Well, um… hello again, old friends. :) I'm so sorry that this chapter has taken so long to get to you. I will completely understand if you've all given up on this story and can't be bothered to read anymore, and I won't go into details of why I've been busy and stuff that's going on, etc, etc, because it'll just bore you. I've put my HP story on hold now though, because I sort of came to the decision that I only had time to update one story semi-regularly and I chose this one, so yeah… Anyway, I'm going to shut up and let you read the chapter, since it's taken so long to be posted! I hope to get back into updating around once every two weeks-ish with any luck, but you're going to have to bear with me. I hope you like the chapter anyway. You might want to go and reread the last one or the last few to refresh yourself.
Disclaimer – I don't own Ashes to Ashes. Hell, I probably don't even deserve the rights to this story, especially considering that cliff-hanger I left you all on for months. :/
The sheets were warm around Alex's body as she snuggled down more comfortably, a smile lazily curving her lips. Sunlight caressed every open space and every crevice of the lounge, bathing her and Gene in molten gold. She could feel that sunlight on her skin and beneath it, running through her veins and in her smile. It was a warmth she had never felt before, a feeling of elated, blissful security that she had never experienced.
She watched him sleep, observed the sun's caress of his long eyelashes, the way it picked out the tiny scar she had discovered on his neck, just below his left ear, and how it threaded in his hair, creating a lion's mane if she ever saw one. Beneath the covers, her legs were entangled with his, and she couldn't bring herself to care that her left ankle felt dead. She wondered briefly how they had come to be that way, before realising she couldn't bring herself to care about that either.
Almost reverently, she moved a hand to lightly sweep his hair away from his face, her fingers deft and light in the morning sun. She smiled softly.
"I wish I had known you then," she whispered, fingertips still resting at his temple where she had moved his hair. "Everything would have been different. I would have felt…safe."
Under her touch, or at the sound of her voice, she wasn't sure, Gene stirred, his eyes struggling open and blinking into the sunlight for a moment.
Smiling, she shifted to press her lips to his forehead, lingering there just long enough to breathe in the comforting scent of soap and the aftershave she was sure he probably hadn't changed since 1971 before drawing back again.
He seemed to be able to do nothing but stare at her, slightly in awe, until he finally murmured, stunned, "Morning, Bols."
Shifting to face her, Gene moved to press his lips to Alex's again, drinking in the at once familiar yet still unfamiliar taste of her. She kissed him back, moaning quietly as his tongue probed at her lower lip. So it hadn't been a dream.
"Well…err…this is new," he said, voice slightly gruff from the hoarseness of his throat, which even now was flaring, in need of his usual morning cigarette. He flicked his gaze down to their still dressed state to qualify what he meant.
At first, Alex only hummed in reply, too preoccupied with kissing him again to form a coherent reply. "You know I never had you pegged for a cuddler, Gene."
"Shut up, yer mare. We weren't cuddling." Gene sat up, reluctantly withdrawing from the warmth of her body against his.
Remaining where she was, Alex just looked up at him with a lazy smirk on her face. If that was how she looked now, Gene wondered what she'd look like if they actually… He cut the thought off suddenly, a strange feeling of embarrassment coming over him. It was only subtle, and he didn't understand where it had come from. Yet it was there nonetheless. This – this taking something slow thing – was new territory for him.
"You'll find we were. We certainly weren't doing anything else," Alex pointed out, still smirking as she sat up, looking about the living room. Her empty wine glass and his beer bottle were still on the coffee table, and she wondered if Scarlett had noticed that her Dad hadn't made it upstairs to bed last night. She hoped not. She didn't want Scarlett to assume…
Gene's question interrupted her thoughts. "And whose decision was that, Bolly?"
She looked surprised, and then narrowed her eyes at him. "Both of ours, I thought. Unless you were just being a 'gentleman' and now you're going to label me as some frigid cow?"
"Alright, Bols. Calm down." Gene rushed to bring his hands up defensively. "I didn't mean – I was only yanking yer chain. We couldn't, not with…" His voice trailed off, and his gaze trailed up to the ceiling.
"I just didn't think it was appropriate, that's all…" Alex said quietly, looking down, feeling the beginnings of awkwardness setting in.
A moment later, she felt a warm palm under her chin and gentle fingers along the length of her jaw line. He drew her gaze up to meet his, kissing her softly.
"You were right, Bols, an' I agreed with you. Joint decision. Just don't…"
She smiled against his lips. "What?" Her eyes seemed to dance almost wickedly, gaze taunting his. "Tell the others that their Guv – the almighty, 'shag-em-and-leave-em' Gene Hunt – managed to kiss a woman, spent the night with her, but didn't get in her knickers?"
"Something like that, yeah," Gene muttered, but his lips quirked into a slight, smirking smile when she laughed and kissed him again.
"I won't tell. God forbid the world finds out what a responsible and caring man you really are."
He raised an eyebrow. "Steady on, Bols. Anyone would think you were trying flatter me into bed with yer."
