Title: Free Running
Part Two: Collapse
by magique
: The Bill
Pairing(s): Neil/James, James/Ruth.
Genre/Rating: Angst, Drama/M
Word Count: 1295
Summary: Neil does something that effectively brightens James' life and ruins his own. AUish Amy Tennant storyline.
Warnings: None.
Notes: Final part of the Free Running series. Part one is named Stumble.
Can you believe I've actually only seen parts of the conclusion to the Amy Tennant arc on YouTube? I have this sort of love/boredom obsession with The Bill so I'll go from being utterly in love with it to being utterly sick of it within a few days which meant I missed quite a few bits throughout the entire storyline because of that. That and the whole Zain/Kristen thing which I didn't want to watch because I read about it before it came on and I knew I'd just be sitting there hopelessly wailing "Nooo, Zain, not Kristen!" Just like when Mickey was all, "Oooh, Mia!" and I hated her. SO SO MUCH. ah...haa ... Anyway! I was so sad I missed it. Broke my heart, that did.

Collapse verb 1 suddenly fall down or give way. 2 fail suddenly and completely.

Brighton was, for Neil Manson, a paradox. It was, somehow, everything and nothing like what he had expected. It yielded a result that was exactly, but also the opposite of, what he had hoped.

Every copper wants a happy ending for the cases he works on, but this was more complicated than that. This is what happens when you get emotionally involved. And he was still slapping himself for it.

Amy Tennant stood on the shore of Brighton Beach, her trainers sinking into sand just out of the waves' reach. She seemed healthy, content, safe, and a tiny part of Neil wished Shelley Fitzgerald had stayed in France, had kept away, was not forcing him to do something over which he was so torn. Because the minute Amy was securely tucked in James' arms, Neil would fade away. He'd stop being necessary. He would no longer have a use and, inevitably, be replaced by the happy family the Tennants had once been.

Ruth would be waiting at the station by the time they returned – but only if they were returning victorious. Ruth Barker was the fair weather friend. She cleared out the moment things became tough – she "couldn't cope" and she didn't seem to care that James had fallen to pieces because he couldn't cope either. She hadn't stood by his side or supported him when he needed her – not like Neil had – and she didn't deserve him.

They had almost given up hope. Moments before Roger and Dan had called in a sighting on the beach, they had almost conceded defeat.

But now Neil was slowly closing in on Shelley with the knowledge that James was right behind him, and Stuart and Sam, Dan and Roger. He couldn't make an idiot of himself or ruin this happy ending. But most importantly, he couldn't let this chance slip by through jealousy.

Shelley ran when she saw him, she clung to Amy, hid the girl behind her and swore that James had never loved her, not like she had.

But she was wrong, so terribly wrong. And he knew better than anyone. Because if James Tennant hadn't loved his daughter as much as any man could, than he never, never would have turned to Neil for comfort. Because if he didn't, Neil wouldn't be standing here convincing a woman to give up a child he half didn't want returned.

Shelley watched him with relentlessly unconcealed pain as he spoke. She thought he didn't understand, couldn't possibly understand, how she felt. He'd lost as much as she had – maybe more. He'd lost Phillipa, he'd come too close to losing Jake. And Andrea – God, Andrea. Sometimes he forgot himself enough to think about the only woman who'd really gotten through his defences. And now he was about to lose James.

Neil pushed it aside. He could mull this over alone in his office with the largest bottle of whiskey he had been able to find last month. Not now. Now was the time to do his job, regardless of whatever consequences it would have on his private life. So he pushed everything aside and just got James his daughter back. Because if James was happy, that would be enough to last him the rest of the day.

Nothing seemed to turn out the way they hoped it to. Amy had let out a shriek of horror when she saw her father for the first time in a year and that left Neil driving a silent and still very much tortured James back to Sun Hill while Sam and Stuart took Amy with them. Not quite the happy reunion everyone had been expecting.

All Neil wanted to do was offer some sort of tangible support, but James never turned to face him, didn't reach for him, because when they reached the police station it was the end of the road, not just for the saga that Amy's disappearance had become, but for them. Neil was poor weather to Ruth's good and the weather was beginning to get more pleasant.

And the only thing he could give was a half-hearted promise that Amy would be prepared to accept him again. Even though that nasty, selfish part of him wished for her to never do so.

Seeing James rush towards him with the hope of better news had made his chest tighten uncomfortably. Ruth was there, pretty and hopeful and back, standing just behind James as if she'd been there all along, being the mother Amy didn't have and there was nothing behind James' entreaty. Not anymore. The junction had come up – and not turning a corner wasn't an option. It hurt, surprisingly more than he'd ever expected. Surprisingly more than Andrea's death. Neil coaxed a few phrases of comfort from somewhere and left before he said something else he'd regret. Once he'd checked on Shelley and spoken to Matt Hinckley, he could get that pain numbing whiskey from his drawer and drink himself blind.

Of course he should have realised that wouldn't make it any better. A police officer forgetting that depressants don't soothe emotion, but make them stronger, Neil decided abstractly as he leaned against a brick wall around the corner from the station's back entrance much later, was … something. He forgot. But it wasn't good, whatever he'd been thinking.

Stupid drink. Neil shook the bottle and scowled at it when a little splashed out of the top and dribbled down his hand. Stupid, stupid drink. Stupid, stupid him. Shouldn't have drunk so much. Probably shouldn't finish the bottle. Neil took another gulp and slid down to sit on the bitumen ground. Stupid brain. Just see if he listened to it. Look where it had got him to begin with. It would deserve the bloody awful hangover he'd have tomorrow morning.

Neil was so distracted by this thought he didn't notice someone else approaching until they sat beside him.

"I've been looking for you."

Neil stared at James Tennant blearily. He had a barely suppressed smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Everything was going so perfectly for him now, wasn't it? Stupid bastard, Neil criticized himself irritably, can't even get angry at him. He muttered something incoherent that certainly hadn't been a word to begin with.

"We want to thank you. So much. You said you'd do everything you could and you found her."

Why'd he say 'we'? Didn't do it for Ruth. Didn't do it for Amy. Only for James. James who didn't even want him anymore. Jesus. Shouldn't have gotten in so deep. Shouldn't have. Should have just walked out when James tried that first time. Should have left and not come back. Should have made him fend for himself.

Neil shrugged and lifted the bottle to his lips again. If he was going to be stuck sleeping in his office tonight he might as well do a proper job of it.

"And I–"


"But you know we can't–"

"I know. Go back to Amy."

"If there's anything – ever…"

Neil could think of plenty of things right now his sober mind would never have conjured up, but he didn't say anything. Still the same stupid, self-sacrificing bastard as always.

He lifted his eyes from the whiskey to watch James leave. Neil was one of the good guys, wasn't he? The cop doing his duty to bring a family back together? But that would make Shelley the bad guy and she had just been desperate and lonely. He didn't know really, but real life was more complicated than that.

The only thing that was black and white was that, if this were a story, Neil would be getting a happy ending.

But in reality the good guys don't always win, not really.