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kilter chapter 2

divingforstones

A Journal of Lewis Fanfic - divingforstones


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kilter chapter 2
divingforstones

Fic: The Apparent Places of Fundamental Stars - Chapter Three

Chapter One of Five including the header info
Chapter Two of Five


“How’d you get in here?” Robbie asks. He’s woken to find a purring and satisfied presence has made itself at home on the bed. Monty, obviously highly complacent at getting the chance to assert his belief that this is where he should spend every night, ignores this.

It’s nowhere near time for the alarm to go off. It’s pretty much still dark. But Robbie has slept very well. And he’d been vaguely aware any time he stirred of James breathing deeply and evenly beside him, there right throughout the night. He’d even muzzily taken in at one stage that James must sometimes sleep on his front because Robbie had half-roused to find he was drowsily settling an arm across his sergeant’s back… James wouldn’t have noticed that, though, and Robbie had been too relaxed to do anything but pull his straying arm back to his own side. But James must have been uncomfortable when he woke up and had slipped out, Robbie supposes, uncomfortably dispirited by this himself.

And, really, what the hell were they thinking last night?

It’s no wonder James rethought the whole thing once he was alert again and his sore head had cleared. It’s different from how this had happened in Lincolnshire. Different somehow when it’s in Robbie’s own home. Robbie’s own bed. And quite how they had landed up sleeping in the same bed on the exact same day that Innocent had pretty much expressed reservations about boundaries, unwarranted though her actual suspicions were—ah, damn it. Well, not much point lying here despite the early hour since he’s fully awake now. A hot shower beckons.

By the time Robbie emerges from the shower the day is starting to get underway outside, too, because as he’s standing, towel around waist, gazing at the selection of shirts in his wardrobe, the early morning winter sun is sending a shaft of segregated light, if not yet warmth, across his bedroom carpet and bare feet, through the still-closed wooden slatted blinds. But Robbie must not be fully awake  because it still takes him a moment to register the dark grey slim fit suit trousers and jacket and a shirt of dubious hue that are still hanging on the rail, pushed in amongst his  own more regular choices.

James can hardly gone far dressed in boxers and undershirt, not even for a smoke—Robbie shakes his head, unable to put this disparate set of clues together. “James?” he queries aloud, raising his voice.

“In here,” comes a call from the direction of the kitchen.

No, he bloody well wasn’t. Not when Robbie went in there for a glass of water before his shower. No sign of him.

Once Robbie’s dressed, he discovers James standing in the kitchen, beside the table, leafing through a newspaper with one hand, while holding a half-empty pint glass of water in the other. He looks flushed and very wide-awake. He’s also dressed in exercising gear.

“Went for a run,” he explains. “My gym bag was in my car. And you were in the shower. When I came back.” He’s still breathing hard between utterances. He does have a spare key for emergencies and Monty-feeding duties when Robbie goes up to Manchester. He must carry Robbie’s keys on his keyring. It’s hard to tell if he’s still as pale as yesterday. If his colour is heightened and flushed now, that’ll be the after-effects of a run in outside temperatures that could surely only politely be described as bracing. He’ll be frozen once he starts to cool down from his exertions.

Robbie shakes his head at him, letting his face convey what he thinks about self-punishing regimens like this. Although James just grins back at him. “Plenty of hot water still left for you if you want a shower here,” Robbie tells him. “We’ve a bit of time before work, so we can stop off for you to change properly at your flat—you must’ve been up at the crack at dawn. You daft bugger.”

“Thanks,” James says, looking pleased at the offer and he heads off in the direction of a shower. Robbie supposes the real question is why James had come back at all when it’d surely have made more sense for him to head home and go for a run from there—he shakes his head again and decides that, seeing as he’ll be waiting a bit before they have breakfast, he may as well start messing around with the cafetiere to make the coffee properly.

James looks appreciative once he reappears to join Robbie, who’s been sitting at the kitchen table in his shirtsleeves, enjoying his first cup while leafing through the newspaper. Radio 4 murmurs away agreeably in the background. They’ve still got time for a leisurely-enough breakfast too. It all seems remarkably civilised. Maybe there is something to this getting up early lark, after all. Minus the jogging, obviously.

