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“Bloody station cars,” growls James, cranking up the heater.

Lewis is blowing on his fingers, trying to get them warm. “Our Lyn called last night. She's planning a big Christmas do this year. Tree, lights, the lot.”

“Yeah?” James glances over to where Lewis looks a bit resigned.

“Last one before the baby comes, I think she has in mind trying to start some traditions. It's been a while since we've done any sort of family Christmas, but this year she's decided we should start again. And obviously she wants granddad there.”

“Well, that will be nice, sir. Give you a bit of time away.” James gives him a sly look. “Chief Inspector Innocent will be so pleased you're using your leave.

“Hah, yeah, don't remind me.”

James laughs, as Innocent's tongue-lashing on the subject of taking leave had been well nigh unforgettable.

“Anyway, Lyn's invited you as well.”

“What? To your family Christmas?”

“Well, I might have mentioned you taking Christmas shift with me the last three years running.” Lewis is looking down to where he's rubbing his hands together. “And she thought you might enjoy a proper Christmas.”

He looks back up quickly. “Not that you have to say yes, man, I don't want you thinking I'm forcing you. Strictly voluntary.”

Lewis' color's up when James looks over, before he turns quickly back to the road. “Well, thank you for the invitation, sir. I'll let you know soon?”

“Sure, of course.” James is aware of Lewis slumping a bit beside him. “Anyway, what about this Jasmine Power we're off to see...”

**

The shop, when he'd wandered in, had been small and warm, nearly empty at this time of day. There'd been no one at the till, just a cheery, “with you in a minute, love!” and so he'd wandered over to a display of tools—needles long and straight; hooked at one end; looped together with a cord. So many sizes and colors, and it seemed clear this was a foreign country. Like the first time in a music shop, looking at strings wound into flat packets and every kind of pick imaginable.

A small woman wandered out from the back, hair askew and glasses pushed up on her head. “Now then, what can I do for you, love?”

He turned from the needles and really, those ones with the hooks looked a bit dangerous. He wondered if there had ever been murder by knitting needle.

“I'm interested in taking up knitting.”

She blinked, then smiled warmly. “Well then, that's lovely. Have you ever tried before? Do you know what you'd like to make?”

“No and no.”

She waited, until he felt obliged to go on. “But I need something to do with my hands, not too complicated, but, um. Not too boring either.”

She looked at him consideringly, up and down, keen, like a copper's stare. “Well now, most people start with a scarf. They're easy, but honestly, I find them ungodly boring. If you want something to really get the hang of knitting, I'd suggest socks. You'll get the basics down quickly and there's always something to look forward to with a sock. Definitely not boring.”

That was, hmm... James considered it. He'd never really thought much about socks, beyond getting them on his feet before heading out the house, but he supposed they came from somewhere.

“They would be small? Portable?”

“Oh yes, quite easy to take on the go. Do you do a lot of travel?”

“Aren't they a bit fiddly though, 'round the heel?”

“They can be, yes, but turning a heel isn't hard. It's mostly maths and counting. If you managed to get through 3rd form, you can turn a heel.”

James raised a brow. “That seems like a pretty low bar.”

“Well, people have been knitting for thousands of years. Maths hasn't been around that long. And people have always bent at the ankle.” There was a glint in her eye, and a challenge to her tone. “People think knitting is both too hard and something that only grandmothers do. Both are quite false.”

“Indeed.” James was smirking now, knowing he was beat. “Well, then, I put myself entirely in your hands. Show me what I need to make a sock.”

“Well, the first thing,” she said slyly, “is the will-power to make a pair.”

**

He watches Hathaway's hands. They are long, careful with everything he touches. Not delicate; they are strong, hold firm, punch hard, but they can be gentle—when picking through the remains in someone's room, when handing tea to a shivering witness.

