Chapter 1: Day One
The first sign of something terribly wrong was the ashtray in his mouth.
Sam rolled over, sputtered, fisted a hand in his blanket, and that's when he became certain something was off, because there was no possible way his dilapidated excuse for a bed could withstand such movement without creaking. Sam ran a hand over the cushions underneath him -- was he on a sofa? -- and then rolled onto his back.
He stared at his ceiling. Except it wasn't his ceiling. Well -- technically, his flat's ceiling wasn't sodding his either, and for a single infinitesimal moment he entertained the possibility that he might have awoken in a hospital's coma ward, until -- no, right, that wallpaper was blindingly hideous. Still the seventies.
And still the victim of his mind's sadistic games. He groaned and brought a hand to his face. He felt fairly hungover -- had he been drinking?
He remembered trudging into the Arms last night, weighed down with frustration over Gene's insistence that they squeeze informants about Owen Rodrick's whereabouts rather than have the coroner take a second look at the body. He remembered drinking, and he remembered confiding in Annie, and he remembered not drinking much more after that. He remembered Ray making some misogynist comment about Rodrick's latest victim, and he remembered Gene coming between them. He remembered shoving Ray against the bar and he remembered Gene clipping his face right after.
He frowned against the hand resting on his cheek. Strange thing -- he didn't feel sore, and as he slowly patted at his cheek, his nose, his neck -- he froze.
He didn't feel right at all.
He shot up, panicked, and hissed as he brought his hand to his forehead, which -- no, no, that didn't feel normal either, and neither did his hair, much longer than it should be, and -- God, his head...
He pressed both his hands to his face -- both strange, big hands -- and then dragged them down again. He squinted up and tried to make sense of his surroundings -- obviously a house, and not an unusual one. Light filtered in through curtains and magazines lay over the coffee table. A television sat in one corner of the room.
Sam heard steps come down the nearby staircase. He sat bolt upright -- heavier, somehow, and then paused when he realized that the thing draped over him was a coat and not a blanket.
"Another late night, then?"
He looked up and saw a woman -- a pretty woman despite being a bit along in years, curlers rolled into her brown hair and tired eyes fixed on him with a kind of unwavering resignation.
Not sure what she meant, Sam opted for a straightforward "Where am I," except his brain stuttered and tripped over the last two words like he'd tumbled off the edge of a cliff, because--
That was Gene's voice coming out of his mouth.
That was Gene's voice. Coming out. Of his mouth.
"Oh," said Gene's wife, "must have been quite late then," and she turned round and climbed back up the stairs.
Sam was nearly wheezing by the time he pounded on his flat's front door. He didn't much feel like yelling for someone to open up -- he didn't feel much like saying anything at the moment -- and he was about to kick the bloody thing off its hinges when it swung open.
His own face glared at him. Hair mussed. Jaw tight. Expression cold.
Sam stared back. The other Sam raised his chin.
Sam made it two paces into his flat before Gene slammed him into the wall -- or tried, anyway. It was more Sam stumbling back than anything else, and Gene's hands, usually huge on Sam's jacket lapels, felt small on the camelhair.
"What in the bastard Olympian fuck is this?"
"I don't know!" Sam cried. "Christ, Gene, do you think I'd know?"
"I'm not the one who prances about like I'm arse-deep in loony-land!" Gene shouted back, but there was something more to it too, because Sam could feel how much those hands shook on the coat, how his own hazel eyes stared back at him like their only lifeline was trapped, here, in front of them.
God, Sam thought, is that how I look from up here?
As if reading his mind, Gene's gaze hardened and he shoved Sam against the wall, though this time Sam only winced. Gene wet his lips, which was... well, rather bloody disturbing, and then stepped back far enough for Sam to breathe.
Sam inhaled. He leaned his head against the wall. Gene grit his teeth and jabbed a finger at him.
"You'll fix this, you little hell-raised warlock. Now."
Sam gazed back at his own face blearily, feeling he might be sick from both the hangover and ten million other things, not the least of which was the skin encasing him and fact that he had Gene's moronic drinking habits to blame for Gene's rightful sodding headache.
Sam closed his eyes and hissed through his teeth. "And what gives you any idea that I could manage that?"
Gene's expression flared. "You've stolen my friggin' body for starters!"
"Listen," Sam growled, and it was strange -- so bloody strange to feel the gruff timbre of DCI Hunt's voice push out of his chest and into the air, "I'd sooner steal a horse's backside than--" he gestured vaguely at himself "--this, so let me make it absolutely sodding clear just how terribly unhappy I am with the current state of affairs."
"You're unhappy?" Gene clenched his jaw and waved a hand at him. "You've caught yourself a prime cut of modern manliness. Me? I'm stuck as Gladys, Queen of the Fairies!"
Sam grimaced. "Bloody -- could you not use my voice for your caveman insults?"
"You're using my voice for your nancy whinging." Gene crossed his arms and shifted his weight, like he didn't have enough of himself to settle on his feet. Something about it made the sight of Sam's body outside of himself hit him like a train wreck all over again.
Sam groaned. He brought not-his hands to not-his face, then closed not-his eyes, shook not-his head, and wondered what the fuck he was supposed to do.
"These EEG readings -- rather odd, don't you think?"
Sam's hands slid down his face. He frowned over Gene's shoulder at the television set.
"Yes, as if the bulk of his brain activity has shifted from one cortex to another."
Gene followed Sam's gaze and glanced back at him.
"Sodding hell are you looking at?"
"Quiet," Sam muttered as he shoved past him in his rush to kneel in front of the television. He grasped it by either side as his eyes flicked between the figures on the screen.
Gene seethed behind him. "I'm glad that one of us is catching up on the petrol shortage, because I, for one, am a bit busy worrying about being stuffed in another bloke's skivvies."
