“Here’s the report you wanted, Sir.”
Lewis knows Hathaway has been hovering around for a couple of minutes before finally coming in. This close to full moon he can smell him; the strange mixture of open fields and dusty old books, contradicting, torn in two, like the man himself.
“Thank you,” Lewis says, reaching a hand to grab the offered file without turning to look.
The approaching moon makes James’ behaviour erratic; one minute he’s openly defying his superiors and haring off after suspects without so much as a by-your-leave and the next... Well there is this: James, circling him, closer, closer, hesitant but eager to please. Hopeful. Afraid. Desperate.
It’s the confusion of a packless wolf and the uncertainty and need practically reeking off him make Lewis’ head throb like someone was taking a hammer to it, make him irritable and snappish as if he isn’t that already. Three days to full moon and all the weres in the station are bound to desk duty until they can be trusted to control their temper again and interact with the public like professionals, not like animals set to protect their territory whatever the cost.
Robbie breathes in slowly, trying to calm down but only gets a fresh lungful of Hathaway.
Showered this morning, raw steak for breakfast, hates it but can’t fight the wolf in this, mud and cut grass on his shoes, walked through a park but the birds were afraid...
“What?” He’s out of his chair, doesn’t remember standing. For god’s sake, control yourself, he thinks desperately, you’re not a pup any more.
James has taken a step back, is futilely trying to make himself smaller by rounding his shoulders and back. If he was in wolf-form, Robbie is sure his ears would be flattened and his tail tucked in.
“I just thought... I could go get us some lunch?”
Tail up slightly, questioning, wants to please, wants to be useful, wants to share food, hungry and if he’s hungry then his...
“I’m not your Alpha!” Lewis snaps, loud enough that even people without werewolf hearing turn to stare. He doesn’t care. It’s been getting worse and worse every full moon over the last year and Robbie cannot, must not, give James what he wants.
Because what James wants is a mistake.
“Stop acting like I am!” Lewis is breathing hard and he knows, with mortifying certainty, that his teeth are bared. It doesn’t feel like a fight though. More like self-defence.
By the door, James looks like he’s been slapped. The entire office behind him is watching avidly and god dammit, Robbie never wanted this to be a public spectacle but he just...
Without a word James turns around and walks off. Slinks off, like a wounded animal, and Robbie definitely didn’t mean...
“In my office.” Innocent’s voice yanks Robbie out of his thoughts and now it’s him who feels like tucking his tail between his legs.
“Now!” she commands and marches off with an air of someone who expects to be obeyed.
Lewis bites off a curse and follows her.
Innocent sits behind her desk, clearly having to take a moment to compose herself. She is no less affected by the moon than any other were in the office, just far better at hiding it. It’s at least half of the reason why she’s risen to the position she has.
“Robbie...” she sighs, pinning him to his chair with a penetrating look. “You are the most stubborn man I’ve known, but there comes a point when stubbornness turns into stupidity, and you my friend, reached that some moons past.”
Oh yes, the other reason she’s got the job she has is that that she is also very, very smart.
Robbie shifts, uncomfortable in the face of her disapproval. She is not his Alpha, has her own small pack at home, but she is his superior officer and in the workplace hierarchy she is also the ranking werewolf.
“I’m not...” he starts, defensively.
She lifts her hand. “Don’t even think about repeating that utter nonsense. We both know that’s not true. You are Sergeant Hathaway’s Alpha in all but name.”
“You can!” she says fiercely and Robbie can practically see the fur standing on end. “The problem is you won’t. By refusing to officially claim him you are only hurting you both. Look...” She gentles her voice, leans forward. “It’s too late for anything else. He’s imprinted. You’ve imprinted.”
He’s shaking his head in mute denial but Innocent is not done. “Or will you try to convince me that you would be completely happy if Sergeant Hathaway found himself another Alpha, someone who wasn’t you?”
Robbie’s heart lurches at the suggestion. He’d never even thought about that, had been too preoccupied with thinking how impossible it would be for him to...
“In fact...” Innocent narrows her eyes and tilts her head in considering manner. “I’ve been thinking of expanding my own pack. A fine young wolf like James would make a good addition...”
For the second time that day Robbie is out of his chair and moving before he realises it. He’s leaning over Innocent’s desk, right into her personal space, nails very close to gouging grooves into the polished wood. “No! You can’t touch him!”
She looks at him calmly, not backing down an inch but not pushing for confrontation either. “And why is that, Robbie?” she asks softly. “Why can’t I touch him?”
“Because you can’t!” he growls, breathing hard. “Because he’s mine!” The concession slips from his mouth unbidden and devastatingly true.
The tableau freezes for a moment until Innocent nods in satisfaction. “Sit down, Robbie,” she tells him.
Robbie feels numb with shock, collapsing back into the chair like someone had cut off his strings.
