Sam's aware of this as he listens to their footsteps echoing in the quiet of the night.
He's also acutely aware of how close Gene is and of the occasional brush of their arms and shoulders as they walk beside the canal. The contact's comforting and Sam's steps falter as he fights a very sudden and very strong urge to stop and ask Gene for a hug.
A hug that he's in desperate need of because it's been a truly horrible week and he's exhausted and lonely. And because it's 1973 and he's stuck here, instead of when he should be. And other than Joni, who he's furiously trying not to think about, no one else has really touched him and he misses human contact with a hunger he's never felt before.
But he's not saying a word because he knows that even before the words finish coming out of his mouth, he'll be on the pavement courtesy of Gene's fists and he has too much self preservation to invite that.
So he bites his tongue, shoves his shaking hands into his pockets and concentrates on where he puts his feet; and not on the man next to him and the slight comfort he's getting just from his presence.
“You've got that look about you again, Tyler. You're thinking too damned much. What is it now?”
Sam starts a little as Gene's voice breaks into his thoughts but he doesn't dare look up because he's worried what Gene will see reflected in his eyes. So he keeps his head down and shrugs.
“Nothing, Guv. Just thinking about today.”
There's a pause and Sam knows without looking that Gene's lips are pursed and he's looking at Sam with an exasperated look on his face.
“Weren't your fault, Sam. You know that don't you?”
“Maybe, maybe not. If I hadn't pushed... ”
“If you hadn't pushed, we wouldn't have found the girl safe, would we?”
“A man's dead because of me,” Sam says and flinches as the words sound too loudly in the silence.
The words are barely out of his mouth before a strong hand grabs hold of his arm and he's hauled to a stop.
Unable not to, Sam looks up. Gene's face is hazy in the smoke from his cigarette and the light mist that's settling around them but Sam can feel those sharp green eyes boring into him.
The hand holding him tightens before Gene shakes him lightly.
“A girl's safe and back at home with her mum and dad because of you, Sam. Don't forget that.”
The words are meant to be comforting but Sam can't find any comfort in them. They're just words to him. He knows what he did; he can't forget it. But his mind is too tired to get into an argument with Gene so he just summons a crooked smile as he pulls his arm away. He can't resist asking though, “Does that make it alright?”
“Sam...” Gene starts but Sam shakes his head and starts walking again. After a brief pause where Sam can feel the weight of Gene's eyes on his back, Gene follows, lengthening his stride slightly to catch up.
Silence descends, broken only by a click and the muted sizzling of burning tobacco as Gene lit another cigarette. Sam's thought are whirling. He wishes that they could continue walking like this forever but he knows it isn't possible.
“I... I'm really tired, Guv. I think I'll give the pub a miss tonight and head home.”
“So you can sit in that shitty little flat and beat yourself up over today? Tyler, how many times do I have to say it? It weren't your fault about Sharpe. You weren't to know that he'd kill himself.”
Gene's blunt words make Sam wince. Thinking about it is one thing, hearing them said out loud is another.
“But he did, didn't he? If I hadn't pushed him so hard...”
“If you hadn't, I would have. And if not me, then Ray,” Gene's voice sharpens. “We needed him to talk, Sam. You made him talk.” Sam can feel Gene's eyes on him again. “The bastard snatched a kiddie, Sam. He took her from her mum while they were at the park. He was scum and he deserved what he got.”
“He threw himself off a building, Guv. He didn't deserve to die like that. No one deserves to die like that.”
“And I say again, it weren't your fault.”
“I could have saved him. I was that close. If I'd just moved faster.”
To Sam's horror, his voice nearly breaks on the last word and he swallows hard, trying to push down his guilt.
“You did everything you could, Sam. You can't save everyone,” Gene's voice softens and his footsteps slow.
Sam shakes his head, trying not to remember the feeling of Sharpe's jacket slipping through his fingers. He swallows again and squeezes his eyes shut, wanting desperately to forget but he can't.
A soft voice pulls him out of his abstraction, “Little Katie's safe now. She gets to grow up. Have a boyfriend, get married. Have a life. That's thanks to you.”
“Maybe,” Sam concedes reluctantly, feeling the dig of his nails into his palms as his hands fist in his pockets. He hunches over, trying not to lose himself again in the memories of everything that has happened that day.
“No maybe's about it, Tyler. Listen to your Guv.” A finger pokes into his chest and Sam can't help the small smile that appears on his face.
“Because he knows best?” he says as he peers up through lowered lashes.
“Truer words were never spoken, Gladys.”
The corners of Gene's own lips are twitching as he looks steadily at Sam.
Dipping his head in acknowledgement, Sam continues smiling as he says softly, “Thanks, Guv.”
Gene doesn't respond but continues staring at Sam even as they walk. Sam ignores the stare t first but after awhile, it starts to unnerve him. He wonders what he's done wrong and is completely unprepared for Gene to suddenly stops. He nearly trips over his own feet as he grinds to a halt as well.
Turning around, he opens his mouth to ask what's wrong when Gene lifts a hand. Seeing it coming towards him, Sam flinches back, his hands coming up instinctively, expecting anything but what happens next. Instead of hitting him like he'd half expected, Gene's hand comes to rest on the back of his neck. The large hand rests there for a second before the hold is used to drag Sam forward and he's folded in a half embrace with his face nestling into the hollow of Gene's neck.
Sam holds himself tensely, his hands tightly grasping the lapels of Gene's coat, waiting for the other shoe to drop but when Gene does nothing but bring his other hand around to lightly stroke his back, he gradually relaxes and lets his head rest where it lies. His hands slowly uncurl their death grip and he lets them settle on Gene's broad chest, the unfaltering beat of Gene's heart beneath his open hands soothing him further.
His eyes slide shut as the warmth from the other man slowly seeps through him and he breathes in deeply, pulling in the distinctive scent that he always associates with Gene.
The hand on his neck is like a brand and Sam can't stop the fine tremor that goes through him at the feel of Gene's thumb moving in slow circles at his nape. The gliding movement is playing havoc with his senses and he lets out a shuddering breath. Gene obviously feels it as his grip on Sam's neck tightens and he pulls Sam closer, his other hand making broad sweeps across Sam's back. And Sam lets him, standing placidly, eyes closed and his face buried in the solid comfort that is his Guv.
“What am I to do with you, Sam?” The words are muffled but Sam can clearly hear the exasperation behind them. And he likes to think that he can hear a bit of fondness in there too.
He can't for the life of him come up with an appropriate response but he doesn't think that Gene expects one. So he pretends he doesn't hear it and instead continues standing there in the middle of the path, where anybody can see them, Gene holding him close.
And for that short moment, he lets his memories of the day fade as he loses himself in the feeling of finally being held.