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Recipient: loves_books
Title: If I Were a Wise Man
Characters/Pairing: Robbie Lewis, James Hathaway; brief appearances by Laura Hobson and Lizzie Maddox
Rating: PG
Wordcount: 3800 approx
Warnings: Trigger warnings for discussion of suicide and the off–screen suicide of a non–canon character
Summary: If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give him: give my heart

With grateful thanks to she-knows-who for BRing and confidence-boosting.

From: E.Maddox@oxfordpolice.pnn.co.uk
Subject: James

The email waiting in his Gmail inbox instantly has Robbie on alert. He’s almost holding his breath as he clicks on it.

Hi, Robbie,

I hope you and Laura are enjoying your last few weeks in Kiwi–land. Sorry to bother you, but I need your advice. I know I’ve said I won’t tell tales on James behind his back – he needs to know he can trust me – but this time he needs help and I can’t get through to him. Thing is, if what I’m hearing is right, you’ve seen something like this happen before.

Robbie reads on, his heart sinking as he gets to the pertinent details. “Christ, not again.” He twists his head around. “Laura!”

There’s the scrape of a chair on the tiled floor of the kitchen, and then running feet; Laura can hear the urgency in his voice. She halts behind him and, with her hand on his shoulder, leans forward to read the email. “Oh, Robbie.” She leans into him. “You have to go home. He needs you, and it can’t wait.”

Three weeks early. It’ll cost him to change his ticket, though he doesn’t care about that. Laura’s right: James needs him, and this isn’t a situation he can help with from more than eleven thousand miles away. Just telling Lizzie what happened with Adam Tibbit won’t do at all. James obviously doesn’t want her to know, and so if he tells her it’ll only put the bloke’s back up.

He nods. “I’ll phone the airline. See how quickly I can get on a flight.”

Laura drops a kiss on the top of his head. “Do you want me to come with you?”

It’s a bloody long flight, and of course he’d prefer to have Laura beside him – and there’s definitely times she can get through to James when he can’t. But he shakes his head. “You can’t miss the christening, love. Come home the week before Christmas as planned.”

“If you’re sure.” She sounds troubled, so he squeezes her hand in reassurance. “All right, then. Make sure you give him a hug from me, all right?”

Hugging James isn’t exactly something he’s made a habit of. But Laura doesn’t mean it literally, of course. He raises an eyebrow in her direction, then starts searching the laptop for his e–ticket.

Her hand over his makes him look around at her again. “I mean it, Robbie. That man strikes me as someone who hasn’t had nearly enough hugs in his life.” She shakes her head. “It’d do you both good. I couldn’t believe the pair of you at the airport, staring at each other like a couple of constipated Victorian gentlemen.”

“Oi! he protests, but Laura’s already dialling the airline.

Another suicide of someone involved in a case James is investigating. And even worse, this time: the young woman jumped off the balcony of her sixth–floor flat right in front of James while he was trying to question her.

Anyone would be traumatised after witnessing that – and not just witnessing it, but possibly (definitely, knowing James) thinking they might have driven the victim to suicide. But James, after Adam Tibbit – no wonder Lizzie described him as unreachable.

He’s good at being unreachable, is James.

But then Robbie’s had ten years to learn how to get past the bloke’s most offensive defences. And he’d started with an advantage, thanks to fifteen years of Morse.

Trouble is, James has had days to withdraw even further into himself. By the time Lizzie’d emailed, it’d been three days since the woman killed herself. Another day for Robbie to get himself on this flight – and it’s not even a direct one, at that, so more than thirty hours of travelling, not counting to and from airports. And there’s no way he’s going to confront James neck-deep in jet-lag, so he needs time to recover. All told, it’ll have been a week by the time he sees James. More than enough time for the bloke to have convinced himself that he’s not only entirely responsible for that poor young woman’s death, but also not deserving of anyone’s compassion or forgiveness.

Robbie dreads to think what James will have written in his official report. He can only hope that Moody has enough sense not to take it at face value. If not, Robbie’ll be having words.

As for James, he’ll be having words with him, too. Whether those words will have much impact remains to be seen; the man can be bloody stubborn sometimes. And, truth be told, Robbie can’t always find the right words. But what he does have, what he’s always had where James Hathaway is concerned, is his presence – too many people in James’s life have turned their backs on him.

Neither of them has been particularly good with words, especially when the words might have mattered. But unique to the two of them is that words are rarely needed. He can sit with the bloke in silence for an hour and leave feeling more comforted than any counsellor could manage.

Lizzie meets him at Heathrow, clearly relieved that he’s back but also worried, judging by the state of her nails. She doesn’t say anything until she’s navigated the exit roads and is on the M25.

