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Triad, Pt 3: Sweet James

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But, anyone who ever had a heart,
He wouldn't want to turn around and break it.
                                       ~Sweet Jane, Lou Reed

James isn’t sure how long since he walked into Robbie and Laura’s kitchen—10 minutes? 30? An hour?—but he’s already barefoot and coatless, aroused and shivering, when Laura breezes past the doorway between the living room and the kitchen.

“James!” she calls, barely glancing at him before she passes out of sight. “I didn’t know you were here.” Her voice is as warm and welcoming as the early morning heat of the kitchen.

He tracks her by the quick tap of her shoes across the hardwood floor, the sounds of curtains being drawn back and blinds sliding up. Dazzling morning sunlight floods the living room, filters through the doorway between the two rooms.

James blinks against the brightness and glances at Robbie for permission to return her greeting. But Robbie, who turns a page of his newspaper without glancing up, hasn’t forbidden him to speak, only told him to stand where he is and do what he’s told, and so James responds to her, murmuring nonsense words in a voice jittering with relief and joy, husky with arousal.

Laura appears in the doorway, brow furrowed, as if the tone of his response has alarmed her. She’s dressed for work in dark jeans and a soft blue jumper, and her hair is still damp from her shower, the ends spiky and curling around her face. The spicy floral scent of her shampoo teases his nose, cutting through the breakfast scents of toast and coffee.

When she sees him, standing in the narrow space between the kitchen counter and the wall, arms held stiffly at his sides to keep his fingers from dancing, she stops. But the concern disappears from her face, and a smile crinkles the corners of her eyes. “Good morning,” she murmurs, the bright and breezy tone from moments before gone, shifted to low and suggestive.

Her gaze lingers on his bare feet, making him curl his toes against the cold tile. The pleasure that floods him at the affection in her welcome, the intimacy of it, is as warm and gold as the morning sunshine flooding the room behind her. And he takes a final deep, deep breath of relief and lets it out slowly.

Now, in this moment, with the warmth of her regard bathing him, the heat of Robbie’s kiss still lingering on his lips, he’s not sure how he could have been so foolish. So daft as to doubt them. To doubt himself with them. He’s not sure how the angst of the past months burrowed itself into his consciousness or why he was foolish enough to allow it in, to allow it to fester.

“Morning, love,” Robbie says brightly. His smile, too, is a burst of warmth in the already warm kitchen as he motions Laura in. Then he glances at James, says coolly, “Trousers next,” and goes back to the newspaper lying spread out on the table in front of him.

James twitches. He’s already hard as stone, cock demanding to be set free of the restriction of his clothing, and the way Robbie’s voice changes, sliding from light-hearted greeting to casual disinterest, makes him even harder. All that’s saving his skin from scraping against the rough back side of his zip is the teasing, silky layer of his pants.

Laura glances back and forth between the two of them as she comes into the kitchen. At him, nearly twitching with the effort to stay still, to play the game. At Robbie, sitting at the table bent over his newspaper, cup of coffee in one hand, pretending James isn’t standing there. Or rather, pretending that he has no interest in the fact that James is standing there.

She tilts her head, gaze sliding up and down James’s body, pausing again on his bare feet, then on the obvious evidence of his arousal. She takes in his flushed face, the squared, taut set of his shoulders, then centres on his belt buckle, waiting for him to obey Robbie’s command. When he doesn’t immediately move to do what he’s been told to do, the pink tip of her tongue snakes out, slow and sensual, and she licks her lips. Then she quirks an eyebrow at him as if she’s reminding him of what happened the last time he dared to be a bit slow in following Robbie’s instructions.

But James can’t tell if she’s warning him to obey or excited by the idea that he might not. The already throbbing drumbeat in his groin quickens. He’s not sure which he wants either...the heady surrender of obeying or the sweet, obscene torture that will come if he doesn’t. It makes him a bit light-headed to realize he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what happens next, so long as he’s where he is right now. With Robbie and Laura. Secure and safe in the warmth of their welcome, of their acceptance. It’s a reckless, breathless feeling, the first he’s allowed himself in a long time.

Laura crosses behind the table and leans down to give Robbie a kiss. “So what’s our Sweet James in trouble for now?” she asks.

James twitches again. It’s silly and surprisingly precious, their private nickname for him. And ridiculously sexy, because it’s forever tied up with the memory of what they were doing the first time Robbie called him that. It’s all twined through his senses—the warm night air ruffling the curtains, the sheets, cool and rumpled beneath his bare back. Laura’s silky skin, the flower and citrus scent of her. Their hands on him. Soft kisses, soft gasps, and breathy moans. Robbie’s mouth on him. Robbie’s voice, murmuring his name. And Sweet Jane playing in the background.

The opening chords of the song, complete with the hiss and pop of the needle in the grooves of the record, start up in his mind. Phantom music vibrates on his fingertips the way his guitar strings do, the way the memory of that night vibrates in his heart. But today, he can’t hold onto the melody long enough to hear even the first word of the lyrics. The sound of Robbie turning a page of his paper and the disapproval in his voice as he answers Laura intrudes on the memory and the music.

“Our Sweet James is not sleeping.” Robbie doesn’t even glance at him as he says it.

Laura takes Robbie’s coffee cup from his hand and sips from it. Makes a face and puts it back in his hand. Then she turns to James. Her gaze moves over him again, but she’s lost the bright-eyed, suggestive regard. Her eyes are cool and dispassionate, and he can feel her catalogue the paleness of his skin and the beginnings of dark circles under his eyes, the tension in his shoulders and neck. He suspects she can even tell how much weight he’s lost in the intervening months.

It’s exactly what Robbie did, only minutes ago, when James walked into the kitchen, except that her scrutiny is clinical and assessing where Robbie’s was intuitive and knowing. Where Robbie walked his hands across James’s back, traced the sharpness of shoulder blades, the bumps of spine sticking out, Laura needs only a visual inspection.

Her mouth curves down. “Insomnia?”

“Oh, no,” Robbie answers for him. “Refusing to go to bed.” Robbie leans back in his chair. Lays one arm across the back of the chair next to him. His bicep flexes, tugging at his sleeve, as he turns the full brunt of his disapproval on James. “He’s worn out. He could probably sleep straight through for two days if he’d just lie down. But he’s staying all night in the office, working on this case. I told him, two days ago, to go home and get some sleep. Found him yesterday morning, still wearing the same shirt, at his desk.”

James takes another deep breath, but this one refuses to go all the way down. It catches right behind his breastbone, blocking the words that want to tumble out of him. He wants to tell Robbie that he can sleep now. That it was never the case that was keeping him awake. Well...not only the case. The pressure of working his first murder case as an inspector is wearing on him, but that was never what was keeping him awake. It was merely a welcome distraction.

He has the words, but not the breath, to tell them that the trembling, shadowed thing that’s been at the root of his sleeplessness worked itself out in his head, a bolt of relief like lightning, the moment he walked in and Robbie’s gaze slid over him. The moment Robbie’s expression changed rapidly from pleased surprise to warm welcome to heavy-lidded with desire. The moment Robbie’s lips touched his and his hands slid, warm and possessive, up under James’s coat.

