Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 7500 words.
Notes: Written as a pinch hit for the Life on Mars Ficathon 2009. For saintvic ♥ with the prompt; 'Sam/Gene, “well, nobody’s perfect”, embarrassment'.
Summary: Gene ignored the taunt and played with the end of his tie, pondering the origins of a small, greasy-looking stain. "Why're you bringing up that stupid suggestion? It was a joke, wasn't it?"
"It wasn't. I really think Lewis's might be the key."
"Thousands of people go to department stores every day, Tyler. It's not a connection, it's coincidence."
"It's gonna be another one of those days," Sam said as he collapsed onto Gene's sofa and hurled the newspaper at his head.
Gene caught it and gave it a cursory glance. "Yeah. Tuesday."
He began to read and saw precisely why Sam's eyes were little wider than slits and his hands were bunched into fists so tight his knuckles were whitening. Their latest case had just made the headlines, courtesy of Callum White, up-and-coming journalist with a superiority complex. Sam had once trumpeted transparency in all cases, insisting on press conferences and official statements when Gene felt none were needed, but after the time White had decided to play up what he called incompetence and what most people with common-sense would call an honest mistake, Sam had become more than slightly reticent to share information. That it had been his mistake only drove the nail in further.
Gene skim-read the article and found his defensive shackles rising. White was angling for a job in London and he clearly seemed to think taking Sam down was the way to go about it. The article was littered with references to his part in the ongoing investigation; from the canvassing of the neighbourhoods where the crimes had been committed ("He were awful rude," confirmed one eye-witness), to the money and resources 'wasted' in following up red herrings.
"What did you do to him, piss in his coffee one morning?" Gene asked after he finished.
"I didn't do anything. I think White feels better if he's got a public punching bag --- an antagonist to his protagonist, to make himself look good. It doesn't matter much who it is."
"Sounds about right. That's what Jackie did with me, isn't it?"
"Slightly different circumstances, there, Gene."
"Maybe at first, but you never saw Jackie when she was in full flight. Any time she made mention of my name you could see the venom dripping between the ink."
"What do you think... have I screwed up?"
Gene would ordinarily nod, slowly, intimating that there was no time he didn't, but the dejected slump in Sam's shoulders and the curve of his lower lip --- no less than a pout, even --- changed his mind. Sam was wound up enough and not only had he been running this investigation by the book, he was doing everything he could to get results. That they hadn't managed any so far was no reflection on dereliction of duty, more that the person behind the attacks was a clever bastard.
"Do you remember what I suggested last night?" Sam asked, as if seized by a moment of inspiration. His eyes were wide and he pointed at Gene as if that might draw a memory out of the ether and put it back where it belonged.
"I remember all our conversations. Most of the time I wish I didn't."
"Well, I had to ask, you were that far gone."
"Wasn't. I've told you before, I can drink you under the table."
"Mostly because it becomes your resting spot at some point in the evening."
Gene ignored the taunt and played with the end of his tie, pondering the origins of a small, greasy-looking stain. "Why're you bringing up that stupid suggestion? It was a joke, wasn't it?"
"It wasn't. I really think Lewis's might be the key."
"Thousands of people go to department stores every day, Tyler. It's not a connection, it's coincidence."
"Except that each of our victims said they were at Lewis's only the day before they were attacked. The ferocity of the attacks is escalating, Gene. We have to do something."
There was a tone of desperation in Sam's plea that struck Gene in that vulnerable spot he tried to constantly conceal. He hated that Sam could do that --- make him challenge his decisions and second-guess himself. He'd never suffered from a plight of navel-gazing before Sam had turned up on his doorstep and forced him into re-evaluating his life. Re-evaluating. Jesus, he was even starting to sound like him.
They didn't have any other leads and Sam's instincts had been right before. Perhaps now was the time to cut him a bit of slack.
"It's too costly," Gene said with finality, hoping Sam was dejected enough not to fight back.
"I can run this as a one-person operation. You don't have to sink every last penny into it."
"Aren't you the one always yapping on about the more surveillance the better?"
"Needs must when the devil drives," Sam said, "Please, Gene. Trust me. I can nab this villain."
"Fine then, set it up. And watch yourself."
"I hardly think I'm gonna be a target. I don't exactly fit the profile of the victims."
"Young, attractive, female blondes?"
"Oh, I don't know. Wear a wig, slap some of Cartwright's slop on you, you could probably pull it off, a great big Jessie like you."
"Like that, wouldn't you? It'd finally give you an excuse."
Gene glared. "What?"
"Nothing," Sam said, innocently, eyes issuing a challenge of reprisal that Gene was not going to take up.
