Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,585 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene. Title from the Frank Sinatra song. ♥ This was written specifically for zomromcomlomcom. It follows on from Strangers in the Night and Night and Day, and probably doesn't make much sense without those being read first.
Warning: Contains violence, character death, and gore.
Summary: "I don't like this," Chris muttered. "It's too quiet."
"You didn't just say that!" Sam hissed. "Next you're gonna say you forgot your pet dog Chuffy, and you've just got to go back!"
Cracking bones and rending flesh detracted from the warmth of the midday sun. The pungent stench of rotten meat and dried blood filled the air, and Sam felt bile resting just near his throat, his chin heavy and tingling. He told himself he should be used to this, by now, that fiction at the very least should have prepared him. Maya had made him watch Shaun of the Dead in excess of four times when they'd been living together, not to mention the Romero films it was based on. He knew all about these creatures, in theory. And it wasn't like he was new to death and disaster. He'd seen his fair share of dead bodies; had watched examinations of lifeless corpses on mortuary tables. But fiction was no preparation for real life. And death was almost a comfort compared to this reanimation of putrid flesh.
The outsiders had all been people, once. Some had been people he'd known, worked with, fought to protect. Wasn't doing a very good job of that now, with a machine gun resting between his hands and eyes watchful for any slight movement. Some days Sam wondered why he was still fighting, whether it was worth it. The hopes of getting out of this alive seemed dim, and even if they managed success, what kind of life would they lead with a population that was all but annihilated; having to rebuild society with some broken down coppers suffering PTSD? Sam clung onto the idea that he could get to Hyde and take the fight to them because it was the only option left. He liked the idea of striking a blow to whatever dastardly plan they had going. He liked the idea of finally finding out who 'they' were.
This is why Sam shot outsiders in the head with little compunction, how he justified the sense of victory and elation he felt when he saw another outsider crumple into a heap. They were people once, but now they were instruments of torture, and it was better to end their sorry existences than to fall prey to the same fate.
Annie wore a hardened mask as an expression. Unlike Chris, who used to shriek when they first started going out for supplies, Annie's demeanour and attitude hadn't changed. She had started the war with an implacable shell, and showed no signs of eroding. Sam assumed she was used to playing a role, to showing a specific persona, and though this one was different, it wasn't too difficult to take on. Annie had proved stronger than anyone at the station gave her credit for being, even Sam himself. For his part, Chris was now calm, in control, a damn fine marksman when he had to be. He'd learned quickly to squash his fear down deep, or perhaps prolonged exposure had erased his sense of hope, and like Sam, all he had left was this.
"Outsider horde two o'clock," Chris whispered, drawing Sam's attention to the group bending over what Sam presumed were human remains; a simultaneously encouraging and disheartening thought. Sam indicated that they should increase pace, and they sped up without making a sound. As they passed by, Sam saw matted fur and realised the entrails the outsiders were feasting on must have once been part of a dog.
"D'you need a diversion?" Chris asked, fingering his trigger.
"No. We stick together this time."
"Might be easier," Annie chimed in quietly. "We want this last one to be the quickest, don't we?"
"Not necessarily," Sam said more firmly. He didn't let worry creep into his voice, but instead took a logical tack. "We need as much space for new items as we can get, which means three backpacks, not two. We'll be quicker if we have more hands grabbing more stuff. You're a great decoy, Chris, but it's not what we need right now."
Chris nodded understanding. Annie raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything further. The collection of outsiders didn't appear to notice as they crept to the other side of the road, as close to the once productive and now abandoned textiles mill as they could manage.
They continued walking, Sam unconsciously checking his ammunition. The machine gun was heavy, causing his arms to strain, which was why they rarely used it on these sorts of tasks, but he liked the security it afforded --- the ability to spray suppressive fire, to know he could hold the trigger and take out several outsiders in one go. They were only a street away from the supermarket, now. Hopefully it would take twenty minutes maximum to stock up on supplies, and then they were left with the walk to the raft. So far, this had been their most successful mission since the early days and a trip to the shop had only taken five minutes.
"I don't like this," Chris muttered. "It's too quiet."
"You didn't just say that!" Sam hissed. "Next you're gonna say you forgot your pet dog Chuffy, and you've just got to go back!"
"What're you talking about, Boss? I never had a dog called Chuffy. I had a Rover, 'til he was run over by our Mr Thompson next door. And a Rex, when I were young. Lovely dog, Rex. Could sing along to Edelweiss like a champion."
