the taste was not so sweetFandom: Life on MarsRating:
Sam/Gene, set 1987. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part three in the Changes Series
. You need to have read never caught a glimpse
and time was running wild
first for this to make any sense.Warning:
Prior character death.Summary:
Managing, Gene reflects, is not the same as being fine. If he were fine he’d be asleep, not a thought in his head. He wouldn’t be dreading the morning, nor squirming with reminisces of the afternoon and evening just gone.
There is nothing angelic about Sam when he sleeps. He drools, fidgets, even mutters occasionally. Even if he hadn’t been watching for the better part of an hour, years of having him sleep by his side have taught Gene this. But looking at him lying on his too-large bed tugs at Gene’s insides. Sam’s long hair flops down over his left eye and his lips are soft in repose. He looks even younger than he is, without the maturity of disaffection and cockiness to temper his lack of experience.
They’d gone for Indian at the local, Gene ignoring the curious looks winged their way. It’d happened before, more than once, and he’d learnt not to care. No one ever asked for explanation, they only liked to look (and talk, no doubt, there was nothing like a juicy bit of gossip to keep the spirit alive.) He understood. He’d done his fair share of gawping in his time, not all in the line of duty. Sam had gobbled down his weight in naan bread, chicken vindaloo, maa-ki-daal, and to top it off, gulab jamun. Gene came to the conclusion it was entirely possible he was ninety percent hollow. Sam also demanded the answers to various questions he had concerning policework, and was adept at noticing when Gene was deflecting.
“Look, this isn’t Mastermind, and my speciality isn’t ‘random shit some little tossbag happens to be curious about’. I don’t know what your next subject’s gonna be, but my answer’s a heartfelt and vigorous shut it.”
“You get awfully tetchy when I ask something pertinent.”
“I’m terminally tetchy.”
Sam had given a short-lived but forceful grin. “Exactly. I’m perennially pertinent.”
“You’re too amused by your own intelligence, is what you are.”
“Hey, you’ve said it yourself. I’ve got smarts.”
Gene had concentrated on loading a fork full of saffron rice and chicken korma. “Mmm-mmm. The wisest men realise they don’t know everything.”
“Oh, nice. Did you read that in a book?”
“You think I read books? Your estimation of me’s gone up two notches, I see.”
“Maybe even three!”
Gene hadn’t let himself return Sam’s humour-filled glance. He’d eaten his dinner without tasting a thing and rendered himself monosyllabic in the process. He had been allowing himself to enjoy the company, and that was bad. He’d been allowing himself to enjoy Sam’s growing near-friendliness, and that was worse.
Sam had noticed his change in attitude and adjusted accordingly, become suitably wary again, quiet, but once they’d got back to Gene’s place, he’d tried his domineering act.
“So, the bed. We gonna share?”
Gene had refused to look or sound shocked. “Audacious little girl, aren’t you, Samantha? No. I’ll take the settee.”
“You’re too tall,” Sam had asserted, but Gene had picked up on his relief. He’d breathed more freely, stretched his legs out longer, had stopped peering at him from beneath lowered lashes.
“It appears I’m not the only walking cliché. You might as well have said ‘I’ll be fine.’”
Managing, Gene reflects, is not the same as being fine. If he were fine he’d be asleep, not a thought in his head. He wouldn’t be dreading the morning, nor squirming with reminisces of the afternoon and evening just gone. He wouldn’t be propped up against the arm rest so as to look through the open doorway at Sam’s sleeping form. Fine connotes a form of healthiness. Managing suggests no such luck.
By the morning, Gene has snatched a combined total of three hours and twenty minutes in sleep, which he reckons is more than to be expected. He percolates some coffee (strong stuff definitely necessary in place of instant) and fries eggs and bacon. He suspects it’s the smell that awakens the fair prince from his slumber. Sam pads into the kitchen wearing only his shorts, scratching his side and yawning simultaneously. Gene averts his gaze from his lithe but imperfect form. He definitely does not concentrate on the birthmark on his right hip, a hair’s breadth above his waistband. Sam stretches, shaking his limbs out, then settles in a chair. He winds his legs behind the chair legs and crosses his thin arms. Gene once again has the impression of a man comfortable in his arena.
