Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2007 words
Notes: Sam/Gene slash, set during series 1. Thanks to my marvellous beta reader m31andy.
“It’s true what they say. You can’t go home again,” Sam said, leaning against the wall, eyes drowsy, limbs like dead weights.
“What’re you talking about, you twerp, it’s as easy as putting the key in the ignition.”
Sam shook his head, dull and dazed. “No, I meant -” He paused. “It doesn’t matter what I meant, does it? You don’t care. You don’t care about anything but booze, breasts, and your own brass balls.”
Gene stubbed his cigarette out, flinging ash over the tabletop. “No, go on. Say it. You’ve piqued my curiosity and you should know that when I want answers, I get ‘em.”
Sam didn’t heed the warning note in Gene’s voice, wasn’t looking at his hunched shoulders and burning intensity. He lazily licked his lower lip and stared into his beer, idly wondering how many more he’d need before collapse was guaranteed.
The edge to Gene’s tone was diamond sharp. “I said say it, Tyler.”
Fog in Sam’s brain started to disperse and he glanced at Gene, realising that he’d missed something important in the gradual turn of their conversation. Gene was staring at him, hard and hot, almost murderous. For a fleeting second, Sam felt a very real fear, but he quashed it, deciding that little girls of blonde and red were more disturbing than big men of blond and green.
He leaned forward, elbows on the table.
“Let’s just say that there’s two places, yeah? The one where you wanna be and the one you don’t. And you were once at that place that you wanna be, but something happened to change all that and you got stuck in this other place – this other, annoying, frustrating place where it’s a constant fight just to get up every morning. Well, you can’t go back to the place you wanna be, because -” Sam arched towards Gene, speaking rapidly. “Because the fight has done something, you know? Or you’ve lost the way. You just - you can’t go home again.”
Gene raised his eyebrows. “You have a real way with words. Fancy yourself a poet? You’ve got the poe-faced part down.”
Sam took a sip from his glass and tensed. “Well, you wanted to know.”
“I wanted to know what you really meant. Not some tosh about places and fighting, and being stuck, a pig in mud,” Gene said, a muscle twitching in his left cheek as he glared at Sam. “I wanted to know what you meant by home. Not your flat, obviously. Not the station. You’ve not called Hyde and you asked to be sent here. So where? Where’s home?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know how to get there, get back, to then, to that time, to that person that I was.”
“Why would you want to? What’s wrong with here, this time, this pillock that you are?”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
Gene finished his beer and set the glass on the table with a thump. “Maybe that’s ‘cause you make no sense.”
Sam gazed at his fingers, watching as they opened and closed, looking and feeling real. He diverted his attention back to Gene and started counting the rise and fall of his chest, one, two, three.
“You keep saying I like it here.”
“I’ve seen you grinning, on the sly, like. You act all high and mighty, but I’m not blind Sam – and I’m not stupid either.”
“I hate it more than I like it,” Sam said, a persistent obstinacy working its way into his outward attitude.
Gene stood, sliding his arms into his coat sleeves. “You keep telling yourself that.”
“Are we leaving?”
“Yeah. It’s about time I got you back.”
Sam thought for an alcohol-fuzzed second that a miracle had occurred and he was set free – that Gene was his guide. But the notion was given the ridicule it deserved when they walked out of the pub and into the wider world of 1973. Gene was no more than he was – and that might be something complex and complicated, but it wasn’t salvation.
They walked along in silence, Sam letting his intoxication slow his movements, the words in his head slurring as they pitched to the left and the right. He took deep breaths, thinking absently about the glory of unconscious respiration, a whole system that he didn’t have to concentrate on – but then, this whole place was like that, wasn’t it? He didn’t regulate every ticking clock. He didn’t release all the leaves. But the clocks ticked and the leaves fell and he was walking with someone who didn’t say or do anything he’d ever wanted him to.
“Here you are, Rapunzel, your tower awaits,” Gene said as they came to a halt in the alley to the side of his block of flats.
Sam gave a half-smile. “Wanna come in? I’ll let down my hair.”
“The day you go so far as to relax half an inch is the day I put on a wig and start declaring myself Doris.”
Sam didn’t respond. He waited, staring at Gene in the dim illumination of the streetlights.
“If you could go back home?” Gene asked, continuing their earlier conversation as he flicked his head back and peered down at Sam as if looking at him for the first time, trying to fit the jigsaw pieces of his personality together.
“Is it so terrible here, Tyler, amongst the rogues and thieves?”
“Do you really have to ask?”
“You know, there are lots of things I’ve wished for. Most of ‘em involve booze, breasts, and my own brass balls, to use your words. But I’ve never wanted to be somewhere other than where I am. There’s been moments I’ve wanted to be someone else, though those are few and far between. And moments I’ve wanted something else, though that was a temporary deal. But to want another time?” Gene stopped, exhaling and brushing his hand through his hair in hurried agitation. “I can’t believe I’m even bothering.”
Sam stepped forward. “Bothering with what, Gene?”
