Still With Us
* * *
Whatever happens, remember. You’re the Guv, and he’s your officer. That’s all. All that anybody needs to know. Time enough for the rest of it when you get him home.
* * *
Gene has spent so long planning for this moment. Whatever Sam’s first words might be, Gene has his answer ready, because he knows that when it happens he won’t be thinking much. Too excited.
So he’s done his thinking night after night alone in his bed, or sat right here with his arse gone numb on that stupid chair. And he knows exactly what Sam’s going to say when he wakes up. If he -
No. Never think that. Come on, you’re the Sheriff. Just go through it all again. What he might say, and what you’re going to say back.
* * *
“What year is it?”
“1974, you daft pillock”. And Christ, don’t you dare say anything different. Want you home, not shipped straight off to the loony bin.
* * *
“Where am I?”
“In the Royal, you soppy git, where’d you think? Lying about doing nothing; all right for some.” Too far away from me is the truth of that one, Sammy. On the wrong side of a hospital blanket; wires and tubes making me scared you’ll break, and nurses giving me funny looks every time I come in here looking worse than you do.
* * *
“Short version? You tell me. You were kicked about a bit. Wherever they had you wasn’t exactly the Ritz, you hadn’t eaten for a while when they brought you in.” I don’t know, Sammy, I just don’t know. And I pray we never find out either. Did I tell you I’m a praying man now? Amazing what it’ll do for you, being forced to watch your own life drain away in someone else’s hospital bed.
* * *
“When can I get out of here?”
“Pretty soon, Sammy boy. Soon have you back to work.” When they finish putting your beautiful body back together.
* * *
“What day is it?”
“Thursday, Sam. They might let you watch Top of the Pops later if you’re good.” First day of the rest of my life.
* * *
OK, so you’ve learned your lines; just remember to sound convincing.
Oh God, give me this. Let him still be my Sam.
* * *
“He’s waking up, Doctor.” Matron stood back as Mr Bloomfield walked in unhurriedly with his retinue. The registrar took his place next to him at the head of the bed, leaving the students to jockey for position with the nurses behind them. Matron stood at the foot of the bed with Sister. Jostled unnoticed towards the door, Gene found himself, unusually, out of the action. Sick with nerves, he fought the urge to light a cigarette, knowing this wasn’t the time.
“Mr Tyler! Can you hear me?” The confident, port-and-stilton tones of the Royal’s most senior surgeon would have woken a lesser man at first hearing, but Sam was an expert. He’d been clinging to this coma for more than four weeks and no mere consultant was going to bring him out unaided. It would have to be withdrawal of the painkillers, apparently. “Cruel but necessary, I’m afraid,” Bloomfield had explained. “We shan’t keep him awake long; just enough to make sure there are no problems we don’t already know about. No need for you to be there, Mr Hunt. We can manage matters, reassure Mr Tyler before we put him under again.”
“He’s my officer. I’ll be there.”
* * *
And here you are. You stay calm and see what he says, then you say the answer. Simple. Just one of your officers, remember that.
And don’t even think that he might not be Sam any more.
* * *
From here he could only see parts of the bed; stupid to let these bastards elbow him out like this, but he hadn’t been thinking. You knew you wouldn’t be; should have thought before where you were going to stand. Bloody idiot. So now he was stuck in the back row, as much use as a spare prick at a wedding, and he didn’t dare distract the sodding doctors in case there were any problems. Like Sam waking up even more of a nutcase than he had been before.
Sam groaned. Matron moved to take his arm and stood checking his pulse-rate as he started to wake. Suddenly he screamed, a short, terrified sound trailing off into a sob.
“Mr Tyler! Can you hear me?” Bloomfield stepped forward and motioned Matron aside. “We’re just bringing you round to check everything’s all right. You can go back to sleep soon.” He watched Sam for a moment. “Mr Tyler, can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?” He held up his right hand, fingers splayed.