Everything that’s been at the root of his tension slipped away the moment James understood that nothing had changed between them. The moment he knew that, in the privacy and safety of this place, he’s still ‘Sweet James’ and not the newly minted ‘Inspector Hathaway’.

“Why didn’t you just bring him home and put him to bed?” Laura asks with a touch of annoyance directed at Robbie.

It’s what she would have done, had she known. She doesn’t have to say so. James hears it in her voice, and he can’t stop himself from smiling.

“Wanted him to do it for himself, didn’t I?” Robbie frowns at her, then at James. “He’s all wound up about the job, but he needs to learn that he can’t do the job properly unless he takes care of himself.”

James’s smile fades as Laura nods in agreement and turns that clinical frown on him again. “He’s right, you know,” she tells him gently.

And he shifts from foot to foot like a little boy caught doing something naughty. He knows she’s right. He knows Robbie’s right. And that they care makes him feel full and warm and wiggly inside, like there’s music playing in his gut. Sweet, lyrical notes tickling his insides.

Robbie pushes the toast rack towards her. There are still a couple of slices, the edges done to Robbie’s particular brand of over-crisp, standing in the slots. “Toast? Or do you want me to make you something?”

Laura shakes her head and reaches for the glass of orange juice on the other side of Robbie’s plate. “No, thanks, I’ll eat later. My first autopsy this morning is better approached on an empty stomach.”

He looks pointedly at his orange juice, which she’s finishing off.

She laughs. “Juice doesn’t count.”

“Reckon I’ll be talking to you next, about proper nutrition.” He puts just enough pointed emphasis on the word, just enough of an arch glance at James, for her to know he means the same kind of ‘talking’ he’s now doing with James.

She laughs again, puts the empty glass on the table, and says suggestively, “You can try.”

Robbie smiles up at her. His narrowed gaze slides over her, so speculative that it makes James quiver. Then as if it’s an afterthought, Robbie glances over at James. “Is your hearing going as well?” he growls.

James starts, the heavy bass thud of arousal sliding back into his awareness. He’s been so immersed in their interaction—their banter, the affection that’s evident in even the smallest of gestures—and in how relieved he feels to know that he’s still part of it, that he’s forgotten what he’s supposed to be doing.

He hurries to unbuckle his belt and open his trousers. He allows the weight of the belt to drag them down his legs, slowing the movement because he likes Laura’s avid interest as she turns towards him. When his trousers finally pool around his ankles, he steps out of them and pushes them aside with one foot.

Robbie nods with satisfaction. His gaze flicks over James’s bare legs, then he goes casually back to his reading.

James shivers. He can’t help but admire the thoroughness with which Robbie’s submerged himself in pretend indifference. It would be easy to imagine, considering the concentration on the paper and his breezy conversation with Laura, that Robbie’s not interested in someone getting naked in his kitchen. That he’s not interested in James getting naked in his kitchen.

But James knows better. Now. He didn’t when he walked in, but he does now. Robbie’s pretending to focus on his paper, on his breakfast, pretending that the slow, directed striptease isn’t affecting him. But James knows Robbie’s watching him out of the corners of his eyes. He can see the shine on Robbie’s upper lip where his tongue keeps darting out to moisten it and the way Robbie keeps shifting in his chair, spreading his legs and adjusting his trousers.

It makes James want to yank off his tie and tear at the buttons on his shirt. To rip what’s left of his clothing off. To take the few steps to the other side of the table and sink to the floor between Robbie’s knees, press his lips to the front of Robbie’s trousers. Because he knows, he knows, that Robbie’s as hard as he is. Knows the sounds Robbie will make when James puts his mouth on him. And James been so sure he would never hear those sounds again that, suddenly, he can’t think of anything else.

He’s reaching for the buttons on his shirt when Laura shifts, stopping his movement. She’s watching him openly, lips slightly parted as if she knows exactly what he’s thinking and finds it exciting. Her gaze takes in every inch of his long, bare legs and the black silk pants peeking from under his shirt.

She smiles. She’s the one who bought him the black ones.

Robbie, who seems to be turning into a peacock in his semi-retirement, prefers colours these days, evidenced by the dark, bruise-purple dress shirt he’s wearing now. The collar is open, showing a hint of silver hair on his chest, allowing James to see the telltale swallow as Robbie glances up at him. Robbie’s sleeves are rolled up, exposing forearms gone winter pale despite all the days he’s spent in the garden since his ‘retirement,’ and James wants to push the folded fabric even higher, to press his lips to the soft skin in the crook of Robbie’s elbow.

As if Robbie’s reading his mind, he says, “Roll up your shirt sleeves.”

A tingle slides down James’s spine. His fingers are stiff and graceless as he fumbles with the button on his left cuff. The fabric is uncooperative as he folds it back on itself, exposing his forearms. He can feel Robbie watching him. He knows Robbie’s gaze is lingering on the tender, pale flesh of his wrist. Robbie likes to put his mouth there, on the inside of his wrist, and taste his pulse. Thinking of that makes unfastening the other cuff take even longer.

“Stop stalling,” Robbie growls.

The timbre of Robbie’s voice slithers over James. He wants to protest that he’s not deliberately delaying. He’s trying to do what he’s been told to do, but his hands are shaking. The muscles are jumping under his skin as if he can already feel warm, strong hands on his bare flesh. It’s making his pulse trip like a snare drum. Making his fingers thick and clumsy.

“Tie, too,” Robbie says. He pretend frowns when James is just as slow and awkward un-knotting his tie.

The whisper of silk against cotton is loud when James finally slides it from around his neck. He tosses it towards the rumpled pile of his other clothing. Without being told, he unbuttons his collar. Spreads the edges a bit so he can breathe. So that air can slip inside and cool the heat burning his throat and the back of his neck.

Robbie frowns. He didn’t give permission for that button to be opened.

“What are you going to do if he keeps being so insolent?” Laura gaze lingers on James’s shirttail where his erection is pushing his pants and the edge of his white shirt away from his body.

Robbie raises his eyebrows and shows her his hand, palm up, fingers spread wide. He makes a slight swatting motion in the air before returning to his paper.

Laura laughs, dark and delighted.

The sound covers the ragged breath James sucks in. That’s a game they’ve never played before, and the idea is way more enticing than it should be.

“Pants,” Robbie says without looking up.

“Let me,” Laura says immediately, before James can move his hands. She glances at Robbie for permission.

James tries to hold himself still as they both wait for Robbie’s answer, but he can’t stop the shudder that runs the length of his spine. He lets out a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding as Robbie shrugs, lifting one shoulder as if it’s of no consequence to him who strips off James’s boxers. Robbie’s cool, disinterested expression doesn’t change. But he lets the corner of his paper fall back onto the table. He tilts his chin out a bit and turns his head, giving himself a better view.

Laura has to tilt her head, too, to look up at James as she comes close. She grins up at him as she lifts the tail of his shirt out of the way and hooks one finger in the waist of his pants, stretches the elastic out so that the material clears his cock. Robbie shifts as she stares down into James’s pants, contemplating his erection like he’s a body laid out on cold steel for inspection. She takes a deep breath and blows it out.

Heated air swirls around James’s cock, caressing his skin, stirring the silk of his boxers. He shudders and leans towards her, but she leans away, maintaining the distance between them.

