I don't own any of the characters of Ashes to Ashes
It was odd what could pass through hospitals unnoticed, Alex thought as she looked through the glass window into the private ward. Odd, surely, that two people of the same name, and the same profession and the same date of birth for all but the year, could be kept next door to one another without anybody noticing. Surely, in the modern age of 2008, where everything was done with computers and medical history could be brought up at the click of a button, someone might think it interesting at the very least, that two women of the same build, name, job, habits and medical information were right beside one another.
She supposed it was just how life had unfolded; it had, after all, been technically twenty-six years since she had been shot in 1982 and sent into a coma, not the few weeks or so that it felt to her. She didn't at all resemble the woman in the white-sheeted bed now; the hair was straggly and though there were still strands of brown here and there, the white shock of old age was steadily imprinting itself in Alex's mind, and she was terrified to see what life had in store for her. Looking at her - herself, she realized- it was difficult to know what to think. The lips were thin, white and dry, and the skin that stretched across her pale face was dry and cracked with age that didn't befit, for a second, even the fifty-odd years of her 1982-comatosed self. She had never been of a plump disposition, Alex thought, but looking at herself, and the sallow, thinness of her own features in twenty or so years time, she felt rather as though she were overweight to an insulting degree. Looking away from the pale face, her eyes dragged down to the hands resting on top of the bedsheet, withered and shrunken, the bones brittle and the green of the veins standing out like a sore thumb from the rest of her. She shivered, passing her eyes to the strangely elongated fingers, looking overly pointed and breakable. And then, her eyes fell on the left hand, and the sparkle of a diamond, glinting from the wedding finger in the limited light that trickled through the blinds. She gasped, falling away from the window and backing up against the wall on the opposite side of the corridor, her head ringing with the one question; who? Insanely, the fact she was wearing an engagement ring on her past-selfs hand that she couldn't remember recieving didn't bother her nearly as much as the fact she didn't know whose ring it was.
And then, as if in answer, he turned the corner and pushed his way into the room.
Gene Hunt barely even noticed the woman on the other side of the corridor as he entered; he barely noticed anything these days. In fact, if it wasn't for knowing he had Alex to visit, he doubted he'd even be noticing the fact he was alive anymore. As it was, he only really noted a pair of leather shoes as he pushed the door open and slid inside, having been here so many times now that he could have counted his steps with his eyes closed and still got there at the same pace as he always did, and he really didn't bother to take note of his surroundings anymore... he had done, for the first month or so, and then he'd known it was just white, sterile and unnecessarily clean and had taken to thinking over anything and everything to distract himself.
Now, he seated himself on the wicker chair that he'd never bothered to replace on any of his visits, pulling it close to the left side of the bed and taking the cool, shrivelled hand in his own larger, much warmer one.
"'ello Bols," he said gruffly, moving so that he was able to stroke the grey hair away from her face with his spare hand. "Ray said t' tell you that 'is Alex is expectin'... two months along.. bloody 'ell, right?" His eyes drifted to her stomach and he sighed. "'ow you feeling? Doctor said the girl next door woke up few weeks ago... your turn soon then, 'ey love?"
It had been twenty six years, five months and three days since Alex had been shot, and yet he still came here every day, always wishing, hoping, praying that today would be the day she'd wake up... as yet, he'd had no such luck, but he refused to give in; he'd been many things, back in the day, but a slacker wasn't one of them, and he knew that if needs be, he'd visit her everyday for the rest of his life, and that when the time came to close his eyes for good, he'd do it here, with Alex next to him, just like it was meant to be...
"She gone 'ome now, Bols... gone 'ome to her fella, I suppose... but that's fine... 'cause when you wake up, I'll take you 'ome an' all... s'long as you don't mind me smokin' o'course..." He stood and pressed his lips to her forehead. "Wish I could stay longer," he said gruffly, "but Chris 'nd Shaz wanna see me bout some'in or other, so I can't... I'll be back tomorrow though..." He held her hand between both of his, bringing it to his lips, eyes falling on her ring as he said softly, "soon as you wake up, Bols, I'll ask you properly... love you, Alex. I'm sorry."
