It was the strangest of dreams. At first, it was indistinguishable from any other, was even inconspicuous; the laws of gravity were all in place, the colours were the same as when he was awake, the crash of the door being knocked in echoed as all loud sounds should in his apartment.
But that was only how it started, and it did not end
Chandler bolted upright at the noise, his mind shrieking with the shock of it, clinging at the tatters of sleep and the scent of newly-washed sheets in his nose. He struggled in the vague direction of standing, his limbs tangling in the duvet as the air fractured with the sounds of the intruders' shouting. There was too much of it, all at once, for him to pick out words.
He had only just made it to his feet when light struck at his widened eyes with the force of a sledgehammer. A reeling backwards step dragged at him, and he overbalanced, his brain too clouded with spinning to stop it, but a hand grabbed at his arm before he could fall.
More shouting, shuddering in Chandler's head, but when he tried to bring up his free hand to rub at his temples, he found that whoever it was had caught that one, too. He squinted, trying to force resolution from a world of stubborn blurs, while the light pulsed behind his retinas and throbbed pain into his skull.
"Joseph Chandler, I am arresting you on suspicion of murder," his captor informed him, and with the words came the utter clarity that he had been seeking, though he found himself wishing it away, trying to swallow it when it clogged his throat with nausea. Something curled around his wrists, cold to the bone. "You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." There was a pause, and the speaker's voice twisted over the next question, as if it had been dragged from a throat laid open to the spine. "Do you understand?"
Chandler didn't. He didn't understand, not any of it. The words all made perfect sense, as did the sentence that they had been strung into. He had uttered the whole caution enough fruitless times himself to know it backwards. It was its placement that set him staring, because it didn't belong here, in his home; this wasn't its context. It wasn't supposed to be said to him.
He did manage to speak, though, even if his voice was more perplexed, more shaken, than he had heard it in a long time.
Miles seemed to take that as all of the understanding required.
"I've got him!" he yelled, the noise of it stabbing into Chandler's brain. But, with the uncompromising, contorted expression on his sergeant's face, he knew better than to mention his discomfort.
Mansell materialised in the doorway, his teeth showing and the whites of his eyes shot through with red. Chandler looked behind him, searching for the others, for Riley's sensible presence, for Kent's tentative smile, but they weren't there. Just the black-and-white blurs of a couple of uniforms.
"Stay here," Miles ordered, and Mansell gave the tightest of nods in reply, as if he didn't trust himself with speaking. "Keep searching. Take the place apart if you have to."
Chandler's protest died in a single puff of air as both the uniforms raised their heads, turning to glare in his direction with all the slow synchronisation of a pair of snarl-faced cats. Miles jerked on his arms, his hold tight enough that Chandler could feel exactly the shape of the bruises it would leave, and they started moving.
Out in the night, the air was more frozen than the cuffs over Chandler's wrists, and it shocked the memory of the first few words of Miles' caution back into his head.
"Wait," he said, though he had already been half-propelled into the back seat of the waiting police car, the old scent of fast food setting his gut roiling. "Miles, what's–"
The door slammed over his words, and the uniforms settled on either side of him, closed, unfriendly, and effectively blocking out any chance at conversation with Miles. He opened his mouth, prepared to try again anyway, sure that he was owed some sort of explanation, but something stopped him. Perhaps it was the way the sergeant paused before he turned the engine on, or the violence with which he struck at the gearstick, hands white around the knuckle. Maybe he felt the crackle of fury in the air between them as Miles glanced backward, checking if it was safe to reverse, without looking at him.
As they started off down a route that was more familiar to Chandler than the layout of his own home, he settled back to stare out of the window with the blank-eyed fascination of the exhausted. It was then, watching the streetlamps blazing in the glass, that he decided that it had to be a dream. The light, he convinced himself, had that sort of bright-dim quality to it. The situation itself should have been enough of an indication; there had never been a scene so ludicrous, and not even Doctor Seuss could have written one.
Soon, though, he would wake up. He would contemplate mentioning the dream to Miles, and laugh himself silent at the very idea. Then he would get on with his day. With the case. The memory of it, of the victims' dead faces, could have shocked him back to consciousness, from a lighter sleep. Dumped before anyone had realised that they were missing. Strangled. Still staring.
Chandler remembered going down to the Archive, asking Buchan for precedents. The bundle of files that the historian had deposited onto his desk had been large enough that Chandler's eyes had stung with the dust it displaced.
The car pulled in at the station, a hand on Chandler's arm pulling him from both his thoughts and the vehicle. He blinked himself back toward the real world, for a moment convinced that he would wake up, but instead of the morning light stretching across his apartment, he saw Buchan. The historian was standing beside the entrance, as if he had been there for hours and the rest of the world had learned to go on without him, his expression curiously blank. He didn't shiver, despite his lack of a coat.
"Get out of here!" Miles snapped at him, barging one of the PCs out of the way and taking hold of Chandler again. Buchan swallowed, and vanished back inside. Miles hauled Chandler after him, and as they pushed through the doors, he found his voice again.
"Miles, what's going on?" he demanded, but his only answer was a more violent yank in the direction of the cells.
It's just a dream, he reminded himself, though anxiety had started to buzz around the edges of his vision, muttering that maybe it wasn't. Just a dream. All he had to do was wait, and he would wake up. Maybe he wouldn't even remember it.
There was only the slightest of pauses on the way past the custody officer's desk. Chandler had no pockets to empty, and Miles didn't bother with the formality of asking him. He signed something, he knew – that was procedure, after all, and his hand was left with the ghost of the pen's shape. But it might as well have been a takeaway menu, for all that he remembered of the words. That was all right, though, his mind reassured him. After all, people couldn't read in dreams anyway.
Riley was waiting beside the open cell door, leaning on the wall, though she straightened as soon as she saw him, as much menace in the movement as in the slow shift of a wolf noticing its prey. This wasn't the person he'd been looking for behind Mansell. There was too much threat in her for that.
"It's all right," Miles told her, and the harshness in his voice cracked, just for a moment. He sounded almost gentler than Chandler had ever heard him. "I'll do it."
She whisked away without a word, and Chandler's gaze was too caught by the open cell to glance after her. It was the same one that they had shut Fitzgerald in, he recalled, all darkness and closely-clustered bricks.
The moment that he stepped inside and inhaled the first lungful of frigid air, he realised that he wasn't about to wake up. He wasn't going to wake up thirty minutes from now, and unless he somehow managed to get to sleep on a slab of padding too narrow to accommodate one of Miles' kids, let alone him, he wasn't going to wake up six hours from now. The bone-chill cold of that room was impossible in dreams.
He turned, but Miles was already reaching for the door, ready to close it, the chalk to write Chandler's name on the board clutched in one blanched hand, hard enough that he looked as if he were about to snap it.
"Miles, wait," he called, but the sergeant – not Miles anymore, nowhere close – didn't even slow. The whole time, he stared almost as he had done when Chandler had first arrived at the department. Shades worse. It hurt more deeply, even to Chandler's confused mind, caught halfway between fight and flight and throttled with the unthought understanding that he couldn't do either.
"Miles!" he repeated, more desperately, as his wide sweep of light from the hallway began to narrow toward the merest chink. "Please, at least tell me who it is that I'm supposed to have murdered!"
The sergeant stopped. He didn't open the door any wider, only half of his expression visible, though that was enough for Chandler to quail back from the angry contortion of features, confusion and fear scouring any last traces of confidence from his head.
Miles flung the words out into Chandler's face, an accusation.
"Detective Constable Emerson Kent."