Categories > TV > Life On Mars

Back To Normal

by Flurblewig 0 reviews

Sam has to decide what he believes and what he needs - and whether those two things are the same...

Category: Life On Mars - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Published: 2006-04-17 - Updated: 2006-04-17 - 7047 words - Complete

Title: Back to Normal
Author: Flurblewig
Pairing: None. Sam-centric gen
Rating: PG13
Timeline/Spoilers: Set post 1.07, but no real spoilers
Length: 7,000 words
Disclaimer: Not mine. We all know that.
A/N: I owe a debt of conceptual gratitude to Joss Whedon and the writers of the Buffy ep 'Normal Again' The concept of that ep and this show seemed made for each other :-) Big thanks to epshlan for the beta!


"You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if - oh, fuck it. You're nicked, mate, all right?"

The guy doubled up, clutching his stomach where Sam's fist had connected, and groaned. Still panting, Sam grabbed his collar and spun him around, slamming him against the spray-painted bricks of the alley wall. He reached for the cuffs, determined not to notice - or even imagine - the look that was bound to be settling

over the Guv's face right now. Smugness, self-satisfaction, amusement - oh, it'd all be there. That annoying 'told you so, Sammy boy' look that -

- that he was most definitely not going to be imagining, remember? Think about the collar, instead. Think about how it was such an open-and-shut case that the caution didn't really matter. If you stuck a toy gun in the face of an off-licence cashier and demanded money in the full and unrestricted view of half a dozen witnesses and three off-duty police officers, and then got yourself nabbed with said gun still stuck down the front of your trousers, you didn't have much of a defence to harm.

Sam looked back over his shoulder. "Guv, you -"

He broke off as a bright, flaring bolt of pain exploded at the back of his head. His legs gave way, sending him crashing to the ground. He hit the road hard, and for a second the world went black.

When he could see again he rolled over, trying to get to his knees and not quite making it. He retched, fell back to his side and stayed curled up while he waited for the world to stop spinning. Then there were hands on him; touching his neck, his face, pulling up his eyelids.

"-oh fuck oh fuck Johnny we hit him oh fuck is he dead is he dead oh Johnny oh fuck -"

Rough fingers dug into the flesh under his jaw, sending out more sharp spikes of pain. His bones felt like they had been replaced with broken glass.

"He's alive," said another voice, high and panicked. "I can feel his pulse, he's fine. Now shut the fuck up and let me think, okay? And don't say my fucking name any more, for Christ's sake."

There was a scuffing sound by Sam's ear; boots or trainers on the road surface, scattering a handful of gravelly stones. "Okay. Okay. Here's what we do. Get back in the car and - what are you doing? What the fuck are you doing?"

"I'm calling an ambulance. We can't just leave him like -"

Sam tried to move, but his head was shoved back down. "Are you a fucking retard? Don't use your own fucking phone, they can trace it. You want the police crawling all over us? My dad'll kill me if I get nicked again. Look - just get back in the fucking car and let's get out of here before somebody comes. We can dump it somewhere and call from a phone box."

The pressure on Sam's chin lifted, but trying to sit up sent savage shards of lightning through his head. A car engine roared into life and he opened his mouth to shout for Gene - where the fuck was he, they were getting away - but that hurt nearly as much. His eyes tried to close, but he fought against it. He had to remember what had happened, fix the scene. One of the kids had used the name Johnny. The other one had said... had said... something important. Something really, really important. What was it? Something about the car - no, about the ambulance. He hadn't wanted to call an ambulance. It was... it was...

It was gone.

Sam groaned, squinting up at the dirty brick alley. The graffiti blurred and swirled into nonsense patterns, and he closed his eyes again.

"Chris," came Gene's voice, "get after those bastards right now. Go!"

Sam saw Chris speed past, his coat flapping. "I'm on it, Guv."

"Well," said Gene, crouching down beside him. "Looked like he gave you a right good crack on the noggin, there. If I thought you actually had a brain in that thick skull of yours I might've been a bit worried. Shake any more screws loose, did he?"

Sam ran his tongue around his mouth. He'd bitten it at some point, and it felt swollen and fat. The metallic taste of the blood made his stomach turn in lazy circles, and he turned his head and spat red saliva onto the pavement. He took a deep breath and finally managed to sit up, his fingers gingerly probing the back of his head.

He stared dazedly at Gene. "What - what -"

"Like I said, son. Bloke obviously had a mate we didn't see, and he cracked you one on the nut. You'll live."

