Word Count: 1,800 words.
Notes: Gen. Title from "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John.
Summary: Gene raised an eyebrow. "D'you look dead to you?"
The bitterness in Sam's voice could hardly be mistaken. "Most days I feel dead."
Sam was glad it was the end of the long day. It had been a month of interminably slow cases, and he'd stayed late every night of the week. This night there was only him and Gene left. He could hear rustling in the office, the slam of a filing cabinet drawer, and Sam thought he'd pop his head around the door to say goodnight. He walked in and waited for Gene to turn around, a small smile plastered on his face to be polite.
The glint of the barrel startled him. He frowned at Gene, and opened his mouth to speak, but the crack of gunfire echoed through the office and he was incapable of words.
Sam stared down as the bullet passed straight through his abdomen. He felt no pain, no trickle of blood. When he looked again, there wasn't even a hole. He glanced at Gene in fear and confusion, and Gene's expression wasn't shocked, or worried, or even angry; it was triumphant.
"What the hell's going on?"
"I shot you. You're fine."
"I fucking noticed."
Gene placed the gun carefully back on the table. "I got sick of waiting. I needed you to face up the reality of our situation." He gave a small, derisive smile at the end of these words and waited for Sam to catch up.
"Don't tell me. I'm dead?" The lilt of the question rested on the last word, and Sam fixed Gene with a white hot glare. Nervous energy jumped, bubbling beneath the surface of Sam's exterior, filling Sam with a thrum that bounced off the walls of CID.
Gene raised an eyebrow. "D'you look dead to you?"
The bitterness in Sam's voice could hardly be mistaken. "Most days I feel dead."
Gene raised a hand and slapped Sam across the face. Hard. Sam's cheekbone and jaw tingled with the warm flush of pain, the skin sizzling. Sam whipped his tongue around to the inside of his cheek, bringing up his left hand and gently smoothing fingers over the area which had quickly turned flamingo pink. He winced.
"Oh really?" Gene rocked back on his loafers, shoving his hands into his pockets; the picture of cool and nonchalant. There was a pause. "Far as I can make out, it's a waiting place."
"You're not dead, but you're close to," Gene said. There was a frankness in his regard that was unsettling. "See, most people, they forget after about a week. I've kept waiting for you to do so too, but you haven't, have you Sammy-boy? You keep clinging onto the future."
Sam gazed at him, his mouth hanging open.
His words were hesitant. He fumbled over the consonants. "Are you joking?"
"Would that I were, simple Samantha," Gene replied.
"You are. You're fucking pulling my leg. This isn't some game, Gene. I need to know."
Gene's hand was steel and fire on Sam's shoulder. His voice was quiet and smooth as scotch, the rasp making the hairs on the back of Sam's neck tingle.
"I stopped playing games in 1973. I've been waiting for you to figure it all out. Do you know how long I've had to wait?"
"What are you saying?"
Gene rolled his eyes. "What does it sound like I'm saying? This isn't the real 1973. It's imagination. Artificial. Fake."
"So this is your world. This, me being here, it's about you. All this time I've been thinking that I'd never put sand in a girl's hand, that I couldn't possibly remember details of hideous wallpapers and ties and news programmes from the age of four. But I haven't. That was you."
"I told you the first time I met you. Don't ever waltz into my kingdom acting king of the jungle. I did mean that very literally."
Gene let go of Sam's shoulder and Sam turned around. He heard Gene retreat; the sound of a lighter and then a few short puffs on a cigarette.
"Chris was one of the first with any kind of individual personality to join me. At first I thought he were like everyone else. Imaginary. Then he started talking about it being 1977 - that he'd just been to see some flick called 'Star Wars'. I thought he was nuts, of course, but he was so blagging insistent. I'd ask him question after question, and everything he said was the same every other day, so I started believing him.
"Unfortunately, he stopped believing in himself after about a month. It was like he was becoming part of the furniture. He started wearing his suits and woolen vests with pride. One day, I tried to get him to tell me more all about this R4D3 bloke in the film - he was obsessed with that film - and he'd no idea what I was on about."
"R2D2. It's R2D2," Sam replied. His knees weakened and he sat down on the closest chair.
"A few others turned up. They'd ramble for a week or two and then go about their business like everything was hunky dory."
"So, how many people here are real, Gene? And how many aren't?"
"Not sure. Lost count. Lytts - that one who sits where you're sitting now? I saw him arrive. I'm pretty sure he's a lost one. Phyllis. Sometimes I think Phyllis is actually from the past. 1930 or thereabouts. I'm not sure if that's possible. There's your bird, Cartwright. Ray. He's from the 1980s, apparently."
