Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2,800 words
Notes: Sam/Gene slash. A continuation of We Both Go Down Together. It probably helps to have read that one first. Title from The Decemberists.
There are words Sam would never associate with Gene, would never think of uttering in connection with the man who’s more than even his own egotistical rambling suggests. Fragile is one of those words. It doesn’t fit with the image of over-awe and under-sensitive. But lying there, pale, against a stark contrast of that which is metallic and utilitarian, that’s how Gene looks. Fragile. Broken.
The blood and dust’s been cleaned up and now there’s just skin, loosely clothed. You’d never know it was explosion and confinement that put Gene into this situation. He’s pristine.
Sam stares and his throat constricts. He’s had several doctors look him over now and he knows what’s physically wrong, but it will take a while before the psychological damage can be properly assessed. Not that there’s anyone to talk to about that. In his time, his future time, he’d be forced into psychiatric evaluation, made to go to counselling sessions, called upon to talk about his feelings and thoughts. This - the complete lack of regard to mental welfare - is a bonus of 1973 that Sam had never thought to meditate on.
He may be claustrophobic for the rest of his life.
Sam turns onto his back, gazing with red-rimmed eyes at ceiling tiles and a mysterious yellow stain. He hates hospitals. The air smells grey; mixed disinfectant and detergent. There’s a constant flurry of movement that’s never explained, young buxom women walking in to pick up his arm, feel his pulse, only to note it down and disappear just as quickly. He stopped asking questions after the fourth wide-eyed stare and proclamation of, “I’m not a doctor!”
“You’ve been crying,” Gene rasps, awake for the first time. Sam jumps within his skin and feels an overwhelming flood of relief and joy.
He clears his throat and answers without turning back towards Gene. “Not for you, if that’s what you’re thinking. I have a broken rib. It hurts.”
“Good to know you care I was on the brink of meeting my maker.”
“When that happens, give him my regards and tell him I like his horns.”
Sam swallows thickly. He flicks his eyes from the indentations above his head to the indentations of Gene’s face. Despite consciousness, Gene still looks ashen, but his eyes are dancing with life. This settles nerves Sam didn’t know were distraught.
“Cracked rib, eh? Was that the blast, or me?”
“Both, I’d imagine.” Sam would dearly love to prop himself up on his elbow to ease the mode of conversation, but the pain is too intense. “How’re you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been blown up. Funny, that.”
“They haven’t told me what’s wrong with you, but you’ve lost lots of blood and there’s been a fair few transfusions. You’ve been out of it for half a dozen hours or so.”
Gene pushes his lips forward, seems to consider saying something, but doesn’t speak a word. Sam’s neck aches from craning in Gene’s direction and he lets it roll back to its previous position. His eyes are once more fixed upon the stain that he decides looks like a dog pissing.
“Wrong with me? Hundreds of things, I’d say, though only six since our unfortunate run-in with a concrete slab. I think my foot’s broken.”
Sam finds his lips curving up at the corners. “You’re indestructible, aren’t you?”
Sam quirks an eyebrow and shakes his head softly to himself in resignation. He doesn’t take notice of the memories pressing behind his eyes, demanding attention. The smell, the feel, the taste. Doesn’t think of them at all. He sucks in a breath and fiddles with the sheet clasped between his fingers.
“Ray was on the phone earlier. It’s thanks to him we’re not still buried under the ruins of Mack’s.”
Gene doesn’t respond and Sam swivels to see him poised in an exaggerated expression of shock, mouth and eyes wide open.
“That almost sounded like gratitude,” Gene says in slow, measured tones.
“It was gratitude,” Sam deadpans. “We should get a nurse in here, tell them you’re awake.”
“To shut me up.”
“You read my mind.”
Sam calls, his throat scratched and voice hoarse. A nurse bustles in; small waisted, big busted. Sam watches Gene’s roving gaze with a disguise of disinterest. Gene is well practiced in the art of the traditional ogle, and not at all fussed about hiding it. The nurse, Gloria, doesn’t seem to notice, and similarly isn’t too excited about Gene being fully sentient. She asks him straightforward questions with the air of the very bored, checks his pulse, and wanders out again without giving either of them a backwards glance.
“So friendly in these places, aren’t they? Anyone’d think I’d had her over my knee.”
“You would’ve too, if you had your way.”
Gene sniffs in assent and Sam purses his lips. He returns to eyeing the pissing dog. Sam has decided to call him Rob Roy. He fabricates a life for the mutt, complete with designated meal and exercise routine, to explain away how he came to have a desire to relieve himself. He suspects his head got knocked about and he’s lost significant and necessary brain cells.
He thinks about inconsequential things – there’s a lump in his bed and he might think about letting his hair grow longer – but a large part of him insists that he’s avoiding real thinking. Real thoughts would be of Gene and the slide of his hand. Of death and destruction. He’s not sure which of the two is most disturbing. The lump is small, just under Sam’s thigh. He shifts uncomfortably.
