Fandom: Life on Mars
Rating: PG-13 [Language and Mature Themes]
Word Count: 1400 words
Notes: Gen. A big thank you to my beta-reader blancafic, who has been incredibly supportive and helpful.
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” - Henry David Thoreau
When the lights flicker, he has a brief yet intense moment of cold, hard fear. No. It can’t all be snatched away once more. He has fought for this. He is not going to let it disappear into the night. He tries to claw at the sheets, but his fingers won’t move.
His mother gives him a small smile, and with a raise of an eyebrow, explains that Manchester has been undergoing temporary power shortages. Sam lets his breath rattle through his teeth in reply. He gestures towards the water with an almost imperceptible nod of his head and waits for the cool liquid to be pressed against his lips.
The steady bleep and churn of the various machines around him are reassuring. In time, he could see himself composing a symphony entirely of the persistent thrum of the closest metal box, the quiet crescendo of the heart-rate monitor, the rhythmic knock, knock, knock.
He takes several deep breaths. As deep as can be allowed. He can feel each movement. Each spasm of muscle. Deep down in his core. He concentrates on expelling air, knowing that eventually this will get easier, but unable to gain any sense of when.
The day has been long. Every day is long. His mother has stayed by his side, but she’s exhausted her conversation. His mind gradually ticks in ever decreasing increments. He needs stimulation. In this room, there is none. There’s the faint smell of disinfectant and a two-day-old bouquet of jasmine. He’s surrounded by four bare walls and drawn curtains.
In the daytime, the curtains are sometimes open. Sunlight dapples the wall opposite him – the one with the door. He watches the ripples in concentration. Counts the bands of light.
He wonders what Gene would say if he saw him lying in bed like this, unable to make the effort to reach over for the television remote. He tries to shake his head, but all he feels is pain. He can’t think about Gene. He can’t think about any of them. His friends.
He hates it. It never seems like it’s enough. What he does. Every day. He’s a weak man. Too afraid to take a risk. Too scared to admit it. He doesn’t know when it will change, when everything will become easier, when he’ll be able to smile again. He’s forgetting how to smile.
He remembers their goodbyes. It’s never when he’s sleeping. It’s only ever when he’s awake. When he’s too tired to keep his eyes open, but too troubled to drift off.
He doesn’t want to. He wishes he could pretend it never happened. He’s assaulted by visions of the tears in Annie’s eyes. The soft bend of Chris’ head. Ray’s cold stare. The remnant sensation of the punch he was left with pushes against his ribs and he sees Gene’s anger as clearly as if he were in front him now.
The dream world is gone and now he can’t dream. He must be exhausted, to have furnished so much detail for so many months. If only he’d followed that yellow brick road. He’d have come to the end eventually. He knows he’s exhausted. It’s in his bones; the familiar ache, the tight yearning.
He has these exercises. Stupid movements. Repetitive. Inescapable. 1973 in miniature. He’s told to roll his hand from side to side. Forced to move when he doesn’t want to. He thought he’d got away from entrapment. He thought he’d come back to live his life. There had to have been a point to the struggle. This couldn’t just be it.
Death is looking like an option. An option he should have taken. If they unplugged him now, he’s fairly confident it wouldn’t come. He should have given up sooner. He wouldn’t have given up sooner. He’s not giving up now.
Sure enough, they take the machines away. No time for beautiful music. They contemplate moving him too, but somehow that doesn’t happen. Being in BUPA has its advantages after all.
“One more step, Sam. Just one more. You can do it!”
Tears stream down his face in pain and anguish. He clasps onto the metal railings, supporting himself with weakened arms. He does not want to be here. Not in the slightest.
He squeezes his eyes shut and collapses. He’s gently maneuvered into the wheelchair. He closes himself off from the world.
He might not be there at all on the journey back to his room.
A kiss to the cheek, a watery hello. He sinks back against the pillow and stares, cataloguing every crease, every mole, every moment of fleeting emotion.
“It’ll be okay, Mum.”
“You’re tough as nails. It’ll be more than okay.”
“I want to try for you, really I do.”
She chokes at this, clutches a hand to her mouth. Her words are strained.
“You should want to try for yourself.”
Sam doesn’t say that he can’t. Or won’t. He squeezes her fingers in his hand and concentrates on the heat of her skin. She’s really there. She waited for him. She’s not the only one. He ought to feel gratitude. He ought to feel.
That’s what it was all about, really. Feeling. Finding out what it was like to trust in emotion again. But here he is, blocking it out. He’s not learned from his mistakes. Maya was right. Maya, his fault. Maya, his mistake. He had been in 1973 when he should have been saving her. A 1973 that didn’t exist.
Existence or no, it was supposed to be his reawakening.
The next day he’s walking again. And the day after that. He takes small steps and big steps. As much as he can with atrophied limbs. He struggles to control his body just as he struggled to control his mind.
It gets easier. Each movement. It hurts less and less. He becomes more aware of individual patches of skin. Responses lick through his nerves in the good way, not the bad. He can see that his muscles are rebuilding themselves – slowly. He’s never been particularly muscular in the first place, but they diminished when he was in the coma, so it’s a welcome relief.
He’s putting weight on all over. The doctors say so with rapid voices speaking techno babble. Sam’s appetite is encouraging. His renewed vim and vigour is encouraging. The doctors are encouraged. The strange thing is, he’s even beginning to feel the same way.
He watches the news with interest, his senses piqued. He listens to the stories and tries to figure out his place in them. He asks for a newspaper, some magazines, a book or two. He asks for the curtains to be open at all times during the day. He gazes out, even when the sky is overcast.
He wakes up. He takes a deep breath like he has done every day before. There’s an entirely different tone to the motion. He takes the breath because he wants to, not because it’s expected. He has an expectation himself.
Today, he will step a little bit farther. Some day soon, he will step farther still. Eventually, he will walk by himself, out into the Manchester he has ignored for too long. He’ll not only walk. He’ll run. He’ll dance. He’ll do more and see more than he ever attempted before the accident.
They would want him to.
He fixes his mother with a friendly gaze when she enters the room and he knows that she can see the change within him. These past two weeks have flipped him over, turned him inside-out. More than the crash. More than nine months of sleep. More than the days after; lying, waiting.
She sits next to him, her voice hardly above a whisper. “You’re looking… you.”
“I think I am me.”
It’s all starting to make sense. The fight isn’t over. He isn’t victorious. That’s part of the beauty of it. There’s no simple triumph such as he’d been anticipating. Every day is a little battle won. He still has to fight. He still wants to fight.
The sun shines into the room, bright light cascading with promise. He wishes he had seen it rise. He smiles when he thinks of it; him standing by the window, looking towards the horizon and yellow crested buildings, soft heat radiating through him.
There will always be another dawn.