Final chapter and I'd like to thank everyone who read/reviewed/favourited/enjoyed this story.
Warning: This chapter is unashamedly sentimental and seasonal – with a hint of added fluff/smut.
Joy to the World
"What is it?" she asked once he had replaced the receiver.
He stood and grabbed his overcoat from the nearby chair. "Hotel manager where Mary and Joe are staying. We need to get over there. Now."
Alex needed no second bidding and she grabbed her jacket and followed Gene who was already half way out of the door and down the stairs. Although Gene hadn't elaborated on what exactly the trouble was, Alex had a fairly good idea.
"Is it the baby? Have they called an ambulance?"
Gene nodded and quickened his steps as they made there way towards the Quattro. "Ambulance is having trouble getting through the sodding snow. Hotel manager knew where'd I'd be so..."
Alex shivered and clutched her jacket tightly around her. It had stopped snowing now and the night air was cold and crisp. She turned her face to the heavens gasping at the sheer beauty of the night sky.
Gene retrieved his car keys and impatiently opened the driver-side door, glancing over at Alex who was still looking up to the sky. "What?"
"There's a star," she said with wonder.
"There are millions of sodding stars Bolly."
"No look. Up there. Bigger and brighter than the rest."
He followed her hand as she pointed. Sure enough there was one star in sky which outshone the rest.
"Venus," Gene pronounced with authority. "Now will you get in the bloody car woman before I turn into a ruddy snowman."
Alex was grinning when she finally climbed into the passenger seat and Gene quickly put the car into gear and pulled away.
"Don't you see? It's all falling into place. Mary and Joe are having a baby on Christmas Eve and there's a bright star in the sky."
"If I didn't know you better I'd say you'd been on the loopy juice. Either than or sniffing something you shouldn't have. Or does Christmas come with added fruitcake?"
Alex just shrugged and smiled. She was rather enjoying her own little Christmas Eve fantasy. Although truth be told, she had been enjoying a different kind of fantasy until that blasted phone interrupted. Perhaps someone was trying to tell her something? She rather hoped not.
Gene was silent on the drive to the hotel, barring the occasional curse as he tried to avoid drunken celebratory pedestrians and vehicles abandoned in the now chaotic driving conditions. He wondered how two inches of snow could bring London to a halt where Hitler had failed? Luckily, the hotel wasn't too far away and Gene pulled up at the entrance and got out, flashing his badge at the doorman who had been just about to protest.
With a sigh of resignation he turned towards Alex who was staring at the hotel sign. "Don't," he said warningly.
"The Star Inn?" she said with a broad grin as she followed him through the doors of the hotel.
"If you say so Guv."
She waited patiently as Gene talked to the receptionist and the manager of the hotel appeared. She made a determined effort to suppress her delight at the way the nativity was being played out before her. But whether it was real or whether it was a fantasy, Mary and Joe were a young couple who obviously needed their help if they were to get through tonight unscathed.
"Come on Bols."
She waited patiently as they got into the lift and he jabbed impatiently at the buttons. It turned out that Alex was right – at least about Mary giving birth. She had gone into labour and Joe had called an ambulance. Unfortunately because of the snow, the ambulance was having problems getting through the traffic to the hotel. It would get here eventually but possibly not in time.
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Alex announced, "first babies usually take a long time to arrive. I should know," she added quietly.
"You okay?" Gene glanced over as the lift doors opened and they got out at the seventh floor.
"Me? Yes I'm fine. Honestly."
"Good. Because if this baby decides not to do the decent thing and hang on, we'll be needing your womanly ways to help young Mary."
"Hopefully it won't come to that."
"Yeah. Anyway, manager says he's put a call out to the hotel guests asking for any doctors to step up – and they're checking the hotel register."
"Good, I'm sure..."
Whatever Alex had been about to say was interrupted by a distressed wail of pain coming from inside one of the rooms.
"Sounds like we've come to the right place then?" Gene rapped on the door and it was almost immediately flung open by a whey-faced Joe, utter panic quite evident on his face.
"Thank God you've come."
Alex quickly moved forward. "Its okay now Joe. Tell us what's happening."
"You mean apart from the bleedin' obvious?" Gene muttered.
"The ambulance hasn't come and I thought if we could just get Mary downstairs...maybe find another way to hospital. Only she couldn't make it to the door. Please help. I don't know what to do."
Gene took hold of Joe squarely by the shoulders. "You're doing fine son, you did the right thing. Okay?"
Joe took a deep breath as he stared at Gene. "Sorry. I'm fine now. It's just...I love her so much Mr Hunt."
