If James Hathaway was the type to share his thoughts, his feelings or his private life with random strangers on the internet, he'd have no shortage of subjects for blog entries.
Shoe sizes, for a start. Those are a regular annoyance. He's never found a size yet that fits his (admittedly large) feet comfortably for all types of footwear. Apostrophes, or more often the lack of them, are another constant niggle. And the next person to send him a cat macro is going to regret the impulse for a very long time.
He suspects even his Great Aunt Maud would find him a very dull blogger, and she collects tea cosies.
These are minor irritations, however, that are no longer in serious running for top spot on his mental list of grievances. How could they be when the single most offensive phrase in the English language has just leapt far ahead of the field?
We're just friends.
It can be said, and meant, in so many different ways.
We're just friends. As if friends are easily dismissed.
We're just friends. As if lovers can't be friends. As if one moment they are one thing, and then at some mysterious unspoken point they become something else, and it can't be reversed.
We're just friends. There's nothing to break up between the two individuals you're assuming are a couple. There's nothing to stop us being together if there's a chance you'd like the same thing.
The first is mildly insulting, and a crappy thing to say in front of any friend.
The second is inaccurate: James may not have had many lovers, but he can still call at least one a friend, and considering he's spent most of his life thinking of himself as celibate, he has some hideously complicated feelings about a number of friends that he wouldn't know where to start untangling.
The third... that's the one you don't say in front of a date.
It's not as if it was an official date. At least, James doesn't think it was. He knows Ben is interested (was interested) in him, but he only agreed to grab a beer and a takeaway after music group, and nothing more.
It's very unlikely to be more now.
The stupid thing is, James started going to that Chinese because he knows Lewis goes there when he's been working too late to cook. Usually he wants to bump into his D.I.
Maybe he did this time too.
"So are you two..." Lewis had sort of (and sort of not) asked, when Ben moved up to the desk to check the menu.
"He plays the violin with the group," James had said, knowing he was flushing pink.
"Go on with you. You know what I mean." Lewis was giving him such a knowing look that James just couldn't stand it.
"We're… just friends," he said, feeling himself cringe even as his mouth went ahead and said it, and he could see Ben's shoulders tense up from behind. It didn't even work-- Lewis smirked at him, and James could feel his cheeks burn.
"Have a good night, you two," Lewis had said when he left with his supper.
Needless to say, they didn't.
Lewis doesn't usually ask about James's plans for the weekend, not unless there's a case in progress that might call for overtime, so it's a surprise when he does just that.
"Nothing important, sir," he says. "Might see the new Sherlock Holmes film at the Odeon when I get chance, but there's no hurry."
"Going with that Ben, are you?" Lewis, bless his well-meaning heart, is doing his best to be casual about it. It'd be annoying if James didn't know he was a hundred percent sincere.
"If my boy was... it just wouldn't matter." Robbie Lewis's kids don't know how lucky they are. Or maybe they do.
"We really are just friends," James says, and there he goes again. At least it wasn't in front of the man this time. He takes a deep breath and decides to risk it. "I'm not saying it couldn't have been more in the right circumstances, but—"
Lewis looks mildly concerned. "But?"
"Just didn't work out that way," James says, and wishes he didn't know why.
This could be the end of James's career, he knows that. Not quickly, but if it gets around it will die a slow death until he's forced out by pride or weariness with his stagnating position.
He's putting a lot of faith in Lewis., because being theoretically okay with the idea of your son (your almost certainly completely straight son) having a relationship with another man is one thing; knowing for sure someone you worked with closely (ran into burning buildings for, spent a couple of late nighters with a week, if not all-nighters) might do so is quite another.
Or it would be for almost any other D.I.
"I'm sorry," Lewis says, and James is torn between being glad he means it and wishing it sounded less sincere. "You deserve to be happy."
"In this job we know relationships are no guarantee of that," James says, with a pointed look at the pile of files on the desk.
"Worked for me," Lewis says, his voice soft, and it's the first time he hasn't sounded haunted in a very long time.
The weekend turns out to be Lynn's wedding, not overtime. Even though he's sure it's a terrible idea, James can't bring himself to say no.
Halfway there, stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, he has to ask the question that's been buzzing around his head since Lewis issued the invitation.
"Was Doctor Hobson busy this weekend?"
"Laura?" Lewis says, looking surprised. "I didn't ask her. People get the wrong idea if you take a woman to this sort of thing."
"But not if you take your Sergeant?" James can't help smiling, and darts a quick glance sideways.
"Lynn's been looking forward to meeting you," Lewis says firmly. "Me and Laura… we're—"
James laughs when he realises what's coming, and maybe the phrase isn't so bad after all. "Just friends?"
Lewis smiles. "Just friends."
Lynn looks amazing, the wedding goes off without any major hitches (the odd crying toddler and tipsy uncle are dealt with easily enough), and the reception is, surprisingly enough, relaxing and fun.
"How many of those have you had?" Lewis asks, grabbing James's arm that's holding a very large drink. It's an inconvenient moment as Lucy, the youngest bridesmaid, has been teaching him some special dance they do at school, and he has been, in her words, rocking it.
"I'm not really sure." James stops to think, arm still out in mid-gesture and his tie alarmingly askew. "Not many?"
"Four!" Lucy shouts, just as the music pauses for a moment. His impromptu dance teacher is a grass, apparently, and James scowls at her, but all she does is laugh. She pulls herself up to Lewis's shoulder and says in that way only teenage girls can get away with, "Uncle Robbie, your boyfriend is awesome."
It should be awkward, but Lewis laughs and ruffles her hair, much to her indignation, and James can't help joining in. When the music starts again he has enough courage to pull Lewis onto the dance floor and into a spin.
"I'm too old for this," Lewis objects, but he's having no trouble keeping up, and the delighted applause from the family makes him chuckle.
"You didn't say it," James says, when the music is low enough to talk again and settled into a slow, lazy rhythm that feels better than it has any right to. "You didn't tell Lucy we were just friends."
Lewis's hand is warm on James's back. "Did you want me to?"
James suspects he doesn't need to answer that, but he does anyway. He answers it with a squeeze of his hand right there on the dance floor. He answers it with a slow kiss in the hallway outside the hotel ballroom. He answers it leaning up against the walls of the lift when they head up to Lewis's -- Robbie's room. He answers it with the warm press of skin against skin and careful, exploratory caresses until the sunlight cracks the hotel curtains.
He might take the rest of his life to keep on answering it in many, many different ways, and that's just fine with him.
James Hathaway is still not the type to share his thoughts, his feelings or his private life with random strangers on the internet. But if he was writing a personal blog about the things that occupy his thoughts these days, one thing is for sure.
He wouldn't be letting his Great Aunt Maud anywhere near it.