Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4000+ words.
Notes: Sam/Annie (break up), Sam/Gene. So, it turns out discovering ‘Solitary Man’ was Diamond and not Cash was perfect, because the Neil Diamond song this title is taken from is basically this story. This is a follow on from A Solitary Man .
Summary: Should he dare to tell Gene that his insides do a flip every time he looks at him, his life could easily become just as confusing as it would were he to finally find out how he’s managed metaphysical transportation, and Sam’s not sure which one he’s most yearning to avoid.
Sam settles back into a routine with startling ease. To his mind, he was gone months, but to those around him it was a minute at the most. If the smiles are somewhat guarded, it’s to be expected, but Sam, ‘the Boss’, ‘my DI’, is accepted as one of the team. He drinks down at the Arms, giving Chris relationship advice and listening to Ray’s many conquests. He takes Annie out to dinner and the movies, enjoying the comfortable, warm atmosphere and lack of pressure in interactions.
At first, he tries not to stir trouble. He is silent during an interview in which Gene lets loose with his fists. He doesn’t question Gene’s choice to have a mere pawn in Tim Ellis’ empire locked up. He doesn’t breathe a word about ensuring proper procedure during his run-down on the tack CID are going to take during the murder investigation of a forty-four year old woman.
He expects Gene to be pleased with him --- for it to strengthen their friendship --- but after the third week of total obedience, Gene shoves him against the concrete walls of Lost and Found and demands to know what the matter is.
“Just what has happened to the pedantic little bastard that’s a thorn in my considerably large paw?”
Sam considers his options and goes for a version of honesty. He’s distracted by the heat and weight of Gene’s fingers on his shoulders. “I thought I should lay low... after Morgan.”
“Sam, I didn’t allow you back onto my team because I thought you’d be a good little boy now that I had something on you. You do your job the way you know best.”
Sam shifts under Gene’s hands and gazes at him with narrowed eyes. “You want me to piss you off all the time rather than listen to your all-encompassing wisdom?”
Gene looks down at where they’re touching and pulls away, straightening his shoulders. “Checks and balances, Tyler.”
Sam can’t stop the teasing grin that spreads across his face. “You know I’m often right. You like me as a picky pain.” The grin widens as Gene’s frown deepens. “You lay awake at night wondering how you can be just like me. One day we’ll walk into the station, and there you’ll be, short hair and leather jacket.”
Gene pushes him back into the wall with breath-stealing force. “Give it a rest.”
“It’s true though, isn’t it?” Sam continues, his blood pumping quicker. “Just a little bit. You could almost say it was love at first sight.”
Gene sighs and rubs his head. “Back to normal, then. Or whatever it is you pass for.” He glares. “Finish that report on McMillan.”
Sam watches Gene’s retreating back and breathes in deep. He should have realised, given the letter, but he’d never thought Gene would ever say these words to his face. He thought he’d have to ease into growing resistance and persistent questioning of methods. That it was best to use stealth and cunning. He wants to take things slowly, to make sure that he’s walking before running, that he’s right about this not being a one-sided attraction.
Gene trusts in him like no one ever has before, and maybe that’s all it is, and maybe that’s enough, but there are times Sam thinks he sees something else playing in the depths of Gene’s eyes. When they touch, even if it’s a punch or a push, there’s connection there. They have a rhythm and flow that Sam’s rarely had with others, and certainly not with people he hasn’t been physically involved with.
Annie tells Sam after that first month that she prefers them as friends. Sam isn’t angry given he’d figured out his love for her was platonic the first two weeks after waking up from his coma. He would think about her often, would picture the tears in her eyes, felt sickened by his betrayal, but it was Gene’s injury that he was obsessed with, that haunted all of his dreams. It was Gene he had imaginary conversations with, and who he wanted to strive for.
He’d been stringing Annie along, knowing things couldn’t go any further than kisses and cuddles snatched as a substitute for other, less available human affection. And he feels bad for that, because he’s never wanted to hurt her, hates the thought of causing her pain. This relationship has simply been what’s expected from all around them.
“Young love,” Phyllis has often muttered, pretending to be unimpressed, but cooing and asking for all the details behind the scenes.
Nelson has given them thoughtful, considered glances as Ray makes lewd gestures and queries. Countless questions on what Annie’s tits feel like haven’t been answered, though Sam makes a concession late one night, after seven malt whiskys and half a bottle of red.
“Firm but yielding, like cushions,” he says, “but perky. Her skin’s so smooth, like a sea-softened pebble. Feels amazing against your lips.”
Ray shoots him jealous looks for days, and Sam thinks he’s probably going to get attacked by the WI for the rampant objectification, but at least he tried to be poetic about it.
All in all, Sam’s glad when Annie admits it was always his danger that attracted her, and now he’s settled down, he’s like the boy next door. She respects and cares for him, but he doesn’t set her nerves on edge, and she’s at that time of her life when she’s up for adventure. Unexpectedly, Sam’s newfound sanity is a burden on his love-life. Understandably, he doesn’t much mind.
Sam takes a sip of tea, sitting down and looking around Annie’s flat. “I’m gonna try not to be mortally offended.”
“Your heart’s not in it anyway,” Annie retorts. “It belongs to another.”
Sam starts, his head whipping around quickly so he can interrogate Annie with a stare. “How d’you mean?”
“You’re married to the job.”
Sam relaxes, resting one arm along the back of the sofa. He props his head on the other hand, angled so that he’s facing Annie.
“You make it sound so sad. There’s nothing wrong with dedication and devotion to your career.”
“You can take it too far, though, can’t you? I mean, you might start saying crazy stuff about being from the future.”
“And if I told you that wasn't craziness, but reality, Annie?”
“I’d wonder what else you have to hide.” Annie places her mug on the coffee table and crosses her legs. Their knees make contact and the small glance she gives tells Sam she isn’t completely immune to a physical reaction when they touch. “But it wasn’t entirely a lie, was it, Sam? You believed it for a while.”
“Because it was the truth.”
“Give over. Time travel’s for telly and books. It’s not like you had a magic machine or anything, is it?”
Sam sighs, but doesn’t press the point, because he doesn’t want there to be distance between them. And since he doesn’t know the mechanics of it, he can’t defend himself with anything more than words. Annie’s a fine detective and expects evidence. Sam has nothing but conviction.
The station is ablaze the next day with a hundred whispering voices at every turn; accusatory finger-pointing and proclamations of “he were never good enough, anyway”, but Sam barely notices. He’s never minded how they view him, not even now he knows they’re not figments of his overactive imagination. And even if he were inclined to bother, he’s too busy ruminating on how he got to be here, on how it all works. He’d been purposefully ignoring it. Was quite happy ignoring it. But the questions still stand.
He is an impossible man in an impossible time. Is he the only one? His little friend with the red dress hasn’t visited him since he came back, which at first was a relief, but now he thinks it was short-sighted glee. No more crackling radios. No talking to the telly. No obvious paths to take when it comes to gaining answers.
Gene calls Sam into his office before the day is over. His legs are propped up on his table and a newspaper is flat across his lap. Sam stops staring long enough to realise Gene’s gaze is fixed with an inquisitive directness that he often uses in Lost & Found.
“A little birdie told me you and Cartwright broke it off.”
“Your little birdie’s right.”
Gene nods, folding the newspaper and dropping his feet to the floor. “Right. Is this gonna be a problem?”
“In what ways, Guv?”
“Are you both gonna start taking pot-shots at each other? Compromise investigations? Will I find you on my doorstep late at night, Samuel, half-cut and sobbing your broken heart out?”
“No, it was amicable. We’re both professionals. And what makes you think I’d come running to you?”
Gene narrows his eyes. “She split up with you, though, didn’t she?”
“For what it’s worth, yeah, she did.”
“Go on, get your coat, I’ll buy you a drink. Just the one, mind. The rest can come out of your pay-packet.”
Sam doesn’t bother to conceal his smirk. “That’s shockingly considerate of you, but I’m not upset, really. Annie and I --- we’re better off friends.”
“She’s no good in the sack?”
“Wouldn’t know, never got there.” Sam reminisces on the few times he thought there was a chance. He’d been willing, but hesitant, and he supposed the indecision showed through.“There were a couple of close calls, but, ultimately I think we both decided we liked more than we lusted.”
Gene stands, taking his camel-hair coat from his chair and dragging it on. “You sicken me, Tyler.” He shakes his head. “Are you really that much of a fairy, or is it a case of the more you have to say, the smaller the pencil?”
“You’ve seen it, you tell me.”
“No chance. I’ve a knack of blocking out mind-shattering experiences.”
“Mind-shattering? My God, you make it sound like you were full of awe.”
“No. It was an entirely different kind of awful.”
Sam goes so far as to wink, which garners him a short, sharp whack below his left ribs. “Don’t you do that at me, you’ll give people ideas.”
“There’s no one here but us.”
“You’ll give me ideas, then. Just don’t do it.”
Sam grins. This is what he missed the most, through the endless days of monotony and solitary confinement. Innuendo and poking fun. Knowing that he could say something that would be met with a blank look one moment, an affectionate roll of the eyes next. He missed being called girl’s names, and being forced into going down to the pub, and the push and pull of the relationship, where he didn’t know if he hated Gene or loved him.
He’s fairly sure it’s not hatred.
“Can it be any drink of my choice? Because Nelson’s got in some fantastic reds at my behest.”
“Wine’s for pansies.”
“You say that now, but I’ll make you a connoisseur yet.”
“Jesus Christ, I hope not.”
Two hours later, they have a table to themselves, and Gene’s screwing his nose up at a Beaujolais that Sam thinks is more than slightly decent. It’s light-bodied and has the barest hint of oak. When he was back in 2006, all Sam drank was scotch, trying to recapture what he’d lost, but now that he’s recaptured it, he goes for the occasional old favourite.
“I hate this foreign muck. Why’d you have to get something with French on the bottle?”
“You know the best wines come from France. Or Australia. You wouldn’t want me serving you British shit.”
“Australian wine? Stomped by convicts, I suppose. Watch it, if there’s anyone worse than Frogs when it comes to washing, it’s those dusty bastards. And God knows how they guard the stuff when the sun’s too hot and they go for a beer. I expect you’ll come down with myxomatosis.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re incredibly racist?”
“Australia’s not a race, it’s a collection of inbred Europeans and our worst, with a golliwog or two mixed in.”
Sam’s glass drops to the table and he grits his teeth to stop himself from exploding in indignation. “You say these things to piss me off.”
“And you let them.”
“Sometimes I forget that you’re a complete and utter arsehole.”
Gene sniffs, but behind the action there’s amusement. “However do you manage that?”
“I pretend you’re all sweetness and light beneath that gruff exterior. You may have a cruel and hard shell, but on the inside you’re squishy soft. Like a lobster.”
“I’d shut it if I were you, or you might find my snippers coming close to very precious objects of yours.”
Sam considers this and rather than baulking, gets decidedly hot under the collar. The merest suggestion of that sort of intimacy sends pleasant warmth down his spine. Gene’s threats rarely fill him with dread, more often erring on the side of filling him with elated anticipation. He knows there’s something wrong about that.
Sam drinks quietly and wonders. What if investigation into why he’s here gets in the way of simply enjoying the fact that he is? He could spend his whole life searching. Gene makes an easy task of distracting him, and burying himself in work would help. He needn’t spend forever pondering the keys to the Universe and how he managed to grab hold of them and take it for a spin.
Except. There is a nagging voice at the back of his mind, the part of him that wanted to become a cop, that thrives on interrogation. It wants to know, if not everything, at least something. And though the phrase “curiosity killed...” lingers, Sam thinks that with any luck, it won’t do any harm.
That night, after too much to drink and nothing to eat, Sam sits in front of his television and starts to ask his questions. He asks what most people do at some point in their lives, only with a little more specific and vested interest. Why am I here? What is my purpose?
The girl from the test card stays on the screen and smiles blithely at him, mocking him with serenity. He never thought he’d ever actually want to talk to her, would seek out her counsel and complain when she didn’t pop out of the ether and harass him. But here he is, bowing down at her altar and wondering why she’s forsaken him.
Gene notices that something is up during the next month, although he falsely attributes it to Sam’s break-up with Annie. Sam knows this because Gene constantly points attractive women out to him, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.
“She’s a bit of alright.”
“Look at her knockers, I’d love to have a play with those funbags.”
“Bloody hell, she’s flexible, wonder what it’d be like having her legs wrapped around your head?”
Sam pretends to take an interest, even though he pays more attention to Gene’s hand on his arm, warm, and solid, and doing unspeakable things to his pulse. Sam has two things on his mind; his constant, unerring attraction to Gene, and his existential crisis. In terms of how consuming and potentially dangerous they both are, the balance is relatively even. Should he dare to tell Gene that his insides do a flip every time he looks at him, his life could easily become just as confusing as it would were he to finally find out how he’s managed metaphysical transportation, and Sam’s not sure which one he’s most yearning to avoid.
For all the hours he’s spent wondering what Gene feels like when he’s tight up against his body, clenched fingers, low murmurs, and rolling hips, he knows it will complicate matters, most likely beyond his control. And Gene exudes heterosexuality at eleven on a one-to-ten scale most minutes of the day, except for the occasional intense glance Sam’s way.
“You’re a real sorry-sad-sack, you are,” Gene says, dumping a bacon butty in Sam’s lap and climbing beside him in the Cortina. He begins to pull his gloves off and Sam watches him, thoughts entailing varying degrees of undress flitting through his mind.
“For the last time, I’m not,” Sam says, unwrapping the paper surrounding his butty and waiting for Gene’s response before taking a bite.
“Are,” Gene says through a mouthful of food.
Sam inwardly sighs. Okay, so he is a sorry-sad-sack, but that’s because he’s thought about how he may find the answers he needs, and he doesn’t much relish what it involves.
“You know, I find it unutterably touching that you care so much about me that this should concern you,” Sam says, hiding true sentiment with acidity.
“Unlike some, I give a damn about the people on my team.”
“Anyone ever told you you’ve a heart of gold?”
“You’re bloody lippy for a bloke who’s had his balls handed to him on a plate by a WDC.”
Sam takes another bite, chewing in lieu of retorting. He stares out the window, and wills for the appearance of the blaggers who are meant to be breaking into the joint across the road.
“Does it really not bother you?” Gene asks, and Sam detects a genuine interest in his tone as opposed to antagonism.
“It honestly doesn’t.”
“What went so wrong?”
Sam looks at Gene, noting the inquisitive frown, the perplexed downturn of his lips.
“I’d’ve thought you were a match made in heaven,” Gene continues, and Sam notices that there’s a trace of bitterness there.
“I didn’t love Annie, Gene. And she didn’t love me. Nothing went wrong, it just... didn’t go right.”
Gene huffs out a breath. “You put too much stock by love, if you ask me.”
“Without love, you’ve got nothing,” Sam replies emphatically.
“So nothing is what you’ll live with.”
“What’re you talking about? I’ve got you.” Sam gives a blinding, deliberately obnoxious grin, and doesn’t flinch when Gene chucks the paper at his head.
He calls in sick on Friday. He could have waited until the weekend, but he wasn’t sure if the answers he craves and the person he’s planning on asking them for would be available then. Dennis sounds about as unconcerned as Sam had expected, and he hears Phyllis say something about never-ending heartbreak from somewhere beyond the front desk. Let them think what they want to.
Driving to Hyde is a bewildering experience. This is the path he never bothered to take, before. The one he stayed away from at all costs --- at nearly the cost of his happiness, his life. It’s the one he has to journey down before he ever feels he’s truly home, whether he belongs here or not. It’s perplexing when the people at C Division treat him as an old companion, and worrying when he’s ushered into the pristine office with a cup of tea and a scotch finger.
“Sam, so good to see you. You’re looking well.”
“Cut the pleasantries, Morgan. I’m not here for fake niceties, I’m here for answers.”
“Ah. Yes. He said you’d come,” Morgan says with a raise of his eyebrow.
“Who?” Sam asks, although he doesn’t have to.
