Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2575 words.
Notes: Written as a pinch-hit for b_c_draygon in the Life on Mars Ficathon 2008. (Sorry it's so late!) Title from "I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding.
Prompt/Summary: Gene/the Missus, G to PG-13, they do care about one another.
His hands are sticky. This is the age when most other boys pull pigtails and make porky faces; but not Gene. He rubs his palms down the seat of his trousers and feigns nonchalance as he walks over.
Gene's not scared of the war. There's a war inside his house most nights, and he's got used to the sounds of bombs dropping, even if it's only make-believe. He doesn't think of the place he lives in as a home. Stopped that when he was nine. No, it's a house half-empty and cold, no matter how much his mum gets him to rug up.
Rationing doesn't bother him because he's lived his whole life keeping little bits back anyway; if not for him, then for Stu, who may only be just over a year younger, but cannot or will not fend for himself.
It's difficult, sometimes, being the only reliable one in his family, but Gene's learnt to cope with it. The bottom line is that there's only one man he can trust, and that's him. He's not even a man yet.
The good thing about the war is the 'seize the day' mentality of those left to try and rebuild the nation. There's a dance every second week down the community hall, and they all attend, because there's nowt better to do.
She is not the first girl he's ever fancied, nor shall she be the last, but Gene can't take his eyes off her. Blonde hair, light brown eyes, she has a pale blue dress on that's cut to emphasise her narrow waist. By the looks of it, it was made from nursery room curtains.
His hands are sticky. This is the age when most other boys pull pigtails and make porky faces; but not Gene. He rubs his palms down the seat of his trousers and feigns nonchalance as he walks over. She may be older, but he's the determined sort.
"Would you like to dance?"
The question's met with a blank gaze and Gene feels like he's either spoken gobbledegook, has unwittingly fashioned himself devil horns from running his hands through his hair, or that the object of his adoration has never actually seen an eleven year old before.
"No," she says eventually, and that's it. She walks off and he's left to shuffle his shoes.
"Don't worry about her," a high voice near-whispers. "She's been gushing blood all week. Lost all sense of humour with it."
Gene opens his mouth in disgust, his tongue feeling momentarily too large against his teeth. He turns to his left to see a girl roughly his age staring at the people gliding across the floor in formation.
"My name's Georgina," she says cheerfully, offering her hand out with a brash confidence he's never seen in someone wearing something that looks suspiciously like eighteen doilies sewn together. "But you can call me George."
"Gene," he responds automatically.
"Odd name. Dad a big fan of westerns?"
"Am I named for Autry, you mean? I'm too old for that."
The girl - George - raises an eyebrow. "How old are you? Seven? Nine at a stretch?"
"Eleven, thanks, you mouthy so-and-so."
"I turn twelve in September."
"Well good for you. I'll bake you a cake."
"Asking fifteen year old girls to dance, baking cakes; something tells me you live a strange and interesting life."
"I'll tell you all about it some time."
Gene doesn't much care when the war's over. It won't directly affect his life much, and the best that could happen is his Uncle Robert coming back and regaling him with stories of heroics. The worst isn't something that bears thinking about.
George has somehow become a permanent fixture in his life. If he's honest with himself, she's his best friend; but he doesn't say that to the boys with whom he attends school. She's not the kind who enjoys wearing the dresses she turns up in. Sooner than not, she begs for a pair of Gene's newly washed shorts and tucks the hem of her skirt into it. They walk along the canal and throw rocks, and Gene calls George an array of different boys' names, just because he can. One day she's Steve, the next she's Jack, and Gene forgets she is a girl most weeks. There's nothing ladylike about her; she prefers meccano over dollhouses, and can burp God Save the Queen; a feat which impressed Gene the first time, has revolted him in others, and bores him to tears after the thirty-fifth rendition.
Stu has taken to joining Gene and George on their little walks, tagging behind like some sort of long lost duckling. He's always off in his own world. Gene asked him once what he dreamt about and the answer was "colour, and light, an endless rolling sea." Gene doesn't think he'll ever ask again. When he dreams, it's of being a sheriff, or becoming a celebrated football player, even though the chances of either are severely limited.
