Actions

Work Header

The Hermit Crab

Work Text:

They argued about it until the day they drove there. They argued in the car. They argued until they were in the hotel car park taking their bags out of the boot.

“No one cares, sir. It’s 2012. It’s perfectly legal for two men to share a hotel room.”

“It’s no one’s business that you’re my…” Lewis paused to think. He didn’t know what to call James. ‘Lover’ sounded like a tabloid. ‘Boyfriend’ made him feel like a teenager. ‘Partner’ seemed to be what people used these days, but that made Lewis think of work.

“Surely you and Val shared a hotel room when you went on holiday.”

“This is different.”

Hathaway slammed the boot shut. “How? Because we’re not married?”

“You know what I mean.”

They walked towards the front entrance of the hotel, which sat on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was a bit touristy, but James had liked the view, and Lewis had liked that it wasn’t a B & B, where someone would be more likely to nose about in their business.

“If they’re rude to us, we’ll go somewhere else,” Hathaway said.

“You’re missing my point.”

“I’m not. I just think it’s a stupid point.”

Lewis glanced at Hathaway, frowning. He didn’t like it when they argued. “We’re asking for two rooms,” he said with finality.

“Shall I wait until midnight to come round to yours? I could even wear a disguise.”

That didn’t deserve an answer. James could be a real smart-arse.

At the front desk, a stout woman in her 60s greeted them. “Hello, welcome to the Housel.”

“Hi,” Hathaway said. “I’ve a reservation for Hathaway.”

The woman tapped at her computer. “Here we are. Just one room?” She looked up, uncertain.

“Two,” Lewis said at the same time as Hathaway said, “Yes.”

“Just one,” Hathaway continued. “We’re together.” He ignored Lewis.

Lewis kept silent. It would be worse to protest now. Sometimes James reminded him of Val. When he had his mind set on something, there was no talking him out of it.

“Of course.” The woman seemed mildly flustered. “It’s a nice time for a holiday,” she said as she took two keys out of a drawer behind the desk. “You missed the downpour we had yesterday.”

“Glad to hear it.” Hathaway gave her his most charming smile, the one Lewis had fallen for more times than he could count.

“Thanks,” Lewis said, picking up the keys, avoiding the woman’s eyes.

*

When they got to the room, Hathaway dropped his bags, toed off his shoes, leaving them scattered haphazardly, and crossed the room to the window. The curtains were already open, and from where Lewis stood, he could see nothing but sky and ocean.

Deliberately, Lewis bent to unlace his shoes. He set them neatly out of the way, then carried his bag to the wardrobe, noting the spacious bed and simple furnishings of the room. After putting his bag inside the wardrobe, he joined Hathaway by the window.

Beyond the hotel’s lawn lay cliffs and white-capped waves.

Lewis watched Hathaway for a moment before slipping an arm round his waist. “It’s lovely.” He kissed Hathaway’s shoulder in apology.

Looking terribly young, Hathaway turned to Lewis and said, “Are you glad we came?”

“Yeah.” Lewis rubbed Hathaway’s back, which felt warm and solid against his palm. He regretted their argument, even if he still felt a flood of embarrassment, thinking of the woman at the front desk.

Hathaway bent to kiss him, his hands coming up to hold Lewis’s face. He needed reassurance.

“It’s fine. Don’t fret,” Lewis said after a minute. “It just feels a bit improper, the whole staff knowing we’re sharing a room.”

“They probably envy me,” Hathaway said against Lewis’s mouth, sucking lightly on his lower lip.

“Envy me, more like.”

“Not if they knew what you do to me.” Hathaway pushed his hips up against Lewis’s for emphasis, walking him backwards towards the bed.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Should we get a pint before dinner?”

Hathaway smiled at him fondly, and kissed his cheek. “A pint sounds perfect.”

All was forgiven, and Lewis felt touched by grace.