He'd said it every day since; as far as he was concerned, he would never be able to apologize enough. Reaching into his pockets, he pulled out a chap-stick, the first of which he'd found in her flat two weeks after she'd slipped into the coma, and rubbed it gently along her lips before dropping a gentle kiss to her now slightly less dry mouth. Then he left, a single tear sliding down his cheek.
Alex felt her heart leap up to his chest as he slithered inside, feeling her eyes tear up as he walked painfully over towards the bed. It was in that moment that she accepted, for the first time, that what she had thought to be imaginary, a fabricated construct of her subconscious, had really happened. It was then that she realized that she hadn't dredged up an unconventional man in her subconscious that she could adapt and change and then fall in love with; she hadn't been playing a game with herself, and she really had fallen in love with him. Tears burnt in her eyes as she took him in.
He was barely a shadow of what he once was; though he was still an overbearing figure to look at, there was something missing. He was hunched over now, crippled by age- he must have been in his early seventies now, she thought- and walking as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. The black overcoat he wore was probably different from the last one she had seen, but it was patched and frayed, as though thrown on only as an afterthought, and probably prompted by someone else. As he sat down in the wicker chair, Alex saw the sunken expression in his eyes, the dark bags that lined his face framing his once-bright baby-blues. They looked dull as they flickered in the light, but something sparked as his hand reached out for that of the Alex lying in the bed... He looked happier by a small margin, though now there was the added shadow of pain; guilt, she realized, and her heart went out to him. All she wanted to do at that moment was to run in and throw her arms around him, kiss away the lines of his face and tell him how sorry she was, how much he meant to her...
His mouth was moving slowly, and Alex wanted so badly to hear the words he spoke, to know why he was there, so long after her shooting... she walked across the corridor and bit her lip hesitantly. Technically, it wasn't eavesdropping, she reasoned; she was already in the room with him, it was just that niether of them were aware of it... with a deep breath she pushed her toe against the door and slowly slid the handle down, pushing forward just enough that the wooden frame was open by a centimetre or so. The familiar voice drifted out to her, slightly gruffer now, as though years of chain smoking were finally taking their toll. It was aged, too. Weaker than she remembered, and yet just as reassuring. Tears started to fall and she leant her fact against the white paintwork of the wall, body shaking with misery.
"...back tomorrow though," he said, and Alex looked up to see Gene lifting the coma-Alex's hand to his lips in a tender gesture that made her heartache all the greater. "Soon as you wake up, Bols, I'll ask you properly... love you, Alex... I'm sorry." And she watched as he reached into his pocket, pulling out the same chap-stick she'd used in 1982- it had been strawberry flavour, she remembered, and she'd kept a large stock of it in her bedside drawer in case the shops ran out. In fact, she seemed to recall smiling at the shop assistants bemused face as she piled fifteen of them onto the counter in front of him... thinking about it, she was probably the reason they ran out... Now, Gene was gently rubbing it to her lips, in a movement that wasn't rushed and that said he did it often, that he treasured it; his thumb brushed briefly against the corner of her mouth and Alex assumed that he'd slipped slightly and was cleaning it up, before he leant down to press his lips lovingly to those of the woman before him. If it had been anyone but Gene, she might have thought this a bit presumptuous, kissing her as she slept unawares, but as it was, Alex was sure she felt her lips tingle, and her eyes brimmed over again as Gene emerged from the door, a single line down his cheek telling her all she needed to know, though as before he didn't pay her any recognition, and he was gone within thirty seconds.