“I’m not sure how much you’re actually disciplining him,” she says over her shoulder to Robbie. “He seems to be enjoying this a bit too much for it to be a very effective punishment.”

Robbie stares at the two of them with obvious heat. His posture is deceptively relaxed except for his fingers. He’s gripping the edge of the table hard enough that the beds of his nails are white. He slides down in his chair and pushes his knees wider. “I’m not trying to punish him,” he says. “Just get him to relax enough to sleep.”

“I don’t think that’s working either.” Laura lifts her eyebrows suggestively. “He’s not very relaxed.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk about me like I’m not here.” James is surprised how even his voice is. It should be shaky and tense with arousal. Cracking with tension.

Laura smiles up at him. “Sweetheart, we are never unaware of your presence.”

A flare of joy expands outward from the centre of his chest at the sweetness of her smile, the warm regard in her voice. It never fails to touch him, to surprise him, seeing her obvious affection for him. His own response to her is just as much a surprise, new every time it washes over him as if he’s just discovering it.

Robbie was no surprise. James knew within only a few days of meeting him that he was going to fall, and fall hard, for the recently returned from secondment Detective Inspector Robert Lewis. Certainly after their first case together, once James had glimpsed more of the man behind the gruffness and pain, it had seemed as inevitable as the sunrise.

But Laura... He hadn’t anticipated his feelings for Laura. She’s the one who slipped in when he wasn’t looking. The acquaintance who slowly became a friend. The friend who became a trusted ally. The ally who became a lover. She’s the unexpected part of the equation. The lovely, sweet surprise.

It’s been an amazing gift, her passion for him, his for her, the way she’s embraced what he feels for Robbie and what Robbie feels for him, accepting all of it as part of who they are. As part of what she feels. Sometimes he thinks that as much as her regard, it’s her laughter and her passion that glues them all together. He’s not sure how he ever allowed doubt to creep into that. How he ever found himself questioning what they are together.

He leans towards her again, and she leans towards him, tugging him closer by the waistband of his pants. The band stretches open even wider, tightening the silk against his back and hips. But before he can touch her, she lets the elastic slide off her finger.

It snaps into place with a loud pop, catching the underside of his cock just below the head and slapping it up against his belly. The sting of the elastic, the slap of skin on skin, races over his whole body. He gasps and catches the edge of the worktop to steady himself.

It doesn’t hurt exactly. The sensation is more like the trill of a flute than the blast of a trumpet. It’s the shock of it, the vibration of the elastic, the silk sliding against the underside of his erection, his cock suddenly trapped between his belly and his pants, that makes everything from his knees to his brain go rigid. That makes him feel like he’s going to shatter.

He looks to Robbie, desperate, begging for...what? Help? Support? Permission? But Robbie looks as if he’s not that far from coming apart himself. The lovely blue of his eyes has dilated to almost black and his face is flushed. The hand that’s on the table clenches, fingers crumpling the newspaper. His other hand is out of sight, under the table, and his bicep flexes.

James groans, imagining his own hand, touching, stroking Robbie... He imagines how hard Robbie is. How Robbie will sound as he caresses him. “Robbie...” he pleads, but all Robbie does is give a quick sideways jerk of his chin. No.

Laura turns and slips between James and the wall. The sleeve of her jumper brushes his bare forearm, and the slight touch is as electrifying as if she’d run her hands over him. Cool air slithers up his back as she walks around behind him and lifts the tail of his shirt. Laura hooks just one finger in the waistband of his pants and pulls backwards.

The elastic tightens on his cock, rubbing just below the tip, sending a rush of pleasure dancing across his groin and down into his thighs. The muscles in the small of his back tighten, and his balls draw up. “Laura,” he warns, and now, there...that’s the tone he expected to hear in his voice a moment ago. The rough, on-the-edge rasp. Robbie calls it his phone sex voice. To him, it just sounds needy and desperate. “I can’t hold on—”

“Don’t you dare,” she says.

It doesn’t help his arousal, but she’s right. When she uses that tone, he doesn’t dare. He takes a deep breath, tightens his grip on the worktop. Concentrates on the rolled edge under his fingers. On how cold the floor is. The sparkle of sunlight in the other room. He focuses on steadying his breathing, on running the opening guitar riff of Sweet Jane in his head.

Laura slides a knuckle down his buttock and eases his pants down slowly.

The elastic skitters and drags down the underside of his cock. Catches on his balls, his thighs. He curls the fingers of his free hand until his nails bite into his palm to keep from moving. Holds his breath. Then she lets go, and his pants flutter down his legs and pool around his ankles.

She catches them with the toe of her shoe and waits as he lifts one foot free, then the other, before sliding them away. She brushes his hip lightly with cool fingertips. “You know,” she says conversationally, glancing at Robbie, “I’d probably use a wooden spoon, but I can see why you’d want to use your hand.” A fingertip ghosts across him, trailing fire from hip to hip. “I’ll bet this arse would be very pretty with a handprint on it.”

James sucks in another breath, this one audible. He can’t stop himself from clenching his buttocks. Neither one of them has ever done more than give him a light, playful tap on the arse in the middle of lovemaking, the same as he’s occasionally done to each of them. But just like the idea of Robbie spanking him, the idea of her smacking him with a wooden spoon is way more enticing a thought than it should be. And much more of a likelihood than Robbie spanking him, despite his earlier threat. Robbie likes to tease at being the disciplinarian, but James suspects Laura could do more than play at it, if she really wanted to.

Laura laughs and lets his shirttail fall back into place. The line she’s drawn across his skin tingles as if she’s painted him with pepper.

She slips past him again, rubbing deliberately against him this time. Her breasts and the soft jumper press into his arm, and an image flashes through his mind. Of cupping her breasts in his hands, sliding his hands into her armpits, that soft jumper clinging to his fingers. Of lifting her and pressing her up against the wall. Holding her there with his weight as he sinks into her. It’s been so long... Too long.

She leans harder into him, sandwiching his cock between them. Her hand drifts up his bare thigh. “Hold onto that thought.”

He shakes his head to clear it. “What thought?”

She licks her lips as she stares up at him. “Whatever it is that’s making you look at me that way.”

He reaches for her.

Robbie growls low in his throat.

James isn’t sure whether it’s a warning or encouragement. Before he can do more than drag his fingertips across her sleeve, Laura backs away, laughing huskily.

“Sorry.” Her fingers dance across his groin, caressing him through his shirt, sending shivers of delight up his spine as she steps out of reach. “I hate to miss all the fun,” she says as she turns and walks briskly away, “but I’m about to be late.”

He takes a stumbling step forward, then catches himself. It’s disconcerting the way she’s gone from hot and teasing to cold and able to walk away, all without blinking or even looking back. Tantalizing.

Robbie’s obviously as intoxicated by her as James is. He straightens up in his chair, reaches for her as she passes, and says in a voice as throaty as the laugh she just gave, “So be late.”

She shakes her head as she steps sideways, evading his hand. “You’ve already made me late one day this week. My assistants are starting to ask questions.”

Robbie laughs and sinks back into his chair as she disappears into the living room.

James wants to ask what Robbie did that made her late. Images, hot and lewd, burn the backs of his eyelids. And then a cymbal clap of disappointment washes through him. Because he could have been here, could have been made late for work, too, if he hadn’t been so daft, so stiff-necked with pride. So filled with fear.