Sam looked around, then winced as his neck protested. No sudden movements, right. He rubbed his eyes and tried to will his vision back into focus. "The car - did you get the number plate? And one of them was called - shit, what was it? Joey. No, Johnny. Johnny, that was it."

Gene frowned at him. "What car?"

"The car - the car they drove off in, of course. Come on, you weren't that far behind me, you must have seen it."

"They didn't drive anywhere," said Gene. "They ran. Chris went after them. He'll never catch 'em, which is probably for the best, but it makes him feel useful."

He straightened up, and held out his hand. Sam stared at it until Gene let out an impatient huff and reached down to grab his jacket and haul him to his feet. "There," he said, nodding towards where a clearly out of breath Chris had appeared from around the corner. "What did I tell you? Still, it's good exercise for him."

Sam leant against the wall and cradled his neck, trying to stretch out the pain. "No. They got in a car. I heard them. I heard it start up, I heard it drive away. And I can't believe nobody got the number - what were you doing?"

Gene rolled his eyes. "Chris! DI Tyler says our suspects drove away from the scene in a motor vehicle. That in accordance with your recollection of events, is it? You can check your notebook, lad, if you need to."

Chris looked from Gene to Sam in obvious confusion. "You what, Guv?"

"A car, Chris. Did they or did they not drive off in a big shiny car?"

"Well - "

Sam pushed off from the wall and tried not to sway. "We don't have time for this. We need to get after them."

Gene folded his arms. "Hold your horses, Sammy-boy. Aren't you the one always going on about thorough investigations? Now, Chris. You were saying?"

Chris shot Sam an apologetic look. "Well - no, Guv. They legged it down Chartcome Street. I tried to catch them, but -" he trailed off, and shrugged.

Sam shook his head, instantly regretting it when another slick bolt of pain arced through it. "I'm telling you, they got in a car. I was there, I know what happened."

Gene sniffed. "Right. Because we all know that DI Sam Tyler's never been known to see or hear things that aren't there, don't we? DI Tyler is the most sane, rational bloke I know and if he says there was a car, then there was a car. Shit, if he says he was attacked by a pack of dancing leprechauns, then by God I'm getting on the first boat to Ireland to go round the little bastards up." He snapped his fingers. "Chris! You're a detective, go do some detecting. I'm going back down the offy."

He stomped off, leaving Chris to look uncertainly at Sam. "Er - he was joking about the leprechauns, right, boss?"

Sam rubbed his gritty, aching eyes. "You didn't see those blokes get in a car, Chris? Really?"

Chris gave him a small, worried smile and shook his head. "No, boss. They hared off down Chartcome Street, the pair of them. I lost them round the garages, though, so maybe they doubled back and -"

Sam held up his hand, the energy draining out of him. "It's all right, Chris. I -" he paused, and let out a long, shaky breath. "I must have got it wrong."

"Well, you did get a bit of a wallop on the head, boss. Maybe you ought to have it looked at."

Sam sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, maybe I should."


"Stay still," said Annie. "How am I supposed to do this if you keep wriggling?"

Sam shifted on the bed. "I'm not wriggling. It /hurts/, that's all."

Annie's fingers continued their exploration of his scalp. "Poor baby. Did the nasty man knock him down? There, there. Annie'll make it all better."

Sam pulled away and smoothed down his ruffled hair. "Don't. That's just... disturbing."

Annie gave him a slightly sheepish grin. "Sorry. It's not funny, I know."

"You're damn right it's not funny. I'm seeing things."

She said nothing, just raised her eyebrows at him.

"Don't you start. Okay, so maybe it's not exactly news. But this seemed so real, and the things before, they've been - well, not so real. Like the guy on the TV talking to me, and - and I'm really not helping my own cause here, am I?"

Annie gave a small shake of her head. "Not really, Sam. What guy on the TV?"

Sam sighed and waved his hand. "Let's not go into it. Look, it was good of you to come over like this. I'm grateful. Thanks for, you know-" he tapped his head. "Checking me out."

"But now I've outstayed my welcome? Time to go home, Annie?"

"No. Well -" he paused, and took a deep breath. "That's not what I'm saying. But I've got some stuff to think about. I'm not likely to be very good company."

"It's not like that's exactly news, either." Annie got up and grabbed her jacket from the back of the chair. "Get some sleep, Sam. I'll see you in the morning."

