A bottle of white, a bottle of red,
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead.
We'll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place,
You and I - face to face.
The evening sunshine is a welcome relief on Alex's face as she takes a seat, propping her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand for a moment. It threads in her hair and caresses her skin, lifting the tired lines from around her eyes. It's been a long day and a hard case, but when Alex looks down the street at the sun on the trees and a group of children, safe and happy, playing football on the corner, she smiles. Perhaps the world can be beautiful as well as dark, and perhaps even on those days where everything seems most hopeless, there is still a possibility for hope.
The warm summer they're having has induced Luigi to placing some tables and chairs outside on the pavement, and there are even hanging baskets overflowing with flowers now, dangling a little precariously from the red canopy. Alex has grown used to hearing Luigi's wife whistling and humming to herself each morning as she waters them in her dressing gown, more often than not with a daughter or son in tow, attached to her hip or following at her ankles. Gene sinks into the seat opposite her with a heavy sigh.
"Mind if I join you out 'ere, Bols?"
The smile is still touching her lips as she refocuses her gaze on him. "Of course not."
The rest of the team has headed inside, Ray declaring that sitting outside only means being further away from the bar, and what's the point in that? Alex smiles again. Some people never change. She looks across at Gene again though. But then, some people do. For a few moments there is nothing but a compassionate silence between them because in those moments, they both know that they need to catch their breath.
After a while, Gene speaks, his face grave. "It's a twisted world, Bolly."
She makes a small humming noise that could be either agreement or disagreement. He isn't sure. "Perhaps," she says, lifting her chin from her hand. "Or perhaps it's just got twisted people in it."
He looks down, shaking his head, but she knows it isn't directed at her – he's shaking his head at the twisted world and the twisted people in it, at the cruelty of mankind and the injustice they battle with day after day. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. Today they won, but it doesn't feel much like a victory.
"I can deal with the brutality, Bolly. I can deal with the violence and the scum of this city and the rapes and the armed robberies and the drugs and the murders. But when there are kids involved…" He shakes his head again, lips twisting in defeat as his gaze comes up to meet hers. "It makes me sick."
Alex looks at him – really looks at him – and realises, as if for the first time, how tired he looks. He looks weary of the world, weary of the darkness and the filth he has to sort through every day, and more than that, he looks defeated. This case hit them all hard – how could it not? – but she never could have imagined it would affect her DCI like this.
She sighs softly. "Gene… We did all we could, we got him." Hesitantly, she reaches for his hand, her fingers hovering in the air for a moment before settling over his. He looks down at their hands and to her surprise doesn't move his away. "We were able to give Grace White the closure and justice she deserved, Gene. That's something."
"Doesn't change what happened though, does it? At the end of the day, she's still never going t' tuck her little boy into bed again, or read 'im a bedtime story or tell 'im off for not eating his greens." He looks up at her with hard eyes, a wall of saltwater ice in front of steely blue.
"She's still going to have t' live with the image of her son, pale and lifeless, for the rest of 'er life. How is that justice, Bolly? How is that closure? Graham Hadley should be butchered into bits, not thrown into a cell to enjoy the rest of 'is life with three square meals a day and trips outside for good behaviour." He spits these last words out, swallowing hard as though ingesting something revolting.
Alex drops her head, swallowing too as she blinks back tears. She lets out a heavy breath, thinking of Molly, and squeezes Gene's hand, looking to receive comfort as much as give it. "I know," she whispers. "I know."
They fall into companionable silence again, Alex's hand still covering Gene's on the table until Luigi appears five minutes later. Gene pulls his hand back as if burned, and she tries not to feel offended. Luigi's face is grave as he approaches with a menu in his hand, so Alex gathers that the rest of the team must have filled him in, or else he has deduced the general details from their sombre mood.
"Signor Hunt, Signora Drake, what will it be to drink?"
Inhaling deeply as though trying to lift some kind of heavy weight from his chest, Gene flicks his eyes toward Alex. "Bols, red or white?"
"Um…" A small smile makes an attempt on the corners of her lips as she looks up at Luigi. "Have you got any more of that lovely rosé that was on the specials board last week?"
"Yes, yes, of course, Signora Drake! A bottle or a glass?"
She waits for the rebuke from Gene – he's not going to sit here drinking pink wine like a poofter so she best just get herself a glass – but he surprises her again.
Before Alex can reply, Gene says, "A bottle, Luigi, an' be quick about it. The lady gets soppy if she hasn't had a drink before nine. She's already had a go at holding my 'and tonight."