“He’s mainlining coffee and chain-smoking. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been sleeping much. Moody wanted him to take some time off, but–”

“He refused.” It’s not even a question; Robbie knows his one–time sergeant more than well enough to anticipate his reaction to that.

“Yeah. But he’s spending most of his time in his office. Sends me out on my own when he’d normally come with me. And he hasn’t done a single suspect interview since it happened.”

None of that pleases Robbie – but there’s one thing evident from Lizzie’s description that does. Moody clearly hasn’t required James to be suspended pending investigation of the woman’s death – meaning that neither Moody nor his superiors believed that the circumstances raised any questions whatsoever.

“Was anyone else there when it happened?” he asks Lizzie.

She nods. “DC Tillson. She was there to observe, and saw everything. She says Inspector Hathaway wasn’t behaving in any way that could’ve appeared threatening – he was just asking completely routine questions. There was no way he could have anticipated that she’d run out onto the balcony and kill herself. No way at all.”

Robbie glances at Lizzie, taking in her clenched jaw and the way she’s gripping the steering wheel. “You can’t blame yourself for not being there. It wouldn’t have made any difference – to her or to James.”

She lets out a long sigh. “I know, but… it’s my job, in’t it? I wasn’t even in Oxford,” she adds. “Had the day off. Me an’ Tone went up to Leeds to see my mum.”

Right – Tony’s back from Canada for a few weeks. Robbie redirects the conversation. “What was the woman’s name? And what have you found out about her?”

“Carol Jacobs. She was 35 and worked at the Poundland in Cowley. The murder victim was an ex–boyfriend of hers, but she wasn’t even a suspect. We’d already verified that she was working at the time of death. James only wanted to interview her to find out whether she knew of anyone he might’ve had an argument with – you know, the usual.” She pauses, concentrating as she takes the M40 exit. “We found out later that she had a history of mental illness and there’d been previous suicide attempts, and the conclusion at the inquest was that there was a strong likelihood that finding out her ex was dead was what made her jump, but that’s changed nothing as far as James is concerned.”

Of course not. No surprise there. And of course it’s desperately sad that Carol Jacobs took her own life, whatever the reason. In his forty–year career, Robbie’s seen far too many suicides, every one of them – in his view – a tragic waste of a life and an indictment of the state of mental health services locally.

But none of that is James’s fault, or his responsibility. Just as Adam Tibbit’s suicide wasn’t, but that didn’t stop James blaming himself then, either. Or, or course, blaming himself for Will McEwan’s death all those years ago.

He’s not going to tell Lizzie about either of them, of course. “We’ll sort him, don’t fret,” he tells her, keeping his tone light. “Your job is to make sure he goes home at a decent hour, and I’ll pop over once I’ve had a bit of a kip.” Because confronting a stubborn, suspicious and self-protecting Hathaway will be much less difficult if he’s not suffering from jet-lag.

Seven hours later, Robbie knocks on James’s door. His former sergeant is home; the Jaguar is parked outside, and anyway Lizzie had sent Robbie a text an hour or so ago confirming that James had just left the nick.

James’s shocked reaction on seeing Robbie would be comical if it weren’t for the hollow-eyed, almost gaunt appearance of the man. He looks like he’s aged at least five years in under six months.

Of course, his spoken reaction is characteristically deadpan. “You couldn’t wait three weeks for me to pick you up at Heathrow?” Robbie merely raises an eyebrow and follows James into the flat. “Is Laura sleeping off jetlag?”

“Nah, she’ll be at Heathrow in three weeks’ time.” Robbie hands his coat over to James without waiting to be asked. “Decided I’d had enough of summer in December. It’s against nature, that is.”

“Not if you’re from the Antipodes,” James points out with a smirk, turning away to hang up Robbie’s coat. When he looks back, his expression’s forbidding. “Lizzie’s been talking.”

Of course there’s no point denying it. Robbie nods. “Carol Jacobs.”

“So you changed your flight, at considerable expense, just so you could stand here and tell me it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t take it personally.” More than the words, James’s tone is scathing.

Robbie would never be so dismissive, and James should damn well know it. Morse would, but Robbie is not Morse. But the bloke’s had a rough time, and he’s feeling defensive, so Robbie’ll go easy on him. “So that I could be a better friend to you than I was after Adam Tibbit and Will McEwan – and after your dad.”

James turns away. “This has nothing to do with my father.” He walks out of the room, his gait stiff.

