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Someday very soon, Sam anticipated, he would be used to coming home late and finding Gene in his flat, though the next time it happened he'd rather not be bounced off of a wall by way of hello. And, all things considered, he'd prefer it if he didn't have to worry about solving a murder case then, either.

It was enough, for the moment, that he believed Gene, enough not to call Morgan and the rest of the station, enough to let him borrow the bed.

Enough to kiss him, though it was nearly impossible to pretend that that was enough. But there's compromised and then there's compromised, and lending a bed to a possible--if it was anyone but Gene--murderer was less terrible than letting said murder suspect fuck him, in Sam's estimation. Though after the third kiss, he tried to stop it, and after the fifth, he failed again, and after--several more--he had to push Gene's hands away. "Get some sleep," he said. "We've a case to crack in the morning."

"I think better after a good fuck," Gene said, hand on Sam's shoulder. "You're not going to press your knees together now, are you?"

"I--" Sam fought back the desire to do anything but. "For tonight. We'll fix things, soon as we can."

Gene glowered at him. "You don't trust me."

"I'm not calling in uniforms, am I?" Sam glowered right back. "I just--not tonight."

"Jesus." Gene let him go. "You're cracked, is what you are. Can't trust me, after everything."

"I trust you in my gut," Sam said, because that was true, true as anything he could think of in his bizarre maybe-a-dream world. "But I have to know, in my head, that you didn't do it, before--"

Gene snorted and gave him a push off the bed. "You're on the floor, then."

It wasn't fair, given that it was Sam's terrible bed to begin with, but then Gene had had a wreck of a day and the night before hadn't been a prize either. If Gene was going to think, it was best to let him have his own way in this. "I'll make you breakfast," Sam offered by way of consolation for turning down sex.

"You're bloody right you will." Gene smacked him in the chest with a pillow. "Enjoy your floor."

It wasn't at all enjoyable, not with him so close and yet too far away to touch. Though "touch" wasn't in it, with what Sam wanted to do to him--knock him over onto his side to stop him snoring like a freight train, for starters. Or give up on the celibacy-till-proven-innocent thing.

Both, ideally.

Sam put his head under the pillow for the moderate noise diminution and tried to get any sleep at all.

*

With his name clear and his blood running at least half whisky, Gene stumbled out of the office--not to sick up, as Chris had, but looking for Sam, who was trying to make sense of Morgan and his promise to send him home.

"There you are," Gene said, and got an arm round Sam's shoulders, pulling him back through the doors. "Man of the hour can't go running off."

"I'm not the man of the hour, you are," Sam said. He didn't need to be the hero for everyone else, and he half-wished he'd left when Annie had, for all Gene would've thought the worst of what they could, possibly, be doing. "I should be going."

Gene said, "Ray, a glass for Tyler. He's too sober."

Sam wasn't sober, and the more he thought about Morgan's possible connection with the future, the more his head spun. "I'm fine," he said.

"You're not bloody staggering," Ray said, and gave him a glass with a healthy measure of whisky. "Drink up, boss. Nobody likes a wallflower."

That sounded like exactly the kind of thing they warned people about, especially subs; Sam was all too aware of Gene's hand on his shoulder, the solid, drunken weight of him, and Ray's leering pressure. "Thanks," Sam said, and pretended to drink more than he actually did with the first sip. The others cheered, though Geoff was looking nearly as green as Chris.

DC Reynolds had gone home early with her top.

That left all of three subs in among the shouting mob, and Chris had already lost his head completely. Someone should see him home safe, and soon.

Gene let Sam go, and Sam looked round for Chris, wondering where he'd got to and how long it would take to coax him out the door again. Then the music cut out, and Gene, by the radio, said, "This floor-polisher--this bloody neck-bender--this--weak-kneed little pain in the arse--he did better for me than all the rest of you." He pointed a wavering finger at Sam. "Get over here, Tyler, or I'll have to leash you."

Every instinct Sam had told him to keep his distance, but everyone else in the room was clapping, someone was hollering already, and if he turned tail and ran he was afraid Gene would carry him back in. He tried toasting him instead. "I did my job, Guv."

