Alex knows that in the police force, there are good days and bad days. There are days when you get a case, unravel the details, bang up a criminal and piece a family back together all before dinnertime, days when you feel you're doing something worthwhile, when you are straightening out your own little piece of the world.
And then there are the days when everything goes wrong. The days when you have to tell a mother that their child has been killed, the days when you want to scream because the system is so completely useless and you feel like a fool for ever believing in it. Days when it all seems futile, meaningless, insurmountable.
Days like today.
It is pouring, rain bouncing off road and pavement and steps as they slam the doors of the Quattro and trudge into the police station. No one speaks as they burst into CID, but Alex notices that some of the older officers - Bammo, Iggy, Big Rob - shake their heads and drop their gazes. Everyone knows that the deaths today - three thirteen-year-olds, kids, for Christ's sake - weren't justified. Everyone knows they could have been stopped.
Gene storms into his office and slams the door so hard the glass rattles in the pane. There is a heartbeat of total silence, where everyone stops, waits, wonders what they should be doing now there is no big case, no monster to find, and then they drop suddenly, abruptly into their seats and the buzz of conversation - forced, a little shaky - resumes.
Alex sits at her desk, pen in hand but the lid still on, icy shock being slowly replaced by a long, gnarled finger of fury. They could have stopped this. She thinks of Molly, feels her stomach lurch as she imagines someone telling her that her baby has been killed, murdered, treated like vermin, and gets to her feet so suddenly that she knocks the phone off her desk.
It clatters to the floor with a rattle of parts but she just picks it up and slams it back down on the table, filled with anger at him, at them, at this whole bloody stupid world that her heart keeps telling her is real even when her mind knows it can't be.
Her hand is on the doorknob when he throws the door open and stands in front of her, hands on hips, glaring down at her with the angry scowl that feels like he is spitting fire.
"DI Drake. What a lovely surprise. Do come in, I'll just compound the joy that is your presence by removing my fingernails without painkillers."
She glowers back at him, feels her self-control slip away another inch. There is a rational part of her, buried beneath the fury, that knows he is not to blame for this, not really. He couldn't have known the other kids would have knives, and he couldn't have known how it would have unfolded, but that doesn't abate the need to rage against the system, against the terrible, gut-wrenching injustice of it all.
"Why didn't you let me talk to them?"
The question comes out harsher than she intended, more accusing, but she is too frustrated to care. She sees a muscle jump in his cheek.
"Alex-" His voice is low, strained, a warning.
"No, come on Gene, let's get this straight. I am on this team. I am your DI. I am trained in bloody hostage situations, and yet you tell me to sit quietly in the Quattro like a five-year-old!" She throws her hands up in the air, acutely aware that the rest of the team is watching and finding herself filled with a perverse delight in their attention. Maybe she can make them see sense, turf them out of this political grave they've dug for themselves before it's too late, before the whole Metropolitan Police Force goes to shit.
"Oh, do excuse me, I didn't realise we'd all joined the cult of Alex Drake. Quick, Raymondo, fetch my prayer mat, we're all going to kneel and bow to the bloody goddess."
"Ugh!" She runs her hands through her hair, livid now, infuriated by his flat sarcasm. "This is exactly it! This is why this whole station is regarded as some city backwater - you're incapable of even learning from your mistakes! Everything has to be right, because you say so."
"I'm sorry we can't all be as good as you, Miss Perfect-Poxy-Policewoman! Would you like us to form an orderly queue so you can give us naughty children a slap on the wrist?" His voice climbs with every word and she can see the anger, the humiliation blazing in his eyes, powerful and all-consuming as a supernova. "If you would just remove your head from your arse for ten seconds, Drake, you would see that what happened today wasn't our fault, and that the rest of us are every bit as bloody cut-up about it as you! And if you're too good for this 'city backwater', I will have no hesitation in signing your arrogant arse over to another department!"
