Oh, The Places You'll Go

One Extraordinary Leaf



Notes: Written for the birthday of my beloved Daisy. Given a once over by lamentables, for which many thanks. This little fic is second in my When Two Go Together Along the Way 'verse. Set after series 5, no spoilers and no warnings.




Lyn phoned most nights in the run up to the wedding. She worried at him about whether she would fit into the dress, swearing either she was having twins or a giant baby that was going to have to stay in there forever because no way was she pushing that out. She worried about her favourite flowers not being in season in November, and about what to do with top table given her mum had passed and Dom had more parents than he knew what to do with. She worried that Tony would never forgive her for getting married before he could get home from overseas. She never actually worried aloud about her mum not being there, about how Robbie would feel walking his heavily pregnant daughter down the aisle without Val's smiling face waiting for them at the end, but he felt it, all the same.

"Are you bringing Laura as your plus one?" she asked on one of the worrying-about-the-cake nights.

"No," said Robbie, and suddenly his heart was hammering as he asked, "Can I bring James?"

There was a silence in which Robbie could almost hear Lyn's eyebrows knit together. "But aren't you and she?"

"No."

Another silence: this one scandalised.

"Wait, not you and he?"

"Not like that." Robbie infused his voice with at least a month's supply of give over. It wasn't the right time to try to explain.

"Oh," she said, deflating. "Well, it's up to you."

***


At the reception, Robbie sits at the side of the dance floor trying to have a conversation with Auntie Maureen over the thump, thump, thump of the music and the special wedding roar of laughter that comes from too much alcohol and too many people who haven't seen each other in years.

Lyn is sitting at the opposite side of the dance floor, fanning herself whilst Dom kneels in front of her, massaging her feet. She's looking down at him, strands of hair loosened from her complicated do tumbling about her rosy-cheeked face. She blows one out of the way and he's looking up at her and they're laughing. Robbie feels the familiar squeeze in his chest that he gets at times like these. The one that says, she's not here. The one that says, but Lyn's so like her, so maybe she is after all.

Uncle Eric comes to claim Auntie Maureen and bear her away to another set of neglected relatives, and Robbie is left alone. He looks at the dance floor, to James dancing with a gaggle of Lyn's friends. He'd been tense on the way up, had James, but now he's loose and easy, the beat flowing through him and moving his limbs in a way Robbie'd thought impossible for such a gangler. The pretty one with the flashing eyes and ample bosom--the one Robbie can never remember the name of--takes James's arm, standing on tiptoe and he cranes down to listen to what she whispers in his ear.

Whatever it is, it causes James to smile and tilt his head and say something back that makes her giggle and clutch at her necklace. A couple of the other girls exchange knowing looks and laugh, taking a step away as James takes his dance partner's hand and they twist and turn on the floor. As she twirls, the girl's skirt flares up, shimmering in the strobing lights. It's like some kind of courtship display, Robbie thinks, and wonders if they're doing the right thing, he and James. If he's holding James back. They haven't found a place together, yet. It's not too late for them to change their minds. He realises his knuckles are white around his beer glass and he drains it, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

The music changes to a slow dance, the lights dimming. Dom stands up, offering Lyn a hand and she goes with him to the floor. She wraps her arms around his neck and they stand there swaying, the two of them. Three, really, given the size of Lyn's belly. Robbie smiles. He looks back towards where James was dancing, but he's gone, the girl in the arms of two of her fellow bridesmaids instead. They're laughing, but their hands clutch tight to each other and Robbie gets that. Weddings are a time for letting go and a time for holding on.

He doesn't see James walking towards him before he feels his touch on his shoulder.

"Smoke break," says James, and keeps walking.

Robbie follows him outside into the cold November air. He doesn't need a cigarette to puff white breath into the night sky. They stand quietly together for a few moments, Robbie warming himself with the heat that's coming off James's body.

"It's like standing next to a brazier," he says.

