The memory of feeling like this before nudges him, somewhere in the time it takes to pour the whiskey and lift the glass, but before it reaches his lips.
It feels like loss but not his loss; like a reason to give up but being unable to let go. A replication of emotion felt by someone else, someone not here, someone far away and maybe lost. Lost to him.
His eyes close and he tries to catch it, to understand what it means. But it’s been a long day and he’s tired; they drank too much, saw too much, felt too much. His mind aches and he can’t drag himself from this seat; head nods and he feels like he hears a click, his neck complaining from the unbalanced weight of his head, something slotting into place or out of it, moving backwards and forwards like a weathervane in the breeze.
The whiskey never reaches his mouth; it tilts and drips unnoticed from his glass, finds itself blending into the fabric of his armchair. And he dreams of hills, and grass, and the fields of Lancashire, of home.
The female strippers had arrived first and very nice they were too, to Gene's drunken eyes. In the state he's in he can ignore the cheap clothes and tarty makeup, ignore the way they chew gum and talk with some of the strongest Cockney accents he's ever heard. But it's all going well for the first five minutes, until the male strippers arrive.
Gene's never heard of the Chippendales before but he's not likely to forget them. All of them over six foot, bronzed and beefy and rippling muscle; every bird in the room perks up (including the cheap strippers) and every bloke in the room takes instant umbrage. Luigi looks from one group to the other, sees the faces of the coppers and immediately begins to panic. There are a few shouts as the guys start to do their thing; the girls take it as a challenge and start on their routine. The predominantly male audience cheers them on, the volume from the women increases...and so it goes. The place is a zoo and Gene's scowling. Not that he has anything against a good scrap but this is New Year's Eve and his local and who's fault is this anyway?
He pushes his way through the room to find her, putting his glass down on the bar next to her with more force than is strictly necessary.
His mam had called it a night much later than she usually did - whether to spare them being alone together or just to make the most of their company, he doesn't know. He's happy with either reason; he doesn't get to see enough of her as it is and it's back to work tomorrow. So the evening had been companionable and the television had covered the awkward gap between his mother going upstairs and Alex following. He'd been quite pissed by that time, drowsing on the sofa, the effects of the previous night catching up to him.
Once alone though, it's impossible to switch it off. There are no distractions to stop him thinking about the situation, about how it'd felt, about her. He sleeps a while and wakes up in pitch darkness thinking about her, drifts back down, wakes up. Thinking about her.
In the end, he's had enough. A cup of tea and a smoke is what's needed. Forcing himself to stay awake for an hour should be enough to tire him out for the rest of the night; he gets up and pads into the kitchen in his pyjama trousers and a white T-shirt, flicks the light on and sparks a fag as he puts the kettle on to boil.
At this time every year, Gene makes himself scarce from other people. As it used to be him, his mam and his missus this means, basically, he left them in the kitchen and parked himself in front of the TV with a can of beer and a bottle of whiskey.
This year? No different. Especially with the size of this particular hangover. His mum takes him a cup of tea and then returns to the kitchen, where Alex had volunteered to help prepare the veg.
'You really don' 'ave t'do that, luv. I don' mind, it's not often I get t'cook for 'im anymore.'
They make good time, helped by the almost clear roads and the way he keeps the Quattro at a steady 120mph all the way. On the M62, he does actually get pulled over for speeding and a plod approaches, breathaliser in hand. One flash of the badge though and a grin spreads over the man's face, half pleased, half embarrassed.
'Sorry Sir, didn't know you were back.'
'Well I'm not, am I? Not yet.'
'Won't keep you then, Guv. Have a good Christmas.'
'You an' all, son. Keep them streets clean.'
He looks over at Alex as he moves off, expressionless but still radiating an air of smugness.
'S'good to be 'ome, Bols. Though a quiet drink tonigh's out o'the question now. Half the force'll be down the boozer by the time we get there.'
The prospect? Couldn't please him more. Not just because he's looking forward to seeing his friends, there's a part of him that enjoys the prospect of letting her see how he's respected up here.
It's colder in the north, the houses less decorated though still scrupulously maintained. Manchester might have been the place to be in the 70s but the money's all moved down south now and it shows. Still, he displays no shame at the clear lack of wealth on his mother's street as he pulls up, nothing but satisfaction to be home. It's just after nine and the streets are icy but quiet.
'Righ' then, we'll drop in an' say 'ello, 'ave a cuppa an' a chat, then nip down the pub for a Christmas drink.'
His accent is stronger, his demeanour buoyant. This is a side Alex won't have seen before. Even more himself than usual, if that's possible.
Gene Hunt likes Christmas. Even though he tends to have to work like a bastard on the run-up (criminals seem to decide that they need some extra spending money, so try to nick it off the poor, working folk who can barely afford to put a turkey on the table), he generally has the day itself off and it's usually spent getting pleasantly drunk in front of the TV, devouring the missus's excellent cooking and seeing his mam smile a lot more than usual.
Of course, that was last year. This year there'll be no missus, less drinking than he'd like and his mam'll be the one slaving over a hot stove. He'd offer to help but they both know he'd likely burn the house down with his efforts.
At least he's got family though. Since that conversation over the darts game with Drake a couple of weeks ago, he's wrestled with himself...well. Wrestled with it for about a day, then made his mind up and has been waiting impatiently ever since. And now it's Christmas Eve, they all knocked off at four (mostly still suffering from immense hangovers from the Christmas do the night before) with well wishes for the holiday all 'round and a good bottle of something from the Guv to let them know he appreciated their efforts this year.
He'd gone home, packed a bag, shovelled a few tabs of paracetemol down his neck and headed out again. He's got a long drive ahead of him, but there's a stop to be made first.
'Bolly! Open up!'