This is something which has remained unfinished on my laptop for a horrendously long time, but I've finally completed it, so here it is :) It's slightly different to the things I've posted on here before, and definitely more purely Gene/Alex focused than usual. I'd love to know what you think, so please leave a review if you've got a minute, I'd really appreciate it! Thanks :)
The first surprising thing Alex Drake learns about Gene Hunt is that he can laugh.
The grass is like a blanket of snow, their footprints the only thing denting its frosty perfection. At the foot of the trees, the first winter crocuses are pushing their way through the cracked ground, through the snowy quilt and into the weak winter sunlight. It's bitterly cold, but Alex, wrapped head to toe in cashmere, caught up in a childlike delight at the scene before her, barely notices.
They walk in a row, four sets of footprints trailing behind them across an endless expanse of snow. Alex can't remember a winter this cold in her life, and as she knots her scarf more tightly around her neck she hazards a glance at the man beside her. Gene catches her eye and, just for a second, the corner of his mouth twitches up in a smile. On her other side, Shaz's eyes are bright beneath her woolly hat and her cheeks are flushed pink from the cold. The tips of Chris's ears have gone bright red and his hair is stiff with snow. Tucking her gloved hand into his, Shaz catches Alex's eye and grins, the excitement clear on her face. Alex smiles back, catches a snowflake on her tongue, laughs.
They come to a halt in the middle of the park, gaze at each other solemnly. Then they take a few steps backwards, Alex and Gene one way, Chris and Shaz the other. The seconds tick by, stretching, lengthening, suspense hanging like a frozen breath in the cold air. And then, quickly, almost imperceptibly, Gene nods.
Alex is quickest off the mark, her snowball flying through the air and catching Chris on the shoulder before the others have fully straightened up, their handfuls of snow clasped in gloved fingers. After that, chaos ensues. Missiles fly in all directions, and the cold air is rent with laughter and screams and the soft whump of snow hitting its target. Alex hasn't thrown a snowball for years, but she finds to her delight that her aim is just as sure as ever. Shaz, who is clearly more practised than the rest of them put together, is moving so quickly that she's little more than a blur in the driving snow. Chris is laughing, breathless, and even Gene is joining in with an enthusiasm that takes Alex by surprise and makes her catch her breath.
Children pass through the park, dragging sledges behind them; dog-walkers make their way along the path in the weak sunlight; young couples stroll by, hand in hand. And each and every one of them, as they walk by, turns to watch the scene in the middle of the park, the four adults laughing and ducking and screaming like excited children, faces upturned to the falling snow, scarves whipping in the wind, breath misting in the air in front of them. And each and every one of them smiles, because the scene is so perfect in its complete, genuine simplicity.
Alex and Gene wage a methodical, systematic war, standing shoulder to shoulder, a snowball in each hand, releasing them with a direct precision which sends Chris and Shaz diving for cover on several occasions. Breathless with laughter, Alex shakes the snow from her hair and glances up at Gene, registering with pleasant surprise that he's smiling. Suddenly, it's as if the years have dropped away from him, and for a second she sees in her mind's eye a small boy, cheeks flushed bright red, blue eyes shining, flinging his snowball from behind a tree and collapsing on the snow in laughter. In the blink of an eye, the child disappears, but Alex is left with the impression that he hasn't gone, not really, not completely, and the thought warms her heart.
Out of nowhere, a snowball thuds into Gene's chest and he staggers, caught unawares as Shaz whoops with delighted laughter. His foot whizzes from beneath him and without warning he's sprawled in the snow, the shock on his face almost comical. Alex laughs and, caught up in the excitement and the hilarity and the madness of the whole thing, joins Shaz in pelting him with snowballs. Chris looks slightly nervous and hovers on the periphery, not quite daring to join in, but Alex and Shaz, eyes bright with laughter, show no mercy.
Finally, Gene struggles into a sitting position, his hands raised in surrender. His hair is thick with snow and as he sits up he blinks it out of his eyes. Alex holds her breath. A smile. Chris looks immeasurably relieved and offers Gene his hand, hauling him upright, his feet sliding slightly in the snow. And then, very slowly, Gene chuckles. Alex, Chris and Shaz join in, and for the first time, in the midst of the swirling snow, Alex witnesses the wonderful, surprising, strangely beautiful thing that is Gene Hunt's laugh.
The second surprising thing Alex Drake learns about Gene Hunt is that he can cry.
It's an average day when she walks into CID, but she notices immediately that the atmosphere is anything but ordinary. Shaz is nowhere to be seen, and most of the usual faces are noticeable in their absence. Ray is wearing an unusually pensive expression, and Chris looks downright miserable.