"You may not be their ideal candidate, Tyler, but if they think you're spying on them, they may just do you in anyway."
"I'll keep my eyes peeled and my legs ready and waiting."
"Legs ready and waiting for what?"
"For whatever you think they should be doing," Sam said mock-sweetly, lifting off the sofa and pushing through the swinging doors. Gene had a horrible feeling he'd just been played, and by a master at that.
Gene didn't like seeing Sam in a suit. It was a singularly disturbing experience, with the nagging sensation of seeming entirely wrong. He wore it with style, there was no doubt about that, broader shoulders than Gene usually gave him credit for accentuated by the cut and padding, legs looking wiry and taut beneath polyester slacks, subtly patterned tie in a double Windsor that brought attention to his long and elegant neck. But it was the aptness of it that struck Gene. Sam looked like a pompous, buttoned up businessman. Gene had always subconsciously let the contradiction of Sam's appearance diminish his distaste for aspects of his personality. That Sam looked devil-may-care with an edge of the rebel in him was enough for Gene to appreciate the complexities of a personality that was all chalk and cheese. Now he looked exactly how he sometimes acted and it was disconcerting.
"Are you being served, Sir?" Sam asked him now, expression holding no hint of recognition.
"Not as yet. Think you can be of assistance?" Gene asked, trying very hard to sound threatening as opposed to threatened.
"What is it that you're looking for?" Sam gave him the once over, lower lip pouting suggestively. "I honestly wouldn't know where to begin if you're in the market for a fashion overhaul. Though your shoes might be a good start. Some boots, perhaps? Something with a little lift to show off those muscular calves. Or perhaps those trousers? It's the in-thing to wear them tight, you know. Tell you what, spread those shapely legs apart for me and I'll use my nice long tape-measure for your in-seam."
That Sam was being his usual mischievous little bastardy self was equal parts consoling and infuriating, and Gene realised the knot between his shoulder-blades loosened. He could handle infuriation.
Gene double-checked that no one was nearby and spoke with a low growl. "Knock it off, Sam. Is there somewhere private we can talk?"
Sam cast a roving eye around the department. "You came at a good time. Mr Thornton is on his break with the others and the girl who's meant to be manning the Women's counter always sneaks off for a fag. I'm sure the customers can keep. Come into the storage room."
Gene followed his gesture into the seven by three square foot room packed floor to ceiling with boxes. He gazed at Sam expectantly, but Sam remained by the doorway.
"I've got to keep watch," Sam said by way of explanation, leaning against the doorjamb. "What's wrong?"
"Rathbone found out about our little deal and is planning on paying you a visit. I thought I ought to get here first to forewarn you."
"Shit. How'd that happen?"
"He's fond of his fine-toothed comb and he noticed a discrepancy in my so-called budget allocation."
"When's he coming?"
"Soon as he can tear himself away from his porcelain throne."
Sam's eyes closed momentarily and he rubbed his fingers against his jaw in an obviously irritated and nervous motion. Gene didn't know if he wanted to give Sam a hug or slap him for the miserable look on his face. He reckoned a slap was the safest bet.
"Tell me you have something on these attacks," he said, willing Sam to give him a viable suspect but knowing there was no way in hell he could.
"I've been surreptitiously interrogating workers on each floor and so far I know more about Mrs Brough's pug dog Pliff Ploff than anyone with any sense would want to know, have been told about the shenanigans between four separate couples and one threesome, and chaired a debate about rayon versus nylon. I'm keeping my eyes peeled, but it's only been two days, Gene. I need more time."
"I know that. You tell it to the Super."
"He wouldn't compromise my cover, would he?"
"Does a one-armed bandit row in circles? Does a Bishop like to take it from behind? Are United scum the scourge of the earth?"
"There's no conclusive evidence, yeah quite likely, and no they're bloody well not. But I see your point."
Gene went so far as to pat Sam on the shoulder, not allowing himself to linger too long. "I tried to tell him it was a workable plan, even though I don't believe it, but there was no going."
Sam became distracted by something, eyes sliding from Gene's face to outside the storage room. He stepped away and began to speak in elocuted tones.
"Hello, Sir, how may I help you?"
"You can get yourself back to the station, that's what you can do," echoed noisily around the department. Gene inwardly groaned.
"Sir," Sam said, then paused. He continued with an even more formal delivery, hushed to what sounded like a whisper to Gene's boxed-in ears. "I understand your frustration regarding expenditure, Modern Policing is a tightrope between getting the job done and getting it done effectively and efficiently. I do not know if DCI Hunt informed you, but I intend to treat the time I am here as leave without pay."
