robbie sighs, almost to himself. “No,” he says to James firmly, “it doesn’t work like that. I chose Val, but that doesn’t mean I stopped being - interested, y’know? Just meant I’d rather have been with Val than anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with you, lad.”
James sniffs and allows Robbie to tug his shoulder until he’s slumped sideways, head on Robbie’s chest. “I wish-” he stops himself.
“Hmm?” Robbie questions, hum reverberating around his heartbeat against James’ ear.
“I reckon you and me are pretty good at stupid,” Robbie points out and James huffs a slightly wet laugh.
He swallows hard, steels himself. “I wish you’d been there. To say something to Will and me. Who knows,” he says, with a rather tragically uncheerful laugh, “all this might not have happened.”
Robbie sighs, hand rubbing up and down James’ bicep. “I wish this hadn’t happened too, pet.”
And - there it is. The something that cuts through the hazy fog of drink and drugs and introspective rock and roll and stabs James, breaking the dam. It’s probably the pet, gentle and fond and still, after everything, personal. He calls Lyn that, and while he doesn’t much like to be thought of as one of Robbie’s kids, he does know that nothing is more important to the man than his children. “I miss him,” James chokes out, and bursts into tears.
Robbie’s other arm comes up, cradling James to his chest and rocking them both slightly, gently. “Oh, there now,” Robbie murmurs, letting James turn his face into Robbie’s shirt and sob. “Have a cry, lad, it’s alright.” And something about the comforting, encircling warmth of Robbie’s arms, the solid chest, the soft shirt with its faint smell of some kind of aftershave that is so distinctly Robbie, now, makes him believe it - it might be alright, in the end, after all.
He wakes up with a headache and an ache in his neck in the dawn light - hadn’t shut the curtains. Or moved from the sofa. Robbie’s snoring softly beneath his ear, sprawled under him and dead to the world, and James realises he’s stayed here to avoid disturbing him, to make sure he’s okay, to care for him even when he really doesn’t have to. He smiles softly, fondly, down at this good, kind man, and realises another thing - he might be a bit in love with Robert Lewis.
Lewis hands off the murderess and control of the scene as fast as he can. He has to find Laura, make sure she’s alright, apologise for doubting her, but mostly just see her, alive and in one piece and not six feet under.
He jogs out of the old hospital, one hand clamped to the stitch in his side and bemoaning his state of health. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to wait long to find Laura and James - a nervous PC meets him, twisting her fingers together. “They’re still - down there, sir,” she says, not eager to mention the open grave. “We’re not sure what-”
Lewis holds up a hand, already moving away. “I’ll deal with it, constable.”
The other officers are giving the gaping hole in the earth a wide berth, due to discomfort about the open grave and the people within both, Lewis would bet. He can hear, as he approaches, muffled sobbing and a low rumbling which, when he’s close enough to see over the edge, clarifies into James’ crooning, soft and gentle and indistinct of meaning, into Laura’s hair.
Lewis sits on the edge of the hole stiffly. “Laura?” he says, angling for gentle, but loud enough to be heard.
He must have got the balance wrong, because she sobs harder and curls more tightly into James. He strokes through her hair, lips to her temple. “It’s Robbie, Laura, just Robbie. Can he come down?”
Laura nods against James’ neck and he shoots Robbie a rather sad smile as the inspector hops down. “Hullo, Laura,” he says softly. “Can I help you with your ankles?”
Another nod against James, and Robbie fishes out a pen knife. “He’s going to cut the cable tie now, alright?” James explains, murmuring to Laura as Robbie crouches by her feet. One quick cut and her legs are free and, thanks to James bracing her for his movements, Laura stays still and doesn’t get cut. James talks her through the process of freeing her wrists, too, and Robbie sits back on his heels and, despite everything, smiles; James is so gentle and careful and comforting, and Robbie wouldn’t have thought the lad had it in him. “Alright, Laura, you’re safe, you can move now, see?” James murmurs, and Robbie supposes he knows why he’s managing such unusual comfort - for Laura, their tiny pillar of iron will, the pair of them will do just about anything.
Her little hand stretches out towards Robbie and he takes it in his own as if it were made of glass. It is, therefore, a surprise when Laura grabs on and hauls him closer, sending him sprawling on top of them with a huffed exhale. “Sorry,” he mutters at James, pulling his face out of his sergeant’s shoulder, trying to shift his weight one-handed and entirely unable to pull away from Laura’s vice-like grip.
“Not at all,” James says, familiarly mischievous even as he helps support Robbie’s move until they’re bracketed around Laura, Robbie’s hand pressed to her chest and her face in James’ neck. “I’m well known for my love of crushing affection.”
“You do love it,” Laura manages, voice muffled by James’ jacket, and Robbie ducks his head to grin.
