Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,300 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1989. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part fourteen in the Changes Series (link takes you to the previous parts.)
Warning: Violence. Homophobic slurs. 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: Gene is mentally composing an excuse when Ruth's expression changes from murderous rage to dawning horror. He's not privy to her mental meanderings, but he has a horrible suspicion he can guess at what they are.
"Oh, no," she whispers. "No. It's not you, is it? You're not his secret? The lover he refuses to talk about. Tell me it's not you."
They don't make appropriate apologetic gifts for these kinds of situations. You can't go into W.H. Smith's and buy a "sorry I didn't tell you about the time travel" card. ”My condolences on suddenly realising the man who's supposed to care for you may be thinking of you as a pale imitation." "Roses are red, violets are blue, your lover's a prick and so are you."
There's no reparation to be made. Nothing he can do or say to make the situation any better. Sam wouldn't believe him anyway, because Sam's not stupid, and this whole thing is.
He thinks he's about sorted out to cope without Sam now, though. It involves a lot of wilful denial and ignoring of pain, but it seems like he's getting on. He's woken up before noon most days, made sure he's had something to eat, left his scotch alone and only had a few beers now and then. That's --- serviceable. Better than last time. It's like an instinct within him realises he has to keep himself grounded, because this time the separation is going to be permanent.
None of this stops him from wondering what Sam's doing every moment of the day. It's been two weeks since Sam left the house, angry and undeniably, understandably confused by Gene's story. Gene gave him three days to himself, thinking he'd want the time alone, knowing that's what he'd want under the same circumstances --- as if such a thing could ever exist. From the fourth day onwards, he's called 'round Sam's flat, but he's either been out or faking it, and this doesn't bode well for reconciliation.
He doesn't know if he wants or expects for them to reconcile. Maybe it's cleaner this way --- a short, sharp snap of the neck to their ill-advised relationship, so to speak.
Except there's nothing clean about it, of course, so even suggesting as such is the basest kind of self-manipulation. And it seems, no matter how confused he is within himself, that he doesn't want to lose Sam.
A small voice cruelly asks him how it's possible to lose something that's already lost.
He can't help but think that after all this, after everything they've been through, this sort of end is simply unfair. It isn't something that's been chosen, it's cards they've been dealt. He doesn't really believe in destiny, but if he did, he thinks there's enough evidence that suggests they should be together. As if they're fated to make the same mistakes over and over again, that there's some bastard obsessed with a flip-book who hasn't figured out he can add or erase a line with the simplest of tools.
He goes to Sam's flat for the umpteenth time and pounds on the front door, waiting for someone to let him in. No one does and he's halfway through walking away when a shout arrests his attention.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
It's the Tyler intonation, but it's all wrong. Gene glances quickly over his shoulder to spot Ruth, expression freakishly distorted as she stares at him.
"What have you done with my son?"
He stops. Stupidly, he thinks. But he stops. He draws up short, turns more towards Ruth. She's still glaring daggers and has come closer.
"Nothing, recently. Why? Haven't you seen him?"
She ignores his question. "What are you doing here? How do you know where Sam lives?"
Gene is mentally composing an excuse when Ruth's expression changes from murderous rage to dawning horror. He's not privy to her mental meanderings, but he has a horrible suspicion he can guess at what they are.
"Oh, no," she whispers. "No. It's not you, is it? You're not his secret? The lover he refuses to talk about. Tell me it's not you." Tears start to well up in her eyes. Gene wants to laugh it off, but finds he's unable. Ruth's face crumples. "Oh God, it's true."
Gene takes a deep breath, wants, once again, to be about to refute Ruth's claim with something believable, but his lies are all exhausted, and he's wholeheartedly sick of this game. He recommences marching down the road.
"Don't run away, you coward," Ruth shrieks.
"Gene Hunt doesn't run. He walks. Briskly." Gene looks back at Ruth over his shoulder. "Look, just follow me, okay? We can have this discussion in a private place, where people are less likely to pay attention to your proclamations I'm a pervert."
"I'm not going anywhere with you."
"Then I'm not telling you what your son's been up to for the past several months, nor giving any clue as to where he may be now."
"So you do know where Sam is."
"If I knew where he was, I'd be with him, but I can make some educated guesses."
