Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 3755 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene. Title from the Frank Sinatra song. ♥ This was written specifically for zomromcomlomcom and is a follow on from Strangers in the Night.
Summary: The appearance of undead creatures was unbelievable enough, but to attach time travel as well seemed a bit too farfetched.
"What does she mean, she warned you, Tyler?" Gene barked, fear making his voice louder and his eyes wild.
"You can see her?" Sam shrieked, fingers slipping on his gun.
The Test Card girl smiled blithely. "What's happening to you now is your star DI's fault, DCI Hunt. He wouldn't play my games. But he has destroyed a lot of lives. I thought I'd give him a taste of his own medicine."
Sam began to aim his gun towards the girl's forehead.
"Not just me, though," she continued, her grin growing wider. "My friend too."
Sam's heart stopped as another small body crawled between the legs of the outsiders, his breath caught at the top of his throat and his pulse racing as he looked at short blond hair and blue eyes that would soon turn brown.
"Hello other Sam," the small child said, his face an eerie calm. "Alice says we're going to have a lot of fun learning how to be good little boys."
Dennis began firing on the advancing outsiders after a two-second pause, creating a diversion with flailing and amputated limbs. Gene took that opportunity to awkwardly jump behind the counter and grab hold of the chainsaw tethered to the wall. The roar of the engine awoke Sam from his catatonic state and he joined Dennis in gunning the outsiders down. They began edging towards the window, Gene in the front, hands firm on the handles as he raised the chainsaw up high. Sam spun around and began to shoot back at those who were bound to be gathering closer, but noticed that they hadn't moved.
He looked from the innocent face of his youth to his tormentor in stomach-clenching shock. Alice simply smiled, her head tilted to the side, her hand on four-year-old Sam's shoulder. A smash of glass arrested his attention, and he looked towards Gene again to see him cutting outsider's heads off, stepping through the gap where the window had been. When he returned his gaze to the group still in the store, he saw Alice pushing the boy forward and signalling to Clive, who lurched forward, teeth bared.
Sam moved on instinct. He rushed forward, popping one bullet between Clive's eyes, another two into his chest. He grabbed the young boy into his arms, slung him into a fireman's lift over his shoulder, and aimed and fired at Alice, only to stare at his gun in horror when he realised he was out of ammunition.
The outsiders pressed forward, arms outstretched, groans growing louder and more guttural. Sam had no time to lose and sprinted after Gene and Dennis, ignoring the carnage he stepped on, the squelch of the flesh and bones beneath his Cuban heels. The combined weight of the child and the rucksack were slowing him down, though he managed to catch up with Gene and Dennis after a minute.
Gene only turned the chainsaw off when they'd managed five streets, and it became obvious there was no chase.
"What in God's name, Tyler?" he asked with a breathy growl. He looked from the child on Sam's shoulder back to Sam. "Did he call you brother Sam? I thought you were an only child?"
Sam went to correct him and then stopped himself. Gene's assumption did make sense, in the grand scheme of things. The appearance of undead creatures was unbelievable enough, but to attach time travel as well seemed a bit too farfetched. Sam wouldn't admit to himself that the real reason he didn't want Gene to know the truth was that he would realise all of this was his fault.
"I have a half-brother," Sam answered, "my dad and I don't talk. After he and my mum split up, dad went off with another bird and this little one was the result."
"That's not what Alice said," the child piped up. Sam set him on his feet and looked at him sternly.
"You can't believe a word that thing said, understand me?"
Gene sounded a combination of angry and fearful. "Sam, who was that little maniac?"
"I don't know. She just appeared one day, saying she was my friend, but all she ever does is torture me. Gene, do you remember I once told you that what I have to deal with would blow your mind? Well, this is it."
"I'm Sam," the child said, tugging on Gene's arm. Gene looked down at him, his frown-line deepening. "If we're brothers we can't both have the same name. That's silly."
Sam knelt down and looked into his younger self's eyes. "I think they've drugged him."
