A bit of a departure for me, but this fandom is my secret vice. Posted to celebrate ITV3's Lewis week this week.
It's all going well. Fine, in fact. He is doing fine. Perfectly okay. It's great. It's cheerful, and everyone is getting on, and even Innocent seems to be having fun.
All of which should have alerted him to the dangers of counting any chickens.
Because just as Innocent is talking about giving her speech, and the presentation, and all the other ritual humiliation that goes with a retirement party, He glances through the crowd and sees Hathaway.
Hathaway, his head gently turned so that the elegant swoop of his long neck is apparent. Like a gazelle, with heavy, doe-like eyes, except they are blue, of course, but then those eyes fix on him, and Lewis realises it is instinctive, a moment of serendipity that has been repeated more times than he can remember. Because Hathaway always seems to know where he is in a crowd, as if he has some kind of Lewis-radar tucked away inside that golden head of his. And there, crammed against the bar, no further than twenty feet from the exit, and surrounded by friends and colleagues from down the years, Lewis knows he is finished.
Panic wells up in his throat. His heart is pounding, his eyes are watering, sweat is breaking out down his back, and all he wants to do is run, run, run.
Cornered by the truth in his own favourite pub, Detective Inspector Robert Lewis, surprised by love.
How Morse would have laughed.
Grey and perspiring, the flesh of his cheeks tightening against his skull bones like a tourniquet, he is suddenly wading through bodies, and the fresh air of the evening outside slaps him in the face, and he staggers behind a nearby car and bends over, hands on thighs, and tries to get his breath back, tries to calm down and think, dammit man, think straight, for God's sake!
'Either you are having a heart attack or you've finally worked out how you feel about Sergeant Hathaway, or possibly both.'
He looks up and finds Innocent standing over him with a wry smile on her face and a G'n'T in her hand.
'Come on, Robbie,' she says, crouching down so he can see the gentle expression on her face. 'You two are one of Nature's Great Couples, anybody can see that.'
He shakes his head, trying to focus on slowing down his breathing.
She puts her hand on his forearm. 'You were meant to be together.'
'You're talkin' rubbish, man,' he gasps, and remotely notices he gets more Geordie these days when he is upset. And he is definitely upset
She sighs. 'No, I'm not, and you know it, or you wouldn't be out here having the Mother of All Panic Attacks.' She stands up as if her knees are rather stiff.
He shakes his hanging head. 'What am I doing?'
A car goes past on the lane beside the car park, splashing through puddles on its way up towards the narrow boat basin at Thrupp. He was glad he chose this pub for his 'do' to start with, because it is set out of the way, a quiet, gentle place beside the canal. Now it feels like some remote Victorian penitentiary, far from civilisation and sanity.
Sanity. He has almost forgotten what that is. His mind is whirling. He feels giddy and sick, and all he can think about, all he can see in front of his swimming vision is that image of perfection, James Hathaway, his skin burnished by the summer sun, that fond smile on his face, his expression so-
'No,' he says, more to himself than her. 'I can't. He can't. Why would he? I mean, me? I'm old enough to be his bloody granddad, for God's sake!'
'Hardly,' Innocent points out, and the ice in her glass clinks as she gestures. He registers a waft of her perfume, carried on moist body heat. 'Father, perhaps. But what does that matter? Who knows what goes on in anybody's mind, let alone his? He's a mystery wrapped up in an enigma, that boy, I've always said it.'
'You certainly have, Ma'am.'
He struggles to get upright, hoping his last pint won't make a sudden reappearance. She smiles up at him, and he notices how her eyes crinkle up so sweetly when she does. She has such an attractive face, so warm and loving. He can't imagine how the hell she ever got to be such a hard-nosed career officer. But she's clever, too, so that's probably it, and he's a complete dinosaur for thinking that such a woman would be better suited to a passionate marriage and a loving family. Maybe that's a straightjacket she doesn't deserve, no matter how many extra hours she's made him put in on boring paperwork. He finds himself filled with a flood of fondness for her, which is completely unexpected given the way he has always moaned about her in the past.
'Why couldn't I have fallen in love with you, Ma'am,' he asks her. 'That would have been easier.'
She makes a comic face. 'Hardly.' She lays her hand once more on his arm as he sways uncertainly.
'Just tell him, Robbie,' she says, and her voice is warm and persuasive, and he could almost believe her intimation that it will be alright.
It won't, and he knows it.
He's an old man, too old for love.
He will have to tell Laura, of course, confess all, let her down gently. She cares for him, he knows. But not enough. The spark was never there. He knows why. The reason he was always so keen to cover.
He worked so hard to convince himself it was just fatherly feeling, a kind parental concern, as he would have felt for Mark, had they had a functional relationship. But that ship has sailed, and he spent many hours in recent weeks wondering if that is part of it, that he has been trying to regain some of what he lost through his own stubbornness and stupidity with his son. Mark is long gone, irreconcilable, and there is no remedy for it, certainly not through Hathaway.
He has tried to hide. He has ducked and dived for years. He has hidden from his own feelings and desires. Yes, desires. Be honest with yourself, Robbie, he thinks, looking down into Jean Innocent's concerned green eyes. Time you owned up. Time you were honest with him, even if you don't have courage enough to be honest with yourself.
'I love him,' he tells her, gruffly.
'Don't tell me,' she smiles. 'I know. Tell him.'