“I could get used to this,” he says, as his sergeant drops down into the chair opposite him, reaching for the cafetiere. He’s dressed in yesterday’s shirt with his suit trousers and with still-damp hair, but he looks like he’s pretty relaxed in the warmth of the kitchen. “You bein’ my paper-boy…”

“Mmm-hmm. And—I believe I was promised eggs and bacon,” James says, looking over the rim of his mug at him. “The next time I availed of your kind hospitality.”

“It’s Thursday,” Robbie tells him.

“Seems like it should be the weekend,” James says feelingly. He’s not wrong there. Robbie had said that, though, hadn’t he? Back in the hotel, the first time they’d landed up sharing a room and James had been the one who’d sent Robbie to sleep surprisingly easily. Last night, Robbie talking on to him had been enjoyable, but it was seeing James still himself into sleep, watching him get past his pain like that to find rest as he had listened quietly to Robbie’s words, that’s what had done ruddy odd things—

“Didn’t think you were the type to sneak out while me bed was still warm…” says Robbie, trying to make light of this oddness.

James gives him a long-suffering look. “I did bring back croissants, actually, from a proper bakery. They’re very fresh and quite flaky…”

“All is forgiven,” says Robbie magnanimously. “Where’d you put them?”

“The cello player in my band,” James tells him, putting down his coffee cup and rising to produce this unexpected treat. “He’s a pastry chef at a new French bakery that’s opened and he kept saying I had to try these first thing. Here.” And he sets a plate in front of Robbie, another in front of his own accustomed place when he eats here, and a third with the tempting looking pastries on it in the centre of the table.

Robbie takes a croissant as his sergeant settles back down and reaches to pour more coffee into his waiting cup. But he’s forgotten the knives and—“I’ll get the butter.”

“You cannot put butter on them,” James informs him, adamantly, setting his coffee down in haste and putting a mug-heated hand on Robbie’s forearm as he goes to get up. “These are croissant au beurre. That’s why they’re a deeper colour and the top of them is caramelised, and that’s what’ll give it a proper authentic crunch.”

“Can’t I, Sergeant? Think I’ve some marmalade at the back of the cupboard, then,” Robbie says thoughtfully.

There’s a silence while James drops his hand and blinks at him in disbelief, this suggestion apparently being an even worse crime against croissants than the butter would be. But he’s reminding Robbie of how he’d looked last night, dazedly blinking up at Robbie in his exhaustion and his pain. What’s he think he’s doing going out exercising this morning? He’ll be wearing himself out, literally running on empty in this frigid air.

“I’ll get some apricot jam for next time,” James decides, solving this to his own satisfaction.

“Did you feel well enough to do that this morning—go for a proper run?” Robbie asks him.

James shrugs a shoulder. “Headache’s gone,” he says, sliding a croissant onto his own plate.

“And your French friend’s bakery is over in—”

“Jadran’s Serbian,” James informs him. Apparently in lieu of an actual response. “And croissants aren’t really French either, in origin. It’s thought that they were invented by the Austrians when they were under siege by the Ottoman Turks—a baker working in the middle of the night raised the alarm when he heard them trying to tunnel into Vienna and the city’s defenders were alerted just in time—”

“Which is an hour of the night you and I have been seeing all too frequently,” Robbie cuts in. “So just how early were you up?”

“The bakery doesn’t open till eight, it’s just Jadran will pass me a bag of these out the back door.”

Robbie sighs. He’s that bloody good at answering questions sideways. Innocent should really lend James to the new recruits for them to practice interrogation techniques on as a bit of a challenge.

“So to celebrate their part in the lifting of the siege—” his sergeant says, returning to this impromptu history-of-breakfast lesson, lifting his coffee mug and gesturing at Robbie with it in a way that makes him suddenly thankful that James has half-drained it again already, “—the bakers created pastries in the shape of the Turkish crescent they’d seen on the invaders’ battle-standards.”

“How’d the croissants get to France, then?” Robbie asks, giving in for the moment, despite himself.

