Rating: Blue Cortina
Word Count: 3000+ words.
Notes: Sam/Gene slash. Written for the music challenge. Spoilers for 2.08. Title and inspiration from Beck's "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes", known most notably from the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack. This story is also written as part of the plot20 challenge.
It starts like all of Sam’s relationships start – with Sam being oblivious. He finally realises and takes action. He corners Gene in the lift and lets him know he knows Gene’s been thinking about lifting his shirt. It garners him a punch, but the look on Gene’s face is more than enough to reveal what’s whirring away beneath the action. Sam takes advantage of Gene’s shock – an amusing notion, Sam taking advantage of Gene - and presses up tight into him, yanking his head down by grabbing hold of his kipper tie and assaulting his mouth with a kiss. Sam can’t think of any other way to kiss Gene, so he kisses like he fights, all teeth and grappling.
He gets off on it. Gene’s hard and hot and the man he wants to be, sometimes, so if he can’t be him, he’ll settle for being with him. Gene’s surprisingly deft with his tongue, rough with his hands and there in just the right way. From then on in, it’s stolen moments, snatched from the Manchester that never stops. Late at night, when no one else is around and you could swear everyone was tucked up tight, until the phone rings and there’s been another blag.
Sam doesn’t get used to it. It doesn’t feel like a casual fuck, even though more often than not it’s quick and concealed, Gene wrapping a hand around Sam’s cock after he thrusts in. He wishes they had more time, but something tells him Gene’s perfectly happy with fifteen minute breaks that break all kinds of pre-conceived notions. Sam doesn’t mind, because it’s not about the sex, not really. It’s about the connection. It’s about trust and understanding and fitting. And Sam says that, not thinking for once, just feeling, and Gene laughs – the bastard – wrapping his hand around the top of the whisky bottle and murmuring, “if you say so.”
This baffles Sam. Surely Gene, the straightest man ever to have walked down Princess Street, would want to make provision for Sam being a special case. After all, it’s not like Gene’s started listening to Elton John - ”You can see into the future, Cynthia. Tell me he’ll’ve disappeared in a few years?”/“’Fraid not” - or gone on extended visits to Warren in the clanger. He’s marched on to the beat of his own drum, just as Sam had expected him to.
Sunlight streaks in through the window. It’s been constantly sunny since Sam decided to come back. It almost makes the brown interior of his flat warm and inviting. They’re not often here during the day, but there’s routine evaluation occurring at the station and somehow that means they’re to stay away. Sam mutters something about that being counter-productive, but Gene shrugs and points out that they get the day off, might as well grab it whilst they can.
Sam finishes tipping the bottle and places it on Gene’s side of the table. “Here’s the sauce.”
“Where do you keep the vinegar?”
“Haven’t got any.”
“That’s a disgrace, Sam.”
“Don’t need it, do I? My weekly intake of chips comes from stakeout after stakeout. I think this is the second time in my entirety of being here that I’ve had fish and chips in the flat.”
Gene lifts a chip to his mouth. “What do you usually eat, then?”
“Anything I can be bothered to cook. I made a brilliant risotto the other night, you should’ve come over and tried some.”
Gene raises his eyebrows. “What the hell’s ‘risotto’ when it’s at home?”
“Why didn’tcha just say that?”
“It’s special rice. Got vegetables and chicken stock and butter and parmesan. It’s good, you’ll like it. I’ll make it for you,” Sam says, taking another chip and standing up.
“Yeah, why not? I’ve still got all the ingredients. And don’t tell me you won’t be able to eat it, because I’ve seen you scarf down two steak and kidney pies, and almost an entire cabbage, with french vanilla ice-cream after. Plus, it’ll take a good half hour.”
Gene rocks back and lights a cigarette, his eyes catching the light and glinting as he stares at Sam. “You’re a right little domestic sort, Gloria.”
“Hey, it’s survival of the fittest. I’m a single man who can fend for himself. No ‘oops for me. I get the finest whenever I want it.”