“Morning,” Gene says, gesturing to a mug.
“Don’t I even get a ‘good’?” Sam asks, nodding back.
“Don’t see what should be so good about it.”
Gene pours another coffee and adds half a teaspoon of sugar. Sam takes the proffered mug and drinks it unquestioningly, which makes a nice change.
“You’re out of my hair today, right?” Gene asks as he plates up the breakfast, pausing momentarily to watch Sam cram an entire rasher of bacon and half an egg into his mouth in one go. It’s both sickening and oddly fascinating to watch how quickly the food disappears.
“I was thinking you owe me a guided tour. London in all her majesty. The Old Bailey and St Paul’s Cathedral. The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The Lamp That Never Goes Out. I wanna see it all.”
“You can see it all by yourself. I’ve fed you and housed you, much to my personal cost. Mary, Joseph and the little baby Jesus weren’t treated as well as you.”
“You’re telling me you’d let an innocent roam these streets alone? What kind of monster are you?”
“A scummy one, so you’ve told me. Anyway, you’re from Manchester. If you can’t take care of yourself by now, you don’t deserve to live.”
“Something tells me you’ve not done the main attractions thing. I bet the best you’ve seen of London are the grimy cobbled alleys and decrepit crack dens. Aren’t you a little bit curious?”
“No, why should I be?”
“’Cause you’re a cop and they’re generally inquisitive.”
“It’s the same, no matter where you go. It’s always the same. Travel’s for fools with money and no sense. Why bother going out of your way to visit one building when there’s seven others all much of a likeness round the corner? A museum is a museum is a museum. They’re all full of irrelevant old clutter.”
Gene doesn’t say ’like me’
, but he thinks it. He hopes he’s been deterrent enough that Sam will leave in a fit of pique and never come back. He hopes he hasn’t.
“You appal me,” Sam states, but he says it with a laugh in his voice.
“Good. Now you can see I’d be less than ideal as a companion. Go have fun, Sam, and then go home.”
Sam grips onto the table in mock refusal, like a five year old who doesn’t want to go visit Gran. Gene hopes it’s a joke. “I’m not budging. I’m gonna stay here all week. Pestering you. Until you crack and acquiesce.”
There’s a moment’s pause, and then, “how many criminals have you fit up? Hang on, I have a better one. How many innocent people?”
Gene eats his bacon and begins to tear his bread into soldiers. If he continues to eat in lieu of answering, he’s going to stack on a tonne of weight, all his carefulness with healthy scotch consumption be damned. He doesn’t know why he remotely cares.
“Have you ever killed an innocent man? Or watched one die ‘cause of your fuck ups?”
“If you hold me in such high esteem, why the fuck do you wanna drag me round with you?” Gene storms.
“I don’t wanna lose myself in a strange city.”
Gene thinks about thumping Sam. He’s sure it’d make him feel better. A tap against the fleshy part of his belly, not too hard, just enough to shock him, force him into sense. But that would require touching Sam, and that’s something he’s vowed absolutely not to do.
“Alright,” Gene says. “You get one day of sightseeing with the Gene Genie. After that, you’re on your own.”
“Gene Genie?” Sam says disbelievingly. “You’re full of ‘em, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am, Felicity. Now get changed. I’m not wandering about Hyde Park with you in that state.”
Sam surprisingly follows the order without objection. He practically runs out of the kitchen and to Gene’s room, Gene listening with too much interest to the sounds of clattering and clambering coming from behind the partially ajar door.
Footsteps are interrupted with an exclamation. “Shit.”
“Spilt curry down my shirt last night. Can I borrow one of yours?”
Gene widens the bedroom door. Sam stands staring into the wardrobe. He brings a green shirt out and holds it against himself. “And fashion it into a tent,” he mutters.
“I can’t help it if you’ve no meat on your bones,” Gene retorts.
Sam whirls around and Gene’s happy to see he’s surprised. He pulls the shirt over his head, but it’s so large, it practically drops right down to the ground again around his skinny frame. He looks laughable with the material gathering around him, top two buttons undone to reveal most of his chest. Gene doesn’t laugh.