Gene cleared his throat, and there was nothing for it but to walk over to him, whatever the hell he had in his sodden mind. Sam took it slowly, as much as that was possible over a few feet of open floor, bracing himself for any number of things.

Gene grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and kissed him, full on the mouth, possessive, lingering while everyone around them whooped. "On your knees, love," he said against Sam's mouth when he finally let him go.

"Jesus," Sam said, dizziness growing until he nearly complied out of biological necessity. "Here?"

"Everywhere, if you'll have me," Gene said, grinning at him. "What do you say, Sammy-boy?" He leaned in close to Sam's ear, though everyone had heard him say the first bit, and they knew as surely as Sam did what it meant. "Got a collar for you, right in my pocket."

That sounded like the filthiest chat-up line in the book, except that Sam believed him, believed the offer of commitment.

And if he took it right then, with the prospect of a way home going down the lift, he'd deserve to be sectioned. "You're hammered," he said, as gently as he could, and took a step back. "We'll talk when you can walk straight again."

Gene caught his wrist, his expression stormy. "You're not going home alone."

Sam knew three ways to get his hand free without even thinking about it. "Chris looks like he's about to sick up again," he said, hoping it was true at that moment. "I'll get him home safe." It got Gene's focus off him long enough that he let Sam go.

"Not done with you," he said, and patted his coat pocket meaningfully.

Chris was surely not the only person who looked sick just then; Sam felt as though he should be grabbing for the bin himself, though he tried to smile. "I'm the one as saved your bacon, Guv. I'm not done with you, either." That got a catcall from someone, and a quick smile from Gene.

Sam took the opportunity to get hold of Chris's arm and get him out the door. Geoff came a moment after. "You look like you're about to fall over, boss," Chris said. "It were that romantic."

"Yeah, I guess it was," Sam said, his mouth on autopilot.

"Come on, Skelton. It's a long walk home." Geoff got Chris's arm round his shoulders and they started for the lift.

Sam half-expected Morgan to be there still, waiting to see the messy end of the party, but when the doors opened, it was empty.

So was Sam's flat, when he got there. He stared at the ceiling all night long.

*

Sam had had enough nights by himself, enough nights of waking up at all hours or being awake at all hours, looking at the ceiling, wondering whether he would feel differently if there was someone next to him. Or, worse, knowing that he would, that his own decisions had put him where he was, and that he couldn't find the people he needed in all of the files in the world.

He looked them up, first thing.

They weren't there, none of them; or they were there, but not in the places he expected to find them, and not in the roles he remembered. He couldn't imagine why he would've retained the names, if he'd ever seen them, of coppers who died in the 50's and then some, the whole host of them, scattered over the years.

At least he understood Annie, when he found the file. A PC who'd died the day his dad disappeared, unsolved.

He wanted to make it all up to her, to all of them.

He wanted to go back, and it took too long to work out how.

*

And then when he'd worked it out, when he'd done it, he was back. He saved them, and then there was shouting, and more shouting, and more shouting even than that, until Gene threw him against the wall--just like old times, Sam hadn't the breath to say--and told him that if he was going to be a traitor he'd have to do it somewhere else because Gene wasn't having any Judases in his station.

"Never again," Sam told him, and he said it until Gene met his eyes, until he believed it enough to be going on with.

Until Sam went home with him--following through on an answer he'd never given, an answer he'd been thinking about every wretched night in the hospital, at home, at work, all the time he'd been away that was no more than a blink to Gene.

Gene scowled at him even after Sam had kissed him. "You're not pulling that shit again," he said, drunker now, less harsh, but no less sincere.

"Never," Sam said, and knelt, no finesse, no hesitation. "I--" he swallowed hard, wondering how much the question left unanswered was bothering Gene. It couldn't be on his mind with anything like the tenacity it'd been on Sam's. He'd been planning to foil the blag and working to do it, and even Gene wouldn't go off with a pack of thieves with his mind on sex.

Probably.

"Spit it out, since you like doing that so well," Gene said, unmollified.

"I'll stay as long as you'll have me," Sam said.

It wasn't the traditional answer to an offer of a collar, but then Sam hadn't intended to lapse into tradition, the ancient formulae of Whither thou goest and all. If they got as far as a formal ceremony--if they didn't tear each other to pieces after five minutes--there'd be other times for that.

