Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2100 words.
Notes: Written for Ficathon 2009, for fawsley with the prompt: Sam/Gene, Gene's past catches up with him, wax crayons. This became more Sam & Gene friendship than slash. Title from the poem 'Remember' by Christina Rossetti.
Warning: This story revolves around themes of death.
Summary: He missed Stu, when he was learning to be a soldier, and later when he kept the peace in a country that didn't really want him. He'd write, but it wasn't an adequate replacement for the time they'd spend together.
Stu had taken to creating wax rubbings of gravestones. His already apparent obsession with death was becoming steadily more disturbing as time wore on. It had been bad enough when he'd been six and fond of using his magnifying glass on the ants, taking advantage of the uncommonly bright sun during the summer that year. Now twelve, he haunted Cemetery Road like one of its residents, a pale spectre clutching onto thin paper and other materials by which to record the morbid and the mundane.
"It's not about death," he'd say to Gene's frequent complaints. "It's about history."
Gene didn't see the point. Better to live your life than dwell on the past. He said as much, not worrying about Stu's obvious disgust as he glared at him with eyes that were diamond hard and spoke with a voice that was the rough in which they would be found. "I've my hobbies, you've yours, Eugene."
"Don't call me that, Stuart, or I'll punch you in the neck."
"Would you really?" Stu asked, frowning up at Gene, the purse of his lips tight.
Gene wanted to be able to keep up the front, say 'yes, of course, step into line', but he'd seen Stu punched one too many times, heard the muffled whimpers in the dead of night, the crack in his voice as he begged for it to 'stop, please, don't' and knew he could never hurt his brother. He gave a curt shake of his head, kicking at a pebble.
Stu turned back to his rubbing, the end of a name, 'iams' appearing in blue crayon on his paper. "You don't have to be here. I didn't ask you."
"You mightn't've, but mum did. 'Take care of our Stu, Genie. You know what he's like, he'll just get himself lost.' Who was I to argue?"
"She never!" Stu croaked, furiously rubbing now, so much that his actions were rendering his efforts null and void. The wax was too thick, there was no relief.
"No," Gene admitted, moving to sit cross-legged with his back against the nearest headstone. The granite was cold, firm and unyielding. He didn't really try to figure out what the name might say from the pockets of stone missing against the smoothness of his shirt, instead concentrating on staring at his younger brother as he scrunched up one piece of paper and reached for another.
"If it's not about death, why not just go to a museum? They're places made for history, you know."
At sixteen years of age, Gene felt too old and wise, the arms resting on his knees deceptively dusted with light blond hair that should be longer, thicker, more of an indication of the man he'd had to become. But he still thought he might be younger than his brother, who stared at him with a superiority that he suspected he'd never master.
"I like discovering it all for myself. Asking my own questions. I don't want someone telling me what to wonder."
Gene didn't say anything in response, staring into the middle distance and letting air jet out of his nostrils, like a bull that couldn't decide if it was going to stampede or not.
Two hours later, they were walking down Cromwell Road together, each holding masses of paper covered in an array of blue, green and black. Gene was wondering why he didn't just leave Stu to his own devices after all, when the best use he could be could easily be served by a knapsack, but was reminded when Stu came to the end of the road and went to spin in the wrong direction.
"Other way, you barmpot," Gene said, wrapping an arm around Stu's shoulder affectionately.
Stu initially tried to shrug him off, but eased into it after a time, youthful high-pitched voice belying the complexity of the words he spoke as he waxed lyrical on the names and dates they'd collected that day.
"And we can look them up in the church records and maybe find other information about their lives. Be detectives like you've always wanted."
"Yeah, sure. Before we do that, though, can we get some chips? I'm starved."
It lasted right up until Gene left for training. Months spent at Swinton Cemetery, then St. Mary's, then travelling even further for Cheadle. Stu was not so discerning that he cared the denominations of the deaths he kept track of, especially since, judging by the things he'd say, he seemed to think them all one and the same. That neither of them truly believed in God was an understatement; Gene couldn't believe in a God that would let a man like his father continue to act the way he did, and Stu --- he had said it didn't make sense, but perfectly logical things often didn't make sense in Stu's world, because his views rarely seemed to align with reality.
For Gene, it was countless months of tramping over sodden grass and feeling the creep of a cool breeze and atmosphere tingle up his back. Miles of paper and sticks of crayon. Hours and minutes and seconds of conversation that ranged from the very simple to the very bizarre.
He tried to get Stu into other activities. They both liked football and would go and see City play if they could afford it, which Gene ensured was as often as possible. Gene would get a group of his younger workmates from the mill together to play and Stu would join in after a lot of coaxing away from the side-lines. They'd go to the movies --- big, vast vistas to lose themselves in, all red sand and horses. And Gene even let Stu tag along on his dates some nights.
He missed Stu, when he was learning to be a soldier, and later when he kept the peace in a country that didn't really want him. He'd write, but it wasn't an adequate replacement for the time they'd spend together. It was weird not having a young body constantly wondering what he was up to, or questioning his every move. Stu never quite revered him the way he wanted him to, preferring more to err on the side of being critical. Gene missed that, as well.
