Fandom: Ashes to Ashes
Word Count: 3,660 words.
Notes: Damn you, Matthew Graham! Uhh, I think of this as gen, but it has hints of Gene/Alex. Obviously, you shouldn't read this if you haven't seen the end of Life on Mars or read the press release. And even more obviously, this is an AU before the thing's even started.
Summary: Alex has never been into sequels.
Alex has never been into sequels. She doesn't see the point. The story's already been done. It's finished with. The natural progression of narrative is birth, life, death. She's never believed in resurrection. So she wonders, as she awakes in the second month of madness, why her mind is playing Am I Mad, In a Coma, Or Back In Time 2: Electric Boogaloo.
It's not really waking up. You can't wake up when you're already dreaming.
At first, she lets her hair hang down, but she's given so many dirty looks, she decides to go for the hairspray option. Sure, it takes an extra fifteen minutes out of her day, but that's fifteen minutes less of having to explain. She discovers she has enough blue eye shadow to last her into the fiftieth incarnation of the fad. And her clothes are well and truly hideous, but it's not like she wasn't wearing them the first time around.
She flips the radio on and '(Just like) Starting Over' is playing. Lennon without McCartney. It fits into her early morning theme of 'it's never as good the second time', with an added bonus that she keeps all to herself. Stretching, she pads towards the mirror, only to trip over one of her hastily removed shoes. She damn near sprains her ankle and swears, loudly, making threatening hand signals at the air.
This is when Molly appears. She's not really there. She's not real. Nothing's real.
"If I used language like that, you'd beat me black and blue."
"I've never raised a hand to you, not even that time you were three and ran into the road. Though I've been sorely tempted," Alex retorts, eyes wide in indignation. "Teenagers these days, I ask you…"
"These days? Which days? Two thousand and something days or nineteen eighty one days?"
"Any days, I suppose. Could you stop talking and help me find the other one? I have to go to work and see if I can withstand another day of leers and jeers."
Molly doesn't deviate from her position on top of the television. She never does, in these little talks of theirs. "I don't know why you bother."
"Neither do I, but sometimes I think I might be getting to the truth, whatever the truth may be."
"Mum, we both know the truth is you're completely batshit crazy, so stop trying to convince yourself otherwise. Buy a ticket to Ibiza and forget about returning home."
Alex stops and stares at her daughter, who's flicking her blonde tresses from her face and smiling calmly. She wants to go over there and shake her senseless, but she's heard that "I'll call the child abuse hotline!" response one too many times, and she knows from past experience of trying to hug the fourteen year old that her hands will be met with nothing but cold air. Molly ceased to be corporeal the second Alex was thrust into 1981.
She's cried about it every night. She's tried to do something about it. She's been confused and lonely and wished very much that the writer of her fate doesn't have a sick sense of humour.
Chris smiles when she enters the room. She's late. She's often late, but it's not her fault. The tube is as unreliable as they come. Alex likes Chris. He has a naïve quality in counterpoint with the things he's seen and done. He's often tagging along with Gene's team, even though he has his own niche in surveillance. Chris has tried to help her on multiple occasions, is always asking for advice and once called her 'Boss' in defiance of Gene's orders that she be referred to as Detective Fancy-Pants. Gene was angry, making a point, setting an example. He's since reneged on being a complete and utter git every second of the day and is only like that ninety percent of the time.
She doesn't know what it is about Gene. She thinks she's been tainted by Tyler's faintly homoerotic description of a brutal man with a not-so-brutal heart. He's such a pig, but sometimes she thinks he's as lost as she is and she doesn't know why that appeals to her, but it does. She's laughed at his comments, more than once. Yep, she's definitely insane.
"Oh, has her grand duchess finally decided to grace us with her presence?" Gene bellows, coming to pose like the tosser he can be. "Tell me, Alexander, did you accidentally take a potion that made you really, really tall? Have you been running after a fluffy tail with a watch?"
Alex beams at Gene, large and bright, and walks confidently towards him. She stumbles over the leg of a chair, but she hopes she pulls it off.
"The tube," she says, by way of explanation.
"D'you want me to come round yours every morning and pick you up, is that it?"
No, definitely not. The last thing she wants is to see Gene's face ten minutes after crawling out of bed. She needs the extra hour in the morning. She needs several extra hours in the morning. And more at night. But she's not going to get them.
"I'll do my best, Guv."
"Let's just hope your best is halfway good enough, darling." Gene turns from her, clapping his hands together and addressing the room at large.
