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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 Five

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


When he presses his palms briefly to his mattress as he sits upright, the fingertips of one hand find warmth on the other side of the bed and Robbie passes his hand briefly down the sheet, almost able to feel an imprint of someone who’s recently left. There’s a half-remembered sensation of warmth leftover from last night too, settling deep within him in the dark and brought about by the close presence of James. His last slowed-down adjustments to his sprawled position had brought him a bit nearer to Robbie and suggested he was finding peace at last. In the drowsy relief that that had brought, Robbie had let go of any remaining thoughts of that godawful interrogation, just as they must have finally vanished from James’s head.

But where the hell’s he gone now? It’s early yet, and they’re not expected in until later. Can he not just relax like he does at night? It’s kind of annoying after that to wake alone in the quiet of the bedroom. It feels like the natural way of things would be wake up to him yawning and rolling over, stretching his long-limbed body under the duvet and making comments… Not that it’s the natural way of things to have your sergeant nattering away to you as you fall asleep, Robbie reminds himself as he becomes more sharply alert. And he pushes himself back to sit up properly against the pillows, his head tilting back against the hard reality of the headboard, in the dim light of what sounds like a bloody awful morning beginning outside the curtains. The duvet is still folded back on the other side of the bed, evidence of James’s silent exit.

A good half of his frustration at this probably comes from the way that James’s avoidance of their waking up in the same bed cheerily presses home Robbie’s guilt. Which is also making a far heavier and more persuasive argument in the cold light of day than it had managed to do last night.

He’s becoming aware of a tap running in the bathroom, though, letting him know that James hasn’t gone too far yet, and after a moment it stops and James appears in the bedroom doorway, toothbrush in hand and a dab of toothpaste caught in one dent at the edge of his lips. He’s obviously been summoned mid-toothbrushing somehow by the sounds of Robbie’s rousing.

“Morning, sir.”

He’s dressed in yesterday’s work clothes. He’s kept a toothbrush here in the medicine cabinet since his earliest days of crashing on the couch, and the colour changes every so often as he replaces it with a new one. But he needs more than that, he needs a spare shirt at least, Robbie processes absently, his eye still distracted by that smear of toothpaste as James’s mouth quirks at the corners into a look of amusement at him. Wearing yesterday’s clothes, when he’s still early-morning dishevelled, just makes him look more tired, like he’s just pulled an all-nighter.

Robbie’s all-too-aware that James has been right here in the bed all night. At some drowsy moment in the darkest hours he’d woken as James had stirred, and then a long, lean thigh had slipped against his as James had rolled over onto his stomach and burrowed deeper into the bed. Then a long arm had been flung out from under the duvet and dropped onto Robbie’s chest. But when Robbie had shifted away a bit, to give his lanky sergeant more space to roam in his sleep, James had muttered in disgruntled tones and rolled back to his own side again.

He’s definitely been here all night. It just seems like it’s been much too short a night.

“How much sleep d’you get?” Robbie demands, narrowing his gaze at him.

James shrugs. “Enough.”

That’s a matter of opinion. But you’re not going for a run in this weather?” It sounds like it’s blowing a howling gale out there, the way the rain is dashing in jarringly sharp flurries against the window. Technically, the sun might be just about up, but there’ll be little sign of it this morning.

“Swimming,” says James briefly.

“You will be, yeah,” Robbie agrees.

“No, I’m going for a swim. Indoor. Heated pool.” And he disappears again.

“You in training for a triathlon, Sergeant?”

“Sir?” comes the query floating back into the room.

“All this runnin’ and swimming—I’m just waiting for you to take up cycling next. Or javelin-throwing.” Or start pole-vaulting out the window in his haste to make a quick exit. The tap starts up again. Robbie sighs, his frustration at this whole situation and at himself masked under the noise of the water.

“That would be an Aquathlon,” James says, a minute later, coming back into the room. “The running and swimming minus the cycling.”

“You makin’ that word up?”

“No. If I was I’d make up a better one. And if I were training for an internationally-recognised sequential hybrid event contest, I’d choose chess-boxing.”

“You’re having me on,” Robbie says after a pause when he tries to reconcile that in his head. It’s too early for this.

“I assure you, sir. Alternate rounds of each.” He hasn’t pulled that one from all the random facts in his head, Robbie’s fairly sure. Although even Robbie had had no idea quite how remarkably diverse the set of knowledge in Hathaway’s head was before his sergeant had embarked on his own version of pillow-talk. Sport is shaky ground to him though. If you can call chess-boxing a sport. Half of a sport?

“What did I tell you about wanderin’ round on Wiki before breakfast?”

James raises his eyebrows at him, seeming mildly affronted at that. But he has got his phone sticking out of his trouser pocket. And then he drops to his knees and reaches to start rummaging under Robbie’s bed—what the hell? Oh, he’s kicked his shoes under there. Robbie has picked up by now that James’s rejection of his clothes at night is fairly thorough and surprisingly unorganised.

James perches on the side of the bed to put the shoes on, but then pauses, holding them paired in his hand, looking over his shoulder at Robbie. “Did you sleep okay?” he asks.

“Yeah. I did,” Robbie says truthfully.

James isn’t making any progress with the shoes. “It’s going on a while now, this insomnia...”

“Ah, it comes and goes.” The last thing he can do is let James know quite how much he makes a difference there. James, always too kindhearted for his own good under all his smartarsery, would probably just keep offering to ease Robbie off to sleep like he had last week. And there’s one thing Robbie’s clear on now, and that’s that this sure as hell won’t be happening again under the guise of him allowing his sergeant to fulfil a need like that for him. Maybe it had had been different enough last night, when James had been the one who’d seemed to badly want the distraction to shake off the worst of this case. But they won’t be doing it on Robbie’s behalf any more.

“But you are still sure that it’s not linked to anything else—” James is asking, his diffident tone pulling Robbie back to him.

“Told you before, didn’t I? I’m all right,” Robbie tells him. “And I talked to a doctor, recently—”

“You did?” says James, releasing the shoes haphazardly and his hips swivelling as he turns to face Robbie. He sounds as ruddy well taken aback as if Robbie’d never trouble the medical profession unless he was at death’s door.

“—well, by that, I mean I asked Laura,” Robbie clarifies.

“Sounds more like it,” mutters James resigned.

Laura had asked various questions, to check that there wasn’t anything else going on, right enough, Robbie had assumed, before she’d given him her verdict along with a look that had let Robbie know she also felt he should be asking his GP about this if it got any worse. Although, as she’d also admitted—“Aye. An’ she said they’re unlikely to prescribe anything, anyway, when it hasn’t an acute onset or isn’t severe or connected to any sudden life events.”

Like a trauma. As they’d called it back then. The one time he had been given something to finally knock him out when, in a state of shock, sleep had just deserted him, his whole ability to function knocked sideways, like his entire system had just been protesting severely against having to accept the reality of what had just happened…

“Different this time, Robbie,” Laura had said softly into his silence, and when he’d returned his focus to her she’d been looking at him with a rueful compassion. She’d remember that too.

“Aye,” he’d assured her, staunchly. “Different now.” But—it is.

James is still looking at him and gives a brief nod now. Then he bends and stretches an arm to recapture those shoes, the muscles in his shoulders making themselves known through the thin material of his shirt, and his long torso stretching even further, and then he’s up off the bed again—

“Didn’t even know you were a regular swimmer,” Robbie grumbles after him as he departs. He really hadn’t. e really hqdn’t.HeHHe’d thought that was just the lure of a decent pool on site that time in the hotel in Lancaster.

Maybe it’s a swimmer’s body that James has, then, he muses, left to himself in the bed. All broad shoulders and slim waist that he bares to the water. And those long limbs straightening out and pulling strongly, stretching back past his flat stomach and those firm thighs and then reaching again, breaking the surface of the churned-up water as he powers up and down the length of the pool—Oh, bloody hell. A hand suddenly clamps onto the door jamb and James leans his head and one of those shoulders back in briefly.

“I was entirely too afraid you’d have me diving into cesspools of sewage far more often if I owned up to it, sir, ” he informs Robbie as a parting shot before he disappears again. Jack-in-the-box that he is. Or maybe more like a yo-yo. Robbie wonders if he’s even coming back this time. It’d make more sense if he went home after, of course. He’ll have to go home to get his swimming things now, won’t he? And his clothes for today.

“You going to—”

“Bring back croissants, yes,” comes the answer called back to him before the door slams. Robbie sighs. He’s going to have to have a word about that or he’s not going to be too popular with the neighbours. Why’s James need to be in such a flaming hurry, anyway? You’d think he’d be used to leaving more quietly for all his early morning exercising, considering he lives in a flat himself.

Then Robbie’s left feeling the lack of that teasing distraction as quiet descends on his flat again, giving him far too much room to face the jointly discomforting truths that not only does he keep catching himself thinking like thatlike James’s presence here of a morning is something that’s going to happen some more—but there’s one more pressing reason that this has got to stop now for Robbie’s own peace of mind, and that one is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. And that’s got a lot to do with the way he’s having to make far too much of an effort not to let himself go back to picturing his young sergeant’s lithe, strong body powering up and down a swimming pool.


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


Two Weeks Later.

When the phone starts up suddenly in the quiet of the bedroom, there’s a confusing moment while Robbie gropes for it in vain on the bedside table in the dark and the noise is coming from the wrong direction. Until there’s the shift of the mattress beside him as a body on the other side of the bed rolls over and Robbie hears that voice he’d gone off to sleep listening to, a bare couple of hours ago, it feels like.

“Hathaway… Oh. I’ve brought Inspector’s Lewis’s phone home with me, ma’am,” says James smoothly as Robbie sits up and clicks on his bedside lamp. He lies like it’s second nature, Robbie thinks, and him barely awake, and he raises his eyebrows at his sergeant in feigned disapproval. James, lying there, just slants a grin up at him and then composes his face to say into the phone, with a measure of regret, “Sorry, ma’am. Well, standard issue—yes, I realise that.” Then there’s a silence while his face sets into resignation, as he obviously takes in the details of a call-out. Bugger. “I’ll call my own mobile and let Inspector Lewis know. Yes, ma’am.”