She slapped him on the arm for that as she scrambled to her feet, tugging her blouse straight as she glanced at the clock and hoped she would have time to change before she needed to be at the station. "Shut up."
Gene just grinned up at her, and for a moment the pure boyish joy on his face made her pause and catch her breath. She had put that grin there. Amidst weeks of torment, guilt and struggles with Scarlett, she had put a truly happy grin on Gene Hunt's face. And, she realised, feeling her own smile spreading treacherously across her face, he had put one on hers too.
When Alex arrived back at Gene's that evening after finishing up a burglary case gone wrong, it was to find Gene on the phone in the kitchen and Scarlett loitering in the hallway, presumably listening in on the conversation. As Alex came through the door, she brought a finger to her lips with a quiet, careless, "Shhh."
Frowning, but taking her jacket off as quietly as she could, Alex moved forward to catch what Gene was saying on the phone too. Scarlett stood by the stairs, arms crossed over her chest, front teeth torturing her lower lip. Her fingers were playing with a short, almost blunt pencil and Alex noticed lead on her fingertips – so she'd been sketching again.
After listening for half a minute and discerning that Gene must be on the phone to St. Peter's about securing Scarlett a place for the start of the new term, Alex stepped back and gestured to Scarlett to follow her into the lounge. At first, the teenager shook her head, staying where she was, but when Alex stayed where she was, waiting in the entrance to the lounge, she sighed and stumped forwards. Alex pushed the door to behind them, but left it ajar a little way.
"What's going on?" she asked.
Scarlett flopped down onto the couch and for a minute just stared resolutely ahead, a pout all too similar to Gene's resting moodily on her lips. Eventually she flicked her gaze up to Alex. "They got my behaviour record from my old school up in Manchester – I heard Dad trying t' make promises that 'I'd turned over a new leaf', 'am receiving counselling', an' all that shit."
For a moment, Alex processed the words in her brain before moving to sit on the armchair by the sofa. She faced Scarlett. "And you're worried they won't want to give you a place now?"
Scarlett just shrugged. "Don't care if they give me a place or not. You asked me what was going on, so I told yer."
Alex pressed her lips together tightly, thinking for a split second. Then she said, gently, "Scarlett – "
"Alright," Scarlett snapped, gaze flaring. "So I'm a bit pissed about it, before yer start trying to psychoanalyse me. I 'ave a therapist for that, thank you very much. Don't need you to do it an' all. I just…" She started picking at the loose thread on her jeans again. "I just wonder 'ow long this is all gonna follow me around for, y'know? If they don't want me at that school then fine, their loss an' all that. Whatever. But I would've liked to… To show 'em all that not everyone who looks rotten is, or that not everyone that looks rotten stays rotten forever. I'm not the fucking devil incarnate."
"And who's this 'them' that you want to show?"
She shrugged again. "People, in general… Teachers, my Mum, you I guess… And Dad."
Alex found herself gently shaking her head, though Scarlett wasn't looking at her. Her eyes were cast firmly downwards, focusing on the rip in her jeans like it was the most interesting thing in the world. "I don't think you're rotten, Scarlett," she told her quietly. "I don't think you're rotten at all. And no, you're most certainly not the devil incarnate."
With the sort of disgruntled nonchalance that only a teenager could achieve, Scarlett flicked her gaze up to meet Alex's for just a moment. "No offense an' all, but what would you know about it, or about me?"
Now it was Alex's turn to shrug. "Maybe I don't know a lot about it, or about you. But I know about me, and I know that when I was your age I did all sorts of stupid things, I got myself into messes I thought I'd never get out of, and I put my godfather through hell all because I was on some one woman wonder mission to seek revenge on the world for I don't know what. But I turned out okay, in the end."
There was silence for a long time then, the only noise the distant murmur of Gene's voice from the kitchen, still talking to Mr Harrow. After a long while, just as Alex was starting to regret saying anything at all, Scarlett looked up at her properly, a slight frown on her face, but intrigue in her eyes.
Alex nodded. "My parents died when I was just a child, and my godfather became my guardian. My parents' death was…messy – complicated. I won't go into it, but… I think I blamed my godfather, in some way… Well I think I blamed the world, but I pinned it mostly on him. I don't know what I thought really." She shrugged. "I was a mess."
"But you're…" Scarlett looked down and back up again, then shook her head. "I would never 'ave thought it."
"Well there you go then," Alex said simply, smiling ever so slightly at her and standing up. She glanced over towards the door. "I think your Dad's finished on the phone. Shall we go see what's going on?"
Pausing for a moment, Scarlett swallowed and then nodded, getting up too. There was something different in her eyes as she looked at Alex now – a glimmer of renewed respect, unless she was just imagining it. Either way, Alex felt like she had lifted a weight off her shoulders, and she thought that maybe Scarlett felt the same way too.
Despite how long it took me to write it, I did really enjoy writing this chapter, so I hope you liked it! Please let me know your thoughts, and I'm so sorry again. :)