Robbie follows, and winds up in the kitchen, a room he’s never been into in this flat. Without glancing at him, James says, “You’ll have a cuppa.” He fills the kettle, then carries on talking as he takes mugs down from a cupboard. “You did plenty to help after he went into care. I’m grateful for that. Especially as I hadn’t even told you I had family.”

A fact Robbie’d avoided bringing up. “I meant when he died. I’d’ve come back, you know. For the funeral.”

And the only reason he didn’t is that James hadn’t told him until after the cremation had already taken place. He hadn’t told anyone, in fact, including Moody and Lizzie.

“What would’ve been the point?” This time, James does glance briefly over his shoulder at Robbie before pouring boiling water into the mugs. “Coming back all that way just for a funeral?”

Not just for a funeral – for James. To be there beside him so he wouldn’t be alone. Well, alone except for a sister they both know he’s not close to.

It hasn’t escaped Robbie’s notice that James chose to comment on the reference to his father, thus attempting to divert attention from the other two suicides that’d affected him so strongly.

“None of those deaths was your fault, man,” Robbie says, gently but firmly, as James passes him a mug. “They made their own decision to do what they did. You know what the inquests said as well as I do. Of course it’s a tragic waste and we all wish they’d got the help they needed, but that doesn’t make it your responsibility.”

James’s lips tighten, and he gestures for Robbie to precede him out of the kitchen. “Carol Jacobs didn’t know Peter Dunne was dead. If I’d realised that, I’d have broken the news to her properly. Gently.”

Robbie frowns, turning to face James once they’re back in the living-room. “Shouldn’t a DC already have talked to her to explain what you wanted to see her about?”

James’s lips turn downwards in a scowl. “One would have thought so. Clearly, I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“Even still,” Robbie says. “I’m sure it was a shock for her, though I know you – there’s no way you would’ve have been remotely tactless. The inquest said she had a history of depression and suicide attempts. I’m not bein’ callous, but if she hadn’t done it that day she probably would have another time. And there was no way you could’ve known that.”

Dragging a hand over his face, James says, “I know I’m not responsible, but – she jumped not six feet from me, Robbie. I should have been able to stop her.”

“What, in a split second when you weren’t expecting it? Come on, man. Look, I’m not going to be callous and say death’s just part of the job. Of course it feels like we’ve failed when someone dies. But you know what I’ve always told you.”

“The best way to deal with it is solve the case to make sure no–one else dies.” James sets his mug down on his desk. “Not exactly the same thing.”

“Solve the case to bring Peter Dunne’s killer to justice,” Robbie points out. “And lobby your MP for more funding for mental health, if you think there’s a remote chance anyone’ll listen.”

James huffs a smile, which turns into a grimace. Obviously too soon. But he’s getting there.

“Oh, yeah.” Remembering, Robbie beckons to James. “C’mere.”

James raises a questioning eyebrow, but – to Robbie’s surprise – obeys, crossing the room towards him.

“I’m under instructions from Laura,” he explains as James stops a couple of feet away.

“What?” There’s sharp suspicion in the bloke’s voice.

“To give you a hug from her.”

James takes an abrupt step backwards, wincing slightly. Not very complimentary, that, is it? “I’m not really the hugging kind.” His tone says Don’t even think of it.

He should be feeling relieved at being let off the hook. After all, the idea of hugging another bloke, even his best mate, still feels weird. But the bloody stubborn sod’s only made it into a challenge now. “Laura says you’ve not been hugged anywhere near enough, an’ I think she’s right. Get yourself over here, man.” He points to the floor in front of him.

James assumes an expression that would petrify most DCs of Robbie’s acquaintance. But it’s a very long time since he’s been a DC, and he’s got at least one or two expressions that can still give James pause. He tilts his head slightly, raises an eyebrow and waits.

It only takes a couple of seconds. James takes the two or three steps needed to stand within hugging distance. Too late to hesitate now. Robbie reaches for him, aiming for a blokey slap on the back, but James is wrapping his arms around Robbie and so it’s only right to do the same thing back – and so they’re hugging. Properly. And it doesn’t feel at all weird. Maybe Laura’s right and they do need to do this every once in a while.

But then James makes a grunt of protest and pulls away. Robbie lets go, frowning at the abruptness of the withdrawal. “Wasn’t that terrible, was–“

He stops as he notices what he should have seen before. James is in pain. He’s got his forearm pressed against his upper chest, and he’s grimacing. “What’ve you done to yourself, man?”

James glances his way, expression frustrated. “Bruised rib.”

“Ouch.” Robbie winces in sympathy. “Had one of those meself back before I knew you. Bloody painful. You’re lucky it’s not cracked.”

No answer; just a bland stare. “You don’t know whether it is or not, do you?” Robbie sighs. “Did you even get it X–rayed?”

