Chapter 1: Gene
Phyllis collected Mrs. Williams from the lost property room and Gene and Sam sat in silence for a moment amidst the clutter of abandoned bicycles, spare buckets and crowded metal shelves.
"You and Annie ready for tonight?" Gene asked.
Sam leaned forward in his chair and nodded his head once. "We just have to get dressed, get our radios and drive over."
Gene was regarding him curiously. "Think it'll be dangerous?"
The real answer was yes; the thought of letting Annie out of his sight, especially with Twilling, flooded Sam with an unreasonable panic. But that was a feeling he didn't really want to admit even to himself so he shrugged, deliberately casual. "Only so much that can happen if there's other people there." He paused to meet Gene's eyes. "If you're concerned about Annie, nothing is going to happen to her, I'll make sure of it."
"I'm not worried about Cartwright, I'm more worried about you," Gene said, crossing his arms and tipping back in his chair.
Sam stared at his boss, disbelieving. "We are dealing with a potential murderer here, a cold-blooded killer who likes to torture people. Annie could be in real danger!"
"Tell me, Tyler, who's more likely to give away the cover, you or her?"
Sam was silent. Gene had a point there-Annie had been nothing but innocent sincerity in front of Twilling, whereas he had frozen at every turn, especially when it came to Twilling's advances on Annie.
"I just don't want her to be in danger," he began.
"She's a bloody police officer!" Gene roared. "I'll give you some advice Tyler. Cartwright doesn't need as much protectin' as you think she does. Take care of yourself before you drag her down with you!"
Gaping, Sam felt his mouth trying to form words and then settled for shutting his mouth and shaking his head slightly. Gene just looked annoyed, as he stood up and leveled one last glare at Sam.
"Although if anything does happen to our Annie, I will personally hunt you down and make your life a living hell." He clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Cheerio, Sammy boy! We'll be listening on the radio!"
Gene was right: Annie was a competent DC and who should know better than Sam? He had recommended her, for heaven's sakes. He was the one who had recognized her tenacity and spirit and skill before anyone else did. He had promoted her precisely because she was fully capable for the job.
So every time he saw the way Twilling looked at Annie or caressed one of the poor girls serving them dinner, he repeated Gene's words in his head like a mantra. Annie was a police officer. As was he. She would be fine. He would be fine. Everything would be fine.
And he managed to keep his worries at bay, even contributed to the dinner conversation, secretly amused by Twilling's remarks about politics and conspiracy. It reminded him of other nuts he'd run across in...well, the future. Obviously craziness and criminal nature weren't limited by decade.
Despite his dinnertime calm, Sam couldn't supress the sigh of relief when the couples paired up for a slow dance. It was a moment of safety, a moment of space and he was grateful for it. They swayed silently for a few moments, Sam's mind racing through possibilities of what could happen, where Denise was, and if she was alive, while also acutely aware of Annie's hand on his shoulder and how she was leaning back slightly into the arm he had placed securely around her waist.
Apparently Annie's thoughts mirrored his own, as she asked, "Do you think Denise is in the house?"
Sam shook his head slightly. "Dunno."
And then the words, the advice, came out before he could stop them.
"Don't do anything you don't want to do," he whispered, looking into her eyes and willing her to understand what he couldn't say out loud.
I care about you. Don't get hurt.
Chapter 2: Phyllis
Annie stifled a yawn as she walked into the station the next morning. She was exhausted. Sam and DCI Hunt had taken Twilling in last night, leaving her to change back into her party dress and drive the second car back to the station alone. She vaguely remembered shoving a radio under the passenger seat of Twilling's unlocked sports car before leaving the house. She hadn't checked with Sam yet whether that was considered legal or not.
Well, didn't matter. Sam and DCI Hunt were interviewing Twilling now, and she could ask him when they were done. She was about to push herself off the front desk, where she had paused to collect herself, when Phyllis came bustling through the door and caught her eye.
"Annie. I was hoping to run into you. Can I have a word?"
Annie wasn't particularly keen on talking to anyone at this hour in the morning, especially Phyllis, but you didn't cross the keeper of the keys or head of the radios. She stood up straighter and faced the older woman over the desk, asking "What is it Phyllis?"
The older woman crossed her arms, looking particularly severe. "Annie, love, I'm going to give you some advice about DI Tyler."
Annie felt her already sluggish train of thought grind to a halt. What?
"Why...do you think I need advice?"
Phyllis maintained her cross-armed stance. "Because you two have been dancing around each other all week."
"Sam and I...we haven't...what do you mean?"
"I've got a pair of ears," Phyllis said with a maddening air of authority. "Now when I hear you refusing an offer to walk you home or look out for you, I just start wonderin', you see? Annie, love, what are you thinking?"
Not this again. Annie felt her face slide into the mulish expression she'd worn for much of the week when dealing with Sam. Why was everyone interfering in her life this week? How had Phyllis even overheard that? Did the whole station know? She sighed and shook her head. "You wouldn't understand Phyllis. Just let it go."
"Don't I though," Phyllis responded, fixing Annie with a sharp glance before she could stride off in a huff. "I'm no fool Annie. I'm trying to help you before you end up doing something you regret."
Annie paused, torn between the desire to get away, now, and a sudden, raging curiosity. "What am I going to regret?"
Phyllis gave her another stern look, which slowly melted into an expression that was almost fond. "DI Tyler fancies you, Annie. Get it through that silly head of yours that he's not offering to walk you home because he thinks you need protectin' – he's just being a gentleman." Phyllis paused to measure the impact of her words. "So you might think about lettin' him show he cares. Let him buy you a drink." Seeing Annie still standing there, thunderstruck, Phyllis concluded, "Think it about it, will you love? DI Tyler's a good man. He's not your enemy here."
Annie nodded her head, at a loss for words. "Uhhh...thanks Phyllis."
"Just sharin' my observations," Phyllis said, already turning to her daily crossword puzzle behind the desk.
Annie wandered off to her desk in a daze. Of course she'd fancied Sam, she had almost since they'd met. But he'd been too unstable, too withdrawn for her to ever hope for anything more than a professional relationship. And if Sam's recent protective attitude was just about work, then she wanted none of it.
But... she let her mind wander to last night, the intensity of Sam's gaze as he told her to not do anything she didn't want to, as he watched her undress, as he raced into the bedroom with fear on his face, as he punched Roger Twilling in the gut.
Was it too much to hope that he had been worried for non-professional reasons? That he had been jealous? That he would have rather kept his own "wife" when the couples traded?
After the events of the day, it was nice to unwind at the Railway Arms. They had found Denise before it was too late, and arrested Carol in the bargain. And best of all, by some unspoken resolution, she and Sam were back to their normal easy friendship, but a bit closer than before. Maybe he'd been given a talking-to as well. Annie giggled to herself, trying to imagine Gene discuss something like relationships with Sam.
It was still gratifying to have him follow her out the door, confirming that she'd done well on the case. She'd made plans with friends, so she couldn't take him up on his offer to walk her home. She was almost grateful for the excuse; while she fully intended to let Sam walk her home...someday...in the meantime she still needed to get used to the idea that they might be more than colleagues...someday. Meanwhile, he would treat her like any other DC and she treat him as her boss. Except...
"Good night...Sam," she said, using his first name for the first time in days, hoping he would hear the hint in her tone. Keep asking. Keep trying.