It starts on a normal day. Annie's alarm goes at 7AM and she hits it, rolls out of bed, brushes her teeth in front of the mirror. She wrestles out tangled clumps, plucks a few stray eyebrow hairs. She lets out the last yawn of the morning as she buttons her blouse and yanks her nylons up under her skirt.
Bus stop, front doors, office. She ignores Ray's leer as she strides past him and to her desk. Normal.
The Guv's already in the office, arms crossed, ordering plods around. Chris clambers through the doors, late, on about a leak in his shower. Annie listens patiently, assures him a flood won't ruin his carpet -- some towels should fix it, soak it up. Chris thanks her for the "bird advice" and wanders off.
She's about to start in on a file when--
"Annie. Annie, can we--"
She raises her eyes. Sam's planted his palms on the edge on her desk and he breathes hard, like he ran all the way up the stairs. His eyes glint with that -- that. Oh, no.
"Yes, sir?" she asks.
"Um." Sam runs a hand through his hair. He glances between her and the doors. "Can we... could we...?"
"Okay," Annie replies, soft and automatic as she stands from her chair. She notices how his hand tenses and untenses as they walk out the double-doors, like it does every time he wants to touch her, but won't.
He leads her all the way to the corner cabinets, then turns.
"Have you... noticed anything odd, today?"
Annie lets out a little laugh. It comes out more tired than she means it to. "Like how you're skulking about?"
"Annie," Sam says, with that tone of his, help me, like a searchlight through his eyes.
Annie clasps her hands in front of her. "No," she says, firm. "I haven't."
Sam nods. His gaze drifts away as he rubs one hand over the back of the other, then presses both of them to his mouth. "Okay."
Annie follows his line of sight to the nearby window and its view out toward the city, clear and bright. She chances a smile and edges toward him, lays a hand on his arm.
"See," she says. "Same as always."
Sam doesn't answer for a moment.
"I had a dream last night," he whispers.
Like every night, Annie wants to say, but she bites it back. He can't help it, she thinks. He can't hide it. "What kind of dream?"
Sam drops his hands from his mouth. Annie feels his muscles go tense under his jacket.
"Nothing," he says. "Nothing, I--" He shakes his head, turns away from her. "I have to write up some duplicates. Thanks, Annie."
His arm slips out of her grasp, smooth leather past her fingertips. He walks away, something strange in his gait, not quite connected to the ground.
Annie sighs. She reaches for the window and cracks it open a smidge. Strange day to get like that, she thinks as she twists her mouth. Warm and sunny, with hardly a cloud in the wide green sky.
Annie runs in late the next morning. Her neighbor's cat got caught on a ledge in her building -- Mrs. Paulson, elderly woman, widow. She wasn't able to coax her tabby down and so Annie climbed up on an old, rickety ladder, grabbed him, and carried him down halfway before he yowled and scratched his way out of her arms.
But helping people is what a police officer does, dainty and slim as this one may be. Annie smiles with this as she strides into CID with her purse over her shoulder, wearing a scratch mark on her cheek like a war wound. She sees Sam by the radio and quickens her pace.
"Sorry I'm late." She thinks of how she might tell him, the funny little tidbits to use. "My neighbor--"
"I did something." Sam turns toward her, face pale. "I -- you won't believe it. You won't believe what I've done."
Annie stops. She closes her mouth as something small sinks in her chest.
"Oh?" she asks.
A shaky smile spreads over Sam's face. He nods. "I'll show you. After work."
Annie smiles back.
The morning's small victory fades away over the course of the day, consumed by overwhelming dread. Not that it'll be anything, Annie thinks as she taps her pencil on the sheet in front of her. Sam will think he's proved something, but he won't have, really -- except that he needs help, he really, really needs help. Annie wonders if it's been worse, lately, but then again, it was never good in the first place. Annie remembers, with a little knot in her chest, the tape Sam turned over to Rathbone, how he'd nearly ended them all. She thinks how she could end him with much less.
