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How We Smashed Johari's Window

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Chapter One

- - -

 

The edges of the dream are actually memories: Sam leans forward and brings their faces closer, whispering delicious words, gasping “Gene…” with wonder and amazement, wet and waiting mouth opening to say…

 

Gene Hunt woke up alone.

 

Reached out his arm, found nothing.

 

Sam was gone.

 

Morning sunshine and motes of experience were falling into his senses, and Gene shut them all out. Rolled across his empty bed, saw that only his own clothes were left on the floor and just…

 

Stop. Done. Censored. Gone. He didn’t have to know or acknowledge any of it. Erase, pour on the correction-fluid, shred the records and it would be… It didn’t happen.

 

He did check downstairs. Slyly, trying to convince himself he wasn’t.

 

No one. Nothing. His house was again as empty as it had been since the day Kate had thrown her jewellery in her suitcase, telling Gene with impatient sorrow that he already knew he didn’t need her.

 

Clink from the milkman outside, through the window the sight of the neighbours’ cat scurrying away in the Virginia creeper, dead frost on the windowpanes and other set-pieces of morning. Nothing else.

 

Gene felt numb.

 

In the end he showered twice, because just as he’d dried off and got half dressed, a scent had hit him from somewhere, some crevice he’d forgotten. Violently he’d stripped down and scrubbed himself again, his hands evoking memories from his skin.

 

He wiped it out, at last, drowning the last vestiges with Old Spice.

 

It was…it was unwanted. It was not a thing, not a noun; he didn’t have to let himself know what he was removing. It just had to go. He was utterly unequipped to… But it hadn’t happened.

 

He would not stare at himself in the mirror, wondering wide-eyed at the sight, at the fucking sight of himself in this state.

 

And he, now, must go into work. He was not a bloody coward, and he was going to go into work and all the encounters that would have to be got through would just be fucking got through. He could deal with that, because as far as he was concerned, now, nothing was amiss.

 

Gene walked down the stairs. The leather jacket hanging on the knob of the banister almost caught his eye, but he turned away from it. Just across the hall in the Living Room there was a most tempting half-bottle of Scotch…

 

But there’d be the chip papers in there too, on the floor where they’d forgotten them.

 

So Gene (who had thought of nothing, remembered: nothing) strode straight out of his house, taking a swig from his hip flask and gasping at the burn of it. Considering breakfast he decided he could eat in the canteen – anything to get out of the house.

 

Starting up the Cortina, Gene allowed himself in one moment of weakness to wish that, just maybe, Sam might not find it in himself to go into the Station that day.

 

The funny thing was that, at the time, he never even half expected that to come true.

 

- - -

 

“Transferred?” Ray was saying gleefully, “He never bloody said. If I’d known I’d have thrown a party!” He slapped a mournful Chris on the back and grinned across the room at Gene.

 

Gene was staring at Annie, barely hearing Ray’s stream.

 

She held the sheet of paper at distance from herself, and Gene could see it clearly, bone-white and inexplicably real. He made himself finish taking off his driving gloves – he’d only just got through the door when they’d all told him the news at once.

 

Was funny, that after this morning it had still surprised him. But he’d never even wildly imagined that Sam was leaving…everything.

 

“In my office, DC Cartwright” Gene said, loudly, swallowing to remove the feeling that he’d been winded.

 

Probably should have eaten breakfast.

 

Inside his office he automatically slung his coat over his chair, reached in a drawer for the whiskey bottle and tried to find his footing. It was as if the top of his mind – the tiny calm cold parts that helped you shoot someone - had been sliced off, disconnected from everything else, which now waited beneath to slide back into place. When that happened it was going to feel…however it was going to feel.

 

Now it was still numb. And – bloody hell – and Annie was crying. Which Gene didn’t think he would have cared about a year ago - didn’t really care about now – but could see focussing on would keep his mind up there, disconnected. Carrying on forwards like the driver of a crashed car – something that when everything else had stopped and broken could still sail forward, still await impact.

 

“Now, now.” He patted her arm awkwardly, “No need for all this, Annie eh?”

 

She turned her face to him like some film close-up, wide brown eyes swimming with tears, the hurt on her face as if proximity to his own raw secrets stung her.

 

Moving back, Gene gestured at his office chair. Once she had seated herself, he perched on the edge of his desk, arms stiffly folded, and coughed.

 

“Annie, c’mon, it’s not exactly unheard of. DI Tyler arrived here abruptly and abruptly he has left. Central Office giveth and Central Office taketh away. Sam has…” he coughed again, “Sam has left us.”

 

If he said it enough: Sam has left us - if he said the words often enough, it would be normal.

 

Annie was wiping frantically are her eyes. “I’m sorry, Guv” she said, soggily, “It’s just; I would have thought he’d have told me.”

 

“Yes, well, you know Sam, not always that predictable.”

 

Had she been a man, Gene would have found a reason to hit her by now. Her or somebody else. The wall. Anything to drown out the echoes in his mind.

 

(“I want to hit you sometimes, Gene, just to be able to touch you.”)

 

Twitching, Gene slid off the desk and went to open the filing cabinet, closed it again and forced himself to sit back down, to breathe normally.

 

“But Sir! Sam said he wasn’t going back! He said he’d stay here, with us. He never really thought he was from Hyde at all.”

 

Gene raised a hand, cutting her off: “Yeah, well, people change like bleeding caterpillars sometimes, and not into butterflies neither. You’re not naïve enough to think, DC Cartwright, that when someone tells you something they have to mean it?”

 

(“Gene, I swear, I’ve never been so sure of anything.”)

 

The echoes were distracting him – biting his tongue he balled his fist and took a deep breath, making himself not notice the question in her expression. When he spoke again it was for her and she would never know how much it cost him.

 

“Look, Annie, I know you…liked him. I know you miss him, but if he wanted to leave then all I can say is someone was mistaken about somebody, yeah?” He felt like a twat saying it, like some women’s magazine columnist. “Now make us both a cup of tea, eh? There’s a good girl.”

 

She grinned weakly through her tears and stood up. “Tea it is, Sir.”

 

Well that was that sorted at any rate.

 

“Sir?”

 

Looking up, he saw she’d paused half through the door.

 

“Cartwright?”

 

She took a deep breath: “I don’t think we were mistaken about him, Sir.”

 

Bloody hell! Gene snapped the pencil he’d picked up in half and snarled at her, all his sympathy torn away by rage in the face of hers. “Tea not talk, Cartwright and don’t correct your Sheriff!”

 

His hand trembled on the desk. Because he was hungry. He was hungry - it was nothing a full English wouldn’t cure. Getting out his flask, he swigged a measure, burning and clean.

 

Annie drew away swift as a spooked kid spotting a mugging in an alley, and Gene sat down, started filing away the bloody transfer notice. He found himself reading it over – he had a feeling he needed to log it, somewhere. There was something about that in the manual. Which was where..? Oh, yes, Sam had had the manual last. Actually, Sam was the only one who’d ever had the manual.

 

Maybe he’d even taken the sodding thing with him, he’d loved it that much and all.

 

Smiling grimly, Gene smoothed out the paper (Annie had scrunched it in distress; he’d grabbed it from her and torn a corner). Sam’s transfer notice lay printed across it, black-and-white and bloody well read all over, stubbornly unchanged from when Annie had first found it on the front desk. It was simple, procedural and silent, its many words conveying nothing.

 

Silence. Keeping hidden what ought to be. That was clearly Sam’s plan in leaving – and how long had he had been planning it? Had last night been a mistake or just a goodbye? But then that hadn’t happened. None of it had happened. Gene could see that message written between the lines, and he’d run with that as happily as a flasher at a football match.

 

When the tea came, Gene put his mug carefully over Sam’s signature, blotting the ink, and looked away into the middle distance.

 

He’d once told Sam that there was nothing to keep him here in A-Division. That he stayed because he wanted to.

 

Evidently, Annie wasn’t the only mistaken one.

 

- - -

 

Things might have been different, Gene thought later.

 

Actually, it was much later, he was in the pub and he couldn’t exactly remember how he’d got there.

 

The day had passed like a slide show on a screen, scenes changing, time moving on, but all distant from him. Others had arrived into work and on hearing of Sam’s transfer had cheered, sighed or asked who DI Tyler was variously. Nothing was so very different – Ray didn’t do his paperwork at all, which Sam had always nagged him into completing, and Gene had been surprised to find himself telling Ray quite seriously that, yes, they did need that form, how the hell would they keep track of anything without it?

 

Sam hadn’t been there to be bad cop. Or good cop. Or…sod it: he was drunk; he didn’t need irony right now. Gene could bloody manage people when he wanted to, yeah, that was the point. So things might have been different, because Gene knew people, knew how they worked and why and what buttons to push. Played Sam like a fucking xylophone at times. Except he’d been so pleased with that, with little bits of knowledge he had no name for, that he’d never sat down and tried to assemble the whole bloody crossword. Never tried to find the words or the ways to change how it was.

 

Just dragged the two of them on together, twisting into the music of playing each other, until they got past words and past reason and beyond things he could name.

 

He and Sam had been… Well. It had been them.

 

The knowledge rested in his head, and until it had a name it couldn’t touch him. He just had to leave it alone, seal it away, burn it out.

 

“Your round, Guv!” Ray announced, almost falling onto him, clutching the bar where Gene had gone to get a round in five minutes ago and yet had wound up sitting at, staring into space.

 

“Oi! Gerroff me you tosser.”

 

“C’mon Guv, you must be pleased as I am that that wanker’s buggered off back to Hyde and…”

 

But Ray didn’t finish what he was going to say.

 

Gene rubbed his knuckles surreptitiously and, glaring down any commentary, stepped over the prone figure and stalked out of the bar. Just went to show – once Ray had known him better than anyone else at work, now he could be so off the mark he earned himself a punch. That there, that was what Sam had done for them.

 

Outside the road was messy with the first leaves of autumn, sliding treacherously under his feet. September – the month when things started to die. And this was bad - Sam would have driven him home, the state he was in now – drunk enough to be morbid. Or he would have made him walk. Self-righteous prick.

 

Gene opened the Cortina and got inside. Yeah, well, no nannying now. No more fucking namby-pamby by-the-book responsible bollocks. Could drive right home. Not too drunk, not at all.

 

But instead he climbed over the gear stick and onto the back seat. Fell asleep there.

 

Woke up the next morning, drooling on the leather. And hard. Not for a good reason, not pleasantly. The straining, hurting early morning erection that came usually after a night of burning dreams, except he couldn’t remember any of his clearly. He felt a number of things.

 

Disorientated. That was one of them. He was definitely disorientated.

 

There was nothing else that he felt that he had a name for.

 

- - -

 

Wordless days are like rainless ones – fine until you remember that you need those things to live, at which point you have a drought.

 

Maybe that’s why Gene drank as much as he did, all those days. The long month after Sam left.

 

It wasn’t like anything had changed, not when you itemised it – he got up, he went in, they solved crime, they went to the pub, he went home. Life was exactly like when Sam was there, except that Sam wasn’t there.

 

Which…that made sense in his head, more than most things. He couldn’t put it to himself any other way, not without treading into forbidden territory.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Two

 

Frank Hagwood had died in a manner as inconvenient as that in which he had lived. A sufferer of Down’s syndrome, he had been turned over to the state on his birth and had spent the tax-payers’ money to no obvious benefit. He had been fed and clothed and taught to screw the tops on tubes of paint and, at the age of twenty four, had had the temerity to be assaulted by a local gangster in part of a turf war against the paint factory who employed him. This had occupied police time, but was nothing in comparison to the mess he had made when murdered with a crowbar, presumably by those he had testified against.

 

All this ran through Gene’s mind that Tuesday afternoon in October, as he stood in the drizzling rain on the canal bank, watching them carry Frank’s body away. Once he would have said some of it to Sam, who would have told him how wrong it was, how cruel. But life was cruel, which Sam had never seemed to appreciate.

 

Never seemed to. In retrospect: clearly had.

 

If Gene was learning one thing this month, it was that his knowledge of Sam was remarkably scanty.

 

He raised his hand to his mouth to better yell after the retreating constables: “And tell Oswald I want the report tomorrow, I don’t care if he misses his bloody golf engagement!”

 

Gene didn’t want to know that he felt resentful. Didn’t want emotional scum rising to the surface of his mind. He had gone so far as to hope, in the light of those first numb days, that finally, after decades of tough stances, he was as hard as he made himself out to be.

 

But like the ringing noise that emerges after the explosion, emotions had gradually appeared. Crystallising from a soup of confusion, slow and sharp, irritating as a splinter under a finger-nail and twice as unforgettable.

 

“How’s that for mixed metaphors, eh Gladys?” Gene murmured under his breath, shrugging his coat closer round him against the insidious October mist. Then he kicked a nearby tunnel wall so hard the mortar fell onto the towpath.

 

Footsteps came up behind him, the low clack of a woman’s heels.

 

“Things can’t go on like this, Sir.”

 

He rounded on her like thunder. “Well, yes, I wasn’t planning to encourage the thugs, Annie, though thank-you for pointing it out to me. You will let me know the next time I take a piss, won’t you?”

 

“I don’t mean the murder, Sir.”

 

She stepped forward and he blinked at the brightness of the torch she’d been using under the shadows of the tunnel. His head ached putridly - hair of the dog hadn’t even helped. He’d been drinking the vodka last night, hadn’t he? Hard to remember anything after the beer. It had probably been vodka. Not the brandy. Brandy was such a bad idea and he never remembered that. Not that improving his bloody memory was ever the point.

 

(“You make me feel drunk”)

 

Gene closed his eyes for a second, made himself forget and swigged from his hip flask for good measure.

 

Annie winced at the action, but behind it her face was drawn and melancholy. “Sir, Guv,” she said, softly, “Since Sam…since DI Tyler left, everything’s been getting worse.”

 

“Cartwright, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Gene was hurting himself with his own volume, but that was no reason to stop: “Our detection rate is as good as ever – better, since no one’s pissing off Ray. We can still interview a suspect, we haven’t run out of HobNobs. We’re faster now he doesn’t occupy all my bloody time with his ‘suggestions’…”

 

“I mean you, sir.” Annie said, voice now very low, hideously feminine and bloody kind. “You used to be like this – cold and heartless and, and drunk sir, and I thought it was how you were, your personality and that.” He scowled at her, but she carried on: “You were different, working with him.”

 

“I don’t know what the hell you think you’re…”

 

“And I don’t believe he meant to leave us!” The shouted words echoed back from the tunnel mouth and he fought the temptation to cover his ears, keep it out of his poor aching, bruised brain.

 

(“Please don’t go. Gene? Stay with me?”)

 

Shivering, clenching his fists, Gene strode forward, meaning to grab and shake her, forgetting that she was a woman, forgetting everything but the one thing he wanted to.

 

“I phoned Hyde.” She held out her hand, a scrap of newspaper in it like some kind of dog treat to keep him back. “I wanted to speak to him, I know you said not to but I did it on my own time, my own twenty pence in the payphone. He wasn’t there, neither was DCI Morgan, but I did speak to a nice DS.”

 

“And?” Gene yelled. For a moment ridiculous possibilities that he wasn’t allowing himself to think echoed in his mind – Sam’s been playing a joke, Sam broke his leg, was confined to his flat, Hyde called him away but they’ve sent him back again – things he knew he ought to dread – what he should be feeling should be dread.

 

She smiled with a kind of triumph: “He got married. Last week.”

 

- - -

 

If ever Gene Hunt had trusted a man, then that man had let him down.

 

His father. His brother. His first partner walking the beat. His mentor.

 

And with each loss, he would trust the next man more deeply, more hopefully, despite all he could tell himself. He became more loyal, more close-minded and more obsessed with the idea of teams, families and hierarchies.

 

But he’d never reached the point of telling any of them about their predecessors. Never shared that final intimacy, final vulnerability.

 

Not until Sam.

 

- - -

 

Married.

 

Gene was fucking. Winded. Just…

 

“Cartwright!” Gene spat out, trying to get over the punched-the-shit-out-of-me feeling that had just arrived in his gut. “Why are you wasting my time with this?”

 

“I had to know, Sir!” Her eyes widened in sheer earnestness, “I had to know.” She coughed and toed the gravel of the footpath.

 

Gene was trying to swallow. There was iron, cold iron, slipping down his throat, pooling in a great black mass and he couldn’t breathe round it. With an effort he unclenched his hands.

 

Where did this woman get off, raking this stuff up? Did she really think she knew Sam so much better than he did?

 

Come to that, did she actually?

 

Annie started talking again, quietly: “You see, sir, he and I, we… It seemed like we were going to, um, walk out together, for a while.”

 

That insult with the injury gave him something to latch onto: “I may be a year or so older than you, DC,” he said sarcastically, “but your Nan I am not - you two were constantly teetering on the edge of accidentally falling over and shagging, yes, I think we all knew that.”

 

She blushed even deeper red: “It wasn’t as simple as that. We were…he means a lot to me, but it wasn’t… I think we both wanted it to be everything, and it wasn’t. Not that you’re interested in all that, but…” Becoming more flustered, she looked at him for encouragement. Gene, concentrating on keeping his facial expression neutral, nodded briefly.

 

“So I told him so – that it wasn’t a good idea, us being together - about a week before he left. And all this time I’ve been worrying, what if he ran away from me? What if I’d got it wrong and I hurt him? But now I know that something is definitely wrong.”

 

“What, because he got married?”

 

“No, because of this.” She indicated the newspaper clipping she’d handed him. “The DCI cut our conversation short, and I was curious, I suppose, so I bought a Hyde Gazette and there it was.”

 

“What, ‘Council to slash budget for Town Hall carpet’?”

 

“No, look at the bit at the bottom. The ‘Funny Foto’ competition.”

 

Gene cast his eye down the page to the competition section, which was outlined in little stars.

 

She was wide-eyed and eager as a kid from the bloody Famous Five: “It is him, isn’t it, Sir? Him and…and his wife.”

 

And it was true. Behind the undeniably hilarious foreground composition of a wedding guest falling over and inadvertently grabbing a pensioner’s breasts – for which the photo-sender had earned a £5 prize – there stood Sam, arm round a petite, dark-haired woman in a wedding dress.

 

It was black and white, fuzzy and indistinct, and the first image he’d seen of Sam since…and the bastard was fucking smiling.

 

A painfully familiar feeling grew in Gene’s chest.

 

Annie sighed with exasperation at the slowness of his response: “There’s a caption! It says…” she picked the paper from where he’d let it dangle from his hand. “It says: ‘Worth Waiting For! At last Saturday’s wedding two people got the prize they’d long awaited. The groom, Sam Williams, has recently awoken from a year-long coma to the arms of his blushing bride, but it was Mrs Ethel Higgins (82) who really got what she’d been missing when…’ and then it talks about the poor old dear, but do you see, Sir? It says he’s been a coma since 1972, only woke up a month ago.”

 

For about ten seconds, he couldn’t process what she’d said, the maths and logic required beyond him. Then it gradually dawned and he grabbed her up, hugging her and lifting her clean off her feet whilst she giggled in amazement.

 

“Bloody hell, DC Cartwright,” he laughed, “You may just have earned yourself a DS badge.”

- - -

Chapter Three

 

After Annie had left him in the pub, her notebook full of theories and ‘to-do’s they’d listed together, Gene sat contemplating the end of his second pint. He’d been so involved in conversation with her that his orders hadn’t piled in as swiftly as usual.

 

His beer glass was shimmering with condensation. From the rim a lone droplet trailed down the side and to the table.

 

Sam had used to rub at his glass, when they’d sat like this, enjoying an hour’s relaxation at the end of the day. When the conversation had stilled, maybe when one of them had said something to which there wasn’t really an answer (“Shall I give my assessment, then? Of you?”) Sam would pass the time running the pad of one finger over the cloudy surface, wiping the water that came off onto his cheek or the back of his other hand.

 

Probably didn’t even realise he did it, let alone that Gene noticed, that it kept Gene quiet, fascinated.

 

And Gene shouldn’t be thinking of it now. Knew he shouldn’t. But seeing that picture had broken down carefully constructed barriers in his memory, and warm memories were hard to block away when you were sat alone and mostly sober.

 

They had been happy then, of that he was sure, as far as either of them seemed capable of it. Their conversation had flowed easily, in its words and more importantly in its silences. That they both had had secrets was clear, as was the way they both respected the fact, treading carefully around topics neither ever seemed eager to discuss – love, family, childhood.

 

Gene ran his finger down his beer glass in the cold moisture, thinking of the dew in the Castlefield Cemetery that day last July, the way it had cut through the knees of his trousers.

 

It is not usually something important, to tell someone that you have, no, had a brother. That is not, for most people, a shocking intimacy that you half regret sharing.

