Pairings: Sam/Annie, Shaz/Chris

Author Note: AU , closely tied into Life on Mars. Set anytime in the A2A time-line.

"I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,
A Stage, where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one"
ANTONIO, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene I

"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world has walked out"
Walter Winchell


They aren't the same people they were in 1973. They are different, new human beings fit for their new era. When Sam Tyler arrived , barging accidentally into their lives with his fancy talk and newfangled procedure, mixing up everything they had known and changing it, he made them think about themselves. How they acted, who they were, how they could be better than they already were. He had shouldered upon himself the unofficial role of teacher and helper, and although at times he may have been annoying as hell, they soon got used to having him around. Even liking him around. They joked with him, laughed with him and drank with him. Over time, they established an intimacy of the closest sort of working environment. He became their friend. The friend Gene could tease and insult but mean little by it. The friend Chris could ask for advice, who wouldn't just brush him off because sometimes he was a little slow and naive. The friend Ray could go to if he ever needed help- and although he never would ( because he didn't want to be seen-in his words- as a "pansy"), the offer was still gratefully there. The A Division was an unofficial family- a mishmash of flawed human beings drawn together under one banner of justice and peacekeeping, and Sam soon became an integral part of that. He and Gene were the central parents of the division, and the others -to an extent- were their surrogate children, officers they taught to grow and learn. Sam was Gene's closest friend and worst nightmare, Ray's grudging colleague, Chris's mentor and older brother figure. Sam played football with Viv and some of the other skips on a Saturday, Chris and Ray sometimes joining in, and to Annie Cartwright, Sam Tyler was the whole world.

Now that Sam has gone, things have changed. The team has dispersed, having lost one of the elements that helped keep them all together, some of them transferring to London and to different forces. Time goes by as reliably the setting of the sun, yet none of them ever stop missing Sam, They all move on of course, but that doesn't get rid of the small hole in their hearts that tells them something so important is missing. They all have their own ways of acknowledging this; small rituals that they keep up because they just don't want to lose everything of Sam, don't want life to go on as though he never existed because even the idea just seems disrespectful.

In a way, through them, Sam will never die.

Christopher Skelton still uses tape-recorders in every interview. Shaz has watched him, just once, as he lays it out , placing the bulky plastic machine gently on the interview table and setting a new tape inside it carefully- spooling the tape back in if some has unwound and making sure it's the right way up when he puts it in its place- treating it as though it's a sacred object instead of a standard piece of police kit. And she just watches him through a crack in the door as he stands there for a moment, his eyes smiling but sad as he thinks about the man he once knew that Shaz has never met, before leaving the room to the sound of Gene's bellowing voice, demanding something or other. As he closes the door behind him, leaving the tape recorder behind as he closes his mind against memories he cant think of now- his head too full of the case at hand, with figures and information residing in his mind for the moment, Shaz swears she hears him whisper to the empty room he has left;

"Softly, softly, Boss"

Once in a long while, when there isn't any crimes that need solving, or murderers that need apprehending or any of that bloody paperwork that they all hate so much (although Ray just shoves it in a drawer for as long as possible or gets someone else to do it) , when they aren't so desperate for some booze they can wait a few more moments before the drinking starts , Gene , Ray and Chris chink their pint glasses together and toast to the Manc Three ( "Like the Musketeers , but not as poncey" Gene always says) The talk always moves on after that, the mood of the office left behind in talk of football and politics and departmental gossip, but before all that starts, Ray always finds himself pausing before taking a swig of his drink, finding himself wishing it was still the Manc Four- with Sam playing d'Artagnan in the roles they've assigned themselves (with Gene always demanding that he'd be the strong handsome Athos) the lot of them toasting down at the Railway Arms. Those nights were always enjoyable, with the loud chatter of the pub and the smell of worn bar stools and alcohol, Sam and Annie joined at the hip, holding hands and giving each other secret smiles when they thought no-one was looking, The Boss arguing with Gene about whose turn it was to pay for a round, Ray making eyes at some birds tits and Chris trying to drink as little as possible so he doesn't get pissed and make an ass of himself. They don't really have pub nights like that any more, not at Luigi's. They don't talk about Sam, and even though they still argue about who is Athos- Ray refuses to accept being Porthos because he always assumes he's the fat one because of his name, and Gene and Ray laughing when Chris says that he's got to be Aramis, to which they both reply that he definitely isn't ambitious or even remotely priestly-, no one ever argues about who plays d'Artagnan. And although their times at Luigi's are enjoyable ones, with Shaz and Alex joining their little group and being the women around which Gene and Ray make joking sexist comments, it's still missing an important player.

And the silence that follows after the toast, just for a second, tells Ray that the others are thinking exactly the same thing.