"You do, do you?"
"It's the very least I can do. The days of claiming any small expense during an operation are gone. No going to the pub and claiming for meals and drinks. No spending unnecessary time on simple tasks. I seek to streamline costs and deliver results."
"And how do you think DCI Hunt is managing minus an integral member of his team?"
"I'm sure that if DCI Hunt had any objections, he would not have agreed to the operation."
Rathbone made a harrumphing sound that called to Gene's mind an image of a wild boar about to stampede. He wished he could see Sam's face when he issued the gigantic slap on the wrist.
"You have another 73 hours, Inspector. Use them wisely."
"I shall, Sir. I'll do everything within my power to secure a conviction against the perpetrator of these vicious attacks. And if I don't succeed, I shall take any consequences you see fit to exact."
Gene frowned, mouth opening and closing in shock. He had to confess to himself that part of the reason he'd come had not only been to forewarn Sam but to revel in him being given a sound hiding. When he had stood up against Rathbone, he'd practically been torn limb from limb, chilled glare freezing him to the pit of his stomach. He'd told Rathbone about the leave without pay business, and explained his back-up for being down a DI. He hadn't grovelled and snivelled, though, and that's probably where he'd gone wrong. He never could get a handle on being a sycophantic slime-ball.
Rathbone's voice lowered into a congenial joviality. "Now, in order that I don't arouse suspicion, I suppose you ought to show me your selection of ties. I'm looking for a light blue."
"Yes, of course, please step this way."
Gene stayed in the storage room, not wanting to risk the chance of being seen sneaking out. He read the product codes on the boxes as small snippets of Sam and Rathbone's nausea-making discussion came to him. By the end of the ten minute wait, he wasn't feeling all that generous, and Sam's Cheshire-cat grin as he finally arrived back at the doorway was enough to send him into an apoplectic fit.
"Oh yeah, you engineered that nicely, didn't you? 'Can I wipe your arse, Sir? Will you please paddle my bottie, Sir? I love your tie, Sir, it really brings out the azure of your eyes, Sir.' Gimme a break."
"I'm sorry, is it just me, or are you actually criticising me for doing my job well?" Sam asked, smug superiority etched into his features. "Of course. Have a measure of success where the once great Gene Hunt's failed and you're a loser. Then again, if I'd've been as pathetic as you, I'd still be a loser, isn't that right?"
Gene felt his fists itching to punch and he purposefully strode forward until he was encroaching on Sam's personal space. "I came here to help you, despite my better judgement against your harebrained scheme."
Sam spoke quietly, his gaze flicking disconcertingly from Gene's lips to his eyes. "I know you did. You had my back, and for that I'm truly grateful. But you turn everything we do into a competition, and --- this time, I won, Gene."
Gene was suddenly aware of how very close they were, Sam's breath brushing against his cheek. "You always think you win, but you never come away with a prize."
Sam's gaze flickered to Gene's lips again, just as Gene stepped to get around him. "Maybe this time I'll get lucky."
Not for the first time, Sam wondered if he were a masochist. He alternated his attention between Miss Holland as she chatted inanely about the date she had gone on the Saturday before and the customers milling around the mannequins. He avoided department stores as much as possible in his day-to-day life and he couldn't say he'd ever aspired to re-enact one of Lloyd and Croft's sitcoms. The crowds, the attitudes --- he was fine when he was in a position of power, had a badge and a rulebook to throw down if things didn't go his way. But here the customer was always right and even in these pre-social-degeneration times people were downright rude.
On the upside, at least he wasn't stuck in Marks and Spencer. He'd been only five streets away from Coronation Street the day the city-centre bombing occurred and he still remembered the falling debris. He hadn't been on duty, but he'd wished he was, and he'd offered his services but the taskforce and emergency departments had had it all under control. He could easily recall the horror he'd felt when everyone assumed the mannequins bursting through the windows were real, live victims. 1996 seemed a world away, from both sides, and it would be the ultimate in cognitive dissonance to walk through a building he'd spent his youth in but also seen the burnt out wreckage of. He shuddered, returning his attention to that going on around him as opposed to that in the future. Mrs Brough was now telling Miss Holland all about Pliff Ploff's morning walk.
Of course, it was because of remembering the future that he was here. Or rather, remembering something from here that he'd learnt in the future. He couldn't tell Gene that he knew the assailant they were after had a connection with Lewis's, nor that he was waiting to be on the scene of the attack because he couldn't recall the exact date and time. He wished he could. It would make his life a lot easier if he didn't have to jump through hoops to use what he knew when he needed to, if he could just tell Gene and have him believe it.