Gene hauled him to his feet by his jacket and kissed him hard, wrapping one arm around him as if he was trying to keep Sam from running out the door right then. "Then what the hell are you doing wearing clothes?"

"Sorry," Sam said, though he wasn't, though he was grinning even as he peeled them off, his hands shaking and running into Gene's, unbuttoning, undoing his zip, clothing flying until he was naked and shivering while Gene was dressed, barely even rumpled. "What do you--"

"I don't want you getting away again," Gene said, narrowing his eyes. "And I'm not bloody collaring someone who doesn't trust me enough to tie him down."

There had been a disturbing number of nights where the only thing Sam could enjoy thinking of was that, choosing to be temporarily helpless, putting himself, however briefly, at Gene's mercy. "Please," he said, and lay on the bed, pulling the covers back so that there would be some blankets out of the way of the mess. "God, please, tie my hands."

"You're not going call it off the moment we've started, then." Gene opened a drawer in the bedside table and took out a length of rope. "I don't want to waste my time on someone who can't give up for a while."

Sam reached for him, though Gene was still scowling. "I won't. I want this, I swear."

*

"You can't just go down to the Registry office over the weekend and turn up at work on Monday collared without telling a soul," Annie said irritably.

Gene rolled his eyes at her. "Aren't, now, are we? We told you."

"That doesn't count." Annie looked beseechingly at Sam. "You'll do it right, won't you?"

Sam rubbed his hand over his face, wishing she'd back off, or that Gene hadn't started listening to her again. "I don't know, Annie. I've never had a dream of the perfect ceremony--at all--so I don't know that I care, one way or another. It'd be easier to nip in to the Registry, and it wouldn't make it mean anything less to me."

"You're incorrigible," she said, though he knew full well she didn't mean it, and turned her wrath on Gene. "You've been taking advantage of his good nature--"

"What good nature?" Gene asked.

"--since you met him. And you're not going to do it this time, because everyone'll know you have, and that's not all right."

"It's not as though we need toast racks and fondue dishes," Sam objected. "I've got a decent set of cookware. Someone giving me a set of pans--well, I don't know what I'd do with them."

"Donate them to the canteen," Gene said. "They could use something that's not about to burn through the next time Neddie leaves it on the heat too long."

Annie took a deep breath. "That's not the point. I wouldn't tell you to go throw the right kind of party just for gifts. The point is to make it look like you mean it."

"Annie." Sam turned his palms up, not giving in, but reminding her where he stood. "You don't think I'd go anywhere near an official form with this idiot if I didn't mean it."

"Ta very much, sweetheart."

"No, I know you do, but I only know it because I know you, if that makes any sense. I don't know that the rest of them will know it, and if you treat it like it's nothing, like it's no different than changing your socks, then they won't act like it matters, either." Annie glared at Gene. "And that'll do nothing at all for our Sam's reputation, now, will it? Parading round with a collar like he's something to be proud of when you can't even be buggered to put on a proper do."

Gene pressed his lips together. "Anybody who needs a parade and a wristcuff toss to think of people who bloody live together as properly leashed should get the hell out of my department."

Annie raised her eyebrows. "Like Hellerman and Cates?"

"She's only a DC. Can't afford a good ceremony with that pay packet, can she?"

"And you're not." Annie shook her head. "And if you don't do something--not paint the town red, but something--people won't put it aside and say you'd better things to do. They'll start a pool on when you're going to be through with each other."

Sam blinked at her, then frowned when he realized what the truth had to be. "You mean they've got one going already."

Annie looked away from him. "I put my money down on 'Quarter after never,' so don't be vexed with me."

"Thanks."

"Who's making book?" Gene asked.

"No, Guv." Annie smiled. "Don't go through their desks. Just show them they're not seeing what you see."

*

Gene said later, when he had to explain it to Sam, that he was very, very drunk, and it was only partially untrue. He was drunk, that was true, on enough whisky and enough anticipation that he was nearly as stupid as the rest of the people in the place.

