Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,300 words
Notes: For silvaa as part of Life on Mars Ficathon 2009 and the prompt "Sam/Gene, brown cortina, Santana". Title and subtitles from the Santana album 'Caravanserai'.
Summary: What makes him go silent? Remembering that he is the wrong person in the wrong time, that no matter how close he and his co-workers become, there will always be this space between them; a limitless emptiness not unlike the expanse of snow now stretched over Manchester streets.
Look Up (To See What's Coming Down)
Sam looks at the snow with a sense of wonderment. Snow has always been something that happens to other people in other cities, and never before Christmas. Even if there's been snowfall overnight, by the time he's been up and about, it's already transformed into brown slush. It makes sense that in a year that has had a summer with endless blue skies, the winter cold should be doubly biting. But this is a thick white blanket crunching underfoot, flakes that melt on his eyelashes, or on the tongue he sticks out to taste. He loves how it feels against his skin when he goes to pick some up and mould it tight into a ball, how it can seem wet and dry at the same time. He loves the smell and aesthetic of it, fresh and clean and pure. He grins as he watches children wrapped up tight in mittens and scarves jumping from one spot to another, their voices echoing throughout the street. He's here to question witnesses about a string of robberies, he knows he is, but he's far more interested in watching the kids having fun and contemplating starting a snowball fight.
Sam's giddy joy is directly proportional to Gene's grumbling annoyance, who casts him with a look and states, in simple terms, "If you start singing, I'm gonna punch you in the gob."
"I'm walking in the air, we're floating in the moonlit sky, the people far below are sleeping as we fly..." Sam chirps.
Gene stares at him, raises a fist and gives it a menacing shake. "I can't believe you'd make up a song just to piss me off."
"I didn't make it up. It's from The Snowman."
"Don't know it, don't care."
"How could you not? It's on every Christmas."
"Is that before or after Miracle on sodding 34th street?"
Sam goes quiet, trying to recall, at which point he remembers that The Snowman didn't come on the telly until he was in his early teens. He sighs, scratches his head, watches as Gene knocks at the door again. He forgets, quite often, what was and wasn't around in 73. He thinks it's fair enough, he was only four years old, but it does make life difficult. It started out as a joke; see how many references he could make that would be met with blank stares. He'd told Annie his favourite character was Snape, led Chris to believe he had to be the spoon, asked Ray who he was gonna call if there was something strange in his neighbourhood.
It had been funny, in a perverse kind of way. Empowering. I know something you don't know. Lately it's been more depressing than anything else. And it isn't any consolation that it's almost 1974. All he remembers from this year is starting school and anticipating coming home every day to find his dad in the living room so he could tell him all about what he and Jimmy found near the canteen, always being disappointed when it was just his mum and Auntie Heather, who would never quite understand the excellence of a snail without its shell.
No one's home at this residence, or if they are, they're not answering. Gene begins to move to the next house and Sam belatedly follows, the snow no longer enticing or enthralling, merely there, freezing cold against his boots.
"I do wish I could figure out what it is that makes you shut it. For the future, like."
"I was making a mental list of all my favourite Christmas movies," Sam lies, cheering himself with annoying Gene.
Gene knocks at the new door, swiftly tucking his fist back into his pocket after three. "You know, I pegged you for a regular Scrooge."
"Now, now, no need for such unpleasantries."
"Not being unpleasant, just being truthful."
"One and the same with you, in't it?"
"Why do you like it so much? You always say you didn’t have much money growing up."
"And we didn’t, but Christmas was always the one time of the year when mum would pull out all the stops. So, yeah, during the year, we’d have lots of dinners that were baked beans on toast, but come Christmas, it was turkey with stuffing and lashings of roast potatoes and swede, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, baby carrots --- all the best vegetables --- never brussels sprouts. Plus the best gravy you have never tasted. And I loved it. I’d always get one really decent present, that put all other kids’ presents to shame, you know? Something I really wanted. My mum gave me that, without fail, every year."
"She sounds like a good woman."
Sam takes a deep, steady breath and waits for the door to open. What makes him go silent? Remembering that he is the wrong person in the wrong time, that no matter how close he and his co-workers become, there will always be this space between them; a limitless emptiness not unlike the expanse of snow now stretched over Manchester streets.
