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As Holy Palmers Kiss

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It starts in the strangest of ways.

They’re picking their way along a country lane, looking for traces of a supposed midnight rendezvous, when Hathaway’s mobile goes off.

He pauses, tucks the phone between ear and shoulder, and pulls a pen from his jacket pocket. Then he frowns, searches his pockets again, and makes urgent writing gestures in the air between them.

Lewis pats his own pockets, but his pad, too, is back at the car. He shrugs.

“No,” Hathaway says into the phone. “Don’t bother texting; I’ve got it.”

And he grabs Lewis’s right hand and presses the nib of his pen into his palm.

That’s when the funny thing happens. The world around Lewis—the sun, the birds, the budding hedges—goes blank for a moment. All that’s left is the sensation of Hathaway’s fingers wrapped around his wrist, thumb on his pulse point, and the trail of the biro across his skin.

“Come on,” Hathaway says, tugging since he hasn’t let go. “Gurdip might’ve found something.”

+++

Lewis can’t quite decipher the chicken scratches Hathaway laid down, and apparently Hathaway can’t either, since he keeps pulling Lewis’s palm over to him and peering at it anxiously, ‘til they’re practically driving hand in hand. Hathaway’s fingers feel absurdly warm in the autumn chill of the car.

But the witness, once they’ve found her, doesn’t provide the breakthrough they hoped for, and when they’re back in the station, Lewis goes to the gents and washes his hand. It takes longer than he expects, but that may be because he does it so gently, as if he were reluctantly removing something important, instead of just a hasty scribble.

+++

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Hathaway says, coming back with their order.

“Hmm?” Then Lewis realizes he’s running the thumb of one hand over the palm of the other, that it’s possible he’s been doing the same thing all day. “Of course not. Though I’m not taking up a second career as a writing pad anytime soon, thank you very much.”

+++

Hathaway, though, has other ideas. Every once in awhile, like some kind of private, typically incomprehensible joke, he’ll eschew paper and write the address, the phone number, whatever it is, on the back of Lewis’s hand instead. Or across his wrist. Or, on one memorable occasion, over the front of his bare foot.

The thing is: Lewis never pulls away. Never chastises his sergeant severely enough to prevent him doing it again. So perhaps the joke isn’t so private after all.

Once, they stumble into the station in the wee hours, eager to fill in the blanks and put the case to rest. All-nighters are worse for Lewis than they’ve ever been, and around five in the morning he stretches an arm across his desk and lays his cheek on it. Just for a moment. Just to rest his eyes. He hears the tap of computer keys and the rustle of papers as Hathaway organises their notes. But Hathaway, bless him, leaves him alone.

When he startles awake, the room is empty. Hathaway’s had an idea, perhaps, or gone home to do his sleeping. But when Lewis stretches, he notices a march of words up the inside of his forearm.

Don’t move, they say. Gone for eggs and chips. Back in a thrice.

He’s still staring at the message, wondering at the lightness of Hathaway’s touch, when the man himself appears in the doorway, tousled and drawn, laden down with take-away boxes, and wearing a secret grin.

+++

Lewis finds himself thinking about it sometimes. He sees Hathaway with his pen poised, eyes leveled at a piece of paperwork like a laser beam, and shivers to think that the same look has been focused on his body. He remembers the sensation of the pen moving over his flesh and his skin tingles as if all the marks were still there: a permanent, invisible history.

+++

It’s amazing what you can download from the internet these days, or maybe Oxford lads have just got clever, because one day someone sets off a homemade bomb in Jericho.

“A real IED,” Hathaway informs him. “An improvised explosive device.”

“Call it what you bloody like,” Lewis snaps back, his opinion of such terminology unimproved by the fact that Laura is currently removing bits of improvised shrapnel from the nape of his neck—he’d been turning to go when the wretched thing went off. “Still could’ve sent us all to kingdom come.”

“Sir.” Hathaway nods his submission to this fact and moves away to take statements.

Once Laura’s patched him up, however, Lewis is a bit more sanguine about the affair. They’d been warned in time to evacuate the area, after all: no casualties. And he’s pretty sure it isn’t local Jihadists, just your usual mix of bitter students and lunatic dons.