When she was gone, Sam flopped back on the bed. You wouldn't think it was possible to screw up quite so consistently without trying, but somehow he managed it. Whether it was making himself look like a lunatic in front of Gene or taking five steps back for every one forward in his - he struggled over the word and finally chose interaction - with Annie, he was turning screwing up into an art form.

He sighed and ran his hands over his face. What the hell had gone on out there today? He closed his eyes. Give me the money, the guy in the off licence had said. Don't try anything, just give me the money.

No, that hadn't been either of the kids from the car talking. The one called Johnny's voice had been higher-pitched, and the accent slightly different. But it hadn't been the other one, either, the one who'd wanted to call the ambulance.

And what was it about that, anyway? What was it that was nagging at him, scratching at the back of his mind like an insistent puppy?

The young one had wanted to call an ambulance, and Johnny had said no. What are you doing? he'd said. A/re you a fucking retard? Don't - don't -/
Sam sat upright again, frowning. Don't use your own fucking phone, he'd said. They can trace it. Put it away and get in the car. We'll call from a pay phone.

Don't use your mobile, that's what Johnny had been saying. Don't use your not-heard-of-in-1973 mobile phone.

Sam ran a hand over his head. He hadn't been hallucinating. He'd been /back/.


"Yes, Ray, I do expect you to fucking traipse all over the fucking city if that's what it takes. Those clowns tried a stick-up in my offy. Right in front of me! That's only one step away from waltzing into the boozer and the robbing the fucking pint right out of my hand. I'm not having it, do you understand?"

Gene's voice, never exactly quiet and soothing at the best of times, sounded like it was coming out of a megaphone. Sam winced, and tried discreetly to cover up one ear on the pretence of rubbing his neck.

"And they hit Sam," said Chris. Gene raised his eyebrows, and Chris added, "I mean, they unlawfully assaulted DI Tyler."

He beamed at Sam, who gave him a half-hearted nod in return. "Yeah. Thanks for the reminder, Chris."

"Yes, thank you, Chris," said Gene. "Add that to the list, then - they also assaulted my officer, who doesn't exactly need any more blows to the head on account of him already having half of what little brains he was born with leaking out of his earholes at a rate of knots. So I am putting my foot down, and I am putting it down right here." He stamped hard on the floor, and an abandoned coffee mug rattled. "See it? See this foot?"

Ray nodded, looking a little wary. Sam leant back on the desk behind him, briefly closing his eyes. Why was it so hot in here today, so stuffy?

"Well, it's going to be coming down on your flaming head if you don't do what I've told you to do and go find those little bastards. Right?"

"But Guv-"

"No buts. The word 'but' is no longer in your vocabulary, DC Carling. In fact, the only words that remain available to you are 'yes' and 'Guv'.

Sam looked round. He needed to open a window, get some air. He couldn't breathe.

"Yes, Guv. I'll get traipsing then, Guv."

"Good man. Get me a packet of crisps while you're at it. Cheese and onion. I'm bloody starving."

"Sam, are you all right?" said Chris. His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away. "You don't look so good."

"I'm fine," said Sam. Or tried to - the words seemed to get stuck in his throat. He reached out to steady himself on the desk and somehow missed it. He overbalanced, couldn't right himself and crashed forward onto the floor.

"Jesus wept, what's the matter with him now? Ray, go get the plonk up here. Chris, loosen his collar or something. We can't have people dying on the job, it makes a mess of the carpet. You listening to me, Sam? Sam?"

Sam gasped for air, his chest burning.

"Sam? You're going to be all right, Sam. You've had a nasty accident but we're looking after you. We're taking you to hospital, okay? Just stay with us, Sam. You're going to be all right."

That wasn't Gene. Sam opened his eyes to a blurry but instantly recognisable scene: paramedics, an ambulance, a red blanket covering him,something stiff and rigid keeping his neck in place.

The ambulance doors opened and he felt himself lifted up and out. Then he was moving again, rolling this time, and there were new, different faces. White corridors, antiseptic smells, different voices saying his name.

He opened his mouth, ran a dry tongue over parched lips. "Help me," he whispered.

A face swam into view, large and out of focus. A hand patted his. "That's what we're doing, Sam. You're going to be fine, okay?"

He tried to reply but another bolt of pain hit him. He gasped and screwed up his eyes, and when he opened them again the unknown face had become Annie's.

