James makes yet another attempt to get through the crowds blocking his way to the bar, but it’s looking like unless he’s willing to cause actual bodily harm to some people, he’ll just have to wait until someone steps aside to let him pass.
He should have known better than to come to the Turf on New Year’s Eve. But he hadn’t fancied sitting at home with a six-pack, and he’d thought he might enjoy the atmosphere in the city centre.
So far, though, the atmosphere’s consisted of the smell of stale sweat and spilt beer, and the sound of braying voices and drunken singing. While he’s still stone-cold sober, not having yet managed to get one pint.
Someone taps on his shoulder from behind, and he spins around, ready to explain that he’s been trying to get to the bar for the past ten minutes, and no, he’s not moving. But the words die on his lips.
“Sir! I thought you were still in Manchester.” His boss had taken the entire time from Christmas to New Year off, so that he could spend a proper Christmas with his new grandson. And yet Lewis is here, standing next to him — wearing what looks like a garish pine-tree and snowflake jumper underneath his green Barbour jacket.
“Thought it was you.” Lewis is smiling, apparently pleased to see him, and despite his frustrations James smiles back. Maybe it’s not such a disaster of an evening, after all. “Got back this afternoon.” James dips his head so that he can hear Lewis amid the raucous noise in the pub; when Lewis speaks again, he can feel the man’s breath against his face. “Had arranged to have a drink here with an old friend.”
“Oh.” Of course Lewis isn’t alone. Why would he be? He’s not the type to go drinking on his own. “I’ll let you get back to her, then.”
Lewis gives him a mock-impatient eye-roll. “Was a he, not a she. An’ I’ve sent him off home to his wife.” His boss’s hand rests on his back. “Look, this place is heaving. We’d be lucky to get a drink before midnight, at this rate. Fancy trying somewhere else?”
“Excellent idea.” They ease their way, with many excuse mes and apologies, through yet more drunken students and out onto Bath Place. From here, the White Horse is only a couple of minutes away, or they could take a longer walk south and make for the Wheatsheaf — or, given Lewis knows the staff there, he might suggest the Randolph if he’s feeling in the mood for something a bit more civilised than fighting his way through yet more drunken New Year’s Eve revellers.
The biting cold hits James as soon as they’re outside. It’s not just the low single-digit temperatures, but there’s a nasty east wind as well. “Where to?” he asks Lewis.
“White Horse is closest. It’ll probably be mad too, but they know us there. Better chance of getting served, maybe.”
They walk shoulder to shoulder, sticking close to provide an obstacle worth avoiding for the half-cut idiots staggering their way along the Broad.
“He’s someone I got friendly with when I first transferred to Oxford,” Lewis says, and James realises he means the friend he’d had a drink with. “Another copper. He’s an inspector in Traffic these days. He an’ his wife have been going through a bad patch. He thought I could help — dunno why.”
I do. Of course Lewis’s friends would come to him when they need advice. He’s not only the kindest and wisest man James knows, but also the most discreet. “Of course he did. And of course you helped — you sent him home to his wife, you said?”
“Yeah. Told him — well, something I learned over the years with Val is that it’s stupid makin’ it a point of pride over who says sorry first. If you love her, just say sorry an’ be done with it.”
James nods. “Sounds very sensible.” And something Lewis himself still practices, he’s well aware from his own experience. If they’ve had a disagreement which ends in harsh words, Lewis is invariably the first to apologise, even if James is more in the wrong. And he can’t think of another DI in the nick who’d do that.
Some would call that a sign of weakness. But the last thing anyone could accuse Lewis of is being weak. Kindest man James has ever known, certainly; but tough as old boots when he needs to be.
“What’s it looking like in there?” They’ve reached the White Horse now. It’s noisy; even with the doors shut, James can hear the loud roar of what passes for conversation.
“I suspect, if we went in, we might be witness to the commission of a criminal offence.” At Lewis’s enquiring eyebrow-lift, James explains, “Overcrowding. Fire hazard and so on.”
Lewis snorts. “Right. S’pose we could try the Randolph — or...” He tilts his head, looking at James. “Did you bring your car?” James shakes his head. “Had anything to drink?”
“Not yet. I was trying to order a pint, but, as you saw...”
Lewis nods. “I drove. Was only expecting to have one pint, but I ended up having two. You could drive us back to mine. Stop at an off-licence on the way? And, since I’ve not got much shopping in yet, we could go out for a proper breakfast in the morning.” They’re not officially on duty again until the day after New Year’s Day.
“Sounds a lot more appealing than this lot.” James indicates the White Horse. “Yes, please.”
“So, have you made any New Year’s resolutions, then, sir?” James asks later, comfortably slouched on his boss’s sofa, a half-drunk bottle of Bridge in his hand and the television rumbling quietly in the background.
“Resolutions?” Lewis gives him a disbelieving look over the brim of his own near-empty bottle. “Resolving not to make resolutions, that’s my resolution.” He smirks, and James knows it’s his own turn to be mocked. “Could give you a list, though. Let’s see... I will not be a smartarse. I will offer all proper respect to my governor at all times. I will avoid using words of more than three syllables unless absolutely essential, an’ then only—”
“I will obey all my governor’s instructions without question, and will endeavour to anticipate his every need,” James finishes.
