A/N: This probably isn't the most auspicious way to introduce myself to a new fandom, but I'm still trying to locate Gene's voice in my head and didn't want to commit myself to anything more complex until I had a better "feel" for him. To anyone inclined to Britpick, I am American and spell and punctuate accordingly, so please don't tell me I've spelled "colour" wrong or I'm using quotation marks incorrectly; however, if my phrasing contains blatant Americanisms, don't hesitate to point them out. Any other comments (except flames) are more than welcome.
The title is from a poem by Rosamund Marriott Watson entitled "To My Cat."
Companion of Mine Ease
DISCLAIMER: Kudos Film and Television owns the Ashes to Ashes universe and everything it encompasses. This is a work of fan fiction, and thus derives no profit or material benefit therefrom.
The desk sergeant looked up from his crossword. "Mornin', Guv. Good weekend?"
"Sixty hours without seein' your lovely mug? A dream come true."
"Say no more."
Gene nodded at Viv's look of wry humor and continued on his way. Monday morning, he'd probably have the department to himself for at least an hour, unless Shaz came in early as well, as she often did. Perfect opportunity to get caught up on the paperwork that seemed to be taking up more and more of his time these days before the lads stumbled in with wild tales about their weekend exploits, or Drake bore down on him with yet another one of her harebrained schemes to "modernize" the department.
Already he could feel the tension he'd only just managed to shake off leaching back into his shoulders. Between Drake, all the bureaucratic rubbish that kept him from proper policework, and his growing realization that old-school coppers like himself were headed the way of the dinosaur, retirement was looking ever more appealing. He'd done his time and earned his pension long ago, so why not hang up his badge and spurs and head for Alicante while he still had enough life left in him to enjoy it?
Because Gene knew, as surely as he knew that Drake had randy dreams about him on a regular basis, that if the inactivity wouldn't drive him off his nut within a week, the loneliness would.
Much to his surprise, he found both Shaz and Chris in CID, hunched over Granger's desk with their backs to him. At the sound of his cough, they leaped up and spun around to face him as one, matching guilty looks on both their faces.
"Mornin', Guv," Shaz said brightly, the first to recover.
Immediately suspicious, Gene studied them for a moment, looking for clues. He took in Granger's wiser-than-her-years gaze, the abject terror on Chris' face, the way their fingers, hanging loosely by their sides, reached for each other and interlaced, and the tell-tale purple mark below Granger's ear, made visible only when she turned her head slightly towards Chris.
A few years ago he might've said something, simply for the perverse pleasure of watching Chris turn green with embarrassment, but taking the piss out of his DC wasn't as much fun as it used to be. Plus, Gene grudgingly admitted to himself, Shaz had helped Chris finally grow a pair of bollocks. So he contented himself with a quiet laugh and said, "Didn't expect to see you here this early on a Monday, Christopher."
At least, that's what he'd started to say, until the oddest sound interrupted him. "What the bloody hell was that?"
He couldn't miss the way the color drained from both Chris' and Shaz' faces, or how they pushed closer to each other, closing the less-than-an-inch gap that had been between them, or the way they both pressed back against the edge of Granger's desk.
"Erm - Ah - What was what, Guv?" Chris asked, fiddling with his collar as he tended to do when he was nervous.
"That noise!" He was rewarded with a repeat of the very noise he meant. "That one!" He came closer as both Chris and Shaz leaned back. "What are you two hiding?"
"Hiding, Guv?" Shaz asked. "What makes you think we're hiding something?"
Gene scowled. "What d'you take me for?" Hearing the noise for a third time settled matters, and Gene skirted around them to see what they were so desperate to conceal.
It was a wooden open-top crate, the kind used for packing fresh fruit, resting atop Granger's desk. It had been lined with a patchwork quilt, and curled up inside were--
"What in the name of--" He stabbed his finger towards the contents of the box. "You brought kittens here?"
The words poured out of Shaz like beer from a tap after a football match. "I'm sorry, Guv, I probably shouldn't have brought them, but I didn't know what else to do, their mother was killed by a car Friday night and they're only a few weeks old, they're not even weaned yet, and my mum's working today, and she's got no place where she can keep an eye on them, and I thought--"
"We both thought," Chris muttered.
"Chris and I thought, well, we thought it'd be okay to keep them here, just during the day, so I can feed them when they get hungry and..." Her voice trailed off as she looked up at Gene from beneath lowered lashes.
"Granger, does this look like the bloody RSPCA to you?"
Her lower lip trembled. "No, Guv."
At that moment Gene felt something soft brush against his hand. Startled, he looked down to see that one of the kittens had untangled itself from its littermates and come over to investigate, bumping its tiny head against him. Almost without thinking, he crooked his finger to scratch the kitten between its ears. Apparently pleased by this, the little bugger turned its head this way and that, then lifted its chin so he could continue scratching under there. As he did so, Gene was astonished to detect what felt like the tinest rumble of a purr.