*

They walked into the village, taking advantage of some afternoon sun. It was peaceful despite the occasional car barrelling down the narrow road. The air smelled of salt and green things, and it was filled with swooping birds. In front of the houses were stone walls covered with grass and moss. They never went for walks like this at home. Too busy with work. Or maybe it was habit. Living in the same place for a long time only made you more set in your ways, Lewis supposed.

An urge to take James’s hand made Lewis think of his first girlfriend in fifth year, how nervous he’d been. Beside him, Hathaway smoked, in a contemplative mood, his free hand tucked into his coat pocket. It was a bit nippy still, even though all the trees had got their leaves already. James’s nose was pink. His cheeks, too. It was hard to imagine life without Hathaway by his side, either at work or like this.

At the pub, they ordered their pints, and sat sipping them, surrounded by touristy decor. When Lewis’s phone rang, he took it out of his pocket to see who was calling. It was Lyn. He was aware of Hathaway watching him as he silenced the phone and set it down on the table.

“Does your Lyn know you’re on holiday?”

Lewis didn’t look at Hathaway. “What would I tell her?”

“You seem to be a fan of the truth. At least with regard to every other part of your life.”

“I don’t want to upset her.” Lyn did want him to find someone — she’d said as much — but Lewis was sure Hathaway wasn’t who she’d had in mind. Truth be told, he wasn’t who Lewis had had in mind either when he’d contemplated the possibility of dating again. Far from it.

Hathaway got out a somewhat abused packet and removed a cigarette. “She might be more upset you’re keeping things from her. Or thinking you’re alone.” He eyed the exit, tapping the cigarette against the tabletop.

“Yeah,” Lewis conceded. This was all new territory. He didn’t know what to say, if he should say anything at all, so he hadn’t told a soul. Not Laura. Not Lyn. Not Mark. He suspected Mark might lean in that direction himself, a possible explanation for his infrequent phone calls. Lewis wanted to say: You can tell me anything. But he hadn’t.

Hathaway put the cigarette between his lips, then removed it again. He gestured with it. “I’m going out for a minute.”

“All right.” Lewis watched Hathaway stride, shoulders hunched, towards the door. When James had gone, Lewis focussed his attention on his beer. This issue of telling Lyn about them was recent. James understood implicitly the need to hide their relationship from anyone at work, but Lyn was another matter. Lewis hadn’t a clue what to do about it. Lyn had known him for longer than anyone else in his life! He couldn’t just announce to her that he wasn’t who she’d thought, could he? But there were Hathaway’s feelings to consider, too. It was a tangle. Two people who were so important to him, and no matter what he did, he’d upset one of them.

*

After a late dinner at the hotel, they came back to the room. There was still plenty of time before bed. At home, they usually watched something or read. Sometimes, they even did work, but only during active investigations.

Lewis was becoming accustomed to Hathaway’s habits: the sounds of him brushing his teeth, shaving, taking his contacts out and putting on his glasses to watch telly. All the ways Lewis knew Hathaway, all those years working together, had taught him some things, but others had remained a mystery, and were only now becoming known.

The bathroom door was shut, and Lewis could hear occasional sounds. He decided to see what was on telly. He liked the dance programme, but James preferred documentaries about history, the kinds of things that made Lewis fall asleep. Lewis stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt, and made himself comfortable in the bed. Strictly wasn’t on, but he found an old episode of The Two Ronnies.

There was the sound of the shower now. James was going to climb into bed smelling of soap and shampoo. The first time James had spent the night, Lewis’s bed had smelled like him after. There was something about that. You couldn’t deny the person had been there. For a long time after Val died, Lewis had kept her clothes and their sheets because they smelled like her. Her smell. He still remembered it.

James appeared a few minutes later, his hair askew, a towel wrapped round his waist. Fragrant steam billowed out of the bathroom.

“Did you leave some hot water for me?” Lewis asked to nettle him.

James just smiled and knelt on the bed to give him a kiss. His skin was warm, and he smelled nice. Lewis found him hard to resist. His hands groped James’s bum through the towel.

“Where’s the —” Hathaway said, then found the remote. He turned off the telly and carelessly tossed the remote on the bedside table. He abandoned the towel to the floor, and pulled back the duvet to climb under.

