The morning after Lewis’s stabbing injury at the hands of Bethan Vickery, James sends his boss a text. Coming to pick you up – ETA 10 mins.
His polite tap on Lewis’s front door is greeted, after a few moments, with a very grumpy-sounding “Let yourself in, man!” He rummages for the spare key Lewis gave him a year or so ago and does as he’s ordered.
The bedroom door swings open as he reaches it, and his governor is standing there, right arm inside the blue shirt that’s draped awkwardly around his left shoulder. His left arm, white bandage stark around the bicep, hangs uselessly by his side.
“You look like you could do with some help, sir.” James steps forward, and Lewis moves backwards to allow him into the bedroom. His governor’s navy suit jacket lies on the bed; he’s wearing the trousers, though they’re unfastened. James glances down. Lewis has managed to get his socks on, at least. And yesterday’s suit lies draped over the chest of drawers; clearly, no-one was around to help him get to bed last night, either.
“I had hoped you might’ve thought of that an’ come over earlier,” Lewis grumbles, sounding fed up – though the lines around his eyes suggest pain and lack of sleep.
James grimaces. “I should have. I assumed... well, something I obviously shouldn’t have.” Changing the subject abruptly, he asks, “Have you taken your painkillers yet?”
Lewis’s face gives him all the answer he needs. A quick glance at the bedside cabinet reveals no painkillers, so he turns on his heel and heads for the kitchen. Success: there’s a small prescription bottle on the counter. He quickly part-fills a glass with water and brings that and the bottle back to the bedroom, where Lewis has resumed struggling with his shirt-sleeve.
“For heaven’s sake, sir, leave that! I’ll help you once you’ve taken these.” He quickly checks the required dosage – two – and shakes them out, handing them to Lewis. With a mumble of something that doesn’t sound like thank you, Lewis swallows the pills down with water.
“You’re most welcome, sir,” James says with exaggerated courtesy, then reaches out towards Lewis. “May I?” His boss nods. James grips the shirt and starts to pull it off. “It’ll be a lot easier if we do the injured side first.” Carefully, he pulls the sleeve over Lewis’s bandaged arm, and from there it’s plain sailing. As impersonally as he can manage, he tucks the shirt into Lewis’s trousers. “Did you have a tie chosen?”
“That one.” Lewis reaches out for a dark blue tie that’s draped over the open wardrobe door. “What was that about you assuming something?”
Bugger. He should have known he wouldn’t get away with it. Never with Lewis. He fixes his gaze on the half-Windsor he’s tying. “I was aware that Dr Hobson intended to give you a lift home last night, sir, when you left the hospital. I... assumed... that she would stay to help you this morning.”
Lewis grunts. “Shouldn’t assume, then, should you?” Then he exhales. “She offered, but I told her to go. She’s got an early start this morning an’... well, it’s not like we’re... Anyway, she went home.”
“Right.” And again he’s treading on awkward ground where his boss’s romantic life is concerned. Uncomfortable on so many levels. He helps Lewis get his arm into the sling. “I imagine it’s safe enough to assume you’d like breakfast?”
“Where are you, sir?” He’s not going to talk about this if Lewis is somewhere public.
“At the White Horse with Laura.”
“Ah. I don’t suppose you’ll be coming back to the station, then?”
He can hear Lewis’s huff, and picture the rolled eyes. “What did I tell you about assuming, Sergeant?”
James glances at his absent governor’s desk, giving the empty chair the kind of long-suffering look he’d like to give his boss in person. “So I can expect you in...?”
“Half an hour or so. Be needing you to give me a lift home, too, so don’t slope off on me before I get there.”
“As if, sir.” James ends the call and looks thoughtfully at Lewis’s image on his phone’s screen for a few moments. It’s none of his business, it really isn’t – but he would dearly like to understand exactly the nature of his governor’s relationship with Dr Hobson. There’d be fewer minefields to tread in.
When Lewis returns, Hobson is with him.
“James.” She nods in his direction.
“Dr Hobson.” He keeps his tone level and at absolutely the correct level of politeness. His governor gives an exasperated sigh on the way to his desk.
“I owe you an apology.” Hobson moves to stand next to his desk. “I did assume that you’d have told Robbie – not that I’d have had any right to blame you anyway if you did. You were trying to keep out of it, and I – well, we both, really – insisted on dragging you into it.”
He resists the impulse to agree with her; instead, he smiles slightly. “Apology accepted.”
“Thank you.” She extends a hand. “Friends again?”
He grasps her hand, relaxing as her sincerity is apparent. “Of course.”
