Summary: Sam is arrested for murder
Rating: M - 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
Gene was sitting at his chair, solid and unmoving, as though petrified. The case, too, had slowed from a trickle to a stagnant stop. Nothing new had come back from the lab, no new witnesses had been found and anyone who might have known something had clammed up or crawled back under their respective rocks. Known and notorious drinking holes could safely withstand cannon fire, so deserted were they when Gene’s men showed up: seats empty, pint glasses drained and cigarettes still smoking in the ashtrays, like a villain’s version of the Marie Celeste.
There was no more evidence proving Sam’s innocence, and more than enough to take to the CPS and get Sam charged good and proper. Gene had been stonewalling, trying to drive the case the way he wanted it to go, and this heavy handling had not gone unnoticed by either those above or below. In fact, he suspected both factions had now cut him out of the loop, for why else would his lord and master deign to pay him a visit on his own turf, if not for another friendly chat about cooperation and expediency?
“I’m not taking any case upstairs that isn’t watertight. So far we’ve only got the most circumstantial of evidence and no witnesses. I won’t risk any case falling apart for lack of evidence.”
“This has become a hot potato, Gene. If the people are afraid of the police…”
“They should be.”
“We need to be seen to be policing our own. Didn’t you once argue that, Gene?” Rathbone smiled, callously throwing Sam’s own words straight back in Gene’s face, his smile widening as he saw he’d hit a bullseye.
Gene glared at him, his eyes saying what his mouth dare not.
“I will not sacrifice Tyler to expediency. He deserves better than that. I want to have enough evidence to prove his guilt or innocence one way or the other, beyond reasonable doubt, before I hand it over.”
“Isn’t that for the courts to decide?” Rathbone suggested, all mild concern, like a vicar making delicate barbs at a garden party.
Gene drew back to say something, but thought better of it at the very last moment and swallowed it, leaning on his desk instead and feigning deep concentration on the reports he’d been staring at without seeing before..
Rathbone took the momentary pause as an opportunity to turn over some of the loose pages of notes on Gene’s desk, regarding them with both distaste and disinterest.
Gene, for his part, kept his attention wholly on the report he had in front of him, not even glancing up for a second. If he was going to be bollocked, well, Rathbone could just get on with it and go. Gene was busy.
Rathbone coughed discretely, and when that failed to bring him Gene’s attention, he merely coughed and announced: “Jimmy Patterson’s brief has been complaining loudly and unhappily. He says you roughed up his client.”
“Jimmy Patterson is a lying scumbag who’s so slippery he can’t stay on a seat without sliding off. I’m surprised you pay any attention to anything that came out of the gob of that lying little shite.”
“So the allegations of police brutality are untrue. I’m so glad to hear it.”
Gene’s eyes lifted from his notes and held Rathbone’s steadily, daring him to make an issue of it and call him a liar.
Rathbone’s mouth sneered, as though he’d just finished sucking on a particularly tart lemon.
“Don’t push your luck, Gene,” he warned. “You’re on very thin ice around here. Your DI is up for murder and dirt sticks. A lot of people would be very happy to see you go down with him.”
Gene just nodded, as though taking the advice on board. “Yes, Sir. I’ll remember that.” He was all schoolboy obedience, but there was a definite and dangerous undercurrent flowing just below.
Sam was surrounded by hospital noises, voices dully discussing him, almost too muffled to hear them distinctly, yet he heard his name spoken, clear enough. As he woke slowly the sound of the voices sharpened, a doctor and a nurse, discussing his case, some mention of him being a police officer. He opened his eyes slowly and the voices trailed off for a moment, to be replaced by a question, directed at him: how was he feeling?
How was he feeling? Irritation snapped him wide awake and he was instantly aware of how he was feeling. Either the NHS was really on a slide or he was still stuck in 1973 surrounded by medieval equipment and people he regarded as little better than the butcher surgeons and quacks of old. They were poking and prodding him with what looked like Victorian equipment in his eyes and it bloody hurt.
"How do I feel? Like I've been hit by a car and shagged by a porcupine," he answered sourly as they extracted another syringe of what must be a rapidly diminishing supply of blood from his veins.
The nurse made a note on his chart and shared at sharp glance with the doctor, who barely raised a shrug.
Sam kept his next witticism to himself, lest they sick the shrink onto him. Sam was actually very afraid of condemning himself from his own mouth, letting slip something in a moment of weakness that would prove, without doubt, that he was a madman and quite possibly capable of what he was accused of.
He held fast to the idea that he couldn't, he wouldn't, that he was a good man, a good cop, but those self truths had taken a beating of late. He'd done things, here, that he would have never have done in 2006. He'd done things he wasn't proud of. He'd done things he wished he could take back.
Worse, his father was a cold blooded killer, so he knew he had it in him. What if he had done these things, and only guilt stopped him remembering. Gene had thought so, and that had been the deepest cut, to see himself reflected in Gene's eyes, like that.
So Sam said nothing. Nothing about the pain, nothing about his terror and nothing about wanting to wake up now, even if it was to a half life as a cripple. How long had he been here now? Months, or minutes? It wasn't, it couldn't be real, but it felt real. He was in agony, or maybe he was feeling the broken bones from his other life at last, bleeding through into this one. His head hurt and he closed his eyes again. Wake up, he demanded of himself.
Failing that, he cried silently for Gene, knowing that only Gene could save him now. He remembered the shadows in Gene's face the last time he'd been here, and even that hope was slipping away. If Gene couldn't save him, he was...lost.
The flat yellow envelope appeared out of nowhere on the top of Gene’s in tray with the all the other documents and files he’d barely touched, consumed with his one case. He’d ignored it for a day and a half but now, as he sat there, tired and thinking, it was staring back at him, and he figured he might as well open it and either file it back in the tray or in the bin. Unthinking, he just tore it open, and a small sheaf of black and white photos tumbled out, scattering across his desk. Photos which he very quickly gathered up again, and checked under and around the desk to make sure he’d caught them all.
His pulse racing now, he quickly went through them, one by one. They were photos of him, and Sam, together. Surveillance photos, a proper PI job, mostly taken while there were on duty, and thus hardly incriminating, but there were a handful that weren’t, and they were very incriminating indeed. There was one where he was brushing Sam’s cheek, another where he was holding his arm, holding Sam just a little too close, and there were three, taken in a series, that had caught them, albeit shadowy and indistinct, in Gene’s own house while the Missus was away. His own house. The bloody bastard must have been hiding in the bushes like a pervert.
There was one where they were standing close, and the next one they were embracing very warmly indeed. Gene remembered that night. It had been a warm Summer night and Sam was doing the washing up, lest he leave the tell tale second cup behind. What had amused Gene at the time was that Sam had been washing up naked, and Gene just couldn’t let him alone, distracting him, teasing him. He remembered he’d scooped suds out of the sink and fashioned two little horns and two small but perfectly form breasts on Sam out of foam, and Sam had laughed as the foam had melted, small streams of soapy water running down his face and chest. He’d been so bright eyed, his hair all wet and spiky, and Gene had bent to blow the last of the bubbles away, chasing them softly over Sam’s chest, and Sam had giggled, leaning back and twisting slightly in Gene’s arms as Gene tried to hold him still. Holding had led to kissing, and kissing had led to, well, before long Sam was bracing himself against the sink, rocking back and forth with Gene inside him. Gene remembered now, he couldn’t see outside.
It had been late evening and dark, and he could only see their reflections in the window glass, his, and Sam’s, beautiful, long lashes on his cheeks as he eyes closed, the look of intense concentration, followed by a sensual softening of his features as he went with the flow, moving as one with Gene, until finally, that small look of pain as he came, as though that one moment of release had to be wrenched from him. And then Sam would start breathing again, smiling a lazy smile as his heart pulsed and his skin tingled.
Even now Gene’s skin flushed and prickled at the memory. Until he turned to the last photograph. It was the both of them, caught somewhat fuzzily but unmistakably mid-act in Gene’s kitchen. Across the photo had been scrawled the word “poofter!” in black felt pen, all capitals, just in case Gene missed the point. Gene wanted to tear it up. He wanted to burn it, but he stayed his hand. It was evidence, evidence that someone knew, someone was watching. But who? He glanced around at the CID room outside his office. The thought made him squirm.
He put the photos away carefully in his breast pocket, and they hung there, like lead, all day.
Jackie Queen quickly thumbed through the photographs, pausing at the last few, but saying nothing. She glanced up at Gene’s glowering face. He was expecting her to confess. She shoved the photos back at him.
“It wasn’t me. I don’t do that sort of thing, and don’t you go saying different or this meeting is over. Even if I had arranged for them to be taken, which I didn’t, why would I send them to you instead of splashing them all over the evening edition. Unless you think I’ve got a nice sideline in blackmail going, no don’t answer that. Is it? Is it blackmail?”
Gene shook his head. “No note, no phone calls. Just these. Not even a post mark.”
Jackie took the envelope from him and turned it over, before handing it back. He was right. It must have been dropped off by hand.
“I don’t suppose you’ve bothered to ask anyone else, though I don’t suppose you could. You’ve really dropped yourself in it, but you know that, don’t you. Whoever did this, they know, and they have the negatives, and probably more than just these. Who have you pissed off Gene, or is it still a case of the queue forming to the left?”
Gene just scowled at her.
“You didn’t seem surprised,” he spoke at last.
“At this? No. I knew. I saw you both, remember. I heard you. That WPC might try holding his hand but Sam’s been yours since he got here, hasn’t he. I could see it. Somebody else has seen it, too. You’ve been very careless, Gene. How unlike you,” she scolded softly, then she saw his face.
She couldn’t work out why Gene had been so careless, or even why he had bothered to come here, to what? Accuse her of spying on him? Ask for her help? She couldn’t work it out at all until she saw it in his face.
“Oh my god, no. It can’t be. It is. You poor, stupid, bastard. You've never been in love before, have you Not being crazy do anything, any where crazy, reckless love, shag in all the wrong places, if you don't shag you'll die kind, anyway, have you? No wonder you’re arse backwards and coming to me for help, the last person on earth you’d ever ask. He’s got you turned all upside down and up until now you’ve been loving every minute of it. I bet he cut your legs rights out from under you the moment you saw him. How long did it take before you were drunk enough to kiss him?”
Gene wasn't about to dignify that with an answer, but she could read his face well enough to know she was right. The poor, pitiful bastard. Tyler had him upside down and inside out and he just couldn't think straight.
She smiled at the poor joke. She'd always imagined Gene to be as straight as an arrow, but it turns out he'd just been waiting for Sam Tyler to walk into his life. Too bad it was turning out to be the worst thing that had ever happened to Gene. Up until now, she bet it had been the best thing. Poor Gene. To fall like this, at his age. It must be so damned embarrassing.
She tried not to let her amusement at his predicament show. It was cruel, and also unfair. Whoever was pulling the strings on this little fitup was a vicious bastard, and not even smug little Sam Tyler deserved to be taken down quite that hard.
“The only thing you had going for you was that I would have never have thought that Tyler was your type.”
“Enough,” Gene pleaded, stripped bare. She could always do that to him, strip him right back to the bone.
“Don’t go all sulky on me. I won’t tell, I promise. Not this. There’s nothing to be gained by it.”
That was only part of the reason why Gene looked ready to thump something.
Gene was miserable, knowing she’d come to the heart of his problem. He’d fancied birds alright, even married one. He liked his wife, but that’s all it was, just a pale imitation. Before Sam, he’d never known what a real connection was, he’d never pined every moment they were apart, he’d never shone with joy as they joked and made connections. Everything else was just milk, and Sam was cream. He’d been crazy, and he’d been caught out.
She held out her hand for the photos again, and gave them one last shuffle. Most of them were just shots of the two of them at work, but there were the occasional shots at play, caught being just a little too close, just a little too affectionate, or even arguing too violently with each other for mere colleagues. They were taken all over the places, at different times of day.
“You’ve had a tail, and you never spotted him,” she tsked. “Any idea when these were taken?”
“Over the last month or so. “
“Do you have idea why they were sent to you? Why now?”
“I was thinking about that. I’ve got a horrible feeling this might be about Sam being a pillow biter, not who he’s put away. In fact, I know it.”
It almost bemused Jackie to hear Gene use such derogatory terms. Still putting on an act, though it wasn’t really an act, Gene probably still didn’t know which way to swing.
"These look like surveillance photos," she reminded, handing them back.
Gene knew it. He just wanted a second opinion. Paranoia had him jumping at shadows, but she was right: whoever had done this was very close to home. This attack had been personal, with none of the random violence usually associated with poofter bashing.
Gene's first suspect was Ray, but he was just as quickly dismissed. Ray made no secret of his loathing for Sam, nor did he keep the lid on comments about Sam being a cocksucker and whose cock he was sucking, but Ray intended such comments as slander rather than a complaint about an inappropriate workplace relationship. If he knew how close to the mark his sneers had hit, it'd blow his mind. No, Ray might have motive, but he lacked the imagination to have done this. Spitballs and gossiping like a fishwife were more his speed.
That left the field wide open. Jackie could see it written clearly in his face.
"Poor Gene," she genuinely sympathised, the strength of her sincerity surprised her. She really felt for him. She'd seen many a fine career detonate from an illicit affair, but this was a particularly nasty way for it to end. Gene could have used a good humbling, but not this. That it was someone who probably smiled at him and made him cups of tea, that made it so much worse.
“You still think he’s innocent?”
“Yes.” He handed her a folded up piece of foolscap.
“What’s this?” Jackie asked, suspicious.
“Doctor’s report. There’s no way Sam could have done all that to himself. And there’s more. This came with the photos. It’s not like the other ones. I didn’t want to show it to you.”
“Until I’d denied all involvement.”
Jackie quickly flicked through the report Gene had given her, eyes widening as she’d read the highlights, as it were.
“They restrained him with his own handcuffs? And assaulted him with his own truncheon?” She looked up from the pages, trying to gauge Gene’s mood, knowing damn well she was walking in a minefield. One misstep and boom. “It’s sounds like somebody wanted to get at Sam because he’s police.”
“And a poof?” Gene supplied bluntly, feeling no need to be political, as Sam called it.
Gene just handed over the last photo, the one he’d kept back. In truth, he’d missed it, too. It had been stuck to the back of the other one, the ink still sticky when it had been bundled up and posted. This one also called Sam a poof, but in this one he was tied up on a bed, bleeding, a girl astride him, his face twisted away, pleading to be set free.
“Is this the girl?”
Gene nodded, taking the photo back.
“You might have thought he was a kinky bugger, and he is, but there blood there, and bruises, and his hands are tied behind him.”
“Whoever sent these…”
“Were there on the night it happened. They’re the bastards who did this.”
“Sam’s made himself a dangerous enemy. Gene, they’ve been following for weeks before they finally snatched him off the streets. Its horrible.” Suddenly she could see it, not the too strange detective finally snapping, but Sam being bundled into a car, tortured and them dumped. “I’ll ask around, but you’d know better than I would.”
“You might hear things I won’t. Things about Sam. Things about me. But be discrete.”
“Look whose talking,’ she snorted, but she understood him. More of those photos could turn up anywhere, at any time. Asking the wrong sort of questions in the wrong place could only make matters worse. She’d hate to be Gene right now. She might wish a dose of crabs on him now and then, but he didn’t deserve this.
“Gene,” she offered one last piece of advice before stubbing out her cigarette and going back to her desk. “Burn them.”
Gene wanted to burn them, but he couldn’t. He’d burnt the other scribbled over ones, but the rest, they were the only photos he had of Sam, and they might be all he had as a reminder. He just couldn’t bear to destroy them. No matter the motive, these were pictures of Sam smiling, of happier times. He carefully tucked them deep inside a copy of A Christmas Carol and put it back on the bookshelf in his house, daring anyone to investigate the carefully bound classics that were there just for show.
Before he'd handed her the envelope, or even thought about handing her the envelope, Gene had removed the most incriminating photos, the ones where he and Sam had actually been caught il flagrante. The half dozen he'd left were, to Gene's eyes, quite innocent. Certainly, he remembered them as innocent: helping Sam on with his coat, picking twigs out of Sam's hair after chasing a fleet footed bastard over and through several hedges, pulling Sam down under cover after a shot had damn nearly clipped him, the stupid bugger, and a couple of them just sitting in the car or milling about on a crime scene. Nothing to see, as far as Gene was concerned.
But to Jackie Queen there was everything to see, and they spoke volumes: the closeness, the shared smiles, the way Sam accepted half a sandwich from Gene without even looking. To the trained observer, it was entirely obvious, and it would have been, to Gene, as well, had he been on the outside looking in. She could see now why Gene was so worried, and she knew there must have been other photos in the set, photos that would prove without a doubt her suspicions. Gene's clamped down expression said as much.
So why had he come to her with these? That much was also obvious. He thought she'd done it. He knew better now.
“You stupid bastard,” she admonished again, but drew him close for a hug, feeling for him. He was like a kid, making stupid mistakes in a grown up world. The Gene she knew would have never have let this happen, but the Gene she knew had never lost his head to his heart before. Not like this.
Suddenly she gasped.
“Still not wearing any knickers to the file room, then, Jackie,” Gene murmured smokily in her ear, being on intimate acquaintance.
She pushed him back a little. Still the same Gene, then, smiling at her like the big bad wolf, half leer, half invitation. She wanted to smack him and kiss him, and she could see why Sam fought with him so much. Gene could be such a bastard, but he always got away with it. There was a raw, animal cunning in there that made him irresistible, and he knew it.
Later, as she stood reapplying her lipstick in the mirror, she wondered again why he had brought the photos. He must have been desperate. He wanted her to at least rule out that the press had anything to do with it and he wanted to make sure the attack on Sam wasn’t just to get at him. He wanted to hear someone say it. Poor Gene. If she thought somebody had hurt her man, just to get at her, well, she’d kill them. She was sure of it.
She unrolled the hospital report Gene had given her and read through it, more carefully this time. It wasn’t for publication, but she could hint at the contents. Gene wanted people to know Sam could not have done what he was accused of. Not with those injuries. It just simply could not be possible.
Her stomach tightened as she scanned down it, then she grew sick, covering her mouth. No wonder Gene was in such a state. Now she understood. Now she was frightened. If she wasn’t part of the conspiracy, then she was part of the problem. She could be in danger. If they could do that to Sam, then no one was safe, and Gene wanted her to know it. He wanted her to know the price of association.
He also knew her very well, and he knew that something like this was never going to make her back off. It was going to make her even more determined to get at the truth. That’s why Gene had come to her. If he couldn’t save Sam, if they stopped him, then she was his only hope.
Gene fell into the plastic chair with a thump.
“I need you, Sam,” he declared, leaning forward earnestly.
Somewhat taken aback, Sam glanced down at himself, indicating the sate he was in, clearly not up to anything Gene might have in mind.
Gene looked flummoxed for a moment, then carried on, regardless.
“No, not like that, you daft bugger. Well, yes, but not now. I need that brain of yours.”
“Well, they do say the brain is the biggest sex organ,” mused Sam, equally keen not to be ruffled.
“In Hyde, maybe,” taunted Gene. “It’s Hyde I want to talk to you about.”
Sam regarded him with wide eyes, suddenly in no mood to be outed as an impostor, not now, not after all this time.
Gene leant close, ready to confide.
“Truth is, Sam, I’m stuck. This case is going nowhere, at least, nowhere I want it to go. I need your help, that famous insight. Tell me, if you were me, how would you have done it in Hyde?”
Sam drew a deep, painful breath. Knowing Gene must be desperate, he pushed all thoughts of what Gene’s lack of progress must mean for both of them, and he grabbed at procedure he had once known backwards, but now found slipping through his hands like sand.
“We’d use CCTV to establish the victim’s movements and corroborate the time of death, and we’d run DNA evidence through the database, but you’ve got none of that.”
“Piles of shit I’ve got, Sam, something useful I have not.”