A moment later, Laura reappears in the doorway, scarf, keys, and a stack of files in her arms. “You two owe me, sending me off to work in this state.” After another bright-eyed perusal up and down his body and a wink at Robbie, she blows them both a kiss and walks out.

Robbie cocks his head and listens to the sounds of her leaving—door closing, the slam of the gate, the rumble of her car engine—before he turns back to James and says, “Shirt.” His casual, disinterested voice is back. And he stands up and walks into the living room without a glance, without even waiting for James to comply.

James fingers are still clumsy as he unbuttons his shirt and slips it off. He shivers even though the room is warm.

Robbie comes back into the kitchen with his jacket over his arm. His shirt collar is turned up and his tie is hanging loose around his neck. As James watches, Robbie slowly, slowly, unrolls his shirt sleeves, taking an excessive amount of time to roll the fabric down his arms. With concentration so intense it has to be fake, he buttons his cuffs. He looks as if, like Laura, he’s leaving for work.

But Robbie wouldn’t, would he? Walk away and leave James on edge, his nerves singing with need. What kind of twist would that be to their game? James bites at the inside of his cheek to keep from asking. And asks anyway, tone light and a bit sarcastic, “Going somewhere?”

Robbie smiles. “Not for a while.” His gaze travels slowly up and down James’s naked body, pausing at his erection. It’s the first time Robbie’s really looked at him since he kissed James, since he ran his hands down James’s back, then stepped back and stared at him, eyes narrowed with disapproval. It’s the first time Robbie’s really looked at James since he stepped back and ordered James to take his clothes off. The tip of his tongue slips out, and he moistens his lips. “Very nice,” he says, disapproval gone.

And James believes it. Feels it, from his scalp down to the soles of his feet. Admiration, approval, desire, is clear in Robbie’s husky tone and the way Robbie’s gaze plays over his body. James doesn’t see how he can get any hotter, any harder. He already feels like he’s burning up, but a flush starts in his face and spreads down his throat, across his chest. Down into his groin. He takes a step, but Robbie holds up his hand, stopping him.

Robbie comes to him instead. He stands so close that if James moves, the tip of his cock will brush against Robbie’s trousers.

“Do me tie. Your knots are neater than mine.” Robbie’s voice is as casual as if they’re standing on a street corner discussing what to have for lunch.

A quivering, jangling sensation ripples in James’s gut, and he groans. The very idea of it, of knotting Robbie’s tie, performing this intimate but perfunctory act, while he stands there naked and aroused, makes his knees feel like the ligaments have turned loose. He curls and uncurls his fingers, not sure he can follow Robbie’s instructions. His hands tremble like they do when he’s worked for too long at learning a new song. His fingertips are as hot as if the guitar strings have friction-burned them.

Robbie stands quietly, head tilted back, throat exposed, while James fumbles to button his collar. While James slides the silky tie through his fingers. The only evidence that Robbie’s even affected by what they’re doing is the visible tick of pulse beneath his ear.

They’ve played this sort of game before, one or the other of them pretending not to be affected by the other’s presence, pretending not to be burning up with desire. One of them trying to entice the other one, waiting for the other to blink. And this is a heady part of it, to see how long Robbie can pretend he’s not interested. To see how long it will take James, with only nudity and burning arousal as weapons, to break through the pretend nonchalance. But James realizes he never stood a chance this time. If Robbie can stand there so calmly while he’s jittering and giddy... Can be this cool...

“Concentrate,” Robbie warns softly, almost kindly.

James starts, finding that his fingers have stopped moving, are resting against Robbie’s chest. Pressing against the warmth seeping through the purple shirt.

James breathes in the scent of Robbie, warm and deep and earthy, as delicious as warm bread straight from the oven. It grounds him, and he nods and takes up the tie again. It’s an older one, dark paisley silk with an undertone of grey, just enough purple in it to pick up the shade of the shirt, and it’s soft as flower petals. It takes him two tries to get the knot assembled. To get the length adjusted. In contrast to the slow, easy in-and-out of Robbie’s breath, James is breathing like he’s rowed in a race.

He folds Robbie’s collar down over the strip of silk around his neck. Slides the knot up against Robbie’s Adam’s apple and tightens it properly. He can feel Robbie swallow against his knuckles, and he’s right back where he was with Laura, ready to explode whether Robbie touches him or not.

Robbie tips his chin down to his chest and tries to peer at James’s handiwork. His fingers test the length of the tails and the tightness of the knot against his throat. He nods with approval, then takes a small step back and slips on his jacket, settling it onto his shoulders with a slow shrug. He adjusts the lapels with all the seriousness of someone about to go into an interview with his boss. Picks off a piece of lint.

James groans again.

It’s his favourite suit on Robbie. The grey one that fits him just a bit tighter than his others. The jacket nips in perfectly at the waist and sits smoothly across the width of his shoulders. And best of all, though he’s never told Robbie, the trousers are tight enough, soft enough, that just a hint of Robbie’s cock sometimes shows when he moves. Or when he sits at his desk with his knees spread wide. And right now, the trousers are stretched taut, highlighting the outline of Robbie’s erection rising up along his zip.

James curls and uncurls his fingers. He wants to reach out, to lay his hand along the hot, hard length. To feel the tension in the stretched threads and the warmth in the metal zip and the hard curve of Robbie’s cock pressing against the fabric.

The throbbing, dizzying arousal that overtakes him when he’s naked while Robbie is fully dressed...he can’t fully explain it. He understands, intellectually, the power dynamics of clothing discrepancy, but not why it affects him so strongly. It works even if Robbie’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or just a bathrobe, but it’s most powerful when Robbie’s kitted out for work in suit and shirt and tie. Like now.

It began more as a response to Robbie’s reaction to being dressed while James and Laura were naked—discovered accidentally one night when Robbie was the last to undress—than as James’s own kink. But it’s become his own. It makes him want to rub against Robbie’s clothed body until he comes. It makes him want to lick until Robbie’s shirt is soaked and he can see every bump of his hard nipples through the wet cloth. Makes him want to suck Robbie’s cock through the thick fabric of his trousers. Suck Robbie until he comes, fingers gripping James’s skull, and the taste of semen and wool fills his mouth.

Robbie smiles at him. A quiet, kind, sweet smile. A smile all the more evil for its gentle understanding. Robbie knows what this does to him. Robbie likes what this does to him. Some of the nastiest, hottest, loveliest things they’ve ever done to each other have been while Robbie was completely clothed and James and Laura were naked.

James eyes slide closed. His breath catches, then gusts out, counterpoint to the thundering of his heart, and he leans towards Robbie, anticipating that first shock of clothing against his skin.

Robbie huffs a soft laugh. Catches him by his arm and turns him abruptly towards the worktop. Facing him away from what he wants. The sound that comes out of him is a jangled, misplayed note—half disappointment, half arousal, all frustration.

Robbie takes each of his hands in turn and places them flat on the white worktop. Robbie’s fingers linger along the tender flesh between his fingers. The caress echoes all the way down into his cock. Then echoes back a sharper pulse of arousal as Robbie taps the inside of James’s foot with his foot. The sole of Robbie’s shoe is hard and cold against his instep, and the hem of his trousers brushes against James’s ankle. His muscles twitch so hard it feels like his calf is going to cramp as he follows the pressure and spreads his feet a bit wider.