There is a long silence. Gene's chest is heaving, his lip curled back into a scowl of fury and resentment, and she stares him out, fists clenched so tightly at her sides that her nails bite painfully into the skin of her palm.
He waits for her response, and when one doesn't come, he takes a step back. His voice, when he speaks, is ice cold.
"DC Skelton, fetch DI Drake's coat. She's leaving."
There is a pause, and then she hears the unmistakeable sounds of someone getting up, moving across the room. She feels something being pressed into her hand but she can't take her eyes off Gene, off his impervious stare, his gritted teeth. She stares at him a second longer before she snatches her coat from Chris and storms out, letting the doors slam shut behind her.
She turns up the next morning bang on time. Neither of them mentions his threat to have her transferred, but they don't exchange greetings or speak to each other at all, and the office is shrouded in an icy tension.
The case du jour is a series of armed robberies, made all the more complicated by the robber's decision to adopt different political face-masks at every hit. The rest of the team are keeping out of her way - whether on Gene's orders or because they are of the opinion she's gone mad - so she buries herself in her psychology books, taking solace in the familiarity of profile-building.
Gene slams in and out of his office for most of the morning, accompanying Ray on an interview first thing and then setting off alone in the Quattro. She resolutely avoids catching his eye and he ignores her in return, and although she pretends she is glad for the peace, his careless disregard for her burns like rejection.
They are just setting up a briefing when he marches back in, reeking of cigarette smoke and whiskey, and she keeps her eyes studiously on Chris as he bumbles his way through an explanation of the latest robbery, partly because if she looks at him, she might scream, and partly because she might break.
"Er, right, so the robber leaves the shop, takes the money, like, and scarpers." He finishes up and looks towards Alex. "You wanted to say something, didn't you, Boss?"
"Thanks Chris." She gets to her feet and moves to stand next to the board, flipping back through her notebook to the first page. She is acutely aware of Gene's eyes on her, piercing, seemingly rooting her to the spot, but she doesn't meet his gaze, just turns sideways and taps the map. "Right, I've been working this morning on building up a psychological profile. To me, he has all the hallmarks of a narcissist who is using the political activism as a cover for his own avarice. He doesn't-"
"I'm sorry, DI Drake." Gene's voice is a drawl, and he steps out from the corner with his hands in his pockets. His eyes, when they finally meet hers, are hard. "Did I forget to tell you that you're not working this case? Not that fiddling about with your psychobollocks can really be called working, but that's plonks for you." He gives her a smile that could chill an ice cube. "Seeing as you're so much better than the rest of us at solving cases, I've got a cushy little job for you down in the archives, going through our cold cases." He stretches nonchalantly. "I'm sure there are a few missing cats who are just desperate for your superior psychiatric knowledge to bail them out."
Alex stares at him, realising suddenly that she is shaking. She feels as though he has just peeled off all her skin, laid it on the ground and used it as a doormat, and the humiliation sears through her, pricks tears at her eyes that she despises for their weakness.
"You bastard." She can't even shout, she is so angry.
Gene grabs his coat, shrugs it back on and then cocks his head.
"Come on, gentlemen, beer o'clock."
And he walks out, whistling casually, leaving her standing, mortified, in front of her team.
She doesn't go into work the next day. She spent the evening alone with a bottle of Chardonnay and a Spandau Ballet tape, trying in vain to block out the sounds of shouting and laughter drifting upwards from Luigi's. She eventually fell into a fitful sleep on the sofa and dreamed of Gene, of those cold eyes, that hard voice, and watched with horror as he changed into the clown from her nightmares. She woke herself up by screaming at eight o'clock, disorientated and tired, and dragged herself into bed to go back to sleep.
When she awakes again, it is gone eleven. She still feels groggy, so she has a long shower and then curls up on the sofa with a mug of tea, a little bit hung-over and a little bit lost. She knows she should be at work, knows that giving in is exactly what Gene wants, but all the same she can't bear to sit at her desk wading through ancient reports of stolen handbags, Gene's triumphant face looming over her at seeing her so demeaned.
