Sam Tyler woke up the next morning in Gene Hunt's body, on Gene Hunt's sofa, where he'd begun two days before.
This time, he rolled over. This time, he stared out with a blank gaze at the hideous wallpaper and thought, and thought, and thought. He usually liked thinking. It usually elucidated things, simplified things, sorted them out into neat little columns and rows. Usually, it didn't make him feel like he wanted to crawl into a dark corner and die a little while, though that might have been last night's second malt bottle, or the fact that the home stretch of his 1973 marathon seemed to require unseemly white loafers.
Eventually, he crawled into a dark corner of Gene's lavatory and died a little while, and afterward he rinsed out his mouth and set his hands against either edge of the sink. He set his jaw, then slowly raised his eyes to the mirror.
The Guv stared back at him. Bleary-eyed and worn-out, beyond miserable. Sam thought -- this is how he looks right now, really looks. Sam thought -- I wonder if he can see me.
In the mirror, Gene brought a hand to his face. He drew a thumb across his lips.
Sam shivered. He shut his eyes, then splashed water on his face. He let his head hang.
Then he let out a breath. He turned around and saw Gene's wife standing just a few feet in front of him.
"Oh," he croaked, "morning," which was apparently the sum total of his fluency in casual Gene-ese.
"Morning," Gene's wife returned. She was fully dressed this time, in a frock and coat, with walking shoes. She had a calm air about her, steady, decided. "I'm going now."
"Oh," Sam said. He swallowed. "Sorry, I didn't..."
"It's all right." She smiled, weary, hands firm on the handles of the purse. "I told you it was all right."
Sam shifted. He got the feeling he was missing something -- a sensation he despised enough when he wasn't trapped in someone else's house with someone else's wife while pretending to be that someone. And also fantastically hungover. "I just... uh." He scrambled for words. "I -- I know I haven't been 'round, really, and..."
"Gene," she said, soft. "I said it's all right."
Sam blinked at her. Dread rose up in him, slow and dark, as his eyes wandered to the suitcases propped up on the wall behind her.
"Oh, god," he said.
"You knew this was coming," Gene's wife replied.
No, Sam thought, no, I right well fucking did not, but he was stuck there, speechless, wordless, deprived of a voice he could use.
He was stealing something from Gene, impossible and important. He was stealing it right now.
"I..." Sam looked away. For god's sake, he couldn't do this. "If you could... wait, just a day or two--"
"You said that last time," Gene's wife said, and Sam's heart nearly broke in two.
It must have cracked through his face, through his eyes, because Gene's wife stepped toward him, just a bit, an inch, before she moved back again.
"We both know this is what's right," she murmured. "That we should have done this a long time ago."
Sam pursed his lips. He didn't answer, but he didn't argue. He wondered if Gene would have argued, which part of himself he might have pulled words out of -- the brute, the copper, the husband. Sam had only seen a sliver of the last one and he realized now that there might have been nothing more than that.
Gene's wife looked down. "You're a good man, always have been. I know you try not to act it, but you are."
"I--" Sam tried.
"But we were never friends," she went on as she raised her head. "Even back then, we weren't, were we? We got on, we still do, but that's not enough. I can't keep doing this, not for eighteen more years. Lots of women can, but I'm not one of them, Gene."
Sam looked at her, her steadiness, her resolution. He knew what it took to stand up to Gene Hunt, one way or another.
So he nodded. "Okay," he said, voice hoarse.
"Okay," she said with a smile.
Gene wouldn't hug her. Sam knew that like he knew rain was wet, so his arms stayed limp at his sides as she shouldered her purse and took a suitcase in either hand.
"I can take one," Sam said. Gene would say that. Gene would be wounded, bleeding, but stand tall despite it. Gene would be chivalrous.
"No," Gene's wife said. "I'm quite all right."
Sam followed her to the door. He didn't know if Gene would, but he knew he had to, and he stood near the foot of the stairs, hand tight on the bannister as she placed the luggage outside.
"Cab's picking me up at the corner," she said as if to preempt Gene's offer. "You can tell people I'm off on holiday."
"Kind of you," Sam murmured. He meant it. Gene would mean it.
She paused, then turned toward him. "We never knew each other."
Sam's hand tightened. "Not so kind."
"You have to see someone to know them," she continued, like she was used to interruptions. "You have to see them, the real them, that little piece of something that shines through all the rest. I don't think I ever did, with you. I hope one day you find someone who can."
Sam looked back at her. Something cool drifted from his head to his toes, to his fingertips, like water, like glaciers moving. Atoms inside him, once harsh and repellant, coalesced into water and air.
"Shit," Sam said. "Oh, shit, has he?"
"He?" Gene's wife echoed. "That might explain it, then," and she turned and walked out the door.
"Where the hell is he?" Sam asked as he slammed into CID's empty bullpen.
Annie's head snapped up from where her cheek rested on the desk. Dark circles lined her eyes. "Morning, Guv."
Sam stopped when he saw her. His current imperative clattered to the backburner. "You were here all night?"
Annie stared blearily. She began to stand, groggy fingers fumbling with the pile of papers on her desktop. "Yes, Guv. DI Tyler said you ordered it."
God, he had, hadn't he? Gene had even told him as much, and under normal circumstances, both of them would have burned the midnight oil with their team, no question, but instead...
"Sorry." Sam shook his head, ran a hand through his hair. "Shit, I'm sorry. Should have... should have stayed, too."
Annie paused in her paper-gathering.
"Guv..." she said slowly. "Are you all right?"
"No," Sam muttered. He was sick of this, exhausted as hell. "No, I'm not all right. Last few days have been far from all right."
"I think..." Annie spoke soft, delicate, the way she did sometimes, treading minefields. "I think we've all noticed, a bit."
"Good," Sam snorted. He dropped into a chair near the chalkboard and rubbed his eyes. "Good, excellent. Where's DI Tyler?"
Annie frowned. "Haven't seen him since last night."
"Before he toddled off," Sam muttered.