"Why the long faces?" she asks brightly, depositing her things on her desk and looking round at them all. She doesn't get an answer. She's not sure they've even heard her. It's only when she heads for Gene's office, her heels ringing out in the unaccustomed silence, that Chris speaks up.
"I wouldn't, Ma'am."
"It's just...not a good idea." He abandons the paper aeroplane he's been studiously folding, and swivels round in his chair to face her. "It's October the –"
But Alex has already swished past him and into Gene's office, closing the door firmly behind her.
"Whatever you're going to say, I'm not interested."
"Good morning to you, too," she replies cheerfully. He's standing by the window, hands in his pockets, gazing out at the driving rain, his back turned to her so that she doesn't have a hope of reading his expression. Something on his desk catches her eye, and she picks it up.
It's a photograph. A wedding. Five faces smile out at her from the past. There's a woman in a white dress, her chestnut hair glossy, her eyes bright, her smile radiant. Her hand is tucked into her new husband's, and with a jolt Alex recognises Sam Tyler. So this is Annie, and this is their wedding day. She studies the woman's face again. She looks warm, friendly, happy. Sam painted her vividly in his memoirs of his time in the seventies, the tapes Alex studied with a kind of clinical detachment, but even he hadn't been able to capture how alive she'd been. Annie's other arm is linked through someone else's, and Alex has to bite back a laugh as she recognises Chris, Ray by his side, both of them seven years younger, grinning at the camera, frozen forever in the memory of this day. On Sam's other side, not quite smiling but nonetheless visibly bursting with happiness and pride, is Gene. He, too, looks younger, less careworn. She touches his face, her finger lingering on its contours, the creases and lines and flaws that make him who he is, and she smiles.
"No oil painting, is it?" She jumps slightly, not aware that he's turned around.
"I don't know, it's not bad," she says lightly. "You've changed a lot. You've all changed a lot." She hesitates, putting the picture back on his desk. "Sam's wedding?"
"That's right." He looks at the picture. "Beautiful day. You'd have liked it."
"I'm sure I would." She pauses. "Why today?"
"Today?" He sighs wearily. "Today is October the seventeenth. The day all that," he gestures at the photograph, "disappeared."
"Oh." He doesn't need to say anything else. She understands perfectly. "I'm...I'm sorry, Gene."
"Yeah, well." He pours himself a glass of whisky and hands one to her. "It's hard on them too. Chris and Ray."
"They were close?"
"Well...Ray had a chip the size of Tower Bridge on his shoulder when Sam arrived, but after a while things settled down and...well, it wasn't friendship, but I suppose...grudging respect. Chris worshipped the bloody ground he walked on. He might not be the brightest penny even now, but a few months with Sam and I barely recognised him. Barely recognised myself."
"He sounds like a wonderful man." Alex looks at the photograph again. "I wish I'd met him."
"You'd have got on like a house on fire, you two would," Gene tells her. "Very into procedure, he was. Everything by the book, he used to say. He could be an irritating bugger at times. Yeah, you'd have got on well."
"Thanks." Alex raises one eyebrow. "Where's Annie now? Is she still in Manchester?"
"She is." Gene takes another look at the photograph. "First-rate lass, that one. I wanted to bring her down to London with Chris and Ray. She said yes. But in the end...she couldn't. Couldn't leave the memories behind. Said they were all she had left. I couldn't argue with that."
"D'you keep in touch?"
"Sometimes. I ring her on this day, every year. Find out how she's doing. Make sure she's holding up. Remind her that there's a place for her down here any time she wants it."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Are you holding up?"
He watches her for a moment, and she sees his eyes flicker with a dozen different emotions. Pain, grief, surprise, gratitude. Then he looks away from her, very deliberately. "Sam was...he was a good friend. Best friend I ever...well." He turns back to her, and for a moment she is surprised by the naked honesty in his gaze. "When he turned up, it was the first time I ever doubted myself. The first time I ever knew there was another way of doing things. He made me see things so differently. And I just...it shouldn't have happened, Bolls, and that's the truth. Not to him."
Suddenly, inexplicably, Alex feels tears prick the back of her eyes. "No, it shouldn't," she whispers, and suddenly, she can't look at the photograph any more. She flips it over, sees Gene's handwriting on the back. Manchester, 1975. Seven years ago. So much has changed. If Gene had the chance, she wonders suddenly, would he choose to return to the people in the photograph, to this sunny day in 1975? Or would he stay here, in London, with her and everything they've created together? For a moment, she goes cold at the thought that he might choose Manchester, and Sam, and 1975. But then she looks at him again, and she realises that he doesn't have that choice, of course he doesn't, that whatever he might choose or might not choose is irrelevant, because now, right here, is the only thing he's got.