“I’m sorry. You’ve done everything I can think of: witness interviews, crime scene photos, all evidence bagged and examined. Lines of enquiry: known associates, known habits. Did she have a pimp or a dealer, someone likely to get violent? How many jobs had she had that night? Maybe I wasn’t the last. Maybe she ran into someone else.”
“You don’t deny being with her then? Because before, you were.”
“I’ve no memory of it, but the evidence says yes. It doesn’t mean it was consensual, Gene. I was drugged. I was set up. When’s Warren’s appeal date?”
“He swears he knows nothing.”
Sam snorted, and regretted the action instantly.
“If he didn’t order it, then he knows who did. Lean on him.”
“You’re starting to sound like me, Sammy Boy.”
“There’s no other way,” Sam realised.
There would be no eleventh hour eyelash to save him, or any reasonable doubt once he’d endured a trial by media. If Gene couldn’t kick a confession out of someone, he was done for.
“Gene,” he asked, reaching out as Gene stood to leave. “Don’t throw yourself on my funeral pyre. If you can’t see a way out, let me go.”
Gene leant in close, usually his most intimidating stance, but this time surprisingly intimate.
“You mean the world to me, Sam. I won’t give up on you that easily. Now sit tight and mend those bones of yours. I’ll sort it, I promise.’
And he turned away before Sam had a chance to see his bravado crack and fall away. Sam was already lost to him. He was just clinging onto pieces now.
Gene scowled at his reflection in his shaving mirror, propped up on his desk, the sure sign of a man who’d not slept in his own bed that night.
Who knew his dark, dirty little secret? It wasn't Jackie, it wasn’t her style, and that plonk had nearly choked on the spot. He'd gone to great pains to try and keep up appearances at the station, but there was that time at The Railways Arms. It had been past closing time, dark and quiet but they'd been glued to the counter in a lock-in, working their way through the dregs of a particularly fine pure malt. They'd leant in close, touched lips and kissed, it had been the most natural thing in the world, like breathing, and they only really realised what they were doing when Nelson had clattered back in through the back door. Even then they'd barely drawn apart, still gazing at each other with warm bedroom eyes, Gene's hand still resting on top of Sam's.
Nelson hadn't said anything and Gene hadn't asked, but he didn't think Nelson was up for a bit of blackmail. A few dodgy deals under the counter, yes, but something this spiteful, no, not his style either.
He turned his thoughts to CID, but dismissed them easily. Some of them hated Sam enough, but precious few of them had the imagination or drive to manage this sort of obbo job, nor could any of them use the bloody camera.
Which just left, what? Everyone Sam had ever pissed off? He was back to his conga line of suspects. Damn Sam for getting up so many noses. Whoever it was, Gene was going to come down on them like a ton of bricks, so nobody ever thought of doing anything like this again.
Gene’s current suspect sat unmoving and silent under the constant barrage of questions. Where had he been? Had anyone seen him? Why did he have no alibi? Couldn’t he see how suspicious it must look. Even the most plodding plonk could easily finger his collar for this one.
Sam regarded Gene miserably. He’d been through all this. He had nothing left to say.
“Sam, for fuck’s sake. You have to remember something. Anything. I can’t do anything if you won’t tell me what happened.”
“I can’t!” Sam screamed back at him, suddenly erupting into red faced anger.
“Guv!” Annie pushed him back, wedging herself between them. “Leave him alone. It’s not his fault. He took a nasty crack on the head and they’re keeping him all doped up in here. “
“If he doesn’t remember I can’t help him,” Gene warned.
Gene leant forward.
“Sam, come on, can you remember anything from that night?”
Sam frowned, straining to pull at the memories but there was nothing, just flashes, nothing he could grab hold of or understand. He rubbed his eyes, tired.
“Sam, we need this.”
“I know.” Sam beat his head against his pillow in frustration and winced.
“Guv,” Annie piped up, unable to watch the interrogation any further.
“There’s something we could try.” She stood nervously, wringing her hands. “Okay, listen,” she summoned up the courage to finish speaking her mind. “I know a way, it might work, but you have to trust me.”
“I’m all ears,” Gene sneered at her, arms folded.
“We could hypnotise him.”
“What? Like in a pub? Make him cluck like a chicken or bark like a dog. Well, he’s already barking, I’ll give you that.”
Sam shot him a shrewish look.
“No,” Annie ignored them. “A friend of mine was studying it at university, for use in therapy. We could try it. It might help him remember. What could it hurt?”
“It’s not admissible in court,” dismissed Sam.
Annie turned to him. “It might work, though. It’s worth a try. Sam?”
Gene had thought he’d heard just about every crackpot theory until now, but he could see Sam was considering it.
“It’s up to you, Gladys.”
Sam half shrugged. “You know me. I’ll try anything once.”
“Right then. Who’s your friend?”
Annie was staring at the ground.
“Neil,” she admitted.
“What?” Gene exploded. “That bastard, the one who tried to get Sam to take a short walk off the top of the building for a laugh? The bastard that’s going to be wearing my shoeprints if I ever see him!”
Annie swung away from Gene’s tirade to Sam.
“I told him,” Sam admitted sheepishly. It had been during one of their quieter, confiding moments. Sam had been trying to exp[lain how lost he’d felt, and had let slip about trying to jump. Gene hadn’t been happy the first time he’d heard the story, either.
Gene was still scowling, arms folded. “I am not letting that freak near Sam. Not when he’s vulnerable.”
“Guv. Gene!” Sam got his attention. “It’s all right. I’ll do it. I have to.”
Gene nodded. “I’ll be here. If that bastard so much as blinks funny…”
Sam half smiled. He could do this, if Gene was there, watching over him.
“Sam? Sam? Can you hear me?” Neil kept his voice neutral. “What is your name?”
“And where do you live?”
Sam gave his address, but it wasn’t right. It was the old factory. Gene shook his head, but Neil pressed on.
“What year is it?”
“No, Sam, it’s 1973. Tell me what happened in 1973. Tell me what happened on that night. You said you were walking. Where to?”
“Home. I’m walking home.”
“Because I want to. I need time to think.”
“I’m happy. I’m very happy and I’m feeling confused, as if I’m betraying myself. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be happy.”
Gene made a ‘get on with it’ motion with the flick of his hand, not wanting to dwell on Sam’s inner life, not wanting Sam to say something he shouldn’t.
“What happens next?” Neil pressed, taking his cue from Gene.
“There’s a cab. I can’t believe my luck. There’s a cab, out here, at this time of night.”
“Can you see the bastard’s number?” Gene asked hunching forward.
Neil scowled at him, but Sam could and recited it, and Gene noted it down.
“The cab’s stopping,” Sam continued. “He’s stopping. He’s letting someone else in.”
“It’s…it’s…” Sam frowned acutely. “No!”
