Genre: drama, angst
Characters: Ann, Doug, Tony
Warnings: brief mention of infidelity
A/N: This is for angelolady on fanfiction.net who always leaves kind and encouraging reviews on my Time Tunnel one-shot-collection "Running Parallel". She asked for an Ann story and this is what came to me, largely inspired by Ann's lack of faith in the episode "The Walls Of Jericho". I've always found it difficult to get into Ann's head so I went somewhat introspective with this.
Outside Of Camelot
"What we remember from childhood we remember forever: permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen."-Cynthia Ozick
She's six before someone tells her there's no Santa Claus, but it doesn't matter because she's never believed in him anyway. No Santa, no tooth fairy, no Easter Bunny, and nothing else that most children believe in with their whole hearts. There's never the dramatic revelation that crushes her spirit, the sudden loss of innocence and lack of trust, because Ann has never believed in anything at all.
Her parents are practical people on the downside of middle class, a pharmacist and lapsed Catholic for a father, and a housewife who carefully counts their pennies and has no patience for fairy tales or the sound of church bells that steal a couple hours of a Sunday morning. They marry for necessity instead of love, and seven and a half months later take a baby home from the hospital and name it Ann, a solid, practical name that wears comfortably like a warm coat in winter.
That her mother cares about her she has no doubt, but it isn't enough and before she's nine there's a blue-eyed man from the other side of town, a quickly written note and a wrapped present, and her mother is gone, every trace of her vanishing like the scent of her perfume on the wind, quickly forgotten and left behind. Ann doesn't cry, because she's a big girl and much too old, but she does crawl behind the counter in the pharmacy and stare at the drawing of the hand holding the sword out of the water in the book clasped between her hands until her eyes are blurred.
Later, her father finds her book, the one with the green cover and gold lettering spelling King Arthur across the front, the last gift and only unpractical thing her mother ever gave her, and he takes it without a word and rips it, page by page, severing the Lady of the Lake from the sword, Gawain from his shield, Lancelot from Guinevere, and Arthur from Mordred's blade. She watches, very still, each breath shallow, as the pieces flutter into the trash, jagged edges bent up against the sides like bits of broken glass, and she says nothing. But she doesn't forgive.
Her father dies when she's nineteen, a sudden heart attack with no time to say a word, and she arranges the funeral like a dutiful daughter, every detail in place, nothing to the outside world that seems strange. But the day after, she goes into a second hand bookshop, sees an old copy of King Arthur lying on a dusty shelf, and buys it.
She visits her father's grave only once, the day after, and she doesn't bring flowers or tears, only the book. She reads it over his grave, like a funeral dirge, every word enunciated and spoken firmly, chapter after chapter until her voice is hoarse, and wishes she could believe in an afterlife, if for nothing else than to think he heard her.
Whatever else her parents gave her, Ann has her mind and the determination to use it. She works her way through school, excels through her efforts, and becomes a scientist, not out of some great love for knowledge but rather because it's stable and secure, something tangible and able to be proven, something she can believe in and never doubt.
Within three years she's at Tic Toc, and she remembers the overwhelming flood of adrenaline in her veins as her car drops through the sand to the bunker below, the dizzy rush of blood to her head as her eyes take in the tower of stairs and lights, the crush of people and the sound of the project at work. Over thousands of years man has learned to manipulate everything to his advantage, from the wheel and fire to the art of war, and it only seems logical that in the end he would turn to time itself, to have control over everything, the power to alter the fabric of past and future and bend it like rope in his hands.
Here she's one of hundreds, thousands even, all devoted to the creation of a Tunnel, a giant thing that looms like an open mouth in the room, crafted moment by painful moment like a mother giving birth to a child. She learns the names of many of the others, becomes close to several of them, feels comfortable working shoulder to shoulder with General Kirk, Dr. Swain, and Jerry. But two of them stand out to her: Doug Phillips with the somber, focused face whose rare smile is like the sun from behind a cloud, and Tony Newman, headstrong, impetuous, with eyes that sparkle like coal turned to diamonds.
For Doug there's a flutter inside her heart that's in no way practical, something easily dismissed as chemical attraction and as complexly explained as the first time she's fallen in love, the first time she's allowed herself to love someone deeply without consideration to being hurt. For Tony it's a fondness, a sense of wanting to protect and be protected, like the sibling she's never had. There's never the feeling of a fifth wheel because they're something of a makeshift family, three people without families of their own who need each other.
