Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,400 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1988. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part five in the Changes Series. You need to have read never caught a glimpse, time was running wild, the taste was not so sweet and how the others must see the faker first for this to make any sense.
Warning: Prior character death.
Summary: Gene spends several minutes cataloguing Sam’s features, even though he has no troubles recalling them both at will and against it, any day of the week. He’s here, now, he may as well savour the moment.
He tells himself it’s entirely accidental that he heard about Sam playing at another club, this time in Warrington. It wasn’t like he’d been searching the information out, asking round to hear about Sam’s whereabouts, because he absolutely hadn’t. He’d purposely avoided asking questions in connection with Sam, after that first week of ensuring that he’d made it safely to Bruche. It was all Ash’s idea that he should know that Sam had formed a new band with other aspiring recruits, and all Ash’s idea that he should know where they were set to perform.
Gene isn’t delusional enough to think that the fact he’s sitting at the back of a club in Warrington wearing dark glasses and a hooded jacket is at all accidental. But he doesn’t, at this moment, have the mental stamina to beat himself up about it again, and there’ll be plenty more time and energy left for that later. For now, all he can think about is the fact he needs this. There’s a moth to a flame metaphor (or is it a simile?) battering against the door in a closet of his mind that he keeps stubbornly refusing to acknowledge. He’s been unable to stop picturing Sam, unable to get rid of his words echoing through his mind, keeps thinking about the two days they spent together in London and how idiotic he was for cutting their time together short. Not idiotic; prudent, wise, making the right choice. Being a dick.
This place is considerably nicer than the club in Manchester. There’s no rising damp on the walls, none of the lights are cracked, and the audience is less scruffy --- not one of them look like they’d cut you up for a tenner. It’s boring, really. Which explains the change of sound. Where once Sam was playing lead for a band that veered to the side of heavy rock, this rag-tag band of potential policemen are serenading the audience with power ballads and love songs. It’s a good thing Gene hasn’t eaten yet, or he’d surely be providing his own textured and technicolour accompaniment.
They’re good, though. Great, even. Sam’s finally found other musicians who match his ability. They may not be making waves in originality, and the audience doesn’t look compelled to get up and dance, but there are melodies and harmonies, and one or two riffs that a non-musician like Gene has the wherewithal to be impressed by. Sam’s not the stand-out best. He’s still the best, no question on that --- he’s been given solos for a reason --- but he’s not so far ahead of the others that it’s wrong they should be playing together.
This doesn’t make him look any happier to be on stage. If Gene didn’t know any better, he’d swear Sam just found out he’s gonna be made official eunuch of all of Lancashire. Sam frowns at the ground, looking like he hopes it’ll swallow him whole. And it’s only through his hand movements, the glide of his fingers over the frets, that it’s obvious he gains any enjoyment from the ritual whatsoever. While the rest of him is rigid, fixed in a slouch that makes him look like a particularly uncoordinated sloth, his fingers move slow and easy with the music. He’s better than he was last time, or perhaps the songs are less challenging; either way, the playing aspect seems to come naturally. Gene would go so far as to say it’s a joy watching him play --- he only wished Sam looked like it was a joy for him too. It does seem a little strange that the arrogance and confidence he displays in all things should be missing when it counts the most.
Gene spends several minutes cataloguing Sam’s features, even though he has no troubles recalling them both at will and against it, any day of the week. He’s here, now, he may as well savour the moment. It’s a luxury to be able to take in the contrasts of his face; the softness in the curve and bow of his lips, the sharpness of his cheekbones. He’s all contradictions, it appears. A man made to confuse and perplex. Sounds about right. There’s a kind of beauty to his features that Gene’s never quite managed to grasp --- has been reticent to refer to as ‘beauty’. If you only looked at the parts that make him whole, you could never anticipate the effect the sum of them has. Looking at Sam stirs the side of Gene usually kept under lock and key. The one that appreciates aesthetics, and could even tell you why in terms that are closer to poetic than they are to crude. And since looking is the only option open to him, he thinks he’ll allow that side to flourish for a while.
He never quite gets near to ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ He may be a lot of things, as this Sam seems so fond of saying, but a zealous Shakespeare nut isn’t one of them.
