As my regular readers will know, I can't bear unhappy endings – so this is my feeble attempt to rectify the end of Ashes to Ashes.
Needless to say, spoilery for Episode 8.
One More for the Road
Nelson looked around the packed bar of The Railway Arms, noting with some pride the happy faces of his customers. He smiled and pulled another pint and placed it carefully in front of another satisfied punter. The bar was warm and convivial and groups of police officers gathered in corners to play poker or throw darts at a well-worn dartboard. There was a pool table at the back for those who liked that sort of thing and a television mounted on the wall. He shook his head with a slightly bemused expression on his face. The television was a fairly recent addition to the entertainments provided here but Nelson had to admit that it had been a successful one. He would have to thank Sam when he saw him again.
Nelson turned to greet one of his most recent arrivals. "Yes mon brave?"
Chris Skelton rested both arms on the bar, a broad grin lining his face. He had been unable to stop grinning ever since he had arrived. Which was something of a miracle in itself considering it was only a short while before that he had found out that he was in fact dead.
"Can I have another pint – oh and a pernod and black for Shaz?"
"Of course you can. You can have anything you want here."
"I can…I mean we can?"
Nelson chuckled. Sometimes it did take new arrivals time to adjust. "Whatever you want, it's yours."
"Blimey. This really is heaven then?"
Nelson just laughed and shook his head fondly as he watched Chris take his drinks back to the table. The young lady, Shaz, greeted Chris with a warm smile and waited until he sat down before placing her hand over his. Now that was a happy couple. But then that wasn't so unusual here. Even Ray Carling was finding that out. He could see Ray in the corner chatting animatedly to a smiling young woman ; petite and dark haired she was looking at Ray in way that made Nelson think he'd better order in more champagne. He could always tell when a celebration was in the making.
But there was something else in the air, something quite sad and poignant, something he hadn't felt in here since…well, he hadn't felt that emotion in the air for quite some time now. Of course, it happened very occasionally. Mistakes were made, someone came here too soon or they had something unresolved that held them back. Nelson sighed but accepted his lot. As barkeep here, it fell to him to sort these problems out – one way or another. He busied himself opening a bottle of red wine and then carefully polished a single wine glass and placed that on the tray.
Nodding and smiling as he weaved his way through the crowd of punters he made for the saloon bar. He knew exactly where she would be. She sat at the same table every day, drinking the same drink, eating the same food, her eyes full of sadness as she kept an eagle eye on the door. Nelson had hoped she would pull around without his direct intervention but it didn't look like that was going to happen. Something was holding Alex Drake back and until it was sorted she wouldn't be able to rest. Here or anywhere else.
She looked up at him with unseeing eyes.
Undeterred he placed the glass in front of her, poured a generous measure of wine and then sat in the chair opposite.
"It helps to talk you know."
Alex glanced up sharply. Nelson's voice was still warm and friendly but now there was a difference. In the time she had been here his accent had been a lilting sing-song refrain, a gentle lilt of the Caribbean she would have guessed. But now there was a definite twang of Manchester...a painful reminder of her loss, even though he sounded nothing like Gene.
"I shouldn't feel like this should I? Isn't this heaven? I should be blissfully happy surely?" She gratefully slurped a mouthful of wine hoping it would give her time to steady her voice which was shaky with unshed tears. "I don't understand," she said finally.
Nelson sat back in his seat and regarding his unhappy customer. Only the truth would do for this one. He could tell. "Not everyone's idea of heaven is the same I suppose."
She laughed bitterly. "You could say that."
"And maybe a pub in Manchester isn't yours?"
"It's not the location that counts…although I hadn't really imagined an afterlife involving beer and red wine."
"Plenty of people do," he said gently, "especially your fallen comrades." He glanced around the room at the quietly chatting clientele, mostly dominated by couples here the saloon. "They deserve a bit of down time surely? And so do you Alex."
Alex took another drink and waited until the wine began to warm her soul before she tried to put her confused feelings into words. "It was too quick…I hardly had a chance to.." Tears filled her eyes and she fell silent again.
"Molly will be okay…I have it on the very highest authority. You don't have to worry. And when it's time…"
"I know, I know. She'll be here one day – I can wait."
"I didn't get to say…that is I didn't get to tell the Gu...to tell Gene…" She stammered to a halt.
"He knows Alex…I'm sure he knows. But he has a job to do," he said sympathetically. Although the lord knew he had been trying to persuade Mr Hunt to come in for a drink and stay awhile for many years now. But always he deposited his lost but now restored souls and quickly departed. Nelson considered the possibility that the Guv had made a mistake this time, had passed this colleague on too quickly. He'd never made that mistake before for sure, but then, he'd never been in love with any of his charges before and that could have made all the difference.
