It starts, as these things often do, with a kiss. There are wet lips and hot mouths, breath on skin and gliding hands. Whispers and whimpers and sighs of contentment. Grabbing, holding, stroking, learning. Love bites, scratches, open-mouthed kisses. There is him and her and music and the night.
And then, finally, a breathless peace.
They lay quietly in the dark, chests heaving, until their heart rates gradually slow and the power of rational thinking returns. The night is warm, but a cool breeze steals in through the open window, trailing its fingers over naked skin and hair that is damp with sweat. It should be beautiful, lying together in the pale light of a summer moon, but sleep refuses to come and the sun rises, daubing the sky with a soft pink glow, before either of them drift off.
He does not hold her. She curls up, faces the window and closes her eyes in the hope that he'll think she's asleep, and he turns his head away, evens his breathing so that she might believe the same. With the explosion of their passion comes an awkwardness, a strange reversion to Ma'am-and-the-Guv, colleagues and foils, and any tenderness, any electricity melts away into unease.
When Alex wakes, a little before eight, he is gone.
It's hard getting ready for work that morning. At every turn there are reminders of him, of their evening, and she finds herself consumed by a vague emptiness she cannot shake. Every mouthful tastes like sawdust, every sip of water like bitter lemon, and she is angry at herself for being so affected by the whole ugly spectacle.
Did she expect him to hang around? Did she want him to? She knows that she could have turned to him, kissed him, curled against his side with her head on his chest, and looking back, she's not sure why she didn't. Afraid, perhaps? Ashamed? Either way, it makes her feel cold and used and pathetic, and she never wanted to feel like that because of him.
Her clothes are still scattered across the living room and she picks them up without looking at them. She tries not to remember the way he peeled them off her, her jeans, her cream blouse, tries to forget how his hands felt as they trailed across her skin.
With a cry of exasperation, she dumps them in a pile in her bedroom and slams out of the flat, irritated at her mind's refusal to switch off. Work, that's what she needs. A complex, difficult case where she can lose herself completely to anything but the crime, the profile, the thrill of the chase.
But work will bring Gene, and Gene will bring memories and awkwardness and probably embarrassment, so she turns off in a different direction. She has half an hour before she's due in and she strolls down towards the train station, watches the crowd of commuters flood in from London Bridge. There seem so few of them, compared to how many there will be in twenty five years, but she recognises their single-minded purpose, the expressions that say they are already engulfed in the world of their jobs, and it comforts her, just a little.
By the time she gets to work, she has managed to steel her nerve, and she breezes through the door with only the tiniest hitch in her breath when she sees Gene talking to Ray.
"DI Drake, how nice of you to finally join us," he snaps, and then slams into his office.
Ray swivels round on his chair to face her, eyebrows raised as he pinches a cigarette between his finger and thumb. "Don't ask me," he says, although today, just this once, she knows the cause for his bad mood. "Like a bear with a sore head this morning. Stay out of his way, I would."
She tries for a smile, isn't sure if it's worked because Ray has already turned back to the file on his lap. "I'll keep that in mind."
She is just sitting down at her desk when Shaz comes over. As much as she likes Shaz, she wants nothing more at that moment than to bury her head in a case file and forget this bloody awful world, and as a result the smile she offers her younger colleague is verging on half-hearted.
"Ma'am? Got those files you asked for yesterday." She deposits a sheaf of papers into Alex's in-tray and then hovers, frowning as she looks into her face. "You all right, Ma'am? You look awfully peaky, doesn't she, Chris?"
Chris appears at her side and frowns too, pulling the cigarette out of his mouth so he can concentrate. "She's right, Ma'am, you do look a bit pale. Want me to get the guv?"
"No!" Alex cries, then realises her slip from the expression on their faces. "I mean, no, thanks. Ray says he's in a bad mood, don't want to make it any worse."
"Fair enough." Chris wanders off but Shaz hovers anxiously.
"You sure you're okay, Ma'am? You left Luigi's early last night…weren't you feeling well?"
Alex drops her eyes quickly to the documents Shaz has given her in the hope that she doesn't notice the way she's blushing. She left early because Gene had his hand on her thigh and was whispering filthy things in her ear. She left early because she took their superior officer back up to her flat and shagged him rotten.
"Had a bit of a headache. Fine now, thanks." She flashes Shaz another brief smile and pretends great interest in the list of car registration plates. "If you don't mind, Shaz…"
Shaz hesitates for a beat, and then nods. "Course, Ma'am. Sorry."
Once she's gone, Alex lets out a tiny sigh. How the hell is she going to get through this day if people are constantly reminding her of the night she is trying to forget? Is she trying to forget it? It was certainly…interesting. Intense. Incredible.
"Drake." Gene's voice booms out from his office and she takes a deep breath before getting to her feet. So that's the way he wants to play it. She lifts her head up and stalks through into his office. If he wants to ignore the fact it ever happened, so bloody be it.
Two could play at that game.
As she stands in front of his desk, arms folded, eyebrow raised, waiting for his order, she tries desperately not to remember how he'd looked last night, naked on her bed with swollen lips and mussed hair.
He is flicking through a file with a nonchalance that infuriates her, and when he finally looks up, his expression is carefully neutral.
"Burglary, Inspector." She grits her teeth against his formality. "Down by the river, a corner shop." He checks the details, finger trailing down the page, and she tries not to remember how it felt on her skin. "Owner's a Mr Chander. This is the third corner shop burglary we've had this week, and we are going to catch these little scrotes before they get their filthy paws on anyone else's hard-earned cash." He gets abruptly to his feet, hands flat on the desk, watching her with a challenge in his eyes. She mirrors him, leaning over, tries to ignore the flutter of disappointment when his gaze remains firmly on her face and doesn't stray towards her cleavage.
