"We're out of milk! Put that on the list for later, if you don't mind!" Sam said over his shoulder as he entered the squad room, Gene hot on his heels, both expecting the room to be empty. True enough, they were greeted by silence—and about a dozen bewildered faces turned towards them, eyes questioning. The two men looked at each other, and Sam muttered, "It's never this quiet in here."
"It is now," Gene retorted, then proceeded to throw a dangerously annoyed look at the crowd. "Tyler likes a good joke after a long day at the office—what are you looking at? I'm not laughing."
"Well, guv," Ray pitched in, "you and boss are practically living together, one floor up. Only right to do the shopping together, too. Anything you'd like to share, a happy announcement perhaps?"
"Carling, keep those dirty fantasies to yourself, if you wanna live!"
Ray averted his eyes with a mock-innocent look, but he and the other man were snickering anyway. From the corner of his eye, Sam saw Annie bite back a laugh. She was the only one who knew about his and Gene's relationship, and it was moments like these that made the strain of hiding it unbearable and tolerable at the same time. It were always the little things that hurt the most. When Sam couldn't properly comfort Gene about losing his mentor until weeks after the fact—back then, it was all stolen nights, sharing Gene with work and the wife who loved someone else anyway, but to whom they owed keeping up the façade. When they had to hook up with Madames Lockhurst and Twilling at that sodding party and Sam had to try and not show his jealousy as he heard noises Gene usually made in his, Sam's, bed. It was the little smiles that they shared at the pub, the little clap on the arm that Sam used as a signal that he would be waiting outside so they could leave—separately, together. Then there was that time after the box manager's trial, when Sam had instinctively put his hand on Gene's when the miserably drunk DCI had decided to claim his car keys that were lying on the bar—just after Gene had held onto Sam's arm for longer than he should've. The quick drawing away of hands and the resulting awkward moment of Damn We're Going to Get Caught If We Keep Doing That that Nelson simply used to studiously wipe a non-existent dirty spot told them—or at least Sam, the sober one—that they were in so much trouble. And that they loved it.
The fact that they needed signals unless the others were plastered enough not to notice who was leaving with whom was what got Sam suitably pissed off on a regular basis. He knew that Gene had these moments, too—for example, when Gene had found Sam and Annie at the station together after work, talking about the allegations against Harry Woolf. The things he said about clandestine meetings in the dark and Annie winding up married to Sam were his way of accepting that Annie knew about them. He didn't like her getting some of the juicy scoops, but Sam wouldn't have gotten him to promote Annie if he hadn't trusted her in the first place. Another, when Sam talked about Maya in the interrogation room—with her mother as the key suspect at the time, ironically. The DCI's anger and jealousy had flared, and Sam hated himself for bringing her up; but Maya was leaving him, and although he'd already found someone else in Gene, Sam couldn't help but mourn for her. Later, he had no words to explain that to his partner, just as Gene had nothing more to say about his brother. As their feet were resting comfortably on that hospital bed, they didn't need to explain. They shared the flask, Sam was reading the paper, occasionally reading a bit out loud over the music they were blasting.
Of course, Sam now knew that Gene had understood much better than he could have anticipated, and now it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
Now hidden in the safety of his office, Gene picked up on Sam's change in mood, and gave a little snort. "You make me wonder, Sammy boy. How you can go from cheeky to Dorothy in less than a minute."
Sam leaned against the filing cabinet Gene had once shagged him against in the dead of night and sighed. "I can't help it."
Gene turned the tumbler of Scotch in his hands and shrugged. "No-one's telling you you should. God knows I can't make you, you stubborn menace." The soft hoarseness of his voice belied his nonchalant attitude, and Sam smiled.
"We're quite good at this thing, though. Living every day as if it could be your last—because it might well be. How soon, Gene?"
"Can't you tell me?"
"Are you saying you don't know?"
"I've got a hunch."
"Let's hear it."
"Come on, Gene."
"Can't, you know that. You'll know when it's time."
"I do get tired of hearing you say that."
"It's the only way."
"And I hate it!" Sam gave a little singsong and a twirl, coming to stand right across from Gene at the desk. "We've talked about it, and I know why, and the plan is good, it's just… I've still got the right to say I hate it, don't I?"