When they were at home, they were working, getting home late, leaving early, cramming the shopping and cleaning and all else into the weekends. Lewis didn’t have too much trouble keeping up. But holidays apparently put rumpy-pumpy in James’s brain. That morning, he’d been like a puppy, jumping on Lewis as if he hadn’t seen him all day. They’d got a late start as a result.

And, now, again. In the back of his mind, Lewis knew it wasn’t going to turn out the way James wanted. James probably knew that, too. But here he was, naked in Lewis’s arms, wrapped round him, wound up in him, kissing him like there was no tomorrow, pulling off his clothes. Lewis kissed back, grabbing handfuls of James’s bum. It was the roundest part of him, and Lewis liked it, liked it very much.

He’d have to be dead not to respond when James was thrusting against him, thumb rubbing his nipple, teeth lightly scraping his shoulder in a half-bite, half-kiss. He had been dead, in a way, those long years before James had taken matters into his own hands, after things hadn’t worked out with Laura. Brave after a few glasses of wine, he’d told Lewis he shouldn’t be alone. The kiss hadn’t seemed entirely daft in the moment. It wasn’t much different to sitting on Lewis’s sofa all night, talking, was it? He’d had a bit of a panic the next morning, but he’d got over it. James would say he hadn’t quite got over it, but here he was, pushing James onto his back, kissing his belly button and the trail of light hair below it. James had had his own getting over to do. There’d been a few rough patches. It was a lucky thing they’d known one another for so long. A lucky thing they trusted each other.

Lewis liked the way James looked at him, eyes half-closed, lips parted. He liked the silky head of James’s cock, how it felt under his tongue, how he could make James breathe faster and call out to God. He took James’s erection in hand, fisting it rhythmically as he kissed the base of it, kissed the soft skin of his balls, the sensitive groin muscle, then returned his attention to the head, licking and sucking, then taking in as much of the shaft as he could.

“Stop,” James said, sitting up. “I’m going to come if you don’t stop.”

“I thought that was the point.” Lewis straightened up and kissed him.

Hathaway closed gentle fingers around Lewis’s erection, his expression hopeful. “No. I want you to...”

Lewis considered his options. Best not to try. He’d no trouble getting it up, but going the whole way was another matter. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d done it twice in one day. He’d probably been James’s age. Ten years alone hadn’t exactly tested his limits, and things had cooled off with Val, even after the kids were grown, and they weren’t up at all hours, changing nappies, helping with homework, or worrying when Lyn would get home from a date.

“I can’t. You took it all out of me this morning.”

Lewis detected disappointment, but Hathaway leaned in quickly to kiss him again.

Lewis wished for the thousandth time that he was younger. James deserved someone who could keep up with him. “Doesn’t mean I can’t do this for you,” he said.

For a moment, Hathaway was indecisive — he didn’t like the imbalance of it, Lewis knew — but then he lay back. Lewis lay with him, kissing him again, hand stroking James’s cock, thumb sweeping over the tip of it. James made a soft noise of approval. Lewis kissed his shoulder, the bit of hair peeking out from under his arm, the inner elbow, the palm of his hand, the jut of hip bone, before continuing the task he’d begun a few minutes before, taking James’s cock in his mouth, teasing the sensitive parts of it with his tongue. Hathaway spread his legs, and Lewis read the gesture, slipped spit-slicked fingers between the cheeks of his bum, pressed inside, the muscle easily giving way, still relaxed from that morning. That fact turned him on immeasurably. James’s body remembering him. It wasn’t long before James came apart, fingers in Lewis’s hair, his breath unsteady. Lewis swallowed the bit he’d been unable to avoid — he’d got used to everything but that — then settled beside James, kissing him gently.

Hathaway’s hand wandered to Lewis’s cock, fingers tentative. “Are you sure you can’t?”

“Yeah.” Lewis grabbed his hand and moved it away. “You’d best stop touching me.”

“Sorry. I like it.”

“I know. For someone who was going to be a priest, you’re very keen on the rumpy-pumpy.”