"Right, listen up. This case we've been dealing with over the past week has reached new heights. Just heard news that Brickthick Barry's been involved in some kind of accident and since he's our number one informant, we'd better get down there.
"Chris, you're with me. George, you're with Ray."
Chris stands up, a little too excited. "Awesome!"
It takes Alex a moment to realise that she is 'George'. A different boy's name every time, just because she goes by 'Alex'. He really can be impossibly obnoxious.
Ray sidles up to her and gives the little half-smirk that's started gracing his lips more and more often as the weeks have worn on. She has a horrible, slightly nauseated feeling that Ray may just like her. She'd prefer his cutting hatred.
She'd felt sorry for him. For Tyler. Not at first. At first she hadn't felt anything. She'd studied his case with detached professional interest. But there had been something in the monotone that drew her in. The fondness of his anecdotes that all too often ended with police brutality. His world furnished with characters that were archetypal but three dimensional. He spoke about them with eloquence and understanding. It was an engaging story.
She'd been a little too obsessed. She'd looked up all she could on 1973, but there had been no Gene Hunt, no Raymond Carling, no Christian Skelton, nor Sam Tyler from that time. They had existed, though. And Manchester had come into the equation. Sam was her contemporary and the others, well, the others were here in her other contemporary. Annie Cartwright, however, she had been from 1973. A first class up-and-coming WPC who, according to reports, had been kicked to death by the Morton brothers.
That's where the disparity lies. That's why she hasn't just locked herself in a white room and been done with it. Whatever delusions Tyler had, there was truth and reality in his words. She needs to find out just how much. Some days, like today, she's positive she's lying in a hospital bed somewhere, all of this constructed from spending too much time listening to Tyler's deep and smooth tones. Other times, she's clung onto a sensation of impossibility, because every detail is perfect and God is in the details. Every hour or so she has the thought that she might be both in a hospital bed and in 1981, that Molly is a projection as opposed to a hallucination.
She's deconstructed it so many times, then built it back up in profile after profile. Logic tells her that she doesn't have enough of the facts. Logic tells her that she's an unreliable narrator - that the details she thinks are right could actually be wrong. Emotion tells her that if she's really here in 1981, she's a failure as a mother.
Alex has stopped feeling sorry for Tyler and has instead started feeling sorry for herself.
The coach has toppled to the side. A crowd are milling about, tight perms and layered clothing in abundance. Some of them are being tended to by medics, but others are just gawking.
"Oooh, I bet it were just like being on a rollercoaster," Gene says, complete disregard for sensitivity, as usual. "Ey up, there he is, the man of our dreams."
Gene steps forward, extending his arms out wide. "Barry! Bazza! Long time no see."
Barry looks far from happy to see them. "DCI Hunt, what brings you here?"
"I'm here to be your protector, and by the looks of that gash in your nose, by golly, you need me." Gene claps his hand on Barry's shoulder and grins broadly. He looks at Alex and Ray, who are stood off to the side watching the action. "There's lots of people round here that are just bursting with information. I didn't bring you here to gaze at me every second of the day."
Alex snaps out of her reverie and walks towards the nearest person, an elderly woman, who, by the looks of her wrapped ankle, had been on the coach. Ray follows close behind. Chris stays with Gene, a lost little puppy-dog fiddling with some electronic device.
After several minutes of questions, Alex is beginning to wonder how much empathy she can fake.
"Is there anything more you can tell us, Mrs Pearson?" Alex asks, gentle voiced and calming. She stretches out a well-manicured hand.
"I don't think so. There was this man, who ran out into the middle of the road, the driver swerved to avoid him and here we are now."
"What'd he look like, love?" Ray interrupts.
"I can't remember, sorry. I wish I could."
"That's okay. Thank you for your co-operation. I hope your ankle improves soon."
"Dozy cow," Ray mutters when they walk away, towards two people who look like a young married couple.
"She's probably in shock," Alex retorts, huffing out a sigh.
Every statement they take is based on the same basic facts, but differ in degree of information. Some people think the man in the road was blond, others think he had brown hair; some are convinced he was very tall, others mention the words 'dwarf-like'. There are comments about a man in the coach waving his arms about a few minutes before anything happened. Not many people can pinpoint that man either.
A picture forms in Alex's mind of what has potentially occurred, but she's not sure how accurate or inaccurate it is. She signals to Ray that she's going to go talk to the Guv and he reluctantly lets her go. She feels a shudder run up her spine.
"It was him. He planned it."
Gene crosses his arms. "Give over. Barry's much too thick - remember his nickname? It's not a Little John reference. He's genuinely wider than two short planks. And I mean that mentally as well as physically."
