ariafic: (life on mars (radio times))
Aria's Fanfic ([personal profile] ariafic) wrote2009-08-01 02:29 pm

Life On Mars: Quicksand

Fandom: Life On Mars
Rating: PG
Word count: 1998
Characters/pairing: Sam
Summary: There has to be limits to what the mind can do. Grit on Annie's palms, all the air knocked out of him when Gene slams him into a wall, cigarette smoke and the sticky drink rings on the tables at the Arms. Limits.
Spoilers: for the whole series.

You can also read this fic on the Archive of Our Own.


Sam's in hospital nearly a month after he first wakes. He dreams, once, of being back in a musty dark corridor pervaded with the indefinable sense of 1973, phone ringing off the hook; dreams of picking it up to Annie's screams, thin with terror, Sam, help us; wakes with limbs like lead.

While his hair is growing back from the surgery and he's learning to eat solids again, there's not a thing he can do but think. He tries not to. He reads books with fumbling fingers and the words lie flat on the pages. He asks for reports from his department so he might be brought up to date, and those words lie flatter still. So he thinks.

He thinks: it doesn't all hang together properly. He'd known what Morgan looked like, known, from the mustache to the balding to the crinkle-eyed smile meant to be reassuring. There has to be limits to what the mind can do. Grit on Annie's palms, all the air knocked out of him when Gene slams him into a wall, cigarette smoke and the sticky drink rings on the tables at the Arms. Limits.

A DS Mike Patterson comes to visit, catching him up on cases, changes of personnel, changes in procedure. Diffidently. Walking metaphorically on the metaphorical eggshells. A polite Dr Susan Thorpe works with him in physical therapy; she doesn't say, but Sam knows she's amazed at the lack of muscle atrophy. A psychiatric liaison arrives from the Metropolitan Police: she's here on behalf of her colleague DI Drake, who's making a sort of project out of collecting reports of officers who have suffered psychological trauma. Sam doesn't ask how she knows his coma qualifies. He just nods and watches the wariness on her face, on Dr Thorpe's, on DS Patterson's.

He's seen it a hundred times on Chris's face and on Annie's. And he'd thought that in 2006 no one would look at him like he was mad.


The clothes left for him are identical to all his clothes in 2006. Sensible suit, professional. He feels shorter -- flat shoes, of course -- jacket too wide at the shoulders, tie strangely restricting. The clothes fit all wrong. Sam's skin fits all wrong.


He's seen his mother a couple of times since waking, but once he's released from hospital he goes at once to see her properly, even before returning to his own flat (at the old textile factory, blood where his kitchen table will be/is). "Sammy," she says, opening the door to him, "I didn't know they'd let you go."

"Had to eventually," he says, and enfolds her in a hug.

She makes tea and they sit together, Sammy and his mum, in silence until Sam murmurs, "It was good of you to talk to me. When I was in the coma. Some days it was all that kept me going." He watches her trembling smile and wonders if she's always been like this and he missed it somehow, wrapped up in the business of being Sam the copper, not Sam the son. If she's always been brave-faced and bright-eyed and knowing her boys will leave her.

"And I had a lot of time to think, in here," Sam says, fingers tapping once twice against his temple in indication. Deep breath. "The day of that wedding, when Dad left -- what happened really? You knew he wasn't coming back."

"I knew," Ruth Tyler admits. Drinks her tea. Has a pink wafer. Sam doesn't push. "He was caught up in something to do with the police. They even had the local DCI down for it, but they never caught him. A very nice inspector told me to give you hope, and that's what I did. But he did love us, Sam, I'm sure of that."


"And I love you," Sam says. "Thanks for the tea, Mum."


Back at the station -- Sam's station, not Sam's station, the same exterior, same steps, third floor as it should be, his sensible modern desk and the heaven of his computer -- he arrives to the flurry of "Good to have you back, sir"s and marvels at how professional it all looks. They're working fifteen cases at once, profiling, forensics, leads, two halfway to trial already. Smooth efficient cogs.

Maya isn't here: "DI Roy transferred to Trafford a few months back at her own request, sir," he's told, by fresh-faced DI Barringer. Barringer introduces Sam to the acting DCI, a coldly efficient woman named McCallen. Sam's treated to a firm handshake and a "Delighted to see you in working order, Inspector," that is at least a third part sincerity.

It all runs beautifully. Sam nods and says "Thanks" a lot and squints at his computer screen until he has a bastard big headache and knows they'll have to let at least four of these cases go on lack of evidence. He drinks a paper cup of water from the little cooler against the white wall and wonders why he's reading these reports. All the people in this room who need to know already know.

He's completely unnecessary here.


Glenn is dead; Sam murmurs polite words about missing the funeral and looks up the date. May 3, 2006. May 3, 1973. Same paper date.

He wonders if Glenn recognised him, and wonders why he's thinking stupid things. Brain in a coma sorting through old problems, that's all.

He wishes Glenn was here now.


The awful thing -- the really absolutely godawful thing -- is his newfound love affair with ghosts. A girl's brunette bob as she passes wrenches his head in one direction, a man in a camelhair coat another. He feels regret and longing clutch at his throat, real honest emotion, bright and hard and shattering.