“I’ve a shirt that’s more your size,” he says, going to the back of the wardrobe and opening a suitcase. He pulls out a brown and blue striped shirt, fingering the collar absentmindedly as he hands it over. It smells of mothballs and musk, but apart from that, it’s pristine.
“Oh wow. It’s like I’ve hopped in a time machine,” Sam says wonderingly as he puts it on. It’s still too large, but not so much that it will pool around his ankles. The wide collar brings attention to his slender neck and delicate collar-bone, and the colour highlights his eyes.
“Hang on,” Gene says, quietly. “I’ve something else here that’ll complete the picture.”
He undoes the chain around his neck and brings it against Sam’s. His skin is soft under the pads of Gene’s fingers, warm and smooth. Sam stands stock still as he fastens the chain again, his gaze interrogative. He only moves to touch it when Gene’s stepped away.
“St Christopher. Patron Saint of travellers. And now you look a right medallion man, which is the only way those shirts can be worn,” Gene says lightly.
“Where are we off to first?” Sam asks, in an obvious bid to change the subject. He concentrates on tying his laces.
“You decide,” Gene replies. “This is your show.”
“Tower Bridge,” Sam decides. “And then the Tower of London. And then we can just sort of meander from there.”
“Your organisational skills leave a lot to be desired,” Gene says as he leads the way outside. “I’d’ve thought you’d have an itinerary all drawn up, with scheduled toilet breaks and carefully delineated time limits at each attraction. But, no. You travel to London without an extra set of clothes, you rely upon the kindness of a stranger when you get here, and you’ve no idea what you want to see or do.”
“It was all last minute,” Sam admits.
“You’ve run away.”
“Does your mother know where you are?”
“She’s off on holiday. Majorca. My aunt won a five night, all expenses paid trip.”
“Lucky for some.”
Gene glances at Sam and frowns at the hint of a smile playing on his lips. Sam strolls along with his hands in his pockets, a swing in his step. If his hair were shorter, Gene could almost convince himself it was a decade earlier.
Gene’s never liked London. To his mind it’s grey, overpopulated, and soulless. No one truly knows anyone else and the people who do know each other typically hate one another. He supposes he could have found his niche and settled into it, but he’s always felt like an outsider. The disgraced sheriff, cast off into a frontier town, never allowed to return. It’s not really true. He knows it. This was a promotion, at the time. More money, more responsibility; all in deed, not in rank. And as for why he’s stayed long after those who came with him went back, well. He’s in self-made exile. Manchester holds too many memories, many of them painful by dint of being joyful.
Sam clearly loves the place. He stares at buildings with the kind of awe and wonder Gene associates with simpletons. He’s easily impressed and gut-punchingly enthusiastic, even through monotonous guided tours. He is every inch a tourist, and all that entails. They see Tower Bridge, the outside and inside of the Tower of London, and make plans for their next trip to St Paul’s. Gene admits to himself that he enjoys the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warder tour is informative, even if their particular host does sound half-dead, and the Crown Jewels are a spectacle. He experiences a somewhat vicious and vicarious thrill from viewing the graffiti in Beauchamp Tower. For a place he proclaimed to be like any other, it’s not quite like any other.
He realises early on that he should be showing Sam the real London. The little places no one hears about, the hidden treasures and rare excitements, but Sam seems happy with the commercially exaggerated attractions. He chatters animatedly as they journey to St Paul’s, mostly recounting facts he probably learnt in secondary school. Sam has always seemed to take great pride in his own knowledge, dispensing his wisdom without considering the notion that he’s saying nothing new to his chosen audience.
“I’m hungry,” Sam says after a time. “Is there a café round here?”
“Café?” Gene echoes. “Nothing so classy. It’s a ham roll palace for you.”
He tugs Sam in the direction of a roadside kiosk and orders without consultation. There’s no doubt in his mind that he’ll be expected to pay.
“Two cheese and pickle rolls? One for you and one for your son?” the girl checks, looking fretfully at the line-up building behind Gene.
Gene opens his mouth to correct her, but Sam interrupts before he can. “Can I have an ice cream later, Dad, can I, can I?” His eyes are alight with mischief.
