This takes place immediately after the Series 1 finale.
I don't own 'em. I promise to play nicely and put them back when I'm finished.
"Luigi," Chris starts again, his voice slurring at the edges, "Have you heard the one about the bloke who's half-Irish, half-Italian? He loves to fight, but he always loses."
"Very funny, Chris, molto divertente," Luigi says with a good-natured world-weariness, as he walks away shaking his head, eyes rolled heavenward. Alex knows he'll let them all go on with this, this decidedly non-PC banter for hours. He won't spoil it; it's Shaz's night.
It's why she's stayed as long as she has, past the realisation that she can still feel, and the alcohol will not have its desired effect. It's for Shaz. She'll stay for Shaz.
It was easy to get lost in it at first. She couldn't help but be buoyed by the high spirits. Shaz was alive, her bright face lit up by the soft glow of the candlelight. But then she felt herself slipping further away, looking on from a distance, wrapped in her own pain.
Gene is quiet. He sits swirling his drink in his glass. He has been watching her, she can tell, but he looks away each time she turns to him.
It is stifling in here. Too many people pressed into this tiny corner of the restaurant, the thick stink of cigarettes and stale beer. She rises from the table, unable to breathe, and stumbles to the door with some mumbled excuse. She hears a voice – Gene's – calling her name, but she's gone, and the cold October air rushes around her.
She stumbles out into the darkness and blinks as her eyes adjust to the dim of the streetlights. She's had too much to drink, but it has only made her fill unsteady and disoriented. The pain of her loss is as sharp as ever.
She had expected to be home tonight, perhaps fighting for her life in some hospital bed, but home. With Molly. Instead she is here, wherever here is. Lost, grieving, and alone. She used to see Molly's face whenever she closed her eyes, but now all she can see is the thick, sickening cloud of smoke and flame.
I couldn't stop it, she says aloud as she stumbles blindly along the streets. They're dead. They're really dead. I've lost them. Forever.
She had watched them die all over again, only this time it was with the awful knowledge that her beloved father had meant for them all to die. How could she not have seen it? How could Evan have kept it from her? She can't trust him. Not anymore.
She doesn't know where she'll go, only that she can't stay here. There must be some other way to get home, and she wonders for a flicker of a second if she walks far enough, will she fall off the edge of this constructed earth? Will she land at home in bed the way she landed in bed in that silly dream of hers?
She stumbles on, head down, and the noise and light of Luigi's begins to fade in the distance. She stumbles on, even as the first drops of rain begin to fall, and it's as if she doesn't notice at all.
She repeats it rhythmically with each step -- I'm going home I'm going home I'm going home – and she feels a kind of determination as she turns a corner and then another. I'm going home.
And then she is lost, hopelessly. There is no edge of the world, at least not here in South London. The rain has begun to pelt the sidewalk. She turns in a circle and realises that she has no idea where she is. That news agent there on the corner, she's never seen it before, and the street name is unfamiliar. The streets are empty but for a black car that glides down the street and slows as it passes her. From inside, she can hear the thump of music and the muted, menacing laughter of teenage boys.
"Come on, Alex." She swallows hard and steels herself. "Come on." She'll just backtrack. Go the way she came. But she's lost her bearings completely, no idea which way to head. Was it left or right at the corner? Or straight on?
She can feel her throat begin to close and her heart race. Now, she wants only the safety of Luigi's. She turns around and heads down to the next corner. No, this wasn't it, this wasn't it at all. There was a boarded up chip shop here, not a launderette.
The rain has soaked her through now. Her curls have matted to her face and she shivers as she staggers on. A blind panic has set in, and she lets it swallow her up. There is a lone street lamp lighting up a bus shelter. She stumbles inside and collapses on the bench, finally giving in to her grief. She wraps her arms around her middle and begins to sob, long and hard, for the loss of her parents, for Molly, for herself, stuck in some hideous nightmare she can't seem to wake from.
A night bus pulls up in front of the shelter and then rolls indifferently on when she fails to board. She doesn't know how long she sits there, cold, shivering, keening when she hears her name being called again.