The question was – what could he fix this?
"What do you want to do Alex?" he said quietly. Nelson couldn't believe he was doing this but rules were meant to be broken. "Tell me."
"What do you mean?" Alex eyed him suspiciously.
Nelson smiled. "I can't have an unhappy customer – especially one as pretty as you. What do you need to make you happy and I'll see what I can do."
Alex closed her eyes and almost immediately Gene's image was filling her head. She smiled and opened her eyes. "I need…"
Before she could finish the sentence Nelson stood abruptly, his laughing eyes darting towards the front of the pub. "Someone's coming – I'd better welcome them home."
Alex's heart pounded as she quickly followed Nelson through the bar to the front door of the Railway Arms. It couldn't be could it? Had he come back for her? Had he changed his mind after all? Even if he hadn't perhaps there was a chance, just a small chance that she could talk to him, tell him everything she had meant to before they had run out of time.
"Welcome mon brave!"
Alex's face grimly registered the disappointment she felt on seeing the new arrival. Tall and thin with short dark hair, he was not the man she had been looking for. Simply another lost colleague who had been found. She watched disconsolately as Nelson made the new officer welcome and turned to go back to her quiet retreat. She was half way across the room before she suddenly realised. If there was a new arrival then someone must have brought him here! She quickly turned on her heels and ran towards the door , a mixture of need and anger spurring her on. How dare he leave her here without a proper explanation? Was she not worth a simple ' hello how are doing?' She wasn't sure how this place worked but surely he could at least do that?
Still running at full pelt she yanked open the door and ran straight into the all too solid presence of the man who haunted her dreams.
"Ooof." Caught by surprise Gene fell under the weight of the unexpected onslaught, but not before instinctively catching hold of her arm so that they landed in a heap together. "Steady on Bollyknickers."
"Steady on!" Alex quickly recovered and rolled off Gene. She stood up and brushed herself down, too angry to notice her new surroundings. It was dark outside the Railway Arms, but the air was mild and still, and the stars glittered in the heavenly ink-black sky. "You bastard!"
Gene still lay sprawled on the ground, winded and somewhat confused. "Bastard? What d'yer mean? I brought you to Heaven didn't I?" He gingerly stood and brushed down his coat. "Some women are never bloody satisfied."
Alex punched his arm – and not playfully. "Oh please! You never asked me Gene – you just brought me here and dumped me and I…"
"I did not dump you," he blustered. "You were ready Alex…you had to…"
Eyes blazing Alex stared him down. "I wasn't ready and you knew it. You just couldn't wait to be shot of me."
"That's not true," he said quietly.
"Isn't it?" She took a deep breath as she tried to rein her temper in. She breathed heavily and looked him up and down, absurdly pleased to note that he looked exactly the same as he always had. She wasn't sure how much time had passed in either of their worlds but he was just the same. He was 'her' Gene. "Were you just going to walk away? After making your latest delivery I mean?"
It seemed like light years since anyone had called her that and she couldn't help the tears that filled her eyes. She shook her head in disgust and turned away. "Do I mean nothing to you?"
Gene stared after her as she continued to pace the ground between them. A painful memory tugged at him. She had asked that question once before. Had he answered her then?
"Bolly…Alex…" He knew he shouldn't have come back here but he had to. He thought she might have moved on again – people sometimes did. If the Railway Arms didn't suit they moved on to something that did. But she hadn't. She had stayed and he knew that she would stay here forever unless he did something…said something.
"I wasn't ready Gene," she repeated sadly. "You told me I was dead and then expected me to accept the loss of my daughter just like that."
"I just thought it would be better this way Bols – better for you. Christ's sake it's Heaven!"
Alex looked at him and quickly registered the familiar look of confusion in his face. "I wasn't what I wanted," she said quietly.
Gene held his breath and moved slightly closer to her. He wished he could give her everything – but he couldn't. He was just a small cog in this crazy world. "Walk with me Alex." He held out his hand, determined to at least offer her some comfort.
Alex's heartbeat quickened slightly as Gene took her hand, the comforting feel of leather gloves against her skin making her smile, even as other more painful memories threatened to overwhelm her completely. As he fingers gripped hers she became aware of the sounds of the river and glanced up to see the Thames slowly drifting by. They found a wooden seat and settled down to watch the Thames, alive with life, or so it seemed.
She turned to him, her face a picture of confusion. "I don't remember this? I thought we were in Manchester. That's where the Railway Arms is surely?"
Gene chuckled. "It's wherever you want it to be – everyone sees it differently. You're a Londoner so…"
"…so for me it's in London?"
He nodded and then took a deep breath. "I can't do what you want Alex."