Gene huffs in the bed alongside Sam’s, a low wheeze that tells of its own cracked rib. His bed creaks with a rusty squawk and Sam once more finds himself looking in Gene’s direction, only to see him scrabbling for the pack of cigarettes lying on the small table next to him. Sam hadn’t thought to ask the nurses to remove it, because he hadn’t really thought Gene would wake up. If he were to be honest with himself, he’d been steeling most of his strength for the eventual outcome of Gene’s death, and he knows that the possibility lingers, so in the recesses of his mind he’s still on edge.
Sam watches in abject horror as Gene shakily places a cigarette between his lips and lights it. Gene leans back against the pillow and winces, but then breathes out smoke in a billow of satisfaction.
“Perfect,” Gene murmurs, content, and Sam simply doesn’t know how to respond in less than five hundred words.
Silence stretches between them once again, an invisible barrier that doesn’t appear to have a door. Sam’s not feeling strong enough to leg it over the top, and he imagines neither of them much like the thought of burrowing under the ground, so they both recline quietly.
Rob Roy the pissing dog has a friend called Guy Mannering. They like to frolic in the park together, chasing unsuspecting joggers.
Sam would groan, but he knows Gene would breach the artificial serenity to enquire how he is. And when he knows this, what he really means is that he knows Gene would make some offhand remark, ‘are you being a Jessie again? what’s up your arse this time?’ that would shield a deeper concern.
They are saved from each other by the doctor, who walks in and immediately annoys Sam by not condemning Gene for his deathstick. He immediately annoys Gene by referring to him as “Mr Hunt” and using a condescending tone that would make Keith Joseph envious. At least, this is what Sam deduces from Gene’s narrowed eyes and tense jaw.
“You’re a very lucky man, Mr Hunt.”
“This hospital has a policy of hiring Linda Lovelace for those patients who’ve suffered near-death experiences,” Gene finishes.
The doctor is devoid of humour. He taps his pen impatiently and rattles off a list of injuries that Gene condenses down to, “dodgy back, two broken ribs, and a sprained ankle.”
“Your spine was almost severed,” the doctor responds, moustache quivering with barely suppressed scorn.
“But it wasn’t, was it?”
“No, but I’m signing you off work for three weeks.”
“You do that,” Gene says. ‘Let’s see if I listen,’ reverberates clearly around the room, despite remaining unspoken.
Sam stays taciturn for the exchange, eyes switching from face to face, lungs protesting against inhaled smoke. He’s happy to be ignored, so he’s rather annoyed when a pair of smug, haughty eyes settle on him.
“And you, Mr Tyler…”
Gene interjects. “He has a severe case of Misery-itus. It can strike at any moment, and comes with a shocking side-effect of verbal diarrhoea.”
“Side-effect? I thought your verbal diarrhoea was the cause?” Sam retorts, not allowing himself to rise to the bait.
The doctor acts like they haven’t said a thing. “You’re not in as much danger as Mr Hunt, but you should stay for observation. You’ll be off for a week too.”
Sam doesn’t care. He surmises he cares about as much as Gene does. They may never go near the station in that time, but they’ll be working. They have to bring down Nick, who seemingly set them up; and they have to hunt down whomever Nick was working for. For the moment, answers stretch before Sam like a mirage – there and not there at the same time.
“Your clothes were all in disarray,” the doctor says to Gene, almost conspiratorially. There’s a twitch that travels from Gene’s forehead to his jaw. Sam doesn’t understand.
“That tends to happen when they’re ripped to shreds by bomb blasts, I’ve found.”
“Ah yes, but not this particular item of clothing.” The doctor leans forward and quickly, ever so perceptibly, casts a glance Sam’s way. “Your underwear, Mr Hunt.”
Sam cottons on to the doctor’s attempted discussion with the wary trepidation of Gene’s actions. Gene moves his second cigarette to his lips with slow calculation, where usually rash urgency would suffice.
Gene’s face has set into an immaculate mask of impassivity. “Anyone’d think it’s illegal to take a piss. Should I get my cuffs?”
The doctor is far from satisfied by this response to the question never uttered, but he accepts it anyway. He steps away from the bed and says when he’ll next come to examine them both. His footsteps echo against the tiles as he walks away to unsettle his other patients. Sam stamps down the uprising terror churning in his stomach and bile in his throat.
Rob Roy and Guy Mannering aren’t like the other dogs in the neighbourhood and this creates for them many unpleasant circumstances.
Gene doesn’t speak to Sam for the rest of the day. Sam doesn’t blame him. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to sleep, but all he gets are twists and turns in an elaborate labyrinth of neuroses. They almost died, together. Gene almost died, alone. Sam almost lost Gene to blood loss, but now he’s losing him to societal expectations.