“Mm,” Hathaway agreed.

Lewis smiled at him fondly. Life was surprising. He loved James, but he wasn’t really what he needed, was he? Not in the long term. For now, maybe. This was different to when he’d met Val. They were both young, and they loved each other. They wanted the same things. It seemed logical to get married. Lewis had thought they’d be together forever. There’d been times when he’d doubted his decision, when he’d fancied someone else, or when they’d fought, and it seemed like it might break them.

He didn’t know what it was that had kept them together — in love, even — all those years.

Arousal was slow to leave him. He felt restless. Part of him wanted to turn James over and push inside him. There was nothing quite like it, lying there, pressed up to his back, so close to him. When they did it that way, it felt like a small miracle, a gift, James opening to him completely. James had never been very good at hiding his emotions, even at work. And when they’d begun this, Lewis had seen just how fragile he could be.

James was watching him, drowsy-eyed.

“I suppose you’re thinking again.”

James took Lewis’s right hand and placed the fingers on the side of his face. “Sometimes I wish you could read my mind like this.”

“I wouldn’t want to read your mind! I wouldn’t understand the first thing!” But he left his hand there, caressing bristly sideburn, the softer hair above that, velvety ear lobe, until James fell asleep.

*

After a lie-in and lunch, they decided to drive the short distance to Kynance Cove, then take a walk along the cliffs and beach. The fog burned off, and the sky turned clear and light. It was cold enough for coats, but only just.

“Not the best for lying out, is it?”

“I’m not much for sunbathing,” Hathaway answered. “I burn to a crisp.”

Lewis laughed. “Me mum would have called you a hothouse flower.”

“I’m not!”

“She was used to stout Geordie lads.”

“She would’ve thought I was a bit queer, too, I expect.”

“Oh, yeah. Nancy-boy. And too clever for your own good.”

“You thought those things, too.”

“Not wrong, was I? But there’s more to you than that.”

Hathaway let out a full laugh, then stopped to stare out at the sea, hands in his coat pockets. Lewis stood beside him, shifting his weight slightly so their shoulders bumped. They stood for several minutes without speaking, watching the tide come and go, leaving some things behind, taking others away.

“Shall we go down?” Lewis asked.

Hathaway didn’t answer, but set off down the narrow path leading to the water. There hadn’t been many people about, even near the car park, and here there were none. It was quiet except for the sound of wind in the grasses and birds calling from the waves. The air smelled of sea things.

In silent agreement, they headed towards a rocky section of the beach. Lewis liked being with James like this, in no hurry, nowhere to go, no case to solve. There was time to look at him, time to talk about anything that crossed their minds. Time to pay attention to things besides evidence. James was his own kind of mystery, one Lewis hadn’t solved yet. He often had no idea what was going on in James’s mind. The night before, for instance. He wondered if James sometimes regretted what he’d started. Lewis didn’t. He reached to thread his arm in James’s. James looked at him in surprise, but he didn’t say anything as they walked on.

Water had collected in the worn away spots on the rocks, and James unhooked his arm from Lewis’s to go have a look. Lewis watched him poke at something in the water, and he was suddenly flooded with affection and gratitude. He made his way over to Hathaway, stepping carefully to avoid the shells on the rocks.

“There are little fish in here.”

Taking a step nearer, Lewis crouched beside Hathaway. The pool of water was no bigger than a car tyre, but even in that shallow water, greyish-brown things darted about. “What do they do when it goes dry, I wonder? Look at that.” Lewis nodded towards a crab the colour of algae. It sat, unmoving, until Hathaway reached for it. Then it scrambled away.

“It doesn’t like me,” Hathaway complained.

“Ah, give it a chance to get to know you.”

Hathaway pointed. “Hermit crab.”

A tiny crab stalked about, carrying its shell on its back. Hathaway reached in and gently plucked the crab from the water. It immediately withdrew, leaving only a sheen of water and a seemingly empty shell on Hathaway’s outstretched palm.