“Hunt.” Morgan gives a sneer of disgust. “Said you’d want to know all about our little wheels and deals, and how he gets to keep you.”
Sam thinks about it and almost smiles. That sounds about right. “I’m not here for that either,” he says abruptly. “I need you to tell me about time.”
“About time what?”
Morgan arches the tips of his fingers together and rests them below his torso, speaking with soft, counselling tones. “You’re not making any sense, Sam.”
“Time travel,” Sam reiterates, “you know, the reason I’m here.”
“Not that again. Sam, you had an accident. It’s skewed your perception of reality. You’re suffering from dissociation. Hunt said he’d take you for evaluation, he has at the very least done that, hasn’t he?”
Sam is tempted to say, ‘if he has, he hasn’t told me’, but he stops himself in time to give a falsely cagey, “yeah, I have to have sessions once a week, but apparently my... dissociation doesn’t affect my work performance.”
“Good to hear. We all worry about you, you know.”
“So what was the deal?”
“Hunt follows strict guidelines and reports in to the Chief Superintendent every week, and in the meantime, you remain on his team and his team remains just that. It won’t last too much longer, though. We’re definitely looking at changing the structure of the Force within the next year or so.”
If Morgan is lying, he is doing a remarkably good job of it, and he was never very subtle in previous dealings. The letter Gene had left him for the future had said Morgan didn’t know where he had gone, and sadly, this appears to be the truth.
“So, you don’t know anything further about my accident?” Sam asks, feeling now that he is at a dead-end.
“No. I’m afraid that knowledge lies within you.”
Sam exits the station by himself, his mind whirling in circles. Gene sacrificed a great portion of the way he leads his life for him. Gene never tried to have him psychologically evaluated, which either means he’s accepted his insanity, or doesn’t think he’s insane. Gene believes in him, more than anyone ever has, or likely ever will again, even though logically there’s nothing to believe in.
By the time Sam has sucked down some dutch courage and steeled his resolve, it’s dark. He takes a cab to Gene’s house and waits for an hour, but Gene must still be at the Arms, because the Cortina doesn’t turn up. No one’s in the house, which means his wife is staying with her sister again. Sam walks back to his own flat, feeling like the world may crumble around him, but he wouldn’t really care. He’s only focussed on one thing.
When he opens his door, a hand grasps his wrist, and Sam gives a strangled yelp before his eyes adjust and he sees his assailant.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he remonstrates, but doesn’t stop his smile from spreading.
Gene shrugs, settling onto Sam’s cot and lighting a cigarette. “For a sick bloke, you’ve certainly been up and about.” He sniffs exaggeratedly. “Is that whisky I detect on your breath?”
“Brilliant deduction, Guv.” Sam sits next to Gene and nudges into his shoulder. “I went to see a mutual acquaintance.”
“I know. He called.”
Sam’s faintly surprised by this, but tries not to show it. “Why’d you do it, Gene? For all intents and purposes I almost destroyed your career.”
“Didn’t though, did you? Actions speak louder than intentions.”
“I couldn’t leave you,” Sam admits.
“And I didn’t want you to. So it works out well for the both of us.”
Sam pushes deeper into Gene, gratified when his arm winds around his back and his hand rests on his waist. He gives a small sigh of contentment.
“You’re cut,” Gene accuses. “You’re well cut.”
“Had to be,” Sam agrees. “Otherwise I’d never have the guts to do this.”
Sam can tell Gene’s about to ask what the ‘this’ is when he presses his lips to his mouth. Gene pulls away at first, and he thinks he’s made a grave error in judgement, until he realises he’s adjusting angle. Gene kisses Sam back, and Sam thinks it was worth the weeks of turmoil and confusion; that he could have waited even longer for this. At first the kisses are languorous and almost gentle, Gene’s hand threading into his hair, and his own pressing against Gene’s chest, but they soon take on urgency and fervour, until they’ve fallen back on the cot and are working at each other’s buttons.
Sam doesn’t say anything as he pulls his shirt and vest above his head, even though he wants to tell Gene he’s waited so long, has wanted this more than anything. Instead, he gazes into Gene’s eyes and knows he needn’t say a word. They have an understanding.