Rating: PG for implied (canon) character death, angst, some disturbing themes.
Word Count: 2065
Notes: I somehow managed to write a fic in response to the 'zombies' challenge without once using the z-word, Go, as they say, figure.
Spoilers for the end of series 2, and for the first episode of 'Ashes to Ashes'; dialogue from episodes 1.02 and 1.03 of 'Life on Mars'.
Title is a line from a war-poem by Siegfried Sassoon, called 'The Dug-Out'.
Summary: Sam has returned to 2006, but necessarily to life. Ruth-centric fic, spanning 2.08 and its aftermath. Dark.
And When You Sleep You Remind Me of the Dead
The nights were too quiet, now.
During the hours spent on that hospital ward she had come to depend on the click of the respirator, the blips on the heart monitor, as if her own survival were determined by them. Now that all that was gone, his gentle breathing seemed insubstantial; as though it could be snatched away at any moment, while her back was turned. Looking at him in this room, it took all her old resolve to avoid taking him by the wrist, in order to feel for a pulse.
The rhythm of her existence had been broken, and another one was still to be formed.
“It’s like...it’s like he still hasn’t come back to me, not yet. Like he’s still locked away in there, and now...”
“Ruth.” Frank Morgan, calm and even-tempered as always, checked her in mid-flow. “You have to remember that what Sam experienced- what you experienced, sat beside him-, was intensely traumatic. It takes time, all of it, before we can reach anything close to the previous quality of life...”
“Life? You’re calling it life?” Ruth swiped at her eyes, and shook her head. “Mr Morgan, he isn’t alive.”
Barefoot, Ruth turned from the bed to the dresser, where insurance papers and case reports had already begun to collect, and started to put the pile in order. Through her attempts to create some semblance of normality for them both, she had found herself reverting instead to an old pattern, composed of the gestures that had lain dormant for twenty years. Organising socks into matching pairs, trimming the crusts from freshly-made toast; silly, ineffectual things like that.
“What’s all this then?”
Vic leaned in the doorway, one hand in his jacket pocket. She turned to him with arms burdened, curtains and bibs and miniature pillow cases clutched in a bundle above her stomach.
“Just some things for the baby. I was...thinking we could move the desk out, have a chest here for his toys, maybe a-”At the look of alarm on Vic’s face, she broke off, dropped the armful, and laughed. “Oh, listen to me. They say lots of women start doing this, round about the eighth month. Ma calls it ‘nesting’.” Vic’s arms wrapped around her waist, his hands laid across her own. The touch made the blood rush to her head, as it had done when she was small and her father used to flip her upside-down and catch her again; she would pretend to struggle, dipped suddenly towards the ground but still secure- and laughing.
Ruth studied the pile of blankets, dusty blue and pink- just in case-, entwined with each other by her feet.
“I have to make it ready for him, else he won’t stay.”
Vic grinned, his mouth brushing her neck. “You’re a funny one, aren’t you?”
Ruth started, and dropped the folder.
Sam had his face turned towards her, eyes shadowed in the half-light. Even after his discharge he’d continued to sleep with both arms outside the covers, and now one hand twitched towards her, as if by reflex.
“Nothing. Just...” She tucked a loose page back inside.“Maya brought round those things you asked for. They’re in the hall, and the key.”
Sam nodded, once. “Great. I’ll have them out of there tomorrow.”
And he smiled at her, a rigor mortis smile, as pale and unresponsive as his arm had been, that first time she had touched it in intensive care.
Over the weeks that followed, they had taught her how to wash his hair- “Got to be gentle, these sorts of injuries don’t take kindly to movement”; how to hold his hand without bruising or tangling of wires. When she faltered, they had propped her up with numbers, carefully trimmed and presented to offer hope; recovery rates, tumour categories by location, the average length of successful physiotherapy.
Nothing in those numbers had prepared her for this.
The next morning she was woken by a door closing, and the sound of a body dragging itself downstairs.
In the kitchen the lights were on. Sam was hauling an overnight bag onto the table, his back to the door. He’d stubbornly abandoned the walking frame last week, folded away in the spare wardrobe, and without it his gait was awkward and shuffling, like someone not yet used to the weight of his own limbs. At her entrance he turned round, and jerked his head in the direction of the table.
“Look at all this. ‘S too much.”
He unzipped the suitcase and started to pull clothes from it; three shirts, two pairs of trousers, three sets of socks and three of underwear.
After the accident time had stretched itself thin, the days piling up on top of one another like snowfall, their beginnings and ends scarcely heeded. Now, given back their boundaries, they were starting to count down again.
“I went someplace, Mum.”
Of all the things she had been expecting to hear from him, this had not been among them; but now that the assertion was out, it made perfect sense. He had gone somewhere, for far too long, and a large piece of him had not come back. “And every day, I woke up in that place...and I told myself, ‘I’m alive.’” At the last word, Ruth saw something unfurl behind his eyes; something unfamiliar, and yearning, and achingly intense. It frightened her.
“And I was.” Was. “In some ways, more than I've ever been.” He looked away, as if searching the room for the next words. “You know, a... a barman...” For the first time since his recovery, he laughed. The sound seemed miraculous, and very far away. “...A barman once told me-that you know when you're alive, because you can feel.” A barrier came down, and whatever it was that had sparked within his gaze went out. “And you know when you're not...because you don't feel anything.”