Robbie likes to watch those hands, though he'd never admit it—can barely admit it even to himself. But he does—watches them slip in a pocket, pull out a packet of fags, cup his hands round the end when lighting up. Robbie doesn't, deliberately doesn't, watch Hathaway purse his lips on a breath in. Can't. But he can watch those hands of his.

Today there's no case, just filing through paperwork long left undone, and James usually'd be up 3, 4, 5 times to go have a cigarette in the smokers' corner. He hasn't done though; rather, he's been vibrating in his seat, snappish and irritable. His normal sardonic humour's gone blacker and more bitter. It's an unusual relief when Robbie tells him to go home. James looks mulish, almost like he's going to argue, until he visibly stops himself. He rests his hands (those hands) on the desk as he breathes in and out, then he gives a nod, an “until tomorrow, then.” Robbie resists the urge to yell after him to buy some cigarettes.

**

This sock business, James thinks, is utterly ridiculous. He was doing all right with two needles when Mary had first set him to learn the knit and purl stitches, but now he's got five, and he's stabbed himself at least three times so far. In ten minutes. When he finally makes it all the way round a few times, there are ladders between the needles and he is seriously considering chucking the lot at Mary's smirking face. He wants a cigarette. He needs a cigarette.

Wordlessly, he hands off the tangle of wool and needles to Mary, and winces as she laughs. “Well, it's not absolute crap.”

“Mary, you wound me. It is absolute crap and I deserve some sort of superlative for how utterly horrid that is.”

Some of the Knit Night ladies glance up and laugh. One of them looks at him earnestly and tells him kindly, “Oh no, James, this isn't at all bad for your first time.” She's seconds away from patting his hand and telling him it's going to be all right, and he's wearing his best stoic policeman face. Mary catches sight of him, and manages to divert her attention. “Lonna, love, can you put the kettle on while I give James a bit of a tutorial?”

Thankfully, Lonna does, smiling and bustling off to be helpful. James restrains himself from saying anything cutting, but it's hard, and Lord, does he want a cigarette.

“All right, here's your problem, my lad, you need to increase your tension as you go from needle to needle. Pull tighter on the first two stitches on each needle as you go round.”

James sighs and takes back the nascent sock, sorted by Mary, to try again. This is humbling—the small needles trip him up and it takes an inordinate amount of concentration to keep moving round. If he thinks of it like learning chords, he can just about manage to keep going, though it does get easier as he builds the muscle memory. It's helping to watch the ladies, many of whom don't even bother to look down at their knitting as they go. Apparently, it will get easier, and it's definitely keeping his hands occupied.

**

It's another ridiculous day of paperwork and waiting for a case. By afternoon James has nearly made one of the PCs cry and has bitten off another's head. Robbie's watching him warily, like he's a tiger at the zoo.

“What?” he asks, and Robbie raises a brow at his tone.

“I hope that the quitting sticks, Sergeant, because if we have to bear your sweet disposition for nothing, No one is going to be pleased, understood?”

The look James gives him is abashed and his, “Yes, sir” is more subdued than he's been all day.

“Maybe you want to try them patches?” Lewis ask sympathetically. “Or those low-dose cigs? I hear that cold turkey is the worst way to give up.”

“From whom, sir?”

“Well, more around, like. I don't actually know that many smokers these days.”

James look was speaking, his opinion on Robbie's suggestion clear. Robbie sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward, before saying, “Go on, then, Sergeant, pick us up some lunch. Sandwiches, and mind the prawns this time.”

The quirk of lips he got from James was almost a smile, and Robbie watched him fondly as he headed for the door.

He sighed again, at his own stupidity, then turned back to his work, only to be interrupted by Innocent.

“Something wrong with your Sergeant, Robbie?”

“James, ma'am? Why do you ask?”

“He's had some bee up his bonnet for the past few days and I didn't think your last case was that hard on him.”

“No, ma'am, he's just trying to give up smoking.”

“Ah, that's it. Well, good luck to him, it's a tough one. When my husband tried he was awful. Just, keep him in line, Inspector.

“I always do, ma'am.”