"Oh -- no, he came back later on," she said. "'Round two o'clock."
Sam blinked. "Why?"
"Check in on the case, I suppose. He asked some questions, then left."
"Some things Owen Rodrick said." Annie paused. "Nothing important, really."
Normally Sam might have pressed harder, but his pressing right now would have been Gene's bullying and that was the last thing he wanted Annie put through.
So he stood up to tell her to go, get some kip. But before he could, his eye caught the chalkboard, patterned with a few crime scene floor plans, Owen Rodrick's flat included.
Sam frowned. "Did you do these?"
"Oh... yes." Sam could hear the waver in Annie's voice, unease in the face of the Guv's potential ridicule. "Was trying to work things out last night -- where we found the bodies, where they were killed. I've got--" She stood up, tentative, and motioned at the right side of the board. "I've got lists, from city zoning -- um, potential safehouses, 'round the dump sites -- warehouses, uninhabited streets..."
Sam had to choke back the surge of pure pride in his lungs and throat, though a bit managed to leak out. "Not bad," he said with a kind of growly squeak.
"Thanks, Guv." Annie smiled, just a bit. "I... I think we can assume he's still in the city, given the codependent relationship with his brother and his issues with ownership -- family, women, the city itself..."
"Right," Sam coughed out. God, she was clever, so bloody clever. He wasn't sure he'd ever meet someone more perfect.
But as he scanned the chalkboard one more time, he realized -- the scope of the investigation wasn't quite as flawless. He turned toward her. "Why isn't Bart's carpentry shop up here?"
Annie fidgeted. "It wasn't officially logged as a crime scene -- the layout of it wasn't included in the reports."
"I was there yesterday." Sam grabbed a piece of chalk off the ledge and began sketching out the basics. "Tool rack, front entrance, back exit," he said as he labeled the boxes, "work table..."
He paused as his chalk piece hovered over those last words. Work table. They'd only just shifted their thinking between suspects yesterday evening, so it'd been easy to overlook -- that Bart's main base, the place to which he attributed his work, his creation, his destruction -- was right here.
"What if we've been looking at this all wrong?" Sam murmured.
Annie had stood next to him, silent, but now turned away. Sam didn't mind her, brow furrowed at the chalkboard as he started listing new locations. "Carpentry shop is on the other side of town from the dump sites -- but what if that's the original crime scene, for all of these? What if... he's found a hideout near there?"
"You're right -- should probably jot this down," Annie said behind him. He heard her tug open a drawer. "Where was it you kept your pens, Sam?"
"Right drawer, bottom left." Sam wrote out three whole letters before he froze.
Sam whipped around. Annie's eyes had gone wide, her face pale. She clutched the drawer handle in her hand.
Sam sucked in a breath. "Annie--"
"That's it." She shook her head, dazed. "What else could it be? I thought -- I thought, day before yesterday, but then I said to myself, I said -- that's mad, utterly mad."
"Annie." Sam raised his hands, paced toward her. "Annie, listen to me--"
"But this note." She stepped back, away from him, torn memo page raised like a shield. "Sam's note -- left on my desk yesterday morning -- his handwriting, but odd, a bit off, and that... that's it, right there, on the board, right out of you!"
"Because it is me." Sam heard Gene Hunt's voice break. "Annie, it's me, it's Sam."
The memo page shook in Annie's hand. "Don't. Please, don't--"
"You're not mad," Sam choked out. "I'm not, either -- for thinking I'm in a coma, or Vic Tyler's my dad, or that I'm from thirty-three years in the future and now trapped in the worst bit yet, the worst bit, Annie..."
Annie stared, eyes wet. She raised a hand to cover her mouth.
"Sam?" she whispered.
Sam bit his lip. "Yeah."
Annie shook her head. "Sam?"
Sam reached out to take her hand with the memo paper, clasp it between Gene's palms.
"It's me," he breathed as the paper crumpled. "I'm right here."
The wind was cold on the station roof. Sam had to cup a hand around his cigarette as he lit it, made sure to stand downwind from Annie. She stood, shoulders rigid, arms crossed from the chill.
Sam realized it hurt, physically hurt, to look at her.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Annie blinked out over the brick rooftops bathed in morning light. "For what?"
"For this. For... god, for everything." Sam exhaled as he looked out at the same view, the smoke-belching factories, the peeling signs, all the crooked pieces of a decade he didn't belong to. "You don't deserve it -- all this insanity I'm tied to." He swallowed, throat dry. "Neither does Gene."
"So that is him, then," Annie murmured.
Sam nodded, though he knew she couldn't see it. She hadn't looked at him, not really, not since they'd got up the stairs and she'd paced a few feet away, put space between them. Sam hadn't said a word, hadn't blamed her. He'd think he was frightening too.
Annie stood a while before she spoke. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Sam snorted -- Gene's snort, and he could hear it, and Annie could hear it, and her little flinch was like a kick to the stomach.
"Because of this," Sam said softly. "Because of exactly this, because now you know that I'm broken, that this world is broken, and that's it, you can't unsee it. I can't take it back."
Annie straightened. "Broken?"
"What else would you call it?" Sam kicked a bit of gravel with the toe of Gene's shoe. "I'm puttering about in another bloke's body. Gene's body, Annie, I..." I had to watch his wife leave him, Sam wanted to say, but he couldn't. He couldn't do that to him.
"And that..." Annie trailed off a moment before steeling herself. Treading minefields again. "That means we're all 'broken', does it?"
Sam frowned around his cigarette. There was a tone in Annie's voice that he hadn't expected, not shock, not horror. "I didn't..."
"How many times," Annie started, quietly. She balled her hands into fists. "How many times have you asked me to believe you?"
"Do you still think I'm the Guv?" Sam asked, almost hoarse. "Do you really think this is some elaborate--"
Annie turned to face him.
"I don't mean this," she said. "I mean about time-travel. Coma. Hearing your mum on the telly, singing songs I've never heard of, saying when bombs will and won't explode, handing me pages and pages and pages of notes, all for me, all so I'd believe you."
