hughes: (d.i.)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:14 am

Fanfiction: Starman | I: Iron Man | ii

ii.

is he alive or dead
has he thoughts within his head
we'll just pass him there
why should we even care

---

Sam Tyler was insane.

He spent the better part of the car ride contemplating this fact, including the voices, the hallucinations, and the distinct probability that every storefront and pedestrian racing by the Cortina's window was nothing more than the obsessive-compulsive detail of a comatose dream.

But at least it'd been a consistent dream. At least it'd stuck to its own bloody rules of engagement, and hadn't let its madness slip past the confines of phone receivers and radio speakers and television screens. Sam could handle the odd replying voice here, a mixed-up headline there, but he'd never encountered anything like Doctor Detective Inspector Obviously-a-Bloody-Pseudonym John Smith, and now he hadn't a clue what the hell 1973's game had changed to. That the bastard had appeared in tandem with this whole Mangler mess only made his presence all the more unsettling. It was hard to ignore that they only had his word about the struggle in Lupei's flat and it was even harder to neglect now, on their way to the site of a fifth victim, that he'd been absent from the station the entire day.

And yet, it was Sam who looked the part of a mad bastard. Because Smith could fool them. And Sam couldn't.

Smith had enough sense to keep silent in the back seat all the way until they parked in front of the victim's multi-storey, but Sam realized as he opened the car door that even that had been eerie, controlled, like Smith's eyes hadn't spent any time on the outside scenery and all their time on the back of Sam's head.

Sam shuddered.

"Neighbors last saw the victim yesterday evening," Gene said as soon as they went up the steps and into the hall -- "they" meaning the three of them, with Smith wearing a strange little frown of concentration as if he was an invested party instead of a mental glitch designed specifically to make Sam's life even worse. "Apparently, Miss Kenton would take a evening constitution before retiring to her flat."

Sam raised a brow, momentarily distracted from his predicament. "She exercised?"

Gene grunted. "If that's your fascist word for it."

Several officers stood in a group by a cordoned door, with Ray mulling about at their center. As Sam and the others approached, Ray raised his eyes mid-gesture and then narrowed them. "Next wave of the Hyde invasion," he muttered aside to one of the plods.

Sam found himself annoyed, for once, not because of the slight but because of who it associated him with. Smith reinforced this by replying cheerily, "Oh, not an invasion, really -- more like a pair of diplomatic scouts," and then he patted Sam's shoulder with such friendliness -- such familiarity -- that Sam wanted to slam him against the floor and wrench cuffs on him then and there.

Instead, he forced a smile and said, "Yes, we're our own little sovereign nation." He shoved past Ray into the flat.

The place had, at one point, been a tidy affair -- beyond tidy, really, from the spotless walls to the minimalist shelves and the clean countertops, all attended to with the kind of care Sam associated more with his own twenty-first century sensibilities than the rustic brand of Manchester he'd become accustomed to.

And, like his own twenty-first century sensibilities, it was all rendered obsolete to the point of absurdity by the gory mess at its center.

"God..." Sam pressed a hand to his nose. If someone had taken a bucket of paint and smeared it round the floor with their fingers, he imagined it wouldn't look half as violent as the mess in front of him, oozing a horrible copper smell, framed by overturned chairs and a broken lamp sprayed with pinprick blood droplets.

Sam stepped around the gore and tried his best to take objective stock of the room. He could -- if he tried -- imagine that the mutilated body at the center of the living area had once been an innocent young woman, if he discounted the spilled intestines and broken hands, the bludgeoned cheeks and the punctured eyes. Christ.

Gene didn't sound like he was doing much better, in his gruff Guv way. "Mangler's never left a sodding corpse before." He glanced around at the toppled furniture. "Or a mess, for that matter."

Sam shook his head and looked to Ray as he swallowed around the knot in his throat. "Forensics?"