“Two cheese and pickle rolls,” Gene confirms. “But they’re both for me.”
When they’re once more on their way, and he’s reluctantly handed over a roll, Gene glances balefully at Sam. “You’re an infuriating little shit, anyone ever tell you that?”
“Never,” Sam says. Gene’s positive he’s lying.
This guided tour is markedly better than the last. The guide knows what she’s talking about and she’s infectiously enthusiastic. Sam is in his element. He seems especially interested in the crypt, asking questions that Gene thinks are overly morbid. He knows he shouldn’t let it disturb him, Sam’s merely displaying a typical youthful fascination with the gruesome, but he’s disturbed all the same. Thinking about death with Sam so alive next to him creates an uneasy feeling deep in his being.
Eventually they finish the tour and find themselves at the Whispering Gallery, with Sam eager to climb higher. Gene takes deep, shuddering breaths, looking at the stairs with pained horror.
“The view will be spectacular,” Sam insists. He grabs hold of Gene’s sleeve and drags him up.
On step four hundred and twelve, Gene’s chest is so tight he has to stop. “Go on without me.”
“You’ve come this far.”
“Leave me to die, Tyler. I cannot and will not make it.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Yes you will, old man.” He takes Gene’s arm again and pulls, relentless in his mission. When they finally make it to the top, Gene thinks his face is one big bead of sweat. He struggles to fill his lungs and stop his heart from racing.
“Look,” Sam says. He spreads his arms out wide. “We’re at the top of the world.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Gene surveys the panoramic view, at London spread before him. It still looks grey, overpopulated and soulless.
“Doesn’t it just make you wanna go home?”
Sam shakes his head vigorously. “No. D’you think we could go to the British Museum next?”
“That’s best left for when we’ve more time in our pockets.”
“But you said you’d sightsee for one day. One solitary day.”
Gene hesitates. It’s an obvious ploy. Sam’s manipulative streak is thinly veiled, and he doesn’t even attempt to be surreptitious. “I’ll make it two. I may even add in another half, long as you play your cards right.”
“The Old Bailey, then?” Sam asks, fairly bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Fine,” Gene replies, with considerably less generosity than he feels.
At the end of the day, Gene’s happy to rest his feet on his coffee table and let Sam cook. He doesn’t count on Sam having culinary skills that are approximately equal to that of a keen but ineffective badger. Sam burns the toast, the beans, and the cheese he attempts to use as a garnish. He almost tips the whole lot onto the floor when bringing it into the lounge.
“Do you not have a kitchen, where you live?” Gene asks, after a particularly crisp baked bean.
“I do, but I don’t have to cook in it.”
“I hope for your sake you learn.”
Gene crunches through his toast and thinks about the wide array of dishes he’d once had made for him. He thinks also of his own prowess in the kitchen, which is only marginally more advanced than the travesty set before him. He’d always assumed Sam had a natural gift for that kind of thing, and maybe he did, but it’s clearly something he taught himself. It’s an almost consoling thought, the first he’s had all day.
Sam doesn’t seem to mind the close-to-inedible blackened goop. He swallows it down without pause and even looks at Gene’s bowl as if scouting for seconds. Gene hands it over without a word. He watches as Sam polishes that off and stands to get himself another slice of bread. A point in his favour is when he returns also carrying a marmite sandwich that he places neatly in front of Gene.
“Sorry,” he says with an awkward raise of his shoulder.
“No need to apologise,” Gene states. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve done for me since I met you.”
It isn’t the truth, not by a long shot, but it brings another wry smile to Sam’s face, and Gene thinks --- God, he must be mad for letting this happen.
He’s gratified when Sam starts to yawn. He yawns himself and uses it as an excuse to tell Sam to go to bed. He’s met with initial resistance, but after several minutes of argument, Sam trundles into the next room. Gene’s left once again lying awake, but this time it’s only for an hour before he drifts off, comforted by mental imagery that shouldn’t relax him.