"I said to shut up!" Sam hissed back.
"It's possible. After so much cranial trauma, it only stands to reason that the synapses might concentrate themselves in less damaged regions."
"You mean compensate for the trauma? Solve the root problem?"
"Precisely. I can't say how long it might last, but I'd estimate--"
The voices disappeared with a burst of static, replaced by the newsreader's headlines and Sam's own voice growling behind him.
"...you listening, Tyler? I'll not have you act a nutter with my ruggedly handsome face!"
Sam released his hands from the television set. He sighed, and he couldn't quite bring himself to imagine the sheer pathetic look of it as he leaned the Guv's forehead against the glass. "I'm afraid you might have to."
Judging from the tension in the air, said Guv seemed about ready to beat his own stolen face into a pulp.
And then the phone rang.
Sam shot to his feet. Both he and Gene turned to face the thing. On the second ring, Sam steeled himself, strode forward, and picked up the receiver.
"Oh--" Ray. Shit. "Guv! Been wonderin' where you were -- gone to rouse the Boss, then, eh?"
"I..." Sam turned, helpless, to stare at Gene. His tongue lay like a dry lump in his mouth.
"Guv? You there?"
Gene grit his teeth and stormed forward. He snatched the phone from Sam's grasp and pressed it to his ear.
"Oi. Boss." At the close distance, Sam could hear the change in Ray's tone, like gears grinding to rust. "It's us. Waiting on you, as usual--"
"Right," clipped Gene, "so how 'bout you stop waiting and get your arse on tracking those snouts for news on Rodrick."
Ray paused, then sputtered. "Boss, I thought you--"
Gene slammed the phone down. The mechanical clang echoed in the silence of the room.
Sam rubbed his eyes. "You make a terrible me."
Gene turned to appraise him. After a moment, he shouldered past him and marched toward the closet.
"You make a terrible you."
They had to report to the station. It wasn't a question either of them needed to ask -- they had no other option when they still had a killer like Rodrick on the loose, and trusting the team to handle the investigation with both the Guv and the Boss out of commission would be like kicking a spiked football into a throng of children.
It was the only option, but that didn't necessarily make it a good one, something which Sam felt imperative to point out as Gene went full throttle on the Cortina.
"You realize, don't you?" he asked, watching -- with some horror -- as Gene turned Sam's unassuming hands into mechanisms of pedestrian terror. "You realize how utterly mental this is?"
"Unless you've a better idea, you can shut my mouth and stop making me sound a ruddy twonk," Gene snapped back.
Sam swallowed, distinctly ill even with Gene's hangover slowly fading from his system. He stared forward as the alleys and roads shifted to street names nearer and nearer to the station.
"Fine," he breathed, "so we pretend to be each other. Right, yes, that sounds perfectly brilliant."
"Better than announcing we've been had by your fairy godmother."
"My idiot brain, more like it."
Gene glanced at him. "What's that?"
"Nothing, just--" Sam felt Gene's plaque-addled heart pound faster as the station's concrete edifice came into view. "Don't you think we ought to brief each other first? On our lives and all that?"
Gene pulled into the station's car park and rolled the Cortina to a dead stop. He engaged the brakes, yanked his key out of the ignition, and then turned to look Sam in the eye.
"What do you suppose there is to tell you?"
Sam opened his mouth, ready to say that there were lots of things. Gene's dart club, for instance, or his poker games at the Arms; his every-day order of mashed and gravy at the cantina and the stash of malt in his file cabinet's bottom drawer. And some larger facts too -- like how he sorted the team into pairs on raids and led the charges himself, or how he avoided Rathbone's calls from upstairs if he could help it and how he never, ever mentioned Harry Woolf's name unless someone else did first.
There were lots of things, Sam thought, and he was about to mention just how many when his mind caught up with his mouth.
"Oh," Sam said.
"Right." Gene adjusted Sam's leather jacket on his shoulders. "And you?"
"What?" Sam blinked.
Gene rolled his eyes. "You, Dorothy. Any terrible secrets I should know post-haste?"
Sam stared at him.
I'm from thirty-three years in the future and I don't know how to get back home. This world might be a product of watching my father murder a woman when I was four years old. I might be mad, in a coma, and back in time all at once. Every night when I go to sleep I wonder if I'll wake up again, and when I dream, a little girl watches me and tells me I've nothing to live for.
"No," said Sam. "Not particularly."
"Good," said Gene as he swung out of the car.
It hit Sam in the midst of discombobulation and terror as they climbed up the station's steps.
"What?" Gene didn't look much better, hands balled into fists and shoulders hunched over, which -- Sam was loathe to admit -- made him rather look the part.
"Your wife," Sam repeated. "I saw her this morning."
"Did you?" It was hard to tell through the filter of his own voice, but Sam thought he detected an edge of genuine surprise to Gene's tone.
Sam waited for more, but as they continued to walk, Gene didn't elaborate.
Sam frowned. "You aren't concerned at all?"
Gene shot a glare as he pushed through the station's front doors. "Last I checked, she isn't a part of the division we're about to pull a sodding scam on, is she?"
No, Sam thought, just the woman you live with, but he didn't have a chance to get any further as they stepped in through the doors and toward the front desk.
Phyllis glanced up at them -- at Sam, really, which Sam supposed to her meant "Guv" -- and then looked back to her paperwork.
"Sunny mornin' to you too, lads. Thought you'd turned Rodrick's newest butcher meat, way you'd disappeared."
Gene snorted. "Bit few tits for his taste, love."
Phyllis paused and slowly raised her head. Sam grabbed Gene by his jacket shoulder and yanked him toward the lift.
"Which is why we'll be on our way up," he hissed. He shoved Gene into the lift and ignored any glare he might've received in return, then turned and slammed his palm into the "up" button.
