Fandom: Life on Mars
Rating: PG-13 for expletives.
Word Count: 850 words
Notes: Gen Insomnia-fic – so, apologies if this is really terrible.
Manchester in 1973 is the brightest fucking place ever to exist. Perpetual blue skies and light wind. Barely a cloud to be seen. Where’s the rain he’s so used to? Plants must be dying, all over the place, dying. But no, he doesn’t really care. How can he care about plants when he’s got a hundred different things all vying for prime position in the front of his mind? Still, the sun - it’s annoyingly cheerful, quite at odds with the Manchester he’s used to. It radiates light and heat and makes him want to lounge around with his sleeves rolled high, a tall drink in his hand. This isn’t the same city. Not even a little bit. The old buildings he’d visited before feel like new buildings, even if they’re relics of the Victorians. And so few streets are either washed out or newly restored like he’s seen time and time again.
He mentions this to Gene with passing casual remarks; commenting on the oddity of the blaze, how everything feels different. Gene nods and grunts, his usual method of communication when he’s concentrating. This time, his concentration appears to be on the newspaper in his hand. Other times it’s been a novel. A report. His source of distraction varies from hour to hour.
“Commonly small and quick and pinches.”
Sam hitches his face, his nose creasing, his mouth twisting into an irregular line. “Sorry, what?”
“Cryptic crossword.” Gene waves the paper around. “Commonly small and quick and pinches,” he repeats, as if measuring each word on a set of scales - slow, exact.
“Don’t suppose there’s an S or a T, is there?”
“No, Gladys. At least, I don’t think so. Don’t have any of the other letters yet.”
Sam shrugs. “Well, figure some of the easier clues out first.”
“I would, but this is the first one I thought I might get.”
Sam rolls his eyes and restlessly moves from the desk back towards the window. He rubs his hand over his forehead. The sun has no right to be out on a day like today. It should be hiding. Sam’s heartbeat pulses a fraction faster than he’d prefer. His leg twitches up and down. He has to stop himself from doing another circuit of the office, wondering what Annie and Phyllis would think if he turned up again so soon. They don’t need someone like him getting in the way, hindering their work, not with how they must be feeling.
Ray comes into the room, looking less than the man he is.
“Have you heard anything?” His voice is coarse, quicker than usual, the words all rolling into one, diction forgotten.
“Nothing,” Sam replies – for the first time compassion in the gaze he sets on the man who is a nemesis in this station, a thorn in his side.
“Commonly small and quick and pinches, Ray,” Gene calls across the room, not raising his eyes.
“What the fuck?”
“Oi. Language. Cryptic crossword. Any ideas?”
“Guv, you can take that crossword and shove it up your-”
Sam steps forward, hand outstretched. “Ray, do you need any coffee? Tea? Maybe a biscuit? There are bourbons around here somewhere, I’ve seen them.”
Ray shakes his head, hastily retrieving a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and pulling a long thin one out to press to his lips. He pats around for a lighter, but doesn’t find one. Marlowe walks up from his position at the nearby desk and silently flicks on the flame from his own silver-encased lighter. Sam watches it all, vaguely wishing he hadn’t quit in his second year on the force.
“It’s nippy,” Marlowe says, low voice and even lower head.
“No it’s not, it’s bloody boiling,” Gene retorts.
“Your word,” Marlowe insists, “commonly small and quick and pinches. It’s nippy.”
The telephone rings. All in the room stare at it for a moment before Gene strides over and answers it. His tone is short, sharp, professional. Sam can see it’s an act. Lurking beneath that veil of confidence is a man on the edge, scared witless like he is. When he places the receiver back down, he casts his eyes around the room. Sam notices his chest billowing. Gene’s taking a deep, long breath.
“Visiting hours are from 11am to 1pm. Only two are allowed at a time.”
There’s a round of applause. Sam rolls his head back and his mouth stretches into the widest fucking grin he’s ever given. He hears a low thump and sees that Ray has slumped into a chair. Ray’s older than his years. His fingers are clasped around the cigarette. He’s close to crying.
Gene gently places his hand on Ray’s shoulder and almost whispers. “You’ll be first.”
Sam looks out of the window once more. It’s still bright, but the brightness makes sense. This isn’t his Manchester. But it’s still Manchester. He’s sure of it now – more sure than he has ever been. There’s nothing like the fear of death to make life feel like something close to normal.