Gene calls in sick early in the morning. Thankfully, no one at Fenchurch East cares. He’s the first to admit he hasn’t been his best lately and they get by without him as well as they get by with him. He realises Sam’s raided his wardrobe again when he comes out wearing a shirt comprising pink and purple stripes. He goes to say something, but refrains. It’s pointless having a suitcase of clothes that’ll never get worn anyway (and it’s not like Sam’s using someone else’s property.)
They spend the entirety of the day at the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the Tate. Sam is taken most by the Turner collection in the Clore Gallery. He stands for a long time gazing at Fishermen at Sea
“It’s about power,” Sam says when Gene raises an eyebrow at him. “Power over nature. Or the lack-thereof.”’It’s about drowning’
, Gene thinks, and wonders how prescient Sam is, whether part of him is aware of his fate. He shivers at the thought, and only reminds himself it’s not his fate any more once he’s mentally recounted first hearing the news. He can still accurately pinpoint the moment his heart stopped beating, can remember his disbelief. But it hadn’t really been disbelief, because Sam had told him this would happen. It had been wonderment that the world could be so cruel.
Gene reckons he’s walked more and learnt more in the past two days than in the past twenty years. Very little of his new information is all that useful, but education isn’t always about practical applications. He’s glad once again to get back to his place, but he’s wholeheartedly liked the day spent observing and engaging. Sam was right, he hadn’t ‘done the main attractions thing’, never seen much point in it before. He could get used to it.
They go for takeout when it comes to dinner. It seems the safest bet. Fish and chips with salt and vinegar, and for Sam, tomato ketchup. Gene turns the television on and half-watches, concentrating more on Sam’s legs sprawling over his lap.
“Comfortable?” he asks with false pleasantness.
“Perfectly,” Sam returns.
If it’s still a power game, Sam’s good at concealing it. He appears oblivious to the fact his contact is like a firebrand. He doesn’t care that Gene’s trying hard not to run his hand up his leg, pull him over until he’s straddling his thighs. That Gene imagines undoing Sam’s buttons one by one, kissing his slowly revealed skin. But he does notice that Gene’s staring at him. He casts an inquisitive gaze his way, mouth opening as if about to speak.
“I think you should either journey on alone or catch the train tomorrow, Sam,” Gene says before he can say anything.
“You’re rescinding your offer of an extra half day?” Sam asks.
“If that means I’m telling you to push off, then yeah.”
“Because, when you’re an adult, and a fully grown one at that, there’s such a place as work. It’s where you go to make money to sustain your miserable life. You’ll learn all about it one day.”
“I work in a DIY and I’m in a band. Next year, I’m applying for the force. I know all about work.”
“Then you’ll understand.”
“Not really,” Sam says, ever the petulant child, which would be proof of this being a wise decision, Gene thinks, if he hadn’t been this way in all the time he’d known him. He swings his legs around to place his feet on the carpet. “I thought this’d been going along pretty well.”
“You’ve been living in a fantasy,” Gene says. ’And so have I,’
he mentally adds. “But much as you need a father figure in your life, I’m not it.”
“I never thought you were.”
“No, of course not. Your quest for the truth has nothing to do with fulfilling childhood dreams.”
“If I were gonna fulfil childhood dreams, I’d hardly do so with you,” Sam practically spits. “This has never been about that.”
“No, it’s all about wondering why I understand you, isn’t it? You know what, Sammy-boy? It’s because you’re easy to understand. Your motivation and drive, your belief in your own superiority. You’re not special in any way. You’re a facsimile of every teenager I’ve ever encountered.”
Sam’s face crumples for a second. He looks like he’s been hit. Gene contemplates apologising profusely, telling Sam he’s scared, that’s all, he’s just scared. He wants something he can’t have and life is unfair.
“I’ll go in the morning,” Sam says after a time staring at his feet. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“So you should be,” Gene replies, but he doesn’t mean it, he wants to beg for Sam’s forgiveness, he wants to wrap him up and take away the pain he’s caused.
Sam lumbers into his bedroom and closes the door. Gene stays up watching the flickering light on his television screen, unable to make sense of the colours or shapes.
In 1974 CID had wrapped up a fraud case that had managed to baffle Gene. They had only solved it because Sam had noticed the perpetrator's slip of the tongue. The victim, Linda, hadn’t wanted to press charges against her brother, even though he’d robbed her of her life savings.
