Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 4,350 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1989. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. The fifteenth and final full-length part in the Changes Series (link takes you to the previous parts.)
Summary: "There you are," Sam says, warm and quiet.
"Haven't managed to shake the affliction of stating the bleeding obvious, I see," Gene returns. "You'd think they'd have sorted out some kind of pill by now."
There's conversation around him. Sometimes he makes sense of it, often it's fragmented and his mind is cloudy. Sometimes he thinks he recognises the voices, often all he can hear are vaguely formed words. He tries to ignore most of it, wanting only to sleep. He slips in and out of wakefulness, but never opens his eyes. It would be too much effort and there's a dull throbbing all over his body, like he's been through a mangler and tenderised all on one monstrous machine. He's sore, but he isn't overwhelmed, and he surmises he must be on painkillers.
As time passes, he finds it increasingly difficult to block out discussion. Words become clearer, his brain less fuzzed.
"... rest, I couldn't without knowing he's gonna wake up."
"The doctor says he will when he's ready, Sam. You need to sleep."
He opens his eyes at Sam's name. It seems as good a time as any.
"Could you all kindly shut your gobs?" Gene asks, "I'm trying to get some kip here."
There's an exclamation and immediate hustle and bustle, all a ridiculous fuss. He gazes at Sam, whose hand has gripped his. Sam gazes back with a watery-eyed smile.
"There you are," Sam says, warm and quiet.
"Haven't managed to shake the affliction of stating the bleeding obvious, I see," Gene returns. "You'd think they'd have sorted out some kind of pill by now."
Sam grips his hand tighter, but Gene doesn't think it's revenge.
"Right, he's awake," Ruth says, firmly. "You can go sleep now."
Sam looks at her and doesn't say a word, but the message is loud and clear. 'That's not going to happen any time soon.'
Ruth sighs, but doesn't argue the point. "I'm going to go get some coffee and tell Annie the good news. Take care of one another. If he tries to leave the bed, Sam, don't be afraid to thwack him one." Ruth fixes Gene with a look. "Try to ensure Sam agrees to go to bed after you've had a chat, please."
Gene nods, he's guessing it's the least he could do. He doesn't know how long he's been out of it, but judging by the bags around both Sam's and Ruth's eyes, he suspects it's been all night and a better part of the day. Ruth leaves them, and Gene is almost taken aback by the gratitude he feels. They're not yet alone, there are two nurses here to poke and prod him, but they'll be gone soon enough.
"What's the damage?" he asks, still feeling groggy and wondering if that will be a permanent fixture in his life from now on.
"Surprisingly minor," one of the nurses replies. She's an older, broad woman, diligently checking his pulse and moving his head this way and that with no-nonsense practiced efficiency. She's comforting in a way Gene wouldn't have expected. "You have severe lacerations in your side, however, all major organs were mercifully avoided. Best not to get involved in any more bar-fights, though."
Gene feels a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I'll try, matron."
"No lip, Mr Hunt," the second nurse reprimands. "If it weren't for us here at the hospital, you'd be dancing to the devil's fiddle."
The nurses do a final check and depart, not giving a verdict on how Gene's faring. He presumes that means he's actually not on the cusp of death, though if he moves a certain way it feels like it. The dull throb has escalated to more of a series of sharp stabs.
"I thought you were gone." Tears threaten to escape down Sam's cheeks. He brushes at his nose with the heel of his hand.
Gene hasn't seen Sam cry in a long time. He'd hoped he'd never have to see it again. It does strange things to him, makes him want to punch and hug simultaneously. Fortunately, he doesn't think he's physically capable of either at this current moment.
"It takes more than a bit of glass to slow down the Gene Genie," he says, willing his expression not to scrunch up at the fact some days he may as well be a parody of himself.
"Gene Genie," Sam reiterates, scoffs, like he did all those months ago. Then his demeanour changes, he frowns softly. "Is that what he used to call you?"
"It was a nickname I gave myself," Gene replies. "People always assumed I did so not knowing the meaning behind the Bowie song. The joke was on them." He thinks back. "Sam may have used it once or twice, most likely when he was being a shit." Gene pauses, takes a deep, painful breath. "Willing to concede I wasn't lying, then?"
"Annie showed me some more photographs," Sam says, ducking his head. "And I remember him. Me." He looks up. "I'd already remembered."