Sam sets the reel-to-reel playing David Bowie – ”Oh God, did you have to?” – and starts chopping up the onion.
He hums to himself as he gets the stovetop going, flicking his head over his shoulder to ask for wine and seeing Gene staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and another expression that looks shockingly akin to disgust.
“Fuck, I love it when you do that,” Sam groans, tilting his head to the right as Gene twists his hand to the left. Gene stills, a bead of sweat running down his nose. Sam grabs his wrist. “Don’t you even think about stopping.”
Gene’s eyebrows rest low on his forehead. He begins to pull away, but Sam’s grip consists of long, bony fingers and he grasps tightly. “C’mon, what’re you doing?”
“Finish yourself off. I’ve work to get on with.”
Sam squints, his mouth opening in protest as Gene does his trousers up and shrugs his coat on. “You can’t just leave a man hanging like that.”
“Can and will,” Gene grunts, making his way to Sam’s door and pulling it open. Within another second the room is empty save for Sam.
Sam stands for a moment, not knowing what to do. Eventually, he takes Gene’s advice and slides his hand over his cock, rubbing his thumb over the tip and spreading precome. He rocks on the balls of his feet, shallowly thrusting into his fist until he comes.
Sam cleans up and thinks about what just happened. Gene may have his moments, but he’s fairly generous when it comes to giving as good as he gets. Sam casts his mind over their current cases and can’t think of anything that would warrant a speedy disappearance, but then again, Gene’s moods are often rapid and unpredictable. Except Sam’s got a knack for predicting them, and he didn’t see this one coming.
It ends, like all of Sam’s relationships end – once again with Sam being oblivious. One day, Gene stops approaching him. When Sam approaches Gene, he gets brushed to the side. He decides he has to get Gene into a position where there’s no escape route. Sam slips through the doors of the lift just as Gene presses the button to go down. For the first time in a long time, Sam surges with white-hot anger.
“Gene, what the hell’s going on?”
“For God’s sake, Sam, take a hint or twelve.”
Sam steps closer, but Gene increases the distance between them with a nervous twitch in his cheek and eyes that are bright and staring.
Sam crosses his leather-clad arms, setting his shoulders into a firm line. “Oh, are you bored of me now?”
“What would you like me to say? ‘I could never get bored of you, Sam, you make me tingle in my tummy.’ Jesus Christ.”
“Is that a yes?”
“It’s a sod off, Sam. Leave me be.”
Sam starts to respond, but Gene uses well-placed fists to shut him up. Sam bends over and coughs, his eyes stinging.
“So you were just using me, is that it?”
Gene drags his knuckles against his teeth and glares. “Yeah. That’s it. Now trundle off along, the big boys have a city to maintain.”
Sam shakes his head. No, he can’t believe that. He stands upright again, pressing his lips together, forcing Gene to look him in the eye. Gene’s gaze wanders over the metallic walls, the ceiling, the floor, until it eventually rests on Sam. And he doesn’t look like he’s sick of Sam, but at the same time, he doesn’t look upon him with affection. There’s blankness and sorrow and fear.
The rain beats down on buildings and streets, clattering and shattering the perfect summer. The sky is overcast and grey, sending the city into murk and mayhem. There’s a crash of thunder as Sam sits, raising his head to gaze out of a window that’s perpetually closed.
He hasn’t spoken to Gene in six days. He didn’t think that was possible, but Gene has hidden talents of avoidance and Sam’s always engaged in subconscious mirroring. Sam grits his teeth and attempts to concentrate on the case notes before him, but all he can think about is how much he hates it here, in this world where his mind constantly replays conversations and events. He’s nauseous when he wakes up every morning. His head pulses with tension and pain. He’s pathetic.
What happened to being able to bury it all? Stick it deep down, tucked underneath his spleen? He’s not sure, but it rises with bile in his throat; regret and grief and confusion. His chest aches and his eyes sting, and he crawls into a ball on his cot having consumed half a bottle of whisky.
