This really is the final chapter -- in fact the third chapter of something I'd intended to be only a one-shot and instead wound up struggling to complete. Perhaps I'll even have to keep rewriting this until I get it right.
Many thanks to everyone who has been reading along, particularly those who have been offering reviews and signing up for alerts and/or adding this story to your favorites, and in that regard I'd like to give a shout-out to liverdoc (Good catch on the wardrobe comment).
I've written the outlines and/or first drafts of several other LOM/A2A stories, so this shouldn't be my last in the genre -- assuming, of course, that the muse is not left in a whimpering heap on the floor following the final episode of series 3.
Special thanks to Jan for being a great listener, and for inspiring one of the key themes of this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Alex Drake, Gene Hunt, Ray Carling, Luigi, or anyone and anything connected with Ashes to Ashes, and moreover I wrote this while reviewing series 1 and without allowing myself to get caught up (yet) with series 3. Hence the tone. But I hope you enjoy.
"I'm everywhere, Bolly. I was needed, and I was there." Gene Hunt to Alex Drake, Ashes to Ashes, series 1, episode 8.
A Lot of That Going Around
Chapter 3: The Cure
Some day in the future, I will think back on this, on Ella Fitzgerald playing on the radio, and Gene with his arm around me, and this ineffable sense of security. I've never felt so safe, not since I was a child...
"Thought you'd gone to sleep on me there, Bolls."
"No," Alex murmured, her head resting still against his chest. She was just a touch drowsy, less from the after-effects of the wine than from the intoxicating music, and the comfort of being held, of leaning against Gene's reassuringly solid form. She ran her hand across the smooth fabric of his shirt, breathed in his scent -- oh, God, let time stop here, please, now, just for a while.
But she knew they couldn't stay like that for the rest of the evening, that eventually one of them would make a move and shatter whatever it was that had just happened between them. She had loved the moment, loved it for itself, but anything more was impossible.
She patted Gene on the chest before pulling away from him and easing herself into an upright position. "Well," she said casually. "I think I could do with another cup of tea."
"Yeah." Gene made a lunge for his discarded jacket, then stood up abruptly.
"You're not leaving?" said Alex. Even to her own ears, her voice sounded plaintive.
"Leaving? No, no." Gene, looming above her, was curiously unsteady on his feet, for all that he had shown up on her doorstep decidedly sober, and since then had been drinking nothing stronger than tea. "Just need a slash, Bolls," he added, red-faced, cocking his head in the direction of the bathroom.
"Won't need a police escort for that," he added.
"I'll leave you to it, then." She eased herself off the couch and got up to go into the kitchen.
The jazz program had moved on from Ella Fitzgerald, and the spell had definitely been broken. Alex filled the kettle while absently listening to the announcer drone on, in his dry, passionless voice, about the previous and upcoming selections and singers. She wished he would just stop talking and put on the next recording; as a radio host, he was proving more an unwelcome interruption than a soothing presence.
She was also disconcerted to realize that Gene was taking a surprisingly long time in the bathroom. Maybe Shazzer and James had been right and there was something going around. Perhaps Gene would bow out early, unless she offered him the sofa for the night.
She certainly couldn't have him anywhere else, not as long as Elaine Downing was in the picture.
The memory of that gateau she'd done without earlier inspired Alex to take out the package of chocolate biscuits again, and she was just rummaging through the cupboard when she heard a crisp, clear, but distinctly feminine voice issuing forth from the radio.
Just stop thinking of all the things that haven't happened yet, or might happen, or ought to have happened.
It couldn't be. She had never --
Be happy now, in this moment. Be happy, Alex.
In an instant Alex had crossed the kitchen and taken hold of the radio. "Mum?"
"And now we have something very rare indeed, a recording of Kurt Weill's 'September Song,' performed by --"
She was too late. There was nothing left for her but the cool, mannered delivery of the announcer, then the rather tinny sound of a vintage record. With tears of frustration, Alex set the radio down again. For just a moment -- it had been just for a moment --
"Now then, Bolly, I thought you weren't the domestic sort." Gene walked into the kitchen with a lighter, more energetic step than he'd used earlier, and no suggestion at all that he was feeling poorly.
