Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 1,500 words.
Notes: Gen, set in some imaginary time during early S2. Title from the song by The Tragically Hip.
Sam sat in the dark and thought about it.
The steady rush of blood through his veins as he squeezed the trigger. The look in the boy’s eyes as his legs crumpled beneath him and he collapsed. The shouting, screaming, noise all around him.
He sat in the dark and he thought about everything. Him and the bottle. Several bottles. Curtains closed, door locked.
But the knocking wouldn’t stop. He put his palms to his ears but no amount of muscle, skin and bone could deafen the noise. There was a crash, a sound of wood splintering, and Gene standing where a door had once been.
“Christ, Tyler, you look like hell,” Gene exclaimed, glaring. He walked further in, casting his eyes around the flat.
“Where the hell’ve you been for the past two days?”
Gene rolled his eyes. “Why?”
“You know why.”
Sam tried to ignore the images flickering through his mind, threatening to burst forth and assail him. He tampered down on the smell of acrid smoke in the air, the type of sense memory he knew he could never forget. Any time a shot was fired in his future, he’d remember this shot, this mistake.
“You’re being a girl,” Gene stated.
Sam offered little reaction.
Gene took off his coat, rolling up his sleeves and sitting next to Sam on the floor. He didn’t speak for a while, shifting into position instead, shoulder against Sam’s, back against the wall.
“This about the shooting?”
“No it’s about Nelson’s pub quiz,” Sam spat. “Of course it’s about the shooting.”
“It’s part of the job.”
“I killed someone.”
“You’ve killed people before.”
Sam took another swig of scotch. “That’s not a consolation.”
The images assaulted Sam again. His face was so white. His eyes wide. Mouth open. Hands arched forward, pleading. Only, there was a knife, wasn’t there? A blade between fingers, Sam could see it – light glinting. The girl next to him was scared, no – terrified, screaming her lungs out, ruby red lips and mascara-stained face. And he had to do something. Had to stop it. It was his job.
“Never reacted like this before.”
“How do you know?”
“Is it because he was a kid?” Gene asked, flexing his fingers. “Innocence of youth.”
“Is that so bad?”
“No. Stupid, perhaps. Unfair.”
The ambulance’s sirens pierced through the cacophony, shrill and ominous as opposed to comforting. He was dead before anything could be done. Sam tried resuscitation, tried everything he could, but nothing worked.
“Don’t tell me you don’t understand, Gene, ‘cause I know you’ve been through this.”
Gene reached for the scotch. “You think so?”
Sam didn’t respond for a long time. He tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling, willing himself not to cry; not now, next to Gene, who’d probably punch him as well as mock him.
“You take a life, an innocent life, and suddenly your own doesn’t seem so important anymore.”
“It wasn’t like that. I didn’t hole myself up in a dark and dingy flat, drinking myself into a stupor. I got out there and I fought, for what was right, to right my mistakes, to make a difference.”
Sam laughed derisively, finally looking at Gene, staring at him and trying to distinguish the truth from the lies. “Really?”
Gene’s face remained impassive. “You think I was sorry for myself, because it was some kid with a stick that I shot, not some bloke with a gun. You’re wrong. I was angry, because that Jackie Queen made it sound like I hadn’t been doing my job --- but I had. And so were you. So for God’s sake, buck up.”
“You should feel sorry. Not for yourself. For him. For his family.”
“That’s what you’re doing, is it? Feeling sorry - for him, for his family. That’s why you’re here, instead of doing your damnedest to do something right for a change?”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m here.”
“Come back to the station.”
Gene huffed out a breath and pushed away from the wall. “Well, if there’s no reasoning with you…”
“You never talk reason. You always talk crap.”
“…I may as well leave you be.”
Gene came back the next day with a new bottle of scotch. He settled next to Sam on the cot and unscrewed the cap, passing the bottle Sam’s way without another word. Sam took it gratefully, noticing how cold it was against his palm.
“We need you, Sam,” Gene said eventually, forearms resting on his knees.