Sam felt a little tug at the back of his mind, something off, something panicked, like he knew he'd done something wrong but hadn't wanted to think it. "Yeah," he said. "And now you know why."
"But that's it, Sam -- I don't." Annie shook her head. Her eyes had gone wet again, maybe from saying his name to this, to this face, and maybe from more than that. "I don't know why, I... I can't understand it. Why you'd try so hard, work every day of your life to make me believe the impossible, prove something that can't be proved, and then finally, the one time -- the one time you can..."
She trailed off. Sam looked back at her.
"I..." he said, faintly, like something small. "I was afraid I'd sound mad."
And he realized it, then, the lie of it. The ugly simplicity.
So did Annie. "No," she said. Her shoulders slumped with numb weariness, with confirmation of truth. "You were afraid I'd believe you."
Sam looked down. His head spun. He inhaled smoke and it soothed him in the worst way, like picking the edge of a nail. He didn't want to know what Annie was saying. Didn't want to acknowledge the lead weight growing in his chest, the threads of thoughts traveling up his spine, prickling his hairs, traveling down again before he could catch them. He felt the truth of it but couldn't bear to think it, make it into words.
"You never wanted me to believe you, because then..."
Sam shut his eyes. "Annie..."
"Because then I'd be real."
Sam pressed a hand to his face. He turned away.
Annie continued, softly, "And you can't bear thinking that, can you? That I have a life, a family, friends, fears and hopes -- that there could be anything of me outside of you. That I'm not meant for you, that I'm not made for you, that I wouldn't vanish into thin air once I told you..." her voice cracked, like an old book's binding as it closed, "that you're not mad."
Wind blew against Sam's cheek. From one moment to the next, nothing changed and everything did.
"That's it, then," he whispered. "That's us."
Annie answered, quiet. "I think that's all it can be."
"Right." Sam pulled his palm from his face, dug the back of his hand into the corners of his eyes, because Gene would kill him if he found out he'd been crying. "Day got even better, then."
The tears kept coming and Sam kept rubbing, and Gene was going to kill him, and this place was going to kill him, and he was dying, anyway, somewhere else, and he didn't know how much longer he could take this, being alone, and as he threw his cigarette into the wind, he thought -- maybe the next gust would knock him down and this time he wouldn't get up.
He felt a hand on his arm. "Sam."
"What?" he snapped, Gene-like.
Annie's other hand clasped his other arm. With effort, she turned him toward her.
"Sam," she said, steady, an anchor. "Sam, look at me."
"I'm not me," he mumbled.
He opened his eyes. Annie's blurry face looked back at him, up at him.
"You may not know much of me," she said, hands tight on the sleeves of Gene's coat, "but I know you. And I'm still here for you. I will always be here for you."
Sam let out a huff. "Same but different, is that it?"
"Yes," Annie said. The even quality of her voice made him stop, made him still. "Same, but different."
Sam swallowed. He felt another stab of shame, this one sharp, tangible. He thought of clusters of cops at the Arms, laughing in little groups. "She" this, "her" that. "All chat, no reward, that one."
"Thank you," Sam said. He reached for Annie's jacket sleeves, grasped them with his hands. He let out a breath, a slow release, air he no longer needed. "Thank you."
Annie's mouth quirked, just the edge of a smile. "That's what friends are for."
They walked down the stairs companionably, like a wall had been lifted between them. If Sam was honest, it might have been the most relaxed they'd ever been.
"He wasn't at your flat?" Annie asked.
Sam shook his head, hands in Gene's coat pockets. "Didn't pick up, anyway. Or answer the door."
Annie pursed her lips. "It'll be odd to see him."
Sam smiled lopsidedly. "It isn't odd already?"
"I mean..." Annie sighed. "He said some things, last night."
"Oh, god." Sam blanched.
"No, no, nothing like that. He said..." Annie shook her head, with a severe little expression. "He said I was one of the best coppers he'd ever met."
Sam nearly stumbled over the next step. "What?"
"You heard me."
"He said that?"
"Like--" Sam made a futile gesture. "Like, it actually came out of his mouth."
"Your mouth, technically."
Sam blinked down the stairs. "Right -- pretending to be me. 'Throwing compliments at girls, willy-nilly' -- that's how he'd see it."
Annie scowled at him, some of that anger from the core of their last conversation bubbling up to the surface. "I don't think so, Sam," she said, a bit frigid.
Sam wanted to return something about of course so, what else would suddenly make Fred Flintstone commend female independence, except then a little voice asked him, quietly asked him -- what would suddenly make DI Dorothy beat a man inside his cell?
Sam ran a hand through his too-long hair as they reached the stairwell exit to CID's floor.
Annie grabbed the doorknob, turned toward him. "Are you ready for this?"
"Been doing it three days," Sam muttered.
"Not very well," Annie replied.
Sam scowled at her. Annie smiled.
"It's... it's strange, though," she said. She sounded distant as she searched his face. "I can see you in there. I really can."
Something tugged at the corner of Sam's mouth. "Well," he said as he pressed his hand over Annie's, "good thing our esteemed colleagues aren't quite as perceptive."
They opened the door together. Sam let go and walked onto the floor, strode into the bullpen.
"Oi -- Guv!" Ray shot up in his seat. "You and the Boss were off chasin' leads, then?"
Sam paused. He looked around. "Tyler's... not here, yet?"
"Nope, Guv," Chris offered through a bite of pastry, "jus' us and the boys." He grinned, held up a plate. "And some scones, then -- d'you..."
Chris' smile faltered under the Guv's glare. Annie trailed into the room, far enough behind him to make it look like they hadn't entered together. Smart.
Sam turned toward Ray, slow. "You aren't too knackered, then."
Ray grinned. "Nope! Ready to get to work, Guv, nick this--"
"I find that funny," Sam said, "considering you and DC Skelton were supposed to keep watch on Bart Rodrick's residence last night."