Robbie steps back and lets him stand there, shuddering. Stays quiet and still so long that James steadies. The wild beating of his heart eases and his breathing smoothes as he begins to wonder what Robbie’s going to do next. He starts to turn.

And Robbie’s whole hand, open and flat, pops him on one buttock.

James gasps and jerks up on the balls of his feet, nails scraping on the worktop as his fingers snap into fists. Like the pop of elastic on his cock, the blow isn’t hard enough to cause more than a mild sting. It’s the idea of it that makes it so shocking, so enticing. The unexpectedness of it that makes him go light-headed, excitement screeching across his nerves like feedback from an amp.

He whips his head around to see if Robbie’s going to do it again, bracing for a spank to the other cheek. Hoping for it. He wants that sizzling, burning feedback to race across his lower back. He wants another handprint scribed in heat across his arse.

But Robbie’s backed away from him, and his hands are at his sides.

Disappointment, more surprising than the pop of Robbie’s palm, flutters in James’s gut. He has to force himself to move back to where Robbie placed him. To uncurl his fingers and flatten his hands back down on the cool white surface. He gulps in air to still the tremors that are tightening his hips and making his toes curl. He peeks back again. “Robbie...” he whispers. Not sure what he wants to say. Sure only that he wants the heat of Robbie’s hands on him. The solid beat of Robbie’s heart against his.

Robbie’s still standing away from him, back against the wall. He looks as at ease, as composed as if he was standing in some college library, in someone’s parlour, about to conduct an interview. About to have tea.

It’s disconcerting, the mix of appreciation and disappointment and fluttering excitement that rolls through James. The rush of frustration with himself. How he could he have doubted someone who knows him this well? “Robbie...” he whispers, and this time it’s an apology.

Robbie’s gaze flicks over his body. Lingers on his arse. Robbie looks up with enough heat and delight in his face to make James forget every thought in his head. “Laura was right,” Robbie’s voice has dropped an octave. “Your arse looks lovely with me handprint on it.” His eyes glitter like crystal.

It’s evil...and breathtaking...the way Robbie’s looking at him.

Robbie steps closer and fits his hand to the spot he spanked, exactly overlaying the starfish of heat he’s raised in James’s skin. The touch is like the shock of cold water on a hot day.
James sucks in a sharp breath. Comes up on his toes again.

Robbie’s hand is so cold James is sure he must have deliberately laid it against something. That must have been what he was doing, standing so far back...resting his hand on something, on the wall or the window frame. Or on one of the window panes, cold with the morning air.

The idea of it, Robbie standing there, deliberately making his hand cold, washes over James. It’s more enticing than the actual touch. “Fuck,” he whispers.

“Yeah,” Robbie leans in to whisper in his ear. “I think so.” He squeezes lightly, his cold thumb straying towards the crease of James’s arse. His coat falls open, brushing lightly along James’s back and ribs.

James hisses. Fire chases cold up his spine.

Robbie reaches between his thighs and the worktop, grazing James with the sleeve of his coat, and slides the towel off the rod. Robbie catches him by the back of his neck, pulls him up, and marches him towards the living room. James’s body obeys before he can even think, and he’s in the doorway to the living room before he regains control of his feet and balks.

The blinds and the curtains are closed in the kitchen, but Laura opened the ones in the living room. Bars of morning light cut across the room, sparkling on the polished hardwood floor.

Robbie releases his grip on James’s neck. Goes past him and drapes the towel over the back of the sofa.

“Not in here,” James protests. Not with the curtains open and the light glaring, a long rectangle of sunlight curving across the couch, spotlighting it like it’s a stage. Anyone could come into the garden. Anyone could look through the window. See him bent over the couch. See what Robbie’s doing to him. A shudder runs over him, and his cock jumps. And he walks forward when Robbie takes a step towards him and beckons.

“Yeah,” Robbie teases the tips of his fingers up the underside of his erection, making it jump again. “I can tell you don’t want to be in here.” Robbie catches him, fingers hot on his arm, and guides him to the couch, pushes him to lean over the back of it.

Again, his body obeys. He’s bent down over the couch, thighs riding against the rough towel, before he can even form a protest. By the time he’s dredged up the words, he’s already braced, one hand on the arm of the sofa. He bunches a cushion under his other fist, but it’s a precarious support, threatening to collapse, to slide sideways and throw him off balance. It adds to his tension rippling through his muscles.

Robbie moves away. Rummages through the drawer in the end table for lube and a condom. Comes back. He puts the flat of his hand on James’s shoulder. It’s not as cold as it was, but still cool enough to make James shiver. Robbie catches his hip, pushes him forward gently. Presses down.

James follows the touch, adjusting his grip on the sofa, on the cushion. The towel draped over the back of the couch brushes against his thighs. The touch is soft and tantalizing, but not what he wants. He wants the rough abrasion of Robbie’s trousers, the solid heat of Robbie’s body against him. He wants to be in Robbie’s arms with the thicknesses of wool and cotton riding maddeningly between them. James inches backward, trying to touch him.

Robbie warns, “Be still,” and slides a hand up his back. It warms with friction as it moves up. The edge of Robbie’s coat sleeve catches on the bumps of his spine.

James sighs and arches into the touch, straining backwards towards the heat he knows is hovering just out of reach.

Robbie taps the spot on his buttock where there’s still a slight stamp of warmth.

James shifts again, shivering as he wonders if Robbie can still see the imprint of his hand there.

“Stop thinking and relax, love,” Robbie says.

James sighs again and tries to obey. He lays his forehead against his arm and closes his eyes against the glare of sunlight, ignores the little trickle of exhilaration that someone might be standing just outside, watching him through the window. Birdsong, high and clear, trills like fingers on his skin as he loses himself in the alternating sensations of Robbie preparing him. Cold, slick lube. Warm fingers. The dizzying pleasure/pain of being penetrated, stretched. The tantalizing brush of Robbie’s coat on his buttock. The rough edge of wool sleeve against his hip.

Robbie’s other hand slides up his spine. Pets his neck. Soothing him, lulling him. Robbie catches his hip and adjusts him back a step so he can slide his hand between James and the couch. Strokes his hip, his abdomen.

Robbie’s coat sleeve brushes his cock and James groans softly. Pushes back against the invading fingers. Back further, trying to rub himself against Robbie’s body. To feel Robbie against him. To rub against Robbie’s trousers.

Robbie stills him with the weight of his hand in the small of his back. Leans in just enough that James can feel his cloth covered cock, hard and hot, against his hip. “Not yet. Be still. And relax.” Then he shifts away again.

“But I’m ready,” he says, voice plaintive but not quite to the edge of begging. He slides his feet further apart, the way he knows he has to in order to accommodate the slight difference in their heights. “Please...”

“You’re too tense. Relax.”

James can’t hold back a huff of disbelief and laughter. The edge of Robbie’s coat sleeve is teasing his hip. And there’s a long line of fire where Robbie’s cock branded him, throbbing on his hip. He’s slick and stretched. So hard and ready he’s aching. And he’s been so near orgasm, and been backed down, so many times he feels like he’s on a rollercoaster. How is he supposed to relax through all of that?

