Life on Ashes
Here to help
'I'm going to need you to help look after Molly.' Alex told Pete over a dodgy phone connection.
As bad as the line was, she could tell he was trying to think up excuses and her heckles rose automatically.
'What about Evan?' he said eventually.
'What about him?' she replied.
'He can usually be relied on…' Pete began feebly.
'Not with this' Alex felt her patience draining. 'I'm being transferred to Manchester temporarily, but I could be there for months, it all depends.'
'You always told me you were a mother first and a police officer second.' Pete said.
'So Pete, where does being a father come in your list of priorities?' Alex bristled. She waited as Pete seemed to be speaking to someone else. Alex couldn't hear what he was saying, but she pretty certain he was filling Judy in on their phone call. She rolled her eyes and stared at her phone until Pete spoke again.
'You still there?'
'Of course I am' she replied.
'We had plans to go to Canada but we'll postpone. Molly can come to us.' he said, as if he was doing her a massive favour.
'No, but you see she can't' Alex said, 'She can't have her school life disrupted. You'll have to come here, to London.'
'I'll ring you back' Pete said.
Alex didn't hold out much hope that he would, and was surprised when he did, and even more surprised when he told her that he and Judy were looking for a house to rent in the capital. She didn't argue or question anything, and felt irrationally peeved that Judy seemed to be able to twist Pete around her little finger.
'Don't end up calling her mum' she warned Molly, trying to make it sound jokey.
'You're my mum' Molly said solemnly.
Alex hugged her daughter, 'Never forget how much I love you.'
A month later she was an acting DCI working for Greater Manchester Police, trying to cover for DCI Sam Tyler. Tyler had been hit by a car and was in a coma. The atmosphere in CID was muted and subdued. Sam was a huge loss to the team, but Alex was made to feel welcome and valued. She had formed a friendship with Maya, Sam's on off girlfriend. Maya found Alex easy to confide in, and the two women spent a lot of evenings in a wine bar while Maya let her guilt trickle out and Alex listened and tried to talk her out of the notion that Sam's accident was her fault.
One Friday afternoon Alex had a phone call from Maya, who had been to see Sam.
'He spoke, Alex' she said breathlessly. 'They think this may be it, he might be starting to come back to us.'
'What did he say?' asked Alex.
'Ivanhoe' Maya laughed.
'Right- is that significant?' His favourite boys adventure story?' Alex asked.
'I think it was a pet cat he had as a child.' Maya said happily, 'Oh Alex! I can't believe it! If he can form words he can't be brain damaged can he?'
'Probably not.' Alex said cautiously, having visions of DCI Tyler waking up and mumbling 'Ivanhoe' but nothing else. 'Keep talking to him Maya, keep playing his favourite music, I'll see you on Monday'
She was going back to London for the weekend to see Molly. She wondered if by the time she returned Sam would be awake.
But Sam Tyler didn't wake up and the weeks turned into months. The strain on Maya affected her work.
'Can we meet for a drink later?' she asked Alex one afternoon.
Alex readily agreed; it had been a long day and a couple of glasses of wine was just what the doctor ordered. But as soon as she walked into the wine bar she took one look at Maya's stricken face and knew something was wrong.
'They say there's no brain activity' she told Alex, 'They want to pull the plug. I just cannot cope with this.'
Alex touched Maya's arm, 'It maybe for the best.'
'You don't know him' Maya wept, 'how tenacious he is. I know that somewhere deep inside he's fighting to live. His mother has agreed that it's the only thing they can do. Let him die with dignity. But I can't be around to see it happen. I just can't. I've asked for a transfer.'
In all the months she had been in Manchester Alex had never visited Sam Tyler. But with poor heartbroken Maya gone to Edinburgh, and Sam's visitors fewer and further between, she decided she would. His mother still went regularly, but even she had given up hope. Alex went one evening when she knew Ruth Tyler had gone home.
She looked at the handsome young man in the bed wired up to bleeping machines.
'Hello Sam, I'm Alex Drake' she said softly. 'I've come to see what's keeping you. I'm doing your job, but apparently nowhere nearly as well as you. You need to wake up or they're going to switch off your life support. I have a daughter who at this very moment is being brainwashed by her father, I need to get back to her before she forgets who I am.'
As she sat with him she suddenly understood how Maya had buckled under the pressure; the poor woman had been here almost every day for months, talking to Sam and getting no response. Alex wondered just how long she would have been able to watch a man she loved dying by degrees.
A couple of days later Ruth Tyler phoned Alex.
'I wondered if it would be possible for us to meet?' she asked, 'I heard you went to visit Sam.'
'Of course we can meet' Alex replied, 'Just say where and when and I'll be there.'
They met in an old fashioned coffee shop and took a table in a quiet corner.
'I'm so sorry you're having to go through this.' Alex told Ruth.
'They've done an MRI scan' Ruth said, her eyes were bright like a Robin's, 'They've found a tumour and want to operate, but they're not sure Sam's strong enough, if they don't operate though, I can't see any way forward. What do you think?'
'Oh goodness' Alex shifted uncomfortably, 'I suppose if it was my child, my …Molly, I'd agree to anything if it meant there was a chance…but I don't want to sway your decision….'
'I think my mind's already made up' Ruth said, 'I just needed to hear what another mother would do.'
The operation didn't go exactly to plan, as Sam's tumour was too deeply embedded for the surgeon to remove, but the good news was that Mr Morgan had managed to relieve the swelling and the tumour was found to be benign. Sam woke from his coma and incredibly a week or so later was declared fit to return to work. Alex was to stay in Manchester for a while to brief him on the cases she and his team of officers had been working on.