It took her three days before she felt brave enough to return; she'd been at a checkup before and had simply overheard something about 'the other Alex Drake' when passing by the nurses from her ward. Now, she was simply there because she wanted to know... needed to know... but she didn't know what it was she needed. Seeing Gene, she thought, would solve all her problems, and so at eleven o'clock she entered the corridor that had been the root of all her dreams and nightmares for the last three nights. He didn't show until four, after she'd been sat, trying to look inconspicuous, for hours, with a book open on her lap, though she didn't think she'd turned the page once. When he emerged round the corner, her heart leapt and twisted in her chest. He slipped inside the room as before, and she ran across to open the door slightly once again. He wasn't talking, and when she looked in through the window, he was simply holding the frail hand and looking at Alex's closed eyes adoringly. It sent shivers down her spine; was this what dying would be like, she wondered? Would it be eavesdropping on your loved ones as they sat clutching at your cold hands and told you how they felt? And should it hurt this much, when all she was seeing was that the man she'd loved more than any other in her whole life had loved her back?
"Oh Bols," he murmured finally, and Alex's ears pricked up at the sound of his voice. "When you gunna wake up for me, 'ey? I know you said you migh' go away at some point but... didn't think you'd be gone like this... an' not for this long..." He was stroking the back of her hand with his thumb and Alex felt her heart squeezing and tightening in her chest. "I miss you, yer dippy tart... please wake up... just wanna tell you... just the once, Bolly... just need you to be awake when I say it..."
With a gut-wrenching sob, Alex pulled away from the door, running to the ladies room and locking herself in the toilet, sitting, as she had done once at school when Deirdre Partridge had teased her for having no parents, with her knees tucked up to her chest, feet on the seat as she looked at the coat hook on the back of the door, rocking backwards and forwards... back and forth, repeatedly, with the mantra of his name playing in her mind... Gene... Gene... Gene...
He woke up with a pain in his chest that morning. It wasn't like indigestion, or heartburn, or any of the many things that scientists had developed immediate cures for over the years; it was definitely nothing a bloody Rennie was going to fix, and he felt, strongly, that it wasn't going to go away. He knew he hadn't looked after himself over the years; he'd lost a couple of stone since Bolly wound up in hospital, but that was from stress, and he knew his body wasn't holding up. He'd had a few checkups, half-heartedly, every now and then, when Chris and Shaz took it upon themselves to tell him they thought he was looking ill... and by ill, of course, they meant more ill than normal... or nearly dead... he couldn't remember the last time he'd looked in the mirror and had pink skin instead of grey. The truth was, he just didn't care enough to do anything about it. If Alex had been awake, she'd have probably kicked him up the arse, told him to drop the fags, skip the booze and start running ten miles a day.. of course, if Alex had been awake, he wouldn't need to do any of those things, because the reason he needed those things was that he'd lost the will to look after himself the day his finger pulled that bloody trigger... he still wondered, sometimes, if he'd fired the killing bullet... alright, it hadn't killed her, but it was doing a bloody good job of killing him a little bit every day, and sometimes, in the days he convinced himself it was Jeanette that shot her, not him, there was a brief ray of light on the horizon... then he would tumble back to earth with the knowledge that, given where she was shot, it had been completely the wrong angle for Jeanette to have fired...
Now he was sat at her bedside, feeling the pain in his chest tightening slightly. He ground his teeth briefly, then looked at her face; the tightness loosened, and he smiled sadly, "Oh Bols," he sighed. "When you gunna wake up for me, 'ey? I know you said you migh' go away at some point but... didn't think you'd be gone like this... an' not for this long..." He rubbed what he hoped would have been soothing circles into the back of her hand, "I miss you, yer dippy tart... please wake up... just wanna tell you... just the once, Bolly... just need you to be awake when I say it..." He felt desperation building in his chest, bigger than anything he'd felt in all the twenty six years he'd sat on this very chair. He'd begged her to wake up on occasion, like on his fiftieth birthday, when all he wanted in the world was to kiss her lips and feel her respond to him, but even that had paled in comparison to this, this desperate need to see her eyes flicker open and see the smile in them just once... because he knew his clock was ticking. He'd known since the first day he'd sat here, when the makeup had still been on her face and her hair had still been that lovely brown colour, in those stupidly tight curls that bounced everywhere and had always made him want to just hold them in his fists and kiss her fiercely, that his clock was on a ticker, and that every day without her little posh voice was the second hand ticking, making its way around in a repetitive circle that, one day, would just stop, starved of energy. Batteries dead. He felt that today; like he was running on the last reserves of energy and he wouldn't keep going for much longer.
