Title: The Elder. Older.
Rating: Green Cortina
Pairing/Characters: Stuart, Sam, implied Gene/Sam
Notes: Thank you
Summary: There's never been a time in his life that Stuart wouldn't have given anything, everything, to Gene.
There’s never been a time in his life that Stuart wouldn’t have given anything, everything, to Gene.
He’s not sure why anymore. But it’s all he has, all that defines him. Since their Mum died, the only person he’s ever loved – loved properly, till you could cry and your heart could break with it – has been Gene. Not that he’s ever said that.
Has anyone ever said that, to Gene? It’s been years now since Gene began exuding an almost-visible shield against those sorts of words. The few times Stuart met Gene’s girlfriend – well, wife-to-be – he couldn’t help thinking his brother had picked her because she’d never love him enough to want to tell him so. She was a nice enough girl, a kind one, and she obviously cared for Gene, but she seemed roundly contented in her own self.
Maybe Gene picked her because he wanted to learn to be like that?
Stuart’s taken to sitting in the kitchen a lot, lately. There’s not a lot left in the house because he’s sold everything he can, but the chairs are still there. No one would buy them for firewood, really, the state they’re in. Kicked about, spilt on, glued and re-glued – whenever Gene’s come round, the past ten years or so, and got angry, for some reason he’s always gone for the bloody chairs.
“Stop taking that fucking shit!” he’d yell, and CRASH, down went another chair, hurled to the floor and Stuart would laugh, because on the pills everything was funny.
And without the pills, nothing was.
When they were small, those chairs had been everything. All the toys they never had, well, they’d never needed. Boats and forts and aeroplanes, all from a few upturned chairs.
There had been five originally, given to their Mum the day she married, carried in a triumphal procession along the street by her brothers to her new home, where (Dad always said) she’d spent the whole of their first day together cleaning and scrubbing, refusing to go to bed till late, late on when every last thing shone.
Stuart can remember Mum cleaning. Some days it was just ordinary cleaning, and some days she’d go on and on at it, taking the surface off things that were spotless to begin with. When Gene was born, Stuart had worried about it, had worried she’d try and clean the baby till he was rubbed red raw.
He’d worried about Dad too. Dad had almost dropped the baby once – oh and they’d made a right pair, him and that baby, both of them bawling with outrage about the other.
Stuart had taken Gene out onto the front steps, some days. Well wrapped up in a blanket, held carefully in his arms and Stuart had fed him with the bottle – cold milk, cows’ milk, but when Dad had been bad and Mum had one of her headaches that had been all he could think of to replace her.
On better days – and there were lots of them, too – Mum leant back into the armchair and fed Gene from her own body, and Stuart would play on the floor at her feet while she told him a story, about princes and dragons, maybe, or about when she was little, back when her family had lived on a farm, before the Great War.
The words made a wonderful dream, a wonderful land in Stuart’s head. An escape, a place he could visit of when he didn’t want to hear the world.
Stuart drank those stories in like Gene did the milk and later when she’d gone, he’d try on the cold nights to tell the stories exactly right, try and give Gene back a little bit more of her, so that he’d remember evenings like that.
Gene had loved it, for a while.
Mum had said sometimes, without saying it exactly, that she was glad her boys didn’t have to be in a war, like her brothers had been.
And she’d gone by the time that stopped being true, so that was OK.
But it was then that things had changed and, yes, the whole bloody world had changed and half the town bombed and you’d laugh at the thought of having the amount of milk in a week that he’d poured down Gene in a day, once upon a time. But more had changed than that.
Gene had started drifting, in some way Stuart never understood. You could see it in his eyes, something going on. Like Gene could see some world Stuart couldn’t.
And Stuart couldn’t…well, if he’d understood, it wouldn’t have irritated him so much.
Stuart had got in from work one day – long shift in munitions, fingers aching, back kinked – and Gene had been in the kitchen, his newly long limbs hooked off the chairs casually, feet on the seats, giving some slick-haired GI a cup of tea, and Stuart had lost his temper and hadn’t known why.
It wasn’t that Gene didn’t need him, because Gene did in a way Gene didn’t even realise, which only went to show how well Stuart had cared for him. Because Gene never even questioned that someone - that Stuart - would feed him, try and buy him clothes.
Gene took all of that, which was the whole point and what Stuart wanted. But somehow it made him stronger, faster, than Stuart. It made him able to grow, to dream, to see the world differently.
It made him want to leave Stuart behind. Stuart knew that, had known it long before the Police College applications started.
Stuart didn’t know what else to give him, or how to fix him. Stuart only had what he’d been given himself to work with, and that was sharing Mum, all six years he’d had of her, and that was keeping away Dad.
He wanted – he’d always wanted – Gene to have more than that. He’d had this dream once about Gene meeting a lovely girl, getting married, having a nice house that he’d invite Stuart to and there he’d be Uncle Stuart, and kids would sit on his knee and ask for stories and fish sweets out of his pockets.
And then there’d been Gene, with this kind of grim purpose in his face, with his fiancée who wouldn’t say ‘love’ easily even at their wedding.
“What do you want, Genie?” Stuart had asked, on the stag night, in between Gene’s tenth and eleventh pints when they’d gone for a slash round the back of the pub. “What do you really want, what do you dream about?”