For the first time in her life, Ann is happy, and she thinks she'll never want anything again, that she has all she needs right here. It's only for a little while, of course, but she didn't expect more, because she was never raised to believe in happily ever after, never foolish enough to think that Arthur could survive the story or that Camelot would endure forever.
She believes in nothing so it shouldn't hurt to watch everything come to an end, and she tells herself that it doesn't. She's become good at lying, it seems.
She thinks in retrospect that watching Doug disappear into the Tunnel after Tony is very much like having her heart carved out of her chest, the final beats fading away as she breathes her last. The room is hollow and overwhelmingly large without both of them, and she's strangely numb as she first sees them up on the screen, two-dimensional figures on the deck of the Titanic, like phantoms from a distant dream. Her fingers tremble over the buttons and she thinks she'll never stop shaking, never erase the sick feeling in the core of her being.
It's a chase after that, transfer after transfer until she thinks she'll go mad, her skin chafing against the controls, Tony and Doug running from death as it stands smiling at them. Tony's heart stops at Gettysburg and her's slams painfully against her ribs until the narrow thread across the screen flickers back to life. Doug fades into shock on the deck of a ship and she's cold all over, deep into the marrow of her bones until the light comes back into Tony's eyes and Doug stirs. A sword stabs Doug and pierces her through, a thousand volts digs deep into Tony to separate him from a ghost, and through it all Ann only wants to turn her back and run away until the memory of the Tunnel shakes off her like sand from the seashore, or curl up in a ball and scream until it ends, until it's over and she sees the sun again from above the ground instead of the lights of the room far below, leaves this place like a person buried alive set free from a coffin.
She never does, of course, because there's always another day, another transfer, another faint hope snuffed out like a candle flame between two fingertips, as they cling to life and she clings to sanity. She watches them, at night, at day, when others are there or when she's alone, and her hand reaches toward the screen, like a widow touching the photograph of a husband long dead, watching as they huddle against the cold or bake in the desert sun, spill blood and break bones, and she thinks that anything would be better than this, even death, and then hates herself for even thinking it.
Once, she considers forcing the Tunnel to send Doug back, to devote all their power to him and simply let Tony go, like snapping a tether and watching as an astronaut drifts away into space, and then she rips it from her mind in a bleeding slice because she could never do it, could never look at Doug again and admit it was her choice, because he would grow to hate her, slowly day by day, because he would sit in the place she sits now and watch that single line across the screen, waiting for a moment to walk through the Tunnel again. He would never leave Tony alone in there, and she couldn't either, because she loves them both in different ways, her Lancelot and Gawain in shining armour, one with her heart and the other as a sister loves her brother.
So when it's dark outside, or maybe day, because she hasn't seen either in a long time, and it's her turn to watch the signals, she sits beneath the lights, as bright as a million stars stretching across time, and she thinks of that drawing of the hand reaching out of the lake, pale fingers curled around the sword of a fallen king, water and blood mingling together and spilling out onto the shore.
Life is only a fairytale in the end, and if she'd read them as a child she would have known that where there is magic, there are always monsters. She knows the rest, though, because it's a sad story, as all fairy tales once were, because the Little Mermaid drives a knife into her heart and turns to foam upon the water, the match girl freezes in the cold, and Rapunzel's prince falls from the tower and wanders blind in the forest. At the end of every Arthurian Legend, Arthur always falls with Mordred's blade through his heart, the round table passes into history, Merlin's magic changes like dry leaves into the snows of winter, and Guinevere sends Lancelot away to wander a minstrel until the day they lay her in the ground outside the stones of cloistered halls.
"When Arthur was king," Ann says, and her voice sounds strange in the empty room, frail like the nine year old child she used to be. "Camelot was beautiful and perfect and right, a golden age of swords of magic. The knights were noble and clad in shining armour, Guinevere loved Lancelot, and Merlin was the greatest sorcerer on the face of the earth. But no one ever wonders about the people outside the walls, the subjects of the king. Do you suppose they were loved? Do you suppose they believed in the magic or anything at all? Do you suppose they knew what happiness was?"
There's no answer in the room, save for the echoes and the quiet waving of the parallel lines across the screen, silently marking the heartbeats of two men a thousand years or maybe a day away, unreachable, and above all else, lost. There's no answer, but it's all right. She wasn't expecting one, anyway.