“I wonder what it thinks of me. I’m the biggest fish who ever lived? Give me your hand.”

“What?” Lewis asked before understanding. He held out his open hand, and Hathaway deposited the shell into the cup.

They both waited, watching the still shell until, finally, the crab emerged and began exploring the unknown territory of Lewis’s palm.

Lewis laughed. “It’s tickling me hand! Take it back.” He laughed again, squirming, not wanting to drop the thing. He saw James smiling, then felt fingers on his palm as James picked up the crab and set it carefully back in its pool.

Lewis could still feel where the crab’s feet had walked over his skin. Funny creatures, they were. He looked up, and James leaned forward suddenly to kiss him, grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet. Then kissed him again more fervently.

“What brought that on?”

“Let’s go back to the hotel,” Hathaway said, not really answering the question. He was windblown and pink-nosed, and Lewis wanted to keep him like that forever.

“It’s barely three!” Lewis said, glancing up the beach, but there was no one in sight.

James kissed him yet again, open-mouthed, tongue seeking. Lewis returned the kiss, surprising himself by loosing one of the buttons of Hathaway’s coat and slipping his hand inside, where he could feel warmth through layers of fabric.

“Now,” Hathaway said.

“All right. But we’ve got a bit of a walk.”

“I can manage to control myself, sir,” Hathaway said, buttoning the undone button. “If you stop undressing me.”

Lewis smiled. “Careful, now. Don’t step on these things. They’re alive under there, aren’t they? Are they barnacles? Or something else?”

“No idea.”

“I thought you knew everything.”

Hathaway smiled, acknowledging his lack.

When they turned to walk back the way they’d come, Hathaway took Lewis’s hand, weaving their fingers together, defying the cold. With his thumb, Lewis rubbed at James’s palm, watching him out of the corner of his eye as they walked. James wasn’t like other people his age. He had different priorities. His loyalty and the depth of his love often surprised Lewis. God only knew what he’d done to earn it. But he suspected that if he didn’t tell Lyn, it would test their relationship more and more as time went on. It might even break them. And if he told Lyn? He couldn’t imagine what on earth she’d say. He couldn’t bear the thought of her losing touch, calling twice a year like Mark. But they were already becoming distant, weren’t they? He’d ignored her call the day before because he didn’t want to tell her where he was.

Hathaway withdrew his hand, pawing in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter. Lewis waited for him, then they continued on, barely a foot between them, covering the distance at a much faster pace than they had on the way out.

“Don’t you dare leave that butt on the beach,” Lewis cautioned a few minutes later, watching James take his last puffs of the cigarette.

“You’ve reformed me. I do sometimes pick them up now.”

“Right,” Lewis said, sceptical.

Hathaway laughed. “I did say ‘sometimes’.”

“Your lungs would like it if you quit.”

“And your heart would like if you ate more veg.”

“Hops are veg, aren’t they?”

“Of course they are.” Hathaway took the last puff, then bent to extinguish the cigarette in the wet sand. He held it up for Lewis’s inspection before pocketing it.

They both reached out at the same moment to hold hands again.

*

By the time they reached the hotel, the sun was getting low in the sky. Not quite sunset but that lovely golden afternoon light that made everything seem peaceful and quiet. They’d let go of one another’s hands as they neared civilisation again. Lewis didn’t need to touch Hathaway to feel his desire. It came off him in waves, and Lewis could see it every time their eyes met. He must have looked the same. He ached with it. He wanted to spread James out in bed and lie with him, touching head to toe. He couldn’t even bring himself to care that the woman at the desk may have sensed their hurry as they made a beeline for the stairs. She already knew they were sharing a room with one bed, and that hadn’t affected her behaviour towards them, though Lewis suspected she was only being polite.

The inside of the room felt warm and still after their hours outside. Lewis took off his coat and hung it in the wardrobe. He reached out a hand for Hathaway’s coat, and was given it immediately. He hung it beside his own. When he turned round, James was already pulling his hoodie off over his head, bringing his t-shirt halfway up with it. Lewis watched, charmed by James wrestling with his clothes.