"I'm not," said Alex, discreetly brushing away a tear, not about to let him catch her crying three times in one evening. She picked up the packet of biscuits. "Just had a craving. Can I interest you in some more tea, or will you have that 'something stronger,' now?"
"Tea's fine, Bolly. And I wouldn't say no to another biscuit. You 'aven't got any Garibaldis, 'ave you?" he asked, almost wistfully. "Or pink wafers?"
"Sorry, just chocolate digestives. My talents as a hostess are found wanting again."
"Not at all, Bolls." Gene leaned up against the counter and watched her as she saw to the tea and biscuits.
"So," said Alex, "you've heard the whole sad story of my day. Let's hear about yours. How is the lovely Elaine?"
"Fine, last I 'eard."
"You heard?" she said, pausing in mid-stride on her way to the refrigerator. "Doesn't she tell you things herself? Or do you do it all by smoke signals?"
"It's been a couple of weeks, Bolls."
"I thought she was your newest conquest. The latest victim of the Gene Genie charm."
"I took her out once or twice, " said Gene, folding his arms. "End of."
"But Ray said --"
"Ray says a lot of things, most of 'em rubbish. You're supposed to be a detective, Bolly."
The words stung, but Alex couldn't let another painful subject drop, not just yet. "I liked her. So did Luigi."
"Yeah, she's a classy girl, is Elaine."
"And we both saw how much she liked you. In fact everyone did."
"But?" prompted Alex.
"But nothing, Bolls. Made a change to meet a woman who's honest about her interest." He held Alex's gaze. "No games."
"Like I said, she's classy. Deserves the best."
"Oh, and that's where you came in, I suppose."
Gene stared back at her. "'ow do you reckon that?"
"Well, since you -- since she -- "
"Spit it out, Bolls."
"She wanted you."
He ran a hand through his hair. "She made it clear what she wanted, Bolly."
'Yes, I think we've established that."
"And I couldn't give it to 'er."
"I beg your pardon?"
"What?" He realized what he had said, and turned red. "Oh, there's no problem there, Bolls. Everything correct, accounted for, and in good working order. Excellent working order, in fact."
"Too much information, Gene!"
"Never 'eard any complaints, Bolly. Quite the reverse. In fact my eardrums still 'aven't recovered from all the -- "
"Stop it! You're beginning to sound like Billy Crystal." Alex slammed the cupboard shut. "And we were talking about Elaine --"
"Yeah. Well, she's a posh bird -- "
"Sounds promising enough."
"-- makes a good living --"
" -- and I'm a copper. Bit of rough."
"Why should that be a problem?"
"She wants to enjoy 'erself now, Bolls. Get out a bit more. Sunny beaches. Golf 'olidays."
"You ever calculate the distance between Fenchurch East and Fluffyville, Inspector?"
"I don't follow you."
"She's Yente the Matchmaker. Sells people dreams. Romantic bollocks. I, on the other 'and -- "
"You deal with the nightmares," finished Alex softly.
"Something like that."
Alex smiled at him. "And you're not ready to hang up your tin star yet."
"Yeah. Got a few good years left in me, Bolly."
"Of course you do," said Alex, surprised to find tears stinging her eyes again. She laid a hand on Gene's arm. "More than 'a few.'"
"Poor Elaine," said Alex as they made their way back into the living room. "I saw the way she looked at you -- just as though you were a chocolate gateau." Even made a start on nibbling you.
"Not on the menu anymore, Bolly," said Gene matter-of-factly.
"Not even to fulfill a craving?" teased Alex, just for the opportunity to see Gene blush and pout. "Every woman needs a little indulgence now and then."
"I'm not exactly flavor of the month, am I?"
"No?" A thought crossed Alex's mind. "Just a moment. Are you saying that Elaine dumped you?"
"Gene Hunt," he said testily, "does not get dumped."
"All right, all right. She met someone else, then."