Robbie taps the inside of his foot, shoe leather and hard sole against his flesh, and he shivers. The cushion shifts under his hand. But he slides his feet wide enough apart that he’s the right height for Robbie to take him.

There’s the rip of foil, the wet sound of a condom being unrolled. Robbie kicks James’s feet even wider, braces him with a hand on his hip, and pushes slowly into him.

James gasps, rising up on his toes. There’s a flare of delicious pain, then a flare of pleasure so intense it’s blinding. It makes him forget he’s in front of a window, awash in bright, unforgiving light.

“Okay?” Robbie asks hoarsely, not moving. Waiting for James’s body to adjust. To accept him.

James nods and drops his head. Groans, “Yes.” Accepting. Pleasure flaring out across his hips and washing up his spine. He’s missed this. Missed being this connected to another body. To Robbie’s body. Missed the intimacy and closeness. Forgotten how lost in his own head he can become without Robbie and Laura to draw him out of himself.

And then Robbie’s leaning in against him. Filling him. Soft wool of his trousers brushing against the backs of James’s legs, chafing against his arse. Sleeves rubbing his ribs and the open edges of Robbie’s coat falling forward over his hips as Robbie moves, pressing against him for a tantalizing moment, then moving away.

It’s maddening. The warmth of Robbie’s hands and the soft/rough wool of his suit. The quick rasp of the metal teeth of Robbie’s zip. The loose edges of the open coat sliding along his hips. The thick heat moving in him. Robbie’s belt buckle clinks as he thrusts, then draws away. A sleeve ghosts across James’s cock, then slips away.

James hisses and arches. Mutters, “Damn you.” Because Robbie knows what James wants him to do. That’s why he keeps shifting away. Pushing in, then swaying back, angling so he’s hitting that sweet spot inside him with every stroke, sending pleasure spiralling through him. Brushing against him. Pulling away. Touch of his coat here. Brush of fingers there. Cuff of shirt sleeve catching on James’s ribs. Cuff button scraping across the head of his cock. Every thrust a blast of fiery pleasure singing through his nerves. Every touch tantalizing, but never quite enough.

Robbie laughs, low and guttural. Teases more, with his hands and his body and the barest touch of his clothing, pushing James’s arousal higher and higher, until he’s arching up and desperate. Moaning to be held tight, to feel the rough touch of Robbie’s clothing. “Please,” he chokes out.

Robbie leans in and whispers it in his ear, “When you give it up, pet. When you relax.”

Brush of wool on his arse. Belt buckle, cold and hard. Fingers bite into his hips to hold him in place when he tries to rock back. “Christ!” he protests.

Robbie pulls almost completely out of him. Slides back in so slowly they both groan with the pleasure of it. And when he comes to rest, Robbie grips his hips to keep him still, steps in so that his thighs are against James’s legs. “C’mon, love, let go.”

Robbie’s touching him from ankle to arse. The soft wool of his trousers rubbing against the backs of James’s thighs, teasing the bends of his knees, his calves. The familiar scent of Robbie—warm skin and musky soap and body-heated fabric—fills his lungs. James groans and his fingers bite into the upholstery. Threads pop in the cushion he has fisted in his right hand.

Robbie rocks against him. Solid, hot body encased in soft wool. Trousers rubbing against the sensitive insides of his thighs. Zip scraping against his arse. Robbie’s breathing like he just ran a mile. His legs and his arms are trembling with the effort of holding back.

And it hits James, how much control Robbie’s exerting over himself. How much he’s holding himself back in order to give James what he needs. What he wants. James moves, rolling his hips, and Robbie growls a warning. The sound rasps across James’s skin, as rough as wool.

Robbie leans down over him, and his tie falls down James’s back. A waterfall of silk, of fire and sensation, down his spine. The tie moves on his skin like something alive. It slides away, then falls on him again, slithering across his back.

“God, Robbie,” he groans. He knows Robbie’s doing it deliberately, teasing him with the narrow length of fabric. “You’re killing me.”

Robbie wraps his arms around his ribs, pulls him up so that they’re plastered against each other from shoulders to floor. And there—at last!—the sensation he wanted. The rough wool of jacket and trousers against his skin. Hint of cotton and silk and buttons as the jacket slides open. Robbie’s clothing riding like a third skin between them. Robbie’s body, solid and hot, braced against him. Robbie. What he wants most of all. Robbie.

He grabs Robbie’s hands where they’re clutching him at chest and hip. Their fingers twine.

James’s orgasm flares up like a swell of music. And all the pent-up tension drains out of him, all the fear and the anger and despair, leaving only the sweet burn of arousal. His shoulders and his neck go hot and loose. His knees buckle. Without the steel bands of Robbie’s arms around him, he’d collapse.

Robbie groans as he feels James’s submission. He frees one hand to wrap it around James’s cock, but James doesn’t need it. It’s good, the grip of Robbie’s fingers, the quick, hard stroke, out to the tip, all the way down, but release is already rolling through his body. The sensation spills out of him, soft and unfocused. It moves through his whole body. Rippling like light. The quaver of violins and the flow of water. Tremors sliding up and down his spine as the sensations roll faster and faster, and he spills over Robbie’s hand and his own abdomen, hot splashes like candle wax.

Robbie’s breath is hot on the back of his neck. As if he senses what James needs, his grip eases and he holds on gently as James breathes and rocks through the pleasure. Until the tremors slow to quivers to a sweet throbbing ache. His muscles clench, release, clench, then relax so completely it feels like he’s melting. And the words pour out of James as he confesses, helplessly, “God, I’ve missed you.”

Robbie gasps and grips him tighter, eases him back down over the couch, fingers biting to hold him in place. He thrusts hard. Once. Twice. His body tenses. He presses his face into the middle James’s back and comes, groaning with the pleasure of it.

There’s nothing soft and sweet and rippling about Robbie’s orgasm. James can feel the power of it all along his back, on his ribs and his hip where Robbie’s fingers bite into his flesh. From the blossom of heat inside him, and the burn of Robbie’s breath on his spine. Robbie’s thighs tremble with the effort of holding himself up, and his teeth, as hard and sharp as the zip against his arse, graze James’s skin.

James reaches back with one hand to hold him, fingers tightening on Robbie’s cloth-covered hip. He grips the arm that still circles his chest as Robbie rocks and thrusts and finally shudders to stillness.

Robbie huffs and puffs and rolls his forehead against James’s back, relaxing his grip across James’s torso just a bit. And when his breath finally eases, he murmurs, “You okay?”

James manages to nod.

Robbie slips out of him. His arms tighten as James shudders.

It’s always a relief and a disappointment to be so empty after being so deliciously, uncomfortably full. James braces his palms on the back of the sofa and raises up, tries to take a bit of their weight, but his joints feel melted and loose, and his muscles so relaxed he can barely stand.

Robbie reaches around him, takes the towel and uses it to swipe James mostly clean. Folds it and uses it on himself. Then he folds it carefully, drops it on the floor, and leans against James’s back. He rests his cheek on James’s shoulder. His skin is damp, but James isn’t sure whether it’s his own sweat or Robbie’s.