Indecision plays across Ruth's features exactly as transparently as it does her son's, and it's obvious she's weighing the pros and cons of believing him. The pros appear to win out because she strides towards Gene. He thinks he should probably have expected the slap, but he hasn't been thinking straight for a while. It stings with a burning intensity. Ruth put her full weight into it and Gene's pretty sure he should feel lucky she went for the slap rather than a knee to the balls.
They don't talk to one another as they walk down the road and hail a cab. Discussing the weather doesn't seem too attractive and Gene's worried that opening up any other lines of conversation will lead to a shouting match. They're silent on the way to Gene's semi-detached.
"I dropped him off here once," Ruth says as they turn into the start of the road. She dips her head. "I can't believe he..." The sentence goes unfinished and Gene doesn't try to reason how it may have ended.
The cab stops, Gene pays, they go into his house and he offers Ruth tea, and it's all so bizarrely commonplace, Gene wonders if it's a nightmare. But instead of hellfire and brimstone there's his second-hand green sofa, plush grey armchairs and pine coffee table surrounding them.
"Tell me why," she demands. "Tell me how you could do such a thing."
"No," Gene answers. "You tell me --- what made you jump to the instant conclusion I was bumming your son?"
Ruth looks stricken, and for the tiniest of seconds, Gene feels a pang of conscience, but it dissipates when he reminds himself that Ruth has been holding back for a long time and he's tired of it, of the omissions, of the lies.
"Most people," he continues, "would assume that their darling child was tangled up in corruption if they were somehow in league with a man they've been taught was famous for it. You didn't. There has to be a reason."
"I don't owe you any explanations. You owe me."
Gene leans forward and speaks deliberately. "Quid pro quo."
Ruth is still evasive, but Gene isn't having any of it. He settles himself in his armchair and glares. He can wait. He'll wait forever to get the answers he wants. He was trained from a young age. He knows his silence can be just as terrifying as his shouting, and Ruth will squirm sooner or later.
"I know he has a man in his life. Someone he doesn't want to talk to me about," she says, finally, lasting longer than Gene had rightly expected. "I know this man has to be older, because of a couple comments Sam's made. There you were, hanging around his block of flats like a bad smell. You can't be trusted. And Sam's always had a streak of headstrong foolishness."
"That's not the whole of it," Gene says. "Come on, Ruth, admit it. You can't be so blind that it's escaped your notice your boy's grown into looking exactly the same as DI Tyler from all those years ago. My friend. The one you said turned up out of the blue again when Sam was six."
"That may be, but it doesn't mean I'm wrong."
"Of course you're wrong. It couldn't be true. Sam's not..." Ruth trails off again. Gene gets increasingly frustrated and try as he might he can't hide it. His voice takes on a rough quality that would have been menacing fifteen years ago but these days mostly sounds tired with the world.
"Not what? What isn't he?"
"Capable of whatever it is you're suggesting."
"No, not yet. Maybe not ever, in this lifetime. I don't know how it works."
"How what works?"
For a second, Ruth looks small in her confusion. It's disarming and Gene almost forgets how lethal she can be, but rubbing his hand over his cheek reminds him with startling clarity. He attempts to pierce her with another look, but he thinks he needs something sharper than what he's got.
"Will you listen to the whole story before you condemn me?" he asks, pouring two glasses of scotch despite never having enquired whether Ruth would want one.
"What will you do if I say no?"
"I'll show you the door and we'll never speak of this again. Which means neither of us will get the answers we seek. But I think we've both gone past that, haven't we?"
"I don't know what you think I could possibly tell you. Seems to me like you're the one with intimate knowledge of my son."
"You could tell me when you first realised, for a start. When you first became scared because what you thought you knew was impossible. It'd be a strange kind of comfort to know I'm not truly alone." Gene frowns to himself.
"I'm not admitting I've realised anything of the sort you're implying. I don't even really know what you're implying."
"No. No realisations for you, were there?" Gene says, acerbic. "Yet you're here. Sitting in my house. Sipping my scotch. Waiting."
Ruth has recovered all her steel and she points an accusatory finger. "You said you could guess where Sam was."
"Right. There's a café we both used to go to. I'll give you the address and you can fuck off."