Chris stopped chewing his scone. He did that thing where he looked at the floor because he knew he'd done something wrong, because someone else had told him to.
Even more damning was Ray's stupid, gaping mouth. "Well, Guv, it... I thought the Boss -- y'know." He smirked. "Bit of a knock to the head he got yesterday, wan'it?"
"The Boss was acting on my authority," Sam growled, because god, bloody god, of course the bastard wouldn't listen to the man he idolized if it came out the wrong sodding mouth. "Have you forgotten chain of command, Detective Sergeant?"
"Don't waste your breath," Sam seethed.
"Guv?" Annie's voice piped up.
Sam turned toward her. There was a quiet urgency to her eyes, a shared understanding.
"I mentioned, earlier -- when DI Tyler came by the station last night, I told him something Rodrick had said to me."
"Yeah?" Sam said.
"I thought it was nothing," she continued, slow, so he could hear the space between the lines, "but it seemed as if Owen Rodrick had mixed up your names, somehow -- DI Tyler and DCI Hunt."
Sam looked back at her. Annie nodded.
"That's when he rushed off, Guv."
"Shit," Sam said. "Shit."
"Uh." Chris scratched his head. "Why's that important, like?"
"Because Bart Rodrick's the one who got our names wrong," Sam announced to the room, like it'd been the murderer's fault, ha-ha, what a laugh. "Tyler worked it out -- if Owen mistook us too, he must've communicated with his brother on a familiar number, used his phone call to contact Bart between when we apprehended him and when he..."
Annie caught his eyes. Too Sam.
Sam swallowed, looked back to the team. "Uh. 'Tween when we threw his arse in the nick and when he made eyes at our lovely Cartwright."
Annie brow-raised. Ooh.
Ray frowned a little, much different from the annoyed, raging scowl Sam usually stood on the receiving end of. "Guv, couldn't Rodgy-Dodgy have just, y'know." He shrugged. "Been an idiot, like."
"Trust me on this," Sam said, and as Ray nodded back, Sam realized with a surreal little tremor -- he did.
He looked around at the room, at the pairs of eyes watching his every move, ready, locked, spring-loaded.
They all did.
"I'll try to raise DI Tyler on the radio, Guv," Annie said as she grabbed for her handset, yanked out the antenna.
"Do that," Sam said, trying not to sound as panicked as he felt. He remembered the way Gene had gotten in Bart Rodrick's face yesterday and realized -- Christ, the Guv really would follow a lead into the jaws of danger regardless of how physically imposing he may or may not be, how easily he might be overcome and -- oh. Bloody -- jesus. Had Sam just thought himself a damsel in distress?
Had he just thought Gene a damsel in distress?
Sam remembered the original reason he'd slammed into CID and swallowed, and swallowed again, because that was so not a priority or even something he wanted to think about right now, or ever, and he threw it all on the backburner again as he raised his head and looked around, this time in action mode.
"Geoff," he said, "run down to Phyllis, have her organize plods -- ready to dispatch to these streets," he turned and pointed to a portion of his and Annie's work on the chalkboard. "Vince, you call 'round to businesses located in the same area -- see if anyone's seen Bart's car -- black Pinto, bent right fender."
"Right, Guv," they said in unison.
"Nothing," Annie breathed as she turned toward Sam, radio gripped in her hand. "S-- Guv, he's not responding."
"The Boss always responds," Chris mumbled. He let his plate clatter to his desk.
Ray stood, fists clenched. "We need to knock Owen Rodrick 'round -- get an answer out of 'im, where his killer brother's gone!"
Sam remembered Owen Rodrick's figure prostrated on the cell floor, crying and begging. "Don't think he'll tell us," he muttered.
"Can't know if we don't try!"
Sam frowned at Ray. He narrowed his eyes. "What do you care, anyway?"
"What do you care," Sam asked him, slow, "about what happens to DI Tyler?"
Geoff paused from grabbing his coat as Vince blinked up from his phone receiver. Chris turned his head between Ray and Sam as Annie bit her lip.
"Well, Guv..." Ray said, with a simple little shrug, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "He's the Boss."
"Yeah, Guv," Chris said, blinking.
Sam looked back at them. Geoff and Vince got back to work in the periphery. In the corner of his eye, Annie smiled.
"Right," Sam choked.
"And anyway," Ray continued, agitated, oblivious, "what are we supposed to do, then? Jus'... let 'im go?"
Sam raised his head. After a moment, he snapped his fingers.
"Raymondo," he said, "you're a bloody genius."
"I'm not going home," Annie muttered aside to Sam as he signed Rodrick's wad of release papers.
"You were up all night," Sam muttered back. He flashed a glare at Phyllis, who seemed to be nosing too much into their corner of the booth.
"Sam," Annie said, a low whisper, so quiet that Sam barely heard it, "you're not exactly in a condition to--"
"And neither are you." Sam forged Gene's signature one more time, chickenscratch with one bombastic flourish, then shoved the pile in Phyllis' direction.
"There you are, love."
Phyllis spun the pile toward her, scrutinized it. "Drinking last night, were we?"
Sam scowled. "You drinking now?"
He must've hit a perfect Guv note of insult and outrage, because Phyllis rolled her eyes and turned away from them.
"What?" Sam hissed.
"I am not. Leaving."
Sam let out a breath. He glanced around, then turned from the counter, sauntered into an unoccupied corner of the room. Annie followed.
"I don't need you to protect me," he said.
"Well," Annie scoffed as she crossed her arms, "seems rather what you're trying to do for me."
"Annie..." Sam faltered. He rubbed his temple. "You're exhausted. You look exhausted. I... I left you here last night -- time to let me do my share."
"I think you'd a rather good reason--"
Sam winced his eyes closed. "Yes, Chris?"
"He's leavin' now."
Sam's eyes snapped open. Some feet behind Chris, Owen Rodrick scuttled past Phyllis' station toward the doors, fidgety, nervous.