On the anniversary of Sam's death , Gene Hunt is never at work. Ray and Chris know where he has gone and why, therefore don't mention it out of respect, and if the others wonder, they don't ask because they know they will get no answer. Every man has secrets, and the old-timers at Fenchurch East who've worked in the office for a while know that its the same every year. . Alex asked once, because that's the sort of person she is, the inquisitive sort who doesn't like not knowing. It's not a flaw, its just who she is, and it's what makes her a good copper. Despite this, whatever it was that Gene told her in answer- whether he enlightened her or just brushed her off- Alex never really asks about it again. She's the psychotherapist, psychologist, whatever, and that must mean that she's got enough common sense to understand it's just something Gene never talks about. Some things are too personal.

Gene drives the four hours it takes to get back to Manchester in silence, the Quattro radio off to avoid the sound of synth pop and cheery presenters, and on the way down he always stops at a nearby town as he goes through to get flower's. Gene isn't a flower-sort of man,never has been, and he hates the buggers himself . If you want to say anything to a woman, you don't need some spruced up weeds to hand her to put across your point. The wife hated them as well, ex-wife , he should say, but that might have been because he rarely bought her any or maybe she had hay-fever, he can't quite remember now. It doesn't really matter anymore. He hasn't brought the flowers as a gesture of love or affection, he's brought them as a mark of respect, and if he has to smell like Lily-of-the-valley or some other rubbish for the rest of the day because of the stench the buggers are giving off, that's OK by him.

He stops off at the graveyard first, turning the car in through the wrought iron gates with a sinking dead feeling suddenly creeping into his stomach. Every time he comes here, it never changes. Gene's never surprised to see that Annie's there already, hair in her usual perm, her eyes smiling but with that permanent sadness that's been there since Sam died. Personally he doesn't know how she manages it, keeps on going day after day , living in the apartment that they shared. Sam's things are still there, untouched and left in their places like a homage to a life long lost. He wouldn't have been able to stand it. One of the reasons he transferred to London was that he couldn't stand being in his own station any more. Everything reminded him, everything brought up a new memory. He remembers coming into work from a night of heavy drinking- because it seemed the only way to dull the pain in his heart left behind- and seeing Chris laying out the tape recorder. Like Sam used to do. And he just snapped, grabbing hold of the recorder and flinging it against the wall in a sudden inrush of anger at the injustice of it all, because Sam should have been here, Sam should be still with him, but he wasn't. He didn't feel any of the wanted satisfaction when the tape recorder smashed into broken plastic pieces. He just felt numb, and it was about then that he knew he couldn't stay. Not when he felt Sam's ghost in every room, in every part of this place. But Annie stayed. She never said why, but he always assumed that some small part of her couldn't move on, couldn't let go of the thought that he still might be alive. He came back once when they though he'd left them in the tunnel, why couldn't he come back again? Gene always wondered if it would have helped her, if they'd found a body in that river, if they'd had a body to bury instead of an empty grave with Sam's name formally carved into the stone before it. He supposes not. Dead is dead, anyway you look at it, body or not, but one day, he hopes they'll find him some day. So he can have some peace, knowing he's been put to rest properly. Maybe Annie can properly move on then.

They talk briefly, but mostly it's silence that fills up their time there. Annie has already laid her flowers, a bunch of red roses that Gene would usually scoff at- declaring them flowers that guys give girls just so they can get a chance to cop a feel somewhere later on in the date-, but somehow here they feel appropriate. Gene lays his flowers gently beside her, always feeling awkward because he never manages to choose flowers that he feels are good enough for what he wants to convey to a dead man. Annie always leaves him for a bit , alone with the wind and the gravestone and the silence. She always says it's to get some coffee for the two of them from the cafe down the road, to warm them up because it always feels cold whenever he's here, but he knows that she's doing it to give him some time alone with his ghosts. Bless her heart, he always thinks with a smile, but he never says it aloud. Its something he knows she wouldn't feel comfortable with, dealing with an emotionally vocal Gene. She doesn't deserve the sadness she carries round. It's just not fair, he thinks, to be that much in love with someone and only have a few years of the lifetime they promised to each other when they spoken their vows. Gene Hunt has never really been in love- despite a marriage record to prove otherwise- yet if it feels half as all consuming as he believes it to be, he feels that Annie Tyler must be a strong strong woman to go on without the man she loved. He always wondered when he was here whether he should bring up why she hasn't moved on and found someone else, but he already knows the answer. There isn't anyone else. She doesn't want anyone else. Sam was her all and her everything for the years they had together, and she doesn't want to replace that when she knows she'll always be comparing what she has to what she had in Sam. She's got baby Thomas to look after , although he probably isn't a baby anymore. Poor kid probably doesn't remember his dad that much. He was only little when he died. Kid'll be getting on five years old now, playing with toy police cars , making 'vrmmm' sounds when they get dragged across the floor, and wanting to grow up to be just like his dad. Gene always thinks about going around to see him, always feels guilty when he doesn't. To Thomas he's just a man who turns up at the house every year and asks how he's doing before giving him some pocket money and ruffling his hair. Gene is his godfather after all, something he was always grateful for when Sam came and asked him.

