Hello again! I hope you all had an absolutely wonderful Christmas, and Happy New Year! Thank you so much for your reviews. Here's the next chapter (less angst this time…I think :P), enjoy!
Disclaimer – Nope, Santa did not bring me Ashes to Ashes, so it still belongs to Kudos, the BBC, etc, etc.
Awake my Soul, Awake my Tongue – Part Three
By the time the winter sunshine is straining weakly to shine through the bedroom window, Alex's head feels, not for the first time since she arrived in this world, as though it really does have a bullet in it.
A pulse is beating on her brain, sharp and fierce, and there's an incessant pounding beneath it that feels as if it is intent on reverberating through every one of her neurons and synapses, vibrating through her skull. Her mouth is dry, eyes groggy and limbs slow to respond when she tries to move. Groaning, she attempts to open her eyes, fighting against the dried saltwater dampness of tears and clumped remnants of mascara to cast her bleary-eyed gaze about the room.
It takes her a few minutes to realise that she is still in her clothes, but someone must have removed her boots, because they're neatly set down in front of her dresser, side by side the way she used to arrange Molly's shoes by the front door when she was little. Outside, it has stopped snowing, but she can see glistening white and sparkling frost for miles towards the horizon when she sits up to see out of the window.
Christmas morning. Peace, happiness, thankfulness… Were they not all emotions people are supposed to feel on Christmas morning? Alex isn't sure anymore. She can't feel them.
Instead there is a blankness inside of her that seems to leave her void of any kind of overwhelming emotion, and there is an even more profound blankness in her head. What happened last night?
She can't remember coming to bed, or even making her way up the stairs to her flat.
For a moment, Alex tries to take a deep breath, close her eyes and remember. She tries to retrace her motions from the warehouse, and then it comes to her in blurs and slurred words. Her memories are fragmented and too bright – a kaleidoscope twisting and turning in her mind's eye, too fast and too varied to make much sense.
She remembers a strong arm around her waist – once, twice… maybe three times… All different. She remembers a stormy look and blurs of red, black and grey. Pale orange against stainless steel, the stench of vomit, the stickiness of tears against her cheeks. She remembers the soft tone of words spoken in her ear, meant to be soothing, she thinks, but she can't remember the words themselves. She remembers warm hands on her face, a kind look and a tired sigh. But everything blurs into one huge mess that she can't decipher – each tiny snapshot of memory forms a tile of the mosaic, but they haven't been set down in order, and the stonework looks shoddy and unorganised as it crumbles at the edges.
Alex's eyes fly open again as she suddenly hears the sound of movement at her side, and the gentle thud of something being placed on her bedroom table.
Gene is there, looking at her almost warily, but there's an essence of kindness in his eyes that she can't mistake. "Thought you might be needing a cuppa," he says, and nods to her bedside table.
She looks and sees the steaming mug of tea he's placed there, and unwittingly, a small smile struggles its way onto her face. She looks back up at him, and just stares for a few seconds.
His was the arm she remembers around her waist, the stormy look was in his eyes and the murmured words must have come from him. She vaguely remembers it being his thumb that wiped the tears away from her cheeks, his kind look and tired sigh.
"Gene," she breathes, for a moment still caught between the present and the past, the world of waking and dreaming. "You stayed."
Gene seems uncomfortable as he shuffles his feet, but maintains eye contact. "Course I did, Bols. Had t' make sure you were alright."
"What…" She brings a hand up to her face, rubbing at her eyes for a moment and trying to push her hair back out of the way. It's knotted and greasy and in need of a wash. She must look a state. She wonders what he must think of her now. "What happened?"
He lets out a sigh that echoes somewhere in her memory and lowers himself to sit at the bottom of her bed, body angled away from her, but head turned so his gaze meets hers.
"You got pissed, Bols… You threw up, I tried to clean yer up best I could, and got you t' bed. I should 'ave realised you were drinking too much – more than usual. I'm sorry."
She blinks at him, stunned. "You… Don't be sorry, Gene. It's my fault. It's not your job to look after me…" She trails off as the full implications of what he is saying sink in, and a tidal wave of shame washes through her, sending tears surging to her eyes, stinging in her irises to be released.
Her gaze trails away too, dropping down slowly to the duvet strewn over her lap, bunched around her from where she's pulled herself into a sitting position.
"I was…sick…" The look that twists onto her face is one of pure contempt, and she glances up at Gene with tears in her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Gene…. What must you think of me, I… I lost control. I'm a mess, I didn't mean…" She shakes her head, trying desperately to order her thoughts into words. "What I'm trying to say is… thank you… If you hadn't been there, who knows what I…"
She can feel the tears coming, pushing against her weakened defences, and she squeezes her eyes tight shut against them – draws her knees up, buries her head there.