Gene doesn't talk to George about what it's like living in a place that houses a bear with a wounded paw, but she seems to sense it anyway. She doesn't ask questions when he turns up with a limp or a black-eye, even though the chances are even that Gene got them at school fighting the bigger boys. She ignores that side of him completely, and Gene's glad.
George starts to really look like a girl when they're sixteen. Gene averts his eyes when she adjusts her dress, and feels burning warmth creep up his neck when she complains about her tits always getting in the way. He stammers once or twice during the ensuing weeks, but George puts an end to all of it by wriggling out of her top and showing him her round, full breasts.
"They're lumpy bits of meat I just happen to have because I was born missing a todger. When you grow old and fat you'll have them too. Calm down, you stupid git, you're making Norman Wisdom look smart."
"He's that new bloke who wears the silly hat and the too-small suit. You know, total fool. You're kindred spirits."
Gene rolls his eyes and is silent for the next three hours. He kicks at the dust and tries not to think about asking if he can touch them, for a moment, less than a second. Just to feel how soft they are, or whether they feel firm.
Every outing after that he's determined not to stare, or make remarks, and after a while it gets easier, because George isn't the only girl he knows, and the others are much more willing to be fondled for a night at the pictures and a bag of liquorice allsorts.
The only time Gene recalls seeing George cry is when he tells her he's about to be called up for National Service. She doesn't make a big show of it, isn't bawling and blubbering, but her eyes are red-rimmed and her nose runs, and Gene gives her an awkward hug that's over too soon and consists of a maximum of four inches of them touching at any one time.
"Nothing hardly ever happens, you know. We go off, we learn how to shine our shoes and make beds, let's face it; a nurse sticks a hand up our arses and asks us to cough, and that's the worst of it."
"I know, you idiot. I'll miss you, is all."
"Don't lie, George. I might be stupid, but I'm not thick. You'll miss your weekly opportunity to mock and kick a man when he's down, that's it."
"Firstly, you're hardly a man, and second, it's one and the same to me."
Gene feels oddly tender towards George; something he hasn't felt towards another person in a long time; well, apart from Stu, but he hardly counts. He's never thought he's had to protect her, which is why he's always liked her so much. But here she's vulnerable, and scared, and trying so hard not to let it show.
It's this George he remembers the first night he's alone in a foreign land and listening to the soft sobs of Jimmy, a hardnosed prick from Newcastle who called him lanky-shanks upon first sight. This George he visualises when he loses his virginity to a whore in Netanya. Memories of running down alleyways as it's pelting with rain and playing in muddy ditches get transformed into eternal blue skies and holding hands, skipping over fields. He tells himself he's always loved George, that he's positive he's going back for her and her alone.
And maybe it's true; perhaps he has always loved George. But not the one from his imagination. And she's not the only reason he wants to go back.
They don't write to each other. She's not sentimental enough and he's too busy climbing the ranks of social standing. He's already decided that as soon as his time's up, he's going to try for the force. All he's doing here is policing with guns anyway. If that doesn't work, he'll return to the army, hopefully with a little more drive and enthusiasm. Maybe if he believed that what they were doing there was really worthwhile --- but whilst he's glad there's someone there to stop the attacks of angry Palestinians who want revenge in a pound of flesh, he can't see that it's any business Britain should be involved in.
Georgina is engaged when he arrives back in Manchester. The betrayal of it cuts close to the bone and he visits her at the shoe-store, cocksure grin and flexing muscles, to show her what she's missing out on. She goes by 'Georgina' now; her fiancée's insistence, not her own. He's a reedy-voiced banker, and a total tosspot; not at all the sort of man Gene thought she'd end up with, mostly because he'd spent the past eighteen months thinking she'd end up with him.
"Tony's reliable," Georgina says when Gene asks the monosyllabic 'why?', glancing at the stacks of shoe boxes and contemplating kicking them over.
"We've known each other almost ten years now, and yes, you're very reliable, but you're also..."
Gene doesn't allow his voice to catch on his words as he grates them out. "That's charming, that is. I go off for Queen and country, but that's not good enough for Miss Lah-di-dah Fancypants. Has to have the very best, her. Doesn't matter a bit if he dresses like he's two cards short of a full deck, or looks like he's a pumpkin for a head. Long as he rakes in the cash."
