This is something I started a few months ago that I've only just got round to finishing. It's a bit different, a bit dark and I really hope you like it! As always, any reviews would be greatly appreciated :)
She finds him on Tower Bridge. He's somehow blagged his way to the top and he's standing by the railing, legs set apart, hands in pockets, jaw sharp against the black silhouette of the night sky. She doesn't know if he's heard her, if he's aware that she's here, and he is completely still, a man on pause, a human being in a pocket of calm amongst the frenetic energy of the universe.
The sky above them is thick with darkness and rain. It is almost purple and it seems like a blanket up here, cushioned and textured with heavy clouds, a sheet tucked gently across the city. The London lights sprawl as far as the eye can see, pinpricks, shards of urban glitter sprinkled from the heavens, and it steals her breath, the beauty of it, the vitality.
"What are you doing here, Alex?" His voice is low, but it startles her. He doesn't turn.
"The team were worried." She pauses, balances on a knife edge and then plunges blindly over the other side. "I was worried."
For a moment, he doesn't reply and she thinks he's going to ignore her, but then he exhales, a long breath that isn't quite a sigh. It curls in the air, hot and delicate, and then disappears into the smog, intangible and ephemeral as time.
"People died today."
She takes a half-step forward. "People die every day."
"Not children, Alex." He bites the words. They sting.
"No, not children." She wonders whether she should touch him, whether he needs the contact or whether he'll simply recoil. She decides to risk it and rests a hand lightly on his shoulder, feels it crackle along her spine. He freezes but doesn't shrug her off, and she slides it down over his arm until they're almost holding hands. Almost. Because neither of them wants to breach that final barrier. "It's not your fault, Guv. You weren't the one holding the gun. He was a manic depressive drowning in debt who blew his family to kingdom come in a last-ditch attempt to keep them together. There was no reasoning with him."
He moves sharply away from her, and she tries not to flinch at his rejection. Far below, cars fly across the bridge, and a boat gives a wail of disapproval. It is peaceful, but London peaceful, because in a city that never sleeps it is only in the comparative that tranquillity can be found.
"Not good enough. I should have stopped it." He rests his arms on the railing, clasps his hands as if in prayer. She wonders if a man like Gene Hunt believes in a higher power. "Kids, Alex. They had their whole lives ahead of them. They could've found a cure for AIDS, discovered life on another planet, had kids, got drunk, paid library fines." She finds she can't reply, her words blocked by the ball of burning tears in her throat. He is a poet, she thinks, a rough-edged, unromantic, unrefined poet, and the thought makes her cry. He shakes his head. "They should've lived. Christ, this world..." He turns his face away. "It's shit."
She watches him for a moment, thinking. She doesn't know whether to shout at him for being so stupid, so unaware of the good he does, or cry for him, because he will mourn anyone else's losses but his own and he has nothing but criticism for his own achievements.
Slowly, she reaches out. This is like nothing they've ever done before and she is painfully aware that it is unchartered territory, but something inside her is crying out to help him and somehow she knows this is the only way she will get through. She has to save his soul by baring hers.
Her fingers wrap loosely, carefully around his. His hand is cold and dry and she thinks suddenly that he is human, this powerful, mighty man who somehow makes them all feel safe, and the realisation, bizarrely, makes her want to cry. He looks at her in surprise, then down at their linked fingers. She slides down, back to the wall, until she is sitting on the ground at his feet and he is staring at her, his face blank with some hidden emotion. She tugs on his hand and he takes a deep breath, as though to sit beside her would be to cross some invisible line.
"Gene." She whispers his name. It feels painfully intimate.
He sighs and something seems to crumple within him, so that he sags to the floor, head back against the moss-eaten stone and eyes closed.
"I'm tired, Bolls," he says eventually. His voice is the contradictory soft-rough of sandstone. "I'm so bloody tired."
Their hands are still loosely joined and she tightens her fingers a little. She doesn't know why he has chosen today to break, why this family has affected him so much, but she knows unequivocally what she has to do.
"I know." She feels a little as though she is talking to a child, because her voice is low, the soft croon of mothers to their sleeping babies. Unexpectedly, he rests his head on her shoulder.
"Feels like...feels like it's never-ending. Just as we get one scumbag off the streets, another one takes his place. Policing's a young man's game, Bolly. And Christ knows, I'm not a young man anymore." He sighs, and it is the bone-tired sigh of the eternally weary. "What use am I anymore?"
She doesn't answer straight away. Across London, Big Ben chimes midnight and they both sit in silence, listening to the steady peals of the city bells. She doesn't speak until they have died away, absorbed into the water and the night.