The worst thing, Sam reflects, when he allows himself to reflect, is that it’s not just 1973 that makes this so difficult. Being a gay cop in his era of expertise isn’t exactly a bed of roses. He remembers one of his early friends on the force – the magical time when he’d had friends, when he’d relaxed enough to let others know a little about him. Josh had been terrified his fellow recruits would find out he batted for the other team. And Sam hadn’t understood his remarks about disenfranchisement and what it meant to feel adrift in a sea of normality, because he’d never realised that he didn’t belong either. Josh had been treated like a second class citizen, spat on, beaten --- and they were supposed to be more enlightened times.
Not that Sam’s a gay cop. One attraction does not a lifestyle make. That’s what he keeps repeating to himself. He may have his own prejudices to struggle over.
When Sam and Gene do talk over the next few days, it’s usually about the quality of the hospital food. Or rather, lack thereof.
“This is somehow worse than the crap they serve down station canteen.”
“I think Gwen does a good job on a low budget.”
Ray, Chris and Annie come to visit with toiletries, clothes, a bottle of scotch, and a lot of noise. They tell Gene not to open the scotch until he’s feeling better, so he arm-wrestles Chris to prove a point. He wins, of course, because Gene Hunt is the kind of man to do all in his power to maintain expectations.
It turns out Nick has gone missing, which Sam supposes he shouldn’t find surprising, but does anyway. Gene’s legendary instincts failed him this time and the betrayal cuts close. Armed robbery has never seemed so threatening before, and that’s a worry in itself. They need to get these blokes. If the bastards are only too happy to have two high-ranking police officers lured into such a situation, chances are they don’t hold much stock by the value of human life.
On the fifth day after Sam’s world exploded, Sam comes back from an x-ray to have a nurse relay a message from Gene that fills every bone in his body with a deep, yearning dread.
“If Tyler worries his pretty little head about where I’ve gone, tell him he’s a bleeding detective and should figure it out himself.”
He’s gone somewhere obvious, then. Which makes one of four places. The station, the pub, home, or the place of their near entombment. Sam knows where he’d go.
He glowers long and hard to be allowed to dismiss himself from the hospital. If Gene managed it, he can too. The nurses eventually give up when Sam starts rattling on about specialised inspections and witnessing actions that rhyme with half-inching. He breathes in deep with victory and immediately regrets it when several of his muscles twinge. Catching a cab is a simple, if expensive, affair.
“You’re an idiot,” Sam says. The cold wind whips his hair and makes every inch of his frail, injured body ache.
“I’m normally not one to dwell,” Gene says back, not bothering to see who delivered the statement. He’s continuing a conversation they’ve never had, but Sam can assume what went before.
“Gene, you’re risking your life being here.”
Gene gestures erratically at the grey wreckage. “How can I? There’s nothing left to destroy.”
“You’re not well enough to be out and about.”
“By that token, neither are you.”
Sam steps forward and places his hand on Gene’s arm. “No, I’m not. And I wish I wasn’t. I’d give anything to be in a warm bed right now.”
“Spent the last five days in bed. It’s not as cosy as you try to make it sound.”
Sam follows Gene’s line of sight and feels a shudder pass up his spine that has nothing to do with Manchester ice. He digs his free hand deep into the pocket of his new, inferior leather jacket.
“I’ll take you home,” Sam says, as if the worst that’s happened is that Gene’s had too much to drink – a perfectly natural and anticipated event where Gene’s concerned. But Gene shakes his head and stays resolute.
“I’m gonna catch ‘em, Sam. I’m gonna grind their bones to dust.”
“Fee, fi, foe, fum?”
Sam looks up to see an intense green glare piercing through him. He levels out his forced smirk.
“If we’re gonna do that, we’re gonna need to recuperate. And that means no stomping around until cartilage and bones are well-knit. It means no subjecting your back to strenuous activity. The worst you could do in your current state is kill with the stench of your breath, and whilst I’ll make no claims there’s not a certain level of seizure-inducing toxicity there, it’s not quite enough, is it?”
Gene’s arm is warm against Sam’s palm. Sam feels like drawing Gene in close, dragging his hand into his hair. He could wrap Gene, bandage him up, make him feel less of a failure.
Gene stares blankly, then moves away. “Recuperation. Does it include a drink?”
“But can it?”
“Well, there’s really no stopping you, so I guess it must.”
As they step away, Sam gathers up the last shreds of his defences and tells himself that everything will be alright. If numerous physical injuries aren’t enough to crack Gene, then a few mental ones won’t do much either, and he’s probably worrying over nothing. Not one to dwell. Not one to be weak. Not one to care too much, one way or the other; Gene Hunt doesn’t do emotional turmoil.
But Gene leans into his touch. He nudges his shoulder against Sam’s and hobbles by his side, and for some reason, this impresses upon Sam a strong indication of a condition Sam would never associate with Gene. Fragile. Broken.
Next Part: Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect