HEADS YOU WIN

by elfin


He recognised the expression on the stranger's face, the confusion, the bewilderment, the terror.  What the fuck?  Where am I?  What in god's name am I wearing?

He stuck out his hand.  "Sam?" 

The stranger stared at him - all wide-eyed and pale features.  Was that how he'd looked when he'd first set foot in the place he called home now?
 

"P-Peter."  But his hand wasn't taken.
 

He withdrew it and patted the bar stool next to him.
 

"What happened?"

Peter cautiously slid onto the stool, wary, scared of his own hands by the way he was looking at them as they shook in front of his face.  He put them flat on the bar, and the sheer solidity of the wood made him lift them again.  Sam knew.  He'd been here, done this, got the bruises to prove it; the ones that didn't seem to heal. 

He glanced up, noting the silent attention the barman was giving the newcomer.  "Two double whiskeys please, Nelson."  Giving yourself away.  But he kept the thought to himself, despite it making him smile.  When had he become so comfortable here?

"Comin' up." 

Sam turned back to Peter and thirty seconds later two large tumblers of amber were deposited on the bar in front of them.

"What happened?" 

Peter looked at him, blue eyes blurred.  "I was… in a car chase.  I'm - I'm a policeman."

Another policeman.  Co-incidence?  Did this prove he wasn't insane or was Peter a figment of an imagination obviously so warped it was curving in itself.   

Then again, maybe this wasn't a deranged illusion.  Maybe this was where comatose cops came, and there was somewhere else for somnolent solicitors, another place for quiescent quantity surveyors, and so on.  Another year, maybe.  Perhaps.  He wished cops got one close to the millennium.

He was thinking like a madman. 

"I crashed."

Sam scraped his gaze over the closely cut blond head.  "Have a drink." 

Eyes sparkling with un-cried tears met his own.  Sam had a drink - downed the contents of the wide, heavy glass in one swallow.

"Where am I?" 

"Manchester."  He winced as the alcohol burn settled at the back of his throat.  "A much more interesting question is when are you."  Peter regarded him with the same utterly lost expression he must have used on everyone when he'd first woken here.  "It's 1973, apparently.  Although," and suddenly this point seemed to have massive importance, "your clothes look very… 2005."

"What are you talking about?" 

Yorkshire accent.  More northern even than him.  Sam smiled down at his empty glass.  He was doing more of that recently, as time ticked passed.  Not monotonous.  Exciting.  Thrilling.

"How do you feel?" he asked, more to himself than to the stranger. 

Peter didn't answer.  Sam watched him put his hands back on the bar where they did the St Vitus Dance in front of their eyes.  Dark fingers pushed the glass towards him and finally he reached for it, holding it in both trembling hands to raise it to his lips.

"Sick," he admitted finally, taking long enough for Sam to have to remember the question.  He lowered the glass and brought one hand back up, staring at it.  "My fingers are warm, just on this hand, sweaty, like…" 

"Like someone's holding them?"  Peter nodded, a quick, jerky movement of his chin.  "Maybe someone is."

Talking like a madman again. 

At least he wasn't acting like a madman.  Unlike his companion, who was experimentally closing his right hand over what Sam was assuming were invisible fingers.  A second later both hands were flying to cover his ears, face contorting in pain.  Sam reached out, an innate reaction, "Peter?  What is it?"

Peter screwed his eyes closed, head lowering. 

"Peter?"

Sam realised what was happening; he was hearing things.  It ended as quickly as it had started.  Peter lowered his hands and stared at Sam, breathing coming faster than a man who'd run for the bus. 

"I heard my name.  I think… I heard Andy."

"Who's Andy?" 

"My boss.  He's…."  Peter was looking at his hand as if it didn't belong to him.  "I'm sure I heard him say my name."

"You think he's holding your hand."  Sam said it because he knew Peter wouldn't.  "And you think you're squeezing back?" 

He was used to his own words sounding ridiculous.  Peter's confusion, his fear, was palpable.

"Squeeze again." 

"Now that sounds like something I might be interested in."  Sam's head twisted round, he hadn't even heard the door's dull bang that signalled the king of the lions entering his natural habitat.  Hunt stepped up to the bar, slapping Sam's shoulder and leaving his hand where it was as he leaned half over him, half over the bar to order a pint of lager, adding, "My boy'll pay for it, I need a piss."

With a squeeze of Sam's leather-clothed shoulder, he vanished into the gents. 

Sam turned a slightly embarrassed expression on the stranger sitting next to him.

"My boss.  Sorry." 

But Peter was actually smiling - sort of.  Maybe wincing.  Definitely knowing.  "I'm used to it.  My boss is the same - a dinosaur."

"He's with you." 

His answer surprised Sam.  "Always."  But the smile on Peter's face faded fast.  He was ducking his head, hands covering his ears.  More voices?  More sounds?  His own name spoken quietly, coaxingly; or the shrill scream of an ECG flatlining.

"Peter, are you…?" 

But he was interrupted by Nelson, leaning over the bar, saying, "It's time to leave now."

Sam stared at Nelson, for a second, before his eyes flickered back to Peter. 

"Time to leave," Nelson repeated softly.

Peter looked at his hand, closed it again, and slowly got down off the stool as if he was holding on to something. 

Maybe he was.

"Take care," Sam said, by way of a goodbye, but he was already at the door.  Whatever was out there, Sam missed it, blinded for a split second by the headlights of a passing car. 

When the door closed, Sam turned back to the barman.

"Why am I still here?" 

Nelson looked up, over Sam's shoulder, and he felt a warm hand wrap around the back of his neck before Gene took the stool Peter had left warm.

He didn't get a verbal answer and he didn't need one.  He was still here because he hadn't left yet.  Simple.