“What’s the use, if they don’t wanna be helped?” Gene had lamented. “I don’t get it. Someone betrays you, and you let them get away with it? Out of some misguided sense of family loyalty?”
He’d said those words, but he hadn’t really believed them. He’d known he’d done his fair share of forgiveness in his life. His brother, his wife, Ray, Sam. They’d all made mistakes that Gene had reckoned others would find unpardonable. And he’d remembered. He could never forget. But he hadn’t stopped caring, couldn’t, each of them meant the world to him by different degrees.
Of the two of them, everyone had always said he was uncompromising, but Gene had known Sam was worse. He’d wondered if Sam had it within him to show the mercy he’d been afforded.
“That’s part of what love is, isn’t it?” Sam had said, eyes on the rim of his beer glass. “Being willing to look over fatal flaws in someone’s character. Hell, sometimes, you even love those flaws.”
“You’d let someone trample all over you like that?”
“If I loved them. I mean, sometimes you can’t help it.”
“You don’t think there’s a point where you stop loving that person, that their... I don't know what you'd call them... idiosyncrasies become too much?”
Sam had given half a shrug. “Of course there is, but sometimes, the crime has to be bad enough to force you to realise it.”
“Right. So if our Annie started murdering members of the unsuspecting public dressed as Tufty the squirrel, would that be bad enough?”
“Who’s she killing? If it’s Litton and his crew, then, you know, I might turn a blind eye.”
“Innocent bystanders,” Gene had challenged, willing himself not to smile at Sam’s attempt to lighten the mood.
“Ah, well, she wouldn’t be the woman I think she is, so yeah, I could stop loving her. I wouldn’t stop loving the ideal within a snap of my fingers, though. She’s one of my best friends.”
“More than that,” Gene had stated matter-of-factly.
Sam had given a short shake of his head that Gene hadn’t paid much attention. He’d been too busy thinking that their opinions on the matter coincided, wondering how, then, it always seemed like Sam appeared quick to be cruel. Perhaps it was that Sam found it even harder to love than Gene did.
He thinks of it now, contemplating the conversation from a different angle. Contemplating what Sam’s concept of ‘bad’ might be. In Gene’s recollection, it had never quite aligned with his. Something he had found scandalous had often been met with a supremely disinterested apathy, as if Sam had seen it all before (and he had, Gene realises --- all of those cases Sam had referenced when making his point were examples gleaned from real life experience.) But certain deeds, even those intended for the greater good, had skyrocketed him into a seething mass of foamy-mouthed rage.
He doesn’t know how Sam might react to this, to his impure thoughts and actions. He can’t tell if this would be a mistake he could forgive; should forgive. And not knowing that, not having that check, makes Gene feel untethered.
He had started to rely upon Sam within the first week of meeting him. Hadn’t understood why, couldn’t explain his instinctive attraction. But week by month by year, Sam had become his grounding influence. Even if he’d continually disagreed with Sam’s proclamations, they had forced him to examine himself. He can‘t always trust his judgement. Not entirely, not any more.
Gene gets an hour’s sleep when it’s all tallied up. He hears Sam stomping around at six am, and goes to make breakfast. The door slams when he’s buttering the toast, and he goes to investigate. His bedroom is empty, as are the lounge and bathroom. Sam’s gone. He’s left the brown and purple shirts, but Gene notices that the St Christopher’s Medal is nowhere to be seen.
He eats his toast and dresses for work and thinks he’s done the right thing. He had been deluding himself into some form of happiness, had been happily escaping from reality. It had been all too easy to tramp about the city as if it were an amusement park as opposed to his duty to police, all too easy to think of the boy beside him as a different person --- alike in almost all ways, but still not the same. He’s sure that Sam will be fine. And he himself will manage.
Part four: how the others must see the faker1. never caught a glimpse
, 2. time was running wild
, 3. the taste was not so sweet
, 4. how the others must see the faker
, 5. strange fascination, fascinating me
, 6. just gonna have to be a different man
, 7. i turned myself to face me
, 8. the days float through my eyes
, 9. grow up and out of it
, 10. still don't know what i was waiting for