A/N: I don't own Ashes to Ashes, nor do I own anything written by Shakespeare!
Apologies to everyone for the very long delay since I last posted or reviewed anything, or replied to the reviews I have recieved. As I have already indicated on my profile page, life has been very bad to me and to my family in the meantime. Like monkey-in-hell, I have lost someone wonderful.
But, through it all, I have managed to continue writing here and there (it's one of the few things keeping me semi-sane), and at last I've decided to try to start posting again. The posting of future chapters may not be very regular, but I'll do my best. I'll also do my utmost to answer any reviews received.
I started this story last year, left it half-finished, and then picked it up again recently. It was inspired by a thread on The Railway Arms some months ago, in which several people suggested Shakespearean roles which Phil Glenister could play. My own suggestion was Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing - a man who conceals his feelings behind brilliant wordplay and repartee, who against his will falls in love with a beautiful, spirited, independent, fiercely witty woman who is equally reluctant to fall in love with him… Then I began to think how many other A2A characters are similar to characters in Much Ado, and this story began to take shape. Those who know their Shakespeare should recognise the parallels I have drawn between A2A and Ado (some of them quite sneaky), but if you don't know the play, it shouldn't stop you enjoying (or understanding) the story.
It's set during the long gap between Episodes 3 and 4 of Series 3, but is AU insofar as Chris and Shaz are still engaged and Annie has not yet gone to the Railway Arms.
This doesn't mean that I've abandoned "The Beginning of an Era" – it just so happens that the next chapter will be very fluffy, and fluff is the one thing I cannot face at the moment. I'll resume it as soon as I can.
"Well, thank you, Guv. It's so nice to know I'm appreciated!"
Alex fairly hurled her knife and fork onto her plate, pushed her chair back with a scrape which made Luigi wince for his flooring, and stalked upstairs. Gene tossed back the last of his wine, determinedly ignoring the five pairs of eyes watching him from the next table, threw some money onto the table, and stumped out. Everyone else in the restaurant realised that they had forgotten how to breathe.
Annie, who was in London for Chris and Shaz's wedding, looked scandalised. Her four companions, being used to it, looked merely resigned.
"Those two ought to get a room or kill each other," Shaz muttered into the silence.
"Has it always been this bad?" Annie said sympathetically.
Shaz shook her head. "No. They used to be so close. I could see that, even if these divs couldn't." She took in Ray, Chris and Viv with a wave of her hand, and all three bridled indignantly. "They still love each other, I'm sure of it. But it's all gone wrong for them, ever since - "
"Ever since they had that row the night before Operation Rose, an' the Guv shot 'er the next day." Chris's voice was full of self-recrimination, and his face was sad and dark.
"I was going to say, since DCI Keats arrived," Shaz finished, and all five glanced discreetly at the man in question, sitting in solitary splendour on the opposite side of the restaurant, tucking into a substantial plateful of spaghetti bolognese. He looked up, and they looked away quickly. Annie was the slowest, and her eyes met his for a moment. Despite the warmth of the restaurant, she felt a chill down her spine as she looked into those black depths. To hide her confusion, she reached for an abandoned copy of the Evening Standard on a nearby chair and leafed through the pages. An advertisement for the Royal Shakespeare Company's season at the Barbican Theatre caught her eye, and she made a mental resolve to see Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack in Much Ado About Nothing while she was in town.
"He's trying to set us all against each other, I'm sure of it," Shaz continued in an undertone. "Divide and conquer. It was him who nearly talked me into leaving the Force - "
"Was it?" Chris hadn't heard that before.
"An' he suggested I join him when we were 'aving all that arson trouble," Ray said thoughtfully.
"Did he?" Viv frowned. "And he told me - " He checked himself.
"What, Viv?" Shaz looked concerned.
"Forget it." He made a dismissive gesture. "Nothing but Keats talk."
"Looks like we're all getting a bloody sight too much Keats talk," Ray said grimly. "Trying to split us all up."
"And split us from the Guv," Shaz said eagerly. "I'm sure that's what he's doing with the Boss, too. Feeding her lies about the Guv, so they don't trust each other any more."
"The Guv deserves to be happy," Annie said sadly, laying her newspaper aside. "He's lost so much in the past few years. First it was Sam's death, then the divorce, then he left Manchester to start over down here. He must be so lonely."
"Not him. He loves 'em and leaves 'em." Ray was clearly desperate to avoid any suggestion that his Guv might be "soft".