"Right," Sam said. He jerked his head. "C'mon, then, we're meeting Ray by the car."
"Guv--" Annie tried.
Sam stopped. He balled his hands into fists, steeled himself. He whipped around with a scowl.
"For the last bleeding time, Cartwright, don't want a bird in a shoot-out, 'specially when we're already saving one!"
Annie blinked, stuttered. Sparrow into glass again. A knot twisted in Sam's stomach from the way she looked at him, like Sam had vanished, snap, into the folds of the Guv's coat. It was scary -- bloody scary. Sam knew that.
He creased his brow at her, just a little.
I can do this.
Annie bit her lip. She nodded.
They tailed Rodrick's cab about two miles before he hopped out and went on foot.
"Should we follow him?" Ray asked from the driver's seat.
Sam shook his head. "Stay here. He'll be using the phone box -- see?"
Sure enough, Rodrick pulled back the door of the nearby box and stepped inside. Chris shifted in the back seat.
"Guv," Chris said, nudging -- in an awfully polite fashion -- a glass bottle away from his leg, "why's it we're usin' Ray's car, anyhow?"
"Oi!" Ray barked. "You're in here plenty!"
Sam kept his eyes fixed on Rodrick. "Tyler's got mine."
Ray turned his indignation on Sam. "What? You lent your motor to that nonce?"
"We're currently trying to save 'that nonce'."
"You've never lent it to me!"
Sam turned a Gene Hunt glare on Ray that shut him up right quick. Chris scrambled up in his seat.
"Oi, he's runnin'!"
Sam and Ray's heads snapped toward the windshield as Rodrick booked it, away from the booth and toward the nearby alleyway.
Sam slammed out of the car, grabbed his radio out of Gene's coat. "Base, this is Eight-Sev-- Alpha-One, this is Alpha-One, requesting backup at Pine and Throughwood--"
"--getting close," crackled a voice from the radio.
Sam froze. Ray and Chris ran past him.
"Yes," agreed another, "look at the monitor -- alpha's still abnormal, but his delta and theta waves--"
"God!" Sam hit it with the heel of his hand. "Not now!"
"Still minimal activity in the frontal cortex -- if only he would--"
"Guv!" Ray shouted over his shoulder.
"Keep on him!" Sam yelled back.
Ray nodded, veered around a corner, out of sight. Chris followed right after.
"I think, with one more test--"
Sam hit it again. The radio let out a crack and went silent.
"Hello?" Sam tried, shaking it. "Base?"
Nothing. Dead. Fantastic. Sam grit his teeth and braced himself to run after the others when something caught his eye.
The edge of a bronze Ford Cortina peeked out of the door to a dilapidated warehouse across the street.
Sam jogged over, looked both ways down the road. No one, just the empty brick fronts to recently condemned industrial buildings. Sam was fairly sure this became a shopping district by 2006.
"Ray!" he shouted. "Chris!"
No answer. They must've been out of hearing range. Sam grit his teeth and hit the button on the radio one more time -- nothing. He shoved it in his coat and pulled out the revolver he'd snatched from Gene's desk drawer, then made his way into the building.
The place was high-ceilinged and empty, for the most part, aside from the Cortina and a few piles of refuse here and there. Sam noticed a flight of metal stairs toward the back of the ground floor and headed toward them.
The metal of the stairs flexed and creaked under Sam's shoes. He inhaled. He felt solid, hyper-aware, senses on high-alert, and he wondered -- why that was wrong, why the very un-strangeness of that was off, somehow. Then his vision shifted and focused on the driving gloves on his hands, and he thought, Oh, good god, I'm used to this.
He stepped off the stairs into a dark hallway, boarded off on both sides by old plywood. He paced forward, slow, and narrowed his eyes as he noticed a small source of light, peeking out under a door further down. He jogged toward it.
Sam heard a cough. His cough. The jog turned into a run.
He burst through the door and light flooded his vision. A long work table focused into his sight, with bloodstains on and around it. A thick concrete support pillar stood on the other side of the room, with Sam's form leaned up against it, arms tied around the back.
"Gene!" Sam hissed.
Gene sat bolt upright. Then he slumped.
"Oh, thank god it's you," he said. "Don't have to pretend I'm a mingy nonce."
Sam rushed toward him as he holstered the gun. Gene's face looked worse -- more blood out of his nose, his mouth. Sam could make out bruises near the collar of his shirt, under the St. Christopher. "Gene, oh god, are you--"
"I'm fine, Mum." Gene grimaced, wriggled one wrist. "Now could you unlock me and get us out of this shithole?!"
"Right." Sam moved around the pillar, then paused. "Are these... wooden stocks?"
"Don't care what they are, get them off!"
"God, that explains the abnormal chafe marks on the victims, the--"
"Tyler, for the love of god--"
"Okay, okay!" Sam stood up. His eyes darted around the room. "I need a key for the padlock--"
"It's wood, you donkey!" Gene shouted. "Find a bloody saw!"
"Oh." Sam turned, saw a cabinet. He wrenched it open to see a line of tools hung neatly on nails and hooks. He tried hard not to think of their purpose as he grabbed a handsaw and rushed back over, kneeled down behind the pillar.
"Okay." Sam pressed the saw blade against the top of the wood block and pushed it back and forth.
Gene stayed quiet a second. Then, "For fuck's sake, thought I'd be a bit faster at saving meself--"
"Then stop using my hands like you're holding nancy teacups!"
"What even happened?" Sam tightened his grip and sawed harder. "How'd you even end up in this mess?"
"Fine police work's what." Gene grimaced, shifted his back against the pillar to give his arms more slack around it. "Heard a tidbit from Cartwright, strolled on to Barty-Farty's house, hoped to find him. And I did, but thanks to Ray and Chris slackin' and the fairy string-bean I've taken residence in--"
"You couldn't defend yourself like a manly man-man, yes, that's all very tragic." Sam yanked back on the wood block to get a better grip on it and Gene screamed.