And he rolls over and stretches right across Robbie, his chest pressing briefly against Robbie’s side, to drop Robbie’s phone back in its more accustomed place.

“Standard issue with unique identifying numbers on them, she felt a strong need to let me know,” he explains, shifting back to his own side of the bed to get up.

Not so identifying in the dark when there are two of them, ma’am, Robbie thinks ruefully, pushing back the duvet himself. And your sergeant has picked up both earlier this evening and shoved them into the back pockets of those jeans while you let the cat in and locked up. And then he’d apparently dropped both phones on the table on his side of the bed when he’d undressed to slide in beside you.

Because when Monty had made his presence known at the back door at the end of the evening, Robbie, rising reluctantly from the couch where he’d been slouched in a pleasant state of Friday-evening relaxation, had said, “An’ better let you out the front way while I’m at it, I suppose.”

But James hadn’t made a move, had sat very still, in fact, and then said, “Do I have to go?” and it had emerged very abrupt.

Robbie had stopped in front of him, taken aback.

And somewhere out there there was a stronger man than Robbie Lewis, who could have joked that one off and said, Yeah, you do, Sergeant, be off with you, see you Monday morning now. But not if they knew James in the way that Robbie knows James and how the likelihood of him asking like that...

James, sitting there in his jeans and that hoodie because he’d headed home after work and then come over bearing stuff to cook, and a recipe in his head, and he’d assumed control of Robbie’s kitchen—Thought we could give the takeaway a miss for one Friday, sir, you’ll like this, and you can make it again—James had held his gaze, his head tilted back on the couch, casual as you like, but one foot, quite apart from his tight control, had tapped a rapid separate rhythm that had said to Robbie it would somehow be more wrong to send him away than it would be to let him stay—

“I can sleep on the couch,” he’d backtracked, and that had been nearly worse than his sudden assertion of protest at what Robbie had been doing in the last two weeks, since the end of the Harris case: sending him jokingly on his way on nights like this.

“Course you don’t have to sleep on the couch,” Robbie had said gruffly. And he’d headed for Monty, who had been making his indignation known.

James had risen and secured their phones, jamming them into his back pockets. And Robbie, holding the door open, had watched as his sergeant had run two glasses of water and headed off towards the bedroom without further discussion, but his back view as vulnerable as if he half-thought you’d change your mind…

And, yes, Robbie would have changed his mind if he’d known he was about to get a middle-of-the-night call from Innocent.

But James’s eyes are invitingly mischievous now as he glances over at Robbie, while he pulls his jeans back on. They’ll have to stop off at his flat for him to change too, so they’d best get a move on now—but Robbie is realising that the cheeky bugger quite enjoys this level of what he’d doubtlessly insist is an innocent deception. Literally an Innocent deception, Robbie thinks to himself, with a rueful chuckle despite himself, and James grins over at him in complicit amusement.

“You can brief me in the car,” Robbie tells him. He’s well aware that this one can’t be good if Innocent is already involved and delegating. He heads over to the wardrobe and starts to go through the process of pulling out clothes he’d hoped he wouldn’t be troubling until Monday morning.

“This one,” says James’s voice. And a long bare arm in a t-shirt sleeve brushes past Robbie’s shoulder. “Laura’s tie. It’s fine now. You can wear it with that suit, but maybe the lighter blue shirt instead then.”

Robbie looks at him. He hasn’t had anyone give him casual advice on his clothes since—well, since the last time he used to share a bed. And this is coming after years of—not. Then again Robbie hasn’t had anyone slip right into his own solitary everyday routines either or quietly assert himself within them since…

For all he’d said to Laura—and he’d been sure he meant it, too—he’s not sure now. For all his failure to move on for years, he’s fallen back into a sort of domestic intimacy recently and it’s with the one person who he’s resoundingly not meant to fall into anything with, and couldn’t have predicted, but somehow...

His eyes follow James as James makes his way back around the bed and drops to his knees to root for his trainers that he’s kicked under it again. James crouches down, peering, making a long arm. Robbie automatically rolls his eyes at him, still distracted by his thoughts, but just gets a smirk in return.

Then the smirk changes to a grimace as James comes back up to his feet, reaching to jam a hand into his jeans pocket as his phone goes. “Hathaway—” he says. And then he stills, completely, his posture making Robbie stop and look across at him.

He releases the phone, his fingers curling loose like it’s suddenly painful to keep hold of it. It drops onto the bed.

In the sudden resounding silence Robbie can hear Innocent’s voice coming up sharply from James’s phone. “That was fast, Hathaway. Two minutes by my estimate for you to reach Inspector Lewis’s home.”

Fuck,” says James softly. Not softly enough.

Innocent’s rising anger is making her clipped tones sharply audible too. “Well, my thoughts exactly, Sergeant. Although you’ll find I’ll express them more politely but at far greater length once you two gentlemen are free to have a full and frank discussion about this.”

Fuck, say James’s eyes to Robbie, across this bed that they’ve both just vacated, still rumpled and warmed by their bodies.

“I was calling your phone,” Innocent continues, with a sarcasm that would rival James’s, were he in a frame of mind or a position to compete, “to let Inspector Lewis know that—”

Robbie reaches and picks up James’s phone as his sergeant stays quite still across from him. “Ma’am,” he says neutrally, cutting this off.