"Oh God… I just feel so stupid…"
And she does. Grown women don't get so drunk that they throw up, not women like her anyway. She's meant to be strong, independent and wise to the ways of the world. She shouldn't have let Marie Tilsley's death affect her so much. Teenagers drink themselves into oblivion and end the night throwing up in the kitchen sink. Not her.
She lifts her head slowly to look at Gene, though his expression is blurred slightly by the moisture in her eyes. His tie is gone and shirt crumpled, but he doesn't look half as tired as she feels.
"I'm so sorry, Gene," she whispers, feeling a few more tears leak from her eyes. "I'm so sorry."
Inside him, Gene feels alarm growing. He shifts closer to her, extends a hand towards her, then withdraws it again, not knowing quite what to do.
"Bols, it's alright. Bolly, don't – " He sighs as she chokes on a quiet sob and gets up, sitting back down again next to her. This is so much harder to do when she's sober. He puts his arms around her just as he did last night, pulls her head to his shoulder and holds her there, fingers stroking absently through her hair. "Don't cry, Alex… Can't stand it when yer cry."
She pulls out of his embrace a few moments later, bringing a hand up to quickly swipe the tears from her face. She gazes at him with watery, sorrowful eyes.
"I'm sorry, Gene… I'm a mess, sorry. I'll… I'll stop crying now, I promise." She tries to laugh, but it comes out shaky and shallow, and a few more tears escape with it.
He rolls his eyes and just pulls her closer again, pressing his lips to the top of her head without thinking. Her hair has lost the usual citrusy, floral scent that tortures him on a daily basis, yet he doesn't care.
"Stop apologising, yer daft mare. You needed me, and I was there. Come on, Bols, pull yerself together."
She pulls away to look up at him again, biting down nervously on her lower lip. Her expression reminds Gene of a small, worried child, and he lets his arms fall from around her.
"Why are you so good to me, Gene?" she asks, and her voice isn't even a whisper – the words are exhalations of air, carrying on her breath, subtle and timid.
After a pause, he sighs and reaches out to tuck her hair behind her ears again. His thumb lingers by her jaw, just ghosting the line of it lightly. Her teeth slowly release her lower lip and her gaze widens. Last night he wanted to absorb all of her pain into his own shadow, to take the hurt from her eyes and the weight from her back and shoulder it all himself, just to stop her from feeling it. Now, he wants to kiss that pain and hurt away, until neither of them can feel it anymore.
"Because you're not good enough to yourself, Alex. That's why."
He cups her jaw then with his hand and leans forward – for a brief, fleeting moment, Alex thinks he is about to kiss her, and a roaring battle erupts inside her as to whether to let him or not; it lasts all of a split second, before he moves to press his lips to her forehead instead.
She leans in to the gesture, bowing her head slightly as if in prayer as she feels his lips linger on her forehead, warm and comforting. It feels somehow like a blessing, an absolution of her sins. A fresh start. Her eyes close; she is breathing him in, and she finds herself thanking whichever deity gave her Gene Hunt.
"Have a bath, get yourself cleaned up, Bols," he tells her quietly, but firmly. "I'll see if I can scavenge any food from Luigi, and we'll 'ave Christmas dinner, eh?" He moves back to sit a more appropriate distance from her on the bed, his hand falling down and away from her face. She mourns the loss of contact immediately, the pulse in his fingertips against her skin.
"Unless, you'd err… Unless you'd rather be alone? Because that's fine too, I'll just, ah, see myself out."
Alex's eyes widen in alarm. "No," she says quickly, shaking her head and then, seeing his amusement at her sudden response, she smiles a little shyly. "No," she repeats, her voice quieter and calmer this time. "I want you to stay, and have dinner with me. I'd… I'd really like that, Gene. Very much."
She expects him to make some kind of sarcastic or smutty comment – a joke to cover up the strangeness, yet familiarity, in the intimacy that has somehow grown, so quickly, yet seemingly so naturally, between them in the space of the last few hours. Perhaps, Alex thinks, when he wrapped an arm around her back in the warehouse and pressed his forehead to her temple, pleading with her to move, something inside both of them had been awakened. It is often the case, she realises, that the most beautiful things arise from the most horrible of situations.
But Gene's next words are not sarcastic, or smutty, or even remotely suggestive in any way.
Instead he nods, squeezes her hand before standing up and pauses to look at her before moving towards the door. And then, so subtle that at first Alex doesn't quite catch it, a vague smile lifts the corners of his lips.
"Okay," he says, and there's a look in the stormy blue of his eyes as he says it that she can't decipher, but that somehow tells her that everything it going to be okay, and she is sure that she's never heard a more beautiful word come from his lips.
I promised you happier things in this chapter – I hope I delivered! Just one more instalment to come, which I hope to have posted before I return to school on the 7th. Thank you for reading, and please let me know your thoughts! And again, a very Happy New Year to you all!