"On their way," Ray drawled, though it was hard to miss the slight pallor of his skin as he leaned against the doorframe. "So far, we've talked to neighbors and poked 'round the scene -- not enough to get your fine knickers in a twist," he interjected at Sam's scowl, "but so far, nothin'. Most we can tell, Brittany Kenton weren't expecting to kick it none soon. Bought garden vegetables from a neighbor yesterday mornin' -- apparently was a bit broke up over leavin' her boyfriend, nothin' else."

Sam grit his teeth and returned his attention to the scene, absorbing every sign of an unplanned struggle: the haphazard splintering of the nearby coffee table, the finger-smeared blood on the upholstery and chair arms. All of it incongruous with the Mangler's meticulous M.O. -- aside from the tell-tale post-mortem blood-letting. "This doesn't make any sense. Our serial killer has never broken his one-week routine before."

"Seems a whole boatload of goods aren't adding up to a full shipment," Gene muttered. He rubbed his eyes and that's when Sam remembered -- how they'd all taken the night off, and whose idea it had been.

He couldn't quite bring himself to point it out.

A low buzzing set Sam's teeth on edge, the same sound they'd heard at Lupei's flat. He glanced at Smith just in time to see him pocket some kind of tool.

"I wouldn't say that so quickly," Smith murmured.

A sharp spike of annoyance shot up in Sam, the likes of which he'd thought only Gene Hunt could inspire. He straightened and glared Smith down.

"What would you say, DI Smith, if you feel inclined to enlighten us?"

Smith looked to him with a level of calm composure Sam wasn't prepared for. He pursed his lips and leaned back on the heels of his trainers.

"I could point out the fact that the killer's been found out -- they're scared, on the run, desperate. Naturally, they'd commit any crimes with more fury and less premeditation--"

A laugh escaped Sam's mouth. "Assuming we believe you, or your grand assumptions about Mrs. Lupei, or the magical bloodied pamphlet that appeared around the time of your arrival."

Smith narrowed his eyes. "Yes, assuming you believe me, or your detective constable's findings, or the results of my cross-analysis between the soil at Lupei's and the particles I managed to salvage from this flat's welcome mat."

"What 'analysis?'" Ray scoffed, tone relaxed and incredulous, quite unlike the tautness in Sam's shoulders or the quiet in Gene's voice.

"Yes," Gene asked, slow and even, "what analysis?"

"Analysis," Smith repeated, like it was a simple concept, before turning to Gene with cheerful, gleaming teeth. "Hasn't DI Tyler mentioned the things we can do in Hyde?"

"Doesn't mean they believe me," Sam snapped, so quickly he barely heard himself. The words clanged like cymbals and he felt his hands trembling, blood pumping -- things we can do, things we can do--

"Base to Alpha-One."

Sam opened his eyes about the same time Gene grabbed his radio, Ray muttered "nutter," and Smith marched into the flat's kitchen.

"Yeah, Phyllis?" Gene said. In Sam's peripheral vision, the Guv divided his attention between Smith, who was studying the cupboards, and Sam, who was studying Smith.

"Chris and Annie called in, said to tell you they found her."

"Found who?" Gene's voice faded from Sam's awareness Smith ran a hand along the countertop, turned on his heel, and opened the refrigerator door to a pile of carrots and celery. It occurred to Sam that he didn't know what struck him more -- the grim line of Smith's mouth, the intensity of his gaze, or the juxtaposition of both to Brittany Kenton's blood-soaked remains, lying just a few feet away.

Phyllis' tinny voice broke his thoughts. "The woman -- Chris was on about some woman. Loo-something."

Sam, Gene, and Smith all raised their heads.

"Shall I free a holding cell, Guv?"

---

"Took your sweet time," Phyllis grumbled as soon as the three of them burst through the station's front doors. "DC Skelton wouldn't stop blatherin' 'bout his collar and proper protocol. Kept sayin' it was for the good of the--"

"Where's Annie?" Sam blurted. "I need to talk to her," he added before he could stop himself, painfully aware of the anxiety under his paper-thin veil of composure. Maybe Phyllis could tell, because she fixed him with an odd little stare and pointed upstairs.

Gene shoved forward before she could elaborate. "Moment, before Little Boy Tyler drops his trousers. Did you give a good look-see to that inquiry I called in?"

Sam didn't retort and didn't give a damn whatever arse-end lead Gene was chasing -- just turned away and caught a whole sodding eyeful of Smith, hands in his coat pockets and one trainer sole rubbing small circles in the tiled floor. When he caught Sam's gaze, he smiled brightly.

Sam turned away.

All in your head, all in your head.

Gene's voice filtered back in. "Like I thought?"

"Like you thought, Guv," Phyllis replied.

Sam felt Gene's fingers dig into his shoulder as he steered him toward the lift like a dog led by the scruff of its neck. "Right, then, off for a friendly chat with our prime suspect. You too, Hydey-ho!" he called back at Smith, who followed them with a bounce in his step.

Sam wrenched himself out of Gene's grasp once they got in the lift, seething from the close proximity to the Hyde-borne bastard. It only got worse when Gene asked, like they were chatting over a bloody card table, "Been at C-Division long, then?" to which Smith replied with some flipping vague answer that Gene just nodded his head to -- of course he would just nod his head, one made-up mental aberration to another -- as they stepped off the lift.

In coma, no one can hear you scream. Sam's eyes darted around for Annie. No sign. Naturally.

He slunk after Gene and Smith down the hall toward their unofficial interrogation-room-slash-torture-chamber. As they entered Lost and Found, he looked toward the table for Lupei, the possibly innocent Romanian woman who would no doubt receive more than her fair share of fist-slams and derogatory slurs before the end of the hour.

But all he saw was an empty chair, caught in a ribbon of light from the room's sole window. Sam frowned, existential panic momentarily forgotten as he looked to Gene, who raised both eyebrows in pantomime surprise.

"My word, seems there's been a terrible mix-up. Right, can't waste a perfectly good interrogation."

He stepped around the table and yanked the chair from under it.

Then he looked to Smith.

"Detective Inspector. Why don't you give this seat an arse-warming, because far as I can tell from a call-in on your credentials, you aren't qualified to take a shit in this station."

Sam blinked. Gene glanced at him.

"What, Tyler? Did you think I'd completely ignore you?"

Sam didn't know what to say. Thank you came to mind. Thank God came next. I am believed by someone outside of myself, and you don't know how much that means to me' came a haphazard last, interrupted when Smith cleared his throat.

"I -- well." Smith ran a hand through his static-charged hair. "I, ah... I can explain--"

"Right large bollocks to impersonate a member of the queen's constabulary." Gene took a step toward him, voice horribly soft. "Right suicide to do it in my department."

"Like I said--"

"Did I say you could talk, you freckle-faced fart?"

Gene's lips snapped together. A gob of spit hit Smith's cheek.

Smith paused and swallowed. He brought up a finger and wiped his face with a small, dainty motion.

"'Fraid it's not the best skin I've had, is it?"

Smith's chest hit the table with a hard clang. Sam caught the tail end of a winded breath as Gene's fingers dug into the back of Smith's coat, dragged him up close enough to snarl to his ear.

"You have ten seconds to tell me why you crawled into my corner of the Earth before I loop so many charges 'round your neck that you'll choke on rope before you hang from it."

Smith coughed and hacked and raised his head, and fixed a wide-eyed stare on Sam -- right on him, like he was the be-all, end-all of everything in this room, everything in the universe. Like Smith was expecting something -- waiting for a sign.

Sam looked back at him.

Smith's brow creased. "It's hard to -- hard to explain."

"Really?" Gene's hands dropped their grip on him. "Let's make it a bit easier, then."

Smith breathed out and pulled himself from the table. He swallowed and turned toward them.

"Right." He cleared his throat, adjusted his lapels. "Glad you've--"

Gene's fist slammed into Smith's face. Air burst from his mouth as his body crashed into the suspect chair. For once, Sam didn't flinch when the chair toppled and clattered. He didn't blink an eye when Smith's body hit the floor like a cut of cold meat. Instead, a sense of vindication thrummed through him as Gene grabbed a fistful of the bastard's hair and yanked him to his knees. This was fair, Sam thought as he felt his body go calm, as he crossed his arms over his chest. Smith deserved this. He was a dangerous man in a diseased world, playing the victim, pretending to be harmless, pretending to be less than he was.

Sam might have been smiling.

Gene glanced at him before he turned back to Smith. "Making this easier. Let's see -- how 'bout we start with your real name, seeing as 'John Smith' fringes on criminal embarrassment."

Blood-tinged spit dripped from Smith's lip, marking a trail from his mouth to his chin. He raised the cuff of his coat to wipe it away, eyes hard and dark with a strange, practiced tranquility.

"I'm the Doctor."

"Oh, good." Gene used his grip on Smith's hair to shake his head back and forth, then tossed it to the side like a ragdoll. "Does that mean you've made a hobby of cutting people to itty bitty pieces?"

Smith swayed with the momentum before recovering his balance. He staggered to his feet with a kind of serene, dogged composure that didn't fit his lanky figure -- like this wasn't the first time he'd been knocked down, and it wasn't the worst.

"I came here," he said, an edge of fury to his words, "to help save these people."

Sam tried not to look smug as he stepped forward. "No offense, Dr. Smith, but you seem to be doing a rubbish job of it."

"Just 'the Doctor,' thank you." Smith snapped back.

"My, you are mental." Gene cracked his knuckles. "Suppose we know why he's a fan of yours, Tyler."

"Suppose we do," Sam muttered. There were questions in that vein he wanted to ask this man -- questions he couldn't get away with while Gene was bearing down on his target like an armored tank. Smith -- because calling him 'the Doctor' seemed the equivalent of replying to an infant in gibberish -- continued to appear battered but unyielding, even as Gene smashed his fist into the bastard's shoulder and sent him hurtling into the wall.

"If I'm honest, I couldn't give a rat's arse what your prozzie mother decided to call you, so let's cut to the grand prix chase, shall we?"

Gene's elbow and forearm slammed into Smith's chest just as he regained his footing, pinning him to the hard ledge of the room's single window.

"If you aren't a twisted piece of murdering bastard scum, what do you suppose you're doing here, acting the part of a bloody officer?"

Smith heaved against the pressure but didn't raise his arms. Sam noticed that, suddenly -- he hadn't raised his arms in defense, just left them rigid at his sides, fists clenched and trembling, like he was ready to punch, but he couldn't. No, Sam thought with sudden fury. Wouldn't.

"I told you." Smith writhed. "I'm trying to save the people of this city, or do you think that beating someone senseless is as good as putting a killer behind bars?"

Gene barked out a laugh. "Forget 'fan', Tyler. He's your evil sodding twin!"

"And you," Smith growled back, "you are an unevolved Neanderthal too blind to see a murderer's trail past your own fists."

Smith's head cracked against the window ledge. Sam caught the shape of his body sliding the length of the wall to the floor as Gene withdrew his hand and stepped back from him.

"I know a murderer when I see one," Gene said.

Smith raised his eyes, wide and dazed. Gene crouched down to meet them, face hard and dark, voice low and quiet as a tomb. "I know every trick in the book. Every big smile, every poncy air, every dirty scam you miserable bastards try to pull on people who don't know an ounce better than to swallow your poison. I can tell a murdering monster the moment I lay eyes on one, and let me tell you, 'Doctor,' you won't fool me."

Smith stared back, nose bloody, cheek red and swollen, eyes watering from the onslaught.

He looked away.

Sam stepped forward before he realized his feet had moved him. He shoved Gene aside.

"Christ, Guv, could've given him concussion," he muttered, though he knew he'd considered this and hadn't particularly cared mere seconds ago. God, Sam thought, some retort of Gene's flying by his ear as he grabbed Smith's arm and hauled him up, bastard's rubbing off on me.

"Have a plonk bandage him up and be done with it," Gene grumbled, midway through straightening his tie. "I'll not be letting the little scrotum out of our sight on account of some nancy medical fuss."

I'm with you there, was what Sam meant to say, but instead came out, "He had no choice."

Gene paused. Smith raised his head.

"--but to provoke you," Sam exhaled, like he'd been trapped between breaths. "He had no choice but to provoke you, and you are a great big ape, aren't you?"

"Better than a great big jessie." Gene stepped forward and wrenched Smith's arm out of Sam's grasp, then dragged him toward the door. "Lucky for you, 'the Doctor,' my girl of an associate insists you meet 'the Nurse.'"

Smith's eyes trailed from Sam toward the exit as they slowly lost their stunned quality, their lack of focus. He shook his head, and then, against all reason, smiled.

"That won't be necessary, DCI Hunt. I'm feeling quite better already."

Gene paused and looked to Sam, face gleaming like a line of Blackpool lights. "You hear that, Tyler? Man's ready to go another round."

Sam frowned. He marched to the door and again grabbed hold of Smith's free arm. "Exactly. He needs his head checked."

Gene raised his chin as he shoved open the door to the hallway. "If picking fights with Gene Hunt is a symptom of nuttery, I ought to have half this city committed -- with you at the front of the queue."

Sam rolled his eyes as they dragged Smith into CID's front corridor. They took barely two steps out of Lost and Found when, like a beacon of light through a miserable haze, Annie appeared from the bullpen, a box of evidence in her arms.

"What--" She looked from Smith's bruised face to Sam. "Who's this?"

"DI Smith," Sam muttered.

Annie went rigid. "Why's he in custody?"

Gene yanked Smith forward another foot. "Fraud, forgery, and bloody fine police work. Mind stepping out of the way, Miss Marple?"

Annie shifted to one side of the hall, clutching her box to her chest as Sam met her stare with a weary frown.

"Smith's not a real officer. We're arresting him in connection with the serial killings."

"Not a real -- how?" Annie asked as they passed by. Sam was about to reply with reassurance and a wan smile when Smith's arm went rigid against his hand.

"Where'd you get that?" Smith whispered.

Smith stopped in his tracks, feet rooted to the ground. It took a moment for Sam to realize he'd fixed his eyes on Annie, and it took a second after that for him to dig his fingers into Smith's arm and yank him away from her. "Come on. Enough talk."

"Wait," Annie said.

Sam paused. Annie shifted in place. "Where did I get what?"

Smith swallowed. "That."

Annie glanced down to her box of evidence, draped over the top by an old scarf ribboned with alternating colors. Sam mirrored her frown as she looked up, shaken but holding steady.

"It's one of the items I collected from a victim's flat. I don't think--"

Gene wrenched Smith toward the lift and out of Sam's grasp.

"That's right, Cartwright. Women don't think about how they shouldn't chit-chat about a case with the top bleeding suspect."

"Sorry, Guv," Annie murmured, though she seemed distant. Distracted.

Smith still stared at the box as Gene dragged him down the hall. "Which victim was that," he pleaded, nearly a yell, "which number--"

Smith's words cut off with a small cry of pain as the Guv kicked him into the lift's circle of fluorescent light. Gene whirled around, breathing hard, to glare down Sam expectantly.

"I was thinking I'd brief DC Cartwright," Sam said.

Gene's eyes narrowed and then rolled to the ceiling. He hit a button on the inside of the lift's wall.

"Right. Suit yourself, Casanova."

One last shout echoed out of the lift -- "what number" -- before its doors clanged shut and left the hall silent.

Tension melted from Sam's body. He laid a hand on Annie's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Annie's expression faded from trepidation into deep thought. She frowned, first at him and then down at the box's contents.

"This scarf belonged to Sarah Wellington," she said, slow and steady. "The fourth victim."

Her brow furrowed as she raised her eyes to his.

"Do you think that's important?"