It didn't register at first. The scream. Because it was Sam's voice, and even he didn't usually hear it like that. He only made that sound when he couldn't hold it in, when pain shot out of him, past his thoughts, his words.
Sam's eyes darted to Gene's arms under the leather sleeves of Sam's jacket. One was off-kilter, almost, bent in the wrong direction.
"Oh god." Sam paled. "Gene--"
"I told you," Gene wheezed, short of breath, "I'm--"
"Your fucking arm's broken!" Sam yelled back.
"Sam!" Gene shouted. "Killer -- coming back! You -- get me out, now!"
Sam grit his teeth and pressed the wood block against the ground as he sawed, purposefully, carefully. He got to the seam between the two halves with a little thud and kept going, tried to ignore the sound Gene made in the back of his throat, the way one of his hands sat limp in the stocks while the other clenched into a fist so hard it was shaking.
The stocks cracked. Sam yanked them open, then skittered around to kneel in front of him. "Okay. Okay, can you walk?"
"'Course I can," Gene hissed between his teeth.
"Gene." Sam grabbed him by both sides of his face, held him there, looked into him, into his eyes. "Don't lie to me, mate, I don't want to hurt you--"
"Don't want to hurt yourself," Gene snarled back, but it was softer, and Sam saw something in his face -- saw Gene, the way he widened his eyes and twisted his mouth, sometimes, with that little edge of fear, when he tried hardest to make it not show.
"So you found him, DI Tyler."
Sam's head snapped up. Bart Rodrick stood in the doorway, gun raised and pointed right at him.
"Bloody hell," Sam said.
"You utter jessie!" Gene shoved at Sam with his good arm. "I told you to hurry!"
"Thought it'd be easy, did you?" Bart smirked at them, pistol steady. "Owen deliberately led your officers off track -- probably ran them halfway across the city."
"You overestimate their athletic ability," Sam muttered.
"I haven't overestimated a thing." Bart's smirk widened. "Least of all DCI Hunt here. Though I have to admit, I wasn't expecting him to show up without backup... or show himself to be a crying girl underneath all that bluster."
Sam's eyes shot to Gene and Gene in no way looked back.
"Peanut brittle," Gene muttered.
Bart's gun snapped up higher. Sam grabbed Gene's shoulder.
"Put it down, Bart," Sam said, level. "A squad of officers is on its way as we speak."
Bart laughed. "You think your lies scare me? No one scares me, because I see them -- I see into them, inside of them, the truth of them." He drew a line down his stomach with his finger, same place he'd cut open his victims. "I find what they're made of and carve it out."
Sam's hand tightened on the leather jacket. Gene's heart pounded inside Sam's chest and he wondered, with distant horror--
How would that work, dying in another bloke's skin?
Bart gestured with his pistol. "Take out your gun, throw it across the room."
Sam grit his teeth. Slowly, he reached under Gene's coat, into his holster, tugged out his revolver.
"Sam..." Gene hissed.
Sam did. The gun clattered onto the blood-stained concrete near the table.
Gene winced his eyes closed as Bart motioned for Sam to stand against the wall to the side of them. Sam balled a fist into the jacket at Gene's shoulder, then let go of it.
"What the hell is your plan, Bart?" he asked as he backed away.
"Kill you," Bart said.
Gene grit his teeth. "What a sodding revelation."
"Slow and bloody for you, DI Tyler," Bart said with a glance toward Sam. "As for your friend, we can end him quick."
"Sorry, Detective Inspector." Bart strolled up to Gene, casual, no big affair. "You're the one who hurt my brother. You'll watch -- and then you'll pay."
"No," Sam said.
Bart pressed his gun to Gene's forehead.
Sam stepped forward. "NO!"
Bart's gun snapped back to Sam. "Move and I'll do you first."
"I don't care!" Sam shouted, shaking. "You don't touch him, you don't fucking touch him--" And his eyes found Gene on the floor, beat and bleeding, breathing hard, and nothing else about him mattered, nothing but him, that piece of him, the core of him, the something that shone through all the rest -- Gene.
That was Gene.
That was Gene about to die, here, in front of him, clear as water, as day, as the moment the Guv had first strolled out of his office, or swung into his car, or slammed into Sam's flat all those million times, and all the times he hadn't but Sam had slammed out anyway, because that's what they did, wasn't it? Look for the other, find the other, be the other, like two jagged edges that tore and scraped but then they slid into place and you realized -- you realized they'd been two halves of a whole all along.
"I need him," Sam breathed.
A gun went off.
"Think that did it -- readings are equalizing."
Sam gasped. He felt cold wall against his back.
"Shock treatment must have recalibrated the activity."
Sam's arm hung at his side, a throbbing, aching lump of meat. His face felt like someone had stomped on it and lit it on fire. It hurt every time he breathed. His blurred vision managed to make out two man-shaped blobs nearby. One held its arm while the other pointed a gun.
"What..." Bart's voice trailed off. "What just--"
Sam grit his teeth and slammed his foot out, right at Bart's ankle. Bart stumbled, hit the ground with a thud. The other figure let go of its arm, stormed forward, grabbed Bart's shoulder and cracked his head into the concrete.
Bart went limp. Gene kicked his gun across the room, kneeled down to ratchet cuffs on his hands.
Sam wheezed for a second. He opened his mouth, closed it again.
Gene checked the cuffs, then stood up. He rolled his shoulder and glanced down at the single, small graze wound on his arm.
"Merlin's tits," said Gene's voice, outside of Sam, to Sam. "That's better, innit?"
Sam looked back at him. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the pillar.
"I am," Sam croaked, "in so much pain."
"Well aware, Gladys," Gene replied.
"Three days," Sam rasped. "Only you could do this much damage. In three days."
"Actually, bastard killer on the floor did." Gene kicked Bart's unconscious form in the ribs. Hard.
Sam sat there for a second.
A smile spread out on his face. A laugh burst from his throat, and it hurt, and it was his, and it was brilliant.
"God," he said. "It's good to see you, Guv."