When James emerged and saw Lewis watching him, he smiled and reached for Lewis’s jumper. Lewis lifted his arms to make things easier. Hathaway’s greedy hands took the t-shirt, too. Hands freed, Lewis reached for the button and zip of his jeans, keeping his eyes on James, whose t-shirt quickly joined his hoodie on the floor. His belt was the only thing holding his jeans up on his slim hips because the moment it was unbuckled, it seemed as if the jeans were kicked off into the corner.

Six months had changed things. Lewis recalled the first few times, both of them shy and uncertain. There’d been a lot of touching through clothes. A lot of canoodling on the sofa without going farther. Lewis wasn’t sure who had been accommodating whom. It had surprised him only a little that James hadn’t dated a man before. But he supposed James hadn’t seriously dated anyone, unless you counted Fiona. Lewis preferred not to think about her. She hadn’t treated James very well.

Down to his boxers, Lewis found himself being pulled towards the bed by a very naked James. They both fell heavily onto the duvet.

“Let’s get under, at least.”

James grunted and awkwardly yanked the covers back. Lewis took the opportunity to get his boxers off. And then James was on top of him, kissing him messily and rubbing against him. Lewis grabbed handfuls of bum and brought their bodies closer. They fitted together like a puzzle.

“I can’t believe we’re in bed in the middle of the afternoon,” Lewis said between kisses.

“That’s what holidays are for.”

“I never said I didn’t like it.”

James smiled and began to inch his way down Lewis’s body, tasting, sucking light marks onto the skin.

“I like it when you’re happy,” Lewis added.

“I’m very happy.”

That fact never ceased to amaze Lewis. Their relationship didn’t make much sense at first look. Maybe if they’d both been the same age. The years between them bothered him the most, more than suddenly being in bed with a bloke. If he could have changed one thing, he’d have stopped time, at least for himself. Let James catch up. But that was wishful thinking. No sense dwelling on it, was there? Especially not when James had a hand round his cock and was exploring the head of it with his tongue. James could probably think during sex, but Lewis couldn’t. He gave himself over to the sensation of James’s mouth, the feel of wandering hands teasing the sensitive skin of his thighs.

The thread of desire that had been weaving its way through him took root near his spine. His balls and his cock ached with need. Taking care of it himself was nothing like this, having James with him. Lewis reached out to touch James’s shoulder. James understood. Came up to kiss Lewis deeply, tongue tracing the roof of his mouth, teeth biting at his lip. And Lewis wanted. Wanted him more than he could say. James rolled off Lewis, and spread out beside him, lying on his stomach.

Lewis inched closer to kiss him, kiss his neck and his shoulder, his spine, the bony trail of it. He got up on his knees, straddled James’s legs and bent to place open-mouthed kisses on the left cheek of his bum. James shifted slightly beneath Lewis’s hands and mouth. Lewis nosed at the crease, kissed it, teased with his tongue. This wasn’t something Lewis would have thought he’d like. But he did. He’d meant what he said about making James happy.

A bum cheek in each hand, Lewis spread James open to his view, let one thumb brush the star of flesh, the light blonde hairs surrounding it. James made a soft noise into the pillow. Everything about him, every part of him, every sound, every gesture, sent sparks right through Lewis, igniting his insides.

“Did you bring the lube?” Lewis asked. He’d bloody forgotten to pack it.

“In the bathroom,” James answered, turning his head to look over his shoulder.

Lewis clambered off of the bed, and went to the bathroom to fetch the lube, conscious of the fact that James was watching him.

When he returned, James hadn’t moved an inch. He lay gazing in Lewis’s direction.

“You’ll get a crick in your neck if you keep that up.”

“It would be worth it.”

Hathaway was just being silly now. Lewis knelt on the bed again. Tossing the lube to the side, he grabbed handfuls of James’s bum again, massaging it. James liked that, he’d discovered early on. There’d been an urgency to things when they’d got back to the hotel room, but now that they were in bed, he wanted to take his time. He liked touching James like this, making his pleasure build slowly, making him rub against the sheet. After a minute, he buried his face in the pillow again and said something muffled.

