Disclaimer: BBC, Kudos and Monastic own everything.
As this is a Christmas themed story, I'd hoped to get it finished in time to start posting before the festive season, but personal circumstances and a sluggish Muse deemed otherwise. However, here it is, only slightly late, which I hope you will excuse. I'm still not completely happy with some bits of it, but see what you think. This is a sort of commercial break while "Stravagation" awaits its next update, though very different in tone from that epic (and much shorter - only four chapters). Grab a turkey sandwich and a slightly stale mince pie, and settle down for a spot of festive angst…
Alex marched into her flat and slammed the door so hard that the windows rattled. She had never been so angry in her life. That - that bloody man! Who the hell did he think he was to treat her like that? Later, she knew, she would feel unimaginable pain at what had happened. Better to hold onto her anger for as long as possible. At least it was a positive force.
In the weeks following the deaths of her parents, she had become increasingly grateful for Gene's understanding and consideration. He had not known why she should be so badly affected by the deaths of two poncey, Leftie lawyers, but it had been enough to him that she was affected, and in his own characteristic way he had done what he could to help. He had immersed her in difficult cases which left her with no time to think of anything else; whenever he saw her listless and depressed, he had started a rousing argument; and he had made a point of seeking her out for those long, fascinating discussions every evening at Luigi's which they both found so stimulating and challenging. Gradually he had brought her back to life. She had sensed their becoming closer as she came to rely on him more and more, and without saying anything, she had tried to show him how intensely grateful she was for his covert understanding and kindness.
Then, shortly before Christmas, it had all started to go wrong. He became morose and withdrawn, only addressing her at work when he had to and snapping at her when he did. Away from work, he shunned her company. Alex searched her conscience for anything she might have done to offend him - more than she usually did - but drew a blank. Had he regretted becoming so close to a member of his team? Did he consider that she did not, or should not, need him any longer? Had he simply lost interest? It was impossible to find out as he wouldn't say anything. She grew depressed again, and it seemed to her that he was unhappy too.
Matters had come to a head that evening, 18 December, the last Friday before Christmas. Gene had been away from the office in the afternoon, and in his absence CID had decamped en masse to Luigi's at 5.00. Everyone except Alex was well on the way to becoming mince-pie-eyed by the time Gene walked in, ordered a bottle of "house rubbish", and ensconced himself at his usual corner table, grim-faced and glowering.
Alex had been careful not to approach him too quickly: she did not want to appear too eager, and she did not want to provide fuel for CID gossip. She was sure that they were talking already about her apparent rift with Gene. But she was determined not to let this situation go on any longer. After about ten minutes she excused herself from a conversation with Shaz, strolled over as nonchalantly as she could to the corner table, and sat down beside Gene, hoping that she did not look as nervous as she felt.
"Any of that for me?" she said lightly, pointing to the bottle.
"If you want", he grunted. Taking that as a yes, she poured herself a glass, sipped some, and said, still as lightly as she could, "Anything wrong?"
"No, nothin'," he growled. "Unless you count havin' the biggest set of tossers in the Met on my team."
"I would have thought you were inured to that long ago," she said, trying to laugh, "and shouldn't you have added, "present company excepted"?"
"Present company can include or exclude herself, as she chooses," he snapped. Alex caught her breath: she was used to his rudeness by now, but she sensed that there was something deeper here.
"Look, Gene," she said firmly, putting her elbows on the table and leaning towards him, "we've worked together for long enough for me to know when something's wrong. You've hardly been able to give me a civil word for more than a fortnight. If I've offended you, at least tell me how so that I can do something about it."
He was silent for a moment, passing a weary hand over his face, then he turned to her, his eyes narrowed to slits, and she gasped at the fury in his gaze.
"DI Drake, I'd take it as a personal favour if you'd bloody leave me alone!"
It was spoken loudly and penetratingly enough for everyone to hear, and a shocked silence fell as everyone waited for Alex's reaction.
For a moment, she was too stunned to speak, then cold fury at her public humiliation took over. Her hand itched to punch his jaw, as she had done once before when he had offered her an unforgivable insult. For a moment she imagined herself swiping him clean off his chair and kicking him as he lay on the floor at her feet. Nothing but the sight of his blood could satisfy her. But common sense prevailed. There was no point in giving her colleagues anything more to talk about, and she would sooner die than let that bastard see how deeply he had hurt her.
"Fine," she said in a small, tight voice as she rose to her feet. "If you want me to leave you alone, I'll leave you alone." She drained her glass, slammed it down on the table so hard that the stem nearly snapped, and walked upstairs to her flat without a backward glance. If she had looked back, she would have seen the agony in the sea-blue eyes that followed her.
As the sound of her door slamming reverberated into the thickening silence, every eye in the restaurant turned to Gene. He drained his glass, rose, and walked out. A few seconds later they heard the unmistakable sound of the Quattro's powerful engine as it gunned into life and roared into the distance.
"What the hell was all that about?" Chris blurted out, breaking the silence. "She'd barely started before he bit her head off!"
Ray rolled his eyes and shook his head. Shaz, deeply concerned, made to rise and follow Alex, but Chris, wiser than she for once, laid a hand on her arm. "Not you, Shaz. It isn't you she needs now." He glanced compassionately towards the stairs leading to the flat. "And what she needs, it looks like she can't have."