"I know it's confusing."
"Strange is what it is. Does it mean I can do it too? Go back into the past? Maybe even forward into the future?"
"I don't know. Don't know how we'd find out, either."
"I wouldn't want to," Sam says. "It must have been like a long, drawn-out nightmare at first."
Gene nods. "Yeah, he hated it to begin with. I could tell at the time, too, but I didn't know why. I thought he was a regular transfer from Hyde. We'd even talk about Hyde, and in all that time, I'd no idea he was using it as a code for decades in the future. No one would make that assumption, not unless they were bonkers."
"Both mum and Annie have said he was, a bit..." Sam trails off.
"Crazy? Sam? Not really. No more than anyone else. Worse at hiding the fact, perhaps." Gene raises an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I sometimes feel like I'm missing something. A piece of me. That night I first met you, the sensation disappeared for a while."
"It was like you said, I understood things about you that not even you understood at the time. The things you and Sam had in common."
"Me and Sam." Sam rubs his head, closes his eyes. Looks like he might roll off the chair, lie down on the floor, and sleep.
Gene goes to move, thinks better of it. He studies Sam again, the bags under his eyes, the lengthening stubble. He looks like he's been through the same mangler Gene was mauled by. It's an extremely disconcerting sight.
"You didn't have to stay with me the whole time. I wasn't lucid, I wouldn't have known."
"All the more reason to stay, really."
"Except for the bit where you're obviously knackered and have been in the wars yourself."
"Yeah, well, I can manage. I'll be fine after a nap."
Managing, Gene reflects, is not the same as being fine. He thinks about saying that, but refrains.
"What's going on with Carlton?"
"Not much. We've come to the conclusion he didn't want to be arrested in connection with starting a riot, because he disappeared at about the same time you were attacked. That nutter's gone into a nice, locked cell, by the way."
"Shouldn't you be in the midst of questioning right now?"
"I was. It's been four days, Gene."
"And there I was, thinking the beard's a fashion statement," Gene says. He attempts levity, but he has a horrible feeling he ends up at flippant. He clutches for Sam's hand again, gives it a small shake. "Sorry."
"So you should be," Sam grumbles. "Even mum was worried on your behalf, and she hates you."
"Hate's a strong word," Ruth voice says from the doorway. "Dislike and disapproval, sure. Hatred, no." She looks pointedly at Gene again as she says, "Sam, go have a lie down now."
"Yeah, get yourself in a comfortable bed," Gene reiterates. "I promise I won't go anywhere."
Sam reluctantly stands, shuffles towards the door, barely taking his eyes off Gene.
"I'll be back later," he insists.
"Only after you've had a good meal and a wash. You look emaciated and you stink," Gene returns.
"If you hadn't saved my life in recent days I'd be telling you where you could shove a good meal and a wash," Sam says, with a half-smile and slight hand gesture.
"Please, don't soften on my account. I don't need your kid gloves. Or, in your case, should that just be 'gloves'?"
Gene expects Ruth to go with Sam, but she doesn't. She hovers in the doorway. "Annie'll be along in a moment," she says. She hesitates. "I know we think the worst of each other, but it's obvious to me we both have Sam's best interests at heart. I trust you'll do the right thing."
She leaves, and Gene stares at her retreating back. He thinks she's probably right. If only he knew what the right thing was.
The following days are difficult. Sam comes back looking healthier, happier, but continually unwilling to leave Gene's side. Annie and Ruth make suggestions, but he ignores them. He only goes when the doctors and nurses force him to, and doesn't look at all happy about the imposition. Gene keeps wanting to tell Sam to go himself, but he thinks he should wait until he's safely out of hospital. He can't blame Sam for wanting to ensure the man who saved his life is going to be all right in the long run. He'd feel the same.
Sam also tells everyone he's officially resigned from the Force. Gene's surprised, but he feels a wave of relief rather than disappointment or anger. Resignation is a marked improvement over being kicked out, and he knows, despite the current radio silence, that Carlton will be back to cause trouble and strife when the mood strikes him. He's the type of insufferable prick who couldn't resist. Ruth is on the other side of pleased that her son is leaving a dangerous profession, despite him not knowing what he wants to do next. She seems to view it as a victory. She makes it clear she never wanted him to be a cop in the first place; she's offered support because that's what mothers do. Annie's the only one who voices an objection to Sam quitting.