He doesn't say much to Sam when they're alone at first , since he knows there isn't anything there and he's just talking to a slab of rock with his former DI's name engraved on it , but awkwardly he begins to tell Sam about the little things in his new life, before the one sided conversation turns to the news at Fenchurch Etas. He tells Sam about the new bird, Bolly Knickers and how she's exactly as irritating and up-her-own-arse as he was when he first started. He tells him about Chris getting engaged, about how sickening it is to see him and Shaz making eyes at each other across the office- yet he doesn't mean it and if Sam's listening he'd know that too. He tells Sam about Ray's latest conquest, and the football scores, little things that don't matter much, but he needs to share them with someone, even if it is a dead man.

When Annie comes back with two plastic cups wrapped in a napkin , they stay for a while longer, sipping too-hot coffee, Gene finding out what's happen back at A-division- although now Annie has Tommie, she only works part time. Phillis retired a while back, and its all different people working there now. If he went back, Gene doesn't think he'd know it any more. It's not his home, not any longer, and he'd never go back. He's settled in London, has gotten used to the poncy southern attitude. His colleagues are there, and really home is where he has his job to do. With Chris and Ray and Shaz and even Alex. But not Sam. No matter how much he wants that.

He drops Annie off back home, before perking the Quattro outside and coming inside for the cup of tea the former WPC had promised him. He sees how tall Tommie is getting as he waits, giving the kid an awkward hug and simply sitting down and listening to him as the kid excitedly reels off how he's doing at school- he seems to have inherited his father's brains. He looks so much like his dad it hurts, and sometimes for a moment, Gene has to look away to lessen the lump in his throat, feeling the emotion trying to choke him up. He doesn't stay for long; there's only so much he can say to Annie, without mentioning Sam- something he tries very hard not to do in the best of circumstances- and when it gets to around half six Tommie is beginning to get tired, despite vehemently denying it, complaining that 'can't he stay up just a little while longer to play with his cars?', Gene decides to make his goodbyes. After he's kissed Annie on the cheek and told her 'Sam'd be proud of what she's managed with Tommie' and ruffling the kids hair while giving him a sneaky couple of pound notes and whispering to him 'not to tell his mother' , Gene goes to the Railways Arms, and just drowns his sadness in pints of beer, mixed the occasional Scotch.

And that's always where Chris finds him later on, and where he finds him every year, half paralytic at the bar with eyes full of sadness and words full of anger, and he shares a quick knowing look with Nelson- who's still at the bar after all these years- as he tries to persuade his Guv to come back home. Gene always swears at him, calling him every word under the sun as he tries to hit him- lashing out at anyone simply because he's too angry and tired to care , but somehow, every year , Chris always manages to half drag Gene out of the pub, with kind words and a firm grip on the Guv's arm- even though Gene could probably beat the crap out of him if he'd have had half a mind to. He never complains after wards because he doesn't mind , not really . He misses Sam too, like an older brother he never had, was made honorary Uncle to Tommie when he was born along with Ray but Sam was Gene's best friend, the other side of the same coin , and although they argued most of the time about procedure and cases, they would both have defended each other to the death. Because that's the way their friendship worked. Practically unspoken, but definitely there. Even when one of them was gone.

Chris finally manages to manhandle Gene into the passenger seat of his car that Ray's parked around the corner, and manages to coerce Gene to give him the Quattro keys so Ray can follow on behind them, going back to London where they all belong now.

And that's how the night always ends, with Chris and Ray taking Gene home. He's usually asleep anyway, and it's a strange moment for them both to see the Guv looking so vulnerable . The keys to his house are on the same ring as the Quattro, so they let themselves in while half carrying the bulk of a sleeping Gene Hunt, manoeuvring him with whispered curse words and muttered instructions onto the downstairs sofa Neither of them is very comfortable with undressing him or putting him to bed properly , because that would just be awkward and according to Ray- "definitely the sign of a poofter", so they leave him, making sure to close the door quietly. Chris drops Ray off home and slips in through the door of his own flat around half four in the morning, his eyelids heavy with tiredness, and his body longing for the comfort of his bed. Shaz always waits up for him, accepting his closed off answers about where he goes , and he just walks in and gives her a hug, holding her close because he can't imagine ever losing her. He knows he wouldn't survive like Annie did.

In the morning at the station, they're all tired, yet nothing's really different. Gene's still shouting- probably because of his hangover- and Ray's complaining. None of the three of them mention last night, especially not Gene. But at some point in the day Chris looks over at Gene, and the Guv gives him a slight nod of the head, silently acknowledging his actions and thanking him for it. It's the only reference to what happened Chris ever gets, but he knows that it's not Gene's way to talk about things, and it never will be. It's not as though he talks about Sam with anyone, and he's pretty sure Ray doesn't either.

But he catches Ray's eye later on, and they share a knowing look, both thinking of Sam Tyler and Gene and the hole the DI left behind. And then it passes, and they all simply move on again, going about with their own lives, living them as much as they can, trying to be the best people they can be.

Because in that small way, they can honor Sam's memory.