"Should've told you before, Bolly... shouldn't have got angry 'bout that tape... bloody knew you were bonkers before that... don't care though Bols... its the future now... you said thats where you come from... please, Alex... need you..." his voice cracked, and he lay his head down across her stomach, hearing the reassuring pulsating of her veins, slow, yet strong. Hot tears spilled freely down his face as he cried for her, for everything he'd never said, and for everything they'd never had.
He cried for never having felt her lips moving against his.
He cried for never having held her to his chest and told her he loved her.
He cried for the fact she'd always think he was angry at her, when all he'd ever wanted was to feel her love him in return.
He cried for the knowledge that somewhere, her daughter didn't even know what had happened to her.
He cried for the family they might have had, and the friends they might have made.
He cried for the nights they never shared, and for never having woken up to the feel of her arms around his back.
He cried for never having bothered to learn the tiny details that made her Alex.
He cried because whatever he did, and however many tears fell from his eyes, he knew she wouldn't wake up.
He cried for the knowledge that this was all his fault.
He cried for the guilt that ran through his veins day by day.
He cried until he had no tears left to cry.
Alex finally let herself out of the cubicle two hours after she had initially locked herself in, her hands shaking and her face red and puffy. Looking at herself in the mirror, she felt ugly and conservative; everything about 2008, except for Molly, was different... horribly so. In 1982, there was more colour, more action, more fun and more laughter, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd thought it, but curly hair really did suit her better than this lank mess. She sniffed and grabbed a tissue from the dispenser, moving out of the room slowly, absent mindedly retracing her steps to the room where Gene was leant over the bed.
He was still, face to one side, looking, she assumed, up towards Alex's face. He looked peaceful, though of course she could only see the back of his head, but there was no way of seeing the slump in his shoulders when he lay like this. His sunken face wasn't visible and all she saw was a man very much in love; it made her heart sing and break to know that the woman he loved was her...
And then she was doing the unthinkable, walking through the door and towards the man who'd changed her life forever, hand outstretched to touch his shoulder.
He didn't react.
He watched Alex's face... she looked peaceful, thankfully, and he thought, not for the first time, that she was the single most beautiful woman he'd ever had the good fortune to meet. It didn't matter that she was connected to a drip, that she hadn't worn makeup in years, or that the lines on her face told stories of more years than she'd ever been able to live... she was Bolly; perfect, wonderful Bolly, and as far as he was concerned, it was all she'd ever needed to be. He wished he would be around to greet her when she woke up, to tell her how much he loved her and every other poncy, nancy thought that had ever ran through his mind. He wanted to hold her, kiss her, have her children and settle down for life... but there was a tingling sensation in his left arm, and he knew, more than ever, that it wouldn't, couldn't, happen. He grasped her tender, frail hand with his own sweaty, clammy one, and pressed his lips to her wrist. His breath was short, and he could only manage a few tender moments before he had to pull his mouth back, holding her hand to his rapidly beating heart.
"I love you, Alex Drake... bloody posh tart. Always bloody have... Gunna miss you, Bollinger Knickers... love you..." he laid his head back on her stomach, looking up to her face one more, a smile breaking through his features. "Love you... g'night love..."
He closed his eyes, smile never leaving his lips; he'd heard somewhere that when a persons heart begins to fail, their life flashed before their eyes and they became aware of a fear greater than any they had ever known, a fear of death that was so overwhelming they began to hyperventilate. He didn't feel any of that. He knew everything he'd ever wanted, and, though the situation wasnt how he'd have imagined it, he had it all right before him; his Bolly - the love of his life, his hand clasping hers and tracing gentle circles in her skin until his last breath, where he whispered a soft, "love you Bols... you got great tits..." And he felt the warmth of her skin beneath his fingers, heard the soft pulse of her heart on the monitor and the gentle rhythm of her breath, before he slid into the darkness, a smile on his face that broke through the shadow of twenty-six years of grieving.
