We have some swearing and mentions of never-seen-on-screen character death here. Tread lightly :).
title from richard siken (of course)
A phone call at two in the morning from his DCI is no longer a surprise; often a disappointment and never (well, until Sam picks up the receiver and hears his voice) a cause of any real concern.
"Tyler? I need a favour." And how like Gene, to demand help and also sound unsure all at the same time.
Sam blinks into full, unpleasant alertness and starts to fish around the carpet for his clothes. "Guv. What is it- there been a murder? Or a robbery?"
"No, I… need a lift home."
He freezes half in and half out of his trousers, phone cradled against his face and pressing into his skin hard enough to leave an imprint, "I'm sorry- what?" Then, "Are you-"
Perhaps Gene realises with some ESP whatever that his next words are about to be are you drunk, because he quickly cuts him off. "No, I'm not bloody drunk! Look- if you won't do it, fine, I'll just call someone else."
Sam's turn to interrupt "I've already got my clothes on." Winces internally, why did I say that? "Where are you?"
"Withington Hospital," he grunts and Sam can hear the creak of cheap plastic chairs against dirty floor tiles, pictures him trying not to lean his camel hair coat against any unclean surface. There's a fire licking its way up his ribcage and making it hard to breathe, as if his lungs are resting from the inside out. The real kicker is when Gene shifts some more, hisses with something that Sam really hopes isn't pain, then says softly, "My car's still at the station, if you want to use that."
Well a) Sam has his own car now b) Sam hasn't got a key to Gene's car yet.
He makes sure he doesn't say any of that. Finds he's patting the hard outer shell of the phone as if it were the shoulder of the man himself and forces the limb to retract back to his shirt buttons instead. "I'm on my way, Guv. Be there in half an hour, alright?"
A grunt of acknowledgment, the line goes dead, the final button done up and he grabs his keys, his wallet, then wastes a whole minute worrying if he needs anything else. Test-Card Girl takes his coat from the hook and hands it to him, and he realises he's worried. About fucking Gene Hunt.
Jesus Christ, Sam might have said that out loud, and heads for the door.
He isn't sure what he was expecting and perhaps it's overdramatic, but he hurries into the hospital with a background of flashing lights and doesn't get to the front desk when he spies a dirty camel coat and a scowl. He's still trying to force his feet to stop tripping over themselves to co-operate and Gene's already striding over and meeting him halfway under the dirty halogen, passing by without a glance. The only betrayal is the stiff line of his shoulders. "Let's go," he growls, shadows throwing his bad temper into the looming darkness of ice cliffs and icebergs.
Sam rushes to follow, words all falling away. No nurse is hurrying or glaring after him, so presumably Gene's free to go- properly cared for and discharged. Still doesn't explain just what the fuck is going on here.
Outside, the city is pitch black and the smell of antiseptic mixes with exhaust fumes, disgusting and tiring all at once. Sam's braced himself to keep quiet and hold off the onslaught of any questions and his resolution lasts until they get to where he's parked the car and Gene goes automatically to the passenger side door, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the vehicle's unforgivable sin of not being his Cortina… Yet not uttering a word of protest about driving himself.
Sam stops dead in the debris of a wilted flowerbed, "What the hell happened?"
Gene's focus whirls round and sharpens into a glare that doesn't quite meet his, "None of your business, Gladys."
Oh, so we're back to that, are we?! Because it's three in the morning and he's due to get up and go to work soon, he gives in and unlocks his door and climbs in, then leans over and unlocks the passenger door.
Gene doesn't move.
Sam bites back a curse.
"Come on!" he snaps, harsher than intended and not particularly fussed; takes his frustrations out on the car door handle as he once again gets out of the car and walks round to stand in front of his DCI with his arms crossed, doing his best 'I'm not impressed' look.
It melts quicker than ice will soon start sloughing off icebergs. "Guv?" he frowns, stepping as close as he dares. "Wha'sa matter?" All he gets in response is silence. Gene doesn't even look over as Sam shifts his weight from foot to foot to accommodate his ever-growing worry. "Guv?" Softly, he adds, "Gene?"
A large blank sheet of paper and a book with the ending torn out. Sam moves slowly, still unconvinced he won't get swift retribution in the form of a punch in the mouth. Lays his hand on the broad shoulder over the camel hair coat and realises this huge, stinking, overweight and nicotine-stained git is trembling.
"Guv." He puts his hand on Gene's arm and he flinches and Sam scrambles to wrap his mind round the realisation- it's about as natural as a car wrapped round a tree. Gene's scared. "Fuck," it's low enough to be nearly inaudible. Their close enough Gene hears it, the way his actually-not-reeking-of-alcohol-breath stutters as it hits his cheek. Sam seizes the tiny spark of awareness and drags it out under the bleaching streetlights. "You need to get in the car."