"She's going to be fine – isn't she Bols?"
Alex nodded. "We're going to everything we can to help. Now where is she?"
Joe pointed. "In the bedroom."
Alex took control. "Good. Now the manager has asked for any doctors in the hotel to come forward so I'm sure help will be here shortly. And in the meantime, women have been giving birth for thousands of years without too many problems – I'm sure this birth will be just as straightforward."
In the bedroom of the small hotel suite, Mary was curled up into a ball on the bed, her eyes shut tight against the pain. Alex sat by her side and gently placed a hand on her brow.
"It's okay Mary, you're doing fine. Help will be here soon."
"But it hurts so much!" the young girl wailed.
"Yes it does doesn't it. But you just have to try and breath through the pain – don't fight against it. Here like this." Alex demonstrated the same breathing techniques she had used herself when she had given birth to Molly and soon Mary was calmer, although still clasping onto Alex's hand as another pain ripped through her body.
"It's coming soon! I can feel it."
"You okay Alex?" Gene's face was full of concern as he hovered at the bedside with Joe. "You need anything?"
"I think we're fine. Mary's doing really well. Aren't you Mary?"
Mary gripped Alex's hand tightly as yet another pain washed over her. "I need to push. I really need to push!"
"Flamin' Nora!" It was Gene's face that was a picture of panic now as he glanced at Mary and then at Alex. "Where's that ruddy Doctor?"
"They're here!" Joe declared, as he escorted three be-suited men into the small room.
"Right. Get on with it then." Gene commanded.
"Errr...get on with what exactly?" one of the men enquired.
"Are you or are you not a flaming doctor?"
"Well yes...that is we all are."
"Then I suggest you assist this young lady who is attempting to give birth – toot bloody suite!"
"But I don't think you understand," said another of the men. "The hotel manager didn't really specify what type of doctor he was asking for."
"Type!" Gene exploded. "You a clap doctor or something then?"
"I'm Dr Jaspar, and these are my colleagues Dr Blithe and Dr Melchet – we teach astrology, philosophy and theology respectively – at the University of East Anglia."
"Great. Just what I need. Three bloody wise men."
"And from the East too," Alex added helpfully.
"Don't you start missus."
Mary let rip another loud moan. "I think I'm dying."
"Listen young lady, you are not dying. You hear me? Not on my watch and especially not tonight. Bloody paperwork on Christmas Eves' horrendous." He stood at the end of the bed and glowered. "Everything will be fine – won't it Bols?"
"The baby's coming!" Joe suddenly announced from his position at the end of the bed.
"Push Mary, push," Alex encouraged, "you're doing a great job. Soon be over."
"Come on Mary," Gene urged, "come on, you can do it."
"Yes you can and that's an order! Bloody hell I can see the head!"
"One more big push Mary." Alex gripped her hand tightly. "That's it...that's it. Yes!"
With one final push the baby was free and slithered out of Mary's body straight into Gene's waiting hands.
"Jesus!" Gene exclaimed.
Mary and Joe exchanged a knowing but very contented look as the baby cried lustily.
Gene killed the engine of the Quattro as they finally arrived back outside Alex's flat. It had been a slow journey back from the hotel, the snow impeding their progress and making the journey twice as long as normal. They had mostly driven back in companionable silence, both pondering on the events of the evening. Gene glanced over at Alex now, still seeing that look of sad contemplation that had been there since the baby was born.
When the ambulance had finally arrived at the hotel, they had safely escorted Mary, Joe and the baby downstairs and into the back of the ambulance, with promises of visiting the pair in hospital on Christmas Day. Gene would never forget the look on Alex's face as she had held the baby, before handing it over to Mary in the back of the ambulance. The look on her face had been so full of love and longing – and yet tinged with a hint of sadness. All he wanted to do was chase that look away.
"We're here then," he announced.
"What?" Alex looked out at her surroundings, although the area was hardly recognisable covered in its blanked of snow. "Oh yes." She flashed a quick smile at Gene. "Its been an eventful night." In more ways than one, she thought.
"Turned out well though – in the end. Blew your nativity fantasy out of the window though," he said, trying to raise a smile.
"No reason a baby girl can't grow up to be the saviour," she said with a smile. "And at least she has a beautiful name – no thanks to you."
"I thought Eugenia was a good suggestion," he teased. "What did they call it in the end?"
"Joy. Quite appropriate I think. Anyway, I think I've had quite enough of fairy-tales and fantasies for one night."
"Pity. Come on – I'll walk you up."