He wasn't just trying to distract Gene. The child's pupils were pinpricks, his breathing slow. He had a faraway look in his eyes. Sam's chest ached painfully.
"This whole business is cracked," Gene muttered. He readjusted his rucksack and looked towards the end of the alleyway. "And we better pray those bastards have left our raft alone, or we're f---" he glanced at the child, "fantastically in trouble."
Gene started walking again, Dennis followed, shaking his head. Sam stayed behind, placing a hand on the child's arm.
"From now on you're Robert, okay?" he whispered, double checking that no one was listening with furtive looks.
"Why do I have to change names?"
"Everyone knows me as Sam, and as you said, brothers wouldn't have the same name, now, would they?"
"Alright, I'm Robert."
The child's passiveness was disturbing. The whole situation was disturbing. Sam was disturbed. But he felt slightly better now that he'd given the child another name; as if he could pretend it wasn't really him, even though he knew he could never completely forget. He took Robert's hand and set off in pursuit of the others.
The raft appeared to be fine. They threw the bags on first, then hopped on board, carefully positioning themselves so that the raft remained afloat. It was Sam's turn to propel and he ignored the protestations of his shoulder muscles in regularly pushing the broomsticks against the side of the embankment.
After an hour, dusk was settling over Manchester like a plume of smoke, obscuring Sam's field of vision. This was when the howls rang out, echoing across vast distances. Where before there had been soft, continuous groaning, now there were shrieks and loud screams, voices rending the night air in two with agony. The hunger, the desperation, the freedom of darkness, it all combined to make the outsiders frantic. It sent a chill up Sam's spine and he started when Dennis tapped him to take over, almost toppling into the canal. He went to sit down and saw that Robert had curled up against Gene's side, his all-too-familiar features slack in repose. Sam felt a twinge of something he couldn't pinpoint.
"What kind of world is this, Sam? I thought I knew this place, with its two-bit hookers and dodgy deals. It wasn't perfect, but it made sense. And now ---" Gene nodded towards the bank. "Is this my punishment for letting things get away from me, for being an arrogant scrote who thought he knew best?"
Sam expelled a deep breath, ignoring the sharp stabbing in his lungs. "No, Gene, this isn't about you."
"No, it's about you, isn't it?" Gene smiled, and Sam's heart started thumping quicker, beating out an up-tempo rhythm that jarred with his already pounding head. "But anything that involves you is my concern."
Sam choked on his words. There were a lot of things he wanted to say. He thought about telling the truth. Gene should have that at the very least, whether it was logical or not. It wasn't like Sam had asked for this, and not like he deserved the pain it brought. He was just one man who'd made mistakes and been too proud to admit to them.
"Daddy?" Robert mumbled, curling away from Gene. "I feel sick."
Sam watched helplessly as Gene helped Robert to the side, holding him steady as he threw up into the canal. Robert dragged a sleeve against his mouth and whimpered, leaning back.
Sam's hands began to shake and he turned around towards the bank, pretending to keep watch. He couldn't face the truth this moment, it was too large and too complicated. And watching Robert cuddling into Gene was making him nauseous. The care with which Gene was treating the child created a cognitive dissonance he couldn't deal with. As they neared halfway along their journey the outsiders lined up along the embankment and grizzled for fresh meat, voiced raised in unity. Sam took over from Dennis again, and concentrated on the ebb and flow of the water, ensuring they kept in constant movement.
Eventually they came close to where they needed to stop. Sam could only see five outsiders lurking, and Dennis shot them all before anyone thought of climbing onto the bank. After pulling on his rucksack, Sam picked up the chainsaw without saying a word, starting the trek towards the station. At the closest sound he started it up and kept it ready to maim and murder. He wasn't going to lose anyone else. He didn't look behind to see Gene carrying Robert. He hoped Dennis had plenty of ammo.