 

The first giant leap in a friendship is not always protecting someone from a murder charge, nor is the second often accompanying someone to a cemetery they haven’t been able to bear visiting since they buried that brother there. Not every friend is prepared to then get hit out at in every way with the angry grief that has never found a direction except down a bottle.

 

There are not a lot of men who’d wait until it finished and have the grace not to comment on it. Who’d press your dignity back into your arms and smile in the summer sunset as you walked along the gravel path away from the dead and unchangeable past, and say “Thank-you. Thank-you for trusting me” like they’d been the ones given something.

 

Gene sipped at his beer. He had to get this down and go home before he could order any more. Before he could spend any more time sitting and seeing into the past.

 

He could see now that he’d been so busy forgetting the things he wished had never happened, that he’d failed to think of the good things. They were even more important to forget, they were the things that had cut him fucking open in the first place, made him vulnerable.

 

Because they’d walked down that gravel path together, him and Sam, nothing seeming to have changed, but the path hadn’t ended that day or that week or that month. What had (not) happened in September, on that day two days before Sam had left, had been part of the same thing, Gene could see that now.

 

That had been, in fact, the same day that Frank Hagwood had first wandered into the station, eager, earnest and upset, and had unfortunately first encountered DS Carling. Gene, who’d seen the debacle earliest, had dragged Ray away, yelled at him to find some fucking manners, and returned to the front desk to find Sam and Annie gently comforting Frank with tea and biscuits, Sam clearly itching for a self-righteous argument.

 

And yes, Ray was a tosser to use words like that to a distressed man, even if he was a fucking Spastic, but Gene felt oddly partial to a fight, somehow. The three of them had looked so flipping sickeningly domestic.

 

Thus he and Sam had yelled, grabbed each other, tussled in the corridor, fallen into the locker room and broken a chair.

 

Just another Wednesday really.

 

“Now let me see, Marjorie” Gene had yelled, pinning Sam to the ground with no little satisfaction. “What penalty shall I exact today? My powers of imagination wear a little thin when you piss me off this often. So a classic, say, buy me a drink?”

 

“Always buy you a sodding drink” Sam mumbled, “Oh OK, OK, I will. Let go. Just let’s get back to Frank; he must think we’ve killed each other.”

 

And then, suddenly, they’d both seen the funny side and started laughing so hard they slid onto the benches and had to wait a moment before they could go back into the corridor.

 

“Snot a baa iff” Sam had said much later, slumping in a booth at the pub, acres of beer glasses but not much else between them.

 

“What? Wassat Gladys?”

 

“Said: it’s not a bad life, Guv.” Sam had been leaning over sideways in his seat, grinning and playing with a beer mat.

 

“Nah, you’re right. ‘S’not bad” Gene had slurred back, after a moment’s consideration. Sam didn’t smile like this very much. Was nice.

 

There had been another moment or two of comfortable silence. Gene drained the end of his pint – he’d only had six, felt like more – and put the glass down amongst the ones Ray, Chris and Annie had left as they had slipped away and home to whoever they had waiting.

 

Then Gene had risen with a slight wobble and clapped Sam on the back.

 

“Home time, Doris.”

 

“You wanna curry or somethin’?” Sam had asked, staggering up from the booth and trying to get into his coat.

 

“Nah. Full. Time go home.” Gene insisted, finally grabbing Sam and the coat and inserting the one into the other through brute force.

 

“Thanks.” Sam had said, patting the coat appreciatively. “But Gene, you’re drunk, yeah? Le’s have coffee an’ that at mine. Has to be mine, cos further to your’s, sides, you can’t drive now an’ no bus there.”

 

“Fair ‘nough. Lead on MacDuff.”

 

They’d made for door, Sam pausing to call: “G’night Nelson!”

 

Nelson was wiping up glasses behind the bar. “You two be careful now” he’d said.

 

He hadn’t spoken casually. Gene would remember that even after other details of the night blurred or became repressed: “You two be careful now” Nelson had said, seriously, as if he had bleeding precognition.

 

All most of us get, thought Gene now, staring into the remnants of his pint like it was a crystal ball, is bloody 20:20 hindsight.

 

“For now we see but through a glass darkly” he muttered sarcastically, since he was quite sure no one could hear him.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Four

 

Another day, another pub – so far, so Gene Hunt. But this time it was the White Lion in central Hyde, and the drink was less Dutch courage than sheer prevarication.

 

He’d have to bring Ray here one day, Gene thought, sipping appreciatively at their very fine bitter. Ray understood beer. You could talk to Ray about beer all evening, no fuss, no complication, simple pleasures.

 

You could not, of course, talk to Ray about coming to Hyde to seek out the mystery of Sam Tyler. Gene had first thought he would need something as vaguely humiliating as Annie providing a cover for him. It had turned out, however as he’d sorted through Frank Hagwood’s file (all these bad habits, couldn’t shake any of them, be sodding taping interviews soon) that Frank had attended a kind of social group for ‘Retarded Adults’ in Hyde. It had met in the Circle bar at the old Theatre Royal, apparently, and used the theatre’s on-site craft facilities for ‘learning projects’. Gene had never heard of such a thing, but the woman he’d phoned had told him that all new policy was now focussing on getting such people out of institutions and ‘into the community’. In Gene’s mind this had roughly translated to ‘killed’ but he was too eager to use the excuse to get going to say so.

 

And this morning, after a cursory visit to the theatre – imposing red brick building, shabby Edwardian glamour, no one about except a deaf cleaning lady – he was getting himself ready to visit the home address he’d obtained from Central Police Records.

 

Beginning with the half-hour drive to Hyde earlier that day, Gene had been fighting a rising sense of foolishness, never an emotion he was comfortable with. The paper, after all, could have been wrong. There might be some reasonable explanation – a joke gone wrong: “I feel like I’ve been in coma”, Sam might have said, and been taken literally.

 

But then, Sam and comas…it didn’t seem likely he’d joke about the subject.

 

After all, during their two days of snatched minutes of planning and theorising, Annie had told Gene possibly the most bizarre series of anecdotes he’d ever heard. Sam, comas, delusions, fluctuating beliefs in reality – things that in their sheer loopiness made a whole lot of sense out of a ragbag of confused moments he’d spent a long time trying to make head or tail of. Tony Crane’s accusations, for one. The way Sam behaved around telephones, or TVs.

 

“I thought he’d got over it,” Annie had said, shaking her head, “I mean, for the last three, four months, he’d stopped mentioning it. After that shoot-out we had on the train tracks in July. It was like he figured out which way was up at last, you know? I thought he was over it.” She’d folded her arms and looked him in the eye: “Even if he’s delusional again, he still needs our help.”

 

He never wanted my help with any of that in the first place, Gene had thought, not a little bitterly. He never told me anything.

 

Now, thinking it over – and when the hell had he let himself become so bloody reflective? – Gene couldn’t help remembering Sam’s behaviour that night in September when they’d stumbled off to his flat for tea. It was something Gene had forgotten in the whirl of what came later.

 

And, that? The later stuff? That hadn’t happened. But remembering the tea and TV, that was OK. Just about.

 

- - -

 

The tea had been over-brewed and in mismatched mugs, Sam’s a chipped brown thing that he’d inherited with the flat, Gene’s a hideous yellow-and-purple free gift with ‘only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate’ inscribed in curly writing.

 

They’d talked sporadically, sobering up a little, commented on the TV – Gene couldn’t even remember what programme had been on, now – and eventually he’d fallen asleep in the armchair. It had, in fact, been banal almost to the point of dullness, with an odd sideways feeling of something slipping past them, a punch-line they weren’t getting, some opportunity lost.

 

When Gene had woken up, he’d regretted it. The chair had smelt like all fifty previous occupants of the flat, and from lying on it he’d embossed the rough texture of the patterned upholstery into his skin. He could remember running his fingers over the prints of ferns and flowers on his forearm.

 

But he had barely been able to see them.

 

It had been dark, with only a flickering blue-ish light from the television.

 

This had been odd, because it was at least two in the morning, when even the test card went to bed.

 

Had been odder still, because Sam had been sitting up close to the television, apparently watching the snow storming static, reaching out to it, even.

 

“I thought I told you to leave me alone” Sam had said, coldly.

 

“What?” Gene had felt a wave of disbelief. “What did you just say?”

 

And Sam had turned around quickly, shocked, as though he hadn’t known Gene was there.

 

“Nothing, I…Sorry, half-dozing!” he’d said, with an insincere chuckle. His expression was worn, almost haunted.

 

Gene’s eyes had been swollen and aching with drowsiness, but he blinked anyway, sat up and rubbed his eyes. “How’s about you turn that thing off, eh?” he’d said, with a lot more patience than his ex-wife ever would have credited, given that he’d just been woken. “Can’t you sleep?”

 

Sam had turned the screen off slowly, still watching it, like he was waiting for something. “Not easily” he’d said at length. “Might have a shower, try and calm down. You go back to sleep again.”

 

“To be honest, I don’t think I will, not in this chair.” Gene had shuffled, running a hand over his sleep-oily face. Then he had straightened up purposefully: “C’mon, I’m the superior officer, I get the bed.”

 

“It’s my flat” Sam had replied with an air of wearied tolerance that made Gene breathe a sigh of relief. Sam could only use that tone if he was very much himself.

 

“I’m doing you a favour, Tyler. That thing’ll murder your back. Now, for an athlete such as myself…”

 

“Fine. Whatever.” Sam had held up his hands, silhouetted in the light from under the door. “I’ll go and have that shower.”

 

Gene had crawled into the bed gingerly – from the only other night he’d ever stayed at Sam’s he knew and respected its powers to fold in half without notice - and pulled up the covers. Much better. Nice and soft. Easily go back to sleep. And Sam would be in the chair now, which faced more towards the window and not the TV.

 

In retrospect, Gene could see that he must have drifted off, because although he had heard the start of the shower, he had distinctly woken when a heavy, human weight landed on top of him.

 

It had been Sam. A warm, slightly damp, soap-smelling Sam, lying across him and apparently as surprised as he was.

 

- - -

 

Gene got up from the White Lion’s bar and grabbed his coat off the back of his stool. This was time to stop, time to leave well alone. He was about to try and meet Sam for goodness sakes! It wouldn’t help to be thinking about…

 

- - -

 

Sam’s voice had been low and thready, his breath warm on Gene’s shoulder, smelling moistly of mint. The sleepy haze in his words had diffused Gene’s own anger before it could have grown.

 

“What the..? Oh, shit, Gene, I’m so sorry. I forgot you were here.”

 

“Nice one, Gladys” Gene had gasped in response, a bit less cuttingly than he’d meant. The heat had rolled off Sam, almost comforting. With it came the scent of him, close and thick and familiar. It had seemed to slow Gene’s thoughts effectively as a race through treacle.

 

Sam had been trying to get off the bed, but their combined weights had so sunken the springs that he couldn’t achieve the leverage he needed.

 

In essence: he had been wriggling.

 

Gene had lain back, staring at a ceiling he couldn’t see, and closed his eyes in desperation.

 

He’d thought he’d got over this…problem. Years ago.

 

Eventually, after five or ten wonderful, awful, dreadful seconds, and with a mumbled apology, Sam had rocked them both as he sat up. Grabbing blindly for a handhold, he’d run his hand for a brief half-second over Gene’s open mouth and tight, aching heat pooled in Gene’s stomach, making him bite his lip and spread his legs wider.

 

And then the warmth had gone. Sam had made it off of the travesty of a bed, and was settling on the chair away somewhere in the darkness.

 

Arousal hadn’t been so terrible for Gene since the distant days when he’d had to take to running away from alley-way football matches. When he’d raced to his bedroom, panting with the need to get his cock in his hand and defuse it, a harsh, rough tackle from another boy having drawn up his hardness faster than his bruises.

 

But he’d got his act together, shaped up and lived right. He’d been what he ought and since the age of twenty two, until now, he’d truly believed that was that.

 

Lying there, Sam’s scent still around him, Gene had clenched his hands at his sides and cursed very explicitly and very silently.

 

Then, from the region of the chair had come Sam’s voice, small and fearful:

 

“I’m sorry, I was almost dozing in the shower and I just blanked, you know? Please don’t go. Gene? Stay with me.”

 

“OK, OK, keep your hair on.” Gene had managed. There had been something so desperate about the words – besides, he couldn’t easily have left, not in the state he’d been in.

 

The next morning, over breakfast, Sam had been businesslike, almost formal. Gene - after a reasonable night’s sleep and no longer drowsy - had started to realise that six months ago he would have yelled blue bloody murder and a year ago probably would have beaten Sam until he couldn’t walk. But that morning he was passing the jam and helping them both pretend that nothing had changed at all.

 

And of course, that evening, he hadn’t even been asking whether Sam was still afraid to go home alone. Hadn’t asked himself what it meant when Sam had just followed him out of the pub and he’d driven them both to his house instead in silence.

 

Gene had never had the words to stop it happening.

 

- - -

 

Even as Gene drew the Cortina into what was apparently now Sam’s road, there was a temptation to turn away, leave it all the fuck alone like anyone sensible would.

 

But under every other possibility of mistakes and embarrassment, there was the fact that Sam might be in trouble. And, frankly, Gene could and did try and turn off or bury any given emotion, except loyalty. That was his moral standard, the one thing he would never, ever be ashamed of.

 

- - -

 

The doorbell rang the opening notes of the Blue Danube inside the terraced house. Gene stubbed his cigarette under his toe and waited. Eventually the door began to open, and a woman’s face peered out. It was the woman from the newspaper photo, except – Gene noticed with surprise – in colour you could see that she was, well, coloured.

 

“Can I help you?” she asked, warily.

 

“Alright luv? I’m a friend of Sam’s. I was wondering if I could have a brief chat with him.”

 

“Actually I’m afraid we’re just about to have lunch. What did you say your name was? I don’t think I recognise you.”

 

“Just bring him out here, he knows who I am.”

 

“I don’t think…” she began, and then stopped, turning to someone behind her: “Thought you were asleep, darling.”

 

“Not with you away from me,” came Sam’s voice, tenderly. “Anyway, Maya, what’s all this?”

 

The voice alone made a shiver pass down Gene’s spine. He stepped up. This made the woman flinch away but he didn’t care about that. He reached for the door, wanting to get it open properly.

 

“Sam? Is that you?”

 

And there he was. Sam. Coming from behind the woman to stand protectively in front of her, his eyes taking in Gene in a cold flicker.

 

“Hello? Can I help you?”

 

“Sam?” Gene’s voice was gone. Whispering like some twat in the final reel of a film, but his breath had been taken away easy as…It was Sam.

 

“Yes? I don’t think I know you, Mr..?”

 

“Sam, stop playing silly buggers, it’s me.” Gene searched Sam’s face, from the ever-anxious eyes to the thin, pale lips, his own overwhelming, gut-level recognition perplexed by Sam’s blankness.

 

Sam whispered something in the woman’s ear, nudging her further back into the house, then turned back to face him: “I’m sorry, but I really don’t recognise you. Now, do you have a point or can I get back to my nap?”

 

Instinctively, and with rising frustration, Gene grabbed him, clutching at his shirt and dragging him out onto the pavement. He yelled in Sam’s face, trying to ignore the visceral gratification of physical contact with him after so long.

 

“Sam! No one is this forgetful! What the hell is going on? Who the hell is she and what are you doing here?”

 

Sam, with a sneer on his face, broke the hold with astonishing speed, twisted his arms and then ducked and struck in some way so that Gene wound up smacked down on the paving stones. Sam loomed over him with red-faced outrage: “Her name is Maya. She’s my wife. Alright? I don’t give a fuck what you and your tosser friends at the National Front think.”

 

Gene could see Sam’s eyes, up close and deadly serious.

 

“I’m not…”

 

The door opened again: “I’ve called the police, Sam!” the woman cried, but Gene barely heard it. Whatever was going on, no one laid him out. In a burst of energy, he rose, flipping them over, forcing Sam down on his back and straddling him, fixing his hands above his head.

 

“I’m not the fucking NF!” Gene growled. “I’m…” He stopped. The simple dislike in Sam’s expression was unnerving. He’d seen that directed at murderers, hooligans, bombers. Never at him, not even at the start. And it was not what he had become used to seeing in Sam’s eyes, when they met his.

 

“I’m a friend” he said, at last. “We met in February. This year. 1973. Hoops, remember?”

 

“Piss off.” Sam spat out, “Till last month I spent 1973 in a sodding coma.”

 

“I’ve got your reports, dated, signed, everything. I’ve got your charge sheets. I’ve got a bleeding birthday card from you with a fucking teddy bear on it that you thought was funny. ”

 

Sam blinked, momentarily relaxing in Gene’s grasp: “Look, if this is some sort of joke…” he said warily, but with uncertainty in his tone.

 

For a moment, they gazed, assessing each other.

 

Then a heavy hand descended on Gene’s shoulder: “Afternoon, mate. You’re nicked.”

 

- - -

 

Chapter Five

 

Gene walked out of Hyde police station brushing its dust from his coat sleeves, with no more damage than a bruised ego. He hadn’t been formally arrested or charged – a young PC recognising him had seen to that – but it had been a hideously embarrassing and irritatingly by-the-book experience.

 

The bastard Morgan was gone, as well. That would have been a compensation, to be able to go and yell at the man, but he had apparently been transferred to Bognor. As you do.

 

But Gene had at least been able to phone Annie gratis from the central desk.

 

“Guv?” Her voice had been reassuringly filled with recognition. “Are you in Hyde? How’s Sam?”

 

“As you pointed out to me, Cartwright, he’s married. No, I haven’t got to the bottom of this yet. He didn’t have a clue who I was. I don’t know whether pestering him would just make it worse, though.”

 

“Guv, I can hear…are you in a Police Station?”

 

“Little mix up. Nothing for you to bother your head over. But, listen, Annie – can you ask Phyllis to vet the Superintendent’s calls for a while, eh? Nothing from C Division.”

 

“The Super’s wanting to talk to you anyway, Sir. We’ve had a break-in.”

 

“What? What did you say?” Gene grabbed the phone more firmly and stopped leaning on the counter.

 

“There was a fight outside, and everyone went out to try and sort it…”

 

“To take bets on who would win, yeah? I do know this stuff without being told, Cartwright.”

 

“Well, to watch, anyhow. And when we got back in, well, we’d all left the office empty and someone had come in and ransacked half the filing cabinets, even the ones in your office sir.”

 

Gene kept the volume of his response down solely because he was still in Hyde Police Station, but it was a struggle: “What did they take?”

 

She took a deep breath: “It was all the documents about Sam, Sir. They took some random case files to try and hide it but I checked and checked. Everything with Sam’s name, everything he signed, even his transfer notice. All gone. Even the birthday card you keep on the cabinet.”

 

“Bloody hell.” Gene thumped the desk with his fist. What the fuck was going on? He’d couldn’t make head or tail of it, but years of experience had taught him that certain logic always applied, would always lead you to the next thing to do.

 

Finally, it came to him, and he spoke quickly: “Annie, listen, they’ll do his old flat next - must be stuff with his name on there, rent books and things. I can get there in, I dunno, an hour maybe. Meet you there, ASAP.”

 

He left the phone swinging by its cord.

 

- - -

 

“Well, what I say is, these young people today are all either drug-crazed sex maniacs or just plain sex-maniacs.”

 

Gene regarded Sam’s ex-neighbour with one eyebrow raised. She, resplendent in her fluffy bed jacket, looked like one of those types that secretly would have liked a little more sex-maniacing in her own youth. Or ever.

 

“But you never talked to Sam Tyler?” Annie insisted, notebook and pencil poised and ready.

 

“I wouldn’t have dared!” the woman declared, curlers wobbling in her hair with emotion. She took a long drag of her cigarette, then stubbed it out on the sole of her pink bedroom slippers and flicked it up the corridor. “Always making noises, he was. Yelling, you know. Oddest times of the night, I’d be woken up by him moving around, crashing and banging. TV on all the bloody time. And I’m sure he took drugs, he had that look about the eyes, sort of wild.”

 

Annie persevered bravely: “Madam, do you have any evidence that he took drugs besides his appearance?”

 

“’Course I do. I don’t make things up about people! Well, see, Tyler left the flat about, ooh, month ago, right? And I thought: hooray, some peace and quiet. But the new tenant – Mr Andrews, looked so nice – he must have been part of the same drugs cartel or something. Because within a week he was yelling and screaming and crashing and banging too, bad as Tyler.” She looked directly at Gene and raised a finger threateningly: “There ought to be a law!”

 

“What sort of things did Mr Andrews yell?” Annie continued, scribbling.

 

“Um, ‘Leave me alone’, ‘Go away’, ‘You’re not real’. That sort of thing. Hallucinating, must’ve been.”

 

“Is Mr Andrews in now?”