"Didn't know you'd met him."
"Your mum showed me the picture, didn't she?"
"We need the money, Gene. You can't honestly tell me you're rolling in it."
"When I'm a copper..."
Georgina snorts. "Childhood fancy."
"No, I've recommendations. It's gonna happen. And when it does, I'll come to you with my first paypacket. You promise me you'll drop that sack of shit and agree to have dinner with me, yeah?"
"I can't just---"
"I'll agree to have dinner, but I'm not just dumping Tony on a whim. I have to be positive it's the right thing to do."
"He calls you Georgina, Barry. You can't wander through life with a dickhead who's got no idea who you really are. He'd never even let you get through one verse of God Save the Queen before keeling over in shock."
Gene can see her resolve failing, the upturn at the corner of her lips twitching to rise into a fully-fledged smile.
"I said I'll have dinner with you, once you wave that paypacket under my nose. That's all I'm committing to. Now off with you, you're scaring away the customers."
Gene discovers the force is about as disappointing as he'd expected National Service to be, but he knows it's right for him all the same. There's a sense of purpose attached to getting up every day, and he's immediately popular amongst his peers because he's got balls. The first wage he gets is enough to make his date with George a comfortable if not a flashy affair. Before he knows it they're sitting in the back of Stu's car kissing.
It's not at all like kissing the girls at a price, either from when he was younger in Manchester or when he was keeping the peace thousands of miles away. George kisses him like she's secretly always wanted to and he suspects she has. Beneath the bravado and boorish behaviour is a woman, after all, no matter how many years he's spent denying it.
She drops Tony because she feels guilty, but it takes a long time before Gene can say with any confidence that they're a couple. Mostly their relationship consists of reminisces and snogging sessions snatched at odd moments of the day and night, and just when he thinks that's not enough, she comes out and surprises him with an insight he never would have thought anyone was capable of.
Gene's not scared of the war. The hippies may complain about it year after year, but there's a reason the yanks are trying to stop the communist insurgency, and it's not just because they're trigger-happy wankers with superiority complexes.
His home is a safe-haven from outside concerns and he sometimes likes to pretend he can wrap himself up in love and affection and never be hit by the cruelties of reality. Not that George is all that affectionate, on the surface of things. Not in the lovey-dovey way that's expected by so many men of their generation. Her affection tends to come in the form of a barb. She never did learn to soften up. Gene's taken to playing Roger Whittaker, hoping some of the easy syrupy calmness will rub off, knowing full well it never will.
"How was work?"
"Same as usual. There are days I reckon Harry's off his block, he's always banging on about procedure and 'ticking all the boxes', whatever the hell that means."
"I keep telling you he's a nutter. He chose you as his DI, didn't he?"
"Ever the sweetheart, love. What's for dinner?"
George shrugs. "I don't know, you're the one making it. I've been organising the Church fête all day like a good little housewife."
"Housewife? You? What's the opposite of housewife?"
"Outside-husband; which is you to a T."
Gene smirks and wraps his arms around George's waist, dipping his head to rest against her auburn curls. "God, I'm starving."
"I'm serious, Gene, I haven't made anything."
"Spaghetti hoops it is."
"Lovely. Again. Have you heard from Stu yet?"
"Not since the last time. When we do, it'll probably just be for money, and this time; don't give it to him. Addicts only want to do one thing and that's feed their habit."
George pulls away and there's sorrow in her expression, but she covers it up quickly by stretching out her hand.
"Hey, did you know that it's exactly eighteen years today that we met?"
"No. And you shouldn't either."
"I only remember because it was our Katie's birthday." George beams up at him. "I was wondering, Mr. Hunt, if you'd do me the honour of this dance."
Gene looks down at the hand on his shoulder and takes a breath before twirling his wife around the living room.
"Did I ever tell you I lead an interesting and strange life?"
George gives her closest approximation to a giggle, gliding her hand down to cup Gene's right buttock. "Oh, yes?"
"Maybe I'll tell you about it some time."
"Maybe I'll listen."