James glances up at a double-rap on his doorframe. Robbie’s standing there, expectant expression on his face. “Ready to go, Detective Inspector?”
His lips twitch. Robbie’s taken every opportunity over the past year to call him by his new title, even while he was merely an Acting DI. Deliberately quelling his amusement, he summons a distracted tone. “Just finishing this report.”
“Oi.” Robbie strolls into the office, shaking his head. “Do I need to unplug your computer?”
There’s a look on his face that suggests he might actually not be joking. James quickly keys Ctrl–S and gives Robbie a faint glare. “Busy.”
Robbie perches on his desk. “It’s after six on Christmas Eve. We’ve both got the next two days off – and did I tell you what I had to promise Innocent for that little bonus? And we have arrangements.”
James leans back in his seat, a smile curving across his face as he drops the pretence of wanting to keep working. “We do. And I am ready to leave. Just as soon as I type one more sentence.”
He is ready to go – more than ready, he’s eager to get out of here and home with Robbie. He’d have been ready sooner, only he’d taken pity on his sergeant, Maddox, who’d clearly been just as eager to get home to her husband. He’d sent her away with a mock–grumpy comment about her mind being on things other than writing this report, so he clearly couldn’t trust her not to mess it up. She’d seen right through him and bestowed a cheeky kiss on his cheek as she’d rushed from the office, a wide, excited smile on her face.
Robbie sits, arms crossed and legs apart, a picture of impatience, as James writes his concluding sentence, casts a final eye over the report, and emails it to Innocent. Then he shuts down his computer, stands and reaches for his coat in one smooth movement, and turns to face Robbie. A wicked grin on his face, he murmurs, “You can take me home now, darling.”
Robbie reaches for James’s hand – but when James reaches back, Robbie drops car keys into his palm. “You’re driving, darling. And did I mention that it’s snowing?”
Home is now a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Marston they bought a month ago and have just finished moving into. The house was built in the 1930s but has been modernised, and met all their most important criteria: plenty of space, so that Lyn and her family could come to stay; a back garden for James to smoke in and for Robbie to potter around and grow things in; convenient parking given their jobs; and a decent kitchen and living-room. The main bedroom has a bay window overlooking the garden, and an en-suite with a large shower, both of which they count as bonuses.
It’s been an eventful year since that unexpected, unbelievable first kiss after their last Christmas dinner at Robbie’s flat, almost a year ago to the day. They’d kept things quiet for a few weeks, telling nobody, just to be certain that this was something that was going to last. James, in particular, needed reassurance that Robbie really was completely comfortable about being in a relationship with a man, and Robbie’d been patient enough to humour him. At the same time, they’d started making plans.
So, at the beginning of February when they’d gone to see Innocent to tell her about their relationship, they’d also been able to tell her that James wanted to get onto the promotion path; to sit OSPRE as soon as possible and then apply for an inspector position. If possible, in the same nick; Robbie didn’t see why James should have to move just because of their relationship, and if it came to it, he’d told Innocent, he’d take early retirement or move to a different nick – or even to a training role – to make way for James. Thankfully, that hadn’t been necessary. Another DI, it turned out, had just accepted promotion and a move to West Midlands Police, so as long as James was able to sit and pass OSPRE within the next month, the position could be his. It had meant a lot of studying and late nights going through the materials together, but by early March James had been an Acting Detective Inspector, with his own sergeant – Lizzie Maddox, a recent transfer from West Yorkshire Police. Julie Lockhart is now Robbie’s sergeant, and doing a good job, too.
Innocent, after her initial shock when their relationship was revealed, has been nothing but supportive – once she’d assured herself, in line with policies, that there had been no coercion involved. She’s been quick to squash any insinuation of favouritism concerning James’s promotion, and as the news that Robbie and James are a couple had spread following James’s move into Robbie’s flat, she’d cracked down sharply on even the slightest hint of homophobia.
Lyn had been the person whose reaction had most worried James, and at first she had seemed unhappy, but very quickly came around, hugging James and welcoming him to the family. She’d explained later that it wasn’t him, or the fact that her dad was seeing a man, but that it’d taken her a little while to get over the idea of him with someone new at all.
“It’s not that I expected him to be alone for the rest of his life,” she’d said, busying herself making coffee. “It just feels different when it’s actually happened. But I’m glad he’s not alone, I really am. And I know how much you’ve always meant to him. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see him with.”
He’d reached out to squeeze her hand. “Thank you.” He’d meant it, with genuine and heartfelt sincerity. “It means a lot to me that you’re okay with this. I’d never want to get in the way of your relationship with your dad – or have you think I’m trying to replace your mum.”
“I know.” She’d got up and hugged him then. “You’re one of the family now, James.”