Slowly, Sam’s eyes opened and he tried to focus on the doctor’s hand. He opened his mouth and closed it again, then licked his lips. “W...”
“Mr Tyler? Can you see me? How many fingers am I holding up?”
Oh dear God, please. I’ll do anything.
“W...” Sam swallowed. It looked painful.
“Just a moment, Doctor.” Sister stepped forward and picked up the glass from the bedside cabinet. She trickled a few drops of water into Sam’s mouth.
Sam licked his lips again and got the words out at last.
As one, the assembled staff turned to look at Gene, who stood frozen to the spot.
Sam spoke again, slightly louder. “Gene?”
Gene couldn’t move, couldn’t think what to say or do, all of his carefully planned phrases flown out of his head. In the brief hush, Sister stepped up, re-arranging pillows and tutting busily. “Now then, Mr Tyler, it’s very nice to see you awake at last. We’ll just need to...”
“Please. Gene.” Sam was starting to sound panicky now; he moved his head from side to side, scanning the faces.
“Mr Tyler, if you would just let me...”
Sam’s eyes opened wider and it looked as if he was trying to move. One arm dragged slowly across the covers, fingers clutching at the air. He was thrashing feebly now. He was going to hurt himself if someone didn’t...
One by one the hospital staff melted away, leaving a clear path between Sam and Gene.
He swallowed, and stared hard at the floor. The Sheriff and his Deputy, remember.
He turned and walked out of the room.
* * *
Gene slammed into the Gents’ and crossed to the basins. Look at the state of you. Colour of Gwen’s bloody mint custard, and shaking like a leaf. Are you a man, or a bloody schoolgirl?
He clung to the cold china, breathing hard, until his fingers ached. That’s your whole life, lying there on that bed, and when he wakes up the first thing he does is....
...say my name.
* * *
Sam waking him up with “Gene. Feeling sexy, sexy?” as his hands explored Gene’s body in the cool morning light. If Gene was awake enough he would answer – “Mmmm. Looking gorgeous, gorgeous.” Waking up alone these past weeks had hurt, like a cold stone in his heart.
Sam bringing him a cup of tea in bed on his day off. “Gene, I’m off now. See you later, love.” A quick kiss, Gene conscious of his morning breath against Sam’s crisp spearmint.
Sam welcoming him home at the end of a long day. “Gene? Thought I’d do dinner as you were running late. Can you get us a drink while I serve up?”
Sam sleek and hot under him, calling his name breathlessly as he came. “Gene! Oh God, yes, yes! GENE!”
* * *
Always the name, Gene’s name, Sam making it clear he knew exactly where he was and who with.
* * *
Feeling slightly calmer, Gene turned away from the mirror, fumbling in his pocket. He had the flask at his lips before he realised what he was doing, then hesitated before drinking.
He hadn’t promised anything about booze. Had offered Sam to give up smoking, yes. Not the booze, though. But what had he promised Him Upstairs? Anything at all, he knew. Whatever he’d thought at the time would work. Anything. And would He remember? Oh, come off it, you think He cares if Gene Hunt takes a drink on the day his lover comes back from the dead? Don’t think so.
But still. Wouldn’t do to breathe whisky in Sam’s face if he was still dozy. And don’t forget all those times Sister made you go home because you’d had a few too many. He stared at himself in the mirror before putting the flask away and opening the packet of mints he’d been carrying around for a week. Come on, get back in there before they think you’ve topped yourself or something.
* * *
When Gene finally walked back into the room, Sheriff on his face and Duty round his melted heart, even Mr Bloomfield looked relieved and turned towards him. Gene ignored them all and walked straight up to the bed, hands in pockets. He stared at Sam, taking in the dry lips, the pain in the eyes, the occasional grey hair; Sam hadn’t come out of this looking any younger.
Sam was looking up at him silently, his expression impossible to read, and Gene spoke loudly enough for the whole room to hear.