“Marie-Antoinette was Austrian. And just try it plain—these are made with pure butter, that’s why their arms are out straight. The French have actual legislation that says if you use any substitute fat like margarine then you have to wind them into the crescent shape.”

“Aye, but I think this one is a bit far outside its lawmaker’s jurisdiction either way,” Robbie says, taking a bite. “Ah, that’s good. Where d’you say this bakery was, then?”

He only gets another shrug for this last none-too-subtle attempt to establish just how far James has been pushing himself this morning. James’s mouth is probably full, though. At least he’s got his appetite back this morning. For buttery pastries shaped like battle-standards and, more reassuringly, for imparting ruddy odd bits of knowledge over a cup of coffee too.

Robbie bites into his again. It surrenders warmly to the assault of his teeth in a deeply-toasted, yielding-soft fashion—and immediately scatters flaky crumbs right down his shirt front.

“Authentic crunch,” James confirms cheerfully, nodding around a mouthful of his own croissant.


================================================================



An internal seminar on Ethical Issues in Modern Policing is nowhere near the top of Robbie’s list for useful ways to spend a morning. But he supposes it gives them a break from more everyday routine bureaucracy. And from thinking about that particular thorn-in-their-side stalled case. There have been no further break-ins since Mrs Travis’s ordeal last week but not much clear forward progress towards identifying their perpetrator either, it feels like. This little interlude should be a distraction of sorts. Except that in order to answer a question that someone’s posed about conflicting loyalties and internal reporting, the facilitator has diverged off from actual police work and into power differentials and the boundary issues they can raise. Ruddy marvellous. Robbie’s only thankful Innocent isn’t sitting in on this one to cast more of her unflinching glances at him.

Is every bugger obsessed with this recently, or is it just playing on Robbie’s mind like Agatha Christie and her poisons?

Something about all this is hitting uncomfortably close to home and it’s disconcerting him, although JamesJames, sitting beside Robbie halfway down the long table in the meeting room, seems remarkably unperturbed by it all. He’s giving every appearance of being politely uninterested in the lecturer’s educated views. As if none of this could possibly relate to him and Robbie. And a while back Robbie would have been right with him there. But not since Lincolnshire, and not since that night, a week ago now, when his sergeant had laid an aching head to rest on one of Robbie’s pillows and then slept beside Robbie in his bed.

Robbie shifts, trying to shrug this off. James sends him an enquiring glance, then, when he gets no response, reaches for his takeaway coffee cup, grimaces at the contents and puts the rest aside, returning to his notes. He’d come back from their break earlier, coat on and flapping open, cheeks flushed, slipping back into the meeting room just in front of the lecturer and then sliding one of the cardboard cups he was bearing in front of Robbie before dropping back down into his place. He’d obviously decided the short break was just long enough to indulge in his twin cravings for nicotine and caffeine. What’s he doing now, anyway? With his pencil, making those little marks—ah, lord, he’s correcting the punctuation in his handout.

Just as well they’re winding to a close.

“…so if you can fill in the questionnaire in your lecture-aide and ensure you add your details and return it to me on your way out,” instructs the facilitator, right on cue.

James, suddenly concerned, leafs through this hand-out that turns out not to be a hand-out after all. The questionnaire starts on the other side of the page he’s just finished editing. No way he’ll be able to tear out it out. He shoots a glance along to the end of the table to see if there are any going spare. Looks like he’s out of luck there, too, Robbie reflects, keeping a straight face.

“Bugger,” James mutters, resigned, turning his attention to the questionnaire.

Robbie hides his amusement and starts on his own. 

===

“I’m going to look like a right know-it-all,” James says, annoyed, once they’re a decent way along the corridor.

“Scandalous misrepresentation of your character there,” Robbie agrees, putting a hand briefly on the small of his back to correct his sergeant’s course towards the nearest exit and head straight out of the station for lunch. He could do with clearing his head. “An you should’ve tipped your coffee over that form an’ said it was unusable.”