"You say this isn't real. But I'm not dead. So what is it?"
"How do you know, Gene? How do you know for certain we're not all in the ground somewhere? Or scattered on the wind? That this isn't the end of all ends?"
"I just do. It's a feeling. Down here. Don't you have that? Doesn't it whip up sometimes, outta nowhere?"
"No. No, I'm pretty sure I don't. The only feeling I have, especially right now, is that you're insane."
"That's rich," Gene said, cocking his head to the side. "I'm not the one who hears doctors on the radio and screams in bathrooms."
"You know about that?"
"Course I know about it, you idiot. You really do think I was born yesterday, don't you?"
Sam's brow furrowed and he stood once more. He paced. "No, I just… I'm confused. I thought there were only two ways to be. Dead or alive."
"You're trying to pin existence down, give it a label. It doesn't work like that, Sam."
"How do you know?" Sam asked. "You don't have any clue. None."
"Oh, shut it. Just… you're no help at all, are you?"
"I never knew I had to be. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Before. Before what? Before now? Before you made an arse of yourself in front of your sweet little plonk? Before you killed several imaginary people with your pig-headedness? 'I'm going back'? Then go back. And for Christ's sake take us with you."
"I don't have the answers, Gene. I didn't even have the questions."
"But you must be it. Don't you see? It has to be you."
"Why me? Why? I'm just some bloke who stumbled onto the wrong film set and played with all the props."
"Because you're the only one, apart from me, who's remembered. The only one. You are the only person that I can make out has changed things. Vic Tyler, remember him?" Gene pointed an accusatory finger.
"He's my dad, how could I forget?"
"That whole business was suspicious from the start, and it came from you. Not me. And I'd bet not the Wizard of Oz. Everything went pear-shaped. It was purely random. I couldn't predict what was gonna happen next and I've been living this dream for God knows how long, I'm used to its ins and outs."
Sam crossed his arms, unnerved not only by Gene's words, but his demeanour. "Has it been thirty-three years? You said you're from 73?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I used to make a notch for New Years, had over twenty at least, but I gave up and painted over about the same time Ray appeared, because I just couldn't handle looking at the marks anymore."
"I can't be here another twenty years, God, I couldn't handle it, Gene."
"So sort it. Change it. Do what you have to do. Those voices on the radio have to mean something."
Sam turned his head, moving slowly, until he could see Gene out of the corner of his eye, hulking over him like a spectre. "Have you ever tried to kill yourself?"
"Yeah, of course. That's how I knew you'd not be harmed."
"How many ways?"
"Bullets, car crashes, drowning in the canal, suffocation, fire. Nothing of it. Not even a scar, which is piss poor when you consider it."
"I was told I had to take the definitive step. I tried to step off the building, but Annie stopped me."
Gene narrowed his eyes for a moment. "Step off the building. What? Like a leap of faith?"
"Yeah, exactly like that."
"It couldn't hurt."
"Or maybe it could and that would be a good thing?"
Gene began moving before Sam had finished his sentence, walking at a brisk pace heretofore unseen. He climbed the stairs to the next floor, then the one above, Sam following him closely. Finally, they opened the door and were there in the evening twilight. As they stood on the rooftop, Sam stared at Manchester before him; hustle, and bustle, and decay. He wandered to the edge of the building and stood beside Gene, whose eyes glinted as he beheld the city that had been his gaol for too long.
"Right, how are we gonna do this? One, two, three, jump?" Gene asked, his voice carried away by the wind, until all Sam heard was a faint murmur.
"Take my hand," Sam replied, holding out his palm.
Gene stared at the hand distrustfully. "What?"
"Take my hand. You remember, I remember. Perhaps the key's always been that we need to be together to do it."
"So you're my saviour?"
"And you're mine."
Sam gritted his teeth and held his breath, comforted by the quick solid warmth of Gene's hand in his own.
The descent was rapid, and Sam was fairly sure he screamed at one point, but soon there was blackness. He scrunched, then opened his eyes, and when he looked, Gene was glaring at him.
"You can let go of my hand, now, you pansy-arsed prick."
Sam did so. "Not a leap of faith, then?"
Gene stood, initially looking shaky on his legs. He held his hand out again for Sam to grab hold. "I suppose not."
"Maybe we have to kill each other, simultaneously? A shot to the head, like?" Sam asked as Gene pulled him up.
"Don't sodding tempt me."
Sam dusted himself off and bit into his lower lip, his mind whirring overtime. "What should we do now?"
Sam sighed. "Pub."