Her world is tilted sideways as she blinks into the morning sun, lashes clinging to sleep as blink by blink she takes in a now familiar skyline. Beyond nearby rooftops stretches a sprawling mass of concrete monoliths, somehow made beautiful by the sunrise, and the dawn glow warms the dirty waters of the Thames where it snakes its way through the city, a fluid spine to serve its muscles. She forgot long ago to miss the gleaming of the sun on the Millennium Dome in the morning and the way it would glint from the topmost pods of the London Eye.
For a moment she closes her eyes again, just breathing in the fresh cotton scent of the pillow and feeling the warmth of the sunlight on her face, strengthened by the glass pane it streams through, spilling onto the floor and across the bed. There is a stronger warmth at her back however - a firm arm looped around her waist, confident fingers splayed over her hip, possessive. She stills, biting her lip to contain the smile threatening to splash across her face as she basks in the feeling, at once familiar and unfamiliar yet always thrilling, of not waking up alone.
Shifting slightly after a moment to stretch a cramped leg outwards, she murmurs, "Gene? Gene, are you awake?"
A muffled grunt is all she receives in reply – a faint huff of hot breath against the back of her neck. He tucks her body in closer to his though, arm tightening around her waist. She doesn't bite back the smile this time. Ignoring his protests, she shifts around beneath the covers until she is facing him, one leg pushed between his and her hands curled between their chests, trapped between the twin beats of both their hearts.
She smiles up at him as he groggily opens his eyes, looking at her with a mixture of faint annoyance and hazy adoration. There is a hint of wonder there, too – the same hint that lightens his whole face in those times she catches him watching her from across a room, or as she applies her makeup or makes his morning cup of tea. It is like he can't believe she's there, and she wonders if he knows that she feels the same way when she looks at him. She hopes he sees the same hint of wonder in her eyes too.
"This waking up at six a-bleedin'-m with all yer fidgeting and shuffling about has got t' stop, Bols. You're interrupting my beauty sleep," he says after a moment, and his voice is nothing more than a disgruntled rumble against the pillow. But he doesn't close his eyes again and instead just shifts to accommodate her new position, draping an arm across her hip as if it belongs there.
"Would this…" She pushes her upper body towards him to press her lips briefly to his, "…serve as a better wakeup call, do you think?"
He merely opens his eyes wider and makes a noncommittal movement of the head that all but amounts to a shrug. "I've 'ad better wakeup calls, Bolly," he replies in a throwaway tone that he knows will tug just the right reaction out of her.
And as if he'd pulled a string, her right eyebrow arches in response. "Oh?" She shifts in place again, propping herself up on one elbow now as she leans over him, eyes glittering, lips smirking. "How about this then?"
She presses her lips more firmly to his this time, making her kiss a gentle caress that lingers for a moment. She gently probes his lower lip with her tongue, tasting last night's toothpaste and his signature whisky and tobacco smoke for just a fleeting moment before she withdraws again. Her gaze meets his with a challenge as she remains hovering above him, waiting.
He pauses for a moment, keeping her in suspense before a smirk of a smile stretches across his face and he repositions his hands on her hips. "Not bad at all. Might need further persuading t' wake up though, mind you."
She calls him impossible, but there's a smile in her voice as she says it, and he merely pulls her lips down to meet his again in reply, his arms wrapping tight around her so that her body is draped across his, his hands maintaining their possessive claim to her hips as they kiss.
What follows is slow and languorous – a blissful haze of warm lips gliding over skin, seamless caresses and the soft, strained whispers of his name, falling over and over again from her lips into his ear. He makes love to her as though they have all the time in the world and she makes no argument, her back arching into him at every artful touch of his fingers, at every taste of tongue and lips and skin.
Somewhere in the hazy heat of it all, she tells him that she loves him, and somewhere in between his gliding caresses and the murmurs of her name, she hears him say it back.
Hours later finds the sun higher in the sky, yet still it streams through the window, basking the room, the bed and their tangled, entwined forms in a glittering warmth that very almost doesn't feel real.
"Gene," she murmurs, stirring them both from their warm, blissful slumber. She blinks up at him through the soft haze in her mind, every part of her body feeling at once heavy and light with a sultry weightlessness.
"Mhm?" His eyes remain closed, fingertips circling her hip and upper thigh absently.
She pauses, her gaze moving to watch the play of sunlight on the ceiling before she asks, so quietly that he almost doesn't hear her, "Did you mean it?"
His reply is lazy and heavy with sleep. "Did I mean what, Bols?"
She hesitates again, gaze flicking just for a moment to look at him, but his eyes are still closed, his fingertips still tracing patterns into the warm skin of her hip. "What you said…before."
Now, he opens his eyes and his gaze meets hers with a quiver of uncertainty. "You mean…?"
She nods sadly, wetting her lips as for a moment, words fail her. And then she looks up again, and there is such sorrow in her eyes. "…'See you around, bolly-kecks'… That's what you said."
He blinks once. His fingers have stilled on her hip. "Yes, I did."
"But will you, Gene? Will you see me around? Will I…" her voice falters and for a moment she thinks she is going to cry, but then she breathes in and tries to concentrate on the warmth of his body next to hers, the feel of his hand at her hip and the familiar scent of old spice, whisky and soap that envelops her. She looks deep into his eyes, trying to fathom some kind of truth in the storms of blue and grey that reside there – storms she supposes she imagines up.
"Will I… when will I ever see you again, Gene?"
As soon as the words have fallen so hesitantly from her lips they seem to shatter the air around them. The sunlight intensifies, growing brighter until she is blinking against it, trying to see Gene but struggling to make out more than a hazy form. She knows what is coming, yet still she tries to reach out for him, to cling to the warmth of his arms around her and the comfort of their shared bed. But as always, it slips away – he fades into the light and she is left in cold darkness with whispers floating around her – pieces of an answer that she will never hear or know.
She wakes again on the hard bench of the Railway Arms, staring bleakly around at the empty pub – the abandoned barstools, the dartboard devoid of players and a collection of empty pint glasses scattered across marked and chipped table tops. The bar itself stands sentinel and solitary, unmanned and unloved, its wooden top faded and stained from years of use. It is deathly silent as Alex pulls herself up to sit, hunched over on herself, head in her hands. The dreams are always different – always a different scenario, a different scene – but they have two consistencies. Gene is always there, with her, and each dream always ends the same – with a question falling from her lips that she should have learnt to stop asking, but for some reason can't bring herself to avoid.
She has lost track of time. At first there were days and weeks and months, but now the years have stretched on, the others have left – departed, found their own conclusions, their own places of catharsis, and she… She stays behind, waiting for a face she can only remember now in her dreams, for a touch that may not come and for a promise to be kept that may forever remain broken.
With a long sigh that echoes in the grey silence, Alex numbly makes her way over to the bar, retrieves a bottle of red and pours herself a drink. She settles down on her usual stool facing the door and resumes her post, waiting for the answer to a question that may never be given.
I haven't written Ashes fiction in a long time, as all of my stories are on indefinite hiatus at the moment, but this is just a little thing that was the result of me just sitting down to see if I could even still write prose as I haven't written it in a long time, but I thought it was worth posting. Thank you very much for reading, and of course, all the usual disclaimers apply. :)