"Glad to be of service." James attempts to blow smoke rings. "If I can't give up," he'd said, "I should be the best smoker I can be." Robbie's fairly sure he was only half kidding.

"You're getting better," says Robbie watching the erratic rings dissipate. "We won't need mobiles soon. I'll just look for the smoke signals."

"Before," says James, ignoring him. "Your speech. I know you hate giving them, but it was amazing. Very sweet and funny and so moving, Robbie. Especially when you talked about your wife."

"Thank you," says Robbie with diffidence. He glances over at James. "You can probably call her Val, you know."

James shifts against the wall he's leaning on, switching his weight from one foot to the other. "I didn't want to presume. It's not like we ever met."

"She would have liked you," Robbie says. "Mind, she would have put you in the box labelled 'oddments', but she'd've liked you all the same."

"Really?" James turns to him and grins. He seems genuinely happy and looks so young, and Robbie's heart squeezes for entirely different reasons.

"Really." Robbie tucks his hands into his armpits, bouncing on his toes against the cold. "She's a looker, isn't she, Lyn's friend? Mindy, isn't it?"

"Mandy." James tries another set of smoke rings. The last one breaks. "Damn. Yes, she's an attractive woman. Great dancer, too."

"She liked you."

James looks like he does when he's faced with the murder board and a new piece of evidence. "Hmm," he says. "You know, I think she did."

"You could've-" Robbie interrupts himself. "Are you sure you don't want to go back in there?"

Shifting his weight again, James regards Robbie with a steady look. "I made a decision."

"Yes," Robbie doesn't say. "But you made a decision to be a priest, once."

It's like James reads his mind. He reaches out and touches Robbie's shoulder again. "I've made enough misguided ones to know how to do it right now."

Robbie nods, another knot untwisting.

"There you are, Dad!" Lyn calls, and Robbie sees his daughter coming towards them, wrapping her arms round herself to keep warm. In a second, James has his jacket off and is offering it to her.

"Thanks," she says, with a smile. It's the smallest thing, but Robbie could swear his ribcage must have expanded to make room for his swelling heart. "I've come to get you back in," says Lyn to Robbie. "I want to dance with you, Dad. No excuses."

"All right, love. But no Charlestons. My knees aren't what they were."

"I'd pay to see that," says James and Robbie snorts.

Lyn grins and takes both their arms, leading them back inside. She looks up at James. "So when are you going to make an honest man of my dad?" she asks and laughs so hard at their faces that Robbie's frightened she's going to bring on early labour.

He dances with his daughter, and then with Cousin Lorna, and then Mandy-not-Mindy taps him on the shoulder and holds out her hands, so he dances with her, too, even though it's late and he's tired. James dances, too--they even dance together in a vague here-we-are-in-the-same-vicinity way--and when the lights come up and the stragglers leave, he hands Robbie his jacket and they make their way upstairs to sleep.

"Oh, I forgot," says James, pausing at his door. "I got wind of a possible place for us. Someone Ranjeeta knows. We should check it out when we get back."

"Great," says Robbie. "We'll do that." He tries to open his door, but he can't get the keycard to work. It's always the same with these things. He tries again, getting only the red flashing light. He tuts.

James takes the card out of his hand, turns it round and slides it into the slot, the green light confirming the clunk of an unlocking door. He turns the handle and pushes the door open. "Your bed awaits," he says with a flourish.

Robbie takes the keycard back, shaking his head. "What would I do without you?" he says.

"I'd like to say, 'fall apart'," says James. "But I rather suspect you'd rely on the kindness of strangers."

"Get along with you," says Robbie and means, "You were right first time."

"Sleep well," says James, as Robbie goes into his room.

"You, too," says Robbie, and shuts the door.

When he's lying in bed he can hear James mooching about next door, the water running and then turning off, muffled thumps as he does god only knows what. Robbie thinks, I'll get used to those noises soon enough, and he smiles, turning over and settling into soft pillows. There's silence next door, and in a few minutes Robbie, too, is asleep.



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