“Good. You were right, of course. We should have just talked to each other – which we now have, you’ll be relieved to know. And I hope you’ll let me cook you both dinner in a week or so, when Robbie’s got some of the use of his arm again.”
“Oi! I am here, y’know.”
“And your relationship is still none of my business,” James adds. “Thank you, I’d be delighted,” he adds to Hobson.
“Good. Right, since I’m being glowered at, I’ll leave you to get on with your work.”
“Still none of my business,” James points out, and does his best to ignore the sensation of his heart doing somersaults. “Though, since both of you seem determined to make it my business, I’ll ask: are you sure?”
He’s not insane, he tells himself. Above all else, he wants Lewis to be happy, and the one thing he does know is that the best route to happiness for his governor is not spending his spare time with a smartarse, over-introspective bagman. Lewis is the kind of man who needs someone to love and be in love with, and there’s no doubt in James’s mind that Laura Hobson can give him what he needs.
“No,” Lewis answers, mouth turned down at the corners. “But I’m not sure of the other option either.” He sighs. “Thing is, with Val there was never any doubt. I knew right from that first date that she was the one. Course, that doesn’t mean it’d be like that with anyone else, but I’m not even sure I’m ready to try with someone else. That’s not fair to Laura, so it’s best that we leave it at friends.”
“You have to move on some time, sir,” James suggests after a pause during which he debated with himself whether to speak at all.
“Do I?” There’s irritation in Lewis’s voice, but then he waves his good hand in mute apology. “I know, I know, but moving on doesn’t have to mean replacing her.” He sighs. “I hope you never have to find out what I mean, James. When you find that person who’s right for you – well, I just hope...” He shrugs.
“I appreciate the sentiment.” James does; he just doubts that he will ever have the kind of relationship Lewis means. And it’s not that he’s given up trying, although he’s pretty sure that Lewis thinks he has; it’s more that he’s found the person who’s right for him, but he isn’t right for the object of his affection.
“All right, all right.” Lewis huffs. “I know when I’m being told to mind me own business.” He glances around suddenly. “Oi, where are we going? Thought you were driving me home.”
“I am. Just want to make a brief call at my flat, if you don’t mind.” He turns into his own road, then pulls up in front of the house where he rents the ground-floor flat. “I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
“Okay, what was that all about?” Lewis demands as he gets back into the driver’s seat a few minutes later. “And what did you put in the boot?”
“Just a few things.” At Lewis’s beady-eyed stare, he elaborates. “Fresh ingredients from my fridge for dinner, and an overnight bag and clothes for the morning – assuming you won’t mind me sleeping on your sofa.”
“Never minded before, but why?”
“Judging by this morning, you’ll need help getting undressed, and again in the morning. I could go home and come back, but it seems a waste of time.”
“It would be, but you don’t need to do all that. That’s way beyond the call of duty.”
James glances at Lewis with a crooked smile. “That assumes I’m doing it merely because you’re my boss.”
Lewis has the grace to look abashed. “Yeah, I know you’re not. Thanks, man.”
“Some of it’s rubbish, o’course,” Lewis says this evening. “But a lot of it’s just like it was back then. I’m ashamed to say it, but hardly anyone took women officers seriously. Even the time Morse and I worked with a female DS – an’ she was good – I’m not completely certain we weren’t a bit patronising to her at first. But WPCs... well, they were only good for making tea, doing the typing an’ sitting with women victims.” He shakes his head. “People complain about the police now, but we’ve come a long way.”
“Witness Chief Superintendent Innocent,” James says with a smirk. “Can’t imagine her putting up with what Alex and Shaz have to face.”
Lewis winces. “Think anyone who tried that with her would’ve ended up damaged in a valuable part of their anatomy.”
James winces in sympathy. “Mmm, definitely.” He tilts his head. “How do you think she’d have reacted to Morse?”
Lewis almost chokes on his tea. “Let’s just say it’s as well we’ll never find out. On the other hand–” He grins wickedly. “Might’ve been fun to be a fly on the wall.”
“You jest, surely, sir. Chief Superintendent Innocent would never dream of allowing anything so irritating as a fly to invade her office.”
Lewis laughs at that, then groans. “Bugger. This bloody arm hurts when I so much as jolt it.”
“Come on, sir,” James says, encouraging. “Painkillers for you, and then bed.”
He gets a sour look. “And will you tuck me in too, sergeant?”
James just smirks and offers Lewis his arm to lean on.
