Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2,560 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1987. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part two in the Changes Series. You really need to have read never caught a glimpse first for this to make any sense.
Warning: Prior character death.
Summary: It’s a kind of vanity, he supposes, but even in their darker moments --- and there had been many --- his Sam had always felt some form of affection, grudging though it may have been... Sam had seen the whole of him, not just his shell, not his mask of bravado, not only what he chose to show.
The Glenlivet pools with comfortable warmth in his gut. He’s taken to the highly regarded single malts in lieu of readily attainable blends. It seems an easy way to regulate his consumption, and he’s always had expensive tastes. It’s not that he’s started to believe the quacks and cranks, or that he took any mind of Sam’s frequent admonishments on behalf of his liver, it’s just that a large part of him is inclined to want to drink to forget these days, and a smaller, more insistent part, doesn’t. He’s had a lifetime of self-denial for one reason or another --- though most would say the opposite’s the case --- but this feels healthier than all the other times. Like, if he can remember all the anguish, he’s working through it. It’s probably just another lie, but it joins the scotch, masquerading as consolation.
He props his legs up on his desk and half-listens to the whirr of a vacuum cleaner working down the hall. He thinks, once again, about that night in Manchester, four months ago. He’d had to do it, he’d made a promise, but he shouldn’t have, not really. Not for his peace of mind, not if he ever wanted a dreamless sleep again. Eighteen year old Sam hated his guts, and at first it had been a kind of thrill. He’d fed off Sam’s anger, had let it remind him of years gone by when he’d been pushed to his limits and forced to spring back or snap. But since then he’s replayed their conversation a thousand times and it’s unravelled him, piece by tiny piece. The thought that Sam will always think the worst of him, that he will grow old sneering at his name. It’s a kind of vanity, he supposes, but even in their darker moments --- and there had been many --- his Sam had always felt some form of affection, grudging though it may have been. There had always been a time when they could glance at each other and make it right; a smile, or a concession --- hell, a confession. Sam had seen the whole of him, not just his shell, not his mask of bravado, not only what he chose to show. Sam had seen everything. And that’s lost to him, now, has been for a while, and sense tells him it can never be reclaimed. But there’s the ever lingering note of futile hope. If Sam had learnt once, if he’d managed it before, couldn’t he do it again?
Time, Gene decides, is a bastard. It’s complicated and out of his control. He contemplates his bottle and screws the cap back on. He doesn’t get paid again until next Thursday and this has to last the week. Whilst it's tempting to rely upon the beneficence of others, he’s not so stupid as to pin all his chances on the kindness of strangers. He’s been around a long time, too long, really, and he’s never been very trusting.
There are stock phrases people use in these kinds of situations. They’re out of their depth, in a pickle, up shit creek without a paddle. Multiple prepositions, all indicating trouble. But whilst Gene thinks they’re all appropriate, none of them quite demonstrate the gravity of the dire state he’s in when Sam appears on his doorstep. If this were another year, and Sam another age, this would not be a problem. The stirring in Gene’s stomach would be something entirely different --- the effects of a curry, maybe, or irritable bowel syndrome. But this is not another year. It’s still 1987. Thatcher has just been elected Prime Minister for a third term and the radio won’t stop playing ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’; which, combined, is almost enough to incite Gene to murder. And this is very much the eighteen year old version of Sam picky-pain Tyler that Gene thought he’d never have to see again. That he’d promised himself he wouldn’t see again, over and over, like reciting a child’s nursery rhyme.
“What do you want?” Gene asks, keeping it short and sharp, and not at all sweet.
“Fenchurch Street hasn’t a direct link to the Underground, but if you go Crosswall-way you can get to Tower Hill station.”
Sam sucks his cheeks in and Gene thinks he could probably implode that way if he so wished. “About my father.”
“Oh, that? I can’t help you with that.”
Gene forces himself not to sound cagey. The truth is he really can’t help Sam when it comes to Vic Tyler, not as much as he’d likely think. He left all of that well alone, out of self and sanity preservation. The most he knows was that Vic had either got messed up in something dodgy, or orchestrated it, and he’d disappeared off the radar. He may have skipped the country, or been killed, or successfully adopted a new persona. The result was the same. He hadn’t resurfaced. Sam had searched for him, he knew that, but there had laid a revelation never given. If he’d ever known more, he hadn’t divulged the information to Gene.
Instead of waiting for the inevitable question, Gene asks one of his own. “How did you find me?”