His eyes snapped open wide, and he was instantly blinded. He drew a staggering breath, but couldn’t breathe. He opened and closed his eyes again, twisting away from the light. Muffled voices assaulted him, pounding on his ears like waves.
“Sam? Sam? Can you hear me? Are you awake? There you go.”
The lights dimmed and he could breathe a little easier. His mouth tasted like metal, everything sounded like he was underwater, and he couldn’t see properly, just shapes. Slowly a shape focused into a nurse peering over him.
“Hello Sam. Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand as hard as you can if you can hear me.”
He tried but his arm felt like day old spaghetti.
“Come on, try. Good, Sam. Good. Do you know where you are?”
He squeezed again.
“Do you know what happened?”
Yes. He gazed around the room, eyes still watering. He felt so tired, so very tired.
“No, Sam, don’t go back to sleep. You can’t go back to sleep. Sam, stay with me, please, try and stay with me…”
His eyes fluttered open again.
“Sam? He’s awake.”
Annie’s face swam into focus.
“You really gave us a scare, Sam,. We nearly lost you. You had some sort of seizure and stopped breathing. They said it was from the head injury. They had to crack you open like an egg.”
“He’ll be as right as rain in a few weeks, won’t you, Sam.” Gene was leaning close, Sam could smell the overpowering stench of nicotine, surrounding Gene like a fog. When he saw the worry in Gene’s eyes, he knew why. He must have scared them, as much as he’d scared himself.
“Can you remember who got in the cab?” Gene pressed.
“Guv!” Annie damn near slapped him.
“It’s important,” Gene shot back at her, then returned to leaning over Sam.
“Well, can you?”
Sam closed his eyes and frowned. It was gone, whatever it had been.
Gene straightened. “Right. Probably leaked out with the rest of yer brains. Bad enough I’m still scrubbing up the mess you made of my cells. You’re a pain in the arse, Sam, make no mistake.”
“I love you too,” Sam shot back, still more than half asleep, but conscious enough to have regained the use of his acid tongue, and conscious enough to realise he’d just said something he shouldn’t have. At least not out loud. And in public. If there had been a piano player in the corner, he would have stopped dead mid note.
Annie glanced nervously at Gene, and then flicked away. Chris, bringing up the rear, ready to record anything Sam might say, suddenly found deep meaning in the blank page of his notebook.
Gene snorted. “Oh, shut it, Tyler. Just how much of yer brains did they scoop out, anyway?”
Sam rolled his eyes, and quickly realised he shouldn’t do that. In fact, moving at all, even slightly, was bad. He was numb, but not that numb.
Gene was still waiting, but there’d be nothing of any use coming out of Sam that day.
“Right. You stay here, with him. Don’t let him near the cutlery, and don’t let him tell fortunes. He might look like some mad gypsy, but he ain’t one. I’ve got some proper policing to do. We brought in your cab driver and Ray should have softened him up about now.”
Gene expected some wince on Sam’s part, some retort about police brutality, but there was none. Sam had finally suffered enough for whatever sins he felt he had. Now he wanted to fight back.
“We’ll get this sorted,” Gene promised. “Nothing is going to stop me getting the bastard who did this to you.”
He swept out, which just left Sam and Annie.
“Don’t,” she warned. “I mean it, Sam. Don’t scratch at your bandages or I’ll get the nurse.”
He really did look a sight, propped up in bed, swathed in bandages, more like The Mummy than any fortune teller.
“How bad is it?” Sam had to ask, and winced at Annie’s pained expression. It wasn’t good. Gingerly he traced the outline of the bandages. Jesus. He’d forgotten it was 1973. No keyhole surgery. They really had sliced him open like a melon.
“It might not be so bad. You could grow your hair out,” she suggested helpfully.
Sam demanded a mirror like a character in a noirish horror flick.
Annie pursed her lips, but seeing he was determined, she relented and fished out a compact, popping it open for him.
Sam held it up and was shocked. He’d been butchered. Instead of a small square pad of a bandage like he’d been expecting, he found his entire head swaddled in crepe bandages. He looked like a refugee from the Crimea War, or, indeed, like Gene had taunted, Madame Zelda. All that was missing was a peacock feather.
Sam returned the compact and slumped back into his pillows, suddenly feeling very much the worse for wear. It was rather like that time he’d been stabbed, it hadn’t hurt half so much until he’d seen the blood. Then it had hurt like buggery.
Well, not quite, he amended. Worse. Buggery itself he was actually developing quite a taste for, and this was nowhere near as much fun. He wondered idly if he’d have to modify his language now that he was, and still to his mild astonishment, gay, or would he be like Gene and still call a fairy a bloody poofter. He was still rolling through such thoughts and wondering if he was over medicated or brain damaged since the thoughts wouldn’t stop tumbling through his head when the doctor appeared at his bed, sizing him up the very same way Sam would size up a suspect.
“He’s awake now,” Annie reported to the doctor. “He’s lucid and he’s being snotty.”
The doctor grinned. “On the mend, then.” He bent close, very close, to flick his penlight in and out of Sam’s eyes.
“Can you tell me your name?”
“Sam. Sam I am,” Sam joked. “I think, therefore I am.”
“Good enough,” grinned the doctor. “You’re a very lucky young man, even though I know you don’t feel very lucky. If you hadn’t already been in hospital you’d be dead right now. Do you know what happened?’
“No,” Sam offered verbally, because shaking his head was too painful, as he unhappily discovered.
“That second blow on the back of your head caused some bleeding in your brain. It didn’t show up on the x-rays. Can you squeeze my hands? Good. Can you count to twenty?”
Sam did so. He stumbled over the general knowledge questions about the current prime minister and the like, because the first answer he thought of wasn’t the right one. He passed the touching his own nose test with flying colours, though.
“Good,” the doctor agreed. “You should be alright.”
Sam was relieved to hear that. It wasn’t until he’d been run through all these tests that he realised how serious it had been.
‘What about the amnesia?” Annie butted in. “That’s not normal.”
“In head injuries like these, it can be. The memories might return, they might not.”
The doctor jotted down some notes, and then cheerfully delivered his second blow for the evening, the one that rocked Sam’s world.
“Right. I think we’ll keep you in for a couple more day’s observation, then arrange for your transfer to the prison hospital.”
Annie saw Sam’s face and she held his hand tight. He was scared, really scared, and it was only probably only just starting to hit him how serious everything was. He’d been concussed before, but now he was stone cold sober.
Feeling for him, she drew up the chair beside him.
"So are you feeling better then?" she asked clumsily.
"Aside from feeling like I had a fridge land on top of me and being banged up for murder, just peachy, thanks."
"You must be feeling better, you weren't moaning about it before. I'll know for next time."
"Next time what?" Sam demanded to know, horrified at the thought of going through anything like this again.
Annie just grinned at him and decided to change the subject.