---

Annie's hands were calm, curled around the sides of her tea mug. Sam's were empty, fidgeting uselessly over the top of the table. A few late-night officers sat at the nearby benches, chatting, laughing. They faded from Sam's awareness like fog on a sea, like he was marooned on an island in space and time, adrift from the rest of the world.

A voice flowed back to him over the distance.

"You mean that he knew the same things you do? From Hyde?"

The world lurched sharply, nauseatingly, back into focus. The officers were officers. Annie was Annie. 1973 was still a cage and Sam was still its captive.

He shook his head, ran a hand down his face.

"From where I come from," he mumbled. "Yes."

A pause lingered in the air between them. Annie let out a sigh. "I told you to be careful with him."

Her voice was weary, but kind. When Sam looked up, he saw patience in her expression -- the affectionate sort, like one might use with a dog too skittish to trust its owner. Sam was reminded, viscerally, of how Gene had yanked him into the lift on the way upstairs.

"Suppose I should have," Sam said, throat dry.

It was an apology, of a kind. Annie nodded and brought her tea to her lips as Sam stared down at his hands.

They sat in silence for a few long moments before he let out a breath. "He was talking... nonsense. I don't know." Sam's melancholy took on an edge of frustration as he tapped his fingers against the top of the table. "Did I tell you he knew me by name, when we first met? He said he'd been looking forward to it. To meeting me."

Annie frowned. "Maybe he's read the papers? You and the Guv have been mentioned -- Manchester Gazette and the like."

"Maybe." Sam ran a hand through his hair. "But it's more than that. The way he talks, the way he acts... like back at Lupei's flat -- he started coming over all Ziggy Stardust."

"Ziggy Stardust?"

"I don't know, like he was saying something out of Star Wars -- Star Trek," Sam corrected, quickly. "'Catalyst' this and 'psychic field' that -- acting like he knew exactly what the killer was up to, and... god, psychic..."

A laugh escaped him as soon as his words reached his ears and rebounded to his brain, at the thought of it, the utter absurdity of it all. It sank into him like a hard drink, and he shook his head and smiled at Annie -- and then faltered. Where he expected common understanding he instead found her stiff and silent.

Sam swallowed down the rest of his mirth. His last chuckle jolted out as a cough. "What?"

Annie's eyes drifted to the table. "Nothing, Sam. It's just..." Her finger trailed up and down the handle of her mug. "It's just that you sound an awful lot like that sometimes."

Sam opened his mouth, but couldn't find any words.

Exactly, was all that came to mind. That's exactly why he scares me.

Annie shook her head and reached into her bag. "I almost forgot, sir -- I finished that project you gave me. The, um... the profile."

"The psych report?" Sam sat up. "Weren't you busy tracking down Lupei with Chris?"

Annie smiled coyly as she tugged out a file and laid it on the table. "I finished last night, but you and the Guv went into the field before I could..."

I snapped at you like an idiot before you could tell me. Sam nodded and pressed his hand over the file. "Thank you, Annie."

She averted her gaze to the food counter. "It wasn't as if..."

"Really." Sam swallowed thickly. "Thank you. For everything."

Annie's smile widened and for several seconds the world went right-side up again.

Then she bit her lip. "Sam, there's... something else odd that I wanted to ask you about--"

"Tyler!"

Sam turned to see the Guv slam the canteen doors open and approach like a bull at his matador. "We've a bit of a problem, and by 'problem' I mean a bastard brick wall between us and our suspects."

"So that'd be your stubbornness, then," Sam replied.

"Don't test me, Tyler, not when I've one cell filled with an old gypsy's gibberish and another with a fraud copper who insists on talking only with you, which, I might add," Gene growled as he leaned one palm on the table, "is further proof that I've a member of Club Daft-Loonybins for a sodding DI."

Sam leaned back from Gene, scowling at his temper, riled-up even by Guv standards. "I'm assuming from your mood that your and Ray's usual tactics haven't gotten you anywhere."

"Did you think we'd leave him to sit pretty in a holding cell?" Gene cast him a strange glare. "Or are you cross we knocked him 'round without you?"