“A bit of digging, some detective work, a lot of deduction. Other alliterative phrases you’ve no doubt never heard of.”
“Don’t try to have a battle of wits with me, Sammy-boy. I never fight an unarmed man.”
“Sammy-boy? That’s cute, that is. A bit familiar, but cute. Let me in, it’s freezing out here, and if your false construction of morality prevents you from fighting unarmed men, you’d hardly wanna be an accessory to murder.”
Gene steps to the side and watches as Sam saunters past, down the hall. He’s already developed the swagger Gene pictures when he remembers late night walks, half-cut and on their way to a crime scene. He rubs his hand against his chin as he regrets the past two minutes. Why couldn’t he have looked out the window before opening the door? What had prevented his basic survival instincts from kicking into gear?
The kid’s combined mixture of arrogance and confidence confuses him. Sam had said he was shy as a teenager, and Gene had believed him, because he’d remembered his own temperament before National Service, and personality-wise, no matter how much they each tried to deny it, they weren’t that dissimilar. He can’t believe that two Sams, no matter the differences in their upbringings, could be so divergent either. But this energetic, pushy incarnation acts like he knows Gene, is intimately acquainted, and that’s simultaneously confronting and reassuring. The words “I’ve read and heard a lot about you, DCI Hunt” echo in Gene’s mind, an unwelcome reminder of how close he’d come to breaking during their last encounter.
“Make yourself at home,” Gene calls, hoping the thickness of his sarcasm is apparent to immature, supercilious ears.
“I shall, thanks a lot,” Sam calls back, and Gene rolls his eyes as he walks into the lounge and sees Sam with his boots on the coffee table, hands entwined behind his head. He looks as relaxed as any man of a household ought; all loose limbs and lazily satisfied countenance. Gene knows what’s going on --- Sam’s asserting his dominance. He can tell he rattles Gene and he’s capitalising on it.
Worse still is the realisation that Sam knows in part why he’s so dangerous. It’s too tempting to loom over the languid pose, to drag his hands up and hold tight, nudge his legs apart as he kisses every inch of exposed skin. He’s all corners and no finesse, but Sam is alluring and he knows it, knows how he makes Gene feel. Not the full extent, he’d never get that, but he’s in tune with the physical reaction well enough.
“So, you were telling me about my dad,” Sam says, adopting a tone that’s vaguely intimidating, and it’s strange how genuinely threatening he manages to be. There’s a reckless, unrestrained air to him that’s unsettling.
“Did you want me to be honest, or give you the fairytale your mum no doubt fed you?”
“Well, clearly, all I can expect from you is your biased opinion, but it’ll help me piece it together,” Sam replies, eyes diamond-hard beneath lowered lids.
“You seem like a smart lad, well-versed in your local history. In your travels, have you come across references to the Morton brothers?”
“Yeah. According to all accounts, they were a nasty piece of work. What was it, again? Gambling, porn, and menaces?”
“Something like that. I arrested your dad in pursuit of the Mortons. Far as I could make out, he was either working for them, or he was them.”
Sam’s relaxed pose gives way to him lurching forward. He narrows his eyes. “Give over. Was them?”
“Do you want me to tell you everything or do you want me to kick you out on your arse?”
“Everything. Every last detail,” Sam says, voice coarse.
Gene tells him the story he can, omitting Sam’s own involvement. He watches curiosity transform into scepticism into disgust. Sam’s expression is unguarded, raw, and Gene ignores the voice that tells him it’s cruel he should have to witness this twice, tells himself the pain on Sam’s face means nothing to him.
“When we went to bring him in he beat one of my officers. A WPC. He pulled a gun on one of the others. He escaped, and I haven’t heard of him since. Thing is, no one ever heard of the Mortons after that either.”
Gene takes a deep breath and waits for Sam’s predictable reaction.
“And why should I believe anything you say?”
“Why would I lie to a snot-nosed little ponce like you, eh? I could grind you to a pulp and use you as a garnish on my corned beef hash."
Sam’s eyes flash and Gene stops himself from stalking over and returning the heated look with heated touches. “You must have noticed by now I’m not the kind to sit meekly by and let you have an easy run of it.”
“Maybe not, but I’m twice your size, more than twice your age, and where there’s a will, I have a way, of that you can be sure.”
Gene crosses his arms and attempts to glare, but his heart’s not in it. Sam may have a good show of pomp and bravery, but he’s still just a young man, confused and angry. He doesn’t yet understand the injustices in the world --- never truly understood them the first time around --- and he gives the distinct impression of a lost soul.