James rolls his eyes. “Alright,” he says, sounding put upon, and Laura peeks out at Robbie to offer him a watery smile.
Robbie tightens his grip on them both, wrapping his arms around James as far as he can with Laura cuddled up in the middle. “Are you? Both of you, you’re-?”
“We’re fine,” she says, sniffing and rubbing her eyes with the heel of her free hand. “I’m much better for the two of you being here, though.”
“Anytime,” James says, much more vehemently than that phrase usually deserves.
“We’ll keep you safe, love, don’t you worry,” Robbie says, not noticing the pet name until far too late - something about the pair of them has him far more obviously fond than is really appropriate. He flushes, but Laura only smiles as James rests his tired head against Robbie’s temple, forming a shelter of and for the three of them. Robbie finds he could contentedly spend forever within it.
Laura’s finding it an absolutely terrifying case and, in consequence, dreads to think how James and Robbie - oh, god, poor Robbie - are finding it. Because she’s just outside, looking in, as James pushes his fingers into his still-short hair and grips the strands in tight fists until Laura’s worried he’s going to just rip fistfuls out. She gets why, though.
He’d left to talk to a suspect on his own - and James is going to be just killing himself over that, isn’t he - and when an hour had passed, James had called and left a message with a joke about eating his lunch for him. An hour and a half, and James had found her to check if she knew where he was. An hour and thirty-five minutes, and Laura and James had almost broken Innocent’s door down, demanding every inch of manpower that could be spared to find him. Fortunately, she’d agreed; if not, Laura’s fairly sure they’d have just gone rogue anyway.
But that was four hours ago, and the streetlights have gone on outside even though inside the station the fluorescents remain bright overhead. Laura watches through the window as James tugs at his hair and paces the office he usually shares and just can’t think what to do with him. He probably wouldn’t appreciate the hug that she desperately wants to give him, because he’s never quite known what to do with affection, but she’s not sure how much she can help him find Robbie, as much as she wants to.
James suddenly wheels about and kicks a filing cabinet with a bang that makes most of the station jump. Innocent looks to Laura first, but she’s already easing open the door and closing it behind her, approaching Hathaway’s now folded over form slowly as one might a skittish animal. “James?” she says quietly, laying one hand on his shoulder. She can’t help noticing the novelty of having James at her level, able at last to smooth her fingers over his sturdy, Atlas-esque shoulders.
“I’m so sorry, Laura,” he says quietly, voice oddly tremulous as he leans back to half-perch on his desk, still folded over with his head down. He isn’t apologising for the noise, she knows.
“It isn’t your fault,” she says, hand moving to the nape of his neck and massaging gently the tension there. He carries his woes and stresses within him, everywhere he goes, and Laura can’t help wondering if he ever lays them down, sword and shield. She rather suspects he doesn’t. “You know he’d say that, if he were here.”
“He’s not here,” James says, and his carefully maintained facade of control cracks there, his voice coming out scared and small and self-critical. Laura cards through his hair, cradling his overfull head in her hands, and he rests there, allowing her to take some of the weight of her forehead.
“He will be here,” Laura says firmly. “We will find him. The whole station looking for him, and your ridiculously clever brain - of course we’ll find him.”
James rewards her with a short, wet laugh that sounds suspiciously like a sob and, so subtly it could almost be accidental, leans into her until she’s cradling his head against her stomach, his shoulder resting against her hip. It’s so unlike him that things must be really, really bad and Laura has to bite her lip to keep from crying, tilting her head back and blinking hard even as she continues to massage and fuss his hair unabated. What either of them will do without Robbie, she can’t imagine - won’t imagine, because it won’t happen, because they’re going to find him.
“Come on, clever-clogs,” she says, rallying and keeping her tone determinedly free of the tears that threaten. “Let’s solve your case.” James makes a confused noise. “Talk it through with me.”
James starts to pull away slightly, but gives up quickly when Laura doesn’t seem inclined to immediately release him. “Robbie was going to interview a suspect on the MacNeil case,” he begins. She knows this bit - Tessa MacNeil, 32, found dead at home in what had very deliberately been made to look like a botched burglary - but she lets him talk it all out, top to toe. Robbie had been to see the boyfriend, but hadn’t ever made it - in fact, after two hours said boyfriend had called Hathaway to ask if Lewis was coming, after all, only he’d got to go out later and didn’t want to miss him. James had eliminated him from enquiries fairly quickly; a decent chap, he’s not nearly bright enough to be attempting a ruse. “We can’t place the brother, and it does line up with what Robbie was thinking - he just wanted to check something, so I didn’t think to go with him-”
“And you were perfectly right to think so,” Laura soothes. She can sense him start to object and swiftly diverts. “What do we know about the brother?”