Creakingly, achingly, he starts to move, and by the time Sam's closing the driver's side door again, he's in: looking half vacant and half pissed off.
The journey home is silent, broken only by his question and Gene's answer that they'll go back to Sam's bedsit. Sam almost argues- even starts to- then focuses on stopping for a red light and discovers he can't explain why he's arguing, so lets the words die out.
For the entire 41 minutes, Gene stays still and stiff as a board and never so much as ever turns his head; Sam isn't even sure he's seeing whatever passes by the window, yet lets him get away with it and doesn't ask. Coward. He smacks the steering wheel, curses internally, then again when he realises they're here, at a loss as to how to navigate the world outside of the tin can of the car, wondering why the Cortina is at work and if she's fallen victim to this strange night as well.
Soundlessly- looking back later, Sam wont even believe the car door made a sound when he slammed it shut- Gene gets out and leaves him to lock up, waiting patiently for Sam to catch up and open the front door and making a beeline to the rickety little chair without so much as a glance at the bed.
"You want anything- tea? Coffee?" Saying that, he isn't so sure his cupboards hold either.
Shakes his head, once. "No. Thanks." Good thing he's staring out the window and not behind him- Sam's jaw has just dropped.
He makes a show of hanging his coat up, taking his shoes off, locking the door, going into the bathroom and washing up for the night, having a piss. Anything to delay the inevitable confrontation that's coming. You're a police officer! berating his reflection does nothing for his self-esteem, but wonders for his resolve and he stands up straight and tall and marches back into the rest of his shitty flat and sits on the foot of the bed right next to his DCI, refusing to look away.
Without looking: "What d'you think y'doing, Gladys- taking me statement?"
The cigarette and a cloud of smoke is conspicuous by their dual absences and he tamps down the worry again. Just what the fuck happened here?
…Did he just say that out loud?
Without knowing if he did or he didn't (though Test-Card Girl's shaking her head, so he thinks he really did), Sam ploughs on, "You really leave your car at work?"
Great. That means car pooling in… five hours. Great.
Catching sight of his, Gene's own expression hardens, "I'll walk to work."
"Okay… who the fuck are you and what've you done with my DCI?"
Then again, what did he expect?
He changes tact, "Should you even go to work tomorrow- what did the hospital say?"
Just when he thinks he'll have to remind him that yes, you were in the hospital tonight, you called me and I came for you, Gene shrugs and somehow looks away despite not even looking at him in the first place. "I'm going to work."
"Not what I asked."
Another shrug. There's this… sort of lost air about him; kind of hopeless or helpless or hapless. Just less than what he was, not ten hours ago when he left for the pub with a customary insult shot in his direction. Sam, for all the man before him would argue to the contrary, isn't completely stupid. Sure, he knows Gene isn't infallible- any hope of that went out the window within five seconds of meeting him- however there's always been this tiny part of him childish enough to view Gene as immortal.
Call it a character flaw. Call him Gladys, stupid, Dorothy, Detective Inspector Moron- call him anything, just go back to being Gene Hunt, please, please.
Sam's too tense to let the silence go on any longer. "Guv, what the fuck happened?"
"'S none of your fucking business, Tyler. Thanks for the lift, but if you're going to keep mithering me, I'll leave now."
"Oh for-" he raises his voice, lurches forward, catches sight of Gene's hands and deflates, letting the momentum carry him to taking hold of his hands and pulling them away from his lap. "Didn't the hospital…" blatantly not, given how his hands and his knuckles are black and blue are bleeding, some places scraped raw and other places torn open. The left pinkie is missing half its fingernail and he absently wonders if it's feeling the cold. Tutting, anger ticking away like a metronome, he fishes the first aid kit out from under the bed- it's paltry and cheap, contents scattered to all four corners of the re-purposed crisp box, but it'll have to do for tonight.
"Geroff," Gene mutters, glaring down, flexing his hands but not actually pulling away. Sam ignores him, the way people ignore global warming and swine flue and forest fires. Ignores him so the silence presses its fingers into Gene's eye sockets. At least, he hopes that's how it feels. Be bloody awkward it not.
But still: silence reigns. Bar the hum of a wide-awake city, the rustle of bandages and the wheeze of a forty a day smoker.
And, like the icebergs, a crack appears. Sam presses too harshly on a tender spot. Gene hisses. "Sorry," he says more on instinct than actually being sorry. "All done now. I'll just, uh, put this back and…"
It's no coincidence that Gene waits until he's out of sight to say what he says next. "I… got a call. From the hospital. About my brother." With each word the volume drops, until he's nearly inaudible even though he's only a foot away.
"Your brother…" Sam sits heavily on the end of the mattress, letting the creak of the bedframe cover up how he nearly says 'your brother's dead'.