Sam was distressed for a moment, before he saw the playful glint in Chris' eye, and the way the corners of his lips were twitching. He tapped him lightly on the shoulder.
Chris frowned. "But in't it weird that one minute it's all gnashing teeth and those awful gargling noises, and the next it's silent as the grave?"
Sam stared pointedly at Chris again. "As the grave? You had to use that analogy, n'all."
He stopped momentarily and listened. Chris wasn't wrong. The only sounds following them now were their own footsteps, rubber against gravel. This was a very bad sign.
Sam clutched his gun tighter and resumed walking.
Annie flicked her hair out of her eyes and spoke with authority. "If we see movement, we should shoot to kill."
Sam quirked an eyebrow. "And if that movement is from someone like us?"
Chris interjected. "How likely's that?"
"Hesitation could be the death of us. Anyway, if it's someone like us, chances are they'd shoot too."
"A moment's hesitation could save the life of a valuable ally," Sam countered. "And outsiders are not known for their quick wits or legs. You see an outsider, by all means, shoot to obliterate. But wait a moment first. Confirm it's an enemy you're blowing to high-heaven."
"Don't think I'll be carrying you if you get shot by the last surviving shopkeeper this side of Salford," Annie retorted.
"Or worse, munched on by our friends with the craving for brains."
"And don't think I'll be at all sympathetic if we have to watch one of us die today because of our own stupidity."
Annie rolled her eyes. "Isn't that what we're trying to prevent?"
Sam scowled with impatience. "You know what I mean."
Their destination was around the next corner. They each got into position, with Sam being the look-out. Whenever he had to do this, he always half expected to peer past the brickwork and see a group of outsiders doing the dance from Thriller, or sewing each other together into one giant Frankenstein's monster, because he still hadn't quite got past the surrealism of it all.
But there was nothing there. Sometimes there'd be a couple of outsiders, other times there would be at least ten and missions would be aborted or reworked. On lucky days, like today, Sam thanked a God he didn't believe in and kissed the St. Christopher he wore for sentimental reasons.
He signalled the all clear and Annie followed close behind, with Chris bringing up the rear. A thrum of energy that felt like ice through his veins spurred Sam into advancing quickly. With a tight knot in his stomach, sweat making his grip on the machine gun perilously loose, he edged open the door to the supermarket and cast his eyes around. Nothing but rows of shelves and water on the tiled floor from the defrosted refrigeration units gleaming like a tarn at the end of the world.
Sam took a can off the shelf and lobbed it down the side, making a clatter to see if he could distract lurking hunters. If there were any there they didn't bite. Sam laughed hollowly at his own mental phrasing.
"Take an aisle and grab what you can," Sam directed. "Staples; things that can last. Ingredients as opposed to finished products, though the Guv may just kiss you if you get him some cans of 'oops, Annie."
"Think I'll leave that up to Chris, then," Annie said with a dark smile.
Sam felt inappropriately pleased that she hadn't deflected back onto him --- unsure of how he'd react, whether his eyes would betray the truth. Because when it came down to it he had to admit to himself that he was smarting from Gene's earlier attempt at distance. That he regretted his decision of rejection, even though at the time it had felt like the right thing to do, because kissing Gene whilst he was acting fatherly towards a younger version of himself was too weird. But his life was weird. It was cracked. It had been since the car accident that hurtled him back in time.
Through all the insanity of 1973, and 1973 with added outsiders, the only person to successfully keep Sam grounded had been Gene. Annie had tried, but despite everything, Sam had still wanted to believe she was a dream. Nothing about Gene was dreamlike. He gave Sam someone to rally against and then, when they both felt like it, someone to rally with. He was someone who trusted Sam implicitly, whom Sam trusted in turn. The thought of a world without Gene in it clenched Sam's heart like an iron glove and wouldn't let go. Sam had no idea what it was like to kiss Gene like he craved to; now likely never would. And that realisation hit him harder than his acceptance that he had to bring the fight to Hyde.
He swallowed thickly and concentrated on the task at hand. Tins were useful but heavy, so he had to pick carefully, and the range here was pitiful compared to a Tesco in 2006. He was contemplating a tin of butter beans when the sound of smashing glass rang out. He whirled around, his gun at the ready, sure it was the same as last time when Clive had been turned and Sam's life had once more turned upside down, but he was faced with an apologetic looking Annie instead.
"Didn't mean to give you a heart attack. My hand slipped."
