Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4850 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1989. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part twelve in the Changes Series (link takes you to the previous parts.)
Warning: Prior character death. Allusions to sex between an adult and a teenager who is over the age of consent by today's standards, but not by 1989's.
Summary: In public, Sam is obviously and amusingly terrified of watching personal space and propriety. He cares about it all much more now than he ever did before. They go to the café they used to frequent every so often, and Sam sits fiddling with the sugar packets and salt shaker, ensuring his chair is set half a foot back from the table so that there’s no accidental touching.
It’s the small things that Gene notices. The brush of knuckles against the back of his neck after he’s described a long and tiresome day of labour; the quick, unsteady breaths Sam makes when he’s angry; the slow, quiet ones he makes when he’s content; the way he owns every piece of furniture he comes into contact with, which, judging by various comments, includes Gene himself. It’s things like the dullness in Sam’s expression when Gene asks him about work, the flutter of his eyelashes when he’s making it obvious he’s trying to get his own way. It’s how Gene’s wardrobe suddenly has six new wooden hangers, and he’s felt the need to empty one of his drawers.
It is every single time Sam smiles at him and he forgets to breathe, because apparently he’s growing younger by a year every day and currently he’s Sam’s thirteen year old boyfriend, who draws lovehearts around S & G in bright blue glitter on all available surfaces.
For a very short moment, he thinks that it’s worrying that even his unfocussed self-deprecation puts an age-rift between them. For a slightly longer, more forceful moment, he thinks it’s downright disturbing that he thinks it’s good that Sam’s the older one for a change.
In public, Sam is obviously and amusingly terrified of watching personal space and propriety. He cares about it all much more now than he ever did before. They go to the café they used to frequent every so often, and Sam sits fiddling with the sugar packets and salt shaker, ensuring his chair is set half a foot back from the table so that there’s no accidental touching.
At Gene’s house, Sam sometimes sits in his lap, straddling his thighs as he feeds him, letting Gene suck the sugar or salt or heavily-admonished-for grease straight off his fingers until they’re glistening. He touches Gene for tiny reasons, or no reason at all. He doesn’t check with Gene before reaching for objects on the table between them, doesn’t get comically wide-eyed if he trips and accidentally crashes into the trunk of Gene’s body, hands scrabbling at cotton as he fights to correct himself.
“You know I’m not going to start beating you black and blue if you make the mistake of nudging my shoulder whenever we’re within view of other people, right?” Gene says, three weeks into Sam always being so damn careful he does actually think of throttling him.
They’re at Sam’s flat, rummaging around the debris for a book Sam insists he read.
“It’s always so hard to tell with you,” Sam says, teasing, casual. He’s tossing old textbooks from a broken wicker basket into a cardboard box.
“Are you not even aware you do it?”
“You know what.”
“Apparently, I don’t.”
Sam looks up at him as if he’s crazy. It’s frustrating.
“You stay as far away from me as possible as soon as an inch of either of us is subject to unfiltered sunlight. Or moonlight for that matter. Or the dirty grey of the light that makes it through heavy cloud-cover. You know, when we’re not in my place or yours, you maintain a safe two foot distance.”
“Oh, that,” Sam says. “I know I do that. That is quite deliberate.”
Now Sam looks at him as if he’s crazy and slow. It’s worse than frustrating. Gene reconsiders the beating and the throttling, adds in a bit of rug burn.
“In my short time on this earth I have come to a few conclusions. One of those conclusions is that, on the whole, people are homophobic arseholes.”
“It’s hardly homophobia if they’d be looking at us askance, is it?” Gene says, rolling his eyes. “This is my point. 60% of people who see us together probably think I’m your father. 30% think I’m your grandfather. The last 10% likely have it right, but they’re perverts.”
“And this is because I don’t touch you.”
“No, Sam. Because they take one look at you and wonder how they didn’t know their panties could spontaneously combust.”
“What do you want me to do, then? Ravish you by the dairy section next time we’re in Tesco’s? Snog you next to the turnips?”
“Of course not. Just don’t flinch if I tap you on the arm. Keep in mind that you never bloody cared before.”
“There was never the promise of sex before. It was all hormones and longing. Now it’s pheromones and kissing.” Sam grins, wide and daring, and Gene’s lungs stop working again. He has to prevent that from happening somehow. “I thought you’d pat me on the back for a job well done,” Sam says. “In private, naturally.”
