A/N: So, I actually liked the ending, but my hopeless romantic shippy heart broke a bit (okay, a lot). This is my attempt to fix things without messing up the ending. I sort of ended up in a big, illogical mess, but oh well. It's all about suspension of disbelief, right?
So, just assume that at some point between the end of the series and 2008, Gene forgot about all the stuff he remembered and, as far as he's concerned, his team died in 1983. I may have accidentally taken some liberties with dates (specifically with regards to when Alex got shot/died, because I can't face rewatching to get the exact date right now). Sorry if I have. Let me know and I'll change it!
Anyway, I hope it's okay… And there's some Galexy stuff happening, because, well. It's needed sometimes. Apologies for the epic author's note.
'Wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.'
'Give me matter and I will construct a world out of it.'
"Let's talk about Alex Drake."
The voice came from behind him, cutting through the sound of a dozen early evening conversations in the bistro. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end at the sound of the voice, the name. He hadn't heard anyone speak her name in so long. So strange then that he had been dreaming of her only last night.
The owner of the voice moved to stand in front of him, and Gene found himself face to face with a man he was sure he had met before, although he couldn't place him. "What about Alex?" he asked, her name sounding rusty on his lips. He hadn't spoken it aloud in years. Best not to, really.
"Oh, lots Gene, lots," said the man, sitting himself down in the chair opposite, apparently not fazed by the lack of invitation to do so. He picked up a napkin and spread it over his lap, then reached for the menu in the centre of the table, saying, "What's good here?"
"I'm sorry, and you would be?" Gene Hunt did not talk about dead colleagues with strangers. With anyone. And he especially didn't talk about Alex.
"Forgive me for being rude," was the rehearsed-sounding reply. The man slicked back his oiled hair with one hand and then held it out for Gene to shake. "DCI Jim Keats." His hand was left hanging.
"Have we met before, Jim?" And how do you know about Alex?
"You know that we have."
Yes, he did know that. But when had they met? And why? Something, perhaps a latent, long-forgotten memory, began to niggle at the back of Gene's mind. He had definitely met this man before. He had a flash of sitting at a table in Luigi's with Alex, Keats sitting with them and saying… what? He didn't know, couldn't remember. The more he thought about it, the more elusive the memory became.
"So, Alex," Keats said.
He wanted to protest, to tell this greasy git not to speak her name, but he was intrigued. "What about her?"
"Do you miss her?" His voice was wheedling, mocking, as though he already knew the answer. Keats let the question dangle when Gene didn't respond, instead calling over Craig the waiter and ordering some poncy coffee off the menu.
Gene stared at him. All this time. All this time – over twenty five years – of putting her out of mind as much as he could, almost deliberately trying to forget her instead of just accidentally like he forgot everything else, and then in the very week when he started to dream about her again with such intensity after so long, when he had been unable to get her out of his mind, someone came along and asked him questions about her.
Coincidence? Or something else? His copper's nouse was telling him the latter. He refused to answer Keats' question, watching as the other man took a mouthful of what looked to be a cup of froth, waiting for him to make the next move. Leaving him hanging might make him give something away, show his hand as it were. Everything within Gene was telling him that Keats was wrong, that he was not to be trusted.
But from where did he know him?
Keats pulled out a newspaper – The Guardian, the ponce – and laid it on the table. He tapped the date on it. 12th July 2008. "It's been so long, but it seems like only yesterday that she died, doesn't it?"
Yes, Gene wanted to answer, but he didn't want to give him the satisfaction. Instead he took a long pull on his pint and tried to pretend he wasn't interested. He wanted a cigarette too but unfortunately the law wouldn't allow it under the current circumstances.
"Well, it's not far off from the truth," Keats went on.
The question was waved aside with a flick of his hand. "What would you give to see her again? Your last cigarette? Your house? Your rank? The last quarter of a century?"
Christ, let me give you the list, Jimbo. It's a long one.
He was so calm, so cool, so… flip about the fact that Alex was dead, talking about it so casually over coffee as though she was just some story in his bastard newspaper. Gene couldn't allow him to do that to her memory. He cracked. "What the hell is this?" His voice was low, dangerous, laced with intent.
"What's what, Gene?" Keats leaned back in his chair and adjusted his glasses.
He wanted to punch him in the face, but this bistro was a nice place and he didn't want to get chucked out. He liked drinking here. "This," he said. "What you're doing. Showing up out of nowhere and telling me I know you. Talking about Alex when she's been dead for years. You leave her be."
"But she's not dead."
"No. She's not." Keats chuckled. "Well. Yeah, she is, but she's alive in 2008. Barely. In another world."
He couldn't be doing with this sort of nonsense. "You should get help," Gene said, pulling on his suit jacket and gathering his things together. "Actually, don't. I don't care. Just bugger off."
"It's true, Gene." Something in his voice, a look in his eye, kept Gene seated.
He shook his head. "Can't be." No matter how much he wished she was still alive. Still here.
Keats gave his smug little smile. "In another world, Alex Drake is lying in a hospital bed with a bullet hole in her head. She's dying, but she's still alive, just barely. It's touch and go, sadly. She'll be gone by morning."