He’s cocked up. He doesn’t know how; he doesn’t know how to fix it.
Sam’s outlet is work and there’s nowhere else for him to go. If he follows that yellow brick road he’ll eventually come to the place where the bricks dwindle into nothingness and he’d rather not know what exists there, at the end of all things. But work consists of Gene – interacting with Gene, dealing with Gene. Because they manage six days, but before long they have to engage with each other – have to talk, have to listen, have to look into each other’s eyes. And it hurts. Or, at least, it hurts Sam.
He had to return, didn’t he? To feelings and emotions. To connection and completion. At the time it had seemed the right thing to do. A decision not easily made, but readily made. And now, here he is, the worst he’s ever been. Cold and dejected and alone. He wonders for a while if it was idiocy, lunacy or vanity. Perhaps all three.
The self-loathing combines with Gene-loathing and life-loathing and it gets to the point where Sam contemplates escape. There’s no escape to be had. Self-sacrifice is not the answer. If only he had realised that before.
“Snap to it, Roberta. If I see you staring into the distance one more time, I’ll go over there and glue your eyelids shut to help you focus on the matter at hand.”
Sam thinks he should be clawing his way back to a happier existence. But he isn’t. He came back for the fight and now it’s unwelcome. Sam has no energy for countering. He does what Gene says, when Gene says and drowns himself every night in hard-earned liquor. For a man who’s always prided himself on control, he’s honed recklessness into a fine art. But it’s reckless within limits; an acceptable level of non-compliance with the laws of his body.
He doesn’t have pictures to pore over, nor holiday artifacts gleaned from weekends away. There’s no hastily forgotten Gene-scented shirt to cry into. And it’s a true measure of just how fucked up he is that he has cried, although that was after having thrown up on his dingy bathroom floor.
It might be that he’s weak, but when he sliced his thumb and decided that he could no longer handle anaesthesia, he hadn’t expected this; this pain that cuts too close to his heart, this infantile want.
Sam sits in the canteen lazily stirring his coffee with the spoon Gwen gave him. He has to remember to return this one. He’s already unwittingly nicked off with three others and she’s fast refusing to set aside extra apple crumble.
He looks at what he can see of his reflection in the curve and sighs. Lack of sleep has not been kind to Sam. His boyish demeanour has been replaced by deep lines and purple. And whilst it doesn’t really matter what he looks like, he could shove a bag over his head and no one would be any the wiser, it’s just another symptom of an inability to cope with an emotion that reared up out of nowhere and thwapped him over the head.
The case he’s looking at isn’t very complex, but the photographs are enough to make a war veteran squeamish and Sam goes white. The man had been bludgeoned to death with a plank of wood inset with nails. It’s not that people are more violent, it just seems more primitive, somehow. The blood forms a distinctive pattern on the bland brown linoleum and Sam stares at it, trying to discern the angle of attack.
He’s been distracted for half an hour, but Sam soon realises he should be making his way back to CID, so he stands, shrugs on his jacket and begins walking away before he remembers he’s been urged to place his spoon directly into Gwen’s hand.
He swivels to pick up the silver spoon he left lying by his mug, but there’s a plastic one resting there instead. She must have changed it when he wasn’t looking.
The radio is on softly in the background as Sam types, playing Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’, a song that’s far too cheerful for its lyrics and meaning, and oddly appropriate, given current circumstances.
I'm a-walkin' in the rain,
Tears are fallin' and I feel the pain,
Wishin' you were here by me,
To end this misery
And I wonder--
Well what's the use in complaining
When you've got what you don't need
Anyone would think you were hardened too
What do you want me to believe?
Sam’s head snaps up. The radio has switched to ---
“You haven’t even finished completing my last one yet.”
Sam turns to look at Gene, who’s stepped from his office and is staring down at him. “Can you hear that?”
