Word count: 2,500 words
Rating: Green Cortina
Notes: This is sort of a follow up to a recent ficlet I wrote called I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. In some ways, that could be considered a prologue to this.
She's all alone when the lights go down. It's not scary; she was made of tougher stuff than that. And anyway, these power cuts have been going on for a while now, so she's gotten used to it. She's gotten used to a lot of things that would have surprised her a year ago. But the dark never gets any less lonely. She can see candles glowing in the window of the house across the street, two silhouettes projected on the shade, locked in a romantic embrace.
From a drawer in the kitchen she pulls out a pair of pewter candlesticks that had once belonged to her grandmother, and two tapered candles she's been saving for their one-year anniversary. She wonders if he even knows it's tonight. She lights the candles with a silver-plated lighter he left behind a few months back. The room fills with a warm, flickering glow. Her heart remains empty.
She sinks into her well-cushioned corduroy couch and runs her hands through her hair. There's not much else to do. Electricity is something she used to take for granted, something she only notices when it's gone. It seems to be a pattern with her. First Sam, now Gene. She can feel him pulling away, but she can't bring herself to ask him about it. She can't bear to hear that he's grown tired of her or that guilt has gotten the best of him. She prefers to remain in the dark.
Suddenly, she hears a noise outside her door, a loud, dull thud. For a moment, she allows herself to hope that it might be Gene. She stands up and straightens her skirt, imagining what she'll say to him. Will she wind him up? Act casual? Pretend she's forgotten the date? In her head, she inventories the contents of her fridge, imagining what she can throw together without any power, in case he's expecting dinner. She waits for a knock, but nothing comes.
One ear pressed to the door, she listens. There's only silence in the hall. She carefully opens the door, just a crack, but something is propped up against it. It's a man, seated with his back against the door. His head is hanging limply forward, so she can't make out his face, but it's definitely not Gene. She opens the door a bit wider. His weight does the rest. He falls flat onto his back at her feet, not dead, but not conscious either. The man remains motionless, straddling the threshold between her flat and the hall.
She brings one of the candlesticks over and holds it next to his face. When she finally makes him out, she lets out the breath she's been holding, nearly blowing out the candle. It's been almost two years since she's seen him. She thought she'd never see him again. But here he is, passed out on her floor, looking exactly as he did the day he disappeared -- the day he went home.
Gently, kneels beside him and nudges his shoulder. She whispers his name, her lips just inches away from his ear. "Sam?"
He stirs for moment. Then, with a sudden intake of breath, he bolts upright and opens his eyes. The force of it startles her. In an instant, he's fully awake and lucid. He looks around in confusion, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. Finally, he notices her.
"Annie!" he cries, looking at her with a wild, manic expression. He grabs her by the shoulders and kisses her on the forehead. "Oh my God. It's you. You're all right. I've done it!"
"What happened? How did you get here?"
Ignoring her question, he tears his eyes from her and pushes himself up off the floor. He takes in the decor, shakes his head and turns back again to face her, smiling.
"Why's it so dark in here?" he asks.
"Blackout," she says, still not over the shock. She closes the door.
His smile disappears, replaced by a look of deep concern. "What's the date today?"
He glances at her sideways. When he speaks, she detects an edge of desperation in his voice. "And the year?"
"Sam, what's going on? What are you doing here?"
"What year is it? I need to know, Annie." And just like that, she's been thrown back into the strange world of Sam Tyler again, where nothing is normal and what may seem like nonsense rarely is.
"1974," she answers plainly.
He swears to himself, then looks up and addresses the ceiling. "That's cutting it a bit close, isn't it?"
"Nothing. We haven't got much time. Where's Gene?"
"How should I know?" she answers, a little too defensively. It's just two words, but the question makes her uneasy. A sea of emotions she isn't prepared to deal with rise up from her chest and catch in her throat. She can't bring herself to look at Sam, though she knows he's smart enough to see right through her.
"Listen, I know about you and Gene. Alright?"