"Yes, I know he's dead, thank you very fucking much." Surprisingly, at Sam's lack of answer, he doesn't clam up again. "But some half-dead John Doe turned up with his National Insurance card, so it were only natural they called the next of kin, ain't it?" Now the cigarette appears, balancing in his bite as he lights it and conceals the ugly ceiling with smoke. "S'pose junkies don't keep track of things like that."
"Stop." Sam puts his hand on Gene's knee without stopping to think if he's allowed. "You don't have to… You're allowed to mourn him, Gene."
The statement earns him a derisive look, topped off with a snort, "I already fucking mourned him, DI Dipshit."
Shaking his head, Sam leans closer, "Grief- and grieving- doesn't just end, Guv. Sure it gets… easier, but no one ever truly-"
"Ah, stuff your Hyde ideas where the sun don't shine. People due, people get over it. That's that."
All he can do it shake his head in disgust. Sometimes Gene's so determined to be the 'bastard' that he says and does some really shitting things; convincing himself he means every word rather than let anyone find any soft spot to him.
Everything stops like that then, for a little while. Both unable to move forward or backwards, both refusing to give any ground to the other who is more of an enemy most days than a co-worker. Even though he's still got his hand on his knee, Sam can physically see as the quiet grows and Gene gets further and further away. The clock ticks over and the Test-Card Girl swings her legs, bored, and Sam decides this is it for tonight- he's done everything his conscience has asked of him and then some. Time for two hours of sleep before getting up, going to work and facing 1973 again. He moves away, takes his hand away, stands and puts the rest of the things away, moves away and lets his DCI drift even further away, turns away and tries to blanket everything in his head with white noise as thick as a cloud of wasps. (It doesn't really help.) Only once he's safely under the bedclothes does he dare glance over at the ratty arm chair, its occupant, and the smoke. There's less smoke snow, the cigarette burnt down to the filter and he suspects burning Gene's fingers, but he keeps quiet. Gene's a big boy who's made it quite clear he doesn't want any help. So fucking be it.
The lamp goes off and the man out of his time and the man a perfect product of his time stare into the darkness together in a fractured display of solidarity. Sam listens to the city outside- not so different from 2006 at all- and the sounds inside. Each rustle and shift, the breathing heavy from years of a smoking habit and, if he tries hard enough, the sizzle of the cigarette as it dies out, the night snapping shut and leaving them in complete blackness.
So he's hyper-aware how Gene swallows and his throat clicks before what he says next. Sam braces himself.
"I never saw it," Gene wheezes. Sam sits up in bed. "I never saw his..." Body they mouth soundlessly together, in synch. "I found him. Someone he knew took me to the grave. Tonight when they called..."
"You hoped," whispers Sam, before he can stop himself. What's left of his own heart is breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.
"I was a bloody fucking idiot," he sneers.
But Sam is already shaking his head, "It's not stupid to hope, Guv."
Gene sighs, "Even if it ain't, what the fuck does it ever get you? Hoping?"
Even in 2006, there's no answer. He could live the next thirty years one day at a time, then another thirty after that and he could never come to an answer. Hope hurts and as cops they see enough each day that it's a little easier to ask themselves why the hell they still continue to care. Sam shuffles to sit against the headboard. "I'm sorry- No, this isn't... pity, or whatever you think this is," he hastens to add, not needing to see the scowl to know that it's there. "Just... a statement. Acknowledgment. Whatever. That's a really shitty thing to go through and I'm sorry. Simple as that, Guv."
Silence yet again. He hopes he'll understand that tacking 'Guv' on the end of that sentence is not at all meant to be an insult but rather a sign of- well, a sign of whatever.
This time, the silence doesn't end.
Sam sighs for the umpteenth time this evening, eventually lies back down, pulls the covers up to his chin and tries to pretend by the scent of laundry powder he's the four year old he's meant to be in 1973 and this is all a bad dream and if he yells loud enough, Mum will come down the hall and switch the light on.
Sleep's just started to get its claws into him when a flame flickers in the dark. Gene lights the cigarette and it glows, a tiny sun swimming in the pitch black sea. "Tyler? You still awake?"
"What is it?" His P45, most likely. Dismissal for being the world's biggest, unmanliest fairy ever.
"Nothing. Just... thanks." His voice after the hesitation wavers, only just enough it pings Sam's radar. "All back to normal in the morning, huh?"
You don't think no less of me, do you, Sam? He snorts. His first meeting of Gene ended with him being slammed up against the filing cabinets like one of the criminals they arrest- if that wasn't a breaking point, Sam would love to see what is.
"Yeah," he whispers back, making sure to keep his voice nice and even. "But you're buying me breakfast. And drinks after work."
Seven feet away in the darkness, Gene starts to laugh.