"Of course you do, along with the privilege of being completely ignored."
"Arse. Whatever, let's go home, now. There's no case, we can get groceries, have dinner."
"First sensible thing you've said all day."
On their way out, Gene poked his head into the bullpen and snarked, "Right, off out, shopping. Anything happens, we're down the aisle, squabbling about the milk."
Sam quickly made his way to the main door, though not fast enough to miss Ray choking on his coffee, before the entire station heard him giggling at the mention of an 'aisle.'
"Utter child, you are," he heard the guv grouse from behind him, so he turned and quirked a brow.
"You had to make up a sorry pun on aisles!"
"A good one, too."
Two months later, two men were standing on a hill next to a river. It was dark, but the moon was out, and the stars were glittering above them. They stared at the spot which had been cleared by forensics just a few hours ago, and where this morning there had been Sam's car, upturned and battered, half in the river. He had been on a case, giving chase after a criminal, Gene several miles behind in his Cortina. They'd had it all worked out.
When Gene arrived at the scene, he needed to take a moment to get himself together—Sam had assured him that he knew what he was doing, but seeing the car turned up like that, and half-stuck in the water, he nearly expected a dead body in the driver's seat. And even when he didn't find anything—as he radioed Philis to report that there had been an accident and that he couldn't find DI Tyler's body anywhere, dead or alive, the panic in his voice hadn't been all acting. This was it. This was going to be the last day of their life together.
He oversaw forensics processing the scene, the scumbag they had been chasing all but forgotten, except by Ray and Chris, who had eventually caught up with him and arrested him. He knew that they wouldn't find anything—the brakes hadn't been tampered with, the tire marks on the wet and therefore slippery ground showed nothing but that the car had abruptly swerved to the right. Crashing down the ditch, it had flipped onto its roof when the left wheels lost their grip on the slope down towards the water. Divers were sifting through the river for Sam's body, but none was found, and nothing stranded further down the stream. There was no evidence of a third person on the scene. The investigation wouldn't turn out anything. An empty coffin would be buried in a few weeks, and then Gene would put in for a transfer; alone, if need be, although he was certain Chris and Ray would come with him. London, maybe. He already knew that he wouldn't be able to stay here, and it was time to change the scenery, anyway. He'd need a new car, too.
"I told you I'm a good stunt driver."
"If you'd gotten yourself killed, I'd have brought you back and killed you again."
Gene took Sam by the hand, and together they walked, across the grass.
"Hold hands and skip, lovebirds," Sam quipped, trying to sound braver than he felt. Gene grunted, but didn't let go. After a few yards, they reached the spot where Gene had parked his car—far away from the crash scene, in case there might be another sweep for evidence.
Sam had fled the scene by clambering out of the window on the passenger's side, carefully avoiding leaving tracks in the muddy ground, and then climbing over the undercarriage. From there, he dove into the river—for that, he'd had to leave his leather jacket in the car, which he commented on with a profanity muttered under his breath as he felt the chill of the water bite through his shirt and trousers, though he knew that he'd never get anywhere swimming with that thing on. He swam upstream, which wasn't too hard in this part of the river, until he heard a motor from above—he'd recognize it anywhere: the Cortina. Gene had caught up with him, and if he wanted to get away before more cavalry started showing up, he had to get out of the water right then. He pulled himself out of the river and onto the bank by grabbing the branches of a sturdy bush. Dripping wet as he was, he couldn't hope to cover the tracks he left on the ground before they dried, but he was pretty confident the police wouldn't come looking upstream for evidence. Why would they? And Gene wouldn't let them.
His teeth chattering, Sam started running towards the trees—over there, they'd hidden a backpack full of clothes, food, and blankets a few days ago. Wisely, Gene had added a flask of Scotch. Dry clothes, four blankets, and three gulps later, Sam could actually feel his toes again. He stayed like this for a while before moving further into the woods. Gene had to be expanding the search by now, so Sam had to leg it. Thanking his stamina, he made it a few more miles past the trees before needing a rest—he just collapsed where he stood, using the backpack as a pillow. Falling asleep wouldn't do, though, in case someone came along and found a supposedly missing and possibly dead police officer lounging about in walking distance of his colleagues searching for him, so he entertained himself by listing all the reasons why he hated doing this. Hours later, he got up and doubled back on his path, out of the woods again. The moon and the stars had since gone up, and Sam checked his position and his watch: Gene was going to arrive soon. Sure enough, a bit later, the radio he'd nicked from the station crackled, on a frequency the police wouldn't use for years to come.
