Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 1770 words.
Notes: For culf. Gen. Warning for darkness and character death.
The Arms was uncommonly quiet as they sat side by side, whisky and a glance between them. Sam ran his fingertips across the tabletop, not knowing what else to do. He thought about the bluntness of reality. An old friend of Gene's had died that day - Sam had watched Jimmy Oak get shot during a hostage situation of which he had been the hostage taker. It seemed like such a futile waste, and Sam couldn't articulate it, couldn't even begin to explain how he had felt at Gene's guttural howl.
"You know, I learnt all kinds of things during National Service," Gene said suddenly. Sam's eyes flickered to his face and he was worried by what he saw there - weariness, sorrow and disgust. "Didn't think I would because most lads were sent off to no bother and came away with nothing more than a real knack for shining their shoes. But me? I was dumped in Palestine when it was all flaring up - oh, it was quiet a lot of the time - but that wasn't the time that mattered, was it?"
Gene stopped. He looked like he was going to stop forever. Sam made a noise - not much of one, but it implicitly requested Gene continue, and he did, in slow words that shuddered across the distance between them.
"It's never the stuff they teach you that makes a difference in the long run. I've discipline and manners and strength, sure, but, that's not what I see when I let myself. I don't see the mindless routine, the combat gear, the short cropped hair." Gene looked up and stared at Sam's head for a moment, a muscle in his cheek twitching.
"I see Terry from three streets back getting shot in the shoulder, dropping to his knees and then having his head blown off. I see our Brian, posh nonce extraordinaire go running into a burning building 'because it's the right thing to do - there may be civilians inside' - only to never leave. I see Albert, who was all talk - so much talk, all the time, he never shut up - by God I learnt a lot from Albert - go to pieces because he'd found a wooden stick with a child's hand still attached."
Gene's voice wavered and Sam couldn't stop staring, intensely aware that his throat was seizing up.
"I hardly ever think about it. How could I? How could I live with myself? Jimmy never got over it. He hadn't when we'd met up, three years after I'd been proclaimed a free man. Hadn't last I talked to his missus ten years ago. He dwelt. He remembered every shot fired, every splash of blood --- never figured out how to block the screams and cries from his ears. He let it wreck the rest of his poor, miserable, life. Until all he could do was try to take by force something he'd never been given, the dozy git."
Sam silently rubbed below his eyes. He steadied his hand around his glass and tried to lift it, but found his grip slipping.
"A man should never be forced into killing another human being for such pettiness," Gene said, bitterness and anger cascading out from him in waves. "But you're told to pull the trigger, so you do. All he wanted was his name on a plaque to say he'd been there, as if that made it all alright. And if I'd known it was a fake, I wouldn't've taken aim, but you never do know, do you?"
Sam downed the rest of his whisky as quickly as he could and mumbled about needing to piss. He stumbled into the alleyway and sucked in a breath he'd been wanting for too long as he brushed his sleeve over his face and let the air back out in a stuttering tremor.
The little snivelling gobshite was going to pay. He was going to hurt like he'd never hurt before, be incapable of forming any thought other than desolation. He was going to wish he had never existed - and maybe, if Gene was really lucky, if he was as strong as he felt, Sam really wasn't going to exist anymore.
Just the thought of it made Gene pleased as punch. Oh, the things Gene could do with this body.
Sam stared at himself in the mirror and didn't see Gene behind his eyes - didn't see him at all. He didn't hear him either, except for sometimes, perhaps, where he suddenly stood stock still, just as Gene ranted on inside him about loyalty and trust and betrayal.
In the meantime, there wasn't much Gene could do. He suppressed some of Sam's emotions and heightened others, until Sam crawled into a ball at the foot of his expensive linen and sobbed his eyes out. Or wanked for hours, begging for release. Or smashed his fist into walls, staring at the blood oozing between his fingers.
Sam was going to pay with his life, but whether it would become Gene's was another matter to be reckoned with.
It was September. Annie remembers this because Ruth had started saying her first words - "mama", "dada" and "leaf". She was obsessed with autumn colours, Ruth. She'd practically jump out of her Dad's arms in order to crunch through the newly fallen leaves, her blue eyes crinkled and bright and her blonde hair whipping with the wind.
