Actions

Work Header

What Flowers are at my Feet

Work Text:

As Lewis pushed through the hospital doors looking for Hathaway, he met the man himself coming out.

“You came back,” Hathaway croaked when he saw Lewis, blinking with what probably would’ve been surprise in a less tired man.

“Course I did.” Lewis was vaguely chagrinned that James might’ve doubted he would. “Did you think I was going to let you take a taxi home, and you with pneumonia and all?”

Hathaway shrugged. He clutched a chemist’s bag in one hand, and his shoulders were hunched and drawn in under his black coat. He looked, even now, as if he were suppressing a cough.

“Needn’t have bothered,” he said, as he let Lewis guide him into the car. “I’m fine.”

+++

But he wasn’t. As Lewis drove them back to James’s flat, he felt something that must’ve been guilt tightening his own chest.

Hathaway had been ill on and off for months, but Lewis hadn’t thought much of it, except to be annoyed at the amount of nose-blowing and hacking going on in the office. Hathaway had shown up once or twice suspiciously flushed and bright-eyed, but he’d been no more taciturn and irritable than usual, and he’d still gotten the job done. Just a cold he was having a hard time shaking, Lewis thought; it had been a bad season that way for everyone. He’d spent a week sniffling himself, and he’d thought he’d already had every cold virus known to man.

More worryingly, in retrospect, should’ve been the fact that Hathaway had called in sick at least twice, something Lewis had rarely known him to do unless he was actually hospitalized. Not fit to be seen, Hathaway had said, sleeping off a fever. The second or third time this happened, he’d been so sluggish and congested Lewis had almost sent him home again when he did turn up.

Should’ve done, as things turned out. That afternoon, as they’d been trying to retrace the steps of a man who’d ended up dead in the Thames, Lewis had turned around, expecting to find his sergeant at his heels—only to see him twenty paces back, hanging onto a tree, and trying to hack up a lung.

“What’re you thinking?” he’d demanded, sudden worry making him sharper than he’d intended. “You should be home in bed, not traipsing around a crime scene, scaring the birds.”

“Yeah,” Hathaway had gasped, carefully letting go of the tree. “I think I’m—I think I’ll just—“ But he hadn’t seemed to be able to get quite enough air to finish the thought. He’d looked, Lewis remembered with a pang, a little blue around the lips.

On instinct, Lewis had reached up to touch James’s face. When he felt the dry heat there, he’d changed his mind. “On second thought, let’s get you over to A&E.”

+++

Lewis sat with Hathaway in the waiting room for what felt like a long time. After a while, Hathaway started shivering hard, and Lewis got up to harass the nurse into giving them a blanket. That was almost worse, seeing James wrapped up like the survivor of a fire or a flood.

“Pneumonia,” Lewis had said, when Hathaway had finally been seen and they’d let Lewis back to talk to him. He was lying on a bed in a curtained-off cubicle, still in his street clothes, but with oxygen tubes in his nose and an IV in his arm. “Why on earth did you come to work with pneumonia?”

“Didn’t know.” Hathaway looked fuzzy, liked they’d given him a sedative along with everything else, though it was probably just fever and exhaustion. “Never occurred to me. I don’t get ill.”

Lewis let the obvious falsity of that pass. After all, it had never occurred to him either. Hathaway looked impossibly pale against the hospital sheets. Lewis imagined that he could see the bones of James’s skull pushing against his skin. When had he got so thin?

“They’re just going to keep you until the IV is done, provided they can get your temperature down,” Lewis told Hathaway. He had to badger the doctor for that information and he wasn’t sure Hathaway knew. “I have to go into the office for a bit, but I’ll come back and pick you up, yeah?”

But James had already fallen asleep.

+++

Hathaway made it out of Lewis’s car and into his flat under his own power, though he paused so long once he’d swung his legs out of the passenger seat that Lewis had thought an assist might be in order.

He didn’t question Lewis shadowing him into the flat, just dropped his bag of prescriptions on the kitchen counter and shed his coat.

“I’m taking a shower,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Lewis asked. “Just don’t pass out in there,” he called when Hathaway ignored him.

He seemed marginally more cogent when he emerged. He’d changed into flannel pyjama bottoms and a heavy jumper, but he still looked like he should have that blanket wrapped around him. He stared at Lewis, who had been examining the wasteland of his fridge—clearly no one had made a decent meal in this flat for a long while.

“You’re still here,” Hathaway said, bemused.

“I—uh, yeah.” Lewis was torn between duty and awkwardness. “Thing is, I spoke to Lyn, and she said someone should probably stay with you tonight. Make sure there aren’t too many side effects to the meds, that kind of thing.” He trailed off.