Sam waited patiently for the doors to close--
And whirled on Gene, fists clenched.
"The bloody hell do you think you're doing?!"
Gene turned on him straight back. "Far as I can tell, making you look less of a ponce!"
"For God's sake, forget your aggressive masculinity for a single millisecond and think about how I actually act!"
"How you act?" Gene threw a hand into the air. "You stare out my face like Helen Keller at a mime routine and then lecture me how you act?"
"Gene," Sam breathed, trembling, "we are in a building full of detectives--"
"Right. Detectives. Meaning they're clever enough not to suspect any magical bollocks anyway."
"Except they aren't, because you've trained them to make ridiculous--" Sam raised his fingers for air quotes "--'hunches'."
"Don't you dare make your fairy--" Gene mimicked Sam's fingers "--'motions' with my hands--"
"I'll do whatever I damn well please!"
The doors slid open. They froze mid-gesture to see Vince and Geoff waiting to step onto the lift.
Geoff blinked. Vince coughed.
It took Sam a moment to realize that, oh, yes, he was supposed to respond to that, wasn't he?
So he cleared his throat in return. "Um. Morning."
Another moment passed while Gene stared at Sam like he was some kind of horrifying hell-borne monster.
The doors began to re-close. Gene grit his teeth, stepped forward, and shoved them open again. He glared over his shoulder at Sam.
"Care to step off? Guv?"
Gene's sarcasm was several degrees above scathing, though Sam supposed that to anyone else it'd sound like his usual rebelliousness. Sam's usual rebelliousness, that is -- that... God, this was going to get...
Sam shook his head and shouldered past Gene, hoping his gait would pass for the Guv's usual lumbering as he marched past Geoff and Vince and into CID's main corridor.
Just get to the office, Sam thought as Gene trailed after him, just get to Gene's sodding office and don't worry about anything until you've sat down, and taken a breath, and given your boss a talking to--
Annie appeared around the corner, flipping through a stack of folders in her arms.
Sam stopped in his tracks.
Annie glanced up and smiled, searching for something in particular as she made a beeline for -- Gene.
Oh, God, no--
"Been looking for you, sir," she said, sidling up to Gene in that way of hers. She opened a file. "Seems you were right -- Felicia Hartley had dirt under her fingernails, and when the coroner took another look at the chafe wounds like you asked--"
"Why the hell would I do that?"
Sam grimaced, unable to look at Annie as she stuttered to a stop like a sparrow into glass. When he opened an eye, he saw her staring back at Gene with the same wide eyes that appeared on her face whenever Sam had one of his stupendously terrible days.
"Well, I... sir, it's... you said..."
"Must've been sloshed." Gene's eyes snapped to Sam's, and if at any moment in time Sam had wished to set his unscrupulous boss on fire, this was most certainly it.
But instead he felt helpless. Hopeless, even. He grit his teeth, unable to do a single damn thing and wondering how he was supposed to get through today without Gene Bloody Hunt ruining the one good thing he still had.
"Mornin', Guv," a DC said in his direction as he walked by.
Sam froze. He felt himself smirk. Felt Gene's face smirk.
"Drunk enough to have some sense in you," he said -- with Gene's voice -- evenly.
He reached for Annie's file and gently tugged it from her fingers. He gazed down at the paper, stalling for a moment until he glanced up at Gene, and -- there, something horrible dawning on his own features as Gene came upon the same revelation.
Sam confirmed it with a satisfied grimace. "Good thing you aren't the one making decisions 'round here. Tyler."
Fury and horror spread over Gene's borrowed face. "You wouldn't dare."
Sam narrowed his eyes. He leaned into Gene's space and leered down at him.
"Try any more of that and I will."
Sam turned to see Annie glance between the two of them, trying -- clearly -- to work out what was going on. She could probably sense something horribly awry, Sam thought. She was good at that, and for an irrational moment, Sam hoped that she'd figure them out if only to strike the damage of Gene's words off Sam's record.
But like most things that Sam wanted, it didn't happen. Instead, Annie's expression twisted from confusion to outright distaste. She settled her eyes on Gene in the guarded way that Sam knew too well. "If you won't be needing me, then, sir..."
"Don't think I will," Gene murmured, still glaring at Sam like he might bore holes in him. Annie nodded silently and headed down the hall, shoulders tense, arms rigid with anger and humiliation.
Sam turned toward her, a horrible tightness in his chest. "Ann -- Cartwright."
Annie turned to face him, wary. "Yes, Guv?"
Sam swallowed and tapped the file with a calloused knuckle, feeling foolish, suddenly, with his added height on her, with the wrong title in the wrong tone, with the wrong sound coming out of his throat. "It's just... you--"
"It's good work, Annie."
For a moment, Sam didn't register his own voice, like it was another thought inside his head. But then he saw Annie's eyes drift somewhere past him and he followed her gaze to see himself, tense but for all appearances trying to keep eye contact with her.
"It's good work -- good... you know..." The other Sam cleared his throat rather like the Guv did, and Sam reeled as his waking dream shattered like funhouse glass. "Evidence and. All that."
Annie narrowed her eyes -- in confusion rather than anger, though Gene probably couldn't tell the difference from the way he averted his gaze and added, quick and brusque, "Sorry. Bad day."
Despite everything, Sam felt a stab of empathy.
But then it vanished after a moment, when Annie's eyes did go angry, when her grip tightened on her files and she pursed her lips.
She spoke, strong and clear. "We all have bad days, Sam. No need to make the rest of us feel the same."
She turned on her heel and walked past them, footsteps echoing down the smoky corridor. It hadn't looked so alien and foreboding since Sam had first arrived.
"Mouthy bird when she wants to be," Gene muttered.
Sam watched her disappear round the corner. He clenched a fist.
"Only when someone treats her like it."