Sometimes he got to thinking that Gene would believe him. They trusted each other in extreme circumstances and he had enough facts to make a convincing case. But he didn't want to risk what they had on wishful thinking, even though what they had defied description. There was something there. A spark. An intense physical awareness. When Gene had come to tell him about Rathbone, it had almost been overwhelming. He wondered if Gene knew that looked like he wanted to devour him on a regular basis. So, naturally, he had to push and prod and tease, to see what would happen. Yes, he was definitely a masochist.
"Are you still with us, Mr Prescott, or are you perhaps busying yourself with the pixies?" Mr Thornton said, slapping a hand down on the counter.
Sam couldn't resist. "I'm free," he retorted, smiling wide at Thornton's scowl.
"I'll have none of that here. We are a respected and dignified institution. I'm not going to tell you what muck you can and cannot watch on that god-awful contraption of an idiot box, but don't bring it to work, understand?"
Sam composed his features to look humble and chastened. "I understand, Sir."
"There's a man over there who looks like he could use your assistance."
Sam followed the implicit instruction and made his way over to the unusually tall customer. It was a shame all of his references were faked. He didn't know the first thing about selling clothes, and even less about picking out styles in the appropriate sizes.
Sam decided he didn't like customers precisely one second after having one. Days seemed inexplicably long when spent walking the floor of a department store.
"This jacket is perfect," the customer that Sam had mentally dubbed Badgerman said. His black eyebrows drew together in a comically exaggerated fashion. "Except, perhaps it should be double-breasted."
"We have double-breasted jackets, Sir," Sam said, gesturing to his right.
"Yes, yes, but I like this one. Is there any way it could be altered?"
"Erm... yes? I think so. The overlap on this particular jacket is quite wide."
Badgerman raked a hand through his snow-white hair as he continued to contemplate the jacket. "Is there an inside pocket?"
"Not in this particular jacket, but we have many over here that do."
"Could one be added?"
"Yes. It costs extra."
"Fine. Can the lapels be made wider?"
Sam pointed half-heartedly to another style of jacket before tucking his hand behind his back at Badgerman's glare. "Indeed, Sir."
"And is this the only colour? I'd like to match an existing pair of trousers, you see, and whilst this charcoal is attractive, I really need something more in the region of a dark blue."
Sam mimed stabbing Badgerman behind his back, stopping only at Mr Thornton's icy warning issued from the centre of the floor.
"All of this can be arranged," Sam said. "If you'd kindly step towards the counter, I'll take your measurements."
"But I want this jacket."
Sam kept his tones modulated and in control. "I understand that, but as we are already making alterations, we want to ensure we create the best possible fit."
"If you say so. I'm sure you know best, being the professional and all."
On the third day of waking up only to remember he was travelling to hell, Sam nicked himself whilst shaving and forgot to take off the paper he'd pressed there to stem the blood flow. Mr Thornton immediately made it apparent that arriving in such a state was unacceptable.
"You're sloppy and your sales are down. If, by the end of the day, you haven't sold more items than the Ladies, you're fired."
Sam had half a mind to tell Thornton where to shove his job, but clenched his jaw. "With respect, Sir, Ladies-wear occupies two thirds of the floor space, not to mention they operate with two salespeople."
"I don't care. There are hundreds of people angling for a position as esteemed as this. Either you shape up, or you ship out."
The situation was not helped by Mrs Brough or Miss Holland, who, perhaps sensing Sam's disdain for their ridiculous meandering conversations, were only too happy for a bit of competition. They kept a running tally on a piece of butcher's paper they'd hold up at regular intervals, crowing particularly loudly when they were seven sales ahead. Sam worked through his lunch break and tea break and used all of his masculine wiles, sucking up to customers like a hoover sucking up ash. When Mrs Brough and Mr Thornton were called away and Miss Holland snuck out the back for a fag, he even secured three Ladies sales at his own till, claiming theirs had broken down.
It was trivial and largely unnecessary --- Sam reckoned he could probably tell the store manager who he really was and keep his job for as long as he needed --- which, with any luck, was not long --- but he did feel a great swell of satisfaction when he ended the day on a high-note of beating the others by five sales.
Days without Sam not only involved ten times more work, they were boring. Gene hadn't realised how much they conversed until they were no longer conversing beyond a quick update call. He'd have a chat with Ray, but it wasn't the same. Ray saw him as a God amongst men and whilst that fostered total obedience, it didn't make for thrilling conversation. Ray claimed to like United and City equally, which led to discussions that span the breadth of 'City's gonna beat the crap outta United', 'You might be right, Guv. I'll be cheering either way.' There was no push and pull and Gene allowed himself to be mortified that he was disappointed about that.
