“This is cosy.”
Two identical rabbit-in-the-headlights looks turn toward Laura as she walks through the office door. Robbie is perched on the edge of James’ desk, one hand on his shoulder, as they both lean toward the monitor. It’s late, well past the end of the day for anyone who isn’t a detective with an ongoing murder case or a chief superintendent.
“Post-mortem report,” Laura says, waving the folder at them.
Robbie sits up, smoothing down his tie. James pushes his chair away from the desk as if he’s about to stand but doesn’t. They both seem a bit flustered.
“That was fast,” Robbie says. He slides off the desk to take the report from her and begins flipping through it. James is uncharacteristically quiet, he makes no move to stand up and have a look at the report as well.
“We aim for efficiency,” Laura replies. “Besides, I was passing by. Got a date.” Robbie raises an eyebrow. “Drinks with Jean,” Laura clarifies.
“Ah.” Robbie clearly wants to ask what she means by date—she would tell him if he did ask—but instead he focuses on the folder in his hands. James’ face behind him is neutral in a way that means he’s trying not to smile. “Our victim was dead before she went into the water, then?”
“Yes, no water in the lungs. You’re looking for our old friend the blunt instrument for a murder weapon.”
Robbie turns, dropping the folder on James’ desk. James picks it up immediately and starts reading, still not moving from his chair.
“Don’t suppose you have any idea about the shape of this blunt instrument?” Robbie asks.
“I’m afraid not.” Laura grins. “That’s what we’ve got you for.”
“Have a good evening, gentleman.”
“Goodnight, Doctor Hobson,” James says, breezy, but not quite meeting her eyes as he continues to flip through the report.
It almost seems as if he’s deliberately not standing up in front of her. Laura can’t help but speculate about the reason why as she walks down the corridor to collect Jean.
After the victim’s husband has identified the body—his face crumpling in recognition and grief when Laura pulls back the sheet—James leads him away. His two adult children are waiting in the corridor to enfold him in their arms in a three-person hug. Robbie doesn’t move to follow James, he stays standing by the body looking a bit shell shocked as he watches them go; his shoulders slumped, his whole demeanour diminished. Not surprising given the victim’s more than passing resemblance to Val in both looks and the circumstances of her death.
“Robbie,” Laura says, placing a gentle hand on his arm.
“I’m fine,” he replies, gruff, taking a step away from her. “No need to worry about me. I’ve seen worse.” He gives her an unconvincing sad half-smile, then walks through the open door out into the corridor.
It’s the worse that he didn’t see but has probably been imagining all these years that Laura is concerned about.
Laura watches through the viewing window as James comes to meet him and they make their way down the corridor. Their pace is slower than usual; Robbie’s head bowed, a bit of a shuffle to his steps, James’ stride slowed to match. Just before they reach the doors that lead to the rest of the hospital, James says something to Robbie that results in a shake of his head and a dismissive wave of his hand. James puts his hand on Robbie’s arm much the way Laura had, but Robbie doesn’t brush him off, he stops walking and all but leans into the touch, bringing his hand up to clutch at James’ fingers where they grip his bicep. Laura can see the deep sigh he lets out in the motion of his shoulders.
James slides his hand up Robbie’s shoulder to the nape of his neck and they stand there, very close, very nearly leaning their foreheads together, for a long moment before James’ hand slides down to Robbie’s shoulder again and gives it a squeeze.
Robbie steps back, looking up at James. He says something that elicits a little quirk of a smile from James but doesn’t quite remove the look of concern from his face. Then Robbie gives James’ shoulder an answering squeeze and turns to pull the door open. James’ hand hovers over the small of Robbie’s back when they walk through the door as if he’s resisting the urge to wrap his arm about Robbie and pull him into a proper hug.
Late morning callouts are always preferable to the more typical very early mornings, but better still would be a late morning callout on a weekday. Laura had plans for her Saturday that didn’t involve a drive to Wytham Wood and a dead body lying behind the visitor map sign. She fears for the health of the tomatoes she’s had to abandon mid-planting.