Ruth's eyes flash bright, so reminiscent of her son Gene's guts clench. "I can fuck off? The nerve of you, Hunt. Oh, please, tell me everything you're so desperately clamouring about. Go on, unburden yourself. I'll just sit here and absorb it all for your pleasure."
The spiky sarcasm is biting, but Ruth doesn't make any effort to move. She's stock still and tense, anticipatory. Gene is temporarily caught off guard once more. As he begins he stumbles over his words.
He tells the whole story, from start to finish, and when he's done he's had three glasses of scotch and two staring matches with Ruth when she's interrupted and resolutely refused to believe him. He thinks he should be used to monologues by now, that he's related this narrative enough times to himself as well as to others. He's sick of his own voice.
"Well. That was an interesting and disturbingly elaborate fairy tale," Ruth says. "But now I think I will go to that café you mentioned."
Ruth stands, but Gene doesn't make any effort to stop her. Instead, he pulls out the photograph he's been keeping in his pocket the past five days and places it on the coffee table. He taps his glass so Ruth won't fail to look, and as she does, as her eyebrows rise high on her head and her mouth opens in surprise, Gene asks what he's been dying to ask since this whole thing began.
"How do you explain it, then?"
Ruth looks at the photograph for a long time. Tears well in her eyes again and this time Gene feels more empathy.
"I can't," she says, eventually. "I want to, but I can't."
"Precisely. We all want there to be some reasonable justification for this whole mess, but there isn't one." Gene studies Ruth as she silently settles back onto the sofa, her lips tight and her back stiff.
"He died," Ruth says. "So young. Twice, in your version of events. Why would any mother wish that upon her son?"
"She wouldn't. But could she accept it as fact regardless?"
Ruth twines her fingers together and gazes again at the photograph on the table. "It doesn't look like I have much choice."
"When was the last time you spoke to Sam?"
"A week and a half ago. He has dinner with me Thursday nights."
"Yeah, I know, he's practically been living here a month and change, remember?"
"You would also no doubt know that he missed last week, rang me up to apologise, but I was busy so I asked if I could call him back. I've been calling him since, but getting no response."
"He's been avoiding you because of the trial, his decision to leave the force," Gene says, "has a guilty conscience after all."
"You know that, do you?"
"No. Once upon a time I might have said yes, absolutely, but as I told you, I've recently seen the error of my ways. This is one of my educated guesses."
"You seem to be making a big deal out of this trial. I can't say I see that Sam did anything wrong."
"You don't understand."
"Not everyone gets to be as hypocritically high and mighty as you, no."
"It isn't that. At least, I don't think so." Gene pauses, collects his thoughts. "The man I knew wouldn’t have lied in criminal proceedings, not even in the name of justice. He may have wanted to, but it would have been a step too far."
"You're sure of that?" Ruth asks, surprising him by sounding for once like she isn't on the edge of throttling him. "Didn't seem to hold much truck with accepted conventions the occasions I met him. Never has as a child."
"Half our lives revolved around him spouting rules at me."
"People often say one thing, do another."
"'Course you'd defend him, you're the response when people ask where he got his morals and manners."
"I'm not defending his actions, I'm just pointing out they're not as unexpected as you seem to believe. Sam's not perfect. Fallen for you, hasn't he?"
"You think I should forgive him his sins?"
"I'm not saying that. Don't think I'm encouraging you to stick around my son, 'cause I'm not. As far as I'm concerned, you can sod off. A teenager like Sam has no business being in a relationship with the likes of you."
"He turns twenty in a week."
"That is no excuse and you know it."
"What are you saying, Ruth? 'Don't damage Sam when you break his heart?' I'll try, but it might be tricky."
"Talk to him. Explain. Don't dump him for your own gratification, upholding of moral superiority, without giving him an opportunity to understand. He deserves better."
"This has nothing to do with superiority. All I've ever wanted is what's best for Sam. When I've failed at that, it's not for lack of desire, only judgement. It's never been my intention to hurt him."
"Then say your goodbyes before you go. He's worshipped you for too long."
A large and unwieldy part of Gene wants to declare that the feeling's mutual, that he'd go to the ends of the earth if it would make Sam happy. It seems that, in defence, Gene is always strong in his convictions. It angers him more than words can say that this isn't his constant state of being.
