REMIX OF: Shadows and Flame, by liquorishflame.
RATING: Mild Sam/Annie, White Cortina
WORD COUNT: 1,080 words
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for the Remix Challenge at 1973flashfic.
DISCLAIMER: Life on Mars is copyright Kudos and the BBC. All Rights Reserved. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made.
Shadow of a Doubt
Sam was drunk.
He wasn't so far gone that he was falling over or acting otherwise inappropriately, but the tell-tale signs were there nonetheless. To Annie's experienced eye, Sam was definitely drunk.
Heaving a deep sigh, Sam rubbed at his shoulder, wrenched earlier in the day in yet another chase, and stared soulfully into his pint.
Annie didn't vocalise her own sigh, but instead took a sip of her vodka and tonic, ladies' drinks for ladies, always, and asked, solicitously, "Are you all right?"
Sam pursed his lips and frowned. Still contemplating the meaning of life in the disappearing foam of the pint, he muttered, "It hurts."
Annie rolled her eyes, discreetly. "Of course it hurts. You darn well near dislocated it earlier."
"S'not that, really." Sam leant back, resting against the wall. "Just never thought that I could feel that much, you know. This being imaginary, an' all."
Annie rolled her eyes again, less discreetly this time. "Back to that, are we?" not trying too hard to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
"Not really." Sam sighed again, finally taking a mouthful of the amber liquid. "It's just back home…"
Sam's voice trailed off, obviously aware of the shaky ground he was stepping on, but Annie was feeling generous. Even more so now Chris had set another, large, drink in front of her, twitching his lips slightly, partly in apology, partly in thanks, for keeping the Boss, and his moods, well away from the poker game in the corner.
"Go on," she said.
Sam looked up, surprised. But he took Annie at her word. "It's just, back there, in Hyde, it's different. No pub after work, don't get too close to your colleagues. Don't feel. Do the job, do it well, and go home, alone, to your white walls, clean floors. Grey life, antiseptic and dull. Not like here."
"I don't understand."
Sam grimaced, drained his pint. Frowning he started again. "Here, it's all chases and adrenalin. The smell of people, the taste of the beer." Sam pulled the next pint towards him, dipping the tip of his finger in to the liquid. "So much more, so much it hurts sometimes. It's almost like back there, home, is just a film on a cinema screen. We're so distanced from what really goes on, watching it through glass, nothing touches us. Power steering for the soul. And here, it's so much. Almost too much. Like stepping out of the shadows, blinded by the light." Sam looked up at Annie, his forehead creased in concentration. "Any clearer?"
Annie frowned. Sam wasn't making any sense. Except…
She sat back in her seat, gazing back at Sam and tracing a fingertip through a splash of beer on the table. "There's an old tale. The Allegory of the Cave."
Sam chuckled, "Psychology, eh?"
"Philosophy, actually," Annie corrected, her tone uncharitably harsh. "Meaning of life stuff."
"Oh, that." Sam nodded. "So what happens in the cave?"
"There are men, chained to the walls. Forced to watch a projection."
Annie snorted, exasperated. "Do you want me to go on?"
Sam held up his hands in surrender. "Sorry," he said carefully. "I'm listening."
Annie sipped at her drink. "The point is, this is their world. The real world is filtered down to them, a three-dimensional world boiled down to a two-dimensional image. No smell, no touch, no taste. Only vision and hearing, both heavily distorted. And this is the only reality they know."
"And the question is, what happens when you release one of the men, turn them round, show them actual reality?"
"A bit of a shock, I bet."
"Yes, but it's more complex than that. If everything the man knows is back there, in the cave, then this new world is nothing he knows. To start with, he's blind. The darkness of the cave behind him contrasts with the light of the world. Then his vision adjusts and he realises that this is something like he's never known. Oh, it can be familiar, in some ways. After all, the projection on the wall is a cousin to reality. But it's different. Bigger, louder, harsher, infinitely more complex than anything he has known."
"So it's different. How's that complex?"
"The point is, it takes time for the man to believe. If reality is behind him, then falsehood has to be in front. Except it isn't. He stands in front of the absolute truth, and only a shadow of it dances behind him. Reality has become reversed."
"And your point is?"
"Sometimes life isn't just an allegory."
Sam pursed his lips, thinking, eyes fixed beyond Annie, indeed beyond the walls of the Arms. Annie had had enough. She stood.
"I'm off to the ladies'," she remarked. "I'll be back in a moment."
Sam barely acknowledged that, just a brief nod, and Annie got up from the table, making her way through to the back of the pub. Stumbling slightly as she went through the door to the toilets, Annie reflected ruefully that there was a reason that neither of them were making much sense.
She quickly did the necessaries, scrubbing her hands under the cold tap, wondering whether it was a good idea to prise Sam out of the pub, or whether to cut her losses and wander off home without him. She glanced up at her reflection, wondering how drunk she might look.
Her reflection seemed different, somehow. Younger. Blonder.
"Oh, Annie Cartwright," her reflection said, "You can be a right bitch sometimes."
Annie stared, shocked, her mouth moving, but no words were lined up to be spoken.
The girl in the mirror carried on, finger wagging admonishingly. "You're the psychology graduate. You know as well as I do that Sam's 'issues' are more likely to be the result of a long-term coma, a fever dream, if you will. Lucid dreaming this reality because he can't yet cope with his own. And yet you fill him with ideas of reality being what you make it. Do you really think that you can persuade him into accepting all this as real? And do you honestly think it would make any difference if you did?"
Annie glanced away momentarily, and when she confronted the reflection in the mirror again, it was only herself. Shaking as she dried her hands, Annie, for the first time, wondered what the actual truth was, and what it might mean for her if this really was just a dream.