Sam snorted. “No, you don’t. You never wanted me in the first place.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yes it is.”
“Okay, maybe it is, but things have changed.”
Sam smirked scathingly as he sucked down another measure of scotch. It burned against his tongue, tingled against his palate.
“What do you want me to say? That you’ll never cock up again? That innocent people won’t be caught up in the crossfire between crims and cops? It doesn’t work like that. You’re not a child, surely you’ve learnt that by now.”
“I don’t want you to say anything. If you didn’t get it the first time, I want you to leave me alone.”
Gene didn’t stand up. He plucked a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, took one out and lit it. Sam stared at it and gestured for his own. He hadn’t smoked since his first year on the force, but he felt an awful lot like having nicotine, tobacco, and thousands of other dangerous chemicals mixing in his system. Gene raised his eyebrows but offered the packet and Sam deftly took one, lighting it on the end of Gene’s.
He coughed after the first intake, spluttered after the second, but the third was smooth and easy.
“So you didn’t feel guilty, then?” Sam asked, acting as if a day of drinking in solitude hadn’t gone by. As if they’d spent the entire time sitting together, talking together.
“What was there to feel guilty about? I made a decision, one had to be made.”
“But your situation was different, wasn’t it? One life for the many.”
Sam blew a spiral of smoke into the air, watching the wisps with idle curiosity as they span shapes, looking eerily like they were coming out of the barrel of a gun.
“No. I thought it was, but it wasn’t. I acted on impulse.”
“I never used to act on impulse. I can blame that one on you.”
Gene nudged him. “Just as well.” He paused. “You should be happy no one in the press is complaining.”
“I wish they would.”
“No you don’t. If I had – and I stress that, Tyler – had been feeling guilty, the way they treated me would’ve sent me lower, into the depths of the canal. It was like I was a dog, a mangy mongrel there to kick for others’ amusement.”
“Maybe you deserved it.”
Gene’s eyes flashed with white-hot anger and he grabbed Sam’s arm, hauling him up, slamming him into the wall.
“I didn’t,” he shouted, voice coarse and ragged. He relinquished his grip. “And neither do you.”
Sam slumped down, bowing his head. “Lucky that’s not happening, then.”
“Only because of some choice words and fists,” Gene muttered.
Sam glanced up. “Tell me I’m not mad.”
“Oh, so now you want me to lie.”
“It didn’t cut you up, deep down inside? Replaying the look in his eyes as he crashed to his knees?” Sam asked, eyes red-rimmed and cigarette down to the filter. He let the filter drop to the carpet and crushed it with his heel.
“I shot my one in the back,” Gene said. “Never saw his eyes. He was in a crowd, so I never heard his last gasps of breath.”
“But you must know how it feels,” Sam continued, throat constricted.
“It’s simple,” Gene replied. “You don’t let it feel. You pack it down, low as you can, keep it hidden from everyone, including yourself. You never let anything reach it, nor bring it out to examine it in the light of day. You refuse.”
“I keep trying, but I can’t.”
Gene placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders. “Try harder. Fight harder.”
Gene gave what Sam interpreted to be half a smile. “You must know what I’m going to say.”
“Return to work,” Sam deadpanned.
“And it helped you.”
“Completely.” Gene nodded, suggesting the word hadn’t had impact enough.
“You don’t think your guilt’s in there, festering?”
“No. Haven’t cottoned on, yet, Tyler, have you? I don’t think.”
“You know, you say that, but I think you’re still lying.”
Gene brought his hand up and tapped against Sam’s head. “Just don’t listen, do you? Stop it.”
Sam took a deep breath. He gritted his teeth and stared into Gene’s eyes. “I can never bring that boy back.”
“No.” Gene stepped back and opened the door, skimming his thumb over the broken latch. “But you can ensure that others are kept safe.”
Sam followed Gene, shrugging on his jacket. “By not feeling.”
“By knowing when to feel.”
Sam stepped into the light of the hallway and decided on action.