"That's not true!" Shaz said indignantly. "He and the Boss are made for one another. If someone could make them realise how they feel about each other, I know everything would be different. It's such a shame," she added sadly. "I've been hoping that everything would come right in time for my wedding. That would be the best wedding present of all for me. To see them happy together."
Ray shrugged. "About as much chance of that as City caning United."
"Hmmm..." Annie was still for a moment, then picked up her paper, folded it back, and studied the RSC advert again. When she looked up, her face was suffused with such excitement and purpose that Chris swore afterwards that he had seen a bulb light up above her head.
"Much Ado About Nothing - why not? They're a modern Beatrice and Benedick."
"Eh?" Ray was not equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation, and Viv and Chris looked equally baffled. Shaz, who had read the play, nodded but clearly did not understand what Annie had in mind.
Annie turned to Shaz. "I think we might be able to get you that wedding present."
Shaz frowned. "How?"
"I have a cunning plan."
"What - like the Black Adder?" Chris piped up. "You know, the TV series." Everyone else looked blank, and he burst into song. "Black Adder, Black Adder, with many a cunning plan, Black Adder, Black Adder, you horrid little man..." Startled diners looked round, and Shaz grabbed his arm.
"Chris. Chris," she hissed urgently. "Shut up. People are looking. Keats is looking."
"Oh." Chris deflated. "Er. It's a good series, anyway." Annie gave Shaz a glance of sisterly solidarity.
"Shall we get back to Annie's plan?" Viv suggested tactfully.
Annie looked around the table. "I'll bet you all that by the time of the wedding, we can bring the Guv and Alex together, but I'll need all of you to help me."
"But that's only five days," Chris protested.
"Well, are you in?"
Shaz grinned. "Count me in." She prodded Chris, who blurted out, "Yeah, me too."
"And me," Viv added.
Ray looked perplexed. "Sure, but how'll we manage that, when they're biting lumps out of each other?"
Annie leaned across the table. They all leaned close to hear. "Well, here's what we'll do..."
They went into a close huddle, whispering excitedly, and Ray made notes on a napkin. They were so intent on their discussion that they were oblivious to the interested glances which Keats was sending their way.
"But I'll never remember all of that," Chris said desperately.
"Don't worry, Babes, I'll type it out for you."
"What do Ray and I do?" Viv said hopefully.
Annie assumed command. "After the Guv's followed Shaz and Chris to the Records Room, Viv, you make sure nobody else tries to get in there or to follow him. Especially not Keats. Ray, after the Guv's left the office, you've got to keep Alex talking until Chris or Shaz or Viv gives you the all clear."
Annie looked at Shaz. "It'll have to be us two to nail Alex. You'll be on double duty."
Shaz nodded. "Suits me. When'll that be?"
Annie pondered. "Harder to arrange, as we can't do it at the station."
Shaz looked wicked. "Hen night?"
Annie chuckled. "You're on."
Viv nudged Annie. "Keats at one o'clock."
The man himself ambled up to their table, his face full of innocent enquiry. "Evening, all. Discussing cases off duty?"
"Oh, no, Sir." Ray sounded very respectful. "We're cutting DS Cartwright here into our pools syndicate while she's here, and we're discussing tactics."
"Really!" He flashed them a winning smile. "Any chance I could join in? I could do with winning a pot of money and retiring early."
"Sorry, Sir." Shaz smiled as sweetly as she could. "We have a rule. DIs are the highest rank allowed. DS used to be highest, but we changed it for Ray when he was promoted."
"I see. Well, good luck, all of you." He smiled again, and turned to go. Just as they were all silently sighing with relief, he turned back. "DS Cartwright?"
"Sir?" Annie was on her guard. Ray and Viv instinctively moved in closer on either side of her.
"Of Greater Manchester Police?"
"Did you by any chance know the late DI Sam Tyler?"
"Yes, Sir." Annie's voice was paper-thin. "I'm his widow." Ray would cheerfully have socked Keats in the jaw, but a warning look from Viv stopped him.
"I'm sorry. I hadn't realised that he was married."
"I continued to use my maiden name professionally after our marriage, Sir. To avoid confusion while we were on the same team." Annie had herself under control, but even Chris could sense the effort that it cost her.
"I see. He was the best of them."
"I know, Sir."