"Sam?" she said gently. "Careful, don't try to sit up too fast. Here, let me help you."

Her arm slid under his shoulders and helped him struggle up into a sitting position. "Annie? What happened?"

"You fainted," said Annie, and there was a muffled snigger from somewhere above him. Annie looked up with a swift glare, then handed him a glass of water. "Drink this, it'll make you feel better."

"No," said Sam, ignoring her protests and hauling himself to his feet. "It wasn't a faint. I was /there/."

"Where, Sam?"

"In the ambulance, the hospital - it's where they took me, after the accident."

He pretended not to notice the look that passed between Annie and Chris. "You never went to hospital, Sam," she said. "It was only a minor accident. Just a prang, really. But you know what? Maybe you should go. Get checked out properly. You know, just in case."

"Yeah," he said, dusting himself off and resolutely not looking at any of them. "Yeah, maybe I'll do that."

"Come on then," boomed Gene. "Show's over, back to work. Ray, Chris, you know what you've got to do. Sam, you go get your head examined and then we'll talk."

The snigger came again, quickly turning into a cough as Sam stared round the room. He tugged his jacket down and strode out without looking back.

Phyllis looked up when he got to the front desk. "You all right, Sam? You look a little peaky."

"I'm fine." Another step forward took him into sudden darkness. The strength ran out of his legs and he dropped to his knees, hearing Phyllis's footsteps come running towards him. Then the sound was gone and all he could hear was a strange, regular whooshing noise. It took him a few seconds to understand that it was his own breathing, echoing in his ears.

He tried to sit up but couldn't move, tried to speak but couldn't make a sound. His mouth was jammed open and he realised there was an obstruction in his throat; a plastic tube. He gagged, feeling panic start to build in his chest. The whooshing sound seemed to get louder, filling his head. I can hear the sea, he thought wildly.

A pinkish blur filled his field of vision, gradually coalescing into a face. A woman's face, but not one he knew.

"Sam? Can you hear me? Doctor! Come quickly. I think he's -"

"-waking up. Sam? How are you feeling?"

That voice, that face, he did know. "Annie," he said groggily. This time, his voice worked. His hand flew to his throat, his mouth, but found nothing.

"Yes, Sam," Annie said. "It's me. You're okay, you're safe."

He stirred, realising that the ground he was lying on was soft. Sheets, a pillow under his head. He glanced around, seeing familiar ugly wallpaper. His flat.

"Annie, what - how -"

"You passed out again," she said. "We brought you home."

She looked to one side, and he saw Chris leaning against the wall. "Boss," said Chris, giving him a little wave. "How you doing?"

Sam ran a hand over his face. "I don't know. Jesus, I don't know. I was - I was -" He broke off, ignoring Annie's questioning look "It doesn't matter."

He sat up slowly, rubbing the back of his neck. "How long was I out? It only felt like a couple of seconds."

"About twenty minutes, Boss."

He shook his head. "That's not right, time's all wonky. Not like that's a surprise, I suppose."

Annie reached out and put her hand over his. "Sam, you need to see a doctor. I'm worried about you. First the accident, then getting hit on the head - these blackouts, they're not normal."

Sam snorted. "I don't think normal is even a passing acquaintance of mine any more, do you?"

Her eyes locked on to his. "Sam, I'm worried. Seriously. Promise me you'll see someone. You need to find out what's causing this."

He squeezed her hand and gave her a smile that felt as hollow as it must have looked; he could tell it had done nothing to reassure her. "I know, Annie. I know."


Sam stood in front of his cracked mirror and held up the bottle of cheap whisky. "More than one way to skin a cat," he told his reflection. "More than one way to pass out." He took a swig from the bottle and grimaced. "Cheers. See you on the other side."


A hand held his head while he heaved. He was dying, he had to be. His internal organs had liquefied and were escaping out of his mouth. He was puking himself inside out.

He groaned, his head hanging down, while something cool and rough wiped his sweating forehead.

"There, there," said a voice. "Better out than in, eh?"

Sam spat, wincing at the foul taste, and flopped over onto his back.

"It's the anaesthetic," said the voice again. "It catches some people like that. Don't worry, the operation was a great success. You're going to be fine."

Sam's head jerked up and he looked around woozily. The voice belonged to a short, stocky man in blue scrubs, who gave him a paternal smile.

"Where am I?" Sam asked thickly, the words feeling too large for his mouth.

The nurse's smile faded a little. "Ah, Sam, no. You've not forgotten us again?"