“What?”

James reached behind and found Lewis’s hand. He guided it until both their fingers were between his cheeks. Lewis pressed lightly, just the very tip of his finger entering, testing resistance. With his other hand, he found the lube, flipped the cap, and poured a few drops onto James’s fingers. Their fingers slid round together for a moment before Lewis left it to James. He watched two fingers disappear, felt the thudding of his heart, the bolt of heat as he doled lube into his hand and spread it over his cock. James turned onto his side, revealing his own erection.

Lewis braced himself on both hands and leaned to kiss James before settling behind him. He guided his cock into position, then eased inside. His hand, still slippery with lube, settled on James’s hip. He didn’t have much leverage like this, but James liked it. And Lewis liked how close they could be, every inch of them touching. Every slow thrust lit up his nerves, made him feel alive. How had he lived without this for so long? He’d never told James, but he’d almost cried after the first time, he’d felt so much joy. He felt it still, his face pressed to James’s shoulder.

One thing about getting older, you weren’t in as much of a hurry in the sex department, even if you felt like the clock was ticking in other areas. Lewis kept up his slow, careful movements, letting his hand trail up James’s side, then down to his cock. He encircled it with light fingers, teasing a bit, letting his thumb slide in the fluid leaking from the tip. James groaned and turned his head to give Lewis an awkward kiss. Lewis increased the tempo and force of his thrusts, changing the angle of their bodies so that James was almost lying flat on his stomach. James let out something between a sigh and a word, his eyes shut, as if he was concentrating. Briefly, Lewis recalled the previous night, not with shame, but with a longing to set things right.

“Come up, love,” Lewis said quietly. He withdrew, holding James’s hips as he rose up onto his hands and knees, adjusting to suit Lewis’s height.

Lewis slid home, James’s body accommodating him easily. He liked this way, liked the expanse of James’s back, the pleasing shape of his bum. It embarrassed him a bit, but the sight of what he was doing turned him on nearly as much as the feel. Neither of them had known a thing, really, when it came to making love this way, but James could talk the head off a penny when he wanted to, and he’d wanted to in bed, not at first, but after they’d got past being nervous. Now Lewis knew how to lean just so, how to make James’s arms give way under him. James made a soft sound, and reached clumsily for his cock.

Lewis might have worried he was going too fast, thrusting too hard, but James was meeting him halfway, crashing into him each time. Lewis leaned forward, draping himself over James’s back, possessed by a fierce and sudden impulse to be close to him again. Everything coiled tight inside him, he closed his eyes, momentarily breathless, and came.

The world spun around him for a minute, and he was aware of gasping for breath, aware of James’s sweat-slicked back. Lewis carefully withdrew, and they shifted onto their sides, spooned together, James reaching for his cock again. A few quick strokes was all it took to bring himself off.

They lay there in silence for several minutes. Lewis felt sleepy, but there was dinner yet, and he’d never hear the end of it if he slept through that. “I might wash,” he said. A shower would perk him up, and he’d feel less sticky. “Come with me?”

“Mmph,” Hathaway said, turning his face to the pillow. “I can’t get up.”

“You’re getting old,” Lewis said, even though he could barely lift his own bones. He hoisted himself up onto one elbow and rubbed Hathaway’s back with his free hand.

“Jonjo told me I was middle-aged, and that was years ago. Must be close to catching up with you by now.”

Lewis smiled, and gave one bum cheek a pinch. It was uncanny how James read his mind sometimes. “I’ll wait for you,” he said.

*

The next morning, Lewis knew it was late even before he checked the clock. He’d had a good sleep. His body hummed happily, everything in working order, a state he’d learned not to take for granted. Hathaway, always sprawly, lay with an arm and a leg draped over him. Lewis loved lying with him like this, skin to skin, just doing nothing. He brought a hand up to caress James’s naked shoulder. It would be impossible to get out from under him without waking him. Best to be still as long as he could.