"What do you know?" she whispers, unable to hide her guilt.
"It's fine," he says, his tone reassuring but not without a hint of disappointment. "It's ancient history. Literally. For me, this happened more than 30 years ago. You two were found... together."
"I don't understand."
"When I got back to... you know..."
"The future?" she offers.
"It sounds so strange saying it out loud. Do you mind if we just call it Hyde?"
Annie shakes her head and smiles at him. "No. Go on."
She sits down on the couch and watches him pace. "Well, when I got back to Hyde, after I recovered from the accident, I did some digging."
"To find out if we were real?"
"Well, yeah." His look is apologetic, almost embarrassed. "But I found records on you, and Gene and Chris and Ray. The whole CID. It really existed. I really was there. I mean here. In the past."
"You should never have doubted me."
He flashes a sparkling grin at her for a moment, but it doesn't last. He swallows hard. "I found out something else, too."
He continues pacing, his strides becoming shorter and quicker. She sees him struggling with what he has to say, but he can't seem to find the words. She gives him an encouraging nod.
"There was... a double murder. July 14, 1974, in the middle of a blackout. Two police officers were stabbed to death. They never found the killer." He kneels in front of the couch and takes her hands. They feel cold and clammy compared to the soft warmth of his skin. Though it's dark, she can see a kind of golden light in his eyes. "Annie..."
He's cut off by a knock at the door. Their hearts jump in unison. He puts one finger to his lips and she nods in understanding.
They watch in tense anticipation as the doorknob turns. In all the excitement, she's forgotten to lock it. The door creaks on its hinges as it slowly opens to reveal a familiar silhouette, a bouquet of flowers in one hand. Sam and Annie let out a collective sigh of relief, but the man drops the flowers, turns on his heels and is gone again. Annie looks at Sam, who tries unsuccessfully to hide a smile, and quickly rises. He follows a bit more tentatively.
"Gene! Wait! Come back!" she calls down the hall.
"Why?" he asks without looking back. "So I can watch while some Johnny slips you a length? Sorry, luv. Bit too kinky for me."
"It's not what you think!"
"Not going to stay and fight for your woman, Guv? I've never known you to give up so easily."
The words stop Gene in his tracks. For a moment, he just stands there motionless. When he turns around, Sam is leaning against the door frame, his arms folded.
Without a word, Gene squares up to Sam. The two men stare at each other, chins protruding, chests puffing. They stand there like that, stubborn and defiant, for what seems like an eternity. And then, suddenly, they both smile at the same time. Annie lets herself breathe when the two of them enter the flat together, laughing like old mates. She gives up trying to understand the intricacies of male bonding.
Gene picks up the flowers and hands them to her. "So what the hell's future boy doing back here?" he asks.
"He says we're supposed to be killed tonight," Annie says, trying desperately to keep the tone light.
Gene looks back at Sam. "Does he?"
"Lock the door, Annie," is Sam's only reply.
Sam explains it to them as simply as he can. Gene and Annie listen patiently, interjecting questions here and there. Sam tells them about his research, how he'd found out that his experiences in 1973 were real. How he couldn't tell anyone for fear of being committed. He tells them that he'd looked up a doctor he'd once busted for selling drugs on the black market and paid him a large sum of money to give him a something that would induce a coma. He doesn't know exactly how the drug works, though. He could wake up at any time.
"So this murderer, he's coming here? Could be at that door any minute?" Gene points out when Sam has finished.
"So why are you sitting there flapping your gums?"
Annie sees a familiar look of exasperation take over Sam's face. It's a look that she's only seen Gene Hunt put there. She wonders, not for the first time, what Sam's life is like in 2006. Does he butt heads with his superiors there too? Or is the future full of morally rigid cops who always agree on police methods? She suspects it's more likely the former.
"Why don't we just leave?" she suggests. "If we're supposed to be murdered in this flat, let's get out of here."
Sam and Gene give each other a knowing look. Something has passed between them, an understanding that Annie hasn't caught on to yet.