She smiled a bit. “Well, I'd say it's about fifty-fifty, but I suppose it's your turn.”

The sandwiches seem to take longer than usual, given the time of day, but James seems less irritable when he gets back, so on the whole Robbie is not inclined to question. He still wonders what James has been up to, to calm himself down. Perhaps he has a lady friend he's meeting. He doesn't smell like cigarettes, but Robbie supposes he could be sneaking them. He wonders if he should... and realizes that this line of thought is absolutely none of his business. Time to get back to work.

**

Of course, once he feels he's getting the hang of it, Mary takes the whole thing back, looks it over, then rips it all out.

“Oi!”

“James, you are doing much better now, even tension and no more ladders. So it's best to start from the beginning so the whole thing looks right. I mean, would you actually wear something with that many holes in it?”

“She's right, my lad,” Lonna chimes in. “Better start with it looking right. Anyway, that's the nicest part of knitting, always more to do.”

James growls out a curse, but he takes back the spiky needles and the wool, rewound into a neat ball again. He manages to cast on and join “without twisting, James, a mobius sock fits no man” and start the ribbing before Mary kicks them all out in order to close the shop.

“But I don't know what comes next,” James protests.

“You've been wearing socks for how many years now? Come back if you have trouble or when it's long enough in the leg that you want to turn the heel. That's the real fun!” Mary laughs at his disgruntled expression, and goes back to locking up.

Walking back to his car, James' fingers automatically search for the cig packet, but it's not quite as devastating this time when they don't find it.

**

The call-out comes too early the next morning and, half asleep, he manages to unthinkingly shove needles and wool into his pocket, where the cig packet normally ended up. He makes a quick stop for coffee at that little shop on the High, early morning workers yawning as much as their customers. He's striding long-legged to the scene just as Lewis is arriving, and he thrusts the coffee into Lewis' hand before taking another swig of his own. Lewis takes a gulp, smiles at the taste, then takes charge, demanding a report from the DC.

“What are we looking at?”

James is grateful he has time to gulp a bit more coffee. This time it's a young man, stabbed, and while Dr. Hobson wants to wait until the autopsy before confirming cause of death, she is able to tell them that the body had been killed elsewhere and dumped in the reeds down by the river, where they are currently wading.

They go over the scene carefully before turning the whole thing over to Scene of Crime. James makes it back to the car first, before Lewis is even out of his suit. It's just enough time for a smoke; the move to grab a cigarette's instinctual. Getting a stab wound is not, however, and he's cursing round the finger in his mouth when Lewis walks up. He's slow to remove his finger, still sucking on the wound as Lewis asks what happened.

**

“All right, Sergeant?”

James pulls his finger from his mouth, shaking it. “Yes sir, where to first?”

It takes a moment for Robbie to answer, caught in the picture of James sucking on his finger, mind offering up the many other things James could be sucking on. Shaking off the image is difficult, leads him to snap a bit when he responds to the question. James doesn't seem to mind, though, just accepts the instructions with equanimity and settles in the driver's seat. As he walked round the car, Robbie chastises himself; he needs to get his head onto this case and well out of his Sergeant's business.

**

James settles into the routine fits and starts of a murder case over the next few days, investigating the victim's associates at the college. In the evenings, he makes progress on the leg of the sock, slipping from the tedious ribbed cuff to the meditative round-and-round of the leg. He thinks, too, of Lewis' invitation; wonders what it would be like to have a proper Christmas, carols and tree. Mistletoe. It's been years since he's celebrated like that and it's a surprisingly engaging thought, the idea of being surrounded by a family, with someone he cares about. Too easy, maybe, to misread signs, though, when his guard's down, even if he wants to spend time with Lewis away from the station and the endless round of crime.