"That may be so, but everything I've heard points in his direction. I've built up a quick profile and it's him, Gene, it has to be. Look at my notes."
"Listen, Terry, I've dealt with cases like this before."
Alex is about to say, 'I know you have,' but refrains when she realises that's not entirely true.
She slows down her words, punctuating each sentence with a steady, temperate look. "Look, he's been avoiding us, yes? And no one actually got seriously hurt? But, even still, no one came to get Barry, after the coach was run off the road. I think the robbery that Barry said he'd tell us about is going on now. And we're here, distracted, as opposed to there, arresting people."
"I think you have no idea what you're raving on about!" Gene says, arching forward and speaking louder than necessary.
Alex replies in kind. "And I think you're a narrow-minded arsehole!"
"Takes one to know one."
Alex stops. "Sorry, what?"
"You heard me."
"You're not denying that you're a narrow-minded arsehole?"
"No, why the sod should I?" Gene taps his foot and adjusts his tie, taking in a breath and letting it blow past his lips. "So I should radio?"
"Yes, I think you should."
"You think a lot of things, glamour-puss."
"It's the side-effect of being intelligent as well as sexy."
Gene's expression remains neutral at this, but his pupils dilate. He raises a hand for Chris and travels to his Audi Quattro.
Gene comes back, looking triumphant. "No luck. You're wrong. Let's find out what's really going on."
"Give it time," Alex urges.
Gene shrugs his shoulders and she's positive he's completely disregarded everything she said. She'd be disappointed if she hadn't already expected it. It's the pattern of their relationship. It's the pattern of all of Gene's past relationships, if any of her information is to be trusted.
"I'm gonna go look in the coach, you coming?"
It's either that or return to Ray. The answer's immediate.
There's a kid standing by the coach, looking at it in interest. He's too thin, too serious. There's a pang in Alex's chest as she realises he's only a little younger than Molly.
"Oi, you little scroat, stay away, this is a restricted area," Gene thunders. The kid starts and reels back. His arm is in a sling and he winces in pain as he jerks it accidentally.
"Sorry. Didn't know. I was on it, when it crashed."
"Oh really? I'll get pretty-tits here to take a statement from you in a minute, then."
"I could tell you now, if you like?"
"How sweet, but I've got some actual work to do. DCIs in the Met don't usually spend their time talking to little boys about their little toys. I'm gonna be talking to the paki driver in a moment to find out what happened."
"You're Mancunian," the boy says in his own Mancunian accent, tilting his head to the side and studying Gene.
"Yeah, your point?"
"Just think it's strange, that's all. You said you're from the Met?"
"Transferred there when it all went to shit luck, 1974. You're an inquisitive little sort, aren't you?"
"Gonna be a detective one day. Gonna have awards and commendations."
Gene raises his eyebrows. "Let's hope you fill out some first."
The kid taps his head with his free hand. "Don't need muscles when you've got brains."
"Oh, you've got a lot to learn."
Alex stares at them and feels bile rising in her throat. This is disturbingly familiar and her mind is flicking past thousands of ephemera to bring one salient fact to the fore.
Coach crash, Sam Tyler, 12 years old.
Coach crash, Sam Tyler, 12 years old, Gene Hunt.
Suddenly, the confusions that have kept her up at night - if it could be called that - are becoming a little more ordered, but they are now more confusing. The inside of her brain is whirling like a hurricane, catching little pieces of the houses of her mind on the way. The roof of the building that keeps her anxiety locked up is torn off and Alex feels like running, like screaming, like praying that this isn't what she thinks it is.
"Maybe you've got a lot to learn too," the boy replies defiantly, but wanders away with an expression that is half-pout, half-scowl.
If it's not what she thinks it is, it's ridiculously coincidental.
Gene's conversation with the bus driver involves shouting. Alex knows this, because the noise travels through the space to her ears with piercing clarity, even though she's gone to stand with Chris and Ray. She doesn't hear the driver's responses, but Gene's words make her think that he's not offering anything new.
They have come to an impasse. The road is blocked. Failure is imminent. The radio crackles to attention.
"Is the Guv there?"
"He's a bit busy at the moment," Chris says back. "Can I help?"
"Tell him that we have an armed robbery in progress."
Alex takes a delicate step to the left and extends a hand towards Chris. "I'll tell him."
Her teeth are large and white as she approaches. "Gene, you'll never guess what I just heard…"
Gene jerks his head. "Bet I could." He swaggers forward. "Don't tell me, you were right, sweet cheeks," he says. Alex can tell it's said with considerable pain and loss of pride.