"You have such talent," she laments. "Gene's told me all about how you tracked him down. That took skill."
"If only I had half the dedication when on the beat," Sam retorts. He explains, calmly, simply, and Gene's impressed, until he thinks about it more and realises he's to blame. "When I was very young I wanted to be a cop because I thought that would give me a way to find my dad. As I grew older, I thought it'd give me a way to learn the truth about who he'd been and the troubles he'd gone through. And that became me thinking I could avenge him. But I know the truth, Annie, and there's nothing to avenge. I don't love policing and it doesn't love me. It's an imperfect fit."
By the fourth day Gene's stabbing pain escalates further into sharp, constant jabs, until he's dosed up with stronger painkillers. The bandages come off and he sees the damage. He looks like Frankenstein's monster, skin stretched haphazardly over muscle and clumsily stitched. For a few seconds he's acutely aware he's thankful he's alive.
Jackson, Trisha and Tyrone visit six days into Gene's enforced hospital stay, bringing a basket full of fruit and a giant card.
"Everyone at the community centre's missing you, but I've tried to fill the gap," Jackson says. "I call at least two people scumbags every day, and I called Pauline a nasty little scrote last night."
"It's true," Trisha confirms. "His impersonation is dead-on. You'd be proud."
Gene makes to clip Jackson around the ear, but he's heartened to know that Jackson's finding his feet again. He's started a band of his own, has been offered a part-time job by Roger. Things are on the up. They have Sam's birthday celebration that day; with cake he's not allowed to eat, and sequestered beer he's not allowed to drink. Ruth brings baby pictures and Gene isn't stupid enough to think she's not sending him a not-so-secret message.
He's discharged from the hospital after another week. He hobbles outside, assisted by Sam, who takes one of his arms around his shoulders and bears his weight.
Gene holds on tight. "I may flounder, but I'll never fall. Couldn't. You're always there to prop me up."
It's supposed to be sarcastic. He's going for mockery. It's one of the most sincere things he's said in his life.
Sam doesn't reply, concentrating on helping him into a cab, but his eyes shine bright once he's finished and there's a flush over his cheeks. Gene wants to bang his head against the seat in front for his accidental encouragement.
When Sam finally goes home, after two hours of coddling and tutting, Gene allows himself time to wallow over his current predicament. When Sam was angry he had a better chance of his plan working out, but there's no anger and precious little distance between them now. Sam's infatuation has come back full force, and after almost losing everything, the largest part of Gene is disinclined to spurn him.
It's another week of recovery before Gene has the strength to bring up the conversation he's been dreading. He's discussed the matter with Annie, who was no help at all, pointing out --- probably rightly --- that he'd do the opposite of her advice anyway.
They're sitting watching television when Gene broaches the subject. Sam's legs are slung over his, his head tilted back against the arm-rest. He looks content, which means this is absolutely the worst time to shatter his illusions; conversely also making it the best time, because maybe it will finally stick.
"I have something for you."
Gene reaches onto his end table to pull his folder close. It's what he had wanted to give Sam the night of the riot. Something that, at that time, he'd thought would soften the blow. He passes the folder over and waits for the reaction.
“You couldn’t be less subtle if you tried, could you?” Sam asks with a derisive snort within five seconds of glancing at the folder's contents. He swings his feet to the ground and nudges into Gene. "Why do you keep pushing me away?"
"Because it's for the best."
"On whose authority?
Sam looks through the folder again, the tickets and the booking information. An around the world trip --- and not a succinct eighty days' worth --- but months of tours and planned journeys that would consume close to a year. The uppermost ticket is airfare with a set date a week from now. The initial plan had been to give Sam a month to get used to the concept, but that time had seemed to speed by.
"This looks extensive," Sam says, quirking an eyebrow. "Expensive," he corrects, looking closer to accusatory than grateful.
"No five star hotels, you'll be spending some of it backpacking, but, yeah, it cost a pretty penny," Gene admits. He's hoping this will act as leverage. "Enjoy."
"Yeah. If you think I'm going to leave the man I love behind whilst I go traipsing on a jaunt across the seas, you've got another think coming."
Gene sucks in a breath. This was precisely the reaction he'd been anxious about. "You don't love me, Sam. It's infatuation."
