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Origin of the term "darling"

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They're so very incredibly drunk. Entirely drunk. Alex has lost count of the bottles and sometimes it's best to tell Luigi not to give her the line-by-line on her tab, because there are things she would rather not know about herself.

She will snap out of this when she wakes up because it is an entirely psychological addiction that has no physiological basis, and she's using the alcohol to stop herself from worrying too much about the state of her health. Ergo, when her health is back, the alcohol won't be necessary.

All of the above is equally true regarding the way she treats Gene.

She gives him--to be perfectly fair--the same respect she gives herself, that being very little indeed. She wants him to get her out of her head, and he's good at that, even after enough wine that if he were a real boy he'd never get it up.

And after enough wine that if she were in her real body, she'd never get on her knees for him, never let him paw fumble-fingered at her arse and press inside her, slick and huge and taking up the whole world for a few minutes. She knows better than to do this slurring-drunk, giggling-drunk, thrusting-her-hips-back-drunk and someone in this bed is making the most godawful noise.

It's probably her, as Gene's not that soprano.

And Alex isn't usually that contralto.

"All right, Bolls?" he asks, the sounds not quite in the right order, either when he says them or when she hears them or both, but the tone's close enough that she knows what he means. Solicitous-horny, half-gone and worried she'll make him stop if he gets it wrong.

Alex has the topologically difficult and essentially counterproductive urge to bite him for asking and shoves herself back onto him instead, making another noise that isn't a word, the first time. She tries again and comes out with, "I'm quite well, thank you for inquiring," dragging it up as an irreducible sentence from some long-ago deportment lesson.

He snorts against the back of her neck, so either he got the tone or she actually managed to say it half-coherently. Either is unlikely.

Whatever he understood from her, he's got one hand braced on her hip and the other tucked around the top of her thigh, his fingers still like he's forgot what he was looking for, but in the right place for her to grind against them. She'd tell him off for not giving her more, but it would take thought, and thought is not coming with its normal speed.

Neither's she--there must be too much subconsciously constructed wine--neither's he--and if he's had too much to get off she'll send him off to the couch when she's finished and let him sleep there. "Fuck," she says, not managing two syllables out loud.

He gets his hand moving for her again, about bloody time, and groans in her ear when she gets her hand on his wrist to keep him going. He says, "Christ--" and when they get past monosyllables and meaningless phrases, it'll be time for another round.

The last thing she wants to do is talk about this. Fortunately they seem to be on the same page in that respect.

Alex makes another of those noises that she can't believe she's making--she does so many things she can't believe she's doing, here--and bites her lip to keep another in.

Gene mouths at her ear. "Go on, love," he says, and if he didn't call everyone that she'd never fuck him again. If she had the first impression he meant it, he'd be out the door already.

As it is, she doesn't do anything merely because he's asked, but when he's holding her open and rubbing her clit and breathing hot and hungry in her ear, she will occasionally come in some time frame not terribly long after he's encouraged her to do it.

When she's sober enough to form coherent sentences, she'll tell him not to say that sort of thing to her. Or she would, if they were talking about this, but they're not, so she won't.

Especially not while she's in the middle of an orgasm that makes the world white out for one long moment that might feel like waking up, except it doesn't, or at least she doesn't.

Gene sounds like he's trying to shout and failing, hoarse and wordless in her ear, when she pushes his hand away. He gets a better grip on her hip with his sticky fingers, squeezes so hard she might have bruises there again. "Fucking hell," he says.

At least he's not talking her ear off, this time; there have been nights when she was afraid he wouldn't get off unless he kept at her, saying words she shouldn't put up with, giving her backhanded compliments on every part of her body he could reach and never, ever on her mind. If she had someone else to drag into bed, she might've sent him away, those times. She would have if it hadn't worked for her, poisoning her imaginary self-respect like she's poisoning her imaginary liver.

He makes another strangled noise, and she can't tell how long he'll keep going--shouldn't be too long, for all he goes on about his legendary prowess. Sometimes even unstoppable bastards have to realize that it's better to be done for the moment than to keep on as they're going. It'll start hurting soon enough, even with all the wine, and then she'll make him stop if he's not done yet.