The day passes slowly. She drifts in and out of sleep, catching snippets of black-and-white Westerns and daytime TV, but she wakes each time feeling sick with memories of humiliation and rejection, longing for the comfort of home, of Molly, of feeling needed. There is a tiny part of her that needs to rage at him, but it is overwhelmed by a sense of bone-deep weariness at this seemingly futile struggle.
A knock on her door wakes her from another doze. For a moment she hesitates, unsure if she dreamed it, but then it sounds again, more insistent.
"Bolls? You in there?"
She sighs and falls back against the cushions. There is no one she wants to see less in that moment than Gene Hunt, yet on some incomprehensible level she is glad he's come. Sparring with him is one thing, but this argument has turned bitter and angry and resentful and she wants it to end, wants to go back to being Gene-and-Bolly, sidekicks and friends. The very thought that they ever sat down together and had a normal conversation is almost laughable now.
"Come on, Bolls, open up." He sounds tired. Good.
She hesitates a moment, then calls: "Go away."
"Praise the Lord, she speaks!" The sentence is heavy with sarcasm and she can feel herself hardening to him again, resenting him for always making her feel such a burden. There is a pause. "Come on, Bolly. I only want to see if you're all right."
"All right?" She is on her feet in an instant and she throws open the door, finds him leaning wearily against the frame. "Did you just say you wanted to know if I'm all right? Jesus, Gene, you humiliate me in front of the team, you give me a meaningless job to do just to get a kick out of seeing me squirm, and then you have the barefaced bloody cheek to come round and ask if I'm all right?" She is breathing heavily, angry at him, at what he's turning her into, but he doesn't shout back and suddenly all the fight goes out of her. She mirrors his position, leaning heavily against the doorjamb. "What do you really want, Gene?"
"Told you. Wanted to check you were okay. Not every day my DI goes AWOL." He pauses, scuffs his shoe against the carpet in a moment of uncharacteristic awkwardness. "Can I come in?"
She hesitates and then sighs, standing back to allow him past. "Whatever."
Sinking down onto the sofa and reclaiming her wine glass, she looks up at him, notices his discomfort with a tinge of black humour. It feels good to be the one at ease for once, and she makes no effort to accommodate him.
"Bolls..." he trails off, sighs, and sits down at the other end of the sofa. "I s'pose I came to apologise."
She regards him coolly. "Go on then."
"What, you want me to actually say it?" He snorts. "Bloody women."
She knows he is trying to wriggle out of it so she just watches him steadily. "Yes, I want you to say it."
"Bloody hell..." he mutters, then clears his throat. "I have come here to tell you I'm sorry, Lady Bolls, and to beg your forgiveness in this most troubling of times." He raises an eyebrow. "Would you like me to kiss your feet too?"
She gets to her feet, shaking her head, frustrated. "This doesn't mean anything to you, does it? It's all a big bloody game and now it's time to play along with my silly feminine whims so that you can have five minutes peace." She turns away. "Why don't you just piss off?"
She hears him stand up behind her, flinches as his hands find her shoulders and he yanks her round to face him. "What's the matter with you, Alex? You think you're so bloody perfect, flouncing around with your tight jeans and your perm and your psychocrap, but you're forgetting that I'm the one who came round here tonight, I'm the one who tried to make amends. You can ponce around all you like thinking you're better than us, but at the end of the day, you're just as prone to screw-ups as the rest of us." She ignores the million insults he hurls at her and just watches him, frowning. He scowls back. "What?"
"Is that really what you think? You honestly believe I think I'm perfect?"
He's wrong footed by her question, but blusters through. "Well, it bloody looks that way to me, Drake."
She shakes her head, and tears prick insistently at the backs of her eyes. "Gene, I spend my life here just trying to keep fighting. I'm not...I'm not perfect."