Sam stared at him in confusion, struggling to focus, to understand. "Forgotten - what? Do I know you?"

That earned him a sorrowful smile. "Yes, Sam, you know me. I'm Jonas, remember? Jonas." He searched Sam's eyes. "No? Okay, don't try to push it. It'll come back to you soon enough."

"What will? Who are you? Where am I?"

Jonas sighed. "You're in hospital, Sam. You have been for a while now." He paused. "What do you remember?"

Sam gave a short laugh. "Trust me, Jonas, you don't want to know." He took a deep breath. "Okay, uh -" he swallowed, closing his eyes against a dull, throbbing headache. "I had a car accident. I was knocked down."

"Good, Sam. And?"

"And nothing. I think - have I been in a coma?"

That regretful smile again. "No, Lord bless you. You were knocked down, yes. Three months ago, and you've been with us ever since. We've fixed your legs, your pelvis and your collarbone, and I'm afraid you lost your spleen. And you've recently had a craniotomy to get rid of a blood clot on the brain - that's why you've got that fetching bandage - no, don't touch it, Sam - and why you feel a bit sick."

Sam took his hand away from the back of his head. "I see. And - I knew all this, did I?"

Jonas nodded. "Most of the time. But we've had this conversation - oh, four times now?"

Sam blew out a long breath. "Wow. I just -" he stopped. "Wait - three months?" He leaned forward, one hand grabbing weakly at the front of Jonas's uniform. "Maya - what happened to Maya?"

"Sam, calm down. Just take it easy."

"I don't want to take it easy, I want to know what happened to Maya. I want to see her." Where was she? He needed to see her, touch her, hold her. Tell her he was sorry.

He tried to swing his legs out of the bed, but they felt weak and heavy and didn't want to obey him. "Tell me what happened to my girlfriend, you bastard."

"Sam, get back in bed. You can't get up yet, you're not well enough. Sam, don't. Ah, Jesus. Chris! Chris, can you help me here? Sam, I'm going to give you a sedative. Try to relax,"

Sam tried to push Jonas away, but there was no strength in his arms. "No! I don't want a sedative. I want to get up. I need to get out of here. I -"

There was a sharp sting on his upper arm, and Sam flinched. "Don't. I need to - I need to -"

"You need to stay there, Sam. You need to rest." His legs were lifted and tucked back into the bed.

"No," he said weakly, but his vision was already greying out at the edges. His eyes closed and his head flopped back onto the pillow, which felt suddenly hard and unyielding. He groaned and tried to shift position, but there was no comfort to be had. His head was pounding; a loud, rhythmic thumping that made him wince with every beat.

The thumping got faster. "Sam, open the door. I'm not going away until you do, okay? Not if I have to sit out here all day. Sam? Let me in, please?"

Sam rolled over, realising that he was lying on carpet, not sheet. The smell of vomit wafted up into his nostrils, and he gagged. Shielding his eyes against the light, he staggered to his feet. He groped for the door and managed to pull it open before sinking back to his knees.

"Sam? Thank God, are you - oh Sam." He peered up, blinking, to see Annie standing framed in the doorway, holding out an empty whiskey bottle. "Did you drink all this? No wonder you're in such a state."

He made an incoherent sound and let his head drop, leaning over until he was curled into a ball, his forehead resting on the floor. His head seemed to have been filled with lead; it was far too heavy to hold up.

"No," he said to the carpet. "No, please, no. Not again. I was so close, so close."

A hand, blessedly cool, rested on the back of his neck. "So close to what, Sam? Drinking yourself into a stupor? I'd say you managed it pretty well."

He struggled back into a sitting position, pressing a hand to his mouth as dull, rolling waves of nausea swept over him. "I was back, Annie," he whispered. "I was home. Well, in hospital."

Kneeling at his side, Annie shook her head. "Sam, not that again."

"Yes, Annie. That again. Because 'that' is my life, and I want it back."

"So this - this life - isn't enough for you? Your job, your-" she paused, and looked down at her hands. "Your friends, we're not enough?"

Sam ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Annie, I-" he stopped, not knowing what else to say.

"It's fine," she said, getting up. "I know what you want, and what you don't. You don't have to spell it out."


She paused in the doorway, but didn't look back. "What, Sam?"

He said nothing, and eventually she closed the door behind her.