“Monday morning, Lewis, my office,” says Innocent shortly. “First thing. I’ll deal with this then. You’re both off the on-call rota now.”

“Ma’am,” acknowledges Robbie, equally shortly and the call ends abruptly as Innocent presumably goes in urgent search of whoever is next in line for a callout.

Robbie puts James’s phone down gently beside his identical one. It’s gone very quiet in the bedroom in her wake. James watches his movements before lifting his eyes to Robbie’s face again. He swallows. “Are we suspended?” he asks after a moment.

“No. She’s just—she doesn’t want us working together on a case until she’s got this sorted.”

“I didn’t think—I could’ve said that I’d come home with both phones there—”

“An’ you reckon she’d have believed an elaboration to your story after your Pinocchio impression a few minutes before?” Robbie asks him.

“But—” But James is still struggling with the turn events have taken, trying to work out how he could have prevented this.

Although now that they’ve been so abruptly exposed, there’s a feeling of inevitability about it to Robbie that makes him wonder how the hell they’d ever thought they could do this without consequences.

The worst of those consequences isn’t what’s coming their way from Innocent, though. It’s that look of bewilderment on James’s face.

“I’ll sort it out with her, all right? Make it clear she’s off her rocker and jumpin’ to conclusions,” Robbie says gently.

“She’ll be delighted if you put it like that,” James tries. He’s still not moving. Apart from his gaze darting about as he tries desperately to process this. “Sorry,” he blurts out.

“Ah, James. Not your fault. You’ve nothing to be sorry for here—”

His sergeant doesn’t believe that. “I’d better—” And he drops silently down onto the edge of the unmade bed and bends to root briefly under it. Then he ties on one shoe after the other, haphazardly, his back to Robbie, but pulling one knee up briefly to his chest in an effort to steady himself.

The vulnerability of his back view is pulling at Robbie’s heart just as painfully as it had earlier tonight when James had retreated down the hall to Robbie’s bedroom without looking back. After making his protest at Robbie’s attempt to get him to leave. After Robbie’s effort to put that bit of distance back between them had made his sergeant finally rebel.

But there are all sorts of truth descending helplessly on Robbie now, one falling domino touching off the next.

And he knows, he just knows, as James gets up and Robbie gets a look at him, before James thrusts his head into his hoodie, that what’s making that surge of utter misery rise up deep within those very blue eyes is not the thought of the furore to come. It’s that they can no longer do this unacknowledged, it’s that James thinks his own mistake has ruined this, has ruined what they almost had—

And Robbie finds he can’t face the thought of standing in Innocent’s office and saying aloud again that there’s nothing between him and his sergeant. Denying James again. He’s sick of this. Sick of holding back when he can see now that that’s hurting James more. Sick of the idea that this is somehow seen as wrong when this is James and he wouldn’t knowingly hurt James for all the world. And Innocent will take a pretty suspicious view of them sleeping in the same flat, if that’s what they tell her is all that’s happened here tonight, but she’ll accept in the end that it’s just that, having no real proof of them being in any other sort of arrangement, butbut Robbie knows he’s not doing that to James again. He’s not putting that betrayed expression back in his eyes, so at odds with the demeanour James is trying to project here, not ever again if Robbie can help it.

James is ready to leave now and he steps over to retrieve his own phone, his eyes running helplessly across the strip with his own unique identifying code on it.

Robbie instinctively takes a step back so that he’s between his sergeant and the bedroom door.

Because Robbie’s also had more than enough of everyone else’s definitions of what should or shouldn’t be going on here when he reckons they can figure out the shape of this themselves if he can just give James the choice. It comes as a sharp relief to see how that’s possible at last.

He reaches out and takes hold of James’s upper arm as James tries to brush past him. James stops right beside him, staring ahead.

Robbie tries in vain to catch his gaze. Despite an attempt to swallow his voice still comes out sounding harsh to his own ears. “How much,” he asks roughly, “d’you still want to be my sergeant?”

James doesn’t answer at first. He just drops his head down onto Robbie’s shoulder. It’s warm and heavy and his whole posture slumps against Robbie with relief.

Robbie cups his shorn head with the palm of his hand.

“Now that you mention it, sir,” comes a mumble straight into Robbie’s shoulder, straight into that gap in his collarbone that turns out to be just the right place for James to nudge his forehead into with his words, “I’ve been thinking for a while that I could take it or leave it…”

Robbie slides his palm down to press against the nape of James’s bare, warm neck and makes him raise his head.

In that moment of pause there’s that sharp leafy scent of the coming tropical rain again, at the edges of Robbie’s senses. But this time there’s James’s eyes, impossibly wide and clear and gazing right into Robbie in silence. The whole of him a gentle plea still awaiting confirmation of orders.

“Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, then, eh?” says Robbie gently. Just so he can watch that slow smile starting, so very close up.

At first the relief, as Robbie yields to the kiss, is the warm surety of a confirmation; of James’s want meeting a truth lodged waiting in Robbie’s heart. But then it becomes a more urgent demand that leaves no room for any leftover fears that James is hindered by lingering thoughts of rank. It leaves no room for anything but James.