Sam's hand went rigid on the table. He felt Annie's frown on him and quickly said, "Listen -- why don't you stop yelling at us for a change and listen to the lead we've opened on the case?"

Sam gestured to the file between himself and Annie.

Gene's eyes flicked down. "What's this, then -- a marriage proposal?"

Annie straightened in her seat. "It's a psychological profile of the killer -- based on what I've been able to gather from the state of the crime scenes, the neighborhood patterns, the identity of the..."

She trailed off as Gene snatched up the thing and opened it. He scanned the page.

"'Judging by the deliberate placement of the victims' remains, the killer likely considers himself highly intelligent. He resents authority and is willing to put himself at risk to prove his mastery over others' -- well." Gene snapped it shut. "Here I thought he loved fluffy kittens and worked a soup kitchen on weekends!"

He tossed the file on the table, scattering a handful of papers across its surface. Annie reached forward to collect them, hands steady.

Sam slammed his palms on the table and turned to glower at Gene.

"If we're so bloody useless, why'd you storm in here?"

Gene grabbed Sam by his jacket collar and yanked him up from the chair, "Like I said, that lunatic's mouth is shut like a nun's legs on Sunday unless I drag your barmy arse to his door."

Sam rolled his shoulders out of Gene's grasp and shoved him right back. "So you want me to talk to him?"

"Talk to him? What do you think this is, your quack's fairy office?" Gene straightened his collar and shook out his arms. "No, we'll let him stew in his own shit-pile until he feels like mouthing off again. Meantime, you can either help us wrestle sense out of the gyppo or stay and chat skirts and boys with your girlfriend."

He turned on his heel and stalked toward the exit without so much as a glance over his shoulder. Sam scowled and then gave an apologetic shrug to Annie, who was already gathering up her things. She managed a smile, small and sincere.

"It's all right, Sam. We'll talk tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Sam promised as he followed after Gene. He turned toward the canteen's double-doors as they swung back and forth between the room's yellow light and the muddy brown of the hall. "I'll see you tomorrow."

---

Sam heard Lupei's mutters before he saw the cell. The woman's words echoed through the holding corridor; high, grief-stricken, nearly in pain. Sam realized he'd heard the same voice earlier, when he and Gene had torn through the run-down flat.

Just before they'd run into Smith.

Chris stood by the door, tugging a fresh cigarette from his pack. "Makes a racket, don't she," he said, an edge of pride to his pity. Sam shuttered the view slot aside and peered in at the suspect -- a thirty-something woman huddled under a thick shawl, stained and scuffed with dirt.

"Stapan..." she cried. "Stapan este printre noi. Stapan..."

Gene leaned against the wall. "Bloody mess, this. Gypsy can't shut her gob, Doctor won't open his -- neither's given us a chuffing word on who did what and we haven't a clue where they stashed the bodies."

Sam slammed the slot closed and looked to Gene, incredulous. "You're actually calling him 'Doctor'."

Gene shrugged. "Sure as sodding hell isn't 'Smith'."

"Right shame." Chris sighed as he brought his cigarette to his mouth. He pulled out a lighter and leaned toward it. "Seemed a good bloke."

Sam twisted his mouth as Chris flicked the lighter and got nothing but sparks. "What about Lupei? How'd you find her?"

Chris glanced up, still flicking. "Oh... 'Twere Cartwright, Boss. She heard us talkin' 'bout the pamphlet -- looked up Lupei in the archives. Turns out her nephew was once booked on burglary -- found her at his address."

Sam deadpanned. Of course it was Cartwright, he thought as Chris continued to flick the lighter ineffectually. No one else here can see what's right in bloody front of them.

He rolled his eyes back to Gene. "Have we got anything on this... 'Doctor', yet? Identification, aliases...?"

Gene glared back at him. "If we did, you think we'd be standing 'round like Buckingham bloody guards?"

Chris stared morosely at his unlit cigarette. "Didn't have a thing on him, Boss. No ID but his badge--"

"It's a blank sheet of paper," Sam groused.