"We need to focus," Sam said censoriously, knowing that he was being a hypocrite. He grabbed the tin of butter beans and stuffed it in his bag.
Fifteen minutes later they had everything they could conceivably carry and were waiting close to the door, peering through the window to determine if they had company. There were no outsiders to be seen. The sun was starting to set, casting an orange glow on red-bricked buildings and grey pavements, which did not bode well for getting back to the station before dark. Sam suppressed a groan and kept on, ignoring the pulse of a headache behind his eyes.
The stillness outside was oppressive. The only sounds came from a steady breeze and their own movements. Sam had never realised he relied so much upon the hum and buzz of the city to give him a sense of place; and hadn't registered they were missing with the usual groans and slurping noises of the outsiders. But now that he thought about it, there was nothing as disquieting as complete quiet.
Sam started to sing, trying to fill the silence. "It's very nice to go travelling to Paris, London, and Rome, it's oh so nice to go travelling, but it's so much nicer, yes it's so much nicer to come home." He noticed Chris raising his eyebrows at Annie, but didn't let it deter him.
"Practicing for the talent show, Boss?" Chris asked when he paused to take a breath.
"Long as I can top Ray's ballet act, I think I'm in for a shot," Sam returned drily.
There was a crash and a squeal from the ginnel beside them. Sam raised his gun and aimed, thinking that this time it was probably a cat, and it was, but it was also an outsider, doing unspeakable things to the cat. Sam started to retch as he watched the outsider thrusting back and forth, sawing its lower extremities into the cat's bloodied corpse. He hadn't seen any evidence of the outsiders having sexual proclivities before this moment, and never knew he could be so pleased about his own ignorance.
"Gives new meaning to the phrase 'I'm gonna shag your brains out'," Chris said, humour merging with disgust as he fired off two rounds. "Or should that have been 'bloody hell, this pussy's tight'?" Giggles bubbled out of Chris' mouth and Sam stared at him in horror. He saw with piercing clarity that yes, in some ways this was a very different Chris from the one he used to know, and in others, he hadn't changed a bit. He wasn't sure which thought disturbed him more.
There was a noise from the other end of the narrow alley, the shuffle of dragged limbs joining moans. Sam didn't know if it was his singing or the sound of gunfire that brought the outsiders coming. He knew that last time he had sung the outsiders had reacted, and a small part of him came to the realisation that this was his unconscious intention; that it was better to be fighting than wading in silence. Sam clenched his jaw, deciding this was the wrong time for self-analysis.
There were only five outsiders. Three fighting five wasn't so bad. Sam fired, forcing himself not to recoil, using all of his weight to keep stable. Two of the five collapsed, congealing blood oozing out of their foreheads. The other three lumbered forward. Annie took the next shot, her aim precise. Outsider brains scattered into the air, distracting one of the last two. Sam was repulsed as it began scrabbling against the gravel, picking up the brains and devouring them. Chris fired three rounds into its skull and it slumped over as he crowed his victory, his arms raised above his head.
Sam hadn't noticed that the last remaining outsider had come so close until it was too late. It took a swipe at Chris' torso and barrelled him to the ground. It was impossible to tell what was happening as the two bodies rocked from side to side, but Sam felt a nauseating clinch in his stomach. This was it, his most fervent fear realised --- someone he considered a close friend cut down by the monsters that roamed the streets. A cruel part of him thought about how he'd be feeling if it was Gene instead of Chris and he aimed his gun. He knew he couldn't shoot. Not yet.
Finally, the outsider reared back and Sam saw Chris holding a lighter up, his face in sharp relief from the spark of fire casting a glow against obviously damp skin. Sam shot the outsider, holding down the trigger longer than necessary. Next, he was shooting uncontrollably into the outsider bodies that were groaning but incapacitated on the ground. He only stopped when Annie forced his arms up in the air.
There was shredded material thick with blood on Chris' arm. He winced in pain, tears streaking down his face. Sam dropped to his knees, his throat tight and his heart thumping slowly. This was his fault.
"Be quick about it," Chris said, voice thick with fear, sorrow, and an attempt at heroism.
"I'm so sorry," Sam replied helplessly. He raised his hands then dropped them again, wanting to tell Chris it would be alright. He couldn't lie.
"When you think on it, I did well lasting this long, a div like me."
"You're not a div. If only half our officers had your enthusiasm, the world would make some kind of sense," Sam stated, pointing a finger down to the gravel for emphasis. "D'you know what you've always had, Chris, that no one else at the station has?"