The upshot of Sam being a miserable git is that he doesn’t come close to noticing Gene. The band plays its entire set and Sam looks up all of four times --- never in Gene’s direction. There won’t be a confrontation this time, which Gene convinces himself he’s happy about. It’s best this way. The itch to draw attention to himself is annoying, but it’s thankfully not all-consuming. The band’s off the stage after one encore, and there hasn’t been a scene.
When he’s had another drink and confirmed that Sam really isn’t coming back out, he goes outside for a stroll along the river Mersey. It’s still nippy, but it’s getting warmer, and he’s missed this momentary commune with nature.
Sam and Gene had got into a routine, midway through 1975, of walking alongside the canal together of a Friday night. After the stress of a long and tiresome slog it was relaxing. Sam called it his ‘debriefing period’ --- a time to consider and evaluate cases they had engaged with throughout the week --- but Gene knew that wasn’t the whole story. It was, in part, Sam’s time to try to wrap Gene around his little finger. It was always during these moments that Sam inevitably got his way in regards to some investigation or another. Either he would end up with the go-ahead for a radio bit, or Gene would finally deign to listen to his ridiculous theories, or Gene’d find himself conceding a point he’d insisted to himself he’d never, in a million years, concede.
Everyone had known they went for this walk. It became a running joke, especially on the parts of Vince and Clive, who had a bet placed on who’d end up in the canal first (the odds of which were far too even for Gene’s liking.) What they hadn’t known was that it usually ended in Sam and Gene going to back to Sam’s flat until at least the early hours of the morning, if not the whole night.
It had taken a long time for Gene to be even halfway comfortable with what they did together, and he was never about to sing it from the rooftops, but it had always felt right --- a natural extension of their friendship. Kissing Sam had run the gamut of sensations, from relaxing --- as if there were no troubles in the world, nothing but he and Sam and eternity --- to intoxicating --- as if he could never have enough of Sam, no matter what he did. And, more often than not, they hadn’t only kissed. Not that there ever really was an ‘only’ where Sam was concerned.
Remembering their walks together almost dulls the bitter regret he usually associates with the water that took Sam away from him. It does little to persuade him that self-reproach and reprimand are far from necessary. In fact, far as Gene can make out, they’re downright vital.
There are hanging baskets framing the doorway, and daisies by the path. A creeper climbs up the side of the cottage, newly in bloom. It’s picturesque. But behind the beauty there’s a strong-standing structure that’s stood the tests and ravages of time. Really, the analogy is so blatant, Gene thinks there should be a law against it, though he doesn’t know how he’d enforce it beyond a few barbed comments.
He’s debated within himself time and time again as to whether this is a good idea. But ‘good’ has no meaning to him now, and he’s never been one much for ‘ideas’; it’s knowledge or it’s nothing, far as he’s concerned. It isn’t so much that one side won the debate and he’s following through. It’s more that he’s been unable to actually think lately, and instinct has taken charge. So he’s here at the house, like he’s been invited almost every year, but always refused until now. He’s knocking at the blue wooden door and steeling himself for seeing her again.
The last time was Sam’s funeral. She’d cried, and that had been painful. Her look towards him had been worse. The pity and confusion, but mostly the compassion. They’d never spoken about it, but she’d known --- known something, at least, if not the whole of it.
The door opens. “Gene,” she says, warmly; surprised, but happy about it. She holds out her hands, clasps his delicately.
“Annie,” he says, quietly, hearing the weariness in his own voice.
Her name sticks in his throat, even after all these years. She would always be ‘Cartwright’ to him at heart; at a level of professional distance that was bridged only by Sam. It isn’t because he doesn’t like and respect her --- quite the opposite --- it had always been because he had. She’d been one of his very best, but she’d only challenge him if he were in a place beyond her, she’d not want the enmity if they were close. Soon as they’d drifted towards anything resembling friendship, she’d lost her hard edge, made allowances, and he hadn’t wanted that. At the time he’d wondered why the same couldn’t be said for Sam --- how he’d still raged, and fought, and questioned, even when they’d been skin-tight. Wondered, but never asked beyond a, ‘why are you such a pain in my glorious backside?’
“Come in,” Annie says, opening the door wider and stepping to the side. Gene walks through the space, into an airy and light front room. “What brings you here? Don’t think you could say you were passing through.”
“You’ve always asked me,” he says, “you gonna say it was just for show?”
“No, but a little warning might’ve been nice,” Annie retorts, and there’s fire in her eyes again, a shared smile that’s not quite mockery, but teetering close. “Tea?”
