Summary: Gene has the heavy burden of a promise to keep
Rating: MA - Mature Adults only (may contain drug references, violence, nudity, coarse language, sexual references, adult themes)
Warnings: Loosely based season one
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended
"Jack fell down and broke his crown."
It had been a long time coming, this. He'd waited so long to stand this close to him, to see him, just one more time. Seeing him like this, though, it brought no relief, nor did it assuage the guilt he felt. Had he acted for selfless or for selfish reasons? He sensed the latter, and perhaps that was why he now kept his distance, ashamed. He'd waited so very long, devoured from the inside out with his need to touch him, and yet he could not. He could not bring his unsteady hand to cover the last few inches that separated them.
Lying in that twisted nest of cables, tubes and wires, Sam was nothing more than a piece of meat, kept alive by soulless machines. He belonged to science now, and was guarded jealously by all those hissing and beeping monitors. Sam was no longer his to hold. Perhaps he never was.
He was scared of reaching out and touching Sam, no matter how much he ached to, scared of disturbing some vital piece of machinery, and even more scared that it would make it all real, all of this, and that would mean that this was goodbye, for the last and final time.
He hadn't believed any of it was real, not all the things Sam had told him, even after they had started coming true. Not even when he'd seen Sam standing there on the road, exactly when and where he said he would be. Not even then.
He stepped closer, shaking away terrible memories as they overlaid and intertwined with what he was seeing now. His Sam, his beloved Sam, so close to death, just a breath away. Hand trembling, he reached out and brushed at a lock of hair, needing the contact. The silky strands slipped through his fingers, and he coughed, spluttering suddenly as he fought to keep down the sob that threatened to tear him apart from the inside out.
"Sam, I'm here now," he spoke softly, tenderly stroking across a pale cheekbone. Sam's eyes were closed, and he wasn't sure that Sam could hear him, but he wanted Sam to know that he was here, that he'd kept his promise, every last bit of it.
Well, most of it. He'd promised to stay away, to let Sam live his life, but he couldn't. He just had not been able to keep his distance, not entirely, and he'd watched the boy become the man, always lurking the background, pretending some official reason why he was there, always protective, always helping in some way, the anonymous phone tip, the unmarked envelope slid under doors. It had been too painful to stay away, and yet equally painful to have to watch, but never touch. To hear him and see him, but to never share his smile. He could name the exact time and place of the half a dozen moments he'd actually, accidentally run into Sam, an anonymous stranger Sam had pushed past in the street or corridor. It had broken his heart.
He heart was breaking now, seeing Sam like this, and he still wasn't sure he had done the right thing, even though he had kept his promise.
"Forgive me," he murmured, brushing Sam's white hand with his own. "I've missed you so much," he admitted, touching a gentle kiss to Sam's forehead. "I never told you, I never got the chance to tell you…" He pressed his lips to Sam's mouth, as Sam's breath rattled and wheezed through the tube in his throat. Sam's lips were cold. He kissed him again, and he didn't taste like Sam. He remembered long, sexy snogs tasting of scotch and cigarettes, Sam's tongue twisting with his, Sam's stubble grazing his cheek, Sam's hands on him, Sam's eyes, those bright brown eyes. He'd do anything to see those eyes again.
"I should have told you," he murmured, touching the tip of Sam's nose fondly, then brushing Sam's hair affectionately as he slowly drew back. "Bloody hell, I've missed you, Sammy Boy. You little heartbreaker." He rubbed his hand against Sam's cheek. "You were my…"
"Who are you?" was demanded by a woman behind him.
He didn't even have to turn around to know who was yelling at him, but he did, anyway.
"I just came to see him, to apologise, to say goodbye."
"Who are you," she demanded again, having seen this stranger, this old man, bending over her son's bed.
"Detective Superintendent Gene Hunt, retired," he explained, offering her his cancelled warrant card by way of ID (the local nick had his passport and driver's licence).
She took it for a moment, studying it, then she all but threw it back at him. No need to guess where Sam had got his temper from.
"You. You're the one. How dare you come here. How dare you try and say you're sorry. They say you never even braked."
No, Gene shook his head. He hadn't. If anything, he'd accelerated.
"If you couldn't see him, then you shouldn't be on the road. People like you should have their licences cancelled," she fumed.
"If it's any help, love, they did take it away."
"You should be locked up."
"I probably will be, but for now I'm out. Apparently I'm not a flight risk. There's nowhere for me to go. I just wanted to be here, but I'll go."
"Please do." She was shaky, on the verge of tears.
Gene pushed past her in the tiny hospital room, leaving, then turned back at the door.
"Sam was a good friend of mine, the best friend I ever had. I would have never have done anything to hurt him, but I had to keep the promise I made. It was the last thing he ever asked of me."
"You mean he asked you to, no," she shook her head. "I don't believe it. I won't believe it. Sam would never…I know he was going through a rough patch, but he would never."
"It wasn't like that." Gene tried to reassure her. "The Sam I knew, you would have been proud of him, you should be proud of him. Here." He handed her a neatly folded and yellowed newspaper clipping from the depths of his wallet.
"I've always carried that with me, but you should have it. You won't understand, but there's a reason. We have to believe there's a reason for everything, a meaning, somewhere. Sam tried to find it, maybe he did. I only know that he was my friend, and I loved him, and I would have done, would do, anything for him. Even this. I'm sorry."
And that was all he said, leaving her alone with the tiny wad of newspaper . Exhausted from the encounter, she sat down and carefully unfolded it, and what she saw make her tremble and weep. There was a picture of her Sam, her beautiful Sam, just like he had been, looking directly at the camera, in an old black and white news photo, in old fashioned clothes. The banner headline read: "Hero Cop Dead."
This Sam Tyler had died in the line of duty, died a hero, saving the lives of many. Gene Hunt had carried the newspaper epitaph with him, all these years, a heavy burden. Gene could never explain to anyone how deeply he had grieved for Sam, every single moment since that terrible day, nor the dreadful promise Sam had made him keep with his very last breath, bright scarlet blood gurgling from his lips. No words of comfort, or goodbye, just a promise to keep. Typical Sam. Gene had been worn down over the years, as the clock had ticked closer, but he had kept his word. He had to. And as he'd walked away, he hadn't really cared about what would happen next, now that his role in all of this had been played out, and he didn't care. He knew, now, that Sam, his Sam, had died, many years ago. Seeing Sam now like this was like losing him twice, and he couldn't bear that. So he'd walked away, without looking back.
Ruth Tyler kept staring at the piece of paper in her hands. It couldn't be real, there was no way it could be real, but it looked real, it smelt real, like old pieces of paper were supposed to. The print felt real in her hands, it smudged on her fingers, and she had a vague memory of the story. She unfolded the paper further and read the date: 17th June, 1980. Sam, her Sam, would have been about eleven, becoming like, but not quite the picture she looked at now. Perhaps she remembered the name, or the resemblance, perhaps she'd crossed herself at the eerie coincidence, perhaps it was what had made her worry about Sam in his job so much. It couldn't be Sam, this look alike, named alike, but when she studied the picture, she could see her son's eyes staring back at her.
She crumpled the paper in her hands. No, it couldn't be true. It was all a lie, and for what? That man had killed her son for a lie, and she wished him dead, at that very moment.
Then Sam had stirred and softly uttered the only word she would ever hear him say. Just one word. A name: Gene. And he'd smiled.