"Well," said Gene. "Don't we look like something the cat dragged in?" He gave Sam a long, up-and-down look. "Actually, we look like something the cat disembowelled, digested, coughed up again and then dragged in. Rough weekend, Tyler?"

"Yeah," said Sam. "Something like that."

"You better be fighting fit now then, my lad, because we've got a lead on our off licence bandit, and we're going round to have a quiet word. You up for it?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever."

Behind them, Annie coughed. Gene turned the up-and-down look on her. "Something I can do for you, Cartwright?"

"Yes, sir." She glanced around, then stepped closer to Gene and lowered her voice. "I don't think DI Tyler is fit for duty, sir."

"I see. That your medical opinion, is it?"

Annie flushed. "It's my personal opinion, sir. I think DI Tyler is suffering from the effects of a head injury and a possible psychological disorder. I think he needs to see a doctor."

Gene turned back to Sam. "Hear that, Tyler? Cartwright thinks you're a few sandwiches short of a picnic. You got bats in the belfry, eh? Well? What have you got to say for yourself? Talk to me, Tyler. Talk to-"

"-me, Sam. Oh, Sammy, please. Just talk to me."

Sam blinked. The station was gone, and he was sat on a wooden bench in a bright, colourful garden. A hand was holding his. He turned his head slowly, almost not wanting to see.

But she was there.

He took in a hitching breath that caught in his throat. "Mum?"

"Oh, Sam." She smiled, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. "Sam, can you hear me? Do you know who I am?"

He gripped her hand in both of his, laughing through sudden tears of his own. So many different versions in his mind - this one older, more worn than the others - but all the same. "Of course I know who you are."

She let out a wild sob and pulled him into her arms. He could feel her shaking as she crushed him to her chest, and he gripped her back just as hard. "Oh, Sam, Sam. I knew you'd come back to me, I knew it."

He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent and resting his cheek against the smooth softness of her neck. Home. Finally, he was home.

"I missed you so much," she said, and he hugged her tighter.

"I missed you too," he said, his voice cracking. "Mum -" he pulled back slightly, just enough to see her. "What's going on?"

She reached out and cupped his face, her throat working. "You've been sick, Sam. Very sick."

He leaned into her touch, closing his eyes briefly. "I know. I remember. I'm in hospital, there's this guy, a nurse. Jonas. He gave me a sedative."

"Oh, Sam." Her voice broke, and her hand fluttered to her mouth. She swallowed, then nodded. "That's right. You were in hospital and Jonas was helping to look after you. But that was a while ago now, Sam. Do you remember what happened after that, love? Anything?"

He shook his head slowly, his hand going to the back of his neck. No bandage. He moved his legs experimentally, and everything responded. "No, I don't remember anything else. Didn't I get better? I feel fine."

"You did, you did get better." She paused, and gave him a smile that wavered a little. "Physically. But - you've been ill in your mind, Sam. This is a different kind of hospital."

He got to his feet, and her smile faded into a worried, wary expression. "Sam?"

"What happened to me?" He began to pace, then stopped. "Mum? I remember - I remember trying to leave the hospital. They gave me a sedative, but I - I had to -" He whirled back to face her. "Maya! I had to find Maya. Oh god, how long has it been? Jonas said three months, that can't be right, can it? I have to find her, I know who it is, I know where -" he broke off, seeing Ruth's face crumple.

She got up and held out her hands to him. "Sam, no. Don't think about it. It always sets off your bad spells."

"But-" he sank back down onto the bench, suddenly dizzy, and closed his eyes as the ground began to whirl.

"Sam, stay with me. Don't do this, Sam, don't think about it. Don't -"

"-just sit there, Tyler, for fuck's sake! What's the matter with you?"

Sam rubbed his eyes. "What? Mum, what?"

"Jesus hairy arsed /Christ/. Do I look like your sodding mother, Tyler? Wake up, you great steaming - ow, fuck! Do that again, boy, and I will personally rip off your bollocks and feed them to you! Are we clear on that?"

Sam's vision gradually cleared and showed him the inside of the pub. He stared around in confusion, seeing Nelson, Annie and Chris hovering nervously behind the bar while Gene leant on it, rubbing his jaw. A tall, burly guy stood behind him, a gun clutched in one shaking hand and a baseball bat swinging loosely from the other. "What I think we should be clear on," he said, "is that I'm the one with the gun and that makes me in charge. So if there's any ripping off of bollocks to be done, it'll be me doing it. Right?"