Once they’re sitting together on the sofa, and Gene’s had two mouthfuls of English Breakfast, he swirls his cup around and stares at the play of light on the drink’s surface. He’s not used to hesitation, positively detests it, but it’s difficult to get the words out now that he has to. He’s had this conversation three times already, anticipating what he thinks would be Annie’s responses based on what he knew of her in the past. It’s not the same.
“What would you say if I told you I’d seen Sam?”
“Oh, Gene,” she says, and, if it weren’t so tragic, it’d be amusing; that had been his first imagined response in every scenario. “When you say seen...?” There’s a thread of note and anticipation in her voice that about guts him. Like she wants this to be real, like she thinks he’s about to fling open the door and reveal Sam Tyler --- Time Traveller Extraordinaire. Like Sam didn’t die and Gene wasn’t an idiot, and they could all play happy families, forever.
“I mean it.” Gene pauses, clenches his hand tighter as Annie’s eyes widen. “But not the Sam you’re thinking of.”
“Oh,” Annie says, her tone completely different. “Gene.”
Gene hadn’t known tone of voice could so accurately betray disappointment.
“I’d say, ‘make sure it doesn’t happen again’, I expect,” Annie continues. She sets her teacup on the end table and takes Gene’s hands in hers again. He has to pull away. He cannot take that contact, he absolutely can’t.
“It’s a tad too late for that.”
“How did it happen?”
“Sam asked, before he died. Asked me to keep himself on the straight and narrow. He didn’t want a repeat performance of his life.”
“I see,” Annie says tightly. She gazes at Gene again, probing this time. “You haven’t only seen him, have you?”
“No. You wouldn’t be here if it was that simple. So what’s he like?”
The word ‘gorgeous’ springs to mind and Gene quickly quashes it.
“He’s obnoxious and arrogant, an insufferable know-it-all, full of bitterness. And he’s funny, and joyous, and bright.”
Gene lets out a sigh and stares at the carpet. “Yeah.”
Annie studies him, he can see it in his peripheral vision. “And you still love him.”
Gene stares harder, rubs a hand through his hair.
Annie gives an exasperated chuckle. “You’re still too much of a manly man to admit that you love him.”
Gene looks up at this. “I’m not. Don’t make this black and white. It was never like that.”
“It definitely was!” Annie exclaims.
“No, I don’t mean that. You’re right there, fair enough. I just mean --- don’t think he never knew, because he did. That’s why he asked me to help him in the first place. But if we call this the same thing... if we act like it is, well... it’s not, alright?”
“Okay,” Annie says. Her lips soften. “Okay, I understand.”
Annie gives a sad smile. “You’d be surprised by how much I do.”
Gene looks at her sharply, but there’s nothing in her features that suggests soul-crushing unrequited love. At the beginning she and Sam had had romance, so could she have been suffering all this time? Suffering even worse, because she’d had to watch someone else with him. Though there’d not been public displays of affection, Annie’s adamance made it clear she’d been more than aware of the extent to his and Sam’s relationship.
“Friendship’s important too, Gene.” Annie pours another cup of tea. “What’re you gonna do?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here asking your advice.”
“Right. Should I actually be asking how far it’s gone, then?”
Gene tells her about the first meeting and the days in London. He tells her about Sedgley Park and his visit to Ruth. He tells Annie about four nights ago, when he went to see Sam play in Warrington. She listens, occasionally interjects to ask a question, but if she’s judging him, she isn’t letting it show, and speaking about it, talking it through, is more therapeutic than he’d like to admit.
“The thing is, it’s a compulsion. I never really understood my brother’s addiction until now. Even though I know it isn’t rational, even though I know it isn’t right, I can’t help it. I have to see him. I want to be with him.”
“Do you really think it’s wrong?”
Gene frowns. He hadn’t been anticipating that question. “Don’t you?”
“It’s not my place to say.”
“I’m asking. I need you to tell me.”
“I don’t think it can be boiled down to wrong or right. Whose definition are we gonna use? There are no rules laid down for this kind of thing, are there? ‘If your past love were to be somehow replicated, and you made the mistake of meeting his clone, this is how you should behave.’ But if you really don’t want it to go any further, you should probably go somewhere far away.”
’He’s not a clone,’ Gene wants to say. 'He’s not a facsimile.'
Instead he says, “I’ve been hiding among the southern nancies for years already.”