The crowd parts around him easily. He's relieved no one seems to have noticed his hurried exit. The room seems hot and humid, the air cloying at his lungs. His eyes are stinging. He feels wretched, utterly miserable, like a man making the long walk to his own execution. In a few moments, he will tell Hathaway the truth about himself, and there will be polite revulsion and a brief excuse, and the lad will leave and that will be the end of this love, these six years of his life lived in such intimacy with a young man whose fragile soul has entranced, infuriated and comforted him by turns. And then the yawning years of loneliness will open up and swallow him, and he will go down into the same darkness through which he stumbled after Val's death, the angry gloom from which James sweet smile awakened him all those years back, He remembers that hopeful question at the airport:
'Are you for me?'
Yes, Robbie thinks now, as he makes his way past friends and colleagues. I'm for you. But I will never have you. Not now. Not ever.
He can see the bright column that is James' six foot three frame ahead. Pale grey suit and golden hair. He has let it grow a little lately, which Robbie likes so much more than the austere shaven-headed style he used to sport. Longer, it sweeps around the swell of his cranium, showing off its shining colour and texture. James Hathaway glows. He can't help it. Even with that long, slightly horsey face, he is as lovely as an angel, and Robbie stops for a moment to appreciate one last time the smooth hollow of his bagman's lean cheek, the muscle of his long throat, the broadness of his shoulders.
And then Hathaway's radar kicks in, and he is looking round, frowning, his cornflower blue eyes bright with intelligence and concern. His gaze falls on Robbie with relief, and that is when it happens. The moment Robbie has both dreaded and longed for. An end to his suffering, to his secret.
For a split second, a bespectacled uniform sergeant from Traffic passes between them, and Lewis glimpses his own reflection in the man's glasses. He looks rumpled and grey, a broken old man, hunched over and hopeless, even though there is yearning in his eyes, a yearning he can no longer conceal. He doesn't have the energy for it anymore. As the man passes on his way to the bar, and is gone, Lewis lets him take all remaining resistance with him. The man Hathaway can see now is torn open, more open than he has ever been to any other soul apart from Val. No more secrets, he decides, and feels the flood of relief fill him. No more pretending.
His gaze reaches out to drink in Hathaway, and registers the emotions that cross his strange features. Worry, fear, then shock and sudden understanding.
No need to speak the words, then, Robbie realises, and is glad. That burden, at least, is lifted from him.
Hathaway is moving towards him, and for a moment Lewis thinks his knees are going to give out. He is aware of swaying, of feeling giddy with exhaustion and emotional overload. He watches Hathaway's movements. He seems to be almost swimming through the muggy air, and people are moving back to let him through, and things seem to be slowing down. Lewis remembers that this is what happens when something momentous occurs, a great tragedy or, at least, great emotion. He looks at James's face but it seems unreadable, and he is without a compass for that map, lost in unknown territory.
Hathaway is close now, close enough to have to tilt his head down a little to look into Lewis's face, and that is when Lewis realises that this is not going to go the way he had expected. He is faintly aware that a strange shock wave is radiating out from the two of them. James reaches up with both hands and cradles Robbie's cheeks in his palms so tenderly, so heartbreakingly tenderly, and his eyes soften, and Robbie's eyes are stinging and he can't stop himself because it hits him then that James knows. Knows and understands.
They are so close now that the tips of their ties touch, and Robbie can't look up, even through the refuge of his tear-laden eyelashes, because of the fierceness of the love in James's face.
James is not having any of Robbie's coyness. He tilts Robbie's head, so that he has no choice but to look into those loving eyes, and then he can't help it, he has to release the sob that has been building pressure under his adam's apple since the moment he laid eyes on the lad when he walked back through the door. James leans forward, presses his nose to Robbie's cheek, and nuzzles, and there is the slight rasp of stubble. Something inside Robbie that has still managed all this time to stay remote, some out of body voice, says, 'well, that was one thing you weren't expecting ever to feel, Robert Lewis,' and he almost laughs. But then James tips his own head just a little, and his lips brush against the corner of Robbie's, and then Robbie definitely isn't laughing, he is holding his breath and this time, when James does it again, and kisses him properly, he knows without doubt that he is lost.
He is melting into the young man's arms, with tears streaming down his cheeks and his eyes clamped shut and every cell in his body screeching with want because this, this, this is what he has been waiting for, if not for the whole of his life, then certainly for the last years of it, since he lost his Val.
James's arms are around him, and their chests and bellies and thighs touch, and Robbie sighs into him, and James's hand slips up between his shoulder blades to cup the back of his skull and slither through his hair where it is still thick and dark and luxuriant, and he wants to let his head fall back and feel that magical mouth caress his neck, and he wants to give up and give in, to surrender himself to this love and everything it involves because he knows from the press of James's lips and the softly urgent sigh of his breath that James loves him, and loves him, and still more loves him.
They come up for air, and James is looking into his eyes again, searching for approval for what he has just done, and Robbie finds himself smiling through the tears, and then James cranes his neck forward so that his lips are warm and sweet on the shell of Robbie's ear and he whispers:
'I love you.'
And Robbie can't help letting out another little sob, more like a laugh this time, because it turns out that after all that hand-wringing and soul-searching, it was not him that had to say it, and there is joy dancing inside his chest so that he feels like he might burst, and he kisses James's lips hard with such effusive happiness that afterwards it occurs to him that the lad might bruise.
Which is when the applause starts.
A circle of it, radiating out around them, and they look about themselves and realise that everyone is laughing and smiling and clapping, and if any rare individuals have not felt the heat of their love in that moment of recognition, then they truly have hearts made of granite.