"Well, good luck with the pools, all of you. Good to meet, you, DS Cartwright." He smiled and moved away to the bar. Annie looked hard at the table top, and the others were silent to allow her to recover. After he had returned to his table, she raised her head and shuddered.
"God, he gives me the creeps. How on earth do you put up with him?"
"Because we have to," Shaz muttered. "He's been on our backs ever since Operation Rose. You wouldn't believe it, but some of the WPCs actually think he's cute."
"Ugh, spare me. Boys, do you know who he reminds me of? DCI Morgan. You know, the one who conned Sam and nearly got us all shot. He was a creep too."
"Yeah, an' he vanished after the Johns takedown an' was never seen again," Ray said throughtfully. "No explanation ever given."
"Maybe he was D an' C too," Chris ventured. "Something in the water in their building that makes them like that."
Annie shrugged and firmly pushed the memory away. "Let's not talk about it. Come on, all of you. My hotel's only ten minutes' walk away. I'll stand you a round at the bar, and we'll go over the details of Operation Much Ado again without Pencil Neck in the corner trying to listen in."
Chris blinked. "Wow, you are a good detective. How did you work out that the Guv calls 'im a pencil neck?"
Annie smiled and shook her head. "Not that difficult. I cheated. I overheard the Guv talking to Alex just now."
Laughing, they all stood, collected their coats, and swept out in a flurry of chatter, calling out their goodnights to Luigi. Ray was careful to stow the napkin, with his notes, into his pocket. After they had gone, Keats rose from his place and strolled over to the table they had vacated. He knew that they were up to something. Too bad that he hadn't been close enough to overhear what they were saying.
It was the greatest pity that Annie had left the newspaper, still folded back at the RSC advert, lying on the table. Keats picked it up and studied it thoughtfully. He was well-read and knew the play well, but where Annie had been inspired by one half of its story, his thoughts instantly turned to the other.
Now, there was an idea. Maybe it was time for him to give Fenchurch East much ado about something.
"Signor Keats? Can I help you?" Luigi, bristling with suspicion, stood nearby. "Another glass of wine, perhaps?"
"No, thanks, Luigi, I think I'll call it a night. You won't mind if I take this paper?"
"Not at all, Signor Keats. A diner left it, so another diner may take it."
"Thanks." He slapped the folded newspaper against the palm of his hand. "Good night, Luigi."
He sauntered out. Luigi glared after him and made the sign of the horns.
"Malo notte, Signor Keats," he muttered.
The following morning, Gene's patience was reaching its normal generous limits. If he heard any more talk from any member of his team about the reception, table layouts, place settings, bridesmaids' dresses, floral displays, music, ribbons, guest lists, menus, Shaz's relatives, Chris's new suit, photographs or the weather prospects, he would crack them over the head with a lucky horseshoe and stake out the remains for the bridesmaids. He couldn't wait for the whole thing to be over. Turning my team into a load of poofs and sissies. Why the bloody hell can't Shaz drag Chris off to the nearest registry office to make an honest man of him and take their families for a beer afterwards? Then when it all goes tits up, she won't have wasted the equivalent of a City forward's transfer fee.
He was struck by the way Shaz kept trying to attract Chris's attention, and then looking away whenever he looked in her direction. After about an hour she caught Chris's eye at last, with a glance of unmistakable urgency, and Gene was struck by the deep distress in her face. She stood and walked out of the office, and he saw Chris count five before following.
Right. That was it. He'd had enough. If those two thought they could go off somewhere in his nice, tidy station to discuss canapés and napkins, they had another think coming. And if Shaz was taking Chris away from his work to tell him that the whole thing was off, Gene would knock their empty heads together. He barrelled out of his office, marched across CID without a word, and crashed out through the swing doors. Alex looked up in mock surprise.
"Oh, dear, who got out of his cave the wrong side this morning?"
She stood up to get a cup of tea, and a flustered Ray bore down on her.
"Alex - er - there's something I need to ask you."
"Yes?" She sat again.
"It's this case the Guv's given me, I can't make 'ead nor tail of it, an' I wondered if your psychic stuff could 'elp."
"You mean psychological profiling?"
"Well, what is it?"
Ray seemed at a loss, and Alex waited patiently. He looked helplessly at the file in his hand.
"How would you profile someone who pinches a laundry van?"
Gene emerged into the corridor, just in time to see Chris heading down the stairs. He followed stealthily. At the bottom of the stairs, Chris nipped into the Records Room, but left the door ajar. Gene followed, and was about to burst in on them when he heard Shaz's voice.