===

If Robbie had known what it would be like having James on this side of the bed, he reckons he’d have embarked upon a happy retirement without further ado a couple of months back and just tugged James right over to him that first time back in Lincolnshire under a starry sky.

Because James has cuddled himself right into Robbie’s side now, as if he wants to be touched on every inch of bare skin. And there’s a lot of inches of that, as he’s only in his boxers. He’d pulled away briefly earlier, only to hastily discard his clothes, after Robbie had yanked him down on top of him on the bed. God only knows where his shoes have landed this time. And he hadn’t shown much more restraint in reefing Robbie’s T-shirt off when he’d returned to him, dropping right back down on top of him again, limber and catlike, and promptly resuming all of his extremely welcome advances.

Robbie is down to just his pyjama bottoms now, having placed a hasty embargo on more than the kissing for tonight, when he’d seen James’s eyes wander contemplatively to his waistband. James had twisted his mouth into a considering expression but then had simply pushed the tips of his fingers down over Robbie’s hip, into that waistband, as he’d pressed himself right back into Robbie again. Cheeky sod. But if this is what kissing a bloke is like, it’s still more than enough to be going on with for a very happy while. Robbie is now lying shoved back a bit on his pillows, with a warm head pressed into his bare chest, a leg crooked over Robbie’s leg and an arm tucked heavily round his ribs. Rather as if his sleepy, contented and apparently-now-ex-sergeant is aiming to pin Robbie to the mattress. Well, he can’t actually make out much of James’s profile now that they’ve returned the room to darkness, but he’d certainly seemed happy enough, when he’d finally slid down with a sigh and shifted himself into this position.

Robbie passes his hand back over James’s head firmly enough to make him nudge into Robbie’s palm a little harder, seeking the pressure. “Will we open the curtains and you can show me Sirius?” he asks, as his hand pauses at the nape of James’s neck.

“Don’t,” James orders into his chest emphatically. “Move.”

Robbie chuckles and resumes his petting.

“Not there, anyway,” James rumbles contentedly after a moment.

“Why? Where’s he gone?”

He yawns, his breath stuttering warm against the hair on Robbie’s chest. “After early spring, Sirius isn’t visible at night. We won’t be able to see it until around midsummer now…and then we’ll have to get up at dawn… ”

“That right?” asks Robbie.

But James stiffens a little, coming alert under his touch. “I didn’t mean—”

“Midsummer, you say?” He nods shortly. Robbie ignores the jolt of movement and just keeps on passing his hand slowly back over James’s head. “It’s as well to know this isn’t a passing fancy for you,” he tells him. “I’ve just lost the best sergeant I’ve ever had to keep you in me bed…”

“Flattery,” says James, after a pause, “will get you absolutely everywhere. Although—I don’t think anyone has ever seduced me into bed by misusing an idiom before...”

“You haven’t lived. An’ technically I was getting you back into the bed. Play your cards right and I’ll be continuing me courtship of you with all sorts of slaughterhouse sayings,” Robbie promises. “How’d I misuse that, anyhow?”

“It’s not hung, it’s hanged. Everyone makes this mistake. People are hanged and pictures are hung.”

“Dunno which you’d use for the poor old sheep, then—”

James’s head tilts back against him as this one sets him off. “No, it’s nothing to do with slaughtering livestock. Up until the nineteen-twenties, someone could be hanged for stealing anything more than a shilling, so you might as well steal a more expensive sheep since the punishment would be the same anyway.”

“While you’ll be tryin’ to continue your education of me in every other way,” says Robbie with a sigh. “I’m going to bribe Gurdip to get that app blocked from your phone.”

“I thought you would’ve remembered that law from your early days as a constable,” James says gravely.

“Me early days as a constable, I was keeping busy working vice in Newcastle, I’ll have you remember.”

“That’s right.” But he sounds intrigued at this now, God help Robbie.

“Plenty of time for me to continue your education with a bit of what I picked up there another time, Sergeant,” Robbie says equably.

There’s a rather prolonged silence from James. “All right,” he agrees after a moment in a tellingly casual tone. Robbie grins into the darkness. “And you’re not allowed to call me that any more,” James reminds him, after a further silence, sounding drowsy now but still rather intrigued. “Sir.”

Ah. Right. That’s all going to take some getting used to. Robbie grimaces. “And Sirius the inspector, you’re tellin’ me he’s invisible now, too? Not just the sergeant?”

“Effectively so, to us, yes.” James’s voice is getting slurred now as sleep starts to overtake him. “Because of the changing position of the earth as it orbits round the sun. That’s why a few new stars appear in the East every night. It’s like the sky shifts over gradually, not even quite one degree a day. But really it’s us moving. So we’ll see different patterns now.”

“Different patterns, eh? Sounds good to me.” Speaking of which. “So you’re not going to disappear on me in the morning, then?” Robbie would be absolutely fine with waking up with James in this position. More than fine.

“Why’d I want to do that?” he asks. Robbie hadn’t known it was possible to get him this relaxed. He seems to be drowsily floating, still and warmly weighted on Robbie’s chest. He turns his head a little further in.