It’s not the first time he’s stayed at Lewis’s, but this time is different. It feels as if he belongs, rather than being an intruder, however welcoming Lewis is. Of course, the fact that he’s responsible for most of the domestic activities, preparing meals, tidying up and so on, has a lot to do with it. And it’s good. It’s nice. And, even though it means going home to his own bed rather than sleeping on Lewis’s sofa, he’s sorry to leave.
It does feel as if things have changed a little between him and his governor, though in some ways, now he thinks about it, they’ve been changing for a while. It started, probably, after he stayed up all night working on the Chloe Brooks evidence. Lewis hadn’t said anything, beyond his first surprised questioning of James, but he has been treating James differently, in particular off-duty. Oh, the mocking exchanges, taking the piss royally out of each other, haven’t gone away, and nor would he want them to, but if he had to characterise their outside-work relationship now, he’d be sorely tempted to describe it not as colleagues socialising, nor as Lewis being kind by playing mentor to him – but as one of friendship.
Though whether Lewis would characterise it in the same way is not a question he has any intention of asking his governor. Lewis is, of course, more deeds than words, but it’s not only that – it would embarrass them both, and most probably he more than Lewis.
He tells himself not to question this development, not to worry at it inside his head and wonder what, if anything, it means. It is what it is, much as he loathes the trite-sounding expression. Lewis appears to be his friend as well as his boss, and if at the same time Lewis is also the friend of Dr Hobson, it feels very much to James as if more of Lewis’s off-duty time is spent with him. Ergo, either it really is friendship, or Lewis feels an extraordinary amount of pity or obligation towards James – which he very much hopes is not the case.
His inner debate continues, all the same – until one day he drinks a cup of coffee.
Damn it, no! The last thing he wants is a visitor right now. He takes a couple of deep breaths to fend off the latest attack of nausea, ignoring the knock.
And then a familiar voice shouts, “I’m letting meself in, James.”
Shit – Lewis. But his boss knows he’s sick, so what’s he doing here?
The bathroom door’s pushed open. “I know I’m probably the last person you want to see right now, but I thought you might need some stuff.” Lewis, in casual clothes, steps inside. He’s carrying a Boots bag. “Got that pink Pepto stuff, and some soluble electrolyte pills for rehydration. Wasn’t sure what you’d be able to keep down, but I got some Lucozade as well, just in case.”
James drags himself to a seated position, leaning against the shower door. “I think... probably everything.” Lewis is taking things out of the bag. “On second thoughts, maybe not the Lucozade,” he adds as his stomach roils again.
“You’ll probably feel like having some of that later.” Lewis’s hand rests on his shoulder for a few seconds, then he nods. “I’ll get you some water for the tablets – and you might want to start with this.” He hands over the Pepto-Bismol.
“Bloody prawns,” he grumbles after he’s swallowed some of the dissolved liquid. “A crustacean will never again cross my lips.”
“Bit unfair, blaming all shellfish for one batch of dodgy prawns.”
“I doubt you’d feel differently if you were the one in my position.” His teeth are chattering. How did that happen?
Lewis leaves the room again, returning shortly afterwards with a blanket, which he drapes around James’s shoulders. “Once your stomach’s settled down a bit, you should get into bed.”
“Assuming I can make it that far,” he mumbles.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Lewis squats down next to him and bumps their shoulders together. “Think I can manage to help you that far.”
“Yes, why are you here?” James glances quickly at his boss. “I mean, not that I don’t appreciate the remedies–” Which are starting to help, he thinks. “–but I wouldn’t have expected...”
“Not as if you’ve got anyone else to make sure you’re not choking on your own vomit.” Lewis sounds far too cheerful about that prospect for James’s liking. “Besides,” he adds, and there’s nothing but kindness in his voice, “why wouldn’t I? Was worried about you.”
Before James can respond, Lewis pats his shoulder. “Get the rest of that down you.” He gestures to the electrolyte solution. “I’ll leave you to it – just give me a shout when you’re ready to shift location.”
He does as he’s told, then looks up at his boss, now standing in the doorway. “Thank you. Sir.” Lewis just nods with a half-smile, then shuts the door.
“That sounds like the voice of experience.”
“Had two kids, didn’t I? Sat up with one or other of them plenty of times.” Lewis’s hand sweeps back over James’s hair in what almost feels like a caress. What, is that how his governor sees him? A surrogate child he has to take care of? He’d almost rather not have his boss’s kindness at all, if that’s the case.
“I know the difference in our respective ages makes that comparison plausible, sir, but I’d rather you didn’t make it, if it’s all the same to you.” His tone’s snippy, he knows, but right now he doesn’t care.