He stops and takes a look at the sock, sees that contemplation has got him at least another 2 centimeters of the leg. It's starting to look proper now, the already knit part hanging below the needles. He stretches, rolling his neck back against the couch, wishes idly for a cigarette. With his concentration caught up in the case, the cravings aren't so bad. Mornings are worst, the desire for a cigarette propelling him out of bed. He's found that knitting a few rounds with his breakfast helps take the edge off. He's got far enough along he'll have to head back to the shop soon, to learn how to turn the heel.

The case is progressing too, and James is fairly certain they've got a line on this situation, when a second body is found on Friday morning. It's an associate—it seems like it's always an associate. Lewis is irritable, because this means they are going to need to rethink the whole case, and he's gruff with the SOCO lads and Hobson. By the time they've finished with the scene, James needs a break, something to calm his mind enough to integrate the new information, and when he ends up at the car with what looks like a good 15 minutes on his hands, he pulls his sock out of his pocket, which has ended up being a fairly decent place to keep it, minor stabbings aside.

**

He looks twice because while he's well-used to Hathaway leaning against the car whilst smoking a cigarette, he has never seen him bent over some string with several pokey bits coming out of it, radiating concentration.

“What are you doing, man?”

James looks up, clearly startled, but when he answers his expression is dead even and his voice is at its most droll. “Knitting, sir.”

“I can see that, Sergeant. Why are you knitting.”

“Because I am not smoking, sir. And it seemed prudent to find something to occupy my hands.”

Images of other ways James could occupy his hands flash lightening-quick through his mind, and he's not sure he manages to keep most of it off his face. His cheeks feel distinctly warm. Those hands have stilled on the needlework and Robbie avoids James's expression by looking down at the wool, a sort of soft-looking heathery green. The metal needles catch the sun, and Robbie is amused at the picture of his very proper Sergeant holding something so very unexpected.

“So is this what you've been up to when you've been disappearing, James?”

“Disappearing, sir?” James looked a bit abashed. “Isn't that rather overstating the case?”

“Well, it's better than what I imagined you doing.” Robbie instantly wishes he'd kept his mouth shut.

“And what exactly have you been imagining, Sir?”

“Nothing,” Robbie is a bit flustered, and James is watching him too carefully. Now he's sure he's blushing. Damn the man. “Maybe sneaking cigarettes from the other smokers or summat.”

“Really? That's all you've imagined?”

Damn it, the little bugger is laughing at him, and Robbie is too embarrassed by this line of questioning to let it continue. “That's not really the point, is it, Sergeant. Let's just get on with the case.”

**

James is not really sure what to do with this. Lewis is blushing, he's flustered, and he clearly wants not to talk about what he thought James has been doing when he kept 'disappearing.' Partly, James wants to poke at it, to push like Lewis is a suspect and has information they're after. But he thinks that's probably not the best tactic just now, not going to move things in a likely direction. Part of what he's learned from Lewis himself is when to push and when to give the suspect enough room to hang himself, so he simply says, “Yes, sir, shall we visit the girlfriend?” and keeps his expression neutral while Lewis hurriedly agrees. When they're in the car headed toward toward Balliol College to question the victim's girlfriend again, he wishes Lewis hadn't seemed quite so... relieved.

**

“You've made some progress on that, I see.” Mary is looking happily surprised as James brings out the sock next week's Knit Night.

“You can't imagine how much time one has during a murder investigation.”

She looks at him sharply. “No, I imagine I can't. Is that what you do when you aren't here at the shop?”

“Oh,” one of the ladies looks up, “Are you a policeman, James?”

“I'm afraid so, Mrs. Allwine.”

“That is exciting!” “Oh, yes!” “Sit over here by me and you can tell us about your cases. I hear that they found a girl up by the river the other day.”

James regrets ever opening his mouth. Thank goodness for Mary who scolds them for gossiping about dead bodies. “Ladies, stop it, that's too grim! Now, I need to teach James how to turn this heel. Esther, why don't you tell us how your daughter is getting on?”

