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The blank of what he was

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Like all of Alex's best and worst nights since Layton, it starts in Luigi's, home of terrible, wonderful, horrible, splendid ideas, like any place with lots of alcohol. It starts--unlike some ideas she's had lately--with Jim, who is looking for love--and aren't they all?--and with enough wine to drown the thought of Gene and everything he'll say if it ever comes out she's been flirting with the rubber-heeler from D&C.

Not that anyone would tell him--Luigi likes her too well, and there's no one else around she recognizes. Chris and Ray couldn't hide in here if they wanted to, and Shaz wouldn't. There's not a lot of female solidarity going around CID, with only the two of them, but Shaz wouldn't let the side down.

But there's the illusion of privacy, if nothing else, for Alex and Jim at a table with several empty bottles between them. It's a situation that feels entirely too familiar except that he isn't loud, isn't crude, isn't half-jokingly threatening to drag her upstairs by her hair and have his wicked way with her, the way less restrained men would be by this hour and this many glasses. He's looking at her over the rims of his spectacles and giving her a look, little boy lost, as though he's almost as far from home as she is.

"So," he says, and she doesn't know what the end of the sentence will be. Something about Sam Tyler, maybe, or about Fenchurch East and the way it's all gone to Hell, or about Gene and the things she could tell him to put everything right and turn the system on its head.

She could tell Jim so many things, things that she could've told her mother once, sitting just like this. Things she could've said to fix things, when she knew exactly what needed to be fixed but not how to do it. Things that might've changed the world if she'd told her father, distracted him from the horrors in his head.

But she doesn't have the words.

"Yes?" she says, letting Jim ask the real questions, rather than letting all the things in her mind spill out of her mouth. It would hardly do to bring up her parents, like this, and there is no way she can tell anyone that her parents were Tim and Caroline Price, not even Jim. Though he is odd enough that he might believe her, after a fashion; if he didn't, the consequences would be dire. Bad enough that he thinks Gene is the throwback that he patently is, but if he thought Alex should be sectioned he might even be right.

"I was thinking," he says, and leans across the table to confide. Discipline and Confidences, maybe. "If you wanted, maybe. We might--" and he glances at the ceiling.

It's so entirely unlike all the blokes--and she uses the word advisedly--she's had this time through the 80's. Jim is a gentleman by comparison. He's easy enough to interpret, but his hands are right on the table, not grabbing for her arse, and he hasn't insulted her or decided he had to get her staggering drunk.

Not that she's not, but that was her choice, and he's only paid half, or put half on his tab, whichever.

Alex isn't sure Luigi's let him open a tab, come to that. He's got some complex set of rules about who can and who can't, these days. The economics of keeping a police station worth of hard-drinking, low-paying coppers in booze can't be good, and she can't recall the last time she paid in full.

"I was thinking that, too," she says, skipping over all the other things she's been thinking. "Get your coat."

Standing up isn't the simplest, but when she's done it, she can make it to the door, and on the way up the stairs her head clears enough that she knows what she's doing.

Enough that she catches Jim on the first landing, holds one of his too-cold hands in hers and kisses him.

She knows damned well that if he were anyone else, he'd have her against the wall by now, pressing against her until she couldn't breathe. Anyone else, in this case, being the only other person she'd be likely to find herself stumbling upstairs with; but he's busy tonight, or drinking alone, or both. Alex has had enough of the other men of this decade not to bother with them, but Jim's not quite of this decade, though he hasn't done a damned thing to prove her conviction. He's no Summers, but she would never have kissed Summers.

Jim is more careful than certain Neanderthals she could name, protecting her dignity as though she has any dignity to protect, keeping his hands above her waist in case anyone happens by at gone midnight. He hums against her mouth and smiles at her when he breaks off the kiss. "Just a few more flights, isn't it?"

"Two more," she says, and hesitates, waiting for him to take the lead. He must have looked up her address, sometime, to know what floor she's on. Then again, he does seem to have a good head for details. Perhaps he merely remembers it from when he'd pulled her files.

Jim doesn't go anywhere till she does, and then he's far enough behind her that she doesn't expect him to touch her. Alex can't decide whether she wishes he'd be as pushy as--he's not--or whether it's a welcome change. Whichever it is, they're in her flat before long, and she locks the door safely before she kisses him.

His chilly fingers feel too careful on her cheek, as though he might break her if he did what he wanted. His tongue is bolder than that, and Alex is bolder still, taking over when he falls back, sure that if he wanted to turn her down at this point he'd be clearer than this. "The bedroom's through here," she says, and pulls him that way. She's had more than her share of assignations on the couch, but not tonight, not like this. He deserves better, and she probably does, too.