“No need for fairy-ass questions!” Gene had snapped back at him.
“I’m your brother. I’m the only family you’ve got, you can tell me.”
“Why are you like this, Stu? Why do you always have to ask bleeding stupid questions about things? It’s life, innit? You do what you’re supposed to and you do it as well as you can and you get as many beers in as you can along the way.”
“Who told you that? Did I? Did Dad? Did Mum? Who told you that?”
“You sure as hell didn’t. If you knew that you’d get your fucking act together and not still be working in the factories like you’re waiting for life to change all by its fucking self!”
In the end, of course, Stuart did find a way to escape. A way you didn’t need to be strong to have.
Gene’s come round a few times in the past years, sat in the kitchen with him and said things, lots of things, like ‘Pull yourself together’ and stuff that Stuart never lets himself remember.
“I pulled you together” Stuart had told him today, “I pulled you together and that’s it, I’m done.”
And this is the night he decides that, fuck it, he really is.
- - -
“You’re not dead!” the man says.
“Come back tomorrow and you might have better luck.” Stuart doesn’t have time for indulging the crazies right now. The soup’s boiling and they’re opening in half an hour and, honestly, how did this one get in early anyhow?
“No, I mean, I thought you were dead.”
“If you’d like to wait over there, there are some magazines, juice…”
“This is all coming out wrong. I’d been told you died. But I just…I wasn’t convinced and I started looking and I saw your name and I just…I’ve seen a photo of you and it’s – oh my god! – it is you! Stuart Hunt!”
Stuart puts the lid back on the biggest soup tureen and squints, wiping his hands on his apron. “Who’s asking?”
The man smiles nervously. “My name’s Sam Tyler. I, um, I know your brother.”
Stuart’s waiting to believe it and it takes a moment, a time-lag, because…
“My brother isn’t the type to pass round old photographs.”
“Well, I saw them. The one of the two of you at school, with him on your knee and you with no front teeth.” There’s a note of quiet pride in the man’s voice.
“And how is he?” Stuart moves to slice the bread, and stops, because his hands are shaking. “How is Gene?” He can’t even get the name out properly; he has to gulp round it.
“He’s…ever better.” The man fiddles with the edge of the worktop. “He’s good, actually, really good. But…he misses you. He doesn’t say it, but...”
“Well, Gene wouldn’t,” Stuart chuckles and this man – Sam – joins him, nodding wisely.
Seriously: Stuart hasn’t shaken like this since he detoxed three years ago. But frankly that whole process was maybe a good thing because now he’s been through too much shit and too much bollocks to beat around the bush and not state the bleeding obvious.
He turns to face Sam, studies him for a moment, then speaks:
“Do you love him, then?”
Sam turns redder than the tomato soup. He swallows. “Yes,” he says, firmly. And then, like he gets that Stuart needs to hear it – “I love him. And I hope that’s good with you, but if isn’t that won’t stop it being true.”
“No, no, that’s good. That…”
Why didn’t Gene tell him? But then, maybe Gene didn’t want to tell himself.
Stuart takes a deep breath: “That’s the best news I’ve had in a very long time.”
Sam smiles, broad and joyful, and Stuart feels a little warm glow to think that Gene has this now, that Gene managed to find what all of them – Mum, Dad, him – had always been missing.
“Look, my car’s outside, do you want to come and see him?” Sam’s still smiling, looking like he’s having trouble not bouncing on his toes. “You’d be welcome.”
Stuart takes a deep breath and just…There’ll be a house, he just knows it. A nice house with neat things and food in the fridge and curtains. And Stuart’s graduated from user to volunteer at the Salvation Army centre, but he’s still living in a dormitory on an ancient mattress, no mirror and a ten minute share of the bathroom in the mornings.
He takes another breath; opens and closes his hands.
“No,” he replies slowly. “No. He wouldn’t want me to know. He couldn’t…he could never tell me and I… I think if I showed up now, he’d lose something. You, maybe. And I can’t do that to him.”
“Don’t you want to see him?”
Stuart laughs again, because that’s the stupidest question in the whole world.
“I’d do anything for Gene,” he says. “I stayed around to raise him, I left to set him free of worrying about me. When I see him again I want to be able to give him something, I want to have a life he’ll be proud of. I want…” He shoots a sideways glance at Sam, because this is just coming to him now, but it’s a good wish all the same. “I think maybe I could meet someone, a nice girl, and we’d have kids and we could visit you. There should be kids. He’s never really understood kids and he ought to.”
“He’d be proud of you for this. He’s always been proud of you.”
“I doubt that.”
“No, listen,” Sam leans forward, grabs his shoulder and stares at him. “Listen. You’re the only person I’ve ever heard him say he loves.”
Stuart blinks. Takes that in.
Sam’s face is maybe a bit wistful. “You don’t have to do anything today,” he says, “Not till you want to, only… Only, will you tell me about him?”
And Stuart studies the guy one final time, and is satisfied. He walks out to the dining area, sits on a chair and indicates another, and reaches down inside himself and finds the stories like Mum only told them yesterday.
And suddenly it strikes him that she’d probably be glad how it all turned out, and he thinks that on the day he does see Gene, that’s going to be the first thing he tells him.