"You're a blank sheet of unhinged," Gene shot back.

"In any case." Sam nodded at Lupei's cell. "What's this about? Some kind of psychotic break?"

Gene snorted. "Emphasis on 'psychotic'."

Chris pocketed his faulty lighter and shrugged. "She's been mumblin' since we picked her up. Even her family was spooked." He scratched his chin. "Somethin' 'bout a bloke named... Stefan?"

"Stapan."

They turned toward the voice, an echo behind a cell door down the hall. "Stapan este printre noi. That's what she's saying."

Sam and Gene exchanged looks. Gene strode to the cell door and cracked the slot aside.

"Mind repeating that in non-gypsy-bollocks, Doctor?"

Sam caught a glimpse of Smith -- the "Doctor" -- through the door. He stood at the center of the cell, head bandaged on one side, eyes narrowed at the wall like it wasn't the thick, rough slab of concrete it was. Like if he stared hard enough he might see cracks in the universe.

"It means 'master'," he whispered. "'The master is among us.'"

He turned toward them -- toward Gene. Like he daren't fix his gaze on anything else.

"I need to speak with DI Tyler. Alone."

Gene tensed. "Like sodding hell you do."

"Guv--" Sam interjected, not quite prepared for the fierce glower that Gene set upon him as soon as he turned his head. Sam kept his voice level and nodded toward the end of the hall. "A word?"

Gene's eyes flicked between Sam and the door slot before he finally made his way down the corridor. Sam followed, patting Chris' shoulder on the way. "Keep watch."

"Wilco," Chris said, blinking.

Sam turned the hallway's corner and found Gene leaning against the wall. He regarded Sam with a cool stare. "I expect you think it's a good idea to do exactly as he wants."

"Where's the harm if it gets him to talk?" Sam reasoned.

"Oh, I don't know." Gene crossed his arms. "Perhaps my DI standing 'round again like a happy Hitler youth."

Sam's expression faltered. "What?"

"Never seen you so pleased with yourself during interrogation," Gene said with a strained sort of calm, staring at the wall opposite him. "Least of all when your poncy notebook isn't the weapon of choice."

Sam felt something wash over him -- like water, clear and cold, falling from heights unknown. This was something he hadn't thought about. This was something he didn't want to think about.

And logically, he shouldn't have to. Sam grit his teeth and grabbed blindly for something rational, something ugly. "So it's all right for everyone else to have a Neolithic moment, is it? 'Sides me, of course. That might threaten King Hunt's dominion--"

"I'm concerned whenever a member of my team doesn't act how they bloody well should," Gene answered, nary a syllable raised.

Sam clenched his fists and seethed in place as he stared at Gene -- Gene Hunt, the last obstacle between him and the man who might have answers, a window, an exit. The Doctor, who might be here to taunt him. The Doctor, who might be his escape.

He watched as that obstacle reached inside its suit jacket and tugged out a flask, as it twisted the cap with calloused fingers.

"Lost someone down those alleys, once. 'Round Percy Lane."

Sam refocused on Gene with confusing clarity -- like he hadn't been a person a moment ago. He frowned as tension left his body.

"Do you mean a crook?" Sam asked.

Gene threw back a swig from the flask. He pulled it from his mouth and kept his eyes on it a moment.

Then he shrugged and capped it again.

"I mean that nothing good comes of that place and nothing good will come of him." He pocketed his flask. "But have it your way. Talk to the murdering bastard."

Sam couldn't help a small smile. He nodded, decisive. "I'll get what we need, Guv."

Gene shouldered past Sam toward the corridor's exit. "You'd better. Chris!"

"Right, Guv." Chris scrambled down the hallway on Gene's heels and handed off the cell keys to Sam.

"G'luck, Boss." He grinned. "Don't lose 'im."

Sam watched as Chris followed Gene down the hall. Their footsteps faded out of sight and out of mind, leaving Sam and the Doctor finally, inevitably, inescapably alone.


---

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