She’s only been at the scene fifteen minutes, not even long enough for SOCO to finish their sweep of the area, when Robbie’s car pulls up. On a weekday she’d think nothing of Robbie and James arriving together so soon after a callout, but to get here this quickly implies that they were in the same place when the call came in. On a Saturday. It gets her wondering.
Laura watches as they approach across the clearing. They both seem to have wet hair and, if she’s not mistaken, James is wearing yesterday’s suit.
“What have we got?” Robbie asks when they reach her.
“Good morning to you too,” Laura says.
Robbie grimaces at her as she knew he would.
“Good morning,” James says with a grin, his hands clasped behind his back, rocking on his heels. Robbie grimaces at James too.
“Male, early to mid-twenties, stab wound to the abdomen, likely the fatal wound given all the blood. Wearing hiking kit, so probably was here for a walk. No ID so far. SOCO is checking the surrounding brush.”
“Robbery gone wrong?” Robbie asks.
“Possible,” Laura pulls up the sleeve of the man’s high-tech fabric hoodie to reveal an expensive looking watch. “They missed this if it was though.”
James whistles. “Omega Speedmaster. That would set him back about £3000 at the low end.” Robbie gives James one of his affectionately impressed ‘how do you know all this stuff’ looks. James crouches down to examine the watch more closely. “I’m no expert,” James says, eliciting a snort from Robbie. “But this seems genuine, could be this year’s model. Goes along with the expensive kit. No one needs gear that high-tech for Wytham Wood.”
“Maybe he was testing it out for future use?” Robbie muses.
“Mmm.” James turns the man’s wrist over, scrutinising the clasp on the watchband before standing up again. “If he bought it in Oxford it shouldn’t be too difficult to track down his name. There’s only one shop that sells them.”
“You frequent that shop, do you?”
“On a sergeant’s salary?”
“Aye, go on then,” Robbie says, a contemplative look on his face as he watches James pull his mobile out of his jacket.
Laura waves a SOCO over to photograph the watch on the man’s arm, then carefully removes it, placing it in an evidence bag.
“Cheers,” Robbie says when she hands him the bag.
“Post-mortem at three.”
“We’ll be there.”
Robbie walks over to where James is standing on the edge of the clearing, mobile to his ear, presumably talking to the shop in question. He brushes his fingers along James’ shoulder to get his attention and James turns, flashing him a bright smile as he takes the bag containing the watch, turning it over to squint at the back. Robbie leans in close to examine the watch as well, their shoulders brushing.
When James ends the call he points out something on the watch to Robbie, then pockets both the watch and his mobile. As they walk to Robbie’s car, it almost looks like they’re holding hands they’re walking so close together.
Jean leans toward Laura conspiratorially. “How many drinks has James had?”
James and Robbie are at the bar collecting the next round. This is ostensibly a work do, but the four of them are the only ones left. As the hours have drawn on, the evening has taken on a much more casual air; both Robbie and James loosening their ties and unbuttoning a few shirt buttons, Robbie rolling up his sleeves. Robbie is leaning on the bar, giving their order to the bartender, James is standing to Robbie’s right with one long arm resting on the bar rail to Robbie’s left. If Robbie were to step away from the bar it would be an embrace.
“Don’t know,” Laura says, taking the last sip of her own drink. “They were here when I got here.”
James’ speech isn’t slurred, he made it from their table to the bar without a stumble. He doesn’t seem particularly drunk. Neither does Robbie. Except for the way they’ve been gravitating toward each other with each passing round.