Her first impression of conscious Sam Tyler was unsettling. She hadn't expected him to be so reserved. It was like he was somewhere else. He would be speaking to her and then stop mid-sentence and gaze out of the window.
'Are you sure you're alright?' she asked him, at the end of his first day back.
He exhaled air and scratched his head, 'Not really.' He looked around the station as if he'd never seen the place before, 'Alex? You're a psychologist right?'
She smiled and nodded.
'Can you psychoanalyze me?' he asked.
'I can try.' she agreed.
'Um, are you free now?' he asked, sounding desperate.
'I've nothing better to do.' she half joked.
'Need to get out of here' he jerked his tie to loosen it, 'Fancy a drink?'
'Lovely' she said.
'Come on then' he said, leading the way out of the station.
As she headed towards her car, he said, 'We can walk.'
She followed him as he set off purposefully down the back streets; he made a couple of wrong turns and doubled back.
'Where are we going?' she puffed.
Eventually he came to a halt outside an old fashioned pub named 'The Case is Altered', 'They changed the name' he murmured as he stared up at the gold lettering. 'It used to be The Railway Arms'
'Oh, well, they do that sometimes.' Alex replied.
Sam took a deep breath before opening the door. Alex caught a glimpse of his face as they entered. He looked disappointed.
They ordered a bottle of white wine and took it to a table. Sam looked around the almost empty pub nervously.
He leaned forward and looked into Alex's eyes, 'How do you know if you're mad?'
Alex was taken aback, 'Sam…you've just emerged from a long coma. It's understandable that you have feeling of dislocation, that you'll take a while to readjust….'
'I was somewhere else' he told her, 'I went back in time, to 1973. All the while I was supposedly in a coma , I was being driven around Manchester in a bronze Cortina by a great lardy lump of a DCI called Gene Hunt. I know you won't believe me, can't believe me. It's crazy I know, as I'm speaking to you now I'm well aware of just how barking I sound.'
'The brain is an amazing organ' Alex said, 'it can play tricks on you that seem absolutely real…'
'It was real' Sam sounded anguished, 'There were other police officers too. Ray Carling and Chris Skelton, and Annie Cartwright- oh god I've left them there, and they're in danger and it's all because of me.'
'Sam' Alex grabbed his hand to try and calm his agitation.
'I know that you can't know how this feels' Sam said, his face contorted with misery, 'That it feels wrong to be here, and I need to be there. I don't know how to get back, but if I don't get back they could die.'
'I think that these characters you've constructed are dying only because you no longer need them' Alex said gently. 'In your coma world you needed people so your mind made them up as company for you. As you began to emerge from your coma you no longer needed them and therefore you perceived them to be dying or in danger of dying.'
'You honestly think my mind would construct a character like Gene?' Sam laughed insanely. 'Shall I tell you about DCI Gene Hunt?'
'Yes, please do.' Alex sipped her wine.
'Well, he's overweight, he smokes, swears, drinks scotch from a hip flask as he's driving, usually way over the limit with both road speed and alcohol, beats hell out of suspects and holds them in custody over the allotted time, calls women slags or tarts, verbally and sometimes physically abuses his fellow officers, me included, and those are his good points; do you want me to go on?' Sam said.
'You are describing the antithesis of you' Alex said.
Sam shook his head, 'No, I'm not, I'm describing a real person- a misogynistic dinosaur maybe, but he's real- and then there's Ray Carling, his henchman, free with his fists when Gene gives him the nod, and Chris Skelton, more approachable but easily led by Gene and Ray, and Annie, trying to make a difference, a woman in man's world who puts up with all their chauvinistic shit….' His phone rang and he took it out of his pocket, 'Oh bugger, I forgot I was supposed to be seeing my mum tonight, she's cooking for me.'
'Go and see her' Alex said, 'we can talk again, any time, tomorrow?'
Sam nodded, 'Big meeting tomorrow.'
'After the meeting?' Alex suggested, 'We could come here again?'
'You do think I'm mad don't you?' Sam said, 'I got through the assessment by saying what I knew they wanted to hear, I kept all this back.'
'Sam, I don't think you're in the slightest bit mad.' Alex told him firmly, 'I will help you get through this.'
In her rented apartment, Alex typed up notes of her and Sam's conversation. She hoped he'd let her use him as a case study.
The following afternoon she joined the team and Sam for the meeting. As they all sat around the large conference table she could see how distracted he was, in his own little world, not hearing anything that was being discussed. He looked up at her when someone else asked him a question.
'Sam?' she whispered.
He looked at his thumb, it was bleeding, he'd cut himself. 'I can't feel anything.' He stood up and left the room.
Alex stood up too, 'I'll just see if he's alright.'
She got out of the room just in time to see Sam stepping into the lift and the lift going up. She took the stairs, trying to beat it so she could see which floor he was going to. At each floor there was no sign of him. She suddenly realised he was heading up to the roof. As she stepped onto the roof he was there, looking up at the sky.
'Sam?' she whispered, knowing the signs. Who the hell had ever thought he was ready to come back to work?
'I have to go' he said, 'I don't belong here.'
'Look, we'll talk.' she begged, inching closer, 'remember we said we'd get together after the meeting? I can help you.'
'You can't Alex' he said, as he turned to her he smiled.
She was dazzled by how happy he looked, excited almost. As he took off at a run she panicked, oh god, he was going to jump, she began to run after him. She had once played a couple of games of rugby years ago for fun, if she could tackle him she could stop him. When she thought she was close enough she lunged forward, reaching out, feeling the cloth of his suit, her breath was torn from her with the exertion, she had him, she was holding him, only when it was too late did she realise they were both over the edge of the building and falling through thin air.
A/N Not quite a cliffhanger as they fell off ;)