The ladies seem disappointed, but accept the change of subject, Esther starting in on a story of her apparently pregnant daughter and how she's trying to get her husband to put a nursery together. James wipes his brow exaggeratedly, looking over at Mary with a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“You deserved to be thrown to the lions, James. Bringing up police work with a bunch of civilians. I should have left you to them.” When he throws her an abashed look, she smiles and says, “But anyway, turning a heel. Here's where you need the third form maths.”

**

Robbie wonders if this is to be their new normal now; sitting at the pub, pints in front of them, James holding onto his knitting needles with a ball of wool resting on the scarred table. He's frowning down in concentration, moving the needles in a rhythm but still conversing easily, for all that he rarely looks up. He seems unaware of the stares that they're getting from the pub's other patrons, though Robbie doubts he is. More likely, he doesn't care enough to bother addressing them one way or the other.

They've been dissecting this case, trying to sort out which of their persons of interest might be a likely suspect, which to push harder, which to watch more closely, and it's peaceful, Robbie thinks. He looks at the level in both their glasses, offers to get another round and James looks up with an easy smile and a “Cheers.”

“How'd you happen on that, then, as your nicotine cure?” Robbie's smiling as he puts down a new glass in front of James.

He watches James consider the question, hands stopping their motion, putting down the needles to pick up the glass.

“The other times I've tried to give up, it's never stuck. Too easy to fall back on the habit, maybe, and my hands always felt too empty. At home, I can play guitar, but I can't exactly bring that to the office, can I? And I've been rereading Dickens lately...'”

“Are you seriously telling me that you started knitting because you've been reading about Madame Defarge? That's a bit grim, even for you, James.”

James's sly smile broadens into a wide grin, and he starts laughing. “No, sir, I was wondering if you'd catch that.”

“Pillock. Maybe we should look at you as a suspect, your murder sock can tell us who's next on the list.”

The smile remains, open and easy. “I cop to it, sir, it's been me the whole time.” He held out his hands, wrists crossed. “Take me to the nick and I'll confess to the lot.”

“You're lucky I don't take you up on that, Sergeant.”

“Am I, sir?” It's almost flirtatious, and Robbie's had enough to grin back, take another look, allow some heat to make it into his eyes.

“I don't think you'd like my interrogation technique.”

“If you say so, sir,” James says, eyes still bright with laughter.

**

“James, what are you going to do with your socks?”

James looks up at Lonna from where he's been trying to cast on for the second sock and swearing under his breath for the last ten minutes. The ladies around him have been giving him amused looks, and he's waiting for one of them to take pity on him and help him with this business. Mary'd been very stern when she told him that he had to do it, so he's expecting it to take a bit longer before someone offers assistance.

“Well, wear them, I guess?”

“You guess?”

“Well, I could use them as mittens, I s'pose, but it'd be hard to get around without the thumb...”

“Naughty boy,” says Mary, slapping his arm.

“Oh,” and Lonna sounds disappointed, strangely. “I thought they might be a gift. Christmas is coming, you know.”

“And we thought, maybe for your young lady,” another chimes in.

“Or your young man,” a third says. “We don't judge here.”

James has been to enough Knit Nights now that he can say with assurance that these ladies are some of the most judgmental he's ever met. One night two of them nearly came to blows over what “our Rog said to our Lisa.” He's not stupid enough to say that though.

“Why, d'ye have a pool on?” The silence stretches and he looks up to guilty faces. “You do, don't you?” He looks round, gives Esther his hardest stare, and she breaks almost immediately.

“It was Mary's idea!”

Mary grins. “Guilty as charged. But we all threw into the pot.”

That, he can believe. “For shame, you lot.”

“Oh, go on. Tell us!” Murmurs all round until—

He draws out the moment, gazing into the middle distance. It's all he can do not to laugh. “I don't have a young lady. Or young man.” He catches Mary's eye just after he says that, and looking at the ladies, several of whom are now looking quite predatory, he manages to add quickly, “Though there is someone I've been interested in. Do you think they'd like a pair of homemade socks as a present?” He's extremely doubtful about that.