“That’s the spirit.” Lewis holds up his now-empty bottle and grins. James takes the hint and drags himself upright and into the kitchen for seconds.
The second round takes them through updates on the family, including Jack, Lewis’s four-month-old grandson, and the third covers updates on happenings around the nick in Lewis’s absence. Not work; James insists that his boss is still officially on holiday and deserves not to be troubled about anything to do with cases until the day after tomorrow.
And then it’s the fourth, and Lewis is starting to look pleasantly tipsy, and James knows he himself is well on the way to being happily drunk. He’s spending the night here, though, so it’s fine.
“So enlighten me, then,” Lewis says very carefully a while later, as midnight approaches. “What’s this all about? Y’know, gettin’ drunk and disorderly and kissing complete strangers as a new year strikes? Saturnalia, is it?”
James’s brain sticks for a split second on kissing, but he forces himself to focus. “Actually, that’s something of a myth. The Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia was actually closer to Christmas, in terms of the calendar, anyway. But any excuse for a bit of carousing and sexual contact, wouldn’t you say, sir?”
“S’pose.” Lewis drains his fourth bottle. “So who’d you be out kissing at midnight, given the choice?”
James coughs, pretending some of his beer’s gone down the wrong way. That’s certainly not a question he wants to answer. “Who says I want to kiss anyone?”
“But if you did.”
James shakes his head. “No fair asking me that. I can’t ask you the same question.”
Lewis’s eyes widen. “Course you can, if you want. I’ll excuse you from me ban on bein’ a smartarse, just for tonight.”
James drains his fourth bottle. “All right, then. Though it’s not difficult to guess.”
Lewis’s mouth turns down faintly at the corners. “Yes, but I can’t, so that’s not the answer.” He smiles then, which tells James that Lewis isn’t dwelling on his wife's loss, not tonight. “Another guess?”
Laura, then, James decides, but he’s not going to bring up that subject now. And then Lewis’s attention’s distracted by the television. “It’s the countdown.” He grabs the remote and turns up the volume, and starts counting along with the TV announcer and the throngs out on the streets in Westminster, waiting for the fireworks to start.
“Three... two... one... Happy new year!” Lewis exclaims, and turns to James, throwing an arm around him to pull him close.
Big Ben starts to strike. A torrent of fireworks explodes over the Thames. The crowd cheers.
And Robbie Lewis’s lips cover his in a warm, intense, deliberate kiss.
He wakes to a familiar Geordie accent close to his head. “Morning. Sleep well?”
Blissfully well — once they’d finally gone to sleep. They’d stayed on the couch kissing until after the fireworks had stopped, and James couldn’t have said whether there was more electricity in Westminster or in Robbie’s flat. Then Robbie’d stood and held out his hand to James, and without another word being spoken he’d ended up here, in Robbie Lewis’s bed. Where they’d created yet more electricity of their own, until finally tiredness had overcome them both.
Now, though, in the cold, sober — or hung-over — light of morning, James opens his eyes with a degree of wariness. There’s no guarantee, after all...
“Oi. Try shutting that idiot brain of yours off before it starts jumping to all the wrong conclusions.” Robbie Lewis, hair charmingly rumpled, is smiling down at him.
“That rather assumes I should know what the right conclusion is,” James points out.
“Well, just to help you along, and in case you’ve lost all your skills as a detective—” Robbie dips his head and plants a firm kiss on James’s lips. “—the wrong conclusions would be that I was too drunk to know what I was doing, or that I just fancied a one-night stand with me best mate. The right conclusion would be that you now know the answer to that question you almost asked me just before midnight.”
“Question—? Oh, right. You mean who you’d kiss at midnight if you had the choice?” James’s eyes widen.
“Yeah, that question.” Robbie’s face softens. “You, bonny lad.” And he proves it by kissing James again, and it’s some time later before either of them is ready to face the day.
“Right!” Robbie throws back the duvet and slides out of bed. “Shower, and paracetamol for that headache of yours, an’ then out for breakfast.”
James smirks as he jumps to his feet. “Yes, sir! And, in anticipation of your every need, as per the resolutions you provided for me, I will adjourn to my flat later and pack a bag, so that I can be on hand to cater for your wants later today, should that be necessary.”
Robbie nods in approval. “Yeah, you can do that. You’re learning, sergeant. Took you a few years, but you’re learning.”
James strides around to Robbie and frames his boss’s face with his fingers. “I will definitely endeavour to do better in future. And, just in case you were wondering...” He dips his head and brushes a feather-light kiss across Robbie’s lips. “I’ve just given you my answer to that same question.”
“Good.” Robbie’s fingertips brush James’s jaw. “Think I’m lucky the pubs were all full last night.”
“I’m the lucky one. Though—” Despite the resolutions Robbie’s tried to foist on him, he can’t help being a smartarse. “What were you wearing last night? You do know it’s 2012, not 1992?”