Gene glanced back at him. He twisted his mouth.
"Not good to see you," he said. "You look like a dog's arse what shit itself."
Sam winced as he leaned his good elbow on the waiting room's counter. The phone receiver in his hand pressed against his ear, heavy and cool, a sight better than the sling strap digging into his neck or the sharp sting in his nose and chest when he breathed.
But it was Sam's neck, Sam's chest, Sam's arm throbbing in plaster. And that was good.
The line clicked. "Hello?"
Sam smiled against the receiver. "Hey, Annie."
The phone stayed quiet a second. "S-- ...Um."
"No, it's -- it's me." Sam let out a huff, an almost-laugh. "It's really me this time. Time travel. See, it's me."
Sam heard her let out a breath. "Sam...! Oh, good, well, that's--"
"A relief. Yeah."
"Just a bit." She laughed a little. It segued into a yawn.
"Ray and Chris are booking Rodrick at the station because of you," Sam said. "You deserved some sleep -- glad you listened."
"Well," she quipped back, "had to listen to the Guv, didn't I?"
Sam's smile faded. He straightened, grimaced from the pain of it.
"Annie," he got out, "I'm... I can't tell you how sorry I am. For--"
"Sam, I told you, I don't need tethers. I won't float away."
Sam swallowed. He thought of her sitting in a nightgown on the edge of her bed, phone pressed to her ear. He thought how she might still sit there, after he hung up, after the phone line cut her from him. He thought of the space she occupied, the furnishings, the knick-knacks, the hideous wallpaper that might surround her, and he thought -- he didn't know what it looked like. He'd never bothered to see.
"Yeah," he said, mouth dry. "I know."
The phone crackled. "He's all right too, then?"
"The Guv?" Sam snorted. "Three bloody stitches, he'll be fine."
"Stitches!" Annie exclaimed. "Are you calling from hospital?"
"Did you get injured?"
"Um." Sam glanced down at his cast and sling. "...A bit."
"I'm fine, Annie," Sam said. He heard steps down the corridor and turned to see the Guv walking toward the waiting room, coat over one arm, bandage on the other.
"I promise. We're fine."
Sam propped himself up against the stiff cushion of the waiting room bench. Beside him, Gene lit up a cigarette, flicked his lighter closed.
Sam watched him for several seconds before speaking. "You should really cut back."
"Don't you ruin this for me, Tyler." Gene leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, let out a long, smoky "aaahhh."
Sam scowled at him. "Can't pretend with me, you know."
"That it's all just a function of you being--" He raised his good hand, made air quotes. "'Manly'."
Gene glared back at him. "You want to play this game?"
"You think we can't?"
"I think you like your little secrets more than I do." Gene took a drag on his cigarette. "Namely the papers stuffed in your dresser drawer."
Sam stared back. He closed his eyes. Sunk into his seat.
"Shit," he said.
Gene blew out smoke. "2006, then?"
"I..." Sam pressed a palm to his aching face. "Shit."
They sat in silence. Sam pulled his hand away.
"Your wife left you," he rasped.
Gene gazed down at the ember end of his cigarette. He scuffed his heel against the tile floor. "Thought so."
Sam nodded. "That's it, then."
"You know I'm cracked. I know you're human." Sam shrugged with one shoulder, limply. "That's it."
After a second, Gene snorted, strangely distant. "Wasn't much of a mystery, Gladys."
Sam didn't answer. He fixed his eyes on the floor, fidgeted with the edge of his sling. He noticed Gene watching, out the corner of his eye.
Sam ran his fingers over the rough plaster. He pictured his arm laid over a metal bar as a heel came down and snapped it like a dry branch. He saw himself dragging his beaten body toward a gun only to have it kicked away, pictured a fist grab him up by the collar and slam his shoulder into the ground. He heard words that might have streamed out from between bloodied teeth, scattered and furious, scared.
"Blimey, Boss," Chris had said when the plods had dragged Rodrick away. "Bad business, that. Looks like... y'know, 'nother day and you might've--"
"He's not a girl, Skelton," Gene had snapped, and that's when Sam had known.
"You all right, Guv?" he asked, quiet.
Gene didn't answer. He rubbed a hand over his own jawline, trailing smoke from his cigarette.
"Never said how this happened, Tyler."
Sam flattened his hand against the cast. He shook his head. "I don't know. Really, I--"
"You know," Gene muttered. He took a drag. "You're the only one who could bloody know."
Metal wheels clicked against the floor as a stretcher rolled down the hall. Nearby, a receptionist chatted with a patient at the front desk. Sam swallowed. He leaned forward, wrapped his whole arm over the broken one, let his shoulders hunch over his chest.
"There might be other things we know too."
Air vents rattled. An old man coughed a few seats away. The receptionist mentioned something about Form 2-H and Sam's throat and nostrils burned with shallow little breaths, white-hot, as he fixed his eyes on a crack in the tile.
Gene stood up. He turned and gathered his coat from the seat beside him, threaded an arm through one of the sleeves. He dropped his cigarette to the floor, unfinished.
"I have your mess to clean up at CID," he said. He pressed his heel into the embers of the cigarette and crushed them, slow and deliberate. "Assuming Nancy Drew can manage a day without holding Hardy Boy's hand."
Sam inhaled. It felt thin, thready, like air had left the room.
"Gene--" he said.
"Guv," Gene said, cold, clipped. Sam shut his eyes, made his hand into a fist, pressed it into the skin of his thigh. Under bruises and fractured ribs, something writhed and shrunk in his chest, and he wondered if that's how it felt -- when something ended.
"Right," he said.
Sam heard Gene shrug on the rest of his coat. "Take a few days," he said, like throwing a bone to a dog, and then his shoes marched across the hard tile floor, to the doors and out of them.