He whirled toward CID's front doors and stormed past Ray's greeting and Chris' wave, past the desks and filing cabinets all the way to the Guv's door. And, when Ray turned toward the figure trailing after him and started with a sly "so, Boss," Sam turned toward him, growled, "Shut up, Carling," and the look on Ray's face was about the only pleasant part of the entire morning.
"That was a dirty ploy you pulled back there."
If there was a subtle stung quality to Gene's tone, Sam didn't have the energy to hear it. Instead, he kept his face pressed to his hands, content for the moment to pretend that his elbows, resting on Gene's desk, were his own.
"You're dirty in general," he mumbled.
When he heard Cuban heels take angry strides toward the desk, he finally looked up to meet his own face's scowl.
"We need," Sam enunciated, painfully, in Gene's voice, "to act like each other."
"What, and keep lying to our own people?"
I've been managing it for months.
Sam clenched a fist on the desk. "Do you want to be thrown in a padded cell?"
"Not especially, though I suppose you'd know more about that than anyone else in this sodding -- oh, don't make that ruddy pout of yours on my face."
Sam matched Gene's disgusted expression with one of his own. "Then don't act a complete arse to DC Cartwright!"
Gene glared back at him. "Fine."
"Or to any other woman in this--"
"Fine, so long as you--" Gene raised a finger with deadly accusation, "--don't make decisions for my team without my bloody say-so."
Sam narrowed his eyes. "Right."
"I mean it, Sam."
Sam clenched his jaw, ready to spit out something about holding each other's lives for ransom like proper bastards instead of treating this with an ounce of professionalism -- and then he paused.
There was fear there, in Gene's borrowed face. It was the same sort Sam had seen while pressed against his flat's wall, but this time he had the presence of mind to recognize it. Stubborn resolution colliding with alien bewilderment, iron-willed steps stumbling over shaky ground. I'm the warlock here, Sam thought, because I'm the only one who's known anything like this.
"It's all right, Guv," Sam heard himself say. He felt far apart from his words, and not just because of the voice he was speaking with. "Whatever this is, I'm sure it won't last."
Gene's eyes wandered away and settled on the Sergio Leone poster on the wall opposite him. He probably didn't feel much of a sheriff at the moment, Sam realized with a strange knot in his stomach. Not while standing on the wrong side of his desk.
Gene looked down again. After a moment, he stood upright and turned toward the door.
"Clean shirt's in the cabinet, Dorothy. Been wearing that since yesterday."
"Sure, Guv," said Sam, and as some facsimile of himself disappeared out the office doors, Sam felt, for the first time since his flat door had swung open that morning, completely alone.
All insanity considered, the day went smoother than expected.
For once, the lack of information on their culprit helped instead of hindered. They knew who'd done the killings -- one of the few things Sam and Gene had agreed upon in the past few days -- but not his location. Forensics was checking into the information Annie had unearthed about the fingernails containing particles other than common dirt, but they hadn't yet parsed out what it was, and without anyone to chase, CID had stayed rather quiet throughout the day.
Though that wasn't entirely accurate. It had also stayed quiet because the Guv -- the proper Guv -- wasn't around to do any chasing. Both Sam and Gene had kept silent and static at their opposite workstations, and although that in itself probably raised red flags to everyone around them, they must have both been exuding enough "leave me the bloody hell alone" for no one to actually question it.
Except for Chris. Naturally.
"Goin' to pub, Guv?"
"No," Sam said, eyes fixed with inhuman intensity on the sheet of paper in front of him. Gene had dropped Sam's entire inbox on the desk this afternoon with a gruff "I'll not be doing your nancy paperwork," which was fine with Sam because it gave him something to focus on other than his increasingly clammy hands or lingering headache or anything else that he was really trying very hard not to list as initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Chris continued to be there and Sam continued to pretend he wasn't.
"Right. Jus', y'know. Wanted to--"
"Busy, Chris," Sam growled in a way that sounded disturbingly like Gene, enough that he felt the need to add, "Need to finish some work with... DI Tyler."
Chris scrunched his face. "Is that what's been wrong with him, Guv? Lotsa work, like?"
Sam's pencil froze. "Something's wrong?"
"Well, y'know. Starin' at his desk. Pacin' 'round. Snappin' at us odd-like -- nothin' worse than the usual." Chris smirked and Sam had never, ever in his entire life felt so relieved to generally come off as an utter lunatic.
He breathed out and continued writing.
"Yeah. That barmy Tyler. Go on home, Chris."
"Right, Guv," Chris said as he finally skittered out.
A few minutes passed. Sam listened with intense anticipation to creaks and scuffles as the other members of CID gathered their things and drifted out of the station. After a few minutes more, he dropped his pencil, leaned back in the chair, and dragged his alien hands down his alien face.
"Survived the day, I gather."
Gene stood in the doorway, leaning on the wall with his arms crossed over his front in familiar demeanor if not figure. Sam swallowed and glanced at the tower of completed forms on the desk, absurd even by his standards. "More or less."
Gene nodded. He tapped his foot on the ground, then turned and slammed out the doors.
"Right. Drinks, your flat."
"God, yes," Sam said as he stood from the chair.
The ridiculous amount of second-hand smoke in the station must have helped tide Sam over earlier in the day, because it wasn't until their fourth hand of cards and his second measure of scotch that he began unconsciously patting himself down for Gene's Marlboros.
"Left jacket pocket," Gene muttered as he tossed 5 p into their betting pile. They'd both emptied their wallets on Sam's table and swapped coinage, because really, how the hell else were they supposed to count winnings?
"Thanks," Sam mumbled back. He reached for where he'd hung Gene's suit jacket on his chair and managed to extricate the half-empty carton, then rested it against the tabletop and began tugging out a cigarette.
Gene watched him fumble with it a moment before snorting. "You ever touched one of those, Gladys?"