"You believe that as strongly as I do, which is to say not at all. What, when all this started, you never considered the idea that if I fell in love with you once, I could do it again?”
“I thought about it,” Gene says, quietly. His lungs protest the admission, wheezing painfully. He waits a moment before he finishes, bleary-eyed and indignant. “I dismissed the idiocy.”
“It’s not idiotic that I should love you,” Sam says, jutting his chin forward. He looks determined. Intractable.
“You’re not gonna start on that ‘you’re so very young and I’m so very old’ routine again, are you? It gets boring after the first iteration, let alone the ninth.”
“Yes, I am. There’s any number of things you could be doing with your life and the last thing you need is a decrepit old bastard like me weighing you down.”
“I suppose we’ll have to add ageist onto the list of the many ists you represent. Far above pragmatist, and just below egotist.” Sam stares at him as if he could change his mind with a glance, and sometimes Gene thinks he can. “Look, I get it, okay? I know you’re probably right. This is not the way things are meant to be. We come from different times, different understandings. You make jokes I’ll never get, I have interests you’ll never have.
“But that hasn't stopped us so far. We've made it work. You can't tell me things aren't good between us." He presses forward. "I wanna be with you. You once told me I shouldn’t be afraid to love. Fuck, I once told me I shouldn’t be afraid to love. So I’m not going to, Gene. I’m not gonna let go.”
Gene pulls away. “And what if I told you that you should ‘cause I don’t love you back, Sam? I loved him. He’s not you.”
The words stab into his chest the second he says them and he prepares himself to see Sam's resolve crumble into a thousand pieces.
He doesn't bank on that not happening. He doesn't ever consider that Sam's reaction might be the reverse.
“I’d tell you to stop lying, ‘cause if you didn’t care you wouldn’t be saying it.” Sam is fierce, unguarded, obviously sure in his conviction. It makes Gene's stomach drop, that Sam could believe something he's not even positive about himself.
“Don’t you think this should be my choice?" Sam continues. "Isn’t that what the older version of me said?”
“The older you said you should go and live a totally different life, far away from the likes of me.”
“The older me was a fool!”
Gene wants to shout. He wants to punch, he wants to leave. But instead he stares, feeling heat rocket through his skin. "You don't get to make that call."
Sam's eyes become shuttered, his skin pales. “I’m sorry. But if he --- if I ever really intended to let you go, why did I do the things I did? Visit myself and tell me about you, ask you to talk to me personally when I was old enough to," Sam pauses, seems to gather his thoughts, "to develop a physical fascination? I know myself pretty well. Better than I did originally, I think. I’m not entirely sure my intentions were all that honourable.”
Gene contemplates. If it's true, to his mind, it had to have been unintentional. Sam had always been a manipulative bastard, but not like this. This was cruel.
He presses his hand to his forehead. “I think my brain’s going to explode.”
“Why do I get the horrible feeling in your eyes that would be the perfect solution?”
Gene avoids looking at Sam’s face, concentrating on the window instead. He can’t deny that. He's never been one to wish for death, not even at his lowest, but to lose his life saving Sam's had felt like a worthwhile cause.
Sam's voice cuts into his thoughts, low and mocking, but somehow warm too. “No, you feel nothing for me at all.”
"You're not him. You've had two separate lives. You do understand that, right?"
"Of course I do," Sam says. "But I guess the lines are blurred, for me. He's what I could have become. What I suppose I still could become, in a way. And, I don't know. I understand. Who'd want to lose this? Us?" He gives a wry smile. "Besides, I know you love me for exactly who I am. I'm adorable."
Gene stares at the carpet for a long time, mulling over Sam's proclamations. He's peripherally aware of Sam going to his drinks cabinet and pouring him a glass of Glenlivet. He takes the proffered drink and downs it in one go. There are countless arguments he thinks about starting, and countless he dismisses. Sam sees things in black and white --- always did. His mind is made up and that's that.
Gene has a last-ditch attempt. He passes the folder back to Sam. "Look, go around the world. See what life has to offer. Eat and drink and fuck and love, and if, after that, you wanna spend your time with a crumbling, rust-filled bag of bones like me, well, on your own head be it.”
Sam’s brows knit together. "Do you mean that?"
"Yes. I do."