“You’re gonna be the death of me, man,” Robbie mumbles against his spine, “I’ll be found slumped over, cold and blue, with me trousers unzipped and a big smile on me face. How will Laura ever explain that in a post mortem report?”

James laughs as he turns, clumsy and wobbly, in the circle of Robbie’s arms and searches blindly for his mouth. His arms feel weak and noodle-y as he drapes them over Robbie’s shoulders.

Robbie kisses him. A sweet, after-sex kiss tasting of coffee and buttered toast. Robbie’s hands roam up and down his bare back. Slide up to trace the bony protrusions of his shoulder blades. Down to cup his arse. His belt buckle warms against James’s stomach. “So what’s this been all about, then?” Robbie murmurs against his neck. “Where’ve you been? And why aren’t you looking after yourself? Why aren’t you sleeping?”

James drops his forehead onto Robbie’s shoulder. He isn’t ready to talk about it. The whole getting away to clear his head thing. His doubts about his place in their lives. His mixed feelings about Robbie returning to work. His fear about what that might mean.

He’d finally come to the shaky conclusion, after walking through half a country, that his problem was that it was all too easy, too accidental. The way they all fell into a relationship, the way they all fell into bed. Too much wine and too many bad jokes that became heated kisses and caresses. So much closeness, already, between them that the sex-hazed nights and the lazy Sunday mornings in bed, with Laura fussing about the crumbs in the sheets and Robbie complaining that they’d stolen part of his newspaper, had just seemed like a natural extension of what they already shared. Even the exploration of kinks—discovering that Laura likes to watch, and that, despite being something of a prude, Robbie likes dirty talk and being clothed while they’re naked, and that James likes for either or both of them to take control, order him around, tie his hands to the headboard—even all that had been filled with laughter and light. With a sense of joyous exploration he hadn’t experienced even as a teenager.

More than midway of his walk on the Camino de Santiago, standing at dusk on the river’s edge near León, it had come to him. Not like a lightning bolt or the crescendo of a symphony, but more like a whisper. More like the soft play of moonlight across the still water before him. It—they, them together—had all felt so wonderful and so natural and so was he supposed to trust it? In his experience, relationships didn’t work that way. Where was the angst, the weight, the uncertainty? The anger and jealousy? The pulling him in too tight or pushing him away? And he’d the midst of all that warmth and joy and desire, he’d been so busy waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop that he’d almost made it happen himself. to explain any of that, without sounding daft? Without sounding like he needs far more therapy than Robbie merely ordering him to strip and fucking him senseless over the sofa could possibly provide?

He doesn’t want to talk about any of it. He doesn’t want to talk at all. He doesn’t want to do anything that will touch the sweet, lazy satiation that’s come near to melting his bones. But he knows Robbie’s not going to let it go, so he says the thing that he knows Robbie will understand and accept. “This is my first murder case. I have to do well.”

Robbie takes in a breath to speak, then stops. Expels it. And says carefully, “James... There’ll always be cases you can’t solve. You know that. It happened when you were a sergeant, and it’ll happen now that you’re an inspector. That’s just part of the job, and you have to accept it, going in. You have to find a way to deal with it.”

And that zings through his relaxation. His head snaps up so he can look into Robbie’s eyes. “You think we can’t solve this case?”

“Sh-h-h-h... I didn’t say that.” Robbie pulls James’s head back down. Soothes him with his hands, with warm breath on his neck and soft kisses along his shoulder. “I’m just saying you can’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. But this case isn’t one of those. You’ll figure it out. I can feel it in me bones. If you just ease up a bit, it’ll all come together. You’ll be brilliant. You are brilliant.”

Robbie’s words are overwhelming. Sweet and so gently, easily confident. But Robbie’s next words are less confident, a hesitant confession. “I kinda wondered... You went off on your walkabout. And we didn’t hear from you. And we haven’t seen much of you since you got back. I thought...maybe... I was worried you’d gone off us.”

“Never,” James breathes. It’s the truth, if inexact. He’d never gone off them, exactly, just...questioned his place in their lives, anything so bright and easy could be real. Whether he wanted to allow himself to become so deeply involved, so exposed to the possibility of pain and loss.

But it’s sweet, and a bit overwhelming, to think that Robbie’s been as unsure of him as he was of Robbie and of his place in Robbie and Laura’s life. If she ever finds out they’ve both been worrying about things like that, without simply talking them through, she’ll take that spoon to both of them. He smiles against the soft skin under Robbie’s ear.

Robbie nods. “Yeah, I convinced meself it was work, once Innocent told me you were burning the candle at both ends. Once I saw what you were doing to yourself.”

“I’ll do better, Sir,” James promises.

“Smartarse.” Robbie gives him a gentle tap on his butt.

James shivers, remembering the tap before. The heat on his skin, and the cold, deliberate touch of Robbie’s hand. Another new kink they’ve discovered.

Robbie smiles, runs his fingers across James’s arse as if he’s remembering, too. Kisses James softly on his neck. “Go on then. Get cleaned up and into bed,” Robbie says. “I’ll straighten up in here.”

James doesn’t want to move away. He loves the feel of Robbie against him. The warmth of his solid body through the layers of wool and cotton. The way Robbie’s softened cock lies warm and just slightly sticky against his own. Robbie’s gentle, capable hands on his back.

Robbie senses his hesitation. “Want to talk about it? Why you went off like that?” Robbie asks, voice muffled against James’s skin.

James stiffens. Feels the tension pinch down at the base of his neck, ricochet into his back and shoulders. “No. I don’t want to talk about it.” Even if he did, he isn’t sure he even has the words to explain his fear. His doubts. How it all got the better of him, his uncertainty about his future, about what he wanted to do with his life. About them. His fear of being hurt. It all seems ridiculous now, standing in the circle of Robbie’s arms.

Robbie soothes him with touch. Stroking away the tightness that’s creeping back into James’s shoulders. Massaging the tension out of his neck.

James threads his fingers through Robbie’s hair and holds on. Kisses Robbie until he feels like he’s going to fall asleep breathing Robbie’s breath.

Robbie gives him a light shove towards the hall and backs away, reaching down to put himself away and rearrange his clothing. “Go on then,” he says, a little gruffly.

And James’s heart sings with knowing that Robbie doesn’t want to let go any more than he does. But he’s so tired he can barely feel the floor beneath his feet. He sighs with regret, leans in for one more kiss, then stumbles to the bathroom.

By the time he’s washed up, brushed his teeth, and slipped between the cool sheets, Robbie’s finished his cleaning up. He comes into the bedroom quietly and goes to the window. Closes the heavy drapes, shutting out the sparkling morning light.

He comes over to the bed and leans down. Runs his hand gently across James’s bristly scalp. “Think you can you sleep now, Sweet James?” Robbie asks him softly.

James nods, his hair whispering under Robbie’s fingertips and against the soft pillowcase that smells of Laura.

Music plays lightly at the edge of his thoughts. The original version of ‘his’ song, the one with the long, beautiful guitar intro. The one that was playing that night. The lyrics to the song are forever changed in his head. No matter who’s singing it—and he’s saved all the versions and covers he can find, 61 at last count, on his music player—he always hears the chorus with his name substituted in.

