Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,180 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1988. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. There’s an entirely unintentional Sherlock reference in this bit. Part four in the Changes Series. You need to have read never caught a glimpse, time was running wild, and the taste was not so sweet first for this to make any sense.
Warning: Prior character death.
Summary: He should leave well enough alone. It’s none of his business. What right has he to know? He asks Ash to keep tabs on Sam’s progress. He doesn’t want him to influence, to get him fast-tracked, because Gene knows he never was... Gene mostly just wants to know that Sam’s alright.
1988 arrives quicker than Gene expected it.
He’s working on New Year's Eve, so even though he knows the clocks have heralded in yet another January among the many Januaries of his life, he’s too busy concentrating on closing out a murder-suicide case to celebrate. It’s a messy affair, full of blood and vengeance, and a heartbroken mother who deserves the truth. Outside, the parties are in full swing, and inside, Gene reads through witness reports. He’s turned his life back into being about the work. That’s what he lost, for a long time there. A sense of purpose. That knowledge that he was in the position he is to serve, to fight, to protect. Gene’s not usually into shame, doesn’t see the point of it, life is lived once, but he does feel a measure of shame for this --- that he let himself forget he has a mission.
Of course, the mission has changed. Where once it was about the confession, now it’s about the evidence. Instinct versus forensics. Sam had tried to tell him, too many times to count, and he’d never wanted to listen. There are no such things as Mavericks in this new age of policing --- at least, not for very long. You break the rules, the rules break you. There are so many rules. He has to be careful about the forms of intimidation he uses. A menacing glare is encouraged, following through on the promise is not. More power to detain, less power to convict. No one will take the words of the officer any more, not blindly, not even if the accuser’s the filthiest kind of scum. His Commander tells him he not only has to appear to be by the book, he actually has to be. The ends by no means justify the means. Reminds him of someone.
And he knows the rules well, always did, he can even, objectively, see the point of them. Officers like Ray and Chris need the guidance and he --- well, he supposes he does too. He knew where the line was once, but now it’s thick and fuzzy, and he’s made enough mistakes to accept that no one is perfect, not even an officer of the law. He casts his mind back to Harry Woolf with a twinge. Yes, things have changed for a reason. Doesn’t mean he has to like all the changes, just as he’s never liked the reasons.
He doesn’t drink on the job any more. Gave that up a while back. Not really through choice, but necessity. It’s a sad bastard that drinks alone, and none of the up-and-comers he works with seem to believe in this form of self-medication. All too busy with office politics and sex. His bottles of Glenlivet last him an age these days. Glow amber in his drinks cabinet. But if a case is difficult, hits closer to home than he’d like, at least it’s there for him when he really needs it.
Some days, Gene thinks he should give up the ruse and admit that a mission without passion is no mission at all.
Then he tells himself to stop being such a melodramatic pansy, and feels slightly better.
At least I had forewarning, he thinks. At least I got to adjust over time. Not enough time, but time all the same.
More years have passed since Sam’s death than when they actually knew each other, Gene realises with a saddened jolt. But in these days of policing reform, technological advances, and brainwashing propaganda, Sam makes so much more sense. Gene had always wondered how Sam had initially seemed unable to take personal responsibility for his actions, but it’s obvious. The police are an entity, a force, a service, and as an officer, you’re just one cog in the machine. You do things by the book, it doesn’t matter if everything goes to hell --- you did what you were told, you fulfilled your mission. It wasn’t your fault. But, when things have gone right, it wasn’t your victory either. Doesn’t seem fair that he should finally understand Sam’s perspective now that it’s several years too late.
Concentrating on his work hasn’t stopped Gene from thinking about the eighteen year old incarnation of Sam who swept into his life to ruffle him up and swept out again when he was pushed. And thinking about the quickly transforming face of policing can’t help but continually remind Gene that Sam’s going to start his training soon.
He makes a few calls to past acquaintances. Can’t risk Ray or Chris, who never knew the truth, and wouldn’t believe it if it were standing in front of them singing 'Nessun dorma'. Eventually, he gets hold of Ash McIntosh, a colleague from twenty years before. Ash never knew Sam, though he heard a bit about him --- mostly complaints that he'd likely never remember --- and can be relied upon to keep his curiosity to himself. He’s also one of the higher-ups in the recruitment and training programme for the Greater Manchester Police.