When he came back, it was already too late. Gene had always thought he was the only thing still keeping Stu tethered to present-day reality; a world to engage in as opposed to observe from afar. And he had been right. That day Gene had seen Stu again for the first time --- it had only been eighteen months, but he may as well have been gone a hundred years and been looking at one of Stu's own rubbings. Stu was a mere recreation of the young man he'd been before; uneven and patchy, only the most prominent points displayed with any real strength. Fifteen years old and he had eroded.
He was even more anxious, and even more talkative, and even more fragile than before. Gene tried to help him, but he didn't want to be helped. He rejected Gene, like he said Gene had rejected him.
Gene did it every year and the rubbing was always the same. It didn't stop him from sitting back on his haunches and examining it with a careful eye. He'd picked up Stu's techniques from the years before, noticed the careful application, where to press and the speed in which to do so. It was cathartic in ways drinking never was, and he felt, in those moments, that he understood why Stuart had wasted so much of his short, lucid life, watching the words appear.
A hand grazed his shoulder and Gene looked up to see Sam standing by his side, concern shadowed in the depths of his gaze.
"How did you find me?"
"Had a report about a dangerous lunatic in a bronze Ford Cortina, then followed the trail of knocked over dustbins."
Gene didn't believe him for a second and let it show, asking a question that wasn't truly a question. "Really?"
"No. I followed you."
"Should I be worried?"
"You tell me, you're the one who lured me to an abandoned graveyard."
Sam crouched down, next to Gene, his presence solid and comforting. He looked down, then back up, expression guarded as he stated his newly gleaned knowledge. "This is your brother."
"Was my brother. Now just a rotting corpse, food for the maggots and worms. Actually, might even be mostly bone by now."
Sam's jaw tensed, then he gave a small roll of his eyes, as if to say 'of course, of course you would put it like that.' He didn't say this, however. Instead, he pressed a hand against Gene's and said, "tell me about him."
"Not much to tell."
Sam gestured to the paper and wax, a seemingly casual action that, judging by the tone of his voice, wasn't casual at all. "Why are you doing this?"
"Stu used to. Not his own, obviously. That would be morbid." Gene took a deep breath, closing his eyes against another of Sam's equally sympathetic and curious stares. "When we were younger, Stu was obsessed by... history. Names and dates, siblings and parents. We spent years hanging around graveyards. I always thought --- he wasn't cremated, so I couldn't scatter his ashes where he'd like, and flowers would be needlessly poncy. But this, this could honour him in some way."
Gene stood, clutching his paper so the edges crumpled between his fingers. "It's stupid."
"No, it's not." Sam shifted until they were staring each other in the eye. His full lower lip was pinker than usual, a pout that was soft and tender. "It's not stupid to mourn for the loss of your brother, Gene."
"I mourned for him long before he was dead. Now, it isn't about mourning. It's about celebration."
Gene folded his wax rubbing up and put it in his inside pocket, the one that was close to his heart.
Sam's gaze was unwavering. He put his hands on Gene's shoulders, gave him a quick shake. "Good," he said, apparently settling something for himself. "Good."
"Doesn't stop the regret, though," Gene conceded, thinking he was allowed a moment of weakness in a day that had been full of reminisces that were bittersweet and long shielded.
He made a move towards the car, taking a breath that sounded like a sigh. Sam made no effort to extract his hands from Gene's shoulders, which had him fidgeting slightly, thinking a punch would be too harsh a reaction, but wanting to punch anyway. Sam obviously noticed this, becoming muted, but not relinquishing hold.
"We could stay a little longer."
Gene pulled away again, this time out of Sam's grip. "I've done what I wanted to do."
Sitting in the car, Gene made a show of putting on his driving gloves, taking his time with it, until each finger was perfectly encased and the leather cool against his skin. He eventually finished, turned the key in the ignition. Over the roar of the engine he said what he needed to say.
"You remind me of him, you know. For the better part of twelve years taking care of Stu was my mission in life. And I know I don't have to take care of you, not really --- but you see me for who I really am, just as he did, before he didn't see me at all." A lingering 'you see the world through different eyes, just as he did, before he didn't see anything at all' echoed through the space between them; words that Gene wasn't sure he'd ever be able to say.
Gene felt Sam staring at him, gaze white-hot against the side of his face; knew he'd crossed a line, perhaps. He didn't have to worry about it. He had the road to concentrate on, to make sure he didn't run over any little old biddies. He never had to return that look.
When he did glance Sam's way, ten minutes later, Sam was sitting with his arms drawn tight across his chest, steadfastly attentive to the road. He cocked his head to the side when Gene said his name --- hadn't meant to say his name, but it came out anyway, in a rush and a breath. Sam peered at him, once, then looked back out the window.
"I always wanted a brother," he said quietly, underlying laughter in his voice incongruous with the earnestness of the statement.
"I always wanted a sister," Gene returned, and gave all his attention to driving back to the station.