James shakes his head against her. “Not enough.” He is, at least, much calmer here than he had been, as if Laura’s hands are holding him together. James sighs, a deep rush of breath as a little more tension shudders out of his shoulders, and leans a little more into her. Laura has to resist the strong urge to lean down and kiss the crown of his head, afraid to spook him any more. “He’s a mechanic, the brother,” James says, “he works in Cowley. He went into work this morning, left for lunch, hasn’t been seen since.”
“Any other family?” Laura asks gently and James shakes his head against her, turning his face into her for the briefest press. It’s sort of fond, and definitely intimate, and Laura feels such a rush of love for him, that he’s letting her in so much. “What about the other workers at the shop?”
“They’re off today - wait.” James stills in her hands and she lets him pull away and sit up. “Why are they off today? They’re not usually off today.”
“Unless-” Laura realises, and James looks her in the eye for the first time in hours, bright and intense with a shimmer of hope and an edge of an idea.
“-he’s using the shop for he doesn’t want them to see,” James says, and the smile that had been tentatively building falls. “Robbie.”
His long legs give him the advantage, but he tangles his fingers with hers so that she’s no choice but to jog after his strides; in truth, she’d be doing it anyway, so she appreciates the absolute certainty James has that she is coming with him. He sticks his head in on Innocent to give her little more than a heads-up, large hand trembling in Laura’s grasp, and then they’re moving again, jogging to James’ car.
“I’m driving,” Laura says, adeptly snatching the keys from James’ hand. He gives her a shocked look and she nods at his shaking fingers before opening the door. “You can direct me.”
It’s a blur as soon as they stop, James sprinting for the door and kicking it down before even checking the lock. Laura follows as fast as she can, chasing James around cars and into a cellar, just about fast enough to see him deck the brother with one punch that sends him crumpling to the floor. And then she sees-
He is, at least, in one piece, but he’s cable-tied at wrists and ankles to a chair - Laura shudders, nausea rising - and his head is bowed. He hasn’t responded to their arrival.
“Sir!” James almost shouts, surging forward and onto his knees at Robbie’s side, nudging his shoulder before making short work of the cable ties. Once done, Laura can move again and runs to his other side, checking his pulse and trying to raise a response.
His face is terribly bruised, and Laura feels more than slightly murderous - but, Robbie. Bastard MacNeil can wait. Robbie’s eyes crack open, focussing easily on both their worried faces before him. “‘Bout time,” he says, a little hoarsely, and James laughs like he wants to cry. “Help me up, then, would you?”
Laura hears sirens outside as she braces Robbie’s elbow, supporting him to his feet. He stands up tall for a moment, takes one step forward, and his knees give out beneath him. James seems to see this coming and holds him up before he can fall, and between them he and Laura get Robbie’s arms over their shoulders, so that he’s rather lopsidedly propped up between them.
They swap places in the room with some other officers who will more effectively detain MacNeil and won’t have quite such a strong urge to kick him into pulp, and half-walk, half-carry Robbie out to a bench and a very fretful CS Innocent. James doesn’t seem to know what to do with what’s left of his nervous energy, so Laura makes him fill Innocent in from a distance where they can both send worried glances at Robbie, bruises a riot of colour under the orange streetlights and blue police lights.
“You need to get checked out,” Laura says, running her fingers very gently over his bruised face.
Robbie tries to pull away, wincing. “Do I have to?” She sends him a very unimpressed look. “Can’t you do it?”
“Hospital, Robert Lewis; but me no buts,” Laura says firmly. “James and I will hold your hand, if you like,” she adds, rather more gently.
Robbie offers her a smile, wrapping an arm about her shoulders. Laura notices, as she curls into his side, that he hasn’t said that he doesn’t want that, which is probably as much of a request as they’re going to get. “Knew you two’d come and get me,” he says. “Only a matter of time.” He says it with a kind of firmness that reminds Laura of the very devoutly faithful, who rely upon promises of heaven to get through the torment of the everyday.
“Always,” she says softly, trying not to think of Robbie clinging to the hope of them like a prayer, repeating the litany of James and Laura through some truly terrible hours.
Robbie smiles down at her and she kisses his cheek ever so lightly as James returns, sitting on Robbie’s other side, leg bouncing with pent-up adrenaline. “Laura says you fancy a trip to the hospital with me,” Robbie says, and Laura lifts her head to frown at him: it’s like that, is it?
James, though, ducks his head. “If you don’t mind,” he says, and Laura realises that even if Robbie says no here, she doesn’t want to let him out of her sight for a while either.
Robbie, of course, shrugs like it’s nothing, and Laura despairs of their inability to just talk to each other like normal people. Then his shoulders get a little set and defensive. “Don’t want to be alone, right now,” he mutters.
There’s a pause, and then James shuffles a little closer, pressing the length of their thighs together. Robbie claps his hand down on James’ knee, stilling the agitated bouncing, and the three of them seem to just - relax. Words unneeded.