“Thank you for that belated helpful suggestion, sir,” says James, stopping short, as that sinks in. “Ever the pragmatist—”

“Aye, well, it’s not me first seminar, by any means,” Robbie says, exerting light fingertip pressure to get him moving again. It certainly wasn’t the longest or most irrelevant one Robbie’s ever had to suffer through. Just the first one that’s ever made him uncomfortably wonder if it was all half as irrelevant as it maybe should have been… His hand is still resting on James’s back.

He drops it.

===

“Come in, Robbie.” Robbie shakes his head as Innocent gestures with her eyes towards a seat and stays standing in front of her desk. He’s had enough of sitting after this morning, and he’s hoping this won’t take too long. He’d been heading out to follow-up on Mrs Travis, who’d originally gone to stay with her other son in the aftermath of the break-in, not wanting to be in the house alone during the day. She’s back in Oxford and had responded to Robbie well even when in a state, when it had first happened. It might help her feel better now she’s back to know she’s still on the police’s radar. She’s also the best, most-recent source of information they’ve got.

Innocent looks slightly amused at his demeanour in the odd way she sometimes tends to do. “Today’s facilitator let me know,” she starts, “that there’s a couple of places still going spare on a residential course he’s running next week.”

Robbie, who had been briefly distracted when she’d started there, by the thought that he’s been called in over James’s ruddy apostrophe corrections in the handouts, takes a moment to change tack mentally. “And I’ve been going through the CPD section of the performance review files for your team,” Innocent adds tellingly.

Robbie only half suppresses a sigh. There are some days it feels like she’s determined to continue his professional ruddy development right up until the day of his retirement do. His eyes flit to a brochure lying prominently on her desk. York, it says. Then again—and he’s imagining lying in the warm darkness in a hotel room bed, James’s voice drifting across to him, knowing and amused, and teasing Robbie into a warm and comfortable mood as he drifts off himself…

Not you, Lewis,” comes Innocent’s voice, startling him thoroughly back to himself. Christ. She’s giving him a look that lets him know she’s caught the sigh. “Your sergeant, as it happens, would be best placed to benefit from this one.”

Robbie sends another glance at the quotes on the front cover under the picture of York’s city walls. Comprehensive coverage of the range of ethical issues in the modern workplace that are an essential background for anyone moving towards a team-management position, he reads. Oh, bugger off, he thinks unreasonably at the brochure. “Ah,” he hedges. “Hathaway’s not exactly interested in—career advancement.”

“Shouldn’t that be up to Hathaway to decide, Robbie?”  Innocent asks, looking at him rather too hard. “But, yes, I had picked up there may be some hesitation there about taking the natural next step. So perhaps now might be a good time for you to have a word about that? Try to get to the bottom of it?”

It’s never good when she speaks in question marks. But he’s got as far on that one as James is going to let him. He grimaces back at Innocent’s enquiring expression, realising that it’d be a sincerely bad idea to give her any inkling of what his sergeant had pretty much said last year—that he was staying on in the job only while Robbie does. Besides, Robbie still has trouble believing that one himself. That James with his sharp mind and all his accumulated knowledge and skill as a detective wouldn’t want to go for a promotion. And she’s right that it’s part of Robbie’s job as James’s immediate superior and team leader—or it should be—to support him progressing in his career. Lord knows Robbie could’ve done with a bit more support from Morse over that. Though, as it had turned out, he’d had Robbie’s back more than you’d ever have guessed from his flaming attitude sometimes, fighting Robbie’s corner in private about promotion to an Inspector’s position with Strange.

So how exactly Robbie has landed up in the opposite position—finding himself trying to get his reluctant sergeant out of this one with his own Chief Super—is hard to figure.

“I wouldn’t want to lose a sergeant like Hathaway either, if I were you,” says Innocent, in the face of his silence, a hint of a complicit smile starting to play around her mouth.

Robbie’s hand goes to the back of his neck.

“It’s not that—” Or is it?  Sometimes it’s confusedly hard to tell how much of his own reluctance to push this with James is due to—well maybe he would be guiding James more to follow his own interests if it wasn’t that losing him would be such a—well, a disturbance.

“He needs to keep up with current issues to keep his options open for the future. And this will cover the requirement to be up to date on ethical procedures and modern challenges. So have a word, will you?”