A few more thrusts, and she bears down, hoping it'll do something. He presses his forehead against her shoulderblades, which has to be bloody uncomfortable. "Christ--" he says again, and an incoherent mash of sounds, lost in the tide of orgasm as his hips finally still--but not as incoherent as he might like it to be, because somewhere in there she could swear he called her "Sam."

Gene pats her hip like he doesn't know he's said the wrong name and puffs like a racehorse. "You still with us?" he asks, as if she'd fall asleep with his prick up her arse.

She's nearly positive she never has. "I'm fine," she says, as crisply as she can say it. Overcompensating never does help when she's this drunk. "Get off of me." Questioning him won't help either; he's been evasive about Sam Tyler since the first, and he's already half-unconscious if she knows his arousal pattern, which she does. It's no time to get answers out of him, and if she asks now, he'll storm out and wrap his car round a streetlamp.

There are enough names she bites back; she can wait till the right time to task him with this one.

The morning's no better, nor the afternoon--there's a man gone missing, and his mother has come in to report it, for all he's in his thirties, which might be nothing or it might be a link to a case Chris has been looking into for a week.

Answering the question sends them all over the city, where eventually they find the man, or what's left of him.

The image of his foot stays with Alex longest, through the second bottle of wine, and Ray's making jokes about it the whole time till she's green in the face and Gene thumps him. "Lay off, Raymondo, or Bolly'll sick up on you."

Ray gives her the look of disdain he always uses before he makes some crack about women on the force, and Alex cuts him off by telling him about a serial killer she'd investigated who kept parts of his victims in his refrigerator. "A set of balls right by the butter dish," which isn't true, but they can't fact-check her, and now Ray's the one looking like he'll lose his lunch.

"People in Spain eat bulls' testicles after bullfights," Shaz says, winking at Alex. "At least, they do when the bull loses."

"Stop bloody talking about what you'll never have." Gene thumps the table and pours Alex another drink, then tops up Shaz's glass as well. He won't tell them they've done well shutting Ray down, but he needn't say anything.

"Bloody useless if you ask me," Shaz says, and Alex toasts her, clinking their glasses together.

"I'll drink to that," she says, and does.

They have to talk Chris down before the conversation can find a better topic, and then the lot of them are off on some tangent about football.

Gene's looking at Alex like he's had nearly enough to drink, for all it's a fraction of last night's bacchanal. "Arsenal can go bugger themselves with a rusty goalpost," he says, and pushes back from the table. "I'm off."

Alex stays halfway through the next bottle before she makes some excuse and heads upstairs to her flat. She's not drunk enough for Gene, not drunk enough for this world, but he's waiting, and there are things she needs to say to him. "Won't you come in?" isn't one of them, but she says it anyway.

"You took your time," he says, following close enough on her heels that she can feel his breath on her neck, like last night.

She closes the door and locks it as though that'll keep in any shouting he puts on in defense of his masculinity. "I don't want them thinking you're sleeping with your DI again," she says, which isn't how she'd planned to bring it up, but it'll do.

Sometimes Gene freezes when he can't think what to do, which is better than the times he gets immediately violent. She can't read his expression for a long moment, long enough that she thinks hysterically that there's a glitch in the Matrix. Then he gets it together again and says, "Don't know what you mean."

Alex moves so she's not between him and the door, because she knows him well enough to know she can't always predict him. He's never meant to hurt her with anything but words, but she intends to provoke him and she doesn't want to tempt fate. "Last night--well, this morning, technically speaking, as it was after midnight--you called me 'Sam.'"

Gene scowls. "I bloody didn't."

Alex smiles, unsurprised and only half amused. "I did hear you, and it's not as though you're in the habit of calling me anything like that. 'Bolly,' 'Sam,' not quite the same sounds, are they?"

He's not looking at her, but he hasn't broken anything yet. "I would never call you that, as it's not your ruddy name."

"Everyone slips up," Alex says, trying for a professional demeanor she's not good at with this much alcohol in her system. "The first man I slept with after my divorce, I called him 'Pete' once by mistake. I've had all sorts of names from different men, usually their ex-lovers'."

He gives her a look that says he's on the edge of calling her one of those names, making a crack about her knickers, and then he looks away from her. "I don't care what all your tricks call you, I did not bloody say that."