That Gene had got used to Sam's company was an understatement. He craved it, reminisced about it.
It was stupid. He shouldn't let it bother him so much. He could go another two days. But maybe he'd better pop round Lewis's and double check that Sam was alright and not being forced into his 'status reports'. That couldn't do any harm. He made plans.
"What do you think, does this cut make me look distinguished?"
Sam hadn't yet discovered the fine art of subtly redirecting a customer to clothes that would not make them look like a stick of lard and he had already been reprimanded for lack of sales, so he nodded, smiled, and said, "distinguished and honourable, Sir."
Sam made the sale and resumed other chores. He missed being human. He'd never given it much thought before. He had worn a mask for many years as a DCI. The acceptable, implacable face of accountability. Emotion only when the need called for it and personality so shallow it was incapable of distracting others from their duty. He assumed he'd be able to slot back into that mentality easily, but it was difficult. It took a lot of effort to fake being an automaton for five days straight.
It would be over soon. Today was the day of the attack, he was positive. He'd seen the man responsible --- short, stocky, eyes for no one but blondes, as soon as Sam had seen him the details from the case file came flooding back --- and was biding his time to be in the right place at the right time; the fifth floor bathroom at three-thirty-seven.
At the moment, he was stacking a shelf, teetering on the brink of cursing the fool who'd set up the nonsensical categorisation.
"You appear to have a customer," Mr Thornton said, not staying around long enough to hear Sam mutter a query of why he didn't deal with it himself.
Sam turned around to see Gene, obviously travelling incognito, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a trilby, as well as an expensive looking suit and, to Sam's amusement, boots.
"Are you being served?" Sam asked, unable to stop the corners of his lips twitching irresistibly up.
"Not yet. Are you serving?"
"I'm interested in a suit."
Sam checked that Thornton was out of earshot before he replied. "You already have one, and mighty fine it is too." He gave a mock leer.
"I'd like another one. Measure me. Somewhere quiet."
Sam indicated to Mr Thornton that he would be busy for several minutes and showed Gene the way to a small enclosure behind the counter, next to the storage room. He began taking measurements and jotting down the information.
"How has your day been?" Gene asked, sounding light-hearted and only mildly interested, which Sam guessed was all part of his cover.
"Fantastic," Sam replied. "I've been searching for a specific item for a while now and I believe I've finally found it."
"That sounds good. I expect you were running out of time?"
Sam knelt down and peered up at Gene, drawing the tape-measure down the inside of his thigh. "Funnily enough, you would be right."
"I'm good at that."
"How has your day been?"
"Very busy. I've a stressful and hectic position and I'm currently missing a fundamental member of my organisation."
"That sounds terrible."
Sam gazed back up at Gene and saw the look again, all-consuming passion that had to be intentional. He swallowed thickly and pressed his palm against the soft-warmth of Gene's upper thigh. "How does this feel, Sir?"
Gene's Adam's apple bobbed in his throat, pink flush rising over his cheeks. "Good."
Sam stroked his thumb against Gene's crotch. "And how about this?"
"Yeah," Gene nodded, lips parted.
Sam moved his fingers again, slow and gentle, at which point Gene seemed to regain his bearings.
"I mean no. I don't like it," he breathed out, distancing himself from Sam's body with apparently great effort.
"No, I know you don't. You don't like it at all, do you?" Sam returned. He shuffled forward and palmed Gene's crotch. "Hate it when I do this."
"You should stop," Gene said, eyes growing wide and vulnerable, which only spurred Sam on more. Gene was hard and desperate. It was happening, they were breaking down the barriers. He had waited for this and now it was here.
"I know I should."
"So why don't you?"
"I'm not that way inclined," Sam said with a quirk of his eyebrow. "Are you?"
Gene had given up any pretence of being someone other than himself. "You think you've got some kind of hold on me, Sam."
"Because I do."
"I'm not what you think I am."
Sam tutted with impatience. "Look, I know the routine, okay? You're not a fairy. I get it. You want what you want, but you're too set in your ways to think for a second that your views on the world might be a little bit prejudiced. It doesn't bother me. Ultimately, I'm not the one suffering."
"You don't want it?"
"Yeah, I want it," Sam said, spreading his fingers wider, causing Gene to jerk violently backwards. His voice deepened with apparent humour. " I don't need it."
Gene was whisper quiet. "And I do?"
Sam mocked him with a smile. "I'd never suggest such a thing." He edged closer again. "But judging by the vein at your temple, your heart's gonna explode out of your chest any second now. So you tell me. Do you need me, Gene?"