“Ma’am,” Robbie agrees, picking up the brochure, since this seems to be both more of a direct instruction than it sounds like and his cue to go. He wonders whether she’s trying to make some sort of a point having him be the one to sell this to James, but that’s likely his own discomfort talking. He’s just been a bit wrongfooted overall today. He could do with a whole lot less of these modern issues at this point and a damn sight more policing.

Innocent is already turning her attention to her next task, pulling a letter from her intray. “Tell him to try and rein in his reflexes on the punctuation marks while he’s there, will you, Robbie?” she adds, straight-faced and without looking up.

Ah, hell. “Ma’am,” Robbie mutters, taking his leave.

 ===

James glances up, leaning back in his chair, as Robbie slides the brochure onto his desk. “Haven’t you had enough Continuing Professional Development for one day, sir? Or what you’ve been known to more commonly refer to as that ruddy malarkey?”

Robbie grimaces. “Herself doesn’t seem to think this morning was sufficient punishment for some of us.”

James doesn’t make a move to pick up the information, but he seems receptive all the same. “Where are we off to this time, then?” he asks, stretching.

“Not me. It’s more aimed at—”

James’s eyes narrow at the brochure. Robbie can see why. He’d flicked through it on his way back to the office and, in fairness, he reckons this course does have content useful in James’s current day-to-day work. It’s just unfortunate that the way the organisers have chosen to promote it is to put enthusiastic quotes from former-attendees on the cover, largely saying none too subtle things about career-progression advantages of it.

“Sergeant ranks,” James completes flatly. “Right.”

Worse, Robbie thinks. James still isn’t making a move towards the brochure, but he’ll have worked out that sergeant-moving-towards-inspector would be the more accurate description here.

“Innocent reckons you’re a good candidate for this,” Robbie says in his best persuasive tone. “You know the way these things work, it’s a vote of confidence in you, a bit of an investment for the force sending you. I’d’ve been well chuffed if Strange had singled me out for that sort of thing when I was with Morse.” He doesn’t know why he’s making sure James is linking this back to Innocent. It’s not like James will think Robbie decided to send him off on this, is it?

James isn’t really listening, anyway. He’s just waiting for Robbie to finish.

“And what do you think?” he asks, surprisingly direct.

Ah, God. “Well—you can’t go by what I want. I mean, it was always sort of—tricky—you know, balancing what I thought Morse wanted from me with what would’ve been best for my own career—” he tries, clumsily.

There’s a silence from his sergeant that’s quite damning in its complete closure of this avenue of conversation. But there’s that ruddy look again too that’s almost one of betrayal. Robbie’s really only trying not to stand in his way, after all, he thinks, frustrated, he’s only trying not to take advantage of his sergeant’s stubbornly loyal nature. Most of the nick had thought Morse did that with Robbie.

“It’s next week,” Robbie says, giving up.

“In the middle of this case?” James asks in disbelief.

“I suppose—you know Innocent thinks this one may’ve come to a halt for now, she’ll be thinking we need to let go of it soon,” Robbie says, recognising the truth of this even as he says it, from Innocent’s perspective. She’ll be reallocating resources. Meaning them. Their time and energy onto other priorities asserting themselves and further away from this case.

“Look,” he says, getting up. “Speakin’ of which, I’ll be back in a bit, I’ve got to head out to see Mrs Travis—”

“Sir,” says James, just a little stiffly. And he reaches obediently for the brochure.

 ===

Robbie pauses, perforce, outside his back door as Monty winds briefly round his legs before picking his way on into the kitchen. It’s been a clear, dry evening and as he glances upwards a familiar voice wanders across his mind…then you follow his body on a diagonal, to the southeast, like so….and he finds himself trying to gradually work out the shape of that large dog that James had somehow made emerge from the randomly scattered pinpoints of light—until Monty interrupts his ruminations with a definite note of displeasure as he discovered that his evening meal is not materialising as quickly as it should.

But just before Robbie turns in for the night, he pulls back his curtains, visited by the impulse to lie in bed and count stars instead of sheep. Then he settles back, hands behind his head, looking at that sky that isn’t half as dark as it was in Lincolnshire.