 

“Nah, they dragged him off up the Psycho Hospital two days ago, for all the good the quacks’ll do ‘im. He was bloody dangerous – tried to set fire to the TV, I heard.”

 

“Well, thank-you very much.” Annie’s voice had turned frostier – Gene remembered that she had a degree in Psychology herself. Perhaps she’d wanted to be psychiatrist, not a policewoman? Seemed a bit pointless trying to be either, as a bird, but if anyone would try, Gene thought, it would probably be Annie Cartwright.

 

She put her notebook in her pocket. “We’ll go and look round the flat itself now.”

 

The woman snorted. “You’ll need a key.”

 

“No we won’t” Gene replied, kicking in the door. Bloody weak hinges they used in this place.

 

He strode inside and blinked.

 

“Heck” he said, looking around him. “Annie, you were here more than me, this is a step down from even Sam’s décor isn’t it?”

 

She stepped to the door and stopped in her tracks.

 

“Oh my…”

 

From floor to ceiling, on every bit of visible wall, lit up by the setting sun, there was writing.

 

‘Get away from me!’, ‘The Monsters Are HERE!’, ‘Leave!’ and ‘I can SEE THEM!’

 

The curtains had been torn down, the wall-paper ripped and the bed smashed, dislocated from its shell and broken up, the iron bars apparently used to attack the radio and television.

 

“What on Earth..?” Annie murmured, moving to the pieces of glass that had made the TV screen.

 

“Someone went a little psycho, I see.” Gene looked around again, ignoring her whiffle of disapproval at his choice of words. Gave him the frigging willies, nutters’ places. One wall was particularly bad, hacked and graffitied until the hideous floral wallpaper was almost unrecognisable.

 

Fair enough, every time he’d seen this place he’d itched to strip it down, re-plaster, re-paper and put some decent shelves up, but not to the extent of smashing through to the plumbing.

 

Except… What was that?

 

Something glinted from near the exposed wiring to the central light. Gene stepped closer and got a better look. A long silver wire, it was. But not a wire, more like a rod. He prodded it, pulled and found it came out of the wall.

 

An antenna.

 

He pulled again, feeling a weight behind it, and out slid a compact, black two-way radio.

 

“Cartwright? I think this just got even bloody queerer.” He turned, only to find she was standing over the TV remnants, looking at something in her handkerchief.

 

Annie looked across to him: “Queerer than a TV with a spray bottle inside the ventilator?” She held up a plastic bottle, with a little clear liquid at the bottom and unscrewed the spray attachment to sniff at it. She looked up in surprise.

 

“Sir, I think this is Benadryl! The allergy stuff? My Mum uses this.”

 

“Curiouser and bloody well curiouser.” Gene walked over, kicked at the shards of glass and splinters of fake wood laminate.

 

(“Can we turn it off? Only, I hate TV. Must be getting old or something.”)

 

Gene frowned: “Sam knew something was wrong with it. I don’t think he knew what, but he knew to avoid it. Or, the telly in general at least.”

 

“Oh yes” he continued, seeing Annie’s confusion, “He, um, came to collect some files from my house once, and asked me to turn the thing off. Hated it.”

 

- - -

 

It had been the night after the night before. When Gene had still been having flashbacks to the weight and warmth of Sam, and Sam must have been thinking of it too. Sam’s mistake – or had it been a mistake? Had he meant to do that? - had been plaguing Gene all day, and then Sam had followed him out of the pub to the Cortina, and Gene had driven them from the pub in silence, staring doggedly at the road ahead and telling himself that Sam was just being weird old Sam, and that he himself was being a bloody fairy.

 

As they drew up outside Gene’s 1930s semi, Sam had given a low whistle as he had looked up and down the street.

 

“Not too bad, Guv.”

 

“Yes, well, Kate liked it in the quieter bit of town.” Gene had got out of the car and locked it, aware of Sam watching him from the other side.

 

“Where is she now?” Sam had asked, softly.

 

“Marbella. With our old neighbour. She says they never slept together until after the divorce and I believe her. Any more questions?”

 

“I’m sorry; it’s not my place to…”

 

“Shut up and go in. Number 44.”

 

Gene had never thought much about the state of the house. Paying an elderly lady from three roads away to come and char kept it basically clean and occasionally tidy, and he spent so little of his days there that the wear and tear was minimal.

 

And it was better than Sam’s eyesore of a flat, so he could hardly go sneering at it.

 

“What’s dinner?” Sam asked, having already found the kitchen.

 

Gene opened the fridge: “Bread and cheese? No, not bread, actually.” He hit the lump against the oven. It pinged.

 

“Well is there a decent grocer near here? Or a butcher, even better? I could figure something out.”

 

After taking a moment to let his expression convey his idea of men who ‘figured out’ cooking, Gene had said “Chip Shop?”

 

“…If we must.”

 

Two portions of cod and chips from up the road later, Gene had arranged the meals in the time-honoured fashion in their wrappings on plates, and sat down to turn on the TV. He had been peripherally aware of Sam stiffening his posture, but it was only a few minutes later, when the Sports Quiz ended and the Open University came on, that Sam had spoken.

 

“Can we turn it off? Only, I hate TV. Must be getting old or something.”

 

Gene had stared at him a moment, trying to read his expression, before getting up and switching off the maths lecturer in the middle of calculus. “No loss to me, Sammy boy” he had murmured, “that bloke reminds me of bloody DCI-more-moustachioed-than-thou Morgan anyhow.”

 

And at that Sam had started looking even more like he had a small rodent burrowing its way up his jacksie. This had worried Gene, and since he’d been tense as all hell anyway, his own concern had annoyed him and he’d lashed out, just to prove he didn’t care at all.

 

“No need to look like that, Mr Fruity Sensitive Bollocks!” Gene had set his plate down on the floor with a crash. “I’ll mention Morgan if I bloody want to! I’m not an idiot, Sam, I’m not about to believe whatever tripe you’ve told DC Flash-Knickers about amnesia.”

 

Sam had opened his mouth then, but Gene had ploughed on: “You chose to lead a double life; you regretted it and you switched loyalties. You’re an alright bloke, Sam, and I’m prepared to believe you had your reasons, but you can’t expect me to avoid mentioning it to spare your bleeding sensibilities.”

 

Sam had looked away then, sitting very still, plate on his knees clutched in both hands. His voice had been very controlled – tight – as if words were being reined in.

 

“I have told you, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing here…I, Gene – I’ve been so confused…”

 

“Oh right, you honestly expect me to believe that you never knew you were undercover. That you managed to go almost a year with no instructions, no contact, no wondering who you were or what the hell you were doing here?”

 

“Like hell” And Sam had moved suddenly, violently, his plate crashing to the floor lopsidedly on top of Gene’s, his arms flying out in anger: “Do you have any idea, any idea, what’s it’s been like for me? No, you don’t. I have been fucking this close to just walking off the edge of a building. Except…I have, Oh God, I have.” He had laughed almost hysterically.

 

Gene had leant towards him, snarling: “I’ve never asked you, have I? I’ve never made you explain. I hoped that you would find in yourself, in your loyalty to me to at least fucking apologise. But you haven’t, because you never do. And you act like I’m just going to forget.”

 

His eyes had been locked into Sam’s, watching the pain in the other man’s eyes with an ache in his own chest, because Sam was under his fucking skin, deep and entrenched. The tears that came so easily to Sam’s eyes made his own sting, the rage in Sam’s voice burnt him, and then the words Sam replied with seemed to be things Gene had known, long known, and shouldn’t have needed to ask.

 

Sam had been speaking slowly, dropping each word hard: “When it came to it, to whether or not to destroy the team, to whether or not to do my job, Gene, do you know what? The only fear I had, the only regret I had, that was strong enough to try and stop me was that I might hurt you. I never, ever want to let you down.”

 

Somehow, they’d moved closer together. Sam’s voice had got lower, softer, become more breathing than vocalising.

 

“Like you could hurt me” Gene had replied, unsure if it was a taunt, a question or a reassurance, aware far more of Sam’s eyes, soft and dilated.

 

Sam had grinned. Had whispered, “Try me.”

 

And then, in one swift, terrifying, beautiful motion, the talking had stopped.

 

The words hadn’t meant what they were trying to say anyway.

 

- - -

 

“Sir! Sir you’ve cut yourself!”

 

Snapping back into the present, Gene looked down at the tiny red line on his fingertip, cursed and threw the shard of what had been Sam’s TV screen back to the floor. He sucked his finger in his mouth only to grimace and curse again.

 

“’Ere, Cartwright, you might have warned me! It’s all oily!” He wiped his fingers on his trouser leg in disgust.

 

A look of concern crossed Annie’s face: “I’d wash your hands, Sir, if I were you. Maybe swill out your mouth too.”

 

“Are you implying something about my language, WDC, because if so…”

 

“No, Sir, I mean, I think I know what this stuff is. Though goodness knows why it’s here. I think we read about it in my Psychology degree course. I’m pretty sure it was Benadryl, ‘cos I said at the time, to Mum, ‘We can’t have you seeing snakes coming out of the walls, can we? You take the dose the Doctor said.’”

 

Gene, still not best pleased about the stains on his trousers, interrupted her: “You mean you have to actually read to get a flipping Psychology degree? I thought it was all hand-holding and telling people to shag their mums.”

 

Annie ignored him. “We learnt about it because this chemical – I can’t remember the long name, Dippy-en…something – they used to give it to insomniacs.”

 

“Thrilling.”

 

“No, see, the reason they don’t use the anti-histamine – the Benadryl thingy – any more is because it had too many side effects, and because people used to overdose on it.” She looked around her at the flat, then back at Gene. “If you take too much, you get a high, like with LSD, but apparently the hallucinations are really nasty and make you not be able to tell what’s real and not real. Some woman in Everton put her kid in the washing machine when she took it, thought she was dreaming.”

 

“So, what, you’re suggesting…” Gene let out a low whistle. “You think that Sam and this Mr Andrews were exposed to this chemical, on purpose, via this thing in the TV? That’s horrible.”

 

“Well, Sir, it would explain a lot.” Annie stood up, crossed her arms and frowned: “Though you’d have to wonder why it was done, and who did it. I mean who does something like that?”

 

“And why can’t Sam remember it?”

 

At that she smiled a little – evidently having something to say that he considered worth listening to was pleasing her: “Actually, Sir, memory loss is one of the side effects of overdosing with drugs like that.”

 

He let her have her moment. “You have your uses, Cartwright. You do have your uses.”

 

“Thank-you Sir. I’ve got some old textbooks at home; we could go and check if I’m right – I mean I might be confusing it with…”

 

“Shh!” Gene raised his finger to his lips. He stepped closer to the gaping hole where the door had been.

 

In the silence came a louder and louder sound of footsteps in the corridor outside, and from his position he saw them, three men, moving rather too quickly and purposefully for his liking. They were not dressed as one might expect in a dive like these council flats.

 

Oh bugger.

 

‘In the bathroom’ he mimed to Annie, and she obeyed, just in time to avoid them seeing her, and to avoid her seeing the moment the first man set upon Gene.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Six

 

Gene was strong. He’d always thought of himself as strong.

 

It wasn’t pride. He could take on most men, one-on-one, and was brave enough to have a crack at the ones he couldn’t. He’d fought his way out of more situations than he cared to recall.

 

But now there were three men, trained men, and they were moving so fast he could barely keep track of which one was hitting which part of him. He landed punches, but his opponents had between them six hands, well co-ordinated, taking turns to attack and rest, whilst he grew tired. Pain bloomed from his shoulder, his jaw, his back – they were overwhelming him with weight of numbers, bearing him down.

 

Fists raised, Gene tried to back against the wall, staggering after a punch to the stomach that sent shockwaves right through him. Doing so cut off any easy escape, but at least his back and kidney region were protected.

 

If they meant to kill him, they’d have shot him already, wouldn’t they?

 

Wouldn’t they?

 

Gene’s fists ached. One of his teeth felt loose. He saw a kick in the crotch coming, dodged it and butted the man’s stomach. Then another of the men – the thuggish-looking one in the leather jacket – came out of nowhere and landed a blow to his knees. Gene could feel the muscle buckling, the pain red-hot and intense.

 

“What did I do to you then?” Gene yelled, then hit out and made them back away for precious seconds while he tried putting weight on his knee. Fuck, that hurt.

 

“You stuck your nose in a big boys’ game” the leather thug growled. “And we don’t play nicely.”

 

“You get that line from a movie did you, you pillock?” Gene taunted, ducking away to the side, planning to rise up and knee the thug’s groin. It didn’t work. He wasn’t moving fast enough. His injured joint hampered him too much. The man moved in and Gene was clasped in a merciless headlock, the arm tightening every second.

 

It hurt like hell. And Gene was already nearing exhaustion.

 

“You…hurt…Sam” he grunted out, letting the rage carry him on for a few more precious seconds, but spots started forming at the edges of his vision. As his windpipe was further compressed, Gene felt his lungs receive a frenzied adrenaline rush, desperate to expand.

 

He comforted himself that at least the men hadn’t found Annie. If she was half the policewoman he took her to be, she’d have found the fire escape out of the bathroom window and legged it. And she wouldn’t let this rest, he trusted that.

 

Gene couldn’t breathe. His lungs were going to burn, to melt.

 

Flailing out helplessly, he was falling towards to the floor, towards the blackness round his eyes…

 

And then, suddenly, the grip loosened. There was the sound of punching, of three groans.

 

A new hand arrived, gently, on his arm.

 

Gene coughed, took a deep breath: “…was winning” he murmured.

 

“Well that much was obvious.” Sam said dryly, helping him up. “Now let’s get to your car before any more turn up.”

 

- - -

 

Sitting across a chipped Formica table at Nell’s Home-Cooking Café, Gene and Sam surveyed each other.

 

“You don’t think you should go to a doctor for any of this?”

 

Gene finished wiping at the remains of his nosebleed: “You don’t think you should stop nagging like a Geordie scrubber? You may be a delicate soul, but personally I’ve had worse than this after the Footie.”

 

“Hey!” Sam raised a familiar admonishing finger, “I saved your life back there!”

 

“For which I am buying you the gorgeous platter of eggs and bacon you are currently stuffing down yourself.” Gene took a long gulp of coffee. “Now, am I going to get an explanation or just more girly whingeing?”

 

The look Sam gave him in reply recalled Gene to reality. This was not Sam. This was a man who didn’t remember him or how they worked together. This was a man he had no licence to piss off.

 

So, with a sigh, he rephrased: “I left you watching my arrest in Hyde, where you didn’t know me from Adam.” He sipped his coffee again – his neck still bloody hurt. “How do you get from there, to barging into a flat you don’t remember owning and helping me out fighting blokes neither of us has ever seen before?”

 

Sam rolled his eyes: “I am a policeman, Mr Hunt. I am allowed to go to the police station, even when I’m on personal leave.” He picked up his serviette and folded it into triangles. “I followed you.”

 

“But why would you?” Gene leant forward. “Why would you bother, if you don’t remember me? Or remember anything?”

 

It felt dangerous to Gene just asking, but Sam only shrugged: “As you so rightly put it, I don’t remember anything. I have no idea who to trust. I’m just researching here.”

 

“So, you and the Asian bird, you’re ‘just researching’ her? Does she know that?”

 

Sam looked away and drummed his fingers, like he’d used to when caught out admitting the benefits of Gene’s policing style. Or that he’d never had tit-wank.

 

Gene tried not to smile, he really did: “You don’t trust her” he interpreted. “Which is a good idea, Sam, because as far as I know you never met her until a month ago.”

 

A waitress in a stained overall brought his toast and beans, and Gene squeezed ketchup over the gooey mess. “But you trust me” he said, after a moment. “You’re telling me this because you do trust me.”

 

Sam made his pissed-off face: “Not for any good reason. As far as I’m concerned you’re that DCI from A-Division that everyone hopes will retire early to save the embarrassment of explaining why they had to fire him.”

 

The ketchup bottle slipped from Gene’s hand, smashing on the tiles in a scarlet blur.

 

In the time it took the waitress to mop and sweep, Gene sat back in the plastic chair, folding his arms and reminding himself that these were just words to Sam, just as to Sam he was just a vaguely heard-of person, a piece of departmental gossip. Attacking Sam now, no much how much the little git deserved it, was not going to solve their problems.

 

It was now dark outside. The rain that had begun to fall on the café windows was glittering with the lights of passing cars. A couple ran in from the wet, laughing and brushing at their clothes, and Gene stroked his hand over his mouth and looked back at Sam-who-wasn’t-Sam, who was staring fixedly at his fried eggs and biting his lip.

 

“So,” Sam said, eventually, pushing food around his plate with his fork, “Give me the pitch then. Tell me why I should believe that I ever met you before today.”

 

Gene took a deep, sharp breath through his nose. Then, biting the end of his thumb, he stared fixedly over Sam’s shoulder at a pockmarked polystyrene wall and started telling the whole story.

 

As the increasingly sour faced waitress refilled the coffee pot and brought over more toast, plates built up between them, and Gene thought back to the pub table filled with glasses, the one Sam had reached across to tell him to come home.

 

That was another Sam. One he missed more and more, watching this Sam frown with disbelief as Gene recounted the events of the last year.

 

As Gene wound towards the end of his story, Sam held up a hand to pause him: “So, leaving the whole part where I was losing my marbles aside, what then? I was assigned as an undercover from Hyde to spy on you, but I just chucked it in? And you didn’t mind that?”

 

Gene regarded him for a moment. How could you explain something you’d never quite understood yourself?

 

“It was...not discussed. You were a good officer. A mate.”

 

Sam held up his hand. “I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense. You don’t strike me as the type to give favours to blokes just because they’ve won the right to drink with you in the pub.”

 

Gene was tired, bruised and confused. Too much had happened in the last twenty-four hours, and he was starting to ache for a pint. “Alright, since we’re being Little Miss Difficult, I’ll ask you - why would I lie to you?”

 

Sam took his head out of his hands, frowned at him: “I don’t bloody know! I don’t bloody know anything do I? I wake up in a hospital bed, with a woman I don’t recognise telling me I’m her fiancée, another woman saying I’m her son, and I can’t even remember my own name, but I try – for them – to fit it, to be as happy to be back as they are to have me. But it feels wrong.” He sighed, grasped at the air with an empty gesture. “Everything feels wrong, and I don’t know if it’s the coma or me. I don’t know if I never wanted the marriage anyway, and I’m just a wanker.”

 

His eyes met Gene’s. There was something in the intensity of his gaze that made every hair on the back of Gene’s neck tingle.

 

How had he managed to forget that Sam could do that?

 

Sam spoke more softly, almost to himself: “And then you come, telling me another crazy story, with no evidence, one that even contradicts what I’ve heard – because, let me tell you, as far as I know DCI Morgan transferred away from Hyde long before you say you met him. But every gut instinct I have is saying: ‘Trust him’”

 

Sam’s hand was lying, open, on the table, and Gene had an almost irrepressible urge to take it in his own. Swallowing, Gene licked his dry lips, but before he could speak, Sam continued:

 

“Tell me you have evidence, Mr Hunt. Gene? Something I can base that trust on?”

 

Gene sat up straighter, coughed, and slowly shook his head: “Since WDC Cartwright and I have been investigating this, Sam, someone’s destroyed all the evidence we have. And those men will have taken all there was in the flat.”

 

“Oh that’s great. That’s just bloody great.” Pushing his chair back, Sam lifted his right leg and kicked so hard at the table that a knife and fork fell to the ground with a clatter. The waitress made a hawk-like dive towards them, but on seeing their expressions turned and thought better of it.

 

“Wait, listen to me!” Gene hissed, “In your flat, we found traces of a drug, one that causes hallucinations and amnesia. And the bloke who rented the flat after you has been taken into protective custody for paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t think the things you were experiencing were an accident.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I’d walked into a bloody John le Carré thriller!”

 

“Oh, yes, laugh! So those men wanted to kill me to prevent me saying what exactly? That your bloody toilet wasn’t up to government spec?”

 

“Excuse me, gentleman!” cried a mighty, female voice.

 

Gene and Sam turned slowly from their argument.

 

If the waitress had had an older, fatter, meaner sister, this was probably her. Her sleeves were rolled up to the elbows and her small, close-set eyes had the glint of steel necessary to survive in the fish-and-chip trade in the centre of a city known for its football fans.

 

“Pardon me, Gentleman” she said again, menacingly, her voice rasped from cigarettes like the one that hung at the corner of her mouth, apparently from sheer force of will. “You’ve eaten your food, now pay up, leave and stop upsetting Dolores.”

 

Dolores the waitress, looking far from upset, smirked from behind the counter.

 

Sam looked about to say something, but Gene held up a five pound note. “Fine, we’re leaving.”