“Somewhere even further than that.”
“Remove myself from temptation.”
“Hmm. Nice idea, but it wouldn’t stop the gnawing in my stomach, would it? Best case scenario, I’d be feeling like shit warmed up on a beach sipping cocktails, as opposed to shit warmed up in an office making the small bit of difference I can in the world.”
“I don’t think there’s a remedy for that. Unless you know the secret to Sam’s time travel and can magically make all of this disappear.”
“Sam didn’t even know the secret to his own bastard time travel, how’d’you expect me to?”
“I don’t. Just trying to lighten the mood.”
“I’d say it’s appreciated, but it’s not.”
“Never were one to mince words, were you?”
“No, and neither were you. You’re saying run away. Gene Hunt doesn’t run.”
“Then what do you do? You let your addiction consume you? You let it consume him? Because he’s already affected, Gene. You can’t be so lackwitted that you can’t see he was rebelling against you at Sedgley Park. He was probably hoping you’d turn up. He’s invested. Not the same as you, maybe, but he is. And if you don’t want that, if you really don’t, you should leave.”
Gene purses his lips together, twines his fingers. “I do,” he says. “That’s the problem, Annie. I do.”
Annie shrugs a shoulder. “I suppose all I can say is that you’ve got to follow your heart.”
“That’s your advice? Follow your heart? What kind of gittish, precious, bile-inducing twaddle is that?”
“The only kind I’m qualified to give. I sincerely hope you didn’t come here looking for permission, Gene. If you ever thought I was gonna say it’ll all be alright, because you’re in love and that’s the purest and most wonderful power in all the world, you’re sadly mistaken. I don’t disapprove, I’m not about to cast you from my house, telling you you’re amoral and full of sin, but I don’t approve either, and you know the reasons why. It’s your decision and yours alone.”
Gene finds he’s pleased she’s gone beyond being afraid of him, gone beyond seeing friendship as a barrier to wanting to tell him what she thinks. This realisation surprises him and he grimaces at her. “Fat lot of good you are, Annie Cartwright. I expect you’ll be kicking me out on my rear next.”
“It’s not my fault no one ever gave me the keys to life, love, and the universe.” Annie stands, taking the tea tray and nodding her head towards the kitchen. He joins her as she places the cups and teapot in the sink. “Stay for lunch. I’ve fresh baked bread, cold meats and cheese. I’ll feed you up before you go on your way.”
“When did you become so bossy?”
“When I became Superintendent. It’s in the job description, you know.”
“You think they’d ever let me within a two mile radius of the job and person specs?”
“There, now, I’ve heard you’ve quite mended your ways,” Annie mocks. It’s obvious the previous conversation has been dismissed. All that needed to be said was, and Gene decides to follow Annie’s example, because it’s easiest. If he still has queries, if he still seeks opinion, it’s clear it’s best for him to wait. He could ask her again in the future, he thinks. She’s not cut him off entirely. For now, though, the discussion’s finished, and Gene can understand why --- it’s all a little bit too much like hard work.
“There was never anything to be fixed,” he replies, “I’m in perfect working order.”
“Yes,” Annie says. “Of course you are.”
He decides, in the end, that Annie might just be right, which rankles, but is oddly soothing at the same time. He starts to make plans, checking how much cash he has to spend. It’s more than he initially would have thought. It’s shockingly simple to imagine packing up his life and moving. He thinks he’ll go to Spain. Maybe Mexico. Or perhaps Italy. Somewhere that’s scenic, full of people who don’t speak English, and therefore can’t interrogate or bore him to death. If he runs out of money, he can get a job as a bounty hunter. Or not. Probably not. Will as likely end up working in a shop or kiosk or some shit, helping unfortunate tourists.
It’s not as appealing as it should be.
Before he goes, he’ll see Sam for one last time. Watch him and think about the things that could have been, should never have been, the things that were. He hasn’t even made his final decision on his destination or bought his ticket when he hears about Sam’s band playing again. He’s got someone to buy his place, though, and he’s staying in a motel. He’s collected his money up into one tidy account. He thinks that’s reason enough to make this the last. Who knows, he may never get another opportunity.