What Lyn had actually said was, “Poor bloke, you should make sure his girlfriend knows—he could use someone to tuck him up in bed and make him tea.”

“Don’t think he has one,” Lewis had told her.

“Boyfriend, then.”

“Or that either.”

“Family nearby?”

“No, all dead, poor lad.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll be okay—antibiotics are wonderful things.”

But Lewis had drawn his own conclusions. Before he’d picked Hathaway up, he’d nipped home for a change of clothes and a toothbrush.

“You called Lyn?” Hathaway asked now, puzzled.

“Well, she is a nurse,” Lewis told him, not adding that he’d called Lyn because Hathaway collapsing like that had shaken him, had made him long for his daughter’s voice.

Hathaway, in clear evidence of how debilitated he was, accepted this explanation. “Right. Well, you know where everything is, I’ll just…” He looked around the flat as if it were unfamiliar territory.

“You’ll do nothing except get to bed,” said Lewis firmly, steering James in that direction.

+++

Lewis didn’t regret his decision to stay. Goodness knew Hathaway wouldn’t have managed to consume the half bowl of soup he did without the prodigious amount of coaxing and browbeating Lewis put into the project, much less gone out to the shops to procure the soup in the first place. Hathaway probably would’ve been annoyed by the attention in any other circumstances; as it was, he seemed too wrung out to even notice.

James had fallen asleep almost immediately after eating, and Lewis had tried without much success to get comfortable on the flat’s ridiculously modern couch.

He woke sometime later to the sounds of distress. Not coughing—more like someone trying to cough—halfway between a gag and a gurgle. It was awful. He was up and next to Hathaway’s bed before he fully registered what he was doing.

Hathaway lay tangled in the bedclothes, red-faced and sweating, still asleep and seemingly halfway to choking.

“Oi.” Lewis shook his shoulder roughly—this didn’t seem the time for gentleness. “Wake up, lad.”

Hathaway gradually surfaced, but only after Lewis had pretty much manhandled him into a sitting position. The movement seemed to dislodge whatever was choking him, and he launched into a vicious and prolonged coughing fit. Lewis perched on the side of the bed, feeling helpless and almost ill himself. He murmured sympathy and ineffectually rubbed at James’s back. Mostly, though, there was nothing to do but wait it out.

When the fit finally subsided, James flopped back against his pillows and did a curious thing. He grabbed Lewis’s hand and pressed it against his own chest, covering it with both of his.

Lewis could feel Hathaway’s heart thudding like a pneumatic drill, the push of his ribs as he struggled for air. The heat of his skin bled through his sweat-damp pyjama top. Lewis didn’t know what James wanted from this contact, but whatever it was he was willing to give it, to stay silent until James quieted his breathing enough to speak.

“You’re here,” James whispered, finally. He seemed dazed with more than fever, as if he’d been dreaming otherwise.

“Yeah, course I am; told you I was stopping over, didn’t I?” Lewis tried to pat at him comfortingly, but James was holding on too tight.

So they stayed like that for another moment, until the rattle of Hathaway’s breathing started to get to Lewis. It wasn’t comfort the man needed, it was drugs.

“Didn’t they give you something for that cough?” he asked, gently reclaiming his hand.

“Mmm. Inhaler, in the other room. Codeine cough syrup, too.” He made as if to rise, but Lewis pushed him back.

“Wisht, now; you stay put.”

“Were you dreaming?” Lewis asked, after Hathaway had dutifully used the inhaler and downed some Paracetemol.

Hathaway shook his head and sipped the glass of water Lewis had brought. “Don’t know. Fever’s done my head in, I think.”

He fell asleep again with the glass still in his hand. Lewis eased it away and tried to straighten out the covers around him. “Someone to tuck him up in bed,” he heard Lyn saying in his head.

He stayed until he was sure James was breathing relatively freely. Then he stayed a bit longer to make sure James’s skin had grown cooler to the touch.

+++

The ridiculous sofa threw Lewis into wakefulness early. He brewed himself a pot of tea and surveyed the supplies he’d laid in the previous night—but if he’d every known what food was likely to tempt an invalid, he’d forgotten now.

In the end, he made six-minute eggs and toast. On impulse, he cut the toast into narrow strips—his kids had always liked it that way for dipping. He was just looking for a tray to carry it into the bedroom when Hathaway appeared.

He was wrapped in a terry dressing gown and looked distinctly better than he had the night before: miserably ill rather than desperately so.

“Ah no,” Lewis said. “I was going to bring this to you in bed. I’m sure that’s what bed rest means.”

“It’s all right.” Hathaway said, pushing aside the blanket Lewis had slept under and slumping onto the couch. He coughed a few times into his fist, a deep, ugly sound. “I could kill for a fag.”