She held her breath. "You can't?"
He shook his head sadly. How he wished he could. He would do anything to make her happy but like a fool he had only just realised that. "You can't go back to Molly."
There was a long pause before she answered.
He shifted uncomfortably. "You know?"
"Yes Gene. I know that I'm dead and that one day…blah, blah, blah. I get it. I know how this place works. I can wait to see Molly again because I know she'll be here one day."
"Oh. I thought…."
"You still don't understand do you?" She gazed at his puzzled expression and laughed. "After all these years of doing what you do – you still don't get it."
Alex wet her lips slightly before she spoke. Maybe if she actually put this into words they could both move on somehow. She wanted that very much indeed. And after all, she had nothing to lose now. She turned to face him, cupping his face between her hands. "I love you Gene Hunt." She laughed nervously as the relief flooded through her. "I love you. That's what I needed to say. I love you. Even though you're impossibly maddening in every single way. I love you – and I miss you so much."
Bugger. Gene opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He gulped and tried again. "Alex I…"
She touched his lips with her fingers. "You don't have to say anything. I know it's not your thing…putting feelings into words."
"Never knew I 'ad feelings before you came along Bolly."
Alex laughed and Gene's heart fluttered despite his best intentions. He'd missed that sound for so long. "I may not be much good at talking about them Bolly – but I can show them."
Before Alex knew what was happening Gene had gently taken her face in his hands, his thumbs stroking her cheeks as his lips slowly moved towards hers. She shivered as his lips caressed hers, a tingling sensation made her gasp as he deepened the kiss slowly, his arms wrapping around her body as they gradually gave in to the need that had been building since the very first day they met. She held on for dear life as her head began to swim, her body pressing ever closing to the warmth she craved. Her head was still swimming when she opened her eyes and realised the kiss had ended.
A little smirk of triumph appeared on his lips. "Actions speak louder than words Bols."
"They certainly do."
She laid her head on his shoulder as they both fell silent, content to watch the river and its inhabitants, his arm wrapped securely around her. She didn't know how long they sat like that but eventually Gene stirred and Alex guessed that the moment had come once again.
"Come on then Bollykecks – time to get you home."
"Nelson's pretty strict about lockin' up on time."
She nodded, mute with sadness and impending loss once again. If this was Heaven she hated to think what hell was like. They walked slowly towards the front door of the pub, Alex dragging her feet for as long as she could but then quite suddenly they were on the threshold of the Railway Arms once more. Without words they moved into each others arms, the kiss this time was as tender as angel's wings.
"Yes Gene?" She huddled closer in his embrace, unwilling to end the moment.
"You never asked me why I came today."
She disentangled herself slowly to look into his face. "I just presumed…I mean – you were dropping someone off?"
"Well yeah obviously. Bloody useless twat an' all. He got there in the end though." His face became serious again. "Wasn't the only reason I came."
"Just wasn't the same without you…without any of you – Ray, Shaz…even bloody Chris." He ran his hands nervously through his hair. "Think I'm trying to say that…I…that I…"
"You could do with a pint?" Alex supplied, holding her breath as she waited for his reply. "One for the road?"
"Probably more than one. It's been a long time after all."
"Are you sure? It's a big step."
Gene looked at the frosted glass in the oh so familiar front door of his boozer. And then he looked at the woman standing in front of him, love shining from her eyes. Maybe it was time for that pint.
Alex took his hand again and Gene took a deep breath and opened the door.
"Mr Hunt! Welcome mon brave"
"Nelson," he said gruffly.
The bartender glanced from Gene to Alex and then back again, immediately registering the renewed sense of hope. He smiled broadly as he realised the momentous day had finally arrived. It really was time to break out the champagne.
"What can I get you?"
"Pint and a whisky chaser if you please –and a glass of the house rubbish for the lady."
"Comin' right up."
Out of the corner of her eye, Alex could see Ray, Chris and Shaz making their way towards them, eager to greet the Guv once more.
He was leaning on the bar but turned towards her, an unaccustomed smile on his face. "Yes love?"
She smiled softly and then quickly kissed his lips before they were engulfed by the hoards ready to greet their Guv.
"Welcome home Gene."
He returned the kiss with enthusiasm. "Thanks Alex. For everything."
Nelson grinned as he watched them kiss to the enthusiastic cheers of the whole pub. As he went around clearing glasses and wiping tables, he revelled in the newly restored sense of balance he could feel. The Guv was here at last and everything was as it should be. Of course the doors of the Railway Arms were always open to newcomers, but now there would be someone else to ensure that lost souls found their way here. There would be other Guv's to take his place 'out there' but in here there could only be one Guv here – and his name was Gene Hunt.