It should be difficult to pack up his supposed home of seven years and move. It should feel bittersweet. He should want to cling to old memories, see visions of the years gone by, have the sense that he has nowhere to belong. But he has none of that. It’s not heart-rending in the slightest. He won’t miss it. It was a place to kip and that was it. The only thing he does think about is the suitcase of clothes he left in the wardrobe. They’ll be discarded one way or another. In a bin, or in a secondhand shop, it’s all one and the same.
The band plays, Sam looks miserable, and Gene’s heart --- old, cracked and encrusted in cholesterol --- thumps too slowly and then too quickly, always out of time with the drummer’s beat. It’s not entirely an experience he thinks he’ll want to savour. It’s all he’s got.
It’s self-sabotage, has to be, that makes him go outside between the sets. Well, that, and the desperate need for a cig. He collides with something small and solid as he turns towards yelling down the end of the street, and he realises in a split second that it’s Sam, holding onto his arms and staring up at him in shock.
“You,” Sam says acidly, “what a lucky coincidence, I’ve been wanting to have a word with you. I tried, but you’d pissed off, no forwarding address. Not very considerate, that.”
“Can’t talk now,” Gene replies. “I’ve places to be, things to do.” He pulls away and begins to walk off --- closer to a gallop, really --- but his legs can’t take him quickly or far enough, because Sam catches up and drags him back. Pushes him against the stone wall of the club.
Sam’s face is damn near manic as he speaks. “Oi, you fucker. Don’t be such a cowardly prick. Stand still and face me like a man.”
“What a charming reintroduction. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“Yeah. I speak to her n’all. Had a fascinating conversation last week. D’you remember what I said I was gonna do to you, Gene, if you ever went near her?”
“It made me laugh for about an hour after, so yeah, I remember. Something about beating me within an inch of my life? Which inch would you like to start with?” Gene points to his right fist. “This inch here’s accommodating.”
“God, you’re not real, are you? You’re fucking ridiculous.”
The irony of Sam questioning his realness isn’t lost on Gene. He can feel hysterical laughter bubbling up, threatening to escape. His life is a farce, there’s nothing else to say about it.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” Sam asks, convincingly menacing like he was before. Of everything that’s not right, that’s at the top of the list. Sam shouldn’t be intimidating, yet he is.
“I’m trying, but you won’t let me.”
“No. You made sure I wasn’t kicked out of training. You’re here now. You’ve been keeping tabs. Mum said.”
“Mummy said this, Mummy said that, ever think you have an unnatural fixation, Tyler?”
“There’s nothing unnatural about me. I’m a hundred percent human.”
“Base instincts and all, hey?”
“Did she tell you what she said to me?” Gene asks, because there’s something like embarrassment in Sam’s flickering glances and he’s curious how honest he’ll be. This Sam is not as trustworthy as the one he knew before, he’s lied through more than omission.
“She shouted as much, yeah.”
Gene studies Sam’s expressions, as flitting and intense as he’s ever seen them. “It’s a tad disturbing, finding out you’ve a stalker.”
“I know from personal experience.” Sam glares, now, angular features heightened by his attitude; all sharp lines and hard corners.
“I’m not stalking you.”
“No. You’re merely following and watching me without my consent. Not stalking at all.”
Gene gets defensive. He has no choice. Sam won’t let him run. “It’s not dodgy.”
“It’s totally dodgy.”
“And your newspaper clippings weren’t?”
“It’s not like I’d rub one off gazing at the dot matrix that made up your face. There was nothing sexual about it.”
“I should bloody well hope not,” Gene says, distaste and unwanted anticipation making his mouth go dry.
“Not then, at any rate,” Sam continues, looking at Gene with that frank interrogation that has always been unsettling. He hesitates, licks his lower lip. Focusses on Gene’s. “There is now.”
Gene takes a deep breath and expels it through his nose, feeling like a bull about to charge. “Don’t say things like that.”
“Really? How true?”
Alarm bells ring, but Gene’s going to get this over with. He presses himself against Sam, feels the heat in his sinewy muscle through the cotton of their shirts. One of his legs is between Sam’s, one of his hands has come to rest at his waist. He’s looking into his eyes and calculating how long it will take. He knows it’s all a bluff, just as it was at his house. Sam will peel himself away, shudder, tell him he’s a sick bastard with a deranged mind and delusions of grandeur. He’ll punch him maybe once or twice, laugh as Gene coughs up blood, feeling he could bleed out and it’d make no difference to him, really, in the long run. He holds on and waits.
And then Sam kisses him.
Part Six: just gonna have to be a different man
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