"Too right, Miss Marple."
"It's no one's fault," said Alex gently. "All for the best."
"Nice enough bloke," continued Gene stoically, pulling a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. "Golf-playing type. Does something or other for Marks & Spencer. Not a copper," he added, lighting up.
"And so that's that," said Alex. "Would you just look at the two of us? Here we are on a Saturday night, a regular lonely hearts club."
"Speak for yourself, Bolly."
"Maybe it's not so bad," said Alex, picking up her tea mug. "I had a date, and you -- you were fighting them off for a while there."
"Fighting what off, Bolls?"
"There was that brunette at the speed-dating evening," observed Alex wickedly, drawing the expected snort from Gene. "Oh, come on! She fancied you."
"She fancied me todger. And any other bloke's. Desperation is Raymondo's department, not mine. What?" he said, the line between his brows deepening.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Why the smile?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing."
"You're a regular Cheshire Cat, you are, Bolls."
"It's nothing. So you don't like brunettes, then," she said, with false innocence.
"Didn't say that. Just don't want to be collected like a bloody scalp."
"Control. You have to make the first move. The Manc Lion loves the hunt --"
"Correction: The Manc Lion is the Hunt."
"Yes. Well, I'll tell you something about lions, shall I?" said Alex, setting down her mug.
"What's that, Bolly?"
She leaned towards Gene and lowered her voice to a whisper. "It's the lionesses who do most of the hunting, Guv. The females."
"It's true. Perhaps for the human species as well." When Gene had no reply for that, Alex continued. "So, just to summarize," she said, leaning back into the couch. "Elaine laid her cards on the table, and you folded."
"'ang about, Bolls --"
"And that woman you met through Elaine laid her cards on the table -- "
"Bloody well almost laid me on the table --"
" -- and you ran for miles."
"Unfair, Bolly. Didn't fancy the bird."
"All right." Alex smiled. "Well, this has been an evening of revelations. Here I am, going about thinking you were Elaine Downing's personal love slave -- "
"I'm nobody's slave, Bolly, love or any other sort. I'm a free man."
"You and Patrick McGoohan," she said teasingly, but she didn't miss Gene's emphasis. A free man...
"Anyway, Bolls, didn't seem worth mentioning. Didn't know you cared."
Alex's head was clearing nicely, and the tea had been just what the doctor ordered. Even her appetite was recovering -- she'd managed a biscuit, and sincerely regretted an entire day's worth of self-inflicted damage, via the caffeine and alcohol. Next time she'd simply enjoy the meals, if there ever was to be a next time, with anyone.
But Mum was right; it wasn't time to think of the future, just the moment.
In this particular moment, though, Gene didn't seem particularly happy, or even sated, for all that he'd gulped down a cup or two of tea in between cigarettes, and inhaled the rest of the chocolate biscuits with the efficiency of a vacuum cleaner.
"You all right, Bolly?" he said now, one arm slung over the back of the sofa.
"Much better, thank you." She smiled at him over the rim of her mug. "You?"
"What about me?"
"Are you all right? Shazzer said there was a virus working its way through CID, and I thought perhaps --"
"No, no, I'm fine, Bolls. Didn't have the best day, that's all."
Gene took a leisurely pull on his cigarette, and expelled a cloud of smoke. "Paperwork's been a right bastard, Bolly. D and C's on our backs. Got us going back years.
"Viv, Ray, Chris and I got stuck into it this morning. Viv was all right, did his bit, then went 'ome to the missus. Ray skived off as soon as he could. 'ad some bird waiting. Left Chris and me to the lot. By the time we were done, it was pissing down rain, and Chris's brain 'ad turned to custard. Two of us got some shepherd's pie and a couple of pints down us, and Chris took 'imself off to the pictures. Best thing for 'im."
"What about you?"
"Needed to clear me 'ead. Walked for a bit -- to St. Margaret's, Parliament Square. Stood by that statue of Churchill a while. You should go yourself sometime, Bolly, see what a real 'ero looks like."