She looks up, and through the rain-streaked walls of the shelter, she can see a figure hurrying down the sidewalk with his coat drawn up around his ears. As he passes under the lamp, she knows it is Gene, and he stands in front of her, out of breath. He is soaked to the skin and shakes the sheets of rain from his coat.
"I always said you had the common sense of a grain weevil, but I thought a grain weevil at least had the sense to come in front out of the rain," he says with his customary exasperation.
He waits for the inevitable clever reply, but there is nothing, and he can see her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. He sighs and sits next to her, and for a long moment the only sound is the hard rain against the bus shelter and his even breathing.
"You did all you could, Bolly," he says finally. His voice is soft with sympathy and concern.
"I could have stopped it. Layton…I could've made sure he stayed in Scrubs…I could've kept Caroline from getting in that car…maybe if I'd known what Tim was planning, I could've stopped him," she turns to Gene and says in near-hysterical rush.
He takes her by her shoulders and looks at her squarely. "No. There wasn't anything else you could've done. Tim Price was a nutter who blew himself to kingdom come. He would've blown up his daughter if it hadn't've been for a bloody balloon. Only sorry he took his wife with him. Leaving that little girl motherless, off with that ponce Evan White. You didn't everything you could, Alex."
She can just make out his features in the streetlight. His features are stern and impenetrable most of the time, and what looks he once might've had have begun to fade with time and drink, but right now, here in the dim, his face is soft and open, and she can almost feel him hurt for her.
She's seen that look before, and it flashes into her mind again. It was today or twenty-seven years ago in her other life, when he swept her up in his arms at the site of the explosion and then set her down in the station again.
Little lady. He'd smiled and called her Little Lady, and she can suddenly remember the way she'd buried her face in his coat, and it had smelled of smoke and aftershave.
"It was you," she says with dawning surprise. "You were there. You're always there, aren't you?"
He says nothing for a long moment but slips an arm around her shoulder. "C'mon. I'm taking you home, Bolls. If we don't drown first."
She has changed into pyjamas when he comes out of her bathroom. He's toweling his hair dry, stripped down to his trousers and vest, and his wet things have been stretched over the radiator.
She is sitting on the sofa. Her damp hair is pulled back from her face, and it has been scrubbed clean of makeup. She looks lovely like that, he thinks. Lovely and fragile.
"I'll just wait for my things to dry and clear off," he mutters. She says nothing, as if she hasn't really heard. He waits a beat and takes a cautious step in towards her. "You all right?"
Her eyes snap up to his; she shakes her head in confusion. "Yes, fine…sorry…I mean…no. Not really." She smiles a watery smile and lets out a humourless laugh. "No. I'm not all right."
He shuffles his feet awkwardly and watches her for a moment curled up in the far corner of the sofa. This was more than he bargained for tonight. He wanted nothing more than to raise a glass to Shaz and drink himself drunk and forget Scarman and the Prices and Arthur Layton.
He didn't want to find himself here with her. Alone. He's the King of the Jungle, roaring to the rescue, ridding his kingdom of scum. He needs to be needed. But this is different. She doesn't need the Gene Genie, the Manc Lion, or DCI Gene Hunt, she needs him. And for a moment, he is terrified. She was only halfway right about him tonight. He's not terrified of women, but he is terrified of her, of this.
He finds himself crossing to her anyway and resting uneasily next to her on the sofa. He waits for her to speak.
"My parents were murdered when I was the same age as Alex Price," she says after a long silence. She looks over at him quickly, but he shows no reaction. He only nods and lets her continue. "I thought I could save her that pain. I thought I could stop it. Instead, I had to watch my parents die all over again."
She raises her eyes to his, and it is a look that almost stops his breath. He doesn't do well with this. Her pain is raw and palpable, and she needs something from him he is not sure he can give. He manages to pull his eyes away from hers and rubs his damp palms on the legs of his trousers.
"Well, I'd best be off. I reckon the rest of my things are dry by now." He is across the floor, grimacing as he slips his arm into his still-sodden jacket. He goes on with false cheerfulness. "Go downstairs and tell Luigi that Signior Hunt says you're to have a hot toddy. Then get some sleep. You'll be all right tomorrow, love."
