Crime Traveller: Out of the Ashes
Author's note: I tried to think about what, realistically, could have happened immediately after the final episode ends. This is an alternative to one of my other stories, 'After the Crystal'.
"What were you saying, about you and me?"
Something about Slade's tone was different, and Holly felt her hand tremble slightly as she held it out to take the crystal. As her fingers curved around the niobium casing, she held his gaze, trying to dismiss the shiver she felt as his hand closed around hers. The next sensation she felt could only be described as a caress, his thumb grazing the back of her hand. Slade's tactility was something she had got used to over the course of working with him, but she intuitively knew this was different.
"Thank you," Holly said, her voice little more than a whisper.
"You're welcome," Slade replied, his voice low, his eyes still fixed on her. Slowly, his fingers unfolded and he released Holly's hand. His question, she understood, was probably a rhetorical one. She hadn't been saying anything about the two of them, but she didn't need to, he already knew; the day she told Slade about the machine, she had accepted him into her life and her future, for better or worse. There was no question that they would continue being a team, but Holly thought she had heard something more in his question.
"So, are you going to try it out?" Slade asked, nodding towards the machine. Holly smiled.
"Surely even you have had enough of time-travelling for one day."
"Point taken," he replied, returning the smile.
Holly removed the cracked, blackened crystal from the machine and carefully put the new one in its place. It felt as though order had been restored.
"So..." she said, keeping her eyes on the machine. "Am I right in thinking this comes with a few strings attached?"
When she looked up, Slade was frowning.
"What do you mean?"
Holly immediately felt guilty for suggesting it, but she hated the idea of that expectation hanging over their relationship and remaining unspoken.
"Don't tell me you're not expecting something in return?"
"You are talking about time-travel, aren't you, Holly?"
It was only then that she realised her choice of words could have been open to misinterpretation. Although aware she was probably blushing profusely, she was not in the mood to let him win so easily.
"Of course," she said. "What else?"
Slade's face broke into a disarming smile, and he sat down on the arm of the chair.
"I'd like to think of it as a debt paid," he said. "After all, you and the machine saved my career, helped me to solve some big cases. Getting that crystal was the least I could do."
Finally, Slade seemed to be truly, seriously acknowledging the sacrifices she'd made and the dangers she'd faced in the time they'd worked together. But then, if it wasn't for him, what he'd done that way, well, they wouldn't be able to even have this conversation.
"I should thank you, too," Holly said, taking a seat on the arm of her chair, too. "For saving my life."
When Stephen had locked the door of the flash-freeze facility, she had become almost resigned to her fate. Her spectacularly bad judgement, coupled with her fury with Slade and nostalgic fondness for Stephen, had landed her in this situation – it was in part her own fault. And she had known that there was no way out; nobody knew where she was, nobody would get there in time. She was starting to lose consciousness, and thought she must be hallucinating when she heard Slade's voice yelling her name and saw his face appear in the glass. Strangely, it was only then that she started to panic – seeing Slade made her realise that she could be rescued, and reminded her of why she would want to be. When he cut the plastic ties from her wrists, she had dropped like a rag doll into Slade's arms, and his warmth and protection almost made her lose it entirely.
Slade smiled again, and reached across the divide, touching her hand.
"You repaid me pretty quickly," he said. "If you hadn't have done what you did, I'd either be dead or as good as. Just remind me never to get on the wrong side of you – first Nicky, then Marlowe."
In the heat of the moment, Holly's highly rational mind had performed the calculation – the only way she could fell Marlowe, a six-foot man armed with a handgun, would be through guile and a well-placed 'testicular blow'. Slade had taken care of the rest, and she knew that while the first punch was necessary to incapacitate Stephen, the second - and strictly unnecessary one - was for her.
"I'll give you fair warning," Holly told him, smiling.
There was a momentary silence.
"Do you want another beer?" Slade asked, picking up his empty bottle.
Holly knew this meant that he wanted to prolong the conversation, to have an excuse to stay there a little longer. She wanted the same, and wondered whether either of them would ever just say it.
"We could have some wine over dinner," she said. "If you want to stay...?"
"Well, that depends if you're cooking."
"I'm sure I could find the ingredients for a good cheese soufflé."
Slade laughed. He took off his jacket and started to roll up his shirt sleeves.
"Come on," he said, nodding towards the kitchen. "You do the wine, I'll do the food. That is, if you've been shopping in the last week."
Holly shoved him lightly as they walked side by side to the kitchen. Once there, Slade took over as he always did when it came to food. She thought about going back to the living room to tinker with the machine, but realised that actually all she wanted to do was be with him, to watch him at work.
"What are we having?" she asked, pouring him a glass of red wine to match hers.
"Your fridge and cupboards dictate that we're having chicken chasseur," he replied, lining up the ingredients on the counter. "Come on, you can do the chopping."
Feigning unwillingness, Holly got to her feet and took up a place beside Slade. He handed her a knife and an onion, but she had barely got started when she realised he was laughing at her.
"Holly, what are you doing?"
"I'm chopping. Like you told me to."
"The onion is already dead, you know."
Before she could respond, Slade moved to stand behind her, and covered her right hand with his.
"Like this," he said, gripping her hand gently. "Use the back of the blade, too."
The cliché of the situation would have made Holly laugh, if the sensation of Slade's touch hadn't been so pleasantly distracting. She glanced over her shoulder at him, hoping to discern his intentions, but despite his slight smile, his concentration was focused firmly on the job in hand.
"There," he declared, once the onion was neatly diced. "Later on, you can teach me how to mend a deflection coil, if you like."
Holly gave a short laugh, and went to wash the onion from her hands. Slade passed her a bag of mushrooms to slice, and for a few moments they worked side by side in silence.