“Just if you were planning on bein’ up and about bright and early tomorrow morning…” Robbie says softly.

“Hate mornings,” James mumbles over him. And then, and maybe it’s something to do with the way that his face is half-buried in Robbie now as he finally stills altogether for the remainder of the night, there’s the sound of a soft snoring starting up. Robbie huffs a laugh to himself, unheard.

===

“D’you know you snore?” Robbie asks, on a satisfying yawn, blinking his eyes open to find the sun vaguely starting to make an impact in the room and a pair of sleepy blue eyes already regarding him from the adjoining pillow.

“I snore?” says James in disbelief, raising his head.

“Aye, well, just a bit last night when you were dropping off.”

“I snore?” says James, wholly indignant now, and pushing himself upright. “Seriously, sir, I think you’ll find I’m not the snorer in this bed!”

Ah, Lord, that’s properly woken him up. “Lie back down here, would you?”

James takes him at his word, sliding down and rolling over to plant himself firmly with his head on Robbie’s shoulder. He also delivers a good morning kiss right under Robbie’s ear lobe.

“That what’s had you getting up so early?” Robbie asks, after the very welcome interlude that’s triggered has passed and James has settled himself back down again for a while. There’s a thin band of sunlight filtering through the gap at the top of curtains and starting to make its way across the ceiling. “My snoring—that was disturbing you?” He reckons he’s doing rather well to recapture his train of thought after that awakening.

There’s a suspiciously long pause. “No.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Robbie’s a bit chagrined at the thought.

“Displacement,” James mutters.

“Eh?”

Displacement. It’s a defence mechanism. When a reaction is transferred from the original object that’s actually provoking it to a more acceptable one.”

Robbie tries to work this one out. “Am I the original object in this scenario?”

“You’re always original, sir.”

“And the exercising was…?”

“It was bloody torture not being able to touch you in the mornings,” James says fervently. “Waking up with you right there. It was like when I was giving up smoking, time before last, and had to go rowing in the early morning to stop myself from reaching for a cigarette…”

“You said you were a morning person,” Robbie protests, trying to revise history in his head here. It’s like when you get the answer to something that’s been bothering you on a case but you have to go back and look at the original events sideways from your new perspective. And then they start to tumble into place…

“I did,” James agrees. “I lied about that, though,” he says cheerfully.

“You—I’ll displace you back to your own side of the bed, Sergeant.”

“No,” says James, unashamedly punctuating his words with little burrowing shifts of his firm body right against Robbie’s side. And his thigh strays heavily over Robbie’s again in a way that makes it suddenly very clear to Robbie just how much he wants James to stay right where he is and maybe keep on doing that… “You won’t. And, like I said, you can’t call me that any more.” But he’s levering himself up now on one elbow so that the more-than-able muscles in his upper arm briefly make their presence known and James lands up with his mouth close to Robbie’s ear. What’s he up to? “I mean—as far as you’re concerned,” he murmurs, with warm exhales tickling the side of Robbie’s neck, “You’re no longer my boss. Are you?” And he’s kissing under Robbie’s ear again. Had he worked out earlier from Robbie’s reaction that… James’s voice is falling downwards into a deeper, slow rumble. “We’re just two blokes who happen to work in the same nick. Workmates, as you’d say yourself…” Robbie’s head rolls sideways, on the pillow, away from James, giving himself over to James’s ministrations, despite his better judgement. “Aren’t we, sir?”

He’s stopped, waiting for some sort of answer. Robbie—who would agree right now if James suggested Robbie inform Innocent that he wants to take a demotion back to the rank and file and put in for a transfer to the Outer Hebrides—grunts his assent.

“Hmm.” James contemplates this, lazily, as he settles his whole body in closer and his breath ghosts so near to the back of Robbie’s neck that it seems impossible he can get any closer without—and James’s mouth briefly touches against the nape of Robbie’s neck now, but that’s not it, that’s close but not quite—how’d he have a clue where Robbie’s sweet spot is anyway, how could he know—James’s mouth touches again in a proper, tantalising, experimental kiss that’s just almost there… Robbie’s eyes drift closed of their own accord.

“I think it’s important,” that voice starts again, mumbling so low that Robbie has to strain to hear it. Why’s he still talking? And the warm palm of James’s hand straddles the back of Robbie’s neck now and the tips of those long fingers starting to explore lazily, massaging light circles of pressure, searching slowly to find the precise place… “important for me to check that, as they said in that seminar, we’re not irrevocably overstepping the boundaries of our professional relationship if I were to slide my finger just a little further down right—here? No?—and then if I were to—No, that wasn’t the end of that sentence, was it? Wait—what was the end of that sentence?” And his hand stills completely.

Robbie’s eyes open in disbelief and he turns back to stare up at James, very close. James’s teasing hand stays relaxed, trapped in the cavity under his neck. “Sergeant—”

“No, no, you're definitely not allowed to call me that in bed any more,” James says sadly, dropping his head as he shakes it so that his mouth brushes right against Robbie’s as Robbie makes a vain attempt to capture it, and then James’s finger unerringly presses straight into

“Jesus Christ—”

“No, Wolfgang Christ, that was what they used to call me in school, did I ever tell you that, Robbie?”