Annie shivers. She buries herself in work and doesn't emerge until hours later, when Sam strides up to her desk.
"C'mon." He grins. "Clocking out time."
Ten minutes past, Annie thinks. She hopes Sam didn't notice. She also hopes, in some dark little corner of her conscience, that next time she can bring herself to shuffle out to the pub with the others, miss Sam somehow and pretend she's forgotten all about it.
But that's the trouble, with being all someone has.
"Yeah." Annie gathers her purse and follows him out to his car.
Sam babbles as they walk up the steps to his flat. "I changed the sky back, too. I know you didn't notice, but--"
"I don't think anyone did. Sam--" Annie lets out a nervous laugh. "What's on with you, then?"
Sam strides down the hall to his door and jangles his keys in the lock. He grins and swings it open.
Annie winces as she makes her way over, expecting -- she's not sure. Papers plastered on the walls, maybe, or shards of broken glass on the floor.
She stops in front of the doorway and pauses. She relaxes.
"All right." She turns toward him, smile almost delirious with relief. "What is it, then?"
Sam's expression tightens, then falls. He glances in, then out again.
"You really don't..."
"Rather odd way to ask a girl to your flat, don't you think?" Annie steps into the living room and crosses her arms, masking her happiness with coy indignation.
Sam walks in, toward the kitchen, behind the granite countertop. He swallows as he rests his hand, slow, against the stainless steel refrigerator. Like it could burn him.
"You..." He raises her eyes to her, wide and horrified. "None of this is strange to you?"
Annie's good humor drops back down into her stomach.
"I..." she trails off, glances from the vinyl couch to the glass coffee table, to the framed abstract art and the flatscreen TV. She shrugs, helpless. "It's your flat, Sam."
Sam's eyes wander away. He leans his elbows on the countertop beside him, presses his face into his hands.
"Yeah," he mumbles. "It is."
Sam stays quiet for a few days after that. Annie's eager to give him space at first, but she regrets it as he comes in with progressively darker eyes, shakier hands, less and less energy, less and less fight with the Guv.
"Sir..." she tries as she hands him a file.
"Haven't been sleeping," he snaps, like he was expecting it. He digs a knuckle into his temple.
Annie bites her lip. "Any reason?"
"Oh." Sam raises his head, rolls his eyes, laughs low and dark. "So many reasons."
Annie sometimes doesn't know how to reply in moments like this, has learned Sam's side of the conversation, but not her own. "I..." she shakes her head. "That's helpful."
Sam glares at her. He sighs and his eyes wander off. He scratches his neck. "It's... difficult to explain."
"So don't." Annie manages a smile and gingerly pats her hand over his. "Just take care of yourself. Get some rest. All right?"
Sam stares back at her, silent, dead-eyed. It might break her heart.
"Okay," he says, hoarse.
Barbara calls that night to let Annie know that Mum's worse, that the coughing fits are coming more often and with less reprieve. She says it with the older sister tone she often likes to take, the one with an underlying current of I already have children to look after and university girls are silly, and selfish.
Annie wakes up the next morning with un-curled hair and too many minutes past seven on her bedside clock. By the time she ducks into CID, she has neither the time nor the inclination to pay attention to whatever Sam and the Guv are yelling about.
But at least Sam is yelling again, which means he's gotten some rest, gone back to "Boss-normal," Chris calls it. Annie's forced to assume that this means he's better, stops keeping one eye on him every moment they share a room. She busies herself with the Geoff Lovett investigation, rings several eyewitnesses, of which only two take her seriously. She takes it in stride and writes down what she can. Sam will ask her why her report isn't more detailed with the scrutiny that he reserves for her alone, and Annie will lie, because Sam has enough to worry about without wishing away the wrongs of the world.
"Why've you only got two lines on the Robson statement?" Sam asks at the end of the day, frowning down at the file in his hands.
Didn't think 'you sound pretty for a plonk' was pertinent. Annie sighs. "He didn't have much to offer."