“Well, I hope they read you the riot act on that one,” Lewis told him, putting the eggs, toast and tea down on the table.

Hathaway looked at the plate sourly. He seemed more himself this morning, which was to say, more irritable and self-contained. The touching compliancy of last night had vanished. “Soldiers. No one’s made me those since I was a kid.” He didn’t make it sound as if it were a good thing it had happened now.

Lewis swallowed his irritation. “Try to eat something—half those pills say they’re supposed to be taken with food.” He leaned against the worktop, and watched Hathaway glower at the eggs.

“You know,” said Hathaway, when his laser stare failed to make the food magically disappear. “It’s not your fault I’m ill.”

“I know.” They seemed to be quarrelling, though Lewis had no idea over what. He wished the tea were stronger—he felt in no shape to deal with Hathaway in this mood.

“Do you? Good. If it’s anyone’s fault it’s my own.” Hathaway went back to glaring. “So you know there’s no need to fuss. Or to make me treats like a little kid.” He waved disgustedly at the toast.

Rationally, Lewis knew the tetchiness was as much of side-effect of illness as whatever strange emotion had made James grip his hand in the middle of the night. When healthy, James was almost unfailingly polite. Still, it got under his skin: perhaps he was a bit frayed around the edges, too.

“Look,” he said, as evenly as he could. “Just try and eat something before you take your meds. There’s juice in the fridge, and some Lucozade—drink some. Then get some rest. I have to go to the office—I’ll check in with you later. Don’t even think of smoking.”

“Yes, sir,” he heard James say sullenly, as he headed for the door. And then the plaintive sound of his coughing.

+++

Lewis tried to organize his notes about the dead man in the Thames, but it was a losing proposition from the start. He felt tired and distracted, and his mind kept straying back to a semi-coherent Hathaway pressing his hand against his heart. Laura, and then Innocent, poked their heads in to ask about Hathaway, and he tried to put as good a spin on it as he could—on the mend, not more than a week or so of sick leave.

“You’ve got to ease up on that boy, Robbie; you’ve been working him too hard,” Laura said, only half-jokingly, as she left.

He wanted to protest, to tell her Hathaway worked himself too hard, if anything. And he wanted to confess, to tell her it was his fault for failing to notice how ill Hathaway was. But he couldn’t seem to put either thought into words. He let Laura go and called Lyn instead.

“Hiya, Dad,” Lyn said. He could hear the cheerful buzz of the hospital break room behind her. “How’s your sergeant”

“All right, yeah,” he told her. “Well, a bit low, actually. No appetite to speak of.”

“That’s to be expected. Pneumonia’s a serious business. He’s probably not eating because he feels like crap.”

“I know.” He tried to think of what to say. He felt curiously reluctant to tell her he’d spent the night at Hathaway’s flat. “I just couldn’t remember what kinds of things you and your brother liked when you were ill.”

She laughed. “Dad—he’s not a kid. What he’d probably like is a pint and a cigarette, from what you’ve said about him. Not that you should give him that,” she added hastily. Then her voice took on the tone she used for imparting home truths. “Besides, the reason you can’t remember is that you weren’t around much when we were kids—sick or well—Mum did most of our meals.”

That stung. Stung the harder for being true. “Lyn—“ he said.

“Aw, Dad.” Her voice softened. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad. It was a long time ago, and, besides, we always knew you loved us. Anyway—and I’m saying this as a professional, mind—the important thing is just being there, sticking around, you know? People are always extra snotty with the ones they trust the most.”

“Do you think—” He started, deciding he’d tell her about the strange night after all. But her break was apparently over.

“Gotta go, Dad—love you.” And she was gone

He stared at the phone, oddly heartened by her advice. After a moment, he tapped in James’s number.

“Sir?” Hathaway answered almost at once. He still sounded tired, but perhaps slightly less peevish.

“I—“ Lewis hadn’t thought through what he wanted to say. He improvised. “I, er, I was just wondering if there’s anything you needed from the office. Not work, of course. But if you left anything here—“

There was a pause, as if James were gradually recognizing the gesture as the peace offering it was. “Yeah, thanks, actually. There’s a novel in the second right-hand drawer of my desk. Might as well have a go at finishing it, if I’m going to be stuck in bed.”

“Sure.” Lewis walked over to Hathaway’s desk and pulled open the drawer as he spoke. Sure enough, there was a bloody great brick of a novel in among the takeaway menus and old reports. Infinite Jest: it seemed a very Hathway-ish sort of title. He hefted it out. “What a bruiser. Sure you wouldn’t like something a bit lighter? I’ve an old Jack Reacher I can lend you.”

Hathaway laughed. “No, thanks all the same.” Then he seemed to take his mouth away from the phone. “Oh no, that’s perfect, thanks—“

“Is someone there?” Lewis asked, startled.

