James is on the sofa. He’s not sitting on the sofa, no, he’s sprawled across it, his not inconsiderable height making it so he can commandeer all the cushions at once. In every direction a giraffe like limb is unfurled with that unique, gangly grace: feet over the end of the sofa arm, one leg bent, one arm wedged behind his head, the other hanging off the side, a cigarette dangling from his long fingers with ash perilously close to spilling on the carpet. His collar is unbuttoned, his bow tie (Laura had insisted) is undone. He’s in his shirt sleeves, his jacket abandoned over one of the chairs. His head is thrown back against the cushions, pale neck bared for all the world (but actually only Robbie) to see. James’ eyes are closed but he’s not asleep, just resting.
Robbie tries not to stand and stare at the elegant sweep of his sergeant, from his impossibly golden hair to his long, narrow feet (his dress shoes had been kicked off at the door, Robbie remembers). Christ, but he’s beautiful. He’s beautiful in the way saints and idols are beautiful, like carved stone sculptures and other things Robbie must not touch.
But he’s nothing like stone, not really, as Robbie watches James breathe, his chest rising and falling. His skin, illuminated by the table lamp James had turned on before throwing himself on the settee, looks warm, soft to the touch. That’s James, isn’t it? At first he seems remote, untouchable, almost otherworldly, but then you see the real man underneath, breathing, hurting, loving, far more wonderful and dear than any marble masterpiece.
Robbie clenches his fists, he needs to stop this. He clears his throat.
“Smoking indoors, James?”
A blissed little half smile crosses James’ mouth, before he brings the offending item to his lips. Robbie’s eyes track the movement. Fuck.
“S’my flat.”his voice is gravel and honey, it’s twenty cigarettes consumed in half a day and a lot of alcohol on top of that. It should not be, God help Robbie and deliver him, sexy.
“No, it's not, you rent it.” Robbie points out pretending he’s thinking of James’ deposit rather than pressing his mouth to that spot just there, just beneath James’ collarbone. James had shifted slightly and revealed that he’d undone rather more than just his top button the pale uncharted skin of his chest exposed, ever so slightly.
“Mfh, I’ve got Febreeze.”
James blinks his eyes open, those odd, stormy eyes that are never quite a proper colour, and suddenly his demeanour changes, as soon as he sees Robbie. He goes from louche supine glamour to concerned best friend in, quite literally, the blink of an eye. And there’s no hope for Robbie now, even the twist of James’ scarred chin and the tiny frown lines on his forehead are utterly glorious.
“Sorry, Robbie.” James says, sweeping a hand across his face, a nervous gesture, as he sits up “I know this must be hard for you.”
‘What, you being so ruddy gorgeous?’ Robbie’s mind proposes, but fortunately not Robbie’s mouth.
“Today, I mean.” James continues, “With Laura. Getting married.” For some reason that makes Robbie chuckle; “I know she got married, lad. I was there. So were you.” James just looks at him, eyes wide and hurting. For Robbie. Christ. “James, lad, I’m not bothered. I mean I am, I’m over the moon for her and Franco, but I’m not. Pining or owt like that.”
There’s space on the sofa now and Robbie insinuates himself into it, his thigh pressing against James’. “I’m alright.”
James continues to look worried as he shakes ash into the empty fag packet on the coffee table, hand jiggling probably subconsciously before he stubs the cigarette out. Musician’s hands. Skilled hands. Stop it.
“But you’ve been so… not off, lately but distant. I was- I wondered.” James won’t meet his eyes.
I have been distant, Robbie thinks, to stop myself laying hands on you.
But of course how many people actually touch James? How many can see beneath the patrician’s mask, the dryer than the Gobi humour, those painful layers that Robbie acknowledges but leaves alone. No one, that’s who, and Robbie keeping his distance must hurt James on some level, as he must feel it.
“Ah, lad. No. It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” Terrified eyes meet his. “God, you’re not ill are you?”
Robbie forgets James gets like this when he’s drunk (they are both rather the worse for wear, Robbie tells himself that’s why he’s pressing closer.)
“No! No, I swear, love, I’m fine.”
Somehow James’ eyes get wider. Robbie has somehow found himself clutching James’ free hand in both his own.
“You- you must be- you’ve got me confused with-“ there’s something about James’ manner, like a man talking himself away from something he wants, that makes Robbie hope. James tries to pull his hand from Robbie’s so Robbie holds fast.
“I’ve not confused you with anyone, James. I couldn’t do that.”
The disbelief in James’ look hurts Robbie, it’s almost unbearable.
He moves to raise a hand up to James’ perfect, imperfect chin.
“Don’t.” James whispers.
Robbie freezes, suddenly hot with shame.
How could he even think-James’ shoulders are rigid and his head is down, and he’s speaking rapidly.
“Not if you don’t mean it. I can’t bear it, the way I feel sometimes, it’s better to not have any designs than to-” And now James looks up. “I never get what I want. And I want. So much. But I can’t just be for you for a while, do you see? Because you’re hurting because I- things I’ve never had are easy to think I can live without.”
Robbie can barely breathe. It’s so much more than Robbie expected, but here it all is in James’ ever changing yet completely constant gaze. The pain and the indecision. The want and the love.
“I don’t want you like that, James.” And if that isn’t the most badly worded sentence Robbie has ever said, “No, bloody hell I mean- you’re not ‘emotional painkillers’ or whatever the hell you think you are to me. You’re my best friend, James, you’re everything and you-” it needs saying, after causing the mortified expression that had swept across James’ face a second earlier, “You are so bloody stunning in that suit. In any suit. In no suit at all, I’m sure.”
James looks dazed. “I’m everything?”
“Yes, bonny lad. Yes, you are. I can’t think what you want with me but if you do want me, well.” Robbie shrugs, smiles softly.
James stares. Not so elegant now, but all the more dear.
Robbie resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Yes, James, really.”
And this time he manages to cup James’ chin and draw him forward so their lips brush, ever so lightly. James draws back, his forehead pressed to Robbie’s.
“Tell me this isn’t a fantasy brought on by alcohol poisoning.” James commands, huffing out a soft breath.
“You have a lot of fantasies where you kiss your governor?” Robbie asks, suspecting what the answer might be.
“Oh, thousands.” James whispers, winding his arms around Robbie’s neck, bringing another of those dreams into reality.