There's no response here either, and Sam is beginning to think it's going to be a long day of rejection. He pulls away and heads towards the next house. He only realises Gene hasn't moved with him when he goes to warn him not to contemplate creating a battering ram (the thought had just occurred to him, and if he thought of it, well...) Gene is still standing at the front steps of the previous house, peering at a Christmas tree visible through one of the windows.
"What're you doing, Christmas day? Going back to Hyde?" Gene asks, sounding strangely far off, like there's an echo to his voice that distance shouldn't allow.
"No," Sam says, stopping dead in his tracks and staring. "No, there's nothing for me there."
Sam gives a curt shake of his head. He doesn't mean to pull at his cuff, but he does. He feels unsettled, off guard. "Why?"
Gene ignores the question and asks another of his own. "Spending it with W easy PC?"
"Annie's having dinner with her family. You haven't answered my question."
"So. You're gonna be alone. In your bedsit. Reading through old case files, no doubt. A self-professed lover of this bringer of good food and bad habits?"
"Yes, Gene. What is your point?"
"Why don't you come to mine?"
Sam splutters, once, opens his mouth to interrogate and realises he can't think of another single thing to ask. His mind is blank.
"Yeah, okay," he says, not believing he's saying it as the words leave his lips. "Should I bring anything?"
"Booze. And potatoes. Concentrate more on the booze."
Gene finally walks towards Sam with a small, mocking twist of his lips that bears no malice. "I don't see you writing it in your little book."
"I think I'll remember."
They continue on their way together, Sam smiling at the snow again, a lightness to his step that hadn't been there before. He forgets entirely to be annoyed by uncooperative witnesses, instead reclaiming the joy he had been feeling when he and Gene embarked on their mission.
Just In Time to See the Sun
He takes his time choosing an expensive single malt. He spends almost as much time trying to figure out the quality and quantity of the potatoes required. Sam doesn't invest any time in wondering why thinking about spending Christmas day at Gene's makes him want to grin like a fool, because he's been thinking about similar reactions for months now and he's beginning to understand.
He likes spending time with Gene. He likes that Gene trusts and relies upon him. There's so much that he has to omit or flat out lie about that he's got to a point where he's stopped keeping track and the fact he can't tell Gene the truth about who he is pains him. When they're together he thinks --- he feels --- he has to be careful in how he responds. He touches Gene more than anyone else and he knows it, keenly remembers Gene's fingerprints as he attempts to use his alpha male dominance to make Sam toe the line.
He's been grinning like a fool because he'll be with Gene on a day that means more to him than most others. Even though they won't be alone, it's enough. It's complicated, and it's risky, but that's his life. If he flinched every time he was in danger, his face would never clear. At least, that's what he tells himself when there's a suspicious tremor along his spine as Gene's front door opens.
"You took your sweet time," Gene barks, as if they've arranged a specific meeting point and Sam has failed to appear --- which would be a lie, because Gene's invitation was stated as being for 'whenever you turn up'.
As an afterthought, Gene stands aside and gruffly says, "come in."
"Thanks," Sam says, edging through into the narrow hallway and looking to Gene for guidance on where to turn next. He's pointed left and steps through an open door into the living room. The smell of roasting turkey is thick in the air and Sam can already feel himself salivating.
He spins and proffers Gene the whisky and bag of potatoes. "This is for you, and this is for the chef."
Gene takes both offerings, placing the whisky on the coffee table and shuffling out of the room with the potatoes. Sam follows him into the kitchen, a small frown creasing his forehead.
"Where is she?"
"The chef. Your wife."
Gene dumps the potatoes into the sink, fills it with water, and begins to peel, fingers quick in ways he usually never is; starkly efficient.
"Don't know," he says eventually. "She never told me. Just said she was safe and asked me not to go looking."
"Oh," Sam replies, because there are no words that would be remotely appropriate.
"That was two months back now," Gene adds, onto his third potato.
'This isn't awkward at all' Sam thinks, and almost says, but he has more tact and whilst any trace of rawness is gone from Gene's voice and countenance, it would take someone with far cooler blood than him to think Gene wouldn't be hurt by his wife's disappearance.