 

It had been a long day already, and besides, he had Annie to check up on.

 

- - -

 

The BT payphones were incongruous in the Salford Free Library’s solid, Victorian public works interior, but hidden as they were in the superfluous gothic alcoves they had a measure of privacy about them.

 

“Why the library?” Sam had asked incredulously as they had driven away, still looking a bit miffed at having been hurried from the café. “Why not the payphones at the train station? That’s closer.”

 

“Think, Sam.” Gene had replied, impatiently. “We have no idea what’s going on, but, somewhere inside your thick skull, you presumably do. One of the versions of you, at least. We have to figure out how to get your bleeding memory back, and the library might have a book about it, which to my mind is far superior than rocking up to a Accident and Emergency and saying ‘What’s up doc? Only I think people are making me lose my memory.’ They’d have you off with the quacks and shove you so full of drugs you’d forget you had hands, let alone what you were trying to find out.”

 

Sam had folded his arms and scowled. “Fine, but when was the last time you used a Public Library? They’re not known for their amazing psychiatry sections.”

 

“Well some of us have had better things to do since leaving school.” Gene had snapped back, “So you can just bloody go and look while I phone up Annie.”

 

“Your wife?”

 

Had Sam’s voice been a little odd, asking? Gene hadn’t let himself look sideways to examine the other man’s expression.

 

“My WDC” He had replied, keeping his eyes on the road.

 

Then a thought had struck him: “Isn’t your wife going to be wondering where you are, and all?”

 

“I told her I was going to see my parents.”

 

“Parents?” Gene hadn’t been able to keep the surprise from his voice.

 

Sam had blinked for a moment, and then slowly turned his head away. “You’re right; I suppose maybe they aren’t, actually. Mine, I mean.” He had leant his forehead on the Cortina window, and Gene had stopped himself yelling about smear marks.

 

“’S’funny” Sam had continued in a small voice. “It hasn’t bothered me so much, whether Maya’s lying or you’re lying or who I am or whatever the hell is going on. But the idea of not having parents, that…hurts. So I expect I probably don’t, really. If I did have them, I should think I’d take them for granted.”

 

“I wouldn’t know.” Gene had replied, still looking dead ahead, ignoring every instinct that said Sam was gazing questioningly at him, dying to ask questions.

 

That was how they’d got into the mess they had done last time.

 

Now, in the library foyer, Gene listened to the ringing at the other end of the phone, anxious to hear Annie’s voice and know that she had escaped the flat unscathed – he knew nothing beyond the fact that she hadn’t been in the bathroom when he and Sam had left.

 

Sam had disappeared into the library proper, muttering something about ‘inadequate resources’ that was infuriatingly like his normal self, but encouraging in that fact. He’d earned a few frowns from the librarians, who at ten to nine at night on late-opening day were just about to be able to lock up and leave.

 

Gene drummed his fingers on the phone book. Irrational as it was, he didn’t like Sam to be out of sight. Quite apart from the fact that they might still have men following them, he wasn’t sure he’d convinced Sam to stay with him until they’d got to the bottom of it all.

 

“Hello?”

 

It was Annie’s voice. “Guv? Is that you?”

 

Relief flooded through him. “Large as life and twice as gorgeous. And yourself? No broken bones I trust?”

 

“No, Sir. I got out of the fire escape and legged it, but I’ve been worrying about you all afternoon. However did you get away?”

 

“Sam helped me out – yes, don’t ask. The long and the short of it is; we need to figure out how to get his memory back if we’re going to explain any of this. Now, you said you had some old textbooks?”

 

“I dug them up” she made the grunt of someone lifting a heavy object onto a desk, “I was right about the drug: diphenhydramine, it’s called. It says here that the effects ‘are variable depending on the metabolic status, gender and age of the individual’ but that memory loss can last for months, even be permanent.”

 

“So how do we reverse that?”

 

“Well, there are three approaches really. They’re in another chapter, wait a minute.” There came the sound of pages turning. “Yes, here we are. It says that ‘there are three theoretical bases for the cure of amnesia. The first is psychoanalysis, posited first by Freud in…blah, blah, second is hypnotism’ – well I can’t do that, and I don’t suppose you can, Sir – and ‘the third: attempting to establish associations with the past by suggestion.’ I think that’s your best bet, to be honest.”

 

“And in English, Cartwright?”

 

“It means take him to wherever he was before he lost his memory and let him do whatever he was doing then.”

 

Oh absolutely-bloody-fucking-perfect.

 

“Thank-you, Annie. I’ll call you again tomorrow.” He started to put the receiver down, heard a squeak through it and, rolling his eyes, raised it to his ear again.

 

“…Superintendent still wants to talk to you about handling the break-in” she was saying. “I said you were drawing up a risk-assessment and response plan and you’d get back to him when they were done.”

 

“Which will be when exactly? Given that I have no idea what you just said?”

 

“When Chris finishes them. I gave him the ones Sam did after the cell death and said to just alter some of the words, I hope that was OK. And the Super also said to abandon the Frank Hagwood case and give him the files, but, sir, I think…”

 

He cut her off. “Look, Annie, that’s good work, particularly for a bird. But I don’t have time for Frank right now. I’ve got to sort Sam out and goodness knows what can of worms that will open.”

 

“But, Sir…”

 

Gene couldn’t quite believe himself. His dedication to the job, albeit to his own method of doing it, had always been one hundred percent. He’d never taken leave, skived off or skimped on his overtime. Some might question whether he was thorough or whether his approach worked, but he’d always felt that he’d done all he could. And here he was avoiding work like a fourteen year old girl hiding in the toilets during gym class.

 

Still, he interrupted her. “The coins are running out – only two pee left – I’ll call tomorrow.” And he put the receiver in its cradle before turning to face the corridor.

 

The wooden double doors at the end were shut. “Library closed” said a small, hand-written sign.

 

No sign of Sam.

 

For a moment, Gene cursed himself broadly and silently for an idiot, rested his hands on his hips and sighed, despairingly.

 

“There’s no two ways about it.”

 

“Sam?” Gene whipped round.

 

The figure rose from a low leather seat behind a potted fern in the shadows of an alcove opposite. Then Sam lifted a huge red-bound book in his hand: “This is from 1956, mind” he said dryly, “but I suppose the brain’s the brain. And that means – since I’d let you throw me off a cliff before I’d let you psychoanalyse or hypnotise me – we’re going to have to go back to what I was doing the night I disappeared. Don’t suppose you know what that was?”

 

Gene took in his tired face, hopeful eyes and innocent questioning expression. Well, that sunk any plan of not telling Sam what Annie had said.

 

“As it happens,” Gene said dully, abandoning all hope of escaping the inevitable, “We were at mine.”

 

 

- - -

Chapter Seven

 

Sam gave a low whistle. “Not too bad.”

 

Gene slammed his car door and scowled. “Yes, I know, we’ve done this already. Go inside.”

 

It was only after he’d followed Sam up the few steps, opened and then closed the door behind them that Gene turned in surprise. “How did you know what number it was? You can’t remember being here before.”

 

“It’s number 44, you said so.”

 

“Yes, only a ruddy month ago.”

 

Sam grinned: “There! It’s working already.” The concept didn’t seem to worry him, for all it had Gene’s heart racing. “OK, what did we do next?”

 

Gene closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. “We got fish and chips.”

 

“I’m not sure I could eat anything else, but let’s try it, eh?” There was an odd glee about Sam, a sense of the recently liberated. “This feels good, this feels right. I’m sure I’m going to remember something soon.”

 

“Whoopee” Gene commented, opening the front door again.

 

And, as before, within twenty minutes they had returned to sit down – around the kitchen table this time, as Gene felt very disinclined to turn on a TV - with their packets of greasy, salty food.

 

The scent was unexpectedly evocative, Gene found. The fried fat coating the inside of his mouth, soaking onto his fingertips, the vinegar biting at the cuts on his face and piercing his memory in a way that stung no less.

 

Sam toyed with a chip or two, a distant look on his face. “What did we talk about?” he said at last, with genuine curiosity in his voice.

 

“Nothing much. The job. Stuff like that.” Gene fumbled in his coat, got to a hip flask and cleared his mouth and mind with Glenfiddich.

 

“And then?”

 

“And then you went home.”

 

“I went home?”

 

“Yes.” Gene put down his half-eaten chip and pushed his plate away. The food was forming a lump in his stomach. He was losing track of which lie he’d told himself, which to Annie and which he wanted to tell to Sam. And it was tiring. That was why criminals caved and spilled everything, because keeping secrets was bloody tiring.

 

“I went home to that flat?” Sam asked, getting more excited.

 

“Yes, as I said. What is this, an interrogation?”

 

“But the last time you saw me was here?”

 

“Yes, and..?”

 

Sam grinned in triumph, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back: “You’d never have made me walk all the way there. There’s no bus. You’d have driven me.” His eyes met Gene’s. “I don’t think I did leave.”

 

Gene abruptly got up from the table and walked to the sink, turning on the hot tap. He ran a full sink, frothy with Fairy Liquid. Having never washed so much as a fork during his marriage, he usually deeply resented the necessity now he lived alone. But tonight it was something to occupy the time, and it allowed him to face away from Sam.

 

For a few minutes there was no sound but the clink and scrape of Sam finishing his meal. Then there came a pause that left Gene with the uncomfortable feeling that if he turned round he’d see Sam watching him.

 

“Well then,” Sam’s voice was artificially light. “As I see it, since you won’t tell me what we were doing at here the last time I was compos mentis, we either killed someone or shagged each other. And you don’t strike me as a murderer.”

 

“Leave it.” Gene wasn’t having any bullshit over this. They had to just draw a fucking line and walk away.

 

“No. I won’t leave it.” There was the sound of Sam pushing back his chair and standing up. “You’ve been hedging around something all day, keeping something back from me. I want to know. I deserve to know.”

 

“I told you to leave it. I don’t want to punch you.”

 

“And I told you, I want to know.”

 

“Look, it’s not like repeating what happened is guaranteed to work, is it? Can’t you believe that you’ve been given a second chance most people don’t get, a chance to avoid a bloody stupid mistake?” Gene didn’t turn around from the sink. This was not a big deal, did not need to be a big deal.

 

Sam’s voice was definitely closer. “Can’t you believe that there is nothing more terrifying that not being able to remember? I want my life back. Not the version they told me in Hyde, not the version you know, cobbled from my own bloody cover stories and station gossip. I want my life, my memories. I want the fucking truth.”

 

He stepped directly behind Gene, breathing hard, and this was going to turn into fight soon, Gene could feel it in the air.

 

“And you!” Sam almost yelled. “Don’t you want to get the old Sam back, whoever the fuck he is? Did he mean that little to you that you won’t even…?” As his voice trailed off, Gene stiffened, uncertain.

 

When Sam spoke again, it was much quieter, softer. “I’m sorry. Gene, please…”

 

There was a moment of stillness, Gene’s hands were frozen in position as they scrubbed chip fat from the plate, his mind trying to compose any kind of answer or excuse. He was aware of Sam coming impossibly close, of his heat.

 

Gene shivered, but didn’t try and move, as Sam slowly reached out his hands and closed them over Gene’s under the water. Sam was wrapped around him, head resting between his shoulder blades, breathing fire down spine. He could feel Sam’s pebbled nipples through both their shirts, and his cock…The press of Sam’s cock in the groove of Gene’s arse made his legs shake.

 

“Yes” Sam hissed, low and breathy and almost unkindly. “This is it, isn’t it? This is what you weren’t going to tell me about.”

 

Sam’s hands slid over Gene’s, rippling the bubbles. Even their arms were flush together, every movement sparking off another tingling rush of arousal.

 

Gene swallowed and breathed a little shakily – which Sam could bloody feel, he knew. “You don’t know me. You don’t know us. You don’t know that you want this.”

 

“Oh I know you, Gene Hunt.” There was still an edge of cruelty to Sam’s voice, something new, foreign. “Or at least I know men like you. I know that if you haven’t decked me one already, what that Sam was to you must have been pretty fucking special. As for what I want, you can feel that.” He nudged his groin closer to Gene’s arse, and Gene let himself close his eyes, since Sam couldn’t see.

 

The voice continued in his ear, low and enticing: “I never felt like this about her, about my ‘wife’. I told her I loved her but I had to make myself show it. But since I saw you my body’s known things my brain can’t seem to get to. And I want to remember them, Gene.” Sam sighed, breathing deeply, moved his mouth to speak directly onto the back of Gene’s neck, wet and perfect. “Even the way you smell, fuck, Gene, it makes want the craziest things….”

 

On the last words, he raised his sopping hands to Gene’s shirt front and started rubbing at his nipples, and Gene’s planned ‘Stop’ came out as “Shit, yes” and he turned around in the circle of Sam’s arms and looked into his eyes.

 

Sam stared back at him. But not Sam. The person looking out of those eyes was not his Sam, not exactly.

 

The eyes blinked, widened, smiled. There was a soft chuckle.

 

“You didn’t even get this far, did you?” Sam had that look, the look of instinct validated, of hunches confirmed. “You maybe kissed me – kissed him – you maybe talked, but you didn’t do this, what I’m going to do you, what I want to do to you and aren’t afraid of. You two didn’t fuck.”

 

And hell, Gene was a bloke. He wanted and he needed and there this was before him – he’d been surviving on nothing and here was a feast. He was only human.

 

How much further could he have to fall?

 

He didn’t kiss Sam, this Sam, but there was no need, no indication to. Instead, Gene moved his palm to Sam’s fly, gratified by a low moan as he did so. Then splinters of heat were rushing out from his groin as Sam palmed him through his trousers. Somehow they pulled each other’s clothes off, Gene thinking that there was no way he could stop this now and not look as fucking scared as he felt.

 

It was like shoplifting as a kid because your mates told you to, thrilling and terrifying, the conflicting feelings of knowing you wanted the prize and their respect, but somehow also that you were surrendering.

 

“Gene, oh, shit, Gene.”

 

He had his hand round Sam’s cock, jacking slow and firm, trying not to be distracted by Sam’s hand on his own, warm from the water.

 

Gene was panting already when Sam’s mouth first returned to his neck, and then he was gasping, struggling to breathe, as Sam’s tongue traced its way up and down the tendons of his neck, right into his ear, swirling and stroking. His hand fell away from Sam’s cock, he was lying out on the floor – how the fuck did they get to the Living Room floor? – prone under Sam’s fucking tongue.

 

This wasn’t the same Sam at all. This Sam was confident. This Sam didn’t look like he was afraid of, well, of being decked.

 

This Sam wasn’t saying the things that had been said before, because this Sam didn’t know him. This Sam wasn’t hesitant. This Sam was smiling at with an edge of curiosity, kissing his way down the centre of his chest and flicking at a nipple, which made Gene grit his teeth and just…he couldn’t come before they’d even started, he couldn’t.

 

Gene’s nipples, his stomach, his navel, Sam traversed them all, until Gene felt like his whole body was an extension of his cock, throbbing and sensitive and turned on. He was trying to grab at the carpet, coming up with tiny fibres.

 

“Nasty bruises” Sam murmured into the skin above his navel. “You should be more careful who you try and rescue.”

 

“You’re nothing like the first person I’ve fought to save” Gene replied, struggling to think as he took in Sam’s body, which he’d never seen in the light before.

 

Looking away, he added: “You’re just the first who helped me do it.”

 

With an undecipherable expression, Sam moved his attention lower. And not to Gene’s cock.

 

“What the hell do…you think…you’re doing?” Gene managed to growl, watching in dismay as Sam reached out for one of the sofa cushions and slid it under Gene’s hips, lifting him up. If all his muscles hadn’t been jelly he’d have sat up, and he could, any minute now. Any minute now.

 

“You’ll like it. I promise.” Sam was grinning, a knowledge and confidence in his eyes that the old Sam categorically not had. It was so unsettling that Gene forgot to protest, and the next thing he knew, there was a sensation like…fuck…like…

 

“Fuck!” Gene gasped, loud, spreading his legs wider without wanting to, because Sam was…with his tongue, his lips, kissing him there, where it wasn’t supposed to feel good. Except it was fire and iron and shooting nerves and his cock was leaking, begging and he was begging, flexing his arsehole because all he wanted was more of that feeling.

 

Or even more than that. Sam stopped licking across him, began circling instead, making Gene whimper into the fist he was biting and the circles were getting tighter, smaller, and in a minute Sam’s tongue would poke into him, right through and fuck, he wanted that so much he could cry.

 

Summoning up every last reserve of strength, Gene pulled himself away, gasping.

 

“Get the fuck off me, Sam.”

 

Sam was left there, kneeling, face near the cushion, flushed red, looking up at him in sheer bewilderment.

 

He had his own dripping, red cock in one hand.

 

Gene closed his eyes and Did. Not. Come.

 

For a moment the only sound was their panting. Then Gene, having swallowed a few times, moved forwards. “It’s not for me, yeah?” he said, almost kindly, like he didn’t want to punch Sam in the face, just a little, for teaching him that that sensation was out there.

 

Sam still looked – well, it was Sam, myriad mysterious and unnecessary emotions, even this Sam was bloody impossible to read. So Gene moved behind him as he knelt up, echoing and reversing their position at the sink. He got his bent knees either side of Sam’s, so that he was flush against his back, and reached around to take Sam’s cock in his hand. On the touch, Sam hissed through his teeth, and more pre-come dripped out of the head. He was close.

 

“Gets you off, does it, doing that to blokes?” Gene asked, genuinely curious. He dropped a kiss to Sam’s neck to show there were no hard feelings.

 

“Hey, I’m flying on instinct here, I’m fucking lost.”

 

“I’m sorry” Gene whispered, meaning it.

 

“Just do that harder, yeah? Oh yeah.”

 

And, ignoring the trembling in his thighs, Gene did it harder, drew fifty shades of “Yes!” out of this Sam who was not quite Sam, trying to also ignore the way his arse still tightened as it begged to get the sensations back, trying to ignore his own aching cock and still feeling somehow as if he was taking advantage.

 

But when Sam came, threw his head back on Gene’s shoulder, he said after a moment, “At least let me…” and turned, urged Gene to lie down again, holding his hands up saying “Not that, I promise, just..” and straddled him, kneeling over him and took his cock in hand. It took a few twisting strokes and Gene was there in the relief of orgasm.

 

Sam lifted his dripping hand to his mouth and gave it one long, feline lick, which had no bloody right to be anything like erotic, but which made Sam close his eyes and give a little whimper, and made Gene feel like he was starting to come all over again, half-way through.

 

For a moment it looked like Sam might kiss him, but Gene rolled away. Looked at the wall for a moment and just breathed, overwhelmed.

 

Sam didn’t follow.

 

Finally, Gene found the energy to move. “I’ll have the shower first” he said, pulling on his y-fronts. “So, you remember anything?”

 

Sam was lying out on his back on the rug, hands over his face. “Actually” he said, in the oddest voice, “I can’t even remember why I thought this would be a good idea.”

 

“Well at least that makes two of us” said Gene, closing the door behind him.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Eight

 

Déjà vu was not usually something Gene was particularly sensitive to. And he’d never have admitted to feeling anything French in any case. But that morning, lying alone in his bed, he couldn’t escape a vague sense that he’d been through this all before. The feeling of unease and the echo both hopeful and regretful of ‘Sam’ – both streamed down a well-worn path in his mind.

 

Gene lay back and rubbed his eyes, yawning and stretching, trying to avoid noticing the delicious post-orgasmic fluidity of his body. The last time he had felt like this, after all, he’d ended the day curled in the back of his car, murmuring wordless regrets and drooling into the upholstery.

 

But all the same Gene swung his feet out of the bed and started dressing. He hadn’t got through forty-three years of life by not facing the day just because he had no idea how to handle his circumstances. That, in fact, was his coping strategy: keep going, keep moving, push through and push past. Don’t stop to recover anything you drop along the way, because however much you need it, you need to move ahead and get away even more.

 

No matter how the poets frame it, though, memory is not a box you can delve in and out of, taking what you want. More, it is like water, to be lost or played in or dammed up, and which, if kept back, will crash down eventually with no more reference to you than the rain.

 

And so, that morning, Gene found himself remembering precisely how much good his policy had done Stuart, the recollection arriving unsought as always did.

 

- - -

 

“I lost him” Gene had told Sam that wet day at the cemetery, speaking the words out loud for the first time in his life. His tone had been matter of fact, cold. “Stuart gave up a great deal to help me escape how we lived, and when I finally managed it, I didn’t want to look backwards.”

 

He must have looked like a vulture, stood there over the grave with his coat solid around him and his shoulders hunched up.

 

“You know,” he continued, “When he died, I came home pissed as an Irish sailor and when the wife complained I told her: ‘My brother’s dead, I’m allowed.’ And she said: ‘You don’t have a brother, Gene Hunt, don’t lie to me.’ And I realised I’d never told her.”