It’s sort of impressive, how the three of them can fail to talk to each other so ridiculously and then communicate the important things without using words at all.
Robbie wishes, fairly intensely, that he were elsewhere. The charity dinner-dance hadn’t been so awful during the dinner part - the unlucky four whose presence had been required from the Oxford nick had formed a small, insular square, eaten decent food and pretended that it was just a normal pub evening by ignoring the great and the good around them. It had been surprisingly good fun; not because he didn’t usually enjoy setting the world to rights with James, Laura and Jean, but because usually Innocent has to actually acknowledge and talk to said great and good who turn up to these things. Robbie couldn’t say why, but tonight she largely hasn’t; it’s been fun, and he’ll leave it at that.
Unfortunately, they’ve now reached the dance portion of the evening, and Robbie’s managed to lose the only people he wants as conversational partners, let alone dance ones. James, the chivalrous bastard, has rescued Laura from some unwanted dance requests by sweeping her into a passable ballroom hold - is there anything that man can’t do - and is now leading her around the room in some kind of mock-waltz, leaving Robbie to his own, lonely devices. Not, of course, that he’s not enjoying watching the pair of them whirl elegantly, the height difference shown off at its most endearing and somehow matching in its contrast.
James leans in so that Laura can whisper something mischievous in his ear, and Robbie’s heart does something odd when he blushes, grinning at his feet, and she laughs. It’s getting harder to ignore the responses he has to the pair of them, much as he’s trying to. Especially as Laura, at least, is getting more and more provocative, to the extent that he’s kept awake at night with the idea that they might know, and that his terrible inappropriate adoration might ruin their friendship.
And Jean is - where is she? Robbie turns slowly, sipping his drink as he takes in the entire hall until he spots Innocent. And he doesn’t like what he sees.
He’s put his drink down and is striding through the maze of tables and people before his brain has fully finished clocking the warning signs: Jean, defensively hunched; her companion too close and trying to block her access to the rest of the room; Jean’s drink in front of her like a shield, and Robbie’s worked too long on Vice to want this stranger’s hands anywhere near the sweet, flavourful concoction she doesn’t appear to have touched much, and if he bought it, then-
Jean spots him and she seems to untense slightly, but something in her expression reminds him to make his face look less murderous. Right, chivalry. If James can do it-
Robbie grins at her as he puts a hand on the bloke’s elbow and gently but firmly inserts himself in the conversation. She raises an eyebrow with a touch of her usual amused exasperation, but she’s not quite relaxed yet, so the plan to remove her from him or vice versa remains go. “Hello, ma’am,” he says cheerily. “So sorry to intrude, like,” and at this Jean has to suppress a smile, because Robbie’s probably never been less sorry to intrude, “but I was wondering if you might like a dance.”
Jean looks a little surprised, which is entirely fair considering how much Robbie had complained about the prospect of a turn about the floor for the preceding week, right up to the moment he had actually entered the room - and even then there had been some quiet grumbling. The man smiles snidely. “Trying to butter your boss up for a promotion?”
And what are you angling for, Robbie carefully doesn’t say. Jean, though, just shrugs, dumps her drink on a nearby table and tucks her hand into Robbie’s elbow. “Can’t hurt his chances. He won’t step on my toes if he knows what’s good for him.”
“Every care will be taken, ma’am,” he says, leading her away from the stymied suitor and onto the dancefloor. James ‘Lancelot’ Hathaway, eat your heart out.
They are, however, neither of them dancers, and the result of their attempts is mostly in time but not half as graceful as most other dancers. Robbie is entirely satisfied with the outcome, though, because Jean has relaxed into his hold and, after a few bars, smiles up at him. “Thanks,” she offers.
Robbie shrugs. “I’ll take the pay rise whenever you’re ready, ma’am.”
Jean laughs, and the grin lingers on her face. “Oh, you’re a patient man, Robert Lewis.” He grins and they swirl about the floor some more in comfortable silence. “Bloody boys club of bastards,” Jean mutters suddenly, almost too quiet to be heard, but Robbie hears every word and the venom within. He frowns at her and she sighs, resigned to explaining. “I’m usually wrong about everything, you see,” she says tightly, “and everything must be explained to me like I was born bloody yesterday. And now, of course, I’m divorced, so I’m fair game.” The false brightness in her voice is only making Robbie more murderous.
“May I go and have a word with him,” Robbie grinds out, barely a request.
Jean’s grip on him tightens. “ No, you may not. I can’t have you on a disciplinary, and he wasn’t technically doing anything wrong. Not, of course, that I don’t appreciate the intervention.”
Robbie looks at her then, really looks, and sees the stresses etched into her face. She’s running the whole station, she’s liasing with people who patronise her at every turn, and on top of her stressful job she’s just been through a - by all accounts, pretty bloody awful - divorce. He can’t imagine what’s she’s going through, and he’s so sorry for her. Robbie doesn’t know who cares for her, who she talks to about this. He hopes there’s someone.