People would say at his funeral that he wanted to go out fighting; he would tell them he'd gone out just the way he wanted, with the knowledge he'd met the love of his life, and he spent his last moments in her company.
Alex blinked, holding her hand in place on his shoulder for several moments before whispering, "Gene?"
When no response came, she walked around to look at him, his face peaceful and younger looking, a smile on his lips and his eyes closed. He looked beautiful and wonderful, and she smiled. "Oh Gene," she reached out to stroke his cheek, then stopped, heart stilling in her ribs and breath stopping at the coolness of his skin... "Gene?"
She began to panic, her breaths sharp as her fingers sought out a pulse at his neck; finding none, she tried his wrist, his temple... nothing. She began to cry.
She fell to her knees and held one hand to his face, stroking along the lines of his face, trying to memorise it all, every contour, every ridge... she was crying unashamedly, rivers of tears cascading down her cheeks.
"Oh Gene," she sobbed. "I'm sorry Gene... I didn't want to leave you... I did... but I didn't... I needed Molly.. but... Gene... oh Gene, I needed you too!" She threw her arms over him, sobbing into the black overcoat she'd always loved, smelling him; he hadn't changed. There was the hint of whiskey, the smell of stale cigarettes and a slight dash of Old Spice... trust Gene to never change his soap, whatever year it was...
It was many hours later, once Alex had overcome her grief enough to tell a nurse, that she was sat in the waiting room, being handed a coffee by the wards receptionist.
"Did he ever talk about her?" Alex asked softly. "Ever... ever say why he came so often?"
The receptionist frowned, sitting herself down as though deep in thought. "Once," she said finally, looking at Alex with a sad smile. As though reading Alex's need for further information she said, "a man's wife was on here for four years... she died a few months ago, in fact... anyway... two years in, the man decided he had to move on with his life... that he needed to live without her..." she sighed. "He got angry... really angry... irrationally so in some respects..."
"Oh I can imagine," Alex murmured with a warm, if shaky, smile.
The nurse smiled, nodding and carrying on. "He said that if he really loved her he'd... oh I can't remember his exact phrasing... but it was along the lines of... I think it was 'get his poncy arse back in there and wait for her'..." she smiled. "Something like that, anyway... then he said how all the life in the world wasn't worth a dime if he was living without the woman he loved... makes you think maybe there are some decent men out there after all..."
Alex nodded. The receptionist didn't know how true that was; he was the most decent man she could ever hope to meet.
"I suppose it's sad, really," the receptionist went on, voice soft. "He had to come every day to see her... left his job for her, apparently... they worked together you see... couldn't do it without her I heard... and I suppose he really did think she'd wake up someday... even after twenty-six years..."
"It's a long time to wait," Alex said softly.
Nodding, the receptionist looked back to Alex's face. "Yes... but she didn't have a next of kin marked down... nobody to turn the machine off when we thought we couldn't wake her up... she's just laid there with him holding her hand every day... and he's never even complained." She shook her head dazedly. "The number of people who come in here and rant and scream and yell as though it'll wake them up... he didn't... just sat there, talking to her like she could hear it all... suppose thats what they tell you to do, but it's hard to keep it up for long... I walked in once to check her vitals, and he was telling her about the house he'd wanted them to have... sounded lovely... course, she didn't know anything about it... didn't know he loved her at all from the sounds of it... but he did, Miss, oh he did."
Alex nodded, throat constricted. "Yes... I can imagine he would. He seemed... he seemed to."
The receptionist looked at her, intrigued, "did you know him, then?"
"Oh... we were close once... yes..." she smiled. "She was lucky to have him..." Eyes burning, she stood. "I should go... thank you."