He hasn’t been sleeping all that well again, so it’s maybe just as well it’s been a quiet week in work, case-wise and in general. It’s been distinctly quiet in the office too. James had headed off for his course without any further outward show of resistance, although Robbie isn’t deluding himself that that means he’s reconciled to it. More like James is taking the path of least resistance, so he hadn’t had to engage in discussing the thorny issue of his promotion prospects any further. And Robbie can’t for the life of him tell whether he's respecting his sergeant’s wishes in backing off, or whether he should as his boss be probing further in a professional manner—

He’s sod all use at actually pulling rank with James, always has been. He’d landed up letting him have the sort of leeway that would have fairly appalled Innocent if she’d found out what was going on during those all-too-memorable couple of cases, and would have had her asking all sorts of questions of Robbie himself if she knew the whole truth of how much he’d covered for James when James’s past had risen sharply up to haunt him and Robbie—Robbie just couldn’t let him be rawly exposed or reprimanded officially for what he’d done on the McEwan case or with Scarlett Mortmaigne when the sheer level of self-punishment that James directs at himself… Although Robbie’s also aware that if anyone else on his team had lied or concealed evidence to that extent…

And even on a more day-to-day basis James is fairly irrepressible, that look that dances at the corners of his considering expression letting you know that he seems to find Robbie in full inspector mode directed at him sort of amusing or confusingly—well, ruddy well appealing on some odd level.

Robbie settles deeper into the mattress. There are so few clouds tonight that even with this limited view more of the stars seem to be emerging from the darkness now.

He’d miss that dry wit across the office if James was actually to take this push that Innocent is trying to give him here and make the move towards his inspectors. It wouldn’t be the same seeing that much less of him, it would be sort of like this week has been as an all-too-quiet taster—

Ah, sod it.

Robbie reaches in the darkness and gropes for his phone on his bedside table. You still up? he jabs into it.

The light from the screen dims and the room fades to black around him again.

When the phone suddenly illuminates again, casting its pale and blue-lit glow straight up at Robbie’s ceiling, there’s an electronic ringtone to accompany it. Robbie feels a grin illuminate his own features as he reaches for it.

“Lewis,” he says casually.

“Sir?”

“Evening, Sergeant.”

“Everything—”

“Everything’s fine, James.”

“You’re not working late and—”

“Me? No, I’m home. Just thought you might want to tell me all about these management an’ ethical issues in modern policing…”

There’s a pause. There’s no background noise so James must be in his hotel room.

“Did you ring me up,” demands James’s voice indignantly, “so me imparting my knowledge on the course content could send you to sleep?”

“So young and so suspicious,” says Robbie sorrowfully.

“I’m going to hang up on you,” James announces, rather detracting from the drama of the gesture by giving Robbie an advance warning.

“Now, now. Can’t have me telling Innocent my sergeant put the phone down on his boss. Bet they’re not teaching you to do that. Wouldn’t be very rank-respecting of you.”

“Are you going to tell her you lie in bed at night and call me on the phone cause you can’t sleep?” James enquires, unerringly getting to the heart of the matter. Probably not, no, thinks Robbie ruefully.

“I should’ve just recorded you on a tape before you left,” he grumbles comfortably at James. “Be much less trouble than the live version of you. Could’ve taken you into the interrogation room. Or used your iPod. Like the Dictaphones our secretaries used to use in the nick.” Nothing like demonstrating the sheer extent of your Luddite tendencies to get your sergeant going with a neat little lecture about the ins and out of how he loads recordings on his device.

“No—it doesn’t work like—an iPod isn’t—you’d have to upload the—Oh, God,” mutters James. Unluckily, that hasn’t done it; he’s subsiding in patient exasperation.

“What’s York like then? You seen much of it? Bet it has all sorts of interesting history and—cultural things—”

“Are you in bed?” asks James suspiciously.

“What?” Robbie asks, hoping he’s hitting the right note of mildly confused and affronted.