He goes to see Maya.

"I'm glad you're all right," she says, not meeting his eyes. Slender brown fingers fiddle with her napkin; they're meeting in public at a nice little café, as though having bystanders as witness would make the whole thing more bearable. Sam half expects her to fumble in her bag for a cigarette, classic follow-up to these other nervous gestures, before he remembers that she's never smoked.

"I know you stopped coming to see me." Sam tries to catch her gaze, make her look at him. "It's okay, Maya. You didn't know how long I was going to be gone."

"I know," Maya echoes. Napkin twisting into little paper shreds. "God, Sam, I just spent so much time feeling responsible for what happened."

"It's hardly your fault," Sam protests. "I should have listened to your feeling about Raimes. It was right on the mark."

Now Maya does look at him, confused. "Raimes?"

"Yeah, you know. Colin Raimes. We tried to fit him up for murder?"

"I -- Sam --" And here it is, the first familiar thing, the gentle treading concern around his fragile mind. Annie had used that tone with him when coaxing him down from the rooftop. "I'm sorry, I really don't know what you're talking about."

"The -- day of the crash, Maya," Sam says, fumbling. Things were supposed to get easier.

By now the napkin is nearly confetti. "Sam, we had an argument. A silly argument over procedure. You said you wanted to be alone for a while and drove off. Fifteen minutes later I got the call you were in an accident."

A small bubble of elation bursts silent in Sam's chest. I changed things. "But you're not dead," he points out, and to Maya's look of bewilderment melting into a weary worry, "Don't beat yourself up about it. I'm fine." He stands, leans forward and presses a kiss to Maya's forehead. "Goodbye, Maya. Have a fantastic life."

"Sam --"

"With someone who deserves you," Sam says quietly, and leaves her.


Nothing but snowy noise in the late-night crackle between stations. No concerned nurses. His mum an easy literal phone call away. Sam turns the telly off and sleeps in the dark and the quiet.


He dreams again of being on the train that last terrible day, but the plot's all wrong. They've forgotten to dress undercover: Chris in a loud green jumper, Annie in her black-and-white WPC clothes, Ray repeating aloud again and again "I'm a Detective Sergeant, aren't I?" Gene's wearing a shiny sheriff's badge. Only Sam's dressed proper, in his good pressed suit like he's meant to be. The train goes screaming into the tunnel and the darkness outside goes on and on.

"Wait for it, Sammy-boy," Gene says, big hand settling authoritatively on his shoulder. "Blink and you'll miss. One day we'll be so far gone it'll be Westerns all over. You'll have a shiny badge too, finally make you a bit of a man."

"I told you," says Sam, bone-deep tired, "I'm already a DCI."

"Sergeant, aren't I?" Ray mutters.

"Take a trip to the city lights," Chris advises him, "And take the long way home."

"Shut up, Chris, that's Supertramp," Sam says.

"Sam," Annie says. She's been saying it for a while. "Sam," and blood is seeping like Rorschach stains through the white of her shirt. He stares at it in horror and Gene's grip on his shoulder is crushing, grounding him, grounding him, pulling him down.

"Blink and you'll miss it," Gene hisses. "What's the snap decision, Tyler?"

"Stay," Annie gasps; breaks like red butterflies, Chris green as emeralds and Ray a blue blur; Gene dissolving into his skin. Nothing.

Sam wakes and lies still in his dark room, the mattress solid under him. The inside of his head echoes with horror, and he does not shake. Lifts a hand experimentally to his face and feels nothing, like he's forgotten how to cry.


He spends a morning in the archives, shuffling through old paper files and electronic scans. Edward Kramer: fitted up for the murder of Suzie Tripper. Sam crosschecks Colin Raimes in the database and finds absolutely nothing. A search for Tony Crane produces no mention his own sidelined trial and Eve Crane, deceased. Crane was put into asylum in 1973. Sam wracks his brain for glaring changes to the fabric of the twenty-first century, can think of none, can think of no other mundane details to distract him.

Manchester Police Force, A Division, 1973. Superintendent Harry Woolf. CID for A Division, DCI Gene Hunt. Litton listed under RSC, even. Ray; Chris; Annie's promoition, the first female detective in the division. And: Tyler, Sam. CID A Division DI: March 1973 through --

Sam slams the file shut, mind awash with a sort of whiteness, not quite shock, not quite fear.

Not quite mad.

The logistics of time travel are still a bit of a difficulty.


"You always keep your promises," Ruth says, gentle as anything. He can hardly bear to look at her. How do you explain without explaining a thing? As forgiveness for running? Like father like son. "Sammy," Ruth says, and when he looks back at her she smiles, face in contours of love, the old refrain. "We all do what we have to. You'll understand."

He nods, although he doesn't yet. He will; she's promised.

Snap decisions.


The radio crackles and Sam starts, a knee-jerk reaction. He sighs and reaches for the radio to tune it: static, traffic report, static, sudden clear burst of song, a woman singing, "-- if birds fly over the rainbow --"

Sam stares at it.

"Why can't I," he whispers.