"Janey Holmes. Daniel Cormack. Mabel O'Malley." She pauses, glances at him from the corner of her eye. He has frozen, and for a moment she is not sure whether to continue. But then he looks at her, and there is a tentative, awed hope in his eyes, as though her faith is breathing the life back into him. "Hettie Cane. Tommy Davies. The Klines..." and so she continues, this long, long list pouring out of her mouth, carrying them away on a river of memories, a stream of nostalgia. And the longer she speaks, the more he sags, but it is not in defeat this time, only pure, exhausting relief.
Eventually, she stops. This is her finale, her big piece of evidence that proves just how much good he does in this dark, unfair world, but her voice falters on the words like the tentative flutter of a bird's wing.
He chokes out a laugh. She suspects he has been crying silently beside her, but he will not thank her for pointing it out and she's not sure she really wants to know. It is like watching your parents fill your stocking long after you know Santa isn't real, because understanding that your fairytale is false is very different to seeing it proven. To know that Gene Hunt can cry, it is terrifying. Because if he cannot be strong all the time, then there are huge, gaping moments when she is utterly alone.
"I didn't save Alex Price. Couldn't even save her bastard commie parents in the end."
"Gene." She turns her head and looks at him where he leans against her, tries to ignore the tear-tracks that glisten in the moonlight. "She needed you, and you were there. Her very own superhero to whisk her off in his shiny red car so she didn't have to watch her parents burn." She tries and fails not to cry.
"Hey..." He suddenly seems to notice the shake of her shoulders and sits up, catching her as she topples to one side. "What's this?" It is the gentleness in his voice, in his demeanour that is her undoing. She covers her face and takes three deep breaths. It reminds her of the days after Pete left, when Molly would toddle in to find her crying, and she would stand very still with a smile as bright and deceitful as a rainbow, because then she could swallow back the tears and carry on with their lives. "I'm fine," she says eventually, but Gene is not eighteen months old and easily distracted by crayons and the park. "I am."
"Okay." She sighs. "But I'm not...falling apart, if that's what you think." She pauses. "Have I ever told you about my childhood, Gene?"
He shakes his head mutely.
"My parents died when I was eight years old, just like Alex Price. It was a...a car crash. They were away a lot, so I was sent to boarding school. When they died, I lived with an...uncle, and he adored me, gave me everything, but no one ever quite matches up to your parents." She gives a tearful little laugh. "I was such a Daddy's girl. Worshipped the ground he walked on."
"Is that why you were so desperate to save the Prices? So that Alex Price wouldn't end up like..." he trails off, and from the tensing of his body, she can tell he's embarrassed.
"Go on, say it." She tosses him a wry smile. "Like me."
There is a silence of acquiescence. A cloud has drifted across the moon and its light spills across them in haphazard filters, white and cold. She shivers, suddenly lonely and tired and confused. This conversation has gone off on a tangent, followed a different path than the one she had planned when she'd pulled him down to sit beside her, and she shakes her head wearily, as though attempting to jostle her thoughts into order.
"All I'm trying to say is, there was someone there the night my parents died. A...doctor. I never really saw him much after that evening, but he gave me his card and told me to call him if I ever needed him. I don't know if he said that to all the bereaved children or if I was special, but I believed him, and knowing that there was someone fighting my corner, someone who wasn't my uncle...it helped more than you'll ever understand."
She closes her eyes briefly, opens them again as she feels his fingers on her jaw, tilting her face towards his. For a dizzying moment, she thinks he's going to kiss her, but instead he just swipes his thumb softly under her eye to catch a tear as it falls from her eyelashes. Then he pulls off his coat and drapes it over them both, tucking his arm around her shoulders as though she is the broken one tonight.
She doesn't know how long they sit there, frozen into place at the top of the bridge, while the river winds on and the traffic hums far below. Neither of them sleep, but there is something cleansing about this prolonged wakefulness, as though the coming of the dawn mirrors the purging of the darkness from their souls.
"Come on, Bolly." He finally gets up, grimacing as his knees click, and offers her his hand. She takes it. They move together to the wall and he stands behind her, engulfing her in his warmth as they look out over the awakening city. There is an intimacy about their actions that has thus far been devoid of sexuality, but then he places his hands on hers where they rest on the railing and she is suddenly aware of his breath on her neck, warm and even. "New day," he murmurs in her ear as the sky turns a dusky pink, and she nods.