"Sam? Sam, where are you?"
"I'm still in the woods. Where are you?"
"North-west edge of the tree line. I'm leaving the headlights on. How long will you be?"
"I'm about two miles away, so give me a few minutes."
"Right. See you in a bit."
Sam dug the compass out of his pocket and started walking, his torch the only source of light. After a mile and a half, something else seemed to shine dimly ahead of him, and another half a mile later, Sam was shielding his eyes against the glistening light. As soon as Gene recognized him, he turned them off, and jumped out of the car.
"Are you alright?" he asked, but Sam didn't get a chance to respond as Gene grasped his lapels and kissed him. Eventually, they had to come up for air, but Gene still held him close.
"I'm fine. Bit shaken, but not a scratch."
"Good. I'd warn you to never do this to me again, but we already have it on good authority that you won't."
Sam leaned forward to kiss him again, while his mind flitted back to memories of the night before: through some miracle, they'd gotten off work early, gone home, eaten a quick dinner, gone to bed. At first, they'd gone over a few last bits of the plan—forcing the blagger they'd been tipped off about to go by the river, the head start Sam would need to get away unseen by one and all—before all conversation had ceased and they'd made love for the rest of the night; their sometimes slow, sometimes frantic movements illuminated by the moon shining through the window.
"I hate this."
"I know. Me, too. But this is the only way."
Sam nodded, he knew it was true. Gene had been right: they both knew when it was time. For Gene, it was his knowledge of this world and the workings of it that told him that Sam's soul was getting restless. For Sam, it felt as if part of him was longing for something else—another world, somewhere to go. He tried to fight it, not to let on, but Gene knew the moment Sam first tried to hide it from him. The feelings got stronger, until Sam couldn't deny anymore that he was ready to move on, that the afterlife was calling for him, no matter how much his heart wanted to remain where he was. He'd found his home in Gene's arms, but eventually he had somewhere else to be.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I don't want to go."
"I don't want you to go."
"Promise me that you'll never regret this."
"Promise me to try and find someone. Whoever it is, just let them help you." Sam laughed abruptly. "That's what Alex told me. Try to find someone else, find happiness again. Feel something, find my way back."
"If you couldn't do it, then how am I supposed to? And who's Alex?"
"You're alive, you belong here. You can feel, here. I couldn't feel when I got back. By rights, I should have felt alive, but I didn't. DI Alex Drake, psychologist. She was assigned to my case when I got back. She couldn't have done anything to keep me there, bless her, but she did help me realize what I needed. You."
"Promise me to try. Don't run away from it when it stares you in the face."
Sam knew that this was the best he was going to get, so he shut up about it. They'd gone over this so many times—discussed, quarrelled, fought, yelled at each other and then made up—that by now it felt as if there was nothing left to say. Sam had thought that he would be angry, that he would rail and rage at this moment, but he couldn't. He was too drained by this day, by the constant struggle against the tear in his heart. It was getting harder and harder to hold on, no matter how much he wanted to, and he knew that Gene felt the same. He wanted to hang on, but every instinct told him to push Sam away, to get him out. So, with the remaining strength that they had, they resigned themselves to a calm that neither knew they were still capable of.
"Pub?" Sam finally asked.
"Pub," Gene agreed, and together they got into the Cortina, speeding away into the night.
When they arrived at the Railway Arms, the streets were empty, and only a small light illuminated the windows, leaving Nelson's silhouette to move around, closing up for the night. They got out of the car and stood a few metres away, not daring to move. Eventually, Sam turned and looked at Gene, who looked as old as he'd ever seen him. He felt his eyes water and quickly wiped away the unshed tears. To his surprise, Gene grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand away from his face, leaning in to kiss him, not stopping even when the tears did come tumbling down Sam's cheeks, into their kiss.