“What’s the point?” James lowers himself carefully onto one of his stupidly long sofas. “The treatment’s the same either way: bugger all. Avoid activities likely to exacerbate the pain, and take painkillers if necessary.”

He’s right, at that, but… ah, hell, Robbie’ll just ask Laura what she recommends. He drops down next to James. “How’d it happen?”

James shrugs. “Wasn’t looking where I was going.” Robbie waits, watching him. After a minute or so, James huffs out a breath. “I threw myself against the balcony rail trying to grab her. I was too late – she was already on the ground, but…”

Robbie can understand that, all right – the desperate impulse to do something, even if it’s futile. Course, James had saved a bloke once before who’d tried to jump out of a window – one of their two murdering optometrists. He pats James’s shoulder. “Aye, it was a bit daft, all right, but you’ll learn.”

James’s lips quirk faintly. “Next you’ll say that’s what happens when you’re not here to keep an eye on me.”

Robbie pats the bloke’s shoulder again. “Not to worry, I’m back now.”

“He’s right,” Laura says later when Robbie phones her. “There’s no benefit to having an X–ray and most A&E doctors won’t request one, even for a broken rib, unless they’re worried about a pneumothorax. Punctured lung,” she translates without needing to be asked.

“I knew that,” he protests mildly. “If it’s bruised, it will clear up sooner, yeah?”

“Yes, in a couple of weeks, but a cracked rib will take at least six weeks.”

“Bugger. Let’s hope for his sake it’s just cracked, then. Thanks, love. So what should he be doing – or not doing?”

Laura’s tone carries sympathetic amusement. “The pain will be a pretty good restraint for him, poor sod. Just keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t overdo things. It’ll be worst of all when he coughs or sneezes – and do try not to make him laugh. If he’s in pain, paracetamol should work, or if it’s not strong enough then something over the counter with codeine.”

James isn’t the easiest bloke to keep an eye on, as Laura should know only too well. But he’ll do his best. And Lizzie will help, in her blunt but efficient style.

“Be better still when you’re home an’ we can keep an eye on him together,” he points out.

“Mm,” Laura hums thoughtfully. “About that…”

“Thank you for coming with me.” James squeezes Robbie’s shoulder as they exit the small chapel in the crematorium. Robbie’s reminded of the time he thanked James for a similar favour years earlier.

Carol Jacobs’ funeral was a thinly-attended service, with an aunt, a brother and a couple of cousins as the only family members. The rest of the attendees were her supervisor and a couple of work colleagues, and three women who described themselves as ‘sort of friends’. None of them seemed particularly devastated, which only made Robbie’s sympathy for the dead woman increase. Everyone should have someone to mourn them.

“That’s all right.” They stroll together back to James’s Jaguar. “Wasn’t any trouble.”

James is looking morose again as they drive out of the grounds. Robbie nudges the bloke’s arm gently. “Pint?”

That gets a faint smile. “Seems ages since we’ve done that. Vicky Arms?”

Sitting in the beer garden with their drinks twenty minutes later, wrapped warmly in bulky coats, they clink glasses. “Cheers.” As he sits back again, James winces. Robbie gives him a sympathetic grimace.

James lifts a shoulder. “It was just a twinge. I’ve had worse.”

“All the same, it’s a nuisance. Hope it’s just a bruise and you’ll be over it soon.” Though, knowing James, the daft sod probably sees it as his penance for failing to save Carol Jacobs.

Robbie tilts his head to one side and studies James. The bloke looks back at him. “What?”

“Been thinking.”

“Dangerous, that.” James smirks.

“Ha bloody ha.” Robbie takes a sip; Christ, he’s missed proper English ale. Now he can understand how Morse felt when they were in Australia. “The house feels empty with Laura away. Wondered if you’d fancy movin’ in for a bit. Keep me company, like.”

That earns him a suspicious glare. “I don’t need looking after, Robert.”

“Maybe I do. That occur to you?”

Lighting a cigarette, James says, “What? Two years with Laura and you can’t stand being in an empty house any more?” Abruptly, he swears. “Sorry. That was insensitive.”

Robbie waves it away. “Nah. But since you want to make it up to me, come an’ stay until Laura gets back. In fact, stay until after Christmas.”

James almost chokes on his cigarette, causing him to grimace in pain again. “You’re joking. Don’t you want Christmas on your own, or with Lyn? Not to mention what Laura’d want.”

He resists the urge to slap James on the back; it’d only cause him more pain. “Laura’s idea. Not that I’m not in favour.” He is, and it’s not remotely out of sympathy for James. It might be a cliché, that line about absence, but he really is even fonder of the lad now.