Lewis turned his head so that he could see James’s sleeping face. His hair was at sixes and sevens, something Lewis had learned was common when James wasn’t at work. Lewis could smell the subtle, distinct scent of his skin, the scent left on shirts and scarves and coats and in the bed, the pillowcases and the sheets. Lewis had only to catch a bit of that scent, and it was like having James there with him. But you had no idea what you smelled like to other people, did you? Or to animals. Dogs and such. To them, it was like a fingerprint. For him, too. He’d never mistake James’s scent for anyone else’s.

Hathaway made a grumbly sound and, after a moment, decided to face the world, blinking sleepily at Lewis. They both shifted their bodies so they were on their sides, facing. Lewis lightly pressed his lips to Hathaway’s mouth.

Hathaway smiled. Blinked again. “I can feel where you were.”

“Hm?” Lewis asked.

“Inside me.”

“Oh.” Lewis felt heat rising to his face.

“I love embarrassing you.”

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“Mm. No. It’s nice.”

“I don’t know what came over me. I forgot what it was like to get carried away.” Lewis couldn’t read the expression on James’s face. “You remind me,” he added.

“You remind me.”

Lewis didn’t know what to say to that, so he said, “What do you want to do today? Beach again? Or should we go for a drive?”

“Anything.”

“You’re no help.”

“Let’s stay in bed, then,” Hathaway suggested, wriggling closer and insinuating himself into Lewis’s arms.

Lewis felt comfortable and lazy, thinking of the day ahead. He was going to have breakfast, then maybe go for a walk. In the evening, he’d come back here and watch telly, and then sleep, all with James beside him. That was the best way to spend a day. Lewis wondered again what Lyn would say. More than anything, she wanted him to be happy, didn’t she? And he was. Far happier than he’d been before.

“We’ve got a few bank holidays coming up,” Lewis said. “I might go visit Lyn.”

Hathaway drew back to look at him, trying to puzzle out his meaning.

“I’d best tell her about you in person, don’t you think?”

He caught only a glimpse of James’s reaction before the blond head was tucked up against his neck and shoulder, face hidden from view. James found Lewis’s hand, and curled their fingers together. He didn’t have to say a word. Lewis understood.

*

That afternoon, they stopped in at a cafe with a patio overlooking the ocean. The coffee was bad, and the tables were populated by tourists, but it was pleasant to sit in the sun. Hathaway sipped his cappuccino in silence.

Lewis wondered how many cups of coffee they’d drunk, sitting together just like this. How many cups of tea? How many pints? More than he could count. The first must have been the day they’d met. Or a short time later, after they’d solved their first case. James hadn’t had a wrinkle on him back then, but he was starting to get a few. Not as young as they used to be, neither of them.

At the table beside them was a young family, a couple and their little girl. Lewis smiled and waved at her, making her laugh. He caught James watching him.

“What?”

“The world doesn’t change unless we change it, wouldn’t you agree?”

James meant something to do with them, but Lewis had no idea what. “Police work, you mean?”

“I think we should get married.”

“Married?” Lewis asked louder than he’d intended. The mother of the little girl glanced at him, then away. “Why would you want to marry me?”

Ignoring Lewis’s question, Hathaway continued, “I know we can’t now because of work, but when you retire, let’s.”

Lewis opened his mouth to protest, but no words came out.

“If we’re married, I can take care of you.”

“Oh, no,” Lewis argued. The last thing he wanted was for Hathaway to feel responsible for him as he got older.

“And you can take care of me. You already do,” James said vehemently. “You do. In so many ways.” James had that look about him, that earnest look, his brow furrowed as he waited for Lewis’s reply. “Should I make a list?” he added.

“I don’t need a list!”

James was still looking at him, waiting.

“All right. After I retire,” Lewis agreed, heart pounding. Hardly able to breathe, he leaned across the table to kiss James, right there, in front of everyone.

When he drew back, he saw the young mother at the next table smiling at him. Time was passing, and James looked stunned and beautiful, the ocean alive and eternal behind him.

 

the end