“You are, aren’t you—you did ring me up so…”

“Ah, give over.” Maybe I missed the sound of your voice nattering away like a second stream of consciousness…“Saw your friend Sirius tonight when I was letting Monty in.”

“Two friends,” James corrects automatically, but he sounds appeased again and warmly interested just like that. “I—hold on a sec. There’s a balcony.” Must be handy for him having a smoke. There’s a pause while Robbie listens to what must be the sound of curtains being parted and then French windows sliding back. “It’s cloudy here,” James says, after a moment, frustrated. “I can only see patches. It seems to have been raining pretty much ceaselessly since I arrived, anyway. And—if you don’t mind my asking, sir—what am I even doing here?”

“They didn’t give you an overview of that at the start?”

James makes a soft noise of impatience, and damned if it isn’t odd not to feel the mattress give a bit and adjust beside Robbie as an accompaniment to that sound in the dark. His sergeant is probably still standing out on that balcony in York, despite those clouds he’s getting annoyed at. Robbie sits up and presses the phone against his ear with a shoulder as he gets out of bed, too.

May as well try from another angle and see what happens.

He goes to the window, craning his neck to look over the rooftops across the street, but it’s still eluding him. He can’t quite find the right way to look that makes what he knows is there emerge. It had seemed fairly evident when James was gesturing beside him, his arm pressing against Robbie’s, moving slowly from one point of light to the next as he’d patiently waited for Robbie’s eyes to adjust to this new way of looking at all those individual stars that turn out to be really arranged in all those different configurations.

And James is still quiet at the other end of the phone now.

“Innocent genuinely reckons this’ll be good career development for you,” Robbie admits. A truth but not much of an explanation.

“Yes, but—”

“It is stuff that’ll come in useful, or you know I’d’ve objected more to her sending you off and leaving me short for a week—the paperwork’s not going to do itself while you’re gone.”

“But why didn’t you?” James asks softly. As if to himself. So softly that if Robbie wanted he could pretend he hadn’t heard that. Hadn’t heard the unspoken question either, as James frets about why Robbie would let Innocent send James on a course that pushes him a little more in the direction of an eventual promotion. Out of their partnership.

Robbie leans a hip against the bedroom window sill, his free hand at the back of his neck.

Because it’s not fair to hold you back, he could say. Because I know what it feels like to be caught between loyalty to your governor and your own career—and God, the sheer unquestioning constancy of James’s loyalty—for some strange reason it makes it hard to reciprocate, as Robbie surely should, to push him for his own good. But it’s like the opposing pulls of two magnets, it also feels like it would somehow be—unkind to James, a betrayal of his loyalty to do that too, Robbie thinks, confusedly, and that surely is just Robbie finding excuses for his own selfishness.

“Thought she had a point that it might come in handy for you,” he says, his voice emerging a little gruff. “In the future, anyway.”

“I’ve been thinking—I wondered maybe why you wanted me to do this—you’re not thinking of retiring?”

“No,” says Robbie, taken aback. “Tell you if I was.”

“Oh.” And James sounds—and surely this can’t be right in light of what Robbie just been thinking but—he sounds acutely disappointed. Why on earth would he want Robbie to retire… Is he partly wanting to leave himself but feeling he can’t be the one to dissolve their partnership? Or has he just been feeling so let down after Robbie had failed to back him up as James would have expected on this—this maybe being to James his efforts to keep their partnership going? Surely things aren’t that bad. None of this seems to properly follow, somehow.

But Robbie certainly seems, very oddly, to have plunged his sergeant into silence again with that.

“Hotel probably has a nice pool anyway, doesn’t it?” Robbie offers in a clumsy half-apology.

“I don’t know,” says James, distracted. “Orion’s belt,” he adds suddenly as the clouds must have shifted enough for the moment to let him make that one out.

“There you are,” says Robbie, turning his head to find it with his own eyes, somewhere above the gap at the end of his street. “Can you find Sirius, then?”

“I don’t know,” James repeats, sounding a bit lost. “It’s gone again. It’s too hard to see from where I am. It was much clearer when we were in Lincolnshire.”

“Aye,” Robbie acknowledges.

Everything was.

Continue to Chapter Four of Five