He looked up just in time to catch Shaz and Chris exchange a knowing smile, and jerked his hand away as though it had been burned. He gave them his fiercest glower, enjoying the speed at which their pleased looks vanished. "Why can't you take them to a shelter?"
"They're not weaned yet, Guv. Mum and Chris and I were bottle-feedin' them all weekend."
"The shelter says they can't take 'em until they're at least eight weeks old," Chris added.
"And why can't your mum take them to work with her?"
"She's a sales clerk. But, she only works on Mondays and Thursdays, so I won't need to bring them in with me every day."
"Hm." Once again his attention was drawn to the box, where the kitten he'd been petting was still sitting apart from its brothers and sisters, watching him intently. "How long until they're old enough?"
"Only three or four weeks."
Hearing the eagerness in her voice, Gene glanced at Shaz sharply. Blimey, when had he become such an easy mark? He shoved his hand in his pocket and turned away from the box. "Don't let them interfere with your duties, Granger," he said firmly. "You fall behind, they find another babysitter. That goes double for you," he then told Chris. "You're a DC, not a bloody nursemaid, got it?"
"Roger that, boss."
"One other thing."
"If I find so much as one cat hair on my suit, I'll toss the little blighters into the river meself."
Shaz could barely contain her grin. "Yes, Guv."
So much for getting caught up on paperwork, Gene thought with a grumble as he surveyed his kingdom from behind the closed door of his office. Now that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, Shaz had made no effort to conceal the kittens from the rest of the department. Gene could scarcely contain his disgust at the way no one could resist faffing over them every time they passed Granger's desk; a few, he'd observed, were obviously finding excuses to go in that direction at every possible opportunity, so that Shaz' workspace was seeing more traffic than Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. Christ on a bike, how had this happened? Had he fallen so far from grace that he'd let his team be overtaken by such bloody great jessies?
Carling was the worst of the lot. A disgrace he was, clucking over the kittens like a bloody mother hen. He'd even had the cheek to pick one up and carry it back to his desk to feed and play with it, until Viv had called him away to deal with a rowdy drunk in the cells. Gene made a mental note to have a word with his DS later about going soft.
Drake provided Gene his one high point of the morning. He'd expected her to go all drippy over the kittens too--she was a bird, after all, she could hardly help it--but instead she'd taken one look at the box and nearly went arse over tit with sneezing. She gave Granger's desk a wide berth after that, though clearly even that wasn't enough, judging from her swollen, runny nose and watering eyes when she came into his office for their regular Monday morning briefing. Gene took one look at her and shook his head. "Not a cat fancier, are we, Bolls?"
She blew her nose with a very un-posh honk. "Allergic."
"I can have Shaz move them," he offered, feeling an uncharacteristic rush of pity.
She waved him off with one hand, the other holding a wrung-out snot rag up to her face. "I'll be fine," she managed to groan after another sneezing fit had passed. "Though any pretext you can come up with to get me out of CID today will be really appreciated."
"How appreciated?" he asked. Drake just glared at him over her hanky. "Eh, can't blame a bloke for trying. Today's your lucky day, Bolls: I've got just the thing for you." He scribbled a name on a piece of paper and held it out to her. "Have a shufti at this."
"What is it?"
"It's an old case I could use your mind-reading skills on - file's down in the records room, under that name. You can hide out down there so you won't be dripping all over the place."
The relief and gratitude on her face was unmistakable. "You're a godsend, Gene."
"Don't usually hear that from a woman 'til after she's got me kit off."
She didn't miss a beat. "You'll let me know if anything new comes in? You won't leave me to molder in the records room by myself all day?"
"Wouldn't dream of it, Bolly. You can be me secret weapon - any villains need subduin', I'll just have you sneeze on them."
Gene admired the view as Drake walked out of his office, then turned back to the pile still sitting in his in tray with a sigh. What a bloody useless waste of a morning, he thought, reaching into his bottom drawer for a tumbler and one of several bottles of whisky he'd stashed around the place. After pouring a finger's worth, he re-capped the bottle and returned it to the drawer, glancing up as movement caught his attention. At the sight of Viv coming into CID Gene perked up hopefully, thinking the sergeant was bringing him a new case, news of a blag, villains terrorizing children and old ladies, anything to rescue him from all this sodding paperwork. He'd even started to rise, whisky temporarily forgotten, so eager was he to go out into the world and be a proper copper, but his hopes were dashed when Viv headed straght for Granger's desk, where that git Barlow had been making an arse of himself for the past twenty minutes, and bent over the box, a ridiculous grin on his face.
Bugger this for a game of soldiers, Gene thought, tossing back his whisky and grabbing his coat. Seeing Viv, the blokiest bloke this side of blokesville, turned to mush by a litter of orphaned kittens was the final straw. He didn't give a toss if he had to give someone a fiver to nick a bicycle, Gene wasn't about to stay around and watch his department embarrass themselves and him. Great soft nancies, the lot of them.