The song changes into something slower as the evening winds down and automatically Robbie shifts them into the slow-song-shuffle, favoured by drunken couples in pubs everywhere. It’s too late to turn back once he’s realised that this is a bit familiar, perhaps, for his usual interactions with his boss, but Jean just sighs and props her head up with her cheek on his shoulder, and it’s really just a gently-swaying hug at this point. It’s nice, though - Robbie’s always favoured showing affection, rather than talking about it, and he really is fond of his friend.
“Sorry,” Jean sighs. “But it’s been a really rough day.”
“Ah, none of that,” Robbie says softly, but firmly. “My pleasure - in a very platonic way, understand.”
He feels her grin before he hears it in her voice. “Robbie, never have I ever had anything but platonic vibes from you.”
“Don’t want to risk being lumped in with a bad crowd, is all,” he says.
“No chance of that,” Jean says, tightening her hold on him and he squeezes back. “I know you too well.” And there’s an edge in that which, when combined with his paranoia, makes him wonder if she, and possibly everyone else in the world, knows about his glaring crush on Laura and James both. But she doesn’t say anything else, so neither does he, and they just continue to sway through the confusing mess of emotions.
“Well,” Robbie says at last, voice a bit gruff with shyness. “You ever have a rough day again, you come find me.”
Jean pulls back to look at him, incredulous and amused. “Are you actually volunteering to dance more?”
Robbie blushes slightly, and she laughs. “I was thinking more like going to the pub,” he hedges, looking away.
Jean beams and returns to her previous position for better cuddling. “We can do the pub,” she says, and Robbie presses a smile to her hair.
He still hopes she has someone else to talk to as well, in case the rough day is his own fault, but he’ll happily do what he can. Even if she won’t let him thump the bastards she works with.
James thumps the door angrily with a fist, and then shakes his hand out, wincing. He turns away, back into the room they’re trapped in, and Laura raises an unimpressed eyebrow at him. Ignoring this, he begins to comb the small space for some kind of escape method, feeling Laura’s eyes on him at every turn. Her scrutiny is somewhat distracting, especially as James is rather struggling with whether he likes her attention or not.
“Have you tried your phone yet?” Laura suggests when he looks likely to take another turn about the room.
He fishes it out of a pocket and frowns at the screen. “No signal. Yours?”
She waves her own at him with an apologetic smile. “Flat as a pancake, I’m afraid.”
“It’s the cold, it saps the batteries,” James says rather absently, fishing hopelessly through a box for some mysterious escape mechanism.
“That, and the ravages of my Candy Crush addiction.” James snorts, turning back to her in time to see a monumental shiver rip through her, and frowns. Her hands go up as he walks over, pushing back the jacket he’s starting to remove and offer her. “No, don’t be silly. There’s no sense in you wandering about in a freezer in your shirtsleeves. I just feel the cold, that’s all - James, I will drop that jacket on the floor. If you don’t wear it, no-one will.”
Slowly, James pulls the jacket back on, uncomfortable about losing the stand-off but absolutely certain that Laura means every word. She gives him a triumphant smile, the effect of which is entirely charming but somewhat less impactful when another massive shudder shakes her tiny frame.
Laura frowns crossly. “Why aren’t you this cold,” she huffs, breath hanging white on the air.
“The restorative powers of my jacket, which you spurned,” he says dryly, and she laughs.
“No joy on our great escape, I take it?” she asks, tugging her thin cardigan more tightly around her.
James frowns again - he’s going to have to do something about Laura’s rapidly falling temperature, be it getting them out or getting his jacket on her - and shakes his head, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Perhaps there’s a reason they call it a walk-in freezer.”
She gives him a look, even as a smile tugs at her lips - James counts it as a success. He likes to have her happy - it matters to him almost more than he’d like, actually - and it’s important that she stay alert in the sub-zero temperatures. “Hurry up, Robbie, save me from this wit,” she says, and James ducks his head to hide a grin.
Laura shudders again, hunching miserably against the cold, and James gives in to temptation. She looks up, surprised, when he wraps his arms around her, tucking her inside his jacket with him, but quickly snuggles in close. “Are you sure, James? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable-”
He gives her a dry look and she presses her lips shut in another concealed smile. “You’re alright,” he says, and isn’t that true; with anyone else, anyone who isn’t Robbie or Laura, he would be uncomfortable - but they’re alright.
Laura presses her cold face into his shirt and wraps her arms around him under his jacket, icy hands snaking up to his shoulders. They’re pressed together, top to toe, with barely any space between them anywhere for cold air to sneak in, and it’s probably a good thing it’s so cold because otherwise parts of James might start getting ideas. He half wants to pull away, just in case; there’s mild terror laced in every tactile encounter with Robbie and Laura that he’ll give himself away, and they’ll know how deeply he adores them. Instead, he wraps his jacket tighter about her and contrives to get her even closer. Her shivers have settled into small, but constant trembling, and he rubs his large hands up and down her back.