"Course Miss... not at all."
Molly was watching the telly when Alex got home, and seeing her mother, she leapt from the sofa and threw her arms around her waist. "What's wrong, Mum?"
Her tears fell onto Molly's face and she wept, stood there grasping her daughter to her chest and crying without shame. "Oh Molly... he's gone... Gene's gone... my poor Gene..." her knees crumpled beneath her, and she and Molly ended up seated on the floor, Alex's head resting on Molly's shoulder as she cried and cried and cried.
"You've said that name before..." Molly said quietly. "You said it when you were sleeping... at the hospital. You said it a few times... who's Gene?"
Alex smiled. "A wonderful, wonderful man, Molly..."
Molly managed to half-grin in return, "would I like him?" she asked weakly.
Nodding, Alex sighed. "You'd love him, Molly... really love him."
There was a small silence, before Alex replied, weakly and sadly. "Yes, Molly. I love him."
And then Molly put her arms around her mother and said, her voice cracking as tears threatened to break. "Then why aren't you with him?"
"Because you need me, Molly..." there was no doubt in her voice, but it wasn't full of emotion as it should have been, and Molly sighed.
"I think you need him, Mum... can't you find him?"
She shook her head. "No, Mols... he's not here... he's a long, long way away now..."
"There is no distance too far among friends, Mum, remember?"
Alex smiled. She did remember. It had been Molly's tenth birthday, and her best friend Daisy had been moving to America the next week... Alex had quoted it as Molly broke down in her arms, and to her knowledge, they were still writing to one another.
"I wish that was true in this case Molly... he's twenty-years ago..."
Molly didn't ask; her Mum had been coming out with crazy things like that for weeks, ever since she woke up, in fact. "Then I'll build you a time machine. You need him, Mummy."
"Oh Mols," she sighed. "I love you. I won't be leaving you again, I promise. I need to be with you... I need you."
"I love you too. But you need him more."
"Nothing's impossible... you just have to work it out."
"You need a parent..." Alex argued weakly.
"I've got Evan; you need Gene. Now stop arguing with me. I'm always right."
Alex smiled. Molly had definitely got Alex's stubborn streak.
When she woke up the next morning, there was a warm pressure on her stomach, and without thinking, her fingers sought it out, tangling themselves in the short, soft hair, her nostrils flaring as she inhaled the wonderful scent of cigarettes, whiskey, and Old Spice. She was home.
"Bols?" He murmured sleepily.
Alex smiled. "What year is it?"
There was a confused silence, then a muttered, "its eighty two Bols... just like it's been for six months..."
Alex smiled. "I'm glad... and Gene?"
"I love you too... and you sound very sexy when you've just woken up." Eyes still closed, she ran her hands over his face, feeling the soft skin, unblemished by the lines that she had committed to memory.
Gene frowned. "I thought you were sleeping, Bollykegs?"
"Oh I was... I just heard that bit..." she cracked her eyes open to see him lifting his head, only then becoming aware of the fact his hand was holding one of hers, and that there was a ring glinting suspiciously on her finger... Gene looked sheepish as she noticed it.
"Sorry... they said you might not... thought you wouldn't wake up... didn't wanna have to... thought you might want to... didn't want you thinking I was still angry."
Alex smiled softly. "I hope you kissed me first, Mr Hunt."
He turned red, a trait she would later decide to be very endearing, and looked down as he muttered. "Didn't wanna push my luck..."
Laughing, Alex cupped his cheek. "Well, if I say I'll marry you, will you kiss me?"
He nodded, leaning forwards, then stopping inches from her face. "What makes you think this is gunna work, Alex?"
"Lets just say," she whispered, "that being in a coma can alert you to some very interesting things... like the fact that you, Mr Hunt, are one of the most sincere men in existence. Now kiss me, and show me I'm not wrong."
He smiled warmly before pressing his lips gently to hers. "You're not Bols. I do love you, you posh tart."