Gene stalks across the room, tosses the book Sam was holding into the air and wraps his arms around him.
“What’re you doing?” Sam asks with a half-chuckle, half-squeak.
Gene plasters himself onto Sam, awkwardly, ensuring they’re squashed tight. “This is too close.” He says. He lets go, takes three magnificent steps back, deliberately raises his voice. “This is too far!” He moves until there’s three quarters of a foot between them, gently putting a hand on Sam’s elbow. “This is just right.”
Sam’s laughing now, eyebrows arching, full lips stretched over his teeth. He takes Gene’s hand and slips his own underneath, weaving their fingers together, clasping with a subtle, reassuring pressure.
“Too soppy for words,” Gene says, but he doesn’t extricate himself.
Sam looks down at the pile before them, bends and comes up with a self-satisfied smirk. “Found it!”
This time, Sam’s expression is a combination of, ‘you really are crazy and slow, maybe I should get you sectioned?’ and fond. “The book we came here for.”
He passes it over with his free hand. Gene looks down. It’s Rogue Male, a book he’s read twice, because it’s about difficult decisions not taken, about the difference between meting out justice and revenge --- and because it was one of the many gifts his wife had given him when they were courting. He’d read it when they were together, going into detail about what he’d loved, sharing his enthusiasm, and he'd read it again when she’d finally left, remembering that there had been a time when they’d got along.
“I’ve read this,” Gene says, simply.
“You have? Why didn’t you say before? I described it in detail.”
“Chances are, I wasn’t listening.” Gene taps the cover, ignoring the angry snort Sam makes. He thinks through their past weeks of conversation. “Hang on. You said it was about a man wishing he’d killed Hitler.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It very much is.”
“It’s really not.”
“Okay, gene-ius, what’s it about?”
“It’s about the hunter being the hunted. The dictator the main character’s after probably is a parallel for Hitler, you’re not wrong there, but the story doesn’t revolve around this bloke purely wishing he’d pulled the trigger. It’s not about regretting what you didn’t do. It’s about survival. The lengths people will go to in a chase. Sophistication giving way to brute, animal necessity.” Gene goes blank-faced at the arch of Sam’s eyebrow. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“Like you’re surprised I have a brain.”
“I promise that wasn’t what I was thinking,” Sam says, using the hand he’s still holding to pull Gene closer and drag him into a hug.
Sam’s fingers coil at the nape of his neck, the sharp angle of his cheekbone glances off Gene’s as he goes to suck on his earlobe. The warmth of his breath skates across Gene’s skin as he whispers, “we need to get back to yours and your inviting double bed.”
Gene slides his hand down Sam’s back and tucks it under his waistband, rubbing at the smoothness above the swell of his arse. “Or not.”
Sam kisses his jaw, then steps back, looks at Gene, assessing. He bites his lower lip, flicks his gaze up and down.
“Not,” he concludes. “Decidedly not.”
And then he pounces.
There are voices as he enters the house. One of them is Sam’s and the other is female. Sam’s often there without him these days, they had another key cut to save Sam putting the gnome in places it could seriously maim. But he’s never invited a friend over before. It doesn’t gel with his usual fear of discovery (which Gene had scoffed at, because, well, he does spend most nights at the house --- it would hardly be discovery.) Gene hangs up his coat and ambles into his kitchen, stopping dead in his tracks as he sees the source of the conversation.
Sitting across from Sam, holding a cup of tea, and looking for all the world like she’s from another era, is Annie. She looks at Gene with a piercing curiosity that has his throat constricting in pulses and waves.
“Sam. The lounge. Now,” he manages, voice scratching out like barbed wire.
Sam’s surprised, confused. He walks altogether too slowly out of the room and into the lounge. He glares when Gene grabs his arm and pushes him against the wall.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Gene asks, feeling heat rise up from the depths of him, betrayal roll through his mind.
“I’m talking to Annie,” Sam says, like it’s obvious. “Been listening to anecdotes for the past half hour. I never knew you used to play darts.”
“I can’t believe you did this,” Gene says, gritting his teeth afterwards for fear of shouting out his anguish.