"Anything significant about the burglaries?"
"Yep. They're all owned by Indian immigrants, and the burglars have left this delightful little scrawl on the shop windows once they're finished." He pushes a photograph towards her. The word scum is interwoven through the points of a swastika and she shakes her head in disgust.
"Racism's the motive, then."
"Thank you for that enlightened comment, Columbo. Hadn't even occurred to me." He moves around the desk to fetch his coat and she inhales sharply as he brushes past her, shoulder lightly, accidentally grazing hers. Every touch, no matter how tiny, seems electric and she curses him for somehow managing to distance himself from her, from the spark of tension that runs as a quiet undertone to their conversation.
"Do you want to head down there now?" Maybe he's waiting until they're in the Quattro, where there will be no interruptions, before he broaches the subject. She feels her spirits lift marginally at the prospect, before any hope is smothered quickly by panic, by fear of whatever this might be between them.
"You're all right. I'll take Ray. You go with Chris and talk to the other victims again, in case there's something we've missed." He steps out of the door, cocking his head at his sergeant. "Raymondo, with me."
And then, just like that, in a whirl of overcoat and dismissal, he's gone.
She doesn't go down to Luigi's that night. She doesn't think she can bear the confusion and whispers of CID when she and Gene don't sit together at their usual table, nor the blank rejection of his neutral expression. Whatever she expected from last night, it wasn't this. She knows it's half her fault. She knows she was awkward and distant when she could have curled against his side or put her arms around his chest, but looking at him from the corner of her eye in the darkness of the bedroom, he was as uncomfortable, as uncertain, as she was. She's never done this before, slept with a colleague, and she is angry at herself, at him, for destroying their friendship with what can only be a meaningless shag.
Sighing, she kicks off her boots and finishes off the bottle of wine they started last night, sprawled across the sofa with the armed robbery file open on her lap. There's something she can't put her finger on, something fluttering at the corner of her mind that disappears when she seeks it out, and she frowns down at the page, willing it to come to her.
Her day spent revisiting former victims with Chris was largely unproductive. Those targeted are too frightened to speak out again, which makes her wonder if there hasn't been a little intimidation going on behind the scenes. It frustrates her that these hard-working, honest people are singled out solely because of their nationality, and it frustrates her further to know that even by 2008, racism is still rife in London's streets.
She stays up until gone midnight, half watching a film and half scanning the documents in front of her, and tries to tell herself it's not because she's waiting for him. There have been so many nights he's woken her by banging on her door and sauntering in for a late night drink, or else staggered to her sofa and collapsed into a drunken sleep.
When the clock ticks towards to one o'clock, she gives up. She's not exactly sure what she wants from him - she certainly never expected a fairytale romance, or even a repeat performance. It wasn't planned, last night. It was the result of months of tension, of attraction, and it was fierce and desperate and incredible and all the things she expected from Gene Hunt, except that he was tender, too. Odd moments, tiny caresses, the brush of his fingers over the slope of her neck. Was it his tenderness, so incongruous against the rough movement of their bodies, that left her feeling so awkward, so self-conscious?
She slips beneath the covers and presses her face into her pillow, turning away from the empty side of the bed, the side that she knows still smells of Gene. It takes a long time for her to fall asleep, and when she finally does, she dreams of swastikas and Gene and a ghostly child she somehow knows is Molly, and she wakes to find her pillow wet with tears.
The next few weeks pass in a haze of cool civility. It's as if they've turned the clock back a year to when they knew each other only superficially, but she can't help the shivers that fizz through her every time he brushes past, and once or twice, when he thinks she isn't looking, she sees his eyes linger on her a little longer, an expression on his face akin to longing.
She's been feeling under the weather for over a fortnight, struck by stomach cramps, nausea and spells of dizziness that come and go as suddenly and intensely as a thunderstorm. She self-medicates with wine and, when she's sober enough, with aspirin, and it's not until she finally gets round to marking off the days in her calendar that she finds the missing link between her symptoms.
Realisation hits her in a solid wall of emotion and she collapses abruptly into her kitchen chair, cold suddenly, shivering, shaking so hard she can hear her teeth rattling. This shouldn't be possible. This can't be possible. She clutches the edge of the table as though it will protect her from the crashing wave of panic, before staggering to her feet and into the bathroom, retching fruitlessly into the toilet. She only stops when her eyes are flooded with tears and her throat burns with bile, and then she crawls into bed, drawing the covers over her head like she did when she was a little girl having a bad dream.
She feels like she should cry or laugh or scream or something, but now the initial shock has passed, she can only lie in silence, questioning the motives of her own mind and the tricks of her body.
Eventually, she slips from the bed in the early hours, eyes bloodshot with exhaustion but mind racing too fast to sleep, and stands in front of the calendar again in her bare feet, moonlight pooling on the kitchen floor.
A blob of red marker pen is inked onto the same day every month, and she counts the days with her eyes, over and over and over again until the figures begin to blur and disbelief is swallowed by cold reality.
Eight days late. Eight days late.
She slides down to sit on the floor, back against the wall and knees against her chest, and from the corner of her eye she sees Molly at the table, face lit by the muted glow of twelve flickering candles.
"I know if I look at you, you'll disappear," Alex says softly into the twilight, turning her face away to rest her cheek on her knees, "but I'm going to sort this out, Molls. I promise. Whatever happens here...it isn't real. You're what's real." She pauses, and for the first time that evening, a tiny, broken sob shatters her voice. "Don't give up on me, Molly. I'm coming back to you."
But even as she says it, the first fluttering of new life is stirring within her, unfelt and ignored, as the DNA of Alex Drake and Gene Hunt interweaves and interlaces, and a tiny life comes slowly, quietly into existence.