 

“You’ve told me” Sam had replied, quietly. “I’ll remember him.”

 

“The fuck you will!” Gene had turned, livid with rage as sudden as flame eating through petrol. “The fuck you will, Sam! I don’t fucking remember him properly, alright? I didn’t want to remember and now I fucking can’t!”

 

Gene had yelled and they had tussled, and not for the first or last time they had hurt each other, but they’d wound up walking out along that gravel path, saying thank-you.

 

- - -

 

Thus it was in a confusion of feelings, of half-structured ideas and untouchable thoughts, that Gene descended the stairs. Both body and mind stopped, startled, however, when he caught sight of Sam through the half-open Living Room door.

 

Gene hadn’t realised until that moment how strongly he had been expecting the pattern to fully repeat itself – had been expecting Sam to have disappeared. Yet there Sam was, also fully dressed and neatening the sofa he’d slept on.

 

Sam hadn’t panicked, or run. Neither had he come up to join Gene. He had done none of those things because he didn’t understand – couldn’t – what the events of the night before meant. He had no context - didn’t know about weeks and months of mistrust, about fights and deaths and power-struggles. Gene didn’t know what this Sam saw when he looked at him, but it wasn’t really him, Gene knew that much.

 

Only Sam Tyler had ever really seen the real Gene Hunt.

 

And it had never gone both ways.

 

Gene clenched hard at the banister, feeling a profound wave of loss and knowing it at last for what it was. He felt as if, right then, he could have named every emotion he’d ever felt for Sam, bad and good. And some had been good. Just because they were intense and dangerous and life-changing, it didn’t stop them being so. And now, watching the echo of the man he was still fairly sure he’d lost, he could appreciate that too late.

 

Gene was not sure that, when he’d come downstairs a month ago to find only an abandoned jacket, that if he’d instead discovered Sam making breakfast, he’d have known to tell him all the things he’d now missed the chance to.

 

He was still standing there, transfixed by revelation as Sam, standing up from his tidying, caught sight of a reflection in the TV screen and walked out into the hallway.

 

Sam’s smile was tentative, hopeful. Friendly. “Gene? Coffee or tea?”

 

“Wait a minute, just wait a minute” Gene held up his hand, thinking hard. Something had triggered in his mind and he couldn’t…he’d spent so long repressing all of it that it was hard to…

 

Of course! He leapt down the remaining stairs, grabbed Sam by the shoulders and shook him: “Sam, I am officially brilliant. Your coat, Sam! Your stupid, poncey, black leather coat!”

 

“I’m sorry…what?”

 

“Your coat! You left it here, the day you supposedly transferred.” Almost laughing, Gene moved to pull open the door of the cupboard under the stairs. Stooping, he extracted a selection of empty wine boxes, some anti-freeze, a pair of wellies and finally, triumphantly, the jacket in question.

 

Grinning, he proffered it to Sam. “I never thought to wonder why you’d left it – too much else going on. But it proves that you didn’t mean to run away. You wouldn’t have left it behind.”

 

“Run...? Why would I have run away?” Sam’s eyebrows were so high they ran the risk of disappearing even under his ridiculously short fringe. “Did I...?”

 

Gene’s smile had withered and he shoved the coat into Sam’s hands. “Just look at the damn thing.”

 

With a calculating look, Sam seemed to be deciding whether to press the issue. In the end, though, he raised the jacket and started rummaging in the pockets. Gene was left with the impression that he’d definitely said too much.

 

From the outer right pocket, after bringing up a bus ticket and a pencil stub, Sam fished a small, reddish-green object. “What the hell is this?” he asked, passing it to Gene. Their fingers brushed, for mere seconds, but Gene felt a strange metallic surge from stroked nerves run heat over the rest of his skin, even as he lifted his hand to hold the object to the light.

 

To all appearances it was a small clay model of a sleeping cat, childishly rough and painted with green and red stripes before being varnished and fired hard. On its underside were some clumsily etched letters – EH, maybe FH? It was hard to make out.

 

“Mascot?” Gene wondered out loud, sternly ignoring any remaining tingles in his fingertips. “But I never saw it before. And you used to have a St Christopher; anyway, for all the good it seemed to do you. Anything else in there?”

 

Sam fumbled again, with curious distant expression of anyone searching in a space they cannot see. “Something here, oh, 50% off coupon for WH Smith’s. Bit of fluff. Another pencil.” Changing to the inside pocket, his tone became more animated: “Here we go.”

 

He pulled out a badge and opened it: “Hmm, ‘DI Sam Tyler’. Well, I suppose that’s fairly conclusive evidence you’ve not been lying to me.”

 

Gene looked at him, and saw the wry half-smile on his face.

 

“Funny to think” Sam was saying, stroking his thin fingers over the typed name on the badge, “That this isn’t even my real name. I feel like he’s more real than whoever I’m going to turn out to be.” He put his hand in the jacket’s inner pocket again, fishing more things out as he spoke.

 

“And it’s sad that Sam Tyler will never know the truth. He was knocked on the head, or whatever it was, and changed to become me. And when I find out why I was being drugged in the first place, I’ll know who I really am. But he never gets to.”

 

His voice becoming increasingly aggressive, Sam slapped the pocket contents onto the small hall table: a football card, a bar receipt, a scribbled note of bus times and a newspaper clipping.

 

Gene picked up the newspaper and unfolded it, then drew in a sharp breath and set it down on the table, where it lay bent upwards like an offertory bowl, inviting their gaze.

 

Together, they regarded it in silence.

 

“Sentimental poof” said Gene, at length, trying to get over the burning feeling in his chest

 

- - -

 

It was a photo of them.

 

It was a photo of the aftermath of the hostage crisis at the Manchester Gazette. Not the Gazette’s own front page image, but a smaller one that had run on page four of The Independent the next day. It had been taken ‘paparazzi style’, catching them un-posed and unawares as they rested from questions for a moment.

 

It was a photo of Sam leaning back against the car-park wall, one knee bent up so his foot supported him, his head tipped until it hit the wall, his whole body broadcasting exhaustion. It was a photo of Gene in the middle of saying something that was making Sam turn and look wonderfully, pettishly pissed off.

 

It was a photo of Gene with one hand on the wall by Sam’s head, his body interposing between Sam and the crowd, almost shielding him. Of Sam staring at Gene, into him, seeing nothing but him and so obviously gaining energy from that that it was almost possible to see vibrant waves flowing between them.

 

It was a photo of them.

 

- - -

 

For a little while, Sam was silent, resting both his hands on the table, leaning forward and letting his head hang down to stare at the picture.

 

“I’m not sure if I care if it’s not the whole truth” he said eventually, his voice rough. “I want this back.”

 

He drew a long, shuddering breath. “I want not to be the man who didn’t tell you that he kept this. But I’m afraid that when I remember him, I’ll remember why I did it. I’m afraid…” he turned his head away and ducked it, “I’m afraid that I’m a bad person, I don’t just mean…I mean, what if in reality I’m a horrible, evil man?”

 

With no idea how to frame what he felt in words, Gene reached out and patted Sam’s shoulder, once, twice, then let his hand rest. Still without looking at him, Sam placed his own hand on top of Gene’s and for a moment or two they simply stood there together.

 

“That morning…” Gene began, with a breath and prayer and a feeling like jumping off a bridge in the dark.

 

He was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

 

- - -

 

“Guv?”

 

“Ray?”

 

“Guv, where have you been? We need you down the station right away.”

 

Gene didn’t bother to disguise his impatience. “Why? What’s up that you can’t handle this once?”

 

“It’s the spastic, Sir…” There was a sound of another voice and Ray coughed, “The, um, the Mongol – is that polite enough for you Annie? But it’s his files sir – we’ve got a herd of Secret Service, or something, all here looking for them and saying they can’t find ‘em and… Oi! Not in the Guv’s Office!”

 

There came to Gene’s ears a distant sound as if of breaking glass.

 

“Ray!” he barked down the phone, “What exactly has just happened?”

 

“They’ve smashed your flipping door pane, Guv! Didn’t even ask for the key, just shoved his hand through and opened it from inside.”

 

“Well, the files aren’t in there!” Gene yelled, “Why didn’t you tell them that before that started…they’re not touching my posters are they?”

 

“But we can’t find the files! So this bloke – poncey arse git, from London – reckons you’ve got them hidden in your office and I say: ‘No, he hasn’t, he don’t hide things’ and this bloke just brushes past and…”

 

“Look,” Gene interrupted, territorial rage rising in his belly, “I’m on my way there now. You’re a good bullshitter, Ray, so bloody use your talents. Tell them Frank Hagwood’s stuff is filed in the collator’s office, tell them we sent the files to the pathologist, tell them anything, only get them out of my office!”

 

“Sure thing, boss.”

 

Gene couldn’t help sighing. Ray was always happier with an order to obey – any order, provided Gene gave it. It was naïve, if anything about Ray could be so called, and it irritated Gene a little, to the point where, when he’d first heard that he was getting a new DI from Hyde, he’d been secretly pleased not to have to offer the job to the only other possible choice, DS Ray Carling .

 

And that was the truth of it, really. Ray was a better mate, simply speaking. Ray was easier to work with. Ray was more fun.

 

But Gene needed Sam around. Always had, even before he knew the bloke.

 

And there was no reason to think, when they’d sorted this whole mess out, that it would mean getting Sam back again even in the working sense.

 

Gene set the phone back in its cradle with a slam.

 

“Do you want that tea now?” said a voice.

 

Sam was standing in the kitchen doorway, two steam-capped mugs in hand. Matching mugs, Gene mentally added, though mentally speaking he was not at his best when confronted with the sight of Sam’s slouching body leaning on the doorframe, one leg bent and shirt open at the collar. In point of fact he looked hotter than a vindaloo chaser, and Gene let his eyes rake over him without thinking. It was only as he reached Sam’s face that he realised Sam knew exactly what effect he was having.

 

And that he was pleased about it.

 

For a long, thick, moment, the air almost seemed to hum.

 

“That was the station” Gene said, at length, having to swallow and re-start his sentence before it would come out. “A bunch of Special Branch wankers have taken it into their heads to raid our already raided files department because they’ve got a hard-on for some gang-related murder over a factory whose main output is magnolia paint.”

 

“And you have to go in and sort them out.” Sam guessed, with an air of resignation.

 

“Precisely. Listen, I shouldn’t take long. Don’t answer the phone while I’m gone and don’t call me at the office – if those blokes yesterday were as serious as the bruises round my kidneys seem to think, they’ll have given some idiot PC a backhander to watch the switchboard. I may not be a bent copper any more, but God knows they’re out there.”

 

“Wait, bent what? You were a...?”

 

“Sam, there really isn’t time to go into this now. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Gene had grabbed his coat from the rack as he spoke, and, taking one mug from Sam, he gulped the contents, fanned his mouth, swore, took another gulp, sighed, picked up his keys and left the house.

 

Just before he drove away he looked back for a moment at the house. The living room curtains had been drawn back, and through the window he could see Sam, sipping at the other mug. Switching on the television.

 

An obscure feeling of unease shot through Gene. But, time was pressing – he had to get on to the station and his neglected responsibilities there – and as he drove off on he told himself to forget about it.

- - -

 

Chapter Nine

Even as Gene pushed open the swing doors of the main office and breathed deep of smoke and nebulised typewriter ink, he felt a flood of normalcy and wellbeing. This was right. This was unchanging and familiar. This was his.

 

The feeling didn’t last.

 

“Oi, you! Are you DCI Hunt?”

 

Gene turned slowly, his eyes narrowing - a territorial lion spotting a jackal. There was a man standing over by Annie’s desk, rising from talking to her. The man was young, casually fashionable in a leather jacket and slacks, but nonetheless with an air of arrogant authority about him.

 

And he was not the only one. Around the room were four other men, in plain clothes but sticking out like sore thumbs nonetheless. One was kneeling to rifle through the drawer of Chris’ desk; another had seemingly been emptying whole filing cabinets into the centre of the room. Gene’s office door was not the only glass that had been smashed, just the thing that made him angriest.

 

As the first man came over, Gene clenched his fists round his thumbs and took a deep breath until the bases of his lungs hurt. The sight made some of the police in the room step back, but this man didn’t even slow, stepping over the folders strewn across the floor with an exquisitely irritating grace.

 

He brought himself face to face with Gene and assumed a casual pose of precisely-intended effect.

 

“DCI Hunt?” he asked again, in the emphasising tone reserved for the young, recalcitrant and stupid.

 

“And if I am?”

 

“Well, DCI Hunt, I could ask you a lot of things.” The man’s face had a smug set to it, with the patronising smile of a school teacher. “I could ask you why you didn’t arrive at your office at 8.30am today. I could ask you why C-Division in Hyde had to almost arrest you yesterday for breach of the peace. I could even ask you why your office apparently has more whiskey bottles than file dividers.”

 

He took his gaze away from Gene’s face and spent a moment inspecting a small mark on the back of his hand before continuing languidly.

 

“But I’m not going to ask for answers to any of those questions. I’m going to be prepared to settle for all your files on the Hagwood case, in my hand, right now.”

 

And there was his hand, held out.

 

Gene stared at him for a moment, rage almost steaming from his ears. Then he laughed, short and mocking: “Take you long to rehearse that little speech, did it?” He started taking his driving gloves off, doing it properly, pinching the finger-tips, and when he had them removed and carefully folded in his pocket he spoke very, very softly.

 

“Now, whoever the hell you are, how about you tell me where you get off coming to my station, upsetting my officers and breaking my bloody door down?”

 

“I’ve done a lot worse than this to a lot better than you, in my time” the man replied, with a dead sort of smile that was fleetingly familiar, reaching inside his jacket to bring out a leather-covered badge. “There, that satisfy you?”

 

Gene glanced at it before throwing it back at him. “‘Criminal Intelligence Five’? Nope, sorry, Mr…what was it? Bodie? I don’t read much Enid Blyton.”

 

Eyes flashing, the man stepped closer, thrusting a finger in Gene’s face. “Now listen, fuzz, we’re the government, yeah? We’re the big boys, and we don’t play nicely. So if I was you – which I thank fuck I’m not, you bent, washed-up tosser – I’d start giving over information right about now.”

 

Gene pushed right back, grabbing the man by his commodious lapels. “No, you listen, you fascist prick” he grunted, shoving him effortlessly against a filing cabinet that had been handily relocated to the centre of the floor, “Why don’t you take your take your gang of nancy ‘big boys’ back south and get them to entertain you, if you’re so fond of play….”

 

Mid-flow, Gene stopped.

 

He drew back from the cabinet, letting the man go.

 

He knew his expression must be incredibly bizarre, knew the flash of fear in his eyes must have been caught by his opponent, but he pressed on, hoping that this man Bodie wouldn’t bother exploring it further.

 

“Makes me sick even thinking of it” Gene said, without as much energy in his voice as there had been, but managing to keep the sentence going, managing to just about cover his slip. “But you know what? This is more bloody trouble than it’s worth to me. I’ve got a hideous hangover and you’re about as much fun to have around as mosquito in the knickers of a bird on the rag. So, DS Carling is going to take you to the archives and bloody well give you the files, and you’re going to buzz the fuck off, right?”

 

From the corner of his eye, Gene could see Ray’s momentary look of horror, but he kept his gaze on this Agent Bodie, forcing himself not to just grab the man and throttle him then and there.

 

In return he was granted only an appraising look.

 

Gene gritted his teeth, going for a desperate gambit. “And if I give you the files, you don’t tell my Super about the little C-Division thing, right? Particularly not the, you know, the part about the Super’s sister.”

 

A glint of triumph and disdain came into his opponent’s eyes, and Gene relaxed a little - evidently his hunch that this man hadn’t bothered to investigate the specifics of the incident was correct. Bodie gave an infinitesimal nod and gestured to two of his men to put away guns Gene hadn’t even seen being drawn.

 

“Ray,” Gene called, still watching the man, “The Hagwood files are in with the case we drew up over the landlord of the Trafford Arms, remember him?”

 

“Aye, Guv.” Ray replied, confusion still evident in his voice, but clearly catching the meaning. “If you’ll follow me, gents?”

 

With one supercilious backwards glance at Gene, the agent left the office, sending two of his men to radio someone from the car.

 

Gene regarded the two men left behind. “Now, chaps, what can we do for you? Tea, perhaps?”

 

They came a little closer together, and a little closer to him, to answer.

 

Before they’d even opened their mouths, Gene had punched them out: clean, cold unconscious.

 

“Annie, love” he said, turning and rubbing his knuckles, “shove these in my office, will you? I’ll just be phoning Sam to share the good news that he’s apparently been dicking around with the fucking government.”

 

- - -

 

“How long do you think Ray can keep them down there for?” asked Annie nervously, perching on the side of her desk since Gene was in her chair.

 

Gene kept his ear glued to her desk-phone’s receiver, but pulled the mouthpiece back to answer. “Well, he’s the ruddy Archimedes of bullshit geniuses, our Raymundo. But then they’re the fucking CI5, so, say, ten minutes? Fifteen tops if he remembers to go the long way round traffic control manuals.”

 

“And you’re sure these are the right men, Sir? I mean, if you’ve just assaulted government agents…”

 

“Annie,” Gene exclaimed, “That wanker distinctly said: ‘We’re the big boys, and we don’t play nicely’. It’s such a stupid line, like a quote of some crap action thriller James Bond bollocks-o-seven or something.” Gene almost spat with disdain. “But I remembered how stupid it was because it was just as stupid the first time I heard it, when that thug in Sam’s flat got it out in-between playing Chopsticks on my teeth. The tossers must have to gone to the same indoctrination lessons or something. And if they’re after Sam, well… the Government’s a load of jessie pen-pushers anyhow.”

 

The phone stopped ringing and gave the ‘no reply’ tone. Slamming it down, Gene then picked it up and dialled his house again, muttering “Get out of the shower, you numpty, and answer!” He looked at her still-worried face, “Annie, I’m sure it’s the same people. I mean, look at what we found at the flat – radios, receivers, transmitters, drugs, all that set up – that was not an amateur job.”

 

“So, Sir, if they’re after Sam, or after us for being after Sam, why didn’t they just…get you…when you arrived?”

 

“I don’t question luck, Annie. Look, that bloke was obviously in charge, maybe those men haven’t told him they messed up. Maybe they didn’t feel confident acting in a room full of coppers. Maybe they’re looking for Sam right now – answer, you pillock!” Once again he slapped down and picked up the phone.

 

Why was it with Sam that he always felt a second too late, a moment behind, like trying to save spilt liquor in your hand?

 

Annie frowned. “And where does Frank Hagwood come into it?”

 

“Damned if I know. Where the bloody hell are those files, anyhow? I had them out yesterday before I went to Hyde.”

 

Annie smiled, “I’ve got them, Sir.”

 

“You managed to avoid the ravages of that search?”

 

“I just, um, supposed they must be important, amount of fuss there’s been over them. And I didn’t want to do anything to them without your say so. It was easy, actually. I folded them into a Tampax box in the Ladies’ loos.”

 

For a moment, Gene simply gaped. “Words fail me, Cartwright” he said at last. “Bloody well done, and don’t ever use language like that around me again, alright?”

 

She actually giggled. “No, Guv.”

 

He smiled momentarily, and then heard the ‘no reply’ tone for the fifth time.

 

“C’mon, Sam” he muttered, wondering frantically whether driving back to the house would achieve anything. As he spun the dial for the sixth time, though, and waited, the rings ceased suddenly.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Sam! Sam you pillock, why didn’t you answer?”

 

“Gene? Oh shit, Gene…I, I was watching the TV.” There was sound suspiciously like a swallowed sob.

 

“Sam?” Gene yelled, standing up and pushing back his chair.

 

“I’m remembering it, oh god, everything’s coming back” Sam’s voice was wracked, feverish with horror, catching and breaking on the words. “That girl, she, oh god that little girl…I thought I was mad, Gene, I was mad! They sent me mad.”

 

Gene grimaced, hating to cut him off but desperately aware of the urgency of the situation: “Sam, listen, there are men here that are after you. You’ve got to get out of that house, do you understand?”

 

“Who’s there? Is it Victor?”

 

“Might be his first name, it’s some pillock called Bodie from the government and his backing dancers, who are going to reappear any second.” Gene looked at the door as he spoke – nothing yet, but they had no time to waste.

 

“Oh shit, Gene, listen to me,” Sam said desperately, “he can do anything he likes. It won’t matter what you say or what he does, or who sees what, if he wants to hurt you, or Annie, he can. He would. Keep him there but for god’s sake don’t make him angry.”

 

There was a crash of doors slamming in the corridor.