"Hm." Sam doesn't catch on, per usual. He glances up when Annie rubs a hand over her eye. "You all right?"
"I'm... fine." Annie shuffles her papers and picks up her purse. "Just need to check in on something, way home."
Sam frowns. "Aren't coming to pub?"
Annie's hand tightens on her purse strap. Sam asks with the blithe surprise of a person so accustomed to someone's routine that they have forgotten there could be anything outside it.
"Seeing my sister." She flashes a little smile. "So no, suppose not."
Chris joins them as they walk down the stairs. He laments that now his tap's leaking too and Annie says he might want to call someone -- soon, probably. Sam doesn't know what he's talking about.
"You need to pay more attention," Annie says, almost joking. Sam rolls his eyes, on the launchpad of one of his tirades, something about how he has been paying attention and that's how he knows nothing's different this time, thank god, when someone slams through the station's front doors.
They all turn. Annie freezes.
"Want DCI Gene Hunt," says Geoff Lovett, the GBH suspect she's been tracking. He's got his hand inside his coat. "Want him now."
Chris must not recognize him -- hasn't seen the photos in the reports. He frowns and glances around. "Uh. Think the Guv's gone to--"
Crack. It's quick as that, how Lovett yanks his pistol out, how he pulls the trigger. How Chris hits the ground and blood spreads over his shirt.
Annie yells. She drops down, clutches his shoulders in her hands. She hears another pop and Lovett falls too.
"Chris!" Warm blood seeps in through Annie's skirt, to the skin of her knees.
The plod who shot Lovett yells something behind her. Annie wrenches her cardigan off her shoulders and presses it to Chris' chest, watches the slow blink of his eyes. "Sam, call an ambulance!"
"Suicide by cop," Sam whispers behind her. He doesn't move.
Annie's head snaps toward him. "Sam!" she shouts, shaking. "Sam, help him!"
Sam meets her eyes. For a moment, he remains still.
"Yeah," he mumbles. He turns and walks toward the doors.
"SAM!" she yells, louder. "Don't you dare, don't you dare--"
"I'll save him," Sam says. He pushes through the station entrance, out to the moon-lit world. "I can save him."
Annie wakes up angry. She brushes her teeth for a half-minute, yanks tangles out of her hair. She misses a button on her blouse and doesn't give a damn, storms into CID with a click in her step. When she catches Sam sitting at his desk, tapping a pencil and staring off, she sees red.
"What was that, sir," she says, slow, as she approaches him. "What was that, last night?"
"It... what?" Sam blinks up at her and for a moment looks terrified. "What, last night?"
Chris stops by and asks if they'd like some scones. Annie waves him off.
"You!" she hisses. "Just... running off!"
Sam's eyes follow Chris as he walks away from them. He swallows and looks back to her.
"Running off from what, Annie?"
Annie opens her mouth, but where she expects words to tumble out, she finds nothing. A chasm between mountains, landslide choked at the entrance.
"I..." She stands there as her anger trickles away. "Nothing."
There's a horrible moment. Annie feels like she's drowning in it. Nothing.
"--which is exactly," she gets out, in a huff, "what your problem is -- leaving without saying a word, never explaining a thing, just... it's daft, Sam!"
"Yeah." Sam fixes his eyes on the top of his desk. "Daft."
Annie tries to shake off the dazed feeling she gets the rest of the day, or the way Sam goes quiet and stays that way. Barbara doesn't call to say Annie missed coming by last night, and that's odd, Annie thinks, that's a really odd thing to notice, because everything's fine -- Annie never planned to go by in the first place.
She still feels a bit off by the end of the day, when she gathers up her things and heads out the doors. She runs into Sam standing against the wall of the hallway, hands deep in his jacket pockets.
"I've decided," he says. He raises his eyes to meet hers. "I can fix things here, and I've decided -- I'm going to."
Annie shifts her weight. She forces the corners of her mouth up. "I know, sir. That's what you always--"
"I can do it this time," Sam continues, some kind of gravity in the vowels of his words. "I'll fix it all."