"The Incredible Hulk on my underpants."
Sam choked out a laugh and shook his head. "The ability to take on board new ideas, without reservation. You learn, and you use that information to better yourself. And that's a very wise and noble thing, DC Christopher Skelton. I can't tell you how proud I am to have worked with you."
Chris smiled through his pain, gripping onto Sam's arm. "Thank you." His eyes flashed wild and worried for a moment, his pallor grey. "Back of the head, please, Boss? I don't wanna see the barrel."
Sam knelt, motionless, his chest heaving as he tried to steel his strength.
"Do you want me to do it?" Annie asked, softly sympathetic.
Chris looked up at her. "It doesn't really matter who, does it? Long as it's done." He stumbled over his words. "I can't be one of them."
Sam stood, circling Chris and requesting Annie's revolver with an outstretched hand. She placed it onto his palm and he curved his fingers around its sleek metal elegance, hating that he had to use it for this, but hating what would happen to Chris if he didn't more. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, and took the shot.
With one backpack tied to his front, the other on his back, Sam stumbled into the underground tunnel of the station. Annie spoke with the guards and they were let in; the light and warmth of the building a welcoming relief. As darkness had prevailed over Manchester, it had preyed on Sam's mind, and he hadn't spoken two words on the trip back to the station.
He dropped the supplies off at the canteen and went to find a corner of the station to hide in. He couldn't handle talking at this moment, his guilt threatening to consume him. Sam wound up on the third floor of the station, in Gene's old office. He sat on the brown sofa, his elbows on his knees. The room was thick with dust, but Sam didn't notice. The officers in the station avoided spending any great length of time on the upper floors because it was too easy to get trapped, but Sam needed space and solitude.
He didn't know why he'd done it. Why he'd tempted fate when he was fully aware of the dangers. Why the song spilled so easily from his lips. He tried to tell himself it might not have been him at all; that the sound of bullets exiting Chris' barrel might have alerted those few stray outsiders to their presence; and maybe that was the truth, but maybe it didn't matter. His action, his inaction, had consequences, just like the girl from the Test Card said.
There had been no further outsider encounters that early evening. Not even high-pitched wails in the distance. It was almost like they'd stumbled upon the only outcrop in the city streets. It wasn't anywhere near a consolation.
Sam rubbed the back of his neck to release some of the tension knotting there and let out deep, shuddering breaths.
"Cartwright told me what happened," Gene's voice rang out, low and gravelled. Sam looked towards the door and wondered how he hadn't heard it swing open.
Gene stopped leaning against the doorjamb and pressed forward. "You carried two loaded bags over six miles on foot. That's impressive, that is."
He settled next to Sam, digging his hand into the cushion. Sam watched him, a frown-line creased between his eyebrows before he saw Gene's hand re-emerge enclosing a packet of Marlboros.
Gene extracted his own cigarette, then offered the packet. Sam took one, rubbing it between his fingers. Gene lit them both, finally leaning back and puffing, eyes thoughtful as he stared up at the ceiling tiles. Sam followed his movement, wriggling his body lower and resting his head on the leather backrest of the sofa. He sucked in smoke then exhaled, his lips forming a circle. The familiar sensation of artificial relaxation washed over him. When he'd given up he'd told himself it was all psychosomatic --- a cigarette was nothing more than a comforting thought --- but he needed comfort right now. For once, Gene's propensity for stashing stuff away seemed like a virtue, not a vice.
"It was always going to be a risk," Gene eventually said. Sam only had a third of his cigarette left. He held it between his thumb and index finger, staring at the smoke as it rose, the curlicues dispersing into the air.
"I killed him," he said, the full weight of his conviction making his voice barely human.
"He was already worse than dead."
"The whole situation was down to me. My errors, my mistakes."
"So you deserve to bear the brunt of the world alone, is that it?"
Sam's eyelids flickered and he ignored the stinging behind his eyes. "I don't deserve anything."
Gene took Sam's cigarette from him and crushed it into the carpet. He wrenched Sam's arms up and forced him to look him in the eye. "People fuck up. They get things wrong. But the very worst thing you can do when you've done that is to give up."
Sam gazed at Gene's fingers around his wrists, his mouth dry. "I'm not giving up. I just needed some time alone."
He shifted forward, diminishing the distance between them until they were only inches apart. He spoke rapidly, as if he had to get the words out in one go or he never would.