Ukwenna tells him sternly, “Well, if someone can't appreciate a gift you spent a lot of effort in making, then you know they aren't really worth your time, eh?”

Several of the other ladies nod, and that leads to a number of stories about people who have been unappreciative of knitted gifts and the best way to deal with them. James thinks he'd better put his head down and just get on with the casting on—he really doesn't need to answer any more questions about the recipient of his now-apparently-a-gift socks.

Mary watches him with a disturbingly knowing look.

**

James wonders about the etiquette of gifting someone with the very thing they've been watching you knit for the last several weeks. It gives him a headache and makes him want to go buy a packet of cigarettes, which he thought he was nearly over. “Bollocks.”

“What was that, Sergeant?”

“Nothing, sir.” James continues driving down the bumpy lane to the latest murder victim's home. SOCO had already looked it over, but Lewis wanted to review the scene again, without a bunch of people tramping about.

“Have you given any more thought to your Christmas plans, James?”

And, damn it, he's thought excessively about Lewis' invitation, but he still isn't sure whether it would be a good idea. This day, apparently, was only going to become more awkward.

“No, sir. I haven't really had the chance. Can I give you an answer tomorrow?”

Was that disappointment on Lewis' face?

“Of course, James. I'm not trying to strong arm you into it. If you'd rather spend your hols without a lot of bother, don't feel obliged.”

They arrive at the house and luckily Lewis drops it, leaving James both relieved and unhappy.

**

They manage to wrap up the case with a week to spare before Christmas. Robbie still hasn't had an answer from James about visiting with Lyn for Christmas, and he thinks that's most likely an answer in and of itself. He's trying not to take offense; in all the years of their partnership, they've never pushed beyond a certain level of friendship, and asking James to Christmas had been a major leap forward. He's not sure why he even asked, except... well, except that. The thing Robbie's never named and is having a harder and harder time hiding.

Then, too, since James spends a lot of their off hours looking down at that knitting of his, Robbie's been able to spend his time watching James. Watching his face, his hands, his body. Where he used to have to constantly be on guard against any but the most professional of looks, he now has the luxury of enjoying the man. It's a bit of a revelation, honestly. Though he still isn't sure whether he should act on his burgeoning interest, whether it would be welcome.

They're at the pub now, and James glances up from where he seems to be doing something unusually complicated with his knitting. “Sir, I've been meaning to say. If the invitation's still open, I would be honored to join you all at Lyn's for Christmas.”

Robbie feels the grin split his face without any input from his brain. “Of course the invitation's still open, James, we'd be delighted to have you! I'll tell Lyn, she'll want to be sure there's enough food and crackers and the lot. Though between you and me,” he lowers his voice conspiratorially, and James leans in a bit, as well, “there will be so much we'll probably be eating for days. Lyn never really learned to limit herself.”

“Well, I shall happily eat whatever there is. For days, even, if I must.” James is smirking, but his eyes look wary, like he's still a bit unsure of his welcome. Robbie resolves to make sure he's welcomed with open arms.

**

It's quiet in the shop, and James is grateful that there are only a couple of other customers taking Mary's time. While he waits for her to be available, he takes a look at the skeins of sock wool available, bypassing the bright reds and golds, picking up a soft-looking grey with flecks of blue in.

“Thinking about your next project? Those would make a lovely pair of socks. Or a nice shawl for someone.”

“I don't think I'm really a shawl man, Mary. Maybe more socks.”

“Maybe?” Mary has her hands on her hips, glaring at him with mock outrage. “I didn't nurse you through two socks just to see you drop knitting altogether. You'd better be planning for your next project.”

“I've just finished one!”

“A true knitter is always on the lookout for the next. Now show me how you bollocksed up your kitchener stitch, my lad.”

James smiles and sits down at the table, pulled out the nearly-finished second sock. “I'm not sure what I did wrong.”

She studies it, then smiles, “It's easily mended. Here, you just need to pull back to there, and then I'll show you how to do it again. You started it properly, at least.