His eyes moved back to her, and suddenly Ruth knew that she was being given a chance to change the way things were, had been, would be; knew, without being told, that in this moment everything hung in the balance.
“I made a promise, Mum. I made a promise to someone who I care about very much.”
The world waited on her answer.
Ruth studied her son, and the look on his face, a while longer.
In that look was the old Sam, and he was fighting for his life. She tilted her head towards his, and smiled. “Then they've got nothing to worry about. 'Cause you always keep your promises.”
Sam dropped his shoulders. The link, if there had ever been one, was gone, and the visit- because that was all it was- was over.
They embraced each other in silence, by the front door, Sam tugging his laptop bag over one shoulder. Ruth held him as gently and as tightly as she dared, and tried to imagine that she could hear his heart beating.
Come April, a new silence had fallen; deeper, and more deadly than the last.
This one could not be broken from the inside.
“Tell me what happened.”
From the other side of the room, her visitor swallowed.
“The details are still...still sketchy, Mrs Tyler. But from what we can make out, DI Drake was pulled from her car by an attacker yesterday afternoon, and taken onto a disused barge, possibly already at gunpoint.” The badge on his chest shifted, as he exhaled. “He shot her, in the head, and then ran.”
Ruth thought of the day the three of them had met, six weeks into the ordeal; remembered how the psychologist had taken her son by the hand, as though he was still a presence to be acknowledged. Not some empty form, awaiting reanimation.
Alex Drake had seemed so deeply rooted within the world, that to place her now suspended beyond the reach of both the living and the dead was almost impossible; impossible too, to picture her motionless, her warm and calming voice replaced by the hiss of machinery.
The policeman looked down at his hands, locked together between his knees. “They’re doing all they can.”
Ruth turned away. “Yes. Of course they are.”
“Hello, Ruth. It’s Doctor Matthews.”
It had been almost eleven months now, but the sound of his voice still made Ruth’s stomach drop. It was the one from the other end of the line, that grey day last April. “Hello.”
“Ruth, do you know a family by the name of Williams?” The question was a loaded one, though she was at a loss as to why.
“No. Don’t think so.”
“Their little girl had an accident. About two weeks ago. Slipped on the garden path and fell into the pond.” For one pulse-beat, no-one spoke. “Her heart stopped, for over a minute. But we were able to bring her back.” He drew in a breath that hissed in Ruth’s ear. “The thing is, now...she’s talking about Sam.”
Since her death, life had moved slowly for Mary. She sat in the white room while the doctors brought her things; crayons, and books, and people with questions in their faces.
Mary tolerated them, or sent them away as she pleased. But one of the doctors was different from the others. She didn’t want to stick things into Mary, or get her to colour in pictures. She just wanted to sit, and sometimes she went away without saying anything at all. That was always nice.
“Mary, this is Ruth. She’s going to watch us for a bit. Is that okay?”
Today was not a nice day.
“Don’t worry, she’s not angry. Always takes us a while to get going, first thing.”
Sarah Lambert’s tone, like her walk and her earlier handshake, was bright and matter-of-fact; but here it seemed to be at odds with reality. Ruth could see no anger in this patient’s face; merely a distant and all-pervasive blankness, marred across the forehead by the purple bruising that crept out from under the bandage. Every so often, a shiver would run through her, as though she had only just emerged from the water.
“There’s no monitors. I mean...”
Lambert, absorbed in the bed-chart, shook her head. “She kept pulling them out.”
Ruth looked at the motionless hands, one curled around her doll, the other resting on the counterpane. “Why isn’t she-”
“I’m sorry you’re lonely, Sam.”
As if from a great height, Ruth heard the air leave her.
“Are you really lonely here?”
Held up above the bed, the clown doll darted from side to side in mid-air; froze, dangled, and buried itself against the sheets, its face concealed. Abruptly, Mary pulled both hands close.
“Do you feel helpless?”
Between her fingers, the clown’s head inclined.
Another limp nod.
Ruth felt sick. Through the sudden narrowing in her vision, the hum of blood in her ears, she felt Doctor Lambert’s hand on her arm, guiding her to a nearby chair.
The same muted lilac cover; the same too-shiny armrests that sweated against her palms. Somehow, that was comforting.
Moving by smooth and gentle degrees, Lambert crouched down, and laid both hands flat on the bedside table, fingertips level with the child’s elbows.
“Hello, Mary. Who’s Sam?”
As one, girl and clown both looked to her, and smiled.
“He’s my friend.”
In the space between life and death, there was prayer; and in the room allocated for that space, Ruth had seen a great many appeals from a great many people. Most were silent, a few half-whispered. Some were written down.
Ruth had never written letters when words would do just as well, and there was no-one beside her now to hear. Still, after the light was off, she prayed.
Please God, let Alex sleep. Or, if she ever wakes up, don’t let her come back like Sam came back, like Mary came back. We can’t take another one of these living dead.
The petition, drawn up several times and repeated as the night wore on, seemed woefully inadequate even so.
Then, as she tugged and shifted and reached in her impatience for the bedside lamp, Ruth thought suddenly of her grandmother; remembered evenings guided into dreams, borne on the soft, soap-clean comfort of her embrace, and her voice.
This time, she spoke aloud.
“ ‘May the almighty Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end’.”