Robbie leans close and presses a kiss to his temple. Gone is the morning smell of coffee. Robbie’s breath is sweet and sharp with mint toothpaste. His fingertips are cool and damp and smell of soap. “I’m going in and help Lizzie for a few hours,” he says softly.

James’s eyes flutter open. The case, all the things he needs to do, are louder than the song that’s playing in his head. First, they need to—

“Don’t even think it. You sleep,” Robbie says firmly, looming over him. “Lizzie and I can cover for you for a few hours, and then you and I can go over everything tonight. And tomorrow morning, you can get a fresh start.”

It’s nice of Robbie and Lizzie, but he really can’t stop now for sleep. He should, at least, be looking over the write-up of the interviews they conducted yesterday. He’d meant to do that last night, but he’d ended up doing background research instead. That’s why he stopped by this morning, to talk to Robbie about what he’d discovered. At least...that’s the justification he’d given himself when he found himself sitting in his car in Robbie and Laura’s drive, clutching the steering wheel as he tried to decide whether he really wanted to go in. Whether he really wanted to find out, once and for all, what his reception would be.

Robbie perches on the edge of the bed and brushes cool fingertips across James’s eyelids, forcing him to keep them closed. “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t move out of this bed. I imagine Laura expects to find you right here when she gets home this afternoon.”

James smiles despite the case and all the pressures that are playing like a loud orchestra in his head. Because the reception has proved to be more than he ever hoped. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been if Laura hadn’t had to rush off to work. And now there’s the afternoon to look forward to. He shivers a bit. “That sounds like a threat. A very nice one.”

Robbie’s fingers feel good stroking his eyebrows and his forehead. Soothing. Despite the racing of his brain, he’s more relaxed than he can remember being in weeks. Maybe Robbie’s right. Maybe if he sleeps just a few hours...

“It does at that.” Robbie’s fingers brush across his lips.

James arches his neck, tips his chin, wanting more contact. “You’ll be here, too, this afternoon?”

Robbie’s fingers comb through his hair. “If you want me.”

“Always,” James murmurs, turning his head and nuzzling his lips against Robbie’s palm. Just like everything has always been between them, this is so easy, so natural, it makes all his worries and doubts seem ridiculously, outrageously foolish.

Robbie leans down to brush his lips across James’s temple, then slides off the bed. “You sleep now. I’ll be back.”

But James doesn’t want him to go. He lifts the covers. “Lie down with me?”

Robbie looks down at him and protests mildly, “Me suit’ll get all rumpled.”

“Just for a minute.”

Robbie shakes his head, but James can tell he’s toeing his shoes off. Robbie slides in under the covers, fully dressed.

James turns away from him and shifts back as Robbie snuggles up against him and wraps his arm across him.

Robbie’s warm through the layers of his clothing, but the buttons on his jacket are cold. James can just make out the soft, cool silk of Robbie’s tie against his back.

“Lizzie’s going to wonder why I look like I just got out of bed,” Robbie grumbles. But he presses his face against the back of James’s head and inhales. Turns his face and gently rubs his cheek against James’s hair.

James yawns. Robbie and Robbie’s clothing against his naked back. Rasp of Robbie’s jaw against his scalp. Warm breath playing down his spine. Arousal curls, distant and warm, in his belly. If he wasn’t so tired, so sated, he could easily get hard again. He rocks his hips back with a slow, suggestive thrust and roll.

Robbie makes a little sound of pleasure, and his fingers slide across James’s bare chest, ghost over one nipple, circle his navel. “If you keep doing that, Lizzie’s going to be asking why I’m so late,” he teases.

Robbie’s easy, accepting response, the promise in his voice, the warmth and safety of his arms relaxes James even more. So much that he opens his mouth and part of the truth comes out, even though he hadn’t planned on telling it. “I thought...” he says softly. “I thought, maybe, when you came back to work you’d think we shouldn’t do this anymore.”

Robbie’s arm tightens across him. He’s quiet for a minute.

James knows Robbie’s working through it, turning that uncanny Lewis intuition on what he’s just said.

“Is that the real reason you weren’t sleeping?” Robbie asks finally.

James shrugs, a bit embarrassed to admit it. Just when he’d figured out that what he wanted most of all was what he already had—Laura and Robbie and those lazy Sunday mornings in bed; Friday nights on the couch with beer and pizza, his legs tangled with theirs; coming home to sweet, tired kisses; waking to lewd, breathtaking kisses; taking turns washing the dishes; laughing as they argued good-naturedly over which flavour ice cream to buy... Love and laughter and passion and companionship.

All of it, the uncertainty and fear and questioning what he wanted, sounds daft now, this most of all. But...he has to admit to himself, it was one of the first thoughts that passed through his mind the morning Robbie returned to duty. James had stepped out of the cabin to meet Robbie, who looked impossibly gorgeous kitted out in suit and tie, and Robbie had tilted his head back and looked up at him, blue eyes shining, and said, ‘Inspector...’ with that peculiar inflection in his voice, approval and pride and joy. And the first thought that had come through, clear and cold, was... Does this mean we have to go back to the way it was? To wanting and never touching?

James sighs. “No, not only that. There was a lot of stuff, all mixed up. But... It’s just that, until this morning... I thought, maybe, since we’re working together again... Maybe we’d have to stop being together. Like this.”

“James...” Robbie says gently. He raises up and forces James to roll towards him so he look into his eyes. “We can handle this, can’t we? Working together and being...something more...away from work?”

James nods slowly. He knows he can.

Robbie strokes his thumb back and forth along James’s jaw. “And if we can’t... Well, there are other options. If this causes us a problem, Innocent doesn’t have to assign me to work with you. Or I can go back to building stuff in me garden. You have to know...I’d give up the job before I’d ever give you up.”

James closes his eyes. Nods, unable to speak through a symphony of love and relief. He knows that Robbie would never be happy going back into retirement. He knows that he would never allow Robbie to do it, which means he’ll have to find a way. They’ll find a way together. It’s as simple as that. It always was. It was only ever complicated because he made it that way.

He rolls back onto his side and tugs Robbie back into place against his back. Pushes Robbie’s cuff back so he can press Robbie’s naked wrist to his bare chest, over his heart. He imagines that he can feel his heartbeat synchronizing with Robbie’s pulse.

Robbie’s right. He’s tired. And sleep deprived. And he has been pushing too hard. Not letting anyone in. Not trusting anyone to help him. He hasn’t been thinking logically, or doubt would never have been able to taken up residence in his head, playing during quiet moments like an annoying ear worm of a song that wouldn’t go away.

He yawns so wide his jaws pop. His eyes slide closed and sleep nudges at the edges of his consciousness.

Robbie nuzzles his face against James’s skull again. Kisses the nape of his neck. Then he gently disentangles his arm and pulls away. “If I don’t get up, Lizzie’s going to wonder about more than me rumpled clothes. She’s going to wonder why I smell so much like her DI.”

James smiles sleepily into his pillow. “You better hope she doesn’t wonder why you smell like lube and latex.”

“Smartarse,” Robbie says gently. He gives James another caress on the back of his head. Tugs the blanket up over his shoulder. Picks up his shoes and slips quietly across the room.

Robbie turns off the light, and as just before he closes the door, he says quietly, “Sweet dreams, love.”

James falls asleep to the rough rasp of Lou Reed singing Sweet James in his mind.