"Yeah. I need you to stop the wanton harlot act. I can't do this."
"You're a coward."
"I'm sane. And, do you know what, I don't think resisting sticking my cock into you because of the problems that'll arise makes me weak. You, on the other hand, playing the blame game to get your way - you..." Gene stopped, flinging his fist down to smash against his leg.
Sam had a strong urge to wrap his lips around Gene's fingers, elicit a response that wasn't coated in decades of repression. "Yeah?"
"See the world as something that can be taken from, whatever suits your needs."
"Oh, that makes me very different from you, doesn't it?"
Sam only realised he had completely forgotten where they were when a shrill cry rent the air in two and Mr Thornton came dashing up, forcibly wrenching him to his feet. Sam toppled back, unable to gain adequate purchase on the floor.
"What on earth are you doing molesting the customers, Mr Prescott?" Thornton said, voice harsh and fearful.
"I wasn't molesting him!"
"I'm calling security."
Sam felt warmth creeping up the back of his neck. "Look, you've got it all wrong. Gene, tell him I wasn't molesting you."
Gene stood there, looking shocked as Thornton gabbled.
"I want you to go quietly, Prescott. The store won't press charges, so long as you let yourself be escorted out of the building and never return."
"What about you, are you gonna press charges?" Sam asked of Gene, unable to believe he hadn't yet spoken up.
"No," Gene said, eventually. He no longer looked shocked. If Sam were to use only one word to describe his expression, he would probably pick 'vengeful'. "But I want several new suits, completely free of charge." He directed the last missive towards Thornton.
Sam shook his head, wishing he could effectively send messages from one mind to another. It was imperative he be on site. Fair's fair, he'd apologise for making Gene uncomfortable, but a week's work would be null and void if he left the building now.
Gene ignored him as he bugged his eyes out and tapped his watch to remind him of this fact. He was far too occupied with listening to Thornton's profuse apologies.
Gerry, seventy-one years old and amiable, came and took Sam by the arm. Sam knew he could resist, sprint away from Gerry and secret himself somewhere in the store until such time he could prevent the fifth and hopefully final attack against a pretty young blonde, but he suspected Callum White would hear about it and turn his life into a media circus.
"You're not the first, you know," Gerry said as they stood in the lift.
"It wasn't what it looked like. Thornton's completely misread the situation."
Gerry looked at him slyly. "That's what they all say."
Outside, Sam gazed up at the large building and felt like wailing and gnashing his teeth. When he saw Gene, he was going to kill him. He only gave himself a second to feel partly responsible.
His heart rate had returned to normal and he now possessed a whole new wardrobe. Gene supposed he should be feeling pleased, but he wasn't. He didn't understand Sam. Sometimes, he thought he did, could see what made him tick, but there were those other times, when all sense of logic and rationality evaded him and he was unpredictably crazed. Of all the places to make his move, he chose broad daylight in a public arena. The actions of an ill-bred lunatic.
It had been so damn good, barely there touches and dark glittering eyes. It took all his strength to reject Sam and not fling him over the nearby countertop. That level of distraction was a hindrance to the job and potentially lethal to life as he knew it. And all he wanted was to go back and react differently, pull Sam up and show him how much he wanted it to continue. He might have ruined the chances for that and he had no idea if this was the ideal situation or not.
He made his way back to his Cortina, only to find Sam leaning on the bonnet, arms crossed.
"There you bloody are. You took your sweet time," Sam raged, movements jerky as he stood.
"Had to pick out all my new finery," Gene replied, deciding this might go smoother if he took the antagonistic approach. He opened his boot and placed the clothes inside, as Sam followed. He'd barely been able to get his hands out before Sam slammed down the door, fronting up to him with a pushy insistence.
"Dammit it to hell, Guv, this is a disaster. You screwed my cover."
"Serves you right, you prick."
"I haven't been so humiliated, so embarrassed, in all my life," Sam yelled, and Gene once again felt the thrill of vindication.
"The attacker's gonna commit his assault in an hour and I've just been given a lifetime ban."
"How do you know?"
"Thornton was more than clear, wouldn't you agree?"
Gene rolled his eyes. "About the attack."
"My gut instinct."
"Not good enough."
"Your instinct always is."
"That's true. It is."
Sam seemed to clutch wildly at the air. "I heard him talking about it."
"I just know, Gene, alright? I know. Please, you have to go back in there. The fifth floor. Otherwise this entire operation would've been a waste and we'll only see things get worse until it's not just assault, but murder."
Sam had a fairly good track record when it came to knowing things he shouldn't, and when he was this manic it wasn't a good idea to ignore him, so Gene pursed his lips and acknowledged this.