“Yeah. Gurdip, actually. He heard I was laid up, and he called round in his lunch hour with his mother’s miracle soup recipe: guaranteed to make the dead walk, apparently.”

“Gurdip is making soup in your kitchen?” Lewis couldn’t quite get his mind around the image.

“Quite handily too. Turns out computers aren’t the only thing he’s good at—smells delicious—it’s even cutting through my sinuses.”

“Oh.” Lewis felt an odd pang. Despite Lyn’s words, there apparently were people who knew just how to tempt the ill to eat. “That’s good. Great. I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“Yeah, better go—he’s making faces.” Hathaway paused. “You’ll bring the book by later?”

Something loosened in Lewis’s chest. “Absolutely. Soon as I can get done here.”

+++

Gurdip’s mother’s soup may have been delicious but it was no miracle worker. When Hathaway opened the door for Lewis he looked, if anything, slightly worse than he had that morning. He was huddled into layers of jumpers, and he wore wire-rimmed spectacles Lewis couldn’t remember having seen before. Behind them, his eyes were still sunken and feverish. The only thing that seemed to have improved was his mood; he smiled when Lewis handed him the book.

“Last minute break in the case,” Lewis told him. “I’m sorry—I meant to be here hours ago. You look done in.”

“Bit rough, yeah. Can’t tell how much is pneumonia and how much is nicotine withdrawal at this point.” Hathaway held out a shaking hand to illustrate the point.

“Well, I won’t come in—Don’t want to keep you up.”

But James kept the door open. “No, stay—since you’re here. Have some of Gurdip’s soup anyway—there’s loads.” If Lewis hadn’t known better, he would’ve thought Hathaway, in his oblique way, was apologizing for whatever had happened that morning.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t be in bed?” Lewis asked, stepping inside cautiously. The flat did smell wonderfully of ginger and chilis.

“I practically am. That couch is murder to stretch out on. Don’t know how you stood it last night. Help yourself to soup—I’ll be in there.” He gestured towards the bedroom.

Lewis did. He discovered a stack of fresh naan near the cooker, and happily devoured two pieces while he waited for the soup to heat.

“Cosy,” Lewis said a few minutes later, leaning against the doorframe of the bedroom with a mug of soup in one hand and a beer in the other.

Hathaway grimaced, but he looked comfortable enough, knees drawn up under the covers amid a clutter of tissue boxes and books. Lewis noted a bible half-hidden under the music rags and slim volumes of poetry. “Sit down,” he said, “if you can find a place.”

Lewis cleared a stack of novels off the one chair in the room and set his beer down next to the collection of pill bottles and tea cups on the nightstand while he concentrated on his soup. James went back to Infinite Jest, and they sat in companionable silence.

When Lewis next looked up, though, James had fallen asleep, mouth open and head canted back at an awkward angle.

“Poor sod,” Lewis murmured.

It was probably his cue to turn off the lights and head home, but he lingered, picking up a few fallen tissues and putting the plates in the sink. He cleared some of the detritus off the bed, and then thought he’d better take off Hathaway’s spectacles so he wouldn’t poke himself in the eye during the night.

But as he tried to lift the frames off his face, James awoke with a snort. They blinked at each other for a few moments. Their faces were very close together.

“You’re still here,” said James.

“Why do you keep saying that?” It had to be the third time, now, by Lewis’s count.

“Do I?”

“Yeah, you do.” Lewis settled himself on the bed near James’s hip.

James swallowed, then coughed. “It’s embarrassing. Maybe—“ He paused, then seemed to plunge. “I think it’s just that last week—I was feeling really shite. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t really think straight. And sometimes, I thought about ringing you. I don’t know why. Just to hear your voice. Stupid, really.”

“You could’ve done. You should’ve,” Lewis said, instantly heartsick over something he hadn’t known was happening.

James didn’t seem to have heard. “And so last night—and now—that you are here—well, I must still be pretty out of it, because I keep thinking I might’ve dreamed you up. That you’re about to disappear.”

“I’m not.” On impulse, Lewis pressed his hand to James’s chest, where it had been last night. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Again, James covered the hand with his own.

“I’m sorry about the soldiers,” Lewis said abruptly. “It’s just I don’t know much about taking care of people who aren’t kids. Don’t even know much about that, truth be told.”

“And I’m sorry I was so ratty about them—felt rotten, that’s all.”

Lewis laughed. “That was Lyn’s diagnosis.”

“Do you tell her everything?” James didn’t looked worried by the possibility, just curious.

Under Lewis’s hand James’s heart thumped peacefully, as if they’d come to a calm place after a storm. Lewis flipped his palm over so that their fingers intertwined.

“Nah,” he said, “not everything.”