For a few moments, James seems to be having difficulty coming up with words. He finally manages a poor effort at a smirk. “You’ve just got too used to eating decent meals you haven’t had to get delivered.”

“Well, if you’re offering…” Robbie drains his pint. “Been months since I had a decent roast beef and Yorkshire pud.”

This job they both do – and yes, he’s signed another contract and will be back at work in the New Year – has more than its share of difficult days and gut-wrenching situations, but Robbie knows damn well that neither of them would want to be doing anything else. Because for every really bad day there’s at least one bloody good day when they’ve managed to get justice for a grieving family, or take a dangerous criminal off the streets – or save someone’s life.

And, of course, without the job Robbie would never have been lucky enough to work alongside the best mate he’s had.

As they stroll back to James’s car, their living arrangements for the next few weeks settled, Robbie slings an arm casually around the bloke’s shoulder. “Tell you what, I’ll let you off lightly this evening. Egg ‘n’ chips’ll do, all right?”

James gives him a sideways glance, eyebrow raised. “If I’m going to be cooking for you for the next couple of weeks, what do I get out of this arrangement?”

Robbie grins. “The pleasure of my company, canny lad. The pleasure of my company.”


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
28th Dec, 2016 21:20 (UTC)
Ah, poor, poor James. How totally like him to be suffering like this - and how lovely that Lizzie cares enough to let Robbie know, that Laura cares enough to push Robbie to go, and that Robbie cares enough to come all the way home to look after him. Lovely :-)
7th Feb, 2017 03:42 (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm happy that you enjoyed this. I think James has a far better, and more caring, support structure than he realises, and I'm sure he'd think he doesn't deserve it - but they're there for him because they love him :)

I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to thank you for your lovely comment :)
29th Dec, 2016 19:37 (UTC)
Thank you so much, Santa! What an awful situation for James to find himself facing, and of course he would blame himself even though there was nothing he could have done. I love how everyone takes such good care of him, from Lizzie telling Robbie even after promising she wouldn't, to Robbie rushing home with Laura's blessing. My favourite part was Robbie passing on Laura's hug, then thinking they should perhaps do that more often. This was a lovely gift, thank you again! x

Edited at 2016-12-29 19:37 (UTC)
7th Feb, 2017 03:45 (UTC)
I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to thank you for your lovely comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I hope it met enough of your wish list.

James is the master of self-blame, isn't he? And Robbie remembers the aftermath of both Adam Tibbit's and Will McEwan's suicides only too well. Laura, of course, doesn't know as much about both situations as Robbie does, but she was around for both and saw James's immediate reaction - and I am convinced that Laura was fully aware that, in taking on Robbie, she was also taking on James ;)

As for the hug, I think both of them need a lot more!
1st Jan, 2017 18:04 (UTC)
The caring and support is lovely in this fic - James hopefully making strides (or at least taking a step) to being able to see and accept how the people around him care for him, I'm sure the whole sequence of events got him thinking once he realised pretty fast Lizzie and Laura's hand in this too. And I really liked how Moody knows James well enough now to know that James claiming he's to blame is not a sign of his actually bearing responsibility for what happened - that was really nicely implied and subtly done through Robbie's initial protective defence of James being unnecessary when it came to the Higher Ups.
7th Feb, 2017 03:50 (UTC)
Your comments are always so wonderfully encouraging, so thank you very much for popping in here! I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to come back and say thanks. You always have some lovely insights, as well: yes, James is starting to see how much people care about him, even if he doesn't really understand why.

As for Moody, I did like the understanding he and Robbie came to at the end of S9. I think Moody's clever and insightful enough to have formed some pretty accurate conclusions about James, quite apart from any official records or perhaps off-the-record accounts he obtained from Jean Innocent :)

Thanks again!
2nd Jan, 2017 16:57 (UTC)
You're caught James and Robbie perfectly--particularly Robbie's inner voice, not to mention James' guilt. Lovely writing--and yay that Robbie could come back and give him that hug.
7th Feb, 2017 03:52 (UTC)
Thank you so much! Yes indeed - Guilt, thy name is James Hathaway, and Robbie knows it only too well. I'm delighted that you think this sounds like Robbie's voice, and that's much appreciated :)

As for the hug, we were denied one at the airport, so I had to fit it in somehow ;)

I apologise for the very long delay in coming back to thank you for taking the time to comment.
16th Jan, 2017 23:11 (UTC)

This is beautiful.
7th Feb, 2017 03:52 (UTC)
Thank you so much, and my apologies for the delay in saying so.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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