“Hathaway, if you don’t—”

“Oh, you are still willing to give me the odd order, are you, sir? Good.” And he grins wickedly down at Robbie and then drops that mocking mouth down to meet Robbie’s at last while he keeps his hand where it is and varies the pressure on his finger, fuelling the flames, moving teasingly away from, and right back into, that spot that always seems to be wired directly to Robbie’s groin.

This kissing-only stage is unlikely to last the weekend.

And James is the one who’s going to make Robbie break it.

“I’ve had my suspicions about that for years,” James says in deep satisfaction, once Robbie has done his utmost to silence him very effectively in a way that James had only seemed to thoroughly appreciate. He’s recovering now though, stretching out lazily on his back beside Robbie again, his hands clasped under his head. “The way that your hand goes to the back of your neck when you feel under pressure. You’re instinctively protecting a vulnerable spot.”

“I—” Robbie had certainly never thought of it that way. And, bloody hell, he knows he does that in front of actual people. With James watching.

“It’ll be interesting now,” James resumes, with a glint in his eye, “to see if that happens in front of Innocent on Monday morning…” Oh, sweet Lord. “But I thought it would be useful if you could honestly reassure her that you don’t take advantage of a position of authority in our relationship.”

Robbie wonders just what the hell had ever made him fear he could be taking advantage of this particular junior officer. Then hot on the heels of that thought comes the realisation that that may have been James proving a certain point to him after these last couple of months of Robbie’s confusedly guilty and protective hesitations. Well, Robbie’s fears have certainly been put to rest on that score… “I notice you’re still callin’ me sir, incidentally,” he complains. “When it suits you.”

“Mmm,” James hums contentedly, watching that shaft of sunlight spread its unhurried but definite way across the white ceiling, gathering more brightness within its path as it widens. “That’s more of a personal honorific, though. Robbie.”

But Robbie needs to get revenge for what that ruddy teasing smartarse has just done. “I reckon Innocent will assign Blake to me, you know,” he muses. He watches James’s brows draw down in a moment of confusion at this sudden change of tack. “It’s not like he and his partner are doing too well together—”

“That’s hardly Blake’s fault,” James points out, “His inspector is—fuck.”

“You’re very profane recently,” Robbie observes mildly.

“Fuck,” says James again as he grasps that that the flip side of this particular coin would be that he’d be assigned to Peterson in Blake’s place.

There’s a short silence while Robbie maintains an expression of frowning contemplation, he hopes.

“Actually,” says James, rolling back on his side to face him. “Did I mention I’ve been thinking of going for my inspector’s?”

Robbie laughs aloud. “First I’ve heard of it,” he says.

“I’m sure I said something—”

“Don’t be so hasty, now. I think you could be a good match—you and Action Man. You with all your running and swimming and…chess-boxing. He could do the boxing and you could do the chess. You’d make a good team.” But is James genuinely more willing to consider going for the promotion now? Has going on that course piqued his interest after all?  Or is it that they’ll be separated now, anyway? Is that really so much of what’s been holding him back? Ah, James. “Come to think of it,” Robbie says more kindly. “That may be a way to appease Herself. She’s been wanting you to turn your thoughts in that direction for a while now. We can tell her every cloud has a silver lining an’ all that. Be better than telling her you’d take OSPRE over Peterson any day of the week—”

“—and twice on Sundays,” completes James absently.

Robbie had always assumed he’d be the one to see James through that inspector’s course if James had ever agreed to it, though. He pushes down an unexpected pang.

“Look, what are we telling her?” asks James and he looks more uncertain than he has at any stage so far on this delightfully lazy and guilt-free sunny Saturday morning. Robbie reaches out to stroke his head again. He really is remarkably like Monty. The way you can soothe him back down with touch.

“As few actual details as possible. We’ll tell her truthfully that you were just crashing here for the night, but our relationship is—progressin’—and so we’re jointly requesting your transfer.”

Plus Robbie will be keeping his hands rammed in his pockets and away from his neck for any part of Monday morning’s coming debacle that involves having James in the room with him. Just as bloody well James won’t be standing aside, watching him alertly, the next time Robbie is standing briefing his team on a complicated case in the incident room either… “And if you’ve any sense, you’ll also start by apologising profusely for your all-too-prompt deception when you first picked up the phone,” he advises. “She really doesn’t take too kindly to being lied to.”

“She thinks we’ve been lying to her for ages,” James says ruefully.

“Aye, that’s what’s got her so rattled there last night—” Then he stills, his hand dropping back from James’s head. Because maybe—maybe in a way Robbie has. “She’s possibly been tryin’ to keep us out of trouble too,” he acknowledges, thinking of Innocent pushing Robbie to steer James towards that training course. Robbie really wouldn’t put it past her.

James shifts to look at him better. “What will she think of our solution then?”

And Robbie suddenly feels again the weight of James’s head on his shoulder last night as he’d bowed his head in a relieved surrender. “Well, it’s not like we’ll be letting her know we’ve already put it into practice. But she might be relieved the whole issue will be done and dusted now, and we’re not resisting her dissolving our partnership or denying things that’s she’s now completely convinced are there. One less headache for her. And I wouldn’t really assume she’ll do a straight swop. There’s a few changes coming up, so she’ll probably have a cabinet reshuffle and you’d be unlucky to get Peterson that way.”