"Oh, Chris, I've just got to talk to you. I'm so worried about Alex! I'm sure something terrible will happen to her."
Gene stiffened. Not if I can help it.
"The Boss?" Chris said, puzzled. "But why?"
Shaz sounded as though she were near to tears. "Last night, after the rest of you had gone, I saw that she'd dropped her warrant card when she left. I went up to her flat to give it back to her. I knocked at the door, but I couldn't get her to answer, and I was sure I could hear her crying. I asked Luigi for his spare key, and let myself in. She was sitting on the sofa, sobbing her heart out, with crumpled up bits of paper all around her. I picked up one of them and read it, and it said, "My dearest Gene, I can't bear this any longer. I have to tell you how much I love you."
Gene nearly fell over. "Bloody 'ell fi - " He stopped himself and clapped a hand over his mouth, convinced that the lovebirds must have heard him, but they appeared to be too intent on their conversation. He edged closer, convinced that his ears must be sticking out like the Quattro's doors.
"Nah, the Boss hates the Guv now," Chris was saying. "You know how they keep yelling at each other."
"I looked at the other pieces of paper. They all said much the same thing. Then she looked up and saw me reading one of them, and she almost screamed, "No! You mustn't look at that! You mustn't!" I was so embarrassed. I explained why I was there, and said how worried I was to see her like this. She grabbed my hands. Hers were icy cold. She looked into my eyes and said, "Shaz, you must promise me that you will never, never tell anyone what you've just seen. Especially not the Guv."
Gene held his breath.
Shaz went on, "I said, "I won't if you don't want me to, Ma'am, but why don't you want the Guv to know? I know he's bad-tempered, but he's a fine man. You could do a lot worse.""
Gene opened his mouth for an indignant roar, and stopped himself just in time.
"She burst into tears again and said, "No, no, he must never know. How could I ever write to tell him that I love him, when we quarrel all the time? He'd be so angry and embarrassed. He might even use it as an excuse to transfer me out. I'd sooner die than tell him." She snatched the pieces of paper from me, tore them into little bits, and cried, "Gene, my Gene, I can't stand it!" Then she jumped up, ran to the window, and opened it. I grabbed her arm, I was so afraid that she was going to throw herself out, but she may have been looking to see if the Quattro was still there. It wasn't, the Guv had left long before. I got her back to the sofa and sat her down, and I promised that I wouldn't tell anyone. She was crying again when I left."
"So, um, why 'ave you told me?"
"Because I'm so worried about her!" Shaz said impatiently. "She said she'd die rather than tell him, but I think she'll die if she goes on pining for him like this. What if she tries to kill herself again, and nobody's there to stop her?"
There was a silence and a slight rustling of paper, then Chris said hastily, "Than someone should tell the Guv."
"And give him another reason to hurt her?" Shaz said tartly. "He does that enough already."
"I don't think 'e'd do that," Chris said loyally. "He wouldn't hurt a bird, specially not if he knew she loved 'im."
"This is the man who smacked her face to wake her out of a coma that he'd put her into," Shaz said nastily. "He doesn't deserve someone as good and fine as her."
"Better leave 'er to get over it, then." Gene could almost hear Chris's shrug. "Someone else'll come along an' take 'er mind off 'im."
Not if I can help it, Gene thought darkly.
"I suppose you're right," Shaz said sadly. "But I wish I could do something to help her."
"Can't do much soon, anyway, with the wedding four days away an' us away on honeymoon the next fortnight. Maybe things'll be better when we get back."
"Maybe, but I don't think they will. Look, we'd better be getting back to the office. We'll be missed sooner or later."
"Aren't you forgetting something first?" Chris's voice was warm and teasing.
"Of course not." There was the sound of a passionate and prolonged snog, and Gene drew aside into the shadows as the lovers ran out, hand in hand, their hair ruffled, and raced up the stairs together. He heard Shaz's voice float down, "See you later, lover," and then he was alone.
He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. His head was whirling. Alex loved him, although she might never say it. It was all he could ever have hoped for. He had stopped hoping, so long ago. They had been fighting for so long that it had become a way of life to him. He realised that he had ceased to think of her as a person whose feelings could be hurt. She was a monumental pain in the arse and that was that. But now he cast his mind back to the time before it had all gone wrong. Before Operation Rose and the shooting. Before Keats had walked into their lives.