Lyn had wanted them to come to her for Christmas this year, but they hadn’t been certain they’d both have the time off, and anyway they really preferred to spend the festive season in their own house, even if time spent in their new home had to be fitted around the demands of Christmas shifts – most likely shifts that wouldn’t coincide, now that they’re no longer DI and bagman.
And now, yes, it’s Christmas Eve, and by some miraculous accident of the duty rosters they both have the next thirty–six hours off. Robbie is back on duty on Boxing Day; James is not, but he will probably go in for a while anyway until it’s time to come home and prepare dinner for Robbie. Steaks and baked potatoes, he’s thinking, for old times’ sake. Or to indulge in one of his favourite sports: mocking Robbie. He does it because he cares, as he continually reminds his partner. You do it because you enjoy it, Robbie grumbles in return, but never seriously, and the exchange always ends with a kiss, which James is absolutely certain is Robbie’s intention.
Mocking is the furthest thing from James’s mind now, though, as he parks the car in their driveway and turns to smile at Robbie. “Home.”
Dusk on Christmas Day finds them both slumped on their new sofa, pleasantly full still from Christmas dinner and with Robbie’s head resting against James’s shoulder and their hands intertwined. They’ve just watched the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special, which James had recorded back in November but they’d kept for today.
James scowls as the credits roll. “How could they do that? Undo the Time War, just like that? So everything that happened over the last eight years doesn’t matter any more?”
Robbie squeezes his hand. “Course it matters, pet. It still happened to them. Just didn’t happen to any Doctor from now on. Timey-wimey,” he adds with a smirk.
“You’re only happy because Tom Baker was in it,” James counters. “Eccleston should have been there. Not that I didn’t like John Hurt, but it needed Eccleston.”
“Look at you, getting all worked up over the telly,” Robbie mocks. “We’ll make a normal human being of you yet.”
James snorts, then starts to drag himself to his feet. “Need more alcohol – the next one’s on in a minute.” The next one being this year’s Christmas special, the regeneration episode.
“Get some mince pies while you’re up, there’s a good lad.” James raises an eyebrow forbiddingly at Robbie before doing as he’s told.
“Shift, you. Time I was in bed, since unlike some people I have to work tomorrow.” Robbie pushes lightly against James’s shoulders.
“Comfortable,” James grumbles from his snugly supine position on top of Robbie. This is the very best thing about their new sofa: it’s even longer than he is, so he – in fact, both of them – can lounge without feeling cramped.
“Be every bit as comfortable in bed,” Robbie points out.
James has to concede the truth of that. “I suppose.” He stretches, then rolls off Robbie and springs to his feet, extending a hand down to help Robbie up.
“Been nice, hasn’t it?” Robbie says as they’re getting into bed a few minutes later.
“Well...” James drawls, lips quirking. “It has, but seeing as we’ve spent five of the last six Christmases together, I’d say it’s important to ensure we don’t fall into a rut. I mean, of course the change of menu has helped, but our television-watching could be described as somewhat repetitive.”
“I’ll give you repetitive,” Robbie growls, and abruptly rolls on top of him. “Second time I’ve done this to you in bed on Christmas night. Still feelin’ like you’re in a rut?”
James wraps his arms around his partner. “I think this might be considered an exception. Besides, I didn’t say it was all bad. Or any of it, actually.” He pauses to share a kiss with Robbie, which turns into several lingering kisses, accompanied by a fair bit of exploration.
“There is one thing that occurs to me,” James adds with a smirk a little later. Robbie just raises an eyebrow. “Since I’m no longer just your fallback date, and we are both still single, and I’m not sure anyone else would have me, shouldn’t you just take pity on me and make an honest man of me?”
Robbie clasps his chest, widening his eyes. “You sayin’ you’re dishonest? After all these years? I’m shocked, DI Hathaway!”
James mock–pouts, then relaxes, settling down with his head resting on Robbie’s shoulder. Then, as the implication of what he’s just said sinks in, he says, “You know I was teasing, of course. I would never presume–”
Robbie’s arm tightens around him. “You’ve got every right to presume.” His voice is thicker than usual.
Leaning up, James shakes his head. “I know what Val meant to you. Still means to you.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t love you too. Or that I don’t.” Robbie pulls him back down. “Look, I don’t know that I’m ready for anything more... official... than we have right now. Doesn’t mean I’ll never be.”
“It’s not important,” James begins, but Robbie cuts across him.
“Course it is. Told you a year ago you weren’t my fallback. You’re not second-best either, an’ I need you to know that.”
James swallows. That means more to him than he can possibly tell Robbie. And so, as he always does, he falls back on tongue-in-cheek mockery, trusting – knowing – that Robbie will see the truth behind it. One day, he’ll be able to say the words as freely, generously, as Robbie does, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the sentiment. “You’re not my second-best either, Robbie.”
Robbie hugs him and presses a kiss into his hair. “Good to know.”
James snuggles in closer. “Merry Christmas, Robbie.”
“Same to you, canny lad, same to you.”