He swallows. "Everyone thinks you are, Bolly. Everyone thinks you've got all the answers."
"What about you?"
She looks at him for a long time and then slowly, so slowly, she crosses her arms and pulls her top over her head. She stands before him in a camisole and leggings, and he stares at her as if she's gone mad.
"Shh." Tears glitter in her eyes. "I want to show you that I'm not perfect. I want to prove to you that I'm human." She steps forward and takes his hand in hers, guides it up to her left shoulder, slides it across a break in the skin. "This is the scar I got when I was seven years old. I fell off my pony and I needed stitches."
"Only you could make infant horse-riding sound normal, Bolls," he says quietly, but she ignores him, walks through into the bathroom and returns with a cotton wool pad.
"This," she continues quietly, as she wipes it over her eyes and shows him the smear of black mascara, "is the make-up I wear so that no one notices that my nightmares kept me awake all night."
There is no light-hearted comment this time, only the steady whisper of his breath as he watches her. She meets his gaze, afraid of what she might see there, but there is no scorn, no disdain, only careful neutrality. She steps into her heels, discarded by the sofa last night, then steps out of them again, eyes still fixed on his face.
"These are the shoes I wear, so that I'm nearly as tall as you. So that you don't have to look down at me, and so that everyone thinks I'm your equal." She wonders if he can hear the quiver in her voice, and then wonders if she wants him to. Will it make things better, if he knows she is just as vulnerable, just as needy as everyone else? Or will it ruin what's left of their relationship, because he will see her as a liability? There is a part of her, a defensive part, that knows she shouldn't be baring her soul like this, opening herself up so completely to his criticism. But there's another part, a bigger part, which needs to stop fighting him, because somewhere along the way he's become the only thing she's got.
She swallows, pauses for a fraction of a second, and then rolls her leggings down her legs and kicks them away. Gene takes a deep breath.
"Alex, you don't have to-"
She holds up a hand and stops him. "These are the leggings I wear so that the team doesn't notice the bruises I get from being knocked around by criminals. So they think I'm strong, that I'm not just a weak woman who can't handle the job."
His eyes travel slowly up her long, bare legs, and when he looks at her, she sees something in his expression. Lust, maybe. Need. Hunger.
She is trembling now, and she's not sure whether it's from fear of his rejection or anticipation at the look in his eyes. Either way, she feels as though he's reached inside her and jumbled her up, thrown all her emotions into a pot and stirred them into chaos, but it's a little bit intoxicating and she knows there's no going back. Slowly, she crosses her arms at the waist and peels off her camisole, tosses it onto the sofa so that she is left only in her underwear. Gene's eyes are like saucers.
"And this is the bra I wear, carefully manufactured to give an extra uplift, because even though I'm a feminist and I hate it, I still know that flashing a bit of cleavage is the key to getting information."
Her voice is thick with tears now and she moves her hands from where she's criss-crossed them protectively over her stomach, shaking hard, skin raised to goosebumps from his gaze.
"And that," she points, "is the camisole I wear, to hide the scar from my caesarean." Her eyes follow his to the scar that stretches across her stomach, a reminder of the child she bore, of the difficulties of labour, of her womanhood.
She laughs shakily.
"See? I'm not perfect, Gene. Not by a long shot."
There is a heartbeat of silence, and then he is reaching out and pulling her into his arms, suit rough against her skin, but he is so real, so solid that she just clings to him, holds on tight as if somehow this will knit her soul back together.
"You're wrong, Alex." His voice is a fierce whisper in the fading light.
She moves back an inch to look up at him, but he has dipped his head, is already planting a long, slow line of kisses across the scar on her shoulder.
"Wrong?" she questions, shivering as his fingers trail lightly over her skin, and he pauses for a second, draws back to give her one of the rare smiles that make her feel like a goddess.
"Wrong as a poof in a brothel." He drops a kiss to the crook of her neck. "You are absolutely bloody flawless."