"Ah," he says, and when she unfastens his trousers, he stares at her in the light from the street, like a startled bloody deer instead of a man. "Alex--"

"What's the matter?" She's half-afraid he's lost his nerve or his verve, with all that wine, but if he's lost the latter it's only in the last few moments--and no, that isn't it, when she glances down to see.

"You're overwhelming." Jim softens it a bit with a smile, which is more than any number of men have ever bothered with, when they've said as much to her. Not that I'm complaining--that was Pete's disclaimer--it's just that you make me feel--and then they don't finish the sentence, ever. Unmanly, unmanned, and unmanageable.

Alex wasn't expecting such a complaint here, from him--

She wasn't expecting it, has never heard it, from Gene.

Who isn't, she reminds her drunken mind, there. Thank God.

Alex bites her tongue against "You've never said that before," because of course Jim hasn't, wouldn't have had the chance. "Sorry," she says instead.

"Don't be, don't be," quickly, gently. "Just--" he shakes his head. "Keep on, and I'll see if I can keep up."

He gives as good as he gets with the next kisses, with his hands on her breasts--careful, sweet, and there's something she's not had half enough of in this decade--easing her trousers off and nuzzling at the curve of her neck.

She half-wonders if he's in love with her, or thinks he is, and she puts that aside for another time. She's not, couldn't be, would never be in love with him, and he's not so foolish that he could be fooling himself.

But she's still expecting him to turn the tables on her when she's kneeling over him, her thighs spread over his and his face flushed in the dark, near as red as his prick. Any second now, he'll hook her legs with his and put his weight into it.

Except that she's waiting for it out of habits that have nothing to do with Jim. He doesn't, and he puts his hands on her shoulders for a moment, then her waist, his touch so light it's nearly delicate. "Please," he says, as though she hasn't been wanting this as badly as he has, as though she could stand to tease him and pull away now. "Please--"

"God, yes," Alex says, and eases down onto him, slow as she can manage.

Jim shudders, but doesn't tug or shove, just lets her do what she will, his hands light on her thighs.

Alex bites her lip, digs her fingers into his sides, pushes faster until she's doing all the bloody work--and isn't that just like D&C, is the voice in her head, except that she hasn't any real experience with them and least of all like this--and Jim has his hands flat on the bed at his sides as though she's ordered him not to touch her. "Just--" Alex has to gasp for breath to say it, has to take him by the wrist and press his fingers where she needs them.

It's as though that's his on switch as much as the thing that turns her on; he opens his eyes wider, wakes up a bit, and meets her next stroke down with a thrust of his hips. "God--" he says, half a groan. When he is focused, he's amazing, but she knew that going in.

"Like that," she says, a direction and a question in one.

Jim smiles, his mouth opening in the middle with another moan, a look of wonder in his eyes like he's never had this before, vulnerable without his glasses, more innocent than she'd have credited.

Alex can't believe that of him, can't believe there's anything innocent in the insistent, persistent, perfect way he's stroking her and stroking into her. Nothing virginal in Jim, no--it must be that it's been too long for him, as it's been for her.

She's not counting several instances, in that count, but none of them were a thing like this. She hasn't been able to take the lead in far, far too long, in any number of ways, and she could have him like this again--he is so focused, his eyes narrowing, his breath coming faster--

Next time, she promises herself, she'll ask if she can tie his hands, give him an excuse to keep them out of the way while she rides him again. The thought of it--Jim powerless, in ways that--no one--would be for her, here, now, like this--sends her over the edge, keeping her moan as wordless as a moan can be because there's any number of things she won't say to him.

Not least that she wants to tie him down, not like this, not when it could be overwhelming. But most of all there are things she'll never admit to him.

She needs him to respect her, after all, and she's sure he has his suspicions of what's gone on. Fenchurch East CID is a muddle and no mistake, and the interpersonal relationships aren't half the problem; they might be most of the problem.

None of the things Jim might know are holding him back at the present moment, when he's pressing his hand against her knee--not squeezing, so fucking polite--and saying, "Oh, God, Alex," as he comes, his innocent veneer going away in the throes.

Alex runs her fingers over his chest as he gets his breath back. "Not too overwhelming?" she asks, trying to make a joke of it, though she's afraid it comes out sounding as though she's been obsessing over that phrase almost as much as she has been.

Jim chuckles and catches her hand, pulling her fingers up to his mouth. She's expecting him to nibble them, but he kisses her knuckles like he's being introduced to the queen. "Precisely overwhelming enough."

"Mm. So were you." Alex braces herself and gets off him, swinging herself over to lie beside him. She's not much for cuddling, and she's not sure she wants to sleep with him yet, but she's not ready to be alone for the night, either. "We might do that again, sometime."

"I'd like that," Jim says, and Alex kisses him when he doesn't seem likely to try it.

It's a relief to be in control, if only a little bit, for a little while.

And he will look splendid tied to her bed.