“Mmm,” she hums against him. “‘S nice.”
James smiles helplessly into the air above her head, glad she can’t see him because he probably wouldn’t be able to stop if he tried, and then she really would know.
After a pause, he feels Laura take a deep breath in the way she does when she’s about to say something important and slightly emotionally fraught. For this reason, he does his best to ignore the sensation of her breasts pressing against him and concentrates. “I’m glad that you let me do this, James,” she says. He hums inquisitively. “That this-” she squeezes his waist “-is okay with you. I know you wouldn’t do this for anyone, so, thanks. And I’m duly honoured.”
He huffs a laugh at that last bit, feeling her smile against him. “As you should be,” he murmurs, half-serious. She seems to sense this, untucking her head from under his chin and pushing herself up on her tiptoes. Before he can respond, Laura presses a kiss to the underside of his jaw.
It’s a friendly gesture, and the position only a convenience thing, he tells his stunned self. Where she can reach easiest. Not, he assures his rapidly beating heart, anything to get excited about, even as she keeps her face pressed into the crook of his neck and he has to hold her even tighter to support her tiptoed stand.
The door opens behind him and he cranes his neck, shuffling them round. “Sir,” he says, relieved. Now, he can go back to normal work relationships-
Robbie knocks the thought out of him in a hug that more accurately resembles a half-hearted rugby tackle, and he’s so warm that James can’t help but lean him and Laura into Lewis’ solid heat. Laura gives a little happy hum, snuggling into Robbie. “Come on, come on,” Robbie says, using the hug to tug and chivvy them out of the freezer as uniform secure the entire warehouse in swarms around them. “Bloody hell, the pair of you are freezing!”
Even as James warms up, he’s conscious of how his boss had found them. How they still are. He knows that Robbie likes Laura and Laura likes Robbie. He knows, too, that they aren’t together and that Robbie’s not a very jealous person, as a rule, but. If James’d found Laura cuddling up like that with Peterson, or Julie pressed into Robbie’s neck - well. James, it turns out during this moment of introspection, might be quite a quietly jealous person.
But Robbie’s paying equal attention to them both, grumbling and fussing and rubbing warmth back into their stiff limbs. He’s not even that surprised, actually, to find James and Laura cuddled up.
“What were you both doing in there?” Robbie chides, wrapping a huge foil-lined blanket around the three of them. He’s fussing terribly and it’s remarkably adorable.
Laura leans back, already trying to hide a grin, and winks at James before assuming a very feigned, casual expression. “Oh, you know, just chilling out.”
James gives up on thinking confused thoughts and, like Laura, tips his head back and laughs at Robbie’s trying-not-to-be-amused anger.
James is being odd, even for him. He keeps shuffling closer to Robbie at odd moments, as if he’ll be caught up in the orbit of another DI if he doesn’t stay near enough his own, or as if Robbie’s liable to make a break for it and James needs to be nearby to tackle him to the ground and sit on him until he thinks better of it.
As mental images go, Robbie thinks, that one might not discourage him.
And it’s not as if Robbie minds, exactly. He’d missed the odd sod more than he’d care to admit whilst on leave for the week, even though he’d loved the time with his daughter and grandson. He just kept thinking oh, James would like this, or here, canny lad, listen to this- and found that no James was present to do so. Robbie had also thought much the same about Laura, but there’s a precedent between them for texting each other that kind of thing - Laura’s been messaging him TV recommendations in the evenings, even only hours after having seen him in person, and he’s got used to the idea of texting her odds and sods by now. But he and James don’t do that, and Robbie only ever found himself drafting, and deleting, potential messages and then - missing him. There’s no other word for it.
Laura pulls him aside when she’s sent James off on some quick mission. “He’s been spending a lot of time in the mortuary of late,” she says casually. “If he weren’t already such a capital-R Romantic soul, I’d worry about him.”
Robbie frowns. “He’s been a bit off since I’ve been back, too.”
Laura looks at him askance, trying to conceal a grin. “And you call yourself a detective. It’s your fault, Robbie,” she explains when he glares at her. “You left him with only dead bodies for company.”
“Are you saying James missed me?” he says, slowly grinning.
Laura laughs. “Careful under the weight of your own head, Lewis. But yes.”
Robbie grins at the distant returning figure of James. “Ah, none of that, I missed him too. But really, Laura, you call yourself a mortician.”
She turns to him slowly, confused and affronted. “Excuse me?” she says primly, trying to figure out the punchline before he can get there.