"I'll go back."
Sam seemed surprised. He gave a double-take, forehead creasing as he diminished his ready-to-go outrage. "Good. The man you're looking for is short, stocky, got mid-brown hair. You'll have to nab him just as he's about to make his attack, otherwise we haven't enough evidence to convict him."
"Should I let him get a punch in first?"
"Don't be sarcastic."
"Don't be callous, then."
Silence stretched between them. Gene pulled out a cigarette and Sam fidgeted.
Gene heard his stomach growl. "Wanna get lunch?"
"Yeah, why not? You've got forty-five minutes."
They settled down with bacon butties six minutes later, sitting in the car because --- well, Gene had wanted a modicum of isolation, away from prying eyes and eager ears. He watched as Sam greedily took a massive bite of bread, cheeks puffed out like a hamster.
"I think you owe me an apology."
Sam frowned and spoke with a full mouth. "No way. You owe me."
"Sam, you put me in an impossible position."
"I'm not being a coward. It's common sense. In our line of work, we're pulled from all sides, and if we acted on... if we shifted things... if there was something between... you know what I'm trying to say."
"The way I figure, life's too short for those kinds of fears. I want you, you want me, it doesn't have to be any more complicated than that."
"Except it is."
"If we make it."
Gene sucked in a deep breath and contemplated bashing his head against the steering wheel. "There's no such thing as talking sense with you."
"I've been through all of that before," Sam said, holding the last vestiges of his bacon butty and peering pensively out the window. "I've let my life be dictated by what other people expect it to be --- and I didn't even realise I was doing it, until it seemed too late to change it. Well, I'm sick of it. I'm not gonna run away from who I am any more. Can't do it, won't try."
Gene focussed all his attention on his own untouched bacon butty and not Sam's pout, counting down the seconds until freedom. Silence descended once more, and this time neither of them broke it until Gene glanced at his watch.
"I'd best be going in," he said, already opening the door.
Gene halted, raising his eyebrow in query.
He felt like a tosser standing here, waiting for something he couldn't be sure was going to happen. He wasn't even concentrating all that hard, thinking too much about what Sam had said. There was a magnificence to Sam's madness. It wasn't like he hadn't had to deal with society's expectations his entire life. He'd learnt early on how to fit in and be like the majority, and had only discovered everyone was pretending when, like Sam, it seemed too late. But this --- this would be a struggle, and things as they stood now were okay. Not brilliant, but manageable. Why did he have the sneaking suspicion Sam wasn't content with okay?
There was a bloke hanging around a potted plant. He'd passed it six times now. He was short, stocky, with angular features that looked too fine for his build. No blonde in sight. No women at all, in fact. Gene had conducted a lot of surveillance and knew he'd arouse suspicion if he kept staring, so he wandered around, gazing at the artwork adorning the wall, constantly checking his watch as if he were waiting for someone.
He'd walked by Thornton on the way up here, but the man hadn't recognised him without the glasses and hat. Especially since he was newly adorned in his camel-hair coat. He had a momentary vision of smacking the smug git right in the kisser. No. Thornton had done him a favour, he should be grateful.
There was a squeal from inside the Men's and Gene sprang into action. He barged through the door to find a young woman being held at knifepoint.
"I told you to shut your face," the man from earlier snarled, digging the blade against the woman's neck. "Now look what you've done."
Gene extended his hand forward. "Stop being a dick. Gimme the knife."
Gene couldn't help but obey, looking from the victim's face to the assailant's. "You think you're tough, attacking innocent people this way?"
"Innocent? Cindy here made my youth a living hell, didn't you, Cindy?"
"My name's not Cindy," the girl cried, panic making her voice so high-pitched she squeaked.
"You say that every time, but I never believe you. I know it's you, Cindy, you don't have to pretend."
Gene gauged the distance between them and took a small step forward. "You're gonna go to gaol."
"No, I won't."
"You will. I'll send you there. I'm a cop and you're nicked."
The man threw the girl to the side and advanced on Gene, brandishing the knife with intent. Gene went to grab his wrist, but he was too quick, and gave a quick stabbing motion that glanced against Gene's side. Luckily, this placed him at a distinct logistical disadvantage, and all Gene had to do was flick his elbow up against his jaw to send him sprawling to the ground.
"As I said before, you're nicked," Gene said, stomping on the man's hand and extracting his handcuffs from his coat pocket. He winced as felt a sting and trickle of blood down the side of his abdomen as he bent down to cuff him.
He looked at the knife and thanked his lucky stars. Three inches to the left and it could have been fatal.