“Still with us then, Gladys? Noggin still work? Good. Perhaps you’ll favour us all with a few gems of your own special wisdom, fresh from the pits of wherever it is you’ve been dozing all this time. I hope you learnt something there because all I learned is that I still don’t like doing paperwork by myself.” He turned to the watching crowd. “OK, you lot, give us a minute. Need to talk to my DI. Get his statement.”
“Mr Hunt, Sam needs...”
Gene’s fragile composure cracked wide open and he turned to confront Matron, moving so fast she shrank back involuntarily.
”I’ll say what he needs! He’s my officer, my responsibility.” He leaned forward and thrust a finger in Matron’s astonished face. “If you have any compassion for your patients, now would be a good time to surprise us all by showing it.” He turned back to Sam, hands thrust deep into his pockets, and spoke over his shoulder.
“Go on, piss off, the lot of you. You can do all your needles and stuff later, whatever he needs. Just ... give us a minute.”
Gene saw Sam nod slightly and he turned as the entire circus moved out of the room, Matron re-asserting her authority as she went. “Five minutes, Mr Hunt, not a minute longer.” Gene slammed the door behind them and stood facing it for a moment, steadying his breathing.
There was a muted but unmistakable snort of laughter from the bed behind him; he turned to see Sam smiling at him.
“That’s my Gene.”
Gene sat down and Sam shifted towards him slightly. Then he groaned, falling back against the pillows. “God, everything hurts.” He closed his eyes and swallowed tightly.
“What happened? Last I remember was going into – oh no, hold on. I remember being dumped in a – who found me? Gene, how long have I been here?”
“Don’t worry about all that. If it hurts they can give you some stuff, now they know you’re OK. Had to bring you all the way out or something, check what passes for your brain is still in there.”
Sam opened his eyes and glanced at him. “It is. And right now it’s revving up to pass on pain messages from every bloody cell in my body; God, even in the Nineteen Seventies they must have had – there must be pain killers.” His face tightened and he bit his lip.
Gene found himself leaning in; breathing in Sam’s scent, tracing the perfect curve of Sam’s neck with his mouth. He moved up to Sam’s face and waited. Sam took a deep breath and coughed painfully.
“Remind me not to do that again. Hang on. You’re eating mints?”
Gene looked shamefaced. “Wanted to taste nice to kiss you.”
Sam smiled and closed his eyes. “Go on then.”
* * *
How can a little peck on the lips be such complete perfection? Moving closer, watching that perfect pink mouth push forward so slightly; trembling despite your best efforts at being calm, you touch him, lightly. You’ve done this so many times before, even in here. Every day. Every night. But it feels different now there’s hope and light and a future again.
* * *
Gene knew Matron would be back at any moment, but couldn’t bring himself to move. Nothing seemed more important than trying to will his entire soul and strength into Sam through this gentle joining. Eventually Sam’s breathing hitched and he gasped in pain. Gene sat up, stroking Sam’s fingers below the cast.
“Sshh, Sammy, it’s OK, stay still, love.” Gene touched Sam’s face, still marvelling at how different it felt with Sam awake.
“Gene, oh my God, it hurts so much. Everything hurts. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK, you’ve done nothing to be sorry about. Look, I’ll call the doctor back in. Just – before you bugger off back to the land of Nod, I wanted to say,” he leaned forward and kissed Sam on the mouth one more time, “I’ve missed you, Gladys. And I love you. So much.”
Sam’s drawn face moved momentarily into the smallest smile. “Love you too.” He caught his breath. “You’ll stay, yeah?”
“Always, you daft ponce.”
“Good. Now get that bloody doctor in here before I scream the place down.”
* * *
It didn’t take long. They measured his blood pressure (rising), tested his reflexes (fading) and Gene sat on the chair, close by while the needles sent Sam back to oblivion.
He ignored the staff bustling around him as they filled in charts and straightened covers. He concentrated on Sam’s face, seeing the new lines fade slightly as he relaxed.
Sleep well, Sam. Love you.
Calm at last, he sat in the chair and watched Sam breathe.