He stands alongside Gene at the sink, nudging him to the side and reaching for a small knife on the counter. He picks up his own potato to peel.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks, keeping his tone light, shying away from accusation.
Gene snorts. "Miserable morning Tyler, guess what? My wife's packed her bags and gone who knows where, mind if I cry on your shoulder for a while, covering you in snot?"
"Because, naturally, the manliest man that ever there was would cry," Sam says drily. "Not wish bloody vengeance, or get his snouts to commence a covert nationwide search."
"Maybe I did."
Sam stops what he's doing and stares, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. "Did you?"
Humour returns to Gene's glance, but it's balanced by a tinge of sorrow. "No. I'm a detective. Saw it coming, didn't I?"
"And you didn't stop her because..."
"It's better off this way."
Sam looks for a tray to line, then for the foil to line it with, finally ending on getting some oil and arranging the halved potatoes on the newfound discoveries gleaned from the depths of Gene's kitchen. It's a good distraction mechanism from his building apprehensive elation.
"What else can I do?"
"Nothing. It's all set. I think we should unwrap our presents."
"Presents?" Sam asks, mouth going dry.
Gene leaves the room and returns with the whisky and another small package wrapped in butcher's paper. A curious mixture of relief and disappointment courses through Sam's veins. Gene hands the gift over without a word and pours them each a measure of the single malt, humming appreciatively as he takes a sip.
He doesn't know what to expect. He feels four years old again, waiting for his father to appear. The paper is smooth under his fingers, but the edges crinkle and crackle as he moves.
"You can tear it," Gene says, voice rasped, presumably due to the burn of the whisky.
Sam does as he's told, and within the paper there's a small silver box, which in turn holds a signed cigarette card. Bobby Charlton.
It isn't the same card his father left with, none of the edges are frayed from being kept in a wallet, or held by grubby four year old hands. It's mint condition.
"How did you... ?"
Gene shrugs one shoulder. "Cartwright."
"Thank you," Sam says, and it's two words. Two measly words that mean so much.
There's silence between them. Sam tucks his box into his pocket and tries not to fidget. He wants to reach out and touch Gene, show him all of the emotions he can't describe.
"I didn't bring anything for you," he mutters, wondering how he could possibly have found a present half as significant.
Gene gives a pointed look towards the scotch, then at Sam. "Considering you must've sunk half your pay packet on the Dalmore, you won't hear me complaining."
Sam doesn't know how he manages to get through the next three hours. He knows that Gene started talking about his various disasters with the shopping --- all disturbingly domestic conversation that included words and phrases Sam never even thought could be in Gene's personal lexicon, let alone be said by him as if it's the most normal thing in the world. He knows they bickered over how to make the gravy, with Gene relinquishing the lead only when he damn near poured it down his front. He remembers vividly all of the things he didn't say or do, collecting at the back of his mind like intricately woven cobwebs. But, apart from that, he just isn't sure how he doesn't fall apart. It's too confusing and too confronting; his understanding shifting, his life pushing forcefully at previously accepted parameters.
He doesn't taste the turkey and roast vegetables when he eats them, doesn't register the plum pudding. Somehow still feels full and bloated as they sit on the settee and watch whatever it is they're watching on telly.
"That snowman thing," Gene says after a time, "is it any good?"
"It's for kids," Sam answers, "but I've always liked it. It's about a boy who makes a snowman that comes alive whilst he's sleeping. The snowman seeks to understand his world, examining his toys and stuff, and then they take flight together, gazing down at all before them. The snowman shows the boy a reality he's never experienced before; real reindeer and Father Christmas, and he's given a scarf. By the morning, the sun's come up and the snowman's gone, melted, so the boy thinks it was all a dream. But it wasn't. He still has the present he was given."
Gene raises an eyebrow. "And you watch this every Christmas."
"I believe it's called stunted development."
"Big words for a small man."
Gene gazes at Sam disconcertingly, until he decides he's sacrificed enough of his sanity.
"I best be off. Thanks for inviting me, Gene. And thanks for the present," Sam says, standing and grabbing his jacket.
Gene seems affronted, confused. "You're going because of a minor insult? I've said much worse than that before. I can say much worse again, if you'd like more justification."
"No, that's not it," Sam says. He glances at Gene and hopes his desperation doesn't show. "I'll be at work tomorrow, if you need to contact me."
