COME FORWARD

Summary: The antics and adventures of a television crew who investigate apparently haunted locations for their programme, and what can happen when two people work closely together for some time in unusual circumstances. It's a three-person (technically four) love story with a mysterious twist; to tell you how it ends would probably ruin it. Told in first person from the POV of the main character.
(Dis)claimer: It's not a completely original idea; this is based on Living TV's Most Haunted, using its presenters and crew as a basis for my characters, using some of their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, though exaggerated. This does not reflect how I believe or wish their situation to be. No, they do not know about it; if they ever find out about it, I'll crawl into a hole and deny all knowledge. Please don't sue me; I have no money. Aside from that, the concept behind the story itself is of my own creation.
Rating: PG to PG-13, for language if nothing else. (They swear a lot under pressure. :D)
Author's Notes: What do we do when our Inner Shipper latches onto non-fictional people? Why, we turn those people into characters in a different story so we can ship them without guilt. That's what this is. It's easier on my brain than attempting real-person fanfiction, and I need to flex my original-writing muscle a bit: I've been writing fanfiction far too long. This is actually a re-write; the original was done in third person, but since the story only really focusses on one character's thoughts and feelings, I've started again. The original version is being left up as a basis for comparison. That being said, enjoy.
Dedication: For Yvette, Karl, and Derek, and all the others. Though God forbid they ever find this…
This chapter: Something of an introduction to the majority of the characters and their interactions. You'll probably be confused, but hopefully things will become more apparent as the story progresses.

Come Forward

Chapter 1

Stand tall. Chin up. Eyes forward. Remember the dramatic pauses. God, I need a haircut.

"Good evening, I'm Yvelyn Meadows, and welcome to tonight's edition of Great Britain Beyond. Behind me is an innocent-seeming pub named The Hanged Man Coaching Inn, where, over the years, there have been several strange and unexplained sightings. A tall man in a hat and cloak is said to walk the cobbles outside, and a woman's scream has been heard on many occasions. Our team will spend twenty-four hours here, hopefully uncovering the dark secrets the building holds."

"And… cut! Let's just take a short break and get set up for the next shot."

I heave a sigh of relief, shaking myself out of 'presenter-mode', and my ever-patient husband, Mark Rackham, barks random orders to the various members of our technical team. Rather him than me to have the last word on things. It's bad enough being the first thing the viewers see, without handling the important decisions as well. Messing up the introduction can be rectified with a new take, but directing screw ups are there to haunt you forever. This presenting thing should've gotten easier after three years, but it hasn't.

Once the boom mic is out of the way and not likely to clonk me on the head (and it's happened too many times to count), I take a step forward. "Was that okay?"

Mark, the executive producer and (mostly) all-round nice guy, nods his head in a decidedly directorial fashion, his mind clearly elsewhere and focussed on everything that still needs to be done, before he remembers it's me he's talking to. "As if you needed to ask," he says, cracking a cheeky smile that I'm never entirely sure whether or not to smack him for. "You were born to stand in front of old buildings and look gorgeous. It's your calling."

I'd smack him for the compliment, if nothing else. I don't think 'gorgeous' quite sums me up today. I've been up since six-thirty in the morning and there's still far too many hours to get through before I can go to bed, with a lot of dusty rooms in the interim. I don't know what he sees in me; my hair's too red – and needs bleaching, right this second – my cheekbones are much too high, and I'm about two inches shorter than I'd prefer. Hardly glamorous anchorwoman material.

True to my thought processes, I smack him affectionately on the arm. "I meant the link, Mark."

"Oh, that," he says, as if it's the most trivial thing in the world and not the simple paragraph I spent an hour rehearsing this morning. "Yeah. Not perfect, but we're strapped for time as it is. We can maybe go over it again tomorrow morning before we leave."

"Right," I say, making a mental note, though in all likelihood I'll be half-asleep by then and even less photogenic than I feel at the moment. "What's next?"

Mark reaches for a clipboard on a nearby bench and examines it, flipping through a few sheets. "Tom's got to do his history bit and we need to interview the landlord. Stewart wants to get some establishing shots, too, I think."

I groan at the last item on Mark's agenda. 'Establishing shots' means dressing up in silly period costume and shuffling my feet across a bit of lawn; I distinctly remember 'pretending to be a ghost' as not being part of my job description when Mark and I came up with the idea for the show. I ignore that for the time being, hoping it'll go away, and ask, "What about Fred?"

"He's inside doing his baselines upstairs."

"Right," I say again. Is everyone accounted for? Our historian's probably got his nose buried in a book, reading up as much as he can find about this location. Inevitably, his quest for somewhere quiet to sit will be interrupted by Fred Adman, our paranormal investigator, as he mutters and measures inside the building. I mentally tick off the rest of our colleagues, spotting them in the grounds. "Oh, when's Alec getting here?"