“What?” Sam asks, “did what? Open the door? Make some tea?”
“Abuse your detective skills again?” Gene counters, “Drag Annie away from her home?”
“I didn’t,” Sam exclaims, indignant. “I’d been here twenty minutes and suddenly she appeared at the door, said you were friends from way back, and oh, hello, I must be Sam.”
“Pull the other one.”
“I didn’t do anything. Not a thing. She came of her own volition. I never even knew she existed.”
Sam’s eyes are wide, the set of his jaw angry, and he’s a little too close for comfort. He purses his lips together and waits for the response, and everything in his expression and body language says he’s telling the truth. Gene thinks he should probably apologise for blaming him.
“Right,” he says, taking a steadying breath. “Okay.”
“I’m not a total creep, you know.”
Gene raises an eyebrow. “You’ve gone to lengths before.”
“You really think I’m so unstable I’d kidnap someone just because they used to know you? And force them to tell me stories about darts tournaments? And then keep them here so I could parade them in front of you? You actually believe that’s a possibility?”
Gene thinks it must be insanity that makes him want to laugh. He eases away from Sam and touches his upper arm in place of the words his mouth seems resolute to stubbornly avoid.
“Why shouldn’t I talk to Annie, anyway?” Sam asks. “What’s the big secret?”
“There isn’t one,” Gene says. “But I would like to discuss matters with Annie privately, if you don’t mind?”
Sam balls his hands into fists, flicks his head back. “... are you kicking me out?”
“Politely requesting your absence. For a couple of hours.”
“You’re a tosser.”
“I’ll make it up, somehow,” Gene says, taking Sam’s hands and rubbing circles into their backs.
He surges forward and kisses Sam, possessive, licking deep into his warm, sweet mouth. He’s half-terrified Sam’s going to push him off and clatter out of the room, but Sam returns the kiss with vigour.
“---checking to see you haven’t murdered one anoth---“ Annie’s voice says. Gene swivels to see Annie standing in the doorway, frozen, face gone pale.
Sam goes pink to the tips of his ears. He clears his throat. “Did you, uh, want me to come at a pre-arranged time, or?” he asks, voice cracking a little.
“I’ll call,” Gene says.
Sam awkwardly makes his way past Annie, casting a worried look back in Gene’s direction. Gene gives him a reassuring shake of his head to say he’ll be fine. Judging by the tightness in Annie’s face he isn’t sure he will be, but he doesn’t want to raise alarm.
“You didn’t listen,” Annie accuses when the front door’s closed.
“Clearly,” Gene says, unsure of how to play this, if he should be supplicating or brash. He feels both in equal measure; it’s confusing.
“How long?” Annie asks now, looking at Gene like --- like she thinks he’s going to round on her and eat her bones, because it would be an amusing past-time and the least offensive thing he could do.
“A month. We’ve been friends since I last saw you, pretty much, but, yeah, a month.”
“I thought you’d left the country, I thought you’d heeded my advice, but then I saw Ray at the Lancashire Constabulary Dinner and Dance,” Annie says, still looking shell-shocked. “He said you’d had a pint together.”
“Took you a while to find me.”
“Some of us have jobs.”
Annie walks further into the room and collapses onto the sofa. She’s faint, disarranged.
“Make a song and dance of it, why don’t you?” Gene offers. “Show me how clearly I’ve offended your sensitive sensibilities.”
“I shall,” Annie retorts. “Because you’re an idiot. You realise that what you’re doing would not only be viewed as amoral by most of society, but that it’s highly illegal too?”
“Why, yes, thank you very much, Miss Cartwright, for your effortless pep talk. I may have ignored rules and regulations, but I was never ignorant of them.”
“Just as well. It’s an inexcusable defence.”
“What happened to ‘it’s not my place to say’, ‘do you think it’s wrong?’, ‘I don’t disapprove’? Not so long ago, you claimed you wouldn’t judge, you hideous hypocrite.”
Gene leans against the doorjamb and glowers.
“That was before I saw how young he was,” Annie says, strangled, angry. The lines of her face deepen, her cheeks flush.
“You knew how young he was,” Gene storms.
“As a number,” Annie says. “Not as a---“ she casts her hands around expressively.
