Gene’s not one for travel. According to Sam, he’s got a “provincial mind,” provincial said with the same tone most people reserve for pedophile. New York’s not bad though. The streets are filthy, the pavements are crowded, and you can’t get a proper English breakfast anywhere, but Gene likes it well enough. It’s got a good energy to it.
God, look at that. He’s coming over all sentimental in his old age. He’ll be a proper poofter any day now.
Beside him on the bench, the properest of all the poofter’s Gene has ever known scowls at his map. “One museum won’t kill you, Gene,” Sam grumbles. Gene doesn’t pay it much mind. Sam grumbles because Sam grumbles. It is who he is, it is what he does. The day he stops grumbling is the day he dies, and he’ll probably start right up again when he finds out that Paradise isn’t living up to its potential. In the face of Gene’s lack of reaction, Sam sighs. “A play then. We can see what’s going cheap for today, though God knows what’s playing right now. Was Phantom still running? I think it was still going in 2005, it’s probably kicking around in ’98.”
Now it’s Gene’s turn to grumble. “Christ, Sam, can’t we just sit? Watch the squirrels and piss the day away?” Of all the parts he’d seen of New York—and he has seen many, many parts of New York in the last four days—Gene is most keen on this particular park bench smack in the center of Central Park because as long as they are sitting here, they aren’t trudging up and down Park Avenue, grim as men going over the top. Sam, with his lifetime of sickeningly good habits, is still in fine enough condition to lead his garrison of one, but Gene’s older than he used to be. If it’s not his feet, it’s his knees or his lungs or his heart or all of them whinging at him all at once. Gene never had the desire to be yanked from one end of the city to another, but at this point in his life he lacks the ability as well.
Sam opens his mouth to argue. And then, to Gene’s immense surprise, he doesn’t. “Alright then.” Sam folds his well-thumbed map and tucks it into the pocket of his well-loved jacket before he rests his hands on his well-worn jeans. And Sam calls Gene a creature of habit. When Sam finds something that can live up to his rigorous standards, he keeps it for life or works it to death. Sam cocks his eyebrow at Gene and makes a smug little face like “What, you weren’t expecting that, were you?”
To cover up the fact that, no, he wasn’t, Gene grunts in approval and passes over his new flask stamped with the Empire State Building. “You’re getting soft in your old age, Sammy.”
Sam’s smile is as dry as his drink. “We’re not that old, are we? We’ve still got miles to go.”
Do they? The thought exhausts Gene. The world he lives in now is unrecognizable from the one he was born in seventy-one years ago. And he’s spent a decent amount of those years dragging his feet when it came to change, he knows that, but he’s done his fair share of bending as well as the world pushed him back. How much further is he expected to go before he just snaps? Gene doesn’t need any more miles. He got what he needed out of life long ago and now he’s just faffing about.
Bloody travel. Brings out the girl in the best of men.
Gene stretches his arms out on the back of the bench, his right arm brushing Sam’s back. It’s the one of the only ways they’ve touched in public these last twenty-odd years. In a few hours, after it’s good and dark and even Sam can’t go on anymore, they’ll scurry back to their hotel, press their beds together, turn up the telly to its loudest volume, and touch each other any damn way that they please. Age had dampened Gene’s appetite and ability, but this is their holiday, for god’s sake, and they’ll indulge as best they still can. For now, though, they’re here, and eyes are everywhere, so they’ll stick to the rules Sam and Gene have perfected over the last two decades. The rules that keep them safe.
Except, Gene thinks with Sam’s back warm against his arm, who the hell are these people? New Yorkers, foreigners, strangers. Gene’d never seen any of them before and he’d probably never see them again. So really, who the hell are they? Nothing, they’re nothing at all. Just ghosts passing by.
Sam starts when Gene’s arm slides down to cup his shoulder and pulls him close. He starts, but then he stops and he scoots over and over until his leg is flush with Gene’s. He puts his left hand on Gene’s right thigh. He leaves it there. Gene can feel him breathing.
People do look. Fuck off, Gene thinks without much wrath. He’d look at the pair of old queers himself, and if Gene’d do it, it can’t be all bad. And besides, they don’t look that long. They keep walking. They’ve got places to be, and two broken down faggots on a park bench is a fucking weird sight but this is New York City. You can’t go a block without seeing a fucking weird sight, usually one completely different from the fucking weird sight you saw a block before.
They keep walking because, after all, this isn’t the fifties where you’d fuck in loos and back alleys and never look at each other’s face, where you asked no question and shared no names and zipped up while you walked away because that’s how fast you needed to move from the scene of the crime. That world is still there—every week, the CID seems to bust a new pair of stupid berks shagging in the park—but that world isn’t as easy to walk away from now. Turns out that world makes you sick with more than shame. And this new world, this isn’t the world where he walks down the street holding the hand of the man he love and have loved and probably would always stupidly continue to love, the man who saved his life because if he hadn’t found Sam, Gene would still have been there, buggering strangers without faces or names until his life caught up with him and he spent his last days withering away from a disease he could never name. Or if that hadn’t got him, his misery and shame grown fat on a lifetime of compromise would have. This isn’t that world where Gene can shout his gratitude from the rooftops.
But still. It’s not the world that came before.
He looks over to his pain in the arse, pressed against Gene’s side, and kisses him, quick as lightning. Sam’s eyes widen. Good to know Gene can still catch him off guard after all these years. Gene curves his hand around Sam’s familiar cheek. Sam brings his hand up to cup Gene’s. It’s not even kissing really, all closed mouths and dry lips. It’s pathetically chaste, but Gene’s heart is about to hammer clean out of his chest. Sam’s too judging by his pounding pulse. And Gene, well, Gene doesn’t much like being scared, so he closes his eyes and pulls Sam closer and feels Sam sigh against his lips. The sunlight shining through the leaves warms his skin, the afternoon breeze rustles his hair, Sam’s slight stubble scrapes against Gene’s face, and feet on the gravel path crunch, crunch, crunch as people walk by and keep walking.
Gene opens his eyes as they pull apart and sees Sam looking back at him. The skin around them is older, but his eyes are still the color of whiskey. The first time Gene kissed him, he swore that he was drunk off of Sam’s eyes. How else to explain acting like such a bloody idiot? After twenty-four years, that excuse has probably grown a bit thin. But Gene would swear that he’s never sobered up.
Sam bumps his forehead against Gene’s and pulls away. They face forward again, Gene’s arm still around Sam’s shoulders, Sam’s hand back on Gene’s knee. A pot-bellied Black man in a rainbow colored Afro wig and bright red shorts waves at them cheerful as he roller-skates by. Sam and Gene give him a small wave back. What else could they do? With a grunt, Gene leans his head back and squints up at the sky through the leaves. “Funny world we live in,” he says.
Sam squeezes his leg and smiles. He understands. He usually does, sooner or later. “Just you wait, Gene. It only gets stranger.”
Gene doubts he’ll see it. He doesn’t expect he’ll last much longer. Hell, he never thought he would live this long. And this world that’s coming, he doesn’t think there’d be any place for him in it. Gene’s learned all the new tricks he cares to. Still, Sam’s hand is as warm on Gene’s thigh as the sun is in Gene’s hair, and it’s a beautiful day. Gene can't say much for tomorrow, but things will probably work out alright, Gene thinks as Sam rests his head on Gene's shoulder, assuming that it's anything like today.