Nelson closed his doors to the public, knowing they'd pay every last penny for once if they drank him dry or broke something. It was Gene's party, sort of, the party he'd never meant to have again. Someone had put up a banner that said "Hold Tight To That Leash, Guv" and he wanted it down this second.

He also wanted to work out who'd done it so he could tell them he didn't need a bloody leash to keep a hold on Tyler, but that'd be easier when he wasn't drunk.

No one got a sub in to dance, and that was better than it might've been. That came of Cartwright insisting on running the whole thing instead of leaving it to Ray. Less mess, less complaining from Sam if he ever found out, less of a chance that someone would throw a punch--which if she'd been thinking, she'd have known it wasn't a real party without a punch-up.

There was only the one fight, at gone midnight when Gene caught her in the loo, the rest out singing in the pub and Annie washing her hands as calm as could be. "I reckon you owe me, still," he said.

She looked up at him in the mirror, frowning, before she turned to look at him. "Do I? I set all of this up, and kept Hellerman from hiring in a man who puts weasels in his trousers."

"Weasels?"

Annie shrugged. "She thought you'd get a laugh out of it."

Gene added a tally mark to Hellerman's estimation of him in his mind, but shook his head. "No, that's not why."

"Why, then?" she asked, her voice still too calm.

Gene poked her chest, getting close enough to her that he could read her expression through the whisky and the distracting thoughts of tomorrow. "You got all his secrets out of him, didn't you?"

Annie blinked twice. "I'm sure you've done better than I did," she said, but there was a smile at the corner of her mouth. She could say it, but she couldn't believe it, apparently.

"And you're going to watch all tomorrow and say, 'That should've been me.'" Gene shook his head. "I'm better'n you, and you can't take it."

She hadn't backed up an inch. "If I thought he oughtn't to be marrying you, I'd have said, whether or not he listened."

"And?" Gene prompted her to acknowledge the rest of it.

"And?" Annie smiled, close enough that she could lean in and kiss him--not that she would, not that he wanted her to.

"And I'm better'n you."

"At what?"

"Everything." Gene glared at her. "Go on, say it."

Annie laughed, giggling that way she had that made her sound like someone ought to be collaring her. "You're much better in a punch-up than I am," she said, which wasn't a tenth enough.

"And everything else."

She tilted her head to one side. "And you've a much better vocabulary for insulting people. I'm learning, but I've not got the natural talent you do."

Gene scowled and poked her again. "I'm better in bed than you'll ever be, Cleopatra."

The way her smile went sultry should've made him worry. Would've, if he had been sober. "Prove it."

His reactions were slower than they ought to be, but she was right about the punch-up, and getting her arm behind her back wasn't so hard even when she tried to dodge. "Didn't know you were a pervert. Should we be calling you Annie Boleyn?"

Annie stepped on his foot good and hard, enough to make him let her go because he wasn't trying to hang onto her except to make a point. "I'm not a switch, no." She was pinker than normal when she turned to look at him.

"Nor am I." Gene wasn't about to let her think that of him. God knew what Tyler had let slip, in that night of mostly-talking but definitely also fucking, but whatever he'd said he'd had no reason to think that of Gene. "And Sam's mine."

That got her to look away for a second, like she still wished it wasn't so even after she'd been at them to get registered and all. "I'm sure you'll make each other very happy."

Gene snorted. "I'm never sending you undercover again. You can't even convince me of something I know bloody well."

Annie finally backed up at that, though another step back would have her running into the sinks. "You'll do your best for him, and he for you."

She made it sound like an insult, somehow, or that might've been the whisky. Gene took another step towards her, meaning to keep her there till she apologized for all of it, for the insults and for being jealous and for knowing what Sam looked like when he came. "My best's better'n yours," he said, close enough to her that he could feel her breathing when he wasn't talking.

She kissed him then, getting her hand in his hair right above the back of his neck and hanging on tight, while he grabbed for her other wrist. He was not going to sub for her, not in a billion years, and not in a pub washroom where anyone could walk in and find them at it, at whatever she had in mind--whatever he had in mind--but she bit at his lip, while he got her hand pinned to her side and grabbed her arse--easy target, that, but it made her make a noise against his mouth. The way she tugged at his hair, like she wanted to own him--he wanted her to stop right bloody then and never touch him again, and he was shuddering with the sudden jolt of arousal, sharper than he would've thought it could be for so many reasons.