Eventually, he sighs. "We should go. The others are probably going ape-shit crazy with both of us AWOL for the night." He seems reluctant to break the contact between them. "Thanks, Bolls. For...you know, being there."
She smiles, turns her head just far enough to glimpse him in her peripheral vision. "I was needed and I was there."
He gives a tired laugh, and his hand squeezes hers. "You're a good friend."
And then she knows she has to do it. This conversation, the one that has gone so off track, the one that has been swallowed in nostalgia and quiet admissions about the past, she realises it's time. There can be no more putting it off, because somehow she feels it is imperative that he knows. The wind ruffles her hair and she is suddenly aware of time passing.
"Gene." She turns in his arms. He is unexpectedly close, face just inches from hers, and his eyes are that familiar blue shot through with silver, like a lightning fork cracking a summer sky. "You really don't get it, do you?" She puts her palms flat on his chest, slides them up to hold his throat. It is a gesture that is protective and aggressive all at once. "You're not just a friend. You're..." She trails off and realises she's crying. "Shit. You're the only thing that keeps me sane. You're boorish and arrogant and prejudiced and good and decent and broken. Like me. We're lost souls, Gene." She moves suddenly out of the circle of his arms and runs her hands through her hair. "Don't you get it? I'd crawl over broken glass for you, if I had to. Because no one has looked after you for a long time, and you're too busy looking after everyone else to bother." She faces him now and she is painfully aware that she has left herself wide open to his rejection. The first drops of rain have started to fall and she spreads her hands, palm-up, in a gesture of total honesty. "Let me love you, Gene."
Around them, the wind picks up. There is a storm coming, and she needs him to tether her to this earth, because right now she feels as though she's going to be lifted up and hurled away.
And then he takes a step forward.
"You're a daft cow at times, Alex, but even I didn't realise you could be this dense." He opens his arms and she falls into them with pathetic relief. He is warm again, the vitality returned to him through their cathartic night in the open, the hours spent letting London take care of itself. And maybe, just maybe, through her touch. He rests his cheek on her hair, lets the words slip softly out like the slow melting of snow. "It's always been you."
They don't speak after that. He doesn't say the words, and she finds she doesn't need to hear them. Their first kiss is one of infinite sweetness, his mouth moving against hers like the whisper of a summer breeze, and she clutches him, feels his fingers grab at her waist and belie the softness of his lips. They are intensely desperate, two damaged souls who are simply seeking refuge in each other's imperfections, but somewhere amid the resentment and need and furious arguments, love has sprung up, a seed that has grown deep within and come suddenly to fruition.
When they break apart, he cradles her against his chest and she clings to him, a rare moment of naked vulnerability in their lives of pretence and bluster. When he finally lets her go, her whole body is thrumming with warmth.
"Time to go, Bolly," he says softly, sliding his fingers through hers and tucking their joined hands into his pocket.
"Look." She tilts her head back, smiles a huge, happy smile at the sky. "A rainbow."
They stand together for a minute, gathering their thoughts, faces lifted to the sun as it tries to break through the storm-clouds. The rain is still falling. It is like some alien planet, the way they are experiencing all the weather at once, stirred up and inside-out.
Just then, his radio crackles. It is so mundane, so unexpectedly commonplace, that it jars with her, makes everything that has passed seem unreal. "Raymondo?"
"Guv? That you? You need to get back here, there's something kicking off down at the prison."
He glances at her. "OK. I'll be there soon." They come to a stop outside the Quattro and he holds open the door for her to get in. "I'll drop you off at the flat. Get a couple of hours' kip."
"What about this situation at the prison?"
He shakes his head. "Probably just someone who's taken a swipe at a guard. Don't worry about it, love." She smiles at the endearment and he leans across to kiss her cheek. It is entirely new, this feeling of casual intimacy, and curiously addictive. "Come to the station when you're ready."
So they zoom off into the sunset, and each of them believe, truly believe, that against the odds they have found their happy ending. Neither of them feels the wind at their heels, the grabbing hands of fate. Because rainbows are masters of deceit and all fairytales must end, and unbeknownst to them, the clock is already ticking down to zero hour.
But they remain blissfully unaware, hands linked on top of the gear stick, speeding through the streets as though, somehow, they can outrace their doom. They are both too damaged and too wise to count on the certainty of the future, even as the building blocks of their existence are sliding imperceptibly from under their feet.
Right now, there is only him and her and the future neither of them dare to hope for, the future that will soon be stolen from them by the cruel hand of fate. And so the Quattro drives on through the quiet, early-morning streets towards its inescapable destiny, and Gene and Alex exchange the smallest, purest of smiles.