"They had a conversation, didn't they?" Gene says, more confirmation than question. "The two Sams, all those years ago. They spoke for a while."
"Sammy was missing half an hour. Your Sam was showing him a photo of you both together when I realised what was going on. Apparently he said that if Sammy ever got scared or lonely, he should remember that you existed. That you would always be close by, protecting him, keeping him from harm. Sammy thought you must be some kind of angel. God, he spoke about it for weeks after. It really did take years to convince him you were the devil instead."
"I don't think he was ever thoroughly convinced."
"More's the pity." Ruth frowns, her lips twisting up. "Tell me more about him? The man my son grew into."
"It's not gonna happen now. He's already another person."
"I know. But I'm curious. Please."
"After that, maybe we could put our heads together and sort out where Sam may be."
"What's the saying? The enemy of my enemy?"
"Something like that."
Ruth picks up her glass and signals to the bottle of scotch. Gene quirks an eyebrow, but complies with her unspoken request. If they're to be allies, it will probably be best to be liquored up.
It takes another two days before they manage to track Sam down. He hasn't visited his flat in over a week, seemingly keen to avoid acquaintances and friends. It's Ruth who finally discovers the link, and Gene has a moment of grudging respect. Detective work is in Sam's blood, alongside stubbornness, tenacity, obnoxiousness, and volatility. Sam's been staying with one of his original band-mates, a man he once described to Gene in less than glowing terms --- the words miserly and dick had been used --- so Gene doesn't exactly understand his reasoning. It becomes slightly clearer when Gene hears amongst the dwindling Madchester crowd that the band has reformed. They have an underground bunch of groupies that are thrilled they're playing a gig that night. Which also probably explains why neither Sam nor his band-mate Kevin are at the flat as previously reported.
Gene had contacted Annie the first night he and Ruth went searching for Sam. She comes along for the ride to the club, discussing a series of cases her division are working on in what Gene suspects is an attempt to fill the void stretching throughout the cab. He finds he has little desire to respond to her prattling, and isn't all that surprised Ruth doesn't bother either. He is surprised that the two women don't talk more to one another. He's smart enough to realise that this surprise is unwarranted and it would be inadvisable to state it out loud.
They go straight towards the stage area of the club, Gene purposely barging his way through the baying hordes. The club-goers jostle and push back, but shift to the side when a little force is applied. There's a large crowd this evening. Gene wonders if they're all there to see Sam's band, whether someone else is playing, or whether the beer's cheap.
He's rendered temporarily breathless when he finally sees Sam leaning against the wall to the left of the stage, strumming chords in the air. He blames it on Annie barrelling into his back as he stops suddenly, but when it takes more than two seconds to get his lungs working again he concedes there may be other reasons. Sam looks up, as if sensing him, and immediately his face is a scowl. His gaze is fixed and Gene would bet he hasn't noticed they're not alone.
"I have nothing to say to you," Sam says, darkly.
"Good. You can expend all your energy listening."
"So you can tell me another pack of lies? Your imagination's impressive, don't get me wrong, but I went to a matinee earlier, so my fiction quota's used up for the day."
"He didn't lie to you," Ruth says, drawing Sam's attention.
Sam's shock is evident in every line of his body. He springs off the wall as if electrocuted, limbs going rigid. The words uncomfortable and awkward do little to accurately describe his posture.
"It's true, Sam," Annie adds, flanking Gene's other side.
"And I think you already know that," Ruth continues. "But you're too scared to admit it."
There's a pregnant pause in which Sam slumps back down against the wall. Gene takes a deep, steadying breath and goes to sit next to him, slinging his arm over his shoulders and ignoring Ruth's snuffle of disapproval.
"I've something for you that might soften the blow."
Sam doesn't shrug him off. He's even opening his mouth to speak when there's a commotion several yards away.
"Where is he?" a voice yells, rage-filled. "I know the faggot's around here somewhere."
Gene's about to tell the loud bastard to pipe down when he notices who it is and whom he's headed towards. His anger swiftly rises, surging to take control of his actions.
Carlton is as gigantic as Gene remembers, but this doesn't deter him from standing up and flicking his head back in a display of alpha male bravado. He's successfully confronted and frightened tougher men than the bully in front of him.