“Yeah, more of your noise. I’ll never understand your persistent need for constant cacophony,” Gene says, halfway between a glare and a grimace.
“What does it sound like to you?”
“Already told you, sounds like a load of old drums being banged by a bunch of spastics.”
“But have you heard the song before?”
“Does it matter?”
Sam stands, flexing his hands out wide. “It does to me.”
Gene doesn’t back away, or hint that he’s even mildly perturbed. “Well, I don’t care what matters to you.”
“That much is obvious.”
The radio is still playing New Order – no static, no switching between stations. Sam doesn’t know how that’s possible, unless he’s imagining it. Gene walks away, doesn’t say anything, just steps to the left and out the door.
Sam concludes that it’s stress, but he can’t help but admit he’s calmed by the familiar tones of a song that hasn’t been conceived yet. He’s reminded of his early struggle with repression, how part of him had wanted to branch out and be wild, but his sensibilities had kept him strictly in line. New Order represents both, equally; self-sought freedom and self-imposed imprisonment.
Walking home has lost a lot of appeal now that Manchester is colder and wetter than he ever remembers it being at this time of year. The damp ground is littered with sodden newspaper and the odd errant can. The usual flurry of activity is replaced by one or two figures wrapped tight in coats. Sam looks around in absent-minded curiosity. It seems different; more muted, less jarring on the senses. But he doesn’t know if that’s just him, thinking it’s different because he’s different.
He hunches his shoulders and pushes his hands into his pockets, thinking about things he wishes he could banish from his mind. Questions that begin with, ‘why’, and ‘how’, and ‘maybe.’ It’s not as intense as it has been. Perhaps he’s finally coming to grips with it all, building up to acceptance that some things just don’t work. Because Gene is Gene and Sam is Sam and what he wants would require change.
Sam climbs the step and wanders down the narrow hallway, pushing his key into the lock and turning it twice. He steps inside, flicks on the light, and stills. Where once was hideously patterned brown there’s now matt greyish blue. His orange upholstered chair has transformed to deep green; most likely still uncomfortable, but less taxing on the eyes.
Sam knows he should probably be very disturbed, but he isn’t. It seems somehow fitting.
It’s when he stands opposite his bathroom mirror that he becomes fully aware the heels on his boots are an inch shorter. It doesn’t bother him; he’s never liked them anyway, but never got around to looking for an alternative.
CID is no longer cloaked in a thick veil of smog. The air is clear and smells faintly of disinfectant, as opposed to tobacco and aftershave. Sam takes a deep breath and settles down in his chair, picking up a pen to scrawl along the pages in front of him. Ray walks over and asks quietly for a spare pen and Sam hands it over wordlessly. There’s nothing he’s used to in Ray’s gaze; no malice, no burning jealousy, no darkness at all. No light either.
Chris comes in and he’s efficient and effective, giving Sam the background information he needs for his upcoming interview. Sam wanders to the re-imagined Lost & Found, an interview room with a two way mirror and tape deck ready and waiting.
The next day there are computers on the desks, several of his colleagues tapping at the keys. None of them raise their eyes to acknowledge his presence, nor do they make any remark about their newfound contraptions. They silently carry on with their work as if nothing has happened.
Sam supposes he should feel joy. Everything is smooth here, predictable. The phones are ringing and the whiteboard displays the leads for their latest case. Instead, Sam’s just hungry, and makes his way to the canteen for a tofu salad.
He’s no longer concerned, nor remotely moved to action, on any account. He travels through the day as if transfixed, blank and emotionless like the world around him.
“I’m off for the night,” Gene says, holding the door open with his free hand whilst clasping hold of folders with the other.
Sam casts his eyes over Gene and doesn’t feel anything. There’s a distant remembrance that they once shared an understanding, a relationship that made blood surge and hearts thump, but it’s disjointed, disconnected. There’s no pain, no anger, no regret, no love. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
It continues like all of Sam’s life has continued – with little meaning.