The path to the station was suspiciously outsider-free, and the more Sam thought about that, the more worried he got. He was playing Alice's game exactly how she'd wanted him to. He couldn't fathom what her plans were, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. The most he could do was lead the charge and hope to hell everything didn't blow up in his face. For ten terrifying minutes he ruminated on the idea of Alice being a decoy and the station having been overrun in the time they were gone, but as they came closer he saw the fires Mallows and Thompson always lit to ward off the outsiders. It wasn't complete reassurance, but it was a start.
They were met with a hurrah, though the guards looked at Robert with mistrust, and were obviously shaken by the news of Clive's demise. It didn't seem to matter how often it happened, no one was completely desensitised to the loss of a colleague. They might not openly sob, but the frowns were deeper, the laughter more subdued. Everyone knew anyone was likely to be next. To the outsiders they were meat and nothing more.
"I've put him in Cell 5," Gene said, sidling up to Sam as he unpacked the bags in the store room. "Annie's keeping a watch, making sure he knows where he is when he awakes."
"I've brought you something to take the edge off." Gene moved closer, fingers stroking against Sam's he handed over one of his silver hipflasks. The touch was simultaneously comforting and terrifying.
Sam gave a near-delirious laugh. "I should've known you'd have a secret supply."
"For special occasions, like."
Sam took a swig and leaned against the bricks of the wall. "Like losing over half the collection of much-needed supplies and witnessing another great man turned into a walking nightmare."
"Or living to fight those fuckers another day."
"You're an inspiration, truly. People'll quote you decades from now for your eloquence and articulation."
Sam took another swig then passed the flask over. Gene took it, glanced at it, screwed the cap back on. He inched closer to Sam, a hand against the bricks by his head, his eyelids lowered.
"Don't," Sam said, the sound high and breathy.
"You need someone," Gene answered. He licked his lower lip. Sam stared, his tongue feeling too large for his mouth and his throat constricted.
Sam placed his hands against Gene's chest and pushed him away. "Well it's not you."
"I've seen the way you look at me, Sam. You want me."
"Just earlier you'd had a flash of self-awareness about your arrogance. What happened to that, eh? I'm sorry if I've been giving you mixed signals, but this is far from what I want."
Gene narrowed his eyes. "Forgive me my detective skills, they clearly showed me more than you were willing to let me know."
"Or perhaps, as we've witnessed on many occasions, your instincts were pushing you in completely the wrong direction."
Sam grabbed the plastic tubing and left at a steady pace without a backwards glance. He didn't admit to himself that Gene was right, or that he was hurting inside.
Sleep came in fits and spurts. As one of the victors he'd been given a full eight hour shift, but managed only two and half. Dark thoughts were running through his mind. Thoughts about the little girl in the red dress. He had fallen for her trap hook, line and sinker. She had wanted him to take his younger self, he could see that now. It had been easy because she had wanted it to be easy. But why? So he could 'learn his lesson', but what kind of lesson did she want him to learn? And why now, when he had finally found some kind of peace with his life?
He walked to Cell 5 and gestured to Annie to go get food. He'd keep watch. Sam closed the door and sat against it, gazing at Robert, who was still sleeping, arms tucked around a teddy bear that Annie must have got from Lost & Found.
"Wake up," Sam demanded, making sure he kept his voice neutral and even. He didn't want his hysteria to show.
Robert screwed his face up, his nose crinkling. In any other child it would have been endearing.
"Wake up now," Sam said louder, steepling his fingers together. Robert yawned and pulled himself into a sitting position, frowning at Sam. He looked ashen and ill, his eyes red-rimmed.
"Who are you?" Sam asked.
"You said I'm Robert."
"But who are you really?"
"Sam Tyler. Alice said that you were me when I'm grown-up. She showed me pictures. You're a police officer, aren't you? I wanna be one when I'm grown-up."
"What happened to your mum?"
Robert's eyes clouded over. "Don't know. When they came banging on the walls, she made me go down into the cellar with Ivanhoe. And when they got me, I didn't see her anywhere." Robert began to tear up. "You don't think they ate her, do you? Alice said they eat people."