He should leave well enough alone. It’s none of his business. What right has he to know? He asks Ash to keep tabs on Sam’s progress. He doesn’t want him to influence, to get him fast-tracked, because Gene knows he never was. Sam worked his way up the ranks, just as he had when he was young. Gene mostly just wants to know that Sam’s alright. So, Sam finally got him appreciating the benefits of surveillance. He probably wouldn’t have wanted it to happen this way.
He gets a call in mid-February, which is earlier than he thought it would be.
“Your boy,” Ash starts without preamble. “Gone and got himself into a spot of bother.”
“How much of a bother?” Gene asks, because it’s only fair he should get all of the intel before he glides in, guns blazing. Ash’s tone of voice suggests not so much a spot as a whole damn ocean, and this doesn’t wash with what Gene thought he knew.
They’d spoken about this, several times over the years. Sam had always said he’d been a star pupil during his training. Butter wouldn’t melt, apple for the teacher, if not well-liked, then at least tolerated. He was, miraculously, not the snottiest-nosed of all new recruits. Sam never lied to him, Gene knows. He omitted some details. Had to conceal some truths. Couldn’t match Gene anecdote for anecdote. But he never lied.
“He’s in trouble. I think you’re gonna have to come sort it out.”
“Can’t you deal with it? Kindly inform him to get back on the straight and narrow?”
“It’s outta my hands, Gene. Chief Inspector Vertue wants him out. Said the last thing he needs is a rogue. When the head of operational training wants to turn you out on your ear, you’re damn near stuffed and eaten for dinner.”
Gene knows Vertue better than he wishes he did, and also knows a phone call is not going to cut it. Given his stupidity, bravery, or combination of the two, he might actually be able to use his oft-neglected intimidation skills again after all.
He wars with himself for a good twenty seconds before settling on a decision. “Don’t let Vertue kick him to the kerb as yet. I’m coming up.” He says it as if it’s nothing so difficult as a trip in a lift. Nothing momentous, not potentially soul-destroying, a simple journey he could make any minute of any day.
“See you this evening, then? I expect you’ll want a place to kip?”
“It’s the very least you owe me,” Gene affirms.
They say their goodbyes and Gene stares at the receiver as he places it back in its cradle. He could let Sam get kicked out before he’s even begun. This Sam could go and do anything he so wishes; rock star, accountant, lay-about, chef (no, not chef, probably never chef.) His life could follow any path, travel in any direction.
But no other directions feel right for Sam’s levels of passion and pedantry. The only one that does is policing. And that’s the thing --- the police don’t need relics like Gene, who started out wanting to change the world and are struggling to adapt to the changes they wrought. Don’t need an automaton who’ll blindly follow procedure just because he gets paid every fortnight. They need someone who’ll believe in making a difference and will cherish the rules that guide them. Someone who’s got instinct and can develop a keen forensic know-how. They need Sam.
The drive is long, so Gene turns the radio on, scowling at the shit music on the airwaves. By the time he gets to Sedgley Park Training Centre, it’s late afternoon, closer to early evening, and he’s simultaneously exhausted and het up. As he closes his car door he notices his hands shaking, and if that isn’t a terrible sign, he doesn’t know what is. From the outside, Sedgley Park looks markedly different from the last time he was here --- from the inside, Sedgley House retains some old-world charm, but is almost entirely a completely new building. It’s got several conference rooms set up, various sitting rooms for study and recreation, offices for select members of staff, all the latest technology.
It’s unsettling to think Sam’s on the grounds somewhere, waiting to hear of his fate. He peers out the corner of his eyes for suspicious signs of movement, half-hoping to be tackled down to the ground.
In the end, being convincing isn’t as difficult as he thought it would be, and he worries that maybe he was making an excuse to come up here. He can’t predict the future, sincerely thought Vertue would be far from a push over, but it only takes a bottle of scotch and a few select words to get Vertue to listen to reason. Granted, those few words include menaces, not to mention a curse or two, but it’s still easier than Gene had been gearing himself up for. His instincts haven’t been firing on all cylinders.