Robbie’s grin widens. “You said I left him with only dead bodies for company, but he was visiting you an’ all. I’m fairly sure you’re still alive and kicking - isn’t that Pathology 101?”
Laura reaches out and treats him to a backhanded swat to the stomach, rolling her eyes as he laughs. But he does notice, as they walk to meet James halfway, that she ducks her head and smiles and blushes lightly. It sends Robbie’s heart into paroxysms of joy, and it’s going to be really embarrassing one of these days when he inevitably has to explain to the nice ambulance people why he’s had a heart attack.
“The victim’s not got a history of drug use, so-” James says, reading from the folder in his hand, but stopping when he looks up to narrow his eyes at their amusement. “What,” he says suspiciously. He does still come to rest slightly closer than usual social boundaries, though, so Robbie continues with his very impulsive plan.
James’ eyes widen when Robbie slings his arm around James’ shoulders, but relaxes almost immediately, assuming an appropriately put-upon expression for whatever is to follow. “Talking about how much you both missed me when I was gone.”
Laura rolls her eyes, looping her arm into James’ on his other side. “You were gone for a week, Robbie.”
Robbie shrugs. “Still.”
“Every hour was filled with ceaseless torment and woe, sir,” James says, and Robbie’s missed this - the dry wit, the gentle mockery, the two people at his side. He’d miss this if he were away for them half an hour - how he managed a week, he can’t imagine.
Robbie comes to slowly. Everything’s sort of...fuzzy, he thinks, although he hasn’t opened his eyes yet to check. His limbs feel stuffed with cotton wool and his eyelids heavy as anvils, but he can hear steady beeping somewhere to the side of him and the pinch of tape on his skin and he guesses he’s in hospital. Not, of course, that he can remember why he should be.
He struggles against his eyelids, blinking his way slowly into vision. He’s certainly in hospital - those fluorescents make an impression - and he’s not alone. James is sleeping in a bed to the left of him, a bandage around his pale forehead, and Laura is slumped in a chair between them. She’s asleep too, deep purple bags under her eyes, and she’s holding their hands with a firmness that speaks of a determination not to ever let go.
Robbie’s worried, then: has Laura been sleeping properly? How long has she sat there? Should James be that pale? But when he shifts to sit up, perhaps call a nurse and check up on the pair, a wave of exhaustion washes over him and pulls him back under.
He wakes next to low voices and with more energy. James and Laura are awake now, by the sounds of it, and Robbie wants to know if they look any better. He couldn’t say how long it’s been since he last woke, but Laura doesn’t seem to have moved at all, her hands still bridging the gap between Robbie and James’ beds. James still looks too pale, and Robbie frowns. Have no nurses been by to look at the lad?
“-came out of nowhere,” James is saying. “We only lost him for a moment, and then suddenly he was in his car, and-” he breaks off, and Robbie watches Laura stroke her thumb soothingly over his knuckles.
“It’s alright,” she says softly, and James settles a little. It makes Robbie smile to see it. “You’re both going to be fine, and that’s what matters.”
James twitches his head, as if he’d like to shake it but it hurts too much. “Robbie - if he doesn’t wake up soon, they’re worried-” He doesn’t take his eyes off Laura’s, drinking in the comfort and peace he must be finding there. Wonderful in a crisis, is Laura.
“None of that, now,” Robbie rasps out. Laura starts, turning to him with wide eyes, and James turns his head fast enough that Robbie, fearing whiplash, frowns. “Watch your head, lad.”
“Robbie,” Laura breathes, and then drops their hands to fuss with something behind Robbie’s head. He misses the contact for only a few seconds, because then she’s giving him some cool water and it’s glorious on his dry throat.
“Ta,” he says, much clearer now, and Laura smiles with a slightly desperate edge. “James, pet, are you alright?”
James’ laughter is more than slightly hysterical. “James is a little concussed,” Laura says calmly, “and more than a little battered and bruised. He lost some blood, but he’s got most of it back now. He’s fine,” she says firmly, and Robbie relaxes. “Mostly because you pushed him out of the way of an oncoming car and got hit yourself.”
Oh, yeah, that’s why they’re here. The murderer had done a runner, and they’d given chase, and he’d found a car, and it had come barrelling towards them, towards James, and Robbie could only think nonononotagain-
Robbie’s throat closes up and he stares, eyes wide and wild at Laura, trying to breathe. “He’s alright, Robbie, he’s okay. I promise,” she says quickly and soothingly, hand stroking down his arm and squeezing his hand. “Look at him, Robbie. He’s alright.”
Robbie does, and there’s James - not quite well, but in one piece and blinking solemnly at him - and Robbie can breathe again. Then he notices. “Laura, hold his hand. He’s too far away.”
Laura holds out her hand expectantly, waiting for James to bring his hand back out from where he’s hidden it away again under his sheets. James does that not-quite-a-head-shake again. “No,” he protests, “you two - you’re-” He sighs. “I’m giving you space,” he says at last.