“You know what, Puffy Pants, you can shove it,” Gene says, scowling so strongly his face crumples. His fingers are itching to curl up and his chest is aching from contained fury. “I refuse to be made to feel guilty about being with Sam. I’m trying to make it fair for the both of us, I’m not manipulating him, I don’t have any hold over him other than mutual admiration and attraction --- unlike last time, when I was his superior officer, for God’s sake, with far more pushing power if I so wished it. He wants this just as I want it, so what the hell’s wrong?”
Annie’s eyes flash. “You know what’s wrong. How truthful are you being, Gene?”
“As truthful as I can be, which is a damn sight more than most people in most relationships.”
“Don’t you care about doing what’s right?”
“I don’t know what’s right. And you don’t either. Right and truth, you use them like absolutes, Sam makes the same mistake, but there isn’t such a thing, there never has been. My ‘truth’ may not look like anything you’ve seen, so, what, it’s irreparably damaged? My concept of ‘right’ is a crippled little snot with a lisp in comparison to yours?”
He’s using her own proclamations against her, forcing her to see beyond her black and white reading of the situation. He’s trying to make her see. Annie stares at Gene, steadily.
“I’d like to say yes,” Annie says, hollow. “Because there has to be a line somewhere.”
“There is. As I said, I’ve never pushed Sam into anything. Not in any way. I promise you this.”
Gene feels so earnest he might choke. Annie’s expression begins to clear. She takes a few shuddering, bone-deep breaths.
“He’s not the same,” she says, tone growing kind. Gene decides he hates the kindness most of all.
“No, he’s not."
“I thought he would be, I couldn’t see why he’d be different,” Annie continues. “I didn’t even know that I expected th... before I met him.”
“Life has a habit of moulding you into its nooks and crannies, melting you to fit. Remove the nooks and crannies and add a few bumps, and the effect changes. Funny, that.”
“Then aren’t you doing him a disservice? Being with him because you long for what he could never be?”
“I thought that, at first,” Gene says, taking his time with the words. “I turned him away countless times for that very reason.”
“You’re saying that isn’t what this is?”
“I’m saying I don’t know what this is. It’s not some case I can go bash some heads in to solve.”
“Or gather evidence for,” Annie says, wryly.
“Any and all evidence here is circumstantial,” Gene insists. “But I’m not, I’m really not trying to take advantage.”
“I don’t think it’s deliberate,” Annie says. Her words are immediate, unthinking. “I know you didn’t engineer for it to happen. I just think you’re weak for letting it.”
“Then let me, in my twilight years, be a weak man. I spent so long pretending to be stronger than anyone could be.”
“At the cost of Sam’s life?”
Gene exhales. “Fuck. Who needs a conscience when you’re around?”
They stare at each other for a couple of long seconds. Gene feels his shoulders slump just a little, finally feeling the burden of their conversation.
“I’m sorry,” Annie says.
“What for? Accusing me of destroying a man’s life, calling me weak, or springing on me unannounced?”
Gene bows his head. His chest continues to ache and his fingers continue to itch and he wonders if Annie knows what she’s talking about or whether she’s biased because he has something she can’t have. He doesn’t think that’s it, and the realisation makes his head throb. It would be so much easier if it was jealousy or spite, but it’s not. It’s the principle of the thing. Once upon a time, Annie was exactly the kind of person he kept around to help him remember such lofty aspirations. And if Annie, who had previous pledged support --- if she could see them together and come to the complete opposite conclusion about whether or not this was meant to be, he didn’t know anything.
“I love him,” Gene says, hardly above a whisper. It’s a confession he’s never intended to make. It’s a small, solid-feeling piece of him cut apart from his flesh and loosed upon the world. It hurts.
“Then everything’s going to be okay, because love’s the purest and most brilliant diamond of a star in a blackened sky,” Annie says, sarcasm making her voice thick. She looks at him sadly, until he can’t bear to look into her eyes any more.
“I’m not gonna leave him just because you’re telling me to.”
“I didn’t expect that you would. It’s too late for that now, anyway, isn’t it?”
Gene nods, changes his mind, shakes his head. “It’s not a crime.”
“It’s a stupid one.”
“It is,” Annie says again, but this time the intonation’s changed. She agrees. Now that the fire of her anger has cooled, she twists her lips as she looks at Gene.