"Indeed I was."
Gene sets his feet on the ground. "Barry!" he yells, stentorian and filled with rage.
To Alex's surprise, Barry appears immediately, but his demeanour has changed from weak and cloying to smug self-importance.
"We don't have any evidence to hold him on and he knows it," Gene says after he talks to Barry, dragging a hand down his face and tensing his shoulders. "Shit. Wank. Bollocks."
"I guess we'll just need a confession," Alex says, adding a lighthearted element to her tone that she doesn't feel.
"Oh yeah, that'll be real simple, that will. They stopped allowing us to take appropriate measures years ago, if you'll recall."
Alex has a notion of what Gene's appropriate measures entail.
"Just leave it to me."
Alex digs a mirror out of her bag and checks that her make-up is as caked on as ever. It is. She pouts her lips and smoothes down her clothes. Time to set feminism back a decade or two.
She sashays over to Barry.
"Barry," she says seductively. "Most people have gone home. Why are you still here?"
"I'll be gone in a second, don't you worry about that."
"A shame. I've been enjoying your company today."
Barry twitches nervously. "Don't lie."
"No, it's true. The other officers don't appreciate me. They either see me as an inferior version of them, or a threat. But you, Barry, you've been looking at me as if I were a woman, all day."
He wriggles some more, a stammer working its way into his words. "You are a woman. A very attractive woman, if I may say so."
"Of course you may." Alex bends down and brings her eyes level with Barry's. "Everyone's always saying how stupid you are, Barry, but I don't believe them. I think you're one of the smartest men around. You shield yourself with other people's expectations - you lie with the truth, and you get away with murder."
Barry squirms uncomfortably. "I've never murdered anyone."
"But you did plan the heist on the bank, didn't you?" Alex says, bringing her hand to Barry's arm and dragging her fingertips up to his elbow. "Down to the last detail?"
There's a moment of tension. Alex does a little more of her femme fatale act, honed during her training, leaning forward and licking at the corner of her lips.
"No. I didn't plan it. But I can tell you who did. He's high up, very high up. He's dangerous."
"Oh! Thank you, Barry." Alex smiles tauntingly. She stands upright, changing her posture, her attitude, her persona. "I've always said a little bit of psychology never goes astray."
Barry slumps, defeated.
Alex turns to see the boy - it has to be Tyler, with those brown eyes and gaunt cheeks - gazing in her direction. She sweeps a lock or two from her forehead and moves in order to report back to Gene.
They have a long and involved discussion of what needs to occur in order to get their suspect. Barry's information isn't enough. Cameron Rutterford's influence extends far and wide and could be an on-going battle for the months to come.
"Chris, you're gonna have to get the rest of those in your team onto this. Poncified surveillance is needed to bring this shithead down," Gene asserts. He changes tack, rubbing his hands together. "Right, who's up for a drink?"
"Not me," Ray says. "Hot date tonight, Guv. Gonna dance our cares away. And then, if I'm lucky, do other things besides."
"I didn't need that mental imagery, thanks, Ray."
"Not me either," Chris says with a grin. "I'm being treated to a proper home cooked meal."
"Just you and me, then, jiggly-jugs," Gene says, directing his attention to Alex, who's sat down at her desk.
"No, Gene. I'm busy, sorry."
"Fine then, I'll go out for a night on the town on my lonesome, you bunch of sissies."
Alex stares into her coffee-cup, feeling overwhelmingly like she wants to pound her head into the table and never see the light of day again. She's not busy. Not with anything but introspection and yearning fear.
Is it reality, then? It all fits. Everything fits. And it hurts.
Molly's sitting there when she gets back, playing with the hem of her red dress. "How was today?"
"It was…" Alex hesitates. She takes a deep breath and attempts to stop the tears that threaten to make her heavily-applied mascara run. "I'm so sorry, Molly."
"Why are you sorry? This isn't your fault. You never asked to be here."
Alex finds this far from comforting. The real Molly blames her for the broken fingernail she got last Tuesday whilst making out with her boyfriend. The real Molly doesn't sit on televisions, with red dresses, and clown dolls lying nearby. The real Molly is having to fend for herself, whilst Alex is living in a sci-fi show.
This could be time travel. Or she could be locked away in an insane asylum. Or perhaps she's in a coma, dreaming everything, dreaming it all. And the worst thing is that it's not even a unique situation. Someone's been there before. Someone might be there again.
And she can't help but wonder, how long can it last? But perhaps the question should be, 'How soon can it be over?'