The night before the funeral, he’d told himself that the service would help. They’d all get to say goodbye, and go for a drink afterwards. Wakes are supposed to be a kind of celebration, and God knows everyone’s got good stories about Viv.
He’d told himself that funerals are there so that people can move on. He’d told himself that after tomorrow, he’d forget that feeling he’d had that he was going to lose. That it’s only grief making itself known. He knows all about grief. There was enough of it after Sam went to last a lifetime. You get over it, eventually. Or you just keep going – Christ, it’s not like anyone’s got a choice.
So no, he says to himself, as he knots his black tie. This is not the beginning of the end. It’s just a funeral. Horrible, and awful, and the guilt makes him want to crawl to the bottom of a bottle and stay there until the end of time – but that’s normal. It is not the beginning of the end.
He wishes his guts agreed with his head.
Shit, he just wants today to be over.
They’re closing the curtains on Viv’s coffin. Time for the final farewell. Only nothing can go right, and they jam, jerking backwards and forwards, grinding machinery audible over the organ. A chapel full of coppers singing Abide With Me, and the bloody vicar can’t get it right. It’s a shambles, and he can only take it for a moment before he puts the hymn-sheet down, and strides to the front. A strong yank sorts out the problem – as the curtains resume their journey, he finds himself face to face with the coffin, lilies and Skip’s helmet on top.
For the cock up. And for everything else that went wrong, that led them here. No one should be given to the flames today.
When he gets back to his pew, standing next to Drake, Chris is laughing. Laughing. There’s a flash of rage in his chest, but he says nothing. Just glares at him, half in disbelief – but when he tries to carry on with the hymn, he can still hear stifled giggles. His fingers clench around the edge of his book, but this is not the time to speak.
~ ~ ~
‘I remember when we were evicted from paradise, and sent down to this Southern shithole. Viv came over to me, shook me hand and said he was sorry, but all Northerners looked the same to him.’ He can see the man’s grin now. Rock-steady, and smart. Everything you want in a desk sarge, and a mate. ‘Said he’d look after me.’
He vaguely hears Ray’s words in response, but mostly he stares at nothing. Chris says something. Shaz says something.
‘When it came to it, it was my turn to look after him.’ He drains his wine.
‘Guv, it wasn’t your fault. It was nobody’s fault but Viv’s.’
He says nothing. He knows that’s not true. And then Chris knocks over his bottle of beer, and the rage that’s been simmering since the (prison) chapel erupts quicker than anyone can blink.
‘I’ve just lost one of my finest, an’ now I’m left with officers like you, Skelton, you clumsy bastard.’
He flings his glass at the wall as hard as he can; as it shatters, he rounds on Chris with fury.
‘Signore Hunt, please!’
‘Show some respect!’
‘Guv. Gonna be alright. We’re all gonna be alright…’
Ray’s hand is on his shoulder, but he doesn’t want it. Ray isn’t going to help here.
~ ~ ~
She sits at her desk in the deserted squad room, trying to collect her thoughts. She doesn't have time to grieve. None of them do. Though why she feels that pressure, she couldn't say.
The young copper looks back at her from the black and white photograph. It looks old, possibly decades. She can see more, now that she can actually look at him for more than a few moments. She can see the whole of his visage, untouched by violence. She can see those intense eyes. She can see his epaulette numbers, clearly. 6620.
But she can't tear her eyes away from his face. He was so young.
"Another good officer gone, Alex."
Keats startles her from her reverie, and she isn''t exactly glad of it. "Sir." She's still in the clothes she wore to the funeral, and her voice is quiet, subdued.
"Find a dead police officer, and a penny to a pound, you'll find Gene Hunt standing over him."
"If you don't mind, sir, I've got things to do."
"Still, you're the lucky one." He continues on, as if she hadn't even spoken. "Your bullet didn't kill you."
"It was an accident." The sentiment is crisp and clear, her accent posh enough to cut glass.
He stubs out his fag and crosses the floor to stand beside her, looking down at the photo in her hands. "Who's this?"
For a moment, she hesitates, as if she might tell him it's nothing. But no. There's no reason to keep the truth from him. "Sounds stupid but, um. You know the ghost I was telling you about?" She nods to the photograph.
"Where'd you find it?"
She looks up at him, and then away, knowing what he's going to say before he even opens his mouth. "The Guv's office."
"Huh. Another dead copper?" He laughs in disbelief, his disdain so thick you could cut it with a knife. "He's slippery. Even putting this report together, working right here, next to him, he covers his tracks."
She cuts him off. "He's a good copper."
"He's a killer."
She can't answer that. She knows it's not true, but he seems so sure of it.
"And this?" He reaches down and picks up the undeveloped roll of film. And again, she stammers.
"That was with it -- can I -- I'm gonna get it developed." She holds out her hand, feeling her control of the situation slipping away.
Keats just looks at her, turning it over in his hand. "Well, we've got superior facilities at D&C. I'll do it." His voice turns sweet, as if he's doing her a favour and not trodding all over her wishes.
She watches his hand disappear into his pocket, her heart sinking. Wary eyes follow his progress around her desk, until he's leaning over her, laughing again, as if this is all some grand farce, and he's here to straighten her out.
"You know, um. You could no more turn your back on a bent copper than stop breathing." Her lips thin into a fine line. "We're the same, you and me."
That does it. Alex stands, looking down on him this time. "Except, I don't want it to be true. So we're not the same, are we?"
"The time has come, Alex." This time it's his expression that sours. "Do what you were put here to do. Get me Gene Hunt."
~ ~ ~
The next day, she approaches Ray, one eye on Gene's back through the glass of his office windows.
"How is he?"
They both glance across at him. "How do you think he is? He blames himself."
"Have you heard anything from your friend in Manchester, about the epaulette numbers?"
Ray exhales a cloud of smoke, and shakes his head. "No."
"Well, could you ask them again?"
"What's so important about some plod's epaulette numbers?"
She doesn't have time or the energy for his surly attitude. "It's just a line of inquiry. I need an ID. Please Ray."
He sighs, and mutters, "All right."
~ ~ ~
This is probably the time he should be out among the troops, rallying spirits. He can’t bring himself to bother. There aren’t any major on-going cases. He’s free to stand in his office with his back to whatever they’re talking about out there, and stare out of the window.
He’s too tired for any of this. When he hears her come into the office – no one else would enter without knocking – he doesn’t look around.
‘Bugger off, I’m grieving.’