“Eh?” Lewis looks startled, then grins. “Nah. Can’t imagine any kid of mine turning out like you. Which isn’t an insult, in case you’re wondering.” His hand shifts to James’s shoulder and squeezes. “Go on, get some sleep. I’ll leave you in peace.”
“I’ll try.” Lewis gives him an approving nod. As he’s almost at the door, James speaks again. “Sir?” Lewis turns. “Thank you. Really – you’ve been very kind. Far beyond anything... I mean,” he adds, awkwardness making him slip into dry humour, “naturally you’d prefer to have me fit for duty as soon as possible. Who’d fetch your lunch, otherwise?”
Lewis quirks an eyebrow. “That’d make sense, if needing you at me beck and call as soon as possible was me only reason.” He exits, closing the door soundlessly behind him.
And James is reminded of himself pointing out something similar to Lewis a few months earlier, when Lewis’s arm was injured.
A lot happier, and with the nausea thankfully receded, he falls asleep soon after.
“What-?” He spins around, then regrets it when he almost loses his balance. And then almost falls over again when he sees Lewis, in T-shirt and underwear, standing in his living-room. Behind Lewis, on the couch, there’s a pillow and blanket. “You stayed...?”
“You all right?” Lewis has pulled on his trousers and is coming towards him. “Not feeling sick again?”
“No, thankfully. Just thirsty, and there’s an army of drummers inside my head.”
Lewis smirks. “That’ll be the dehydration. Similar symptoms to a hangover.” He pats James’s shoulder. “Another lot of electrolytes and you should be fine.”
“Probably. Um, thank you. You really didn’t need to do all this, sir.”
“Who else would’ve?” Lewis hands over the electrolytes, then gives him an assessing look. “You’ll do. Think I’ll head home, since it’s after six. See you at the nick.”
After his boss has gone, James forces himself to drink a pint of water, grimacing at the taste of the fizzy tablets, and then chases the taste away with a glass of Lucozade. He definitely does feel a lot better, headache aside. Although the food poisoning would have run its course anyway, he owes a significant amount of his recovery to Lewis – not just for the medication, but for the care. And caring.
He would never have imagined that Lewis would stay the night, sleeping on the couch, even, which couldn’t have been comfortable. It’s not as if he were helpless, or seriously ill. When was the last time anyone did anything like that for him? He honestly can’t remember.
“Looks like it. Still don’t think I’ll allow them back into my diet.”
Arsenic poisoning, then. Oh, joy. The doctor he sees agrees with their assessment, and provides him with charcoal tablets as well as taking samples for analysis. And that’s the end of that, he assumes. Of course they’ll identify the poisoner, but James is better and there’s no further need for Lewis to be concerned about him.
Yet, when they finally call it a day, Lewis insists on treating him to dinner – nothing fried or spicy, just in case, his boss cautions; good plain English cooking to make sure his stomach’s back to normal. Shepherd’s pie and a pint at the Old Victoria, then, and even a few cigarettes.
“Good thing we know you weren’t the intended target.” Lewis sips his pint, a glint in his eye as he looks at James. “Otherwise I’d be havin’ to look for an elderly aunt or former neighbour who thinks you slighted her.”
James snorts. “What, not Arsenic and Old Lace, then, sir?”
Lewis grins. “They made sure their victims died happy. Though I suppose for you coffee’s almost as good as wine.”
“Better, if it’s elderberry wine we’re talking about.”
“What about hops?”
“Ah.” James takes a long drink of his pint. “No contest. Depending on the time of day, of course.” He tilts his glass in Robbie’s direction and quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Here's to alcohol, the rose-coloured glasses of life.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Lewis clinks their glasses. “And didn’t someone say that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?”
“Sounds a bit blasphemous, sir, but I won’t disagree.” James picks up his phone and enters a query in its browser. “Benjamin Franklin. So some Americans do understand beer.”
“I dunno about that. Morse went to America once for a conference. He complained that he couldn’t get a decent pint anywhere – all the pubs served what tasted like ice-cold dishwater.”
James shudders. “Clearly, I should hope to be sent to conferences in locations no more exotic than Bournemouth.”
Lewis’s lips twitch. “There was an email this morning – two-day conference in Scarborough on poisons. Put you down for it, will I?”
“I don’t know which is more terrifying. I’d do all your reports for two months to avoid having to go.”
This time, Lewis doesn’t even try to hide his grin. “You’ll do them anyway if I tell you to. Besides, Scarborough’s not bad. Never mind you Southern sorts an’ your Brightons and Bournemouths. Proper seaside resort, is Scarborough. Best fish an’ chips anywhere on the coast. Just bring a warm coat an’ you’d never know you weren’t on the south coast.”