So she swallows her own fears and crosses to the window. She wants to put her arms around him and rest her head on his shoulder, wants to prove to him with her eyes and her words and her touch that this world isn't all bad. But even after all the time she's been here, she still doesn't understand him, not really, and she doesn't want him to clam up and shrink within himself as he so often does. She knows there's nothing she can do, not this time, so she just lays her hand on his arm, gazes out of the rain-lashed windows, and pretends not to notice the single tear that trembles for a moment on his lashes.
The third surprising thing Alex Drake learns about Gene Hunt is that he can cook.
Alex has always prided herself on never missing a day of work if she can possibly help it, but today she has no alternative. It's come out of the blue, this illness, and it's completely knocked her out. She's lying, shivery and feverish, on the sofa, trying to find something to interest her on the television. She's tried reading, but her head aches and her eyes won't focus on the words on the page, so that's no good.
She's only left the sofa once today, to locate the phone when Shaz rang to ask where she was. She promised to drop by after work in case Alex needed anything, but this illness feels like something she's just going to have to sit out. It'll be nice to have some company, though, she thinks, even if it's only for a bit. Shaz has probably got better things to do with her evening than spend it with her sick DI, but at least it'll be someone to talk to.
When she hears a knock on the door, she's surprised. It's not the quiet, almost timid knock she associates with Shaz, it's business-like, almost demanding entry. "Come in, Shaz," she manages, her throat dry and her head swimming with the effort of calling out.
"Do I look like Shaz to you?"
She struggles to sit upright, pulling the duvet more tightly around her. "Guv?"
"That's more like it." Gene appears in the doorway and looks her over, taking in the discarded jumpers, the duvet trailing on the floor, her drawn, exhausted face. He crosses the room towards her and puts a bottle of wine on the coffee table. "Brought you this, but by the looks of it you could do with something a bit stronger."
"I thought Shaz was coming up." Alex closes her eyes and subsides back into the sofa. "What are you doing here?"
Even though her eyes are closed, she can tell that Gene is still standing there, radiating awkwardness. She's not in the best state for receiving guests, and he doesn't really know what to do with himself. "Well...Ray's off with some bird somewhere and I've heard enough about bridesmaids and vol-au-vents to last me a lifetime, so I thought I'd come up here." He pauses, and she can picture his frown. "See how you were."
"Oh." She opens her eyes a crack. "Well, I've been better."
"I can see that," he tells her, slightly aggressively. "You look like you're at death's door. When did you last eat?"
Alex thinks, trying to sort out one fevered hour from another. This morning seems like an age ago, yesterday like another life. "Last night? Or, no...lunchtime. Yesterday lunchtime."
"Bloody hell, no wonder you look a mess." He slings his coat over the armchair and looks down at her, hands in his pockets. "What've you got in?"
"Not much." She hasn't shopped for a few days, and she's got no idea what might be lurking in her fridge. Living above a restaurant means she's usually tempted to eat there rather than cook for herself, so she never has much in at the best of times. "I'll scrape something together when I feel up to it."
"Don't be daft. I'll make you something."
"I'm not hungry, really," Alex can hear the alarm in her own voice, and he bristles.
"I can cook, you know." He sounds mildly insulted at her lack of belief in him. Alex can only watch, helpless, as he heads into the kitchen. "You wait there."
"But what are you going to –"
"Leave it to the Gene Genie."
Half an hour later, she's sitting up, the duvet tucked around her shoulders, a bowl of thick vegetable soup balanced on her knee. Gene is sitting in the armchair opposite her, trying and failing not to look pleased with himself.
"I take it all back," she tells him, reaching out to put the bowl on the table and take a sip of the wine which they've opened for good measure. "You can cook after all. Surprising – amazing, even – but true." She already feels better, and she's not sure if it's thanks to the soup, or the company, or a combination of the two. Either way, although she feels a long way from normal, it's a start.
"Well, I'm full of surprises. It's what makes me so devastatingly attractive." He gets up suddenly and comes towards her, and for a moment she sees something in his eyes which makes her breath catch in her throat. It's something totally indefinable, something strange, unexpected, almost gentle. He looks down at her for a second, then puts his hand on her forehead, testing the temperature. "You're burning up, you are. You should get some rest, sleep it off."
Caught off guard by the totally unexpected gesture, she finds herself wishing that his hand would linger where it is, just for a minute. It's cool against her fevered skin, almost soothing, and as soon as he removes it, she feels as if she's lost something.