Laura and Robbie exchange a look that accurately describes how patently ridiculous James is being, and Laura continues holding her hand out until he sighs and lets her hold his hand. He does seem to quite happily relax into the gesture, though, so Robbie was right to assume that he was being daft and self-sacrificing, as per usual.
Robbie shifts slightly and his vision greys out rather impressively for a moment. When the pain recedes, he sees Laura elbowing the call button and James struggling to sit up. “Lie back down,” Robbie says firmly. James remains propped on one elbow; clearly Robbie’s telling-off-voice is getting rusty.
“Robbie, you must lie still,” Laura says urgently, holding his hand even tighter. “Please.”
Robbie narrows his eyes at them both. “Right. What injuries don’t I know about?”
James shuts his eyes tightly, like it will stop all this happening, and Laura sighs sadly and looks away. “Two broken ribs,” she begins, in her best impersonal doctor voice, and a heavy leaden weight settles in Robbie’s stomach. “Fractured elbow. Thigh broken in two places, shin in one, fractured ankle. Bad bruising down the right side, head to toe.” She swallows hard. “You were asleep for a really long time, Robbie,” she says, voice wavering and wobbling, and Robbie’s heart breaks for the hours she must have spent just waiting for them to wake up.
“Oh, my love,” he says, squeezing her hand, and she rubs her eyes with her wrist. “Poor Laura.”
“He’s going to be alright,” James says, and Laura looks at him with that same desire for comfort that James had earlier sought from her. James is so entirely serious that it’s hard not to believe him, and Laura calms down as the nurse enters and performs some incomprehensible checks on Robbie.
The consensus, after much prodding, seems to be that James is right; Robbie could have saved them so much time if he’d only thought to point out that the lad usually is. The three of them are left with various instructions that Robbie doesn’t listen to, too busy drinking in his companions.
They notice, of course, that he’s just staring rather desperately and adoringly at them. James tilts his head at him when the nurses leave and raises an eyebrow. Laura squeezes his hand. The question is there, and Robbie gives the only answer he can think to.
“I love you. Both of you. A lot.”
There’s an astonished silence, which is fair, because Robbie’s also fairly surprised that that was the answer his brain had elected to provide.
“When you said - how I am,” he explains, skirting around the discussion of exactly how battered Robbie presently is and staring down at a loose thread in his sheet rather than look at them, “I figured I should tell you. So, sorry if this is harassment, or something, but I’ll be off work for a while, anyway, so-”
“Robbie,” Laura interrupts, firmly enough that his head snaps up. She flicks her eyes at James and his own follow fast enough to catch the surprised-terrified-joy on his face before he manages to wrangle his expression into something more neutral. Robbie looks back at Laura, who’s smiling fondly at him.
“You don’t mind,” he says, realising.
“No,” Laura confirms, fighting a smile. “Actually quite a fan of the idea. James?”
James narrows his eyes at them when they turn to him expectantly. “Am I dreaming?” he says suspiciously.
Laura leans down and presses a gentle, chaste kiss to his lips. It’s fond and intimate and pretty damn beautiful, as far as Robbie’s concerned. She sits up straight and raises an eyebrow at a rather shell-shocked James.
He looks at Robbie and sees the smile there. “Not dreaming,” he breathes. “I think. Might need more convincing.”
Laura laughs, bright and contagious, and James grins at Robbie. “Cheeky sod,” Robbie says fondly. “You’re too far away, though. Sorry, lad.”
James starts to get up. “No,” Laura and Robbie say quickly and firmly. “You stay there,” Laura says, putting their hands down and getting up. James pouts, but obeys, watching as Laura moves her chair and the small table between their beds, folds down the edges of the cots and then shoves James’ bed until it meets Robbie’s.
“You’re a wise woman,” James says, rather impressed.
“And remarkably strong,” Robbie adds. Laura half-shrugs, smiling smugly, and it’s too endearing.
And then James rolls over and is within reach, and kissing him is everything Robbie hoped it would be and more. It’s bloody wonderful.
And then Laura’s there too, lying between them, and kisses from her are glorious too. Robbie feels like he’s floating on euphoria - and pain medication, but mostly sheer joy.
He tires quickly, though, and everything aches. But Laura curls into his side, and James presses up against her back, and Robbie can have them and hold them and know they’re alright.
“I love you,” he says again. He hadn’t meant to - didn’t want it to sound like he needed them to say it back. He’d like them to, of course, but if Robbie can just wrap his arms around them then he’ll be happier than he’s been for years. Anything else is just a bonus.
But- “I love you both,” Laura says easily.
“I love you both too,” James echoes, voice quietly certain.
Robbie tugs them closer, revelling in the contact he’s now allowed to want, and falls asleep with a grin on his face.