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Friendship

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Laura smiled, watching as Hathaway dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a packet of extra-strong mints. Long slim fingers prised one loose, and Hathaway popped it into his mouth. His gaze had never left the dead body that lay in the tall grass before him.

“Day 72,” Lewis said with pride, as he moved to stand beside her, bending to pluck her bag from the boot of her car.

“It's not a personal best,” she cautioned him.

“It will be,” Lewis stated confidently.

Laura smiled at Lewis's enthusiasm and although she was more cautious, she couldn't fault his faith in their friend. Hathaway was once again trying to give up smoking. He'd tried several times over the years, but since making Inspector he had seemed more determined to succeed. Unfortunately, it was usually the pressure of the job that saw Hathaway puffing away again, which in turn made him angry and frustrated at himself for failing. Perhaps this attempt would be ‘the one’.

Hathaway had been using strong mints to curb his nicotine habit, getting through several packets of the sweets every day. Aware of Hathaway’s ability to ignore his own needs, Laura and Lewis had been working hard to ensure that he ate properly, using every ploy, devious and otherwise, to ensure Hathaway shared at least one meal with them on a daily basis. Whilst Laura was the main cook, Lewis took his turn whenever he could. His cooking skills had improved over the last year, although the smoke alarm would still occasionally scream out its displeasure, but even these partially cremated culinary efforts were better than a diet of coffee and extra-strong mints.

Laura had also taken to “popping” into the station on the days Lewis wasn't with Hathaway, either to reinforce the invitation to dinner or to drop off some sandwiches “because Robbie had made too many.” They knew Hathaway had easily seen through their ruses, but had seen the support and help beneath.

An ex-smoker herself, Laura would make no comment when Hathaway once again had a packet of cigarettes residing in his jacket pocket. She knew first-hand how hard it was to quit, how many times you would fail before the days turned to weeks, the weeks into months and then the months into an astonishing amount of years.

While Laura finished pulling on her crime scene suit, Lewis walked over to the scene, still carrying Laura's bag, and soon he and Hathaway were deep in conversation. It amazed Laura sometimes that she and Hathaway had become friends, although it went deeper than that. He was almost like a son sometimes, a brother at others.

She had considered him a bit of a goody-two shoes when she’d first met him. A fast-tracked officer, hanging onto the coattails of the Chief Superintendent to further his career. How wrong she had been.

She had always thought him good-looking. That long, lean smoker’s frame of his just begged to be explored further. But she had fallen into the trap everyone else had – she had mistaken awkward reserve as snobbish elitism.

It was Lewis who helped her get to know Hathaway better. When he and James had partnered up, and with Lewis looking to reignite his friendship with her, Hathaway had been drawn in as well.

He was like Morse in some ways. Both were far too intelligent for their own good, leaving them foundering with the complexities of social normality. However, where Morse had carved out his own niche in the world, becoming confident and comfortable with who and what he was, Hathaway had struggled with finding that inner acceptance.

He was also an extremely private man. Even now, neither Laura nor Lewis knew anything about his family. There was never any mention of his parents – the only thing Laura did know was that Hathaway's father was once the estate manager at Crevecoeur Hall. If his parents were still living or dead, or whether he had any siblings, were a couple of the many things Hathaway kept to himself.

It pained Laura sometimes to think that Hathaway never spoke of his family because his childhood had been fraught and full of anger and pain, or even indifference. It wasn't a path she usually allowed herself to ponder on for long. Hathaway, the grown man, was a good friend and that was all that mattered. If Hathaway ever felt the need to talk of his past – be it happy or sad, lonely or painful – Laura, as his friend, would be there to share it with him, to give comfort if required and her unfailing support.

Laura walked towards Lewis and Hathaway, dipping under the police tape cordon raised for her by some fresh-faced 12 year old masquerading as a police constable. Was she really getting that old?

“Morning, boys,” she greeted with a smile. Even though she had only spoken to Lewis minutes earlier, and they now lived together and had shared breakfast that morning, the greeting was so familiar and ingrained Laura expected she would have less success at giving up saying it than Hathaway had with quitting smoking.

Lewis just smiled back at her, but Hathaway dipped his head and returned her greeting with one of his rare public smiles. It had surprised Laura to discover that Hathaway smiled quite often, until she realised that he only smiled, and even laughed, in front of those he truly felt comfortable with. Laura and Lewis saw a lot of his smiles and heard a lot of his laughter. It filled Laura with a warm sense of achievement that she was one of the privileged few who was bestowed such a gift.

She bent down to open her bag, pulling out a pair of gloves and another essential item. As she straightened, her hand slipped the item into Hathaway's jacket pocket. He frowned in puzzlement at her as he tapped his pocket to ascertain what she had placed in it. He huffed a laugh as he felt the outline of a banana.

“I've only eaten one packet of mints so far today,” he reassured her.

“It's barely nine o'clock in the morning, James!” Laura replied in mock horror. If Hathaway needed to eat packets of mints to keep from smoking, then so be it. But it wouldn't stop Laura from trying to add a bit of healthy variety into his habit-kicking snacks.

“Dinner's at six,” she said, as she slowly walked around the body. She knew there was a strong possibility that none of them would be eating at a set time today. Not if the body in front of her had been helped along their way to a premature death.

“Who's cooking?” Hathaway replied with a suspicious glare at Lewis.

“Oi!” came Lewis’s indignant reply at the implied insult to his culinary efforts.

“I am,” Laura quickly cut in with a smile as she knelt down by the body.

Her smiled widened at Hathaway's sigh of relief and Lewis's huff of annoyance. As she started her examination, she idly wondered what life would have been like without the two men in her life. Quieter perhaps, but certainly a lot less wonderful.