If Laura didn’t know better she would assume they were a couple with the way they’re carrying on. The exceedingly fond look on James’ face, his fingers brushing Robbie’s wrist, while recounting Robbie’s schooling of a particularly surly don during their current case. James stealing a sip of Robbie’s ale unsolicited after Robbie comments about the surprising quality of the new microbrew, and the downright tender look on Robbie’s face as he watches James sip from his pint. Robbie smiling indulgently at James as he expounds upon the details of an exhibit of early Catholic manuscripts he saw last week, and more than once looking like he’s about to reach for James’ hand. James sitting with his arm along the back of the bench behind Robbie’s head in a way that almost seems as if he’s running his fingers through Robbie’s hair. James’ gaze all but adoring every time it falls on Robbie, which is most of the time. And the two of them sitting pressed up against each other on a bench big enough for three. Though that’s nothing new.
Jean hums and taps her fingers on the table. “They do stand awfully close, don’t they?”
“I can’t help but wonder if there’s more going on there than the work partnership.”
“Nah,” Jean says. “Can you imagine?”
“I can actually. I have.”
Jean laughs. “You would. I’d like to believe they’d be more discreet with me sitting right here, though.”
“How much do you believe in their powers of discretion?”
Jean narrows her eyes at her. “For something like this? A fair amount.”
“Monetarily?” Laura asks, grinning.
“Fifty quid.” Jean does look confident, but she doesn’t see the two of them in the field as much as Laura does.
Laura glances at the bar then back to Jean, they are still standing just as close. “You’re sure about that?”
Laura holds out her hand. Jean laughs and shakes it.
When Robbie and James return, Robbie slides onto the bench first as James pushes Laura and Jean’s drinks across the table to them. Predictably, he sits right in the middle, leaving James enough space to fit on the bench only if he’s pressed up against Robbie’s side. Neither of them seems to mind. Their fingers brush as Robbie passes James his whisky. Laura smirks at Jean.
“Do I want to know?” Robbie asks.
“Doubtful,” Laura says, taking a sip of her gin and tonic.
James eyes Laura then Jean as if he’s trying to suss them out, before shaking his head and taking a drink of his whisky.
“They’re conspiring against us,” he says, leaning his head on Robbie’s shoulder and gazing up at him in a display of mock-affection that Laura is now certain is completely sincere. Robbie purses his lips at James but makes no move to push him off.
James and Robbie are both quite chipper for a first thing in the morning post-mortem, all banter and easy smiles as they walk in step through the door. The matching grins they don’t quite manage to suppress when they come to stand on the other side of the morgue table make it appear as if they’re up to something.
“Good morning, Doctor,” James says, hands clasped behind his back, grin still playing at the corners of his lips.
Robbie nods at her. “‘Morning, Laura.”
“You get some good news about the case?”
“Ah—” Robbie hesitates.
“Not about the case, no,” James says, rocking on his heels. He doesn’t elaborate.
“Well, good news is always good.” Laura pulls the sheet off the body, ready to get started.
“Indeed.” James is grinning again. Robbie gives him a sideways look, fidgets with his tie, then focuses on the body of the middle-aged man on the table in front of them.
“Nice tie,” Laura says. The tie is thinner than Robbie’s usual style, black with a familiar floral pattern. It doesn’t quite go with his shirt but it suits him. Laura’s seen the tie before, but not on Robbie, on James. Whatever they’re up to she very much doubts it’s in any way work-related.
James flashes Laura a cheeky grin and Robbie… Robbie Lewis is blushing because she complimented his tie. His sergeant’s tie, which he is wearing.
“What he means to say is, ‘Thank you, Doctor,’” James says. He’s looking a bit flushed as well.
“Thank you.” Robbie flashes Laura a sheepish smile, then glares over his shoulder at James.
“New, is it? It’s not your usual style.”
“Er, yeah. Someone was encouraging me to try new things.”
James ducks his head, completely failing to hide his smirk. “You’ve done admirably,” James says, in an undertone.
Robbie’s blush deepens. Laura would put money down that whatever Robbie has done admirably it’s not wearing James’ tie. Or not only that. She won’t need to bother though, by the looks on their faces Jean already owes her that fifty quid.