That earns him a laugh, and just like that, the heavy feeling in Alex's chest that she suspects is in Gene's too begins to lighten just a little. She smiles a little easier, and if she isn't mistaken, the hint of a familiar smirk is just threatening at the corners of Gene's lips.
"Right away then, Signor," Luigi says, laughing also. "I have the food menu too." He puts it down on the table with a meaningful look and tells them, "You need to eat. You detectives, you drink, but you do not eat! Food is good for the soul, for the health. You'll feel better."
Alex smiles gratefully. "Thank you, Luigi."
The little Italian man gets the hint and shuffles away before Gene can mutter anything about being bossed around by restaurant owners who are just trying to rack more money up on his tab.
They order pizza and a pasta dish to share and Alex watches Gene drink the rosé without so much as a grumbled word.
"Well, who would have thought it?"
He glances up at her from his pasta. "Who'd have thought what, Bolly?"
She nods toward his near-empty glass with a teasing smile. "The Gene Genie is partial to a glass of rosé now and again. This is a revelation. I'll be sure to bear it in mind."
He jabs his fork towards her now. "Don't you dare, Bols. Only let you order it t' save a fuss."
Alex nonchalantly steals a forkful of pasta, delicately popping it into her mouth and chewing before saying with a shrug, "Of course."
Gene glares at her. "Bolly."
She only laughs, helping herself to another slice of pizza before topping up both their glasses. Her gaze softens then and she smiles at him. "Either way, I appreciate the gesture, Gene. It was very gentlemanly of you."
He grins at her and she grins back and as the sun dips down behind the nearby rooftops, casting a fiery glow onto the brickwork of Luigi's and leaving dusk to descend on Fenchurch, Alex feels distinctly again that even the darkest days can give way to the happiest evenings.
"You know, yer an alright copper, Bolly. For a bird, I mean," Gene says out of the blue a while later as they're waiting for a portion of Luigi's finest tiramisu to arrive.
She looks up at him, surprise settling pleasantly onto her face before she narrows her eyes slightly. "Is that supposed to be a compliment, Mr Hunt?"
Leaning back in his chair, nourished now with good food and half a bottle of wine and feeling perfectly at ease, Gene smirks and places his empty wine glass back down on the table. "Yes, DI Drake, I do believe it was."
She could call him a misogynistic bastard, or give him the lecture on how women are no less qualified than men to be detectives, but she saves it. He's heard it all, and she knows he doesn't mean it. She knows that now – who he is, or who he really is. He might never say it, but she knows he respects her. But still, to hear him kind of say it, in the best and only way he really can say it, touches her and brings a small smile to her face.
"Then thank you, Gene," she says softly, watching the pale pink swish in the bottom of her glass as she swills it about the bottom before downing it. She looks at him over the rim, the globed glass distorting her smile into a smirk. "You're not so bad yourself, it turns out."
He raises his eyebrows. "Not so bad, eh? Well that is praise indeed."
Alex bites her lip to contain her smile and she's about to say something more when Luigi appears, tiramisu and a second bottle of wine in his hands. He places both down on the table and gives each of them a spoon with two pointed looks and a quirked eyebrow.
"Your dessert, Signor Hunt, Signora Drake. Enjoy." He produces a lighter and lights the tea-light candle between them before pocketing it again with a flourish.
Gene huffs out a "Cheers," whilst Alex thanks him with a warm smile, and he is practically beaming as he scuttles back inside.
Sitting back upright in his chair again, Gene picks up his spoon and smirks, raising his eyebrows at Alex. "Well look at this, Bols, me and you and a candlelit dinner."
He's teasing, she knows, but there is something underneath his voice, an undercurrent that shows in his eyes too, that implies something more. She can't help the warmth that suffuses her smile. "Stop the presses," she remarks in as dry a voice as she can manage when he's looking at her like that, watching as she sinks her spoon into the tiramisu and lifts it to her lips.
The tiramisu is so good that she closes her eyes. Gene swallows hard as he watches the spoon disappear into her mouth, watches the tip of her tongue poke out to catch every last speck of cream and the blissful smile on her face as she opens her eyes.
She catches him staring. "What?"
Gene starts, shaking his head and scooping up his own spoonful of dessert. But she doesn't seem affronted or embarrassed, remarkably, so he just laughs, shakes his head again and says, "Nothing. Nothing, Bolly."
He won't tell her that it is everything – means everything, to be sitting here alone with her, sharing a dessert on a summer's evening outside Luigi's. Not all of his dreams concerning his DI involve him in few clothes and she in even fewer. Sometimes, they just involve this – enjoying each other's company, her laugh when he tells a joke, the sunlight in her hair.