He hurriedly slips his boots on his bare feet and stuffs his wet socks and tie in his coat pocket. He is at the door before he can bring himself to turn around and look at her, but when he does, she is looking back up at him, with that same look, and it is like a punch in the gut each time he sees it. His shoulders sink, and he opens his arms slightly. She is off the sofa, then, flinging herself against him. She sobs, her arms gripping tight to the back of his coat.
He staggers back a step or two from the force, his arms still open. Then he finds himself folding them against her back and his cheek dropping down against her head. "Sssshhh. It's all right, Alex. You're all right."
She can feel her senses flooding back into her, with her face buried like this in his damp coat. There is the smell of smoke, of stale fags and then the scent of Old Spice. It smells to her of Christmas and security and happiness. She is safe here in Gene Hunt's arms, of all places, and she finally understands that. He is her knight in tarnished, dented armour.
They are silent while her tears subside, and she finally looks up into his face. Her eyes are on his. There is a spark, a moment, and in it, he knows he should go. He should go the way he did that night downstairs at Luigi's when she asked him what he would do with the last seconds of life. He should do the right thing. She's scared and vulnerable. He has no business being here right now.
But he inches in towards her anyway, and his mouth his agonizingly close to hers. He waits for what seems an eternity for her to pull away, to land another blow to his chin, but she doesn't. He skims his lips against hers, his heart racing like a schoolboy's, and then she curves her body against him and her mouth yields to his.
After the kiss breaks, she pushes away from him slightly. His hands are still clasped against the small of her back, and his forehead is pressed breathlessly against hers. "We both know I should go, Bolls," he says quietly.
She doesn't speak. There are tears in her eyes, but a small smile pulls at the corner of her mouth. She lowers her head back to his shoulder, and he knows he will not go.
He lifts her face back to his and kisses her again. Bugger the right thing.
They are moving slowly, deliberately across the floor to her bedroom. His coat drops first, and then fingers fumble with buttons and zippers. He lets her undress him. His vest comes up over his head, and his eyes fall to the floor the way they did that day in the canteen when he asked her to dinner, as if he feels he could only be a disappointment to someone as beautiful as she is. But no. He's not a disappointment. She runs her hands across his torso. He has the battle-scarred body of a lion. He is the aging alpha male, but he has fight left in him yet.
She is beautiful, as he knew she would be, and he shivers involuntarily as her silky black pyjamas hit the floor. She pulls her to him, there is a tangle of arms and legs, and they tumble backwards onto her bed. She laughs, a full throaty laugh. It is the loveliest thing he's heard in a long while.
He narrows his eyes and props himself on one elbow as she lies next to him, one hand stroking his cheek. "You sure about this, Bolls?"
"No, not really." There's that laugh again, and a broad smile. Tears glisten in her eyes. She gently pushes him onto his back and lays her head on his chest. "All I know is…I'm tired of being alone. And you…I can't explain it, but I think you're here for a reason…I think you and I…" She sighs, unable to express what she is feeling now for Gene, but he has stopped her mouth anyway with another kiss.
"Is that what it takes to stop that gob of yours?" he says huskily. She grins down out him as he catches her hair in his fingers and eases her onto her back with another kiss.
She closes her eyes and lets out a hum of contentment as his mouth finds the little hollow at the base of her neck. She will lose herself in this tonight, this feeling of being wanted, of being safe and desired, and for a moment she feels something other than grief and loneliness, in spite of the fact that of all people, she is here in her bed with Gene. Or perhaps, she has begun to realise, it is because she is here with Gene.
They are gentle with each other at first, building in intensity, until there is an exquisite moment of release, and then they lie sweating, breathless in the tangle of sheets and listen to the rain against the window.
He curves himself around her, and she lies like a pearl in the shell of his body. There is something comforting about the even rise and fall of his chest.
Oh, God, it's Gene. Gene Hunt. It's quite mad, really, but she is past caring tonight. Finally, her eyelids begin to droop, and for the first time in a very long time, she feels safe.
"It's stopped raining," he says in a low, drowsy murmur.
"Yes," she replies, lazily stifling a yawn with the back of her hand. "Yes, I think it has."