“You think he’s got promise, this lad?” Vertue asks, tipping back in his chair and taking a swig of the glimmering amber fluid in his glass.
“I know he has.”
“How do you know him?”
“Know his parents, don’t I? Smart young couple. Very loving.”
It’s not entirely a lie, Gene reminds himself, taking his own sip of scotch. Ruth had always been more than dedicated to Sam, and Vic had always been smart.
“No. Just this side of the breadline. Anything Sam’s ever had he worked for. His ethic is terrifying.”
Vertue studies him and Gene’s reminded that interrogation has always been one of his strong suits. He consciously wills himself to keep his hands steady, inch his shoulders back, tip up his head to meet the unfaltering gaze.
“Right then, I’ll give him another chance. I expect you’ll want to give him a pep talk, too?”
“Not me,” Gene says. “If he thinks there’s any chance a family friend’s helped him out, he’ll rebel. Hates people bestowing him with what he considers charity, almost to the point of mania.”
This is also not a lie.
“Ash McIntosh,” Gene continues. “He’s the right level of intimidating and fatherly.”
“He’ll have to be. He’s a right mouthy sort, Sam Tyler. Could win awards for his levels of insolence.”
“What did he do?”
Vertue’s eyes widen comically and he gives a disbelieving open-mouthed smile. “You mean you don’t know?”
“Wouldn’t ask if I did, would I?”
“That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Gene. You’ve always acted first, asked later. Tyler got into a brawl during one of our induction sessions. Seems he’d interrupted to correct the instructor and was summarily ignored. When he began getting tetchy, one of the other trainees tried to silence him and got punched in the nose for their troubles.”
This, Gene feels sure, is not the whole story, but he doesn’t think Vertue knows the rest, and it isn’t like he could ask Sam, so he files it away at the back of his mind. “We did far worse than that in our day,” he says, pointedly.
“And maybe if we hadn’t been allowed, things wouldn’t be in the state they’re in.” Vertue drains his glass. “He only has one more chance. If Tyler errs again, he’s out, I don’t care if you think he’s the next policing Messiah. We don’t want bad press. We don’t, in all honesty, want any press. And if that means whittling a man’s hopes and dreams down to size, we’ll do it, make no mistake.”
The first time they’d kissed they’d both been drunk and argumentative. Beer for Gene, wine for Sam, and whisky for the both of them. It had been late 1974 and Gene had spent the day helping sort out the flat (“don’t really know why I haven’t done this before now,” Sam had said, all disjointed and confused as he’d stripped wallpaper, skin shining with sweat.) They’d got into a scrap over the colour scheme, of all things, not the kind of thing Gene would generally bother with, but Sam had always had an incredible knack for riling him up over trivial shit.
Gene had been trying to make a point when he’d pressed Sam against the newly stripped wall, he knew he had, but he couldn’t, for the life of him, remember what that was as he’d pressed a leg between Sam’s thighs and curled his fingers around his wrists. Sam had stared up at him; defiant, challenging, with an edge of another expression Gene hadn’t wanted to fathom. Stared and stared until Gene had found his hands moving, one curving behind Sam’s neck, the other at his hip. And the kiss had been fierce, but not quick, more slow and deliberate, a huff of breath escaping between contact and a mild but unmistakeable shudder travelling through Sam to Gene. It had been enticing warmth and answered prayers, and much as he’d wanted to, Gene hadn’t been able to strangle the noise at the back of his throat that had been humiliatingly similar to a whimper.
It had taken three weeks after that kiss for Gene to be able to look at Sam again, let alone talk to him, and once again it had all been down to an argument --- this time, over giving out assignments (apparently, he was neither efficient, nor effective when it came to case dispersion.) Sam had liked to fight, there was no doubt about that. He’d been adept at confrontation. Occasionally, he’d had poor impulse control and no level of anger management.
But he’d liked to fight Gene, no one else (a couple of punch-ups with Ray notwithstanding --- and Gene was fairly sure, or at least, fairly hoped, that there were different motivations behind those fisticuffs.) He hadn’t gone around the station abusing the staff and having temper tantrums, not on an average day. When he’d lost his head it had always been for a good reason, even if it hadn’t seemed like it at the time.