Parliament Square. If he only knew. Alex gave Gene what she hoped was an enigmatic smile. "I'd like that. In fact we ought to go together. You show me yours, I'll show you mine."
"What?" Gene almost dropped his cigarette.
"Our respective heroes," she said sweetly. "What did you think I meant?
"Anyway, then what?"
"Skies opened up again, so I stopped for another pint, then came over 'ere."
"Why come over here?" she asked. "Why not just stay parked at your local?"
"Told you, Bolls," said Gene, grinding his cigarette into the ashtray. "Luigi sent me. Mission of mercy."
She sighed. "Luigi didn't tell you anything."
"'e didn't need to."
"And you were coming over here anyway, before you even saw him."
At that Gene looked up, and she knew from the expression on his face that she'd again struck a nerve. How long had it been since he had seemed that vulnerable in her presence? A long time. A very long time.
"Thought I'd see if anyone was about."
She wasn't going to let him off so easily. "If I was about," she said quietly.
"Someone to watch over me, I suppose," she said. "In fact they should write a song about that. Oh, sorry, someone already did." She turned to go back to the kitchen.
"You used to trust me, Alex. You told me once you trusted me."
She could not bring herself to turn round to face him. "Yes. Perhaps I should never have said anything. Perhaps that particular genie can't be put back in the bottle now."
"Those brains of yours never stop, do they, Bolls? Thinking about what's 'appened. What ought to 'appen. What might --"
Alex spun round. "What did you say?"
"Just let things be, Alex. For once in your life, give that 'ead of yours a rest."
"And be happy." She whispered the words.
"Didn't catch that, Bolls. What did you say?"
Gene stood up abruptly. "Well, I think it's time --"
"You're not going?"
"No. I was just going to say I'd have that drink now, Bolly, if you're still offering."
In silence the two of them went into the kitchen. She dug a bottle out of the cupboard, then stood watching as he poured himself a finger of whiskey and knocked it back, clenching his jaw afterwards, as she'd seen him do that a thousand times.
"Just what the doctor ordered, Gene?"
"Not especially." He turned to look at her. "What about you, Bolly? Ready for a good stiff one? Or maybe a drink?"
She smiled and leaned back against the counter.
"I think we both know there's nothing in that bottle for me."
"Sorry, Bolly. Grabbed those bloody pajamas instead of you."
"That was my head. And my shoulder. Ooh, that really hurt," said Alex.
"Let's see." Gene undid several buttons and slid Alex's pajama top down on one side. "Going to be a bruise there, Bollyknickers," he said, stroking her shoulder with his fingers and following the touch with a light kiss. "Sorry, love. Forgot the cupboard was there."
"Well, I certainly can't," said Alex. She leaned towards Gene. "And just what am I doing up here on this counter, Mr. Hunt?" she demanded with mock annoyance.
"Seemed the best place for you."
"Why? Are we playing Will and Amy Kane or something?"
"Maybe." He reached around her again, found the small of her back.
Although Amy Kane would never sit like this, thought Alex as Gene drew her forward till she was straddling his hips. Not without running afoul of the censors. She realized suddenly that the radio was still on. Another jazz vocalist, this time a baritone, was singing "Alright, Okay, You Win."
"Now then, Bollinger Knickers," said Gene, his face inches from hers. "Are you going to kiss me?"
"Well, I'm certainly not going to punch you," purred Alex, tilting her head.
"Course not, Bolls. Did that already, didn't you?"
"You taste like tobacco and whiskey and tea," she gasped, when she could draw a breath. "And chocolate biscuits."
"A regular banquet, the Gene Genie."
"'He brought me to his banqueting house,'" she murmured, half into Gene's neck, as she leaned against him, her arms round him.
"What's that, Bolly?"
"Something I heard a choir sing once. From the Bible, I think." She repeated the passage to herself -- He brought me to his banqueting house. His banner over me was love. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love. It was the Song of Solomon. Definitely the Song of Solomon.
"I don't want to talk about the past, at least not now." She felt his shoulders stiffen, and his roving hands came to a stop.