“It’s all in there, in’t it?” Gene said, yanking Sam closer and tapping his fingers against his temple. “It’s not about times, places, or even people. It’s about you, in your brain, over thinking, under appreciating. It’s all about the grass being greener and the sky being bluer – over there, wherever there may be. But sometimes, Sam, sometimes…” Gene stopped again, on this occasion pushing Sam back with a fierce growl.
“Okay, you’re right. It is all about me, ‘cause I can’t let myself believe that any of this is real. And I’m terrified that one day I will. And you, Gene – you – you’re standing in front of me, larger than life, blood pumping, there’s a bead of sweat on your brow, I can see it, and the way you make me feel-”
Gene interrupted. “Oh feelings? You have them, do you, on occasion? It’s in there somewhere, genuine human emotion?”
“So angry. Like I wanna rip your head off and eat your insides.” Sam’s hands grabbed hold of Gene’s shoulders, fingers digging in, skin turning white.
Gene didn’t shake Sam off. He kept speaking, words flying out with spittle as his voice rose in volume. “You don’t have a special switch for turning them off or draining the batteries?”
Sam clenched tighter. “And it doesn’t matter how many times I fight you, Gene, you’re always fighting back.”
Gene finally extricated himself from Sam’s grip, grasping hold of Sam like a vice, reversing their positions. “Are your feelings like your instincts, locked and lonely in a little part of you, deep down?”
“I can’t win, I never win, and the number of times I’ve thought that perhaps the truth is that I just don’t want to-”
Sam was cut off by Gene ramming him into the wall, all the air in his body rushing out in an instant as he felt his bones crack and creak. He tried to suck oxygen back into his system, but Gene’s mouth closed over his and he was kissed, brutally, teeth crashing against his lips. It was fast and it was vicious, but it made Sam’s pulse race and he pressed into it.
“You don’t want to,” Gene said fiercely, pulling away, giving Sam a chance to breathe. His face was barely an inch from Sam’s. “You don’t wanna win, you don’t wanna go back home. For once – just once, Tyler, I want you to accept that. You’re the one with the power, no one else, so if it were true, if truth existed in any form in your half-baked notions, you’d’ve thrown me off and left a long time ago.”
Sam swallowed. “We’re outside my flat.”
Gene narrowed his eyes, confused. “What?”
“If anyone’s supposed to leave, it’s you, surely?”
Gene eased away. He frowned, adjusting his coat, rifling in its pockets for a flask.
Sam studied him, the corners of his lips curving upwards. His heart was still rushing along. “What was that about?”
“What d’you mean?”
“That wasn’t a kiss, it was a strategic ‘shut-Sam-up’ tactic. I’ve taught it to all of CID.”
“My stubble burn and the memorable feel of your tongue beg to differ.”
Gene hitched his shoulder, unscrewing the top of his found liquor. “You’re a man of words, I’m a man of action.”
“And that action was to kiss me,” Sam said, the words flat and dry, but the sentiment considerably more involved.
“There you go again, thinking,” Gene responded dismissively.
Sam was almost whisper quiet, hushed and breathy. “And feeling.”
“Very.” Sam extended his hand, indicating the flask. Gene gave it to him wordlessly. Sam took a swig, gazing up at the night sky. “I do like it here. And I think that a lot of the time I’m thinking of it, that first place, that place I wanna be, in emerald green, with rose-tinted glasses. But I don’t belong here either, Gene. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Belonging’s a load of bollocks. I’ve not belonged anywhere. You adapt - you flex and you weave - until it fits, until you fit. You learn what you need and you take it.”
“D’you know what you need?” Sam asked. Gene turned his head away with a sharp jerk. “A good kicking. Drives a man mad to have you being wise as well as violent. It doesn’t do, Gene.”
“One day, you might have all this and more,” Gene replied with a wry gesture downwards.
Sam deliberately misunderstood his meaning. “Perhaps then I really wouldn’t care about getting home.”
“But you probably would.”
Sam smiled at Gene’s insight. “Yeah.” He flung his arm halfheartedly in the direction of his flat. “I’m going in. Are you coming with me?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Right. See you tomorrow, then.” Sam stayed still and watched as Gene started moving away. “Gene?”
“Thanks for listening, at least. I know I rave on and it can’t be easy, having to deal with that, and deal with the other, but I do appreciate it, even though I never say so.”
“That’s not true, Sammy-boy,” Gene responded quickly. He raised a gloved hand. “You’re saying so now.”
“I’ll pay you back, one day.”
“You’ll listen to me whine on for several hours? Are you sure you’re up to the task? You need to be made of stiff stuff, believe me.”
“No, I’ll pay you back with a carefully orchestrated ‘shut-Gene-up’ tactic.”
Gene didn’t reply. He marched away, his gait a touch more determined than usual, if that was possible. Sam followed his retreating back and slumped against the wall again, the bricks cool and solid against his jacket. He closed his eyes and tried to picture it. Home. Full colour, sight and sound. But he saw a person, instead. Ferocity and passion, strength and power. He was beginning to believe in this reality more than the other, just like he’d predicted.
It was true, what they said. And maybe there was a reason. And maybe that reason was good.