"You're sick, you know that." It wasn't a question.
"She's still in your world, though. In her timeline, that is. Still with you. Until tomorrow morning." He made a mock sad face and mimed wiping away tears. "So sad. Do you remember what happened?"
Gene wanted to leave but he was rooted to the chair. He thought about it. He remembered… He remembered that Alex had been there, that they had been close, so close to getting somewhere together and then… what? He recalled the pain of her death, of all of their deaths – Chris and Ray and Shaz, too – but… how had they died? Why couldn't he remember that? There had been some sod in his office almost straight after, ranting like a loon. That much he could remember. The man had turned out to be a bloody good DI, in the end. Carter, his name was. So why couldn't he remember what had happened just before he arrived?
Lancashire. He'd been in Lancashire with Alex. Why had they gone there? He didn't know.
He took the easy route. "You're sick, Keats," he said. "You're sick and you're a liar and I don't know what you're trying to do here, but you need to stop it. Right now. Or else I might forget my manners."
Keats laughed. "It's almost poetic, really. She's going to die tomorrow and yet she's already been dead for twenty-five years."
He was still sticking with that crap, then. Well, Gene was sure that Craig the waiter would forgive a little violence in his bistro if it was in a good cause. He wasn't entirely sure he could currently be held responsible for his own actions. He made a fist under the table, ready to strike.
"She's going to die tomorrow," he said again.
Gene pushed his chair back and was about to launch his fist at the other man's face with everything he had, when Keats said something that made all of the air rush from his lungs and his body collapse back down in to the chair.
"She'll die, and so will you."
"Is that a threat, Jim?"
"No. I don't make threats."
"A promise, then?"
"Of a sort." Oh, he was a smooth bastard.
"Good, then. I can arrest you for intent to kill a fellow officer."
"Could you? You were never arrested, not even for shooting your fellow officer."
"Below the belt, Jim."
"It was intended to be."
They both sat back, sizing each other up. Keats calmly sipped at his coffee. Gene cracked his knuckles loud enough for Keats to hear.
"You're talking bollocks, Keats. If you think it's going to work on me, then you've got another thing coming. And leave Alex out of this."
Keats calmly placed his cup back in its saucer and stood up. "Fine. I'll go."
"Just like that?" What was the point of all of this? Damned if he knew.
He nodded. "Just like that. But Gene, just do one thing for me." He paused for a moment as though expecting a reply. It never came and so he went on, "Watch the news tomorrow morning. There may be an item which is of great interest to you. Just after nine o'clock. Don't miss it."
Keats walked around the side of the table and then stopped as though just remembering something. He reached inside his coat and pulled out a thin packet, which he dropped on the table next to Gene's pint glass. "Before I forget," he said, "I found some of your old holiday snaps." He clapped Gene on the shoulder, and then was gone, whistling as he went.
Out of curiosity, Gene opened the packet and pulled out the pictures. He looked at them in turn. Pictures of old, long-gone friends. A house with a weathervane. A field with a scarecrow. One picture with faded pencil writing on the back of it – I think we've found our grave.
"Shit." He felt as though his mind was cracking open, and memories long-forgotten began to seep back in around the edges.
One more push, and he thought that his world might well come tumbling down.
He watched the news in his office, on the small flat-screen TV that sat in the corner. His mind was racing with thoughts, half-remembered memories, confusion. What would he see on the news? Something about Alex? That seemed to be what Keats was implying.
No. Not something about Alex. Not really. Indirectly, maybe, but mainly it was about him.
He knew as soon as the news report started. The field shown in the pictures was achingly familiar and yet from an altogether different life.
The body of a police officer.
Acting unconsciously, he opened the top drawer of his desk and took out an old tin and opened it. Inside, a picture of a young, smiling copper. And underneath the picture, an epaulette badge with the numbers 6-6-20. The badge Alex had given back to him right before she…
Remembered everything. Shit. He sat at his desk, stock still, the television still playing the news of his death fifty-five years in the past. He remembered it all. Like it was yesterday, Keats had said.
Just after nine. That's when Keats had said it would happen. Gene looked at his watch. He hadn't been wrong. But there was something else, something more that was significant about the time… The minute hand of his watch clicked over from five past to six minutes past and then stopped, dead.
This was the day – the exact minute - that Alex died in the real world, the bullet wound to her head dragging her down and under and resigning her to her fate in the world of Gene's own creation. A whole world and a lifetime away, and she still had the power to stop his watch. She was shot in the head and she died from it. The thought made him ache, despite the fact it was her shooting that bought her to him so long ago now.
Was it a coincidence, he wondered, that she had died on the same day his body was discovered? Because that, he knew, was something that couldn't be taken back. He couldn't be unfound. It would only be a matter of time before the identity of the dead copper became known in the Real World, breaking down the barriers between his two existences, and then where would he be?
"Christ." He buried his face in his hands, glad he had closed the blinds to the rest of CID upon entering his office early in the morning.
Not only was his world crumbling, he was going mad. Alex's voice echoed around his skull. A fantasy, he thought, it must be.