"You sure about that?" she said, not the reasonable voice she used in interrogations, but something harsher, breathier.

Whatever kind of a switch she wasn't, she was liking this as much as Gene. "I could have you on your knees for me right now if I wanted you there," he said. "You're itching for it."

She didn't trouble to deny it, but kissed him again, as fast and desperate as before, till he was thinking of bending her over the sink and taking her so she could see herself in the mirror, face red as her arse while he spanked her. Or taking her home--hell of a present for Sam--and keeping her there till she'd come to terms with herself. Sometimes people made it work, two subs and a top, and she got on well enough with Sam that he'd have to keep a tight lead on the two of them, but he could, if they wanted it.

If that was what she'd been hoping for when she badgered them into going to the Registry--an invitation to tag along and sign on too--she had to be bloody disappointed now.

She didn't kiss like a disappointed woman. She kissed like someone who'd got her hand free when he was thinking of her pretty neck in a collar, and who was tugging up her skirt, ready for whatever he was going to give her.

"Show me how good you are," Annie said, and gave him a shove that caught him off-balance.

Gene didn't kneel for anyone he hadn't tied down, as a general rule, or at least for anyone he hadn't told to keep their bloody hands to themselves. He wanted her to give in, and pushing her about wouldn't do any good, but if he wore her down some first--it'd been a long while since he had his mouth on a woman, not so long he'd forgot where everything was and the general principles, but enough that the first noise he had out of her made him smile.

She tugged at his hair again, urging him on, poor horny girl, and he gave her what she was wanting, same as he'd give it to Sam--with less teasing, because they didn't have forever to work with--and nuzzled at her. The next noise she made was more muffled, like she'd remembered where they were and didn't want to bring all of CID in to watch her with her skirt bunched round her waist, leaning on a sink and writhing against his mouth.

It was the worst angle for getting a look at her face, for seeing her go to bits when he managed to make her shake, and he promised himself he'd do it again sometime when he could get a better look at her.

Then he remembered when it was, where he was, why they'd come in there in the first place. Only bloody fair, he told the sudden, disapproving Sam in his mind. He'd run off on Gene that once and done this, and admitted it, so he couldn't begrudge Gene, could he.

Besides, it wasn't as though Gene was subbing for her properly.

Annie gasped, shuddered, and pulled his hair again, getting him away this time instead of urging him on. "Enough," she said, and Gene sat back on his heels. She was flushed enough that it'd take a good wash to keep anyone from looking at her twice, and she had an expression that wasn't quite a smile. Entirely too smug for what he'd just done, getting her off in the space of a few minutes. "You're a sight," she told him, as if she didn't know how she looked right then.

Gene got up and looked in the mirror without looking at himself in any meaningful way, with the practice of too many drunken, lonely nights. His hair was going every which way and he looked like he'd just had a woman come on his face.

If he hadn't already been hard enough for anything, that would've got him there. He wasn't--he didn't--it wasn't subbing.

Not the way Cartwright did it, anyway. She'd not push someone to his knees for five minutes and count that as a real scene, not her. She hadn't talked to him for three days straight before it about kinks and limits, and she'd not asked him for a safeword. Not like her at all.

Gene splashed water on his face to take care of the stickiest bits before they set up and ran his hand through his hair to get it to lie flat. "You're not looking so well yourself," he told her while she was smoothing her skirt, though that was absolute bollocks.

Annie grinned at him and put her hand on him through his trousers, smaller than Sam's, insistent. "You ought to take care of that before you go out there."

"Thought you said you weren't a pervert," Gene said.

Annie shrugged, her fingers quick on his zip. "Won't take a moment."

"Give it a go, then."

He meant to move away from the sink, from the mirror--not to see her behind him while she tossed him off, not to hear her whispering, "You liked that, didn't you? Think what you'll be missing after tomorrow."

"Nothing worth having," he said, with effort, and closed his eyes.

Annie nipped the back of his neck with her teeth. "Don't you lie to me."