Gene doesn't try to stop him, doesn't see him to the door, and Sam's out into the blinding gaze of a grey sky and reflections on snow in mere seconds. He hasn't enjoyed the day as he thought he would, mostly because he's spent the entire time working hard at not making the moves that would ensure more than simple enjoyment. It doesn't matter how complicated and risky his life may currently be, this would be so much worse. So much better too, but Sam can't think about that.
Every Step of the Way
Sam avoids all 'how was your Christmas, Boss?' conversations during the ensuing weeks, then avoids all New Year's Celebration Party invitations, and before long it's been a month and a half and he has successfully neglected truly living. He's solved upwards of a baker's dozen of cases, eaten a lot of take-out from a lot of places, played darts and poker, gone jogging in brown slush and ice every morning. He hasn't spent time with Gene alone outside of work since Christmas day. If this annoys or concerns Gene in any way, he doesn't let it show. He never presses the point with Sam any more and, if anything, is just as successful at dodging Sam's company as Sam is his.
He misses them. They still banter, but all too often it's forced. They squabble, but one or other of them always caves in before they come to blows. If they're on stakeout together they talk about trivialities, or they don't talk at all.
And it's safe this way, easy in ways Sam has never allowed his life to be, but maybe that's why it feels so wrong.
It isn't anything specific that makes Sam want to change the state of affairs. No turning point nor sudden epiphany. He just really hates who he's become.
The knock at Gene's door sounds like it reverberates through the street, and Sam takes a reflexive look around that he suspects looks suspicious to all of Gene's nosy neighbours.
When the door opens, Sam turns back around. Gene stands stock still, one hand resting on the door jamb, the other on the handle. He looks very much as if he's going to slam the door closed again, no word of warning.
If Sam could say everything he wanted to in a look, he would, but he doesn't have those skills, so he gestures a query to be let into the house and is somewhat surprised and extraordinarily gratified when granted access. Gene pads along his hallway without a backwards glance, so Sam closes the door shut behind them and follows him to the kitchen.
Sam has a strong impulse to ask, 'how have you been?' but he doesn't. He's going to attempt this without using any delaying tactics, evasion, or procrastination.
"So here's the thing," he starts, as if they're in the middle of a conversation, and they have been, for a long time, in his head --- perfect pitch and delivery. He's contemplated all of Gene's responses, from the ones he'd expect, to the utterly bizarre. Christmas day taught him that his expectations should be broader ranging than he'd previously given Gene credit for.
"This is about more than the whole 'you're a man, I'm a man' deal," he continues, gazing into Gene's guarded eyes.
"Then what's it about?" Gene asks; cold, hard. It's a simple question with hundreds of complex answers.
Sam's chest is tight and he keeps wanting to swallow. "How much did Annie tell you, when she suggested the card?"
"She's always told me everything."
"Then you know that Vic's my father."
Gene nods, scratches his neck. "I know that you think Vic's your father, yeah."
"Why have you never tried to get me committed? You can't say it hasn't affected my work, because we both know it has."
"You want me to send you to the loony bin?"
"You think you're mad?"
"No." Sam flails in exasperation, wanting to keep a lid on his movements, remain calm, but unable to maintain control.
"Then why would I?"
"Because you do, clearly, if you think I think a man who's younger than me is my father. Either I'm a time traveller, or I'm crazy, there are no real in betweens there. And if you had any sense you'd be going with the crazy option."
Gene takes a deep breath, squints, shakes his head like he's trying to shake his ears off so he doesn't have to listen to anything else Sam has to say.
"I don't have much sense when it comes to you," he says eventually, prowling around his kitchen table and placing his hands on Sam's shoulders. "Believe me, I know I should think you're a nutjob, but I don't. Doesn't matter the evidence, the testimony of the witnesses, even your confession here --- my gut says you're innocent."
"Innocent of insanity, now there's a new one." Sam shifts closer into the trunk of Gene's body, winds his hands around his sides. "It isn't the same as you believing me," he says, quirking an eyebrow.
"Do I have to?"
"It'd be nice."
Gene bends his head down, grazes his cheek against Sam's. "Yeah, but do I have to?"