Alex shivered as she stepped out into the icy wonderland the snowfall had created. "God it's so cold."
"Hardly surprising yer daft mare! Look at you! Wearing that skimpy leather jacket and no gloves. Come here."
And before Alex knew what was happening she was engulfed in Gene's arms as he ostensibly tried to warm her up, rubbing her arms and shoulders and hugging her close, opening his coat and wrapping it around them both. Alex didn't protest in the slightest and there was no one else around to see or care. She leaned into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his warm body and resting her face against his shoulder as he warmed her into life.
"Don't say anything. Just hold me for a minute." She closed her eyes and let his warmth surround her, chasing away the feelings of sadness and loss that had unexpectedly resurfaced tonight. The birth of a child was such a momentous occasion – perhaps even more so on Christmas Eve. But for a moment, when she had held beautiful baby Joy, all she had seen was Molly, and all she could remember was how she had felt when she had first held her own daughter in her arms. Gene couldn't chase all of those feelings away, but standing here in his arms and listening to the steady beat of his heart, she felt safe and whole and protected. She would live to fight another today. Just not today. For today, she was tired of fighting.
Gene also closed his eyes as he held Alex and gradually felt life and warmth seeping back into her. If this evening ended now, he would still count it an evening well spent. The birth of that baby tonight had sent his own world into a tailspin. He counted himself as an experienced man of the world but somehow he had managed to avoid the most fundamental fact of life – the birth of a child. Even now he was gob-smacked by the whole thing. But he also knew that he would never be able to put his feelings into words or talk to anyone about it. Except maybe for the woman in his arms. Somehow she always seemed to understand – even when she didn't.
He hugged her closer for a moment, stopped rubbing her body into life and simply held onto her. His own body responded – and not only in the obvious way – although it did that too. With Alex's arms around him, he somehow felt stronger, like he could do anything, achieve anything, take on the world. But he also felt safe and protected, and this despite his own inner mocking voice. Nancy! He brushed it aside. For one night he didn't want to fight his feelings any more.
Alex looked up at him. "What time is it?"
He glanced at his watch. "Nearly 2 o'clock."
"Christmas Day then," she said with a smile.
He nodded. "Merry Christmas Alex."
This time there was to be no interruption as Gene lowered his head slightly, their lips finally touching with a passion warm enough to melt the snow. Months of repressed longing seemed to disappear as the kiss deepened, heartbeats increased and fingers scrabbled to find exposed skin to touch. When they finally parted, they were both gasping for breath, but both smiling fit to burst.
"Stay with me tonight," Alex whispered.
"Thought you'd never ask." He held out his hand and they started slowly walking towards her flat, taking her hand and tucking it into his deep coat pocket.
"It's been quite a night," Alex said. "Mary and Joseph, a star, a baby and even three wise men! The only thing missing were some angels."
"You want angels Bols? I can give you angels. Come on!"
She watched as he led her towards the now snow-covered patch of grass that passed for greenery in these parts. Before Alex knew what was happening Gene flopped on his back into the deepest part of the snow, flapping his arms and legs and flattening the snow beneath him.
Alex laughed at the image of the tough Manc Lion, now making snow-angels in the snow. Undeterred she joined him on the grass and made her own snow-angel, laughing at the sheer absurdity of two grown adults rolling around in the snow. Both laughing until it hurt, they eventually hauled themselves upright and began brushing snow from each other's bodies.
"So, you believe in fantasies now Gene?"
"I believe in you Bolly. That's all I need for now." He kissed her quickly but thoroughly. "Come on then Bols – shift yer arse. I'm ruddy freezing out here." And with that he grabbed her hand and they raced towards the beckoning warmth of Alex's flat.
Once in the bedroom events didn't pan out exactly how Alex had imagined they would – and she had imagined this more than once. She had imagined a slow seductive unveiling of skin with teasing glances and a slow seduction. However in reality restrictive garments were shed with some alacrity - a combination of hasty passion and the distinct coolness of the bedroom which prevented any lingering that might have been otherwise attempted. They both made an effort though, and with muffled laughter and chilly fingers, buttons were popped, woolly jumpers removed and socks hurled into the far reaches of the bedroom. Eventually a unanimous decision was reached that under the cosy duvet was the best place to be.
Alex shivered as Gene joined her.
"A little," Alex admitted. She really would have to have a word with Luigi about the temperamental state of the heating.
But before she could complete that thought, Gene had moved closer and was gently rubbing his hands across her body, brushing her skin with the palms of his hands and breathing warmth across goose-bumped flesh.
"Wha...what are you doing?"