Mark looks at his watch. "Eightish, he told me."

"So that means I can have a coffee, doesn't it?"

"I don't see why not."

I don't need telling twice. My internal radar clicks instantly to 'caffeine' – it's not that I'm addicted, you understand, just a tad dependent in order to function as a sane human being – and I head purposefully into the pub. Just because it's being investigated doesn't mean the facilities are completely off-limits, and it saves having to pay for a caterer in the long-run. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Mark watch me and smile to himself – God forbid I try to do an overnight vigil without a healthy dose of coffee in my system.

The pub is murky and musty, and certainly seems exactly the type of place that should be haunted, but I know from experience that it doesn't prove a thing. We've had more terrifying experiences in modern settings than in ancient, creaking buildings, and I'm not for one second going to raise my expectations just yet. If three years on the job has taught me one thing, it's this: expect nothing, and something might happen.

That being said, though, this place definitely has an atmosphere about it. The main bar area's only lit by a few dim side lamps, and visibility within the darkened, panelled interior is decidedly tricky, and not helped at all by the haze of cigarette smoke emanating from a table in the far corner of the room. Four local men at the table turn as I close the door behind me, and nod their greeting, before returning to their game of dominoes. We all thought they'd come to be filmed this morning, but it turned out they were just carrying on as usual, which is just how things should be. There's also a non-smoking dining area further into the belly of the building, which is much better-lit, but it's also full of screaming toddlers. So much for that plan. Looks like I'll just have to squint.

I position myself at the bar – feeling slightly self-conscious as I'm the only one standing there – and wait. There's currently no sign of the landlord, or any other staff, for that matter, presumably because it's early afternoon and a week-day. There's a coffee machine burbling invitingly several feet away, just beyond my reach.

"Honestly, Fred. Do you have to do that now?"

The irritated voice of Thomas Fortune sounds distinctly from a darkened corner of the room, and I turn in its direction, noticing him for the first time. He's taken up an entire table with his various history books and archives, some borrowed from the local library, with a notepad and pen slowly getting buried in the debris. A pair of wire-rimmed, old-fashioned spectacles adorn the end of his nose, which he's presently peering down.

The cause of his annoyance – of course – is Fred, doing what he does best: taking important and vital baseline readings of every nook and cranny of the area while it's still relatively calm and inactive. Dressed entirely in black, as usual, it's hardly surprising I didn't notice him when I walked in, as he seems to vanish into the darkness of the pub. He points his EMF-meter into Thomas' personal space, and regards the device's read-out with interest, raising one dark eyebrow.

"Careful, Tom," he says. "You're throwing my readings right off with all your negative energy. Alec'd have words with you if he was here."

Thomas gently shoves the meter away from himself. "Well, he's not. I'm sure the readings in this corner are precisely the same as the readings in that corner, so" – he gestures 'shoo' with both hands – "go on. I've got an awful lot to do, and you're in my light."

Watching the exchange with amused familiarity, I'm thankful to have such a close-knit team to work with. We've been making this show for nearly four years, and there've only been a few minor fall outs, mostly about trivial things brought on by stress and sleep-deprivation, which is to be expected. It pays in any situation to get along with everyone, and I can't envisage working alongside anyone else.

"All right there, luv?"

As I turn back to the bar, I'm met by the expectant face of the landlord, David. "Yes, thanks. Can I just get a coffee?"

He nods and flips the switch on the coffee machine to heat it up again, and while he waits, he puts away clean glasses from the washer, whistling tuneless to himself. I can still hear the argument between historian and investigator coming from the far corner and turn my head so I can keep one eye on them and one on the barman.

"Shouldn't you have done that already?" asks Fred, scribbling a few notes of his own before taking a seat beside the decidedly frazzled historian.

Tom gives him a pointed stare. "That's the interesting thing about local history, "he says. "It is, rather annoyingly, local."

My attention is diverted once more by the beep of the coffee machine. David pours me a cup, and, finally, I sink into a blissful caffeine fix. I reach for my purse once I've taken a sip, but he's having none of it.

"Since you lot came all the way out here just to film our little pub, the least I can do is give you a free coffee."

"Are you sure?"

He shrugs. "Course I am, luv. Go on, have a coffee on me. It won't do you no harm." Of course, we both know he's only offering because of the inevitable trade he's going to get once the show airs.

"Thanks." I take another sip. "Mark said they'll be needing to interview you soon, if you want to prepare."

He gives me a thumbs-up. "No problem, luv. What's he going to need to know exactly?"