"When I saw Chris being attacked, do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking I was glad it wasn't you. That I couldn't deal with a world that you weren't in. There he is, a friend, on the brink of dying before my eyes, by my hand, and I'm almost happy, Gene, because I don't care about him the way I ---" Sam stopped, knowing that he could say anything and it wouldn't matter if he couldn't follow through.
Sam closed the gap and kissed Gene, the action urgent and desperate. He kissed Gene like he would never get another chance to, hand curling into his hair, the other at his waist. Gene gave a muffled sound of surprise, but soon eased into it, kissing Sam back with equally rough and insistent pressure. They shifted closer until they were pressed together, Gene practically in Sam's lap. All Sam was aware of in that moment were Gene's lips against his own, the smell and taste of him, the way his entire body coursed with energy. But he soon registered something else. A siren. He stiffened and pulled out of Gene's reach.
"Why do you keep luring me in and pushing me away, Sam?" Gene asked, clearly infuriated.
"Outsider alert," Sam answered, expression hardening.
"What? I can't hear any---" Gene paused and his lips pursed as another faint whooping noise sounded. "Shit." He stalked to his filing cabinet and brought out two revolvers, passing one to Sam like second nature. "Trust you to want cuddles when the world is ending."
"I wanted cuddles?" Sam intoned, exasperated. They clattered out of the office and down the stairs, leaping several at a time. On the lower flight, Ray rushed up to meet them. His eyes were red-rimmed and his glare at Sam cold, but what he said took most of Sam's attention.
"There's hundreds of them outside and the underground tunnels have been breached."
Gene glanced at his revolver. "We need better weaponry than this. Where's a bazooka when you need one?"
Ray nodded. "Or a flamethrower, Guv. There's nothing that'd please me more than setting those bastards alight."
"Where's that chainsaw?" Sam asked, silently agreeing with Ray.
"One of the storage rooms down near the cells. I forget which one."
"Fuck. Didn't think to put it somewhere accessible?"
"Didn't know we'd be invaded, did I, you nancy little twerp?"
Sam accepted the insult, looking in the direction of the cells. "I'll go get it and meet you back here. It's probably best if we have two teams out fighting and everyone else barricaded in the incident room."
Ray rolled his eyes, using an arch and mocking impersonation. "The incident room?"
"The canteen, Ray. Remember?"
"I remember, Boss. Just wondering why you felt the need to complicate it."
"It's just the way I roll," Sam bit back, taking pleasure in the fact Ray would have no idea what he was talking about. He suppressed his anger, masked his anxiety, and headed towards the cellblock.
The commotion was infernal. Splintering wood and pitiful yelps echoed throughout the halls, making Sam regret his hatred of the silence. He was seemingly surrounded by inhuman caterwauling, outsiders screeching like banshees and their victims sobbing. Sam thought about all of the sacrifice and bravery of others and willed himself to keep going.
He turned the corner and saw the first storage room. He yanked open the door, assessed its contents and found it devoid of anything useful. The next storage room was similarly barren, Sam now cursing as he approached the noises that turned his stomach.
He was yards away from the final room when he saw Robert, standing by a noticeboard, his small face blank with wonder.
"Robert," he called, edging closer. There was no response. "Sam?"
The boy turned and his face lit up. "You made it."
Sam frowned, edging closer still. "What d'you mean?"
"Alice said you might not be back in time to see, but I said we could trust an older version of me to be good at what he does."
Sam stopped still in his tracks by one of the cell doors, his heart in his throat. "This was you?"
Robert tilted his head to the side. "Who else would it be?"
"Sam," Gene's voice yelled. Sam spun around to see him at the end of the corridor. "It's a trap. That kid isn't who you think he is. He's working for them."
"He knows," Robert said gleefully.
"You disappeared just before the bastards punched through, didn't you, you little gobshite? Geoff said he saw you down by the tunnels. You let them in."
"But why?" Sam asked vacantly.
There was a creak of metal and a shuffling sound behind Sam, then something attaching itself to his arms. He stared at Gene, eyes wide in horror as he kicked forward and tried to break free. It was no use, the outsider had a logistical advantage and was too strong. Sam struggled again, attempting to twist, but halted when he felt teeth clamp down on his neck. Sharp stabbing pain overloaded his nervous system as he felt his flesh being torn away from the bone. He stared into Gene's face, his lower legs buckling.
Gene's mouth was open in shock, there was fury and remorse in his eyes. He raised his gun and pointed at the outsider, but it was too late. Sam slipped into unconsciousness and the world went black.
Strangers in the Night (1), Night and Day (2)