"Right you are, Davey," said Gene through clenched teeth. "You're in charge. So what happens now then, eh?"

"What happens now is that you bastards stop harassing me, right? You can't prove it was me, in that offy, so you have to leave me alone." Davey waved the gun for emphasis, and Gene leaned back out of the way. "You leave me alone."

"No problem, Davey boy." Gene held out his hand. "Just give me the gun and we'll say no more about it."

Davey hesitated, then a slow smile spread over his face. "Oh, no, you don't catch me like that."

"Fair enough, lad, you don't trust me and I can't say I blame you. But how about Sam here, eh? Sam's a good bloke, right? Does it all by the book. Likes his evidence and proper procedures, does our Sam. We can't prove anything about that offy job, you got us there. And Sam, he's not like the rest of us. If he knows we got nothing on you, he'll let you go. Isn't that right, Sam?"

Gene nodded pointedly at him and Sam took a deep breath. "I, uh-"

"It is, isn't it, Sam? You know who I am? I swear, Doctor, he was completely lucid before. We were talking, he was responsive, he knew - Sam? Sam, can you hear me, love?"

Sam groaned as the world swam around him again. "Mum?"

"Yes, love it's me. You see? Oh Doctor, he's getting better. I know he is."

Sam blinked against a bright light suddenly filling his eyes. "Sam? My name is Doctor Kennis. Do you know where you are?"

Sam ran his tongue over cracked, dry lips. "In hospital." He managed not to make it a question.

Kennis gave him an encouraging nod. "Good, Sam, that's good. Do you know why you're here?"

Sam swallowed. "I'm... ill. In my mind."

"That's right." Kennis paused, and folded his hands in his lap. "You suffered a psychotic break, Sam. You've been delusional - hallucinating. But you've been getting better, and this is excellent progress you've made today. You need to build on this, Sam, if you want to get better." He leaned forward, searching Sam's face. "Do you want to, Sam? Do you want to get well?"

His mother's hand squeezed his, and he nodded. "Yes."

"Then you've got to let it go, Sam," she said. "Just let it go."

He looked at her, frowning. "What?"

She glanced at Kennis, who nodded. "This other world," she continued. "The one you've been hiding in. You've got to come back to this one, Sam. You've got to face the truth."

"Maya," he whispered, and the pressure on his hand increased. Nails dug into his skin.

"Yes," said Doctor Kennis. "We can help you, Sam, but you need to-"

"-get the gun, Sam, get the fucking gun. For Christ's sake-" Gene's voice snapped off as Davey grappled with him and they both crashed backwards. There was a sharp crack as Gene's head impacted with the wall, and he dropped bonelessly to the floor. Annie screamed and ran towards him, but Davey swung round and sent her sprawling with a vicious backhanded swipe from the bat. Blood flew from her mouth and she fell, landing half on top of Chris, who was curled on his side, clutching his stomach and groaning.

"I told you," Davey screamed. "I told you not to try anything! You don't listen to me, nobody ever fucking listens to me."

The gun lay on the floor between Sam and Davey. They both stared at it, then at each other.

"Sam," said Nelson, ducked down behind the bar. "Sam, you need to decide what you're going to do."

"I'm listening," said Sam softly.

Davey eyed him. "No, you're not. You don't care. You don't care about any of this."

Sam shook his head. "You're wrong. I care."

He blinked, and his mother gripped his hand. "Sam, please. Nobody blames you for what happened to Maya. She wouldn't want this, she wouldn't want you to keep punishing yourself."

"I'm going to take the gun," said Davey, "and then it'll all be over. That's what you want, isn't it?"

"You can do it, Sam," said Ruth. "It's okay. I'm here and I love you. I just want you to come home."

Davey edged closer towards the gun, bending down slowly. "Nearly there now. Just stay where you are, and let me finish this. Then we can all go home."

"It's your choice, Sam," said Nelson.

On the floor, Gene groaned. "Tyler," he said thickly. "For the love of all that's holy, do something."

"Please, Sam," said Ruth. "I know you loved Maya but she's dead, she's gone, there's nothing you can do for her any more. Let her rest, now."

Sam closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands, shutting her out. Shutting it all out.

"Maya's dead," he said, testing the sound of it. "She's gone."

Ruth began to cry softly. "Yes, love."

Dead. He turned the word over in his mind, trying to make sense of it. Dead. Killed. Murdered by that psycho bastard Kramer, because he hadn't been there to save her. Because he'd left her behind.