"You're probably right." Her eyes are drifting shut as it is and, full of warm, thick soup, she wants nothing more than to curl up beneath her duvet and let sleep carry her off. She expects him to leave, go back downstairs and rejoin the others, but he doesn't. She feels sleep wash over her, but in her last few seconds of consciousness, she's aware of him settling back into the chair, feet up on the coffee table, his eyes fixed on her.
When she wakes up the next morning, having slept off the worst of the fever, he's gone. She's not sure how long he stayed, but their dishes and wine glasses are stacked in the sink, the television's been switched off, and there's a second blanket draped over her which she definitely didn't put there. She fingers the edge of it for a moment and, very slowly, she smiles.
The fourth surprising thing Alex Drake learns about Gene Hunt is that he can dance.
The evening is drawing to a close. Guests are still milling about with drinks, standing at the edges of the dance-floor in clusters, talking, but it's starting to quieten down. Only a few of the most energetic couples are still dancing, including Chris and Shaz, whose gleaming white dress is glowing eerily in the blue strobe lighting. Alex watches them for a moment, totally oblivious to the world around them, to anything except each other, and feels, inexplicably, a pang of something akin to jealousy.
She turns to Gene, standing beside her at the bar, and finds that he is, to her surprise, watching them as well. His expression is unreadable; rather than the look of mild revulsion she'd expected to see on his face, he's just...watching. She looks at him for a minute and sees that his eyes are fixed on Chris, and although she knows he'd deny it if she asked, she can see how pleased, how satisfied, how proud he is. It's a look she's seen before, in a photograph. Another wedding, another time. Another life.
"Funny, isn't it?" he says abruptly, turning away from them and back to Alex. "I saw this coming from the day we first arrived in this place. Never really understood it until now. He's done well."
Alex nods. "So has she."
"Yeah." He puts down his glass, leaning against the bar and looking out at the dance-floor again. "I suppose she has. Not really my thing, weddings. Or marriage, come to think of it."
"Do you regret yours?" she finds herself asking, not sure where the question has come from. It's not something she'd normally ask anyone, let alone Gene Hunt.
"Don't regret it, exactly. We had fun." He shrugs. "Sometimes. Occasionally. I think."
Alex raises one eyebrow. "You think?"
"Well, it wasn't..." He pauses. "It wasn't what either of us wanted, not really. We just realised it too late." He glances across at Chris and Shaz. "We got to thinking we'd made a mistake. And you know what, Bolls, I hope those two never think that."
It isn't much, but it's the first time she's heard him talk about his marriage, and for a moment she can see beyond the bravado and the sarcasm, right through to the sadness. "They won't," she says quietly, and suddenly something makes her hold out her hand to him. "Dance with me, Gene."
He scowls down at her hand. "I don't dance. And definitely not like that."
"It doesn't matter." The music has shifted subtly, becoming gentler, more mellow. The multi-coloured lighting vanishes, replaced by a gentle crimson glow. "Come on. Show me your moves. We can't have those two thinking they own the dance-floor."
"They're welcome to it," he mutters, but she doesn't miss the wistful look in his eyes as he looks down at her hand. "You don't want to dance with me."
"Come on, it's not like I've asked you to marry me. One dance." He remains silent so she sighs, rolls her eyes. "There's a bottle of single malt in it for you."
"Single malt?" He visibly perks up. "All right then, Bolls, you've got yourself a deal."
"You'll show me your moves?"
"I'll show you my moves."
It's only when they're out in the middle of the dance-floor that Alex realises how intimate this is. Her arms are round his shoulders, his hands at her waist, and for the first time, she has no idea what to say to him. She catches sight of a pair of wide eyes over Gene's shoulder, and raises her eyebrows as Shaz whispers something in Chris's ear, nodding her head in their direction. Chris barely gives them a second glance, too preoccupied with Shaz to be particularly interested in anyone else, but Alex sees Shaz turn back to him with a wide grin, and knows that someone, at least, has drawn some interesting conclusions.
They dance for a few minutes, neither of them saying anything. Then Alex frowns. "I thought you said you couldn't dance."
"I said I don't dance, not I can't dance."
"Oh. You're not bad."
"Well, yeah...you're not bad either."
There's a slightly awkward pause, during which Alex is incredibly aware that there are only about four couples left on the dance-floor, Chris and Shaz are drifting uncomfortably close to them and the DJ has slipped into a slow, crooning number which isn't quite what she had in mind.