"Do you love him, the Guv?"
"What?" Sam looked at her like she was the one who was mad.
"I heard you. I was standing right here when you said it."
"I was being sarcastic," Sam informed her, with an even more stinging riff of sarcasm.
"Mmm," she dismissed him. "But do you love him though, really? Don't go denying it. I've never seen the Guv in such a state. He turned himself into a human chimney while they had you on the table. Chain-smoked for four hours straight. They said you were lucky it happened here and not the cells, because you'd be dead right now."
"Cheers," Sam thanked her for painting a gruesome picture.
“You said you loved him,” she pressed.
“Annie, don’t be daft, I was winding him up.”
He was so sincere, and she wanted to believe him, but he was lying. She knew he was lying. All along, she thought he might be, the way he was always giving off mixed signals, but she’d never expected this.
“I know, Sam,” she told him firmly, leaning close. “The Guv told me.”
“No.” Sam didn’t believe her. “He would never, you must have misheard him. The Guv would never say anything like that.”
“Yeah, he did. He didn’t mean to, but he was really, really upset. He thought I wasn’t looking after you properly because I thought you did it, so he told me you weren’t like that, then he told me he could have been your alibi.”
“Not the whole night,” Sam admitted, quietly, and sadly.
“I don’t understand,” she turned on him, suddenly bitter and betrayed. “How could it happen?”
“It just did.”
“It’s not right.”
“Do you think I don’t know what this could do to Gene? You can’t tell anyone, Annie.”
And there it was. Not the Guv, but Gene. My Gene. My lover. My best friend. Mine.
“Do you love him?” she asked, somewhat redundantly, but needing to know, needing to hear him say it, just so she could remember it the next time he smiled at her.
“Do you think they’ll let me read the papers in here?” he asked, trying to divert her.
Annie wasn’t having it.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Next time I have to interrogate anyone I'm calling you."
Thoughts of Gene suddenly filled his head, unbidden, and he felt a rush like a drug.
She saw it in his eyes before he answered her.
"Yes, he admitted quietly. "I think I do."
"And you a good Catholic boy," she mocked him. "Isn't there something about adultery?"
"That's coveting your neighbour's wife, not their husband."
"You should have been a lawyer, splitting hairs like that," she taunted him.
He could tell that she really wasn't happy about it, nor did she approve, but there wasn't much he could do about it.
"Why?" she had to ask.
"I was lonely. You wanted to be just friends. Gene couldn't care less if we were friends or not."
"Don't you go putting this on me."
"I'm not. You asked me how it happened. It just happened,” he reacted to her look of disbelief. “I thought he was going to thump me, but he kissed me instead.”
“And what did you do?”
“I kissed him back.”
There was nothing she could really say to that, especially to the way he’d told her, just now. She could see it clearly reflected in his eyes that he’d do it again, that he wouldn’t change a thing.
“He’s married, you know,” she reminded sharply.
Sam nodded curtly, or as curtly as he could manage without seeing stars. He was very aware that he was complicit in adultery. Gene was also his DCI. There were so many reasons why he could not, should not, yet he felt like he had no choice, he felt almost moved to act against his own volition. He didn’t know why he was here, but he knew Gene was part of it. He knew it, he felt it. It was all tangled up, he was all tangled up. This time, this place, it had a hold on him and it wouldn’t let him go.
Annie shook her head, annoyed at him. She could have slapped him. He didn’t seem to care about the damage he’d caused, to her, to Gene.
“You still don’t think we’re real, that it doesn’t matter. That we don’t matter. That we’re just here for your amusement. You selfish bastard. The Guv is putting everything on the line for you, everything. And you don’t care if you destroy him.”
“Yes, I do.” He cut through her tirade. “I do care. I just can’t do anything about it. I don’t know why this is happening, but it is. I wish I could stop it, but I can’t. I wish I could leave, but I can’t. So we’re stuck here, all of us. For better or worse, as it happens.”
She could see he meant it, and there was nothing left for her to say. She knew he’d drop them like a stone if he could get away, and he knew it too.
“You bastard,” she hissed at him. “You don’t care what you do to the Guv. You still don’t think we’re real, so it doesn’t matter what you do. We don’t matter a bit to you. You selfish, selfish…”
She really looked like she was going to hit him.
“It’s not like that,” he countered, though she was right. A part of him still hoped that he would be home every time he opened his eyes.
“The Guv’s a grown up. He can make his own choices. He made his choice. I’m not messing with him, Annie. Whether or not I believe any of this is real, what I feel is real. Maybe I’m stuck here for a reason, maybe there is no reason, I don’t know what made me and the Guv cross paths, but we did. He has turned my world upside down and I don’t know how to deal with it, so don’t you go asking me how you’re going to deal with it. You know now, so just keep your mouth shut.”
“Alright, Sir.” She was cold and furious.
“You led us on.”
“I – I was confused.”
“You made your choice. Like you said, you’re supposed to be a grown up. Did you ever think about the people you might be hurting?”
“No. Love can be selfish and blind.”
“That isn’t love, that’s lust,” she lectured bitterly.
“You’re the one who’s unbelievable. You think you’re such hot stuff, don’t you, that we were all just sitting around, waiting for the day that you’d arrive and change all our lives. Well, it’s not like that. The Guv is putting his whole career on the line for you. He doesn’t deserve to be destroyed because of you. And as for me, I wouldn’t have you if you were the last prick on earth.”
Sam winced but she didn’t care. He’d put her through too much already.
“I’m going off on a break. Try not to get killed by anyone you’ve annoyed while I’m gone,” she told him, sounding very much like she didn’t care either way.
He supposed he deserved that. And more, probably. He hadn’t thought through any of the consequences of his actions. He hadn’t even considered them. He’d been acting like a cowboy, and now he was paying for it.
Gene sat on his couch like he’d been carved there, a stern god, scowling down upon the universe, clutching in each hand the two symbols of his office: a cigarette and a nearly empty glass of scotch. He was sitting in his shirt sleeves, shirt undone and falling open, tie long since discarded, sleeves rolled up, his skin bathed a colourless hue from the flickering light of the telly in the corner.
Gene wasn’t watching it. It didn’t even register as the screen changed from the end of transmission fanfare to the high pitched hum and the coquettish grin of a clown clutching child. Gene couldn’t care less what was, or wasn’t, on television. He was entirely lost in his own world.
He drew his drink up to his lips again for another sip, then studied the glass remotely, and the hand holding it. He’d thought there were precious few things, if at all, that would ever make his hands shake, but that belief, like all his deeply held beliefs about himself, had taken a severe battering this week, as though the universe were an angry drunk let loose with a golf club in a field of garden gnomes, just swinging and shattering for the hell of it.