 

“It might be a little late for that.” Gene replied, slowly, looking up as Bodie practically kicked his way through the station door, a few cobwebs still stuck in his short hair.

 

“Gene?” Sam yelled, but Gene was putting down the receiver, standing up.

 

“Gentlemen” he said slowly, “No luck downstairs, then?”

 

Bodie’s eyes narrowed. “I wouldn’t go discussing luck, Mr Hunt, since yours has just run out.”

 

“Really, mate, you should hear yourself sometimes…” Gene managed to respond, just before the man behind him knocked him out.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Ten

 

There was a hardboiled egg in his skull, trying to get out. It hurt.

 

Gene blinked, and wished he hadn’t. The lights of the Lost and Found room seemed dazzling, piercing new pains into his headache.

 

Trying to move, he realised he was tied, hand and foot, to the chair he sat on.

 

“Alright, sunshine?”

 

He widened his eyes. Bodie was sitting in front of him, straddling a chair backwards, shark-like smile pasted under icily angry eyes.

 

Gene coughed. “Cigarette wouldn’t hurt.”

 

“Yeah, but my fist would, as you know. So how about you just stop pissing about? Before, I thought ‘Well, he’s nothing but a copper isn’t he? Nothing but a plonk. He won’t be involved, he’ll just be stupid’. But now that I’ve been sent up every garden path in this shit-hole of a station, I’m starting to think you’re hiding something for a reason.”

 

Bodie stood and walked round Gene’s chair, slowly.

 

“I’m starting to think” he continued, with a menacing sweetness, “that you helped have him killed. I’m starting to think that you and Sam Tyler were working together.”

 

“Excuse me?” Gene’s mouth dropped open, “Of course we were bloody working together, I mean, he was my DI until a month ago, but, no! No one’s killed anybody.”

 

Bodie gave a short laugh. “Oh, I think you’ll find Sam has.”

 

He went to the table, opened a document file and pulled out a handful of glossy black and white photos. “That’s Bethany, age eight. That’s her mother, Jennifer. That’s what they looked like once Sam and his friend Victor had finished with them.”

 

And Gene looked.

 

It was as if every organ in Gene’s body descended at once, as if everything sagged. A cloud of nausea billowed past his headache and he bit his tongue, breathing out sharply through his nose.

 

Oh God…

 

The pictures were… He wasn’t a squeamish man, he wasn’t even sensitive. In fact he could be fairly ghoulish when he wanted.

 

But that was horrible.

 

Bodie was studying him closely. “You say Sam worked here? As your DI? We didn’t find any record of that.”

 

“Then why the hell are you here?” Gene’s stomach was twisting and he could scarcely breathe.

 

“I’m asking the questions here.”

 

 

Someone…” Gene swallowed, started again, natural resistance falling under the still-reverberating shock. “Someone broke in yesterday and ransacked the place. Took all the documents.”

 

“Oh, how convenient.” Bodie grabbed the table and placed it between them, arranging the photos across the surface. “You’re saying that this man murders, gets away with secrets of state and calmly goes to work in a police station four miles away for the next ten months!”

 

“He was on an undercover assignment from C-Division in Hyde!” Gene replied, still shaken, but becoming more sure of himself. “Ask DCI Morgan! He sent Sam to work here to gather…to gather information on the team and to, um, assess us.”

 

“Right. I suppose Sam told you that?”

 

“Well, yes, but…”

 

“And you met DCI Morgan, did you?”

 

“Yes. He came here temporarily to cover for me when I was bleeding indisposed.”

 

“Well, that’s very interesting” Bodie replied with overflowing sarcasm, “Because DCI Morgan was this woman’s husband” he pointed at the photograph on the table, “and her daughter’s father. And he was quite unhappy about what happened to them. He had a nervous breakdown in February and has been taking a rest cure in Bognor Regis since then. They still haven’t got a permanent replacement in Hyde.”

 

“But I met him! Tall bloke, dark hair, big nose, sort of bristly moustache.”

 

That wrung a frown from Bodie, who moved suddenly back to rifle through his folder.

 

“This man?” he asked, bringing out another photo. It looked, to Gene, to be DCI Frank Morgan.

 

“Yes. Exactly.”

 

“Mr Hunt, that’s Victor Crane. That’s Sam’s partner - the other killer.”

 

- - -

 

Gene had been untied from his chair, but had yet to find the energy to rise from it. Leaning forwards, resting his elbows on the table, he smoked cigarette after cigarette, gazing down at the images before him as though the smoke might transmute them into something else.

 

“No, no one’s that good an actor” he’d heard Bodie say to one of the other CI5 men, “The bloke’s obviously just another person that Sam’s fooled.” There was a bitterness to the words that pricked at Gene’s sense of curiosity even now.

 

He risked a question. “Are you sure you’ve got the right man? I mean, are you sure it was Sam and this Victor character? It just doesn’t seem…You’ve got evidence of this, proper fucking hardcore evidence, pathology and crime scenes and all that fucking jazz? Because I knew Sam and…”

 

In his mind’s eye, then, Gene saw Sam, whispering tiny words of affection, whimpering his name into his neck, little shuddering kisses sweet and addictive and blinding in almost every way…

 

Gene methodically stubbed out his cigarette on his palm, flicked it behind him, and lit up another without a sound.

 

Bodie raised an eyebrow, and looked almost impressed. He walked over to the other chair and gave Gene a long, appraising look. Finally he too rested his arms on the table and looked at his hands as he spoke.

 

“I’ve checked it all several times, and there’s no mistake. Sam was my partner in CI5 from the day I joined, and a good friend. We worked together for almost five years. Then I got injured and had to rest up for six months, and he got a temporary partnership with Victor Crane on a routine surveillance detail.”

 

He tapped the photograph of ‘Morgan’.

 

“There’s been some trouble internationally in the last two years with extreme left wing groups, East Germans mostly, turning up with the weapons and ammunition of a standard British Police issue. It was traced to this region, and we’ve been checking out various departments and stations. DCI Frank Morgan was one we had a special eye on. One plant watched him at work, Victor and Sam covered his house.”

 

“So…how? Why?” Gene asked, gesturing with the cigarette at the goriest of the pictures.

 

“We don’t know that.” Bodie admitted. “But we do know that the woman and girl were both killed with ammunition signed for by Sam Tyler, almost definitely fired from a gun of the same make and model as his. We know that Sam and Victor kept a careful surveillance log every hour, until the hour at the beginning of the period the pathologist estimates the murders occured. We know that from the day of the murder, Sam and Victor disappeared. And now, thanks to you, we know that they were in contact via this sation.”

 

Gene took a long drag on his cigarette and let it out in one slow stream.

 

“So why,” he asked slowly, wishing the hot smoke would alter the icy cold feeling in his chest, “If you didn’t know that, did you come here? And where the hell does Frank Hagwood come into it all?”

 

Bodie shrugged. “He was the one that identified Sam to us.”

 

“What?” Gene sat up sharply in his chair.

 

“I didn’t believe it either, mate, but he did. A couple of days ago he phoned CI5’s central office using Sam’s unique access number and asked to talk to ‘Sam’s boss’. He said that he’d seen Sam ‘do a bad thing’.”

 

“But…” Gene shook his head, “He was beaten up in a turf war last month and came to this station for help. Sam helped him. Quite a lot.”

 

“Oh did he now?” Bodie frowned, “Would have been great if Frank had told us anything like that level of detail, but he just said that Sam was a man he’d seen ‘hurting someone’ and when the secretary he was talking to asked how he knew, he said he had Sam’s badge – which must have been his CI5 ID card, since Hagwood presumably got the phone number off it. We asked him where he was, he said ‘Hyde’ and then his coins ran out.”

 

“And when you investigated” Gene reasoned, police logic cutting through even the storm in his mind, “You found that within a few weeks of calling you he was killed. And so you just assumed that Sam had been…what? Covering his tracks? Using his position here to bump off his own witnesses?”

 

“I’ve told you, we didn’t know he worked here until you told us five minutes ago. We only came here to get the files, pursue the forensic evidence etc” Bodie replied, getting up once more from his chair. “As far as we were concerned a witness had died in a way possibly related to the case but probably not. I’d no idea it was going to be such a bloody productive mess. I mean, now we know that Sam actually met Frank Hagwood, saw the man recognising him…it doesn’t look good, does it?”

 

Slumping back in the chair, brittle with despair, Gene sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and chewed it.

 

He’d tipped Sam off, hadn’t he? Told him these men were here. Given him time to escape.

 

But surely Sam wasn’t…surely…

 

Sam had told him to keep the men here, to occupy them. Sam had been using him.

 

Sam had told him to be careful.

 

What was it Sam had said on the phone? “That girl, she, oh god that little girl…”?

 

Sam had kissed him. He had let Sam kiss him. Once upon a time, a life and a half ago.

 

This was not a good train of thought. Gene gave himself a shake and spoke again.

 

“No, listen to me; Sam disappeared from this station a month ago, right? And we thought that was odd, so we did a little investigating, off the books, you know, and when WDC Cartwright and I visited his old flat we found evidence that he was being drugged.”

 

It was Bodie’s turn to widen his eyes, “What did you say?”

 

“The place had been smashed up by the new owner and there was all this stuff – microphones in the walls, this drug, this dip… I can’t remember the name, but it was everywhere.”

 

“Why the hell didn’t you mention this earlier?” Bodie snapped. “Where is this flat?”

 

There was a glimmer of something in his eyes, something lighter than what had been, and Gene clung to that as he gave hasty directions.

 

- - -

In the end, and feeling every inch the bastard doing it, Gene had repeated to Annie everything that the agent had said.

 

He’d been unsure whether it was kinder to her to tell the truth or not to tell the truth, and been equally unsure whether being kind was something he could do or that she wanted.

 

In the end he’d been too tired to fabricate another layer of lies, and too sick of second-guessing his own tongue.

 

She was sitting, now, in Chris’ chair, staring at the floor ahead of her and swinging gently from side to side. Gene was back at her desk, smoking the last cigarette in his packet and making it last. He watched the white smoke ascend to the ceiling, thinking of his teacher quoting at her class:

 

‘Mankind is born to wickedness, as surely as smoke moves upwards’

 

Today, in all honesty, he wouldn’t now be surprised if the smoke had drifted away towards the floor. Nothing was certain any more.

 

Chris and Ray he’d sent with the CI5 men, mostly so that they wouldn’t have to hear the story from him, or more accurately so that he wouldn’t have to tell them. Everyone else had an unexpected afternoon off.

 

The fewer people knew about all this, the better.

 

The captain of a sinking ship still has to be a bloody captain.

 

“Would you like some tea, Sir?” Annie asked, half-heartedly.

 

“No, thank you Cartwright.” He took one last drag at the butt and pushed it into the edge of her metal inbox, then turned to look at her.

 

“You do know that this isn’t cut and dried?” he said, trying to read her expression. “I mean, those men in Sam’s flat – we don’t know who they were. I was so sure they were to do with this Bodie and his lot, but he’s assured me that’s not so. And Sam attacked them. Sam saved me, which there can’t possibly be any purpose to if he’s a cold blooded killer. And I swear, Annie, when I first went to Hyde he didn’t know who I was.”

 

She gazed at him for a moment, then sighed and rolled the chair across the floor to sweep the ash he’d left on her desk onto a piece of paper, pouring it subsequently into the waste bin.

 

“I think he was a lot of things” she said softly, “But he wasn’t a bad man. He thought he was, sometimes, but only because he tried to be everything to everyone, and he couldn’t. That’s no crime.”

 

With a harsh trill, the phone in Gene’s office rang. He sprinted to it, spoke briefly, and then walked far more slowly back to Annie’s side.

 

“Well, it’s not good.” He folded his arms. “Apparently those men yesterday did a thorough job. There’s not a trace of anything wrong in that flat – they say it still looks awful and as though it hasn’t see the business end of a broom in a while, but no holes, no graffiti, it’s all gone. And the neighbour has gone all ‘see no evil’ and won’t talk to them.” Sitting on the chair again, Gene ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “And that was the best chance we had of any kind of evidence that... that Sam at least wasn’t in control of himself.”

 

He would be, could be, objective. He could be a policeman. After everything he’d lost or altered to get here, he could bloody well do his bloody job.

 

Annie didn’t answer for a while, drumming her fingers on Chris’ desk.

 

“Sir” she said eventually, in a low voice, “We could always…that is, my mother has her Diphenhydramine. I could break some window glass.” She looked at him, wide eyed and still so innocent. “We could say we took it from the flat when we were there, for testing.”

 

Gene regarded her over steepled hands. “Do you trust him that much?”

 

“Yes. Yes I do. He’s saved my life, and yours, Sir.”

 

She held his gaze.

 

“What you want to say to me” Gene told her calmly, with something falling together in his brain even as he spoke, “is that I’ve planted evidence before now, haven’t I? You want to ask me, WDC, if I can’t decide guilt and innocence for myself one more time. You want to ask if I won’t do this one thing for Sam.”

 

Still she didn’t move, didn’t blink. Looked directly at him, not breathing even.

 

“But you see, Annie, Sam hated that. Our Sam. Whoever he… The man we knew. The only time he was ever proud of us, of our team, was when we did things right. And that wouldn’t be right.”

 

He could see tears forming in her eyes, but she didn’t make a sound.

 

“If we only have one part of Sam left” Gene continued, spelling it out for her because it felt important that she understood, that he turned her right now away from any example he’d given before, “If we only have one way to remember him, let it be that I did the right thing, just once.”

 

Something was twisting in his chest, scratching the back of his eyes, and telling him he hadn’t slept well, telling him hadn’t slept well in a month, telling him he wasn’t eating properly, telling him he was deficient, missing, lacking, mourning.

 

Annie opened her mouth to breathe. He saw her chest rise and fall heavily, and she bit the inside of her lip.

 

“Guv, look behind you.”

 

Jumping, Gene spun in his chair.

 

There was a dark shadow in the doorway, leaning against the wall.

 

Sam.

 

Sam, who stood up straight and coughed, then, and said “Annie…” with a low tender recognition. “Annie. How are you?”

 

She ran to him, because to her – Gene thought - that was that easy.

 

Sam looked over her shoulder even as he hugged her tightly. He looked over her shoulder with such an expression - haunted, hunted, horrified – and Gene felt something in his stomach like how it must feel to leap from an aeroplane, or maybe to be in a lift when the cable breaks.

 

“Sam…” somebody said.

 

There was no reply, Sam’s mouth was grimaced, almost like he was crying, but his eyes were dry and feverish with life and pain, and just…Sam.

 

It was Sam.

 

The real, fake, imaginary and proper man, in the flesh.

 

And you see people, sometimes, in an airport or a train station, who are just running at each other, just desperate to grab hold of someone and say ‘You’re back, you’re here, you’re real again’ with every sinew they have and every breath they draw in of that person’s scent, with every handful they can grasp and every piece of skin they can contact.

 

That’s a fucking dangerous feeling, Gene knew that well enough.

 

He sat back in his chair because if he was seated he couldn’t…

 

He sat back in his chair and folded his arms and just stared as Sam said “I’m so sorry, Gene” and moved Annie’s arms from round himself. “I’m so…Oh Gene.”

 

“What for, Sammy boy?” Gene replied, in a voice that aimed for light and sarcastic and fell short and broken well shy of that target.

 

“You don’t think I did it” Sam replied, wasting no time, some of the confidence, of the instinctual attitude that Gene had witnessed in the last few days creeping into his more familiar apologetic air. “If you thought I could do that, you’d be calling them right now; you’d be knocking me over. You wouldn’t…honour me.”

 

“Yes, well, you weren’t meant to hear that, were you?”

 

“I suppose not.” Sam looked round the mess of the floor. “They’re here then, I take it?”

 

“Round at yours, well, your old place, trying to rouse up evidence of what I was telling you about last night – the drugs and that. Bloody hell, Sam” he continued, taking a deep breath, “So you remember this now? And it’s you. I mean. It wasn’t you before.”

 

“It’s me” Sam confirmed, as if he actually had been able to understand what Gene had meant. His gaze flicked to Gene’s and then away again with a shiver Gene couldn’t comprehend.

 

Sam swallowed, throat moving, and then coughed. “If they’re not here” he said, purposefully, “Then I’ve got time to explain. I was afraid I wouldn’t.” Taking off his overcoat he threw it over the back of Ray’s chair, next to Gene’s. Then he looked at Gene again.

 

“Do you still trust me?” he asked.

 

Gene stood up abruptly, unsure what he meant to do.

 

“You said, remember?” Sam reiterated, with the kind of crazed assurance that was all too familiar in him. “When you were framed for murder? You said I had to trust you like you trusted me, and, well, do you still, Gene? I need to talk to you. We could use Lost and Found, like always, yes? Do you still trust me, Gene?”

 

Gene took Sam in, in that moment. From wind-blown hair to the shirt that only hours ago Gene had peeled off him, in the dark and hidden tangle of each other. The bare neck, glistening with the sweat of his run to the station and bereft of the St Christopher that Gene had managed to go a full year and resist asking about. The eyes, darting about, always seeming to see something he couldn’t.

 

Gene didn’t know why he felt Sam deserved the truth – maybe as payment for being all those things – but in any case Gene gave it:

 

“No. I don’t. I don’t trust you.”

 

Letting go of Sam’s hand, he got up by himself. “I don’t trust you any more, Sam. I don’t know you.” He spoke not loudly, but clear, staring Sam straight in the eye and watching the effect of his words. “I suppose never did.”

 

And then, because he was a self-confessed fool, he told the whole truth: “But I want to trust you. And I will.”

 

He looked away before he finished speaking, not wanting to know how Sam took it, not hearing if Sam said anything or if Annie called out after them as they strode from the room, because all could hear was the echo of himself a month and life ago, tempting fate.

 

(“Like you could hurt me.”)

 

- - -

 

Lost and Found was a misleading title. Things that resided there were never found, merely moved from place to place in their lost state. And so the room looked much as it always had, and that familiarity when everything else was in uproar grated enough to make Gene realise that no day in his life had ever been so tumultuous.

 

He got another packet of fags from his pocket and fumbled for a lighter.

 

Sam was standing amongst the lost things, the umbrellas, wallets, handbags, unpublished novels and false teeth, the unwanted, unused and unclaimed.

 

He could be dangerous, said Gene’s voice of reason. You have every reason to think he could kill you.

 

You don’t know anything about him. Other than what he did, what he was. Your gut instinct.

 

Your feelings.

 

Folding his arms across himself, Gene leant back on the shelves behind him. Lit the cigarette and waited.

 

“We could sit down.” Sam said, at length. He also seemed to feel the constraint of the room, the place of interrogation, where once boundaries between them and us, copper and not-copper, had been so fiercely delineated.

 

Gene didn’t move, only looked at him through narrowed eyes, and tapped off the end of his ash. “Just tell me, Sam. No bullshit.”

 

There was a rag-doll on the shelf by Sam’s head, and Sam reached it down before he spoke, seemingly to have something to twist about in his hands.

 

“’S’funny. After all this, I don’t know how to begin.”

 

The cigarette trembled so hard the ash spilt off, and Gene took a long angry drag at it before snapping out:

 

“Well, genius, what do you think is the most important?”

 

Sam looked at him then; a flash of pure, familiar, Sam, eyes raking at him like he wanted to see each thought in his mind. But his answer came quickly.

 

“I didn’t mean to leave you, after…in September. I just went out to buy us some breakfast. I meant it to be the best morning you’d ever had.”

 

In the silence that followed, Gene realised that he had started gripping the shelf behind, and so hard that it was hurting him, the sharp edge cutting into his fingers. He let go, taking great care over keeping his breathing steady.

 

He seemed to have dropped his cigarette, but he stamped on it, the slap of his sole on the floor echoing eerily, and brought out another, cupping his hand around it and over his eyes as he lit it, a moment of privacy before he could speak again.

 

His voice was almost toneless as he pushed on: “You still haven’t told me what happened.”

 

Sam’s mouth gaped at that, his fingers digging into the soft body of the doll, but when Gene raised his eyebrows in unspoken challenge, Sam only resumed speaking, staying over on the other side of the room.

 

“I wasn’t lying to you that day at the train shoot-out when I said I didn’t know why I came here. I didn’t have a clue. All I knew, from the moment I had that car crash and walked in the doors of this place, was what I found here.” Sam pointed at the ground in emphasis, his words clipped and precise in their sincerity. “I thought I knew who I was, but…what I thought, Oh god, Gene, what I thought…. Well, let’s just say it didn’t make any sense, so then I thought I was mad, and then Morgan - Victor, really, but I thought he was Morgan - convinced me I had amnesia. But, as you know, it wasn’t me at all, making me how I was.”

 

The doll was shaking in Sam’s hands, right to the ends of its trembling strands of hair.

 

Gene nodded, “You were being drugged.”