Once upon a time in a dingy flat Sam Tyler cut himself shaving. Hurt like a bastard.

Once upon a time Sam Tyler talked with a barman and talked with his mother.

Once upon a time in a board meeting in which vitally important things were being decided by people who knew the cases and the jargon and the cold hard facts, Sam Tyler watched the blood welling up on his thumb and thought about patterns.


[personal profile] petere_capere 2009-08-01 07:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Creepily enough, a buddy and I were discussing EXACTLY this yesterday.
You, brilliant.
aria: ([life on mars] phil and john are love)

[personal profile] aria 2009-08-01 08:03 pm (UTC)(link)
Which bit? The "it can be time travel if I want!!" bit, or something else?

And thanks. :D

[personal profile] petere_capere 2009-08-01 08:13 pm (UTC)(link)
The bit where there wasn't enough shown in the show itself, and how it all seemed way too sudden. But you, with everything that you put into this fic, made that suddenly OKAY.

(Anonymous) 2009-08-01 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Sorry for such a short comment, but this is brilliant; I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you!


(I don't have a DreamWidth account but I don't want to be anonymous)
travels_in_time: (Default)

[personal profile] travels_in_time 2009-08-02 12:48 am (UTC)(link)
A friend and I just saw the last episode yesterday and I was complaining that there seemed to be about 15 minutes missing in it. Specifically, what changed his mind from "two seasons of desperately trying to get home" to "WHEE, JUMP!" This fills in the gaps nicely, so thank you!

He nods, although he doesn't yet. He will; she's promised.

Is this implying that he'll go and tell his mum everything, at some point in the past? And that she's promised that she'll let him know it's okay to go? Or am I just reading too much into it? Because that would make me feel much better, too.
aria: ([life on mars] phil and john are love)

[personal profile] aria 2009-08-02 01:37 am (UTC)(link)
Yes! I figure either past!Ruth and ... returned-to-the-70s!Sam probably have a talk about it, or Ruth's clever enough to figure it out on her own once Sam's old enough to look like that DI Sam Tyler she met way back when. Assuming it is time-travel after all, I think that fits the logic, and it makes me feel better also. :)

And thanks very much! Filling the gaps is what I'm aiming for here.
loz: (Default)

[personal profile] loz 2009-08-02 01:22 am (UTC)(link)

I don't think there's much more I can say than that.

Masterfully done. And yes.
aria: ([life on mars] jolly good fellow)

[personal profile] aria 2009-08-02 01:40 am (UTC)(link)
Ee, thank you. :)

(Anonymous) 2009-08-02 03:07 am (UTC)(link)
This is really nicely written, and another great take on that ambiguous scrap of a glimpse we get of Sam's return to 2006. I especially liked the dream he has of being back on the train heist and everything being all wrong, it's one of those dream sequences that really reads like a dream.

Great work, thank you!

-severinne (don't have a dreamwidth account but wanted to comment anyway)
missfuneralsong: ((doctor who) brilliant!)

[personal profile] missfuneralsong 2009-08-02 08:15 am (UTC)(link)
A world of yes.

Here is me making little noises of sadness and glee at Sam being unnecessary and Ruth and the dream and and and. Ahh, brilliant. :D

(Anonymous) 2009-08-02 08:22 am (UTC)(link)
Absolutely stunning.

This is brilliantly written, thank you!

(talkingtothesky on LJ.)

(Anonymous) 2009-08-02 04:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Read this a few times now, in an attempt to make my brain form a coherent comment. Still no success, just: I love it.
Really, really love it.
Brilliant imagery, wonderful flow, lovely everything.

templeremus (from LJ)

xiilnek on LiveJournal

(Anonymous) 2009-08-03 05:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh my GOD, this is ... wow. Just, wow. Your writing style is Incredibly Amazing, and just...

There's a friend I got into Life on Mars who doesn't really read fic. She loves one of your stories and right after this I'm going to rec her this one, too.

In short: You. Are awesome. Very very awesome. Thank you for sharing your wonderful work.
saintvic: (Default)

[personal profile] saintvic 2009-08-03 09:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Thought this worked wonderfully. The style, the atmosphere and the way you capture Sam's thoughts and feelings all flow together and produce an absorbing picture. I especially liked: "The clothes left for him are identical to all his clothes in 2006. Sensible suit, professional. He feels shorter -- flat shoes, of course -- jacket too wide at the shoulders, tie strangely restricting. The clothes fit all wrong. Sam's skin fits all wrong.".

Thank you

(Anonymous) 2009-08-06 04:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Here from LJ via a Crack Van rec. There are a number of fics I've read on this theme, but the devil is always in the details, and you've done a stunning job in creating a mood with relatively few words. It's tricky jumping between short scenes and not losing that, and you pulled it off. Great work.

(Anonymous) 2009-08-08 09:29 pm (UTC)(link)
Fantastic! What else can I say!

petra: Man with half his face obscured by a cracked mirror (Sam - Half crazy)

[personal profile] petra 2010-06-22 02:00 pm (UTC)(link)
*whimpers* Oh, Sammy, honey. I love that "crazy" is not discounted as an explanation, here.