James shudders a second time. “Can I take the arsenic instead?”
Just as James is about to ask what’s on Lewis’s mind, his governor says, “Have to start taking better care of you.”
“That’s twice in three days you could’ve died, man. And...” Lewis shrugs. “S’pose I’ve just got used to having you around.”
Speechless, James just stares blankly at his governor for several moments, unable even to voice the kind of smartarse comeback he’s sure Lewis is expecting. Finally, he says, “Actually, you’ve taken very good care of me over the past three days. You were very kind when I was sick, and you turned up in the nick of time today, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Sheer luck,” Lewis says, and he’s completely serious; no mockery at all.
“Just like you were lucky you saw Bethan Vickery’s knife in time and she only got your arm,” James says, without pausing to consider what he might be revealing – not only by his words but by the way he’s looking at Lewis.
Lewis nods, then reaches out and grips James’s hand. “Try to stay away from terrorists with loaded guns in future, eh?”
James can barely breathe. The expression in Lewis’s eyes – the caring, the worry, everything... He turns his hand over so that he’s gripping his boss in return. “And you try to stay away from crazy, obsessive women – especially the ones you flirt with.” A thought occurs to him, and he huffs a laugh.
“What?” Lewis is still holding his hand, and James doesn’t dare to move in case he lets go.
“It just occurred to me, sir. How many times have the women you flirt with turned out to be murderers?” Not always, of course. Stephanie Fielding wasn’t, and he fully expects Lewis to point that out.
But he doesn’t. “Maybe I should stop flirting with women.” The emphasis on the last word sets James’s heart thumping even more rapidly. And Lewis hasn’t looked away from him, and...
You dullard, James Hathaway. Call yourself a detective? How many more clues do you need?
His mouth’s dry, and his heart is pounding so hard he’s afraid Lewis will hear it. But when he searches his governor’s face again all he sees is, unbelievably, nervousness and wanting.
He swallows, then leans in and, tentative at first, brushes his lips over Lewis’s. His boss’s hand tightens around his, and James shifts closer, his second kiss more certain.
And then Lewis makes a sound he’s never heard from the man before, and he’s wrapping a hand around the back of James’s neck to pull him in closer, and the kiss turns into the furthest thing from tentative that could be imagined. And then there’s a second kiss, and then a third, and more, until they’re both breathless.
“Ah, James,” Lewis murmurs, and his hand slides across James’s shoulders until they’re almost hugging. “That was lovely, that was.”
Lovely – and so completely unexpected that James’s head is still reeling. But he’s not dreaming, and neither of them is drunk, and he understands Lewis well enough to know that the man doesn’t do this kind of thing lightly. Oh, there’s still the possibility that there could later be an embarrassed apology and request to forget it ever happened – but he doubts it.
He rests his head on Lewis’s shoulder; their proximity makes it irresistible. And, because he can’t help it, he recites, his voice low and intimate.
“Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty, add a hundred more:
A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on,
To make that thousand up a million.
Treble that million, and when that is done,
Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun.”
Lewis’s arm tightens around him. “That’s lovely, too.” He leans closer and answers the request, kissing James again.
In between kisses, James says, “Robert Herrick. The poem’s called To Anthea.”
Lewis pulls back briefly to give James an exasperated stare. “Do I look as if I care?”
James laughs and kisses him again.
Lewis – Robbie – sighs. “Oh, go on, then, if you must.”
He rolls over so that they’re chest to chest, thighs touching, and looks directly into Robbie’s eyes, summoning his Love Lines voice as well as all the self-control he possesses in order to keep a straight face.
“But yet, though love likes well such scenes as these,
There is an act that will more fully please:
Kissing and glancing, soothing, all make way
But to the acting of this private play:
Name it I would; but, being blushing red,
The rest I'll speak when we meet both in bed.”
Robbie stares, eyes wide and disbelieving; then he shakes his head and laughs. “Only you, James. Had to get a cleverclogs for a sergeant, didn’t I?” He pushes upwards beneath James. “Come on, you. Shift.”
“Sorry, am I too heavy?” Embarrassed suddenly, James moves off him, sitting on the edge of the couch.
“Nah, don’t be daft. Wanted to tell me something in bed, didn’t you? Get a move on – if you’re very good, I’ll even let you share me orthopaedic mattress tonight.”
Would that be good in terms of behaviour or performance? James dips his head and kisses Robbie yet again as they stumble together along the hallway to the bedroom, figuring it’ll earn him points for both – and even if it doesn’t, they’ll both enjoy it anyway.