He exhaled slowly, then opened his eyes. "Maya's dead," he said again. "But Gene isn't. Annie, Chris - they're still alive." He remembered the sound of Gene's groan, Annie's scream. He still had time, but not much.

Ruth stared at him, the hope in her eyes turning to incomprehension and finally to horror. "No, Sam. Please."

He picked up her hands in both of his and gripped them hard. "If I don't go back, they're going to die. I can't stand by and let that happen."

She pulled him towards her, shaking her head frantically. "They're not real, Sam. None of that is real."

He allowed himself to relax in her arms, breathing in the warm scent of her skin. Her arms went around him, her fingers digging into his shoulders so hard that it began to hurt. "I can't take that chance," he said. "Mum, listen to me - I love you, but - I can't just let them die. I can't."

"Sam - oh Sam, no -"

He pulled back and faced her, trying to smile. "I'm sorry, Mum."

She sobbed and he tried to wipe the tears from her face, but when he brought up his hand it passed through nothing but air.

"Goodbye," he said softly, then turned and launched himself at Davey, pushing him backwards and kicking the gun out of reach under one of the tables.

"Hey! You can't do that."

"I think you'll find he just did," said Gene, grabbing Davey's coat. "And I further think you'll find that you, sunshine, are well and truly nicked." He swung Davey around and head-first into the wall. "See how you like it," he said, brushing off his hands as Davey crumpled.

"You have the right," he said, aiming a kick at Davey's stomach, "to remain unconscious. Now, I need a damage report here. DC Skelton! Wakey wakey, little soldier."

Chris groaned and rolled over onto his side. "He gave me a right good kicking, Guv."

"Well, get up and come and return the favour. Cartwright! You go and die on me, or what?"

"No, Guv," said Annie, getting to her feet and holding her hand to her face. "But I don't think I'll be winning any beauty contests for a while." She moved her hand and revealed a swollen, still-bleeding lip and a rapidly closing eye.

"Neither will I, Cartwright, but at least yours will heal." Gene strode towards Sam. "Right, Tyler. You took your sweet fucking time about it, but good work. Now let's get this bastard banged up, shall we?" He turned round to face Nelson. "And you - I still never got my fucking pint. So I'll expect it, on the house, when I get back. Right?"

Nelson grinned and gave him a thumbs-up. "Right you are." He winked at Sam, and began sweeping up the broken glass.

A hand touched Sam's arm, and he turned to see Annie watching him closely. "Sam? Are you all right?"

He gave her a small smile. "No, not really. But you are, and that's what matters."

She nodded slowly then paused, her eyes searching his."Thank you."

He reached out and gently lifted her chin, wincing at the sight of the rapidly-colouring bruises. "For what? Letting you get hurt?"

"No." She looked at him steadily. "For, you know. Coming back for us. It looked like you were kind of... elsewhere, for a while."

Sam sighed. "Yeah. I think I was."

She said nothing, and he moved his hand round to gently stroke her cheek. "But I don't think I'll be going back there any more."

She swallowed, and he could feel the muscles of her jaw moving under his hand. "I feel like I should say I'm sorry, but I can't." She brought her hand up and laid it over his. "I don't know what goes on in that head of yours or where you go, Sam, but I know that this - right here, right now - this is real."

He looked at her for a long time. "I know," he said eventually.

She squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry about what I said earlier, you know. About you being unfit for duty."

He shook his head. "Don't be. You were right. I should listen to you, Annie."

Her smile brightened. "Can I have that in writing? And witnessed?"

He laughed. "That's my girl."

"Come on then, kiddies," said Gene, clapping his hands. "Chop chop. We need to get this little mess cleaned up and then it's all back to normal."

Chris glanced over from where he was standing guard over the still-unconscious Davey. "Won't Ray be pissed off that he missed it all? Shall I go find him, Guv? Tell him he can pack in the traipsing, now?"

Gene chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Yeah, go on, then. I still haven't had my bloody crisps, either. Cartwright, go and get us a pie or something, love, before I waste away."

Annie grinned. "Back to normal it is, then," she said, as she walked away.

"Right," said Sam, staring around the pub a little dazedly. "Back to normal."

"Wake up, Tyler, there's a good lad," said Gene, clapping him on the back. "There's coppering to be done."

Gene gave Sam a push, and snorted. "Back to normal. Whatever the fuck that means, anyway."

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