Sam slunk back to his own awful flat in his own aching body against the doctor's orders and his own better judgment. He curled up on his manky sheets and drew in breaths and let them hurt. He wondered, bitterly, if he'd have to wait for the 80's for anything angst-ridden or socially progressive enough to blast on his record player and fall asleep to, but mid-way through ranking The Cure songs in his head by order of situational appropriateness, he passed out.
It was yesterday, and he was Gene again. He stood in his brown office, in his green shirt, under the hazy glow of the lamps above. Annie kneeled in front of Sam on the other side of the room, and she dabbed at his bludgeoned face and she smiled.
Something rose up in him, fierce and familiar. It gripped him harder than he did the flask in his hand, dug past his skin, to the marrow of his bones. Worse than envy, than hate.
It was unfair.
He sat at the Arms on a day he hadn't been Gene, except he still watched Sam over the top of a pint, past his hand of cards. Sam chatted with some pretty plonk from the collator's, and Gene clenched his jaw, and said "check" instead of "fold," because he didn't want to notice the hand he'd been dealt, didn't want to know he would lose.
It was unfair.
He stood in a hospital waiting room, waste of a fag under his shoe, unable to look his stupid DI in the eye, some fairy creature from a world of internets and mobiles and other lunatic scribbles on paper scraps. It could be this was normal, in Hyde. It could be men pranced about and howled feelings from rooftops like mad little wolves, but this wasn't Sam's world and Sam forgot that too easy. Gene had to remind him -- had to drag him, kick him, slam him into stone walls, because this world could crush a man if he hadn't built himself up right, if he hadn't poured iron into the weak bits, the worst bits.
A man like that might stand in a hospital car park with a hand on his cold metal bonnet. He might remember hours before, when he'd stared down death, might think of his single regret.
It was unfair. It was fucking unfair, but that was life, and that was that.
"We're talking," Sam breathed. "Now."
Beyond the threshold to his home, Gene gazed back impassively. "It's two in the sodding morning."
"And you're still in your clothes and you smell like whiskey and it took you ten bloody steps to get to the door. Gene."
Sam didn't shove past him so much as violently stumble. Gene didn't stop him, but he didn't shut the door either.
"You've got ten seconds," Gene said, "to get out."
Sam staggered, laughed. "Or what? You'll break my arm?"
"Tyler," Gene growled.
"How did that feel, by the way?" Sam turned toward him, off-balance. He caught the edge of the stair bannister with his good hand. "All of this, it's -- Christ, it's bad. You could've died, it's so bad."
Gene's eyes narrowed. "You poppin' pain pills?"
"Chemical courage," Sam shot back, sharp enough that Gene would know he wasn't daft with it. "Thought one of us ought to grow some balls."
Gene snapped the hallway light on. Sam winced from the glare of it.
"It's been ten seconds," Gene said with terrible calm.
"Break my arm," Sam replied.
Gene didn't move. Sam laughed again.
"God. Are you frightened--"
Sam's shoulderblade cracked against the wall. His shirt went tight where Gene fisted it in his hand, on Sam's better side, his unbroken side.
"Don't like beating cripples," Gene hissed into his face.
"Don't like lots of things," Sam breathed back.
"You least of all," Gene snapped, "smug little git, think you know a damn thing--"
"I know every damn thing," said Sam.
Beside them, the door creaked with the wind. The bones of Gene's knuckles pressed through Sam's shirt and into his aching chest.
Sam raised his hand, grabbed for Gene's shoulder, dug his nails in.
"I know how I look from up there," Sam said, voice flighty, strange. "I know how I look, and how you look, and I know what we're like when we're out of our stupid shoes, what we do when there's nothing to stop us--"
"Sam," Gene growled in warning, a threat, but there was more to it too, because Sam could feel how much those knuckles shook against his ribs. Could see those wide green eyes.
Like his only lifeline was trapped, here, in front of him.
Sam's hand slid from Gene's shoulder to the back of his neck. He threaded his fingers through hair.
"I've been in there," he said. "I've been in there and I know how unfair it is, trying to be someone you're not--"
Gene kicked the door. It slammed, and it locked, and Gene shoved his mouth onto Sam's like it was all one motion, trigger pulled, bullet shot, and now it was gone, out the barrel, and Sam fisted his hand in Gene's hair and Gene wrapped his arm around Sam's back, and the ashtray crashed back into Sam's mouth and it was rough and hot and bitter and wet and everything ached and throbbed and burned.
It was his. The tongue he'd spoken with, the teeth he'd bit with, the lips he'd pursed and curled. He pressed his wrist into the shirt collar he'd straightened as his hand gripped the hair he'd washed. And when Gene Hunt's fingers seized the side of his belt and yanked his hips to the wall, they didn't touch the parts of him that hurt, purple bruises on swaths of skin, blows Sam Tyler hadn't taken but that he was meant to heal.
Which was all well and good until a spike of pain shot up his nose. Sam's head snapped back, hit the wall.
"Fuck me!" he hissed.
"Okay," Gene rasped.
"Oh, shit, shit, shit." Sam grimaced, shut his eyes against the dagger through the front of his skull. He began to disentangle his fingers from Gene's sodding mane but only got halfway through when he felt a hand splay over his face.
Sam blinked up, bleary-eyed, between the gaps of Gene's fingers.
"Bad, innit," Gene mumbled.
Sam swallowed. His voice came out small. "If I recall, you said you were 'fine'."
"Mm," Gene grunted, some bastard noncommittal noise, but that was all right, because Sam knew what he meant.
He always knew what he meant. Crass backwards caveman thug and he read like something beautiful.
Sam dragged his hand from the back of Gene's neck, planted it on his cheek. An image played through his head where Gene slapped it away, slugged him, threw him out into the dark.
Instead, Gene scowled. His eyes slid toward his hand like he'd been hit with a wet leaf.
"Bloody Nora," he muttered. "Is this what I have to look forward to?"
Look forward to. Like this would happen again. Like this was the future, not past. Better, not worse.
Same, but different.
Sam cracked a smile. "Sure, Guv."
Gene rolled his eyes. But he didn't move.
Day One | Day Two | Day Three