Sam attempted reassurance. "No. I don't think they did. She's too sweet, they wouldn't like the taste."
Sam studied Robert. He looked genuinely ingenuous and guiltless; he spoke like a young child, with the occasional mispronounced word and with a child's tendency to rush through sentences now that he wasn't doped to the gills. But Sam wasn't sure he could trust any of it. There was every chance he'd made a mistake in saving a life that didn't need to be saved. Still, just supposing the child was innocent, he could provide much-needed information.
"How long ago did this happen?"
"I don't know. Less than a week, I think," Robert said, still sniffling. Sam stood and looked for some tissue.
"And do you know where they took you?"
"Alice said we were in Hyde."
Sam found what he was looking for and helped Robert blow his nose, patting him gently on the back. "Have you ever seen any people with Alice? Ones who can talk properly?"
"Just the monsters. Alice said she wouldn't let them get me, long as I did what she said. I don't like them, they smell gross and look weird." Robert clutched his stomach. "I'm hungry," he said, "can I have chocolate for breakfast like I did yesterday?"
Sam lowered his wearied head for a moment, before looking back up. "We're all out. We've got porridge. I'll put some honey in it for you."
"Don't like porridge."
Sam waggled his finger. "I do, so you must."
"She does talk to someone on the telephone," Robert said, scratching his backside and taking Sam's hand. "Always says something about the sperimints. I asked if I could have a sperimint because humbugs are my favourite, but she said I couldn't."
They went to the canteen and Sam sat Robert down to get him food. Annie was behind the counter, pouring UHT into a saucepan full of oats.
"I have good news and I have even better news," Annie said, giving Sam a smile.
"Give us the better news first, I could do with a pick-me-up."
"We have water! Thanks to you, Gene and Dennis, Geoff and his lads managed to get to the underground water supply in the building across the way. It isn't a quick process, but it works. We're getting as much as we can and storing it in those barrels Chris and Ray got last week."
"Does this mean I can wash myself down?"
"Depends how much we can store. But, it looks hopeful."
"Thank God. I was starting to think I was breeding a whole new life-form somewhere amongst my person."
"Thank you for that image," Annie said, smiling again.
"What's the good news, then?"
"New transmission, real people. They've been hiding in an old bomb shelter. There was still tinned food there. Fruit, corned beef, carrots, spam, all from the war."
"Surely it hadn't kept?"
"Apparently it did."
Sam clapped his hands together. "This is good. We needed a break. It's about time the luck was on our side, especially after yesterday."
Annie nodded towards Robert, who was swinging on his chair and gazing at other people. "Gene said he's your brother. I didn't think you had one?"
Sam was immediately evasive. "Maybe Gene misheard?"
Annie's reaction was unimpressed and he knew she wouldn't let the matter lie. He leaned in, thinking that if there was anyone he could tell the truth to, she was it. "D'you remember the other Tyler family? Ruth and her son?" Annie gave a curt nod and Sam continued. "That's him."
Annie's eyes widened. "Oh God. You think he's you, don't you?"
"I'm not sure," Sam said honestly, taking over the stirring of the porridge, watching the wooden spoon work through the mixture. "Because, much as he looks like me when I was that age, much as he says that's who he is, the very fact he's here is strange."
"Shouldn't that be the other way round?"
Sam finished making the porridge and poured bowls out for himself and Robert, leaving the rest for Annie, who smirked sarcastically in reply. He swirled honey over the top and set it down on the table.
"This will fill your tummy up," he said, dipping a spoon into his own bowl. "Did they give you something, yesterday? A pill to swallow?"
"Yeah, it made me feel funny," Robert replied through a mouthful of food.
"Was that the only time?"
"No, every day."