"Why would I?" Sam scowled down at the thing, hateful and pointless as it was. "Unless I wanted lung cancer, kidney disease, high stress, short life expectancy--"
"Do you actually believe -- what am I saying, 'course you do."
"Your body's a walking death trap." Sam grabbed a lighter out of his borrowed pants pocket and tried to flick it with his oversized thumb. "And hopelessly out of shape, and heavy, and rank--"
"Oi!" Gene slammed his cards face-down on the table. "Only reason it's 'rank' is 'cause someone hasn't bloody well stood under the tap and scrubbed it down!"
Sam had been in the middle of taking his first drag and marveling at how much muscle memory and a tar-laden throat were helping him when he froze, and Gene froze, and Sam was fairly certain Gene had just bungled them into a topic that they'd both silently agreed not to talk about. But there it was, and now all Sam could think about was how they'd each walked stonily out of the CID offices toward the washroom at some point today and just how much he completely, entirely, absolutely wanted to obliterate that fact from his life as a whole.
Gene coughed. He picked up his cards.
"Oh, dear God." Sam pressed his hands to his eyes. "Don't. I am not fucking -- no." He grabbed the scotch bottle and poured himself a glass, then gripped it and downed the whole mouthful.
Gene raised a brow at him. "You should know yours was as limp as it looked."
Sam slammed his glass down. The table shook.
"Good," Sam croaked on the afterburn as he moved back to the cigarette. "Good, because that's exactly what I needed to hear right now. My day from hell would have been utterly incomplete without that, so thank you, Gene. Thank you for playing your part in my little horror story to its absolute fullest."
"Your horror story?" Gene asked, quiet.
Sam laughed, but when it came out as Gene's guffaw, he nearly choked on it. Or maybe it was the expression on Gene's face that stopped him, dead serious and dead still, staring Sam down with his own eyes and seeming all the more unreal for it.
Gene finally looked away. He stood up, kicked his chair under the table, then took the few paces toward Sam's bed.
"This had better be fixed by morning," he muttered.
"Freaky Friday," Sam offered weakly.
Gene flopped onto the creaky mattress.
"It's Wednesday, you moron."
It was damn strange to hear himself snore.
Apparently, while assaulted by a veritable blitz of psychological bombardment, that's what Sam's mind grabbed for. Snoring. And staring at his own prone figure on his own prone bed, watching it stir under the fickle blue glow of Night University as he wondered why the girl in the television would want to torment someone so small.
Sam closed his eyes and took another drag from his cigarette. Second one, because Gene's body belonged to an idiot addict. Second one, because bloody hell, was this what he really did to himself?
Impulsively, Sam squashed the thing out on the table. He watched the embers jump and twist in the surface's wooden crevasses and then stood up. He briefly considered making a farce of heading back to Gene's house so that his wife didn't worry, but then he decided he'd done enough fucking play-acting for one day and that the floor looked very inviting.
He thought, as he curled up under Gene's coat and closed his eyes, that Gene had been moronically stupid to take the bed when Sam was going to be the one to wake up in it. Except then Sam awoke to musty carpet on his cheek and a horrific crick in his neck and he immediately decided two things.
One. Gene Hunt was, sometimes, not moronically stupid.
Two. He'd rather get up and take the most tremendously awkward shower in the world than keep smelling the way he did now.
Chapter 2: Day Two
The car. The station.
This time, he and Gene were quieter.
And early. Aside from a few PCs puttering about on the ground floor, they didn't come across anyone as they made their way up the lift and into CID, which meant that while they could take a rest from their little two-man show, the silence and dread between them grew taut and deadly as a hangman's rope.
"This is such shit," Sam moaned as he leaned his hands on the edge of his rightful desk. "Haven't my bloody cortexes sorted themselves yet? Weren't the seventies bad enough?" He stared morosely at the station's light fixtures. "What did I ever do to deserve this?"
"Be a pain in my arse for one." Gene walked out of his office, peering down at a sheet of paper in his hand. "This might cheer you up."
Sam leveled a glare at his own body, perfect and proper and not where it was supposed to be.
With a scowl, he snatched the paper and scanned it. "Sawdust."
"Under the nails." Gene crossed his arms. "Turns out you and Flash-Knickers passing love notes might've helped us along after all."
Sam frowned -- and then realized. "Rodrick's brother works at a carpentry shop."
"My, we'll make a Sherlock of you yet!" Gene straightened Sam's jacket lapels in the same emphatic way he usually did his camelhair and then turned to stride toward CID's doors.
Sam scowled at him. "Where do you think you're going?"
Gene kept walking. "Chasing a lead, or did you forget we were police officers in all your whining?"
Sam winced and rubbed his temple. "Gene, do you really think--"
"What I think?" Gene whirled on Sam with an explosive shout, face dark, eyes horrible and livid. "What I think is that my shoes are too small and my shirt's too poncy and while you've dragged me down whatever rabbit hole you crawled out of, I still have two hands and two feet and I'll not sit idle while villains ravage my city!"
Sam had shrunk a bit. "Okay, Guv."
"Okay!" Gene slammed out to the hall. Sam could almost imagine it'd been the Guv's true figure that had just stormed through the doors for all the gale-wind force he imbued them with, hinges swinging to-and-fro in his wake.
Sam fidgeted with the paper in his hands. Then he grabbed a pen, scribbled a note, and left it on Annie's desk before bolting out after him.
"I'm so sorry," the note read, "about yesterday. --Sam."
They'd agreed to use each others' names by the time they pulled up to the workshop, but Sam realized as soon as Gene slammed out of the car that the idea of not acting a complete thug was still beyond his boss' comprehension. Seeing Gene swagger into the workshop in Sam's body gave Sam the distinct impression of a lion with all its fur shaved off.