They take their time over dessert, talking for hours – well past closing time – about somethings and nothings, some important, some not so important. Above them the sky fades to an indigo blue, twilight dampening the air slowly so that they hardly notice the gradual approach of night until the first stars appear. Gene watches the way the shadows dawn on Alex's face, darkening her lips and her eyes and he watches the candlelight flicker against her jaw and in her smile. He wants to say it, let the words slip from his tongue – does she know how beautiful she is? – but there are too many blurry lines still, too many barriers that can't be crossed and walls too high to climb. So he stays silent and listens to her talk, savouring each vowel that escapes her lips and every consonant that slides from her tongue.
Luigi appears again after the tiramisu is long gone, looking a little tired yet happy to be so. "Signor Hunt, Signora Drake, I lock up now if that is okay. Unless you are wanting any coffees?"
"No, thank you, Luigi. We've kept you up long enough. We'll just come in to pay the bill." Alex smiles and places a hand on the Italian man's arm as she stands. "The tiramisu was heavenly as always."
"Ah, actually, Luigi, forget the bill. Just stick it all on my tab." Gene's eyes dart hesitantly to Alex but she nods, letting him just this once.
"As you wish, Signor." Luigi beams at them and has the daring to raise a suggestive eyebrow upwards as he bids them goodnight.
"Do you…uh… Would you like me t' walk you up, Lady Bols?" Gene asks once they're alone and again Alex can hear the undercurrent of something stronger in his voice again, something at once forceful and gentle that suggests this was no ordinary after-work dinner.
Drawing her jacket closer around her as the evening chill begins to make itself known, Alex nods and smiles. "Why not?"
They climb the stairs to her flat in silence, the air between them heavy with unsaid words and unspoken thoughts. There is a warm contentment settled at the base of Alex's spine and the smile lingers on her lips as they near her door. But when she turns to Gene he looks distant, hesitant – almost scared and in that moment, she feels something shift between them. She feels something deepen and fortify itself in the heart of her chest, feels a surge of affection and admiration for this man who hides himself so well and who she wishes wouldn't hide himself from her.
"So…err… I was wondering…" Gene's hand creeps up to the back of his neck where his fingertips rub absentmindedly. He seems to struggle to decide which leg to put his weight on. "I was thinking, Bols, if you want… If you don't want then forget it, but ah… Maybe we could do this again one night? Properly, I mean. Perhaps next Saturday, if yer not busy."
The smile blooms across Alex's face and Gene instantly relaxes, his hand dropping back down by his side. "I'd love to, Gene."
"Good. Great. Well then, I'll just… I'll see you tomorrow, Bolly."
Fighting the urge to laugh at this stubborn, incorrigible, incredible man who can brave the worst of London's scum but can't ask her out on a date coherently, Alex nods and takes her key from her pocket. She is about to wish him goodnight when he pauses, turning back to face her fully.
"Oh, and Bols?"
He is looking her straight in the eye now, his gaze only wavering slightly as he seems, for a moment, to be torn. Then he says, in a tone more grateful and gentle than she has ever thought him capable of: "I meant what I said downstairs. Yer a brilliant copper. Today was… Today was one of the hardest cases we've ever worked and you… Well you were the one that kept the team together when I couldn't, so… Thank you, Bols."
For a moment, Alex can only stand staring at him in stunned silence before a smile spreads across her lips again, lighting her eyes with an affection and warmth that stuns Gene in return. "I'm alright. For a bird," she says, laughter in her voice.
Gene nods, smirking. "For a bird."
But their gazes are connected and tell a different story, and the words they are exchanging silently are so much more sincere. Beneath the jokes and their camaraderie, he is saying, thank you for being there when I needed you, and she is telling him, anytime.
She moves forward, closing the space between them as she presses her lips to his cheek, inhaling the familiar scent of him that she long ago ceased trying to put her finger on. "Goodnight, Gene."
His hand rests gently at her waist for just a brief moment as the smell of her – fresh summer air, coffee liqueur and pink wine – steals inside of him. He'll never get her out.
Well… hello again, dear readers. Long time, no see. I think this little story is going to be in four parts, one for each season. This first part is set mid-series two, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent towards the end of the next chapter/the beginning of the third. I hope you enjoyed this anyway, and I'd love to know what you think so far! Thank you very much for reading.
Disclaimer – Ashes to Ashes does not belong to me, and neither do the lyrics to Billy Joel's 'Scenes From An Italian Restaurant'.