Still, the cuts on his neck sting and his shirt collar chafes against the dressings. He tugs at them, trying to arrange things better. But it’s a losing battle because of course he can’t see what he’s doing and soon enough he’s dislodged one of the bandages completely.

“Sod it,” he grunts, with an exasperated wriggle.

Hathaway looks up from his paperwork. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah. Bloody bandages, is all. Driving me spare.”

“Did Dr. Hobson neglect to take into account the fact that you, unlike most of her patients, move around?” Hathaway’s voice is light and ironic, but his lips thin fractionally, as if Lewis’s distress is causing him pain.

“Ah, g’wan. Not her fault, is it?”

Hathaway doesn’t say anything, just gets up and returns a minute later with the squad’s first aid kit. “Leave it,” he says sternly, batting Lewis’s hands away from his neck. “Undo your collar and let me fix it. It’ll end up infected, else.”

“Will not.” But he unbuttons the top three buttons of his shirt anyway, and loosens it around his shoulders. He’s not going to be able to do this himself, after all, and Hathaway’s ministrations are better than stumbling into A&E. Still—“Shouldn’t we do this in the loo or something...?” Where I can see what you’re doing, he means.

“If you like.” Lewis can hear the shrug in Hathaway’s voice, though he’s already moved out of sight behind him. “But I promise I’ve just washed my hands.”

Hathaway removes the rest of the dressings and dabs another layer of antibiotic ointment on the cuts. His hands are cool and soothing on the inflamed skin, and Lewis can’t help sighing in relief. He’d swear he can feel Hathaway’s answering smile through his fingertips.

When he’s done, though, Hathaway doesn’t immediately replace the bandages. Instead, he traces a line between the cuts, a complicated up and down movement across the join of neck and shoulder. It might almost be a caress. The traitorous hairs on the nape of Lewis’s neck rise at the touch.

“Oi,” he says, to cover his response. “You’re not playing connect the dots back there, are you?”

“Hmm.” Hathaway neither denies or confirms this. He makes his pattern again. “It’s almost the shape of an Aleph, you know. Sign of beginnings and of the first breath.”

“Mystical claptrap,” Lewis mutters, but without heat, because, in truth, he doesn’t want Hathaway to stop the movement, or, worse yet, take his hands away.

But Hathaway snorts. “You’d rather it were the Man. U logo, wouldn’t you? Or a smiley face.”

He bandages Lewis back up, but Lewis can feel the path of his fingers for the rest of the day.

+++

They catch a break or two, and the case of the mad bomber is wrapped up by Thursday teatime. Turns out to be a Conrad scholar, wouldn’t you know?

It’s been an exhausting few days, what with the constant threat of civilian panic, and Lewis allows himself one or two more pints than usual that night. Hathaway drives him home and shadows him up the steps.

“Nightcap,” Lewis says, and it’s not really a question. Nor does Hathaway seem to need an invitation, seeing how he’s the one holding open the door to Lewis’s flat.

Once they’re sat side by side on the sofa, tumblers of whisky in front of them, something occurs to Lewis. “How come I never get to do it to you?”

“Sir?” Hathaway pulls himself away from whatever mystery lurks in the bottom of his glass.

“This writing business. You’ve been all over me like Zorro of the bloody Cherwell for months now, but I never get to do it to you.”

“I didn’t know you wanted to.” Hathaway’s slouch doesn’t change, but his body tightens somehow, anxiety or anticipation, Lewis can’t tell.

Payback suddenly seems important. Lewis finds the pen in the pocket of the jacket lying over the arm of the sofa. “Maybe I do.”

In answer, Hathaway puts down his glass and shifts to face him. He deliberately rolls up the sleeve of his shirt. The flesh of his forearm is pale and firm, blue veins cording along the surface. Tempting.

“No. Uh-uh. I think you owe me more than that.” Lewis gestures at the collar of his own shirt, indicating that Hathaway should expose his throat and collarbone. There’s a weird thrill to his own boldness. Is he more drunk than he thought? It’s not like him to play games, to be this challenging. When Hathaway obeys, the thrill comes back twofold.