“Look, I don’t feel any remorse for splitting up your family. Your beloved father was a crook. I’m not gonna apologise for having done my job. I may not always have done things the right way, but I always tried to do the right thing. I can get you access to the evidence, everything you need to see. Don’t have it on me, obviously, ‘cause I’m not loop-de-loo.”
They’d doctored the evidence, of course. Sam had removed every trace of himself from reports and statements, but this Sam doesn’t need to know that. He hunches his shoulders and sinks deeper into the settee.
“This didn’t go the way I expected,” he says, a lot less confident.
“Well, I believe you, for a start, you fucker.” Sam sighs and he looks older than his years, and Gene doesn’t think before he settles next to him on the settee.
“Mum’s always been as sparse as she can with the ins and outs,” Sam continues, staring at his hands. “But sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. There’s rife inconsistency there, between her attitude when she speaks about my dad, and her rose-tinted histories. I’ve known for a while he wasn’t exactly a model citizen, but I’d hoped he was a good man.”
“He may have been,” Gene says, contradicting his earlier conviction --- wondering how Sam has always managed to make him do that. “Like I said, he disappeared. Maybe he brought the Mortons down.”
“You don’t really think that.”
“No. You’re a lot of things, but you’re not an idiot. As we’ve pointed out, I’ve done my research.”
“Why not just live your life, Sam? Accept the past as been and done and grab opportunity by the short and curlies?”
“Because I have to know, don’t you get that?
“Not really. You’re on a one-man crusade, for what?”
Gene laughs, full-bodied and irrepressible. His earlier confusion and anxiety that the person before him is nothing like the person he knew vanishes. That absolute certainty is unmistakeable. The drive, the conviction.
The truth. It’s as complicated and uncontrollable as time. One person’s truth is another one’s fiction.
Sam sneers. “Don’t mock me.”
“I’m not mocking you. I wanted to mock you, I’d be commenting on your knobbly knees and gormless manner. I’d ask if drowned rat was a style, and if so, were you crowned king? I admire you in your quest for the truth. I envy it. But there’s never gonna be one answer, you do know that?”
“Maybe not. But any answer seems better than nothing. I wanna know who I am.” Sam gives the wry, self-deprecating smile Gene had always looked forward to seeing, since it often indicated he’d won whatever battle they were waging. “Because I’m a walking cliché.”
Gene watches Sam’s fingers twine as he holds them in mock supplication. Sam sighs again, glancing at Gene with a weariness he shouldn’t have.
“Do you drink? Apparently you shouldn’t, it’s described as a filthy habit. But if you do, I’ve a scotch that’ll take the edge right off your disillusion.”
“My mother always warned me against taking drinks from strangers.”
“But you know you can’t rely on everything she’s ever told you.”
“Oh, so you mean when she said she’d never asked you to talk to me in August she was telling a bald-faced lie?”
“See, this, I don’t believe.”
Sam looks at Gene like he can read him, see each word in every sentence in all the paragraphs that comprise the story. The metaphors, the similes, the extended descriptions that likely need editing. It’s another expression that’s all too familiar, and it makes Gene hope.
“Any big plans now you’re in the Big Smoke? Off to find a cheap backpackers and sightsee?”
“Thought I’d stay here tonight. You may feel no remorse, but the very least you owe me is a place to rest.”
“Hang on, you won’t accept my Glenlivet, but you’ll take my bed?”
The arrogance --- that Gene recognises must at least have been partly faked --- returns, and Sam raises an eyebrow. “I was hoping for the sofa, but, okay, sure.”
Gene shakes his head, but can’t create a suitable response. It’s occurred to him that Sam was only ever hoping for confirmation of what he already knew, and if that’s the case ---
“Why did you really come here? Boy of your smarts could have figured it all out on his own.”
“I’m not a boy to you,” Sam says. “You say these words but you look at me like --- there’s a kind of certainty, an understanding. So I am curious, DCI Hunt, how you seem to know me better than anyone else.”
Part three: the taste was not so sweet
1. never caught a glimpse, 2. time was running wild, 3. the taste was not so sweet, 4. how the others must see the faker, 5. strange fascination, fascinating me, 6. just gonna have to be a different man, 7. i turned myself to face me, 8. the days float through my eyes, 9. grow up and out of it, 10. still don't know what i was waiting for