"No more, 'Sam, we shouldn't be doing this because I'm a pile of cracked crockery and you're a veritable sex god'?"
"Not a word."
"No disappearing act?"
"I promise. But you'd have to promise me that you would do everything in your power to enjoy yourself, that you would commit to it."
"I could do that so long as I knew that when I came back you'd accept this, accept us."
"You mightn't want that," Gene says quietly. "You might not come back. Not if you did as I say and put your heart, head and soul into relishing the experience."
Sam shrugs one shoulder, but something about the way he avoids Gene's gaze suggests it's less 'maybe' and more 'if that's what you think.' It makes Gene despair.
Sam looks through the tickets again. Begins to read a page. "If I say no, can these be refunded?"
"Probably. But if you say no, I don't think I could ever forgive the snub. That would be it between us."
"You could always come with me."
"Oh yeah, brilliant idea that," Gene says. He slips into his least flattering impersonation of Sam, because he wants to get his point across and in his experience nothing's as successful as mockery. "'Gene, Gene, let's climb that mountain, it looks really wicked and I bet I could get some amazing photos!'" He replies in his own voice. "'Bugger, I think I've dislocated a hip.'"
Sam looks singularly unimpressed. "It doesn't have to be like that."
"Doesn't mean it won't be."
"You're not even willing to entertain the idea?"
"I've not got the cash to take it to the pictures, wine it or dine it. No. Not willing." Gene does his best not to sigh, but he can't eradicate every exasperated tone out of his words. "Most people would be jumping at this opportunity. Sane people would beg."
"Fine, then. Fine," Sam exclaims, throwing up his hands for what Gene presumes is dramatic effect. "I'll go. But I want your assurance --- no, dammit, I want your guarantee --- that when I return you're mine."
"Sam, I'm yours now. That's why I've done all this. You know that."
"Gene..." Sam starts, but he doesn't finish. He shakes his head.
"You'd regret not seeing the wonders of the world. I know that for a fact," Gene says, pressing the point until it's as deep as it can be. He knows it will hurt, it might even leave a lasting mark. "And when you come back," he says, measuring his words carefully, "if you still want everything you want now, no more prevarication. No holding you at arm's length. I'll capitulate."
Sam stares at him a long time before leaning in for a kiss. Gene acquiesces, just this once, licking over his teeth and into his mouth, deep and warm and yielding.
Standing in the departure lounge, Gene doesn't know what to do with his hands. He constantly wants to reach out and hold Sam, but he won't.
"This is very generous," Ruth says for the fourth time. She's nervously twisting her hands and glaring balefully.
The glare isn't directed at him, though. Couldn't be, he doesn't think, considering they came up with the idea of giving Sam this year abroad together. She's trying to convince Sam that this experience will be good for him.
"It's cruel and unusual punishment," Sam says, but for all his protestations, he looks cheerful and excited, bouncing with frenetic energy.
"It's exceedingly generous," Gene counters. "The lengths I'm compelled to go to, to save Sam from himself."
Ruth almost smiles at that, a shadow of shared humour at Sam's expense. She glances away quickly.
There are only a few minutes left before Sam has to go and he fiddles with his bag every twenty seconds, checking and rechecking that he has everything on his list. He's off to Australia first --- a tactical move on Gene's part. As far away, attractive and full of adventure as possible.
He's battling a not-so-civil war inside his head between wanting success in the plan of sending Sam off into the world to conquer his own destiny, and having Sam return experienced in many of life's joys and still wanting him. It's a bloody battle and the only prisoner will be his pride.
Finally, Sam's called to the gate, and he rummages around in his hand luggage for one last time.
“What are you doing, Sam?”
“I’m coming back to you,” Sam says, earnestly, like his heart is three sizes too big and he has to release some of the energy contained. He straightens up and crowds into Gene's space, pressing a photograph into his hand. “I’ll always come back to you, Gene.”
There isn’t an appropriate reaction. Not a word nor an expression. Nothing he can do that will convey what those words mean to him. Gene settles on pressing a kiss to Sam’s head and muttering into his hair.
“You’re so very young.”
Watching the plane go is a bitter kind of sweet. He has all the hope in the universe, aimed towards an unknown conclusion. He's watching Sam leave him again, feeling like it's the end of everything, even though he knows this time it's just the beginning.
And it's bizarre, Gene thinks, how little some people change.