 

“More than drugged. Interrogated. Not by anyone I could see, but by my own mind, my own attempts to figure out what in the hell was going on.”

 

The hair was coming off the doll, as he fiddled with it. Ripping off and falling to the floor.

 

“The hilarious thing” Sam continued, a chuckle dry as dust under his voice, “Is that as it turns out, I did actually come from Hyde. Not originally – I’m from Bradford, actually, originally. But that’s not the point.” He sighed. “Point is, from December of 1972 I lived in Hyde. I had a job there.”

 

“So your friend tells me.”

 

Another strand of yarn hair fell, and Sam’s fingers moved, tugging at the doll’s unevenly stitched dress and button-eyed smile. “So you know I was spying on someone? DCI Morgan, in fact, the real one.” Sighing, Sam folded his arms around himself, the doll still clutched in one hand as if unnoticed as he continued.

 

“This man was – is - a traitor. He was selling police arms through a third party to terrorist groups, and creaming a good salary off the top. Of course, no one was questioning him because he was good old copper, an old boy, just like Harry Woolf.”

 

There – that smug rightness - that was Sam. “Leave Woolf out of this” Gene muttered, with quiet steel.

 

“Well, anyway by February we were really getting somewhere with the investigation. That was the problem.”

 

Gene cocked his head to one side as Sam looked up and continued.

 

“It turned out, you see, that this man wasn’t the only rotten apple in the barrel. Victor – my partner, for that job anyhow – he was actually Morgan’s handler. He’d been planning to fix the whole thing to get them both away scot-free, but when I showed up, it buggered the whole scheme. All the same, there was no evidence on Victor himself, he could have been fine and…and she could still be alive today.”

 

He paused, then spoke softly: “But she – Morgan’s daughter, this is, called Bethany - she went to say hello to Victor, recognised him from some cocktail party her parents had let her stay up for, years before, something she shouldn’t even have remembered.”

 

The doll was twisting over and over in his hand once more.

 

“I didn’t take in the significance. Not until we’d parted and he’d walked off in the same direction as her, and I’d sat in the surveillance booth a while with nothing but my thoughts and the bloody TV for company. And I reckon by the time I’d thought of it, even if I’d been able to bloody teleport like on Star Trek, even then it would’ve been too late. For her and for her mother.”

 

He was staring at a fixed point, just in front of his feet, seeing, as ever, something Gene could not.

 

“I arrived just as Victor was…finishing. Bethany had this long, long blond hair and they’d wear red, her and her Mum, and her Mum would dye her hair to match, and we thought it was so ridiculous, me and Vic, we’d sit taking those bloody surveillance photos and laugh about it. And there he was, my mate, and he’d…The things he’d… I gave her this nickname when we were doing the surveillance and we called her ‘Test Card Girl’ – you know? That kid on the BBC card? And there was Victor, standing over her, and he’s saying ‘where’s your fucking clown then?’”

 

The doll fell, limp, to the ground. “Every day, almost, I’ve seen her” Sam said softly and inexplicably. “I think she saved me. I know I had chemicals coming at me and all your bloody whiskey chasers on top of them, but I think when I saw her it was more than that, or I’d like to believe, or…” He raised a hand sharply to his eyes, “I’m sorry, I…this all came back to me so recently, with your TV, you know? And it’s hard to…”

 

Biting his lip, stiff with embarrassment, Gene waited for the next words.

 

Sam swallowed, gritted his teeth. “Victor had taken my gun to do it with. He’d said he’d clean it for me. It was my gun. And so I had nothing, I couldn’t do anything. Not that anything would have helped them then.”

 

That’s the second time you’ve said that, Gene thought – So you don’t believe it, or don’t want to.

 

He wanted to reach out. To say or do something not to comfort but to interrupt him and staunch the flow of recollection. Cease the intimacy of the moment before it became overwhelming. But he made himself grip the shelves again, made himself listen as Sam let it out.

 

“Victor didn’t see me. He’d taken them out of the back of Morgan’s house, you see, into this wilderness behind the gardens, and I was able to hide in the trees, out of sight. As soon as I was able to move, I ran back into the house. I was determined I’d find some evidence of what he’d been doing, something concrete that could make him rot in a cell until he died.” The vitriol in Sam’s voice burnt brighter than Gene had ever heard from him. “So I was in Morgan’s office, frantic, throwing paper about and that’s when I had a piece of luck, if you can call it that.

 

“See, Morgan showed up. It seemed that Victor had contacted him, told him they were going to meet face-to-face officially for the first time. I reckon Vic probably meant to kill him, part of covering his tracks. Anyhow, this guy had barely ever met Vic, and there I was, and I managed to answer his questions and before I knew it he was telling me all this stuff, these details and secrets and alluding to half a hundred others. And I wrote it down, all this stuff, incriminating as hell.”

 

Gene straightened up, brightening, the inner policeman gratified. “So where is it then? Because if we find that they’ll see you’re innocent at once.”

 

“Unfortunately, that’s when it all gets a little…fuzzy.” He looked apologetically at Gene. “I only remembered all this a couple of hours ago you know, watching your TV, seeing her…” He shook, suddenly, as if feeling a chill.

 

“Yes, you mentioned” Gene felt a twinge of worry. He’d heard of people who came off drugs with weird memory problems, personality changes.

 

Known a few and all.

 

“You see” Sam continued, rubbing his arms, “It was just then, just after I’d written it down, that Victor found us. He tried to beat up Morgan, I tried to stop him and in the end Morgan got away and I didn’t.” He pushed himself forward off the shelving, then, and stood a moment with a hand in his hair before shrugging and pulling a chair from under the interview table. He sat down, then looked to Gene, who found himself moving to sit next to him, if only because to sit opposite would seem like an interrogation.

 

They didn’t look at each other, or at least, Gene imagined that Sam was avoiding looking at him as well. He stared at the wall in front of them, imagining.

 

“He tortured you.” Gene said, not as a question.

 

“Of course.”

 

“And you didn’t tell him what he wanted to know.”

 

“I don’t remember any of the details. Lights. Noises. The feeling of… I don’t remember anything pertinent.” Sam ran a hand over his face, “But I hardly imagine he set me up with all his ex-KGB interrogating techniques and the expense and trouble of a false identity for the sheer fun of watching me freak out at that fucking cheap television.”

 

Gene wanted to place an arm round him, which was unthinkable, and so he pressed still deeper instead. “And the undercover job? The plot to bring down A-Division?”

 

“I don’t know. That may exist in someone’s approved projects somewhere, or that may just have been part of the lies to me. I ask you Gene, you weren’t exactly going to ring up Scotland Yard and say ‘Sorry, but are you actually trying to get evidence of my incompetence or is that just some mind-game a sadist’s playing with my DI’s mind?’ were you?”

 

Gene leant back on his back chair legs in precisely the way his school teacher had always told him not to. “So, this whole year gone, you’ve been… They had receivers in your flat, they were, what? Waiting for you to tell the monsters in the walls all the information you’d heard?”

 

“You’ve no idea how effective I’m afraid it may have been.” Sam said quietly.

 

“So why the hell did they move you? If they were onto a good thing? If you were… happy?”

 

Were you happy?

 

“I was coming to be” Sam murmured as if he heard Gene’s thoughts, looking at the table. “And I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out the whole way here. Do you have the files on Frank Hagwood’s case anywhere? That might trigger something.”

 

The warmth that had been building in Gene’s chest was doused with the immediacy of iced water.

 

He let the chair legs slam back down.

 

“Sam” he said, and breathed. “Sam. I haven’t told you about Frank Hagwood’s files. I haven’t told you that’s he’s connected to this at all.”

 

“Sam” he said again. It hurt.

 

Sam was looking blankly at him, as if he didn’t even realise his fatal mistake.

 

The door of Lost and Found swung open. Bodie was standing there, men in tow.

 

Gene didn’t even flinch. He was staring at Sam, thinking, trying, hoping…

 

“I thought that plan would work” Bodie said, dryly. “Leave you alone, let you make a mess of it, let him risk getting what he needed from you. And here he is, Hunt, leading you up the garden path again. Bloody prolific story-teller, aren’t you Sammy? And you, Hunt, no fool like an old fool I suppose.”

 

And that was when Sam launched out and attacked him.

Chapter Twelve

Gene had never seen Sam be so violent.

 

“You don’t!” Sam was yelling, scrabbling with the CI5 men, still kicking out though weighed down and threatened with more than one revolver. “You don’t come in here, talking like that to him! He saved my fucking life, Bodie! He saved my fucking everything!”

 

With a shouted curse, Bodie fought his way on top of him and finally, assisted by his henchmen, pinned Sam down.

 

“That doesn’t endear him to me much, you sick bastard” Bodie hissed. “If he’d been less busy bloody ‘saving you’ maybe he’d have noticed the mess you dragged behind you, but oh no, he had important meetings with Jack Daniels.”

 

With a roar, Sam tried to struggle up again, and received a stomach punch so vicious that Gene found himself wincing in sympathy, and this startled him from his reverie.

 

Crashing the chair back, Gene stood up.

 

And, whatever Bodie might have said earlier about washed-up, ineffectual fools, Gene had enough sheer presence then and there that all the scrambling men on the other side of the room turned and looked at him, all silenced for him to speak.

 

“Wait” Gene said, putting into his voice every glimmer of authority that had ever blagged his way in life. “Wait. Sam, where did you say that Victor killed the women and the kid?”

 

“In the Morgans’ garden.” Sam panted. “Gene, what?”

 

“And you went inside, you met Morgan, you talked to him, you took notes and then you did something to them, right?”

 

“That’s it.” Sam replied, still confused, even as Bodie snorted “Yeah, right!”

 

Gene strode out of the room to the corridor. “Annie!” He bellowed. “Annie! Go to the Ladies and bring me the sodding Frank Hagwood files!”

 

“Tampax packet” he explained, shrugging as he turned back to the room. He looked at Bodie – “You say Frank Hagwood called you using the number on Sam’s CI5 ID badge?”

 

Bodie nodded, twisting Sam’s arm further up behind his back.

 

Within minutes, Annie had arrived, rather bent slim manila folder in hand.

 

Thanking her, Gene leafed through the pages, heart in his mouth. He’d better have remembered this right or he was going to look bloody stupid…

 

And worse than that, he’d be wrong. Everything would be wrong.

 

Wait - there it was!

 

“Listen” he said, running his finger along under the typed text as he read, “This is from the statement from the lead worker at the community project where Frank went. ‘At weekends, Frank liked to help move the art materials around. He had a little bicycle cart and he’d take the stuff to and fro. He went to the houses, even, they didn’t mind. I mean the houses of the other volunteers – Mrs Frampton, Mrs Morgan and Mrs George.’” Gene looked up triumphantly. “Sam, you’re confused, not everything’s joining up properly yet, or at least you can’t see all the links, but maybe you’re actually thinking more clearly than you know.”

 

And Gene reached into his pocket, to produce the small model cat they’d earlier retrieved from Sam’s coat.

 

“Really, Hunt,” Bodie sighed, “This is no time for jokes.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Gene moved to his other pocket, located a hip flask, brought it out and with an almighty crash brought it directly down onto the cat.

 

The clay split into a million pieces, revealing – falling from the hollow centre like a treat from a Kinder Surprise – a small black roll of microfilm.

 

“I’d be careful” Gene laughed joy sneaking in under nonchalance, “From what I understand there’s half the secrets of state in there.” And he raised his loyal flask to his lips with a sublime smile.

 

- - -

 

“I wrote it out there in the house” Sam was saying later, much later, “which Morgan thought was odd, and then I photographed it on my Minox – my subminature camera – which he thought was frankly bizarre, but I just told him to complain to the PM if he didn’t like it. I was going to post it to CI5 HQ via the usual channels, rolled up in an empty ball-point pen.”

 

As he spoke, a police secretary was scribbling shorthand, and an important man in London listened through a two-way radio. Sam was in fact entirely surrounded with a wall of attentive people, as he sat at Gene’s desk - like that painting of the last supper, Gene thought.

 

And before Sam Tyler departed from this station he spake unto us, revealing the truth, for he knew it was his time to leave…

 

Sod it, he was getting all nancily poetical - it had been far too long a day.

 

Sam took a deep breath, rearranging some paperclips on Gene’s desk as if to better order his thoughts, “I was just finishing up when I heard Victor coming, and I…panicked, I suppose. I tried to get through the house, got to the hallway and there were these trays of clay things, I barely looked at them, just shoved the film into the nearest one, the first that was the right size. There were all on these rectangles of cardboard with the name of the person who’d made them – that one said Frank Hagwood, I’m almost sure. I suppose Frank was also delivering them. I suppose he saw me, fighting Victor and got the wrong end of the stick…I must have dropped my ID badge…” His voice seemed to run out and his head slumped down. “And then they killed him, just for seeing that, for seeing me and remembering it. Him and Mrs Morgan and Bethany, poor Bethany…”

 

“The facts please, Agent Tyler” came the stern voice from the radio.

 

“Facts!” Sam exclaimed, fiddling his fingers together and giving a short laugh. “I don’t have facts any more. Not many, any how.”

 

And he looked across the desk, directly at Gene.

 

Sitting in a chair, near the wall and out of the way, Gene bit his thumb and succeeded in not getting up and sweeping Sam away, in not trying to take him somewhere safe and quiet where it could be just the two of them.

 

People milled around the room, form after form came along, calls were made, watches put on airports and stations, officers sent to arrest Morgan in Bognor. News came in of arrests made in Hyde, of the discovery of the corrupt CI5 men Victor had used to raid Sam’s flat and the A-Division station. Later in the evening Sam’s so-called wife came on record confessing to her part in creating another false life for Sam after the tip-off that Frank Hagwood had contacted CI5 had made his current position too risky for his interrogators.

 

“Bitch” Bodie had murmured, putting down the phone. “You had a girlfriend like her once, called Sita, a coloured” he said to Sam, pointing at the identikit photo, “I have to say they did a bloody good job of convincing you, mate.”

 

“It didn’t feel right” Gene heard Sam reply. “But, I do remember Sita…god, I do remember her now.”

 

“She’d not be one to forget” Bodie concurred, with a leer. “When we’ve got you back south to civilisation, we should look her up.”

 

Gene got up and left his office. He didn’t have to listen to this.

 

- - -

 

It was one o’clock in the morning.

 

The station was littered with sandwich papers and dirty coffee cups, with finished cross-words, used up typewriter ribbon and a thousand cigarette butts.

 

Gene was sitting once more at one of his inferior’s desks, twisting a pencil idly in his fingers.

 

There was a chinking noise near his elbow. A cup of tea had appeared, and with it Annie, who looked almost as bad as he felt.

 

“Thought you could use some, Guv” she said, softly.

 

An amazing breadth and range of retorts ran through his mind, plays on what she’d said, comments on her use as a female officer and her tea-making skills.

 

“Thanks” he replied, taking a gulp. It was good, honest, canteen tea, tasting predominantly of brown and leaving a bitter coating in the mouth.

 

“Ahh, that does hit a certain spot.” He set the cup back on the saucer and pretending not to notice her picking up the brimming ashtray and moving it away.

 

“You’re not going home yet?” he asked, by way of conversation, “Won’t your Mam be worried?”

 

“I phoned her” Annie looked tired, pulling her cardigan around herself protectively, and Gene began to recall that she’d been facing this mess in the office rather longer than he had. “And you haven’t gone home either, sir.”

 

Gene looked rather hard at the tea.

 

“I don’t recall ever telling you to be nice to me” he said, rather flatly.

 

“Maybe that’s why I am.” She pulled up the nearest chair from the general mess, leaning back in it and toying with the woollen cardigan’s belt.

 

“I feel like he should be out here, you know Sir? Here with us.”

 

Gene followed her gaze through the office windows to where Sam stood, leaning with Bodie over some papers his associates had lain out on Gene’s desk, pointing and scribbling notes on them with a pencil. He looked efficient, they all did. Well-oiled, team-like, presentable.

 

“Keep your girly thoughts to yourself, Cartwright.” Gene retorted smartly. “Can’t you see that that’s what he’s been pining for this whole bloody time?”

 

“Sir, if what you say’s true, then I know he wasn’t himself when he was with us. I always knew that he was confused, that sometimes he didn’t know what was going on. But he wanted to be with us, at the end. He was happy, Sir. I said it to you a month ago and I’ll say it again now, he wouldn’t have wanted to leave.”

 

“Maybe not a month ago” Gene concurred, “But I can guarantee you that his life has got a lot more complicated since then.” Memories sparked and spangled in his mind and he gave himself a shake. “And he doesn’t belong here. He never bloody did. He wasn’t himself, not then, not since I found him in Hyde. And he may not want the same things. In fact....”

 

Suddenly the foolishness of it all struck him - him sitting out here like some bleeding Romeo waiting patiently under a balcony. He stood up.

 

“I am going home” he said, trying to sound casual, “I need some decent sleep. And a drink. And you should go home too.”

 

“What about Sam sir?”

 

“Whether we stay or not, Sam won’t.” Gene shrugged on his coat like armour. “We set out to find Sam” he said slowly, “And we can’t. That Sam just isn’t a real person. And him,” he gestured at the figure in the office, “He’s like Sam, but with a key difference – he doesn’t belong here. He has a whole life somewhere to sort out and get back into. This wasn’t our story, our mystery, just…someone else’s game we wandered into.”

 

Ignoring her look of surprise at the length of his outburst, Gene pushed violently through the swing doors.

 

‘No fool like an old fool’, indeed, he thought. Sam had taken what was available to him and Gene had maybe been the best on offer in his previous circumstances. But now, with his dynamic job back and his young, dashing co-workers, well…

 

Well, put it this way: Sam had lived contentedly enough before now in that fucking creepy flat because it was all he had. Didn’t mean he’d ever go back there.

 

Turning up his collar, Gene strode off towards his empty house, which he already knew was going to smell like chip-lard and vinegar for the rest of his life.

 

Chapter Thirteen

Rubbing his fingers at the ragged edges of the Formica, Gene sat in the darkness at his kitchen table.

 

Lined up in front of him were three bottles; two whiskeys and one vodka. He’d bought them what now seemed like months ago - though it was barely 72 hours - the day before Annie had found that newspaper clipping, the day before Frank Hagwood’s death had alerted CI5 to where Sam was. A day in another life, when he still hadn’t known why Sam had left, or where or who he really was.

 

Was it better now?

 

He closed his eyes, memories of the last few days crawling over him, gunpowder-bright and violent flashes of recalled emotions.

 

He felt too dizzy, too sick, even to drink.

 

When so much had happened, surely, it couldn’t hurt any more to let himself remember it? To rip the final, cautious barriers in his mind and recall what had happened that night a month ago when the best and worst of his whole life so far had come together and called itself Sam.

 

- - -

 

Sam, lips vinegar-slick and sore, leaning forward and bringing their faces closer, whispering delicious words between light kisses, gasping “Gene…” with wonder and amazement, wet and waiting mouth opening to say tumbling truths like bullets.

 

Sam slurring his words, with more to say than he could manage in each breath: “You make me feel drunk, Gene. Sometimes, sometimes I want to hit you, just to be able to touch you.” Sam had run his hands up the sides of Gene’s face with aching slowness, until they cupped him gently, his thumbs stroking stubble and pockmarks as if he enjoyed to. There’d been a look of wonder and confusion on his face, - which Gene now felt he could understand – but that then he’d worried over and had mumbled something about whether or not Sam was sure about this.

 

“Gene, I swear, I’ve never been so sure of anything.”

 

Sam had gazed deep into his eyes, and Gene had seen, looking back, the pain and uncertainty in Sam. Had seen the signs of what Sam was going through, signs that now surprised him only in the fact that they’d been subtle at all.

 

Sam had kissed him – Gene now knew – almost believing that he wasn’t real. Where did you even start with that?

 

But at the time, Gene had assumed that Sam’s confusion, his fear, must stem from a place akin to Gene’s own, and hadn’t asked questions, only reached out to pull him closer, to kiss him deep and long, fast and slow, until it felt natural as breathing.

 

Gene had thought he’d locked away that part of himself long ago.

 

It had returned with the relief and incidental pain of blood flowing warm to a limb you’d sat on till it was numb and no longer felt like your own.

Sam had changed him, or perhaps renewed him. There was no way to go back now – the thoughts, words and feelings Gene had once dammed up were now stronger than he was, swelling up inside him until he felt sure the shell of DCI Gene Hunt would crack under the outwards pressure.

 

And they hadn’t even done anything more than kiss. That was the stupid thing. They’d been tired and drunk and they were neither of them teenagers.

 

They’d assumed they would have time.

 

With a tentativeness so endearing that Gene had kissed him again for it, Sam had followed Gene to the master bedroom, saying lightly “You nicked my bed last night; I think I deserve a kip on yours”.