“After these are done, will you need a box or some wrapping paper?”

James looks down. “I'm not sure I'm going to give them. They might be the wrong size.”

“Or wrongly received?”

“Or that,” he acknowledges.

“Well, you put a lot of work into these, and if you think they'll go unappreciated, then perhaps rethink this gift. But I suspect that the recipient you have in mind will be pleased you took the time.”

James considers, then nods. “Ok, then. If you have a box, I'll take that. And that grey wool.”

“Well done, James.”

**

James begs off from driving up together; the possibilities for awkward conversation had looped round his brain until he feels hazy from it. He's claimed the need to finish up some paperwork, though really he had needed to sort out gifts for Lyn and her husband David. He'd consulted with the Knit Night ladies about what to get them—they'd been delighted to help and every single one of them had Had Opinions. Particularly about whether an expectant mother needed a present for the baby or for herself. In the end he decided it was best to err on the side of caution; he now has a stuffed penguin for the baby and a basket of lotions for Lyn. Thank goodness David is a bit easier to buy for; a book with a gift receipt wrapped by the shop.

The present that had given him the most trouble sits at the top of his rucksack, wrapped in a bright box with a gold ribbon on top. He'd debated long and hard, even after talking to Mary, whether to give the socks to Lewis. It seems like there's too much riding on it; if Lewis doesn't see the meaning in it, it would almost be worse than if he did and didn't feel anything. James had gone so far as to get him another gift, a Wagner recording the man would certainly enjoy.

He feels like he's seen more of Lewis, of what Lewis might see in him, these last few weeks, but his judgement in this area can only be considered poor. And it isn't like Lewis was ever obvious—a few glances caught at a pub, well, those might be misconstrued. To take the risk that it won't work out, that their partnership will turn awkward and wary, back to where they used to be, that is frankly terrifying. By the end of the car trip he's convinced himself that Wagner would really be for the best

**

Lyn and David's home is lovely, kitted out for Christmas. They've gone overboard—swags of pine and holly everywhere and mistletoe hung in at least three doorways. It had been awkward, to say the least, when he got stuck under there with David earlier, though Lyn had laughed her head off. When they'd gone off to pick up the goose and the rest of the groceries, Robbie'd had that down and hidden it in his bedroom. Better safe than sorry.

He's been pacing back and forth the last couple hours, waiting for James to arrive, and Lyn finally pours him out a whiskey and makes him sit in the parlour while he drinks it.

“You're not just worried that he's lost, are you, Dad?”

He looks down at the drink in his hand and shakes his head. “No. No, love, I'm not.”

“He means a lot to you then, your Sergeant?”

There's a twist in her voice, and he looks up then, catching her eyes. “Yes, love, he does. I mean, I love your mum, loved her so much—”

Lyn's teary-eyed, mouth tight, but she says, “I know that, Dad. Love of your life, she was, we could all see it.”

She pauses, takes a minute to compose herself. “But you've been alone a long time now. So long, and I've been worried about you, about you being alone. I know you work too hard and then just go back to the flat and eat those awful meals-for-one. It's no good, Dad. You need someone in your life.”

He sighs a little. “Yeah, I'm coming round to that.”

“You sound different when you talk about James. Than when you talk about other people, I mean. Fond. Like you're happy. Are you, Dad?”

“I. We haven't— There's nothing...” He trails off awkwardly. Lyn's stare is piercing, it reminds him so much of his Val.

“But you'd like to. And you think maybe he'd like to.”

“Maybe.”

“Well, then. You should try. If he makes you happy, you should try, Dad.”

“All right, love. All right.”

She reaches up for a hand up, and Robbie pulls her close and holds her tight, breathes in the smell of her perfume, just like Val used to wear.