"Bartholomew Rodrick, is it?" Gene asked the figure at the woodworking table.
Rodrick's brother glanced up from his work table, covered in rough chair legs and a half-carved rocking horse. He looked burly and tall, but mild-mannered despite it. "Bart. Can I help you, sir?"
Gene stopped a few paces from him and flashed Sam's badge. "Wouldn't happen to know what sewer your piss-off scrote of a brother has burrowed himself in, would you?"
Bart frowned, then went back to sanding. "Like I told the other detectives, I haven't seen him in weeks."
"We have evidence that suggests otherwise," Sam said, keenly aware of how bloody ridiculous this whole exchange would look to any of their co-workers. He longed, briefly, for the comfort of a cigarette before stamping the urge down.
"Right." Gene leaned a hand on the edge of the table. "And here I thought Rodgy-Dodgy was the bastard liar of the family."
Bart paused, then straightened. "You'd be DCI Gene Hunt, then."
"What?" Sam's head snapped up, but Bart's eyes stayed on Gene -- on Gene in Sam's body -- like he didn't know any better.
Gene looked right back. If it weren't for his tight jaw and clenched fist, Sam might've thought he was calm. "You one of those idiot savants, emphasis on the 'idiot'?"
Bart pushed the chair legs to one side. "Piece on my brother in the paper had you quoted. 'Rodgy-Dodgy.' You must think that's quite clever."
Right. Expect Gene's schoolyard name-calling to screw them all. Sam sighed and scratched his brow. "Actually--"
"Shut up, Tyler," Gene snapped as he marched into Bart's space. Had he not been so mortified, Sam might have admired the Guv's hellbent determination to intimidate. "Felicia Hartley was here as sure as money's in the bank, which to my reckoning gives you one of two options."
"Those would be...?" Bart asked.
"Tell us where your brother is or we arrest you on the spot," Sam finished.
Gene's silence meant he approved. He crossed his arms as Sam noticed Bart's hand close around his chipping tool.
"Oi, Bart, where's your..." Owen Rodrick trailed off as he walked into the room.
Several things happened.
First, Gene yelled "Oi!" Second, Bart thrust out at Gene's face with the wrong end of his tool. Third, Gene yelled and fell over himself as Sam ran at Owen Rodrick.
"Bart!" Owen yelled. "Get out of here!"
Why's Bart running? Sam thought. Then Owen's fist flew into his jaw.
Hot pain shot down Sam's face and into his shoulder, but it only propelled him back a half-step -- not even enough to knock him off balance. He stood, stunned, then balled his fist and threw the weight of his arm into Owen's stomach.
Owen flew toward the metal edge of the work table and hit it with a crack. He crumpled to the ground.
"Tyler!" Sam heard his own voice yell. His head snapped toward Gene, whose hand was tight on his nose and -- oh, god. Was that blood?
Sam caught movement out the corner of his eye as Bart Rodrick made a break for it out the warehouse door. Sam grit his teeth and raced for the exit, then the alley beyond it, and got about halfway down it with Bart in his sights when his legs turned to hot iron. He could hardly breathe.
Sam's shoulder slammed into the nearest wall. He heaved, and wheezed, and watched with horror and dizzy vision as Bart Rodrick disappeared into the distance.
"You broke my nose," Sam seethed.
Gene leaned back on the settee next to him. He adjusted the ice pack against his face and winced. "You let a suspect get away."
Sam turned to glower at him. "Your bad habits let a suspect get away. Also, you broke my nose."
Gene scowled. "Not like it's a particularly good one."
Sam crossed his arms, tight, and looked straight ahead again at Gene's Sergio Leone poster. He was sick of Sergio Leone. If he never saw another piece of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly memorabilia again, he'd be ecstatic.
"Chin up, Tyler," Gene muttered, though he didn't sound especially cheerful. "We lost the brother, not the murderer."
"Right -- I'll just drag him up from holding and into lost and found, shall I? Knock him about and see if he talks?"
Gene grit his teeth. "That's a start."
"Not as if being you is good for much else." Sam slumped in his seat. It almost made him feel better to think how petulant he was making Gene look, except that Gene was making Sam look like he was in a sodding world of pain, which Sam wasn't exactly looking forward to once he jumped back into his own shoes.
If he jumped back into his own shoes.
It was a horrible, gut-wrenching thought, the kind he could hardly entertain. But there wasn't anything to disprove it -- no rule, no precedent, no obvious little button. This had never happened before. It might never happen again.
Sam groped for the flask in his breast pocket. He didn't stop himself from twisting the cap off up with shaky fingers, from taking a long, deep swig.
They sat in silence for a few moments. Equally fucking miserable.
"We need to fix this," Gene muttered.
"How," Sam said in monotone.
"Wake up, probably," said Gene. "From this bastard nightmare."
Sam turned to look at him. Gene had closed his eyes.
"Is this what it's like?" he mumbled. "Being you?"
Sam blinked slowly.
The door opened with a thud. Annie strode in, wide-eyed, medical bag in hand.
"Sam!" she said.
"He'll live," Sam managed in a little rasp as Annie rushed toward Gene. Sam wasn't sure if it was the morose mood or their earlier agreement that kept Gene quiet as Annie put a hand on his shoulder.
"Here, let me--"
Gene grunted as she reached for the ice pack and gently pulled it away and -- Christ. Sam outright blanched. His face looked yellow and green across the bridge of his nose and inner eye sockets; a big smear of blood had crusted up under his nostrils.
"S'not bad," Gene announced.
"Not...!" Annie let out an exasperated sigh and looked toward Sam. "What happened, Guv?"
"He's an idiot is what." Sam thought he sounded properly in character.
"I was knocked about the face by a carpentry tool." Gene sounded equally in character, aside from the horrible nasal quality.