You an' me, Bolly. You an' me. He remembered the look in her eyes as he had said those words, and how wildly his heart had been beating.
I really thought, you an' me - I thought we were the ones, we had a connection. She had lied to him, and he had thought that their connection was broken. That she did not care for him. Then the disaster of Operation Rose had driven them apart, and since then, he had closed his heart and mind to any thoughts of her except as a colleague. Now he knew how close he had come to breaking her heart. That she might die if he did not love her.
Shaz's bitter condemnation still rang in his ears. No. He was better than that. He would prove it, to Alex and to the whole world. He would be horribly in love with her. After the bitterness of his divorce, he had not thought ever to give his heart again. But perhaps it would not be too late for the two of them. A life together, marriage, maybe kids. His heart throbbed at the prospect of making love to her, feeling her reaching her peak in his arms, holding her as she slept, awakening beside her every morning, and of her cradling a child which had his blue eyes and her dark hair.
He ascended the stairs and walked slowly along the corridor to CID, deep in thought. Passing the desk, he didn't notice Viv grabbing his phone and urgently dialling a number.
"So, um, you don't think that someone who pinches a laundry van is necessarily an underwear pervert? Even if it was full of ladies' smalls at the time?"
"Not necessarily, Ray. If there had been several vans targeted which were full of underwear, I just might be able to go with your theory, but it's only the one van, and it was taken a fortnight ago. If we were looking at someone with an obsessive disorder, I'm sure we'd have seen a repeat offence by now. It's far more likely that the van was nicked by one of our regular villains in the second-hand vehicle trade, and either resprayed or dismantled for the parts. Why don't you have a word with Bob the Job at Fenchurch Used Cars?"
Ray looked crestfallen. "Bugger. Really thought I was onto something there."
Alex shook her head. "You should beware of over-complicating a straightforward case."
"But I thought, if it might be someone who's preying on women, we should - "
"Ray, I cannot believe how thick you are being over this! Treat it as an ordinary stolen vehicle case, for God's sake!"
Fortunately for Ray, at that moment his phone rang. Chris answered it, held it in the air, and yelled, "Call for you, Ray!"
"Thank God for that," Ray muttered, fleeing for his desk, leaving a thoroughly irate Alex behind him. He took the phone from Chris. "Hello?"
"Guv's on his way," Viv muttered, dreading that Gene might still be in earshot.
"Roger that." Ray hung up, just as Gene came through the swing doors. At the door to his office, he paused, turned, and looked at Alex. Why had he never noticed how unhappy she looked? Trying and failing to look unobtrusive, he walked over to her desk.
"Guv?" She looked up, her face still like thunder.
"You okay? Anything I can get you?"
"Yes, Guv. Out of my sight."
He walked into his office, his heart singing. There was a double meaning in that. Of course she wouldn't want to tell him what she felt for him, with the whole of CID listening in. That would be something for them both to say, when the two of them could be alone together. But how would he manage that? If he asked her out to dinner now, her pride might not let her accept.
Something else that Shaz had said, swam into his mind. The wedding was in four days' time. Everyone would be thinking pink fluffy thoughts. Alex would be all moist-eyed, birds always were at weddings. He would tell her then.
He realised that he had not the faintest idea of what he was going to say or do when he got her alone at last. How did a bloke go about falling in love?
He sat at his desk, poured himself a glass of whisky, and searched in the top drawer until he found a battered snapshot of the team at Luigi's. Chris had taken it when they were celebrating after taking Burns down. Her hairstyle had changed twice since then, but it would do for his purpose. She always looked beautiful anyway. He located a pair of scissors, cut Alex's image from the photo, slid it into his wallet, and gazed at it fondly.
It was a start.
Ray, Chris and Shaz contrived to meet up in the kitchen ten minutes later, with the kettle on and the tap running to mask what they were saying.
"D'you think he heard what we were saying?" Chris asked Shaz.
"I hope so. I nearly died when you lost your place and I had to point out your next line in the script. I felt sure he'd hear the rustle when you turned the page over."
"Must 'ave heard you," Ray said firmly. "He was making big softy eyes at the Boss when 'e came back in. Only just got back in time," he added. "Boss was about to kill me. Never felt such a prat in my life."
"All in a good cause, mate," Chris said helpfully.
"Bingo." Shaz grinned at them both. "Stage One completed. Stage Two is for Annie and me."