"Gene..." His name comes from nowhere, and he looks at her in surprise. She lifts her eyes to meet his, and for a moment it's as if there's no-one else in the room, as if it's just them and the music and the lights. She catches in his eye a look she's never seen before, an almost bewildered wonderment, and she moves imperceptibly closer. "D'you..." She's not sure why she's asking, but she feels as if it's just something she has to do. "D'you believe in love?"
He raises his eyebrows."Love? Depends." He glances over his shoulder at Chris and Shaz. "I believe in it for them. For some people. Doesn't mean it always works out like that."
"But you do think it exists?" she presses.
"Oh, yeah..." A crease appears between his eyebrows. "Course it exists. For the lucky few, anyway. Don't think I'm one of them, though. Not after all these years."
She's struck by the sadness she sees in his eyes, and she moves her right hand from his shoulder to his chest. "Oh Gene, you don't really think –"
Suddenly, cruelly, the lights flare up and Alex realises that the music has stopped and she and Gene are alone on the dance floor. For a single loaded second their eyes catch and hold, and then he's removing his hands from her waist, taking a couple of hurried steps backwards, clearing his throat awkwardly. He looks away from her, and without warning, she feels an overwhelming sense of loss. Whether it's for his arms or the intimacy of the dance or the tiny glimpse she's had of his heart, she's not sure. Whatever it is, she wants it back and, for the first time since she arrived in this place, she's terrified of losing something she never really had.
The fifth surprising thing Alex Drake learns about Gene Hunt is that he can love.
It's been a long day, the kind of day that everyone in the police force knows all too well and dreads with a heavy heart. The mood in Luigi's is subdued, and when the others drift off early to supper and television and bed, it feels completely natural for Gene and Alex to move upstairs.
She pours them a drink and subsides into the sofa, barely even noticing that he chooses to sit beside her rather than take his customary seat in the armchair. It's only now, now that it's all over, now that she's finally home, with no-one here but Gene and hours ahead of her to try and forget, that she realises how much today has affected her.
She sets her wine glass down on the table as her hands begin to tremble, and although she takes deep breaths to try and prevent it, the tears well up and spill over as she gasps out her grief, her frustration, her rage at the injustice of it all. Gene makes no comment as he pulls her towards him, gathering her into his chest and holding her tightly, letting her nails pierce his skin and her tears soak his shirt until the moment passes and she is quiet again.
He doesn't cry himself, doesn't rage, doesn't flicker an eyelid, but it's there in his gaze, in the line of his jaw, in the way he holds her, long after the sobs have stopped, long after she needs him to.
When it comes to it, there are no words.
The first kiss is exploratory, a tentative step into uncharted waters, and she half expects him to push her away, to get up and grab his jacket and leave. But instead she feels him respond, feels his lips mould to hers and his hand shift to her thigh, and something wells up inside her, something which craves satisfaction, craves a response, craves him. When she pulls away, she gazes up at him, reads on his face the wonder, the surprise, the naked desire. Seeing it in his eyes makes it redouble in her, and she presses her lips to his again, her hand creeping round the back of his neck to tangle itself in his hair. She can tell that he's not sure, that despite the fire in his eyes he can't quite believe it's real, and so she kisses him again, reassuring him, coaxing him.
The next time, she doesn't have to. One hand moves to her waist, the other sliding up her thigh as he captures her mouth with his own and their tongues dance a tango which is more like a battle for supremacy. Her hands move to his tie, the knot slipping through her fingers as she fumbles to undo it, and for a moment they laugh breathlessly as she fights to loosen it from around his neck. Without it, collar sticking straight up, hair all over the place, he stirs something new in her, something more than just raw passion, something more vulnerable, more tender, more infinitely wonderful.
She pulls him off the sofa, steps out of her shoes and, carefully, slowly, she undoes the buttons of his shirt, one by one. There's no rush now, no mad chase to the finish. Softer now. Slower. He's watching her in awe, in veneration, and when he reaches for her, it is with a burning look that at once thrills and terrifies her in its quiet intensity. But she puts a hand on his chest, stops him. Leads him out of the sitting room and through to her bedroom.
They stop and, contact broken, they hesitate. The intimacy is there, thrumming in the very air around them, driving her mad. She can sense it, almost taste it. She can see it in his stance, in the way he looks at her, the way his breathing comes, shallow and ragged. For a second, everything is still.
Then she takes one step forward and, like an explosion of heat, they are together again, locked together, melting together. His touch is gentle, persistent. Skin on skin.
When it's all over, he holds her. Kisses her. Pulls the blanket around her shoulders and watches her fall asleep. And as her eyelids drift shut, as her breathing slows to the even, rhythmic pattern of sleep, Alex Drake unfolds the final secret in the heart of Gene Hunt, and learns about love from an impossible man.