"Okay, fine, just -- sit still." Annie pulled up a damp cloth she'd draped over the medical bag as she kneeled in front of Gene. She bit her lip and pressed a hand to steady one side of Gene's face -- Sam's face -- as she brought up her cloth with the other.
Sam took another drink from the flask, tense. Uncomfortable. Annie began to gently wipe away the dried blood under Gene's nose. Gene winced, but aside from a pained noise at the back of his throat, stayed quiet.
Sam noticed Annie wasn't looking at him. Like it was pointed, like she should be shy around the Guv at a moment like this, like even he should know to excuse himself. Sam stood up, suddenly, and walked to the other side of Gene's office. He felt something in his chest that he couldn't explain, something apart from the deep burn of Gene's whiskey.
"You have to be more careful," he heard Annie murmur to Gene, to Sam.
"Tell that to..." On the other side of the room, Sam heard his own voice trail off. "Tell that to the Guv."
"Not my fault you fight like a fairy," Gene's voice snapped out of Sam, out of his throat. It was ugly, raw. Sam's head swam.
Gene raised his head to look at him and Sam didn't know why it hit him now, visceral, the unfairness of it all. Gene didn't know what he had in this moment, what he was blithely ripping away. Didn't know it was something Sam wanted more than anything, that he'd earned but couldn't have.
A spike of something painful and irrational shot up through his stomach, worse than envy, than hate.
It was unfair.
"Guv...?" Annie asked.
Sam looked at her, at her big blue eyes. He realized he was angry at her. He was angry at everything.
"I'm fine," Sam said. He opened Gene's jacket, slid the flask back in. "Just sick of this spectacle."
He strode toward the doors, slammed out of them. Marched through the length of CID, down the stairs, out the hall, past Phyllis and into the holding cells.
"Oi, Guv--" Phyllis tried.
Sam ignored her. He got to Owen Rodrick's cell and turned the lock, yanked it open. Rodrick jerked up from his concrete slab as it clanged closed.
"Tell me how you killed those girls," Sam said.
Rodrick sat up. "I stabbed 'em. I carved 'em up, I..."
Sam grabbed Rodrick by the front of the shirt and yanked him up to eye level.
"I used a knife -- hunting knife."
"Hunting knife couldn't have made those stab wounds, Owen."
Rodrick hit the concrete like a ten-stone ragdoll, the kind that whimpered, and whined.
"Sorry -- sorry, I meant a... a kitchen knife." Rodrick curled up. "That's what I did, I sliced their bellies open while they screamed, I..."
"Wrong!" Sam shouted. "The evisceration was post-mortem!"
Rodrick wheezed. "Please, I'm confessin' -- just listen to me, please!"
"You know what I think?" Sam walked around him in a circle, footfalls heavy, steady. "I think you didn't do it."
"No..." Rodrick cried, snotty. He raised a hand in surrender. "I'm the murderer-- that's why there was blood in me bathtub, see, all over the floor--"
"Anyone could have used your flat -- anyone you trusted with a key, who you couldn't say no to."
"I'll sign anythin' you want--"
Sam yanked him up by the back of his collar, slammed his chest into the wall. Rodrick yelled.
"Truth is," Sam whispered behind him, "I don't think you've the bollocks to kill someone. But you had the bollocks to stay behind, didn't you? While your brother ran?"
Rodrick shook his head. "No, no!"
Sam twisted his arm. Rodrick screamed.
"The wounds threw us for a loop. Smaller than a knife, bigger than a screwdriver -- punctures, not cuts. Awful lot like the wood-chipping tool in your brother's hand."
"Please!" Rodrick wailed. "I borrowed it from him, I--"
"You'd rather people get hurt," Sam said. "You'd rather your brother kill innocent girls than see him get caught."
Rodrick breathed hard. Sam grit his teeth, Gene's teeth, growled with Gene Hunt's voice to Gene Hunt's suspect the words Gene Hunt would want said.
"Where is he?"
Rodrick sobbed, broken. "I don't know -- I swear I don't know. Everything else is true, but I don't know!"
Sam tightened Gene's fist on Rodrick's arm.
Sam turned his head. His own face looked back at him, red and mottled across the middle, tan bandage on the nose. His cheeks were pale with the contrast.
Sam's hands went still. He dropped Rodrick's arm and shoulder, then stepped back from him. Rodrick crumpled to the floor.
He felt a hand grip his arm and drag him out to the hall. The door slammed behind them with an echoing clang as they made their way further down the corridor, toward the empty cells.
"Bloody Nora," Gene said.
"Gene, I'm sorry," Sam babbled. "I'm so sorry--"
"For what?" Gene turned, wide-eyed, like he'd seen icewater in hell. "For cracking the case like a grown man?"
Sam swallowed. His knuckles were sore, his palms clammy. He didn't know exactly -- why he felt shamed and shaken. Why he felt like he'd crossed a line, violated someone, done something he hadn't a right to.
He knew, but he didn't know.
"Oi." Gene took a step back. "You going to be sick, you jessie?"
"I..." Sam swallowed. He tasted bile and pressed a hand to his mouth. It was Gene's hand. It was Gene's mouth. It was--
"For god's sake, will you wait 'till it's your own shirt?!"
"Sorry," Sam choked, breathed. "I... I need some air."
Gene didn't respond for a moment. Then he clapped Sam on the back.
"What you need," Gene said, "is a drink."
Sam was embarrassed by how quickly he grabbed the bottle of scotch under his sink, how large a portion he poured himself. He downed it, then turned to throw open the window.
"How do you do this," he muttered as he tugged out Gene's Marlboros. "Every day, how do you do this?"
"By not acting a bleeding child." Gene grimaced from where he stood in front of Sam's bathroom mirror, testing the edges of his bruises with his fingertips. "How do you stand seeing this face in the morning?"