"Now, now, little boys shouldn't go around using nasty words like that," Gene says, keeping his tone ice cold and more mocking because of it.
Carlton stops dead and grunts, disbelieving. He looks from Sam to Gene back to Sam again and snarls. "I'd always guessed as much, you sick fuck."
Sam likely has no idea what Carlton's talking about, but he shakily makes his way to his feet to stand alongside Gene, shoulder to shoulder.
Carlton points at Gene. "Who is this, then? Your sugar daddy?"
"What do you want, Carlton?"
"I'm here to haul your arse to the station."
"What's going on?" Ruth interjects, and Gene remembers it's unlikely she knows anything about Sam's tormentor.
"What's going on, Granny, is that this bender is a corrupt waste of space who's going to accompany me to the police station to answer to a higher power."
"You're calling me corrupt? What is it, topsy-turvy day? Hilarious."
Gene admires Sam's reaction. He's calm and dispassionate, not easily rising to the bait. His body betrays him again, his blood pounding thick in his veins and his stomach lurching with need and adoration.
"Bryant's cut a deal. He's gonna give us the names of several key drugs suppliers. But in repayment he wants his revenge on the copper who perverted the course of justice, lied to the Crown Court. Stupid of me to think there'd only be one kind of perversion you'd be into."
An edge of panic comes across Sam's features. "This isn't official," he says. "Can't be. They wouldn't send a lone officer."
"I'm the advance team. I wanted to be the first to cut you down to size."
"No one's cutting anything. This is ludicrous, not to mention baseless," Gene says, stepping forward and shoving at Carlton's shoulder. "I suggest you go and find something worthwhile to do with your time."
Instead of heeding what Gene thought was fairly friendly advice, Carlton grips his wrist tight, twists his hand away, and socks him with a right-hook. It's a momentary shock that leaves him reeling, but within another second, he's attempting to haul Carlton against the wall and lay into him. Gene has a lot of brute strength, but Carlton has height and bulk in his favour. When Carlton picks him up he feels like a rag doll and in this moment Gene can fully appreciate how utterly defenceless Sam must have felt during every single one of his beat-downs. It's an unfair competition. Like a kitten against a steamroller. He'll be flat and bloodied within ten seconds and the most he could hope for is ruining the machinery.
He doesn't bank on Sam climbing on Carlton's back and clobbering him around the head with his free fist. Doesn't make allowances for both Ruth and Annie joining the fray. His ears are ringing and his head's dizzy, but he's vaguely aware their brawl has extended beyond them and has set off a chain of violence, a battlefield akin to a riot around them, like something from one of his beloved Westerns.
He's freed from the unceremonious grip he found himself in and Carlton's immediately on the ground, Annie standing on his chest as Ruth screams at him to leave her son alone. But there's shouting behind him too, and he swings around in time to see the punch before it glances off his nose. He's pushed to the side --- belatedly realising by Sam --- but there's another blow to his head and his surroundings become shaky.
Sam appears to be holding his own against three other men, though Gene can't dismiss he may have triple vision as well as a searing stitch. There's the sound of glass breaking as he stumbles over to assist, a table close by overturning, accompanied by the shrill scream of a woman, but he doesn't pay any of that much attention. His eyes rove between Sam and potential escape routes.
"Watch out!" Annie yells, and it takes Gene a second to realise why, but then he sees the bloke wielding the half-broken bottle towards Sam's chest.
"You fucking pillock," Gene barks. "You're gonna kill someone."
He guesses the bloke isn't caring much about that when he swings the broken shards of glass again. He's getting perilously close to Sam, stabbing forward wildly, and in an unthinking flash, Gene steps in front of one vicious arc. He knocks the man off balance and sends him hurtling next to Carlton, which he's sure makes him the hero of the piece and deserving of fierce adulation, but he's rewarded with a gasp from Ruth instead. He's confused and the stitch in his side has become more painful, and Gene doesn't really know why he's collapsing to his knees, before he looks and sees a red stain blooming on his shirt.
As blood oozes through his fingers and it gets increasingly difficult to breathe, Gene stares up at Sam and thinks that this is right, this fits. Sam is safe, and free, and will be happy again one day. And then the world goes black and he doesn't think at all.