“Anyone would be unlucky to get Peterson—”

“Aye, but—” He hesitates, looking at James’s gloomy expression. Robbie hadn’t really meant for him to take his teasing thoughts on Innocent’s reassignments that seriously. “Don’t say anything round the nick, but Grainger asked me to go for a pint recently and he’s thinking of calling it a day soon. So his sergeant will be needing an inspector and he’s worked cases jointly with Peterson far more than you have. Grainger doesn’t want any rumours getting around yet, though.”

“I think they already have,” James says but he’s looking relieved all the same. “That someone’s retiring, I mean.”

“That why you thought I was?” Robbie enquires, remembering that oddness. “When you asked me on the phone while you were on your course?”

“I didn’t think you were.” But he’s avoiding Robbie’s gaze, his eyes are moving aside to watch the sunlight that’s crept up over the foot of the bed. And over James’s calf, Robbie notices absently, all golden-brown hairs turned even lighter, with one of his legs sticking out from under the very rumpled duvet they’ve tugged haphazardly back over themselves.

“James?”

“It was more that I hoped—it was stupid, really.”

“You’re lying in me bed, Sergeant, and we’ve just snogged the living daylights out of each other.”

James stares at him. “Snogged the—how terribly romantic of you, sir. I’ve gone weak at the knees.”

“Just as well you’re lying down, then,” Robbie says equably. “You’re too bloody tall to catch if you’re goin’ to make a habit of swooning on me. I’d do me back in. But my point is that whatever you feel was stupid…”

James moves his head in frustration, some inner struggle rising to the surface about whether to evade this all the same. “Sometimes I’d sort of fantasize—you might decide to take the final step and retire so you wouldn’t be my boss and then I’d know you wanted—that you’d tell me the reason why you’d decided to break our working partnership was so we could—it wasn’t like I thought you would, I just had the fantasy come into my head—Christ, I told you it was stupid,” James says his cheeks patchily flushed at hearing all of this emerge in concrete words.

Robbie kisses him gently, then stokes a thumb across the heat of his cheek for good measure. “You’re a daft old sod, you are.”

But he’d also been ahead of Robbie in sensing the proper path to resolving this all along. And the thought of having James nattering away beside him now some nights without guilt or restraint on Robbie’s part, and being able to reach over towards his warmth and draw him closer to quiet him better when he’s restless—it makes something inside Robbie that he hadn’t known he was still holding back just unspool. The sun is almost halfway up the bed now. But it seems James really is in no hurry this morning. Robbie gives a deep sigh and raises an arm in invitation. James shuffles back over pretty willingly, landing up half on top of Robbie and more in the sunlight.

Never stayed in bed with both you and the sun here before,” Robbie tells him. This is blissfully comfortable now. Although—poor bugger feeling he had to get up early like that.

“I know,” James grumbles. “Much more of that platonic bed-sharing and I think my anaerobic capacity would have been better than it was when I was on the boat race crew.”

Robbie still can’t get his head around that one. “An’ you’re really telling me you were only getting straight up and heading off exercising in such a hurry because—”

“Don’t mock me,” James cuts in seriously, propping his chin up on Robbie’s shoulder. “Unrequited lust. It’s a terrible burden to have to bear.”

“Unrequited—”

James makes adoring eyes at him. “I’m only human, sir.”

“Ah, give it a rest, you.” Although bloody hell, his level of enthusiasm last night had certainly told its own tale. And a thought strikes Robbie belatedly—“But—what about them croissants?”

James grimaces at the mere reminder. “No,” he says firmly. “That bakery is practically more local to London than your flat. And it’s up a steep hill. I will no longer be going on croissant runs.”

“Shame,” says Robbie regretfully. “I liked those croissants. They had a certain—je ne sais quoi about them.”

James settles his head back down, seemingly preparing to go back to sleep again. Robbie reckons he could certainly get on board with that. “We can go to the bakery when it’s actually open, then,” he tells Robbie. “They have little café tables on the pavement with wrought-iron chairs. And good coffee.”

“At a normal hour of the morning, though,” Robbie says hastily, sensing a threat to his peace, after all. “You know, like when normal people would have their breakfast on a weekend.”

“Brunch for two,” James corrects lazily. “And Jadran will be delighted to see you. The first time I stopped by the back door on a pre-dawn run and asked for four croissants he winked at me and said that it must be serious…”

“Your friend thinks that you were getting those croissants…”

“For breakfast in bed, yes,” James agrees. “But don’t worry, sir. I can introduce you as my ex-boss.”

Robbie gives him a quelling look. Not that it achieves any noticeable effect. “But on the plus side—you’re sayin’ we can have proper mornings like this now? No running, swimming, chess-boxing or climbing trees? We can just be two grumpy blokes in a bed havin’ a lie-in?” And Robbie’s being kissed again.

“Bloody hate mornings,” James mumbles happily into his ear.

End.

Note: The Apparent Places of Fundamental Stars is an astronomical catalogue listing the apparent places of approximately a thousand stars for the coming year.