“What’re you gonna do? Shop me?”
“Yell at me some more?”
“Maybe.” Annie brushes her fringe to the side, rubs her neck. “I may have overreacted.”
Gene cocks an eyebrow. He didn’t think this admission would come so quickly. It’s emotional whiplash in a day that’s been one gigantic pile-up on the M6. He strokes his hands down his sides, flexes the cramp out of his joints.
“It was the shock,” Annie explains. She gives a strange, high-pitched giggle at that, concentrates on the carpet.
“Yeah, you were so horrified by my wayward and uncouth behaviour you lost your head,” Gene says, dry like his throat.
“I was so surprised by seeing him in the flesh, seeing those same flecks in his eyes, but none of his easy familiarity, the way he looked at you.” Annie opens her mouth a couple of times, closes it with a snap.
“I’ve had months to puzzle it through. You’ve had an hour.”
“You can forgive my confusion,” Annie says, and this time she sounds meek, apologetic.
Gene huffs angrily. “Which is it, Cartwright? Am I monster or a romantic hero?”
Annie blinks, tilts her head to the side. “Can’t you be both?”
“D’you think I am?”
Annie smiles, slow and wise. “Sometimes. But that was before I found out you were with Sam.”
“You’re not a monster. And --- you have a point. About the concept of right.”
“Glad you can see that. It was your point, if I recall correctly.”
“I still think...” Annie starts. She stops, abruptly.
“What do you think?”
Annie dismisses the question. “Never mind what I think.”
“That it won’t end well?” Gene questions. “That it’s only temporary? That it’s a mistake? That I should’ve gone when I had the chance?”
“Yeah,” Gene intones, rubbing his forehead. “I know. And yet, when I’m with him, when we’re together, none of that matters.”
There’s sympathy again, then. A small, concerned frown. Annie crosses the space between them and wraps him into a hug. He hates feeling annoyed and comforted at the same time. It only makes him more annoyed, and strangely, more comforted; because at least annoyance is an emotion he understands.
“Sam invited me to come see him play on Saturday,” Annie says, voice muffled into his shirt. “He’d been playing guitar when I knocked on the door and I asked him about it.”
“You’re not asking my permission, are you?”
“No. Informing you I intend to come.” Annie moves away, leans against the other side of the doorjamb.
“Now look who’s got the inappropriate relationship with the teenager,” Gene mocks, because it’s easier if this is a joke. Makes it both less and more real.
“Not likely. He’s only got eyes for you. He’s always only had eyes for you.”
Gene studies Annie, wonders again if ---
“No, Gene, I really didn’t continue to love Sam that way, I told you that before,” she interjects. “And you accused me of being simplistic.”
“Then why were you so angry?”
“Because --- he’s so sweet,” she says. “Like Sam could only manage occasionally. And so unfettered. It seems like the worst he can imagine is falling off stage during a gig.”
“He’s not that sweet. He can be cruel when he wants. And he has concerns. Trust me. He’s human.”
“You said he was bitter, he doesn’t seem bitter.”
“He’s not, any more. We fixed that together.”
“Huh,” Annie says; high, lilting.
Gene crosses his arms. He waits for more condemnation. Or worse, consolation. Annie brings herself upright and walks into the kitchen. She comes back with her bag.
“I’ll let you enjoy your evening in peace.”
“You’re so magnanimous.”
“Should I go to the club, or come here first on Saturday? Sam proffered both suggestions.”
Gene frowns, stares at the ceiling for a second. “Which do you prefer?”
Annie’s eyes hold altogether the wrong levels of amusement. “Here. We could grab a bite to eat. I could force you into salad.”
“Here it is, then.”
They say their goodbyes. Gene collapses against the front door when she’s gone. He wonders, now, how he’s meant to feel. Annie always had been changeable, but this is ridiculous. Hating him one second, feeling sorry for him the next. Telling him he’s wrong, admitting she might be. And insisting she’s going to stay in his life in the foreseeable future, because he has no doubt this is only the start.
He tries to muddle through what her motivations might be. Espionage. Duplicity. They all go floating around his mind. But not one makes sense. The only thing that does is remembering the friendship they’d shared. The affection they’d built. How it had all come crashing apart when Sam had died. How she’s the only other person he trusts enough to say words that sizzle and singe through his nerves like gunpowder.