They both stand there, studiously not looking at her or each other, and Laura takes pity on them and begins to go over her findings.
Laura has had just enough to drink that when she finds the bathroom door closed but not locked she doesn’t stop to knock, she pushes it open. There is a muffled sound from within as the door swings wide to reveal James and Robbie locked together in a distinctly non-platonic embrace. Embrace isn’t the right word for it. Snogging like teenagers is the word. Phrase. Whatever. It’s her birthday, she’s a bit drunk, and the scene before her is not a terrible present.
Robbie has James pushed up against the sink, his knee between James’ legs, one hand cupping his jaw, the other hidden from view between them. James’ shirt is untucked and unbuttoned, revealing his smooth chest, and one pink nipple that isn’t hidden by Robbie’s body. James’ hair is in complete disarray, an accomplishment considering how short it is. He’s got one hand up the back of Robbie’s jumper, the other on Robbie’s arse, and one leg hooked around the back of Robbie’s knee.
They are completely entwined, so caught up in each other—God, the sounds they’re making—that they haven’t even noticed Laura is in the room. Robbie does something with his unseen hand and James moans, the hand on Robbie’s arse flexing, gripping, and pulling Robbie against him, kissing and biting his way down Robbie’s neck.
Laura clears her throat.
They both turn, still entwined, faces flushed, breathing heavily. With his face angled toward her, Laura can see love bites on Robbie’s neck. Robbie looks flustered, James looks smug, and they both look utterly dishevelled.
“Laura,” Robbie says, with a note of surprise, as if her appearance is something he never would have anticipated.
“This is my house,” she says. “And you didn’t lock the door.”
Robbie starts to pull away, dislodging James’ leg from his calf, but James holds him still with the hand on his arse. “Don’t think there’s any point in pretending anymore,” he stage whispers in Robbie’s ear. Laura just manages to not say, I knew it, out loud.
Robbie sighs and settles his hands on James’ waist, giving James a look Laura can only describe as smouldering.
“There’s a guest bedroom upstairs if you can’t keep your hands off each other long enough to make it home,” Laura says with a smirk. “Some of us have other uses for the bathroom.”
“Sorry, we—” James starts.
“We’re not—” Robbie cuts across him.
“No need to apologise,” Laura says. “I’ll consider it part of my birthday present.”
Robbie shakes his head and takes half a step away from James, shielding him from Laura’s view as they both make a not quite passable attempt to pull themselves together. James has rebuttoned his shirt crookedly, and though he’s done up the zip on his jeans and partially tucked in his shirt, his belt is still undone. The collar of Robbie’s jumper is stretched out, showcasing the lovebites on his neck, he’s got a bit of stubble burn around his mouth, and his hair is more than a little ruffled. Anyone who sees them is going to know exactly what they’ve been up to.
“Just be sure you put the sheets in the hamper when you’re done,” Laura says as she shoos them out the bathroom door. James hasn’t let go of Robbie since Laura opened the door, first clutching at his jumper and now with a finger hooked through the belt loop of Robbie’s jeans, pulling him down the hallway toward the stairs.
When she leaves the bathroom, Laura turns the music up a bit to disguise any noises that may soon be coming from the guest bedroom, finds herself another drink, and then searches out Jean. She finds Jean in an armchair by the fire looking not too terribly thrilled to be talking to Laura’s newest intern. The intern makes himself scarce as soon as Laura appears.
“My saviour,” Jean says.
Laura snickers. “You could have turned a CS Innocent look on him at any point and he’d’ve run for the hills.”
“I don’t like to abuse my powers.”
“Sure you don’t.” Laura settles in on the arm of the chair. “Guess who I just found snogging in the bathroom.”
“No!” Jean looks up and Laura leans in, kissing the look of surprise off her face. “I never thought they’d get it together.”
“Ah, but I did. You owe me fifty quid,” Laura says, draping one arm around Jean’s shoulders and holding up her glass for a toast. “Happy Birthday to me.”