Sam was telling himself not to be fraught with worry when Gene finally reappeared looking haggard and worn out. He'd been gone a lot longer than Sam had expected and did not wear the face of a man who'd been successful. This was when Sam noticed the blood oozing down his shirt. He took a sharp intake of breath and searched Gene's face for further signs of pain. A wave of nausea overcame him when Gene grimaced.
"The bastard had a knife. Wish your little premonition had told us that."
Sam was confused, wracking his brain. "I don't remember reading about a knife."
"I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that."
Sam drew close and placed his hand gently on the wound. It wasn't that deep, but it was bleeding profusely. "We should get you to a doctor. You might need stitches."
Gene put up no resistance, handing Sam the keys to his Cortina. "Suits me."
"You got him, didn't you? He didn't escape?"
"Cuffed and picked up by uniform fifteen minutes ago. Thanks for your caring and concern."
"It was concern. I didn't want to have to deal with a reprise."
Sam ensured Gene was comfortably seated and belted up. He could feel the ghost of horrified realisation floating behind his thoughts. He'd put Gene in harm's way through his own pig-headedness, because he was sick of waiting. Having a measure of patience was looking like a desirable option.
"Don't be. It comes with the territory."
"Not about that. About before. I shouldn't've --- you know."
"No, you shouldn't've."
Sam took Gene to one of the doctors who dealt with injuries sustained in the line of duty and stayed with him as he was stitched up. Gene told him about the showdown in lurid, copious detail, some of the facts being so squirm-inducing, Sam hoped they were fabricated or embellished.
Gene insisted on driving away from the surgery and Sam didn't have it in him to argue the point. He expected they'd go back to the station, but they didn't, the Cortina stopping in front of his block of flats.
"You have scotch, don't you?"
"And beer. And wine. And a bottle of crème de menthe I found stashed away in the cupboard under the sink."
"Better stick to scotch," Gene said, hobbling up the stairs ahead of Sam and waiting for him to take out his key for the front door.
Sam did so, propping his shoulder under Gene's armpit to help him along the passageway, using the second key on his ring to open the door to his flat. They stumbled inside. Sam wasn't about to start questioning what was going on, preferring instead to give Gene a pillow for the chair he looked about to sit in. He turned to find the scotch, but two hands settling against his waist stopped him and he had no time to mutter a word of inquisition before he was dragged around and into a kiss.
Sam was surprised by the force of the kiss as much as the fact it was happening. It was wet and messy and completely unromantic, his nose mashing awkwardly against Gene's. But that it was a kiss --- one initiated by Gene, no less --- warmed him and he tilted his head to be more comfortable, licking Gene's lower lip as their movements slowed.
"You've changed your tune," he said when they pulled apart, brushing his thumb against Gene's jaw.
"Well, nobody's perfect. There were some notes I just couldn't hit."
"You want this?"
"I need it."
It struck Sam that Gene was very good at making him confess truths he wished he wouldn't. "Me too."
"It's one of those days," Gene said, legs propped up on his desk and newspaper lying flat over his legs. He had apparently specially formulated this position to minimise the pain from his wound, since Sam had seen him in this position all morning, from signing paperwork to receiving calls.
Sam sauntered over to peer at the offending literature; a long and detailed article by Callum White, all about the Sindy-doll-assaulter, as Kenneth Manning was now being dubbed. He skim-read, noting several oblique references to White being given tantalising information by employees of Lewis's. Information so tantalising he didn't dare publish in fear for his life. Sam took the paper and tore it into quarters, neatly tossing it into the rubbish bin by the shelves.
"Yeah," he said, "Monday. Come on, I'll buy you lunch."
"Good. You owe me. I want something expensive. Caviar and champagne."
"I can do you inch-thick luncheon-meat and potato croquettes."
"Is that a euphemism?"
"It's the canteen, it very well could be."
Sam readied his shoulder to take some of Gene's weight, smiling as an arm wound behind his neck. It was convenient that Gene had an injury that necessitated this level of bodily contact in full-view of their colleagues, though Sam had a keen idea that he was partly faking for that very reason.
"I've been thinking," Sam began, cut off by Gene groaning.
"I hate it when you start sentences that way."
"I've been thinking," Sam repeated, nudging insistently. "I've not seen your new suits on yet. You could give me a fashion show tonight. I might," he purred, "even follow your first suggestion for my undercover personality."
"How do you mean?"
"A wig?" Sam said, smirking. "Some make-up?"
"I think I preferred what you came up with on your lonesome. Do you still have the tape-measure?"
"Oh yes," Sam said with a grin, pushing through the door to the outer office, holding Gene tight by his side. "And I'm free."
"Not for long."