He’d nearly lost Sam today. Really, damn nearly lost him. Had lost him in fact, for those terrible few minutes when he’d stopped breathing. There was that slight tremble again, sending tiny ripples washing through the remaining amber liquid that swirled in the bottom of his glass. He’d always thought he could take or leave Sam Tyler, told himself he’d glad to see the back of the annoying little gobshite.
Lies, all lies. Sam Tyler, it turned out, was more important to him than anything or anyone: his marriage, his career, even his city. He’d tear it apart and leave it burning if he could find who had done this to Sam. The thought terrified him, the violence of his emotions, slopping back and forth like a swinging bucket just below the surface, it shocked and appalled him. How had a skinny little man come to mean so much, mean everything to him?
It was dangerous and it was frightening and he just wanted it to stop, but he couldn’t make he feelings go away. Jackie Queen had been right. He’d never been in love before. Not like this. This was crazy adolescent infatuation bordering on the pathological. Or probably well beyond, if those psychology books he’d picked up on the sly were any good. He needed Sam so badly that to be without him caused him actual pain, pain not even his best malt could cure. He had it bad and he was too old to be carrying on like a lovesick child. He had a case to solve. Sam’s life, both their lives, depended on it.
He had to pull back. It was the only way. Keep objective. Stay focused. Lock up all his feelings and throw away the key. For Sam’s sake, he had to be a policeman first, and a lover second.
Sam half woke from a dream. It had been a good dream. It had been about Gene. It had been about nothing but having Gene in his arms, having Gene inside him.
Sam remembered the way Gene watched him as he arched and twisted with Gene’s mouth sucking him hard, Gene’s fingers wriggling inside him, his chest rising and falling faster and faster until….
A damp stain spread across the hospital sheets.
Sam shifted as the wet sheet clung uncomfortably to his thigh, embarrassed and relieved at the same time. At least there was one part of him that wasn’t broken.
Sam held up his hand, watching the light play between his fingers. He stretched out his fingers, biting his lip at the pain. He couldn’t remember having his fingers broken. He’d been told they must have been broken deliberately, rather than in a fair fight, but he couldn’t remember. He was surprised by how much it hurt. The was always surprised by the pain. It shouldn’t hurt like this, if it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. Yet the pain was never enough to wake him. Every time he woke up, half groggy, surrounded by that thick, stinging hospital smell, he thought, he’d hoped he was home. But every time he woke up, he was here. How could that be? He wanted to go home. Now more than ever. The only part he’d miss was Gene.
He held out his hand again, flexing his broken fingers, feeling the burn, telling himself this was really happening. He could see and feel the parts of him that had been beaten and broken, but he knew there was something more, something they weren’t telling him. It was there in the way Gene and Annie whispered with the doctors and nurses and each other. They way they looked at him with pitying eyes. He’d tried reading his chart but Gene had been one step ahead of him, removing it from temptation’s reach.
Something was wrong and it scared him. Or at least it did when he wasn’t busy being terrified at the idea of spending the rest of his life in gaol for murder (relieved at least that capital punishment was no longer in the picture), and no longer being a detective. Sometimes just the thought of being separated from Gene, or what his mother would think, was enough to give him the shakes.
Sam waited anxiously for Gene’s next visit, needing to smell the reassuring scents of whisky and tobacco, needing to hear Gene’s quiet words of comfort and hope, needing to feel the touch of Gene’s hand on his skin, wanting to gaze into Gene’s eyes and find everything he needed there.
Gene missed visiting hours but bluffed his way through with his warrant card, and finding Sam asleep, was relieved enough to turn on his heel and go, but a soft voice called him back, less like a Siren’s, more of a frightened little bleat, but it had the same effect nevertheless. Still, Gene determined to tie himself to the mast and avoid the rocky shores.
Sam reached out for Gene, but Gene stayed just out of reach, away from him, his reaching hand, his eyes.
Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong.
“Gene?” Sam asked, but Gene didn’t answer, deflecting the conversation onto trivia, always staying just out of reach.
Gene kept dodging every time Sam’s fingers reached for him, kept looking away every time Sam’s eyes tried to search his.
“Gene,” Sam had to ask. “What’s going on?”
“I can’t talk about it, not to you, you know that,” the DCI answered.
Sam took the blow to their intimacy stoically for a second, the wavered and fell into sulking.
“I need to pee,” he announced, suddenly cutting cross Gene’s own tortured thoughts.
“I’ll get the nurse,” Gene was already walking away, taking it as his cue.
“No,” Sam summoned him back, holding out his arms like a small boy. “Help me.”
It was not the sort of request Gene could refuse, despite his best instincts screaming at him to keep his distance. Gene took several more heavy hits as he discovered helping Sam up into his arms, holding him, it didn’t make everything better or right. Sam smelt antiseptic, Gene didn’t know where to hold him without causing him pain, and everywhere he tried was wrong, making Sam wince. He just couldn’t do anything right, and what had once been the most natural thing in the world had suddenly become a tense and awkward ordeal.
Slowly they stepped their way across to the bathroom, Gene feeling more and more trapped and ready to gnaw his own arm off at every step. The screaming claustrophobic horror of being trapped boiled up into steam as the door shut behind them in the dark, airless cubicle that reeked of bleach and Sam turned to him, holding up his broken fingers, and asked Gene to hold him. Sam raised his bandaged hand, making his point, while his left was wrapped tightly around Gene, holding himself up.
Gene could find no earthly reason to refuse so he arranged Sam’s hideous little hospital bedshirt with difficulty and took hold of Sam, with as light a touch as possible, and aimed him over the pot.
With that one touch, Sam half turned and mooched against him, burrowing into his shoulder like a stray cat, sighing and breathing deep the heady mix of tobacco, soap and aftershave that he’d craved.
Gene felt Sam start to harden in his hand and he let go as if scalded.
“Don’t even think about it, Sam. I’ll not have you pissing on the ceiling for a start.”
Brutally rebuffed, Sam finished off, but made no effort to leave other than washing his hands, carefully rinsing them out over the basin.
Gene watched the water circled down the drain, then caught Sam’s eyes on him again, almost shivering under such weary yet intense scrutiny. Sam knew there was something seriously wrong now, something that Gene couldn’t fob off under the large umbrella of the facts of the case, as Sam knew them.
“Gene?’ Sam asked, reaching out for him, and Gene actually flinched away. The mirror could have shattered and the light above them exploded, for the shock that ripped between both of them.
Sam tried again, just to prove he wasn’t imagining it, and Gene shrank back, letting Sam’s outreached hand sink limply between them, catching only empty air.
“No.” Gene finally had to say it, shocking himself as much as Sam. “Not here. It’s not a bloody game.” Then a revelation broke over him. “It’s not a game, Sam,” he repeated, tiredly. “I know you, more than you think, and I’ve ignored your daft stories, the way you treat everything like it’s not real. Well, enough, Sam. It’s not a game. People have been hurt. People have died. Enough.”