"Just the usuals," I say, thinking back over what other proprietors have told us over the years. "When you bought the property, what you know about it, if you've seen or heard anything strange… We'll chop it up in the edit later anyway, so you can ramble as much as you like."

"Righty-ho." That being said, he wanders to the other end of the bar to serve one of the local domino-players. I take my coffee and head over to my other two team members, who are still bickering about nothing in particular.

"Remind me again," I say as I sit on the other side of Thomas, effectively boxing him into the corner, "why I keep working with you two?"

The two men exchange a glance. Thomas waggles his eyebrows and Fred strikes a pose, though the effect of flexing muscles is somewhat ruined by his long sleeves. "Our dashing good looks?" suggests Tom.

"Oh." I smirk obviously into my coffee. "Of course…" I place the cup down for a moment and reach for one of Thomas' hand-written pages, skimming it with interest. Frowning as I take in the information for later on, I ask, "Do we still not know why it's called The Hanged Man?"

Thomas shakes his head. "Absolutely no idea. There's no history whatsoever about this being a site for hangings, or there being one anywhere nearby. It was certainly a coaching inn, but I'm afraid it's otherwise a complete mystery. I hope Alec can shed some light on the subject so I know where else to look."

"The only problem then is corroborating it," I say. "If there's no record, how do we know if he's telling the truth?" This is a frequent problem. Much as I'd love to take everything Alec says on trust, it's not possible to do so.

Fred challenges me on that very issue by asking, "You mean to tell me you don't believe everything he says? I'm surprised at you, Yvelyn!" He feigns horror, making Tom smirk, and I shoot him a glare.

"You know I don't have that liberty. It's my job to be objective and level-headed and-"

"A complete girl?" he interjects, referring to my tendency to panic whenever something happens to us. It's an unfair assumption; I'm getting much braver, and watching old footage of the early years makes me cringe at my own cowardice.

"As if you're so brave," I argue back. "You screamed like a woman the last time."

"In all fairness," he said, "Stewart screamed louder, and you were the one hiding behind me."

I'm about to reply to that with something appropriately childish, when Thomas interrupts us both. "I wish you'd both go away. Much as I'd love to continue the debate, I still have lots of research to do."

"Sorry, Tom." I down the remainder of my coffee. "I should go and check on things outside anyway. Fred, are you nearly finished?"

"Yeah." He also gets to his feet, pausing a moment to further irritate Tom by pushing his glasses up his nose so they're no longer teetering; Tom bats his hand away. "Just got to do a bit more upstairs. The trigger object needs setting up, and I need to decide where to put the motion detectors." I nod, and he takes his clipboard and EMF-meter in the direction of the staircase. Thomas stares pointedly at me until I get out of his way.

"All right, all right…" I start to leave, heading towards the door. Just before opening it and being assaulted by sunlight, though, I add, "Try not to burn out. There's a long night ahead of us." He waves off my concern with his hand, readjusts his glasses, and goes back to his reading, immediately blocking everything else out again. Shaking my head fondly at his determination, I step back out into the cobbled yard.

The pub we're investigating is pleasantly located on the main street of a small village, which seems to have maintained its historic charms over the years. The building itself is recognisably Tudor, with its white walls and black beams, while the other houses and cottages nearby are ramshackle, stone things, some with thatched roofs and some with slate. Just the sort of place it'd be nice to retire to. As it's summer, our night-time filming is limited to the shorter period of darkness that the season brings, but it does make the daytime waiting around a far more pleasant experience.

Before I can find a place to sit and a book to read to enjoy the weather while I have the chance, I notice Stewart come ambling up to me with his steadicam hoisted onto one shoulder. Oh, God… is my first thought, but I fix a smile on my face and greet him as brightly as I can. "All right, Stewart?"

"Yeah, um…" he begins. "We need to do a ghost shot. Shouldn't take long; just need to film it on the cobbles." Stewart hates asking me to do this, and it shows in his decidedly apologetic tone of voice, and the way he's standing like he's about to run away. It's not very often he gets to be artistic, as we're essentially making reality TV, and if I'm completely honest, the cheesy semi-transparent 'ghosts' we put in do add something to the production value.

I sigh over-exaggeratedly, because he expects it. "Can't someone else do the dressing up for change? I hate doing bloody ghost shots."

"I know, I know, but… look, it'll only take five minutes. Please?" When I don't answer him, he pushes further. "You do it so well, y'know. If you do it, I'll… I'll do a vigil on my own tonight, and I won't freak out and scare everyone like I normally do."

I doubt that very much. Stewart's so highly strung that even the night-time wildlife has been freaking him out lately. "No need for the heroics, Stu," I tell him, and see a flicker of relief in his gaze. "I'll do it. Just this once. Next time, it's Cathi's turn."