He looked up from his task, a slow grin appearing on his face. "Warming you up Bolly – that okay?"
"Mmmm," she sighed, "yes please."
She lay back and 'suffered' his ministrations, sighing with contentment as her body gradually warmed to his touch, tingling with anticipation and more than a hint of lust. She sighed and lay back, submitting again and again to his gentle touch. Such passivity was a novelty – she was far more used to taking charge of her own body and it's sexuality but this...this was simply glorious. She stretched and writhed with pleasure as Gene continued to warm and touch, but she soon recognised that his touch has taken on more of an exploratory nature, his tongue and fingers now searching and enquiring, lingering over the more sensitive spots of her body. By the time he kissed his way up her belly, over her breasts, and lingered at the sensitive spot at her throat, she was totally blissed out.
"Better?" he said, after kissing her gently on the lips.
"You have no idea how good that was."
"I haven't even started yet."
His wicked grin and tousled hair made her stomach flip in anticipation, and she dragged him closer for another deep and lingering kiss.
He brushed stray curls from her brow. "You've no idea how long I've been waiting."
And then he was gone again, kissing his was back down her body, parting her thighs and using his tongue to give her more pleasure than she thought was possible – or indeed permissible. She shuddered as his tongue did unutterably wicked things to her body, lapping and teasing her into arousal, those long fingers put to expert use, until she moaned and begged for release.
"Please...so good..." She was in a torture of indecision, not sure if she wanted him to end it, or to continue with this delightful torment. But one thing she did know – she wanted him inside her and she wanted him now!
"Enough?" Gene enquired innocently, kissing his way back up her body until he could look into her eyes.
She parted her thighs as he positioned himself comfortable between them, still teasing by rubbing himself against her. She promised herself that she would get her own back for that – knowing that it would be fun for both of them. In a move that caught him by surprise, she wrapped her long legs around his body, her arms around his neck and dragged him closer until they were skin to skin, nose to nose. She wriggled under his body-weight, loving the weight and feel of him...but wanting so much more.
She tilted her hips and gasped as he finally entered her, a matching gasp also escaping Gene's lips. For a moment they were completely still, eyes locked, their bodies adjusting to the feel of one another. And then it began. Eyes still locked they began to move together, experimental at first, slowly finding the pace, making tiny adjustments to position as the mutual pleasure grew and grew. There were renewed curses and gasps from them both as the tension escalated, fingers grasping for purchase as the world threatened to spiral out of control.
Finally Alex could hold out no longer, crying his name over and over as his hips bucked against hers and she came with an intensity that took her senses away – only smiling when she felt him lose control and follow her down into oblivion.
Many hours later, Alex gradually woke feeling warm, content and unexpectedly languid. For a moment she was disorientated and confused at the unexpected soreness she felt between her thighs. She slowly rolled over and suddenly everything was crystal clear. Gene. So it hadn't been a dream after all. It was still early from what she could tell, the bedroom only lit by the bright reflection of the snow outside. But it was enough to see at her sleeping partner beside her.
She gazed inquisitively, the novelty of the lion at rest totally addictive to her. He was rumpled and crumpled, his hair tousled by sleep and love-making, his absurdly long lashes closed against his skin. She reached out and touched the exposed skin of his shoulders, moving down to the irresistible lure of his chest.
His eyes flashed open.
"Still think I'm a fantasy then?" His voice was husky with sleep and sex as he reached for her.
"Frankly, I'm not sure I even care any more." She willingly went into his arms, comfort and warmth in one embrace. She huddled against him as his fingers lightly skipped over her skin. If it was true that she was dead or dying, then she absolutely couldn't think of a better way to go then in this man's arms.
"Merry Christmas Gene." She raised her face and kissed him.
"You too love," he replied, "Merry Christmas." After a few more moments of wrapping themselves around each other Gene spoke. "You got any plans for today?"
She shook her head. "Not really. We promised to go and see Mary, Joe and the baby today but..."
"We can go in later if you like. So apart from that, there's no reason why we can't just stay here in bed then?"
Alex grinned. "No reason at all Mr Hunt. Apart from the odd excursion for food."
He grinned wickedly. "Well, I've got meat and two veg if you're interested?"
"How lovely. I just fancy a nibble."
He lifted the quilt over their heads until they were both completely covered. "Nibble away."
Outside, Luigi passed the door of Alex's flat, and paused when he thought he heard giggles and squeals coming from inside and the distinct sounds of bedsprings under some duress. With a knowing smile and a sigh he crept away. He had a feeling it was going to be a very happy Christmas indeed.
And to all my readers A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.