"Jesus." Sam shook his head, and kept eating, watching as Robert stuck his tongue out and licked the back of the spoon with a concentrated nodding motion. He remembered doing that all the time as a child. He was notorious for playing with his food and taking as long as possible to finish a meal. He sighed. "When you've finished, we'll go find you some toys."
"D'you have Action Man?"
"We might do! We'll have to go exploring."
Sam had settled Robert with an Action Man, three diecast cars, a set of klackers, and a weeble. He spent the next half an hour trying to get the resultant noise out of his head, and doing his best to convince Ray to baby-sit.
"I'm not looking after that little pillock."
"Please, Ray. Just for a few hours. I'd do the same for you." Sam had a quick flash of a four-year-old with a moustache and pursed his lips. "I'll give half my meat ration to you for the next week."
"You might not last that long."
"You can have the whole lot then, can't you?" Sam folded his arms across his chest. "C'mon, do it for the Guv."
"How is this gonna help the Guv?" Ray sneered.
"I'd have to take Robert here along with me when we go to make up the lost supplies from yesterday otherwise. Can you imagine the torment of constantly wanting to strangle a four-year-old?" Ray glanced at Robert and clearly could, although Sam was unsure as to whether it was torment he had in mind. By the distaste shown on Ray's face when contemplating the child, strangulation looked like it might well be a welcome option.
"Fine, but I want three quarters, not half."
Having ensured that his younger counterpart was taken care of, Sam went in search of Gene, still feeling anxious about the encounter, but considerably more relaxed about the prospect. He found Gene talking with Geoff, rubbing a hand along his jaw and staring intently.
"Not interrupting, am I?" Sam asked, looking from one man to the other.
"I was just giving the Guv an estimate about how much water we'll be able to acquire," Geoff answered. Gene himself didn't even look at Sam.
"Is it a fair amount?"
"It's enough for now. We'll have to ration it out, like everything else, but everyone should get as much as they need."
"That's excellent news, thank you, Geoff." Sam diverted his attention. Geoff took the hint and signalled that he was going back to the other men who were working. "Gene, were we gonna go on another expedition?"
"Think you're invincible now? Survive a day and a night and you've superpowers?"
"No, not really. I do think I've got more of an idea what we're up against, though." Sam stood his ground and wasn't perturbed when Gene cast an infuriated eye over him. "Robert says Alice's main base of operations is Hyde," he explained. "He also said she mentioned experiments whilst talking on the phone."
Gene shrugged. "So?"
"So, this isn't just supernatural. There's some kind of science behind it."
"There's some kind of science behind a creepy kid with a clown doll and a bunch of brain-dead brain-eating Quasimodos roaming around, tearing into people like sloths on speed?"
Sam paused, thought about what Gene had said. "Yeah."
"Brilliant, that's solved all my worries. Now I haven't a care in the world."
"If we're gonna take the fight to them, Gene, instead of waiting for them to pick us off one by one, we're gonna need as much as we can get."
Gene eyed Sam, obviously considering his words. "Right, then, Gladys, we'd better arm ourselves." He started to walk away, but then stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Who did you want to take on our little outdoor excursion?"
"I was thinking Chris and Annie. Dennis deserves a rest and we need people who are quick."
Gene stayed still. "Perhaps I should stay here, then."
Sam opened his mouth to protest, but once again felt he didn't have the right. "Only if you want to."
"Might be for the best." He sauntered back to Sam and laid his hands on his shoulders with a casual fluidity that was belied by the intensity of his gaze. "Don't get yourself killed."
Sam wanted to reach out and touch Gene, to reassure him that everything would be fine, to apologise for his rejection and say he'd changed his mind. But he nodded dumbly instead, only going so far as to lightly brush his thumb against Gene's chin.
"Now we've water, make sure you shave. You're beginning to look like a teddy-bear."
"Grizzly bear, more like."
Sam gave a small, sad smile. "No." He pulled away. "We'll be back soon as we can. But don't wait up."
To Be Continued...
Strangers in the Night (1), Night and Day (2), Call Me Irresponsible (3)