"We're not going anywhere, luv," Gene says.
"Because this case is unsolved. If we leave now, we'll never find out who the murderer is. Sam didn't come back just to save us. He came here to catch a cop killer. Isn't that right, Sam?"
Sam can't deny it. He nods in agreement.
"Copper through and through," adds Gene.
"So what do we do then? Just sit here in the dark until someone comes to kill us?"
Sam and Gene shrug their shoulders and nod in agreement. This appears to be exactly their plan. Annie rolls her eyes.
"Since we have some time to kill, if you'll pardon the expression" Sam says, plopping down on the couch, "Maybe you two can tell me how all this began?"
Annie hopes it's dark enough that neither of them can see her blushing. She doesn't know what to say, and Gene isn't rushing to bail her out. The three of them fall silent.
"Forget it," says Sam, taking a certain joy in their discomfort. "I don't care. It's just good to see you again. At least what I can make out of you in this light."
Almost as soon as the tension lifts, a noise in the hall brings reality crashing back into the room. Sam and Gene slowly creep towards the door. Annie follows silently behind them. A man's voice, drunken and full of rage bellows through the door.
"I know that voice," Annie whispers. "It's my landlord. Sheila's his wife."
"I know you're in there, Sheila!" The voice seems to grow louder and angrier. "Are you shagging that bastard in my home?"
"Where do they live? Which flat?" Sam asks Annie.
There's a sound of rattling keys and a thumping of a fist on the other side of the door. "I'm coming in there. You'd better not be screwing him! I'll make you pay!"
"He thinks this is his flat," Sam says. Annie can see the wheels turning behind his eyes. "Does he carry keys to all the flats on him?"
"I don't know," Annie says, petrified with fear. "He might."
The doorknob starts turning. "Well that answers that question," says Gene. "Hold the door!"
"Talk to him, Annie," Sam urges, all of his weight pressed against the door.
She nods and takes a breath. "Frank? This is Annie. You've got the wrong flat."
"No, it's Annie Cartwright. Next door. This is my flat, Frank. Number 23."
There's no sound in the hallway for a few seconds. "Oh." The voice is calmer now, almost meek. "Sorry, Annie. I've got the wrong flat."
And then, just like that, it's over -- no vendetta or conspiracy, just a simple case of mistaken identity helped along by darkness and circumstance. The three of them sigh and slide down the wall until they're all seated in a row on the floor, Annie positioned between the two men who have come to mean the most to her in the world.
"So," Sam begins playfully. "Visions of jumping off a bridge running through your head, Annie?"
"Actually," she looks over at Gene, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth, "I've got a new one..."
But when she looks back at Sam, he's gone. There's only an empty space where he used to be.
"Good work, Sam," Gene whispers. Annie detects the tiniest flicker of sadness in him before he stands up and dusts himself off. He offers her his hand and a sympathetic look. "Right. That's that, then, eh? I'd better take Frank down to the station to make sure he doesn't barge in on anyone else tonight."
"You want me to come?"
"No. I'll come back as soon as it's done. Then we can start this bloody evening all over again. What do you say?" His smile cuts through the darkness and makes her feel weightless.
Something has changed between Annie and Gene. The air is clearer now. Sam is no longer a looming presence. He may swan in and out, saving their lives and bringing a special kind of chaos with him, but he'll never stay. This is Gene's city. He's the one who will be here for her. There's a promise in his eyes. She sees pain in them as well, a pain she shares and understands. She squeezes his hand to let him know that she'll be there for him, too. As the thought of him showing up at her door with flowers crosses her mind, he leans in and kisses her softly. The electricity hums back to life. They barely notice.
When the lights went down, she was all alone. But when they come back up again, she isn't anymore.
Updated: Travesty of all travesties, I forgot to thank my awesome beta reader bakednudel, who turned this around in record time and without whose helpful supportive feedback I would have thrown in the towel many, many times. *Hangs head in shame*