Sam was getting restless again. Gene sighed; ever since the nurses had “thought it might be nice” to shift him out of his private room – “bit of company, like, help him wake up” – the skinny git had been as twitchy as a nun in a bloody nightclub. The nurses were forever re-arranging his pillows and smoothing down his sheets. “Got to keep the place looking tidy for Matron,” they would explain defensively.
It might be the fact that Gene didn’t dare touch him any more. Even when he drew the curtains, no-one asked permission before sweeping aside Sam’s illusory privacy and Gene had already been caught out once.
The first day out here on the main ward, he had been talking quietly into Sam’s ear and running his fingers through the short hair just the way Sam liked best. He had entwined the fingers of his right hand gently with Sam’s and was stroking the back of Sam’s hand with his thumb when the booming voice of Mister Bloomfield – bloody consultants, Gene would rip the bollocks off anyone who called him Mister at work – took him completely by surprise and he froze, staring up in shock as he held hands with his DI in full view of Bloomfield, Sister and three awestruck students.
He had muttered something lame about trying to hear what the daft sod was saying, but the explanation didn’t hold much water since the entire ward could hear Sam groaning Gene’s name. He wouldn’t forget in a hurry the way they’d looked at him, like he was a piece of dirt on their nice clean floor.
For safety’s sake he had kept his distance ever since, but it hurt, a lot, to sit by and ignore Sam’s endless anguished pleading.
On the good side at least he knew that, caged though it might be, the essence of Sam was still in there.
Some days that knowledge was all that kept him going: the days when they had to increase the sedation while they performed their endless tests and procedures, and the days when they tried to reduce the drugs and Sam sobbed and moaned in his fevered dreams. The sounds of Sam’s terror defined Gene’s days and shattered his nights, and Gene was exhausted, drawn tight with fear and frustrated hopes.
Gene sometimes thought that if there was any downside to life with Sam it was just this - learning to feel again. He’d done well enough for years, closed to everything except doing his job and doing it well, and he knew he wouldn’t be having such a hard time now if he’d stuck with that, but it was too late. Sam had taken over his life and opened up his heart, and so he would wait for Sam as long as it took.
But every day he passed quietly waiting for Sam to wake up was another day spent policing his city by remote control, shouting down the phone at Cartwright and Carling. It was an unnatural coupling of soft talk and blunt instrument, and Gene felt wrung out with it.
Usually he gave his orders then crossed his fingers and hoped for the best because the alternative was to leave Sam to the brisk and silent efficiency of the nurses. But sometimes there was no choice, it had to be the Genie in person, and then not even for Sam would Gene sidestep his responsibilities. But, God knows how, Sam could sense when Gene was gone and would cry for him, and the nurses whispered amongst themselves with smirks and sidelong glances.
Gene wondered if Sam sometimes thought he was there, in whatever place they’d kept him during the worst eighteen days of Gene’s life.
Sometimes the screaming suggested that deep in Sam’s mind he was still bound in endless torture, and at those times Gene wished he could take them both away and hold Sam like he used to, so the silly sod would know he was safe and relax enough to start healing.
And other times Gene didn’t know where to look, when Sam moaned his name, low and needy, so hauntingly like the last time they’d been together. The memory was so close, so real, that it made Gene stiffen even now. He shifted in his seat and covered his face as Sam started up again.
Enough. No more. Gene got to his feet and swept out of the ward, fetching up outside Matron’s office in the time it took to glare a gaggle of pink-dressed probationers out of his way. The occupants looked round in surprise as he flung back the door.
“Well, well, well. Pity I don’t have a stone about me person, seeing as I’ve just found meself the two birds I’m looking for. Right then, as you’re both here: Tyler, my DI. Keeps making all this bloody racket. Now, he didn’t do it in the private room, only out there with all the nutters, so I want him moved back, pronto. Dare say the old bugger next to him won’t complain either, miserable bastard.” Matron and Mister Bloomfield looked at him blankly. “There’s no hurry, any time in the next ten minutes will be just dandy. So, shall I move him myself, or can I leave you to make the arrangements?”
The two of them looked from Gene to each other and back again. They were clearly the master and mistress of unspoken communication because any message passing between them was invisible to Gene’s impatient stare, but after the briefest pause Matron spoke decisively. “I will make the necessary arrangements immediately, Mr Hunt. If you’ll excuse me, Mr Bloomfield?”
When Gene returned an hour later from his evening visit to the station, he found Sam alone in a tiny room round the corner from the main ward. Gene went in and shut the door; Sam was crying again, gasping and moving his head from side to side agitatedly. Gene leaned over and placed his hands carefully on either side of Sam’s face before gliding them softly down his body, re-stating his presence and his claim.
“Sshh, sshh, ’s all right now, Sammy, got it sorted. Can look after you now.” Glancing quickly at the door he leaned over to kiss Sam gently on the mouth. Sam’s breathing slowed as, indefinably, he relaxed and settled.
Gene looked around the room. It didn’t appear to offer much in the way of facilities, but at least it had a door. No lock, but Gene had expected that. He took the wooden wedge he’d abstracted from its niche in Lost & Found, and shoved it under the door.
“Now then, Sammy,” he murmured as he positioned himself cautiously on the bed. “Budge up.”
Taking care not to crush Sam, Gene lay down next to him and buried his face finally, thankfully, in Sam’s neck. He breathed in slowly and felt Sam’s closeness like a caress in his soul. Sam’s breathing was already more regular, and even as he laughed at himself for sounding like some nancy novel, Gene started to unwind for the first time in weeks.
As the pain and guilt and loneliness softened inside him, Gene’s eyes closed in relief and he slept.