Stewart beams and directs me towards the picnic area behind the pub, where he's already decided to film. As I head over to the car to find something suitable from our 'dressing up box', I know that, despite my continued refusal, in a couple of weeks' time, I'll once more be donning the Victorian-style dress that's seen better days, and dragging my feet across another bit of lawn…



The evening's arrived fast, with everyone bustling around. I've barely even had time to change out of that stupid period outfit and into something more practical before I'm rushing around with the rest of the team, setting up locked-off cameras inside the pub and checking all of the other equipment for functionality, including the radios. Mark shouts orders in one direction, while I'm shouting them in the other. Cathi, our energetic and long-suffering make-up girl, follows me around and attempts to apply foundation whenever I stand still, which isn't for long, but I doubt it'll make much difference by the time we're filming on night-vision.

Fred's waving his EMF-meter around once more, checking for any fluxes in the electro-magnetic field before we start, and making sure its batteries are fully functional. Stewart's also checking all of the cameras with Mark, while the rest of our assorted team members are psyching themselves up for another unpredictable night Nearby, a table holds the most important aspect of all: several large flasks of steaming coffee. David, the landlord, is pouring it out, having apparently invited himself along for the ride.

It seems a very disorganised affair, but it's always been like this, and to try and inflict any strict rules and practices would inevitably fail. It's our mess, Mark and I, and we like it just fine.

Into our apparent chaos, I register that a large, white car has pulled up. The passenger door opens, and a smartly-dressed man of fifty steps out, thanks the driver, and waves the car off again. He surveys the frenetic crew for a moment and examines the façade of the building he's been dropped off at, before putting his hands in the pockets of his coat and heading over to us.

As I'm the first to spot him, I meet him halfway. "Alec," I greet him, warmly. Then, I make a show of checking my watch. "You do realise you're late."

He smiles apologetically and takes my hand in both of his, his way of shaking hands and showing his remorse. His native Liverpool accent is gentle and friendly, as always. "I know. I'm sorry." He looks over my shoulder – which isn't that difficult, as he stands a good foot taller than me – and then says, "But it doesn't look as though I've missed very much."

He's the most sincerely sarcastic person I know, and that's one of the reasons I like him. "Well, no," I admit, "but Mark and I are trying to run a tight ship, here. Any more of this tardiness and we'll have to reconsider your career options. There are plenty of other mediums out there, you know." I'm joking, of course, and he knows it. Nobody on the team would ever think of letting Alec go. I gesture with my head. "Come on. I think we're about ready."

I turn back and then run on ahead when I notice Mark waving me over, as Alec makes his way to greet the rest of the team and dispense with the usual greetings. Alec Jesuda is a household name on the show, and is becoming quite the celebrity. Before we employed his services, he was fairly well-known as a spiritualist medium in his own right, but it's his connections with Great Britain Beyond that have pushed him even further into the limelight. Alec and I are equally popular with the show's viewers, apparently.

Satisfied that everything's ready to go, Mark indicates for everyone to enter the building, the crew going in first so they can all get into position. He and I pause for a moment and watch Alec as he examines the building, a pensive expression on his face.

"Are you okay?" asks Mark. It's not uncommon for Alec to start ahead of time and make contact with some kind of presence before the cameras have even started rolling. It's part of the unpredictable nature of the work.

"Yes, yes," he assures us. "I'm fine. I just have a very good feeling about tonight. A very good feeling." And with that decidedly cryptic remark, he pushes open the door for both of us, follows us through, and is the last to enter, closing the door behind him with a final clunk.

I'm quite excited about the rest of the night and all it holds, now, but I'm also gripped by a familiar anxiety. Of course, it'll be great if we get plenty of evidence on film of paranormal activity, but I know for a fact I'm going to make a complete idiot of myself if anything happens. The last time any of us saw anything concrete – a ghostly torso with no head or lower body, floating independently on a flight of stairs – we'd all beat a hasty retreat If Alec's got such confidence, does that mean we might finally catch something on film?

I find myself having to suppress a shudder; the atmosphere of this place was spooky enough in the daylight, but now it's darker, the interior is even more foreboding than before. Mark seems to sense my discomfort straight away and touches my arm, comforting and questioning. I give him a nod to dispel his concerned expression, though I appreciate the gesture, and we venture forth into another night of the unknown…

To be continued...

A/N: This has been brewing in my brain for quite a while. Reviews would be appreciated, though I'm really only posting it for my own benefit and the entertainment of some acquaintances... if you don't have a clue what's going on, stick with it. I promise it'll all make sense at some point. Hopefully.