He actually pushed Sam away from him, trying to pull free in the tiny, confining space.
Sam was shattered. Sam’s eyes were pleading with him to tell him why, but Gene couldn’t tell him why. He couldn’t tell him about the case, that much was certain. Nor could he tell Sam about the rumours, gossip and innuendo, and, worse, the photos. Sam had enough on his plate, and more often than not he looked like he’d break if Gene tried to lay one more straw upon his back. There was a brittleness to Sam, like an old wall that had taken one storm too many, and was about to come crumbling down.
Gene didn’t want to be the one who finally pushed Sam too far . For all the world, he didn’t want that, and that was why he kept his distance now. That and the rape. He’d never had to deal with it, not like this, and his first, ingrained response had been to hand Sam over to a WPC and let her deal with him. But up close like this, Gene realised he’d have to deal with it too, deal with his rage at Sam’s violation, his disgust, his fear of doing even more harm.
He wasn’t even sure Sam remembered, and Gene wasn’t about to tell him. Nor could he be entirely sure it had been rape, or wholly rape, whether it had been sexual or just abuse, somebody making a statement by confining Sam in his own handcuffs and assaulting him like that, or if Sam had asked for it, in more ways than one. Gene knew all too well that Sam sometimes liked to be confined and treated roughly, it turned Sam on, far more than it should. It had never really bothered Gene before, he’d been happy to have an adventurous partner, but now it made him feel ill. When the doctor had described Sam’s injuries, Gene had thought he’d been the cause, just for a moment, and he would never forget that.
He backed away from Sam, as far as he could in the tiny cubicle. Sam saw Gene’s revulsion and visibly wilted, everything that had been holding him upright suddenly leaving him in a rush. In an instant, the wall dropped away, leaving an ill and broken and very frightened man. Sam leant frailly on the sink.
“At least help me back to bed,” he asked of Gene, his voice bitter and exhausted with the effort of drawing up that much emotion. His skin had paled, darkening the bruises and the shadows under his eyes and Gene felt even more of a bastard, as if he’d put those bruises there himself, after all. He’d never been one to kick a man when he was down, at least, never so cold bloodedly, especially someone he cared for as much as…
“Sam,” he tried, but Sam shook his head, not meeting his eyes.
“You’ve got things to do,” Sam offered up Gene his escape clause, and Gene guiltily grabbed at it with both hands.
The moment Sam touched a hand to his hospital bed, like touching base in an old school game, Gene was off out the door, walking down the corridor at a smart clip, lighting the fag in his mouth that was already there out of habit, walking away from Sam, and biting down on his breaking heart as he did it.
Sam eased himself up painfully onto the mattress, drew the cold, too starched sheets around himself, sheets too few and too thin to ever keep him anything but cold and uncomfortable, and he just lay there, staring at the flecked ceiling, surrounded by the stink and clatter of the hospital, unable to sleep or wake.
"What the hell did you say to him?!"
Gene had no need to ask who, or why he was currently being screamed at. Nor could he do anything but sit there and take it as she had just stormed into his office and let fly. It would be useless reminding her of proper protocol, especially as it was his own improper relationship that resulted in this mess: a DI charged with murder and a WPC who felt she could upbraid him with impunity.
Gene's momentary flare of anger at the breech of his inner sanctum was quickly guttered out as her words hit him hard. She'd found Sam weeping quietly. Sam hadn't wanted to talk, but it didn't take a woman's intuition to guess at the likely cause and culprit.
Gene had not been back to see Sam, neither to clear the air, apologise, attempt amends or make things worse. Clearly, his absence had made things worse.
"The doctor's say it's as if he's given up fighting. He's just fading away."
Gene stood like a statue. She would never know the fissures that cracked through him, threatening to break him open.
"I had to stay away," Gene tried to explain, as much to himself, as he didn't have to explain himself to her. Not ever.
"You'll lose him forever if you do," she warned, and she knew she meant it. She was scared, wild and upset, and that shook Gene as much as anything. Whatever had happened to setback Sam, it was serious.
Gene already had his coat in his hand, without even thinking about it. He stared at it for a moment, as though trying to remember it's correct use and purpose. He saw, too, that his hand was shaking, ever so slightly. Whatever could be said about Sam, he was a fighter. He'd never given up, until now. Somehow the thought of Sam giving up unnerved him more than anything. Sam's shining faith that Gene would sort it all out had been guiding Gene as surely as any star, he realised.
Gene knew he had to do something, even if it meant risking everything. Sam was too important to lose. The whole world would come tumbling down without him. Gene knew it, and he had to stop it. No matter the cost.
In the end, Gene's heroic sacrifice required no more than standing by the door to Sam's hospital door and sharing a look. That was all that need to be said. They were both scared, and Sam could well imagine what was being said. He could see the wear and tear in Gene's face.
Gene slung his coat over the back of the chair and sat down beside him. No words were needed, no tender caresses, no holding of hands or murmured promises. All that was implicit. For now, it was enough for Gene to be there. For now, that was the best Gene could offer.
"You can't give up, because I haven't," Gene spoke at last.
Sam nodded. He was sorry, about before, but Gene had already written it off and filed it under the bulging umbrella of Sam's odd behaviour, explained partially this time at least by the morphine and whatever they were pumping through him, giving Sam's eyes the drugged and intense look of one who could see beyond the folds of reality.
Those eyes were on him now, owlish and inscrutable, expecting the correct action and trusting Gene would take it.
Almost unconsciously Gene’s knuckles chucked Sam tenderly on the chin, stroking across skin, and he enjoyed the momentary contact, feeling the soft graze of Sam’s stubble. They weren’t shaving him properly in here, or maybe he wasn’t letting them. He could be so damn prickly.
Sam nuzzled into his touch and they held that contact for a second more before Gene withdrew.
“You’re warm,” he observed, noticing now, and concerned. He brushed Sam’s skin again. Too warm.
Now he saw it: the flush in Sam’s cheeks that wasn’t wholly pleasure, the glassy look in his eyes that wasn’t just the meds.
Gene sniffed at the bandage that swathed Sam, no longer quite as thick now, so Sam was less a swami and instead had rather the air of a tennis pro just back from the wars.
“It’s nothing,” Sam tried to reassure. “Just a mild staph infection. At least it’s not that flesh eating bug. You don’t have that yet.”
“Something they have in Hyde, then?” Gene asked, not really expecting a sensible answer. Flesh eating diseases belonged in horror films, not hospitals.
He sat back in the chair again, worried now, despite himself. The plonk had not been telling fibs. Sam really looked dreadful, the dark patches under his eyes making his face a death mask. Poor bastard. He was lying here while Gene had been trying to save his own bacon. Didn’t he just feel like the worst kind of monster right now.