She sighs and ignores the slight. It'd be easier if he stopped arguing the irrefutable bit, and it doesn't give her much hope for the next question, but she'll ask him regardless. "Were you sleeping with him, or did you just want to?"

"Piss off," he says, but the door doesn't open when he wrenches at it.

"Oh, please, I'm hardly going to turn up my nose at you if you tell me you're bisexual." Alex tucks the key into her pocket and resolutely doesn't think about being in 1981, having sex with a man who's having sex with men. She'll get home before imaginary AIDS even has a name. "Just tell me the truth."

"It's none of your ruddy business," he says, and reaches toward her, his palm up. "Give me your keys before I turn you upside down and shake them out of your pockets." He looks like he's about to burst a blood vessel.

Alex puts her hands in her pockets. "You're not stomping out here because I asked you a question, Guv."

"No, I'm not leaving right the hell now because your door's locked and you're acting like a bloody fool." He gestures. "Keys, Madame Fruitcake."

She presses her lips together for a long moment. "I forgive you."

He frowns, less angry than startled. "For what?"

"Lots of people would be offended, having you say someone else's name in the middle of sex." Alex takes the key out. "But I know--you were drunk. And I'm sure you were rather fond of him, in your way. Besides, it's probably just my mind drawing parallels."

Gene snatches it out of her hand and turns to unlock the door. "I don't have any ruddy idea what goes on in your mind," he says, which is the most truthful thing he's said since he walked in. "And I did not call you anything at all."

Alex laughs. "Then what's got you so rattled?"

"I'm not," he lies, and badly at that. He's not left yet, either, so they're not done with the argument, whether or not it's going to escalate into a row. "You can't go round asking people if they're--" For a moment, he has no words, only irritation.

"Haunted by affection for someone they used to know?" Alex suggests, aiming for the least deniable definition she can think of.

Gene rolls his eyes and lets his hand drop from the doorknob. "He was my bloody friend. Don't go getting your knickers in a twist over it."

"Of course he was." Alex shrugs as if she believes that's all there was to it. "I might've misheard you," she allows.

Gene snorts. "You were so drunk I could've called you Princess Margaret and you wouldn't have noticed."

She's quite sure she would have, at least at the time. It's not like his normal round of affectionate insults. "You didn't, though," Alex says, not entirely positive now he's raised the question.

"You're not that posh, Bolls," he says, which isn't exactly the same thing as a no, but it's close enough for now, especially since he's calmed down a bit.

That's not the question she's going to pursue. "I thought I wasn't that male, either."

He frowns more deeply. "Is this some batty feminist revenge for wanting it up the back passage?"

Alex stares at him and laughs again, longer this time. "I enjoyed that. You might've noticed, if you weren't so self-centered."

That doesn't seem to sting him at all. "Could do it again, then."

"Not tonight," she says, and tries to decide whether to ask, or how to ask, in a way that'll get her an answer. He'll stonewall her till he's blue in the face if she comes at him head on, but she might be able to get it out of him when he's more tired, more drunk than he is right now. With anyone else, she'd add "more willing to talk," but Gene's always willing to talk. He's not willing to say anything useful.

"Fair enough." He locks the door again.

And that's close enough to all right, for right now. It's as close as she believes they'll get. "I've got another bottle in the kitchen, if you want it."

He shrugs. "You get me too drunk and you'll be trying to get me to bend over for you next."

Alex says, "Turnabout's fair play," mostly for the sake of saying it. "But I'm not holding my breath."

Gene gives her a look like he knew she'd say that, and then shakes his head. "Not even if you bought every single round."

"I'll save my pennies," she says, and moves into his space. Sometimes it's a more deliberate decision, a more sober decision, than other times, and those are the times when she's frightened, right up to the point where he kisses her back.

She's never going to be frightened of him, or the past she's spinning for him. All she's afraid of is what comes next, and she doesn't think he knows that any better than she does.

Dear Miss Manners:
What can you do after accidentally calling your present lover by your former lover's name?

Gentle Reader:
Seek a future lover. Such a mistake is easy to do and impossible to undo. Why do you think the term 'darling' was invented?