And he didn't apologize, didn't say, "Sorry, ma'am," never since he was tiny and saying it to his mum--but it came out right then, automatic as anything, and she laughed in his ear.

"We'll get through it. Now you be a good boy and come for me."

He wanted to laugh at that, but she'd timed it right, so it wasn't her words--it absolutely wasn't her words--that brought him off.

And the door to the loo swung open too late to stop him, and Ray said, "What--shit!" and it was all about the whisky, from the start.

They cleaned up in ten seconds flat, not looking at each other, and Gene caught Ray before he was back down the corridor from the loo to the tables, and flung him against the wall. "Nothing happened," he said.

"Yes, Guv," Ray said, winded and giving in the way he always did when he knew he was outmanned.

"Did you see anything?"

"No, Guv."

"Nothing at all."

"Nothing, Guv."

Gene took a deep breath. "You're sure about that."

"Sure as anything." Ray cleared his throat. "I didn't see anything I'd ever mention to anyone else, because nothing happened. Especially nothing I'd like to tell Tyler about, because it were nothing."

Gene didn't get where he was by trusting the wrong people, or by trusting them too far. "And if you did see anything," he prompted Ray.

"It were only a joke. Happens at this sort of thing."

Gene thumped Ray on the shoulder. "Right. Let's get on back to that party, and you owe me a round."

"'course, Guv." Ray gave him one of those looks that made Gene wonder where all his lines and limits were, but unlike Cartwright he knew better than to ask. "It's your party, anyway."

"Think Nelson's got any whisky left?"

"We'll find it if he does."

*

Sam knew as well as anyone that there was no such thing as perfection in dealing with other people, but that day--for all it started entirely too early, and went downhill when Chris somehow managed to catch his shirt on fire while making tea, and Geoff had to throw water on him--was, while not perfect, a good beginning.

Not the paperwork, because the paperwork wasn't the start of anything; not the collar, because that didn't mean anything that hadn't already been true.

The best part of the whole day was finishing the argument he'd been having with Gene since they decided they were going to throw an actual party. "You'll get us both sacked," Gene had said the first time, when Sam said he'd be following Gene round like a puppy sometime after never, whether they were going to the shops, to work, or walking into a hall full of everyone they knew to announce that they'd gone and made it official.

Sam had pointed out three highly salient points. "The law says it's down to you whether I have to be trailing after you, in that circumstance, so if anyone gets upset they'll ask you if you'd given me permission."

"And I'll say--"

"That you have," Sam interrupted him. "Because if you don't, I'll walk back to the registry and start the dissolution."

Gene snorted. "That'd be a headline for the Gazette, wouldn't it? Coppers wed and split up in two hours."

Sam shrugged. "I'll call Jackie Queen myself if it happens. Give her the scoop. But it won't happen, because you know better than that."

Gene scowled at him like a bit of evidence that refused to fall into a pattern. "What do I know, Sammy-boy?"

"You can't order me to do a bloody thing and make it stick, papers or no papers, unless you give me a damn good reason to listen to you."

Sam was still grinning when his back hit the wall, and when Gene said, "Suppose I told you to kiss me."

He knew capitulation when he saw it, however backhanded it was.

A few people had been startled, maybe--the ones who didn't know them well--and Sam had seen Ray give Chris a handful of money, right before he started applauding.

What made it work, in the end, was that Gene hadn't brought it up the day of, nor hesitated for a second when they went through with it.

After the party they were too tired and drunk for anything elaborate, which might've been a disappointment if they hadn't been doing everything they could think of for months. It was enough to take it slow, Sam on his knees and leaning back into Gene's arms with every thrust, Gene mouthing his neck above the thin collar and easing him through it, one hand holding his wrists to his chest.

When Gene was half-asleep, he said, "You're mine now, y'know."

It was as close as he'd come to saying anything about emotions--the Registry didn't require it, as their forms were entirely legally based and dealt more in shared ownership than feelings. People had offered him chances to make a soppy speech, bribes of alcohol, but Gene hadn't risen to anyone's bait even when Geoff's sister had drunkenly asked them when they first knew they were in love.

Sam kissed him lightly, too exhausted to do more. "That goes both ways."

Gene put an arm round him. "Good."