Sam is less than an inch away from kissing Gene, is nearly mesmerised by the hot breath against his skin, the scent of whisky and tobacco. "You've been given my excuse. What's yours?"
"I didn't wanna force you into anything you weren't ready for. You're gonna need to be ready."
"The whole 'I'm a man, you're a man' deal. That's generally enough to make most straight men's arses clench in protest."
Sam grins against Gene's skin, sighs when Gene moves a hand to the back of his neck, threads his hand into his hair and tugs his head back.
"I've missed you," Sam says, seconds before Gene kisses him, and he means it, with complete conviction.
But then he has Gene, kissing him with the kind of passion they've been denying themselves, kissing him for the first time. For something that's so new, it's so familiar, motions and sensations he feels like he's mapped a hundred times before. And for someone who just proclaimed himself straight, Gene's doing things that are less contradiction than they are out and out hypocrisy. There is nothing straight about the way he pulls on Sam's lower lip, teases at his teeth, hooks his fingers under Sam's waistband.
The kiss becomes more heated, Sam's skin lit up like a fire sale. He's worked Gene's top two buttons open, is starting on the third.
"I want you," Gene says, like it's a question, like he's waiting.
"Yeah," Sam answers. "God, yeah."
Soon they're stumbling down the hall and up the stairs, and Sam's flopping onto the bed and pushing his thigh up against Gene's half-hard cock, tangling himself up as he tries to rid them both of their shirts. It's mess and lack of co-ordination, nothing graceful or dignified, but Sam doesn't care because it's what he's been craving for a long time now, longer than he's ever admitted to himself, and Gene's rough in all the right ways, pulling his jeans down his thighs and wrapping a hand around his cock.
The sheets are cool and smooth against his back, but Sam only notices because Gene's the opposite, sprawled on top of him, sharp edges and heat, an elbow digging into Sam's side as Gene tries to hold his weight up. Sam rocks him over until he lands on the mattress with a thump and shifts the balance of power until they're even. Now, he can undo Gene's flies, reach in, stroke his cock to full hardness, can press Gene back with one hand as he tries to pull his defences apart with the other, unravel all the silences that have spanned between them for weeks of quiet torture.
Gene's lips are against his neck, his own hand stroking Sam's cock too slow, then too fast, but just firm enough, slick with precome and sweat. He bites down on his neck, experimentally, and Sam's reaction is vocal, which Gene clearly takes as a good sign, because he bites again and begins to thrust against Sam, his hips snapping forward. Sam follows his lead, matches his actions, tingles and shudders and forgets to breathe until he absolutely has to. And he's biting his lip and thinking please and God, but the ability to make a sound other than a whine or a grunt has completely eluded him.
Gene grips just ever so tighter, Sam places his free hand over Gene's and guides his movements. Sam opens his screwed up eyes and sees Gene staring, green glinting bright in the dimness of the room and that look is not shock, nor fear, but lust so solid it might as well be tangible. Sam takes another gasping, deep breath and comes, hard, all over their hands and abdomens. Comes quaking and shivering despite how hot he is. Comes and doesn't think about Gene's desperation at all. But that's okay, because Gene does what he did, puts a hand over his and keeps him moving, at a completely different pace, too slow and too fast. And it only takes a minute at the most before he's coming too, lips parted, cheeks flushed, hair stuck to his forehead, and Sam is thinking please, God, with an added, again.
In the morning, Sam's alone on the bed and for a brief, but far too lucid moment, wonders if Gene melted in the night.
He's about to call his name when Gene appears at the doorway, newly shaved, unbuttoned shirt draping from his broad shoulders in a way that makes him look extra attractive in early morning light.
"Up you get," Gene says unceremoniously. "Or you'll never get to work on time."
"You never do," Sam replies, scowling slightly, because he liked where his mind had been wandering. "I'm the only one who ever is on time in CID."
"And I don't see why anything has to change," Gene says with an infuriating smirk.
He pulls the curtains apart and Sam sees snow blanketing the roofs of the houses opposite. Fresh, and clean, and pure. In a few short weeks, it will have completely evaporated, may not return to the city for years, but in its place new life will be sprouting, with all the hope and opportunity that entails. Sam looks at the snow with a sense of wonderment and joy that a continued smirk tells him is matched.