"Gene," her voice came again. He definitely wasn't imagining it that time. Perhaps it wasn't a coincidence. They were bound too tightly together for it to be that.
He looked up and around, but he was alone in the room. The news had moved on to another story and he turned it off, hoping the quiet would make it easier to hear her.
There was laughing inside his head, growing steadily louder. It sounded like Keats.
Was this it, then? How it all came to an end? He got found out and the devil walked away with the prize? It couldn't be.
"Gene." Alex again. He didn't know how she could be speaking to him, but quite frankly he didn't care. Maybe her death had somehow propelled her back to his limbo-land, or near enough to it. It didn't matter. He hadn't heard her voice since the day he told her to follow the others into The Railway Arms, even though he'd seen her hesitation, wondered if maybe she hadn't been quite ready. Hell, if hearing her meant that he was mad, then so be it. He had to be crazy, anyway. No way any of this would be happening if he wasn't.
"There isn't much time." Her tone was soft but he could hear the urgency behind her words. "There isn't much time to save yourself. You have to move now."
Oh God. Could he do it, could he walk away? Leave this, everything? It was all he knew. It was all he'd known in so long he didn't know how to be anywhere else. It was all his current team knew, and he couldn't leave them. Could he? He found that he wanted to more than he'd ever have thought possible.
"Come home, Gene."
He thought he'd imagined that last. No matter how closely they might be linked, in this world and the other, there was no way she would ever direct that sort of desperation, of sincerity and need, at him.
But then it came again. "Come home, Gene. I've been waiting for you."
He stood up, knocking over his chair. It clattered to the ground. One of the legs broke. He didn't notice. He pulled on his suit jacket and opened the door to the squad room.
Two options now.
Option one, stride out of the door and never look back. Tempting. It was so tempting. But he had an obligation to his people.
Which left option two. "Come on," he said. "We're going on a team outing." If the strain in his voice or his fake jovial tone raised suspicion in anyone, they didn't show it.
"A team outing to where?" asked Carter, the DI who'd shown up confused and lost in his office so soon after everything had happened before.
Gene looked around at his team. They were all looking at him expectantly. They clearly didn't remember what had happened to them, didn't know who – what – he was, what this was. Well, that made things a little simpler. It didn't mean he couldn't lead them to where they needed to be.
"Pub," he said.
"It's only nine in the morning." Carter was very picky about right and wrong. Gene thought it must be written into the fabric of his world that the DIs who came to him had to be anal and annoying for the majority of their stay.
But that didn't matter now. It never had. Their coming to him from across the decades and centuries – millennia, even - had provided this world with the ability to move forwards in time instead of just staying still forevermore. "I know it's nine in the morning. We're going on a recce." Dressing it up with a work outing always helped to get them onside. A curious bunch, this lot. "And there's some people I want you to meet. Quick as you like, we need to be there soon as."
There was a chorus of 'yes, guvs' and a flurry of activity as a roomful of coppers grabbed keys and radios and jackets that they'd never need again. Gene let a small smile creep onto his face, ignoring the sound of Keats' laughter still echoing in his head.
One last good deed. This would show the bastard. Come home, Gene. What more did he need? There was no doubt left in his mind as to what to do.
He led his team down to their cars. He climbed into his shiny, twenty-first century BMW with Carter and two of the DCs. He drove by instinct, not knowing the route but knowing exactly where he had to go.
It was a short journey, as it turned out. When they arrived, Gene assembled the troops and then walked towards the glorious site of The Railway Arms. Time was, he would've handed them inside and then left them to it, back to where he belonged as the Sheriff of this world. But not now. He couldn't, now. Not now he'd been discovered. He couldn't stay here anymore.
He'd beaten Keats to the punch. And that was all that mattered.
No. Not quite all that mattered. There were some very dear people waiting inside that he couldn't wait to see again, and that was more important than anything.
Nelson stepped out of the front door and invited them all inside. They went, one by one. The sounds of Life on Mars spilled from beyond the door.
"You coming, mon brave? There's a whiskey on the bar for you."
"Is there by any chance also a lady saving a seat for me?"
Nelson raised his eyebrows and grinned. He beckoned Gene over, holding the door for him.
He thought that maybe he should be sad, or scared, or resigned and reluctant at the inevitability of his world ending so abruptly, but he wasn't. As he approached the pub, he quickened his step, drawing ever further away from the world he had created. This was it. He stopped at the door. The final threshold.
He looked back. It wasn't even ten in the morning but the sky was filled with stars. Keats stood at the other end of the street, hands in his pockets, staring. Tough luck, Jim. End of the line.
Gene turned back, taking the weight of the door from Nelson and gathering his wits before taking the final step. There were butterflies in his stomach, and his heart was pounding madly, but it was okay. It was all okay. Better than. Time to rest, now. Time for peace at last.
He knew that she was waiting, and the very thought of it was enough to make his soul take flight.
He stepped inside the pub with a smile on his face, and the door swung shut behind him.
A/N: Evidently, I made a bit of a mess, but this was great therapy for me. I'm half-considering writing another chapter of 'what happens next'… Thoughts? Thanks for reading!