 

It is possible, very possible, not to have to sex with someone.

 

It is difficult to tell someone to stop looking at you like making you feel safe and happy is all that is ever going to matter to them.

 

They’d slept together, not touching but comfortable.

 

In the morning the edges of Gene’s dream had actually been memories, but all the same he’d woken up alone.

 

- - -

 

Gene sighed, leaning his head on his hand.

 

This was it, then. The rest of his life. The brief interlude, the brief mess, that had been Sam Tyler had come and gone. He had wanted so much to forget it all, and now he had his chance. No one would know, no one would remind him. There were no more questions or possibilities.

 

It was done.

 

- - -

 

At 3am he still hadn’t had a drink, but he was stupid with tiredness and brooding, so when the doorbell rang he stumbled for the door with a vague anger against what he assumed must be a door-to-door salesman or religious nut.

 

“Yes?” he growled, pulling the door open.

 

And there was Sam.

 

Bedraggled from rain, still in the same clothes he’d been in when Gene had first seen him in Hyde, eyes squinting in the street light.

 

For a moment they stared at each other, Gene standing in the half-open door.

 

“You still remember the number then?” Gene said at last, gruffly. He looked over Sam’s shoulder to where a brand new Mark II Ford Capri was hideously parked half-on, half-off the curb.

 

“See the company car comes quickly” he added, “those aren’t supposed to be released in this country till January.”

 

Sam blinked at him. “You know, you’re right” he said slowly, water dripping from his eyelashes; “I lied to my associates, stole Bodie’s car and drove here at this ungodly hour because I really want to talk about transatlantic import law.”

 

“Isn’t it pretty much illegal for you to talk to me about anything right now, Mr State Information?”

 

“Yes. Are you going to invite me in or shall I take a gentle hint and leave?”

 

Gene gripped the door more firmly, wanting to say everything, words escaping him. Wariness too instinctual to ignore.

 

“Gene” Sam said, softer now, “Gene, it’s me. It’s me. It really is me and I still want to hit you just to fucking touch you, and of course because you’re an idiot bastard to leave that station like I wouldn’t want to follow…oh god, Gene, it’s you and you’re real, you’re actually bloody real and I can’t get over that, because it’s me.”

 

There was just enough uncertainty - just enough of a crack - in his voice to make Gene reach out, grab him and pull him in, pull him close, wetness soaking through his shirt, cold and real. Rainwater was trickling down both their hands as they found each other, Gene sending off a spray when he got his hand into Sam’s hair, moving to kiss him even as he pushed the door closed behind them.

 

There was cold water in the kiss, falling into Gene’s mouth as he opened it against Sam’s, and felt the cleaving, sudden, hollow heat of him contrasting, taking the chill away.

 

Sam was shaking.

 

“Sorry, ‘m freezing” he murmured moving to kiss along Gene’s jaw, sucking and nibbling like he was starving for it, like they hadn’t had each other only the night before.

 

Except, of course, they hadn’t, not really.

 

“Sam” Gene said, and again and again, “Sam”, wanting to be certain, unable to be silent with that mouth trailing fire across him.

 

“Should have done this then” Sam said, between kisses, “Shouldn’t have gone for fucking breakfast bacon, fucking idiot, lost myself, lost you, fuck, Gene” he was cut off by his own sudden moan.

 

Gene palmed him through his trousers again, firm and slow. “Shut up, Sam. I mean it. We’ve hashed this over about enough. You’re here now; let’s make the most of it.”

 

While we can, hung in the air after his words, but he didn’t say it, because that was one of the things this was really not the time to go into.

 

Sam nodded, once, eyes wide and still rain-damp. Glistening, dark and agonised, and shining out Sam, the real Sam, the one who over-thought and knew too much.

 

It was infuriating, Gene thought, to have reached the point when even if he could get Sam to shut up, he could still hear him.

 

Moving slowly, carefully, they undressed each other, taking time like they had an unlimited supply of it. Gene briskly rubbed Sam’s arms as he helped him out of the soaking shirt and jacket, and Sam chuckled softly before unbuttoning him in his turn. They left Gene’s trousers over the banister, and Sam’s belt half way up the stairs.

 

Gene turned the light on in the bedroom. If this was it, if this was the memory, the thing he’d be playing for the rest of his life, all he’d have, he wanted it at least in bloody Technicolor.

 

Turning, he saw Sam sprawled on the bed before him, shifting himself, lying back against the piled pillows like an obscene pin-up picture, erection dusky and proud, bobbing at half-mast between his legs.

 

Gene wanted to touch it so badly he clenched his hands.

 

“How are we doing this then?” he said instead, shortly.

 

“I don’t know” Sam ran his hand nervously down his own chest in a gesture was almost obscene more because than in spite of its innocence.

 

Then, still fixing his eyes directly on Gene, he took his own cock in hand.

 

Gene licked his lips swiftly, tried to breathe.

 

“It’s so confusing” Sam murmured, moving his hand now, flickering his eyes closed every now and again with pleasure, “it’s like there’s three people in my head, all wanting different things. All afraid of different things. The only constant in there is that I want you.”

 

There was wetness on Sam’s cock now, Gene noticed, shining under the strokes of his own hand.

 

“Sam Tyler, when I was that Sam Tyler…When I was without my memory, or most of it” Sam was saying, “I thought I’d never had sex with a man, I couldn’t understand why I fancied you so fucking much. I thought I hated you. I thought I liked you. I just…I couldn’t believe it, the number of times you had me hard.”

 

“Stop touching yourself” Gene said, not loudly but with definite command.

 

With a tiny whimper, Sam dragged his hand away and obeyed.

 

“Now, tell me. Tell me everything you remember.” Gene ordered, resisting with iron will the impulse to jack himself off, right then, would only take seconds.

 

“When you talked in my ear, that first day” Sam said at once, hands clenching and unclenching at the sheet under him. “When we were dancing in Warren’s club and your arse kept brushing mine, not because you meant to but because that girl was pushing you, working you up. When, oh god…”

 

Gene lifted his hand momentarily from where he’d started rubbing at Sam’s nipple. “You just carry on; did I tell you to stop?”

 

“No, Guv.”

 

It had come out accidentally, of that Gene was sure, but it made them both twitch – from familiarity alone? – And Gene returned his hand to Sam, rolling the nipple tight between his fingers.

 

Sam swallowed dryly, “When you shave in your office and make that little scraping sound with the razor, when you spill sherbet on yourself, when you forget to drink because we’re talking, whenever you’ve got a baseball bat over your shoulder like you own the world and it had better look out…Gene, please…”

 

Gene stopped breathing over the nipple and allowed Sam a lick, two, before sucking it into his mouth and nibbling, reaching across to tweak at the other with his hand. Sam’s hands went into his hair; he felt them carding through it distractedly.

 

Then there was pain, a little, as Sam firmly pushed his head away and up, and Gene was reminded once again that this was a relationship where the bite went both ways. They were two blokes, two fighty blokes with chips on their shoulder and grazes on their fists.

 

That aroused the hell out of him, to be honest, almost as much as the sight of Sam’s face - flushed with pupils blown, trying to focus on him.

 

“Tell me, Gene. Tell me a time when I’ve got you hard.”

 

Gene looked back at him, trying to judge, trying to know in advance what was safe.

 

In the end, knowing he had his heart in his mouth and probably all his sense in his cock, he leant forward, licked once round Sam’s ear and whispered it into the sensitive hollows:

 

“When you had your tongue in me.”

 

Sam bucked under him, then, moaned his name and scrabbled to kiss him again, tongue moving into his mouth fast and full of promise.

 

Then Sam was turning them, flipping their positions so Gene lay below, leaving one last peck on his lips and travelling downwards, licking a trail down Gene’s chest, past his stomach, and down to between his legs.

 

Gene made himself lay his head back and wait, but the sensation he was expecting didn’t come. Instead, he felt a jolt like lightning as Sam kissed his inner thigh, near his right knee. Then down, further down his leg, kisses and small touches, Sam never stopping his attentions until he’d dropped final kiss over the soft skin taut across the delicate bones of Gene’s foot.

 

“Sam…”

 

Those deep, dark eyes rolled up to look at him, and Gene saw the other man was smiling, grinning with a joy that had always come so rarely that he’d forgotten to miss seeing it.

 

“You saved me, Gene” Sam murmured, moving forwards again and letting his head drop as if looking into Gene’s eyes was too much. “I lost track of everything, I lost reality – lost it twice, actually – and the whole time you were there. All that mess lead me to you.” He kissed the skin under Gene’s navel.

 

Gene rode the sensation for a moment before he could speak. “You are back and all, you mouthy bloody Shakespeare” he said breathlessly.

 

“And last night” Sam moved as he spoke, arranging Gene again, spreading his legs at the knees in a practiced way that made Gene shiver, “I won’t say I’m sorry for it, because I don’t think I’d’ve ever dared suggest this to you if I’d remembered all about you, but I’m sorry I pushed you.”

 

“Sam, for god’s sake, I’m not a bleeding bird. You couldn’t push me into anything whilst I still had a limb and teeth to my name. Now, stop talking.”

 

Sam chuckled, but Gene didn’t hear it, only felt it, the vibrations stimulating his entrance as Sam moved to kiss it at last.

 

And it felt….how did you…there wasn’t even a word for how that felt, for the heat and wet and gentle fire of it, the way it felt like being unwrapped and filled all together. Darts of pleasure from Sam’s lithe, twisting tongue hit him and Gene found his limbs were limp, found his breathing had gone husky, felt the throbbing surges of pre-come dribbling hotly down his cock almost as a background to that bloody amazing feeling.

 

He could have had that forever, for sure. But this was the first time, the last time. This was the memory. And for once in his life he meant to have no regrets about it.

 

“Sam…” he choked out, with the same thrill of pleasure at saying the name that he’d had the moment the real (his) Sam had stumbled through the station door that afternoon. “Sam, would you know how to fuck me?”

 

And at that, screaming a cry of surprised pleasure into every singing muscle under his mouth, Sam came.

 

There was a moment of nothing but Sam’s ragged breathing and finally his muttered curse.

 

Then he was moving, coming up to kiss Gene but with a hesitancy that made Gene laugh as he grabbed the man by the hair and pulled him down – “Am I going to be fucking precious about that sort of thing?” he asked, “Really?”

 

“I’m sorry about this, Gene,” Sam said, gesturing at himself, “Because that’s a…a very good idea. You do always choose your moments, don’t you?”

 

Gene kissed him again, revelling in the obscenity of it, being able to kiss this often, to gorge upon it, the taste never vanishing without he demanded it again.

 

“Mmm…but…” Sam pulled away without much conviction, “But, would you like to fuck me?”

 

Gene stared at him, frozen. “…Okay” he said at last.

 

“Do you have any oil or Vaseline or anything?”

 

“Um…I…no.” Gene was finding it hard to put sentences together.

 

Sam frowned. “We’re going to need something.”

 

“There’s some ancient Brylcreem in that drawer” Gene flung out his hand to point.

 

“Good enough.” Sam climbed off the bed and went to get it, Gene feeling a momentary flash of cold air as he moved and realising that outside their little cocoon of each other the house was still cold and dark.

 

Sam moved back into his view, beaming. “I’ve put it in me rather than try and put it on you; I want us to get to do this!”

 

Because that image wasn’t enough to make Gene want to come then and there, oh no.

 

Sam moved closer to him, straddling over him on the bed again. “Have you done this before?”

 

“Yes. Not the other way round but…I have done this before.”

 

“How do you want me, then?” There was an easy acceptance of the information in Sam’s voice that Gene had never imagined he would hear from anybody when – if - he admitted that particular truth.

 

“I want to see your face.”

 

“Easily done.” Sam leant over him, angled himself and reached backwards, and with tiny movements that made Gene hiss and clench his teeth, eventually slid down onto Gene’s cock.

 

“Fuck” Sam whined, throwing back his head as he let himself sink lower and lower, Gene’s cock disappearing into him inch by slow inch.

 

Finally, beautifully, he was flush to Gene’s body, his weight mostly on his trembling, bent legs. He was moving sporadically, erratically and Gene caught up his hands to anchor him down.

 

Sam tried one move, one thrust up and down to re-impale himself and then gave a low moan, falling forwards onto Gene’s stomach and chest until they were skin to skin all the way down their bodies and then some, connected and inseparable.

 

His eyes were glazed, Gene saw through the blur of his own pleasure, his head resting on Gene’s sternum, tiny whimpers falling into the skin.

 

Gene got his arms around him, held him as tight as Sam’s arse was holding Gene’s aching, blissed-out cock and then Sam started moving, rough, ragged and slow, slight thrusts that were as unhurried as they were delicious. They hugged close, looking at each other, memorising each detail by sight and taste and touch.

 

Finally, almost incidentally, Sam gave a little moan and spasmed somewhere inside himself, eyes rolling back in his head. The increased pressure pulled together every last thread of Gene’s arousal until he felt himself orgasming into Sam’s body.

 

Sam moved carefully off Gene’s softening cock and dropped a final, sleepy kiss to his lips. “The number of soppy things I could say right now” he murmured.

 

“You probably could and all, you jessie” Gene kissed him back.

 

Then, for a little while they slept, together.

 

- - -

 

Gene woke up still hugged tightly to Sam.

 

Outside in the street the milkman’s van was purring, the gentle clink of bottles the same as on the day before and the month and year before that. They’d left the bedroom light on, Gene realised, and wondered if the milkman had seen that that was unusual and was wondering in his own turn what was happening.

 

Sam stirred, opening and closing his mouth, smacking his lips and then smiling sadly.

 

“I have to go. They’ve probably already missed me.”

 

“Probably” Gene replied.

 

They didn’t move.

 

“Thank you, Gene. For everything.”

 

“It was only your fascist paperwork habits that meant I thought to read those bloody files in the first place.”

 

“I didn’t mean that.”

 

“I know you didn’t, that’s why I changed the bleeding subject.”

 

“Gene…”

 

“You have to go, Sam. You always had to go.” Gene said the words with calm acceptance.

Frowning, Sam rose from the bed and began dressing himself. Once he’d run out of clothes in the bedroom he moved to pick up the things from the trail they’d left and Gene followed slow and weary, groggy from the scant hours of sleep.

 

As Sam reached the door, Gene caught up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder to make him pause.

 

“Sam” he said, slowly, not wanting to speak what he felt aloud but sure that he’d never forgive himself if he didn’t. “You’re not the only one who’s discovered you weren’t who thought you were. There was a part of me that I’d lost – you told me that once, you know, that the drinking was because I had something missing. I thought you were being a bloody pillock ponce,” he laughed nervously, “But I had lost something. You gave it back to me. So you don’t owe me anything, really.”

 

“You say I always have to go” Sam replied, with an expression that Gene could barely stand to look at. “But I never want to. I don’t know who owes who over that, but…”

 

“Go” Gene turned away, “If you need me to say it, then there you are. Go, you have to. There’s going to be an investigation bigger than bloody Profumo into you. And then you have to work out who you are, who you were – you may not still want the same things in a month’s time and I would expect it.”

 

It was only after Sam had sighed and bitten his lip, had opened and then closed the door behind him, had driven away, that Gene turned back to the hall and saw the Sam’s leather jacket had been once more been left behind.

 

He picked it up and folded it carefully, then threw it down again and went determinedly to the kitchen, now palely lit with a tentative winter dawn.

 

He drank tea.

 

- - -

 

Epilogue

 

It was the middle of January, the time when the first snowdrops somehow found their way through rubbish tips and littered parks to bloom. Once again Gene had nursed his city through the birthing pains of a new year – banging up drunk and disorderlies, sorting out domestics and keeping everything crumpets and jam for everyone else.

 

Now, in the quieter days, there was time for a party.

 

Gene was helping himself to another round of crisps and sausage rolls when he saw Sam coming in, but he’d gone back for party rings and then for a piece of cake before they spoke to each other.

 

Annie had said Sam was coming, at her invitation. Gene was nervous – had been nervous, excited or dreading all week – but he didn’t feel like he was going to break any more. Recently, he never had. Ghosts of things wanted or regretted never exactly left, but something strong and clean inside him, something finally allowed, made him feel like he could handle them. He no longer sought drunkenness to hide from his own mind.

 

And his mind, when given a little more rein, was sharper than ever. He’d had a record number of successful prosecutions from arrests over the past two months and A-Division had received a commendation after he’d let Chris run a scene-of-the-crime management seminar that was nationally attended.

 

It was still a filthy job in a filthy city, but it was his, more now than ever before.

 

He’d read in the papers in late December of the trial of traitor Victor Crane – the details had been sketchy and non-specific, but the fact that he’d systematically physically and psychologically tortured a fellow agent was always placed first, probably for the personal angle.

 

Sam had remained anonymous, but sometimes Gene had seen him at the edges of photos, unmentioned in the captions.

 

Seeing him in the flesh, however, was something different, something more wonderfully unsettling.

 

“Annie seems happy” Sam said after a silent moment, when he’d cautiously approached, gesturing at where she stood laughing with Chris.

 

“First female Detective Sergeant the division’s ever had” Gene commented, “Enough to be happy about.”

 

Sam took a bite from a scotch egg, chewed manfully and took a long gulp of his drink. He was in a rather expensive shirt and those ruddy flared slacks Gene knew he liked so well, and he looked….healthy, somehow, in a way Gene now realised he hadn’t before. “How was your Christmas?”

 

“Not so bad” Gene smiled a little, “Annie more or less steamrolled me into going round to hers for it, and once we’d convinced her Mam I wasn’t trying to put it to her, we had a good day of it.”

 

“And you’re not? Trying to…” Sam coughed, “You weren’t lying to Annie’s Mam?”

 

“No” Gene said, simply, holding Sam’s gaze. “Not even slightly.”

 

Sam again sipped of his drink.

 

Gene took a breath, “And how are you? Can’t be easy being here. Place must have bad memories.”

 

“Some” Sam agreed, looking around him at the gaily decorated station. “Some extremely bad. But, uh, I’m coming back round here, actually. Chucked it in with CI5, they gave me one hell of a severance pay to keep schtum about the whole thing and I, um, thought I might rejoin the police. I was a copper initially, you know, when I was younger. I’d be in Liverpool, at first, I mean…” He crumpled the paper plate in his hands and blushed. “I didn’t want to tread on any toes” he finished, almost whispering.

 

Ray wandered up, then, merry and inclined to be friendly, even to Sam. His DS post might have gone to a woman, but only because he was now DI Carling, and he was overflowing with affection for everyone involved.

 

Gene berated him, laughed and relaxed a little – Ray was a good copper, and getting better. He knew that he could rely on him in a crisis. And he was – always had been – an easier mate to have than Sam.

 

When Gene turned round, Sam was gone.

 

Gene pursued his shadow to the corridor. Sam was standing leaning against the wall, looking at his feet. As he heard Gene approach he lifted his head and gave him that sad smile that Gene always thought of first, whenever he let himself think of Sam.

 

Which was often.

 

“I don’t…I don’t even know you” Sam was saying, “There are a million questions I have about you, you must have ten times that about me, and yet when I see you, when I speak to you…” He shrugged and gestured round at the corridor. “From the moment I stepped in here and you grabbed me that was it, I knew where I was. Nothing’s made sense these past months without you around to explain it in bloody poor metaphors. But look, here we are, back where we were, practically having to reintroduce ourselves.”

 

“Except we’re not where we were” Gene replied softly. “Because if, today, a bright policeman came through the door, irritating and clever as hell with stupid hair and stupid trousers and not knowing how to use a phone properly,” he stepped closer to Sam, “I’d just say exactly what I thought about him.”

 

Sam grinned with self-deprecating amusement and spoke lightly: “How do you feel about me then?” He seemed to then realise what he’d said and blushed, but ignoring that, Gene moved closer.

 

He whispered the words in Sam’s ear, surprising even himself with how easy it was.

 

When he drew back, Sam took a sudden deep breath, wide-eyed, gazing at him with such penetration, such knowledge, such curiosity that Gene would have kissed him then and there if it had been anything other than suicidal to do so.

 

“So.” Gene found as he spoke that his own breathing was none too steady. “Hello Sam. I’m Gene Hunt. It’s 1974 (at fucking last) nearly dinner time but I’m full of party rings. Want to be introduced?”

 

He held out his hand.

 

Sam took it. Their palms met and the heat and hollowness together turned electric, enough to light the whole bloody national grid through the next strike.

 

“My name is Sam Tyler” he replied, very low.

 

There were still sounds of raucous laughter from Annie’s party, sounds of inmates grumbling in the cells, of cleaners waxing Lost and Found.

 

Gene and Sam didn’t say anything else, not then. Just looked at where their hands were joined together.

 

Neither of them let go.

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