Annie feels a chill, same way she did when she saw Sam's silhouette against the edge of the station roof that day, same as she does each time he talks about the world like it's made of lies and clay.
"Okay." She swallows and steps past him. "See you tomorrow, then."
"Yeah," Sam murmurs behind her, "tomorrow." As she rounds the corner, his voice is lost to her.
Annie doesn't know why she has trouble sleeping, but by the time she looks into the bathroom mirror, her eyes are red and the rings around them are dark. She presses a hand to her face and lets out a little curse before she turns toward the wardrobe and pulls some clothes out.
It's at least a quiet day at the station. Annie takes the opportunity to sort the papers that have been piling up on her desk, though there are a few less than she thought there might be. The Guv takes off early for once, something about meeting his brother for darts.
"Don't know why," he mutters as he shrugs on his coat, "bastard never wants to bet, never bloody hits the board -- something funny, Tyler?"
Sam shakes his head, grinning down at his interview transcript. "No, Guv. Not at all."
The day draws to a close without any real commotion -- been a slow week, Annie thinks. Slow month, in fact.
Sam approaches her desk as she pulls her jacket off her chair. "Hey."
"Hey." Annie shoulders her purse. "You coming to pub tonight?"
"No, I..." Sam falters, then clears his throat. "Just wanted to check -- on a case we did, few months past."
Annie laughs. "We've done loads of cases, Sam."
"One in particular -- Morton Brothers, do you remember?"
Annie stops in her tracks. Morton Brothers.
"Do you recall what happened to that witness -- Vic Tyler, was it?"
That same feeling from last night dances under Annie's skin -- needle-pricks and dread. She turns to face him.
"Same name as you, 'course I remember." She manages to sound cheerful. "Got cleared of all charges once we found out Warren's old assistant was running the racket. He went back to his family, didn't he?"
"Yeah." Sam smiles, wide and big. "I believe he did."
Annie's mobile wakes her up. She presses her face into her pillow as it vibrates once, then twice.
One more buzz and she grabs it, pulls it to her ear. "Hello?" she mumbles.
"Annie!" Sam's voice says, high and happy. "What's today?"
Annie stares at the ceiling. "What?"
"Today. The date, today!"
I need bloody boundaries, Annie thinks, palm pressed deep into the skin of her cheek. She drags it down.
"It's certainly not my birthday. Sam, why--"
"Is it 2006?"
"Of course it is," Annie hisses. She sits up on the edge of her bed, lets the bottoms of her feet hit the hardwood. "Sam, I--"
"See you at the station," Sam cuts her off. "I -- god, yes, I'll see you."
Her mobile beeps. Annie pulls it from her face to glare at it a moment, then she tosses it on the bed.
Her head hurts. She walks to the bathroom and takes two Anadin. It gets worse when she arrives at the office, when she shivers under the harsh glow of the environmentally friendly light fixtures. She retreats to the break room when she's unable to read e-mails off her monitor without her stomach churning.
That's where Sam finds her. She smiles, motions to her cup. "Just needed coffee."
"Right." Sam swallows, uneasy, at odds with his cheer in this morning's phone ambush. "Annie, have you noticed..."
Annie's shoulders go rigid. Have you noticed. Fire creeps up from her belly into her chest, something old, slow-burning, like the flame at the end of a wick. When she turns to see Sam's sagging posture and fidgety hands, she barely stops herself from slapping him.
He gazes back out the door, at the quiet floor, at the whirring computers on the empty desks.
The air vents crackle. Her voice comes out cold. "Noticed what, Sam?"
Sam looks up at her. Shallow breaths race in and out of his chest.
"There's no one else."
"I know." Annie turns toward him, coffee stirrer between her thumb and forefinger. She makes concentric circles in her cup, smaller, then larger. The heat from the mug spreads into her hand.
"This entire city," Sam whispers. "No one but us."