Lewis moves closer, so close they’re almost flush, pulls Hathaway’s shirt further aside, and leans over him. He’s lightheaded with more than drink, a heat creeping up his face, pooling in his belly. He poises the pen over a smooth space on Hathaway’s shoulder, thinks for a moment, and then, with a weird little electric charge deep in his chest, presses the point into flesh.

Hathaway cranes his neck, trying to get a look.

“Suspicious, are we? Not so easy now the shoe’s on the other foot.” Lewis shoos at him with his free hand.

But Hathaway refuses to be shooed. “Just worried you’re writing a dirty limerick or something. There once was a man from East Kent—that’s what I’m in for, isn’t it?”

His mouth is somehow angled very close to Lewis’s ear, drink or weariness rendering his voice thicker than usual. It’s a low, warm, rumble of sound. Distracting.

“Don’t tempt me, lad.”

But when Lewis bats at him again, their fingers somehow tangle together and their faces come so close that—

--The movement is so small, so inevitable, that it takes Lewis a moment to realize they’re actually kissing. But by the time he’s remembered he’s never kissed a bloke before, it hardly seems a relevant fact. Hathaway’s mouth is all that matters. The way his lips are both soft and strong. The taste of him. The warmth.

A moment after that, though, a stab of guilt goes through him and he pulls away.

“James,” he says, flustered by the pink that’s come up in Hathaway’s cheeks, the dazed look in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I never meant… I’m the worst kind of guv’nor, me, to impose, to think…You’ve every right...”

“No…Never that…it was always…”

Hathaway grabs Lewis’s hand as if it’s the only thing he can think of to do, as if words have deserted him, too, for once, and kisses his right palm, the very place where he wrote those first words. He sucks a little, as if he’s trying to draw the remains of ink to the surface, and all the air goes out of Lewis’s lungs. Encouraged by the sound, perhaps, Hathaway moves on to his fingers, pulling the length of them into his mouth, twirling his tongue around their tips.

Lewis watches mesmerized as Hathaway’s cheeks draw in, every inch of his body aware that of Hathaway’s eyes on him as he sucks. He can’t remember feeling like this since he was a teenager, stealing kisses in back rooms and alleys, desperately afraid he’d embarrass himself before he got anywhere.

The memory inspires him to recapture Hathaway’s mouth with his own, to get his hands up under Hathaway’s shirt and vest and pillage what he can of skin. It’s ridiculously awkward—there’s more of Hathaway than seems possible—endless flanks and arms and a long, long stretch of ribs and belly—but Lewis doesn’t care; he wants to claim it all. Hathaway seems to feel the same way, and for a while it’s glorious, though they do almost fall off the couch a few times.

And then, by mutual agreement, they pull apart, and face each other, panting and mussed, wearing matching bemused grins. There’ll be more, Lewis is certain, but not tonight. They’re both men who need time to get used to an idea, after all

It’s possible, though, that Hathaway’s smile is beginning to fade, that wariness or disappointment is coming up in his eyes.

“Hey,” Lewis says gently, slipping his hand under Hathaway’s rucked up vest. “You’d best let me finish what I started.”

Hathaway looks startled for a moment, then seems to realize what Lewis is talking about, and tilts his head to expose his throat.

“Nah. I’ll do it somewhere you can see this time. Get this off.”

Hathaway removes both shirt and vest. He’s beautiful, Lewis thinks, in a way he never understood before. He stares a moment at the curves of Hathaway’s ribs, his dark nipples, the line of barely visible hair down his belly. Then he snaps himself out of his reverie and pushes Hathaway against the cushions, positioning his arm along the back of the sofa. The underside of his bicep is as smooth as paper.

Whatever Lewis originally meant to write has long since fled his mind, and instead he uses words that have surfaced from a half-forgotten source. Hathaway stays perfectly still under the press of the pen. His restraint, his trust, is as erotic as any movement. Lewis is amazed to see his own hand place the letters sure and straight; inside he feels like he might shake apart.

“I’m sure I’ve got it wrong,” he says as he sits back to admire his handiwork. “Sunday school was a long time ago, and I was never a very good student.”

Hathaway inspects his arm. “As my own soul,” he reads. He swallows. “No. That’s just right.”

the end