"By not looking like a train wreck." Sam took a drag on his lit cigarette and then turned toward his displaced body. He swallowed. "God, you look like a train wreck."
"Least I didn't sleep in these clothes," Gene muttered.
After a moment, Sam sighed. He padded over and offered Gene a glass.
Gene took it. Sam sat down on the edge of the bed and shifted his own drink to the same hand as his cigarette. He was getting good at this.
Across from him, Gene pulled up a chair backwards and straddled it. "Plods are combing the city. Annie's pulling nightshift. Ray and Chris are taking turns keeping watch on Barty-Farty's last known residence."
Sam smirked weakly. "Barty-Farty. Very good."
"Two blokes," Gene said as he rested an arm on the seatback in front of him, "pretending to do the other's dirty laundry. Can't imagine where you got the notion."
"Can't imagine," Sam agreed.
Gene drank his scotch. The space between them eased into something calm, comfortable. Sam realized he'd relaxed for the first time since waking up.
They were safe here, with each other. They could be themselves.
"Oi," Gene said. "Can I ask you something?"
Sam raised a brow. "You... want permission?"
Gene's mouth twisted. "Well, if you're going to be a right bastard about it--"
"No, just..." Sam exhaled smoke. "Sure. Go ahead."
Gene watched him stonily before he glanced down at his drink. His ice cubes clinked and it occurred to Sam that over the past two days, Gene hadn't drank much more than Sam did normally, hadn't asked for a single smoke. It unsettled Sam, that either the Guv had a hidden well of human decency or didn't bother with his personal vices if he didn't need them to function.
And he did need them to function. That unsettled Sam too.
"Why this time?" Gene gazed at his glass. "Why this time, of all times, to lose your sodding mind, go King Kong on our little captive?"
Sam looked away. He brought his cigarette to his lips and took a drag. "I was being you."
"You weren't." Gene watched him now, like a hawk, like he had over the table last night. "You might fool someone else, but I saw Sam Tyler in that cell, through and through -- out of gran-gran's mittens, off the reservation."
"I thought you didn't need an apology," Sam muttered.
"Didn't ask for an apology. Asked for a reason."
Sam ran a hand down his face. Gene's face. Gene's skin, rough and pock-marked, solid and warm.
He dropped his hand, grit his teeth. "I don't know. I'm sorry. I'd give you a pound of my flesh except you already have all of it."
Gene barked out a laugh. "Tyler answer for a Tyler question. Fine."
Gene threw back his head to drink the last of his scotch and almost immediately slammed his palm down on the top of the seatback. He leaned forward, teeth grit, as he curled his other hand around the middle of his face. His glass had fallen to the floor.
Sam sighed. "Did you knock your nose against the--"
"No," Gene hissed. His hand gripped the edge of the seatback. "Sodding hell, are you made of peanut brittle?"
"I've got sensitive sinuses." Sam stood up as he finished off his scotch. He put his glass to the side and dropped his cigarette in it. "Particularly when they've been smashed in, I imagine."
Gene let out a grunt that sounded more like a suppressed groan. Sam rolled his eyes and walked toward him. "You shouldn't have taken off the ice pack."
"I'm fine," Gene growled.
"Oh, yes, I can see that." Sam leaned down to grasp Gene's wrist. "Here, let me look at you."
Gene yanked away. "I'm not a fairy."
"It's my own face, Gene."
Gene glared him down through the gaps between his fingers. After a few seconds, he lowered his hand.
Sam tried not to wince, but it was hard when he felt like he was looking at his own self -- his nose, his eyes, his own splotchy skin. He felt sympathy pain -- literal bloody sympathy pain -- surge through him as he swallowed and reached forward, clinically, to grab his chin and turn it side to side. As if he was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, that private moment when you inspect yourself, check yourself.
"You quite finished?" Gene growled.
Sam frowned. "I'm assuming Annie already asked you what kind of pain you were feeling, if you could breathe--"
"She tried to. Didn't get far."
"Of course she didn't." Sam tightened his grip on his face's chin. "Has it occurred to you that you should take better care of something you've borrowed?"
Gene grit his teeth. "I didn't ask for this."
"Neither did I, but here we are, aren't we?"
"Aren't we." Gene began to stand.
Instinctively, Sam's other hand shot out and grabbed Gene's shoulder, slammed him back into the seat. Gene's hand launched out to shove Sam's chest and Sam let go of Gene's chin to slap it away.
"For fuck's sake--" Gene said, turning his head.
Sam's free hand grabbed for his face, his jawline, to force it back toward him. Some vindictive fury thrummed through him, that same unfair, unfair from earlier, so strong that he didn't notice at first how he'd pressed Gene's palm into the skin of his own cheek, how he'd hooked Gene's thumb on the corner of his mouth. He didn't notice how his own body had gone still in front of him.
And then he did.
The body under his hands exhaled, just a bit, just enough that Sam wouldn't have noticed if it weren't his own skin underneath his fingers, his own breath against his thumb. He looked back at his own eyes and that should have broken it, this thing that had slammed out of nowhere and thudded under his ribs, except that his thoughts leapt, stupidly, from point to feverish point -- Is this what I would look like? Is this what he would see?
Christ. Fucking Christ.
Sam stepped away, turned around. He walked toward the door. He realized, as he turned the knob, that he hoped Gene would start yelling at him, blow cro-magnon smoke from a cro-magnon fire and that would be that, the end of it, the laugh of it.
But he didn't. Sam didn't hear Gene stand up until he'd already crossed the threshold.
"Takin' leave of your own flat?" Gene asked. There was a cold quality to his voice.
Sam swallowed. "We're not us right now."
Sam didn't turn around. His knuckles ached where his hand grasped the door.
"Get some rest, Guv."
He closed it behind him.
Chapter 3: Day Three
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.