**

James arrives late on Christmas Eve, in time to get settled in his room, slip the gifts he brought under the tree, and sit down to dinner. Over the meal he spends time getting to know Lyn and David, who are friendly and warm, while he and Lewis tell stories from some of their more memorable cases. He exerts himself to be as pleasant as possible, easier than he thought it would be. He'd brought his guitar as well, since Lewis once mentioned family sing-a-longs, and when he casually mentions it, Lyn immediately begs him to bring it down so they can sing carols. They're up until the wee small hours, exhausting James' repertoire of Christmas music and singing old favorites. He even surprises Lewis by playing a slow acoustic version of a Midnight Addiction song, startling a laugh from him when he recognizes it.

They finally stumble off to bed, and James is relaxed from the wine, the music, the easy company. Everything seems more possible at 3 AM, and he quietly slips back down to the sitting room where the tree is to switch the flat CD package for the box and its gold ribbon.

**

They are all up late the next morning, and David brings in tea and some biscuits to the sitting room, so they can open presents. Robbie gives Lyn a look as he sits on the sofa and dunks a shortbread into his tea. “This isn't a proper breakfast, love, you know you need to take better care of yourself.”

“Dad!” Lyn's laughing. “We'll have a proper breakfast later. But you know I can never wait for presents.”

He laughs because it's true, Lyn was always down in the parlour first, waiting impatiently for them all to get there, and many's the year Val had let them have biscuits and tea simply so the kids could have their Christmas immediately.

“All right, all right. Well then, this one's for you, love.”

David takes charge of handing round the gifts, and each of them ends up with a little pile. Lyn rips into hers at once, like she's six years old, and Robbie catches James' eye, rolls his, and James smirks back before opening one of the boxes in front of him. He's careful of the paper, Robbie notices, takes his time with the tape and the wrapping. Lyn's ripped three open before he even manages to get one sorted, and Robbie feels fond, watching him. James looks up, catches him staring, and winks, before he goes back to his gift.

Robbie opens gifts from Lyn, from David, from the two of them, and watches the rest open their presents, the oohs and aahs and thanks. Finally, he's got only one box in front of him, with a gold ribbon on top, and he takes a moment to admire the wrapping, wonders who James got to do it for him. Then he opens the box, pushes aside the tissue, and finds inside a folded-up pair of green socks.

He takes them out of the box carefully, and they're as soft as they've always looked. He holds them up and looks over at James, who's wearing his most carefully blank face. Behind it, though, he can see the nervous look in his eyes, and he bets that James' hands are clenching, that he's wishing for a cigarette.

“James.” He stops for a minute, a little choked up, looks down at the socks again. He makes sure to look James straight in the eye when he tells him, “James, they're lovely. Thank you so much for these. I will... I'll take good care of them.”

He tries to let James see what this means, really means to him. The blank look slowly falls away, and James gives a small smile back, says, “You're very welcome, Robbie.”

Lyn looks back and forth between the two of them, then shifts a bit, thumps David on the leg. “Let's go put together some breakfast, man. You two,” she calls over her shoulder as they head toward the kitchen, “sit and enjoy yourselves.”

**

“She's not half as clever as she thinks she is,” Robbie huffs, and James smirks at him.

“Oh, I think she is, sir.” James slips from where he's lounging on the floor to his knees, crawls the few feet to Robbie. “She's clever enough to know when to leave two people to themselves.”

Robbie's looking at him with warmth and hope, so James leans forward, letting his hand fit to the curve of Robbie's cheek. He's slow enough that Robbie could pull away at any time, but he doesn't, leans into the kiss when James meets his lips. It's gentle at first, but Robbie opens his mouth and James can't help himself, kisses deeper, harder. They are slow to pull apart, and James can think of nothing but another kiss, and another.

“Is this all right?” he asks, wanting to be sure.

Robbie's voice is tart. “I'd tell you if this weren't all right, Sergeant.” He laughs a little, “Giving me your murder socks, James? How are we going to find our next suspect?”

James is laughing as he leans in for another kiss, “As long as you're wearing them, Robbie, I'm sure we'll have good luck.”