Sam looks up a full five times during his first set. The songs he’s playing are overwrought odes to faithful devotion, and he’s dedicating every single one to him, Gene can tell. In between songs, Annie remarks on how good he is, how good they all are, how much she loves this song and that.
“It’s been an age since I went to a concert,” she says. “I used to go all the time.”
“I’ve been to more gigs in the past year than I had in my life before,” Gene confesses.
Sam comes and sits with them during the break, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he steps over, taking a massive gulp of beer immediately after sitting down.
Gene is surprised by how happy he is about Sam’s fervour. “You think you might wanna be a rockstar instead after all?”
“Instead of what?” Annie asks.
“I’m contemplating quitting the Force,” Sam answers, forthright.
“I’ve tried to convince him the world needs more cops like him, but...” Gene trails off. He shrugs. “It’s not my decision to make.”
“After the trial we were telling you about over dinner,” Sam says to Annie, spinning his glass along the tabletop. “That’s when I’ll say for certain.”
“I can’t imagine you not being a police officer,” Annie says, then realises her mistake without missing a beat and laughs, “’Course, I can’t imagine you being a police officer, either.” She raises her eyebrows at Gene as Sam looks away, as if to say, ‘how do you do it? How do you avoid incrimination?’
“He’s been threatening escape since we met,” Gene says, sardonic. Sam’s head whips around and he stares him down.
Annie picks up the tone. “Doesn’t he appreciate the rewards policing can give?”
“No sense of staying power, youth. Give up at a moment’s notice.”
“I’d’ve thought Sam would have a longer attention span. It’s such a shame.”
“Okay. Thank you,” Sam says, cutting in. “No more talking about me as if I’m not here.”
“You’re not gonna be in a couple minutes,” Gene reminds him. He leans towards Annie, talking conspiratorially. “We’ll continue this when he’s shuffling around the leads and mic stands on stage.”
“You’re both horrible human beings who increase my distrust in so-called civilised society.”
Gene takes a swig of his own beer and smirks. “I’ve always wanted to be that person for someone. I’ve been working at it my entire life.”
Annie glances at him, ducks her head forward demurely. “He’s not joking. I vividly remember his early attempts.”
“Those weren’t early.”
“No, you’d have to go back to prehistoric times to see them, Annie,” Sam chimes in. He finishes his beer, flips Gene a gesture of love and affection, and makes his way back on stage.
“It’s so strange,” Annie says when Sam’s singing back-up and strumming again, gazing towards their table. “Like listening to your favourite album underwater.”
“They’re not that bad.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“You’ll get used to it.” Gene takes her wrist, gives it a shake. She looks at the contact, eyes widening perceptibly. He lets go and returns his hands to his side of the table, picking up his glass and drinking.
“Do you really think he’ll quit?”
“I’m beginning to think he should,” Gene says, frowning as he does so. “I’m worried I pushed him into it in the first place.” He wags a finger as Annie sits forward. “It’s too long a story to tell you at this current moment in time.”
“The trial’s in another two weeks, isn’t it?”
Gene gives an acknowledging hum.
“That’s not so long a wait.”
“It’ll zip by in an---“
Gene’s concentration is interrupted when he notices Sam moving into the centre of the stage. He gestures a question, but Sam doesn’t offer a reply.
“The next song,” the lead singer says, louder than normal, “goes out from our guitarist, Sam, to a very special person in the audience.”
Even from this distance it’s easy to see that Sam’s cheeks are flushed. His chest is rising quickly and his hands are shaking. But he plays the first chord with no problems, and starts to sing at the appropriate time.
“I was feeling done in, couldn't win, I'd only ever kissed before...”
By the time Sam gets to the main chorus of ‘toucha toucha toucha touch me, I wanna be dirty’, Gene’s peripheral vision suggests Annie’s looking at him, but he’s too busy attempting to bore a hole in Sam by dint of will alone.
“Not everything has changed, then,” Annie says, sounding both amused and bemused. She can tell it’s a message, but she doesn’t know what it’s communicating.
“Not everything,” Gene concedes. He tips his head forward in defeat, signalling a silent, ‘you win’ as Sam finishes the song and positively leers at him. “Not even close to everything.”