Annie straightens and steps away from the counter. She's taller than him, in her heels, with her rigid posture. "I know. That's how it's always been."
"I didn't mean to." Sam grits his teeth. "I just... I thought of home, and then -- how it'd be nice, just the two of us, for a second--"
"What's nice about it?"
Sam raises his eyes, wide, wet with half-formed tears. Annie advances on him.
"What's so nice about it, Sam?"
Sam's mouth hangs open before he closes it again. "What kind of question is that?"
"Just the two of us." She takes a long draught of her coffee, feels the burn on her tongue. "Me here, for you. To listen to you, hold you, tell you it'll all be all right. To love--"
Her words stop. She raises her wrist and sees a bracelet there, silver and thin.
Anniversary present, she remembers. They kissed under an apple tree.
She lowers her wrist and Sam comes back into focus, his pressed suit, his haggard face, his guilt, scrubbed into the lines of his eyes and mouth.
"I'm so sorry," he whispers, like a record scratched raw. "I didn't mean to."
Annie smiles. "You did." She walks past him, into the hollow room ahead. "You always do."
Annie wakes up to stone and wood beams over her head. She washes her face in her basin, lets her handmaiden help tie her corset. When she arrives in the main square, Sam draws toward her in his buttoned shirt and britches, seizes her by the arm and says, "Annie, I couldn't this time--"
The sea rocks her to the waking world. She climbs up to the main deck and feels a wind pulling them to the west, away from the cloud bank Chris pointed out yesterday. When the Guv yells to hoist the main sail, everyone cheers except for Sam, who pushes toward her through the crowd.
"You have to believe me--"
Sirens. Annie slams out of bed and yanks on her shoes, which slap loosely around her bare feet as she rushes down the stairs to the basement. She finds Mrs. Paulson's cat yowling in the hall and clutches him in her arms. She can't find Mrs. Paulson.
The earth starts to quake. The basement door bursts open.
"Annie," Sam gasps, "it's getting worse--"
The gun's in Annie's hand before she opens her eyes. She almost gasps in relief when she sees Sam through the peephole instead of one of the Others, unlatches the deadbolt and opens the door a crack to pull him in.
"God." She smiles. "We thought you'd--"
He grabs her shoulders. His fingers dig like death into her skin.
He whispers, "I can't--"
Annie wakes up to Sam crying beside her.
Annie wakes up. She walks out to a white room where Sam sits at a table, his head in his hands.
She rests a hand on his back. He digs fingers into his hair.
"It seemed so simple." He laughs into his wrist. "If I broke things, I thought... I could put them back together."
Annie feels the tug of a smile at the side of her mouth, like the kind she'd give a child. "Sometimes it just takes one brick for the whole wall to fall down."
Sam lets out a breath. After a moment, he turns to hug her.
She hugs him back. He buries his face in her shoulder.
"Thank you," he says.
Annie's alarm goes at 7AM.
She hits it, rolls out of bed, brushes her teeth in front of the mirror. She wrestles out tangled clumps, plucks a few stray eyebrow hairs. She lets out the last yawn of the morning as she buttons her blouse and yanks her nylons up under her skirt.
Mrs. Paulson sees her on her way out, waves and thanks her for the valiant cat rescue a few days ago. Annie laughs and says that helping people is what a police officer does, dainty and slim as this one may be. Duncan is the cat's name, Mrs. Paulson tells her. He purrs when Annie scratches under his chin.
She gets to the bus stop when she hears a voice.
Annie turns. A man jogs to catch up with her, hands deep in his jacket pockets.
"Can I help you?" she asks. The man pauses, then glances down.
"No." The medallion around his neck glints in the sunlight. He smiles, and there's something sad in it. "Just... needed to check, is all. I can go now."
Her bus pulls up to the curb. She turns and boards it.
She sits down and glances out the window as the wheels creak and pull away. The bus stop is empty, and that's odd, Annie thinks, that's a really odd thing to notice, because there was no one else there in the first place.