“I’m too old,” he says, by route; this is the first of the well-rehearsed objections he’s repeated to himself ever since Hathaway’s wishes became obvious.
“Age doesn’t mean the same thing to weres,” Innocent counters.
“I already had—”
“It’s been several years since Val’s death. She would be the first to tell you to stop making yourself miserable when there is no need.”
“He deserves someone better.” This is the most important, the most valid argument Lewis has.
“Yes,” Innocent agrees and that, while not surprising, still hurts. But she continues: “But you already are the ‘someone better’. You are the best for him, what he wants, what he needs.” She regards him silently for a few seconds and crosses her arms unhappily. “What I’m about to reveal to you is in strictest confidence, do you understand?”
Robbie can only nod, confused about where this is going.
“You have heard about Augustus Mortmaigne, I assume?”
It’s a moot question. Every were in the country has heard of him: an Alpha who abused his position and power in the worst way possible, using the young wolves he’d taken on with promises of protection and care. Lewis has a very, very bad feeling about this.
“James Hathaway was one of the five wolves rescued. One of the two who successfully integrated back into the society. Eventually. He wasn’t with Mortmaigne for very long, compared to some of the others, but long enough. That... man,” and Innocent grimaces in a way that makes it obvious that she doesn’t consider him worthy of the title, “was Hathaway’s first Alpha. Do you see now? Why you are the best possible choice, just by the virtue of being who he wants, of his own free will? Do you see the damage your continuous denial of him is causing?”
Robbie thinks he might be sick. Like literally, ‘throw up his guts right here on Innocent’s carpet’ sick. He knows what she’s saying is the truth. The names of Mortmaigne’s victims were never publically released and she would never lie, not about something like this. The idea of James in the hands of that monster is enough to make him want to go dig up the son of a bitch from his unmarked grave (pack law was shift and final when it came to cases like this) just so he could tear him apart all over again.
There are far more important things he has to do though. “I have to find James,” he says, standing up.
“Yes you do,” Innocent agrees.
That’s the only permission he needs.
Robbie doesn’t need to follow Hathaway’s scent outside the station and to the parking to lot to know that he’s gone home. Retreating to familiar territory where he’s safe is the logical choice and while Lewis hates he’s the reason James has run, he is also grateful that they can do this in private.
He gets into his car and drives over, not sparing a thought to the pile of paperwork left unfinished at his desk. He parks haphazardly and takes the stairs up to Hathaway’s flat two at the time.
The front door is unlocked when he gets there and Robbie sags in relief. James would have heard the car, recognised it as Lewis’. He would’ve smelled him as soon as he entered the building. In other words; he knew Robbie was coming and despite everything he is not trying to keep him out.
Lewis enters the flat and shuts the door behind him quietly. He finds James in the small living room, his back tense and facing to the room as he stands by the window. The sight actually makes Robbie relax even more. You don’t turn your back to anyone you don’t trust, especially not when you’re a copper and a werewolf. Perhaps the damage he’d done was not beyond repair.
“Why are you here?” James asks, and his voice matches his stance: wary and tightly-controlled.
“To apologise,” Robbie says simply.
The answer clearly surprises his Sergeant and Hathaway turns around, already shaking his head. “There’s no need to apologise, Sir,” he says. “I was... have been, out of order. You’ve made it perfectly clear that you don’t want me and I kept—”
“Oh, lad.” Robbie curses himself for a fool for not understanding earlier how James would interpret his actions. “That was never the case. I...” It’s scary to say it out loud when he’s scarcely dared to admit it to himself, but he must. Because James deserves the truth, at the very least. “I’ve always wanted you.” He looks the younger man in the eye to make sure he sees Robbie means it. “I want you now. As mine.”
The effect of those words is instantaneous. James draws in a shocked breath, more of a sob than anything, and then he just crumbles, legs folding under him like he’s suddenly lost all strength.
Robbie catches him just before he falls over completely, but they both still go down, ending up on the floor, legs and arms at awkward angles.
James is clutching at the front of Robbie’s shirt like he can’t help himself. “Then why?” he asks. “I don’t understand.”
Robbie blinks. Now that he has James in his arms he finds it hard to focus on anything else except the feel and smell of him, so close.
Sweat, skin, laundry detergent, underneath that the strengthening scent of the wolf, of earth, forest, running, together, pack, belong, mine, mine, mine...
“I...” Robbie swallows, eyes inexorably drawn to the long white line of James’ throat. He can’t remember the reasons himself any more. “I was a fool,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ll forgive you,” James promises. His hands tremble, trailing over Robbie’s chest, arms, careful, still so uncertain it hurts to see. “If you fix it now, Sir. Please.”
Robbie doesn’t need to ask what James means, because he’s already unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it down just enough to reveal the curve of neck and shoulder, and the answer is blindingly obvious.
James wants a claim mark.
Robbie bites down without hesitation, his heart beating strong and wild, from joy.