Gene gives up another bottle of scotch to beg Ash to talk to Sam, and he only agrees to do so as long as Gene listens in from an adjacent room. He goes so far as to plant a microphone in the lampshade.
“Why is this necessary?”
“Because I spoke to him yesterday and I want you to hear for yourself what he’s likely to say today.”
“It’s that bad,” Gene states.
Ash responds as if answering a question. “You’ll see.”
Gene ducks into the next room with a thermos flask of coffee and a pack of chocolate digestives as soon as Ash picks up his telephone receiver to call Sam to his office. He thinks about the fact he’s going to be a few feet away from Sam after several months, how it’s making his heart race and how much he wishes it wasn’t. He scarfs down a biscuit and doesn’t taste a thing. Ash talks to him amiably, checking the audio levels.
Eventually the door to Ash’s office opens and Gene imagines Sam standing there, looking sullen. His voice as he says, “I’m here, like you asked,” certainly sounds sullen enough.
“Please, sit down, Sam,” Ash says, and Gene’s impressed by how he manages to convey exactly that tone of fatherly and intimidating Gene specified. “I’ve spoken to Chief Inspector Vertue about yesterday’s little incident. Thanks to a lengthy discussion, he’s willing to give you a second chance.”
“That’s wonderful, but I don’t think I’ll take it,” Sam replies. Gene clutches his headphones closer to his ears, as if doing so might rewind the conversation so he can listen more intently.
Ash sounds resigned as opposed to confused. “Don’t throw your life away in the name of short-sighted pride. You’ve worked too hard for this.”
“I’ve worked hard,” Sam’s voice says, with a note of scorn. “Not necessarily for this.”
“Don’t lie. People don’t fall into the police force. They’re not easily pushed.”
“Clearly, you’ve never met my mother.”
“If you hadn’t been committed to this idea at one time, you never would have made it this far.”
“Are you sure about that? The GMP recruitment drive seems to be taking in all sorts. I never got more than a C for most of my O Levels, and I only just scrape past the height requirement. I’m not the ideal and I’m one of the better ones in the pool.”
Gene rolls his eyes, once again picturing Sam’s expression --- smirking, this time, with the barest hint of malice. He could punch him, so easily, if there were a way of punching through walls without being seen.
“DCI McIntosh, I appreciate you trying to help, but really, I think this is for the best. I don’t fit in here. It’s not for me.”
“Will you make a deal with me?” Ash asks, sounding strained.
“That depends on what it is,” Sam replies, wary and arrogant in equal measure.
“Take the chance. Go to Bruche for the next phase of training. If you still want to leave after that, be my guest. Chances are a two-way street, Sam. The GMP are willing to give you another shot, why don’t you give us one?”
“Why do you think I’m so special?” Sam asks bitterly. “Other people reliably inform me I’m not.”
Gene cracks his fifth chocolate digestive in two, watching the flakes of biscuit drop to the carpet. He mashes them further with the heel of his snakeskin boot.
“If you think I’m about to go on a long-winded lecture about how all young people are special and need nurturing, you have the wrong man. This is not that talk. But I can see the potential in you. You’re strong-willed, you’re intelligent. And you were right, in that lecture yesterday. Derek had got it wrong and should have acceded the point. It’s no excuse for you smacking Carlton in the face, but you were right.”
There’s a pause that seems to go on for minutes, although Gene knows it’s most likely twenty seconds at a stretch.
“Alright,” Sam says, eventually. “I’ll suffer Warrington. But if you can, keep me as far away from Carlton as possible? I won’t be held responsible for my actions if he crosses my path again.”
“You’re going to have to learn to get along with him, but I certainly won’t partner you up.”
“Thanks,” Sam says, short, curt, like he doesn’t mean it. Then he clears his throat. “Really. Thank you. I probably don’t deserve this.”
“Something tells me you do.”
Gene gives it a good three minutes after Sam leaves before he wanders back into Ash’s office. Ash has opened the scotch and is contemplating it meditatively.
“You did more than I expected,” Gene admits, thinking that if he were a different man, he’d attempt to hug him or something equally ludicrous.
“He is worth it?” Ash asks, swirling his glass around.