"Seems a long time since we were at the cinema," Slade said, eventually.
"I know. I'm sorry you didn't have a good time."
"I may not have liked the film," he replied. "But that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time."
Holly felt herself blushing slightly again.
"Well, next time you can choose what we see," she replied, realising she had made the assumption that there would be a next time.
Slade tossed the vegetables into the casserole dish and turned on the heat. A sizzle started to build.
"I'm sorry," he said, and Holly immediately turned to face him. "For the way I acted during this investigation."
"Well, you were right about Stephen in the end."
"Yes, but that's no excuse for what I did."
Holly thought about how furious she had been with him, for his pettiness and his insistence on pursuing Stephen to the exclusion of any other line of enquiry. She still didn't know whether Slade's instincts had been right from the start, or whether he had just got lucky. But now he seemed to be admitting that he had let things become personal, and Holly knew she was guilty of the same; she had trusted Stephen solely based on their past, refusing to look at the case objectively.
"About what happened with Marlowe," Slade continued. "Are you okay?"
Holly paused; it was unlike Slade to show such concern.
"I don't think it's really sunk in, yet," she admitted. "It all happened so quickly."
Within the course of thirty-six hours, Stephen had resurfaced in her life after five years, he had been accused of murder, she had told him about the machine, he had kissed her, and then he had tried to kill both her and Slade.
"And you didn't think police work was very exciting," Slade said, with a wry smile.
"I shouldn't have trusted him," Holly said simply.
"Why wouldn't you? He obviously meant a lot to you at one time."
She nodded. She couldn't deny the influence and effect Stephen had had on her as a young woman; not only had he been her first boyfriend, her first serious relationship, he was also charismatic and had been a huge encourager of her research.
"You must have missed him," Slade continued. She saw him slide a glance towards her, and wondered whether he was testing the waters.
"For a while," she told him. "But it was a long time ago."
"Why did you break up? I mean, psychopathic tendencies aside, you must have had a lot in common."
Holly smiled. She had come to realise lately that having a lot in common wasn't always so important.
"We wanted different things, I suppose," she said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "He was offered a job overseas, and I wasn't ready to go with him."
"Bit hard to take a time machine on a plane without anyone noticing," Slade said, smiling.
They made their way back through to the living room, the meal left to its own devices for a while.
"And this was before my father...when he was still around," Holly said, as they arranged themselves on the sofa. "I couldn't leave him or the work."
"Was your father disappointed?" Slade asked. "I mean, Marlowe must have been perfect son-in-law material."
Holly gave a short laugh. She did wonder, from time to time, what her father would think about her falling in love with a slightly reckless police detective who had about as much interest in academia as a fruit fly.
"He made no secret of the fact that he hoped we'd get married," she admitted. "But he got over it eventually."
Slade poured them both another glass of wine; at this rate, they would finish the bottle before starting the meal. He draped his arm across the back of the sofa, inches from her shoulder.
"You know, he asked me to go with him to Webb Biotech," Holly heard herself saying. "That night we had dinner, before he found out about the machine."
She saw Slade swallow hard, before regaining his composure.
"Would you have gone?"
Holly had to acknowledge what she had later said to Stephen, while at the same time recognising that she had said it in the heat of the moment, when her fury with Slade was at fever pitch. Once the dust had settled, would she have gone through with it?
"I might have," she admitted. "For a while there, he made me remember what I missed about my old work."
"And what about him?"
"What about him?" Holly said, frowning.
Slade toyed with a loose thread on the back of the sofa.
"Would you have gone back to him?"
"Slade, he tried to kill me!"
"No, I'm talking about before that."
Holly felt herself blushing again, feeling the full weight of Slade's question. At the start, she had found herself being drawn back to Stephen, but when he kissed her it had been a watershed moment - she had felt no passion, no inclination to return the kiss. And the reason for this was sitting right beside her on the sofa.
"No," she told him, summoning the courage to look him in the eye. "I couldn't have."
A slow smile spread across Slade's face, and Holly realised, with a suddenly quickening heartbeat, that he was moving closer to her. Leaning forward, his eyes seeking permission, Slade finally brought his lips to Holly's in the most breathtaking kiss she had ever experienced. She literally had to remember to breathe, as the urgency of returning the kiss took over. His skin still smelt smoky from the Webb Biotech fire, and she could taste the wine on his slightly chapped lips. Holly's hand automatically went to his chest, fingering a button on his shirt, and she felt Slade take her face in his hand, deepening the kiss. When he eventually broke away, Holly felt the loss immediately, despite his hand still resting at her waist.
"You did say you'd give me fair warning?" Slade said, and when Holly realised what he was referring to, she laughed.
"I think you're safe," she replied, feeling her face flush.
"That feels long overdue," Slade said softly.
Holly nodded, although she wasn't yet ready to tell him just how long she had thought about kissing him. That said she was still finding it hard to believe that this was finally really happening.
"What were you waiting for?" she asked, playing with the fingers of his free hand.
"I'm starting to wonder that myself," Slade smiled, shifting closer to her on the couch. "Maybe if we do it again it might jog my memory."
The second kiss delivered all the sweetness and intensity of the first, but now there was an additional assuredness that they both seemed to feel. As Holly slipped her arms around his neck, she drew Slade closer still, leaving him in no doubt, she hoped, of what she wanted.
"You know," Slade murmured into her neck. "Dinner won't be ready for another hour."
"You want me to show you how to mend that deflection coil now?" Holly said, biting her lip to keep the giggles at bay.
"Unless that's a very clumsy euphemism, Holly," Slade replied. "I'm going to suggest there's something better we could do."