Right. She would show him. She would say only what was necessary and show him the rest. Maybe then he would believe.
Alex laid her hand against Gene's face. "I don't want to think about the future, only this moment," she said, looking into his eyes. "And I know I don't want to wake up on the sofa in these awful pajamas, with nothing to look forward to but a hangover."
"Can't promise you won't 'ave a 'angover, Bolls. As for that Lawrence of Arabia tent you're wearing --"
"More like a hazmat suit --"
"'as what?" With all the places his hands were going, it was clear he'd finally located her inside the pajamas.
"We're sounding like Abbot and Costello, we are. Hazmat. Hazardous materials. Protective gear. Only I don't really need protecting, do I?"
"Oh, you do, Bolly, especially given what you get up to."
"Yes. Talking of which, I'd quite like to catch the Gene Genie virus," she murmured. "Maybe even come down with a major case of it."
"Come on, then, Bolls." He slipped an arm beneath her legs and scooped her right off the counter, and grunted as he lifted her in his arms. "Bloody 'ell. What's Luigi been feeding you?"
"Whatever Luigi's fed me is ancient history by now. Anyway, hark who's talking, Mr. Steak-and-Chips," said Alex, attempting to reach down to pat Gene's stomach.
"Oi, all baggage must remain securely stowed till we reach our final destination. No unpacking before this aircraft comes to a full and complete stop."
"I was only ascertaining," said Alex demurely, her arms about his neck, her lips inches from his, "whether everything was in the upright and locked position."
Gene's knees appeared to buckle, and for a moment she thought he was going to drop her right on the kitchen floor. But he recovered quickly.
"I mean to ascertain a few things meself, Bollyknickers. You see if I don't." And he shifted her in his arms and carried her out of the kitchen.
Saturday night was always such a good night -- so many people about, so much laughter and shouting, so many glances between lovers, or lovers that might be.
Of course there were the arguments, and sometimes the tears, and sometimes a glass fell to the floor and was shattered. But that he could endure. He could buy another wineglass. But a heart? No one could buy another heart.
A bella signorina with tears in her eyes, she would cause him worry.
If her lover was a wise man, he would see those tears, and find some way to make an apology to the signorina. Of course Luigi knew how best a man might make his apologies, and he prayed these English knew it as well, though sometimes he doubted that very much.
But now another Saturday night was past, all the lovers, and lovers who were to be, had gone home, and Luigi alone seemed to be the only man awake in this part of town.
Weary though he had been, he had got up at dawn, after having such dreams in the night. Once he had awakened, thinking he had heard a woman cry out. He had sat up, listened, but heard no sound. Again he had fallen asleep, and again he had awakened, this time to laughter. Surely it was laughter, the laughter of a man and a woman, of lovers. Again he waited, and listened, but there had been nothing more.
Yet even after so little rest he had risen early and made his way to Mass, to offer thanks to the good God that he was such a fortunate man. And before he left the church Luigi had stopped to light a candle. It had been years since he had done so.
Now he was walking home through the silence, and as he approached his trattoria he noticed what seemed to be a bundle of washing on the pavement, and stooped to investigate.
How strange these English were, leaving pajamas lying about! Luigi looked in one direction, then another, as if he expected to see the owner walking off, possibly nudo, but there was no one else on the streets, not this early, and especially not on a Sunday.
He could hardly leave things so untidy, though, and, sighing and grunting, he bent to lift the pajamas from the pavement. He should take them to the Oxfam shop; even such ugly pajamas ought to accomplish some good in the world, though Luigi could not imagine anyone actually wanting to buy them. But yes, he would take them to the Oxfam shop.
First, though, he must have them washed. After all, there was a malattia going around.
A/N: The William Billings setting of "I Am the Rose of Sharon," particularly the version by His Majestie's Clerkes, was the inspiration for Alex's little reverie on the Song of Solomon.
Today's moment of synchronicity: A few hours after I posted this final chapter, I was listening to Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. The poem for May 19th, 2010, just happened to be passages from the Song of Solomon, including a portion of what Alex quotes above.