Of all the hideously bad ideas Gene’s had in his life, this is probably the worst. In fact, the only other time he’s ever done something equally as stupid, it wasn’t his idea. He squints up at the building, shielding his eyes from the glare of the grey sky that should be filled with early morning sunshine. He knocks on the door with apprehension and self-loathing; feelings he’s successfully avoided most of his life, but he’s formed intimate acquaintance with in the last twelve months.
She looks older, but she’s still attractive. Her hair’s shorter, permed. She looks at him with obvious perplexity, touching her thumb and index finger to her forehead, and Gene realises that Sam’s never actually looked like her when it comes to his features, but he mirrors her body language all the time.
“I never thought I’d have to see you again,” Ruth says. Her eyes widen with worry. “This isn’t about Sam, is it?”
“It is, but don’t fret, he’s not in trouble any more.”
“Any more? So, he was?”
“A little, yeah. May I come in?”
Ruth lets Gene in as if in a daze, and he looks around the hallway in curiosity. There are pictures of Sam as soon as you step through the door, on a small console table in front of a mirror. One where he’s a young child wearing a Bobby’s helmet, another where he’s holding a soccer ball, yet another with him in a grey school jumper, that Gene realises uneasily must only be two years old, if that. Sam’s dark eyes peer at him amusedly. Gene misses that expression.
“He said he’d seen you,” Ruth says. “Last year. I didn’t believe him at first, but didn’t know why he’d make it up. Why are you here, DCI Hunt?”
She doesn’t suggest that he can go into the living room and sit down. She doesn’t move very far away from the door. She looks at Gene like she’s ready to spring into attack if the need calls for it.
“I came to tell you your son got in a fight during induction, but they’re giving him a second chance.”
“And why you?”
It’s a good question; one Gene doesn’t have an answer for.
“Why do you think Sam mightn’t be so keen on the police at the minute?”
“Why’s he ever been keen on the police in the first place?” Ruth asks, “Lord knows they’ve never done us any favours,” and her voice has that same note of spite that Sam’s did during his interview with Ash. Then her gaze softens and she says, “I don’t know. One second he’s gung-ho to the point of obsession, the next he’s reluctant and irritable at every mention. It seemed to happen overnight.”
“He couldn’t be responding to your obvious hatred for the force?” Gene suggests, because he might as well blame someone, and Ruth’s an easy target.
“No, because I’ve always told him I’ll support him no matter what, and anyway, the world needs more coppers who’ll care.” Ruth leans back on her heel and gives Gene the once-over, clearly indicating she doesn’t think Gene fits the bill. “Why are you here?” she asks again, more insistent this time. Her voice rises in pitch to near-hysteria. “What claim do you have over my son?”
“Claim?” Gene asks, exasperated. “What do you mean, ‘claim’?”
“Since a young age, you’re all he’s ever been able to talk about. Must’ve been six when he started asking about your picture in the newspaper. Twelve when he’d take his own clippings. The misplaced hero-worship was astonishing. I had to tell him what you’re really like and he didn’t wanna believe me, took a year or more before he’d listen to reason. Did you corrupt him? Did you fill his mind with lies?”
Gene explodes with indignity and confusion. “’Course not. Only time I’ve ever spoken to your son was last year.”
“Then it was your friend, wasn’t it? The day he turned up, out of the blue.”
Gene’s stomach knots at this, because it all starts to make sense. He hears an echo of a previous conversation reverberate through his mind and it takes everything he can muster not to collapse back against the door. The fool. The stupid, fucking idiot.
“I want you to leave Sam alone,” Ruth says, her eyes like steel. “I want you to leave us both alone right this very moment and never come back. We don’t need your protection and we don’t want it.”
There’s an added underlying threat to Ruth’s stare that unsettles him. Something more than anger. Gene gathers his wits about him and makes to leave.
“I never wanted to hurt your family,” he says, unable to stop himself. “I was only ever doing my job.”
“In the real world, intentions don’t count for much,” Ruth retorts, acidly. “Go. Now.”
Gene leaves the flat and doesn’t allow himself to turn around and look back. He starts his car and drives, heading towards the Mancunian Way.
Part five: strange fascination, fascinating me
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