When they parted, Gene took Sam's arm and pulled him to his side. "Look up. I want to show you something."
And before his eyes, the skies changed. Instead of the usual starry sky that humans on earth get to see, Sam suddenly had a vision of billions and billions of stars and planets staring down at him, as if the edges of the universe had been folded back and all clouds blown away.
"That, Sam, is the universe. The way I see it. The way it looks when you can see past this world, when reality is straining. Like now."
"It's where you're headed, Sammy boy. You'll have much more time to enjoy it."
"You're not bullying me into looking forward to it."
"No, but I can give you a sense of direction."
Suddenly, the vision vanished, and the boring old sky was back. Sam was about to say something when a sharp pain shot through his head, black spots dancing in front of his eyes. He doubled over, touching both of his hands to his forehead, gasping out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. He felt Gene grab his arms and drag him up, cradling his head in his hands.
"This is it, Sam. I need you to leave now. You need you to leave now."
"Please, don't make me."
"The pain will only get worse. You need to go."
"I should have known you'd make a boozer the entrance to the afterlife."
"Have one on me."
With desperate strength, Sam pulled Gene close for one last kiss. Their lips sliding hungrily, their tongues warring for dominance, they found a way to take their anger out on each other in a much more interesting way than shouting. When they pulled away, Sam felt as if his head was splitting in two. He pulled out of Gene's arms and backed away. Slowly, he set foot behind foot, towards the door of the pub. When his back hit the wall next to the doorway, he reached out a hand to put it on the handle, blindly, his eyes fixed on his lover's face. Gene was staring back, committing their last moments to memory.
"I love you," Sam whispered one last time, before he abruptly turned and yanked the door open. Without another look back, he entered, letting the door fall closed behind him. Outside, all Gene could see was a bright flash of light where Sam had stopped. Then, silence fell. The next time he would enter the pub, Nelson would pour him a Scotch without saying a word, and take his car keys away.
The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You've left me in the dark
No dawn, no day, I'm always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart
Gene turned away, looked around and up at the sky—everything was gone. Nothing but blackness stared back at him. The light had left, along with his love. Reluctantly, as if in trance, he started walking, not even bothering with the Cortina parked at the curb, and his feet carried him to the only place he could think of: Sam's flat. He didn't bother turning on the light, just undressed and laid down on their bed, the scent of Sam's aftershave still caught on the sheets, mingling with his own. Gene wondered what it would be like for Sam—there. He wanted him to be at peace; something he himself would never find. He let his mind reach out, carefully, a little past the edges of this world. Something, a sign, anything that could take him to Sam. Without knowing how, he felt around, pushing past the boundaries. And there, he felt something touch his mind, like a hand gingerly brushing his. A wave of emotion crashed against him: love, grief, and a sense of longing that would haunt him for the rest of his existence. His heart beat in his ears, and just for a second, he heard a double beat, his own heart accompanied by another, barely discernible. Then, it was gone, all of it. Sam had found him one last time, but eventually he'd had to go. Gene wasn't meant to be in that world, so it had pushed him out, back into his own.
And in the dark, I can hear your heart beat
I've tried to find the sun
But then, it stopped, ten hours in the darkness
So darkness I became
All he wanted was to forget. To forget that he made this happen, that it was his doing that had sent Sam away from him. For a second, he almost wished he'd never met Sam Tyler, except he knew that he would never be able to regret that he fell in love with him. He'd promised, and he justcouldn't. He just wanted it to stop hurting. Sam was gone. He wanted to be gone, too. Somewhere to hide. He wanted to believe that Sam had been taken away from him by a stupid road accident. He wanted to believe that it wasn't his fault, that it weren't his rules, that he hadn't created this place. If only he could forget who he was, what he was. Live in this world, just as ignorant as the others, never remembering that shallow grave. Never remembering the look on Sam's face as they'd stood outside the pub. Nevermind the consequences, the trouble he'd have when the time came for the next officer pushed into his care. They'd just have to find out themselves. And nevermind that he'd fall apart all over again when they did.
I took the stars from my eyes and there, I made a map
And you were there somehow, I could find my way back
Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness, too
So I stayed in the darkness with you.
As Gene lay in the dark, he vowed never to remember again.