Gene had come to the house on Sam's day off - which wasn't that odd - Gene was often around, but the look on his face was strange, there was something out of kilter, a little piece of his bravado missing.
"D'you remember Vic Tyler?" he'd asked quietly, jaw set and hands clasped together. Annie had stared up at him and nodded. How could she forget? He'd almost kicked her to death and was the core of several of her nightmares, though not exactly for the same reason. "He's been found in the canal," Gene continued.
"I see," Annie'd said, clipped and apparently understanding; but she didn't understand at all. She'd nodded towards the back door. "He's outside."
She knew why Gene had come and she knew why he had told her first and she willed herself not to go and look, but couldn't resist. Annie had gone to stand by the kitchen window that looked out upon their garden and watched as Gene leaned forward.
"You're lying," - a shout so loud it drifted on the air long after it had been said.
Gene had shaken his head and talked some more. Sam's face had crumpled, he'd balled his fists up and mirrored Gene, over and over, his head almost tossing from side to side. "No," he'd mouthed. "No."
Ruth had cried, Annie recalls. That's why she'd stopped watching. Ruth had demanded attention, as she usually did, with vehement yowling. And Annie had tried very hard not to look at her daughter with pity, because her father was grieving for a man younger than him that he thought was his own dad. And she tried again not to feel too distressed that she had allowed Sam to name their child after the woman Annie's age Sam persisted in thinking was his mother. It was better not to consider she was married to a lunatic.
It was September when Gene dragged Sam away in cuffs.
"You cannot tell Ray I told you this," Gene whispers, conspiratorially - he's more than half cut, at least three quarters, otherwise he'd not give a shit.
Sam has another gulp and mumbles something like, "won't, promise."
Gene seems satisfied with this and begins. "This happened a month after I met him. He was trying to get into some girl's pants."
Sam interrupted, lifting his hand and giggling at it. "Why is that the start of so many stories concerning Ray?"
"I dunno, happens so frequently it's a statistical certainty?"
"Did you just say statistical?"
"Something like it," Gene frowned, "look, d'you want this story, or not?"
"Do, totally, please go ahead."
"Right, so, for some reason, he gets it into his thick head that what he's gotta do is get rid of the 'tache for this bird to like him."
"Yeah. Now, sensible lads like you and me, Sammy-boy, we'd use a razor, yeah? But Raymondo - I dunno, he was completely bladdered or something. He went for wax."
"No!" Sam reiterated.
Gene belched. "He did. Got it from a friend of his sister's who's a nail-girl down near that stupid Asian grocer you go to."
"Nail-girl? You mean manicurist and beautician?"
"I mean massive bloody knockers. Best flotation devices around, I'd say. They looked so squeezable too, shame she ended up having four kids, they're the saggiest funbags in the world now... Where was I?"
"Ray, wax and stupidity."
"Oh, right. He goes into the locker room, gets this stuff, melts it with his lighter, smears it on and then tears it off --- the scream was the loudest noise I've ever heard in my entire life."
Sam started laughing, his stomach tensing up.
"There's more. He drops the wax, it's still warm and sticks to his forearm. He starts flinging himself about like a madman, crashing into lockers, whimpering. I run in there, thinking he's being assaulted, and he's bright pink and sobbing."
"Shit, so am I," Sam says, as tears begin rolling down his cheeks.
"And that's when the Super comes in."
The plot doesn't even have a gravestone. No one who cared enough to put up the cash was around. But Sam's been through the registers and double checked. Here lies Gene Hunt, a relic of a past era that's not so much past for Sam. It's his yesterday, his tomorrow. He flits from time to time.
He knows that in two hours he'll be speaking to Gene - a Gene that is very much alive, living life to its fullest. But for now, he is here, rain spattering against the sodden earth, standing above his best friend buried in the ground.
It doesn't make sense. It never makes sense. It doesn't stop him feeling.
He sighs for a land that has no heroes, for a land that needs heroes. Where a hero like Gene isn't even a name inscribed in rock. He cries for the years Gene will spend, energy steadily draining out of his body as he fights heart and soul for what he believes in. And he mourns, for misunderstandings and lost connections, for death of emotion and instinct.
He'll have a gravestone made, might even jokingly ask Gene for his epitaph. It's the least he can do.